Behar: Trust in Hashem

The parsha opens with talking about the shmitta year- the Shabbos for the land. The year we let the land lie fallow and all can come onto the owners land and take produce.

Every Thursday nite the SD reads the Ishbitzer (in English don’t be impressed) to prepare for Shabbat. This week, his first lesson smacks you in the face.  The Ishbitzersays short and sweet,  when in the land, the people of Israel will be at peace.  Izbitzer says “land” is the heart and when  the land is at rest, then the hearts of Israel will be at peace

How can the Ishbitzer say Israel will be at peace during the Shmitta year and their hearts will be at peace? The SD would go crazy if he could not work for a whole year. The SD is afraid to go away on vacation, let alone walk away from his office  for a year.  Thoughts of disaster, poverty and homelessness come to mind… not rest or peace of heart.

If you think about it, that is the point.  The “heart” is at peace knowing it is following the will of Hashem.  It is the head that makes us crazy, worrying about things.  We should follow our heart that inherently trust in Hashem. We love Hashem. We fear Hashem. These are emotions from the heart.

The SD would like to send a shout out to holy  Emuna Daily that once said this so beautifully.  According to Reb Simcha Bunim of Pscicha,  “My bracha to you is that you should not worry. Hashem does not give to those who worry, he gives to those who ask (pray).”

Shmitta is the ultimate test of faith. Let us find peace in our faith.

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Emor: Serving Hashem

Parsha  Emor begins exhorting the Cohan not to be defiled by death. The Cohan is not to come in contact with the dead.   The Isbhitz quotes a parable:  A king tells his chef,  “Don’t even look at a dead person.” Your job is to make me happy and how can you succeed in making me happy if you see the dead.

Clearly the cook is a metaphor for  the Cohan. The same way the cook serves the king and his duty to is to bring the king joy, so to  the Cohan serves Hashem and the people of Israel and the Cohan’s mission is to bring joy.

The SD has a question on this parable: What does the king care if the cook is happy? The cook has a job. If he does not succeed in pleasing the king, the cook can be replaced. The cook’s job is to please the king regardless of his own feelings, emotions or mental health.

The SD would like to weigh in. This is exactly the point. Hashem requires us to serve Him, his creations and other beings. But part of that charge is that we derive pleasure, benefit and happiness from our service. We cannot let our service be marred with unhappiness.  The same way the king does not want the cook to look at a death or be sad in his service, so to Hashem does not want us to be sad.  The Cohan cannot come into contact with death because he is charged with bringing  joy into the world with his service in the Temple or to Israel.

The lesson or take away for us is intensely personal and quite difficult.  Really it is not so easy to be happy. It is not so easy to avoid  “death” or the challenges, obstacles and frustrations of life.  We face daily hurdles which bring us down and slowly wear us down.  The challenge is serving Hashem like the parable. Be the chef and be happy in your service to Hashem and His creations. That is the true challenge.


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Parshat Kedoshim:”Shabbos”

Parsha Kedoshim, the parsha about holiness starts with Shabbos: You shall be holy, you shall fear your mother and father and you shall guard the shabbos.

A quick story:  This Thursday morning, during davening the SD was thinking about this upcoming  Shabbos. The SD must travel for personal reasons to a place where there is no shul, no jews, nothing.  The SD was thinking of what shortcuts or allowances would have to be made.

Immediately after davening and walking to the daf yomi room, the SD passed the  sweet, wonderful, muscular, Hispanic porter at the shul. He was in the process of lifting large heavy boxes. As the SD passed him, he heard the porter  let out a little gasp of air (as if to say “oy Veh”) and then the porter gently murmured one word: “SHABBOS”.   The porter was not talking to the SD, rather to himself. He was almost consoling himself that Shabbos was coming.

What an ephiphany.  Even the porter, who barely speaks English and does the hard work in the shul looks forward to, recognizes, and senses in a viceral way  the beauty, warmth and holiness of Shabbos.   The porter knows what a special gift shabbos is.

The SD was a little ashamed.  Here the SD was looking to cut corners,  and rationalizing any allowances that needed to be made and possibly detract from the Shabbos, when the porter who works so hard, cleans the floor, does the heavy work knows the value and beauty and looks forward to Shabbos.

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Comfort-Nechama and Parsha Zachor

Yesterday we read parsha Zachor and the Haftora of Samuel chapter 15.The haftorah is actually more revealing. Hashem tell Samuel to tell King Saul to kill all of Amalek. Kill them all, including children. Saul does not kill the king or the animals. Gd is angy In pasuk 10-11 of chapter 15, Gd uses the word “nechamtie” for regret. ” I regret that I put you as king.”   Why the word “nechamtie” which usually refers to nechama- or comfort.  How is this the translation of “regret.”

Rabbi Besser pointed out that the word necham or comfort is also used as a regret in another key place. Gd said all the way back in Genesis, that I regret the creation of man. He says this just before the flood. Gd uses the same word.

Is regret and comfort or console somehow connected.  Does Gd really “regret” doing things like creating man or appointing Saul?  Does Gd make mistakes. No. Gd does not make mistakes.

The SD would like to suggest the word “nechama” is used when Gd  recognizes that things are not perfect, but they must proceed anyway.  Had Saul killed the king, there would be no purim story. Maybe more importantly, there would be no template of evil to continue to exist in the world. Maybe we need to have evil to juxtapose what is good. We need to constantly fight evil to recognize good.   The consolation or comfort is that the world is made up of imperfection and the regret is that it needs to exist.  The same way Saul needed to be king to bring around King David and the same way evil needed to exist to display or strive for good.


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Chullin 91 and the Wrestling Jacob

In chullin 91, we are learing about the “Gid Hanesha” or sciatic nerve in the rear of the animal which cannot be  eaten.  The prohibition stems from the story in parsha  Vayishlach.   The story is Jacob finds himself alone and encounters an angel who he wrestles with until dawn.

The SD always felt (and I am sure other qualified bible scholars and commenataors says the same thing) that this is some internal crisis of Jacob.  It is some psyschological conflict which manifests after 20 years of Lavan and the imminient confrontation with his brother. To the SD, the angel is some part of jacob’s psche or ego or self that he is wrestling with on some level.

The self wrestling idea has some basis in this daf.  We are told that according to one opinion when Jacob sees the angel he appears to him as idol worshipper.  Another opinion disagrees and says that the angel appeared to him as a Torah scholar.  What a classic internal crisis of identity!  What are we? Are you  bad (idol worshippers) are we good (Torah scholars)  Who are we?

The SD would like to give a modest answer.  We all wrestle this .   We want to be good. We want our “better angels” to win out.  The simple fact is that all of us are  a little of both. We all wrestle with this. We have our good moments and our bad.  We have our evil inclinations and our great moments of charity, piety and faith.

It is a good crisis.  Keep wrestling with yourself.

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Parsha Vayechi: What’s in a Name? Jacob or Israel

This SD just started reading the Ohr Hachaim. It is one of the commentaries in the Chumash. (Don’t be impressed, there is an English Translation which I read when I don’t quite understand the Hebrew.)

The Ohr Hachaim starts by anaylzying the first sentence : And Jacob lived in Egypt. His qustion: Why the name Jacob and not Israel?  He broadens the question: when does the Torah use the name Jacob and when Israel.

He answer: When Jacob is on a high spiritual level the Torah refers to him as Israel. When it is not so high a spiritual plane he is Jacob.

Implicit in this idea of the name being pegged to the spiritual level is that even Jacob has his ups and downs spiritually. He is not always in spiritual bliss. Jacob is interesting because he had a hard life. He had challenges. He had conflict.  It makes sense that he always wasnt singing and dancing.  If Jacob was challenged spiritually, it should give us comfort that spirituality is a process. Spirituality is a work in progress.


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Woody Allen:Why do we Eat Doughnuts on Chanuka?

Woody Allen in Annie Hall (or maybe Manhattan) asks in a sing-song Talmudic voice “Why do we at Matzo on Pesach?” The same can be asked of doughnuts on Chanuka.

On Tuesday nite the SD went to a class given by Rabbi Prager of the West Side Kollel. He explained why we eat donuts on chanuka.  According to Jewish law we are required to increase our food or eating on Chanuka. We are not necessarily commanded to eat a Seuda like on Purim, rather just eat more goodies. Eating snacks requires Al Hamichya-blessing after snacks.

Interestingly, in the prayer after eating a snack”Al hamichya”, the prayer mentions the Mizbeach (altar)   We know according to Rabbi Prager that on Chanuka the Temple and Mizbaeach (Altar) were rededicated after the Greeks desecrated the Temple.  In order to rededicate the altar, they poured OIL over it.  Therfore, for rededication of the altar and the oil, we remember the Mizbeach in Al Hamichya… and eat dougnuts.  We eat the doughnuts, filled with oil and say the Al Hamichya and re-dedicate the temple.

What could be better than doughnuts. What a mitzva. We eat doughnuts and remember the rededication of the temple and then thank Hashem for the great food.

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