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Be the Bridge

22.pngBe the Bridge

Toward the end of the book of Numbers we read about the Jewish people concluding their journey through the desert and arriving at the border of the Promised Land.

The Torah describes that the tribes of Reuben and Gad requested that they be granted the lands that the Jewish people conquered outside of Israel, on the east bank of the Jordan River, as their inheritance. At first Moses was angered with their request. He suspected that it would discourage the other tribes from wanting to cross the Jordan and enter the land, but once they explained their intention of leading the other tribes in battle, Moses agreed to their request and gave them the lands east of the Jordan as their inheritance.

Although they did not request it, Moses also placed half the tribe of Menashe, the son of Joseph, on the eastern bank of the Jordan. The question arises: if Moses was so disturbed by the request of the tribes who wanted to settle outside of Israel, why did Moses, on his own initiative, split the tribe of Menashe in two, and place half the tribe outside of Israel across the Jordan River? 

What do we know about the tribe of Menashe?

Back in the Book of Genesis we read about how ten of the twelve children of Jacob, who later became the tribes of Israel, kidnapped their brother and sold him into slavery. We read about the many challenges Joseph, a seventeen year old boy, a slave in a foreign country, had to face, and how he miraculously rose to become the viceroy of Egypt and the acting leader of the ancient world’s superpower.

We read about Joseph naming his eldest son Menashe: “for G-d has caused me to forget (“Nashani”) all my toil and all my father's house.”[1] With the name Menashe Joseph reminded himself that the culture of Egypt was a foreign one, it was a culture that sought to make him forget his father’s home. He chose this name to remind himself that while he was physically distant from his father’s home, while he was completely invested in the well being of the Egyptian nation and economy, he must never forget that his essence remained back home with his father and with the legacy of Abraham.

Menashe, then, was a symbol of Joseph’s ability to have a foot in both worlds. On the one hand he was present, invested and successful in Egyptian society, while on the other hand, at his core, he was a Hebrew. His heart and soul, his thoughts and aspirations were back home in the land and ideas of his father’s home.

This is why Moses divided the inheritance of the tribe of Menashe, placing them on both banks of the Jordan River. Moses understood that Mensahe could bridge the gap between Israel and the rest of the world. Moses knew that the purpose of the Jewish people was not only to build a haven of spirituality in the land of Israel, but rather they were also tasked with spreading their influence and message to the rest of the world. No tribe was better suited to this task than Menashe, who exemplified that even while living in a spiritually hostile environment one can bridge both worlds. One could remain loyal to his spiritual home, while prospering in a foreign land and one could bring the influence of Israel to the heart of a foreign capital.

We read the end of the book of Numbers in the days leading up to the ninth of Av, the day the temple was destroyed and we were exiled from the land of Israel. The lesson to be learned, especially at this time of year, is clear. Although, our people were exiled from Israel, we have not abandoned Israel and its message. Like the tribe of Menashe, we are able to have a foot on both sides of the River. Although we are in the diaspora, our heart is in Israel. Our presence is the bridge that allows the holiness of Israel to reach the rest of the world. We are the bridge upon which the inspiration emerging from Jerusalem will transform the rest of the world, the bridge that will fill the world with the knowledge of G-d, ushering in an era of peace and harmony.[2]



[1]Genesis 41:51.

[2]Inspired by Lekutey Sichos Matos-Masey vol. 28. 

In Love with the Moon

Moon.pngIn Love with the Moon  

Jews are in love with the Moon.

We have always been fascinated by its soft glow, by its ability to illuminate the dark night, and, most importantly, by its capacity for rebirth. At the end of the Lunar month we look up at the sky and we see no moon at all, yet, a day or two later, the moon reappears, reborn, invigorated and reassuring, it once again begins to steadily grow and increase its beauty and light. We look up at the moon and we see our story. We, like the moon, are called upon to illuminate an often spiritually dark world. As individuals and as a people we wax and wane, we experience ups and downs, we are sometimes fully bright, while at other times we feel devoid of all light and we fear that this may be the end of our people. Yet, miraculously, we reappear. We have a capacity to adapt, to recreate ourselves, not to be trapped by the negativity of our past, to rise to the new challenges of the day. Thus, every month we celebrate Rosh Chodesh, the rebirth of the moon, on the first day of the Hebrew month.

Looking back at the verses in Genesis which describe the creation of the moon, there is an interesting discrepancy. At first the verse states that G-d created “two great luminaries”, and then the verse proceeds to elaborate: “the great luminary (the sun) to rule the day and the small luminary (the moon) to rule the night”. The question is obvious: are they both “great luminaries” or is one “great” and the other “small”?

The Talmud explains that initially both the sun and the moon were created as “great luminaries”, however, the moon was diminished and it became “small”:

The moon said to the Holy One, Blessed Be He, ‘Master of the Universe, How can two kings share one crown?’

He said to her, ‘Go and diminish yourself!’

She said to him: ‘Master of the universe, because I said a logical thing before you, I should diminish myself?’...

The Holy One said, “I will bring an atonement on Me for I have diminished the moon.”[1]

Indeed, in this week’s Torah portion, the portion of Pinchas, we read about the commandment to offer a sin offering on Rosh Chodesh, as the Talmud continues:

“Why the difference in how the New Moon offering is written, “A he-goat on the new moon, for the Lord?’ Because the Holy One is saying, ‘Let this he-goat be an atonement for me, for the diminishment of the moon.”

What are we to make of this seemingly strange teaching? Why indeed was the moon punished for speaking the truth? And how can human beings possibly be the ones who atone for G-d’s injustice?

The sun is a metaphor for the shining light of G-d, while the moon, which has no light of its own and receives its light from the sun, represents the creation. G-d’s plan was that both the sun and the moon would be great luminaries. That the infinity and intensity of the Divine energy and light would be felt by the moon, by the creation, just as powerfully as when it shines forth from G-d. There would still be a creation separate from the creator, but there would not be any spiritual darkness within the creation, because the Divine light would shine in all its intensity. Thus both the source of light and the recipient of the light, both the sun and the moon, both the creator and the creation, would be great luminaries.

The moon protested.

“How can two kings share one crown?” cried the moon. “If the full force of the divine light will shine in this world then I will not have my own distinct identity and personality”.

G-d agreed. G-d told the moon: “Go and diminish yourself!”. Yes, creation will plunge into spiritual darkness, yes, creation will feel separated from its great source of holiness, but the moon, and the creation it represents, will have its own identity. It will have the ability to forge its own path, to illuminate the darkness with its light. For once the moon is diminished, once it no longer reflects the full intensity of the sun’s light, there is spiritual darkness in the world. There is chaos, pain and confusion, yet, precisely because of the darkness, the human being is able to feel its own identity, to feel the satisfaction of creativity, and to discover his or her purpose: to bring light to the darkness, to fill the world with goodness and kindness. 

The moon, however, was still troubled. It tells G-d “Master of the universe, because I said a logical thing before you, I should diminish myself?” The moon was protesting all the pain that would exist in this world as a result of the world being plunged into darkness. The concealment of the Divine light is, in fact, what enables all suffering loneliness and sadness to exist.

G-d therefore responds that indeed, the moon has a just claim. In order to create space for man and woman, to give meaning to their choices and a feeling of satisfaction to their achievements, there must be darkness and pain. And G-d is in need of atonement for the suffering enabled by the darkness of the diminishment of the moon. Thus G-d says to the Jew: “bring a he-goat to be an atonement for me, for the diminishment of the moon”. G-d is telling us that we alone can atone for G-d. That we alone must work to overcome the spiritual darkness, the pain and suffering that exists in this world. We alone must look up to the moon, watch it emerge from the darkness, and take its lesson to heart.

Like the moon, we must always understand that it is our responsibility to keep shining even in the darkest of times. It is our responsibility to heal the pain on earth, and to bring the universe closer to its creator.[2]   



[1] Talmud Chulin 60b.

[2] See Maharal, Chidushey Agados, Shavuos 9a. 

Who’s Your Zaidy?

109652.jpgWho’s Your Zaidy[1]?

After more than two hundred years in Egypt, after forty years of wandering in the desert, the children of Israel came back to the border of their homeland; only the Jordan River stood between them and the land promised to their ancestors.

Then it happened. Billam, a gentile prophet, was called to come from Aram, (Charan, modern day Iraq) to curse the Jews. His intention was to harm the Jewish people, but G-d intervened and the curse was transformed into a blessing.

Does this story sound familiar? Have we heard of someone coming from Aram to harm the Jews when they were on their way back to Israel? Does this story ring a bell?

If so, it is because there is a strikingly similar story in the book of Genesis, the very first book of the Torah. When Jacob was returning home to Israel, after a twenty year stay in Charan, Laban, his dishonest father-in-law, chased after him and wanted to harm him. G-d came to Laban in a dream and warned him not to harm Jacob. The evil plan was averted and Laban created a peace treaty with Jacob.

With so many similarities between the stories - both Bilam and Laban came from Aram, both wanted to harm the Jews, both were forced by G-d to refrain from causing harm, both experiences led to a transformation, Laban created peace and Billam blessed the Jews with extraordinary blessings - is there an inner connection between the stories?      

Indeed there is.

The Talmud states that the prophet Bilaam was a descendant of Lavan. It would seem that the story of Billam offers closure to the story of Laban. Somehow the transformation of Laban was incomplete, and therefore his descendant Billam had to correct and finalize the transformation of hostility to blessing. 

Just before Laban offered a covenant of peace to Jacob, the verse states:

And Laban answered and said to Jacob, "The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine.”[2]

Laban declares that he, Laban, was the patriarch of Jacob’s family. While he understood that Jacob had a moral legacy which he had received from Abraham and Isaac, Laban declared that the spiritual legacy which Jacob received from his fathers was relevant solely for Jacob himself. Jacob himself was free to believe as he desired. However, the daughters and sons, the next generation, as well as all of Jacob’s material possessions, are attributed to and belong to Laban. They would carry the legacy of Laban. Laban declared that the Jewish ideals of morality have no place in the real world. They may be interesting abstract concepts, but they have no place in influencing the manner of raising a family and earning a living.

More than two centuries later, Billam, like his grandfather before him, came to curse the Jews. He expected to find a people that fit Laban’s description "The daughters are my daughters, and the sons are my sons, and the animals are my animals, and all that you see is mine”. He expected to find a people who were the descendants of Laban and the bearers of his materialistic legacy. He expected to find a people whose holiness was confined to specific moments; a people who, in their daily life, are a nation like all other nations. A people whose unique values don’t influence their real life experiences.

Billam, inspired by prophecy, discovered his mistake and set out to correct the record. He said:

For from their beginning, I see them as mountain peaks, and I behold them as hills; it is a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations.[3]

“Mountain peaks” and “hills” are a metaphor for the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the Jewish people. As Rashi explains:

For from its beginning, I see them as mountain peaks: I look at their origins and the beginning of their roots, and I see them established and powerful, like these mountains and hills, because of their patriarchs and matriarchs.

Billam declared that Laban was unequivocally wrong. Billam declared that the roots of the children of Israel are not the conniving Laban but rather Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Leah. They are a nation loyal to the teachings of the patriarchs and matriarchs. A nation whose holiness, morals and spirit permeates every area of their life. They are “a nation that will dwell alone, and will not be reckoned among the nations”, because their unique beliefs affect the way they raise their families and the way they engage in commerce and agriculture. 

Billam declared that they are not the descendants of Laban, but rather of the “mountains” and “hills”. Their Bubys and Zeidys are the patriarchs and matriarchs.[4]

 


[1] Yiddish for Grandfather.

[2] Genesis 31:43.

[3] Numbers 23:9.

[4] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutey SIchos Balak, vol. 2. 

Pure Happiness

zRTt6595112.jpgPure Happiness

In the background of all existence lies a deep sadness. The sadness is faint, it can be ignored, but it always lurks in the background, occasionally bursting forth into the human being’s consciousness.

The sadness is a result of the mortality of existence. We are all trapped by the march of time. Time consistently moves forward, it never stops to take a rest, and it refuses to free us of its grip and allow us to slow the clock, to freeze a moment in time for prosperity.[1]

No matter how strong the joy felt in the human heart, perhaps at one’s wedding, at the birth of a child or another intensely joyful experience, the joy is experienced against the subtle knowledge that this moment in time can never be recreated. That in a fleeting moment this experience of joy will slip away. 

The sadness is magnified when a person contemplates that from the moment of birth the clock is ticking, he is moving closer to the end of his life. While most people successfully navigate through daily life without facing the sadness of mortality, when we come in contact with death, this natural feeling of sadness is magnified. When we see death we are forced to recognize our own mortality, we realize that eventually everything we cherish and our very existence will end. Thus, the Torah teaches that if someone touches a dead body they become ritually impure, because death produces sadness which is the antithesis to a relationship with G-d, who is the source of life and the source of joy.  

The opening commandment of this week’s Torah portion discusses the law of the red heifer, which provided ritual purity for the impurity of contacting the dead. The portion begins:

The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: This is the statute of the Torah which the Lord commanded, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for you a perfectly red unblemished cow, upon which no yoke was laid...[2]

The commandment of the red heifer is categorized not as the “statute of the heifer” but rather as the “statute of the Torah”. The commentators explain that the laws of purity and impurity in general, and the law of the red heifer in particular, cannot be fully understood by the human mind and must be observed simply because it is a statute commanded by G-d with no explanation that we can comprehend.

How does this commandment provide purification? How does it cure one of the sadness produced by experiencing human mortality?

There is one path to true and lasting joy; when a person transcends himself, freeing himself from his obsession with self and doing something that is beyond himself, in that state he is breaking free of his mortality. Which is why, perhaps counter intuitively, happiness comes from giving to others. When a person shifts his focus from himself and empathizes with another, when he reaches into himself and takes something which is precious to him, whether it be his time, his money, or his attention, and gives to another, he will feel joy. Because he has broken free of the grip of material existence, and experienced a spiritual existence, one that transcends time and space.  

A person has a limited lifespan but when he fills his life with experiences that connect him to the infinite creator, he achieves immortality, for G-d is the infinite source of life. Connecting to the Divine, going beyond human reason and fulfilling a Mitzvah simply because it is the will of the infinite G-d, allows a person to escape his limitation and leave the sadness of the universe behind him. For he is connected and becomes absorbed in the infinite, transcendent, source of life.  

The law of the red heifer, then, captures a profound lesson in life: in order to be able to experience joy, we must not look toward accumulating more physical objects and experiences. In fact, doing so may increase our sadness as it makes us realize that that which we value is physical and therefore ultimately fleeting. Instead, in order to experience a purifying feeling of happiness, we should turn to the spiritual. We must fill our lives with moments of transcendence. We must connect to the source of life and joy.[3]



[1] See Kli Yakar on Genesis 1:14.

[2] Numbers 1:1-2.

[3] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutey Sichos Chukas vol. 4, as presented in the Kehot Chumash. 

Naming Rights

2609.jpgNaming Rights

Korach was a dangerous man. He led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron which threatened to undermine the veracity of Moshe’s prophecy and destroy the cohesion of the Jewish people necessary for them to survive in the desert and ultimately enter the land of Israel.

Why then do we give the “naming rights” of a portion in the Torah to Korach? Why do we refer to the portion as the portion of Korach, thus enshrining his name for eternity as a model for admiration?

Korach wanted to be the high priest instead of Aaron. Korach spoke out against the division within the people whereby Aaron was deemed the only one holy enough to perform the service of the temple while all other Jews were excluded from that role and, in his estimation, were therefore less holy and spiritually significant. Korach wanted spiritual equality: he wanted everybody to be on the same level of holiness.

The truth, however, is that there must be various grades of holiness.

The High Priest, must remain completely dedicated to the temple service, and disengage from worldly matters. The High Priest is likened to Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a day when all Jews experience an angelic existence, ignoring the needs of the body and focusing on the soul's relationship with G-d. 

Now consider the following question: if Yom Kippur is the holiest day, if it is a day on which we touch our core self as like on no other day, why don’t we simply declare everyday as holy as Yom Kippur? Why are most days mundane?

The answer is that if every day is as intensely holy as Yom Kippur then the purpose of creation, which is to sanctify the mundane and make it a dwelling place for the Divine, cannot be achieved. A world where every day is Yom Kippur, or, where every person is a high priest, is a world where, although the soul is connected to G-d, the body and the mundane reality are out of the picture. As a result, instead of the material existence being elevated and sanctified, it will fall lower, it will become more selfish, and farther away from its Divine source.

Which is why the devastating results of Korach’s rebellion were that the rebels were punished in two ways. The two hundred and fifty leaders who offered the incense were burned by fire, while the rest of Korach’s camp was swallowed up by the earth. The consequences demonstrated what would have happened had Korach’s plan been implemented. Fire, always surging upward, is a metaphor for spirituality. Yes, if we were all high priests, then our spiritual side would surge upward and would always be connected to G-d, yet our body would not come along for the ride. Our intensely spiritual existence could not understand or communicate with the more physical part of our existence. Thus, while the soul would ascend in fire, the body would be swallowed up by the earth, unable to elevate itself.

Which is why the Divine plan was that there should be both holy and mundane. One day a year we escape the body, and that experience empowers us to elevate the body during the rest of the year. At all other times, we have a high priest who is intensely holy, who inspires the rest of the people, who are engaged in the material world, to be more spiritual.

While Korach was mistaken, as there must be varying degrees of holiness, there is one aspect of Korach which is not only desirable but also necessary. In order for the mundane to be elevated it has to experience the desire and yearning for holiness. Thus although on a Tuesday afternoon in  November, a Jew is not as holy as he is on Yom Kippur; there must be part of him which, like Korach, wishes it were Yom Kippur. In the final analysis, then, while Korach’s actions were disastrous, his desire for holiness must be celebrated.

Thus the name of the portion is not “(and Korach) took”, the first word of the Parsha[1], which describes Korach disastrous actions, his rebellion; but rather the Parsha is named, Korach. For Korach himself, the desire to be holy, is positive and should be celebrated.

Korach himself, as opposed to his actions, earned for himself the naming rights to the Parsha. Because the desire for holiness must be cultivated and celebrated.[2]     

 


[1] In Hebrew the verb - “took” - precedes the subject - “Korach”.

[2] Adopted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutey Sichos vol. 18, Sicha 1 and 3.

The Miracle of Bread

C.jpgThe Miracle of Bread

The spies returned from scouting out the land of Israel with a report describing the might of its inhabitants. The hearts of the Jewish people filled with fear, they lost faith in G-d’s ability to bring them into the land, and they cried: “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!”[1]. As a result of their rejection of the land, it was decreed that they, the generation that was liberated from Egypt would remain in the desert for forty years. Only the next generation would merit to enter the land and to see the fulfillment of the Divine promise to bring the people to the land of their ancestors.

After the tragic episode of the spies, the Torah tells us:  

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them, When you arrive in the Land to which I am bringing you, and you eat from the bread of the Land, you shall set aside a gift for the Lord. The first portion of your dough, you shall separate a loaf for a gift... From the first portion of your dough you shall give a gift to the Lord in [all] your generations.[2]

Why would G-d choose to place the commandment of Challah, the commandment to dedicate the first piece of dough to G-d, at this point in the story? The words: “When you arrive in the Land to which I am bringing you”, clearly state that the commandment would not take effect for forty years. Discussing a Mitzvah that applies only in the Land of Israel immediately after the decree barring the Jews from entering the land, seems, at first glance, to be quite cruel.

To understand this, we must turn back and analyze the mistake made by the spies, we must address one of the most difficult questions raised by this story: How is it possible that the same people who experienced great miracles, from the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea to the manna descending from heaven, could undergo a dramatic change of heart and suffer a colossal loss of faith? How could a people who perceived G-d’s wonders deny his ability to help them conquer the land?   

The answer to this question is, that the spies, as well as the Jewish people, witnessed G-d’s ability to perform miracles, to shatter the laws of nature, and they understood that the laws of nature are no match for G-d’s might. G-d can, and occasionally will, suspend the laws of nature and display his miraculous wonders.

Yet, they were aware that once they entered the land the miracles would cease. They would have to wage a natural war of conquest, they would have to farm the land to sustain themselves, no longer could they expect G-d to interfere and change the laws of nature on their behalf. Thus, they were afraid to enter the land; not because they thought that G-d could not perform miracles, but rather because they thought that G-d would choose not to perform them. Without shattering the laws of nature, they feared, they would be powerless to conquer the land.[3]

What they failed to understand is that nature itself is a miracle.

They understood that G-d could shatter nature but they failed to grasp that G-d operates through nature, that the miraculous as well as the natural are both expressions of the Divine. 

That it is why, shortly after the debacle of the spies, G-d commanded the Jewish people to separate the first piece of dough and gift it to the priest. Kneading dough follows many months of toil; man must invest his effort, plow, sow and harvest; months will pass before the earth works its magic and produces wheat. At the culmination of all his effort, before he enjoys the fruit of many months of labor, the Jew dedicates the first piece of dough to the priest, because the Jew understands that the bread is a result of G-d’s blessing. The Jew recognizes that the earth yielding its produce is an expression of the Divine power. That nature is nothing but an expression of G-d’s will. That the loaf of bread is as great a miracle as the splitting of the sea.

Thus, the commandment of Challah is placed soon after the story of the spies for it is, in fact, a roadmap to rehabilitation from the mistake of the spies. Understanding that G-d operates through nature would give the Jew the confidence, as well as the merit, to leave the miracles of the desert and embrace life in the land.

The Commandment of Challah reminds the Jew that while he is engaged in the natural process of plowing, sowing and harvesting, he is experiencing the kindness of G-d.[4] The Jew realizes that G-d is found not only in the miracles of the desert but also in the fields of the Land of Israel.

Separating the Challah demonstrates that for the Jew, G-d is present not only in the miraculous but also in the mundane. 

 


[1] Numbers 14:4.

[2] Numbers 15:17-21.

[3] See Lekutey Sichos Shlach, vol. 4.

[4] See Lekutey Sichos Shlach, vol. 18 Sicha 5. 

The Lonely Leader?

jpIw10135939.jpgThe Lonely Leader?

Something about this episode was different. While the Jewish people disappointed Moses many times in the desert, by creating the golden calf, losing their faith in their ability to conquer Israel, and rebelling against Moses, never before or since had Moses reacted with such pain and despair as when the People asked for meat.

The Torah tells us:

The multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, "Who will feed us meat?

Moses reacted with great pain and anguish, he turned to G-d and said:

"Why have You treated Your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in Your eyes that You place the burden of this entire people upon me?

Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them, that You say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom as the nurse carries the suckling,' to the Land You promised their forefathers?

Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying on me, saying, 'Give us meat to eat.'

Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me.

If this is the way You treat me, please kill me if I have found favor in Your eyes, so that I not see my misfortune."[2]


Why was the request for meat so terrible? Is asking for meat really more severe a transgression than created the golden calf, after which Moses did not ask to die, nor did he complain that he had to carry them like a nurse carries the suckling, and after which Moses defended his people with enthusiasm and force?

To understand this, we must first look at the beginning of the Torah portion.

The portion of Behaalotcha, begins with the Torah reiterating the commandment to light the Menorah. Why was the commandment to light the Menorah singled out for repetition at this point in the story, as the children of Israel were about to embark on their Journey toward Israel?

Lighting the Menorah is more than a specific detail of the service of the temple. The Menorah captures the mission of the Jew, namely to add spiritual light to his own life as well as to the world around him. Thus the commandment to light the Menorah is repeated as they were about the leave Sinai and begin the mission of our nation.
[3]

Shortly after the departure from Sinai, Moses discovered that his people were in no position to be a Menorah radiating spiritual light. Moses came to the realization that the people had no interest in matters of the spiritual in general, and were not concerned with their calling of adding light in the world in particular. Moses discovered that their chief concern was: “what’s for supper’. This was the greatest disappointment because it represented an abandonment of their core mission. 

When Moses said “Alone I cannot carry this entire people” he did not mean that he was incapable of leading them. Moses meant that he could not carry the mission of the entire people alone. He could not be the only one holding the light of the Menorah, the only one carrying forth the Jewish calling. 

G-d instructed Moses to gather seventy elders, G-d would take from the spirit which was on Moses and place it upon them, and they would experience prophecy. How would that solve the problem of the request for meat? G-d was demonstrating to Moses that although the people were not as intensely spiritual and humble as Moses, they could also experience the spirit of holiness and be a part of the Menorah, spreading spiritual warmth and light.    

Moses realized that he was not alone. As he watched the seventy elders receive inspiration from his spirit, he understood that he was not carrying the Jewish mission on his own. For every Jew throughout history is inspired by the words of Moses, and would carry the message and inspiration forward. That indeed, even the Jew who is concerned with material success, can and will be part of the Menorah. Moses learned that indeed he was not alone. 

 


[1] Numbers 11:4.

[2] Numbers 11:11-15.

[3] See Hisvaaduyos, Bamidbar 5749.   

Study or Action?

R.jpgStudy or Action?

Two pillars of Jewish life are Torah study and good deeds. The great Talmudic sages, who analyzed and debated every detail of our law and tradition, were curious about the hierarchy of study and deed, which of the two is greater?

The Talmud relates:

Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were reclining in the loft of the house of Nit’za in Lod, this question was asked of them: Is study greater or is action greater? Rabbi Tarfon answered and said: action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered and said: study is greater. Everyone answered and said: study is greater, as study leads to action.[1]

The meaning of the conclusion, “study is greater, as study leads to action”, is not entirely clear. If the virtue of study is that it “leads to action”, then it seems that action is greater because it is the ultimate goal and purpose. If that is the case, why doesn't the Talmud simply say that action is greater? 

The ability to think, to learn, to grow intellectually, is the greatest gift man possesses. Most of the personality is egocentric and subjective. The person's heart tells him what feels right to him, his will tells him what he should want, his tastebuds tell him whether the food he is eating is enjoyable to him. The mind, by contrast, is the tool which allows the person to escape the ego’s gravitational pull. The mind allows the person to be objective, to see truths separate from his own limited perspective. The mind allows the person to understand and identify with people, cultures, opinions and experiences different from his own. The mind enables the person to be transported to another time and place, losing his grounded self and being completely immersed in new stories, experiences and ideas. In short, the mind is the ticket to freedom, it is the tool through which one can transcend the self.

This then is the deep insight of the Talmud. When faced with the question of which is greater study or action, the sages give the typical Talmudic answer: it depends. Wisdom that does not set one free from his own sense of self, wisdom that makes a person arrogant, wisdom which robs the person of the humble sense of mystery and wonder, is no virtue, in fact, in extreme cases it can be directed toward evil, and it is certainly not superior to good deeds.

By contrast, wisdom which leads one to see beyond the self, that allows one to understand the needs of others, wisdom that propels the person to do for the benefit of another, is wisdom that is superior, because it is the ultimate superiority of man, the ability to break free of one's own limited self.

When the Talmud says “study is greater, as study leads to action” it is telling us what type of study is great. Only study which leads to action, study which inspires the person to do for others, study which frees the person from focus on the self and enables him to grasp a perspective beyond his own, is the greatest state of being one can achieve.

This idea is reflected in the beginning of the book of Numbers. In the first portion of the book, after the description of the order in which the twelve tribes camped around the tabernacle in the desert, the Torah describes the responsibilities of the Levites. In the first portion of the book, the Torah lists only one of the three families of the Levites, the family of Kehot, while the other two Levite families are listed in the second portion of the book, the portion of Naso, which means “lift up” or “elevate”. 

The family of Kehot whose primary responsibility was to carry the ark which contained the tablets, and later the Torah, represent Torah study. Yet, they are not mentioned in the portion of Naso, which means “elevate”. That is because study alone does not elevate one to the greatest heights unless it leads to the contribution of the families of Gershon and Merari, the Levites whose responsibility it was to transport and assemble the walls and coverings of the tabernacle. Gershon and Merari transformed the uninhabitable desert into a tabernacle, a home of peace and tranquility. Their service, therefore, represents action and good deeds. Thus, they are listed in the portion of Naso, “elevate”, because they passed the test of true elevated wisdom. They embody the wisdom which leads to action on behalf of others.

To be truly elevated is to achieve great wisdom: wisdom which leads to action.[2]

 


[1] Kidushin 40b. 

[2] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutey Sichos 33 Naso 1. 

Count on Family

B.jpgCount on Family

The book of Numbers describes the journey of the Jewish people, from Mount Sinai to the Jordan River. More than just a geographical journey, the book of Numbers is the story of the psychological odyssey which formed a nation, spiritually mature, able and ready to enter the land of Israel.  

Creating a cohesive enterprise, or a unified nation, is no easy task. In order to reach its full potential, the group needed to unleash the unique personality and strength of each individual. Any effort to suppress the spirit of the individual would stifle all ambition and creativity. On the other hand, nurturing individuality presented its own set of challenges. People are often divided and fragmented. People have trouble communicating effectively with each other and at times seem more interested in using others to advance their own agenda rather than being concerned for their well-being. 

In the book of Numbers, the Torah lays out the secret to creating a healthy society: the formula is the model of the family. 

In the opening portion of the book we read about Moses and Aaron being commanded to count the Israelites:

The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, in the Tent of Meeting on the first day of the second month, in the second year after the exodus from the land of Egypt, saying. Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by families following their fathers' houses; a head count of every male according to the number of their names.[1]

The key to understanding the significance of the census is the phrase “by families”.  

Although this was not the first time the Jewish people were counted[2], this census was unique in that the people were counted by their families. They counted the members of each family which led to the total number of each individual tribe, and then they combined the numbers of each tribe and arrived at the total number of all the people. Thus, the family was the foundation of this census.

What is a family?

The first family described in the Torah was the family of Adam and Eve. The Torah tells us:

On the day that God created man, in the likeness of God He created him. Male and female He created them, and He blessed them, and He named them “Adam” (person) on the day they were created.[3]

A family is comprised of individuals who are unique, who have intellectual and emotional qualities that are different from each other. Yet, the individuals realize that in order for each of them to reach their fullest potential they must come together as a family unit, not in order to dilute their individuality, but rather in order to receive from and give to one another, for only thus are they able grow to their fullest potential.

“Male and female he created them... and named them “Adam” (person)”. The Torah is teaching us that to be a complete person, to be an Adam, a “Mentch”, one must understand that male alone or female alone, is not a complete ”Adam”. In order to be complete one must be part of a literal or figurative family, where one can be fully himself and, at the same time, transcend the confines of self. 

The secret to the survival of the Jewish people is the secret of family. We have learned that in order for the individual to fully thrive he must be willing to connect and give of himself to others. We have learned that the individual can reach his or her greatest heights, specifically when he or she is part of a greater family.

In time all the world will take the lesson of family to heart, ushering in an era of brotherhood and peace.[4]



[1] Numbers 1:1-2.

[2] The Jewish people were counted when they left Egypt, and again, just a few months later, after the sin of the golden calf.  

[3] Genesis 5:2-3.

[4] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, 28 Iyar 5731. 

Holy Farmer!

Behar.jpgHoly Farmer!

Every seventh year, the Jewish farmer living in Israel was commanded to cease working the land, to separate from the earth and to designate a sabbatical year for matters of the spirit. The Sabbatical year, the Shmittah, was to be dedicated as a “Shabbat to G-d”, as this week’s Torah portion begins:

Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them: When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord. You may sow your field for six years, and for six years you may prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year, the land shall have a complete rest a Sabbath to the Lord; you shall not sow your field, nor shall you prune your vineyard.[1]

The year of rest followed the six years of working the land, why then does the Torah state: “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land shall rest a Sabbath to the Lord”, implying that immediately upon entering the land they were to designate a sabbatical year? 

Entering the Land of Israel was the opening of a new chapter in the Jewish story. Up until that point the Jews were not in the agriculture business. The Patriarchs and their children were shepherds; an occupation which did not take much effort and which left them plenty of time to be out in nature, separated from the distractions of civilizations, an occupation conducive to leading a spiritual life. Upon entering the land, the descendants of Abraham and the bearers of his legacy, were, for the first time, called upon to take possession of a land, to work it and to reap its bounty. For the first time, the people were focusing their time and attention on the earth.

To ensure that the people of Israel would maintain their spiritual identity, and elevate the earth rather than be consumed by it, the Torah tells us that as soon as they entered the land they must know that eventually the land would rest and experience the Sabbatical year. The Torah begins with the mention of the Sabbatical year, although it would not come to pass until after the six years of work, in order to remind us of the goal of the entire enterprise. Why are we in business? Why do we spend six long years working the land? Not merely because we desire the produce. The goal of all our work, the purpose of all our efforts, is to connect to G-d during the Sabbatical year.[2]

The Mitzvah of the Sabbatical, has an unusual introduction:

And the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying:[3]

The phrase “and the Lord spoke to Moses saying” appears many times in the Torah, yet the addition “on Mount Sinai” appears only once in the entire Torah. It appears only regarding the commandments of the Sabbatical year.

What is the connection between the commandment of the Sabbatical year and Mount Sinai? 

The Torah is telling the Jewish farmer: make no mistake about your identity, and about how you self define. You may be plowing the field or harvesting its fruit, you may be on the trading floor or in a meeting with investors, but that does not define you. The true you, is at Mount Sinai yearning for a connection to G-d and his wisdom. The true you understands that the purpose of all your efforts is for the spiritual Sabbatical.

Studying the Torah portion of the Sabbatical year reminds us to create sacred space in our life, in which we allow ourselves to re-experience Mount Sinai. We remind ourselves that it is on the weekly Shabbat, as well as the daily moments we devote to holiness, where we express our true identity. Those moments, in turn, empower us to carry the holiness to all areas of our life.

 



[1] Leviticus 25:2-4.

[2] See talk of the Rebbe, Behar 5741.

[3] Leviticus 25:1. 

The Non Anniversary

Sukkah.jpgThe Non Anniversary  

The Jewish year is filled with holidays that commemorate past events: Passover is celebrated on the day we were liberated from Egypt, Shavuot on the day we received the Torah, Rosh Hashanah, the day of judgement, the day Adam and Eve were judged for the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge; and on the day the Jewish people received the second set of tablets, which represented the atonement for the sin of the golden calf, we celebrate Yom Kippur. 

In truth, Judaism does not believe in an anniversary as merely a celebration of the past. According to the teachings of Chasisdisim, the same energy that occurred in the past is, once again, available and more easily accessible on the anniversary of that event. Thus, a wedding anniversary, for example, is not just a commemoration of the time that a couple experienced a moment of profound meaning and deep love all those years ago, but rather it is a day when the commitment, devotion, love and friendship they experienced in the past can be readily reawakened. By the same token, on Passover the energy of freedom is once again in the air, and on Yom Kippur we access the energy of atonement, because the events of the past come alive and are reawakened on their anniversary.

Which leads us to the one exception: the holiday of Sukkot.

In this week’s portion the G-d commands Moshe:

Speak to the children of Israel, saying: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month, is the Festival of Succoth, a seven day period to the Lord… In order that your [ensuing] generations should know that I had the children of Israel live in booths when I took them out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.[1]

We sit in the Sukkah to commemorate the exodus, to remind ourselves that when we left Egypt G-d had us live in Sukkah huts. But why do we celebrate the holiday on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, six months after the exodus, on a day that is not the anniversary of any profound historic event? 

Why is Sukkot celebrated on a non anniversary date?

Sukkot is most joyous of all the holidays: while on Passover there is no explicit commandment to rejoice, and regarding Shavuos the Torah mentions the word joy only once, on Sukkot the Torah instructs us to rejoice no less than three times. Sukkot is the most joyous holiday specifically because it does not occur on an anniversary. Sukkot teaches us that we don’t need to wait for times when a unique energy shines from above. Instead, through building the Sukkah, we have the power to sanctify an otherwise mundane day. Sukkot teaches us that while, ordinarily, the inspiration and joy associated with the holidays comes from above specifically at designated holy times, we are, however, able to produce an even greater inspiration through our own actions.    

This explains why the Mitzvah of Sukkah is unique in that it encompasses our entire being. The holiness is not reserved for a specific action, such as eating Matzah or hearing the Shofar, but rather it is all encompassing. Anything we do in the Sukkah, whether it be eating, drinking, reading the paper or just relaxing, is a holy spiritual act that connects us to the Divine. Because such is the power of the Jew: to sanctify mundane time and to imbue daily activities with spirituality and holiness. 

On Sukkot our joy reaches its climactic peak because Sukkot represents the ability to feel the closeness and love to our beloved even on the days that are not our wedding anniversary.[2]

 


[1] Leviticus, 23: 34-43.

[2] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Likutey Sichos vol. 22 Emor Sicha 2. 

Marshmallows and the Tree of Knowledge

images.jpgMarshmallows and the Tree of Knowledge

One of the most famous studies in the field of psychology is the Marshmallow Test.

In a series of famous experiments in the 1960s and ’70s conducted by the Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, preschoolers were invited to sit alone in a room furnished only with a small desk. On the desk sat two marshmallows (or equivalently tempting treats) and a bell. The researcher told each child that he had to leave, but that when he returned, she could eat both marshmallows. If she wanted one marshmallow before then, however, she could ring the bell and eat one, but not both. Then the researcher shut the door, leaving the child alone with the forbidden marshmallows:

Some children gobbled a marshmallow the minute the door was closed, while others distracted themselves by covering their eyes, singing and kicking the desk. One resourceful child somehow managed to take a nap. But here’s the part that made the experiment famous: In follow-up studies, children who had resisted temptation turned out years later to be not only... better socially adapted, but they also scored as much as 210 points higher on their SATs than the most impatient children in the studies did.[1]

Without getting into the debate about the merits of this fascinating experiment, the experiment brings to mind a commandment in this week’s Torah portion:

When you come to the Land and you plant any food tree, you shall surely block its fruit [from use]; it shall be blocked from you [from use] for three years, not to be eaten.

And in the fourth year, all its fruit shall be holy, a praise to the Lord.

And in the fifth year, you may eat its fruit; [do this, in order] to increase its produce for you. I am the Lord, your God.[2]  

The same fruit tree, year one to year three the fruit is forbidden, year four the fruit becomes holy and must be eaten in Jerusalem. The fruit of the fifth year may be eaten anywhere. It seems that the Torah wants us to wait before we consume our marshmallows.  

Indeed the commentators[3] explain that by refraining from eating the fruit of a tree for three years, we are rectifying the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, who consumed the fruit of the tree of knowledge. According to the Midrash, the prohibition against the fruit of the tree of knowledge was supposed to extend for only three hours of the day. At the fourth hour, when the holy day of Shabbat commenced, they were to squeeze the fruit of the tree, the grape, and use the wine to sanctify the day of Shabbat with the Kiddush blessing. Adam and Eve were not able to wait the three hours. They ate of the fruit early which led to tragic results. We, the descendants of Adam and Eve wait three years in order to rectify Adam and Eve’s choice to not to wait for three hours.

Buy why the need to wait?

If the grape eaten at the fourth hour would have been a positive and holy experience, why is eating it a few hours early so spiritually devastating?  

Every time we interact with the world around us there can be one of two possibilities. When we interact with food, with technology, with our vacation home, or any other phenomenon, either we are serving it or it is serving us. Either we are in control of it or it is in control if us. Some people are in control. Their smartphone serves them, they indulge in pleasure when they know it will be conducive to their overall well being. Others are controlled. Their possessions provide not peace of mind but rather anxiety and worry. They are enslaved to food, technology, or other forms of pleasure, they engage even when they know that the interaction is detrimental to their well being.

The deep insight we receive from the Mitzvah to refrain from eating the fruit for three years, is that before we can use the material to our advantage, we must demonstrate restraint. By doing so we exercise control and ensure that we are in the driver’s seat. That it is serving us, not the other way around.

If I can say no when necessary, then when I say yes, I do so in a healthy and wholesome manner.   

What is true regarding the fruit of the land of Israel is also true in our daily life.

There are moments when we are engaged in study or prayer, at which time we refrain from all fruit of the world and focus on our inner spiritual identity. This gives us the power to then use the fruit of the world in a holy, productive and healthy manner.[4]

 


[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/12/magazine/we-didnt-eat-the-marshmallow-the-marshmallow-ate-us.html?_r=0

[2] 19:23-25. 

[3] See Sifsy Cohen on the verse.

[4] Adapted from, the teachings of the Rebbe, 10 Shvat 5714.  

Creative Speech

s.jpgCreative Speech 

In recent years social scientists began to observe that the choice of words used to frame the dissection determine the outcome. Here is one example regarding health:

 A patient has just been told that he has a terminal illness. However, he is informed that there is an operation that might save his life. If he is told that there is a 90 percent survival rate for the operation, he will respond one way. If he is told that there is a 10 percent chance of dying during the operation, he will respond differently. When he is told that he has a 10 percent chance of dying, rather than a 90 percent chance of surviving, he is about three times less likely to have the operation.

If the subject is framed as a loss — 10 percent chance of dying — as opposed to  a gain — 90 percent chance of living — people respond entirely differently. They make a different decision.[1]

This should come as no surprise to students of Judaism.

In the middle of the book of Leviticus, between the discussion of the most intensely holy times in Judaism; between the story of the first day the Divine presence rested in the temple and the commandments regarding Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the calendar, the Torah introduces a seemingly unrelated set of laws. The Torah devotes no less than 116 verses to discuss the laws of Tzaraat, the supernatural from of leprosy, which, our sages explain, would miraculously appear as a punishment for the sin of speaking evil about others. Why does the Torah devote so much space and an unusual amount of details, to the subject of the impurity and the following purification process of Tzaraat?

In some ways, the Torah considers the impurity of Tzaraat to be the most severe form of impurity. The person afflicted with Tzaraat, alone amongst all forms of impurity, had to leave the city, was isolated from others and dwelt alone.

This implies that, in some ways, evil speech is worse than any other form of sin.

Indeed, the commentators explain, that the foundation of a healthy society is a relationship of friendship and trust. Thus, a person speaking slander is sowing distrust and created division in society which hampers economic and social well being. Thus, to preserve itself, society has no choice but to expel the speaker of evil tongue until he is rehabilitated to the point where he appreciates the benefits of a healthy society.   

Yet there is much more to the story.

The Torah has a deep respect for speech. As early as in the third verse of Torah, we read that G-d created the world with speech, “And G-d said let there be light and there was light”. The Torah understands that speech is tremendously potent, that just as G-d created the universe with speech, we too shape our own universe through speech. 

A child misbehaves in the class, the teacher cannot seem to grab the child’s attention. If the teacher tells the child ”you are the worst trouble maker who ever stepped foot into this classroom”, then indeed, right then and there a trouble maker is created. If the teacher tells the child “you have so much energy! If we learn to channel your energy you will accomplish great things” then right then and there greatness is born.

The Torah spends 116 verses on the subject of Tzaraat in order to teach us that holiness depends on the words we use. The words we use create our reality. A productive and holy society can only be created through positive speech.

For just as G-d created the universe with speech, we too shape our own universe through speech.



[1]http://www.npr.org/2016/12/06/504577235/are-you-of-two-minds-michael-lewis-new-book-explores-how-we-make-decisions  

Family Harmony

n.jpgFamily Harmony  

After an act of deep betrayal, the children were about to reconcile with their father. They gathered together for what was to be the culmination of a month long effort to rehabilitate their loving relationship.

All were gathered in great anticipation of the arrival of their father. Yet, one important question remained: could the children reunite with their father before they healed the division between themselves?

The opening verse of this week’s Parsha, Shimini, describes, how after months of tremendous devotion and effort, the Jewish people finally completed the construction of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, in the desert. The Mishkan was the place where the divine presence would dwell. It was the place where the people would see that the terrible betrayal, the sin of the golden calf, was forgiven, and that G-d would once again dwell in their midst, as He did at Sinai.    

On that day, the Torah tells us:

And it was on the eighth day, that Moses summoned Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. And he said to Aaron, "Take for yourself a bull calf as a sin offering”.[1]

Moses told Aaron to offer a calf for atonement. Why a calf? While we need to turn to Rashi, the primary Biblical commentator, to inform us of the reason for offering a calf specifically, it was certainly clear to the people of Israel at the time: the calf was to represent the atonement of the sin of the golden calf. It was obvious to all that the Divine presence could not return to the Jewish people before the betrayal was finally and completely healed.     

But then Moses continued: 

And to the children of Israel, you shall speak, saying, 'Take a he-goat as a sin offering…”[2]

What now? Why a goat? What other “unfinished business” did the people have to attend to before the glory of G-d would appear before them?

While the” calf” immediately evoked the story of the golden calf, finding the meaning of the “goat” is a bit harder. We must turn back to the book of Genesis to discover that indeed the goat played an important role in the most terrible tragic sin of the family of Israel: the sale of Joseph.[3] After the brothers tore their family unity to shreds by selling Joseph to slavery in Egypt, a sale which eventually led to the entire family relocating to Egypt and eventually descending into slavery, instead of showing any remorse they used a goat for their cover up:

And they took Joseph's coat, and they slaughtered a he-goat, and they dipped the coat in the blood. And they sent the fine woolen coat, and they brought [it] to their father, and they said, "We have found this; now recognize whether it is your son's coat or not." He recognized it, and he said, "[It is] my son's coat; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn up."[4]

As the people gathered at the temple waiting to see a sign of the Divine presence that would heal the tear between the Children of Israel and their father in heaven, Moses taught them that in order to heal the relationship with their father, the children must first heal the relationship with each other. Moses explained that the jealousy and division that led to the sale of Joseph, was, in fact, the precise character trait that led to the division and separation from G-d at the golden calf and must be eradicated from their midst if they were to find harmony with G-d.

For indeed, the only way for children to be in complete harmony with a parent is when they are in complete harmony with each other.[5]

 

 


[1] Leviticus 9:1-2.

[2] Ibid. 9:3.

[3] See Midrash Toras Kohamim.

[4] Genesis 37:31-33.

[5] Based on the Kli Yakar on Parshas Shmini. 

The Road to Gratitude

so.jpgThe Road to Gratitude

Unique among the various types of offerings discussed in the book of Leviticus is the thanksgiving offering. It was brought when an individual wanted to offer thanks to G-d for being saved from a danger -

as Rashi explains:

“if [he is bringing the offering] to give thanks for a miracle that had happened to him, for instance, those who made a sea-voyage [and returned safely] or journeyed in the desert, or those who had been imprisoned [and were subsequently released]”[1]

- he would bring an offering to the temple.  

The thanksgiving offering was unique in that along with the animal it was required to bring no less than forty loaves of bread. In addition, the thanksgiving offering together with the forty loaves of bread, had to be eaten the day the offering was offered up until midnight, unlike similar offerings which were allowed to be eaten for two days.

Why does the Torah obligate the person offering thanks to bring so much food and eat it in so short a time? How can one person possibly eat an entire sheep and forty loaves of bread in one day?

The answer, of course, is that it is indeed impossible to eat all that food alone, yet the Torah requires all that food to be consumed in so short a time, specifically in order to ensure that the person does not eat alone.[2] The Torah is teaching that in order to offer thanks to G-d one must celebrate with family, friends and strangers. In order for the thanksgiving to be genuine, the celebration must be shared.

Gratitude is not always an easy feeling to experience. Gratitude requires humility. An arrogant person feels that he is the center of the universe, that he is entitled to all the blessings in his life, and that anything anyone does for him is not enough for he deserves even more. An arrogant person cannot feel grateful. 

To experience the joy of feeling grateful, one must escape the self centered ego. Thus the Torah instructs that no thanksgiving offering may be offered without the key ingredient which is the celebrating and connecting with others. Thus the Torah commands that a sheep and forty loaves of bread must be eaten in one day, in order that the person who was redeemed from a difficult circumstance in the physical sense,  should now liberate himself in the spiritual sense. As an expression of gratitude to G-d for redeeming him from a sorrow, he must reciprocate by freeing himself from the confines of the the self and seeking to connect and share with others.

At the Passover Seder we see how these three themes, humility, sharing and gratitude, are bound together and reinforce each other. During the Seder, as soon as we break the middle Matzah, feeling its texture and internalizing its message of humility, we proceed to tell the story of the Exodus. Yet, we begin not with the story but with an invitation and a declaration that are home is open to the needy:

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat; whoever is in need, let him come and conduct the Seder of Passover. 

For as soon as we touch the Matzah we begin to experience its liberating energy, allowing us to transcend the self and feel the pain and need of others.[3]

At the culmination of the story is the powerful Dayenu song, the song of detailed thanksgiving and gratitude for the kindness that has been bestowed upon us.

At the Seder table we experience humility, sharing and gratitude. For spiritual liberty is transcending the self, which allows us to connect to others, and to feel gratitude.

 

 


[1] Leviticus 7:12.

[2] See Abarbenel’s commentary.

[3] See the Rebbe’s talks, Passover 5728. 

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