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Blog - Torah Insights

On a Distant Road

On a Distant Road

As the first anniversary of the Exodus of Egypt was approaching, G-d commanded the Jewish people to offer the Passover offering, with all its laws and customs, on the 14th of the month Nisan, on the same day it was offered, back in Egypt, one year earlier.  

There were a group of Jews who were ritually impure, and thus they were not able to participate in the Pesach offering. They approached Moses and asked: “why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?”[1] G-d accepted their demand and instituted a “second Passover”. Anyone who was ritually unfit, unable, or unwilling[2], to offer the Passover offering on the proper date, the 14th of Nisan, would be permitted to do so one month later, on the 14th of Iyar. As stated in this week’s Parsha, the portion of Bihaloscha:    

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel saying, Any person who becomes unclean from [contact with] the dead, or is on a distant road, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord.[3]

When talking about the person who could not bring the Passover offering because he was far from Jerusalem, the Torah uses the term, the person was “on a distant road”.  Why assume that he was on a road? The same law applies to anyone who was in a distant place, whether he was in his home, office, the beach or the park. Why then does the Torah write that the person was “on a distant road” and not, the all inclusive, “in a distant place”?

The Torah does not write that the Jew was in a distant place, because that would imply that the Jew, being where he was, far from the Temple in Jerusalem, was indeed in his “place” - in his natural place, in the place where he belonged. The Torah is teaching us that the “place” of every Jew is in the home of G-d, celebrating together with the entire Jewish people.

A Jew may seem far removed from Judaism, to the extent that on Passover he is ritually unfit, unable, or unwilling, to join his brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. A Jew may have traveled far away, literally as well as figuratively. A Jew might think that he has found a new home. He might think that he has found a new place for himself.  Yet the Torah teaches us that no Jew is in a “distant place”. For the distant place is not his place. He is merely on a journey, he is merely on a “distant road”. 

The message of the second Passover is that the Torah will never give up on a Jew. The Torah will always offer a “second chance”. Because no matter how far a Jew may roam he is still only on the read. Home for the Jew, the place of a Jew, is the house of G-d in Jerusalem.[4]

 


[1] Numbers 9:7.

[2] See Lekutey Sichos vol. 8, page 63 for a digest on whether one who willingly skipped the first Passover is able to offer the offering on the second Passover.

[3] Numbers 9:9-10

[4] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Pesach Sheini 5740. 

Half a Wagon?

Half a Wagon?  

The Jewish people donated generously to the construction of the temple in the desert. Their enthusiasm to donate to the construction project was so great that Moses had to tell the people to stop donating. Yet, after the Tabernacle was built, it was the leaders of the tribes of Israel who donated the means to transport the tabernacle through the treacherous desert. In this week's portion, the portion of Naso, the Torah states:

And it was that on the day that Moses finished erecting the Mishkan, he anointed it, sanctified it, and all its vessels, and the altar and all its vessels, and he anointed them and sanctified them. The chieftains of Israel, the heads of their fathers' houses, presented [their offerings]. They were the leaders of the tribes. They were the ones who were present during the counting. They brought their offering before the Lord: six covered wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for each two chieftains, and an ox for each one; they presented them in front of the Mishkan.[1]

The leader of each of the twelve tribes offered one ox, but only half a wagon, thus a total of twelve oxen and six wagons were donated.

Why did each leader donate only half a wagon? Would it not be more appropriate to donate a complete item to the temple? Would it not be more appropriate for the leaders of the tribes to express more generosity?

In our life, there are two ways in which we can express our creativity and contribute to the world around us; the first way is to do it alone and the second way is to collaborate with others. There are certain things that we feel we must do alone. We like to express our talents in a specific way that captures our unique perspective. It is often hard to include someone else in a project in which we feel deeply invested, because including another perspective would compromise our unique contribution.

Sometimes we like to donate a figurative “complete ox”.

But there are times when we understand that we must collaborate. We understand that in order for society to advance and accomplish great things people must come together in collaboration. People must pool their resources and talents to achieve great results. We understand that we are no more than a part of a whole, that our contribution is hardly significant without combining it with the hard work of others.

There are times when we realize that we are not a “complete wagon”. We recognize that in order to maximize our potential and impact we must combine with others. 

The leaders’ choice of gifts reflected an important truth: on one hand, we are complete on our own; while on the other hand, we are half of a greater whole. In our service of G-d, in fulfilling our purpose in life, we are called upon to be a “complete ox”. The powerful ox represents the unique excitement and energy we derive from “going it alone”, we sense that we alone have made a unique contribution to the universe. Yet, we also recognize, that in the service of transporting the Tabernacle, in the awesome mission of bringing the Divine to the spiritual desert, we need a wagon. And for the wagon to be complete we can never be alone.[2]

 


[1] Numbers 7:1-3.

[2] Inspired by the teachings of the Rebbe, Shabbos Naso 5740. 

Covered for the Journey

Covered for the Journey

The fourth book of the five books of Moses, the book of Numbers, describes the people of Israel’s journey through the desert. The book begins with the Israelites camped in the Sinai desert, and at its conclusion we find the people camped at the bank of the Jordan River, opposite the city of Jericho, ready to cross into the promised land.

The book of Numbers begins with the Jewish people camped in an orderly fashion but very quickly things turn chaotic, as time and again the people reject the leadership of Moses, lose their faith in G-d, and fail to keep sight of their goal of reaching the promised land. Only at the end of the book, almost forty years after the chaos erupts, do the people triumph over the obstacles and reach their destination, the entrance to the promised land.

The first portion of the book, the portion of Bamidbar, describes in great detail the order in which the Jewish people camped and traveled in the desert. The temple was in the center surrounded by four camps, each containing three tribes. When it came time to travel the Levites would deconstruct the temple, cover the ark and the other vessels, and the people would proceed to travel in the same formation.

The Torah tells us that during its journey, the ark was to be covered with no less than three coverings:

When the camp is about to travel, Aaron and his sons shall come and take down the dividing screen; with it, they shall cover the Ark of the Testimony. They shall place upon it a covering of tachash skin and on top of that they shall spread a cloth of pure blue wool. Then they shall put its poles in place.[1]

If the book of Numbers is the book describing the Jewish journey through the wilderness, then it must also contain a message for the journey of each and every Jew. We too are on a journey called life, we too must overcome the challenges of the wilderness in order to reach our goal, fulfill our purpose, and arrive at our destination.

Just like our ancestors in the desert, our life can be divided into two periods: the first is when we are “camped”, and the second is when we are “journeying”. There are times when we are “camped”, we are tranquil and rested, free of inner turmoil and struggle. In those times, our figurative temple is constructed and our ark is revealed, we experience spiritual clarity, we feel connected to the Divine wisdom of the Torah. And then there are moments when we “journey”. We are moving through the wilderness of our lives, searching for clarity, understanding, and the embrace of the Divine. There are moments when life resembles, not the tranquility of the set up camp, but rather the turmoil of travel. There are moments when we feel surrounded by uncertainty, engulfed in spiritual darkness. Our ark is covered and our soul is silent. In those moments we ask ourselves, why? Why the darkness? Why the challenge? Why isn't the divine goodness obvious to us?   

The book of Numbers gives us the answer.

When the Jews were camped, life was peaceful and spiritually fulfilling. The wisdom of the Torah represented by the ark was accessible. Yet the people were stationary. They did not grow. They were not forced to journey towards their goal.  

The Torah teaches that in order for the people to journey, the ark must be covered. For a person to truly grow he must be challenged to reach his hidden potential, he must learn to forge ahead even when his ark is covered and when his inner inspiration is asleep. 

Just as the ark was covered with three coverings in order to travel, so too G-d covers the soul with three coverings: the soul is wrapped in a human body, it is surrounded by an evil inclination, and it is placed in a culture foreign to its spiritual source.

When the soul is in heaven it is like an angel, surrounded by the light of G-d, its ark is revealed. However, this is not sufficient. G-d wants more. G-d wants the soul to grow; to be transformed from a “stationary” to a “traveling” soul.

Only when the soul prevails over the concealment of its inner evil inclination and the outside forces of darkness, does the soul “journey”. Only then does the soul break free of its limitation and touch the infinity of the Divine.[2]

 

 


[1] Numbers 4:5-6.

[2] Based on the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutey Sichos Bamidbar vol. 8 sicha 2.  

Ten Women, One Oven

Ten Women, One Oven 

“Ten women will bake their bread in one oven, they will place their bread on a scale, and you will eat and not be satisfied.”[1] This verse is from the “rebuke”, where the Torah tells of the terrible calamities that would befall the Jewish people if they would abandon G-d and his commandments.

Every verse in the Torah has multiple layers of meaning. The simple meaning of the word is the “body” of the verse and the mystical interpretation is the “soul” of the verse. The verses of the “rebuke” are no exception, they may seem to be describing terrible curses but like the body that contains a soul, hidden within these verses are powerful blessings.

On the surface, the verse, “Ten women will bake their bread in one oven” describes the process of baking literal bread. On the deeper level, however, the bread refers to the Torah which is the spiritual bread and nourishment of the Jew.

Bread is about more than just kneading the various ingredients into a dough. Bread must be baked. Dough that isn’t baked will not be digested properly and its nutrients will therefore not enter the bloodstream efficiently. The nutrients of the bread will not become one with the person eating the bread. The heat of the fire enables the bread, to be digested properly. The heat of the fire enables the bread to become one with the person eating the bread. The fire allows the nutrients of the bread to enter the bloodstream and become one with the person. 

The same is true for the spiritual bread. The Torah that we study must become part of us, it must not remain a distinct entity just sitting in our mind. The teachings of the Torah must become part of our bloodstream, part of our character. Not just an intellectual idea to ponder but rather it must become who we are.

How does this happen? How do the words of Torah that we study become part of us? Well, like the any other bread, the Torah must be baked with fire. The fire enables the dough to unite with us.

The fire which bakes our spiritual bread is the fire of passionate love of G-d. The fire is the heart surging upward like a flame. The fire is the soul’s yearning to escape the grip of its wick, thirsting to reunite with its source.

“Ten women will bake their bread in one oven”. The great, yet hidden, blessing in this verse is that the fire of love will consume and involve all ten faculties of the soul, all ten women, and direct them to one oven, to one love. To the love of the one G-d.

And then comes the climax: “and you will eat and you will not be satisfied”.

As devastating a curse this is in the plain meaning so is the greatness of this blessing in the deeper meaning. “And you will not be satisfied”. Your love and yearning will never cease. You will never be satisfied with your spiritual state of being, you will always yearn to grow, to move closer. Your love will only intensify.

“You will not be satisfied”. You put on Tefilin today, you pray to G-d, you learned a portion of the Torah today, you’re in love. “You will not be satisfied”. Your love will not be satiated, it will intensify. When you don Tefilin tomorrow morning, the next time you pray or study Torah, your love will grow, the love will intensify ever stronger, and soar ever higher.

Bake your bread. Infuse your life with spiritual passion. Gather all “ten women”, to “one oven”, to one fire, to one love.

Most importantly, never be complacent. Always seek to grow. Always intensify the passion. “Eat, but don’t be satisfied”.[2]

 

 


[1] Leviticus. 26:26

[2] Based on Lekutey Torah Parshas Bechukosay.

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