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Blog - Torah Insights

Cover Your Eyes - ואתחנן

Shema.jpegCover Your Eyes

Two spouses don’t seem to be able to relate to each other. Their perspectives are very different, they don’t see the world the same way. Their underlying values, what they consider significant, meaningful and worthy of pursuing, differ considerably between them.

Is their relationship doomed to failure? Is there anything they can do to strengthen the bond, to enhance their closeness?

Even before they can communicate, deliberate, negotiate and compromise, there is a more fundamental exercise that they must first engage in, in order for the relationship to survive and then thrive. The most important step, the one that will allow all further growth to occur, is that they each need to accept that the other person has a legitimate perspective. Each of them must practice “closing their eyes” to their own perspective, and, at least for a moment, learn how to see reality from the other person’s perspective.

This does not mean that anybody needs to abandon their own point of view, values, attitudes, and mindset. But they each attempt to put their perspective aside, to “cover their eyes” on their own point of view, in order to appreciate and give legitimacy to the other perspective. Then they can, once again “open their eyes”, get in touch with their own mind and heart, and, overtime, learn how the different, and occasionally, opposing perspectives, can not only co-exist, but, in fact, can complement each other, leading to a far more interesting and far deeper experience.

This, precisely, is what we do when we recite the “Shema” every morning, when we awake, and every evening, as we prepare go to sleep.

We are in a relationship with G-d. He is the groom and we are the bride. But make no mistake, the honeymoon is over. There are differences between us, and those differences run deep, and they touch the essential definitions of reality. From G-d’s perspective, He is the all pervading reality. After all, all of the universe is dependent on G-d’s vitality for its very existence. From G-d perspective, the only significant thing, the only thing worth pursuing is connecting to G-dliness. Our perspective is different. From our point of view, reality is the physical world, pleasure and joy are derived from the material world.

In this week’s portion, Vaetchanan, Moses retells the history of the relationship. At first we fell in love with G-d’s perspective. At our wedding, at Sinai, G-d gave us a glimpse at his perspective. As Moses relates: “You have been shown, in order to know that the Lord He is God; there is none else besides Him. (Deuteronomy 4:35)” . At that awesome moment we felt that there was nothing else significant in the universe other than G-d.

But the wedding concluded, the music stopped playing, the excitement faded. Suddenly we realized that the perspective of G-d is very different from our own. We wonder is this relationship viable? Can we connect to a G-d whose perspective is so different from our own?

Moses has the answer. He tells us that twice a day we should recite the “Shema”. We cover our eyes with our right hand and we say:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.

We close our eyes, because we need to put our perspective aside. We need to acknowledge that although from our perspective we see not oneness but plurality, not one divine truth but a multiplicity of material needs and desires, nevertheless there is another perspective. We acknowledge and try to appreciate that we are able to close our eyes, remove ourselves, albeit momentarily, from our interpretation of reality and appreciate that from the perspective of G-d there is nothing but Divine unity, and all of the universe is but an expression of that truth.

And then we open our eyes, we once again accept our perspective. But at this point we are able to create a relationship that does not negate either of the perspectives, rather it fuses and enhances both perspectives. As Moses continues in the Shema prayer:

And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.

Despite our different perspectives, in fact, specifically because of our differences, we can experience a deep and meaningful relationship. We are able to connect the words of the Torah, the unity and love of G-d, to our daily life. Our material pursuits are sanctified because we use them as a conduit for holiness. Our daily life -  when we walk on the road, lay down in the evening or rise in the morning, in the cities we create and the homes which we build - our homes and our gates - are imbued with spiritual meaning and Divine holiness.

 

In Your Own Voice - דברים

D.jpgIn Your Own Voice

The fifth book of the five books of Moses,“Devarim”, Which means words, is named for the opening statement in the book:

“These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on that side of the Jordan”.

The Torah continues:

It came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the Lord had commanded him regarding them;

Toward the end of Moses’s life, as the Jews were about to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land, Moses spoke to his beloved people. He repeated all the commandments written in the first four books and he retold  the stories of their sins and shortcomings of the past forty years, in hopes that his words would help them learn and grow from their negative experiences.

While the first four books, are written in third person narrative, (as in the very common verse “And G-d spoke to Moses”), the fifth book,  is written in first person narrative, in the voice of Moses himself. This difference is significant. It represents a change in the role of Moses, and a change in the way we are to understand the Torah.

Moses received the Torah from G-d and transmitted it to us. Moses’s role was to be a loyal conduit who would convey the words of the Torah precisely as they were given to him. In the fifth book, however, Moses was no longer a mere transmitter, in the fifth book, the words, ideas and teachings were internalized within Moses, he therefore spoke them in his own voice.

This explains how both themes of the book of Devarim, the repetition of the Torah in Moses’s own voice and the words of rebuke, are interrelated. The purpose of rebuke was to inspire the Jewish people to return to G-d. What was the inspiration to return? How would a person who rejected the voice of morality, and the will of G-d, be inspired to return?  Returning to G-d, then, comes not from heeding the voice from above, but rather from listening to the voice that emanates from within ourselves. The inspiration, commitment and courage to return to G-d comes from the teachings and values of the Torah that have become part of the Jew. Returning to G-d means listening to the words of Torah, not as they are communicated from heaven, but rather as they emanate from deep within the heart of the Jew.

Like Moses, we too, in our own study of the Torah, experience both these steps. At first we listen and learn. We seek to hear and understand that which the Torah is teaching us. This is the first stage, the stage represented by the first four books, in which we seek to receive the divine words handed down to us.

And then we arrive at the fifth book. It may not happen overnight, it may take forty years of wandering, but over time we began to discover the ideas of the Torah presented within our deepest self. Over time, the words of the Torah become our own. We identify with them, and they express our own point of view. In the second stage of study, in the fifth book, we speak the words of Torah in our own voice.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei sichos vol. 19 Divarim Sicha 2.)

 

East of the Jordan - מטות מסעי

j.jpgEast of the Jordan

How are we to know what our life’s mission is? How are we to go about considering which path we should follow, which avenue to pursue? What clues can direct us to follow the road leading to the very purpose of our own creation?  

The tribes of Reuben and Gad had an insight.

They felt that one must look at the specific gifts and opportunities that one was blessed with. They sensed that with the specific blessings they were gifted with G-d was directing them on the path that was their true calling.

Which is why the tribes of Reuben and Gad did not want to cross the Jordan River and enter the land of Israel.

They looked around and saw the lands which the Jewish people had conquered east of the Jordan River, and they immediately sensed that their destiny was tied to the land which was outside the borders of the holy land, outside the land that G-d promised to give the Jewish people. They saw that the land east of the Jordan was a land perfect for pasture. They turned to Moses and said:

“The land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock." (Numbers 32:4)

They argued that if G-d blessed them with an abundance of livestock, if “your servants have livestock”, then surely their divine mission was to embrace their individual blessing and settle in the land best suited to raising livestock, even if that land was not the land of Israel.   

At first Moses was furious. Moses feared that, just like the episode of the spies almost forty years earlier, he was once again witnessing a rebellion of the people who were rejecting the land of Israel out of fear of conquering and living in the land.

Ultimately, however, Moses granted their request, for they explained that, in fact, they could not be more different then the spies. For the tribes of Reuben and Gad sought not to reject Israel, but to expand its holiness and its influence outside its borders.

Gad and Reuben understood that if G-d was directing them to find their calling outside the land of Israel it was not because they were disconnected from Israel’s story and mission, but rather because they were charged with the mission to expand the holiness of Israel beyond its borders; demonstrating that the morality and light of the Jewish people is able to transform foreign territory.

Yet there was one condition that the children of Gad and Reuben had to meet before they were given the lands they requested. They had to commit to be in the front lines of the conquest of the land of Israel. As Moses told them:

Moses said to them, "If you do this thing, if you arm yourselves for battle before the Lord, and your armed force crosses the Jordan before the Lord until He has driven out His enemies before Him, and the Land will be conquered before the Lord, afterwards you may return, and you shall be freed [of your obligation] from the Lord and from Israel, and this land will become your heritage before the Lord. (Numbers 32:22)

To be able to extend the holiness of Israel to a foreign land, one must be even more committed to Israel than if he were living in Israel. To be able to sanctify land that is not holy one needs to be even more committed to holiness than his brethren who are living in a land permeated with holiness.

The children of Gad and Reuben teach the Jew living outside of Israel that his purpose is to expand the holiness and inspiration of the land of Israel to all four corners of the earth.

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(Based on the teaching of the Rebbe, Reshimos booklet 51.)

 

Appointed Time - פנחס

ca.jpegAppointed Time

The Biblical word for holiday is “Moed”, which means “appointed time” as well as “meeting”. Holidays are “appointed times” set aside for us to “meet”, for on the holiday, we have the space to meet with G-d, and with the parts of ourselves which we sometimes overlook due to the demands and distractions of everyday life.

Each of the holidays has a unique theme and energy. Each holiday gives us the opportunity to experience and internalize the inspiration of the extraordinary, each is an “appointed time” to celebrate the blessings we are blessed with: exodus and freedom on Passover, Torah and spiritual enlightenment on Shavuot, holiness and atonement on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and joy on Sukkot.

Our weekly portion, Pinchas, lists the offerings we are commanded to offer at the holy temple on each of these “Moadim” - “appointed times”. Yet, in what seems to be a departure from the overall theme, the Torah reiterates the commandment to offer the daily communal offerings. The daily offerings were mentioned earlier in the Torah, why are they reiterated here, and, more specifically, why were the ordinary daily offerings, reiterated in the context of the extraordinary holidays?

We tend to view our lives as divided between the ordinary and extraordinary, between the usual routine and the excitement of the novel experience, between habit and inspiration.

Indeed there are times that feel like holidays. We feel that the hand of G-d that took our ancestors out of Egypt is once again present in our life. We feel the light from above shining brightly upon us, the wind of inspiration in our wings and the energy in the air which fills our entire body with enthusiasm for life. Yet there are also days which feel unremarkable and monotonous, times when we feel sapped of energy, devoid of excitement and purpose.   

The Torah seeks to teach us that, in truth, every moment is a miracle and every day a holiday. There is no such thing as an ordinary day. The magnificent sunrise, the beautiful sunset, is no less an expression of the Divine power than the exodus from Egypt.

When referring to the daily offerings the Torah says:

The Lord spoke to: Moses, saying:

Command the children of Israel and say to them: My offering, My food for My fire offerings, a spirit of satisfaction for Me, you shall take care to offer to Me at its appointed time.

The one lamb you shall offer up in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer up in the afternoon. (Numbers 28:1-3)

The Torah refers to each and every day as a “Moed”, a unique appointed time. As Rashi puts it:

at its appointed time: Each day is the appointed time prescribed for the continual offerings.  

Rashi is telling us that each and every ordinary day can indeed become a “Moed”, a holiday, a day filled with enthusiasm, holiness and joy. If we take the time to experience the blessing of life G-d gifted us with, if we make time in every day to serve the purpose of our creation, then, indeed, each and every day is a Moed, a holiday, a day in which we enjoy the blessing of life and the joy of a meaningful day. [1]

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[1] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutey Sichos Pinchas vol. 28 Sicha 2.

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