Blog - Torah Insights

Battling Self Doubt - שלח

Battling Self Doubt 

Do you ever wish you would have more faith in yourself? Do you ever wish that you would be confident in achieving your goals? Do you ever tell yourself that if only you believed in your ability you would be able to reach greater heights? 

When a person believes he can achieve a goal, commit to a challenge, or sell a product, it seems that the true believer will succeed simply because of the confidence he has in his own success. This benefit of belief, it seems, cannot be achieved by the skeptic. Because merely imitating the actions of the believer will not suffice, because, often, a critical factor to success, is the belief that success is possible.

When the Biblical spies returned from scouting the land of Canaan (Israel), they proceeded to persuade the Jews that conquering the land of Canaan would be impossible. The inhabitants were too powerful and the cities too fortified. The spies employed many subtle but effective tactics in their persuasion of the people. Perhaps one of the more powerful points they argued was that the people would not be able to conquer the land because, by dispatching spies in the first place to assess the strength of the inhabitants and evaluate a plan on their own, the people demonstrated a lack of faith in G-d’s promise that they would take the land. The lack of faith, argued the spies, would undermine the motivation, morale, and ability to achieve their goal.

Caleb, one of the two spies who remained loyal to the land of Israel, pushed back forcefully. The Torah tells us:  

Caleb silenced the people to [hear about] Moses, and he said, "We can surely go up and take possession of it, for we can indeed overcome it." (13:30)

Rashi offers the back story. Caleb acted as if he was about to speak against Moses. The people, who by that point were disillusioned of their hope of following Moses into Israel, were eager to hear what they thought would be Caleb’s disparaging words against Moses:

He (Caleb) cried out, “Is this the only thing the son of Amram has done to us?” Anyone listening might have thought that he intended to disparage him, and since there was [resentment] in their hearts against Moses because of the spies’ report, they all became silent so they could hear his defamation. But he said, “Didn’t he split the sea for us, bring down the manna for us and cause the quails to fly down to us?” 

Caleb was strategic about the examples of the miracles he employed. Caleb left out the most obvious examples, the exodus from Egypt and the ten plagues, because Caleb was specifically addressing the fears that the spies planted in the hearts of the Jews. We will focus on Caleb’s last example: “cause the quails to fly down to us”. The quail came to the Jewish camp in response to the complaints against the manna. The people were tired of the manna and wanted meat. They complained and bemoaned “who will give us meat?” By evoking the story of the quail Caleb demonstrated that G-d would help even if their trust was not complete.


Just as the Jewish people were tasked with entering the land of Israel and transforming it to a holy land, each of us is tasked with the transformation of our surroundings and environment into a “holy land”, a place hospitable to G-dliness. We often despair and doubt our own ability to stay focused, upbeat and achieve our purpose. We question ourselves: are we able to battle distraction, despair, cynicism, apathy, and create an environment of holiness, joy and harmony? We sometimes doubt ourselves, and then use the self doubt as proof that we cannot succeed. 

The lesson Caleb teaches us, explains the Rebbe, is that we will succeed in facing our challenges and fulfilling our purpose. Even if we are unsure, even if we experience self doubt, G-d will help us succeed. Because G-d believes in us. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos vol. 8 Shlach 1)    


Raise the Flame - בהעלותך

Raise the Flame

Nearly a year after they arrived at Mount Sinai the Jewish people began their journey toward the promised land. Before our portion describes the tumultuous journey, which, ultimately, lasted forty years, the Torah reiterates the commandment to light the Menorah:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him: "When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the Menorah." (Numbers 8:1-2)

The Menorah is a symbol of the mission statement of the Jewish people. Our task is to illuminate ourselves and the world around us with the warmth, enlightenment and inspiration of the Torah. As we depart from Sinai to implement the teachings of the Torah, we are reminded that each of us is heir to the legacy of Aaron, who would kindle the lights of the Menorah, symbolizing Aaron’s effort to inspire and illuminate each and every soul.

The word the Torah uses to describe the lighting of the Menorah, (“Behaalotcha”), means to lift up, which is an unusual word to describe kindling a flame. Rashi offers two explanations on why the word “lift up” is used in the context of kindling the flame:

He is required to kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself. Our Sages further expounded from here that there was a step in front of the menorah, on which the Kohen stood to prepare [the lamps].

These two explanations apply to the figurative kindling of the flames as well. The first interpretation explains that the word “rise up” is used because the flame rises up independently and no longer needs the influence of the candle that ignited it. This teaches us that when we seek to inspire others, be it a child, a student or a friend, it is not enough to bring our flame close to theirs and allow them to be affected by our excitement and passion. To “lift up” the flame is to “kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself” by sharing the fire until the recipient of the inspiration no longer needs the teacher in order to receive inspiration. For the child is inspired and passionate on her own, even without the continued presence of the teacher.

The second interpretation explains that the words “when you rise up” refers not to the flame but to Aaron who kindles the flame, because Aaron would rise up on a step in order to light the Menorah. This interpretation too contains a lesson for each of us. The Torah is telling is that the surest path to elevate oneself is to seek to inspire others. While the natural tendency of someone who seeks to grow spiritually may be to seclude himself and focus inward, the Torah teaches us that by preparing to ignite someone else’s flame, you too will rise up, you too will be inspired.   

This double message - that we must seek to inspire others until they shine on their own, and that the surest way to grow ourselves is by inspiring others - is at the heart of what the Rebbe constantly taught us, and is the message the Rebbe imparted to Rabbi and Rebbetzin Yisrael and Vivi Deren before they got married and set out to establish Chabad in our region.

In the words of Rabbi Deren (Derher magazine, Tamuz 5778):

Before our wedding, we went into yechidus (a private audience), and the Rebbe told us something very powerful, which continues to guide us until today. The Rebbe said, “Ir vet machen lichtig un varem ba andere, un der Aibershter vet machen lichtig un varem ba eich — you shall bring light and warmth to others, and G-d will bring light and warmth to you.” That blessing and assurance is what keeps us going until today.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Behaalotcha 5748 and 5749)


Transporting the Temple - נשא

Transporting the Temple

After describing the order in which the twelve tribes of Israel traveled through the desert, the Torah tells of the census of the tribe of Levi, the tribe tasked with transporting and building the tabernacle (the temple) which was in the center of the Jewish camp.

Like everything in the Torah, the details of the story of the Levites are relevant to our lives just as they were relevant to our ancestors in the desert. For we too are tasked with the mission of the Levites, to erect a home for G-d, in the figurative, spiritual desert, the world we live in. In order to create the temple we rely on the spiritual part of ourselves, on the Levites within our soul.     

The tribe of Levi was divided into three families.

The families of Gershon and Merori were tasked with transporting the curtains that covered the temple and the wooden planks of the temple walls. As the Torah tells us:

This is the service of the Gershonite families to serve and to carry.

They shall carry the curtains of the Mishkan and the Tent of Meeting, its covering and the Tachash skin covering overlaid upon it, and the screen for the entrance to the Tent of Meeting….

[As for] the sons of Merari...

This is the charge of their burden for all their service in the Tent of Meeting: the planks of the Mishkan, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets (4:24-31)

To create a temple in our lives, to build a haven of spirituality in the midst of a spiritual desert, we too employ the skills of the Levite families. To create holy space in our life, we too, like the families of Gershon and Merari, must create walls and a roof in order to take control of our environment. We must cultivate the capacity to say no, to reject, negative influences, temptations and distractions.

Yet saying no, rejecting the distractions and negativity is not enough. The third family of Levites, the family of Kehot, was tasked with transporting the vessels of the temple, the ark, menorah, table and alters.

Aaron and his sons shall finish covering the Holy and all the vessels of the Holy when the camp is set to travel, and following that, the sons of Kohath shall come to carry [them], but they shall not touch the sacred objects for [then] they will die. These are the burden of the sons of Kohath for the Tent of Meeting. (4:15)

Like the family of Kehot, we too must fill our space with the holy vessels, with holy positive experiences.  

The spiritual mission of each of the Levite families are alluded to in their names. Gershon is derived from the word Garesh, which means to chase away, to divorce. Merori comes from the word Mar, which means bitter. They represented the difficult task of learning to say no to That which seeks to pull us away from our commitment to holiness. Kehot, on the other hand, is derived from the biblical word Yikhat which means to gather. Kehot teaches us to cultivate positive experiences; to collect all of our daily experiences and gather them in to our temple, to use them as furniture for the home of G-d, to use  them as a conduit to fulfill the purpose of our creation.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 13 Naso 1).


Balancing Competing Values - במדבר

Balancing Competing Values

After detailing the census of the Jewish people in the desert, the fourth book of the Torah, the book of Numbers, describes how the Jewish people traveled and camped in the desert. The tabernacle and the Levites were in the center of the camp surrounded by four camps each consisting of three tribes. The Torah describes the makeup of each of the four camps, describing the tribe that was the leader of each camp and the other two tribes that were members of each camp.

Reading all this detail leaves the reader puzzled. The Torah’s messages, stories and teachings are eternal; why do we need to know precisely how the tribes organized in the desert? What relevance does this have to our lives today?   

Each of us have multiple aspirations and goals in our lives. We want to succeed in multiple realms simultaneously; we work to advance our career, our relationships, our health and fitness and our values. It often seems that we struggle to keep a healthy balance between all of our, sometimes, conflicting aspirations. The story of the tribes organizing and traveling in the desert, is the story of our life. We too should organize and prioritize our values in our figurative journey through the often complicated dessert en route to the promised land.

The four camps of tribes symbolize the four general pursuits which we value: (1) wisdom (2) character (3) physical strength and health (4) wealth. The order in which the Torah places the four camps tells us that they are all critical, yet we must remember the hierarchy of their importance. The first camp, east of the temple, led by the tribe of Judah embodied wisdom. The second camp, south of the temple, led by Reuben, embodied humility and good character. The third camp, north of the temple, led by the tribe of Ephraim, embodied physical strength. The fourth camp, west of the temple, embodied wealth. (see the Kli Yakar for a detailed analysis of how each tribe embodied its own particular quality).   

Naturally these values will conflict and undermine each other. Too much of one will take away from the focus on the other. Some of these values are more spiritual and abstract and other are more physical and concrete, thus, appreciating the value of one may lead to under emphasizing the other. The lesson is that in order for these values to create a wholesome life they must be organized around the temple, the house of the Torah. Our core, the center of our own personal figurative camp, is the Torah. Wisdom, good character, health and wealth, are all valuable and must be pursued because they are means by which we express the Torah and its teachings. Once these values are not an end purpose unto themselves but rather a means to express a deeper unified value (the Torah), they can coexist peacefully, each enhancing the other, creating harmony and serenity in our life.  

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