Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shabbos in a gas station

Almost forty years ago, Rabbi Chaim Drizin, emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in San Francisco, received a call from a Reform temple in Sacramento, California. They wanted their kids to experience a truly Chassidic Shabbat, and they wanted to know whether he would run a Shabbos program out in the mountains at their camp. He agreed.
Rabbi Drizin called Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Moshe Engel, and asked them to take part. Rabbi Engel lived in Long Beach and Rabbi Levitansky lived in Simcha Monica, so they arranged to fly up north together in order to join Rabbi Drizin.
There was only one problem. Rabbi Levitansky and Rabbi Engel were not able to arrange a flight until Friday afternoon. They had been told that the campsite was about 40 minutes’ drive from the airport, so they were confident that they would make it in time for Shabbos.
As it happened, they landed in Sacramento as planned and were in for a nasty shock. They were met by a teacher from the camp, Jack, who informed them that the camp was a two-and-a-half hour drive away! It was five o’clock, only two hours until Shabbos. The two rabbis told Jack to drive like mad. However, he missed the exit for the highway that lead directly to the camp. With this delay, their hope of getting to the camp before Shabbat faded away.
The rabbis began to discuss where they would spend Shabbat, as there was no way to make it to the camp on time. Finally, a minute before Shabbat, Jack pulled off the road in a gas station in the town of Auburn, California. The rabbis quickly emptied the car of whatever they would need for a Shabbat stay: their prayerbooks, challahs and wine. But where would they go? Where would they sleep?
After praying the Friday night service, the men began trudging around Auburn looking for a motel room. But being that it was Shabbat, they would not handle money. No motels were willing to grant them a room under those circumstances, despite their promises to pay as soon as Shabbat was up. Finally they found a seedy room over a bar, and there they spent the night.
The next morning, they walked back to the gas station to find that their food and prayerbooks had been taken! The two men prayed by heart to the best of their ability. The manager of the gas station offered them soda and snacks from the machines, which they gratefully accepted.
As the day wore on, the two rabbis wondered at the Divine providence that brought them to Auburn. For what possible reason had G-d caused them to be stranded in this town for Shabbat? They met no Jews in the city, nor did they encounter anyone who served as a clue to the mystery.
After Shabbat, Jack drove up again to take them to the camp. He told them that he had gone on ahead to the camp, and when he told the campers what had happened to the two rabbis, they did not believe him!
The two rabbis arrived in the camp and were greeted by a rousing welcome from the 100 teenagers participating in the Temple’s Shabbaton. The rabbis sang, spoke and shared stories with the students until late into the night. One of the songs they taught turned out to be a real hit with the kids. It was a song about keeping kosher, and it went like this: “All the animals that I eat must chew their cud and have split feet. Kosher meat just can’t be beat, so throw away that ham. Throw away that ham and bacon—I won’t eat it, you’re mistaken! I’m a Jew and I’m not fakin’—I want kosher meat to eat.”
The evening ended, and the rabbis were left with the mystery of why they had traveled all this way, spent Shabbat in a gas station and gone through all this just to teach some songs to the kids.
Quite a few years passed before they got the answer. Rabbi Engel was invited to spend Shabbat in Park City, Utah, with a group from a “Conservaform” Temple. A young couple in their early 20’s drove him from Salt Lake City to the campsite. They were to be the chaperones on this trip. “Are there many people who keep kosher here in Salt Lake City?” he asked.
This was before a Chabad House was established in Salt Lake City.
“A few older families keep kosher,” the husband said, “and so do we. We are the only young couple here who keeps kosher.” This was very intriguing to Rabbi Engel, and he asked, “What makes a couple your age commit to keeping kosher in the middle of Salt Lake City?”
“I’ll tell you why,” the wife said. “It’s going to sound like a crazy story. I once went to a Shabbaton and these rabbis who were supposed to come got stuck in a gas station. They came after Shabbos was over, and that night they sang this crazy song about kosher. The song began with ‘all the animals that I eat’ and ended with ‘I want kosher meat to eat.’ I was so touched by what they did,” she continued, “that even though I was sixteen, and I couldn’t keep kosher at home, I decided that when I had my own home, it would be kosher.”
How shocked the couple was when Rabbi Engel told them that he was one of the rabbis who had been stuck in the gas station! That’s when Rabbi Engel realized that he and Rabbi Levitansky had made a bigger impact by spending Shabbat in a gas station than they would have had they made it to the camp in time for Shabbat.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The real deal

This week a deal was signed.

A deal that involved intense leader negotiation.

A deal with much at stake.

A deal that aroused powerful emotion on both sides.

A deal where one side's love for Israel was challenged.

A deal where one side needed assurance that the other side would, indeed,
honor the agreement.

A deal in which the entire Jewish nation felt invested.

A deal which required painstaking negotiation, would take years to play out
and could literally fall apart at any turn.

It was a deal signed over 4,000 years ago by Moses and the tribes of Gad
and Menashe.

The Jews were camped in the desert, poised to finally enter the Land of
Israel, but first they needed to conquer the mighty nations living there.
Two of the twelve tribes approached Moses, wanting to settle trans-Jordan.
"We would rather receive our inheritance on this side of Jordan, and not
enter Israel, they explained.

Moses could not understand. In fact, he was livid. "Will your brothers go
to war while you simply stand by? Do you not want to enter Israel? Are you
afraid? Do you not love Israel?"

The tribes reassured Moses of their love for Israel and explained that, as
cattle-owners, the trans-Jordan land would be better for them.

So Moses consults with Elazar the priest, the heads of all the tribes, and
Yehoshua—future leader of the Jewish nation. They all negotiate and
ultimately present the two tribes with an offer: Moses will give them the
land they want, but when the rest of the Jews go to conquer Israel, they
will fight alongside them.

The tribes counter offer: "Not only will we fight alongside our brothers
and conquer Israel but we will not leave Israel to settle our land until
the entire Land of Israel has also been divided up amongst our brothers.
Only then will we settle down."

Moses asked for a little, they offered more. This is how real deals are
done—with mutual understanding, common ideals and each other's best
interests at heart.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Give me your tired

nce every seven years, we observe a year of shemitah, during which we refrain from working the land and growing new produce. For our sustenance in the shemitah year, G-d promises that in the sixth year the earth will yield much more produce than it normally does, providing enough food to last for two and a half years, until the new crops grow in the year after shemitah.

The tremendous output that G-d promises for the sixth year utterly defies the earth's natural ability. For the sixth year's crop would naturally be smaller and weaker than that of the previous years, as the nutrients in the soil deplete somewhat after five consecutive years of planting. In fact, this is one of the reasons suggested for the observance of Shemitah in the seventh year, to ensure that the nutrients in the earth will have a chance to replenish (see Moreh Nevuchim, 3:39). Nevertheless, G-d promises that specifically the produce of the sixth year will be greater than the crop of any other year.

This promise is likewise reflected in our efforts to bring about the coming of Moshiach and the long-awaited Redemption. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 97a) compares the whole of human history to the seven-year shemitah cycle. After six thousand years of human effort to develop G-d's world, the seventh millennium will be a sabbatical era, holy and sanctified to G-d, namely, the era of Moshiach.

Like in the sixth year of the shemitah cycle, the question of "what will we eat in the seventh year?" is strongest in the sixth millennium. For with every passing generation, we have only become weaker in our sensitivity to holiness than the generations that preceded us. How can it be that our impoverished deeds today will succeed at bringing about the coming of Moshiach if theirs did not?

To this G-d responds with the guarantee, "I will command my blessing to you in the sixth year;" it is precisely your simple devotion and loyalty despite the weariness of thousands of years of exile that will elicit the extraordinary blessings of the era of Moshiach.

—Likkutei Sichos, vol. 27, pp. 189-190

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Value of time

*Every Day Counts*
A fellow was getting ready to spend a beautiful Sunday morning lazing about
in the yard, when he turned on the radio and heard an old man talking about
a time when he did the math and realized that on average people live for 75
years, which amounts to 3900 weeks. At his age, 55 at the time, he realized
that he had only a thousand weeks left to live. He filled a jar with a
thousand marbles and each Sunday, removes one marble. Watching the jar
slowly deplete, helps him appreciate the value of time.


"Let me tell you something before I hang up and take my lovely wife out to
breakfast," said the elderly man. "This morning I removed the last marble
from the jar. If I make it to next week, I have been given a little more
time. And we can all use a little more time."


*A Time for Everything*
We run through life as if we are out of time. We barely finish breakfast,
when we are off work and we rush home from work to hit the gym before
coming home. We burn the candle on both ends, rushing through the day to
get to the evening and through the night to get to the morning. We
multitask whenever possible and get it wrong as often as not. Then we start
all over again.


In truth, there is a time for everything. When G-d planned your day, he
gave you enough time to complete your entire to do list. If we start the
second task only after completing the first and complete the second before
fretting over the third, there is enough time for everything. King Solomon,
the wisest of men, said that there is a time to laugh and a time to cry, a
time to wake and a time to sleep. If we stick to our time slots, we will
discover that time lasts longer than we think.


Judaism has pre-assigned time slots for everything. There is a time for
prayer and a time for study. A time to light candles and a time when
kindling is forbidden. If we sound the Shofar on Passover, we are wasting
our time, but if we sound it on Rosh Hashanah, it is a Mitzvah. If we eat
Matzah on Yom Kippur, it is a terrible sin, but if we eat it at the Seder,
it is an expression of our heritage.


In the Temple there were also set times. There was a time for each offering
and a time for each blessing. Every melody was pre-assigned and each
session was scheduled in advance. There were also limitations on the
duration of an offering. If a person should bring a gratitude offering, the
meat was to be consumed by morning. No meat shall be left for the morning
and what was left was burned. Once the time span passed, the offering was
invalid. It only works, when it's on time.[1]
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*Tomorrow Will Be Too Late*
Here we come to the crux of the matter; tomorrow will be too late. A
gratitude offering must be consumed today. Leaving it for tomorrow is wrong.


A person brought a gratitude offering upon return from a dangerous voyage,
a journey through the dessert, hospitalization or imprisonment. With the
offering he acknowledged that when he was in danger, his life was meant to
end. His miracle, was a gracious, but undeserved, gift from G-d Almighty.


By rights he should have died. It was his destiny, his fate. Yet, G-d
mercifully extended his life and for this, the fellow was grateful. He was
given a gift of time, a little extra time and we can all use a little extra
time.


How much time was he given? To this, we have no answer. To this, we need no
answer. When life is returned as a gift, we don't ask how much we were
given. Instead, we ask, what it was given for. We reflect on the value of
time and resolve to utilize our gift for noble and holy purpose. How much
doesn't matter. How it will be used, does.


For this reason, we leave nothing for tomorrow. We pour everything into
today. Today is before us, tomorrow is a world away. So long as we think we
are immortal, we are preoccupied with tomorrow. Saving for tomorrow,
worrying for tomorrow. The day our mortality draws near, the day we
acknowledge that death can strike at any time, we learn to live in the
moment. We live for today.


A friend of mine recently told me that when his grandfather was an elderly
man, he asked a child to share a delicacy with him. The boy declined by
saying that it was the last one in his bag. Are you kidding, replied the
grandfather, it might be my last delicacy, but it certainly won't be your
last delicacy…


At his age, he was living in the moment. Here and now is most important
because if not now, when? Many righteous Jews made it a habit to leave no
money in the house before going to bed at night. They would give everything
away to the poor today and worried not a whit about tomorrow. For that,
they relied completely on G-d Almighty. What is the purpose of delay, when
you already have today?


Precedent for this was set in the desert when Manna was provided daily from
heaven. Everyone took only enough for one day, if they tried to save it for
the next day, it went putrid. Take for today, leave tomorrow to G-d
Almighty.


When a Jew brought a gratitude offering and watched the animal come to its
end, he contemplated his own mortality. The danger he had escaped portended
his own mortality, but instead G-d restored his life. Just like the
offering he had slaughtered, his old life had ended. The life he now lived
was a whole new life. A gift. He was on borrowed time. He made no demand on
the future and no plans for tomorrow. He took each day as it came, was
grateful for the present and enjoyed it to the fullest. He left nothing for
tomorrow. If tomorrow would come, he would worry about it then. The one who
will provide the time, will also provide the means.


The old has ended, the new has begun. The old life was centered on self.
Rarely had he given away what he could use for himself. His new life would
be different. G-d gave him a new lease on life and he would dedicate it to
G-d. No longer was he in it for himself. His life would now be about
serving and if he was serving he had no need to save. He would not save for
tomorrow what he could give away today.


Finally, after a lifetime of time, this man came to understand the value of
time.


*The Value of Time*
Not every person can cherish life and live in each moment because life
can't be truly cherished until it is truly threatened. But this is not an
everything or nothing proposition. We might be unable to give everything
away today and save noting for tomorrow, but we can learn to stop and smell
the flowers. To take advantage of each opportunity as it comes and not
waste the present thinking only of the future.


Each day, can be its own. Each time slot can be cherished. Each Mitzvah can



--
Rabbi Levi Goldstein
515-745-7594
Sent from My iPad

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sanctity of compassion - Emor 5775

Earlier this week, I was engaged in a conversation with several chaplains who serve in the prison system. Unlike the full-time chaplains in the prisons, the majority of my clergy duties are not focused on the incarcerated. It is only every now and then, when the need arises, that I visit a particular Jewish inmate.

 

As such, I am not entirely familiar with the system and the inmates. The chaplains with whom I was meeting, on the other hand, have spent years (and even decades) working exclusively in the prisons. They are familiar with the system and its ins and outs.

 

At one stage in the conversation, one of the chaplains related that some of the inmates are completely evil. To demonstrate his point, he said: "I was dealing with a fellow who stabbed another with a toothbrush he had chiseled into a deadly weapon. Some of these people are evil, Rabbi. Pure evil," he concluded. 

 

"This is why they have people like you," I responded. "The incarcerated here need you more than most people. Especially those whom you regard as 'pure evil.' People like you certainly have the inner strength to recover the dormant goodness and G-dliness that is buried deep within even such people."

 

This man of the cloth knows much more than I ever hope to know about the internal workings of that system. He goes to work there every day. Nonetheless, as one who represents religion as well, I felt that a religious worker in an institution of hardened criminals must surely know that his or her presence there is in order to dig deep and help reveal the goodness that should still be present within each person. 

 

The chaplain disagreed. He said those people have no good. They belong to the "devil." I retorted that such people may not have any visible good qualities. Yet somewhere hidden, or maybe hovering over them, there must be something with which to work. If not a drop of good is within reach of that person, he consequently has no choices to make. How then can anyone hold him accountable?

 

The chaplain mumbled something about how my thoughts, unlike his, are based on the "Old" Testament. I chose not to further my conversation with him on this matter. 

 

The world in which we live is comprised of people who have chosen to be good, as well as those who have chosen the opposite path. The rest of the people are in between, sometimes making choices that could benefit themselves and those around them, or, at other times, making choices in the opposite direction. While criminals who choose to harm others belong behind lock and key so they cannot cause any further harm, it is presumed that those imprisoned can eventually become rehabilitated and then benefit themselves and society. The stories of those who have done just that usually warm the heart. Rooting for the underdog is, after all, part of human compassion and mercy.

 

The Talmud relates that the descendants of some of the most evil murderers of the Jewish people – like Haman – became great Torah scholars, and brought great benefit to society. In such cases, the goodness was not present within those people. It was, rather, in their descendants. Criminals like Hitler, Stalin, and too many other modern dictators, tyrannical oppressors, and terrorists could not possibly be reasoned or worked with. Those people need to be dealt with in a unique and tough way. Very few, though, are like them.

 

Possessing compassion and using it to guide and rehabilitate people, helping them better the world around them is the ultimate kindness. This is not merely helping someone, but it can, potentially, help the world. 

 

For such is the character of compassion. It introduces sanctification and goodness into the world, as understood from a series of seemingly unrelated verses in this week's Torah portion, "Emor." The Torah states: "When an ox, a sheep, or a goat is born, it should remain with its mother for seven days. Then, from the eighth day and onwards, it will be accepted as fire-offering to G-d. You shall not slaughter a (mother) ox or sheep and her child in one day. When you slaughter a thanksgiving offering to G-d, you should do so as accepted by (G-d and) you (by having in mind) that it will be eaten on the same day and not left over until morning. I am G-d. You should keep My commandments and observe them. I am G-d. You should not desecrate My holy name. I should be sanctified within the children of Israel. I am G-d who has sanctified you, Who is bringing you out of Egypt to be your G-d. I am G-d." (Vayikra (Leviticus) 22:27-33.)

 

The above verses seem to imply compassion; certainly not cruelty. The Torah therefore commands the Jewish people: 1) not to separate a mother animal from its child for the first week; 2) not to slaughter both parent and offspring on the same day; and 3) when one does prepare meat from it, it should be with the right thoughts and not be delayed, that is, eaten at once. Otherwise, why kill it so far in advance?

 

The Torah is teaching a person not to possess cruel tendencies. One must, instead, be driven by compassion and mercy. The following verses, then, teach how important this behavior is: 1) Itfits the criteria of keeping and observing the commandments. 2) Not desecrating the Almighty's holy name. 3) It brings sanctity to the people. 

 

While many inmates found in prisons are there due to their own poor choices, the majority of them are remorseful and would do anything to right the wrong they have done. Many of them have redeeming qualities that, should they be properly rehabilitated, can benefit society. 

 

Nevertheless, it takes human compassion to get past the evil action of the person to find the goodness and encourage the goodness to come out. In this way, the victims of those poor choices can be recompensed and come to a more beneficial closure. 

 

There will always be hardened criminals who do not seem to possess any human heart. The compassion here should be focused upon the goodness that has been gobbled up by the choice to remain evil.

 

Compassion is a trait that the Almighty wishes to sanctify His holy name. As long as it is guided in the right way, it can make a major difference to this world and its people.

 

 

SUMMARY: Instilling compassion into human beings is one of the ways the Almighty wishes to sanctify His holy name and change the world for the good.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 



--
Rabbi Levi Goldstein
515-745-7594
Sent from My iPad

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Warn and shine

The words "Speak to the kohanim…and say to them" seem repetitive. Having instructed Moshe to "speak to the kohanim" about the special restrictions pertaining to them, why was it necessary to reiterate, "And say to them"?

 

Rashi notes this redundancy and explains that the phrase "and say to them" alludes to another instruction to the kohanim. Namely, that they must ensure that even their young children (who have not yet reached the age of personal responsibility) are in observance of the unique kohen laws as well (see Ramban). In Rashi's words, the double expression comes "to caution the adults concerning the minors."

The Hebrew word that Rashi uses for "to caution" is להזהיר,l'hazhir. This word can alternatively be translated as, "to make shine," as in the Hebrew wordזוהרzohar, which means, "bright gleam" or "shine." Rashi's words thus hint that the obligation of l'hazhir, "cautioning" others from negative conduct, is fulfilled primarily by focusing on their inherent good, nurturing it until you "cause them to shine" from within. Moreover, the word l'hazhir underscores that your concern to teach and caution others will cause you to shine as well. As the Talmud (Temurah 16a) says of someone who teaches his fellow Torah, "G-d enlightens the eyes of both of them."

—Likutei Sichos vol. 7, pp. 151-152, Ibid. vol. 27, pp. 165-166