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

Friday, May 1, 2015

The importance of having set times to study torah

Something interesting:

הצלחה רק על-ידי קביעות עתים!

ב'יחידות מחודש תשרי תשל"ז תבע הרבי בחריפות מאחד השלוחים להשקיע יותר בקביעות עיתים לתורה

(תוכן הדברים התפרסם בעלון מיוחד שיצא-לאור השנה לרגל כינוס השלוחים):

אינני שומע ממך אף פעם על קביעות עיתים לתורה, ומכיוון שאינני שומע – סימן שאין לך קביעות עתים, כי אם היה לך קביעות עיתים בוודאי היית מדווח לי, שכן בוודאי רצונך לגרום לי נחת.

וזה שאין לך קביעות עיתים לתורה, זה מעמיד בספק ובסימן שאלה את כל העסקנות הציבורית שלך. וכפי שאומרים כל שבת "וכל מי שעוסקים בצורכי ציבור באמונה – הקב"ה ישלם שכרם", מהו ה"שכרם"? לכל לראש שיהיה להם הצלחה רבה בלימוד התורה. שהעסקנות הציבורית שלו לא תפריע ללימוד התורה שלו.

וכפי ששאלו פעם את הצמח צדק שהיה לו אלפי אלפים של חסידים איך הוא מספיק לכתוב כל כך הרבה דברי תורה, וענה הצמח צדק שכשיש סייעתא דשמיא יש גם "נביעת הקולמוס". ואף שאף אחד לא יוכל להשוות את עצמו להצמח צדק, אבל שמץ מנהו יש לכל אחד.

וכאמור, המבחן אם הוא באמת "עוסק בצרכי ציבור באמונה" – כשזה לא מפריע ללימוד התורה ולעבודת ה' שלו. ומי שבכלל אין לו קביעות עיתים, איז דאָס אַ ווילדע זאַך און אַ ווילדע הנהגה [=זה דבר מבהיל והנהגה מבהילה]...

כל זה הוא בקשר לעצמו, אבל האמת היא שמי שאין לו קביעות עיתים – זה פוגם בכל העסקנות הציבורית שלו. וכפי שרואים במוחש שעסקן או שליח שיש לו יותר קביעות עיתים לתורה כך גדולה יותר ההצלחה בפעילות שלו. וכן להיפך.

און די הבהלה [=וההבהלה] שבדבר – אַז דו שלעפסט מיר אַריין אין דעם [=שאתה 'גורר' אותי לתוך זה]. כי ההצדקה שלך שאין לך זמן ללימוד התורה מכיון שאתה עוסק בענינים שלי, און אַלעס בין איך שולדיג [=ובהכול אני אשם!].

ועל כל פנים שמכאן ולהבא יתוקן הדבר, ובהחלטה נחושה באופן של "אַזוי און ניט אַנדרעש" [=כך ולא אחרת], שלא יעבור שום יום בלי קביעות עיתים לתורה, וכל המוסיף מוסיפין לו בכל העניינים, לכל לראש בהצלחה רבה ומופלגה בכל העסקנות הציבורית שהוא ממונה עליה, ועד לחיים הפרטיים בבני חיי ומזונא רויחא, כפשוטו, למטה מעשרה טפחים.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Knowing means doing

The Baal Shem Tov taught that from everything that a Jew sees or hears he must take a lesson in his service of G-d. This teaching finds its roots in the words of the Talmud, "Of all that G-d created in His world, He did not create a single thing without purpose" (Shabbos 77b). Or, as the Mishna says in Avos (6:11), "Everything that G-d created in His world, He created only for His glory." Included in "everything that G-d created," taught the Baal Shem Tov, is your encounter with any particular object or situation; your very perception of it was created for a purpose that will bring about "G-d's glory." G-d orchestrated your encounter with this article or event in order for you to apply its message in your duties toward G-d.

This idea is hinted in Rashi's commentary on the verse, "You shall not stand by the blood of your neighbor," which means, in Rashi's words, "to see his death and you are able to save him." Rashi does not write the final clause tentatively, "if you are able to save him", but factually, "and you are able to save him." Rashi's words thus imply that your awareness of your friend's suffering is in and of itself an indication that you are able to save him! And the proof is obvious: otherwise, why would your friend's suffering be made known to you "without purpose"?

The same principle applies equally when your fellow is at risk of spiritual death, as unfortunately so many of our Jewish brothers and sisters are today. The Torah warns us that we may not stand idly by our brothers' blood. Our very awareness of the spiritual threat facing our fellow Jews indicates that we are capable and personally obligated to save them, by each of us taking active part in the dissemination of Torah and Judaism.

—Likutei Sichos vol. 32, pp. 125-126