Rabbi’s Message

“And G-d said ‘Let Us make man in Our image.’ ” (Bereshet 1:26)

What does the Torah mean when it says that G-d created man “in His image”? When G-d created man, He gave him two powers: the power of giving and the power of taking. The power to give is the elevated quality that imitates G-d, for G-d is the ultimate Giver. There is nothing you can give Him in return since He already owns everything. Man is created specifically to imitate G-d by being a giver.

The desire to take is the antithesis of G-d’s purpose in creating man. Further- more, taking is not about amassing a vast fortune, or a fleet of Porsches; it’s not a matter of “He who dies with the most toys wins.” In truth, the desire to take has nothing to do with toys, trophies or physical objects at all.

The desire to take is the dark side of the power to give. It is the anti-world of giving, its negative doppelganger. The desire to take is never satisfied by the object of its desire. It’s amazing how quickly the sheen wears off a pristine new computer, or a new car. For once the object becomes our possession it ceases to interest us, the desire is gone, and we focus on something else.

Why?

The desire to take is never satisfied by the object of our desire because the desire to take is really the desire to enlarge ourselves, to make ourselves more, to take up more real estate in reality – to exist more. And that desire is insatiable.

All physical desires have their limits – there’s just so much you can consume, but the desire to be more, the dark side of giving, is insatiable.

Parshat Korach begins with the following sentence, “And Korach (the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kohat, the son of Levi) together with Datan and Aviram (the sons of Eliav) and On ben Pelet (sons of Reuven), took.” There is no object in this sentence. It just says that “Korach …took…” without revealing what or whom he took. What, then, is the object of the sentence?

What did Korach take?

Korach “took” the entire sad episode that followed: his rebellion and demise are the object of the first sentence of the weekly portion. Korach was the quin- tessential taker. What he wanted was more, more and more. Korach wanted to devour the world.
Our objective needs to be giving. We have to make our focus in life to be a giver rather then a taker and by doing so we express our Godly image.

Shavuot

This Month we celebrate Shavuot, the festival of the giving of the Torah. The Torah, as the blueprint of the world, is the ultimate expression of what reality is. Therefore, the way in which the Torah was given must also express a truth about the nature of reality.

The Torah was not given to the Jewish People as a group of individuals. Its giving re- quired them to be a klal, a united entity, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

When the Jewish People stood at Sinai they were “like one man with one heart” (Rashi). Interestingly, Rashi uses almost exactly the same phrase to describe Pharaoh and the Egyptian army at the crossing of the Sea: “With one heart like one man.” A subtle reversal of the order. The Jewish People are “like one man with one heart.” The Egyptians “with one heart like one man.” What is the significance of this reversing of the word order?

The heart represents the raw matter of existence. The raw material which waits for an imprint, a form to define it. The heart is the medium. The nature of emotion is to be molded, to be channeled. Not to lead.

The form of something is its spiritual component. Its purpose. The form is the message.

A spoon, for example. A spoon consists of two parts. Its matter is the metal. Its form is its purpose: To scoop and stir. That’s why it has a scoop at one end and a long han- dle. Its form expresses its purpose. The function of a thing is its spiritual dimension, its spiritual identity in the world.

The nature of physical things is to be passive. The nature of spiritual things is to be active. The shape of the spoon dominates the metal and defines it, not the reverse. That is the correct order of the world. Form shaping matter. The message shaping the medium.

The word for “man” in Hebrew is ish. Ish comes from the word aish meaning “fire.” Fire symbolizes spirituality. It is the nature of fire to rise upwards; it is the nature of spirituality to aspire upwards. The nature of fire is to dominate; the nature of spiritu- ality is to rule: A small nation imbued with a spiritual ideal can overcome a large na- tion which is apathetic and decadent. This has been the lesson of history. Someone with a spiritual motivation will ultimately rule over someone with a physical motiva- tion because the physical desires inertia, to be passive, to take it easy.

When intellect dominates the emotions, when the message dominates the medium, then we have the very picture of how the Torah was given. “Like one man with one heart.” The man – the intellect, the spiritual component leading the heart – the raw material, the medium.

However, when the heart dominates the mind, the medium becomes the message. This is the literal antithesis of the way the Torah was given.

As we accept the Torah this Shavuot, let us commit to becoming more spiritual and intellectual. Let us commit to having our message define who we our and our hearts will become the medium.

Passover Rabbi's MessageWhat is the point of Eliyahu’s Cup, what exactly is its function?

Pesach is the time of Redemption and the Rabbis describe Elijah as being the Angel of Redemption. We believe that in the same way that we were redeemed from Egypt, so too will we be redeemed from our present lengthy exile. Tradition teaches that it is Elijah who will announce the coming of the Mashiach, and the cup is prepared as a sign of our desire that he should come as speedily as he can to do so. Our Sages tell of a certain Rabbi in Talmudic times who met Elijah and asked him when the Mashiach would come. Elijah told him that he would come immediately. When he didn’t materialize the Rabbi was very upset and the next time he met Elijah he berated him for not having been accurate in his assessment. Elijah, after hearing him out, explained to him that he had meant every word. But, ultimately, it was entirely up to us whether the Mashiach comes or not. If we truly want him to come he will come without delay. And if we are not too enthusiastic about the idea, well, Elijah will have to wait until we change our minds.

So what can we do to change the state of affairs? There is an anecdote that might help us attain a better perspective. Once the famed Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, sent one of his followers to open the door after filling Elijahs Cup on Seder night. However the man was frozen to the spot and couldn’t do it. When he was asked why, he said that he was scared stiff as he was absolutely certain that Elijah the Prophet must be waiting outside the door of such a pious and august person as the Rebbe, just waiting to be invited in.

Answered Rabbi Menachem Mendel, You’re wrong! Elijah the Prophet enters through the heart, not the door!

And it is in exactly the same way that we can allow Elijah to appear and proclaim to everyone that the Mashiach is on his way. This Seder night, as we all fill up our cups for Elijah the Prophet lets fill them right up to the very top. Lets turn Elijahs Cup into the symbol of all our hopes and aspirations for the future brimming over with optimism that this year we can make all the difference. Like the Rebbe from Kotzk let us open our hearts to allow Elijah to enter into our lives.

And, who knows? Perhaps if we do so there wont be any need to pour the wine back into the bottle this Pesach after the Seder.

And Next Year in Jerusalem will become a reality rather than just a song.

Miriam and I wish you a happy, healthy and kosher Pesach.

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat

The holiday of Tu B’Shevat – the fifteenth of the month of Shevat – is called the New Year of the Trees because most of the vegetation in the land of Israel begins to bud at this time of year. There are many laws regarding agriculture that are affected by this date. Regarding the young trees, the Torah forbids consumption of the fruit for the first three years, and permits full use of the produce anywhere from the fourth year on. The date that determines the “age” of any tree in Israel is Tu B’Shevat. Additionally, Jews are required to separate Terumot and Maasrot, portions of the produce of the fields, on annual basis. The cutoff date for the
“fiscal” agricultural year is Tu B’Shevat. In order to commemorate the day and to highlight our thanks to G-d for giving us the Land of Milk and Honey, we indulge in consumption of many different
types of fruits.

There are several lessons one should keep in mind on this day. Firstly, the Torah says, “For the man is the tree of the fields”. The sages teach as a tree must be protected from harsh weather and from harmful insects, so too, a person must protect himself from the negative influences of society – that bombard a person on a daily basis.

Secondly, one should assess the manner in which one recites berachot – blessings. One is required to say a blessing before partaking of the pleasures of this world. How often do we mumble the words, not concentrating on the meaning and rushing through the “formula” required permitting the pleasure to the in-
dividual. As we consider the beautiful fruits and say the appropriate blessings, one should evaluate one’s blessings and resolve to improve their effectiveness.

Thirdly, one should remember that if a tree has strong roots then it could support many wide branches. However, if a tree has many branches and weak roots then even a light wind can blow the tree over. A person’s roots are one’s dedication to the study of Torah. We must dedicate a set time to the daily study of Torah to shore up the knowledge of all aspects of our Torah. By strengthening our roots each of us will enable our people to survive the hurricane winds of exile and merit the coming of the Mashiach speedily and in our days.

What is Chanukah?

What is Chanukah? The sages learned that on the 25th day of Kislev the days of Chanukah are eight …(Talmud Shabbat)
Men of Understanding…Days of Eight… (Lyrics to Maoz Tzur)

The Sfas Emes points out that saying “the days of Chanukah are eight “instead of “eight days” means much more than some subtle poetic nuance. One tells us of the number, the mere quantity of the days while the other tells us about the quality of  these days of Chanukah. Somehow they are “days of eight”. What does that mean and what does that mean to us?

The Greek civilization presented a competitive culture, which sought to substitute and supplant Jewish life. They offered intellectual rigor, spirited sports, the catharsis of theatre and art. The Jewish Nation was allured to this system which was at first friendly and only later proved to be a deadly affair. While the Greeks were genuinely interested in categorizing and artistically mapping the mathematical beauty and truth of the universe, their vision of reality was by definition limited to the lens of the human eye.

That the world was a seven-day production and that we operate within that framework creates a natural boundary for even the most perfect description of reality. Everything experienced is enveloped within the arena of our existence. The logical limits of Greek thought and life was by definition within the reach of “seven”.

The word for eight in Hebrew – “Shemonah” – when shuffled as an anagram spells out the word “Neshamah” – the Soul – and also “Mishnah” – the building block of the Oral Torah. Truncate delicately, and we are left with the “Shemen” – Oil, the center of the Chanukah miracle and the reason of the celebration. The Hebrew word for nature is “Teva”. “Teva” has two connotations that may help us gain an insight into the nature of nature. “Teva” implies drowning or sinking, because we are sunken into and swallowed up by this physical world. “Teva” also is related to the word “matbeah” – coin – referring to a coin that has an image impressed upon it. Similarly the natural world impresses; so much so that our senses are so stimulated that any inkling of anything beyond is naturally overwhelmed.

The Hebrew word for “The Natural World”, HaTeva, has the same numerical value for the Holy Name – Elokim. Meaning that our definition of nature is actually repeated miracles. If something happens predictably we call it natural. When it happens  once, we call it a miracle. We are alerted, jolted to a super state of awareness, a higher consciousness of reality.

Now the idea of the oil, of eight, of soul, of the Oral Torah, rises and rides high above and beyond the confines of mere nature. Eight encompasses the sphere of seven enriching days and extending it. When penetrated it anoints even natural life with a tinge of the miraculous.

During the Eight days of Chanukah we should know that each day represents something much bigger than just another day of the holiday. It represents the supernatural quality of each and every day and our ability to transcend nature to the supernatural.

Happy Chanukah!!!

Elul

Elul – the month preceding Rosh Hashanah – begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of coming closer to God. It is a time for realizing purpose in life – rather than perfunctorily going through the motions of living by amassing money and seeking gratification. It is a time when we step back and look at ourselves critically and honestly, as Jews have from time immemorial, with the intention of improving.

The four Hebrew letters of the word Elul (aleph-lamed-vavlamed) are the first letters of the four words Ani l’dodi v’dodi lee – “I am to my Beloved and my Beloved is to me” (Song of Songs 6:3). These words sum up the relationship between God and His people. In other words, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah is a time when God reaches out to us, in an effort to create a more spirituallyinspiring atmosphere, one that stimulates teshuva.

The most important aspect of Elul is to make a plan for your life. Because when the Big Day comes, and each individual stands before the Almighty to ask for another year, we’ll want to know what we’re asking for!

Rewind 3,000 years to the Sinai Desert. God has spoken the Ten Commandments, and the Jews have built the Golden Calf. Moses desperately pleads with God to spare the nation.

On the first day of Elul, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, and 40 days later – on the seminal Yom Kippur – he returned to the people, with a new, second set of stone tablets in hand.

For us as well, the month of Elul begins a 40-day period that culminates in the year’s holiest day, Yom Kippur.

Why 40? Forty is a number of cleansing and purification. Noah’s Flood rains lasted 40 days, and the mikveh – the ritual purification bath – contains 40 measures of water.

Elul is an enormous opportunity. During this time, many people increase their study of Torah and performance of good deeds. And many also do a daily cheshbon – an accounting of spiritual profit and loss.