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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

"The Ice Bucket Challenge?"

 At last I was nominated to do the Ice Bucket Challenge and raise further awareness and money for ALS. While I am not sure whether or not I should video myself dumping a bucket full of Ice water all over my body (to do it in private defeats the purpose), I did spend time thinking about this whole phenomena. Just how simple it is to create a buzz and a whole lot of money for a worthy cause. Just come up with something silly (dumping buckets of water on people) and attach it to something of substance (giving charity) and you have the world on your side. In the age of Smart phones-IM-text-whatsapp-Facebook and all the rest, you can do almost anything and get hundreds of millions to go along in an instant.

As I contemplated all of this a little more, I realized that there is something very peculiar about all of this. Why does mankind have to come up with something this silly to get our natural good inclinations to do the right thing and give charity? Is the importance of ALS in itself not enough to arouse people? Do we really need Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Buckets full of ice dumped on people to catch our attention? I guess we do.

You know that I, and 5000 other Shluchim around the world, have been trying to create awareness about G-d, Torah and Mitzvot for a very long time. While we have had incredible success and really made a difference, there are still millions of Jews who are un-initiated and don’t engage in daily or even weekly mitzvah observance. I finally figured out the answer. Maybe I should launch “the jump in the pool-tefillin challenge”, or “the red clown nose-mezuzah challenge”. To get people to wrap tefillin just like that? Not a chance. But have them jump in the pool with their clothing or walk around in public with a clown nose for 10 minutes and then do the mitzvah? Who knows? Maybe I am on to something really big. After all we are in the twenty first century and to just do things because they’re the right thing to do, just won’t cut it.

So to the person who came up with the idea; you’re brilliant. Kudos to you. You got a lot of people to give charity and perhaps be more kind in their lives. For that you will certainly be rewarded. For the rest of us I say this: when this buzz fizzles out and fades away, I hope we can become a bit more grounded and teach ourselves and our children that we need to find joy in kindness itself. We need to find excitement in the act of giving charity itself. The Ice bucket challenge will very soon lose its magic. Charity will not.

We just entered the month of Elul, the last month of the Jewish year. Our sages tell us that during this month there is a special divine grace that shines in the world. It’s a time of serious introspection. It’s a time of spiritual accounting. This month we have a chance to analyze the past year and correct that which needs correction. It’s a time to figure out if we are serious about our relationship with G-d or not. It’s a time to contemplate the real question of life. Who are we? What makes us tick? How serious is our relationship with G-d? Is it real or just superficial? Am I a mensch or not? Do I behave morally because it’s the right thing to do or because that’s the current fad? Over the next thirty days do something G-dly. Do another mitzvah. Give a little more charity. Pray a little more. Prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. May G-d respond in kind and bless each of us with a very happy and healthy New Year and grant each of us much success and blessing in our physical and spiritual lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

"Back to Reality"

I was away last week with my family for a few days on the west coast of Florida. What a change of atmosphere. ISIS, Hamas, Ferguson and all the other world news items were exchanged for the Naples Zoo, fishing, water sports and boating. The tranquil waters of the Gulf of Mexico with the view of the horizon on three of the four directions give one pause. For those few hours I felt like I didn’t want to turn my face to the northern direction where the dry land and the world of people exist. I suddenly was able to relate to the people who live on “The World” and cruise their entire life on the ocean. But of course I quickly came back to earth as I heard the horn which reminded me that our cruise would soon dock, and within minutes I would once again be walking on dry land. And indeed, here I am back in Weston with the computers and radio that bring me back to reality, to ISIS, Hamas, Ferguson and all the rest.

After some depressing adjusting, I quickly realized that living away from reality might indeed be quite easy and enticing; no choices to be made, everything is beautiful, the waters stare at you and tell you that there is this vast Garden of Eden to which we can run away to, but in truth, living on dry land with all the mess that comes along with it, is what G-d really wants. Yes, we are surrounded by a lot of evil and we must make choices, some of them very hard ones, but when we make the right choices and behave properly we accomplish something extraordinary; we bring heaven down to earth.

This week’s torah reading opens with Moses telling the people that they have two paths to choose from; good that brings life or evil that results in death. The principle that we were granted freedom of choice is so fundamental in Jewish thought that without it there is no basis for reward and punishment, heaven and hell (purgatory) or to the service of G-d altogether. Imagine we were “programmed” to do only good deeds or there was no evil altogether; would doing “good” mean anything?  Life takes on meaning only when there is good and evil and we are forced to choose between them. That is why G-d created us with both good and evil inclinations.

Out in the deep seas where you are alone with nothing but G-d and nature, life is tranquil and calm. The waters and fish present no challenge to your commitment to G-d. But on dry land where people live with their good and evil inclinations and where one has to choose between them, it may not be so tranquil but we are then ‘serving’ G-d. We are making the world a better place. We are subduing evil and allowing for the forces of good and G-dliness to prevail. That’s why G-d created the world where He is concealed, and created us with the power of choice to uncover and reveal Him. When we do that we become G-d-like making life worth living.

So while I have no doubt that the Gulf of Mexico will be seeing me again, G-d willing, and something tells me that while I am cruising on its waters I will probably once again avoid looking in the direction of land, I do know that it’s only amongst people, that living has any meaning. With all the challenges and all the negative stuff we have to deal with, it’s in that reality that we fulfill the reason for creation. To serve G-d through choosing the path of good and life.

So welcome back everyone from your vacations. I know you probably feel a bit depressed, but remember this; it is in the daily hustle and bustle of life with its real challenges that we are able to really contribute our small or big pieces to this grand puzzle and bring the world to its ultimate purpose. That purpose is fulfilled when each of us reveals G-d in our corner of the world, and we already know that G-d can only be revealed where there is challenge and choice.

Have a wonderful Shabbos. 

The Voice that Did not Stop

In this week’s Torah reading the Ten Commandments are recorded for the second time. (The first is in the book of exodus). Moses describes the G-dly voice that uttered the commandments as a “great voice that did not stop”. The commentators all discuss these words and explain that what Moses meant was 1) that the voice did not stop at Hebrew but was then transferred into all the 70 languages. In other words, Torah that is written in English or French is as G-dly as Torah written in the holy tongue. 2) That the voice that spoke at Sinai is the same voice that spoke later to the prophets and is the same voice that divinely inspired the sages when they innovated new torah concepts. In other words the oral-rabbinic torah is as holy and G-dly as are the Ten Commandments, and 3) that the voice at Sinai had no echo.

 

The obvious question is, the first two interpretations make perfect sense. The voice was so “great” that it permeated all languages and was so “great” that is continued to “speak” to the prophets and sages. But when you say it had no echo, that seems to suggest that the voice was low and weak rather than loud and great; a loud voice usually does create an echo?

 

The Rebbe explains that with this statement (that the voice had no echo) Moses was trying to teach us what Torah is all about. An echo is created when the sound is rejected by mountains or walls or whatever. The echo is a sign that something got in the way and sent the voice bouncing back. At Sinai there was no rejection of G-ds voice at all. Nothing got in the way. It permeated not only the minds and hearts of the Jewish people but it also permeated the substances of the physical world. The stones, hills and valleys all absorbed G-dliness. ‘The voice of G-d did not stop’ means it penetrated everything. Sinai brought about a new reality; G-d and His world untied, they became enmeshed one with the other. What that means in practical terms is that there is no part of the world that is not touched and influenced by G-d and the Torah.

 

Many people, even Jews, make the mistake thinking that G-d and this physical world are essentially two different realities. The Torah may have relevance in our spiritual lives but does not, and many even say, should not, have influence in our daily material lives. “Keep G-d in the privacy of your homes” goes the mantra. Leave Him out of politics; leave Him out of the public arena, they say. Yesterday I even saw an op-ed in an Israeli newspaper with the title “keep G-d out of the army”. Besides the silliness of such a suggestion (half of the soldiers are observant Jews and the other half are more than eager to embrace G-d especially when they are in dangerous situations), it also indicates a very flawed understanding of G-d. G-d is everywhere and in everything. He created everything (even politics) and probably has something to say about the things he created. The Torah has relevance in every aspect of our lives, private or public.

 

People ask me all the time, especially during the past month, what should Israel do? How should Israel deal with Hamas terrorists? What do we do with the unfair international community? When I suggest that the Israeli government should follow what the Torah says, I get looks of bewilderment as if saying; what does the Torah have to do with this? I wasn’t asking a religious question. Well, think about it this way, if the torah has what to say about what fork to use in your dairy or meat meals don’t you think it has what to say about life and death of millions of people? The problem is we have this warped idea that G-d is a private matter and we got to keep him out of the public arena.

 

Moses tells us that at Sinai G-d spoke with a “great voice that did not stop”. It did not stop at the inside of our front doors. It penetrated everything and everywhere. It became the reality of the entire world. We just have to stop being afraid to refer to the Torah. The world will listen. If we pointed to the Torah as our right to the land of Israel, and if we quoted those sections of the Torah that tell us how to fight a moral and just war we would avoid a lot of Tzoros and headaches. I have a hunch that the world would end up thanking us for the information.

 

May we merit the day when the entire world will hear the sound of the Great Shofar telling us that Moshiach is here. Amen.   

 

"Don't Despair"

For close to two thousand years the Jewish people have been mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy temple. During these nine days (beginning of the First day of the Hebrew month of Av until the 9th of the month known as Tisha B’av) we restrict ourselves and observe an intense period of mourning culminating with a full day fast on the 9th of Av. These nine days have been treated by the Jewish people as days in which we refrain from going on trips, swimming etc. because of the severity of this time. They are seen as days that are detrimental and have a certain negative force that dominates them. In fact during our long history some of the worst tragedies have occurred during these days, such as the destruction of both temples in Jerusalem, the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the beginning of World War 1 and many other terrible events. Unfortunately we awoke this morning to another terrible tragedy that took place in the southern Gaza border as Hamas terrorists killed two soldiers and seems to have captured 1st Lt. Hadar Goldin. May G-d protect him and bless the efforts of the IDF to get him back alive right away and deal the terrorist a blow that they cannot recover from.

While it’s true that we are going through some very difficult times right now, not only in Israel, but all over the world with the violent protests in Europe and even here in the US, as its becoming crystal clear that anti-Semitism is back in fashion, there is no reason to despair. I want to draw your attention to something spectacular that is happening in the Jewish world as a result of this latest war. Never in my life have I seen such unity amongst the Jewish people as I see it now. We Jews don’t agree on anything, but in the past two months since the capture of the three Israeli teens, the Jewish world has become unified in an extraordinary way. There is broad national consensus, the many different parties in Israel are speaking with one voice in support of the government and the army and there is a current of solidarity that swept over the Jewish people like never before.

I believe that this is the best and only cure to all our problems. It is Jewish Unity that will get us through these trying times and will once and for all end this terribly long exile. I hope we will hold on to this sense of oneness that has gripped us. We are told that because of wanton hatred amongst Jews was the temple destroyed; it follows therefore that through unconditional love and unity we will merit rebuilding the temple. We must foster this unity and not allow it to dissipate.

There is one more point I want to make regarding not losing hope and falling into despair. As mentioned, the Jewish people mourn the destruction of the temple during these nine days. We know that when a person dies we mourn his loss for 30 days or a year for a parent. Once the mourning period is over we are no longer allowed to mourn. We are told that we must move on and continue to live. Excessive mourning Is disallowed in Judaism and for good reason. If we refuse to let go, we would be psychologically paralyzed and unable to function. If that is true with regard to personal loss why then do we continue to mourn even after thousands of years for the temple? We should mourn 30 days or a year and then move on. It seems like this excessive morning for the temple is in contradistinction to the Jewish laws of mourning?

The sages tell us that G-d in his passion and love for mankind decreed that we should forget the imminence of our loved ones after they die. As time goes on we sort of ‘forget’ our loved ones to a certain degree. Not that we completely forget them G-d forbid, but their imminence fades with time. Otherwise we would never be able to continue living. Therefore, if we refuse to let go and continue to mourn beyond the year, we are essentially denying Hashem’s compassion and proclaiming that our feelings for our loved ones are greater than G-ds. However, this is true only for loved ones who died and whose memory fades with time. But when a person has not died, we never stop missing them and we can never let go. The G-dly decree is only for the dead not for the living. When a soldier is missing in action and was never declared dead or if he is kidnapped he continues to be imminent and the parents never let go. How could they? The same is true of the temple in Jerusalem. We continue to mourn because the temple is not just a building. It’s the epicenter of the Jewish people. It’s the ‘place’ where the Jew and G-d meet. It’s where the Jewish Soul is one with her G-d. That idea does not “die” and that does not “fade” with time. The temple is fully alive. Jerusalem may be in ruins but it never died because Jerusalem and the Holy Temple are one with the Jewish people and just like the Jewish people cannot die and fade away, so the Temple cannot fade away with time. Hence we continue to mourn even after two thousand years.

The interesting thing is that the gentile world knows this truth. They know that Am Yisrael Chai. They know that our connection to Israel is organic. They know that our existence is miraculous. The decent ones marvel at it and are attracted to us as a result. The hateful among them despise us because of it and do everything they can to divide us. They do everything they can to create doubt among us as to our connection to the entire holy land. They do everything to drive a wedge between Jew and Jew. These past few months are a stark reminder of the true nature of the Jew. We are one. This wave of anti-Israel rhetoric is no surprise. When Jews stand united the haters get worried and begin to panic. For us Jews? No reason to despair. 

My we merit the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the temple even before Tisha B’av, Amen.

 

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