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The Rabbi's Blog

A Message from Rabbi Spalter

The gift that keeps giving

“Remember the Shabbos day and keep it holy” reads the fourth of the tenth commandments read in all Synagogues this Shabbos. Oy Shabbos, what a day, what a concept, what a gift.  

There is an old adage that Jews think they kept and observed the Shabbos for over 3,000 years; but, in truth, it’s the Shabbos that has kept and observed the Jewish people for over 3,000 years. How true that is. I cannot even imagine the Jewish people without Shabbos. If you observe it properly, you know what I mean. It is that oasis in time when the messy and out of control world just stops. For twenty-four hours, we are in a spiritual oasis when we turn off all electronic gadgets. No phones whistling and ringing. No email, WhatsApp, text, television and all the other “important” never ending distractions that tear us away from our families, our work, our children, etc. I cannot understand how people live these days without this - once a week - tranquil holy day that makes it possible to stay focused and normal. Shabbos is the greatest gift that G-d has given the Jewish people.

The moment Shabbos begins with the women lighting the Shabbos candles, one feels the calmness that sets in. There is that special glow and beauty that emanates from everyone who just spent the whole Friday afternoon cleaning, shopping, cooking and bathing in honor of the Shabbos. The children that kvetched all afternoon are unrecognizable; it is as if they were just born anew. The tranquility and the confidence that exudes from them is priceless; the family is together and the children know that for the next day they have their parents’ embrace without interruption. Dining together around the Shabbos table is one of the highlights of every Jewish family. The food is divine and tasty of course, and sitting three or so hours with your family and guests is really a gift that keeps giving. Singing and talking between courses creates the special bond between family members that sadly so many are missing in this day and age. And I haven’t even talked about the special Shabbos cholent; now that’s heaven itself, and throw in a good piece of Kishke and you are now experiencing the Garden of Eden. Well, I would not go that far, but a glimmer of the Garden of Eden we do experience when we observe the Shabbos correctly.

I know that so many think that Shabbos is so limiting. You cannot do this and you’re forbidden to do that, etc. While it is true that Shabbos comes along with a lot of restrictions, but that is it’s secret. Those ‘restrictions’ are what allow you and the Shabbos to fuse and enjoy each other. The energy that comes from within can only emerge when the external layers are peeled away. Hence all the ‘don’t do’s’ that accompany the Shabbos.  They are designed to allow the soul uninhibited expression and elevation to higher places. I see those restrictions similar to a beam of laser whose light is so powerful only because the light is restricted into a beam of concentrated light. If the light were unrestricted, it would hardly have any power. The restriction is what gives it power and focus allowing it to pierce through any obstacle. The same is with the light of Shabbos, it is the concentrated energy through the restrictions that unleashes its true spiritual power and energy.

This week let us all try to observe Shabbos with more commitment. Try it and see what happens. It is magic.

Have a wonderful Shabbos.

Egypt and Us

As we read the story of the ten plagues that were inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, (the Torah portions of these weeks) most of us relate to it as a justified punishment wrought on an immoral society who saw no problem killing thousands of Jewish babies every week and enslaving and torturing their parents for over one hundred years. We read about the water turning into blood, millions of frogs everywhere, lice and wild animals, etc. turning Egypt into a hell on earth. To the average reader, the story has very little relevance because we don’t think of ourselves as having anything in common with ancient Egypt; we abolished slavery long ago and therefore the crime and its punishment have no relevance to us. The only relevance the story has is that as a result, the Jews were redeemed and became a nation who received the Torah some seven weeks later. But Egypt and its downfall?  It’s ancient history and with little meaning to the modern mind.

Upon further reflection however, we begin to realize that nothing can be further from the truth. Pharaoh and Egypt, it turns out, are alive and well not only in the Middle East but in every one of us. The Torah tells us that the main purpose of the Plagues was not only to punish the Egyptians but to force them to recognize that G-d exists and that He is in control of everything. Pharaoh did not believe in G-d, in fact he and the Egyptians worshiped the Nile River as their G-d. The reason for this was because Egypt is a land where no rain falls and their entire support and livelihood comes from the Nile River. The waters of the river would rise and irrigate their fields resulting in constant growth of wheat etc. The Nile was their source of income and their entire economy was dependent on that river; hence the Nile was their G-d. It was for this reason that when G-d decided to break the Egyptians and teach them the truth, He first plagued the Nile turning it into blood. This showed the Egyptians that their ‘G-d’ was powerless. Only then were they able to begin to think about and recognize the true G-d. In fact, after the third plague struck, Pharaoh’s advisors finally told him that it was the finger of G-d that brought about the plague, and with every ensuing plague they began to recognize more and more that the Nile was meaningless and that there was a true G-d that was the real source of everything they had.

Understanding this, we begin to recognize that in each of us lingers a massive Egyptian belief system and that ancient Egypt was not so primitive after all. We too often times begin to worship the modern day ‘Nile Rivers’ and forget that G-d is the true benefactor of all our blessings. The Nile River might be the ‘University’, our ‘Jobs’ or our ‘money’, we see these as our source of life and begin to worship them. If you ask the average person if they believe in G-d they will probably answer that they do, but when you analyze their behavior patterns as they relate to the three above mentioned modern day ‘Nile Rivers’ one begins to wonder if most of us are not actually worshiping them? Our attitudes towards higher education are such that it overrides everything else. Almost every parent I speak to is petrified of sending their young adult children to college because of the environments that exist there. We all know the reality, yet how many ever consider alternatives? We sigh and krechtz about it but at the end of the day, college is our Nile River. We are so dependent on it for our future careers that the thought of prioritizing our children’s integrity which is horribly compromised in today’s colleges and instead rely on the true G-d for our livelihood, is not even a fleeting thought. You’re probably wondering what I am getting at? Is this Rabbi saying that we should not send our children to college? I am not saying that. What I am saying is that we are so sold on it that the very thought of placing our children’s purity and morality above this Idol does not even enter our minds. This then is a modern day ‘Nile River’ that we worship as a G-d.

Our jobs have also turned into ‘G-d’s. How many people will compromise their standards if the job requires it? What do we do when Shabbos has to be violated in order to keep our employment? Do we look for another job or do we look for another Shabbos?

We forget that G-d is the source of our success. The Nile River can only irrigate because G-d wills it to. Our jobs can only provide our livelihoods if G-d blesses it. So in the end, the story of the Egyptian attitude and stubbornness is our very own story. Sometimes G-d feels a need to remind us that the river is nothing and He turns it into blood making it worthless. If that does not help he finds other ways to help us remember that it’s the finger of G-d that makes everything happen.

May we merit our own exodus from Egypt and recognize G-d outstretched arm in everything that happens to us and realize that without his constant providence we would not make it through even one day. If we really internalized that and spent time thinking about it, we might not be so quick to compromise our standards rather than to compromise our jobs. We might actually recognize that a ‘Nile River’ that violates G-d’s commandments can hardly ‘irrigate’ our ‘fields’.

May we be blessed that we should be reminded of G-d’s providence through positive means and through an extra abundance of his blessings rather than through plagues.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

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