Gut Voch and Gut Chodesh!

I hope everyone had a wonderful and peaceful Shabbes.

This isn’t just the start of a new week- it’s  the start of a new month, too! Adar is just beginning, and that means that Purim is mere weeks away. Not only is this something to look forwards to in itself, but the whole month of Adar is supposed to be joyous. It’s on Rosh Chodesh Adar that we’re meant to begin to see an increase in joy which should continue throughout the entire month. Spreading joy is a mitzvah. Whether it’s through helping someone in their time of need, surprising someone with a kind gesture, or simply being there, you can make a massive difference in someone else’s life with just a few words or hours. This month, let’s all resolve to spread joy- if we all just do one extra kind thing, think about how massive the end result will be!

Gut Chodesh!

Gut Shabbes! (Mishpatim and Shekolim)

The Shabbes before Rosh Chodesh Adar is a special Shabbes, named Shabbes Shekolim. We read Shemos 30:11-16 in preparation for Purim. This reading, like the festival of Purim itself, reminds us of the importance of unity. It speaks of the obligation for each man to contribute just one half shekel. Alone this doesn’t sound like much, and that’s the idea; just one half shekel is nothing much, but when everyone’s money is combined, it can make a massive impact. And the same applies to us. We need to work together, there is true strength in numbers.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 5:14 PM, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 6:24 PM. While lighting candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila and Yisroel ben Esther HaCohen. Gut Shabbes!

Ruach

A while ago, someone asked me why we thank G-d for wind as well as for rain. I admitted to finding the prayer confusing. I know why we pray for rain, I recognise its importance, and I find it ironic and sad that in modern western culture, we curse rain as opposed to praying for it. But I never understood praising G-d for wind. It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose, and on the contrary, strong winds are often very dangerous.

I thought about this today as we experienced dangerous winds which caused a number of disruptions and incidents. Why are we thanking G-d for this?! As I see it, this is the ultimate expression of awe for G-d. It’s like saying “Boruch Doyon HoEmes” when we feel furious and heartbroken after the passing of a loved one. Obviously, this isn’t as extreme an example, but it shows just how much we love Hashem and wish to abide by His will. Essentially, we are thanking Him for everything He created, even the things we don’t appreciate on a day to day level.

Whether or not my interpretation is correct, I feel that it will provide me with extra emunah next time I thank G-d for the wind.

Parshas Mishpatim: Holiness and Worldliness

In this week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, we read about a number of the laws which G-d gave the Israelites following the revelation at Sinai. These include the laws of property; of safety; of money lending; and of general conduct towards one’s fellow man. At first glance, these laws seem totally out of place. We’ve just finished reading about the Sinai experience. The Asares HaDibros, the massive revelation in evict G-d essentially established a covenant with the entire Jewish people. It’s dynamic and exciting, and the Israelites are being presented with extremely important, world-changing moral guidelines. It appears illogical to move on from this to seemingly minor laws- laws regarding the ins and outs of everyday life. But in fact, this is where the secret of G-dliness lies.

The fact is, life is made up of these small things. Small interactions. Seemingly mundane and unimportant things- like money lending, for example. It’s all well and good to draw upon verses about idolatry and murder, but at the end of the day, what comes up the most is the “everyday Halachos”. This isn’t just a fact about the Parsha. It’s also a metaphor for serving G-d. These seemingly corporeal things are in the Torah for a very good reason; to teach us that actually, surprisingly, it’s through these examples that we can best elevate, our status, and best use our time in this world.

Some Chareidim disagree. They feel their time is best spent only in yeshivot, and, lately, kollel. I value learning as much as any other Lubavitcher, but I dislike the isolated approach. I once heard a sermon in which a rabbi used the term “an ivory tower rabbi”, and this struck me as an absolutely perfect description. The ivory tower approach is not, I believe, what is needed. Perhaps, arguably, it is more effective for upholding one’s own spiritual wellbeing. But we need to make sacrifices for others. And in this time, we are living directly before the arrival of the Moshiach. Any day now, he could arrive. We need to strengthen our efforts to spread the word, to help others, to fill the world with light, so that it’s ready for his arrival. We simply can’t afford to shut ourselves away. So what are we to do?

The answer lies in this week’s Sedra. We are to infuse holiness and Torah observance into our everyday lives, and the everyday lives of others. It’s not all about books and learning. It’s about leading a Torah life, a life in which the Torah inspires our every action. There’s a reason why halacha covers everything from dietary requirements and clothing to career choices and loans. It’s to teach us that these things matter. And that it’s our job to bring Holiness into them. When we succeed in doing this, we hasten the arrival of Moshiach- may it come soon and in our days!

Mincha-Maariv

Another busy day.

Every minute filled,

With working and talking and writing and thinking.

With Life.

Then amidst the hustle and bustle,

A few quiet minutes,

With the One I love the most.

I whisper to Him.

Mostly I stay quiet.

Awe-struck,

Reverent,

Amazed,

In love.

I call it Mincha-Maariv.

The afternoon prayers.

The time we spend together each day, so serene,

Just Us.

Alone.

Try it and you’ll see.

Shlachmonos

Today, I found myself surrounded by shlachmonos- Purim gift baskets- in every shape, size and colour imaginable. Some were simple and elegant; others were extravagant. Looking at the selection of designs, I began to feel overwhelmed. How on earth was I going to choose one? And who would I send it to? How would I afford it? Could I manage alone? What if I couldn’t deliver it on Purim: what then?

And as I stood there, worrying about the whole Purim dilemma, I suddenly remembered something I wrote yesterday about simchos. About gratefulness. About blessings. Sometimes, we’re so busy with our problems, that we forget to count our blessings. Then I thought about Purim last year, when my family weren’t observant. There were no shlachmonos. No cards. The seuda was meagre at best. And going to shul on the day was unthinkable!

This year, I have a family to celebrate with. I have a time, and a place;  means and ways. I glanced at the shiny cellophane and the colourful sweets, and this time, I wasn’t thinking of the price, of the difficulties. I was thinking of how good it is, to be able to celebrate Purim with those I love.

Gut Voch!

I like to set goals for myself at the start of each week.

After shabbes, I feel not only refreshed but motivated to better myself. It’s not only the Holy nature of the day which leads me to feel this way, I don’t think. It’s also a case of the people I spend it with; pious people who work their hardest to infuse kedushah into their everyday lives. And so, I begin each week with reflecting upon what exactly I want to achieve. And this week, I want to work on thankfulness.

Over the coming week, there are, BezH, many simchos in my family. And simchos mean cooking. Preparing. Shopping. Mostly, I was worried about my budget. As I wrote shopping lists last night, I dwelled upon my financial status and actually came close to cursing the number of simchos in such a short time frame! When I realised this, I was horrified. A few hours of cooking, and a slightly lighter wallet- what a small price to pay for this amazing brocha!

This episode made me realise I need to be more thankful for all the wonderful things and people in my life. And this week, I want to be thankful for all the simchos.