Doing the Right Thing

I read the following Daily Thought, courtesy of Chabad.org, and it spoke to me in an indescribable way;

“No person can know his own inner motives.
He may be kind because kindness brings him pleasure.
He may be wise because wisdom is music to his soul.
He may become a martyr burned in fire because his heart burns with defiance.
How can you know that your motives are sincere? What is the test?
The test will be when doing the right thing cuts against the grain.
Torah Ohr 19b; Likkutei Sichot, vol. 20, pp. 76, 306–307.”

Thank you to Chabad.org for providing not only this, but millions of other sources of inspiration, to me and others across the world.

Transforming Learning

In today’s Hayom Yom we read about the importance of truly connecting to Hashem when we study Torah; “Uknei l’cha chaver (lit. “acquire a friend for yourself”) was changed to read v’kaneh l’cha chaver- “the quill shall be your friend”. This was, in turn, interpreted to refer to the “quill of the heart”, meaning that “whatever one learns one must experience emotionally”.

When I read about this today, I began to think about my own relationship with learning. When I read Sefer HaMitzvos, for example, I sometimes feel disconnected. Reading about the laws of keeping slaves and returning property is all well and good in the context of Biblical times, but the promise of “When Moshiach comes these laws will be relevant again” isn’t always enough to make me really connect with my learning.

B’ezras Hashem, in this day and age, there are a number of resources available to make learning accessible and relevant. There are videos and websites, shiurim and Q&As. There is no shortage of material, but unfortunately, I rarely find myself using it. Reading the Hayom Yom this morning strengthened my resolve to do so, and made me want to suggest that we all have an obligation to enhance our learning until we truly feel our souls connecting to Hashem every time we read words of the Chumash, Tanya, or any other text.

Torah study links the Earth and the Heavens, and we have a duty to do everything in our power to strengthen that bond.

Parshas Va’eschanan: The Missing Echo

In this week’s Parsha, Va’eschanan, Moshe Rabbenu continues his repetition of the Torah. He emphasises the unique importance of the events recorded in the Torah, and describes them as unprecedented, before going on to list the Asares HaDibros- the Ten Commandments- and the verses of the Shema, the Jewish declaration of faith. Amidst all these complex details and narratives, there is one short line found in the Parsha which has been commented on countless times and which, perhaps, holds the key to understanding life as a Jew in the 21st century: “With a great voice which was not again”.

This sentence refers to the Divine voice which recited the Ten Commandments to us, and many have attempted to interpret what exactly it means. Some suggest that it refers to a physical aspect of the voice: its power or the fact it spoke uninterrupted. Others believe that it relates to the unique and special nature of the event, an event which will never again be repeated. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe provides a truly dynamic and relevant explanation for these words.

He teaches us about the symbolism of an echo, and what the lack of echo represents: “An echo is created when a sound meets with a substance which resists it: instead of absorbing its waves, the substance repels them, bouncing them back to the void. But the voice of the Ten Commandments permeated every object in the universe. So any “resistance” we may possibly meet in implementing the Torah is superficial and temporary. Ultimately, the essence of every created being is consistent with, and wholly receptive of, the goodness and perfection that its Creator desires of it.”

The Divine nature of the Torah means that no matter how far away society seems from following Halacha, our very existence is in fact in line with the Ten Commandments and the teachings of G-d. Our minds may temporarily become distracted and we may stray from the precepts of the Torah but our souls still cleave to G-d and are permeated by His essence.

The Torah will always “fit in”. Sometimes, society seems as if it doesn’t, and sometimes societal trends tempt us to stray. But in these times- the footsteps of Moshiach- we need to remember what the Rebbe told us about the echo in this week’s Parsha, or rather the lack of an echo. Nothing can repel the Torah, and nothing can resist the Word of G-d. When we all realise this and implement the Torah’s teachings, we will merit to greet Moshiach (speedily and in our days, iyH!).

The Nine Days

As we enter the mourning period known as the Nine Days, we take upon ourselves certain observances which don’t apply to the rest of the Three Weeks. This heightened mourning culminates with Tisha B’Av, a fast day on which we remember the destruction of the Temple, before normal life resumes.

The restrictions of the following nine days can be found here, courtesy of Chabad.org;

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/144574/jewish/The-Nine-Days.htm

Although these laws and customs are undeniably of the utmost importance, it’s our internal thoughts and prayers which matter the most. Our souls mourn the destruction of the Temples, and we are supposed to lower our level of simcha accordingly. But nonetheless, we must not give up hope, as when Moshiach comes, these will be he happiest days of our lives…

17 Tammuz

If, G-d forbid, Moshiach has not arrived by then, we begin fasting at halachic dawn tomorrow, and continue to do so until nightfall. In London, this means that we will be fasting from 1:05 AM until 10:01 PM. The rules of fasting apply to anyone over bar or bas mitzvah age, excluding those who are ill, pregnant, elderly, or weak.

We fast on 17 Tammuz in commemoration of five events which took place. The list below, courtesy of Chabad.org, summarises them;

1. Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the Golden Calf.

2. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices due to the lack of sheep.

3. Apostomos burned the holy Torah.

4. An idol was placed in the Holy Temple.

5. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege.

Despite these tragic events, the fast day is an auspicious day for prayer. As we refrain from worldly pleasures, and pour our hearts out to G-d, we can only hope that he will listen and send Moshiach, speedily and in our days iyH!

Yud Beis Tammuz

Today is Yud Beis Tammuz, the first of two days in which we commemorate the release of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, from imprisonment under Soviet rule. Through the grace of G-d, the Previous Rebbe escaped being sentenced to death, and was instead punished with 3 years of exile, for his attempts to spread the light of Torah- something which was defined as a ‘counter revolutionary activity’. However, less than a month later, he was freed, in what can only be described as a miracle, and we remember this incident through farbrengens, additional Torah study, and davening.

Yud Beis Tammuz teaches us to never give up. Even when death seemed imminent, the Previous Rebbe survived. Even when exile loomed, he persevered. And as he persisted with his dedication to Hashem and His Torah, he found himself freed mere weeks after the ordeal began. Just as Parshas Balak teaches us that we can transform curses into blessings, Yud Beis Tammuz reiterates the lesson, reminding us that we can transform negatives into positives, if only we trust in Hashem.

Gut Yontiff!

Parshas Balak: Blessings and Curses

This week’s Parsha, Balak, tells us the meaningful story of the prophet Balaam, and how his attempts at the request of King Balak to curse the Israelites backfire, resulting in him blessing them instead, to the frustration of the Moabite King. It’s actually in Balaam’s prophecy that we read about the coming of Moshiach, who will be a descendent of Dovid Hamelech. This part of the prophecy carries a crucial message about the Jewish people; one which ties in closely to the episode in which Balaam’s curses transform into blessings.

Towards the end of the Parsha, we read “There shall shoot forth a star out of Jacob (24:17)”. The Baal Shem Tov explains this passage as meaning that the source of Moshiach lies within the soul of every single Jew. We commonly repeat that there is a spark of Moshe Rabbenu inside all Jews, but rarely do we hear that there is some small source of Moshiach lying within every Jewish soul.

Truly, this illustrates how each and every Jew has the power to bring Moshiach. The Rebbe zt”l was a firm believer in the idea that just one mitzvah could tip the scales and begin the Messianic era. Just one man laying tefillin, or one woman lighting Shabbes candles; one person helping another, or one individual spreading the light of Torah, and we could find ourselves living with Moshiach. The source of this belief may very well lie in Parshas Balak, where we learn that a spark of Moshiach sits within us all.

Additionally, this concept coincides with Balaam’s failed attempt to curse the Israelites. Just as his curses turned to blessings, we all have the power to do the same in our daily lives. To turn our mistakes into chances to repent and change our behaviour; to change failures into an incentive to change; to transform one’s suffering into a closer relationship with G-d. No matter how we choose to do it, we all have the power to turn curses into blessings, as G-d did in Parshas Batak; and we all have the power to bring Moshiach, may he arrive speedily and in our days iyH!