Gut Chodesh!

Today is the second day of Rosh Chodesh, when we celebrate the beginning of a new month. It’s the start of Tammuz, a month which begins with the yahrzeis of the Rebbe on Tammuz 3, and concludes with a period of mourning known as the Three Weeks. In Jewish history, it is not a positive month, as we remember the invasion and destruction of Yerushalayim- but the message of Gimmel Tammuz is one which helps us transform darkness into light.

Throughout his life, the Rebbe worked to spread light. He built bridges, he established Jewish communities, and he provided chizuk to those who needed it desperately. Physically, the Rebbe is no longer with us. But he lives on through his legacy and spirit.

This Gimmel Tammuz, let’s all take a moment to dwell on the impact which the Rebbe had on the world. And then, let’s all incorporate his teachings into our day, and perform just one of the many mitzvos of which he fostered observance. Do one good deed; give one extra coin to charity; help one person. And may we then merit to see the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days.

Gut Shabbes! (Korach)

This Shabbes, we read the Sedra named after Korach, the rebellious Israelite who sparked a mass rebellion. In light of Korach’s actions, which caused division and heartbreak, we need to look at Moshe Rabbenu’s reaction. Just like the Rebbe, who was the focus of my dvar Torah this week, Moshe sought to create unity where there was none. And that spark of Moshe Rabbenu lives on in each of us.

This Shabbes, utilise that spark. Bring people together. Host someone for a meal or two, invite people to your house, or simply strike up a conversation with someone at the kiddush on Shabbes morning. Our actions carry and immense amount of power- the power of unity. Let’s build bridges between all of klal Yisroel, and, through our unity and mitzvos, hasten the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days iyH!

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 9:04 PM today, and Shabbes ends at 10:36 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna and Shai bas Odeya. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Shabbes! (Naso)

Shovuos is meant to be a time when we accept the Torah all over again. It’s also meant to be a time of celebration and rest, when we take two days to dedicate ourselves to G-d and Judaism, and to spend time with our families and friends. Unfortunately, for many of us, the holiday may have been less than restful. Between tikkun layl shovuos, hosting guests, and cooking meals, there’s rarely a spare minute to ourselves.

So here’s our chance.

Part of the marriage contract with G-d- which is celebrated when we observe Shovuos- is the gift of Shabbes. An eternal covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. The best chuppah gift imaginable. So, tonight and tomorrow, let’s use this gift wisely, and enjoy 25 hours of Shabbes.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:51 PM, and Shabbes ends at 10:22 PM tomorrow. When lighting candles, please keep in mind Chain Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna and Tova bas Taloob for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Gut Yontiff!

Every year, we receive the Torah anew as we celebrate the festival of Shovuos. The name ‘Shovuos’ means weeks, as the holiday marks five weeks since Pesach. It’s at the end of this period that we accept the Torah all over again and rejoice in it. It’s important to hear the Ten Commandments read in shul- this mitzvah applies to all, including men, women and children, so you should try to be at your nearest shul tomorrow to hear this. Additionally, it is customary to stay up all night tonight learning Torah, to make up for the fact that the Israelites overslept when they were supposed to receive it.

Like on Shabbes, all forms of work are forbidden until after nightfall on Thursday. This includes writing, driving, shopping, and using electricity. Cooking and carrying items needed for the yontiff are permissible under certain circumstances. Please consult Chabad.org for actual guidelines.

In London, holiday candles should be lit at 8:48 PM today, and after 10:18 PM tomorrow (from a pre-existing flame). The yontiff ends after 10:19 PM on Thursday. While lighting candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya, Chashachana bas Bryna and Tova bas Taloob for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Yontiff!

Parshas Naso: Offerings and Dedications

This week’s Parsha, Naso, coincides with the holiday of Shovuos, one of the “Shalosh regalim”, the three pilgrimage festivals (the others beeing Pesach and Sukkos). As we read through the Sedra, we learn an important lesson about our own importance as Jews, one which is echoed by the festival which we celebrate tonight.

The parsha begins with the conclusion of the census found in Bamidbor, before detailing the laws of the Sotah (wayward wife) and the nazir (one who takes a vow to separate himself for G-d, by abstaining from certain worldly pleasures). It then tells us about the dedications of the princes of the tribes; each brought an offering to the altar. And although each brought the same offering, the Torah describes each dedication as if it were unique. Why?

These descriptions send a strong message. They send the message that each dedication was important. Each one wasn’t valued. And that without any one of them, the Parsha wouldn’t have been “complete”. In lieu of offerings, we daven. We offer verbal supplications rather than sacrifices. And like the dedications of the tribes, our prayers are often identical. Many of us say exactly the same words. And yet- each tefilla matters. Each word counts. No matter how many other people have said that same prayer, it is still valued and heard by G-d.

Over the following days, we will receive the Torah yet again. We will stand at Sinai yet again. And as we do so, we must remember that the presence of each and every one of us is important. G-d cares for and loves every Jew, and counts our tefillos and good deeds with love. With this in mind, may we enter Shovuos with the knowledge of our own value, and may we all merit to receive the Torah in good health and happiness!

Gut Shabbes! (Bamidbar)

This week, we’ll hear the Torah reading of Bamidbar, the first in the book of Numbers, and as we do so, it’s likely that we’ll be thinking of the upcoming festival; Shovuos. From Tuesday night through to Thursday night we have the chance to ‘stand at Sinai’ once more and receive the Torah. This Shabbes, the very last before Shovuos, is an important one, as we know from the following quotation from Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch;

‘It is customary that on the Shabbat before a wedding, the bridegroom is called to the Torah. Shavuot, the festival which coincides with the anniversary of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, represents the marriage of G‑d and Israel; this is why the Torah portion of Bamidbar (“in the desert”) is usually read on the Shabbat before Shavuot.’

This Shabbes, may we merit to anticipate the marriage of G-d and Jew; the giving of the Torah, and rejoice in the day of rest and peace. In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 8:43 PM, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 10:12 PM. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya and Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Parshas Bamidbar: The Giving of the Torah

This week, we begin the book of Bamidbar- Numbers- with the Parsha of the same name. The word “Bamidbar” actually means “in the desert”, and although much of the Sedra is a census of sorts, detailing the Israelites’ families, and the laws of the Camp and Levites, its first line- “G-d spoke to Moshe in the desert of Sinai”- tells us of the giving of the Torah and it’s very special role.

Different commentators have attempted to interpret this line. What does it mean “In the desert of Sinai”? Why does it specify that the Torah was given there? Rashbi (Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) tells us, “The Torah was given to the people of Israel in the ownerless desert. For if it were given in the Land of Israel, the residents of the Land of Israel would say, “It is ours”; and if it were given in some other place, the residents of that place would say, “It is ours.” Therefore it was given in the wilderness, so that anyone who wishes to acquire it may acquire it.”

The last sentence of his interpretation provides the basis for a major tenet of Chassidic belief. The Torah is every Jew’s heritage. In fact, every Jew is taught the entire Torah in his or her mother’s womb, only to forget it before birth; and this connection to the Torah remains with the child throughout their life- even if they aren’t aware of it. The spark of Moshe Rabbenu, who transcribed the Torah, lies within every Jew, and through this their souls cleave to G-d’s teachings.

This is just one interpretation of the verse. Meanwhile, we read in Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, “”Why was the Torah given in the desert? To teach us that if a person does not surrender himself to it like the desert, he cannot merit the words of Torah. And to teach us that just as the desert is endless, so is the Torah without end”.

Indeed, it is true that an individual must surrender himself to the Torah. We can’t pick and choose; keep the bits we like and understand and discard the rest. We need to accept the entire Torah, every word of it, and submit to it’s Creator. It is only then that we will discover the true meaning of the term “The Torah [is] without end”, as the study of Torah and keeping of its mitzvos promises us a place in Olam Haba, the world to come.

The desert in which G-d gave the Torah tells us a lot about it, and it’s through these few intricate words that we can understand the rest of the Parsha, and also the upcoming festival of Shovuos, on which we receive the Torah anew. Every year, we stand before Sinai and accept the mitzvos; and every year, we have a chance to rededicate ourselves to the Torah and examine our relationship with it. On this note, I would like to wish all my readers a gut yontiff. May Shovuos bring you ever closer to the gift of Torah!