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!

Parshas Korach: Division and Rebellion

In this week’s Sedra, Korach starts a rebellion against Moshe Rabbenu, and, joined by over 250 others, insists that the priesthood belongs not only to Aharon but to them, also, stating that ‘the entire community is Holy’. Moshe Rabbenu is horrified by this display of division, and challenges them to offer ketoret (incense) to G-d, along with Aharon, saying that G-d will accept the incense from the one he has chosen. Aharon’s ketoret stops the plague which has engulfed the Israelites, as a result of their disobedience, and yet he is required to prove his status once again, and does so through the blossoming of his staff. The Parsha concludes with G-d commanding the terumah offering and the giving of gifts to the kohanim.

Korach was attempting to start a revolution. In his eyes, and the eyes of his followers, he was a revolutionary; a freedom fighter. On Tuesday, we mark the yahrzeis of a very different kind of revolutionary: the Rebbe. Both Korach and the Rebbe wanted to change the way the world worked. They both had visions of how things should be, and they both tried their utmost to implement these visions. So how come Korach ended up causing a terrible uprising and a deadly plague while the Rebbe sparked a Torah revolution which engulfed world Jewry and influenced the lives of millions of people around the world?

There’s one word which lies at the heart of this massive difference. And that word is division. Korach tried to push people apart. Rather than playing on the Israelites’ strength as one nation, the nation of the chosen people, he attempted to split them up, and start his own following which aimed to remove Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon. His followers became violent and angry and tore away from Moshe’s leadership, splitting the strong nation into warring tribes.

Meanwhile, the Rebbe did the exact opposite. Where Korach pushed people apart, he pulled them together. He attempted to unite all the world’s Yidden, through tefillin and Shabbes candle campaigns, and encouraged the institution of Chabad houses in places where there was no thriving Jewish community. Through reaching out and building bridges, he brought together people from all walks of life- from Chareidim to totally non-observant Jews, and everyone in between, even including non-Jews, who he reached out to with the campaign for spreading the Noahide laws.

The moral of the story? Build bridges, don’t burn them. Reach out, don’t pull away. And above all, look upon your fellow Jew with the love he deserves, and spread the light of acceptance to defeat the darkness of division.

This dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l, in anticipation of his 23rd Yahrzeis, and to all the Chabad shluchim around the world who work tirelessly to spread the light of Torah.

Gut Shabbes! (Shlach)

Earlier this week, I wrote about how the story of the 10 spies in Parshas Shlach represents the importance of physical mitzvos, and that we need to do good and help mend the world through our actions as well as through our thoughts and prayers. Over the past few days, it’s become obvious that Tikkun Olam is needed more desperately than ever, as lives and livelihoods have been lost in my home city. But just as we’ve been reading about physical mitzvos, so have Londoners been out on the streets, performing mitzvos.

We are told to live in the present, and as Jews, that means living in the weekly Parsha. Never before have I seen such an example of living in the Parsha, is thousands have turned out to help those injured or affected in any way, by donating money, objects, and- most precious of all- time. Tiku l’mitzvos. This Shabbes, may we all merit to take part in the mitzvah of honouring and keeping Shabbes, and may there be no more tragedies like those we witnessed this week.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 9:02 PM, and Shabbes ends at 10:35 PM tomorrow. While lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Moshe ben Hadasa, Moshe ben Genya and Chashachana bas Bryna. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Parshas Shloch: Actions Over Words

I often find myself referencing to this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Shloch. The episode of the deceitful spies is one which I resonate with, and one which, I think, is connected to the greatest fault in Orthodox Jewish society today. But for this interpretation to make sense, we need to dig deeper than the surface, and read some of the commentary on the Sedra. To summarise, the episode of the spies occurs near the beginning of the Parsha, where Moshe Rabbenu sends 12 men to spy on the land of Canaan, and report back on the climate and people there. However, 10 of the spies give a false report, beginning with the truth, then claiming to have seen inhabitants like giants, and dissuading the Israelites from entering- saying they would be destroyed, even with G-d’s help. Only Calev and Yoshua argue against this, and the people believe the wicked spies. G-d wishes to destroy them, but Moshe Rabbenu convinces him to lessen his punishment, instead sentencing them to 40 years of wandering in the desert.

The big question here is; “Why”? Why did the 10 spies give this false report? Didn’t they want to enter the holy land?

To truly understand the reason why, we should look to the explanation provided by a Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Baal HaTanya and the founder of Chabad Chassidism. He writes, “A great majority of the physical mitzvot can be implemented only in the Land of Israel, especially the agricultural laws and the laws of the offerings brought to the Holy Temple. . . . The spies, who were on a most lofty spiritual level, did not wish to lower themselves to the level of physical action, preferring to remain in the desert, where they received all their needs from above, and related to G‑d by means of the loftier levels of thought and speech (i.e., study of Torah and prayer). They desired to draw down all the divine emanations into the “Land of Israel” that exists in the realm of malchut, the world of divine speech, where there also is a “Jerusalem” and a “Holy Temple.” Regarding the physical Land of Israel, they said: “It is a land that consumes its inhabitants”—if the divine light were to be drawn down into the physical world, our entire existence would be nullified”.

In short, they felt their lives should be about thinking, not doing.

And thinking is great. Learning is great. When a man learns Torah, he protects Eretz Yisroel with his efforts. It’s not just important, but absolutely vital, that we learn and study and daven. We need to read the Torah, understand it, and study different interpretations. We need to learn about halocha. We need to attend shul, and, preferably, shiurim. But we are forsaking the very essence of the Torah, and of this week’s Parsha, when we substitute doing for learning.

So what do we need to do? Physical mitzvos. That means kind acts, acts of chesed and charity. That means donating money and items, helping someone cross the road, inviting someone for Shabbes, Kashering someone’s kitchen with them. It means Ahavos Yisroel. The pillar of Judaism. Learning is amazing. But too often, I come across people who learn Torah, yet ignore its most crucial teachings. They can sit in kollel or yeshiva all day, or write as I do, but if they’re not out there, helping others, spreading light, bringing Holiness into this world, they’ve not learned from the ten spies.

So no matter how spiritually lofty you are, you have a duty. A duty to finish reading this article. Turn off your computer. And change the world with one good deed.

Journeying

Today, I spent a lot of time speaking about spiritual journeys. The conversations weren’t especially pleasant, but I was well equipped for them. This morning, before I entered into the world, and began the usual routine of hectic schedules and travelling and, in today’s case, difficult discussions, I took the time to read some of the Parsha. This week’s Parsha, Shloch is especially dear to me. I love it and feel a deep connection with it.

As I’ve read and written about each Parsha, I’ve tried to foster this kind of relationship with each and every portion, but not always succeeded.

As I review the next few parashos, the first ones I studied, I find myself also reviewing my relationship with the Torah. I look back at my first divrei Torah and try to fill the gaps. In many ways, this past week has been like a personal Simchos Torah for me. Not only is it like the end of one cycle, and the beginning of another, but it’s a journey. And like all journeys I go on, I will take with me the wisdom from the first Parsha I truly connected with.

Parshas Shloch.

Gut Shabbes! (Beha’aloscha)

This Shabbes, we read Parshas Beha’aloscha. The end of the Parsha famously focuses on the topic of loshon hora- evil or negative speech- and serves as a warning against speaking ill of others, as Miriam did to Moshe Rabbenu. This is a troubling episode, though it’s an important lesson, and one we should carry with us at all times. However, the Rebbe zt’l advised us to find the good in every situation, and focus on the positive. On this note, I would like to remind everyone of the power of positive speech.

Just as negative speech kills self esteem, crushes dreams, and ruins lives, positive speech fosters confidence, creates ambition, and saves people from falling into despair. Messages of peace and love united all of klal Yisroel. A simple greeting and a smile connects you with your fellow Jew at no cost whatsoever- so this Shabbes, remember to say those two simple words to whoever you see; Gut Shabbes! Through warm greetings and messages, may we soon merit to unite all Jews and hasten the arrival of Moshiach, speedily and in our days!

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit by 8:58 PM, and Shabbes ends tomorrow at 10:30 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 Beha’aloscha: Loshon Hora and Teshuva

The very first dvar Torah I remember writing was on this week’s Parsha, Beha’aloscha. It was only a few paragraphs, and the narrative I chose was surely one which has been oft-repeated, but I remember that I was proud of it. As we made our way through the Torah cycle, and drew closer to Beha’aloscha, I began to look upon it in the way a man might think of his bar mitzvah Parsha.

Beha’aloscha didn’t mark the beginning of my interest in Torah. I’d began reading it daily a short while before. But it was this time last year that I began researching the Parsha extensively and writing my thoughts on it. Returning to the Parsha, with the knowledge I’ve gained over the past year- still but a drop in the ocean of Torah- I am still fascinated, like many, with the same episode, but for a different reason.

The episode is, of course, that of Miriam’s loshon hora and subsequent punishment. To summarise- the Sedra ends with Miriam speaking negatively towards Moshe Rabbenu, and being punished by G-d with leprosy, a blemish which required her to be secluded outside the camp for seven days, for which the inhabitants waited and the camp did not move on without her. After the period of time was up, she was allowed to re-enter the camp.

In the context of a modern day setting, there is no camp to be excluded from, and no waiting period to recover from leprosy. But the punishment and seclusion draw a metaphor to our own personal relationships with G-d; something which is relevant to every person, in every generation. In Parshas Beha’aloscha, Miriam is secluded away from the Israelites and distanced from them as a result of her speaking loshon hora. In a similar manner, when one speaks loshon hora, they find themselves distanced from G-d. He is still there; He is still their Creator and Father; and He will still forgive them, but momentarily, they find themselves pulled away from Him.

No matter how we act, G-d is still there. But we can only become closer to Him through loving and fearing him, and through performing his Mitzvos. When we transgress- in this case through the sin of loshon hora- we draw further away from Him. This doesn’t alter His nature in any way; it just means that we need to do Teshuva in order to return to him and enjoy the close relationship which we once had.

Just as the Israelites waited when Miriam was excluded outside the camp, G-d waits for us when we make mistakes. Sometimes He waits days; sometimes months; and sometimes, years. Decades may pass before we truly realise our nature as Jews, and long to return to our Creator. But no matter how much time goes by, G-d still waits and doesn’t let go. May we soon merit to see the day when all Jews return to Hashem, and we witness the arrival of Moshiach- speedily and in our days!