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!

Strength in Response to Tragedy

Last Sunday, a Kosher supermarket, near where I sometimes shop, burnt down. The owners were left with nothing; no home, no shop, no belongings. Though overshadowed by the much larger scale Grenfell Tower fire which occurred yesterday, claiming numerous lives and injuring dozens, I was unable to stop thinking about either catastrophe. Both tragic. Both terrifying. Both come into the category of ‘my worst nightmare’.

But amidst so much loss and tragedy, there was a small silver lining.

Chesed. Loving kindness. Community spirit. Tzedekah. Call it what you will- it’s beautiful. Just now, I read that the couple whose lives were wrecked when their shop and home burnt down, have been offered a new home and new jobs by a Jewish businessman. Meanwhile, collection points near Grenfell Tower have had to turn away donations due to the staggering amount of items offered by people trying to help.

There’s no possible way we can view these fires as anything but tragedies. So many lives and livelihoods claimed over the course of a few days; so many dreams wrecked and homes destroyed. But alongside the smouldering inferno of flames and smoke which have caused so much havoc, the fire of Torah and the warmth of loving kindness have done their hardest to mitigate the damage. In times like these, every little good deed counts. Every penny donated and every item offered count for something.

May we soon merit to witness the arrival of Moshiach, and an end to all tragedies, speedily and in our days.

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.

Elevation into Holiness

Earlier today, I was reading an article about shechita. It talked about the spiritual background of the practice, and explained how the ritual slaughter method carried a great deal of meaning. The animals we eat, cattle for example, come from the coarsest environment of all. They live amidst the dirt of the world and represent something which isn’t exactly Holy. How are we to transform this coarse background into something spiritually elevated?

Enter the role of shechita.

When we slaughter animals according to G-d’s laws, we are minimising the animal’s suffering- but there are plenty of rules we would probably rather not follow. They’re difficult to understand, time consuming, or messy. And at the next stage, when we shop at the supermarket, we have to pay more and search harder to find correctly slaughtered meat. It’s a challenge. And it’s through this challenge that we elevate the coarseness into spirituality.

This is why shechita is so important. It’s not about us. It’s about G-d. And through our devotion to Him and His laws, we can take something simple, and make it Holy.

Inspiration

I usually try to separate my different interests and occupations and in all likelihood, few of my readers are aware of my involvement in the musical world. I aim not to use this blog for promotion; instead, it’s for divrei Torah, Shabbes times, Halachic insights, and thoughts about my own journey of observance. But today, I spent a very long time on a project which ties in closely to this one.

I created a website for a singer I work closely with, named Yossi Obermeister. It took many hours and afterwards, I looked at the website, unsatisfied. The home page didn’t look how I wanted it to. The service provider was dodgy. The domain was frankly laughable. And I closed the window and didn’t look at it again until just now.

Returning to it, I feel strangely proud. It is, at the very least, good enough. While I was in the midst of it, I didn’t appreciate what I’d done. All I saw was my personal faults and what I had done wrong. In hindsight, I think I did a good job, and made the best of what I had. I can see the work that went into it and feel proud of it.

Often, in life, we encounter obstacles and stressful situations which make us feel helpless and useless. In retrospect, we realise that those around us were right and that we weren’t being idiotic or failing. We were trying our hardest and getting through a difficult situation. And that’s why I appreciate Yossi Obermeister’s work so much. His chizuk gives clarity. It gives encouragement. It gives inspiration. And when I’m having a tough time, it reminds me that the future might not be so bad after all.

With that in mind, here’s the website. Please feel free to get in touch with any feedback.

https://yossiobermeister1.wixsite.com/yossiobermeister

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!