Unity

I rarely post about Chabad on this blog. Over time, I seem to be writing about Chabad and Halachically less and less and focusing more on my own thoughts and experiences. But mostly, I write about what inspires me- and this inspired me.

In the face of division – and when I use that word I include both the Reform rabbis bashing Orthodoxy, and the Frum rabbis throwing people out of communities- gatherings such as this one are a truly beautiful response.

http://www.chabad.org/news/article_cdo/aid/3933011/jewish/3000-Women-to-Honor-30th-Anniversary-of-Rebbetzins-Passing.htm#utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=fb_news

I don’t think that the Rebbetzin OBM would be particularly pleased by many of the things seen in frum communities today. But I think that she is looking upon these amazing women from shamayim with the utmost pride.

Gut Shabbes! (Yisro)

In Parshas Yisro, we read about Moshe Rabbenu’s father-in-law, Yisro. Up until now, Moshe Rabbenu had dealt with all of the disputes and legal cases which the Israelites sought advice on- despite the fact that there were several million of them. Needless to say, this consumed almost the entirety of his time, and he spent most of the day standing, listening to quarrels and arguments and questions. Moshe Rabbenu loved his people- but his father-in-law knew that this had to stop.

And so, he told Moshe to appoint judges and councillors over the people- wise men who would judge these cases, and if they couldn’t solve a dilemma, only then would it be brought to Moshe Rabbenu. The message was quite simple: you shouldn’t face life alone. We know this from the Creation story itself, and the oft-repeated phrase, “man was not made to be alone”. Part of the reason why there is so much emphasis on marriage in the Jewish world is because we believe that G-d intended for people to face the troubles and the triumphs of life with a partner; someone who truly cares.

A couple of years ago, I heard a beautiful sermon which has stayed in my mind ever since. Quite often, we hear difficult relationships described as being like a rollercoaster. But in fact, life is a rollercoaster, and that isn’t meant in a negative way; essentially, just like a rollercoaster moving along a track, life has both exhilarating highs and terrifying pitfalls. And if you’re on a rollercoaster alone, those pitfalls can be very scary; but if you’re with someone else, someone who you love, then not only are the highs that much more joyous, but you have someone to depend on when the rollercoaster shoots downwards.

Life truly is a rollercoaster- and may we all merit to find that special someone who makes the journey so much more beautiful.

In London, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:34 PM tonight, and Shabbes goes out at 5:46 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chaya bas Perrel. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

Parshas Yisro: Reading the Commandments

In this week’s Parsha, Yisro, we read about the Asares HaDibros, the Ten Commandments which make up perhaps the best known part of the entire Torah. These ten laws, inscribed upon the two tablets which Moshe Rabbenu brought down from Sinai, form basic moral guidelines which almost everyone is familiar with; even those who had no Jewish education. But the commandments aren’t quite as simple as that; when we look to the wisdom of the Chazal, we find out that the two tablets actually contain a little known secret.

To discover this secret, we simply read the two tablets horizontally, as opposed to looking at one tablet at a time. When we do this, we are left with five pairings of commandments, each providing us with both a mitzvah and a reason for it. If this doesn’t make much sense, we need only look at these five pairs to understand what the Midrash is trying to tell us.

The very first commandment- telling us that Hashem is the L-rd our G-d- is paired with the sixth commandment, prohibiting murder. The Chazal teach us that this is because each human being is created in G-d’s image, and is deserving of love and respect. If we are to murder another human being, we are essentially murdering G-d. Then we have the second pair, containing two negative commandments; the prohibitions against idolatry and adultery. This teaches us that marriage is a Holy union, and when we transgress its boundaries, our actions are akin to idolatry.

The third pair is very similar to the first- it contains the prohibitions against taking G-d’s name in vain and stealing. Just as murdering someone is an affront to G-d, as a murderer destroys one of His precious creations, stealing from someone shows a lack of respect and love, and we know that when we treat our fellow man this way, we hurt G-d too, as if we have used His name in vain. The fourth and ninth commandments are also paired together, telling us that keeping Shabbes is a testimony to the Creation story, and G-d’s soevreignty over the world. This is why we stand when we make Kiddush; we stand as witnesses before G-d, and his Creation of the seventh day, and by breaking Shabbes, we are essentially bearing false witness.

Finally, we are left with the fifth commandment- honouring parents- and the tenth, which tells us not to covet our neighbour’s belongings. The Midrash tells us that just as the reward for honouring parents is long life, the punishment for not doing so is to raise children who turn away from their parents and act jealously- coveting, as we are commanded not to do in the tenth commandment.

As we read about these pairings of the Commandments, one message is repeated time after time; in order to honour G-d, we must honour those around us, and treat them with the respect and kindness they deserve. After all, every human being is one of G-d’s creations, and we can never truly serve Him if we are hurting those around us.

The Eyes of the Community

“Rabbis and scholars are called the “eyes of the community” and “heads of the thousands of Israel”; and when the head is healthy, the body is then also healthy.

–Hayom Yom, 23 Adar I”

This quotation from the Hayom Yom, which I came across on Chabad.org today, helps us to understand the true role of rabbonim, dayanim and the leaders of yeshivos. Unlike many, I have never followed the route of blind faith in community leaders: too many times, they have failed their communities by refusing to protect women and children who are being abused, shunning those with questions and concerns, and sweeping very real problems under the rug.

Instead, I like to think that the metaphor of rabbonim as the head, and the community as the body, tells us that we have a right to question what they say, and reminds us that what’s in our soul is more important than what’s in any book or community notice. Although we know from the Shulchan Aruch that we need to respect and honour rabbis, this respect is only awarded to those who deserve it. Like thoughts in our head, we should not give a platform to those who spread hatred or division.

The Hayom Yom tells us that the spirit and welfare of the community is dependant upon good leadership- and similarly, poor leadership tears people apart rather than brining them together. Although rabbonim may be the at the “head” of the community, we all need to follow our hearts and souls as well, and never give in to extremism or hateful leaders.

Gut Shabbes! (Beshaloch)

Today is Yud Shevat, perhaps the most important day on the Chassidic calendar. It is the yahrzeis of the Previous Rebbe, and also the anniversary of the beginning of the Rebbe’s leadership, exactly one year after his father in law passed away. I’ve always felt somewhat conflicted about the nature of Yud Shevat. On the one hand, I felt a sense of sadness regarding the passing of the Previous Rebbe, but on the other hand, the Rebbe’s leadership brought the promise of new horizons and a new hope.

Of course, the only way to tackle the darkness which increases in the world when a tzaddik passes away is to combat it with hope and light, which was essentially the lifelong mission of the Rebbe. And on this day we should think about what we, too, can do to change lives and spread light. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture; simply lighting Shabbes candles, or inviting someone for a meal, can change the world and even bring Moshiach. The power is in your hands to transform your life and the lives of those around you; let us continue the Rebbe’s legacy by using that power for good.

This week, Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:21 PM in London, and Shabbes goes out at 5:35 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yossef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa, Chashachana bas Bryna and Chaya bas Perrel for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!

The Queen

Darkness falls
It’s Friday night
I can almost see
The Shabbes Queen.
The flickering candles
The murmur of prayer
The rustle of velvet and silk.
Salt on the chollah
A blessing said aloud
And joy all around me
Dancing and singing –
Come, greet the Queen-
Come with me,
My beloved friend-
I call but nobody answers.
Every week
I say the same words
Please G-d, this week,
Let my dreams come true.
Please G-d, this week
Let me greet the Queen
In joy and peace
Good health and happiness
And not alone.

The Lesson of the Manna

In Parshas Beshaloch, we read about the manna which descended from heaven and sustained the Israelites as they lived in the desert. For forty years, this manna fed them, without the need for them to do any work. Every man had the same alloted amount of manna, and no matter how much one man toiled, or how little another did, they all remained equal.

This system was designed to remind the Israelites that their sustenance always comes from Hashem, but- understandably- it’s difficult to keep this mindset in the present day, when inequality is rife and we have to work for what we eat. The Rebbe reminds us that even though things seem very different nowadays, they’re in fact exactly the same: no one receives any more of less than what is allotted by G-d.

The Rebbe reminds us that the mitzvah of Shabbes contains a similar lesson to that of the manna. Initially, keeping Shabbes seems like a bad business decision, and a way to lose one’s income, but in fact, keeping Shabbes is an exercise in recognising our true source of sustenance- Hashem. Even if we have to work for a living in this day and age, we must always remember the lesson which the manna taught us, about our one true provider.

Parshas Beshaloch: Leaders and Rulers

The story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea is a well known one. We all know about how Hashem split the sea to let them across, before allowing it to surge over the pursuing Egyptians, drowning them as soon as the Chosen People had reached dry land. It’s no secret how Miriam and the women prepared instruments for this momentous occasion, reflecting their faith in G-d and the redemption. And most of us have heard the famous story from Sanhedrin, in which the angels wished to celebrate the Egyptian’s deaths, and Hashem rebuked them, asking how they could sing while his creations drowned in the sea. But there’s an episode in this week’s Parsha- that of the song which Moshe Rabbenu and the Israelites sang- which contains a little known treasure trove of meaning and wisdom.

To understand the meaning of this song and the way in which it was sung, we need to understand the three interpretations regarding it. The text merely states, “Then Moshe and the children of Israel sang this song to G‑d, and they spoke, saying…”- not telling us how they sang it. Rabbi Akiva states that after Moshe Rabbenu sang each line, the Israelites repeated “I will sing to Hashem”, continually repeating the same line as Moshe made his way through the song. Meanwhile, Rabbi Eliezer thinks that they repeated each line after Moshe, rather than saying the same verse again and again, and finally Rabbi Nechemiah believed that Moshe just sang the opening words to the song, after which, they all sang it on their own.

But what exactly does all this mean? What do these three opinions tell us?

As ever, the Lubavitcher Rebbe provides us with answers. These three different styles represent three types of leadership- beginning with a slightly flawed kind of leadership, and working up to the most ideal sort. The Rebbe tells us, “Rabbi Akiva describes an ideal in which a people completely abnegate their individuality to the collective identity embodied by the leader. Moshe alone sang the nation’s gratitude to G‑d…. The people had nothing further to say as individuals. At first glance, this seems the ultimate in unity: hundreds of thousands of hearts and minds yielding to a single program and vision. Rabbi Eliezer, however, argues that this is but a superficial unity… When people set aside their own thoughts and feelings to accept what is dictated to them by a higher authority, they are united only in word and deed; their inner selves remain different and distinct.”

So what does the Rebbe say about Rabbi Eliezer? How is his ideal of leadership superior? Rabbi Elizer, he tells us, “interprets the Torah’s description of Israel’s song to say that they did not merely affirm Moshe’s song with a refrain, but repeated his words themselves. Each individual Jew internalised Moshe’s words, so that they became the expression of his own understanding and feelings. The very same words assumed hundreds of thousands of nuances of meaning, as they were absorbed by each of the minds, and articulated by each of the mouths, of the people of Israel”. And yet this approach, too, has problems. “If Israel repeated these verses after Moses, this would imply that their song did not stem from the very deepest part of themselves”.

So why is Rabbi Nechamia’s approach ideal- and what does it tell us about Moshe’s leadership? The Rebbe explains, “If the people were truly one with Moses and his articulation of the quintessence of Israel, why would they need to hear their song from his lips before they could sing it themselves? It was enough, says Rabbi Nechemiah, that Moses started them off with the first words of the song, so as to stimulate their deepest experience of the miracle, with the result that each of them sang the entire song on their own”. This reminds us that Moshe was a leader, not a ruler. He wasn’t the sort of person who sat back and allowed his people to do all the work; he showed them the way, and illuminated the path for them, so that they could independently serve G-d.

Just as the highest form of tzedakah is enabling someone to help themself, rather than making them dependent on a beneficiary, the best form of leadership is that which allows people to utilise their own free will, and talents, to serve their true leader- Hashem. When Moshe began singing the song, and encouraged the people of Israel to praise G-d by themselves, he was demonstrating- as he does in many other parts of the Torah- his remarkable leadership skills; the same skills which, with Hashem’s help, led the people out of Mitzrayim.

Gut Shabbes! (Bo)

In this week’s Parsha, Bo, Pharaoh continually hardens his heart against the people of Israel, and refuses to let them leave Mitzrayim. Moshe Rabbenu feels distressed and let down by Pharaoh’s behaviour, as it represented the sheer determination and resolution of the forces of evil. Upon seeing Moshe’s distraught reaction to this evil, G‑d said to him, “They, on their own, do not possess such power. It is only because I have hardened their hearts”.

When we come up against challenges in our life, the world can seem unfair and hard-hearted. But Judaism makes no attempt to pretend that these difficult times are caused by some evil force- some scapegoat we can blame everything on. Instead, we are reminded in this week’s Parsha that stumbling blocks and challenges come from G-d, too, and that we must work through them with persistence, courage and emunah.

Shabbes candles should be lit at 4:09 PM in London, and Shabbes goes out at 5:24 PM tomorrow. When lighting your candles, please keep in mind Chaim Elozor ben Baila, Shmuel Yosef ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Soroh Malka, Moshe ben Genya, Moshe ben Hadasa and Chashachana bas Bryna for a refuah shleimah. Thank you, and gut Shabbes!