Weekly Manna – Parsha Tetzaveh

Parsha Tetzaveh

“Make sacral vestments for your brother Aharon, for dignity and adornment” (Sh’mot 28:2)

Between last week’s sidra, Terumah, and this week’s, Tetzaveh, there are more than 70 verses devoted to the details of the “garments” to be worn by the Kohanim.  Many of you might remember the advertisement slogan “the clothes make the man”.  Is that what we are being taught here with so much detail paid to the clothes worn by those serving Hashem?  Why so much attention to external garments?

“While their (priestly) garments are upon them, the priesthood is upon them; if their garments are not upon them, the priesthood is not upon them”.  (Zevachim 7b)

This seems like a perfect subject for we women to discuss, clothes!  It’s a subject most of us are experts in!

From a psychological perspective, the clothes we wear affect our behavior and our inner well-being, whether we are aware of it or not.  When I was in college, I had a professor that taught us the value of dressing for the position we wanted, not for the position we currently had.  During my years of “climbing the corporate ladder”, I was always the “over-dresser”.  Even when a more casual manner of dress was accepted, I wore more formal clothing, which I felt to be more business appropriate.  And I can attest that for me, the way I dress definitely affects my attitude and demeanor.

“Thoughts follow actions.  To be sure, external change of costume does not necessarily create a change in inner motivation and thought, but it can, and often succeeds, in beginning the process.” (Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Torah Lights on this week’s sidra)

Special garments occasion special moods.

“So Hashem cast a deep sleep upon the man; and, while he slept, He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that spot.  And Hashem fashioned the rib that He had taken from the man into a woman; and He gave her to the man……..The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, yet they felt no shame………..And Hashem made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them……He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.”  (Bereishis 2:21-22, 25, 3:21, 24)

We are all familiar, I am sure, with the story.  But I want us to pay attention to the fact that when they were sent into exile it was Hashem Himself that fashioned garments for them.  He was the first fashion designer, you could say.  Clothing, then, for good reason, plays a very important role in our lives.

“Garments lie at the very root of what make us human.  Just as the Almighty created humans in His image, He also fashioned garments for the human being.  Remember that, externally, only one thing distinguishes a human being from an animal, and that is that humans wear clothing, while animals do not.” (ibid)

It is also important to remember that the snake remained naked!  By fashioning clothes for the man and his wife, Hashem was teaching them to rise above the animals and above their animal nature.  Animals run around naked all the time and they are not ashamed. (Ok, so here in Canada I see dogs wearing mud booties and sweaters on a regular basis, but that’s another story!).  Humans must cover their nakedness, thereby sanctifying themselves,  in an effort to become more like the Creator in Whose image they were created.  We are not animals, and it is time we stop acting and dressing as if we were!

From a mystical perspective, Hashem is said to have dressed Himself in “garments” (concealment) in order to allow for the creation.  In the synagogue the Torah is covered in a special “garment”, and the Bema is too.  There is also a special garment placed in front of the Ark that houses the Torah.  Everything holy needs to be covered, and it all began in Bereishis with the human body.

When we forget that our body is holy, then the world around us transforms us instead of our transforming it.  Our external garments indicate how closely we identify with our animal nature.  We are the mishkan for the Divine Presence to dwell in, if we choose to be, and if we wear the proper garments.

So, to answer our earlier question……….No!  Clothes do not make the person, but clothes do distinguish the human being, and separate humans from beasts.

“Within this context, the clothes Adam and Eve wore are not just the consequences of their sin and accompanying sense of shame, they become a potent symbol and practical vehicle for a spiritually uplifting modesty – the physical body and all it’s potential for enslavement to baser desires is hidden, in order to reveal the soul within the body, the real essence of the individual.” (R’ A. A. Trugman, Orchard of Delight, on Tetzaveh).

Just look out the window and it is not hard to see we live in a society of immodesty.  And the more immodestly people dress, the more animalistic their behavior becomes.  Billboards, T.V. shows, movies, and magazines are all full of half-naked (or worse) men and women.  The most powerful influences for choosing a style of dress is our environment and peer-pressure.  No one wants to be the “weirdo” dressed unfashionably, as we all have an innate desire to be accepted and appreciated.  But what is “pleasing to the eye” can cause us to desire fashions which are coarse and unfit for daughter’s of the King!  We should learn from Eve, that just because something is pleasing to our eye, that does not mean it’s a good choice!

“She dresses in clothes of strength and regality” (Mishlei 31:25 describing an Eshet Chayil)

“Strength lies in conforming with the ordinances of the Torah” (Shir HaShirim Rabba 2:10)

The Eshet Chayil displays her strength by being totally compliant with the laws of modesty (tzniut).  She dresses herself in dignified garments that display a tasteful refinement.

“On the one hand her clothes are an embodiment of strength, as they fulfill to perfection the requirements of the Torah.  On the other hand, her clothes are aesthetically pleasing and eminently tasteful.  With them she brings simcha to her husband, close family and friends.”  (Modesty – An Adornment for Life, R’ Pesach Eliyahu Falk, Vol. 1, page 16)

Ladies, our choice of clothing and our general appearance and behaviors reveal how well we realize our full potential.  Do you honor Hashem and His Holy Torah with your style and manner of dress and conduct?  Does your manner of dress bear witness to the fact that you have consecrated your life to the service of Hashem?

“Just as the priestly garments of the Kohen are described by the Torah as “magnificent” (Sh’mot 28:2) for they demonstrate that the Kohen is engaged in a holy and distinguished service, so too, the garments of the true Bat Yisrael demonstrate that her days are filled with true values.”   (ibid, Page 17)

I am saddened and frankly appalled by the way I see women dress, often even in religious settings, but even more so when I see how they dress their young daughters.  In a day of sexual perversion gone rampant, why in the world would you want to advertise to the world and ask for attention from the throngs of crazy perverts roaming the streets?  It is not enough that necklines are too low and skirts are too high, and everything is way too tight, leaving nothing to the imagination, now we have a generation that likes clothes with holes everywhere, showing even the little bit of skin that was once covered somewhat!!!???

I recently went to a children’s clothing store to buy a birthday gift for a young girl who loves Unicorns.  I found a really cute shirt with a glittery unicorn on it, but when I picked it up I realized the shoulders had been intentionally cut out.  What in the world is that?  Are we trying to make our kids appear sexy?  Why would someone put their children in such garments?  This is a very sensitive subject for me, and you can call me old fashioned or whatever you want to, but I do not want any child to ever have to go through the hell of being sexually abused!!  So, for heaven’s sake mothers, please protect your children at all costs from drawing attention to themselves (and Chazveshalom, triggering a sadistic criminal plan in some man’s mind). Teach modesty to your daughters at a young age.

“Due to the great importance that must be attached to the protection of women and girls, the yetzer hara aims at misrepresenting the requirements of tzniut and kedushat Yisrael.  His assault has become particularly potent in our own times as the galut moves towards it close and the much-awaited era of Mosiach comes ever near.  Just as a flame flares up just before it goes out, so too, the tumah of arayot flares up just prior to the coming of Moshiach when the tumah of arayot will finally be wiped off the face of the earth” (ibid, Pages 18-19)

Is your manner of dress inadequate, ostentatious (too flashy, flamboyant or loud), or maybe too casual and, well, just plain improper? It’s time to cover up ladies!

It is sad that the Royals in England have a greater sense of the modesty befitting royalty than does the Guf HaMoshiach!  Yes, they might live in a palace here on earth, but their monarchy is not eternal.  How much more so should the daughters of the Eternal King be dressed in a dignified, modest manner?

“Tzniut is a positive way of dress and a distinctly refined manner of conduct” (ibid, page 24)

Today too many women are lacking a sense of decency and shame.  Due to our relentless exposure to corruption, sadly we often do not even understand our dress &/or behavior is improper.  Tzniut is not just about how we dress, it is an attitude that should permeate every aspect of our life, including our character and behavior.  It is a sanctification of our entire life.  A good place to start is by examining your wardrobe.

“…..people are influenced by their actions.  Always, whatever deed a person does, his thought and emotions are drawn into it, whether the deed is good or bad.  If a nasty, malicious person learns Torah studiously and does mitzvot on a steady basis, his personality will improve, even if initially his learning and good deeds are not performed for the sake of Heaven.  In the same way, if a great tzaddik is forced to regularly do evil, he will abandon his honorable ways and will become totally wicked.  Due to this principle of human behavior, Hashem gave us a vast Torah containing a great number of mitzot.  He want us to be constantly involved in Torah and mitzvot, so that our hearts and thoughts are always occupied in acts of virtue.  Performance of mitzvot will influence us to steadily become better people and earn for ourselves eternal life in the World to Come.”  (Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 16)

Dressing and behaving in a proper way has the effect of developing within us a greater and deeper feeling for all that “Yiddishkeit” stands for.

“If a person sanctifies himself in a moderate measure he is assisted from Heaven to attain a much richer and more profound measure of sanctification.”  (Yoma 39b)

With that said, I realize we are all at different places on our walk, and that is perfectly ok.  There are many halachot associated with tzniut, and the place to begin is wherever you are.  You don’t need a list of do this and don’t do that, you need to sincerely desire to please Hashem and He will guide you to the next step, and then to the one after that.  We all start somewhere.

“Encouragement should be targeted at those who are already on the right path” (Makos 23a)

If you are taking the time to read this, I assume you are already on the “right” path.  Meaning, you already have a desire to please Hashem and live a lifestyle that pleases Him and brings glory to His Name.  I recently heard a rabbi discussing tzniut, and he said that it was one of the most important mitzvot for a woman, and that, in fact, what a woman accomplishes with tzniut, it takes a man the better part of 613 mitzvot to accomplish.  It is also said that all blessings come to a household only through the women that reside within.  We can actually hasten the coming of Moshiach and become a mishkan for Hashem to dwell in ladies.  And we can bless our entire households in the act. We can acquire all the spiritual garments with the single act of tzniut.

You decide: how do you want to present yourself?  If you draw negative attention to yourself through your manner of dress, the negative klipot (energy) can and will grasp hold of you and damage you.  In a generation that unashamedly exposes their private parts, is it any surprise that breast, uterine and prostate cancers are so prevalent?

When we sin, we stain our garments.  I recently heard Gehinnom described as Heaven’s washing machine.  One way or another ladies, our garments will be cleansed.  Best case scenario is to do our best not to stain our garments in the first place.  The act of tzniut is a tremendous place to begin!

Our sages teach that the garments served as atonement, each article of clothing atoning for a particular sin.  This is the reason why the section of the garments is placed next to the section on the korbanot.

“In our culture, most clothing is designed to promote sin, yet these garments were intended to purge the nations from sin.” (Parsha in Pink, Rebbetzin Mindy Bodner-Lankry)

“As women our clothing is an expression of who we are, a peek into our essence……when we dress beautifully yet modestly, we are like the Kohanim, whose garments display the holiness and splendor of Hashem that is within.” (ibid)

Ladies, I pray we have the good sense to dress for “glory and splendor”.  Please ask yourself if you would be embarrassed to stand before Hashem in the outfit you’re wearing.  Is your clothing befitting the daughter of the King of Kings?

You don’t have to look ugly, just modest.  Good taste and modesty never go out of style!

Be modest so you may be blessed and be a blessing,

Rhonda




Conversations with Nikki | EP6: Power of Rejoicing

How should I rejoice or when can I rejoice? Is it possible to take joy during trails and tribulation? This week on Conversations with Nikki, we will focus on the power of rejoicing.




Weekly Manna – Parsha Terumah

Parsha Terumah

Terumah literally means “gift”.  This week’s sidra is about giving Hashem a gift from the heart, which is then used to build Him a dwelling place.

“Tell B’nei Yisrael to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.”  Sh’mot 25:2

The wording of this verse in the Hebrew is peculiar and there is much debate as to what this passage really means, as the literally interpretation is “let the TAKE for Me”.  Are the people being asked to take something or to give something?  I sorted through many wonderful commentaries looking for clarification on this matter, and the explanation I related to best is from Rabbi Avraham Ariel Trugman, whose Sidra commentary, “Orchard of Delights”, I quote from regularly, week after week.  He explains as follows:

“By giving of one’s time, money or energy to others, one is actually receiving as well. By assisting others we often take or receive more than we give, as our hearts fill with sentiments of love and goodness.”

Vayiqra Rabbah 34 tells us that the poor man who receives charity does more for the rich man than the rich man does for him.

This “gift” was not really a gift.  How can we possibly give something to Hashem, who owns everything to begin with?  Therefore it is appropriate that He tells Moshe, “let them take”, not, “let them give”.

I think the message is clearly one of the importance of tzedakah in Hashem’s eyes.  We are asked to take a portion of what He has given us, and voluntarily contribute with a willing heart, and by doing so, we will be building a place for Hashem to dwell within us.  Ultimately, the only gift we can give is ourselves, our very life.

This sidra is all about building a home for Hashem within our life.  Building a mind, body and soul that is fit to house His Presence.  The true resting place of the Shechina is the heart (mind) of every Jew, not a physical structure.  But how is it possible to make one’s heart a mishkan for the Shechina?

I am going to draw on my many years of contractor’s wife experience to help paint this picture.  I was married for many years to an amazing man, of blessed memory, who was a building contractor par excellence.  I spent many years on his job sites, and want to draw here from the imagery.  Let’s look at the reality of physical buildings, and the different types of contractors that build them:

  1. Some buildings go up very quickly, but corners are cut and soon after completion problems with the structure begin to surface.  Very often, the contractor is inexperienced, or lazy, or possibly both.
  2. Some buildings are erected on weak foundations.  Without the ground being properly prepared, or without using the proper amount of re-bar, or without using the proper thickness of concrete, or using poor quality concrete.  Eventually, the too weak foundation will give under the pressure and weight of the structure built upon it, and the structure will begin to crumble.
  3. Some building projects seem to never end, taking forever to finish.  This is typically because someone didn’t plan the financing properly and they run out of funds midway through the project.  This can also happen when a shortcut or other dangerous action has been caught, and the construction is shut down until the repair or reinforcement has been completed.
  4. And then there is the ideal situation.  A building that begins on a firm foundation, and that proceeds at the proper pace to ensure that all details have been completed with the proper materials, and at the proper stage.  Strong buildings take time and are not erected overnight.  Every detail of the blueprints and specs must be followed, no corners are to be cut.  A good contractor, if ever in doubt, will put additional supports in place.  Better safe than sorry, as they say.  Ideally, I will add, the job site should be tidied daily.  If there is trash, debris, materials and tools scattered everywhere, it indicates a lack of order.  It is very difficult to work in a cluttered environment.

So, now ask yourself, what kind of contractor am I?  As we are building our structure, we need to keep in mind that we have a very particular client, so the attention to detail is very important!  Almost a full 1/3 of the book of Sh’mot contains detailed instructions for building the mishkan.  Without the blueprints and accompanying specs, a building will not be properly built.  The instructions dictate the details, and following them dictates the strength and beauty of the final structure.  For example, if you don’t know the proper snow-load for your area, your roof will potentially collapse under the weight of the snow.

The mishkan’s blueprints convey deep concepts with every detail.  I am certainly not qualified to explain all the deep concepts underlying these details, but I realize every minute detail has tremendous meaning and a deeper lesson to be taught.  I will draw on the wisdom of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov to give you a few examples:

THE ARK

“The Torah is called “testimony – it is testimony to G-d.  For whoever has a real brain in his head can understand with his intellect the fact of the Reality and Unity of G-d. From whence does such a Torah emanate?  A Torah that begins with the Act of Creation and concludes with Deuteronomy, with all of its laws and bylaws; all the Books of the Prophets and Hagiographa; the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, the Kabbalah and all the dialectics that accompany these works – how it all fits together with precision.  One who possesses even a small awareness of the Torah and its contents realizes that it is not a man-made presentation, but testimony to our Creator, from Whom the entire Torah emanated.  Thus, the Torah is testimony to the Reality and Unity of G-d.  Therefore it is written, ‘The Tablets were the work of G-d, and the writing was the writing of G-d'” (Sh’mot 32:16; Likutey Halakhot VII, pg 30-16a)

THE MENORAH

“For the commandment is a lamp, The teaching (Torah) is a light, and the way to life is the rebuke that disciplines.”  (Mishlei 6:23)

Rashi tells us that Moshe had difficulty envisioning the menorah and how it could be crafted from a solid piece of gold, so Hashem told him to throw the gold into the fire and it would emerge as a menorah.

“The Torah is truly difficult to grasp by itself.  We do not know how or where to start.  We acquire assistance from Above. So we throw it into the fire, implying we are doing something.  When G-d sees that we have made our effort, He will help mold and form our menorah – our ability to serve Him and observe the Torah.  The most important thing is our desire to serve Him.” (Likutey Halachot I, pg 169a-338)

From these two examples alone, we can see that there is a wonderful, deeper message in each and every detail, if we are willing to spend the time and effort to seek it out.

We now know the prerequisites for building this structure:  we must have the detailed blueprints and specs in hand, we must understand how to read them properly, we must have plenty of time set aside to properly pay attention to each detail, we need to have the proper amount of funds available, and we need to make sure above all that our heart is genuinely committed to the task at hand.

Only the willing, generous heart can participate.  We cannot build our structure for Hashem solely out of a sense of duty, obligation or debt.  A generous, willing heart is one that is fueled by love.  And only then will one possess the motivation needed for spiritual practice.

“Here is the blessing of Terumah: When the heart is wiling and there is a commitment to the work, then the Divine Spirit will show us the pattern, the blueprint, the plan, the inspiration that births beauty into the world.  And that beauty is designed to send us back to the Source of inspiration” (Shefa Gold)

We are asked to sanctify the vessel which is our lives, to become empty, making room for the Almighty, blessed be He, to move in.  But it is not enough to give Him an empty room.  The room must be sparkling clean and incredibly beautiful.  We are to build a place that is inviting, a place that will cause the Spirit to be drawn to it.

According to Rashi, the tabernacle was made of thirteen types of materials.  Thirteen (13) is the numerical value for the words “echad” (one, unity) and “ahavah” (love).

“The Tabernacle was meant to be the place where love and unity would draw down G-d’s Presence and oneness upon Israel….so that it would suffuse the entire world” (R’ Trugman)

The goal of the building project was to give Hashem a place to dwell within each and every Jew, both individually and collectively, and then ultimately to all mankind through them.

Only heart-felt donations were accepted.  Hashem loves a cheerful giver!

“The generous man is blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor.” (Mishlei 22:9)

“Even in darkness, light shines for the upright, for [He is] compassionate, merciful, and just.  Good is to the man who is compassionate and lends [generously to those in need yet] provides for his own needs with prudence.  For never will he falter; he will be remembered as a righteous person forever.  He will not fear a bad tiding; his heart is steadfast, trusting in G-d.  His heart is steadfast, he does not fear, he will even see [the downfall of] his oppressors.  He has dispersed [his wealth], giving to the needy.  His righteousness will endure forever [in the World to Come]; his might will be uplifted in honor [in this world].”  (Tehillim 112:4-9)

Tzedakah given for acclaim is still tzedakah, but tzedakah given with a desire to hurt others, to provoke envy in others, is not welcomed by Hashem.  Giving terumah is all about building a place for Hashem to dwell in this world.  And it can only begin from a place of willingness.  If one’s heart is not sincere, any building he erects will be built in vain.

“Unless Hashem builds the house, its builders work in vain.  Unless Hashem guards a city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” (Tehillim 127:1)

Mitzrayim is a place of constriction, a place of narrow perception.  Hashem brought the Israelite’s out for one reason, and one reason only:   “TO BE YOUR G-D”.  Therefore, He told them how to make themselves into a dwelling place, so ultimately they could bring His Unity and Reality to the entire world.  This is the key to freedom!  We are to prepare a place for Him to dwell inside us.  A holy place that has been pain-painstakingly prepared, with detail paid to each and every minute detail.   The true blueprints and specs can only be accessed through the proper source.   When a qualified architect completes the blueprints and specs, he will place his stamp upon them, verifying their authenticity.  He then, is the only one truly qualified to interpret them.  He and the ones he has shared his vision with.  There was only one group of people present, and only one group to which these blueprints were entrusted.  Many have come after them,  claiming to now have possession of the blueprints, but they are fakes.  And the proof is in the pudding, as they say.  If the house is not a sturdy, beautiful structure, something is amiss.

I pray we can build a structure worthy of His Presence.  A beautiful place, that is clean and tidy.  May we daily keep our job sites tidied.  And like good contractor’s, we must revisit the blueprints regularly throughout the project to make sure we haven’t missed anything important.  There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the fruits of our labor evolve into a beautiful, solid structure that we have built TOGETHER!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Rhonda




Weekly Manna – Parsha Mishpatim

Parsha Mishpatim –

Mishpatim literally means “judgments”.  As our Creator, Hashem knew we would have problems getting along with each other from time to time.  And He was right!  We humans do not always play well in the sandbox together!  That is why Hashem gave us laws, decrees and judgments.  They were given as the basis for the survival of human civilization.

The absence of law is chaos!

We have all, I’m sure, seen or experienced “injustices” done in the name of “justice”.  Life, it often appears, is just not fair, and true justice does not appear to exist in our world.  But that is because we aren’t as smart as we think we are, and we are incapable of creating a truly “just” society by our own devices.  Man-made laws are only as “just”as the men who create and enforce them.  Men are flawed creatures, and therefore, their form of justice can only be a flawed justice.  For perfect justice, we cannot depend on man’s heart.  We must look for Divine guidance from Above if we desire true justice.

“Justice looks down from heaven” (Tehillim 85:12)

At best, we humans have a limited understanding of ourselves and of our fellow humans.  We also struggle to understand the purpose of life.  Compare that to the mastermind behind creation, the All-Knowing Creator Himself, and well, there really is no comparison.  Despite our best intentions, our man-made laws have, throughout history, ultimately led to injustices.

“At that time I commissioned your judges, ‘Hear the cases that arise between your brothers and judge fairly between a man and his brother, and the foreigner (ger) who is with him.  You are not to show favoritism when judging, but give equal attention to the small and to the great.  No matter how a person presents himself, don’t be afraid of him; because the decision is G-d’s.  The case that is too hard for you, bring to me and I will hear it’.  I also gave you orders at that time concerning all the things you were to do.”  (D’varim 1:16-18)

True judgment belongs to Hashem.  We humans do not understand or see the bigger picture underlying every minute detail of the events of this world.  We are bound by time and space.  Hashem is not bound by time or space, and He understands things the human mind is incapable of understanding.  I think that makes Him more qualified to set rules, don’t you?

Rabbi Munk in his commentary on this parsha states:

“Justice is not in the hearts of man, nor in nature.  It emanates from the Creator who has set down the rights and duties of individuals toward one another according to the fundamental laws of human society, just as He has set the immutable laws of nature.”

Justice is not in the hearts of man.  Boy, is that ever evident in our world!  Just this week, as I was contemplating Mishpatim, I received a text from a friend which really caught my attention.  The text was Ben Shapiro responding to something Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau reportedly said.  PM Trudeau: “Pro-lifers are not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.”  Ben Shapiro responded by saying “Good!”  So, we are not in line with the rest of society, he stated, “righteousness doesn’t have to be popular, it just has to be righteous.”  I’m sharing this because it this is a perfect example of why I desire to be governed by Hashem and not by man. Seriously, those of us who value human life are not in line with society?  The society that thinks killing innocent children is ok, is a society I do not desire to be in line with.

With that said, there is one more important thing we need to understand.  Please consider the following excerpt from one of my favorite commentaries “The midrash says”:

“The Ten Commandments were preceded and followed by the mishpatim since the mishpatim are basic to the survival of human civilization.  Our Sages state (Avot 1:18) ‘As a result of three factors is the world maintained – truth, justice, and peace.’

To the nations, Hashem gave only seven basic laws known as the Noachide laws.  To K’lal Yisrael, on the other hand, He revealed thousands upon thousands of halachos which deal with all the details concerning claims, damages, and disputes.  Why are K’lal Yisrael singled our that they must study and fulfill all the numerous details of the mispatim, whereas these were never revealed to the nations?

The doctor was making his daily round through the hospital accompanied by his assistant.  Bending over one patient and examining him, he instructed the staff, ‘this patient’s diet is not to be restricted.  Let him have whatever he demands!’  He continued his route and, after having checked another patient, marked down on his record a long list of foodstuffs.  ‘All these may under no circumstances be given to this man,’ he ordered.  ‘He is allowed only a limited number of foods!’  His assistant seemed confused.  ‘The patient whose diet your restricted seems to be less ill than the other one whom you did not restrict at all,’ he commented. ‘Precisely,’ explained the physician.  ‘The first man, unfortunately, was a hopeless case. He will not recuperate even with a special diet.  Why then should I give one?  But this last one has hope for survival.  I will therefore do everything in my power to heal him.’”

Ok, before you start picking up stones to throw at me (chazv’shalom), let’s consider the words of Rabbi Shaul in light of this misdrash:

“Therefore, remember your former state; you Gentiles by birth……at that time had no Messiah.  You were estranged from the nation life of Israel.  You were foreigners to the covenants embodying G-d’s promise.  You were in this world without hope and without G-d.” (Ephesians 2:11-12)

Eludicating Rashi on Sh’mot 21:1 about placing these judgments before “them” [i.e. the children of Israel] it states:

“Before “them” but not before non-Jews. (Gittin 88b).  Even if you know about a certain matter of law that [non-Jews] judge it according to the same legal principles as the law of Israel, do not bring it to their courts, for one who brings legal matters of Israel before non-Jews desecrates the Name of G-d, and accords esteem to the idol’s name by attributing importance to it; as it says, ‘For their rock (their god) is not like our rock (our G-d), and yet our enemies judge us.”

This clearly indicates that Hashem sees the goyim (nations) as completely separate from K’lal Yisrael.

All Jewish law is of Divine origin.  In this week’s parsha, we are reading Divine directives by which the Jewish people are to conduct themselves, both individually and as a society.   Mishpatim are the ordinances which regulate the conduct between a Jew and his or her fellow Jew.  Those from the nations that do not wish to graft themselves into the root of the covenant, the root which is Judaism, need not read further.  It does not apply to you!

“You are great indeed, O Hashem! There is none like You and there is no other G-d but You, as we have always heard.  And who is like Your people Yisrael, a unique nation on earth, whom Hashem went and redeemed as His people, winning renown for Himself and doing great and marvelous deeds for them [and] for Your land – [driving out] nations and their gods before Your people, whom You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt.  You have established Your people Yisrael as Your very own people forever; and You, Hashem, have become their G-d.  And now, O Hashem, fulfill Your promise to Your servant and his house forever; and do as You have promised.” (2 Shmuel 7:22-25)

If any of that offends you, you are probably reading the wrong blog.  The truth of Torah is that it was only to the nation of Israel that Hashem gave His Divine directives and only K’lal Yisrael by their response: “na’aseh v’nishma”, are capable of attaining the highest spiritual levels, by following them.

“He issued His commands to Ya’akov, His statutes and rules to Yisrael.  He did not do so for any other nation; of such rules they know nothing. Hallelujah!”  Tehillim 147:19-20

K’lal Yisrael are the only nation which agreed to accept the Divine directives upon themselves.  “Na’aseh v’nishma” (we will do and we will hear – Sh’mot 24:7).  By their absolute willingness to accept the Torah, they were given the ability to attain the highest spiritual level that human beings are capable of achieving.   The level of Adam before he sinned.

“And these are the rules that you shall set before them:” (Sh’mot 21:1)

Rabbi Munk explains that Moshe was told that it was not sufficient to simply state the laws, but that he must also present the people with reasons and explanations, laid out in detail as one “sets a table before a person about to eat. (Rashi)”.

The midrash explains that the Almighty asked Israel who was going to be their guarantors that they would keep this commitment.  After much deliberation,  a suitable guarantor was accepted:

“It is written, ‘when Israel stood before Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the Holy One, Bless Be He, said: ‘In truth, shall I give you the Torah?  Bring me good guarantors that you will keep it, and then I will give it to you….they said to Him,  ‘Our children will be our guarantors.’ (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:24), which G-d accepted.”

Hashem was satisfied with this answer, and agreed to give them the Torah on the condition that their children throughout the generations would be their guarantors.  That means if the Jews fail to keep the Torah, their guarantors – their children – are punished.  Thereby, Hashem taught Israel that if they want to ensure that their children will live, they would need to give them a proper Torah education.  This is not something that is taken lightly!

The laws of justice must be studied by the entire nation, not just the judges.  All the people governed by these laws are required to be familiar with their rights and duties.

Even many of the world’s judicial systems hold to the doctrine of: “Ignorantia juris non excasat or ignorantia legis nemenem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law excuses not” or “ignorance of law excuses no one”), which is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content” (Wikipedia)

There is a joke about a man being brought before a judge to be sentenced.  He tells the judge he didn’t know he was breaking the law.  The judge tells the man that ignorance of the law is no excuse, to which the man replies, “I didn’t know that either.”

Rabbi Munk explains, “this principle applies to the laws of social justice, but when it comes to the laws of dealing with sacred practices and metaphysical concepts, such as the underlying principles of faith, the Torah generally tends to be brief and ambiguous.  Thus, the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, the nature of the human soul, and the particulars of the world of angels, are hardly mentioned in the Torah (R’ Bachya to Vayikra 23:24).  Whatever enters the realm of the sacred is discreetly covered with a veil like the Holy of Holies in Hashem’s Temple.  But within the domain of civil and penal law, which this sidra of Mishpatim introduces us, the text is detailed and precise.”  Did you get that?  Some things we are expected to know, and some things we are ignorant of by design.  Unfortunately, we too often get them confused.

So, if you find Mishpatim a little boring, you might want to reconsider where Hashem desires you spend your study time.  So many people want to know the mystical, deep teachings of the Torah, but don’t spend much time learning about the basics, about how to conduct themselves as a decent human being.  Hashem has much more to say about our conduct, which should speak volumes to us!  Ignorance is no excuse!

Our Sages throughout the generations understood this, and they have paid careful attention to every word, in fact, to every letter and space in the Torah, and through doing so they gained amazing illumination (i.e. Divine understanding, Ruach HaKodesh).  You can try to get your understanding from other sources, but that is like getting your laws from someone other than the Creator.

Rabbi Trugman, in his exceptional commentary, “Orchard of Delight”, which I often quote, explains that this sidra contains 53 of the 613 mitzvot (as set by Sefer Hachinuch).  This is second only to Parsha Ki Teitzei, which contains 74.  These laws cover every aspect of Jewish life from “laws between man and G-d to laws between man and his fellow man; from laws demanding individual responsibility to laws governing a judicial system that demands communal integrity and promises societal punishment; from laws dictating ritual practice to laws governing moral action; from agricultural laws to festival observances.”

R’ Trugman (like R’ Munk) also talks about Rashi’s interpretation of Sh’mot 21:1 that Moshes need to not only tell the people the laws but also the “reasons” for them.   The Hebrew word translated “reasons” is ta’amei (tet, ayin, mem, yud), which can also mean “taste”.   He further explains that “R’ Shlomo Carlebach teaches that the Torah has to be transmitted and lived in a manner that leaves a good taste in people’s mouth……The Torah is truly sweet when served on a table that is set and ready for dining.  It becomes a veritable feast for the soul.  An orchard of delight.”

Continuing to quote R’ Trugman: “We are taught that Mashiach he will teach the Jewish people, and ultimately, the entire world, ta’amei Torah (the Torah’s rationale), the sod, the spiritual depths of the Torah.  As we come closer to the Messianic age the longing, of Jews and non-Jews [alike] for understanding the deeper meanings of the Torah, will become increasingly pronounced.”

I can tell you, my dear sisters, that we are seeing this happen before our very eyes!  There is no other way to explain the move of Hashem we are witnessing.  There are people from all walks, and from every country, who find themselves seeking answers through the Torah, and the Jewish faith.

Unfortunately, there is also much confusion.  There are those who believe they are better suited than the Sages of Israel to interpret the Torah.  I claim to be an expert at nothing, but from what I have learned first hand, I believe if you don’t feel compelled to jump in with both feet and immerse yourself in what is the deep well of Judaism, as taught by it’s inspired Sages,  it is better to just remain a decent person living amongst the nations, and observing the Noachide laws.  There are so many weird teachings out there.  You need to ask yourself where these so-called teachers get their authority.  If its not from Hashem, there is probably much confusion, contension and contradictions.  And Hashem has given His authority to no one but Israel.  Many claim they are now the “new Israel”, but that invalidates everything if it is true, which Baruch Hashem, it isn’t!  Hashem is not a man that He should change His mind.  When He says forever, well, as Buzz Lightyear would say that means “To infinity and beyond”!

For the rest of us, that find ourselves so drawn to true Rabbinical Judaism, a lifestyle and philosophy that is usually completely foreign to our upbringing and society; often being willing to give up whatever we must to pursue a relationship with the G-d of Avraham, and his chosen people, then I would like to leave you with a few words of encouragement.  Don’t give up!  It is a difficult walk at times.  Sometimes you might feel totally isolated, as you don’t feel welcomed into the world you are drawn to, but you are unable to return to the one you have left behind.  I know first hand how difficult it is.  But I also know firsthand, that if you stay focused and trust in Hashem, He will guide your steps and it will be the most rewarding journey you can take.

May we merit witnessing the time when the secrets of the Torah will be revealed to the entire world!  Until that time, let us not loose heart as we seek purpose, relevance and direction.  And may we have the wisdom to seek those answers only from the sources authorized by Hashem.  Shabbat shalom!

 

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Rhonda




Conversations with Nikki | EP5: Forgiveness

There are so many questions around forgiveness. Should I forgive? Have I truly forgiven the person and meant it? What is forgiveness to me? Let’s take a quick study of what HaShem’s purpose in regards of the concept of forgiving others.





Weekly Manna – Parsha Yitro

Parsha Yitro –

I love this parsha!  The content is, of course, powerful as we read of the receiving of the ten utterances from the very mouth of G-d.  But have you ever stopped to think about how amazing it is that this parsha is named after a Ger?  According to Rabbinic tradition, Yitro was a convert to Judaism.  Yitro was a pagan priest before he converted to Judaism.  He was like Darth Vader, head of the dark side.  The fact that this parsha is named after him is a powerful message to all genuine seekers of truth that make the life-altering decision to graft themselves into Avraham’s tree.  G-d honored Yitro, and He honors you dear gerim.  It is no small feat to make the conscious choice to uproot yourself from your belief system, your societal norms, and far too often from friends and even family, who do not understand what drives you to make such a drastic decision.  So kudos to the gerim!  May Yitro inspire and encourage you on your journey!

With that said, I want to talk about another group that G-d shows special favor to, and that is no other than us ladies!

“Moshe ascended to G-d, and G-d called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘So shall you say to the house of Ya’akov and relate to the children of Yisrael.  You have seen what I did to Egypt, and that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me.  And now, if you harken well to Me and observe My covenant, you shall be to Me the most beloved treasure of all peoples, for Mine is the entire world.  You shall be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Yisrael.’” Sh’mot 19:3-6

Note that in this verse there are two groups mentioned, the house of Ya’akov and the children of Yisrael.  And Moshe is instructed to speak with them in two different ways, “say” to one and “relate” to the other.  Rashi explains that G-d instructed Moshe to first speak gently to the women, “the house of Ya’akov”, and then to the men, “the children of Yisrael”, in a more assertive manner.  Nothing in the Torah is superfluous, so there must be a reason He wanted Moshe to speak to the women first and in a more gentle tone.

Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, in his exceptional Torah commentary, “Orchard of Delights” explains this as follows:

“Why does G-d command Moshe to speak to the women first?  There are many possible reasons for this including women’s key role in educating young children, women’s greater receptivity to spiritual matters, and the greater loyalty of women, in general, as evidenced by the women in the desert not taking part in the disastrous sins of worshipping the Golden Calf and heeding the evil report of the spies who had gone to scout out the Land of Yisrael.”

R’ Trugman gives another reason, saying it could have been an attempt to rectify past errors.  Specifically, that of the first woman in the Gan Eden.  Referencing Shabbat 146a, he explains that the original impurity of the primordial snake, which has been a part of human consciousness since the primordial sin, was removed at Mt. Sinai.  Had they not worshipped the Golden Calf, death would have been swallowed up forever and they would have marched straight into the Land of Yisrael, where Moshe would have been anointed Mashiach and the Land would have been transformed into an earthly Gan Eden.

I would like to look further at the connection between we women and the ten utterances; in particular the connection between the observance of one, the Shabbat.

The Zohar explains that the opening word of the ten utterances, “Anochi” is an acronym for the phrase, “I have written Myself down and given it to you.”  Does that give you goosebumps?  It did me!  Hashem poured out His heart in the Words inscribed on those tablets.  The ultimate love letter, from a loving Bridegroom to His betrothed.  It is in these, His loving instructions, that we find our purpose.

The lack of purpose in life is one of the greatest contributors to boredom and destructive behavior.  When we have purpose and direction in life, every moment is a unique opportunity.  A very important part of our purpose as women is connected to the observance of this precious day called the holy Shabbat.

Thanks to Einstein’s space-time continuum, physics now recognizes that consciousness is a critical determinant, not just a passive observer, of reality.  The Words uttered in this week’s parsha are G-d’s “conscious” choice (so to say).  The word Kedushah (holiness) literally means to “set aside” or “separate”.  The act of setting something aside is the result of conscious will or choice.  There are a few things that the Torah describes as “holy”, such as the Land of Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem, the Torah, the Jewish people, and the Shabbat.   What makes them holy?  G-d’s choice makes them holy.  And the holiness of Shabbat is revealed when we chose to observe it.  When we observe and keep the Shabbat simply because it is G-d’s choice, we are valuing what He has chosen.

“My son, heed the discipline of your father, and do not forsake the instruction of your mother.”  Mishlei 1:8

We are told in Mislei 1:8 that the father admonishes his children with words of discipline, and the mother is the one that imparts the “instruction” of the Torah.  Women play a very essential role in building a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.  Women are the ones who can inspire the next generation to walk in the ways of Torah.  And no where is that more apparent than in the observance of the holy Shabbat, G-d’s chosen day.

Shabbat was given to us to help us draw closer to Hashem.  Shabbat is a time to understand that prosperity does not come from work or from intelligence or even from good mazel, but from the Creator Himself, the Ultimate Provider.

The Ibn Ezra tells us that shabbat can give a person the heightened capacity to absorb more wisdom and insight.  Ramban tells us that Shabbat is the source of blessing and rest that the rest of the week draws its holiness from.

As the women of our homes, we have the unique opportunity to set the tone and fill our homes with the ambience of Shabbat.  If we evoke the kedushah of Shabbat with feelings of love and joy, our homes will resonate with the presence of the Shabbat Queen!

Shabbat has the ability to rejuvenate the soul, and its observance brings many blessings to our lives.  Shabbat is our declaration and affirmation of our belief in Hashem.  A time to reflect on the fact that Hashem is the One we have given absolute control of our lives to.  Whatever challenges life distributes, we know that Hashem’s Divine Providence has determined it is for our good.  Yet, no matter how strong we may be, the blessed, holy day of rest each week, is sometimes the only way we can keep from “going crazy” from the challenges of life.

 “The shabbat is no time for personal anxiety or care, for any activity that might dampen the spirit of joy.  The Shabbat is no time to remember sins, to confess, to repent or even to pray for relief or anything we might need.  It is a day for praise, not a day for petitions.  Fasting, mourning, demonstrations of grief are forbidden.  The period of mourning is interrupted by the Shabbat.  And if one visits the sick on the Shabbat, one should say: ‘It is the Shabbat, one must not complain; you will soon be cured.’  One must abstain from toil and strain on the seventh day, even from strain in the service of G-d.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, page 30)

Shabbat is our weekly oasis in time.  But only if we prepare with the proper attitude and do everything in our power to fill our homes with simcha and shalom (joy and peace).

“Better a meal of vegetables where there is love, then a fattened ox where there is hate.”  (Mishlei 15:17)

The Talmud in Gittin 52a tells us that on Erev Shabbat the yetzer hara works extra hard to create tension and conflict in the home.  It wants us to come into Shabbat with a bad attitude, annoyed and disgruntled.  This is because it understands that the Shabbat is the single oasis of time throughout the hectic week that we have to truly connect and bond with our families.  With proper preparation, and with an understanding of how important it is to create an atmosphere of shalom in our homes, we can avoid the pitfalls and conflicts that are all too common.

Our preparation should begin early in the week.  Best case scenario would be to begin on Sunday.  We all know our own schedules and time constraints.  Start by making a list for the coming Shabbat.  What shopping needs to be done?  What food needs to be prepared and how long will it take?  When should you start?  Do your table linens need to be laundered?  What about the clothes you and your family will wear?  What about invitations to guests?  Do you have shabbat and havdalah candles? Wine? Ok, you get the idea…….

Holiness requires preparation!

In his book on Shabbat, Avraham Joshua Heschel talks at length about the sanctity of time.  Stating that “it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment, it is the moment itself that lends significance to things”, he explains that the Torah is much more concerned with time than with space.  Generations & events are more important then countries & things.  History plays a greater part in the story than does geography.  The mo’edim, including the Shabbat, are linked to time & historical events.

“Judaism is aimed at sanctifying time.  It teaches us to be attached to holiness in time; to be attached to sacred events.” (A.J. Heschel)

Jewish ritual revolves around time.  Most of its observances, like Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and the Mo’edim are observed at a specific time.  The daily prayers are time bound; evening, morning and afternoon.  And it is extremely significant that the first thing in the Torah distinguished as “holy” was time:

“And Hashem blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it Hashem ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.” (Bereishis 2:3)

“Last in creation, first in intention, the Shabbat is the end of the creation of heaven and earth.  The shabbat is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Shabbat.  It is not an interlude, but the climax of living.” (A.J. Heschel)

The shabbat is often described as the most precious gift mankind has ever received from G-d’s treasure chest.  The Shabbat is an opportunity each week to mend our tattered lives.

“The Shabbat is given unto you, not you unto the Shabbat.”  (Mekilta)

 “In halakhah, Shabbat is king; in Kabbalah, Shabbat is bride.  Since the coronation metaphor is matched by a marriage metaphor, welcoming the Shabbat as bride parallels enthroning G-d as king.” (My People’s Prayer Book, Vol. 8, Kabbalat Shabbat, pg. 50)

Shabbat is an atmosphere

Jewish tradition compares the arrival of the Shabbat to the arrival of an important guest.  We should be as excited about Shabbat each week as we would be if the King or Queen were coming to dinner, or we were hosting our daughter’s Wedding dinner party.

Genesis Rabbah 10:9 tells us that although G-d rested from creating, there was something created on the seventh day.

“What was created on the seventh day?  Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.”

Who doesn’t want tranquility, serenity, peace and repose?  That means no strife, no fighting, no fear, no distrust, no worries.

So, you might ask, how do we go about getting this tranquility? What does observing, guarding, and protecting this holy, set apart time look like?  It starts with us ladies, in our homes!

First and foremost, do whatever you must to keep a joyful attitude.  If cooking stresses you out, see where you can purchase prepared kosher food.  If you’re stressed for time, don’t be an overachiever.  Fix something simple.  Buy challah if you run out of time to bake your own.  Don’t expect so much from yourself that you get stressed out and become a nagging, screaming mess.  Get your kids or grandkids involved.  Let them create special decorations that are used each week and teach them the songs of shabbat while you’re creating them.  Let them help set the table.  And speaking of the table, consider using different dishes and attractive linens.  Beautify the Shabbat by putting fresh flowers on your Shabbat table.  The Talmud recommends dressing differently, wearing special Shabbat clothes.  Open your home to guests.  No one should have to observe the Shabbat alone.  In our home, we love music, so we have a tradition to play instruments while we sing.  We bring out the box of instruments, and everyone participates.  One of my favorite memories is a group of us, adults and children alike, dancing in circles around the table on kabbalat shabbat, playing instruments and singing songs to Hashem.  The joy was palpable!

Remember ladies, you set the tone for the welcoming of Shabbat around your dinner table, which extends to the rest of the day.  If you want to make Shabbat a special time, a day of peace and harmony, it begins in your heart and in your home.  The Sabbath was given to us as a special gift to bring joy, delight and rest into our otherwise crazy world.  It should not be marred by worry, grief, sadness or anger.

Abraham Heschel says “What we are depends on what the Shabbat is to us.”  I pray each of you truly experience shalom in your homes and lives this shabbat.  May you be blessed with peace and harmony, both within yourself and with others.  Shabbat shalom!

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Rhonda