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Permanent Stopovers

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Travelling is a part of life. For some it is a pleasure, for others it is a bother. No matter the reason you travel it is best to arrange your itinerary in the most practical, efficient and convenient way.

For the first forty years of our nation’s existence, we were in constant travel mode. The Torah in this week’s parsha Beha’alosecha describes the procedure followed by the Israelites throughout their journey to the Promised Land. The divine cloud that hovered over the Tabernacle would ascend, indicating that it was time to travel forward to the next destination.

While the Israelites packed their tents, the Levites hurriedly dismantled the Tabernacle and loaded its various parts onto their designated wagons. A trumpet blast signaled the beginning of the journey and the entire camp of several million strong marched forward. When the cloud stopped, the Levites reconstructed the Tabernacle under it and the Israelites camped around it in the designated pattern.

There was no set schedule as to how long they would camp in a specific area. At times, they were stationary for years and sometimes the cloud signaled a new journey after only one night! Regardless, the Tabernacle was fully constructed at every single stop. As the Torah reiterates several times “At G-d’s bidding they encamped, at G-d’s bidding they travelled.”

Is it fair to demand such a labor-intensive activity as constructing the Tabernacle for a rest stop of several hours?

When you follow a map to get from point A to point B every stop on the way is a means to an end. But when you follow a divine GPS, every stop is a destination. G-d transcends time and fulfilling His will is enshrined in eternity. A stopover of several hours is as consequential and important as a 12-year encampment. Therefore, the Tabernacle was fully assembled every time.

Life is a divine journey. Wherever you may be there is a something special you need to accomplish. When you are travelling or moving around searching the right place to live, every stop is important no matter how long you are there.

View it as home. Find a synagogue and join them for services. Bring along your Tefillin and pray every day. Keep kosher as if you were in your kitchen and celebrate Shabbos just as you would at your dining room table.

Because wherever you may be, G-d has something special in mind for you.

Less is the New More

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In our desert region, we have limited water resources. One year of drought can have major repercussions to our water supply and there are good people working around the clock to find solutions. Recently the El Paso Water Utilities was running ads with the slogan “Less is the New More.” The message is simple, stop wasting water and help preserve what we have. When we are economical with our supplies, we discover that our quality of life is not affected by using less.

This positive perspective is rooted in the Torah from an unexpected source.

In this week’s parsha Nasso we learn of the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the desert. This beautiful structure accompanied the Israelites throughout the rest of their 40-year sojourn in the desert and therefore designed to be mobile. The Levites were charged with the mission of transporting the enormous edifice and they were in need of “moving trucks” to get the job done.

The leaders of the twelve tribes donated six wagons and twelve oxen to the Mishkan as an inauguration gift, and they were assigned to the Levites as “moving trucks”. The family of Gershon, responsible for transporting the tapestries, received two wagons and the family of Merari, responsible for transporting the boards, the columns and the sockets, received four wagons.

Now, taking into account the sheer weight, size and amount of boards, columns and sockets the Merarites needed to transport, four wagons were terribly inadequate to get the job done. Loading and balancing such a heavy burden on those wagons during the journeys was extremely difficult and nerve wracking. Why were they not provided more wagons in accordance with their needs? Money was not an issue!

As it turns out, the Merarites managed to transport their load for 39 years. Despite the fact that it was inconvenient and difficult, four wagons proved to be sufficient. This teaches us that every resource in this world needs to be used to its fullest potential – even if it demands excruciating labor on our part!

This powerful lesson applies to all areas of life. Every minute needs to be utilized to the fullest, no matter how exhausting this maybe. Every penny can create a better world and every interaction should serve a higher purpose. Living life with such focus is difficult but G-d did not create anything extra.

Our greatest gift is the ability to extract the fullest potential out of everything we have.

Education - The Uncompromising Standard

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In anticipation for the revelation at Sinai – the climactic moment of Matan Torah – G-d requested that the Jewish people provide guarantors who will ensure that the Torah remain relevant forever.

As related in the Midrash, the Jews first nominated our three Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each one of these spiritual giants were worthy of such an honor and the combined merits of all three would surely convince G-d that the Jews mean business. Alas, this idea was not acceptable to G-d.

The prophets were next in line. In each generation, a righteous leader would inspire the people to strengthen their commitment to Torah study, mitzvah observance and participation. These constant reminders will ensure the Torah remains part and parcel of Jewish life. This offer was rejected as well.

Finally, the Jewish Nation offered their children. They will be educated to live according to the Torah and to educate the subsequent generations as well. Jackpot! G-d accepted this offer and the dramatic events of Sinai proceeded to change reality forever.

Why does education serve as the catalyst for receiving the Torah?

Offering the Patriarchs as a first choice was indicative of the human tendency to rely on the virtue of lineage. We hope that the memory of an illustrious line of worthy grandparents would perhaps serve as an inspiration to keep tradition alive. Such a strategy has proven faulty and rarely effective.

The second offer proved problematic as well. There is a tendency to designate a select few individuals to be the spiritual conscience of the community. Relying on the wakeup calls of prophets is hardly a way to ensure the continuity of Torah life.

Finally, education was proposed. By designating their children as the guarantors of the Torah, the parents committed themselves to an uncompromising standard. Far more than simply training the youngsters in the academic depths of Torah study during school hours, educating a child is a constant endeavor.

They are inquisitive and genuine. Success depends on constant engagement, self-introspection and primarily action. The exemplary behavior of parents is the most crucial ingredient in raising proud, passionate and observant Jews.

While lineage and inspiration are certainly helpful, the all-encompassing task of serving as role models and teachers of the next generation is the secret to the eternity of Judaism.

As we prepare to receive the Torah anew, reflect on the responsibility we all have in living up to our obligation to G-d, to provide a fresh cadre of worthy guarantors for the greatest gift of all – the Torah.

True Happiness

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On Shavuot, we celebrate the day we became Jews. At the time of the exodus from Egypt the children of Jacob were distinguishable only by their family connection to each other. 50 days later, during the seminal event of the revelation at Sinai, the millions of people gathered at the foot of the mountain were miraculously transformed into a Jewish nation.

Ever since, our destiny has been linked together through victory, defeat, freedom and oppression.

The Torah refers to this holiday as “Yom HaBikkurim.” During Temple times, the festival of Shavuot was the earliest time Jews would bring Bikkurim – the first fruits of the field – as a thanksgiving offering. In addition to the various tithes earmarked for the Priests, Levites, the Poor and consumption in Jerusalem, every landowner was obligated to bring to the Temple a token amount of the first and choicest fruits of his produce and declare appreciation for G-d’s blessings.

This mitzvah applies only in the Land of Israel. The Talmud relates that contrary to all other Mitzvoth associated with the Land of Israel, the Bikkurim offering became effective fourteen years after the Israelites entered the Holy Land. The conquest was a seven-year project and the division of the land to the twelve tribes endured another seven years.

Turns out, that there were hundreds of thousands of Jews tilling the fields and yielding crops for several years, with no obligation of offering Bikkurim to G-d. This is astonishing since the purpose of Bikkurim is essentially the idea of “Hakarat Hatov” – acknowledging the good G-d has granted us. Just as our first words in the morning are “Modeh Ani” – we thank G-d for giving us another day of life, similarly the first fruits of the field belong to G-d. Why deny a Jew the chance to express “thank you” to G-d until the division of the land was completed?

Offering thanks to G-d through Bikkurim was a joyful experience. Following the Torah instruction to rejoice upon bringing Bikkurim to the Temple, communities would travel to Jerusalem with much pomp and ceremony, in an atmosphere of gladness and contentedness.

So long as there was one Jewish family not yet settled in the land, none of the Israelites were truly content and happy and the mitzvah of Bikkurim could not be observed properly.

As we prepare to receive the Torah anew this year on Shavuot, remember the message of Bikkurim. We are a people intrinsically connected to each other, and the success of another is the source of our true happiness.

Destination Wedding (Without the Wedding)

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In the famous song "Dayeinu" we enumerate G-d's great kindness for the Jewish People as they were redeemed from Egypt through the construction of the First Holy Temple. Each of the 15 stanzas articulates one great miracle or gift after the next.

This stanza has always troubled me. "If you would have brought us to Mount Sinai without even giving us the Torah - Dayeinu! This would be sufficient!

Really? The whole purpose of traveling to Mount Sinai was in order to experience the revelation of Matan Torah. Arriving at Sinai without receiving the Torah would be as thrilling as arriving at the wedding hall and calling off the wedding. Not cool!

Upon reaching the Sinai Dessert on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the Torah states that "Israel camped there in front of the Mountain." The specific words used in the Torah give the impression that a singular person was camping at Sinai. Rashi explains that for the first time in history, millions of people were united together "like one person with one heart." Approaching the mountain that would serve as the platform for Matan Torah had the miraculous effect of uniting so many for the singular purpose of receiving direction from G-d.

This alone is an experience worthy of our thanksgiving and we ought to strive to relive this reality each year as we prepare to receive the Torah anew on Shavuot.

Friday, May 26 will be Rosh Chodesh Sivan. I encourage you to reflect on the message of Sinai in our day to day lives. To be worthy of being G-d's ambassadors and revealing divinity in this world, we cannot do it alone. Only by connecting with our fellow Jews "with one heart" and one singular agenda, can we effect the ultimate revelation with the arrival of Moshiach now!

Quality Time with Torah

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Several decades after the destruction of the second Holy Temple, the land of Israel experienced a devastating drought. With no alternative, a group of scholars approached Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and requested that he pray to G-d for salvation. Rabbi Shimon immediately started to expound on the mystical dimension of a verse in Psalms (133:1) “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together.” After delivering this original Kabbalistic dissertation, the skies became overcast and the long-awaited rain finally arrived.

Judaism provides a specific formula for responding to a shortage of rain. A specific order of public fasts and communal prayers is provided in an entire tractate of the Talmud and our history is filled with accounts of communities and spiritual giants evoking divine mercy to bring rain.
 
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is the only one in history to end a drought through teaching Torah. He succeeded in doing this because he held the unique title of “Torato Umenuto – His occupation is Torah.” More than the rest of his contemporaries, his entire life was Torah. He holds the record of being the only sage quoted in every chapter of the Talmud.
 
In addition to being a master Talmudist, he was an integral part of an unbroken chain of Kabbalah – the tradition of the inner dimension of Torah received from Moses. As the author of the Zohar his articulation of Kabbala serves as the primary foundation for all Kabbalistic works to date.
 
Rabbi Shimon suffered greatly under Roman oppression. Forced to hide in a cave together with his son for 13 years to escape the Emperor’s wrath, he excelled in Torah knowledge and divinity. Yet, upon rejoining society after the Emperor’s death, his priority was helping the community with mundane and simple issues. The welfare of his fellow was paramount.
 
This legendary sage passed away on Lag B’Omer and the Jewish world will commemorate his life and legacy with joyful celebration on this day (Sunday, May 14). While his accomplishments are surely beyond the scope of our capacities, we can surely apply a relevant lesson from Rabbi Shimon.
 
As the paragon of Torah learning, he illustrated that Torah can be the entire focus of life. While we have an obligation to engage in the world and spend considerable time on regular daily needs, we can all be Rabbi Shimon at certain moments. Set aside time to study Torah each day and during those few minutes, be fully engaged with the Torah you are studying. Turn off the phone, close the door and spend true quality time with G-d. 
 

The Kohen and Jewish Dermatology

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This week’s double Parsha of Tazria–Metzora deals with the various laws of ritual purity and impurity. A most prominent cause for ritual impurity was a mysterious skin condition that could manifest itself on a person’s body in various ways. There is no accurate English translation to the condition so I will refer to it by its biblical name Tzaraat.

The unfortunate individual diagnosed with tzaraat was subject to the highest level of ritual impurity, banished from the community until the condition healed and underwent a lengthy process of purification. A miraculous skin disorder that served to correct certain spiritual illnesses and applied only when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, we can learn relevant lessons in our daily lives from the laws of tzaraat.

To properly diagnose this disorder as tzaraat, one needed to be proficient in all of its complex and detailed laws. Yet even after the sage determined that this fellow suffered from this malady, only a Kohen – a member of the priestly family of Aharon – had the authority to pronounce the condition as tzaraat and the leper as a Metzorah. The ritual impurity of tzaraat only took effect after the Kohen’s pronouncement.

Why?

The ritual impurity of the Metzorah was so severe that he or she was quarantined from the community until the condition healed. Such a harsh reality cannot be implemented based on cold logic alone. Only a Kohen, a blood descendant of Aharon the High Priest, the paragon of selfless love for every Jew, can make such a pronouncement. Only one who truly loves his fellow Jew can identify the evil in another and begin the process of healing.

So when you notice someone that needs correction, first identify where your perspective is coming from. Are you genuinely concerned for the welfare of another? Do you have their best interest in mind? Are you approaching this with a “holier than thou” attitude? Once you have answered these questions, you are empowered and obligated to change someone’s life for the better.

 

Show Your Jewish Fins and Scales

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There is a common misconception that Torah is either a legal text detailing the specifics of Jewish law or a record of Jewish history. In reality, Torah is a guide, providing pertinent lessons in every area of life. An interesting detail in the laws of kosher provides a powerful illustration of this dynamic.

In this week’s parsha Shemini, the Torah provides two signs for kosher fish, fins and scales. The Talmud states that a fish with scales most definitely has fins but a fish with fins does not necessarily have scales. If so, why was it necessary to mention fins altogether? If you see scales on the fish, its status is clear! Even more perplexing is the fact that the Torah mentions fins before scales.

Scales serve as a protective layer from negative aquatic elements and the fins allow the fish to navigate the currents.

A Jew is provided with two crucial tools in life, Torah and Mitzvot. Torah for the Jew is like fins for a fish. More than just a moral compass, Torah study provides a Jew the moral strength to swim against the influential currents of our world and to navigate the often turbulent seas of life. But Torah study without mitzvah observance is like a fish with fins and no scales. It is not the Jewish way.

Mitzvot for the Jew are like scales for a fish, creating a spiritual protective shield so that the Jew is not adversely affected from the world he is compelled to engage. And to properly observe mitzvot, a bare minimum of Torah knowledge is required. Therefore fins are listed first of the kosher fish signs.

Let us proudly display our “kosher” signs by increasing our Torah study and committing to greater Mitzvah observance. There is no time better than now.

Let's Talk About Moshiach

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A Jewish farmer returned home from synagogue and excitedly shared with his wife the content of the Rabbi’s speech. “Moshiach is coming imminently and he will take us all to Israel! Can you imagine? No more problems from the anti-semitic landowner or pogroms from the Cossacks!”

“How can we move to Israel now?” his wife cried. “We just finished renovating the barn and who will look after the animals?”

The farmer’s excitement quickly dissipated and a heavy silence descended upon them. “Not to worry,” said the woman with a smile. “G-d saved us from the Cossacks, He will surely save us from Moshiach as well.”

It is one of the fundamental elements of Jewish belief and yet Moshiach remains a frightening mystery to so many. There is real concern that this enigmatic messianic phenomenon will fundamentally alter their lives against their will. Do we really want that?

What type of world do we truly wish to live in? What type of future do we want for our children and grandchildren? The universal yearning of humanity is for a globe cleansed of war, famine, disease and hatred. Much is being done to achieve this goal, but everyone agrees that there is currently no philosophy or framework that can deliver this lofty goal for the benefit of all humanity.

On the final day of Pesach (Acharon Shel Pesach) we read a section of Isaiah that discusses the era of Moshiach. After describing the persona of the redeemer, the prophet describes the utopic era as a time when “the wolf will dwell with the lamb” and there will be no evil in the world.

How will this be possible? “For the earth will be filled with knowledge of the L-rd, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9). The main role of Moshiach is to serve as the ultimate teacher for all of humanity. Nations will not be coerced to lay down their arms and people will not be forced to treat each other with respect. Moshiach will reveal the truth of reality to all and peace will be the automatic result. If anyone resists these changes, you will know that Moshiach has not yet arrived.

The message of Moshaich is so relevant on Pesach because the exodus from Egypt was merely the beginning of the long road to the ultimate redemption. The Seder commemorates the accomplishments of the past and the final moments of Pesach are a time for us to focus on reaching the finish line.

The Baal Shem Tov would mark the closing moments of Pesach with a festive dinner in tribute to Moshiach. Rather than simply learning, praying and yearning for His arrival, Moshiach should also be a culinary experience – similar to how the Seder brings the message of freedom to all our senses.

I invite you to join us on Tuesday, April 18, 7:00pm at Chabad for Seudat Moshiach – the dinner in tribute to Moshiach. Discover the real facts behind this fundamental Jewish topic and enjoy some final bites of Shmurah Matzah and other Passover delicacies. If you cannot join us, I encourage you to eat some matzah and toast lechaim on four glasses of wine in anticipation for a better world to come.

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Leaping Into Change

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The name Pesach rarely evokes images of obstacle racers leaping over obstacles barreling to the finish line. The taste of Matzah, memories of long Seder nights and Afikoman gifts are the traditional Pesach fare.

The nuanced meaning of Pesach has been lost in the English translation of “Passover.” The most accurate way to translate “Pesach” in the context of the Exodus is to “Leap Over.

As G-d prepared the Israelites for the imminent redemption from the two-century-old Egyptian slavery, He instructed them to sacrifice, roast and eat a lamb as a “Pesach Sacrifice” on the eve of the 15th on Nissan. They should put the sacrificial blood on their doorposts so that at midnight, G-d will strike the first-born Egyptians and skip the Jewish homes. The relevant verse (Exodus, 12:23) reads “Pasach Hashem Al Hapetach.”

The name links the sacrifice to the miracle, because in Biblical Hebrew, the word “Pesach” means to leap.

The famous 12th century commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) explains: The sacrifice is called “Pesach” because of the skipping and the jumping over, which the Holy One, blessed be He, skipped over the Israelites’ homes that were between the Egyptians homes. He jumped from one Egyptian to another Egyptian, and the Israelite in between was saved. Likewise, you should perform the service in the manner of skipping and jumping, in commemoration of its name: Pesach.

How does “skipping and jumping” adequately describe the manner in which the Israelites prepared the Pascal Lamb?

Jumping is not a routine method of reaching a destination. When confronted with an obstruction we need to disregard the obstacle and elevate ourselves above it. For the Israelites to comply with the instructions to prepare the sacrifice and to be ready to leave Egypt, they needed to break their routine.

Ancient Egypt was the superpower of the world. The leading civilization in technology, philosophy and the arts. Yet it was also a morally corrupt and pagan nation. The vast majority of Jacob’s descendants dwelled in this cultural swamp of idolatry and immorality for over two centuries. Though they we distinguishable by their names, language and unique mode of dress, they had assimilated to Egyptian behavior and beliefs. To the point that four fifths of the Jewish population were uninterested in leaving Egypt, and perished before the Exodus.

Being worthy of redemption called for radical moves, such as slaughtering a sheep, which was the Egyptian deity they had worshipped just a few days prior and following Moses into the vast wilderness with insufficient food supplies or housing options. In doing so, they leaped out of the Egyptian outlook to a divine and holy reality. Only fifty days later, they enthusiastically accepted the Torah and Mitzvoth in all of its lofty moral obligations.

The Exodus of Pesach serves as a prototype for all subsequent redemptions. To break bad habits, mend broken relationships and to grow in religious commitment we must be ready to jump. Stubbornly following routine will produce predictable results. Breaking free from perceived limitations produces miracles.

Education and Sharing Day, El Paso

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Mayor Oscar Leeser has proclaimed today, April 7, 2017, to be Education and Sharing Day in El Paso. This follows an American tradition of proclaiming the Rebbe’s birthday, 11 Nissan, as a day of reflection and commitment to the values of education and good deeds in the United States. Every US President since 1978 has made this annual proclamation for Education and Sharing Day, USA.

This is a tribute to the Rebbe's life long efforts and advocacy for the betterment of education for American youth. The Rebbe emphasized that education should not be limited to the acquisition of wisdom and pursuit of a career, but rather, the education system must focus primarily on building good character and ethics.

Why is it that the Rebbe’s life and vision is summed up by the virtue of education? His contributions to Jewish life were vast, larger than life. So, why the emphasis on education?

On Monday evening we will all sit down by the Seder table to celebrate Pesach - the Festival of Freedom. The Seder was designed with the intention of quipping the child’s curiosity, bringing about the realization that this night is different from all other nights. After the child unabashedly expresses puzzlement with the goings on by asking the Ma Nishtana, the parent is obligated to respond by explaining the dynamics of that historic event in our history.

Even if there are no children at the table – the genre of the story remains the same: Educational. Geared to engage the innocence of youth and a sensory experience throughout. At the Seder we are all teachers and students.

The message of education pulses through the theme of the entire festival. The freedom granted to us over three millennia ago was the opportunity to educate. I am not referring to literacy and mathematics, of which the Jews had a thriving educational system during the two centuries of Egyptian slavery.

However, it was an education devoid of meaning and purpose, steeped in the local cultural swamp of idolatry and the promotion of self.

The Exodus was not merely a correction  of a terrible wrong, rather an urgent call to allow a nation to realize their full potential. The opportunity to transcend the self and connect with the divine. We were not granted a vacation from harsh labor, rather we were empowered to accomplish a loftier mission.

In our generation the Rebbe emphasized that we are all teachers. To bring the awareness of G-d to every corner of the globe and to empower all of humanity to achieve their full potential in bringing more goodness and kindness to our world.

Please join me in observing Education and Sharing Day by reflecting on the fact that educating others is not only for professional teachers. The Rebbe often quoted the Chassidic saying, “If you know Aleph, teach Aleph!”  Today, reach deep inside and find the “Aleph” that will be meaningful to someone else.

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Not One Size Fits All

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The sage advice going around nowadays is to minimize conversations about these three topics: politics, sports and religion. You are bound to disagree and you will need a spreadsheet to keep track of your counterpart’s nuanced position.

This week’s parsha illustrates a powerful lesson of the value of nuanced diversity.

The third book of the Torah, Vayikra, communicates the intricate details pertaining mostly to the Temple service. The opening sections discuss the laws of voluntary sacrifices at length. A sacrifice of livestock is called a Korban and a grain offering is called a Mincha. Sacrificial gifts to G-d could consist of 1000 fattened bulls, or merely several pounds of flour.

While the options are open to all, there is a clear expectation that a Jew of means would be sure to offer a sacrifice to G-d befitting his financial capabilities. After all, G-d sees the books!

Upon introducing the Mincha (grain/flour) offering the Torah prefaces (Leviticus 2:1): When a nefesh - a soul - will offer a Mincha (meal offering)… Rashi comments on this uncharacteristic expression: A voluntary Mincha offering was the sacrifice of the pauper. Even though it seems meager in comparison to the fattened bulls of the oligarch, G-d considers the offering of a few pounds of flour as if the pauper has offered his entire life.

We are all granted different gifts in life and no two people are the same. Although the teachings of the Torah and the 613 Mitzvoth are uniformly the heritage and obligation of every Jew, implementation will depend on many variables.

For example, in all matters of charity the Torah never determines a set amount for all to give. Either we are obligated to give a certain percentage of our earnings, or in some cases, the exact amount is up to the discretion of the individual. Often, the overarching rule is (Deuteronomy 16:17): Each according to his ability to give, according to the blessing that G-d has bestowed upon you.

Quantity in context is the determining factor of quality. An $18 donation can be a sacrifice for one and spare pocket change for another. Five minutes of Torah study each day can be a spiritual leap for one and neglect of academic prowess for another.

Be sure to give G-d your very best!

When You Are Not in the Mood

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What to do when we are not in the mood? Those times when nothing is exciting and motivation is at an all-time low. Even in the best of physical health, it can be tough to get out of bed in the morning or to have the discipline to pay the bills on time. Yet, even on those monotonous and boring days, we do what needs to be done anyway.

This week we conclude the second book of the Torah by reading the joint parshas of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The content of both portions describe the manner in which the Israelites prepared the  Mishkan (Tabernacle) that they were instructed to build as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence within their camp.

The final verses of the entire book describe the pivotal moment, after all was in place, when the divine presence descended upon the Mishkan. During the day it was seen in the image of a cloud and at night it was seen a glowing fire. Mission accomplished! Human beings had succeeded in inviting G-d to dwell in their midst!

This major endeavor was the beginning of a series of magnificent buildings that would serve as conduits to reveal the unbreakable bond between G-d and the Jewish people. The spiritual properties of the subsequent Holy Temples in Jerusalem, including the Third Holy Temple that will be built by Moshiach, are all sourced in the Mishkan built in the Sinai Desert.

Yes, the spiritual energy that pulsed in the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, the capital city of the Holy Land flowing with milk and honey – initially entered this world in the parched and desolate wilderness of Sinai. A place devoid of life and beauty, unsuitable for human habitation and filled with ferocious snakes and scorpions. In this space of seeming nothingness, divinity was permanently revealed for the first time.

So the next time you find yourself in a spiritual desert – lacking the motivation and inspiration to learn some Torah, do a specific Mitzvah or to give charity, know that your greatest opportunity is now. When you do what is right even when you are not in the mood, you are inviting G-d into your life in a most meaningful and permanent way. Even a lackluster mitzvah can accomplish magnificent things!

I Forgot!

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Forgetfulness is the universal age-old excuse for anything and everything in life. Since memory is limited, forgetfulness has its advantages.

We can forget the bad, irrelevant and the petty things and remember the good, relevant and important things. It allows us to forget bad habits and to learn new ones. To forget past grievances and mend relationships. It motivates fresh beginnings and repeated good behavior.

Most importantly, forgetting is the beginning of forgiveness.

In this week’s parsha we learn of the first pardon the Jewish people received from G-d for the grave sin of the Golden Calf. Only forty days after experiencing the most intense divine revelation to man, they forgot their obligations and served an idol. G-d’s wrath was aroused and only due to Moses’ sacrifice and heroic prayer were they spared certain annihilation.

G-d revealed to Moses how to pray for forgiveness and promised that these prayers will cause Him to “forget” the iniquities of His people and forgive them.

This seems counterintuitive. If the human is guilty of sin, why should G-d forget? How is transgression of the Divine Will forgivable?

If you think about it, sin is the most counterintuitive idea imaginable. G-d is constantly recreating you from nothingness, providing you with life, health, sustenance, housing and happiness – and you violated His laws?! Is it possible to so shamefully disregard the king’s wishes in his presence?

Parents are rightfully aggravated and hurt when their children blatantly disregard or disrespect them. After everything they do for them, it is inconceivable they should reciprocate so negatively.

It is possible to sin when we forget that we are in G-d’s presence. Routine takes its toll and we start to take our many blessings for granted. As long as we forget G-d – He remembers the sin. Once we remember G-d and express remorse for our improper behavior – He gladly forgets the sin and graciously pardons.

Children do not mean to hurt their parents. Showered constantly with love, affection and care (which is a great thing) allows them to take this for granted. After a gentle reminder, we are happy to forget their negative behavior as well.

The key to our relationship with G-d is the knowledge that as humans, we are chronically forgetful of the source of our success and happiness. Once we remember the truth, G-d is grateful to forget the past and look forward to a positive and productive future.

May we merit the realization of the ultimate redemption, when forgetfulness will cease, ushering in a world of peace and tranquility, through our righteous Moshiach!

The Message of Wine

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Festivals are an integral element of Jewish tradition. Can you distinguish between holidays included in the Torah and those that were introduced by the sages at a later time?

Interestingly enough, the popularity of a holiday is not an indicator at all. Chanukah is an all-time favorite, and it was established over 1,000 years after Sinai. Shavuot is virtually unknown and it is part of the major three biblical holidays.

Purim is also a fairly new holiday in Judaism. During the Babylonian exile following the destruction of the first Holy Temple, the Jews finally started to grow accustomed to their new reality. They were accepted by the broader society and enjoyed much prestige in the royal Persian court. Kosher food was prepared at the royal banquet in their honor and a Jewish woman was the queen of the world. Their beloved leader, Mordechai, was a trusted aide and advisor to the king himself.

The times were good and the people relaxed in their anticipation for a return to the Holy Land and a new Holy Temple.

Then came Haman, the diabolical Amalekite with the wherewithal to take care of the Jewish Problem. He deceitfully manipulated the mind of the foolish king Achashveirosh (who was no Jew lover himself) to issue a genocidal decree against the Jews.

The Jewish response was swift and decisive. Under the influence of Mordechai they joined together in repentance and prayer, re-accepting upon themselves an uncompromising commitment to a life of Torah and Mitzvos. The outcome was an epic reversal and turnover of political fortunes: Haman was executed and we are here today to celebrate the miracle.

We celebrate by toasting Lechaim on wine. Wine represents the essence of the message of Purim. All fruits are of superior quality than the juice extracted from them. This is reflected in their prices and in the respective blessings recited before eating fruits or drinking juice. The juice of grapes is an exception. Wine produced from grapes is far more expensive and the unique "Hagafen" blessing is recited upon it. It is the beverage with which we sanctify Shabbat, Yom Tov and every celebratory Jewish milestone.

Just as when the grape is crushed it releases superior quality, so too the Jewish nation. Whether we are pressured by mortal enemies or internal struggles, we manage to pull through on a greater spiritual plane than before.

I invite you to join us in celebrating Purim. On Motzei Shabbat (Saturday Night) at 7:30pm we will read the Megillah, followed by Havdalah and a Falafel Bar. The celebration will include a masquerade, balloon art, face painting and a Purim craft. Don’t miss out on the fun!

Megillah readings on Sunday will be at 9:00am and 4:30pm. Purim in the Shtetl Dinner is open to all at 5:00pm! Enjoy a delicious traditional menu and celebrate away. Kindly let us know if you will be joining. Couvert is $15. Kindly consider being a cosponsor of all the Purim events for $200.

On Sunday at 2:30pm the children and seniors of the community will celebrate with a Hamentash Bake Off at the Monte Vista.

Throughout the day on Sunday be sure to give Mishloach Manot - gifts of food to a friend. At least two ready madefoods are necessary for the Mitzvah. Also, give Matanot Le’evyonim – gifts to the poor. We need to give money to two poor Jewish families. If you are unsure of whom to gift the money, Chabad has a special fund to help the needy and we will distribute the money on your behalf.

Best wishes for a joyous Purim!

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