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Rabbis' Blog

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!

Why Do We Need a Synagogue?

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The omnipresence of G-d is a fundamental Jewish belief. Why then do we limit His dwelling to a single structure?

In the last two parshas we learn of the first divine revelation to the Jewish nation: Matan Torah – the revelation at Sinai. This week begins the detailed instruction of the construction of the Mishkan. Upon completion, the people experienced a second divine revelation.

There is a crucial difference between these two rendezvous with G-d.

Leading up to the revelation at Sinai, G-d warned the people not to touch the mountain. Since it would serve as the physical location of such an intense G-dly revelation, a mere mortal would die by simply touching the mountain. However, once the spectacle was over – it was a mountain like any other. In fact, Judaism finds no interest in locating Mt. Sinai in the desert, as it currently contains no divine uniqueness. After the pomp and ceremony of Matan Torah, it remained mundane as ever.

The divine revelation in the Mishkan (and subsequently in the Temples in Jerusalem) is a different story altogether. Since the inauguration of the Mishkan, the divine presence has not departed the subsequent structures built throughout our history. Even after the destruction of the Temple, the divine presence remains at the same spot.

The contrast is striking as the lead up to these respective events. Whereas Matan Torah excluded human involvement, the building project of the Mishkan necessitated the financial and labor participation of the entire Jewish nation.

When the people erect a beautiful and quality structure for G-d as they would their own homes, they express their desire to have G-d dwell in their midst. Then, the divine presence is not limited to the dedicated structure; it finds expression in the homes of every individual. The Mishkan is a symbolic of the fact that G-d is a desired presence in our lives.

Wherever there is a community of Jews, it is crucial to construct a special home for G-d – the synagogue. It should be beautiful, comfortable and conducive to being a welcoming place for everyone to connect with G-d.

I invite you to join us in bringing this project to fruition in El Paso. Together we will construct a beautiful edifice where every Jew in town can join in prayer, study and celebration of our beautiful heritage.

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