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Rabbis' Blog

For This I am Grateful

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In a recent conversation, someone mentioned that gratitude is a gift and a challenge. The more we are thankful the happier we are, but sometimes gratitude can be mechanic. Even the cordial “Thank you” has become a courtesy and sometimes lacks genuine feeling.

This observation allowed me to better appreciate a relatively unknown sacrifice that was offered in the Holy Temple discussed in this week’s parsha: Korban Todah - the Thanksgiving Offering. The detailed instructions of who is obligated to offer this sacrifice gives us a better understanding of how to be properly gracious without becoming cliché.

While the Torah does not specify what type of gratitude needs to be expressed through offering a Thanksgiving Sacrifice, the Talmud distills from Tehillim Psalm 107 four miracles that warrant this mega thankfulness. (a) Surviving a sea voyage, (b) surviving a desert journey, (c) being released from captivity, (d) recuperating from an illness. These are all life threatening situations not faced by the majority of people on a daily basis. Surviving them is a big deal.

To be sure, every breath is miraculous and upon waking in the morning we must acknowledge G-d’s kindness and benevolence to us. But Judaism discourages throwing a banquet or singing special songs of praise for the consistent miracles. The Korban Todah was for the extraordinary and less common miracles.

We experience freedom every day, but Pesach - the Festival of Freedom is celebrated only once a year on the anniversary of our redemption. Celebrating the major miracles properly gives meaning and weight to our appreciation for the minor and more common miracles as well.

Tuesday, March 27 the 11th day of Nissan will be the Rebbe’s 116th birthday. As I studied the details of the Korban Todah this week I realized an interesting correlation between the miracles that warrant this sacrifice and the Rebbe’s gift to our world.

With all the blessings of modern society there is an acute vacuum of spiritual clarity. To use the metaphor of the four above-mentioned life threatening scenarios, our times are uniquely challenged in four ways.

  1. Navigating the turbulent flood of information constantly inundating us (sea voyage).

  2. Finding inspiration to quench our spiritual thirst (desert journey).

  3. Breaking out of negative behavioral cycles (captivity).

  4. Properly identifying the good from the bad (severe illness).

The Rebbe relentlessly and patiently provided our generation with the intellectual and emotional tools to combat these unique challenges. The thousands of hours he taught Torah and his vast correspondence that have been published in hundreds of volumes and preserved in video and audio format continue to be a guiding light for all who avail themselves to these treasures.

For this I am tremendously grateful and the Rebbe’s birthday warrants big celebration to express gratitude to G-d for the miraculous gift of the Rebbe. I invite you to learn more about the Rebbe and his teachings online at TheRebbe.org

May we all experience true spiritual freedom and together usher in an era of universal freedom with the arrival of Moshiach.

Birthday of the Jewish Calendar

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This Shabbat will mark 3,330 years from the day we received our first Mitzvah from G-d.

Before whisking the Jews out of Egypt, it was necessary to introduce some basic elements of divinity to them, so that they should be worthy of deliverance. On the first day on Nissan, 15 days before the Exodus, G-d communicated to Moshe the mitzvah of setting up the Jewish calendar. The Jewish calendar guidelines in place today are embedded in the divine communique to Moses 3,330 years ago.

A year later, on the same day, the young Jewish nation celebrated the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) service, in the Sinai Desert. This edifice served as the prototype for the subsequent Holy Temples built in Jerusalem. As Aharon the High Priest concluded the inaugural service, a divine cloud descended upon the Mishkan, representing the permanent revelation of G-d in the midst of the Israelite camp.

Ever since, the divine energy never departed the Jewish scene. Even after the destruction of the Temples, we are capable of creating a space in which divinity is readily apparent.

The fact that these two incidents, the establishment of the Jewish calendar and the inauguration of the Tabernacle occurred on the same day, emphasizes their correlation to each other and their relevance to us today 3,330 years later.

Jewish months are determined by the lunar cycle. The barely visible crescent represents new beginnings and a full moon represents great achievements. The reflexive changes in the moon’s size are due to its posturing in reflecting the light of the sun – the dependable luminary of our sky.

To serve as a platform for Divine revelation one needs to be in a position to reflect G-d’s light as it is transmitted to us through Torah. Through constant study and Mitzvah observance, one can become a conduit through which true goodness and kindness can radiate.

This dynamic also sheds light on how the idea of redemption can be applied and relevant in all times. Humans are chronically shackled to the needs of the physical body. A surgeon performing a life-saving operation, an officer on a search and rescue mission or a scholar in the midst of a major academic discovery all need to pay close attention to their nutrition and sleeping behaviors. An exhausted body can sabotage even the greatest endeavors.

Nevertheless, within this physical “exile” we are capable of attaining great divine accomplishments, just as the Israelites started keeping a Jewish calendar while still enslaved by Pharaoh. As long as we are always aware of our potential to reflect the Divine, thus making this world a true dwelling place for G-d, redemption will always be attainable.

Doing Shabbat Right

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Hosting guests for Shabbat dinner on Friday evening is always a source of pride and pleasure for our family. Shainy prepares a delicious spread and the table is set to perfection. One week, a young boy came over with his family and was amazed at seeing the table set as if it was Thanksgiving. 

“Do you do this every week?” he asked.

“Every week.”

“Wow! You guys do Shabbat right!”

His genuine compliment was greatly appreciated but it also got me thinking about what it means to “do Shabbat right.”

In this week’s parshah Moshe communicates to the Jewish people the instructions for building the Mishkan - an edifice to serve as a divine dwelling place within the Israelite camp. In preface, Moshe reminds the people of the importance of keeping Shabbat.

“Work shall be done for six days and the seventh day shall be holy for you - a complete rest from work.”

Lest their enthusiasm inspire them to prepare G-d’s home 24/7, the Torah clarifies that construction of the Mishkan must halt on Shabbat. But there is an additional reason for mentioning Shabbat in this context.

Contrary to common perception, the definition of “work” in relation to Shabbat observance has nothing to do with making a living or physical exertion. In fact, the specifics of Shabbat observance are modeled after a defined set of labors that were employed in the construction of the Mishkan. These specifics are discussed at length in the Talmud and the Code of Jewish Law.

Beyond providing the Halachic template for Shabbat observance, this verse also teaches us the proper Jewish work ethic with one curious grammatical nuance. Why does the Torah employ the passive expression “Work shall be done” instead of the active “You shall work?”

About resting on Shabbat our sages declare: One must regard himself as if all work has been done. One should not only take a break from work - one needs to feel as if there is no work left to be done! How is this practical?

The secret of “doing Shabbat right” is embedded in the passive expression of “work shall be done.” Take the work you do during the week seriously and give it all you got. But the stress and preoccupation that comes along with it is unnecessary, spiritually numbing and emotionally draining. Being mindful that success is a blessing from G-d and that work is merely a natural channel for the Divine blessing to flow into our universe, is a sure way to erase stress and anxiety from the experience.

“Doing Shabbat right” is not limited to observing the relevant laws starting Friday at sundown through nightfall the next day. A peaceful and spiritually uplifting Shabbat depends on a more focused and spiritually balanced work week.

Conversely, when observed properly according to Jewish law, Shabbat redefines the workweek. It’s divine energy permeates every fiber of our being and every moment of our lives allowing us to live up to our greatest potential.

 

Moshe's Enduring Legacy

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Have you ever been so stressed that you wanted to punch a hole in the wall? A new business called the “Anger Room” provides the opportunity to break useless junk in a controlled environment.

Anger management is not my expertise and Jewish law forbids wasteful destruction, but perhaps the popular notion that breaking stuff is a valid stress relief method fuels a common misconception of a fascinating occurrence in this week’s parshah.

During the Revelation at Sinai G-d verbally communicated the Ten Commandments and then instructed Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai for forty days and nights to learn the entire Torah and receive the Two Tablets containing a written record of the Ten Commandments. These Tablets were entirely prepared by G-d and were miraculous in many ways.

Meanwhile, after miscalculating the day of Moshe’s expected return from the mountain, the Israelite camp was in turmoil. Mixed messages, raw nerves and overall confusion resulted in the unfortunate creation of a Golden Calf which was subsequently served by a number of Jews. The self sacrifice of Chur (Moshe’s nephew) and Aharon’s heroic attempts to quell the rebellion did not stop the disaster from happening. Just forty days after pledging allegiance to G-d at Mt. Sinai, idolatry infiltrated the Israelite camp.

Moshe descended Mt. Sinai holding the divine Two Tablets when he beheld the obscene scene of Jews serving the Golden Calf. Moshe became angry and smashed the Two Tablets at the foot of the mountain.

Far from being a reckless reaction due to an anger management problem, Moshe’s instantaneous decision to break the Two Tablets is considered the most heroic and selfless act ever done by a Jewish leader.

The Talmud invokes the analogy of a King who flew into a rage upon hearing rumors of his bride’s unfaithfulness. A close friend hurriedly destroyed the marriage contract so there would be no legal recourse for the King to swiftly punish the Queen under duress. His quick thinking allowed for a thorough investigation which revealed that the rumors were untrue and the king was forever grateful to his friend for intervening.

At Sinai the Israelites made a verbal commitment to G-d and the Two Tablets represented the written contract of their exclusivity. Seeing the Golden Calf, Moshe understood that so long as the written contract remained intact, G-d’s retribution would be swift and complete. Moshe sacrificed everything by destroying the most priceless objects in the world to save his nation from annihilation. His quick thinking paid off, and he ultimately elicited G-d’s forgiveness for their sin and we are here today to tell the story.

This is the profile of a true leader and a powerful lesson in Ahavat Yisrael. To effectively inspire others to embrace more Torah study and Mitzvah observance one must first sincerely and unconditionally care for their physical wellbeing and safety - even at great personal sacrifice.

Purim with Chabad was a beautiful experience. Hundreds of Jews in El Paso were impacted through our various events, classes, publications and private visitations. Thank you to all our sponsors, volunteers and participants for making this all happen.

Complete photo albums will be available online next week. Click here to see photos and read about last night’s Purim in Hawaii as published in the El Paso Herald-Post. https://elpasoheraldpost.com/gallerystory-purim-festivities-in-the-sun-city/

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