Want to keep in the loop on the latest happenings at Chabad Lubavitch. Subscribe to our mailing list below. We'll send you information that is fresh, relevant, and important to you and our local community.
Printed fromChabadElPaso.com

Rabbis' Blog

Torah speaks to us today


Although the new year began several weeks ago, this Shabbat we really turn the page and start anew. Upon concluding the Torah reading cycle on Tuesday on Simchat Torah, this Shabbat we start from the beginning once again.

Also, due to the hectic schedule of the high holiday season, many classes were on hold, and now is the time when many communities and individuals restart their learning routines. On  a personal note, this is the time for me to invite the community to join our adult education program with various options for communal and individual learning opportunities. (See here for details).

I am often asked if there are any prerequisites to joining a Torah class. There is a misconception that one need to have been Bar Mitzvahed, have graduated Hebrew school or at least have some Hebrew reading and comprehension abilities before engaging in a Torah setting.

Nothing is further from the truth. Everyone and anyone can join classes or start a private learning session with the Rabbi. Try it and you’ll like it.

There is however one prerequisite to a successful Torah journey, and it is hinted to us in the very first letter of the Torah.

The Torah begins with the story of creation and opens with the word “Bereishis - In the beginning.” The first letter of the first word is a “Bet” which is the second letter of the Hebrew AlphaBet. Would it not have been more appropriate for the Torah to start with the first letter Alef?

Before we get to the answer it is important to know that just as we recite blessings before eating food or doing a mitzvah, there is a special blessing we recite before learning Torah. Here is how it goes:

Boruch atoh ado-noy elo-haynu melech ho-olom, asher bochar bonu mikol ha-amim, v'nosan lonu es toroso. Boruch atoh ado-noy, nosayn ha-toroh.

Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah. Blessed are You L-rd, who gives the Torah.

You may recognize this blessing from the procedure of being honored with an Aliya at the Torah during synagogue services, but this blessing appears in the prayer book in the morning blessings and should be recited by everyone daily before reading even one line of Torah.

This blessing is a crucial reminder for us that Torah is not merely a brilliant scholarly work we received over three thousand years ago, but G-d’s wisdom which is currently being transmitted to us today! “Blessed are You L-rd, who GIVES the Torah” - in the present tense.

Approaching Torah study with this inspired attitude makes it relevant and empowering.

This is why Torah starts with a “Bet.” When reading and understanding comes secondary to and only after reciting and meditating upon the message of the “Beracha - blessing” (which also begins with a “Bet”) the Torah then speaks to us today as well.


The Sages called it “The Easy Mitzvah”


Eating is an integral part of how we celebrate our holidays, but since we like to kvetch (complain) there is a well known Jewish quip: Pesach there is nothing to eat (chametz-free diet can be tough), Shavuot there is no time to eat (it’s very short) and Sukkot there is no place to eat (gotta eat in the Sukkah).

The Talmud states that eating in the Sukkah for seven days is an easy mitzvah. While there are certainly mitzvot that are easier and harder to observe, identifying one as objectively easy seems puzzling. Plenty of people have a very hard time eating in the Sukkah for various reasons. Rather the sages are intimating that the Sukkah provides us the key to make every mitzvah easy to do. 

Following the solemn high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d gives us the joyous festival of Sukkot. Not to balance the solemnity of the high  holidays with something light and fun, but to put us in the proper mindset to follow through with our new year resolutions.

Sukkot has two unique mitzvot. Sitting in the Sukkah and reciting a blessing on and waving the Four Species (colloquially known as Lulav and Esrog). Why does the holiday name emphasize one mitzvah over the other?

While Lulav and Esrog is an important mitzvah, Sukkah has several superior qualities.

The mitzvah of Sukkah is constant. The obligation to sit in the Sukkah starts as soon as the holiday begins in the evening and continues to be relevant for a full seven days, 24 hours a day, even on Shabbat. Shaking the Lulav only becomes relevant the next morning, can be done only once a day, specifically during daylight hours and is never done on Shabbat.

When you sit in the Sukkah your entire body is involved in the mitzvah, but shaking the Lulav involves just your hands.

The combination of the Four Kinds is an exotic religious thing. The stuff you do in the Sukkah is the same old regular stuff you do all the time in your home.

Not only does the Sukkah encompass everything about us during the week, it becomes our identity as well. The Torah defines the Sukkah as a Jew’s home during Sukkot and our relationship with home is not predicated on us being there. We identify with it even when we are halfway across the globe. “Hi, my name is ____ and I live in ____.”

It follows that our connection to the Sukkah is not only when we enter it, but wherever we are we can say “Hi. I’m a Jew and I’m a Sukkah dweller.”

The Sukkah teaches us that mitzvot are not exotic extras we need to pack into an already overloaded life schedule; they are home. And just like our connection to home is easy, convenient and pleasurable even if the road back is challenging, our connection to Judaism should be the same.

As we begin sitting in the Sukkah this Sunday evening, reflect on its homey message and see how easy it will be to follow through with all the mitzvah commitments you made these high holidays.

Our Wedding Anniversary

Many wonder why the day of atonement happens specifically ten days into the new year and are surprised to discover that Yom Kippur commemorates a historical event that occured 3,331 years ago connected to communal atonement.

After the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot, Moshe ascended the mountain and spent forty days and nights learning the entire Torah from G-d. He descended on the fortieth day holding the Two Tablets engraved with the Ten Commandments. These precious stones, crafted by G-d, were the embodiment of the divine pact between G-d and the Jewish people which had taken effect forty days earlier.

Due to a series of unfortunate events, the Jews crafted a golden calf and served it as a deity, in direct violation of the commandment “Thou shalt not serve any other gods.” Witnessing the obscene idolatry going on the morning he returned, Moshe smashed the holy tablets to smithereens.

G-d was very angry and threatened to annihilate the entire nation and start a new one from Moshe’s descendants. For forty days Moshe stood on Mt. Sinai pleading for mercy until G-d rescinded the decree. He was then instructed to prepare a new set of tablets, bring them up to Mt. Sinai and G-d inscribed the Ten Commandments once again.

In total, Moshe spent three sets of forty days on Mt. Sinai communicating with G-d. If you calculate the dates, it turns out that Moshe descended Mt. Sinai with the second set of tablets on Yom Kippur. On that day G-d forgave the Jewish people for the grievous sin of the Golden Calf, setting the precedent for Teshuva (repentance). No sin is unforgivable and Yom Kippur is the national day of Teshuva, the day that G-d and the Jewish People make amends for all the negative baggage that may have accumulated throughout the past year.

The Talmud describes Yom Kippur as the true marriage between G-d and the Jewish people and the second set of tablets are the eternal marriage contract between us. These tablets remain intact until today, enduring thousands of years of history with all of its ups and downs.

Our marriage with G-d endures because it was reinforced and cemented after the greatest betrayal. Once our marriage survived the Golden Calf it can survive everything, and that’s why no Jew will ever be truly lost. This is why Yom Kippur is the day every Jew feels the need to connect and we must enable this connection to manifest itself in a meaningful and healthy manner.

Everyone talks about the once-a-year Jews, but there is a vast majority that don’t know how to express their Jewishness even on Yom Kippur.

Make the effort to reach out to a friend or acquaintance you feel may need some encouragement, and invite them to join you for services on Yom Kippur. This is the greatest and most meaningful way to approach G-d on the holiest day of the year: Bringing home His long lost children for their wedding anniversary.


Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.