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Rabbis' Blog

Reality Check

 

In a world rife with fake news, political posturing and endless amounts of cable commentary one needs to sometimes take a step back and search beneath the surface to see what is really going on.

This is not a new phenomenon. From the beginning of civilization humans have been adept at processing events through bias, tainting their world view to fit a foregone conclusion of how they think things ought to be.

When the Israelites were redeemed from Egyptian slavery G-d wished to redeem their worldview as well, so He brought them to the Red Sea. It was not en route to the Promised Land and tradition teaches us that the Israelites did not even cross the sea to the other side. Instead, they entered and exited on the same side, leaving the Egyptians in the water to meet their just ends.

So why did G-d engineer this miraculous spectacle?

Gazing at the big beautiful ocean one is unaware that beneath the surface a sophisticated world thrives. Whatever can be found on dry land has its aquatic counterpart beneath the waves, but the naked eye cannot see it.

The same is true with our world. Within the reality we call nature there is a divine hand moving everything in the right direction for a divine purpose. Although our fleshy eyes cannot see this, we were gifted the understanding to perceive this truth - at the Splitting of the Sea.

When G-d revealed the hidden world of life flourishing beneath the Red Sea, it was a physical manifestation of a far greater revelation: the divine purpose which permeates every detail of our reality. For a few hours the freshly minted Jewish nation was privy to the ultimate reality check.

3,331 years ago we experienced it naturally for a few hours, but in the era of the ultimate redemption through Moshiach this will become our permanent reality.

Shvii Shel Pesach, the festival which begin tonight, is the anniversary of the Splitting of the Sea, and Acharon Shel Pesach, the final day of Pesach is a time for us to focus on the future redemption. We celebrate the two events back to back because they represent the same idea - revealing the truth of reality.

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 Shabbat, April 27, 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.

 

My Trip to Austin

 Education Day (1).jpg

On Tuesday I joined twelve fellow Chabad rabbis from across the great state of Texas in our Capitol to participate in the recognition of the Rebbe’s upcoming birthday, 11 Nissan (observed this year on April 16), as Education and Sharing Day in Texas.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter started an American tradition honoring the Rebbe by proclaiming an annual day of reflection for all Americans. Every US president since has followed this tradition annually in tribute to the Rebbe’s valuable contributions to the national conversation about education.

This year, Governor Greg Abbott signed such a proclamation and both the House and Senate have passed resolutions about Education and Sharing Day.

Rep. Joe Moody from El Paso authored the resolution (HR 1002) in the House of Representatives and, surrounded by fellow lawmakers, explained that the Rebbe taught that education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career. Instead, the educational system must pay more attention — indeed the main attention — to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values.

“In 1974, the Rebbe introduced the ‘charity campaign.’ A grassroots campaign to train us all to become ‘givers,’” Moody said. “The idea is simple. Place a box, like this one,” - Moody held up a charity box and placed a dollar inside - “in your home or in your office and start the day by setting aside a small amount to charity. Including our children in this practice, encourages them and will help educate them to have empathy for our fellow human beings.”

Education Day (3).jpg 

Senator José Rodríguez co-authored the resolution (SR557) together with Senator José Menéndez in the senate and elaborated on the goals of the Rebbe’s charity campaign. “The hope was that adults and children alike could move beyond the value of accumulating charity money and transform their hands into ‘giving hands.’ Goodness and kindness would become a part of life.”

It was a beautiful morning and a meaningful event to participate in and I believe their words speak for themselves. In El Paso, Mayor Dee Margo signed such a proclamation as well.

As we celebrate the Rebbe’s birthday on Tuesday, reflect on how you can make a difference in the lives of others. Add in Tzedaka giving and Torah learning and share these ideas will everyone you know. Approaching Pesach it is certainly appropriate to reach out to Jewish friends or acquaintances who may not have a Seder and ensure they find somewhere to participate.

Education Day (2).jpg 

 

Politics Aside

 

We live in a polarized society and many bemoan the fact that the current political climate is tearing apart families, communities and neighborhoods. The Jewish community suffers the same issue and this week’s parsha sheds light on how we can deal with a certain aspect of this situation..

It is only natural for folks to think differently about issues and to feel passionately about their positions. To argue about ideas and respectfully disagree is healthy but things get dicey when we perceive the other’s position as a threat to our way of life. When tempers flare and the condemnations start flying we start to hear expressions like “How can such a person be considered Jewish?” or “There is no value to your participation in Jewish observance.”

Is there justification to this approach?

In this week’s parsha we learn about the laws of “Tzaraat.” Although it is commonly translated as leprosy - it was not leprosy at all. It was a miraculous skin condition for which a dermatologist was never consulted.

When the strange white spot appears on someone’s skin a Kohen determines if it is “Tzaraat” and if the individual is a “Metzora.” A Metzora is considered ritually impure and isolated from the rest of the community until the spot recedes and the Kohen declares him or her cured of Tzaraat.

This miraculous condition is a punishment for speaking “Lashon Hara” - evil talk; gossiping and peddling negative information about people. Since this person caused strife and discord in the community, this person is afflicted with “Tzaraat” and secluded from others until he or she repents and changes their evil ways.

There are times when the Kohen is obligated to postpone seeing the prospective Metzora until a later date. If someone notices these strange spots during a festival the checkup is delayed until after the festival. If a groom notices these spots during his wedding, the Kohen is approached only after the Sheva Berachot - the seven days of the marriage celebration.

Now, the appearance of these spots suggests that this person is a gossiper and a real threat to the community. How can his banishment be postponed?

The fact is that declaring this individual a “Metzora” would disrupt his or her ability to properly celebrate the festival or for the groom to fulfill the mitzvah of rejoicing with his new wife for the first week of marriage. Even though we are dealing with someone who is truly problematic, their mitzvah observance is valuable to G-d and we must be careful not to disrupt them.

Even if you perceive a fellow Jew to be a real troublemaker, there is no license to disqualify a mitzvah he or she does. On the contrary, utilize every opportunity to encourage such a  person to do more mitzvot, because every mitzvah is precious to G-d.

 

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