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Rabbis' Blog

Spoiler Alert


In the pre internet world there was a die hard Jets fan who never missed watching a football game.  He was leaving town one week and asked a friend to tape the game for him so he could watch it upon his return and did not read the sports section for a full week so as not to ruin the excitement of watching the recorded game.

When he retrieved the VHS a week later his benefactor said "What a game! They were down by 21 points at halftime and made such a sweet comeback in the last five minutes!"

"Why did you spoil it for me?!" the fan exclaimed exasperated.

Nevertheless, as a devoted fan he dutifully sat down to watch the game from beginning to end. Halfway through the game he commented “When I know the outcome of the game is a good one, even watching my beloved team play so poorly doesn’t agitate me that much at all!”

In this week’s parsha we learn of the dramatic story of the spies sent by Moshe to scout the Land of Israel. Ten of the twelve spies returned with a dreadful report of giant fortresses and powerful warriors lying in wait and that any attempt to conquer the land would fail.

Sadly, the Jews expressed the greatest lack of faith in G-d who had delivered them from Egyptian slavery and sustained them in the harsh wilderness and started a full on revolt.

This was a fatal blow and every member of that generation was barred from entering Israel and condemned to death. G-d’s wrath was so great that all Moshe could do to mitigate the calamity was to negotiate terms in which 600,000 men would not die immediately, rather in a prolonged manner over the course of forty years. Only the next generation would inherit the Promised Land.

In the long term, this episode lives on in infamy as the tragic day of Tisha B’Av - the anniversary of almost every major Jewish tragedy.

It is striking that immediately following the story of the spies in the Torah we read this (Numbers 15:2): “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you arrive in the Land of your dwelling place, which I am giving you…”

Immediately after recording the greatest communal failure in Jewish history, G-d reassures us that the future is bright and there are many happy days to come.

At times one can be confronted with a debilitating tragedy of his or her own making with staggering consequences. Remember that all is not lost and your personal “promised land” is just beyond the horizon. The same is true on the communal level as well.

I’m not suggesting we approach crisis lightly. But we must certainly cut away the angst and stress, because G-d spoiled the plot for us by sharing that as long as we follow the guidelines of the Torah, it will all turn out for the best, culminating in the realization of the greatest “Promised Land” - the era of Moshiach when peace and tranquility will reign for all.


No Such Thing as a Wandering Jew


One of the most enduring caricatures of “the Jew” is the image of a bearded hunchback, holding a sack over his shoulder and leaning on a wanderer’s stick. The exiled wandering Jew.

For many, the fact that our immediate ancestors hailed from faraway lands and made fascinating journeys to the shores of this country or another is a badge of honor and the stuff that great stories and family legends are made of.

Some suggest we are wanderers by nature since our ancestors wandered for forty years in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land.

Absolutely false.

This week’s parsha provides a vivid description of how the Israelites travelled through the desert as a community of several million strong.

The epicenter of the Israelite camp was the Mishkan (Tabernacle) with all twelve tribes camped around it, three tribes in each direction. A divine cloud hovered over the Mishkan  at all times, and as long as it was there, the Israelites stayed put.

When the cloud lifted, the message was clear that it was time to move on to the next destination. Without knowing where they were headed everyone picked up and followed the cloud until it came to a standstill, indicating that they had reached their destination.

No mortal knew how long they would remain in any specific place nor where the next journey would take them. “They travelled according to G-d’s instruction (the moving cloud) and the camped according to G-d’s instruction (the halted cloud).”

Our ancestors never wandered; they travelled according to a divine plan.

The infancy of Judaism was characterized by the experience of travelling based on a transparently divine plan to teach us that we are forever following a divine GPS.

While you may think you moved to this city for a job opportunity, or chose that vacation spot for its breathtaking beauty or decided to attend a specific university because you won a full scholarship there - you’re wrong. You are in this very spot at this very moment because G-d has a specific mission that only you can accomplish right here and now.

You think your ancestors immigrated from Eastern Europe because they were persecuted and sought a better life across the Atlantic? That may be what they were thinking, but this week’s parsha enlightens us to the fact that they were brought to this blessed country for a divine purpose.

Although where we are is never up to us, what we actually accomplish there is entirely up to us. By utilizing every opportunity to learn more Torah, do more Mitzvot and inspire others to do the same, we live up to the expectations of the divine "master planner" and prepare all of humanity for the ultimate destination, the era of redemption when peace and tranquility will reign for all.

Standoff with the Soviets

It was close to midnight on a hot summer night in 1927 in Leningrad.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson was having dinner with his family after a long session of private meetings with individuals seeking spiritual counseling, life guidance and a listening ear, known in Chabad as “Yechidus.” A squad of soviet police led by two agents of the Yevsektzia (the notorious ‘Jewish section’ of the GPU (forerunner of the KGB)) barged into the apartment.

As the leader of the Chabad movement since 1920 he developed and coordinated a massive network of underground Jewish education and infrastructure in direct defiance of the communists’ wishes to destroy all organized religious life in the Soviet Union.

The ruthless Yevsektzia was desperate to bring Jewish life to an end, and one week after Shavuot of 1927 they conducted a thorough midnight search of his apartment to uncover incriminating evidence of “anti-revolutionary activities” and placed him under arrest. He was supposed to face a firing squad that night, but miraculously the worst was averted and due to immense international pressure and many miracles, within a month, on the 12th of Tammuz, he was a free man.

The saga of the previous Rebbe’s arrest and liberation is fascinating and I urge you to read more about it here, but I would like to focus on a short episode that occurred on that evening 92 years ago as described in his diary.

They began their search in the room of my daughters, Chaya Mussia and Sheine, and asked them: “What party do you belong to?”  “We belong to our father’s party,” they replied; “we are nonpartisan daughters of Israel. We are fond of the old ways of our Patriarch Israel, and detest the new aspirations.”

They displayed the type of pride every Jew ought to have. New trends and ideas do not intimidate us, no matter how much brute force or influence their adherents may wield. Torah is eternally true and does not bend to external forces.

The name of this week’s parsha “Naso” can be translated to mean “Lift up their heads.” The mandate for Moshe to inspire the Jewish people to be forever proud of the divine gift they received at Sinai and to march through history with heads held high.

This fierce pride is our badge of honor and the secret ingredient to our ability to survive under all circumstances, and it can only be nurtured through continuous Torah study and ever increasing Mitzvah observance.

While we are still under the influence of Shavuot and the commemoration of Sinai, find ways to nurture your Jewish pride and share it with family and friends so that we can all hold our heads higher and prouder until we fulfill our collective mission to make our world a divine dwelling, ushering in the era of redemption when peace and prosperity will reign for all. 


Are Your Guarantors Lined Up?


In anticipation for the Giving of the Torah G-d requested the Jewish people provide guarantors to ensure that the Torah remain relevant forever.

The Jews first suggested 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 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 nominated 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 imagine that the memory of an illustrious line of worthy ancestors is sufficient to keep tradition alive. Such a strategy has proven faulty and rarely effective.

The second offer is 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.

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.

Kids are inquisitive and genuine. Successfully educating them demands 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 for the next generation is the secret to the eternity of Judaism. And so each year, G-d expects us to renew our commitment to ensure our children continue to fill the vital role of guarantors.


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