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Rabbis' Blog

Time to Focus on Our Own Homes

 

We are living through a crisis like no other. Aside from the horrors of COVID-19 playing out in hospitals around the world and the global economic upheaval, we all have been impacted in some way by the virus. For many, the fact we no longer regularly interact with others in person is a major issue that has made this past week so difficult.

Although we still connect through phone calls and video conferencing, congregating is a simple yet powerful human need that I, for one, will no longer take for granted. But as I learned this week’s parsha, and the Rebbe’s unique insight on the sacrifices offered in the Holy Temple, I discovered a powerful lesson for us in our current situation.

The third book of the Torah “Vayikra” focuses on the various services performed in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago. The Korbanot (sacrifices) were the centerpiece of the Temple service and served as a means for the community and each individual to come closer to G-d. There were many different types offered every day, but two of them expressed the essence of what Korbanot are all about.

Every early morning and late afternoon a single sheep was offered, purchased from the monies of the community fund every Jew contributed their yearly half shekel to. These two daily sacrifices were called “Korban Tamid” - which is roughly translated as “the consistent/constant/forever sacrifice.” They served as the foundation of every Jew’s connection to G-d and it was achieved on a communal level.

Getting closer to G-d does not mean we need to sacrifice everything. One single sheep sufficiently represented millions of people, but when offered every day at the beginning and end of the day it was considered the “forever sacrifice.” Even if you are able to give G-d so little, so long it is done at the right time and with the proper frame of mind, the connection remains strong and healthy.

Today, in the absence of a Holy Temple, we can no longer offer physical sacrifices to achieve this connection on a communal level, nevertheless we achieve this closeness in a personal way.

Every Jewish home is a Holy Temple and our personal “Korban Tamid” is the recitation of “Modeh Ani” in the morning, expressing our thanks to A-lmighty for the gift of life. Starting the day with this short and simple prayer, but with the proper concentration and feeling, permeates every moment of our day with our timeless connection to G-d.

Although temporarily we cannot congregate to celebrate our heritage, our divine connection can be vibrant as ever in the privacy of our own homes. Now is a good time to focus on making it real and personal.

With prayerful wishes that this terrible crisis ends immediately and that we merite very soon the arrival of Moshiach and the era of redemption, when all disease and illness will cease forever.

 

 

Here's what we can learn from the moon as we battle COVID-19

 

No one could imagine a time that synagogues would shutter and all public Jewish gatherings would cease. The current reality is extraordinary and many wonder how it will be possible to celebrate Pesach or if the community can sustain its powerful vibe under these circumstances.

This week, if we would have been gathering together in the synagogue for Shabbat morning services we would have used two Torah scrolls. In the first we would read the final two portions of the book of Shemot “Vayakhel & Pekudei” and in the second we would read the portion titled “Hachodesh” which documents G-d’s instructions to the Israelites about the Pesach sacrifice on the eve of their redemption from Egypt.

The opening statement of the Pesach preparations is the mitzvah of the Jewish calendar. Jewish festivals and observance are determined by dates following the lunar cycle, and provisions are set in place to ensure the festivals are celebrated in the proper seasons. 

In a nutshell, Jewish life revolves around the month-long cycle of the moon, and there is something fundamental we learn from the moon that allows Judaism to thrive under all circumstances

Although the moon was created to illuminate the night, it has no control over how much light it can project at any given time. At the beginning of its cycle it is a thin crescent, and regardless of its best intentions and efforts, the moon cannot get brighter than that. True, every day it progresses and fills up, reaching its fullest potential on day fifteen, but after that it recedes and wanes even if it wished it could remain brighter.

But no matter its current position or capacity to shine, it shines no matter what - fulfilling its G-d given mandate to illuminate the world.

Judaism works very much in the same way. Every mitzvah depends on specific circumstances and even when circumstances limit our ability to observe many mitzvot, we continue to radiate divine light to the world by investing more effort into the mitzvot we are able to observe.

We are a social people and it seems implausible to be vibrantly Jewish when we cannot congregate and celebrate together. As we pray for all those already affected by this terrible virus and for the entire world to heal from its impact, let’s absorb the lesson of the moon and realize that specifically now we have been granted unprecedented opportunities to grow in our Judaism and appreciation for each other.

The blessing of modern technology will allow us to remain united while we are physically apart.

I invite you to join the Chabad virtual community. We will be hosting all of our regular classes and the weekday evening services online as a video and phone conference. Below you will find information about next week’s online events. If you would like to receive regular updates and reminders with the necessary online liks and phone numbers please join our Chabad EP Updates WhatsApp group here: https://chat.whatsapp.com/HIwrzkXNxmO6bs89kySPqu

Stay tuned for our online DIY Passover tutorials to ensure you are ready to celebrate the Seders on Wednesday, April 8 and Thursday, April 9.

In addition, please reach out and check up on each other. If you are in need of assistance or emotional support please do not hesitate to contact us. Together we will pull through this difficult period, hearty and healthy.

May we merit very soon the arrival of Moshaich who will usher in the era of redemption when peace, health and tranquility will reign for all.

Just Listen

 

Have you ever felt compelled to do something against your conscience? It is a terrible feeling when you need to behave contrary to your entire belief system. But sometimes it must be done.

This week during synagogue services on Shabbat we will read the short Torah portion “Zachor” reminding us of the diabolical Amalekite nation who attacked the Israelites after their exodus, for no good reason other than senseless hatred. G-d commanded us to remember the despicable act and to cleanse the world of this evil. In the Haftara we read the story of King Shaul, who was commanded by G-d through the prophet Shmuel to wage war on the Amalekites and ensure nothing remains, no human or animal.

King Shaul obeyed G-d’s command with one caveat. When he realized how prized the cattle and sheep were he reasoned that it would be more appropriate to offer them as sacrifices instead of killing them randomly and he had mercy on Agag the Amalekite king, taking him prisoner instead of killing him in battle.

Destroying everything in one fell sweep seemed to contradict so many Jewish values and Shaul rationalized these slight changes to the divine instruction. After all, Agag and the animals would eventually die in accordance with G-d’s instruction.

But these small changes rooted in his rationalization based on Jewish values proved fatal for Shaul and for the Jews. G-d disqualified Shaul from being King of Israel and Agag sired a child during the last night of his life whose ultimate descendant was Haman, who came dangerously close to annihilating the Jewish people hundreds of years later.

Queen Esther, a descendant of Shaul, corrected her grandfather’s mistake thereby saving her people from Haman’s genocidal plot. When she was drafted to the king’s beauty pageant, her uncle Mordechai, the venerable Jewish leader of the time warned her against disclosing her heritage. She endured extreme pressure from Achashveiros and even endangered her life by keeping silent although she could have rationalized that once she was crowned queen, surely her people would only gain by Achashveiros knowing she was a Jewess. Nevertheless she kept silent, never doubting Mordechai’s judgement.

When word of the decree to kill the Jews was out Mordechai signaled Esther that the time had come to reveal her secret to the king and to plead for her people, but she knew that such a move was certain suicide. Appearing before the king unannounced was a crime punishable by death and was certainly not in sync with her Jewish education. But she obeyed Mordechai, the undisputed Torah authority of her time and the rest is history.

Shaul’s "values" based rationale jeopardized world Jewry; Esther’s steadfast obedience saved it.

The lesson is clear. The most important Jewish value is obedience to G-d. If you manage to understand a certain mitzvah, great. And if the mitzvah boggles your mind for now, just listen to G-d because that’s the surest way to doing things right.

 

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