Let It Snow
The snow was beautiful.
It began falling late Thursday night, making Friday and Shabbos a kaleidoscope of frustrated travelers, delighted kids, creative would be sculptors, and the timeless Jerusalem hills outside my windows looking (as usual) ancient and new at the same time. This time I saw the white stuff from my window, and much to my surprise was not at all unhappy to watch the scene with a hot cup of tea in my hand. I will be going back to work more or less full time starting tomorrow, which is something for which I will always owe a debt to Hashem that no human being can pay. I had two physiotherapists, one from the hospital and one from Kupat Cholim. Neiher of them know about the existence of the other. I felt no need to burst the beurocratic bubble that gave me so much of the coaching that I needed. I graduated. They have a finite number of exercises they put you through, and once you can do them easily, you are done. Since walking is good for me, (unlike standing, sitting, or going anywhere by car) I will have an excuse to go on long walks early in the morning or late at night as is my delight. I will, however skip the forest for a while. My friends have put me on food therapy, so moving around may get some of the extra weight off. I also have hopes that the entire event will make me a bit – less tied down to the kind of pettiness that traps me far too often so that I can keep my eye o on the bigger picture.
If nothing else, you guys learned enough Torah during the time you were at Neve to at least know that there is a bigger picture. I read a survey about what people define as success. The results were depressing. Nothing enduring came up. The endless ping pong game (earn it spend it) seemed to be the main theme. Every so often you might want to test yourself. Ask yourself what you mean when you say, “that was a really good day”. If there was some real simchah, giving, moving forward, then it was a good day. If it was a day in which you looked at reality with emunah it was a good day. If you resisted drowning in nonsense it was a good day. Without the Torah these treasures are awfully elusive (especially simchah that is almost impossible to maintain without a meaningful trusting relationship with Hashem). Last week’s Parshah spoke about the commandment to build a sanctuary through which Hashem will dwell in you. The Haftorah is about how Shlomo (King Solomon) built the Temple. It ends with the words, “Hashem will not abandon you”. That says it all. You’ll have your ups and downs, and days that work and days that don’t, but there’s always today a free gift with real possibilities. This week’s Parshah takes you further inward. It begins with narrating the construction of special garments that were worn by the kohanim. Before giving us the Torah, Hashem said that He is choosing us to be a holy nation and a kingdom of kohanim. That means that we have a capacity and responsibility to be living examples of what humans were created to be, and that we have the ability to bring down blessings and raise the animal aspects of the human psyche (which is what the sacrificial offerings were about). You may very reasonably ask what the garments that the kohein wore in the mishkan or in the Bais HaMikdash have to do with you in Chicago, Detroit, or the wilds of Flatbush. The garments of the soul are thought speech and action. These are the ways your deepest inner reality birth your identity. You are able to be part of something bigger than yourself and to forge an identity that follows the role of the kohanim in the sanctuary. The Vilna Gaon points out that everything begins with thought. If you want your speech patterns to change, and to be less negative and critical (and tinged with lashon hara) you have to learn to see people differently. Every Jew is in G-d’s image no matter how deeply he buries it under the barriers of ego and desire that are the source of all separation from their higher selves. If you can step back and watch your thoughts, you may be able to see others more positively if you are willing to judge them favorably rather than defensively. Your speech makes your inner life accessible to the world, it’s the beginning of having a self that is entwined with others. Your deeds will almost certainly follow your thoughts and your speech. If you began with looking for G-dliness in the other person, you will take this search to the way you seek G-dliness in the world you live in through bringing G-d with you so to speak as you live your life.
One of the girls asked me some questions about tzniut. She lives in Brazil. From her question it was clear that she does her best to keep the halachot properly. Wherever she goes, the message that she takes with her is, “there are alternatives”. Dignity is possible. You can make choices what a kohein she would have made!
Maybe write in some of the choices you made to take who you are on the inside with you. We all need a little encouragement.
Oops! Before I forget- the good news is that Brachah Bruce and Shoshanah Weiser are both engaged.
Yom Kippur Katan Adar
Tomorrow is Yom Kippur Katan, a tןme to review the month and enter the new month, in this case Adar, the happiest month of the Jewish calandar with a cleaner slate (after doing tshuvah), and a more open heart. Most of you haven’t heard of this, since it’s only just a custom that has been adapted by many but by no means the majority of communities. It sets the stage for seeing how every month opens new possibilities. Adar begins at the end of the week. If you were living in ancient Israel you would be waiting for messengers to reach your town or village to collect half shekels.The money was collected annually to pay for communal offerings. Messengers also went out to warn the farmers against growing kilaim (mixing specifies of plants by grafting or other means). Adar is the perfect time of year to do this, because the planting is just about to begin. Some people find this mitzvah somewhat difficult to grasp (and some people find every mitzvah difficult to grasp because of the underlying assumption that a commandment implies a Commander…). Even if you have enough spiritual maturity to accept that the Master of the unversed may know its rules, you may still find yourself asking,” What’s so really wrong with mixing a cherry with a banana and getting weird shaped cherries with hard peels? Wouldn’t they be easier to package?”
The answer to the question requires that you look at yourself. You are both physical and spiritual, and the truth is that everything in the world has both components. The Talmud tells you that every blade of grass has an angel that tells it to grow. That means that it has a spiritual role in the world, and that its physical presence is necessary not only for the sake of the world’s physical ecology, but for its spiritual balance as well. The arrogance involved in “fixing” things by intermixing species can trigger results that cause profound misbalance. Most of you aren’t farmers, and the laws of kilaim in agriculture aren’t all the relevant to your daily life. The idea of recognizing that everything has spiritual purpose is one of the most valuable lessons that you can learn.
One of the many civil laws the Torah told us in last week’s Parshah, Mishpatim, concerns theft. If you were to steal you usually have to pay back what you stole plus a fine of the same sum to compensate your victim for the anxiety and grief that is an inherent result of being victimized. If you stole a lamb, you have to pay back 4 times its value, and if you stole ox 5 times. The reason why there is a different penalty for a lamb and for an ox is that if you were to steal a lamb you would have to carry it home on your shoulders which is embarrassing, while if you stole an ox, it would follow you and let you maintain your dignity. The Torah’s laws usually don’t take into consideration the emotional response of the thief; it is more concerned with the victim. Imagine a judge adjudicting a case by considering if it was the theifs mom’s birthday, and judging him leniently because he has the pain of knowing how disappointed she is….. This case is an exception. Ben Yehoyada tells us. The reason is that theft is really very much like kilaim. When Hashem grants someone (say you…) a possession (say your phone) it’s because He wants you to have it to fulfill a specific aspect of what your mission on this world is. A theft is a distortion of your spiritual ecology. Assume that you were going to do good things with your phone (invite a friend over, be an empathetic listener, organize a kiruv weekend), you are at least temporarily unable to do so. This doesn’t only effect you, it effects the person who needed the invitation todayI or needed some validation now. The thief therefore needs to pay two different types of fines, one for the theft itself (which is double the value of the object stolen) and twice more for the blinders that he puts on before every theft that blind him from noticing that the world has a Master who governs His world with far more complexity and intricacy than he is willing or able to envision. If the circumstances of his theft awakened some shame within him, even though he obviously wasn’t able to move beyond himself enough to resist the temptation to steal, he is still in a far better place than the thief who feels no shame, who pays the heaviest fine of all.
What does this have to do with those of you who are neither thieves nor farmers?
IT should tell you that the world has spiritual ecology, and that everything that you are and everything that you have has is part of Hashem’s greater plan. As you head towards Adar and begin thinking of Purim, try to find the time to read through the megillah. If you can put yourself in the place of any of the main characters, Esther for instance, you will see that she always had enough spiritual sensitivity to recognize that there was a bigger picture. Otherwise she would have been content to be Miss Persia. She knew that there was a reason she was in the palace that was bigger than that.
Adar is almost here. It’s time to do battle against feeling the blahs. Recognize the gifts you have, see the Plan, and use a couple of minutes on Yom Kippur Katan to erase the nonsense that fogs up the screen.’