The good news! Rabbi Smith’s daughter, Gitty is getting married today. Full details in next letter.
I have a terrible habit of reading the last chapter of a book when I just begin to get into the plot. The Torah, which begins with the words, “In the beginning” ends with the word, “Yisrael”. Doesn’t that tell you so much of a story that has infinite depth and possibility? The Book of Shmos (Exodus) is coming to a conclusion. It begins with the words, “And these are the names of the Children of Israel”, and ends with the words, “In all their journeys”. It’s often called the Book of Redemption. The reason is that it narrates the enslavement in Egypt, the liberation, Hashem’s giving us the Torah and His letting His presence dwell with us even after the sin of the golden calf in the sanctuary that he taught us how to build for Him.
Maharal tells you what that Big Word redemption really means. It means being able to return to who you really are. There are so many ways to be out of touch. Much as Chekov said, all good families are similar, but all bad families are unique, each one of us experiences his own brand of exile from his real and essential self. The last Parshah concludes all of the details involved in building the sanctuary. From the very beginning, the job went far beyond building a place of worship or a center of Jewish life and community, which is what the word sanctuary conveys to so many of us. The Torah tells us, “Build me a sanctuary and I will live in you”, not just in it, but in every one of us.
In my heart I will build a sanctuary
To His splendor and glory
And in the sanctuary, I will place an alter dedicated to the rays of His grandeur
I will take the fire of Yitzchak’s binding (the Akedah, when Avraham was tested to see if he would offer his only son,) as my eternal light
And as a sacrifice I will bring my unique soul
These words, inspired by a poem written century ago by R. Eliezer Azkiri and turned into its present modern form by Rav Yizchak Hutner zatzal, give you a glimpse into the hidden place in you that is really not in exile.
Rambam talks about how you can take life as you live it and make it part of the sanctuary that you want to build. He talks about real issues, food, sleep, employment, marriage, and does so without flinching. He doesn’t idealize somehow transcending physical needs and pleasures. In fact, he says that having a desire to hide from the physical world is escapist and unreal. The key to not letting the physical world bury your soul is bringing Hashem with you on your journey, your day to day reality as you live your life. Let’s start with food (don’t we always?)
“The key to healthful eating is to let your body inform you when to feed it. Don’t eat when you aren’t hungry. Leave the table before you are satiated” If you live on a different planet than the one that I do, you may be wondering why on earth someone would eat if they are not hungry. Let me clue you in. People eat because they think food wiill solve the boredom problem, the “no one loves me enough to nurture me” problem and (as was stated in a Yale University a paper on obesity in 2013, there is a connection between overeating (especially food high in carbs, fats, and sugar) and what they call reward circuitry). In simpler language, it means that food tastes good. Now you know why the line at ‘Katzefet’ is longer than the line in the health food store. You can get so deeply involved in what you eat, that it becomes the only pleasure that you have a more-than-nodding- acquaintence with. Don’t deny yourself tasty food. Just let your body determine how much and when, so that it doesn’t take over your life. Choose what is healthy, so that you are being good to your body. He also points out that eating food that is difficult to digest puts tremendous stress on your body. Your intention should be to eat so that you can live your life with vigor, rather than let it degrade your body so that the opposite takes place.
The same thing holds true for sleep; don’t resist the Plan - it includes sleep! On the other hand, don’t sleep to avoid life.
It’s impossible to imagine Rambam taking time off to belong to a gym. He believed in using your body and avoiding the fate of being a couch potato. Again, his purpose was to see that you value your body, use it well, and treat it kindly so that it’s there to give your soul a way to bring its light and its message to the real world.
Most of you who read this have (gulp) real world jobs. They can consume you, deplete you of your ambitions that go beyond status and cash. They can rob you of your time and of your peace of mind. They can replace family and friends. They can recreate your identity so that your sense of self is tied in with the success of your contribution at work.
Working can be a way to contribute meaningfully to the world around you by providing it with a living model of integrity, of compassion and responsibility finding a place in the same heart. Working can help you become the person you want to be by bringing your beliefs and personality to the places that are dark and desperately need a ray or two of light. Your work can be the means by which you connect to your family by being a giver just as legitimately as you would be if you made a birthday cake for each family member on his or her birthday. As the Baal Shem Tov would say, you are where your thoughts are. Everything depends on whether you are living purposefully, as a giver and as a servant of Hashem, or as an isolated taker in a dark grey world.
Years ago, when I lived in a moshav in the North, my neighbor was a woman whose husband brought in enough money as a truck driver to keep them alive, but not much more. Periodically (when it was, for instance, close to the beginning of the school year and the kids wanted new clothes and nice school supplies), she would take the bus to Akko, the nearest city to our moshav. She would, knock on doors in the “better” neighborhood and offer her services as a cleaning lady. She was clean, fast, and had no trouble finding work. Once, when I was in her house minding the fort until she returned, she taught me a lesson I never forgot. She came in holding a huge basket of fruit and veges that she picked up at Akko’s shuk. “Who did I get it if for? Just for you?” she asked her little folks who populated her kingdom. They divvied up the grapes, almost immediately, washed them and sat down with her for a fruit feast. It brought back another memory that was so much the same, that the difference between them faded into nothingness. Another friend, who is very successful financially sat with her kids exploring tzedakah “You choose the ones you like the best. That’s your treat for Purim”. The same look was on their faces. The look that people have when they feel love, and that they know that the one who gave it is close to the One who gave her the means to give it so generously.
Have a wonderful chodesh!