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Parshas Masei: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Parshas Masei: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Around this time last year, I traveled to North America to visit my family.   I had a really terrible trip, where 3 flights turned into 5 (plus a bus ride), with a 22-hour itinerary taking 80 hours to complete – no mean feat for a pregnant woman traveling alone with a toddler on her lap!

Akiva as he sat on one of our many flights last year, reading the safety information card

Akiva as he sat on one of our many flights last year, reading the safety information card

Looking back on that time, sadly, the difficult experience of getting to North America that eclipses the time spent there after arrival.  It is the crazy tale of my travels that my friends want to hear about – how did I survive 3 & 1/2 days of constant travel with a big belly and a squirming toddler?  What happened, exactly?  It was quite the saga.

This year, the journey (with an energetic toddler and a crawling lap infant) went much better, but when I see people, the question is the same.  ”How was the flight? How did you do it? You’re so brave to travel with the babies like that!”

So it is the journey to North America that people want to hear about, not the adventures in the countryside with family, not the swims in the lake, not the berry picking, not the art show along the boardwalk, not the sandcastles at the beach, not the playgrounds and petting zoos, not the big family dinners…

Which explains, perhaps, why this week’s parsha is called Masei, “the journeys of.”  It is not called “the destinations of.”  The focus is on the journeys themselves.  For it is not our arrival at the destination that changes us, it is the journey.  A journey challenges you, forces you to grow.  The Jews had to undergo 42 journeys, 42 unique periods of growth and transformation, in order to be spiritually ready to enter the land of Israel.

Similarly, we also must focus on our journeys.  Visiting family was nice, but was it truly a challenge (ok, maybe I should not answer that!)? Did it force me to grow as a person?  Or was it more of an opportunity to relax into myself, safe in the arms of those who love me as I am?

So let us continue on our life of journeys.  Let’s not stop for too long in any one station, but keep pushing ourselves to take the next step, to go even further.  Let’s all get up and grow!

Shabbat shalom!

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Parshas Mattos: Consequences Are Not Always Immediate

Parshas Mattos: Consequences Are Not Always Immediate

I remember calling my mother once.  My challah dough had not risen in my cold kitchen and Shabbos was fast approaching.  How, I asked her, could I get my dough to rise really fast?

My mother didn’t understand what the big deal was. “Why not just let it rise slowly? Will G-d really be so mad at you if you bake it on Shabbos? Do you really believe He’s going to strike you down with lightening?” Good question!

Most people today seem consumed with immediacy.  We strive for immediate gratification.  Given the choice between receiving $100 today or $240 in a year’s time, most people choose to get $100 today.  It’s part of our mentality.  It explains why we are so bad at saving for the future.  It feels so much better to spend today than to save for tomorrow.

G-d doesn’t work that way.  As we mentioned last week, G-d is outside of time.  For G-d, there is no past, present, or future.  So what makes us think that G-d has to punish us immediately? How is it a denial of the Torah’s divinity that G-d doesn’t strike us with lightening the moment we do something wrong?

In fact, even as humans we don’t work this way.  We rarely punish immediately.  Often as parents, we deliberately delay punishment to give children the chance to admit and apologize.  G-d does the exact same thing to us.  He waits and hopes that we will do teshuva and repent… but if we don’t, He has no choice but to punish us.

We see an instance of delayed punishment in this week’s parsha.  The tribe of Menashe is split in two.  The Midrash teaches that this is punishment for when Menashe hid Yosef’s goblet in Binyamin’s sack, causing the sons of Yaakov to tear their clothes.  Grief tears us apart and deliberately causing others grief is contrary to Jewish belief and Jewish law.  No matter how good the intentions, it is the actions that really count and Menashe’s actions result in a punishment eventually.

Just as punishments can be delayed, so too rewards.  So just as we must always keep in mind that negative behaviors might not be punished immediately, we must also rest assured that our rewards are waiting for us, too.

Shabbat shalom!

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Parshas Pinchas: Time Travel Teshuva

Parshas Pinchas: Time Travel Teshuva

We are currently traveling in the US and Canada to see our families.  It feels good to be back on the road again. It is a taste of the nomadic lifestyle we so love.  But there is one kind of travel you can do without ever leaving home: time travel.

No, we have not built a time machine! (Although sometimes having such a thing really would come in handy.)  Time in the physical world marches steadily forward and cannot be stopped.

But time in the spiritual realm is a different thing altogether.  G-d exists outside of time.  It is difficult for us to imagine, but for G-d there is no past, present, or future.  They are all the same thing.  That is how it is possible for G-d to know the “future” and yet we still have free will – for G-d knowing the future is the same as knowing the present or the past.  This means that in the spiritual realm time does not exist in the same way it exists in the physical world.  So even though time travel is impossible in the physical world, it is possible in the spiritual world!

We learn this from this week’s parsha.  In it there is a strange verse that says that Korach’s children didn’t die with everyone else.  And yet we read previously that Korach’s whole family was swallowed up by the earth.  What happened? What does it mean?  The Midrash teaches that Korach’s sons got to the entrance of Gehenom and wanted to sing praises to G-d but were unable to. When they found they could not sing, they started to think that maybe they had made a mistake in following their father.  Rashi explains that these thoughts of teshuva (repentance, return) were powerful enough that a niche opened up at the entrance of Gehenom and saved them.  At the very last possible moment Korach’s children felt true regret for what they had done and G-d accepted their teshuva.

You see, the Gemara teaches that teshuva is a powerful way of undergoing spiritual time travel.  Doing teshuva for something has the power to either erase it (so that in the spiritual world it never happened) or even to turn it into a mitzvah!

Amazingly this means that it is not too late to do teshuva.  It is easy to look at our lives and think of all the things we have done with despair.  Why start to keep kosher when we have a lifetime of shrimp and pork as black marks against us? Why start to keep Shabbat when we have such a long history of breaking it?  How can we ever overcome all the things we have done wrong? The answer is that teshuva can either erase or even reverse all of these things! Imagine, spiritually all that non-kosher food could become totally kosher!

But don’t wait to start doing teshuva.  Some people think that if they can get “credit” for doing mitzvot simply by doing teshuva, they might as well continue doing the wrong thing now and do teshuva later, after they have had their fun.  Unfortunately, we never know when our opportunity to do teshuva might expire.  For we can only do teshuva while we are living and once our time is up, our opportunity to do teshuva will be no more.  Korach’s children managed it at the very last second, but the others in their group did not.

Carpe diem! Seize the day! Seize your opportunity and do teshuva right away!

Enjoy your spiritual time travels!

Shabbat shalom!

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Parshas Balak: The Beauty and Modesty of the Jewish Home

Parshas Balak: The Beauty and Modesty of the Jewish Home

I hear it is said that most people do not get along with their in-laws.  I should consider myself very blessed, then, that I absolutely love my in-laws.  They are crazy and I love it.

The laws of yichud dictate when a man and a woman can be alone in a room.  Two men can be alone with one woman or three women with one man.  But the Talmud brings down something extremely interesting: two women can be alone with one man if those two women are sister-in-law.  The Talmud teaches that sisters-in-law are natural enemies.  I guess they haven’t met my sister-in-laws then!  Because mine are awesome.

So it is that we are currently traveling to Canada to meet Rabbi Ben’s family for the wedding of his younger sister Devora.  It is fitting, then, that this week’s parsha is full of curses-turned-blessings.  Just as my relationship with my sister-in-law is “naturally” a bad one, but instead is wonderful, so too, are Bilaam’s words turned backwards from natural curses to easy blessings.

And of course, one of the most famous lines in the Torah comes from his mouth. “How beautiful are your tents, Oh Jacob, your dwelling places, Oh Israel.”  We learn that this is because the Jewish tents were turned so the entrances faced away from each other.  The Jewish people are modest: we don’t go peeping into other peoples’ homes.

So, too, my sister-in-law Devora now will be forming her own Jewish home.  We learn that Jewish women are renowned for their modesty – indeed, that modesty sets the Jewish woman apart.  We are surrounded by the secular world, which venerates the exact opposite.  So Devora will now have the chance to build a beautiful, special, and precious new Jewish home, using this unique Jewish quality of tzniut.

At this time of her wedding, we give her a blessing that she should indeed have a home filled with spiritual beauty, modesty, and Jewish values.

Mazal tov!

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Camping on Shabbat a Book on, How to: Build an Eruv, Bake Bread, go to the Toilet, and More

Camping on Shabbat

A Practical Guide to Camping Over Shabbat.

Camping on Shabbat requires extra preparation and effort, but is not that difficult once you get the hang of it – and Shabbat can be a highly rewarding experience when spent in nature. This book will show you how to properly prepare so as to avoid any compromise on Shabbat observance, and enjoy the experience with full peace of mind.
Some of what you will find in this book:

> How to plan your sleeping, eating, washing, and toilet areas
> The basics of building an Eruv around a campsite
> Methods of baking bread in the outdoors
…And much more!

Available for purchase here https://www.createspace.com/4512825

 

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Parshas Chukas: The Fine Art of Persuasion

Parshas Chukas: The Fine Art of Persuasion

I once heard something that struck me as very wise: We all manipulate others; the only thing that changes is the method we use.  When we shout at someone in anger, we are trying to force them to yield to our will.  When we smile at or thank someone who does us a favor we are trying to encourage them to do more favors in the future.  When we ignore a certain person’s phone calls we are teaching them not to call anymore.  Our every little interaction with other people is a form of persuasion, whether we do it consciously or not.  As creatures of action and reaction, there is nothing we can do to stop it – even changing our behavior will change others’ reactions to us.

Thus it follows that persuasion is an art that is all-important in each and every one of our lives.  We all know someone who always seems to get their way with no effort.  And we all know someone who never gets what they want no matter how hard they try.  Some people are masters of persuasion, subtle and powerful, while others just seem to stumble and fall over their attempts to persuade.  Yet, persuasion is a skill that can be taught and honed.

The Torah demonstrates over and over again the different masters and methods of persuasion.  From Moshe (Moses) challenging Korach to a “competition” of offerings in last week’s parsha as a way to win over the Jews’ loyalty to Aaron’s feeble attempts to prevent the Jewish people from building the golden calf, persuasion (successful or not) is as ubiquitous in the Torah as it is in our everyday lives.

This week’s parsha teaches us an important lesson about persuasion.  Moshe is told by G-d to speak to the rock to get water to come from it, but instead he strikes it.  Yes, water comes from the rock when Moshe hits it, but the consequences are very serious: Moshe is forbidden from entering the land of Israel.

In our lives, we can use different methods to get what we want.  Like Moshe with the rock, we can beat and bully others into submission.  Or we can do what G-d commanded: speak and be subtle.  The Torah is coming to tell us this message: Persuade softly.

Yes, there is a time and a place for force.  Pharaoh refusing to free the slaves is subject to gruesome plagues.  Pinchas must slay Prince Zimri for his sexual offenses in order to cure the plague afflicting the Jews.  If there is a rockslide threatening, we may need to blow up the stones to save peoples’ lives.

But when the circumstances are not so dire, we must speak softly and persuade gently.  First Reuven and then Yehuda use words to persuade their brothers from killing Yosef (as his death was not yet imminent, it was not necessary to intervene with force).  Moshe must speak to the rock to get water, not hit it. If we want to grow vegetables, we must coax them from the land with time and care.

This week, try to develop a better awareness of the methods of persuasion you use most.  Are they too forceful for the situation or not forceful enough?  Perhaps we each, like Moshe, need to learn to speak to the rock rather than hitting it.

Shabbat shalom!

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Parshas Korach: Materialism?

Parshas Korach: Materialism?

Modern society places a strong emphasis on material goods.  We judge one another all too often by the car we drive, the house we live in, or the clothes we wear.  Some people cannot afford food, yet wear a Prada purse.

Many religions in the world repudiate materialism.  Many religions are ascetic in nature and exalt those individuals who can give up the most materialism.  Perhaps this is why Korach’s possessions are swallowed up when he sins? Perhaps Korach was too much of a materialist.

This cannot be the full explanation, however, because Judaism is not a religion that tells us to give up our material pleasures.  Instead, we are meant to uplift them and raise that which is “base” and physical to a higher, spiritual level.

The answer to the question lies in what Korach and his followers choose to offer up to G-d: incense.  Incense is an offering that is purely spiritual.  Unlike meat or other food offerings, where ultimately much of the offering is eaten, incense leaves nothing behind.  Korach and his followers were upset because they wanted to be priests so that, like the incense, they could live an almost completely spiritual life and be close to G-d at all times.  Yet, G-d rejected their offering. And then swallowed up Korach’s possessions.  It seems like a contradiction: I don’t want the spiritual and I don’t want the physical, either!

In part perhaps G-d was highlighting Korach’s hypocrisy.  He wanted to live in the spiritual world but he just couldn’t let go of the physical.

But much more than that, it seems likely that G-d was just trying to teach a lesson about the nature of materialism.  Material goods must be used in the right way.  They are neither to be adulated nor eliminated, but rather elevated.  By making an incense offering, Korach was advocating the elimination of the physical goods he was privately adulating, when in reality he should have been elevating those selfsame physical goods to a higher spiritual level.

This is what we, too, can do in our own lives.  We can elevate our physical possessions by using them in the right way.  Use candles for lighting on Friday nights. Use tables for Shabbat dinners.  Use spare beds for hosting guests.  Use cars for visiting the sick or elderly.  Every physical possession we have can be elevated in some way.

Shabbat shalom!

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