Thursday, May 30, 2013

Parshas Shelach - The Sin of the Spies

Parshas Shelach is a pretty famous chapter, most well known for the sin of the spies, which resulted in the Jewish People wandering in the desert for the next 40 years.

Let's recap the narrative here. The Jewish People are at the edge of the Land of Israel, about to enter. G-d tells Moshe that he can send spies to go into the Land and see what the situation is. The 12 spies go into the Land, take a look around and come back with a report. 10 came back with a negative report, 2 - Yehoshua (Joshua) and Calev (Caleb) came back with a positive report.

As the 10 spies were relating to the People what they had seen, they said something that I find fascinating. "We cannot ascend to that people for it is too strong for us (Numbers 13:31) ...we were like grasshoppers in our eyes, and so we were in their eyes." (Numbers 13:33)

Remember that these were the people who saw G-d destroy the Egyptians, take them out of Egypt, split the sea, pass them through the sea on dry land, feed them supernaturally with the mannah, and give them the Torah. How is it possible that they don't think that G-d will help them conquer the Land of Israel?

I think that the key is found in the statement: "...we were like grasshoppers in our eyes..." In other words, they had such "small" image of themselves that they assumed they would not be able to do what was asked of them, namely to conquer the Land. It seems that this bad self-image was enough to negate the amazing things that they saw.

I think that there's a lot to be learned from this episode in our history. Self-image is nothing to be sneezed at, and perhaps we have to think about how a self-image is formed. Self-image is created through accomplishment. People feel good about things they have done themselves. Small children beg to do the smallest things "themselves" without help. Adults feel good when they check off things on their 'to do' lists. It's a feeling of accomplishment. These Jews had everything taken care of for them even before they left Egypt.

In Egypt we were slaves, which means our basic needs were taken care of. When G-d took us out of Egypt to be His People, it was G-d who took care of everything. As much as the time in the desert was spent well and necessary learning Torah and becoming a Nation - we never had a chance to create a sense of accomplishment for ourselves.  As a result, when we were asked to spy out the Land - we weren't able to see ourselves as capable of doing what was asked of us - we were "small" in our own eyes.

There are many commentaries on why the spies came back with a bad report about the Land. One of the main ones argues that the reason why they did come back with such a report was because they had been living a purely spiritual existence in the desert and they did not want to give that up when they would enter the Land. They were to become workers of the Land and do things in a natural way versus the supernatural way that things were up until that time - they weren't ready to let that go.

This week's parsha also includes other mitzvot - my favorite, Shabbos and others.

Shabbat Shalom. Good Shabbos.

Make sure to print these dvar Torahs out before Shabbos so you can read them on Shabbos!

Chief Rabbi Sacks Dvar Torah
The Generation Gap -

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Putting Technology to Good Use

I think this is great. Using technology as a tool to make our lives better is certainly what it should be used for.

Rabbi Using Google Glass To Bring Jews Closer to Religious Roots

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Cairo Geniza Jigsaw Puzzle

I came across this article in The New York Times about putting computers to work assembling the scraps that have come out of the Cairo geniza.
The idea is to harness technology to help reassemble more than 100,000 document fragments collected across 1,000 years that reveal details of Jewish life along the Mediterranean, including marriage, medicine and mysticism. For decades, scholars relied mainly on memory to match up pieces of the Cairo genizah, a treasure trove of papers that include works by the rabbinical scholar Maimonides, parts of Torah scrolls and prayer books, reams of poetry and personal letters, contracts, and court documents, even recipes (there is a particularly vile one for honey-wine).
Fascinating read.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Good News to Share

It's really nice to see different organizations work together.

The Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma, which is on the ground organizing relief efforts for the communities hit hard by last week’s devastating tornado, has received $15,000 in disaster-relief funds from the Orthodox Union. The funds were received just before the Jewish Sabbath, and are being distributed over the Memorial Day weekend and throughout the week. 
“On behalf of those here in Oklahoma who will receive this help, my thanks go to all of the OU members and friends who were so generous in a time of real need,” said Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, director of the Chabad center, who said the money will be used for store gift cards and cash relief to area residents whose homes were destroyed.
It's so easy to see what makes us different from each other... but we must take the time to find what we have in common. This is easy to do when there's a crisis, but we have to do this on an everyday basis.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Parshas Beha'aloscha

Reading through the chapter it seems that there are many different topics covered starting with the lighting of the Tabernacle (the traveling Temple in the desert) menorah. Then...

* the consecration of the Levites to their work in the Tabernacle,
* pesach sheini, a second passover offering for those who were unable to offer the first,
* in daytime the Tabernacle would be covered by a cloud and at night the appearance of fire,
* when the cloud was lifted, the Israelites would travel - otherwise, they would stay camped,
* the making and use of two silver trumpets,
* the order of the 12 Tribes when traveling,
* Moshe (Moses) offers his father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro), the opportunity to travel with them to the Land of Israel -- Yitro declines,
* The famous statement that we say/sing when the Torah is taken out of the ark to be read - Vayehi Beensoa Ha'aron Vayomer Moshe... "When the Ark would journey, Moses said, "Arise, G-d, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You."
* complaints from the people for meat,
* creation of the first Sanhedrin, 70 men taken from the elders of Israel, they will help Moshe in leading the Jewish People,
* G-d gives the people more meat than they know what to do with,
* Aaron and Miriam (brother and sister of Moses) speak against Moshe not living with his wife - instigated by Miriam... she gets leprosy even though she was speaking privately with Aaron - it's a serious reminder not to speak ill of others.

What a busy chapter. What strikes me here is how careful we must be with our words. Even when we think we know all the circumstances of a situation - we really truly don't, especially when it doesn't involve us.  It is impossible for us to make a true judgement when we don't have all the facts at hand. We assume that public figures are an open target for criticism - the Torah teaches us that it isn't true. Everyone from the greatest figures to the seemingly 'smallest' among us should be given the benefit of the doubt.

I'm including here Chief Rabbi Sacks from the UK. I always enjoy what he has to say. Print it off and read it over Shabbos. Definitely worth reading.

Good Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jumpstarting My Jewish Life

It's very easy to be comfortable in our lives, which I don't necessarily think is a bad thing - but it certainly makes us complacent. Why struggle, why grow if you don't feel you need to?

The quote I keep at the top of the page, that I've taken from the prayer book, is one that I feel speaks to me.
"Open my heart to your Torah, and let my soul eagerly pursue Your commandments."
Essentially we are asking for G-d's Help in being Jewish. Sometimes we need a helping hand, inspiration, something to give us the push to do more... or even think about starting... or re-starting our Jewish lives.

We just celebrated the holiday of Shavuot, I think the most important holiday of the Jewish year, where we commemorate the receiving of the Torah. The only time in history where an entire nation can claim that they heard the Word of G-d themselves. Every other religion finds its beginnings in one man claiming that he heard the word and is sharing it with others who didn't. Truly amazing.

I am going to try to use this special holiday to jumpstart my own Jewish life. I have a goal this year (I'm not promising, but I'm going to try) to read the entire Torah (one chapter each week) and write a short dvar Torah about something in each chapter that I find interesting. Truthfully, I've never read the entire 5 Books, although many times I've started and stopped. With G-d's Help I hope to accomplish my goal.

I'm doing this in the name of all the people out there who need Help from Above - whether it be health, a job or something else - we should see all our prayers be answered quickly with revealed Good.

If for some reason I am not able to write something, I will try to post a dvar Torah written by another person that I enjoyed.

A note to all: I am not a rabbi. I am not a rebbitzen. I am doing this as a way to focus, to push myself forward, to learn more, to do more. Please feel free to contribute. If you find a dvar Torah you found interesting -- or have a comment, please go ahead and share with us.

I hope that with G-d's Help we can complete this project. Thank you for all your help!