Friday, March 27, 2020

To Each His Own

The Book of Vayikra (Leviticus), deals primarily with the service of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), and the many details of the Korbanot (sacrificial service). While many of the Korbanot were brought due to obligation (i.e. to repent for committing a sin, or for the observance of a particular Chag), there is a category discussed early in this week's Parsha, that of the Korban Nedava ("free-will" offering, brought in thanks or appreciation to Hashem).

Typically a 'fire-offering' that was entirely consumed by the flame of the Altar, the Torah describes three different options: an animal (sheep or goat), a bird (turtledove of young dove) or a meal-offering (fine flour, oil and frankincense). The closing statement of each of these descriptions is
"אשה ריח ניחח לה׳" (a fire-offering, a satisfying aroma to Hashem).

It is strange for the (typically concise) Torah to repeat the same phrase three times, when it could have easily stated it only once at the conclusion of the entire section.

The very last Mishna in Tractate Menachot sheds light on the Torah's message. The Talmud explains that the three options for the free-will offering were influenced by ones financial means. A wealthy individual would bring a sheep or a goat, the poor person could 

often afford only flour and a bit of oil. Nevertheless, concludes the Mishnah, "אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוון לבו לשמים" (whether one gives a lot or a little [his gift will be equally pleasing to Hashem] provided he directs his heart towards his Father in heaven).

Our sages point out, that this description is most instructive for the man of means. After all, if a poor man brings a bit of flour, what other motive could he have other than to express his thanks to his Creator? The man of means, however, may see this as an opportunity to flaunt his wealth and, under a guise of piety, 'one-up' his neighbour with a more impressive gift.

This 'pitfall' can manifest in so many areas of our Torah observance. It behooves, therefore, to remember that our ultimate goal in the observance of the commandments of the Torah is to fulfil the word of Hashem, not to impress our friends.

This message takes on an additional layer of meaning in our current, most-unusual, circumstances.  Synagogues are closed, there are no in-person classes and Prayer and Torah study have fallen to the individual.  Those aspects of communal life that framed our days and our weeks are no longer available. We all find ourselves “making Shabbat for ourselves…”.  This new challenge is also an opportunity.  We have no distractions or external motivations, our prayers are as pure as we want them to be.


Let us all use this opportunity to connect with HaShem, as never before.  Even alone in our homes, we can raise our voices in prayer (on behalf of the congregation), and study Torah in the merit of those who are in need.

With the proper intent in our actions, regardless of our level of scholarship, wealth or means, we can all be pleasing to Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, March 20, 2020

Under the Influence




After gaining atonement for the Jewish people over the sin of the golden calf, Moshe gathers the nation to instruct them on the construction of the Mishkan. This "House of Hashem" would bring the Shechina (G-d's presence), back into their midst. The people received Moshe's directions and immediately went about the business of putting Moshe's words into action.

The Torah says, " וַיֵּצְאוּ כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מִלִּפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה", (And the assembly of Israel left Moses' presence). It seems quite strange that the Torah should need to explain that the people left "Moses' presence," since we already know that he had gathered them together; it would stand to reason that it is from there that they departed.
Reb Elya Lopian explains the message that the Torah wishes to convey.
It was obvious to any who saw the people that they came from the presence of the greatest prophet who ever lived, as the places we frequent and the company we keep have a very measurable impact upon us. 

The radiance of purity and holiness on the faces of the people, the alacrity with which they engaged in the Mitzvah of building the Mishkan made it obvious to all that they had just come from the tent of Moshe himself.

Unfortunately, inappropriate influences can also leave their undesirable mark. It is for this reason that the Torah stresses the importance of exercising care in choosing what we allow into our circle of influence.

The concept of "wearing ones ideals" is another manifestation of allowing ones inner morals and principles to show through. Just as the very sight of the Jewish people conveyed their great sense of inspiration and enthusiasm to perform the will of Hashem, so should our every action and interaction communicate our morals and values.

Our global community is currently experiencing an unprecedented circumstance.  With many schools and businesses closed due to the COVID-19 virus, parents and children are navigating a new layer of their relationship.  While schools are working to ‘flip’ the classroom and provide varying degrees of remote instruction, it is the parents who are, once again, on the front lines of their child’s engagement.

This is an opportunity to allow those ideals to shine through and impress upon our children what is most valuable to us.  What will their take-away be when they walk away from this experience?  What will be the look on their faces?  Will we, as parents, inspire our children to face adversity with resilience, humor and class?  Or will they build their vocabulary of words that express frustration and impatience? 

Like every challenge that Hashem places before us, He knows that we have the tools and ability to rise above the adversity and grow from the experience.  If we do, we will help our children build their skill set and resilience.  They, and we, will come away noticeably stronger and a better version of ourselves. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, March 13, 2020

The Sum of its Parts


Parshat Ki Sisa begins with a discussion of the national census of the Jewish people.  Each individual was to contribute a half shekel. The money would then be totaled to determine the number of Jews, and the funds collected would later be used towards the upkeep of the Mishkan.  

Many commentators question why Hashem selected a partial value to represent each person as opposed to a whole shekel or other coin.  The answer of the CHID”A sheds light on a powerful Torah concept.  
He explains as follows: the strength of the Jewish people lies not in the individual but in the collective B’nei Yisroel.  We each possess talents and skills that may appear to stand-alone but, in truth, it is our role as a member of the community of Israel that truly defines us.

As we approach the Yom Tov of Pesach, on which we study, commemorate and celebrate the exodus from Egypt and our transition from a family of slaves into the Nation Am Yisroel, it behooves us to consider our strength as a people as we work together towards the final redemption.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, February 28, 2020

GIVE AND TAKE

Parashat Terumah kicks off the most successful Capital Campaign in Jewish history!  After hearing of the plans to build a Mishkan (Tabernacle) a home for Hashem’s presence to dwell among the people, the Jewish Nation responded with an overwhelming outpouring of gifts.  They brought precious stones and metals, wood, wool and all sorts of materials.  So many gifts came forth, that Moshe had to ask the people to stop!

The Parasha begins with Hashem’s call to action:
דבר אל בני ישראל ויקחו לי תרומה
(speak to the Children of Israel and take to me a portion)

It does not require the acumen of a grammar expert to notice that the Torah employs, what appears to be, the wrong verb.  The Jewish people are not being asked to ‘take’ gifts, but to ‘give’ them.  We certainly have a Hebrew word that means ‘give, why not use it?

Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains the apparent discrepancy in vocabulary and, thereby, sheds light on a fundamental principle of Tzedakah (charity).
On an intellectual level, we all understand that, like everything in this life, wealth is only temporary.  When we leave this world (after 120 years), all that we have amassed in our lifetimes will be left behind.  The only assets that we take with us are the reward for the Mitzvot we have performed in our lifetimes.

This, concludes Rabbi Soloveitchik, explains the Torah’s word choice; while a person may spend an entire lifetime amassing cash and treasure, the only think he can actually ‘take’ for himself is that which he ‘gives’ to others.  The commandment then, is to ‘take’ a portion for Hashem.  The only portion that we can ultimately claim as our own.

As our sages have said “more than what the donor gives to the poor, is what the poor gives to the donor.  An opportunity to accumulate that which is truly valuable-Mitzvot!”

As we enter the month of Adar and the season of Purim (a Holiday that has several components that focus on sharing with others), let us keep this philosophy in mind as we help ourselves by helping others.

Shabbat Shalom,                 

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, February 21, 2020

Reasoning and Seasoning

"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם",
(And these are the judgments that you shall place before them).

With this statement the Torah introduces a lengthy discussion of Mitzvot related to civil law.  Rashi explains the Torah’s choice of words, “that you shall place before them” as follows:  Hashem is communicating to Moshe, that it is not enough to teach the laws as raw facts and just have the people memorize them.  Rather, the reasons for the Mitzvot and their underlying principles shall be set out “…like a table that is set and prepared to be eaten from is placed before a person”, (Rashi 21:1).   

The Torah realizes that an understanding and appreciation of the reasoning behind each Mitzvah will lead to a stronger commitment to them.

The Bais HaLevi offers a deeper level of understanding, based on the analogy put forth by Rashi.  He notes that the Hebrew word for “Reason” (i.e. טעם), can also mean “taste” or “flavor”.  The Bais HaLevi suggests that it is not even enough to offer the Mitzvah along with its purpose, but we must also offer an insight into the beauty and נועם, (pleasantness) of Hashem’s Torah and its laws.  

This vital message is conveyed not only at the instructional level, but more importantly through the attitude with which we ourselves perform the Mitzvot.  As parents and as educators, we have a responsibility to convey, not just the reason behind our actions, but an appreciation for the beauty for our precious heritage.  Armed with these, our children will be well-equipped to carry on their legacy.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, February 14, 2020

BOOTS ON THE GROUND

The first words of our Parasha are “וישמע יתרו”, “and Yitro (the father-in-law of Moshe) heard”.  Our sages explain that, after having heard of all the miracles that HaShem performed for the Jewish People both in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, he came to join their ranks.  Upon his arrival Moshe shares the stories of their experiences.  Yitro is so moved by the narrative that he exclaims “ברוך ה׳ אשר הציל אתכם...” blessed is HaShem who has saved you form the hand of Egypt and the hand of Pharoah”!

This is a rather surprising reaction.  It would seem that, until now, Yitro was unaware of HaShem’s power and greatness.  That je is only hearing of these events for the first time.  Why else who he be so moved and offer such a grand expression?  This cannot be true, however.  The very first words of the Parasha testify that Yitro had already heard of these exploits.  In fact, it was the impact of this revelation that led him on a spiritual journey (literally and figuratively), to join the Jewish People!

Rabbi Yaakov Naiman explains that when one hears information from ‘the source’ its impact will always be greater.  While Yitro may have ‘heard through the grapevine’ of all the wonders that occurred in Egypt, nothing could have matched the passion and enthusiasm of Moshe’s re-telling as he had seen it first hand.
Hearing Moshe’s emotional recount moved Yitro in a way that previous narrations could not.  Only hearing it directly from Moshe, an eye-witness, inspired Yitro’s word of blessing and praise.

Sometimes, we feel that we have ‘heard all about it’ and that we know all we need to know about a person, event or place.  The Torah teaches us here that we really need to see or hear for ourselves, get our own boots on the ground and feel the full impact of the experience.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, February 7, 2020

MISSION DRIVEN

After generations of slavery in Egypt, indescribable suffering and backbreaking labor, the Jewish Nation was finally set free!  The beginning of this week’s Parasha describes the first tentative steps that the people took as they travelled forth into the barren wilderness with only their faith in Hashem and his prophet Moshe to guide them.
In fact, the Torah makes specific mention of the miraculous method that Hashem devised to show them the way forward:

וה׳ הלך לפניהם יומם בעמוד ענן לנחתם הדרך, ולילה בעמוד אש להאיר להם, ללכת יומם ולילה
“And HaShem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to show the way, and at night in a pillar of fire to illuminate for them, to travel day and night.

The 13th Century sage, Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher, notes the peculiarity of this sentence.  It is quite odd for people to travel both by day and night, without time to rest.  Rabbeinu Bachya explains that due to their strong desire to reach Mount Sinai and to receive Hashem’s precious Torah, they insisted on travelling without interruption.  Their drive to solidify this special relationship and to realize the purpose of creation kept up their strength day and day and night after night, with only minimal rest.

Perhaps it was this very display of love for HaShem and His Torah that they were provided with this additional miracle of the pillar of fire.  Now, they could continue unimpeded on their illustrious mission.

This provides a lesson and paradigm for us to follow.  When we align our mission with HaShem’s, and display this heightened level of vigor and drive, HaShem is prepared to do His part in supporting the success of our mission.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht