Friday, February 16, 2018

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 9, 2018

Mightier than the Sword

Following the revelation at Har Sinai and the Jewish Nation’s commitment to obey the commandments of Hashem, the Torah begins to list various laws.  Many deal with civil law such as damages, theft and fines.  Others are spiritual laws such as Shabbat, the Chagim (Holidays) and not to engage in idol worship.

A number of the laws listed share one common denominator; they are sins that can be committed with words alone.  Examples include the sin of Lashon Hara (hurtful speech), to blaspheme Hashem or to curse a parent and, of course, not to lie. Our sages point out that these types of sins are especially dangerous because it is so easy to cause so much damage. 

A quick study of the laws of Lashon Harah, will reveal the seriousness with which the Torah treats this area.  And rightfully so.  A few words, spoken in passing, can create hurt and strife and can lead to serious financial loss.  Imagine the impact to a business, if it was suggested that the owner is not 100% honest. 

The ease with which one can commit such an act is what makes them so dangerous.  Very few people would see themselves capable of raising a hand against another to cause harm.  But how often do we make disparaging comments that cause more damage than a few days healing can fix?

The Vilna Gaon explains that the punishment for cursing someone is worse than that for causing actual physical harm because a physical wound will heal in time, but emotional hurt can stay with a person forever.

When the Torah exhorts us not to tell a lie it uses a very interesting expression, “מדבר שקר תרחק”, distance yourself from a false word.  The Gerrer Rebbe notes that the Torah does not normally distance us from an action but it tells us simply not to perform the act. The Rabbis may then institute rules and safeguards to keep us from falling into potential snares.  Yet here, it is the Torah itself creating the barrier. 

This again is an indication of the seriousness of such transgressions and how easily they can be committed.  It is our responsibility to follow the Torah’s lead and distance ourselves from the evils of improper and hurtful speech.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, February 2, 2018

In General

This week we will read of the Revelation at Har Sinai (Mount Sanai), and of the giving of the Ten Commandments.  This moment is, without question, the most important moment in Jewish history.  This moment marks the realization of Hashem’s long-term plan, and the culmination of the creation of the world.  In fact, the very purpose for the creation of the world.

It is interesting therefore, when contemplating these specific commandments, to note that not all of these Mitzvot would necessarily be categorized as the most significant that the Torah puts forth.  If we use the Torah’s justice system, and measure a particular Mitzvah’s significance based on reward or penalty for violation, then several of these ten Mitzvot certainly do not measure up.  Why then are these Ten Commandments singled out above the 603 others?

Our Sages tell us that while each of these ten may not stand out among the Torah’s other commandments, they were selected as a group to represent all 613 Mitzvot.  Each of these ten is based on a specific Torah ideal, philosophy or concept.  Thus the Aseret Hadibrot (10 commandments), are not only ten individual Mitzvot, but also ten categories.  Each of the remaining 603 Mitzvos will fit into one of these categories. 

While we know that following the revelation the Jewish People spent many months learning the particulars and details of all of the Mitzvot, the ideal and values that they represent were conveyed in one cataclysmic moment.

Therefore, when we stand to hear the Aseret Hadibrot, it is not just a reverence for these ten laws, but an opportunity to express a renewal of our appreciation of the truth and beauty of the Torah and all its Mitzvot and our commitment to keep them.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht