Thursday, June 25, 2020

SEASONED LEADERS

Our Parsha describes how Korach, a descendent of Levi, challenged the authority of Moshe Rabbeinu.  Specifically, he questioned Moshe’s appointment of his brother Aharon as the Kohen Gadol.

To counter the accusation, Moshe prays that Hashem send a clear message to the entire nation and that Korach not be allowed to succeed in his sinister plot.

After fulfilling Moshe’s request, Hashem proceeds to reaffirm Aharon’s appointment and to delineate the various priestly gifts to which he, and his descendents, will be entitled.  

This arrangement is referred to by the Torah as “ברית מלח עולם”, (an eternal covenant of salt).  Rashi explains that just as salt never spoils, similarly, the covenant between Hashem and Aharon will never expire.

The NETZI”V, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, offers an additional significance to this reference - just as salt is used to improve the taste of food, but, if it is used in incorrect proportions it can spoil the food.  The same can be said of the responsibility and authority of Aharon’s lofty status.  As a leader, Aharon has the ability to raise the people to great spiritual heights.  If, however, these gifts are exploited or abused, they can ruin the people, just as too much salt will ruin the meal.

We each have aspects of our lives that will put us in a leadership role.  This may be as employers, parents and confidants or as organizational leaders.  In each of these, we have the power to influence and create.  The advice or direction that we dictate can shape the future for an individual or for a group.  It is vital that we learn  from  the  mistake  of Korach and from the successes of Aharon, to apply ourselves fully and unselfishly in our responsibility to those who rely upon us.  Just as a master chef is able to combine the perfect balance of flavors to create a masterpiece, so does the seasoned leader know to measure the perfect balance of patience, wisdom and compassion. 


Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, June 12, 2020

NO SMALL DEAL

Hashem has Moshe instruct Aharon, his brother, in the daily procedure of preparing and lighting the lamps of the Menorah.  The very next verse reads “ויעש כן אהרן”, (and Aharon did so).  Rashi explains that the Torah is praising Aharon for his precision in carrying out Hashem’s command without variance. 
The obvious question is, why would it be a surprise that Aharon would dutifully carry out his responsibilities in the service of Hashem?  Why would the Torah write an entire verse to confirm what no one would ever doubt?  

The Alter of Kelm offers a deeper understanding to shed light on this seemingly superfluous verse.  One might suggest that for Aharon, who was the Kohen Gadol, the “highest ranking official” in the service of Hashem, the menial task of preparing the lamps of the Menorah would be viewed as beneath him.  After all, it was Aharon who would enter the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to offer the special incense service and to atone for the entire nation.  

The preparation of the Menorah, on the other hand, was merely twisting some cotton into wicks and could be performed by anyone, even a non-Kohen!  

Nevertheless, the Torah informs us, Aharon carried out this task with the same level of energy and enthusiasm that he invested in any Avodah (service). 

Sometimes, we have the tendency to “rate” the perceived importance of one Mitzvah against another. 

The message to learn from Aharon is that there are no minor tasks in the service of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, June 5, 2020

MUSIC TO HIS EARS

Our parsha begins by enumerating the Levite Families and describing their responsibilities in the Mishkan.  As the Torah summarizes the final count, the Leviim are described as those “who come to do the work of service”, (כל הבא לעבד עבדת עבדה).  The term “work of service” is certainly ambiguous and Rashi explains it as a reference to the vocal and instrumental musical accompaniment of the Leviim.  These are the special songs that they would sing as the Kohanim performed the service.

In light of this explanation, some commentators question how music and song can be referred to by the Torah as work!  Rabbi Shaul Nathanson answers that any component of a Mitzvah, even if we see it as a minor detail, is still seen in the eyes of Hashem as a worthy service.  The songs of joy that serenade the daily sacrificial service are as integral to the Mitzvah as the Altar itself.

Taking this idea one step further, Rabbi Nathanson concludes, we tend to classify the importance of a particular Mitzvah by how difficult it is to perform.  In fact, the level of difficulty is not nearly as important as a person’s motivation and enthusiasm to follow the will of Hashem.  

When we view our relationship with Hashem not as a burden, but as a privilege, and when we perform Mitzvos with joy and zeal, it is truly music to Hashem’s ears.

 

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Don Pacht

Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Heart of the Matter

Last week’s Parasha, Bamidbar began with a count of the Jewish people, followed by a separate count of the tribe of Levi.  The Torah then goes on to explain the groupings of the tribes and the specifics of their encampments as they traveled together through the wilderness.  

After describing the location of each tribe in the formation, the Torah states:
"ונסע אהל מועד בתוך המחנה"
(The tent of meeting...shall travel in the middle of the camps)  

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein comments on the significance of the placement of the Tabernacle, which houses the Aron Kodesh (The Holy Ark), containing the Luchot, in the center of the nation's encampment.  Rabbi Feinstein explains that the Torah must be located at an equal distance to each tribe, no closer to one than another, and likens it to the human heart that is centrally located in the body.  

This statement provides two insights into each individual's relationship to the Torah.  Firstly, like the heart that provides life-sustaining oxygen to all of the limbs and organs in the human body, so too does the Torah provide the spiritual sustenance that, as Jews, we cannot live without.

Secondly, the Aron Kodesh was placed in the center of the camp to symbolize that the Torah is available and accessible to everyone.  No one individual has more of a claim to the Torah and its eternal heritage than any other Jew. It is our equal share in the strength of the Torah that unites us all as a nation.
            
As we celebrate Shvauot, the anniversary of the revelation at Sinai, when the entire nation encamped as "one man with one heart," this lesson is most poignant.  We each have an equal share in our precious heritage and we each need the Torah to live and grow as Jews. It is our responsibility to utilize the Torah ourselves and to share it with the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, May 15, 2020

WHO NEEDS THIS?

Following a list of Mitzvot that apply to the Kohanim as they perform the Temple service, the Torah delineates the guidelines that must be adhered to for individual sacrifices.  The Torah tells us that when one brings a Korban, 
he should do so with the following in mind;
 לרצנכם תזבחו
(for you shall you offer it).
The intent of this directive, as explained by Rashi, is that by following the proper procedure for a kosher korban, this sacrifice will find favor for its owner in the eyes of Hashem. 

The Talmud in Menachot however, offers another insight based on the literal meaning of the words.  Do not think that the purpose of the offerings is so that Hashem will have many gifts.  Does the One whose utterances created the heavens and the earth really need our gift?  
Rather, the Korbanot are a way for us to connect with, and bring ourselves closer to, Hashem.  They are for our own benefit, not for the benefit of Hashem.  

The same can be said for Tefilah (Prayer), which in the absence of a Temple takes the place of the regular offerings.  Hashem does not need our blessings and prayers.  We pray daily to thank Hashem for the kindnesses he bestows upon us, and to create and maintain a close relationship with our Creator.  We are incredibly fortunate to have such an avenue available to us and it is our responsibility to maintain it properly.  If we Daven by rote, with no consideration or feeling, then we are allowing that special closeness to atrophy. 

As we read the words of the Tefilot, it behooves us to consider who really stands to gain.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi Don Pacht