Friday, December 6, 2019

Effortless Faith

Yaakov is forced to flee from his parent’s home.  On his way to Haran he stops to spend the night.  As he prepares to retire for the evening the Torah records his preparations, 
"ויקח מאבני המקום וישם מראשתיו"
(he took from the stones of the place and he put them around his head).  
Rashi explains that Yaakov constructed this barrier to protect him from dangerous animals.  

The Elder of Kelm, (not to be confused with the Elder of Chelm) asks an obvious question.  If Yaakov was indeed concerned with the possibility of being attacked by wild animals, why did he take steps to protect only his head while leaving the rest of his body vulnerable?  
The Elder answers that Yaakov understood clearly that his protection comes only from Hashem, and that no amount of preventative maintenance would protect him from a determined fate.  Still, Yaakov knew that we are still obligated to take steps to avoid dangers.  
While it is not these steps that protect us, as our protection comes only from Hashem, we are required to put in our Hishtadlut. (effort) to ward off potential dangers.  
Thus while Yaakov was putting in the necessary effort, (as is required), he still displayed his unwavering faith that everything, including our very lives, is in the hands of Hashem.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 29, 2019

The Extra Mile

In this week’s parsha we read not only of the births of Yaakov and Eisav, but also of the birth of their life-long rivalry, a struggle that continues on amongst their descendants for generations and exists even today. 
The Torah explains how their feud began even while in their mother’s womb. When Rivka would pass a house of Torah study, Yaakov would struggle to emerge. When Rivka would pass a house of idol worship, Eisav would struggle to emerge. 
At the time of their birth, each fought to be the first to emerge. Both recognized the value of the inheritance of the firstborn. As we know, it was Esav who was born first. However, we find that Yaakov is not far behind and, in fact, his hand grasps the heel of his older brother as though he is trying to prevent Eisav from claiming the birthright. 
The Rebbe of Loluv asks why Yaakov would have engaged in such a valiant yet pointless act. It would not have been possible for him to turn back time, after-all his brother had been born first and there was nothing he could do to change that. 
The great Rabbi answers his own question: To Eisav the birthright may have meant a greater share in the wealth of their father, but to Yaakov it was the eternal legacy of the Chosen People. It represented a level of closeness to Hashem and heightened spirituality. For something so special, reasoned Yaakov, it is worth trying anything to achieve, even if logic dictates that it is beyond our reach. 
It is specifically because Yaakov put forth such great effort and went the extra mile to reach beyond his grasp that he was rewarded with the opportunity (so many years later), to find the object of his desires and to secure that legacy for us all. 
The lesson for us is clear. Although the odds may seem stacked against us (as has often been the case throughout our history), it behooves us to fight for what we know is right. Whether it be scrupulous adherence to honesty in our business dealings, in an age where this would be viewed as a disadvantage, or holding steadfast to our Torah values as the tide of assimilation continues to rise, it is in the merit of this very effort that we will earn Hashem’s assistance in reaching our goals. 
Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Don Pacht 

Friday, November 15, 2019

Think Twice

Parshat Vayeira finds Avraham Avinu sitting in his tent awaiting the opportunity to perform the mitzvah of welcoming guests into his home.  In the distance, Avraham sees three travelers and he runs to greet them.  After inviting them to stay, Avraham begins the process of tending to the needs of his special guests.  First, water for washing, followed by food and a comfortable place to rest.  

The commentators question what appears to be an odd statement regarding the water that Avraham provided.  The verse reads, “Let a bit of water be brought.” Why would Avraham Avinu who always went all-out for his guests, who held all Mitzvot, and this Mitzvah specifically, in such high regard, the same Avraham who went over and above what would be requested or expected of any host, why would he now begin to cut corners over some water?  Why just “a bit” of water?  

The Rabbi Eliyahu Diskin answers, that what we perceive to be, in a small way, a lack of concern for his guests, is in-fact, another manifestation of Avraham’s heightened level of sensitivity to the needs of others. Avraham realized that the only source of water available to his guests was that which was drawn from the well and carried the distance to his tent by one of his servants.  While Avraham would certainly have wanted to offer his three visitors as much water as possible, thus fulfilling the Mitzvah to a higher degree, he refused to do so at the expense of imposing hardship on another. 

How often do we, when caught up in our own tasks, neglect to consider the impact that our actions may have on others. 

Our focus on Middot Bein Adam L’Chaveiro (interpersonal concerns), asks us to pay particularly close attention to the needs of others.  The lesson of Avraham Avinu is to carefully consider our actions, and to be more sensitive and attuned to the burdens of those around us. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Don Pacht

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Bundles of Joy

Towards the end of Parashat Lech Lecha Hashem gives Avraham the Mitzvah of Brit Milah.   He also reiterates the promise that a multitude of decedents shall come from him.  The final detail that Hashem adds is that this promise shall not be from Yishmael, but that Sarah would have a son and it is this child who will carry on the legacy of Avraham.

Avraham’s response is one of disbelief.  After years of hoping and praying, he saw himself and Sarah as too old to have a child.  His words to Hashem are: “לו ישמעאל יחיה לפניך (Let Yishmael live before you).  Rashi in his commentary to this verse explains Avraham’s intent, ‘if only it would be that Yishael would follow in Your path, I am not worthy to receive such reward [as the birth of a son from Sarah’].

At first glance, this seems a strange response.  Avraham was well-aware of his standing with Hashem.  His life had already been saved through open miracles on more than one occasion and every action, thought and decision made by Avraham and Sarah was in the service of Hashem. How could he have thought himself unworthy?

Perhaps the answer to this question lies in Avraham’s appreciation of the value of every act of kindness bestowed upon us by Hashem.  Just because it happens every day, does not mean it is a small matter.  Avraham understood that every day that we see the sun rise is a gift from Hashem.  Every day that we are healthy and avoid pain and anguish, is a wonderful and valuable gift from Hashem.

This week I had the indescribably wonderful opportunity to perform a Brit Milah for my first grandchild, Yisroel Shlomo Rubin!  It is difficult to describe the level of joy and nachas that we experienced as a family.  Perhaps the most meaningful moment for me was seeing my father’s expression as he held his great-grandson in his arms while the Brachot were read.  A survivor of the Holocaust, my father likely struggled to envision seeing generation after generation of his own family continue in the ways of Hashem.  Yet here we are.

It is so easy to take Hashem’s blessings for granted.  Births happen every day, but that does not make them any less of a true miracle and gift from above. 

Sometimes, it takes a spectacular moment to help us appreciate all of the other ‘seemingly’ mundane moments and to recognize them for what they are.  Gifts from Hashem.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, November 1, 2019

Philosophically Speaking

Only ten generations after Adam and Chava, Hashem has cause to reconsider having created the world.  The entire generation, with the exception of only one family, was to be erased by the flood.  The only indication from the Torah as to the nature of humanity’s crimes is the following statement,
"ותשחת הארץ לפני האלקים",
(and the land was corrupted before Hashem).
Many commentators have dealt with the question of how the sins of the people caused the gates of mercy to close and Hashem to stand in judgment.
Rabbi Shlomo Gantzfreid, author of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, explains that the answer to that very question is presented within the above verse.
As stated, it was only before Hashem that the corruption was apparent. The people, however, refused to recognize their actions as improper.  Although they engaged in a great many sins, the population had developed a philosophy of permissiveness that allowed them to justify anything.  As such, it was not the sins themselves that brought about their downfall, as Hashem is merciful and forgiving.  Rather, it was their inability to allow for repentance, through false justifications of their actions, that sealed their fate.
Our sages tell us that before Adam and Chava ate of the Tree of Knowledge, right and wrong were as clear as night and day.  After the first sin, ambiguity, rationalization and justification were introduced into the human psyche.  It is our responsibility to recognize the truth and restore our world to the perfection of creation.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, October 25, 2019

Back, to the Beginning...

This week we begin, again, reading the Torah from the very ‘Beginning’.  
The opening words of our Parasha famously tell us that when Hashem first began the creation process:
והארץ היתה תהו ובהו וחשך על פני תהום
“…the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep.”

 It is difficult for us even to comprehend what such ‘nothingness’ is even like.  Yet, the Torah goes out of its way to mention this.

Rabbi Binyomin Tadler, in his commentary to the Midrash – Tiferet Tzion, explains the purpose of this verse.
 The Torah wants us to understand that the default setting of the world is-‘nothing’.  Hashem chose to create heaven and earth, sun and stars, plants and animals, all to serve a specific purpose.  Everything was created for us!  For us to use in our pursuit of spirituality through the study of Torah and the performance of Mitzvot.  However, if we do not take this opportunity, than all of creation will have lost its purpose and may as well be – ‘nothing.’

It is no surprise that our sages would design a reading cycle that would bring us back to this message at this time of year.  We have just climbed the spiritual heights that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur drive us towards and spent days in the Sukkah reliving the experience of Hashem’s kindness.
Let us use the message of Bereishit to maintain our renewed focus on our spirituality, Torah and Mitzvot.  Let us push back the darkness and ensure that it was not all for nothing!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Don Pacht

Friday, October 11, 2019

ISN'T IT OBVIOUS

The Mitzvah to live in the Sukkah for seven days is explained with the following verse:
למען ידעו דרתיכם כי בסכות הושבתי את בני ישראל
“So that your generations will know that I caused the Children of Israel to dwell in sukkot [when I took them from the land of Egypt]”


There is some Talmudic debate as to the specifics of this reference: One opinion understands this to mean the actual huts (sukkot), in which the people lived while traveling through the desert. Another opinion sees this as a reference to the Clouds of Glory, that surrounded the nation on all sides and protected them through their travels.  
What is unavoidable, however (as it is stated explicitly in the verse), is that this Mitzvah hearkens back to the Exodus from Egypt.

If this is the case, it gives rise to a question: If the Mitzvah of Sukkah is related to the Exodus, that took place in Nisan, not Tishrei.  Should we not have the Mitzvah of Sukkah on Pesach, marking the anniversary of our departure from Egypt and our initial travel into the desert?

Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, in his monumental work Arba Turim, offers the following answer: Nisan is the start of Spring and many people would, in any event, move from their homes to outdoor structures (gazebos, tents, etc.), enjoying your meals in a Sukkah might seem like typical spring/summer behaviour.  Tishrei, however, is the start of the colder/rainier weather.  Sitting in the Sukkah in late September/early October is by no means typical behaviour (if this holds true for Israel and Vancouver, just imagine how our friends in Edmonton are faring)!

Therefore, concludes Rabbi Yaakov, we perform this Mitzvah now (in the Fall), so hat it will be obvious to all that observe us that we are doing so only to fulfill the commandment of our King, Hashem.

This idea should give us pause and force us to examine ALL of our Mitzvah performance.  Are we doing this because we ‘like to’? Because we feel a  social pressure? Because our parents did this?  Or, are we performing Mitzvot out of our recognition of all the Hashem has done for us and, therefore, want to fulfil his requests to the fullest.

Just as sitting in a Sukkah when it is minus 25 degrees outside (sorry Edmonton…) is clearly to perform the will of out creator, we should make it our mission to perform every Mitzvah with the proper positivity and enthusiasm that all who observe will find it obvious…it is a Mitzvah!

Let us use the spiritual energy that we have built from Yom Kippur to infuse our Mitzvah of Sukkah, and ALL Mitzvot to follow with a new level of passion and excitement. 

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Don Pacht