This week's parsha
Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the Chabad.org website. We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given. For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website. If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the Chabad.org website.
Seeing What Isn't There
In Philadelphia there lives a gentle, gracious, grey-haired man, by now in his late-90s, whom Elaine and I have had the pleasure of meeting several times and who is one of the most lovely people we have ever known. Many people have reason to be thankful to him, because his work has transformed many lives, rescuing people from depression and other debilitating psychological states.
His name is Aaron T. Beck and he is the founder of one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy yet devised: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He discovered it through his work at the depression research clinic he founded in the University of Pennsylvania. He began to detect a pattern among his patients. It had to do with the way they interpreted events. They did so in negative ways that were damaging to their self-respect, and fatalistic. It was as if they had thought themselves into a condition that one of Beck’s most brilliant disciples, Martin Seligman, was later to call “learned helplessness.” Essentially they kept telling themselves, “I am a failure. Nothing I try ever succeeds. I am useless. Things will never change.”
Lessons from the Menorah
"There are seventy facets of the Torah." This famous Talmudic saying gives us a measure of the depth of Torah teachings. It is taken to mean that for every sentence in the Torah one can find seventy different explanations, lessons or meanings.
But why stop at a sentence? Maybe this is true of every single word of the Torah -- or even every letter? In fact this is so, and it combines with another idea that every Torah concept has four levels of meaning, from basic to esoteric. The Talmud also tells us that Rabbi Akiva, the leading teacher of Torah in his generation, could explain not only every letter of the Torah but even the little "crowns" that adorn the letters in the handwritten Torah scroll.
The Counting Paradox
Counting the Jewish people creates a paradox. On the one hand, our sages tell us that G‑d wants our census taken because he loves us: precious things are counted and recounted by the one to whom they are dear. On the other hand, census taking can be a harmful endeavor that exposes us to great danger. Our sages speak of the "evil eye" that can befall a people when they are enumerated.
This is because a census achieves two contrary aims. By focusing on the total sum of the nation, it asks the individual to suspend his individuality for the purpose of the count. At the same time, by arriving at a number that comprises the sum of the nation's parts, each individual is compelled to ask himself if he is worthy of contributing to the total.