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This week's parsha
Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the 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 website.

Just by Existing PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rochel Holzkenner   
Tuesday, 04 March 2014 23:05

The kids had gone to bed, and my husband and I sneaked out for dinner. With them tucked away in bed, I always seem to develop a particularly dreamy view of my children. "We are blessed with such wonderful children," I gently said to him, "thank G‑d!"

He laughed. "Rochel, they're ages one and three. Let's wait until they get a little older before we evaluate how good they are."

Now I laughed. He was right. But still -- I couldn't resist thinking that they were exceptionally good. I'm pathetically biased, but I embrace my bias. I feel sated with pride, although they haven't done anything uniquely successful or unusually brilliant -- not yet ...

I wonder: is this the way G‑d feels towards us?

Listening carefully to G‑d's communication with Moses, you'll hear a lot of love, the unconditional love typical of a parent. Yes, Moses was wonderful and talented and a faithful servant, but that wasn't why G‑d loved him.

In the smallest of dialogues, Rashi, the foremost commentator on the Torah, picks up the overtures of love. "He called to Moses, and G‑d spoke to him," begins the Book of Leviticus. Aha! "An expression of love," Rashi immediately points out. After all, if the verse continues with "G‑d spoke to him," why mention G‑d calling to Moses at all? Evidently G‑d would first greet Moses with "Moses, Moses," and Moses would answer, "Here I am!" and then G‑d would begin His instructions.

Some affectionate words of endearment before getting down to business ...

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi adds another insight into the underlying dynamics of G‑d's conversation with Moses, noting that G‑d's name is not explicitly noted in this dialogue; rather, the verse says, "He called to Moses." Any name that would be used, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman, would limit G‑d's expression of love. For the divine names are expressions of G‑d; His essence defies any name or title. "He called" implies a love emanating from G‑d's essence -- and this type of love is unconditional, like the love of a parent to a child.

Unconditional love is not limited to the intimate relationship between G‑d and Moses, explains Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Every one of our souls is imbued with a spark of Moses' soul. This loving communication between G‑d and Moses is the way G‑d relates to every Jew, regardless of his or her talents and accomplishments.

We learn from an early age to put a value score on our lives. We measure up our assets and our inadequacies, judging ourselves largely by how we measure up to our friends, and then we determine our self-worth. After becoming expert critics, we move on to critique everyone around us as well.

We'd assume that G‑d would be the harshest critic of all; being the paradigm of perfection, He'd look at us and value us based on what we've accomplished with our lives. I'm sure G‑d does appreciate our accomplishments (and is disappointed by our mistakes); but His love for us is not related to what we have to show for ourselves -- it's an essential love, adoring us just for being. G‑d is proud of us just for existing. Kind of like a parent.

This is especially true in light of the fact that, historically, our survival as a nation has been so precarious. As such, our very existence is proof of G‑d's existence and a testament to His greatness, for without Him we would have long since disappeared.

Over 300 years ago, King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher, to give him proof of the supernatural. Pascal answered: "Why, the Jews, Your Majesty -- the Jews."

In Pascal's mind, the fact that the Jews had survived up until the seventeenth century was miraculous. What would he say if he were here to see the Jewish nation having survived the twentieth century?

Mark Twain, the great American writer, wrote this in Harper's Magazine in 1898:

The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up, and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out and they sit in twilight now or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal, but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?

The book of Leviticus speaks of G‑d's love. It begins with an expression of G‑d's essential love and pride towards Moses, and in turn, to every Jew.

The haftorah (the weekly reading from the Prophets) always reflects the themes of the Torah portion to which it is joined. In the first verse of the haftorah for the first portion of Leviticus, Isaiah transmits the following message from G‑d: "This people I formed for Myself, they recite My praise" (Isaiah 43:21).

"This people I formed for Myself" -- G‑d formed them for Himself, for His own pleasure and enjoyment. His words drip with unconditional love. In context of this affection, the prophet relays, "they recite My praise." We praise and acclaim G‑d not only through our achievements, impressive as they may be, but through our mere existence. Our survival proclaims G‑d's glory and gives Him reason to be proud.

It becomes hard, or perhaps impossible, to judge our fellow harshly when we consider how much pleasure G‑d derives from his or her mere existence. Even if we see them as rotten, selfish and sacrilegious -- they recite G‑d's praise just through existing.

Taking G‑d's love seriously breeds a more compassionate approach in self-judging, and, of course, in the way we judge others too.
An Arresting Question PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lazar Gurgow   
Monday, 24 February 2014 15:44

The previous four Parshahs dealt with the specifications for building the Tabernacle and its holy vestments. In this Parshah a very important detail is contributed -- a calculation of the total sum of donations received for the cause.

In this regard the Torah acts as a competent accountant. An itemized report is provided of the gold, silver and copper that was donated, concluding with the grand total.

This aspect of our Parshah can be very instructive in our every day lives.

Following the sin of the forbidden fruit, G-d turned to Adam and asked "Ayekah? Where are you?" Chassidic master Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains that this is question each of must ask ourselves: Where are you? What stage are you at in life? What have you accomplished your thirty or forty years of living? This question gives us pause. Indeed what have I accomplished in my lifetime? Am I proud of those accomplishments? Could I have done more? Am I living my life to its fullest potential?

The answers to these questions cannot be known unless we stop to take an accounting, to put together a life-long register of failures and successes. This is the only way to view life from a comprehensive perspective, this allows us to make the adjustments that will alter (or steady) our course, ensuring that we are headed in the direction we want to go.

I conclude with an unsolicited piece of advice:

Ask yourself tonight before you go to bed "what have I accomplished today?"

Don't go to sleep until you give yourself an answer you are proud of.

Team Building PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks   
Monday, 17 February 2014 00:00

How do you remotivate a demoralized people? How do you put the pieces of a broken nation back together again? That was the challenge faced by Moses in this week’s Parshah.

The key word here is vayakhel, “[Moses] gathered.” Kehillah means community. A kehillah or kahal is a group of people assembled for a given purpose. That purpose can be positive or negative, constructive or destructive. The same word that appears at the beginning of this week’s Parshah as the beginning of the solution, appeared in last week’s Parshah as the start of the problem: “When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered [vayikahel] around Aaron and said, ‘Make us a god to lead us. As for this man Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’”

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