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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.

Because It Is There PDF Print E-mail
Written by Yanki Tauber   
Monday, 05 May 2014 00:00

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the sport of mountain-climbing was born in 1760, when a young Genevan scientist, Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, offered prize money for the first person or persons to reach the summit of Mount Blanc, Europe's tallest peak at 15,777 feet.

I suspect that it's been going on for much longer than that. Something tells me that for as long as there have been humans and mountains, humans have been climbing mountains. Not just for some "useful" purpose, but also for sport, for the challenge it poses, for no other reason—as one famous mountaineer put it -- than "because it is there." Or rather, because we are here, down below, and we want to be someplace higher than here.

Giving G-d Your Challenges PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rochel Holzkenner   
Monday, 28 April 2014 00:00

Remember when your teacher made a mistake during her lesson but when corrected she said, "Just making sure that you were listening…" Inaccuracies have a way of catching our attention. Spelling mistakes, crooked pictures, mathematical slips -- they all shout out "fix me."

It is this feature of the human condition that G-d triggers over and over again in the Torah. He plants therein seeming errors and inconsistencies, hoping that the reader will stop and think about a way to resolve the "mistake."

This tool is employed in the Torah's discussion regarding the Counting of the Omer, where there seems to be an obvious mathematical flaw. After the first day of Passover we are commanded to count each day in anticipation of the holiday of Shavuot (when we received the Torah at Mount Sinai). "And you should count for yourselves from the morrow of the rest day... seven weeks," begins the verse, and then the next verse concludes, "...count fifty days" (Leviticus 23:14-15). This is confusing since seven weeks would set Shavuot immediately following forty-nine days of counting, not fifty.

So we are forced to take a deeper look at the commandment to count the Omer. The most basic reason that we count is to mimic the Jews who left Egypt. They were so excited about the prospect of receiving the Torah that they counted down the days. We try to relive this experience each year through counting the Omer.

But there is also a deeper reason for the counting. The Hebrew word for counting is sefirah. Using the same letters we can spell the word sapir, a shining sapphire. What is the connection? On each day leading up to the giving of the Torah, the Jews took time to refine themselves, to make their characters shine. And each year we do the same. From Passover until Shavuot we engage in a forty-nine day process of self-refinement.

Anyone who has tried to work through a character flaw will concede that it is very difficult. The famous 19th century scholar Rabbi Yisroel Salanter once commented that it is easier to learn through the entire Talmud than it is to change one ugly characteristic. And even if there seems to be a shift today, how can I know that tomorrow won't bring back the same old demon?

G-d Himself concedes to this challenge. The Torah instructs us to count forty-nine days. Work hard, challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone and to weed out those destructive behaviors. And then, says G-d, I will give you a gift; the gift of making your self-corrective efforts more concrete and far reaching. This is the fiftieth step of the process. You count forty-nine steps -- do your part, G-d says -- and that will be equivalent to counting fifty steps. I will do the finishing touches for you.

It is so important to ask G-d to help us work through our inner challenges. He is waiting to help us and He is most inspired to help those who take the grueling work of self-refinement seriously.

Man and the Tree PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lazar Gurgow   
Monday, 21 April 2014 00:00

Three Stages in a Tree

This week's Parshah teaches that for the first three years the fruit of a newly planted tree is forbidden to us. On the fourth year we may eat its fruit but only if we carry it to the holy city, Jerusalem, and consume it there. Only after that, on the fifth year, may we finally enjoy the fruit at our leisure.

The majority of Jews today no longer work in the agriculture, but we are all gardeners at heart. We seek to implant the seed of G-d's presence in our hearts, our children, our home and our environment. We too enjoy the fruit of our labor in three stages.

Three Stages in a Jewish Day

We begin every day with prayer. During prayer our attention is exclusively devoted to matters of the spirit and G-d. It is not a time for stray thoughts, idle chatter or selfish enjoyment.

After prayer we study Torah. Here we interact with the world of physical objects and events and are intellectually stimulated, but all under the banner of Jerusalem, the atmosphere of sanctity and Yirat Shamayim (awe of Heaven).

Finally, we emerge from our spiritual cocoon and venture into the world. Here we can reap the fruit of our labor as we go about our everyday business. We do so for the benefit of our own pleasure, but under the clearly visible signs of the morning’s influence.

The Training, The Process, and The Goal

The First stage belongs to G-d. We are there only on his sufferance. This stage is symbolized by three years because we pray thrice daily. The second stage is equally shared between G-d and ourselves. It is His Torah that our minds engage. This is symbolized by consuming the food for our own pleasure but only in the holy city, Jerusalem. The third stage belongs completely to us.

Stages one and two are prerequisites for stage three. Those who successfully complete the first two stages will find that they are not comfortable with exclusive ownership of stage three. They naturally invite G-d to come and join them.

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