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About Me

Rabbi Chaim Coffman
Rabbi Coffman has helped people from all across the spectrum to prepare themselves properly for Orthodox Conversion to Judaism. His students admire his vast knowledge and appreciate his warm, personal attention and endearing sense of humor.
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Welcome to Rabbi Chaim Coffman's Blog!

I would like to thank you for visiting my blog, Beyond Orthodox Conversion to Judaism.

The conversion process can be a lengthy and daunting one to say the least and I want you to know that I am here to help you through it.

I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism for over a decade and over the last few years I have seen that conversion candidates really lack the support and knowledge they need to navigate the conversion process and successfully integrate into the Orthodox Jewish community.

I created my mentorship program in order to help make this whole experience as smooth and as painless as possible! (Can't do much about the growing pains, though ;)

Feel free to get to know me a little through the posts on my blog and visit the mentorship and syllabus page if you are interested in possible joining us.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your search for truth and spiritual growth.

Looking forward to meeting you,
Chaim Coffman

My Rebbe, Rav Moshe Sternbuch

In case you were wondering why I have all of these articles written by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, he is my Rebbe, and one of the gedolei hador (greatest Rabbis of our generation).

Rav Sternbuch fully endorses me and supports my mentorship program.

He is the address for all of my halachic or hashkafic (practical and philosophical) questions that I or my students may have.

The articles are based on his weekly talks on the Torah portion that the Rav gives in Jerusalem in his kollel. As a member of the kollel I get first dibbs on the photocopies and I type them up for my blog so you can all benefit from the Rav's erudition and insight.
Thursday, March 17, 2016

Parshas Vayikra: But I only did it by Accident?

"Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel saying 'When a person will sin unintentionally from among all the commandments of Hashem that may not be done, and he commits one of them" (Leviticus 4:1)

Here the Torah tells us a person that sins unintentionally has to bring a sin offering. Why should someone have to bring an offering if what they had done is not intentional? Although they were not careful, does that obligate them to bring a sacrifice?

If we look a little bit deeper we can understand that even by doing something by accident is akin to a rebellion against G-d. Although they did it by accident they still transgressed and should have been more careful. The Vilna Gaon learns that it is only possible to do transgress the Torah by accident if they had not done sinned on purpose. What an amazing statement!

This is what it means to transgress something by accident that it wouldn't have been possible if a previous transgression had not been done on purpose! They are therefore responsible and punished albeit on a lower level but nonetheless they are taken to task for what they have done since they have become a receptacle for sin.

We should take this to heart and remember that we all make mistakes but there is the miracle of teshuva (repentance) that a person can do. We can't live in the past and beat ourselves up for what we have done because we will have no future if we do. We won't be able to function properly because we are too busy feeling guilty for our previous actions!!

If we transgress something by accident on shabbos for example we should increase our awareness of shabbos by learning the laws more thoroughly...and showing its importance. We use shabbos here as an example but it could refer to any mitzvah that we transgress by accident. The more we learn the laws we are supposed to keep and internalize their message, the less likely we are to be lax in their observance and not come to transgress them by accident!

That would mean that we have to know everything about everything! Yes that may be true and a tremendous task but that doesn't mean we don't have to do this! We have to strive for excellence in everything we do and live the Torah we hold so precious to us!

This is easier said than done but we have to start somewhere! We need to focus on the things that we do every day especially the laws of blessings and shabbos. There are numerous things that we have to know and the more we learn about them the more we will keep them!

May G-d give us the strength to keep His Torah and love them and want to keep them even more.

Parshas Vayikra: Jews are Responsible for One Another!!!

"He called Moshe and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel and say to them 'When a man among you  brings an offering to Hashem from animals from the cattle from the flock shall you bring your offering'". (Leviticus 1:1-2)

Why is the word you here used in the plural? Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in Ta'am V'Da'as explains that the you here represents all the Jewish people. That means that even though the Jewish people are spread out over the world, nonetheless when one Jew is in pain it is as if the entire nation feels it. After all, when someone G-d forbids go missing or someone is sick, the entire Jewish nation rallies around and learns for them, prays for them...

It works the other way as well unfortunately if G-d forbid a Jew transgresses or makes a desecration of G-d's name then the entire Jewish nation is at risk for repercussions! We see that by the story of Purim where Haman's anger is not just vetted out against Mordechai but rather the entire Jewish people Haman wants to eradicate! How careful we must be as G-d's ambassadors as we are viewed by the outside world. Even the slightest thing we may do could cause a desecration of G-d's name.

Here is a true story unfortunately that will illustrate this point. There was an orthodox Jew that sold merchandise which wasn't as advertised. A woman bought some merchandise and after washing it once, some of the designs came off. Upset she went back to where she bought it and complained to the owner. What transpired next is horrific!

The woman says you advertised this as something that it is not. How could you as an orthodox Jew mislead other people? The Jew answered, "who told you to put orthodox Jews on such a high pedestal?" Obviously this is the wrong answer to give someone especially if you are trying to bring them closer to Torah? (pun intended!)

What will this woman now think about orthodox Jews? Probably nothing very nice and I am sure she will be fuming at what has transpired. Therefore whenever we do something in public how careful we must be!! Many people will not look at this as an isolated incident but they could then condemn the entire group. Unfortunately many make the mistake and lump a whole group together based on a few people's actions.

Normally we call that racism but in this case the Jewish people are all intertwined. This is why this is so important. A Jewish leader whether they are a layman or a rabbi have to be even more careful in a public setting of how they act and carry themselves. We certainly don't want to lose our composure because then when others see that this "rabbi" did this, they will say "well if he can do it why can't I?" This is called a desecration of G-d's name which the Rambam tells us in the laws of repentance that a person has to repent sincerely for what they have done, go through Yom Kippur, suffer in this world and then die, and only after that do they get atonement.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Parshas Pekudei: We put our best foot forward and G-d does the rest

"They brought the Tabernacle to Moshe the Tent and all its utensils; its hooks, its planks, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets" (Exodus 39:33) 

The Midrash tells us that the children of Israel were not able to erect the mishkan (tabernacle) and G-d helped Moshe get it up. Although it was too heavy for Moshe to lift up by itself, G-d told him to do it and He would help. We learn from here Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a explains in Chochma V'Da'as that we have to put our best foot forward and try to the best of our ability and G-d will bring help and finish it.

Rav Sterbuch tells the following story of what happened to him when he was younger. When he was a student in the yeshiva Eitz Chayim in London, the monetary situation was tenuous and they didn't even have bread to eat! One day, Rav Sheneider z"l the head of the yeshiva told him to go out and knock on doors to try and get people to donate to the yeshiva to help it since it was in such dire straits. Each night he went from one house to another without any success; this one wasn't in the house, another one said they gave enough already to other causes, others said what do you need a yeshiva for in the first place...In the end not only did he not bring in any money but the travel costs were another added expense that the yeshiva had to pay!!

The next day while he was learning Rav Shneider was looking for him and he was terrified to speak to him. He thought he would be reprimanded for not helping the cause and he was embarrassed. He saw Rav Shneider tremendously happy and he screamed out to me "Great job! You were very successful for the yeshiva!!".

He thought there must be some sort of mistake since he didn't bring in any money and even caused the yeshiva to lose money! Rav Shneider screamed and said, "What don't you have any faith in G-d? You went to help out and G-d already sent a lot of money today from a different source! Rav Shneider meant that even though you personally were not successful in bringing in any money, you went out and put your best foot forward and G-d brought in the salvation through another channel but it was based on your own effort!

This is an unbelievable story for a number of reasons. This teaches us that even if we work hard to the best of our ability, we have to put out the effort and G-d will send help from somewhere even if we didn't even go there or speak to anyone in such a place. How many times have we been helped out or received something which we have no idea where it came from?

This is the answer. We put our best foot forward and G-d helps from somewhere else based on your effort!! This is unbelievable and we have to always remember what G-d does for us and see how our efforts even if not successful brings in the salvation that we need!

Parshas Pekudei: Charity Strengthens the Peson

"A beka for every head, a half shekel in the sacred shekel for everyone who passed through the census takers, from twenty years of age and up for the six hundred three thousand five hundred fifty" (Exodus 38:26)

The money that was pledged for the mishkan (tabernacle) and the bolts that strengthened it are considered like it was given for the mishkan itself. We learn from here Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a explains in Chochmah V'Da'as that one who helps support Torah is like the Torah itself. This means that when someone supports Torah, they get the mitzvah of the Torah itself!!

Rav Sternbuch explains that we have no idea of the merit that we will receive in the future for helping support Torah. The Torah is a tree of life to those that grasp it. How do we understand this? The language of to grasp (l'machzikim) is in the causative form. This means that it is not us that we are strengthening the Torah but really the Torah that is giving us strength.

This means as much effort as we put in learning Torah, the more the Torah gives to us. It is our spiritual life that keeps us going. Rav Sternbuch explains further that if a person supports a specific Torah institution and sustains it and worries about its continuity the merit they will receive is like the "eitz chayim" (the tree of life). The fruit of this tree gives fruit forever and even after the person has passed away.

Even if a person donates to a particular Torah institution but they don't take full responsibility for it, worrying about its continuity... they still get tremendous merit even though it is not similar to the merit of "eitz chayim".  The idea is that we should donate according to our means and even if we don't have very much to give, we need to learn to stick our hands in our pockets and help others.

Jews are among the most generous donators out of any ethnic group. They give well above according to their small size in the world population. If we have the means to give (even if it is not a lot) we have to be thankful that we can do so. No one wants to be on the receiving end of help from others and they should remember what their special purpose is in the world.

This means that we have to continue and help others and help sustain Torah institutions so they can continue and educate Jewish children which will guarantee that the Torah will continue to the next generation. The single greatest obstacle to that is assimilation and intermarriage. The reason this occurs in such a dramatic fashion is because of lack of knowledge in Torah. Many would not throw out their precious heritage if they really knew what it was about and what it represented!

If they understood that it is worth millions in spirituality, they wouldn't be so quick to throw it in the garbage. After all, if we would put a high monetary value on it, do you think it would be tossed out so quickly? This is the message of the mishkan; give, give and give some more and have a portion of Torah that can stay with you even after you die!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Parshas Vayakhel: How to have a happy marriage

"The men came with the women, everyone whose heart motivated him brought bracelets, nose-rings, rings, body ornaments all sorts of gold ornaments every man who who raised up an offering of gold to Hashem" (Exodus 35:22).

Why is it that the women whose hearts desire to bring rings and bracelets and the like must come and donate it with their husbands? Are they not allowed to come themselves and give it? Don't they have their own independence?

The Talmud tells us Bava Kama 119a that we don't accept a great charitable gift from a woman unless she has permission from her husband to give it. This is in fact the reason that the husband had to come with her! It could also be that since the husband enjoys seeing his wife decked out in fine jewelry, it would be forbidden for her to donate them without his consent.

This is an incredible idea if we think about it. The reality is that a woman prides herself on the jewelry that she has and certainly she is looked at in high esteem from her husband who enjoys seeing her wear them. At the same time, she doesn't have the right to just give them away, even for the sake of building the Temple because it may interfere in her marriage in a negative way. Don't husband and wife go out of their way to please each other in any which way to keep the marriage going strong?

There are many issues today that can kill the sizzle of a marriage. One of them is that the longer a person is married, the more things that they take for granted from their spouse. They get into a rut so to speak and a marriage can spiral out of control if it is not worked on. Just like a flower that needs water otherwise it will die, so to a marriage if it is not properly worked on and cultivated will also die!

Every husband and wife have to take time out of their day to just be together and talk and discuss things without the hustle and bustle of running a household. They need to spend quality time and continually work on cultivating the relationship. This takes great work and effort but isn't it worth it to have a blossoming marriage even after many years?

The problem is that live drags us down and is difficult with each passing year. Nonetheless, we have to persevere and remember the important things in our lives and make them a priority. If we don't our families are at serious risk. Like anything else, the more we work at something the more satisfaction we have even if it is hard. We should always look at the good our spouse has done for us instead of focusing on the negative.

We all need to be better and strive to reach higher levels. The most basic level is to treat our spouses with the respect they deserve and that will lead to a healthy, happy marriage.

Parshas Vayakhel: Don't try and Take what does not Belong to You!

"Moshe assembled he entire assembly of the children of Israel and said to them 'These are the tings that Hashem commanded to do them. On six days work may be done but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem whoever does work on it shall be put to death" (Exodus 35:1-3)

The word תעשה (te'aseh) is written with the vowel tzeiri (like an ay sound) instead with a patach which an ahhh sound. Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit'a in his work Chochmah V'Da'as explains that G-d decides how much a person is going to make for the sake of his livelihood and regardless of what they do, they will only make that amount that G-d wants them to. Also, the famous Maggid from Kelm says that it is not fitting to say "be'ezrat Hashem" (with the help of G-d) because G-d does not just help but rather we should say "birtzos Hashem" with the desire of G-d. The reason is because G-d wants us to be successful and we are only His messengers fulfilling His desires.

Rav Sternbuch then brings in an idea he heard from Rav Elchanon Wasserman may his blood be avenged to explain this idea. The foundation of belief in G-d Rav Wasserman explained is that one is not allowed to try and take what does not rightfully belong to them in this world. This means that a person is allotted a certain amount of money that they will make and regardless if they work more, at the end of the day they will end up with what G-d decided that they should have.

This means that even if they work many hours overtime thinking they will make more money, the truth is that if they are destined to make less then G-d will send them difficulties to offset that. Whether it is with doctor's bills or appliances need fixing, they will cause a person to lose out and get exactly what G-d had allocated for them. This is truly amazing if we think about it.

This means that although I have to put my best foot forward when it comes to making a living, G-d reassures us that no matter we do and how hard we work we will get exactly what He wanted us to have in the first place. Therefore, a person should pray like he needs to, keep the mitzvos as he should and not do anything that will cause him to transgress while trying to make more of a livelihood since he will only get what he deserves.

Practically speaking livelihood is a decree from G-d and if He wants you to be successful you will be and if not not. This means that no matter what you do, if G-d doesn't give you the blessing you will in fact struggle. This does not mean we don't have to seek advice from others and we have to do everything in our power to succeed but we also have to realize that there is a limit. We also need to find time to study and learn while setting out on this endeavor.

We should really try and maximize the amount of time we learn and realize that everything comes from G-d. At the same time we have to be realistic in our goals for livelihood and put our best foot forward. This is not always easy but if G-d sees that we are sincere and trying to do His will, He most certainly will help and make you successful!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Parshs Ki Tissa: Breaking Shabbos to Save Someone

"Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 'Now you speak to the children of Israel saying, 'However you must observe My Sabbaths for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations to know that I am Hashem, who make you holy'" (Exodus 31:13).

The Or HaChaim HaKadosh in his commentary on the Torah learns from this verse that a person is allowed to break shabbos for the sake of a sick person whose life is in danger. The rationale is that you break shabbos for him now so that he will be able to keep shabbos in the future. This means that since his life is in danger now, we do what we can to save him because we know that saving his life will allow him to keep shabbos in the future. What if he doesn't observe shabbos though, is there still an obligation to save him?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit's in Chochmah V'Da'as brings a difference of opinion among the later commentaries whether we are allowed to do such a thing and it hinges on the fact of why they are transgressing the mitzvos if I am allowed to break shabbos.  If they transgress because they are not interested in G-d's law and are rebelling against Him then there would be no obligation to break shabbos to save them. If on the other hand they don't keep shabbos because they were never had a proper Jewish education then it should be allowed to save him. The issue is that even if we look at this person like someone who has not been educated properly at the end of the day they still are not going to keep shabbos so why would I be allowed to break shabbos to save him?

If for example there would be a child that's life is in danger and they live in a city where the majority people are non-Jews, there would still be an obligation to save him because of the command to live by the Torah and not die by it! Even if there is a doubt whether this person is a Jew or not, it seemingly would be important to save them because of this principle even if they won't keep shabbos in the future. There is another opinion that even if the person is truly evil, there is still a mitzvah to save them because maybe in the future they will repent and come back to Torah!

This is truly amazing because we see how far repentance can come for a person. We don't look at who they are per se but rather that by saving them, could change their whole perspective on life! How many times have we heard of people that have been in life threatening situations only to be saved and eventually come back to the fold. This doesn't always happen as the evil inclination doesn't want that, but it happens and awakens a person who could be so far from Torah.

From here we may say that the Torah is cruel G-d forbid.  How could there even be a question if someone's life is in danger that you wouldn't break shabbos to save them? The answer is that we don't understand how important shabbos is. If after all, they won't keep shabbos in the future, that gives me enough of a reason to save them? The answer is that we are allowed to save them but it is really based on a technicality. Not only that but the Torah says that you have to live by it and not die by it.

Therefore the Torah looks at shabbos observance as so vital that if a person doesn't keep it then if there life is in danger on shabbos, why should someone break it to save them? At the same time, we could say that if a person wouldn't do it and others see them walking away from it, that could cause a tremendous desecration of G-d's name and would therefore be permitted, whether it be a Jew or non-Jew.

This has often been misinterpreted and misunderstood by people to quickly retort that the Torah is cruel and backwards G-d forbid and doesn't make any sense. When we delve further and see how deep and important it is, we realize its sweetness and timely message!

Parshas Ki Tissa: Look out for that Spiritual Furnace

"The people saw that Moshe had delayed in descending the mountain and the people gathered around Aharon and said to him, 'Rise up make for us gods that will go before us for this man Moshe who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what became of him'" (Exodus 32:1). 

After witnessing the miracles in Egypt, saw their destruction through the parting of reed sea and the miracles that occurred in the desert, how could the Jewish people, the greatest generation in the history of man have made such a mistake? Just because Moshe was delayed according to their calculation gave them the right to seemingly worship a calf and exclaim that this is the one that took us out of Egypt?

Rav Moshe Sternbuch Shlit"a in Chochmah V'Da'as  explains that the Jewish people had no doubts that G-d was the one who created the world and keeps it functioning but rather that G-d is too lofty for this world and doesn't really deal with it. Therefore G-d found someone like Moshe to lead the people in His name which was acceptable by the Jewish people. At the same time, they made Moshe into a god as if to say that he was the one who did the miracles that got them released from Egypt.

Moshe was then in heaven for 40 days but because of his delay they made the mistake that G-d took him and they now needed to find another intermediary that would serve instead of him as a god. Whoever they chose would act as Moshe's messenger knowing that Moshe could return at any time. They therefore did not appoint Aharon or Chur but they said in the meantime they will make an ox because its figure is embedded in G-d's throne and would be a good replacement.

When it was created it talked and walked so the people understood it had character traits not like anything they have seen and allowed them to make the mistake and use it as their intermediary to G-d!.  This in fact is idolatry even though they believed in G-d but they still wanted some intermediary like a god of gold and silver.The people were happy with this miracle and thought this was just a continuation of the miracles that G-d had done for them in the past!

Even so with this rationale, does it come to explain how quickly they fell from their elevated level so quickly after the Torah was given? A possible answer is that the evil inclination never rests. We have to constantly work against and fight it to help us reach our true potential. Here as the Jewish people were on such a high level, they were lied to so to speak and given a false impression that was not true. With that being said, they were able to fall and make this serious mistake.

We learn from here how careful a person must be in their service of G-d. We always have to be on the lookout and guard ourselves against things that may come to harm us spiritually. Just like a person would never go near a fire lest they get too close and get burned so too must a person be ever so careful of negative spiritual influences that can affect us. Fire can spread quickly and do irreversible damage; a spiritual fire is just as dangerous.

May we constantly strive in our service of G-d and be on the lookout for things that can harm us spiritually.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parshas Tetzaveh: Be easy to Forgive and don't be Stubborn

"Aharon shall bring atonement upon its horns once a year from the blood of the sin-offering of the atonement's once a yeas shall he bring atonement upon it for your generations it is holy of holies to Hashem" (Exodus 30:10)

This is truly amazing that G-d gives us the ability to get atonement once a year for all our transgressions. This day is none other than Yom Kippur and the high priest enters the holy of holies to attain that atonement for us. This works with our transgressions between man and G-d but not our sins between man and man. As the Rambam tells us if one has wronged his friend he has to ask him for forgiveness before Yom Kippur, sincerely mean it, go through Yom Kippur and that is how one gets atonement for those sins. I was recently taken to task on the topic of forgiveness.

As someone quoted a number of sources on forgiveness, they told me "how can you not forgive someone if this is what the Torah demands!" I answered that the Rambam tells us in the laws of repentance that if someone comes to ask for forgiveness and they are sincere and you reject them and they come back a second time to ask for forgiveness and you reject and then come back a third time, this time with others to try and pacify you. If you reject this person that time then they don't have to come back to you and you are the one that now gets the transgression for this intransigence.

With that being said, forgiveness should be given when the person comes to you and admits (in my case there was no admittance to anything done wrong) they have done something wrong, thereby wanting you to pardon them for what they have done. If that is true then yes that person would receive the transgression if they did not accept their apology. After all, don't we want G-d to look the other way for things that we have done during the year? Is there a better way to find grace in G-d's eyes by overlooking what others have done to us?

This is true but not an easy thing to do. Nonetheless we should easily forgive others for what they may have done to us but at the same time, it does not mean we have to be best friends with them. For this to work, we have to get rid of the anger, frustration and all the other emotions inside us for this to happen. If a person has a real difficult time in accepting their forgiveness they should not dismiss them out of hand but tell them you need time so that you will be able to do this with a full heart.

Keep in mind, a halfhearted acceptance is also not good; it has to be done with a full heart! Also easier said than done. G-d knows the thoughts of man and understands that we are human and have a variety of emotions going on all the time. Nonetheless, He never puts us in a situation that we cannot handle (even though we don't think we can) and gives us the opportunity to work on ourselves and help us reach our true potential!

May we merit to always look at the good in others and not let our egos get in the way of our spiritual development!

Parshas Titzaveh: Does what we wear matter?

"You shall make the garments of sanctity for Aharon your brother for glory and splendor" (Exodus 28:2). 

The simple explanation of this verse would seem to mean that the purpose of the clothing are for Aharon's glory and splendor. This would show the importance of what he wears which adds to his honor. Is it really true that Aharon needed the honor by the clothing that he wore? Do we honor ourselves by the way we dress?

The answer is that what we wear says something about ourselves. Everyone would agree that we look at ourselves differently by how we dress. Do we really feel the same if we wear a three piece double breasted suit and when when we wear shorts and a t-shirt? Obviously not but then what do clothes tell us about ourselves?

This reminds me of a conversation that I once had with someone who told me that they were offended by the way I dressed. I asked them that the only difference between the way we dress is that I have a kippah (skull cap) on my head and I wear tzitzis, so how radically different do we dress anyway? I then asked this person (who by the way wore a three piece suit for work everyday) why they dressed in such a fashion. The answer was because that was the uniform they had to wear for work.

"Don't get me wrong, the first thing I do when I get home is change my clothes!" he told me. I then asked if that was true then the only reason for dressing up would be for the sake of money right? As I saw the smoke come out of his ears, he responded by asking me why I dress the way I do.

I answered very simply that we have a uniform to wear as well as part of the laws of modesty but the difference is that I dress up for G-d's honor and don't change my clothes after my "work" is done. These clothes are who I am and what community I identify with. At the same time, what we wear may be just something that is external.

This means that we could wear the right clothes, walk the walk and talk the talk but inside of us we are not that committed to G-d's law. Externals really don't mean that much but if we want to identify with a community then we need to have a dress code. The dress code is for us to adhere to a certain standard which elevates ourselves and honors G-d.

Aharon didn't need special clothing but because he was serving in G-d's house so to speak they had to be honorable for G-d and distinguish himself as well. In this case it was able to accomplish two things: showing the importance of the clothing for Aharon and honoring G-d.

We are not defined by what we wear but at the same time we identify with the community we want to be associated with by what we wear.

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, February 11, 2016

Parshas Terumah: Giving Charity

"And the L-rd spoke to Moshe saying 'Speak to the cildren of Israel that they bring me an offering of every man whose heart prompts him to give you shall take my offering" (Exodus 26:1-2)

The Torah here teaches that someone whose heart prompts him to give should bring money, gold...and have a part in the building of the mishkan (tabernacle). This means if they want to give they can and if not not. In the case of giving charity though this is not an option. There is an obligation to give ma'aser (a tenth) of what one earns to charity. A person if they want can even give up to 1/5 but no more lest they squander there money and then have to come upon people to help them.

The amount one has to give of their earnings is how much them make only after taxes. They can give more if they want but again only up to 1/5. A person also does not have to give ma'aser on a gift. This means if someone gave you birthday money or any monetary gift you do not have to give ma'aser on it. If you choose to do so you can but there is no obligation to. What if you yourself are poor? Do you still have an obligation to give?

The answer is that if you yourself are struggling to make ends meet then you would be exempt from giving. If you don't have, you can't give. While you cannot physically give you could help others in a different way. If a person does takes time and does chesed (acts of loving kindness) or let's say tutors someone...this is also an act of charity one can do for someone else.The most important aspect of this is to give.

The reality is if we make money and are successful, why should we help someone else? After all, is it my fault they don't have a better job? Should I have to be responsible for what other people can't do? The purpose of giving is to thank G-d for what He has given us and give us the opportunity to help others. Even if we can't give a lot, we need to train ourselves to put our hands in our pocket and give.

At the same time, a person has to give charity to a worthy cause. What is considered a worthy cause? Poor people, Torah institutions are just a few ideas. The reality is that charity can be given by helping someone find a job. That is also chesed because you are helping that person be self sufficient and get his self-esteem back by being able to provide for their family!

As we see, there are many aspects to charity here. It teaches us to realize how fortunate we are and that gives us the ability to help others. The more we give and are able to help, the closer it brings us to G-d which is our main purpose in life!

Parshas Terumah: The Sanctification of the Physical

"And let the make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:9)

Here G-d commands the Jewish people to build Him a place where He can show His presence in this world. Although philosophically this is a difficult thing to understand because how does an Omnipresent being put Himself in a box so to speak? After all, if He represents the entire world, how exactly does He bring Himself down to this world?

The purpose of the mishkan (tabernacle) which later became the Temple was for the people to have a connection to G-d in this world. The way the Torah describes this is interesting because G-d tells the Jewish people that for Him to come down to this world they have to take physical things, put them together for that to happen! G-d is in essence telling us that the way to the spiritual is through the physical.

The Torah does not look at the world as an evil place like the Christians do but realizes that man has certain needs, comes from the physical and can use it for spiritual purposes. When a person makes a blessing for instance on an apple, although a physical act, it allows G-d's heavenly influence to bless all fruit trees! Is this really true? After all, I just ate an apple, there are spiritual ramifications going on here?

Many think that what they do here in this world doesn't matter. This is as if to say there is no judge and there is no judgement! Not only that we realize that what we do matters and does have ramifications even if people don't think so! Even an event that happened many years can have tremendous consequences even years later!

The Torah is not G-d forbid a hypothetical work that has no relevance to us. It is about action, not thoughts. We have to do things. Either we are going up or down on the spiritual ladder; staying the same and being happy where we are are akin to death! Mediocrity is something that we don't strive for and are not interested in.

As we read these parshiot, we can't get lost in the details of the construction of the mishkan but have to realize we have an unbelievable job in this world. Our purpose is to even take the physical and make it holy. This is the power that G-d entrusted us with. We need to learn to speak properly, act properly...which effect our spiritual well being as well.

Even if we may think that G-d is so lofty that He doesn't care about our actions down here, they are tremendously relevant. They make us into the people that we are. This is why G-d will judge us each year where we are holding now and not what our potential is in the future, This is tremendous solace for us because it gives us the ability to change and grow and not get condemned for what we will do in the future.

May we constantly strive to take even the most mundane things and use them for spiritual purposes!

Shabbat Shalom
Thursday, February 4, 2016

Lending with Interest to a Jew, Don't Do it!

This weeks Torah portion of Mishpatim has the most amount of laws of any portion in the Torah. Many of the laws have to do with damages and what a person owes someone else if they cause damage to their property or to their bodies or both. The Torah also tells us that you are not allowed to lend money to a Jew with interest. (Exodus 22:24) What is the rationale behind this?

The idea is that if a Jew is in need of money you certainly lend him if you are able to but you can't make him pay more than for what he borrowed. This does't make any sense because the way of the world is that if I lend you money and I can't use my money why should I lose out because my money isn't be used. I absolutely have the right to charge interest because I am "losing out" by lending it out!

The Torah tells us here that when it comes to our own people (and who doesn't look out for their own, right?) we have to help them in any way possible. This is an incredible way to behave and work on our character development by giving something to others and receiving no benefit except for the mitzvah itself! This is another instance where the Torah goes against the norm of the world!

Imagine what happens when this person helps his fellow Jew without any compensation what merit they get! You can't even remind him of it! The list goes on and on to the extent we can't embarrass anyone about this! What is the point of all this?

G-d gave us his Torah to help us reach the highest spiritual level that we can even if it defies logic and doesn't make any sense. After all, if He created the world and everything in it, He must know what He is doing right? How am I an a small piece of cosmic dust supposed to understand and fathom us? The fact that we understand anything in Torah is nothing short of miraculous!

This law and the laws of damages in general show us beyond the shadow of a doubt how different we are from the nations. The purpose of laws for the nations is that there should be order and not chaos in the world. Imagine a world without laws how much more chaotic the world would look? What are the purpose of the laws of the Torah?

Our laws are there not so there will be order per se but to change us and develop us into the great people that we can become! It is to help us reach our true potential that G-d designed them for us regardless of whether we understand them to the highest level or not!

This is our ultimate goal in life which we strive for on a regular basis. Sometimes we are more successful sometimes less but at the end of the day the question is how much we tried and the effort we made. This is what G-d wants to see from us! 

Parshas Mishpatim: What is the Purpose of Keeping Kosher?

"The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring to the house of the L-rd your G-d. You should not boil a kid in its mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19)

The Torah here teaches the prohibition of eating milk and meat by stating that one is not allowed to cook a calf in its mother's milk. This verse is mentioned three times in the Torah to teach you that it is forbidden to cook milk and meat together (even if you don't eat it), you are not allowed to eat milk and meat and you are not allowed to derive benefit from it. The reality though is that this does not make sense from a logical perspective.

The reason is that milk by itself and meat by itself are both permitted to eat but when you put them in a mixture and cook them they become forbidden. This would seem to be a chok (a law that does not make logical sense like the case of the red heifer) which boggles the mind because this should not be an issue if both things are permitted separately. Not only that but if this mixture is mixed with something else, it makes that forbidden as well! Why is this so stringent?

This could be because once I have a forbidden mixture, then no matter what it is added to it makes it forbidden unless there is more of what is permitted that would nullify it. This is interesting because we then look at the mixture as actually not being there even though it is right here in this mixture. This is the underlying principle of how nullification works. Once we say that something is nullified we look at what we have in front of me as being totally permitted since the taste of what is forbidden is gone.

The laws of kashrus and mixing meat and milk are numerous and confusing. Many of the laws of not mixing milk and meat together is so that one will not come to that Torah prohibition. We have separate pots, that they don't get mixed up or used one for the other! Not only that but milk and meat should not be brought to the same table unless there is a clear demarcation separating them so they don't come in contact with one another.

Since these laws are G-d given we still have to try and understand them to the best of our ability even if it defies logic! We not only sanctify what comes out of our mouths but what goes into them and this could have a negative effect on our souls! This is one of the reasons we don't eat birds of prey because we don't want to take those negative character traits and put them in our bodies!

We keep kosher because these things can have a negative effect on our souls. After all, if we rely on G-d for everything even without understanding some things then we know that it is for our betterment! It is also to distinguish us from the nations. These laws should keep us away from them and stop the disease of intermarriage!

If we don't eat with the same things as them and have different customs as them then that should nip the problem in the bud! If we eat what they do and do the same things as them, is it no wonder that the intermarriage rate is so high? Ultimately we don't know the reasons for this but certainly there is a benefit that keeps the Jewish people in tact. It is the Torah and our adherence to it that has kept the Jewish people intact throughout the millennium and this long exile.

May we merit to continue keeping G-d's Torah and sanctify His name!

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Parshas Yisro: Yisro shows why he is the real deal!

"And Yisro rejoiced for all the goodness which the L-rd had done to Yisrael whom he had delivered out of the hand of Egypt . And Yisro said, 'Blessed be the L-rd who has delivered you out of the hand of Egypt and out of the hand of Paraoh who has delivered the people from under the hand of Egypt" (Exodus 18:9-10)

Yisro came and heard about the miracles that took place in Egypt. He now wants to become part of the Jewish people and convert. The question is why would he be allowed to convert to Judaism in these circumstances? After all, in the time of David and Solomon no one was allowed to convert because the Jewish people were on top so to speak and if a person would be allowed to convert their free will would be taken away. So too, when the messiah comes and all the miracles are going on, they also won't be allowed to convert for the same reason so how is Yisro allowed to convert here or anyone for that matter at this time?

We have to remember who Yisro was. He was the main priest of Midyan. There was no idol in the world that he had not worshiped. The fact that he leaves Midyan to be give thanks to G-d and be part of the Jewish people shows that he was truly sincere. This is the reason that when someone wants to convert to Judaism they cannot convert for ulterior motives; not for marriage, not because of all the miracles that happen to the Jewish people, not because the Jewish community can help them financially....This is the reason that the beis din (rabbinical court) will continually make sure before they convert someone that their motives are for the sake of heaven!

At the same time we cannot truly know the nature of why a person may convert to Judaism but the criteria must be first and foremost to ascertain that there are no ulterior motives. Once that can be determined then we let the potential convert learn and get the guidance they need to finish the process. Although this may be a difficult and long process. part of it is to see the sincerity of the person. This is the reason that it could take a number of years before the person finishes the process.

Another reason is that converts have not given the Jewish people such a great name over the last millennium and therefore the Jewish community will be skeptical to accept converts unless they feel that they are the real deal. After all, since the Jewish people have been murdered, gassed...and are on the low end of the totem pole so to speak, why would anyone want to convert in the first place? Also if they see what goes in a Jewish community and see how Jews act and they still want to convert either they are the real deal or crazy or both!

This is why the beis din will want to know why they want to do such a thing and take on all these laws! After all they could have a place in the world to come even if they don't convert and be a noahide. That certainly is an option and an obligation for all non-Jews even if they decide they don't want to convert. It may be an easier option than having to move to a Jewish community and have to change their lives drastically!

At the same time, the non-Jew has the option to go either way. If he wants to be a Jew though, then they are going to have to prove themselves to the community that this is the case. This is what we learn here from Yisro. He has everything to lose in Midyan and he gives it all up to be part of the Jewish people. He shows that he is the real deal and what a Jewish convert is all about!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 5: Don't Live on Automatic Pilot

"Do not see greatness for yourself, and do not crave honor; let your performance exceed your learning. Do not lust for the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than their crown; and your employer is trustworthy to pay you remuneration for your deeds"

Isn't the purpose of learning Torah to become close to G-d? After all, if G-d gave us the blueprint for how to live our lives how could a person think that they are so great that they deserve honor? Even if they have learned a lot of Torah they should not think they are so great because that is what they are created for in the first place!

A person is supposed to live their lives the best way they can while serving G-d. That is enough for us. We are not looking for titles or honor; these things certainly can make a person feel haughty and cause them to lose their share in the world to come. Thinking that a person is so great will lead them to look down on others and forget all the good things that G-d has done for them. They will live off the fat of the land so to speak and say that everything they have is because of the work of their hands. They will end up denying G-d and His important role in their lives.

We sometimes lose sight of this simple idea. We want wealth, fame and greatness in this world. It gives us tremendous self esteem and inflates our ego as to all the good things that we have done and can do. It also can corrupt us to no end because when one has wealth and fame, they think they can do anything and morality goes out of the window.

The real issue here is that a person loses sight of reality and the real purpose of life. It is not about money, sports, entertainment or anything that takes us away from G-d. We are so sucked into what goes around us we forget about Torah and doing mitzvos. It shows a tremendous lack on our part and shallowness as well.

Even if we understand the purpose of life and what we need to do, we always have to work hard to make spirituality a reality for ourselves. This means that when we make blessings for instance we should be cognizant of the fact that we are giving thanks to G-d for the food that He gives us. When we get benefit from something we have to show gratitude.  Keeping Shabbos and the festivals shows that G-d runs the world and cares about what goes on down here!

We have to be careful not to do things just by rote because then even if we are doing the right thing, we minimize its importance if we are on automatic pilot! Torah has to be fresh on a daily basis and we have to look at each day as if G-d gave us the Torah anew. This is a difficult challenge but one that is necessary for us to continue to grow in spirituality even by doing mundane things. We need to prioritize and constantly think in G-d's ways and then go out and do it!
Thursday, January 21, 2016

Parshas Bashalach: We are Subservient to G-d

"And the L-rd said to Moshe, 'Why do you cry to me? speak to the children of Israel that they go forward" (Exodus 14:15)

After everything the Jewish people go through in Egypt, they escape, go through the desert and now are faced by the obstacle of the sea in front of them and Egyptians close behind! G-d here asks Moshe why he is crying out! Just speak to the children of Israel and tell them to move forward. How can they move forward if the sea is right in front of them and the Egyptians right on their heels?

This is yet another test for the Jewish people to work on their belief in G-d. They witness the plagues, the killing of the first born...and they even kill the Egyptian god the lamb and slaughter it in front of their very eyes! What more does G-d want from them?

The answer is that G-d goes out of His way to work on the emunah of his people in Him. After all, they are going to live in the desert for a while and live on a very high spiritual level having G-d sustain them miraculously while being there. This is part of the bigger plan of getting them on that level to accept the Torah and then go into the promised land. The problem was that the Jewish people did not think they were on the level for such a thing!

That is why they complain in the desert "missing" the watermelon and fish of Egypt. Did they really miss those things and have this strong desire to return to the place where they suffered so much? After seeing all the miracles and going through the sea and receiving the Torah, they felt that they were not on a level to live that way. Obviously G-d thought otherwise and was expecting  great things from them which would make the transition to the land that much easier.

In essence that is what G-d wants from us. He puts us in situations that help us to reach our true potential. They may be difficult trials and tribulations but they are the best way for us to do things that we didn't think we were capable of! Isn't better we don't have these things? Yes, but at the same time without them we don't grow!

At this time when the Jewish people come to the sea and they see the Egyptians right behind them, they cry out to G-d to save them. They had no other choice. They were not going to fight the world power at the time and had no one else to turn to. This is a very valuable lesson we have to learn for ourselves.

No matter what we do or what is thrown at our way, we have to be thankful for whatever G-d puts us through because at the end of the day the purpose is to strengthen us in our belief in Him! The other thing to realize is that in all our endeavors there is no one else but Him! If we would realize this very simple idea, our lives would be different because we need this realization that everything comes from Him, for good and for bad.

We may not always understand why things happen the way it does but when we turn our lives over to Him for all our needs, we will live and look different!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 4: Know how to Curb your Desires!

"This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water in small measure, sleep on the ground, lve a life of deprivation - but toil in the Torah! If you do this, 'you are praiseworthy, and all is well with you'. You are praiseworthy in this world and all is well with you in the world to come".

Is this really the way that we are supposed to live? Am I not allowed to enjoy things in this world or is everything just forbidden and bad? The Torah outlook is that we live in this world and we need to make the most of it. Although there is great temptation and we certainly could use the warning to be careful of not enjoying things too much in this world, nonetheless we are allowed to get benefit of things here we just need to know how to use them!

The Ramban at the beginning of Parshas Kedoshim tells us that there are plenty of things that are permissible in this world. The problem is that if we use too much of them or do things in abundance, it could be detrimental to our physical and mental health. One example is that it is permissible to eat.
The reason is otherwise we would die! We need to sustain our bodies and keep ourselves healthy so that we can function. Although this may be true, we are not allowed to go overboard and be gluttons! We have to do thing in proportion to how we can use and utilize them! Just because a person has different desires doesn't mean we always have to go after them!

G-d gave us these desires so that we would work on our self control. Many will say "eat, drink and be merry lest tomorrow you die". Get as much out of this world as possible and enjoy life to the fullest since we don't know what tomorrow will bring. That may be true but don't we have other obligations in this world besides our physical needs?

One of the reasons that we make blessings for example is to give gratitude for everything that G-d does for us. We learn this out from Moshe that he was not allowed to hit the sand for the sake of making lice as one of the plagues in Egypt and he was not allowed to smite the water (because it protected him as a child) for the plague of blood. If Moshe had to show gratitude for inanimate objects all the more so we have to have gratitude to G-d for the fact that He sustains us!

Not only that, but the blessings that we make has a physical and spiritual purpose as it gives blessings to all fruit trees...(if that is the blessing we are making). We show gratitude for what G-d gives us and He responds by blessing the source of what we ate from! Mind boggling if we think about what can happen when we make a simple blessing over an apple or a peach!

The Mishna here speaks of the idea of living with the minimal. The reason is because if we do that we will better be able to serve G-d and work on our desires. Again, this does not mean we shouldn't eat or enjoy things but we need to know how to do so otherwise we could be caught up in all that which would take us away from our real purpose and that is working on our relationship with G-d and becoming the great people that we can be!
Thursday, January 14, 2016

Parshas Bo: Sacrifice for Torah

"Then Moshe called for all the elders of Yisrael and said to them, Draw out and take your lambs according to your families and kill the passover offering" (Exodus 12:21)

After all the plagues and the decimation of Israel, G-d tells Moshe to tell the Jewish people that the last thing they have to do is kill the lamb and sprinkle the blood on the doorpost of their home so G-d can pass over their homes during the plague of the killing of the first born. If the sheep was a god for the Egyptians, how could G-d command them to do this if it meant killing their god right in front of their eyes? Hadn't the Jews gone through enough to be redeemed?

We know that in the plague of darkness their is a discrepancy as to how many Jews died. Some say it was 50% some say more. The reality is that it could be that only 20% of the Jewish people actually made it out! Even so, G-d wanted the Jewish people to go through one last test and this was it. They had to show beyond the shadow of a doubt that they would be G-d's people by putting their lives in danger by killing the Egyptian god.

Is this what the Torah demands from us? To this extent a person has to be willing to give up their lives for its sake? There is a famous story the Talmud tells about Rabbi Akiva. The Shema says that we should love the L-rd our G-d, with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of your might. With all of our soul Rabbi Akiva understood it meant that even if we have to give up our souls for the sake of Torah!

As he was being killed, his students asked is this really what the Torah meant? The Talmud then tells us as he said the Shema his soul left him. Not everyone agreed with how Rabbi Akiva interpreted this verse but he understood that in the back of our minds this certainly could happen and what we have to be willing to give up for Him! Are we any different?

Don't we know that at some point there may be a time when we would have to give up our lives for His sake? No one wants to go through this but if we are forced to then we will do that. This is the sacrifice that Jews have made throughout the millennium and we learn this out from the Jews in Egypt! This event shaped the Jewish people into who they became on the way for them to accept the Torah!

We have a lot to learn from this. We can take this important message and put it in our everyday lives. Nothing is more important than learning Torah and keeping its mitzvos! Regardless of the difficulties we may have.we still have to keep the mitzvos to the best of our ability! We have to keep in mind and be willing to give up our lives for our precious heritage!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 3: Respect for those that have taught us

"He who learns from his fellowman a single chapter, a single halachah, a single verse, a single Torah statement or even a single letter, must treat him with honor. For this we find in the case of David, King of Israel, who learned nothing from Achitophel except for two things, yet called him his teacher, his guide, his intimate, as it is said: 'You are a man of my measure, my guide and my intimate. One can derive from this the following: If David King of Israel who learned nothing from Achitophel except for two things, called him his teacher, his guide, his intimate one who learns from his fellowman a single chapter, a single halacha, a single verse, a single statement, or even a single letter, how much more must he treat him with honor! And honor is due only for Torah as it is aid, 'The wise shall inherit honor...' and the perfect shall inherit good. And only Torah is truly good, as it is said, 'I have given you a good teaching, do not forsake My Torah'". 

This Mishna teaches us the importance of showing respect to our teachers even if they only taught us one verse of Torah or even one letter all the more so if they taught us more! The reason is very simple: we have to show gratitude to those that gave us the ability to understand and know His knowledge! For that alone, don't they deserve honor?

We see today more than ever how much teachers and rabbis are castigated for what they do. They could have years of success bringing others closer to Torah while at the same time having detractors trying to cause them harm. A rabbi who doesn't have people striving against him is not a rabbi! This will ultimately make the person work harder to achieve their goals. Why though, if these people are trying hard to educate others, why should they have enemies?

The answer is that many times they may speak about a topic or give over information that for some people is hard to hear.and they will fight tooth and nail against them because they don't want to hear the truth. While that may be true, it does not give anyone the right to chastise the rabbi or speak out against him.

There are laws of lashon hara (speaking badly about others) that we all have to know and review. There are times that it is permitted to speak out against someone if that person for example is causing others to go astray or not keep the Torah and there are times that we should be quiet. Most people are not aware that even if something is in the news and it is true it is still lashon hara!

We are quick to make accusations and give our opinions when we don't even know what the facts are! Haven't we regretted things we have said because of a knee-jerk reaction? That also can happen but the reality of the situation is that even before we know what has "truly" happened we are judge and jury!

What if the person is a Torah scholar? After all, if he has taught us something, even one thing as the Mishna tells us don't we have to show them honor? Shouldn't they be given the benefit of the doubt before they are sacrificed by the social media? Unless the person is a heretic (which has specific guidelines as to what one is) is it permissible in any way to destroy them after all the good that they have done?

If we only learned this Mishna and nothing else, then that would tell us how careful we must be when we speak about our religious leaders. The Vilna Gaon stood for the rebbe that taught him the alef - beis because that knowledge allowed him to begin to learn Torah! If the Vilna Gaon had that much respect for the one who taught him that, then we should have as much if not ore respect to those teachers that have taught us!
Thursday, January 7, 2016

Parshas Vaera: Look at the Goodness G-d does for us!

"Hashem said unto Moshe, 'Say to Aharon Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt; over their rivers, over their canals, over their reservoirs, and over all their gatherings of water, and they shall become blood; there shall be blood throughout the land of Egypt, even in the wooden and stone vessels" (Exodus 7:19)

The plague of blood is the first of the plagues that will go on to decimate Egypt. When we read about the plagues and hear about the miracles that occurred in Egypt, we may wonder what was so great about them in the first place? G-d is the one in charge of nature and controls it, so can't He change things if He so desires for whatever reason? Certainly He can and did but what is the deeper message here?

When we hear about the miracles we are astounded as to their tenacity and utter destruction of this nation where the Jews were seemingly unaffected by it! At the same time it was to show G-d's power in the world and instill in the Jewish people the idea that not only does G-d run the world but He interferes in history. This is the concept of Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence) which is a major tenet of Judaism.

It is so important that the mitzvah to believe in G-d is so strong that we are obligated to believe in Him through knowledge of His existence because He took us out of Egypt. This means that not only does G-d care for us and what happens to us but He control nature and can change it at His will! Another important lesson we learn from here is that when Moshe told Pharaoh that this or that plague was going to occur it did!

This is nothing short of miraculous because isn't it true that we may sometimes promise to do things but somehow we get sidetracked or bogged down with other things and don't end up doing it? Even with the greatest of intentions we may fail in this. The Torah here teaches an important lesson.

When Moshe told Pharaoh that G-d was going to do something it happened. Not only that it happened each time! How could it be after the first few plagues that Pharaoh could still deny G-d's existence. When Moshe said something would happen it did. How could Pharaoh deny this?

The answer is that this is why G-d hardened his heart and did not allow him to do teshuvah. He took away his freewill because after witnessing G-d's miracles he still rebelled against Him. G-d gave him an opportunity and Pharaoh basically spit in G-d's face. G-d then decided well if that is the case then He is going to make an example out of Pharaoh and his people by showing His might against him.

If this is true, then all the more so we have to be careful if G-d does something for us and we witness or hear about a miracle and it doesn't change us. The reason is because now we have a higher awareness of Him which now should change us to do teshuvah and become better people. If we don't do this and acknowledge what is happening then the repercussions can be that much worse.

If we say that with everything going in the world we see tremendous Divine Providence and miracles all around us, how can it not change us and if it doesn't change us, how much worse it will be for us! We have to wake up and see what is happening and realize all the chesed G-d does for us and continues to do for us!

Shabbat Shalom

Ethics of our Fathers: Chapter 6 Mishna 2: The Truly Free Person is one who learns Torah

"Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Every day a heavenly voice resounds from Mount Horeb , proclaiming these words: 'Woe to the people for their disregard of the Torah! For whoever does not occupy himself with the Torah is considered rebuked as it is said, 'Like a golden ring in the snout of a swine is a fair woman lacking in taste'. The Torah says, 'The tablets were the work of G-d and the writing was the writing of G-d, engraved upon the tablets.' Read not here charut meaning engraved but heruth which means freedom, for none can be considered free except those who occupy themselves with the study of the Torah. Anyone who occupies himself with the study shall be exalted, as it is said, 'Through the Torah gift one attains the heritage of G-d; by the heritage of G-d one is raised to high places'". 

The first part of the Mishna explains that there is this heavenly voice that goes out every day bemoaning the fact that the Jewish people disregard the Torah. The first question is who hears this heavenly voice and what does it mean that the Jewish people disregard Torah?

If we would be on the spiritual level that we could be on, spiritual things would manifest themselves in a way that we could fathom. There are unique individuals that may be on this level but the vast majority of us are certainly not. At the same time, hearing this voice would be like hearing someone speak between two mountains, Rabbenu Yona tells us. This is difficult for us to fathom but the idea remains that we are lacking in our observance of Torah.

Even though today there is more Torah learning going on than in the second Temple era, nonetheless the level of scholarship today is not comparable to what it once was. It doesn't mean that G-d forbid, people are not learning it is just that the level of learning is not the same as it once was. This is certainly a rebuke against the Jewish people as to how far we have fallen.

Although this may happen on a daily basis whether we hear it or not reinforces the idea of how much more we have to work to reach our potential. The Mishna then continues to speak about the importance of learning Torah and how the truly free person is one that is occupied with Torah. If that is true, do we say that the vast majority of the world not occupied in Torah are mere slaves?

The Mishna here means that if we are occupied with Torah, learning its mitzvos and trying to reach the highest spiritual level we can, then we are really considered free. The reason is because if we don't do that, then we are in reality slaves to our wants and desires. Although we are given free will to act and do as we see fit, nonetheless we see that the more we engage in the everyday without stepping back to "smell the roses" and do what is really important, we have surely missed the boat!

The purpose of our lives is to realize that we are put in this world to struggle and overcome our evil inclination. We do mitzvos and keep Torah because that is the best way to become closer to G-d since this is the book that He manufactured Himself. Although we are given many trials and tribulations over our lifetime, we nonetheless strive to become better and sanctifying G-d's name!