Oct 31 2014

A “Lot” of Losses

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5634567317_b4d5b61ff8_m_empty-pocketIn this week’s reading, we learn about two wealthy individuals. Avram, as he was then called, gave up his local work and reputation to move to the land of Cana’an, where, he was told, he would receive much greater blessings. And, as promised, he prospered.

The Torah tells us that his nephew Lot journeyed with him, and prospered as well. Rashi tells us that the Torah isn’t simply reminding you that Lot was Avram’s traveling partner when it says [Gen. 13:5] “And Lot, also, who escorted Avram, had flocks, cattle and tents.” Why repeat the fact that Lot was going

with Avram? Because, says Rashi, that’s why he became wealthy — this is cause and effect. By being in the presence of such a holy person as Avram, Lot prospered.

Lot, however, didn’t understand the source of his blessings. The shepherds who worked for him would let his cattle graze on other people’s property, which Avram did not permit his own shepherds to do. The conflict between the shepherds is, as Rashi tells us, what led Avram to suggest that they split up, in order that there not be an argument between them and between their shepherds. Lot, of course, agreed.

And where did he go? To Sodom! At the time, as the Torah describes it, the territory around Sodom was extraordinarily fertile and vibrant — yet the people were evil. Lot chose the fertile land, despite the evil neighbors, over remaining with Avram. From a business perspective, it had all the makings of a good decision: his flocks would have more room to graze, on the best land available.

And what happened? He lost everything.

When Lot lost himself in material pursuits, he was willing to leave his holy uncle to go live among evil people rather than get his shepherds to behave correctly. And that, in the end, is what led to the loss of his fortune (and his wife). Following the more honest, more spiritual, more positive path will always pay off in the end — in more ways than one!

Oct 08 2014

Come for Shabbos!

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One of the themes of the holiday of Sukkos is that we are all bound together. The Torah tells us to take four species: the Esrog, a citrus fruit with a pleasant taste and smell; the Lulav from a Date Palm which produces fruit but is not fragrant; Hadasim, myrtle branches which are aromatic but does not provide edible fruit; and aravos, from the willow, which has neither taste nor smell.

IMG_2693As we discussed last year, the fruit symbolizes the Torah inside a person, while the fragrance represents the Mitzvos, the deeds a person does which affect those around him or her. The four species represent those who have both Torah and good deeds, those who have one but not the other, and even those who have neither.

And what are we told to do? We bind them together! Every Jew is a unique and essential part of our nation.

Two weeks ago I mentioned The Shabbos Project, started in South Africa, in which members of their diverse Jewish community all celebrated one Sabbath together. And this year, they have taken it global, setting the Oct. 24-25 as the special Sabbath — right after Sukkos!

Would you like to join us? Here in Baltimore, a number of local organizations are working together to pair host families with Jewish individuals, couples and families which may never have taken part in a traditional Shabbos, much less attempted to do it themselves. Rather than try to make Shabbos “from scratch” that weekend, why not join us? We’re planning a special program with prayers, classes, and of course lots of delicious food and good company. Jewish men and women of all ages are invited!

If you’d like to join us, please send an email to office -at- torah.org and baltimore -at- theshabbosproject.com so that we can match you with a host family. And if you’re too far away to join us, please see http://www.theshabbosproject.org/our-partners/ to contact resources in a city closer to you!

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and of course a Good Shabbos!

Oct 02 2014

System Reset

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On Yom Kippur, we are invited to “clean the slate” of all the misdeeds of the past year.

In a way, it’s like hitting the reset button.

reset_button-scaled500When we restart our computer, all of the old programs that were sitting there, using memory and slowing down the machine, are cleared away. This is the time of year when we’re granted a special opportunity to reboot our lives, to start over without the baggage of bad habits. It’s a time to examine which of our “running programs” are positive, and which are simply slowing us down.

It’s also a time when we have a clear connection, when G-d declares that His Presence is especially close to us, to help us to move forward.

I hesitate to add this, or name the Rabbi who came up with it, but it’s a great time to get rid of “a virus.” [Aveyros are sins, and if pronounced like someone from the Hungarian or Galician Jewish community, it comes out ahvayris.]

So it’s important to not simply go to synagogue tomorrow… but to take stock of our lives. After a system restart, a computer runs faster and cleaner, and is more productive. Yom Kippur gives us a special, once-a-year opportunity to restart how we live, in much the same way.

Sep 24 2014

What’s New?

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Each week, as I write this note, I try to say something tied to the weekly Torah reading. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I’d like to speak a little bit about Shabbos!

The Shabbos TableWell, not just the theory or regular practice, but a special Shabbos that is planned for October 24-25, Parshas Noach.

Last year, someone suggested to South Africa’s Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, that there be a project to help members of the Jewish community unite to observe a single Shabbos together. What became The Shabbos Project was a great success, with a very high level of participation. This year, they have “gone global,” sharing this initiative with the rest of the world.

Every Rosh Hashanah, we look over our deeds of the past year and consider what we can do better during the year ahead. What is our next step forward? How can we come closer to G-d and Torah? Considered in that light, The Shabbos Project is both a practical option and a paradigm. For those who have never tried to observe a traditional Shabbos, it is an opportunity to participate. And for those who do so every week, it is an opportunity to share it with others as a host or coach. It ties together our efforts to grow spiritually and in unity with other Jews.

As we go into the New Year, then, let us consider both participating in The Shabbos Project, and using it as a model for other opportunities to grow. What else might we have wanted to try to do in our own spiritual lives, but we have not yet done? Trying something for a limited period of time is less daunting than making a sudden, permanent commitment. And what else might we do that helps not only our own growth, but that of others in the community?

We approach G-d on Rosh HaShanah and ask for His blessings for a good year, during a time when, our Sages tell us, the Divine Presence is close, waiting for us to turn to Him. Let us commit ourselves to practical, achievable goals to stay close to Him in the year ahead!

Wishing you and yours a year of health and success.

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