Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo Sept. 7, 2012 – 21 Elul 5772

Tidbits of Torah

Tidbits of Torah
Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo
September 7, 2012 – 21 Elul 5772

Dear Friends,

Jews are not supposed to be indifferent.

Jews are supposed to care about the world around them and to be involved in
tikkun olam [repairing the brokenness of the world].

Jews are taught to be passionate about three things: about Torah, about
avodah [which may be understood as “work or occupation” or as “worship or
service”],  and about gemilut chasadim [deeds of lovingkindness].

But, whenever possible, Jews are also supposed to be happy and focused on
the blessings of life!

In our weekly Torah portion of Ki Tavo we read: “V’Samach’ta v’chol
ha-tov…And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in
your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and
your household” (Deuteronomy 26:11).  This is one of my favorite verses in
the Torah.

Not long after this verse, we read another wonderful verse which expresses a
powerful prayer to God to look upon us with favor: “Hashkifa…Look down
from Your holy abode, from heaven, and bless Your people Israel and the soil
You have given us, a land flowing with milk and honey, as You swore to our
fathers” (Deuteronomy 26:15).

The root of the Hebrew word Hashkifa [Look] connects with three other Hebrew
words:  mishkafayim [eye-glasses],  mishkefet [binoculars], and hashkafa
[outlook or worldview].

We can look at the world, and at those around us, using binoculars.  Then,
we will surely see more of their deficiencies.   We can also choose to look
around us with a broader outlook.   Then, we will be more likely to see the
world and those around us as sources of blessing.

May our outlook be pro-active, yet positive.  May our Torah, our avodah
[work, or worship], and our gemilut chasadim [deeds of lovingkindness]
sustain us and may they be a source of blessing, and indeed of happiness, to
us and to those around us!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

September-1-2012 – Tidbits of Torah

Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat KiTetse
September 1, 2012 – 14 Elul 5772

Dear Friends,

In Talmudic times, the Jewish people dedicated two months of the year, Adar and Elul, to more extensive and intensive Torah study.   Both of these months are associated with the approach of harvest seasons in the Land of Israel.  Adar is the month of Purim when preparations for Passover begin and Elul is the month when we begin our penitential season and our preparations for the High Holy Days.

I am often asked:  Why do we need the entire month of Elul in order to prepare for the High Holy Days?  A similar question might be asked about a situation described in the very beginning of our weekly Torah portion, Ki Tetse.

The Torah tells us that if an Israelite returned from a war, in love with a non-Israelite woman who had been taken into captivity in that war, he may marry her, but only after she had been given the opportunity to weep for her mother and father for a full month.

According to the ancient mystical tradition of the Zohar, this month is the month of Elul.

Based on the Zohar’s connection of this month with the month of Elul, in his book, Shabbath Shiurim, Rabbi M. Miller teaches us that just as the captive woman is entitled to a full month to reflect on her past and to prepare herself for the newest phase in her life, so too, we may require a full month to let go of preconceived notions about our own lives – a full month in which we may find ways to re-invent ourselves in light of Torah values and in light of our present situation.

Transitions are not easy but the Torah, in her wisdom, gives us time so that we may reflect on our lives and make our lives more meaningful, year after year.

In ancient times, our ancestors used this month of Elul not only to reflect on their lives, but also to study Torah more intensively, because one of the many benefits of Torah study, especially if it is shared with a chevruta (a study partner), is that the dialogue we create with and through Torah study, broadens our horizons and offers us deeper insight into our lives and into the world around us.

May our transition to the new Jewish year of 5773 be a smooth transition and may it be a year of peace and of blessing for us and for all people everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

August 25, 2012 – Tidbits of Torah

Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat Shof’tim
August 25, 2012 – 7 Elul 5772

Dear Friends,

What have we been hearing as we turn on the news this week? A lot of election news. Quite a bit of talk about the weather and what we can expect in the days to come. All of this is important, I grant you. But, no less important, is the knowledge that we are already one whole week into the month of Elul. That means that we have only three weeks left to prepare ourselves for Rosh HaShana and for the High Holy Days.

Hopefully, all the news we hear from our surroundings will not deter us from making our spiritual preparations for the New Year 5773 meaningful.

After affirming for us the necessity of setting up a system of justice, including the appointment of judges and officials and after discussing a wide range of issues including questions of war and of peace, this week’s Torah portion, Shof’tim [Judges] includes, at the very end of the parsha [Torah portion], a piece about a very unusual circumstance. The Torah describes a situation in which a slain corpse is discovered in an open area, somewhere between two cities. No one knows who is responsible for this death. The Torah tells us that the elders of the surrounding area go out and measure the distance around the corpse to determine which city is the closest one. Then, after looking into the circumstances to the best of their ability, the elders of the nearest city must come forth with a declaration: “Our hands did not spill this blood and our eyes did not see (Deuteronomy 21:7).”

What is the message of this passage? The Torah expects our elders, our leaders, to take responsibility for what happens within their purview. If they cannot declare that they, and their constituency, did everything in their power to protect the life of the innocent, then they are not fit to be leaders of our people. But, Torah holds our leaders to a high standard because leaders are expected to model the ways of justice and of mercy for us.

We are all paying attention to the candidates for election so that we may best judge their leadership records and potential. That is our civic duty. But, during this month of Elul, each of us should also be paying attention to our own lives. That is our spiritual mandate.

Just as the elders were expected to examine their role in society and to take responsibility if they did not do everything in their power to prevent injustice, so too, we are called upon to examine our role in life. Just as the elders had to ask themselves what they might have chosen to ignore to the detriment of their city and those who passed through it, so too, we are invited in this special month of Elul to ask ourselves: Are there things that I have been ignoring to the detriment of my surroundings? Are there things that I can do to make my world and the world of those around me better?

It is a blessing to have a time each year dedicated to soul searching. Let’s make the most of it so that together we will enjoy a year of life, of joy, of justice and of mercy.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror