Tidbits of Torah

 

Tidbits of Torah

2017-06-23 15:33:24 RST Web Admin

  Striving for Holiness – One Day at a Time!                 

Shabbat Parashat Korach

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Tammuz 

June 23, 2017- 30 Sivan 5777
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The final section of last week’s parsha dealt with the mitzvah of tzitzit.  We are to place four fringes on a four-cornered garment and by so doing we create a tallit.  We don the tallit with a blessing every morning without exception – weekdays, shabbatot, and holidays.  The fringes of the tallit remind us that the world is imperfect.  There are always “loose ends.”  But, the fringes also remind us that with the help of God and of Torah and mitzvoth, we have a precious spiritual heritage – a Jewish road map – to help us imbue our lives with as much holiness and purpose as possible.

In this week’s Torah portion we read of Korach’s rebellion against Moses and Aaron.

What did Korach do wrong?

For one thing he said that we are all holy!  True, we are all created in God’s image and the Torah says (Leviticus 19:2): Kedoshim t’hi’yu – You shall be holy (in the future).  But, only God is truly holy in the present.

When the Torah says: Kedoshim t’hi’yu, we, human beings, are being invited to continually strive for holiness.  When we claim to be holy in the present, as Korach claimed on his own behalf and on behalf of all of the Israelites, we miss the point of Torah.  We are drawn into a dangerous mindset which suggests to us that we have somehow achieved holiness – that we can rest on our laurels.   By telling us the story of Korach, the Torah reminds us that it is our human responsibility to continuing to strive to make the most of our own potential and of the potential of the world around us.  Korach was wrong.  We have not fulfilled our potential for holiness.  Then, and now, we still have a long way to go.  One of the most significant teachings of Torah is that striving for holiness is the Jewish way of keeping us on track!

This Shabbat we will celebrate Rosh Chodesh Tammuz.  May this new Jewish month of Tammuz be a month of peace, of blessing, of healing and of joy!  May we stay on track and continue to strive for increased holiness and purpose in life.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-06-16 16:24:34 RST Web Admin

      Grasshoppers and “Bubble-hopping”                

Shabbat Parashat Shelach-Lekha

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh 

June 17, 2017- 23 Sivan 5777
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As is true for many of us, for the most part, I live in a world of assumptions and of circumstances that are familiar to me.  This is my comfort zone.  This is my “bubble.”  But, we all know that, from time to time, we can be enriched  by poking our heads out of our particular “bubble.”   By doing so, we can learn more about the world.  We can glimpse how the world around us is experienced and understood from different perspectives.

In our weekly Torah portion we read the Biblical story of the spies.  Twelve leaders were sent by Moses to scout out the Promised Land.  Ten, the clear majority, came back with scary reports.  Hearing these scary reports, our people wanted to retreat.  They wanted to turn back toward Egypt, toward the familiar, toward the past.  But, two spies came back urging our people to move forward toward the Promised Land.

All twelve spies agreed that the fruit of the Promised Land was wonderful.  Where they differed was in regard to their perceptions of themselves and of the people who inhabited the Land.  The ten spies saw themselves as “grasshoppers” as compared with the people who inhabited the Land whom they saw as giants!  Of course, the ten spies wanted to retreat!  Sadly, their fear spread among the people and God decreed that the Israelites would wander in the desert for forty years before entering the Promised Land…

If we see ourselves as “grasshoppers” – as tiny, as threatened, or as powerless – we naturally fear stepping outside of our comfort zone.  We reject opportunities to expand our horizons and to explore the reality of the world as others might experience it.   We push aside faith and hope.  We let fear dictate our future.  How different would the story of our people have been, had the ten spies had a bit more courage!  A bit of  careful “bubble-hopping” would have allowed them to expand their spiritual horizons and to check their assumptions about themselves, about their community, and even about the “giants.”

It was then, and still is today, a challenge to find the best balance between being bogged down by feeling as if we are “grasshoppers” and feeling that we are invincible.

The Biblical story of the spies teaches us that we are not grasshoppers.  But, we do need to have faith in God and we do need one another to help us reach our full potential! With faith and with the support of community we can reaffirm our worth, our direction, and the worth of our journey forward, toward the Promised Land.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror
P.S. This Shabbat we will recite the blessing for the upcoming Jewish month of Tammuz.  Rosh Chodesh Tammuz will be a week from now – on next Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday.  May it be a month of peace, of blessing, of healing, and of joy!

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-06-09 13:33:06 RST Web Admin

      Believe it…or not?               

Shabbat Parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha

June 10, 2017- 16 Sivan 5777
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There is a saying: “Seeing is believing.”  But, sometimes, for various reasons, we see things and we still doubt what we have seen with our own eyes.  We are skeptical about what we ourselves experience, and we are skeptical about the stories we are told, even if the stories come from the Bible…

This week I came across the following story:

A  little boy returned home from Hebrew school and his father asked, “What did you learn today?” He answered, “The rabbi told us how Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.” “How?” asked the father. The boy said, “Moses was a strong man and he beat Pharaoh up. Then, while Pharaoh was down, Moses got all the people together and ran toward the sea. When he got there, he had the Corps of Engineers build a huge pontoon bridge. Once they got on the other side, they blew up the bridge while the Egyptians were trying to cross.”
The father was shocked. “Is that what the rabbi taught you?” The boy replied, “No. But you’d never believe the story he DID tell us!”
Why do I share this story with you now?  Because it is hard to believe some of the biblical stories in our weekly Torah portion.  Especially the part about the miracles…

Our Torah portion of B’ha’a’lot’cha reminds us that the Israelites were led through the desert guided by a cloud and pillar of fire!  According to the Biblical story, the Israelites saw the cloud and the pillar of fire…So, why did they have trouble believing that God was with them?  Why did they complain?

Why were they not open to simply “believing” what they were seeing with their own eyes?
Perhaps it is because, from the earliest time in our history as a people, Jewish tradition has encouraged us to ask questions!  We are supposed to use our minds in order to understand more fully whether what we are experiencing or what we are being told is something which is true or not.  And, experience teaches us that a healthy measure of skepticism is important in life!  Isn’t that kind of “critical thinking” exactly what the Israelites were doing as they “looked right past” the miracles that they were experiencing?  Weren’t they just doing what Judaism encourages us to do – to use our minds to ask probing questions…?

But, there is a greater truth embedded in our Parsha.  The greater truth is that literal truth is not the only kind of truth which has spiritual value.  Sometimes, there is value in “believing” a story even when it is mixed with some measure of “mythology.”  The cloud and the pillar of fire were there, literally or figuratively.  They were seen by our people.  Yet our people complained and denied God’s presence in their lives!

Our Torah portion is asking us to consider:  How many times do we automatically disbelieve the stories of everyday miracles and of extraordinary miracles that happen in our lives, or that are part of our Torah’s spiritual message?  How many times does our skepticism get in the way of faith and of hope, of purpose and of devotion?

I welcome your thoughts on this subject….What would you say?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-06-05 12:10:40 RST Web Admin

    Riches and Blessings              

Shabbat Parashat Naso

June 3, 2017- 9 Sivan 5777
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The threefold blessing, also known as the Priestly blessing, comes right out of our weekly Torah portion!

“May Adonai bless and protect you.
May Adonai’s countenance shine upon you
and may Adonai bestow kindness upon you.
May Adonai’s countenance be lifted toward you and
may Adonai grant you peace.”

What a beautiful blessing!  Rashi, the classic commentator, sees a progression in the blessing that explains what might otherwise appear to be redundant language in the threefold blessing. He sees a progression of blessing from the realm of the physical and material, to the realm of the communal and social worlds we inhabit, and finally to our own inner spiritual lives.

How does Rashi build the progression into the words of blessing?

First, Rashi asks:  Why does the blessing begin with: “May Adonai bless and protect you”?  Why would we need protection, if we are blessed? In other words, what kind of divine blessing puts us in a situation of still needing to be protected?

To answer that, Rashi postulates that the opening of the blessing revolves around the physical and material blessings (or perhaps around the “burdens”) of riches and of property.

And, since many people of means are not universally loved….the second part of the blessing revolves around God’s blessing for those who are in fact “burdened” by riches and by property.  The second part of the blessing reminds us that even when others are not necessarily smiling at us, God’s countenance can shine upon us, “lighten” our burdens, and help us navigate our personal relationships with others.

But, then, finally, at the end of the threefold blessing, comes a spiritual blessing of personal inner peace; a blessing of personal “shalom” for those who might struggle with the physical and material “blessings” along with their associated communal and social challenges….

That’s how Rashi sees and explicates the threefold blessing.  How do you see it?

May we all be abundantly blessed, with all the various blessings envisioned by our Torah, and uplifted by the inspiring lessons of our tradition!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-05-26 13:07:32 RST Web Admin

    Memorial Day Weekend and B’Midbar              

Shabbat Parashat B’Midbar

May 27, 2017- 2 Sivan 5777
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It is good to be home!  Thank you to all the volunteers and staff who filled in while I was away on Sabbatical!  Much appreciated!

Now, as summer approaches and as we move into Memorial Day weekend, we may sense a shift of focus in our lives.   As the seasons change, so do we….And, as we do, this week we move into the reading of the fourth book of the Five Books of Moses – B’Midbar.

Memorial Day weekend reminds me that B’Midbar is a story of a people struggling to find their center.  As our people leave Egypt and head toward the Promised Land, God gives us structure.  This is how we are to make camp and to travel – with the holy of hollies at our center and with our focus turned toward that center.
It is natural to lose our orientation from time to time, as a people, and as individuals, especially in times of stress!
That is the saga of B’nei Yisrael [the people of Israel] in the wilderness.
By telling this story with all the trials and tribulations described in the Book of B’Midbar, the Torah reminds us that it is natural to be upset, to complain and to argue – but, in the end…we get to the fifth book in the Torah.  In the end, we get to Deuteronomy – to a more focused direction and to consensus. In the end, as a people, we get to the Promised Land.

Change is always unsettling, even when we are moving in a direction that is of our own choosing.  To some extent, as we change or as our lives change, we lose our center.  We search for new balance.

This Memorial Day weekend we remember and we honor those who gave their lives, so that we may live in freedom in our country.  Together, thanks to their service and sacrifice, we are able to move forward, to re-group, to find our center and to continue to build our lives and our country.  May their memory be for a blessing.

If I summarize the message of the Torah in moving us through the stories of B’Midbar and into Deuteronomy it is this:  Having a communal structure, loosing focus, complaining, re-grouping, moving forward, then finding our center, coming to consensus and recalling our direction and purpose….That is the summary of the story of B’Midbar.  That has been our perspective as Jews throughout the generations…And, it is that perspective that reminds us of the deeper meaning of Memorial Day weekend…

As a people, and as a nation, as Jews and as Americans, do we still retain that perspective?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this question!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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