Parshat KI Tisa: Life and Death

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When the Jewish people came out of Mitzrayim many of them still had a pagen mindset. This mindset comforted them in worshipping death, and a life in the world to come, over truly living in the world which they physically walked.

Many pagan religions, and even some religions today, worship the comfort of death and a life in a world to come over the hear and now.

The worship of the golden calf, that the Jewish people made and worshiped as a replacement for their leader Moshe, and as a symbolic connector to G-d, symbolizes death. With the act of building and worshiping the golden calf,  the calf itself becomes a representation for disconnection and separation from the physical world in which they live and the laws an statutes which they pledged to follow.

Hashem, through his wisdom, transformed the cow from a symbol of death into the life affirming symbol. Through the ritual of the sprinkling of the ashes of the red heifer (known as the parah adumah), in order to cleanse oneself after coming in contact with death, an animal once used in separation and disconnection to the world around becomes important in daily life, as a representation and reminder of the importance of living.

Hashem, through the Torah, stresses for us the importance of living a G-dly existence here on earth. The main purpose of our existence is not to reach a world to come, but to do G-d’s will here on earth and live a life worthy of Hashem’s praises. Chassidus and kabbalah teaches us that our existence here on earth is of the utmost important, and when we live a life centred on Torah and mitzvoth, and thorough the act of elevating the mundane to the status of holy, we can create a world of holiness. This holiness allows for Hashem to come a dwell amongst us, and how much more life affirming can we get than this?

But if the above mentioned life affirming examples are not enough, the Torah not only symbolically stress the importance of life, it explicitly show us the transcending importance of life over death through the principle of Pikuach Nefesh – saving a life (Vayikra 19:16, parshat Kedoshim “Neither shall you stand by the blood of your neighbor”). This principal takes precedence over almost every other Torah commandment and reaffirms the importance of living over dying.

So, even though the worship of the golden calf was a symbol for death, through the commandment of the parah adumah the cow is turned into a symbol of the reaffirmed importance of life. Gut Shabbos.

Meditate on G-d’s Embrace

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Parshat VZot Habracha

And this is the blessing with which Moses, the man of G-d, blessed the children of Israel [just] before his death. why “and” this..? Why not just “this” is the..? There is a biblical tradition of fathers blessing their sons just before their death. Some commentators (I think Rashi) say maybe Moshe was trying to be a part of this tradition, in essence connecting himself to this tradition.
And is also a connecting word.

This week please connect (and meditate on) Hashem’s embrace (Hashem hugs you with the walls of the Sukkah) with a blessing of love. G-d’s external love for you.

-Everyone, hot a gut Sukkos, un a gut Shabbos. Zayn freylekhn
– Have a good Sukkos, and a good Shabbos. Be joyous.

Hisbodedus and other forms of Chasidic meditation are practices that I try to do regularly. Just find a quite place to talk to Hashem (Aibishter) as you would a close friend, or deeply think about a concept or idea in Judaism/Chasidus to try and fully understand it.

Parshat Bo and the Foundations of Prayer and Spirituality

Parshat  Bo and the changing of one’s mindset in anticipation of the new. Developing a deep rooted understanding in what G-d wants of us in terms of prayer and spirituality.

This past week I was studying the Torah portion of  Parshat Bo.  I was thinking and learning about mindset change, one of many themes in this week’s parshat.  While in my mind I was connecting my thoughts to to being a baal teshuvah, or returnee to traditional Judaism and increased spirituality,  I got a twitter link from a prominat Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Pearl who had written about mindset change and spirituality. This was quite a pleasent surprise to me, that a Rabbi of such stature would be writing about the same topic I was contemplating, and making some of the same connections as well.  I later thought that maybe G-d, in his mysterious way,was indicated to me that my thinking was indeed on the correct path by giving validation to my thoughts by showing me that a more knowledgeable person in Torah, a Rabbi, had similar thoughts as I. 

Soon after, borrowing a thought or two from Rabbi Pearl and another great Rabbi, Rabbi DovBer Pinson, I formed my own conclusions and wrote a D’var Torah which I gave in Shul on Shabbos.

With minor adjustments, this is what I said.

The people in this week’s Torah portion are in a constricted place. They are slaves with little freedoms, if any. But with G-d and Moshe (Moses) moving towards releasing them from Pharaohs enslavement the Jewish people would have to change their mind to new possibilities and a new way of living.  It is not good enough for the Jews of Egypt to just follow Moshe and G-d out of Egypt to freedom. They had to change their mindset and way of thinking to new responsibilities needed to accommodate their pending freedom.  G-d knew that if the mindset of the Jewish people was not changed they would still be trapped by old ways of thinking and old habits.

When one is stuck in old ways or habits and wants to change, one must initiate a destruction of the old mould. One must recognize the need for a change and then start to break the old mould by taking a first step towards the new structure.  As a second step you must begin to see new possibilities then believe in the power of those you want. The third and final step is creating a new way of being and one must begin to apply “new possibilities”. One must now start to create new behaviors.

In this week’s Torah Portion, G-d commands the Jews to bring their sheep into their homes for four days before prior to sacrifice. The Jews needed four days to change their mindset. They had to come to terms that they would have discard what the Egyptians had show them, through ritual, to be sacred, like an idol.

Today, many times, people just jump headfirst into something new. While this can be a great way of breaking the mould, more often than not people forget to change their mindset in order to fully accept the new. Usually this method of going from the old to the new doesn’t create a sincere bonding with the new.

In terms of spirituality, many people dive into going to Shul and try to participate in prayer. Some people even try to learn, or study, prayer of liturgy.  While for some this method works, but for the vast majority of us it lacks a foundation that helps us change our mindset and thinking in order to appreciate and understand new spiritual realms in prayer and worship, and what true spiritually brings and teaches us.  After diving head first into prayer and liturgy, some people end-up not returning to Shul as often as they would, should or could. Others of us end up with a different path to some-sort superficial fulfillment through other branches of Judaism and yet others say: “This did nothing for me and it did not inspire me.” then they become drop outs.

Why does this happen?  I believe that one did not change their mindset in order to fully appreciate the nature of traditional spirituality, worship and prayer.

How, then, can we properly change our mindset? While there are probably many ways to do this I believe that the best way is through study and learning. One can study prayer and liturgy, but I don’t believe that this will give you a fundamental grasp of what G-d wants of us as Jewish people, for it does not open oneself up to a new way of thinking. In order to develop solid foundations and actually shift one’s mind towards the new, one must study Torah in all its forms Zohar Kabbalah, Tanya and Chassidut.

This will give you the proper foundation of knowing what G-d wants of you and how to sincerely worship the Aibishter.