Assembled on Shabbos

Vayakeil


A love that is dependent on a cause, will cease when the cause is gone. A love that does not depend on a ‎cause will never cease (Avos 5:19)‎

Love develops amongst people striving for a common goal. Bosses respect their secretaries, doctors ‎admire their nurses,‎‏ ‏and football players love their teammates. However, the feelings of fraternity ‎dissipate when their careers are over. This devotion is a ‘dependent love’; a shallow attachment that does ‎not survive on its own merit. In essence, it only exists to facilitate the cause. ‎

Associations based on specific goals may suffer. Not every member shares equal ambitions and ‎aspirations. Each partner pulls their weight proportionately to their aims. ‎

A team will function better if they relate to each other outside of their working environment. If partners ‎socialize together, a bond develops independent of their common labors.Their efforts will no longer be ‎driven by purpose alone; each person performs out of love and care for their colleagues.‎

In an effort to create greater and deeper interconnection, successful mangers engage their underlings in ‎exotic recreation. They take their employees on golfing trips, visit theme parks and travel on international ‎cruises. These excursions build relationships independent of their joint vocations. The project supervisor ‎moves away from balancing the needs, whims and idiosyncrasies of the individuals, to observing his ‎charges looking out for their fellowman. Group members now sense they are part of unit that has its own ‎independent existence. ‎

This is the rationale behind the old adage ‘the family that eats together stays together’. The family ‎relationship is not based on gratitude or shared responsibilities of cooking, laundry and car pool. By ‎socializing together filial love develops with a life of its own. ‎

Moshe assembled the entire Jewish people to teach them about Shabbos. This was atypical. Moshe did not ‎assemble the people to educate them in the laws of Yom Kippur, Kashrus or Tefillin. Why is Shabbos ‎different? ‎

Shabbos is a day of rest. The Jewish work week is six days long; on the seventh we cease to labor. By ‎definition work requires interaction with others, for example, the diamond-polisher secluded in his room ‎has to meet with buyers and dealers. The six days of work demand human intercourse, but the seventh – ‎the day of rest – could be observed in solitude. ‎

The Torah teaches, for the nation to be a functioning integrated unit, with members who truly care for one ‎another, it is insufficient to merely work together. We need to refresh together. Relationships, strictly ‎founded on job compatibility, will not flourish. A people who socialize, celebrate and relax with one ‎another will develop a caring attitude towards their co-workers. Their friendship and love will thrive as ‎they move away from a dependent relationship to an independent relationship. ‎

Therefore, Moshe assembled the people to teach them about Shabbos, to demonstrate that Shabbos is a ‎time of assembly. Shabbos will have a stronger impact when people congregate and celebrate together. ‎

Tablets For Life

Ki Sisa

“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a ‎rainy Sunday afternoon.” (Anger in the Sky, 1943)

The author assumes that the desire for immortality is rooted in rational thought. ‎This logic is not unfounded. Just as sovereignty to end life, is within the jurisdiction ‎of the suicidal, it stands to reason that the converse i.e. the desire to live ‎perpetually, is likewise within the control of man. This gives rise to the above absurd ‎aphorism – why wish to live if you are bored on a rainy afternoon?‎

The yearning to be immortal, however, is not the product of a conscious decision. ‎Studies by Boston University, conducted in Ecuador, demonstrated that even young ‎children trust they existed prior to their conception, albeit in a different form. At ‎that juncture, they were unable to eat, see, or have a heartbeat; but they still had ‎feelings, desires and emotions.‎

The essence of the human soul is a spark apportioned from the Divine – there is G-‎dliness in every person and thus each individual is truly immortal. A body can be ‎destroyed by natural or physical phenomena, but not the soul. This human spirit is ‎the source of man’s wish for immortality. This desire for deathlessness, erroneously, ‎spreads from the soul to its temporary housing – the body –developing the ‎inspiration to live forever. ‎

Moses descended Mount Sinai carrying two sapphire Tablets. On witnessing the ‎Jews worshiping the Golden Calf, the letters engraved in the stones departed and ‎flew back to Heaven. These letters, written by G-d himself, could not tolerate ‎idolatry, and returned to G-d on high. Moshe, too, was repulsed. He grasped the ‎Tablets and smashed them to smithereens at the mountain base. ‎

‎“Why did Moshe smash them? Because the script flew away” (Tanchuma Eikev 11)

After much beseeching from Moshe, Hashem agreed not to destroy the nation. He ‎further commanded Moshe: “Hew a second set of tablets and carry them up the ‎mountain”. Hashem promised to inscribe them with what had been written on the ‎first set. Thus, the First Tablets where fashioned and engraved by Hashem, whilst ‎the second set were carved by Moshe and written by Hashem. ‎

There were other differences too. The power vested in the first set, had the ability ‎to permanently subjugate the Angel of Death. He would no longer have any ‎dominion over the Jews. Had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf, they would ‎have been spiritually and physically immortal. ‎

‎“At Mount Sinai the Holy One called the Angel of Death and said: even though I ‎made you executioner of the living, you have no business with this nation for they ‎are my children.” (Vayikra Rabbah ‎‏18‏‎:4)‎

The Tablets had two components: the raw sapphire stone and its engraved ‎message. These bear symbolism to the physical human body and the spiritual soul. ‎The mineral stone, which formed the background, represents the human body and ‎provides framework for all activity. The hallowed script documented the Divine ‎message and charged the Tablets with supernatural energy; this corresponds to the ‎human spirit which permeates, characterizes and drives man. ‎

When both the writ and stone were fashioned by Hashem they both had eternal ‎properties. If the Jews would have retained the First Tablets, they would have ‎guaranteed eternity for the corresponding human body and soul. The Angel of ‎Death would be powerless. Alas, they were not worthy and the letters flew to ‎Heaven and the Moshe smashed the stones. A new pair was made, this set however, ‎was hewn by mortal Moshe and written by Hashem; they had a Divine message ‎carved into a human background. In parallel, the body was now mortal once again, ‎but the soul which charged the body, retained its immortality. ‎

Myths and the Mishkan

Terumoh

Father grips the wheel. The weather is wet and the roads are slick. His son whimpers in the back seat, but ‎dad does not lose focus. Arrgh, tire debris. Their car skids and crashes into a tree. The impact instantly kills ‎the father but the child – ensconced in his five-point harness – survives with only broken bones. The air-‎ambulance lifts him to the hospital for immediate attention. It is not long before they wheel him into the ‎operating theater. The surgeon takes one glance at the boy, and chokes up. ‎

‎“I can’t operate, that’s my son.”‎

Impossible.‎

Or not? The surgeon was the boy’s mother. ‎

We are too quick to stereotype. This leads to all kinds of mistakes; erroneous, egregious and devious. ‎Inner reality becomes murky, even obscured, when myths become truths. ‎

Tznius is a prime example of the ideal being obscured. A plethora of misinformation has created an ‎atmosphere of uncertainty. Tznius has turned into a touchy and controversial topic. In many circles, mere ‎mention of the word is nauseating.‎

In today’s society, the foremost misconception is defining modesty by objective parameters. There is a ‎kernel of truth to this notion; there are details in the dress code which are cold judgments. But there are ‎really no hard and fast rules. A person’s gait and girth will affect the way they carry their clothes. Halacha ‎may provide a dress code, but this does not equate with Tznius. Modesty is an innate awareness, detached ‎from nitty-gritty facts. ‎

There are other mistaken beliefs which have gained legitimacy. People assume that dressing fashionably, ‎gracefully and trendily is incompatible with a Tznius image. ‎
The Tabernacle, as confirmed by the Kabbalists, was constructed to duplicate the human body. The holy-‎vessels correspond to various organs, and the walls provide the skeletal structure. The coverings, which ‎roofed the edifice and bedecked its sides, represent the clothing for the body. ‎

There were three coverings atop the Mishkan: ‎

  1. ‎ The bottom was a multicolored tapestry woven from wools and linen. ‎
  2. ‎ The middle layer consisted of panels constructed from goats’ hair. ‎
  3. ‎ Uppermost was leather, the animal skins supplied by rams and Techoshim. ‎

The largest and longest of the three was the middle covering. The extra material fell over the front ‎entrance and the balance trailed at the back of the tabernacle. Our Sages have descriptive imagery to ‎depict this additional drapery. ‎

Front Overhang:‎
Half of the panel hung over the eastern entrance like a modest bride who covers her face with a ‎veil (Rashi 26:9)‎

Back Drape
The School of Reb Yishmael taught: What did the Tabernacle resemble? A woman who goes in the ‎street and her skirts trail behind her (Shabbos 98b)‎

The Mishkan provides a fantastic refutation to the modern misconception. It combined, what current ‎society would view as opposing elements. In the spirit of a majestic woman she bedecked herself with a ‎trailing skirt. Simultaneously, she exhibited her modest character by veiling her face. The very same item – ‎the goat roofing – combined elegance and modesty. These two attributes, contrary to popular belief, are ‎not incompatible. It is possible to be both dignified and sophisticated. ‎

Stealings and Piercings

Mishpotim

We all must discipline our children. One of the most popular methods of the day is the “time-out”. ‎Parenting books suggest that these ‘jail-times’ vary according the age of the child and the severity ‎of the crime. There are tell-tale signs when the sentence is unsuccessful. If a kid emerges from her “cell” grinning from ear to ear, something is wrong. ‎

The child thinks, Ha! It was worth it!‎

In accordance with Jewish law, when a convicted burglar lacks the funds to repay the victim of his ‎robbery, he is sold by the court into slavery. The funds raised from the sale are used to make up for ‎the loss. After six years of labor, the slave is freed. If the slave chooses, and his master agrees, he ‎may remain in servitude after the six years, until the jubilee. However, the court will administer ‎minor surgery before allowing him stay in slavery. His right ear is pierced with an awl. ‎

“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, ‘You shall not ‎steal’ and then went and stole, shall be bored.” ‎ (Rashi Shemos 21:6)

This seems problematic. ‎

First, we puncture his ear after completing his six-year term. At this juncture, he is no longer guilty ‎of theft. He has repaid the debt. Yet, at this point that we pierce his ear that did not heed, “You ‎shall not steal”. ‎

Secondly, if his act of theft is the basis for subjecting him to the awl, then let us bore every thief at ‎the very moment that his guilt is established.‎

As a rule, it is not in the spirit of Jewish law to leave an everlasting physical imprint on one who ‎sins. Jewish law does not advocate marking one as “evil” for an eternity. The court does not ‎brand with fire, tattoo, or body-pierce. ‎

The door to repentance is always open. Hashem wishes to give his children a reason to feel that ‎they can – once again – earn their way back into his nurturing embrace. ‎

Therefore, Beis Din does not implement the awl in the case of rape, heresy, desertion, or ‎manslaughter. ‎

The thief, however, is an exception. And even then, the court only utilizes the awl when the ‎offender desires to remain in servitude past the completion of his sentence. The conscripted slave who wishes to stay beyond his penal duty presents a problem in the moral ‎arena. ‎

Since he finds comfort in his current situation, he will look favorably upon the circumstances that ‎afforded it. He will never regret his earlier crime.‎

Ha, it was worth it!

This is terrible. ‎

The perception that theft is evil will be further dulled. ‎

Therefore, in an effort to reinstate the severity of stealing, the Torah dictates that we “bore the ‎ear of a crook that heard, “You shall not steal”. ‎

The thief who chooses to remain in servitude, past the allotted time dictated by his sentence, is ‎made to live with a constant reminder about his failure to heed one of the Ten Commandments.‎ Not because he should suffer an eternal punishment, but so that he is aware of the moral ‎background of his sin. This will act as a deterrent from committing infractions in the future.‎

Talking so People Listen

Yisro

GPS devices supply audio directions via speaker. A pre-recorded human voice announces forthcoming ‎instructions. These voices come in a variety of languages and a choice of accents, catering to different ‎countries. Imagine you missed the highway exit because the Texan drawl sounded like Public Address at the ‎Super Bowl. Other options include gender; do you want hear a male or female voice? Not everyone can ‎take directions from a woman – especially when she knows what she is talking about. Personally, I’m fed ‎up of monotones instructing ‘in a tenth of a mile take the exit left’, I’d much prefer a zippy six-year-old ‎telling me ‘zoom-up and then swing over left’ or better still random voices.‎

Technology has moved forward from basic audio instructions to Interactive Voice Response. IVR is the ‎software that enables humans to interact with a computer generated voice. It is commonly used when ‎calling Banks, Utilities and Airlines. Recently, it has gained prominence due to interactive smart-phone ‎voices, such as Siri on iPhone. ‎

Basic studies on IVR have looked at differences between male and female voices, to discover which are ‎more usable. More research is necessary. Are sympathetic voices better than professional ones? What are ‎the effects of tone and tempo? Do men want to listen to men, and women to women? Are there certain ‎keywords and phrases which are attractive to the teenage ear?‎

My wife’s maternal grandfather, Shmuel (Rudolph) Tauber, was hard of hearing. In an effort to make ‎ourselves heard, family members would bellow ‘Good morning’ and scream ‘How are you today?’ It felt ‎like an odd way of exchanging pleasantries but Opa Tauber never minded. One noticeable fact was ‎discernible in his conversations, he understood men more quickly than women, requiring them to repeat ‎themselves less often. Perhaps, suggested my father-in-law, he has an easier time hearing the deeper ‎timbre of male voices, than the higher female pitch. ‎

As soon as the Jews encamped at Sinai preparations were underway for the momentous Giving of the ‎Torah. Moshe, as leader of the nation was constantly shuttling between Hashem and the people, relaying ‎messages from one to the other. On the second day at Sinai, Moshe ascended the mountain towards ‎Hashem, and Hashem spoke to him: ‎

‎“So you shall say to the House of Yaakov and tell the sons of Yisroel”‎

Why does G-d seemingly repeat Himself? Aren’t the ‘House of Yaakov’ and the ‘sons of Yisroel’ one and ‎the same? Secondly, the verbs modifying his statement, vary: the first instruction employed the word ‘say’ ‎while the second utilized the verb ‘tell’. ‎

Rashi quoting the Mechilta explains:‎

The House of Yaakov – these are the women. ‘Say’ – in a gentle language
Tell the sons of Yisroel – explain to the men harsh punishments and detailed laws.‎

G-d’s precise instruction “So you shall say” meant that Moshe should provide both men and women exactly ‎the same message. However, even though the content was identical, Moshe was to stress different angles ‎when relaying the information to the men and women. Be’er Yitzchok explains, Moshe told the women the ‎significance of accepting and following the Torah – he left them to deduce the depressing consequences of ‎refusal. Whereas, when talking to the men, Moshe left nothing to the imagination, it was necessary to ‎explain both positions, the outcome of accepting or – G-d forbid – rejecting the Torah. Thus the message ‎was identical, but how he conveyed the content differed.‎

When speaking to other people we have to think how the other person would enjoy hearing it. What might ‎sound pleasing to your ears might not necessarily be as well received by the listener. In addition to tone ‎and word choice, we should pay attention to present our ideas with optimism and positivity.‎

Follies of Freedom

Beshalach

You’ve won the lottery. You have just won the opportunity to wreck your life, it is a ‎fact that instant winners rapidly acquire new problems: Marital disharmony, drug ‎problems and lack of purpose. Many wind-up losing their newfound wealth, ‎squandering money on lavish clothes, fancy cars and alcohol (and drug) fueled ‎parties. Why is this the fate of otherwise sensible people? What happened to their ‎deliberate decisions and common sense?‎

Africa is a mixture of the exotic, the primitive and the dangerous. I dream of the day ‎I will be able to visit this exquisite continent. When I think of South Africa – in ‎particular – I have mixed feelings. The landscape is breathtaking, blending beautiful ‎flora with a magnificent mountain vista. This is nature in its glory. Just thinking ‎about this fills me with a longing and a desire to feast my eyes on these treasures. ‎But, I am also filled with sadness. South Africa is not a safe place; crime is rampant, ‎and locals live with a siege mentality. It wasn’t always like that, in the space of a ‎single generation, the country has dangerously descended from law-abiding to ‎lawlessness. Why did South Africa degenerate so rapidly? ‎

Hashem performed miracles for the Jews in Mitzrayim on a scale never hitherto ‎seen. Each and every one of these miracles bore an obvious message. ‎

‎“In order you should know I’m G-d in the midst of the land.”‎ (Shemos 8: 18) 

“In order you should know there is none like Me in the entire world.”  (Shemos 9:14)‎

“In order you should know the earth is G-d’s.” ‎ (Shemos 9 :29)

These messages were seared into their consciousness and ingrained forever in their ‎memories. By the time the Jews left Egypt there were no doubters in their ranks.

Their departure route from Egypt was circuitous. G-d deliberately avoided the ‎shorter route, which would have led them near the Philistines. G-d said, lest the ‎people be afraid of war – with the Philistines – and return to Egypt. ‎

How could these Jews possibly be scared of waging battle? These people had just ‎witnessed 10 miracles on their behalf, i.e. ten cataclysmic nature-altering ‎phenomena. Is it possible that after such experiences they will be afraid of war? ‎Hashem promised to take them from Egypt to Canaan – He took them out of Egypt, ‎who would doubt His bringing them to Canaan? ‎

The goal of every parent is to make their child independent. A parent wishes to see ‎their children complete their education, hold down a job, build a family and be a ‎contributing member of society. Let’s be honest, parents – as well as children – need ‎it for their mental health. To be successful, parents begin by giving the child small ‎responsibilities. Little by little, these responsibilities increase until the child is ‎capable of sailing his own boat. ‎

A friend of mine was asked by his son, to sign a homework assignment. The father ‎was preoccupied with watching the Yankees and promised to see to it later. Dad ‎forgot. Attempting to make amends, he defended his child to the teacher and ‎accepted the blame. The teacher did not excuse the child. “In fifth-grade,” said the ‎teacher “I expect the child to ensure his homework is signed. If dad is busy he ‎should ask again later.” The teacher was teaching the child – and the parent – ‎responsibility. This child is old enough to procure his father’s signature. This is a ‎youngster guided towards independence. ‎

Chicks that leap out of the nest, before they are ready to fly – die. A child who is ‎thrust in the deep-end too early will flounder. It is impossible to change overnight ‎from dependence to independence. Every incremental step of autonomy has to be ‎achieved gradually. Too much freedom too soon is harmful, thus care should be ‎taken to cut the apron strings one fiber at a time. This long process takes a ‎generation, literally. Most children reach independence concurrently with ‎parenthood. ‎

Sadly, lack of correct implementation of this concept, contributed to South-Africa’s ‎undoing. Slavery and servitude were to be abolished; no longer should one man lord ‎over another. All men would have equal opportunity to education, land ownership ‎and arms. These rights, and many others, were granted in an instant. But at what ‎cost? South Africa has now become a dangerous place. A gradual easing of ‎restrictions would have been far more beneficial. It would have given them time to ‎acclimate to total freedom. ‎

Overnight, lottery winners change from rags to riches. Shortly after collecting their ‎checks, they are proud owners of fancy cars and large mansions. They act ‎benevolently too, dishing out loans to friends in need. Rapidly, they whittle down ‎their seemingly unlimited funds. Others find their wealth incites jealousy; quarrels ‎develop in a family which until previously got along. All these pitfalls are avoided by ‎those who become rich gradually. Their increased spending dovetails their ‎incremental growth in wealth. There is no sudden influx of demands for loans and ‎gifts. Friends and relatives don’t sense they ‘deserve’ a piece of the pie. Rich people, ‎by and large, are capable of living within their means.Financial independence is ‎most secure when it develops in stages. ‎

To be a soldier means to fight. To fight means to subjugate the enemy. Winning a ‎war requires this specific mentality of subjugation. It behooves the soldiers to ‎overcome, nay, crush the enemy. Some cultures take this to the extreme by abusing ‎enemy females – all in the spirit of suppressing their foes. This conquering attitude – ‎which is crucial to win – is diametrically opposed to the mindset of a slave. A slave is ‎constantly on the receiving end and depends on his master for all his needs. A slave ‎is the ultimate subordinate; over lorded by his master he has little self discretion ‎and independence.‎

The generation that departed Egypt were a people who were born into slavery. ‎Nurtured in a slave environment, fighting a war was antithetical to their way of ‎thinking. True, they witnessed mighty miracles wrought in Mitzrayim, and as a result ‎of these phenomena they were firm believers, but a believer is not a warrior. At the ‎sight of war they would be inclined to flee rather than fight. G-d, therefore, took ‎them a circuitous route so they would not be able to run back to Egypt. Their ‎children, however, who were born into freedom, lived a life of liberty, and indeed ‎successfully fought the Kings of Canaan. ‎

Shoes and Matzos

Bo

For Pesach 2006, our family flew to England to spend Yom- Tov with my parents. Soon2 after our arrival, ‎my mother presented her two-year-old granddaughter with a gift for Pesach – a new pair of shoes. We ‎were grateful to put the kids to bed after our tiring trip. Once the children were soundly asleep, the adults ‎took the opportunity to reacquaint and socialize. My daughter awoke in a dark unfamiliar house. Carefully, ‎she buckled her new white dress shoes. Kitted in her Yom-tov shoes and pajamas, she was ready. ‎Cautiously, she trekked down two flights of stairs to the bottom floor and burst into to kitchen screaming ‎and howling – supposedly from fear at being left alone upstairs. None of the adults were fooled. If you ‎were so scared, why wait to don your pretty shoes?‎

I am reminded of transitioning my son to his first pair of shoes. This was a nightmare. He was unhappy to ‎have his feet clad, preferring to go barefoot – Tarzan style. Taking matters into his own hands, literally and ‎figuratively, he constantly tugged at the offending appendages. Often, his efforts met with success. Many ‎a bleary eyed morning found us franticly hunting his missing footwear; a blood-hound would have helped. ‎Time marched on and he was ripe for his second pair of shoes. By now, he had made peace with the reality ‎of wearing shoes. Pleased as punch, he would not go to sleep without wearing his new shoes. ‎

The Jews, too, expressed the same sentiment when they left Egypt. ‎

In recounting the Exodus, we are told that the people carried last night’s leftover meal on their shoulders ‎‎(Exodus 12, 34). Tradition tells us, that every single Jew who left Mitzrayim owned several donkeys laden ‎with treasures (Esther Rabbah 7). Yet the people chose to burden themselves with their leftover food, not ‎their newly acquired gold, silver and valuables. With all this energy at their disposal why carry anything? ‎Why did they lug the leftover meal in their backpacks?‎

My son elected to sleep in his shoes because he loved his new shoes and could bear to be parted from ‎them. The Mechilta explains, the Jews who left Egypt clutched their leftover Matzos out of love. Last night, ‎they fondly recalled, these same Matzos were utilized for a Mitzvah – a Divine instruction. This is not for ‎packing on a donkey’s back. Let the animals carry the gold and silver – I want to shoulder these special ‎items myself.‎

Yirmiyahu, (2:2) recounts the temperament of the Nation on leaving Egypt. The people followed Hashem, ‎he prophesied, with the feeling a bride has towards her groom. This emotion found poignant expression in ‎cherishing the leftover Mitzvah food. ‎

Mitzvahs are not dry acts, formalities or duties. They are actions to be charged with positive emotion. The ‎early 1900’s saw a significant drop in Shabbos observance amongst new immigrants. Back then, keeping ‎Shabbos was challenging, most jobs required work on Saturday, and many were fired on a weekly basis. ‎Rabbi Moshe Feinstein famously said: The decline in Shabbos observance was not because keeping ‎Shabbos was difficult. The people withstood the test. Rather, because Jews krechtzed in response to the ‎sacrifices, the next generation rejected the krechtz that accompanies Shmiras Shabbos. Performance ‎without positive feeling has no future.‎