Thursday, May 29, 2008


When The Jews were in the desert, we're told - Bamidbar 2:17 - that "the way they rested (the order they camped in) was the way they moved (same formation)." Rabbi Twerski applies this statement broadly. The way they rested spilled over into the way they moved forward. If their rest was spiritual, then their moving forward was spiritual too.

This applies to us in regard to Shabbos; the way we rest is the way we move. The flavor of our rest carries over and colorizes the way we move into the week. If our Shabbos is a day of spiritual, not just physical rest, then we reap a spiritual surge into the week rather than mere physical momentum.

Shabbos is meant to spill over into our lives. It is a day of rest. Besides everything Shabbos also models for us the idea of a holy break. This is something that would serve anyone well on any day.

Taking a walk, playing or listening to music, exercising, reading, writing, conversing - these can all be sacred activities. The concept of leisure for leisure's sake is perhaps hard to rationalize in Judaism. The idea of down time that propels upwards is a different story. The concept of how we rest leading into how we move onward is right there in our tradition.

May we each be blessed with spiritual pauses that allow us to proceed with sanctity. G-d knows I need this kind of rest, this kind of movement.

Based On - Living Each Week

(For other essays of mine on bamidbar go to and within the blog's search engine look up bamidbar.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

BeChukotai (1 and 2)


Inner Avot

The lines of consolation which follows Bechukotai’s description of our (The Jewish People's) punishment for straying (which consists of G-d saying that he will remember Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov) are absent from the tochacha - rebuke in parshat Ki Tavo. Why?

Daily we pray to G-d in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. What right do we have to ask for things in their merit? The name Pirkei Avot means Chapters of the Fathers. Why is it called the words of the fathers and not the rabbis? Why is each chapter introduced by a Mishna stating that All of Israel has a share in the World to Come? The answers to questions can lead us to an understanding of our original question.

Rav Nissin Alpert explained that the hopeful note on which this tochacha ends is hinged upon the Jewish People maintaining an attachment to the values of the Avot. If G-d sees that we have not severed our ties to the qualities of Chesed-Kindness, Gevura-Strength, /Avodah-Service, and Torah - there is hope. In praying daily bizechut Avot-in the merit of our forefathers we invoke G-d's mercy based on the merit of the attributes of our forefathers that are inside us, rather than based on the historical merit of their deeds.

Pirkei Avot is appropriately named because statements that we read in this book are not remote words of distant Sages. These are words of fathers, and words of fathers live inside us. We should recognize and nurture this connection if there is to be hope. This idea of connection is reinforced by the Mishna read before each chapter which assures our share in Olam HaBa, the world in which all souls are connected. This idea comes up again, early in the second Perek (2:2) when we're told that the merit of the community’s predecessors helps the community's members.

A little boy was flying a kite. The wind was strong so it was a good day for it. He continuously released string, as the kite soared to the sky. An old man passed and asked the what the kid was doing. The boy said he was flying a kite. The man pointed out that there was no kite in sight, only a taught string leading to the clouds. The boy insisted that his kite was at the end of the line. The man demanded: "How do you know the kite is there?" The boy replied, "I can feel it's tug."

We have the tug of our ancestors inside us. Many of us, like myself, have been blessed with parents that value and passed on Jewish tradition. It would be wise to heed the spirit of the Avot inside us. We must foster Chesed, Gevura/Avodah, and Torah in ourselves and our community. As long as we feel the tug, there is hope.

It takes effort to cultivate the good inside ourselves. In life we become what we make ourselves, not necessarily what we wish to be. And there is always competition for our attention.

One evening a Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle going on inside him; "My son, it is between 2 wolves. One is evil: Anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.The other is good: Joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith." The grandson thought about it and asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee replied, "The one I feed."May we be blessed to nurture the good inside ourselves and to merit great spiritual success.


The following is the explanation of the Ramban (though it sounds new-agey) on the first pasuk of Bechukotai:

The blessings of Bechukotai begin with rain because seasonal rain makes the air pure and the springs clear and this leads to good health. Rain causes all produce to be increased and improves the quality of the environment. If the ecology of the world were at the ideal level due to abundant rain at the right time then people would not get sick and would live naturally for a very long time. Thus, rain is the greatest of all blessings and is therefore given priority of all the blessings.

We forget that people don't die from old age. People die from illness. Adam made a mistake that brought death into the world. Adam lived to nine hundred and thirty. The Ramban says that with good health we could all live that long.

Rabbi Gavriel Zinner writes his Nit'ei Gavriel that rain in between Pesach and Shavuot brings great healing for all illness. The Imrei Pinchas writes that it is therapeutic to stand in the rain between Pesach and Shavuot with ones head a bit exposed to the falling drops and even to open one's mouth and allow the rain to fall into it. The late Puppa Rebbe spoke of his father, the VaYaged Ya'akov, following this practice. The Segulat Yisrael writes that this rain is especially helpful on Lag Ba'Omer and that having rain on this day is a siman bracha -good sign.

May we be blessed with continued rains of blessing and continued health.

Good Shabbos and Good lag BaOmer.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

G'nite and G-d Bless

Hello, yeah, it's been a while...not about you?

Getting ready for bed after a long day. Many years ago I told dear Jeff Korbman that I'd had a long day and he replied - "Neil, it wasn't longer or shorter than any other day."

Yesterday (Wednesday) an administrator bumped into me and said Id done a good job in the morning. I had no idea what was specifically being referenced. In the end the compliment (always appreciated) was about being the point man at minyan. Minyan was at 7:45. By 3:45, when the comment was made, I'd taught four courses, had one Torah guidance meeting with two students together, another meeting with a student in which we organized her notes for the upcoming test - sheyavo aleinu letovah. In that time I also wrote two college recommendations and more (OK - I admit it, I ate, and chatted with colleagues - Bill Roper in particular - and took a half hour power walk with 2 of the office managers. Then I wet to make a shiva visit.


We sat, not in silence,
We spoke, not somberly
He recalled as much as he wanted
about his 92 year old dad

And then we kibbitzed;
Jewish denominations,
school politics,
and an hour went by smoothly

And it seems to me
there was little guilt
in any aspect of
this shiva visit

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

BeHar - Who, Who, Who, Who?

It's been a while and its good to be back.

Who Are You?
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Who are you? After our name, we tend to answer the question of who we are by saying what we do. A doctor is a doctor, a teacher a teacher. This seems simple. But the question of who a person is can not be truly answered by stating what a person does for a living. If we were drinking coffee and someone approached and asked us what we do we would not say that we are coffee drinkers. We recognize that although we eat and drink this does not define who we are, it’s just something we do to stay alive. Work takes up a great amount of time in our lives, but our occupation does not fully define us.

The world was once filled with societies that were agrarian in nature; people generally earned their livelihoods as farmers. When G-d commanded that all land lay fallow for a year He was telling everyone in Israel to refrain from doing his job for a year. For one year everyone had a sabbatical from work. And the idea was to place people in a situation in which they had to define themselves in a way that precluded pointing to what they did for a living.

The seventh year is called Shabbat LaHashem. Each seventh year we remind ourselves of our self worth by virtue of being created in the image of G-d. We take a year to remind ourselves that we are unique, as G-d is unique. There are many doctors and teachers but only one of us. We remember on each Shmitah year that being alive is a holy experience even without titles, even without earning money or grade points.

Shemittah is just an intensification of our weekly Shabbat LaHashem. Every week we step back and remind ourselves that we are creations of G-d. Though we spend most days being creators ourselves, once a week we refrain from defining ourselves by what we do and look inside to see who we are. Some people are only comfortable if they’re physically active. Some people have a hard time with Shabbat. If we are uncomfortable sitting alone with ourselves then we need to ask ourselves if we believe we are made “betzelem elokim." We need to work on recognizing our spiritual value. This is the point of Shmitah and Shabbat.

At this point in the year, as Shabbat days gets longer some people get depressed. Some students and teachers struggle as the summer hits and they are faced with months of living with an inactive title. Any break we take makes us vulnerable while providing the opportunity and challenge to accept and refine who we are.

May we all be so blessed.