Friday, January 8, 2010

PARSHA - Shemot - Brachot for what we WILL accomplish

This week's Parsha, Parshat Shemot, describes the beginning of bondage for the Jewish people in Egypt. Moses experiences his first official Divine revelation at the Burning Bush where he is told to confront the Pharaoh and demand that he "Let My people go."

Moses asks G-d what have the Jewish people done to deserve such a miraculous redemption. To which the Almighty answers him. ".....when you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain." (This mountain, where the burning bush occurred, was in fact Mount Sinai.)

It was not necessarily for what they had done in the past that He was ready to redeem the Jewish people, but for what He anticipated for them in the future. On this very mountain that the Burning Bush has occurred they would receive His Torah; they would become His chosen messengers to be a light unto the nations. Never mind what they did or didn't do in the past. G-d had big plans for this nation and it would all begin with the impending Exodus.

What a powerful message for all of us!

Sometimes, the kindness G-d does for us is not because of what we've been but rather what it would enable us to become. It's not for what we have already done but for what we still will do. So should any of us be the beneficiaries of a special blessing from Above, instead of patting ourselves on the back and concluding that we must have done something wonderful to be rewarded, let us rather ask ourselves what G-d might be expecting us to do with this particular blessing in the future. How can we use it to further His work on earth?

Special blessings carry with them special responsibilities. May each of us successfully develop all the potential G-d sees in us and use it for our moral development and to somehow better the world around us!

Candle lighting time for L.A. is 4:41 pm.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rabbi Akiva -

Rabbi Akiva was a shepherd, who at the age of forty could not read the Alef-Beis. He subsequently developed into one of the greatest scholars in the history of Jewish learning. He was once watching a stone notched by the steady dripping of water. He concluded that if water could penetrate stone, Torah could penetrate his head. His employer’s daughter heard of his resolve and was so touched by his sincerity to learn that she married him. She encouraged him to go away to learn Torah in a Yeshivah where he remained for twelve years. After his return from the academy, his wife once again agreed that he should again go away to learn. He reappeared a second time with twenty four thousand students.

Upon his return when his wife came out to greet him, he, R. Akiva publicly told his students that all his Torah, and all the twenty four thousand students Torah belonged to her.(From this we learn the rule that the Torah learned by a husband with the permission of his wife is equally credited to the merit of the wife.)

R. Akiva died a martyr’s death. It had been ordered by the Romans that no Torah was to be learned in public. R. Akiva ignored this edict and, when detected, was tortured to death by the Romans, combed with combs of red hot metal. He died, although in horrible pain, in a state of ecstasy having fulfilled all the mitzvot including that of dying a martyr’s death to glorify the Name of G-d.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

RAMBAM - Chof Teves

Today is the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, it marks the yartzeit, the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam. He lived in the 12th century and was a great philosopher, doctor, and Jewish scholar. But he is probably best remembered for his encyclopedic codification of all 613 commandments of the Torah in his magnum opus called the Mishne Torah.

Although he passed away so long ago, he and his great wisdom are still with us. When a person sits down to study a law from one of the Rambam's works, his spirit and teachings remain alive.

About the Rambam, our Sages have said, "From Moshe to Moshe, there was none like Moshe!" This means that from the time of the Moshe who took us out of Egypt, there has never lived a person who exhibited all of the Rambam's unique qualities.

In the Mishne Torah, the Rambam enumerates and details all of the 613 laws of the Torah. He places the laws relating to the Jewish king, and Moshiach, at the very end of his work - to emphasize that the true and complete performance of all the mitzvot of the Torah will be attained only when a king rules over Israel. The Rambam then defines Moshiach as a king, who will not only redeem the Jews from exile, but also restore the observance of the Torah to its complete state.

The Talmud writes that "the world was created solely for Moshiach." This being the case, we certainly must do everything in our power to prepare ourselves for Moshiach's imminent arrival.

What is within the power and reach of each individual? Good deeds, charity, , fostering peace between family and friends, studying concepts associated with Moshiach and the Final Redemption, and actively waiting for and anticipating his arrival each and every day.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Instinct or Behavioral Training??

The Rambam (Maimonides) once had a dispute with a philosopher as to whether instinct or behavioral training governs the behavior of an animal. The philosopher maintained that one of the main reasons for the difference in ability between man and animal is that man has been trained and animals have not. He held that an animal can be trained to do almost anything.
The Rambam argued against this.

To prove his point, the philosopher trained a number of cats to stand upright, balance trays on their paws and serve as waiters. He dressed them in white shirts with little black ties, and conducted a banquet with the cats as the waiters. As these feline waiters were serving the soup, the Rambam, who had been invited to the banquet, released a mouse. The banquet hall was turned into utter chaos as the cats, forgetting all their hours of training, let their trays crash to the ground, rushing about on all fours after the mouse.

Even though one can train a cat to act like a waiter, its natural inclinations cannot be changed. The only way one can change
one's habits, is through Torah and mitzvot.

A human being is different from the animals because he can perfect his character so that it controls his baser instincts. One who has not yet worked on perfecting his character will, like the trained cat, be able to put on a show of discipline for a time, but only so long as no “mice” are released in his path.

Only the Torah can bring one’s character to ultimate perfection.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Rambam. 8 levels of Tzedoko

Maimonidies, known as the Rambam, whose anniversary of his passing is this coming Wednesday, has taught that there are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.

[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others...

[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received. For this is performing a mitzvah solely for the sake of Heaven.

[3] A lesser level of charity than this is when one knows to whom one gives, but the recipient does not know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to walk about in secret and put coins in the doors of the poor.

[4] A lesser level of charity than this is when one does not know to whom one gives, but the poor person does know his benefactor. The greatest sages used to tie coins into their robes and throw them behind their backs, and the poor would come up and pick the coins out of their robes so that they would not be ashamed.

[5] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person directly into his hand, but gives before being asked.

[6] A lesser level than this is when one gives to the poor person after being asked.

[7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.

[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly. Which is still a mitzvah.