Friday, August 6, 2010


This week's Torah portion, Re'ei opens with a fundamental principle of Judaism- free choice.

G-d says to the Jewish people, "Look, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, that you will hearken to G-d's commandments...; and the curse, if you will not hearken to G-d's commandments..." (Deut. 11:26-28).

Why did G-d create the world so as to necessitate blessings and curses? Why did G-d create something to make it difficult for us to do what is appropriate and right?

Evil alternatives exist to allow for free choice. If there was only good in this world - no chance for a person to behave in a questionable manner - he couldn't freely choose to do good; he would be forced to do good by default. And there would be no room for reward and punishment.

Wrong exists only to allow a person to choose right. Evil is nothing but a means of improving our Divine service, to push the person toward the correct path. Evil is not a curse, but a merit that enables us to succeed and prevail. Knowing this gives us the ability and strength not to be intimidated or overwhelmed by the bad.

Parshat Re'ei is read on the Shabbat when the month of Elul is blessed. In Elul, G-d's Thirteen Attributes of Mercy are manifested with particular intensity. At such a time, a person might think that his own efforts or initiative is unnecessary. Thus, the Torah reminds us, "Look, I give you today a blessing and a curse." In Elul, when G-d's mercy is manifest, a Jew must intensify his efforts to vanquish evil.

It should be a time of emphasizing the positive and increasing our love for our fellow Jew. In the merit of our good deeds (especially charity), G-d will inscribe each and every one of us together with all the righteous!

Monday, August 2, 2010


Birth is your beginning. It is a window to the chance of a lifetime, the chance to fulfill your unique mission. A birthday is much more than an occasion to receive gifts. It is a chance to remember the day that a major event occurred, to celebrate and give thanks and to reflect upon how well we are fulfilling our calling.

Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that G-d invested in you at birth is present once again. It is our duty to be receptive to that force. How do we do so? By committing to a life guided by G-d's will, and by using the abilities and resources we were born with to perfect ourselves and society, making the world a fitting and sacred home for G-d.

A birthday is a time to celebrate birth itself, the joy of life. It is also an occasion to rethink your life: What I have accomplished and what can I accomplish? Am I spending my time properly or am I involved in things that distract me from my higher calling? How can I strengthen the thread that connects my outer life and my inner life?

To recall our birth is to recall a new beginning. No matter how things went yesterday, or last year, we always have the capacity to try again. Your birthday is a refresher, a chance for regeneration--not just materially, but spiritually.

There is no better way to celebrate a birthday than to commit a special act of goodness, a kind deed, something that you did not do yesterday. Your inner goodness, your soul, wants to express its thanks for being born and alive.

Such an act of kindness gives G-d great pleasure because He sees that the child in whom He invested, the particular child he wanted to be born on a particular day, is living up to its potential. And nothing, of course, gives a parent greater joy. This is the true experience of birth, the true beginning of a life of meaning.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


In this past week's torah portion it tells of the mitzva of mezuza. the Talmud relates that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi once sent a mezuza as a gift to the king of Persia, explaining that the small scroll would protect him from harm.

The commandment to affix a mezuza upon one's door posts was given only to the Jewish nation. A non-Jewish king, therefore, would not be fulfilling a religious principle by possessing a mezuza. As such, he would also be ineligible for any reward resulting from the performance of a mitzva. Why then did Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi promise the gentile king that the mezuza would guard and protect him?

When a person obeys G-d's command by fulfilling a mitzva, the reward he earns is a separate and distinct entity, additional to the essential nature of the mitzva itself. For example, the Torah states that the reward for the mitzva of mezuza is long life.

Yet besides the reward promised by the Torah, each mitzva has its own special attributes and characteristics that have nothing to do with reward, but are important parts of the mitzva itself. The mezuza's attribute is protection. Our sages explained that when a kosher mezuza is affixed to the door post, G-d Himself watches over the occupants of the house, even when they are not at home.

A mezuza is written solely for the purpose of protection, and, by its nature, it protects.

With this in mind, it becomes clear that even when no fulfillment of a religious precept is involved, a mezuza still possesses this attribute of protection. It was for this reason that Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi sent the mezuza as a gift to the Persian king.

From this we learn the crucial importance of having kosher mezuzot. The Jewish people, is always in need of special defense. Every additional mezuza affixed to a Jewish home extends G-d's Divine protection to the entire Jewish nation.