Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Torah is our water - need it like fish do.

Once, the wicked government of Rome decreed that the Jewish people were forbidden to study Torah. Pappus ben Judah saw Rabbi Akiva convening gatherings in public and studying Torah with them.
Said Pappus to him: "Akiva, are you not afraid of the government?"

Said Rabbi Akiva to him: "I'll give you a parable.

"A fox was walking along a river and saw fish rushing to and fro. Called out the fox: 'What are you fleeing from?'

"Said the fish to him: 'The nets that the humans spread for us.'

"Said the fox to them: 'Why don't you come out onto the dry land? We'll live together, as my ancestors lived with your ancestors.'

"Answered the fish to him: 'Are you the one of whom it is said that you are the wisest of animals? You're not wise, but foolish! If, in water, which is our environment of life, we have cause for fear, how much more so on dry land, in the environment of our death!'

"The same applies to us", concluded Rabbi Akiva, "If, now, when we sit and study the Torah, of which it is said, "For it is your life and the lengthening of your days", this is our situation, how much more so if we neglect it...

Monday, January 31, 2011

More than the Jews keep Shabbos, Shabbos keeps them.

Shmuel was a wealthy merchant and, despite his wealth, a pious Jew.

One Friday night, when Shmuel and his whole family were sitting around the Shabbat table, a messenger from the governor came to purchase some rugs from Shmuel's store.

"It is our holy Sabbath" said Shmuel, "and I never do business on Sabbath. Please tell the governor that I will be happy to sell him the rugs as soon as the Sabbath is over."

The messenger hinted that there would be trouble.

Shmuel turned to his family and said, "Let's not forget that tonight is Shabbat. Do not look so worried. Are we not told that just as the Jews keep Shabbat, Shabbat keeps the Jews?" And with that, he began singing a Shabbat melody.

A while later the messenger returned with the message that the governor really needs the rugs now and is willing to pay an even larger sum. Furthermore, continued the messenger, if Shmuel conforms to his wishes he will have plenty more good business from him and his friends, but should he choose to disregard the Governor's request, he and his friends will entirely stop doing business with him.

"My answer remains the same as before," Shmuel told the messenger, unperturbed. "If the governor cannot wait until after the Sabbath, I must refuse his request. Please tell the governor that, though I hold him and his orders in high esteem, I must esteem G-d's orders even more."

As soon as Shabbat was over, the messenger was back again, this time with a request for Shmuel to appear at court immediately.

When Shmuel arrived at the mansion, he was quite surprised to see the governor greeting him with a broad smile. "Welcome my friend," the governor told Shmuel. And the governor went on to explain the strange events of the day. Some dignitaries had visited him the previous day and one of them had stated that the only thing Jews think about is money and that nothing is more sacred to Jews than wealth. "I was the only one who denied his accusations", said the Governor to Shmuel. "And I told him that I could prove that his charges were false. And that, my dear friend," said the governor, "is why I sent you that urgent order last night. In merit of your steadfast belief in your G-d, you have shown that the Jews value their religion more than material gain!"

Hashem wants OUR ruble....

Why does G-d, who lacks nothing, issue "commands" to us human beings?
"If we sin, how have we affected Him? If our transgressions multiply, what do we do to Him? If we are righteous, what do we give Him? What can He possibly receive from our hand?"

Chassidim gave the following parable, in answer:

A Russian peasant once said to his friend: "You know, Ivan, I have been thinking. It is really very stupid for us to pay taxes to the Czar."

"Why is that, Igor?" asked Ivan.

"Because do you know where all our rubles come from? Well, I'll tell you. The Czar himself has them minted in his palace, that's where."

"So what?" asked Ivan.

"So what? So why doesn't he just keep all the rubles he needs in the first place, and we'll keep ours!"

"Ah, Igor, you are very stupid" retorted Ivan, "That's the whole point! The Czar doesn't want his rubles. He wants your ruble!"

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Repair yourself....

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov was in the midst of teaching his disciples when a knock on the shutter disturbed their concentration. A peasant, hauling a cart of tools, peered through the window. "Need any fixing?" he called out. "Any shaky tables, broken chairs? A loose brick in the hearth, perhaps?"

"No, no," came the impatient reply from within, where all were eager to get on with the interrupted lesson. "Everything is in perfect condition. There's no need for any repairs."

"Is that so? Nothing to repair?" called the peasant. "That simply cannot be. Look well, and you're sure to find something that needs fixing!"

The Baal Shem Tov then addressed his students: "Many times have I taught you that nothing is by chance in G-d's world; that every event and experience is purposeful, that everything one sees or hears is a lesson for one's service of the Almighty. Think of the words we just heard from this simple peasant. How profoundly relevant they are to each and every one of us!

Ponder! Is everything really in perfect condition? At times it might seem so; but if we truly search our heart and evaluate our life, are we not going to find something that needs repair?"