Thursday, June 16, 2011

"Hashem is the refiner and purifier of silver"

In the Book of Prophets, Malachi, there is a verse which says: "He, [Gd], will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."

A woman once wanted to understand how this statement applied to the character and nature of G-d, and went to find out more about the process of refining silver and see if perhaps she would then understand this verse better.

Without disclosing her reason of interest, she made an appointment with a silversmith to watch him work.
As she watched the silversmith work, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were the hottest, so as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about G-d holding us in such a hot spot, then she thought again about the verse, that "He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver".

She asked the silversmith if he had to sit in front of the fire the entire time the silver was being refined. The man answered yes, that not only did he have to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on it the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

"And how do you know when the silver is fully refined ?" she asked the silversmith.
"Oh, that's easy", he answered with a smile, "when I see my image in it."

If you are ever feeling the heat of the fire, remember that you are in G-d's hand, He has His eye on you, and He will keep holding you and watching you until He sees His image in you.

Learn Torah

Once, there were two sisters. One married a rich man; the other's husband was poor. Ironically though, it was the wealthy sister who was the unhappy one. Her sister couldn't understand why she should be so miserable. "He supports you handsomely. He buys you beautiful clothes and expensive jewelry. Just look at your diamonds! Why are you so unhappy?"

Replied the wealthy sister, "Actually, I am jealous of you, my sister. You have a wonderful, loving relationship with your husband. Yes, my husband does buy me expensive things. It is true that he spends money on me. But your husband spends time with you, and mine does not."

We just celebrated Shavuout, the Season of the Giving of the Torah. We adorn our Torahs with exquisite velvet mantles, precious silver crowns, breastplates, bells and pointers, but all these expensive ornaments don't come close to spending time with the Torah. And the Torah is unhappy and cries out, "Thanks for the silver, thanks for the décor, but what I really want is you! I want your time, your mind. I want you!"

So on Shavuot we are reminded that we need to open the book and spend some quality time, meaningful study time, with the Torah.

Practically speaking, this is the season to commit oneself to a regular time for Torah study. Wherever we are in our Jewish education, it must be ongoing. We must have fixed times for learning Torah and those times should be non-negotiable.

Hopefully, this Shavuot was not only the Season of the Giving of the Torah for us, which was G-d's job, but was also the Season of Receiving the Torah - which is our job.

Shavuos; G-d offers the Torah to other nations.

The day drew near when G-d desired to give the Torah to His chosen people, the children of Israel. He saw now that they were cleansed of the impurities that had filled their lives in the slavery of Egypt.

But G-d decided that it would only be fair to first offer the Torah to the other nations of the earth before offering it to the children of Israel. And so, He first approached the descendants of Esau and offered them the Torah with these inviting words:

"Sons of Esau, I bring you a gift - My holy Torah. Accept it and ye shall be blessed with long life, you and your children also."

"What is written in Your Torah?" they questioned.

"It is written in My Torah: `You shall not murder!' "

"But that is ridiculous!" they protested.

"We are soldiers, men of war who live by the sword! How do you expect us to accept a Torah that preaches against our chosen way of life? No, thank you. Your Torah is no use to us at all."

G-d then took the Torah to the children of Ishmael and offered it to them:

"Children of Ishmael, accept the Torah which I bring you this day, and if you keep its commandments you shall be blessed with all good!"

"What does Your Torah demand of us?" the Ishmaelites asked cautiously.

"My Torah says 'You shall not steal!' " replied the Almighty.

"That wouldn't suit us at all," replied the sons of Ishmael. "We are men of commerce, and such a law would interfere with our business transactions. We are sorry, but we have no use for Your Torah."

The next people that G-d approached were the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon and all the people of Canaan, to whom He said:

"I bring you a most precious gift - My Torah. Take it and you shall all be blessed with many days upon your land!"

The Canaanites spoke up, saying: "First tell us what is written in Your Torah."

"In My Torah it is written: 'You shall have fair scales, correct weights, and give full measure,' " replied the Almighty.

"We do not want to accept Your Torah which is so finicky about such matters. Your Torah is not for us!" answered the Canaanites emphatically.

And thus, after G-d had taken the Torah to all the other nations of the world who lacked sufficient understanding to estimate its worth, He went to the children of Israel. He was confident that His chosen people would appreciate the Torah and accept it eagerly.

And we did.

"Love your fellow as yourself"

"Love your fellow as yourself", says the Torah.

"This is a major principle of the Torah", said Rabbi Akiva.

And The Baal Shem tov taught us that, "A soul enters this world for seventy or eighty years just to do a favor for another".

We, the Jewish People, are a single soul radiating into many bodies, bonding us as one.

A healthy body is one where every part works in harmony. A healthy Jewish people is one big, caring family where each individual loves the other as his or her own self. Where one Jew faces rough times and the others hold his hands. Where one meets good fortune and all of us celebrate. Where no one is labeled or alienated for his or her beliefs, behaviors or background. Where each runs to do an act of kindness for the other.

Love for those closest to home nurtures love for the extended family of humanity, and from there, love for all G‑d's creatures. But if love doesn't start at home, from where will it come?

Practically speaking…

1) Start each morning by saying, "I accept upon myself the mitzvah to love my fellow Jew as myself."

2) Follow Hillel's golden rule: "If you wouldn't like it done to you, don't do it to the other guy."

3) Speak only good about fellow Jews. Don't even listen to a bad word, unless some real benefit will come through your conversation.

4) Always be on the lookout for opportunities to do another Jew a favor.

5) Invite other Jews to share in the most precious thing we have, our Torah and mitzvahs.