Friday, December 4, 2015

Parshas Vayeisheiv 5776, December 2015; Patterns

Why and how did Yaakov favor his son Yosaif, and what were the repercussions of the favoritism of Yosaif over his 10 older brothers?

Yosaif was the son of Yaakov's favorite wife Rochel (Rashi); he had the greatness to deserve the avoda like his brother Reuvain, the royal nobility of his brother Yehuda, was as fit for prophecy as Levi, and had the wisdom of Yissachar (l'fi chazal); and there were many parallels between Yosaif's life and Yaakov's own, including the prophetic dreams emanating directly from G-d (Midrash Tanchuma, Beraishis Rabbah).

For these reasons, Yaakov learned Torah privately with Yosaif including giving him secret teachings he didn't share with his other sons (Tanchuma); he gave him a special garment; and he excepted him from physical or manual labor (Tiferet Zion).

And what happened from all of this? Hatred, betrayal, and ultimately servitude and exile.
May we be redeemed for our love of Torah!
What do we see here except an exact parallel to the history of the Jewish people! G-d favors B'nai Yisroel; we are the sons and daughters of the Biblical Patriarchs and Matriarchs; we have been given the avoda and tefilla, nobility, prophecy, and wisdom. G-d gave us the Torah to learn its secrets; special garments and halachos and minhagim about what we wear and how we comport ourselves; and gave us time to learn Torah and a love of doing so even when we must labor.

We have suffered hatred, betrayal, and exile.

But just as Yosaif was redeemed and elevated to sit at Pharoah's side, so B'nai Yisroel will soon be lifted to G-d's own throne-side. On these dark days of winter (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), with sad and frightening news all around us, we can only pray for Moshiach to arrive soon in our own days to redeem us as Yosaif himself was raised up.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Parshas Vayaitzay 5776, November 2015; Inclusion

At the beginning of this week's parsha, Yaakov flees from his brother Aisav, but Aisav (according to Midrash Tanchuma) or his son Elifaz (according to most sources) pursued him, stole all the goods he carried and even his mount and clothing, and left him naked and completely destitute.

He encounters Rochel and through her, her sister Leah, whom we are told (Bereishis Rabbah) had weak eyes and poor eyesight due to her years of prayer and crying to G-d to save her from marrying the even Aisav. Further, in next week's parsha (jumping ahead just a bit) we read how Yaakov encountered the protective angel of Edom, the nation of Aisav, fought with the angel, and was injured permanently in the leg.

We know that gifts given to G-d as karbanos in any form must be perfect. Yet we learn here that the father of the entire nation and the first wife and mother of fully half that nation each had specific disabilities. What can this tell us?
Those with invisible, intellectual and/or developmental disabilities
can be included in the community. It's dependent and incumbent
on the community and its constituent members to be inclusive.
It teaches us that humans are not the same as things, and that every single human of any ability is precious in G-d's eyes as any other. If anything, they are especially precious given this precedent. It is incumbent on all of the nation of Israel therefore to ensure that those with any form of disability should feel as honored as the mother or father of our entire nation. Surely theirs are the most special neshamos and they are the most like Yaakov and Leah we will find in our lifetimes.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Parshas Chayei Sarah

Dedicated to Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia
For L’iluy Nishmas


The name of our Parsha this week is, Parshas Chayei, the life of Sarah and yet it begins with her death. The light from the candles of Sarah’s tent went out, but not forever. They would glow once again when Rivkah comes and marries Yitzchak. Thus, her life is the focus for this week’s D’var Torah.

Rivkah Immeinu [our mother] teaches what it means to be a frum Jewish woman in a world that is not. Thus, this week I am writing for women and hope that men too can appreciate the beauty of the King’s daughters.  Although there are many excellent sources from which to learn about what it means to be Tzinius/modest, my references are from a small book entitled,

Beautiful Within: Modesty In Conduct and Dress As Taught By The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,
[Sichos in English, 1995].

This book is about two particular mitzvot, Tzinius and Kisui HaRosh [head covering] but I see them reflected in the life of Rivkah in a manner that is very much alive for us today.

THE GEMARA AND ZOHAR elaborate in many places that strengthening one’s conduct of tzinius is an infallible way to be blessed with good health, sustenance, and much nachas---true nachas---from children and grandchildren [p.11]

The Torah teaches us that even when the Jews were captives in Egypt, they kept their distinctive modest dress and this led to Hashem’s blessing then and it still does today. Although every frum community may have slightly different standards for length of sleeve, neckline and skirt or dress hem, modesty is the unifying theme with the clear understanding that we are not to be conformed by the world’s standard’s, but as the Rebbe teaches, we are to elevate the world to holiness; which is indeed our standard. [p. 13-17]

But what if the world, or more specifically other women simply do not care? My thought is that the strength of true inner beauty always shines outward.  It encourages and inspires others to want the same dignity. Ladies, we are daughters of the King, let us present ourselves as royalty, not to hold ourselves above anyone else, but to give confidence to others to be their best. Notice, I’m not talking about style; style is a personal choice, rather I’m talking about creating an atmosphere that rejoices in purity and strengthens us to pull Moshiach into our very desperate world. But is being Tziniusdik just about clothing?

The entire beauty/glory of the king’s daughter is within [Ps. 45:12]. From this we learn that modesty is about our thoughts, the way we speak, act, and dress. And this is where we meet up with Rivkah at coming toward Eliezer with a water pitcher on her shoulder [24:17f].As most of us are familiar with this parsha, I will be touching on the points that our germane to our conversation.  Immediately we see that Rivkah’s life is about serving others, Eliezer is a stranger accompanied by camels and men and yet this young girl pours out all of her water for him to quench his thirst and then runs to get more for the animals and the others who are with him.  This is what Tzinius looks like.  Yes, there will be great reward for her fine character Rivkah will be adorned with gold, but she is not a magpie following after every shiny object, rather it is both the reason for Eliezer’s journey and her own precious neshamah/soul that compels her to leave her mother and home. Truly, it is her decision whether she stays or goes, but the blessing for her choice is monumental:

“Our sister, may you be [the one] to produce tens of millions,
and may your descendants take possession of the towns
of those who hate them.” [24:60]

I know that we are of Rivkah’s lineage and therefore share in this blessing, but I am still in awe that it actually does apply to us as well. My sisters, may this reality permeate our lives in tangible ways. As we move on to the mitzvah of Kisui HaRosh, we see that by taking on this mitzvah of covering our hair that it draws down blessing from above.

I am not concerned with the “debate” over sheitel [wig] vs. wrapping with scarves, only with hair covering and the blessing that ensues. 
From the book, Beautiful Within, the Rebbe quoting several sources wrote,
Her children will enjoy increased stature over other children; moreover, her husband shall be blessed with all blessings, blessings of above and blessings of below, with wealth, with children and grandchildren, etc.” [p. 20]

I know many Jewish women who do not cover their hair as well as non-Jewish women who do. I can only speak from my own experience as a Ba’al Teshuvah who has taken on this mitzvah. The blessings really have come into my mishpocha/family life just as the quote above speaks. No, we aren’t gazillionaire’s but there have been shidduchs, grandchildren, Yiddishe nachas, and simcha that far outweigh our struggles. Boruch Hashem. For those of who are frum, it is my sincere hope that this mitzvah is something we proudly share with others that they too will experience the revealed goodness that we have seen. Now, let us turn back to Rivkah Immeinu.

Yitzchak went out towards evening to pray in the field. He looked up and saw camels approaching. Rivkah looked up and saw Yitzchak, and she leaned down from the top of her camel…so she took her veil and covered herself. [24:63-65]

Just as we saw Rivkah’s innate middos/character to serve others when she met Eliezer, here we see humility and modesty before the man who would become her husband. And to this day, the following lines fill me with joy and profound hope,

Yitzchak brought her into the tent, [and she was like] Sarah his mother. He married Rivkah, and she became his wife and he loved her, and Yitzchak was comforted after [the death of] his mother. [24:67]

May we all embrace the Tziniusdik life style of Rivkah Immeinu and be the ones to bring comfort as well as be the conduit of find blessings for our families, Eretz Yisroel, our nation, and the world.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Chayei Sarah 5776, November 2015; Facing adversity

In a well known commentary, Rashi explains why the beginning of the parsha enumerates the years of Sarah Imeinu's life separately by digit, stating that all her years were equally good. Rabbi Steven Pruzansky asks, by what standards were they equally good? During her life, among the experiences enumerated by the Torah, Sarah has suffered infertility for decades, been kidnapped from her husband twice, left her home and family behind, opened her home to all who asked to visit, dealt with Hagar with whom she had a negative relationship at least part of the time, and ultimately saw in a vision her beloved son bound to an alter about to be sacrificed. Her behavior may always have been above reproach, but how were her years all intrinsically good and moreover equally so?
Even helping in the yard can be joyful and good when you
are at an age when you can appreciate the good in everything easily.

He quotes R' Dovid Hofstadter that good means spiritually successful; that Sarah may have had more tests from HaKadosh Baruch H- and passed them all due to her inherent goodness. Also, living through a negative experience but triumphing over it may better the one who experiences it. It leads ultimately to the perfection of the soul.

The good Rashi discusses here then is not just that which is given to us, for we know that everything G-d does is for the best; but also our own responses and behavioral learning have the opportunity to improve over and over, becoming more and more spiritually perfect. No matter what trials befall us--and we certainly can agree that even if Sarah's experiences had to be good because they came from G-d, they none the less were stressful, troublesome, with a strong potential to be appreciated as negative--they may be negative, they may be difficult, they may be painful. Our responses can fairly be negative, angry, sad. Yet simultaneously we always have the opportunity to turn each moment into a positive in some way in our soul and our heart.

Friday, October 30, 2015

What Was The Last Big Thing G-d Asked You To Do?

What Was The Last Big Thing G-D Asked You To Do?
Parshas Vayeira

Parshas Vayeira, which means, “He appeared,” opens on a very hot day near Hebron; so blisteringly hot that Rashi describes it as Hashem having taken the sun out of its sheath in order that there would not be any travelers walking by for Avraham to care for as he healed from his circumcision. [Chayenu: Cf. Rashi Tehillim 19:5]

Moreover, we learn from Rashi that because Avraham could not fulfill this aspect of his Divine Service, he was upset; in his mind, his pain was not an impediment to his desire to be a paramount of hospitality. His mission to share with the world the truth of monotheism, that there is only One G-D, gave him such joy that not being able to do so left him feeling discontent. Right here we should ask doesn’t Hashem know what’s best for Avraham and by extension, what is best for us when it comes to all aspects of life? I have no doubt that each and every one of us is going to say, “yes.” But it is Hashem’s response to Avraham’s sadness that I want us to consider: it’s true that no humans wander by because it is as we New Englanders say, “still a scorcher,” but three angels, three spirit beings come near to Avraham’s tent and his and Sarah’s desire to serve others is made possible. What might we learn from this? No doubt each of us takes something personal away from this event, for me, I am encouraged to remember that the purpose for which Hashem brought our Neshama/soul to earth is always under His watchful eye and as we stay the course, He gives us both physical and spiritual chizik/strength, and joy to carry on.

Parshas Vayeira continues on with the story of Lot, the destruction of Sedom and Amorah, the seduction of Lot by his daughters and Avraham and Sarah’s travel into Gerar where their encounter with Avimelech occurs. All of this a treasure trove ready for you to glean but I want to continue with this week’s theme, of the biggest thing Hashem has ever asked you to do. When we look at the life of Avraham we see many “big” things asked of him: leave your father’s house and go somewhere that you don’t really know, then when he’s 99 years old to circumcise himself, and finally when his son Yitzchak, his son of covenant is 37, he hears this, “Please take your son, your only, the one whom you love, Yitzchak, and go to the land of Moriah. Take him up there as a burnt offering…” [22:2] This is the last of the ten tests that Avraham faced. What test are you facing?

The common understanding of this scene is that Hashem asked Avraham to sacrifice his son. Indeed the father and son climb the mountain with Yitzchak carrying the wood and Avraham carrying the fire and a knife. Next, we see that the son allows himself to be bound on the altar, [he had to be willing, after all he is a 37 year old man] and then the uplifted hand of the father holding the knife, “so as to slaughter his son.” [25:10] Before we rejoice because of the heavenly intervention, I just have to ask, “What did Hashem ask Avraham to do?” This is a vital question because the text only says to’ “Take him up there as a burnt offering.” Does G-D ask Avraham to slaughter Yitzchak? Rashi and many other commentators tell us no, only to bring him as a burnt offering. So, what does this mean for us? There is an excellent article on concerning the Laws of the Burnt Offering/Karbanot Olah by Moshe Bogomilsky that is worth the read.

There are many aspects to the Laws of the Karbanot Olah, but for today let’s consider that no part of the burnt offering was given to the Kohanim; the entire offering was burnt on the altar. No one but Hashem received this offering and this is the reality shared between Avraham, Yitzchak, and Hashem. The reward it brought was the doubling and redoubling of the blessing. Today there is no Temple to which we bring our offerings; prayer has become our offering accepted by Hashem at His request. When our tests are bigger than we think we can handle, it seems to me that it is the time to make sure that we dig deeply in to the words of Torah, seek advice from our leaders in case there is something that we are misunderstanding and remember that our prayers are the burnt offerings that we lay upon the altar trusting that Hashem hears each and every word.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Parshas Lech Lecha 5776, October 2015, Avodas Hash-m

Many people focus on Avraham Avinu in this week's parsha thoughts, though last year I discussed how central Sarah Imeinu actually is. Tangentially, we referred to Shem ben Noach's role in the parsha, and it is him whom I want to discuss this year.
Reach out to others. Just realize you must do it for G-d's honor,
not for your own.

While Avraham and Sarah were known to be leading others towards fear of G-d and Noahide laws, it must be remembered that Shem, the son of Noach, was at that time already leading what is referred to as a yeshiva, a home of higher Torah study at this time before the giving of the Torah itself. While the forefathers and mothers are known to have observed the laws of the Torah due to their prophetic vision and inner sensitivity to G-d's laws, this obviously cannot have been the basis of Shem's students' learning. While Shem himself was a tzaddik, his students were simply those who had learned to appreciate the ways go G-d from Avraham and felt they needed further instruction. They were not Jews and there was no suggestion that they would inherit the Torah themselves; they were simply those who were most inspired and possibly most intellectual among those who learned from Avraham.

Shem, in fact, aside from acting as the greatest in-depth teacher of G-d's law in the land, also had inherited the kehuna, the rights of the priestly first born, as the oldest son of Noach. He and his brothers and their wives were the only humans (after the death of their father and mother) who knew exactly what life had been like in the time before the great flood--a time when children were conceived and born within one day, infants were born with the ability to walk and speak, humans had enormous strength, no suffering was known, crops were sown only every 40 years for continuous harvesting, and the climate worldwide was mild (Midrash HaGadol, Midrash Bereishis). No suffering of any kind was known. It was under those conditions that mankind fell away from appreciation of G-d's gifts and took them all for granted. Shem could explain directly how things had changed and how man must appreciate what he does have and the gifts G-d does give, even if they are not as extensive as those before the flood.

Yet Shem lost the rights to the priesthood to Avraham and his descendants (eventually to the Kohanim of the tribe of Levi).  Despite his extensive knowledge, his great appreciation for the gifts bestowed by G-d, and his ability to transmit appreciation of Torah values to his students, he failed to show honor to G-d in front of Avraham. When he and Avram greater each other, each sure the other would be angry (Avram had slain Shem's unrighteous son Kedarlaomer in war; Avram was sure Shem would want revenge for his family while Shem was sure Avram bore a grudge that Shem would have such an unworthy son who had threatened Avram's life). Rather than curse Avram, Shem blessed Avram and G-d, but in that order, placing Avram and his honor first (Midrash Nidarim Lev). For this mistake committed by one who had always held G-d's teachings and primacy in his heart, Shem lost the rights to the priesthood.

So we must always have G-d foremost in our hearts and in our speech as well. Our own honor, that of others around us, are nothing compared to G-d's. We must take care though not to justify our own actions as being sanctified by dedication to G-d's honor though. Only through very extensive and deep Torah study can we come to know what G-d truly wants of each of us. It's simple to take the first steps though; simply follow the laws as you learn them, and primarily those of self-conduct. Behave towards others as though the first words from your mouth will always be a blessing of G-d and of the other person's actions, as Shem should have done and Avram did.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Parshas Noach: Contrasts in Light and Darkness

Contrasts in Light and Darkness

The unpacking of any parsha requires thorough language study as well as commentaries, research into Talmud, Midrash and for many of us, Chassidus. As much as that path will bring both a depth and breadth of understanding and erudition, most of us just don’t study at that level.  If we are not a Talmid Chacham/Torah scholar, how can we hope to deepen our knowledge and love for the “Instruction” of our G-d? Since we read the Torah anew each year, I always hope to find something that I haven’t seen before or make a connection with the text in a new way. This year our journey with Parshas Noach begins with his name, which means rest and tranquility.  Since personal names, names of angels as well as place names are of great significance in the Torah, how do we juxtapose tranquility and rest with the destruction leveled on the earth by the flood? I think that the answer to this question is found toward the conclusion of the parsha and comes in the form of a choice.

“Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his generations”(6:9) Here in the beginning of our parsha, it would make more sense if Noach’s name had been a word such as Tzaddik or any other appellation that means righteous or righteousness because that is in-line with what Hashem says about him. But rest and tranquility are a complete opposite of the world around him. Noach’s story is full of juxtapositions and choices including those made by his family members and in particular his sons, Shem, Cham and Yefes.

We are only one parsha away from the beginning of the Torah. In Parshas Bereshith darkness and light are created and separated, Gan Eden is created and when Adam and Chava will fall, good and evil are exposed. That theme continues in Parshas Noach and so the Torah tells a similar story, but in a new place and new way; more layers added to the concept of choice.

Amidst the deep darkness and perversion that the world had known since the Fall, there shone a singular light, his name was Noach and Hashem spoke to him, telling him to build something called an ark. Noach must have wondered about this building project called, ARK, but he obediently built one; after all, he had heard Hashem’s voice.   

Can you imagine clearly hearing the voice of the Creator King of the universe, being obedient for so many years in the face of a world that thinks that you have gone mad? It seems to me that this kind of hearing goes beyond the physical ability to apprehend sound and into a supernatural realm where truly only the righteous stand.  I am always awestruck when I ponder how the righteousness of one man, a husband, and father was enough to bring to safety his wife, his sons, and their wives. I believe that there is a lesson that we can glean from this reality. It is clear that a combination of good deeds, obedience to the Word of G-d and covenant are our eternal connection to Hashem no matter in which generation we find ourselves. And even though it is jumping ahead in our text, as with Noach, covenant still holds even if we “mess up.”  Perhaps this is a piece of tranquility and rest that we can all share during these particularly turbulent days.  So, we see darkness and light, righteousness and corruption, a safe haven and an impending disaster and our journey continues.

The animals that must be brought into the ark come of their own volition. We have male and female pairs that will repopulate a cleansed world and here we have a new juxtaposition to talk about, not the gender, but how many pairs of clean versus unclean animals board the ark. In Judaism, there are many aspects to the number seven and that is how many pairs of kosher animals come into the ark. But for our conversation, I just want to note the 7:1 ratio stacks the deck [all puns intended] in favor of purity and cleanness to out weigh impurity and treif/uncleanness when the animals finally leave the ark and set out to live in nature once again. This contrast between clean and unclean animals applies to both the raven and the dove.

There is wonderful aggadic material that you can find concerning the raven in the Talmud, (Sanhedrin 108b) and in (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 23). For today it is enough to acknowledge that the raven is not a kosher bird, but the dove is, moreover the dove is a gentle herbivorous creature while the raven is an aggressive flesh-eating scavenger. If we depart from the food that they eat, then we can use these two birds to ask ourselves a reflective question. How are my middos or character-traits? Which bird am I, what must I refine in my own life?

A raven, a dove, and a rainbow, a new day full of promise between
G-d and people, but is it paradise found? It is not long after leaving the ark that Noach plants a vineyard, becomes intoxicated thereby uncovering his own nakedness and his son Cham, who the Torah here tells us is the progenitor of Kena’ an, falls into depravity, while his sons Shem and Yefes act righteously.

How could this contrast happen so quickly after their experience of the flood? I think the answer lies in the reality that we are human.  We are created with a dual nature: a Yetzer Hara and a Yetzer Tov or a good inclination and a not good inclination. It is up to us, which direction we follow. There is always struggle because we are human but following the ways of Shem and Yefes, lead to the blessings of
G-d, while the ways of Cham lead to a life absent of blessing. Parshas Noach does not end here it continues on with the lineage of the three sons which leads to the story of the Tower of Bavel.

Bavel means confusion. It’s where our English word babble comes from. For me this is the final connection to Noach’s name and the last juxtaposition in this parsha. (The parsha however concludes with our introduction to Avraham Avinu / our father Abraham). Regardless of how we get to Bavel, confusion is the opposite of rest and tranquility. The Torah also called Torat Chayim (The Law of Life) teaches us how to choose life.

Before the flood, lawlessness possessed the land with disastrous results. After the flood, a despicable choice was made by a son and perpetrated upon a father.

If the choices we make lead us in the light of Torah then we will find rest and tranquility for our soul on the other hand if we walk in the darkness of the Yetzer Hara then our soul will not find rest but the agitated state of confusion. May we always remember to make our choices by following the Yetzer Tov, Hashem, and His Torah. Surely, this way of life can be understood to function as an ark of safety in the promises of our merciful, loving and covenant keeping G-d.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Bereishis 5776, October 2015: Trusting in Torah

We all know Adam and Chava were quick to fall from obedience to G-d's word, but midrash tells us that from the beginning of the creation of the tangible, this was the reaction of the created.
Sometimes we see reminders that G-d's creation is in every way perfect
On the first day, G-d created light and darkness in their entirety, as well as time in the linear sense (Rashi). On the second day the creations were the solidification of the Heavens into a stable firmament (Bereishis Rabbah), five groups of angels, and Gehinnom. None of these were distinct individual tangible objects except the angels, and those were inherently designed as tools essentially, to unquestioningly (unless asked) fulfill specific tasks.

On the third day, though, G-d created trees. The trees were intended to be entirely edible from roots to leaves, as well as their fruits. However, the earth feared that if they were too useful in this easy to access way (as opposed to chopping lumber which takes a great deal of work for man), they would be quickly over-used by man, and so the earth produced trees from which only the fruit was edible (Bereishis Rabbah, Tankuni). G-d punished the earth by making only some trees bear edible fruits whereas originally it had been intended that all trees would bear fruit along with edible bark, wood, and so on. While the earth had a concern, it tried to violate the law of Torah and contradict G-d's word.

On the fourth day, G-d created the sun, moon, stars, and zodiac and fixed them in the sky. The moon complained that it was improper for it and the sun to be identical in strength and appreciation; in response, G-d depleted the original light from the moon itself. When the moon showed contrition, G-d granted that the stars should shine alongside it alone, and not the sun regularly, so that the night sky should be appreciated as well as the day time sun-filled sky.

On the fifth day, fish and birds were created. Each took happily to its assigned portion, and so G-d blessed them with special unique blessings; ultimately when man was allowed to hunt and fish, this blessing also allowed them to survive in suitable numbers. None though tried to argue with the blueprint of creation.

Then came man, who rebelled against the rules of G-d, who had given him only one negative precept. The stage had already been set though by the rebellion of other creations which could not bend to the glory of Torah and the inherent perfection of G-d's plan.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

V'Zot haBerachah 5776, October 2015, Inclusion

Devarim 33:4
 תּוֹרָה צִוָּה-לָנוּ, מֹשֶׁה:  מוֹרָשָׁה, קְהִלַּת יַעֲקֹב

The Torah's last parsha, read on Simchat Torah (also Shemini Atzeret in Israel), is a blessing from Moshe Rabbeinu clearly directed to all of the family of Israel, every man, woman, and child. Everyone was included without exception. Whether they were the greatest tzaddikim, the least, the newborn, the zakein, they were included in Moshe's thoughts and prayers, and were part of his kehila. The Torah was commanded to US, every single one of us, by Moshe. It is an inheritance to the community of Yaakov, every single member of the community of Yaakov.

I am going to depart from my usual source-based discussion this week because this brings great pain to my own life. Today, our communities simply are not that inclusive to so many with disabilities, especially developmental, learning, or invisible disabilities, and it feels to me as though the Torah is telling us in wrapping up all its law that we must include every Jew, with joy and open hearts. Moshe Rabbeinu made no exceptions: we must provide a Jewish inclusive community for everyone, no matter what their ability or disability.
Getting her to her own bat mitzvah
celebration was only a small step

Let me first differentiate between accessibility and inclusion. Having wheelchair ramps, floor level bimahs, clear lines of sight, wide doorways, are all aspects of accessibility, allowing those with disabilities to enter the physical presence of the space they wish to access. They are critical, they require thought, they are not always obvious. But implementing accessibility is not inclusion.

I myself seen a young adult's family informed that they are not welcome at High Holiday services due to the disruption someone felt the youth caused to that other person's davenning (despite the fact that this same youth had been repeatedly asked to attend services to ensure a minyan would be present); a child with a speech impediment informed on Yom Kippur that a school bully had forbidden all other children from playing with that child at all; a small child's family assured that babysitters would take good care to ensure he didn't elope into danger only to have that occur within minutes; a young adult with intellectual and developmental disabilities publicly humiliated by being told that if he wouldn't lead davenning it must be because he had been "poorly educated."  These are just a few incidents I personally have seen or know directly have occurred.

Every one of these four children has a serious medical, developmental,
psychiatric, and/or intellectual disability. You wouldn't pick them out
of a crowd of children as the ones with disabilities, yet they have them.
Did you know that when people drum and pound on furniture during tefillah, it causes actual physical pain to some with sensory integration dysfunction or with synesthesia? That crowded spaces and children running out of control within those spaces can cause severe anxiety in those with many conditions (including intellectual, developmental, psychiatric, and medical disabilities) and can exacerbate necessary attempts to gain control of the environment for some? That there are those who chose not to dance on Simchas Torah for any variety of hidden disability related reasons varying from pain to poor coordination to dizziness and more? That boys with severe learning disabilities may simply not be able to leyn because they are already spending dozens of hours a week just trying to read in English the necessary material for school basics, but may be embarrassed to explain this?

Of course no one set of board members, rabbinic leaders, children's group leaders, or others can know the potential effect of every decision and every moment's actions for those with disabilities around them. That's impossible. What is necessary though is to remember to consider it, particularly if someone seems to have a negative response. The person not dancing, leaving the bais medrash when pounding on the bima begins, no longer attending synagogue at all; the child alone in the corner or running into every stationary object, these are not people rejecting the community. These are people abandoned or even rejected by the community if the community is not aware of the reasons for their behavior and the fact that the behavior is in fact caused by the community itself, for good or bad.

This may sound harsh, and it is. But the treatment I have seen those with disabilities receive from the Jewish community in the last few decades is itself terribly harsh. It is also not at all in keeping with the Torah, and particularly this parsha which is meant to bring the entire Torah into our hearts. All of our hearts. I wish everyone, everyone, a lively and joyful Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Haazinu 5776, September 2015; Gentleness and Strength

Moshe directed Heaven and Earth to be his witnesses as they are permanent and unchanging in their essence. Yes, clouds can pass across the sky, earthquakes can even alter the landscape, but the real nature of Heaven and Earth remain just as a person's inner essence does not change no matter whether his mood is good or not, and whether or not he does teshuvah for his sins he himself is still that one person (though he can be as if reborn if he does teshuvah). In the times of the Torah, the heavens were seen as a male influence on the world, and the very earth the female essence of creation. Together, mediated by G-d, they create our entire natural experience.
The rain in its time and the dew in its time and we will have
crops, arbah minim, schach, and all we need. And the little
children grow with the influence of their parents and other
male and female adults in their lives.
Moreover, Moshe went on to state that his words would be "like a  torrential rain which uproots…and causes great harm. Tzror Hamor reminds us that storms help crops grow stronger. Rain itself likewise was considered essentially male; it could benefit but it could destroy subsistence falling at the wrong strength or the wrong time.  Mostly though it was life giving, just as is the Torah. Both are essential for the world, both come from Heaven, both cleanse and purify, both develop seeds (the Torah metaphorically developing the seeds of spirituality within one's heart) (Rashi).

Yet Moshe then went on to say, "My saying shall trickle like dew."  Dew seems almost to spring from the ground and is historically thought of as feminine, gentle. Dew is never a negative agriculturally for the crops of Eretz Yisroel. It never interferes, it is never dangerous to man. In the same way that everyone in Eretz Yisroel rejoiced uniformly at dew, so Torah is always a cause for rejoicing (Sifrei).
This photo doesn't begin to show how steep
the path truly was, somehow it shows it more
leveled out than in reality. It would have been
terribly dangerous to descend in heavy rain.

I was recently hiking and was on very steep trails. I feared the coming rain greatly, for there would have been no safe way to get down the path at all. It would have been a complete flood immediately if real rain began to fall. Such is the power of rain on our minds, to control our actions. But we must change our actions to follow the Torah, and sometimes a strong reminder is necessary. Keeping this metaphor fresh in our minds can help.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Parshas Vayeilech -- All Together Now 9/18/15

Parshsas Vayeilech
Dt. 31:1-30

This week’s parsha is closely related to last week’s Parshas Nitzavim and they are read either together on or during Rosh Hashanah. In the Chayenu publication there is an insightful thought concerning the two parshios, they note that “parshat Nitzavim focuses on G-d’s side of the covenant, while parshat Vayeilech focuses on the Jewish people’s side of the covenant.”  Let’s begin this week’s d’var Torah by revisiting the opening line from Parshas Nitzavim:

“You, all [together], are standing today before the Eternal, your God:”

What I like about this line is that it reminds us that we are all in this together! So with that in mind let’s move into this week’s parsha.

“Moshe then went and spoke these words to all Yisrael. He said to them,’” Today I am one hundred and twenty years old. I may no longer go out or enter, [for] the Eternal has said to me, ‘You will not cross over this Yarden.’”  

I cannot imagine what hearing those words must have felt like to B’nai Yisroeal, who as fledgling nation are about to cross over into the Promised Land, but now they hear that they will do so without their beloved leader, Moshe Rabbeinu. Yet Hashem, who has never left any generation, bereft of a Shepherd, has the entire nation as witnesses to the installation of Yehoshua. What follows next is the first of three repetitions of strong encouragement that gets right at what any of us might have felt in that moment.

First to the people and then twice to Yehoshua, Moshe says, “Be strong and be firm”, some translations say courageous instead of firm, but the message then and now is we must, as a united people, stand strong and with courage, and might I also suggest pride in our Yiddishikeit. All we have to do is look around our world to see just how important it is that this reality has a home in our heart and mind. But if and when we falter, we have the very next verse to comfort and strengthen us,

“But it is the Eternal who is leading before; He will be with, [and] will not let you slip [from His grasp] nor forsake you.” v.8

When we place our eyes on the Creator King of the universe going before us into all matters of life, it truly helps during our times of distress to know who has the lead that we can safely follow. Once this part of the message has been established, the parsha turns to a small but powerful act. Moshe writes down the Torah on 13 scrolls and places them in the Ark of the Covenant, which also contains the Tablets. There are many places you can go to deepen your own spiritual understanding of this segment including, but as I have pondered verse 9 in relation to my theme for this blog, I cannot help but think of the Tablets as the Divine Holy Writ that is Hashem’s part of the covenant and the scrolls, which are written by a human hand with ink, are our part. The thing about ink is that it can fade and I feel as if it’s up to us, “we together who are standing here today”, to strive to make sure that this never happens through ahavas Hashem and ahavas Yisroel. And again our beautiful, holy G-d makes what can seem like a daunting task easier, by placing them both in the Holy of Holies where they meet eternally. I can think of no mightier safe.

Parshas Vayeilech is rich, deep and broad and a blog cannot contain all its riches, so it is my responsibility to pick what to write about and what to leave out. But how can we not talk about the Hakhel year that follows the Shemittah, when we are now in one?
 Our parsha continues with an explanation of this seventh year commandment to come together as one nation before our king and hear him read aloud portions of Devarim/Deuteronomy. But we don’t have a king and we aren’t exactly in our “promised land” are we…? So how might we apply this to our lives today? In his book entitled, Daily Wisdom, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, OBM writes, “The objective of this assembly [Hakhel] was to strengthen the foundations of Jewish education and observance.” So get together with friends and family, in small gatherings or large, even on FB and encourage one and other with Torah values, ahavas Yisroel and the activity of Mitzvot. We can and must do this for one and other. Sukkot is coming, the parsha tells us that this was the time during the Hakhel to hear the king; Sukkot is coming and we have a wonderful time to share our King’s will and wisdom with each other.

There are so many more gems in Parshas Vayeilech and I really wish we could explore how a song, the earth and the heavens are witnesses to the covenant between Hashem and His people; perhaps another time. For now, as we move through the Days of Awe, and come to Yom Kippur, where we will once again stand together and with one voice confess the Al Chet for Am Echad, I hope that your fast is meaningful and light.
Kol Tov
Robin Z

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Nitzavim, September 11, 2015 - Where do we find the mitzvot?

*Author's Note - I am not very skilled at condensing research into my own words.  Instead I try to use readings and study by our Sages to inform my opinions, outlook, and perceptions.  In this post I am merely sharing my interpretations and opinions of this week's Parshah.  So, just keep in mind, this is my opinion only.  :)
A big thank you to Elise for allowing me to share my thoughts (and be a bit vulnerable) with all of you!!

In this week’s Parshah, Nitzavim, we see both a warning and a promise from Hashem.  Hashem both warns us of the dire consequences of turning our hearts away from him, but also promises us long lasting abundance if we do not do so.  We have a great opportunity to provide joy for Hashem.  

Specifically meaningful to me this week is when Hashem explains to us that despite him asking the seemingly impossible, it’s not at all impossible.  The mitzvot and the opportunity for joy is not in heaven, and it is not beyond the sea.  “It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it.”

To explain why this portion has special meaning to me, let me tell you a little bit about myself.  I am a 29 year old mother of two small children.  I love my children with all of my heart, but they are exhausting me.  It’s not just me, family has been lovingly chiming in about how much of a handful they really are.  I recently moved from a very rural area to a very big city.  I transferred Universities and I am now in a much more difficult Accounting program than previous, and the sheer amount of homework I have is drowning me.  These are just some of the details about my life, but I tell you them to convey: I’m stressed.  I find myself having to work harder and harder in my prayers and the mitzvot I perform are becoming increasingly more difficult to maintain.

So for me, this reminder couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  The mitzvot are practical, and Hashem placed them within our reach.  Who knows me and my capabilities better than the Lord our 
G-d?  Who am I to question my abilities in this stressful time?  So if you will allow me, I would like to delve further into this specific part of the Parshah.  

To start with, Devarim 30:11 states “For this commandment which I command you this day, it is not concealed from you, nor is it far away.  It continues on with verse 12 “It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?” and 13 “Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us and fetch it for us, to tell [it] to us, so that we can fulfill it?"  All of this is to say, Hashem has not given us anything impossible or unattainable.

We don’t need special abilities to reach to heaven or beyond the sea, and we don’t need x-ray vision to figure out exactly what the covenant means to our relationship with Hashem.  We don’t need special assistance to know or understand the mitzvot and it doesn’t take some great feat to have them in our lives.  But if these are all of the things that the Torah and the mitzvot are not, then where are they?

When I read the next line “it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it”  I actually read it in my mind incorrectly.  It’s probably because I’m not a slow, careful enough reader, but I tend to read it as “in your heart and in your mouth.”  But why do I do this automatic flip?  Is it because it seems more natural to do so?  Is it more human to do so?  I think yes.  We all like to believe that what is in our hearts determines what comes out of our mouths.  However, the “fake it till you make it” philosophy tells us otherwise.  We’ve all heard the mantra that if you do it enough times, you will believe it.

Here it is right in the Torah.  The mitzvot are first and foremost in our mouth.  We say and do the things we are required to do.  Then we are able to find them in our heart.  We haven’t been commanded to perform mitzvot solely for G-d’s pleasure, it’s because he has designed the world in such a way that the performance brings us joy as well.  

So now we know where the key lies, within us.  It’s what we say and do and it’s what we hold in our hearts.  That’s how we perform mitzvot, that’s how we connect to G-d, and that’s how someone like me who is going through a rough patch continues to have faith and persevere.  In Nitzavim G-d promises wonderful and amazing things for all those that choose to follow in His path.  No matter how many times we choose the wrong path, the right path is always open to us and we can always cleave to Hashem.  It’s important to note here that the contract given to the people of Israel was for all past generations and all future generations.  It was given to us as a whole and to each of us individually.

When you understand Hashem gave us the very pieces and the very strength we needed right in our own mouths and our own hearts, we find peace with G-d.  

Friday, September 4, 2015

Ki Tavo 5775, September 2015, Using our Gifts

This week's parsha is best known for the blessings and curses section, yet before that we learn about the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim, first fruits, to the Beis Hamikdash. What is so special that we should learn this so prominently, and what is the point of bringing single items in groups to Jerusalem with such ceremony?

The mitzvah itself is to mark the first growth of any of the special species of the land of Israel on land we own each year (those being barley, wheat, grapes, dates,  pomegranates, figs, and olives); and then to to bring those specific grown products in a basket to the holy Temple together with the rest of one's settlement area all traveling together in procession. Important people of the city of Jerusalem would come greet them as they approached, and then all the residents whom they passed would stand as they approached them personally.

It says in Mishlei, "Honor G-d from your wealth and from the first of all your harvest; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your winepresses will burst with wine." It is our trust in G-d which allows us to receive what we do. Not that one receives in this world directly in proportion to his honoring of G-d, but only through honoring G-d at all does the entire world receive any portion.

One must not think that by giving, his own possessions are diminished, for it is G-d and not we ourselves who determine our own portion. Again in Mishlei it states, "There is he who scatters, and yet increases more."

Only in mitzvahs of giving is one allowed to test G-d, in fact, not in mitzvahs of accumulating or receiving. For it says in Malachi, "Test Me with this. Give tithes and charity and see if I will make you wealthy."
Perhaps your gift is juggling? No, really, my beloved husband
has many gifts and is blessed to have the wisdom to use them
in the name and honor of Ha Kodesh Baruch H-
As B'nai Yisroel are called "the first of G-d's harvest," in Yirmeyahu; and Toldos Yitchak writes that so we are commanded and taught to bring our first fruits in both literal and figurative senses. This means that the mitzvah is valid even today. The chachamim explain this means that anything one has as a gift in character or ability is his gift from G-d and should be treated as bikkurim. This can be material wealth, in which case one has the responsibility to do good to others as the physical representation of G-d's works on Earth in this era without a Beis Hamikdash. One who has no real material wealth though may have other gifts--a beautiful voice, a wise mind, an ability to write coherently, an knack for teaching others, artistic skills, anything. One is thus commanded to use these skills not for personal aggrandizement, but for the honor of G-d, to make one's fear and love of G-d known and publicly shown. This is a mitzvah every single person can do, for we all have gifts even if the gift is not so obvious like a loving heart which makes others feel drawn in; or a quiet nature which allows others to notice the holiness about them in the world. It's important we each keep in mind consciously what our gifts are, that they are G-d given, that they are part of us, and that we can use them in G-d's honor to perform a mitzvah otherwise inaccessible.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ki Saitzai 5775, August 2015, Wisdom is the Mother of all Good

"Tova chochma mi'gevurah," wisdom is greater than strength (Koheles).

In this week's parsha, we learn the mitzvah of sending off a mother bird before gathering her eggs or fledgelings (this is in the case of a kosher wild bird, please understand). Why do we bother, other than obviously to avoid getting pecked or scratched? Why would this be a distinct commandment in itself?

Rambam says this mitzvah is particularly great; Kli Yakar expands that this mitzvah is equivalent to that of the ten commandments to honor your father and mother. This is our clue of how to understand the mitzvah: G-d is H-mself the mother of all things. G-d gave birth to the universe and to every living being. How can we not honor H-m directly by honoring all mothers directly when we have that opportunity?

Historically, chochma, wisdom, was viewed as the feminine divinity aspect of Ha Kodesh B-ruch Hu. It was in keeping with the early Jewish thought process to view wisdom as equivalent in every way as any masculine idea of "G-d." This was essentially altered after the first dispersion to Babylon, as the Jews encountered there excesses of goddess worship and the leadership among the Jews, both civil and religious, feared that this had tainted Jewish thinking. Therefore G-d was re-conceived (ironically) as purely a father figure in Jewish thought. This in no way though removes the original feminine from reality as G-d clearly is not gendered but rather gender is our own dichotomous distinction.

If one uses strength to gather the eggs, one could risk injuring the mother bird herself as well as the egg gatherer risking injury.  If one uses wisdom, and sends away the mother bird, one shows a great respect to Ha Kadosh B-ruch Hu and shows an ability to synthesize all Jewish thought.

Wisdom likewise comes into play in many areas of halacha in this parsha: how to handle the situation of a non-Jewish woman captured in war and desired by a Jew; not to deprive an oldest son of his inheritance; to bury the dead immediately; to help a Jew load or unload a burden; to fence a roof.  These are all areas best approached using wisdom rather than strength (though strength can certainly help load or unload a pack).

Zohar explains the mitzvah thus:
     Driven from its nest, the mother bird flies restlessly over the hills and valleys. It cries bitterly and despairingly over the separation from its children.
     The angel appointed over that species of bird appears before the Heavenly Throne and reproaches G-d, "Why have you, compassionate in all your ways, ordered this in your Torah?"
     The angels appointed over all other species of birds take up the cry…
     Then G-d turns to all the angels and tells them, "…why …do none of you voice concern about my sons and the Shechina, both of whom are in exile? The Shechina is separated from its nest, the Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem, and My sons the fledgelings dwell among the nations…"
   This plaintive cry evokes Heavenly mercy for the fate of the Jewish people.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pinchas 5775, Learning from all at all times

The five daughters of Tzelofchad were such great women that they discussed all matters among themselves in the framework of Torah law, agreed on everything, and lived their lives solely for the purpose of Torah. They went to Moshe Rabbeinu to discuss their family's inheritance in Eretz Yisroel and presented their argument in the fashion of the greatest Torah scholars (Bava Basra). They compared the laws of inheritance with the laws of yibum (Sifrei), and would not accept Moshe's initial arguments (the proper law having been concealed by G-d from Moshe) (Sanhedrin) not out of self-importance but out of devotion to true Torah and halacha.

Torah is passed from father to son,
Ultimately not only did G-d declare their learning and interpretation of halacha correct over that of Moshe himself, but they all found worthy husbands and bore children even though they were all over the age of 40 at the time of the disputation. Bamidbar Rabbah teaches that this was an extra instruction for Moshe himself not to be haughty or feel special that he had separated himself from his wife at G-d's command, for all five of these sisters had separated themselves from the likelihood of marrying and bearing children out of love of halacha without any direct instruction to do so.

No matter how well we feel we know something, no matter how special or learned or expert we may be considered by others around us, we must always be open to others' words and ideas. What would have happened had Moshe not accepted that he should put the sisters' question before G-d, if he had incorrectly decided halacha for the people this one time? If the sisters had not been willing to speak up, or the various judges not been willing to listen and defer to those above themselves?

and Torah is passed from mother to daughter. But Torah can
only be passed from one to another in an atmosphere of love
and respect, and the respect must go both ways; the child shows
kavod to the parent and the parent shows an appreciation of
the child's willingness to learn and consider what is taught.
Halacha and every other area of life can never be decided by those who are convinced they know everything, or who will not listen to others who approach in respect and serious interest in true knowledge. We ourselves must always be open to the words and ideas of others. To belittle others, to refuse to consider their words and thoughts, to hold ourselves above reproach in any area of learning or expertise is to commit an aveira with untold consequences. Let us all learn from everyone around us and always be willing to reconsider our beliefs and opinions within the framework of Torah.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Balak 5775, July 2015, The protective feminine

Balak, says the midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah and the Zohar, was himself one of the greatest magicians with power over forces of tumah of his time. Yet he contracted with Bilam to help him destroy the Jewish people. Why? Because he knew he had no power over them himself due to what had happened to his own creation. His special form of magic involved the animation of an artificial bird with magic powers through tumah. When Balak had resolved to destroy the Jews, his bird flew away just as he was offering incense to it, and after a long disappearance it reappeared with a singed tail--which told Balak that the Shechinah specifically would always thwart him in attacking the Jews (Zohar). Not G-d in general, not the Clouds of Glory which physically protected the Jews at the time, but specifically the Shechinah.

Why the Shechinah? There are two aspects to consider. First, along with Chochmah, the Shechinah represents the feminine aspect of G-d (as we understand it; obviously G-d transcends gender but we understand things in concrete ways). This is alluded to in the brachah Bilam inadvertently gives the Jews, "Mah tovu," "How good are your tents," which we are taught actually refers not to a metaphor (unless you go to the Kabbalah, but that's another discussion of course) but to the actual physical tents of the Jews in their camps in the deserts, for the women's inherent modesty made them always site their tents so that no entrance or opening faced directly to those of another tent; in this way they always had privacy and provided it to their neighbors. This true modesty is one of the greatest traits of the Jews, and das Yehudis has always been a closely guarded value.
Summertime! And being a Jewish girl is great!

In addition the Shechinah itself was found in the Mishkan itself, inhabiting the Kodesh Kodeshim. The karbanos, tefillos, and study of the Jews was their very protection as the Shechinah kept them from harm.

In the end, it was indeed mostly men who sinned following Balak and Bilam's campaign, but the women and their holiness were able to protect the people as a whole and it was their feminine nature, their holiness, their prayers, which kept G-d from destroying the people entirely.

We must continue today in this vein; remembering our natural modesty (without going overboard or being judgmental of others' standards of modesty) in our dress, behavior, demeanor, and thought. Yet that alone is not enough; we all must continue our tefillos and talmud Torah as well as the other mitzvahs we can perform to bring about protection for the Jewish people as a whole.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Korach 5775, June 2015; Limits and Achievements

There's a well known old joke about a man who goes to a rabbi and demands, "Rabbi, I'll donate $1,000,000 to your synagogue if you'll make me a Kohen." The rabbi explains he can't do that. They argue back and forth. Finally the rabbi asks, in frustration, "Look, sir, why is it so important to you out of everything that I could do to teach you about your Jewish heritage that I make you a Kohen, anyway?" The man replies, "Well, my father was a Kohen, his father was a Kohen…"

It's actually a historically derivative joke. We're told that a non-Jew came to Shammai, requested that he be made a Jew, and demanded that he also be made Kohen Gadol. Shammai chased him off. The man went to Hillel and he accepted him as a student. Shammai went to Hillel and asked how he could possibly accept the man with the conditions he set, and Hillel explained that the man would begin at the very beginning of learning Torah, and as he went on he would develop understanding that G-d has set the conditions of the world and that one who is a convert simply cannot be Kohen Gadol by the nature of things.
They're all in the same group, within a couple of years of
each others' ages. But the smallest just can't reach what the
tallest can sometimes, and she's not going to win a race
against her. That's simple reality. They're still all great friends.
In this week's parsha, Korach, a great, wealthy, powerful, imposing leader among the Jewish people, demands to be made a Kohen rather than a Levi as his birth properly provided. No argument could deflect his compulsion to be other than what he was. Moshe spoke to him gently, reminding him that just as G-d had made night and day and they were separate and not equivalent or interchangeable, so the various positions of people by birth within the Jewish nation are each necessary, valuable, but not alterable (Bamidbar Rabbah, Rashi).

There were many possible good, holy reasons for the desire to be a Kohen: the opportunity to offer korbanos directly to G-d, to perform holy service, to lead the Jewish people.  However, unlike among the other nations in which there were many temples and anyone could become servants or priests within those temples, G-d had directly designated the Kohanim as his priests and the Leviyim as their servants (Bamidbar Rabbah).

We do all have limitations. Some of us are only ever going to be so intelligent, intellectual, wealthy, handsome. We may never have the opportunity for the learning we want. We may not be the person we wish we were.
He has significant disabilities. But he can cook
great steak for dinner and hopes to become a
world famous chef someday with his own restaurant.
He accepts he has certain limitations but still has
plans to accomplish all that's within his possibilities.
Yet there are some things we can change, and some we just cannot. When things are truly beyond our ability to alter, to affect, we must accept them and remember that everything G-d does is for the best. If we have a disability of any kind and it keeps us from performing duties or embracing opportunities we otherwise might have had open to us, there is a reason and it is not a reason we can alter intellectually or through our own devices. At the same time, we are required to do everything we can within our own abilities to perform mitzvahs, to achieve tikkun olam, to bring peace to the world. We must be all we can be, yet reconcile ourselves to being only that tiny sliver of creation which we are within G-d's complete creation. It's a very hard concept to intellectualize and to get right yet it is the key to learning who we really are and what our job in the world might be.