Weekly Torah Portion

Cardio for the Soul

Thank G-d, we're home from two very successful trips to the UK and the USA

Our forefather Isaac was righteous and holy, connected to the Almighty with all his might. What's more, he maintained fantastic physical shape. Not only did he perform heavy labor like digging ditches, but he made sure to get his cardio in daily, walking in the field while communing with Hashem. The Torah in this week's portion says so:

"And Isaac went out to converse in the field..." (Genesis 24:63).

Every single movement of our holy forefathers, including their labor and their fitness routine, was motivated by the purest intent to serve Hashem. With this in mind, why did Isaac make a special effort to go out to the field in order to commune with Hashem?

If I'm not mistaken, the notion of "field" is an allusion to the service of Hashem. The Gemara cites a case about a field that has strong undertones alluding to one's obligation to refine his or her character. The Gemara states[1]: "One who rents a field from his neighbor and refuses to weed the field, saying, "What do you care as long as I'm paying the rent" – one need not listen to him, for the owner of the field can say, "tomorrow you leave the field and it yields for me weeds."

The simple interpretation of the above passage is that a person has rented a field for whatever reason but he's too lazy to weed the field and properly maintain it. The owner of the field therefore has a bitter grievance. The renter asks the owner, "Why are you so upset? I'm paying the rent, so I can do whatever I want with the field."

The owner replies, "Oh, no you can't! You must pay me damages. The field was capable of yielding thick, luscious stalks of wheat. But now that it's full of weeds, it will only yield scrawny thin stalks. The potential yield will be much less."

The renter answers, "No problem! I'll by you the best grade of wheat on the market and reimburse you for your field's loss of potential."

Disagreeing, the owner says, "I don't want the wheat from the market; I want the wheat from my own field!

The renter then says, "OK, I'll cultivate and weed a portion of the field to repay you the damages. The owner doesn't agree to that either, for he claims that the renter has given a bad reputation to his field.

What's the bad reputation that the owner is speaking about? Rashi explains[2] that the neighbors, who know that the owner of the field is diligent and undoubtedly weeds and cultivates the field, will see that the field nevertheless is full of weeds. The field will therefore receive a bad reputation that will sorely decrease it's value if the owner ever desires to rent it again or to sell it.

The renter thinks that he's fulfilling his obligation by merely paying the rent. He doesn't take into account the long-term damage that his negligence causes. The un-weeded weeds will grow to maturity, then cast their seeds all over the field. After every rain, new weeds will spring up, harming and reducing the yield of the desired crop in addition to weakening the field. Therefore, "one need not listen to him" as the Gemara says. Religious law states emphatically[3] that the renter is not allowed to neglect proper maintenance of the field because of the long-term damage that the negligence will cause.

If I'm not mistaken, the above sugiya[4] alludes to a person who fails to fulfill his obligation to refine and rectify his character. The owner if the field is symbolic of the Almighty. The field symbolizes the soul, which is given temporarily to the renter, which symbolizes the body. The weeds in the field allude to bad character traits. By "proper cultivation", Torah and Jewish ethics learning, one 'weeds the field" and refines character. The lazy "renter", especially a person with a religious appearance who fails to learn Torah and emuna while doing his best to internalize and live by them, ends up giving a bad name not only to "Hashem's field", but his uncultivated character and bad traits will give a bad name to the entire community, Heaven forbid. As such, we all must get to work for there's no room for laziness in Judaism.

Blessings for a magnificent Shabbat, LB

[1]        Bava Metzia 105b

[2]        ibid, Rashi's commentary

[3]        Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 328:1

[4]        Case of discussion 

A Spiritual Solution for Strong Bones

Spiritual Calcium
The same principles that apply to the material world apply to the spiritual world, as we see in this week's Torah portion, Ki Tetze.

"…and you were tired and exhausted and did not fear G-d." (Deuteronomy 25:18).

The Torah doesn't waste a single letter, much less a single word. So why is the Torah seemingly repetitious in the above passage when it says "tired and exhausted"? Wouldn't one description of fatigue have been sufficient here?

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (Likutei Moharan I:67.8) that when a person prays without intent in his heart, he arrives to a state of "soul fatigue", when the slightest spiritual tasks seem to be heavy burdens. This tiredness of the soul causes a weakening of the bones.

In fact, virtually all of our physical problems stem from spiritual problems. Your nutritionist and your osteopathic surgeon may be baffled at your bone problems, especially if you eat naturally and consume a lot of calcium. This is the very reason why a truly holistic health coach must be abreast in the health of your soul as well as in the health of your body, as Rebbe Nachman reveals to us.

The remedy for this soul fatigue is to pray with such fervor and intent to the extent that he can feel the prayer in all his bones, as it is written, "All my bones shall say, Hashem, who is like You?" (Psalm 35:10). Such prayer, explains Rebbe Nachman, revives the soul and thereby solves the problem of soul-fatigue. In addition, it adds vitality to the bones.

Simply speaking, prayer with strong intent is spiritual calcium.

With Rebbe Nachman's teaching in mind, we can now understand the above passage much better. The two adjectives "tired and exhausted" are by no means superfluous. Whereas "exhausted" indicates physical fatigue, "tired" comes to describe a tiredness of the soul, or soul fatigue. We can also readily understand what the Midrash teaches, that the spiritually-weak lagged behind and outside the protective Cloud of Glory and therefore became easy prey for Amalek, because they had bad cases of spiritual osteoporosis.

A person's physical fatigue frequently stems from spiritual fatigue. One doesn't tire when he or she is doing something that they truly enjoy. To go a step further, the lack of desire that leads to spiritual fatigue also leads to sadness and depression. Wherever there are sadness and depression, the Divine Presence takes leave. In spirituality, there is no void. When the Divine Presence leaves, Amalek and the forces of evil descend on a person and overcome him immediately.

According to Rebbe Nachman's advice, there's a remedy for soul-fatigue, a way for one to rescue himself from the clutches of Amalek, the evil inclination, sadness and depression, which all go together since negative emotions stem from the evil inclination. How? A person should simply begin to pray with enthusiasm and with heartfelt intent until he can feel the warmth of the prayer in his entire body. If there's no "heart" in the prayer, and it's lip-service alone, then on a spiritual plane, one's heart becomes distanced from one's soul, a phenomenon that causes soul-fatigue. Under the principle of "divide and conquer", the more one's heart and soul are separated, the greater the soul-fatigue and the easier it is for the evil inclination - "Amalek" - to attack and subdue a person.

The good news is that anyone can rescue himself from Amalek and from soul-fatigue. Let him start by reciting one of his daily blessings with joy and enthusiasm. Imagine how miserable life would be without eyes; now, recite pokeach ivrim with all the joy in the world. Thank G-d, if you're reading this, you haves eyes! How fortunate you are to have such a wonderful gift from Hashem. Imagine how embarrassing life would be if you had to walk around all day long wearing a dusty burlap sack with holes for the head and the arms and nothing more. Now, get dressed and recite malbish arumim with such fervor and happiness, really thanking Hashem from the bottom of your heart.Try it - you'll feel better in an instant. This is the way we should approach all of our prayers - observing our blessings, taking nothing for granted and showing our gratitude with enthusiasm. This is the basis of the type of fervent, enthusiastic prayer that not only adds energy to our souls but cures our bones. Try it and have a lovely Shabbat!

Finding Your Spiritual Guide

Spiritual guide 5.9.19
Here's a thought on this week's Torah portion, "Shoftim":

"A prophet from your midst, from your brethren, like me, shall Hashem your G-d establish for you; to him shall you heed..." (Deuteronomy 18:15).

How can we recognize the true prophet, the spiritual leader that the Torah refers to in the above passage?

The Torah itself asks, "How can we know the word that Hashem has not spoken?" (ibid 18:21). Even more perplexing is what Rashi says here, "Don't listen to him unless he's an expert for you and a known tzaddik like Elijah on Mount Carmel who sacrificed from a platform during the time that platforms were forbidden."

We're left with a perplexing question: how can a simple person possibly determine who is the genuinely righteous spiritual guide that he should listen to?

Two yeshiva boys who came from two different Chassidic groups were once arguing who is greater, A's rebbe or B's rebbe. Their debate became so vocal that the Mashgiach[1] of the Yeshiva overheard them. On the spot, he summoned both students. He asked young-man A, "Do you know how to say the Ata Chonantanu blessing[2] by heart?" Young-man A rattled off the blessing with ease, in one breath. The Mashgiach then turned to young-man B and asked, "Can you say the Vatodienu blessing by heart, the blessing that we say during Kiddush when Yom Tov comes out on Motza'ei Shabbat[3]?"

Young-man B's face flushed with embarrassment. He stuttered, made a few abortive attempts, but he couldn't recite the Vatodienu blessing by heart.

The Mashgiach consoled young-man B and said, "Don't be ashamed, because I don't even know how to recite the Vatodienu blessing by heart - in fact, I don't think that anyone does. Do you know why? We say the Ata Chonantanu blessing every single week on Motza'ei Shabbat, when Shabbat is over. As such, everyone knows how to differentiate between the holy and the mundane. Yet, we rarely say the Vatodienu blessing - sometimes an entire year or two can go by without having a Yom Tov fall right after Shabbat. In like manner, few of us can differentiate between holy and holy."

With an understanding smile, the Mashgiach turned to young-man A and said, "Your rabbi is your gateway to Heaven; he knows your soul, your talents and your unique qualities, your strengths and your weaknesses. But your learning partner's rabbi knows his. There is no one single spiritual expert and guide - each person has his according to the inclinations of his soul and Divine providence. Therefore, respect each other, and respect each other's rabbis. Both are holy."

The Mashgiach's analogy is alluded to in Rashi's above commentary, "an expert for you", for you in particular. Each righteous spiritual guide enjoys special Divine assistance for those who earnestly seek his help and advice. Since a truly righteous individual is accustomed to nullifying himself, he is sensitive to the needs of others. Still, we haven't answered our original question: How can a simple person possibly determine who is a genuinely righteous spiritual guide that he should heed?

The answer is simple: if the spiritual guide is capable of identifying a person's spiritual weaknesses, even if the latter individual doesn't know how to determine them on their own, then this is probably your "personal expert". This is what the above Torah passage hints at when it says, from your midst - Hashem helps the truly righteous spiritual guide to see a person's inner spiritual dimensions so that he can help that person get closer to Hashem. And, by virtue of his sensitivity to his students and to those who seek his help, he is able to identify what bothers them and provides them with the needed remedy to cure their aching souls. Also, one truly loves his or her "personal expert" even when he chastises them. So, if he scolds you and you still love him, listen to him, for that's your true spiritual guide, your "personal expert".

Blessings for a wonderful Shabbat and weekend, LB

[1]    Academic supervisor

[2]    The blessing made during the Shmona Esrei of Maariv on Saturday night, which is the blessing that thanks Hashem for differentiating between the holy and the mundane.

[3]    Saturday night

Just Another Piece of Meat?

Bull 30.8
This week's Torah portion, Re'eh, teaches us which animals are befitting to eat and which are not. Wouldn't you be insulted of someone compared you to a piece of meat? On the surface, it seems that King Solomon is doing just that. Could that be?

King Solomon, the wisest of all men, tells us that man is no better than any other animal (see Ecclesiastes 3:19). Rashi explains that both end up dying and both have bodies which will eventually decompose in the soul.

Is that all we are, disposable recycled sacks of fertilizer? It sounds like pretty stiff language that King Solomon and Rashi are using.

Before we get upset, let's take a closer look. King Solomon and Rashi are referring to a flesh-and-blood body; in that respect, we are truly just another mammal. But the Midrash tells us that the mammal is only half of us - the material half. We have another side that's known as the neshama - the soul - our spiritual half.

The more are lives focus on the material, the more we resemble an animal. The more are lives focus on the spiritual, the more we resemble an archangel.

Let's not give animals a bad rap: they eat, drink, and procreate. They also live positive, productive lives, providing society with meat, milk, wool, leather, and fur. Many types of animals serve as means of labor, transportation, and recreation. Dogs fulfill important functions, such as aiding blind people, serving in police and army units, and participating in rescue missions.

A human who simply eats, drinks, and procreates, despite the fact that he or she has a productive job and utilizes leisure time for sports or other positive recreational activities, is still no better than a horse. Horses eat, drink, and procreate, do productive tasks on farms and cattle ranches, and serve as a source of recreational enjoyment to their owners. So, is a person superior to a horse?

A person void of spiritual ambition – a thirst for truth and a yearning for self-realization – is no better than a horse. A horse, like a human, has a basic animal soul. The Divine spirit and soul, which the Creator instills in a human, is the sole point of human superiority over the animal.

When humans utilize their divine spirit and soul to rise above base inclinations, to seek The Almighty, and to behave in a godly fashion, they begin to fulfill their real purpose in life. But, when people misuse or neglect their divine spirit and soul, they are inferior to an animal.

An unblemished soul – one who refrains from transgressing and does The Creator's will on a daily basis – possesses a Divine aura which is reflected by the eyes and the forehead, and casts fear on all of creation, even on man-eating animals.

God blessed Noah after the flood and said (Genesis 9:2), "I have instilled the fear of you in the animals on land, in the birds in the sky, in the creatures on earth, and in the fish in the sea." When people sin, or when they do nothing to develop their spiritual self, their divine soul tarnishes. A tarnished soul lacks the power to generate the holy aura of divine light. Animals and other creatures have no fear of a human devoid of the Divine aura.

The Divine soul is a part of God within us, the spiritual platform that elevates a human above the level of an animal. If the soul is misused or uncultivated, then the human loses his spiritual advantage over the animal.

Imagine that a custodian of a hospital enters the operating room, and takes one of the brain surgeon's fine sterile scalpels for peeling an apple. If caught in the act, such a custodian would surely lose his job. Using an expensive precision instrument for such a mundane task is not only a terrible waste – it's a severe degradation.

By the same token, reducing the soul from its lofty spiritual level to the grade of a mere battery cell that triggers basic emotions and bodily functions is a bitter insult. The degraded soul cries out bitterly before God, "I can't live within a human animal." In turn, the person with the abused soul soon experiences some form of abuse – derision, insult, or embarrassment.

It's time we took stock in ourselves and begin pursuing our true destiny. Anyone with a human soul seeking to get close to G-d is not just another piece of meat.

If You Live it, You Can Give it

Live it give it 22.8.19
Now that America and Israel are back in sync as far as weekly Torah portions are concerned, we're happy to offer our readers some nutrition for the soul with a lesson from this week's portion Ekev:

It's a no-brainer that a parent smoking a cigarette can't tell a child not to smoke. A junk-food, sugar addict parent can't tell his/her child to eat healthy. A parent who perpetually breaks traffic laws can't tell his/her son or daughter to drive safely. The youth of this generation - rightfully so - despise hypocrisy. 

We read in this week's Torah portion, "You shall teach them to your children to talk about them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you arise." (Deuteronomy 11:19).

The Torah commands us to teach our children to "talk about them" – them, the words of Torah - constantly. We would think that the command should say, 'you shall teach them to your children to talk about them, while they sit in your home, while they walk on the way, when they lie down,' and so forth. This is the seemingly logical way of teaching our children to live a life of Torah values, by speaking about and internalizing Torah and its teachings from morning to night, in everything they do. Yet, surprisingly, the Torah instructs the parent to teach them to discuss Torah while he or she sits in the home, walks on the way, and the like. What's the message that the Torah is conveying here?

The Torah is telling the parent that education is not preaching – it's personal example. A child's innate sense of justice cannot stand hypocrisy and inconsistency. A parent who preaches one thing yet practices otherwise is guaranteed to obtain the opposite results.

In simple English, if you live it, you can give it: if you don't live it, you can't give it. Therefore, before a parent educates his child, he must educate himself.

The principle of "live it to give it" is evident in the above-cited passage. Hashem is telling us that the best way to teach our children to be immersed in Torah is when we ourselves are immersed in Torah. The Torah is saying, "while you sit in your home" and the subject of your discussion is Bava Kama and not the New York Times or WhatsApp, then you won't even have to tell your son to pick up a Gemara. When he sees that the Bava Kama is much more important to Daddy than the newspapers, he'll want to learn Bava Kama too.

The same goes for Mom and her daughters. When mom's Friday mornings are devoted to distributing challas that she baked to poor families, her daughter will undoubtedly follow in her footsteps and engage in acts of lovingkindness as well. But, when Mom's prime-time Friday mornings are devoted to the make-up specialists and clothes shopping, then the daughter will conclude from Mom's personal example that nothing in the world is more important than the latest fashion and the eye-shadow with the glittering sparkles, none of which have anything to do with modesty, holiness or serving Hashem. Maybe the daughter will be "Orthodox", but her head certainly won't be in spiritual endeavors and charitable deeds. Because of her material demands, her husband won't be able to devote much time to learning Torah, for he'll be chasing dollars...

Children have highest regard for parents, their chief role-models. As our sages teach, the deeds of parents are stepping stones for the children. If you live it, you can give it! Blessings for a lovely Shabbat! Yours always, LB