Friday, June 27, 2014

Text Message Chukat

Parashat Chukat (The laws of the red heifer)

It was said of Reb Simcha Bunem that he carried two slips of paper, one in each pocket.
On one he wrote: Bishvili nivra ha-olam—“for my sake the world was created.” On the other he wrote: V’anokhi afar v’efer”—“I am but dust and ashes.”
In this parasha we meet with a weird ritual. If someone was impure, he would have to become pure after being sprinkled with a formula based on the ashes of the red heifer together with cedar wood, hyssop, and a crimson worm.
Why these animals? Why such a formula?
The "magic" formula that helped a person to return to "normal life" included the biggest animal available (red heifer), the smallest one (worm), the biggest tree (cedar), and the smallest vegetable (hyssop).
The formula combined the biggest and the smallest types of life in nature.
Life is a combination of great and tiny moments.

In the happiest ones, we need to look at the paper that says “I am but dust and ashes." In the difficult ones, we need to take a look at the paper that says “for my sake the world was created.”

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cover your head...

There is a simple act that most of the Jews do when they enter a synagogue, they wear a kippah, or a yarmulke.

Were does the word yarmulke come from?
What is a yarmulke?
What is the minimal size of a yarmulke?
Why don’t we say a blessing when we cover our heads?
These are questions that a non-Jewish visitor may ask when he or she,  enters a synagogue, for the first time.  And these are questions that we should be able to answer.

Yarmulke is a Jewish word derived from the Aramaic term, ‘yareh malka’, that means “awe of the king.”  The word “kippah” is usually translated to mean “a cover” but Aramaic like many other languages can change meaning when it is translated. For example in Spanish “kippah” is translated as “solideo” which means that only G-d is above us.
The Talmud (Kidushin 31A) states that that Rabbi Hunah the son of Rabbi Yehoshua never walked 4 cubits (approximately 7 feet) with his head uncovered. The reason he gave is that “The divine presence is always resting over my head.” In reverence of the Divine presence and to acknowledge G-D’s presence we wear a yarmulke and the yarmulke is a constant reminder of G-D’s presence.

There is also a reference in Tractate Shabbat (156B): “cover your head in order that fear of heaven be upon you”. Yet another reference to Kippot in Tractate Berachot states that the blessing that we say in the morning prayers “he who crowns Israel with splendor” refers to the Yarmulke. 

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 2:6) states as a ruling that one may not walk 4 cubits without a head covering.
The reason we don’t say a blessing when we put on a yarmulke it is that it is not a commandment to wear a yarmulke, it’s just a common custom. Yet even though this is a custom many Jews accept it as a rule and wear a yarmula at all times.

The minimum size of the kippah is approximately 2.5 inches because according to Jewish law the kippah should be seen from every side of the head.

Rabbi Isaac Klein states in his book Guide to Jewish Religious Practice that a Conservative Jew should cover his head when in the synagogue, at prayer or sacred study, when engaging in a ritual act, and when eating.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Parashat Korach Text Message

How easy it is to criticize leaders when they stumble.
How easy it is to say "I know he or she was not capable" after they fail.
Moses was in a weak position. We read how the mission of the spies failed and, as a result, the people of Israel will not enter into their land.
Now he is questioned? Why didn't Korach question Moses during the 10 plagues? Why didn't Korach question him when they crossed the sea or when they received the Torah?
Korach was not only rebelling  against Moses; he was taking advantage of his situation. That was probably his biggest mistake.
We need to remember that leaders have a responsibility, and they deserve to be trusted but also respected.
Respecting the leaders for what they did, honoring their accomplishments, acknowledging  their performance.

So when they fail, we do not forget all the good they did for us.

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, June 13, 2014

Parashat Schlach Text Message

Parashat Schlach Lecha (Send messengers)

The logo of the ministry of Tourism of Israel is two people carrying a pole with grapes. The logo is based on this parasha story.
Moses sends spies to the land of Israel and he asks them to bring fruits from the land.
What did they do? They brought the branches and the fruits. Not just the fruits as Moses asked but something else.
And we all know that 10 out of 12 spies spoke poorly of the land of Israel and the people were punished to wander 40 years in the desert.
The spies were too ambitious. They took more than they had to. That was a big mistake.
When you are on a trip (especially on vacation), you cannot take back everything. Just the fruits. Trying to take more than that (living on vacation mode all year round) can be very harmful.
We need to learn to take the fruits and not all that we want. And we also need to remember that life is like a trip... We cannot take everything with us... 

Friday, June 6, 2014

Text message Beaalotcha

Parashat Beaalotcha (When you kindle the lamps)                          

My daughter Catalina likes to ask questions. She sometimes gets surprised and upset when I answer: " I don't know."
How is that possible, she asks; you are a rabbi...
My answer is:  You know what? Even Moses, the greatest rabbi, didn't know everything and he asked G-d several times.
This parasha deals with the first of ten times Moses asked G-d for an answer.
A group of people were impure and could not eat the Passover sacrifice. Moses didn't know what to do with them. He consulted G-d, and Pesach sheni (a "second Passover") was instituted.

Sometimes the greatest wisdom is not knowing everything. More important is to know when to say "I do not know" and recognizing the source of all knowledge.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Parashat Nasso (Count)

This is the longest parasha of the whole Torah. A great part of its length is due to the repetition of the offerings and gifts of the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel at the dedication of the Mishkan.
It includes among its topics the rules for the Nazir, the Nazarite.
The most famous Nazarite in our history is Samson. We will read his story in this Shabbat Haftorah.
Growing up, we all have the impression that Samson's strength comes from his hair. In fact, we see in the Book of Judges that when Delilah cuts his hair, he loses his strength.
With time we grow and we discover that it was not "just" his hair; it was his belief in G-d that gave him strength.
We may think our abilities, our families, our wealth, our knowledge are the source of our strength and success...
Sooner or later, we will discover the real source of it.

As the Psalmist says in Psalm 121: "I will lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth."