Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Once We Grew Into Our Shoes, We Told Them Where To Go (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Days Between")

I suppose my wife and I have acknowledged that summer is drawing to a close.  Yes, it still very hot in Toronto. Yes the public swimming pools are still open and full. However this past week, we took our annual drive down to the Pocono Mountains to pick our two youngest children from camp.  We always make sure to arrive after the campers taking the buses have departed. By the time we arrive, the staff and the staff’s children are all that remain. We say hello to some friends, and gather our children. They have already cried the good byes to their friends. By the time we arrive, they are just very tired but ready to leave. This time was no different. I parked the car, my wife ran out to find the children and say hello. I schlepped the duffle bags and loaded the car. When that was finished, I began walking towards the main office, where our children came to meet Mommy. From the distance, it seemed our son and daughter had grown.  They saw me and began running. Our fourteen year old tired ran with her long loping strides. She didn’t look any worse for wear, just tired. Later we found out that she hadn’t slept had been awake for more than 24 hours. Behind the fourteen year old daughter came our twelve year old son. He was running as well. However as he ran, I notice that something kept flapping near his foot which caused him to pay attention to where he place his foot. Some piece of red material was flapping. Now we had purchased a pair of red Nike sneakers prior to camp. When he finally arrived in my arms and we hugged, he took a step back from me and sheepishly smiled. The red material flapping oddly while our son ran towards me was his sneaker. It was torn practically from the sole. It was beyond repair and I asked what had happened. He explained that he tore it while rock climbing.  Seven weeks of camp and he had completely destroyed a new pair of sneakers. He also informed me that he threw away several pairs of pants because they no longer fit. Seven weeks of camp and he had grown enough that he had outgrown some of his clothing. 
This Shabbat we read from Parshat Eikev. This week’s Parsha is Eikev. Here in his second discourse, Moshe explains to the new generation how the second set of tablets that contain the Aseret Dibrot (Ten Commandments) came into being. He explains how God forgave their parents for their idolatrous behavior in regards to the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf), Moshe explains that B’nai Yisroel’s essential task is to refrain from Idolatry, serve God, worship God, and the nation will be rewarded with water, grass and quality lives. Moshe also reminds B’nai Yisroel that they have nothing to fear when they enter into Canaan and conquer the land even though they maybe outnumbered. God has already, and will continue to protect his people. He did so during the Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt). He did so when B’nai Yisroel defeated Og and Bashan. As long as B’nai Yisroel keeps its side of the Brit, God will continue to protect his people.
While Moshe recounts the experience at Mt Sinai, now known as Mt. Horeb, he explains that the misfortunes that befell B’nai Yisroel were L’Nastocha LD’aat et Asher Bilvavecha HaTishmor Mitzvotav Im Lotests , to know what is in you r heart whether you would observe His commandments or not (Deut. 8:2). While Moshe explains B’nai Yisroel’s recent history in terms of a Divine Test, he makes an odd statement as he cites some of the miracles that B’nai Yisroel may have overlooked or took for granted. Simlatcha lo Valtah Mei’Alecha, V’Raglecha Lo VaTzeika Zeh Arbaim Shana- Your garments did not wear out upon you and your foot did not swell these forty years (Deut.8:4). Forty years of living in the Wilderness and no one outgrew their clothing nor wore out their clothing or their sandals. Certainly their clothing and sandals were not made with the same high quality material as our son’s sneakers nor his denim jean (that he outgrew). Rashi, the great 11th century French commentator, offers an explanation base on a literal understanding of the verse. Anenei Kavod Hayu SHafin BichsutamThe Clouds of Glory would rub their clothes U’MGaHaTzim Otam- and press them, Kmin Keilim M’Guhatzimlike freshly pressed garments. V’Af Ketaneihem Kmo Hayu Gdeilim Haya Gadeil Levushan Imahemand their young too, as they would grow, their clothing grew with them, K’Lvush HaZeh shel Chomet Sh’Gdeil Imolike the clothing (shell) of a snail which grows with it. This is not the kind of miracle that one notices and has an awe inspiring moment. Rather this is the type of miracle that one becomes aware of after the fact. Maybe this type of miracle is imperceptible on a day to day basis but over the course of years and decades, looking back, one realizes what took place.  However a more figurative way to understand Moshe’s statement is that the clothes are God’s teachings, God’s commandments, the Torah. Torah, and Moshe’s teachings, by design, are supposed to grow with the person and never become old, worn out or obsolete.
I suppose Nike and Levis and all the other clothing and shoe manufacturers would hate the idea that clothing is synonymous with Torah. After all, Torah is designed to withstand time and space. Clothing manufacturers need children to outgrow their clothes and wear out their shoes. Otherwise there would be no need to buy more sneakers and jeans. I became very aware of this as I closely inspected by son’s shredded sneaker.  As we drove back to Toronto, we passed an outlet mall on the New York State Thruway and bought him another pair of sneaker. I know that his foot hasn’t stopped growing, so we will have to buy more sneakers in another 9-12 months. I told him that I did not want to buy him another pair because he wore them out so quickly but rather because he outgrew them. Maybe he should read and study more since one doesn’t outgrow or wear out his knowledge base like he does with his clothes and his sneakers.
Rav Yitz

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

You Who Choose To Lead Must Follow (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Ripple")

It has been a very busy week. Our sixteen year old daughter returned from six weeks in Israel. Yes, she has grown up and she is exerting her new sense of independence since she arrived. My wife and I have been following the Olympics, and the Presidential campaign. Amid all the news, a 41 year old baseball player was given his unconditional release. Now that is certainly not newsworthy. After all, there are not a lot of 41 year old baseball players who are particularly productive. Alex Rodriguez will receive the remainder of the 27 million dollars that he is owed. However Alex’s team, the New York Yankees explained that while he will no longer play baseball for the Yankees, he will become and “advisor” to Yankee players. He will become a mentor to younger players. Ironically, this is the same Alex Rodriguez that was banned from baseball for a year because he was taking performance enhancing drugs. Superficially, Alex Rodriguez might not be the best choice to be a mentor or advisor to young players. Despite the glaring character flaws, he is reputed to have an incredibly strong work ethic, he loves the game and he has a strong appreciation of the history of the game.  However, make no mistake both Alex and his employer understand that the time has come for the next generation of players to assume the mantle of leadership.
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Nachamu “Shabbat of Comfort”.  Parhsa V’Etchanan is always the Torah portion that immediate follows after Tisha B’Av.  Certainly after commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, B’nai Yisroel needed spiritual comforting.  Certainly in this week’s parsha, V’Etchanan, Moshe’ reassures B’nai Yisroel of its destiny and in doing so, comforts them. After concluding a brief history of B’nai Yisroel’s wanderings and a gentle rebuke of this generation which is about to enter into Eretz Canaan, Moshe now provides a framework for all the laws he will teach in succeeding weeks.  Moshe presents the Aseret Dibrot, the Ten Commandments to this news generation. Moshe infuses the people with self-respect. He reminds this generation that the entire basis for our nationhood and our relationship to God is avoiding idolatry at all costs. Avoiding idolatry ultimately distinguishes us from the rest of the world. Finally, Moshe reminds the people that if they follow the advice, then everything will go well. From that perspective, Moshe is re-assuring the people that the future is possible and plausible.
Prior to the discourse, Moshe implores God, hoping that the punishment will be rescinded and he could indeed enter the land. Surprisingly, God does not listen to his most humble servant. Instead, Moshe tell us: Vayitaber Hashem- God became angry (Deut. 3:26). Imagine that! For the first time we are told that God actually became angry with Moshe. God has been angry at B’nai Yisroel on numerous occasions. Yet God was never angry with Moshe. Even when Moshe hit the rock (Num. 2: 9-13), we do not read of God getting “angry” with Moshe. God becomes angry at a “dying man’s final request”.  Now, from Moshe’s perspective God tells Moshe to drop the matter. Instead of wasting time trying to walk in Eretz Canaan, God tells Moshe V’Tzav et Yehoshua v’Chazkeihu v’Amtzeihu Ki Hu Ya’Avor Lifnei Ha’Am HaZeh, V’hu Yanchil Otam et Ha’Aretz Asher TirehBut you shall command Joshua, and strengthen him and give him resolve, for he shall cross before this people and he shall cause them to inherit the Land that you will see. (Deut. 3:28). So Moshe begins strengthening Joshua and his nation by teaching them the law, by providing a framework for observance, a framework for living a life and a framework for raising children. Moshe realized that his time as a leader was winding down. Moshe realized that it was time to let go of his authority. In order to let go, Moshe needed to inform, teach and make sure that his wisdom had been thoroughly passed down to the Joshua and this generation.
Whether an aged retiring professional athlete takes on an advisory role, or a parent/ grandparent nearing the end of life hoping to pass on the final pearls of wisdom, there comes a time when we all have the opportunity to pass wisdom to the younger generation. There comes a time when we all realize that it’s time to step aside. The process is an incredibly selfless. After all, to transmit information and wisdom to the next generation is an acknowledgment that the “mentor”/”advisor” is not part of the future. Instead, the future only depends upon offering strength, wisdom, guidance and an endorsement to future leaders. Then the mentor must step aside and allow the leader to lead.

Rav Yitz

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Don't Waste Your Breath To Save Your Face When You Have Done Your Best (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Built to Last")

          Something odd happened this week on Toronto sports talk radio. Here we are in the dog days of summer, the Toronto Blue Jays still competing for the first place in the American League East and people continue to excitedly call in about it. In a typical summer, around this time, I notice that Torontonians start calling in and speaking about Hockey. In a typical summer, big market U.S. cities would be talking about football training camp. However there has been minimal if any hockey talk. Rather people have been calling in about the Olympics. They have talked about a young woman from Toronto earning swimming medals in Rio. Yes indeed, the summer Olympics are upon us. For a couple of weeks, we are reminded of the sanctity of the human spirit. We are reminded of the incredibly amount of effort, of grit and determination for these world class athletes to reach their potential. In sense, these men and women compete against their “potential” as much as they compete against each other. There is something quite awe inspiring when we witness an individual realize that potential. Sometimes that potential is achieved merely by competing. Sometimes that potential is achieved by attaining a “personal best”. Sometimes that potential is achieved by setting a national record, an Olympic Record, or even a World Record. Sometimes that potential is achieved by a selfless act of sportsmanship.
This morning we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah. We read the first Parsha of Sefer Devarim of the same name. Parsha Devarim is always the Shabbat that immediately precedes Tisha B’ Av, (the 9th Day of the month of Av), the day in which the Jewish People commemorate the destruction of both the First and Second Holy Temples.  The Sages explain that the reason Second Holy Temple was destroyed by the hands of the Roman Empire was because of Sinat Chinam – Pure unadulterated hatred. The Sages viewed the Temples’ destruction as a punishment of the Jewish people’s failure to not only achieve their potential but strive towards their potential. Instead, that generation regressed into the worst that they could be rather than the best that they could be.
Parsha Devarim, the fifth book of the Torah begins with a similar message about potential. Moshe and B’nai Yisroel on the eastern bank of the Jordan River recounting the peoples’ history of the last 40 years, and specifically the wanderings. Interestingly enough, in his recounting, Moshe, now imparting his final words to his people reminds this new generation of its potential, and how their parents/grandparents, those who left Egypt, didn’t quite reach it national/communal potential. Right away, this wizened old man begins hammering away at B’nai Yisroel’s potential. Eilah Had’varim Asher Diber Moshe El Kol Yisroel B’Eiver Ha’Yarden Ba’Midbar Ba’Aravah Mol Suf Bein Paran Uvein Hofel V’Lavan Va’Chatzeirot V’Di Zahavthese are the words that Moshe spoke to all Israel, on the other side of the Jordan, concerning the Wilderness, concerning the Arabah, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Chatzeirot, and Di-Zahav;  Achad Asar Yom M’Chorev Derech Har Seir Ad Kadesh Barneaheleven days from Horeb, by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barneah (Deut. 1:1-2). Moshe tells B’nai Yisroel that it is only an eleven-day journey from the Revelation at Sinai to this spot on the eastern side of the Jordan River. V’Yehi B’Arbaim ShanaAnd it was forty years…(Deut. 1:3). What should have been an eleven-day journey took forty years. Immediately Moshe is telling this younger generation that these past forty years are a direct result of the previous generation failing to achieve its potential. Indeed, the generation that left Egypt did have potential. After all this was the generation that did merit the Exodus, this was the generation that deserved to be freed from Egyptian bondage. Sadly, that generation did not warrant entry into the land. Implicitly, Moshe Rabeinu exhorts this generation to live up to its potential and avoid blowing the opportunity of finally settling into the land. Moshe Rabeinu exhorts this generation to do better, improve upon what its immediate predecessors had accomplished. What had they accomplished? The previous generation had the courage and faith to leave Egypt. They had the courage and faith to cross the Sea of Reeds, and receive the Torah. They lacked the courage and faith to inherit the land.  
            We don’t have to wait every four years to realize our potential. Every day we have opportunities to live up to our potential. Everyday we have an opportunity to improve upon the potential of holiness that resides within our souls. Everyday we have an opportunity to achieve a higher degree of holiness than where we had been. Interestingly enough, Moshe is right. Very often achieving higher levels of holiness need not take 40 years. Instead the transformation can take days. How? By, by working at the intimate relationship we have with God, through prayer. How? By working at our relationship with our ancestors through the study of Torah. How? By working at our relationship with our community through Tzedakkah and Gemilut Chasadim (Acts of Loving-Kindness). How? By working at our relationships with our spouses and our children or by giving back to the community, we transform ourselves into better versions of ourselves. Every day we have the opportunity to achieve our own personal best.

Rav Yitz