Layers of Meaning

layers

The high point of my week when I was eleven was walking to synagogue with my father on Shabbat morning. We were rarely alone on the walk home as people would gather round him to ask questions. So, the ten minute walk alone with him was heaven. He was invited one week to speak in a synagogue, Guttman’s, that was a thirty minute walk away. Heaven! I still remember every word we discussed on the way there. It was Shabbat Vayeilech, the shortest portion of the year, but the Torah reader, although mechanistically perfect, was so slow that it seemed the longest portion. I silently prayed that if they were ever to invite my father again, that it not be for Nasso, the longest portion of the Torah. My prayers were not answered. I was so excited to spend the half hour with my father that I forgot that it was the week of Nasso.

I recalled the words of One Irish Rover: “Tell me the facts real straight. Don’t make me older!”  I was suffering! Twelve people brought the same offering and yet the Torah describes one after another in exact detail. I am not exaggerating when I say that it took this man more time to read a single one of the sacrifices than it would have taken to offer all twelve!

Why does the Torah describe all twelve in exact detail if they were identical? The Midrash explains that each person had entirely different intentions when bringing his offering. The offerings may have been identical, but the focus of each was unique. Isn’t there a shorter way to get that idea across?

By the time my father rose to speak everyone was exhausted. “I would never be too tired to listen to twelve masters speak one after the other, each revealing another layer of meaning in a single verse.” He paused. “Especially if listening to all twelve reminds me that each layer I can reveal in the text is as precious as all the others. We just received a powerful message that the layers of Torah each of us reveals is precious to the One Who gave the Torah. I hope that we all remember that, each time we learn, we pray, we observe a Mitzvah.”

I was in the highest heavens as we walked home and my father revealed twelve layers of the opening verse of the portion. Each time I read a verse, recite a prayer, or observe a Mitzvah I have an opportunity to discover a entirely new layer of meaning, and there are infinite layers. The layers are the adventure of my service of God.
Thank you & Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
President
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The Night Before They Overslept

wakeup

God was ready and waiting. He was at Sinai ready to begin Revelation. People began to trickle toward the mountain, but there were no crowds gathering for the most momentous day in history. Where were the people? Why were they not waiting in lines for hours as they did for the iPad? They overslept. Moses had to run through the camp, much as the “Vekker,” or duly appointed ‘Waker’ did each morning in the Yeshiva dormitory; “Shtei uf! Shtei uf la’avoidas haBorei!” Wake up! Wake up for the service of the Creator!” It was bad enough to open my eyes and find my Rebbi standing over me an hour or two after morning prayers. I can’t even begin to imagine opening the door of my tent and finding Moses there pointing as his watch, “Nu! You’re late!” We try to repair those hours we kept God waiting by staying up all Shavuot night and studying Torah, but I’m still trying to figure out how could they all oversleep!

I usually do not sleep well the night before an important trip. My children have trouble falling asleep the night before a big test, especially their driving test to get a license. Few bar or bat mitzvah children sleep the night before their grand performance. I have even spent sleepless nights worried that I would not wake up in time for a flight only to doze off and then oversleep! My oversleeping did not indicate a lack of appreciation for the importance of the next morning.

I suspect that the reason everyone overslept on the morning of Revelation was that they were sleeping fitfully most of the night before: “What would it be like? Are we going to be standing outside all day in a huge crowd? Do I have to bring food for the kids? What if they misbehave? What shall I wear? How will my life change? I know I declared my intention to, “Na’aseh,” to do whatever God asks, but what will He ask? Moshe described how we will “Meet” God, what does that mean?”

A sleepless night is also an indication that the person understands that the next day will be different from anything he ever experienced. Did their oversleeping, especially after a sleepless night, not reflect their understanding of the importance of the next day? What was the big deal?

“And the entire people that was in the camp shuddered, Moses brought the people forth from the camp toward God.” Even after being unable to sleep the night before because of their nervous excitement, the people still did not wake up with a start and rush to find a cab to get to Sinai.  They shuddered. They were scared, too scared to rush to Sinai. They had been nervously waiting for three days, but when the actual moment arrived they were too scared to go to Revelation. The issue was not that they overslept! The issue was those first moments after Moshe banged on their doors to wake them. The question was, “What do you do when you realize that you have overslept an important appointment? Do you rush like a mad man or do you hesitate?

They hesitated. A part of them did not want to be there, although God, of Whom they were so frightened, was showing His love for them by arriving early and waiting. In those first moments after they woke with a start, they thought only of fear of God, not of His love for them.  We remain awake the entire night of Shavuot to show that we connect to God through love, without any fearful hesitation.
Shavuot is our opportunity to connect with God Who loves us, Who stands and waits for us, Who gave us a Torah of love, not fear. God waits on Shavuot with arms wide open to receive those willing to run into them with love and without hesitation.

I wish you a Shavuot filled with so much excitement for a Torah of love that you have to stay up the entire night surging with excitement.

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
President
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The Majesty of Words

majesty

I was sitting with my young children waiting for an airplane, when my five year old son emphatically announced to me, and everyone in the waiting area, that he had chosen his career. “I want to be a pusher!” he said. From the strange looks I saw on the faces around me, it was clear that I was not the only one shocked by my son’s choice. People were wondering whether the five year old learned about pushing drugs from his father. I was tempted to keep him quiet, but then I remembered how my father zt”l responded to my expressed desire to become an astronaut; he took me seriously. We had a long conversation about what was involved, and we concluded with my father urging me to follow my dreams. I decided to use the same approach with my son.

It turned out that he had a definition of “Pusher,” that was, shall we say, slightly different from that of everyone else in the room. He had been watching the trucks that push the planes back, away from the gate, and he wanted to be that kind of “pusher.”

I learned a tremendous respect for the power of words from my father. It was impossible for me to grow up listening to the way my father read the bible without loving what Shaw calls, “The majesty and grandeur of language.” I was fortunate enough to live among people for whom the power of words was visceral and immediate. We listened to each other. Conversations were intense and respectful. I learned to treasure every word of the Torah. The more important lesson was that unless the sense of the majesty of words was reflected in the way I spoke with, and listened to, others, all the reverence for the magic of the Torah’s words was worthless.

“As God commanded Moses, he counted them in the Wilderness of Sinai.” (Numbers 1:19) Moses counted them the same care and attention as when he listened to God’s command. The man who began by saying, “I am not a man of words,” but eventually became  the Man of Devarim, the Man of Words, took an important step when he counted the Children of Israel. It is in this book of Numbers, the final stage before Moses assumes the mantle of “Devarim,” that he takes an essential step toward becoming the Man of Words: Only the person who will put as much care and concern into counting each individual with the same respect as he paid to, “As God commanded Moses,” could truly become the Man of Words. He spoke to each individual he counted with the same attention he paid to God’s words to him. It was thus he became, not only the expert in God’s words, but in words, in the majesty of language.

We are entering the period when Israel declared at Sinai, “Na’aseh V’nishma,” “We will do and we will hear.” Many ask, “What is the best way to prepare for Shavuot?” The answer is simple: By practicing how we speak and listen. In order for the ‘Doing’ to matter, we must also practice “We will hear.” Listening begins with an appreciation of the majesty of words of people, including our own. I invite you to join me in reveling in the majesty of language in the Torah and in our lives.

Favorites: Words of Life II and Experiencing God’s Love

Our Video conference classes on the Book of Ruth is growing each week.  We received very positive feedback and are trying to make the experience even easier. Please sign up for class #4. Please note that you must register in order to participate. For quick register, click here. You can see the complete series here.
Thank you & Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
President
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A World of Colors

A Universe of Colors

I usually celebrate that we live in a world filled with so many colors; it’s so much more interesting than black and white. Now, I’m not so sure. I went shopping with my daughter for a dress for her to wear to her college graduation.  We walked into a store filled with colors and different patterns. Even the right color and pattern were not enough. We then had to examine the cut and style. Frankly, I am overwhelmed. It’s so much easier to shop for a suit; just give me a solid blue or gray, and I’m happy.

The Abarbanel teaches that all the colors in the Tabernacle and the Priestly Garments were an expression of the levels of light in creation as a whole. He considers the choice of black and white to be a denial of an important aspect of creation. Rabbi Moshe Cordevero explains that colors serve as a door to the dynamics of the Kabbalistic Sefirot. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev describes blue as the darkest we should go. I think that I’ll stick to the world of colors, except when it comes to dress shopping and family portraits.

The Garden of Eden was filled with every possible variety of tree. We were never meant to be angels who see only in black and white. God wants us to be thinkers and choosers, creative beings who live in passionate colors.

There are times I fear that I am in a shrinking minority of color lovers. We seem to be increasingly dressing and living in black and white. I recently learned that some people consider colorful clothing to be immodest! “Rage, rage against the dying of the light!” (Dylan Thomas – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night) We have never studied the words of Torah as black and white, but as black and white fire with colorful and dynamic shades of light.

“If you behave casually with Me and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you!” (Leviticus 26:21) Many great biblical commentators explain that one who does not pay attention to all the details of existence, is one who walks casually with God. The details of life are mostly in color. Few things are black and white. When we respond to tragedy with a generic, “This is a message from God that we should repent!” we choose a world without shades of color and meaning. Does anyone truly believe that 9-11, Haiti and Iceland all teach the same message? “Repent!” For what?

The world of color demands that we analyze and celebrate the subtleties of everything; the intensity, the bursts, and the countless combinations and shades of all the colors.

The people of Bethlehem saw Ruth and thought, “Moabite woman!” Boaz viewed the same Ruth and he saw Malchut – Royalty. In a world of black and white Boaz’s night with Ruth was a sin. In a world of color, it was magnificent.

I invite you to join me in celebrating the dynamic and colorful world of Torah and to search for the layers of meaning in everything we do and see. That way, you can save me, and take my daughter shopping for her next dress. Please!

Favorites: An Invitation To Engage, Insight and Application, & The Music of Halacha: A Case Study.

Last Monday, we continued our new Video conference classes on the Book of Ruth.  We received very positive feedback and are trying to make the experience even easier. Please sign up for class #3. Please note that you must register in order to participate. For quick register, click here. You can see the complete series here.
If you have not yet done so, please take two minutes to complete our Survey.

Thank you & Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
President
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Without Wonder

grasshoper

“Men go abroad to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars,” observed Augustine in the fifth century, ” and they pass themselves without wondering.”

Moses sent out the spies to, “Ascend here in the south, and climb the mountain. See the Land – how is it? And the people that dwells in it. And how is the Land in which it dwells – is it good or is it bad? Is it fertile or is it lean? Are there trees in it or not.” (Numbers 13:17-20) Moses sent the spies to wonder at the mountains, the rivers, and the trees. They went to observe and wonder about everything except themselves. They even wondered about other people, but of themselves, they said, “We were like grasshoppers in our eyes!” (13:33) No wonder they failed.

We study Torah and wonder at it depth and breadth. We are astounded by its wisdom and insight. We rejoice in our part in the infinite process of discovery. Yet, we seem to be so busy in wonder of Torah that we “pass ourselves without wondering.”

People complain that they are ignorant. They see themselves “like grasshoppers in our eyes.” They focus on their insignificance when compared to the Sages of the Talmud, or Rashi, or Maimonides, or the Vilna Gaon.

So, the portion of the spies ends with the Mitzvah of Tzitzit, Garments of Light. The Torah wants us to see our inner light in all its beauty and magnificence, and wonder over our potential and promise. To wonder about ourselves is to wonder about Torah. Our little grasshoppers above may be wearing Tzitzit, but theirs are not Garments of Light.

When we are able to wonder about ourselves and connect that to our wonder over Torah, and the mountains, and the ocean and the stars, our lives will become truly wondrous. We must study Torah and observe the Mitzvot with a sense of wonder about ourselves. We will find ourselves enwrapped in Garments of Light.

What will we discover about ourselves? I wonder….

Favorites: In His Clutches and Signals
All For the Best Part One & Part Two are posted for those who missed the webinars.

We are happy to add our newest column Beyond Twelve Gates by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason, and a special series of Words Can Heal by Rabbi Irwin Katsof.
Thank you & Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
President
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Picking Up the Pieces

God was furious. Although Moses successfully argued that God not destroy the Children of Israel, and God reconsidered what He intended to do, God was still angry. The intense debate ended. There was a moment of silence. Moses did not know what to expect next. Would Moses be allowed to hold on to the Tablets for the Children of Israel who violated their covenant with God by building the Golden Calf? God does not say another word. He doesn’t provide any instruction. He does not speak of the forty days and nights that He and Moses spent studying together. He does not say goodbye. Moshe turned away and descended the mountain with the precious Tablets still in his hand.

God was angry, but God continued to love these difficult people.

Moses wanted the people to see the Tablets and understand that God was presenting them with the most significant physical expression of His love for them despite being angry. He stood above the camp with the Tablets held high in his hands even as he watched them dance with abandon around their Golden Calf. He waited until they noticed his return, the one they questioned. He waited until they could see the Divine gift he held in his hands.

The people stopped what they were doing and watched in silence. Some were busy mentally justifying their behavior. Others, who refused to take a stand against the dancers, were ashamed. The people who were not directly involved were confused. They all looked from the Tablets to the Golden Calf and back to the Tablets. They understood that the two could not coexist. The Tablets represented relationship. The idol was an expression of self-involvement.

At that moment, Moses came down the mountain with the Tablets in his hands, causing that people to wonder if they would be permitted to keep the gift even after all they had done, but then, Moses shattered the Tablets at the foot of the mountain.

The relationship with God was damaged but not broken. “Moses would take the tent and pitch it outside the camp.  Whoever it was that sought God would go out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp.” (Exodus 33:7) God’s Presence was outside the camp, but was not inaccessible. This was a real relationship with anger and shame, distance and pain, and also love and reconciliation. They could go out to the Tent of Meeting and pick up the broken pieces and begin the process of healing.

The Broken Tablets served a great purpose. They taught us that our relationship with God is real, demands work, and survives hurtful behaviors. This is not a relationship of all or nothing, but one of give and take, of distance and reconnection, a powerful mix of anger and intense love. In a way, the Broken Tablets are more important than the Second Tablets. They are the key to an intense relationship that continues to thrive.

The pieces are still there waiting for us to pick them up one by one as we continue to work on this very real relationship.

Shabbat Shalom and Shaleim (showered with the blessing to gather & reconnect all the pieces).

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
President

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Happy Purim !פורים שמח

U’Mishloach Manot, Ish l’rei-eihu!

We participate in each other’s Purim Feast with gifts of food.

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