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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Shelach

Parshat Shelach

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Shelach
28th of Sivan, 5780 | June 20, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi YY Jacobson
Reset to Live

They tell the story about this fellow who come home from work, walks up to his house and sees the door wide open. Within a moment, he realizes that there is absolute chaos brewing inside.

Indeed, his instinct is authentic, and he walks inside and there is exactly that: chaos. First off, ice cream is strewn all over the couch and household furniture. All of his children are as well running around. The house is more than just filthy; it seems as if it must have been hit by a tornado. All of the younger children are in need of bathing.

Running upstairs, he finds his wife resting in bed, looking very relaxed, reading a novel. She looks calm and cool, without a worry in the world. “I don’t understand! Do you know what is going on downstairs? What happened?” She lets out a smile, and in a very serene tone, says, “Do you know how you often come home and say to me, ‘What do you do all day? Why are you stressed? I, as the husband, go to work, pay the bills, put food on the table, while you take care of the kids and the house. Why are you so tired?’ Well, whatever I do each day, today, I didn’t do it.”

Of course, this anecdote teaches how we often see something or things happening, and we take it for granted. Yet, having the kids organized and the house put together does not happen in a vacuum. Often, spouses are not aware of just how much work and effort goes into what they do, whether it be the husband or wife.

I share this anecdote with you also because of what occurred in our world during the last few months.

It is hard now to imagine the following conversation, but let us entertain it.

It is just a few days before Purim, and I turn to you and say, “In just a few days, every business in the world will be transformed. Every shul and school will be closed down. Every game, theater, shopping mall and restaurant will be shut down. Every child who is overseas will return home and stay put for months.”

Anyone hearing this would call me insane. It cannot happen. But look what actually did happen? Who could have brought such a thing about? Not a bullet was shot; it was simply a small virus, invisible to the eye; and it brought 7.7 billion people to their knees, and changed the landscape of the globe. Everything mentioned above did happen. All from a tiny, little virus.

Now let’s come back to the joke. You ask Hashem, “What do You do every day?” “Well, today, I didn’t do it.” We look at life and take it for granted. We wake up in the morning, take a look outside and the sun is shining. But, of course, the sun should shine; what else should it do? We take it for granted.

We take it for granted that there are trillions and trillions of cells in our body, and each one knows what to do based on the instructions of the DNA within the nucleus of each cell. We take for granted that the ecosystem is entirely balanced that it allows life to continue as we know it. Of course.

But sometimes, the woman of the house tells the husband, “You ask what I do every day? Today I didn’t do it.”

What a sobering thought and important awareness in life.
What does this tell us?

It makes us rethink everything. It allows us to click restart on our life. Amidst the tragedy and hardship, we have also been given a tremendous gift. It is the gift of inner introspection and transformation.

There is an expression in davening, “V’chol ha’chaim yoducha selah – And all the living ones will thank You for eternity.” The halachic authorities tell us that the word Chaim (comprised of the letters ches, yud, yud, mem) is an acronym. There are four individuals who, after having gone through difficulty and emerge alive, have an obligation to thank Hashem. They are: choleh (someone who was severely ill), yam (someone who voyaged across the ocean), yisurim (someone who was entrapped in prison) and midbar (someone who traveled through the desert). Today, these individuals thank Hashem in the form of the blessing Ha’Gomel.

The question is why these individuals are called those who are ‘Chaim,’ alive? These were people who underwent a near-death scare and whose lives were compromised and almost lost completely. They should be the least alive.

But, in truth, sometimes, it is the crisis in life which removes all the crutches we have and actually allows us to live life to the fullest.

The commentaries note that we say (in relation to the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer addition) Zachreinu L’chaim (‘Remember us for life,’ pronounced with a shva) and not La’Chaim, which accentuates the lamed. This is because La’Chaim sounds like Lo’Chaim, ‘Not life,’ which we do not want to imply.

But, if this is so, why when it comes to the time that the Chazan asks for rain and dew, do we say that it should be ‘L’Chaim v’lo La’maves,’ for life and not for death with La’maves accented with a kamatz. We should instead say L’maves, with a shva as we do with L’chaim (in the case of Zachreinu L’chaim), to avoid it sounding as if we are using a double negative, “Not, not for death,” which actually implies exactly what we don’t want! If we say, “I don’t want ‘Not death’” that actually means death. We would then be asking for death.

The answer is that we are asking exactly what we say. There are two types of life. One is where matters are simply routine, and we are simply alive because we are not dead. But that is not what we want. We don’t want life that is defined simply by the absence of death. We want life that is defined by a vision, by one which we seize. We are thus asking Hashem, “Don’t just allow me to live a life that is defined by the fact that I didn’t die; allow me to actually live fully!”

And sometimes, it takes a crisis to bring us to life. It reminds us what makes up our inner core and enables us to remove the mask and facade, thereby allowing us to truly focus on the importance and purpose of our life.

V’chol ha’chaim yoducha selah – And all the living ones will thank you for eternity.” The people who went through those journeys never look at life the same way. They appreciate what a moment of life means. They don’t just live from one distraction to another distraction. They have been given the ability to see what is truly valuable, timeless and what you want to hold onto, not what is simply a distraction.

A close friend of mine was in a hospital in Miami along with many other patients, and each one passed away besides him. He is now a transformed person. But each of us in our own way must look inwardly.

Before these days, everyone used to travel. There was never a point in time when travel was never so easy. And then suddenly everything stopped. We may look at it as an inconvenient and nuisance. But, in truth, we were all given a gift. It is the gift to start asking that important question: What is real life? What does a day that I am truly alive look like? If you can genuinely answer this question, and lead your life in consonance with your answer, then you have received a tremendous gift, borne out of all the unique circumstances of these days.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz
Why Do We Dream?

Every one of us has had a dream as we lay fast asleep some time in our life. But why in fact do we dream? If you think about it, a dream puts us into a world of illusion, and yet we already live, as the Kabbalists term it, in an alma d’shikra, a world of illusion. Why would G-d take you from that world of illusion into another world of illusion called a dream, where you have a terrifyingly real experience and then you wake up in your bed shaking, and realize that it was only a dream?

The answer is thar every human experience is a Divine exercise, an exercise to know Hashem, and understand the human world. Every experience does that. Take marriage. Marriage is supposed to be, says the Rambam, a learning experience of bonding intimately with G-d. It is a lost art today, but as it should be, it is about two people giving to each other with such intensity and such fearlessness and vulnerability that the two mesh into something greater than the sum of the parts, each having lost of himself completely. And paradoxically, in that love, discovering who you are as a more sharply defined individual. And then you put yourself right back in. The meshing of two into one is supposed to teach you deveikus, which means meshing, blending and melting into a Divine reality. Everything in the world is meant to teach you about something deeper.

A dream is exactly the same thing. The reason you dream is to teach you the most important thing about life.

And it is this.

Imagine you walked up to your friend and said, “You know, this whole reality of life that we are experiencing is an illusion. It seems very real, but it is all illusory. One day you are going to transition into another world and you are going to meet G-d, and you will be in world of total, stark reality, and you will realize that this world was nothing but a fleeting image.” Your friend will say to you, “Do me a favor; that’s a wild story. I am a realist! I only deal with what I can experience.” So G-d says, “You know what?

Go to sleep; I’ll show you.” When you dream, you experience a very clear reality. And suddenly in a moment, you wake up shaking and say, “Thank G-d, that was only a dream. Now I am really awake.” But are you really sure? Can you ever be sure?
In fact, you cannot even prove that you exist. Believe it or not, there is no philosophical proof that you exist formally. One professor once taught his class that there is no proof that you exist, which prompted one of his students to become very upset and distressed. He spent a whole week struggling to know whether he existed or not. The next week he approached the professor and said, “Please, tell me, do I exist?” The professor replied, “Who wants to know?”

Once you have been through a dream, and a moment later you realize it was nothing, how could you ever deny that the existence you have now will never transition to something else?

That experience of the illusion of a dream is the most starkly real experience you could ever have. It is teaching you about a reality of the starkest kind. And that’s why we go through it.

And the details are exact too. In medical school, I was involved in some sleep research, where we saw how you can sleep-deprive someone and then let them fall asleep. If you attach electrodes to their brain, you will see that the sleep-deprived individual will start dreaming immediately. You see the rapid eye movement and you can tell the person is dreaming. You let them fall sleep, and then you wake them three seconds later, and ask them, “What were you dreaming about?” They will tell you a long story, which spans days, weeks or months, and it all occurred in a mere three seconds. Isn’t that life?

And that is why you dream.

Rabbi Efraim Stauber
Imperfect Flowers and Chicken Soup

If you were ever a kallah, you probably have experienced the exciting yet worrisome process of preparing the many arrangements for your wedding. First, you have to select a gown. Sometime later, the question becomes what color and type of flowers you should hold for your pictures. While it may not appear to be a big deal, as any kallah will tell you, if the gown or flowers do not end up being what they envisioned, it can be quite disappointing.

Now let me tell you my story.

For my wedding, my wife clearly mentioned that she wanted red fuchsia flowers. However, due in part to my error, there we stood ready to take pictures and out came the flowers. But they were not red; they were hot pink. The photographer could not believe her eyes. She looked quite nervous and in a state of shock. Yet, fortunately, my wife just simply laughed. Taking a hold of the flowers, we went on to take the pictures as if nothing out of place had occurred.

Whenever my wife tells this story over, her friends though are shocked. “You poor thing! How did you survive?” My wife’s response, however, is always, “I was getting married. I wasn’t about to ruin my wedding because of flowers.”

In truth, we often get lost in the details. The wedding has to be the perfect picture. We focus on all the minor nuances, including the flowers, and overlook that which is really important, namely that we are getting married.

Now, what does this have to do with Judaism?

Part and parcel of Shabbos are the many laws which it includes. With the actions prohibited on Shabbos derived from the work performed in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), we in turn refrain from engaging in any creative activity. But why must that be so? What are these restrictions meant to accomplish?

In truth, these laws are meant to help us focus on the wedding instead of the flowers. By nature, we are comfort seekers. We enjoy when things go well and are pleasurable. However, in the words of Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l, our choices in life come down to a decision between comfort and meaning. That which is most meaningful often entails forgoing what appears to be comfortable. Yet in truth, by choosing the more meaningful option, we become happier and deeper people.

Shabbos, in this regard, takes us a step further. It is a day when we pay attention to the bigger picture in life. If we cannot eat the chicken soup exactly as we want it and it is now Shabbos and too late to make any adjustments to its temperature or composition, we are perfectly fine with that. Shabbos is a growing process, wherein we transcend to a plateau of greater life meaning and purposefulness. We focus on the fact that Hashem created the world, we are Jews and that our connection to Hashem is what is truly important in life.

When such an attitude is embraced, we can laugh at the imperfect chicken soup and flowers. We are much deeper than that. The little, intricate details of Shabbos are meant for us to focus on these ideas, and realize that when something is not as perfect as we wish, we are undisturbed. It doesn’t faze us because we have a genuine connection to Hashem, to ourselves and to what it means to be a Jew. And ultimately, that is more important than anything else.

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