Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion: Re’eh

August 11, 2018  |  30/Av/5778

Real Age Religion
Brainstorming with Baars
with Rabbi Stephen Baars Aish/DC/MD/VA
“Whatever has been, it is what will be. And whatever has been done, it is what will be done. There is nothing new under the sun! Sometimes a person will say: ‘Look, this is new.’ But really it has previously existed.” (King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)

If you study Western advertisements, you will see that the most common word is “new.” The newest car, the newest fashion, the newest computer, and the newest laundry soap! “New” does not mean better or more effective. So why does “new” appeal to so many people — even more than “tested,” “reliable” or “improved?”

* * *
NEW VALUES?
This week’s Torah portion begins as follows:
“Behold! I have placed before you today, a blessing and a curse. The blessing is if you follow the mitzvot of God your Lord, which I am prescribing to you this day.”
(Deuteronomy 11:26-27)
The Chasam Sofer (19th century Hungarian rabbi), questions the need for the term, “this day.” He explains that whenever the Torah uses the term “this day” it requires us to consider the mitzvot as though they were new and fresh — as if you heard of them for the very first time “this day.”
Therefore, the verse implies that “blessing” comes only when we observe the mitzvot with the appreciation of their freshness and newness.  But why are we required to add this ingredient of newness? Isn’t adherence to God’s mitzvot high enough to warrant a blessing on its own?
The drive for newness, says the Chasam Sofer, is part of human nature. That’s why auto manufacturers will change the shape of a car even though it has exactly the same engine and interior. These external, cosmetic changes justify the use of the word “new.”
The Torah is telling us that the same is true with morality and values: They will not have lasting appeal unless they can retain a degree of newness.
It’s not enough for a parent to say: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” Modernity reigns, and what the previous generation has to say is innately old, and lacking the excitement of “new.”
Parents are therefore faced with a formidable paradox. They want to give their children wisdom to use as they grow, yet that very wisdom will be undermined as soon as it becomes old!
It is thus reasonable to assume that your children will very likely reject your values for something more “modern.” If you don’t provide and relate to life as real and new, and teach your children to behave this way, then you and your progeny will look to other areas to find the newness in life. That may be in anything from astrology to Zen Buddhism…
* * *
WHAT’S NEW?
When you really think about it, nothing is really new. It is all really an “improvement” on something old. For example, people have always had the need to communicate over long distances. At one time, the Pony Express was “new.” Then came the telegraph, the telephone, the fax machine, and now email. It’s all essentially an improvement on the same concept — the need to communicate.
Physics states: “Energy (or matter) is neither destroyed nor created, but only changed into another form.”
This is true for “metaphysics” as well.  There are really no new ideas, no new religions, no new movements. They are just a rephrasing or repetition of something said long ago. Human drives and desires don’t change. What Shakespeare said was said by someone before him, perhaps not as eloquently, but it was said nonetheless. Were this not so, no one would have been able to understand Shakespeare — he would have been saying something no one could relate to. Shakespeare was talking to people about the things they were already aware of. He only rephrased those themes in a unique, witty manner.
“New Age” religions and movements are only old-time religions with a different label. It’s last year’s engine, chassis and interior — with this year’s body. It basically feels the same and it won’t get you anywhere different. It just looks different on the surface.
If there is one lesson to be learned from the civil rights, new age and environmental movements, it is that each generation is searching for a new movement!
* * *
THE DILEMMA
How then can the Torah impart freshness and newness to ideas that are thousands of years old? How can we be expected to treat the Torah as if it was new — when it is not? Do we have to deceive ourselves in order to receive the blessing mentioned above?
The Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto – 18th century Italy), in the introduction to his classic ethical work, “The Path Of The Just,” explains that the concept of “new” is not describing something which never existed before, but is rather an enabling way to use pre-existing ideas.
All of life is here now. Nothing “new” will happen or be thought of. The trouble is, we lack the skill and expertise to apply what we have.
The only things that are truly “new” are the techniques that enable us to get the fullest out of the “old life” we already have. We have to take life, which can easily get “old,” and make it fresh again. To find the original feeling of aliveness that is always inherent in life itself. That’s what NEW is all about.
The sign proclaiming “New” that’s hung outside a restaurant or amusement park is saying: “If you didn’t discover how to use life more fully in the other restaurants or amusement parks, then try us — perhaps we can make your life ‘new’ again!”
But really, all the menus and all the rides in the world won’t improve your quality of life. They are only avoidance mechanisms and distractions. When life becomes dry and old it’s much easier to buy a new dress or a new car than to really rejuvenate life permanently.
The above verse is saying, if you truly look at the commandments of the Torah, you will see they embody the concept of “new.” They help us focus on life’s freshness and meaningfulness. In other words, it’s our responsibilities in life that make life new.

We sometimes get a sense of this when we put new effort into our marriage, friendships, etc.

However, if a person does not feel that life’s responsibilities are a source of newness, then he will surely look to other places for his need for the “new.”
* * *
THE “OLD-NEW” TECHNIQUE
“Honor your parents” is new. Shabbat is new. Charity is new. Kashrut is new. All the instructions of the Torah are, if you take the time to investigate them, tools for opening up vast treasure troves of pleasures. The mitzvot are newer than any car or menu, and they can truly revive our hidden recesses of untapped joy.
The Torah is our instruction book for living. It does not come from man, it was not invented here on earth. Rather, it is infinitely deep insights from God Who is above the earth and above the sun.
The drive for the new and the desire to enhance our lives, causes us to seek in many places. We waste much time, and often cause much harm. To make life “new” again, don’t buy a new wardrobe or a new car. Find a new way to make an old relationship meaningful.
We are all ready to try a new ski slope, a new restaurant, or even a new fashion, in the hope some new opening will appear in our lives. But how about something really new. Our 3,500-year-old Torah is the newest thing around!
Try a new mitzvot and live a little!
BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
1)  Look at your five most cherished possessions. Do they produce the same level of excitement now as when they were new?
2) Think about what method you are currently using to inject “newness” into your mundane activities. Is your technique genuinely effective, or is it merely “masking” a greater underlying need?
FAMILY PARSHA
by Nesanel Yoel Safran from Aish.com
Lessons, stories and discussion questions for parents and kids
This week’s Torah portion speaks about how by lending our things to others in need, we pass along the kindness God has done for us. In this week’s portion (15:8), God asks us not to be ‘tight-fisted’ but rather help the world become a kinder place by being open-handed and willing to lend what we have.
PASSING THE TORCH
Smash!  Mike watched in dismay as his flashlight slipped out of his hands and smashed into pieces on the floor.
“Oh no!” he shouted. “What am I gonna do now without a flashlight for the overnight camping trip? I’m gonna be wandering around in the dark like a blind bat.”
Suddenly, he got an idea. He wandered over to the cubby of his bunkmate, Joey, who was also packing for the same trip. He thought he’d noticed the kid had an extra flashlight. Maybe he’d let him borrow it?
“Hey, Joey,” said Mike casually, as he wandered over next to the kid’s cot, where his knapsack happened to be sitting. “Packing up for the trip?”
“Yeah. Isn’t that what you should be doing too? You got all your gear ready?”
“Um, well, most of my gear anyway. My flashlight broke.”
Mike waited to see if Joey would offer his spare.
“Wow, that’s bad news. I guess you’re going to have to skip the trip, unless you can figure out how to get into town and buy a new one in the next hour before we leave.”
Mike jostled Joey’s knapsack so some of the stuff spilled out on the bed.
“Oh, sorry about that … hey what’s this?” said Mike. “I see you have two flashlights. Maybe you can loan me one? I’ll take good care of it, and I’ll even put in brand new batteries for you.”
“No way. That’s my back-up. I’ve been waiting all summer for this trip, and I’m not about to find myself stuck in the woods without a flashlight if something happens to the first one. No sir.”
“Hey, Joey, come on, be a good guy. You want me to end up having to stay back here with all the little kids? There’s no way I can get to town and you know the counselor said he won’t let anyone go who doesn’t have a flashlight.”
Joey looked at the kid’s sad, desperate eyes. He knew it was good to lend things and he was grateful he had two … but what if … no! He had to help the kid out.
“Okay, Mike, I guess you can use it. But be more careful with it than you were with your own, okay?”
“You bet. Thanks!!
THAT EVENING…
“Great trip so far, huh Mike?”
“The best. Wow, it gets dark fast up here. Let me get my flashlight out of my… Oh no! It’s not turning on! What happened?” Joey slapped his forehead. “I took out the old batteries and was gonna put new ones in and then I forgot! I knew something like this would happen. Why did I agree to give my spare one to you? What am I gonna do?” he wailed.
Mike looked at him with a smile, and said, “You’re going to take these batteries I have in my pocket and put them in your flashlight, that’s what you’re gonna do!”
“What do you mean?”
“I told you I was going to put fresh batteries in your flashlight, so I brought them along so I wouldn’t forget. I wanted them to be completely new for you. Here you go, bro. See? You never lose out when you do a favor for someone. Nice and bright for you now.”
Joey was speechless. He wondered what he would have done if he hadn’t agreed to loan Mike his flashlight. Now they both had plenty of light, both in their flashlights, and in their hearts.
Discussion questions:
1) Why do you think it sometimes feels difficult to be generous and share our things?
2)  If a person only has one of something and both he and someone else equally need it — whose needs do you think should take priority? Why?
Straight Talk
by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt  Tikun UK
Feats of Amazement     Re’eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)
A man turns up in Londonclaiming to be a prophet. He does some groovy stuff: levitates, revives the dead, heals the sick, turns lead into gold. Then he tells you that at noon tomorrow, it will begin to rain. At 11:00, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. 11:30, 11:45, 11:55 and it’s still a beautiful day. Shame, he seemed pretty good. Suddenly at 11:59, a cloud materializes out of nowhere. By 12:00, it’s filled the whole sky.
At 12:01, a most torrential downpour begins.
What do you say? “Oh, that’s England for you.” Apart from that, though, I think you would give him a little leeway. He didn’t do all that badly.
But what does Jewish law say:  Is he a prophet and should you listen to him?
Well, Jewish law has a very simple formula for such a guy. You put him out of commission. He is clearly a false prophet, for if God had said it would rain at 12:00, it would not begin to rain at 12:01. God doesn’t make mistakes. To be sure, this “prophet” is a very clever man, possibly even in touch with spiritual forces we are not aware of. But in touch with God, he ain’t.
Judaism has rules for establishing the credibility of a prophet — and they are not in any way based on the miracles he is able to perform. We Jews are not impressed by miracles. We don’t judge a person on the cleverness of his tricks.
Of course, when someone comes with such an impressive repertoire, it is very hard not to be moved. When someone can really heal people, it is difficult not to want to believe. But there are many healers and miracle workers out there. All have different agendas. Be it those who are selling themselves or those who are selling a way of life. Judaism doesn’t doubt for a minute that people are able to perform wondrous deeds. What Judaism says is that this is not any proof He is a messenger of God. There are many people out there who appear “successful,” but that does not mean that they have God’s approval.
The path to a relationship with God in this world is a difficult one. There are no shortcuts. It is a matter of using our freewill to overcome the myriad challenges that we constantly meet. It is human tendency to look for simple solutions to difficult problems. The preponderance of cults, faith healers and so-called ‘kabbalistic’ groups is very understandable. They may offer simple answers. They may even perform what appear to be miracles. But in the long run, the answers will not satisfy. They are merely escapes from life’s real challenges.
Judaism says: Use your mind. Don’t judge by “miracles.” Judge by evidence. In the primitive world, miracles impressed. Surely in the 21st century we should know better.
* *  *
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When a person turns himself around, regrets his past and does good, that is such a powerful act, that his sins become merits”             — Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish
JOKE OF THE WEEK
Little Shmuli and his family went to his grandparents for Friday night dinner. Everyone was seated around the table and Zadie Marcus was getting ready to recite Kiddush. Just then, Shmuli reached for the challah and appetizers on the table and began eating.
“Shmuli, wait until Zadie says kiddush and hamotzi!” demanded his father.
“I don’t have to,” the five year old replied.
“Of course you do, Shmuli,” his mother insisted forcefully. “We always wait until after kiddush and hamotzi at our house.”
“That’s at our house,” Shmuli explained, “but this is Bubbie’s house, and she knows how to cook.”
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Shabbat Shalom

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