Shabbat Shalom Weekly
Torah Portion: NASO (NUMBERS 4:21-7:89)
Seize the Moment
God Wants the Heart
by Rabbi Jared Viders
“If I don’t practice for three days, the audience knows it. If I don’t practice for two days, the critics know it. If I don’t practice for one day, I know it.” — from Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), acclaimed as one of the greatest violinists of all time.
There once was an inn-keeper who had fallen on hard times. The number of guests dwindled precipitously and his once-robust income stream was now a mere trickle. His bleak financial situation was exacerbated by the arrival of winter’s bone-chilling winds and driving blizzards which further dashed his hopes of becoming profitable once again.
Towards dusk an unexpected rapping was heard at the door. The proprietor, curious about who would possibly be braving the unrelenting elements, anticipated a (paying) patron seeking respite from the storm. But it was not meant to be.
“Excuse me,” a bedraggled fellow inquired, “might you have a place for me to spend the evening? It’s brutal out there. I’m just seeking refuge from the cold. Any lodging will do, but alas, I don’t have a penny to my name. Perhaps you can find it in your heart to help a poor man.”
“Finally,” the inn-keeper lamented, “a knock on the door and he’s asking for a free ride. Just my luck.” Nevertheless, being a merciful man, he acquiesced to the pauper’s request and showed him to a small room where he could stay the night.
After unpacking his measly satchel, the guest sauntered down to the kitchen and sheepishly inquired if the proprietor “happened to be able to spare a wee dram of schnapps.”
Brooding to himself, the inn-keeper muttered, “Is this guy for real?! It’s not enough he wants a free room, but some spirits on the house as well?!”
The inn-keeper poured a snifter from an old oak-cask filled with strong drink — only to throw the contents on the floor. This scene repeated itself again until finally on the third go ’round, the proprietor presented the pauper with the highly-sought after l’chaim.
The inn-keeper’s son observed this unusual sequence events and inquisitively asked, “Father, your drinks are in such short supply and so valuable, why did you throw them to waste on the ground?”
His father replied, “The first time I filled the snifter I was full of resentment for having to entertain this poor man’s request for a freebie. The second time, too, I still harbored a tinge of frustration. By the third time, I was able to proceed with a full heart. Kindness, my son, is done with one’s heart – not just with one’s possessions.”
“Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: So shall you bless the Children of Israel, say to them: ‘May God bless you and guard you. May God illuminate His countenance toward you and endow you with grace. May God lift His countenance to you and establish peace for you.'” (Num. 6:23-26)
Rashi — Say — “… do not bless them in haste and distraction, but rather, with concentration and with a whole heart.”
The Priestly Blessing is preceded by a blessing of its own, whereby the Kohanim acknowledge God’s grace in bestowing upon them, “the holiness of Aharon and commanding us to bless His people Israel with love.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong but this is one of the only situations where the standard text of a blessing over a mitzvah (i.e. asher kidishanu …) is accompanied by the emotional state of the one performing the mitzvah. Where else do we find such a phenomenon?
I shake a lulav. Great. That’s the mitzvah – I can do so energetically or lack-luster.
I hang a mezuzah. Great. That’s the mitzvah – one can do so with great zeal or extreme apathy.
After all, mitzvahs are actions; leave all the emotional stuff for the next chuppah you attend.
The Kohanim’s capacity to bless the nation is far more than the mere declaration of a formulaic computation. If the blessings and all the well-wishes they contain (for our physical and spiritual well-being) do not emanate from a source of love, care and concern — well, they may very well sound the same, but from the Torah’s standpoint they are night and day different. Same words. Entirely different impact.
So often, the x factor that separates rote performance of rituals from sincere dedication to God is the fire inside. It’s what catapults uninspiring obedience into enthusiastic devotion. As our Sages say, Rachmana liba bo. Actions are nice (and essential); but God ultimately “wants your heart.”
May we tap into the deep, wellsprings of the Jewish heart and infuse our mitzvahs and conduct with as much pure love for our fellow Jew as we can muster.
Rabbi Avraham Twerski’s Insights on Torah
Appreciate your Godliness
by Rabbi Avraham Twerski
Why does the Torah forbid a Nazirite to come near the dead? The Ralbag explains, “The reason why a dead body contaminates is because it represents the defectiveness of the physical, and the Nazirite should avoid the physical things to which he may be attracted.”
Rabbi Henoch Lebovitz comments that to the contrary, being confronted with human mortality motivates a person to spirituality, as King Solomon says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for that is the end of all man, and the living should take it to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). We find repeated references in the Talmud that the contemplation of one’s mortality discourages a person from physical indulgences. Why, then, does Ralbag say that the Nazirite, who takes a vow of abstinence in his quest for spirituality, should avoid contact with the dead?
Rabbi Lebovitz explains that there are two paths whereby one can strive for spirituality. One way is to focus on man’s sharing of physical drives with lower forms of life, and that when he indulges in gratification of his bodily desires he is acting out his animalistic traits. The Midrash states that when God admonished Adam for his sin, Adam wept, “Now my mule and I will be eating from the same trough.” This is a humbling awareness that should motivate a person toward spirituality by distancing him from physical gratification. The second way is to realize the holiness of the Divine neshama (soul) that he possesses, which is inseparable from its source in God. The realization of his potential for Godliness should motivate a person toward the pursuit of spirituality.
Both approaches are valid, and each has its place. The ethicists cite the phrase, “His heart was high in the way of God” (II Chronicles 17:6) as meaning that although pride is vanity, one may be motivated by pride to become more spiritual. Awareness of one’s Godly component should make a person reach for the stars, because there is nothing spiritual that is beyond his grasp. As Rambam says, “Every person can be like Moses” (Hilchos Teshuvah 5:2). The dignity of man should make him pursue perfection.
The Talmud tells of a young man who had beautiful long hair. Seeing his handsome reflection in the water, he feared that he might be drawn to physical indulgences. He promptly took a Nazirite vow, which would require shaving his head. “I swear that I will cut this hair in the service of God” (Nazir 4:2). One who accepts Nezirus for such a purpose is the ideal.
A Nazirite who is so dedicated to the achievement of spirituality should focus on the Godliness of his soul. He should be thoroughly absorbed in the spiritual greatness that is within his reach.
There is no need for him to concentrate on his lowly physical component and be distracted from his potential greatness (Chi-dushei HaLev, Bamidbar p. 31).
When No Means Yes
by Nesanel Yoel Safran
From this Week’s Torah Portion
Sometimes saying ‘no’ to ourselves can make us even happier than saying ‘yes.’ In this week’s portion, we learn about a Nazarite — someone who commits to abstain from wine, in order to achieve a higher goal. We too can achieve more of our important life goals if we find the inner strength to say ‘no’ to things that will distract us from getting there.
In our story, a couple of boys have to choose when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no.’
“Hey, good catch!” Mark called out to his buddy, Hal, who’d fielded the fly-ball his friend had batted to him as they practiced together to prepare for tomorrow’s start of the junior-league baseball season.
“I’d call it more of a ‘miracle’ catch,” Hal laughed, tossing the ball back to his friend and shaking his head, “with this small, worn-out baseball glove of mine.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Mark. “I’ve had my glove since little league and it barely even fits on my hand anymore. That’s why I’m going today to buy a new Pro-Star baseball glove. Wanna get one too?”
“Sounds great,” Hal said, “but Pro-Star gloves cost a fortune – and my fortune is a little ‘un-fortunate’ at the moment, if you know what I mean.”
“Sure do,” smiled Mark. “But the sports store at the mall is having a 70% off sale one day only, so I figure even I should be able to afford that.”
“So what are we waiting for?”
Each of the boys rushed home, emptied out their allowance savings banks — which had just about the same amount of money in them — and biked out to the mall.
“Hey, the sports store’s this way,” Mark said, as Hal slowed down in front of the mall’s food pavilion.
“Yeah, I know, but the bike-ride made me hungry. Let’s get some burgers.”
Mark shook his head. “I’m also kinda hungry, but I wanna save my money for the glove. We can eat lunch when we get home.”
“You can deny yourself if you want — not me!” Hal waved him off and lined up at the fast-food counter and placed his order. Mark, his mouth watering, waited for his friend to eat.
“Okay? Let’s go,” Mark said.
“Not so fast,” said Hal, lining up at the counter again. “A meal like that has to be washed down with a jumbo fruit shake. Want to get one, too?”
Mark shook his head and took a tepid sip from the mall water bubbler as Hal gulped down the fruity froth. Finally they’d set out for the sports store, when Hal made a u-turn.
“What now?” Mark asked.
“Didn’t you see that poster?” said Hal, “A hot new music disc just came out. Let’s go check it out.”
“But what about the baseball glove?” Mark protested.
“I didn’t say I was gonna buy the disc,” Hal said. “You go to the sports store and I’ll meet you there. Okay?”
Mark shrugged and walked on. Sure enough, he found a great baseball glove that would last him for years at a price he was able to afford. He waited for Hal to show. But after a long time and no Hal, Mark just bought the glove and went home.
The next day at baseball league practice, Mark who was already there, waved at Hal, whom he saw walking slowly to the field.
“Sorry, I missed you at the store, buddy,” Mark said. “I waited, but you were a no-show. Anyway,” he held up his baseball-gloved hand, “I ended up getting a Pro-Star 201, which model did you get?”
Hal winced. “Um, I couldn’t really afford any of them. I guess I’d spent too much on the junk food, the music disc — which wasn’t even that good — and all the other junk I bought along the way.” He opened up his equipment bag and pulled out … his small, beaten up, old glove. “So I guess it’ll be one more baseball season with this.” Hal eyed his friend’s great new glove and tried to smile, but inside he had the feeling that he’d somehow ‘struck out.
Q. How did Hal feel at first about buying things for himself at the mall before he got to the sports store?
A. He felt good that he was getting whatever he felt like getting.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like he’d blown it by getting junk instead of what he really wanted much more.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Hal learned from what happened?
A. While it seems more enjoyable to always say ‘yes’ to oneself instead of ‘no’ -sometimes holding back on the small things is what it takes to make the big things happen.
Q. Do you think Mark ‘denied’ himself by not getting the food and other stuff with Hal?
A. While he did have to hold himself back from some immediate pleasures, the long-term pleasure of having a long lasting, top-quality baseball glove, more than made up for it.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Supposing a person can really afford all of his desires, do you think there’s any reason he should ever tell himself ‘no’?
A. Perhaps on an immediate, practical level he won’t lose out by always saying ‘yes,’ but he will miss out on the valuable character trait of self-discipline, which allows a person to truly grow and feel content.
Q. If so, is it better to always deny oneself everything beyond one’s basic needs?
A. No. The Torah way is to achieve balance. To enjoy the pleasures of the world — yet not at the expense of our deeper values and goals.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders” — Jewish Proverb
JOKE OF THE WEEK
Years back on Larry King Live, Marlon Brando made the shocking statement that “Hollywood is run by Jews.” In response, outraged Jewish organizations made it snow in April.
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