Shabbat Shalom Weekly

Torah Portion: Ekev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)

Brainstorming with Baars

How to Lose Weight without Dieting

by Rabbi Stephen Baars
Wisdom is the soul, as food is to the body  — Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra
The next time you sit down to eat a nice salad, give a little thought to the poor cows. Day in, day out, all they eat is plain old grass.
Imagine a grass diet 365 days a year. Some days it’s wet, some days it’s dry. No dressing, no salt, just grass. After a while, all that grass can really get to you.
How do cows deal with it?!
Most of the world’s animals get along perfectly fine on a simple and consistent diet.
But not man.
Human beings need variety. From a purely physiological standpoint, we can live on bread and water alone. So then what is behind our pursuit of fine dining, ice cream, bakeries, pastrami sandwiches and other culinary delights?
Other creatures seem to show no ill effects or displeasure from their dietary simplicity! So why is only man unable to “live by bread alone?”
Human beings, unlike animals, need “meaning” in life. The Kabbalists explain this as one of the parallels between the material and spiritual worlds: This drives us to want more than just bread. Even though it is a poor substitute for real fulfillment and meaning, food is often the focus of our quest for meaning.
But man’s drive for meaning is not found in a salami. Unfortunately, we are sometimes so badly focused that we will look to fulfill it in the most unlikely and sometimes counter-productive places.
This week’s Parsha contains one of the Torah’s most famous lines: “Man cannot live by bread alone” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Although these words are quoted frequently, the continuation of the verse is equally important: “…but by all that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
What the verse is telling us is that since man cannot live on bread alone, he will either fill that extra space with real meaning – a relationship with His Creator, or he will look for substitutes to that meaning, such as food.
In our day, restaurants are raised to the level of shrines; recipes are sacrosanct secrets; chefs are the high priests.
Seeking the perfect sushi may make your cat’s day, but it will do nothing more than “warm” your stomach.
Notice that the more meaningful a day you’re having, the less your desire for food. We have all experienced days full of excitement and fulfillment when our desire to eat just seemed to disappear. Sometimes we may have even skipped entire meals!
When life is fulfilling, then we look less to food for satisfaction. We have something other than bread to be nourished by.
On the other hand, we’ve all had depressing days where we desired to eat ad naseum.
Realize what this means: If you use food as a stimulant, it’s because life itself isn’t very stimulating.
Unfortunately, your craving for meaning cannot be fulfilled as easily as it is to order a hamburger. McDonald’s has trained the Western mind to think that a “hunger need” can be filled instantly. But spiritual needs require much more time to fulfill than the three minutes it takes to order a burger and fries.
There is an easy way to gauge your spiritual level: If you need food to elevate your mood, you maybe failing to fulfill your spiritual needs.
As much as you may try, you won’t be satisfied by any amount of chocolate cake. Dieting will not make you happier any more than pigging out will make you more fulfilled. The problems nagging at your life will neither be solved by a “Jane Fonda Workout” nor in a dress two sizes smaller.
Next time you find yourself looking to cookies to pick you up, hesitate a little. Try to define what it is you really want to achieve. Using cookies to obtain real meaning and fulfillment will only lead you further away from that place you truly desire.
By leading with your mind and not your stomach, by thinking about what is truly bothering you and what you are truly looking for, you can avoid the quick and empty “fix” that food offers, and instead find the meaning for which you so long.
Looking to food for life’s satisfaction is an indication you are already on the wrong track. But that desire is really a sign that you are in need for more meaning. Your desire for a Hershey bar is a red traffic signal: STOP! You are on the wrong track!
Don’t give chocolate cake to a hungry soul. 
Question 1: Do you spend as much time fulfilling your spiritual needs as you do your bodily needs?

Question 2: Anorexics don’t realize they need to eat. Similarly, we often don’t realize our soul is starving. When was the last time your soul felt satisfied?

Mystical Tour
Greatness is in the Details

by Rabbi Menachem Weiman
Sometimes a relationship is defined not by the big things, but by the small things.
The Torah has many ways of implying different levels of importance with commandments. Some have the promise of long life or other blessings. Some have the warning of severe punishments, both physical and spiritual. But there is not a clear hierarchy.
When you get faced with a choice between two commandments, it often is not any easy decision. Which mitzvah weighs more? Which has more reward? Which brings me closer to God?
Some pathways to God are clear, like Kiddush, the commandment to sanctify the Sabbath. Take a cup of wine on Friday night and say a blessing, declaring the Sabbath as holy. Simple. Clear. Do it and you’ve fulfilled the will of the Almighty. You’ve sanctified the day and you’re finished.
But so much of the Torah seems hazy, unclear. So much has been left up for the Sages to decipher. We are supposed to figure it out. God doesn’t want to be so obvious all the time.
He wants us to come to some conclusions on our own. He wants us to make the effort in the relationship to understand Him and what He wants from us.
Similarly, a husband/wife doesn’t want to have to spell everything out for their spouse. Imagine a wife who says, “Honey, our anniversary is in four days. Please get me a dozen roses, the new Nora Roberts novel, wrapped in pink wrapping paper, and a diamond necklace from Helzberg. I called to let them know you’ll be picking it up.” Or is it nicer for the husband to try and figure out what she wants, picking up on clues and understanding her?
The Sages say to be careful with small mitzvot like large mitzvot, because you don’t know the reward that’s in store. When looking at the array of mitzvot, to do, we might focus our attention on the “bigger” or more important mitzvot and neglect the “smaller” or less important mitzvot. The Sages are reminding us that even a tiny, insignificant-looking commandment is the will of the Almighty, and therefore has infinite reward.
We have no idea what’s in store for us in the next world. We do know, however, that once we’re there, we’ll kick ourselves for not doing more while we were here.
Ekev means “because” in Hebrew, and it also means “heel.” Rashi points out that the verse Deut. 7:12, “Because you listened, you will be rewarded…” implies that “because you listened to the commandments that you might have trampled with your heel” — e.g. the light, minor mitzvot.
The reward for a minor mitzvah is unimaginable. But you also get a special reward precisely because you were careful with something that was seemingly unimportant.
It’s easy to deal with big problems and hugely important things. Anyone can see them and is compelled to want to deal with them. If your house is flooding, nobody sits around reading the newspaper. But when you take care of the details of serving God, when you seek to be precise and careful with small things that are meaningful to God, you show just how important the relationship is to you.
Sometimes a relationship is defined not by the big things, but by the small things.
Since the Almighty is infinite, it is illogical to consider any aspect of serving Him to be insignificant. By definition, every tiny detail of serving the Creator is infinite. Every tiny chip on a diamond makes a huge difference, because it’s a tiny detail of something precious and expensive. All the more so, when dealing with a tiny detail of Godliness, every nuance is infinite.
Pick one tiny thing to do for someone else. Notice something small that he would want as a gift, or something minor you think he’d like done for him. Then notice the benefit to the overall relationship.

Family Parsha

Kosher Gratitude

by Nesanel Yoel Safran
From this week’s Torah portion: 
It feels good when we get the things we want. And that’s okay. But sometimes having plenty can make us feel conceited. When we feel that way, we forget to be grateful for what we have and to thank God, Who gave it to us. It can even cause us to act like we’re better than people who don’t have as much as we do. Our Torah portion this week reminds us how whatever good we have is a gift from God. This helps us enjoy what we have without letting it go to our heads.
In our story, a boy teaches his friends to be grateful and not haughty about what they have.
It seemed like the “ultra-bike” was taking over Corey Avenue. Solly was the first to get one. The “ultra” had the strength of a mountain bike and the speed of a racer. Its day-glow paint job made it look like a streak of light as it cruised down the road.
Soon the other boys in the neighborhood followed Solly’s lead. They begged their parents for the expensive new bike, and soon almost everyone seemed to be riding an “ultra” of his own.
Chaim, who lived in an apartment house at the end of the street, came home one day and asked his parents if he could also get the bike.
His father sighed and answered, “Chaim, I know how much you want a new bicycle like your friends, but right now money is pretty tight and we just can’t do it. You’ll have to make do with your old bike for now, son.”
Chaim understood, but was disappointed. His bicycle looked so old and clunky compared to the sleek new “ultra-bike” all his friends seemed to be riding.
That afternoon, Chaim heard the phone ring. “Hello?” he picked up.
“Hi Chaim, this is Solly,” said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line. “A bunch of the guys are getting together to take a bike trip to Franklin Park this afternoon. We’ll play some ball on the new field, and have a picnic after. Wanna come?”
Chaim hesitated. He felt embarrassed to go out with his old bike, but Solly encouraged him to come. “C’mon, we’ll have a great time,” he said. Finally Chaim agreed. “Great!” said Solly. “We’re all meeting at 2:00 in my driveway. See you there!”
When the time came, Chaim met up with his friends. There were five boys, all of them on brand new ultra-bikes, except for Chaim.
When he got there, Joey, one of the boys, quipped, “Hey Chaim, your bike looks like it’s ready for the junkyard. You sure you’re gonna make it?”
Some of the other guys started to laugh, but Solly cut them off. Shaking his head, he walked over to boy who made the joke. “Joey, that wasn’t funny,” he said sternly. “Just because you’ve got a new bike and he doesn’t, is that any reason to put him down? You should feel grateful and happy that you have a new bike. I do, too. But it doesn’t make us better than anybody else, and it certainly doesn’t give us the right to hurt anybody’s feelings, does it?”
Joey was silent. It was obvious that he felt bad about what he had said. Then Solly looked at tall, strong, Chaim and said loudly with a big smile, “Anyway, the way this guy can ride, he’d probably beat all of us there even if we were on motorcycles and he was on a roller skate. Let’s get going!”
This time, everybody laughed, including Chaim. And the boys all took off down the road on their way to a good time.
Discussion Questions
Ages 3-5
Q. Did Joey do the right thing when he teased Chaim about his old bike? Why or why not?
Q. How did Chaim feel when Joey did what he did?
A. He felt very bad and embarrassed.
Q. How did Chaim feel after Solly make his joke?
A. He felt much better since Solly’s joke said something nice about him. He felt accepted even though he didn’t have a new bike.
Ages 6-9
Q. Why do you think a person who has more than somebody else would put the other person down?
A. It’s easy to start to confuse the value of a person with the value of his possessions. “Since I have more, I must be better than him.” This could tempt a person to act conceited and insult others.
Q. How can a person overcome this feeling?
A. He can try to remember that everything he has is only a gift from God and therefore there is no reason to feel like he’s better than anybody else. God gives everybody just what they need to accomplish their mission in life. It has nothing to do with who’s “better” or “worse.” Every person has infinite value just because he or she is a person.
Q. In our story Joey tried to make Chaim feel bad, and Solly tried to make him feel good. Who do you think had more self-confidence, Joey or Solly? Why?
A. Solly. When a person feels good about himself he naturally wants to make other people feel good too. But when someone starts putting others down, a lot of times it’s because he’s not so happy about who he himself is and tries to lower others in order to make himself look good.
Q. Can you think of something you’re grateful to have?
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Would you say that if somebody worked hard to earn what he amassed that he now has the right to feel proud of himself and even to feel superior to those who didn’t work as hard as he?
A. While being hard-working is certainly an admirable trait, still it is important to remember that everything we have, or have accomplished is ultimately only a gift from God. He gave us the strength and the tenacity to work hard, gifts that perhaps others lack. Also, our success is only in His hands. Many people may work as hard or even harder than we, yet not succeed. It’s important to feel grateful and take pleasure in our success. But it’s unwise to look down on others because of it.
Q. Our sages teach us that a person should desire to be neither poor nor rich, but rather in the middle. Why do you think this is so? Do you agree?
A. Both poverty and wealth are difficult tests for a person who wants to be good. If one has too little one can be tempted to steal from others. Whereas if one has plenty, one could become conceited and forget that everything is a gift from God. A person with just enough and not too much is most likely to succeed on a personal character level, which is the level that counts.

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“A pessimist confronted with two bad choices, chooses both” —  Jewish Proverb
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Rebbecca, an adorable five-year-old girl, dressed in her finest clothes and was late for shul. As she ran, she prayed, “Dear God, please don’t let me be late for shul. Dear God, please don’t let me be late for shul.” Then she fell.
She got up, dusted her self off and saw that her dress was now dirty and had a little tear. She started running again, still praying, “Dear God, please don’t let me be late for shul.” But this time she added, “please don’t push me, either!”

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