The Danger of Good Food

The Danger of Good Food

He who is a slave to his stomach seldom worships God. -Sa’di

One of the more curious commandments in the Torah is that of the Rebellious Son. Chapter 21 of Deuteronomy describes the unusual case of a young man that doesn’t listen to his parents, and after appropriate warning is actually executed by the court for his rebelliousness. The Talmud explains that the case of the Rebellious Son is merely theoretical; that it never happened and never will happen, but rather it is there to teach us some deeper lessons.

Rabbi Hirsch elaborates that the Rebellious Son is presented in order to help us be better parents. One of the curious aspects that doom the Rebellious Son to his fate is actually gluttony. Now there are a whole host of crimes which we know are much worse than merely indulging in ones appetite. Why is gluttony in one so young deserving of a death sentence?

Rabbi Hirsch answers that a home which focuses more on its food than on the spiritual aspect of its lives is one where the children will have little hope for the future. If the priority is the taste and quality of a meal and not the values and ethics instilled in the next generation, oblivion is the likely outcome:

“Of all the possible moral perversions, the Law has chosen as a criterion of completely hopeless corruption the case of a Jewish youth who, having reached adolescence, a time in life when he should enthusiastically embrace every ideal of spirituality and morality, devotes himself to drink and gluttony instead. Herein lies another important hint for both the father and the mother, and also for the spirit to be cultivated in the home where young human souls are to mature toward their moral and spiritual future: If for nothing else but the sake of their children, parents should be careful not to allow “good food and drink” to assume a place of predominance in their home and among the members of their household. Only where spiritual and moral factors are given priority over all other considerations can that atmosphere develop in which young human emotions will be protected from brutalization.”

While consuming good food is certainly enjoyable, when it becomes a focus and priority of our lives, we may fear that our moral compass is confused. Instead, spiritual food for our souls and the souls of our children should be the guiding light in the educational diet of our homes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the excellent cooks who infuse their meals with spirituality.

Returning the Sparks

Returning the Sparks

Force never moves in a straight line, but always in a curve vast as the universe, and therefore eventually returns whence it issued forth, but upon a higher arc, for the universe has progressed since it started. –attributed to “Kabbalah”

sparksThe commandment to return a lost object is legislated in Deuteronomy 22:1. Unsurprisingly, the Sfat Emet takes a mystical view as to a deeper meaning to what Moses is saying.

In 5631 (1871) the Sfat Emet states that every good action we do, that every commandment that we perform, in some fashion is akin to returning a lost object to God. In 5634 (1874) he explains that we are in fact returning divine sparks back to God. Every item in this world and every action taken have within it a divine spark. By having a positive interaction we release the spark from its material bondage and elevate it back to the spiritual realm where it belongs. We are in essence returning to God these divine entities He scattered and hid all around the world for us to find.

But we can only successfully return something to its rightful owner when we understand and acknowledge who that owner is. When we comprehend and accept that God is the source of All, that he is the Creator, the Boss, the Master of the Universe, only then do we have a chance of fulfilling the mission He entrusted to us of finding and freeing these divine sparks.

May we keep encountering and liberating spiritual entities and reuniting them with their proper divine proprietor, God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rafi, Ronit, Sarina and Nikki, the outstanding madrichot of Midreshet Torah V’Avodah on an incredible beginning to what is sure to be a divine year.

Ugly Language

Ugly Language

The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it. -George Washington

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One of the most defining characteristics of human beings are their ability to speak. And in a sense, the words we use define us, but not only the words that come out of our mouths, but also the words that we hear, the words that infuse our being. And in that area, like in so many others, we have free choice. We can choose both what to speak and what to hear. There are few situations where we are forced either to say something or to listen to something.

The Baal Haturim on Deuteronomy 23:14 warns about this matter and specifically about “nivul pe”, literally “the disgustingness of the mouth”. He states clearly and simply that if we suddenly find ourselves exposed to foul language, to things that are not appropriate to be spoken, we should simply stick our fingers in our ears or get up and leave.

We would not subject ourselves (or our children) to harmful fumes, substances or dangerous situations. The same is true regarding foul language. It is toxic, corrupting and disgusting. The fact that it is widely used and accepted by the masses does not make it any better. Do not accept it. Do not stand for it. Let it be known that you disapprove. You will be surprised by the positive reactions people will have to this small stand of principle. And if they don’t get it, spend your time with more refined people.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the incoming class of Midreshet and Yeshivat Torah V’Avodah. I expect you will hear many beautiful words from your teachers and administration.

Foolish Friends

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tetze-foolish-friends/

Netziv Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Foolish Friends

 “Don’t approach a goat from the front, a horse from the back, or a fool from any side.” -Yiddish Proverb

Human foolishness comes in all shapes and sizes. No person is completely immune from foolish acts, though most of us generally try to avoid doing or saying things we will later regret. Animals on the other hand function almost exclusively on instinct; there are rarely situations in the course of nature in which an animal would be called foolish.

However, in Jewish law, there is a term, typically used for bulls, called “muad”. Muad translates as either notorious or prone to do damage and is a label assigned to an animal that has proven itself to be dangerous, based on past attempts to gore. The owner of a Muad animal is liable for all damages, while a previously tranquil animal has a lower level of liability for the owner.

Men are in a completely different category. They are always considered dangerous. Man is always considered Muad. He is always prone and responsible for damages that he causes his fellow man. The Netziv on Deuteronomy 24:9 fine-tunes this concept even further and states that a person is Muad, even in sins that he commits against another unintentionally.

Meaning, a person is responsible for the damage caused by a completely innocent act or remark, even if there was no harm intended. This gives us a tremendous level of responsibility for what we do and say. We are still guilty of unintended consequences. We must know better. We must think ahead. We must realize the power we have as humans to affect those around us. It is a serious power.

May we use our human capacities well, with foresight and intelligence and avoid both fools and foolishness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the conversion class of Montevideo. Good luck on your upcoming tests!

 

 

Foundations for Life

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tetzeh-foundations-for-life/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Foundations for Life

“If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us.” -Francis Bacon

In the period approaching the New Year and Yom Kippur, one may wonder as to the preponderance of concern with Divine Justice. If as we believe, God is also merciful, then why the excessive concern with the aspect of justice? Can’t He just go easy with us and understand that man (whom He created) inevitably sins? How can He demand that everyone behave with integrity, how can He expect everyone to uphold justice in a world filled with deceit and injustice?

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 25:15 explains that justice is not only a Divine attribute but that it is also a requirement of the human condition. Man cannot live long or well without the aspect of justice, of fairness, of evenhandedness as a basic element of his existence.

Ibn Ezra compares justice in man to the foundations of a building. If we chip away at the foundations, the building will eventually collapse. If man erodes his sense of justice, of integrity, of honesty, Ibn Ezra alludes that eventually such a person will also collapse and perhaps that his existence will even end earlier than it might have.

May we stand on guard for the erosion of our principles, may we reinforce the elements of integrity and fairness in our lives and may we prepare ourselves for the upcoming High Holidays so that the structure of our lives may endure and prosper.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the communications team of the Kehila for their heroic and ongoing efforts in preparation of the High Holidays.

In memory of Ivan Porzecanski (Natan ben Rachel ve Rafael), a boy of three, for whom I had the heartbreaking duty of burying. May his family be consoled amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Individual Torah

Ohr Hachayim Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Individual Torah

“Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.” -Richard Buckminster Fuller

When one finally gets the enormity of what the Torah encompasses, it can be fairly overwhelming: The Bible, Mishna, Talmud, all of their ancient and modern commentaries, Jewish Law, Philosophy, Ethics, History and more. The list is enormous, with more material being added every day. It is no wonder it is called a “sea of Torah” – one can drown by being immersed in so much information.

[The rest of this Torah Insight is at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/individual-torah/]

The Strength of Silence

 Kli Yakar Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

The Strength of Silence

“It is no little wisdom for a man to keep himself in silence and in good peace when evil words are spoken to him, and to turn his heart to God and not to be troubled with man’s judgment.” Thomas Kempis

The news, media and our own selves seem to thrive on disparaging remarks. To take one’s enemy, opponent, associate or even loved one a peg down is almost instinctive in many circles. It is constructive criticism, we argue. They deserve it, we explain. Someone needs to point out their weight, or their poor economic policies, or their warped ideologies.

However, a well-prepared victim is not without recourse. Armed with biting comments, the best defense is an aggressive attack. The attacker becomes fair game for a return of well-deserved and now called-for criticism. It can be entertaining watching verbose opponents sparring with each other (the British Parliament a famous example).

The Kli Yakar (23:14) however has an entirely different reaction to a verbal attack. From verses on actual warfare he explains the ideal counter-attack is none other than silence. Silence will stop an attacker’s diatribe in its tracks. There is only so long one can criticize an opponent that is ignoring verbal nonsense. This is not to diminish the harm or wrong that such attacks represent. Ideally one should avoid and not have to put up with such abuse. However, in the reality of being subjected to unwarranted criticism, silence is not only golden, it’s smart.

May we learn to keep our peace, on both the giving and the receiving end.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To all of the schools and teachers that have just completed their first full week back to school. The structure, and the periods of silence and peace it engenders in the home is truly appreciated.