Dedicated Self-obsolescence

Dedicated Self-obsolescence

The most important outcome of education is to help students become independent of formal education. -Paul E. Gray

There are multiple professions whose main task, whose overarching goal is to put itself out of business. Doctors want to heal all their patients. Firemen want fires to disappear. Car mechanics want to fix all cars. One can develop their own list of these self-negating roles. Rabbi Hirsch on Exodus 27:20 adds another profession: teachers.

In the very beginning of the parsha, the Torah mentions the lighting of the Menorah. Rabbi Hirsch compares the lighting of the flame to teachers lighting the flame of Torah in their students:

to make light spring up. This term for kindling lights is used only in connection with the care of the Menorah. It precisely describes the task of the keepers of the flame; i.e., to hold the kindling flame against the wick to be kindled until the wick “continues burning on its own.” The task of the Torah teacher is to render his services unnecessary. His task is not to keep the “laity” forever dependent upon him. This is meant as an admonition to both teachers and students that they should be patient and persevering.”

Teachers of Torah have a sacred role; sacred but well defined. It is not meant to be a lifelong dependency. It is meant to be a limited relationship whereby the student can become independent. Where the student can stand on his or her own feet and think for themselves, ask for themselves, look up sources for themselves and make decisions for themselves. It is always good to have teachers who are available to give guidance, to answer the thorny questions that are beyond us, but we cannot live our lives tied by an umbilical cord to our teachers.

Good teachers give their students the tools, the confidence, the wherewithal to know both how to ask and how to answer their own questions.

I recently heard a student of Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik state that whenever he approached the Rabbi with a question, 9 times out of 10 Rabbi Soloveitchik would tell him, an advanced Rabbinic student at the time: “do what you think is right.”

May we light the fire of Torah in many students, and just as importantly, may we know how to pull back and let them shine on their own.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Josh and Margot Botwinick on the birth of their son Yoshiyahu Reuven. They are lighting many beautiful flames.

Out of the Muck

 It is the nature of every person to error, but only the fool perseveres in error.  –Marcus Tullius Cicero

Olives-in-hand

The Torah goes into some detail as to the design, construction and lighting of the Candelabrum, the seven-branched Menorah, which stood in the Sanctuary and was lit by the Priests. It was made of pure gold, of one piece, and it had to be lit using pure olive oil.

Many analogies have been composed that relate the Jewish people to the olive oil; how the olives give their oil under pressure; how the oil doesn’t mix with anything else; how it rises to the top.

The Sfat Emet in 5635 (1875) suggests a different comparison. He explains that the very first drop of oil to be squeezed out of the olive is pristine, the purest oil. This mirrors the very first act of the Jewish people at the foot of Mount Sinai, when they accepted the Torah with the declaration of “we will do and we will obey.” That first drop of Jewish self-determination revealed a level of faith and loyalty that would serve the Jewish people well for the rest of history.

Our ancestors however, did not retain for long that strong faith. They sinned quickly, seriously and repeatedly: The Golden Calf, the sin of the spies, Korach’s rebellion and even more, once we entered the Land of Israel.

The Sfat Emet compares the subsequent sins to oil mixed with olive dregs. It’s dirty. It’s unpleasant. It’s second rate. However, even that type of oil can be separated from the dregs.  In the merit of the first pure drop, all of Israel, all of us, have the possibility of separating ourselves from our errors of the past and raising ourselves to levels that can illuminate the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Jacob House Youth Hostel of Punta del Este. It is incredible that young Israelis have to come to the other end of the planet to experience their first Shabbat meal. Kol Hakavod (no good translation, literally means “all of the honor”, but meant as a mix between congratulations and job well done) for an extremely important service.

 

 

Useless Superstition

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tetzave-useless-superstition/

Baal Haturim Exodus: Tetzave

Useless Superstition

Superstition is only the fear of belief, while religion is the confidence. -Marguerite Blessington

There is a common belief in Judaism that the religious article known as a Mezuza, a scroll of parchment with two paragraphs of the Torah written on it, placed on ones doorpost, affords some type of divine protection. A superstitious corollary to that belief is that if something wrong or unfortunate occurs in the home or the family, there may be something faulty with the Mezuza. Indeed, there are startling stories of people who have checked their Mezuza and found an eerie relationship between the fault in the text of their Mezuza and the event that prompted its checking. Going down this road leads to the conclusion that correcting the text of the Mezuza will correct one’s life.

I am often approached by people with various mishaps in their lives who ask me to check their Mezuzas. It somehow eludes them that perhaps their leading a life separated from God, separated from morality, separated from the laws and traditions of the Jewish people, may be the more direct cause of divine retribution than any parchment’s error.

The Baal Haturim on Exodus 28:32 states that the High Priest had a special garment that somehow did afford protection for punishment for the severe sin of gossiping. But he elaborates that the protection only worked after the offender would stop his gossiping ways and repent. Then and only then would the metaphysical properties of the garment provide protection from punishment.

The cause of our mishaps are usually internal. We don’t need to look to Mezuzas, red strings or other mystical solutions to fix the problems inside.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the venerated Chofetz Chaim who made some news this week with the discovery of an old film from 1923 showing him for a few seconds (0:57 to be precise).

 

 

Spiritual Ingredients

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/netziv-spiritual-ingredients/

Netziv Exodus: Tetzaveh

Spiritual Ingredients

“By the work one knows the workmen.” -Jean De La Fontaine

A long time ago in a land far away I had a very special martial arts teacher. Besides his ability to pulverize cinderblocks with a single strike he had an unusual sensitivity to inanimate objects. He could touch, for example, a hand-made knife, and would discern something of the spirit of its creator. Once, he told us, he touched an object which had such a foul spiritual signature that it made him ill.

I have heard of Chassidic Rabbis that also had a similar sensitivity, that by touching a book he could tell something about a person with a strong spiritual aura who had last touched that book. My own extra-sensory perceptions are limited to food. There is something about a home-cooked meal that tastes better than anything commercially or industrially prepared. One can almost taste the love that goes into such cooking.

The Netziv on Exodus 28:3 says that the same spiritual energy and effect occurred with the construction of the Tabernacle as well as with all of the priestly vessels and garments. The artisans who fabricated each component did so with great intent. They placed a part of their soul into their work. Aaron, the High Priest, was able to sense their spirit and purity of purpose which in turn fortified him in his work as the spiritual representative of the Nation of Israel.

May we do the tasks given to us well, do it with spirit. One never knows the reverberations that will be felt, where, when or by whom.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Orlando, our guide of the gold mine in Minas. His love of his task was amazing — and so was the tour of the old mine that was excavated extensively in the 1730s.

Rabbinic Stone Healing

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tetzaveh-rabbinic-stone-healing/]

Ibn Ezra Exodus: Tetzaveh

Rabbinic Stone Healing

“The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.”

-Voltaire

Western medicine is typically disparaging of any treatments that cannot be confirmed by a peer-reviewed double-blind study with a well defined control group, often heavily financed by pharmaceutical companies. Eastern medicine on the other hand, forays frequently into the realm of superstition, idol-worship and outright chicanery.

Jewish sages throughout the ages tended to adopt the medical practices of their time and place, and sought where possible to exclude useless or problematic “medical” trends.

Ibn Ezra makes mention of the “powers” of stones which to Western ears may sound like nonsense. However, in his comments on Exodus 28:9, he expands about “a stone that if worn on a finger, the person will see his dreams. And this should not be a surprise, as each stone has its unique powers. There is a stone that attracts metal, and one that stills the blood, and one that flees from vinegar and one that always breaks into triangles.”

Perhaps there is some truth after all to healing properties of some stones?

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the speedy and complete healing of those suffering from all and any illness, especially the flu that seems to be affecting many this season.

Clothes Make the Saint, Sometimes

Kli Yakar Exodus: Tetzaveh

Clothes Make the Saint, Sometimes

From the mists of antiquity there comes a tale. The tale is of a Persian king who inherited some special garments. The king is one that Jewish tradition names Achashverosh. The garments were none other than the robes of the High Priest of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

According to the Kli Yakar (Exodus 28:42), Achashverosh wore the garments for a specific purpose. He ties that purpose to an unusual story in the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Sabbath 31a). A gentile wished to convert on one condition – that he could wear the garments of the High Priest. What’s this obsession with his clothing?

The Talmud explains that the garments of the High Priest had unique properties. They had the power to absolve a host of sins. The Kli Yakar theorizes that both Achashverosh and the potential convert wanted to dress their way out of sin. They both wanted to elevate themselves. They just wanted a short-cut with these magical threads. However they both ignored the fact that it only works for the High Priest. Only an individual who has reached that elevated level can make use of these special tools. Dressing a certain way might make one think they have reached a specific level, but the Kli Yakar reminds us that there are no shortcuts and one has to elevate themselves by actions beyond a change of costume.

May we dress in clean, modest, good taste, without seeking extra magical powers from our wardrobe.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the memory of John Christopher Godfrey, who passed away suddenly, in the midst of his conversion process. His dress matched his personality. Always happy, energetic and inspiring. He will be missed.