Women’s Candle Power (Yitro)

Women’s Candle Power (Yitro)

We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining- they just shine. -Dwight L. Moody

Among the Ten Commandments, the fourth is to remember the Sabbath. Every week of the year, from sunset on Friday afternoon until nightfall Saturday night, Jews are prohibited from performing a host of labors and activities, including direct use of any electronic device, traveling and more. The disconnection from the daily grind, the electronic maelstrom, the bombardment of media and messages and madness allows for a rare and life-rejuvenating ability to rediscover tranquility, family and community. It affirms sanity, re-energizes life-force and gives us the power to successfully conquer another week of our lives. The Sabbath is always welcomed first and foremost by the woman of the house lighting Shabbat candles.

When God presents the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, He introduces the subject with an unusual phraseology. He addresses Moses and commands: “Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob and declare to the children of Israel.”

Rabbeinu Bechaye on Exodus 19:3 (Yitro) explains that “the house of Jacob” (Beit Yaakov) refers to the women, while “the children of Israel” (Bnei Yisrael) refers to the men.  God addresses the women before the men. He elaborates that it was important, even vital for the women to be spoken to first at this momentous, historic revelation of God.

He focuses on the mother’s role in nurturing her children. He states that a mother is the initial cause and motivation for her child to study Torah and therefore, when she lights the Shabbat candles on Friday eve, a command that is reserved for the woman, she has a special power to pray at that moment, to request and to receive children who will brighten the world with their Torah; for the moment of performing a commandment is propitious for having such requests fulfilled.

Rabbeinu Bechaye elaborates that for the merit of lighting the Shabbat candles and creating light, the woman will merit to have children, masters of Torah, which is also called light, as King Solomon stated in Proverbs: “For the candle is a commandment (Mitzvah) and the Torah, light. The sages echoed this sentiment with the statement that whoever is careful with lighting Shabbat candles will merit having children who will become Torah scholars.

May we each brighten the world in our own way and may we merit having and seeing children whose light will both burn brightly as well as kindle the light of others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

Happy New Year to the trees of the world, with whom we celebrate their new year today, Wednesday January 31, on the Hebrew date of 15 of Shvat (Tu B’Shvat).

Extra-terrestrial Law

Extra-terrestrial Law 

Written laws are like spider’s webs; they will catch, it is true, the weak and the poor, but would be torn in pieces by the rich and powerful. –Anacharsis 

mt-sinai

Man-made law has an inherent danger. It is fallible. They are created by men with a limited view and perception of reality, with no way to see all the repercussions and unintended consequences of their legislative efforts. Even judges who interpret the law and officers who enforce the law are likewise liable to make egregious mistakes. All of this is in addition to the tendency for laws to mirror and be an outgrowth of whatever values and moral standards tend to be popular in the host civilization of that era.

Not so the Torah. It is a fundamental belief of Judaism, that the laws of the Torah as written and as transmitted thereafter through the chain of tradition originated from God Himself.

Rabbi Hirsch in Exodus Chapter 19 elaborates:

“Jewish law is the only system of laws that did not emanate from the people whose constitution it was intended to be. Judaism is the only “religion” that did not emanate from the human beings who find in it the spiritual basis for their lives. It is precisely this “objective” quality of Jewish Law and of the Jewish “religion” that makes them both unique, setting them apart clearly and explicitly from all else on earth that goes by the name of law or religion.”

“All other “religions” and codes of law have originated only in the human minds of a given era; they merely express the conceptions of God, of human destiny, and of their relationship to God and to one another held by a given society at a specified period in history. Hence all these man-made religions and codes, like all other aspects of human civilization – science, art and folkways – are subject to change with the passing of time. For by their very nature and origin they are nothing but expressions of levels reached by civilization at various stages in human development.”

“Not so the Jewish “religion” and Jewish Law. They do not stem from beliefs held by human beings at one period or another. They do not represent time-bound human concepts of God, of things human and Divine. They are God-given; they contain ideas that, by the will of God, should mold the concepts of men for all time with regard to God and to things Divine, but above all with regard to man and human affairs. From the very outset the Law of God stood in opposition to the people in whose midst it was to make its first appearance on earth. It was to prove its power first of all upon this people, who opposed it because they were “a stiff-necked people.” But precisely the resistance which this Law encountered among the people in whose midst it obtained its first dwelling place on earth is the most convincing proof of the Divine origin of this Law, a law which did not arise from within the people but came to the people from the outside and required centuries of struggle to win this people for itself so that they would become bearers of the Laws of God through the ages.”

“All this (unique preparations at the foot of Mount Sinai) is done in order to make clear that this law originates from a source outside the earth and outside mankind.”

The Torah is God’s rulebook for life on Earth. May we remember to take His laws seriously.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

Congratulations to Shlomo Neeman on his election as the new Mayor of Gush Etzion.

Tough Starts

 Much as we may wish to make a new beginning, some part of us resists doing so as though we were making the first step toward disaster. -William Bridges

bike uphillThere is an ancient Hebrew saying that “all beginnings are difficult.” The Sfat Emet in 5637 (1877) analyzes this concept from a Kabbalistic vantage. He explains that in every endeavor there are two parts – the beginning, and the remainder of the effort. He states that the beginning is always under the jurisdiction of the “Attribute of Justice,” while the remainder of the effort is under the influence of the “Attribute of Mercy.”

What that means is that in the beginning we need to work hard. Nothing comes easy. The beginning is the point of the greatest resistance, the greatest fear and the greatest risk. If we don’t put in serious effort, if we don’t give it our all – the chances of making it past the initial stage are limited. “Justice” reviews our efforts closely. “Justice” does not accept slipshod work. “Justice” has no patience for half-hearted efforts. We have to earn our accomplishments – most especially as we start on the path.

However, something happens as we pass the threshold of action. Once we have taken those initial difficult steps, once we have firmly planted ourselves on the road to accomplishment, the “Attribute of Mercy” takes over. Things get easier. Matters work out. That initial resistance has been broken and the sailing gets smoother. God’s “Attribute of Mercy” gifts success to the person who has committed himself, who has embarked on his mission.

May we undertake positive goals and see them accomplished despite rough beginnings.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my nephew Benjamin Tocker on his Bar-Mitzvah. You’re off to a good start!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delayed Repercussions

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/yitro-delayed-repercussions/

Baal Haturim Exodus: Yitro

Delayed Repercussions

Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences. – Robert Louis Stevenson

Moses arrives in a strange land. He has escaped his birthplace of Egypt. He has left his birth-nation of Israel. He finds himself amongst the idolaters of Midian and hosted by their High Priest, Jethro. Jethro appears to be a kindly, wise man. He gives Moses his daughter in marriage. However, the two men come from very different cultures and traditions, and that is where the trouble begins.

Moses comes from a monotheistic religion that believes in the one, unseen, allpowerful God. Jethro serves man-made idols. They both realize the importance of educating children. The midrash states that Moses made a deal with Jethro. Moses promised that his first son would be raised in the ways of idol worship (keep in mind this happens before the initial encounter of Moses and God at the burning bush). However, the Baal Haturim on Exodus 18:3 explains that Moses expected the wise Jethro to finally understand the error of his idolatrous ways and allow the son of Moses to be raised according to the Jewish faith.

That is indeed what happens, but the Baal Haturim says that the damage was already done, though we are not to see the results until the following generation. At the end of the book of Judges there is a not-so-subtle hint that the grandson of Moses becomes a High Priest to idol worship. The deal, even though apparently annulled was fulfilled anyway, not with a son, but with a grandson.

May we be cautious of the deals we get into or hope to get out of. They have a way of biting you when you least expect it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my brother-in-law, Rabbi Daniel Epstein, on his induction as Rabbi of Cockfosters and N Southgate Synagogue. May it be a deal they and the community enjoy for a long time

 

 

Preparing for God

First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/yitro-preparing-for-god/

Netziv Exodus: Yitro

Preparing for God

“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by spectacular preparation.” -Robert H. Schuller

Athletes are obvious examples of people who need to prepare excessively to succeed. But serious preparation is a prerequisite for success in almost every aspect of life. For any profession, for any business, for any task, for any relationship, there needs to be time and effort invested to reap the fruits of triumph.

Spiritual life is no different. To have and enjoy a rich spiritual life requires preparation. It requires work, commitment and perseverance. It doesn’t just happen.

At the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people are about to stand in the presence of God in the most powerful and direct revelation in the history of the world. One might think that just the essence of such a concentrated display of God would be enough. Nonetheless, the Jewish nation is instructed to prepare themselves already three days before the singular event. The Netziv on Exodus 19:2 explains that the more one prepares himself for the encounter with the divine, the more it will take hold in their being.

However, on Exodus 19:11 the Netziv gives a warning regarding the same theme. He claims that if one does not prepare enough, one can leave such holy encounters damaged, even deranged. This is not meant to scare people away from spiritual encounters – it is meant to show the importance and value of preparing for them.

Feel free to contact me for more customized preparation directions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Olympic athletes. There is something inspiring about their dedication to their goals.

Hold Thy God

[First posted on The Times of Israel: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/yitro-hold-thy-god/]

Ibn Ezra Exodus: Yitro

Hold Thy God

“It chills my blood to hear the blest Supreme rudely appealed to on each trifling theme.” -William Cowper

The Third Commandment of the famous Ten seems oddly underwhelming. One and Two are the fundamentals of faith (Belief in God and Not Believing in Other gods). Four and Five are Keeping the Sabbath and Honoring ones Parents – fundamentals of Judaism. Six through Ten deal with the underpinnings of a healthy and functional society, Don’t Kill, Don’t Steal, etc. So why is number Three, Not Uttering God’s Name in Vain, so prominent on the list? What’s the big deal about a phrase that has become second nature to many people?

Ibn Ezra (on Exodus 20:7) claims that it is its very ease of violating that has placed Do Not Utter God’s Name in Vain so highly and that in fact in a certain way it is more important and its effects more dangerous and corrosive than murder, theft or adultery (this does not now become a license in any way to commit any of the above).

The obvious sins, one may often be fearful of doing. One might get caught. But a simple utterance that does not bother or offend most people is easy to do – even unthinkingly. The problem is that flippant use of God’s name consistently erodes ones view and relationship with God. God becomes merely another word, another phrase in the arsenal of our vocabulary. God loses meaning. God loses significance. The entire foundation of ones belief and worship may disintegrate as would a termite-infested house. All the other commandments become meaningless when we lose the proper perspective vis-à-vis God.

Ergo, Don’t Take His Name in Vain.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Hanan Einav-Levy, a man who passed away in the prime of his life. I never had the pleasure to meet Hanan, but have been inspired by his work in wind energy and his dedication to the future of Israel.

Homemade Deities

Ohr Hachayim Exodus: Yitro

 Homemade Deities

STWhoMourns.jpg

Star Trek landing party encounters Apollo

 

“The worshiper is the father of the gods.”

– H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956)

Captain Kirk and the landing party of the Starship Enterprise were trapped on a planet, captives of an entity that claimed to be nothing less than the Greek god Apollo. He claimed to be the last of his space-faring race that thousands of years before had landed on Earth and were accepted as gods by the primitive Greeks.

Kirk figured out that the source of Apollo’s power was that the humans “believed” in him. When Kirk and crew “unbelieved” in him, Apollo vanished into nothingness (see Star Trek “Who Mourns for Adonais” Episode #33).

It has been the theme of more than one fantasy and sci-fi novel, film or show that a so-called “god” draws his power from people who “believe” in him. The Ohr Hachayim (Exodus 20:3), in a parallel concept claims that a person, just by giving thought and credence to strange gods, in effect brings them to life (hence idol worship is the only punishable thought-sin).

He seems to say that our thought processes in this realm, in the realm of belief and worship create a new reality. By idolizing foreign concepts, passing beliefs and transient figures we give power and bring into existence something that shouldn’t be part of our world.

May we stay clear of false gods and their ephemeral power.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To Boaz and Nechama Spitz on the birth of their daughter (and my niece) Ariel Aliza (she is rumored to have god-like power). Wishing them much joy, health and happiness.