Weekly thoughts from the Rabbi


All a Matter of Perspective A shoe company once decided to send a salesman to the jungles of Africa. The first salesman they sent upon arriving sends an urgent telegram: “Please send return ticket. Everyone here goes barefoot!” They then decided to try again with another salesman. Upon his arrival they get another telegram: “Increase production and start shipping product. No one here has any shoes!” Moshe in discussing reward and punishment with the Jewish people uses the words “Look, I have set before you a Blessing and a Curse..” You may wonder, what exactly was he asking them to look at? They were still in the desert and had not yet experienced real life in the Promised Land and they certainly could not see the results of living according to the ways of G-d or not. Another difficulty with the wording is “A blessing AND a curse”, Moshe was really saying that it was their choice if they were going to be have the blessing OR the curse! The answer is that our Vision or Perspective ITSELF can be a blessing or a curse! And every individual thing or situation is both a blessing and a curse depending on the way we look at it. In our vision of faith in G-d be believe that everything is for the good. Sometimes the good is easily apparent and sometimes we don’t see the good right away. We are challenged to try to see the good in everyone, everything and every situation. It may take time, it may be a challenge, but it’s all a matter of perspective!

Why is it Important to Remember?

Why is it Important to Remember?

A story is told about Napoleon who was being given a tour of the Jewish Ghetto in one of the cities he conquered on Tisha B’Av. As he hears the sounds of wailing and crying coming from the synagogues he asks his tour guide if it is a recent tragedy the Jews are mourning.

The guide explained to him that they were mourning the destruction of their Temple and their exile from their homeland that happened close to two thousand years ago. Napoleon then answered (according to some versions of this story) “A nation that remembers it’s past will certainly be around for many years in the future”.

In Judaism there is a great emphasis on remembering. We don’t relegate the past to ancient history but we use it as a tool to make a better future. We see this in the special name for this Shabbat and in the Parsha that we read.

The name Shabbat Chazon has a dual meaning. On a basic level it refers to Isaiah’s prophecy of destruction that we read in the Haftorah, the past. On the other hand, one of the great Chassidic masters R’ Levi Yitzchak of Bertichev said that it means that on this Shabbat we are shown a vision of the future third Temple.

Similarly in our Parsha, as the Jewish people prepare for a future in the land of Israel, Moses reminds the Jewish people of their past journeys in the desert – starting with the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Torah is the common denominator that unites the Jewish people throughout the ages and has given us the strength to survive all challenges. The Jewish people have not lived together in Israel for over 2,000 years, nor have we spoken the same language, eaten the same foods or dressed alike. What has remained the same, in all places and times, is the Torah.

So as we remember the many tragedies of our history we also remember the secret of our survival. If we listen to the lessons of the past we can face the future with hope.


The continuous dilemma: When to hold our ground and when to compromise?

The continuous dilemma: When to hold our ground and when to compromise?

A Rabbi was at the end of his rope. With declining Synagogue membership and finances he was feeling very vulnerable when an eccentric old man enters with his dog and the dog is wearing a Yarmulka. “Rabbi, I want you to Bar Mitzvah my dog” he says. The Rabbi is indignant “Don’t insult the Jewish religion don’t insult our Synagogue!” he says. The man responds “The dog is all I have and I’m getting old. I was planning on announcing that I was leaving my entire estate to the Synagogue at the Bar Mitzvah..”. The Rabbi thinks quickly “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize your dog was Jewish. We could definitely do a Bar Mitzvah for him!”

In this week’s Torah portion the tribes of Israel are called Matos – Hard dry branches. Elsewhere they are called Shvotim the flexible branches that are still attached to the tree. The general message is that we are all branches of the same tree, but more specifically these two names represent the different postures we must adopt, depending on the situation we find ourselves.

Sometimes when we are feeling vulnerable, cut off from our roots, we need to call upon our strength and resilience, not to bend in the face of adversity. On the other hand, when we are coming from a position of comfort, still attached to the tree, with shared respect and values, we are in a position to compromise and be flexible in order to help those around us.

So with all jokes aside, the Rabbi, seeing that the old man had no intention to be disrespectful, could find a way to “Bar Mitzvah” the dog.

When we feel intolerant of others we need to ask ourselves where this is coming from. Are we feeling vulnerable or are we threatened in some way? Are we somehow misreading another person? On the other hand we need to know that flexibility and compromise really come from a position of strength.



As we are about to begin the 9 days of mourning the Temple, I am reminded of how, while reading Lamentations last year during Tisha B’Av, I came upon an understanding of how our Jewish heritage supports and informs the Chaplain’s practice of encouraging patients to “lament”.

At first glance it may seem to run contrary to many of the dictums in Judaism that encourage joy and a positive outlook as key elements in faith and worship of G-d. However we do find other practices in Judaism, such as the communal mourning and extensive reading of lamentations that point to the opposite.

As I was reading the Kinos for several hours I began to question: Why is it that we read the entire Kinos at one time? Could the reading not be divided over the first 9 days of Av when we observe many mourning practices? Similar to the reading of Slichos, where we read the Slichos over a similar period of time 30-40 minutes per day?

The answer I believe is found in our pastoral practice of lamenting. A designated period of time needs to be dedicated exclusively to the expression of sorrow and anguish to fully process those feelings and to allow the patient to move on. Not taking care to fully mourn the situation will cause the sadness to linger.

Similar support for this practice can be found in the dictum from Ethics of Our Fathers: Do not placate your fellow in the moment of his anger, do not comfort him while his dead lies before him.. In addition we have the Jewish practice of Shiva, when an entire week is dedicated to mourning the loss of the deceased by close relatives. Visitors to the Shiva house are encouraged to listen to the mourners and speak little themselves. The mourners are encouraged to refrain from engaging in practices that will distract them from mourning their loss.

The immediate take away from this understanding I applied in my recent attempt to use my pastoral skills in conflict resolution. I had called one of the parties in the conflict to wish them a Good Shabbos and also to suggest that we get together for a face to face dialogue about how to improve the situation. His response was a tirade, during which he insisted I not interrupt him, during which he asserted I was missing some of my skeletal elements and claimed I was a small cog of his opponent’s machine. At the same time he praised me and my sons in law.. Which left me wondering if this was sincere praise or an attempt to get me to his side?

Based on this newly appreciated understanding I decided to apply the last dictum in the quote from Ethics of our Fathers “do not seek to see him at the time of his degradation” and to allow him to fully lament his current situation and process his anger.

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