Friday, February 17, 2017

Contacting God is Always A Local Call

After the Ten Commandments , Hashem speaks to The Jewish People again and says:
“You have seen that I have spoken to you from Heaven.” “Lo Taasun Iti, gods of gold and silver you shall not make for yourselves.”
Rashi explains the phrase to mean that one should not create images of celestial beings that reside in Heaven. I would like to suggest a different interpretation.
 During the Divine revelation at Mount Sinai, G-d  spoke to the people from Heaven, a most unique and awe inspiring event. There was a danger that the People would view this event as the preferred method of communication with G-d going forward, instead of a once in history event. Perhaps the Jews would attempt to communicate back to G-d “from Heaven”; that is divorced from the realities and ambiguities of this world. They may have gotten the mistaken impression that an ascetic life, at the top of the mountain and detached from reality, was the only to communicate with Hashem

Sensing this possible mistake, God notes: "I may have spoken to you from Heaven, but Lo Taasun Iti: please do not return the favor. No need to climb the mountain in order to speak with Me. I want you to communicate with Me and serve Me from the trenches; from the messiness of real life. I am as close as you allow Me to be," 

This reminds me of the joke: The US President is invited to the Vatican to meet with the pope. On the Pope’s desk are three phones: a black phone, a red phone and a white phone. The President asks the Pope: what’s with the three phones? The pope explains: the black phone is for calls inside Vatican City, the red phone is for calls to foreign leaders and the white phone is a direct line to God. The President is impressed and asks if he can use the white phone to seek guidance from God in his quest for Middle East peace. The pope agrees but tells the Preident that he has to pay the charges associated with such a call- $25,000. The President feels it’s worth the price, pays the money and uses the phone.
The next month the President is invited to Israel by the Prime Minister. Here too the President notices three phones: black, red and white. This time the President doesn’t ask for an explanation. Rather, he immediately asks the PM if he can use the white phone for a quick chat with God. When the PM agrees, the President has his Secret Service guard pull out a wad of hundred dollar bills to pay the charge. The PM stops him in his tracks and tells the President the fee is only 25 cents. The President asks: but at the Vatican, the Pope charged me $25,000. To which the PM replies: Mr. President, from Jerusalem the call to God is always a local one.

Prophecy is when God speaks to man- that only occurred for a person who was worthy of prophecy and it does not occur today. Prayer is when man talks to God, and that line of communication is available to anyone at any time, so long as we approach the endeavor with kavanah, sincerity and intention. And it's always a local call. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Like a Tree, A Student of Life Should Always Be Growing

There is a Mishna in Pirkei Avot (3:9) that is difficult to understand, especially in light of our celebration earlier this Shabbat of Tu B’Shevat:
“Rabbi Yaakov said, ‘One who is walking on his way and is learning Torah and breaks off his study to exclaim, ‘How beautiful is this tree!’ or ‘How fine is that field!’ is regarded as if he has sinned against his soul.”

We all know that Bitul Torah, wasting time from learning Torah, is a sin that should be avoided. But what’s so wrong with “stopping to smell the roses”? What is the big problem with appreciating G-d’s natural world?
An answer is suggested in the name of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. The mistake that R’ Yaakov is speaking about is that the person feels that in order to appreciate nature, he must break from his studies. He does not realize that appreciating the world around him is a fulfillment of getting to know G-d, just like learning Torah is. According to this approach it wasn’t what the person did that was so terrible, rather it was his attitude. He did not realize that “stopping to smell the roses” and appreciating nature, can- and must- be part of our religious identity and our relationship with Hashem.
Rabbi Yaakov is teaching us that no matter what we are doing, we must never consider it as a ‘break” from our Torah study/ Avodat Hashem (service to G-d). Everything that we do should be viewed as spiritually uplifting and an element of our religious life.

Let us emulate trees. Just as the tree is constantly growing, let us resolve to find opportunities for growth in everything that we do and every situation in which we find ourselves.