Friday, July 21, 2017

Life is a Journey, Not a Destination

The Parsha opens with a list of all of the 42 stops that Bnei Yisrael made during their forty years of wandering in the desert.  Why doesn’t the Torah just tell us the original starting point and the eventual destination? We don't even know what happened at each place that is enumerated, so why specify each one?

Rashi quotes Rabbi Tanchuma who explains by means of a parable. A king had a son who was sick, and the king took him to a distant place to receive the cure. On their way back, the king recounted to his son all of their journeys together. “This is where we slept. Here it was cold. Over there you had a headache.” The king wanted his son to appreciate that not only was the final result- the son’s recovery- important. But the process had significance as well. So too in Parshat Masei, the Torah recounts each stop in the desert as a reminder that there is significance not only in the destination, but in the process as well.

This is a critical lesson to learn as we find ourselves in the weeks and days leading up to Tisha B’Av. Certainly the main focus of this period is mourning for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and praying for its rebuilding with the Messianic Age- the destination (if you will) of human history. But can we find meaning in the process? Is there a way to be positively impacted by the Three Weeks even as we still wait for the final destination of Yemot Hamashiach?

The Three Weeks are an opportunity for us to remind ourselves that even before we arrive at our hoped-for destination, we must find meaning and purpose in all of our experiences along the journey.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Shleimut (Self-Fulfillment) and Shalom (Interpersonal Peace): You Can't Have One Without the Other

Parshat Pinchas begins with Pinchas' act of zealotry followed by God's endorsement and reward for that act. 

Therefore, say, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace. יבלָכֵן אֱמֹר הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם:

In the Torah scroll, the letter vav of the word “Shalom” is cracked. Rav Zevin explains that the cracked vav allows us to think about the similarities and differences between the words “Shalom”, peace, and Shalem, whole. 

Both indicate a fulfilled state of being. However Shalem refers to an individual whereas Shalom refers to the relationship between two or more objects or people. 

The broken Vav highlights the difficulties that can exist in trying to get along with others and achieve Shalom, peace. It is often easier to achieve self-fulfillment for oneself than it is to achieve peace in our interpersonal relationships. Yet we cannot take the easy way out. For true personal fulfillment must include peace among all of our relationships: family, friends, and neighbors. 

There can be no real Sheleimut (self fulfillment) without Shalom (interpersonal peace). And the broken Vav in Shalom reminds us just how elusive, yet essential, peace is.


Friday, July 7, 2017

The Art of Saying No and Importance of Taking No for an Answer

At the beginning of the Parsha, there is an exchange between Hashem and Bilam that is difficult to understand.
First Hashem tells Bilam that he cannot go with Balak’s emissaries. So Bilam turns them away.
But then a second more dignified entourage comes to ask Bilam to reconsider. This time when Bilam asks Hashem says OK.
As Bilam is on his way, an angel stops him and informs Bilam that Hashem is angry, because he decided to go to Balak.
Two questions jump out:
1) Why does Hashem change His tune- first telling Bilam he can’t go and then saying that he can go?
2)Once Hashem tells Bilam that he can go, why does he get angry with Bilam for going?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests that the entirety of the Divine Will is expressed the first night when Bilam presents the request: G-d unequivocally answers: Lo Telech Imahem.” Period. End of Discussion.

Then Bilam, due to greed and ego, comes back the next night and asks Hashem again. The answer is the same: Hashem does not want Bilam to go. Nevertheless it is clear Bilam wants to go. And we have a fundamental belief, expressed by the Rabbis and quoted by Rashi:
“Bderech SheAdam Rotzeh Leylech Bah Molichin Oto.”
G-d’s not going to stop you from doing something that you want to do- even when He’s against it. 

So Hashem is consistent. He doesn’t want Bilam to go. But G-d only speaks once. Bilam chooses not to listen, so when Hashem is approached again He tells Bilam, “Go- ie do what you want.” And when Bilam indeed does what he wants, Hashem stops him by means of the angel to make sure Bilam understands G-d’s displeasure at the situation.

In this light I can understand the importance of this episode. We can learn a great deal about the importance of saying no, as well as taking no for an answer.
For many our tendency is to always say yes. It’s usually more fun and always easier to just say yes. But there are times when we must say no. We must say no to others in order that we don’t overextend ourselves. Saying no can help strengthen our values, strengthen our identity, and strengthen our confidence.

We must sometimes say no to our children in order to create limits and impress upon them boundaries and proper living- in society and within our religion.

And at times we must be willing to take no for an answer. When we pray to Hashem and we don’t get the results we had hoped for, it is an opportunity to practice taking no for an answer, to reorient ourselves, and to consider how changes in our plans might actually be for the best.

Let us utilize Parshat Balak to remember that “No” is not always a mean or negative word. In order to live well adjusted lives within a growth mindset, it is important for us to sometimes say no, and to be able to take no for an answer.