Musings and Schmoozings


Do you remember when you were a kid, and you said something with Chutzpah – but it was just cute or funny enough for you to get away with it?

My son Shlomo Zalman, wanted to join his two older brothers at the morning minyan (prayer service) this past Wednesday, and couldn’t --or wouldn’t-- accept that his older brothers had privileges not accorded to him.

The little ‘pipsqueak’ took the age discrimination route: “But Mommy”, Shlomo Zalman argued, “Hashem loves the tfillot [prayers] of young children!”

What could we answer? He’s right!

As we approach the Purim Holiday, which is only in a two weeks, we read about the role of young children and their impactful prayer. The Talmud relates that when Mordechai heard of the impending destruction of the Jewish People, he gathered 22,000 Jewish children and prayed and learned with them. G-d, he explained to them, cherishes the sincere and pure prayers of children.

You want proof of the power of children’s prayer? Some Talmud logic for you, but first a confession.

Each morning, at 6:05am, when the shrill tones of my alarm ring to awaken me for the Morning Services -- I press the ‘snooze’ button at least once. A few more minutes of sleep, A Mechayeh!, as they say in Yiddish. Does the fact that I’m running late for my designated appointment with G-d affect the blissful five (or ten…or fifteen) extra minutes of sleep?

Not at all.

But here’s my 8-year-old, arguing in his PJ’s at the front door, protesting about the unfairness of leaving him out of the ‘prayer party’!

We adults pride ourselves in our intellectual capabilities and the complicated and cynical ways with which we analyze the world around us.

Perhaps we should emulate Mordechai by recognizing sincerity and by deploying it. We must appreciate youthful excitement for Judaism and certainly never discourage it. We will find our inner child, our Jewish soul which is pure and whole.

Sometimes, kids do have a point.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

“Fragment LIFE – consider revising.”

In this week’s Torah portion, the Torah seems to make a grammatical error--a passive verb usage.

If the Torah was written [sic] in Microsoft Word, the rather annoying green squiggly line would declare: “Passive Usage of Verb – Consider Revising”

The Torah teaches us that despite the command to build the Tabernacle, the Shabbat dictated rest remains in force. “Sheshet Yamim Te’ase Melacha – for six days your work shall be done…”  

Why ‘shall be done’? What is the matter with saying simply Ta’ase Melacha-- You Shall Do Work?”

A Chassidic Story is told about the Fifth Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber of Lubavitch. A certain Chassid, who faced challenges in his galoshes manufacturing business, came to the Rebbe for advice. For those under 30, galoshes are your grandfather’s rubber rain coverings for his dress shoes. The Rebbe heard out his kvetching in full detail and was quite shocked that this Chassid was so absorbed with his business plan, that he had forgotten entirely about the Divine Plan--his spiritual wellbeing and growth. This man was totally consumed!

Patiently waiting for the Chassid to finish his lament, The Rebbe offered a one word in his response: “Amazing!”

The Chassid was taken aback.  “What does the Rebbe mean? What is amazing?”

The Rebbe responded: “This I’ve never seen! I have seen feet in galoshes before…but a head in galoshes?!

Our lives are fragmented. We live in the real word, and we engage it fully. We carry around our magnetic access cards – a corporate identity superimposed over our unique identities. Who am I? A father, a husband, a wife, a mother – or am I a corporate slave? Where does my spiritual life fit into the melee of life?

So what is the solution to the fragmentation? The ultimate ’defrag program’ called Shabbat.

Shabbat lines up our files, and optimizes our systems. But more importantly, it enables us to go out in the world with our inner Shabbat intact. It allows us to have our work “be done”, leaving us free to explore our inner essence.  The beating heart of our Jewish Soul.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht 

Biblical Bitcoin

The Bitcoin crypto-currency is one of the latest technological fads. For the fanatics, it is serious business. The mysterious and mystical currency is far beyond my limited financial understanding and geekdom. I don’t get it – it makes no sense to me, despite my research to write this weekly essay.  

How does cracking a code, or ‘Bitcoin Mining’, somehow create financial value?  Sounds like Kabbala to me!

But can you fault me? Even Moshe had trouble with the original Bit-Coin—the Half-Shekel.

The Half-Shekel was used as a census tool in the desert. We Jews ‘count our blessings’, but we don’t count each-other. Your grandmother –and mine—would caution us never to count people. “It will lead to an Ayin-Hara – An Evil Eye”, Bubby would say.

So how do we count Jews? The Torah’s census was, in actuality, a count of Half-Shekels ; every person would donate a half-shekel coin for the Tabernacle or Temple use, which was then in turn tallied.

There is fascinating Midrash, which says that the Half-Shekel was also given as a means to atone for the sin of the golden calf, which we read about later in this week’s Torah Portion.

The Midrash adds that Moshe was shocked, “How could a half-shekel coin accomplish atonement?! Do we buy G-d off?”

G-d’s answer, as the Midrash continues, was with a vision of a fiery coin.

The Chassidic Masters explain: G-d was showing Moshe that the Machatzit Hashekel  had immense value. It was not an ordinary coin – it was a fiery coin, which represented the redemptive power of passionate giving. When we give to others—with passion—we are dealing in the world’s strongest and most stable currency.

There is a famous story told about another Moshe, Sir Moses Montefiore-- the 19th Century philanthropist, who is responsible, among other things, for the small stones atop the Western Wall.

The story goes that Queen Victoria, a friend of the financier, summoned him and enquired as to his net worth. Sir Moses responded with a significant sum, yet far less than his true worth.

Queen Victoria, surprised by Sir Moses’ apparent dishonesty, challenged him. “We both know that you are worth far more!”

 Sir Moses answered that his TRUE net worth was not the wealth that he had amassed, but rather, the amount of money that he had given to charity.  While his financial assets are subject to future losses, the amount he listed, the Tzedaka money, was truly his.

Reb Moshe understood the lesson that Moshe Rabeinu learned. A Jew is not counted by his wealth…but by his charitable actions. Passionate generosity is the true Bitcoin currency.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

Chassidic Prison Dance

This week, in Parshat Tetzave, we read about the garments worn by the priest in the Tabernacle. One garment, called the me’il –a tunic, was embroidered at is bottom seam with pomegranates (or apples according to some) and bells.

Why bells?

First a story: Reb Zushe of Annipoli, and his brother Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk were once traveling, concealing their true identities under the guise of being itinerant beggars. As circumstances would have it, that they were mistakenly arrested together with the local riffraff.

Reb Zushe and Reb Elimelech were sitting glumly, clearly out of place, while they waited for things to be sorted out. The jails of the time and their undistinguished company, created a miserable situation.

As morning turned into afternoon, Reb Elimelech got up to pray the afternoon mincha prayer. Reb Zusha, realizing that a pail of waste was in the center of the jail cell, quickly reminded his brother that it was strictly forbidden to pray in such a circumstance.

Reb Elimelech was crestfallen and began to cry. Adding insult to injury, in addition to his miserable situation as he sat wrongly imprisoned, he was now unable to serve his creator

Reb Zushe, lovingly put his arm around his brother and comforted him, “Don’t cry”, he said. “The same G-d that commanded you to serve him with prayer, is the same G-d that commanded you to serve him by not praying in an unclean place. Don’t be miserable! Even as you sit here unable to pray, you are serving G-d…by not praying!

Reb Elimelech, realizing the truth in his brother’s words leapt to his feet. He grabbed his brother and they danced a Chassidic dance with gusto in the jail cell, temporarily oblivious to their pathetic situation. They were serving their G-d…by not praying…joyfully.  

The anti-Semitic guards, upon hearing the ruckus, investigated and discovered the source of their celebration -- the pail in the center of the cell. They decided to punish those crazy Jewish beggars…by removing the pail from the cell!

A bell makes noise when it clangs and is jostled. There’s nothing gentle about it. When the high priest entered the temple, he represented both the righteous who serve G-d with peace and calm (the pomegranate or apple types), as well as those of us for whom doing ‘the right thing’ is an outright struggle (the bells). Even when we struggle to free ourselves from the gravitational pull of evil – we are also serving G-d.

Yes, even when we feel like we are in the gutter, the musical bells of our struggle ring out – and it is music to G-d’s ears.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yisroel Hecht

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