Weekly Torah Commentary – Vayishlach December 5, 2014

Genesis 32:4-36:43

In this week’s reading, the brothers, Jacob and Esau, meet again after a separation of twenty two years. Years before, Esau had sworn to kill Jacob in revenge for what he saw as the theft of his blessing. Is he still angry enough to kill? Jacob sends messengers to let his brother know he is coming. On their return, they inform Jacob that Esau is coming to meet him with four hundred men. We then read:

Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. (32:8)

Jacob is in the grip of strong emotions. But what is the difference between fear and distress? Could it be that he was in fear of being killed? And distressed that he might have to kill his own brother in self-defense?

The difference between being afraid and distressed is that it is one thing to fear one’s own death, quite another to contemplate being the cause of someone else’s. Jacob was distressed at the possibility of being forced to kill even if that were entirely justified by the concept of self-defense..

At stake is a moral dilemma. A dilemma is not simply a conflict. There are many moral conflicts. May we perform an abortion to save the life of the mother, for example? When two duties conflict the higher value, once determined, takes priority. An answer is forthcoming.

A dilemma, however, is a situation in which there is no right answer. I ought not to do A (allow myself to be killed); I ought not to do B (kill someone else); but I must do one or the other. The fact that one principle (self-defense) overrides another (the prohibition against killing) does not mean that, faced with such a choice, I am without inner qualms. Sometimes being moral means that I experience distress at finding myself in the position to even make such a choice. Doing the right thing may mean that I do not feel guilt, but I may still feel regret that I had to do what I did at all.

A moral system which leaves room for the existence of dilemmas is one that does not attempt to eliminate the complexities of the human life. In a conflict between two rights or two wrongs, there may be a proper way to act but this does not cancel out all emotional pain. It is indicative of Jacob’s greatness that he was capable of moral anxiety even at the prospect of doing something entirely justified, namely defending his own life at the cost of his brother’s. A person or a nation capable of feeling distress, even in victory, is one that knows the tragic complexity of moral life.

In Tune with Torah this week = in the complicated times of life, are we the kind of people who seek to choose the higher ground and establish priorities while maintaining a sincere love towards our fellow man? Imagine yourself in Jacob’s shoes. How would you have felt?

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Chayah Sarah Nov. 13, 2014

NOTE: Though I wrote and hit the command to “Send” last Friday, for some reason last week’s commentary showed up today! I apologize for the delay. You get two this week!

Genesis 23:1-25:18

This week’s reading deals with two major issues: the death and burial of Sarah, the wife of Abraham; and the search for a wife for Isaac. The events are covered in great detail, more so than many other events.

Certainly the acquisition of a burial plot for Sarah is of great significance for it becomes the first step in the acquisition of the land of Israel by Abraham and his descendants. Abraham purchased the field and the cave. When he takes possession of it, he establishes a foothold in the promised Land.

Next we turn to the process of finding a bride for Isaac. At first glance it seems that the amount of detail is disproportional but then again, the extensive detail indicates the importance of this event.

And Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Put, I beg you, your hand under my thigh. And I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. But you shall go to my country, and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4)

Eliezer, the servant, was Abraham’s trusted companion, the man whom Abraham had earlier imagined would perhaps one day be his heir. (Gen. 15:2-3)

And the servant took ten of his master’s camels…And he said, “O Lord God of my master Abraham, I beseech you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham…” And she said, “Drink, my lord;” and she hurried, and let down her water jar upon her hand, and gave him drink…
And the man, wondering at her, held his peace, to see whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not. And it came to pass, as the camels finished drinking, that the man took a golden ear ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold…And the man bowed down his head, and worshiped the Lord. And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not left my master destitute of his mercy and his truth; As for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers…”

And after entering the house of Laban, Rebecca’s father, Eliezer explains his mission:

And he said, “I am Abraham’s servant…”

After relating what Abraham had commanded him to do, “…they called Rebecca, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?…..And they sent Rebecca their sister, and her nurse away, and Abraham’s servant, and his men… And Rebecca arose, and her maids, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man; and the servant took Rebecca, and went his way…And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said to the servant, “What man is this who walks in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “It is my master.” Therefore she took a veil, and covered herself.

Rebecca is aware that Isaac, and not Eliezer, is the master of the house, even before ever seeing Isaac. Yet, Eliezer seems so impressive. Only in comparison to Isaac is Eliezer’s stature reduced in her eyes.

To become Abraham’s “right hand man”, this servant must have been an extremely impressive individual. He had to have possessed the qualities of loyalty, integrity, reliability, diligence and humility. WE see all of these at work as Eliezer completes his journey.

Eliezer arrives just before sunset, yet he asks God to “work things out” before the day is done. This shows Eliezer’s incredible trust in God. What was the source of this trust? He was a servant of Abraham. He had seen Abraham. He learned from the Father of Faith how to trust God for what was needed.

Sometimes we forget the impact our personal faith can have on those around us. Your individual trust and confidence in God is a living example to your family and your friends. As Abraham’s faith ‘rubbed off’ on Eliezer, so is ours supposed to do the same. In the words of one teacher, “Faith is better caught than taught!”

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith is personal but it is also communal. Your faith and mine can have a profound effect on those around us IF we are careful to speak words that express FAITH rather than doubt or anxiety. An act of gratitude is intrinsically related to maintaining a strong faith. As we recall and give thanks for all of God’s past blessings, we dispose our heart to trust Him for the future; in so doing, we set an example to those around us.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Noah October 24, 2014

Noach  Genesis 6:9-11:32

This week’s reading brings up an extremely relevant issue: the relationship of individual and collective responsibility in a nation.

Our western society emphasizes individual rights while nations like Russia and China accord much more weight to the ‘national interest’ or national priorities over the individual.

The Torah presents a delicate balance between both.  Individual responsibility is given equal prominence with national or collective responsibility.  In simple words, the nation is only as strong as its individual members.  One of Judaism’s sages, Hillel, put it this way:

“If I am not for myself, who will be? (personal responsibiity) But if I am only for myself, what am I?” (communal responsibility).

NoahNow let’s look at this concept with regard to the Torah reading this week.  It begins with the flood of Noah’s day and ends with the attempt to build the Tower of Babel.  If we simply read without ‘connecting the dots’, it would appear that these events have nothing in common.  The failures of Noah’s generation are detailed for us: “The world was corrupt before God, and the land was filled with violence. God saw the world, and it was corrupted. All flesh had perverted its way on the earth” (Gen. 6: 11-12). Wickedness, violence, corruption, perversion: the hallmarks of national moral failure.

By contrast, the description of Babel seems enviable. “The entire earth had one language and a common speech” (11: 1). The events in Noah’s day were about destruction; in Babel the focus is on construction. Sin in that society is not described. Yet there certainly was something unpleasing to God, given the outcome of the story.

Both the Flood and the Tower of Babel are rooted in actual historical events.  Despite the attempts of liberal modernists to mythologize the Bible, excavations at Shurrupak, Kish, Uruk and Ur – Abraham’s birthplace – reveal evidence of clay flood deposits. Likewise the historian, Herodotus, tells of the sacred enclosure of Babylon, at the centre of which was a ziqqurat or Tower of seven stories, 300 feet high and many references have been found in the literature of the time that speak of such towers “reaching heaven.”

But the Torah is much more than history. The events contained therein express a profound moral, social and spiritual truth about humanity. The Flood tells us what happens to civilization when individuals rule and there is no collective and enforced moral code. Babel tells us what happens when national agenda sacrifices individuals for its own ends.

Are we not watching – in our very own day – the same kind of disintegration as that of Noah’s society: When there is no rule of law to constrain individuals, the world is filled with violence.

Babel demonstrates the opposite.  The practice of the neo-Assyrians of that day was to impose their own language on any and every people that they conquered.

The reference seems to be to the imperial practice of the neo-Assyrians, of imposing their own language on the peoples they conquered. One inscription of the time records that Ashurbanipal II “made the totality of all peoples speak one speech.” The neo-Assyrians asserted their supremacy by insisting that their language was the only one to be used by the nations and populations they had defeated. Babel, like Egypt would be later, represents nations or empires that subjugate entire populations, destroying their national identities and tradtional freedoms.  (Sound familiar???)

With this in mind let’s take a second look at this week’s reading.

Genesis 10 describes the division of humanity into seventy nations and seventy languages. Genesis 11 tells of how one imperial power conquered smaller nations and imposed their language and culture on them, refusing to respect the integrity of each nation and each individual. When at the end of the Babel story God “confuses the language” of the builders, He is not creating a new state of affairs but actually restoring the old.

Therefore we can see that the story of Babel clarifies the dangers of crushing individuality – the individuality of the seventy cultures described in Genesis 10.  When the rule of law is used to suppress individuals and their distinctive languages and traditions, this is wrong.

So the Flood and the Tower of Babel, though apparently opposites, are actually intimately connected. In fact, the entire Torah portion this week is a brilliant study in the human condition. There are cultures who exalt individual rights and there are others who place the national interest above the individual. Both will ultimately fail.  The first will lead to chaos and violence while the second will pave the way for oppression and tyranny.

Recognizing this, it will come as no surprise that after the two great failures of the Flood and the Tower of Babel, in next week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to Abraham who was called on to create a new form of social order that would give equal honor and attention to the individual as well as to the nation; to personal responsibility as well as to the common good. That remains the unique and special gift of the Scriptures to the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = the essence of the message is balance.  While God has endowed each human being with ‘certain inalienable rights’, with them comes a ‘certain inalienable’ responsibility to one’s fellow man.  Learning to balance the two appropriately may be our most challenging quest, particularly at this crucial moment of history.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — V’etchanan August 8, 2014

Deuteronomy/Devarim 3:23-7:11

As we plunge a bit further in to the Book of Deuteronomy, we see Moses reminding the children of Israel of their distinct and unusual calling:

Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? (Deut. 4: 32-34)

As these words are being recorded, the children of Israel have not yet entered their own land. They are not yet a sovereign nation, except in vision. Yet Moses wanted to impress on their collective psyche the certainty that they were a people unlike any other nation. God Himself had called them to greatness and their experience at Sinai was unique in world history.

Moses repeats the critically important passage that has become the primary expression of Judaism’s faith: “Hear (listen) O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You are to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

In the continuing narrative he will remind them, not once but twice that they must teach their children what was transmitted at Sinai. Furthermore, he declares their eternal mission statement in no uncertain words: “You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” (Deut. 7: 6)

The next line is very curious:

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you are the fewest of all peoples. (Deut. 7: 7)

Now hold on! Didn’t God promise Abraham that his children would be as numerous as the stars of the sky? And the grains of sand on the seashore? And didn’t Moses just say a few verses earlier: “The LORD your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Deut. 1: 10)?

What gives here? How can he now declare that they are the “fewest of all peoples”?

Yes, in fact the children of Israel were far more numerous now than they used to be. When they descended to Egype, they were a company of seventy souls; a single family. Now they are a nation of twelve tribes!

Yet, compared to other nations of the world, they are still pretty small and he drives the point home by listing the nations they would have to overcome when they entered the Land: “…the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you …” (7:1). Israel was not only smaller than the great empires of that day, they were even small compared to the nations immediately in front of them.

Wasn’t that discouraging? Why would Moses say such a thing? Because he knew them so well. Look at this verse: “You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” Now here’s the salient point: “But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. (Deut. 7: 17-18) Moses wanted to impress upon them that the fear that had plagued them in earlier situations in the desert must not plague them when they enter the Land.

In God’s eternal wisom, He decreed that Israel would be the smallest of nations for a reason that speaks directly to its divine calling. Israel is to show the rest of the world that a people does not have to be numerous in order to be great. Israel’s unique history has demonstrated over and over again that by faith in the Holy One who chose them and delivered them from Egypt, they do not need large numbers to conquer their enemies. Victory will come “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zech. 4:6)

This proclamation of Moses has been fleshed out in Israel’s history to this very day. It is a nation who by being small, becomes a unique and abiding testimony to the One Who is greatest of all. It is a fact that Jews have impacted the world in a way that is completely out of proportion to their numbers. In science, in medicine, in literature, in music, in technology Jews have excelled. But it is not for themselves; it is because this people was chosen to take responsibility, to make a difference in the lives of others, to contribute significantly to the betterment of this world; ultimately, to demonstrate the presence of God to a floundering world.

The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Gandhi said: “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

This concept is embedded in the Jewish consciousness. One person, one small group, can change the world. Israel is called to model that; it is part of our calling to be a ‘light to the nations’. But understand this: it was never intended as a private possession of the Jews, unavailable to the rest of the world. It’s our job to demonstrate it; it’s the job of the rest of the nations to follow the example.

In Tune with Torah this week = one person can change history. How are YOU doing?

I look forward to your comments.

Shabbat shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Bechukotai May 16, 2014

BECHUKOTAI Leviticus/Vayikra 26:3 – 27:34

Standing in the checkout line at the supermarket yesterday, I noticed the cover of the current TIME magazine whose cover raised the question: how does our perception of the afterlife affect our lives and choices now? (That’s not an exact quote but that’s the essence of the question.) Interestingly, this week’s Torah portion deals in part with that very issue!

This week’s reading deals with blessings and with curses, with reward and punishment. The topic in its entirety is “broader than the ocean” and it is obviously beyond the scope of this blog post to explore all the issues involved. But we do want to take a look at this issue and specifically at what the Torah teaches regarding material vs spiritual prosperity and how that plays out in our lives.

We have seen earlier in our Torah meditations that on the one hand, obedience to God’s commandments and doing good in this life yields everlasting life in the world to come. But we have also read that obedience to God yields rewards in this life as well. Material well-being is one of the rewards of faithful observance of God’s commandments according to the Torah. Why then does it sometimes appear that the reality on the ground is different?

According to Maimonides, if a person’s actions demonstrate that his main interest in the material world is to make use of it to serve God and reach a high level of spiritual intimacy with the Alighty, God takes this into account and provides Him with the material necessities of life and releases him from the responsibility of worrying about the inputs of physical existence so that he is liberated to engage in higher pursuits.

If, on the other hand, a person demonstrates by the focus of his actions that he is interested in the level of his material well-being for its own sake, for his own pleasure unrelated to spiritual pursuits, and physical inputs are the main focus of his interest, then God burdens him with all sorts of physical problems. He becomes so occupied with the concerns of physical survival, of his own and of his family, that he is bereft of the time and the energy to devote to spiritual pursuits.

If we accept this perspective, we then understand that material blessings in this world are not an end in themselves, nor are they a “reward” in the classic sense of the word, but rather a means to deeper spirituality. That means then that our attitude towards material blessings may need some adjustment.

A startling concept concerning the proper orientation to spirituality is contained in these ideas. The Torah associates spiritual merit with physical well being because spiritual rewards and punishments (“blessings” and “curses”) require the same kind of diligent physical effort – or lack thereof – as material pursuits.

Developing an intimate, personal relationship with God requires time and energy. It requires a commitment of the heart to make such a pursuit the highest priority in one’s life. A person with that commitment doesn’t wait around for the time to do that; he makes the time to invest in spiritual development. In other words, he establishes right priorities and as the weeks and months go by, it becomes more and more obvious that other issues of life fall into place – in fact, they do so far better when his pursuit of spirituality takes on the highest value!

How then should we conceive of the world to come? The Sages send us back to our physical lives in this world in the search for the next. For example, if someone bought a spacious piece of land, had plans for a house drawn up by a great architect, hired the contractors, took out the necessary permits, but never built the house, he could never taste the joy of living in it. In the same way, if a person has every intention of doing great things, has a wonderful character and is truly good, a respected philanthropist, but has never invested the time and energy to come to know God in a personal way, he cannot spend eternity basking in the spiritual joy generated by his “good” works. He never built the spiritual house.

God put us into this world to get ourselves a life. The one we chose for ourselves is the only life that we have. Since our ‘life’ in the World to Come will be the spiritual reflection of this one, it follows that God, in a manner of speaking, has nothing to give us there. He can and does help us to build the best life possible while we are alive, provided we seek Him and follow Him; after death, the actions performed during our lives are the only reality. In the spiritual world there is nothing to be done for the person who doesn’t have much of a life. He has nothing on account in the spiritual banking system.

[Of course this general principle applies to people who chose not to do much with their lives of their own free will. We are not discussing here the tragedy of babies or children who die young, etc.)

In summary, God’s Torah teaches us that work has value, both spiritually and materially. Its value transcends our present life; its value reaches into the world to come.

In Tune with Torah this week = those who refuse to work now can turn to governmental welfare to get by;
in the world to come there is no ‘free lunch’. It is incumbent upon us NOW to invest the time,energy and purpose in building our relationship with God, our King and our Father. It is that relationship and the fruits of it that will determine our position in the World to Come. How interesting – TIME magazine has hit upon a critical subject that should be of concern to every human being!!

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Kedoshim/Shabbat Pesach Apr. 19, 2014

KEDOSHIM Leviticus 19-20 Exodus 12:21-51

This Shabbat falls during the festival of Passover and therefore, a specially chosen reading is heard in the synagogue service; i.e., the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. It is found in Exodus 12: 21-51 and I encourage you to read it during your quiet time.

However, for our purposes, I want to look at the Torah portion called Kedoshim which covers the 19th and 20th chapter of Leviticus. The opening words of the reading are an invitation that includes the entire congregation in a unique directive:

And God spoke to Moshe, saying, Speak to all the congregation of the People of Israel, and say to them, ‘You shall be holy; for I, The Eternal and Almighty God, am holy. (Vayikra 19:1-2)

Since the customary “God spoke to Moshe, saying” is expanded with the words ‘speak to the entire congregation’, we can assume that the message about to be shared is of the utmost importance and concerns every child of Israel from the greatest to the least. The words that immediately follow are, “you shall be holy,” yet the Torah does not define holiness, or even tell us precisely what to do to achieve holiness.

Countless definitions of holiness — or what it means to be a holy person — have been offered through the centuries. One thing is absolutely certain: holiness is NOT a matter of perfectly executed external rituals, performed in rote fashion. G-d forbid! Rituals DO have their place as a way of expressing our love towards God – and towards others. Celebrating a family member’s birthday, for example, is a ‘ritual’. Giving your prospective bride an engagement ring is a ‘ritual’.

There’s nothing wrong with ritual correctly applied. There is EVERYTHING wrong with ritual when it is a substitute for personal relationship with the Receiver. In the classic work, THE WAYS OF THE TZADDIKIM, we read, “There is no form of Divine Service higher than serving God out of love.”

Holiness is all about the heart, the soul. Holiness is all about LOVE.

In the Shema, we repeat the commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources…” And in another place we are told, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

No one can achieve holiness in a vacuum. The Torah knows nothing of holiness outside of living in community with other people. How do we learn to love all men (‘your neighbor as yourself)? By giving of ourselves.

Perhaps one of the greatest exhortations to a life of holiness is found in a personal letter written by the Ramban (Rabbi Moss ben Nachman, also known as Nachmanides) to his son, Nachman. The Ramban was born is Spain in the year 1195 and was one of Judaism’s greatest Sages. A prolific writer of classic texts on the Torah, at the age of 72, he settled in Israel, in the coastal city of Acco (Acre). We do not know the exact date on which he wrote this letter to his son, but we do know it was sent from Acco to Spain, where his son lived. To this day, these words are studied by thousands of Jews, eager to learn how to live a life of holiness. Here is a portion of the letter.

“…Accustom yourself to speak gently with all people for this will protect you from anger, a most serious character flaw…Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This sterling quality is the finest of all admirable traits…Through humility, the fear of God will intensify in your heart for you will always be aware of where you’ve come from and where you are destined to go…. When your actions display genuine humility…then the spirit of God’s presence will rest upon you…Let your words be spoken gently….let all men seem greater than you in your eyes. If another is more wise or wealthy than you, you must show him respect. And if he is poorer than you…consider that he may be more righteous than you are. If he sins, it may be through ignorance, while if you sin, it is deliberate for you should know better….In all your words, actions and thoughts — at all times — imagine that you are standing in the presence of the Holy One…”

This isn’t even the entire letter but there is more than enough in these excerpts to give us pause and to nourish our thoughts regarding our personal growth in holiness. The exhortations of the Ramban to his son regarding how he should behave towards others is simply a pattern for developing not only a love for other people, but that holiness which God has called all of us to achieve.

In Tune with Torah this week = As this week is devoted to meditating on the miraculous deliverance from slavery which our ancestors experienced, it behooves us to ponder our own condition. Are we ‘delivered’ from slavery to selfishness, to arrogance, to haughtiness? Or are we growing in our ability to love others as we love ourselves and to love God with all our heart, soul and resources?

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Pesach Sameach (A Joyful Holiday of Passover)

Weekly Torah Commentary — Mishpatim January 24, 2014

MISHPATIM Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

In this week’s portion we have instructions/teachings regarding civil relationships. They define personal liabilities and obligations regarding such matters as theft, personal injury, financial and marital obligations, labor employee relationships.

Instructions and guidelines for a civil society occupy a prominent place in Torah laws. To emphasize their importance, many of them are listed in this week’s parsha, which immediately follows the acceptance of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. This position reflects God’s attitude regarding the importance of their observance; the spiritual level of Israel in God’s eyes is directly correlated with the peoples’ dedication to their observance.

The Sage, Nachmonides, explains that Mishpatim are important as they spell out in detail the requirements of the proper observance of the Tenth commandment, You shall not covet your fellow’s house. You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your fellow. (20:14) Proper awareness of this commandment requires a clear recognition of what belongs to a fellow Jew in all these areas; it is his house, his wife etc.

Rabbi Chaim Vital then concludes that to the degree that a Jew faithfully obeys the tenth commandment, one can deduce his level of acceptance of the first commandment. I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before Me.

An aspect of true belief in an all knowing, all-powerful God has as its natural outcome the understanding that the blessings present in each life are divinely ordained. Therefore, those things that belong to his friend were designated by God to be his friend’s possessions, not his. To actively covet someone else’s possessions, then, is tantamount to questioning God’s judgment and His will, and demonstrates a lack of acceptance of the first commandment “I am the Lord your God…”.

God sends each of us to this world to work on our characters. Every individual’s particular life situation is designed by God to compel him/her to improve his inner being, to purify his soul, to mature into a godly person. To resist the demands of Torah instruction reveals the very area in which we need to grow. Far better to yield in obedience for what we resist, persists.

Torah instruction was never meant to be observed solely out of a sense of obligation, grudgingly and joyless. Rather, Torah guidelines are the “path of life”, David wrote, and the outline for a life of joy in relationship with the Holy One of Israel.

In fact, it is in the molding and shaping of the human character, that we discover the significance of Mishpatim. It is only the existence of Mishpatim that makes the sculpting of the human character a free will exercise. If a particular Torah commandment grates on one’s sensibilities, the choice to observe it out of love for God, even when it’s difficult, strengthens moral character and takes us one step closer to being what we created to be: creatures who reflect the image and likeness of God.

If, on the other hand, one chooses to follow his feelings and disregard Torah, that person’s character is damaged negatively. Repentance is the only means of turning that situation around.

In Tune with Torah this week = think about any of the commandments that you may find difficult to observe: are you prone to speak negatively about others? do you envy what others have or feel jealous? are you critical of other people? do you get angry easily? do you “tease” in such a way that others are humiliated? Each of these relates specifically to a Torah commandment. This Shabbat let us examine ourselves honestly and repent of those areas where we really do know better but have been reluctant to change.

Shabbat Shalom