Get More Enthusiasm for Your Judaism!
שבת טעם החיים וארא תשע"ב
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Vaera 5772
Five Questions With Behind the Scenes Answers
Shabbos Zemiros Elucidated
מַה יְּדִידוּת מְנוּחָתֵךְ authored by Menachem over four hundred years ago
וְלַעֲרוֹךְ כַּמָּה מִינִים שְׁתוֹת יֵינוֹת מְבֻשָּׂמִים, to arrange on it many varieties – drinking of scented wines. It is the custom for Jews to prepare a variety of dishes in honor of the Holy Shabbos. Perhaps the reason for this is because in the Wilderness the manna tasted like anything a person can imagine, and many of our customs on Shabbos, such as covering the Challos, is to commemorate the manna. When we prepare a variety of dishes for Shabbos, we are commemorating the manna that had the taste of whatever one could imagine.
Those Who Can, Teach
I’m not a rabbi, I never studied in yeshiva, and there’s so much I don’t know. So why am I teaching Torah?
by Michael Steinberg
I’m almost 60 and I just started teaching Torah. I never expected to do this – but now I see that I can. In fact, I think I must. Let me explain.
I did not start out on the path of Torah. Growing up in Queens in the 1950s, my upbringing was secular: no God, no shul, no Shabbat. I wondered what my friends did in Hebrew school, but my parents didn’t send me, so that was that.
And that could have been the end of my Jewish journey. But in 1991, I became a father. Soon enough my four-year-old son was asking questions. Such questions! He’s a deep thinker and his questions exposed how little I knew: “Daddy, how old is the world? Will it exist forever?” Gulp!
I needed to learn – and quickly – so I could answer him. I started taking classes, and then more classes. Now I had questions of my own that needed answers! I was inspired by Torah tapes from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation, classes in the Florence Melton Mini-School, and articles at Aish.com.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.
That also could have been the end of the journey. But the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.
I began learning with a study partner through Partners in Torah. We learned the weekly Torah portion, then some Talmud, then some classic works on spiritual growth. Later, I found a second study partner, and then a third (including a 5 am weekly phone session with Rabbi Jack Kalla from Aish.com). My study partners were remarkably patient and generous, and the hours I spent learning with them were the high points of the week.
Then my shul launched a new study group on Shabbos afternoons to learn Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), the beautiful tractate of the Mishna dealing with ethical living and improving one’s character. I had never even heard of Pirkei Avot, but I already loved textual study, so I volunteered to lead the new group.
For the next two years, we slowly made our way through Pirkei Avot, covering one mishna each week. I prepared by studying Ethics from Sinai and other commentaries in English translation.
We made a Siyum (festive meal) when we completed the tractate. I felt a sense of accomplishment from being involved in something so meaningful. And that (last time, I promise) also could have been the end of the journey.
Can I Do More?
This past December I heard a powerful talk by Rabbi Shlomo Farhi at the Aish HaTorah Partners Conference. He mentioned a song with the chorus, “Avraham, are we the children that you dreamed of?” Would our forefather Abraham be pleased with the lives we are living today? The question unsettled something at my core.
Rabbi Farhi continued: When we pray, we often refer to God as “Elokay Yaakov,” the God of Jacob. Great, but what about us? What have we done to make Him our God, too? And is it enough?
Well, that did it. Wiping away tears, I tried to think about what else I could do. Slowly, it dawned on me that I can teach other Jews what I know, which is Pirkei Avot.
So I thought about the Jews I know who are not involved in some kind of regular learning. Then I asked four of them if they would be willing to learn with me by phone once a week. To my surprise, all four said “yes,” and they actually seemed excited about it!
Then I made a brief business visit to the home of a man I barely know. As I was leaving, I saw a baseball cap near the door that said, “Maimonides.” I asked about the cap.
He explained that he studied the Rambam’s “Guide to the Perplexed” back in high school and loved it. So I took a deep breath and asked if he’d like to learn with me. Once again, to my surprise, the answer was “yes.”
So now I learn weekly with five individuals, and they stimulate me with great questions, and I work hard to find good answers. It’s my way of grappling with the challenge that Rabbi Farhi posed.
But this raises a question: Who am I to teach Torah? I’m not a rabbi, I never studied in yeshiva, and there’s so much I don’t know.
Here is the answer given by the Chofetz Chaim.
At Agudah Yisrael's first meeting in the early 1930s, the Chofetz Chaim urged everyone to fulfill their obligation to do whatever they could to save their fellow Jews from the forces of assimilation that were raging through Europe during the era of "isms." His urging met with protest. "How we can tell others to do what we haven't perfected ourselves?"
The Chofetz Chaim responded with a parable. A traveler was invited by a wealthy man to have a cup of tea. When the guest looked into his cup, he saw sediment that had settled on the bottom. "Where is your water from?" he asked. When told that the town's water came from a local river, he advised his host that the town needed a filtration system. The system was installed, and thereafter, the water was crystal clear. It worked well until a huge fire broke out some time later and burned down half the town.
The next time the traveler was in town, he heard what had happened and inquired, "Couldn't you put out the fire?" The people replied, "It took a long time for the water to work its way through the filtration system, and there wasn't enough filtered water available to quickly control the flames."
"Fools!" said the traveler. "You don't need filtered water to put out a fire!"
The Chofetz Chaim went on to explain to those who resisted his call to outreach, "There is a fire raging in Klal Yisrael. We must grab whatever water we have and use it to douse the flames. Every Jew, on whatever level he or she is on, has to use his own capabilities to help extinguish the raging flames around us.”
The question is not, “How can I teach?” The real question is: “How can I not teach?”
Thank you, Rabbi Farhi.
This article is dedicated in loving memory of the author's father, Reuven ben Yaakov z''l. (www.aish.com)
A most difficult case
Rabbi Nosson Schapira of Krakow (1585-1633) once told of his most difficult case.
A wealthy businessman from Warsaw would do business each month in the Krakow market. On each visit he noticed an extremely pious widow huddled near her basket of bagels reciting Psalms. She only lifted her eyes from her worn prayer book to sell a bagel or roll. After the sale she'd shower her customer with a myriad of blessings and immediately she'd return to the frayed pages of her prayer book that were varnished with teardrops and devotion.
Upon observing her each month, the Krakow businessman came to a conclusion. "This pious woman should not have to struggle to earn a living. She should be able to pursue her prayers and piety with no worries."
He offered to double her monthly earnings on one condition: she would leave the bagel business and spend her time in the service of the L-rd. The woman, tears of joy streaming down her face, accepted the generous offer and thanked the kind man with praise, gratitude and blessing.
A month later, when the man returned to Krakow, he was shocked to find the woman at her usual place, mixing the sweet smell of bagels with the sweet words of Tehillim. As soon as he approached, the woman handed him an envelope. "Here is your money. I thought it over I can't accept your offer."
"A deal is a deal," he exclaimed. "We must see Rabbi Schapira!"
After the businessman presented his case, the woman spoke. "The reason this generous man offered to support me was to help me grow in my spirituality and devotion. From the day I left my bagel business I've only fallen. Let me explain.
"Every day that it would rain, I would think of the farmers who planted the wheat for my bagels. I would sing praises for the glory of rain as I felt the personal guidance of Hashem with each raindrop. When the sun would shine I would once again thank Hashem from letting the farmers harvest in good weather. When I would grind the flour and then sift it again I'd find countless reasons to thank the Almighty. When the bread would bake golden brown I'd thank Hashem for the beauty of the product and its sweet sell. And when a customer would come I'd thank both Hashem for sending him and then bless my patron, too! Now this is all gone, I want no part of a simple, all-expense-paid life." (www.Torah.org)
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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