Tag Archives: Old Testament

How You Can Bring the Holiness of God Right into Your Home

“And a person if/when he will sanctify his house holy to G-d, and the Kohen will evaluate it whether good or whether bad . . .” (Vayikra/Leviticus 24:17). Ostensibly, the Torah discusses the process for donating a house to support the Holy Temple.How You Can Bring the Holiness of God Right into Your Home

This coming Sabbath we complete the book of Vayikra/Leviticus by reading a double Parshah, Behar and Bechukosai.  In Behar, we learn about the shemitah or sabbatical year and the yovel or jubilee year, laws about selling land, and how to prevent poverty.

Bechukosai gives the blessings and the curses that will befall the Israelites depending on whether they follow G-d’s decrees and commandments. The rest of the parshah deals with gifts to the Temple and how they are redeemed, how houses and fields are redeemed, and tithes.

Maybe it is because I spent so many years appraising real estate, but when I think of evaluating a house as a donation the words more or less valuable, not good or bad, come to mind. Truly there are bad houses, like the haunted ones that torment their inhabitants, but I doubt that is what the Torah has in mind. There must be something more.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk comments that it is comparatively easy for a person to be in a sanctified state when he is engaged in spiritual matters. But to be truly holy, a person must sanctify the mundane, daily activities of managing a household and act properly even when only G-d is watching, such as in his house.

This sounds good in principle. But how do we do it?

Do you speak to your family as nicely as you to do to your commanding officer, supervisor, or customer? Do you take as much care with household chores as you do with your job? A home should be a place in which you can be yourself, but is it proper to expend your better self on co-workers and then subject your family to the leftovers?

Perhaps you will think about orienting your day so that it begins when you get home. Click here to learn how.

When we consider how difficult it can be to connect with G-d through prayer, the challenge of elevating run-of-the-mill tasks may seem insurmountable. Yet, if we truly wish to improve our relationship with Our Creator we must strive to elevate our home life so that when the Kohen comes to evaluate it his unavoidable assessment is good.

Question – What ideas do you have for sanctifying your home?

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Why Humility is an Important Accomplishment

Vayomer Moshe el-Aharon, kerav el-hamizbeach . . . “And Moses said to Aaron, draw near to the Altar.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 9:7). Moses has just explained to Aaron how to bring the offerings. Why does he have to repeat his instructions?Why Humility is an Important Accomplishment

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Shemini.  It tells of the offerings Aaron will bring; how his sons Nadav and Avihu bring an offering G-d has not requested and are killed as a result; the prohibition against the Kohanim drinking wine; which mammals, fish, birds, and creeping things the Israelites may eat; and what to do if a vessel becomes tamei/spiritually contaminated.

Through the whole ordeal with Pharaoh Moses never had to tell Aaron what to do a second time. Citing Toras Kohanim, Rashi notes that Aaron was too afraid and embarrassed to approach the Altar. Being a man of such tremendous humility he could not reconcile to being chosen as the High Priest. Moses tells his brother this very feeling of unworthiness is what qualifies him for the job.

As we develop humility, one thing we notice is how little we know about so many subjects. Nonetheless, opportunities for accomplishment and to lead arise. Despite feeling unqualified we must embrace these occasions since we serve other people and by taking ourselves out of our comfort zone grow our own spirits too.

Our humility will make us better teachers and leaders since we will be open to advice, input, ideas, and criticism from those with whom we engage, enriching everyone’s experience.

Question – What holds you back from worthwhile accomplishments?

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How to Improve Your Character a Step at a Time

Passover is upon us so this coming Sabbath the Torah reading is drawn from Parshas Ki Sisa, which I wrote about the end of February.

How to Improve Your Character a Step at a Time

During the time the Temple in Jerusalem stood, on the second day of Passover the Omer, an offering of barley, was brought after which the new crop of grain could be eaten. Today, we commemorate the Omer through a practice known as Sefiras HaOmer, Counting the Omer. It lasts for forty-nine days. A period of semi-mourning, during this time 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died due to their lack of unity. The day after the count ends is Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

In the course of this seven-week period five events take place: Yom Hashoah, a remembrance day for the Holocaust; Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for those who gave their lives in defense of the State of Israel; Yom HaAtzmut, Israeli Independence Day; Lag BaOmer, a break in the semi-mourning observed during the Counting; and Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.

Counting the Omer is a very powerful tool for self-renewal. Each week has as its theme a character trait on which we work. The first week is dedicated to Chesed, loving-kindness. For the seven days of the week, we work on attributes of this quality. The first day is pure loving-kindness. The second day is loving-kindness balanced by Gevurah, justice and discipline. The third is loving-kindness enhanced by Tiferes, harmony and compassion. The fourth is Netzach, endurance in loving-kindness. Day five is Hod, humility in loving-kindness. Day six is Yesod, bonding through loving-kindness. And the seventh day is loving-kindness in Malchus, sovereignty and leadership. Succeeding weeks follow this pattern.

We should be very intentional about practicing each trait each day of the count. To help I have created a worksheet so you can see the characteristic on which you should work. Each day fill in the task you did so you can keep track of your progress. Please click here to get the worksheet: CountingOmer

We can make the world a better place by improving ourselves. But expecting our characters to develop without purposely changing our behavior only leads to frustration. Counting the Omer gives us the opportunity to elevate our spirits while having a positive impact on those around us. Indeed is this not that for which Our Creator yearns?

Question – When you decide you want to change your behavior what steps do you take to do so?

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You Listen, You Stay Healthy

“You will surely become weary, also you, also this people that is with you.” (Shemos/Exodus 18:18)

Jethro meets Moses in the wilderness and expresses his concern that constantly teaching and judging the Children of Israel is too exhausting.

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Yisro. In it Moses is reunited with his father-in-law Yisro/Jethro, a Mindianite priest who heard about the wonders G-d performed for the Children of Israel. Jethro recommends a leadership plan to Moses that he implements.

The Children of Israel arrive at Mount Sinai where they voluntarily accept the Torah. Then they prepare themselves to receive the Ten Commandments. Our sages bring several opinions as to what they heard. Rashi and the Rambam explain that every Jew heard all Ten Commandments in one instant but could not comprehend them. So G-d repeated them and after the first two they were so overawed they begged Moses to intercede and then teach them the other eight.

Perhaps in your mind’s ear you can hear the proverbial Yiddishe mama worrying about her boy’s health, but a Yiddishe father-in-law?

Moses was very idealistic, with seemingly limitless compassion for his people. Great as he was, it took an outsider to perceive that he needed to share his burden so as not to burn out. Seems to be an obvious lesson, yet how often have you found your life out of balance because you were so focused on your goal? Did your spouse, child, or a friend try to get you to broaden your perspective? Did you listen?

Many times while I was deployed sailors whose job performance was not up to par came to see me. Frequently they justified their substandard work by listing the many people: family, friends, and coworkers, whom they were helping. My response never varied: “How does it help them if you lose your job? No more money for financial assistance to be sure, but worse, you would become a burden.”

Selflessness is admirable. But it cannot come at the cost of your physical, mental, or spiritual wellbeing. Comes Jethro to remind you to be open to the message of a loved one to guard your health.

Question – Is self-sacrifice noble? Please leave a comment below.

Don’t Let Your Weaknesses Make You Feel Inferior

“And Moses said to the people, do not fear, stand and see the salvation of G-d that He will do for you today.” (Shemos/Exodus 14:13)

When the Children of Israel thought they were trapped between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army they panicked, complaining that Moses brought them out of Egypt to die in the wilderness. Just days before they witnessed the miraculous Exodus. How could they have lost faith so quickly?

This coming Sabbath we read Parshas Beshalach. In it the Children of Israel leave Egypt only to have Pharaoh once again change his mind and chase them. G-d splits the Reed (usually incorrectly translated as the Red) Sea and the Children of Israel walk between two walls of water on dry land while the Egyptians are drowned. They sing the Song of the Sea thanking G-d for their deliverance.

On their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites complain they are hungry and thirsty and are given Manna from heaven and water from a rock.

After making the same mistake for the umpteenth time, too often I find myself lapsing into despair. The defeats weigh heavily on my spiritual fitness. So in a small way I can appreciate how the Children of Israel must have felt. Following centuries of being slaves, is it surprising that they did not prepare to defend themselves against their former masters? Though they vastly outnumbered them, as the Ibn Ezra notes, from their youth the Israelites bore the yoke of Egypt’s oppression. Such feelings of inferiority prevented them from fighting.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented that the same principle applies to everyone. If you view yourself as inferior or feel excessive guilt, you will be unable to combat your yetzer hara (evil inclination). Lacking faith in your ability to prevail over your oppressor, at the slightest negative impulse you will get completely discouraged.

Your task then is to view the elevated aspects of your character. Focus on your strengths, internalize knowledge of your assets, and your resolve to triumph over your weaknesses will be unshakable. You will succeed because you see yourself as a good, worthwhile person.

Question – How can you focus on your strengths but avoid becoming or being perceived as conceited? Please leave a comment below.

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