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Parshat Korach

06/23/2017 11:00:16 AM

Jun23

 

 

Parshat Korach

What are we fighting for?

Everyone likes to win an argument and it is especially satisfying when the other side is completely wrong.  But how often does that really happen?  In this week’s parsha we read about the rebellion against Moshe and Aharon led by Korach.  God has clearly chosen Moshe and Aharon to lead the Israelites and Korach and his followers are destroyed because of their rebellion.  Their incense pans are then used to plate the altar as a reminder against those who might think of usurping a position for which they have not been designated.  The Torah says this reminder is for everyone, “Velo Yihiye KeKorach Vecha’adato, So that no one will be like Korach and his band.”  But taking this phrase out of the rest of the sentence, it can be translated as, “And no one will be like Korach and his band”-a prescriptive statement.  Rabbi Shmuel Brot comments that in every generation there are disagreements, but Moshe and Korach’s stands out.  Because Moshe was 100% right and Korach was 100% wrong.  And the prescriptive statement is true, there will never be another situation like that.  In the future there will disagreements and disputes, but no one side will own 100% of the truth.  Knowing that both sides have some of the truth should make us approach every argument and dispute differently.  Instead of trying to win we should try and seek the truth, which means not picking one side over another, but finding the truth in both sides and combining them. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rav Sela

 

Parshat Shelach Lecha

06/15/2017 04:00:22 PM

Jun15

Rav Sela

 

What will the neighbors think?

We all judge people, it is part of human nature.  So we assume that people are always judging us.  This can be useful if it keeps us from doing things that we already know are bad, but it can be really harmful when it keeps us from doing good.  In this week’s parsha we read about the spies that were sent out to check out the Land of Israel before Moshe was supposed to lead the Israelites into the land.  The spies come back with a report that the land is indeed very fertile, but they scare the rest of the Israelites with their report about the inhabitants.  They say, “We saw the Nefilim there, and giants, and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.”  Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk says that this was one of the sins of the spies, that they assumed to know what someone else was thinking, and that they even cared.  How did they know what the Canaanites thought about them?  They did not ask or overhear.  If you know that something is wrong, then knowing that someone else also disapproves of it may help keep you from doing it.  But if you know that it is the right thing to do, then who cares what someone else might think.  If it might appear to be bad then you probably need to explain yourself so that no one misunderstands you.  But we can’t live our lives always worried about what the neighbors might think, especially if it prevents us from doing the right thing.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

Parshat Beha’alotcha

06/08/2017 08:00:22 PM

Jun8

Rav Sela


What do you have to be proud of?


There is a thin line between confidence and pride.  Confidence allows us to act in the world, but excessive pride ultimately causes our downfall.  In this week’s parsha we read the famous line that Moshe was the most humble man on earth.  How is this possible?  He spoke with God, he was the leader of his people?  How could he not have been arrogant?  Rabbi Refael Shapiro comments that people can find all kinds of excuses for their sins, all except for the sin of pride.  He explains that after you die, when you appear be God as a judge and God asks, “Did you study Torah?”  You can say, “No, I was an ignoramus.”  “Did you pray and do good deeds?”  You can say, “No, I didn’t have the time because I was earning a living to support my family.”  “Did you limit your pleasures and fast?”  You can say, “No, I was weak and afraid I would become sick.”  “Did you give money to charity?”  You can say, “No, I was desperately poor my whole life.”  But if God then asks, “An ignorant, weak and poor person like yourself, why were you proud and haughty?  What is the source of your arrogance?”  For this there is no excuse.  If we have studied Torah, prayed and done good deeds, given to charity, limited our pleasures, then we might have a reason to be prideful or self-righteous.  But do you think that a person who does all of those would be proud?  How was Moshe the most humble person on earth?  Because the greater he grew in his piety and generosity, the more he understood of the lengths that he still had yet to go.  The more he understood of what he had not yet done, and any sense of pride or haughtiness was eliminated.  We should be confident in the good that we do, but never overly proud, and the more good that we do, the more we realize we can do and still have yet to do.

Shabbat Shalom
Rav Sela

May 26th - Parshat Bemidbar

05/25/2017 08:00:22 PM

May25

Rav Sela

 

Something from Nothing

There is an old joke that one should keep an open mind, but not so open that one's brain falls out.  This week we begin reading the book of Bemidbar, which means in the desert.  And it begins with a census of the Israelites and a listing of the princes of the 12 tribes.  Rabbi Avraham HaMalach teaches that even the names of the princes have something to teach us.  Verse eight tells us that the prince from the tribe of Issachar is Netanel ben Tzu'ar.  Rabbi Avraham teaches that Issachar comes from the word Sachar, which means reward, and is referring to the Torah.  Netanel translates directly to "God gives".  And Tzu'ar comes from the word Tzo'ar, which means insignificant.  Putting it all together.  The Torah is given by God to the insignificant.  What does this mean?  He explains, based on a quote from the Talmud, that one who makes himself humble and open like a desert, merits the gift of Torah.  Torah cannot dwell where there is no space.  If we already know everything then there is no need to study.  But if we can admit our ignorance, that we still have more to learn, then the Torah can be a part of our lives and we can grow.  We are less than a week from Shavu'ot, where we celebrate the giving and receiving of the Torah.  Let us prepare ourselves to receive this inheritance of our people by making ourselves open to it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

Parshat Beha’alotcha

05/25/2017 08:00:22 PM

May25

Rav Sela

 

What do you have to be proud of?


There is a thin line between confidence and pride.  Confidence allows us to act in the world, but excessive pride ultimately causes our downfall.  In this week’s parsha we read the famous line that Moshe was the most humble man on earth.  How is this possible?  He spoke with God, he was the leader of his people?  How could he not have been arrogant?  Rabbi Refael Shapiro comments that people can find all kinds of excuses for their sins, all except for the sin of pride.  He explains that after you die, when you appear be God as a judge and God asks, “Did you study Torah?”  You can say, “No, I was an ignoramus.”  “Did you pray and do good deeds?”  You can say, “No, I didn’t have the time because I was earning a living to support my family.”  “Did you limit your pleasures and fast?”  You can say, “No, I was weak and afraid I would become sick.”  “Did you give money to charity?”  You can say, “No, I was desperately poor my whole life.”  But if God then asks, “An ignorant, weak and poor person like yourself, why were you proud and haughty?  What is the source of your arrogance?”  For this there is no excuse.  If we have studied Torah, prayed and done good deeds, given to charity, limited our pleasures, then we might have a reason to be prideful or self-righteous.  But do you think that a person who does all of those would be proud?  How was Moshe the most humble person on earth?  Because the greater he grew in his piety and generosity, the more he understood of the lengths that he still had yet to go.  The more he understood of what he had not yet done, and any sense of pride or haughtiness was eliminated.  We should be confident in the good that we do, but never overly proud, and the more good that we do, the more we realize we can do and still have yet to do.

Shabbat Shalom
Rav Selantent.

May 18th - Parshat Behar-Bechukotai 

05/18/2017 08:10:11 PM

May18

Who do we help?

There always seems to be someone asking for help, but I can't help everyone, so what do I do?  In this week's parsha we read about the commandment to help our fellow man.  It is phrased in an interesting way, "Ki Yamuch Ahicha Umata Yado Imach Vehechezakta Bo Ger Vetosh VaChai Imach, If your brother, being in distress, comes under your authority, and you hold him like a resident alien, let him live by your...Read more...

May 12th - Parshat Amor

05/11/2017 07:38:55 PM

May11

 

We are often torn between making a living and making life worth living.  Right now we are in the period time between Pesach and Shavu'ot called Sefirat Ha'omer, where we count the 49 days up to Shavu'ot, and in the Temple an omer's amount of barley was waved each day.  On the fiftieth day, Shavu'ot, the grain was baked into bread and we celebrate the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.  Rabbi Ya'akov ben Moshe Levi Meolin, better known as the Maharil, asks what the connection is between waving grain and the celebration of the Torah?  He answers by quoting Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya in Pirkei Avot, "Im Ein Kemach Ein Torah, Im Ein Torah, Ein Kemach.  If there is no flour, there is no Torah.  If there is no Torah, there is no flour."  How does this answer his question?  Because a Torah is not made from flour.  Rather, flour is a metaphor for the physical sustenance we need in life.  If our basic physical needs are not met, then it is hard to worry about our spiritual needs.  But, on the other hand, if we ignore our spiritual needs, then we find no meaning or direction in our life, and our physical existence is pointless.  As with most things in life, there is a delicate balance.  During this time that leads up to Shavu'ot it is a good opportunity to see if your life is in balance.  Are you spending the right about of time on both your physical and spiritual needs?  Because focusing too much on spiritual needs can lead to physical deterioration, and an inability to function, but focusing too much on the physical needs can lead to malaise and existential angst

Shabbat Shalom

Rav Sela

05/10/2017 07:11:38 PM

May10

May 6th, 2017

Separate and Together

Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim

A woman was upset because she felt that her husband was not being a good person.  She figured that sending him to church would straighten him out.  So she made him go to church, but when we came home he went straight to the neighbor's house and had an affair with his neighbor.  "What are you doing!?!" demanded his wife.  "Well," he replied, "In church I learned that we are supposed to love our neighbors."

Religion can be confusing at times.  In this week's parsha we feel a certain amount of tension between the poles of separation and unification.  Dr. Stephen Geller points out, following Rashi, that so many of the laws regarding holiness have to do with separation.  Leading a holy life means not doing a lot of things.  Eat this, but not this.  Sacrifice this, but not this.  Marry this person, but none of these people.  And many religious traditions have ascetic paths, where the more we separate ourselves from things, the more religious we are.  But at the same time, we are pulled and even commanded to come close to one another and to God.  The sacrifices are called Korbanot, that which brings us close to God.  And as much as we are commanded regarding people that we cannot be intimate with, we are also commanded in this week's parsha to both love our neighbors and love the stranger.  Obviously, there is a difference between romantic love and platonic love, but we still see the tension between separating ourselves from some things, while at the same time bringing ourselves closer to others.  This can be very difficult.  Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, died in last week's parsha for trying to come close to God in the wrong way.  So we have to constantly strive to find that correct balance between coming close in an appropriate way, and separating ourselves from inappropriate things.  How do we do that?  Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel explains that when we pray, we shouldn't just be asking God for things.  But rather we should be trying to align our will with God's will, to understand things as God does, so that we can understand our role in the universe.  When we understand that role, it is easier to know what is appropriate and what is not.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

05/01/2017 07:15:32 PM

May1

Pointing the Finger

Parshat Tazria-Metzora

After I take my nap on Shabbat afternoon one of the things that I enjoy doing with my kids is playing board games. Some people like board games, some do not, but I know that a lot of people like to play the game, “What do you think about so-and-so?” When the so-and-so is a thing or an idea, like the new version of the ipad, or the idea of America’s role in international organizations, then it is a fun and interesting game to play. When the so-and-so is a person, then it is gossiping, and it is not something that I want to be a part of.

We love finding fault in others, but we rarely spend the time to look deeply at our own lives and see how we can improve them. And even if we do, we are often too biased about ourselves to do an honest evaluation. Asking a confidant about a personal character trait, in order to try and improve ourselves, is not a bad place to start, but we also shouldn’t be overly critical of ourselves.

In this week’s parsha we read about the strange disease tzara’at, which can infect skin, clothing and homes. When a person finds it in their home the Torah says that the person should tell the kohen, “Kenega Nirah Li Babayit, Something like an eruption has appeared to me on the house.” Rabbi Joseph Carlebach, known as the Ish Yehudi, quotes Rashi that even if the person knows for sure that it is an eruption, the person says “like an eruption” because it is up to the priest to make the determination. A good friend can be an honest evaluator of our behavior. But, he goes on to add, that if we are supposed to hedge when describing something of our own, how much the more so when we think about someone else. Hey Joe, was I rude to Jane when I said, blah blah blah. No, I don’t think so. OK, thanks. But I know that Jane was really rude to John when she said blah blah blah. It is much better to improve ourselves by worrying about our flaws, then by finding fault in others.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rav Sela

05/01/2017 07:14:51 PM

May1

Virtual or Real

Parshat Shemini

Today we are becoming so accustomed to virtual reality, that we have forgotten the power of actual reality.

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the initiation of the worship in the Mishkan. Chapter 9 verses 5 and 6 say, “Vayakrivu Kol Ha’edah Va’ya’amdu Lifnei Adonai, Vayomer Moshe, Zeh Hadavar Asher Tziva Adonai Ta’asu Vayera Aleichem Kevod Adonai, And the whole community drew close together, and they stood in God’s presence, and Moshe said, This is what God commanded you to do, and the glory of God will appear to you.” Many Rabbis notice that Moshe had not previously said what God had commanded in order for his glory to appear. Rabbi Moshe Cohen comments that the community’s coming together to be in God’s presence is what God had commanded. Not specifically, but that is always what God wants, that sense of unity and harmony among people. And when we come together with that sense of unity and harmony then we indeed see the glory of God, which is the ability to see past the trivial distinctions that divide us, and we see the deep similarities that unite us.

Technology has provided us with the opportunity to communicate across amazing distances, but it is no substitute for actually being together in one another’s presence. A virtual connection is just that virtual, and it is better than no connection, but it barely compares to a real connection. So don’t forget that a synagogue is called a Beit Knesset, a house of assembly, so come and assemble, join together, feel a real connection, and sense God’s presence.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rav Sela

Sat, October 21 2017 1 Cheshvan 5778