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Rabbi's Corner

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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Dear Friend,

This Shabbat we will announce and bless the upcoming month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish year. We will also read the Torah portion of Ekev, which is a continuation of last week’s portion Ve’etchanan.

Once Elul begins, it is customary to blow shofar blasts daily to get into the frequency of the High Holidays. Unlike other instruments, the Shofar's sound is somber and sobering. It's a fitting sound for this time of year, and the Torah portions read at this time reflect this mood as well. 

In last week’s portion we read the primary statement prayer of our faith: “Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”, and its continuation: and you shall "Love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, all your soul and all your might”. 

This week’s portion includes the second portion of the Shema, which enjoins us “….To love G-d and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul..."

What does the second portion of the Shema add to the first? The key word in our portion is and to serve Him. Chapter one of the Shema is all about love; Chapter two on the other hand is all about serving G-d with awe and deep respect.

According to Lyrics.com, the word “awe” appears in American pop music 897 times, as opposed to “love” --which appears a whopping 330,441 times. This is very telling about the culture we live in and the emotions we value. Love wins, we are told. But what about awe, respect, reverence?

In the High Holiday prayers we refer to Hashem as "Our father, Our King”, a loving and caring father and at the same time, a supreme King whom we serve with  reverence.

In other news (and on topic): Just this week we mark 50 years from the Woodstock festival. In a pastoral letter penned eleven months prior to Woodstock, the Rebbe addresses the generation (and the vibe at the time) with the preamble (Igrot Kodesh v. 25) “Every generation has its advantages and challenges”. The Rebbe comments on the trend at the time, that of every social norm reevaluated and every possible yoke thrown off. The Rebbe then encourages an exception to this trend: accepting G-d’s sovereignty as King of the world. 

We have little, if any, frame of reference for accepting sovereignty upon ourselves. Our very country is built on rejecting the concept of a (human) king. This week’s Torah portion teaches and encourages us to meditate on this possibly foreign concept, getting ready emotionally and spiritually to evoke the deep feelings of both awe and love, as together we coronate the King of the universe anew on Rosh Hashanah, with the stirring sound of the Shofar.

I conclude with the beautiful blessings found in this week’s portion:

"…And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your soil, your grain, your wine, and your oil; the offspring of your cattle and the choice of your flocks, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you..."

A Guiding Light

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Dear Friend,

 

Today is a special, albeit not-too-famous day on the Jewish calendar: the fifteenth of Av, known as "Tu B'Av".

The Talmud relates that in biblical times, the daughters and sons of Israel would mingle in the fields, meeting each other in the hope of creating a Jewish home together.

It's significant that this date is the 15th of the lunar month-- a full moon. A full moon radiates a beautiful glow of a greater luminary, the sun. This is a profound reflection of the Jewish attitude in love and marriage, as well as the Jewish attitude to life in general. 

As human beings, we're meant to view our relationships and all that is dear to us, not as something we've earned or deserve, perhaps a love we're entitled to, but rather as a reflection of Gd's love and kind relationship to us. Everything we have is a gift, and true love is the wish to give more than we receive; to reflect G-d, the ultimate Giver, as the moon reflects the sun.

And just like the moon, there are up days and down days. The waning moon, a less-than-perfect day in life and relationships, comes with the understanding that this is just one part of the long game, and the moon will wax and shine luminously again. 

This is also a reflection of our collective history. We've had our fair share of times when we've felt alone, when we may have felt that the good times were over and it's all downhill now. But the 15th of Av reminds us that we are not a "widowed nation"; we have a loving provider above that loves us unconditionally. 

On this Shabbos, we celebrate this theme as we conclude the week of Tisha B'Av and the Nine Days of mourning and segway into bright, luminous and uplifting days ahead. Raizy and I look forward to greeting you at Chabad.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Shmuel Metzger

P.S. Some very exciting news happening at Chabad Sutton in September: GROW, our Montessori-inspired Jewish afterschool enrichment, will run every Wednesdays with sessions for children ages 4-6 and free pickup from P.S.59! Also in the works, three weekly baby & toddler classes at our MJM Baby Studio. Email manhattanjewishmontessori@gmail.com for info on all of the above.

Artwork by: Linda Frimer 

The Auto Pilot

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Dear Friend,
 

I pray that you’re enjoying a restful and re'jew'vinating summer. 

There is a style in Chabad Chassidic thought- especially pronounced in the Rebbe's teachings- that examines seemingly negative remarks in the Torah for an underlying positive. This is not spin; it is a natural outgrowth of a belief that Gd is goodness itself and the premise of creation of the universe - both macro and micro, for each each individual is a world- is the need of a kind Gd to bestow good. Consequently, as we approach Tisha B'Av, we examine the book of Eicha (Lamentations) and search for encoded blessing within an otherwise tragic and harsh reading.

The volume begins: 'The city [Jerusalem], once with the throngs, is now “בדד”- alone.'

At first glance, this would seem like the description of the sad fate of our people, fallen from glory, dispersed and desolate, doomed to a sort of national solitary confinement. 

But Rabbi David Kimhi (1130-1235), father of the Hebrew grammarians, gets right to work examining the word בדד - Auto. "Auto" can have negative connotations (think, “autistic”) but also positive meaning, as in “autonomous”. 

A quick scan of the Torah for this root word finds the prophet Balaam using it in a most positive sense: 'Am Lvodod Yishkon, Uvagoyim Loh Yischashov' (Numbers 23:9,  loosely translated: 'A nation on its own frequency, not concerning itself with the masses'. 

Now the word בדד- auto takes on a whole new meaning. Rather than a curse of aloneness, it is the blessing of simply being left alone to charter the course of our destiny with our unique moral and ethical code, the Torah. 

Our Torah is בדד -singular. Pop culture and the pop values it espouses are by definition transient. Is it such a curse to be singular against that backdrop? 

To be sure, we absorb and integrate ideas from the global marketplace. Take a look at any landmark synagogue and notice the substantial architectural influences: Moorish, Tudor, even Greek columns; this can be seen in Judaica, scribal arts and many other areas. But there are areas in which the Torah expects us to be the influencers, not the influenced: our morals, ethics and sense of law is our own, and we are expected to be a light among the nations. 

On Tisha B'Av, a day of reflection and introspection, when we abstain from food and drink and focus on that which we have lost and yearn for, we have the luxury of drowning out the background noise of the throngs and realigning our one and only self to the one and only Hashem. 

Good Shabbos/ Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Shmuel Metzger

Artwork by Vancouver based artist Linda Frimer 

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