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For Your Shabbat Table


"Never look a gift horse in the mouth"
Good idea generally, gift horses can be liabilities - expensive ones.
But if G-d is giving gifts, trust Him.
He is not a horse thief

If you don't trust G-d, then you trust no one: who can you trust?
And ultimately, you don't trust trust.
How can you get on a plane, if you don't trust pilots' licensing?
How can you cross the street if you trust no one to stop on a red light?
How can you buy food that isn't poisoned?

Still, He allows you to verify his Truth.
But He doesn't advise it:
If you're lucky, you'll confirm what He told you,
If you're not lucky, you won't be wiser, but you will be miserable.

But when you get a gift, He still wants you to check it out.
See how you will use it best: Is this a broodmare or a bloodhorse colt?
The spies in our parsha went to see if they should take the gift or not.
The spies a generation later went to see how best to take the land.

Moshe added the name of G-d to Joshua's name.
Without the name of G-d, Joshua might have gotten more involved in the horse than the race. 

See how you can do the best job, not if you should take the job or not.
Look the gifts G-d gives you in the mouth. Then go win the race.

How To Make Great Kids

Have you ever met someone truly great? A giant? Have you felt the awe of their presence that is only enhanced when they extend themselves to you, when they draw you in? If you haven’t yet, you have something to look forward to. 

Some thirty-five years ago, a promising philosophy student at Cambridge set out to meet the great Jewish thinkers (and doers) of the times. He met the Rebbe, he asked questions and the Rebbe answered. Towards what he believed was the end of the interview, the Rebbe said that he too would like to ask a question, namely: “What are you doing for Jewish life in Cambridge?” 

The student, Jonathan Sacks, is now chief rabbi of The British Commonwealth (and regardless of imposing titles, he truly, actually is great). When he assumed the chief rabbinate BBC interviewed him. They asked what made him become a rabbi. He responded that the Rebbe’s question -- what are you doing for Jewish life in Cambridge – started him on that road. 

Sacks speaks of the great personalities he met, how he sensed their greatness. In the Rebbe’s room he sensed something else: he sensed his own greatness. He maintains there is a common misconception about the Rebbe; that the Rebbe created followers. Sacks insists that he did not; he maintains that the Rebbe created leaders. 

“And you shall raise the (flames of) the candles” begins the parsha. “Kindle those flames,” encourages the Talmud, until they burn steady and strong, until they neither flicker nor waver. Then and only then are they ready for you to remove the fire with which you kindled them and you can move on to your next candle. 

I am now raising my grandchildren’s parents. Many of my students are now rabbis and rebbetzins. I pray that like Jonathan Sacks, they sense their own greatness.



This week's Parsha tells of twelve sets of gifts brought as offerings by each of the twelve  shevatim (tribes). Although the Torah does not waste words, and although each shevet seemingly brought the same gift, the Torah repeats word for word the exact order of their donation - "Reuven gave..., Shimon gave..., etc.", rather than simply saying "Reuven, Shimon,... and Binyamin each gave..."

Each of the items symbolized different things to different shevatim, relating to that shevet's role. In this sense, each shevet brought a different flavor to their gifts.
All of the tribes conform to the same Divine guidelines, all follow the same Torah, yet each one carries out those very same deeds with their own personal approach.

We often see tension between conformity and creativity, between tradition and innovation. People ask why Judaism has to be so rigid and conforming.  Where is creativity? On the one hand we need the foundation stones of our Jewish tradition; on the other, we need an outlet for our creativity, to personalize, to nurture our own individual talents.

Our Parsha tells us that this is not a contradiction. The entire nation, including individuals of every conceivable character and calling, can do the very same deed, down to every last detail, yet each person provides a unique flavor. Two people may do exactly the same thing in a very different manner.

In the same manner, we can live in a civilized society, governed by ethical  and moral precepts, yet still thrive as individuals. We can follow Torah and carry out its Commandments, yet still remain true to our sense of individuality. No matter how conformist Judaism (or society, for that matter) may seem, there is always room for personal expression. It does not, however, have to involve rebellion or non-conformity. On the contrary, the greatest personal expression comes from different individuals
who are following the same framework yet show diversity and individuality within that framework.

We were blessed with the framework of Torah, of Jewish teachings and practices. Let us endeavor to enjoy and celebrate our Judaism, in the traditions of our predecessors, yet with our own individual flavor - to keep it going for the next generation.


A few years ago, I was sitting at the dining room table when a movement outside the window caught my eye: I looked up to see a roadrunner. For those of you not in the Desert, a roadrunner is a bird: a cross between a woodpecker and an eagle that hasn't eaten for a week. From this roadrunner's mouth hung a white lizard, which looked like a Mattel dinosaur that hadn't been painted yet.

I ran to grab my new camera, a birthday present, a digital AK-47PX or something. My kids have been too busy to show me how it works and I've been too slow to learn. 

I snapped away as the roadrunner repeatedly flung the lizard to the ground until the lizard's neck became covered with blood. The pictures, of course didn't come out, so no, National Geographic hasn't come calling.

To the right and the left of our place, hundreds of homes have gone up. The desert vistas are giving way to tract homes. Those who haven't been to the desert are surprised when they get here; they expected endless sand dunes meandering around. Those who live here, think of it as hotter than Los Angeles, with better air than the Valley and less traffic than Orange County. With homes, golf courses, pools and malls the desert part of it is easily forgotten. Or ignored.

The desert is desolate, bare; where survival is chancy and death is a given. Where without irrigation and air-conditioning you would never go, never mind go for a honeymoon. But this is where the good L-rd took us as soon as we left Egypt.

There was no food, no water, and enough sun and scorpions to kill us all many times over. And we went. Blindly. Trustingly. 

He led, we followed. Years later the marriage went sour; He remembered our blind love and so He turned a blind eye. Then we got sour with Him and so we too, turned a blind eye. And we settle into being an old married couple, aware of each other's shortcomings and not looking to rock the boat. And before we have a chance to get grumpy there comes along a Rebbe that brings a zest and a zing and everything back into the marriage. And we're back on a honeymoon. 

For a honeymoon there is no place better than the Desert. Not because of the golf courses. The desert has its own beauty. The vastness, the emptiness the stark majesty calls to the fore something big, majestic and unchanging. Trees and grass, for all their beauty and usefulness, block that. Houses and fences, for all that we need them, call to mind our accomplishment. In the face of accomplishment, stark majesty is lost.

We go back to the desert, that state of blind love and that state of breathtaking majesty. Our love, His majesty. His love, that majesty that pulsates somewhere inside of us. Underneath all the accomplishments. Another anniversary draws close; we hold His hand and are grateful that our marriage feels young.

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