If you are one of those people who doesn’t venture out of the house out of fear of the heaven falling on you, don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of company. There have been people with such fears around for thousands of years. When Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) asked the raw, wild, and tough Celts what they feared, they replied that they were afraid of nothing but the heaven falling on them. However, if this is your primary fear, it may be wise to pick up a copy of “The Sky Is Falling: Understanding and Coping With Phobias, Panic, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders” by Raeann Dumont. You will surely find it informative and immeasurably helpful!
I for one have never been afraid of the sky falling on me, but there have been a number of times that something actually dropped on me from Heaven. It didn’t come in a package delivered by a stork and swaddled in white, and it didn’t hit me like a meteorite falling from the stratosphere (which would have gone right through me without slowing a bit). Rather, it was the experience of an event occurring in my life that was so clearly Heaven-sent that I just wanted to look up to heaven and say, “Thank you Hashem, do you want me to sign for that?”
One of the first times I felt this way was a morning in late August, 1997. I was lying lazily in bed, reflecting on my long summer, and preparing myself for the inevitable getting out of bed that occurred on most mornings in the end of that summer. The phone rang, and I groggily answered. Through the haze, I could hear someone on the other end of the line asking me if I wanted a job teaching high school students with learning disabilities in the coming school year. At that point in my life, I was eighteen years old, only one year out of high school, and a teaching job seemed as sensible as spending a winter drilling ice in the North Pole, or opening a sweatshop to make clothes to export back to China. I didn’t apply for any jobs, didn’t have any degrees on my wall, and had other plans for the coming year.
But I looked into the teaching opportunity, spoke to my Rabbis, and eventually took the job. I taught in that high school for eight years, and it was one of the most formative, fun, fruitful, and formidable experiences in my life. It taught me about myself, about relating to others, and about how to communicate effectively. I certainly learned more than I taught. Every time I think back to that experience, I’m amazed at how G-d dropped it on me from out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting it, looking for it, or even considering it, yet G-d knew it was best for me, so He sent it to me.
A friend of mine recently told me a story that has the exact same modus operandi. He has a flourishing commercial real estate business. I asked him how he got started and he told me the following story.
He had been running a cell phone store for a few years and it was not working out. Eventually, it fell to the point that he was evicted from his storefront. As part of the eviction, he needed to appear in court with his landlord. Upon arriving, he saw that his landlord was an elderly European Jew, clearly a survivor, in his late eighties or early nineties. My friend tried to convince the landlord to give him another extension on the rent, but the man said no. Enough was enough; it was time to start earning money on that storefront.
They waited patiently until their turn came to appear before the judge, but it “so happened” that they were the last case on the docket and it wasn’t until 12:23 that their case came up before the judge. Lunch breaks are what separate the civil servants from the self employed. The civil servant start his break a bit early and stays a bit late, after all it isn’t going to affect their bottom line. Their salary and benefits are the same, regardless of how long they eat lunch, and they see Uncle Sam as the benevolent type, who would probably just stroke his beard and say, “Take yourself a little extra time today, why don’t you?” The self employed man doesn’t know what lunch is.
Looking at his watch, the judge announced that he wouldn’t have time to finish this last case before lunch, so he needs to take a break, and he will be back at 1:30! Now my friend and the elderly gentleman who was about to kick him out onto the street are stuck waiting in a hallway together for an hour. They start schmoozing (read between the lines: my friend continues bugging the man and he is adamant). Finally, my friend says out of nowhere, “Look you’re getting older, why don’t you just sell me the whole building?” (Nothing like buttering someone up with a nice compliment before going in with the big pitch!) The man says, “Fine, give me 2 million for it.” My friend agrees, knowing the value of the building, and the ease with which he would find investors, and they shook on it.
By the next day, my friend showed up to the closing with the proper investors lined up and the down payment secured. The man’s son was there trying to convince his father not to go through with the sale as he felt the building was worth closer to four million! The man, a true old timer with old time values, who was already very wealth, declared that once he shook his hand, he wouldn’t consider changing his mind, and my friend got the building. The rest is history. His business has taken off, and thank G-d, he is now very prosperous. It was exactly when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, when he was being evicted from an unsuccessful business, that he suddenly got a package, marked “Airmail Express, From G-d to You!”
The first of the Ten Commandments is, “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” According to many commentators this is a commandment to believe in G-d. But this is troubling. How can G-d command us to believe in something we can’t see? Either we believe or we don’t!
Furthermore, in this statement, G-d was handing His people his calling card, telling us for eternity who He was. That being the case, why did G-d use the example of taking us out of Egypt? If He wanted to show us His biggest accomplishment shouldn’t He have mentioned that He created the world!?
One idea answers both questions. The reason G-d used the example of the Exodus was that it was something the Jews had just experienced; they had seen G-d’s hand playing a role in their lives. G-d was telling the Jews, “I am the Lord, your G-d, who is intimately involved in your lives! I didn’t just create you and walk away; I have an ongoing relationship with you! You just saw me clearly, as I took you out of Egypt with open miracles and great wonders!”
This concept explains how G-d can command us to believe in Him. The commandment exhorts us to look into our lives and see those times when it was clear that G-d was sending us a message, to find those times where the events of our lives could only be described as Divinely arranged! We can be commanded to believe, because all we need to do is look at our lives and we will surely find quite a few times where G-d sent us a package. And if we just squint a bit, we can even read the faint writing on those heaven sent packages.
“From Me, to you, with Love!”
Parsha Dvar Torah
This week’s Pasha, Ki Tisa, tells of one of the darkest moments in the Jewish people’s history, the serving of the Golden Calf. Many questions abound, with the most pressing: how could they fall to such a low point a mere 40 days after seeing G-d reveal Himself? Let us focus on another question, and through that we can bring some clarity to this dismal event in Jewish history.
When Moshe saw the people serving the Golden Calf, he took the tablets he was holding and dashed them to the ground. Why? Granted, the Jews weren’t ready or deserving of them, but why take tablets with G-d’s writing on them and destroy them? Wouldn’t that be analogous to a rabbi whose congregation is going astray, taking the Sefer Torah out of the ark and burning it?
The third of Maimonides Principles of Faith states, “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, Blessed is His Name, is not physical and is not affected by physical phenomena, and that there is no comparison whatsoever to Him.” This is one of the hardest principles for human beings to relate to, because everything we see, feel, and relate to is physical. The idea of G-d being totally divorced from physicality is something we struggle to comprehend.
This challenge is what drove the Jews to worship the Golden Calf. They weren’t trying to serve another G-d, a different G-d, but rather were trying to find a way to capture some of G-d’s essence in a physical being. That is why after creating the golden calf, they proclaimed, “This is your G-d, Israel!” They weren’t refering to a new god, rather they saw this as the G-d of Israel, the one who took them out of Egypt, but in a tangible physical package. They wanted a concrete, corporeal edifice that would rule the physical world. But, of course, this defeats the reality of G-d, and the purpose of man. This was an attempt to bring G-d down into the physical lower world, rather than trying to climb from the physical world to the loftier spiritual world.
When Moshe came down the mountain, he immediately ascertained the people’s mistake. To prove it to them in the strongest terms, he took the tablets and dashed them to the ground. This was his way of showing the people that real holiness, all of which emanates from G-d, is not physical, and can’t be bound by the physical. Even the tablets with G-d’s own writing can be destroyed because they have no inherent spirituality. The only spirituality they have is when it is infused with G-dliness, but in and of themselves, they have nothing.
Furthermore, Moshe was afraid that if he were to destroy the calf but leave the tablets intact, the people would transfer their mistaken ideology, and try to put G-dly powers and holiness into the tablets. Thus, it was imperative that Moshe destroy the tablets for the dual purpose of not leaving the Jews a stumbling block and teaching them that nothing physical has inherent spirituality. To this day, that message still resonates, reminding us not to give powers to anything physical, not money, good looks, or physical strength. On Wall Street, money is worshipped, in a gym, muscles are venerated, and in Hollywood good looks are divine, but in the Jewish home, we serve G-d and G-d alone!
This week’s Parsha, Ki Tisa, begins with G-d commanding the Jews to take a census by having each Jew donate a half-shekel, and then counting all the coins. This teaches us that we are never whole until we join with other Jews. Then we are instructed to make a laver (a receptacle that holds water and has faucets used for washing) for the temple, so that the Kohanim can wash themselves before going in to serve in the Temple. We can relate to this by remembering that service of G-d is sacred, and there should be both a mental and physical sanctification before beginning services. This translates into not rushing into prayers with our minds still on our business or our hands greasy from that pastrami sandwich we just had for lunch!
Next, we are commanded to make a special anointing oil used to consecrate vessels and Kohanim for temple service. We are also told to make a unique incense that was burned in the Tabernacle twice daily on its own dedicated golden altar. Both the oil and incense were not allowed to be made for laymen’s purposes.
Now the Torah focuses on the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle. Ha-shem commands Moshe to take Bezalel and Oholiav as assistants to aid him in building the Mishkan and in making the priestly vestments. After that, the Torah repeats the Mitzvah of keeping Shabbos. The Sages learn from the juxtaposition of these two ideas that one cannot desecrate Shabbos even for the purposes of building the Mishkan. They also learn that the actions we are not allowed to do on Shabbos are related to the types of labor involved in building the Tabernalce, which the Sages delineated as the 39 Categories of Work.
Finally, the Parsha turns to one of the darkest moments in Jewish history. Moshe ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets, and tells the Jews he will be back in forty days. The Jews miscalculate when the forty days ended and, when Moshe did not return, they assume him dead. In a state of panic, confusion, chaos, and fear, the Jews build the golden calf and worship it. Moshe comes down from the mountain, sees the wanton sinning of the people (which had degenerated from idolatry to other sins, such as immorality) and dashes the tablets to the ground.
He then forces the Jews to drink from water containing the ground up golden calf, which causes those who served the calf to die. There is a lengthy dialogue between Ha-shem and Moshe in which Moshe pleads on behalf of the Jewish people that Ha-shem should forgive them, which in the end He does. Moshe moves his tent away from the camp, and proclaims that those who want the word of G-d should come to him.
Soon after, Moses ascends the mountain once again and this time G-d tells him to carve the second set of tablets. G-d also teaches Moshe a special prayer called the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy which will never return empty from before G-d, and tells him to teach it to the people (it is the focal part of our prayers on fast days, and especially the Ne’ila service on Yom Kippur).
G-d renews His covenant with the Jews and, finally, on the first Yom Kippur ever, G-d gives His full forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf, and Moshe descends with the second set of tablets. After having spent 120 days on Sinai (40 getting the first tablets, 40 in dialogue to get level one forgiveness, and 40 to get the second tablets and full forgiveness), Moshe came down with such a bright radiance that people couldn’t look at him. He had to make himself a special mask to wear when he was not teaching the Jews. That’s all Folks!!!
Quote of the Week: If we get everything that we want, we will soon want nothing that we get. – Akalterli Tvak
Random Fact of the Week: India has fifteen official languages.
Funny Line of the Week: If “con” is the opposite of “pro,” then what is the opposite of progress?
Have a Wondrous Shabbos!
R’ Leiby Burnham