We may be living in a time of shortages compared to a ten years ago. There is a shortage of affordable housing, affordable health insurance, and a shortage of affordable groceries. The cost of homes is up 47% from 2020, mortgage rates are more than double what they were at that time, and bookstores have started stocking home buying guides in the Fantasy section. My health insurance premiums went up 21.6% in just one year, while my deductible went up 8% and max out of pocket went up 11%. Food costs went up 19.6% in the three years leading up to 2024. There is an overall shortage of affordable living.

On the other hand, we have abundance in a lot of areas. We have an abundance of people flowing over our borders from all over the world, over ten million in the last few years, more than the combined population of ten states. We have a glut of money being printed, raising our national debt by over a trillion dollars every hundred days. We have an abundance of ways we can offend someone or other, an abundance of guilt we’re supposed to feel for our inherent whiteness or maleness or Jewishness, or success, or the oxygen we’re taking up, or the carbon dioxide we’re emitting every time we breathe.

There is also an abundance of fools walking among us.[1] There are the people chanting “From the River to the Sea” who don’t even know which river or which sea they want to push the Jews into. There are the people who hold up signs that read “End the Genocide” on one side, and “Globalize the Intifada” on the other side. There are the fools who think that we can just keep printing money we don’t have and nothing will happen, the fools who think we can get world peace by appeasing the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. Fools abound in this strange world.

But there is one kind of fool that is the most annoying of all the fools. Not necessarily the most dangerous, just the most annoying. That coveted award goes to a group called, “Just Stop Oil.” These activists, who are deeply concerned about the world going up in flames because of fossil fuels, who have been telling us that we only have 3 years left for the last twenty years, have decided that the best way to turn on the global air conditioning is to be the most obnoxious human beings on the planet.

They shut down highways and airports by chaining themselves to the roads, not only inconveniencing tens of thousands of people, but also putting lives at risk when ambulances can’t get to the hospital. They’ve stopped traffic on some roads for as much as 40 hours, causing people to get stuck in six mile backups they have no way of getting out of.

They like to pour orange stuff like paint or tomato soup on anything sacred and beloved, from Van Gogh and Da Vinci paintings, to the original copy of the Magna Carta and the US Constitution. They deface buildings, from banks and car dealerships, to office buildings and schools. They love stopping events people enjoy, from soccer matches, to golf touranments, Grand Prix races, cricket matches, university graduations and theater performances.

This week, they made the news again, by spraying orange paint all over Stonehenge, a circular collection of large stones that has sat peacefully for the last 5,000 years. The stones of Stonehenge clearly don’t consume fossil fuels, so it’s unclear why they are a target of Just Stop Oil. The going theory is that people around the world have an affection for this collection of heavy rocks, and it would make a lot of people angry if they were defaced, so a 21-year-old student and bird watcher, and 73-year-old Quaker teamed up to do just that.

The Just Stop Oil loonies must have a manual called “How to Lose Friends, and Alienate People.” These are people who delight in making everyone mad at them, but they are not totally crazy, they have a plan. They believe that the first rule of marketing is, “All press is good press.” So even if they infuriate people, cause people to miss their sister’s wedding, important business meetings, or the flight to their non-refundable honeymoon cruise, at least they will catch people’s attention, and once people understand that we only have 1028 days left as one of the protestors t-shirts loudly proclaimed, they will immediately stop using fossil fuels, and the earth will be healed.

Do you know where you never see activist for Just Stop Oil? In China, the world’s largest polluter since 2006, the country responsible for 95% of new coal plants being built (coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel), and the country that consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined. Why aren’t any 21 year old bird watchers and 73 year old Quakers defacing the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, or the Terra Cotta Army?

It’s pretty simple. China has a No Messing Around policy. You pour orange paint on the Terra Cotta Army, and the Red Army puts you in a prison cell from which you’ll never watch a bird again, and feeds you tomato soup until you slowly wither away. You desecrate the Forbidden City, and glue yourself to the wall? They leave your skin on the wall, take the rest of you away to prison, and you probably have 1028 days left.

In the nineties, I heard a class from Rabbi Noach Weinberger, OBM, the visionary who founded the Aish Hatorah network, that now comprises 35 centers on 6 continents. I don’t remember the topic or the content of the class, but one line he said became forever tattoed into my mind, “A society will have exactly what a society tolerates.”

As an example he contrasted the murder rates in the US and in Singapore. Currently, the murder rate in the US is about 7 people per 100,000, the fourth highest in the developed world. On the other hand, Singapore had a homicide rate of .1 people per 100,000, making it one of the safest countries in the world.

Why is this? In the US, about 38% of homicide cases go unsolved, people will lie to the police or refuse to come forward with information they know that can lead to the solving of a case. In Singapore, people don’t tolerate murder. A mother will report her son to the police, a brother will report his brother. There is no culture of “snitches get stiches.” There’s a culture of, “we don’t tolerate murder in our society.” There are only a few unsolved homicide cases a decade in Singapore. You get what you tolerate.

Let’s take out a bit further. The punishment for graffiti in Singapore is pretty intense. It can be three years in jail, and for males it can be eight lashes with a cane. Guess how much graffiti there is in Singapore? None. In the US, there’s pretty much no real punishment for graffiti. Guess how much graffiti there is in the US? I think you know. I’m not recommending lashes for graffiti necessarily, but I’m not opposed to forcing anyone caught graffitiing to spend 10-20 hours cleaning graffiti under police watch. How much graffiti would we have if we enforced that? Probably something similar to Singapor minus the lashes.

Countries that tolerate protesters who illegally shut down highways and airports, defile treasured works, cause millions of dollars in damage, and take up thousands of police man-hours that would otherwise go to keeping their communities safe, are going to have Just Stop Oil, and Globalize the Intifada, and all the rest of their merry destructive friends doing exactly that. Cities, like San Francisco, that don’t prosecute theft under $950, are going to have rampant theft until their downtowns became ghost towns. What a society tolerates is what society gets.

In Judaism we believe that there are seven universal mitzvos that apply to all of humanity. These laws are known as the Seven Noahide Laws. The Book of Genesis tells us about how humanity became incredibly self-destructive, (Genesis, 6:5) “And Hashem saw how great was human wickedness on earth—how every plan devised by the human mind was nothing but evil all the time.” And we know what followed next, G-d hit the Great Reset button in the year 1656 (2105 BCE) with the Great Flood. And by the time the flood was over, the only remaining family was Noah’s family, who lived out the flood in the Ark.

When Noah came out of the ark, he understood that the only way humanity would survive is if they respected these Seven Laws of basic human dignity and propriety. Six of the rules were there from the time of Adam, and they were all ignored, but there was one additional added during the time of Noah, not eating a limb pulled from a live animal, hence the Seven Noahide laws. The rules are as follows:

  1. Do not murder.
  2. Do not steal.
  3. Do not worship false gods.
  4. Do not be promiscuously immoral.
  5. Do not eat a limb removed from a live animal.
  6. Do not curse God.
  7. Set up courts and bring offenders to justice.

My whole life, I always wondered about that last one. Interestingly, it is the first one mentioned in the Talmud (Sanhedrin, 56A), but the last one mentioned by Maimonides (Laws of Kings, 9:1). It made sense to me of course, but growing up in a relatively safe place, where laws were understood and for the most part kept, I didn’t understand just how crucial it was. But now, when cities are making decisions not to prosecute “petty crimes” like theft, and people can deface and destroy public and private property without fear of significant punishment, when people can steal hours of people’s time by shutting down streets and airports and not have to worry about spending more than a possible night in jail, I’m looking at it in a whole new way.

When Hashem comes to Noah to tell him of the impending flood, He says, (Genesis, 6:13), God said to Noah, “I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth.” And Rashi quotes the Medrash that says that even though the people were doing all sorts of sins, the sin that sealed their fate was robbery.

The Maharal explains (Gur Aryeh, Genesis 6:13), “robbery is the destruction of the world, meaning that the thieves literally destroy the world, because there can be no commerce in a world of thievery.” All of humanity relies on commerce to get the goods we need to support our lives, and then thievery is rampant, commerce breaks down. Retailers lose their businesses and shut down, insurance companies are constantly paying out exorbitant amounts so they raise their rates to stifling levels, and inflation hits strongly because the few are paying for the many.

Culturally, people don’t feel safe, anarchy sets in, it’s a spiral down to the bottom. The flood only came after humanity had already destroyed itself, and that whole process started with tolerating thievery in all forms.

What can we do about this? For starters we can begin advocating for that most important law of humanity, setting up courts that administer justice. We can become active in holding our government accountable to uphold the rule of law and not turn a blind eye to immense illegal activity all over our country. We need to become a society that once again respects the rule of law, and it starts with petty thievery, just like it did in the time of Noah.

Let’s commit to not allowing apathy to rule over us. Let’s commit to engaging in whatever societal powers and rights we have to bring about a world of justice, property rights, and courts of law that uphold the law. Because petty criminals like the Just Stop Oil, are not just annoying, they are slowly breaking down the fabric of society. We need to be the people campaigning for Just Stop Stealing. Then we can Just Start Rebuilding, rebuilding a flourishing society, rebuilding a society growing in its commitment to one another, rebuilding a society that is worthy of the incredible neshamos G-d invested in us!

Parsha Dvar Torah

This week’s Parsha starts off with G-d telling Moshe to tell Aaron the exact procedure for lighting the Menorah. Rashi explains why the Torah juxtaposed this topic to last week’s Parsha which ended with the sacrifices the princes of the Twelve Tribes brought for the inauguration ceremonies of the Tabernacle. When Aaron, the High Priest saw all the princes bringing their inauguration sacrifices and he had none, he became very disturbed and troubled. G-d sent him a message saying “I swear by your life, yours is greater than theirs because you will prepare and light the menorah.” What does this mean? How is the lighting of the Menora better that inaugurating the Tabernacle?

In order to understand this let us look at the very next Rashi which explains the Torah’s use of the word be’haloscha to describe the lighting of the menorah. This word literally translated means raise up, while figuratively it means to light. Anytime the Torah uses a word that has a literal meaning that is distinct from its current usage, it warrants an explanation. Rahsi’s explanation in our case is that while lighting the menorah the Kohen was required to hold the candle close to the wick until the flame of the wick would “rise up” on its own. What does this answer mean on a deeper level and what can we learn from this to apply to our own lives? 

The menorah is the vessel in the Temple that represents knowledge, intellectual depth, and understanding. The symbolism is clear, as it is the one vessel whose primary function is to illuminate, which is what knowledge does. As a matter of fact the Sages tell us that if one wishes to become wiser, he should face slightly southward while praying the Amidah, because the menorah was on the southern wall of the Temple. Parenthetically one who wishes to become wealthier should face slightly northward, as the Table which represented wealth was on the northern wall of the Temple. (It is always interesting to see who faces northward and who southward, who wants wisdom and who wants $$$!)

Knowing this, we can understand a deeper level in the Torah’s message that when lighting the candles one has to keep the flame near the wick until the flame rises on the wick on its own. When we impart knowledge onto someone else, and teach them intellectual discernment, it is not enough that we simply dump our insights onto them, but rather we have to teach them how to use knowledge until they are able to understand things on their own. We have to kindle the flame until it rises on its own! A great teacher is not one whose students rely on him for all their understanding, but one who produces great thinkers each able of creating understanding for themselves as well as for others. This is the secret of lighting the menorah, of keeping the flame there until it rises on its own.

This can help us understand the message G-d was telling Aaron. The princes indeed had a very special job to inaugurate the Tabernacle, but Aaron’s job is greater. The prince’s job was to turn the key in the ignition and start the engine going, but Aaron’s job is brining the wisdom of Torah and spirituality into the world in a way that will produce people who will carry the torch on to the next generation and the next all the way until the Messiah! Additionally, this helps us understand the Mishna in Avos that says “be among the students of Aaron” as the students of Aaron are the ones who understand the value of not just knowing the right things but of helping train others to perceive the right things!

Parsha Summary

As seen above the Parsha starts off with the owners manual for the menorah telling you when to change the oil and how to light it properly. Following that is the Consecration of the Levites. In previous weeks we discussed how the Levites were given some of the holy jobs originally reserved for the firstborns. Here the Torah describes the procedure that the Levites underwent to begin their service. As most Temple procedures went, it included bringing specific sacrifices but it deviated a little in that it included shaving all of one’s hair, and Aaron picking up and waving each and every one of the 22K+ Levites. (No, Aaron, unlike some MLB did not use steroids, he was miraculously given the strength to pick them all up.) The Torah then tells us that the Levites would begin their apprenticeship at 25, begin working at 30, and retire at 50. (Where do I sign?)

The next part of the Parsha deals with the Pesach offering brought during the second year that the Jews were in the desert (the only year they brought a Pesach offering in the desert, the next one they would bring would be when they got to the Promised Land, 40 years later). It also talks about the people who couldn’t bring the offering due to ritual impurity who came to Moshe with a complaint “why should we be left out?” to which G-d replied with the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni which is a makeup date a month later for all those who couldn’t make it on the regular date.

Being that the Jews were about to embark on their first journey since encamping at Sinai, the Torah teaches about the Jewish travels in the desert. It talks about the signs of G-d that were omnipresent (cloud by day, pillar of fire at night), the frequency of their travels (totally random, ranging from once in 19 years to a day apart), the trumpets that were used to tell the Jews that they were about to pull out of their current parking spot (also used to call the elders together for meetings with Moshe), and the order of the people while marching. Moshe at this point invites Jethro his father-in-law to stay with the Jews, but he says that he has to go back to try to convert the people of the land from which he came.

I would like to preface the next part of the Parsha with the following explanation. The Jews who were in the desert were on an exceedingly high spiritual level after seeing G-d reveal Himself at Sinai and after witnessing the miracles in Egypt and at the Reed Sea. Therefore, as we read in the coming weeks the mistakes they made and the punishments meted out, we need to understand that when someone is so close to G-d, the judgment is so much more strict, much the way a top official in the government is scrutinized so much more than an average Joe.  Additionally, a lot of the mistakes have deeper meaning that explain that they were not the large mistakes they appear to be, rather they were judgment calls which were made in the wrong direction, but with good intentions.

 Soon after the Jews first travels, some of the evil people amongst the Jews began to complain about their fate in the desert. G-d responded by sending down a heavenly flame that devoured some of the complainers. Moshe prayed to G-d and the fire stopped. Soon after that the people began to complain about the manna which was a spiritual food that came down from heaven daily. One cannot imagine a better food. It tasted like whatever you wanted it to be (think prime rib for breakfast every day!!), it produced no waste products, it didn’t cause you to gain weight, and was delivered to the ground where you just had to pick it and eat it! (Imagine the cover of the 1312 B.C.E. Readers Digest: New Diet! Eat whatever you want and never gain a pound!)

Most of these complaints were initiated by the mixed multitude a group of people who joined the Jews as they left Egypt, many of whom were insincere converts, and didn’t have the tools to appreciate true spirituality. This bothered Moshe to the point where he asked G-d how he was supposed to deal with such a difficult nation alone. “Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them, that You say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as the nurse carries the suckling,’ to the Land You promised their forefathers?” (Numbers 11:12) In response to this G-d told Moshe to appoint seventy Elders to be the Great Sanhedrin, a group charged with helping Moshe lead the nation. (I think I need seventy people just to help me with my two daughters!) After this G-d responded to the complainers by sending flocks of quail to the camp, which were lethal to anyone who ate them. (Most people didn’t eat them because they were more than happy with G-d’s spiritual food.)

The Torah also talks about how when Moshe called together the 70 members of the Sanhedrin, G-d increased the spirit of prophecy of Moshe to extend onto all the others. The Sages compare it to a candle which can light another flame without losing any of its light. (If you are still reading, thank you, and please email me back, I’m trying to get a feel for how many people read this part of the email.) After this event, Miraim, Moshe’s sister was talking to her brother Aaron, and she discussed the fact that Moshe left his wife (this was done because he spoke to G-d so frequently and with such clarity, that he wasn’t allowed to have any distraction). She talked in a slightly negative way, and she was immediately punished with tzara’as the spiritual affliction of the skin reserved for people who speak lashon hara, negative speech about others. Because of her greatness, the entire Jewish people waited seven day until she was healed before moving. This was a reward for her waiting at the riverbanks when Moshe’s cradle was cast in the water in the beginning of the Book of Exodus. This shows us that every act we do, no matter how natural it seems to us (as a sister guarding her brother in the water), is evaluated, appreciated and rewarded. Well that’s about all for this week folks.

Quote of the Week: Today was once the future from which you expected so much in the past. ~ Samuel Fremont

Random Fact of the Week: Black whales are born white.

Funny Line of the Week: Free cheese only in mouse catching machine! – Russian teen on application for school in the US

Have a Glorious Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

[1] Chat GPT tells me that I shouldn’t phrase things so sharply, it gave me five more sensitive alternatives. What’s your favorite?

  “We have a surplus of individuals lacking judgment.”

  “We have more than our share of people with limited understanding.”

  “We have an excess of individuals who make questionable decisions.”

  “We seem to be surrounded by many who could benefit from further education.”

  “There is a notable presence of people with less-than-stellar decision-making skills.”

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