Friday, April 16, 2021

Every Breath You Take

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            B'H
Life is so expensive, but we took some comfort for a long time in thinking that at least the air we breathe is free. And then came along the Coronavirus and slapped a price on that too making even our “Listerined” breathes potentially lethal. But, you see my friends, breathing was never really a freebie to do with as we please; it comes with great responsibility and accountability. For certain, man cannot count his every breath, like he does his assets, to display his appreciation of them. But how one uses one’s speech, which those breaths afford us, says a lot. There are no words without the breath that carries them forth. So, I must ask: What have we been talking about? Have we made talk cheap? The First Amendment guarantees “the freedom of speech”— but have we abused our freedoms? 

The power of speech is so mighty, that long before the First Amendment, God created the world with it: “And G-d said, ‘Let there be light,” etc. Then G-d breathed life into our mouths and gave man alone the ability to speak. Yet with that very same vessel we spew hate, mischief, curses, gossip and falsehoods. The very tools He used to build the world, we use to destroy it. The Talmud states that every word which issues from our mouths, whether good, evil, by mistake, or on purpose, is written in a book. They never disappear just as energy never disappears as teaches The First Law of Thermodynamics. And when we are in times of danger those words prosecute us in the Heavenly court. And we pay the price. It’s expensive. So please tell me, with the stakes so high, from all the role models in the Torah, from King David to Queen Esther, why we would want to emulate the snake whose venomous tongue brought down mankind?  

In this week’s Torah readings we learn how talking slander about people can you make you ugly. The punishment for it is a skin disease. One that also involved quarantines. Interestingly, the duty falls to the Kohanim, the priestly spiritual leaders, to evaluate the skin diseases of the people, not doctors. Why you ask? Because its cause is spiritual, not medical. “Plagues only affect a person on account of the evil speech which comes out of his mouth” (Talmud). We must look at our punishment and see how it fits the crime. Covid-19—It’s breathtaking! Perhaps the mandatory masks are reminders to watch our mouths in more ways than one. 

Watching our words is not just a nice recommendation from our local rabbis. It’s a Torah commandment. “You shall not go around as a gossip monger amidst your people (Leviticus 19:16). We must use our breaths as if our life depended on them, because it does. If we don’t believe that words have power, then why bother praying on Yom Kippur or anytime for that matter?  And if we do believe, then certainly we wouldn’t use our finest crystal glasses to gather a urine sample; so why use the same mouth we use to pray and bless our loved ones for despicable, undignified and sinful speech? 

So my dear friends, what are you talking about? I know when someone calls me and asks me, “So have you heard the latest?” I know we are not off to a healthy start. If all our friendships revolve around gossiping about others, perhaps it’s time to question who our friends are. If today they yap about others be sure that tomorrow they will talk about us. When’s the last time you walked away from a conversation smarter than when you started, more inspired and healthily motivated? Do your friends make you better people? 

I know it’s not easy to stop and that being a yenta ironically is as contagious as the plagues it causes. But we are better than that. How can we not be? G-d made us! Remember the simple advice we’ve all been told, “Think before you speak.” Save your breath, guard your words, watch your mouth and remember most things are better left unsaid. Shabbat Shalom!

 # Tazria-Metzora



Friday, April 9, 2021

A Zantac for My Soul


M
any years ago, my long-time friend, comedian Jackie Mason, had a poignant routine on health trends brilliantly baring man’s foibles. He exposed the sad hilarity as to how every other day another food item is deified and glorified until a study comes out a week later conclusively proving that the healthful item you’ve been eating by the case will kill you in an hour.  

I have some obvious conclusions to draw from the fact that health crazes and diet books are so popular: We fundamentally believe that we are what we eat, that healthy items make us healthy and that we want to be healthy. And yet God has given his people a “diet book” that ensures that they will be not merely healthy and radiant, but HOLY--a diet very unlike the ones offered by spandex-wearing fitness gurus who are fitly dressed to stretch the truth and to contort science for commercial purposes. The sages teach that the food we eat affects much more than our bodies; By eating not kosher we sully our souls, distance ourselves from the Almighty and bring on sicknesses. The kabbalists teach that our soul is in our blood and seeing that food feeds our blood it affects our souls as well. The more we learn the depths of our commandments, the more we realize that God is the best diet guru even if He doesn’t have an infomercial. 

The Jewish people are allowed to eat only ten animals, none of which hunt for prey. They are docile and peaceful. Our sages have taught that eating animals that lust for blood and go for the kill affects our characters and personalities. If eating an energy bar gives you energy, then how hard is it to believe that eating violent and aggressive animals can transform your energy as well. “In addition, the kosher manner of slaughtering animals obviates their sense of impending death and is not accompanied by pain and or suffering” all conditions that adversely affect the livestock and undoubtedly the eater. (Rabbi Zamir Cohen) Eating non-kosher also makes it ever harder to keep the Torah's commandments. If your building blocks are not kosher, how can you expect your ensuing actions to be? After all, you are what you eat--right?

For an animal to be kosher it MUST possess two traits: It has to chew its own cud and must have split hooves. The Torah lists four animals that can fool you because they possess one out of the two requirements: the camel (chews its cud, no split hooves), the hare (chews its cud, no split hooves), the hyrax (chews its cud, no split hooves) and the pig (has split hooves but does not chew its cud). The Torah was written thousands of years ago, before National Geographic and The Animal Planet, and still unto this day no other animal has manifested other than these four tricky ones itemized in the Torah that possess these characteristics. As for food that comes from the water, fish is all that is permitted and it must have both fins and scales to be kosher. Before I became kosher, a lifetime ago, I used to eat shrimp and other foods the Torah calls abominable.

The Torah admonishes that not only eating certain foods is problematic but even touching the carcass of some has an effect on us and contaminates us. Interesting how we are afraid to shake hands, touch doors knobs, use public bathrooms, etc. because we fear to be physically contaminated, but the Torah, which predates our modern-day microbe germaphobia, takes this concern even deeper. What we touch, who we touch and how we touch also results in spiritual contamination. We put patches on our skin to stop smoking, to avoid pregnancy, to mitigate menopausal symptoms, proving again that what we touch resonates deep on every level. Try the “kosher patch”--watch miracles happen.

People will often ask if God really cares what I eat for lunch? And the answer is a resounding thunderous, YES. So much so that Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit. And FYI, here’s a beauty tip: Adam was the most gorgeous man that ever lived, but by eating what he should not have, his stature and beauty were diminished. When we sin with food, and in general, our inner light is diminished and it shows in the spiritual realm as well as on the earthly plains. No coincidence that the Hebrew word for skin (or) and the Hebrew word for light (or) are homonyms.

Eating kosher doesn’t just mean avoiding pig and its non-kosher cohorts, it also means not eating “like” a pig. Be a mensch in all your appetites. Have restraint and limitations. Don’t listen to the slithering snake offering you the “forbidden flavors” of an artificial and ephemeral paradise. Review your life "menus," my friends. For sin is grossly malabsorbed and even Zantac cannot cure  “acid reflux” of the soul.    Bon Appétit!

Friday, April 2, 2021

URL not Found: What Are You Linked To?


It’s hard not to think about Moses when we think of Passover. Even if we want to forget, advertisements for Cecil B. Demille’s great production, The Ten Commandments, frequent our TV screens as constant reminders this time of year. And yet, as we sat down for our seders and read through the Haggadah which recounts the great miracles that God performed for us, we realize that there is one name that is conspicuously missing, the name of Moses. He is mentioned only once in the entire book. Why? It is meant to teach us something very important: rescue comes only from God Himself. All else, i.e., humans, money, vaccines and even Moses, are mere intermediaries serving His will, no matter what role they play in our lives. There is one God and thus we must stop deifying everything and everyone else: The L‑rd took us out of Egypt," not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger. The Holy One, blessed be He, did it in His glory by Himself!”

You see Passover is not just about cutting bread from the menu or getting rid of the last possible crumbs from our fridge. It is also a divinely sanctified time for us to take an introspective look at ourselves, to clean up our spiritual crumbs, to flatten our egos and to acknowledge the role that God plays in our lives. God did not just create the world and walk away. He’s a personal God; One that went down into Egypt Himself to deliver us from slavery. What are you doing with your freedom? Do you prove yourself worthy?

We can think of our relationship to God like a computer link. If you click on a link and it does not open, then all the advertising that leads to that link, and all the beautiful pictures that lead to that link, and all the hoopla that leads to that link, well they're basically meaningless and useless. When our lives are just surface but they don't link to the greater good, when they don't link to the content-- God and His Torah-- then all we are is surface, 2D creations that take up time and space. To live a life in all the dimensions, 3D, we must link to the Source, to the spirit that animates us. Passover is a perfect time to relink the surface of our life with the purpose of our life by reconnecting directly with He who created the entire program and knows best how it all works. 

    Shabbat Shalom. Happy Passover!

 

Friday, March 19, 2021

Sorry

For many years I hadn’t heard about Ted Talks. Once I did, I soon realized many people talk too much and often for no good reason at all. A couple of years ago an article came out based on a TED Talks series “How to Be a Better Human” which postulated that we say “sorry” way too often. It reasoned that apologies “make us appear smaller and more timid than we really are, and they can undercut our confidence.” And of course in a society where everything revolves around how the “I” feels, why should one walk around feeling like a small “i” so that you can feel like a big YOU? The only problem with that way of living life is that it is Godless. In the preservation of the “I” and in our mania to foster it, everything and everyone becomes a casualty. The article posited that even apologizing for bumping into someone, is one sorry too many. However, that entire philosophy most certainly steps on God’s “foot,” which leads to this week’s Parasha, Vayikra and many reasons to be sorry.

Without having to ask “Can you hear Me now?” for the third time in the Torah it is written that God “called” Moses. Once again it was to assume a momentous duty. So important is this new duty that the entire book of Leviticus is titled Vayikra, which means, “He called.” Leviticus opens with God instructing Moses how the Israelites should “say sorry,” to atone for their sins through sacrificial service. They were to atone not only for sins against God, but for sins against each other. They were to atone not only for sins they did, but also for their sinful thoughts. They were to atone not only for clear violations of the commandments, but for sins they were not certain they even violated. They were to atone not only for sins they did on purpose, but for ones they committed accidentally. Why? Because God takes “sorry” very seriously. Yes Moses got the “call,” but who’s sorry now?

The sages teach that thought, speech and action are garments of the soul. We need to clean those garments when they become sullied by sin. The sacrifices provided the remedy to purify those “garments.” And let’s not keep this so sterile. The act of sacrificing involves slaughtering a living animal, cutting it into pieces and sprinkling blood, etc.; It’s gory even if it is for a holy end. But be sure that those who brought sacrifices were cognizant of one thing: that the animal before them was dying in their stead. Since it is the animal soul of man that causes him to sin, “atonement comes about only through blood” (Zevachim 26b).

But there is one thing that even sacrifices cannot do for us, and that is to say sorry to one we have wronged, hurt, lied to or from whom we’ve stolen (which includes stealing time, reputation, manipulating, etc.) Until we make good, God won’t forgive us. Even our fasting on Yom Kippur absolves only our sins toward God not those perpetrated against others. When we try and preserve the “I”, our ego makes no room for God, for goodness, for apologies or forgiveness. And luxuriating in our own imagined greatness will bring us to sin. The word for “I” in Hebrew is “ani”;  when the same letters are rearranged they spell the Hebrew word “ayin," which means nothingness. Moses was the most humble person in history because he rearranged the letters, perceived his nothingness and in a profound unfathomable way he lived beyond the “I.”  That made him the worthy recipient and teacher of God’s Torah.

In this generation of selfies and excessive self-love, the challenge for us all is ever harder. The “I” has been exponentially fortified, digitized, glamorized and monetized, but scantily spiritualized. Unfortunately, the third Temple has yet to be rebuilt and we can’t throw some poor sheep on the fire to atone for us. But saying sorry to God, to our neighbors and to ourselves is still possible through prayer, charity and repentance. If God loved Moses for being the most humble man on earth then we can deduce, even though we are no Sherlock Holmes, that God must hate the arrogant and prideful. And indeed it is written in the Talmud that where the arrogant reside, God cannot dwell. So don’t be too "proud" and cool to wear a kippa and to ask for a kosher meal; don’t be too haughty to say I think I will stop working on Shabbat; don’t be too cosmopolitan to say I am a Jew and I love Israel.  To be a Jew means to make sacrifices and take risks in our lives for God, for our Homeland, for our people and for all humanity.

Forget about all the self-help books which expire like old medicine and the Ted Talks promising to make you the best YOU; God’s eternal book will make you the best JEW and therein you’ll find the best you. In that destined role you will truly find who you are. "Just as physical light influences plants to grow, spiritual and intellectual light [Torah] prods man to achieve his potential." (Rabbi Michael L. Munk). So, yes, be sorry. Be very very sorry if tomorrow you are not a better person and better Jew than you were today. And if you think saying sorry to God or to man makes you “small”, then I’m very sorry to tell you, you weren’t all that much to begin with.   Shabbat Shalom!

Subscribe to my YouTube channel 
and learn fascinating things about Judaism that perhaps you didn't know.

Friday, March 5, 2021

I'm Looking for the G-d in Me--Have You seen Him?


From catastrophes to quarantines, from synagogues to supermarkets, if you believe in G-d then you must know that He is everywhere. “And where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the grave, behold, You are there.” (Psalms 139:7-8)  But the sages teach us that there is one place that G-d is not, and that is with the arrogant. G-d said: “[The arrogant] and I cannot dwell together in the world. (Sotah 5a) As physicists teach, two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. A dense ego makes no space for G-d.

 

And it thus becomes so clear why Moses was the ideal recipient and deliverer of G-d’s TorahThe greatest man in history had zero ego nor delusions of self-importance. With pure clarity he understood that there is nothing but G-d, ein od milvado. It is not surprising that the word “humility” in Hebrew, anava, starts with the letter ayin because the ayin has no sound of its own. Its sound depends completely on the vowel attached to it.  Moses was known to be the most humble person that ever lived, in a manner, a man of silence. He too had no “sound” of his own, i.e., no ego. He tells G-d: “I am not a man of words, neither from yesterday nor from the day before yesterday….” (Shemot 4:10) 


And so, unlike most of us today who would love to get our name on the cover of a bestselling book, Moses tells G-d in this week’s Torah reading, that if He is to destroy the Children of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf, then G-d should remove his name from the Torah. It was when Moses was ready to be erased from history that he became worthy of being remembered forever. Not only does G-d NOT erase Moses from His book, nor destroy the entire nation, but G-d then goes on to honor Moses and reveal aspects of His essence to him as He had never done prior to or since: “You may see My ‘back,’ but My ‘face’ may not be seen.” (Exodus 32:33)

 

In our own lives too, we have to get out of our own way if we want Hashem to be in our midst, to hear our prayers and to have a relationship with us. Just as the sapphire stones yielded part of themselves so that G-d’s word, the Ten Commandments, could be engraved in them, we too must make space within ourselves for G-d. I find it an interesting thought that in life people add precious stones to add beauty to things, i.e., crowns, rings, etc, but in this case a precious stone became infinitely more precious when its mass was diminished and G-d’s word entered instead. We should take note.

 

Another lesson in humility that we learn about in this week’s Torah reading involves the national census; the Jews were tabulated by giving half a shekel, as a blatant reminder that we are not whole in and of ourselves. We become one only when join together with our nation, our G-d and His Torah. It is also interesting that the Hebrew word for “giving” the shekel, V’natnu, is a palindrome, meaning the word reads the same way backward and forward,  like the word wow.  It is meant to teach us that when you give in service to G-d, you always get back. Some call it karma, some say, “What goes around comes around.” The Torah calls it G-d, a G-d that metes out justice and rewards the adherents of His Law.

 

Sad that after all G-d did for the Israelites to liberate them for Egypt and all the miracles He performed, Moses still had to intercede on their behalf, identify them and remind G-d: “But see that this nation is Your people.” By looking at them, they hardly appeared to be G-d’s nation as they so quickly turned to sin. Nothing about their behavior appeared Jewish. I often write that being a cardiac Jew, having G-d in your heart is not enough. We see in the introduction of the parasha that service to G-d is a full body, full sensory experience from head to toe. When G-d looks down upon you from His heavenly throne, would He recognize you as one of His people or would Moses have to identify you too?

 

The sages teaches us that there are 248 limbs in the body corresponding to the positive commandments and 365 tendons corresponding to the negative commandments equaling 613, which comprise the entire commandments in the Torah. My question to you is how many of your body parts are acting in service to G-d? If the parts make the whole, then how much of you is acting Jewish? What is your movement to mitzvah ratio?

 

How have your hands been Jewish lately? Have they picked up a prayer book, lit Shabbat candles, or dug into your pocket for charity? How has your mouth been Jewish? Have you prayed to G-d, defended your people, watched your language and abstained from gossip? How have your feet been Jewish? Have they jumped up to stand in prayer or to help your parents or others in need? How has your mind been Jewish? Your eyes?  These are the means through which we make space for G-d. One body united under G-d. If we had X-ray vision where would we find G-d inside you? 

Shabbat Shalom

 

                                                           See my video on YouTube

 


Monday, March 1, 2021

Some thoughts about Moses

 If only we could all be inspired by Moses' humility. In a generation where we all vie for the headlines and even the bylines, Moses is prepared to have his name blotted out from the greatest "book" in history, the Torah, in defense of the Jewish nation. It is no wonder that Hashem chose him to be the deliverer of His precious Divine teachings and commandments. Moses had no ego. For a person with a demanding ego makes no room for God: the law of physics says that two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time. We must learn from Moses and work on making room inside ourselves for God, for our fellow Jews and indeed for humanity. We can be a light among the nations, just as Moses literally shone, if we'd only stop blocking the light with the adoration of "me, myself and I."

Friday, January 15, 2021

War of Words: Back to Slavery (Va'era)


T
he past few weeks have reached historic lows. I feel distressed and raw inside. The feelings resemble ones I’ve experienced before during times of great loss. Then, however, I could react naturally and honestly with no fears of retaliation but rather with hopes (and some certainty) that my heartache would land upon compassionate hearts and in understanding minds. Today, I feel no such confidence. Friends, I’ve lost freedom. We all have--regardless of your beliefs. I mourn its loss. I fear its loss. This loss is different than the others because now my words and heartache must be self-censored. If I won’t do it, they will. And, we all know who the “they” are. In good faith, we’ve shared our lives, our dreams, our pictures, our dinners, our milestones, our vacations, etc., on platforms we’d obviously come to trust and like. They seduced us with their charms and turned us into addicts. They lulled us into a false world and a sense of comfort. They sucked us into a black hole. But then they slowly changed the rules and then not so slowly. But now we are in the Matrix and how do we get out? How powerless are we?

But as someone who looks at all things that happen through spiritual eyes inspired by my Jewish faith, I have to ask a vital question that takes priority to all others: Why did G-d allow this to happen to us? What’s G-d’s opinion on words? My query leads me to conclude that we are entirely to blame. Hidden behind flat screens, we’ve become brazen and bold and increasingly disrespectful to each other throughout the years; Gossip, rudeness and character assassination are our brazen creations without  regard to how we are betraying the holy power of speech, the tool with which G-d created the world: “And G-d said, let there be light….” We however, have not used our words to create but rather to destroy. We express ourselves with arrogance and with no regard for consequences, neither personal or societal or spiritual--and in impractical venues at that. We set the social media  networks on fire with our ire, but how many have expressed their acidic sentiments, many completely just, in letters to our elected leaders, corporations, financial institutions, religious or community leaders, etc. Cherished readers, we had the power to create light, but we chose darkness. Yes we had the power, for if we didn’t they would not be censoring us now, would they? Words are the key to freedom. 

In this week’s Torah reading, Va’era, G-d sends Moses on a mission to liberate the Jewish nation from Egypt. Does G-d arm him with bows and arrows? No! G-d tells Moses to go talk to the Israelites and to Pharaoh. Talk!? After spending 210 years in a land not their own, 116 of those years shackled and enslaved, G-d wants Moses to talk his way out of Egypt? That feat would be hard enough even if you had the oratory skills of Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Clinton, but Moses had a speech impediment.  Moses beseeched God to find another messenger for his divine mission because he was “not a man of words.”  But it turns out not having words, even as God’s chief spokesman, is not a disqualifier.  And so God tells Moses: "Who gave man a mouth, or who makes [one] dumb or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? So now, go! I will be with your mouth, and I will instruct you what you shall speak.”  In fact, we learn that when Moses received Torah from Sinai his speech impediment was cured. Let that be a lesson to us all. When we wrap our tongues around the “right” words, decent words, G-dly words, our message comes out just perfectly and it also hits its mark. But we need to give G-d something with which to work. Profanities and hatefulness are not vessels worthy of G-d’s intervention or blessing. 

There is a belief in Judaism that each person is allotted a certain number of words in this lifetime and thus it’s incumbent upon each of us to use them wisely, keep them clean of slander, gossip and curses. G-d records our every word as does Alexa and our other devices but with greater efficiency. One day those words will all be played back and then more than ever, we will hate the sound of our own voice. We will condemn ourselves for the things we said and also for the times we didn’t speak up in prayer and in kindness, and even in peaceful protest. We must speak up and speak out in the right venues. We too now are in the same conundrum as the Israelites. Do we choose to stay in slavery and in silence because that’s what we know and where we are comfortable, what we’ve become used to? Or do we make a mass exodus from the platforms whose initial wooing and cooing have now led to our woes and consider us foes?

We can’t forget that the Israelites, too, did not heed Moses’ words. Wrapped up in their slavery, they could not fathom there was actually a way out. They showed no faith in God and had descended into such depths of impurity that they were almost not worthy of being saved at all. They became so accustomed to their servitude that most did not want to leave Egypt. Have we become willing slaves too? Only 1/5th of the Israelites left Egypt, those reluctant to leave died in the plague of darkness. How fitting! Will we succumb to the chains imposed on us and die in the darkness too? I won’t. We must peacefully fight for the light, for without it, we are all dead men. May G-d help us all!

A Facebook friend wrote on his wall that we cannot be censored because we can still talk to G-d. That is very true. But, is G-d still willing to listen? Don’t wait too long. Speak up in prayer and in purpose. If we are suffering the pain of censorship, then G-d didn’t like what we were saying and/or how we were saying it. G-d punishes measure for measure (middah kneged middah). Use dignified speech to save the word: personally, professionally, and politically…in all realms. Yes, I know what your thinking--but alas, their turn will come too, and soon. Dear antagonists who loudly rejoice over our silencing, it behooves you to study history: Soon they will come for you and there will be nary a voice remaining then to speak up for you.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Friday, January 8, 2021

What Happened to My Big Fat "Thank You"?





Both personally and professionally, I’ve known too many people who have a “use them and abuse them” mentality. These egocentrics regard other people as cogs in a system whose sole raison d’etre is to revolve around their needs and ambitions. You are here to serve them and once you’ve done all you can, your usefulness has expired. They will find others to use and abuse. These thankless people may regard themselves as geniuses in their game of life, but the Torah regards them as Pharaohs, as arrogant enemies of Hashem.

We read in this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, about Joseph’s death and how “a new king arose over Egypt who knew not Joseph”-- the very Joseph who was the only man who could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and who was appointed viceroy, standing only second to Pharaoh. The Joseph who made the country rich and saved it from ruin; The Joseph about whom  all of Egypt heard when his brothers had arrived. Yes, that famous Joseph, with a coat of many colors, who we all still know about thousands of years later, yet, somehow, Pharaoh just couldn’t seem to remember him. 

 

After all, remembering comes with a heavy price - we might have to say “Thank you.” And so, the new Pharaoh showed his gratitude by enslaving Israel and murdering their firstborn. Talk about appreciation! Some of our sages explain that the “new Pharaoh” was not a different person at all, but rather the very same Pharaoh who arose with a NEW attitude. Once the bad times were over, he figured the Jews were expendable.  He thought himself a G-d and didn’t want to be outdone or overpowered by the people who made him successful. 

 

The Torah teaches us a very different lesson about gratitude. After all the Egyptians did to the Israelites over their long years of slavery, the Torah commands us, “You shall not hate an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8). The Biblical commentator Rashi explains that we are not permitted to despise them because they hosted us in a time of need. If we can’t hate those who tormented us because they were once good to us, imagine how much more we owe those who were good to us. We must appreciate and consider the efforts on their part which made our lives better and easier even if only for a moment. Sometimes it is just a merciful moment that can save us from despair.

 

Other examples in Judaism offer us sensitivity training and appreciation:  For instance, if we decide to change the mere casing of a mezuzah wherein a holy parchment was once contained, whether we change it to upgrade our decor or if the prior one was rotten or broken, it can’t just be thrown away in a garbage can. There is a respectful means of disposal;  Moses wouldn’t strike the waters and turn them to blood because the waters had once saved his life; We hide the challah on Shabbat under a cloth so as not to embarrass it when we first pray over the wine. All out of respect and gratitude. The Torah also prohibits needless destruction, directly or indirectly, of anything that may be of use to people. 

 

Thus, if inanimate objects which served us can’t be dismissed irreverently or disrespected, imagine how much more so are human beings to be treated with appreciation, dignity and gratitude if they helped us. When we are famished, it is easy to thank G-d for the sandwich in front of us. But the Torah commands us to say thank you also when we finish satisfying our appetites. 

 

It is actually only when we are in a perpetual state of gratitude that our best blessings are yet to come. “King Hezekiah had great messianic potential. G-d made great miracles for him...But because he did not sing a song of praise to G-d for the miracle, he was not appointed to be the Mashiach. (Sanhedrin 94a via Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman).  Gratitude is a fundamental of Judaism. In fact, the term "Yehudi"-- Jew, comes from the Hebrew name Yehuda, which means thanks and gratitude. It is thus from the tribe of Yehuda that the Mashiach will come. 

 

Everything comes from G-d. Even if we can’t stand the “messengers” He uses to execute His will, we have to be thankful. When we are not, we snub not only those who help us, but G-d as well. The Hebrew word for “thank you” is todah 

(תודה); When those same letters are permuted, they spell the word dotah (דותה) which means “illness.” When we are unthankful we are like an emotionally “sick” person and we separate ourselves from the Almighty. 

 

It seems we often remember what we do for others, even the $5 we lent someone 20 years ago, and insist we are only upset "on principle" that they didn’t pay us back. But when we owe others, we can manufacture excuses a mile a minute as to why the account has been settled. We overvalue ourselves in the giving and undervalue favors when we are taking. 

 

At the end of the day, it all comes down to one thing. Are you a Pharaoh with a short term convenient memory? Have you rewritten history to fit your own narrative wherein you are a superhero and the other is vilified? Or are you a mensch? Are you a grateful person?

 

And for those of us who feel like the steps on the ladder, know that the Hebrew word for ladder (sulam) and Sinai (the host mountain where G-d gave His commandments) both have the same numerical value of 130. So, know you’ve done the right thing and your deeds add up to G-d’s will. He too gives endlessly and gets little thanks. Just be grateful that the Almighty endowed you with something to give. And know that G-d has a long term memory, despite all those who quickly forget!  Watch the shiur on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJatjSxWA2E&t=2s


(In Memory of my uncle Joe, Yechiel ben Mosheh, may his neshama have an aliyah; And for refuah shleima for Rivkah bat Menucha Mintzia)