Miracles

The Miracle Within

Shabbat Candle Lighting Times for
Moscow, Russia
Friday, August 26th
Light Candles at 19:20
Shabbat, August 27th,
Shabbat Ends 20:37
Torah Portion: Eikev

The Miracle Within

“Okay Rabbi, now can we ask you some questions?”

That was the challenge posed to me recently by some teens I was teaching. They really give me a run for my money — their inquisitive questioning always has me looking for answers.
“So,” one of them pressed, “if it was so important for G d to make miracles, why doesn’t He do them today?” The ensuing discussion drew the whole group into a debate about if, when and why miracles are relevant.

The students recognized that there are miracles, great miracles, that accompany us on a daily basis, and that there are G dly people in every generation who are endowed with Divine super-natural powers. But, they argued,

what about the earth-shattering, plain-for-all-to-see variety of miracles that typified the biblical era? Where – and why – have they gone?

I breathed a real sigh of relief when my suggested answer finally got a thumbs-up from my hitherto skeptical colleagues. Though I must add, the idea wasn’t mine. I found it in Eikev, this week’s Torah reading.

The ups and downs of Jewish history – the miraculous highs, the tragic lows, and the plateaus of calm in between – are well captured in the Torah readings of the last two weeks.

Last week, in Va’etchanan, we read of the epic high of our story, the moment of revelation on Sinai that shaped our identity forever. No moment before or after that episode conveys the essence of Jewish faith like that experience of unity with the Divine in the desert sun.

And I can well understand why my new young friends wished that they, too, were given such an opportunity.

This week, however, our story takes us to our lowest fall, the episode of the Golden Calf. Only a short 40 days after the grand Sinai revelation, a crisis of faith put our existence in peril. The subsequent journey of repentance and return presaged what later became known as Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of reflection and renewal.

This part of the story, the void of revelation and vacuum of divine presence, is something that I think my students appreciated all too well.

Interestingly, both of these stories are followed by almost identical statements of faith that we recite at least twice daily.

The Ten Commandments in last week’s portion is followed by the Shema, and then, in the paragraph’s second verse: “And you shall love G d, your G d…”

In this week’s portion, the failing at the critical moment of Moses’ absence and our ultimate triumph over failure is followed by the second paragraph of the Shema: “And if you will listen,” many of whose words are a copy from the first paragraph of the Shema read the week before.

Despite their similarity, the subtle differences between the prayer’s first and second paragraphs offer perhaps the key to our survival, and our purpose, in the thousands of years since those miraculous moments transpired—and never repeated themselves again.

I’ll suggest just two of them.
1. In the first paragraph, the level of our love for and relationship with G d reaches an epic high – “bechol m’odecha” (“with all your might”) – which implies the highest level of selfless service for G d. Shedding any self-enhancing motive, we are asked to reach a level of unity with the Divine where our whole purpose is only to fulfill our mission. This is a manifestation of the very core of our soul, which is one with its Creator. In the second paragraph, however, this level is omitted. We are asked there “only” to love G d “bechol levavechem uvechol nafshechem” (“with all your heart and soul”). Yes, that’s quite an achievement, but at least one that is within our reach if we will it.
2. In the first paragraph there is no mention of reward and consequence. In the second, our relationship with G d is very much intertwined with the fulfillment of our needs — health, wealth, happiness, fulfillment — or the lack thereof.

Perhaps these two approaches to divine service are hinting at two different eras in our history.

The first reflects our story in the glow of divine revelation — the splitting of the sea, the Sinai experience, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, etc.

In that time and place, yes, perhaps the inspiration, the certainty and the absolute knowledge that we gained from those experiences filled us with motivation and ability to follow a selfless path of total piety with no care for gain or reward.

The second approach, however, follows our story in the shadow of divine concealment and spiritual confusion — whether at the foot of the mountain on the supposed fortieth day, or in a classroom in Cape Town 2,000 years after the miracles of the Temple ceased to be.

In these times our relationship with G d is one where: 1. Our selfish identity remains very much at the fore; we’re not on the level of selfless unity with G d like those of a previous era. 2. Our reasons for serving G d are very much because of the gains – be they spiritual, emotional, or even material – that we see this lifestyle brings.

On the surface, one might think that the first approach represents the more ideal aspiration of the Jewish people.

In truth, however, it’s – in a certain way – the second, more integrated approach that has a deeper and more long-lasting effect. When there aren’t miracles to inspire us, we have to find the faith within. We need to initiate, to explore, to study and to appreciate what our relationship with G d really means.

True, sitting in a classroom and grappling with these ideas at the foot of Table Mountain in South Africa is not nearly as inspiring as sitting at the foot of Mount Sinai when they were revealed to us. It’s not as inspiring, and it’s far more challenging—but it’s a far greater achievement. It says much more about us, as opposed to the revelation at Mount Sinai, which spoke more about G d.

Today, when we don’t have the miraculous stories to solidify our beliefs, we have to find that strength within. And that is a true miracle.

The moments of G d’s open miracles set the foundation of our people. But now it’s our miracles, miracles of faith and conviction that build the story of our people. And that, our story, is the greatest miracle of all.

My eleventh-grade group seemed to think so. How about you?

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Yanky and Rivky Klein

This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM

Smikle

What A Smile

Shabbat Candle Lighting Times for
Moscow, Russia
Friday, September 16th
Light Candles at 18:26

Join us Tonight!
Weekly Kabbalat Shabbat Services 20:30

Shabbat, September 17th,
Shabbat Ends 19:37
Torah Portion: Ki Teitzei

What A Smile

Do you smile?

There are different types of smiles.

There’s the raised-corners-of-the-mouth social smile, which is basically the deliberate flexing of facial muscles to telegraph polite positivity.

But there’s also the genuine, full-faced smile; the one that’s clearly proclaiming “welcome, I’m making room for you in my life.” That smile is larger than the simple movement of facial muscles and cordial interactions. That smile is a gesture that transcends simple facial expressions; it’s about offering yourself to another. A real smile means you’ve removed some of the walls between you and the world, that some ‘inner you’ is connecting with an ‘other.’

When you’re on the phone, can you sometimes tell that the other person is smiling, even though you can’t see their face? When someone is genuinely smiling, his voice has a lilt of giving and openness, a flow of bonding, an embracing spirit that goes way beyond facial expressions.

Polite smiles don’t express that kind of depth, because they aren’t that deep. They don’t come across the phone.
The Torah describes G-d as blessing us by ‘”shining His face” upon us, as though G-d is giving us a glowing, full-faced smile.

There’s a friendly face, and then there’s a glowing face. There’s a smile, and then there’s a full-bodied smile. The difference may be difficult to describe, even intangible, but it’s huge.

You know it when it happens.

This Jewish month of Elul, the lead-up to Rosh Hashana, is a time when we’re told that G-d is giving us a full-faced smile, an open welcome into a caring relationship.

How do you respond to an open smile?

Smile back.

Care enough to give someone a genuine smile today. Find the faith and connection to give G-d a genuine smile today.

Get into the Rosh Hashana rhythm.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Yanky and Rivky Klein

This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM

Millions of stars

Millions of stars

Shabbat Candle Lighting Times for
Moscow, Russia
Friday, August 12th
Light Candles at 19:54
Shabbat, August 13th,
Shabbat Ends 21:17
Torah Portion: Devarim

Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge. “Watson” he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” says Watson.

“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”

Watson thinks for a moment. “Well,” he says, “astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.

Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meterologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignficant. Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?”

“Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!

Dear friends, “Our home has been burned!” It happened a few thousand years ago, on Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av. From that faithful day on we’ve been living without our holy temple in Jerusalem.

Sometimes we forget about its existence.

We get ourselves used to life as it is… busy with our day to day events.

Our lives would look completely different if the holy temple would be standing. Every aspect of our life, not just our spiritual life.

This Sunday we commemorate the 9th of Av and we fast. (click here for more info)

May it be G-d’s will that the Temple should be rebuild and we will finally experience the redemption, with all the eternal good that comes with it!

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Yanky and Rivky Klein

This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM

Legacy

A Legacy of Love!

Shabbat Candle Lighting Times for
Moscow, Russia
Friday, November 11th
Light Candles at 16:11

Join us Tonight!
Weekly Kabbalat Shabbat Services 20:30
Followed by Shabbat Dinner

Shabbat, November 12th,
Shabbat Ends 17:28
Torah Portion: Lech Lecha

A Legacy of Love!

What is love?

Love is closeness.

Even more, it’s whole-hearted, committed closeness.

The heart’s warm flutter can be fleeting infatuation, here today and gone tomorrow. Love is different. It’s substantive. Real. Love is a bond that stands strong in the face of day-to-day volatility, an emotional anchor that’s unshaken by life’s waves.

Love is other-centered devotion. There’s a Chassidic story about a child who watches an adult catch and prepare a fish. Before his first bite, the adult exclaims “I love fish.” The child responds: “Sir, you apparently don’t love fish; if you did, you would have let this one stay in the water. You actually love yourself, and this fish is just another avenue for feeding your self-love!”

Genuine love isn’t about us gratifying ourselves (although that may be a nice by-product). Love is about making space for the other’s needs. Love is when the other’s sensitivities become our personal concern.

Sometimes, looking after our personal needs is a part of other-centeredness. If I take a day to care for myself, so that I am better fit to discharge my responsibilities to G-d, to life and the world, I’m still living a day of other-consciousness. Meeting my own needs can be a necessary preparation for fulfilling my responsibility to others.
In Torah language, this deeply committed, loving relationship is called a Covenant (Bris in Hebrew); it’s when two parties reach a profound, integral Oneness.

That’s what Abraham had going with G-d.

Abraham made genuine space in his life for G-d. Abraham’s definition of a ‘meaningful life’ was to be the person who G-d had created him to be. So his material endeavors, including his ‘self-gratifying pursuits,’ were all opportunities for deepening – and expressing – his devotion to living a meaningful life.

That’s why G-d commanded him to express their Covenant by marking an area of the physical body which symbolizes the pursuit of pleasurable physical engagement. To Abraham, all of life – even the pleasurable part – was all about reaching his/our Divinely-granted goal of finding deep connectedness with others and making this a better world. Life was all about the Covenant, all about mindfulness of higher Purpose.

Abraham showed us how to live life as it’s meant to be lived.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Yanky and Rivky Klein

This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM

Journey

The Journey

Shabbat Candle Lighting Times for
Moscow, Russia
Friday, August 5th
Light Candles at 20:09
Shabbat, July 30th,
Shabbat Ends 21:36
Torah Portion: Matot-Massei

The Journey

They say life is a journey.

That feels like a true statement, but it leaves me with a bunch of questions: A journey to which destination? What if I don’t end up anywhere worthwhile? What if I mess up and take a wrong turn?

And how do we know life is actually a deliberate journey? It sometimes feels like a runaway train.

The Torah is our model for life, so let’s look there for direction. When the Jews left Egypt, they headed toward the Promised Land. Leaving slavery behind, they embarked on a forty-year journey to their homeland, encamping at forty-two stops along the way. Our Sages tell us that this famous episode is more than historical; it’s actually a template for each of our lives through history. In other words, we’re each headed through our own personal desert to our own Promised Land, with our individual stops and stumbles along the way.

You and I don’t live in the desert, but there’s importance relevance to the imagery. The desert isn’t a pleasant place; it’s not somewhere you can expect to find the comforts of civilization. The desert traveler needs to focus on survival, to pay sharp attention to each step. In that sense, even the city can be a desert.

At the same time, one can conceivably make even a desert journey into a positive experience. What if we build solid relationships with our co-travelers? What if our desert experience actually becomes a stepping-stone for character growth and development? When all is said and done, even a desert trip – challenges and all – can be a gift. It can be the route to our personal Promised Land.

The Jews made some missteps over the forty years in the desert. Some of them were serious mistakes. But they learned and grew from those mistakes. So even if they ‘took a step backward’ in a specific incident, their ultimate growth took them ‘two steps forward.’ They learned from those negative experiences, becoming healthier and stronger human beings for the experience.

When the Jews finally approached their destination, they were grateful. Not just for the destination, but for the journey that brought them there.

Today will almost certainly have challenges. They may cause you to wonder about the whole journey.

Don’t sweat it. Put one foot in front of the other and take a step forward. You’ll be happy you did.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Yanky and Rivky Klein

This email is In Loving memory of my dear father
R’ Yerachmiel Binyamin Halevi ben R, Menachem Klein OBM