Parshas Shoftim

September 3rd,011
3 Elul, 5771

This week’s Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the birth of Menucha Zussman, daughter of R’ Menachem and Tova Zussman. Mazel Tov

Workout Season

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

Every year, towards the end of December, there is a universal American custom. We take a look in the mirror, pinch a little here, squeeze a little there, and sincerely resolve to take better care of our bodies. More exercise, a few less desserts, a bit more sleep.

There’s another universal custom, a complimentary one, which takes place around the middle of January. According to this ancient national custom, we note that the resolution lasted less than two weeks, take the mirror off the wall and give up until next year.

I would like to humbly suggest a possible solution to the problem. This year, every day after the resolution is made, at an early hour of the morning, we’ll sound an alarm. A piercing shriek that could wake the neighbors lasting fifteen seconds. The noise will serve as a reminder. Today, keep your resolution. Go jogging, eat a salad, skip dessert, whatever. Just stay on the program.

Then, we’ll pick a day, a month later, as a national day of assessment and reward. For those who listened to the sound of the alarm and shed a few unwanted pounds, there will be a celebration and they’ll receive fabulous prizes for the rest of the year.

For those that dropped the ball and slept through the alarm, we’ll give them ten more days, with the option to celebrate on the tenth.

Sound like a plan? Who knows, maybe this year we’ll get farther than two weeks.

As the Jewish Year draws to a close, we also have some ancient national customs. About this time of year, we look back at our year, peer closely at this behavior or that one, and sincerely resolve to take better care of our souls. A little less gossip, a bit more Torah learning, improved relationships with the family.

In order to keep our spiritual self-improvement program on track, we even have an alarm. From the very first day of Elul, the last Hebrew month of the year, (which started this week) we blow the shofar every morning after services. A good loud set of blasts – tekiya, shevarim, terua, tekiya. Then we say a chapter of Tehilim (Psalms), which reconfirms our uplifting spiritual commitment.

At the end of the month comes Rosh Hashana. All those who have really made some serious improvements in last year’s behavior can start celebrating immediately. Anyone who hasn’t gets ten more days. Then, on the tenth of the New Year comes Yom Kippur – the last chance to hand in your spiritual evaluation forms. For the rest of the year, it’s fabulous prizes based on past success and future potential.

Sound familiar? Our ‘Spiritual Trainer’ has a great program set up for us. And who knows, maybe this year we’ll make just enough progress to make Him proud.

How Close is Close?

By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

The stock market teeters one day and rallies the next. We tremble with warnings of earthquakes and advance forecasts of hurricanes and tornadoes. The thought of who the next president might be gives us nightmares. Tomorrow’s woes don’t allow us to rest peacefully at night. What kind of world will we leave for our children? Will peace and stability reign or will war and insecurity ravage their future? We feel lost and unable to regain our footing.

“You shall be wholehearted with Hashem,” the Torah directs us. Rashi comments that we are commanded not to seek knowledge of the future, but rather to steadfastly trust in Hashem. Chazon Ish explains that faith in Hashem doesn’t mean that everything will happen as we would like it to happen. However, we can expect that Hashem, in His infinite mercy, will care for us as a parent for a child. A child relies on his parent to smooth out difficulties for him and carry him though life’s pitfalls. So too, Hashem lovingly buttresses all of His children against the powerful forces that threaten them.

Netziv understands that this verse contains a double meaning. We are cautioned to live with unshakable trust in Hashem. When we realize that objective, we are guaranteed that Hashem will surround us in tranquility and well-being.

Maimonides, in his enumeration of the 613 mitzvos, does not include this commandment to trust Hashem sincerely and unconditionally. Nachmanides questions his opinion and argues to include it as one of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah. Malbim explains as follows. The Torah is defining our role as Hashem’s people. The essence of our nation is absolute and unmitigated reliance upon Hashem. It is for this reason that we are guaranteed that our deep-rooted conviction will not go unanswered. Rather, when Hashem deems it appropriate He will respond favorably to our needs.

Rabbeinu Bachya extends the meaning of this verse to include all the mitzvos of the Torah. On occasion, one may think that a particular mitzvah is passé or that a specific prohibition does not apply in our modern day and age. We are spurred on by the Torah to strive for perfection in our service of Hashem. Our fear of Heaven must squelch any stray thought that seeks to undermine Hashem’s authority and alternatively we must reinforce and strengthen our complete belief in the supremacy of the Torah and its principles.

Furthermore, this confidence imbues sincerity. It is insufficient to serve Hashem robotically; our actions must reflect an inner and innate passion to become closer to Hashem. When internal strife exists, intimate serenity cannot. Hence, one’s performance of mitzvos is compromised and hindered.

Many of us are deeply absorbed in the secular environment which envelopes us. We miss the opportunity to move closer to Hashem and feel the warmth of Shabbos or Yom Tov. Our business endeavors and personal pursuits inhibit our ability to perpetuate the degree of connection that we feel during davening or when we study Torah. This mitzvah can provide us with the wellbeing and comfort level that we so desperately yearn for.

This week we begin to search for the lost inner self that we attained last year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Throughout the year, the vicissitudes and challenges of life have smothered us and we have lost some battles that have weakened us. As we listen and heed the call of the shofar this month, let us hope that it will arouse dormant feelings of sanctity and a passion to elevate our lives above the humdrum that deafens our soul.

Byte for Shabbos

Although the Torah demands that we trust G-d wholeheartedly, this level of trust does not apply to our relationship with other people. We should be careful to avoid people who may be dangerous and we must be vigilant to protect ourselves and our families from those elements who would deprive us of our resources.



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