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AN ISLAND IN TIME

Friday, 11 November, 2016 - 1:00 pm

 

Two days before Chanukah, a downcast Mr. Feldman trudged home. "Where will I get money to buy presents for the holiday?" he asked himself sadly, thinking of his wife and kids. On the way, he passed a church, in front of which was a sign: “$100 Cash to Anyone Who Joins This Church Today!”

This was the solution to Feldman's problem! He went in, joined, and was given the hundred dollars as the sign promised. That evening, at supper, he told his family how he had come by his sudden wealth. "And here's the hundred!" he announced grandly, waving the money before them.

"Darling," said his wife, "you remember that coat you promised me three years ago? Well, it's on sale at Macy's."

"How much is it?" "Only $50, and it's worth at least $85."

Feldman peeled off five tens and gave them to her.

The son spoke up. "Pop, for a long time I've been saving up to buy one of those English bikes with ten gear shifts. I already have most of the money, but I need a little more."

"How much more?" "$25." Feldman handed over the money.

"Daddy," said his teenage daughter, "next week our school is having the most important dance of the whole year. If I don't have a new dress, I'll simply die."

"Don't die, sweetheart. How much is the dress?" "Only $25, Daddy dear."

Feldman handed over the remaining $25, leaned back, and grinned. "It never fails," he announced. "The minute we Gentiles have a little money, you Jews take it away from us!"

The Talmud teaches us that when we say the Shema Yisrael, we accept upon ourselves the “yoke of Heaven,” and remind ourselves that we are living in G-d’s world, within His reality. We are not random creatures, but a part of a singular Creator who formed us and the entire universe, and are all united and integrated through one singular source. 

Who was the first human being to “accept the yoke of Heaven,” to live the “Shema,” to teach it and change the world with its message? It was Abraham, instructed by G-d, in this week's Torah portion, to Lech Lecha, to "Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you… and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you."The Torah describes how Abraham then “called out the name of G-d,” teaching humanity of the dignity of human life and the unity of the universe under one moral G-d. 

It was the first invitation of man to internalize the Shema Yisrael. How? By “Lech Lecha,” by moving away, by departing one place and traveling to another. Just like Abraham’s “Shema” was defined by movement and relocation, it would seem that our Shema, too, can be defined the same way? Does Lech Lecha not tell us that in our lives, the daily act of accepting the yoke of Heaven by reciting the Shema can (and maybe should) be done while moving?

To this the Midrash responds: No! Because Abraham did not begin to accept the yoke of Heaven with Lech Lecha. He had already accepted G-d before Lech Lecha. Lech Lecha was the second phase in his relationship and commitment to G-d.

The Midrash explains that the same goes for the Shema. During the verse of the Shema itself, as we first accept the Heavenly yoke, we must be stationary and still, focused without any disturbances, even walking. The world must come to a stop. However, the rest of the Shema may be recited while moving.

The Midrash is teaching a fundamental idea in Judaism: The opening verse of Shema Yisrael must be internalized and meditated upon while in a state of absolute calm, tranquility, and immobility. If you are always on the run, you can’t find G-d, you can’t hear the inner still voice of your soul. For a few moments, each morning and evening, 365 days a year, you must stop everything. No phone, email, appointments, no rushing, running, moving, worrying. We must declare with our full hearts, minds and mouths: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokanu Hashem Echad.” We are one, we are part of one, and our entire world is one. Our entire existence is encompassed by “Hashem Echad,” by the oneness of the Divine, who created us and gave us each a mission to accomplish in this world.

This is why we cover our eyes when we say the first verse of Shema Yisrael. If you look around during the Shema, you might get distracted by the superficial fragmentation of the entire universe around you. There seems to be no oneness, only endless conflict, strife, and splits everywhere. When we place our hands on our eyes, we are symbolizing the idea that to internalize the Shema we need to gaze at the world with “higher eyes,” a subtler vision that allows us to “see” the secret, underlying unity amidst all of the fragmentation in ourselves and our world. Only when Moshiach comes will we be able to remove our hands during the Shema, for then the mystical unity will be displayed in the external, material world. 

After we are tuned in to the Shema—then we have to move. Judaism does not embrace the vision of remaining for your entire life in a motionless state, in Nirvana. After having said the Shema, we are summoned to “Lech Lecha,” to move away from our inner, beautiful, wholesome space and become a blessing for all the families on earth, to change the world,  to spread goodness, kindness, G-dliness, Torah and Mitzvot.

There are AM souls and FM souls: Those who are stuck in the changing stressful headlines of AM radio, and those who remain sheltered in the soft never-ending ballads of FM radio. Judaism teaches we must begin with spiritual FM: When you wake up and say the Shema, you must be in one place, physically, mentally and conceptually. The world must cease as you connect to your higher self and the ultimate reality. Cover your eyes, remain in one place, and meditate on the Shema. 

But afterward, G-d tells us, Lech Lecha: Now you need to develop the courage to take the Echad-Oneness and reveal it in every facet of life—in your business, your relationships, your psyche, your encounters, your pursuits and ambitions.

The balance is not easy, but it is essential. Without it, we either get swept away in the tumultuous waves of daily life, or we forfeit our mission by escaping into a cocoon and spiritual hibernation, which may be nice but is contrary to our mission.

This is the incredible contribution of Shabbat—creating an “island in time,” where we leave the never-ending buzz of our hectic schedules and dedicate time to our deepest and most important priorities. On Shabbat, time is not defined by external pressures, but rather by our inner rhythm.

The first great principle of time management is to distinguish between the urgent and the important. Your cell phone rings. It is urgent to answer it, but is it important? Shabbat is dedicated to the things that are important but not urgent—spending time with one's spouse and children, sharing a meal, enjoying what we have instead of thinking what we do not have, and giving thanks to G-d for His blessings in the company of those with whom we share a faith. On Shabbat we are not trying to change things, to get somewhere. On Shabbat, our world is still for 25 hours. The marathon ceases. For one day a week, we operate internally, embrace ourselves and celebrate life and existence.

Don't you wish you could close everything down for a day every week and say, "Stop the world, I want to get off."

In her bestselling book, “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” Rachel Naomi Remen writes about visiting her grandfather’s house every Friday after school.  He would light candles and pray quietly.  Then, when he finished talking to G-d, he would rest his hands lightly on top of her head and utter words of blessing. He would thank G-d for making him her grandfather, then softly mention various things, even telling G-d, if she had done something wrong, how good she was for having told the truth about the wrong she had done.

“These few moments each week were the only times I felt completely safe and at rest. My family of physicians and health professionals were always struggling to learn and be more.  If I brought home a 98 on a test, my father asked, ‘And what about the other 2 points?’ I pursued those two points relentlessly throughout my childhood.  But my grandfather did not care about such things. For him, I was already enough. He would just thank G-d that he has me as his granddaughter.… "

The memory and description of these Friday blessings is so vivid, you would think this went on for a long period of time. In fact, her grandfather died when she was only seven years old. 

Many years later, when her mother was very old and unexpectedly started lighting Shabbat candles, she told her mother about the blessings her grandfather gave her and how much it meant to her.  Her mother, she writes, “smiled at me sadly. ‘I have blessed you every day of your life, Rachel. I just never had the wisdom to do it out loud.' ”

Are we making the same mistake? When was the last time we told each of our children: I am so thankful to G-d to have YOU as my child? I am so grateful to be your mom, or your dad!

That is what Shabbat is for. It is a sacred time when we are thankful for what we have, when we recall that the greatness of man is not in what he or she owns, but in who he or she is.

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreiz A”H related the following episode from her childhood. As a young Hungarian girl, she and her family were deported by the Germans to Bergen Belsen. More than 100,000 died there.

“In Bergen Belsen, my revered father, Rabbi Avraham Jungreis, would hide a portion of his meager daily ration of bread. As he did so, he would tell us children to count the days....6 more days, 5 more days, 4 more, and soon it will be Shabbat. When Shabbat actually came, he would gather us in that hell hole on earth and whisper in Yiddish, 'My precious lights, my children, close your eyes and imagine that we are at home. Mama just baked delicious challah...' And as he spoke, he would bring forth those precious crumbs that he had saved throughout the week, and in his sweet, beautiful voice would sing, 'Shalom aleichem malachei hasharet... welcome angels of Shabbat...'

"On one occasion, my younger brother tugged at my father’s hand and said, 'Tatty, I don’t see any angels here; Where are the angels of Shabbat?'

"My father’s eyes filled with tears and in a trembling voice, he answered, ' You, my precious lights, are the angels of Shabbat.'

"So in Bergen Belsen, we became angels of Shabbat."

Imagine: These were Jewish children in a Nazi concentration camp stripped of everything a human being needs to feel the most basic sense of dignity: a home, shelter, safety, family, food, a bathroom, respect. Yet on Shabbat, their father made them feel like angels!

That is the essential message of Shabbat: Your sense of inner worth and identity does not come only from external circumstances and possessions. The Baal Shem Tov says that every Jew has to see him or herself loved by G-d just as parents love their only child. You are G-d's child, a prince or princess. 

No matter where destiny may take a Jew, no matter in what situation he may find himself, no one can rob him of his higher purpose–to be an angel of Shabbat–a source of blessing and serenity. This is the sacred calming space we need today.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
 

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