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I KNOW THE SHEPHERD

I KNOW THE SHEPHERD

Friday, 9 June, 2017 - 12:00 pm

There was once a jungle in which one lion thought himself a king. Everyday he got up, went over to the chipmunk, pinned him to the ground and asked, "Who's the toughest animal in the jungle?"

To which the chipmunk, in a meek little voice, always replied, "You are!"

Then the lion would find the bird. He would grab the bird, pin him to the ground and ask, "Who's the toughest animal in the jungle?"

"You are," the poor frightened bird would reply.

This went on each day, all morning. The lion would go to every other animal, pin them to the ground and ask his question. Finally, one day, he came up to the elephant. Grabbing him by the leg, the lion squeezed it and asked, "Who's the toughest beast in the jungle?"

The elephant looked at the lion, and then grabbed him by his trunk. Picking the lion up, he slammed him to the ground fifteen times. The lion was wobbly, shaken and distraught.

And he said to the elephant: "If you didn't know the answer, you didn't have to get so sore about it!"

People are stressed, scattered, fragmented, afraid, confused, downtrodden, sad, and depressed. At best, we are overwhelmed, burdened, splintered, and all over the place. This week's  portion Behaalotcha will give you the “magic pill”—and it is a single verse in this week’s portion.  It is an awareness, a paradigm shift, that needs to set in into our minds and hearts.

The journey of the Jewish people in the Sinai desert, was guided by G-d. A cloud hovered over the portable sanctuary, the Mishkan, built in the desert. "Whenever the cloud lifted from the Tent, the Israelites would set out accordingly; and at the spot where the cloud settled, there the Israelites would encamp."

At the very center of the Israelite camp stood the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that housed the Divine presence. Surrounding the Mishkan were the tents of the Kohanim and Levites who served in the Sanctuary. And beyond the Levite camp radiated, like the spokes of a wheel, the tent communities of the 12 tribes of Israel—three tribes to the east, three to the south, three to the west and three tribes to the north.

According to Jewish law, the biblical prohibition to demolish on Shabbat is only if we are demolishing the structure, not just to destroy, but for the sake of renovation, just like it was in the Mishkan: it was demolished in order to transport and erect it at the next encampment. If I break down a wall in my home, or remove a brick, because I want to renovate my home, then it is a violation of the biblical prohibition to work on Shabbos.

Why should the fact that the Jews followed the word of G-d in their travels cause us to disregard their movement from one place to another in the desert and state that the sanctuary only to be erected in the same location?

 The Torah gives a beautiful parable.

Imagine a young woman traveling half way round the globe. From Miami she flies to LA, then to London, Moscow, Tel Aviv, Johannesburg, Sydney, and then NY. In each place, she must wait on the long and exhausting lines to go through customs and security. She needs to wait on lines to board and deplane. In each place, she needs to deal with luggage, travel, and settling in. As she enters each country, she receives a unique stamp on her passport, indicative of the distinctive status of the new country she is about to enter, with a bureaucracy all its own.

But what if this young woman is holding an infant in her arms as she makes this arduous journey half way round the world? If the baby was asked where he has been all these days and weeks, what would his response be? If you were to ask him—or her—how many countries he visited, in how many places did he hang out, how many lines he waited on, how many passport controls he needed to endure? His answer will be: I was in the same place all the time—cuddled up in my mother’s arms.

For the baby, there is little difference between continents, countries, states and cities. All the long, grueling and strenuous lines don’t mean much to him—as he is protected from all of it. Throughout all the journeys, he lay comfortably and stably in his mom’s arms, oblivious to the multitudes of changes and fluctuations all around him. From his experience, he is not even “moving around” from one end of the globe to the other. He’s lodged comfortably in the safest and most nurturing place on earth: In his mother’s or father’s warm clinch.

This, then, is the meaning behind the Talmudic answer: “Since the Torah states, ‘They camped at G-d's word and moved on at G-d's word,’ when they dismantled the Mishkan it was as though they had the intention of reassembling it in the very same spot!” While journeying in the desert, the Jewish people experienced themselves as lodged 24/7 in G-d’s loving and embracing “arms.” From their perspective, they were always situated in the same “place.” Sure, geographically, they moved around; but in their consciousness, they have not moved anywhere: they were in the same spot—in the loving and nurturing grip of G-d.

This message constitutes the secret to true stability and wholesomeness in life. Life can sometimes be compared to a slow tranquil ride on the Choo Choo train in the amusement park, but at other times to the Super-Duper-Luper in Hershey Park, where you are being turned upside down, and you are not sure if you are coming or going. We often feel like we are on a roller coaster. Life’s journeys, excursions, voyages, rides and expeditions, take us up mountains, down valleys, and sometimes down cliffs.

But when you can come to realize that I am situated in my mother’s arms all of the time, it confers upon you a sense of stability, confidence, and serenity.

Or in the words of the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schnuer Zalman of Liadi: This is the essence of the faith for which man was created: to believe that “There is no space devoid of Him”… and confidence and joy are in His place, because He is but good all the time. Therefore, first of all, a person ought to be happy and joyous at every time and hour, and truly live by his faith in G-d, Who animates him and acts kindly towards him at every moment.

The story is told of an actor and an opera singer who was known for his readings and recitations from the Classics. He always ended his performance with a dramatic recital of Psalm 23. Each night, without exception, as the actor began his recitation -- "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" -- the crowd would listen attentively and then rise with thunderous applause, in appreciation of the actor's ability to bring the psalm to life.

One night, just before the singer and actor was to offer his customary recital of Psalm 23, an old Jew from the audience spoke up. "Sir, would you mind, if tonight, I recite Psalm 23?"

The actor was surprised by this unusual request. However he invited the old Jew to come onto the stage to recite the psalm; curious to see the how the ability of this Jew weighed against his own talent.

Softly the old man began to recite the words of the psalm. His voice was parched and weak, and his tune pretty lousy.

“The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want…

“Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff-they will comfort me…

“Only goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the House of the Lord for many long years.”

When he was finished, there was no applause. There was no standing ovation as on other nights. All that could be heard was the sound of weeping. The audience had been so moved by the man's recitation that every eye was tearful.

Amazed by what he had experienced, the opera star queried, "I don't understand. I have been performing Psalm 23 for years. I have a lifetime of experience and training -- but I have never been able to move an audience as you have tonight. And frankly, you have a horrible voice and can barely carry a tune. Tell me, what is your secret?"

The Jew humbly replied, "Well sir, you know the psalm...but I know the Shepherd."

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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