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Friday, 21 April, 2017 - 4:46 pm

A police officer once pulled over a couple driving in a speeding car.  The officer sidles up to the car and says, "I clocked you at 80 mph, sir."

The husband driving the car says, "Gee, officer, I had it on cruise control at 65, perhaps your radar needs calibrating."

Not looking up from her afghan, his wife says sweetly, "Now don't be silly dear, you know very well this car doesn't have cruise control."

The driver shoots a look at his wife as the officer makes out the ticket. “Be quiet!” he hisses at her.

The wife smiles demurely and says "You should be thankful your radar detector went off when it did."

As the officer makes out a second ticket for the illegal radar detector, the man glowers at his wife and says through clenched teeth,  "Can't you keep your mouth shut for once?"

The officer frowns and says, "And, I notice you're not wearing your seat belt, sir, that's an automatic $175 fine."

"Yeah, well you see officer,” begins the husband, “I had it on, but took it off when you pulled me over to get my license out of my back pocket."

And the wife says, "Now dear, you know very well that you didn't have your seatbelt on, you never wear your seat belt when you're driving the Corvette."

And, as the officer makes out the third ticket the driver turns to his wife and barks, "WHY CAN’T YOU JUST SHUT UP!"

The officer looks over at the woman and says, "Does your husband always talk to you this way, Ma'am?"

"Oh heavens no, officer, only when he's been drinking..."

Nadav and Avihu were priests, children of Aaron the High Priest and Moses's nephews, on a lofty level. However, in this week's Torah portion, Shemini, their story takes a surprising turn. The Torah relates that they entered the Tabernacle drunk! Picture the Tabernacle in all its pristine holiness, the site of G-d’s manifestation on earth, being rudely disturbed by a couple of drunks barging in on the place. Is there another place in the world where that boorish behavior could be any less appropriate? Why would they behave in such a way? And whom? Two people about whom Moses said that they are greater than he and Aaron, the high priest!

Furthermore, wine escorts us throughout our life cycles. When we are hatched and when we are matched—the wine is present: During the Brit Mikvah and during the wedding ceremony. It was poured regularly on the Altar in the Temple, and continues to be used today for grace after meals, the Passover Seder and of course Kiddush on Friday night, Shabbat morning and all Jewish holidays.

The commentary Tiferet Yisrael on the Mishnah offers an intriguing analogy: “A businessman planning on making a long business trip rises at dawn to prepare for his journey, while his attendant is still sleeping. Certainly, if the businessman is wise, he knows that the desire for the profits  the trip has to offer, the sense of urgency that awakes him from his sleep, and that do not allow him to rest for a moment, does not exist in the heart of his attendant. For the attendant, the toil of travel offers him no special benefit.”

Any business owner, manager, or CEO can tell you what a challenge employee motivation can be. When a worker is not a stakeholder in the profits and losses of the business, the entire enterprise is a foreign one to him. As long as he keeps his job and salary, what difference does the overall well-being of the company matter to him? Without a real “dog in the fight," work can easily become a dreary, laborious affair, and motivation and productivity become harder to sustain.

So what does the owner do? If he’s feeling particularly generous, he can make the employee a partner, and a part-owner of the business. But there are also other ways.

According to Tiferet Yisrael the problem of employee motivation sums up precisely the predicament of the body and soul.

The soul, in this parable, is the businessman, with a very clear sense of purpose and ambition. The soul craves spirituality and transcendence, to reconnect with its divine source. When the Holy Shabbat finally arrives, after a long week of material pursuit, all the soul wants to do is to disconnect from this mundane plane and be swept up in its divine intensity and alight on this spiritual journey, an island in time. But, there’s a slight problem of employee motivation. For better or for worse, as long as the soul is here on this earth, it is dependent on its employee—the body it is housed in. Now, this body doesn’t get all that excited by buzz words like “melting away in the divine” and “corporate team building exercise." The body isn’t interested in going anywhere.

So the Sages decided to add a glass of wine to the Shabbat festivities. Now, welcoming in the Shabbat was something that even the body could look forward to.

Shabbat is more important, and more vital, than the wine. But we are dealing with people over here! After travails and distractions of the week, it isn’t so easy to just jump into the Shabbat experience and immediately assume its elevated consciousness. It needs to be coaxed and encouraged. Once the body has been given a bit to drink, some tasty fish, chicken soup and my wife’s paradise-like challah, it can finally warm up a little, and go along with the soul on its divine journey.

One century before the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov saw all of the traditional festivities of Shabbat in a similar light, and told the story of a prince in a land far away from his father the king. After the longest hiatus, the prince finally receives a precious letter from his father, and is so jubilant that he runs out to the street to find someone to celebrate with. But who can appreciate the significance of this letter? Who else would celebrate?

The prince finds a tavern full of drunken peasants and orders the entire room another round of drinks. The tavern comes alive, and the grateful drunks start to dance happily with the prince. They sing and celebrate the vodka, while he celebrates his precious letter.

Shabbat, says the Baal Shem Tov, is a “letter” from G-d to each of us. Shabbat contain an energy that vibrates within the Jewish souls, reminding it who it really is. As Shabbat comes, the soul begins to dance. But the body wonders, why all this fuss? Thus, the soul invites the body for a scrumptious Shabbat feast. The body enjoys the schnapps and spare ribs, while the soul "kvels" from the divine letter.

But there is another sphere of the Jewish experience where a higher standard is to be expected.

As long as it stood, the Tabernacle was the absolute pinnacle of the Jewish experience. It was a place that offered the purest, most unadulterated encounter with G-d, the ultimate divine experience. It was a space of intimacy between man and G-d. In the Tabernacle, you should not need wine to get into the swing of things.

Imagine a groom showing up to his own wedding inebriated. When his bride asks him why he smells of alcohol, he says: I needed to make sure I am in a happy mood during our wedding… What a disgrace! You need Blue Label to get you into a happy mood?! You mean the fact that you are marrying me tonight does not cut it?

So when the Torah described their sin as “they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them,” it is not a contradiction to the inebriation story. It is all the same point. The sons of Aaron were looking for a “fire.” They craved inspiration, happiness, and passion. But the problem was it was a “foreign fire,” fire generated from foreign substances. In the Sanctuary, on the day of the dedication, this was a travesty.

Outside of the Tabernacle, if you want to bring wine into Judaism? Great. But even then make sure that it is not the wine which constitutes the basis of the appeal. We all need some help at times in our spiritual pursuits, and we need the Jewish experience to be made accessible and user-friendly. Which is why we in our shul have the best cholent and lchayim in town… But never confuse packaging with substance.

What is more, we are all capable of an independent, authentic relationship with Judaism and G-d without the need of external motivations. We don’t need patronizing perks, or shiny tricks and trinkets. The soul is a fiery piece of G-d, screaming for purpose, for meaning, for spirituality, for transcendence, and for G-d. It doesn’t need any incentives! That’s what it is. We must realize when we are violating the sanctity of a moment when we need the external substance to motivate us. It is possible, without the wine, without selling Judaism short, and without selling ourselves short, to inspire people. The soul is more powerful than you think.

In 1960, a group of Jewish college students came to see the Rebbe. One student asked: “I have heard that the Rebbe has the power to work miracles. Is this true? Do you perform supernatural feats?”

The Rebbe replied: “The ability to work miracles is not confined to a select group of individuals, but is within reach of each and every one of us. We each possess a soul that is a spark of G‑dliness. So we each have the power to transcend the limitations imposed upon us by our physical natures, no matter how formidable they may seem.

“To demonstrate this to you,” said the Rebbe, “I will now perform a miracle.”

Smiling at the startled young faces around his desk, the Rebbe continued: “Each and every individual in this room will now resolve to improve himself in one specific area. You will each choose an improvement that you recognize as necessary, but until now have perceived as being beyond your power to achieve. Nevertheless, you will succeed, proving to yourselves that the soul indeed has the power to overcome the natural ‘reality’ . . .”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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