We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Re’eh #1
Holy and Treasured
“For you are a holy nation to Hashem your G-d, and you, He chose to be His treasured nation from among all the nations on the face of the earth” (Devarim 14:2).
Moshe tells the Jewish people how special and beloved they are to the Al-mighty: they are His children, a nation that is holy (am kadosh) and treasured (am segulah). What is the difference between an am kadosh and an am segulah?
The Malbim explains that these two terms relate to two different qualities.
Kedushah, sanctity or holiness, is acquired by the individual through his deeds. When our actions are holy, we are imbued with holiness.
Our status as Hashem’s am segulah is something else. Hashem chose us not because of actions that make us worthy or holy, but simply because we are precious to Him. When our deeds fall short of what they should be we will not have the sanctity, but come what may, we still remain Hashem’s am segulah.
In what sense are our actions as a people holy and unique? One answer emerges from a 2013 survey of 3,000 Jewish households and 2,000 non-Jewish households conducted by “Connected to Give.” They found that 76 percent of American Jews reported a charitable contribution in 2012, compared to 63 percent among non-Jewish Americans. The median annual giving rate among Jews was $1,200, double that of non-Jews. They also found that the most significant factor in determining whether or not a family was charitable was their connection to the Jewish community: it was those with ties to the community who were more likely to give.
Question for Discussion:
In what area have you found that the Jewish people excel in comparison to other nations?
Rabbi Adi Isaacs, originally from Los Angeles, founder and director of the “Thrive at Hebrew University” study abroad program, told a story which shows that Jews are innately kind and compassionate (see Yevamos 79a):
While Israeli-born Jews (“sabras”) may be tough on the outside, I saw for myself that they are caring on the inside. Our baby son was only three days old, but we were scheduled to travel to the United States soon afterwards, and we needed an American passport for him. This was in the days when the American consulate was located on a very narrow, busy street in East Jerusalem, where parking was virtually non-existent. Even worse, it was a swelteringly hot summer day, and we were not happy about taking a newborn out in the heat. We were concerned about the potential chillul Hashem if we blocked traffic by stopping in front of the consulate, but saw little choice. With my wife at the wheel, I struggled to get the baby and his paraphernalia out of the car as quickly as possible. Cars were weaving around us, and our stress levels were rising by the second. An Egged bus driver swerved very close and stopped short. He opened the door of the bus and shouted in Hebrew, “Slow down there, you’ve got a new baby! And make sure you put a hat on him in this heat!”
Parshas Re’eh #2
“Do not eat chametz with [the korban Pesach]. For seven days you will eat matzos with it, bread of affliction. For in haste you left Egypt” (Devarim 16:3).
Moshe reminded the Jews of the circumstances of their departure from Egypt: when the Divinely-ordained moment came, the Egyptians hurried them out of the country. Urged along by their former masters, they left b’chipazon, in such haste that there was no time for their bread dough to rise, and they had no choice but to take it along as is (see Midrash Aggadah and Rashi).
The Seforno differentiates between two types of haste. One produces the flat “bread of affliction” eaten by slaves, who have no time to even allow their bread to rise properly. Another is the haste of Redemption. When the long-awaited time finally arrived, the Jewish people were not held back even a single minute longer.
Chipazon – haste – can be positive or negative. On the positive side, we can carry out responsibilities and obligations quickly and efficiently, freeing time for more important pursuits. On the negative side, the pressure brought to bear on a slave – or one who is viewed as a slave – leaves him little control of his own time.
A well-known non-Jewish real estate magnate named Fred Trump would make a point of checking when Shabbos began each week. Much to his credit, he wanted to be able to remind a shomer Shabbos employee to leave on time for Shabbos. Occasionally, he would even reprimand him for cutting it too close by leaving work too late!
At the other end of the spectrum, the non-Jewish CEO of a major company installed an app on his smartphone which notifies him when Shabbos begins each week. He is not interested in Judaism – he just wants to make sure that an Orthodox senior executive at the company does not leave too early. No thanks to the app, the CEO is the one who tells the employee when he can go home on Friday…This is twenty-first century slavery, and very negative chipazon.
Long after the era of formal slavery, and even without an overbearing boss, many people have set up their own type of personal slavery. They are caught up in a plethora of activities and habits that are not all that important, but take away their precious time and freedom to concentrate on what truly does matter.
Question for Discussion:
Are you busy in a positive, productive way, and if so, what advice can you offer about how you do it? If you are instead entangled in negative, confining “busyness,” what can you do to gain better control of your time?
“Reuven,” originally from Ohio, now in Israel,felt that he was enslaved and out of control because he was not using his time productively. He had some time until he would begin yeshivah, and found that too many long unstructured days, with little to do, were an impediment to satisfaction and accomplishment.
Aaron from Chicago also had a great deal of unstructured time in between the end of the yeshivah term and the upcoming new term in university. Unlike Aaron, he was able to keep himself productive and efficient by setting goals on a daily to-do list. He was the only one pushing himself to get through the list and add to it, but it worked!
Daniel Bieder, formerly of England, now in Jerusalem, differentiated between “important” activities and “urgent” ones. “Important” includes learning Torah,family time, and more. “Urgent” is bills, repairs, errands, and the like. Too often, Daniel said, we allow “urgent” to overtake “important.”
He illustrated his point with the story of a French professor who taught time management. The professor showed his students a glass jar, a pile of rocks, another of pebbles, and another still of sand. As the students watched, he first put the rocks into the jar, and then shook in the smaller pebbles. Quite a few pebbles fit in, filling the crevices between the rocks. He finished by pouring in the sand, until the jar was finally full to capacity.
What was point of this demonstration?
The professor wanted to teach his students that if we first make place for the big things – what really matters, and what we really need to do – we will find ways to work in the less important pebbles, and even large amounts of sand on top of them. If we operate in the reverse order, first filling the available space with sand and then trying to add the pebbles, there will never be any room for the rocks. The same is true of the need to prioritize; we need to first fit in what counts the most, rather than wasting all our time and energy on “sand.”