Sunday, April 5, 2015

Tzav: Role Reversal

There was once a dockworker named Jack who had been forced to leave school at an early age in order to support his family. Jack, however, greatly valued the importance of Torah study. So he made an agreement with a promising young scholar, that he would help support the young man in return for sharing the merit of his Torah study,

The agreement worked fine until one day Jack decided that it was not enough just to support a Torah scholar. He wanted to study Torah himself! So he informed the young man that from now on, they were switching roles. Jack would take the scholar's place in the study hall, while the scholar would perform his job on the dock.

Of course, the results were disastrous. The scholar lacked the strength and stamina necessary to unload the ships at the harbor. Jack, on the other hand, barely knew the Hebrew alphabet. He found himself sitting and staring at the pages of the Talmud, until he nodded off to sleep on the bench in the yeshiva.

Kavanah in Prayer

The Torah states that if the kohen has the incorrect intention when bringing an offering in the Temple, the offering is pigul and is invalidated. Prayer is a comparable form of serving God, one which also requires the appropriate intention or kavanah. Prayers which are recited when one is distracted by stray thoughts is like an offering ruined by machshevet-chutz, extraneous thoughts.

A prayer without proper kavana is similar to the disastrous switch of the dockworker and the yeshiva scholar, Instead of the body doing its work while the mind concentrates on prayer, their roles are reversed. The lips mindlessly form the words of prayer, and the body sways with movements of prayer; but the mind is preoccupied with thoughts of the workplace....

Thursday, November 27, 2014

VaYeitzei: The Son and the Wallet

After Jacob left his home in Beersheba, he vowed to serve God faithfully if God would: (a) protect him on his journey, (b) provide him with food and clothing, and (c) return him to his father's house.

God in fact appeared to Jacob in a vision, promising: "I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go and bring you back to this land."

This covered Jacob's first and last requests. But what about the food and clothing?

Cash for the Trip

Michael needed to send his son on a long journey. He prepared everything the boy would require for the trip, including a wallet with cash to pay for various expenses on the way.

But before his son headed out, Michael received disturbing news. Bandits were making trouble on the roads, attacking and robbing innocent travelers. Michael decided that the situation was too dangerous for his son to travel on his own, so last minute he changed the plan. He would join his son on the journey.

As they started out early the next morning, the boy suddenly looked nervous. "Father, where is the money purse you prepared for me? I will need it for my expenses on the road!"

Michael smiled. "Son, what do you need money for? I will be with you on the trip. I will pay for everything we need."

"I am with you"

The father's response is exactly what God told Jacob: "I am with you, and I will protect you..." Since God would be with Jacob, it was no longer necessary for Him to promise food and clothing; God would watch over all of Jacob's needs. "I will not abandon you," God promised Jacob. I will always be there to answer your prayers.

(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, pp. 66-67)