Where are you right now? And, wherever that is, are you truly present with all your being?
In the Torah portion we just read on Shabbat, there is a description of the ascent of Moshe to Mount Sinai as follows: “And the Lord said to Moshe: Come up to the mountain and be there.” Why is it necessary to add the words “and be there?” If Moshe Rabbeinu ascends the mountain, is he not obviously there?
Our commentators explain that when Moshe Rabbeinu goes up to receive the Torah, he reaches a new peak in human experience, a spiritual elevation unlike any other. For that reason, he needs maximum focus, an awareness and full appreciation of the greatness of the moment, an authentic connection to that incomparable event. We are not Moshe Rabbeinu on Mount Sinai, but we can emulate the awareness that he demonstrates there.
In my childhood, there was a skit on Rehov Sumsum (Sesame Street) about a child who kept saying: “I want to be there.” In other words, somewhere else – since he was never satisfied with wherever he happened to be. Years later I realized there was great relevance to us all in this child’s message. Often enough, although physically present in a particular place, our minds are elsewhere. We might wonder if we are missing out on something as we check our cell phones. We have to work at being aware and in touch with where we are so as to fully experience each moment without distractions.
So where are you right now? May we be privileged to ascend new mountain peaks and to be completely present when we get there.
The Greatest Gift
The greatest gift is not to be found in something we receive, but in what we give.
After being on the receiving end of numerous miracles and an abundance of loving-kindness, the nation of Israel does give thanks, but also complains about hunger and thirst, wants to return to Egypt, and ultimately makes a golden calf.
But notice how the tone changes in this week’s Torah portion: G-d ceases to give and, instead, demands something from us: “Speak to the children of Israel and have them take for me a donation offering.” Contribute, He tells us, give something of yourselves, connect to a higher purpose. And what happens then? There is an outburst of giving from among the people, a positive and blessed activism, an urge to contribute and to volunteer, without complaint.
Sometimes when children are bored, they only need an opportunity to give, a task that imparts a sense of importance and responsibility, to spark them into action (and this can even be washing dishes). And sometimes adults, when feeling that everything is grey and depressing, will be lifted out of the doldrums the moment they recognize the significance in what they do every day and develop a sense of mission regarding their work and other activities.
This week’s parasha reveals a great secret regarding our relationships, whether with G-d or other people: When we are the ones who give, we feel more connected than when we receive, and derive real joy from our relationships. You are all invited to think of examples from your own lives where adopting a giving attitude made a difference.
To Get Up
Videos from the home of the Paley family on Mintz Street in Jerusalem reached me in New York the moment they were taken. These short videos are lessons for the whole world to see. With the frenetic pace of every day news, the terrorist attack that occurred recently in the Ramot neighborhood may already be forgotten, even in the midst of sitting shiva (7-day period of mourning) for the two Paley boys, Ya’akov Yisrael and Asher Menachem.
In one of the videos, the mother, Devorah Paley, sits opposite teenagers who have taken mitzvah obligations upon themselves in memory of her sons. One of the youths says that he will show greater respect to his friends, a second vows to show more honor to his parents, and a third promises to put on tefillin.
In another video, Devorah speaks about her motto at home: “Never say oof, but always chapter koof.” Oof is an exclamation of complaint, whereas chapter koof (100) in the book of Psalms is about gratitude. This psalm was recited when bringing a Thanksgiving offering to the Holy Temple; it’s a simple expression of thanks to G-d that sings His praises. Many campaigns to recite Psalm 100 were inspired by Devorah’s motto.
Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons fighting in the IDF, went to console the family. “None of us are asked if we want to be born and none of us are told when we are going to die. That’s in the hands of G-d. But I did learn something from King David. When his child was sick, he sat on the floor and did not eat or drink. But after they told him “The boy is dead,” the next word that appears is “Vayakam” – he got up.
King David got up, dressed himself, and ate. This is what you need to do – to get up. The children are already angels in heaven. They are being taken care of up there. As for us, G-d is giving us renewed strength every single day. I buried two sons and a husband too, but I also married off my children and so there are grandchildren and many joyful occasions to celebrate. G-d opens His gates and we learn how to better connect and get closer to Him, especially at times of supreme crisis.”
And then Devorah said to Miriam: “You have given me strength. I see opposite me someone who has ‘gotten up.'”
And Miriam said: “Your children have brought unity to the nation of Israel. If only this unity will accompany us always and not only when we bury our dead”.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.