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Hanna's Dvar Torah

Is it permissible to give charity? - Ree

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During the period of the Talmud, the roman governor Quintus Tineius Rufus, nicknamed by the Jews Turnus Rufus the Evil, asked Rabbi Akiva: “If G-d loves the poor, why doesn’t He support them?”. Rabbi Akiva answered: “In order for us to support them, and thus to be saved from hell”. Tsedaka (charity) saves us from death, both material and spiritual.

The roman governor asked again: “If the King gets angry with one of his slaves, puts him in jail and orders not to bring him any food, and a person nevertheless feeds him, is it not an act of rebellion against the King?” (The roman was likening the slave with the poor people to whom G-d does not give enough sustenance).  

Before reading the answer of Rabi Akiva, let’s understand better the roman’s question: he wanted to challenge him by telling him that giving charity does not fall in line with believing in G-d. If we believe that G-d governs everything in the world, everything exists for a reason including poverty.   

Rabbi Akiva answered: “You think that we are talking about a slave who got punished. But we are children of G-d. If the King (G-d), gets angry with his son and orders not to feed him, in a while, after he calms down, he will be delighted that someone took care of his child”.

This was Rabbi Akiva’s answer to the challenge, but the basic question remains: how does giving charity not contradict our belief that everything that G-d does has a purpose?

This week’s Parasha Ree is full of commandments about charity. It describes the various ways in which we need to help the poor and stresses that it must be done with a smile.

Tsedakah is part of the G-dly plan. G-d created the world imperfect, so that we can perfect it. The poor person must believe that everything comes from G-d. This is his challenge. But our mission in this case is to help whoever has a need and not to “justify” G-d’s plan.

Let’s help one another, let’s give Tsedakah (charity) and in this way fulfill our mission, make the world a better place.

Shabbat Shalom!

Hanna

The beggar who won the lottery - Ekev

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A beggar was once asked what he would do if he won the lottery. He answered immediately that he would build a very special synagogue: a synagogue where only he would have the right to collect money!

We may give money to a beggar but it’s much more difficult to change the way he thinks…

In this week’s Parasha Ekev, Moses describes the desert that they have to cross in order to get to the Promised Land as “great and terrible”, full of snakes and scorpions… The Desert symbolizes our exile, until Mashiach comes.

Many people think that the world around us is something important and significant. That we need to take into consideration the opinion of others when we make decisions. That an important criterion in choosing what to do is how popular it is: if something is popular, then we should do it and if not, why should we be the only ones to do it? We may not have enough self-confidence to do what we think is the right thing.

 

We will not go far with this way of thinking. Because somehow, following what is popular and common, the different personality and unique identity of each person gradually get lost. We become all similar, identical to others.

 

In order to get out of our exile, we need to change our way of thinking. To think freely! The Desert that we need to cross in order to get to our Promised Land is not “great and terrible”. In other words, the “world” doesn’t have the great importance we give it. G-d has chosen us for a certain purpose and has given us the strength to do the right thing.

Even if we are the only ones in our circle who devotes time to study Torah, even if we are the only ones in our family who does not eat dairy with meat, even if we are the only one in class who does not cheat during the exams, even if we are the only ones in the neighborhood who takes recycling seriously, this should not deter us.

May we speedily change our way of thinking and may G-d take us out of exile, bringing us Mashiach who will free us from all our problems and worries.

Shabbat Shalom!

Hanna

The real meaning of Shema Israel - Vaetchanan

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An American tourist goes to vacation to Israel. When he comes back and is asked how it was there, he answered: “Israel is a wonderful country! There are so many Jews here that don’t know Hebrew, while there even 4-year-old children speak a perfect Hebrew!”

But even those that don’t know perfect Hebrew know the prayer: “Shema Israel Ado-nai Elo-enou Ado-nai Echad”, or in English “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One”. This is the first prayer that we teach to the young ones, as soon as they start talking and this is the prayer Jews say when leaving this world. We say it every morning and every evening.

Since it is so important and central to our lives, let’s try to understand in more in depth.

When we say Shema Israel, de don’t only mean that G-d is the only G-d and that there is no other one. We mean that he is really the Only One, there is nothing outside of G-d. The world is one with Him. All that we see is really an “extension” of G-d.

He continues to create the world at every moment, again and again. If G-d stopped to re-create the world and give us life continuously, the world would revert to nil. This can be compared to heroes in a movie: they appear real, but if the projector stops for a moment to project their image, they simply stop existing…

If we think a little about it, this is wonderful: every second, G-d re-creates me, in other words He wants me here in His world to fulfill my mission.

This thought inspires us to love Him and observe His commandments, as we say in the continuation of the prayer of Shema Israel.

Let’s all decide, every evening before going to sleep, to say the Shema Israel. It takes less than 2 minutes and it’s a wonderful way to close our day.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

How to give helpful criticism - Devarim

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What do you hate hearing most of all?

Many will answer criticism. A critical comment can take the wind out of sails and cause us to choose not to do anything at all. It discourages us from even trying.

On the other hand, we need the criticism. Because only then can we improve. A person usually doesn’t see what he needs to improve in himself...

Is there a right way to give criticism?

In this week’s Parasha Dvarim, Moses start his last speech to the Jewish people before his death. In this speech, he rebukes the Jewish people for their sins. Moses doesn’t describe the sins with details, on the contrary, he only alludes to them. He condemns the sin but shows understanding for the sinners.

For instance, in order to speak about the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses refers to a place that is called “Dei Zahav”, which means “Enough Gold”. Yet, such a place doesn’t exist. It’s clear that this is a reference to the sin. But Moses shows understanding: they had so much gold that it was difficult for them not to get carried away…

When the criticism is said with so much love and understanding, with truly good intentions, the other person accepts it.

Let’s try to follow Moses’ example. If we must give criticism, let’s think well before we speak and not hurry. Let’s think with love and understanding about the recipient of the criticism, let’s choose our words carefully in order not to shame or hurt him. In this way, our criticism will indeed be helpful.

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

A lesson from camp - Matot-Masei

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Yesterday was the last day of the camp where I was a counselor. It was a camp for teenage girls between 14 and 16 years old from all over the world. For 3 weeks, 24 hours a day, I was dedicated to the girls, together with the rest of the amazing staff. (As you can imagine, I'm now exhausted).

As I’m writing these lines, almost all of them have returned to their homes and I miss them already. Each one of us comes back a better person than when we arrived. Personally, one of the important things I learnt from the camp was not to judge a person from the first impression. Even some girls who seemed like all they wanted to do is complain, no matter what we did. When we nevertheless got close to them and loved them, we discovered that they were finally very good and sweet girls… It wasn’t easy but it was worth it.

We find this challenge in this week’s Parasha Matot Masei.

The Jews had to fight the people of Midian, who had attacked them without any reason. Their country was not in the way of the Jews, but they attacked in order to annihilate them.

The wars the Jews waged against various people were not only for defense or conquest purposes. Each people represent a negative power that we need to fight and overcome until today.

In Hebrew, the word “Midian” comes from the root “madon”, which means quarrel. Midian represents the hate we have for someone without any real reason. We hate them only because his or her existence disturbs us. According to the Talmud, this senseless hate was the cause of the destruction of the Second Temple. We need to fight and stop this hate. But how?  

In the initial war with the people of Midian, Moses had to be involved. Moses, which G-d describes as the humblest person on the world, shows us the way to win the battle also against the symbolic Midian, the senseless hate. If I’m the only important person, then naturally everyone will disturb me. Anyone who speaks and dares pretend that they are worth something threatens my very existence. But with humility, consideration for others instead of for ourselves, we can really love another one.

Let’s choose a small action that we can do to fight the negative power symbolized by Midian. Greet others with a smile, hear someone until the end of their sentence without interrupting etc.

In merit of our love for one another, may G-d send us Mashiach now!

Shabbat Shalom,

Hanna

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