Archive for December, 2011

Acts of kindness…

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Dear Friends,

Last night I had the opportunity to offer opening remarks at the local BBYO gala in Bethesda. Some of you may have participated in this important youth program as teenagers.

I spoke about Joseph and wanted to share a segment of my remarks with you. The Joseph story begins in Genesis, Chapter 37. Joseph is looking for his brothers and encounters a person who offers to help him find them. The person is only identified as “the person.” Joseph finds his brothers, they bury him in a pit and you can read about the sequence of events that unfolds, which culminates in us becoming slaves in Egypt and being freed from slavery.

Much of our history occurs as a result of “the person” performing an act of kindness. At this time of year, each of us has numerous options to perform mitzvot which will help those who are less fortunate to enjoy the Holiday season. Although we can always perform special deeds that make a difference, somehow with the media attention, it seems that this time of year presents so many choices of ways to make a difference.

I hope that in the way that “the person” makes a difference in Joseph’s life, that all of us will find some meaningful way to change the world around us. What better way of showing our gratitude for our blessings than by helping others. Each of us has the potential to change history for at least one other person and to have significant impact upon the lives of others.

Travel safely over your vacation and I look forward to a wonderful 2012!

Hag Chanukah Sameach, (Happy Hanukkah)
Rabbi Bruce Aft

Parshas Vayishlach – A Huge Goal!

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Dear Friends,

I was surfing the net and came across this interesting commentary and wanted to share it with you this week. As each of us tries to find balance in our lives, I struggle with where to place boundaries in my life. I hope that as we are about to celebrate Chanukah and celebrate our religious freedom, we will score many goals both in our religious and secular identities.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Bruce Aft

Dvar Torah
by Rabbi Label Lam
Parshas Vayishlach

A Huge Goal!

And Yaakov remained alone and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. And he saw that he could not defeat him so he grabbed him in the hollow of his thigh and he dislocated the hollow of Yaakov’s thigh with his wrestling with him. And he said, “Send me because the dawn has broken.” And he said, “I will not send you unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Yaakov!” And he said, “No long will your name be Yaakov but rather Israel, because you struggled with the Divine and man and you prevailed.” And Yaakov asked and he said, “Tell me please, what your name is?” And he said, “Why is it that you ask for my name?” And he blessed him there. (Breishis 32:25-30)

Yaakov sure had a rough night that night he wrestled with the “man”-angel but as a result he ended up with an upgraded name- title “Israel” and mighty blessing to boot. Oddly Yaakov benefited greatly from that rugged encounter. It’s no secret that the so called wrestling match that lasted all night really represents our struggle too with the Yetzer Hora throughout the entirety our lives and all of history. It sounds perverse but when we prevail over the Yetzer Hora- the evil inclination really becomes our biggest friend! How is that so?

Rabbi Sholom Schwadron, the famous Maggid of Jerusalem, noticed that one of the regular attendees of a teen learning group was surprisingly absent on Sunday and Monday. Deeply concerned about his wellbeing, on Tuesday the Rabbi went to meet the boy at his home. He inquired about the reason he missed consecutive days. “I know you for years and you never missed a day of learning yet. I am sure that something serious is going on. Please tell me what’s happening.” The boy was embarrassed at first but he eventually decided to disclose his secret reason for being absent but not without first explaining his hesitancy to divulge it. “I would tell you Rebbe but you just won’t understand.” “Try me,” begged Reb Sholom, “I will try my hardest to understand.”

Certain he would be misunderstood by a Rabbi, who had probably had never seen a soccer ball in his life he confessed, “I missed because of the soccer finals. It’s the championship all this week and I must listen to the games! I’ll be back next week for sure!”

Rabbi Schwadron listened with interest. “I’m sure that this game of soccer must be quite exciting. Tell me,” he asked, “How do you play this game of soccer? What’s the object? “Well,” began the student filled with enthusiasm, “there are eleven players, and the object is to kick a ball into the netting of the goal. No one but the goal-keeper can move the ball with his hands or arms!” Rabbi Schwadron’s face brightened! “Oh! Is that all? So just go there, kick the ball in the goal, and get back to learning!” The boy laughed. “Rebbe, you don’t understand! The opposing team also has eleven men and a goal-keeper, and their job is to stop our team from getting the ball into their goal!” “Tell me,” Rabbi Schwadron whispered. These other men on the other team, are they there all day and night?” “Of course not Rebbe, they go home at night!”

Rabbi Schwadron huddled close and in all earnest asked. “Why don’t you sneak into the stadium in the evening and kick the ball into the goal when they are not looking! Then you can win and return to learning Torah!” The boy threw his hands up in frustration. “Rebbe! You don’t understand. It’s of no real value to kick a ball into an empty net if there is no one trying to stop you!”

“Aha!” cried Reb Sholom in absolute victory. “Now think a moment and listen to what you just said! It is no trick to come to learn Torah only when nothing is trying to hold you back! It is when the urge to skip is so overpowering, when the Yetzer Hora is blocking the goal, that’s when you can score real points. Come tomorrow and you can’t imagine how much your Torah learning will be worth!” The next day, amazingly the boy came to learn and he scored a huge goal!

What’s in a dream…

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Dear Friends,

Recently I read a posting from Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis about this week’s portion, V’Yetzei from which this is an excerpt:

“In the opening of the parsha, Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder that bridges earth to heaven. When Jacob awakes from his dream he declares, Ma nora hamakom hazeh, eyn ze ki im beyt Elokim, v’zeh shaar hashamayim, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of Gd and this is the shaar hashamayim, the gate of heaven.”

Towards the end of the parsha Jacob dreams, not of angels, but of speckled and spotted sheep. His dreams are no longer of heaven but of commodities! This is when he knew that he had to leave uncle Laban and return home. Jacob knows that Laban won’t easily let him go, so he takes the family and sneaks away while Laban is on a road trip inspecting the flocks. When Laban finds out, he pursues Jacob in a rage with every intention of taking Jacob’s flocks and family from him. On the way, he has a dream that transforms him. He dreams of Gd speaking to him and instead of being vengeful toward Jacob he becomes neutral. It is his dream that helps him overcome his evil nature.

What is a dream? “A dream that is not understood is like a letter that is not opened.” Who do you think is the author of this famous quote? Sigmund Freud? Didn’t Freud open up a whole new way of looking at the human psyche? It was Freud who showed the world that there is more to the human being than meets the eye, more than the conscious world. There is the subconscious, and this was a tremendous insight!

This quote, however, is from the Talmud, which makes clear that a dream is much more than we may think. A dream speaks to us; it has a message; it is like a letter as yet unopened. And if someone takes the trouble to write you a letter, you should, at least open it and read the contents.”

As college students, we have many dreams which we hope we can fulfill in our lifetimes. We get many unopened letters, have many choices to make, and in some situations we are able to fulfill dreams and in others we find that our dreams are elusive. I hope that in the midst of preparing for finals and completing final assignments, we are able to remember that we have hopes and dreams and not be discouraged from seeking to fulfill them when we are overwhelmed by the hard work and reality of trying to make our dreams come true.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft