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Jewish Constancy

One of the marks of devotion is constancy. In Hebrew, the word for constant is Tamid. We were commanded to have a constant fire burning on the altar in the Temple. This was called the Aish Tamid – constant fire. As a reflection of that, many Synagogues have a Ner Tamid – constant flame (or bulb) – burning in front of the Ark. There are six mitzvot that are referred to as Tamid due to their being incumbent upon us constantly. (E.g. The belief in G-d.) There was an offering in the Temple called Tamid that was brought consistently each morning and again each afternoon. It was “Tamid” in the sense that even on Shabbat, holidays, and Yom Kippur, the first and last offering of the day was the Tamid.

Now that we have established the credentials of Tamid, I would like to direct your attention to the Shulchan Aruch – code of Jewish law. The author, Rabbi Yosef Caro, wrote with a Sephardic bent to his Halachic renderings. So an Ashkenazic authority, Rabbi Moshe Isserlish, known as Rema, wrote glosses that were included in the text of the Shulchan Aruch. He opens his glosses to the very first passage of Jewish law, dealing with waking up in the morning, by quoting a verse. Psalms 16:8 states: Shivisi Hashem L’negdi Tamid – I have placed the L-rd before me constantly. He then goes on to explain why this is a fundamental principle of Jewish conduct. When a person has Hashem before them constantly, this reinforces the devotion to Hashem and the Mitzvot of the Torah.

Shulchan Aruch is divided into four major sections. The first deals with the daily and calendar life of a Jew. It covers the daily schedule of prayer, meals, and general conduct. It goes onto the laws of Sabbath, and then festivals. The last set of laws is the section dealing with Purim. The conclusion addresses a leap year when there are two Adars. The Rema ends as follows. “There are those who say that one is obligated to increase in joy and feasting on the 14th of Adar I however this is not the practice. Nonetheless one should increase slightly their joy and feasting in order to fulfill the words of those who are stringent, (Proverbs 15:15) “V’tov Lev Mishteh Tamid” - “A cheerful heart celebrates constantly.”

So the bookends of the laws of life are two “Tamids”. One must constantly be in a state of awareness of Hashem’s presence (being G-d-fearing) and must constantly be in a state of joy. The commentators explain that these are a reflection of the two daily Tamid offerings that came at the outset and conclusion of each day’s service.

One might think that the two “Tamids” are at odds. Yet, Chassidus explains that these two attitudes of constancy are interdependent. Yir’as Shamayim (being G-d-fearing) must be tempered by joy in order for it to be effective in a person’s life. Indeed the Psalmist (100:2) encourages us to “Serve the L-rd with joy.” Joy, on the other hand, must be molded by Yir’as Shamyim in for it to be properly directed. Together the Tamids provide for us a perfectly synthesized approach to life.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Sweet or Savory?

Savory or Sweet? This is not just a question for people ordering a waffle. This is a real serious existential question. Which of the two is preferable? You might answer that it depends on your taste. Some prefer sweet over savory, and some prefer savory over sweet. That may very well be true; but it is a bit of a cop out.

Come on now… if you think about it honestly, how many people need to be trained to appreciate candy or ice cream. Show me a kid that doesn’t like sweet, and I will show you a kid who has brain freeze from too much ice cream. For that matter, show me an adult that doesn’t like some version of sweet, be it candy, chocolate, ice cream or cake. And now let’s think about savory honestly. Not everyone is born with a penchant for the piquant. Often it is an acquired taste for the palate that enjoys the tangy or tart flavors of savory cuisine.

So I pose the question again. Savory or Sweet? Shouldn’t the obvious conclusion be sweet? Or should it? Perhaps, once one develops the appreciation for the savory, there is no going back to sweet as the favorite?

At this point you may be wondering if you haven’t by accident made a wrong turn on the internet to a foodie blog…

On the verse in Genesis (27:4) where Isaac instructs his son, “Make for me delicacies, such as I like,” the Zohar comments, this is the voice of the Shechinah instructing the Jewish people to bring G-d nachas – pleasure through their service. In Tanya (Ch. 27) the Alter Rebbe explains, that there are two types of service represented by the use of the plural - delicacies. There is the service of a Tzadik, who is occupied solely with that sweetness of life, having conquered and eliminated the evil inclination within. This is a sweet and luscious delicacy for G-d.

Then there is the service of the regular Jew who struggles with the bitterness – the desire and inclination to do that which against G-d’s will. But when such a Jew manages to confront and subdue that evil thought or desire, this is akin to working the spicy and tangy flavors into a savory delicacy for G-d.

G-d certainly delights in the life of a Tzadik and the sweet pleasure this brings Him. One can argue, that the savory dish created by the toil of the “regular Jew” in subduing the natural desire for worldliness, and exchanging it with the service of G-d, is a pleasure in which G-d delights maybe just a bit more.

So I pose the question again. Savory or Sweet? Let’s leave that to G-d to decide. Or maybe we can just have a little bit of both.

Wishing you a sweet and savory Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Facetiming with G-d

Song of Songs, 8:1 says “O, that you were like my brother.” Our sages explain that this verse laments the loss of the close relationship we enjoyed with Hashem when our Sanctuary (Temple) was extant. This love was symbolized by the Keruvim, which had the likeness of two people lovingly facing each other. As our Parsha states, “the cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards… with their faces toward one another…” This represents the closeness and love that Hashem projected to us, as well as the closeness and love that we projected to Hashem. But alas the sanctuary was destroyed and the Keruvim are no longer visible; so how do we access that feeling of love from and to Hashem?

The Talmud teaches, “ever since the Temple was destroyed G-d can be accessed in the “four cubits of Halacha.” Meaning, that Torah study is the way that one can capture an element of that loving, face to face relationship with Hashem. As Tanya (Ch. 5) explains, “Through Torah study a person can grasp and envelop the Divine Wisdom, whilst simultaneously being enveloped and grasped within It. This is a wonderful union, like which there is none other, and which has no parallel anywhere in the material world, whereby complete oneness and unity, from every side and angle, could be attained.” One can completely hug and envelop Hashem while being hugged and enveloped by Hashem at the same time. To put it in contemporary terms, Torah study is like Facetiming with G-d.

One of the reasons that G-d’s love is expressed through Torah and vice-versa, is because Torah empowers us and gives us the means by which to introduce and reveal G-dliness and a G-dly purpose into our world, which appears to be so disparate from G-dliness. This is G-d’s purpose for all of creation. So He is heavily invested in its achievement, as should we be.

So the next time you are lamenting your inability to experience a closeness to Hashem the way they had it in the olden days… know that it is within your reach. Crack open a volume of Chumash, Talmud, Halacha, Midrash, or Chassidus and start Facetiming with G-d. Put some feeling into the experience, and you may just begin to feel the love.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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