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Avoiding Dehydration in a Spiritual Desert

Thursday, 14 August, 2014 - 11:40 pm

In this week’s Parsha the Torah describes the Sinai desert as follows: “that great and awesome desert, [in which were] snakes, vipers and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water.” The Chassidic masters teach that this verse is symbolic of the slippery slope that a person can experience getting lost in the spiritual desert of society. The desert is termed elsewhere “the desert of the nations” since many nations lived in and around it. Conceptually the “desert of the nations” represents the “gentile society” that presents a threat to a Jew’s closeness to Hashem and heightened spirituality.

It begins with a Jew regarding the desert as great – the allure of the outside world seems greater than what Judaism has to offer. From great it grows to awesome – not only something great, but also something that should be feared, something powerful and overwhelming. Once a person is lost in the desert of society, snakes and vipers comes along to challenge the Jew even more. The snake venom represents a heated passion for material and physical indulgence. This results in a cooling of the previous passion for G-d and Judaism. The venom of the viper is even more dangerous than that of the snake. This represents the “burning out” of any remaining enthusiasm for Torah and Hashem. Finally the scorpion comes along. As cold-blooded creatures, their sting represents the coldness and apathy to anything holy and G-dly.

After experiencing all these steps the Jew reaches a point where there is no longer any water – the metaphor for Torah. Even when there is a thirst – a stirring in the soul for G-d, there is no water with which to slake this thirst. What is the solution? Two things. First of all, a Jew must remember that Hashem elevated us at Sinai to a status that far outweighs the false allure the “desert of the nations.” We have a job to do and that requires us to be focused on our uniqueness and our important contribution to spiritual development of the world and all of its inhabitants. Secondly, we need to ensure that there is so much water (Torah) that no desert can prevent us from remaining faithful to who we are. We need to immerse ourselves in Torah study so that we never allow ourselves to become spiritually dehydrated. At least eight glasses a day…

To that end I want to encourage you all to take advantage of a great opportunity next Monday night. Project Talmud Summer 2014 features three great teachers and three interesting topics. To top it off it is free thanks to a generous grant from GCP, Inc. Dinner will be served at 6:30 and the teaching begins at 7. I hope you will make the most of this chance to hydrate your soul.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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