Do we really have free choice? Most people tend to view this as a yes-or-no type of question, but the correct answer is in fact, yes and no.
a) The inner core of the soul is totally at one with G-d. At this subconscious level, the soul of every Jew wishes to observe all the mitzvos and to avoid transgressing any prohibitions. There is no desire for evil here; there simply is no other option than doing good.
b) At the conscious level however, where we interact with the more superficial layers of the soul's complex psyche, there is room for both good and evil. Here, the soul's inner desire to observe all the mitzvos is felt only as a weaker 'signal', which is susceptible to 'interference' from the opposing messages of our animalistic instincts. So at the conscious level, we do indeed possess free choice.
In general, the Torah speaks to our conscious mind. We are told to observe the mitzvos with the full awareness of what we are doing, and we are charged with bringing an awareness of spirituality into our normal, daily lives.
However, at this conscious level, we are susceptible to being drawn away from a life of holiness, or stifled by the limitations that the world appears to present. So while most of the mitzvos were given to the conscious part of the soul, G-d saw it necessary to give us some mitzvos which speak directly to the inner core of the soul, helping the soul's unlimited energy and total commitment to good to flow outwards to the conscious mind. These special mitzvos help us stay in tune with our subconscious commitment to Judaism, when our conscious observance becomes strained or limited.
With most mitzvos, G-d told Moshe to address the Jewish people with the term דבר "daber" (speak) or אמור "emor" (say). While the mitzvos conveyed with these terms are of course obligatory, the more passive, indirect mood of the words "speak" and "say" indicate that these mitzvos are directed at the superficial layers of the soul which possess free choice.
Parshas Tzav, in contrast, uses the more direct imperative term צו "tsav" (command), alluding to a type of mitzvah which speaks to the soul's inner core that does not possess true free-choice; and is simply "commanded" to obey G-d's will. These special mitzvos which are included in this Parsha are aimed at helping our inner identity of unquestioning and uninhibited commitment to the Jewish faith surface in everyday life.
Based on Likutei Sichos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Video: Living Mindfully - Rabbi Laibl Wolf
Wisdom is cumulative, don’t hesitate to consult those who are older and wiser.
Rabbi Laibl Wolf begins by establishing that each attendee and viewer is a unique, gifted, reincarnated soul, brought into the world for an individual purpose. Living mindfully begins with inner calm, a level playing field, required for the beginning point of any wisdom oriented decision.
In response to your request—as well as to the many other inquiries and requests for my reaction to the issue of child abuse.
First, I want to express my sincere gratitude and accolades for all the hard work you and various other organizations and individuals are doing to put an end to the devastating crime of CSA, which has wreaked utter havoc in scores of innocent lives over so many years.
Sadly, many people, including some in leadership positions, are ill-informed of the detrimental effects of child molestation. The average person who has not suffered through CSA doesn’t realize how so many of the abused suffer for years or decades from feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, shame, guilt, and pain. Many of the victims—due to their profound pain and skewed sense of self—find temporary relief in all forms of destructive behavior, including molesting a new generation of children. Many of them fall prey to terrible addictions in order to escape their agony. Untold numbers of these innocent souls are haunted by unbearable nightmares that won’t allow them to lead a normal life internally. Most of them struggle to maintain functional marriages, since their sexual boundaries have been brutally violated.
Though recovery is surely possible—for the soul is more powerful than all else, and the Divine infinite power within each of us can overcome all darkness—the pain they must endure is heart-wrenching.
Many people are equally ill-informed of how rampant the problem is, and of the great number of our youth that have been victimized over the years.
But, thankfully, a new dawn has arrived.
Ever since dedicated volunteers have taken action and established organizations to combat this ugly malady, the issue of child molestation has been brought to the forefront of the community’s attention. It is no longer possible to ignore the seriousness of this epidemic. At last, we have begun—and only begun—to take the necessary steps to eradicate this black stain for good.
Initially, when the efforts began to expose predators’ names and photos, I was concerned that some activists would become obsessed with “witch hunting” and would inadvertently accuse innocent people of committing these terrible crimes—forever tainting their reputation. I was afraid that these investigations might not be thoroughly reviewed and vetted with the hyper-sensitivity and professionalism that this issue calls for. (I still shudder at the thought of an individual’s life being ruined by some mean-spirited person who has an axe to grind.) However, after much scrutiny I have learned that these investigations are thorough and honest. I have also learned that in cases where a past abuser is ready to be fully accountable and to do what it takes to help the victim through the healing-process (and, obviously, with experts testifying that he/she no longer poses a danger to the public), the abuser’s identity is not exposed. Additionally, I am also aware of dozens of cases presented to Jewish Community Watch that are not brought to light due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
Given the above, it is my heartfelt hope that all parents, rabbis, leaders, community activists, educators, principals, spiritual mentors, therapists, social workers and counselors will begin educating themselves regarding the lifelong effects of child molestation. They will then come to understand the untold suffering brought upon victims of CSA. Just as we would do anything to stop a gunman from walking our streets and taking lives, heaven forbid (what Jewish law calls a “rodef”), so must we do anything and everything to stop the people who are murdering the psyches and emotional innocence of our children.
We must also begin educating every single one of our young adults about two critical factors: 1) If they have been molested, help is available. They must know that if they will break the silence and reveal their story, they will be embraced rather than shunned, and will be guided with loving care towards a life of wholesomeness and happiness. We must give all of them the names and contact information of approved professionals, so they can reach out to them if necessary. 2) Preventive medicine: If they might ever be prone to engage in these terrible acts themselves, they must know: A) the horrific impact of such actions, and B) that there are things they can do to help them avoid becoming potential monsters who will surely destroy lives. They must all know that help is readily available for people with an inclination toward touching children inappropriately.
Parents and educators must discuss these dangers with their children and students—both the danger of becoming a victim, as well as the danger of becoming an abuser. Every—and I mean every—Yeshiva bachur must be educated about these two items.
We must also educate the community—both children and adults—on how important it is to talk to someone if they are privy to any sort of abuse being perpetrated in the community. To withhold this kind of information is essentially akin to being an accomplice and an enabler of the unthinkable crime of destroying lives in this vicious cycle. Most victims are too afraid or ashamed to speak up—and surely it is not their fault. They are terrified of being shunned, not believed, and of the possibility of being rejected forever. That is where our community stands today. We must change that and teach all of our youngsters that they will be heard, listened to, believed, and embraced with a loving heart and open arms. They will not be judged or ridiculed. We will treat their pain with the deepest respect and empathy.
Lest you think that the above information is based on speculation, I must tell you that unfortunately that is not the case. I come here today after many years of learning firsthand about the tragic plight of victims, and the ugly plight of abusers—who in the process of murdering others, murder themselves, too. It is now abundantly clear to me that by educating every boy and girl in our educational institutions about the horrors of CSA as outlined above, we will literally rescue countless precious souls from untold years of misery.
One case in point: A young man asked to meet with me some time ago. His story is not uncommon: He had been sexually molested in a particular Yeshiva by an older student who had been studying in this Yeshiva and was serving as a spiritual mentor of sorts to younger students. As the victim grew older, he in turn began to molest children himself, including his own siblings. (One of the facts about CSA is that it is often committed by close relatives or friends, and sometimes by very religious-looking people.) Concurrently, he had also become addicted to viewing unmentionable smut, which became part of his daily routine. He completely lost his boundaries for intimacy. Though he was—and still is—an extremely good-hearted young man, he was trapped in the disease of addiction and paralyzed by endless shame and guilt. He got married, but his marriage inevitably soon became dysfunctional. Floundering to survive, he discovered addictive drugs and was soon using them every day—including Yom Kippur. Finally, after hitting “rock-bottom,” this shattered “abused-abuser” shared his story with me. It was the first time that he had shared his true story with anyone, and it took him more than twenty years for to open up! He broke down and wept uncontrollably.
So many lives were destroyed from the actions of that older student. And so many lives could have been spared if the young man, the initial victim, would have known as a young adult that help is available and that he didn’t have to suffer all alone.
The brokenness and utter despondency I observed in this young man—and in many others with similar stories–is typical of victims of CSA. Many of them feel broken and crushed to the very core of their existence. Having been violated in the most vulnerable, holiest, and most sensitive part of their being—the part within us that most reflects G-d, possessing the ability to create new life—makes them feel like their lives are worthless.
Too much blood has been shed on the altar of silence and fear without anyone uttering even a cry. Victims have lived far too long by the code of shame and silence, always blaming themselves for the cruelty of their perpetrators. The devil of abuse has been allowed to grow strong and rampant because of our silence. It is time to declare all-out war—a war of information and education—against the silent bullets that have claimed thousands of our holiest and most beautiful souls.
We as a community must—and will—come forward publicly to support every effort being made on behalf of our innocent and precious youth. With Hashem’s help, we will succeed.
For such is the nature of light: it dispels even the densest of darkness.
Sincerely and thankfully,
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson
The world is divided into groups. Tzaddikim are also divided into different groups. There are tzaddikim in the category of Yesod Olam - foundation of the world - and there are tzaddikim on a lower level, yet the world's existence completely depends upon all of them. The holy Zohar explicitly states that the highest level in each generation is that of Moses. Afterwards, there are the thirty-six tzaddikim called the lamed vav tzaddikim. According to the Zohar, thre are 36 in the Land of Israel and 36 outside of Israel. The entire world stands in their merit, since without them, the world could not exist. The Zohar mentions other examples, such as a category of 10,000 tzaddikim, who are on a lower level. Nonetheless, the world requires all of these tzaddikim to exist.
We also need to place ourselves in some sort of category of tzaddikim. You may ask youself ''Why do I need to call myself a tzaddik?'' Don't forget that we were born to carry out a specific mission, so it is not a matter of what we want or not. It is not merely a one-time task like when someone says to you ''Go bring this envelope to someone" - rather it is a mission involving your entire being and everything connected to you. Your entire life is no more than a simple shlichut - mission. For example, someone says to you ''Get on a plane, travel to a certain place and do this particular thing.'' You will be well aware of why you are in that particular place, since it is part of your mission. You'll also take care not to damage anything in the process of carrying it out. Nonetheless, at the same time, you still feel ''something'' from yourself since, despite being on a mission, you still need to eat, sleep, travel, accomplish etc.
In other words, whatever you do in the world, whether sleep, eat, make money, pray, put on tefillin, or any of the other mitzvot, it is all one big mission. This is the most truthful way to think about ourselves since we have no other function in the world besides our Divinely-given mission.
You may ask ''What is my mission?'' The answer lies in knowing that everything is connected to the kavod of Hashem, since He created the world to reveal His glory. Before the world came into being, there was no-one to reveal His kavod. After creation, it is our mission to reveal it.
When you feel some deficiency, it is a signal that there is some sort of ''shortcoming'' in the revelation of G-d's kavod. The more we reveal His kavod, the less lack we will feel. Hashem created us with all of our materiality to serve as a foundation in this world for Him, and to elevate our Divine awareness until we clearly realize that we have no other function than to see the Divine in every detail of life. Everything should bring us closer to the knowledge that there is a Creator of the World Who desires something from us. If it is against the Torah, it is not the desire of Hashem. Every step we take in life should bring us closer to a mindset that nothing exists beyond our appointed function in the world. Bringing children into the world, working in whatever area Hashem has brought us, or any other life situation, is all part of our mission to reveal what Hashem desires.
Delving deeper, we will sense how limited our understanding is. This is when to pour out our hearts: ''Ribbono shel Olam! Heal us so we can reveal Your kavod. Give us livelihood so we can magnify Your kavod in the world. Redeem us from the oppression of outside influences, so we can carry out our mission.'' The emphasis should be in this direction, rather than driven by the desire to shed the discomfort of exile. Thinking this way makes us more complete and less demanding of space and self-importance. When we achieve such a level, Rebbe Nachman promises that we will experience no lack. Obviously this is a process, but we must begin.
This is all connected to Rebbe Nachman's concept of a self-generated shadow that blocks our own shefa. Every day, the ability to prevent its creation can be drawn from the power of Moses and his humility, since he is the primary soul in which we are all rooted. Rebbe Nachman describes how the influence of Moses is found within every limb of our body, reminding us to perform the mitzvah associated with that particular limb. His point of humility is also there, waiting to be developed. It is this point that will help us better understand how to remove our sense of ''somethingness'' and feel much more authentic. Most think that kavod and happiness are found by taking up more space in the world, as if this is the purpose of life. However, this point of humility will save us from being distracted or thrown off by the attractions of the world.
May Hashem help us be encompassed in the humility of Moses, so we will be able to receive an abundant influx of everything good in this world, as well as all the other worlds we will witness in the future. This blessing very much depends upon us. When we repair ourselves, we repair the entire universe. By drawing Divine awareness into the world so everyone will know there is only Hashem, we will experience the good of the World to Come in this world as well.
Translated and adapted from a lesson based on Likutey Moharan 172.
 Likutey Moharan 172.
 King Solomon wrote ''Elokim made Man straight, but they pursued many intrigues.'' [Ecclesiastes 7:29]
 ''For My glory I created...'' [Isaiah 43:7]; ''The earth is filled with His glory'' [Isaiah 6:3]
''Every lack a person experiences, whether children, livelihood, or health, comes from oneself.''  [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov]
There is an old saying: "The One Who gives life will also provide for it." In other words, since G-d created the world, He most certainly provides whatever we need to exist, whether livelihood, children, health, etc. As discussed in the writings of the Arizal and many other holy books, He created the universe to bestow good on it, not so it should be lacking.
If this is true, when why do we need to exert ourselves so much in order to subsist? An animal usually has everything it needs in its local environment. Why would it be different for a human being, who is considered the choice of creation?
This is Rebbe Nachman's point. The lack is not inherent in creation - it comes from oneself. The human being was created perfect and complete , but something happened that created lack and deficiency. For example, when a baby is born, the parents hover over the infant to ensure that it is warm, well-fed, and has everything it needs. As the child grows and begins to develop its own ideas and direction in life, the parents still desire to bestow good on the child. Sometimes, the child goes out on their own and acts foolishly without realizing the damage caused to themselves and others. The parents still worry, and do their best to warn the child of the various dangers, even when he or she stubbornly persists in pursuing their own ideas.
Likewise with Hashem. As mature as we consider ourselves, we still possess only a child-like understanding of the greatness of G-d. We don't fully grasp the extent to which He wants to benefit us, and instead, we act like immature children who make trouble. Divine light, called shefa, constantly flows to us. Descending through all of the upper worlds into this world, it arrives to fill any need we may have. Shefa is very subtle in the heavens, and once it comes into the world, it manifests as a beneficial influence. Just as parents desire good for their child, G-d's love likewise directs the appropriate shefa to reach us in a ready-made fashion, like children, money, a home, etc. The only thing that can stop it is the shadow created by our own actions. The shefa is then experienced as a deficiency.
How do our actions create a shadow? The first thing to understand is that the nature of a shadow is relative, since a shadow is created from something more physical in relation to something more spiritual. For example, a tree will create a shadow when put up against the light of the sun or moon. The earth will also cause a shadow in the form of an eclipse, as will the moon itself. Even the sun will create a shadow in relation to something higher than it. In this case, the sun would be considered physical in relation to what is above it. Anything more physical obstructs light in relation to something more spiritual. Similarly, a person's physicality and undesirable deeds form a shadow that obstructs the flow of shefa, since something physical will block something more spiritual.
There is a way, according to Rebbe Nachman, to circumvent this problem. If you nullify yourself by minimizing your connection to the world, no shadow is created and shefa is received unhindered. It is normal to want to fill a place in the world, or to feel you possess something. You enjoy the respect accorded to you by others, you consume, eat, drink and buy, all of which amounts to experiencing some sort of ''somethingness'' that defines your material existence. The more physical you are, the more it prevents you from receiving the constantly flowing Divine light called shefa.
A basic understanding of human character traits can help a person move towards minimizing their connection to the world. Let's examine the trait of humility. Everyone is born with a specific predisposition and nature, with varying levels of coarseness or arrogance at one end of the spectrum, and qualities such as humility at the other end. Each quality, though, needs to be expressed in the proper way and proportion. For example, it is a natural and positive reaction to feel a sense of nullification or insignificance next to a greater person, not the opposite.
Likewise, we should feel our smallness in relation to Heaven. Our only desire should be to fulfill whatever role G-d gave us with self-nullification, which will naturally bring a tiny perception of G-d's greatness. Even if we are not currently on this level, it is something that needs to be deeply contemplated, since it is the true reality.
As creations of G-d, we belong to Him. To the extent we comprehend this message and internalize it, our entire existence and relationship to the world will change. As we go about our daily business, we will begin to understand that we are nothing more than messengers on a mission given to us by Hashem. We will also be much less exacting of our own honor and care less about what others say or think about us. These concerns are exactly what make us more material. Freed of these concerns, we are less physical. More shefa reaches us and we experience less deficiency and lack.
The world was created with such compassion, in a way that is truly good for us in this world and the next. Consider the generation of Noah and the Flood. How did this generation come to such depravity that it had to be completely wiped out? The Midrash explains that this was actually caused by the abundant and awesome shefa they enjoyed on a constant basis. They had everything they wanted, immediately, with incredible opulence, which is what brought them to such coarseness and vulgarity. They believed the shefa came from their efforts and the strength of their own hands. They knew very well G-d was sending this goodness, but they didn't believe He was the ultimate power behind sending it, or had the ability to halt it. When Noah repeatedly warned them about the impending flood, they taunted ''Where will the flood come from, Heaven?'' since they felt they could stop the Heavenly wellsprings themselves. Although the good was indeed meant for them to enjoy, their way of thinking was a serious error because it overturned everything to the opposite.
Where are you holding?
You can actually sense where you stand before Hashem through evaluating your current situation, whatever it may be. The very deficiency you experience is a gauge to how physical you are, since the perceived lack is a result of Divine light that has been blocked. It is now expressed as a specific shortcoming, which indicates a lesser level of self-nullification to what Hashem desires.
How do we know what Hashem wants from us? According to Rebbe Nachman, it is all related to kavod - glory and honor. He writes: '''The essence of the light of Hashem is kavod, since whatever Hashem created, He created only for the sake of His glory.'' The entire world was created only to reveal His kavod, as written throughout the holy writings.  Since Hashem's glory fills the world, when you don't take up space in the world, you receive the light of Hashem unhindered.
Self-Nullification and Humility
The Jewish people have an inherent power of self-nullification, which is epitomized by Moses. He brought us the Torah in such a way to show anyone, in any situation, that they are connected to the Torah and mitzvot, and what they need to uphold. Moses was considered to be the most humble human being. Although our own perception of humility is very far from its true nature, we still have some conception of it, since Jews possess a natural point of humility, which is developed when contemplating the greatness of Hashem.
Whatever we have or not, comes from Hashem because of His compassion. Internalizing this message more and more will generate full Divine consciousness, which is the purpose of our existence. Our entire life experience is meant to bring us to an awareness of the One Who brought the world into existence. When this is deeply integrated into our daily outlook, we will feel no lack whatsoever in life.
This will be the experience many years after Mashiach will have already arrived, as well as in the Next World, when we will see the world in its perfection. There will be no ''somethingness'' that demands honor and recognition. It will be clear that you are alive only because G-d wants you to fulfill your function in the world, so you will lack nothing required to fulfill your mission. If you need money, He will give it to you. If you need health or anything else, you will receive it.
This is actually the level of the tzaddikim. They already achieved their tikkun, and see the perfection in this world now. Their pain comes only from looking at the Jewish people and seeing how far they are from their true life's purpose. They are completely given over to bringing each Jew closer to G-d, one after another, by revealing another point of awareness in what it means to serve Hashem. These tzaddikim, with all of their perfection, are already experiencing the World to Come in this world. Rebbe Nachman insists this is not only something for spiritual giants, but for us as well. When we pray for Mashiach and the Temple,we are asking for this level - it is something we must all attain, since it is our purpose.
There is a segulah from the Kozhnitzer Maggid to recite three well-known stories related to Pesach, on the Shabbos when we bless the new month of Nissan. The segulah is that the stories will bless the Jewish people with an abundance of provisions and necessities for the upcoming Pesach.
• In the name of Rebbe Mendel of Riminov: It's a segulah to awaken a desire for repentance to visit the gravesite of Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk.
• In the name of Rebbe Elimelech: It's a segulah for an easy childbirth to eat something every motzaei Shabbos, in honor of the Melaveh Malkah. And they should say that in honor of the mitzvah of Melave Malka, G-d willing, they
will give birth without difficulty.
• It is a tradition and segulah from the Rebbe Elimelech that one who says the entire sefer Tehillim three times in one day is reckoned as if he fasted the entire week from Shabbos to Shabbos.
• Two pages of Talmud, studied with the commentary of the Rosh, is more beneficial than fasting.
• There are tzaddikim who hold the opinion that the first edition of the sefer Noam Elimelech, which was printed in the year Tav Kuf Mem Ches, is a segulah for a woman having difficulty in childbirth. She should place it in the bed, and she'll have an easy delivery.
• There is a segulah from the Kozhnitzer Maggid to recite three well-known stories related to Pesach, on the Shabbos when we bless the new month of Nissan. The segulah is that the stories will bless the Jewish people with an abundance of provisions and necessities for the upcoming Pesach.
• The Rebbe Elimelech composed a prayer to say before praying. It is a segulah for those who say it with intense concentration daily, to be aided and helped from Heaven in all areas and needs.
"These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony...." [Pekudei 38:21]
Rabbeinu Bechaya points out that the numerical value of the words "HaMishkan" הַמִּשְׁכָּןand "Ha'eidus" הָעֵדֻתcorrespond to the total number of years that the first Beis HaMikdash, second Beis HaMikdash and Mishkan stood.
The numerical value of Mishkan is 410, alluding to the 410 years that the first Beis HaMikdash stood.
The numerical value of the word HaMishkan (415) plus the five letters that are used to spell it, equals 420. This alludes to the second Beis HaMikdash which stood for 420 years.
The numerical value of Ha'eidus is 479. This alludes to the Mishkan Ha'eidus which stood for 479 years.
In Maseches Yoma [21b] Chazal enumerate five items that were present in the first Beis HaMikdash but were lacking in the second:
1) The Aron Ha'eidus (the Ark)
2) The Ner Tamid (the Lamp that burned continuously)
3) The Divine Presence
4) Divine Inspiration
5) The ability to inquire of the Urim v'Tumim
This statement of Chazal, said the Chasam Sofer, is alluded to in the verse אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻתThe word "haMishkan", containing a hei (numerical value 5) at the beginning, alludes to the first Beis HaMikdash which possessed these five attributes. The word "Mishkan" however, alludes to the second Beis HaMikdash which lacked these five items.
Swarm comprised of some 30 million insects descends on Cairo and agricultural farms in Gaza; experts say authorities ignored UN warnings.
In Cairo, residents burned tires to create a black fog to keep the locusts from settling in the city. Swarms were also reported to have reached Egypt's Red Sea city of Zafarana, some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Cairo, and then the Upper Egyptian city of Qena where locusts appeared in at least three major villages.
A child sees the bulletin of the Synagogue announcing that the congregation had just hired a new rabbi, his name is Rabbi Dr. Epstein. The child is so excited that the new rabbi is also a doctor, that the next time he has a stomach ache, he calls the Synagogue.
"I would like to speak to the Rabbi Dr.," the boy says. The rabbi gets on the line and asks how he can be of help. "Well rabbi, the boy says, I have a stomach ache and I was wondering what you suggest I do."
"Sorry son, I'm not a medical doctor," replies the rabbi.
"What type of doctor are you?" asks the boy. "I am a Dr. of Philosophy," was the response.
The child thought for a moment and then asked, "What type of sickness is that?"
What's the Big Deal?
It is difficult for us to relate to the boundless passion that inspired the Jewish people to create and worship a calf of gold, merely 40 days after they stood at Mt. Sinai and heard the Divine decree of (1) "You shall have no other gods before me." After all, are there any among us who would find delight in dancing around a molten calf and declaring, "This is Your G-d, O Israel? (2)."
Yet, even a superficial reading of this week's Torah portion, Ki Sisa, in which the story of the golden calf is related, indicates the cataclysmic effect of this seemingly meaningless event on the eternal destiny of the Jewish people (3). Why did the creation of a foolish idol by a group of Jews in the Sinai desert become one of the most central episodes in the history of the Jewish people?
In Maimonides' laws on idolatry, where he describes the first Jew's quest for truth and his recognition of Monotheism, we read that initially, Abraham was "immersed amongst the foolish idol worshippers of Ur Kasdim [a city in Mesopotamia]; his father, mother and the entire population—he amongst them—all worshipped idols (4)."
Asks Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (5): Why did Maimonides find it important to emphasize in his book of Jewish law (not Jewish history) that the first Jew was steeped in idol worship (6)?
The Soul of Idol Worship
By failing to understand the underpinning virtues of idol worship we are unintentionally engaging in just that: idol worship. Let me explain:
What is the essence of idol worship? Nothing more than a person in need of a power in his life, attributing that power to a particular object or person and thus surrendering his or her self to that object or person, worshipping it as a deity.
The problem of idol worship lies not in the yearning and need for a power that leads one to worship an idol; this yearning and need is, in fact, positive, even sacred. It is in accepting the notion that a worthless and lifeless object carries within it the fulfillment of one's yearning—that is what turns idol worship into a meaningless and often destructive pursuit.
This is why it is important that we know that the first Jew once passionately worshipped idols. Had this young man been indifferent to the idols of his native land, he never would have searched for and discovered the true G-d. Since Abraham yearned for truth and craved intimacy with G-d, he passionately devoted himself to worship the idols of his father's home in the erroneous belief that they embodied the ultimate truth of the cosmos.
In other words, underlying Abraham's fiery idol worship was a soul yearning for the one living G-d. Thus, when he matured, he discovered that his sacred craving needed to be redirected toward the true G-d and not to the false substitutes for G-d.
The Soul of an Impulse
We all experience in our daily lives various impulses and urges directed toward certain people or particular things.
Are you infatuated with a particular person? Are you starving for attention, compliments and approval? Do you crave nicotine, alcohol or weed? Are you obsessed with an unceasing urge for physical intimacy? Are you in love with food? Do you enjoy dominating and controlling other people's lives?
Judaism teaches (7) that these impulses and many others are not necessarily negative or destructive in and of themselves. In fact, all of these cravings may be expressing the purest and most spiritual needs of the soul. At the core of a crush on another human being or an obsession with intimacy, food or attention, may be the longing of one's soul for a sense of inner worth and dignity, for companionship, vulnerability and self fulfillment.
Our psyches, however, distort our clarity and attribute false symbolism to these essentially hollow pursuits. As a result of this distortion we—just like the Jews in the desert—devote our time and passion to carefully construct and worship our personal "golden calves" in the mistaken belief that they will fill the void in our heart and nourish the hunger of our souls.
Behind many an addiction there is a profound yearning to receive or give love. But our minds are often so bruised and wounded that the outlet we target with our addiction to achieve that love is an “idol,” a futile target which will only distance us from the true love we are searching for.
The Torah's war against the creation of the golden calf is central to our mission in life. It symbolizes our daily relentless effort of turning our attention from the false carriers of value to the true carriers of value.
"Speak to the Children of Israel and let them take for Me a portion" [Terumah 25:2] Why does the verse state "...
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"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked. "Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad." "How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice. "You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."