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I hope you’re having a grape time!
Vayikra 5780

Dear Friends: With the current situation, I have found myself busier than ever. I gave a ton of classes on Zoom, and attendance has been way higher than usual, and it’s been amazing! I also have my six wonderful children at home and that has take a bit of my time. So I’m reusing an older Shabbos email, but it was from 2013 so you probably don’t remember it… If you would like to see what classes are available throughout the week, please check the homepage of https://partnersdetroit.org/ (there are A LOT of classes going on! Hats off to Partners!!!)

 

Grapes are pretty cool. Small little balls of sweetness that can turn into quite the devil given a barrel and a few months, grapes are from the most versatile of fruits. Grapes also happen to be a buy-one-get-one-free product, because yeast grows naturally on the outside of their skin. This way, if you want to turn your grapes into wine, all you need to do is crush the grapes, let the juice mix with the yeast that grows on the grape skins, and you’re almost done, because the fermentation will work its magic all by itself.

But why turn grapes into wine, when they are so delicious in their natural form? How many foods in the world give more pleasure than a tart, sweet, firm grape? You hold it between your teeth, you bite down, hear an audible pop, and suddenly your whole mouth is showered with goodness! Eighty percent of that grape is water, 15% sugar, and 5% is made of the jelly stuff and the tart skin. To me, that seems to be the perfect recipe for fruitaliciosity!

I have become slightly obsessed with grapes in recent months due to the sheer volume of grapes going through my house. Thirty eight billion pounds of table grapes are cultivated each year, and I think my house takes in two to three percent of that. You see, we have a lil’ cutie by the name of Numzel (from Naomi), who likes grapes. She likes them in the morning for breakfast, she likes them for snack when she gets home from the babysitter, and she likes them with her dinner. As a matter of fact, I have discovered, that almost any time of night or day, if I want her to stop crying, all I need to do is put her in a high chair with a mound of grapes, and we’re good.  (Sure, I could also just finally change her diaper and she would stop crying, but which option is easier? Just Kidding!)

But there is another important factoid about grapes that I haven’t shared with you just yet. The small round shape of a grape is just like the small rounded shape of a toddler’s trachea, which means that one could easily fit into the other and close it up. This is another way of saying that grapes pose a serious choking hazard for young children. Fortunately there is a simple solution to this problem; cut each grape into quarters.

This is a simple solution, but also one that is quite maddening and time consuming when your child is an absolute grape guzzler. Every day, I sit down in front of her high chair and cut entire clusters of grapes into quarters, one at a time, while she calmly grabs them by the handful and throws them down the hatch. In the last few months, I’ve quartered thousands of grapes, and I’ve had plenty of time thinking about the takeaway lessons.

The first lesson seems pretty simple. Good things come in small packages (speak to any woman who ever got an engagement ring, and they’ll agree). Grapes are great but only after they’ve been cut down into smaller pieces (Grapes pose choking hazards to us adults as well, but no one needs to cut our grapes into quarters, we cut em’ up pretty well with our teeth).  Grapes may be sweet and good, but try to take on too much sweetness and goodness at once and you may find yourself choking.

A great rabbi I know was once talking about Rosh Hashanah resolutions. He recommended that people take what they thought was the appropriate resolution for themselves, and cut it down by half. Then he said, cut it down by half again, and let that be their resolution. In other words, cut those good and sweet intentions down to neat little quarters. He explained that this way, the resolutions would be much more likely to work and stick, where the larger goals could easily choke the person and end up being expelled forcefully not long thereafter.

It seems that the rule of quarters isn’t only how we should feed grapes to our lil’ ones, but also how we should try to challenge ourselves to bring more goodness and sweetness into our lives. We need to think small.

But there is more. Recently, I have been using our grape time to give my daughter one of the most important skills in life, an appreciation for delayed gratification. It all started one morning a few weeks back. I had started stripping the grapes from the stems, but I realized that I still didn’t have a knife. So I momentarily put the grapes down on the far side of the tray of Numzel’s high chair, and went to go get a knife. Of course, being a nineteen month old baby who loves grapes, she reached out and grabbed a grape. But I told her “no no!” and I took the grape away from her and put it back in the pile of uncut grapes. It was a struggle for her to see the grapes right in front of her, but not to eat them.

But over time she began to get used to it, and I soon could leave the uncut grapes there on her tray for a few extra seconds and she would still hold herself back from reaching for them. It got to the point where now, even if one grape breaks out of the pile on the far side of the tray and rolls right to her, she will push it back. She knows she’s not supposed to eat the uncut grapes, and she’s willing to wait it out until its appropriate.

Some people may think that I’m being unnecessarily cruel to my little daughter by waving grapes before her while not letting her eat them, others will say that she’s not learning anything about restraint, she’s just following Pavlovian conditioning, but I believe that I’m putting an incredibly valuable tool in her chest; self-control.

The upcoming holiday of Pesach celebrates the time our people transitioned from slavery to freedom, not just physically but spiritually. Today, we may be physically free, but we still fight for our spiritual freedom. Often it is a battle we lose, and we remain enslaved by our desire for more; more sleep, more comfort, more honor, or more “let’s just keep things the way are.”

But we break free when we are willing to take on more challenges, when we are willing to give up some extra sleep on Shabbos morning in order to go to shul, when we are willing to take a short break before eating that nectarine to properly thank the One who created nectarines, or when we are willing to stay away from the cake and stick to the fruit. When we exercise self control, we are breaking free from whatever is trying to “enslave” us.

The definition of maturity is the ability to forgo a lower pleasure now for a greater pleasure later. That is the essence of freedom, the slave is the one who can’t stop himself from indulging in all that he sees right now. At the Seder we demonstrate our freedom by hiding the afikomen until the end of the meal. We show that we can give away now, to invest in our future.

At the seder we should be asking ourselves, “What am I enslaved by? Is there any part of my life where I know I should be restraining myself more, but can’t seem to make it happen? Is there anywhere in my life where I indulge in the short term pleasure of the here-and-now at the cost of my future happiness?”

On Pesach, we endeavor to take those things that might be harmful to us and simply roll them away from our side of the tray table.

As much as that little voice in our heads says otherwise, we don’t need anything that might be harmful to us, we are free. Our life is in our hands. Let’s get the sweetness and the goodness.

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s parsha, Vayikra, we begin reading about the many offerings that were brought in the Tabernacle and Temple. There are offerings brought with livestock, fowl, and even flour and oil. One common denominator between all the different offerings is that they all had salt placed on them. “You shall salt all your meal-offerings with salt and you shall not omit salt, the covenant of your G-d, from being placed upon your meal-offerings. You shall bring salt on every one of your offerings.” (Lev. 2:13)

The Medrash tells us that this was a result of a complaint filed during the creation of the world. On the second day of creation G-d split the lower waters (the waters on earth) from the upper waters (the atmospheric water). The lower waters were unhappy with the fact that they were left far away from G-d, and complained that they wanted to be closer to G-d. G-d consoled them by telling them that salt which is taken from the sea would be placed upon all the offerings, and that water would be poured on the Altar during the holiday of Succos.

If this is the case, why do we put salt on the offerings, why not simply place sea water on them since it was the sea water that desired to be closer to G-d? Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky (1891-1986, Lithuania- NY) answers that the water elevates itself and joins the upper waters simply by evaporating. What’s left behind is the salt, that which does not naturally climb on its own. When G-d tells us that He wants the salt on all the offerings, He is saying that He wants to see us offer up the parts of us that are not inclined toward elevation on their own. The parts of ourselves that we view as the residue, the part that remains behind when we try to grow and raise ourselves up. That is what G-d wants to see us bringing before Him as offerings.

There should be no part of our personality that we hate. Some parts of our personality we love because they are naturally good. Then there are the parts that we should love, because when we iron them out, when we can even offer the “salt,” we not only grow immeasurably, but we tap capabilities we never thought we had!

A story is told of an elderly man who lived in New Jersey, who found himself becoming more involved in Judaism, and began transforming his life one step at a time. There was one area however, that he could not seem to grasp, learning Talmud. He tried and tried, but it seemed like every time he learned one word he forgot two. At one point he confided in his son that he felt a real desire to not leave this “salt” on the ground, he wanted to elevate even this part of his life that seemed so difficult to lift.

His son arranged for him to come every Sunday morning to a local yeshiva where different students would take turns learning with him. For years he came every single Sunday and studied with the students, often struggling with a single paragraph for an hour or more. But slowly he began to get a real foothold in this new area in his life. After four years of studying, he finally finished one complete page (double-sided) of Talmud. He knew it back and forth, with all the translation, commentary, and details.

Excited to have finally finished his first folio, he went to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, one of the Torah greats, for a verbal exam of this new material he had studied. He aced the test, displaying his thorough knowledge of all its intricacies. Rabbi Feinstein excitedly insisted that the yeshiva students make a festive meal celebrating this milestone.

At the meal, attended by dozens of students, Rabbi Feinstein talked about how a person can acquire their place in the World to Come with just one manuscript when learned with the sacrifice this man displayed. After that, the man himself got up to speak, and emotionally thanked the yeshiva students for patiently learning with him for so long. He then continued to say that he had always been so afraid to die, feeling that he hadn’t yet fulfilled all of his potential. But now he could live in peace knowing that he had conquered his biggest obstacle.

Three days later, this man passed away, having merited in his lifetime to not only grow tremendously, but to elevate even the “salt” many people leave behind.

 

Parsha Summary

This week’s Parsha begins with G-d calling Moses from the Tabernacle for the first time since His Presence rested upon it. Since the purpose of the Tabernacle is to enable the Jewish People to serve G-d in a focused manner and place, G-d’s first discussion with Moses is about the Temple service and the sacrifices.

The Torah describes the laws of the olah, the wholly burnt offering, as they pertain to animals and fowl. (Quick lesson: G-d says both the olah brought from an animal ($$$$) and the olah brought from a bird ($) will bring a satisfying aroma before Him. This teaches us that whether it is an expensive gift or an inexpensive one, they are equally satisfying before G-d as long as the intent is sincere.)

The Parsha then elucidates the five types of meal offerings (that is meal as in fine flour, not meal as in bringing a four course dinner with a side of sushi). After describing these basic offerings, the Torah commands us to put salt on everything offered upon the alter (this is one of the reasons we dip our bread in salt after making the Hamotzi blessing – to remind us that our table should be like an altar, and we should eat in an elevated fashion, not out of gluttony).

The Torah then discusses the laws of the peace offering (called that because everyone gets a piece of the action; some of the meat goes on the Altar, some to the Kohanim, and some to the owners who brought the sacrifice) and the sin offerings. This is followed by a description of an offering brought when a group of the Elders of the Assembly make an erroneous judgment, causing a large group to sin. After that, we are told of special sin offerings brought if the king or the Kohain Gadol commits a sin. The message here is that the more elevated your status, the more you must scrutinize your actions since they have a stronger effect. When a sin is committed by a person of higher stature, the atonement process is more elaborate than the process for a commoner.

Finally, we learn of the Asham sacrifice, the guilt offering, brought for a variety of sins such as broken oaths, entering into holy areas while in a state of unknown impurity, stealing and then making an oath denying it, and certain cases of uncertainty as to whether one committed a grave sin or not. And that, my friends, pretty much sums the whole Parsha up!

 

Quote of the Week: A good saying at the right moment is like a piece of bread during a famine. – Shmiel Cohen

Random Fact of the Week: The average taste bud lives only 10 days before it dies and is replaced with a new one.

Funny Line of the Week: Patience is the virtue of the lazy. – Ban Gak

 

Have a Fun Shabbos,

R’Leiby Burnham

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