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Parashat Ba’alotcha 5776: Change and love

We read at the beginning of this week’s Parashah: Hashem said to Moshe: “Tell Aaron, ‘When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps are to cast their light forward, in front of the menorah. Aaron did this: he lit its lamps so as to give light in front of the menorah, as Hashem had ordered Moshe”. Rashi wrote about the words “Aaron did this”: This is to praise Aaron that did not change. Rashi was attacked a lot because of this commentary. What is his point? Of course that Aaron the High Priest did not change anything! God said to Aaron to light the candles of the Menorah in a specific way and of course that’s exactly what he did! What was he supposed to do? To light more candles, less candles? To light electric candles? Of course he didn’t change anything! What’s going on here? Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, yes the one with the guitar and the happy-clappy songs, offered an understanding of Rashi that I want to share with you. He pointed out how the Orthodox Religious World usually relates to secular Jews. They said to them: Brother, sister! You must change! How do you live now, not being observant, it is disgusting! It is evil! Therefore you must change and live in a different way, adopt a very different life style. Aaron the High Priest was not like that. He didn’t change. He didn’t go and say to others “change”, but he would teach by his example. People would get closer to him and that warm relationship would “light” a candle, the fire in the souls of that people. You don’t have to change, because your personality, who you are is not a problem. Maybe the issue is that there is a part of you that you don’t know yet, that is extinguished and if you light it you will discover that light that already exists potentially inside of you. It is not changing who you are, but to discover more about you, to know yourself better. For Rabbi Carlebach this is also the secret to be able to love everyone. Last week, after the terrible murder of Jo Cox and the massacre in Orlando, we spoke about the need of baseless love in order to fight all the hatred running around in the World. For Rabbi Carlebach love is not something external to you, but something internal. Love should be the connection between souls that were created in God’s image and because we all were created in God’s image, then it is possible to love everyone. When we don’t succeed to love or even to like somebody is because we emphasize the external and we don’t manage to connect enough with our own soul. Every human being is a whole World, a deep creature. If we understand this and we concentrate on the divine spark in him, then it will be easier to connect with him or her. Friend, we are not a movement of baalei teshuva, of people that become religious and observant. We encourage people to keep mitzvot and to develop a stronger Jewish identity, but it is not at the centre of our enterprise. It is important to have in mind when we evaluate our success, because if we measure it by how many people became observant in our communities, well… the evaluation won’t be very positive. We encourage people from all backgrounds to come and feel at ease with us, therefore I believe that Rabbi Carlebach’s interpretation is important. We don’t want you to change, to stop being who you are and turn into somebody else more observant. We want you to understand that there is grand opportunity in Jewish tradition to make our lives better, that there are wonderful things in the Torah and in the commandments that can enhance and improve your internal being, your own self, without having to turn into somebody else. The invitation, my invitation, is to discover more of yourself, to try to light those candles inside and get to know that place that already exists in you. We invite you to discover how the wisdom of our tradition can improve our lives and give them depth and meaning. But please, do me a favor, don’t change… I love you just the way you are!

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