Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel

What a win!

Did you see that amazing comeback win, when the ASU Sun Devils overcame No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks 80-76 last week?

You could feel the energy and excitement of those last three minutes. Wow, it was a high-charged, edge-of-the-seat experience to see everyone’s favorite team bring home the big win. The excitement, passion and energy got me thinking about a powerful idea we see in this week’s Torah portion of Va’eira.

But first, we need to address a question I was asked by an ASU student recently. The student and I were studying the Torah portion and he was wondering: What’s all this talk about Passover during winter break? Ten plagues in January?

Although we are a few months removed from Passover, this week’s Torah portion details the story of our ancestors’ slavery and the dawn of freedom from Egypt. The weekly Torah portions which are read each week in the synagogue begins anew from the start of Breishit — Genesis — each Simchat Torah. This week, we read Parshat Va’eira. So while we may be in January in the calendar year, the talk in the Torah portions of these weeks is all about the story of Passover.

There are a lot of fascinating ideas and lessons in this week’s Torah portion. I often put this question to students I bump into around campus: How can you live inspired by the Torah portion this week and apply the lessons in our daily lives? 

The Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad and author of the Tanya, once exclaimed to his students: “We need to live with times.” His intention was that we must “live” with the week’s Torah portion by finding ways to relate it and implement its lessons in our lives.

The Torah portions we read this time of the year discuss the Exodus from Egypt. Every one of us has our own “Egypts,” our own limitations and boundaries that make us feel enslaved and not free. We need to consistently work to go out of our own personal Egypt, to get past our self-imposed limitations and boundaries that are not allowing us to be the best we can be.

How can we do that? Let’s start by looking at the Torah portion.

One of the main themes in Parshat Va’eira is the first seven of the 10 plagues. There are lots of lessons we can learn from each of the plagues, and they each offer insight into what we need to do to break out of our personal spiritual Egypt.

Let’s focus on one idea this week.

Sometimes we feel stuck. We’re doing what we need to do. We’re going through the motions. We’re practicing Judaism, but we’re not feeling inspired about it. We’re not excited or passionate about it. We don’t feel it gives freedom, meaning and purpose when we’re doing it. What is the remedy for that?

The answer is in this week’s Torah portion. Let’s look at the first plague, the first step on the process of freedom from Egypt. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, the leader of Chabad, teaches a fascinating idea we can learn from the first plague.

G-d turned the waters of the Nile into blood. Water is cold, and in general, coldness is not considered positive or holy. Being cold to ideas and to good things leads to apathy and indifference. Blood, on the other hand, symbolizes vitality, excitement and passion. The Torah tells us that “the blood is the vitality” of a living thing. Blood is very connected to life. One of the differences between life and death is warmth and coldness, and if a body is totally cold, the person is no longer alive. Life equals warmth.

The lesson from the first plague of Dam, blood, is that we need be alive and warm to what truly matters. We need to have warmth, excitement and passion for our Yiddishkeit, our Judaism. Don’t just practice Judaism, jump into it with excitement and passion. Just like the excitement we saw in Sun Devils Arena after that big win.

 You may ask: “What’s the problem if a person is cold towards Judaism? The main thing is whether he or she does it or not, not what his or her feelings are!” The answer is that when we do things with excitement and passion, it’s sustainable, we continue doing it, and we grow with it. It’s ALIVE!  

So my dear friends, the lesson I share with you that we learn from waters of the Nile turning to blood — and the antidote to feeling stuck and uninspired in our Judaism — is the importance of warmth and enthusiasm for Yiddishkeit. We need to not just do Judaism, we need to do it with life, joy, warmth, excitement and great energy. JN

 

Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel is the director of Chabad at ASU.

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