Selected Sermon/Article
2011-01-28 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Mishpatim Exodus 21:1 -- 24:18

Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates. 

People I meet occasionally raise an eyebrow in surprise when they discover I grew up in Los Angeles.  When I jokingly tell them I moved to St. Louis for the weather, they smile - particularly during this cold, snowy winter.  However, when we think about it, happiness means more than warm sunny days.

A London-based think tank recently rated the happiest countries in the world.  From 110 countries covering 90% of the world's population, Norway, Denmark and Finland were the three top-rated countries -- none of which are known for having Los Angeles-like weather.  Consider for a moment: What does happiness mean to you?

Many feel that happiness is dependent upon having enough money to do what you want and buy what you want.  A nice home, food, clothes, car, leisure.  Upon further reflection, though, we all know individuals who have all of those things and more but aren't particularly happy.  It's possible to be a miserable millionaire in Maui, or to be a person of modest means who is happy and content in St. Louis -- even in January.  Upon what, then, is happiness dependent?

"Who is wealthy?  The one who is happy with his lot." (Ethics of the Fathers).  The ability to count and appreciate your blessings, whatever they may be, is the key to true happiness.


Parshas Mishpatim  Exodus 21:1 -- 24:18
Following on the heels of the Ten Commandments, this week's Torah portion deals primarily with civil law.  Like the realm of the ceremonial, our worldly and common activities must be infused with holiness and observed carefully.  Included among the civil laws discussed in the portion are; penalties for causing bodily injury to another person and damaging his property; laws regarding borrowers; the mitzvah to show sensitivity to the poor and to offer them free loans; and laws relating to the honest dispensation of justice.  After mentioning the mitzvos of Shabbos and Shemittah (the Sabbatical year), the portion continues with a brief discussion of the three pilgrimage festivals -- Pesach, Shevous and Sukkos.
The Torah then returns to the revelation at Mt. Sinai.  The Jewish people declare their commitment to do whatever G-d commands with the famous phrase "Everything G-d has said, we will do and we will listen."  The portion concludes with Moses' ascending the mountain, where he will remain for forty days and forty nights to receive the rest of the Torah.

Rabbinic Ruminations

Saudi Arabian authorities have announced that they are ready to release a vulture being held under suspicion of spying for Israel.  The erstwhile feathered Mossad Agent was apprehended wearing a GPS transmitter and a ring etched with the words "Tel Aviv University." The GPS and ring were connected to the bird as part of an long-term project by Israeli scientists that follows vultures' location and altitude for research purposes.

The arrest of the vulture came several weeks after an Egyptian official voiced the suspicion that a shark that attacked tourists off the Sinai shore was also acting on behalf of Mossad. The incidents may reflect a growing irrational hysteria among Arabs surrounding Israel's military prowess and the efficacy of its intelligence services, possibly fueled by the Stuxnet virus' success.

Vultures and sharks acting as Israeli secret agents may be as unlikely as the Chicago Cubs ever winning the World Series.  On the other hand, while the full effect of Stuxnet isn't fully known, it seems certain that the computer virus did disrupt Iran's nuclear enrichment program.  Credit must be given where credit is due.  To whom is credit really due?  Israel?  The United States?

 Look upward.

As we read in the Passover Haggadah, "In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And The Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hands." 

Quote of the Week

All my possessions for a moment of time - last words of Elizabeth I - Queen of England (d.1603)

Joke of the Week

During World War II, a sergeant stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, gets a telephone call from a woman. "We would love it," she said, "if you could bring five of your soldiers over to our house for Thanksgiving dinner."
"Certainly, ma'am," replied the sergeant.
"Oh... just make sure they aren't Jews, of course," said the woman.
"Will do," replied the sergeant. So, that Thanksgiving, while the woman is baking, the doorbell rings. She opens her door and, to her horror, five black soldiers are standing in front of her.
"Oh, my!" she exclaimed. "I'm afraid there's been a terrible mistake!"
"No ma'am," said one of the soldiers. "Sergeant Rosenbloom never makes mistakes!"
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