By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
The weekly parashah is enlivened these days with the arrival of Avraham on the biblical scene. Our founding father brings new life to the world as he spreads the message of monotheism in a hitherto pagan society. He also shows his prowess as a fearless fighter for justice and puts his own life on the line to save his nephew, Lot, when he was taken captive in the world war of the day.
It was after Avraham rescued Lot that the king of Sodom thanks Avraham for liberating his prisoners of war at the same time. He offers Avraham the spoils of war and asks only to have his men back. “Ten li ha’nefesh,” he says: “Give me the people, and take the possessions for yourself.”
Back in 1980, I heard a powerful and passionate call by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was Simchas Torah, the yom tov when we celebrate the gift of Torah in a spirit of boundless joy. He had appealed for tzedakah to be given in the same heightened spirit, that is, beyond normal limitations or the usual budgetary considerations. Later, he explained his call to have been one of “Ten li ha’nefesh,” which, literally, means “Give me the soul.” It was a special moment, and what he was demanding of his followers was a genuine outpouring of soul, a sincere act of pure faith, beyond reason or issues of affordability. The Rebbe had called for a total, unconditional commitment.
The call of “Ten li ha’nefesh– Give me the soul” still reverberates. And it applies to everything we do. We are all composites of body and soul. But more often than not, our physical selves get all the attention while our spiritual side is neglected. How many times do we hear Jews, especially young Jews, complaining that Judaism lacks spirituality; that their synagogues and temples are devoid of any real feeling or atmosphere of sanctity?
And then we bemoan them trekking off to the Himalayas to find purpose, depth, and all the spirituality we never gave them. How many bar mitzvahs and weddings have been reduced to empty shells of materialistic one-upmanship with friends and neighbors compelled to outdo each other in garish extravaganzas that miss the whole point of what the celebration is about? And G-d calls out: Give Me the soul. Give Me back what is mine. Put some spirit back into Judaism. Enough with the Mickey Mouse routines and rituals, the song-and-dance gimmicks. Get beyond the external and the plastic. Give Me some soul!
When our faith is superficial, we look as foolish as the pathetic thief described in the Talmud (Berachos 63b). “Ganva apum machtarta Rachmanah karye” – the thief, at the mouth of the tunnel, calls out to G-d. Here is a goniff, a lowly criminal, about to enter the tunnel he has dug to rob a bank, but before he goes in, he prays to G-d for success. What a chutzpah! He is about to violate G-d’s express command not to steal and has the audacity to still ask G-d to help him do the job?
But such is the effect of superficiality. He has faith, our Talmudic thief. It just hasn’t penetrated. Because this shallow pseudo-religiosity hasn’t permeated his inner being, he is blissfully unaware of the hypocrisy of his actions. So he sees no incompatibility between stealing and praying at the same time.
The truth is that we all believe, even the thieves among us. The challenge is for the penny to drop; for that faith to reach into our core, to touch our souls. Let us heed the call of “Ten li ha’nefesh – Give me the soul.” Let us move beyond superficial Judaism to something deeper, profound, and real which will touch our own souls and inspire our children.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.