In Parshas Acharei Mos, we are commanded to keep the laws that God has given us. The laws that were taught before and after this decree.
” ‘ושמרתם את־חקתי ואת־משפטי אשׁר יעשה אתם האדם וחי בהם אני ה”
You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the Lord
Rashi and Onkelos explain that “VeChai BaHem” references Olam HaBa, that when one lives by the word of God, it will enable them to live after they have passed on from Olam HaZeh. In order to live in the next world, we must live, so to speak, in this world, by doing what we have been commanded to do for generations.
If you look through the commentary of the Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky (the Slonimer Rebbe, author of Nesivos Shalom), Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz (the Shelah HaKadosh), and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (the Gerrer Rebbe, author of Chiddushei HaRim), among others, they will tell you that it’s not enough to merely live a life replete with mitzvah observance. The “VeChai BaHem” means that one must imbue their life of adherence to mitzvos with “life” itself. They use the term “lehashkia” to be invested. It’s not enough to engage in the behavior by rote. There needs to be feeling, there needs to be excitement. The actions must come alive.
To say this is easy. To live it can be anything but. There are plenty of mitzvos that are easy to get excited about and bring about a tremendous amount of joy. Purim is a jubilant time on our calendar, but what happens to our excitement for the mitzvos of the day when we have to work? When we can’t afford to give shalach manos to everyone on our list?
What do we do when life bogs us down so much and it’s hard to feel the strong connection between us and the Almighty that we’re supposed to feel? This is a question that I believe can be answered by the words of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Rabbi Goldstein is the rabbi of Chabad of Poway, a beautiful synagogue that, before a week ago, I and many others didn’t even know existed. With all due respect to the good rabbi, I wish it could’ve stayed that way, but a 19 year old kid made sure that this would never be the case. Not only would we all know about this particular shul, we’ll never be able to remove it from our memories.
In the aftermath of the attack that killed Lori Kaye HY”D, Rabbi Goldstein authored an op-Ed in the New York Times. Normally, I’d never recommend anything be read from this particular newspaper, but this piece is an absolute must read. He writes:
“I used to sing a song to my children, a song that my father sang to me when I was a child. “Hashem is here,” I would sing, using a Hebrew name for God, pointing with my right index finger to the sky. “Hashem is there,” I would sing, pointing to my right and left. “Hashem is truly everywhere.” That finger I would use to point out God’s omnipresence was taken from me.
I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure; a reminder that my ancestors gave their lives so that I can live in freedom in America; and a reminder, most of all, to never, ever, not ever be afraid to be Jewish.
From here on in I am going to be more brazen. I am going to be even more proud about walking down the street wearing my tzitzit and kippah, acknowledging God’s presence. And I’m going to use my voice until I am hoarse to urge my fellow Jews to do Jewish. To light candles before Shabbat. To put up mezuzas on their doorposts. To do acts of kindness. And to show up in synagogue — especially this coming Shabbat.”
The bolded paragraph, to me, kicks the missive of “VeChai BaHem” into high gear. Rabbi Goldstein could take a grieving congregation and “lay low”, and workout their issues internally. Yet, that is not what he plans on doing. His promise is to be more involved, more connected. In the face of those who say that we should not, Rabbi Goldstein says, WE WILL! And we all should.
Yesterday, we commemorated Yom HaShoah, remembering the victims of the Holocaust with its survivors staring us in the face to make sure that our fire burn brightly for generations. For the survivors, and for the martyrs, VeChai BaHem means that our devotion is not only a sign of our dedication to the Almighty, but a clarion call to those who sought to eradicate us. When someone seeks to uproot your entire way of life forever, and they (BH) fail in that dastardly endeavor, the last thing on earth one would want to do is to slow down.
VeChai BaHem, according to the rabbanim that we stated earlier, means that we must be invested in our service. To not let our holy work be sullied by homeostasis. Our homeostasis should be that our avodas Hashem and kiyum hamitzvos are done with meaning and excitement. That’s true VeChai BaHem.
There will be an augmented meaning and fire in the work of the rabbi at Chabad of Poway, and I hope this ignites a spark within us as well.