Simchat Torah and the World Series, by. R. Yosef Kanefsky

October 27, 2011
It’s gets to me every year. I well up with tears the minute we begin reading B’raishit on Simchat Torah morning, I’ve always insisted, even when they were very young and having a grand time running around shul, that my kids be inside with a chumash open at that moment. I’m tearing up as I write this, just thinking about it.

I have never fully understood why I have this reaction. I had thought it had something to do with the way that the continuous cycle of Torah reading symbolized the continuity of Jewish life from one generation to the next. And maybe this is indeed part of the reason I react to it as I do.

But a new revelation struck me when, of all things, I was contemplating the long off-season that will follow the conclusion of the world series later this week. (With embarrassment, I admit that I’m a hopeless baseball junkie.) What a contrast with Simchat Torah! If we could, we would read straight from the last word of Dvarim to the first word of Braishit, without even taking a breath in between. Were if not for the logistical need to lift and wrap the first Sefer Torah before opening the second, we’d go straight from one to the other without stopping at all. Because even after a whole year of Torah reading we are not tired. We do not want or need an off-season. Torah is our life and the length of our days. It’s our breath, our pulse. There is no moment that captures our burning love for Torah the way that starting B’raishit seconds after completing Dvarim does. It’s the most romantic moment of the Jewish year. Pass the tissues!

Professional athletes work hard, and I do not begrudge them their off-season. But every Fall, I realize anew what a privilege it is to be a member of a people so in love that we want to be forever on.

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Purim verses Halloween -by Rabbi Hyim Shafner

October 24, 2011

The leaves fall and the air turns crisp and an underlying feeling of fear and foreboding enters our neighborhoods.   Graves pop us in front yards along with skeletons and the like, bringing death out of its boundaries and into our domains.  Parents, many Jewish parents included, will encourage their children to dress up in frightful costumes along with the superhero of the moment and go door to door exclaiming- “trick or treat”, that is, in its classic intention and indeed its plain meaning: Give me some candy or I will play a trick on you.  In larger cities this might mean throwing eggs at your home (as when I lived inNew York City) or draping toilet paper all around.

I have often thought about this Halloween activity in contrast to the Jewish custom described in the Biblical Book of Esther (9:22) of mishloach manot, sending food to neighbors and friends on the holiday of Purim.  Purim commemorates the day in 356 BCE when Queen Ester saved the Jewish people from the genocidal tyrant Haman who set out to kill, and almost succeeded in killing, every last Jew in the Persian empire, the then known world.  The purpose of sending food to others on the day of Purim is to develop a sense of camaraderie and family with others.  We all eat of each other’s food and thus express our trust and familiality to each other.   In the Purim custom, one sends food that one cooked through a messenger, usually one’s child, to someone else for the holiday.  It must be fit to be a small meal consisting of at least two kinds of foods.

True, we also dress up on Purim, often as the characters from the Book of Esther, some nice and some not so nice but ultimately the difference between this practice of mishloach manot and that of trick or treating is stark.   Purim foods must be delivered in daylight, and must be sent to someone, whereas Halloween treats are taken from others in the dark while personifying the dead and celebrating the scary.

Though many join me in decrying Halloween as a holiday that teaches bad character and pagan ideals, others will say Rabbi Shafner is overreacting; kids just do it to have fun and get candy.  Perhaps.   But I think that everything we do and everything we teach our children to do subtly communicates values.   Dressing them up, often in scary costumes and sending them to the homes of people they do not know to get candy smacks of bad character development.   Who is to say that such things do not have a subtle effect on who we are as a society.  Such practice inculcates taking and even, albeit subtly, glorifies threatening.

This Halloween if you are Jewish I encourage you to give your child a treat and tell them Halloween is not a Jewish holiday.  Wait for Purim when you can give food to others in celebration of Jewish unity, instead of taking it from people in quai-pagan celebration.  If you are not Jewish I also encourage you to forgo the ritual of going door to door at night, risking errant cars and needles in apples, and instead to spend the night as a family.   If Halloween is an important religious holiday for you then ask yourself what activities your religion would advocate your substituting for trick or treating.  Perhaps spend the evening reading the bible and talking together, or volunteering with the needy, training ourselves to give rather than take.

Together may we help to build a society founded on the value that the best way of getting is to give.


Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A Meaningful Yom Kippur Prayer – 5772 – Rabbi Barry Gelman

October 7, 2011

This guide will be placed in each Machzor at my shul. Feel free to print it out and use it on Yom Kippur. May we all be inscribed in the book of life.

Kavvanot (Points to Consider) For A Meaningful Yom Kippur Prayer – 5772

The Yom Kippur davening is challenging in that it is very busy ,full of choreography and very long.

Some find it difficult to focus and create moments of quiet introspection.

The Yom Kippur Mussaf is an amalgam of prayers with High Holiday themes as well as recreations of the Temple service, mourning dirges and the account of the Ten Martyrs.

Use this guide during the silent Mussaf Amidah or the repetition of the Mussaf Amidah to help you focus on the prayer themes. 

Instead of talking to your neighbor when the service starts to feel too heavy, use this sheet to redirect your thoughts.

Do not feel rushed to keep up. It is more important to internalize the prayers.

What Life Teaches about Judaism        (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

  • Never compromise your principles because of others. Don’t compromise on kashrut or any other Jewish practice because you happen to find yourself among non-Jews or non-religious Jews. Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism. They are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.

Ask Yourself: How can I strengthen my Jewish commitments?

  • Never look down on others. Never think that being Jewish means looking down on gentiles. It doesn’t. Never think that being a religious Jew entitles you to look down on non- religious Jews. It doesn’t. The greatest Jew, Moses, was also, according to the Torah, “the humblest person on the face of the earth”. Humility does not mean self-abasement. True humility is the ability to see good in others without worrying about yourself.

Ask Yourself: How can I exhibit Jewish and personal pride without crossing the line of haughtiness?

  • Never stop learning. I once met a woman who was 103 and yet who still seemed youthful. What, I asked her, was her secret? She replied, “Never be afraid to learn something new”. Then I realized that learning is the true test of age. If you are willing to learn, you can be 103 and still young. If you aren’t, you can be 23 and already old.

Ask Yourself: Do I learn enough? Is my Judaism young? If not, how can I fix it? (Hint: Ask Rabbi Gelman)

  • Never be impatient with the details of Jewish life. God lives in the details. Judaism is about the poetry of the ordinary, the things we would otherwise take for granted. Jewish law is the sacred choreography of everyday life.

Ask Yourself: Do I make every Jewish moment count? Do I reflect when I pray? Am I mindful when I perform a Mitzvah? If the answer to any of these is no, seek ways to slow down so as not to let Judaism get erased in the hustle and bustle of life

 

How To Pray when one is not suffering – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (Man’s Quest For God)

 

But there is a wider voluntary entrance to prayer than sorrow and despair – the opening of our thoughts to God. We cannot make Him visible to us, but we can make ourselves visible to Him…The trees stand like guards of the Everlasting, the flowers like signposts of His goodness – only we have failed to be testimonies to His presence…How could we have lived in the shadow of greatness and defied it?  To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the Divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.

 

Faith In The Jewish People – Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik

 

“Let me confess; sometimes, in bed at night, when I cannot sleep, and my mind wonders, I am assailed by sober thoughts and overtaken by worry concerning the Jews in Eretz Yisrael (Israel) and the fate of Diaspora Jewry. As far as the Diaspora is concerned, it seems to us that despite all of our great efforts, despite the growth of the yeshivas and the flowering of a wonderful religious youth, we are a very small portion of the Jewish population of America….And doubt gnaws away : will we be swept away by these strong waves of assimilation which rage around us in America….Such a view, in my opinion, strikes a blow and wounds our faith in Knesset Yisrael (the Assembly of Israel) which we are commanded to keep….[Regarding] the spiritually estranged Jew, [to] Jews who have deserted, assimilated and have become extremely alienated from other Jews and Judaism. Even regarding these, we have a standing assurance  that “if any of you be driven out unto the outmost ends of the horizon, from thence will the Lord thy God gather you.” Every prediction of “spiritual extinction” and complete assimilation” is contrary to faith in Knesset Yisrael, which s the same faith in the advent of the Messiah, a foundation stone of Judaism…” A Jew who has lost faith in Knessset Yisrael, even though he may personally sanctify and purify himself by being strict in his observance of the precepts…such a Jews is incorrigible and totally unfit to join in the Day of Atonement which encompasses the whole of Knesset Yisrael, in all its components and all its generations.”

Ask Yourself:

  • Do I identify with Rabbi Soloveitchik’s initial concern for the spiritual fate of the Jewish people? If so, what bothers me about the current situation and how can I make it better? If not, what are the positive elements of the current state of Jewish religiosity that are encouraging? How can I make them even better?
  • What is the best recipe for Jewish spiritual survival? Name three elements of a Jewish life that are indispensable to achieve that goal.
  • Rabbi Solovetichik ultimately “regains” his faith in the survival of the Jewish people. Ask yourself: Who do I think will ultimately be those who will survive and remain part of Knesset Yisrael? Am I part of that group?

 

Don’t Let A Good Sin Go To Waste   Rabbi Barry Gelman

 

Sounds like strange advice. Let me explain. According to Rabbi Solovetichik there are two kinds of Teshuva (return). One type of Teshuva calls for a complete obliteration of the past. “Certain situations leave no choice but the annihilation of evil and for completely uprooting it. If one takes pity and lets evil remain, one inexorably pays at a later date an awesome price…Repentance of the individual can also be the kind that requires a clean break, with all of man’s sins and evil deeds falling away into an abyss, fulfilling the prophecy, “An thou will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Many have experienced this feeling or the desire to erase parts of our life. We feel nothing good can come out of those particular experiences or memories. We may be so successful at this that we really cannot remember the event even if asked about it or reminded of it. This type of Teshuva is useful and necessary in certain situations.

There is another type of Teshuva. says Rabbi Soloveitchik: “…there is another way – not by annihilating evil but by rectifying and elevating it. This repentance does not entail making a clean break with the past or obliterating memories. It allows man, at one and the same time, to continue to identify with the past and still to return to God in repentance.”

Rabbi Chaim Navon, in his book Ne’echaz B’Svach, offers an analogy of two people who were in a car accident. One of them may decide never to get back on the road, while the other becomes a driving teacher in order to rain a new generation of careful drivers. They had the same experience – but the affect of that experience differed greatly between them.

The person who swore off driving had a dead past – a past that set up the future.

The person who became a driving instructor has a live past – a past that is defined by the future. This person’s past is defined by decisions of the present.

 

Ask Yourself:

  • What past sins can I use to make myself a better person?
  • What are some strategies I can use to avoid compounding sin by making sure I use past mistakes to create better future?
    • Talking it over with my spouse/friend / rabbi
    • Studying more about this idea of repentance (ask Rabbi Gelman for further reading)
    • Spend time after a sin to think about how to redirect it