But what is our GOAL? posted by R. Yosef Kanefsky

August 23, 2012

As the Elul moon waxes and the peak of our religious year nears, we each begin asking ourselves our “big questions”. This Elul, the big question that’s rattling me is “what, in the end, is our goal?” 

We, who put on tefillin every morning (if we are men), and maintain separate sponges and towels for milchig and fleishig, we who tear toilet paper before Shabbat and don’t touch our spouses 12 days out of each month, what, in the end, is our goal? What is that we really want? 

Do we want our children to don tefillin, maintain kosher homes and observe Shabbat as we do? Well, yes, this is something we want. But is this our goal? In the end, is the simple perpetuation of religious activity the sum total of what we are striving for? Or is it just the means? And if so, the means toward what?

 Along similar lines: we, who daily pray for, worry about, and support Israel, we who send our children to study and to serve there, what, in the end, is our hope? What is that we really want? 

 Do we want the State of Israel to be physically secure and materially prosperous? Well, yes. But is this it?  Are these the totality of our goals?

We are well-practiced in, and passionate about, the sacred activities of our Orthodox and Zionist lives. Yet as my Orthodox and Zionist life goes on, I suspect more and more deeply that the satisfactory fulfillment of these sacred activities does not constitute the goal at all, rather an elaborate set of means. And the big question that is jumping out at me from every corner this Elul is what then, is the goal?

There are surely many possible responses to this question, and please feel welcome to add yours to this discussion! As for myself, I am thinking about the following two statements, the first by the prophet Yishayahu, the second from our Sages. They strike me as articulations of ultimate Jewish goals.

“In the days to come… the many nations shall come and say, ‘let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths’, and instruction will come forth from Zion, and the word of God from Jerusalem”

“Our rabbis have taught: We support the non-Jewish poor with the poor of Israel, visit their sick with the sick of Israel, eulogize their dead, and comfort their mourners, in the interest of the ways of peace.”

Worthy goals for us to place in our sights, for the short and long term.  My own challenge for this Elul is to better understand how our various sacred means lead us to them.



Cooking Our Children

August 7, 2012

The Book of Eicha (Lamentations) offers many grim images as it recounts the destruction of Jerusalem, and the slaughter and exiling of its population.  Surely one of the most gruesome is that of parents so racked with hunger that they resort to cooking their own children.  It’s an unfathomable idea, one so depraved that we struggle to imagine it.

And yet. And yet it’s becoming clearer and clearer that we are all cooking our children. If not our children, then our grandchildren. Or perhaps it will be our great-grandchildren.  But the time seems to be coming closer and closer when the temperature on this earth which God created for us will be too high for life as we know it to continue. We are, slowly, cooking our children.

According to Halacha, we must not wait until we are absolutely certain that someone’s life is in danger before we intervene. In the presence of even the possibility that life is in danger, we are mandated to violate Shabbat, Yom Kippur, or virtually any of the commandments, in order to preserve and maintain life. This is because life is the central value, and we are prohibited to stand idly by when it is endangered. And we are our bothers’ keepers. And our children’s and grandchildren’s keepers.

I think we need to start being scared. And to think about the world our loved ones, the fruit of our loins and of our wombs, the children whom we hug and the grandchildren whom we kiss, will inhabit. And even as we always place our faith in the compassionate and beneficent God, we simultaneously need to remember what God said to Adam and Eve when He placed them in the garden (Kohellet Rabah, 7) “Be mindful then to not ruin and destroy My world, for if you ruin it, there is no one after you to repair it.”

 I ride my bike a lot, and my wife and I are installing solar panels on our roof. But this won’t save anyone’s children. Only unprecedented cooperation among God’s nations will. Only the broad willingness to endure hardship today so that our children may live tomorrow will. Only heroic and noble leadership on the part of this, the most powerful and blessed nation in the world will.

Along with the faith that we are not cooked yet.

Sports and the many sides of silence-By Rabbi Avi Weiss and Rabbi Aaron Frank

August 1, 2012

A guest post courtesy of the JTA-  http://www.jta.org

OPINION(JTA) — Over the past few days, we find ourselves grappling with the concept of silence in two contrasting ways. First, a silence of indifference, acquiescence and complicity, and second, a silence of strength, principle and memory.

In the case of the Penn State tragedy, Coach Joe Paterno and others committed the sin of silence. Their silence of indifference, acquiescence and complicity led to the perpetuation of a vicious and destructive pattern of behavior that destroyed the lives of many young boys.

But somehow lost in the headlines this week is the grappling with the need for the silence of strength, principle and memory.

As we look toward the Summer Olympics, the families of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain in the 1972 Munich Olympics have asked for a moment of silence in London. What a moment of unity it would be to express the infinite value of human life and abhorrence of terrorists who target the innocent and mercilessly maim and murder in, of all places, the Olympic Village.

But sadly, the more we grapple with the unfathomable resistance to this proposal, the more it is feeling like the silence of indifference, acquiescence and complicity. It is because we fear that many of the countries represented do not share the belief that targeting innocents, in this case Israelis, should be met with strength. For them, there are causes that justify terrorism.

This type of silence is nothing new. It is the silence of those who say nothing as terrorists are venerated as honorable martyrs all over the world — in Tokyo, Moscow, London, Madrid, Tel Aviv and New York. Until the world recognizes that there is no such thing as good terrorists and bad terrorists — that nothing, nothing justifies focused attacks against innocents — terrorism will thrive.

Let it be said clearly: Rejecting the moment of silence at the 2012 Olympics sends the message that you can kill and massacre and the world will go on as usual. Responding to the request for the moment of silence with silence itself is unacceptable. It is legitimizing the horror.

Even if the International Olympic Committee rejects the request, athletes of good will should not. The games are not about the IOC and its members, whose names few people know. It’s about the athletes, the role models, who set the example.

There have been moments in the Olympics that transcended athletics. Some were glorious, like when Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the ’68 Olympics raised their clenched fists in solidarity against the discrimination of blacks. Some were infamous, like when two Jews, Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller, were removed under Nazi pressure from the American 400-meter relay team in the ’36 Olympics. What will happen in London this year has the potential to be one of those moments when athletes will be judged not by athletic prowess but by ethical integrity and the courage to stand up for what is right.

Imagine, just imagine, if during the Games, LeBron James and Michael Phelps and the whole American team would declare their own moment of silence of strength, principle and memory for the Israeli 11. Others would follow and the world would hear clearly that terrorism is beyond the pale.

In so many ways, sports is associated with a call to make more noise and get louder. But in other ways it teaches the challenge of silence.

Penn State has shown us that silence can reflect the greatest abuse of the power of sport. But there is hope. It’s up to these great Olympians to make the ultimate dunk, the ultimate record-setting race, to show that athletes can be true examples of a different type of silence — a silence of strength, principle and memory — one that can raise a voice of moral conscience.

To paraphrase the Book of Ethics, “In the place where is there is no person, stand up and be a person.”

(Rabbi Avi Weiss is the senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and founder of YCT Rabbinical School, both in New York. Rabbi Aaron Frank is the principal of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School in Baltimore.)