“Great Wealth” and Mega Millions – A Kavannah Before Buying A Lottery Ticket: Rabbi Barry Gelman

March 30, 2012
A Kavannah Before Buying A Lottery Ticket:

I will be using the traditional Shabbat Hagadol drasha to speak on the topic of: Jews and Money.

 
I decided to speak on this topic long before the Mega Millions frenzy started.

I have long been fascinated with the idea that part and parcel of the promise of redemption is great wealth.

Here are the verses from Bereishit

יג) וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם יָדֹעַ תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה

יד) וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל

13 And He said unto Abram: ‘Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

I can’t help but think of the coincidental relationship between the lottery drawing this week and the “great wealth” that the Jews took with them from Egypt.

Maybe this shabbat is called Shabbat Hagdol the Great Shabbat in anticipation of the “Great Wealth” – “ִּ”רְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל”that the Jewish people would amass.

The promise of wealth even makes its way into the text of the Haggadah suggesting that in order to properly fulfill the MItzvah of Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim (retelling the Exodus story) one must discuss this aspect of the events.

בָּרוּךְ שׁוֹמֵר הַבְטָחָתוֹ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא חִשַּׁב אֶת הַקֵּץ, לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּמַה שֶּׁאָמַר לְאַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ בִּבְרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וַיֹּאמֶר לְאַבְרָם, יָדֹע תֵּדַע כִּי גֵר יִהְיֶה זַרְעֲךָ בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא לָהֶם, וַעֲבָדוּם וְעִנּוּ אֹתָם אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. וְגַם אֶת הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר יַעֲבֹדוּ דָּן אָנֹכִי וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יֵצְאוּ בִּרְכֻשׁ גָּדוֹל.

Blessed is He who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed be He!For the Holy One, blessed be He, calculated the end [of the bondage], in order to do as He had said to our father Abraham at the “Covenant between the Portions,” as it is said: “And He said to Abraham, `You shall know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and make them suffer, for four hundred years. But I shall also judge the nation whom they shall serve, and after that they will come out with great wealth.'”

This is an interesting point to discuss at your seder table – why must we talk about the great wealth gained by the Jewish people as part of retelling the story?

 
A related issue is the use and misuse of wealth.

That same wealth that the Jewish people took with them from Egypt was then used to build the Golden Calf. This represents the profanation of money. (more on this at the Drasha)

The Golden Calf represents the danger of wealth itself being worshipped and viewed as an end in itself. (It can actually get worse. For example, when wealth becomes the determining factor of value in a society – more on this in the Drasha (from Rav Nachman of Breslov) as well)
 
On the other hand Rabbi Soloveitchik talks about of “Redeeming The Economy”. (See Festivals of Freedom pg. 168 – 172)
In a similar vain, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks defines tzedek as social or distributive justice.

Here are some of his words: “The Judaic vision aims at a society in which there is equal access to dignity and hope. Unlike socialism it believes in the free market, private property and minimal government intervention. Unlike capitalism it believes that the free market, without periodic re-distributions, creates inequalities that are ultimately unsustainable because they deprive some individuals of independence and hope.”

Before buying that ticket ask yourself: How can I make sure that this wealth (hopefully you will win) will be redeemed?

 
BTW – It’s actually a good question to ask even if you do not buy a ticket.

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Torah Alone does not a Mench Make –By Rabbi Hyim Shafner

August 7, 2009

A congregant of mine was confounded by the reports of Rabbis who were arrested for illegally trafficking in human organs. One person in the group said that some might justify their acts claiming the money would be used for yeshivahs and other important Jewish organizations. They turned to me and demanded to know if there really is a way to justify such things through the Torah?

I answered that Judaism, whether the Torah or the Talmud, contains many diverse ideas, not just one opinion and not just one way of thinking about God or the world.  For instance, regarding the question of how we should view non-Jews and how we should act toward them we could look at Abraham. Abraham left a conversation with God, the Torah tells us, in order to run out into the desert and welcome three nomads who were not Jews. Abraham was the first Jew and these nomads, as far as Abraham knew, were idol worshipers. This would be one way to answer the question of what our attitude could be toward non-Jews. On the other hand, one might look at the book of Deuteronomy in which Moshe commands the Jewish people to destroy those who are idol worshipers.  (No doubt the two cases can be seen in different lights and many lomdishe hairs be split, never the less it is the divergence in general attitude expressed by both sides that I am calling attention to.)

Another example of the variety of theological stances within Judaism is with regard to the question of asceticism. A statement in the Talmud tells us one will have to give an account for every pleasure they did not take advantage of in this world (Tal. Jer. 4:12). Additionally there is an opinion that the Nazir (Nazerite) brings a sin offering at the end of his Nazarism to atone for the sin of forbidding upon himself that which the Torah permits.  On the other hand there is a second opinion in the Talmud that the sin offering of the Nazir is due to his leaving behind a higher ascetic state.  The rabbis tell us, “Sanctify (separate) yourself even from that which is permitted.”  In Jewish history there were of course whose central practice was extreme asceticism such as Chasidey Ashkenaz in the 12th century.  Which direction should we take?

Direction can not come only from reading the Torah or even the oral tradition, these are varied and can be used to rationalize anything, including selling human organs for gain.  In the end Torah, written or oral, (at least in their written forms), are not enough to guarantee that we will live a life that is right and good in the eyes of God or others, -our own moral worldview and personal theology must be brought to bear upon Torah as a meta guide.  And this too must be part of the Torah and mesorah (oral tradition).  What we quote from the Torah will be filtered based on who we are and what our world vision is, so we must thoughtfully cultivate a correct worldview.   In Judaism today there are many world views: Zionist/non-Zionist, Torah u’Madah/Torah Im Derech Eretz, Open Orthodoxy/Insular Orthodoxy, etc., etc.

Morethodoxy does not claim to change anything in Torah (God forbid), rather to help present a set of glasses through which to see the Torah, a guide for balancing the varied approaches which are within the Torah.  It is a path accentuating an attitude of rachum v’chanun, first and foremost merciful and loving.  When faced with two approaches within Judaism it is a guide and path for choosing the approach that is, (within halacha), more inclusive not less.  It is not, God forbid, a path of molding the Torah to our selfish desires or to the vagaries of modern life and low brow chapters of western culture, but of opening our eyes and souls to the Torah in ways that Torah alone may not allow us to see.

The Ramba”n said it long ago (v’etchanan and k’doshim) . It is not enough to keep the Torah. If one only keeps the law one may still be a disgusting person.  Jewish law demands that we go beyond the law to do what is right good at the eyes of God and people.  Ours is a religion that is quite legally based yet if one were to just keep the law that would not be enough in our relationship with others or in our relationship with God. V’asita Ha’yashar V’hatov –“Do what is right and good”- go beyond the letter of the law with regard to how you treat others and Kidoshim Tihiyu, -“You shall be holy”-sanctify yourself beyond the letter of the law in your relationship to God.

The Torah alone does not a Mench make. It requires also spectacles through which to see the Torah, ones ground from the glass of things like moral training, philosophy and musar, learning the great ideas of other religions and moral and philosophical systems, chassidut and kabbalah, reading the great secular books, seeing the great works of art, appreciating the natural world God has made and its aesthetic and scientific beauty, exploring the important human ideas and insights -within humans in general and within ourselves in particular (usually through psychotherapy)- so that we can move beyond their own needs and see those of others more clearly.

In the end if our glasses through which to see the Torah and the world are placed correctly and our filters though which to sift the torah and our experiences are honed well we will achieve the goal of being Jews, to be merciful and gracious in imitation of the Divine One and to be a “light unto the nations”; we will not be selling illegal goods to further spiritual life.


Breadth and Depth, Openness and Passion

June 5, 2009

Morethodoxy.  One more label to add to an already thinly divided Jewish world?

In subtitling our blog “Exploring the Breadth, Depth and Passion of Orthodox Judaism,” I think we aim to overcome the limitations that labels impose.  To see Jewish life not as it often is seen today as a linear spectrum from insular to open, tolerant to judgmental, committed to uncaring; but with the complexity and subtlety that “divarim sh’omdim b’rumo shel olam,” things upon which the world hangs, require.

Moving away from labels and defined Jewish groupings can help us be open to the treasures within each Jewish community that can help us serve God, while identifying the weaknesses of each community or theology and setting those aside. 

For instance, the strength of more insular “Charedi” Orthodox communities is their passion.   One learns a lot of Torah when it is undiluted by time studying about the world in a university; one is little influenced by the beckoning of secular society’s evil inclination if one is wholly separate from it.   Payer in Charedi circles, especially Hassidic ones, is often passionate, focused and fervent.  We must learn from these strengths and adopt them.

On the other hand there are the weaknesses of more insular Orthodox communities.  They can not benefit fully from the wonders of Gods universe since they do not study about them in depth (which Maimonides says brings us to love God).  They can not fully welcome the Jewish people into Judaism since their welcoming is only on their own terms.   They can not fully be a light unto the nations since their interaction with “the nations” is minimal and often rejecting.  

Modern Orthodoxy’s strength lies in its openness to the things listed in the paragraph above and its attempt to synthesis that openness with Torah.   But its weaknesses are many.   There is a widespread lack of passion in prayer.  To be present in a Modern Orthodox synagogue during prayer is sometimes to wonder who people are conversing with, God or their neighbors.  The Kiddush club, a phenomenon which afflicts some modern orthodox synagogues on Sabbath morning in which members leave the service to drink alcohol and eat a meal instead of listening to the full Torah service.  

I would propose that Morethodoxy be a philosophy of taking the ochel (the edible) and leaving the p’solet (the shell).  Of integrating both, breadth and depth, openness and passion. 

Let us be passionate in Torah study, and open to all tools possible in pluming its depths, from biblical criticism to kabbalah.   

Let us be passionate in prayer, and open to studying the works of Rabbi Nachaman on utilizing meditation and nature to find God, perhaps even open to learning from non-Jewish instruction about kavanah, and a thousand years of eastern meditative practice.   

Let us be passionate about protecting our children and ourselves from the materialism and superficial values so prominent in the wider culture, and open in the extreme to all our brethren the Jewish people and to our cousins the non-Jewish world.   Let us be so passionate about welcoming and loving others that the homeless person who wanders into our house of worship feels like one of us.  

Let us be passionate about connecting to God so that there is no idle chatter in our shuls, and open, even in the middle of prayer as Abraham was, to any new person that walks into shul.