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Who's your daddy?

How do you envision your relationship with Hashem? Is it one of master-servant, King-loyal subject, or father-child? I would suggest most would pick the former rather than latter relationship. As a result, I would like to attempt to change that perception. While in reality all 3 choices are valid approaches, the latter, namely "father-child," is my preferred way. When I envision my relationship in this manner, it is so much easier to obey the Torah through the medium of love, rather than only respect or awe. When talking to my "Father" I tend to be more real and less reserved because I know that my Father will love me regardless of what I do and will always want the best for me. I will also recognize that when I don't get my way, it is not some distant monarch that has no time for me, but rather a loving father that knows what's best for me. The more I foster this relationship, the stronger that it becomes and the more I feel that I'm neither isolated or alone in whatever I'm dealing with. So in the end, "who's your Daddy?" My answer is Hashem!

My rambling thoughts of the day

Allow me to enter into a conversation with you the reader. Sometimes you'll find my writing humorous, other times serious and even other times probing, among many different other words. If you see something that bothers you, please do not stop reading, contact me instead and I will be more than happy to discuss any issue that I am addressing. Unless you email me or comment, I will not hear your response, but regardless, I believe it will be an interesting endaevor anyway.
Classes are a funny thing. For example, the Talmud class that we have on Sunday morning, once, one of the best attended classes, now a hit or miss. When I've asked the previous participants how we could improve it, the common answer was taht the class is great, nothing to improve, I just don't have the time. I think peeople believe that if they don't contnually attend this class, or any other for that matter, that they can't catch up or won't understand what is beiong discussed. Truth is that this is not normally the case. I try to make each class a complete unit so that even the occasional student can feel good about attending

January 24, 2011

I've always wondered why we expect everyone to enter a service and know what to do and be inspired. It is the hardest thing to do even for veterans of davening who have done it for their entire life. We make introductory services, explanatory services, etc, but in the end, what will sometimes happen is taht regardless of all the bells and whistles, some choose to opt out for a cup of coffee or tea. Courses are given, people attend, but to no avail...or at least thta is how it seems. How to make tefillah, prayer, which is the entrance of most Jews to Judaism meaningful is a tremendous challenge. How do you do it?

January 28, 2011

Well, it's erev Shabbat and just about time to turn of the computer and enter our earthly taste of paradise. Shabbat truly is the center and pinnacle of one's week. All thoughts of the previous work week melt into oblivion and the only thing that exists is a sense of completeness and serenity. Those who have experienced Shabbat know what I am refering to, for the others who have yet to do so or have dabbled without really knowing what was going on, no matter how many flowery terms I use, you will not be able to comprehend. Like one Rabbi once said, "Even if I describe the taste and texture of an orange, it is incomprehensible for one to truly appreciate the experience." The same can be said for Shabbat. With that in mind, I hope that you all have a great Shabbat.

January 31, 2011

We had a great class in Ein Yaakov. This book is a compilation of all the Aggadata in shas (Talmud.) There are many commentaries all on one page and makes learning these stories very easy. It is the material that is usually skimmed or skipped in Yeshiva. It's too bad, because it really does have a lot to teach us. One of the people who joins me in class always comments how relevant these stories are. When he's reading the paper or listening to the news, it usually has something to do with what we just learned!

Feb 28, 2011

Just today, I was questioning why Kashrut organizations are necessary. If the owner is Sabbath observant and trusted by the community, why confuse the issue and involve the rabbis? I realized that the rabbis are not a hindrance but rather are performing a service. In today's world, people use the same terms but mean different things. For example when an orthodox and non-orthodox Jew use the term "Torah from Sinai," they mean two different things. the orthodox Jew means that the Torah is a direct communication between Hashem and Moshe and the words in the Torah are direct quotations from Hashem to Moshe. The non-orthodox Jew, on the other hand does not acceot the concept of Hashem speaking to Moshe and at most would say that man was inspired to write what is written. The same with kosher. We all have our definitions of kosher. Some look to ethical behavior as a requirement but reject any ritual, others need both, and yet others only require ritual. Some will claim that they are kosher, but not to another's standards. That is where the Kashrut organizations come into play. The agency is brought in to create a standard that all can live with. It is a tightrope act, but one well worth the time and frustration. When the standards are made clear, one can decide for themselves if it meets their requirements.Some will feel that the agency's standards are too rigid, while others too lenient...as I said, it is a balancing act. What say you?

March 24, 2011

It's been a while since my last post, but here I am again. Recently, I've been reading a book on prayer entitled "Praying with Fire." It's a good read and one that is worthwhile. It explores in a daily 5-minute piece how important and yet, undervalued prayer really is. Most people view prayer as a dry experience. The author attempts to get us off of auto-pilot and engage with the most powerful daily conversation that we could ever have. As one Rabbi put it, "If you do not feel different after reciting prayers, that is your fault, not the fault of the prayer." To illustrate:
I told a person to pray and ask Hashem to let him win the powerball. He argued, "That is not what Hashem wants to hear. It is too mundane. It's a misuse of prayer." I countered, that is exactly what Hashem wants to hear. He wants us to speak with Him about everything and anything and nothing is too mundane for Hashem. If we only realized the amount of power prayer has, regardless of whether or not we get our wish list, people would never miss the opportunity presented. That is what this book professes and a thought worth contemplating.

March 27, 2011

Jewish Youth Groups all have one thing in common, as is proven by their names. They all want the youth to be involved in synagogual life. Just think of it. The names are:

NCSY-National Council of Synagogue Youth (O)
USY- United Synagogue Youth (C)
NFTY- North American Federation of Temple Youth (R)

The names tell the story, but do they get the job done? Moreso, do they attract the customers, the as of yet unaffiliated, or do they just attract families who are already involved? What are the "hooks" that they are using and are the different groups working in consonance? According to the latest statistics, 20% of all Jewish youth is involved in orthodox groups, which is amazing as only about 10-12% of all American Jews are affiliated!
When I was trying to start a youth group, I was met with resistance as the kids told me that there was no reason to start a Jewish youth group, as they all saw each other in school and nothing would be served. Truth is that depending on the programming they may be correct. If the programming is just designed to foster Jewish identity, then indeed it is a waste of time and energy. On the other hand, if it is to additionally introduce them to Judaism in a fun interactive manner, then it takes on a whole new importance. Additionally, advisors need to be totally committed to Judaism and Jewish law, for that is the only time they are effective. Teenagers and tweens have a radar and know when a person is sincere. If they sense sincerity, they are attracted to the person and will gladly join in on the activities. If they don't sense the sincerity, no matter how great the programming, they will not come. I think that is why NCSY is so effective. The advisors are all inspired and want to inspire others. Regardless of whether they are officially "on" or "off," they are always on with their relationship with Hashem and that's what the NCSYers see and why they can grow to tremendous heights.

March 28, 2011

Yesterday, I touched upon Jewish identity. It got me to thinking about something that always puzzled me. Why is it that Jews, of all stripes, will wear Jewish stars or other types of jewelry that clearly identifies them as Jews, yet, when it comes to a kippah, it is a chasm that one is not willing to traverse. One will wear a baseball hat or some other type of head covering, but the kippah which a unique Jewish symbol, is seemingly untenable. Could it just be because it is seen as a religious badge? Or maybe if one wears a kippah one would find it awkward to involve himself in certain activities or feel strange walking into certain establishments? Of course, that is exactly what is supposed to happen to the person wearing "religious garb." It is there to remind us who we are really representing and "working" for, namely Hashem. But, of course, whether or not we like it, the other symbols of our religion, the Chai or Jewish star also set us apart. So again, I query, "Why not wear a kippah?"

April 7, 2011

I'd like to continue on the subject of Jewish identity and ask, "What is the best way to develop an identity?" Youth groups and affiliation are a great start, but I believe that the best way to really make a mark on one's soul is through education. A child should be sent to a Hebrew Day school. It only makes sense to immerse the child at an early age into our Torah and show how beautiful our mesorah (continual chain of tradition from Mt Sinai until now) and to pass it on to them. If one is past that stage, then the next best thing is to join classes and actively engage in a conversation that is in the making for over 3000 years. If that's not possible, then to make a reading list of some of the basic books and start with those primers. The bottom line is to begin or continue to educate yourself.
Judaism has granduer and a unique way of contemplation. It is well-worth the effort and once begun our identification with Judaism will be positive and one of pride and appreciation.

April 8, 2011

Did you ever wonder why Madonna and her friends got involved in Kabbala? After all, they had it all and yet something was gnawing at them. Truth is that they are not unique. Everyone is searching for the purpose of life or, more specifically, where they fit into the grand scheme. For me, it's pretty simple and maybe that's why I'm a happy person. I know that Hashem gave us the Torah at Mt Sinai so that we could demonstrate, through our lives, that living by the Torah is neither impossible nor restrictive. On the contrary, it's quite liberating and fulfilling! To understand that my life has a purpose and that everything I do has a meaning is very powerful. It is what draws people like Madonna and her friends to kabbala and others to a more intense encounter with Judaism. But what is so often misunderstood is that anything less than full immersion will never quite get the desired results. Have a good Shabbat

April 13, 2011

I was recently involved in a conversation when I again saw the need that basic Jewish philosophy needs to be taught and internalized. Our misreading or misunderstanding of "heterim"-leniencies in Jewish law is baffling. The Talmud Rosh Hashanah states that one who accepts every "chumrah"- stringency is a fool and that one who accepts every "kulah"- leniency is a wicked person. What is shows is that we must live a balanced life, neither taking the "easy" road nor the most difficult one. Still and all, we need to understand the underpinnings of the halachic process to fully appreciate how the decisions are rendered. When we don't or we "forget" how it was derived, we sometimes deride the system. A timely example of this is the subject of kitniyot, which many think should be abolished. Yet, when one looks at the sources, one finds that the argument is based on a discussion in the Talmud, which is grounded in science, and is not solely based upon different customs between the ashkenazim and sephardim. If you're curious as to what the argument is, don't hesitate to contact me.

May 9, 2011

Starting Thursday morning, I'm starting a new class concerning the laws of lashon hara-slander. The reason for this class is that slander is all around us. We truly believe that we have the G-d-given right to say whatever we believe and more than that, if we see it in print, we believe it to be the absolute truth. For we reason, "How could anybody print something they couldn't defend? They could be sued for libel!" But as I go through "Guard your Tongue" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, I realize that this supposition is incorrect and quite harmful. Trials are debated in the newspapers, people's reputations are destroyed, all because of the printed word. And more than that , friendships are destroyed. Imagine when you child is told by a "friend" that another child called your child "weird." Immmediately, your child, upon hearing the report will think differently about that child. It's horrible the damage that is done by our tongues! It is something that we really need to control and if we properly guard our speech, we may usher in the moshiach at a faster rate.

May 10, 2011

Today is Yom Haatzmaut- Israel Independence day and a day that Jews throughout the world should rejoice. 63 years ago, the world powers "allowed" us to return home after a nearly 2000-year exile. What is strange is that 63 years later, our excitement has waned and we are not as intensely connected with the land as before. True, we pray three times a day for Hashem to bring us out of galut and bring us back home, but do we really mean it? Some people, in defense of not returning home, will invoke the oath that Hashem swore, namely that we could not return as a conquering body until Moshiach comes. But the same oath also states that we are bound to listen to the other nations, and in 1948, they said "go home." So why are we still living outside of our country? It is something that has always bothered me...not that I have my bags packed...and something that we may have to answer for when Moshiach comes. With that in mind, have a happy yom haatzmaut!

May 26, 2011

Since I last wrote about Jewish identity I've thought of amother element, namely one of Jewish Education. This is perhaps one of the greatest ways to instill pride in our heritage. We are truly on the "front lines" when people ask us about Judaism. We can either answer intelligently or respond without all of the information, thus making our Torah and tradition look foolish and antiquated. The best possible way to get a good Jewish education is to attend a Jewish Day school and Jewish High school. With the dual curriculum that is offered by the Day school system, it readies the student for the most rigorous university program. Yet I find people refuse to follow logic because they don't want their lifestyle, assuming it is not "up to snuff" with the institution, to be judged. While I understand the concern and can certainly appreciate it, the question that I have to pose is, "Is it worth losing a generation due to our feelings of comfort or the lack thereof?" I would hope that you would respond with a resounding "NO!" What I would suggest though is to talk with you children about what they are learning and if it is really opposed to your philosophies, don't pull them out of the school, rather discuss it with them and let them make the final decision as to what they will believe and accept.
Intermarried folks always want to offer their kids a choice, what better way to really make that offer? What do you think? Am I on target or not.