Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shabbat Shalom


Shabbat (the Sabbath Day) is a gift from G-d to the Jewish people.
Shabbat commemorates the 7th day of creation on which G-d "rested" from creating the world. By keeping Shabbat, we demonstrate our trust in G-d and testify that the world belongs to G-d and the only G-d has the right to decide to whom (S)He will give that world.

From our perspective, Shabbat gives us an opportunity to recharge our personal batteries. In this global economic world, where many people are "on" 24/7, it is easy to forget that our bodies were not designed to be running all the time.

When I was growing up, all I saw Shabbat as was a day of restrictions. But once you realize what the goal of Shabbat is, you start to realize that Shabbat just doesn't work without these restrictions.

The first time I went to Israel, for some reason the program I was on, despite preference forms they gave us to fill out, I was placed as a roommate with a young woman who didn't keep Shabbat. The first Shabbat there was before the formal programming started, so I hadn't yet met other people who were Shabbat observant. I was sort of stuck in my room while my roommate did laundry and listened to music on the radio. I found that it was very hard to appreciate Shabbat that week.

I have what I call the "Baseball theory of Tora". When one plays baseball, there are certain rules that enhance one's enjoyment of the game, to whit, imagine you were playing baseball and the pitcher pitched the ball, and the batter hit the ball and, instead of running to first base, (s)he ran to third base. This would confuse the defense (not to mention any teammate already on the base paths) and would lead to them being upset, not happy. It's the same with living on earth.

G-d understands human nature. How many people out there are "on" 24/7? At least with Shabbat, we can only be on 24/6. We have one day per week, one seventh of our time, where we have to stop, where we have to turn off all our technology. I recall watching a program a while back and the family needed a "technology detox", they were told not to use the TV, computers, etc. for 48 hours. This was just after Rosh Hashana, a two-day holiday during which we can't use "technology" (this specific year it was followed by Shabbat, giving us 72 hours of "technology detox"). So I was talking with my best friend and I said to her, "didn't we just go through that?"

Shabbat gives us a weekly "technology detox". It gives us a day during which the concerns of the work-a-day world are dismissed, a day to commune with G-d, a day to share with loved ones. If you've ever experienced a good Shabbat, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, you need to find a community or family in your own community where you can keep an entire Shabbat. Once you find that, you won't want to go back to "Saturdays".

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Good Jew....


Disclaimer: This is my own idea -- I don't know if any authority proposed or espouses this. I feel strongly that this is true, but it's only my feeling.

I speak often to my best friend, Michelle Nevada, since we don't live in the same zip, area or even Morse code. We often have very interesting conversations and oftentimes, talking to her helps me put my opinions and ideas into words. Today was no exception to this.

We were talking about religion and Judaism and what it is that makes someone a "good Jew". And I said that keeping Shabbat and keeping kosher are not what make you a good Jew. Those are G-d's gifts to us. What makes you a "good Jew" is how you treat other people. In other words, if you treat people with respect and do what you can to help others you are a good Jew even if you never kept Shabbat in your life.

There are two major groupings of Mitzvot (commandments) -- those between people and other people (called in Hebrew Bein Adam L'Haveiro -- between man and his friend) and those between people and G-d (called in Hebrew Bein Adam L'Makom -- between man the Omnipresent, or G-d).

The laws between people and other people are the laws about how to treat other people, like helping others, giving charity (called Tzedaka from the Hebrew word for justice), treating others with respect, things like that. The laws between people and G-d are laws like keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, putting up a Sukka and things like that.

The laws between people and other people are the laws that make getting along in this world, the world G-d created, easier. If we treat others with respect, they will respect us. If we help others, they will help us. If we are honest with people, they will trust us and be honest with us. Keeping these laws are what makes you a "Good Jew", a good person, a righteous person.

Shabbat and other similar laws, on the other hand, are G-d's gift to us. How many people do we know who are "on" 24/7, always available for work, always checking the stock market. I know myself that without Shabbat I would probably be on my computer all the time. But by taking 25 hours off for Shabbat, I have an opportunity to recharge my batteries. Shabbat is the origin of the "weekend".

So, if you are Jewish and think that you're not a good Jew because you go shopping on Saturday or eat ham sandwiches, I'll tell you you're mistaken. You're a good Jews if you are helping others. You are missing out on G-d's gift to you if you go shopping on Saturday or eat ham sandwiches. If you are a Gentile, you're a good person if you help others and keep the laws between people and other people (Gentiles are not permitted to keep Shabbat the way Jews do because Shabbat is a covenant between G-d and the Jewish people). If you will check out the 7 Noachide Laws (the laws that Gentiles are responsible for), you will notice they are all laws of how you interact with other people and other sentient creatures. These are the laws that make one a Good person, Jew or Gentile.

If you are a Jew and you want to begin to keep the laws in both categories, you start with a clean slate; you can decide at any moment you would like to accept the gifts that G-d has given us. You don't have to do anything other than what Nike says, "Just do it!", to make G-d proud.

Monday, July 25, 2011

True Love is not only Physical


One of my cousins (his Mom is my first cousin) just got married. He just post on FB in his status how awesome his wife is. He made me think about my standard שבע ברכות [Sheva Brakhot -- Literally 7 Blessings -- Sheva Brakhot is a period of one week after a wedding -- the first being at the wedding -- where the bride and groom -- חתן וכלה -- Hattan v'Kalla -- are feted by friends and relatives, during which people who couldn't get to the wedding can share in the couple's joy] דבר תורה -- D'var Tora -- literally words of Tora. In the past, particularly at Sheva Brakhot of my siblings, but also at Sheva Brakhot of friends, I have often been asked to speak.

The idea for this D'var Tora began on Purim. The first time I was in Israel, I was there on a program (called WUJS -- World Union of Jewish Students) and as part of the program, I learned in a serious learning group and one of the things we discussed was מגילת אסתר -- Megilat Esther -- the book of Esther. We analyzed the nuances of the Palace intrigue and the plot against the Jews by the evil המן Haman. Haman was so evil that a minor quibble with the hero of our story, מרדכי Mordekhai the Jew escalated into Haman decided to kill all the Jews from India to Ethiopia (127 provinces).

Haman's wife זרש Zeresh is mentioned a few times in the narrative, but always at times when Haman is asking advice or telling of his day and always in the phrase "זרש אשתו וכל אוהביו" (Zeresh his wife and all his loved ones) or similar phrases.

I occurred to me that this implied that Haman no longer loved his wife. יצחק Yitzhak (Isaac, the Patriarch), on the other hand, married his wife רבקה Rivka (Rebekka) and then grew to love her. So what is the difference between Haman and Yitzhak in this regard?

Haman, being an evil person, made his decision about who to marry based solely on externals, solely on looks. Yitzhak, on the other hand, realized that externals are not enough. You can't decide on a lifetime partner, a person to work with, build a home with, raise a family with, solely on external appearances. There has to be more.

My cousin, is one of the sweetest people I know, and one of the most caring. He is also moral and rooted in Tora values. I haven't yet met his wife but I'm certain that he made his decision based on shared values, shared interests and mutual desire to live a good Tora life.

May they always feel the spark of love they feel for each other now.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Jewish Calendar 101


While I did put a link to a lot of my Jewish Calendar Squidoo lenses in a previous entry on this blog, but I thought I would give a quick explanation of the Jewish calendar all in one place.

First of all, unlike the secular calendar which is solar (based on the movement of the earth around the sun), the Jewish calendar is lunar (based on the movement of the moon around the earth) but adjusted for solar year so that פסח (Pesah -- Passover) will always be חג האביב (Hag HaAviv -- the Spring Holiday), for example. We accomplish this by adding one month 7 times every 19 years.

Secondly, the Jewish year has two "first months" -- one, תשרי (Tishrei -- usually coinciding with September and October) is the anniversary of the creation of the world. The other (which is usually referred to as "the first month" in the Tora) is ניסן (Nissan -- usually coinciding with late March or April), the month that the בני ישראל (B'nei Yisrael -- Children of Israel) were freed from slavery in Egypt and became a nation.

I have created a chart that shows the Jewish year -- see below

These are about the Jewish Months:

Tishrei and Heshvan
Kislev and Tevet
Shevat and Adar
Nissan and Iyar
Sivan and Tammuz
Av and Elul

These are about Jewish Holidays:

Rosh Hashana
Pesah (Passover)
Jewish Holiday Haiku (Just for fun)