Thursday, June 20, 2013

If Looks Could Kill©

I would imagine the best way to know if you are getting an evil eye is to walk around with a big mirror and flash it before everyone you meet. If people start dropping dead like flies around you, there’s a good chance they’d wished you bad. Ah, but if only it was so easy to ward of all those ill-intentioned people who seem to be stealing our good luck away. And so, instead, we walk around with red strings, hamsas, little plastic eyeballs and all sorts of amulets meant to keep the devil from our door.
But is it all just superstitious hocus-pocus? The Talmud teaches that one can cause damage just by looking at someone's property. It also says that 99 out of 100 people die prematurely from the evil eye. But what did the ancient rabbis know? Right? Weren’t they just as susceptible as everyone else to myth, folklore and wives’ tales? But then quantum physics came along with a very interesting theory that may be relevant. Quantum Theory demonstrates that observation affects reality. The mere act of looking at and sizing up a particle changes it.  That certainly offers something to think about.

Today it’s easier than ever to be jealous and to give evil eyes. All we have to do is spend an hour on Facebook to eat our hearts out reading people’s status updates. But those who cast evil eyes are not immune from backlash themselves; for the sages also teaches that the act of giving an evil eye takes a person out of this world early. And forgive me for having the temerity to offer up my opinion in the shadow of the great Talmudic rabbis, but I say giving an evil an eye also makes one so darn ugly. Mean-spiritedness hangs on one’s face like a dreadful accessory that just doesn’t match any outfit.  Remember that the filter of poison is not immune to the poison it dishes out. No person is impervious to a daily diet of dioxin.

Yes, we live today in a show-offy society with the ever expanding technological means to brag about everything we accomplish. And then, we drape ourselves in antidote-bling and string to counter the envious slings and arrows we readily invite.  I truly wonder if that is a healthy way to live.

So what’s the remedy? I have a few:

First you can avoid looking like the Grinch who stole Christmas, if you exercise being the bigger person and try being happy for people when things go well for them. Instead of being lowly, mean, venomous and back-stabbing like the people of Sodom, a society which begrudged each other the very air they breathed—be magnanimous. The Sodomites were consumed by their burning envy and it is no wonder that they were destroyed by sulfuric fire. 

Secondly, be like a fish. In the Talmud it says that fish are resistant of the evil eye because they are under the water—what is hidden is impervious to ill-wishers. What is hidden has a chance to be blessed like a seed that grows beneath the earth. The philosophy of “when you got it, flaunt it” may not be so cost efficient when it all adds up. Perhaps showing off is more a sign of weakness than of strength.

And finally, the best counter to all evil is keeping the commandments, doing good deeds and being good people.

In this week’s Bible reading we see how King Balak sought out Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. And boy oh boy, if looks could kill. But Bilaam was unable to curse them. Why? Because the Jewish nation was behaving properly.  The Israelites left no void or crevice for curses to sneak in. As such, those who cursed them would be cursed, and the haters would drown in the deep end of their own hate.

Kabbalists teach that each act we do creates an angel--either one that serves as our advocate or our prosecutor, depending on our deed or misdeed. And so, the question is:  What kind of army of angels are you building for yourself, good ones or bad ones? When the evil eye comes your way, will your own army deservingly stab you in the back or will it stand as a loyal protector and bless those who bless you, curse those who curse you, and escort you safely from strength to strength?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Waiting for Life to Download

I think in our times, more than ever, it is hard to have faith.

We are so used to immediate gratification with instant messages and immediate downloads that we are trained to wait for nothing. The modern mindset is: I want it and I want it now.    And so, today, when we put in a heartfelt prayer to God and we are not granted our wish in quick time, it really is hard to have faith. 

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How long do we have to wait until things get better? How long do we have to wait ‘til we meet the right mate? How long do we have to wait until click to read more God gets busy doing His job? But I believe that that space between “what we want” and “what we have” is holy ground and how we walk upon that space tells God who we are: Will we cheat to get what we want? Will we step on others to get where we mwant to go? Will we become mean, petty and jealous because the things we want are lacking? How we behave while our prayers are being processed gives testament to our character. God is not ignoring us, but rather is watching us closer than ever to see how we behave when our life doesn’t download as we desire. 

I believe, ultimately, that there are two kinds of faiths: the simple kind which says, “Don’t worry, everything will be good.” And then there is the wise faith which says, “I am worried, but it is all for the good.” It perhaps is not the fairytale kind of good that Hollywood offers us, but it is the good that is part of God’s greater plan for us—the difference being that Hollywood puts people up in lights, while God wants people to be the lights.

Now let’s not dismiss Hollywood altogether, for it does have a few great script lines to offer us. In The Ten Commandments, when Moses is first banished into the desert, the narrator takes over and says: “He can neither bless nor curse the power that moves him, for he does not know from where it comes.  Learning that it can be more terrible to live than to die, he is driven onward through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God's great purpose, until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the maker's hand.”

Like Moses and the people he led, most of us have to cross our own personal desert of despair, a desert that serves as our testing ground, our fortifier or our destroyer. And like Moses, many of us won’t make it to the Promised Land and we are left parched for answers as to why in this great age of communication it is only God that does not answer us. Or is it simply that His answer is "no"?

In this week’s Torah portion we read how God was angry at Moses for striking the rock twice instead of speaking to it as he was instructed to do. It was that sin that barred him from entering the Holy Land.  Why was God so mad for that?  Because how we behave while we are waiting counts for everything!  A man of Moses’ stature had no right to display such anger and impatience  while waiting for the rock to give forth water. In life we all must walk through our hardships and disappointments with dignity and morality, and figuratively take off our clamoring shoes, for the space between “what we want” and “what we have” is holy ground.

So tread with grace my friends, and know always Who walks beside you.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Oh, You Mean "Those" Jews?©

Rabbi Hillel once asked:  "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?”

But this rhetorical question does not just apply to the individual; it also applies to the Jewish people as a nation. Despite our differences, we are ONE people under ONE G-d. If we are not for each other, who will be for us? History has provided us with the bloody answer.  The rabbis have indeed taught that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, groundless hatred for one another. It makes perfect sense. How can a can a temple or any structure stand when its supporting stones fight between themselves? And further, how do Jews expect anyone to like them or respect them when they are so busy hating each other?
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Often on the blogosphere I will see conservative Jews asked by others why Jews tend to vote Liberal and their proud reply is: “Because they are self-destructive idiots.” Or a Liberal Jew will be asked why Orthodox Jews don’t serve in Israel’s Defense Forces, and the tart reply will be: “Because they are Nazis.”  And, as if Jews don’t have enough people calling them lovely names, the adjectives that come to define the Jew become ever-darkened by lazy, irresponsible, stigmatic name calling sealed by the fact that another Jew said it. Maybe the Liberals vote as they do because of a history or persecution; maybe the religious won’t serve in the military because of certain religious beliefs and indoctrination. Maybe our fellow Jews’ positions deserve a little more respect than simply selling them out with a derogation so others will accept us, or to make ourselves look better, or to safely distance ourselves publically from what we regard as idiocy. The loose definitions that we throw into the blogosphere, Twittersphere or any sphere to define the “other” Jew who is not like us marks not only the intended target but every Jew.  We may deem ourselves as a sharpshooter but the boomerang effect is inevitable. A spot on any Jewish face is a blemish on our collective face.

After President Obama won the election and re-election, many “accused” the Jews of delivering him victory. I’m a Jew; I surely didn’t vote for him and many other Jews didn’t as well. Nonetheless, the collective Jew put him in the White House.  When Madoff was arrested every Jew was a Ponzi schemer; when Pollard was arrested every Jew was a spy with dual loyalties; after the Six Day War, every Jew was a hero.  Whether “modern” Jews want to believe it or not the Talmud was right: "Kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh” (all Jews are responsible for one another).

What has set me off in particular most recently was the attempt to ban gay Jews from marching in the Israel Day Parade.  Now as an Orthodox woman myself, I’m not an advocate of homosexuality—not because of any visceral reaction against it, just as I have no visceral reaction against shopping on the Sabbath. What deems them both wrong to me is simply the fact that the Torah says so. That being said, I did have a visceral reaction to this exclusionary effort pitting Jew against Jew.  The Mishna says, “Hevei mekabel et kol adam b'sever panim yafot (greet every person pleasantly with a kind face).”  I was not aware that the Talmud has since been revised.  

This week’s Torah portion is named Korach, a name which comes from the Hebrew word קרח meaning “division” or “split.”  And According to Maimonides division is contrary to the whole purpose of the Torah. We are one people, am echad! 

Are gays not Jews too? If those against participation by the gay community needed life-saving surgery and only a gay Jewish doctor could save their life, would they pick death instead? We don't have to condone homosexuality, but the Talmud teaches that we don't know which sin or mitzvah is the biggest or smallest. So would they ban people who don't go to mikvah from marching or those who don't keep kosher? Those too are sins. There are gay Israeli soldiers risking their lives daily so that we can have the freedom to practice our religion and be Jews. Were these opponents there to stand with gavel in hand to judge who was Jewish enough for them to march for Israel? I strongly maintain that if we were all Jewish enough for Hitler to kill, then we should be Jewish enough for each other.

This article is not meant to do advocacy for homosexuality. It is meant to advocate ahavas yisroel (Jew loving Jew). If we are to survive as a people, let's make our good great and our bad better and stand only in judgment of ourselves. That is the Jewish way! United we stand and divided we end up lighting more yahrzeit candles.