Friday, October 11, 2013

God, Please Don't Cry!

It is flu season and all the symptoms are setting in. But unfortunately there is one symptom plaguing society that is prevalent all year long: nausea! People have become mean-spirited and jealous and get nauseous every time they see someone doing well. They begrudge people joy and success believing it takes something away from them. They want to be the only star in a one man show. This new generation now takes pictures of their ears, their toes, their eyeballs, etc., in this flourishing trend called “selfies,” i.e., wherein a person takes picture of himself and then tweets it, posts it, Instagrams it as if he has just accomplished some great feat that must be bequeathed upon humanity. And don't tell me to lighten up. It's levity that brought us here to begin with.  Click to read more 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Directions Please!!!

We need directions. We lower the car window and ask, “Excuse me, God, what do I do? I’m trying to reach the Freeway to My Destiny.”  We feel an intensity building as God looks us in the eyes and asks the same question He has once asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” 
                                                                                 Click to read more


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Off with Your Head!?: A Rosh Hashanah Message

O ften when parents send their children off into the fracas of life, they dispatch them with the warning: “Be careful and use your head.” But isn’t that advice all rhetoric and trite? What else would we use to engage life? Our toes? Our elbows? It is only as we grow older that we realize what we once deemed as a parental platitude is wisdom that no sophist can equal. For even though the head sits as the crown of the body, for most people it is every other body part that actually rules. Our palates salivate, so we grab for the extra cookie; our eyes desire, so we spend beyond our means; our desires flare, so we reach for the forbidden; our legs grow weary, so we abandon the treadmill; our tongues grow restless, and so we unfurl gossip. Day in and day out we respond to the dictates of the body, but the head, the supposed capitol of our resolve, our will, our better judgment, well, it seems to be a silent partner. But as the New Year approaches that farewell warning our mothers and fathers gave us while standing by the front gate should echo with solemnity: USE YOUR HEAD!   click to read more 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Say it, Pray it, Do it!

It really amazed me when I first learned that God doesn't recognize the Jewish people from one Yom Kippur to the next. No, it's not because Mr. Schwartz lost ten pounds or Mrs. Cohen got a shot of Botox, but rather because the pure soul that left the synagogue after fasting and praying for its life a year earlier has returned in a blemished state one year later. And I can't help but question, "At what point did good intentions go wrong?" It's like looking at my white carpeting and wondering when did it become so spotted, and after which spill did I stop caring?

I'm not sure why God believes us anymore. We pray, we promise, we vow, we repent and sure enough we mess up all over again. Whereas God and His word are ONE, human beings' actions and their words are so often antithetical to each other, disconnected and so double-faced it is no wonder that God doesn't recognize us.

Maybe I'm dreaming of a time that never was. But I do believe that in the past when people said something, whether to God or to each other, it meant a lot more than it does today. One would think that today our words are made in China because we use them in crass abundance and they seem to come very cheap. With texting, emailing, IMing, Facebooking and Tweeting, we've all become schmoozers, wordsmiths, commentators, seducers and revolutionaries who entertain ourselves and our audiences with grand pronouncements (but little service to God or mankind). We live in a time where the "word" seeks to replace the deed. Wouldn't it be great if we could just work our way into heaven by texting God that cute haloed angel emoticon?

And though man has sinned from the beginning, I think in unprecedented fashion we have lost respect for words because the more we say things we don't mean, the easier it is to continue saying them. We have also found the lazy way out by empowering words so much that we think our mere saying them is good enough and action need not follow. And that is why the Torah warns, "Accursed is the one who will not uphold the WORDS of this Torah to PERFORM them."

As we enter the Jewish New Year I just pray that we will each have respect for the things we say to each other, to ourselves and to God—and mean them. My parents used to always say, "To talk and to promise costs no money." In the end, however, I do believe there is a price and that price is the crumbling of our societal, spiritual and moral foundation. Perhaps after Yom Kippur it's easiest not to follow through on everything we promise God because we think He’ll let us get away with it like a forgiving parent. But we should not be so presumptuous. And so, this year, I wish that our words and vows will bug us, not like parents, but like nagging kids on a road trip who want exactly what we promised them at the outset and won't stop grating on us until we reach our destination so that when God greets us in the coming year He'll say, "Yiddelach, you've never looked so good!"

Friday, August 16, 2013

You Shall Not Steal What?

You shall not steal,” the eighth commandment cautions us in the biblical Book of Exodus (20:13). And so, implemented in most civilized societies, most people won’t walk out of department stores with expensive trinkets they inadvertently slipped into their pocket and for which they “forgot” to pay. But the funny thing is, many of us will pluck a few grapes in the grocery store or grab a few nuts and pop them into our mouths.
            No harm done, right? Wrong. Click to read more

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Let My People Know

The biggest challenge for today’s Jews is “to let our people KNOW.” A new generation of Jews needs a good history lesson. They know not what Israel is fighting for, nor how important Israel is to the survival of Jews across the world. Thus this week, in place of my blog, I’ve interviewed a young man, Josh Friedman, 24, who has just returned from his first trip to Israel through the Birthright program which offers free educational trips to Israel for Jewish young adults ages 18-26.

Josh’s answers were so good and touching that I decided not to turn this into a story but just to serve up the Q’s & A’s as they are. Please pass this interview around to inspire other young adults to partake of this incredible program.

Q: What did you know about Israel really before you left?

A: I really didn’t know all that much. I knew it was the Jewish “homeland” and there was a ton of blood spilled to make it happen, and I knew it was a holy land with many landmarks, but other than that I didn’t know much besides what I saw in the media and heard through word-of-mouth.

Q: When you got there was it what you imagined it to be?

A: Not at all. I thought it would be a giant desert with missiles flying overhead and threats of suicide bombers everywhere. What I found was a modern city (Tel-Aviv) and a holy place (Jerusalem) with a lot of open, beautiful land in between. The people, at least the ones I met, were similar to New Yorkers – a bit rough around the edges, but once you crack the surface warm.

Q: Were there any parts that made you cry or touched your heart more than others? Where? When? why?

A: There were many moving moments, but the most intense had to be at Har Herzl. This was towards the end of the trip when we had all bonded with the soldiers. To see the empty space where future soldiers would be buried, with them, was an experience I’ll never forget. I consider them all my brothers and sisters and to see a plot of land where they could potentially end up moved me to tears.

Q: What surprised you most about Israel?

A: The bond with the soldiers surprised me most. I expected to meet them, get along, then say our goodbyes. What I got was (hopefully) life-long friends. I am in touch with all of them already on Facebook and we all can’t wait for them to come to the United States or for me to go back. They were just like American kids I grew up with except for an added toughness and maturity from their time in the army. They showed me what it meant to be an Israeli and a good person.

Q: What inspired you to go?

A: The fact that the trip was free and I was getting closer to being 27, which was the cut-off, and my desire to re-connect with my Jewish faith and roots.

Q: How do you feel about being Jewish now as opposed to before?

A: Religious-wise the same--unsure about what’s out there--but I’m much more proud to be Jewish and have Israel as my home.

Q: What do you want the world to know about Israel?

A: That it’s not what the media says. There aren’t rockets flying overhead, and Israel’s soldiers are DEFENDING Israel, NOT attacking enemies. There’s always a story behind headlines like “Israeli soldier kills Palestinian boy.” Soldiers there act to defend Israel. That’s why it’s called the IDF, Israel Defense Force, not army. Also, Israel itself is much more modern than you might think. Tel Aviv could pass for any American city.

Q: Why is it important for young Jews to go on this trip?

A: Number one, it’s a free trip, that should be enough. But more importantly, it’s a chance to travel to your homeland and truly discover your Jewish roots and to see what your faith really is. It’s a chance to travel to a place that many would kill to get to even once. And it’s a chance to see what Israel is really like, not what people tell you or what you hear. To get to travel to the places you’ve only heard and read about is a priceless gift that every Jew should take advantage of.

Q: What was the most fun you had on the trip?

A: Any activities with the soldiers. They gave us glimpses into their personalities and lifestyles while making us all grow closer as a family. Either those activities or when we spent time at bars in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Not just the alcohol, but it also allowed us to spend time--free of worries--with our new Israeli family.

Q: What food did you like the most?

A: Schwarma!

Q: What did you feel when you saw young men and women, younger than you, in the army?
Would you have joined the army?

A: It really put things in perspective – these kids are defending Israel at an age where I was playing video games and worrying about what college I was going to. They’re mature beyond their years, by far. And they’ve been through more than I could have imagined. Nine/Eleven is definitely the most traumatic event I’ve been through, but all these kids have known at least more than one person killed in the Israeli army and have been in war first-hand.
I am thinking about joining the army, the only thing stopping me is my fear that I’m not tough enough for it.

Q: Please share the range of emotions you felt on this trip.

A: Everything from laughter to the point of stomach pain to tears and everything in between.

Q: How has this trip changed your life?

A: I am more proud to be Jewish and am very much pro-Israel. I was neutral before the trip. After being to Israel and seeing first-hand what its citizens do to defend the land, I have a greater respect for the place itself and its residents. I also am more motivated to set goals in my own life and achieve them, because wasted time is not an option for Israelis, nor should it be one for me.

Q: What is the most meaningful memento you brought back?

A: An Israeli flag. Although I could have gotten that anywhere, the fact that I bought it in Jerusalem and it now hangs in my room will remind me of the trip everyday.

Q: What part of Josh do you feel you left behind?

A: Hopefully the angry, bitter, cynical part, or at least some of it.

Q: Did you have any interactions or episodes with Arabs?

A: No.

Q: Who is your favorite music group?

A: Metallica.

Q: What kinds of fun things do you do in NY?

A: Go to bars, explore Manhattan and sight-see, attend games and concerts, spend time in Times Square.

Q: Did my Gaga for Israel T-shirt campaign, which you helped me work on, influence you in anyway?

A: Yes, because I had not heard of many of the figures before the campaign. The campaign inspired me to find out more, which I did on my own somewhat, but my knowledge expanded infinitely after my trip.

Josh asks for all inquiries to be directed directly to him: If he can recruit ten more people to join the next trip he can return again as a counselor.

I don't know why you say goodbye, I say hello by Aliza Davidovit

A heavy heart may be the weightiest thing we lug around. It is so hard to forge forward when we are laden with despair, sadness, fear and regrets. Our endless romanticizing of what could have been, what should have been, keeps us bound to the past with little hope for tomorrow. Instead of burying yesterday, we bury the future and all its possibilities by encumbering them with all our gripes against what life has “done” to us and how unfair God and circumstance have treated us.

I, too, feel compelled to cry when I look at the grim parts of my life that are unbeknownst to my readers. And so the tears flow easily when I read this week’s final chapter in the Bible which speaks of Moses’ death. Poor Moses. After all he did for humanity and God, how unfair it is that he never got to enter the Holy Land. Every year when I read the text I’m hoping it will have a different ending--perhaps in the sequel.

But just three sentences after mentioning the passing of Moses, the greatest prophet of all time, it says that the people mourned for him for 30 days and then the mourning was over. There is definitely a lesson to be learned here for us all: Mourning and sadness, even over the loss of one as great as Moses, must have limits. We have to always move onward and upward. Moses’ final words to the nation of Israel were not recriminations for past behaviors, nor nostalgic sentiments. He parted this world with blessings for the future, a future we must embrace with enthusiasm and faith. When we cater to despair we are worshiping the angel of death; when we cling to hope and refresh our hearts only then do we have a chance to grasp the Tree of Life.

It is customary in all synagogues to immediately read the first chapter of Genesis which speaks of creation right after reading the final chapter of Deuteronomy, wherein Moses dies. This, too, is symbolic of the course our own personal lives must take. Goodbyes don’t have to lead us to dead ends but rather can bring us to new portals and fresh luck. Every ending contains within it a new beginning and bright opportunities. So take your despair off of life support and instead give love, faith, hope, courage, optimism and joy a new dose of oxygen to animate your days and months ahead.

Have an easy fast & may you all be inscribed in the Book of Life!

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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?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fill in the Blanks by Aliza Davidovit

“Why am I here?” and “What’s my purpose in life?” are popular questions among most people, especially those who find themselves down and out. Ultimately these are spiritually driven questions, yet the askers never seem satisfied with the spiritual answer: serving God and elevating the world is your purpose.

“Nah, has to be more than that,” is a reply I’ve often heard by those attempting to shirk off any religious duty that would interrupt their daily schedules. As palliatives to empty hearts and flagging souls these searchers fill their lives with materialistic things and external decorations. Yet, happiness evades them.

The epitome of such lives can be found in the entertainment world where the beautiful people seem to have it all, yet their lives are fraught with divorce, depression, drugs and often early demise. These glaring examples in neon lights should teach us that the shallow pursuit of more and plenty will never satisfactorily answer the questions above but will even further exasperate us as our hands are filled with “gold” but are our hearts empty of peace. It is true for people; it is true for nations.

I find the question, “What does God want from us?” the most wasteful question we can ask. He has already told us. He has given us his Good Book filled with directives. It’s there in black and white. Yet we are more inclined to believe the print in the National Enquirer than God’s own word. God and all his rules are such an inconvenience; there must be a quicker fix to happiness than that burdensome book. And so mankind builds its golden calves....How’s that been working out?

I’ve always hated when people preached religion to me even as I was inclined toward it, so I won’t preach here. But I will say, don’t ask those questions if you don’t want the answer. It’s tantamount to the person who asks, “How can I lose weight?” When he is told that it would involve eating less and exercising, he gets frustrated and opts for other ways such as diet pills, mouth braces, and gastro-surgery, etc., as he watches himself get fatter every year. When it comes down to TRUTH, you can’t go shopping for answers that you like.

It is the law of nature that every empty space calls to be filled--crevices get filled with dirt or water, blank walls cry out for art work, a bucket, a chair, a heart and a soul all desire to be filled. But the choice has always been ours with what we fill emptiness.

In this week’s Biblical portion we read about how king Balak sought out Bilaam to curse the Jewish people. He brought Bilaam to three different vantage points to observe them and to assess what their vulnerabilities might be so that his curse could have effectiveness. Bilaam could find none. Because the Jewish nation at the time had filled itself with God’s word, they left no gap or crevice wherein a curse could enter and eat away at them. They were impervious to any harm because they didn’t open the door to Satan with such insipid questions as, “What’s my purpose?” They read God’s memo; they knew. “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel.” As such those who cursed them would be cursed and would drown in the overflow of their own hate.

Today, as the Jewish nation and Jewish people stand at the precipice of opprobrium and curses, we too must remember that armies alone don’t defeat our enemies. Being a light among the nations involves lighting up the world through observance of God’s commandments. Maybe a small clue as to Israel's purpose, for those who forgot, is found in its appellation, “The Holy Land.” For the past few weeks we have often heard how the international criticism of Israel is irrational—so why would we seek an answer in the rational realm? Something deeper is clearly at play. The Jewish State and Jewish people must fill in the blanks spiritually or they will continually be filled by others--hexers and vexers.

They say that there is no soldier in a foxhole who does not pray to God, why, oh why then, my fellow Jews, do we always have to wait until that doomsday hour to seek Him?
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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. 

Click to watch
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 12, 2013

Size Doesn’t Matter—or does it? by Aliza Davidovit

By Aliza Davidovit

A brilliant young scholar was once asked how he had become so smart being that he was so young. He replied that everything he knew he had studied in five minutes.

“How could that be?” he was asked. To which the young scholar answered, “Every time I had five minutes, I studied.”

In today’s world when we hear numbers such as 6.791 billion marking the world population or $1.4 trillion marking the 2009 US deficit or billions of years old marking the world’s age, it becomes evermore difficult for us to appreciate the small things such as our own worth, the value of money, or the preciousness of time. We live in a world of such exaggerations that the small and the simple seem to have lost their place. We are the super-sized generation where bigger is deemed better and small is irrelevant.

Go into any book store today and you will be assaulted by titles that invite you to be the best wife, the best cook, the best salesman, the best terrorist (okay, that one I made up). But the fact is I have never seen a self-help book that simply offers you how to be a tiny fraction better today than yesterday and a bit better tomorrow. Yet, sweeping and lasting change comes not in bold strokes but in tiny, honest incremental steps. As such, most of these books that offer "the world" but can't even deliver a moment end up in the cemetery of useless reading which decorates our book shelves.

We learn this week in the story of Noah that God did not destroy the world because of rampant and brazen sins such as killing or stealing, crimes which the legal systems of the time could deal with. According to biblical teachings, the world was destroyed because the people were guilty of chomos (not to be mistaken for chummus or Hamas). Chomos means “taking” something of an insignificant amount which can not really be defined as stealing. For instance, someone goes to a market and tears off a grape and eats it--not much damage done. However, then the next person comes along and does the same thing, and so on. It is not long before that bunch of grapes, or nuts or olives are diminished both in appearance and quantity--and the owner really has no one to blame for the theft. From grape to grape justice was not served. That is when God stepped in--when people corrupted fair dealing within the parameters of the law and only God could mete out true justice.

We have only to look at the present-day housing debacle as a perfect example. People were given mortgages “legally,” but the manipulative maneuvers within the law to give unviable candidates mortgages has led to a Noahic flood of foreclosures totaling 937,840 properties in the third quarter alone. One out of every 136 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing in that period. Percentage point by percentage point we allowed the flood waters to gather by our feet until we lost complete control and became submerged in catastrophe.

We must change our mindsets from thinking big time to thinking small time and guarding each and every precious moment, taking on the little battles before they become too big to handle. The adage that “a stitch in time saves nine,’ may very well be the pithy wisdom from which the tapestry of our lives can be weaved or unraveled.

The smallest units we have control of in our lives are moments of time. Yet for so many years, we have sat as grouch potatoes screaming at the TV about the wrongs in the world and our government, watching them get worse and worse. Maybe some threw a sock at Wolf Blitzer. But our harrumphing changed the world how? What lesson did we teach Generation Next by doing nothing? We let so many precious irretrievable moments slip away.

It appears that TV advertisers seem to best understand how valuable time is as they pay millions for a 30 second time slot because they believe that those few seconds can make a difference and affect consumer behavior. And they do!

Each one of us can make a difference in this world too if we want to. Perhaps not everyone can do big great things, but each of us can do small things in a great way. We must be responsible custodians for the seconds and minutes upon which history and the future pivot. Make your moments count for something. Life is essentially one protracted goodbye, from the day we are born we begin to say goodbye to our youth, to friends, to loved ones, to our health, and then to life itself. But our actions and deeds are eternal. Even if you can only make a tiny dent, it may be the sipping cup for nascent potential and the fountain of inspiration for others who can change the world.

Little things don’t mean a lot, my dear friends, they mean everything. Plug the small leaks quickly and learn from the inhabitants of Noah’s ark that the world’s failings are not someone else’s problem. For the good or the bad, we are all in the same boat.
This week's blog is dedicated to Table to Table Israel which was founded in 2003 to rescue excess, nutritious food that would otherwise be destroyed and redirect it to people in need.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Till, Baby, Till! by Aliza Davidovit

Despite well-meaning alarm clocks and calls of duty, if it weren’t for breakfast and café lattes I’d see very little incentive to get out of bed each morning. Incentives, after all, are what keep us going after our feet grow weary and we run out of breath. They are the pictures in our mind’s eye that urge us to push ourselves just a bit harder. So I can’t help but wonder why God, who had to coax a stiff-necked nation to wander for 40 years before it received its prize, the Promised Land, only offered a land flowing with milk and honey. Quite frankly, it wouldn’t get me out of bed in the morning. If He offered me a land flowing with oil and gold, emeralds and silks, maybe then I’d heed the call of the rooster.

Talk about incentives, there is a story about a farmer who left his lazy sons a farm knowing full well they’d never get out of bed to work the land once he passed on. In his will he thus told his sons that somewhere under the acres of land he was leaving them a treasure was buried. After the father died, looking for the quick fix, the sons got up early every morning to dig up the land to find the treasure. Day after day, month after month, year after year, the sons toiled and tilled the land to seek the riches and gold, but they found no treasure. But as it turned out, because they so thoroughly turned the earth and worked the land, it became resplendent with abundance and they were able to sell the ensuing produce and earned great wealth. They soon realized that their father had tricked them and understood that the land itself was the treasure.

The land of Israel is also a treasure, but God didn’t have to trick His people into working it. When the Jews entered Israel after being slaves in Egypt and when they entered Palestine after the Holocaust, they were used to working hard and were not frightened to do so again. In fact, even to this day in Israel, its people work six days a week. Sunday is no day of rest. As a result of such persistent efforts, in 62 years Israel has become one of the most innovative countries in the world selling its technologies and medical advancements across the globe. It turned a desert into verdant fields of opportunity. Beneath the rubble, pestilence and arid soil, the “milk” of life flowed. Yet still with all their smarts and hard labor, the people of Israel cannot reap the true honey: peace. So wherein lies the treasure?

The treasure is the Torah, what the rabbis refer to as milk and honey. Thus as Jews around the world today till for peace in diplomacy and alliances, they are forgetting to also till the Torah, all the commandments that came along as instructions with the country they call their homeland. Initially, God did not have to taunt the Jews into Israel with gold because after hearing God’s words on Mount Sinai they lusted not for gold or idols but only His word. Offering them gold would have been tantamount to offering them darkness after they had seen the light. But today, many have stopped seeing the light and think the glitter of gold will illuminate the way. Unlike a life flowing with figurative milk and honey i.e., Torah, a life of artificial sweeteners leaves only a bitter aftertaste and one God cannot digest.

He thus cautions the Jews that if they spurn His laws, the very land itself will reject them and oppress them. “I will turn my attention against you, you will be struck down before your enemies: those who hate you will subjugate you...I will make your heaven like iron and your land like copper.”

Friends, today I celebrate my Jewish birthday in conjunction with the holiday of Lag B’Omer, the day in which the secrets of the Torah were revealed thus bringing great light into the world. So let me just make a birthday wish that the Jewish people will temper their ever-wandering struggle for survival and take a good look into God’s book every now and then to find the roadmap home. It’s their most precious and eternal resource, so till, baby, till.
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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.