Friday, December 18, 2020

Who Turned off the Lights?

The flames were serene and ethereal this year. No flickering, no turmoil. In unison they seemed to radiantly beam from the oil-filled menorah cups to Heaven itself. I always wished I could read the flames like the kabbalists could and know what they are trying to say. But their lights remain ever a mystery, and they burn until they are no more. Their final glow dissolves into a whisper of smoke and leaves me wondering what happens to that otherworldly light that envelops our homes for an octet of luminescent days? Life feels darker. They take with them their warmth and certainty only to be replaced by chilly intimidating shadows. And then I remember the words of Isaiah “And the nations shall walk at your light, and the kings at the brightness of your rising.” My fellow Jews, the torch has been passed to us: We ourselves are the lights that must live on once the festive candelabras are placed back up on the high shelf. We are the flames that must burn radiantly in our service to G-d and with our faith in Him. For it is only in the roaring eternal fire called faith, that we can extricate ourselves from the gravitational pull of uncertainty, fear, darkness and assimilation—and hence shine on.

Interestingly, it is at this time of year when the nights just start to get shorter and the light begins to prevail that we read parashah “Mikketz” wherein Joseph is released from prison with great haste. Joseph who once found himself in the darkness of a snake-filled pit into which his brother’s had cast him and then later in the darkness of Pharaoh’s dungeon could have chosen to give up. What truly did he have to live for after being sold into slavery? His life seemed to be going from bad to worse. His brothers stripped him of his coat of many colors, also taking from him his pride, his innocence, and the years he could have been living peacefully by his father’s side. In some measure they killed everything about him, except faith and the light of G-d that burned inside him. Luckily, faith knows not shackles nor taskmasters nor pits or self pity—it sees only the light. The Bible teaches us something very interesting about Joseph’s attitude throughout his great suffering. The dungeon to which he is condemned is called Beit Hasohar, the “house of light.” Even in the depths of a dark dungeon, Joseph maintained his faith in God, he remained optimistic and hopeful and he created his own “light.” It was a house of light because he himself shone. 

We must learn to do the same as we go through our own trials and tribulations. With laser-like intensity keep faith shining until it cuts right through the “dungeon” wall. It is a sin to succumb to despair and it is idol worship to believe that life is only worth living when we are riding high. In the story of Chanukah we learn how the golden Temple menorah had been stolen and there was only enough pure olive oil to last one day. The Maccabees didn’t sit around lamenting the darkness of their circumstance. They made a cheaper metal menorah. And the one day’s worth of oil miraculously lasted eight days. If only we would stoke our souls and refine our faith like pure olive oil, the miraculous light of Chanukah would be with us 365 days a year. In fact Jews are compared to olives for many reasons, one of them being that olives must be squeezed hard to yield their oil and it is through that pressing and those hardships that we yield pure light. The test and salvation is to see the light even while still in the “pressing.”

For just as abruptly as Joseph’s problems came upon him, they left him with equal speed as he was beckoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. He went from being a prisoner to being the second most powerful man in Egypt. The cause of his woes, dreams, ultimately became his cure. My friends, the trials and hardships inflicted on man are limited. Just when a person least expects salvation, it is just around the corner. There is a season for everything in our lives, even a winter of discontent. 

All the above is poetically inspiring but also useless if we only have faith in Hashem but give Him no reason to have faith in us. Joseph did not survive Egypt simply because he had faith; that would just make him a positive thinker. Self-help guru, Tony Robbins,  could have taught him that too. He survived and triumphed because G-d had reason to have faith in him. Despite all the perverse influences around him, he behaved like a Jew is commanded to behave and maintained his unique identity. The most beautiful woman in the world made daily advances toward him and he did not succumb because his father’s face and all the moral teachings of his faith guided his conscience and his deeds. Just like the Maccabees withstood the temptations of Hellenism, he withstood the corrupting influences of Egypt. Each prevailed.

No I cannot read the candles flames as I wish I could, but that is not my business after all. My job as is yours is to look our faith in the face and be honest. If a Jew really had faith in G-d he wouldn’t work on the Sabbath because he’d have faith G-d would provide. If he had faith he wouldn’t be scared to give charity because he’d be sure of G-d’s charity toward him.  If he had faith he wouldn’t dishonestly try and manipulate results in his life. He would do everything so differently because a person of faith will “let go and let G-d.” He would try but not over try. In all our worldly affairs we believe one hand washes the other, yet when it comes to G-d we are ready to collect with both hands and serve with neither. Our job is to illuminate the world with divine light. How does one do that? By living with faith and living faithfully. It will make all your dealings straight. Our faith mandates us to “shine” for all to see, just as the menorah’s lights must not be kept private, but rather must be placed in visible locations. We are not destined to be dimwits or dim-watts but rather a light among the nations. My beloved Yidden, we are bearers of the light. That is not our calling card--that is our calling!

                                                                                                            Shabbat Shalom!


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Adultery and all that you break!

What are you really destroying when you cheat on your mate?

 

Are You a Piece of Bitter Chocolate?

 Once the gold foil is disposed of, what will you find inside?


Friday, August 14, 2020

The Rarest Words: Thank You!

In a world where we’ve refined the art of complaining about what we don’t have--money, beauty, a mate, a date, or we’re overweight--Judaism stands out as a paragon of gratitude. The first thing a Jew must do upon waking before one even gets out of bed is to say thank you to our Creator for returning our soul to us in the morning. Where do our souls go at night as we sweetly slip into slumber as Netflix plays in the background and our devices chirp and the floorboards creak? We die and our souls return to their source and testify for or against us and we are judged. Well we don’t die completely, just 1/60th the Talmud teaches. And each day, if we are lucky, we awake again and have a fresh chance to make our beds anew. But like all things in life, good things too come to an end and one day we run out of chances. Still, the majority of us, to coddle our farcical superiority, begin our days with complaints and gripes against everyone we know and the lives we live instead of thanking G-d for our every blessing. 

How can we hope to behave in a healthy or G-dly manner when our java is blended with bitterness? Before our feet hit the ground we feel resentful, jealous, and underpaid by the begrudging universe for our perceived fabulousness, as chimeric as it may be. Complaints, of course, arise from the one who feels his cart is not sufficiently filled; it’s born from a mindset that believes that this life is for collecting and thus one always feels ravenous and jealous and in need. But those who begin their day with gratitude, with knowledge that the purpose of this life is to give to G-d and to give to others, then their baskets are always full; their appetites satiated.

I once read a great quote which said: If you woke up tomorrow with only what you said “thank you” for today, with what would you be left? I tried the exercise once and just started thanking G-d for everything in my life. Try it. Itemize it as you would if someone owed you money. Even I, who espouses the practice of thanks, was flabbergasted by how many things and details for which we have to be grateful (bli ayin hara). I felt embarrassed for myself for ever having  complained at all. That high, however, doesn’t last unless we work on ourselves daily. It turns out that while we pursue all the harlotry of this world to feel good, to feel high, to fill a void where there need be none,the Torah offers us the truest and most complete high of all: Thank you G-d! Todah! (In fact, the very term Jew Yehudi is directly linked to the Hebrew word hoda’ah, which means “thanks.”’)

We feel insecure and incomplete and so begrudge others perhaps threatened that if we give them money or good advice, then they may have more than us or be more than us. And there’s the sin. What we have is given by G-d not for us to keep but to give. And just like a candle that illuminates another candle its flame is not diminished, so too when we give and share the gifts and resources that G-d blessed us with, we too are not diminished. In fact, we are increased, for the Torah promises us that we will be blessed and rewarded for giving charity.

In this week’s Torah learning, Re’eh, the Torah speaks about tithing. “According to Jewish tradition, a minimum of 10% of our net earnings are earmarked for tzedakah” (Chabad.org) --that includes poor people too. If you really feel you have nothing, then the next time you go on vacation leave your doors unlocked. The mere fancying of that notion will inspire you as to how much you do have and want to safeguard. Judaism requires a person say at least 100 blessings a day: before one eats; after one eats; after one uses the lavatory; when one sees lightning and thunder; when one puts on new clothing, etc. Once you crush the life-sapping habit of complaining, which Satan endorses, and instead take an accounting of all you are blessed with and how rich you really are, you understand that it’s time to start giving. 

In the same parasha, G-d puts before us a blessing and curse. The blessing comes with keeping His commandments. We have free choice. Choose life. He gave you food, lots of it. Keep it kosher. Leave the creepy crawly things for the aardvarks. You're thirsty for a drink. Behold your glass is overflowing, so say the short nine-word prayer to say thanks to G-d. Be a mensch; don’t lap it up like a dog. 

The next instruction in the parasha is for the Israelites to destroy all the idols and places of worship of other nations. Why? Because G-d is one! Our well-being doesn’t come from idols, i,e, today’s versions, the stock market, money, the latest gadgets. Our safety, our bread, and our health  all come from G-d. Putting confidence or blame on anyone or anything else is worshiping a false god. That is why giving charity to proper causes is so important: It reveals one’s faith in G-d. Instead of hoarding our every dollar, we tithe, give thanks and show faith that G-d will refill our wallets. 

The Israelites are also told that they cannot sacrifice to G-d in any place that they see, i.e. “any place that just comes to mind” (Rashi). How often in life do we hear people say, “I’m not religious but I serve G-d in my own way?” Mazal tov to you for founding your own religion. But it is certainly not Judaism. Nowhere in the Torah are we given permission to serve G-d “in our own way.” G-d tells us who, what, where, when and sometimes “why.”  

Today with G-d’s help, although I’ve written more and elsewhere, I post my 180th blog on Torah on my blog The Source Weekly: Biblical answers to Life’s Hard Questions. The number 180 of course is significant in Judaism as 18 is chai/LIFE. The number 10 by which it is multiplied to equal 180  is also significant. As there are 10 commandments, 10 plagues, 10 utterances by which G-d created the world. As such I feel that I have reached a blessed milestone. But another significant factor of 180 is that, geometrically speaking, I’ve accomplished a half a revolution which means that my viewpoint is now the complete opposite from where I started. Degree by degree, Torah article after Torah article, parasha after parasha, mitzvah after mitzvah, I now look at the world in a very different way: I’ve come to see G-d in every aspect of my life from the pain to the gain. I’ve learned to say thank you much more often. It changes your world view. I pray to one day celebrate a full revolution, 360 articles, and though I’d once again be facing figuratively the same direction as when I started, once your eyes have known the wisdom of G-d, they never see the same way again. To echo the beautiful words of King David: “Unveil my eyes, that I may behold wonders from Your Torah.” (Psalms 119:18)     Shabbat Shalom

Excuses! Excuses!

Friday, July 31, 2020

A Calling Card or a Calling?

It’s a strange feeling when we leave a job and our business cards become instantly obsolete as we are no longer who they say we are. I know when I had to shed my cards that said ABC News and Fox News there was a pained voice inside that said “ouch.” We feel important by affiliation and often feel like nothings when we don’t have impressive credentials to back us up, great jobs, a good business, a rich husband, rich parents, designer clothes, Ivy League schools, etc., We stand there insecure, vulnerable, reassessing our own worth. Who am I without all that? And you are right, if you feel like a nothing without all that then you are nothing by your own math. Fancy titles hypnotize us and we come to believe our own lies and illusions. Even resumes often read like fairy tales. The Talmud calls this world alma d’shikra, the world of lies. Everything is a misrepresentation. No, there is nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward, as long as it is our foot. But being a phony or a fraud is defeating the purpose of our own creation.

As a journalist, at the onset of my career, meeting the famous was exciting, I was impressed with myself--a superstar by affiliation, but not for long. When you rub shoulders with such people, what really rubs off? Perhaps you learn a little, but for the most part it is a fake world bamboozled and simultaneously paranoid with itself. Some of the people I interviewed and met have been indicted and have done pretty bad things, Am I now guilty by association? At what expense are we hanging on to our titles, prestige or make-belief visions of self? A whole life goes by without truth. I’m so lucky that I have such strong faith and belief in G-d because when I finally realized I was living in a vapid world of make-believe there was something that was real and unchanging for me to grasp on to, G-d and His Torah, my miner’s  torch in a dark world.

I have met some decent people but I can truly say that my most proud affiliation is with G-d. Working for Him alone is when I really became a somebody. And I’m proud of my latest title. No, it is not editor-in-chief, producer,  pundit or Queen of Questions, it is servant of G-d. In this job what is real about me has lasted, the stardust is gone with the wand.

We have only to look to Moses as the ideal role model. He never even applied for the greatest job in history. He was assigned it nonetheless, for his curriculum vitae had life’s greatest and rarest trait, humility. The greatest prophet in history, who spoke face-to-face with G-d, did not have business cards that read Prophet-in-Chief or CEO of the Torah. Moses was called a servant of G-d. His humility made him the worthy and blessed vessel to receive the greatest gift ever given to humanity, G-d’s word, the Torah. King David's humility too made him the greatest king in history: "And I am a worm and not a man." (Psalms 22:17)

Today, our egos and pride are so massive that we leave no room to receive the gifts that await us. We are so busy trying to beat each other with the puffed up resumes of our lives, so busy showing off what we are and hiding what we are not that we repel and prevent all we can truly become. G-d’s royal seal is the word EMET, truth. Thus neither He nor His blessings will reside where there is none. The reason a pig has become the symbol as the "most" unkosher animal is because it is a phony and a hypocrite. On the outside it has split hooves, a feature which renders an animal kosher. "Look, look, I'm kosher." But on the inside, it does not chew its cud, the second vital requisite to deem it kosher. From all the great role models in the Torah, why would we want to have anything in common with a chazir?

In this week’s Torah reading once again, Moses laments the fact that G-d won’t let him into the Promised Land. He beseeches G-d 515 times, to no avail. A midrash teaches that Moses even begged G-d to let him enter the Land even as a beast of the field, which grazes on the grass and drinks water and sees the world that way—“Let my soul be as one of those!” (Midrash via Chabad). Titles didn’t matter to Moses. When you really are something genuinely, you don’t need the fancy appellation. To serve G-d, to reach the prized destination following the liberation from Egypt, he was ready for the most dramatic of demotions, because he knew what we egoists can’t get through our swollen heads, nothing matters but G-d. He is the only audience we have, ein od milvado, there is nothing but Him. When one acknowledges that fact deeply, pretense begins to fall away and our way will be blessed. The rabbis teach that one of the reasons Joseph’s bones were allowed to be buried in Israel after being exhumed from Egypt and that Moses was not allowed to enter in any form was that Joseph acknowledged the land from whence he came when his master’s wife said, “See, they have brought us a Hebrew man . . . ,” he did not deny it; on the contrary, he said “I was abducted from the land of the Hebrews. Moses did not do the same when the daughters of Jethro said, “An Egyptian man rescued us from the shepherds.” He heard this and was silent. Therefore G-d said, “You shall not cross this Jordan.” (Midrash via Chabad).

Know who you are. Know from where you came. You are a Jew. That is your role. Stop playing parts that don’t belong to you. They don’t become you. G-d fills every seat. Only His eyes are on you. They look through every crack and peephole. Be you. Be true. You will like yourself better and everyone else will too.


Shabbat Shalom

 


Friday, July 24, 2020

Who's Crying Now?

The tallest lady in America is 151 feet tall plus one inch. Her name is Lady Liberty. She has stood for over 130 years as an icon of freedom, her torch a beacon of hope. But as British philosopher John Locke poignantly edified, there is no freedom without the LAW: The end [goal] of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”  But the law has been spurned and now lawlessness is playing out on the streets of America. Freedom’s foundations are trembling and the little hairs on the back of Lady Liberty’s neck are standing up. And if we haven’t yet seen the light, how could we miss the lightning? An incident that should have us all deeply contemplating the future and repenting over the misdeeds of the past is the bolt of lightning and its accompanying roaring thunder that nearly hit the Statue of Liberty this past week. The visual was spectacular. But I don’t believe in mere coincidence. The warnings are in the air. For the Talmud teaches: “Thunder was created only in order to straighten the crookedness of the heart.” The global symbol of freedom, almost hit by the finger of G-d should be an eye opener.

Jews, wake up! Our safe haven is not the copper lady. Neither is it the other idols we serve: prestige, gold, money, stocks, cars, gadgets and greed. The only laws that protect freedom: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, is the Torah and all its moral precepts. But we trample it under our feet. We cannot ignore G-d’s signs anymore than we could ignore the 2004 earthquake in Israel that left a crack in the ceiling of the Knesset plenum, Israel's parliament. We’ve lost our moral grip and everything else is a consequence. In no place where we stand can we forget before WHOM we stand: G-d.

These past few weeks mark the saddest times in Jewish history, with the three weeks culminating next week on Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of all. On that day we fast and mourn the destruction of both our Holy Temples which were destroyed (for “lightning” surely did hit twice in the same place.)  The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 422 BCE (it stood 410 years) and the second by the Romans in 70 CE (it stood 420 years). What made the temple so holy? There are many reasons; I’ll offer a few: One exegesis says that the earth from which Adam (the first man) originated was from the future site of the altar of the Holy Temple. Secondly, it is there on Mount Moriah that our patriarch Jacob had his dream of a ladder reaching from the heavens as angels ascended and descended. Upon waking he said: This must be God's abode. It is the gate to Heaven." (Genesis 28:17). It is also the site where Abraham set up an altar to sacrifice his son Isaac at G-d’s behest.  The Temple is also called the place where heaven and earth kiss, where G-d and his people come together. But his people cheated on Him and the walls came tumbling down and we cheat on him still in the same measure: baseless hatred, murder (even with our slanderous tongues), sexual perversions and idolatry. Just as every Passover we read that each generation has to be grateful for its freedom as if we ourselves were freed from Egypt, so too each generation has to blame itself that the third Temple was not rebuilt. We should be crying every day, not just on Tisha B’Av, that our Temple is destroyed. Some may not remember why Jews break a glass at a wedding. It is a reminder that even in our greatest joy as we are about to build a new life/house, that G-d’s House is still broken. When the Second Temple was destroyed the Talmud teaches that the gates of prayer were closed. The only gate that remains open is the gate of tears. But as the famous song asks, “Who’s crying now?” In this week’s Torah reading Moses asks the same question.

Moses iterates the same word that would begin the book of Lamentations over 800 years later which we read on Tisha B’Av. Eicha esa levadi”(“How shall I bear it alone?”) According to Rabbi Adin Even Yisroel Steinsaltz, “Moses was not bemoaning the fact that he had to work hard and couldn’t make time for a vacation. What troubled Moses was the tragic fact that he alone must bear the burden of the Jewish nation; “Why is no one else troubled by what is happening with each individual member of our nation?” he was asking, “Why am I the only one who loses sleep because of the troubles of our People!?” (Chabad.org) The problem is too many of us sleep well at night. Who is crying and worrying for the future of our people?

Perhaps this future can be best gleaned from the following two stories. It will all depend on who is right: Napoleon or a Muslim terrorist.

It is said that Napoleon was once passing a synagogue on Tisha B’av. He was taken aback by the sight of people wailing, mourning and sitting on the floor in visible grief. He inquired as to the source of the tragedy. He was told that the Jews were crying over the destruction of their holy temple. As emperor he was surprised he had not heard the news. He was then told that it wasn’t a recent happening but rather transpired 1700 years prior. To that Napoleon replied, “A people who cry for a temple for 1700 years will surely endure to see it rebuilt.” 

Another story, which I first heard from Rabbi Yaron Reuven, sadly foretells a different ending. Salach Taomri, a heroic figure to the Palestinians, a terrorist to the Israelis, found himself in an Israeli prison.  He was truly dejected and certain the aims of the Palestinians would not be successful against the strong Israeli army. In solitary confinement,  “Hatikvah,” i.e. hope, had drifted away. Then one day he saw an Israeli guard eating a pita sandwich. He asked him if he was Jewish, to which the guard said, “Yes.” He then asked the guard why he was eating a pita bread on Passover. The guard answered, “I am not obligated to the wonders that happened to my people more than two thousand years ago. I am secular. I have nothing to do with that.” From that moment on the Palestinian prisoner became instantly re-inspired and reinvigorated. Not only was he motivated to break Israel by attrition and hope for even minor gains, now the entire country became a viable target. If the Jews no longer cared for the history and the G-d that brought them to their land, they had lost the integral force to hang on to it. 

Friends, who’s crying now? No, Argentina isn’t crying, but Jerusalem is and next week hopefully we will cry along with her. For as scriptures says “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” 

                                                               Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Merrily Down the Drain

W
e are trying to get on with our lives and force normalcy onto a world that is everything but normal right now. And we are quite good at distracting ourselves: Netflix, Coin Master, Facebook, baking, online shopping.  But we are fiddling while Rome burns, not just “Rome” figuratively speaking, but rather the entire globe. Humanity is under severe judgment right now for the Talmud teaches that there is no punishment without sin. And we have sinned. So while we are busy with flix and clicks, the streets of America are devolving into anarchy, Iran and China are forging a dangerous alliance, economies are hanging on by an ever-thinning thread, the virus is hardly abating and anti-Semitism is flourishing like a well-manured garden. But Netflix adds more than 10.1 million new paid subscribers. And poof all our troubles are gone? Hardly.

People hate to hear that G-d is a punishing G-d. They’d much prefer He’d be like the Wizard of Oz who takes requests and then gives you what you desire: a heart, a brain, courage, etc. Now that’s a G-d we can subscribe to; now that’s a G-d we can love. Well I’m sorry to disappoint you but in the Torah the commandment to love G-d is only written nine times, the commandment to fear Him is written 18 times.(1)

Why should we fear Him? What could He possibly do to us if we don't? That could best be answered by the Generation of the Flood who He killed with boiling water because of their sins, or the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah who He killed with sulfur and fire because of their sins, or the 24,000 Israelites who died from a plague, not because they forgot to wear their masks, but because of sin. In incident after incident throughout the Torah unrepentant sinners are punished. We are the ones who are hardly lovable and exhaust G-dly patience.

And now with the world as it is, do we really have the chutzpah to ask, “Where is G-d?” The only legitimate question to ask while we still can is: “Where am I in relation to G-d’s Will?” “What does He want from me that I’m not doing?”  The sages teach us that sin sullies our souls and blocks us from being vessels for the godly light. We become so veiled and dirtied by sin that we can neither be, nor see, the light. Nothing beautiful can radiate in or out because we are so shamelessly mired in a swamp of our own creation. No amount of bathing in Purell can clean up our filth. But turning back to G-d and His Torah can; it is the only vaccine that makes us impervious to threat and that can save our souls and our lives.

We are the cleanup crew. G-d gave us the directives on how to clean our souls, fix the world and bring the light (sparks) out of the dark places if we follow His Torah and make it our Torah. Each of the 613 commandments cleanses us and elevates us and makes us worthy receptacles of G-d’s blessings and light. But unfortunately G-d’s chosen too often chose something else: Eating lobster is more important that keeping kosher; driving to the mall is more important than observing Shabbat; watching Amazon Prime is more important than watching a Torah lecture. We’ve done a great job at polluting our path and have become uninterested and too lazy to clean it up. The lazy cannot serve Hashem. So G-d has brought in the pressure hose and we can only pray that we, along with our sins, won’t be flushed into oblivion.

In this past week’s Torah reading we read of all the 42 encampments (and backtracking) the Israelites set up and broke down during their 40 years of wandering. Hardly a smoothly-paved road. But they created many of the bumps and hurdles by themselves by continually sinning and rebelling against G-d and Moses and failing the many tests G-d set before them. When we are haughty and happy we feel we don’t need G-d and when we suffer we don’t believe He is there. How foolish is mankind?  The rabbinic sage, Sfas Emes, says that each hardship and encampment through which the Israelites journeyed was a cleansing and served as a preparation for the gift of the Land of Israel. Do you personally really want to figuratively wander for 40 years and wonder why your life and our world resemble a man-made disaster zone? Or would you prefer to take matters into your own hands? Start keeping kosher, lighting Sabbath candles, pick up a book of Judaism, stop sinning and spinning in circles like a misguided dog chasing its own tail, stop deceptively manipulating results and start trusting in G-d…people of all faiths, just start cleaning up somewhere in your spiritual house.

Further proof that G-d cleans what He loves is that the Israelites are not commanded to merely meander into the Promised Land and make friends with their new neighbors, but they are commanded to drive them all out of the land and destroy their structures of worship and idols. The filth had to be demolished before G-d’s holy nation with its holy mission could settle in. The Israelites are also warned, “And let the land not vomit you out for having defiled it, as it vomited out the nation that preceded you.” You can’t be holy and unholy at the same time. Which do you choose to be? Decide quickly for the world we knew is approaching its expiration date. For the whoosh you hear when Netflix is paused is our world spinning quickly down the drain.
******************
(1) Via Rabbi Y. Mizrachi

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Heart of it All

Who does Aliza Davidovit think she is that she moralizes to us through her vlogs and blogs? The answer has nothing to do with me. The truth is these lessons give me anxiety and my evil inclination tells me every week to stop, in fact every week for 25 plus years. For some years, unfortunately, that inclination won. It had a great argument. Who cares what you have to say? It’s a hassle. You can be in the gym instead, at the mall, etc., and have one less worry. In any case, for some readers it will never be good enough and for others, well they’ll just think that I’m just an attention seeker. My answer is simple, “Don’t hate me cuz I’m dutiful.” I love learning Torah and it’s a treasure that I’d gladly keep all for myself, except, that it’s forbidden. There are 613 commandments in the Torah and the 22nd positive one, according to Maimonides, is to learn Torah and to TEACH it. G-d gave me the gift of writing. At this time in my life, more than ever, I’m quite sure it wasn’t just to interview famous people some of whom have behaved in ways not worthy of my words, at least not the finer ones. Just as those commandments prohibit me for stealing and murdering and oblige me to keep kosher and keep the Sabbath, those same commandments demand that what I know of Torah, with full accuracy, I must share. Indeed readers are not always receptive but we learn from the holy prayer Shema Yisrael,And these words which I command you today shall be UPON your heart.” The best I can do is put these words UPON your heart. And since a heart is porous, one of my rabbis taught me, eventually a wise heart will allow these words to enter. 

The Talmud teaches that when you save one life it is as if you’ve saved the entire world. But saving a life is not just about keeping a person breathing, it is also about creating and recreating ourselves to be better people, better servants of G-d to earn our way to everlasting life. If you are the same person you were yesterday, you are dying. The Torah is compared to the Tree of Life, I’m praying that my blogs will inspire you to choose life and to kill off what’s killing you, all the false gods you’ve chosen to serve instead of G-d and His Torah, our Torah. Satan comes with sexual provocations,  the lust for money, and jealousy of others. Nevertheless, the struggles are yours to win. Evil inclination also puts tempting words upon your heart and so the Torah warns us: Beware, lest your heart be misled, and you turn away... And the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you. (Deuteronomy 11:16-17) 

It has been asked why from all the Torah’s great men, from Abraham to Moses, why the Jewish nation has come to be called Israel, the name given to our Patriarch Jacob after wrestling with an angel who ultimately blesses him: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have striven with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed." It’s actually rather simple. The life of a living, breathing Jew is a constant struggle with G-d and for G-d. It is that struggle that makes us Israel; it is the struggle that makes us a light among the nations. It is that struggle that makes everything we never dreamed we could be or were destined to be, possible. But sadly, too many of us are stuck in our comfort zones and have come to love our sins; we have put down our gauntlets and prefer not to resist and fight back. Soon we forget how. Pay heed: If you are not struggling daily to increase your relationship with G-d, to refine your character and to bring His light into the world with your unique gifts, you are not living, you are merely existing and slowly or quickly dying. Don’t be a comfort-zone-Jew. Stop getting caught up in the secularism, materialism and lusts of this world and forsaking your Jewish identity and duty. Coronavirus has surely taught us all the things that we can live without. G-d is not one of them. The Torah wasn’t just bequeathed to rabbis, it’s your heritage too. Pretend it’s the millions your parent’s bequeathed you and cling to it greedily, for it is worth much more.

There is a famous excuse: “I wasn’t brought up religious.” Well many of us weren’t brought up rich either and yet that’s still a popular pursuit. In this week’s Torah reading of Pinchas we are introduced to four situations where people were born into a “situation” but it didn’t dictate or assure their journey in life. I will focus on one, the transference of Moses’ leadership to Joshua. Moses had sons, why didn’t one of them get the job? Because being a Torah Jew isn’t about nepotism; not your father, or yesterday’s victories, or last week’s donations, or the plaque in the synagogue with your grandfather’s name or all your hoity-toity connections in the world are going to make you the person you need to be. Only you can do that yourself by living day to day, from struggle to struggle, by recognizing you are not struggling alone and that the power of G-d is with you. And if you live in FAITH instead of fear, falsehood and fleshpots, you just might find you have invented many of your struggles altogether. Win the moments and you win life. YOU are Israel! You may struggle with G-d and man, but you can prevail--SO PREVAIL!



Friday, June 12, 2020

The Great Escape!


Husbands whose Internet surfing habits are not exactly kosher and wives whose shopping habits are not exactly frugal may be very familiar with this browser option, “Delete History.”  With a few clicks within the drop-down menu, yesterday is but a memory.  Writer’s, too, have their technological means of erasing a verbal wreckage zone: backspace, delete or, best of all, click “new” page and all indications of illiteracy magically disappear. That is the tragedy of our generation, the ease with which we try to and can erase who we were yesterday if it doesn’t fit today’s narrative. Where we came from and former versions of ourselves, all the things which made us who we are--the good, the bad and the very ugly, the substance of our existence--we hit delete and prefer to design the holographic version of the phony face we serve the world. I couldn’t help but be jolted by HBO’s recent decision to not play the movie Gone with the Wind in its streaming movies library because of the current race protests in the USA. I thought about my own heritage and favorite movie, The Ten Commandments, and wondered if I should start a new protest and have it pulled from the airwaves as well. After all, my people were slaves in that movie and frankly it’s beclouding my freedoms. Well, not exactly mine, but my fellow Jews; they too prefer to forget from where they came; it’s easier to sever ties that way. Forgetfulness absolves all debts. But our Maker is smarter than those He made and He thus made it mandatory that we remember. 
The most important thing we must remember is that G-d took us out of Egypt. When do we have to remember it? I’ll give you a few seconds to guess. One. Two. Three. Was your answer Passover? You are minutely and partially right. The Jewish nation is told in the Torah to remember it, “...All the days of your life.” (Deuteronomy 16:3) Don’t you ever believe your delusions of grandeur. Our forefathers were slaves and we will forever be slaves. But as free slaves we have just the simple additional option of who we serve. Will you be a servant of G-d, like Moses and King David, and keep His commandments or a slave to your passions, cravings and follies, a slave to money and those who hold it over you. A slave to the evil inclination that blankets us with forgetfulness to confuse our path. Remember G-d took you out of Egypt so that you will know that He is not a G-d who created the world and then went into hiding as some philosophers posit. He got involved with our destiny personally and with high drama because He cares and had very special gifts to offer: the Torah and the Land of Israel.
And that is the next thing to remember: the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Have you even read the whole book once before shelving your Judaism for materialism, Buddhism, hedonism, commercialism and all the “isms” that seduce you? Do you know more rules about golf and mahjong than Torah directives?  Set aside the whole holy scroll for a moment, can you even list the 10 Commandments as listed in the Torah?  “But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget…” (Deuteronomy 4:9). In the end, the worms will eat us and G-d will judge us. What good deeds, as outlined by Judaism, will you be carrying in your designer handbag?
The next thing we are mandated to remember is the nation of Amalek, the first nation to attack the Jewish people after leaving Egypt. Amalek is no longer a physical army on our tail, but it still attacks us. It is the forces in our life that cool us off from G-d by igniting other fires. King Saul didn’t annihilate Amalek completely as G-d commanded and lost his crown because of it.  “The numerical value (gematria) of the Hebrew letters that spell Amalek (240) is equivalent to that of the letters that spell safek, “doubt.” All things holy are certain and absolute... Amalek is doubt; baseless, irrational doubt that cools the fervor of holiness....” (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson).
We can withstand our temptations just as Joseph was able to withstand one of the most beautiful women in the world coming on to him. The trick is to not set ourselves up for failure. Like any army it seeks your weak spots and vulnerabilities. If someone would try and kill you, you’d run for your life. Remember Amalek and all it stands for and run for your life. 
We are also commanded to remember our sin of the Golden Calf and our rebelliousness. Yes, we are G-d’s chosen people, chosen to lead by example with exemplary behavior, chosen to be the light in dark places, not to be fashion models but models of decency, integrity, honesty and responsibility. We are not mandated to trot on high horses but on “higher ground.”
Another thing to remember is that G-d struck Miriam the prophetess with tzara’at (a skin disease) for speaking negatively about her brother Moses and quarantined her for seven days. G-d doesn’t hide our faults and sins and delete history, He compels us to remember them and learn from them. If only the Israelites would have learned from Miriam’s punishment for slander the 12 spies who surveyed the Land of Israel prior to the nations’ entry wouldn’t have sinned by bringing back a frightening report of the Land. For the Golden Calf they were forgiven, but for that they were not and were condemned to wander the desert for 40 years. Don’t let your tongue be your noose. 
There are more things we are commanded to remember, including the Sabbath. As such, I must put down my notebook and prepare for the holiest and most beautiful day of the week. Turns out that the great escape is in remembering who you are. Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, June 5, 2020

I Know the Way


No matter how far we go from home, either running from who we are or lured and lulled by the fake gods that taunt us, something always drives us home. A family sickness, a funeral, sometimes even something good, but fate brings us home.  And who are we when we return to the scene of our prime? Do we at all resemble that soul that our feet took wandering through the dark crevices of exile? Are there any traces of the Source inside us? Drink the bitter water; it shall tell us what we’ve become.[1]

A great nation blessed by G-d Himself, chosen for “monogamy,” has morphed into gross polytheists and selfish polygamists.  And now,   the waters of truth are gathering around our door, the torrents are not far behind. “Deliver me, O God, for the waters have reached until my soul!  I have sunk in muddy depths without foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the current sweeps me away.’ (Psalms 69:2-3) Yes, my beloved Jews the waters are rising, our faltering footholds are becoming strangleholds, and as always and as promised we are being forced back home. 

We ran from who we are and where we belong because we forsook our G-d and got seduced by a world of lies. But the world isn’t lying anymore. The old masks have dropped, albeit now we wear new ones.  Anti-Semitism, the one virus for which no vaccine will ever be found, is flooding reasonableness, muddying our waters, building up pressure; and the dam will surely fall.  It’s spreading,  it’s infiltrating and all our materialistic and institutional strongholds are exposed for what they are, vapors and illusions. When things get hot those illusory safeguards leave us cold. We’ve walked the streets of the Diaspora, we ate among strangers and dressed like them, pursued their gods and cheated, lied, stole and slandered for their sake. In our high-tech modern world, we had no place for an ancient desert G-d. Luxury labels in our collars, brand items on our wrists. Now the looters and rioters sport the very same. Are we now equals? These fake gods, Chanel, Gucci, BMW--are they kingmakers? For then now all men are kings. No, we were an anointed nation by holy oil, a nation of priests, especially chosen to be the light. But we muffled our ears to our own Divine calling and sought our strength from make-believe muses and mellifluous memes. All in vain. “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is ONE.”  

The streets of the world again are beating with the thumps of protest and hatred. “You are a Jew.” If you forgot, they will remind you. Our Jewish institutions are vandalized, our holy objects desecrated--why should they care if we don’t? Did we scream, fast and cry when we heard our holy Torah was thrown on the floor and profaned like we would if our Mercedes were scratched or our dog hurt his paw. Our people attacked, our race forever blamed...the threats are getting louder. It’s time to go home.  We have one G-d, one Torah, and one home: Israel. The burden of “never again” falls not to the nations of the world, but upon us. We learned from the smoke and ashes that when we hem and haw and falter, tomorrow is too late. Some adhere to the calling, others are stirred by the shouting. And so I now remember the words of Israel’s former chief rabbi, Meir Lau who evokes the two images of the Prophet Isaiah regarding the return of the exiles to Israel: the cloud and the dove. "Who are these that fly like a cloud and like doves to their nests?" (Isaiah 60:8). The cloud is moved by the external force of the wind; the dove has an internal homing sense that returns it to its land. No matter what propels us, it’s time to go home. It’s time to return not just to the land that G-d gave us but also to Him and His Torah. For not even in the Promised Land nor with a million angelic voices singing Hatikva will we find hope, promise and peace if we dismiss the very land deed which bequeathed it to us, i.e., the Torah. 
“...And you will return to the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you this day you and your children,
then, the Lord, your God, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your God, had dispersed you.
” (Deuteronomy 30:1-4)

As Rabbi Avraham Tanis says: “Man believes in himself and questions the Almighty, when really, we should believe in the Almighty and question ourselves.” Friends we’ve had our run, a long run of arrogance and rebellion; I’m tired of running. It’s time to go home. 




1.   If a woman was suspected of adultery, she was brought before the Kohen and made to drink water wherein a scroll with G-d’s name written forward and in reverse was dissolved. The results of drinking would reveal her innocence or guilt. (Bamidbar 5:11-31)


Thursday, May 28, 2020

Washing My Hands of You!


"The L-rd rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He recompensed me." (Psalms 18:21)

It is illuminating how compliantly we all adhered to the ever-changing guidelines in order to avoid catching the Coronavirus, most especially our attentiveness to hand washing and the disinfecting of all our touchables. After all, we want to stay alive, so we do what’s right for us. Judaism also highlights the importance of washing one’s hands except that its rules are not inconsistent and reliant on questionable science with its questionable motives; it rules were given by G-d. Their aim, too, is to keep us alive, in this life and the next. In Judaism one is not permitted to pray without washing one’s hands, even if it means traveling the distance of four miles to do so. The moment a Jew gets out of bed in the morning one cannot take but a few steps without the mandatory washing of hands.. One cannot eat bread without washing one’s hands as well. All these are not just physical imperatives but they also have spiritual ramifications. For instance, our sages teach that when a person sleeps they are 1/60th dead. When the soul returns to the body the impurity of death still lingers upon the tips of the fingers and hands. Not washing has both spiritual and physical repercussions.

And so, since everything in this world is a message from the Heavens above, I can’t help but know that new “cleanliness protocols” around the globe, ushered in by the lovely Covid-19, is a wakeup call to us all: It’s time to clean up our acts. Our immoral behaviors are deadly. From adultery to theft, from gossip to disrespecting our parents and the elderly, from wasting seed to immodesty in all our behaviors, we are dirty. I’m reminded of the famous line by Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth who compulsively rubs her hands and pleads: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” The blood spot she sees is projected solely upon her hands by her own guilt for committing murder. Yes, we have to keep physically clean, but it is our crimes against G-d’s Torah that make us most dirty, and just as stress manifests as sickness, so does sin. 

There is only so much that hand sanitizer can do for us. It certainly won’t wash our way into G-d’s good graces. For the past 49 days since the second day of Passover, the Jewish nation counted the passage of that time with a special prayer. There are a few reasons for doing so and one is to cleanse our souls from defilement. Each day we grapple with a trait that calls for “fixing”, i.e., purification. That spiritual preparation leads us into the Shavuot holiday, wherein the holy Torah was given on Mount Sinai by G‑d to the Jewish people, and as a gift to all humanity, more than 3,300 years ago. That gift is the eternal sanitizer and the only means through which we can refine ourselves. “...For God has come in order to exalt you, and in order that His awe shall be upon your faces, so that you shall not sin." Sadly, when this pandemic erupted, we  dashed for the Purell and not so much for G-d.  But on this holiday of Shavuot we are given the chance once again to grab our Torah with both hands, 'clean hands' and commit ourselves to being better Jews and better people. To be certain we really aren't as nice as we think we are. This holiday we read the Torah portion of the Ten Commandments, the purifying Decalogue of our souls. Here’s a quick review of  them  to see how well you are doing.

“I am the Lord, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” It is from this starting point that any of the commandments have relevance. Do you really believe in G-d? How do you believe in Him? Do you believe in a G-d that owes you something or does your belief have you realizing that every second of this gift called life you owe Him. Do you believe He is a loving G-d who will forgive you no matter how you live your life? Because if you do, then you believe in something, maybe Disneyland, but it’s certainly not G-d.

II “You shall have no other gods….” Though you may not have a golden calf in your living room, it does not mean you are guilt-free of idol worship. ANYTHING that comes between you and G-d is an idol, including your money, your fancy lifestyle, your fear, you anger, your own arrogance and your vanity. 

III “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain.” How many times have you made a promise to G-d and not kept it? That’s calling upon G-d’s name in vain and it makes you a liar. The Talmud teaches that God hates liars. Have you perjured yourself in traffic court or on other occasions while you swore with your hand on the Bible? Have you sworn to a friend that something was true when it wasn’t? Have you said the wrong prayer on the wrong occasion calling down G-d’s holy name for no reason at all? 

IV “Remember the seventh day and keep it holy.” Often people say I love my job, so it’s not like working on the Sabbath and it’s not hard. Very simply, nothing is hard for G-d. He created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. You think you are doing everything right, you know it all and have all the questions and the answers. After all, you know there were no cars in the desert, so you can drive on Shabbat, right? Ok, I’ll stop here because you're a scholar but I'll just add that there are thirty-nine categories of labor that are forbidden on Shabbat. Can you please list them for me please while you’re driving to shul?

V “Honor thy mother and father.” Most people think this decree means not to be rude to your parents. Did you know you are not even allowed to sit in your parents’ chair and you are not allowed to contradict them unless they oppose the Torah teachings, and even then with kid gloves? If you curse them or hit them, the Torah calls for the death penalty. 

VI “Thou shalt not murder.” Did know that embarrassing a person in public, according to biblical exegetes, is tantamount to murder. Breaking someone’s pride and dignity and crushing their spirit is also regarded as a form of murder. Slandering and gossiping about people can kill their reputations and ruin their lives and you can effectively kill their potential with your dagger-like tongue.

VII “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  Only you and G-d know the truth. But be certain, no excuse is good enough, not even that your own wife gained 20 pounds or that your husband doesn’t buy you flowers. Dressing provocatively,  taunting and teasing and leading others down this road is a sin too. When you cheat, you cheat not just on your mate, but G-d as well.

VIII “Thou shalt not steal.”  Manipulating someone’s mind or heart is considered stealing. When you make appointments and don’t show up, you're stealing people’s time. When you make salespeople believe you’re going to buy something when you have no intention to, you're stealing their time and emotions. Taking small things like grapes, artificial sweeteners, and not paying, things you deem as having no value, is the reason why G-d destroyed the world with a flood. 

IX “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Perhaps you would not lie under oath, but any form of lying against another person’s good name, even to aggrandize yourself or your business, is a sin. 

X “Though shalt not covet.” Maybe you don’t admit to lusting after your neighbor’s donkey, but have you bought things you cannot afford or simply wanted because you coveted with your heart and eyes. Have you hungered for your neighbor’s life or wife because they look better than your own? The Torah wisely admonishes you not to do so and to keep your eyes in your head. Coveting leads to the violation of all the other commandments. To covet is also your way of telling G-d He doesn’t know what He’s doing.

                        Oh, dear people of the Book, pick up the Book and wash your hands of sin