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Concepts of justice, fairness tough for children to learn

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each year as we prepare for camp, we think about the many issues that children face and how to guide them in the right direction. One of the things that we hear from children is, “It’s not fair.”
They spend a lot of time learning to understand the concept of fairness and justice. We want to guide them with our heroes from the past and present.
Tzedek is the mitzvah of doing justice. The words tzedek and tzedakah appear almost 300 times in the Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that justice and compassion are two of the most important qualities for people to survive and live together.
Leviticus 19, also called the Holiness Code, says that being holy is being just. Elie Wiesel told this story: A man who saw injustice in his city protested against it every day. One day someone asked why he continued to protest since no one was paying attention. The man answered, “In the beginning I thought I would change people, but now I continue so people will not change me.”
There is much talk in the news about the Supreme Court Justices. There have been many famous Jewish Justices, and we can learn from their examples. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated with honors from Columbia Law School, not one law firm in New York would hire her because she was a woman. She became a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights, and she argued six landmark cases on behalf of women before the Supreme Court. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court. Upon accepting the nomination, she spoke of her background. “I am very sensitized to discrimination. I grew up at the time of World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child…seeing a sign in front of a restaurant: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’ I have a last thank-you to my mother. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most recent Jewish Justices and the first Jewish woman Justice; however, many great American Jews have served the United States as lawyers and judges. Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice from 1916-1939.
He was nicknamed “The People’s Attorney” because he was an advocate of social and economic reforms. He was also a leading Zionist, and Brandeis University is named after him. Benjamin Cardozo served on the Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938. The school of law at Yeshiva University is named after him. Felix Frankfurter served from 1939 to 1962 and he helped create the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas served in the 1960s and Stephen Breyer was named to the Court in 1994.

Conversation starters

  • 1. Sometimes children say that something isn’t fair — something a parent, teacher or coach decides. What does it mean to be fair? Think of some examples and then think of a way to decide what is fair. For example, when sharing a piece of cake, one person gets to cut and the other gets to choose first.
  • 2. Why is it so hard to be a judge? What does it mean to be “impartial”? What would make it difficult to judge someone? Can we judge ourselves? Why or why not?
  • 3. Making sure there is justice in the world is not the same as making sure there are judges. What is justice all about? Some people say that life isn’t always fair — is that fair?

Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Paying forward lesson easily glossed over

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

She’s the only friend still left from my elementary school days.
Patricia (she was Patty then) now lives in Denver, but we keep in good touch, often reminiscing about our shared, early hometown experiences.
Malcolm Cowley, a distinguished American writer, was also a Pittsburgher, and during the time I was studying at the city’s university, he returned to his hometown to teach some literature courses. Sad but true: His classes were not required, so I took none of them.
Patricia attended another college but enrolled in one of Cowley’s courses as a grad student. So she asked me recently — since we’ve both exceeded that “certain age” — if I’d read his book The View from 80. She had, and wasn’t much impressed. I hadn’t, but easily found a used copy online. Its less-than-75 pages made for one fast, easy read.
Cowley (born 1898, died 1989, just before his 91st birthday) wasn’t Jewish. Patricia isn’t, either. But I found something distinctively so in this little book, because the author paraphrases the “parable” that you, I, and probably every other Jew knows: about the man who, planting a tree he’ll never live long enough to see bear fruit, explains to a questioner that his descendants will. That’s what his planting was all about: Someone long-gone left fruit trees for him, so he was paying it forward.
Here’s what Cowley has to say: “Very often an old person’s project has to do with things that live on and are renewed … He plants trees to profit another age. Cicero quotes an earlier author as saying this, and himself continues, ‘If you ask a farmer, however old, for whom he is planting, he will reply without hesitation, “For the immortal gods, who intended that I should not only receive these things from my ancestors, but also transmit them to my descendants.” ’ ”
Cicero’s “immortal gods” came much earlier than Cowley’s singular one; he’s such an Orthodox Christian, he describes himself as one who shrives: that means seeking forgiveness for sins, then doing penance and finally receiving absolution. But I just wondered: Who might that anonymous pre-Cicero author have been?
I found that our Pirke Avot is not the source; It’s from the Mishnah, a product of the Common Era’s third century; Cicero died almost 50 years before CE even started. I’m sure Malcolm Cowley had read extensively, but I suspect not much in Jewish texts. Of course he read Cicero — surely in the original; for scholarly men of his time, Latin and Greek were regular educational givens. He may even have read some Hebrew. So I’m guessing now: If one of those texts was Ethics of the Fathers, might he have assumed that it predated Cicero?
Whatever. I’m recommending Cowley’s little book to everyone who’s growing older (and who isn’t?) because I’d already come to believe, even before reading it, what he preaches: Everyone has a story to tell, made up of many individual stories remembered from the course of a lifetime. He recommends “telling” your story by writing down memories from childhood to the present.
Now, here’s my truth: Without our stories, we will virtually cease to exist. Therefore, I’m devoted to our Dallas Jewish Historical Society’s oral history project, which gives us all the opportunity to tell our life stories that someone else will write down, for access in perpetuity. (How many of us have come to adulthood full of regret that we never asked our parents or grandparents to sit down with us and tell us their life stories? This sorrow isn’t something we want to pass on to our own descendants!)
I suspect that friend Patricia, not knowing Pirke Avot, glossed over the tree-planting tale very quickly, and I’m at least reasonably sure that she has no idea of how it reinforces, if not echoes, Judaism’s own story. As I send her my “review” of Malcolm Cowley’s little book, I’ll be sure to mention this!

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Why Shavuot holiday isn’t explicitly addressed in Torah

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have done a search and am shocked to have found that the holiday of Shavuot is not mentioned in the Torah! How could something as important as Shavuot being the day the Jews received the Torah at Sinai not be mentioned in connection to that holiday?
Brian S.
Dear Brian,
The Torah states, “and you should count … from the day after the Shabbos (i.e., the 1st day of Pesach) …  seven complete weeks… you should count 50 days and offer a new mincha offering to Hashem.” (Levitcus 23: 15-16) All the Torah mentions at the end of the counting of 49 days, which culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, is to bring a “new mincha” (bread offering). What about the fact that it’s Shavuot, the day we received the Torah?! That’s not even mentioned, as you pointed out. Furthermore, why is the bread offering called a “new mincha”? What is more “new” about that offering than any other?
The classical commentator Keli Yakar (Rabbi S. E. Luntschitz, early 17th-century Prague), comments that the “new mincha” is a hint to the holiday of Shavuot, the day of receiving the Torah. This is because the Torah needs to always be “new” for each person. Every day he or she should feel like it was given to them that very day from Sinai!
This is why the Torah did not explicitly single out a specific day as the day of receiving the Torah from Sinai. Although historically it was given on the day of Shavuot, to write explicitly that Shavuot is the day of receiving the Torah would minimize the Sinai experience to only that day, whereas the Torah wants us to feel that every day it is being given anew to those who toil in its study. Every moment that we delve deeply into Torah we bring out new subtle nuances and understandings that are hidden within its infinite wisdom and waiting to be discovered.
With this recognition, the study of Torah never “gets old,” one never gets bored from its toil. On the contrary, it’s always exciting and new! That’s why it’s hinted to by the bringing of a mincha chadasha, a “new” mincha. Every offering brought is technically new, but here the Torah actually calls it such, to stress that everything about this day is fresh and new.
The Keli Yakar proceeds to reveal a profound point. Nearly all the wheat offerings were brought from matzah, as the Torah doesn’t allow offerings of chametz (leavening). The two breads which are the special mincha offering for Shavuot must be brought from breads which are chametz. Generally, chametz is forbidden in the Temple because it represents the “evil inclination” (yetzer hara). On Shavuot, however, the day of the giving of Torah, where there is Torah the yetzer hara has no power to control us. This is what we learn from the Talmud, which states, “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b)
Furthermore, if not for the yetzer hara needing its antidote, the Torah never would have been brought down from its lofty place in Heaven to rest among mortal men in the physical world. This is the answer utilized by Moses to the angels when he ascended Sinai to receive the Torah. When the angels protested to the Al-mighty for His taking his most precious possession and defiling it by presenting it to mortal men, Moses retorted by asking them, “Do you have a yetzer hara for which you need this Torah?!” (Talmud, Shabbos 88b-89a) The essence of Torah is as an antidote to the yetzer hara; consequently the Torah requires, specifically on Shavuot, to bring an offering of chametz to show the yetzer hara is powerless against the Torah.
Although Keli Yakar does not explain how the Torah is the antidote to the yetzer hara, I think the answer is implicit in his words. Chametz comes about in merely 18 minutes by the wet dough sitting idle. If, however, you are constantly kneading and working it, it doesn’t become chametz in even 18 hours! Newness ceases the chametz process!
The toil of Torah in a way which makes one renew himself constantly doesn’t allow the “chametz process” to take hold of himself. That is truly the antidote to the yetzer hara, and is precisely why Shavuot is not explicitly written in the Torah as the day of receiving the Torah. Every day we make the Torah as new, as we find in the opening lines of Shema where we recite that “these words should be ‘today’ upon your heart,” to which Rashi comments, “Every day they should be fresh and new as if they were given that day.”
On this Shavuot let us all re-accept the Torah with all its vigor, in a way that we will continue to keep it fresh and new throughout the year. Best wishes for a joyous Shavuot to all the readers!

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Make this Memorial Day more meaningful

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

With Memorial Day weekend just ahead, here are some suggestions to make these three days an opportunity for each of us to perform a mitzvah.
Whether or not you are Jewish, attend your house of worship, paying homage to the sacred memory of those men and women who gave their lives defending our country.
On Sunday morning and early afternoon, members of the Jewish War Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary will be collecting your contribution, handing you a poppy, as they shout, “Please help the hospitalized veterans.”
Combined with funds collected again on Veterans Day in November, the total will help the VA Medical Center in Dallas to purchase one or more needed items which our Congress has not funded.
Past “poppy drives” have helped pay for acupuncture treatment equipment, waiting room furniture, television sets, recreational equipment, an ice machine, an ice cream maker, a miniature golf course, and other items selected from the Dallas VA’s “wish list.”
Then Monday, Memorial Day, take a friend, the family and especially yourself, and attend the very meaningful programs at Restland Cemetery in Richardson or especially at the DFW National Cemetery in Grand Prairie. It will be a learning experience, especially for children, one which they cannot get in the classroom.
While you are at one of these locations, members of The Dr. Harvey J. Bloom Post 256 of the Jewish War Veterans will be placing American flags at grave sites of deceased JWV members at all of the Dallas Jewish cemeteries, to be repeated on Veterans Day in November.
Unlike a number of other veterans groups who often spend time drinking, smoking, playing cards and telling “war stories,” JWV Post 256 and its Auxiliary truly devote their energies to performing mitzvot for our hospitalized veterans.

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Don’t ignore Shavuot’s value to individuals

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Let’s talk about counting — specifically about counting the Omer. Some people don’t know what I’m talking about, some think it is meaningless today, and some, like me, have an app on their phone. It reminds me, gives me the blessing and even gives me some things to think about each night. At this reading, we are getting to the end of this period — Shavuot is coming.
So what is it? The special period between Passover and Shavuot is called sefirah, meaning “counting,” from the practice of counting the Omer, which is observed from the night of the second Seder of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. The counting of seven weeks on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple, until Shavuot, serves to connect the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt with the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that it was announced to the Israelites in Egypt that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. As soon as they were liberated, they were so eager for the arrival of the promised day that they began to count the days, saying each time, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
Does it matter today? The Omer continued even after the development of a standard calendar eliminated its initial necessity: to let the people know exactly when to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It remained an opportunity to help us move out of enslaving patterns of thought and behavior. For the ancient Israelites, each day was a step away from the defilement of Egypt and a step toward spiritual purity. Like the Israelites who began to get ready for their encounter at Mount Sinai as soon as they crossed the Reed (or Red) Sea, we use the seven weeks beginning on Passover to similarly prepare ourselves for the arrival of Shavuot. During this time, we are supposed to evaluate our behavior and work to improve ourselves.
We all count days leading to something special — maybe good (can’t wait for my vacation), maybe bad (10 days until I have jury duty). But I count something that each of you should be counting. As many of you know, I’m a camp director and I’m counting how many days until camp. I’m also counting how many young lives we will impact at camp. Camp changes lives and through your commitment to camp scholarships, you are part of those lives touched. How many can we count? Here is the story I remind my staff (who are the leaders of tomorrow that we are also impacting each summer): The story is of a little boy on the beach with hundreds of starfish on the sand.
Starfish cannot live outside the water so the little boy was picking up one at a time and throwing it back in the ocean.
A man comes by and sees what the boy is doing. He says, “There are too many. You can’t make a difference.” The little boy picks up one and throws it back — “Made a difference to that one.” That’s what we do — make a difference to one at a time.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas

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Evolution, religion and house gnats

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

The Dallas Theater Center has brought Inherit the Wind back to a local stage. Once again, we can live the infamous Scopes trial about science versus faith in the classroom.
But — how far have we come in more than nine decades? Texas continues to argue about public school textbooks: how to teach ninth-graders the coming-into-being of birds, animals and especially humans. This day and age isn’t all that modern when deciding how to pass on information about such vital matters.
Do you believe the Biblical creation story? Or do you believe Darwin’s theory of evolution? Can both really be taught in the same classroom at the same time? Are young minds able to handle this controversy, reasoning clearly enough to formulate their own conclusions — especially when some parents want their children to reach one conclusion while some prefer the other?
I’m thinking back now to my first day in college and my very first class: introductory zoology, which involved dissecting a frog. But before that came a disclaimer from our instructor, a graduate student teaching assistant, which I’ll paraphrase here: “I’m a scientist,” he said. “And I’m a Catholic. I believe in God and the Bible, but I also believe in science and evolution. This is how I make both work for me …”
Then followed the part I’ve never forgotten that I can recall virtually word for word after more than 60 years: “I believe that God created Adam and Eve, and put them into the Garden of Eden, just like the Bible says. But then along came Sin. So God made them leave that beautiful place, but not in the form they were in then. Instead, He took them down by the water that He’d already created, reduced them to amoebas, dropped them in and said ‘Now, work your way back!’ And that’s how we have evolved…”
What a wonderful, simple (OK — simplistic) answer to the whole question! I remember Ed Zadorozny’s words better than I remember the innards of the poor frog I cut up that day.
Recently, I suffered a Passover return of sorts: A plague of flying insects invaded my home. Thirty-three years in the same house, with never anything like this before! By day, they flew straight for the windows; at night, when everything else was dark, they flew to the TV screen. So I flew to Home Depot’s garden department for information.
“They’re not houseflies,” I told the expert. “They’re gnats,” he said. “Flies are attracted by odors. Gnats like light. And they’re attracted by house plants.” But I’ve never had any of those, because I have a truly black thumb and can’t grow anything. I once killed a small cactus garden just by breathing on it! The only outdoor work I’ve ever succeeded at is weeding! So why did they choose me?
The infestation lasted about 36 hours, making me wonder how long the Egyptians had to suffer from their bugs. A swatter was totally ineffective against them, so I had to resort to a spray that kills flying insects — something I find environmentally unsound in principle and truly offensive in the odor department. And afterward came another unappealing task: gathering up and disposing of the little black bodies littering every windowsill.
I would like to be in on those textbook debates. Did God create such annoying creatures? If so, for what purpose? Or did they just evolve from amoebas, developing wings and flying out of the water, but moving no further along on God’s — or Darwin’s — evolutionary scale?
Next Pesach, when I dip wine from my Seder cup as the plagues are read, I’ll recall this assault. But today, I’m remembering Ed Zadorozny, and wondering, Where are you now, with your elementary wisdom, when our sophisticated educators really need you? And this-coming weekend, I’ll be seeing, again that old (1955) play about an even older (1925) event, the Monkey Trial.
Maybe you’ll join me?

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Made in image of God, how can men kill?

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

This wasn’t the first time I had been to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I went many years earlier as a day school student on a school trip to our nation’s capital and keenly remember the powerful effect that exposure to the museum’s many exhibits had upon me.
The pictures lining the walls were difficult to take in. Black-and-white photographs of human skeletons, barely alive, peering with hollow eyes at the Allied soldiers who had come to free them from the hellish camps. Stacks of naked corpses piled high like firewood. A painful burning sensation filled my insides just thinking about the tortured, the murdered and the maimed. My young heart was broken over lives forever separated from loved ones and the great masses permanently scarred by ordeals human beings should never endure.
I couldn’t help but contrast the feelings I experienced then to the feelings I was experiencing now as I returned to those very same exhibit halls, this time as a grown man. It was to be expected that the shock factor would not be the same. After all, since that time I had read books on the Holocaust and seen Schindler’s List and movies like it. I knew, so to speak, how the story ended.
What came as an utter surprise, though, was the nagging sense that I wasn’t contemplating the same Holocaust narrative that I had exposure to as a schoolboy. If my first visit was a personal call to sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust, my second visit was more a philosophical inquiry into the minds of the evil Nazi perpetrators.
It was one particularly disturbing placard on the wall that caught my attention and sent my mind racing. The picture was of a Nazi soldier aiming his gun at the back of a Jewish man’s head. The victim’s eyes were blank, his knees bent on the earth, perched at the edge of a freshly dug pit quickly filling with the newly butchered. The blurb on the bottom of the placard noted that one-quarter of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust were shot by mobile killing squads.
Besides the sheer eeriness of a photo that kept frozen in time the last moment of a person’s life, it was the frightening statistic about the killing squads that most stood out to me.
As heinous as the gas chambers were, there is something about the way they were operated, the fact that the murderer and the victim were not face-to-face, that helped me comprehend how a human being could compel himself to the gas chamber’s usage.
But shooting someone face-to-face? Seeing the raw human emotions of a mother grasping onto her child, the tears rolling down her cheeks, and still mustering the wherewithal to shoot? Incomprehensible! And to think that this was not a small percentage of the murders of the Holocaust, but a full fourth! My mind was spinning, searching for answers.
Dehumanization may be the most powerful tool in the war against a people, and this was most certainly not lost on the Nazi propagandists during the lead-up to the Final Solution. The Jews were proclaimed a scourge upon Germany, as the lowliest of all nations and as a Poisonous Mushroom, as the title of the German children’s book about the Jews implied.
This was the real secret behind the success of the Nazis in implementing their evil plans. If the Jews were a plague upon Germany, the killing squads were merely taking out the trash.
It is with all of this in mind that in the midst of the Holocaust Memorial Museum I found myself returning to one of the most important teachings of the Torah, one with profound, everlasting moral implications: “For in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6).
It is this singular, most powerful belief in the divinely inspired nature of man that beckons us to treat each other, all people, with love, respect and dignity. It is also this belief that spurred our Founding Fathers to write those most cherished of words — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
For when you see the divinity in one another, you cannot dehumanize. When you come to recognize that God is a Father to us all, you cannot pick out or pick on any of His children.
The Holocaust museum reminded me that “Never Again” and “for in the image of God He created man” are inextricably linked. They were connected back then, and they will be connected forever.
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Burying non-kosher dishes simply a myth

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently visited my grandmother, who’s nearly 90 and not in the greatest health, and she told me many things about the family which I was hearing for the first time.
One thing she told me had me very confused and I was hoping you could shed some light on it for me. My grandmother shocked me by telling me that she and my grandpa actually kept kosher the first years of their marriage, until the kids were young. Then, one day when they were away on vacation, when they came back they realized that the maid had mixed up the meat and milk dishes. My grandmother wasn’t about to dig a hole in the backyard to bury the dishes to make them kosher again, so she decided on the spot that they were done with kosher.
Our family, although proudly Jewish, has had nothing to do with kosher, or any other observance for that matter, ever since. That decision obviously had a major impact on the future of her family for generations to come, and it was all based on the need to bury the dishes. Why is it that one needs to bury the dishes to make them kosher again? Dishes don’t die to need to come back to life or something…the whole thing has been upsetting to me and I need some explanation.
— Margie K.
Dear Margie,
Sadly, I’ve heard many similar stories from Jewish families of that generation. It seems to have been common knowledge in that time that the way to re-kosher dishes was by burying them.
The whole “burial of dishes” story is a complete myth; there is no source for it whatsoever in Jewish law. The Torah clearly outlines how one renders vessels kosher if they have been used for non-kosher food: Whatever was used directly on an open fire must be passed through fire to remove the absorption, whatever was used with boiling water should be immersed in boiling water, etc. (see Numbers 31:21-23). Entire chapters in the Code of Jewish Law are dedicated to the intricacies of various types of vessels and how to “kasher” them, render them kosher. Nowhere does it mention burial!
My best guess at the source of this myth is a paragraph in the above Code which states that if one cut fatty non-kosher meat with a knife which has crevices, in order to scrape away the fat of that meat to perform the koshering process one should push the blade of the knife into hard ground a number of times to clean it and make it possible to kasher. Perhaps that law got somehow misconstrued into the myth of the burial of dishes in the ground.
What is so tragic is that due to a complete myth, so many families who did not want to conform to that myth ended up dropping the observance of kosher. This carried tremendous consequences for the future generations of those families and, often, dire consequences for the Jewish people at large who have moved so far away from observance, as happened to your own family.
So, Margie, here’s my challenge for you to consider: Since your grandmother stopped the family’s observance of kosher due to a mistake in the facts, without that mistake your family would very likely still be kosher-observant today!  So, my challenge is for you to consider, perhaps, to rectify this mistake and bring things back to what they could — and should — have been. It’s not too late for you to rectify that mistake and try out the observance of kosher. You can contact Dallas Kosher and they’ll be more than happy to walk you through what needs to be done. (I promise they won’t make you bury anything!)
Historically, families that have kept kosher stayed more connected to the Jewish community. Kosher has, throughout the generations, been one of the most powerful guarantees for Jewish continuity and pride. It rightfully belongs to you, and you can make it your own!

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Individuality’s role in God’s directions

Posted on 11 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I enjoyed your response to the two religious-school students in last week’s column comparing God’s involvement in the lives of mankind to a GPS.
That leads to another question in my mind. Since a GPS gives very clear directions of how to go, how does that leave room for freedom of choice? Furthermore, if we’re being “told” exactly where to go, what’s really our part in all of this … where’s the room for individuality and making a unique contribution?
— Jennifer B.
Dear Jennifer,
Great thinking! I love the depth!
We can analyze this on a few levels. Firstly, how many people do you know will have on their GPS but … they know better! With an advanced system, the GPS is factoring in traffic jams, closed streets due to construction and the like, but many will still choose to ignore the directives and try to figure it out on their own.
In the classical work The Path of the Just (by Rabbi M. C. Luzzatto, Amsterdam 1738), this world is compared to a maze. Kings would have a huge maze cut from shrubbery, and people would try to reach the middle. Those who reached the middle would climb a pedestal and watch the others, pointing out that they’re sometimes headed toward a dead end, although it looked like the straightest path to the middle. People could decide to trust those who made it, or try to make their own way, ignoring the advice from above. His comparison is to the true righteous people who have “made it,” and have risen above the confusion of this world, seeing clearly which paths lead toward, or away from, perfection. We can also use it in the context of our GPS from Above — whether or not we will notice, listen to the subtle hints sent our way to gently guide us along the proper path. Every person has the free choice whether or not they will heed those hints.
This leads to the next point. The subtlety of the message given to us through these Heavenly hints, and even through the Torah itself, is quite different from the GPS. We give the GPS the destination; it tells us precisely how to get there. The Torah, however, tells us the destination and often leaves to us the path to get there. Referring to the methodology of Talmud study, which has been compared to crossing the ocean, a great rabbi once made a famous analogy. R’ Yisrael of Salant used to say, “Many have crossed the ocean, but nobody has yet paved the way.” Each individual adds their unique understanding and feelings to the study of Torah.
Similarly, my mentor, the renowned sage R’ Shlomo Zalman Aurbach ob’m, made a statement to me concerning certain differences in customs in Jewish law. I asked him which one was preferable. His analogy was, if someone wants to get to the back of the house, he can walk around the right or the left side; either way he’ll get to the same spot!
As long as one is walking along in the right direction, Judaism leaves much room for individuality, all within the same system. There is, undoubtedly, a part of the system which is black-and-white and there’s no room to veer off from that. There is also, however, a lot of gray space which leaves room for individuality and spontaneity. Those are the places where a person can make their unique contribution. The GPS of Torah will get us to the right place if we listen to it. Unlike the GPS which shows only one route, Torah and God Himself leaves the individual multiple ways to fulfill His will. It could be through the deep piety and Kabbalistic service of the Sephardic Jews, the joy of the Chassidic movement or the scholarship of  Lithuanian Jewry, and myriad strains within all of the above and many more who all serve God, within the framework of Torah, in their unique and beautiful ways.

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Image of God tells us how we should live our lives

Posted on 11 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I’m getting ready for camp and this important message is a favorite song that we sing!
In Pirke Avot 3:18, Rabbi Akiva says, “Beloved is man for he is created in the image of God.” This is both a gift and a responsibility. For many, these are the most important words in the Torah. “B’tzelem Elohim — We are created in the image of God” and that tells us how we should live:
What does this tell us about how to treat yourself?
If every person is b’tzelem Elohim, then what does that say about how we look at every person?
Does this mean we are all the same? What about people who are different from us? Are they b’tzelem Elohim?
There are so many ways to “interpret” text, and music and lyrics are interpretations of thoughts and feelings and even of Jewish texts. The world of “Jewish rock music” is expanding every day and the music speaks to us and teaches us. This important message of b’tzelem Elohim comes alive with this song.
Download it today!

B’Tzelem Elohim

(e18hteen — Dan Nichols, Mason Cooper & Michael Moskowitz)

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. (2)
We all got a life to live, we all got a gift to give.
Just open your heart and let it out.
We all got a peace to bring, We all got a song to sing.
Just open your heart and let it out.

CHORUS

When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem Elohim.
When we share our hopes and our dreams
Each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim

We all got a tale to tell. We all want to speak it well.
Just open your heart and let it out.
We all got a mountain to climb. We all got a truth to find.
Just open your heart and let it out.

CHORUS

B’reisheet bara Elohim, all our hopes, all our dream
B’reisheet bara Elohim, each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim

Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is the director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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