Archive | Columnists

Chance to be judge, jury

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
At the preschool this week, we have been talking about a wonderful Jewish value but sometimes hard to explain to young children — hoda’ah, appreciation and gratitude, being thankful. One of the things the children were thankful for was their pets and, as we do with young children, we go with their interests.
However, my “job” is to put a Jewish lens on everything. So, I told them that caring for animals is a mitzvah, which led into how we care. I took this idea from Joel Lurie Grishaver and Nachum Amsel’s You Be the Judge and You Be the Judge 2: Collections of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers, Torah Aura Productions (www.torahaura.com). Would it be possible for young children to become a bet din, a Jewish court of law? Here is your chance to be the court and the judge.
The Case: Does Shabbat Have to Go to the Dogs? This first case is a common one in many families. Feeding the family pets is a chore that is often the responsibility of the kids in the family. In this situation, Josh has forgotten to feed the dog and the family is sitting down to dinner — Shabbat dinner. The dog is barking. Grandma says to feed the dog after the blessings and dinner. Cousin David says that the dog should be fed before the blessings and before the family eats.
You Be the Judge: Should the dog be fed before the family eats or after? Make your case.
The Sages Decide: There is a mitzvah called tzar baalei chaim which forbids being cruel to animals, and not feeding is being cruel. In the Torah, we read about Rebecca, who was kind to the camels, and then Moses brought water from the rock for the people and the animals.
Maimonides says, “The sages made it a practice to feed their animals before they tasted anything themselves.” Rashi, in the Talmud, says, “One may even delay ha-motzi in order to feed animals.” Many rabbis have agreed that pets are our responsibility, which includes feeding them as they cannot get their own food.
So, did your decision agree with the rabbis? Caring for animals is important and must come even before we take care of ourselves — it is a mitzvah and our responsibility!
Of course, since my lesson was about gratitude and showing appreciation, I brought it back around to being thankful for our pets, and one voice said, “I’m thankful my mom feeds our dog!”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Many common phrases born from Tanach

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Recently, I’ve been thinking of the many moralistic adages and maxims that pepper our daily conversations with family and friends, curious to see how many of them are consistent with Torah thought and values.
What I’ve discovered is that while some of the most famous English adages seem to have been plucked straight out of Tanach (The Five Books of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings), others, though quoted frequently and with an air of authenticity, directly contradict thousands of years of Jewish tradition.
Take the phrase, “Two heads are better than one.” Although the exact phraseology is first recorded by the English writer John Heywood in his collection of English proverbs (1546), it was probably inspired by King Solomon’s wise statement in Kohelet/Ecclesiastes (4:9), “Therefore two are better than one, for they may well enjoy the profit of their labor.”
Another expression, “Two wrongs do not make a right,” though not a direct play on a Biblical verse, calls upon us to not take revenge, itself a Biblical prohibition, and the saying “Honesty is the best policy” is certainly meant in much the same vain as the Biblical verse “Distance yourself from a false matter” (Shemot/Exodus 23:7).
Other adages find similar expression in the oral tradition of the Mishnah, most notably in the ethical teachings found in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers).
“There’s no time like the present” certainly sounds a lot like Hillel’s statement (Avot 1:14), “And if not now, when?”
“Actions speak louder than words” is meant in the same vain as Shamai’s directive (Avot 1:15), “Say little and do much.”
And the oft-stated maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover” appears much like an adaptation of Rabbi Meir’s exhortation (Avot 4:27), “Do not look at the container, but at what there is in it.”
On the other hand we have the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This expression is recorded to have appeared in the Christian Recorder of March 1862 as an “old adage,” and though meant to persuade the child victim of name-calling to ignore the taunt, refrain from physical retaliation and remain calm, the phrase in and of itself is most certainly inconsistent with Jewish tradition, which has always recognized the depth of pain that verbal insults can inflict upon their intended victim. Besides the Torah prohibition of hurting someone with words (onaat devarim), the Torah includes a special prohibition against humiliating others (Sefer Ha-Mitzvos, lo ta’aseh 303), a sin which the sages of the Talmud compare to murder (pointing out that the blood leaves a person’s face).
And what of the the old proverb, “Children should be seen and not heard”? The author of this ditty had obviously never attended a Pesach Seder!
There is, however, one phrase in particular that more than all others captured my attention. It is a phrase steeped in great moral complexity, and for that reason has been rendered into two opposing statements over time. It was the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCE-17/18 CE) who wrote in his collection Heroides (II:83) that “the result justifies the deed.” This would give rise to the modern rendition, “The end justifies the means.” (It is Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the father of modern political science, who is often quoted as championing this position in his renowned work The Prince, but that is a matter of scholarly debate, many arguing that his approach was much more nuanced than any one citation might reveal.)
On the other hand we have the counter-expression, “The end doesn’t justify the means,” which seems to have developed as a response to the earlier common phrase.
So, what does Judaism have to say about this moral conundrum? May one be as Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give to the poor? As in everything in Torah, the answer is nuanced, each scenario requiring its own halachic assessment. On the one hand one may violate all of the commandments of the Torah (cheat, lie, steal, etc.) in order to fulfill the supreme mitzvah of saving a life (the only exceptions being the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry and sexual immorality). On the other hand, the Talmud (Sukkah 30a) rules that one may not fulfill a mitzvah by means of a sin (à la Robin Hood).
It would seem, then, that the general rule of thumb in Judaism is that the ends do not justify the means, but that there are extenuating circumstances which necessitate certain evils for the sake of much greater goods.
It seems to me that G-d, too, adheres by the overarching principle of the ends not justifying the means. In the story of the Covenant of the Parts we read of G-d’s promise to Abraham that after much suffering under the hands of a foreign nation his children would one day come to inherit the land of Canaan.
The Torah records: “And the fourth generation shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite shall not yet be full until then” (Breishit/Genesis 15:16).
Rashi (1040-1105), the primary commentator on the Torah, illustrates that G-d was explaining to Abraham why He could not bring the Jewish people to the Holy Land any earlier than the fourth generation. The reason: Delivering the Jewish nation into Canaan would mean the expulsion of the native Amorites from the land, and G-d could not exile the Amorites from the land any earlier than the fourth generation, a time when (G-d knew that) their sins would have accumulated enough to be worthy of the punishment of exile.
You see, G-d, too, had a “mitzvah.” He was to bring the holy nation into the Holy Land. And yet, His message for all generations is that even such a monumental deed could not be done at the expense of a nation not yet worthy of exile. Such a supernatural orchestration of events would be the divine equivalent of a mitzvah brought about through a sin. And such an action is no mitzvah at all!
It would certainly be interesting if we all examined the phrases we use most commonly in our lives, considered their deeper meanings and reflected upon whether or not they are consistent with our tradition. I am quite sure you will similarly find it a rewarding experience.
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin, email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Strength, knowledge required to climb God’s ladder

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

It is a wondrous thing to watch an infant or a child of 2 or 3 years old. A set of car keys jingling, the dancing waters of a fountain in front of an office building, or even the colors on a bright shirt provide unlimited moments of fascination. Somewhere along the way these simple discoveries and the joy they bring are replaced by a complacency about life and all of its small miracles. Perhaps that is one of the reasons we find infants and toddlers so entertaining. We glimpse back at that original innocent wonder that we once felt. It is a moment of magic rediscovered.
The rabbis knew that we were prone to that sense of numbing complacency from the rigor and demands of our daily lives. They set a prayer of regular thanksgiving, the Hoda’ah, to be read at every worship service, morning, noon and night. They realized that the awareness of miracles each new day would dissipate with the demands of the day.
In the set of Torah readings that begins this week with Toldot, our ancestor Jacob goes through a journey of discovery. His life has been lived one step in front of the other, always fearful and unaware of the wonders around him. Caught in parental rivalries and favoritism, he tricks his brother into selling his birthright, and is complacent in his mother’s act of deception against his father and brother. Jacob dresses in clothes that will imitate the smell and feel of his brother Esau’s body so he may receive his brother’s birthright blessing of the first-born. When his brother discovers this, Jacob must flee for his life.
In the next portion, Vayeitzei, Jacob falls asleep and dreams of a ladder reaching upward toward heaven with angels climbing up and down. God speaks to him and promises him a life of bounty. Jacob wakes up, aware for the first time in his life, and says, “Truly God is in this place, and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16). He names the spot Beth-El, a house of God, and goes on his way.
It would seem that Jacob has been transformed by the encounter, but his life will continue to be filled with more moments of deception before he and his brother, Esau, meet again in our third Torah portion, Vayishlach, read a week later. At that time, Jacob will finally grasp the miracle of each day and the awesome possibilities they present. He and his brother will reconcile and Jacob will seem to finally gain an awareness of the gift of each moment.
How appropriate that this three-week section of Torah readings that leads us to an to awakening of gratitude and a sense of awe takes place around the holiday of Thanksgiving. We live our lives so overwhelmed by tasks, so fearful of failure, and so afraid to miss a moment that we often miss it all. Thanksgiving is an American attempt to regain that sense of the ineffable wonder of discovery.
And yet, even Thanksgiving has lost its way. It has become victim to earlier and earlier store opening times, consumption of too much food and too many products, and a focus on highly-paid football gladiators. The holiday revolves less and less around the people, the real miracles that gather with us in our own living and dining rooms surrounded by a bounty of family and food. As our Torah portion teaches us, the first step is awe, the ability to see the ladder of our lives that rises heavenward. The second step is our response, knowing when it is time to climb the ladder and express our lives in acts of gratitude.
As the great rabbi and teacher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, “Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. … get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.” (Rabbi Abraham Heschel, God in Search of Man)
May you have a Thanksgiving filled with the vision to glimpse the ladder of God and blessing and the strength to know how to climb it.
Rabbi Brian Zimmerman is the spiritual leader of Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Is it acceptable to hunt, fish for sport?

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve been back and forth how to respond to my Gentile friends who are often inviting me on their hunting trips. Although I’m not an observant Jew, I’ve yet to join them because something feels Jewishly wrong about hunting for sport (although I might be contradicting myself because I do fish for sport).
One of my friends argues that if God allowed us to eat animals, there’s no difference between enjoying them by eating and enjoying them through sport. What is the Jewish view? Is fishing the same?
— Kyle W.
Dear Kyle,
I support your feelings as the conclusion of much rabbinical literature is that hunting for sport runs contrary to the very fiber of Judaism. The Talmud (Bava Metzia 32a) derives this from the verse, “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him?! You shall surely help him” (Exodus 23:5). From here we learn the prohibition of tzar baalei chaim, or inflicting unnecessary pain upon an animal, and the commandment of relieving an animal from a painful situation.
The caveat to all of this is that when the animal is causing pain or danger to a human being, or if it is needed for medicinal purposes or to be eaten, it is permitted by the Torah to kill the animal. This is all derived from the fact that the Torah allowed the slaughter of animals for consumption (Kitzur Shalchan Aruch 191:1). This is all for human needs, not for entertainment.
One could make the argument that entertainment is also a human “need,” and therefore hunting for the sake of pleasure would come under the broad category of permission which we derive from the mitzvah of kosher slaughtering. This argument was actually accepted by one of the most eminent authorities of Jewish law (Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, 18th century, in Noda B’Yehuda Tinyana Yoreh Deah 10). Rabbi Landau concludes, however, that he’s very shocked that a Jew would even pose this question because even if it is technically not forbidden, it’s not aligned with the way of the Jewish people; we only find hunting in the Torah in connection with Nimrod and Esau (two wicked men), and never with the patriarchs, as it is not the way of the Jews.
The question of using animals for medical research is one which the Jewish authorities grappled with, but allowed it on the basis of medical need as mentioned above. This is in sharp contradistinction to killing animals strictly for sport, something the very idea of which should be painful to a sensitive Jewish soul.
An example of the Torah’s view is the prohibition of muzzling a plowing animal to prevent it from eating while plowing, something that would cause it anguish (Deuteronomy 25:4). We are further instructed to refrain from harnessing an ox and a donkey to the same plow, as an ox is stronger and will cause undue stress to the donkey (Deuteronomy 22:10). We are forbidden from slaughtering a cow and its calf on the same day (Leviticus 22:28), due to the callousness it would cause to the one doing so.
On the other side of the coin, kindness to animals was a source of virtue to our patriarchs and matriarchs. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Moses and David were all shepherds. The rabbis comment that those great Jewish leaders learned the trait of compassion by caring from flocks of animals before they became “shepherds” for the flock of the Jewish people.
If compassion to animals is so central to Judaism, why is it that we are allowed — it is even a mitzvah — to slaughter animals for the purpose of serving man? We shall explore that in next week’s column, as well as the question of fishing for sport.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel.
Questions can be sent to him at
yfried@sbcglobal.net.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Make, discuss memories at women’s group

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

I decided to write this after returning from the recent memorial service for an old friend — the latest loss in a string of old friends. One more to miss…
This is what age brings: joys accompanied by losses. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren; funerals, memorials and shivas. My women friends are fading fast.
I first joined a large “friendship group” during the ’60s, at the dawn of the women’s movement. I never burned a bra, but I did read the very first issue of Ms. magazine, in which Gloria Steinem wrote an article titled (something that every working woman then understood) What I Need Is a Wife! No, she wasn’t promoting lesbian relationships, simply fantasizing about having someone to do the child-raising and household chores while she was at her day job.
My first small group also formed during that time of personal upheaval. But after a few years, we had scattered to homes in four different states, so we decided to “reune” for a week in New Mexico, which was so much fun, we repeated it a year later in Colorado. But Marj and Jan fell victim to breast cancer, and Nan to Alzheimer’s, which leaves me holding all the memories.
The next group was here in Dallas, six of us meeting monthly for lunch and conversation. But then, Camille and Suzy both died of breast cancer; Shelley, who had a lung transplant, eventually succumbed to COPD; and I won’t name the fifth because she lives on, but with dementia. So again, I am left, holding all the memories.
That most recent memorial service honored the second of four women in my latest little group. You may have known both the deceased: both teachers, both Temple Emanu-El activists, both named Shirley. Now, only one other remains to share our memories, and I can’t escape this question: Which of us will eventually find herself alone with them?
I have no picture of my earliest women’s group, the one dedicated to discussing women’s issues. But I treasure the ones from the others: the four of us, a formidable bridge quartet, around a table at the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder; the six of us, who had forged our friendship within a larger group of men and women, lunching at an Olive Garden right here in town; the quartet who first went to Saturday morning services and then discussed books over lunch, having that special tea at the Dallas Arboretum. Of all of us in all three little groups, only two from the last are left. Again: Which of us will inherit all its memories, as I already have from the first two? This is a tontine without money or other welcome treasure; this is the “bet” that nobody would ever want to win.
Gloria Steinem and I were born in the same year. Of all the women in my three small friendship groups, only three were older than I; the others who have passed away were all younger. There are medical miracles yet to be hoped for, especially as concerns breast cancer. But there are already medical miracles that keep people alive for an amazing number of years as compared to the generations immediately before us — and yet, they cannot guarantee that these longer lives may be lived in full possession of one’s mental faculties. And so I wonder: Is simple “existence” really living? Is that what any of us really wants?
However, I’ve recently joined another women’s group. It meets monthly for lunch at a local La Madeleine, with no agendas, no planned trips, no other activities. Its membership runs the full gamut of ages and experiences, and we simply converse about our lives. I don’t yet know these women well, but I already like them all. Maybe I will come to love them as I did the others whom I’ve already lost. But then — who will be left, off in the future, as keeper of these new memories?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Missed chance for learning

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

More about an already recent topic is essential now because last weekend, I saw Martin Luther on Trial. For almost a decade before coming to Dallas, I was a reviewer for a Chicago-area newspaper and wrote about many plays. This one is, without a doubt, the most remarkable, fully realized piece of theater I have even been privileged to see.
The play was produced by Fellowship for Performing Arts, a group whose mission is “presenting theater from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience.” This presentation was doubly timely: Oct. 31 marked exactly 500 years since the young German monk Martin Luther spoke out against what he saw as Catholic church abuses of his time, thus beginning what has since been called “the Protestant revolution.” And today marks the start, 79 years ago, of Kristallnacht, the two-day perversion of German humanity that killed 91 of our people, destroyed countless synagogues and Jewish-owned businesses, and opened the floodgates for Hitler-inspired persecution.
And Adolf Hitler had been inspired by Martin Luther.
In this play’s two acts on a single, simple set, six actors embody 16 roles as Luther goes on trial in a courtroom where St. Peter sits in judgment. The array of witnesses covers the whole of these past five centuries, taking the stage in non-chronological order. The first to be called is Hitler himself.
Luther was rabidly anti-Semitic in his day. He could have been the author of the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, spreading falsehoods about noxious Jewish behavior that have dogged us for centuries. The play gives us understanding of where his hatred, which began with the killing of Jesus, developed; in it, he invites a noted rabbi of his place and time to his home, where he poses some questions about why Jews would not accept his God as their Messiah. But he doesn’t get any answers that satisfy him, and what began as a pleasant theological conversation quickly turns to verbal violence by Luther, utter resignation by the rabbi.
All the events portrayed are taken from accounts in the many books written about Luther over five centuries; a stack combining real and prop volumes rises about 15 feet high at stage right, the only commanding feature of this sparse set except for the back-wall church door. It serves as a continuing visual illustration of the man’s importance in the world. Time spent with a disagreeing rabbi surely happened, resulting in angry accusations that persisted for centuries, coming into full flower in the 19th and 20th with persecution, pogroms and death camps.
The devil is a key witness at this fictionalized trial, as are the popes of both Luther’s time and our own, Sigmund Freud and his psychology, and the Holy Roman Emperor himself. The latter reinforces our knowledge of olden days when popes and kings were one and the same, and state religion was the rule of law.
Luther wanted only to change his church, which he saw duping its many poverty-stricken believers by selling them the promise of fewer years in purgatory — the Catholic way-station between death and heaven or hell — driving them even further into poverty when no man, not even pope or emperor, could make such promises good. He was demanding justice, but only for those people; Martin Luther King comes to extend the idea of justice far beyond any one religion, group or country. And the play makes this crystal-clear: Martin Luther did not leave his church; his church left him, taking the extreme action of excommunication to separate him from it forever.
A Lutheran pastor rose during the brief post-play talkback to note today’s cooperation between his church and the Catholic hierarchy in together denouncing anti-Semitism; I thanked him personally for that. But I didn’t see even one familiar face in the crowd of attendees. I may well have been the only Jew there, and for that, I’m sorry. You missed a real, powerful education.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

What name do you prefer?

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I love names! Actually I love stories about names and understanding all the meanings we attach to our names and our name changes and even our struggle with remembering names! What makes a “popular” name?
What to do with a name that everyone makes fun of? Why is it important to call someone by their name? It really all starts back in the Torah when Adam is named and then Adam gets to name all the animals. The power of being the “namer” is also important. There is a new book from the PJ Library titled Adam’s Animals by Barry L. Schwartz. It is a wonderful book with great pictures of animals and it is done alphabetically, which is fun! However, the story ends differently than the Torah rendition — when Adam meets the woman, he asks, “Should I name you?” and she responds that she already has a name. Yet in the Torah, it says “the man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” So was the author just not up on his Torah or is he making a statement? And we are back to names and interpretations and power and change and…
The Torah is filled with names and people without names — what’s that all about? Who are Irad and Lamech and Zillah (hint: Genesis 4:17-19) and why do they have names when poor Noah’s wife will forever be Noah’s wife or names she is given in Midrash? Later in the book Abram and Sarai get their names changed; Isaac is named because Sarah laughed when she heard she would have a child; the book of Exodus in Hebrew is Shemot — Names; we know of Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings but his parents are called “a certain man” and a “Levite woman.” So many great stories!
This brings us to our own names — all of us who are parents know the challenge and fun of choosing names for our children. We must tell them the stories that go with the choices because your name is linked to who you are. Jewish tradition teaches that each of us has three names: the one we are given at birth, the one we are called, and our real name.
The challenge is to discover our real name. So what is our “real name”? It is the name we make for ourselves by our deeds and how we live our lives.
One more thought to ponder as you think of names and meanings: The sages tell us that there are 70 names of God and each of us also has many names (probably not 70). I tell my classes my many names that I am called (although I don’t share all!): Laura, Mrs. Seymour, Mom, Grandma, Torah Laura, Carpool Lady and more. We believe there is only one God and I am definitely only one person — so what do the names represent? What changes — the one being called or the caller?
What do you want to be called?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Honoring veterans with interview

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Happy Veterans Day (Nov. 10) to TJP readers who are veterans.
It makes no difference whether you served in peacetime or wartime. We all took the same oath requiring us to follow the orders of our officers and commander in chief.
We are all vets who have served our nation and this is our day to be thanked for that service. But it also is an opportunity to help children of non-veterans learn about service to one’s country, “patriotism.”
If you are a veteran, be prepared to be interviewed by non-veterans about your experience, especially children who are always curious.
If you have a child or grandchild whom you are planning to take to Friday’s parade, why not work with your child to create a few questions to ask a veteran? Or you may want to refer to the list of suggested questions below.
This is their opportunity to learn what a historian does, “asking questions to seek the truth.” They could share their interview experience with their teacher and classmates when they return to school Monday.
One place you will find veterans to interview will be in front of Dallas City Hall, before the parade starts Friday at 11:30 a.m.
Often there are veterans who choose to watch the parade along Commerce Street. Some of them may be among the homeless as well.
Another opportunity to interview a veteran or a veteran’s wife will be this coming Sunday morning when members of the Jewish War Veterans (JWV) and the Ladies Auxiliary, will be in front of Cindi’s and other popular eateries.
They will be collecting cash donations that will benefit patients at the Dallas Veterans Medical Center. The JWV’s last donation helped pay for a new acupuncture treatment room.
Since there are so many possible questions you can ask a veteran and just a small amount of “answer time” available, why not have just a few which you and/or your child believes are most important, then ask additional questions, if time permits?

Possible interview questions for veterans

  • 1. Which branch of service were you in?
  • 2. What was your job in the military? (Like/dislike?)
  • 3. Where did you serve?
  • 4. Any unusual or memorable experiences?
  • 5. What did you like and dislike about your experience?
  • 6. Did you make any close friendships with anyone you met?
  • 7. What type of work did you do after leaving the military?
  • 8. How did your military service and experiences affect your life?
  • 9. Did you join a veterans’ organization? Why? Why not?
  • 10. Is there something that you want to tell about your military experience that I have not asked you?
Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Purpose of angels

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thanks for the information showing that we believe in angels. You said you would explain more about them, like why does God need them and what’s their purpose?
Thanks again,
Marc and Jody
Dear Marc & Jody,
Once we’ve established with the sources we showed in our previous correspondence that we believe in angels, it’s important to understand what their purpose is. Those who follow the weekly Torah portion saw this past week (Vayera), numerous important revelations and events carried out by angels. Three angels showed up at Abraham and Sarah’s home, to cure his bris, to deliver the good tidings that they are to have a son in a year, and to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gemorah. Numerous story lines throughout that portion of Vayera all include angels as the key players. Why does God carry out all these things through angels and not just do these things Himself?
There are a number of reasons for this; we shall try to explore a couple of them today.
The simplest explanation can be understood through the example of a powerful king. Imagine this mighty king sitting on his throne and he decides to enact a decree which will benefit his kingdom in many ways. Would it be appropriate for the king to get off his throne, make all the necessary arrangements to have the announcements printed, then get on his horse with the papers and travel throughout the kingdom to paste up his decree? Besides this being highly impractical, it’s all wrong! Everyone understands this behavior would destroy the honor of the king. For the king’s reign to retain its honor it is necessary for there to be a hierarchy of command. He needs to discuss it with his key advisors, they pass down the decree through the chain of command to get it signed into law, announced and executed.
Similarly, God’s reign is one that enables us to recognize His greatness and glory. It would be inappropriate for Him to carry out His decrees and all that He does by Himself; rather, He does so through His “heavenly court” and the decrees are carried out by His emissaries, the angels.
Another layer of understanding is that there are actually numerous categories of angels. Each category corresponds to a different sefirah, or spiritual world. The deeper sources in Judaism, the Kabbalistic masters, teach that there are 10 levels of spiritual worlds, each one manifesting a different trait of God, such as wisdom, understanding, kindness, judgement, etc. When God decides to carry out an act which emanates from one of His traits, or one of the sefiros, the emissary to fulfill that mission is an angel belonging to that particular world.
This is implicit in the word in Hebrew for angel, malach. The word “malach” also means messenger. That is because an angel essentially is a messenger; that is its very essence. That is why an angel doesn’t carry out more than one message; the angel is the message itself!
An even deeper insight into the essence of an angel, or messenger, is that the angel is actually the manifestation of God’s speech. God speaks; and the sound of His speech is the angel. The word “malach” consists of the word melech (mem lamed chaf), or king, plus the letter aleph. Aleph is the very beginning of speech, the utterance of “ah.” The utterance of the Al-mighty King, the Melech, is the aleph in the middle of the word, spelling “malach,” angel. The essence of the angel is God’s way of speaking and carrying out His will.
To fully explain and comprehend what we have discussed would need an entire book, not just a column, and to mention this in a short column is doing a disservice to the profundity of these concepts. I wanted to mention this, however, for you to at least have a cursory glimpse at how penetrating, deep and esoteric is the concept of an angel, that we shouldn’t accept it as a shallow, childish idea. This should be an example of the depth of all Torah ideas, once we plumb those depths and find the gold at the end of the tunnel!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

Don’t forget to use Torah for intended purpose

Posted on 02 November 2017 by admin

I am a firm believer that a connection to Torah not only enhances a person’s morality, but that it is the greatest character-building tool at humanity’s disposal. Between its everlasting ethical teachings and principles to its morally enlightening stories of the great men and women of our past, we are given a vision of a moral life to aspire to and laws to help guide us along that very path.
That being said, it is no wonder that new students of Torah find the presence of morally deficient observant Jews incredibly perplexing. These students have come in contact with Jews who, as fastidious as they are in their performance of the ritual laws, utterly fail in their obligations to their fellow man. There is the religious relative whom they are sure would never dream of missing a day that didn’t commence with the donning of tefillin and the recitation of holy prayers, who is nevertheless known as an unscrupulous businessman, and the Orthodox couple they are friendly with who just can’t stop yelling and antagonizing each other.
To many it remains as a mystery — how can one live a dedicated, religious life on the one hand and remain a callous, bad-tempered and unscrupulous individual on the other?
While recently thinking about this question, the analogy of a mirror struck me as most appropriate. You see, Torah is like a perfectly shining mirror hanging on the wall. By affixing the mirror in a prominent place, you are likely to stop in front of it and take a good look at yourself before leaving the house. Is your hair right? Did you miss a button? You might even notice something of greater importance, like a new mole growing on your neck that requires a trip to the dermatologist. While hanging the mirror on the wall doesn’t guarantee that you will look better than before, it definitely increases your chances!
It’s important to recognize, though, that not everyone who lives in mirror-filled houses benefits equally. You see, some people didn’t “choose” to affix those mirrors on the walls themselves. They were rather born into a family that hung mirrors all over the house. And while they undoubtedly utilized the family mirrors on occasion, mirrors on the wall became more a matter of family custom than anything else — their utilitarian value having long been relegated to secondary function. When they grew up and it came time to build a house of their own, fresh mirrors were quickly put up, of course, for such was the minhag, the custom, but it didn’t take long for the mirrors to become an afterthought once again.
To the sensitive soul, the Torah cries out to be studied every day and presents its student with a list of blemishes, imperfections and deficiencies that must be addressed before he leaves this world. This daily process of profound self-examination and heartfelt study certainly benefits the individual at hand in a most profound way. But for the individual for whom the Torah and Torah living has been reduced to a matter of culture, no longer a central life force, the Torah becomes like that forlorn mirror on the wall, always there, but never being used.
It’s hard to imagine, but culturally religious Jews do indeed exist! A person can play the part, wear a beard and payos, dress in modest clothing and observe the Shabbat, but unless the Torah is utilized as more than just a tool for fitting in with one’s community and family, its majestic powers remain untapped, and the reputation of God and His Torah suffer in the process.
Of course every person and every situation is unique and no one explanation, even a good one, can account for every scenario. For some, the Torah is truly front and center in their lives, but they have difficulty escaping the many rationalizations which paint their unbecoming behavior as acceptable or even meritorious and stop the wheels of teshuvah, repentance, from ever turning. Who knows, maybe the individual you are pointing toward is actually working diligently on changing her character traits, but her process is mostly being done in private, away from the peering eyes of all those around her.
At the end of the day, it is precisely because of the frailty of humankind that the Torah was given to man, but like any good product it cannot help you if you do not use it. The problem is with people, not with Torah! As for us, it is our job to proudly hang the mirrors of Torah throughout our homes and to teach our children that those mirrors were affixed in the hopes that we would utilize them every day, perceive their personal messages for us and ultimately make ourselves into better people and better Jews.
Let’s make sure that our children know the difference between bagels and matzah balls, strong fixtures in our Jewish culture, and the Torah, which is so much more.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments (0)

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here