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Education not only for kids

Posted on 19 October 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Many years ago in Dallas, all the Jewish educators sat around a big table to discuss the needs for Jewish education in our community.
Bottom line, it was about where should the money go, but the big question is how do we impact the most people. Everyone except one group believed in more and different opportunities for children. Who was the group that disagreed and what did they want? It was the early childhood educators, who wanted the emphasis to be placed on adult Jewish education. Their rationale? If you educate the parents, the grandparents and the adults, the children will benefit.
Just this week in eJewishphilanthropy.com, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote an article titled: Adult Learning is the No. 1 Priority for the Jewish Future. Hooray! Here briefly are his three reasons and a few of his comments:
1. Adult learning is the pathway to children’s Jewish education: “One of the most frequently asked questions…is: Rabbi, how do I get my child (or grandchild) to love Judaism? My initial answer is always the same: You must love it!” Our children are watching us and even when we don’t think it is happening (like in those teenage years), they are modeling our behavior. But it must be real — don’t just learn Jewish “for the kids.” Do it for yourself because they (and you) will know the difference.
2. Judaism is about adults, not children. “A parent and child must both study Torah. When possibilities exist for only one, the adult’s personal needs take precedence to the child’s.” (Kiddushin 29b, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 245:2) There it is — even in Talmudic times, the rabbis knew where the priorities were. Judaism requires adult thinking. Yanklowitz says: “Bringing God down to earth requires sophisticated thought and sophisticated minds. Bringing ethics into the workplace and Godliness into the home requires deep spiritual and emotional investment…Judaism will only thrive (and survive) if Jewish adults are learning Jewish wisdom and ensuring that wisdom continues to be applied in nuanced ways to each era.”
3. Adult education has the best potential for engagement: “When we talk about “adult Jewish education,” we must be clear that we’re not primarily talking about competency, fluency and literacy, but rather about relevancy,” says Yanklowitz. All learning for adults must be relevant and relate to their lives — adults vote with their feet. If the learning is meaningful, they will come!
We owe it to the future of Judaism, we owe it to our kids, and we owe it to ourselves — get involved in Jewish learning today. The Melton and Gesher programs at the J continue to show us that adults want to learn — and we know that the hardest part is getting them in the door! Once engaged in meaningful, high-quality Jewish education, adults keep coming back for more. It is as important as exercise — in fact, consider it exercise for your mind and your soul!

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Columbus Day not what it used to be

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

In case you may have forgotten, the reason we didn’t get our mail this past Monday was that it was Columbus Day, a national holiday since 1937. It doesn’t seem to be as popular as it used to.
I remember being a young teenage-member of the New York Naval Cadets proudly marching in the Columbus Day Parade. We were taught back then that Columbus was a hero.
Hearing the crowd’s applause, I felt proud honoring the man who “discovered America, proved the Earth was round, not flat, and brought advanced European civilization to the primitive people of the new world.”
That is what our history book said, what I was taught in school in the 1940s, what I believed to be true, and what I still read in textbooks issued by the Dallas I.S.D when I began teaching in 1961.
By the 1970s, however, scholarly research was revealing Christopher Columbus as a mariner whose primary ambition was personal wealth and power, and the willingness to use unspeakable cruelties against the native peoples in order to achieve those goals.
While Columbus’ voyages did contribute toward a more accurate view of the then known world (larger than most thought), he was not the first to discover it. Leif Erickson beat him by 500 years, but Columbus did a better job of informing Europe of his findings.
Columbus did not prove the world was round. Enough voyages by various explorers and mariners occurring many years before 1492 had already shown that to be true. Only a few ignorant people may have believed the earth was flat when Columbus sailed.
Finally, the only advanced items of European civilization he brought were armor and weaponry with which he used to conquer, intimidate, punish, torture, decimate and enslave the native peoples.
Some recent articles present the possibility that Columbus may have been a Marrano (a Jew pretending to be Catholic), but his inhumane treatment of native peoples would indicate otherwise.
If my Italian-American friends need a national Italian hero, there are so many to choose from (Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caesar, writers, artists, etc.) In fact, I just read in The New York Times that over 100 Italian-American authors marched as a group in Monday’s Columbus Day parade, celebrating their heritage.
The discussion about replacing Columbus Day began in 1977 during an International Conference of Indigenous People. More evidence from scholarly research revealed the true nature of Christopher Columbus and his horrific mistreatment of Native Peoples.
While it is unlikely that Columbus Day will ever be entirely eliminated, its popularity is on the decline. On the other hand, local Indigenous People’s Day observances now number almost 50 across the country and are on the increase.

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We must look in mirror after latest shooting

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

On Sept. 11, 2001, I got up, went downstairs, put on a pot of coffee, turned on the TV — and watched our once safe country fall apart.
On the morning of Oct. 2, 2017, my routine was the same — except that I watched our country killing itself. This time, we don’t have foreigners to blame; we have one of our own.
The shooter holed himself up on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel, murdered more than 50, injured more than 500. An American shooting at Americans. Not a minority of any kind, unless you consider lovers of good old country music a minority.
What’s happened to us? We’re not a nation united any more.
But some say we’ve never been. We started separating ourselves from the natives who owned this land before us. As those early white settlers became our majority, they continued to separate themselves from others who came along later – those in flight from potato famines and pogroms, those unwillingly chained. Some newcomers fought their way up educationally and economically to become “almost” first-class citizens. But many who didn’t have been relegated to a virtually permanent underclass.
Then silently, almost without anyone noticing, that old white majority found itself becoming the minority. Over its years of “ownership,” it had been stomping on Blacks, Jews, immigrants — and it’s still trying to do the same. All these “others” have been maligned, marginalized, kept down, denied access. And those who’ve somehow managed to access anyway have either been held up as unusual individual successes or accused as groups of trying to take over the country.
But —  country music!  Why?  Basically, a middle-class white preference. A crowd shot at by one of its own!  I grew up with “Wabash Cannonball; I might have been there myself. What’s happened to us?
Today, almost everyone seems to hate or fear someone else.  Some who haven’t yet decided whom to hate make ISIS the symbol of threat.  But Pogo was right: “We have met the enemy, and they is us.”
I heard a doctor explain the old battlefield “triage” process: Walk among the victims, assessing each. Leave alone those who are so far gone that nothing can be done. Also leave alone those who can survive for a time without treatment. First help those in the middle. You save the ones you can; the others are war’s collateral. And this is our very own war. We must all somehow get in that middle, in order to save ourselves.
I stood with worldwide Jewry on the recent Day of Atonement. Having made my personal peace as best I could with those I somehow offended during the past year, I came to synagogue ready to ask Almighty God to forgive us as a people for whatever offenses we had committed against that Greater Power. And then I read this brief commentary accompanying  one of those penitential prayers: “We cannot imagine a different future unless we keep in mind our past…” We have no power unless as Americans together we confront our prejudices. Only a united population can make this a united country. We are all responsible for remembering our national past, admitting the sorry parts of it, and truly pledging to do better in the future. Removing statues will not let us forget our great national struggle with ourselves, no more than plowing under the killing sites after World War II — as some Germans actually wanted to do! — would have permanently buried the Holocaust.
Columbine High School. Sandy Hook Elementary School. Churches in Birmingham and Charleston. A baseball field outside Washington. An ordinary street corner in Dallas. A country music festival in Las Vegas. A grudge and a gun is all it takes.
If America can’t do this most difficult of all work, that of remembering and atoning, we will continue to kill. And be killed: not by ISIS, but by ourselves…

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Adam and Eve: the first ‘we’

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Over the High Holidays, I look for a good book to read in preparation for my favorite holiday — Simchat Torah!
As the “Torah with Laura” teacher, I need to keep up with new (and traditional) ways of exploring the Torah. Over the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (even occasionally during services), I read Bruce Feiler’s new book The First Love Story – Adam, Eve and Us. If all you read is the book cover, you will be hooked:
“Since antiquity, one story has stood at the center of every conversation about men and women. One couple has been the battleground for human relationships and sexual identity … history has blamed Adam and Eve — but especially Eve — for bringing sin, deceit and death into the world.”
For those of us hooked on Torah and finding the messages for our lives, this book makes you relook at this first story. Today, as we deal with horrible happenings from hurricanes to mass shootings, this story of love and connection are crucial to reevaluating what is important. It doesn’t matter how or if you believe the “realness” of the Torah stories, you can’t deny the lessons. The story of Adam and Eve begins when G-d says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Do not go any further as the next line is often where the problems begin.
Let’s look at the message of needing others as the important lesson. Today as we spend more time without real connection to people (because our phones and computers allow us to communicate without looking in the eyes of the one we are talking to), loving and caring happens from a distance.
As the camp director, I see the pros and cons of technology for our connections to others. We are not going to get rid of those devices and to even think that is crazy — but we can put them down to have real communication. Let me share another book that you must read: Braving the Wilderness — the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown. Feiler and Brown both focus on the need for belonging and we begin our understanding of belonging first with our family and then it expands outward but only through being together. Here is a quote from Brown’s book: “We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”
My hope is that you will pick up one or both of these books as we begin our cycle of Torah reading on Simchat Torah and connect more this year. Feiler says at the end: “We need Adam and Eve as our role models. And they’ve earned it. In a world dominated by I, Adam and Eve were the first we. They were the first to say we are better off as an us than either of us is as a me.”
Reach out to form more communities of belonging — together we can make a better world this year.

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Defining everything Simchas Torah is about

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I’ve often been bothered by something I have noticed on Simchas Torah in synagogue, that people who are not dancing are sitting. I know that when a Torah scroll is removed from the ark, say at a regular Shabbos service, everyone stands in honor of the Torah. It was once explained to me that whenever the Torah is moving from place to place, we stand in honor of the Torah.
Why is it that on Simchas Torah that the Torah is being moved from place to place as part of the celebration, that people are sitting in its presence?
— Marvin J.
Dear Marvin,
Many years ago, I posed this exact question to my mentor, the late Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Aurbach of Jerusalem, the leading halachic decisor of the past generation in Israel. He smiled, indicating he, too, had been bothered by this question in his youth. He said that he had observed rabbis far greater than anyone in our generation who also sat during the seven hakafos, when the Torah is being taken around the circle of dancing and celebration on Simchas Torah.
Rav Aurbach then answered cryptically that in his opinion the answer is the following: The requirement to rise in honor of the Torah scroll is when the Torah is taken from its stationary place and moved from place to place. On Simchas Torah, the entire synagogue is its place!
To me, this was a very profound analysis of what Simchas Torah is all about, as well as an important message for our lives as Jews. We often look at the Torah as something foreign to the world we live in; in many ways it is indeed foreign to our society. We try to add a little bit of Torah and Judaism here and there, deep down knowing it’s not the central theme of our lives. In a sense, we are taking the Torah out of the ark, out of its place, and moving it into our lives a bit until we return it back to its resting place.
On Simchas Torah, the real celebration is that everywhere is the Torah’s place. Torah is, for those who choose to make it so, central to our lives and permeates every area of our existence. “because they (the words of Torah) are our lives and the length of our day” (Siddur, morning prayers).
When the Tablets were given to us at Sinai, the Torah says that they could be read from either side, (Exodus 32:15). This was a miracle because letters cut through stone should only be readable from the front, in the back they will be backward. What was the point of this miracle? R’ Samson R. Hirsch explains: Often Jews feel that Judaism is something “to do” in synagogue or on holidays, rendering it merely a “religion.” Judaism is not only a religion; it is a way of life. There are mitzvos which apply to every area of business, domestic, family and community life. Whichever way you turn, there are mitzvos which show us how to live our lives Jewishly and infuse them with holiness. That is the message of the Tablets; whichever way you turn them they can still be read.
This is the joy and celebration of Simchas Torah, that we live the Torah in every facet of our lives.
I often say that if you’re going to take the family to synagogue twice a year; instead of it being Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, make it Simchas Torah and Purim! Show the family the joy of being Jewish!
Wishing you and all the readers a joyous, meaningful Simchas Torah.

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This year, let’s aim for more ‘I-Thou’ moments

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the New Year! There is lots to celebrate and lots of new beginnings. Dare I admit that one of the great things about the new year is the new and returning fall TV lineup that I have become addicted to? (I will not share my list although it is fairly short.) As a Jewish educator, I do try to find “what’s Jewish about this” in most things that I watch, read and do so I am always open to finding connections.
There has been TV hype on Will and Grace, which I have not watched but may tune in based on an article from reformjudaism.org (and you can find the entire article at the website). The title is: “What Does Martin Buber Have to Do With Will & Grace?” by Rabbi Dennis S. Ross. Here are a few quotes from the article:
According to David Kohan, the show’s executive producer, the title “is very Jewish. There’s a theologian named Martin Buber who talked about the will to go after and the grace to receive something. It always seemed like two complementary ideas. They happened to be good names, as well.”
Martin Buber (1878-1965), German-born Jewish scholar, teacher, writer, activist and more, is best known for his classic 1923 work, I and Thou, which outlines three fundamentals: I-Thou, I-It and Eternal Thou.
According to Buber, “The Thou meets me through grace — it is not found by seeking.” In other words, I-Thou comes by “grace,” not by “will.” All you can do is be open to entering. Buber adds, I-Thou is a “grace, for which one must always be ready and one never gains as assured possession.”
The difference between having I-Thou and having I-It in any moment is beyond your control; you can only be curious, flexible, willing to care, and showing the desire to carry forward with the next person. And once I-Thou ends, as it inevitably must, it is over.
There is more in the article and definitely more in learning and understanding Buber. I suggest reading Buber (often a challenging but important read) and possibly watching the show to see if you can find the Buber connection and perhaps other Jewish connections. At the very least, I hope this sparks interesting conversations!
In this new year, we should all strive for more I-Thou moments and be open to the possibilities.

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Lead with faith, truth will follow

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

I was only a few blocks away from my in-laws’ home in Baltimore, driving down Reisterstown Road, the miles-long street that cuts through the Jewish hub of Pikesville, when I quickly switched from the left to the right lane and just as quickly hit the side of an oncoming vehicle. The evidence at the scene was by no means conclusive as to whose fault it was. Did I not see the car to my left when switching lanes, or had the car I hit been speeding and pulled into what had previously been an empty lane?
It all happened so quickly that I wasn’t sure myself as to whom was at fault, but the other driver stepped out of his vehicle irate and I immediately apologized to him. I told him that I assumed that I must not have checked my sideview mirror before switching lanes and he seemed appeased. No police were called to the scene for an official statement, the other driver sufficiently convinced that I had owned up to the mishap and would share that sentiment when the insurance company came calling for my accounting of the day’s events.
I continued to think about the accident for days to come, questioning whether or not I was at fault. One thing was for certain, I had a minivan full of rowdy kids, the music was playing and my mind was not fully focused on the road. Although my doubts remained, it seemed most likely that it was I who was primarily at fault.
When the insurance company did finally call, it felt like a moral test of sorts. Without any official statements made at the scene of the accident, it would essentially come down to personal accountings, and I was keenly aware of multiple personally beneficial ways that I could present the details of the accident so as not to seem culpable. After all, I tried convincing myself, I wasn’t wholly convinced of my role in the crash, and who’s to say that the other driver wasn’t merely looking out for his own self-interest when he angrily exited his car, convinced of my wrongdoing?
But those weren’t the only thoughts I had that day. I also contemplated what it meant to be a person of faith. Not faith in the Aristotelian sense, of a Creator-God who builds worlds and just as quickly runs away from them, but of faith in a deeply personal God who calls upon us to perfect His world by acting as He acts, running toward that which is righteous and fleeing from all that is evil. Faith in the God of Israel, whose seal is emet, truth (see Talmud Yoma 69b), surely demanded my dogged commitment to the truth as well. My faith had taught me that values, and truth in particular, were of the greatest importance and that a life of righteousness might be paved with truthful, self-incriminating statements to insurance agents. My faith also reassured me that as God was my ultimate provider I need not stoop beneath my morals for monetary gain.
I took a deep breath and told the insurance agent the whole truth that I wasn’t sure myself as to what had happened that day, but that I couldn’t say for sure that I had checked my sideview mirror. I knew that those words would meet the insurance company’s burden of proof against me (especially since I knew what the other driver’s statement must have been) and yet I felt good knowing that the truth had not been sacrificed upon the altar of the almighty dollar.
I’ve thought about that call from the insurance agent many times over the years and feel that through that experience I’ve gained a clearer appreciation of what is required if one wishes to speak truth in even the most challenging of times. I realized that for those with powers of intellect and ingenuity, there were almost always ways to extricate oneself from even the most precarious of situations. The price, however, is often in the truth that must be sacrificed along the way. Becoming people of truth requires that we set aside those intellectual capacities that have served us so well in the past. We must become as “simpletons” who speak the truth without knowledge of which words self-incriminate and which words do not.
I can’t help but wonder if there lies a connection between the Hebrew word temimut (simultaneously translated as “integrity,” “innocence” or “wholesomeness”) and the word tam, the Hebrew word for a simpleton (as in the Haggadah’s relating of the four sons, one of whom is the simple son, the tam). Perhaps integrity and truth demand that we go back to a more simple way of thinking, setting aside our more complex ways of thinking for the study halls and the classrooms.
I consider all of these thoughts on the heels of the holiday of Sukkot, the holiday in which we are commanded to leave our comfortable, secure houses, and live for seven days in primitive outdoor huts, whose simple roofs of branches and twigs make for the perfect skylight up to the heavens. As we lie down in the evening and stare up at the moon and the shining stars that fill the night sky, we are filled with a sense of awe and renewed faith that it is not our sturdy, alarm-monitored houses that truly protect us, but God above.
Sukkot also welcomes us back to a more simple time and space, a world separated from the dominating forces of materialism that more and more saturate our world. On Sukkot we reaffirm that while we need money to live, it is faith that must always lead the way. And when faith leads the way the truth is sure to follow.

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Yahrzeit: time to contemplate

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

January is named for the two-headed Roman god Janus, who could look backward and forward at the same time. I feel the same at the start of 5778.
My husband has been gone for more than three years. On the proper Hebrew date, I was in synagogue to say Kaddish. On the exact secular date, I was at the cemetery, not to pray, just to sit and think: about him, of course, but mostly about all that has happened since his passing and all that I’ve learned.
These have been the longest and the shortest years, for the same reason: because time is different when one becomes alone after not being alone. Time goes too quickly when there are tasks to be done solo that were once shared; estimated allotments of how long they will take are never correct; everything screams to be taken care of as fast as possible. And time goes very slowly when there is little or nothing that demands to be done right away; those were old occasions when a couple could share some low-pressure hours or days together. But now those hours and days drag…
So this is the most important lesson I’ve learned: I can do all the things I have to do, taking on alone those responsibilities I used to share with my important “someone else,” and see them through to completion, not really missing his help. The sharing is what I miss. I miss most of all someone loving nearby to remind me, when a task challenges me or threatens to defeat me completely: “This isn’t the end of the world. Nobody’s going to die from this. You’ll get through it!” There are times when it’s really necessary to hear words like this, but the words aren’t the same when I have to say them to myself. Although of course, I do…
It’s truly comforting to be in synagogue for his yahrzeit. When I stand with other mourners, surrounded by the understanding and sympathy of friends who’ve become like family, I am truly “home” — more at home, it often feels, than in my actual home. And I find a different kind of comfort when I’m alone in the cemetery, sitting on a bench near my dear husband’s gravesite and thinking about so many things — past, and future.
This year: A beautiful late afternoon cooled down more than a bit for me after scorching hours before. Lots of puffy white clouds floated overhead, which reminded me of my childhood, lying flat on my back on summer grass, staring up at the sky and seeing pictures in them. (Never mind that if I dared to lie down on my back these days, I would never be able to get up again without assistance!) And what I saw in the clouds that day was far, far different from the images I’d imagined in those long-gone years, because — I saw Fred! His head. His eyes. His nose and his mouth — which was smiling! This image was too real, and too moving, for me to look at for more than a moment, so I shut my eyes. And when I opened them again just an instant later, everything had re-formed and he had vanished, as pictures imagined in clouds always do.
Does that sound strange? Or — maybe you’ve had the same experience yourself? If so: Have you ever told anyone about it? I thought more than twice before I decided to tell this, because it was such a very personal moment, and one that might sound silly to someone who’d never experienced anything like it. But here I am, urging you to go outside on a not-too-warm late afternoon when there are fluffy white clouds populating a beautiful blue sky, and look up at that sky and remember yourself as a child, and remember all the loved ones who have gone on before you. And perhaps, just perhaps, you will see them again, too…

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Sukkah activities give larger view of world

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please explain what is accomplished by sitting and eating in a sukkah. We understand it is a mitzvah to do so and the kids love it, but, truth be told, it is sometimes quite a schlep, both building it, taking the food in and out and sitting in the sometimes not ideal weather. Could you provide some insight which would perhaps add some meaning?
— Bart & Kimberly W.
Dear Bart and Kimberly,
The holiday of Sukkos (some refer to it as Sukkot), which began Wednesday night, is referred to as “our time of joy.” Although there is a mitzvah of joy on every holiday, as the Torah says, “vesamachta bechagecha,” “be joyous on Sukkos.” Sukkos has something unique about it as a time of joy which transcends that of any other time in the Jewish year.
Let’s consider for a moment what brings us happiness. Most people would say that they feel happy and comfortable in their homes, where they have their nice furniture, creature comforts and familiar surroundings. If that was truly the source of joy, that joy is quite vulnerable and transient. What if one suddenly lost their home in the Hurricane Harvey flood, as did so many? What if someone lost their job and had to foreclose on their home? As tragic and unsettling as that would be, Jewishly one would still need to find a way to be joyous in life. In order to do so, we must find a deeper source of joy than our physical surroundings. We have been “wandering Jews” for thousands of years, uprooted from homes and communities with barely the clothes on our backs, but have somehow never lost our joy for life.
The true source of Jewish joy is our timeless connection to a higher Essence. Our connection to the Almighty has no relation to time and place. We had a special connection in Israel with the holy Temple, but even when we lost those we retained our connection through Torah and mitzvos. For millennia Jews lived an interconnected, yet separate, existence with our Diaspora neighbors. The “place” we live in is our Jewish world, with its own language, customs and loving relationship to God.
We bring that relationship alive on Sukkos. On Rosh Hashanah we “coronated” the King and entered His palace. On Yom Kippur we purified ourselves, transcending food and drink, and forged a new, even deeper connection. This bond is not of a transient nature; it becomes part of our very existence. Sukkos is the time we celebrate that eternal bond. By the very nature of the celebration it’s not sufficient to simply “do something”; we need to “live” that bond.
Hence the mitzvah of Sukkos is to build a spiritual place to live, to live our lives outside of our usual physical surroundings. In that way we can focus on our real, grounded existence, our loving connection to God. This brings us to a unique state of joy, as we know that this is the one thing that no foreclosure or flood can ever take away from us. We are that connection!
After solidifying that relationship with joy for an entire week we can then transition it back to our regular homes and lives. Although we return to our familiar places after Sukkos, somehow something seems different. What’s changed is that it’s not all about the house anymore — we’ve learned that our joy is linked to something much larger and higher. We can then use our homes and everything in them as vehicles to take us even higher. This cycle spirals us upward higher and higher every year!
A very joyous Sukkos holiday to you and all the readers!

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Meaning behind fast

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have fasted on Yom Kippur as long as I can remember and am nostalgic about the bagels and smoked fish break fasts with my late parents and aunts and uncles. Truth be told, I’ve never been uplifted by the fast. I’ve never felt inspired by causing self-inflicted pain and starving myself. I fail to see what it accomplishes or how it makes me a better person. I still have my health, thank God, and plan to fast this year, but would appreciate some inspiration to make it more meaningful.
— Beatrice W.
Dear Beatrice,
I’m glad you still have your health! May you continue to enjoy good health this year and many more to come!
If the fast was indeed to cause pain and starve ourselves, I wouldn’t be very inspired to do so either. Furthermore, if the point is to feel pain, why do Jews traditionally wish others to “have an easy fast?” It should rather be “have a miserable fast”! I think we need to reframe the entire concept of the fast on Yom Kippur, which will enable us to view it in a different light.
The source for fasting is in the Torah, which states “But on the 10th day of this (the seventh) month is the Day of Atonement… and you should afflict your souls…” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:27). “Afflicting” is interpreted by our sages in the Talmud to mean we should fast, hence the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur. This, however, needs explanation. The Torah does not say to afflict our bodies, rather our nefashos or souls, through the fasting. This seems strange, as a fast would seem to afflict the body, not the soul. How can we understand this?
The answer is that the affliction is not the fasting itself. The fasting, which enables us to rest for a while from our physical pursuits, merely provides the backdrop to enable us to focus on our souls, which is the real point of the day. When we focus on our souls and how far we may have strayed from the right path, then the soul is afflicted with that realization. Maimonides points out that the mitzvah on Yom Kippur is not “to fast” as with other fast days, rather to “refrain from eating.” When we are on a higher, more spiritual plane, we have the opportunity, indeed the mitzvah, of getting in sync with our souls and seeing how we can better ourselves.
The mitzvah to “rest” from food and drink also includes desisting from bathing, from wearing leather shoes and from marital relations. All this elevates us to a higher, spiritual world where we can view the world and ourselves from a different vantage point.
My mentor, the late Rabbi S. Wolbe ob”m, once gave us a powerful illustration by which to understand the day of Yom Kippur and its laws. Maimonides, in discussing the final world of reward, says the following: “The World to Come has no eating nor drinking, rather the righteous sitting with their crowns upon their heads, and basking in the glow of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” This is the feeling one has on Yom Kippur. This holy day is a bit of the next world transposed to this world. On Yom Kippur, by refraining from the mundane pursuits of this world, we are transformed into an angelic state whereby we don’t need to eat, much like the angels above are above eating and derive their sustenance from the glow of the Shechinah. With the closeness we enjoy we can intensely feel any distance from the Shechinah we have caused, and fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, or return to God and our true selves.
May you and all the readers have an easy, meaningful fast and be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet, happy New Year.

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