Archive | Columnists

The ins and outs of host and guest, Jewish style

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Thanksgiving is the time for visiting friends and family — either you go to them or they come to you. As you prepare, a very good Jewish value is Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality or welcoming guests. There is a skill to welcoming guests and to being one (whether in someone’s home, a hotel or an amusement park). There is a little learning, a little thinking and then a lot of doing. Here is a little learning:
Hachnasat Orchim is about extending hospitality to guests and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior. One of the favorite stories about this mitzvah is about Abraham taking care of the three visitors who came to his tent. He said he would give a little food and then made a major meal — and so set the standard for doing even more. The ancient rabbis were also very concerned about hospitality. It was an important mitzvah to welcome anyone who traveled or who was new or alone. The rabbis came up with specific guidelines for host and guest. Here are a few:
Rules for the host
·Always be happy when you are sitting at your table and those who are hungry are enjoying your hospitality. —Derech Eretz Zuta 9
·Do not embarrass your guests by staring at them. —Mishneh Torah
·It is the obligation of the host to serve at the table. This shows his/her willingness to personally satisfy the guests. —Talmud, Kiddushin 32b
Rules for the guest
·A good guest says, “How much trouble my host goes through for me.” —Talmud, Berachot 58a
·A good guest complies with every request that the host makes of him. —Derech Eretz Rabbah 6
·Guests should not overstay their welcome. —Talmud, Pesachim 49a
·Good guests leave food on their plates to show that they have been served more than enough. —Talmud, Eruvin 53b
Thinking
·Make up rules that you can use when you visit somewhere.
·Have you ever invited a new family in your neighborhood for dinner? What plans might you put in place to make them feel welcome?
·How can you be welcoming to a new friend whether you meet them at your home or some place you are visiting?

Comments (0)

Judaism’s formula for happiness? Choose joy!

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been challenged finding joy in life given my present situation. My former financial standing has been considerably lessened by the recent downturn, putting my retirement in question. On top of that some physical issues, and some more with my kids. Does Judaism have a formula for happiness?
Bob J.


Dear Bob,
A great Chasidic master, R’ Nachman of Breslav, was famous for his statement which formed one of the key the foundations of his Chasidic court: “Mitzvah gedolah li’hiyos b’simcha tamid,” or “It is a great mitzvah to be joyous at all times.”
How can Simcha, joy, be a mitzvah? Either we feel happy or we don’t! We aren’t in control of our feelings! If a mitzvah is a commandment, how can one be commanded to do so, especially “at all times”? Let us focus on the Mishna, which states “Who is a rich man? One who has joy in his portion” (Mishna Avos 4:1). This is a very new definition of wealth. The rabbis are saying it’s not defined by what’s in your bank account, rather it’s a state of mind. If one has joy in her stock portfolio, even if it’s way down, she is, according to the Mishna, rich.
Let’s go a step further: The Mishna does not say “one who is satisfied with his portion,” rather “has joy in his portion.” If the “portion” is not so significant, what is the source of that joy?
The answer to this is twofold:
•First, it is predicated upon the core Jewish belief of Bitachon, or Trust. Bitachon teaches us that whatever our situation is, monetarily and otherwise, at any given time, is exactly what we’re supposed to have at that moment. It is the belief and trust that the Al-mighty is constantly watching out for us and giving us, or withholding from us, exactly what we’re due. This foundational Jewish belief brings one to a state of inner peace and calm. Those feelings are the underpinnings of simcha, joy. Worries and fears are the antithesis of joy; tranquility and serenity are its basis.
•Second, is the focus upon the myriad blessings which are contained within life itself. The Jewish sages of old wrote entire treatises, focusing upon the myriad blessings which occur every moment of our existence — things we take for granted due to their everyday commonness and familiarity. This is one of the reasons Jews make 100 blessings every day (Talmud Menachos 43b, Shulchan Aruch O’Ch 46:3), to literally “count our blessings” and take joy in the many amazing gifts we do have, rather than focus upon what we don’t. To be truly cognizant of all of one’s blessings in life will bring joy into whatever portion we have, because there is, indeed, so much to be joyful about!
These concepts allow us to build up within ourselves reservoirs of simcha which can take us through the more difficult times, like a canteen of water in the desert.
This brings to mind my grandmother, of blessed memory, who was never a well-to-do woman. In her final years, she would look upon a picture of her grandchildren and exclaim, “See that, there’s my million dollars!”
I’m presently reading a beautiful book, “Holy Woman” (Shaar Press), on the life of Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer. Despite experiencing the hellish hardships of Auschwitz, she was always full of joy. She learned from her mother that joy is not the result of a particular life situation, rather the cause of a well-lived life. Joy is a choice, not an outcome. Rebbetzin Kramer was the only one left alive of all her siblings to be used by the sadistic Dr. Mengele for his inhuman experiments, leaving her barren. When asked by the author how she could always be happy despite not having the children she so craved to mother, she replied “What! I should be both barren and sad?!”
The German Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl used his experiences in Auschwitz to pioneer a new field of psychology, logotherapy. (In fact, Dr. Frankl writes that he discovered logotherapy before the war, and the camps became his laboratory to test and further develop this now-renowned theory of psychology.) In his “Man’s Search for Meaning” he outlines the subhuman conditions and barbarism of the camps, and saw in some of the inmates, including himself, that how one reacts to those conditions is a choice. All life, even that of the lowest “quality,” has meaning given that one looks for that meaning. These two Jews, Kramer and Frankl, embodied in many ways the Jewish concepts of joy. If Rebbetzin Kramer and Victor Frankl could find meaning and joy in the abyss of hell on earth, certainly we can do so even if our finances or other life situations are less than perfect!
Itzhak Perlman, the violin virtuoso, once made his slow ascent to the stage, dragging his polio-stricken legs to the chair for his concert. When he began, one string snapped. Everyone knows one can only play a violin with four strings, so the audience braced themselves for the slow reattaching of his leg braces and off the stage to have his instrument fixed and return. After a moment’s contemplation, Perlman suddenly exhibited his genius by playing his piece, somehow compensating for the lost string. When he finished, there was a shocked, prolonged silence in the room, followed by a thunderous standing ovation. Perlman raised his hand to silence the audience, saying, “Sometimes you need to play with what you have left.”

Comments (0)

Ring, ring: now hear this

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

I have tinnitus. It’s something that puts strange sounds in the way of normal hearing.
Nobody knows the cause. Long exposure to loud noises is often cited. Or an explosion. But I haven’t experienced any of those things, and still I have tinnitus.
Generally, tinnitus is known as ringing in the ears. But mine is like the ocean, consistently lapping at the edge of hearing, wiping out what’s normal. Sometimes it almost, but not quite, resembles buzzing. Sometimes it sounds like operatic music. When I can actually identify my favorite aria from “The Pearl Fishers,” I know it’s my brain behind all this.
People ask me, “How long has this been going on?” I have no answer. It seems like I’ve had it forever…
And there’s no cure. I now have new hearing aids that make sounds designed to block out the tinnitus, and they do help me hear much more clearly. But the sounds they make by themselves — like ring tones — are constant, and annoying in themselves. I have broken the bank to get aids that offer peace and quiet along with two types of ring tones — loud, and louder.
Does all this bother me? Of course! But what bothers me even more is how the name of this malady is pronounced. As a word person, I want the correct answer! I have always called it TINNitus, emphasis on the first syllable. That used to be standard in the medical field. But in recent years, tinnEYEtus — with emphasis on the middle syllable — has become the vogue. When I consult with a hearing professional these days, there’s an unspoken battle going on: Neither of us will back down and change the way we say the name of the problem we’re discussing. And I’ve been seeing a lot of those professionals recently, as the problem is growing worse, sometimes reaching the point where my watery sound blocks out everything else.
But — guess what? The word person I am renders me almost as concerned about the problem’s name as I am with the problem itself. Doctors out there — not just audiologists: Please tell me what you say these days!
Now, as winter approaches, I’m also trying to put my question into the context of the coming Jewish holidays. How do you pronounce the name of our eight-candled menorah celebration? CHUNakah, maybe? Or HUNakah? Maybe you are old and Orthodox or young and Reform, but those affiliations don’t seem to cause differences in pronunciation; I know people in each of the above groups who say the word in each of the above ways. Dropping that difficult-for-some guttural sound in favor of the easier “hun” is a choice, and so, I guess, is that between tinEYEtus and TINNitus.
Or how about our modern-day drift from Good (or Gut) Shabbos to Shabbat Shalom? I don’t argue about these; I’m almost afraid to approach discussion of them. Maybe there’s something going on similar to what I often did in college: give back-of-throat “CHA” lessons to my non-Jewish friends who were finding it a necessity to know German as a prerequisite for getting into medical school.
Maybe next year I’ll try focusing on ShavuOTE vs. ShavVUus, or SimchaS vs. SimchaT Torah. I think the linguistic battle lines were drawn somewhere between old Eastern European Yiddish and modern Israeli Hebrew. That’s an easy answer to my questions about us. But for that bothersome other question of how the non-Jewish world says our Jewish words, it’s more like that old song: You say toMAYto, and I say toMAHto, and never the twain shall meet. I remember once tuning into a Christian radio broadcast that turned Hanukkah into ChaNOOKa. And Yom KippUR became a herring: Yom Kipper. But I guess a lot of us say it that way, too, don’t we?
My own problem’s name, no matter how it’s pronounced, comes from the Latin verb tinnire: “to ring.” And now, I have that with ring tones!

Comments (0)

Rethinking the death penalty

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

How does the Torah view the ultimate punishment?

Ray Jefferson Cromartie is set to be executed in my home state of Georgia in just under three days as of the writing of this article. He’s the next man up in America’s prolonged history of judicial application of capital punishment. Ray Cromartie continues to proclaim his innocence in the 1994 killing of Richard Slyz, a 50-year-old store clerk who was shot in the process of a robbery which Cromartie admits to participating in. Yet, according to Cromartie’s telling, it was his co-defendant, Corey Clark, who ultimately pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Mr. Slyz.
Cromartie’s requests for the state to re-examine key pieces of evidence using modern DNA testing have since been rejected, something the deceased victim’s daughter finds unconscionable. “My father’s death was senseless,” Elizabeth Legettte writes in a letter. “Executing another man would also be senseless, especially if he may not have shot my father.” By the time this article is published, Cromartie will likely have been put to death by lethal injection.
“To err is human,” wrote the English poet Alexander Pope. And so it is that even the finest of human court systems will, at least on occasion, condemn the innocent and exonerate the guilty. Such is the burden of maintaining law and order. But how much erring is simply too much for society to accept? This is a question of the utmost poignancy when considering the death penalty, a punitive measure with irreversable consequences.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, at least 4.1% of those languishing on death row are innocent. Is that a number we simply cannot accept? Or, do the purported societal macro-benefits of carrying the death penalty on the books outweigh the heavy costs that these innocents are to bear?
If that were not enough to provoke renewed discussion on the continued application of the death penalty, the problems with America’s utilization of the death penalty run much much deeper. According to the Equal Justice Initiative’s website, “Prominent researchers have documented a pattern of discrimination in the application of the death penalty based on the race of the victim, race of the defendant, or both, in nearly every state that uses capital punishment.”
Then there is the issue of the role that poverty plays. Again the Equal Justice Initiative: “Whether a defendant will be sentenced to death typically depends more on the quality of his legal team than any other factor,” and the poor receive court-appointed lawyers who are typically overworked, underpaid and often ill-equipped to argue cases of such magnitude. As Anthony Ray Hinton, an innocent man who sat on death row for almost three decades, describes it, “It’s called capital punishment because if you don’t have the capital you get the punishment.” Add to this the approximately 10% of “death rowers” with documented cases of mental illness (something which calls into question the apropriateness of handing out the death penalty), and the seemingly arbitrary nature of when the death penalty is applied, and you have a veritable cocktail of systematic judicial disfunction.
Almost all western democracies have abondoned the death penalty, with the Council of Europe going so far as making the abolition of the death penalty a prerequisite for membership. What’s of particular interest to me, though, is their particular rationale in abandoning this ancient method of retributive justice. According to an official website for the European Union, the death penalty should be abolished for, among other things, being “inhumane, degrading and unnecessary.” Similar abolitionists, like the American Civil Liberties Union, argue that “Opposing the death penalty does not indicate a lack of sympathy for murder victims. On the contrary, murder demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. Because life is precious and death irrevocable, murder is abhorrent, and a policy of state-authorized killings is immoral.”
In this regard, the Torah unequivocally diverges in thought.
Regardles of the frequency of its application, the punishment of the death penalty for murder was one of the very first God-given commands to mankind: “Whoever sheds the blood of man through man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Beresheet 9:6). When we dissect the verse, we see that the very rationale for the application of the death penalty for murder is precisely due to man’s special place in creation, a being created in the image of God! It is the very sanctity of man and of human life itself that warrants the meting out of such a harsh punishment. For it is the punishment which alerts man to the severity of any given action, and insofar as murder is concerned, any underpunishment of the crime only serves to diminish the heinousnous of the crime and to cheapen the dignity of man and life itself. According to the Torah, it is indeed the absence of the death penalty in societal penal codes that is, to quote the European Union’s terminology, “inhumane” and “degrading.”
In Part II of this article we will examine how often the death penalty was actually applied during Jewish judicial history and ask how the Torah might advise a modern country in its potential formation and application of the death penalty.

Comments (0)

Remembering the master mime, Marcel Marceau

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

I never thought that a recent trip my wife, Deanna, and I took to North Carolina for a Road Scholar workshop would eventually lead me back to the master mime entertainer I had thoroughly enjoyed years ago, Marcel Marceau.
Marceau, considered by many to be the best mime ever, helped make mime internationally popular from 1948 through 2003.
Trying to contact an old Army buddy, Ben Martin, who had lived near our Montreat destination in North Carolina, I learned sadly that Ben had passed away two years previously.
Speaking to a friend of his, I also learned that Ben and Marcel Marceau had become good friends in Paris while Ben was a Time-Life photographer.
With Marceau’s’ permission, Ben took numerous photographs of the King of Mime, producing a wonderful 150-page display of the art of mime, titled “Marcel Marceau, Master of Mime.”
While this is primarily a photo book about Marceau, the entertainer, it also briefly mentions Marceau’s experiences evading the Nazis and helping to save hundreds of Jewish children from the Holocaust, a mitzvah he rarely mentioned. Just what you would expect from a silent mime.
Marcel’s real last name was Mangel, but he later changed it to Marceau when he needed an alias after joining the French resistance movement during World War II.
His family evacuated Alsace-Lorraine for central France. Sadly, like so many others, Marcel’s father, a butcher, was caught, deported to Auschwitz and gassed upon arrival.
Marcel, serving in the French underground with his brother, helped to hide many Jewish children from the Nazis and their French collaborators.
Changing the children’s ages from older to younger on their identity cards, Marcel was able to convince the enemy that the children were not old enough for heavy labor.
His acting ability shone through when he dressed, at times, as a Boy Scout leader, leading his charges to a campground in the hills, and across the border to safety in neutral Switzerland.
Because of his modesty, I suspect that many people are unaware of Marceau’s heroism during the war and are more knowledgeable about his successful mime career after the war.
With the liberation of Paris and the war in France drawing to a close, Marceau joined the Free French Army to use his language skills as a translator for General Patton.
Soon after Marceau’s pantomime skills became known to the GIs, there was a clamor for him to perform, resulting in his first professional performance, in a huge army tent before 3,000 troops.
In April 2001, Marcel Marceau received the Wallenberg Foundation’s award in recognition of his solidarity and courage during the Second World War.
If you don’t learn anything else from having read about Marcel Marceau, remember this: “Actions speak louder than words.”

Comments (0)

Grandparents can aid in Jewish youth engagement

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
The Jewish Grandparents Network just came out with “Jewish Grandparenting Today: A Report on the findings from the National Study of Jewish Grandparents.” The sample included grandparents 55-80 years of age who self-identify as Jewish. There are a lot of interesting statistics to look at but here are a few dealing with attitudes and aspirations:
Grandparent Attitudes Toward Jewish Identity
•75% say being Jewish is an important part of my life
•70% say I feel that it is important to support Jewish charities or causes
•53% say I wish that my kids had a greater appreciation for their Jewish heritage
•51% say I consider myself a spiritual person
•30% say I consider myself a religious person
The “bottom line” is that Judaism is a strong part of the grandparent’s identity. Now how does that relate to their Jewish aspirations for their grandchildren.
•71% say it is important to me to transmit Jewish values to my grandchild
•70% say it is important to me to teach my grandchild about Jewish heritage
•64% say I want my grandchild to have a strong connection to Judaism
•63% say I want my grandchild to be interested in doing Jewish activities
•38% say it is important to me that my grandchild marries a Jewish partner
Grandparents, grandchildren and parents can learn much from this study. Of interest for us all are the questions on what constitutes Jewish identity, how do you define your identity as a Jew, and then the crucial question for all of us is how to transmit our values and heritage. It isn’t simply a desire but we each need a plan: What do you do that shows who you are and what you believe?
The final conclusion in the study is the challenge for us all today. Communities, parents, children AND grandparents must do their part.
“Communities and organizations would be best served by engaging today’s Jewish grandparents as true stakeholders with a full ‘seat at the table’ as they seek to better understand their interests and needs and to chart a path forward. When the Jewish community truly engages grandparents as partners, listen carefully, and invites them to play a lead role in designing and piloting new initiatives, they will harness a remarkable resource. The experience, talent, wisdom and passion of today’s Jewish grandparents will ultimately benefit the entire Jewish community.”
So all you grandparents out there — GET INVOLVED! Check out www.jewishgrandparents
network.org.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

Comments (0)

Take heart: the body and soul connection

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
In reciting “the Shema,” in the first paragraph it says you should not be swayed “after your heart.” I have always wondered why there and other places in the Torah that I have read it refers to “thoughts of the heart,” when we know that thoughts are in the brain?
Zachary B.
Dear Zachary, For years I was perplexed by this question and fascinated that in Western civilization and earlier secular literature, emotions and thoughts are also attributed to the heart, perhaps following the Torah’s lead.
An insight on this is that the heart, besides its physical role of pumping blood throughout the body, in Judaism is given a unique role as we shall attempt to explain.
A human is not a soul — or just a body — but the union of the two. At what point in the human body do these two opposites — body and soul — meet?
The deeper sources in Torah explain that the principal seat of the soul is said to be in the brain, while the main bodily organ representing physicality is the liver. The heart is the chamber where the body and soul meet and join, fusing together to make a human being. Just as the heart pumps the oxygen-enriched blood throughout the body, providing nourishment for its cells, the heart “pumps” the connection of the soul throughout the physical body.
This idea helps explain a profound message in the tefillin. One box, comprised of four smaller boxes, is worn on the head corresponding to the four lobes of the brain. This sanctifies our thoughts. The other box, worn on the upper arm, infuses holiness into our physical actions. The latter is supposed to be tipped toward the heart, as the heart is the place where the physical and the spiritual are combined.
Not to “sway after your heart” means not to allow the physicality of the body to overcome the soul, as it potentially could, because the two are connected at the heart.
Later the Shema says to “put these words (of Torah) upon your heart”; with thoughts of Torah one’s entire being becomes a miniature tabernacle of holiness — body and soul working in unison.
This enables us to take a new look at the common statement that it’s enough to be “Jewish in the heart.” (I call that a “Jewish heart condition”!) To truly be “Jewish in the heart” one needs to combine one’s thoughts and actions to serve God; the heart combines the two. Otherwise, to just think Jewish thoughts without actions would be only “Jewish in the brain” — missing the heart!
We should strive to be wholesome, complete Jews, meshing every area of our existence into our Jewish mission, with complete hearts.

Comments (0)

Touching moments for my sister and me

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

It was a harrowing but necessary and worthwhile visit, the days I recently spent with my sister Ruth in New York. I was there to ride with her as she moved from a now-useless rehab facility to the hospice that has become her final home.
Her previous assisted living apartment was a first move from her own apartment in Scarsdale. But now she is in the city proper: in Calvary Hospital’s Palliative Care Institute, the first place people see as they leave Hutchinson Parkway to enter the Bronx.
Yes — Calvary. It sounds very Christian, and it is. Has always been, during a very long history. But that’s the hospital only. All faiths, and none are fully accommodated, are represented in hospice care. As Ruth was being moved into her room, an aide was moving out, carrying the old cross that hangs on a wall in every room until it’s no longer needed or wanted.
To care properly for its Jewish population, there is a kosher kitchen with food available at all times — not just for those living there, but also for their visitors. And among the staff are three rabbis. I met one of them during my visit; my niece Diane, who shares daily visits in rotation with her husband Charles, has met one of the others and is looking forward to talking with the third. They bring their children, ages 14 and 11, with them; Tommy and Laura are used to Grandma as she is, and are glad to see her. And although Ruth doesn’t speak much anymore, she is obviously happy to see them as well.
I myself am having trouble adjusting. Ruth is my only sibling, and is five years younger than I. But because we grew up in the same place, with many of the same experiences, I was able to “tease” some things out of her — some memories that, with prompting, floated briefly to the surface. And although she has virtually stopped talking, there was one incredible exception, so very apropos as Hanukkah approaches this year: When I asked her if she remembered, if she could recall, the years we spent in Sunday School in the little shul that was closest to our Pittsburgh home, she recited this, in toto: “I am the chicken fat — fry in me when hot. Watch the golden latkes dancing in the pot.” This was her line in a kindergarten playlet for the holiday, so many years ago! Then I knew that her brain is still functioning, although not very actively, but can be brought to life — at least briefly — by drawing on the incredible power of memory.
And then, there is this: I did not get to meet her doctor that day, but his name on Ruth’s door was familiar to me: Goldszer. This is very Jewish, but not very common, and I knew a woman with that name long ago; she was one of the folks who played bridge with my mother. So I asked niece Diane to ask him if he might know, or even possibly be related to, Bicky Goldszer. “Not ‘Becky,’ I emphasized. “BICKY.” Diane’s first post to me after I returned home might have been a shock to almost anyone else, but never to a born-and-bred member of Pittsburgh’s tight-knit Jewish community: Bicky Goldszer, now deceased, was the doctor’s mother!
When I next go to New York’s Calvary hospice, I will meet that doctor. When that will be? I don’t yet know. I’ve told Diane I’ll come again whenever she thinks I should, which needn’t wait for any ending, but will be if I can do something for my living sister. I trust my niece’s judgment because it’s based on true love for her mother and constant observation. So now, I just cry quietly while drawing new meaning from an old observation by John Milton, Britain’s great poet of several hundred years ago: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Comments (1)

Lech Lecha: transformation and faith in God

Posted on 06 November 2019 by admin

This week’s Torah portion is Lech Lecha and in it we get to know Avram. At the beginning of the portion God calls out to Avram, “Lech lecha, you yourself go from your land, the place of your birth, your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you.” From that moment of divine call, a call to change oneself, a call to uproot oneself, we can see this entire portion is about personal change. Throughout this portion, Avram goes through a complete transformation.

The first transformation is his physical location, which at first glance doesn’t seem much like a personal transformation, but in reality is a trigger for one. Avram leaves his home and his family to a land he isn’t even told about before he leaves. It is a profound statement of faith in God, but it is also personally transformational because Avram is forced to be completely independent without any reliance on kinship ties that are so common in the Middle East, even to today. In Israel today, it is called protektzia or the personal connections one call rely upon to get one out of trouble or prevent it from happening in the first place. Avram was forced to forgo his family connections and learn to be strong and independent. We see Avram’s increased independence in how he interacts with his neighbors. At the beginning of the portion, he is afraid of the Egyptians and feels that he needs to resort to trickery to survive. By the end of the portion, Avram is a conquering warrior who turns the tide of battle and saves his nephew Lot during the war of the five kings against the four kings.

The second transformation is a transformation in Avram’s expectations for the future. In the beginning of the portion, Avram and Sarai are childless and Avram believes that he will have no one to inherit. By the end of the portion, he has a son, granted, with his concubine Hagar, but even more he has God’s promise that he will have an heir through Sarai. His more positive outlook is symbolized by the promise that God makes to Avram. God promises that he will have descendants and that, even though they will spend 400 years in slavery in Egypt, they will go free and become as numerous as the stars. It is a transformation of a bleak outlook, slavery in Egypt, to a limitlessly positive view of the future with innumerable descendants. Avram goes from the prospect of never having children to having more great-great-great etc. grandchildren than he could ever imagine. Avram went from a negative view of the future to a limitlessly positive view of the future.

The third transformation is Avram’s spiritual transformation. True enough: At the beginning of the portion, Avram hears God’s command, packs up and moves without even knowing where he was going. That shows a certain faith. But it takes Avram another 24 years of spiritual journey before he enters into the Covenant with God that changes him from Avram to Avraham, incorporating part of God’s name in his own name. It took 24 years of spiritual exploration before Avraham could establish with God the Covenant between God and the Jewish People.

So we see over the broad sweep of this Torah portion, that the message here is one of transformation: physical, mental and spiritual transformation. And we encounter God as a God of becoming. I am reminded of a saying attributed to Lao Tzu: “When you let go of what you are, you become what you might be.” The message I take from Lech Lecha is not to fear change, but to embrace the becoming. All that lives, grows and changes over time. Only that which was never alive remains unchanged. But God wants us to live, to be and to become, embracing the changes we encounter on our own personal journeys of transformation.

Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano and the vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

Comments (0)

Saying ‘thank you’: We can’t always go it alone

Posted on 06 November 2019 by admin

Dear Families,

This is the Jewish month of Cheshvan — a month with no Jewish holidays (except, of course, Shabbat). We have also entered the month of November — and we all are looking forward to the holiday of Thanksgiving. Add to this, we have made it through tornadoes! It is certainly the month to focus on the Jewish value of “hoda’ah — gratitude.” This month let’s focus on different blessings as we remember how many blessings fill our lives.

We begin each day with “Modeh Ani”:

Modeh ani lifanecha, Melech chai v’ka-yam, Shehe-che-zar-ta bi nish-mati, b’chem-la, rabbah e-mu-na-te-cha. I give thanks unto you, O everlasting One, for You have returned my soul to me in mercy. Great is your faithfulness.”

“Modeh ani” are the first words we are to say every morning — even while still in bed. We start the day thanking God for the gift of life. The belief is that each night our soul goes to heaven to recharge. In the morning, our soul is returned to us to begin again. How wonderful to see each day as a new beginning!

The blessing begins with the phrase “I give thanks.” In Hebrew, the word for thank you is “todah,” which has the meaning “to admit.” Saying thank you is admitting that you couldn’t do it alone, that you needed help and that you are thankful/grateful for the help given. Admitting you need help is difficult for some but it is also a gift that we give to others — people want to help and denying others that chance doesn’t help us or others.

Now, let’s take thank you to the next step — thanking God. We know we can’t go it alone in the world. We need family, friends, neighbors — even strangers. Does God need our thanks? Do we need God?

I will end with these two questions — each of us can ponder the answers. I must also end with thank-yous. Every person who tells me that they have read my column — thank you! It means a lot! And this past week, for everyone who reached out with care after reading “my tornado story” — thank you! And, finally for all who have helped others struggling with their tornado loss and fear — thank you! We will rebuild together as long as we wake up each day thankful.

Comments (0)

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here