Posts Tagged With: torah

Why Wait?  Live in Heaven Today!

Time is relative to contentedness. 

“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”–Albert Einstein

One who is accepting of, and grateful with his lot is like one in the passion stage of love. 

One in love is unaware that the future could be snatched away at any minute. Far from filling him with dread he is hopeful, for he knows that the opposite could be true as well. He knows that there are more good times ahead and he lives for them–he literally lives for/in the future. 
One who is grateful, happy, and content, however, is like a child. It is not a beautiful girl he is courting, it is a beautiful life. The knowledge that it could be torn away at any moment causes him to appreciate each moment for itself. 

In appreciating each moment for itself, his focus is changed. He is literally living for/in the present. By measuring time on a different scale, he has altered the speed of thought as his focus is not on some far off temple, but rather it is on the temple he lives in. 

The one who is not content: He moves space and time, deletes memories to drop weight; in dread he puts his focus on the future of “what could happen,” and races toward it in an attempt to keep the bad from happening. Instead of letting his focus be in the present that is, where he really makes his choices, he concentrates on what he will choose in the future invented by his mind. 

With his focus on the future, he fumbles his choices in the moment, and does stuff he never would have chosen to do were he conscious of the choice. He cannot repent of his sins because he is unable to see them with the same gravity–he didn’t even appreciate them when they happened. 
With his focus on the future he condenses milestones in time to travel it faster, and life races right by. 

For one who lives for/in the moment, the timeline is stretched. All accomplishments and choices are more clearly seen, though fewer are in sight. He is like a child who learns from his memories to choose, instead of an adult who, because he is worried the past will repeat, fears he will have to choose. 

The moment becomes beautifully and vividly illustrated. A laugh of a friend in joy is like a choir of angels singing for an eternity–and conversely, the cry of a friend in pain is an eternity of torture. By living in, appreciating, and being content with the moment, one brings heaven to earth. 

“The command is not hidden or far off, it is not in the heavens that you should have to say ‘who will go and get it for us so we may hear and do it?’ …The matter is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart.”–Deuteronomy 32:12

“The command,” here is the entire Torah spelled out in a heartbeat. The entire Torah is this: learn from the past to make better choices in the present; make the choices–and perform them–better by fully seeing them; in choosing/performing better being more content with your choices; , in being more content with your choices of the present, trusting in yourself to choose better in the future, and as such releasing yourself from dread; releasing yourself from the dread of the future allows you to more fully appreciate the moment; appreciating the moment to the fullest returns life to be paradise; living in the paradise of the moment gives an infinite number of them; having an infinite number of moments makes you immortal, and because you are happy, grateful, and content with the moment, you live in heaven. 

This is why jesus said, “Be like a child.”

This is the how to what Buddha said, “release yourself from the wheel of suffering.”

“See, I have set before you life and death, good and evil.”
“Choose life.”

By choosing every moment, one chooses life. By choosing life, one chooses to be infinite. By choosing to be infinite, one lives “in the kingdom of God.”
~N.S. Molino~

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Crime and Punishment, and Vicarious Atonement

I started off writing about the falsehood of the doctrine of vicarious atonement that is so central to christian theology.  I don’t want to launch a polemic, so I deleted what I first wrote.  I will, therefore, only write to state what judaism has to say on the subject, and since Jesus was a jew, I will leave it up to the christian reader to decide, research, and apply.

The truth of the matter is that not only is vicarious atonement impossible, but it is also much less improving to the world than how G-d says that we are to make up for our fumbles:

STOP doing bad——-START doing good.  That is all that is asked of us to start back from scratch again!

This real instruction, from Hashem instead of Paul of Tarsus who invented christianity, is so simple and logical that it really should be just common sense, and is the essence of mercy and love–two qualities that emanate from G-d but are attributed in christianity to the vicarious atonement.  It is absolutely unnecessary though to use the middleman of such atonement. Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die; the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father with him, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son with him; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”  This passage is implicitly stating that the righteous cannot die for the sins of the wicked.

As correction to this doctrine in christianity which leads to believe otherwise, the proper course correction is laid out in the verse that follows, “But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

Now, this could be taken to mean that in order to live, one would have to keep all the 613 commandments, at all times, without faltering.  This teaching, which is a common justification for the necessity of the vicarious atonement, would have to disregard a separate passage in the same book which states, “Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.”  Ez 18:17. We are told time and time again in this chapter of the book of Ezekiel, that a person’s soul is redeemed by the simple action of recognizing his fault and failure, and taking the necessary action to correct it.  This is what repentance is.

Repent!” This is cried time and again by John the Baptist, and preached by Jesus himself in the gospels of the christian scriptures.  It is almost as if they are presaging the false doctrines and misinformation that would later be taught by Paul and serve as the basis for modern christianity, which being so heavily based in the teachings of Paul instead of Jesus, ought to be properly called “Paulianity” instead.

“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD; and not rather that he should return from his ways, and live?” Ez 18:23  Instead we are given the cure directly before this passage, “None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him; for his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.” Ez 18:22.  There is absolutely no reason for vicarious atonement, even if it were possible.  In fact, I can see no reason why it would even be desirable, as it does nothing at all to make the world a better place, but instead leaves one to feel let free from all of his missteps because somebody else took the punishment for him.

And this leads me to “crime and punishment.”  A friend wrote earlier on Facebook about how “jesus makes us free, we don’t have to punish anybody because of his sacrifice.”  There is absolutely no reason that anyone would “punish” anyone else for their sins in the first place!  When I asked what was meant, the reply was that, “there are consequences for actions,” and some other stuff after.  Consequences are not the same as punishment.  Consequences are the result of our actions.  Punishment is the attempt to exact justice in some way, by diminishing the faulty party.  Whereas “consequences” for a person’s iniquities are a natural response that occurs, “punishment” for a person’s iniquities can be handed out only by the one true Judge, the Endless One of Blessing.  Given this understanding of the difference in these terms, people have never been responsible for punishing others for their iniquities, and so it is not something that any vicarious atonement could ever make up for anyway!

This is all that I have to write on the subject right now.  I am not sure if anyone will ever even read it, and I kind of wrote it more for my own therapy than anyone else, so that I didn’t blow up my friend’s Facebook page with questions and conversation.

Keep in mind that the books of the bible are complete, and that excerpting one or two passages does not lend a complete understanding to the contents.  I suggest that you read this chapter (20) of Ezekiel yourself, and the rest of the book in order, for that matter.  And relax in the understanding that it is not possible for anyone to die for the sake of anyone else, but all that is really necessary is to stop doing bad, and do good instead.  It really is that simple.

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Kabbalah…Do or Don’t?

There is a lot of interest in Kabbalah these days.  From Madonna to Hasidic Jews, it seems at times as if the whole world (or at least the alternative world) is captivated by Jewish mysticism in one way or another.  In fact, a lot of the time, it seems like it has become so mainstream that people don’t even know its Jewish mysticism, and instead think that it is either a completely new religion, or that it is not religious at all and is just a type of “spirituality.”  My wife’s late grandmother (not jewish or religious in any way), may her memory be a blessing, even spoke of kabbalah lessons during the last year or so of her life.  This I see as one of the dangers of kabbalah, but the reason for the danger is thicker.

Imagine, if you will, a person who learns that there is a thing called an automobile, and that it is something that can carry a person down the road.  Then, without even having a clue about how to drive, he goes out and buys the world’s fastest and most expensive sports car and hits the streets of San Francisco.  This is about the same thing as one who delves into kabbalah without having first the proper knowledge and practice in torah to utilize it properly.

To put it another way, kabbalah is like the frosting of a cake, and torah is the cake.  One who eats only frosting is bound to get sick.  So too, a person who learns and practices only kabbalah will end up with a spiritual bellyache.

It is no wonder that kabbalah is as intriguing as it is.  For many disenfranchised Jews of the last 40 years kabbalah has shown them that the very spiritual experience that they sought out in disciplines like Buddhism, and Hinduism was already present in the Judaism of their ancestors.  Such a comfort was this, that many of these Jews have come back to Judaism, with a heavy influence on kabbalah.  Unfortunately, most of these jews were not raised in torah judaism, and so the foundation for such practices was not well formed, and learning since their return to Judaism has either been incomplete or tempered by kabbalistic views.  This can often have the effect of diminishing importance of torah learning and observance as such things take a back seat to the excitement and clear ethereal nature of mystic practices.

So, what then is the problem with such things?  As jews, our contract with the Almighty is to keep torah, and although there are certainly mystical teachings that may be drawn from torah, the observance of torah is to be done in the physical world, in the natural rather than the supernatural.  Without the strong grounding in such observance that is provided by years of learning and practice in torah, kabbalah threatens to keep one’s head in the clouds without keeping their feet on the ground, and turns torah observance into a question of subjective morality and relevance.

This, perhaps, is the reason that the sages from ancient to present have stated that it is ill advised at the least, and forbidden at worst, to teach kabbalah to a jew that is less than forty years of age–and this is considering that said jew has always been torah observant.

So what then is my suggestion for one who is interested in kabbalah?  Be patient.  Learn the foundation of torah, and how to implement it.  We all can probably agree that getting a credit card without income, let alone the knowledge and discipline to keep it up to date, is a bad idea.  In the same way, kabbalah isn’t inherently bad, or evil, but it is a further tool of a much larger spiritual discipline.

If you are interested in learning further, I suggest learning torah from Rambam (Maimonides), whose very straight forward and practical teachings are a mainstay of torah learning for application.  I also suggest the book The Gerus Guide, the only step-by-step guide to orthodox conversion in the world, which can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=the+gerus+guide&categoryId=100501  Whether you are a non-jew interested in conversion, or a jew interested in furthering observance, this book is a very, very good guide for you, which does not expect that you can jump in all at once.

For Rambam, consider Mishneh Torah, which can be purchased with english translation on amazon or at any online jewish bookstore such as:

http://www.feldheim.com, http://www.artscroll.com, http://www.eichlers.com

First and for most though, one should be well versed in the tanach (hebrew bible).  A good translation can be had in the Stone Edition tanach, which has commentaries as well to explain some of the classic teachings of the text.

If you have any questions, I can provide more links or give personal advice on good places to look or start.

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Paro’s (Pharaoh’s) Hard Heart–Giving–New Years

Picture it!  Egypt!  1200 (ish) BCE!  Moshe comes to Paro, repeatedly, demanding in the name of G-d to, “Let my people go, that they may worship me!”Ex 17:16 and further.  From the start, however, we are told that “I [G-d] will harden Paro’s heart.”  This would at first seem to be a violation of free will, for, how can a man choose if G-d has changed his heart to not choose?  The twelfth century torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhak (Rashi), offers up an interpretation.  He tells us that at first, Paro was presented with the choice of letting b’nei yisroel (the children of Israel) go, lest Egypt suffer plagues.  He refused to do so, and even said at points that he would and then turned on such a declaration to retain them.  After he had chosen time and again to not make the choice proper for him and his people, as well as b’nei yisroel, he gave up his right to choose.

I think that we have all had moments in which we have done this.  I know that I have had arguments in which the point of the issue didn’t even matter anymore, rather, the only thing that mattered was to be right–or in some cases just that the other person wasn’t.  After a while of back and forth, its as if an external force takes over and there is no choice left, life just continues to happen with or without your input!  I have seen the same thing happen time and again in regard to many different quarrels or misunderstandings, and the outcome is almost always devastating, and usually for both parties involved.  Think of the bad divorce that you had, when you didn’t even want the house, car, or–G-d forbid this should be the case–kids, but you so wanted to show how badly you were hurting that you took the whole ship down with you, and didn’t even offer any lifeboats.

We must be very careful about hardening our hearts, in all circumstances.  Sometimes, perhaps, we must temper them though.  I once had a friend, who I would work for at times, we would work on cars, our families would hang out together; we had gotten pretty close.  He and his wife divorced, and he started seeing a friend of mine from high school.  Everything seemed great!  They had a wonderful time together–or so it seemed at least–and eventually moved in together.  We fell out of touch for a couple of years, as they had moved away from the area, but as far as we knew everything was fine with them.  Now, this friend had been called many things, by many different people over the years, and I had always defended him, even if passively.  My friend who he was seeing contacted us one day, after they had broken up.  As it turned out, this “friend” of mine who I had so steadfastly defended on so many occasions, actually was crazy.  Clinically crazy!  He was suicidal, manipulative, and perhaps even homicidal.  He ended up in prison, for something or other, and I have never heard from him again.  This is not the first case in which a tempered heart–one that is not closed in apathy, but one which heeds the input of others–would have been very healthy.

On the other hand, I have had people whom others derided often, who have ended up being very good and close friends, and nothing like what others would have led me to believe if I had listened.  So we see that this pendulum can swing either way.  IF we harden our hearts to everyone, we will have no one to care for, and no one who cares for us.  And even worse, doing something with frequency breeds habit in it.  Perhaps this is the real lesson of G-d hardening Paro’s heart.  If, for those of us who believe in G-d, we are to say that G-d bestows upon us the knowledge of right and wrong, we must say that it is by virtue of a relationship with the Creator that we are given this gift, after all, gifts aren’t given in any way shape or form without some kind of a relationship.  But if we deny the blessing of warning, time and again, we might as well resign ourselves to failure–or, insanity, as is often said, “repeating action in expectation of different outcome is the definition of insanity.”

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with “giving.”  It is simple: in order to exercise a non-hardened heart, we must give.  We must give of ourselves, our hearts, our souls, and our resources.  The Shema, the central jewish prayer declaring the oneness of G-d, says this almost exactly.  “And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all the goodness that is to you.”  That last part is difficult to translate, but it has come to be taught by the rabbis that it refers to “all your monetary resources.”  Now, this does not mean that you should give away everything you have, for if you do that you will have nothing more to give.  We can give to others by supplying our own needs, so that we do not use the resources of those who need them more, and at the same time dedicate portions of “the goodness that is to us” to helping others.  If you see a person with a sign out, why not give them the change in your pocket?  Sure, they might use it to go and buy booze or drugs, this is always a possibility–then again, there is a possibility that you may do this with the majority of your paycheck!  There is also the possibility, however, that they will use it to buy food, medicine,  shelter, or even to help others.  Now, perhaps there is something to be said for not giving over and over again, to the same person with a sob story which never changes.  But one thing is almost certain: if you harden your heart and don’t give, before long you will find plenty of reasons not to give, even if your conscience is telling you you should.

And really, what is a few dollars anyway?  In fact, I firmly believe that EVERYONE should set aside ten percent of their income (and money gifted them) to give to those in need.  This needn’t be a homeless person, or even an official charity.  How about paying for somebody’s groceries?  When you are paying your utility bill and the person in front of you is trying to bargain with the company just to get the lights back on, put some money toward their account after they leave (so as not to embarrass them).  Give of your time too.  Take time out of your day to listen to that sob story, and don’t just offer a few coins, but give some kind words too.  Take it from one who has been in a lot of tough places, not all sob stories are untrue.  Life is hard sometimes!

So this is my request for world as we enter 2014 in the secular calendar:  Give!  I promise you, no matter how small the action seems, if we all do love G-d by loving our fellow man with “all your heart, and all your soul, and all the goodness that is to you,” we will make this world a better place.

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How To Build Jewish (or Any) Community

As i have written about before, there is a mounting problem in non-orthodox (which for clarity I refer to as reform) judaism, of a dying community.  In many synagogues around the country, the average participant is 50+.  Now, let me make it clear, that if this is your life I’m referring to here, I am not passing judgement in any way, only displaying what I see as the facts of the situation.

In a discussion I was having with a friend, and in my thought process as I was writing another post here, I began to realize that there are a few problems that exacerbate this dilemma:

  • Basic disinterest- The majority of young Jews these days, seem to have inherited a lack of interest or atheism from their parents.  As a bit of perspective, we must remember that for many in their 20’s and 30’s, their parents were the first generation after the shoah (holocaust), in which their parents–if they had a love for any of it to begin with–often completely gave up on G-d.  This is, of course, understandable.  After all, why would one in such a situation not believe that G-d had abandoned him, and therefore conclude that there must not be a G-d or that it was all a waste.  Basically, these young jews lack the 3000 year old fire of the Jewish people, because they never knew it existed.
  • The draw of the goyishe world.  For most young jews, it seems as if the only thing that the jewish world has to offer is old people, dusty books in another language, and gefilte fish; while the goyishe world offers fancy and exotic foods, parties, art, and culture.  Or, in a religious sense, there is the draw of christianity that sways many because there is actually interest in the christian community.
  • In contrast to churches, where the guest of honor at every service is G-d, Jewish congregations often let G-d be entirely relative, or unnecessary.  To make things even more difficult for some people, G-d in judaism has no form whatsoever.  For many people this is confusing at least, maddening at most.  Christianity, on the other hand, has a physicality to their god, which lends tangibility.  Never mind that to the Jewish mind this is absolute heresy, this seems to more easily build understanding and devotion, in much the same way that most modern people, it seems, are more devoted to their boss at work, or fearful of their mother at report card time, than they are of G-d.
  • Churches also have a sense of obligation.  The congregants are obliged to attend, and participate.  Judaism takes exactly the opposite approach in reform circles, and any religious aspect is left up to the individual instead.
  • There is little to no activity at synagogue, or within the Jewish community outside of weekend services.  If you want people to take part in activities, it seems a given that there must be activities to take part in, yet many–if not most–reform synagogues lay idle 90% of the time.

There are, of course, many other problems, but these seem to be the main ones to me.  Now, what could possibly be the solutions?

I think that there are two main factors that must be addressed before anything can get better.  First, there must be a universal understanding as to the existence and nature of G-d.  For some, this may sound very forceful and dictatorial, but what company runs without knowing what its purpose is?  If you want somebody to take part in the works of a religious institution, those who do must be on the same page at least as far as this basic goes.  If people don’t want to be a part of this, thats fine.  That is what the community already exists of, however, and the reason that young people would rather not be involved.  Jewish community has to have something more to offer besides bagels and lox, and guilt from bubbe over not marrying “a nice jewish girl.”  There has to be a reason to do this, and it starts with the supernatural.

The second factor to the solution, as I see it, is obligation.  Everyone must have the obligation to participate.  Every spoke is necessary for a wheel to function properly, and in the same way a community cannot function without the participation of every individual.  We need you to live!  You make us better just by being a part!  Also concerned with obligation, is some sort of halacha (jewish law), even if it is what the community chooses.  Now, I would much prefer that everyone at least work toward full torah observance, but lets get real here; the vast majority of reform jews operate on the supposition that halacha is completely personal, and that its fine to keep none or (almost) all of the classic halacha.  If that is always the framework, community will always struggle.  Parts of a machine cannot decide what they want their job to be because it suits them.  Employees at a  company cannot decide which company policies are relevant to them, and discharge all the rest.  Drivers on the road cannot decide, each for himself, whether or not to stop at stop signs or for pedestrians.  All of these people are a community of sorts, and there is absolutely no logic to the notion that they could decide for themselves what is right or wrong and still remain a functioning engine, corporation, or rush-hour commute.  Why then is it assumed that this would work in jewish community?  Therefore I say, even if it is not full halacha, there must be halacha that is universal, expected, and practiced in the community if the community is to survive.  AND, this is not something that happens overnight, with anybody, so there should be the understanding that although it is expected it must be built up to–but it is not relative.

Third then is opportunity.  There should always be opportunity to learn, to participate, to develop.  There is no reason whatsoever that any synagogue should ever have an incomplete meal on shabbat, but instead, every week there should be cooking classes or groups that prepare for the congregation on shabbat.  There is no reason that anyone in a jewish congregation should not learn hebrew, in fact, this should be one of the obligations and there should be classes available to teach it.  There should be homework groups, movie watching groups, music groups, music classes, even pull in group Krav Maga lessons!  “Mitzvah day” shouldn’t be something that is done only one day a year, but something that is stressed every waking moment.  At every synagogue, the door should be open every day, and there should be something to come in and do.  This is the way things are at the Boys and Girls Club, and at many churches and community centers.  The truth of the matter is, if the door is closed, there is no potential for community.

Open the doors to your synagogues, and start treating them as living organisms, and they will become such.  Keep them closed, and they will continue to wither and die.

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Near Death Experience–or–Near Life Experience

sparkyI was working on my house this evening, and there was a wire in the way of what I was doing.  Noting that it was an old wire, and thinking that I had made all the old wiring obsolete five years ago when I rewired the house, I thought nothing of prying on it.  I thought it was dead.  As it turned out, it was very much a live wire.  Not only was it a live wire, but it was carrying the 220V that were going to our water heater!

So here I was, prying on this wire with the claw end of my Titanium Stiletto head hammer, completely oblivious to the life-threatening voltage running through the wire.  I guess I was prying too vigorously at the wire which was also against the raw edge of a thin metal bracket, when, blammo!!  Sorry for the old school Batman sound effect, but there really is no way to accurately describe it otherwise.  Bright sparks flew all over, a few loud pops were heard, and all the power went out in the house!

This is what Wikipedia has to say about titanium sparks, ” Although titanium is a non-ferrous metal, it gives off a great deal of sparks. These sparks are easily distinguishable from ferrous metals, as they are a very brilliant, blinding, white color.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_testing

I stood there, unable to move, mesmerized by the event that had just taken place.  If I had chosen to buy the new DeWalt metal handles hammer that I saw a few months ago, I might not be around to write this post.  The wooden handle of my hammer, although not the greatest of insulators, is not very conductive and this might be the only thing that kept me from serious injury or even death.  

What could I do?  Very simply, I lifted my head and said, “Baruch atah Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam (the source of blessing are you Hashem our G-d, king of the universe) who has saved me from danger.”

My wife asked me if my life flashed before my eyes, and I said no–sparks did, a lot of bright sparks!  She said, “no, that was your life!”  She said it jokingly, but there are branches of Judaism in which kabbalistic (mystic) teachings say that the world is filled with “lost sparks” that are needing to be raised up in holiness to return to the creator.  Maybe my life has been a succession of doing this.  I would like to think so, but I’m not so sure.

Maybe your “life flashing before your eyes” isn’t so much about what you’ve already done, but is a glimpse into what you need to do or will do?  That would be the idea, I think, behind a “near life experience.”  Who knows?  I’m just happy that it turned out the way that it did instead of the alternative.

An atheist, or even many theists for that matter, may say that it was just a coincidence.  I don’t believe in coincidence, I believe in choice.  Sometimes we have no idea how choices will effect our lives.  I am very glad that my friend Marc chose to give me this hammer years ago.  If I had chosen to buy a metal handled hammer, no more me (and I’d be out $70).  If I’d chosen to use my pry bar–the correct tool for the job–no more me.

I posted the picture on Facebook of my hammer, and wrote a bit about it.  Most of the comments were made from amazement.  One of my atheist friends, however, said, “If god exists and heaven is so great- why is god great for keeping you alive? Seems like a bit of a ck block to me? [sic]”

Now, I have no problem with people having different views.  He’s atheist, that’s fine.  I don’t think that I will ever understand though, why many atheists and theists alike feel the need to be rude and force their crap on others.  Even from a purely secular moral standpoint it is just plain rude.  It is so rude, in fact, that for generations there has been an idiom, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” repeatedly drilled into many of us by our mothers.

Whatever.  Perhaps G-d was not “saving” me.  I choose to believe that he did.  I believe that it was a miracle, just as amazing as waking up every morning.  You may see this as biology, and physics, I see it as the Creator directing the steps of man.  If you don’t believe this, good for you, and I hope for you success in all your endeavors.  When it comes to this though, you live in your world, and I’ll live in mine.

From now on though, this is my “lucky” hammer, and his name shall be “Sparky.”  I don’t believe in luck, so that is just a euphemism.  Really, it will simply be a reminder of how close one can come to tragedy, and how quickly it can happen.  I will likely keep it forever, and I am not prone to do that sort of thing.

Peace my peeps.

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Christmas is Over

1517593_10201662157568280_594315208_nI have no real love for christmas.  My (Now ex) wife and kids are still all about it, so the day started with being woken up at six am.  I finally got out of bed around seven, and came out to the living room where they were all gathered around to open presents.  Everybody enjoyed all they got, and that was wonderful.  Regardless the reason for the day, it is great when you see a seven year old open up a package with sweatpants, and be just as excited as when he opens up a large kit of Legos.

For me, the irony of the event hit when I opened up the things that my wife and kids bought me.  It was apparently a, “Buy Jewy stuff for the Jew,” type of Christmas, a jogging suit, a T-shirt, even boxer shorts.  All of the things were well thought out, and couldn’t have been more awesome!  It felt very respectful.

For lunch, we went to a friends house and made Chinese food.  We sat at the table–four jews, and my wife and kids (four goyim)–and ate/conversed together.  One of our friends asked for us to go around the table and remember our favorite christmas experiences to each other.  Let me clarify something here: she is jewish, but although she doesn’t do christmas she is still excited by it and loves that others do celebrate it.  Everybody had a story to share.  I was reminded of a conversation in the movie City Slickers, in which they ask each other what was their best day.

My most memorable christmas (I grew up celebrating christmas, in case you didn’t know) was both the best and worst christmas in my life.  Twenty years ago, my grandfather of blessed memory was in his last days.  He was in Hospice care, in the bedroom of my grandparent’s house.  Christmas eve was the night that we always celebrated, as per the Danish tradition, and we all sat in the dining room, and then in the living room during presents, trying not to be sad that grandpa couldn’t join us.  I’m not sure if we were conscious of it or not, but we were all basically trying to convince ourselves that everything was normal.  Clearly, it was anything but.  Two weeks later, my grandfather passed away.  He was the closest thing to a father figure that I ever had growing up, and although he was already an aged fifty-something with many ailments that effected his day to day life and ability to interact with all of us, he had such a huge impact on my life.  I am thankful to G-d for every minute that I was able to have with him.  I miss him every day.  This was my best christmas because it was the last that my grandfather was alive for, and it was my worst christmas for the same reason.

I realized last year that this experience was the first thing that caused me to dislike christmas.  It isn’t fair to those I love who still enjoy the holiday and time of year, but I’m not sure if anything can be done for it.

I do love the feeling that I used to get for Christmas when I was a kid.  I loved the family occasion, the meal together, the conversation, the joy.  It is the same feeling that I now get out of the jewish holidays which happen much more frequently.  Even shabbat, happening every week and seeming a bit minor to goyim is just like this.  We sit at the table, have a special meal, sing blessings, talk about our week and our dreams.  It is like all the good parts of christmas without all the bad parts.  If any jews are reading this and have never fully experienced shabbat, do yourself a gigantic favor and do so.  Go in with an open heart, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  If you are unsure of where to start, comment here and I will give suggestions (or maybe I’ll make that the subject of a future post).

After lunch at Miriam’s, we all planned to go see The Hobbit at four in the afternoon.  I had read the movie time the day before, but as it turned out they change their schedule every day.  The next show was at 7:10, which was no longer matinee, so I went in to talk to a manager just to see if we would be able to buy tickets for that show at matinee prices since we had planned our day around a showtime that no longer existed.  He apologized for the mix up and gave me six free passes so that we could all come back and see the show.  It was great!  We went home for a few hours, and returned to see the show–which was awesome, by the way.

I’m glad that christmas is over for another year, mostly so that traffic can get back to normal and there won’t be christmas music everywhere and at all times.  All in all, despite my general dislike for christmas both as a jew trying to keep torah as well as possible and given my personal history with the day, it was a very good day.  In fact, I am thankful to G-d for this christmas day that we had.  I was able to reconcile a few things, and actually spent a very yiddishe time on a goyishe day.

I hope that you all had a wonderful day, regardless your traditions or hang-ups.  I think that we can all do well to remember that life is too short to be full of bitter feelings, even if they are only for select things.

 

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The Trouble With Santa Claus–or–I’ll Be Watching You

holidayWhat does Santa Claus teach children in our society?  Really, the whole ethos of christmas in modern times is effected by this legendary character and his eight diminutive ruminants (or nine if you add in Gene Autry’s favorite).  As we inch along in our cars, in traffic jams that seem to last for a month–don’t go anywhere near the mall!–many of us get nauseated from the obvious commercial ramifications brought on by this creation of Macy’s and Coca Cola.  Those with children who are subject to the stalker persona from the cold north–the tune to I’ll Be Watching You by The Police comes to mind–say that its wonderful for their children.  They say that it, “encourages a belief in the supernatural,” or that it, “teaches them the beauty of giving.”  Is such a figure really necessary for all that?  Is it really the healthiest way to raise children toward these goals?

I had some returns to make at Lowes a couple of weeks ago.  As the woman was scanning the items, she asked (without looking up), “are you all ready for christmas?”  I smirked to myself a little bit and replied, “about as ready as I can get.”  She looked up, saw the kippah on my head and said, “oh!  happy haunukkah.”  She didn’t seem disappointed or anything, it was just a departure from what she expected.  I told her thank you, then asked her if she was ready for christmas.  “Oh no,” she said, “not hardly.”  Friends and family have also expressed this circumstance.  Regardless of who I’m talking to, my response is usually the same, “wouldn’t it be so nice if all you had to worry about was making and eating a nice meal, and relaxing with loved ones?”

Isn’t that really what the holiday should be about?  Easter is more like this for most christians that I know.  Jewish holidays are pretty much all centered around this.  In fact, it is commonly said that every jewish holiday can be summarized with the phrase, “they tried to kill us, we won, lets eat!”  The most important and frequent holiday in judaism is shabbat (the sabbath), during which we are enjoined to eat three full meals, and to not perform any work.  I’ll not get into the particulars of what “work” means in the context of torah (If you would like to read more about that, http://www.aish.com, and similar websites have many articles on what that means), but it is most likely not what you think.  Basically, shabbat observance consists of not exerting our will upon the physical world, attempting to live in a more spiritual plane of existence similar to “paradise” or “heaven;” similar to the elemental existence in the garden of eden.  I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of people in the world, if they ever fully experienced a properly kept shabbat, would look forward to doing such a thing at any opportunity.

But even with the understanding of the stress that people let themselves feel–immediately and for a long time thanks to the gift of credit–in relation to the obligatory materialism of such “traditions,” year after year they flock back for more punishment.  Even in judaism (in america) there isn’t much relief from such experiences, as Hanukkah has become “jewish christmas” for many who buy presents for all eight nights.  I even ended up doing this this year.  Usually, I am pretty steadfastly against presents on Hanukkah, as I don’t want to confuse the holiday to myself or my kids.  This year though, I really wanted to buy them stuff!  Now granted, I bought them mostly stuff they needed or could really use anyway– gloves, scarves, slippers, art sets, and books–but I did buy a few frivolous things that I knew they’d get a kick out of.  It did make it a bit more special for all of us.

I wonder if it was a mistake to do this.  Will they expect it next year as well?  As their mother and they are still celebrating christmas–albeit in a completely secular way–there was talk this evening about Santa Claus.  This was interesting to me, because they all have known that Santa isn’t real for the last four years.  I guess they still enjoy the mystique, the character, and the spirit of this style of gift giving.  I can’t blame them!  Perhaps it would be better if we, in this society, just taught through example that everyone is “santa claus” if they choose to be.  Instead of attributing these things to a make-believe character, wouldn’t it be more wonderful if the children were shown that real people sometimes just want to be nice to others and give them presents?  For years I have been trying to convince people that I would much rather just get a letter or a gift out of the blue, just because they saw something they knew I’d love.  So far, despite my best efforts to do this, it has not met with success.

I think the reason is that without obligation, many of us just won’t do it, even if we know that its the right thing to do.  As I touched on in my post, “Assimilation, Death of the ‘Modern’ Jew,” without obligation to keep the torah, Jews just don’t.  Perhaps the obligation by the “torah” of peer pressure and advertising is just plain a better motivator than making somebody smile.  How sad is that!?

How about getting rid of the idea of Santa all together, and instead just place random gifts around the house, with no idea who gave them?  Actually, it just dawned on me that perhaps the reason that Santa is a better fit is the same reason that for most, christianity is a better fit than Judaism.  In christianity, there is a form given to G-d.  With the Santa tradition, there is form given to the spirit of giving.  Without this form, even if it is indistinct and changes in the mind of each person conceiving it, perhaps it is just too much to grasp and so automatically makes minds and emotions reject the very concept.

Well, there is a little food for thought at least.  Whether you are celebrating christmas with or without santa, I hope you have a merry christmas.  If you are celebrating a different holiday, I hope that it is very special for you.  If you, like me, will be eating chinese food and going to see a movie–as is the custom of my people on the winter solstice–then may your egg rolls be vegetarian, your Kung Pao be spicy, and may you be able to make it to a matinee–or don’t forget to ask for your student discount–because hey, “yo mama pays retail!”

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Assimilation, Death of the “Modern” Jew

There is a very difficult reality that is becoming more evident in modern times: assimilation is leading to the demise of non-orthodox judaism.  For the sake of this article, I will refer to “non-orthodox” judasim as “reform judaism,” and “orthodox judaism” as “torah judaism.”  This is something that many are well aware of, and if I have any readers yet, I may be preaching to the choir.  What I am going to discuss, however, is that there may be ways to counteract this trend.

There is a perhaps unfortunate truth that, to echo the words of Rambam, the furtherance of jewish involvement must have as a foundation, a belief in G-d.  Without this, a jewish community is little more than a type of country club, whose members meet every week and share common roots.  Without the existence of G-d, there is no logical reason to be jewish in modern society, as fulfillment in association can be found within so many secular or national groups.  I think that this is the dynamic within which reform judaism is losing steam.

It is quite interesting to me, that the continuance of the jewish people has been due in large part to the persecution suffered throughout the generations.  As a people set apart, jews lived in their own communities, created their own economies, and operated according to their own laws–which were derived from the mitzvoth of torah and  expanded according to ensure the keeping of the laws of the people whose lands they lived.  Since the acceptance of jews in learning institutions and society in general–beginning in Germany in the 1800’s–many jews have hung up their tallit (prayer shawl) in exchange for involvement in non-jewish society.  In order to do such a thing, however, mitzvoth of torah necessarily had to be pushed aside–the goyishe world runs on a different clock, and according to different guidelines.  Within a couple of hundred years, it seems as if the sacrifice made by so many ancestors in refusing to convert, and the progress in torah learning made over thousands of years of remaining am yisroel (the people israel) has been nullified: eighty percent (roughly) of the world’s jews are secular or reform.  There is a saying by Ahad Ha’am had to say on the subject: “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.”  I would add to that and say that, “more than the jews have continued to be persecuted, persecution has kept jews being jews.”  Within the framework of a torah community, the normal course of society is to keep the mitzvoth.  In the outside world, the vast majority of people are concerned with other pursuits.

Am I implying that in order to remain jewish, we must live in insular communities?  Not in the least bit!  There are, in fact, a great many jews in America who are both orthodox and very connected with the goyishe world.  The problem that can be seen in reform synagogues all over America though, is one of diminished involvement by youths.  The Hillel society here at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, boasts two dozen members or so, and yet has no attendance at the local synagogues.  In fact, of all the Jews under the age of 50 in the county, I am one of the only ones who attends regularly.  It is both saddening and maddening.

I recently spoke with a friend who is a grad student at the university.  I asked him why there was no interest in building or being part of the community.  In a nutshell, he said that many of the members of Hillel don’t believe in G-d, and those that do did not have a strong enough jewish upbringing to have any chance against the allure of secular society and friends.  Because their parents weren’t interested, the community will die out.  My guess is that unless there is a change, all of these families will be jewish in peoplehood only by the next generation.

He did say that there were some who expressed interest from time to time, but like he, they have not been able to find or make the time to be involved, and as with many people, didn’t know where or how to start anyway.  My response to all of this was, “take it back then!”  You want to be jewish, your parents weren’t interested when you were growing up, take it back!  Claim it for yourself!  Unless they make the conscious decision to get involved, it is probable that there will be nothing but further drift away from judaism, until it is nothing more significant than bagels and lox, and really bad tasting fish.

Possibly one of the saddest propositions associated with this lack of interest, is that most will intermarry.  This in itself seems innocent enough, but the result of intermarriage is, more often than not, either complete secularity in the next generation, or a christian family.  Why christian?  Many uninvolved jews who marry christians are drawn into the christian world by their spouses.  It is a good fit for many–religious association without impact on the rest of life.  If this is the track that will be taken, while being sad because it means a lot fewer jews in the world, at least they will have a chance at happiness in marriage.  It also means though, that torah judaism will move in to fill the emptiness.

This brings me back to the title of this post.  Reform judaism is seen by many as being “modern judaism,” as it is a way to retain an appearance of jewishness while taking part–in all ways–with the secular world.  This assimilation seems to be taking the jews of tomorrow on a path away from involvement in even reform judaism, however, and returning can only be because of a personal, newfound interest in G-d and spirituality.  For many a spiritual omnivore in the last 50 years, this has indeed been the case, giving rise to more branches within reform judaism, as they realize our tradition is more than just orders and dictates, but that the mitzvoth are actually a conduit through which to channel spirituality in daily life.  They take what they want, and discard what they don’t see as relevant, but at least they are coming to be involved.

So what is the answer?  How do we get today’s jewish youth interested in being more jewish, and ensure the jewishness of their children?  I think the only way to do this is through common halacha (jewish law) and practices.  This is what makes torah communities so successful.  When everyone around you is keeping shabbat, it is easy to do it yourself.  Even if the community decides not to keep everything the orthodox way, there still must be a standard, a benchmark of obligation and expectation.  When everyone else is keeping kosher, what real reason is there not to?  And all of these things are possible to do within the framework of modern society, as long as we remember to be devoted to these tasks.  There are jobs where you don’t have to work on shabbat.  Can’t go out friday night; go out motzei shabbat (saturday night) instead!  Make it important to express integrity with your people, and you will remain a part of your people.  Compromise and justify pushing thousands of years aside, and you will fade into the woodwork.

This is part of what makes us not only the “chosen people,” but the “choosing people” as well.

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Duck Dynasty Narrowness

There is a lot of hubbub surrounding the lead from A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty today.  From people offended by his remarks in a GQ article, to proponents of free speech (note: I think it has less to do with “free speech” and more to do with stereotypical republican values), everyone seems to have an opinion.  Rather than let everyone else have all the fun, I figured I’d join in.  This post heavily excerpts the article from whence it came.  If you’d like to read the original first, here is the link:

http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson

I would like to start off by saying that I do believe that people should have the right to free speech and that it shouldn’t be censored by the government.  That is, by the way, what free speech is all about.  It has nothing to do with whether a television network decides whether or not to air a program because of something that it feels is insulting, nor is that constitutional right referring to the printing of interview comments that it considers offensive.  Because of this fact, organizations that are editorial based–like it or not–are giving an endorsement to what they print or air.  Even if something is being published because they consider the person to be an idiot, they are endorsing it in the same way that we all vote with our purchases.  If you don’t want to watch the show, and don’t like what the man says or thinks, then don’t bloody watch the show!  I don’t have tv stations, or any interest in watching this show.  I never even knew it existed until a couple of months ago, and I thought it was a hunting show!

I would also like to say that some of my comments may be offensive to a christian audience.  If you don’t think the way that these comments address, or if this is not the type of christian you are or the christianity you practice, then the comments are not directed at you.  If these comments do address you, I invite you to take the time to open up your minds, and learn how to actually live your religion.  Learn about it, and not just from christians.  Jesus was a jew, after all, and your bible exists of more than just the letters of Paul and Revelation.  I suggest that you learn hebrew, and study a hebrew text of the hebrew bible (what you call the “old testament”), starting at page one.  Do not look to christian theologians for interpretations, as this is not their book, it is the book of the jews; and jesus was a jew, you know.  He thought jewishly.  He lived jewishly.  This is completely different theology and ideology.  If it is possible, try to learn this section of the bible without christian colored glasses.  If you are stuck, and you surely will be at times–consult the internet.  I suggest http://www.aish.com, http://www.simpletoremember.com, http://www.judaism.about.com, or http://www.jewfaq.org.  You can also feel free to ask me questions, and I will answer them to the best of my ability and/or find out what the answer is.  I’m not saying “don’t be christian.”  If it works for you, that is awesome, and I am truly very happy for you.  All I’m saying is to learn more about jesus and his people.

Begin article breakdown.  There is so much ground to cover here, and there are so many possibilities for critique.  What I have done is take just some of the more ridiculous things, excerpt them, and respond. Here we go.

 

“After the flood, he said, ‘I’m giving you everything now. Animals are wild.’”–um…is that verbatim?  G-d does say, “Every moving thing that lives shall be yours as food”Gen 9:3, but does not say it in a way that implies “humans can do whatever they damn well please” as western man has interpreted to mean.  It does not say “animals are wild.”  It DOES say not to eat the limb of a living animal, which means that no humans are meant–according to the torah of G-d–to remove the limb of a living animal and eat it.  This includes even chickens which are boiled (to remove the feathers) alive because they moved and weren’t killed by the slaughtering machine in commercial plants, and lobster or frogs that are boiled alive.

Referring to blacks in the south before the civil rights movement–“They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”–except of course for those who were, literally, singing the blues. Maybe you missed that day in Musical Theory 101…or never listened to a radio.

“They plunder beehives. They blow up beaver dams”.–so they can live up to this excerpted ideal from earlier in the article, I guess, “what he calls a “pristine earth”: a world where nothing gets in the way of nature or the hunters who lovingly maintain it.”  Good old uncle Esav was a hunter too.  There does seem to be resemblance here.

“Just inside the front door, a giant flat-screen TV shows Fox News on mute at all times,”–you don’t say. I expected Power Puff Girls.  Seriously though, if you are going to have the TV on at all times, and muted, Korean soap operas are much more fun to make up dialogue to.

“Phil On Why He Voted Romney in 2012
‘If I’m lost at three o’clock in a major metropolitan area…I ask myself: Where would I rather be trying to walk with my wife and children? One of the guys who’s running for president is out of Chicago, Illinois, and the other one is from Salt Lake City, Utah. [Editor’s note: Romney is from Boston, not Salt Lake City.] Where would I rather be turned around at three o’clock in the morning? I opted for Salt Lake City. I think it would be safer.”’–what a coincidence. I ask myself: if I’m out at 3am, should I breath paint fumes like this guy; or air like this guy?

“America was a country founded upon Christian values (Thou shalt not kill, etc.),”–tell that to the natives, the blacks, the homosexuals, hell, just about anyone!  This is a place where knowing the hebrew actually helps a lot, by the way.  The actual phrase in the ten commandments is, “do not murder.”ex 20:13

“He sees the popularity of Duck Dynasty as a small corrective to all that we have lost.”–that’s because he’s getting rich off this stupid crap.

Asked what is immoral behavior–“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.“–but not eating foods that G-d says not to eat. Oh, and “love your neighbor as yourself” is really prevalent in his preaching too, as he rails against anything that he deems to be immoral–including, it would seem, being japanese or muslim.

“During Phil’s darkest days, in the early 1970s, he had to flee the state of Arkansas after he badly beat up a bar owner and the guy’s wife. 
I ask Phil if he ever repented for that, as he wants America to repent—if he ever tracked down the bar owner and his wife to apologize for the assault. He shakes his head.
“I didn’t dredge anything back up. I just put it behind me.” Old Phil—the guy with the booze and the pills—died a long time ago, and New Phil sees no need to apologize for him”— this is the really convenient part of much Christian theology: you don’t need to make up for being an asshole, just put it behind you. That guy you killed? That car you stole? That marriage you ruined? That child you violated?  Just “put it behind you.”

“That’s the unspoken red-state appeal of Duck Dynasty. They’re godly folk. “Real” folk.” –umm…I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

“It’s why Willie Robertson can walk out of work on a regular Thursday afternoon and be greeted by a cheering crowd that seemingly stretches back to the horizon.”–and here I thought it was because they had their own tv show, and many americans are whores for celebrity. I was WAY off!

“Willie has just come back from Washington, D.C., where he accepted an award at the Angels in Adoption Gala. (He and his wife, Korie, adopted a biracial child named Will and are dedicated advocates of the practice.)”–3 to 5 odds the kid is gay as the day is long. Actually, I hope not–for his own sake.

“Let’s face it,” he says. “Three, four, five years, we’re out of here. You know what I’m saying? It’s a TV show. This thing ain’t gonna last forever. No way.”–really!!!??  Do we really have to wait that long?  I guess it will be to no gain; they’ll just take the next group of idiots they find and put them on tv.

“I ask Jep Robertson later on if the second generation of Robertson men shares Phil’s views on sin and morality. “We’re not quite as outspoken as my dad, but I’m definitely in line,” he says. “If somebody asks, I tell ’em what the Bible says.”’–you don’t KNOW what the bible says, you know what you want it to say!  Or need we revisit the quote from genesis?

“For the sake of the Gospel, it was worth it,” Phil tells me. “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”–right, because there were no communists, shintoists, or “Islamists” before eighty years ago. It all started with WWII. And let’s conveniently forget about Jews, Buddhists, Bahai, Sikhs, Hari Krishnas, etc, etc.  Would they be without morals to you?  What about catholics?  Methodists?  Apparently though, Mormons are fine–after all, he’d rather be in Salt Lake City at 3 AM.

“If you simply put your faith in Jesus coming down in flesh, through a human being, God becoming flesh living on the earth, dying on the cross for the sins of the world, being buried, and being raised from the dead—yours and mine and everybody else’s problems will be solved. And the next time we see you, we will say: ‘You are now a brother. Our brother.’ So then we look at you totally different then. See what I’m saying?”–just as long as you aren’t gay, or do anything that is “wrong” according to you?  Or maybe, you can do anything you want–like not even apologize for a savage beating you gave a couple– but because you were “saved” that makes up for everything. The lack of accountability in this type of theology is what has always deterred Jews like me, and many others from committing to the religion, yet with others has made Christianity such a popular religion–from simony, to vicarious atonement (something G-d says is not even possible in Ezekiel), to not having to make atonement to the people you’ve harmed (which contradicts the teachings of jesus, btw)–“just believe” and “every little ting gonna be awright”

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