Monday, May 23, 2011

Power of Words

Great Video:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Age is relative

Sometimes we get caught up in the mentality that being single over a certain age is old. That age is different in different communities- in some places it is 21 and others that magic age is 25. In this post that I wrote, some felt 23 was the age of an old maid. This article which someone sent me claims that Kate Middleton made it "cool to get married at 29." Interesting. This reminds me of those who say there is no shidduch crisis, the community just needs to change the mentality that being single over the age of (fill in the blank here) is so terrible. Granted, this is different in the secular world where couples do not observe the mitzvah of shomer negiah. Even though Kate waited until she was 29 to get married, she apparently had been dating the Prince for a long time already.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Israel and Yom HaAtzmaut

The first time I visited Israel, I was disappointed. I was disappointed because I did not feel a connection to Israel at all. I had learned about Eretz Yisrael in school, seen pictures of it, heard stories of it, and I knew it was an important place. So I thought that when I got there I would feel like I was in some place special, spiritual, holy. I tried so hard to feel the holiness when I was there, but I left feeling guilty. Guilty that I should be falling in love with our holy land, the land with so much historical significance, so much religious significance, but I did not feel connected.

My second trip to Israel was a similar story. By that point I was in high school and I was sure that things would be different because I was older. But it was the same story. I tried even harder the second time around to feel connected, to fall in love with Israel, but I had to face the fact that while both times I greatly enjoyed my trips, I did not experience the "WOW" feeling that everyone else I knew experienced. While everyone I knew would rant about how great Israel was, and would long to go back, I just sat there silently. Though I thought I was the only one feeling this disconnect, there were others who felt this way, and one such person felt brave enough to ask this question in an "ask the Rabbi" session I was at. My ears perked up as soon as she asked the question.

The Rabbi responded that there are different types of pleasures in life. Some types of pleasures we experience immediately, such as tasting good food, or smelling a pleasant smell. Others take a little bit of time to experience, such as a friendship or relationship. At the beginning of a relationship you don't feel connected to the person because you don't have shared experience and you haven't built the relationship yet. But picture a long lasting friendship or marriage that has lasted 20 or 30 years. The type of pleasure that a person receives from such a relationship is much deeper than the pleasure one gets from eating a piece of cake. The same is true for Eretz Yisrael.

Visiting Israel is not like visiting other countries. You can't just go and expect to automatically be connected. It is a relationship that you have to build, one that develops over time. But once it is developed, it is deeper than other connections. This answer really hit home for me, and that is why I share it with you today. I was fortunate enough to experience this deep connection first hand during the year I spent in Seminary in Israel.

I recall the first times I went to the Kotel, before my year in Israel, standing there repeating in my head, "This is where the Beit HaMikdash stood" over and over, trying to get it through my head that this was not just some random wall of stones. Perhaps the fact that it was crowded and that there were women pushing me, was unhelpful to my attempt to concentrate, but I couldn't feel anything. I was not overwhelmed or emotional, I just was. Contrast that to experience I had after a few months in Israel, after going to the Kotel many times. I can picture myself standing at the Kotel, closing my eyes, breathing in the fresh air, listening to the mumbles all around me, until emotion floods me and I pour my heart out to Hashem. To this day, the best Tefillah that I ever davened (aside from perhaps Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur davening) was there at the Kotel.

Despite my initial indifference, or perhaps because of it, I can now say that I feel a strong connection to Israel and that I love Israel. It is a deep part of me and a place that is always in my thoughts. My davening is different because of it, especially the parts of davening that mention Israel, and specifically the bracha V'Lirushalayim Ircha in Shemoneh Esrei. I love the hills, the flowers, the sky, the streets, the homes.

I love Eretz Yisrael, our holy land, given to the Jewish people by G-d. I feel that it is easier to feel Hashem’s presence in Israel. I love the spiritual, religious, experience I have there, and I love modern day Israel. I love how today Israel is a homeland where all Jews have the right to be. I love how the entire country celebrates the Jewish Holidays, as opposed to how in the United States celebrating chagim feels strange, separating us out from the mindset of the rest of the country. I love that after centuries Jews can live in the place where we belong, that we have returned after a long exile.

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, celebrating the fact that we, the Jewish people, have returned to our homeland. And while we ultimately await the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, we thank Hashem for the numerous miracles that He has performed to give us this wonderful gift, of Eretz Yisrael.

Every day we praise Hashem and thank Him for the wonderful pleasures of this world, the ones that we experience every day- food, clothing, shelter. Tonight and tomorrow is a time for us to thank Hashem for giving us a place where we can join together and unite, and for a place where we are able to connect to Hashem, more than any place in the world. Even though it may take time, once we get there, it is worth the effort.

May this gift from Hashem of Eretz Yisrael, which we received again in 1948, be followed by the bracha of peace throughout the world and particularly in Eretz Yisrael. May this be the beginning of the final of redemption, and may the Beit Hamikdash be rebuilt very soon with the coming of Mashiach, to bring us to the days when all Jews will gather from the four corners of the world and unite in the holy land that Hashem gave to us, Israel.


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sefirat HaOmer

It is Sefirat HaOmer again, and like every year I can tell it is going by so fast that by the time it gets to Shavuos I realize I haven’t prepared at all. Like always around this time, the topic of loving fellow Jews is on my mind. Actually that topic is frequently on my mind, not just during Sefira, but I guess that is just how I was brought up. Neither of my parents grew up Orthodox, though both grew up with a strong connection to Judaism. Because of this, though I always attended religious schools, during my childhood I found myself in non-religious or even non-Jewish environments.

This exposure really strengthened my Judaism, because when you are 10 or 11 years old and a non-Jewish kid asks you, “What does Kosher mean?” you have know the answer and know what you’re talking about. When your Reform friend comes over for shabbos and asks you questions, you need to know why you do what you do, and when your Conservative relative brings you to their synagogue, then you learn why in your shul the men and women sit separately, while in her shul they sit together. In addition, my experiences made me sensitive to the attitudes of Jews towards one another, particularly the attitudes of Orthodox Jews towards the other denominations.

Being Orthodox means believing that all of Torah (Torah shebichtav and Torah shebaal peh) are from Hashem, and this means disagreeing with Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist or other types of Jews, but disagreement does not mean that the Orthodox attitude should be anything less than “ViAhavta L’Rayacha Kamocha” towards them.

I write this because a friend recently told me a story which she prefaced as being a “funny story” that had been making the rounds. The story was about non-religious Jews who enter an Orthodox home where the family is sitting shiva. Not knowing the protocol of what to do, they notice people muttering statements to the mourners, but do not know what to say. So they approach the mourners and read the only sign they see visible, the one that lists the davening times. Apparently this is amusing, but I do not find it to be so. Since I heard this story after it had been passed through a whole chain of people, I can only hope that it has been altered and that the situation was not as bad as it sounds.

I give credit to the fact that from the report I heard no one laughed out loud, and no one informed them of their mistake in a way that would embarrass them. I also of course don’t blame the mourners, who are going through difficult times. What bothers me about the story is that there were other frum Jews in the room. Why did none of them notice a few clearly non-religious people standing around awkwardly looking for direction? Could no one have approached them and tried to explain what to do?

This is just a story, but many non-religious Jews feel that Orthodox Jews look down on them. They feel this way because many Orthodox Jews do look down on them. That pains me because the Torah attitude is not to judge others and if there is anyone who should excel at kindness in interpersonal relationships, at Mitzvot Bein Adam L’Chavero, it is those who keep Torah. Unfortunately that is not always the case. I had a teacher who said that when it comes to our relationships with people, we have to separate the Gavra and the Cheftza- the person and their actions. As frum Jews, may disagree with the actions of non-religious Jews- the fact that they do not keep shabbos or kashrus, but our attitude towards their actions does not need to be the same as our attitude towards them as people.

I don’t mean to lump all Orthodox Jews into this category, and in fact most of the Orthodox Jews I know are kind towards non-religious Jews, and I most often see religious Jews making a Kiddush Hashem with their outstanding behavior. During this time I think about how important it is to work on how we deal with other people. This skill is a different one than we are often used to working on in life. We grow up attending school, where the focus is on learning, on how much you know, on being smart, on intelligence, on getting good grades. A person can be brilliant or knowledge, a person can even know the halachos and know how to treat people right, but that does not translate into action. That is what we learn from Rabbi Akiva’s talmidim. No doubt that they were brilliant and knew a tremendous amount of Torah, more than we can fathom. But they did not treat each other right, and at the end of the day, that was important to Hashem.