When my oldest granddaughter became Bat Mitzva I wrote a book for her with advice and stories. Here is one such story.
Human beings are uniquely blessed with the faculty of imagination, and they possess nearly unlimited potential for constructive fantasy. Imagination is essential for advancement and progress throughout the world, which is also the case for Torah study. And yet, the sophistication invested in the production of toys for our children limits their processes of pretense, and thus the possibility for innovation and new insights in Torah learning.
There is a pasuk (verse), missing from the Torah, a verse that is the most important of all—without which the Torah is not complete! This missing verse should have been written before the first verse in the Torah: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” This verse should have told us why God “decided” to create heaven and earth, the millions of stars, black holes, animals, vegetation, and above all, human beings. The absence of this verse is deliberate—for there is no way to write it; it could only have been “written” in God’s personal “language” that is beyond the capability of humankind to understand. The implications of this missing verse have profound meaning for human existence.
While in pantheistic and other non-monotheistic philosophies, the Divine has no moral input, nothing could be further from the Jewish concept of God. For Judaism, God is the source par excellence of all moral criteria. And yet, on occasion He Himself seems to violate these very moral criteria — such as in the case when He causes a devastating flood in the days of Noah. God is a conscious Being Who created the world with a purpose. And this world is real and by no means a mirage. The human being’s deeds are of great value, far from an illusion; they are the very goal of creation. Judaism objects to the pantheistic view of the human being since it depersonalizes him, ultimately leading to his demoralization.
It is often thought that God’s first commandment to Adam was the prohibition regarding the Tree of Knowledge. This would mean that man’s first encounter with the will of God was a negative experience: a restriction. However, this isn’t actually true: This was not the first commandment! Careful analysis of the text shows that the first commandment to Adam and Chava was to eat from all the other trees and enjoy them.
What is the source of religious passion? It is the awareness that something cannot become exhausted. To appreciate Judaism and see it as a blessing is to understand that just as the ocean is unfathomable, so Judaism transcends all interpretations. Understanding Judaism cannot be attained in the comfort of observing its laws or studying its texts. It occupies infinite space, beyond the limitations of the human mind and heart.
In the last century during which our people narrowly escaped total extinction, the most remarkable thing in all of history happened. As in a dream, we, Jews, were privileged to return to our ancient homeland after nearly 2,000 years of exile. We now have our own army to defend us, and many of us live in great comfort and joy, with opportunities that we, as Jews, could never have envisioned. This is nothing less than an astounding blessing that God has granted us; an open miracle.
But here too lies our greatest challenge: living under these miraculous conditions, we are in great danger of falling prey to the curse of indifference – indifference to the miserable and impossible situation of our fellow humans who are threatened by suffering and death.
It is Divine humor that tells us to live with absurdity, and supreme holy witticism that asks us to live with laughter. We are asked to enjoy the journey and realize that there is no arrival.
The beauty of the human body in the eyes of another human is beyond comprehension just as God’s “splendor” is. However, when the beauty of the body is used for the wrong reasons it becomes vulgar, and the inner Divine beauty is exposed and violated.
I am often asked whether I actually experience moments of God’s Presence. This is a difficult question to answer, because it relates to things that cannot be verified by conventional means. It touches on something that does not fall within the parameters of any other experience.
A humorous look at the problem of human communication. Enjoy!
Some have said that only what can be proven is of value. True, if we limit ourselves to that which can be proven, we run less risk of error, and yet, by limiting ourselves so, we also run the risk of missing out on that which is most important. After all, the things that bring us the greatest meaning are those very things that cannot be proven.
Regardless of the many traditional approach to offering sacrifices in our day, there is no question that the Temple and its rituals once played an enormous role in Judaism, and that offering sacrifices was at the very center of its holy service. So, what was it that made sacrifices such an essential part of Judaism in bygone times? Was it merely primitivism? Or was it something that we are no longer connected to today and are missing out on? What holiness could there have been in the offering of sacrifices? And were we to discover this holiness, would that mean we should reintroduce the sacrificial rites in our own contemporary times?
My father constantly spoke about the famous, highly controversial philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza was raised in the Portuguese Spanish Jewish Community whose members had fled from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands after the Inquisition in 1492, a fate shared by my own family. Spinoza’s attacks against Judaism made me wonder what Judaism was all about and why he so strongly opposed it. Thus, paradoxically, it was Spinoza who set me on the road to Judaism.
Is belief in an afterlife a fundamental tenet of Jewish faith? I personally believe that a human being’s life does not come to an end with death, but I do not believe that this is a fundamental tenet of our faith. In fact, I believe that to consider this as such harms the integrity of Judaism.
It’s high time that we who consider ourselves religious have an honest look in the mirror and ask ourselves what brought us to this lifestyle. Was it a genuine longing for religion and mitzvah observance, or was it an insurance policy?
When a nation looses its sense of mission it turns against those who remind them of it. All too often, it is the Jewish nation that earns their hatred with their moral demands and teachings. As a result, these countries call for the destruction of this annoying nation. Its voice, reflecting the One Above, has to be silenced so that the uncertainty of these countries’ conscience and the reality of their guilt can be obliterated.
Joy is not a “peak experience” which climaxes and ends suddenly, but rather a plateau. It is not the ecstatic fire of the moment but the glow of growing from within.
The purpose of genuine religious life is to protest against this optical illusion and to teach us to refocus our spiritual spectacles. It is not that religion shows us something new. Rather, it shows us what we have seen all our lives but have never noticed, that there is dazzling goodness in this world. There is order instead of chaos; there is diversity, not just monotonous existence; and above all, there is the infinite grace of the human deed.
After a year in which we’ve personally felt a little bit of the Shi’abud Mitzraim—the bondage of Egypt—by way of the Pandemic—Pesach this year has an added meaning, bringing the Exodus a little closer to our own experience.