Two new podcasts, plus an essay for Yom Kippur.
A parable for Rosh Hashana, plus, two new podcasts: On music as religious experience, and on the importance of bringing children into the world.
To my great regret, due to a severe lack of funds, the David Cardozo Academy has been forced to leave its offices, hence, I will not be able, at least for the meantime, to write and send out my weekly Thoughts to Ponder.
Why do we believe that revelation may be possible? If revaluation is by definition not amenable to scientific investigation, what other faculty is available to us to contemplate the prospect of revelation? Believe it or not, this depends on our openness and capacity to wonder, to be perplexed and stand in amazement, which happens when we have no other way of dealing with something extraordinary.
The blowing of the shofar proves that we can surpass ourselves. On our own, using our vocal cords, we are unable to produce this sound – a terrifying penetrating resonance. Alone, we cannot produce a sound that comes close to the piercing and penetrating heavenly voice of the shofar, which can cause human beings to break down, pick themselves up again, and transform into new individuals.
Religion is a protest against taking life for granted. There are no insignificant phenomena or deeds in this world, and it is through Judaism’s demands and far-reaching interference in our daily life that we are made aware of God as our steadfast Companion.
Jewish education has only one goal, and that is to inspire students to reach for Heaven (Yirat Shamayim)—to transform them into outstanding human beings, who demonstrate concern for their fellowmen and dedication towards the Jewish people and the notion to serve mankind as its ultimate mission, according to the commandments of the Torah.
There is little meaning in living by Halacha if one does not hear its grace. It is not a life of Halachic observance that we need, but a life of experiencing Halacha as a daily living music recital. Observance alone does not propel man to a level of existence where he realizes that there is more to life than the mind can grasp.
In the wake of the destruction of Jerusalem the leaders of the Jewish people despaired. But the ordinary Jews did not. Despite the total collapse of Jewish life, they opted for the impossible. They not to listen to their leaders, but continued building the nation of Israel, as they had previously been taught by the very sages who now despaired. Sometimes, the simple man has more faith in the Jewish future than the greatest Talmudic scholar.
Judaism’s recognition of God is not the triumphant outcome of philosophical deduction. It results from the performance of mitzvoth. Through the observance of the commandments we perceive the Commander.
To set one’s schedule around fixed times—for prayers, for meals, for learning, etc.—does not only inject order into one’s life, but also meaning; and as such one gains an opportunity to sanctify those moments. The chaos of a week without order, of days without set times, is yet another manifestation of the secularization of society and the profanation of the sacred.
Just as there is a need to continuously grow in a marriage, so it is with Judaism. One needs to work on one’s commitment. Both the spouse and Judaism need to become the ultimate priority in our lives.
Halacha is the greatest chess game on earth. It is the Jewish game par excellence. For people who want to live a life of great meaning and depth, nothing is more demanding and torturous while simultaneously uplifting and mind-broadening. They love the rules because they are the way to freedom. Certainly chess is just a game, while Halacha, if properly understood and lived, deals with real life, deep religiosity, moral dilemmas, emotions, and intuitions far more significant in a person’s life than a chess game.
I love to go to Limmud, to listen and to teach. Limmud is a place where I am challenged; where I hear new things (including some utter nonsense); where I can fall in love with my fellow Jews, laugh and cry with them, and share my commitment to and struggles with Judaism.
In the next 50 years, we will see radical changes in the condition and nature of the Jewish people, as well as in Orthodox Judaism and Halacha. While during the last 2,000 years Halacha was “exile-orientated” and “defensive,” we are slowly growing out of this. The sources that until now were the basis for Halacha will have to be replaced by new Orthodox / Israeli “prophetic” Halacha. The first signs of this are already taking place.
However blasphemous this may sound, the Kohein Gadol was to be the original pope. Basically, the papacy is a Jewish function, tasked not with the mission of spreading the gospel, but rather promulgating monotheism, morality and the Torah, as far as it is applicable to the non-Jewish world.
It is because of my awareness that any religious belief can be justified that I have become so critical of mainstream Orthodox Judaism and skeptical about the way I promulgate my own Judaism, in the way I see it. Do I believe in it only because it’s something I have grown into and feel at home and comfortable with, or is there something more that makes my Judaism’s claim to truth stand out from all the others?
A flame grows or diminishes depending on the combustibility of the material it comes in contact with. So it is with human openness to the divine. Their receptivity to the divinity of Torah is proportionate to the condition of their soul.
While most people today believe that one should not burden children with obligations, but rather allow them to make their own choices, Judaism teaches us that giving a child the feeling that he has a moral task to fulfill is giving him the option to experience immense joy.
Shabbat is the day on which we are asked to put aside all the profanity of clattering commerce and the fury of greed; of trying to convince ourselves that we are the absolute owners of this world. It is a day of protest against all the external pomp, glitter, and power. Its purpose is to turn the world into an island of tranquility in the stormy sea of worldliness, for one day each week.