Rabbi Dostai bar Yannai said, in the name of Rabbi Meir: ”Whoever forgets [even] one word of his [Torah] learning, the Scripture considers him worthy of death.” But why should a person’s failure to remember a detail of Torah that he learned be considered proof that he forgot what he had seen with his own eyes when he stood at Sinai?
The Sages made a number of remarkable observations concerning beauty. The Torah commands the urban planners in Israel to leave 1000 amot (cubits) of untilled land around each of the cities to be given to the Levites, allowing nature to manifest its beauty. The Sages further mandate that one must remove all unseemly objects, and even not plant trees in the immediate vicinity of a city, to ensure that the landscape will always be pleasing.
Beauty – whether in nature, art, or music – can calm us when we are stressed, or inspire our creativity and spur us on to great accomplishments. Jewish educators should encourage our children to study and appreciate natural beauty, art, and music. This should be done within the framework of the school and home, with emphasis on the religious significance of the aesthetic experience. With the proper perspective, visiting an art museum, or taking a walk in the woods, can effect real spiritual growth.
Now that the Supreme Court of the United States has legalized same-sex marriage, we need to ask ourselves why there has never been any discussion about other illegal sexual relationships, such as incest, and why a union as obvious as a heterosexual marriage is actually permitted. This question may sound very strange, even disturbing and shocking, but it is one of the most profound questions we must ask. Doing so will help us understand what is behind the fierce debate that is now taking place concerning the Supreme Court’s decision.
We are currently living in a transitional phase of monumental proportions and far-reaching consequences. Our religious beliefs are being challenged as never before. We are forced to our knees due to extreme shifts and radical changes in scientific discoveries; our understanding of the origins of our holy texts; our belief in God; the meaning of our lives; and the historical developments of our tradition. We find ourselves on the precipice, and it is becoming more and more of a balancing act not to fall off the cliff.
Being religious is fraught with danger. Man is often pulled in directions where he can easily break his neck. To be religious is to allow your neshama (soul) to surpass your body, taking the latter to places where it cannot dwell and is asked to commit suicide.
It is in those who are still uncomfortable with God that new insights about Him are formed. And it will be in those uneasy environments that Judaism will be rediscovered and developed. The need for religious transcendence, and for the spiritual thread that keeps many young people on their toes, is enormous. Numerous secular people are joining a new category of spiritual theologians. Matters of weltanschauung are pivotal to many secular Jews now. The problem is that for them, and for the religious, the Torah is transmitted on a wavelength that is out of range of their spiritual transistors’ frequency. Yes, we turn on the radio, but we hear strange noises and unusual static. There is serious transmission failure. We are no longer sure where the pipelines are. God has relocated.
One of the great challenges, if not the greatest, is Shabbat, the only official day of rest in Israeli society when people enjoy visiting their parents and friends who live far away or who may be in hospital. Many would love to go to a restaurant and enjoy an afternoon ride through neighborhoods in Yerushalayim or other cities. But none of this is possible without the use of cars or taxis and with no open restaurants. This article offers some suggestions to overcome these obstacles.
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.
This is clearly the meaning of the famous talmudic statement by Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia (2) when he said: “The Holy One blessed be He desired to make Israel worthy, therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance, as it is said: ‘God desires for the sake of His righteousness that the Torah be expanded and strengthened. ’” (3).
While we must help to combat anti-Semitism in every way possible, we should be aware that it is not a Jewish problem. Its solution will be possible only when the world makes peace with ethical Judaism. Only when Jews will be able to convince the world of the power of Jewish ethics, and will ensure that it is taught in every classroom, church and mosque is there a chance that anti-Semitism will slowly come to an end.
For Jews, it is Avraham, rather than Noah, who represents genuine religiosity. Judaism is a covenant between man and God, in which man is co-creator. God orders him to take action beyond His commandments. He is asked to build the world with the ingredients that God supplied at the time of creation. And when God destroys the world, it is man’s task to restore it. He is obligated to storm out of the comforting “ghetto” of the ark, protest and start rebuilding.