Friday, April 2 2004
Youll have to excuse me; Im not my usual sparkling self.
I dont have the energy to engage in mordant humour, Ive no patience for fancy wordplay. Not for today wry observations about
the vagaries of modern life and if youre waiting for the joke of the week buy the Readers Digest.
spent that many hours delivering hand-baked Shmura Matzos and Pesach-guides that the postal workers union has complained about
me to the industrial relation commission. (If I didnt get to you, please forgive, you either werent home, have a great big
dog preventing access to the property or didnt answer the door to my tired knock, trust me, I tried). (Give me a call 0403490434
and I'll try again).
Whenever I stumbled home, trailing behind me a cloud of Matzo crumbs I was privileged with the opportunity
to spend some quality time with my dear wife in her maniacal pursuits of scrubbing, scouring, polishing sweeping, cleaning
and washing and searching for every last crumb of chomets my devoted children have dedicated their year disseminating
throughout the house (and if you think Im tired, you should meet my wife).
Tonight, after I finish this Ive been informed
that I have a special treat to look forward to I get to help with the cooking!
And they tell me that Im doing this as preparation
for the FESTIVAL OF FREEDOM!?!
Freedom means different strokes to different folks. To an animal, freedom means freedom of movement,
the right to roam free unhindered by physical boundaries.
Humans demand more ethereal qualities to truly feel liberated;
provide a man with all his material needs but deny him freedom of expression, liberty to think, feel and vote as he chooses
and he will feel as enslaved as any confined animal. As every despotic regime has discovered, the human spirit rebels against
intellectual or emotional shackles just as surely as against physical incarceration.
A Jewish soul demands an even higher
articulation of freedom. True liberty is satisfied only by the autonomy to connect to Hashem through His Torah and Mitzvos.
The denial of Judaism to a Jew is to remove him from his natural milieu, the equivalent of dumping a fish onto the beach;
it might give the impression of independent existence, might even flop around for a while in an uninhibited manner, but you
call that living?
Just as a sea creature is only truly free when confined to water so do we only truly live when living
At first glance much of our observances appear restrictive and demanding, but from an insiders perspective they
are truly liberating. As one of our regulars told me a while ago The first Shabbos I kept properly was the toughest, most
boring day of my life, by my third week, I couldnt imagine life without it.
Sure some rites are rigorous and many traditions
are tough but the festivities are fantastic, the lifestyle is lovely, the way of life is wonderful and the rewards are remarkable.
Now, back to the cooking.
Friday, April 16 2004
What form of guilt trips did your mother use? Notice I didn?t ask if she routinely resorted
to guilt while raising you, I?m making the natural assumption that if she was Jewish, she laid them.
Did she insist on
feeding you the good stuff while saving the inferior cooking for self? (Referred to in psychiatric literature as ?the burnt
chop syndrome?). Did she clutch her heart and start panting whenever your plans didn?t coincide? How many times did she have
to suggest meaningfully that she?s not getting older and would dearly love to see ______ before it?s too late (fill in the
gap, depending on stage of life). And, the all time favourite, does she remind you that she shlepped you around for nine months,
suffered through labour and??.
(Mum, if you?re reading this, none of the above examples are from personal experience, I?m
going on hearsay only :-)
In G-d?s own way, He does much the same thing. Dozens of times throughout the Torah, in diverse
contexts, we are forcibly reminded about one specific debt to G-d.
A few instances:
?Don?t lend money on interest?. I am Hashem, who took you out of Egypt?
?Wear tzizis? I took you out of Egypt?.
?You shall have honest scales ? I am your G-d who has taken you out of Egypt?.
The Talmud (B?M 61a) suggests that this isn?t just G-d going the guilt trip on us, rather, just
as Hashem distinguished between friend and foe, believer and skeptic, and even ferreted through the Egyptian gene pool to
trace the first-borns among them, so too will he discern and exact punishment from anyone who falsely and perversely lends
money on interest through a third party, sells fake religious articles or fiddles with his business weights.
transgressions are almost impossible to trace and punish under a human justice system but G-d, who coped with rescuing us
from Egypt, is capable of policing and punishing.
To quote the old song:
Dear G-d, here I am
I can fool my friends and neighbours,
But there ain?t no fooling you.
Even more profound:
Near the end of tomorrows Torah reading detailing the laws of Kosher animals
and food, we find ?And you shall sanctify yourself and you shall become holy?for I am Hashem who elevated you from the
land of Egypt to be your G-d? And you shall be holy for I am holy?.
The act of making oneself holy is equated not
merely to leaving Egypt but is depicted as having an elevating effect. Just as the process of exchanging slavery for
freedom was not just a staged development but a quantum leap from one level of existence to a higher, so too the undertaking
to emulate Hashem in ones daily mundane actions, even the seemingly minor choice to reject non-kosher and eat spiritually
beneficial foods, has the potential to radically transform one from a dreary, cloistered individual into a creature of G-dliness,
elevated and Holy.
Friday, 23 April 2004
As a Mohel, I can't afford to bite my nails.
However, on my flight to New Zealand this past Monday, it took great effort to refrain from a nervous nibble or two. The plane
had been delayed and it was going to be touch and go whether I would have time to land, clear customs, meet the parents, examine
the newborn and complete the bris before nightfall.
Why the worry and rush? Would it really
have made so much difference if we?d had to do the bris after nightfall? Would running a few minutes late justify postponing
my return flight to do the job on the morrow? Why be so pedantic?
This week our Torah reading begins? When
a lady gives birth to a male child? on the 8th day you should circumcise.? The Talmudic and Midrashic explanation
has always understood the verse to be insisting that a kosher bris be done only during the day. This to the extent that there
is Halachic discussion how to? re-bris? a child done at night. (Parenthetically, a bris done before the 8th day,
or done by a non-Jew or, according to the majority opinion, one done by an irreligious Jew does not qualify as a kosher bris
and needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Any queries- ask your Local Orthodox Rabbi).
My father learnt the art of Mila from an
elderly Russian Chassid, Reb Betzalel, who would tell of hiding all night in an attic watching and waiting for the break of
dawn so that he could fulfill his holy task and scurry away, all the while praying that the sounds from outside didn?t presage
the approach of the KGB.
Most of us are not faced with such astounding
demands of self-sacrifice for Hashem and Judaism. Our trials and challenges are more prosaic. However, the temptation to settle
for ?good enough?, the attitude of ?She?ll be right? even when contemplating fulfilling a Mitzva is sometimes too tempting
for us to withstand. How often do we allow ourselves to cut across the corners of religious life, rationalising that good
intentions are all that counts?
Judaism rejects this attitude. Done at
the right time, a bris is a covenant between Jew and G-d. The same actions done a few minutes too early or late is nothing
but an unnecessary operation. There is an old story how the argument between two Rabbis was resolved by one of them suggesting;
?Let?s just agree to disagree. You serve G-d your way, I?ll serve G-d His way?. Let us resolve to not only do
the right thing but also to do it at the right time and in the right way.
Oh, and by the way, I made it to the bris,
and with time to spare.
Friday, 30 April 2004
Mel Brooks has a line in one of his ?Two
thousand Year Old Man? routines where he is asked to define ?tragedy?.
?Say I was to cut my finger, well, that?s
tragic, terrible. It hurts! But if you were to trip over and drop dead on the spot, big deal, what do I care? It?s not my
Contrast that to ?Love your
fellow as yourself, I am Hashem (Vayikra 19:18)? The verse demands one demonstrate love for another equal to one?s love
of self. The blood trickling down your finger should ideally be as tragically disturbing to me as my feelings when staunching
my own wound, and the caring and consideration I demand for my own feelings I must demonstrate in my attitude to you.
How is it possible to truly love another
as oneself? By remembering I am Hashem; equating the act of love for one?s brethren to love of one?s G-d.
The intrinsic soul connection of a Jew to his G-d (demonstrated by the absolute refusal of even the most assimilated among
us to consider abandoning Judaism completely) is replicated in the soul connection between Jews. To reject another Jew, is
the equivalent of renouncing G-d.
What is your priority?
Draw a mental portrait of yourself (feel
free to drop a few years and pounds).Add to your picture a traditional Yemenite Jew replete with dark skin, curly peyos
and long flowing caftan. Good, now go black and white- a chassid in uniform. Whack in an Ethiopian, a big bellied, bum-bag
toting, loud-mouthed American tourist, a kova tembeled Israeli farmer dancing a hora around his orange trees
and a few other members of the tribe of various appearances and persuasions. Now let me ask you, ?what tribe??
What earthly resemblance do any of these
comic book characters have to you or your lifestyle? You share no language, cultural background, pigmentation or interests
with any of the above. Yet they are family. Were, G-d forbid, misfortune to befall them, the ties which bind us would elicit
your immediate help and sympathy and, if needed, your voice would definitely be raised in their defense just as quickly as
would theirs in yours.
Think of your nuclear family. My affection
for my siblings is absolute. We share bloodlines, parents and genes. Living on separate continents, with disparate interests
and lifestyles, does not diminish that affinity nor weaken those bonds.
Similarly between Jews, our differences
are physical, our commonalities- spiritual. Superficially we may look dissimilar but our matching denominator is our common
soul. The Jewish soul is an undifferentiated part of Hashem, untarnished and resolute, held in trust within us, the life force
of our earthly existence. From a soul perspective we are more than brothers, we are identical twins, with a common father,
Hashem.When one?s emphasis is the soul, one can
truly achieve equality and harmony between all Jews. The identical spiritual DNA we carry is the code to our common destiny
and the primary drive for the sense of love and kinship Jews bear for each other.