Rabbi Yossi's Blog

Welcome to Rabbi Yossi's Blog; where you can expect to find thoughts on current events, Torah learning and Jewish spirituality. And of course, some good Jewish humor.

Choosing Life

I’d like to tell you about an amazing course that began this past Tuesday evening - Medicine and Morals; Your Jewish Guide Through Life’s Tough Decisions. The central theme of our first lesson “Choosing Life” was the nature of our obligation to seek healing. To what degree are we obligated to preserve our own health, and what discretion do we have in regards to our decisions regarding medical care?

We began by considering the ethical foundation of seeking medical care. Unlike some other faith traditions that have seen the pursuit of medical care as interference with G-d’s plan, Judaism sees the pursuit of medical care as fully consonant with our faith in G-d. As humans, we are empowered by G-d to partner with Him in perfecting an imperfect world. Thus, intervening with nature to heal the sick is no different than fertilizing soil or planting a field. Medical intervention is wholly compatible with our belief that G-d is the true healer, and while prayer and spiritual pursuits are appropriate and important responses to illness, they in no way preclude the responsibility to seek appropriate medical care. 

When a patient is terminally ill, there is an obligation to seek out treatment that is successful more than 50% of the time, in spite of the fact that that the treatment may not always be successful and may involve certain risks.

Patients, however, sometimes refuse to undergo treatment. A major underpinning of secular medical ethics is the right of autonomy, and so long as patients clearly understand the implications of their choices, patients may not be compelled to undergo treatment. Their life is considered their own business, and they may not be pressured into following the doctor’s recommendation, no matter how ill-advised the doctors find their choices.

Practically speaking, Jewish law rarely allows people to compel others to accept treatment. It allows forcible intervention only if the patient is critically ill, the treatment is accepted by all doctors at that location as proven to cure and is not risky, persuasion is impossible, and the use of coercion will not itself precipitate death. Yet unlike the secular position, Judaism is not neutral to the choice of patients, and even when coercion may not be applicable there may be an obligation to seek out available medical care.

It is still possible to join us for the remainder of this fascinating course – register by logging on to Join us on Tuesday, November 2nd when we will discuss the ethics of organ transplants.

You Fit Right In!

There is a Chassidic saying that this week’s Torah portion - the portion of Lech Lecha - is the first truly joyous portion of the Torah. The first two describe, in addition to their joyous parts, negative stories and events. This week we "live" with Abraham, the first Jew, every day of the week.

Reading the beginning of the narrative however can leave us somewhat perplexed. The portion begins with G-d telling Abraham to travel to a new land "that I will show you" and promising blessing and reward in exchange.

But who is this Abraham?

We know that Abraham recognized G-d early in his life and dedicated himself to promote monotheistic belief. However the Torah doesn't mention anything about his spiritual greatness; it doesn't tell us how he single handedly countered the prevailing trends of the day. No, our first introduction to Abraham is G-d instructing him to move to a new land. It would seem appropriate to first introduce us to this great man, tell us about his accomplishments and then begin his story. Why the glaring omission?

The Torah is showing us what truly defined Abraham's greatness. It was not his own accomplishments - it was G-d choosing him. Every Jew, as a descendant of Abraham, is defined by their essence - who they are - not by what they do. A more knowledgeable Jew may be able to appreciate and practice his/her Judaism better but is not more Jewish than one who is less knowledgeable.

The Torah omits discussion of Abraham's greatness and dedication to G-d to illustrate that although religious observance is necessary to strengthen one's connection to G-d, it doesn't create that bond. It doesn't define who we are.

The bottom line? No matter your level of knowledge or observance, you fit right in!

I hope to see you soon! Shabbat Shalom!

My Kind of Hero

Coming from the inspiration of the High Holidays, followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah, many of us commited to stay more connected and involved with our Jewish life. Too often this commitment soon wanes as we get back to the “regular grind”. Why does this happen to us? Were we not sincere when we made the commitment?

One recurring explanation that I’m told is “Rabbi, how can I come to shul on Friday night – I barely read Hebrew” or “Rabbi, you know we don’t keep kosher at home” etc. As if somehow, the fact that we are not perfect (i.e. that we're human) means that we shouldn’t try. That if we can’t get it all – we don’t do the (albeit little) that we can.

That’s why I like the way that Noah is described in this week’s Torah portion – he is described by Rashi as a man of “small faith”. He didn’t completely and wholeheartedly believe… yet he did what Hashem asked of him.

Rabbi Yossy Goldman of South Africa expands on this theme - there is an old Yiddish proverb, Fun a kasha shtarbt men nit--"Nobody ever died of a question." It's not the end of the world if you didn't get an answer to all your questions. We can live with unanswered questions. The main thing is not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by our doubts. We can still do what has to be done, despite our doubts.

Of course, I'd love to be able to answer every question every single one of my congregants ever has. But the chances are that I will not be able to solve every single person's doubts and dilemmas. And, frankly speaking, I am less concerned about their doubts than about their deeds. From a question nobody ever died. It's how we behave that matters most.

So Noah, the reluctant hero, reminds us that you don't have to be fearless to get involved. You don't have to be a tzaddik to do a mitzvah. You don't have to be holy to keep kosher, nor do you have to be a professor to come to a Torah class. (Read the entire article here).

So, as we get back to the regular schedule of the year, let us commit to getting more involved. I hope that we’ll get to see you soon at a class or a service. Please look at our calendar for details of upcoming events and programs.

Following our unique appeal at Kol Nidrei, we distributed the “Volunteer Skills/Interests Assessment Form”. Thank you to those who have already completed and returned the form. If you have not yet completed and returned it, please download the form here.

After three years, our local community is beginning to truly flourish and you have the ability to make a real change in the community and a significant difference in the lives of others. Please consider this important opportunity to volunteer and make an impact! The form can be faxed to 916 404 6263 or mailed to 302 South Lexington Drive #B, Folsom, CA 95630.

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