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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.

Have Chutzpah - it's good for you!

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We generally consider Chutzpah to be a negative trait. But is Chutzpah all that bad?

Think of it this way – chutzpah is what enabled Steve Jobs to make Apple into the company that it is; Chutzpah is what Elon Musk had when he proposed the idea of PayPal to the world; and chutzpah is what you no doubt used in your life to accomplish your most significant breakthrough.

Chutzpah in the right context is good. Chutzpah is not accepting the status quo; chutzpah is not necessarily doing what everyone near you expects you to do.

A well-known saying in the Mishnah goes like this: "Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and mighty as a lion, to do the will of your Father in Heaven" (Rabbi Judah ben Tema, Ethics of Fathers 5:20). This statement is also highlighted in the first segments of the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law.

The first thing that a Jewish person needs to learn is to be “Bold like a leopard” – translation: have a healthy dose of chutzpah. It allows us to be confident in our Jewishness and not ashamed of it. It allows us to take off work for Jewish holidays even though others are not. It allows us to proudly celebrate our Jewish heritage and not hide it.

One way my Jewish chutzpah is expressed is by walking down the street with a yarmulkah on my head. How do you express your Jewish chutzpah?

The Boston Marathon - should we just give up?

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This past week has seen too much horrible news, with the terrible bombings at the Boston Marathon at the forefront. Once again terrorism has struck our country and we are all reeling from the news. While we are all equally horrified, we all react differently. Please allow me to share with you my thoughts – I would love to hear yours.

Let's start at the very beginning. The biblical narrative of creation describes a world that was initially perfect, an idyllic Garden of Eden. Then, due to the eating of the Tree of Knowledge, the world became a lot more challenging. Suddenly we have to work for a living, we have to deal with pain in childbirth and child rearing, and we have to deal with death.

Whatever your perspective on this narrative may be, there is deep wisdom embedded within it: We understand that although the world we inhabit may be tough and harsh, and despite being faced with senseless pain and suffering, essentially this world has the potential for good. After all, that’s the way it was initially created.

It is important that we understand both aspects well. If we try ignoring the harsh realities of this world, then our reaction to experiencing pain and suffering is confusion, Why do bad things happen? On the other hand, if we resign ourselves to the fact that this world is dark and painful, we become cold, callous and indifferent.

Currently, we live in a state of Galut, exile. This means that the barometer for what is good and desirous is not synonymous with what is holy and true. The time of Galut is likened to a dream in which things that don’t make sense can happen. Galut means that there is evil in the world and we have to recognize it as such. But Galut doesn’t leave us without options – on the contrary, we have the ability to reinstate this world to its original, idyllic, Garden-of-Eden state.

When we recognize that the current state of the world is such, we don’t react to tragedy with why, rather, we react with what.

What can I do to bring this world one step closer to the way it was intended?

Secretly Jewish

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Today, thank G-d, we live in a free country that allows us to practice our faith openly and without fear. Unfortunately this was not always the case. For much of history Jewish people were persecuted and forced to hide their identity. We've heard the stories many times but seeing evidence of this is quite another thing. Click on the image above to see how this "teapot" transforms into a collection of Jewish ritual items. Amazing!!

UPDATE: It seems this is just an artisitic piece and was never intended to enable hidden Jewish observance. Still, it does give an idea of what it must have been like back in the day. 

Are you better than a mosquito?

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“When a person stumbles and transgresses, remind them that a mosquito preceded them in creation,” says the Midrash. How’s that for encouragement?! Seems to me more like hitting them when they’re down. “Not only did you fail to live up to the standards that are expected from you, essentially you are worth less than a mosquito…”

Do you think that the wise sages of the Midrash are engaging in ad-hominem attacks on someone who is obviously already down on themselves? Of course not! What could possibly be the encouragement found in these words?

Let’s take a look at the context. The Midrash is discussing the reason why the Torah teaches the laws associated with people after the laws of animals (in last week’s Torah portion). The sages say this is because just as G-d created humans after animals, so too are their laws are discussed second.

Ok, so they match up – the order of the laws and the creation narrative. That’s nice and all but why does the creation narrative itself describe the creation of humans as being after the creation of animals?

There are basically two opinions (of course): 1) To emphasize the greatness of humanity – all of creation was prepared for us in advance. 2) So that “when a person stumbles, remind them that a mosquito preceded them in creation.” The first answer emphasizes the superiority of humanity over all other creations and the second reminds us that even the tiniest (and most annoying) creature is more significant than us.

In what way is even a mosquito better off than a human being? Humans are the only creation than can even entertain the thought of transgressing G-d’s will. Animals were created for a particular purpose and all they can do is fulfill their job. Human beings have free will and can therefore deviate from their assigned job; in this way they are inferior to animals.

Still, not too encouraging. Hearing this after I have stumbled - I don’t yet feel motivated to brush myself off and try again.

Here’s the decoding of the profound message contained within this perplexing statement. There are two types of accomplishment: 1) Utilizing a natural talent that makes accomplishing a certain challenge relatively easy. 2) Working hard on something that’s not necessarily your forte and successfully accomplishing your goal. When we work hard and succeed, it’s more valuable and precious than when something is given to us as a gift.

The first statement of the Midrash is telling us about our natural talents – we were created after animals due to our innate value, not due to our accomplishments.

The second statement of the Midrash tells us, true you may have made a mistake, a bad choice. You might have deviated from the path that is expected from you and in that way you are lower than a mosquito. But don’t forget what you have already accomplished – you have made yourself into an Adam (from the Hebrew word which means similar to G-d). Even though you were created with such a handicap, look at what you have accomplished through your hard work! You may have stumbled in this instant but don’t allow one temporary setback to cause you lose sight of your great accomplishments until now!

Too often we allow ourselves to get derailed by a temporary setback – it’s important to remind ourselves of our successful accomplishments brought about through hard work until now.

Don’t forget from where you have come – you started off behind the mosquito and now look at you!

Staying Sane While Raising Children

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 Exclusive workshop brought to you by the Chabad Hebrew School

with

Dr. Joel Fine, Vacaville

 Sunday, April 14th 10:00am – 11:00am

At Cynthia’s Dance Studio (two doors down from Chabad)

$10 donation requested

 We are pleased to announce that Dr Joel Fine is coming to Folsom next Sunday, April 14th to lead a parenting workshop/round table discussion.  Dr Fine is a psychiatrist who has been in private practice in Vacaville for 23 years.  He has written, lectured and taught on a variety of health care related issues over the years.  Dr Fine leads regular workshops and seminars on parenting and has extensive experience coaching parents and children.  He is the author of the recently published Arc of the Covenant: A Psychiatrist Tracks His Path Through Judaism. Dr Fine will gladly take your questions about parenting or being Jewish and raising children in Northern California. Click here to read a recent article by Dr Fine “The ADD Epidemic: How Real Is It?”.

Call Goldie for details or to RSVP 916 608 9811 x 102 or email goldie@jewishfolsom.org

Is it ever OK to lie?

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Do you know the key to blessings? Do you know how to create an atmosphere in your life that is conducive for blessings?

The Mishna tells us that the only vessel that can properly contain blessings in this world is peace. That’s a pretty telling statement. The only vessel for blessings is peace.

This idea is reflected by something very interesting that we see in this week’s Torah portion. Moshe, the greatest leader of the Jewish people, constructed the Mishkan (the travelling tabernacle in the desert). For seven days consecutively he constructed the Mishkan, brought the sacrifices and then dismantled the Mishkan. Each day he did the service but Hashem’s presence did not dwell in the Mishkan.

Only on the eighth day, when his brother Aaron did the service as the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest) did Hashem’s presence dwell in the Mishkan. Why is it that Moshe couldn’t accomplish what Aaron could; to draw the Shechinah (Hashem’s presence) into the Mishkan?

The commentaries tell us that although Moshe embodied truth, that wasn’t enough to draw down the presence of Hashem to dwell in the Mishkan. It was only able to be accomplished by Aaron, who embodied peace. Aaron, our sages tell us, chased after peace – he would go out of his way to make peace, sometimes even bending the truth* in order to accomplish this worthy goal.

Being truthful is highly important but sometimes peace is even more important.

* Aaron would “chase after peace”. Our sages explain that when two people quarreled he would go to each of the aggrieved parties and tell them that the other fully regretted their actions, even when this was not necessarily the case. This would diffuse the argument and pave the way for the two to make amends. 

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