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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.

Childlike Behavior

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It’s been a while since I’ve had such a physically active week but with Camp Gan Israel in full swing, I was drawn in and put to work. The truth is, I really do enjoy hearing all the singing and cheering and it’s really my pleasure to drive and chaperon trips (especially when they involve overnight camping and kayaking!). And it’s truly a joy to be interrupted by happy young voices joyfully singing Jewish songs while trying to speak on the phone!

Children are very sincere. Unlike adults, they experience very simple and pure emotions. The complicated intentions and interpretations that adults understand are beyond they’re scope. If something bothers them, they are upset. If they enjoy something, they’re happy. And they can go from happy to sad in one moment, all due to their simplicity and sincerity.

A child will marvel in fascination when they first experience a new innovation. They will spend hours trying to figure out how to solve a puzzle. There’s a special novelty associated with everything that they discover. Yet as adults, we tend to lack in precisely those areas of life. The fascination and novelty gives way for cynicism and skepticism.

As we grow, we develop in all areas. The body matures and so does our mind. But sometimes it’s healthy to revert back to our childlike state.

In the spirit of Camp Gan Israel, I encourage you to take a walk back in time to your childhood.

Let’s accept others unconditionally, just as a child does. Let’s marvel at the wonders of G-d’s creation, just as a child does and let’s pray wholeheartedly, just as a child does.

Sometimes our sophistication is a good thing, at other times we’re better served by being open, honest and sincere. Just like a child.

Are you different at work?

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Are you the same person at work as you are at home? Are your principles and values such that they influence your decisions equally, notwithstanding the people that you are with?

Are you an at-home Jew? I know many people who are comfortable with their Jewishness at home or in the Synagogue but they check it at the door when they are with non-Jewish friends or when it comes to their work. They find it difficult to take off time to observe a Jewish holiday. They don’t feel comfortable taking their children out of school for the Jewish holidays.

In describing the effect of G-d’s voice in communicating the Ten Commandments, as described in this week’s Torah portion, an unfamiliar term is used. G-d’s voice is described as being “a great voice, which – lo yosof” (Deut. 5:12). The Hebrew words “lo yosof” is simply translated “did not cease,” but it’s an uncommon term and various commentaries have other interpretations.

One interpretation is that the sound of G-d’s voice had no echo. Nature dictates that a loud sound will have an echo, but this time the sound of G-d’s voice had no echo. Isn’t strange that such a loud and powerful voice wouldn’t have an echo? Isn’t odd that G-d would engineer a seemingly pointless miracle?

The Rebbe points out that this is not necessarily unordinary and miraculous, rather it is the very purpose of G-d’s voice and guidance for life as communicated in the Torah. The function of the Torah is to affect every part of the world; to infuse the world with holiness and G-dly purpose. Therefore, the sound of G-d’s voice didn’t echo; it didn’t bounce off the surface, rather it permeated and positively influenced the world.

In our lives too, Judaism isn’t meant to be a nice tradition that we celebrate at home once in a while. It should be what guides our daily interactions and choices. It should be so much part of our psyche that it would be impossible to compartmentalize and leave at home and not bring it to work.

The truth is, as anyone who has tried this will tell you, it feels really good to be proud and publicly Jewish. Try it, you’ll like it too!

Tragedy and Truly Living

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This week has been one of the most painful weeks for me; a close childhood friend of mine lost his 22 month old son to a tragic accident. Death is always sad and painful, but it is unnatural for a father to bury his son. As a father myself, the loss is unthinkably difficult.

My intention is not to burden you with bad news but please, hear me out. Too often people only think about G-d when something painful happens. They get angry at G-d, they question G-d, and in the extreme, they turn their backs on G-d.

Perhaps we should consider that today the sun rose, this morning you woke up and ate breakfast. You walked about your house and prepared for the day. Did you take the time to thank G-d for returning your soul this morning? Did you take time to be mindful of all the blessings in your life?

A tragic event like this reminds us to hold precious all the blessings in our life. Spend a bit more time with your loved ones, visit or call your parents just to say hi. The time which we have is so precious and dear, there’s no time for petty arguments (and in the scheme of things, they’re truly all petty) and let’s not waste our emotional energy on allowing ourselves to feel slighted by others.

This Shabbat, the Shabbat prior to Tisha B’av, is known as “Shabbat Chazon.” Simply, it’s due to the first word of the haftorah. However, there is a deep, profound lesson of the great Chassidic teacher Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who explains another reason for the name of this Shabbat. “Chazon” means vision, and on this Shabbat, “every Jew is granted a vision from afar of the future Beit HaMikdash (the Holy Temple).”

The Rebbe expounded on this idea and explained that the darkest time of the year are the days leading to Tisha B’av, the day when the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed and the Jewish people were sent into exile. Yet even at this darkest time, we are given a glimpse of the future redemption. We are able to perceive, on a deep soul level, the future redemption and the G-dly revelation that will come with it. This “vision” provides us with the spiritual resources necessary to overcome the darkness.

A tragedy like my friend and his family endured this week can be just that, a painful tragedy. Or it could lead us to strengthen the important things in life. It can encourage us to focus more on the truly valuable aspects of life and help us not get distracted by the temporary and ultimately, yes, completely unimportant, parts of life.

May we share good news!

 

Show me the money!

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In this great country, taking a quick look at the dollar bill in your wallet can strengthen your resolve and calm your nerves. Even if that dollar bill is lonely, looking at it can remind you to relax; it’s all under control. Sometimes, when life gets hectic, we can forget. The dollar bill reminds us.

That’s right; I’m referring to the official motto of this country found on all US currency, “In G-d we trust.”

It’s quite interesting that the term that was decided upon is trust (rather than belief or faith). This is especially relevant when taking into account the teaching of the Ba’al Shem Tov of specific Divine Providence (Hashgacha pratit), that every detail in this world is purposeful and can teach us a valuable lesson in serving G-d.

Professing belief in G-d doesn’t necessarily translate into changing one’s actions. The Talmud tells of a thief, about to employ his unlawful skill of undetected entry into a private property, calls out to G-d for success in his endeavors. Obviously, this distinguished individual has failed to connect some dots… Trust, however, is neither an intellectual belief nor an emotional one. Trust in G-d means to base ones decisions on that trust. Trust in G-d means that we rely on G-d. We entrust all our affairs in His reliable hands and trust that He will do what is best for us. We trust He will help us fulfill our dreams and aspirations.

So, the next time your life seems to be spinning out of control, take out a dollar bill and remind yourself, “In G-d we trust,” – it will all be fine because it’s in G-d’s reliable hand.

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