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.

Are you Jewish at heart?


Do you feel Jewish? Are you Jewish at heart?

Often when I encourage someone to do an extra mitzvah, I’ll get one of two responses. Either they’ll say to me, “I’m Jewish at heart, isn’t that what G-d wants from me?” or I’ll get the “I don’t want to be a hypocrite” response.

What’s interesting is that both of these responses are so non-Jewish! Judaism places extremely high value on action-oriented mitzvahs. To the extent that if one would do the motions of a mitzvah with no intent and meaning, they have fulfilled their obligation; whereas if one would have all the correct intentions, meditate for extended periods of time, but omit the actual deed, they have not fulfilled their obligation.

In other words, if you're only Jewish at heart, that’s not really the Jewish way at all!

Taking that a step further, if you profess not to believe but do the mitzvah anyway, that’s not hypocritical – the mitzvah is still a valid mitzvah!

Which reminds me of the story of the Alter Rebbe, the first Chabad Rebbe, who was once told that a certain follower of his was not completely honest about his behavior and displayed a higher level of piety around certain crowds than he was known to follow in private.

The Rebbe responded, “May his end be what the Talmud prescribes about such people.”

That sounded ominous. The tattler suddenly felt perhaps he had overstepped a little, and tried to minimize his previous report.

The Alter Rebbe explained that the Talmud writes about someone who fakes an illness, that he won’t die until he suffers from the illness that he had faked. “May this occur to him too, let him soon actually attain the level of piety that he professes to maintain.”

So don’t just be Jewish at heart – be Jewish outwardly too. And if you think that may be hypocritical, it won’t be long until you’re affected by your actions.

You are what you give

Flowers - giving.jpg 

Have you been following the news lately? It’s been quite astonishing - there’s been rebellion and intrigue, outright sin and then forgiveness. The national treasure was destroyed and then a replacement was crafted. That’s right; this week’s Torah portion news is most fascinating and includes many important themes.

However, the first theme addressed in the portion is possibly the most important of all: The counting of the Jewish people, by way of each person giving a half a shekel donation.

You probably know by now that the Torah’s purpose is not to share a historical account, rather its purpose (and the meaning of the word itself) is teaching and guidance. So what could possibly be the relevance of sharing this report of a primitive method of population measurement?

Think about this for a second – the Torah is relating how we measure people, and it’s not by counting their body; it’s by counting what they give, in this case a half shekel. Each person is looked at through the lens of their ability to contribute to the world around them. The Torah’s message is clear and simple; you’re worth what you give, not what you have.

But if it was all about what you give, why limit the amount? Why not ask each person to give as much they could? Because it’s not about being able to give more or less, it’s about giving; and every single person has what to give. Every single person has what to contribute. The proof? The fact that you’re here, the fact that you woke up this morning, that’s proof that you still have what to give.

Every single person has what to give. Don’t forget that – get out and give what you have to the world!

All dressed up with somewhere to go

Man wearing tie.jpg
Image credit: Mike Johnson

Moshe was trudging through the Sahara, thirsty and weak. When he spied something in the distance, he thought his eyes must be playing tricks on him. As he got closer, he recognized Hymie sitting in front of a table selling ties.

“Would you like to buy a tie?” Hymie offered.

“I’m dying, I need a drink of water! I have no use for a tie,” Moshe managed to reply.

“Well head over this hill behind you for a few miles. You’ll come across a restaurant, they should have water.”

A few hours later, Moshe crawled back to the table where Hymie was calmly sitting. In a raspy voice he cried out to Hymie, “Please, I need to buy a tie.”

“They couldn’t help?” Asked a concerned Hymie.

Moshe replied, “You could have warned me that your brother wouldn’t let me in without a tie!”

Speaking of ties reminded me of the question that has been asked recently, is wearing a tie a thing of the past? Some people think it isn’t; in fact that was the primary advice Donald Trump recently had for President Obama: Wear a tie!

Not to equate the two, but interestingly, ties were deemed important enough for Rabbi C. M. A. Hodakov, the Rebbe’s Chief of Staff for many years, that one of the guidelines that he advised Chabad yeshiva students on their way to visit outlying Jewish communities was: Wear a tie.

Although the Torah doesn’t have an official position on ties per se, this weeks Torah portion does speak of a different type of uniform: that of the Kohanim, or priests. While doing their service in the Temple, the Kohanim were required to wear a certain set of clothing.

The clothing of the kohanim was due to their responsibility in the Temple; they were charged with a unique mission and the way they dressed reflected their life-mission. 

Although external in many ways, clothes truly "make the man" (or woman). They communicate who we are. Companies recognize this and expect a certain dress code, if not an actual uniform, from their employees. Chassidic communities are famous for their unique way of dressing.

Jewish tradition definitely places importance on the way we dress, recognizing the ability of our clothes to influence not only what people think of us, but even the way we act.

Here’s a question for you to ponder: do you dress in a conscious manner, in line with your goals, values and way of life; or do you dress the way that society expects you to dress?

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.