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.

The Jewish Halloween?


Do you know why we dress up on Purim? I hope you know it's not just to have a Jewish flavored Halloween!

On the simplest level it's to add to the celebration, but the truth is it's much deeper than that.

The miracle of Purim was a unique miracle. it was not an earth shattering miracle like the splitting of the Reed Sea; it was a miracle that was concealed and disguised within the laws of nature.

There were no unnatural plagues; there were a series of palace intrigues that resulted in Esther becoming the queen. There were no supernatural events; the Jews of the time had to arm themselves and defend themselves against their enemies.

The story of Purim was a miracle hidden within nature, therefore we disguise ourselves. (That's also why we eat hamantashen, pastries with the filling hidden in it).

There's an important detail embedded in the "natural" events of Purim: Although the miracle was hidden within the laws of nature, Mordechai and Esther recognized the True Source that would cause the tides to turn in their favor. When news of the decree broke in Shushan, Mordechai gathered 22,000 Jewish children and studied and prayed with them in public. When Esther decided to risk her life and visit the king uninvited, she fasted for three days and asked that the entire community fast on her behalf. They realized that although they were working according to the laws of nature and depending on their diplomacy and charm to effect change, the actual cause of the change would be G-d.

Most of our life is experienced this way, laws of nature ruling and taking precedence. We generally don't experience overt miracles. Purim reminds us to be like Mordechai and Esther and remember the True Source of the blessings in our life, G-d.

Holy Dish Washing


Photo credit: Ryan McFarland

What is the best way to express a deep and passionate love? Sometimes the answer may well be by taking out the garbage and washing the dishes. Roses and chocolates may be nice, but they're superficial; the real expression of love is in the simple and even mundane acts that you do for the other.

Last week we read about the awesome revelation at Mount Sinai. Together as a people we witnessed direct divine revelation; no other group of people in history can lay claim to such an experience.

This week, though, we immediately learn about "earthly" laws: laws associated with business and dispute, laws of damages and laws of courts, laws of false promises and bribery. What a contrast - after being in such an inspired and elevated state, to deal with such mundane matters!

When we study Judaism a little deeper, we learn that although the elevated and inspired state is important, even more significant is to translate that inspiration into practice. The greater the inspiration and connection to G-d, the more profoundly affected should our physical lives be as well.

The purpose of the giving of the Torah and the revelation at Mount Sinai was not to show us how to escape this physical reality. The purpose of the giving of the Torah and the revelation at Mount Sinai was to show us how to elevate our physical life and to infuse our life with holiness.

This week's Torah portion is the 18th portion in the Torah. 18 is the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word Chai, which means life. The Torah is not only relevant in the Synagogue, the Torah is relevant to every part of our life. It's not just about infusing Judaism into our life, it's about living a Jewish life.

Were we forced into it?

Ten commandments.jpg 

There’s a little known statement in the Talmud that informs us that when the Torah says the words “and they encamped at the foot of (literally: under) the mountain,” it actually is referring to a dramatic underreported turn of events. At that point in time, we’re told, G-d raised the mountain above their heads and threatened them with death were they to not accept the Torah.

A far cry from the romantic narrative  of ”we will do and we will listen” that we usually hear. Stop and think for a second about this. What is the rationale - why force the people? Especially when they had already said that they plan to accept the Torah.

The Talmudic sages found this so problematic that they say that the Jewish people didn’t freely accept the Torah until the time of the story of Purim (close to 1000 years later). The question must be asked, why  would G-d choose to “force” them into submission?

Chassidic teachings interpret this experience in a more positive light; the G-dly revelation at Mount Sinai was so intense and overwhelming that they couldn't even consider any alternative. They were "forced" by G-d's love.

One possible way of looking at it is that the foundation of fulfilling the Mitzvot needs to be with certain acceptance, even when we don’t fully grasp the meaning. For example, we may usually agree that we need to honor our father and mother - but can that really mean in every situation?!

We might tend to consider mitzvot as good and beneficial, but at times we might be inclined to rationalize why not to fulfill a particular mitzvah. When G-d hoisted the mountain above the Jewish people as it were, He was communicating to us that even when we can’t fully understand a Mitzvah’s rationale, we must still fulfill it.

This is important, especially this week, when we read the 10 Commandments. When we approach the 10 Commandments as coming from G-d, we cannot rationalize and convince ourselves that there are exceptions.

Unfortunately, events of this past century prove that logic based morality doesn’t stop atrocities from happening (just look at the Holocaust). We need G-d based morality. G-d created the world and gave to us a set of instructions how to make our experience the most pleasant and rewarding.

When we properly remember the first of the 10 Commandments, we are in a position to properly fulfill the other 9, as well as all the other 603 mitzvot of the Torah.

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