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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.

Self evident is not enough

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The most horrific terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 took place this week. It happened on Shavuot, the day that the Torah was given over 3300 years ago; when all the Jewish people gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai and heard G-d communicate the Ten Commandments. “Do not murder” is the sixth commandment, something that this lowly terrorist obviously didn’t observe.

Some have wondered why the need for such obvious instruction like “Do not murder” to be included in the Ten Commandments. Do we really need G-d to instruct us regarding something so basic?

The answer is yes, obviously, but likely not for the reason you’re thinking.

But first, another question - is murder intrinsically wrong? Don’t shout too loudly at me - think about this for a minute.

Other than the fact that no one would want to be on the receiving end - either as the victim of murder or as a relative or friend of a victim - what makes it wrong? Thankfully, modern society has concluded (largely due to the influence of the Ten Commandments) that murder is wrong. But what is stopping society from changing it’s collective mind? If it’s merely a consensus of opinion, that could easily change.

That’s the reason why G-d had to command us regarding matters that seem to us to be self evident, such as murder. If something is based solely on our understanding, it is based on very shaky ground. Today we view murder as unacceptable, but who is to say that tomorrow we won’t understand it differently?

In fact, terrorists think that it is entirely legitimate to murder non-believers. The Nazis - a well educated and modern group of people - legitimized the wholesale murder of millions. (All while being concerned with animals and their welfare, mind you.)

This is why it is imperative that we accept the prohibition of murder not simply because it makes sense but more importantly, because it is G-d’s command. At the very core of the matter is the acknowledgment that we are not the sole arbiters of right and wrong and good and evil.

We may not be able to do much to help the victims of this attack and we may not be able to prevent the next one. But one thing we can do is increase in goodness and kindness, spreading a little (or a lot) more light.

A little light can displace a lot of darkness.

Do you know much about Magneto-hydrodynamics?

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Do you know much about Magneto-hydrodynamics? If you’re like me - you may be able to deduce some very vague and primitive notion regarding this field simply from analyzing the name. A quick Google search will probably bring up a little more info. But even after spending a day or two - or more - reading everything I can about the subject, I will still be well aware that my knowledge of the field is limited, to say the least.

If necessary, I will make sure to have a rudimentary knowledge of the field so that I can have a conversation with someone who researches Magneto-hydrodynamics. As it is now, my understanding of the field is so limited that I don’t even know what I don’t know.

Tomorrow night begins the most underrated Jewish holiday - Shavuot. And that’s a real shame because it should be right up there with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; and in all honesty, it truly is.

Shavuot celebrates the mind-blowing event of the revelation at Mount Sinai. At Mount Sinai, every single Jew alive at the time - over 2 millions individuals - all witnessed the same exact thing. This is factual - not something that can be fabricated, and something that no other people can lay claim to. (Check out this video for more about this idea - it’s worth it! It’s an hour long, but absolutely worth every minute.)

It’s not only a central part of Judaism; it changed the entire world. In fact, were it not for this holiday, who knows what the world would be like today?

The central theme of the holiday is Torah study - and the more the better. Many people tell me that they know enough, they remember how meaningless their Hebrew School experience was and they’re not motivated to go back to it. But the reality is that there is such amazing depth and insight in Torah study; and if you don’t engage in it, you’re truly missing out.

And without giving it a fair shake - as an adult - you don’t even know what you don’t know.

So this Shavuot please take me up on a challenge; join us for some Torah study. Make a consistent effort over a few weeks to study Torah regularly. You will be amazed at the life-altering information that you will discover. Hit reply to this email and I’ll be happy to share with you the many Torah study opportunities available locally.

Does your spouse have you on a leash?

Before we moved to Folsom, I flew out here to visit the area and determine if I felt it would be a good place to establish a Chabad House. When the plane landed, close to midnight California time, I turned on my phone and proceeded to text my wife, Goldie, that I had landed and everything was fine.

The guy sitting next to me sneered, “She’s got quite a long leash, doesn’t she?” he said, somewhat disdainfully. I didn’t understand what he meant at first, but he continued, “It’s 3 in the morning back in New York but you still have to text your wife. But me, I’m here and no one in the world could care - I’m completely free!”

I looked at him and shrugged, it didn’t bother me to “have” to text my wife. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m actually happy to “have” to text my wife.

There are many responsibilities that comes with marriage and raising a family, many experiences and opportunities that have to be passed up due to being at my stage in life. But I’m not upset about it, I’m actually quite happy about it.

Marriage certainly comes with limitations on one’s “freedom”; but it comes with an amazing benefit too: The fact that I’m a central part of someone else’s life. That I’m so important to them that they’re willing to limit their personal “freedom” for me. Being that needed and so central to someone else’s life gives me a deep satisfaction and happiness that the limits on my “freedom” are absolutely worth the trade off.

Similarly, Torah observance definitely limits one's “freedom” - an observant Jew can’t eat anything they wish and can’t do anything they wish at any time they wish, there is Shabbat and other considerations. Why then do we celebrate the fact that G-d gave us the Torah, why are we happy with the limitations on our autonomy - shouldn’t we resent it?

When G-d gave us the Torah and commanded us to observe the Mitzvot, not as optional suggestions but as binding obligations, He was telling us something profound. G-d was essentially telling each of us, “Your life matters, how you live your life matters. Without you, the entire universe is not complete without your contribution.”

Now that’s something worth celebrating.

And that’s something that causes me to embrace and celebrate the perceived limitations on my freedom. I say “perceived” because on a deeper level, observance of Mitzvot brings the ultimate freedom possible - and the deepest connection possible - with our soul, our true core self.

We'll have to discuss that idea in more detail some other time. 

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