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.

Can you tolerate the "other" side?

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I was very disturbed by what I saw recently. Someone forwarded to me a clip of two television personalities discussing how they had severed relationships with people who didn’t agree with them politically. I’ve seen it up close as well, people cutting from their lives those who don’t agree with them politically.

I fully understand the concerns that people have with the various differing opinions. I understand what is pushing people to vote one way or another. But I cannot accept that any political decision is worth denouncing another individual or cutting them from your life.

This poisonous attitude is not exclusive to one side or the other but it is a result of a number of converging factors. One cause is certainly the over-the-top rhetoric that has become so common in modern political discourse. The second factor and perhaps the more dangerous of the two, is the unspoken notion that the way politics unfold or who wins the elections, is supremely important in my life. 

It is not my intention to minimize the significance of the various policy differences on the ballot; of course they matter and that’s why we vote. But if you’ve found yourself hating the “other side”, if you can’t tolerate someone with a different opinion, if your view of another is diminished due to their political choice, it’s high time for an intervention. 

Someone once put it to me this way - what’s happening in the White House is not relevant to your house. 

Yes, yes, I know - but taxes! And health care! COVID!! How could I say it’s not relevant to my house!?

Sure, government policies affect all of us. But they should never be the driver of our lives. What the government does or doesn’t do shouldn’t affect my ability to live my life. And if you’re so distraught about politics that it’s affecting your ability to live, it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities. 

The guiding forces in our lives should be values that are not dependent on the occupant of the White House (or any other political office). It’s imperative to elevate our life with a value system that transcends the world of politics - and for that matter, one that transcends the trials and tribulations of daily life. 

Our introduction to our forefather Abraham in this week’s Torah portion provides some guidance in this regard. The name Abraham (at this point in the narrative still known as Abram) connotes a connection with supernal wisdom. His life was guided by a higher set of values than anything contained in this world. That’s why he never feared the challenges he faced - and they were many - his true existence was above the fray of daily life. That’s how he managed to navigate life so well.

It’s virtually impossible to maintain perspective when we’re inside the maze of life. We need to be able to rise above in order to successfully navigate our way through. 

This is true with regard to politics and it’s true with regard to all aspects of life - in order to succeed, we must remain connected above.

Is life hard?

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“Life is hard.” Anyone ever told that to you when you were having a tough time? Didn’t help make it any easier, did it? 

“Think that’s bad, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me!” This one may be an even worse response. Hearing about other people’s troubles doesn’t make yours any easier to cope with, right?

So what can help us through the tough times? What can help us overcome, rather than be overwhelmed? What can empower us to achieve our goals even after we’ve been knocked down?

The answer is embedded in this week’s Torah portion, Noah.

You might have learnt the narrative of The Great Deluge recounted in this week’s portion as some sort of fairy tale, you might view it as an entertaining movie; however it’s included in the Torah and is therefore not only accurate but perhaps more importantly - a valuable lesson for us. 

Whatever the case, you really should see in it the story of your life.

Think about it - in the beginning there was this idealistic, perfect world. Everything was wonderful for a while but over time reality set in, human nature went awry until it came to the point that G-d decided to completely reset the whole thing. He brought the flood and destroyed the world; save Noah, his family and a sampling of all animal life.

Then, after Noah exited the ark, G-d told him something very strange. G-d promised never to do it again; never again will G-d destroy the world. G-d even made a covenant with Noah regarding it - He showed Noah the sign of the rainbow as His way of remembering this covenant.

Let me ask you a simple question however - why should this time be different? It would seem that G-d is (so to speak) being a little naive. I mean, how can we know how things will be in a few generations? Maybe 10 generations down the line humanity will have once again deteriorated to the point that destruction will once again be necessary?! Why would G-d pledge to never again destroy the world? If it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

Here’s the point - initially G-d created the world on His terms according to His high standards; it wasn’t fully aligned with the reality of the fallible human beings that inhabited it. After the flood, the world was recalibrated as it were to fit with humanity. This newly aligned world wasn’t under threat of being destroyed because it took into account the possibility for mistakes to happen and it included a contingency for when they would.

In other words, the world as it was initially created, in it’s idealistic state, wasn’t viable and needed to be reset. The world after the flood integrated the G-dly ideal in a way that was - and still is - sustainable.

What emerges from this understanding is that in truth, the narrative of The Great Deluge is not one of destruction and devastation - it’s primary message is one of hope and inspiration: there is purpose in the setbacks. There is long term success embedded in short term failure.

Being told that life is hard doesn’t make it easier to overcome the hardship; being told about other people’s challenges doesn’t make it easier to overcome your own. But finding the lesson and meaning in the setbacks - that gives us the ability to create a long term model of success. 

Less than a speck of dust


Have you ever considered the vastness of the universe? It makes you feel kinda small and insignificant, doesn’t it? Think about this: Imagine if Grand Central Station were filled from the floor to the ceiling with dust, one speck of dust would be roughly equivalent to the size of earth. And each one of us are basically like a seventh of a billionth of that speck of dust. That’s without even taking into account the unpopulated areas of earth - not to mention the plants, animals etc.

That’s mind-bogglingly insignificant.

But that’s not the whole story. You see, the Torah begins with the creation narrative. And however you choose to understand it, one thing is certain: G-d brought the world into existence. The entire universe was created before humanity was brought on the scene.

And this points to how mind-bogglingly significant we actually are. From G-d’s point of view.

While our world may be equivalent to a tiny speck of dust, G-d decided that all of existence is worth it for what we can accomplish during our time inhabiting this tiny speck.

All of existence was brought into being so that we could partner with it’s Creator in perfecting this world.

It’s a mighty powerful idea with massive implications. Think about it.

It means we have inherent value, every single one of us. It also means that G-d is invested in our success, He doesn’t want us to accept failure - our own personal failure - as final. We always have the ability to turn our life around and our biggest cheerleader is G-d.

Powerful ideas indeed. 

Were you gypped by your Hebrew School Education?

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If your Jewish education taught you that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the most important Jewish holidays, you’ve been gypped! Seriously, you should ask for your money back. 


I mean how inspiring is it that the most important holidays are serious, with endless prayers and deep regret and repentance? I know that more than one Hebrew School student has checked out of the whole Jewish thing simply for this reason - if this is what it’s all about, I’m outta here!


The truth is that Sukkot (which ends today) and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, which begin tonight, are the real High Holidays. And Simchat Torah is actually the highest holidays of them all.


While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tell us in stark and somber tones of the need to return to G-d, Simchat Torah celebrates our innate bond with G-d and Torah that spills over into every aspect of our lives; no matter who, no matter where.


So really, whatever your plans may have been for Saturday night, reschedule them. Instead, join us for the Simchat Torah celebration (details below). Joyous dancing, great food and treats for the kids - trust me, you don't want to to miss it! 

When are the wicked forgiven?

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So, it’s behind us. Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement - all who wish can return to G-d and begin over with a clean slate. It’s an amazing concept and a powerful holiday. It reflects the deep and abiding belief that G-d has in each of us, that we are worthy and redeemable despite our flaws. G-d sees in us what we sometimes don’t see in ourselves.

Many think that Yom Kippur is the pinnacle of the Jewish calendar (and they may be right in some ways) but the truth is that Sukkot has something over Yom Kippur. And it’s message is so relevant and needed nowadays.

Sukkot, which begins tonight, is such a wonderful holiday. With deep meaning and significance, the rituals associated with it are so rich and colorful - Sukkot is my favorite holiday. The obvious associations of the holiday are the Sukkah, the Lulav and Etrog and the dancing and celebration. 

But there is something more - it’s also the time of forgiveness. The Midrash tells us that the unity of Sukkot affects forgiveness for those who are so wicked that even the holiness of Yom Kippur can’t bring about forgiveness for them.

Consider the power of this idea; someone might be considered so far gone that Yom Kippur can’t help them - yet the power of unity brings about forgiveness for them.

It certainly helps us realize how powerful unity actually is. 

Just as a reminder - there’s minimal value in being united with those who share your values and outlook. True unity is when it includes those who bitterly disagree with you and everything you believe. Consider the Four Kinds, the Mitzvah which we observe on Sukkot; they are all different, yet the mitzvah is specifically to bring them together. The Sukkah itself reflects the same idea - it equally surrounds people of any and all creeds in its holy embrace.

Perhaps Sukkot is a good time to consider how we view and treat those who differ from us? Give it a try, you might be surprised to find that letting go of division and discord actually makes your life lighter and happier.

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