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.

What is Antisemitism and What To Do About It?


It’s like an infectious disease that keeps adapting to the medications that are out to beat it. And just like an infectious disease, in order to eradicate it we have to first understand its nature.
Antisemitism. It’s been around as long as we have. And it keeps morphing into something new, expressing itself differently based on societal change. But at its core it’s always the same; hatred for the Jewish people and everything that Judaism stands for.
You may know that Antisemitism is one of my least favorite topics to discuss. Not because I’m uncomfortable with the topic, rather because I’m loath to allow it to be the focal point of the Jewish experience.
The truth is that properly understanding Antisemitism can actually help us in understanding our own role in the world.
Antisemitism is not hatred per se; it’s a weltanschauung - a reflection on one’s view on life - that can devolve into hatred and discrimination. But at its core, it’s a philosophy on life and that’s why it doesn’t go away.
That’s why it’s a disservice and inaccurate to equate it with any other form of bigotry.
Judaism says that this world was intentionally created - with a purpose and a goal. The purpose is to make this world a home for G-d and the goal is the era when this will be achieved globally. Judaism says that every human being is here to take part in achieving this aim and that the Jewish people are tasked with shining a guiding light and being a positive example in this regard.
Antisemitism is a rejection of the notion that G-d created the world and charged us with elevating and perfecting it.
Antisemitism is a rejection of the conviction that we each have a unique purpose to serve.
Antisemitism is a rejection of the idea that G-d chose the Jewish people for a lead role in this plan.
And the best way to combat it is to live our life in a manner that affirms that G-d created the world and charged us with elevating and perfecting it.
Combating Antisemitism requires us to live our life consistent with the conviction that we each have a unique purpose to serve.
And the greatest rebuke of Antisemitism is demonstrating by our actions and choices that G-d chose the Jewish people for a lead role in this plan.
So, stand and get involved. Not only by denouncing and combating it, and not only by confronting it when and where it rears its ugly head. While there is a time and place for that, our primary way of effecting change is to get involved in the ultimate purpose of creation, making this world a G-dly space.


What's the Big Deal?


Today we’re throwing a big birthday bash - for a fairly young birthday boy; Meir turns three today, so we’re making a big celebration out of it. But why make such a big deal out of turning three? Aren’t there more important things to do than inviting everyone to join a three year old’s birthday party?

Turns out that age three in Jewish tradition is pretty important, in fact that is when the parents’ obligation to educate their child begins.
In other words, age three is not just a simple age; rather it’s the age that a Jewish child begins the process of becoming a link in the illustrious, millennia long, chain of Jewish tradition.
Jewish education is not as much about teaching information - it’s about providing a firm foundation for life. Today many people view education as teaching information; 1+1=2, ABC, etc.

To clarify: Information helps us understand the difference between a cat and a comma; a cat has claws at the end of its paws but a comma is a pause at the end of a clause. Admittedly useful information - but so secondary to the grand scheme of things.
The most important aspect of education is teaching children about G-d, Torah, absolute moral values and the precious-ness and significance of life. The fact that no matter their family or national origin, their life is significant - and they have a responsibility to their creator - and all humanity - to live up to the potential for which they were created.
It’s never too late to learn information but there is no second chance to provide a child with true foundational education.
(Witnessing the fallacies and moral confusion recently expressed by so many in reaction to events in Israel underscores how downright crucial real education is.)
“But you have to let children discover their own path,” come the complaints. Yes, within a proper foundation, within the correct context. If children are not provided with a firm G-dly and absolute moral values-based foundation, they end up adrift in the sea of life with no means of getting ashore.
When we provide children with a proper education - not just information - this provides them the tools to make proper choices and succeed wherever life leads them.

Do You Wash Your Clothes?


A friend of mine accidently left his pen in his shirt pocket and unwittingly threw it into the washing machine. When the load was done he realized his mistake because now all his clothes were stained with ink. So he set the washing machine to run a new cycle, only this time in his shirt pocket he put a container of White-Out.
Although cleaning ink stains may work slightly differently than the method my friend tried, the fact is that if your clothes get dirty it's usually not so terrible - they can easily be cleaned.
Our clothes are made to fit us and we wear clothes that match our personal style. But although they’re so closely aligned with us, our clothes are obviously not part of us. We wear them and they keep us warm when necessary, dress us up for an occasion and present our best appearance to others; but they do not become one with us, they remain just that, clothing.
Chassidic teachings explain that our soul wears clothing too. In fact, it has three garments: Thought, Speech and Action. They are the tools that our soul uses to interact with the world.
And just like actual clothes, they can easily be cleaned.
When the Jewish people camped at the foot of Mount Sinai 3333 years ago to receive the Torah, among other things they were instructed to clean their clothes. The intention then was in a ritual sense, to purify their garments.
The holiday of Shavuot begins this Sunday night (yes, it’s a major, Biblical, Jewish holiday). Every year on Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Ten Commandments, we receive the Torah anew. It’s as though we are standing at Mount Sinai all over again. Just like we needed to prepare spiritually the first time around, each year we need to prepare spiritually for the holiday of Shavuot.
Just like then, they needed to clean their clothes; so too each year we need to “clean our clothes.” Our soul clothes. As we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot, it’s time for us to examine our Thought, Speech and Action and ensure they are in line with G-d’s will.
What if they are not exactly as “clean” as they should be? The good news is that just like actual clothing, our “soul clothes” can be easily washed. The difference is that to clean actual clothes you use a washing machine and detergent; to clean our “soul clothes” it takes being aware of our choices and ensuring we make intentional positive choices rather than impulsive ones.
Go ahead, throw in your first load!

This Will Not Pay For Itself


Have you ever seen those ads for new windows that promise that the new windows will “pay for themselves within 12 months”? Well, an elderly woman once had those wonderful new windows installed. Triple pane, insulation - the works. The company sent her an invoice requesting payment, but almost an entire year had already passed and the bill remained unpaid.
When a debt collector finally caught up with her and asked how she plans to pay the bill, the woman expressed indignation, "I was promised that the windows would pay for themselves within 12 months! Why are you chasing ME for payment?"
It's just a humorous anecdote but it contains an important message. Often we hear about some unique method to accomplish a goal. It may be a personal goal or work related. Perhaps it's guidance on improving our relationships or raising children. Or it may be inspiration to strengthen our Jewish observance and our relationship with G-d.
It sounds simple, make a certain change and you will successfully achieve your goal. So we make the change, we take the initiative and then, we sit back and wait. Instead of maintaining the momentum and following through on our effort, we allow ourselves the perceived comfort of relaxing and falling back.
Then when we don't reach our goal, we incredulously exclaim, "Hey, it was supposed to pay for itself!" Making a goal is step one, but it needs to be followed with a step two, three and four in order to be effective.
In just over a week we will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. Over 3,000 years ago our ancestors stood as one nation at the foot of the Mount Sinai and received the Torah from G-d. This experience of mass revelation never happened with any other group of people and has never been repeated in history. It is the singular event that defined us and gave us our mission in this world; to fuse the holy with the mundane and to elevate this world and reveal the G-dliness within it.
In the time leading up to Shavuot, we are each presented with an opportunity to make a positive change with regard to our Jewish observance and practice. It's an opportune time to make a specific goal to advance and strengthen our connection. But it's equally important, if not more important, to ensure we stick with it and follow through on our goal.
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