Friday, April 30, 2010

Sabbath Manifesto

Have you heard of the Sabbath Manifesto? It's a project based on the fact that our already hectic lives are becoming even more frenetic. From the Sabbath Manifesto web site:
The Sabbath Manifesto is a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world.

We’ve created 10 core principles completely open for your unique interpretation. We welcome you to join us as we carve a weekly timeout into our lives.

1) Avoid technology
2) Connect with loved ones
3) Nurture your health
4) Get outside
5) Avoid commerce
6) Light candles
7) Drink wine
8) Eat bread
9) Find silence
10) Give back

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guest post: On Jewish culture

The following guest post is by ronit. Enjoy!
there are two basic generalizations that can be made about messianic jews: first of all, no one seems to understand us; secondly, we don't seem to understand ourselves. the astounding number of theological differences and sub-sects found in a movement containing such a small number of people is evidence enough that each one of us has quite a handful of identity issues to grapple with. while we try to straddle what is commonly perceived as two related yet incompatible ideas or attempt to return to an ideal which has missed 2000 years of adaptation, we can sometimes feel as if we are wandering through the black cloud that would surely follow a tragic christmas tree / chanukah menorah accident. many of the confusions we face come from feeling a part of the judeo-christian spectrum, but not identifying completely with either accepted end of the scale, the opinions of those who do happen to reside on one side or the other not always being helpful.

recently, while listening to classical radio (i'm working on improving in the pretentious snob department) my ears happened to chance upon one lone recognizable piece in the usual smörgåsbord (see? i'm already improving!) of violin-this, cello-that, some kind of chic with a horned helmet and yellow braids singing, etcetera. the featured music was a version of mah oz tsur from the 18th century, and before i even realized what it was that i was listening to, my heart fluttered. somewhere buried in the depths of my psyche was a recording of that very song, originally heard on a chanukah compilation cassette tape which re-appeared in the car every winter of my childhood, and it seems that the peaceful, loving feelings that marked that period in my life travel along my synapses with it. "this is part of who i am, and a part of my heritage as a jew" i thought, awestruck at the power of peoples and cultures, of a song that can cause someone to feel a sense of belonging, and of the massive influence our early years possess.

as a young child, i felt perfectly secure in my identity as a jew and as a believer. i understood that there were people who believed in yeshua and people who did not, and then within that group there was the gentile majority and the jewish minority, each with their own customs. this basic idea still applies, but what i didn't realize was that there was yet another group of people: jews who are not believers in yeshua. i knew my family was jewish, and because of this fact we observed certain traditions and learned about certain things that my believing and non-believing gentile friends did not, but it only made sense to me that belief in yeshua was an intrinsic aspect to every jewish family's faith, and that all jewish households were like mine.

in some ways, many american jewish household were like mine, and those elements of culture carved into my brain at such a tender age have stood strong against every possible question of identity. horseradish is and will always be primarily a mental association with pesach, and only afterwards a condiment in the refrigerator. and while i can't recall a single present i opened during chanukah, images of struggling to contain myself as i anticipated the result of a spinning dreidel are rendered clear as day in my mind, and nothing fills me with the warm fuzzies like a lit chanukiah's flames against a dark, chilly night. memories of learning how to braid challah with my mother are far more easy to conjure up than that of helping her make chocolate chip cookies, especially gazing at the bread's golden sheen beneath the shabbat lights and feeling proud in having taken part in the ordeal. one of my favorite smells is that which an extinguished match emits, and every one triggers a scent memory of my mother lighting those two white candles right before she said what i thought to be a completely normal blessing, only later to find out it is seen as blasphemy.

while i enjoyed those honest years of sheltered religious innocence, i soon came to understand that in this world's reality, only with specific people were my beliefs, my family, and my very legitimacy as a jew seen as given facts, and with the rest i owed an explanation as to why it wasn't the case that i was brainwashed or that it's all an act to lure helpless secular jews into christianity's trap. for a while i felt like my critics were at least justified in their views of me, but since when is our identity reliant on others' acceptance of it? is the whole "messianic sham" what brings a tear to my eye at a recital of ha tikvah? or fills me with a sort of smug happiness when i observe the accomplishment of israel and the world's jewry, feeling pride in *my* people? or makes me feel entitled to tell a jewish joke? maybe that wasn't the best example, but the point is, i am a jew, and i will not sacrifice my heritage because some others that share it don't think i have a right to it, or because i more easily fit into the religion box without it. what exact items of religion or tradition should be practiced by us and instilled in our children is up for discussion; i have no interest in preaching to anyone about theology, but i will continue to step up onto my little soap-box and encourage any enactment of culture (with a healthy bending the rules and making our own new traditions, of course). if we make no effort at all, we will become ever less distinct, eventually blending in like every other displaced people (how many 100% irish friends of yours greatly identify with their ancestors?). what might be called the cultural aspect of my judaism is one of the most immovable elements of my makeup and it has certainly leaked into my soul, mostly because of the decisions my parents made for me before i could possibly fathom their significance. our culture is not only part of our history but an ever developing, living entity that will either thrive in careful hands which pass it intentionally to each generation, or wither away because of the neglect of our offspring's ignorance.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The day on which you just live

Last Friday's pre-Shabbat post was an excerpt about Shabbat being like a "practice death." In contrast (but not necessarily contradiction), Azadi from Beyond the Near suggests that Shabbat is the one day where you truly live:
I was walking to shul Friday evening. It was not yet Shabbat but I had davened Mincha already and lit my candles and consciously accepted shabbat early. I was walking down Derech Beit Lechem and all of Jerusalem smelled like honeysuckle. I love honeysuckle. I love the smell, and the flowers are beautiful, and they remind me of the happy parts of my childhood. As I passed a honeysuckle bush, I had an urge to pick one. But I couldn’t. Because it was Shabbat (for me) already and you don’t pick things on shabbat. And so I stepped back, and I looked. And it was so beautiful.

And suddenly everything was so beautiful. I stepped back and I saw a vision of the world on Shabbat… a world where you don’t touch the pictures. You don’t mess with it, you just live in it. That is what Shabbat is. It’s the day on which you just live, and you don’t touch the things that you don’t need to just live. Why touch them if they are just going to take you out of the space? Why carry your phone if it will just tempt you to try to control things? Why carry money if it will lead you to do business, or to even think about business, and worry about how much you can or cannot acquire? It is healthy, I would say even necessary, to have a day where you let go of the desire to control the world, to make marks and changes, to have an impact. Six days out of the week you have for that. One day, you can just let it go. One day you can reassess your place in the grand scheme and realize that the world won’t end if you don’t have your cellphone.

Shabbat is about acceptance. And that is rest in a very true sense.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Shavuot is coming!

We're in the season of Sefirah, counting the seven weeks (i.e. 49 days) between Pesach and Shavuot. In Temple days, counting the omer would include setting aside the tithe offerings from the grain harvest. Nowadays, we mainly concentrate on prayer, giving tzedaka, and personal spiritual growth. (In some circles, people also temporarily become big fans of acapella music!)

Anyways, this may be a bit late in coming, but here are the top ten ways to remember to count the Omer. You can also sign up for the UMJC prayer campaign for daily reminders, or even download an app for your smartphone!

While you're passing the time, you might want to check out Tim Layne's recent posts at The Emergent Observer--some seasonal postings which are quite mystical:
One last note: you may be excited to know that Roman and Alaina just announced that they're working on a folk album with a projected release date of sometime this fall!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shabbat as a 'practice death'

From Dahlia Lithwick at Slate (to Judith Shulevitz, author of the recent book The Sabbath World):
Perhaps the hardest part of Sabbath is quite literally the unplugging. If we turn off the televisions and the BlackBerrys, something might happen, and we might be the only ones who didn't know about it. I wonder what you both think about the ways technology makes us feel connected to one another in ways that Sabbath once did. One of my favorite writers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, has described meditation as a sort of practice death. You get to drop out completely for a little while and discover that life tumbles by just fine without you. I have come to think of Sabbath the same way: as a practice death. Judith, you describe the seventh day as "God turning his back on us to occupy himself with something even more important to him than we are." I wonder if that is—forgive me the fanciful notion—a sort of practice death even for God?

Monday, April 12, 2010

JBOM: Open House, Jewish-style part 3

Continuing from posts 1, 2, and 3:

R' Twerski also takes into account Deuteronomy 6:7a ("You shall teach [the commandments] diligently to your children"). He writes:
Rather than consider it an imposition, we should appreciate the mitzvah of tzedakah and perform it in the manner that will be educational for our children. For example, do not let the solicitor stand in the doorwar. Invite him to sit down, and offer him a cup of coffee, or a cold drink in the summer. When he leaves, escort him to the door, and wish him hatzlachah (success).
So, tip #3 (and this is our final thought on this perek--at least for now): model for your children how to be a gracious host.

JBOM: Open House, Jewish-style part 2

Continuing from my previous posts: R' Twerski adds that it's not enough to simply give tzedakah to a person in need; one must also comfort that person. "His spirit may be crushed by his need to beg, and it is a mitzvah of the highest order to elevate his spirit and give him tzedakah with a pleasant attitude."

So, for those of you keeping score at home, that's tip #2: don't just give money, give comfort.

JBOM: Open House, Jewish-style

Last week I blogged on R' Yossei bar Yochanan's saying "Let the poor be members of your household," (Pirkei Avot 1:5a) and compared it to a saying of Yeshua's: "When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind." (My family and friends may claim they always fulfill this command since my jokes are pretty lame; if you want proof, re-read this sentence.)

I asked how we can realistically put these teachings into practice. Let's see what R' Twerski has to say about this in his commentary. He starts out with a story about two brothers who were Chassidic masters:
[They] would travel from town to town to encourage people to greater devotion to Torah study and mitzvos. They appeared as itinerant poor people, and no one showed them any particular warmth. ...In one own they were well received by a particular melamed (tutor). Years later, when their fame as tzaddikim had spread, they again came to this town, but this time they came in an impressive horse-drawn carriage. The town's most prominent citizen greeted them and invited them to his spacious home. [One of the brothers] politely declined the invitation. "During the years we came as unknown wanderers," he said, "you never welcomed us. We have not changed, and the only reason you invite us now is because we came in an impressive carriage. You may then take the horses and carriage to your home, and we will stay with the melamed, who accepted us for who we were."
R' Twerski continues by referring to Abraham, who welcomed three strangers into his home who were revealed to be angels. The author of the book of Hebrews seemed to think this could happen to any of us:
Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)
So I guess this is the first practical bit of advice on how to have a open house, Jewish-style: don't discriminate against strangers.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Shabbat or a $20 bill?

From Chaviva (the Kvetching Editor) comes a provocative question: Shabbos or a $20 bill?

Shabbat shalom, everyone.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

J-BOM: Poor Welcome?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
These words were penned by Emma Lazarus, an American Jewish woman of Portuguese Sephardic descent whose family was in America since colonial times. They are engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Though these words may seem at odds with the attitudes of some toward immigration, they're not at odds with our tradition:
Yossei the son of Yochanan of Jerusalem would say: Let your home be wide open, and let the poor be members of your household. (Pirkei Avot 1:5a)
This parallels a teaching of Yeshua:
"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." (Luke 14:12b-14)
Time for a confession: I feel like I don't really know how to do this. My wife and I love to invite our friends and family over; there's something really wonderful about opening your home to friends new and old. But these verses refer to "the poor" with a capital P, yet my friends and family live pretty comfortably (thankfully). So how do I go about putting this teaching into practice? At this point, my answer is: "I don't know."

I'll make a confession: when Yeshua says "invite the poor to your feast," my first thoughts go to the homeless men I've seen panhandling on the street. And I worry about whether it's safe to invite strange men into my home--to meet my wife (and, in the future, our children).

But surely homeless men aren't the only people who fit the description of poor! What about poor families, with children? What about elderly people with homes but little to eat and no one to eat it with?

Perhaps what I really suffer from is lack of imagination. Perhaps I need to start discovering who Yeshua and R. Yossei are really referring to when they speak of "the poor."

What about you? Do you have any other ideas or stories about how to put these teachings into practice? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Next week we'll see what R. Twerski has to say...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Are you standing on one leg?

From Visions of the Fathers, on the three pillars which support the world from Pirkei Avot 1:2:
R' Yechezkel Landau of Prague (Noda BeYehudah) urged his congregants to greater exertion in giving tzedakah and doing acts of chesed. When he found that his biddings were not being heeded, he closed the local yeshivah and conspicuously wandered the streets as if he had nothing to do. When he was asked about this unusual behavior, R' Landau said, "The Talmud tells us that there are three pillars that support the world: study of Torah, the Divine service, and acts of chesed. If a table which stands on three legs loses one of its legs, it can continue to be used if something is placed under it for support. However, if there are no longer acts of chesed, the only thing to do is to remove the third leg. When the community became lax in acts of chesed, my only option was to close the yeshivah, thereby removing the third leg of Torah. If the community will resume doing chesed, I will open the yeshivah again.
Are you or your community standing on one leg?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Pirkei Avot, a.k.a. How to Be a Mensch

A few posts back when I introduced the April selection for the Jewish Book of the Month club, I wrote the following:
I first read Pirkei Avot last year, and I fell in love with the depth of its practical wisdom.

If you're the type that appreciates books that are full of practical wisdom for your spiritual walk, I think you will love Pirkei Avot.
I've now begun reading R. Twerski's commentary, and I liked this statement from the introduction.
The human being exercises the uniqueness of his spirit when he begins to look away from his own needs and desires and look toward helping others. In instructing us how to develop the finest character traits, Ethics of the Fathers teaches us how to be a mentsch, a truly human being.

What's so bad about chametz?

From my Chayyei Yeshua article on 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 in this weeks edition of The Set Table:
Why the severe punishment for eating chametz? One possible reason is that what happens to the person after eating--expulsion from the community--is what should have happened to the chametz before it was eaten. In light of this connection, it shouldn't surprise us that Paul's exhortation to the Corinthians about ridding themselves of chametz comes in the context of instructing the community about putting a particular member out of their fellowship.

This may seem extreme to us, and so it is appropriate for us to ask the question: is such a judgment necessary? . . .