Sunday, November 30, 2014

An excerpt from my Thanksgiving prayer this morning:

"Thank You for this opportunity to commune with You. Thank You that I live in a country where everyone takes a day off to thank You. Today, I thank You along with many, many people. It’s not that I necessarily believe that the country I live in is the final fulfillment of the messianic hopes spread by the Biblical prophets nor is it even an ideal place for living an diaspora based Torah lifestyle. It’s simply that compared to the long legacy of persecution my People have suffered, this place is absolutely amazing!
"I am certainly not original in thanking You for this. Reverend Gershon Mendez Seixas preceded me by more than two hundred years when he made this exact point to Congregation Shearith Israel in a Thanksgiving address right after the United States became a country. I guess the miracle is that in a temporal world filled with such constant change, I can still thank You exactly the same way he had more than two hundred years later.
"You are Eternal and Infinite. So You don’t change. However, because Your creations are finite, they are all constantly moving and changing. Yet in this case, the reasons underlying Thanksgiving have held up for so long. Maybe, it’s because a day designed for so many to thank You actually does get blessed with a touch of Your permanence.
"So with a full heart, I thank You for the religious freedom I am allowed in this country. Please keep things this way until we are privileged to behold the 'redeemer's arrival in Zion'. Thank You..."

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Drop of Rashab

Last week was the birthday of the Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, the 5th Rebbe of the dynasty. He's known by the commonly used acronym of his name "Rashab". 
In a discourse on last week's Torah portion he quoted a Midrash which stated that three people had their prayers responded to immediately: Eliezer (Abraham's servant) when seeking a wife for Isaac, Moses when asking the earth to swallow Korah and Solomon when praying for a fire to descend on the altar of his newly built Temple. Of the three, Eliezer's prayer was responded to fastest - even before he finished praying.
Rebbe Shalom Dov Ber asks why did he have this merit, when spiritually speaking he ranked lower than the other two in saintliness? The digest version of the answer is that swift response did not occur on Eliezer's own merit, but only because he was on a mission to help Isaac (find a wife). So in reality God was responding swiftly to Isaac, who certainly was in a comparable spiritual ranking with Moses and Solomon.
I learned a lesson from this teaching. Dedicating one's actions to help those whom God favors might open up special and unexpected doors.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On the Orthodox Spectrum

I am sure that in matchmaking in Jewish circles the question of where one fits on the Jewish Orthodox spectrum constantly arises (watch out for that frumometer! - for those who get my drift).
Recently, somebody asked me where I fit on the spectrum of Orthodox Judaism. Truthfully, I find the question uncomfortable because I was brought up with an Orthodox Judaism which wasn't so firmly pegged, although it tended a bit more to the black hatted side. Regardless of my discomfort, the following was my response to the person who asked:

"As you probably know, most people don't have identities that fit into neat cubicles. On the one hand, I believe in the Torah and on the other hand I believe in being very interactive with secular society (I don't think they contradict). I also feel very religiously comfortable in a variety of crowds: Modern Orthodox, Yeshivish, Chassidish, Sephardi, Chabad, etc. I am not stuck in one place on this particular issue. Maybe, it's because my real driving force religiously is Jewish mysticism and Jewish philosophy. For me the various "groups" are all Torah and all good."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Authorship of the Zohar

My response to a FaceBook friend who asked for my understanding on the authorship of the Zohar:

Dear ... ,
You pose an excellent question.
I hope I am not disappointing you, but, truthfully, on the logical surface level I have found the academics' arguments more compelling. They point to things like language style and that the Zohar did not seem to be written by someone who used Aramaic as his first language. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, in "Meditation and Kabbalah" tries to make an argument in favor that it was literally written by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. However, he admits that the relevant pages from Rabbi Isaac of Acco's investigation into the matter are missing from the manuscript. He accepts Rabbi Isaac's conclusion without the benefit of being able to examine how he came to that conclusion.
Therefore, I think that it's likely that either:
(A) The Zohar, being part of the oral tradition, came to the Spanish Kabbalists in oral form. They merely gave it, it's written format, with possibly a bit of embellishment. This would be no different than Ravina, Rav Ashi and later Rabbanim Savurai giving the Talmud it's basic current written format.
Or ...
(B) They channeled the saintly figures of the Zohar. This is not entirely unheard of. For example, Rabbi Chaim Vital speaks of learning Torah from past sages by placing oneself on their graves while performing certain meditations. In fact, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad did this while on the grave of Benayahu ben Yehoyada and that's why so many of his Torah treatises bear some version of this saintly individual's name.

I hope this helps you out.
Best Wishes,