Friday, August 26, 2022

The Essence of Judaism

A question that has vexed people for centuries is what makes the Jewish People unique. Judaism is unlike other religions because you cannot renounce your Jewish faith. In other major religions, if you declare that you no longer believe in the fundamental principles of the faith, you are no longer a member of the faith. On a certain level, that makes sense. If religion is about a set of beliefs and you do not subscribe to those beliefs, you would no longer be a member of that faith group. Judaism provides no such disengagement and exit clause. A Jew can fervently declare that he no longer believes in God or the validity of the Torah and might even want to cancel his affiliation with Judaism. He has no such option. No matter how disengaged or disconnected an individual is from Judaism; he is permanently a Jew. If Judaism is not a classical religion, it cannot be qualified as a nationality as there are Jews from all over the world. The Jewish people have a homeland, but for thousands of years, we were in exile and carried nationalities from Poland to Uzbekistan, and they were both equally Jewish. Judaism cannot be categorized as a race as people from multiple races are part of the Jewish faith. This brings me back to my original question if Judaism cannot be a traditional religion, nationality, or race, what is Judaism, and why has it stirred up so much passion and hatred against its people for centuries? The simple answer to a complex and layered question is found in our weekly Parsha. The Torah states בנים אתם לה' אלהיכם. This is translated as “ You are children to Hashem your G-d”. Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avos expounds on this verse as this is why we are beloved to G-d because we are His children. Although any individual in the world, whether Jewish or not, can have a relationship with G-d and even a portion in the World to Come, the Jewish are unique as we are considered children of G-d. Rabbi Akiva continues to explain the reason the Jews are children is unlike any other nation. We accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai. Put simply, by committing to upholding all the Mitzvos and obligations articulated in the Torah there is more opportunity for connection with G-d. As Rabbi Akiva taught us based on this Parsha, Judaism is not unique because of racial superiority but because we accepted a mission to be ambassadors of Godliness and Holiness. The Torah unlocks the unlimited potential of us to be platforms for G-d and His Holiness in this finite and mundane world. However, it’s important to remember that with this greater potential comes greater responsibility. Have a Peaceful Shabbos and Good Rosh Chodesh, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, August 19, 2022

There’s No Place Like Home

The Israeli Ministry of Tourism recently unleashed an aggressive marketing campaign to court tourists back to the Holy Land in the post COVID era. The campaign is touting the sun, sea, and sightseeing of Israel. It doesn't fail to highlight the Mediterranean beaches and the authentic Israeli cuisine to capture the hearts and minds of travelers this summer. It appears to be effective, as the number of tourists rival pre pandemic records. Interestingly enough, our Parsha this week also touts the Land of Israel as a preferred place not only to visit and live but as our place of destiny. It contrasts the qualities of the Land of Israel with the only other country the Jews were familiar with at the time-- Egypt. How Israel and Egypt are compared are contrasted is somewhat peculiar. The Torah states, "For the land, which you will possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from which you came out, where thou did sow the seed and did water it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drink water as the rain of heaven come down." It's noteworthy the Torah doesn't say that falafel, shawarma, or hotel breakfasts is better in Israel. Out of all the factors to highlight the superiority of Israel, it appears to choose a poor example. Regarding irrigation vs. rainfall, Egypt seems to have a clear advantage over Israel. The Nile was a blessing to the Egyptian economy and agricultural society, as the people constructed canals and irrigation ditches to harness the Nile river's yearly flood and bring water to distant fields. The Nile was constant, and the people did not have to worry about a drought a shortage of crops due to a lack of rain. The people of Israel were not so fortunate as they depended on rainfall. There were years when rain was plentiful, and there were times when rain was scarce. Indeed, a tractate in the Talmud entitled Taanis articulates a series of fasting and prayers in the event of a drought. The farmers in Israel every autumn were racked with anxiety about the pending rainfall and could only fantasize about an irrigation system that was sourced from the Nile. Why does the Torah specifically choose to identify this particular example to highlight the superiority when it appears that Egypt has a clear advantage? The Torah is teaching us a profound lesson about why the Land of Israel is the most conducive place to have a relationship with the Al-Mighty. There are other places where it might be more convenient to live, or there may be more amenities available. However, the most conveniences or amenities (as in the irrigation system in Egypt) does not translate into the most meaningful life. As there are times of drought in Israel, that also results in increased prayer and awareness of G-d. The Land of Israel is the most conducive place to have a relationship with G-d because one is more aware of G-d than any other location. For this reason, the Torah contrasts Israel with the conveniences of another country. It may not have the most amenities. In matters of what counts most-- a place to commune with G-d- there is no place like home. Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...