Friday, September 23, 2022

Pro Choice in Judaism

One of the basic tenets of Judaism is the concept of free will. This fundamental belief states that no one is preordained for greatness or failure. Instead, it is the individual ability to choose that will determine the consequences that will occur. If a person makes the correct choices, then a certain positive outcome will occur, and similarly, if someone makes destructive choices in life, he bears the consequences of the negative result. This lesson is taught to us in this week's Parsha of Nitzavim. As the Torah states: ראה נתתי לפניך היום את החיים ואת הטוב ואת המות ואת הרע. ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך. "See- I have placed the life and the good before you today, and the death/ evil. And you shall choose life to live you and your offspring." Free will does not mean we can choose to do whatever we desire; rather it means we have the power to choose and are responsible for the choices. I think this message is relevant throughout the year but perhaps most compelling before Rosh Hashanah. As our tradition teaches, this is a time when we are judged before G-d and be held accountable for our actions. It may be therefore refreshing for one to know that despite anything that occurred in the past, you are free to choose a new path moving forward. Furthermore, it is quite liberating to know that we get to choose that path and not be resigned to preconceived notions about what you or your life should look like. I fondly recall one of our members who, at the age of 80, decided that he was going to start studying the Talmud despite never having studied it in his life before. He joined our Daf Yomi group and came every morning to study, and never missed a day. By the time he passed away at 84, he had managed to study most of the Talmud. That's because he said the past is gone, but I will choose to enrich my life moving forward with a daily dose of Torah Study. So as we enter a new year, remember it is time to consider your aspirations and goals. It will only be acheived if you choose to pursue it. Otherwise, it will remain in the dustbin of wasted dreams. So perhaps the most important question you might ask yourself on Rosh Hashanah is, am I going to choose to pursue my goals this year?". To paraphrase the sage Hillel, if you won't do it, no one will. And if not now, when?" Have a Great Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, September 9, 2022

Resetting your Perspective

The month of Elul is upon us. This is the final month of the Jewish year. We wind down the year 5782 and look forward to a new year of 5783. Traditionally, in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah, the shofar is blown at the conclusion of the daily morning minyan. Many times this season triggers reactions that are not necessarily positive. From the attitude here, we go again from unusually long services to just not “feeling it,” Elul is frequently greeted with a yawn. So what would be an appropriate perspective to internalize as Elul is here and we are on the cusp of yet another New Year?  Our Rabbis have taught that the acronym of Elul is short for “Ani L’Dodi V’dodi Li,” translated as “I am for my Beloved, and my Beloved is for me”. The source for this is a passage from Song of Songs written by the wise King Solomon. He describes the passionate relationship between a man and woman in love and their intense feelings for one another. The traditional interpretation of this text refers metaphorically to the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. This is foundational in our understanding of our relationship with G-d and our commitment to Torah, Mitzvahs, and Tradition. After all, why should any reasonable individual, especially one with Western sensitivities, restrict oneself to what they can eat, when they can drive, and who they can marry? Our generation has embraced the mantra of Pro-Choice in every area of life. Shouldn’t personal autonomy be more significant? Why should I base my life upon a document written by some G-d that feels very remote and disconnected from me? King Solomon addresses this by saying, “ I am for my Beloved, and my Beloved is for me.” G-d created us and gave us a special mission in life because He cares and loves for us. The commandments in the Torah are just details when we internalize this notion that we are deeply connected to a loving G-d who wants a relationship with us. The wise person understands that the mitzvos in the Torah are a mitzvos are an opportunity for connection and not just mere restrictions. Throughout the year, we might not have felt incredibly inspired to be as observant as we could or, in general, feel that closeness to the Almighty. Elul is an opportunity to pause and reflect on this fundamental Jewish idea that we have a loving G-d that wants a meaningful relationship. Throughout Elul, when we hear the sound of the shofar, it is a reminder to reassess where we are moving towards self-improvement.  Life is full of opportunities that are often squandered because we lack appreciation for the moment. Elul is a precious gift that should be utilized before it slips away. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, September 2, 2022

Rethinking the Paradigm of Tzedaka

As we approach the High Holidays and once again are in a time of introspection, I believe it is time for reflection on an essential part of Jewish communal life: Tzedaka. Many of us are afflicted with donor fatigue as there seem to be never-ending campaigns soliciting us for our hard-earned dollars. Sometimes we feel the organizations or people asking us for Tzedaka are imperfect and thus not worthy of being recipients of our charitable giving. The times we live in are also unsettling as inflation has risen to record highs not seen in decades. The economy has entered the shaky ground, with Federal Reserve recently ruling out a pause to hikes in interest rates. It would make sense for all the above reasons for someone to be more conservative in their charitable giving this season. From a spiritual perspective, we must remember that if this mitzvah were super easy for everyone to fulfill, there would be minimal reward attached to the endeavor. The larger point is communicated in last week's Parsha with the Mitzvah of Tzedaka. The Torah states,נתון תתן לו ולא ירע לבבך בתתך לו כי בגלל הדבר הזה יברכך ה' אלקיך בכל מעשיך  This is translated as "You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this thing, the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors." The Talmud interprets it succinctly with the response of Rabbi Akiva to the challenge of why didn't God provide for the needy directly if He loves them! Rabbi Akiva responded that it was to give the donor the privilege of the Mitzvah of Tzedakah!  The insight here is nothing short of stunning! Of course, G-d can provide for all the financial needs of the shuls, day schools, yeshivas, kollelim, etc. But, G-d created this paradigm where organizations and individuals representing them must go to great lengths to solicit funds to give the donor the privilege to contribute. I had this experience this week in which I solicited an individual for Tzedaka, and he responded with a commitment of thousands of dollars. I followed up my meeting with an email thanking him for his generous gift. His response was short, concise, and totally classy. He wrote. "Thank you for the opportunity."   The great lesson here is that we are all but stewards of our financial resources. If we have the opportunity to give some Tzedaka, we should seize the moment and go out of our comfort zone. In a few short weeks, we will stand on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and once again plead with the Almighty for the privilege to merit life. Nothing is guaranteed, and we can't assume we are entitled to anything. We stand before the Al-Mighty and plead for nothing less than the privilege to live another year. Our tradition also teaches us as we declare in the liturgy, ותשובה ותפילה וצדקה מעבירין את רוע הגזירה. This is translated as "Repentance, Prayer, and Charity can overturn an unfavorable decree." We will be given ample opportunities to be charitable in the coming days. Let's remember not to squander the moment.  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 ...