Friday, November 11, 2022

Thoughts on Shabbos

For thousands of years in several different continents and tumultuous eras, the Jewish people strictly adhered to the Shabbos observance. Shabbos observance is unlike other mitzvahs in its importance and its seriousness to the life of a Jew. An individual that observes the laws of Shabbos is essentially subscribing to a fundamental tenet of Judaism. The basic article of faith is that G-d created this world in six days and rested on the seventh day.  I would like to explore the meaning of G-d “resting” on the seventh day. It cannot mean G-d was tired and fatigued from a challenging week at work in a way that mortal beings get tired at the office. So what does it mean that G-d “rested”? Furthermore, why, just because God rested, should we all rest? There are plenty of things that an infinite, eternal, Al-Mighty G-d can do that mortal beings cannot even begin to dream of accomplishing!! Rashi in his commentary on the creation of the world in Berieshes states that after the six days of creation, the world was deficient of Menucha. At the onset of Shabbos, Menucha arrived as well. Menucha is traditionally understood to be rest, but applying the word rest in this context leaves something lacking in understanding. Our Rabbis have taught a profound interpretation of this passage. After six days, G-d created a perfect physical world and was complete. It contained mountains and valleys, oceans and rivers and lions, tigers and bears! (oh my!) Although the world was complete in the physical realm, it still lacked in one major area. It lacked the spark of G-d’s existence and the intense manifestation of His presence. When Shabbos came, the world experienced an intense spiritual manifestation of His presence like no other time. This idea is expressed in the Kiddush we recite every Friday night in the words of תְּחִלָּה לְמִקְרָאֵי קֹֽדֶשׁ. This is translated as first to the holy gatherings or convocations. That is because this Shabbos experience was like no other in which manifestation of G-d’s presence is present in our lives like no other time. For thousands of years, the Jewish People have been on the brink of survival, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is in no small part to its commitment to Shabbos that allowed it to survive to this very day.  A few years ago, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa started the Shabbos Project to share the gift of Shabbos with a wider group of our brothers and sisters who are not fortunate to regularly take advantage of this treasure. Over the last few years, the Shabbos Project has exploded in popularity and we are fortunate again to host a program in our community this year. We are delighted to partner with the Kollel in bringing this extraordinary experience to a wider audience of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Greater Jacksonville. There was a ton of effort and energy by many people that were invested in making this Shabbos Project, and on behalf of a grateful community and appreciative Klal Yisroel, I simply nod my head in gratitude. For all those invested in increasing the cause of Godliness and Holiness in this world through the observance of Torah and Mitzvos-- it doesn’t get much better than this!!! Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, November 4, 2022

Response to Anti Semitism

It’s deja vu all over again. So declared the baseball sage Yogi Berra in a different context some time ago. Our national and local Jewish Community is experiencing this sentiment with very public expressions of anti-Semitism by a famous (or infamous) artist and athlete depicted in our local stadium during a prominent football game. A small group of individuals also displayed anti-Semitic banners at overpasses on various major highways in Jacksonville. The sentiment of let’s call the police to remedy any societal injustice clearly faced a limitation and challenge that is rarely acknowledged but it’s essential to be reminded. Vile hate speech is perfectly legal and a protected constitutional right. In multiple conversations with members of our local law enforcement, they articulated that only a call to actual physical violence will cross the line into illegality. If that wasn’t unsettling enough the official report of the JSO of the officers interacting with the individuals who displayed vile Jew-hatred on the interstate should be raising the hair off your back. The JSO officer wrote on his report “thanked the group for their cooperation and apologized for taking up so much time”. This is a local police officer thanking a group of Neo-Nazis for their cooperation and apologizing for taking up so much of their time! The JSO in an official statement confirmed the accuracy of this report! Can anyone imagine if individuals were targeting members of different ethnic groups or minorities that the local police would be so deferential and polite? To suggest this is a shocking disappointment would be a massive understatement. An alternative reaction could have been along the lines of “ we understand that hate speech is not illegal but we don't appreciate you singling out members of the city with hatred and we will watch you very carefully”. I attended a vigil last night that was organized by One Jax to call out anti-Semitism and hate and was heartened to see many non-Jews attending. I still don’t believe that the hateful incident is reflective of our city despite the underwhelming response from JSO. I believe this is a time for some serious reflection. Anti-Semitism has been a plague our people have been confronted with for thousands of years and millions of our brethren have been killed as a result. At this moment, I recall the sagely advice of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin who said “If a Jew doesn’t make kiddush, the non-Jew will make Havdallah”. The message is that if a Jew doesn’t lead a life of holiness and sanctifying G-d the alternative will be for him to try to assimilate into general society by not acting overtly Jewish. The non-Jew will make the Havdala and remind us that we are different and don’t belong. History is filled with too many tragic examples of this Havdala. I believe we need to embrace our identity that we are different and should be filled with pride in our identity and heritage. That can translate differently for different people, but if anything I believe this has been a rude reminder that we can avoid no longer. It’s time for all of us to make kiddush! 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 ...