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April 23, 2014 / 23 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘JOY’

Not Enough Joy and Meaning

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The recent NY Times article on the newly released PEW findings on Jewish continuity paints a bleak future for American Jewry. The study, among other findings, reported that nearly six in ten Jewish respondents (58%) who have gotten married since 2000, have married a non-Jewish spouse. The study also showed that only 20 percent of those who have intermarried are raising their children Jewish by religion.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this worsening situation including a serious lack of Jewish education for most American Jews, a more than ever distracting world in which living any kind of religious life becomes more challenging, and many other contributing factors. However I believe there is another cause, which I have seen in my 20 years of outreach to the young and less affiliated: the sheer lack of joy or meaning that so many young Jews associate with Judaism.

More often than not, the perception young people have of Judaism is of a faith filled with rules and restrictions which offers little or no joy or meaning in return.

But why should young Jews be left with any other impression? When Yom Kippur continues to be the most celebrated Jewish experience in synagogue what else should we expect? How many American Jews are present for the somber Yom Kippur service, complete with fasting and chest-pounding/forgiveness asking but are no-where to be found the next week when joyous singing and dancing in honor of Simchat Torah takes place? That balance of reverence and joy is vital to keep our interest and it is so authentically Jewish. In the Temple of old, the Beit Hamikdash, the feeling on Yom Kippur was one of awe and even trepidation as the High Priest performed the service to secure atonement for all of Israel, but the next week that same Temple was filled with a sense of joy and exuberance during the Simchat Beit Hoshava (water drawing ceremony) on which which the Talmud tells us: “Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”

Like most synagogues, MJE has always drawn larger numbers for its Yom Kippur services than for Simchat Torah. This year however, for the very first time, we had approximately the same number of participants for both holidays. It took us 15 years but we did it. The same number of previously less affiliated 20′s/30′s who were willing to fast and pray with us on Yom Kippur returned to sing and dance with us on Simchat Torah.

Young Jews desperately need to experience both the serious and lighter sides of Judaism. We can no longer allow our beloved faith to be marketed as a religion of guilt and restriction without even trying to present it for what it truly is: a path which can ultimately bring joy and meaning to contemporary life. And we must learn to properly articulate how the limitations Judaism does place on our lives are important in helping to create that more joyous and meaningful existence.

The goal of our synagogues and Jewish institutions today must be to demonstrate this balance of reverence and joy; fealty to tradition with personnel meaning and relevance. Jewish educators need to be better trained to invest more explanation and inspiration into our prayer services and provide greater depth and insight as to how living a life of Torah can actually improve our lives and make us happier and more fulfilled people.

Otherwise, for most American Jews, why bother?

The Three Weeks – Realizing What We Are Missing

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The Geese and the Peasants

The story is told of a Chassidic Rebbe who stayed one night in the attic of a simple farmer. Promptly at chatzos (midnight) the Rebbe sat on the floor and began saying Tikkun Chatzos (a prayer said most nights by pious individuals, mourning the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.) Immediately, a fountain of tears began to flow from his eyes, as he unabashedly mourned our great loss. Soon, his crying became so loud that it aroused the farmer and his wife from their sleep. The concerned farmer quickly knocked on the door and asked if everything is okay. The Rebbe answered that he is simply mourning the Bais Hamikdash. Seeing the puzzled look on the ignorant farmer’s face, the Rebbe began to vividly describe the glory of the Bais Hamikdash and what will be when Moshiach comes. He portrayed all the Jews around the world returning to Eretz Yisroel, unhindered by the influences of the non-Jews. As the Rebbe became more and more excited he grabbed the farmer’s hands and said “Come, let us pray for Moshiach! Perhaps at this moment, the Gates of Heaven are open, and our prayers will be answered!”

“I must ask my wife”, replied the simpleton. He rushed to his wife who looked at him in disbelief. “What?! Leave our farm and our geese and go to Eretz Yisroel?! Absolutely not!”

The farmer returned to the Rebbe with her answer. “Go remind her,” said the Rebbe gently, “about the peasants who are constantly stealing from you and ruining your farm. In Eretz Yisroel you won’t have any of these problems.”

The farmer trudged down the stairs and told his wife the response. After thinking for a moment, her face lit up. “I don’t mind if Moshiach comes, but he should take all the peasants with him to Eretz Yisroel, and leave us with our farm!”

Are we any different than that foolish couple? Each year, when “The Three Weeks” arrives, the time of mourning over the Bais Hamikdash, do we truly mourn the loss, and desire Moshiach’s coming? Or perhaps we just go through the outward motions, and look for legal loopholes. Yes, it is difficult for us to feel the loss, because we don’t really understand what we are missing.

Anyone Who Mourns Jerusalem

Our sages tell us (Bava Basra60b) “Anyone who mourns Jerusalem will merit and see its joy.” The simple implication of “anyone” is, no matter who you are and how little you mourn, you will merit seeing its rebuilding. That means that even now, just by reading these words you have joined the ranks of those who are seeking the redemption! However, this statement is a little difficult. Why is it written in present tense: “he will merit and see its joy,” which implies that right now he will see it. Shouldn’t it have said that he will see it in the near future when it will be rebuilt?

The Mikdash – A Miniature Mount Sinai

In a previous article (The Revelation On Mount Sinai, 5-25) we described how at Mount Sinai we merited the most fabulous revelation in the world’s history. We saw and clearly felt Hashem’s presence and His solitary rule. In addition we merited a feeling of extreme closeness to Hashem. In Shir Hashirim (1:2), the Song of Songs, we yearn once again for that closeness. “Kiss me with the kisses of Your mouth!” This refers to the moment when we heard the Ten Commandments. The Ramban tells us that the Mishkan, which was the forerunner of the Bais Hamidash, was in truth a miniaturization of that spectacular revelation. Meaning, that connection was not a one-time event, it continued in the Mishkan and subsequently the Bais Hamikdash!

When a person entered the Bais Hamikdash he immediately felt and saw Hashem’s presence. There were many miracles that could be instantly witnessed. For example, every morning the Kohen took a small portion of ashes from the altar and threw it on the solid marble floor, where it was swallowed instantaneously, leaving no trace. On the altar was a column of smoke which rose to heaven like a marble pillar. Even on the windiest day, it stayed straight! But that was only a small part of the uniqueness which resulted from Hashem’s presence. Jerusalem (not Disneyland) at the time of the Bais Hamikdash was called “The Happiest Place on Earth” (see Tehillim48). This was because one constantly merited atonement from sins. The joy which resulted from that closeness to Hashem was indescribable.

A Life Of Spirituality

All the above shouldn’t just excite a tzaddik, but every one of us. We know that we were created to serve Hashem, and therefore any spiritual accomplishment brings us more joy than a windfall on Wall Street. And if we lose an opportunity, we are greatly saddened. Even more so, we are saddened by the extreme disgrace of Hashem’s Honor in the world. The power and success of those who profane His name seems unstoppable, and it is extremely painful. Therefore, we yearn for the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash with all our hearts. For then, Hashem’s glory will fill the world, and we will merit to once again be close to Him. All the hindrances in serving Him will disappear and we will soar to great heights of spirituality.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-three-weeks-realizing-what-we-are-missing/2012/07/13/

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