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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘pirsumei’

A Generation In Need Of Rededication

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

The strength and numbers of Orthodox Jews in America have never been greater, and yet those of us concerned with Judaism’s future must admit we confront a future no less frightening than the future that was evident to Hannah’s noble sons in Modi’in all those centuries ago.

Then, Jewish ritual and belief was crushed by a dominant Greek culture that had been imposed upon but – let’s be honest – gladly borne by the Jewish populace. As much as we might want to argue otherwise, we must wrestle with the understanding that the majority of the Jews of the Hasmonean Era embraced Greek culture.

While in America there is no military or cultural imposition that demands a compromise of Jewish values or practice, there is no less of an embrace of the larger, secular, non-Jewish culture. The sad fact is we are losing many of our children. To believe otherwise is to willfully place blinders upon our eyes and shackles on our hearts. Anyone who is honest and who works with Orthodox teens – even teens who have received a yeshiva education – knows that too many do not find meaning, fulfillment or purpose in Judaism. They do not feel the beauty of Judaism, or the power of the halachot.

Instead, they chafe against a “lifestyle” they feel is restrictive and complain that being religious simply is not “fun.”

Orthodox Union President Dr. Simcha Katz outlines some examples of the malaise affecting our young people in his Jewish Action (Winter 5773/2012) article, noting how they text on Shabbat and argue that the use of the ubiquitous technology is morally indistinguishable from adults speaking in shul. He identifies an “underground” teen Shabbat culture that even allows for Friday night parties in empty houses or basements; parties organized by text or Tweet and always unsupervised; parties that often involve music and, too often, drugs and alcohol.

Was the threat to Judaism any greater during the Hasmonean Era? Was the pain Judah Maccabee felt when he looked upon his Jewish brethren any more acute than the ache a caring rosh yeshiva feels today? Yet what army do we fight to save Judaism? Where is our enemy?

Our Jewish children seem lost – determinedly so. Rather than the warmth of a small minyan, they feel embraced by their hundreds of Facebook “friends,” seemingly unable to appreciate the power of what having a true friend actually means. Imagine – hundreds of friends. More than a thousand even!

I am nearing retirement age, having lived a good life, and yet I require just the fingers of one hand to count the number of my friends; friends I know, cherish, love and respect. Hundreds of friends? Ridiculous! These are not friends. They are faceless faces; ciphers on an iPad or a smartphone. The relationship is no deeper than the pixels found on the computer monitor. These “friends” offer but a shallow glimmer of what life and relationships should be.

Those pixels shine only outward, never inward. Yet this is what draws our children.

And therein lies the challenge we face if we want to redeem this generation and to bring about a genuine rededication. How do we help our children learn to shine their light inward as well as outward?

Tractate Shabbat teaches that, “It is a mitzvah to place the Chanukah candles outside the door to one’s home, but in times of danger, it is sufficient to place the candles on one’s table [inside].” On its face, this text is a simple directive for a practical matter – the proper place for the menorah to be placed.

Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh – every Jew is responsible for the other. Judaism is, first and foremost, a communal expression. No Jew should live isolated from the rest of his community, nor should he be concerned only with his own existence and survival. Each Jew is obligated to reach out to his fellow Jews. In this regard, placing our menorot on the outside of our houses symbolizes this essential lesson. We bring our light to those who are still in the dark; we seek to enlighten those who have not as yet had the opportunity and privilege to be on the inside. Our light shines outward.

Jewish Candles: The Power Of Discernment

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.

God’s first magnificent gesture was to create light. For Jews, light is glory, insight, wisdom, warmth. It is safety and it is hope.

We acknowledge and mirror God’s great gesture with ritual significance during four important religious observances. The Mishnah in Pesachim teaches that “on the night of the fourteenth of Nissan we search for chametz by the light of a candle.” Chametz signifies not merely the physical process of leavening leading to seor, but also the leavening of our inner beings and our deeds. We therefore carefully search and look for any failings and shortcomings in all areas of our lives where we may have brought in leaven.

The halachic requirement that we use a ner for this task, a candle with a single wick rather than a multi-wick avukah, a torch, ensures that the light is intimate enough to allow us to reach into the depths of our minds and hearts and see failures and shortcomings lost in the more intense and overwhelming avukah.

The lighting of Sabbath candles formally ushers in the Sabbath in the home. A minimum of two candles are lit, symbolizing the two forms of the fourth commandment to honor Shabbat: zachor, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” in Shemot, and shamor, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy,” in Devarim.

The candles are to be lit on the table where the Shabbat meal is eaten, and should burn throughout the meal and well into nightfall. Ultimately, the reason for lighting Sabbath candles is to bring “light” into the home; to create an atmosphere, a cohesive family unit. The Talmud defines the need for Sabbath candles as shalom bayit. The holiness of the Sabbath day is meant to create a peaceful, tranquil, and happy Jewish home. Housewives, given the privilege of lighting the Sabbath candles, offer a moving and emotional prayer prior to hadlakat ha’nerot in which they ask God to instill shechinatecha beinenu, “His peaceful and bountiful providence among us.”

However, to be a genuine and creative Jew requires more of us than a searching soul or even a peaceful home. Judaism calls for openness and honest identification. It calls for a pride in one’s Jewishness, even to the point of pirsumei nisa. Judaism is more than the sum total of its institutions, organizations, shuls, or yeshivas. Judaism is first and foremost a community of proud, individual Jews willing to be known and counted as Jews. Thus the halachic requirement to light Chanukah candles so that we may “glorify Your name for Your miracles, salvation, and wondrous acts” not merely in historical and passive terms, but bayamim hahem bazman hazeh –“Who wrought miracles for our forefathers in former days, at this season.”

“At this season,” bazman hazeh, must relate to a living Jew, to a Jew willing to observe and look at candles directly and closely, and try to comprehend their relevant meaning. The law is that if one kindled the Chanukah menorah above twenty amah he accomplished nothing. Why? Because his act is not obvious. But what is not obvious? The very same candles are lit, on time, according to all halachic stipulation. What then is the psul? Perhaps the disqualification is based on the unwillingness to relate the mitzvah to a living Jew – to a gavra. Judaism cannot be camouflaged or hidden. Mitzvot cannot be placed beyond the reach of a living person, beyond human sight.

The Jew unwilling to declare his allegiance to halacha, his obedience to Shabbat, his concern for kashrut, his commitment to intensive Jewish education, his faith in God and trust in His nation – such a Jew has done nothing. His Judaism is impractical, institutional, lacks pride, and misses the essence of pirsumei nisa. Such a Jew relates to ideas at best, but never to a living people. He lacks something fundamentally “Jewish.”

The Rambam, in elaborating on the uniqueness of lighting Chanukah candles, writes: “One must be extremely careful in fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles, for it is a particularly special and adored mitzvah.” The Magid Mishnah, in citing the Talmudic source for Rambam’s emphatic statement, quotes the Talmud in Shabbat: “Rav Huna said that one who persists in lighting Chanukah candles is assured of children who will become talmidei chachamim.” In verifying the actual source in the Talmud, we find Rav Huna’s statement as reading: “One who is careful with the candle,” which Rashi interprets as being careful about the mitzvah of lighting both Shabbat and Chanukah candles, which results in the light of Torah.

Jewish candles, then, teach us a great deal about what it means to be an authentic Jew. First, it requires a wholesome Jewish home – ner Shabbat. Judaism cannot thrive but in an atmosphere of tranquility, with the family-oriented shalom bayit that is created and maintained uniquely through the Shabbat.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/jewish-candles-the-power-of-discernment/2011/12/21/

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