Monotheism in a nutshell, all laid out. Make the change you want to see!
PunkTorah will be holding an interactive online Lamentation. Together we will mourn and lament.
Right here! At 9:15 PM Central. Participate in the “build-a-lamentation” where we will work together to create a work to be featured on PunkTorah.org!
Tonight starts the fast of Tisha B’Av, the ninth of Av.
What does that mean? There are some things we are told not to do:
1. No eating or drinking
2. No washing or bathing
3. No application of creams or oils
4. No wearing of leather shoes
5. No marital relations
6. No Torah study
Why Tisha B’Av?
The Talmud tells us that there are five things that happened to the Jews on Tisha B’Av:
1. The twelve spies sent by Moses to observe the land of Canaan returned from their mission. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, brought a positive report, while the others spoke disparagingly about the land. The majority report caused the Children of Israel to cry, panic and despair of ever entering the “Promised Land”. For this, they were punished by G-d that their generation would not enter the land. Because of the Israelites’ lack of faith, G-d decreed that for all generations this date would become one of crying and misfortune for their descendants, the Jewish people. (See Numbers Ch. 13–14)
2. The First Temple built by King Solomon and the Kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians led by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE and the Judeans were sent into the Babylonian exile.
3. The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, scattering the people of Judea and commencing the Jewish exile from the Holy Land. According to the Talmud in tractate Ta’anit, the destruction of the Second Temple began on the Ninth of Av and the Temple continued to burn throughout the Tenth of Av.
4. The Romans crushed Bar Kokhba’s revolt and destroyed the city of Betar, killing over 100,000 Jews, in 132 CE.
5. Following the Roman siege of Jerusalem, Roman commander Turnus Rufus plowed the site of the Temple and the surrounding area, in 133 CE.
What can we learn from this now? How can we bring this into our lives today?
Well, we see that as a people we have a responsibility to mourn our collective losses. National tragedies tie a people together, just as national celebrations can. So mourning together as a people is an important part of being a Jew. Not only this, but we are told that Moshiach will be born on Tisha B’Av. The pain and mourning are akin to birth pangs.
If we look more closely at the first occurrence, the spies who were scared, the Israelites cried for no reason. G-d told them they would invade and be victorious, but they despaired of even trying. Because of this, because they cried empty tears, G-d told them that this day would be forever a day of mourning. It’s basically a parent saying, “Why are you crying over nothing! You’ve wasted all this time and energy crying over nothing, now you’ll really have something to cry about.”
The real sin of the Israelites is that they didn’t believe in themselves. They saw the inhabitants of Canaan and were scared, even after G-d told them not to worry. They didn’t have faith that they could do what G-d said they could. So this year let’s mourn for what we could have done, and resolve to do what we can. Recognize that Judaism doesn’t shy away from pain, it is a reality of life that needs to be acknowledged, but we have to allow our pain to give birth to a better world.
I had a friendly debate with a gentlemen I was meeting about what it means to be Jewish. He challenged my opinions, but I did not feel like he was being rude or even trying to convince me another way. This friendly exchange is rare, so I took to him pretty quickly.
As it turns out he asked me questions about my faith that I did not have concrete answers for. I mean, what seems like truth to me, does not always seem that way for someone else. I always feel Hashem, but I do not always have “proof” of Him. It makes it complicated when discussing with someone who has a different perspective, but again… I did like this conversation so I continued to entertain different thoughts.
Finally, it came down to this one conclusion I had. If someone does not like our faith they’re not “Jewing it right”. He was a bit perplexed when I said it so I explained:
To “Jew it right” you must do something that seems fulfilling to you in the realm of religion. Try and learn something for a Rabbi or a friend; join an organization or a temple or an organization within a temple! You must take that energy that comes from within and apply it spiritually and culturally. Once you are firm in your beliefs and practices (whatever they might be and from whatever sect you belong to *or don’t belong to*) then you will find inner peace and happiness with your relationship to Hashem. This concept is “Jewing it right”. The affirmation that there is 1 soul creator that wants praise and acknowledgment that steams from joy and fulfillment from His creations.
Overall the conversation went well, but I was also excited to see that within the dialogue I had really verbalized how being Jewish is not only something I am committed to, but something that really speaks to my nishama.
Be true to the streets-
It’s hard enough imagining a time without the internet, let alone books. But that’s what it’s like to be an ancient Hebrew. Moses keeps repeating these same stories about the People over and over again, not because he’s lecturing or thinks that the Hebrews are too stupid to remember, but because there isn’t exactly a library of Jewish history sitting around the traveling camp.
It’s like in the book Fahrenheit 451 where an underground society of people called “book-keepers” each memorize a book in order to preserve knowledge. In the same way, Moses is turning each of his people into a living book…a living Torah, in fact. Instead of writing all the laws and stories on parchment, he demands that each person become a Torah in themselves, and collectively, the People of the Book.
One thing that particularly struck me about the portion this week was Moses recalling the time he appointed judges and magistrates to help him “mete out justice” and teach “the word of G_d”. Moses is basically saying:
“Hey, remember that time I tried to do everything myself and I couldn’t? Yeah, well you can’t either. Ask for help from each other and together anything can be accomplished.”
If even Moses himself, the pinnacle prophet of Judaism needed to get help from those around him, how much more do we? This is one of the key teachings that he leaves with the Israelites as they head into the Promised Land: you will need help, and you have to look to each other for it. No one, not even the prophet of G_d Almighty can do it alone.
I’ve neglected going to services lately because I am really not comfortable there. We go in, we pick up a siddur, we sit down, and invariably our daughter either wakes up or jumps down and starts running around. All the old bubbies start to murmur and give us dirty looks and then my wife has to escort the little vilde chaya out the door while I stay and daven alone. This is fine. It is routine and I expect it, though I’m saddened that we have to be separated during what I consider to be a both personally spiritually important time and a good spiritual environment for the kid.
My real disappointment lies in the way we are holding modern, “liberal-type” services. We all sit in rows in a fancy sanctuary, sing songs and follow along and do the “call and response” type of thing. We listen patiently as the leader drones in that “poetry/sing-songy/disingenuous” kind of high pitched voice. And it struck me that it was all so, for lack of a better word, “church-y”. I hated it. It feels like it is copying the Protestant style of Western church worship, from the music to the atmosphere. Someone at the service even made a comment (jokingly, I think) about being “quiet at church”. I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t this be different than church? Why are we trying to be like that? To fit in? No thanks.” We are different, and that should be a good thing. Jews always have been different. We’re iconoclasts! We break down walls and smash idols! Heck, we’re different from each other! You know that old chestnut, “two Jews, three opinions”!
My first exposure to a Chabad type service was really, interesting. We were on vacation, so we went somewhere we normally wouldn’t have gone. This was very different. Everyone seemed to be mumbling and shuckling and I had no idea where I was in the service. After fifteen minutes I gave up trying and I just followed along as best I could. The shaliach’s kids came right up to him and he would pick up the little ones in between prayers. It was pretty overwhelming and a disorienting.
The same type of thing happened later when I was at a much smaller minyan and everyone was davening at different speeds. I got flustered and frustrated. I even got mad at the guy next to me for going so fast and not doing it “right”. After thinking later about why I got angry, what about everyone not praying together made me some upset, I figured it out.
Jacob Siegel, in a fantastic post you should check out, put it like this:
In the middle of this cacophony of prayers, “I would form my own personal connection with G-d, and you, praying beside me, would do the same, and we would each be vocalizing at different paces, and we would each be inspiring the other to achieve a spiritual awareness that we would then carry throughout the day.” This is incredible to me. It is that independence in the midst of community, what I consider almost the definition of Yiddshkeit, that electrifies my neshama.
I’m not saying one way is right and the other wrong. I am saying that it is a shame if we are changing our nature to conform to an idea of what a progressive, liberal service should look like. Something that IndieYeshiva and PunkTorah are trying to do is to bring these ideas back into the way we “do” Jewish, and have them there for us, to make our Yiddishkeit genuine and real, and by “genuine and real” I don’t mean specifically that there is one right way to do things, but a way that resonates with our past. I’m taking about an Integral Judaism that would transcend and include the past (more on that in another post).
I would like to, if I may, let Mr. Siegel take us out, because any paraphrasing on my part would be just that, and I feel he puts is very eloquently:
‘When we pray, we share our energy. I davven, and you hear me and feel inspired, and I hear you and feel further inspired. Let’s thank our cantors for their efforts in service of us and G-d, and ask them to step down from the bimah and stand beside us, as we now all share together in our cleaving to G-d.”