Real religious teachers not only teach us the dos and don’ts of Judaism; they teach us how to approach our holy texts and observances with a sense of awe. “Muzak” types of religious teachers give the external impression of teaching religion but they lack content and authenticity.They do not convey a grand religious vision but are satisfied to present anecdotes and platitudes that don’t inspire and don’t allow us to grow or to think for ourselves.
Angel for Shabbat
Everyone needs to be reminded of the Divine commandments relating to upright and honest dealings. Why? Because people sometimes have tendencies that lead to dishonesty and immoral behavior. The Torah gives a powerful reminder to rise above negative tendencies, and to live honest lives.
Since those olden times, we have been involved in a never-ending series of campaigns—for our synagogues, schools, charitable institutions etc. A day hardly goes by when we are not solicited by one worthy cause or another. Although we must necessarily make priorities in determining our contributions, we generally have the feeling that we are generous and kind people who contribute to the best of our ability.
A Talmudic passage (Sotah 11a) offers an imaginary scenario relating to Pharaoh's decision to enslave the Israelites and murder their male babies. Bilam advised in favor of these evil decrees and ultimately died a violent death. Job remained neutral, and was later punished with horrible sufferings. Yitro opposed Pharaoh’s decrees, had to flee, and was ultimately rewarded.
Perhaps we ought to think of greatness in terms of the eternal light. Greatness does not entail having all the virtues and strengths; greatness does not depend on external pomp and glory. Greatness, like the eternal light, needs to be steady, to give light, to inspire from generation to generation.
Shalom uvrakha, and all good wishes.
Here are a few items of interest for members of the University Network of the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals:
1. Devora Chait, our Campus Fellow at Queens College, has been involved in organizing a rally on behalf of the Uyghur Muslims in China. She wrote the following paragraph, and hopes that you will attend if you are able to do so.
Hanukkah is widely observed as a holiday that celebrates religious freedom. While religious freedom protects each of our rights to practice religion freely, it also demands that we respect the rights of others to do likewise. Religious freedom is the hallmark of a tolerant and wise nation and community.
When praying as a congregation, we are a community. We are plural. Yet, we are also unique individuals who have different thoughts, feelings, talents and sensitivities. We come together as a “we” but when we begin praying, we do so as an “I.” The spiritual reality is created when the “we” and the “I” are in harmony, when the entire community senses oneness among themselves and in their relationship with God.
One of the hazardous features of human life is the ability to create illusions of innocence. People deny personal responsibility; or they justify their deeds; or they find scapegoats to blame; or they simply convince themselves of their own innocence. Moral blindness prevails.
This week's Torah portion includes Jacob's last words to his sons. He described his fourth son, Judah, as a lion, and stated that the scepter of kingship would never depart from Judah (and his descendants). All the brothers (and their tribes) would turn to Judah for leadership. What did Judah do to deserve this singular role?