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The Lamplighter Weekly

Volume 19 Issue 35
Oct. 15-21, 2017- 25 Tishrei-Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, 5778 
Torah Reading: Noach
Candle Lighting: 6:32 PM
Shabbos Ends: 7:25 PM

 

Parsha Synopsis · A Word From the Rabbi
Essay ·
Thoughts That Count
Once Upon A Chassid · Tid Bits · Happenings · Notes From Israel

 

Parsha Synopsis

Noach
Genesis 6:9-11:32

 G‑d instructs  Noah—the only righteous man in a world consumed by violence and corruption—to build a large wooden teivah (“ ark”), coated within and without with pitch. A great deluge, says G‑d, will wipe out all life from the face of the earth; but the ark will float upon the  water, sheltering Noah and his family, and two members (male and female) of each animal species.

Rain falls for  40 days and nights, and the waters churn for 150 days more before calming and beginning to recede. The ark settles on Mount Ararat, and from its  window Noah dispatches a raven, and then a series of  doves, “to see if the waters were abated from the face of the earth.” When the ground dries completely—exactly one solar year (365 days) after the onset of the Flood—G‑d commands Noah to exit the teivah and repopulate the  earth.

Noah builds an altar and offers sacrifices to G‑d. G‑d swears never again to destroy all of mankind because of their deeds, and sets the  rainbow as a testimony of His new covenant with man. G‑d also commands Noah regarding the sacredness of life:  murder is deemed a capital offense, and while man is permitted to eat the  meat of animals, he is forbidden to eat flesh or blood taken from a living animal.

Noah plants a vineyard and becomes  drunk on its produce. Two of Noah’s sons,  Shem and  Japheth, are blessed for covering up their father’s nakedness, while his third son,  Ham, is punished for taking advantage of his debasement.

The descendants of Noah remain a single people, with a single language and culture, for ten generations. Then they defy their Creator by building a great  tower to symbolize their own invincibility; G‑d confuses their  language so that “one does not comprehend the tongue of the other,” causing them to abandon their project and disperse across the face of the earth, splitting into  seventy nations.

The Parshah of Noach concludes with a chronology of the ten generations from Noah to Abram (later  Abraham), and the latter’s journey from his birthplace of Ur Casdim to Charan, on the way to the  land of Canaan.
 

A Word From the Rabbi

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A PEEK INTO THE HUMAN PSYCHE
The Story of Man's Dual Inclinations

Destroy man's desire to sin, our sages tell us, and you would destroy the world.
Not that anyone needs to sin. But one who lacks the desire to sin is not a citizen of this world. And without citizens, who will effect lasting change? (Tzvi Freeman)

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Like it or not, we are each engaged in a battle against our own set of mean genes. They are wily opponents too. Masters of the visceral, they control through satisfaction, pain, and pleasure. (Dr.'s Terry Burnham and Jay Phelan, Mean Genes)

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 Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola would plaint to the Almighty in the following manner: “Master of the universe, what do you want from your children? You have, after all, placed them in a benighted world. A world where Satan himself prances amongst them, fanning their evil inclination; where all the things that provoke fleshly desires are ranged before their very eyes, while the warnings of retribution lie hidden between the covers of some moralistic tome. You can be certain that if you had arranged things the other way around – with the place of retribution right in front of their eyes, and all the fleshly desires hidden away in some learned old book, not a single person would ever do anything wrong!”

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It’s hard to imagine how much has occurred since the cheerful narrative of creation, with all its promise, was read a mere week ago. The notion that things have so drastically deteriorated since we encountered the world’s origins and its Divine architect– the masterwork that found so much favor in the eyes of its creator – bends the mind.

Nary has there been enough time to absorb the optimism and anticipation associated with the creation of the world and its prize creature and things have already taken a sharp turn south. The vision of a lofty universe, dominated by an intelligent and righteous human species, has somehow given way to a tale of corruption and decadence.

The hope conjured by a world crafted with Divine design and purpose; the prospects of a species created in G‑d’s very image and likeness, has not yielded the anticipated results after all. The tour de force had not turned out all that glorious.

We actually know very little about the beginnings of mankind, but the Torah does provide us some details about its early history. The Rabbis in Avot (5,2) saw this history typified in the division of "Ten generations from Adam to Noach" (Gen. 5) and ten more "From Noah to Abraham." Parshas Noach covers the history from Noach to Avraham, including two generations that were highly significant for the human race; the generation of the flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel.

Our Parsha, Noach, devotes itself entirely to the well-known episode of the flood. It begins with the Divine declaration: "The end of all flesh has come before me, the world is filled with crime, I will therefore destroy the earth." G‑d proceeds to instruct Noach to build himself an ark, for he alone has found favor in G‑d’s eyes.

How it is that time and again humanity has failed to fulfill its calling. The Midrash links the failing of 

both in this parable:

How are the people of the flood and the people of the tower of Babel compared to each other? It is like a king who had two sons. One of them said to him, "I cannot tolerate you, nor all your demands," and the other said, "It is either you or I." Thus it was that generation of the flood said to G‑d, "Leave us alone," etc., and the generation of the tower of Babel said, "It is either us or him," as it is written, "Come, let us build us a city." They said, "It is not fair for him to take the upper realms for himself and to leave us the lower. Let us change things around, and take ourselves the upper and let him have the lower. (Tanhuma, Noah 27).

Having almost immediately betrayed their Creator by eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge, the very first humans were expelled from the Garden of Eden and set into motion a rapid decline in morality and order. After their son Cain killed his brother Abel in a fit of jealously, as if the universe was not big enough for the both of them, things proceeded in a continual downward spiral.

There are in fact six stories related in the first two Parshios of the Torah. 1)  The Garden of Eden and the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge (Genesis, ch. 3). 2)  Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). 3)  Enosh and his generation. 4) The Generation of the flood. 5) The behavior of Noah’s sons, upon leaving the ark (Genesis 9:20-28). 6. The Tower of Babel.

All negative human characteristics are revealed in this unsavory sequence. The Sages summarized them succinctly in two statements: the first, is in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar: “Envy, lust and ambition take a man out of the world;” the second: “In every law of the Torah, a man may transgress and suffer not death, except in the case of idolatry, incest and murder” (Sanhedrin 74a).

These two fundamental statements are based on the six narratives in which the Torah begins. Primordial man sinned by being too curious, not overcoming his thirst for discovery and for the taste of the forbidden fruit.  His first-born, Cain, lusted for power, was jealous of his brother and shed his blood. 

The generation of Enosh led the world astray by spreading idolatry.  The generation of the flood lusted for women and exploited their power to satisfy their lust.  Cham and his son, Canaan, could not bear competition and were led to sin by their lust for honor and power.  A great resemblance can be seen between them and the builders of the tower, who thought of themselves as divine and wanted to rule the world, but this lust for honor caused them to be removed from the world. 

By the end of Parshas Bereishis, G‑d’s paradise-world has become such a morally decrepit place that He regretted having created it. Upon describing, how man’s thoughts were "only for evil," G‑d proclaims His desire to obliterate humanity from the face of the earth – to wipe the slate clean and start all over again.

Our Parsha proceeds to describe the devastating forty day deluge that G‑d unleashed. “The waters strengthened and increased greatly upon the earth, all the high mountains which are under the entire heavens were covered. . . And all flesh that moves on earth perished – among the birds, the animals . . . all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life . . . expired. Only Noach survived, and those with him in the ark.” (Genesis 8:21-23).

But how are we to understand all this? How is it that lofty man – the entity created in G‑d's own image and likeness – would, in no time at all, lapse into the depth of depravity? The answer to this deserving question lies well within the human anatomy.

While it is true that man is exponentially superior to all other forms of creation with whom he shares the earthly planet, he is clearly not without fault. While man possess a Divine essence and exalted spiritual potential, a more comprehensive view of his composition and temperament, reveals the existence of a rival spirit with whom he shares his body. Our Parsha actually alludes to this not so glorious human attribute.

After the devastating flood, when Noach returned to the ravaged and desolate land, the Torah relates that "Noach built an altar to G‑d. He took a few of all the clean livestock and the clean birds, and sacrificed offerings on the altar. G‑d smelled the appeasing fragrance, and G‑d said to Himself, ‘Never again will I curse the soil because of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.'" (Genesis 8:20-21)

The above declaration from the mouth of G‑d, speaks volumes as regards man’s raw nature. The Creator himself attests to the fact that man – the crown jewel of his handiwork – is desperately lacking in his natural and unrefined state.

The upshot is that man is comprised of two rival forces, hence the Talmudic statement: “The Holy One, blessed be He, created two impulses, one good and the other evil.” (Talmud Berochos 61a)

The two forces are diametrical in every sense of the imagination. The animal spirit is passionate and hedonistic; it continuously gravitates towards physical pleasure and gratification. Indeed, it’s very essence and temperament is one of wanting, desiring and coveting. It can be compared to a machine that constantly craves. This life force epitomizes the ultimate of selfishness.

The Divine soul, on the other hand, is of a G‑d-like quality. It is the inexplicable conscience within man that distinguishes him from beast. This spirit impels man towards goodness and sanctity. It is the epitome of selflessness and virtue.

Much the way the human mind is perpetually engaged in thought, human existence is invariably expressed through one of these two souls. Man thus has the capacity and choice to live, at any given time, on either the spiritual or the animal plane.

 “Two nations are in your womb, two governments will separate from inside you, and the upper hand will go from one government to the other,” (Genesis 25:23). This was G‑d’s reply to our matriarch, Rivka’s, strange maternity sensations. The Rabbis, homiletically, interpret this as a reference to the two rivaling forces within man.

But there is an even more fundamental difference between the animal and Divine souls, which is of paramount importance. In contrast to the Divine spirit, which clearly requires stimulation in order to function as a viable force within the human arena, the animal spirit needs no such prelude or introduction.

Being intellective by nature, the Divine spirit is inevitably stimulated and nurtured through a meticulous process of development and cultivation. This however, is not the case with regards to the animal spirit.

Unlike its counterpart the impulse and ambition of the animal spirit is spontaneous and automatic – its aggressive and emotional temperament is felt naturally, regardless of whether or not one makes any overtures towards it.

To use a crude analogy: The flowers and vegetation of a beautiful garden are the result of careful effort in cultivating and maintaining a piece of land. Remarkably though, the weeds that grow on the same piece of land require no effort whatsoever – they need no cultivation or care; no water or pruning.

These organisms appear whether they are planted or not; whether they are wanted or not. In fact, if one desires a weed-free garden, one must take deliberate measures to rid the garden of the infiltration of such undesirables.

The same is true with regards to the Divine and animal souls. The Divine spirit, like the rose, requires meticulous care and cultivation. The animal soul, on the other hand, needs no cultivation. The impulse and ambition of this wild spirit is entirely spontaneous. Its aggressive and emotional temperament is felt regardless of whether or not one makes any overtures towards it.

The process of cultivating the Divine spirit is clearly a diligent one. It requires effort and exertion. In addition to the aforementioned discrepancy regarding the modus operandi of Divine and animal souls -one is automatic, while the other requires cultivation - there is yet another distinction. The two do not even enter the person at the same time.

The Midrash states that only on the day of Bar/Bat Mitzvah (age 12 for a female, and age 13 for a male) does the G‑dly soul completely unite with the person. It is hence only from this point on that a person is truly able to wage war with his animal soul and set out to conquer the small city - the body. Accordingly, it is the animal spirit that actually has first claim over the body, as it enters the body first. The latter only makes the process of becoming attuned with the Divine spirit that much more complex.

The Rebbe Rashab (Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson of Lubavitch) discusses this idea in his acclaimed work, Kuntres Uma'ayon: (Kehot Publishing Society 13:2 ) The animal and Divine souls are antagonistic entities, but the animal soul inhabits the body at birth while the Divine soul inhabits the body at thirteen. Hence, the claims of the yetzer hara (evil inclination) precede those of the yetzer tov (good inclination).  In fact, the evil inclination takes control of the person before the Divine soul even has an opportunity to settle-in.

Adding to this, says the Rebbe, is the fact that our bodies are naturally aligned with the animal soul as opposed to the Divine spirit. Bodily gratification's, like food, drink etc., are immediate to the body. These habits are deeply ingrained within the human. It is thus a small wonder that the animal soul is more conspicuous than her Divine counterpart. Her claims are earlier, she dominates in all the body's affairs, and is a veteran in persuading man to pursue base physical matters.

The Divine soul is a mere stripling compared to her opponent, posits the Rebbe. Her purpose is spiritual, while the body is attracted and accustomed to physical and worldly coarseness. In fact, the body regards spiritual substance rather contemptuously.

It is rather clear from above discussion that the Divine soul is considerably disadvantaged in her battle with the animal soul.

This should sufficiently explain our earlier quandary – how the loftiest of creatures is able to fall into the depth of depravity and immorality. Since the animal soul is the default human operating system, it is only natural that in absence of higher spiritual definition and purpose, man finds himself in the grasp of the animal order.

A skillful fiddler caused a large crowd of pedestrians to clap and dance as he played lively tunes in the town’s square. Unable to hear the music, a deaf passerby stopped to observe the strange spectacle. As he watched the people wave their hands, bounce up and down and twirl in the middle of the street, he was bemused: “What in the world is causing everyone to go insane,” he wondered.

Given the reality of the incorporeal human anatomy, and the benighted state of the world, man must engage in higher existence and purpose in order to connect with his higher core. When deaf to higher spiritual affiliation the default animal-self will no doubt reign supreme.

It is for this very reason that the Divine soul is in need of support in her endeavor to become the dominant force and master over the human entity. This is accomplished through adherence to a Divine set of rules and way of life. Only through a higher Divine discipline that imbues the mind and body with a higher sense of purpose and value, can one stimulate and empower the G‑dly dimension within himself to successfully take control of the human entity.

But why, after all, has the Almighty created us with an animal soul? Why should we have to contend with a dark and evil side? And why should that be the natural default state? Is this a blessing or a curse? Chassidic philosophy maintains that it is indeed a great blessing.

In response to the question: "How can G‑d call the sixth day of creation 'Very Good,' after all, isn't it the day that Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden of Eden?" The Lubavitcher Rebbe asserts that this too had to have been a good thing; otherwise G‑d would not refer to that whole day as "very good." But how could a sin be good?

Chassidus explains that our sins – when properly repented for – enable us to reach levels of spirituality and self-refinement that could never be achieved otherwise. Our evil inclination and even our sins can essentially be turned into virtues.

In fact, as explained by the following story, without an animal instinct, there is not much novelty and value in man's ability to live a wholesome and G‑dly life:

The Maggid of Jerusalem, once noticed that a student at the Yeshiva was absent for a few days. Upon the boy's return, the Rabbi inquired as to the reason of his absence. The boy, as it were, was extremely evasive. After a good amount of prodding the youngster finally relented – though resigned to the fact that the Rebbe would really never understand.

"You see," said the boy, "I missed Yeshiva so I could attend the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer finals. I will probably not be in Yeshiva tomorrow either, since it's the final day of the championship."

Rav Schwadron was not fazed. "Tell me," said Reb Shalom, furrowing his brow, "How does this game of soccer work?  "Well," began the student, a bit surprised, "there are 11 players; their aim is to kick the ball into a large netted goal. . ."

"What's the big deal?" asked the Rebbe, "That seems rather easy." The boy laughed, "Rebbe, there is an opposing team whose job is to stop them from getting the ball into goal!" "Oh, now I understand," whispered the Rebbe.

"I'm curious, though," continued the Rabbi, "do the teams sleep there at night?" "Of course not" said the pupil, "why do you ask?" "You see, I'm wondering what's to stop your team from going there at night, when the other team is at home, and kicking the ball into the goal."

"Oy Rebbe! You really don't get it! Anyone can kick a ball into an empty net. You can't score points unless the other team is there to try and stop you!"

"Ah!" cried Reb Shalom, "listen to what you’re saying. It is no big deal to do the right thing when the Yetzer Hara is not trying to stop you. It is only when there is strong resistance from the Yetzer Hara that you can score points."

This in a nutshell, is the story of the lofty human entity; created in the image and likeness of G‑d. It is the reason for his dual inclinations and ongoing struggle. It is likewise the story of the nearly 6,000 year battle between good and evil.

The knowledge and awareness of this G‑dly designed reality will certainly help us prevail and grow from life’s obstacles, adversity and challenges, much as the true appreciation of light is increased when contrasted by darkness, with the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.

Gut Shabbos! 

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Life in a Box

On September 26, 1991, a crew of four men and four women entered Biosphere II, a hermetically sealed environment constructed by scientists as a functioning model of the biosphere (the life-sustaining envelope that surrounds the earth). Biosphere II--which has since been converted into a resort and conference center--enclosed an area of 3.15 acres and included a desert, a marsh, a savanna, a rain forest and a million-gallon ocean. It was home to more than 3,000 species, mostly plants and insects but also fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. It was sealed off from the earth by a 500-ton stainless steel liner and from the atmosphere by 6,000 glass panels. Construction costs exceeded $150 million.

The eight "biospherians" spent two years sealed within the structure, deriving their food, water and oxygen from their enclosed eco-system. They emerged on September 26, 1993. The experiment yielded two marriages and reams of scientific data which, we presume, has aided our understanding of how our own macro-biosphere works.

Had the scientists running the project been more biblically inclined, they might have labeled their structure "Teivah II." The Teivah (Hebrew for "box") was a three-story, 125,000 sq. foot ark, built of timber and "sealed within and without with pitch," which Noahconstructed by command of G‑d. We don't know how much the Teivah cost to built, but our sages tell us that Noah labored 120 years on its construction. On the 17th of Cheshvan of the year 1656 from creation (2105 BCE), four men and four women (already married) entered the Teivah. They brought with them a male and female member of each species of mammal and bird, seeds and cuttings of various plant species, and a year's supply of food and feed. The purpose was not to study life on earth but to preserve it from the Flood brought on by a corrupt world.

For many months, the Teivah floated on the water that engulfed the earth; when the Flood began to subside, it came to rest on the summit of Mount Ararat. On Cheshvan 27, 1657, after 365 days within their boxed biosphere, the eight Teivians and their animal and plant companions emerged from the ark to build a new, better world upon the foundations of the old.

 


 

Noah was faced with an extreme situation--the impending destruction of all living things--and took extreme action, building a huge box that would hold and preserve samplings of the entire spectrum of life on earth. On a lesser but no less meaningful scale, we do the same every day of our lives.

We, too, are faced with "floods" that threaten to destroy all that is vital and alive in our personal universe. And we, too, respond by constructing "boxes" to hold and preserve precious specimens of our internal world.

Daily we are swamped by the cares and demands of material life. If we're not slaving at our jobs or worrying over our bills, there's always an electronic gadget to repair, the cleaning to take in or the garbage to take out. A torrent of materiality floods the life of modern man, filling our hours and minutes, consuming our talents, subverting our emotions, and all but drowning the spark of spirituality in our lives.

So we build boxes. A box of time dedicated for prayer each morning; a percentage of our earnings dedicated to charity; a modicum of energy reserved for some volunteer work in the community. We seal these boxes, jealously preserving these pinpoints of higher purpose in our lives from the floodwaters that seek to engulf them and claim them for themselves.

At times, the effort seems almost futile. Of a mind consumed by one's business, only a small amount of brain power is diverted by a few daily minutes of Torah. Of a heart agitated by financial worries, only a small corner is reserved for pure feelings towards a loved one. And how much remains for charity after the bills are paid? At best, only miniscule "samplings" of our resources are dedicated to a higher purpose.

Therein lies the eternal lesson of Noah's ark. Noah couldn't save the whole world--he had neither the capacity nor the mandate to build a haven of such proportions. So he constructed a sanctum for a sampling of the various life forms in Creation. These, however, were more than token representations: for twelve months, all of humanity was concentrated within the eight human beings inside the Teivah; every species of animal and plant resided in the individual representatives brought within its walls. And when the sealed box was opened, its occupants became the seeds of a new, revitalized world.

The Divine command "Come into the ark!" was followed, twelve months later, by the Divine command, "Go out of the ark!" Such is our challenge: to nurture seeds of spirituality in the midst of a material world, and then unleash them to work their influence in every area of our lives.

 

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.

Thoughts That Count
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These are the generations of Noach: Noach was a just, perfect man in his generation (Gen. 6:9)

Rashi comments: This verse teaches us that the most important legacy of a righteous person is his good deeds. A righteous person is not defined by his lineage or by his noble ancestry, but by his own actions and behavior. (Divrei Yisrael)

A window shall you make for the ark (Gen. 6:16)

The Hebrew word for "ark" is "tayva," which also has the meaning of "word." A Jew's job is to make a "window," as it were, for the words he utters in prayer or in the study of Torah, and to let them illuminate, as the sun shines at midday. (Baal Shem Tov)

And Noach went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives into the ark (Gen. 7:7)

A person should not content himself with his own entrance into the "ark" - the holy letters of prayer and Torah, but should always seek to bring others with him as well, not only members of his family but every fellow Jew. Just as G‑d helped Noach by closing the door of the ark after all were safely inside, so, too, is every Jew assisted by G‑d when he comes to the aid of his fellow man. (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

And only Noach was left (7:23)

Despite the fact that Noach was a righteous person, he was still required to tend to all the animals in the ark and take care of their needs. This was a physically demanding and sometimes dangerous job. Similarly, no matter how high a spiritual level one reaches, he is still obligated to take care of those around him who may need his guidance. (Likutei Sichot)

Once Upon A Chassid

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Where's the Beef?

G‑d said to Noah: Come, you and your household, into the ark (7:1)

The Hebrew word for ark, 'teivah', also means 'word'. "Come into the word", says the Almighty, enter within the words of prayer and Torah study. Here you will find a sanctuary of wisdom, meaning and sanctity amidst the raging floodwaters of life. (Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)

One day a visitor arrived at the home of Rabbi DovBer, the famed "Maggid" of Mezeritch. The visitor was an old friend of Rabbi DovBer's, who had studied with him back in their youth. With great interest he observed the behavior of his former study-partner, who had since become a follower of the Baal Shem Tov and had assumed the leadership of the chassidic community upon the latter's passing.

The visitor was particularly struck by the amount of time that the Maggid devoted to prayer. He himself was no stranger to reflective prayer: when he and Rabbi DovBer had studied together, they had mastered the mystical teachings of the kabbalists and they would pray with the prescribed meditations, or kavonot, outlined in the writings of kabbala. But never in his experience had prayer warranted such long hours.

"I don't understand," he said to Rabbi DovBer, "I, too, pray with all the kavonot of the Holy Ari. 1 But still, my prayers do not take nearly as much time as yours do."

Rabbi DovBer's visitor was a dedicated scholar. His wife ran the family business so that he could devote all his time to Torah study. Only once a year was he forced to break from his studies for a few weeks: his wife would give him a list of the merchandise she needed, and he would travel to the fair in Leipzig to wheel and deal.

"Listen," said Rabbi DovBer to his visitor, "I have an idea for you. Why must you waste precious weeks of study every year? This year, sit at home. Envision the journey to Leipzig in your mind's eye: picture every station along the way, every crossroads, every wayside inn. Then, imagine that you are at the fair, making your rounds at the booths. Call to mind the merchants that you deal with, reinvent the usual haggling and bargaining that follows. Now, load your new purchases upon your imaginary cart and make the return journey. The entire operation should not take more than a couple of hours -- and then you can return to your beloved books!"

"That is all fine and well," replied Rabbi DovBer's friend, "however, there remains one slight problem: I need the merchandise."

"The same is true with prayer and its kavonos," said Rabbi DovBer. "To envision this or that sublime attribute of G‑d in its prescribed section of the prayers, or to refer to a certain nuance of emotion in your heart at a particular passage, is all fine and well. But you see, I need the merchandise..."

 

Tid Bits
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How Can Grandma Me Jewish If I Don't Believe In Anything?

tid bit
Dear Ask-The-Rabbi,

Last week these dudes in fedoras pulled a bar mitzvah on me.

I’m twenty years old. I never had a bar mitzvah. Simple reason: I’m not Jewish. My dad’s not Jewish. My mom’s not Jewish. But I let out to these guys that my mom’s mom is Jewish.

Next thing I know, they wrap out these black leather straps and boxes on me and tell me I’m getting bar mitzvatized.

So I protest. I don’t believe in Judaism, I tell them. I don’t even know anything about it. If I don’t believe, how can I be Jewish?

Besides, I really don’t look Jewish.

—Ryan Ching

Dear Ryan,

I can sympathize. I mean, nobody’s going to tell you that your Buddhist grandmother makes you a Buddhist. As far as I know, the same applies to any religion. If you don’t believe in it, how can you be a part of it?

Neither does one Irish grandmother make you Irish.

But being Jewish is not about religion, or about nationality. It’s more like being born into a tribe. And this tribe is heavily matriarchal.

That’s how the rules of the tribe work: Since your mother’s mother was a member of the tribe, that makes her Jewish, too. Which, in turn, makes you Jewish.

Escape Is Futile

So now you’re thinking, “How do I get out of the tribe.”

You can’t.

You see, this is a covenantal tribe. It started off as a family of descendants of a man named Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, some three and a half thousand years ago. But then, the people gathered at Mount Sinai and made an eternal covenant.

From that point on, it became a one-way street. You can get in, if you join the pact. Or just by being born into it. But there’s no way out.

That may not make much sense to you, but there’s deeper stuff going on here. A person is not just a bag of meat wired together with neurons and programmed by DNA. There’s something more inside, something mysterious and unpredictable. Something we often call a soul. And souls come in different flavors. You may not look Jewish from the outside, but on the inside, you have a Jewish soul.

There's Money in the Bank

What does that mean for you?

Think of it as something like being told that your poor old grandma left you a hefty trust fund,and all you need to do is drop into the bank and take out the cash. Lots of cash.

If that happened, you might say, “Well, I don’t really believe that my grandmother had any cash to leave me, so I’ll pass, thank you.” Right?

I doubt it. My guess is that you would at least risk a visit or two to the bank to ask some relevant questions.

In this case, your grandmother has left you a heritage of timeless wisdom, a great history, and a lifetime membership in the oldest and most amazing worldwide tribe, spread over the entire globe. And a Jewish soul.

There’s a good chance your Jewish soul will resonate with that wisdom. There’s a good chance the history will be meaningful to you. There’s a good chance the rituals and holidays will enrich your life. And you might find it cool to be a bonafide member of a global community that accepts you unconditionally, just because you’re a member of the tribe.

Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s worth a try. 

 

Tzvi Freeman 

Notes From Israel

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