Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Kavvanah, 5/31/2011 - Do Something!

Last week I attended the annual Cantors Assembly convention in Toronto, and on Wednesday we were addressed by Dr. Arnold Eisen, the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is committed to the concept of mitzvah, of our being commanded to perform particular actions, and has guided the Seminary in recent years to establish the Mitzvah Initiative, a program that helps Conservative Jews get in touch with Jewish living.

He began his remarks by reminding us that we are bound by a covenant (in Hebrew, "berit") with God, and our end of the bargain is to perform those mitzvot that God has asked of us. Jews, said Dr. Eisen, do not exist merely to exist; we are here in this world to do something, and that something ranges from the ritual (e.g. tefillah / prayer, holidays) to the mundane (e.g. kashrut / dietary laws) to the active care of each other (mitzvot bein adam lehavero / mitzvot that are incumbent upon us regarding our obligations to other people, e.g. tzedaqah / charity or ethical business practices).

Today is a back-to-work Tuesday, and at morning minyan I reminded the assembled that having donned tallit and tefillin and recited the morning tefillot was the beginning of the day's Jewish life, not the end. As we go about our day, it might be helpful to remember that we do have a purpose in this world. Do something!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Conservative Judaism moves into the blogosphere

Well, it's about time. The Jewish Theological Seminary is now hosting a blog featuring weekly essays by Chancellor Arnold Eisen, and judging by the first two, this blog will be an active discussion about the state of the movement. There are also sidebars by Conservative Jewish notables, and feedback by all the rest of us. Enjoy!


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Shavuot 5771: Harvesting Our First Fruits of Knowledge

(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, May 27, 2011.)

Although it may be a coincidence that Shavuot coincides with the end of the school year, the connection between the two is unmistakable. Each of the three Festivals marks (at least) two items: an agricultural happening and a rabbinic overlay. In the case of Shavuot, the agricultural happening is the harvesting of the first fruits, which the Torah instructs us to bring to the Temple in Jerusalem to donate to the kohanim. The rabbinic overlay is the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai; both of these commemorations are connected to the conclusion of studies and graduation.

The first fruit (“bikkurim”) harvest must have been a particularly joyous occasion to our ancestors. It marked the end of the tense, nail-biting period of the omer, when climatic variation caused uncertainty in the size and scope of the coming harvest, as well as the beginning of summer. The yield of a teacher’s efforts, coming on the heels of months of hard work and uncertainty, is revealed in the spring, when final exams precede summer vacation. Another year of learning has, hopefully, paid off, as the student demonstrates his/her growth.

Meanwhile, we mark God’s gift of the Torah by studying all night on Shavuot, actively displaying our commitment to learning and investment in the foundational text of our people. It is a fitting tribute - what could demonstrate our love of the Torah more than a night dedicated to study?

A recent article in the New York Times magazine cited statistics that demonstrated the near-linear correlation between level of education and income, and categorized data points according to religion. No big surprise here, but adherents of Reform and Conservative Judaism came out on top (actually, Hindus have more advanced degrees, but make somewhat less money). The article pointed to the fact that religions whose adherents are traditionally dedicated to learning, like Jews and Hindus, were more likely to yield highly-educated people and hence higher average salaries.

Frankly, the statistical, academic acknowledgment that Jews tend to make more money than the average American makes me uncomfortable, especially in the wake of Madoff and all the more so in tough economic times. However, the article reminded me that learning has always been a priority for Jews, and even today for those who are higly assimilated; we are indeed the People of the Book, and while most of us are more invested in secular studies than Talmud Torah, our ancient inclination as a nation is to learn.

Shavuot is the holiday of learning, when we reap the first fruits of a year of study. As we mark final exams and graduations, come celebrate our ancient heritage by studying some Torah with us on June 7.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Behuqqotai 5771 - The Five Pillars of Judaism

As we approach Shavuot, when we commemorate the giving of the Torah, I have been thinking of the great complexity of Judaism and Jewish life. Ours is the most complicated religion I know. There are so many things to learn and discuss and understand, so many possible points of entry. Think about it for a second:

Shabbat / Holidays
Halakhah / Jewish law / 613 mitzvot
God (a lot of material to talk about there)
Conservative Judaism (the focus of our Tiqqun Leyl Shavuot)
Tefillah / prayer
Tiqqun olam / social action
Torah (shiv’im panim / the 70 faces of Torah: many different ways of reading it)
Hebrew language
Aramaic language(s)
Rashi / commentators
Poetry and literature
Home rituals
Synagogue rituals
Ancient philosophy
Medieval philosophy
Modern philosophy
Ancient History (and on and on; you get the idea)

It is all-encompassing, and more than slightly intimidating.

As such, through the ages, there have been various attempts to outline a simple guide to the basic principles of Judaism. Consider the following from Pirqei Avot (1:2), which we studied two Shabbatot ago at se’udah shelishit:

על שלושה דברים העולם עומד--על התורה, ועל העבודה, ועל גמילות החסדים.
Al sheloshah devarim ha-olam omed: al ha-Torah, ve-al ha-avodah, ve-al gemilut hasadim.
“On three things the world stands: on Torah, on service to God, and on deeds of lovingkindness.”

That’s pretty good, but not really enough information.

How about this, from the opening mishnah of Massekhet Peah (1:1):

אלו דברים שאדם אוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא
כיבוד אב ואם וגמילות חסדים והבאת שלום בין אדם לחבירו ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם
Elu devarim she-adam okhel peiroteihen ba-olam hazeh, veha-qeren qayyemet lo le-olam ha-ba: kibbud av va-em, ugmilut hasadim, vehava’at shalom bein adam lehavero; vetalmud torah keneged kulam.
These are the things for which a person reaps the fruits in this world and his reward is in the world to come: honoring father and mother, acts of lovingkindness, and bringing peace between people, but the study of Torah is equal to them all.

This is better than the piece from Avot, I think. It speaks of the essential duties we have to our fellow people, and the centrality of learning Torah, and points to an incentive (i.e. rewards in this life and what comes after). But there is still more!

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, whom we also refer to as Rambam or Maimonides, lived in Muslim Cairo in the 12th century and, perhaps responding to the Five Pillars of Islam, counted 13 principles of faith. We echo these when we chant the piyyut (liturgical poem) Yigdal at the end of Friday night services here at Temple Israel.

Most of the 13 principles are about God, but they also include statements about the Torah, about divine reward and retribution, and belief in the coming of the mashiah / messiah and the resurrection of the dead that comes with it.

But these are mostly beliefs, not actions. Four of the Five Pillars of Islam are actions; it is clear that Rambam was a heady guy, arguably more interested in thinking than doing.

What do we have that can serve as a simple guideline to us, modern, thinking people, who are looking for a moderate, centrist approach to living a Jewish life in today’s fast-paced, pressurized world? What are the basic things that we should do to be Jewish, and to ensure Judaism’s vitality in the future?

* * *

This morning we read from Parashat Behuqqotai, which features a series of blessings and curses. The theological premise of these is that if we follow God’s words, we will receive the litany of blessings, and if not, we get the curses.

The reality is, of course, not so black-and-white. In reviewing the opening verses of this parashah with my 7th-grade class at the Youth House on Thursday, one of the students asked a great question: what if you miss a few of the mitzvot? Does that mean that you get none of the blessings and all of the curses?

The answer is that nobody can really fulfill all of the mitzvot. We try, and, being human, we inevitably miss the mark. So we aim for getting those blessings. But it’s not all or none.

Our parashah opened this morning with the curious phrase, “Im behuqqotai telekhu.” Literally, “If you walk with My laws...” We do not simply believe in God, or submit to His will (as some other religions suggest); rather, we Jews walk. We walk through life, ideally trying to follow the path that God has laid out for us. The word for Jewish law, halakhah, means “walking.”

What does it mean to walk in God’s way?

I’ve assembled a quick reference guide. Here are what I am boldly calling the “Five Pillars of Judaism,” a fundamental (but not fundamentalist) guide to Jewish living. I’m thinking of having this printed on the back of my Temple Israel business card:

1. Treat others respectfully - derekh eretz, the way of the land

Six out of the “top ten” commandments / mitzvot are about treating others with respect; great swathes of the Torah are about interpersonal relations. And in particular, the laws applied to the “stranger in your midst” are the most important. It is not enough just to treat your family and friends and the other people like you with respect. The Torah teaches us to give dignity to our employees, to take care of those in need, to respect all people regardless of their status or station, to treat both your friendly neighbors and your enemies with a modicum of fairness. Derekh eretz literally means “the way of the land;” as we are walking through life we cannot neglect this path.

Here are the words of Rabban Gamliel from Pirqei Avot 2:2:
יפה תלמוד תורה עם דרך ארץ, שיגיעת שניהם משכחת עוון
Yafeh Talmud Torah im derekh eretz; sheyegi’at sheneihem meshakahat avon.
The study of Torah is commendable when combined with respect for others, for when one toils in both, sin is forgotten.

It is not enough to learn Jewish text, says Rabban Gamliel. You also have to know how to apply it in our interpersonal relations.

2. Treat yourself with respect - na’aseh venishma

Feed your mind with good stuff: Jewish learning, Jewish knowledge. The more we know about and understand our tradition, the more valuable Jewish practice becomes. And commit your physical self to living Jewishly. It’s good for you!

An article crossed my desk this week, forwarded to me from more than one of you, with the provocative title, “Science Confirms What Rabbis Understood: Jewish Practice Makes You Happier and More Fulfilled.” Upon reading the article, I discovered that this title was more than a bit misleading. “Science” has not confirmed any such thing. However, the article cites one or two recent books that suggest that “behavior change often precedes changes in attitudes and feelings." Or, put Jewishly (from Ex. 24:7), na’aseh venishma - “we will do and we will hear.”

This is the response that the Israelites gave, while standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai, when offered the covenant of Torah. It is also the classical Jewish answer to why we should perform mitzvot - i.e. after committing to them and growing accustomed to living a lifestyle in accordance with Shabbat, kashrut, and other Jewish observances, we will eventually understand why. Na’aseh venishma, said our ancestors - “we will do and then we will understand.”

Meanwhile, it’s not enough just to feed your mind. “Im ein qemah, ein Torah.” If there is no bread, there is no Torah. Kashrut is important. But I would argue that just as important than the letter of the law is the spirit; kashrut should also reflect our ethics. We should think carefully about what we eat, about what we put into our bodies. If a food is kosher, but bad for you, should you eat it?

Furthermore, the Conservative movement is finally bringing Magen Tzedek, its ethical-hekhsher initiative, to the market. Look for it next fall. If you want to learn more about Magen Tzedek, I’ll be teaching about it at our Tiqqun Leyl Shavuot on Tuesday night, June 7 here at TI.

3. Treat God’s creation with respect

By now many have you heard me say this many times, so I will be brief: God created this world, and the Torah constantly reminds us that it belongs to God, not us. Just as hikers passing through a forest exercise the standard known as minimum impact, leaving no trace, we should work harder to leave less of a trace of our presence as we walk through life. If that means reducing greenhouse gas emissions or conserving resources, then we should work harder to do so. God wants us to make sure that our grandchildren, and their grandchildren will pass through the same forest and find it still populated with (as one story in the Talmud puts it) carob trees.

4. Express gratitude to God

Come to Temple Israel on Shabbat, or weekdays, for your daily dose of tefillah.
Prayer is powerful stuff. It’s not easy, but it’s really good for you.

But you can also pray alone! Don’t fill all of your empty time by merely playing with your smartphone, or with idle chatter. Make meaning with your words and thoughts, and float them up to God. You’ll come to appreciate that opportunity.

5. Commit Yourself to Israel

We need the State of Israel, and she needs us. Modern political Zionism and Israel represent the youngest stream in Jewish life. We have a diversity of opinions in this room regarding what it means to support Israel, but here is my formula:

a. Go there. Often. I go at least twice a year. If you have not been yet, go now. Even leaving aside the spiritual component of Israel, as a mere vacation destination, Israel rivals the best places in the world. If you’re looking for an opportunity, Rabbi Stecker will be leading a Temple Israel trip to Israel next summer; watch for more info.

b. Buy Israeli products and give to Israeli charities. The least we can do as Diaspora Jews, when Israel puts her own teenagers in the line of fire defending her borders and security, is to give as much economic support as possible.

c. Learn about and become a goodwill ambassador for Israel. Israel is being subjected to more and more negative criticism. Become familiar with the facts and the history, so that you can learn to discern hyperbole from real issues. As we have seen just this week with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s current visit to Washington and President Obama’s speech on the Middle East the other night, there is much spin out there, and the depth of most media presentations is paper-thin.

Israel is not just the Kotel and the Tel Aviv beach, and she is definitely not an apartheid regime. As pressure mounts both here and abroad for Israel to engage with the new Palestinian unity government that includes the Hamas party, equip yourself for those hard conversations. Learn to argue her case amongst your friends and support Israel within our current political landscape.

* * * *

To summarize, the Five Pillars of Judaism are:
1. Respect for others / derekh eretz
2. Respect for yourself
3. Respect for God’s creation
4. Express gratitude to God
5. Commit yourself to Israel

Remember, this is not meant to be all-encompassing; rather, this is merely a guideline.

Im behuqqotai telekhu, if you walk in God’s way, maybe there will be a few more blessings for all of us. Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Seth Adelson
(Originally delivered at Temple Israel of Great Neck, Shabbat morning, 5/21/2011.)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday Kavvanah, 5/19/11 - Lad Ba-omer? No, thanks.

The chief rabbis of Israel and other influential rabbis have issued a statement that Lag Ba-omer, the 33rd day of the counting of the omer (which is the period of 7 weeks from the second day of Pesah until Shavuot) should be observed this year not on the 33rd day, but on the 34th day.*

Lag Ba-omer is the day when the plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students during the omer period ended, and is thus a minor day of celebration. The rabbis' reasoning in moving it back by a day is that in Israel, many celebrate by building bonfires on the evening of Lag Ba-omer, and since this year this would be Saturday night, there would be mass desecration of the Shabbat in preparing bonfires. (To be fair, I am not aware that there has been a precedent for "moving" Lag Ba-omer; it fell on Sunday last year as well.)

The idea of relocating the celebration is mostly academic; what is more interesting to me is the fact that Judaism is not a centralized religion. We have no pope, nobody who can command something that all will follow. No matter which influential rabbis issue decrees, there will be some who reject their opinions. For sure, on Saturday night in Israel there will be bonfires, by secular Israelis who don't care what the rabbinate says, and Haredi groups for whom the merely Orthodox rabbinate is inconsequential.

But this is one of the major strengths of Judaism: our decentralization made us portable and democratic. There's no hierarchical bureaucracy in Judaism since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem 70 CE. And that simple fact has made it possible for us as a people to survive 2,000 years more than we might have, through exile and dispersion.

I'll be marking Lag Ba-omer on Sunday, like most of the Jewish world.

*The word "lag" is an abbreviation for 33 - the Hebrew letter "lamed" has a numerical value of 30, and "gimmel" has a value of 3. Hence, lamed + gimmel = "lag" = 33. The vowel has no value. 34 would be lamed + dalet, and therefore is pronounced "lad."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday Kavvanah, 5/18/2011 - Second-Chance Day

Today is the 14th of the Iyyar, exactly one month after the 14th of Nisan, which is the day on which the Torah instructed our ancestors to offer the Pesah/Passover sacrifice. Why is this day significant? It is referred to as Pesah Sheni, "the second Passover," and mentioned in the Torah as the day one which those who missed the Pesah sacrifice in Nisan get a second chance:

אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי-יִהְיֶה-טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם, אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח, לַיהוָה. בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי בְּאַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר יוֹם, בֵּין הָעַרְבַּיִם--יַעֲשׂוּ אֹתוֹ
Ish ish ki yihyeh tamei lanefesh o bederekh rehoqah lakhem, o ledoroteikhem, ve-asah pesah ladonai; bahodesh hasheni be-arba'ah asar yom, bein ha-arbayim, ya-asu oto.
When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the Lord, they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. (Numbers 9:10-11)

Curiously, this is the only holiday of the seven identified in the Torah that have a special sacrifice for which this is possible. Perhaps Pesah was so important to our ancestors, given that it held the foundational narrative of the Israelite nation, that it warranted another opportunity.

The conclusion, say the rabbis, is that we are offered a second chance; the Talmud reads "on a long journey" to also mean one who might have strayed off the path, and Pesah Sheni is an opportunity to return. And yet, if only for Pesah, doesn't that suggest that these opportunities are not always available? We have to take them when they come.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tuesday Kavvanah, 5/17/2011 - The Wonder of Thunder

In the middle of this morning's Shaharit service, thunder erupted during one of the quieter moments. Although you can't interrupt an established seder berakhot (a particular series of blessings) to say a separate berakhah, we added this at the end of the service:

Barukh atah Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha-olam, shekoho ugvurato malei olam.
Praised are You, God, Ruler of the universe, whose power and might fills the world.

The windows in the chapel were open (I think they're stuck!), so the room really rumbled. Thunder and lightning are to us merely natural phenomena and an occasional nuisance; to our ancestors, who were much more in touch with nature and less insulated from the weather, they must have been truly frightening symbols of God's power.

For a moment, with the windows open and thunder shaking the room as we mumbled our morning
meditations, maybe we could feel God's power. Just for a moment.

A Year at the Youth House

(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, May 13, 2011.)

As this is the last Youth House column of the school year, and therefore the last one that I will write as Youth House Director, I would like to walk back through my brief yet moving tenure in that position.

The view from my second-floor office has, like all the rooms in the Youth House, glass walls; it affords me a slightly removed perspective on the goings-on in the building. I see the door and those coming in and out; I can supervise the lobby and some of the well, and I can get a sense of some of the classrooms. Over the past year I have learned that in working with teens, there are times to watch from above, and times to roll up one’s sleeves and dive in.

We began the year in an understated way, with a burial of holy books in the back yard. In the second year of the genizah project, we did not have as much material to bury, but we had just as much fun digging in the soil and getting ourselves dirty, concluding with a somber ceremony. The next event was a trip to Lido Beach on the south shore, and although Moji was almost carried away by the riptide, we all managed to return safe and slightly tanned.

The High Holidays for 5771 were front-loaded, so Itamar and Joe pulled together Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur programs for teens even as we were trying to get our classes off the ground. The Limo Scavenger Hunt, an annual tradition, took place in the middle of Sukkot, and one of the stops was in the Adelson sukkah, which was brightly lit with what some call “Christmas lights,” although I prefer the term “holiday lights.” Just after Simhat Torah, we took off for the Fall Retreat at Camp Ramah in Nyack. The weather was crisp, the food was great, and the sky was clear enough for star-gazing on Saturday night. We bonded and hiked down to the Hudson for Sunday morning tefillot before taking the worst-ever bus ride home.

On Martin Luther King Day weekend, we took a trip to Jiminy Peak, my hometown ski area, to play in the snow, and donned tefillin while crowded into a budget motel room. February saw the madly successful trip to Israel, which took 39 teenagers to Eretz haQodesh, many of whom for the first time, with the extraordinarily generous support of the Khorshid Dina Harounian Israel Education Fund.

On Purim we read Megillat Esther for the whole congregation, and during Pesah we took over the sanctuary to lead services, and our parents and friends swooned to the lovely voices of our teen volunteers. And then the following week we sauntered out to the Catskills for our Spring Retreat, where we made our own pizzas and discussed aspects of being holy.

And let’s not forget that we hosted nearly 150 guests for the USY Chazak Division’s annual Spring Kinnus, a gargantuan feat that many in our community contributed to.

A new program called Team Tikkun, coordinated by Zina Rutkin-Becker, helped a group of our teens determine their charitable goals and find appropriate charities that met them. Their efforts to repair the world, accomplished with the generous assistance of the Benjamin Ziegelbaum Memorial Trust Fund, will give back to others in powerful ways.

Five of our seniors went out on another Temple Israel first: March of the Living, a program that takes high school juniors and seniors to Poland and to Israel; as I write this, they are celebrating Yom Haatzmaut in Jerusalem.

And of course, throughout the year were scattered our assortment of Family Friday Night dinners, sometimes accompanied by our own service, and more often in conjunction with Cantor Frieder’s moving, musical Neranena service. And we also had regular shul-ins, all-night-long gatherings of junk food and teen camaraderie.

Congratulations to our fearless President, Ari Panzer, for stepping up to the plate as a leader and helping to cultivate a new Board. Yishar koah to Joe and Itamar, for making all of our activities worthwhile, fun, and educational. Immense gratitude goes to Moji for being there to help me make all the important decisions, and to the rest of the teaching staff - Tziona, Brandon, Lauren, Rabbi Stecker, and Cantor Frieder - for making the academic side of the Youth House flourish this year.

As we make a transition to our new director, I will be spending more time watching from above than getting my hands dirty. But I will surely be at the Youth House to teach as well as to help out when I can, moving forward. Join us to help build on what was a stellar year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Stephen Colbert on Hasidic Newspaper's Removal of Hillary Clinton

This is just too good not to post. Enjoy!

Yom Ha-atzma'ut Kavvanah, 5/10/2011 - Building our Redemption for 63 Years

"May you live in interesting times," goes the well-known curse. Perhaps for the Jews, the times have always been interesting, although as Israel celebrates her 63rd birthday today, one might say that the last 63 years have been especially so.

Israel is described in today's Jewish liturgy as "reishit tzemihat ge'ulateinu," the dawn of the flowering of our redemption. Nobody will argue that the State of Israel is a perfect place, but there is no question in my mind that we have been building our redemption for 63 years at least. We are all fundamentally incomplete until that redemption comes; Israel, though a work in progress, is the biggest step toward redemption that the Jews have taken in two millennia. Kol hakavod, and happy Independence Day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wednesday Kavvanah, 5/4/2011 - Rosh Hodesh reminds us that Creation is ongoing

Today is Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, the official start to the second month of the Jewish year.* Rosh Hodesh comes up every 29 days or so, always coinciding with the new moon. It's not really a holiday; more like a half-holiday, and the only real observance is a few liturgical additions to daily services.

One of those additions is the recitation of Psalm 104. Every day of the week has its own psalm, but Rosh Hodesh joins the elite club of Yom Kippur and Hanukkah in possessing its own, dedicated psalm.

And this is a psalm with an agenda: it retells Creation, but shifts the context from the perfect (i.e. completed) verb forms of Genesis to the participle (i.e. ongoing) form. For example:

.מַשְׁקֶה הָרִים, מֵעֲלִיּוֹתָיו; מִפְּרִי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, תִּשְׂבַּע הָאָרֶץ
מַצְמִיחַ חָצִיר, לַבְּהֵמָה, וְעֵשֶׂב, לַעֲבֹדַת הָאָדָם
.לְהוֹצִיא לֶחֶם, מִן-הָאָרֶץ

From Your lofty abode You water the hills; the earth is sated with the fruit of Your works.
You cause grass to grow for cattle and plants for people to cultivate, enabling them to bring forth bread from the earth. (Psalm 104:12,13)

The message is this: Rosh Hodesh may not be much of a holiday, but on it we remember that God continually creates the world. It's a little bit of Rosh Hashanah, eleven (and sometimes twelve) more times per year.

Hodesh tov! Happy Iyyar!

* Yes, the year 5771 started with Rosh Hashanah last September. But the cycle of Jewish months begins in the spring. Go figure!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Kavvanah, 5/3/2011 - Giving praise where it's due

A synagogue must have a window. Why? So you will not be so consumed with spiritual engagement with the words of tefillah that you forget that there is a physical world outside.

At the end of shaharit (morning service) today, I suggested the following: we've just spent 40 minutes praising God. Judaism also emphasizes the concept of hakarat hatov, literally, recognition of that which is good; find a moment today to tell the people around you how much you love and appreciate them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday Kavvanah, 5/2/2011 - The True Judge

It is customary, when hearing of a death or bad news, to say the curtailed berakhah, "Barukh dayan ha-emet" (Blessed is the Judge of truth). For better or for worse, we understand this statement as one of condolence, i.e. "I'm sorry for your loss." However, the plain meaning is more about our submission to divine will in giving life and taking it away than our human need for comfort.

It's not a statement with which I am entirely comfortable. Usually.

In the case of the (not necessarily planned) execution of Osama bin Laden at the hands of American troops in Pakistan I can only say, Barukh dayan ha-emet. Would I have rather seen a trial of a live bin Laden at the hands of American jurisprudence? Surely. But let's go with this: God's verdict has already been made.

Rather than celebrate the death of the most notoriously successful sponsor of international terrorism, let's instead acknowledge the true Judge.