Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Parshat Bo: Audio Recording

Dear Friends,

Here is a recording of a class I gave on Parshat Bo in 2020.

Parshat Bo 2020

Have a good week, 


Monday, January 2, 2023

Judaism is Not a Spectator Sport: Get off the bench and start living it

There are two types of religious Jews, those who just “observe” Judaism and those who “live” it.

Which type are you?

Growing up, we often started out as observers. We watched what our parents did, we observed how our older siblings acted and we listened to what our teachers said. We then went through the motions and acted as they did. But for Judaism to become part of us, we need to graduate from just observing Judaism to living it.

Many of us know people who left Judaism or whose commitment has considerably weakened. It is unsettling when we hear about someone we know who is now no longer religious. In a moment of panic, we may even wonder about the strength of our own commitment to Judaism. Rest assured, people rarely go overnight from fully committed to abandoning Judaism. For those who are no longer religious, it was often a slow decline, where they had not been “living” Judaism for a while (and maybe never), before they walked away.

It is within the ability of every Jew to live Judaism and find within it the meaning and fulfillment that have sustained our people for thousands of years. When you are living Judaism, as long as you are alive, Judaism is a part of you. As long as your heart is beating, your heart beats with faith in Hashem and His Torah.

How do you start living Judaism? By making it personal. When it’s personal, then your Judaism becomes who you are, an inseparable part of your identity.

Five ways to make Judaism personal:

1. Develop a relationship with a Rabbi or Rebbetzin you respect. We all have ups and downs in our feeling of connection to Judaism, that’s normal. The question is what do we do during times of challenge? Do we allow that to weaken our commitment or do we seek guidance and hold on tight, come what may?

Having a personal connection with a Rabbi or Rebbetzin will help you strengthen your commitment to Judaism. In addition to a personal relationship, there are many online Torah classes where we can learn from authentic teachers from around the world.

2. Read articles and biographies about people who lived Judaism. When you see how Judaism elevated them and enabled them to reach unthinkable heights of spiritual and personal development, you will think to yourself, “I want that too. I also want to grow and live an elevated life, on my level.”

3. Learn Torah that inspires you.
Learn Jewish law so you know how to act and have a Rabbi you ask questions to. In addition, learn daily an aspect of Torah that inspires you, that fires up your soul. The sea of Torah is vast and if you search, you will find areas of Torah that speak to you. It might be the study of Gemara (Daf Yomi, Amud Yomi, Daf Hashavua, Oraysa or an in depth shiur), Tanach, Midrash, Jewish Philosophy, Chassidic thought or another aspect of Torah study. In addition to learning Torah on your own, set up at least a weekly chavrusa with someone who is passionate about Judaism and will be a role model for you (ask people you know, contact the local Kollel or partnersintorah.com). One of the benefits of studying with a chavrusa is that we are often able to put in more effort and toil when we study with someone else. Toiling in Torah, ameilus baTorah, is incredibly purifying and elevating; it will strengthen your connection to Hashem.

4. Have friends who share your values. Have a core group of friends that you respect and are a positive influence on you. Choose a community, a shul and Torah classes where you are with like-minded individuals, people who are also striving to strengthen their relationship with Hashem and their commitment to His Torah. In addition, periodically spend Shabbat or go to a Shabbat meal with people who live Judaism. There you will see firsthand how Judaism is meant to be lived and the clear benefits of living authentic Judaism.

In addition to looking for friends who will be a positive influence, become that friend for someone else. Choose at least one person (more if possible) and if they are open to it, make helping them strengthen their connection to Judaism a personal project. Introduce them to role models of yours, share inspirational articles or lectures, and offer to learn with them or help them find a chavrusa. Invite them over for a Shabbat meal or go with them to one. The Jewish people are one entity, one soul, to truly elevate ourselves, we must do our best to elevate those around us. When we make Judaism personal, it’s yours, and you want to share it with others.

5. Forge a personal relationship with Hashem. It is possible to be an observant Jew and go through the day without thinking about Hashem once! We need to bring focus and intention to our Judaism. Before and during davening, think about Hashem. When fulfilling the mitzvot, think about Hashem. Throughout the day, remind yourself that Hashem is with you, as His presence fills the world. Say a section of the davening slowly, focusing on the meaning of the words, and/or do that when reciting Tehillim daily. Also, get into the habit of speaking daily to Hashem in your native language, often called Hitbodedut, even if only for 5-10 minutes. Do not let a day go without thinking about Hashem. He does not let a day go by without thinking about you.

Part of establishing a personal relationship with Hashem is maintaining our holiness, as Hashem tells us (Vayikra 19:2), “...You shall be holy, because I, Hashem your God, am holy.” To forge a close connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, we need to maintain our holiness, as best we can. Vulgar videos, music or websites (use a filter), speaking profanity, dressing or acting inappropriately, degrades one’s holiness and will dampen your connection to Hashem. If one tries the above five ways of making Judaism personal and still does not find their Judaism meaningful, it is often due to a lack of holiness. When one does not guard their holiness, they are like a vessel with holes in it; they are unable to fill up with the sanctity and deep fulfillment that comes with davening, learning and observing the Torah. Work to improve in this area, start with one concrete change, and you will find the above five ways much more effective in making Judaism more meaningful to you.

For those who are raising children, part of your role as a parent is helping your children develop a personal connection to Judaism. You do this in part by working on yourself and being a good role model. In addition, without being pushy and giving appropriate room for individual expression, also help them with the above five ways: Encourage them to forge relationships with Rabbis, Rebbetzins and other role models, buy inspirational biographies and story books for them to read and to read to them. Many have commented that the stories their parents told and read to them growing up had a lifelong impact. Help them find the aspect of Torah that resonates with them at this stage of their life. Learn Torah with them and connect them with someone they can learn with and who will be a role model for them, e.g., someone a few years older than them who is solid in their Judaism, a retiree, or a member of the local kollel. Facilitate them going away for an authentic Shabbos experience or meal (especially if you have relatives that are appropriate), and encourage relationships with the right friends (choose their schools and camps carefully). Help them get into the habit of davening with intention, talking to Hashem, and developing a relationship with Him. Explain to them that as sons and daughters of Hakadosh Baruch Hu, they need to maintain their holiness and avoid certain behaviors, irrespective of how others act. As a parent, set guidelines and limit temptations as best you can (use an internet filter etc). When unsure what is appropriate, consult with your Rabbi or Rebbetzin.

At the core, when you make Judaism personal, you acknowledge that Hashem is your loving Father in Heaven who gave us Judaism for our benefit. When you slip up and do something which distances you from Him, you are pained by the separation; as is your Father. You ask Him for forgiveness and begin anew with a fresh start. You want to restore and even strengthen your relationship with Him. Because from a Father who cares for you deeply and wants to teach you everything you need to know, you never walk away.