Completely Out-Of-Phase

Judaism is not a solo act. Although each of us definitely has a unique relationship with The Creator, our covenant is as a member of Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. The same weekly day is Shabbat for all of us and the Chaggim occur on the same day each year for each of us, no matter where we live (with the exception of Second Day Chag in the Diaspora), what we believe or how we choose to participate. Yom Kippur, for example, is, and always has been, characterized by fasting, just as Sukkot is centered around the experience of leaving the comfort and security of our permanent homes and dwelling a fragile, temporary Sukkah for a week.

Ironically, since I’ve returned to live in Jerusalem several years ago, health has moved me out of the group of people who are able/halachically-allowed to fast (on Yom Kippur or any other day) and my apartment for the last three Sukkots has had no possibility for my own Sukkah! Imagine that after almost thirty years of fasting and “religiously” building and, as much as was possible in Autumn Seattle, sitting in my Sukkah, longing to fulfill these Mitzvot once again in Yerushalayim, I can’t.

I’ve been forced to recalibrate how to authentically participate in these primal Jewish yearly experiences. Without the central observances of each of these two Chaggim, how do I, nonetheless, incorporate them into my spiritual, social and physical life, and how to I include myself in the Jewish body politic when I am so out-of-phase with everyone who surrounds me?

At this point, after a couple years of these challenges, I must say thay I don’t have a very satisfying answer for myself, at least not one that would have any possibility of working for me if I were still in living in Galut, the Diaspora. One consideration which contributes my current situation is that to be fully immersed in Jewish culture and community here, I merely can find a bench on a sidewalk and enjoy the Jerusalem sun on my face as I’m enveloped by the current of Jews walking/driving/bicycling/scootering down the road. Religious or secular, I’m part of a society where a high percentage of people, regardless their level halachic conformity, have family dinners every Friday night, who restrict their eating on Yom Kippur, one way or another, who will, at least if convenient, duck their heads inside a Sukkah, at least on the sidewalk in front of a restaurant this week and will probably even make the blessing, l’Shev b’Sukkah, to sit in a Sukkah with a smile and sense of satisfaction, even if they do it only once or twice the entire week.

How can I, despite my own observance restrictions–and don’t we all, no matter how “observant” find ourselves at least somewhat restricted or self-restricting, opting paritally-in, partially out, throughout our lives?–not feel an integral part of not only Am Yisrael, the Jewish People, but also Torat Yisrael, our complex, intricate and infinitely beautiful religious tradition and practice?

Moadim l’Simcha and Shabbat Shalom

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Thoughts For The Ten Days

The theme of these days, beginning with Rosh HaShana, continuing through Yom Kippur, is Avinu Malkenu. Avinu Malkenu, Chatanu L’fanecha, “Our Father our King, we have sinned before you”, begins a litany of most conceivable sins one could possibly commit. Although it’s likely that each of us have not transgressed the entire catalog, probable that we have, indeed, committed very few of them, Avinu Malkenu usually runs anywhere from 27 (Yemenite) to 38 (Ashkenazi), 44 (Polish) to 53 (Saloniki) verses, each specifying a unique sin or class of sins!

In spite of the cliché of Jewish Guilt, we really don’t assume that we are all base and vile sinners, so why the orgy of obsessive collective confessions, at least twice a day, until Yom Kippur, when we really lay it on? Rather, Torah can, and should, lead each of us to ever deeper and more mature and sophisticated spiritual insights and understandings. Instead of a nation of infants, we are, indeed, a nation capable, and thus responsible to, bring spiritual enlightenment to the entire world.

Avinu, Av Shelanu, our Father, means much more than God is The Creator and we, the created. The begetter/the-begot is too simplistic and obvious for much discussion. But an only slightly deeper exploration of Av, Father, leads to the Kabbalistic idea of Abba, the primordial father, the underlying mature masculine drive to create, Arich Anpin, the large face, rather than the baby face of Zeir Anpin, the not-yet-tried boy-child. This is the drive to create, to bring the new into being, that is everything we can imagine, all for the benefit of that greater than our individualities. Our Divine Nature to emulate God Who Creates for the benefits only of others, and not to selfishly satisfy His Own Desires.

Likewise, Malkenu, our Malchut, which is the field which contains all existence. She is Shechina, the Holy Divine Feminine, the Womb/Container of all there is.

And thus these few days focus on our greatest powers of creativity, bringing the primordial creation of Rosh HaShana (the birthday of the world) to it’s realized perfection, to the point where all is judged, in the highest and most profound sense, to be Tov, Good, inscibed and sealed (a lasting permanence to our achievement) in Sefer HaChayim, the Book of Life, fulfilling our potential, not merely “worthy”, but destined for permanence, for Chayei Olam HaBa, for Holy Eternal Life.

May it be His Will, may it be our deeds.

Gmar Chatima Tova

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Elul, First Step To Transcending—Just Do It

Parshat Shoftim, always read at the beginning of Elul, the run-up month to Rosh HaShana, begins Shoftim v’Shotrim Titeyn L’Cha B’Chol Sha’arecha. We’re instructed to create a justice system including judges and law enforcement. But it wasn’t until the Oral Torah was completed, 1500 years later, that we had detailed instructions as to how we were supposed to have done that. I think it’s fair to assume there the Torah includes the challenge to “figure it out for yourselves” in that and most other mandates. Similarly, although we believe that the Written Torah, The Tanach, was, in fact, given with full explanation to Moses at Sinai, even traditionally very few argued that it was given word-for-word as the Talmud later distilled it. We’re challenged to do our best to figure out how to fill in the details of at keast 613 mandates (Mitzvot).

Our weekly Musaf nusach, liturgy, includes the phrase Sh’Ta’aleynu b’Simcha L’Artzeynu, Lift us (lead us in Aliyah) joyously to Our Land, again without really explaining how that is supposed to look. No one is more supportive of Aliyah and the Mitzvah of Settling the Land than I, and, once again, I am blessed to, once again,after nearly 30 years away, live in Jerusalem. But with almost my entire family almost 7,000 miles away, it’s an unsolved mystery to me how to accomplish it with only joy, no sadness, in my heart. Once again, I’m left to work this out for myself.

Each year, as we approach and then enter the month of Elul, we are over-bombarded with cliché drashim, sermons, spelling out the month’s name in the letters Aleph-Lamed-Aleph-Lamed, then expanded to a key phrase in Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs, Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi Li, I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine, describing our ideal relationship with The Creator.

Superficially simple, we’re supposed to love God just as we experience God loving each of us. What that really means is that our love for God, ideally, is identical in every way with God’s love for us. Without explanation, we can’t even imagine what this might possibly be and how we, limited beings existing as physical bodies in time, can possibly emulate the Infinite, Unbounded, All-Powerful, All-Knowing Creator in any way or any action, especially Love. How can our relatively pathetic little love even be spoken in the same breath as God’s Infinite Love for each of us, not to mention for not only all mankind, but for all of Creation?

The answer is we don’t and can’t know. The best we can do is to try to emulate what we, stretching our minds and hearts, might imagine, is God’s Infinite Love. Just as God doesn’t hold back, are we willing to love, then to love even more and even more, without any feedback or hint that we’re reaching our goal or that our love is even perceived or reciprocated. Are we willing to go all out, to love “The Lord (y)our God with all (y)our heart, with all (y)our soul, with all (y)our material possessions?” Are we willing to dedicate outselves to entering a new year, a new cycle, full of new opportunities even though pre-loaded with our previous partial accomplishments and our mistakes, to forge always forward with no thought or feeling but Infinite Love for The Inifinite One and, therefore all His Creation?

Of course, we’ll fall short. We’re all limited human beings, or at least partially so. (That we’re, as part of God’s Infinite Creation, especially in the role of Human, Ben Adam, also Infinite with Infinite potential and capacity, we must at least partially believe that we really are capable of reaching God’s goals for us). But we all have an almost unlimited capacity to try to approach this pinnacle of love and connection, at least to remind ourselves that it’s within reach, Lo Rachok, not distant but Karov Maod, very very close. Within ourselves and surrounding each of us, is that capacity to experience Ani l’Dodi v’Dodi Li.

May we each be incribed for a year of only good.

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Modeh Ani–Daily Thanks

You don’t always get a second chance and should never count on a “do-over”. When you are graced (and I use that word deliberately, referring to the Hebrew word, Chen, which is associated with Chesed, loving-kindness, and Rachamim, compassion) with one of life’s rare second chances, you should feel obligated to be grateful (obviously related to, and returning Grace).

Although it’s also an obligation (Shulchan Aruch HaRav א:א:ו) for a Jew to begin every day reciting the phrase, Modeh Ani L’Fanechah Melech Chai v’Kayam, I acknowledge and am filled with thanks, before You, Living and Eternal Majesty…., there is reciting it and there is reciting it. In other words, it can become an habitual mumble just before you run to the bathroom, fully devoid of any meaning other than, “There! I said it. Next mitzva coming up…..” or it can, and should be and profound awareness of the grace of our soul returning to our body, to the awakening, for one more morning, of our consciousness.

In addition to that, it has taken a personal meaning for me these last almost three years. While I have recovered from serious health challenges, and I am also daily thankful for those miracles, I have a special awareness that I have been graced with the opporutnity to have made what I call Aliyah 2.0.

I first moved to Israel in 1982 and intended to remain here for the rest of my life. I married, began a family (two of my four children were born in Jerusalem), bought my first (and second) home, planned and designed (along with my then-wife) a brilliant apartment remodel. I found a Rebbe who got me over the hump to be able to learn Gemara with intense pleasure, I found a loving and supportive community of close friends. Although I missed my US family, I was intensely happy. But it came too easily and, almost imperceptively, crashed into disaster.

Serious problems with neighbors (i.e. nextdoor neighbors who shared the common  staircase with us and whose front door was less than a meter from ours, escalating to physical threats and actual attacks (setting their dog to run over my oldest daughter, just beginning to walk, on these stairs), moving to the Israeli legal system and learning that as American immigrants we were at serious disadvantages, led to our returning to the US for what was originally intended to be a two-year sabbatical to cool out.

For me, it lasted almost thirty years until I returned home, to Jerusalem, divorced, physically distant from my children, a senior with significant health issues (which seriusly complicated in my first six months here). I also returned here ecstatically happy to be back home in Israel. And in spite of almost immediate health challenges which froze all my ambitious plans and dreams, and which had taken all of the subsequent two years to substantially recover from, it now gives a second, double meaning to my Modeh Ani–my first waking thought is that, somehow, against all odds (and half the time I think agaist my better sense and judgement (again, so intensely missing my children and grandchild)), having expending most of my fortune and strength) here I am. The first air I breath is Jerusalem! The first light that washes my eyes, Jerusalem! The first sounds, the first bird-calls, Jerusalem!

And it’s not at all what I anticipated nor what I had thought was motivating me to make this my home. Of all the old friends I had expected to fill my new life, at most I regularly see two or three families. The various Torah opportunities I was sure would be here just for my taking, many of them went by the wayside when I was physically and health-wise incapable of learning to any profound degree (I’m only, in the last six months, returning to my former mental abilities, but as I learned to focus my efforts to only that which I intensely want to study (these days, mostly Ramchal, Zohar and Gemara), I find that relatively few people I can find here are as exclusively interested in them as I am.

Looking forward to Aliyah, especially at the time that film and enlarging paper had left the world (and, especially, the world of photography), I hoped to change careers (even at this late, post-65 age) and enter, perhaps the technical writing, or something else related to the tech-boom here, field (my earliest background, for those who don’t know, was math, fledgling computer science and linguistics). But, again, health issues, leading to bureaucratic ones (I was unable to register, let alone complete an approved Ulpan, a prerequisite to most technical-writing entries) intervened.

The point is that my experience and joy of living in Israel has little to do with anticipated conquests or successes. I’ve also learned that meaning is rarely synonymous with “profundity”, I’ve had almost zero epiphanies, flashes of insights, lightning bolts or what might be described as “peak spiritual experiences”. Rather, the profundity for me, the daily joy, is the simple joy of being part, a very small part, of an historic and universal miracle, the rebirth of Am Yisrael, the Jewish Nation, in our hereditary homeland, Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel. The revival of an all but ritual or academically, dead language (even if my participation probably does more to “kill” than to revitalize Ivrit…)

Yes, I’m able to occasionally (actually, almost as often as I’d like) to ascend Har HaBayit, to feel there the strongest available experience of “divine vibes”, that inexpressible, intangible but nonetheless real experience of God’s presence on Earth), but that comes at a price of intense cognitive dissonace from the enforced (by our own Israeli/Jewish Police) prohibition again Jewish prayer or any other visible religious expession (I’m astounded we’re allowed to cover our heads)) and the often vocal radical Moslem protest. Perhaps my personal lesson is that the hope for a peak experience isn’t really why I’m here, but it’s really the simple, prosaic, day-to-day of walking with, bus-riding with, talking (even with immense grammatical mistakes) Hebrew with fellow Jews who, only a generation or two ago were just as unskilled in this language (as a daily language–obviously many of us had ritual or academic fluency, but I’ve always likened that to arriving in the US from Eastern Europe with a college degree in Chaucer, thinking you could “make it on the street”…..).

It’s the good-natured daily life with, finally, my people. The sense that whatever my successes and failures, even with the frequent childless loneliness, other types of aloneness, coming to terms that so many former goals will never be reached, that I am finally, actually, at home, with my people, most of whom I don’t know and will never know, but who are, nonetheless, my people.

And for all that, I can’t begin my day in any manner other than full and profound, fully-felt joy and gratitue that, each day both a fresh and a continuing miracle, that I am here.

Modeh Ani Lifanech, Melech Chai v’Kayam….

These began as my thoughts for Av, the Hebrew month that begin today, on the ninth (Tisha) of which we remember and commemorate the violent destruction of our Holy Temple and the beginning of our seemingly endless Exile (Galut). But I experienced (as I do yearly) and finally, this year, admitted to myself, the cognitive dissonance of mourning a Jerusalem “abandoned and bereft”, a “collection of the shells of destroyed buildings”, poverty-filled, eternally sick and depressed while observing and experiencing daily the most dynamic place I’ve ever encountered. Not only are there building and employment and income and tech booms, but there are more Jews seriously studying Torah right here, within the precints of Yerushalyim than any time in history! That, although our access is still imperfect, we are able to ascend Har HaBayit, the Temple Mount, almost at will, and that an ever-growing number of Jew as well as people of all faiths have ascended this year (remember, the Temple, when it re-manifests, is specifically to be a House of Prayer for All Nations (Bet Tefilla l’kol haAmim))!

Although we’ve a ways to go, I doubt if Jerusalem has ever been as great as it is today. Sure, I’ll take a day to mourn that we haven’t yet achieved our long-dreamed goal, as well as the pain, torture and horror so many of our people have endured over the millennia, but I’ll also take the rest of the year to celebrate that we’ve never let that dream die, that throughout our high points and our lows, we’ve stedfastly and stubbornly maintained our goal, that we’ve come as far as we have and that I, against all odds, am here to participate, to contribute and just to enjoy.

Modeh Ani Lifanecha……

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Is The Breach Bridgeable?

Closing my eyes to something unspeakably sad and depressing doesn’t make it disappear. Nor can I merely refuse to speak of it, naively hoping it will no longer be there the next time I take a peek.

The breach in the Jewish People, often characterized by the lack of tolerance and understanding between Israel and the diaspora, is real. We might already, chas v’shalom, have passed the point-of-no-return, but either way, it’s only getting worse, almost on a daily basis.

It manifests itself in the precipitous drop of support for Israel among America’s non-orthodox Jews and the anger that causes on both sides of the argument. (Not to mention the contempt many Israelis feel for American Jews.) Many, and certainly the dominant voice in media and politics, American Jews are so upset with and fed-up with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, often applying the very same type of personal hatred they display for American President Donald Trump. Many feel betrayed by the rapid movement away from what they consider not only necessary for Israel’s physical survival, but also for the spiritual survival of the Jewish People, which is a fully independent Palestinian nation in the territories largely lost by Jordan and Egypt in the 1967 war of annihilation against Israel. What had been experienced with bursting pride by most Jews around the world at that time as an almost Divine intervention to save Israel from vastly superior Arab armies, has now been rewritten by many to somehow be a heartless effort to establish and strengthen a colonial conquest by Europeans over a peaceful, indigenous population of Palestinian Arabs who, as the new liberal-orthodoxy expresses it, had been in the Land of Palestine since time immemorial.

Identification with Israel, let alone a sense of Jewish obligation to settle in our ancient homeland, has been rebranded, or as those who promote this point of view, or discovered to be almost the lowest form of fascism.

Since in the US, the majority of Jewish support for Israel remains in the minority “orthodox” camp, there has been a rapid and intentional distancing from orthodox approaches to Judaism.

This isn’t to cast all blame on the non-orthodox, since at the same time the mostly modern orthodox establishments have surrendered, in many cases almost entirely, to the haredi, ultra-orthodox. establishment. Even in “modern orthodox” schools, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many Torah teachers who identify with modern orthodoxy and who are not actively promoting the most extreme, often intolerant of other Jews, forms of hashgacha, philosophy, and halacha, religious and ritual law and observance.

When hate between communities is not stopped in the bud, but rather promoted by too many leaders of both sides, this disastrous deterioration accelerates in a downward spiral.

To a point not unfamiliar today where many orthodox leaders brand conservative/reform/reconstructionist/renewal rabbis and congregants as sinners, evil folk and goyim (non-Jews). Many of those leaders return the favor by branding those Jews in black clothes, black hats, long-sleeved/full-length dresses and wigs or other severe hair covering as dinosaurs, bigots, relics, fanatics and responsible for the upsurge in world-wide antisemitism.

While the Right often proclaims “God on ours side”, many in the left rarely give thought at all to “God”, declaring Him dead, an obsolete concept, tribal and worse. Each side is convinced that the other is 100% responsible for the breach in the Jewish People, some of them celebrating the fact, others mourning.

Without a vested interest in casting blame in one direction and white-washing the other, I do count myself, unequivocally, among the mourners.

All too often we have moved to a point where we lack a common language (I’m not talking about Hebrew here). While those in the traditional camp retains the traditional definition and concept of Mitzva as a God-ordained set of actions to either perform or to refrain from, if not identical with practices of hundreds of years ago, at least part of a traceable heritage from previous practices. The progressive camp, when it retains the Mitzva-language at all, has redefined them as promoting contemporary liberal political stances, and in a conflict between tradition and these contemporary values, tradition always, 100%, loses.

Both sides have convincing arguments, at least when preaching to their own choirs, why they’re right and the other side filled with evil extremists.

And I find my eyes overlowing with tears as I, too often, despair of any human-based solution.

Although I love Am Yisrael, including those on the “opposite” side of the divide, I am, and always have been (even in my lapsed years) “orthodox” (even though I really despise the denominalization of Judaism). That said, I need to clarify my recent essay, When I critique frozen halacha, I’m mainly talking about the various dynamics at work in the larger “orthodox” world, especially the tension between backward-looking, too-often-circle-the-wagons-defensive approach and those who are looking for halacha to lead us forward to the ultimate Geula, Redemption, the complete revelation of God’s Infinite Presence, His Shechinah, into even this most physical and material aspects of existence.

This state is what I refer to when I use the too-often-repeated phrase, Tikkun Olam. Because I believe that, first, this is possible only with Siyata d’Shemaya, Divine help. And that the essence of that help and guidance is the totality of the Mitzva system He assigned to us, millennia ago, in His (and our) Holy Torah.

Mitzvot must be recalibrated and re-aimed only to make them more effective, truer to the mark, and not to make them, somehow, more palatable to passing value systems. Torah, in its very essence, is timeless. Of course, Mitzvot will only be performed if they’re perceived and experienced positively. But the “shortcoming” when it occurs, is not a fault in Torah, chas v’shalom, but rather a major failure within today’s orthodox leadership and educational system, who too often leave outworn assumptions about people unexamined, or who lack strong Emunah, belief/faith, in the Creator and that His/our Torah is infinitely (more) vibrant and enduring, able to (actually, engineered to) speak to all Jews at all times.

We can, and must, find solutions.

Am Yisrael Chai, Am Yisrael Chad Hi (The Jewish Nation Lives/The Jewish Nation is One).

Shabbat Shalom

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Welcoming Infinity

Now that I have another deeply satisfying Shavuout under my belt, I have a confession to make. Until the very last moment, when I was finally immersed in the day (or, in this case, the evening), I wasn’t really sure I could bring it off,  wholeheartedly celebrating receiving the Torah.

In these religiously polarized days, especially in Jerusalem, but I suspect wherever Jews take traditional practice seriously, Modern Orthodox (for want of a better label) Jews seem to be trapped in a high-speed march, if not to actually join the ranks of the haredi, ultra-orthodox, they are continuously looking over their collective shoulder hoping to avoid criticism or delegitimization. Being declared “not really frum” seems the equivalent of being declared “Not Really Jewish”. Do I really want anything to do with this Torah?

The Torah and by extension The Creator, are by definition and by logical necessity Infinite. Of course, we’re quick to pay lip service to this concept, but too often don’t realize that when placing any limitation whatsoever on the fractalized infinity of Torah we simultaneously deny God’s Infinity. And in a society where we seem to have, chas v’Shalom, granted infallibility to certain Torah scholars, declared by a small insider group within a tiny corner of the Yeshiva World, or, even worse, self-declared, as Gedolim, literally Great Ones, using the faulty principle of Daas Torah, an assumption that since Torah reflects God and God is omniscient, one can acquire complete and perfect knowledge of Absolutely Everything, exclusively and only through Torah study.

This then implies that these “semi-divine” Gedolim not only know everything there is to know (including about subjects (for example in highly technical specialties of science, but that they can determine an eternal and universal Psak Halacha (ruling in Jewish Law) which is binding on everyone, regardless of their individual situations and the individual situations and event which brought them to where they are).

This makes for not only a very lazy Halacha (even if conforming to specific rulings might be very effort- (and often financially) intensive. It often seems “martyr”-oriented, rewarding hardship and a meanness in everyday life, over actual achievement and intimate closeness to The Creator. Remember, as I have always been taught by my rabbis and teachers, a great Posek (halachic decider) is one who can make something already being done permitted, to bring more Jews into the realm, the “big tent” as it were, Tachat Kanfei HaShechinah (Beneath the Wings of the Shechinah (Feminine Divine Eternal Presence), rather than one who can exclude and disqualify.

You see, the purpose of Mitzvot, including immersing ourselves as fully as each of us is individually able in Torah, is in order to keep ourselves in constant engagement and relationship with The Creator Who, with his His Holy Torah, is One.

Shavuot, two weeks ago, celebrated receiving this Torah. Like all Jewish holidays, we mark God’s active intervention and participation in human events, more specifically, the ongoing experience of The Jewish People. Although this year we observe an approximate 3300 year anniversary, we’re supposed to re-experience this Divine Ecounter and Spiritual Explosion anew, as if it’s happening for the first and eternal time right now.

It takes a bit of mental self-manipulation to keep this up with much excitement and happiness year after year throughout a normal human lifespan. For me it has to be much more than a Groundhog Day Deja Vu (watch the 1993 Harold Ramis movie starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell both to catch the reference and to spend an enjoyable hour-and-a-half) experience (one that’s always new because my memory is wiped out between repetitions). The actual Torah, or at least my honest experience of it, must evolve and deepen each year.

But how can that work if the Torah is eternal, timeless and unchanging, just as we try to define The Creator. What appears to me as necessarily obvious is that God is also Infinite, and that in a way we can sort of point at, give a mental nod to, but never, Chas v’Shalom, actually define or experience.

One important implication of this is that Torah can never be simplified and unitary. Just as there are 613 Mitzvot (Commandments, Rules, Requirements), they are necessarily individuated for each Jew, and not just that, but for each Jew at each moment of his or her life. This is because a Mitzva is much more than a rule or a prescribed action to take or to avoid, but, rather, as the encompassing term Halacha (The Walking), system of Mitzvot implies, each is an approach to Divinity, to one’s individual and personal relationship with The Creator. And just as God created myriad people (there are at least 600,000 root souls (shoreshei neshama) in the Jewish People (the same as the number of letters in a Sefer Torah, written Torah scroll (including the “hidden” letters (which aren’t seen and “exist” only in oral tradition), which have, over the millennia, combined and recombined to countless individual Jewish personalities, each of which has not only the opportunity but the obligation to forge a relationship with The Creator, but to refine, i.e. closen and deepen it, every moment.

Perhaps no earlier than 1980, the Haredi world became enamored with the concept of Daas Torah, that the Torah “speaks”, i.e. has an absolute say and opinion in every topic and area of knowledge in the universe. This has enabled a perhaps idealistic, but perhaps politically-minded and small group of leaders of a particular grouping of rabbis to claim perfect knowledge of all reality and, thus, to be able to almost mechanically derive halacha in every single situation. Obviously, this requires a massive reductionist effort to simplify halacha to a single, unchanging answer which is not effected by time, place, the individual situation and experiences of the individual Jew involved.

Although this view has gained much traction in recent years and it’s supporters will obviously condemn my opinion, I must reject this idea as absolutely heretical, requiring a limitation on God, chas v’Shalom!

Because, ultimately, this is the bottom line. We cannot even, in any way whatsoever, especially not in a well-intentioned attempt to “honor the sanctity of the Torah” accept even the slightest movement towards limiting the Infinitude of The Creator.

So, when forcing oneself to always retain the awareness that the Torah cannot be limited, that Halacha cannot be frozen in any era or mement in time, that change and evolution is built into the very fabric of the Torah and, perhaps, most importantly, that I and no one else is ever, by definition, able to comprehend the entire Torah, it does, indeed, become something so special, so precious, so divine, there can be no responses but to welcome, to celebrate and to treasure it. And to eternally thank the Holy Creator who renews our receiving of it every year at this time.

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RebZ’s Personal Pesach Challenge

Here we are, just a few days (or hours) from the start of Pesach, and other than check what’s availabe, what’s needed to purchase, day-to-day life continues and I figure that “by hook or by crook”, I’ll be able to create a phycical environment, especially here in Jerusalem, where I won’t eat Chametz for the week. But is that the only goal? Can I define or quantize the relationship I want to maintain with The Creator only by listing those things which aren’t, this time around, acting as a barrier? Aren’t there more elements to this relationship, positive rather than defensive?

Are there any limits to how free you will allow yourself to be/feel, beginning as Pesach arrives? Who, other than God, could possibly limit you? And why on earth would He possibly want to do that?

I hope and pray I’ll be able to go “all the way” when the great light will be revealed into our world oh so soon.  Especially this year, when the approach to Pesach has, for me, been accompanied by health challenges (ultimately, no so serious or threatening, but I can utilize the fear and pain (all of it tolerable and on its way out, thank God)) to boost my insights and, perhaps my courage. I want to repeat and emphasize that this is not my situation, but I have been given a glimpse into the reality so I can imagine, if this were to be my very last message, my final Torah lesson to friends, students and family, even into the future, why hold back anything? Why not go for the deepest truths, most plainly stated, as I can? Tomorrow, I assure you (and myself), I’ll be back to hiding behind my usual pretensions of normailty and denial.

So, let’s go and please, hang on to your hats!

Pesach promises unconditionally, complete and total freedom. Whether or not we really know what that means, we stand on the verge of being completely connected with the Ultimate Will, the Ultimate Infinite beyond our imaginations!

For reference, let’s go back to what Moshe and Aharon repeatedly request from Pharoah, to go a three-day journey, in other words beyond their current reality, both in time and in place, to serve the Lord. Unsure what that means and what that will take, they ask to bring everything with them, with their cattle (symbolic of our Avoda, Service, at the Mishkan/Temple), with their children (their not-yet known/realized future, whatever it will be).

This might or might not, depending on where you are in life and your Jewish journey, and depending on the Jewish/rabbinic environment which can both enhance and block all our individual efforts (for example, we can completely forget the goal by focusing on, say, the “authority” of each hechsher (kosher certificate) on each thing we eat (how much of that is honestly Torah-driven, how much politically?) or should we celebrate that (if we’re indeed so lucky this year) to be surrounded by an almost limitless choice of kosher-for-passover food? Whether we can daven in a wide variety of synagogues and minyanim, or even on our own if that feels most authentic and effective this time around, or if we must (as we had in many historical times) surreptitiously sneak around in search for a small group of fellow-minded seekers and hope for the best?

The mere fact that this year, 5779, the vast majority of the world’s Jews enjoy at the very least the freedom to participate in the age-old-yet-timeless rituals of Pesach should compel us to make our own choices most consciously, filled with love and gratitude, and dedicated to bring, if not this year, then then next, complete freedom (i.e. complete attachment to The Infinite (not t be confused with the illusion of infinite choice) to ourselves, to our families, to our people, to all the world.

Even for those of us privileged this year to physically experience Pesach in geographical Jerusalem, may we next year merit celebrating and experiencing out connection with the Creator free of all obstacles and distractions (including our own insecurities and fears) in the total environment we merely hint at as Jerusalem.

L’Shana HaBa’a B’Yerushalayim. Gam HaShana HaZot.

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