Friday, January 30, 2009

The Other Hand Washing

It’s been a lovely meal, from the fresh-baked French bread to the sinful chocolate mousse -- every bite. All that is left to do is to recite Grace After Meals (Birkat Hamazon) thanking God for the food. But would you be surprised to learn that there is an additional religious rite to perform before the concluding Grace?

Just as the hands are washed before a meal (in which one eats bread), before the conclusion of the meal there is a special hand washing ritual known as mayim acharonim (literally: “final waters”).

Mayim acharonim is usually done at the table with a small cup of water and a small bowl into which to spill the used water. There is no blessing, and the “dirty” water should either be covered or removed from the table before Birkat Hamazon. Customs for mayim acharonim vary. Some only do it when there are three or more people present, some only when there are 10 or more, and others every time one eats bread. Likewise, how much of the hand or fingers are washed varies according to custom.

Some sages have disputed the necessity of maintaining this practice because it stems from the need to wash off “Sodomite salt.” This pungent salt was sometimes mixed into table salt in Talmudic times and could potentially cause blindness if rubbed in the eye. Since this salt is no longer in use, the mayim acharonim might appear to be unnecessary.

Washing one’s hands as part of Jewish ritual, however, is not about cleanliness of the body (although that is an added bonus), but cleanliness of the soul. As one is about to thank the Creator for all that has been provided, washing one’s hands reminds a person to separate from the physical and to focus on the spiritual.

Deep Thoughts

Share a thought on the parasha (weekly Torah portion) with whomever you are eating dinner tonight. Helpful hint, this week features the last three of the ten plagues.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An Eye For Civil Law

You’ve heard the phrase “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand...” And you’ve likely heard frightening stories of societies in which this biblical rule is applied literally.

This verse, found in Exodus (21:24), is a primary example of the importance that the Oral Law plays in understanding that which is written in the Torah. It has never been the practice of the Jewish people to apply abusive punitive measures such as disabling a man because he disabled another. Beyond the fact that this form of punishment is of no benefit to society (and only makes the injured or the family of the injured feel avenged), it is not a true system of justice.

Instead, the Oral Law uses this verse as the basis for understanding the extensive system of monetary compensation for injuries that is spelled out, at length, in the Talmud. Indeed, the laws that are practiced in civil courts the world over are based largely on these ideas.

In developing a system of compensation, the sages noted that the qualities and quantities of damages, pain, medical expenses, incapacitation and mental anguish must be taken into consideration. The loss of an eye to a man who draws water from a well might be of quite different significance than the loss of an eye to a scribe.

Why does scripture formulate this law in such an unusual way? Torah commentators have explained that it comes to set limits on monetary compensation: A person cannot demand compensation for two eyes in payment for the loss of one. As it says, “An eye for an eye” - maximum!

Natural Impressions

Don't let winter weather get you down - reflect on the Divine artistry in each unique season.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Fruit That Is Not A Fruit

Eating a healthy diet is important. In fact, it is so important that many governments allocate significant budget funds to analyze the best diets for people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture even issues recommendations how much of each type of food one should eat.

Just as a healthy food diet consists of various classes of foods, so too a healthy spiritual diet is compromised of different types of foods that may be divided into categories according to the blessing that is made on them. For instance, the blessing over a piece of fruit is “Blessed are You L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the fruit of the tree” (pri ha’eitz), while the blessing over a vegetable is “Blessed are You L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, Who created the fruit of the ground” (pri ha’adama).

These distinctions seem pretty obvious: If it grows on or in the ground it’s a vegetable; if it grows on a tree it’s a fruit. Except when it isn’t!

One of the most kid-popular fruits in the world may not actually be a fruit at all, at least according to its blessing! The blessing on a banana is pri ha’adama - the fruit of the ground.

Banana plants are actually herbs (ok, technically they are herbaceous plants), which are plants that have leaves and stems that wither at the end of the growing season down to the soil level. Not being a real tree (with a trunk and branches that survive from year to year), the fruit of a herbaceous plant (another example of which is a pineapple) is considered to be a pri ha’adama.

Dry It Off

Wash and dry your fruits and vegetables before eating them.

A Second Look: Organ Donation

Jewish Treats has received several important and informative comments regarding yesterday's Treat about organ donation. As this is a very important topic and can result in the saving of a life, Jewish Treats encourages all of our readers to learn more at the Halachic Organ Donor Society website.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can You Spare A Lung

Postmortem organ donations seem like a thoroughly altruistic act. However, from a Jewish perspective, there are certain other issues that must be taken into consideration:

1) Is the donor dead? This may seem like a bizarre question. But, by whose definition of death has the person been declared dead? Organs are often harvested from the “brain-dead” donor - when the donor’s brain shows no signs of activity - because many of the organs that are sought for donation must be removed from the donor while the heart is still pumping. Many Jewish authorities, however, define clinical death as cessation of respiration. According to these authorities, the doctor might be killing a living donor in order to harvest the organ.

2) How is the organ going to be used? Is there an immediate need for the organ to save a life? If so, then there is no question that an organ may be used (assuming the donor is halachically deceased). Often, however, organs are harvested and kept for organ banks (waiting for a donor) or for research. This is problematic according to Jewish law, which normally requires the entire body to be buried.

Because of the complexity of these laws, it is suggested that those who wish to donate their organs should consult with their local rabbi or stipulate in their living will that, should such a situation occur, their rabbi must be consulted.

The Gift of Life

Donate blood at your local blood bank.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Fashion Statement

In Numbers 15:38, God commands the Jewish people to “make themselves tzitzit on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations.” Additionally, it is written in Deuteronomy 22:12, “make twisted cords on the four corners of your covering, with which you cover yourself.”

These vague instructions leave us with a lot of questions:

Where does one put the strings? The answer is: on four-cornered garments. Since these are not generally worn anymore, special garments with four corners are used to fulfill this mitzvah. The tallit is a large four-cornered garment draped over one’s shoulders during prayer. The tallit katan (little tallit which is often incorrectly referred to as tzitzit) is a smaller, four-cornered garment with a hole cut-out for the head so that one may wear it comfortably like a shirt.

What are the tzitzit? The word tzitzit specifically refers to the fringes, each of which is composed of four strands of string. These strands are inserted through a hole near the corners of the garment, folded over and then tied according to specific halachic regulations. Pre-tied tzitzit can be purchased at any Judaica store.

Who wears a tallit/tallit katan?: According to the Torah (Numbers 15:39), the obligation to wear tzitzit is only during the day when they may be seen. Thus, it is a positive, time-bound mitzvah, which, according to the traditional understanding, exempts women from the obligation.

The purpose of the tzitzit is stated in Numbers 15:39: “That you may see it and remember all the commandments of God and perform them, and not wander after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.”

For more on the mitzvah of tzitzit please visit this tzitzit webpage.

Make Your Statement

Wear something that reminds you of the importance of your Jewish heritage -- for instance, a Magen David (Star of David) pendant.

Friday, January 23, 2009

May You Be Like

Before the Shabbat meal, it is customary for the parents to bless their children. This blessing is known as Birkat Habanim. Actually, there are two separate blessings recited, one for boys* and one for girls.

The blessing for daughters refers to the four Matriarchs of the Jewish people: “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.”(Y’see’maych Eh-lokim k’Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, v’Leah.)

The Matriarchs--Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah--were raised in homes and environments filled with idol worship and immorality. (Laban, the father of Leah and Rachel, was a well-known thief and con-artist.) Nevertheless, the Matriarchs used the force of their personalities and spiritual inclinations to live righteous lives set apart from falsehood and idolatry.

The lives of the Matriarchs also exemplify concern for others. For example, Rebecca not only thought to offer water to Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, but also to bring water for his ten camels (Genesis 24: 12-25)

Finally (of course, there is more, but time is at a premium), examining the lives of the Matriarchs can teach us much about prayer, patience and gratitude. Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel all had difficulty conceiving children and turned to G-d, praying that He fulfill their greatest desire--that they be blessed with children--which He did at the time that was right for them. While Leah had fewer problems conceiving children, when each child was born, she expressed praise and thanksgiving to God, recognizing that God had seen her plight as the less-loved wife.

These women were each outstanding individuals, possessing extraordinary personal integrity and strength. By blessing our daughters in their names, we teach our daughters to learn from them and to emulate their lifestyles.

*The blessing for boys was "Treated" last Friday. Click here to view it in our archive.

A Cappella

Make your own music! Get together with some friends and sing Jewish camp songs sans the instruments in honor of Shabbat.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Product of His Environment

Moses was an expert at recognizing the small details that affected his life. His life had lots of ups and downs. Cast into the Nile in a basket as a baby to avoid being drowned by Pharaoh’s officials, he was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, later exiled for striking dead a murderous Egyptian taskmaster, and eventually sent back to Egypt in response to a Divine calling to bring the Israelites to freedom.

Having conversed with God might have made him feel quite powerful and haughty. Yet, Moses was always humble. He always recalled where he had come from, how he became who he was, and who had helped him get there. It was in recognition of all that Egypt, the physical place itself, had done for Moses that Aaron, his brother, initiated the first three plagues - blood, frogs and lice - rather than Moses himself.

Moses owed his life to the Nile River, which had taken his floating basket to Pharaoh’s daughter, who then raised him. Moses could not bring destruction upon the Egyptians through those same waters, and so Aaron called forth both the plague of blood and the plague of frogs.

Similarly, Moses needed to show gratitude to the dust of the earth for covering the body of the Egyptian taskmaster whom he had struck down for abusing a Jewish slave. Aaron, therefore, also initiated the third plague--lice, by striking the earth.

Moses' unique sense of gratitude to the inanimate teaches us to be sensitive to everyone and everything that impacts our lives. Moses recognized the importance of these turning points in his life and understood how God used nature to help Moses become the leader of the Children of Israel.

Share a Cab

When hailing a cab at the same time as someone else, find out if you are heading in the same direction and suggest sharing the ride.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You Say It's Your Birthday

January, March, June or November (or any of the other months not listed)...Nope, that's not the birthday about which we are writing. Jewish Treats wants to know: Do you know your Hebrew birthday?

Knowing the date of one's Hebrew birthday can be an important building block in one’s Jewish identity. There are two reasons why one might want to have this information. The easy and obvious reason is that two birthday parties are better than one! (Hey, you’ve got lots to celebrate, right!)

On a more serious note, however, the Jerusalem Talmud (Rosh Hashana 3:8) relates that a person has a special mazal on his/her date of birth. “Mazal” is a difficult word to translate, often defined as luck or fortune. Mazal, however, is a much more spiritual concept--it is the spiritual influence that affects a specific person or time. Some days are known to have particularly good or particularly bad mazal. For instance, the ninth of Av (Tisha Ba’Av-date of the destruction of the Holy Temples) is a day of notoriously bad mazal for the entire Jewish nation.

A person’s birthday is a day of positive mazal for that person because it is a day that represents potential. Great leaders of Jewish life have viewed birthdays in many different ways. Some have felt that a birthday is a day meant for introspection, reflection and resolution for the future. Others have used it as a day to celebrate with those close to them, or to bring the celebration to others by handing out tzedakah (charity) and brachot (blessings).

So now that you know the significance of this date in your life, we repeat: Do you know your Hebrew birthday?! (If the answer is no, click here to find the date.)

The Gift of Giving

Have trouble thinking of good gifts to give to friends or relatives? Why not give a donation in their honor to a cause you know is important to them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief

“A blessing for the czar? Of course. May God bless and keep the czar... far away from us.” So jokes the rabbi of Anatevka during the opening number of Fiddler on the Roof. This was a real feeling among Jews, for many of their rulers were cruel to them.

And yet, there is an interesting law stated in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) requiring that a special blessing be said upon seeing a gentile king: Blessed are You, Lord, our God, Who has given from His glory to flesh and blood [man]. (Baruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Elo-heinu melech ha'olam, sheh’natan mee'kvodo l'vasar vah'dam.)

Not only is one supposed to recite this blessing, but a person is supposed to go to great lengths to be able to do so, even traveling long distances to see a gentile king.

Western democratic society in the 21st century is, for the most part, far-removed from the concept of royalty. Those countries that still do have a royal family view them more often as celebrities or figureheads rather than as leaders. Relating to the concept of a powerful monarch is therefore difficult, particularly for Americans who have never had a king or queen.

In fact, America’s lack of a monarchy makes the idea of running to see a king even more important. We are all subject to the ultimate King: God. Upon seeing a mortal king or queen, we can, perhaps, enhance our personal appreciation of God, the King of kings. And that is why the blessing states that God gave of His glory to flesh and blood. God allows these select men and women to radiate the glory of royalty so that everyone might better understand God’s own Divinity.

Let us know your thoughts: Do you think this comparison holds true for a President?

Always Fact Check

As a sign of respect, always double-check the way a person spells his/her name before you publish it. We made that mistake when we spelled Barack Obama's name incorrectly in yesterday's Treat. We apologize for the error.

For the Future

Whether you voted for Obama or not, take a minute today to say a short prayer that he and his incoming administration will be blessed with wisdom.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Bio of Barak

Barak the son of Avinoam does not have much in common with Barack Obama, who is now being inscribed in the pages of history as the forty-fourth president of the United States. While Barack Obama has written several memoirs, there is, in fact, little known about the Biblical Barak.

Barak ben Avinoam was summoned by the Prophet and Judge, Deborah, to lead the armies of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun against Sisera, a Canaanite general whose nation had oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Deborah told Barak of the prophecy that she had received, predicting the people’s victory over Sisera.

Barak, however, felt himself unworthy of meriting such a victory, and insisted: “If you will go with me, then I will go” (Judges 4:8), thereby acknowledging the need for the spiritual inspiration that Deborah would bring to the army. Deborah agreed, but warned him that while the Israelite army will vanquish its enemy, the final victory will be regarded by all as having been achieved by a woman.

Barak was not concerned with glory. He only wanted to free the people from the Canaanite oppression.

When Sisera’s army scattered before the sudden Israelite attacks, the wicked general fled. He attempted to take refuge in the tent of Yael, the wife of Hever the Kenite. Yael feigned friendship and then, while Sisera slept, smashed his head with a tent-peg. Not long after, Barak passed Yael’s tent in search of the enemy. Yael beckoned to him to show him the dead general’s body. Thus, the ultimate victory, as predicted in the prophecy, was at the hand of a woman.

Great praise is given to Barak for his leadership in war and for his ability to humble himself for the greater cause.

Collaborate

If things are slow at work, ask a co-worker if they need assistance on any projects.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Strength of the Family

Before the Shabbat meal, it is customary for the parents to bless their children. This blessing is known as Birkat Habanim. Actually, there are two separate blessings recited, one for boys and one for girls*.

The blessing given to boys is Jacob’s blessing to Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Jacob declared: “By you shall Israel bless, saying: May God make you as Ephraim and as Menashe” (Genesis 48:20).

Why, you might ask, did Jacob declare that Israel would bless their children through his grandsons rather than through his own children?

Jacob’s children were raised and taught by Jacob and their mothers, all of whom were devoted to the service of God. As part of a large family, they had a supportive infrastructure of people living and practicing a common faith and rituals.

Ephraim and Menashe, on the other hand, were raised in Egypt and were taught their faith by Joseph and their mother, Osnat (a presumed convert to monotheism). They lived, however, in Pharaoh’s palace, hardly an easy place to escape from the amoral practices of the ancient Egyptians.

When Jacob finally came to Egypt, he was delighted to find his grandsons, Ephraim and Menashe, living by the family ideals. Their “Jewish souls” had not only survived in the exile of Egypt, they had actually flourished. Perhaps anticipating that many future generations of Jews would be raised in environments similar to Egypt rather than the land of Israel, Jacob’s blessing to his descendants of the future was that, wherever their homes may be, they too should be able to create strong Jewish families in which Jewish faith and heritage would flourish.

*The blessing for daughters is slightly different and refers instead to the four matriarchs of the Jewish people: “May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah” (to be discussed in a future Treat).

Strength

Tonight, do one thing that asserts your Jewish identity: light Shabbat Candles, eat a Shabbat meal or read a Jewish book.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jews Ruled Where?

Before the Arabian Peninsula became the stronghold of Islam, it was home to a collage of tribal nomads and fierce warriors, most of whom were Arabs. There were, however, several famous Jewish warrior tribes. The best-known of these tribes was the “Kaibar,” which eventually settled to the north of Medina (present day Saudi Arabia). The majority of these tribes were wiped out during the Moslem rise to power.

While history does not have many authoritative records about those ancient Jewish desert tribes, legend speaks of their influence on a desert sheik named Tub'a Abu Kariba As'ad, who reigned as king of Yemen (known then as Himyar) from 390-420 C.E. When Abu Kariba took his army north towards Medina, his intent was to conquer the Jews of that city. Instead, Abu Kariba returned home, bringing with him two Jewish scholars and became a convert to Judaism. Shortly thereafter, his tribesman followed suit and converted as well.

The Jewish leadership of Yemen lasted only until 525 C.E. The last and most famous Jewish king was Yosuf Dhu Nuwas, who ruled over a land already troubled by Ethiopian attempts at conquest. The Ethiopians had become Christians in the fourth century and were zealous missionaries. King Dhu Nuwas tried valiantly to free his country from the ever-increasing agitation of the Ethiopians. As part of this campaign, Dhu Nuwas conquered the city of Najran, and many of its Christian citizens were killed when they refused to surrender and live in peace. The fall of Najran, however, aroused the anger of the Christian-Byzantine world. In 525, Dhu Nuwas was killed during a Christian counter-attack. Thus ended the Jewish kingdom in Yemen.

Travel Log

When planning a trip, set aside time to explore the Jewish heritage of the place you will be visiting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's In A Name

What’s in a name? Lots, especially when you are talking about a person’s Hebrew/Jewish name. (Henceforth to be referred to as “Hebrew name,” even though some traditional names are actually Aramaic or Yiddish.)

In many families, a name is given to honor or to memorialize a relative.* Many names are of Biblical origin and have profound meanings. For instance, a girl might be named Sarah after her grandmother, but Sarah is also the name of one of the matriarchs and means “princess.”

Beyond the connection that a name may provide to one’s immediate family, it is a reminder to every Jew that he/she is a vital link in the chain of Jewish continuity, with a history that dates back thousands of years.

Our Sages teach that the Jewish people were redeemed from Egyptian bondage because they observed or maintained their separate Jewish identity in three ways: dress, language and names. Despite the fact that the Jewish people were steeped in Egyptian paganism and surrounded by idol worship, differentiating their dress, language and names helped them maintain their unique identity as a people.

A Hebrew name is used to call a person to the Torah and to pray for the health of someone who is ill. This name will also be used on Jewish legal documents such as the Ketubah (the marriage contract) and to invoke the memory of the person after he/she has departed from this world.

It is therefore important that a person’s Hebrew name be used, even if only when celebrating Jewish ritual events or at Hebrew School, so that the identity attached to that name is not lost.

*Sephardim - a living relative, Ashkenazim - a relative who has passed away.

For Posterity

Write down your Hebrew name and the Hebrew names of the rest of your family. Put this information away with your other important family documents.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Tune

Can you read Jewish music? No, not the sheet music to Fiddler on the Roof or Havah Nagillah.

Trope, the musical cantillation used by Torah readers to sing-chant the holy words, is a notation system made up of dots, straight lines and squiggles that are found either above or below the letters. Like vowels, however, trope marks are not actually written on a sefer Torah (Torah scroll), but are memorized by the Torah reader.

The physical appearance of the trope marks are the same everywhere. How those notes are sung, however, varies. For instance, a Yemenite reading of the Torah would sound significantly different than a reading by someone from Germany.

Like the Oral Law, the trope was not written down but was transmitted orally from teacher to student for many generations. With the Roman exile and the scattering of the Jewish people, however, it became almost impossible to maintain the oral tradition, and it became necessary to transcribe the trope (just as the Oral Law had been written down in the Mishna and then the Gemorah).

Why is the trope important? Firstly, trope is really punctuation; it lets the reader know where phrases and sentences begin and end. Additionally, trope adds another layer of meaning to the text. Certain words are elongated while others are read quickly, and this helps us to understand unstated messages of the narrative. For instance, when the wife of Potifar tries to seduce Joseph (Genesis 39:8), the word “And he refused” is read in a very elongated chant. The trope helps us understand that Joseph hesitated, more than briefly, thought about it and only then refused. Why doesn’t the Torah tell us this outright? Because the important thing is that he refused, but the trope alerts us to the fact that there is much to learn beneath the surface.

Copyright © 2009 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Turn Down the Music

When in public, be considerate of others by making certain that your personal music player is at a volume that only you can hear.

Monday, January 12, 2009

How Israel Got A King

The first king of Israel, Saul, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin, was anointed by Samuel the Prophet approximately 400 years after the Israelites conquered the land of Israel. Until the reign of Saul, the Israelites had been a loose commonwealth of tribes led by various prophets and judges.

The change in leadership occurred at the request of the people, who demanded a king in order to be “like all other nations.” God fulfilled their request, although He was greatly disappointed. God’s objective for the Jewish king and for the entire Jewish nation was precisely NOT to be like all other nations.

Saul was an exemplary figure. He was extraordinarily handsome, and his towering height gave him a majestic appearance. He was extremely honest, righteous and humble.

Being King of Israel was the last thing that Saul wished for himself. He first met Samuel while searching for his father’s lost donkeys and asked Samuel for assistance. Instead, the prophet informed Saul that he would become the King of Israel and anointed him secretly.

When Samuel gathered the people of Israel together to officially choose the next king (done by lottery), Saul hid in the fields! When he was brought forward, however, the people were taken by his appearance and began chanting his name.

While Saul may not have wished for the crown, he proved his mettle not long thereafter when the Ammonites attacked the city of Jabesh-Gilead. Fearlessly, Saul led a united army of Israelites to victory.

Thus began the reign of Saul, the first King of Israel.

Fill 'Er Up

If your spouse has his/her own car, fill the gas tank for him/her once in a while.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Challenge of a Cup of Tea

How do you make a cup of tea?

Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? Tea is easy. Simply take a mug, fill it with hot water, and then just add a tea bag. Let the tea steep and remove the tea bag. Then, season to taste by adding your fixings (sugar, honey, milk etc).

Ok, now what happens when the hot water and the tea leaves in the bag come in contact? The hot water brews and cooks the flavor from the leaves.

This is all fine and dandy. But what about Shabbat? For many Jewish households around the world, a cup of tea is a must to accompany dessert on Shabbat, when cooking is not permitted.

There are 2 ways to prepare a cup of tea on Shabbat.

1) Think ahead and make tea essence. Tea essence is basically pre-brewed, concentrated tea allowed to steep for a good number of hours. A small amount of this liquid concentrate tea is then added to a cup of hot water, and presto, you have your conventional tea.

2) Use the method of the third cup (kli shlishi). According to halacha (Jewish law), the process of cooking only happens when the hot water is either in the pot (or urn) in which it was boiled or in the first cup into which it was poured. The pot/urn is known as kli rishon, the first vessel, and the cup into which it was poured is known as kli sheni, the second vessel. However, if you then pour the water into yet another cup, kli shlishi, a third cup, the hot water is no longer considered halachically capable of cooking. Into this third cup one may then place a tea bag and proceed as one normally would.

Family Time

Dedicate a few hours of your Saturday to spend with family.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Women of Vision

Our sages teach that there were seven women famed for their prophecy. (Talmud Megilla 14a states that only prophecies with a message for the future were recorded. In reality, there were many more than the 53 prophets listed in the Bible.) Jewish Treats presents the female prophets to you, accompanied by short commentaries of who they were:

1) Sarah, the wife of Abraham, had her request for the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael supported by God Himself, who told Abraham to listen to her, as she was a greater prophet than her husband.

2) Miriam, the older sister of Moses, was actually blessed with prophecy at an early age. It was Miriam who encouraged her parents to reunite after separating so that Moses might be conceived.

3) Deborah was both a prophetess and a Judge over Israel. She led the nation into war, and victory, against the Canaanite General Sisera.

4) Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, was barren for over 10 years. Hannah’s near-silent prayers, challenging God on her very essence of being a woman, became the model for Jewish prayer.

5) Abigail interceded with the not-yet-king David on behalf of her stingy husband, Nabal, who refused David pay for guard work. Abigail stepped in to diffuse the future king’s rage. When, shortly thereafter, Nabal died, David and Abigail were wed.

6) Huldah, a cousin of the prophet Jeremiah, prophesied in one of the gates of the city during the time of the First Temple. Her consultation with King Josiah is recorded in the Second Book of Kings.

7) Esther, the heroine of Purim and wife of the Persian King Ahashverosh, was the only person who could persuade the king to revoke the order that he had issued calling for the destruction of all the Jews of Persia.

Say a Little Prayer

Take a moment and say a prayer for those who are under fire in Israel. May we suggest: Psalm 121.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Joy to the Bride and Groom

Have you ever been to a traditional Jewish wedding? At traditional weddings there are, of course, the normal, wonderful things that may be found at all weddings: the beautiful bride and handsome groom, the happy sound of friends and family coming together, the delightful celebration feast, the music, etc...but at a traditional Jewish wedding there is one additional element: the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah, the mitzvah of rejoicing with the bride and groom!

The mitzvah of gladdening the bride and groom is found in the Talmud, in Brachot 6b.

What does it mean to gladden a bride and groom? Really, this answer varies greatly, depending on a number of factors - such as one’s relationship to the bride and groom. For instance, the mere presence of a close friend who has traveled a great distance may give the bride or groom immense joy. Many people, however, take this mitzvah quite seriously and work hard to make certain that the dancing during the reception is leibadik (Yiddish, meaning heartfelt, but is often used to imply high-spirited and energetic). Thus, at a traditional wedding one might see people dressing up in costume to make the bride/groom laugh, jumping rope, performing amateur acrobatics and even lighting their hats on fire.

The tradition of happily making a fool of one’s self to bring joy to the bride and groom is an ancient one. Indeed, the Talmud (Ketuvot 17a), mentions Rabbi Samuel the son of Rabbi Isaac who was known for juggling myrtle twigs before the bride. While his peer, Rabbi Zeira, felt that this debased the scholar’s honor, Rabbi Shmuel was greatly honored for his efforts to fulfill of the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah.

A Second Of Kindness

Help someone carrying packages by holding the door, even if it means waiting an extra minute.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Anger Management

Rabbi Moses Maimonides (Rambam) writes that when a person becomes angry, it is regarded as if he had worshiped idols and that Gehenna (where souls are purified) will have dominion over him.

But anger is a natural emotion, so how can the Rambam condemn a person for a such a natural reaction?

Idol worship attributes the power to control the world to someone or something other than God. When a person gets angry, he or she transforms themselves into an idol by assuming that they are in control of everything. Why do we get angry? Because someone said something wrong to us or something didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. When people get angry because they did not get the bonus they had expected, they, in fact, assume that they know and understand all of the factors that go into determining the company’s policy regarding bonuses.

The Rambam’s second point, that Gehenna will have dominion over an angry person, is actually quite understandable to anyone who has felt intense anger. “Blood-boiling” is the description ascribed to the physical reaction of our bodies to our emotion of anger.

The point of anger at which one assumes a level of all-knowingness and is brought to physical discomfort is extreme. And yet, each time one gets extremely angry, it makes it easier to happen again. The antidote to extreme anger is humility, to know our limitations and to recognize the potential good in others. A dose of humility keeps one from anger, thus maintaining a person’s understanding of who is the true King of the World.

Smile

Smile! Smiling makes you happier, and it also makes the people around you happier.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Tenth Of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zaddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zaddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Tammuz] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached. (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4)

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in (587 B.C.E.), siege was also the beginning of the end.

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as it had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah.

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon.

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance).

This year, the Tenth of Tevet is Tuesday, January 6, 2009. For more information on the fast, please visit www.njop.org.

Breakfast

Tuesday morning, get up before the sun and enjoy a hearty breakfast.

Jewish Professions

Are there certain professions that are “Jewish”? For instance, is finance a “Jewish business”? This is a strange question in the twenty-first century, when Jews can be found in a wide range of professions. So where did these assumptions come from and why do they persist?

The facts are that after the fall of the Roman Empire, Europe operated on the feudal system and was, in reality, ruled by the Catholic Church.

In 1179, the Church declared usury, the lending of money at interest, forbidden to all Christians. This prohibition took away all incentives for people to lend money to anyone other than one’s dearest and closest friends and neighbors. Those in need therefore turned to the Jews.

While Jewish law prohibits charging interest of a fellow Jew, there is no prohibition against lending money at interest to a non-Jew. But where did the Jews get the money to lend? Ironically, there was another law that Jews were forbidden to own land, which led Jews to become merchants. Jews excelled at being merchants because when they went from one town to the next they had a built in “network” with the local Jewish communities. This was also beneficial when it came to gathering large sums of money to provide the loans that the nobility needed. Thus, the Jews became the bankers of the world.

Sometimes having an exclusive profession has proven to be beneficial to the Jews. When Joseph’s family joined him in Egypt, they told Pharoah that they were shepherds so that they would be allowed to settle in an isolated area away from the general Egyptian population (who worshiped sheep), thus preserving their Jewish identity in exile.

Dinner Dress

Dress up for dinner in honor of Shabbat.