Sunday, September 30, 2012

Holiday Decorating

During the holiday of Sukkot, Jews live in sukkot (temporary dwellings with a roof of branches or wooden boards) for seven days. Although the bare minimum required for a kosher sukkah is a few walls and a roof of branches through which one can see the stars, there is, as with all Jewish rituals, the practice of hiddur mitzvah, beautifying the mitzvah. There are several ways in which one might beautify one’s sukkah. The simplest beautification, of course, is using quality materials in building the sukkah and setting a beautiful table therein for the holiday meals. The more elaborate means of beautifying a sukkah, however, is through attractive decorations.

Some might think that decorating a sukkah is child’s play. Paper chains and school art projects are often the mainstay of a family’s sukkah. But, the adornment of the sukkah can be far more sophisticated. In the oldest records of Jewish life, the sages took for granted that a sukkah will be decorated: “...adorned it with embroidered hangings and sheets, and hung therein nuts, almonds, peaches, pomegranates, bunches of grapes, wreaths of ears of corn, [vials of] wine, oil or fine flour...” (Sukkah 10a). The specific decorations noted by the sages all celebrate the bounty of the harvest season, which is appropriate as Sukkot is also referred to as Chag Ha’asif (the holiday of the ingathering of the harvest).

The choice of sukkah decorations is often a reflection of one’s heritage. Persian Jews traditionally adorned their sukkot with Persian rugs. Jews who follow the Judeo-Spanish heritage might continue the custom of hanging bisochos, sweet, sesame seed-covered cookie rings. The most common decorations, however, remain agricultural in nature and often feature the seven species for which God praises the Land of Israel: wheat and barley (often hung in glass jars), grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Ushpeezin (Oo'shpee'zin)

During the festival of Sukkot, the sukkah is intended to be our second home. For example, since one would normally dine in the house, on Sukkot one dines in the sukkah. Because the sukkah is temporary, however, moving into the sukkah requires leaving behind some of our material comforts, settling for rather basic necessities, thus creating a more spiritual environment.

In our spiritually enhanced “mini-homes,” the Jewish tradition of hospitality and inviting guests takes on an entirely new dimension! Not only do we invite friends and neighbors to join us, but there is also the custom of inviting the great historic Jewish personages who shaped our people.

This custom is known as Ushpeezin (the Aramaic word for guests).

According to the kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, the Divine Presence (Shechina) accompanies every Jew into the sukkah. The Shechina is accompanied by the seven shepherds of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.

Each evening, the host welcomes the seven ushpeezin (guests) into the sukkah by saying: “I invite to my meal the exalted guests: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. May it please you, Abraham, my exalted guest, that all the other exalted guests dwell here with me and with you - Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.*”

Each night, another one of the ushpeezin is welcomed, in a specific order. Thus on the second night, one says: "May it please you, Isaac, my exalted..." On the third night: "May it please you, Jacob, my exalted..." and so on throughout the week.

*The order of the Ushpeezin may vary depending on community.

This Treat was originally published on September 22, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Fix It Fun

Make sukkah decorations with your friends and family.

Friday, September 28, 2012

All That And More..

If you've enjoyed Jewish Treats review of the Jewish holidays and its preview of the upcoming holiday of Sukkot, download the latest Jewish Treat Complete Guide to Celebrating Sukkot.

Click here to download your free copy!



The Four Species

The waving of the four species is one of the most beautiful and symbolic mitzvot of the year.

Indeed, there is a special commandment (Leviticus 23:40) that one make a specific effort to enhance and beautify this mitzvah.

The mitzvah of taking the four species is performed by taking a frond of a palm branch (lulav), 3 myrtle stems (hadassim) and 2 willow branches (aravot) in one's right hand and the citron (etrog)--held upside down--in one's left hand [lefties should reverse hands] and reciting the blessing:

Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai, Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech Ha’o’lam, ah’sher kidishanu b'mitz’vo’tav v'tzee’va’nu al n'tee’laht lulav.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to take the four species.

(Those performing the mitzvah for the first time this year should recite the blessing of Sheh'heh'cheh'yanu.)

The etrog is then turned upward and the four species are waved together three times in each of the 6 directions: forward, right, backward (toward oneself ), left, up, and down. (The order may differ depending on custom.)
 

Waving the four species is a symbolic recognition of God’s omnipresent kingship over the world and everything in it. As it says in the Talmud, in Sukkah 37b: "It is as if one is taking the species and bringing them to God who possesses the four directions. One raises them and lowers them to God who owns the heavens and the earth."

Acknowledging God’s ownership of the world is particularly appropriate during the harvest season, when people might be tempted to rejoice exclusively about their own personal success. Surely, people are entitled to celebrate their own achievements, but always with the understanding that behind it all is God.

For more about the lulav and etrog, please read Jewish Treats The Perfect Species.

See below for a Jewish Treat on the sukkah.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Build Your Own Sukkah (Tabernacle)

Webster's Dictionary defines a tabernacle as a temporary dwelling, which is why the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is known as the Feast of the Tabernacles. A sukkah, however, is a lot more specific than simply a temporary dwelling--which is often taken to mean something like a tent or a recreational vehicle.

THE WALLS of the sukkah may be made out of any material--wood, plastic, even canvas--as long as they can withstand normal gusts of wind without swaying noticeably. A sukkah must have a minimum of 2 ½ walls and have a doorway. The sukkah walls may actually be walls from a pre-existing structure. The sages set the minimum length and width of a sukkah at seven handbreadths (approx 28") and the minimum height at 10 handbreadths (approx 40") tall. The maximum height is 20 amot (approx 30’).

THE ROOF of the sukkah, known as s’chach, is a critical factor in determining the sukkah’s halachic acceptability. S’chach is defined as anything of plant origin that is now detached from the ground but has not undergone any manufacturing process nor had a previous use (such as a wooden post designed to hold up a sapling) nor may it be edible. Additionally, the s’chach pieces should be less than four handbreadths wide.

For the sukkah to be "kosher," there must be enough s’chach so that there is more shadow than sunlight. It may not, however, be so dense that one is unable to see the larger stars at night or that the rain cannot penetrate.

PLACEMENT of the sukkah is important because to meet the s’chach requirements, the area above the sukkah must be clear (no building overhangs or branches from a tree).

The holiday of Sukkot begins this Sunday night at sunset.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Where to Buy

Call your local synagogue and ask where you might purchase a lulav and etrog.

Sukkot Near You

Find out if there is a Sukkot Across America location near you!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

But Wait...There's More

Now that the Jewish people have repented on Yom Kippur and, hopefully, received Divine forgiveness, it is time to sit back and relax...

Just kidding!

It is time to celebrate! Just four days after Yom Kippur, the festival of Sukkot begins. On this most festive of holidays (it is known as "Z’man Simchataynu," the time of our rejoicing), Jews live in temporary dwellings called sukkot (singular - sukkah) with a roof of branches or wooden boards. This temporary "hut" becomes the Jew’s home for seven days, and, therefore (weather permitting), everything that we would do in our homes, such as eat, sleep or study, is done in the sukkah.

The sukkot are a reminder of our origins, of our wandering in the wilderness after being redeemed from slavery. In fact, this reminder is both of the physical state in which we lived and the spiritual environment in which we sojourned. Symbolically, the sukkah represents the Ananei HaKavod, the Clouds of Glory, in which God enveloped and protected the wandering nation after the Exodus from Egypt.

A strange holiday? Perhaps, but by moving out of our permanent domiciles, especially at the beginning of the rainy/cold season, we demonstrate our faith in God as the provider and sustainer of all life.

So if you thought you had nothing to do next week, take a look around and find the nearest sukkah in which to dwell. Or, of course, you can always build your own!

This Treat was originally posted on October 10, 2008.

See below for another Sukkot Jewish Treat.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Rejoicing For The World

Among the unique rituals performed on the holiday of Sukkot were the additional offerings that were sacrificed in the ancient Temple. On the first day of the holiday, 13 young bulls were sacrificed, on the second day 12, on the third day 11, on the fourth day 10, on the fifth day 9, on the sixth day 8 and on the seventh day 7. In total, 70 bulls were offered. Sukkot is the only holiday on which the number of the sacrifices varies from day to day.

In the Talmud (Sukkah 55b) Rabbi Eliezer explains that these 70 offerings are brought "For the [merit of the] 70 nations of the world." Rashi, the famous 11th century commentator, explained that this was, "To bring a forgiveness [offering] for them [the 70 nations], so that rain shall fall all over the world."

One of the reasons that Sukkot is known as "Z’man Sim’chah’tay’nu," the time of our rejoicing, is that it follows immediately after the Yamim No’ra’im, the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur). The Jewish people are especially joyful knowing that the world has just been judged and, please God, their prayers for atonement have been accepted. Most people, when they are happy and feeling confident, wish to share their joy with those around them. So too, at Sukkot, the Jewish people wish to share their happiness with the rest of the world.

Why does Rashi specify "so that rain shall fall all over the world"? Rain is the ultimate sign of blessing (when it falls in a timely manner and in proper proportion). Without rain nothing can live. Additionally, when all nations are sufficiently endowed with their needs (water, food, etc.) peace prevails, and peace is the greatest blessing of all.

This Treat was originally published on October 6, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Five Prohibitions of Yom Kippur

"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

How does one "afflict one's soul"? The oral law enumerates the following five restrictions:

Fasting (No eating or drinking) - From sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur until nightfall the next day, it is forbidden to eat or drink. However, those who are ill, as well as pregnant and nursing women, should and, in some cases, must, eat on Yom Kippur, as decided by their rabbi in consultation with their doctor. In such cases the rabbi should also be consulted about specific details of eating on Yom Kippur. Additionally, girls below the age of 12 and boys below the age of 13 are not required to fast.

Washing - During the fast, one may not wash for pleasure, but one may wash to get rid of dirt or when preparing food (e.g. for children). One may also bathe a baby.

Anointing - It is forbidden to anoint oneself with oil. Thus, the use of perfumes, liquid or cream make-up, suntan lotion, and other such items is prohibited.

Wearing Leather Shoes - During the fast it is forbidden to wear leather shoes. Some people wear only socks, but others wear shoes of canvas or other non-leather materials (i.e. Crocs).

Marital Relations - It is forbidden to have marital relations.

It may seem that refraining from the above actions would make one focus on the body, due to hunger or thirst, or the discomfort of not washing. However such discomforts are temporary and, in fact, turn one’s attention back to the importance of the day and the fact that we can transcend physical discomfort in order to connect with the spirit of the day.

This Treat was originally posted on September 23, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

All Vows

Yom Kippur begins this evening before sunset with the recitation of Kol Nidre, which is actually the prelude to the evening service.

Kol Nidre, which literally means "All Vows," is a declaration that any oaths or vows that a person made to God during the previous year should be cancelled, null and void. (Of course, not fulfilling one’s oath or vow is considered a grave sin.)

The purpose of Kol Nidre is not, of course, to absolve an individual of debts owed or a promises made to one’s neighbor. The vows nullified by the Kol Nidre service are only those vows made, or possibly made, with God. Indeed, the origin of the declaration is that the rabbis feared that people, in their overwhelming desire to have their repentance accepted, made vows that they would never be able to keep. You know the type:

"God, if you’ll just forgive me for lying, I promise I will give $1 to charity every day."

"Lord, if you could just look the other way at that nasty outburst the other day, I promise never to lose my temper again."

Because vows may not be cancelled at night, the Kol Nidre service begins a few minutes before sunset. In Ashkenazi communities, the prayer leader begins the service in a soft voice that grows increasingly louder as the prayer is repeated three times. In this way, the haunting, dramatic tune of Kol Nidre sets a tone for the day and helps the congregation focus its concentration. In many Sephardi communities, Kol Nidre is recited by the entire congregation.

This Treat was posted on September 17, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

A Meaningful Fast

Jewish Treats wishes all a meaningful, and easy, fast.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Lose the Leather

Once a year, Jews around the world make a unique, and not always attractive, fashion statement by wearing clunky sneakers or fuzzy slippers. (The Talmud records that the sages wore sandals of bamboo, reeds and palm branches on Yom Kippur - Yoma 78a-b.) Indeed, Jews in contemporary times often choose sneakers over even today’s synthetic materials that look like leather in order to uphold the prohibition against wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. Leather shoes are avoided on Yom Kippur as a means of fulfilling the commandment to "afflict your soul"--"...on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict your souls and do no work at all...for on that day God will forgive you and cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before God" (Leviticus 16:29-30).

What does wearing leather shoes have to do with atonement? The sages recorded numerous Talmudic sources in support of the practice of not wearing leather shoes on Yom Kippur. For instance, in Yoma 77a, "Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac said [it is derived] from: ‘Withhold your foot from being unshod, and your throat from thirst’ (Jeremiah 2:25), i.e., withhold yourself from sin lest your foot become unshod; withhold your tongue from idle speech, lest your throat become dry [faint with thirst]."

The prohibition of wearing leather on Yom Kippur applies only to leather shoes. According to Rabba, "Is [all footwear] forbidden on the Day of Atonement because of the pleasure it affords, even though it cannot be regarded as a shoe? Surely, Rabbah son of Rabbi Huna used to wrap a scarf around his foot and so went out!--But [in fact], said Raba, there is no difficulty: The one Baraitha refers to a leather sock; the other to a felt sock" (Yevamot 102b).

Of the five prohibitions of Yom Kippur (eating/drinking, washing, anointing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations), only wearing leather shoes is prohibited for children as well as adults. Eating, drinking, washing and anointing are all permitted to minors because they are considered necessary for the children’s health (Yoma 78b).

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

"Thou Shalt Not Anoint"

The observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, calls for abstention from five activities: eating/drinking, anointing, washing oneself, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.

When the sages speak of anointing the body, they refer to putting oils and perfumes on ones skin. This is basic anointing.

That refraining from anointing is considered an "affliction" is derived from a passage in Yoma 76b:"For it is written, ‘I ate no desirable bread, and meat and wine did not enter my mouth, and I did not anoint myself with an anointing’ (Daniel 10:3). From where do we know that [the abstention from anointing] was considered an affliction? Because it is written: ‘Then he said to me: Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to afflict yourself before God, your words have been heard; and I have come because of your words’ (Daniel 10:12)."

Further, in the Talmud (Shabbat 86b) it is written: "How do we know that anointing is the same as drinking on the Day of Atonement? Though there is no proof of this, yet there is an allusion to it, for it is said, ‘and it came into his inward parts like water, and like oil into his bones’ (Psalms 109:18)."

This same verse, Psalms 109:18, is cited in Yoma 76b as the source from which it is learned that the prohibition of anointing includes washing. Says Rabbi Zutra the son of Rabbi Tobiah: "Just as the oil is applied externally, so also is the water [is such as is applied] externally."

The Talmud contains an in-depth discussion regarding the specific washing/anointing acts that are prohibited on Yom Kippur. Without question, washing for pleasure in order to feel refreshed, is not permitted on Yom Kippur. Therefore, if one is actually dirty (for example, one’s hands are soiled after cleaning off a child), one is permitted to wash.

This Treat was last posted on October 6, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Take Them Out

Check your shoe collection and find a pair of non-leather shoes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Post Labor Day Whites

When is it fashionably acceptable to wear white after Labor Day? On Yom Kippur!

Many people have the custom of wearing white on Yom Kippur. In the synagogue you will often see women dressed in white suits or dresses and men bedecked in a white garment known as a kittel (Yiddish for robe).

There are several reasons for this custom:

1) Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the day on which we ask God to overlook all of our mistakes. Consequently, it is customary to wear white as a way of emulating the angels, who stand before God in purity. In Hebrew, angels are known as "malachim" (singular-mal’ach) which means messenger(s). The malachim were created as God’s spiritual messengers and are pure, totally spiritual creatures. Human beings, on the other hand, were created of both matter and spirit. It is this combination that gives us "Free Will," enabling us to make choices that, unfortunately, are not always the best. These unwise choices are what require us to engage in teshuva (repentance). On Yom Kippur, one wishes to emulate the malachim, the pure spirits who exist only to serve the Creator.

2) White garments, especially the kittel, are also reminiscent of the burial shroud. On Yom Kippur, one’s life is held in balance by the greatest Judge of all. When one is reminded of one’s mortality, a person is more likely to engage in honest introspection...Did I really act properly? Was there anything I could have done better? etc.

3) And of course, on Yom Kippur you don’t have to worry about food stains!

This Treat Was originally posted on September 16, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Food Of Yom Kippur

Food on Yom Kippur? Isn’t Yom Kippur the most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar?

"One who eats and drinks on the ninth, is considered by the Torah to have fasted on both the ninth and the tenth" (Yoma 81b).

This principle is derived from a strange allusion to afflicting one’s self on the ninth of the month in Leviticus 23:32 ("... and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month in the evening ..."), even though only 5 verses earlier the Torah commanded that we must afflict ourselves on the tenth (Leviticus 23:27).

As on all holidays and on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to eat festive meals. Yom Kippur is also a holiday. Since one may not eat on Yom Kippur, the festival meals are advanced to the preceding day. The first meal should be eaten early in the afternoon so that one may later have the special seudah hamafseket, the final meal before the fast.

To be considered a festive meal, challah (or bread) must be served. Many people serve kreplach, dumplings, because the hidden bits of meat in dough are symbolic of our desire that God will hide our sins.

The seudah hamafseket is usually eaten after the afternoon service, closer to evening, but while it is still daytime. It is recommended that one eat only light foods which are not too salty (therefore it is customary not to eat fish at this meal) and to avoid intoxicating beverages.

Different families have their own customs how to best celebrate the successful conclusion of Yom Kippur with a festive meal and "break fast." Many Ashkenazi families have dairy meals, while Sephardi families will eat a meat meal.

An Interesting Recipe: Pepitada is a traditional Sephardi post-fast drink made by steeping crushed melon seeds in cold water, straining them and adding a little sugar and perhaps a few drops of orange flower essence, rosewater or honey.

This Treat was last posted on October 7, 2011.

 
Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Not About Fashion

When deciding what to wear on Yom Kippur, choose comfort over fashion.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Whosoever Is Wise

"Return, O Israel, for you have stumbled in your sin" (Hosea 14:2).

Um, who has the remote control? Can someone please change the channel?!

Let’s face it, none of us really want to hear a fire-and-brimstone reproof of all of the things we’ve done wrong and how we must mend our ways. This is basic human psychology and is obviously the great challenge facing all rabbis in the preparation of their Shabbat Shuva sermons.

Shabbat Shuva, which is so called because of the first word "Shuva," return, in the week’s haftarah reading (Hosea 14:2 -10), is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Traditionally, it is this Shabbat sermon that is regarded as the highlight of the year, the premier opportunity for rabbis to inspire their congregants to work harder on becoming better Jews. The goal, as with all things in the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is teshuva, repentance. (It is interesting to note that in many communities in pre-war Europe, the Shabbat Shuva sermon was one of only two sermons that the rabbi delivered during the year - the other being just before Passover.)

But what is the source of inspiration, and what motivates change? There are those who want to be humored into self-improvement, while others wish to hear inspiring stories of triumph over challenge.

Perhaps the prophet Hosea said it best (14:10): "Whosoever is wise, let him understand these things, whosoever is prudent, let him know them. For the ways of God are right, and the just walk in them; but transgressors do stumble therein."

This Treat was originally posted on October 3, 2008.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Scapegoat

The Jewish people have often been cast as the proverbial "scapegoat." When millions died during the Black Plague, the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Blood libels accusing Jews of drinking the blood of gentile children (frequently associated with Passover) were all too common throughout history. Medieval (and not so medieval) rulers often blamed the Jews for their own calamitous economic policies.

The concept of the scapegoat is actually of Biblical origin (Leviticus 16). God commands Moses to instruct Aaron, the High Priest, to take two identical goats and cast lots upon them in order to choose one goat for God and one for Azazel. The goat given to God is sacrificed in the Tabernacle/Temple, but the other goat is sent to its death in the wilderness as an atonement.

The description of this ritual, which was performed on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is difficult to understand. There are numerous attempts to define Azazel. While Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, 1040-1105) defines Azazel as a "hard, rocky place," other commentators have stated that Azazel is the name of a reputed demon.

The goat sent to Azazel is the source of the scapegoat concept. Through the Septuagint (the translation of the Bible into Greek), the goat came to be known as the "goat that is sent away." This goat (symbolically) carried the sins of the Israelites, just as the blame for a crime or a catastrophe is placed on the modern scapegoat.

One cannot, however, forget the other goat, the one offered to God. Perhaps this goat was meant to remind the people of their own personal sin offerings and their own personal repentance. No sin can be wiped away by blaming others. Only by turning directly to God and asking for His forgiveness can sin be expiated.

This Treat was originally posted on April 26, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Read It

If you cannot attend synagogue this week, try to read some words that motivate you to be a greater person.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

From Holy God to Holy King

On Rosh Hashana, God judges the world (and all the people therein), but their fates are not sealed until 10 days later, on Yom Kippur. It is during these ten days that we must present a compelling case of our worthiness to the heavenly court.

These ten days that start on Rosh Hashana and conclude on Yom Kippur, are known as the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva, Ten Days of Repentance. During this time, people go out of their way to make amends both with their fellow humans and with God. In addition to the acts of teshuva, the sages of the Talmud altered the words of the Amidah in order to create the mind-set necessary for this time of year:

“Raba ben Chin’neh’na the Elder also said in the name of Rav: Throughout the year one says in the prayer [Amidah], ‘The holy God’, and ‘King who loves righteousness and judgment,’ except during the ten days between New Year and the Day of Atonement, when he says, ‘The holy King’ and ‘The King of judgment’” (Berachot 12b).

While the Talmud specifically mentions these two changes, there are several other verses of the Amidah that are altered during the Aseret Y’mei Teshuva (all of which are noted in most prayerbooks).

These changes are discussed at length in the codes of practical halacha. The general consensus rules is if the change from “King who loves righteousness and judgment” to “the King of judgment,” or any of the other alterations not singled out in this Treat, is not made, the Amidah need not be repeated. However, the acknowledgment of God as King is so important that those who forget to change “the holy God” to “the holy King,” are instructed to repeat the entire prayer.

This Treat was last published on October 3, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Inside Prayer

Jewish prayer is a complex, multi-layered activity. The sages refer to prayer as avodah she'balev, service, the same term used to describe the sacrificial service in the Holy Temple. However, since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., prayer has become our primary means of “connecting” with God.

Avodah also means work--giving something of ourselves to God. But what benefit could God derive from our prayers? How do our prayers serve the Divine? The Hebrew word l’hitpallel means to pray. The root word is pallel, which actually means to judge, clarify, differentiate or decide. In the reflexive tense of the word--l’hitpallel, the subject acts upon him/herself. Prayer, therefore, is about self-definition and establishing some level of personal inner clarity. During prayer, one is able to clarify his/her relationship with God and with the world, thus opening a clearer channel of communication with the Divine.

The prayers that the sages chose to make up the daily service were selected because they were considered to be the most effective means of focusing a person’s thoughts to create the proper relationship with God.

This is all the more so with regard to the prayers that make up the liturgy of the High Holidays. Yom Kippur is unique in that there are five separate prayer services (instead of the usual four on Shabbat and Yom Tov), and while some of the prayers repeat themselves, each repetition provides us with an opportunity to discover new understanding in the meaning of that prayer.

This Treat was posted on September 22, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

His Honor

For the next week, take five minutes each morning and contemplate God's role as King over the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Fast of Gedaliah (Tzom Gedaliah)

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed to commemorate the murder of Gedaliah the son of Achikam, which is described in the last chapter of the Second Book of Kings. This murder resulted in the exile of the Jews who remained in Judea after the Babylonian conquest.

After the first Holy Temple was destroyed (586 BCE) and the Babylonians had exiled the majority of the Jewish people, a small minority were permitted to remain in the Land of Israel. Also, Jews who had fled during the war returned and began to work the land.

Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, appointed Gedaliah to be the Jewish governor over the remaining population. The King of the neighboring country Ammon, who was vying with the Babylonians for control of the Land of Israel, commissioned Yishmael the son of Netanyah to remove Gedaliah.

Yishmael, who was a descendant of King David, came to the town of Mitzpeh and murdered Gedaliah and all those that were with him. Fearing retribution for the murder of the appointed governor, the remaining Jews fled the Land of Israel, thus completing the exile.

The Fast of Gedaliah is observed on the third day of Tishrei, the day after Rosh Hashana. The fast begins at dawn and ends at nightfall.*

* Some people rise before dawn to have an early morning breakfast (but this is only permitted if a decision to do so was verbally expressed the night before).

This Treat was last posted on September 21, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Four Steps of Repentance

In order to fully understand Yom Kippur, it is important to look deeper at the Jewish concept of teshuva, "repentance."

Teshuva is actually a process of self-evaluation and self-improvement. The Rambam enumerates four primary steps to the teshuva process:

1. Recognize and discontinue the improper action.

2. Verbally confess the action, thus giving the action a concrete form in your own mind.

3. Regret the action. Evaluate the negative impact this action may have had on yourself or on others.

4. Determine never to repeat the action. Picture a better way to handle it. There are two different types of transgressions: those between a person and God and those between one person and another.

Teshuva for a sin between a person and God: When one has transgressed a mitzvah that does not affect another person, the teshuva is purely between the person and God; and the four steps listed above are all that are necessary for the repentance process.

Teshuva for a sin between one person and another: When one has caused harm to others, whether by stealing from them, embarrassing them or anything else, then teshuva requires that restitution and reconciliation be arranged between the parties involved. The damaged party must forgive the perpetrator before Divine forgiveness is granted.

However, a person is only obligated to ask for forgiveness three times. After three refusals, the person is no longer held accountable for that action, as he/she has proven their true regret. The person who will not accept a sincere apology after three requests for forgiveness, however, is guilty of bearing a grudge.

This Treat was last published on Tuesday, October 4, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Love Your Neighbor

Today, focus on treating other people, even those of differing opinions, with respect.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’etz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.

Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.

Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.

Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).

There is one type of food that is actually avoided on Rosh Hashana: Nuts. They are not eaten since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is equivalent to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.

This Treat was published on September 26, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tashlich

The Rosh Hashana tashlich ceremony is a tradition that is dear throughout the many diverse Jewish communities. Tashlich literally translates as "You will throw." But what, exactly, is it?

Tashlich is meant to be a symbolic physical representation of casting away one’s sins. Along with a selection of Psalms and supplications, Micah 7:18-20 is repeatedly recited: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the remainder of His heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; yes, You will cast our sins into the depth of the sea."

The reference in Micah to the depth of the sea appears to be the source for the custom of reciting tashlich next to a body of water, such as a lake or a river (or an ocean, of course) in which fish live. As long as one can see the water, even from a distance (even by climbing to the rooftop of a building), one may recite tashlich.

Tashlich is usually performed in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashana. However, if one is unable to do tashlich at that time, the ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. If the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim wait until the second day.

Although descriptions of tashlich often include the casting of bread crumbs, feeding wild animals is prohibited on Shabbat and the holidays. The casting of bread is a poetic physical expression of tashlich, but is not necessary to the ceremony. This custom may have evolved from the chassidic custom of intentionally shaking off crumbs to represent casting away sins.

This Treat was originally published on September 27, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

To You

Jewish Treats wishes you and yours a happy and sweet New Year.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Annulment of Vows

"I swear that this time I will lose weight"

"I am going to pray every day..."

We make promises all the time. We swear that we are going to do something, and then hope that we will be in a position to fulfill the vow.

But did you know that according to the Torah, words often have binding force and may not be taken lightly? The Jewish legal view on oaths and vows is based on the verse, "He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that he has uttered" (Numbers 30:3).

When you swear to do something, you’ve made a serious commitment. Words, from a Torah perspective, are binding. (It is for this reason that many people, after promising to do something, will append the caveat "bli neder" - without intending to vow, to prevent themselves from vowing falsely.)

According to the Torah, vows and oaths, however, can be retroactively nullified, by a "court" of knowledgeable people.

It was considered particularly important by the sages that, as the High Holidays approach, people ensure that they have not violated their previous year’s vows. They therefore created a formal nullification of vows that all are urged to perform before Rosh Hashanah. Known as "Hatarat Nedarim," the traditional "annulment of vows" takes place in front of a Jewish court of at least 3 knowledgeable men. In addition to nullifying past vows made "in error," the Hatarat Nedarim also declares that any such statements made in the coming year should be considered null and void.

(Of course, the nullification only covers those vows that are allowed to be nullified - not vows such as those regarding owing someone money - and vows that are made by one individual to another.)

This Treat was originally posted on September 29, 2008.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Pre-Rosh Hashana Reading

Get ready for Rosh Hashana with Jewish Treats Complete Guide to Rosh Hashana eBook. Click here to download your free copy!

Remembering The Akeidah

In neither of the two Torah references to the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1), is there a specific mention of the shofar, the ram's horn. Only the Teruah, the sound made by the shofar, is noted. So why do we only use the shofar on Rosh Hashana when the same sound can be made on another instrument?

In the Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Abahu (ca. 279-320 C.E., Caeseria, Israel) responded to this question by referring to the oral tradition that God wanted the Jewish people to use a ram's horn to remind Him of the binding of Isaac (known as the Akeidah), which culminated in a ram being offered as a sacrifice in Isaac's stead. The shofar represents that ram.

Why is it important to God that the Jewish people remind Him of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana? On a simple level, the oral tradition states that the Akeidah took place on the first of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashana. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Akeidah reminds God of the Jewish people's commitment to the ways of its ancestors.

On Rosh Hashana, humanity is judged...and far too often it is the negative side of the scale that is weighed down. However, when God sees the Jewish people recalling the patriarchs' and matriarchs' devotion and commitment, and demonstrating that we, ourselves, strive toward that devotion, His attribute of mercy can override His attribute of judgment and enable Him to judge us favorably for a good year to come.

This Treat was posted on September 18, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Positive Thinking Day

One of the new holidays that has gained traction due to internet calendars is "Positive Thinking Day," celebrated this year on September 13th. With only three days left until Rosh Hashana, Jewish Treats can think of no better time of year to highlight the important message of positive thinking.

From a Jewish perspective, positive thinking not only means believing in one’s self and focussing on happy, positive thoughts. It reflects a world-view that everything that God does is for the good. This ideology is beautifully enunciated in the common Hebrew phrase: gam zu l’tova, "This, too, is for the good."

The phrase was codified into Jewish tradition by the Talmudic sage known as Nachum of Gamzu (or Nachum Ish Gamzu), who was called so "because whatever befell him he would declare, ‘This, too, is for the good" (Taanit 21a). He even declared this when he faced the wrath of the emperor for presenting the emperor with a bag of dirt (unknowingly, as the jewels that were supposed to have been in the bag had been stolen).

The concept of "gam zu l’tova" is applicable to all aspects of life. For example when a person gets stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for a train to pass, rather than cursing fate, one might think that this delay perhaps saved their lives from a traffic accident on the next block.

As Rosh Hashana approaches, it is customary for people to look back and review the year that has passed. When evaluated, incident for incident, some years look better than others. Almost every person can, however, recognize that our lives are filled with many events that seem negative at the time that they occur, but turn out to be important juxtapositions in one’s life.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Year Is Set

Rosh Hashana, the head of the year, is the day on which God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come. It is assumed that on this day God determines exactly how much money one will earn in the coming year. As it says, "All of a person's earnings are fixed in the time from Rosh Hashana until (and including ) Yom Kippur, except for his expenses for Shabbat, holidays and expenses incurred in teaching his children Torah" (Beitza 16a).

But if God decides on Rosh Hashana that a person is to earn $80,000 for the year, what need is there for that person to remain "good"? Since judgment has been already rendered, can’t we just relax until next Rosh Hashana?

The Talmud addresses this question on a communal level (Rosh Hashana 17b):

Let's say that on Rosh Hashana the Jewish people were judged to be in the category of the completely righteous, and Heaven decreed abundant rainfall for that year. But, later, they went off the straight and narrow. Reducing the total amount of rainfall is impossible, because the decree has already been issued. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, may make it rain during the wrong season or on land that does not require rain.

On Rosh Hashana a judgment is rendered. How that judgment is executed (whether in a single check, a monthly increase, or random $1 bills that are spent without thought) is up to each of us.

This Treat was originally published on September 6, 2010.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Be Positive

Be positive not just for yourself but for those around you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Shofar Shorts

The shofar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rosh Hashana. Although it is preferable that a shofar be fashioned from a ram’s horn, the horn need only come from a kosher animal.* However, not all the horns of a kosher animal are usable, for instance cows’ horns and deer antlers are solid bone and cannot be fashioned into a shofar, whereas the horns of animals such as rams are made of keratin and can be hollowed out to become a shofar.

Shofars are prepared by applying heat. They are cleaned in boiling water, and heat is applied in order to either straighten or bend the horns. A shofar may be engraved or decorated with metal as long as the weight does not alter the shofar’s sound. However, extra material may not be placed near either end of the shofar.

On Rosh Hashana four distinct sounds are blown on the shofar:

Tekiah - The tekiah is a long, solid blast like the blowing of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. This sound reminds us that God is the King of Kings.

Shevarim - The shevarim are three medium-length blasts, reminiscent of deep sighs or soft crying, (where one is gasping for breath). The shevarim represents the first step in recognizing all that God does for us, and all that we could be doing, thus the sighing sound.

Teruah - The teruah are nine quick staccato blasts which evoke the feeling of short piercing cries of wailing. It represents the recognition that the new year is upon us, and the time for repentance will soon pass.

--A combination of Shevarim-Teruah is also sounded during the shofar service.

Tekiah Gedolah - The tekiah gedolah, the final blast, is a long solid note. It is a triumphant shout that reaches out to the hearts of all to assure them that their prayers have been heard.

(*If one has absolutely no other option, one may use the horn of a non-kosher animal, but cannot recite the blessings over hearing the sounds.)

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Avinu Malkeinu

No prayer so thoroughly captures the Jewish people’s dual relationship with God as Avinu Malkeinu, "Our Father, Our King."

The exact formulation of this prayer is based on a prayer that Rabbi Akiva (c. 50 - c. 135 C.E.), one of the greatest Talmudic sages, recited during a drought. After the community’s prayers had brought no relief, Rabbi Akiva went forward and called out to God, "Our Father, Our King, we have no king but You. Our Father, Our King, for Your sake have mercy on us!" Immediately, rain began to fall.

The prayer of Avinu Malkeinu, which is recited on Rosh Hashana* includes 44 lines, the most famous of which is the statement: "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, even though we have no worthy deeds, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us."

By addressing God as both "our Father" and "our King," we direct our prayers through two different avenues. From a father, one expects mercy, love and forgiveness. A father looks at his child and sees only that child, that special individual, and instinctively feels mercy for the child, a product of his own flesh and blood. That is why, on the Day of Judgment we wish to address our petitions particularly to God’s fatherly aspect of mercy.

On the other hand, a king controls the fate of his subjects. He rules with judgment and justice. Hence, we must also address our prayers to that aspect of God during Rosh Hashana and throughout the days that follow (up through and including Yom Kippur). After all, this is the time that God sits with His Books of Judgment open before Him. By referring to God as our King, we remind ourselves that while He loves us as a father, we must also be in awe of God’s greatness and majesty.

*When Rosh Hashana occurs on Shabbat, Avinu Malkeinu is not recited.

This Treat was originally posted on September 8, 2010.

Hear The Shofar

If you are unable to attend services, arrange to hear the shofar at some point during Rosh Hashana day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The First Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel

When history books discuss immigration to the land of Israel at the beginning of the twentieth century, the waves of immigrants to which they refer were, for the most part, Ashkenazim (Jews of central/eastern European ancestry). The truth is that there were Jews already living in the Promised Land, and they, for the most part, were Sephardim (of Spanish-Portuguese and Near-Eastern ancestry).

Because of the differences between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, which, while small, are still significant, there are two chief rabbis in Israel. The first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi was Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, a man whose name is well known to those who are familiar with Israeli history. Less well-known is the name of Rabbi Benzion Meir Hai Uziel (1880 - 1953), the first Rishon L’tzion (the title of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi).

Born in Jerusalem, where his father was Av Bet-Din (chief judge), Rabbi Uziel opened a small yeshiva when he was a mere 20 years old. At 31, he was appointed Chacham Bashi (head rabbi) of Jaffa. Interestingly, Rabbi Kook was the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jaffa during the same time period.

During World War I, Rabbi Uziel’s leadership qualities were tested as he interceded with the Ottoman government for persecuted Jews. Alas, his efforts stood-out too well, and he was temporarily exiled to Damascus. Shortly after he returned, the territory of Palestine was ceded to the British.

The only other time Rabbi Uziel resided outside of the Land of Israel was when he accepted a three year position as Chief Rabbi of Salonika (Greece). After serving as the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Palestine (later of the State of Israel) in 1939, and he maintained this position until his death on 24 Elul, 1953.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Birthday of the World

According to Jewish tradition, this Monday, Rosh Hashana, the world will be 5773 years old. This claim easily stirs up sharp debate. How, it is often asked, can one say that the world is only 5773 years old when carbon dating records certain fossils as being millions of years old? Science and religion often seem in conflict with one another, but only at first glance.

While Rosh Hashana is considered the first day of the year, it is actually only the beginning of the counting of the years of the world. The Bible recounts that it took "six days" to create the world, and on the sixth day God created Adam. According to the midrash, until Adam was formed, the world was static. Only after Adam was created and prayed for rain, did the world come to life.

Think of it like conception and birth. Six days before Rosh Hashana, the world was conceived...that was "Day One" of Creation. The next five days were a gestational period, when the world was formed and developed. Birth, the completion of the world, only occurred on the sixth day with the introduction of Adam.

More that just the world "came to life" with the creation of Adam, the world acquired time then as well. Prior to Adam, no one noted when the sun rose or set, or the moon waxed and waned or whether there were seasons. No one can say with certainty how long the days of creation were because there were no human beings to mark the beginning and end of a day.

This Treat was originally posted on September 14, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Rosh Hashana Music



Experience the Days of Awe with this fabulous music video "Soul Bigger" from NJOP!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Five Names of Rosh Hashana

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana has several names that can help us understand the importance and power of this holiday.

Rosh Hashana literally means "Head of the Year" because Rosh Hashana marks the point when we begin the new calendar year (e.g. from 5772 to 5773).

Yom Harat Olam means "The Birthday of the World."

Yom Hazikaron means "The Day of Remembering."

Yom Hadin means "The Day of Judgment."

Yom Teruah means "The Day of Sounding (the Shofar)." This is the actual name that the holiday is called in the Torah.

Ok, so there are five different names for the holiday. What is the significance of that? How do these different themes relate to each other?

The Teruah is the staccato sound blown on the shofar. Yom Teruah serves as a call to attention because this day is Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and it is imperative that one be cognizant of the importance of the day.

It is the Day of Judgment because it is Yom Hazikaron, the day on which God looks back and "remembers" our deeds, individually, collectively and historically (a record of over 4,000 years of Jewish history).

Why is this the Day of Remembrance? Because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world (Yom Harat Olam). Since the annual cycle is closing, it is the perfect time for reflection and judgment. This new beginning allows us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

And since the old year and the new year are seamless, this day is also Rosh Hashana, the head of the year.

This Treat was originally posted on September 16, 2009.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Selichot

In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).

Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).

Ayl: He is powerful.

Rachum: He is compassionate.

V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.

Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.

V’rav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.

V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.

Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.

Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.

Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.

V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.

V’nah'kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh

Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are usually recited prior to the morning service.

--Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.

This Treat was previously published on September 2, 2010.

Place to Serve

It's one week until Rosh Hashana, if you still need a place to attend Rosh Hashana services, please contact NJOP for assistance.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Ship's Tale

Well sit right back and you'll hear a tale...Alas, this ship’s tale is no three-hour tour, but the story of the birth of Jewish life in North America.

It is well-known that the first Jewish settlers in New Amsterdam (the Dutch Colony that would later be called New York) were met with deep animosity by the Governor, Peter Stuyvesant. While many settlers did come to the new world searching for religious freedom, these 23 men, women and children came to North America by accident!

These Sephardi Jews were fleeing the Portuguese conquest of Recife (Brazil), a South American city that had been under the control of the Dutch (who allowed the Jews to live openly as Jews). One can only imagine their horror when Portugal captured the territory! Fearing the Inquisition, the Jews boarded one of the 16 boats the Portuguese provided to all those who wished to leave the territory. Unfortunately, the ship never made it to its destination, the Netherlands. After their ship was attacked at sea, the 23 Jews were brought to New Amsterdam on September 7, 1654, aboard a French vessel.

The intentions of the French captain were far from altruistic. Captain Jacques de la Motte immediately sued the refugees for their passage (knowing they had lost most of their possessions). Two members of the community were taken into custody until the money could be raised (by appealing to their co-religionists in Amsterdam).

Peter Stuvyesant had no love of Jews (as governor of Curacao, he sought to restrict Jewish immigration and prohibited Jews from owning slaves), and he used the desperate state of these refugees to appeal to the owners of the colony (Dutch East India Company) to bar the Jews lest they become a burden on the government. His petition was denied, the Jews were allowed to settle, and thus began the Jewish community of New York.

This Treat was originally posted on February 2, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana we declare: "Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!" In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts: Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

Teshuva (repentance), a central theme of the High Holidays, means more than just saying "sorry." Teshuva means recognizing one’s errors and making an effort not to repeat them. In many ways, teshuva is a private act because one must be introspective in order to recognize one’s own mistakes.

Tefila (prayer) is the acknowledgment of God as the King and Ruler of the universe. Tefila is almost private, but not quite. It is a conversation between the person and God.

Tzedaka (charity) is a critical step necessary to reverse an evil decree simply because it constitutes an action. The performance of this mitzvah affects the person giving, the person receiving, and its benefits often extend to others as well. Tzedaka is reaching out beyond one’s self, and is thus a public act.

Everything that a person does affects the world in multiple ways. It affects the person’s relationship with him/herself, his/her relationship with the Divine and his/her relationship with his/her fellow human beings. The path to reversing an evil decree must therefore involve the private, the spiritual and the public spheres of our lives.

*This Treat was previously published on September 10, 2011.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

New York, New York

If you have the opportunity to visit New York (or if you live there and like to play the tourist), take a tour of the historic Jewish sites.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Will I Forgive You For What!?

An ancient Jewish proverb declares: “Loose tongues are worse than wicked hands.”

Truth is, people do the most damage to each other with their mouths. Things done with our hands, such as injuries, thefts, etc, can be repaired. Words, however, are like feathers in the wind--they fly too fast to catch and can never be taken back. Jewish law regards lashon harah, wicked speech such as gossip and slander, as one of the worst of the transgressions that one commits against fellow humans.

Here is the dilemma: During the months of Elul and Tishrei (before and during the High Holidays), repentance must be our top priority. Repentance for hurting another person requires that we personally ask that person’s forgiveness. What do I do if I spoke badly about someone, in a fit of anger? Now that we are friends once again, how do I ask properly for forgiveness?

The answer to this dilemma depends on the extent of the “damage.” If the gossip itself created negative consequences, then the person must be asked directly for forgiveness. Even if no harm was done, and it is known that the person will be understanding about the incident, then forgiveness should still be asked.

However, if informing a person that you spoke about them would result in embarrassment or hurt, it is acceptable to ask for general forgiveness, without going into detail. Indeed, causing additional embarrassment to the person might actually necessitate asking for mechila (forgiveness) once again.

This Treat was originally posted on October 2, 2008.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Let It go

Do not hold a grudge.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Isaac, Son of Abraham

Born to aged parents (Sarah was 90, Abraham was 100), Isaac was Abraham’s sole heir. This meant more than inheriting his wealth, it meant becoming the leading advocate of monotheism. Unlike his father, however, Isaac was not an outgoing “people-person.”  Isaac was a more reserved personality who served God with gevurah, inner-strength, and spent his time studying and serving God.

God’s promise bequeathing the Land of Israel to Abraham was confirmed again with Isaac.  In fact, it is said that Isaac’s commitment to the land was so great that he never left the confines of the land defined by God as the eventual inheritance of Abraham. 

Isaac married Rebecca. They had difficulty conceiving. But, after praying fervently to God, Rebecca finally became pregnant with twins. She gave birth to the rough huntsman, Esau, and the quiet scholar, Jacob.

Isaac saw in Esau a man who was willing and able to be a “go-getter.” Esau often presented a pious front to his father, asking him obscure questions about God’s laws. When he was not with his father, however, Esau sought out the thrill of the hunt, even murder according to some opinions.. Because Isaac suffered from failing eyesight, he did not see that side of Esau and considered Esau to be the best choice as the spiritual heir for the blessings of Abraham. Rebecca, on the other hand, was aware of Esau’s true personality and knew that Jacob was the one really worthy of the spiritual inheritance. Thus the dynamics for the famous story of Isaac giving the blessing intended for Esau to Jacob.

Although Isaac is perceived as passive, he was extraordinarily dynamic in his passivity. The Torah tells us in Genesis 26:12 that “Isaac planted in the land and reaped a hundred fold.” It is Isaac who, through his tenacity and willingness to work tirelessly, truly took hold of the Land of Israel. He is thus regarded as  the passive hero of the Torah and the Land of Israel.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Your Strength

Remember that you will be respected for staying true to your convictions.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year there is a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balanced between extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked...in other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhu v’taychatayvu (that’s the plural form).

This Treat was originally posted on August 24, 2010.

Mail Them Greetings

Include the traditional greeting, “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”), in the holiday cards you send to your friends and family.

Labor, Technology and the Torah

Labor celebrations have taken place throughout North America since the 1880s, and Labor Day became an official U.S. holiday in 1894. As students of history are well aware, in the decades surrounding the start of the 20th century the working class that emerged from the Industrial Revolution fought to be treated fairly.

Judaism has always valued the rights of workers. In fact, three thousand years ago, the Torah declared such fundamental laws as: “You shall not oppress your fellow, and you shall not rob; the wages of a worker shall not remain with you overnight until morning” (Leviticus 19:13). The sages refined these rules even further. Take for instance the Mishna quoted in Baba Metzia 83a: “One who engages laborers and demands that they commence early or work late--where local usage is not to commence early or work late, he may not compel them. Where it is the practice to supply food [to one's laborers], he [the employer] must supply them therewith; to provide a relish, he must provide it. Everything depends on local custom.

Unions and labor laws had greatly curbed the worst of the abuses of the workplace. The decades surrounding the start of the 21st century have introduced entirely new challenges. As fewer people work in labor related jobs, different questions affect employers and employees.

For instance, as technology brought the world into the information age and high speed internet has knocked down the constraints of office walls and office hours, how does one define overtime? If an employer provides an employee with a smart phone, must the employee be available at all hours?

Many such issues are defined with reference to “corporate culture,” and thus local custom. The use or abuse of modern technology, while not a direct question addressed by the sages or the Torah, may depend on an employer’s honest assessment of whether such action transgress the prohibition of “oppressing” one’s fellow.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Employers and Employees

No matter whether you are an employer or an employee, remember to be honest in your dealings.