Posts Tagged 'Halacha'


One night I dreamed I was walking along a path on a pristine beach. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.

In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes the path was well worn, other times it seemed that I took the path less traveled, and still yet other times I had blazed my own trail. What bothered me was that I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see that the otherwise clear path was muddled and unclear. So I cried aloud, “What about the promise that if I followed the path, it would always guide my way. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has no clear path in the sand. Why, when I needed guidance most, I was left alone with no direction?”

And then I was quiet and I heard a still small voice reply, “The years when you could not see a path is when we wrestled, we are always together Yisrael.”

-Adapted for Parshat VaYishlach from Mary Stevenson, 1936

– Reposted with better picture


The Lydda Way

Periodically I find myself doing research on different areas of halacha. Usually my learning follows the course of a specific  halachic issue in response to someone’s query, but recently it has gone in a totally different direction. It started with a student of mine from Wash U who is contemplating making Aliyah. This person wanted to explore the obligation to return to the Land. Amidst my research I discovered that in the time of Ezra the inhabitants of Lod where one of the few who returned after the Babylonian captivity( Ezra 2:33). Not knowing much about Lod besides Ben Gurion International Airport I decided to dig a little deeper.

In 43 CE, Cassius, the Roman governor of Syria, sold the inhabitants of Lod into slavery. During the First Jewish–Roman War, the Roman proconsul of Syria, Cestius Gallus, razed the town on his way to Jerusalem in 66 CE. It was occupied by Emperor Vespasian in 68 CE.

During the Kitos War, the Roman army laid siege to Lod, then called Lydda, where the rebel Jews had gathered under the leadership of Julian and Pappus. The distress became so great that the patriarch Rabban Gamaliel II, who was shut up there and died soon afterwards, permitted fasting even on Ḥanukkah. Other rabbis condemned this measure. Lydda was next taken and many of the Jews were executed; the “slain of Lydda” are often mentioned in words of reverential praise in the Talmud. Over Lydda’s history it’s inhabitants have consistently shown tremendous self sacrifice. It seems that there is a Shitah, an approach, developed in Lydda that is unique. Not matter it be war or aliyah they have always been about self sacrifice.

To that ends I have been working on a lithograph on my research of the way of learning in Lydda. It seems appropriate to name my work the Loda Shitah. If this is well received I will turn my attention to more geographic studies. The next obvious place would be Afula. So stay tuned for my Afula Shitah.

Chag Purim Sameakh

Reward Beyond Reward and Punishment

Reward and PunishmentAs I get ready for the High Holidays, I go back to my yearly struggle with the popular understanding of reward and punishment. As we will diligently read the prayers of U’Nitaneh Tokef, “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die at his predestined time and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning.” By definition, we cannot know the answers to these questions, so I often ask myself, who cares? And even if I did know, I do not feel that this way of thinking is what motivates me to follow Halacha. And even worse than that, if I really assumed that my perception of reward and punishment was supposed to motivate me, I would need to undertake an unbearable theodicy. How else could I interpret the suffering of innocent children? God forbid God be unjust.

So there I am in me yearly quandary, and my wife tells me that she got a lovely call from Yadid’s teacher. Yadid, our eldest child, just started Kindergarten last week. His teacher wanted to tell us that he is a pleasure and a real Mentsch. Whatever we are doing as parents she wanted us to keep it up. But what are we doing as parents?

So the next day as I was walking Yadid to the bus stop I asked him about his day at school. He reports back to me about his class trip to an orchard to go apple picking for Rosh HaShanah. I tell him how happy I am that he is enjoying his new school and how proud I am to have gotten such a nice call from his teacher. I asked him what he thinks he did to make the teacher want to call us. He recalled that the Kippah of one of his classmates had blown off and he had run to retrieve it. I asked, “Why did you do that?”. Yadid responds, “It’s a Mitzvah”. I push, “Why do you do Mitzvot?” Yadid responds, “Because I get treasures”. Evidently his teacher gives out prizes for good behavior.  Unsure of what would come next; I asked Yadid, “Why do you think Abba does Mitzvot?”

There was a pregnant pause, during which I ponder sharing with my son my seasonal theological crises. And then I look at my five year old son who is just now on his way to school. His heart and mind are even more open than his eyes curious for me to answer my question. “Yadid, you know that you, your brother, and your sister are my treasures, I do Mitzvot so that I can get you in my life”. And with that I caressed his cheek and he gave me a hug.  Was I dishonest to hide from him my issues of reward and punishment? Was saying the “truth” for him or for me? In the end  (or at the least at this point in my life) it was a lie.  I can only hope that one day Yadid will read this blog that he inspired and see a deeper truth. One day he will become my Philosopher King. Parenting is complex, tiring, and often thankless, but a moment when my son knows that he is treasured is its own “reward”.

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