July 7, 2010

Laughing, Crying.

Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva saw foxes walking on the temple mount, Rabbi Yishmael cried, Rabbi Akiva laughed. The Kedushat levi explains based on the Ramban the following: The earth is divided up between places that are intended by God to be settled and places that are meant to be wilderness. The Land of Israel , when its People are living on it is meant to be settled, but when others are living on it is meant to be wilderness. Rabbi Akiva was laughing because he was witnessing a vindication of the definitive relationship we have with the Land. So I suppose we should be laughing and crying at the same time, experiencing firsthand the lands opening up to us as a place meant to be inhabited, but still abounding with as yet unrealized potential. Gevalt, Oy Gevalt.

February 28, 2010

Audio about Purim

See http://purimwithravaaron.yolasite.com/ for short teachings I gave this year at Sulam Yaakov about Purim. Purim Sameach.

December 2, 2009

In Defense of Mediocrity

A few weeks ago I received an upsetting call from a concerned admirer. They wanted to inform me that someone within my sphere of influence was engaging in behavior which is Halachicaly prohibited. They expressed a disappointment in Nachlaot, pegging it as a permissive and wishy-washy place Halachikaly.

I have to say that I thank God every day for Nachlaot, perhaps for the very same reasons they do not. The Torah world has created this idea that everyone has to have the same standards, frankly I find that a bit silly. Part of living in a normal society is that different people have different priorities, and will make different lifestyle choices. What ever happened to the idea of a mediocre “working” class who simply do their thing without seeking religious rigor or refinement? Since when is perfection the standard by which everyone must be judged?

That is not to say that I do not hold Halacha up as the way to be close to God, and build a Godly society and world. Indeed that is how I choose to live my life. But I do admire the Sefardi shul’s acceptance of those whose kippot live in their pocket, those who will be at the soccer field after teffilot. There is simply something normal and natural in that acceptance. In our shuls judgment and insularity prevail, and the outsider smells it immediately and most often squirms.

I wonder if it coincidence that the segment of society which seeks to impose absolute standards on everyone is the same segment of society which is least involved in the grist of running this country. Rav Kuk’s appreciation of the non religious parts of society was deeply connected to his understanding that it takes all types to create the multi faceted society required to build Israel. He viewed the return to the land as part of a process, culminating in an absolute return to God only when the time comes.

This was my response to my caller. The individual referred to is in process. I believe that they are moving towards God, and one day this particular behavior will shift as well. For now they need me to respect their autonomy to choose their place in society and validate their right to define their relationship to God on their terms, not mine.

September 8, 2009

Authentic Judaism?

Rosh Hashana is coming, and with it the usual slew of warnings here in Israel against various creative concoctions masquerading as Pure Honey. I really have no idea how easy it is to tell the difference, is it the kind of thing anyone’s taste buds would reveal or is it more subtle, something for the expert or the lab? I do know that I want the real thing.
When it comes to Judaism I would consider myself an expert, and yet I would be very careful judging anyone’s authenticity. It is in the nature of Judasim that there are many ways, seventy facets of the Torah. At the same time, there is a point where you no longer need to be an expert, the flavor is so foul that you know it cant be real. (see Hirhurim and Parshablogs posts on the “Authentic Judaism” blog).
Rav Shlomo taught us a simple lesson. Why does the whole world drink Coke? Because it is yummy and sweet. His way to connect people to God was to teach Torah that was yummy and sweet. Well, if we know that a day is coming when the whole world will be a reflection of God, then I suppose it is likely that any authentic reflection of God will be yummy and sweet? This is a deep lesson of Honey on Judgement day, that deep down it is yummy and sweet, and that is a taste worth developing.

September 4, 2009

BT’s – They are People not “Products”!

Quote R’ Mendel Weinbach of Ohr Sameach “We have established kiruv centers on university campuses, in communities, in many locations throughout the world and have trained hundreds of avreichim [who pursue a life of Torah study] in two-year kiruv courses to run them. This has produced many blessed products.”
This from an expose from the Forward on the alleged ties between JEC (Jewish Enrichment Center), the formal Birthright follow up rep in NY, and Ohr Sameach.
I see  a deep perversion in the “Kiruv” circuit when it comes to respecting the individuality and autonomy of the “target” audience. As someone who has been on the inside of the system I can say that even the seemingly enlightened operations carry the nudge and wink dimension, “we know what we really want”.
This runs through the entire process, and relates to lack of value placed on individuality which can be seen in the black and white dress code. I have seen many Baalei Teshuva lose there shining light, and it makes me wonder if this is really what God wants.
I know that I will get the usual slew of disappointed responses to this, “why must you fan the hatred”, “why the stereotypes” etc. I want to clarify that I am not trying to demonize anyone, and there is a lot of good work being done out there, and a lot of people who have found life through it. I am compelled to write on this subject because it goes to the heart of the way I choose to work with and relate to Kiruv.
“Kiruv” Means to draw close, and that is a two way street. True drawing close is the deepest Torah value, “Love your Friend as Yourself”. The only way Torah can be represented is in a true relationship, which a manipulative agenda will always taint. The bad taste expressed in the forward article is authentic and appropriate, and has potential to create a significant chilul Hashem. Dont pretend to be interested in me if you are not willing to respect my right to define who and what I am.
This is the significance of Bechira, “choice”, in the world. If God wanted to He/She could be the best outreach professional in the world, of course. We see that God has designed a world that provides us the dignity of defining ourselves. I think God engages us head on as the person we have chosen to be, for better or for worse, no hidden agenda or manipulation. This is the essence of relationship, and the only way there can be potential for Love, between a person and friend, between a person and God.

September 3, 2009

Chassidic Quotes: Renewal

“To the extent that a person seeks the life force in each thing, and sees it as if for the first time, to that extent the true energy of Gods renewal in the world will be revealed to him.” Sfat Emet on Bikurim, Parashat Ki Tavo.

August 28, 2009

IDF’s chooses western ethics over Jewish ones.

“Who is shutting the mouth of the IDF’s chief Rabbi?” – Maariv reports that a vip conference on War Ethics had invited Rabbi Ronsky the chief Rabbi of the IDF to present. The  IDF Spokesman then denied him permission to speak claiming that the topic was not in his authority and is sending the IDF’s chief attorney instead. This relates to recent limitations placed on the role of the Rabbinate in the military’s educational programing. I believe this is part of a conscious policy decision to establish western pluralistic values as the core identity of the Army, as opposed to traditional Jewish values, as demonstrated here. This is not new, almost twenty years ago as an educational officer in the IDF I was disgusted at the way the dominantly secular command promoted a secular Jewish identity while censoring anything that smelled of Torah. The most disturbing thing part of this was that it presented aggressive censorship as an enlightened pluralistic position, a skewed perspective that made it impossible for me to communicate my frustration to my commanding officer, we simply occupied different universes.
Let me make clear that at my core I am tolerant, and in many ways pluralistic in my worldview. I believe that other types of Jewish identity, including Reform, Conservative and completely Secular deserve respect and are legitimate (Mistaken, but legitimate). At the same time it seems to me that there is a cultural battle going on for the heart and soul of this country, one which threatens its meaning at the core. Most of those who are fighting it are those who would not place themselves in the moderate camp. It is extremely important that those of us who believe in this country, and the partnership between Dati and Chiloni that built it, be willing to call a spade a spade and cry foul when democracy is wielded as a sword cutting us off from our roots.

August 25, 2009

Torah, Lies, and Photoshop.

DovBear accuses Yeshivat Chaim Berlin of photoshopping the truth to fit their version of reality. This set me thinking about the importance of Truth in the context of teshuva – how honest are we willing to be with ourselves and with God when examining our lives? I feel close to God at this time of year but the honest truth is that I know this is quite pretentious. How easily this knowledge could lead to a cynical take on any attempt at spiritual achievement. Are we stuck between pretension or skepticism?

A fantastic concept that can help maintain a truthful attempt at humility and earnest spirituality is the idea of “having perspective on yourself”. Sadly this is a rare commodity in the Torah world, as seen above. The delicate balance of “taking yourself seriously but not too seriously” is an elusive but precious bit of wisdom. This attitude would serve anyone engaged in a relationship with God well, especially as we approach the Yamim Noaraim.

August 19, 2009

Re-Turn Again

“Spill your heart like water before the presence of God” – the words of Eicha are heavily flavored for me by Rav Shlomo’s sweet sad niggun. It brings up in me the alienation that comes with mourning and sorrow, and the challenge of an opportunity to rediscover God with renewed yearning and hunger. My summer is always somewhat of a spiritual dry season as Yeshiva is out, the kids are Home, there is a needed and perhaps deserved break that I tend to use as an excuse for some spiritual laxity. I enter into the month of Elul ready for turning towards God (re-turning i.e. Teshuva?), creating an opening, I hope, for God to once again turn towards me. The vehicle and expression of this turning for me is prayer. I rediscover the deep waters of teffilah as
my somewhat dormant soul awakens. The Zohar refers to the days of Elul and Tishrei as definitive days of prayer. In a few days the small streets and alleyways of my neighborhood Nachlaot will resonate with the pre-dawn Selichot of the Sfardim, asking God for forgiveness in joyous song of re-found love. My soul stirs with anticipation of the awesome days which will be upon us shortly when I will once again meet my Father my King.

August 4, 2009

All New Me…

I just bought new glasses. Miriam and I calculated that I have worn the last ones for about ten years! Those were just like the ones before them, maybe less of a circle and more of an oval. The ones before that were John Lennon orbs, which went with the long hair my Rosh Yeshiva disdained.
Trying on glasses is a thrilling and scary experience for me. The personal statement goes far beyond clothes, my face is who I am in so many ways. I feel my power of choice heightened, as I transform myself like Mr. Potato Head in the mirror. The temptation to avoid choosing, to simply enjoy the ride and play make believe is strong, but at Home the babysitting clock is ticking.
I know I am looking for change, bold change has been part of my recent story. It comes down to two frames. One is conservative, a departure from over two decades of round frames, Delicate, sophisticated, metal half frame. The other a younger, gutsier, “Harry Potter” but cool frame made of matte copper with wooden arms, round.
I bought them both.