Monday, July 16, 2012

Getting into the proper mindset

During this time of the bein haMetzarim, we are supposed to arouse feelings of grief and loss by focusing on the churban and contemplating what we are missing today. And if you have difficulty relating to "the" churban - focus on your own personal churban as a start. - Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter of Ger, the Chiddushei HaRim

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Separate but Equal?

In a poignant post last week in honor of Independence Day, Rabbi Harry Maryles expressed deep gratitude and hakarot hatov (recognition of the goodness bestowed upon us) to our current host in galut, the United States of America. Indeed, the U.S. has been by far the best secular milieu in our long history of exile, and thank God we have been able to find a place to rest our weary feet and regroup as we prepare for Moshiach.

As Rabbi Maryles expressed it, the U.S. has been an accepting and accommodating host, allowing us to enjoy religious freedom without fear of persecution (although there have been threats to certain religious liberties - especially in the recent past - by those who would see our beautiful mesorah relegated to the dustbin of history, mainly coming from within our own, these attempts have largely been marginalized and quashed); as a matter of fact, it is becoming increasingly more common to see religious Jews in the public eye, cast in a positive light as role models for society or as budding young talent with an uncanny ability to rally support around their causes.

Rabbi Maryles' post was actually written in the context of such an occurrence: one of the popular American reality TV shows has bee featuring a young Orthodox boy who is blowing past all of the competition while dazzling audiences and judges alike with his beautiful singing and musical talent. People have been captivated by this young fellow's undeniable gift, and with the exception of some cringe-worthy comments by one tactless judge, few have made any real fuss about the large leather yarmulke that he wears proudly on his head.

Many have triumphantly pointed to this singing phenom and the welcome he has experienced as indicative of our implicit "acceptability" in society; not only do we not live with antisemitism in this enlightened day and age, but quite the opposite - we are seen as equals, or at the very least as "regular people" who have the same hopes and dreams as any other person trying to make it today. This is usually presented as a good thing, but whenever something like this comes up, I have my reservations.

One of the oldest questions that I have concerns this dichotomy: we all know what constitutes the typical chillul HaShem, and to some degree the concept has taken slightly skewed proportions (although that is a topic for another essay). But what I always find myself thinking about is whether there is a possibility that there exists a different kind of chillul HaShem: when the other nations of the world think to themselves "Hey, these Jews aren't so different after all. They're just like us."

Don't get me wrong - this is not an attack on young Edon; I wish him the best of luck, and pray that his success presents itself as a positive opportunity to affect a real kiddush HaShem, not to mention a source of parnassah. But my issue is how it is perceived by the secular world, and our hand in reinforcing that perception. We are meant to be distinguished from the rest of the world, not only superficially (as some groups ensure) but in thought, values, and deeds. The whole concept of a talent show (as an example) seems to go against our ideals of modesty and humility; yes, we are supposed to develop our individual characteristics, but in a very different way - a way that enhances the collective goal of the community.

Now, maybe it's presumptuous to maintain that anybody is thinking "Those Jews share our values about what is considered success and important in life," but on some basic, visceral level, that is exactly what's happening. When that association is made, it undermines the ideal of being a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" - instead of insisting on our separateness, we show them that we're not so different. after all.

Perhaps that is an even greater chillul HaShem, God forbid.

I would appreciate people's thoughts on this one; if you don't feel like commenting in an open forum, feel free to e-mail me.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Of bonsai trees and effective chinuch

A few weeks ago, Neil Harris mentioned that near my school there was a cool store that sold bonsai trees, and that it was worth checking out. I had always had a mild appreciation for bonsai because of its prominence in The Karate Kid; as I grew older, I realized that its art was a facilitative form of mindfulness and concentration. One day on my way to school I took a short detour to take a look. 

When I asked the proprietor about the bonsai trees, he launched into a whole explanation of how bonsai is really a generic term for any scale-size tree - a bonsai tree is any tree that looks completely developed in a miniature form. He showed me the different types, and elaborated on how - dependent on the particular species and the care, attention, and creativity of the owner - a bonsai tree can be shaped into magnificent forms.

I walked away from the experience inspired.

In his preface to Chovat HaTalmidim, Reb Kalonymos Kalman exhorts parents and educators to understand that they have to have the proper perspective concerning their young charges. One of the major mistakes that people tend to do is try to raise "good kids"; the Rebbe insists that to merely focus on the child as a child is fallacious. Rather, one must appraise the child as the adult he can grow up to be, and work towards that goal. It's really raising adults, not raising kids.

To a certain degree (and this is reflected by Chazal and the seforim hakedoshim), the human is compared to a tree, and this is most apparent during childhood. Like Rav Wolbe's aptly titled handbook for parenting tells us, a child must be nurtured in the same way as young saplings - they need to be protected from the elements, given suitable air and nutrition, and enabled to maximize their potential to the fullest.

The bonsai tree seems to me to be a perfect example.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hope in new life

Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity.        - Rabindranath Tagore

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Matisyahu interview with

I have been hesitant to post about Matisyahu's continuous changes over the past few months; first of all I want to see where this leads, and I don't want to jump the gun, despite how things may appear. Moreover, I haven't fully considered how this very personal yet very public journey of one of my favorite artists affects me as a person, as a consumer, and most importantly as a fellow Jew.

All I can say is that I continue to pray for him, as I have been doing since the beginning of his rise to fame way back in 2004, when he was playing small shos at Chelsea Piers.

In the meantime, check this interview out.

Matisyahu: Exclusive Interview