Friday, August 3, 2018

Torah Portion Ekev Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 8:3 Man does not live by bread alone."

We spend our lives working, raising kids and planning exactly for these so- called golden years. We hope that we can call them our golden years. Isn’t this the time when we have financial resources to live without having to work. And if we do work it is because we want to and not because we have to work. Isn’t this the time when we begin to acquire some level of perspective and wisdom about the struggles we went through and the challenges we faced earlier on in life? Isn’t this the time when we reassess the past and recognize the success we had on multiple levels which we might have not appreciated earlier on in life? And isn’t this the time as we watch our children follow the pathway of work, earning a living and giving to their children as we gave to them that we begin to rethink about what we needed  to survive in or previous years versus what they need today to survive and be satisfied in the world?

The Torah portion give us some insight about the meaning of a life well lived. In the Torah Portion Ekev, Deuteronomy Chapter eight verses two-three. We read, “He subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the LORD decrees.” What does that mean for us? How shall we apply this verse to us and our lives over the years?

This verse combines something that strikes a familiar chord about life. Struggle is part of life. Hardship contrasted with moments of beneficence whether we call God the source of these moments or not. Judaism has struggled for a long time with this verse. Generally in the popular culture this verse was used to give us perspective that man does not live by bread alone meaning  don’t count on the road of life to be easy. Don’t be surprised when bad things happen or when good things can happen.  The other part of the verse is that God is testing us to see how we cope with these ups and downs.

It is hard to involve God this way because holding God  responsible as the arbiter of our fates good or bad often creates more theological problems that it solves for us. We see these issues, for example,  play out in biblical books such as the book of Job as he lashes out at God for causing him so much suffering. Joseph shares his faith with his brothers when their father Jacob died by saying that God put him through all the suffering of his kidnapping, his servitude in Potiphar’s house and then his servitude in jail for valid reasons which were to solve the  problems  with his brothers and make peace. We look at biblical women who enjoyed the rapture of joy when they were able to give birth to children. These same women suffered great anguish because they had trouble and suffered much emotional trauma  at not being able initially to have children. The upshot is what most of us know which is that there is no easy ride for most of us in this world. Have we not come to understand that life is all about facing struggle and challenges as well as liberation and joy?

No one wants the suffering for ourselves or for our loved ones, yet, without pain, how can we live a real life? We want to protect our children from all harm yet when we do  that and they get what the want. Haven’t  we  inoculated our kids from facing the challenges of life? Do we not handicap them at the same time when one day we will not be able to intervene to help or shield them? What have we done for them to give them skills for life? I am as guilty as the rest of trying to do these things  for my child. I suppose most of us have done the same. We worry and then there comes a moment when they surprise us and find a way to step up to the plate and meet those challenges just as we did.

The Talmud in tractate Yom 74b comments on chapter 8:3 and gives us some perspective about focusing on real priorities in life. They ask how can there be affliction when the Israelites were eating manna? What was the affliction? 
 Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Asi disagreed on this matter. One said you can’t compare between one who has bread in the basket and one who does not have bread in the basket. In other words the affliction was that there was no leftover food the next day in the basket after they ate the manna. So the people worried each day that they might not have any food to eat each day. Here there is a clear distinction.

The other rabbi said there is no comparison between one who sees the food and eats it and one who does not see the food and eats it. Though the  manna could taste like anything, it always looked the same and did not look as it tasted. But being unable to see the food that they tasted was an affliction.

I use this talmudic text to say that the symbol of  food to represent  life means life’s challenges.  The rabbis are pragmatic about life’s realities when contrasting those with versus those without food.  Yet the other rabbi gives us a different kind of message. One who sees the food he eats verses one who does not see the food. The idea of seeing makes all the difference of the world. The point is not about how it tastes but about not being able to see it. Thus  literally seeing the food is a deeper message which says not seeing could mean not appreciating and not grasping the meaning of having the food that God gives. 
Basically the spiritual message reminds us all that not appreciating what we have and how we survive is like being unable to see those blessings or being able to unable to understand the  blessings we have in life.

So the Torah says that God tested us with hardships of hunger and gave us manna and reminded us that Man does not live by bread alone but that man may live on anything that the Lord decrees.’ This verse along with the rabbis analogy is trying to enlighten us about facing the challenges of life as part of life versus those who do not do so. 

The real spiritual hunger is not seeing or grasping that which we hunger for in life. Food is one level going up the hierarchy.  To see the food is all about understanding and making peace with how we lived and how we continue to live in the world today.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Thoughts on the 9th of Av-Keeping the peace within the Jewish people.

 Modern Jews have trouble dealing with the tragedies of Jewish history. People often tell me that they feel that the sages focused too much on tragedy claiming how it spoils our attitudes towards a positive viewpoint towards being Jewish.
This time of the year is especially geared to remembering tragic episodes in Jewish history. Tomorrow begins the fast day called Tisha B’av or the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av when we remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the anniversary of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 in which the edict was signed expelling Jewish from the Iberian Peninsula.
 We started this series of remembrances by signaling on the 17th day they Hebrew month of Tammuz on June 30th. From this time until July 20th we remember the process by which the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem of the Second Temple in 70CE.  During this interval time leading up to the 9th day of AV, no marriages are performed. This period is called “The Three Weeks.” 
a. Some customs are no eating meat or drinking wines during this period.
b. One is not allowed to say the Shechiyanu prayer
c. No purchasing any new garments.
d. Parents or teachers may not chastise their children during these days.
e. No haircuts during these days for adults or children.
f. The day before the 9th of Av one should not travel for any pleasure.
Laws on the 9th of Av
  1. Be uncomfortable when going to bed.
  2. Do not wear tephillin
  3. Go to services and pray with tears of sadness.
  4. Read the biblical book of Lamentations.
  5. Study the book of Job
  6. A pregnant woman or nursing woman should try to fast.
  7. A woman from the 7th-30th day after birth is encouraged to fast as long as she feels she can do so.
  8. A sick person who is not dangerously ill may fast even if it is for a few hours.
  9. No washing of the body for pleasure. Health purposes is fine.
  10. 10.A woman may not enter the mikveh on the eve of Tisha B’av so that she will not be obligated to have sex that night and through the next day.
  11. 11.No wearing of leather shoes
  12. 12.No marital relations
  13. 13.Business transactions are forbidden until midday.
  14. 14.Work is allowed after midday.
  15. 15.No sitting on a chair until midday.
  16. 16.One may perform a circumcision after midday.

I think we get the point of how serious our sages took these days and how they wanted the Jewish people to feel the pain of exile and loss as part of what it means to be a Jew. This led to the debate in modern times that Tisha B’av would suffice to include the commemoration of the Holocaust. Yet, the state of Israel decided differently and introduced Yom HaShoah in April on the hebrew date commemorating the Warsaw ghetto rebellion against the Nazis.

We also have an additional issue for liberal Jews with regard to the Ninth of AV.  In 1885 when the Reform
Rabbinate developed their first platform of ideas that would guide
Reform Judaism for over 130 years these sages disavowed the return Palestine and the rebuilding of the 2nd Temple. We have come a long way since then when it comes to Zionism. Reform Jews, however, still do not aspire to hold rebuilding the Temple and the sacrificial cult alongside it as a theological goal.
As a matter of fact many Jews especially secular Jews and not only Reform Jews, believe that we do not need Tisha B’av anymore since we have a Jewish state.
Just go to the main plaza of the Western Wall  on Tisha B’av and see the amazing contrast between how the ultra Orthodox stand at the wall and pray with prayers of mourning. Yet the overwhelming rest of the people who fill up the plaza are practically in a celebratory mood. What a paradox!

Many Rabbis today will quote from the Talmudic dictum that the Temple was not just destroyed by the Romans in 70CE but the real cause for the destruction of our most sacred institution was that the Talmud says we were cast into exile because of sinat hinam or baseless hatred within the Jewish people. In other words the teaching has been that because we were divided amongst ourselves we became vulnerable to the Romans. So the idea is that if we are divided today then we too are vulnerable to the same fate as our forbearers. Unfortunately this idea has a lot of relevance to the tensions Israel has these days between ultra orthodox and Reform and Conservative Jewry as well as secular Jews in Israel today. The most recent example is the new bill that the Israeli Knesset passed this week that has, through new directives and policies, fortified the Jewish character of the state of Israel. Whereas opponents of this bill  claim that this new legislation will diminish Israel a pluralistic and democratic state.

The first chapters of the Book of Deuteronomy which are read this Shabbat remind us of how important it is to remember history. Moses outlines the history particularly about the years of wandering in the desert and headed towards the Promised Land. Again Moses is trying to instill in the minds of the first and second generations about to enter the Promised Land a feeling for the past mistakes and triumphs. He too saw how baseless hatred could threaten the inner fabric of this new people chosen by God to introduce Torah to the world.

Mourning the catastrophes of our people’s past is appropriate. Having rituals that help us stay connected spiritually to that past is also fitting.
Reform Judaism may not be able to reconcile the hope to rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem again. But we can make Tisha B’Av the ninth of Av a holy day which reminds us of not letting ourselves be the cause of infighting. History has taught us the results when a nation turns against itself and how it can subject its population to suffering at the hands of new oppressors. It is a good lesson for the leaders of Israel today and for our leaders in this country.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Reflections on my Sabbatical: The Meaning of the Sabbath

Shalom to all,
I just finished my first installment on my Sabbatical. So I published this new column on the meaning of the Sabbath and how we use time to be productive. But is being productive and efficient all that defines a human being?  So I hope you will take a read and click the link to keep this column alive. There are some insights here that might just provide some new thinking about the wisdom of our tradition in the hustle bustle world we all live in.
What do you think?
Brad Bloom

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Battle for the Soul of America: Finding our Better Angels.

This is my fourth of July newspaper column. I recently finished the new history book The Battle for the Soul of America: Finding our better Angels. by Jon Meachem. I strongly advise reading this great book. This is a message to give some perspective on being an American and what it will take to preserve our country. Let me know what you think.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The dangers of politicians quoting Scriptures to justify separating children from their parents who are entering the United States.

This is my most recent newspaper column where I discuss the current issues related to Attorney General Sessions quoting Romans 13 as a justification for incarcerating all children of illegal aliens entering out country from the Mexican border. I am praying and hoping to act too on this subject so as to advocate that the Administration end this policy. So tell me your viewpoint about this tough subject.
Remember to click the link to save this column from the digital deities. Please share this link with your friends and remind them to click the link.
Rabbi Brad Bloom

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The firing of Chaplain Conroy from the House of Representatives.

This piece is about the recent firing of Chaplain Conroy from his position as Chaplain of the House of Representatives. He is the first Chaplain to be fired from the position. I am delighted to report to you that Speaker Ryan restored him to his job this week. So I hope you will read this column and share it with others. Remember to click the link so as to save this column in the world digital deities. Let me know what you think!
All the best.
Rabbi Bloom

Monday, April 9, 2018

Fake News versus "what you do matters."

This is my most recent newspaper column. I write about the story of the two kids at a local elementary school in our community who dressed up as Adolph Hitler. It created a national controversy all the way to CNN. Needless to say the circumstances were very difficult and the publicity was widespread. Yet this column tells the story of how we dealt with the problem and made a positive impact upon 100 fifth graders. Read this piece and tell me what you think.
Remember please click the link so that we can keep this column alive.
Rabbi Bloom