The Season of Our Joy

(Article first published in de Toledo High School’s holiday publication al regel ahat, Fall 2018) It is no coincidence that Sukkot, z’man simhateinu/the season of our joy, is also the holiday that places the greatest emphasis on hosting guests through its idea of ushpizin. The connection between hosting people in our makeshift homes roofed with the season’s…

If…then: A thought for Yom Kippur

Tonight is the start of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. It is a day in which one seeks to clean the slate, begin anew, start a new chapter. But how does exactly does that happen? Throughout the holiday a number of possible logical formulas emerge. Here are a few examples: If one fasts, then…

“Gotta get going, God, see You soon!”

How do you start, or for that matter, conclude, a conversation with God? This is the question the Rabbis of the Talmud grapple with in a fascinating discussion of how the daily amidah (the central part of the Jewish prayer service) should begin and end (see Berakhot 9b). Quoting the great Rabbi Yohanan, the Talmud…

Prayers before Dawn

In the dark hours before dawn, a solitary man walks through a foggy street. Carrying a lantern, he chants a simple melody with even more simple words, “selihot, senhores, selihot.” Such was the scene in the Jewish neighborhood of Curaçao throughout the 18th century at this time of year. In fact, it was the scene…

We interrupt this regularly scheduled blessing over the meal…

We sit around the table as family and friends. Some who have come from near, some from far. The man at the head of the table says the traditional Jewish blessing over bread and by extension the whole meal, “…hamotzi lehem min ha’aretz”. He lifts a morsel of bread to his mouth but then notices…

Conversations with Albus Dumbledore and Break-fast Wisdom

Recently, my family and I were decorating the kids’ rooms with framed quotes from Albus Dumbledore. Among them were, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” and “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” What struck me about these particular quotes…

Our Lives are the Latest Torah Commentary

“ God’s intention in giving us the Torah… is not just performing particular actions that were commanded, but also to always observe and understand the divine lesson and spiritual insight hidden within them ” Rabbi Moshe Herrera What follows below is my translation of a remarkable essay by Rabbi Moshe Herrera (1878-1958) from which the…

What is “religious”?

What is the measure of a proper religious life? Is it the number of mitzvot someone performs? How strict one’s observance is? A spiritual aura? Rabbi Yitzhak Magriso (Turkey, 18th C.) in his Ladino commentary to Pirkei Avot, offers us a profound insight into this question as he comments upon the following mishnah: “(Rabbi Yohanan…

Summer Time Enrichment

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times – Bruce Lee I once asked a teacher of martial arts about this quote and he explained that what Bruce Lee meant was that the mastery of a single movement is far…