Friday, August 04, 2006
In memory of Yehudis bas Alexander Ziskin. To dedicate a future Table Talk, please send an email.
The world has changed a little bit since we returned to America from Israel six years ago. One of the changes that I am sensitive to is the increase in existential challenges to the Jewish People (some would say that this is not so new).
Soon after I had arrived to Silicon Valley in 2000, I found myself in the office of a certain prominent venture capitalist. My goal was for him to study with me, and thereby become a role model for others.
His objection: "I don't know what we have to talk about, Rabbi, you see, I don't believe in God."
"That's OK," I retorted with a straight face, "I don't either."
His nonplussed expression told me that this was not what he expected to hear from a rabbi.
I explained: "I'm sure whatever you mean by God I don't believe in either."
A similar common objection to studying that I often hear is this:
"No thanks, Rabbi, I'm frankly not interested in organized religion."
To which I have the same retort: "That's OK, I'm not either."
Let's face it: most Jews have had at best a cursory Jewish education. If you are one of those, how can you make an intelligent choices about anything Jewish? Is it possible that a 3,300-year-old tradition has something for you? If you decide not to study as an adult, you are effectively choosing not to peek inside a room that may contain....?
Here's an example. Try posing this quiz at your table:
What's the main reason to go to synagogue?
A) to pray
B) to socialize
C) to be a good Jew
D) to meditate
E) to give the kids a Jewish experience
In my humble opinion, the correct answer is D (see Ch 1 of my book).
One small example is the Shema Yisrael (Ch. 6). This little piece of liturgy is by all measures a meditation, not a prayer. When you learn the details of how the Torah says to use it, I think you will agree! (maybe I'm wrong; let me know).
The Torah doesn't say anything about going to synagogue. If that helps you in a meditative way, all the power to you. But if you can accomplish that level of kavana (mental and emotional focus) better at home, then that's the best place for you to practice your Judaism.
Of course, the first thing to do is to study. I would like to challenge you and your dinner table to find out what the Shema really means (Ch. 6) and how it is used meditatively.
It is also something like the Jewish People's mission statement. In this day and age, when we are under fire around the world, whether you are wearing your Judaism on your sleeve (or head) or not, the Shema is a private way to declare that you're a member of the Tribe.
(Our condolences to the Seattle Jewish community on the not-random murder of one of their beloved leaders last week; in Baltimore, a molotov cocktail thrown at the JCC-Baltimore Hebrew Univ. complex on Wednesday, but has not grabbed national headlines because the police haven't labeled it a hate crime.)
If you would like to help Israelis in dire need, there are many opportunities. See last week's Table Talk. There are also organizations housing refugees from the North in hotels, getting their kids into summer camps, etc, and funds are badly needed.