Friday, December 9, 2011

Shema Israel: Pasuq 3: "Words and the heart"

In previous weeks we've learned from Verse One the principles of Jewish faith (see here) and from Verse Two our duty to love our God (see here). Today we will analyze Verse Three. 

 "And these words which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart".

The words which are to be upon our hearts are the words: "You shall love HaShem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."

What does it mean: "that these words should be over the heart"? It means that love for God must rule over our hearts and shape our conduct. Merely saying 'with words' that we love Him is not enough. Our actions, what we do, must prove our words and feelings. Same as in a relation between husband and wife, feelings only count when they are expressed by compatible actions.   When our words conflict with our deeds, what count is our deeds. Children know this better than anyone else. They are the best polygraphs! They don't listen to what parents say: the see what we parents do.  We don't need words to transmit religious values to our children. They will not necessarily follow our preaching, but they will surely imitate our doing.

These words... should be over the heart... Loving haShem with ALL our heart means that we should avoid wrong thoughts--like excessive material ambitions-- and wrong feelings--like jealousy or hatred-- to take over our heart. Wicked thoughts and wrong values drive love for God out of our hearts. So, even when we cannot help wrong thoughts and negative feelings coming to our heart, we can, and must, prevent them remaining in our hearts.
(Adapted from R. Hayim Pereira-Mendes: "Jewish Religion Ethically Presented")

Shabbat Shalom!

Candle lighting in NYC: 4.10 PM

Shabbat ends in NYC: 5:18 PM

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rabbi Isaac Lampronti (1679–1756)

Rabbi Isaac Lampronti was born in Ferrara, Italy.  He studied Torah under the great Italian rabbis of his generation: Manoach Provençal and Isaac Chayim Cantarini. In addition, he studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Padua.  Padua was an important center for Hebrew studies by virtue of its rabbinical academies and the fact that Jews were drawn there from all over Europe to study in its university, which was open to Jews.  

At the age of 22, he began to teach in the talmud torah of the Italian community. He introduced many improvements in the curriculum, insisting on the teaching of the humanities concurrently with the study of Torah. In 1718 he was ordained rabbi and in 1743 was appointed head of the Yeshivah - a position which gave him the status of senior rabbi of the city.   

Rabbi Lampronti practiced as a physician. He was an outstanding doctor who gave his services for free to those of limited means.  He had a great reputation as physician, and his contemporaries generally added to his name the epithet "the famous physician."

Rabbi Lampronti's main reputation, however, rests on the fact that he wrote the first Jewish Encyclopedia Pachad Yitzchaq. Pachad Ytzchaq  is arranged alphabetically, each article including material from the Mishnah, the Talmud, the posekim, the rishonim, and the responsa literature. 

In 1872, the city of Ferrara publicly honored the memory of Rabbi Lampronti. A stone tablet was placed on the house in which he had lived bearing the following inscription: "Abitò in questa casa Isacco Lampronti, nato nel MDCLXXIX., morto nel MDCCLVI. Medico Teologo tra i dotti celebratissimo. Onorò la patria. Riverenti alla scienza alcuni cittadini posero MDCCCLXXII."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The 13 principles of Judaism: 3. God does not have a body

"The Creator, blessed be His name, has no bodily form, and bodily conditions cannot affect Him; He cannot be compared to nothing whatsoever."

Attributing to God a human image, figure or condition is called: "anthropomorphism" and it is one of the most characteristic features of pagan religions. The pagan gods are born and die, have desires, fight with other gods, and have bodies. They are in a sense a reflection of those humans who conceive them.

The Tora, numerous times uses references to what seems to be God's body,  like "haShem's eyes watch over the land of Israel" but our tradition explains unequivocally that those are just figures of speech, metaphors, and should not be taken literally.

While other religions conceived their gods in the image of humans, our Tora says that humans were created in the image of God  (Bereshit 1:27). Let me explain this concept. God is the epitome of power, which means that He can do whatever He decides to do, without being pushed or constrained by any exterior impulses or even motives. This is why we call Him "Almighty". Of all creatures of earth, only humans have the power of "freedom of choice", choosing between right and wrong. Humans resemble God in that they are not driven by blind uncontrollable impulses, like animals. Like God, humans have the power of making moral choices.  The more we exercise this power the more we resemble God, and the less we exercise this power and let ourselves be driven by our impulses, the less we resemble God.
In the beautiful words of Rabbi Hayim Pereira-Mendes: "When the Torah says we are created in the image of God, it means not in a bodily but in a spiritual likeness. To be like God we must lead lives that are Godlike or Godly. We are like Him when we exercise loving-kindness, justice and righteousness and take delight in these things." 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CHUPA: Helping our children to get married

The Mitzva of peryia veribyia "be fruitful and multiply" is achieved when one has a son and daughter (see here) but it is fully completed only when we have grandchildren: a grandson and a granddaughter from two of our children (shulchan 'arukh, eben ha'ezer, 1:6).  Part of the Mitzva of peryia veribyia, therefore, consists in the parents helping their children to get married. In this way the parents are partners with their children in fulfilling the first Mitzva of the Tora. 

How do parents help their children? The parents help throughout the life of their children, raising them to be honorable and respectable individuals, and investing in their Jewish and professional education. A good education enables our children to marry with a suitable spouse, and provides them the means and techniques to maintain themselves. Parents also help their children providing them counseling and advise about dating and marriage. When the time comes, parents should be willing to help their children financially with the expenses of the wedding, obviously, according to what the parents can afford. They should also be willing to assist their children in the initial steps of their new life, according to the needs of the new couple and to what parents can afford.

Similarly, every Jew should be willing to help the needy and poor when they want to get married. One of the most important forms of Tzedaqa, considered a category by itself, is the Mitzva of hakhnasat kalla: helping an orphan or needy bride (or groom) to get married. It is a very special merit for individuals and for a community, to assist financially a bride or a groom with insufficient means, to get married. According to the shulchan 'arukh (yore de'a 249:15) hakhnasat kalla, takes precedence over all other types of Tzedaqa. 


Monday, December 5, 2011

Switching to Barekh Alenu

On Shemini Atzeret, we begin reciting in the Amida "mashib ha-ruach umorid ha-geshem" praising HaShem for creating and directing the mechanism of precipitation (=rain). But we still refrain from asking haShem to give us rain for our plants. 


In Israel, because although, after Shemini Atzeret it is a time for rain, we postpone the prayer for rain until the travelers who had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, are finally back home. For them rain is not going to be a blessing. 

In Israel, therefore, even in our days, Jews start praying for rain two weeks after Shemini Atzeret, on the evening of the seventh of Cheshvan. 

In Babylonia, at the time this disposition was established, the Jews who lived there did not need the rain so early, so the Rabbis ruled that in Babylonia the Jews would begin praying for rain on the 60th day of the season of (tequfat) Tishri,  or the "Hebrew calendar autumn".

The Rabbis gave an easy round number for determining the beginning of each Hebrew calendar season. A season consists of exactly 91 days 7 hours and 30 minutes. This makes each year exactly 365 days and 6 hours long, about 11 minutes longer than the actual astronomical calculation of a solar year.

Jews who live outside of Israel, follow the practice of the Jews of Babylonia. Therefore, it has become tradition for all Jews who live in the Diaspora to start asking for rain in their prayers as the Babylonian Jews did.

Based on this calculation, this year, 2011, we will switch to 'Barekh Alenu' tonight, December 5th, in our Arbit prayer.

(Thanks to Mr. Mehran Etessami --our community expert in Hebrew calendar calculations-- for his help with this HOTD)

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