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Pondering Jew

The Other Black Box on the Plane

November 10, 2016 11:15 AM

My husband Zev and I arrived at the airport gate for a morning flight to California. He typically goes to shul to pray, but our flight was too early. He decided that he had enough time before boarding for morning prayers (Shacharit). It’s times like these that I admire his commitment to praying“What are you doing?” she asked. three times a day—morning, afternoon and evening—no matter what he’s doing or where he is.

He was standing with his huge prayer shawl, his tallis, draped over his head, with his tefillin strapped to his head and arm when a sweet-faced little girl skipped up to him and asked plainly: “What are you doing?”

“That’s a good question,” he answered in a teacher voice I’ve never heard him use before. “We’re Jewish, and this is how we pray.” He told her how the tefillin are special boxes he wears every day. (“Except on our Sabbath,” I chimed in.) She seemed to be satisfied with that answer, and after we both praised her for her curiosity and boldness, she skipped back to her father to share her lesson.

Tefillin are known in English as phylacteries, but few people know what that word means either, and certainly not a 6-year-old. But they make a strong visual statement, especially when worn with the prayer shawl, and especially to the uninitiated.

Like every mitzvah in Judaism, tefillin are packed with spiritual energy, purpose and meaning. Inside the boxes are written parchments withThe little girl wasn’t the only one who noticed passages from the Torah; a Jewish man wears tefillin daily to remind him that, in everything he does, his head, his heart and his actions should work harmoniously and with proper intent. (In a nod to the power of Jewish women, G‑d knows we don’t need to be reminded of this.)

The little girl wasn’t the only person who noticed my husband praying. Traveling home, Zev stood up on the plane to say afternoon prayers (Mincha). When we landed in Pittsburgh, a stranger from across the aisle smiled and said: “Thank you for your work.” (If I didn’t know better, I would have thought he knew I was sharing this.) Zev and I both laughed demurely as I answered: “We try.” We laughed even more demurely when he called us “G‑d’s messengers.” The stranger was just reminding me of what I should already know—that G‑d wants me, as a Jew, to be a light unto the nations in everything I do.

Some days this work is harder than others, but I try.

Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes a weekly blog about Jewish spirituality.

My Existential Crisis

November 1, 2016 4:52 PM

When I was growing up, it seemed like I was the only one I knew who questioned the meaning of life. This lack of clarity caused me tremendous anxiety as a child, and even as a teenager. I was happy when I stopped thinking so much, when I stopped questioning why I had been dealt a relatively good hand. Finally, IIt seemed like I was the only one I knew who questioned the meaning of life could enjoy life the same way everyone else did until my luck ran out, or better yet, until my life ran out. But I always held out hope that before I died, I would learn the truth of the world.

My journey towards this truth began when my husband Zev and I attended a Chabad Shabbaton in 1987. By then, I already knew I was living my non-observant life because I was Jewishly ignorant. What compelled me to buy into Torah observance after that weekend was a fundamental concept I learned there: G‑d indeed exists, and He gave the Torah to the entire Jewish nation to teach us how to reveal His presence in a world that conceals it. Through the Jewish people’s efforts, and everyone’s efforts, in partnering with G‑d to perfect the world, goodness will eventually saturate all of creation. This will then “tip the scales,” catalyzing a transformation in the world through the coming of Moshiach, at which time everyone will physically perceive G‑dliness. I had never heard such a plausible explanation for the purpose of existence, or the purpose of the Jewish people.

But it was also my moment of truth: If I wanted a world that made sense, as a Jew, I should commit to hastening the Messianic redemption by learning Torah and doing mitzvahs. Even though my husband and I would need to completely change our lives, that’s exactly what we decided to do.

And as hard as it was to change, I never regretted my decision. Especially because over time (a lot of time!), I could feel how learning Torah and doing mitzvahs transformed everything about me. I was also incentivized by the LubavitcherAs hard as it was to change, I never regretted my decision Rebbe’s promise that Moshiach could come at any moment. The Rebbe assured everyone that just one small good deed or a fleeting thought of wanting to be closer to G‑d could be enough to catalyze this process. This is what I aspire towards personally, and what I hope my writing will inspire in others.

Writing about Moshiach helps me think more concretely about his coming, and I try to behave as if he’s already here—by seeing the underlying G‑dliness in everything and everyone. But as much as I try to be a G‑dly person, there’s always a part of me that feels its own existence, that grapples with less-than-holy impulses (thank you, Adam and Eve, for bequeathing me my inner evil). The more I recognize this deficiency within myself, the more I can ask G‑d from the depths of my soul to fix me and my world. Because we all need Moshiach.

It’s becoming so clear that many of the world’s problems cannot be resolved naturally. Because now more than ever, G‑d wants everyone to see that Moshiach is not just the Jewish answer for the world. It’s the only answer for the world.

Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes a weekly blog about Jewish spirituality.
Lieba Rudolph lives in Pittsburgh, PA, and writes a weekly blog about Jewish spirituality.
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