Download Now »
Views on the News

Be a Part of It

September 28, 2008

Media and political operatives are calling my adopted home state, the state of Ohio, a battleground state. TV shows and newspapers are filled with pictures of crowds of Ohioans flocking to hear their favorite candidate.

What moves people to attend these meetings? First, they must wait several hours to clear security and be admitted. Once inside, the speeches they hear are usually just standard stump speeches, having been said many times before, and going to be said many times afterwards. They would have been able to see and hear the event on news broadcasts, or if they need more than a sound bite, on YouTube or on one of many websites. Why go to the trouble of attending a rally in person?

The answer comes directly from the people who attend. They will tell you that there is nothing like being part of something live. There is something in the air that is more than just the words of the speeches.

At these rallies, TV journalists often select parents with children, and ask them the question: Why did you bring your child?

The answer parents frequently give is that they wanted to their child (and themselves as well) to be a part of history. And even if the child doesn't understand the issues, he or she will absorb the feeling of the event. This will make a lasting impression that will most likely have an impact upon the child in the future.

Certainly, we can be well-informed about politics without ever setting foot in a convention hall or joining in a rally. Yet to sit at home, to keep a distance, is somehow not really to take part. By actually going out and joining physically with other people, in one place and for one purpose, something takes place that is unique—we are involved, we are participating, we are taking part.

The idea of "taking part" is vital to Jewish life. Every year at the Seder table, we speak of the need to participate and to relive the experience, not just to think about our history at arm's length: In every generation, each person is required to see themselves as if they had themselves gone out from Egypt.

The Torah sets forth another mitzvah which takes this idea of participation and raises it to the highest level. In the book of Deuteronomy, it describes an event that took place every seven years in which the entire Jewish nation convened as one. At this gathering, we would regenerate our sense of purpose as a people with a task to transform ourselves and the world.

"Hakhel et ha'am," gather together the people – the men, the women the children; whether native born or naturalized – at the end of the Sabbatical year, in Jerusalem, the entire nation together. Assembled there, everyone is to listen as the king reads the Torah, in order to hear and understand the Torah and in order to feel the awe of G‑d.

While one can know certain things at a distance – abstract things – awe is different. It is a profound personal feeling, not a detached thought. It is so profound that it imbues life with a sense of purpose and in so doing transforms it into something intensely meaningful.

And the Torah turns its special focus on the children. Why should children be at such a convention? What purpose does it serve for them?

The Torah says: The children, who do not know and who do not understand, will hear and learn to feel awe of G‑d all the days that you live on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to take possession.

This verse tells us that the inner experience of awe is something so fundamental, so deep, that it touches everyone without exception—that even the children are equal to their parents in this. In this hakhel gathering, each person can sense the purpose that has brought our people as a whole into existence and therefore, every single person, whether man, woman or child, is to be present on this occasion.

As we enter into this New Year on Rosh Hashanah, we move from a Sabbatical year to a year of Hakhel—gathering the people. It is a reminder to us of how Judaism is passed from one generation to another. Though our literature offers unparalleled intellectual challenge, Judaism is not merely an intellectual exercise. Though the Torah speaks of the infinite worth of each individual life, Judaism is not meant to be lived in isolation.

Children and grandchildren – and the child within all of us – thrive on the dynamic excitement of being a part of something great. All have a need to be a part of events that will create lasting memories. And they are inspired most by having their parents and grandparents participating along with them, side by side.

So join together with others this year. Be a part, not only of one historic election, but of a history which continues to change the world. Take your children and come together with your fellows and pray; learn Torah; express your love and solidarity with your people; do a mitzvah. Let us get together and participate in making history, in voting with our feet for concerted deeds of goodness and kindness that will hasten the revelation of the peaceful world that has been G‑d's goal from the start.

A Historic Bailout

September 25, 2008 1:00 PM

It's all but final. In a bipartisan effort, the Congress will soon enact a gargantuan 700 billion dollar bailout aimed at securing the failing banking industry and bolstering the depressed economy. Almost all agree that to allow the banking industry to fail would spell chaos for all, leaving the government with no option but to implement this historic bailout.

What is causing the financial markets to fail? I just read an article in Newsweek that suggests that "the chief cause of the credit market meltdown is not folly, or reckless lending." Rather, "in the past five years Wall Street firms created huge volumes of new kinds of complex securities, such as subprime bonds... [which] lacked long trading history or deep markets." In reporting the value of their assets, these firms had to estimate the value of these new securities. Once many of these debts went sour, confidence in these types of securities plummeted, forcing these firms to reassess their values, thus drastically reducing their firm's reported assets, which in turn leads to bankruptcy, etc.

(The article is filled with technical terms. I hope I properly deciphered its logic...)

What is the personal lesson we can take from this crisis and the resulting bailout, as we prepare ourselves for the approach of the new year, 5769?

Here's one lesson I've taken:

During the past year(s) I have made foolish decisions—in all areas of my life, both material and spiritual. Largely, these mistakes stem from faulty "evaluations." I considered work more important than family, surfing the web more important than prayer, splurging more important than charity, ego more important than my wife's feelings, etc.

And next week as I stand in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, standing with my soul bared in judgment before G‑d, the thought will occur to me. "My G‑d, so many of the 'assets' I've accumulated over the past year are virtually worthless." A modicum of thought will reveal that I am teetering on the brink of insolvency.

But this upcoming week we will be ushering in a new year. A new start. I'll approach G‑d and ask for a monumental bailout. Not because I am deserving, but because otherwise the whole "spiritual economy" is doomed. Without a solvent humanity, His master plan is for naught. Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. G‑d created us to be His partner in implementing His vision of a world of good. He will bail us out because He, as it were, actually needs us for this vision to be realized.

I am confident that G‑d will hear my prayers. He will bail me out, together with all others who are in need of assistance. He will provide each and every one of His children with a year of tranquility, happiness, prosperity and meaning.

And I eagerly await the ultimate and most historic bailout—the coming of Moshiach. May this year be the long-awaited "bailout year."

My First Time Reporting on a Terror Attack

September 25, 2008

Why do bad things happen?

Why are good people punished?

How can a G‑d that is good allow all this to go on for so long?

These are the questions we ask constantly at yeshiva. Indeed, everyone seems to ask them all the time, if they're not too busy avoiding the questions.

To be honest, I've never really had a problem with these questions, for some reason. For most of my life, I figured we lived in a random world where bad and good were hard to define, where everything was gray. And when I started to believe in Judaism, I intellectually accepted all the arguments that came my way. After all, they made sense.

Until three days ago.

Until the world seemed to flip upside down.

Until someone decided to plow his car into a group of people who were trying to lead normal lives in the least normal city in the world.

I remember reading about it as I was about to go to bed on the Jerusalem Post website. It had only happened half an hour ago, I could still get some good interviews.

As I walked hastily towards the center of Jerusalem, I didn't really think about what I was doing, having no credentials and jumping straight into my first time reporting a terror attack. My first time at a terror attack scene.

As I arrived, I was surprised to come upon a sea of Israelis watching the scene. There didn't seem to be a consensus on how to feel. Everyone seemed more shocked, and more determined to see the scene, than anything else. But there was an energy, an angry, confused energy that was clearly stirring everyone.

The next hour was a mess of confusion, a mess of people trying to find answers, being arrested, trying to get close, to get answers, while the soldiers screamed at them, threatened them, to move back, to behave, to stay in control.

It was a window into a world I had never experienced before, a world of real danger lurking at every moment, of real enemies that lurked in the shadows and waited to pounce without warning, a world where one day can be normal and the next can be chaos.

I even was given access into the world on the other end. Some young guys, blinded by their anger, thought that I was an Arab. They looked at me with a hatred I had never seen before. They threatened me, sneered at me, and said sarcastic comments to me.

Was it worth explaining to them who I was? Probably not.

I think it was about this time the world really stopped making sense to me. It was the first hint I had that things were backward, that things didn't make as much sense as I thought they did.

Defining the world by my classes at yeshiva no longer worked. Explaining that G‑d is beyond understanding was no longer enough. Nothing made sense.

As if to distract me from these thoughts, the police took down the barriers to the scene right at that moment. The crowd swarmed. First, everyone watched in complete silence as the car was taken away. For a moment, everything seemed to stop, as the photographers all stood there snapping away at the smashed up creator of mayhem, the weapon used to injure seventeen people and remind Jews everywhere that they would never be totally safe.

Suddenly, a soldier screamed for the car to be taken away already and time suddenly sped up. People ran towards where the car hit a building, trying to see what was left of the wreckage, trying to gain some semblance of an idea of what was going on.

In a matter of no time, the roads were cleaned, the crowd started to thin, and the journalists descended.

The world looked a bit more normal. But I couldn't shake the upside down feeling in my stomach, that things were out control and backwards. I looked for someone to help me.

The first person I interviewed was Yerach Tucker, the spokesman for the First Responder Organization of Israel. I'll be honest. He really didn't help me feel better.

He talked about his experience rushing to the scene, how no one was killed.

And then I asked him how this affected the psyche of Jerusalem. Yerach talked about how Jerusalem was used to these attacks at this point, that as more attacks occurred, they were able to adapt and respond faster, but this, in a way, only made things worse. "It's terrible. It's in the middle of Jerusalem again and again and again."

Seemingly out of nowhere, though, he switched his tone. He said, "It was a big miracle." He said this with a smile. Was he kidding? A miracle? He just talked about how horrible this was!

But he kept repeating it. "It was a big big miracle." People could have been killed, since it happened, "a minute from the Kotel, a minute from the center of Jerusalem."


I moved on to person #2. Gavriel Frievsom. Nineteen. A Zaka Volunteer (Zaka is a humanitarian organization, responding to tragic incidents in Israel). He looked like someone I might have hung out with outside of class. Like a young, nice guy. But he talked like an adult, older than he should have been.

Stiffly, almost without emotion, Gavriel described what had happened. Everything came out in one big sentence, one big rush, as if he was just trying to get it all out,

"10:55 I was walking towards the Old City, I heard gun shots, I turned around, there's a whole brigade of artillery soldiers, they were just touring around the Old City, they were crossing the street... At the same time while they were crossing the street there was this car swerving hitting anything it could see, anything that was moving... At the same time, senior officers from the artillery brigade then shot at that car, killing the terrorist. He then slammed into the wall; within moments, rescue services arrived."

And then he was gone.

Exhausted and close to giving up, I went over and recorded the last person I could find, a man named Eitan Ochaion who was being interviewed by an Israeli news crew. I could hardly understood the Hebrew he was speaking, but I figured I might as well get one last interview and translate it later.

Eitan seemed like the archetypal Israeli Tough Guy. Buff and tanned, he was clearly a normal part of the Israeli scene, a Jew just living his life.

But then he began speaking. Suddenly, all the usual toughness I had seen in Israelis seemed to melt away. He spoke as if on the verge of tears the entire time. His huge shoulders were hunched, his eyes cast down, his voice broke randomly. He was no longer just a normal guy. He was a Jew. He was a human.

Watching Eitan speak, despite not knowing what he was saying, broke my heart. All the feelings I had, all the emotions that I was holding back, they just seemed to come together as I watched him share his story. The contradictions, the horrible, sad situation of seventeen innocent soldiers being injured for no reason, everything, it all came together.

Right after the interview, I put my recorder in my pocket and walked back home.

For days afterwards, I could not help feeling slightly disconnected, as if being at this scene had suddenly placed me in a world of randomness, where G‑d was distant and far, and understanding was an illusion. Where people that didn't deserve to get hurt, to get punished, were hurt and punished daily. Where life was unfair.

Suddenly, yeshiva wasn't so much fun anymore. It seemed like fantasy camp. I might as well have been reading Lord of the Rings rather than the Chumash.

The world was good? G‑d cared about us? Everything happened for a reason? Yeah, right. Seventeen people were hurt for no reason, Jews were angry and defenseless and alone, and G‑d no longer seemed to care.


I tried, I really did, to look at the bright side. To see that it was a miracle. To delve into chassidic teachings, to love the world around me. But nothing seemed to work.

A few days after the attack, I received an email with Eitan Ochaion's translated interview. I was scared. Did I really want to confuse myself any more? Would this help me or just make the balagan (mess) even bigger?

With little choice, I started reading the interview. What he said... it was quite incredible.

Eitan described being near the attack when it occurred, he described hearing about it and "immediately [doing] a 180."

An IDF sergeant came up to him the moment he arrived and said, "I killed him, he is killed inside the vehicle."

And then: "I approached the vehicle, I noticed a woman trapped between the bumper of the vehicle and the wall, hanging between heaven and earth; the bumper of the vehicle was at her stomach area and down. I entered the vehicle. The terrorist that was killed was still in there. I got the vehicle out of shift. I asked for help from a few people that were at the location. We pushed the car back, I managed to release the injured lady, I performed first aid on her. An emergency ambulance arrived immediately, I entered the emergency ambulance and evacuated her to Ein Karem."

I imagined Eitan saying all this, his hunched shoulders, his tears held back, and suddenly, while the picture remained the same, the essence seemed to change radically. Suddenly, his apparent weakness turned to incredible strength in my mind's eye. His body matched his soul. He probably saved that woman's life, had done everything he could to help, and had exhausted his emotional and physical strength in the process.

I wish I had written down Eitan's number so I could call him up and thank him. And thank Gavriel. And thank Yerach. Thank Eitan for helping that woman, thank them for helping me, thank them for helping the world.

I don't think I'll ever truly understand why the world is so upside down, why it's so backwards and twisted around. I don't think I'll ever completely make order of the balagan.

But if the night of September 22nd taught me anything, it was that as long as there are people like Yerach, Gavriel, and Eitan around, I'll always have faith. As long as there are people that care enough about the world to try to bring the sparks out, to show the world how beautiful it can be, even when it's at its darkest, I'll always believe that G‑d is a part of this world.

I remember asking Yerach if he thought Jews would change their habits in Jerusalem, be more hesitant to go out. Amazingly, in such a scene, he gave me a true genuine smile and said:

"I don't think so, it's been happening for two thousand years, from the Inquisition until now. We live it, people trying to stop us from living and going to our holy places and to pray. No one is going to stop us."

The world goes on. The Jews go on. Thank G‑d.

It's Crunch Time

September 22, 2008

I've just returned from Moscow, home to the oligarchs, and where the financial markets had been closed for three days. I was there to deliver a lecture on the theme of "The Challenge of the Jew in the Twenty-First Century." Owing to the current climate, this would invariably have to address the credit crunch as well. One local rabbi made me aware that some philanthropists who though very charitable but otherwise are never seen at Jewish events, would in fact be in attendance.

It should come as no surprise that when people feel the pinch they come searching for meaning. I have no doubt that during the High Holidays synagogues will have increased capacity this year as people feel that heightened sense of concern. That prompts me to suggest we ought to rename the High Holidays to "I Holidays"—if only because we come knocking on heaven's door when we feel desperate, when our bottom line gets hit, when the "I" comes under threat. And while G‑d won't ask why you call on Him when things are tough He'll want to know whether you bothered to thank Him when the going was good.

There is a fundamental concept in mysticism that everything as it transpires in the physical is really a reflection of the spiritual. If there is a physical recession – a credit crunch – that suggests that there is a spiritual recession—a spirit crunch.

We tend to believe that the extra hours we put in will make all the differenceIt's an astonishing catch 22. On the one hand we become so over-indulgent in our material pursuits that we think that "it is my strength and the power of my hand that enables me to achieve" (Deuteronomy 8:17). We tend to believe that the extra hours we put in will make all the difference and so we compromise on the essentials – on family and religion – on the spiritual. In other words it is precisely our determination and obsession with material growth that generates a spiritual recession which in turn feeds back into the material as well.

If only we would be more focused on the spiritual – learning more, observing more, giving more charity especially when the temptation is there to cut back – then the material would take care of itself.

G‑d determines already at the outset of every year how much we are going to earn for that year. We certainly have to make ourselves a conduit through which to receive divine blessing. But even in so doing we must never become indulgent to the point where the material pursuit overtakes spiritual responsibility.

Sometimes we need to look inside and ask ourselves, what has become my objective in life? There is something perverse about "more than enough." When we have more, it is never enough. It is always somewhere out there, just out of reach. The more we acquire, the more elusive "enough" becomes.

The greatest irony of today's generation is that the source of the problems is often the very blessings themselves.

"Not on bread alone does man live rather all that which emerges from the mouth of G‑d is how man shall live." (Deuteronomy 8:3). The goal of Judaism is to combine the physical and spiritual in balance. Daily we recite the Priestly Benediction which consists of three parts. The first, "may G‑d bless you and protect you," refers to the material. "May G‑d cause His face to shine upon you and always be gracious to you," refers to the spiritual. "May G‑d raise his countenance to you and give you peace." This is the notion of finding the right balance whereby we achieve real stability in our lives.

Only hours after landing back from Russia, I walked into Synagogue for Friday night services. I encountered a gentleman who would not normally be there. When I inquired he informed me simply, "I came to say thank you," and then proceeded to tell me about the twists and turns of his own week. I couldn't help but think how refreshing that is, and how if only more people would be inclined to act that way we probably wouldn't be where we are, and if more people can properly adopt that attitude going forward we won't return to it again.

May we all be blessed with a New Year filled with an abundance of material and spiritual bliss, Amen.

A Run on the Banks

September 19, 2008

Well here we are again, another financial crisis. All around the country jittery investors are lined up outside their local banks hoping their money will still be there. It's called a "run on the banks." When there is that run, banks often go bankrupt, too many demands and not enough capital to satisfy them, despite all the signed promises when you opened your account and got your toaster.

Interestingly, at this time of the year there is another kind of "run." A run on the Boss; an inordinate rush of requests, prayers and promises to be good. Ironically, the worse the banks perform the more extreme the run on G‑d. Yet G‑d never goes bust; somehow He has enough for everyone.

Isn't it strange, the tendency to trust the mammoth financial institutions and relegate faith in G‑d to pious scholars? Yet, repeatedly, brokerage houses with hundreds of years of experience are exposed for the flawed entities they are, while G‑d keeps on providing.

G‑d extends us a line of credit – our lives, nourishment, meaning and purpose – even to those with poor credit scores and "iffy" track records. Sketchy business practice, yet a 5768 year track record and still going strong.

We all know the adage that past performance is the best indicator of future results. So next time let's make sure there is no next time, put your trust in G‑d and you'll get a lot more than a toaster.

Negative Campaigning

September 16, 2008 1:30 PM

I admit that this presidential campaign has left me pleasantly surprised. I'm more of a passive spectator, loosely following the news but not hanging on every word uttered by the candidates, however it seems to me that this campaign is largely devoid of the negativity I recall from others in the past. Commendably, even when tempted by the opportunity to sling mud, both candidates have taken the high road and refused to get dirty.

I daresay that this bodes well for our country, no matter the candidate who prevails in the election. And hopefully, this will start a trend for future elections, campaigns characterized by the exchange of ideas rather than insults. Championing rather than ripping causes.

Negative campaigning always reminds me of the following anecdote related by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch:

Rabbi Shalom DovBer, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, had an older brother, himself an illustrious and saintly scholar, by the name of Rabbi Zalman Aharon. As a young child, Zalman Aharon was bothered by the fact that he was noticeably shorter than his younger brother.

One day, Zalman Aharon sneaked up behind his brother and gently pushed him into a small ditch. As Shalom DovBer stood up in surprise, Zalman Aharon gleefully pointed out that now he was taller...

The boys' father, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, observed the entire incident. The Rebbe asked for a chair and asked Zalman Aharon to stand on it. "Tell me," he asked, "who's taller now?"

Zalman Aharon excitedly answered that once again he was taller.

"Aha!" said Rabbi Shmuel. "To be bigger than your friend, there is no need to pull him down. Simply elevate yourself!"

This week, on the 18th of Elul, we mark the birthdays of two pioneers who devoted their lives to campaigning against negative campaigning. I'm talking about Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), father of the chassidic movement, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), who founded the Chabad stream of chassidism.

They lived in Eastern Europe during a time when negative campaigning in the context of government – i.e. speaking against the Czar – wasn't an issue, considering that most people preferred their heads to remain attached to their necks. What bothered them was negative campaigning in the sphere of religion. Specifically in the contest between spirituality and physicality, holiness vs. the mundane, the body vs. the soul.

Before these two chassidic masters entered the picture, it was in vogue to win the battle against materialistic tendencies by deriding the world of the corporeal. It is so shallow... It is what we have in common with animals... Its pleasures are but fleeting...

Chassidic teachings came along and challenged us to put the spiritual on a pedestal rather than wrestle with the material in its ditch. Instead of focusing on the lowliness of the mundane, concentrate on the sublimity of the spirit. As one of the chassidic mentors of a previous generation once said, "if the pleasure seeking people of the world were introduced to the delights offered by prayer and the communion with the divine that it affords, they would abandon all other pleasures and pray all day!"

Crack open a chassidic text and study about G‑d, His awe-inspiring splendor and His magnificent deeds. And G‑d craves a relationship with you and me, as individuals. We can unite with Him through studying Torah, praying, and observing His mitzvot. Vote for the spirit not because the alternative is depressing, but because the spirit is the absolute best place for you to cast your ballot.

And ultimately, chassidism teaches us, the whole materialism-bashing movement is downright misdirected. Materialism is only negative when misused. To quote the Rebbe:

The chassidic school of thought teaches the predominance of form over matter and the unique quality of the material when it is purified . . . the two are to be so thoroughly fused that one cannot detect where either of them begins or ends . . . The One G‑d created them both, and for one purpose—to reveal the light of holiness of His hidden power. Only both of them together will complete the perfection desired by the Creator.

Lipstick on a What?

September 16, 2008

As I entered the profound month of Elul I started to hear much discussion and debate about lipstick. I knew that there must be an Elul message in there somewhere! I began to think about a topic I really don't think about much. Make-up. Of course, everything is found in the Torah so I scoured my encyclopedic mind (okay, I used a CD ROM) for accessorized swine in the Torah.

And wouldn't you know it—King Solomon in his book of Proverbs already makes mention of lipstick on a swine. You don't believe me? Okay, it isn't lipstick, it's another facial accessory, a golden nose ring. "A golden nose ring on the snout of a swine."

But his metaphor goes even further than our lipstick imagery. Not only does it not change the pig, it is in extreme poor taste. So, cosmetics lesson #1: an accessory that does not fit is worse than worthless. It detracts from the image.

Let's take a deeper look at make-up (a bit of an oxymoron there) and other accessories in order to reach the very profound cosmetics lesson #2.

The purpose of make-up is not to conceal—a mask or a paper bag would do a much better job. Rather, it is meant to enhance what is already there.

Certain parts may need to be masked, but it is all towards the larger goal of enhancement. Cosmetics lesson #2: Make-up is designed to showcase the face, and bring out the true inner beauty.

Make-up to enhance who we are is in good taste. Make-up to hide who we are, well, we call them clowns.

So, what does this have to do with Elul? It is a month of change and transformation. So, we need to know the fundamentals of make-up and accessories and how to apply them. Because, indeed, Judaism is chock-full of holy adornments. We call them mitzvot.

A person could look at a mitzvah and say, "It seems so superficial. I take a candle and light it at a particular time. Or, I take a piece of parchment and affix it to the doorposts of my house. But what about my genuine self, the inner me? I can only reach that through meditation and other non-worldly endeavors."

And so we go to cosmetics lesson #2. All of the superficial aspects of Judaism are very significant. They may seem only skin deep, but just like make-up, when applied properly they bring out the true inner beauty. If one decides to give charity, attend synagogue or light Shabbat Candles these are deeds performed externally, but they evince the pure, brilliant light of the neshamah (soul). The mitzvah showcases our neshamah to the outer world, and first and foremost to our own self.

Without the awareness of our neshamah, the adornment may seem to be superfluous or worse. But hidden inside the person is a unique soul, just waiting to shine forth. The mitzvah is regulated with the proper quantity and method of application to enhance who we really are.

This transformation may not be readily perceptible to all. But if we look with the lens of our soul we can see it.

Once during Chanukah, a note requesting a blessing was brought to the Chozeh ("The Seer") of Lublin from a certain individual who was known for his evil behavior. The Seer immediately gave a warm blessing.

A short while later, the man, pleased with the blessing he had received, submitted a second note, hoping to receive another blessing. This time, however, the Seer immediately dropped it to the floor. He wouldn't touch it, as though it were something poisonous.

When his puzzled assistant asked why the Seer had reacted so differently to the two notes, the Seer answered that when he read the first note, the individual had at that very moment been lighting his Chanukah menorah. Because he was engaged in a mitzvah, his soul was shining radiantly, and on the basis of this merit, he was worthy of a blessing. But at the time of the second note...

When we look deeper than our own physical perception, beyond the swine, we come to appreciate each and every holy application. And we realize that this seeming skin-deep activity reaches to the core of our self-identity and is the path to self transformation.

Spiritual Conventions

September 3, 2008

The timing of this election cycle's national conventions couldn't be more apropos—both the major parties choosing to schedule their conventions right around the onset of the auspicious month of Elul.

The purpose of these conventions is twofold: a) The selection of the parties' nominees for president; though, in recent years, with the adoption of the primary system, the convention's nomination process is a mere formality, with the identity of the nominee known well in advance. b) The adoption of the parties' respective platforms. These mission statements outline a party's beliefs and goals—which are regularly modified to reflect the fluctuating needs of the times as well as society's steadily progressing value system.

Nominating a leader and fine-tuning and recommitting to our mission statement. It would be difficult to find words that would better sum up the theme of the month of Elul.

Although G‑d is our king, the process whereby we coronate Him is actually quite democraticRabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi famously said that during Elul the "King is in the field." In a little less than one month we will gather in synagogues and, amidst the piercing blasts of the shofar, coronate G‑d as our king. (For more on this subject, see The Kabbalistic Spin on Rosh Hashanah and Days of Awe.) In advance of that momentous occasion, G‑d is on the campaign trail, hoping that we take the time and effort to nominate Him as our king. For although G‑d is our king, the process whereby we coronate Him is actually quite democratic. (For more on the Jewish concept of monarchy, see G‑d on the Campaign Trail and Moshiach: A Return to Monarchy?)

And just like today's conventions, the enthusiasm and excitement of the moment isn't diminished by that fact that the nominee's identity isn't really in doubt...

Practically, what does this mean? How do we nominate and then coronate G‑d as our king? This is where the "platform" comes into play. We accept G‑d as our king by pledging to be loyal subjects. During this month we examine the past year's deeds and goals, were they in line with what G‑d wants from us? For the coming year, does our platform need minor adjustment – based on an additional year's maturity and spiritual progression – or do we need to head on a new course altogether?

While conventions are serious business, with far-reaching national and even global implications, they aren't somber affaires at all. These affairs are characterized by cheering, celebration, and, most importantly, extreme confidence.

Yes, installing G‑d as king is serious stuff. But we do it with immense pride and joy, and supreme confidence that we will successfully pull it off.

What's the latest news? For that information, check your local or national news outlet. In this blog we will discuss the "why?"

Not "why did this event occur?" but "why did I find out about it?" There must be a reason. It must contain a lesson I can use to better myself and my surroundings. Together we will find the lessons...
Related Topics