“A spiritual leader must comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable.”
themselves – in spirituality. I have a
number of mentors. Some are men, some
are women. Some are relatives, some are
friends, and some are neither.
Hebrew word “Rav.” Rav means “great.” It refers
to someone that is great – great in Torah knowledge, great in character traits,
great in wisdom and great in kindness. Torah
leadership is characterized by the synthesis of those features: Knowledge and
ethics are indivisible. The Torah is
full of character sketches of those that were great in Torah knowledge but not
character – they are not our heroes.
minutiae in Jewish law, advice on budgeting for our new home, whether it’s
ethical to forward an email without permission, and how to navigate family
conflicts. We ask him how much to push
our kids and when to chill out, how to balance our adherence to Jewish law with
the widely divergent observance level of our friends, and whether it would be a
violation of the laws of lashon hara (not to gossip)
to share a story for a greater cause.
Torah. It refers to the special insight
a person cultivates when they learn and live Torah. Likewise, there is a broad range of how
often and how much any given person relies on their Rabbi’s advice and
guidance. In the Chassidic world, there
is a more intense and closely bonded relationship, whereas in other points along the Ortho-spectrum the relationship might be less intense.
intensity of the relationship – the “student” does. As well, the “student” controls who his/her
Rabbi will even be. I remember people
asking me whether my Orthodox Rabbi “allows” me to do this or that. I laughed; my Rabbi doesn’t allow or disallow
anything. He is a public servant, not
its taskmaster. My Rabbi only tells me
what to do if I ask and then I can go home and do whatever I want. Nope, no 1984-type surveillance as far as the
eye can see…
inheritance (who married your parents or officiated your bar mitzvah). Or, by association with a synagogue. People join a synagogue for lots of reasons,
and the Rabbi comes along with the picture.
Few actually “Rabbi-shop,” in search of a life mentor – but that’s the
course I recommend.
living example of Torah. This includes:
honesty, kindness, scholarship, wisdom, selflessness, truth, humility.
relationship with God than I do. I want
a Rabbi who talks to God on a regular basis, who continues his education daily,
pursuing Torah study (as a student, not just as a Rabbi), who recognizes that
Jewish learning never ends. I want a
Rabbi whose faith is so strong and unwavering that when I need encouragement
and strengthening, he reminds me, both in word and in shining example, what a
man of faith looks like.
To maintain a relationship with a
Rabbi-as-mentor, there must be mutual respect.
I must feel that my Rabbi respects me, wherever I happen to be on my
Jewish journey, and that I respect him.
If I am going to be relying on my
Rabbi to help me navigate life decisions, my Rabbi needs to be accessible. My Rabbi in particular happens to be of the
more old-fashioned variety – my husband walks into the study hall where he
studies Torah and asks him questions any day of the week. Or we just call him at home. He’s come over to our home on a dime to
discuss an issue. A Rabbi that is not
accessible is like a fabulous diamond locked in a safe.
Life’s wisdom proven over time.
True Torah leaders are neither
elected nor hired. They arise
organically, by virtue of one person at a time recognizing brilliance, caring
and greatness. Each time we ask our Rabbi
a question we are overwhelmed anew with his sheer piety, insight, and spiritual
connectedness – as well as his genuine caring for us and our small issues. Each encounter is another layer of gift wrap,
reminding us how very blessed we are to have a person like this in our lives.
Who is my Rabbi? I shan’t tell. He would never want to be publicly praised,
and I surely would never want to embarrass him.
But with this I’ll close: if you are fortunate enough to have a Rabbi
that fills the above criteria, please know that you have a precious treasure in
And if you don’t, please know that
the quest to find one is possibly the most important one you’ll ever undertake.
Jews and non-Orthodox Jews. Included on
the Kiddush buffet were gefilte fish, cholent, salads, crackers and dips. Yes, it was a very wonderful Kiddush.
Others had not. The wise Rabbi
had not taught it, since it was a custom, and many people at the shul were
driving to shul on Shabbos and eating cheeseburgers and other more obvious
non-Orthodox habits of the sort.
Therefore, he was very selective about which points of Jewish law he
chose to share, so as not to overburden or embarrass his constituents.
altogether, took his fishy plate and proceeded to load up on delicious,
steaming cholent. Another Jew, aware of
the issue, but not quite as sensitive as the Rabbi, and with truly sincere and
good intentions, maybe, honed in on said Jew and proceeded to inform him that
he must use a new plate for the cholent, as the original plate was fishy and
therefore violated the fish/meat combo custom.
head in dismay.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to blog about JFX.
JFX is an organization that my husband and I and some friends began 7 years ago. We were back in Cleveland after having lived in Israel and Buffalo Grove, IL, and were running some Torah classes with some folks that my husband had met at bris ceremonies. And they said: “Who knew Judaism was so cool??? Will you teach our kids?”
And we said: “Yes!”
And JFX was born.
At this point we run 10 different kinds of programs such as Sunday school, Shabbat events, Bnei mitzvah, holiday celebrations, classes of all kinds, and Israel trips. And that’s all very cool, and you can check it all out on our (shameless promo) website: www.jewishfamilyexperience.org. Be sure to check out the blog too – it’s fun.
But that’s just the face of JFX. There’s a whole other part to us: the soul.
Basically, we’re a family. A community. My husband and I, we’re like the parents. And then there’s all this extended family. They’re all my friends. We like hanging out with each other. We invite them for Shabbos and they invite each other. We take care of each other in joys and sorrows. No, we’re not all the same. Some keep Shabbat and some go to Vegas Friday night. Some keep kosher and others… don’t. Some don’t gossip and some wear skirts. Some kids’ go to day school and some to Hawken and some to public school. Some wear kippahs and some lay tefillin and some are atheists. But, I dunno, it works.
And we all are investing our kishkes into our kids. Making sure they stay Jewish. Making sure they love it. Making sure they find it cool, fun, and awesome. Making sure they know the Rabbi’s cell phone number.
JFX is so special to me. I feel humbled and loved and enveloped and grateful.
JFX… I love you.
This post is inspired by Renee of Dr. Fried’s office!
So yesterday my son had an orthodontist appointment. Which means that Renee asked me about 50,000 questions about Judaism. And she made a comment that really made me sad.
She said that some of her friends feel that Orthodox people are hypocrites.
I asked her what she means and she mentioned an example (I don’t want to get specific due to the rules of lashon hara – gossip) where Orthodox people had done something wrong.
She said she thinks people expect Orthodox people to be “better than that,” to be an example. Or at least that if they consider themselves to be “better than other people” they ought to at least live up to that notion.
This is problematic both logically and morally.
1. A hypocrite is someone who preaches one thing, and behaves in a way that is different from what he preaches. Not all Orthodox people are preachers. If a rabbi misbehaves, or a teacher of Torah, OK – that’s hypocritical.
2. Otherwise, this is called being “inconsistent.” All humans are inconsistent. Does anyone ALWAYS speak kindly? Act morally? Eat healthfully? Of course not. Some people gossip but eat kosher, others refuse to gossip while sitting at a non-kosher restaurant. Both of these are inconsistent – but not hypocritical. And still far better than doing neither.
3. The epithet “hypocrite” is very strong and negative, and should be used sparingly and carefully.
4. Just because someone is Orthodox, doesn’t mean he has a strong relationship with God or with a rabbi, which are things that will help deter bad behavior.
5. Judaism requires us to give the “benefit of the doubt” in a given situation. That means if we see something that seems odd, we are required to say, “maybe they don’t realize that’s wrong, maybe I don’t have the whole picture…” Otherwise, this is called being judgmental, which is perhaps just as bad as being hypocritical.
6. Anyone who is identifiably Jewish has a responsibility to understand that his actions will serve as an assumption point for all Jews of his affiliation. So if you’re wearing a kippah/yarmulke, you’d better be driving courteously. If you’re wearing a headscarf, you’d better wait in line patiently at Heinen’s. Because right or wrong, others will judge all religious Jews by your actions.
And finally, we have to recognize that as Jews, we are constantly being assessed by the non-Jewish world. How do we want them to view us? To treat us? Are we treating each other that way?
What are your thoughts on hypocrisy among Jews?
It appears that everyone wants to hear about large families (see yesterday’s comments).
So here’s my completely disjointed response to yesterday’s questions:
1. Some large families and some small families parent irresponsibly.
2. Some large families and and some small families find it hard to pay the bills.
3. Some Orthodox men begin their marriage by studying in kollel full-time (Kollel – a non-profit institution where married men study advanced Talmud full-time and receive a stipend to do so. It’s a Hebrew word that means “all-included” since the idea is that the families’ needs would be taken care of. Pronounced “KOE-lell.”)
4. Men who study in kollel receive a stipend for doing so. Many also receive help from parents.
5. Men who study in kollel typically do so for a temporary number of years (before they have a lot of kids) at which point they seek employment in the “regular” world.
6. Most kollel men that I know (agreed, this is anecdotal and unscientific) are incredibly helpful with bedtime, bathtime, grocery shopping, diaper changing, and the like.
7. Kollel life is not for everyone.
8. Using birth control is a concession in Jewish law, intended to be applied in certain circumstances and at certain times in one’s life. Using it too liberally or not liberally enough are both problematic in Jewish law, and therefore (weirdness alert) is done with the guidance and mentorship of a Rabbi – a huge factor in Jewish living that I talk about all the time (those of you who know me are smiling).
Is this weird?
Yeah, but if you have a Rabbi that you respect and are close to, there is seriously no more satisfying way to live life and make tough decisions with serenity, clarity, and wisdom.
Is it weird to talk to your DOCTOR about birth control? Sometimes, but you do it anyway, because you need guidance, right? Same deal.
I know Rabbis who have insisted that families use birth control even when they didn’t want to.
9. That having been said, having money or not is NOT a factor. The mother’s mental health is the key factor. Don’t you know people who have grown up with very little by way of materialistic stuff, but in a loving, happy home (whether large or small) who are so happy and well-adjusted?
Of course if you are incapable of supplying your family with basic needs, this is a problem, but chances are that will impact on the mental health of the mother.
10. Would you agree that many of the things we think we need money for are not our basic needs? Would you agree that our expectations are quite high? I know I’m in this boat. I think of how people were raised two or even one generation ago and am actually embarrassed.
11. Being poor is nothing to be ashamed about. The economy’s collapse proved that even really smart people with really expensive and impressive degrees could not scrape it together.
12. The reason birth control is not openly discussed in the religious world is because it is highly personal and considered immodest to be discussed casually. This is a good thing. The casual and open discussion of people’s most personal lives does not bode well for us. The first time a casual acquaintance asked me, “Are you guys done?” I almost passed out. That said, my friends and I all knew that it was there if and when we needed it, again, with the guidance of a Rabbi.
13. When you see families with “a lot of kids” – what do you think is their motivation? If they don’t seem to have enough money, or seem sapped and zapped, why do you think they do it? It can’t be easy, so what do you think is driving this?
14. Any husband who doesn’t help his wife is doing wrong in the eyes of Torah. This is true whether he thinks he’s doing a mitzvah by studying Torah when she needs him, or whether he’s off playing golf.
15. Tuition in today’s day schools is a very big problem, bigger than me, that people much wiser than me are trying to solve, and deserves its own attention. All I will say is that we, the parents, have created a monster by expecting a smartboard in every room, in-house, nutritious lunches, a speech, occupational, and whatever else kind of therapist available for free to each child in school, and many other amenities that were completely unavailable to the children of yesteryear. We have very high expectations, then reel at the bill. But again: this problem is way bigger than me, and I do not claim to have good answers.
16. I feel that raising a large family is the most ideal and beautiful way (again: when possible) to raise wonderfully well-adjusted, unspoiled children who will become the parents of the next generation.
Tips on how I, personally, manage my brood coming soon… 🙂