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"Jew-ish" - an article by Josh Becker

Thanks, Josh, for sending this to me and allowing me to share it with the whole shul.      



           I have a non-Jewish friend who believes he can ascertain who qualifies as a “real Jew” based upon the extent to which a Jew follows Jewish customs and laws.  I’ve thought extensively about this, and I would like to share the following with you:

            The definition of the suffix “ish” is that which modifies a word to express doubt or diminish the nature of a person or feeling (e.g., I could use a nosh but I don’t want a meal; I’m hungryish).  A gentile friend of mine is convinced that this definition applies equally well to Jew“ish”.  A Sabbath observant person with a yarmulke or wig is a full-fledged Jew; anyone else is quasi-Jew, a.k.a. Jewish.  Einstein was Jewish, not a Jew.  Mark Spitz? Jewish, but not a Jew.  Barbara Streisand?  Not a Jew, but Jewish.  What about you, dear reader?  Are you a Jew or Jewish?  To a Jew (or Jewish person), I hope the answer is obvious.  Semantics aside, Jew and Jewish are synonymous.  No one Jew is intrinsically more Jewish than another.  Yet, what forms this innateness in every Jew?   Why is Harry Houdini as much a Jew as a chief rabbi and vice versa?  It’s true they both have Jewish mothers and are therefore heir to an immemorial lineage, but mustn’t there be something more that makes us Jewish?

            We find the answer in Tanya, a practical, mystical text published in 1796 (5556) compiled by the mystic Rabbi Schneur Zalman.  He explains, imbued within the soul of every Jew lives our Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This is not solely referring to a genealogical lineage, linking grandmother to mother to daughter, but rather a living embodiment of our Patriarchs within us.  The very breath of our Patriarchs, every fiber of their being at every moment of their lives, was utilized to perform G-d’s will.  Consequently, our Patriarchs are referred to as chariots of G-dliness and merited that their descendents for all time be infused with a soul emanating from G-d’s infinite light which is truly “a part of G-d above” (Tanya, Ch. 2).  This is every Jew’s inheritance, forever, no exceptions.  There are no quasi-Jews, only those who are full-fledged.

            What does one do with a Patriarchal, G-dly inheritance?  Should the inheritance be ignored, stored away in a safe deposit box?  Ignoring is in fact a real option, but the inheritance exists regardless as to whether or not you pay attention to it.  By acknowledging the presence of our Patriarchs inside yourself for its own sake, an awe of G-d will be aroused.

            Why should the Jew act upon his G-dly soul?  There are many spiritual worlds that exist beyond and above the physical world where we live, and all of these worlds exist on a higher spiritual plane than our own.  A higher spiritual plane refers to a greater perceived revelation of G-dliness, a higher perceptibility of G-d’s radiance.  For example, as a result of living in these upper worlds, angels can feel G-d’s radiance more tangibly than can we.  Our world belongs to the lowest spiritual rung, where we perceive physicality and ourselves as having a completely independent existence apart from G-d.  In other words, G-dliness is concealed most heavily where we live.  Yet it is in this lowly world where the creation of the universe finds its purpose, and this purpose is realized by acting upon our G-dly soul.

            What is the purpose of Creation and how does one act upon a G-dly soul?  The purpose of Creation is to make a dwelling place for G-dliness, for spirituality, here in the lowest realm.  As humans, we perceive most of what we see as void of G-dliness, when in actuality nothing is void of G-d’s presence.  For example, to the human mind an esrog seems mundane, apart from G-dliness, objectively no different than any other fruit.  During Sukkot, why not combine a lulav with a lemon instead of an esrog?  Both fruits are, after all, shaped and colored similarly.  By waving the esrog and lulav specifically, the purpose of that esrog was bound into holiness as was our G-dly soul.  Yet our G-dly soul could not have connected to holiness without the action, the mitzvah.  Therefore, we act upon our G-dly soul by performing mitzvots. 

            Every Jew can connect to G-dliness through mitzvots, from a chief rabbi to you and I.  The correct definition of Jew or Jewish is “a person vested with the living Patriarchs whose G-dly soul can connect to G-dliness through actions.”

Question - Ki Savo

How many curses are in this parshah?

Question of the Week for Ki Seitzei

What mitzvah can you never do by purposely trying to do it?

How do you recognize spirituality?

On the post What I am Thinking About Talking About this Shabbos, Diane Hahn wrote:

How do you recognize spirituality?

What is the opposite of spirituality?  Some might say phsyicality, but I would say selfishness.  There are forms of "spirituality" which are actually indulgent and trap a person in the ego.  Then there are phsyical acts that can be totally transcendent and selfless. 

So the question is: how do we know if something that feels spiritual is true spirituality or its opposite - the gratification of our own ego?

This week's parsha speaks about kosher animals.  One of the signs of the kosher animal is it has completely split hooves.  We can use the same test for determining whether our own animal soul is kosher.  If we have only one big hoof, that is our actions are only directed in one area, then we are not behaving in a kosher way.  When we can maintain a "split," going from one area of life to the other, then we are sure that we are not just doing what is comfortable or natural.

What I am thinking about talking about this Shabbos

  • Becoming sensitive to spirituality
  • How to approach earning a living
  • Why we need to eat
  • Recognizing our dependence upon G-d

Which one should it be? 

Any other ideas?

This Shabbos - The Rebbe's Father's Yahrzeit

Av 20 is the yahtzeit (anniversary of the passing) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878-1944), in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was Chief Rabbi of Yekaterinoslav (currently Dnepropetrovsk), and was arrested and exiled to Kazakhstan by the Stalinist regime as a result of his work to preserve Jewish life in the Soviet Union.

What I am thinking about saying this Shabbos

“…There is nothing else besides Him.”
Deuteronomy 4:35

“The L-rd is G-d in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is nothing else.”
Deuteronomy 4:39

Benyomin Kletzker was a devoted chosid of the Alter Rebbe who lived in Russia in the late 1700’s and was a lumber merchant by trade. One year, when tallying the annual accounts for his business, he found himself writing on the bottom line: TOTAL: Ein od milvado ("There is nothing else besides Him").

There is an epilogue to this story. When a friend heard of what happened, he criticized the lumber merchant for his absentmindedness, remarking, “There’s a time for meditating upon the absolute oneness of G-d, and there’s a time for business. Being mystically inclined is not a license to be careless in one’s practical dealings.”

The lumber merchant replied, “If one knew that during meditation, a businessman was thinking of the fair in Leipzig, nobody would be the least bit taken aback. So why should it be considered such an offense if during business he slips into thinking about G-d?”

Eve of Tisha B'Av

In hopes of rectifying the cause for the exile - baseless hatred - we invite you to display your baseless love for one another on this blog.
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