Monday, May 25, 2009

God, What’s Inside the Box?

When I was a kid, I used to love my birthday. For weeks in advance I would count down the days. My anticipation was not for the cake or the party, but for the gift! Sometimes I would sneak into my mom’s closet a few days beforehand to shake the wrapped box and try to guess what was inside.

Since the day after Passover we have been counting toward Shavuot. So what’s the gift waiting for us at the end of the fifty days?

The beginning of The Ethics of the Fathers begins with a description of the transmission of the Torah: “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai, and then passed it to Yehoshua…

The Maharal of Prague asks a question: why does it say that “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai”? Did he not receive it from God?

He answers that if the teaching had stated “Moshe received the Torah from God,” then we would have thought incorrectly that God bestowed wisdom only on Moshe. Really God is constantly bestowing wisdom on each and every one of us.

The learning of Torah is nothing short of God intimately bestowing his precious gift upon us. This is why we say the blessing over the Torah that God is the “giver of Torah;” God is constantly giving freely to whoever wants to receive.

On Shavuot we are not only celebrating the historic event of Moshe receiving the Torah, but also the gift of our own, personal, unique relationship with Torah and God, which is accessible in each moment.

Sparks are Flying!

Thanks to everyone for your comments and encouragement. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive.

Great news: an editor from the Arutz Sheva Israel National News website saw the blog and wants to host it on their website. I will still be posting here, but please check it out there starting later this week:

Michael Kaye left a very interesting comment on the blog last week:

…Fire can also allow stiff things to bend and become moldable. And it can destroy. Without help, the Torah's fire can burn, wound and even scar a person or family.

Michael’s comment reminded me of a story. Dena and I were catching a ride home (OK, we were hitchhiking from Jerusalem, but it’s very common here!) and got a lift from a middle-aged man with long pe’os, a beard, and a large white kipah driving a beat-up white truck.

He was griping about something for a few minutes; my response was, “I hear.”

“I hear,” he yelled suddenly. “What do you mean, ‘I hear!?’” He then berated me for five minutes how the facility of sight was superior to that of hearing, bringing a few weak proofs from the Torah. I sat there praying to myself that we would get home soon.

He asked us where we wanted to get off; I told him to drop us off at the intersection and then we would walk the rest. He started screaming that Jews are from the seed of Avraham, who embodied kindness, and insisted that he would take us all the way home.

This was a holy Jew with too much fire. We need a burning desire for God and Torah to fuel our religious lives, but I agree with Michael that the fire needs to be properly contained.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Practice, Practice, Practice

In high school I was in the drum line in the marching band. Our director Mr. Maxwell was always very strict during our after-school practices. “Do it again,” he would say, despite the thick humidity of the South Florida afternoon. “How you practice is how you perform.”

In the Book of Devarim, the Torah calls itself a “consuming fire.” Why would it use such a destructive symbol? I heard from Rabbi Natan Lopes Cardozo in the name of the Katav ve'Hakabbalah that even though Israel received the revelation at Mt. Sinai as a nation, each and every person experienced that revelation in a completely unique fashion.

What enabled one to have a deeper sense of revelation than the next? It was preparation. The idea is to make ourselves combustible, to ready ourselves for the fire, here symbolized as the Torah. The key to spiritual experience (or achieving any goal) is preparation.

The 49 days from Passover to Shavuot was that time of preparation for the Israelites in the desert. For us, leading up to Shavuot is a time to work on our character traits and try to shed bad habits. In this way we become more combustible to the holy fire of Torah, and can become a vehicle for its light.

Mission Statement

First and foremost I plan to use this space to share ideas and thoughts that have inspired or challenged me. I hope they will have a similar effect on you.

I intend for Sparks from the Fire to be unique in several ways. First of all, I plan to keep it short. I find that I skim longer pieces on the web, and I think many people do the same. Also, by writing a short piece I intend to present an idea refined to its basic components.

Much of the writings of Judaism focus on its legalistic components. Here we will focus on deepening our three basic relationships: with G-d, with the greater world, and with ourselves.

Lastly, I will include personal experiences, thoughts, and stories. Ideas take on deeper significance when seen through the lens of life.

I hope this will be a forum for grappling with ideas, not just accepting them. Only through your feedback on the blog can we reach deeper understanding.