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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Every day, something to think about and to learn!

In November, there’s a big push in Jewish outreach and education to teach people to read Hebrew. I am going to be signing up for one of these classes because that is one of the things my rabbi said was very important. Since I can’t afford to pay for regular classes, a crash course seems great. Get the basics, and practice.

In today’s Jewish Treats, the theme of choosing your friends wisely is revisited.

The Company You Keep
Immediately following the morning blessings, there is a short prayer that asks God for protection from “arrogant people and arrogance itself, from a bad person, a bad companion, a bad neigbor, a bad mishap, a destructive adversary, a harsh trial and a harsh opponent…”

In this short prayer, we learn the importance of guarding our social environment. And while this supplication requests that God not lead us into situations in which we might be tempted to err, we are, after all, free to choose our circle of friends and acquaintances. It is therefore extremely important to think carefully about the people with whom we associate.

It may seem obvious to say that we should choose friends who share our values. Yet people often find themselves in difficult situations when a social acquaintance acts in a less than admirable manner. What does one do about a cousin who shoplifts or a co-worker who gossips?

Ideally, we should separate from that person. Such was the example set by Abraham when he chose to separate from his nephew Lot after discovering that Lot allowed his herds to graze on other people’s property. (Genesis 13)

Unfortunately, separating yourself from such situations is not always feasible. Sometimes the best we can do is to try to avoid them (e.g. not going shopping with a would-be shoplifter or staying away from gossipers). Since walking away from such situations can take a great deal of emotional strength and fortitude, and is sometimes impossible, we ask God to help us avoid them in the first place.”

This goes into what I was talking about yesterday, choosing to avoid friends who are gossips because I know that it encourages me to slip into bad habits. But what about when you are with people and the gossip starts? What do you do? Stay silent and hope your obvious discomfort discourages the behavior? Forget yourself and dive into the juicy details? Speak up and mention that you are not comfortable gossiping? I think maybe I’ll make the commitment to take door #3 and try to have the courage to speak up. We’ll see how that goes.

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on loshon hara

My Torah Partner suggested I sign up for this daily email lesson about loshon hara, which I am enjoying a lot and which is giving me a great deal of fuel for thought. I’m reprinting part of it here, but if you’re interested you can sign up for it here [linked site has audio] and there’s other content on the site that is interesting.

Day 38 – The Habitual Speaker of Loshon Hora
“The primary prohibition against speaking loshon hora is: Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people (Vayikra 19:16). However, the Chofetz Chaim demonstrates that this sin can involve the transgression of numerous positive and negative commandments. The baal loshon hora, habitual speaker of loshon hora, can easily accumulate a multitude of transgressions at a rate unparalleled by any other sin. That is why the Sages say that speaking loshon hora is worse than even the most severe sins.

Furthermore, it is virtually impossible for the habitual speaker to ask forgiveness of everyone who was affected by his sinful speech; thus, he will find it difficult if not impossible to achieve full repentance for his sins.

The Sages caution us to avoid associating with a baal loshon hora, and not to live in the vicinity of such people.”

There are people I avoid because they are terrible gossips and seem to thrive on speaking ill of others. Whenever I am with them, the discussions invariably turn to gossip about other people. I would love to say that this is all on them, but in all honestly, I think that I allow them to totally bring out the worst in me in that regard. When we’re together and I gossip, it isn’t their fault or responsibility, but mine. I avoid them because yes, it makes me uncomfortable, because yes, I don’t want to speak loshon hara, but also yes because I acknowledge that I’ll probably give in to the temptation when we’re together. I’m surprised at the things that make up loshon hara. Sometimes saying nice things is loshon hara, it isn’t just gossip or being mean and petty. It’s a very complex thing and I didn’t fully understand it before. Well, I still don’t understand it, really, but at least it is here for me to learn now. I’m so grateful to my Torah Partner for hooking me up with this, I’m learning something every day and it is just the right sized “bite.”

Also, I love the weekly parsha from G-dcast and this week’s is great – I tried to embed it but for some reason WordPress won’t let me, so clicky the link and enjoy the brief animation.

Parshat Lech Lecha from G-dcast.com

More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com

The band in the episode, Stereo Sinai, is great. I want to buy and download their music, but unfortunately the widget they use keeps crashing Firefox, and they don’t sell CDs. Woe!

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on eating pork

I’m reading this book called “The Kosher Pig” by Richard J Israel, which was recommended to me by, surprisingly, a non-Jewish friend who had just read it and enjoyed it a lot. He thought I’d get a kick out of it and find it interesting and he was totally right. It is basically a collection of essays and observations about Judaism and modern, secular society, written by a rabbi. Funny, witty, insightful, it gave me a lot to think about.

I was struck by one of the essays in particular in which, and I am paraphrasing here, he basically tells this story about how someone fed his dog half a ham sandwich and got this huge laugh out of feeding the “Jewish dog” ham and told him how much his dog loved the pork every time they met. Like this dude got a huge kick out of it and could not drop it. And the author says that while this person was probably innocently just finding some humor in the situation (because a dog cannot be Jewish), actually giving a Jew pork is an incredibly anti-Semitic and hateful act. That it is that deep rooted hate and anti-Semitism deep down in our culture that makes the joke “funny” to his friend, even if hate and anti-Semitism were not the conscious intent.

And what of the Jew who chooses to eat pork? Hrm. Shellfish, mixing meat and dairy, well, those are not good and you are disobeying G-d if you eat them, he says, but pork? The author contends that for a Jew to eat it is a self hating act. It made me think. Because, you know as I’ve written here before, I really kind of love pork. It was one of my favorite meats before I became observant and giving it up was hard. Is still hard. So this is a lot of food for thought. I get a lot of cracks about dietary laws from my friends, for some reason people seem to find my former love of bacon double cheeseburgers to be hysterical. I used to find it hysterical, once upon a time. Like, it was funny to me because I was specifically breaking not one, but two dietary laws. And honestly? I’d go get them after sundown on a Friday, just for extra laughs.

Ouch.

Now? I don’t see that as funny, more sadly disrespectful and clueless. I feel sorry for doing it. I see, I think(?), how it was a hating thing, how it devalued everything Jewish in me. I’ve joked before, “Dear G-d, sorry for the cheeseburgers and lobsters.” but you know what? I really am sorry for the bacon cheeseburgers. I was clueless. Now I’m not.

I don’t think it’s going to be quite as hard to walk past that BBQ place anymore.

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drowning.

Please throw me a life preserver.

Ok, I’m really not actually drowning. But, I have come to a kind of harsh realization that I am not going to really progress here unless I commit some time and energy to studying, and that’s exhausting to contemplate. I’m so tired. I’m drowning in so much homework. Yet, I don’t want to lose my momentum. It’s hard to make time for everything I want to do. I know it should be easy to prioritize, but it all seems so vital. I may be drowning, but I have precious few outlets for joy and giving even one up to make time for shul and studying yet another bunch of topics plus Hebrew, that’s tough. Sometimes the idea makes me want to weep with exhaustion, but that could also be that it’s forty minutes to shabbos and the end of my week and I’m just tired.

Things with my Torah partner are not going great, we keep missing each other. I think it is a byproduct of two busy lives on two opposite coasts, but we keep setting up appointments to study and then something happens and it falls through. I certainly don’t blame my Torah partner who I know is really busy, but it’s disappointing to keep getting excited about this and then not getting to start. Well, I’ll just keep at it, hopefully we’ll get a breakthrough soon. I had hoped to be learning by now.

I haven’t been back to shul in forever. The social anxiety/fear of people keeps kicking in. I’m going tomorrow because my friends are in town from NYC, and have invited me to eat lunch in their sukkah. It will be more challenging when they go back and I don’t know anyone anymore. God forbid someone tries to talk to me casually, when I haven’t prepared. Fishmonger at Whole Foods asked me how I was today, and I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to run away. He made direct eye contact, he was warm and friendly and kind, and I felt threatened and unable to respond so I hurried away after some awkward small talk. Have resolved to go back next Friday and ask him how HE is doing, but, it will not be as genuine because I will have prepared. What can I say? People scare me when they roll up on me too fast. This means I am lonely and often ill prepared for unexpected social contact. Shul is sometimes tough because it is a LOT of unexpected social contact and chitchat. If I can’t handle the fishmonger, how can I handle a room full of people at shul? It builds up in my head and every week I confront it. Usually it wins. Tomorrow, with the promise of friends, lunch and a sukkah, I hope it loses.

The food thing is going really well. Now my big struggle seems to be avoiding inadvertently mixing meat and dairy. We’ve gone ovo-lacto-vegetarian at home, with fish once a week, so I think that actually makes us pescatarians. The point is, I’m not buying or cooking meat or poultry any longer, so it’s easier to avoid mishaps. I found some great kosher cookbooks and have been experimenting. We are by no means ready to kosher the kitchen, but we’re learning a new way of eating and I am compelled to cheat less and less, or rather, I am compelled to honor the mitzvah more and more despite temptation.

I’ve started to rather pathetically look forward to each Friday night, to lighting my candles and letting it all drop away, all the responsibility and work. It’s tough because I feel guilty. I have homework. I should study. I’m not studying enough if I’m not studying during shabbos. It’s a terrible feeling. But at the same time? I so welcome the respite. Conflicted, a bit.

There wasn’t really a point to any of this, as much as I just wanted to say, “Still Jewish.”

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small moments of connection

So around here, we are, as I say all the time, just edging into things. This occasionally gives me fits, because I tend to be a little all or nothing about stuff. If I am spinning, I want TONS of fiber, six spindles, two flyers (lace and regular) and extra bobbins. If knitting, I want needles in every size. I get a little obsessive. The problem with being all or nothing is, very often you don’t actually ever start.

So last night we lit shabbos candles! And they were *real* shabbos candles, the ones that only burn for about 3 hours. I was horrified to discover that at some point, somewhere (probably when we moved) my great grandmother’s silver candlesticks that came from Russia with her family, the ones that I’d never used before because they were specifically shabbos candlesticks, they got lost. I had them when we moved out of Casa de Slumlord but they don’t appear to have made it all the way to Casa Fabulous. Did a box go astray? I’m so sad. There might have been tears.

We MacGuyvered a fairly beautiful, and passable shabbos table out of what was on hand. The front of the house, at least, was clean, as clean as I could make it in the hour and a half I had between getting home from school and candle-lighting time. I found my grandmother’s hand embroidered challah cover, and it had pride of place on the table. So tradition and family history were not entirely lost. We lit our new kosher candles, blessed bread and wine, dipped apples in honey, ate our dairy dinner and spent time together. I knit on my sweater. We watched a movie together. The laptops stayed closed, the emails went unanswered. The schoolbooks stayed unopened in the backpack. The cellphone went unanswered. And in those moments, those small moments where yes, we were doing it wrong, but we were still doing it… I felt connected. I felt peaceful and plugged in to something bigger than me and that was exactly what I’d hoped for. It was like the Shabbat nights of my childhood, and that feels like a good starting point to pick up from as the new year progresses. It was simple and uncomplicated and for once, I didn’t overthink it to death because it was “not perfect.” I didn’t apologize for where we’re at. I just let it be there, and that was exactly where we were meant to be.

L’shanah tovah, good shabbos, and let this trend be sweet and ongoing!

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A laundry list…

I have a laundry list of things I’ve been wanting to blog about. Maybe I should organize my thoughts and start a file of Topics To Address. Yeah, right, like that’s going to happen.

Thus far here in the BT-verse, things have been… up and down.

I made contact with my Partner in Torah, and we’ve emailed a bit. We both have busy schedules, so we haven’t managed to actually talk. But I’m hoping we’ll get that started this week.

I haven’t made it back to The Shul of Awesome, thinking I was going to try two others that are closer. The plan had been to affiliate with The Shul Of Awesome and try to make it about once a month to daven, but then join and go to one of the local shuls on the other weeks – the first being our local Chabad and the second being a Conservative shul that is local to me, though still not within walking distance. That hasn’t gone so well. There seems to be a barrier between me and shul and that is, the alarm clock. Maybe it is because I am going alone? I don’t understand the services? I sit alone? I don’t have a shabbos lunch to go to? And I know, they will “arrange hospitality” but seriously, “Hi you don’t know me from Moses can I come to your house to eat?” just feels weird to me. Whatever, I know, you have to SHOW UP to build community and if I don’t show up I will never do that. And now it is the High Holy Days and I am not sure if you’re allowed to go to shul on shabbos if you don’t have tickets. I don’t know how I feel about the tickets thing. Though I guess if it’s the one time in the year that everyone in the Jewish community wants to suddenly show up, then yeah, you’d have to make sure there were enough chairs for all.

I lit Shabbos candles last week (ok, I used regular tapers and they burned for like, EVER, and so I had to blow them out which I think is bad? But, I had to go to bed. So I wised up and ordered a box of real kosher shabbos candles that only burn for 3 hours and hopefully they’ll be here by Friday) only, of course, I lit them alone. One kid was out and the other was uninterested. And that was sad and painful. I wasn’t sure how to pray. I felt stupid, doing the hand thing over the eyes. I am not “keeping the shabbos” correctly yet. I don’t do homework on Friday nights, I do the things that feel restful and pleasant to me, like knitting or spinning. I know those are no-no’s, but to me, they equate to quiet, pleasant, meditative time and that is the point. If I turn it into 25 hours of hell where I am having to sit on my hands, I will not want to do it. I do turn lights on and off and I cook. But I don’t do housework or laundry, I try to rest. I figure as far as shabbos goes, I’ll phase one thing at a time out and bring a new observance in, just like I’m doing with everything else. Eventually, I’ll probably live close to shul, have a special Jewish hot plate for cholent (oh barf), it won’t bug me not to knit, and I’ll take a lot of shabbos naps.

At any rate, while lighting my candles was on one hand lovely, peaceful and glowy, on the other it was painful, lonely, horribly lonely. It made me want to cry and I don’t think that’s the point of doing shabbos. It occurred to me that if I am feeling too shy to accept invitations right now, I could start asking friends over for shabbos dinner sometimes and share it with them, even if they are non-Jews.

A lot of this makes me want to throw up my hands and quit. But then I think about how when you convert, they say no 3 times, and they make it hard, because Jewish life, it is hard. It is not convenient all the time. And I think that maybe this is part of the process for me, that addressing loneliness and a lack of community is part of it. I have always been lonely, always held myself apart. People make me nervous. Someone called me “inscrutable” the other day. Maybe part of this process is that while I’m asking to be let in, I am supposed to be letting some of this stuff, some people, in at the same time. My family is really not too interested and I find that I am not really wanting to talk to them about it, about G-d, about my feelings. People ask me why I am doing this and I find myself not wanting to talk about it face to face. I couldn’t answer the rabbi when we spoke, instead I wasted time on trivialities. The answer is, “I yearn. I want to belong. I want to feel like I’m a part of a greater whole, that there is something more than this. That there is something beyond all of this.”

After a lifetime of looking askance at people who are actively involved in religious life, now I am wanting to be one, and I don’t have the words for it. It is too personal, too deep.

Except, apparently not too personal or deep to put out on the internet for a lot of strangers. Ahem.

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I’m so excited! A lady from Partners in Torah called me and I’ll be getting my study partner soon. 😀

Progress is good.

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