of us.

When we speak of God, we don’t mean some creature within the universe, which may be either real or mythical. We’re just saying that we owe thankfulness for existence and obedience to the ways of the ultimate source, foundation and sustainer, by which we are intimately known because our physical, cognitive, and emotional realities all come from that source. No reality, truth, or goodness exists elsewhere.

This seems philosophical, but it’s actually not quite. No one can say that anything in this finite universe (including time, space, energy, life, all of it) has no limit or beginning, no source or unifying force, and that would seem to be a proof for a ‘First Mover’. But it’s not, because but then to speak of a ’cause’ is also to speak in finite terms. There is no philosophical proof for God because the whole conversation breaks down in our eyes at the edge of the finite; at the first level of creation. Nothing can properly reflect the infinite, even though all things seem to declare their dependent nature and close connection to “something beyond all things”.

And there is the question of suffering. While only finite beings can have needs or impulses to take, which means that God can’t be seen as cruel, it’s still hard to look at creation and say that it is either kind or wise that good must come through pain, confusion, or injustice. There can be no ‘higher reason’ for things to be a certain way when God could not be restricted by reasons, even though creation must be seen as a gift rather than an act of taking.

It’s beyond comprehension, like a vantage point that all our purest desires and fair logic cause us to run towards but from which we can’t see clearly.

But in our lives, it is personal. He is to me the one who holds honesty, kindness, thankfulness, and gentleness up as true light. He is the rock of the world. He is the one who blesses bride and groom, who forms children in the womb, who creates beauty and love from nothing and holds its delicate blessing in existence. He is the resonance of transforming forgiveness and restoration. The one to whom I owe my everything, even if I forget that in some choices and moments. I feel I can’t ignore or let go of this.

This is why Judaism draws on its stories of history to address Him. He is the God of their fathers, whose lives pass down many values. He taught them to hate selfish cruelty and not to pour out their heart in demeaning, aimless worship towards fellow finite creatures. And He has preserved them and the treasured light of their culture until this day, despite many enemies.

challah recipe.

We found a really nice recipe for challah (sweet egg bread) that’s worth sharing. This small quantity is good for just the two of us and makes three mini-challahs.
According to the website we got it from, the recipe is slightly adapted from The Spice and Spirit of Kosher-Jewish Cooking.
3 1/2 cups plain flour
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup water at body temperature
1. Mix together the yeast, warm water, and 1/2 tablespoon of the sugar, and leave it for about ten minutes to dissolve and become foamy.
2. Combine half of the flour with the salt and the rest of the sugar.
3. Add in the yeast mixture and combine well.
4. Stir in the oil and most of the egg (leave a little egg and refrigerate it to use later for glazing).
5. Add most of the other half of the flour and slowly mix together. Only use all the flour if needed to make it manageable when kneading.
6. Knead dough for about ten minutes, until it’s smooth and elastic and springs back when pressed.
7. Place into a large oiled bowl and turn so it is oiled on all sides. Cover bowl with a damp towel and let dough rise in a warm place for 2 hours, punching down in 4-5 places every 20 minutes (for texture).
8. After the 2 hours, turn out the dough and braid or shape it into loaves. Line your trays with baking paper, oil them, and place the loaves on top. Allow another half an hour for them to finish rising.
9. Preheat oven to 190*C (375*F).
10. After leaving the loaves for the half hour, glaze them with the remaining beaten egg.
11. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes, until golden. Let them cool for another 10 minutes in the oven.

the simplicity of life.

My Minyan of Animals

Dedicated to Nemi Lobel, for her love of animals.

By Annelise & Jason Taylor

A young man once lived alone, but not like you would expect. He did not own a house, or any of the things most other people could not do without.

Sometimes he lived at the top of a mountain amongst the scattered trees and mossy boulders, with a view as spectacular as the colours of a rainbow. Sometimes he lived in the valley down by the river of gentle flowing water, where fish jumped out into the cool breeze.

Often in the sunny warmth of the day he walked by the orchards and pastures near town, saying a kind “Hello” to the cute and curious baby animals playing running games. Other days he spent deep in the heart of the forest, surrounded by trees that almost touched the sky, and native peaceful wildlife. All day he lived under the sun and in the beauty and tranquility of nature; at night he fell asleep, slumbering beneath the bright display of stars.

His name was Selig. He was happy and peaceful and the animals and trees were his friends. He cared for them and they looked after him.

Another man, named Abraham Tzvi, came walking through the woods one calm, fresh morning with his flute. He played a beautiful melody. Selig heard this music and streams of joy filled his soul. He went to listen, dancing a jolly of steps as he did. As the two men met, Selig was surprised at Abraham’s kind and friendly greeting. They sat under the shade of a young, aspiring tree growing its way to the heights, talking for a long time.

Selig listened quietly as Abraham told him about life in the town with his wife and children, his work and his friends. When he talked about Torah, Selig listened carefully with great intent and learnt joyfully as the pure words of Torah and G-d flowed passionately from Abrahams lips. A new stream of clear water had come into his heart under this bright blue sky. Selig had discovered something true and good.

Selig now longed to understand more. From then on the two friends met every week. They talked together, learning good wisdoms from each other. More than anything, Selig loved to pray. He had often walked through the wilderness of the bush, talking to whoever had created such a magnificent place. He asked Abraham many questions about how to pray and was overjoyed to understand that it was simple and that his prayers would always be listened to.

Abraham was amazed at Selig’s simple, innocent way of life and the way that although he was isolated from the outside world, he still had a pure belief in the supreme Creator.

There came a day when a wave of sadness swept through Selig’s soul. He learnt that a man can’t only walk the path of prayer alone; that everyday he should join with other people, at least nine other friends, to pray, or as Abraham called it, to daven. Abraham called this group a minyan and suggested that Selig come live in the town so he could daven to the Creator, whom he called Hashem. Selig couldn’t bear to do it, to live in the city. He told his friend that he would pray for an answer.

As he walked slowly to the mountain that afternoon wanting to find a spot where he could clear his head and organise his thoughts properly, Selig came across a strange group on his path. He saw a donkey, a deer, a sheep, three ducks, a weird pink four-legged thing that resembled a fat tree stump that walked, and two goats, wandering along. ‘Could this be my minyan?’ Selig thought to himself as he guided the troop to the river so they could quickly swim before hurrying off to pray. It was something called a mikveh, which Abraham had mentioned was something they did to cleanse themselves. The sheep were very stubborn and took a lot of convincing. After he had finally managed to get all the animals to swim in the river, Selig walked with his flock of minyan members to the spot where he began to build his synagogue.

It was a very special place to Selig. He had planted it full of colourful flowers, aromatic herbs and other assorted plants. It had a view of a small waterfall and the air was fresher and cleaner here. He wove branches between trees for the walls. Instead of making a complete roof, he just lashed some smalls log together in a six-pointed star and decorated everything with berries, vines, flowers, fruit and scent plants. For the rest of the afternoon Selig sat with his toes dipped in the water while he wove little round head coverings called yarmulkes for all his new friends in his minyan to wear.

In the morning he called his minyan of animals all to come inside and pray with him. It didn’t work as he hoped. He couldn’t let the strange pink animal come in because it was covered in mud and making loud snorting noises. Every time Selig tried to give it a bath it squealed furiously. This made Selig feel sad, as he thought he had hurt the poor creature and made it run away.

Selig now realised he no longer had nine friends for his minyan, which saddened him even more. He thought maybe there was a bird in one of the trees nearby that would join in his minyan. He stared up and searched around the tree tops. As he walked further away from his synagogue he heard the pleasant call of a magpie, and once he found the bird he made gentle whistles, mimicking the magpie’s tune. It craned its neck and stared silently at Selig, who continued to whistle softly on. After a short moment it flew from its perch and glided elegantly to the ground, landing in front of Selig. He turned on the balls of his feet and headed feverishly back to the rest of his minyan so he could finally pray.

When he got back, Selig saw the goats eating all his pretty flowers. The donkey was laying down, crushing most of his aromatic plants. The ducks were swimming figure eights in the river. The deer had scratched its antlers on almost every tree, rubbing off the bark, and the sheep was pulling out all the bundles of grass from the entrance to Selig’s synagogue and loudly chewing them up.

Selig became a little frustrated, but nevertheless he was intent on praying, so he herded all the animals up and huddled them into his synagogue. The donkey came in first and sat quietly by the door, making it difficult for the other animals to pass. Eventually they crowded in too. Selig arranged them quickly from tallest to smallest. At first they were quiet while Selig prayed, but that didn’t last; the animals became restless and loud. Selig ignored them till he was finished praying. When he finished, he turned around and saw one of the goats munching on the vines and decorations. The other goat was eating the last of all the yarmulkes. The sheep was chasing the magpie, who was chasing the ducks, feathers were floating everywhere from the fluster, and the donkey and the deer were facing each other, repeatedly nodding their heads and bumping each other on the scalp. Selig saw this chaos and knew that animals would not suffice. He needed another minyan.

When he came to a part of the river down from the waterfall that afternoon, he saw a cluster of trees standing together in the middle of a small clearing, their branches stretching up towards the wide glistening sky overhead. He counted them; nine trees. This would be his minyan.

After swimming for a while in the shining, cold water, Selig climbed out and huddled in the middle of the nest of trees and spent hours talking with his Creator.

Many times that week he came back to his minyan of trees and prayed. He poured out his heart, and he listened to the reply that came in the whisper of the wind and the happenings of his days. When he saw Abraham next, he told him about his minyanim

Abraham loved what Selig told him, and knew that this simple man had a pure heart and soul. Abraham applauded the efforts to which Selig went to speak with the Creator, but informed him that a man needs to gather with other men, whose souls were more like his own. Selig didn’t know what to do. He certainly didn’t want to be in the busy mess of the town. He liked it out in nature, living side by side with the world as it was first created. He couldn’t bring himself to come to town. But as they spent the afternoon walking and talking together, the two friends had a perfect idea. Together they built a bigger synagogue, putting it near the river so it had a mikveh. They covered its walls again with berries, vines, fruit and an array of aromatic smelling plants. The following morning, Abraham arrived with his family and a few of his closest friends. Finally Selig had his minyan. Selig prayed with more passion and sincerity than he had ever done before.

His new friends would come and pray, then most days they would quietly walk back to the town to live their days there, leaving Selig to wander alone amongst the plants and animals as he loved to do. Some days they would stay longer and the children would frolic in the water, climb the trees, or run in the small cleared meadows while Selig made them all a meal or showed them new paths through his home. The birds sang vibrantly, the leaves rustled, and the fresh air blew always around their faces.

So Selig lived all his life happily under the sky. He often climbed to his mountain and prayed from the heart on his own.

a new place.

Tonight is probably my last night in Sydney for a while…we’ll soon be in Wagga Wagga God willing, to start a new chapter of life there! I’m excited for the chance that Jason and I have to make a home for each other and our coming little one.

Everything in life feels uncertain, and it also feels like a gift to be thankful and hopeful about. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have the ability to pull it off, but I remember that love and a positive attitude bring the most sunshine of all to a home and I am excited to see where the road ahead takes us!

We’ve been married for almost six months now, and known each other for almost ten. It has been the most beautiful and happiest time of my life. Setting up a household, experiencing all kinds of pregnancy discomforts and hormones, and juggling new responsibilities has been a challenge that is making me stronger and I’m so thankful for Jason’s loving and supportive kindness through it all. His strength, insight, and humble goodness inspire and bless me so much. It feels a bit like jumping in the deep end as we set up life in a little apartment, both on student allowances, and he starts uni for the first time with a baby due before the first exams, and in the meantime I also need to complete a teaching prac block and some study. We are investing in love and in our family and it’s going to be a special experience to walk it together with my soul’s friend and such a good husband to whom it’s easy to choose to be thankful.

Apparently it’s a good town and I look forward to settling in there.

being new.

To repent from something is a very powerful choice. Along with asking for forgiveness, it means becoming free from the insanity of choosing something bad as if it were good. And by identifying choices in our lives or past as awful, harmful and terrible, we no longer attach ourselves to them like we used to. If we hate those things like we should, we step away from them, and that means our souls and our identities truly become separate from them. We become something different, something new.

Even when the consequences and pain caused to ourselves and others still continue, it’s a great gift to be able to choose where our hearts will be and who we will become, with God’s help.


There are many things that I feel I have too little understanding of. I hope that in days, weeks, months, and years to come there will be some better clarity on them.

Here is where my understanding is at this level, about faith and important spiritual realities.

I have an innate and unshakable yearning towards connecting with my Creator, towards goodness, kindness, justice, and truth.

This concept of thanking and clinging to the one who upholds, holds together, and sustains every moment, space, and thing makes the most sense to me, too. The best of my logic says that nothing comes from nothing, and that all things have a beginning; this leads to the end of every finite process and pulls my sight towards the infinite.

The infinite one isn’t less than His creation. For that reason, our feelings of personal connection and of being understood, and grateful, all make sense. And I don’t believe that He ever truly takes, because He (not being finite) has no need or urge to fill. But He does give, as we can see in that we and all things exist.  Not even a fragment of existence can be truly away from His sight and His giving.

Then again, a few things stand to obstruct that logic. The truth is that even if it is the best understanding we can come to, our logic is still limited. In this particular field, our understanding is clearly innately inadequate. There is no talking of a cause before all causes, a place outside all places, or an action preceding all time. Everything is a metaphor from the finite world and we have to say that as much as we can look at the foundation of existence for clues, really it is a true mystery that we can’t fathom or even step foot onto.

So we are left yearning and seeing clues, but not being able to know for ourselves. We rely on some kind of revelation if we’re to have any knowledge of God or creation. So, many of us have our ears wide open to hear God, if and when He reveals His heart and paths to us. I don’t give up on this just because I know that I have no place reaching into infinite mystery, because there is something undeniable in my heart about owing Him surrender and thankfulness and the heart that He has given me.

Then where will we look to find this revelation? That’s hard to know, because we can’t go about it scientifically. We can’t really say what we would expect it to look like, and as God’s hand is beyond the natural realm we can’t isolate or replicate anything as ‘evidence of existence’. Feelings of the heart, even feelings of deep resonance, can lead people to ‘just have faith’ in all kinds of different things as well. We must use what we have been given, but also be careful and humble when surrendering to feelings as truth.

But we look at things like the order and complexity of creation, or the joy of great blessings. These things seem intelligent and personal. They seem to indicate goodness, generosity, wisdom. But then we look at decay, degradation, and pain. This world is full of suffering. If I experience something beautiful, many others don’t. If I experience safety, many others don’t. The order here matches the decay over there. Many creatures experience suffering, terror, agony, grief, and seem not to experience recompense or balance. And even if they do, what consolation or sense is there in the idea that without any necessity to do so, our Source has caused good things to come out of pain and suffering?

We know we can’t understand everything, and none of this disproves God’s goodness. There are explanations and there is reasonable trust even in mystery. But that’s the point. What can we really know, and how to know it sincerely?

Nonetheless, for the sake of balance and of sanity we need to enjoy and appreciate the good things, and bring light in the darkness for any others we can bless. For the sake of justice and humility we also need to express thankfulness.

Love, kindness, justice, and wisdom shine as relational treasures. When we see or feel these things, how can we not be thankful and sense that we are heard and cared about, and deeply connected into something truly real? But then we see that injustice is possible towards the vulnerable; that selfish creatures take and hurt, and hungry creatures kill. Actually, no life can exist without ending, exploiting, and hurting many other lives. And ethics tend to be about choosing the lesser of two or more evils because there is always going to be compromise, no matter how diligent we are. Again, this makes muddy and blurry the concept of creation being generously given.

Then, we look at revelation claims. I’m not interested in the ones that would have me surrender my deepest worship and thanks for existence to any power that is as finite and dependent as I am. I also don’t want to worship my Creator in the form of any of those finite things, because the forms themselves don’t deserve it and no matter how well they reveal something or other about His ways they only obscure His very heart with us if they become the object of prayer (rather than just a vessel for revelation). I’m also unconvinced by superstitions with no basis.

Judaism doesn’t fit into any of those categories. For thousands of years, a family line of people has been faithfully holding the very concept that I’m devoted to, and when I learnt it more clearly from them I called it true wisdom. I am caught staring at he preservation of people and faith through so much persecution and in fact global scattering; the uniqueness of so many of their beliefs in their early context and of the claim of a national experience of revelation that is set in real history. All these things could be explained through natural causes, but they still hold some weight. The main thing is that they have been saying so absolutely clearly the very message that I think resonates most with creation. Believing in their God, I have to wonder if He is speaking through their nation.

Still, there is endless uncertainty about that too. The seeming contradiction between some of the commands in Torah, which would cause certain victims of the Israelites to cry out to God about injustice, and on the other hand the very definitions of justice that are so brightly spoken throughout the Jewish scriptures and culture. That has got to make you stop and wonder if certain ideas and commands are wise or good at all, and if they seem to have come from God. And the fact that this religion calls for perfect faith, but offers no clear historical evidence… there aren’t even multiple independent witnesses to the core founding events… and we know that feelings of the heart, strange historical happenings, miracles, and claims to wisdom can be offered by many contradicting religions. So how can the descendants of Israel be expected to ‘know’? It seems right to keep the laws out of reasonable caution, but there seems to be nothing close to the level of certainty that is described by the scriptures as important in both loyalty and joyful trust.

All of these questions are painful and confusing. It is really a marathon, seeking truth, or else we become very weary. It takes simplicity, humility, and trust, or else we become arrogant about doubts that we don’t even come close to having good knowledge regarding, in this particular case anyway. It draws the heart to call out and to cling at a very basic level, which is good.

God-willing next May I’m having a baby, who will be coming into this world and looking to me for a lot of answers and learning. Jason will be teaching Torah to him or her. How about me? How can I play my part in that? I hope to find the things that are simple, clear, and/or beautiful and focus on those while our child first learns to think and trust. And I hope that the one guiding me in a path of light will also be able to guide our baby as he or she grows up in this world.

let your righteousness shine.

Many times in Torah and the prophets there are strong characterisations of justice. This includes many references to the Israelites not being allowed to oppress a foreigner who lived among them, because they could remember the pain of being oppressed in Egypt; not oppressing the poor, the orphan, or the widow (vulnerable people); letting the oppressed go free; and judging people with justice and equality. Job claimed that he never ignored a complaint from his slaves, and God also saves Israel specifically because they are being oppressed.

Some things seem to contradict this virtue of justice and non-oppression:

*Punishment on a national level, where the innocent and guilty are punished together
*Being allowed to kidnap women for marriage in a war situation, and this being at one point commanded (Numbers 31:18)
*Being able to have slaves who are unable to go free and/or whose descendants will also be slaves for generations, and this being seen as a good thing in some stories (Joshua 9:27)
*Being allowed to beat a slave to the point of injury, and this being deliberately justified (Exodus 21:21)
*Differentiating between Israelites and foreigners in terms of kindness (Leviticus 25:46)

I’m not sure what to make of it. Is this real injustice? Is this a real contradiction in Tanach?

I know that slavery can be defined in different ways, and that the Israelites treated slaves better than surrounding nations did. I also know the idea that some things were a ‘minimum standard’ and that the letter of the law should be done better than, and also that Torah may have been trying to improve the economic system rather than overhauling it. I don’t think that any of these things have a bearing on the points above, though.

A real part of me hopes that those laws are man-made, not because I don’t admire Torah and the Torah community and wish to join with religious Jews in their wisdom and closeness to Hashem… but just because I hope in my heart that these things are not actually ‘morally fine’. I can’t imagine an answer that makes them fine. Or have I made up my mind too early about what is what?

look beyond them.

The wisdom of Judaism stands out among other religions, proclaiming that the soul owes its allegiance not to any finite thing, but to the Maker of all things and powers. Nothing in the world owes its existence to itself or is truly independent of a cause. Not the life-sustaining sun or rain, and not the frightening storms or threat of war; not love, not fertility, not speed, strength, nor death. Everything is part of a system, each part is limited to its place, and the world is sustained by the true Power of Powers, the Giver who holds it all together. Why should we subjugate ourselves to forces and objects that are, like us, fully dependent on Him? Only He deserves our hearts, and we should look to Him first when seeking wisdom and the path that leads upward in this world.

This is very different from monolatry, the worship of one ‘god’ among the many powers. Instead, this is the surrender of all finite things to the One above even mystery and all limited existence themselves. It is thankfulness of the heart towards the only One who gives, but doesn’t have any need or impulse to take.

Other faiths have come to the same conclusion, not just Judaism, and they share in this wisdom. Some call the Creator of everything the ‘great spirit’, ‘supreme being’, or ‘highest power’. They are on the right track. But where Judaism stands out even further in its resplendent wisdom is the refusal to worship God in a ‘form’. Sure, the Jewish scriptures and traditions have many metaphors, where God is considered a king, a father, a craftsman, a shepherd. There are many manifestations too, in fire, cloud, voice, thunder, light, angels (messengers), and the holiness of places; in the splendour of creation, in the righteous experiences of humans on His path, and in blessings for His people. “God is with us” is a phrase that describes the Jewish experience well, and many places, things, beings, actions, and times have been vessels of His presence in the world. Even the continued existence of every thing and moment declares His immanent nearness. But none of these is more than a vessel to know Him through
No representation is perfect; no finite, limited thing gives more than a glimpse of His ways. In the earth, sky, and sea, we are all servants. This is the beautiful thing, the sign of wisdom that is held by this nation through history. In Judaism, the heart is directed to its Maker with no images, no things, no fragments of reality in the way. Just many pathways to know Him within.
The New Testament tries to use similar imagery to describe Jesus as ‘the way’ to God. He is called a reflection, a manifestation of God’s glory, likened to the creative ‘word’ and ‘wisdom’ of God. But this is not how most of his followers, throughout the many centuries since he lived, have looked at him. They speak to him not merely as one of many channels to knowing God, and not just as a messenger or representation of God, just like the many other blessings of God’s presence that are around us each day. They don’t even speak to him as if he were the most perfect reflection amidst all created things, but still being God’s servant and handiwork. Instead, they speak to Jesus personally when they want to pray to their Creator. They nuance it with words and phrases like ‘son’, ‘servant’, ‘in the name of’, and ‘through him’, but still tend to call it heresy to say that his soul (like our own, and like all of the vessels of God’s manifest glory), is not from eternity and deserves none of our highest praise. Yet they see it in the particular, with shape and relationship; that is, finiteness.
This is hardly what you could call ‘very Jewish’. It is totally oblivious to one of the lights of the Jewish faith, amidst all the forms of monotheism that believe that finite forms can adequately represent in their being the one who holds all things. True Judaism emphasises that His presence is in words, in messengers, in ways, and in showered blessings, but turns the heart away from visible or comprehensible (that is, finite) things when it comes to prayer. This is why the prophets spoke as they did about how He is above the earth; all the powers are His messengers and servants; every thing owes praise to Him, inherently.
The real Jewish perspective is to see the God who made all things being present in small things and places, but not worship the places themselves.
When speaking of ‘trinity’ or of ‘multiplicity in God’, mainstream Christianity has said that Jesus is distinct from the Father and yet not distinct. Is that the same as saying he is infinite, yet finite? In any case, the blurring of this line is serious: it is the definition of the most precious relationship in the world, and anyone on our side of the line doesn’t deserve our embrace. Anything that is ‘partly’ or ‘mostly’ mystery is not true mystery at all, but it is unavoidably an imposition of visible (limited) forms into God who made it all. Isn’t He closest to us Above All Things in His loving sustenance of our existence and our hearts? This is above the forms that our imaginations, or ANY comprehension, can begin to hold or even speak of.
There have been some Christians who disagreed with the mainstream and who have seen Jesus as the prince over creation, even the first or highest created being, through whom everything was made, or else merely a man who has been exalted to the highest level… but not, himself, God. They read certain verses of the New Testament differently. But history has shown that their theory is also unlikely. What messiah ends up being an object of idolatry by most of his followers for thousands of years? And where has the Torah observant remnant been all along; with this man, or with the things passed down from generation to generation before he was born? When the desire to follow a man as the highest authority in creation overshadows the good sense of seeing where the Torah-careful have always been treading without him, that threatens distraction from the paths of wisdom. And the New Testament itself isn’t guiltless, either, even if it never deifies its leader. The pedestal he is put on overshadows all else, until the presence of God in this generation, in every drop of blessing around us, is lost in the light of ‘he was here’ and ‘he is coming back’.
Whether your prayers are directed to the form of a human face or the finite aspects of a man’s soul, or whether his praise simply fills your prayers as ‘a way through which to God’, this is not the sort of humble fading-into-the-background that we expect of a servant or a vessel of God’s glory. The beautiful thing is when the heart can be free to fly to its Maker beyond all forms. All forms are limited things, and none will truly represent Him to our souls or eyes or minds…
So look through them by all means, but look beyond them all. That is the Jewish way.

a few questions I’m looking at.

I’m looking at a number of things in the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) to see if I can more clearly see what message it was trying to hammer in. The answers don’t necessarily prove or disprove Judaism or Christianity, although they could… it depends whether there’s anything clear, there. So this is a really open discussion with no pressing agenda. Please share your thoughts if you can see clear patterns or ideas in the text, as it highlights itself to be read.

1. Appearances of God’s glory are described with carefulness not to blur the distinction between Creator and the created reflection/manifestation, such as in Ezekiel’s “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” But personal appearances of God (such as in Genesis) are often described interchangeably as angels (literally, messengers). I think that what is going on here is that the text is making clear that the appearances are created and sent on God’s behalf, so there is no confusion that He ‘is’ the body that appears any more than He ‘is’ the fire in the bush that Moses saw. That seems to be what the authors of the targums were doing when they renamed references to God as ‘His word’. But some people think Torah is doing the opposite; that these passages are there to demonstrate to us that the sender and the sent one can be literally interchangeable and indistinguishable. Is there any indication pointing one way or the other?

2. I think that the many references to God’s creation being everything with breath and everything in the skies, earth, seas, etc. is supposed to be definitional. The prophets laugh at people who trust in finite things and tell them to look to the Maker of all things they can see, who is above it all. But some people would say that those verses are just meant to bring people to praise God, and don’t exclude an ‘exception’ (i.e. incarnation claim).

3. The Torah is so cautious about worshiping God only, yet it gives no indication that there will be a ‘new way’ of doing that involves accepting a claimant to be God into your prayers and devotion. For this reason, I think that even 99.99% evidence towards someone deserving worship still isn’t enough. Usually, human understanding is so limited and fickle that we should go for what seems ‘good enough’, and that really is enough. But doesn’t Torah’s level of caution and the nature of the path it praises mean that if you had any doubt whether you were committing idolatry, at all, even a small doubt, then you should just turn around and worship God in the old way (that is, simply addressing the Maker of everything) with no concerns or questions? (Not that I think there is that much proof, but it’s a hypothetical I’ve talked about before with a friend.) Or am I misreading when I think that ‘who you worship’ is set up as a special case regarding total clarity?

If these things aren’t as clear as I thought, that doesn’t take away from the case Judaism holds. But they can be important ideas in it, if they are clear. To me, these are the central messages of the Jewish Bible, just by inference. So I’d love to see if there’s any support of the way I have been seeing them to be very definite and clear, or whether perhaps I am reading the context of Judaism into them… in which case, there are just two possible readings depending on the ideas you personally bring to the table when you open the scriptures.

Thanks for your help in studying these things. Having many minds often helps shed more light and depth.


I’d honestly and sincerely be curious to hear if there were an answer to this. At the same time, I’m putting the question out there as something I feel might be thought-provoking for others.

Here are two scenarios that are clearly false-worship according to the Jewish Torah. In what way do the Christian beliefs in incarnation and trinity (or multiplicity/relationship within God) differ from these two things? Christians might feel that the faith they follow is either grossly or subtly misrepresented by such a comparison, but the truly important question is… how?

A man came to King David and told him that God has various people within him, even while being totally one. So the king asked the man whether this is meant to change his concept of God even the slightest amount, since God is beyond anything finite we can see or conceive of or compare. How should this idea change the way the king looks at God when he prays, turning his eyes away from all things visible and his one heart towards its one Creator? The man insisted that while this is ‘mostly a mystery’, it is also a great revelation and should be believed.

This man left, and another came in seeking an audience with the king. He said that God had come ‘into’ the physical sphere. King David asked whether he meant that God had done a miracle, or sent a messenger, or created a reflection of His glory in the world. The man insisted that the Creator had literally entered the created realm. King David replied that every single thing that has being or breath is fully connected to God for its being, and that every manifestation, angel, word, and blessing holds His closeness without ‘being Him’. How could any thing be ‘more God’ in this world than that?

The king would have been right to put these ideas out of his mind. At the least, they would be meaningless. At the worst, they would make him have images in his mind when he prayed, finite things that are servants of God and themselves owe Him praise.

But Christianity seems to have paralllel ideas to this and assert that TOGETHER, they are a profound truth of “God with us”.

I believe in mystery in faith, because God is greater than we are and we should be humble in front of things that we trust He has taught us. But when the Jewish faith was given with such clear affirmations of the line between the finite world and the Creator of it all… a distinction along which the most intimate and true relationship ever exists in His embrace of our being, and we only owe ourselves to Him… then to blur the line is to mock that mystery and destroy something valuable: the constant refrain of Jewish scripture and faith, which is offered to all people to join in with.

If there’s something I’m missing in either of those comparisons, or in the significance of the two concepts being joined and therefore no longer meaningless/idolatrous… then that would be worth trying to put into words.

Blessings always.

missing togetherness.

Sometimes I miss Christmas. But I’ve realised that what I miss isn’t the Christmas that I used to celebrate.

As a child and teenager, I learnt to love ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ and prefer it to the secular or consumerist versions. My earliest Christmas memory is waking at six in the morning, when I was about four years old, and dancing alone in my room in honour of “Jesus’ birthday”. We never believed in Santa because my parents didn’t want to lie to us; instead we had nativity scenes, carols by candlelight, and presents on New Year’s Eve so as not to distract us from the day itself. (That last part only lasted till part way through primary school.)

But I don’t miss the meaning of Christmas, because it isn’t lacking in my life since I left Christianity a few years ago. What is there to miss? The celebration of Jesus’ birth focuses on the light of God’s presence and closeness, His blessings and transformative love in the world, and the hope of redemption and forgiveness. I now believe that none of those things were lacking in Judaism before the time of Jesus, and that neither his life nor death are the source of their existence in our world. I still experience God’s presence in the very beating of my heart and breath in my lungs, the fact that my soul is intimately connected to Him even to exist, and in His loving guidance and nearness in each day. I still hope in forgiveness and healing, both in my own life and in the whole world, and constantly see seeds of this hope bursting to reality around me. That is mercy, love, and joy.

In December of 2011, I began to hear first-hand about what Judaism really teaches and values. At that time I was trying hard to find and present reasons for belief in Jesus, but I was also seeing reasons to question, and realising how careful we need to be about worshiping someone when not sure if they are God. So with deep emotion and suspicion, I avoided Christmas services that year, apart from one (a few weeks before Christmas). The following year, I was sure of the path that I must take; I felt there was no other moral option than to walk with God but not ‘with Jesus’, nor any reason to reconsider. But it was lonely. I spent the entire day alone and was very aware of what my friends and family were doing. Last year was easier; I avoided Christmas carols in shops and wasn’t at my family’s home, but I knew by then that family and old friends were still in my life and I cared less what they thought of my own choices.

This year, I find myself missing the gingerbread trees that my Nanna used to make; the paper chains and stockings that we used to make in term four of school; the snowflakes, the fairy lights, the glow of candles on icy window panes (even though it’s summer in December, here) and jingling bells, the echoey medieval tunes sung only once a year, the family time of decorating, cooking, parties, presents, home-made bon bons, and a whole community alight with deep festive awareness.

These things are more akin to Germanic winter festivals than to Christian theology, but when I celebrated them I saw them as a transformation of innocent aspects in a pagan culture to serve what I thought to be a truer, better thing. Apart from the aesthetic they weren’t so important to me, but they still represented centuries of fellow Christians in Europe each going about their individual lives and celebrating the same thing that mattered in mine. They resonate with family and history.

There’s no reason for me to miss those things much either now, though. Think of how many Jewish holidays there are, and how rich each one is in meaning, symbolism, and both spiritual and tangible experiences. I was born on the first day of Sukkot (it’s actually Sukkot right now), and it reminds me of springtime where I live, joy, abundance, freedom, and the presence of God symbolised in the experience of the wilderness wanderings. Close enough to the time and external appearance of Christmas, too, there’s Chanukah: candle light, the smell of olive oil candle wicks going out one by one after they glow for hours in the dark summer air, latkes and jelly doughnuts, children lingering late in the atmosphere while their parents remember the commitment to non-compromise and the provision of God’s kindness that the holiday represents. In some parts of the world, this too is a winter festival. And the history of celebrating these things through so many generations isn’t my heritage, but it is my blessing.

I think that what I really miss about Christmas is the unity. When I was young, the church world was my whole world, and there was such singularity in our hearts and time together. There are many good things in that community, and we had one vision, one mind, and one heart for those good values (along with some other ideas).

Now, if I speak about the path of following God that I think matters immensely, good and sincere people are alienated, and forced to alienate themselves from me. I know that because they are friends whom I’ve shared everything with before, and I feel strong loss over the difference now. Since the things that are now worthless to me are precious to them, I can come across as angry and reactive against what is sacred even while in my eyes I am just expressing the treasure of clear running water, of simple and immense light as it shines in this world.

I miss the feeling of having one voice and one heart with all the ‘faithful’. I now sense that sincere and loyal people are scattered through many faiths, and conversation about the things that matter most to them collectively can also bring pain and division, even among the most civil and caring.

But I still believe those conversations are important. Uncomfortable, and easily misunderstood, but they are truly in the spirit of light and the peace that comes from responding to God; the things that I have been taught to value and chosen to hold onto since childhood. Please God let our hearts come closer in searching and seeing together, and let the hidden things be revealed more and more.

fragmented vision and responsiveness.

Belief should be passionate, but in front of truth we should also be very humble. If knowing were a matter of pride we would have to despair and give up. We don’t know a lot. The things we assume about our world are often partial or wrong, and our experience is limited to a few small fragments of reality. We’ve personally seen little of the physical world, let alone the universe, and even knowing all humanity’s stories and experiments would leave realms beyond our reach. But even if we can’t be experts and our knowledge is fragmented, it still helps us to live wisely and responsibly. We find out about desirable and dangerous things so often that pursuit of understanding rewards us. And many of us feel that we also owe something to truth and goodness, and for existence. Besides all the tangible rewards, one of the reasons for being responsive to what we perceive, with the very best of our resources, is so we can be responsible.

When it comes to the knowledge of ‘spiritual reality’, many who understand the scientific method are quick to give up. There are no experiments to verify ideas about that layer of ideas, and while intuition can be very useful for some things, it can fail us a lot in other areas. A number of ideas in physics seem ridiculous and yet, with the help of maths, are seen to be realistic. They’re simply not things that we experience in day-to-day life. How much more is this the case with invisible things; even realms that compare with nothing in our own experiences?

How could we speak of something ‘before time’, or a ‘source’ of cause and effect? Our metaphors and comparisons, language itself, weaken. And there are also realms in which we all have feelings and ideas, but we can’t test any of them or prove that we aren’t influenced by something else to feel that way. Alternate theories abound, none of which can be disproven. The existence and nature of morality, and the ‘real existence’ (beyond just our ideas) of things like kindness, fall into that category.

But remember, this doesn’t mean that there is nothing supernatural or metaphysical for us to respond to. It just means that none of us can raise ourselves as experts, or feel that our knowledge is a solid rock for us to lean on. Just as we need to avoid the arrogant belief that our knowledge is absolute, we also need to avoid the passive excuse of saying all things are subjective and that spiritual truth is for all purposes non-existent. To hold ourselves back from both seeing and refining our sight is foolishly non-responsive. It might even be irresponsibly unjust. Avoiding superstition is good, but what if the opposite extreme is far too narrow? Because of that mere possibility, apathy is not worth the risk; deep truth might well be reaching out to us on our terms and it’s worth listening carefully.

I think that when we say “I believe this,” what that really should mean in modern language is “I sense this as the firmest thing I know, and I choose to respond to it.”

Even if we can’t have certainty of our metaphysical intuitions, if we think responsibly about them and still see something there then it seems better to respond to it than to assume that all is subjective and act oblivious. I can’t prove this, and there is nothing that challenges me to justify my desire to respond to what I see. I’m just describing how it is purely innate for me to interact with it, rather than deciding to ignore it, and it seems very possibly to be the wise approach. Someone could say that all these intuitions and urges come to me through a natural process that doesn’t involve a knowing and caring ultimate-creator, and I can’t prove that I am seeing rather than hallucinating. But taking the logic of those thoughts into account, the best work of my mind and heart still finds elements of faith to be important. It’s better to respond wholeheartedly to the best of our understanding, keeping track of risks, than to ignore something because it isn’t yet fully proven.

Many people have a deep and immediate experience of relationship when we respond to Ultimate Reality in a personal way, but don’t think it’s all feelings and no thought. There is human logic to it too. It will always be imperfect, untestable logic, but these are still strong intuitions rather than weak ones and they hit us as appropriate to devote ourselves to… humbly but truly.

We can mathematically infer that cause and effect don’t go back infinitely. Because of that, I believe that it’s not a weak idea to think that the finite is dependent on the infinite and that the infinite is not less than the finite. If there is any truth in that at all, then it hits the core of our very being and holds the fabric of all things together in one world. Although every metaphor fails and this is a realm that must be totally foreign to any of our experience, we can still try to look at the entry gate of ‘being’ to see what our foundations are like. And then, as humans, we naturally get emotions of known-ness and of it being appropriate to be thankful for something given, since the infinite never ‘takes’. Having little understanding, the best thing I can think of to do is respond in that pattern rather than against it.

It’s better than assuming we are only dreaming when it comes to the spiritual realm. We should work with what we have and act on it. And when I do, the sense of responsibility to truth is renamed as loyalty to my Creator and a very deep experience springs out of it; personal, but important to me. So this is my world and I join with its landscapes, reaching as far and long as I can with pure hope in the Rock that is more solid than any finite thing; more sure than any foundation I could capture in small knowledge.

beginnings, responses.

I’d like to hear on this question from religious, uncertain, and non-religious friends, even though the Internet isn’t always perfect for the kind of humble, careful thought needed in this kind of thing.

It seems to me like the question “Is there a God?” doesn’t make so much sense. Firstly because so many religions have different ‘powers’ that they call gods/God and there’s almost no definition to the question. Also because responding to the Jewish(/Jewish-derived) concept of a Creator is less about whether something exists or not (we’re not talking about some honourable power within the finite universe), but about how we as finite beings should respond to our ‘source’ for forming us, and whether that source of ours is cognizant of us specifically and cares about us…so to speak.

When we try to look back to our very furthest origins, as far as finite cause-and-effect could take us, the view is hidden by time and space and can only be speculated. Maybe it could never be known except by some over-arching revelation, or maybe it can be theorised or even figured out in some ways (whether by scientific/historical or, somehow, philosophical/metaphysical observations).

Do you think it is possible though not to look back and see God with material eyes, but to think about the ‘gates’ of our origins and respond to our Maker through them? Could you say that the infinite is not less than the creation that rests here in it (somehow), and is not incognizant of us? Could you say that the infinite needs nothing and therefore takes nothing, and well compare existence to a gift that evokes our thankfulness? Could you say that any purpose in life is linked to our origins, and be committed to following that purpose if it can be found by some logical or revealed ‘morality’ (to use the term generally)?

What are reasons for and against these thoughts? I know they need more clarity. But to me they aren’t random rationalisation of things ‘in a prior-believed-in book’…they are instead things that stand out to me a lot, out of all the claims and ideas I’ve heard in my life, and they’re a poor articulation of things I have learnt to feel deeply.

I’m specifically not talking here about belief (or reasons for belief) in historical revelation claims, but about the kind of thinking that people could handle if they never heard any of those historical claims of ‘unusual miracles’ or prophetic knowledge.

One big consideration involves the basic human biases, and also the cultural biases, in what we assume, what we compare, and the way we imagine everything… are we really qualified to comment on things so foreign and distant from our smallness and finiteness? We can assume that our logic is useful-yet-imperfect for finding the best ways for us to respond to reality though, and humbly work from there. (Again, revelation claims bring a historical dimension to the conversation that I don’t want to focus on at the same time as looking into this one, but I’m definitely not excluding them from being important!)

three questions.

I’m really blessed by my Christian friends, all your sincerity, blessing, kindness, all you’ve taught me and keep teaching me about faith and life. Even though you get the picture that I think the differences from traditional Judaism are serious ones, I am still thankful for your hearts, friendship, and wisdom… and especially that so many of you were able to step past sadness regarding my faith and bring joy to our wedding recently (either in person or from afar). No one is an island and you guys are a really important part of my life.

Today I wrote a few questions that I hope might bring some peace and clarity to the way that Orthodox Judaism thinks about Christianity’s incarnation claim… whether it is both logical and factual. It isn’t meant to poke at your faith but to elucidate our perspective. It should be a careful and yet also open-minded conversation, since sometimes the way we are taught to think opens our eyes and then again sometimes it brings confusion. For example, I recently heard a Western-born person saying that even though the Torah speaks of ‘evening and then morning’, this makes no sense because day clearly comes before night. Feelings can be important for our thoughts, yet they can sometimes trip our thinking.

So if you’d like to, think honestly for yourself sometimes about these questions. I think they are good because they’re neutral, yet they emphasise things that matter to traditional Jews a lot. Perhaps the deeper you delve in them, the more light they can shed. Try to also think about the way that ancient, Torah-observant followers of God would have answered. (The answers we come up with are between us and God, but they also affect people we speak with and teach).

1. Why do the Torah and the Hebrew prophets and writings describe God as the Maker of the sea, the earth, the sky, and all that is in them?

2. Why do these books emphasise that God’s interaction with creation is through created ‘servants’ such as angels, prophets, ‘manifestations’, His glory and presence, His words, His loving blessings, etc.?

3. Would you say that these are very common and/or central ideas in what the Hebrew scriptures are here to say? In other words, are these two things as important and clear in Torah-Jewish thought as the other big themes like justice, obedience, love and awe of God, repentance, and the promises of restoration?

riding the waves… not alone.

Take It As It Comes
By Rabbi Ben A.

“Be wholehearted with your G-d”—Deuteronomy 18:13.

In this week’s portion we are told, “There shall not be found among you… a soothsayer, a diviner of times, one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or a charmer…” We are then told – immediately in the next verse – to be “wholehearted” with G-d.

What is the connection between the prohibitions against various occult practices and the commandment to be wholehearted with G-d? And what does it mean to be wholehearted with G-d?

First let’s understand the various prohibitions enumerated in this reading. As modern, so-called “enlightened” individuals, we may discount these warnings as something out-dated, something that was told to our ancestors—but does not pertain to us. After all, we think, who runs after soothsayers and sorcerers to tell them their fortune nowadays? But let’s examine the underlying psychology that drove the ancients to seek a stolen glimpse into the future. Are we really immune from the very same weakness—a preoccupation with what is yet to come?

We worry and fret about outcomes. We expend energy trying to secure that which cannot be guaranteed. Oh, the price we would pay just to have certainty about the future, but to no avail.

Thus, we are told to be “wholehearted” with G-d—to leave the future up to Him and to accept life as it comes. After all, isn’t it enough just to know that He is in perfect control? Why should we prefer to have foreknowledge of His plans? Why don’t we realize that whatever He chooses will be best?

If we cannot give up our worries about the future, then it seems that our trust in Him is tenuous, conditional and half-hearted. What we are really telling G-d is that our relationship with Him is conditional.

Think of a marriage. If your spouse were to suddenly whisk you away on an impetuous romantic getaway, would you first demand to know what the plans were? To do so would mean being more interested in how the time will be spent than with whom it will be shared. True love means that time shared with one’s beloved is always time well spent—whatever happens, whatever we are doing and wherever we go.

If G-d were to speak to you and invite you to live in His presence, to follow Him at every turn, would you ask Him first where He plans on taking you? Before agreeing, would you first ask for an itinerary?

We rely on our relationship with G-d for our very survival. We cannot afford to let that relationship be half-hearted. We need to stay in the present and let the One who is above time worry about what is to come. Our wholehearted commitment to Him means that we are ready to joyfully and fearlessly accept whatever He may bring us, for we trust that ultimately, whatever happens, He is with us and He is running the show.

That is all we need to know.


Forgiveness isn’t just an easy way out. It doesn’t stop us from needing to choose what is right, and allowing God to undo in us the brokenness that let us do wrong, through a deep and thorough process.

Also, it doesn’t erase what we did in the past. But it does change who we are now, in front of our Creator because we are clinging to Him… and no one can take away how meaningful that choice is. Who we are with Him is who we really are.

And that is a huge and undeserved gift. As much as we are still met with responsibility and challenges in stepping into righteousness, it is much easier than living in the blackness of shame. But that is no reason to stay away from accepting forgiveness and moving forward. Clinging to God is how we should be, that’s who we were made to be.

The truth of how much we depend on Him is also a blessing to gain clarity about.

the goodness.

Let’s spend our time being thankful… thinking about all the truly great qualities in people we care about… thinking about the privilege it is to live, to be given chances, and the blessings that can come out of the responsibilities we focus on.

And we can think less about what may or may not happen, about the dull or painful parts, or about the issues we have with others. Because when we can truly see the goodness in people, things, and times, we open our eyes to depths of reality.

Hershel and his kindness.

I like the idea of how the simple farmer was so connected with God through kindness, it’s something I really aspire to!
When the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe (Shalom Dovber) was just a child, his father (Rebbe Shmuel) woke him one morning and asked him if he had dreamed anything. The boy thought for a minute, began trembling with fear and answered yes. He explained that he had just dreamt that he saw several awesomely holy men one of whom told him a Torah idea and a story.

When he described the men his father identified the one who spoke as the Baal Shem Tov.

The boy went on to relate; “The Torah idea he said was “In Ethics of the Fathers it says ‘Who is mighty? He who conquers his selfish inclination.’ (4:1)

And the Baal Shem Tov explained: “The reason it says ‘conquers’ and not BREAKS, is because it requires more might to conquer, and transform our negative energy than to break or mortify it.”

And the story the Baal Shem Tov told was to explain this was:

“When I was a young man of twenty, recently after being accepted as a member of the hidden Tzadikim [The hidden Tzadikim were a group of unusually gifted, learned and holy Jews who, disguised as simple people, dedicated their lives to improving the plight of their Jewish brethren both spiritually and physically] several of us came to the city of Brody.

“It was there I saw the most amazing thing. I was standing in the market place speaking to a large group of locals when I noticed from the corner of my eye an older man walking in the distance, bent under the burden of a large sack he was carrying on his shoulder. His face was covered with sweat and there was nothing unusual about him except for the fact that over his head floated a brilliant pillar of spiritual fire!

“Obviously none of the other townspeople saw it. A few of them even yelled jeeringly ‘Keep going Hershel-Goat’ and ‘Carry, Hershel, Carry!’ And he yelled back with a smile ‘Thanks! G-d bless you!’

“I could not believe my eyes. I called over two of the elder Tzakikim who were with me, Rav Yechezkel and Rav Efriam. They also saw the pillar, but also couldn’t explain it; for all appearances this Hershel was just a simple old Jew trying to make a living, what connected him to such a great revelation?

“For several days I observed him whenever possible in order to understand what merit he had to bring this fire, but to no avail. I asked the townspeople about him and was told that he was a widower with no children; his wife died some ten years ago. He earned his meek living by carrying things and doing odd jobs. And as far as everyone knew he used all his money to feed a few goats that he owned because he loved goat’s milk. That’s why they called him Hershel Goat. But I couldn’t understand how he merited to that pillar of fire.

“So I decided to fast the first three days of each week, only drinking water at night, until I had the answer.

“I had just finished the first set of three days and was leaving the Shul (Synagogue) when by Divine providence, there was Hershel walking down the street and when he saw me he smiled a big smile.

“I told him I was very weak from the fast and asked if he could give me something to eat. ‘Of course! Of course!’ He said joyously as though he was expecting me to ask. “Please, just follow me to my home! I’m so happy to help.’

“We walked for about an hour till we came to an old run-down hut at the edge of the woods. Nothing seemed unusual until he opened the door and entered. Suddenly four or five goats jumped from all corners of the house at him. They lovingly licked his hands and literally pranced with joy. I had never quite seen the likes of it. Hershel quieted the goats, told me to sit down, took out a large metal vessel, milked one of them and gave me to drink.

“‘Nothing healthier than goat’s milk!’ he said with satisfaction as he handed me a second glassful.

“But when I tried to pay him he refused, ‘G-d forbid! Money? No! No money, no money! It’s my pleasure! I’m the one that benefits! What, I should take money too?’ he said with a smile on his face.

“Then he looked at me seriously and said, ‘I want to tell you a true story. You have no idea how happy I am that you came here. Please listen.’ He sat down opposite me, waiting a few moments to collect his thoughts, and then began.

“‘My wife, of blessed memory was a real Tzadekis (righteous woman), always helping people. Any time anyone needed anything she was there doing everything she could to help. She collected money for the poor, cared for people when they were sick; everything she did was for others. About ten years ago she passed away and seven days later, after the seven days of mourning, she appeared to me in a dream.

“‘She told me that after she died, instead of going through the painful and frightening purification processes of ‘the slingshot’ and ‘trashing’ of the grave, she was received warmly by the souls of all those she had helped and taken directly to one of the highest heavens.

“‘She told me that nothing is valued in heaven more than brotherly love and beseeched me to also begin a life of charity and good deeds. So that is why I bought these goats; since that time I give free milk to whoever needs it and it has done wonders for people, simply wonders, and I am so happy I can help.

“This was ten years ago. Since then my wife never appeared to me again. But this morning, just before I woke up, she came. She told me that today I would meet a holy man and he would change my life, and I’m sure she was talking about you. Please stay by me for a few days and teach me Torah. I don’t want anything, not in this world or the next, except to learn Torah. But….I don’t even know how to read! Please stay.’

“I stayed by Hershel for several days and watched the way he lovingly cared for his goats and how he brought their milk to tens of people that needed it. Everything done with a simple, contagious joy and with no egotism whatsoever. But on the other hand he was a complete ignoramus and could barely read.

“I spoke it over with the Tzadikim and we decided to take him under our wing and teach him Torah. For three years we taught him the most basic books and then one day his mind simply opened. He suddenly understood and remembered everything we taught him, even the most difficult concepts in Talmud and in Kabala, but he never lost his simplicity.

“After five more years he became a great hidden Tzadik and mystic in his own right, moved to the city of Ostripol and for the next ten years helped and even saved hundreds of Jews with his prayers and blessings.

“But the story has a strange ending. As fate would have it, Hershel passed away on a cold, miserable, rainy day and the burial society of Ostripol barely found ten Jews to escort him to his final resting place and only with the greatest difficulty. And this was not received well in heavens.

“There a decree was passed that, because of their mistreatment of Hershel, the city of Ostripol should suffer terrible misfortunes.

“I and the other Tzadikim; tried to avert the decree, but to no avail; it seems that disgracing a Tzadik is no small matter. All our supplications, prayers and fasting had no effect. Things really looked bad until, suddenly, the soul of Hershel’s wife appeared before the heavenly court.

“All the accusing angels fell silent as she spoke. How could it be that the entire city of Ostripol would be punished because of her husband? Her husband had devoted his life to helping people. The biggest disgrace that could be done to him would be to cause anyone, no less an entire city, to suffer on his account. She demanded that the punishment be annulled.

“After short deliberation her demands were met. She accomplished what the efforts and prayers of the greatest, holiest Tzaddikim could not.”

by the way…

The previous post was not about how to choose a partner, but how to relate later. In choosing, it is so important to be humble but also careful. If a person has kindness, a shared path in faith with you, trustworthiness, desire to grow in good ways, a level of mutual understanding and enjoyment with you, and aspects you can genuinely respect about them, then you can begin to consider becoming more committed and sharing with them what is yours even despite difficulties and imperfections that both partners bring…and the question of how to give without strings attached, while looking after ourselves.

measuring kindness.

Rabbi Hillel cautioned that if we don’t look after ourselves, there may be no one to look after us, but also that if we only look after ourselves, our very identity is wrong. This applies in a marriage relationship as well, both in the decision to commit to someone and in the way two now-inseparable people will relate.

The kindness of love goes beyond simple justice. Marriage is more than simply a bargained exchange or a symbiotic partnership, though it is also that. It is the kind of love that forgives, that does not ride so heavily on expectations, and that focuses more on what to give rather than what to receive.

How can it be then that each person in a couple can keep the advice that we must be partially concerned with looking out for ourselves? This advice definitely is important for marriages as well. If either partner’s base needs from the relationship aren’t met, he or she may suffer. Perhaps they will consider the other partner to be hurting them, and begin to withhold love, patience, or appreciation in response. And even if the partner can truly forgive and look beyond areas of unmet need, there will be a poverty of relationship itself unless needs are both expressed and met.

I can’t answer the dilemma of how the truly unselfish kindness of lovers and their expectations of each other can actually exist together. But a few words seem to shed so much light on the issue.

First, the danger of this whole conversation is extreme, because it can lead to acts of sincere love being measured to see if they are enough. This is the wrong way to receive a gift.

Second, although individual needs should be spoken and hopefully met by each other, there must be a baseline at which the relationship is functional and good, even if many, many other needs have to be set aside for a time or indefinitely. Not speaking from experience, I have a feeling that as long as a couple can fulfill life values together, show any love, support, and friendship, and have both partners moving forward even to any measure so as not to be stagnant, then that is enough in most situations (one exception would be domestic violence; there are types of issues I’m not dealing with just in these thoughts). If there is sincere love to be found, to restate the important first point here, it is not only enough; it is a treasure, and one that deserves thankfulness. This is the underlying foundation that supports hopefully working through some of the other things yet to be resolved, as a team together and as truly kind and caring people, at the same time to each other and to ourselves.

being His.

We all have many experiences, ideas, traits, hopes, and relationships that make up who we are. But who are we really? We are who we are when we stand before our Maker. A servant of Him loses every other title and is simply, in His presence, His servant.

Our hopes, loves, prayers, desires, actions, devotion, and honesty in front of Hashem should be the main thing we cultivate in our lives because without this foundation, everything else is brittle and dark. He is the water to our roots, the light to our leaves, and the one to whom we belong. And that is who we really, most genuinely are, no matter what most others see. We should pour loving investment into making this treasure beautiful to the one who sees the heart.

who holds Torah?

There was once a scholar who was quite arrogant despite—or perhaps because of—his Torah knowledge.

He once chanced upon Reb Zushia, a chassidic master known for his humility, who taught him a life lesson. Reb Zushia quoted the Talmudic discussion of whether the holy ark containing the Torah scrolls could be counted toward the 10 men required to form a prayer quorum—a notion the Talmud suggests and then rejects, noting that an ark is not a person, and only people can constitute a minyan.

“Why did the Talmud originally think,” Reb Zushia asked his visitor, “that the ark containing the Torah scrolls can be counted? Surely the Talmud’s rejoinder, that an ark is not a person, is obvious?”

The man was dumbfounded, not knowing what to respond.

“Although an ark is merely a wooden box,” explained Reb Zushia, “it contains within it Torah scrolls. It was therefore supposed that the Torah it contains may elevate it to human status. The truth is, however, that despite the Torah you possess, if you remain a wooden box, unaffected by the Torah you’ve learned, you’re hardly a mentsch.”

The name of this week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, can be linked to the Hebrew root word that means “engrave.” Just as words etched in stone are not a distinct entity from the stone itself, so must our studies be internalized and engraved upon our hearts—or else we are but wooden boxes.

(Shaul Wolf)

to do this.

In writing the ‘ten commandments’, the account in Torah switches from God speaking of Himself in first person in the first two things while for the other eight, He is named in third person. One explanation given for this points to how the people couldn’t bear to hear God speaking anymore and asked Moses to relay the message as a prophet, saying that this happened after the giving of the first two.

There are many times in the scriptures when people encountered God’s presence or angel and felt that they would die. In this case it is even bigger, because what was being told was a set of covenant expectations that take Jews truly a lifetime to come closer to keeping and fully honouring. How could such a thing be heard from God Himself, before whom every aspect of the heart is exposed and in whose presence we exist, and are our true selves?

In a way there is a reason why it takes so long to learn. If we were expected to look at all the lack of holiness in ourselves and repair it immediately, rather than exploring the depths of obedience one thing at a time, it truly would cause us to die.

And yet there is a very full sense in which the person who stands before Hashem in prayer, both private prayer and that of the covenant nation, chooses to stand in the place of hearing the commandments from our Creator directly. They are offering their heart to Him, not to anything else in this world, with the desire to completely lose distractions. They become conscious of the gaze of the one who not only sees the heart fully but is worth everything. And they are committing their entire self to Him, not in a promise made outside His presence, but in the very place where humility lets Him in, or comes to be lost in His place: saying we will do and we will listen, because in that place we can hear Him speaking worlds of holiness.

To engage with this rather than pulling away is the most precious thing possible.

a few things.

Today I learnt some things, it’s a kind of miscellaneous list but worth sharing.

We are often blessed regardless of whether we are slipping into hypocrisy and apathy, but this only calls us deeper to respond in love to Hashem and to deal with issues between us.

It is easier to speak and think about holiness than to choose it. But it is never about what we understand or whay we have done in the past; what counts is how deeply we offer to Hashem the minute at hand.

Sometimes wisdom involves grasping very carefully at whatever the right path in life will be, and all things that will support us in it. And sometimes faith involves just going with the flow and trusting that Hashem’s will is going to happen in our lives no matter what. These two approaches add depth and life to each other.

The books of Daniel and Esther both respond to the situation of exile, and while they have lots of common themes, they also see different emphases regarding the openness of miracles. Daniel is full of clear interventions from God in that situation. In Esther, He seems silent but works in the hidden events of all things, very meaningfully. And it is in such a situation that Genesis 3 is different from chapters 1-2, because Hashem’s creating is hidden from sight and the garden takes up the sight of those who had to make a choice. Perhaps faithfulness amidst hidden providence taps at a deeper aspect of the relationship, one that needs to grow strong before open miracles can again be added.

In the Torah, an extremely harsh punishment of death is threatened to a son who strikes his parent. Also, in the commandment to honour your father and mother, it is given as a condition for living long in the land. Somehow, gratitude for one’s parents and respect for what they have to pass down are so important that the holiness of a land is dependent on them.

Two reasons are given for keeping the Shabbos, being the days of creation and the exodus. There is a real connection between the two since remembering creation shows an awareness of dependence for existence, and remembering the redemption looks at dependence for freedom as a nation. Both these things culminate in a sense of especially belonging to Hashem. And by taking pleasure in creation rather than exerting force over it, or by experiencing restraint from normal abilities, that dependence is lived out.

We should always listen deeply to people we respect when they come with unfamiliar perspectives. Maybe they could learn from our response, or maybe they can open new worlds and breadth to us.

Prayer and self-discipline matter so much even when no one may notice straight away when we ignore them; something else can always be taken out to make room.

And lots of other things that are harder to share 🙂 Thank God for always learning and for being able to walk with others in it.

the omer.

(by The Rebbetzin’s Husband)

From time to time, I hear people call the Omer a “sad time”. Of course, this is a reasonable conclusion from the absence of music during the days between Pesach and Lag ba’Omer, but in truth, sadness is not what the Omer period should represent.

True, we commemorate the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students (Talmud, Yevamot 62b), as well as other historic catastrophes which occurred during a period of time that coincides with the Omer. Nonetheless, as presented in the Torah, the Omer is something entirely different.

There is a second popular misconception regarding the Omer: that we are counting the days until we receive the Torah at Sinai. True, the Omer count concludes, on our calendar, with the fifth of Sivan, and we received the Torah on either the 6th of 7th of Sivan. (Talmud, Shabbat 87a-88a) However, the Torah (Vayikra 23:9-22) does not present this as the reason for counting.

As commanded in the Torah, from the time we first settled the land of Israel we were to bring G-d an annual offering from our new barley, on the 16th of Nisan. Then, we were to count 49 days while harvesting the year’s new wheat, and on the 50th day we would bring an annual offering to G-d from our new wheat. In other words: during the Omer period we count the days until we are able to bring G-d a present.

This is the reigning emotion of the Omer: joyous anticipation of an occasion when we will be able to offer G-d the fruit of our efforts, when we will stand in the Beit haMikdash, with loaves of our grain presented before us, and say, “Thank You for all of Your help! As we collect our food from the fields, we dedicate this first portion to You.”

The Omer count weaves together the humility of one who recognizes Divine aid with the pride of one who can show off results. It blends the generosity of giving a gift with the gratitude of recognizing that we have received a gift from G-d. It mixes the spiritual rite of the Beit haMikdash with the manual labour of the fields.

What a wonderful celebration; this theme should never be forgotten, even in the face of the presentation of the Torah at Sinai, or the grief of 33 days. May we soon bring these offerings again!

what’s yours is yours.

“The ancient sages taught that there are four basic kinds of people. The first person says, ‘What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.’ This kind of person is wicked and selfish. The second says, ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours.’ This is a generous person, a saintly person, a person to be admired. The third says, ‘What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine.’ Not too generous but not too selfish either. And the fourth says, ‘What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine.’ The sages called this kind of person an ignoramus.” (Rabbi Manis Friedman)

We can never take people and their kindness for granted. It is true that we can only form our very closest relationships in life with people whom we trust, whom we know to be generous and kind, so that there can be a mutual give and take, mutual respect, a shared journey with love. And it is true that there are some non-negotiable needs that both parties in a close relationship need to meet for each other in order for it to work. But the people who love us deserve most of all for us to recognise their generosity, not as our right but as their kindness. They will not force us to recognise that, but we need to. A person’s gifts should always be in their power to give, and they should always feel comfortable to say when they are unable to give, otherwise pain and possibly resentment will begin to hurt them and also the relationship.

With help, a God-fearing person can say to the people around them whom they trust deeply, “What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours.” It is a joy to give, and it is also a joy to receive things that aren’t expected or deserved. Both love and respect begin to grow when we see and receive this. And if we are close to a person who truly says this and means it from their heart, and does it to the best of their ability, then besides feeling deeply thankful we need to look out carefully for kindnesses that we can give to their hearts, in their lives… and to make sure they are free to ask for what they need. We should also keep looking out for the needs that they might not want to bother us by expressing.

At the deepest part of our essence, there is no one with us but Hashem… it is that deep an experience to be created by Him… He comes first and His path comes first. But every part of the journey can be shared with humans who also look to Him, and it is so real and special to learn from each other and to have friendship, family, companionship, kindness, and love in this world!

the clever and the simple one.

I was in a jury selection the other day and the judge said that every person should try their best to have an impartial opinion. That is a part of the human aim of being a just individual, he said, and to serve on a jury doesn’t require a high level of education; it just requires a high level of commonsense. This is a helpful perspective. For many things in life, we don’t need amazing wisdom or prophecy, but honest commonsense mixed with love.

Here is Rabbi Nachman’s story about ‘The Clever One and the Simple One’…



Some days hold a lot of pain or struggle. At these times, we physically learn the truth about how dependent we are on God for our needs, even our qualities, our strengths, and our existence. We learn to trust His ways with us, and as we cling to Him we know His love and we love Him.

Other days are full of joy and clarity. This gives us a chance to experience the flip-side of the same precious thing. By remembering our Maker, by knowing there is only one power in the world and by pouring our gratitude out for Him, we again see clearly the truth that all our desires, all our joy, are literally nothing away from Him. And so we can put things into their place, and even the highest joy is given its true beauty and sanity when it has no power to sway us from the one we look to as our God. Thankfulness is also joy!

with one mind.

In Jewish faith, people pray many prayers from their own heart, and in their own words, where only God hears. They also pray many prayers together, with words written down for the community to pray through all their days and generations. These communal prayers come from the hearts of the individual people whose eyes read them and whose mouths say them, and also from something bigger than anyone: the heart of the whole community.

Whether a person is simple or extremely knowledgeable, each one stands at the centre of the community, and yet also on the periphery looking in. Each one is teaching, drawing others closer to the middle; each one is being taught and drawn closer as well. Each one has the experience of Hashem and His light as their own experience, and the story of His ways runs in their veins. Yet each one also says the words loud enough that they can hear theirself, listening to something beyond all they have experienced on their own.

It’s not to say that praying is a time meant for learning. It’s a time of being with Hashem, opening the heart for an offering to Him. Yet the soul can’t help but listen in. The words written and spoken by those before us can remind us of awe. They can show us beauty. They can even speak of events and ideas that seem hard to truly test the reality of. A person seeking to be honest may struggle to say prayers that thank God for things that they never witnessed with their eyes and can’t prove beyond a shadow of doubt. But in communal prayer, the selfhood that listens in is reasonable in the surrender it chooses. It listens and responds, and yet knows it is truly a part of the nation whose God is Hashem. The hearts and mouths of all people, every simple Jew or gentile who accepts that they have seen genuine light in Yiddishkeit, raise the offering of a single altar. They speak as a single, eternal witness, regardless of what each individual has seen or deduced alone.

There is honesty and humility in this, drawing close to the reality of our subjectivity before truth, and choosing to draw our individual souls, hearts, and words closer to the covenant miracle of a message held by a community together. There’s a time for both kinds of praying, both kinds of honesty about what we know and how we know it.

pride and obedience.

Our pride can make us do the right thing, sometimes. We might feel like we are on too high a level to do something that we’re tempted to do, or feel worried that people watching will judge us. Is this a positive thing, or a negative? It can be both.

In a sense, we should harness everything within our reach when it comes to serving God. If the easiest way for us to avoid sinning is to try and use our sense of pride as a tool for doing what is right, then that’s a good thing. We can’t let our motivations tie us back from just doing and thinking the things we know we need to.

But we still need to avoid letting our egos become inflated to the point where we think we can do it all alone. In Amy Magnusson’s words,

“…if we place expectations on ourselves for the sake of pleasing Hashem, because we want to be closer to Hashem, that is coming from the right place. If we were to say ‘I should give more tzedakah for the sake of uplifting and helping another soul in need and to bring more of Hashem’s light into this world’ I think that is much more suitable. When we come from the aspect of wanting to do things for the sake of Hashem, we are much more inclined to ask Hashem for HELP in fulfilling these new goals. When we put the expectations on ourselves because we should be better than that, we are placing the soul responsibility on ourselves and are much less inclined to ask Hashem for His help, which is why most of the time these expectations fail.

“Everything we do should be for the sake of Hashem and for helping others, including the expectations we place for ourselves.”

with His help.

“The whole world is a very narrow bridge…”

The path of life is full of risks and dangers.

Another way to think about it is that the path of righteousness is very narrow. To truly avoid choices that aren’t holy is a hard balance and a path we need to keep re-finding and returning to.

“…but the main thing to recall is to have no fear at all.”

If we live in fear then we can’t remember to praise and yearn for God with our trust. Also, we can’t serve Him if we’re swallowed by fear. We could acknowledge that to look at the dangers ahead feels painful, but we can’t be overwhelmed if we know that everything in this world will draw us near to His compassion and His love.

When it comes to being righteous, we should always test and suspect ourselves rather than becoming careless or arrogant. Yet we shouldn’t be afraid of our weakness, as if the whole point of life is to do something that others see as perfect. The point is to give an offering to Hashem of the best that we can bring at any moment, so each moment should be a joy, an opportunity, with His help.

heart, mind (II)

Since our minds and hearts work together as a team before Hashem, each one has important roles to play. The fight between the two only happens when these holy responsibilities aren’t being balanced and kept.

It is the heart’s responsibility to belong only to our Creator, and to put no other power or love before Him. Nothing exists beside Him, everything is from Him, and our hearts need to be poured out in an offering of dedication to that; opening up to the blessing of surrender.

In that context, the heart brings many feelings, passions, and questions to the mind, whose loving job before our God it is to act as an impartial judge of wisdom. It isn’t easy to be impartial, but it is the duty of the mind to try, with God’s help, and to gently give the heart a map of wisdom.

Then, the heart again takes its turn, with the duty of learning to walk more and more often in the path of wisdom. But this is not just a matter of our minds serving our hearts by controlling them. When the borders of wisdom are drawn, the heart should take joy in colouring in those lines with the beauty of a focused offering. Sometimes it feels joyful to do this and sometimes it feels painful, but the heart’s love for God according to the paths of wisdom is what brings those paths to flourish in life.

Finally, as we keep living and growing and the whole cycle continues, the mind is responsible to celebrate with the joys and successes of the heart in serving God, and to keep focusing every now and then on its impartial re-weighing of holiness, so that the lines of wisdom become more intricate, nuanced, and near to Hashem.

We can trust that as we offer our whole selves to God, heart and mind, He will lead the two together in the one path that is meant for them. If one or the other seems to be behind, it only means to look to Him in patience, love, and trust.


I don’t want to know that things like this could happen, but they did and for the sake of the people who were there, and their families who have suffered the trauma or loss ever since, we have to know even a part, give what we can (though it is little) to listen to them, and commit to doing what we can to squash and resist evil in the world.
I did not survive – I was murdered at Auschwitz.
My name is Yechiel Michoel Friedman. I was “murdered” at Auschwitz. I did not die at Auschwitz. I was “murdered” at Auschwitz.
None of you know me. None of the people in this room have ever met me; not even my own grandson, Ben Brafman, who many of you know, has ever met me. I have authorized my grandson to speak for me, because although I was murdered, I was not silenced. You must be reminded of my life and of my murder – not my death – my murder. The murder of my family – of your family – of so many families…
This is my story – a true story. A sad, horrific story.
My story, like so many of your stories, has a wonderful beginning, a very terrible middle and a tragic, horrible end that Baruch Hashem was not really the end, because although I and part of my family were brutalized and murdered, a part of my family miraculously survived – and because some did survive, my grandson is here to speak for me, to tell you “my” story, his grandfather’s story, my life story and my death story. The story of a life that was brutally taken from me, from my beautiful wife, Malka, my beautiful, sweet daughter, Sima, her young, handsome husband, Yaakov and their baby, my granddaughter, my “first” granddaughter, Chaya Sarah, my little Chaya Sarah, who at two years old was ripped screaming from her mother’s arms and thrown into an oven at Auschwitz as if she did not matter.
I speak to tell you that my little Chayala did matter, we all mattered.
Nazi killers murdered my Chayala and 1.5 million other Jewish children.
Chaya Sarah was the only grandchild I ever knew and I loved her as only a grandfather can love a grandchild and Nazi killers murdered her, my Chayala and 1.5 million other Jewish children. They took our nachas – our life and our joy and our hope. They took our babies and turned them into ashes.
Today, I speak to you as a neshama, as a soul from heaven, where I and millions of my brothers and sisters sit in a special place of honor reserved for us, for those you call Kedoshim – holy ones – whose lives were taken only because we were Jews, brutally taken less than 70 years ago, when a whole country became dominated by savages, while a civilized world stood by and through its silence, said that it was “okay to smash the head of a two year old child and then, while she was still alive, throw her screaming in terror into a burning oven, that it was okay to gas and cremate – to murder her parents and grandparents.” A civilized, cultured nation did this and a civilized world watched it happening and did nothing to stop our slaughter.
The world heard our screams but did not care, the world smelled our burning flesh but turned away – the world heard my Chayala screaming for her mother and did nothing, because Chayala was a Jewish child and at that time – the systematic murder of Jewish children – undertaken in an efficient, organized manner by monsters in government-issued uniforms -was okay. Indeed, it was encouraged, applauded. The murderers were honored with medals, applauded as heroes for killing our children – for killing my grandchild.
Smoke and Gas
How did this happen to us? When did our world turn so bitter and dark?
I remember our life before Auschwitz, a good life, a quiet, pious life, centered around my family, my wife, Malka, our daughters, Sima, Ruchele, Hencha, Hinda, my sweet little boy, Meir, Sima’s husband, Yaakov, and their baby, my zeis little Chayala.
We lived in a small town in Czechoslovakia, Kiviash, right near the Hungarian border. I was a learned man, a Hebrew teacher. Our family was a good family. We were poor, but respected. We were honest, kind, sweet people who lived among other respected, soft-spoken, wonderful families. We had no enemies.
I never even raised my voice in anger, never, until that day in Auschwitz, when they murdered my grandchild, then the world heard me, but did not listen, when they tried so hard to destroy my family. I screamed so loud, I cried so hard and long, but the murder continued. The smoke and gas roared and now I am still angry. Now, I raise my voice again, not to complain, but so that you will remember – so that you can wake up, because what happened to my family can happen again, it is happening again!
Today, less than 70 years later, monsters are again threatening and murdering Jewish families, murdering our beautiful children – just last month in Israel, in Itamar, the Fogel family was massacred and again, beautiful, little, innocent children were butchered because they were Jews.
Udi and Ruth Fogel murdered because they were Jews! Their children, Yoav, age 11, Elad, age 4 and Hadas, age 3 months – slaughtered!! Their throats slit while they slept in their own beds.
You must know the terror, not only to make you sad and angry, but to make you vigilant.
So I need to tell you about my own murder. I need to relive for you my horror, my terrible loss, so that you will understand and remember, so that you will feel the Shoah – what the world refers to as the Holocaust. It needs to be real for those of you who were not there. It is more than a word – Shoah. You must know the terror, not only to make you sad and angry, but to make you vigilant.
If I upset you tonight, good! If my frankness and the terrifying description of brutal murder gives you nightmares tonight – good. I want you to be afraid and sad and angry and bitter and aware – but I also want you to be proud, because the end of my own story, although sad, was not the end.
Be comforted in the knowledge that “they did not win.” The Nazi murderers killed me and millions of Jews like me, but they did not win. They did not murder my whole family, or your whole family. The murderers and their army of monsters did not murder the Jewish people, they did not end Klal Yisrael – they made us stronger.
Alive Today
Jews are alive today. Israel is strong today, my family, your families, are here today, and we must keep reminding the world about our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and the children, who were gassed and cremated.
My family is alive today to help you understand the quality of hate that can allow a country to burn and gas and bludgeon newborns, infants and toddlers; to machine gun them and throw them into mass graves or onto trucks and then while still alive, toss them into large ovens, or used while conscious and awake – for vicious, cruel medical experiments.
So many children, small Kinderlach screaming for their Mommy and Tattie, for Bobbie and Zayde – can you hear them? Their screaming is so loud – I can still hear my Chayala, 70 years later. Can you hear them? Can you hear your family members? The families you never got to meet or know. Can you hear their screams?
When you are in bed waiting to fall asleep, listen hard. If you try, you will hear them in your head and in your heart.
Listen and you will also hear 12-year-old Tamar Fogel who, returning to her home in Itamar, after an Oneg Shabbat Friday night, only a few weeks ago, found her parents murdered, her three month old baby sister, Hadas, with her throat slit. Can you hear Tamar screaming? All of us, all the way up here in Heaven heard her screams; you should be able to hear her just across the ocean, her screams for her family, for every Jew whose child – whose life has been viciously taken just because they were Jewish.
It is almost impossible to imagine so much murder and torture and starvation, but you must.
The difficulty in speaking about such horror and about so much grief is that it is so hard. It is almost impossible for the mind to process so much terrible information, it is almost impossible to make someone understand something so bad, it is hard to even imagine so much murder and torture and starvation, but you must.
I will help you. I am going to be graphic and brutal, because it is the only way to make you get it, for you to really understand what it means when we say Holocaust – or Shoah – or talk about 6 million kedoshim.
I am standing in the gas chamber naked with hundreds of innocent Jews. My wife, Malka, whose terrified eyes were already dead, is next door holding our daughter, Sima. Sima’s husband, Yaakov, is with me. We have already watched our Chayala cremated. We are already dead – the gas will just kill us again.
We know we are not in a shower. We know we are in a gas chamber. We know we are going to die and we all know that we did nothing wrong and we also know that a civilized world did this to us, that a civilized world abandoned us.
We are afraid to die, of the brutal, choking, burning death that is upon us, but we are so much more afraid that nobody will ever know that we lived, that nobody will ever know that we were a good family; that we had beautiful, good children and that we had a beautiful grandchild. I was so afraid that nobody would ever know; that nobody in my family or in anyone else’s family would survive; that the “final solution” was really going to be final. Let me tell you something….
You think you know about prayer – you think you know about faith because you are religious or because you pray every day?
Let me tell you about real prayer, about real belief – in my gas chamber, as gas filled our lungs, as flames burned off our skin, we screamed “Ani Maamin,” we believe in you Hashem.
With our dying breath we screamed, “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad” – my last words screamed through gas filled lungs, as I died, so afraid that my entire family had been, or soon would be, murdered.
What wrenching sadness, what anger rose in my heart and raged through my mind – I pleaded to Hashem, not to be spared, but for nekama, for revenge! How, when, who would ever make this right, or get even for us, who would be alive to say Kaddish for us – to light a candle on our Yahrzeit – no graves, no headstones – no one alive to mourn our death – to even know of our life.
Well, I am not here tonight in person. Yechiel Michoel Friedman was murdered at Auschwitz, but we were not all murdered that day, or the next day and some of my children, some of your children did survive and today, our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and now even our great-great-grandchildren are alive. We live in the United States and all over the world as proud Jews, and we have the Land of Israel – do you hear that, Nazi murderers? We have Israel, a nation built by survivors. We have a Jewish army and a Jewish state. Our people are strong. We have powerful, eloquent voices demanding to be heard.
My daughters, Hencha and Hinda, who were tortured for years, did not die and my daughter, Ruchele, who at age 15 escaped to America, married Shlomo Brafman, who also escaped – they did not die and their children and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up as Shomer Shabbos Jews and tonight, my grandson is speaking for me in a shul with 1,000 proud, strong Jews who came to remember all of us tonight.
I do not have my life, but I have my revenge.
So I do not have my life, but I have my revenge. In fact, my little boy, Meir, who they tried so hard to murder, he lived too. At age 16, he weighed 45 lbs. when found alive in a pile of corpses at Auschwitz.
When liberated, he went to Israel, to Israel, where for 50 years he was a soldier in Tzahal – Israel’s army. A Jewish hero, he fought for 50 years in Israel’s army. My son, my Kaddish, he did not die in Auschwitz either. How proud I was to watch as he put on the uniform of an Israeli soldier to fight for our country, a Jewish community.
They Will Not Win
I am very sad and very angry and bitter that I did not get to enjoy the world of nachas that was mine, a world of nachas and pride and Yddishkeit that I had a right to live through and enjoy.
The Nazis hurt me beyond words, but they did not win.
Ladies and gentlemen, they only win if you forget – or now, if you allow the world to deny. They only win if we do not cry real tears when we hear about the slaughter of the Fogel family in Itamar.
They only win if you cannot hear my Chayala screaming or feel the terror of Tamar Fogel, or her grandparents who must now face a quality of grief so savage that it is hard for you to grasp.
Trust me – I know about the murder of a child and a grandchild and how that impacts on everything else. How everything else is forever shrouded in death and overwhelming sadness. The Fogel family will never recover but they cannot be forgotten.
Here we are in a beautiful shul, with so many Jews. Good Jews. Strong, proud people who have not forgotten us, me, my family, your families – the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, the children, the grandchildren – the babies who were murdered and gassed and buried alive.
It is okay to cry for what we lost, for what was taken from you, for the lives lost, the nachas of family we were deprived of.
Cry for us. We cry for you too, for what you lost, for the family you never met, for the millions of good, sweet Jews who did not live – for the students who never finished their studies, for the scientists and artists and musicians and teachers and Rebbes who never got the chance to excel, to perform, to teach, to cure, to live.
It’s okay to cry for the children who never got to play, or sing, or laugh, who were put to death with such violence, with so much hatred that I cannot describe it in words as for certain levels of grief, there are no words. It is so bad that it cannot even be imagined by any decent human being, impossible to process rationally.
But you must, because today, people are already questioning whether the Holocaust really happened. World leaders and scholars are already denying the Holocaust; they are challenging even the integrity of a handful of survivors, the eyewitnesses who are still alive, those who saw the horror with their own eyes. Even these heroic survivors are being doubted and am so afraid that in coming years, vicious, anti-Semitic revisionists will tamper with history and the truth and we cannot – you cannot allow that to happen ever – never…
If our memory is really to be for a blessing, then you must remember.
I had a granddaughter, a charming, beautiful little baby girl named Chaya Sarah and she was murdered in front of my eyes and although her neshama, her soul, is in heaven with me, her memory must be emblazoned in your hearts forever.
If our memory is really to be for a blessing, for our neshamos to really have the aliyah you ask for, an aliyah we have earned and paid so dearly for, then you must remember.
You must make certain that your children and their children understand what happened to their family, to your family, to all of our families, or it will happen again.
You think it cannot happen again? Why? Because you have good lives – you live in civilized times? We had a good life – we lived in civilized times. We were happy and complacent, but we were not vigilant and we walked right into a Holocaust.
Our neighbors, an entire nation of ordinary men and women of intelligence and breeding and culture turned into monstrous, murderous animals who withdrew from humanity and imposed a level of brutality on us that cannot now be described and could not then, ever have been predicted – but that is exactly what happened.
It was even worse than the worst true story that any survivor can report, because the brain is not capable of capturing so much grief without exploding, so even those who survived, who saw it all, cannot fully capture the full horrific ordeal, the vicious detail.
Only a victim like me, only someone who did not survive, can tell you the whole, bad, ugly, demented, terrible truth about our murder, of 6 million murders.
That, my friends, is why I chose to speak to you through my grandson from my seat in heaven and although Hashem does not permit me to tell you “why” these terrible things happened, I am commanded to discuss “what” happened.
To tell you “what” happened with clarity and force, so that hopefully some people in this room will never doubt the Shoah and you will take it upon yourself to confront anyone who dares to deny it and make them hear my story – your story, the sad but true stories of our families, whom we too often refer to as the “6 Million,” but rarely if ever refer use their names.
We have names. Our lives were taken, but they cannot take our names.
Get Aish.com’s Free Email Updates.
My name is Yechiel Mechoel Friedman. I was murdered at Auschwitz with my wife, Malka and my daughter, Sima, her husband, Yaakov Weiss and my granddaughter, Chaya Sarah.
Can you see them? I see them and I also see Tamar Fogel and the bodies of her family being carried through Itamar for burial; not 70 years ago – last month. People with names and lives taken in the dark – only because they were Jews.
My name is Yechiel Michoel Friedman. I was murdered in Auschwitz. Don’t you ever forget me.

looking forward.

We tend to find energy, motivation, and hope by looking forward to times in the future that we’ll be able to share with other people. At a time in life when we don’t have a clue what those times might be like, the opposite happens: it is hard to keep momentum, to work hard on doing good and growing in goodness, or to see as much light. The problem here could be that we are looking too much to time shared with loved ones as our foundation and fulfillment… even though it is a true blessing and something to look forward to, invest towards, and have joy in. Even more than that, living to be God’s servant and to give to those in need should be our joy in each hour and the thing we build towards, even if we can’t see it making any difference to the times we will have in the paths ahead. This is a purer focus and one that we can only ask for help in attaining, because it takes focus, commitment, honesty, and something closer to unselfishness.

the breath.

(Written by Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal)

The deepest yearning of man is the longing to connect with God. It is not enough for a person to know with the mind and the intellect that God exists. We yearn for connection, we yearn to experience God.

In the material world we distinguish between knowledge that is purely intellectual on the one hand and between sensory knowledge on the other. Abstract concepts that were not illustrated to us in the physical world, such as the solution to a mathematical equation, remain in the realm of the intellect. We do not connect with such knowledge on any level of depth. We have not experienced that knowledge. In sharp contrast to intellectual knowledge, we have sensory knowledge, concepts that we encountered through our senses. A scene that we saw, sounds that we heard, experiences that impacted us on the level of the sensory. These concepts touch our inner beings, we sense that we truly connect with that which we have experienced through the senses.

Since God is not a physical being, we will not be able to acquire knowledge of God through our physical senses. This fact presents a certain problem. We yearn to connect to God, but we cannot do so in the way that we connect to our material surroundings…

The key to connecting to God is found in Genesis 2:7. The Scripture teaches that God brought man to life by breathing into his nostrils. Throughout scripture we find that the inner being of man, generally translated as soul, is called by the Hebrew name “Neshama”, which literally means: “breath” (see Proverbs 20:27, Job 32:8). Our inner being is a breath from God, our inner being is what yearns for God, and our inner being has the ability to experience God. The connection that is achieved when the inner being of man experiences God surpasses every sensory experience that exists. Our senses are external to us, our inner being IS us. When our neshama/breath/inner being connects with its Creator, WE have experienced.

The barrier that stands in our way is not the fact that God is not physical, because our inner being is not physical either. The barrier that stands in our way is the fact that we do not connect to our own inner beings. We perceive ourselves and we define ourselves according to the experiences of the body, of the emotions, of the senses and of the intellect, but we fail to tune into the yearning of our inner being, the experiences of our inner being and the reality of our inner being.

One of the clear distinctions between our external shell; our bodies and emotions on the one hand, and our inner beings on the other hand is the type of experience that they seek. Our external shell seeks experiences of taking, it wants to posses it wants to absorb and take in. Our inner being is not a “taker”, it is a “giver”. Our inner being, which is but a breath from God, by its intrinsic nature reflects God’s goodness, kindness and giving. Our yearning for God is not a desire to “take in” another spiritual experience. It is not a self centered desire. It is a desire to be absorbed into God’s love, into God’s goodness, into God’s holiness and into God’s purity. It is a desire to give ourselves over to God. It is a desire to give rather than a desire to take. Ultimately we will become the channel for God’s light that will flow through our inner beings to light up the world (Isaiah 60:2,3).

We can summarize these concepts by stating that the chief barrier that stands between us and our connection to God is the fact that we do not identify ourselves with our own inner beings, and instead, we identify with our external shells that seeks to take and to posses.

With this knowledge in front of us we can understand one of the central themes of Scripture. Time and time again we are told and reminded that God desires justice and kindness (Genesis 18:19, Isaiah 55:1, Jeremiah 9:23, Ezekiel 18:27, Micah 6:8, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3). Justice and kindness are described by the prophets as “knowing God” (Jeremiah 22:16). People who seek closeness to God before walking on the path of justice and charity will not find God (Isaiah 58:2).

Justice and kindness are the steps we follow to move from our identification with our external shell and towards connecting with our own inner beings. Justice is the recognition that the desire to take that which is not rightfully ours is an abhorrent desire. It is not a desire that we should identify with. Love of kindness is the development of the desire of our inner beings to give. When we love kindness and charity, we identify with the breath of God inside of us that seeks to be a part of God’s giving.

Only after we have moved from the “taking mode” to the “giving mode” can we hope to walk humbly with our God.

freedom can be like this.

About the last post, given a few hours, I think it is all okay. If you ask Hashem to really purify your heart and isolate areas where you depend on things other than Him, He will. And there are still paths ahead that make sense as good, caring, hopeful, and happy. Everything else makes no sense but that isn’t my concern 🙂


This is an experience I want to share humbly but honestly. It hurts too much to keep it to myself, and also I think it is good to share it and be able to look back on it one day. I know it is just a fragment of reality. I can relate a lot to the story of Naomi today, who lost her home, her homeland, and her husband and children, but found comfort as well.

Life doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve been looking at Judaism and literally investing my heart into the search ever since rejecting Christianity and giving up my Christian community a couple of years ago. After numerous times feeling I just see such clear glimmers of truth and love for God that He Himself created and preserves in the Jewish heritage, and choosing to try and pursue that covenant, community, and mission through conversion, I still realise that I don’t have enough clarity or conviction to get past the questions I still have. So with a sense of loss I’ve decided to really give up on the attempt to know if Judaism is true and to take it up for myself, unless I really have complete conviction about it and no sense of suppressing wavering uncertainties even under a large weight of proof.

I’ve been in a religion before that I felt was true because I have a relationship with God and that community reflected it so much. Then I found out it was false. My sense of honesty before God can’t bear to go under than experience again, even though I have every reason to believe Christianity isn’t true, and many more reasons to believe that Judaism is than I ever had with Christianity. It is okay, as I don’t want any path with God except the one He gives, and the gift of existence and His blessings is real even despite (and through) a feeling of lack. Relationship with Him is the one kind of faith that doubt can’t erase; humbly, dependently, and with love I choose the only thing I can and desire to, which is belonging to Him.

It just feels like He has created finite existence for no reason. Nothing good can come out of causing darkness in which to create light, it is always going to be less than the infinite, and for holiness and blessing to require a context of suffering is illogical. Existence itself makes no sense, yet here we are. The aching agony throughout the world doesn’t seem like a gift. Like Job, I feel thrown between the feeling that God loves and deserves us, the feeling that He hates us, and the reality that in many things He is silent. Even though I’m blessed to have such insights into a wise and beautiful heritage of faith, and to have many of my material needs met, and some kind family members and friends. I feel like by giving me confusion about faith, yet showing me the worth of it, God has put me into a situation of lack and real loneliness, unable to connect to any community, most likely unable to marry (who has the same values as me but isn’t attached to a religion?) and with no other modest path for male-female companionship, no chance of children unless this changes, and no certainty about what kindness and a practically compassionate life should even focus on. After all, God’s creation seems cruel, and it’s impossible for humans to exist (or eat almost anything, or do almost anything) without oppressing, causing pain to, and often even torturing other humans and animals. It all seems wrong, but the value of right is so clear. It is hard to be resilient with so little to stand on, but even if I can, what about all of the less fortunate ones who are suffering immensely and/or don’t even know the value of the holy things that I feel are both a constraint and my highest joy?

In the middle of that bitter situation of not knowing where to head, I do see some beauty in the happiness of little children playing, of friends who are in love with their spouses in joyful and also deeply caring ways, of people helping others and being helped out of pain, of people enjoying themselves, of the relationship that we have with God through history and in this day, in the natural world around. I don’t intend to build a philosophy out of uncertainty or be loud about things that are unclear to me. I need to be both humble and practical before God and people, and let my King lead, and make my mind and hands help others. But it does feel like a dark world, a dead end, and a lot of barrenness and loneliness.

The helpful advice I was given is to look not at the why, but at the what. Don’t spend time asking why something happens that we could never understand if the time is one where we need to invest our hearts in what needs to be done to help.

the true place.

When the Israelites escaped from Egypt and God opened the waters for them to go through, the tradition says that the experience was a ‘face’ of God that was extremely clear and personal to to them. If the spiritual experience at this time was so deep, how could they have moved on from the sea? We know that they had somewhere else to go: into the wilderness, to receive the Torah. In the same way, even though in our lives there are spiritual experiences that transform us and draw us near to God, they lose their reality if we are unwilling to ever leave that place in order to concentrate on the other practical things He asks ask to do, for Him and for others, in our path with Him.

Another way of saying it is that there are many places through which we meet with Him, but in reality the only place that is inherently for us is Him.


From the last post. I think the two main questions I’m holding onto are…
1. As there’s a difference between the moderate certainty I feel that the revelation events happened, and the high amount that I feel the faith system is inspired and preserved and true…. what’s wrong with my measurement?
2. And as long as that’s the case, I just have to wonder if a person who has ‘more doubt than none’ can declare things as beliefs, in the contexts of prayer and of teaching children… if they are at least sure enough to invest their lives in the belief… but still feel that other historical/spiritual possibilities aren’t ruled out.

Edit: I came to an answer here – https://yonati.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/with-one-mind/

So… Pesach has brought me some really helpful clarity, but I have realised I still need to process some questions. I wrote to someone about it, and it helps to get my real question at this point into words. If anyone has insights, please share them with me.
I’m a bit confused about something, could you help if you have thoughts on it? It’s about what ‘belief’ means, in terms of certainty, and other things. I feel sure enough of Judaism to make it my ethical authority and invest my life and heart in its claims. But I actually feel much more sure of relationship with God, and some other aspects of the Jewish faith system, than I do of the claim that God gave the Torah as described, after the exodus through the sea.

In terms of percentages, I would say I feel in the high 90s sure that this nation’s experience of God (and that of others who’ve learnt from them, as in my own upbringing) really comes from Him and has been preserved by Him. But historically, in terms of if I jumped into a time machine and would find the exodus and Sinai events as described, I’d put it at more like 70% sure. I know this is a really unique claim to national revelation and that it has been preserved in scattered circumstances (as predicted, even), and that the beliefs were innovative to say the least. I also believe it is a huge thing that Israel would hold such a seriously important light and knowledge regarding how we belong to our Creator alone, and how to be devoted to Him. But I did my undergrad in medieval studies so my mind is trained to be aware of uncertainty about theories.

In terms of the investment I have no question. In terms of my declarations, though, I do. Average the 70% and the 97%…is that a high enough level of knowledge to declare in prayer to God “thank you for doing this; you did this; etc.”; or to tell the stories to my children (if I have any) as history with conviction, rather than just stories from a source that I think has the most valid stories?

This is really different from my questions about Christianity because I personally believe they are based on ‘reasons against’ rather than ‘doubts about’. But really, my question transcends that discussion… it is, I know how to make practical decisions even despite limited historical knowledge, but what about peace of mind and honesty in our tongues’ declarations, before God and before children? Is it better to just stick with what we do know more clearly, even though it can mean hesitating from precious and ‘pretty sure’ knowledge?

I hope that makes sense 🙂

[I think the two main questions I’m holding onto are…
1. As there’s a difference between the moderate certainty I feel that the revelation events happened, and the high amount that I feel the faith system is inspired and preserved and true…. what’s wrong with my measurement?
2. And as long as that’s the case, I just have to wonder if a person who has ‘more doubt than none’ can declare things as beliefs, in the contexts of prayer and of teaching children… if they are at least sure enough to invest their lives in the belief… but still feel that other historical/spiritual possibilities aren’t ruled out.]

with light.

The one who is and made what is,
makes darkness to fill it with light, whose kindness people call for through senseless beauty and agony.
We see the faces of your heart
and let our words be few.

We let our humbler words be free
and there’s nothing to know,
God, apart from knowing you.

This is the joining of smallness with truth,
of yearning with you;
here, the world and all words
stand hushed.
Please open my lips
to call for you and say,
and declare, your praise;
it’s more than enough for us.
In the place where, hidden
in you, we rest,
don’t let us forget you’re more
than the paths you lead us on.

Even though my understanding is so limited, I know relationship with God is real and worth everything. The Jewish story of their covenant with Him is believable to me and because of their nearness to Him through time I accept it as my ethical path, my community to pray with, and a treasure I want to hold and join in with. Somehow it isn’t a choice as much as something woven into my being. I get the idea that Judaism is hard but very worth it.

It is better if I take it gently in this, having started on this path before and felt confused. Letting my God lead each step with light and peace of mind, not trying to control or understand it all. In the meantime, the path of knowing and seeking Him and giving to others is very solid and it is our anchor.

Pesach 5774.

Thanks to everyone who shared the first days of Pesach with me! It’s a very special holiday and I thank God for the kindness He has shown by giving you this story about being liberated and brought out into the desert to become His own people.

It is hard to understand why so much suffering and cruelty happen and why good and holy things would have to sometimes come out of suffering. We can’t understand why, or any of the questions of why we exist and things are as they are. But so much kindness that over thousands of years your nation has held, with such a clear voice and devoted heart, this deepest relationship with our Creator alone. So many lives have been and will be blessed by this gift from Him and from you.

The seder is a tangible experience of how year to year it’s been passed on, for a very long time. And while we can’t go back and check out the history objectively, it lives in you as its children; the knowledge of God all through your lives and history is very believable to me, as much as I can know of anyway. I trust that basic story and I trust your understanding of how to walk. Anyway, we can’t see God but we look to Him for life, and the way that your history and your metaphors have embodied the relationship is not really separable from the knowledge of Him in the world, even though knowing Him is the anchor for listening to the children of Israel.

Even though I’ve spent the last two years with the Jewish community (but not come to a seder before this year), and tried to come to Pesach without expectations but just holding onto what I know and the paths I have with God, it’s a powerful thing, an important part of how God has given for this light to be preserved. A lot of compassion, and kindness, in redeeming and bringing you in to that. You have put a lot of time, patience, and heart into letting this time grow into visibility, both recently and in the time longer past. Thank you so much for sharing it.

No wonder it says, “Even if all of us were wise, all of us understanding, all of us knowing the Torah, we would still be obligated to discuss the exodus from Egypt; and everyone who discusses the exodus from Egypt at length is praiseworthy.”


When plunged into the dark of not knowing, the mind can rant and cry, or fall asleep with tears still on his cheek. The soul can feel the pain and ache. To love something so strongly and yet know you’re subjective, pushed this way and that by society, conditioned by secondary and artificial feelings. We have something, but what is it? The soul can yearn for the map to be unfolded, for inferences to be verifiable on the path of deepest loyalty and love. She can feel the loss of something feeling like nothing, and fear the emptiness in the path of arrogant indifference.

But she can’t grieve like a widow, or fall like the victim of a landslide. Even when her very skin is void of feeling, she still holds the hand of her beloved. And even in the dark, she clings to the foundation holding her.

belongs to.

Part of our relationship with God is that we rely on Him, and not on any other power. He is worth more to us than anything in this world, and everything we have and are is a gift from Him alone in the end.

This doesn’t mean that we will never feel a lack of anything that is created. For example, at times we can be hungry or thirsty, and clinging to God doesn’t satiate the physical need. Perhaps a person is fasting; perhaps they are Jewish and have access to food, but not kosher; perhaps they give their food or water to someone else in need, so they remain hungry. Then that is a meaningful part of commitment with God, and drawing close to Him is very close on that level. Perhaps a person simply has no access to food. Hoping in God, trusting in Him, and being thankful for relationship with Him are all worth so much more than physical sustenance, but they don’t take away the physical pain. Instead, knowing God sustains us in our hearts, and we hope in His created blessings to sustain other needs as long as we live.

The same is true with human relationships. By imagining that a historical figure was God incarnate, Christianity encourages not only the worship of a human, but also a relationship with God that in part is like the relationship between two humans. Speaking as a single woman, I believe that for me it was not only idolatrous, but also immodest. My relationship with God does not belong to any human being. And also, my closeness to a man, in terms of opening my heart to another human to share life with him, wanting to see his face and be near him, belongs only to my future husband if I marry, or else to no one. (In traditional Judaism, men and women who aren’t married or family don’t touch at all or form close emotional bonds, and I think that this keeps marriages very special: they are exclusive on the higher level even of male-female friendship. No one else, historical or living, is welcome into that place of modesty.) Perhaps the worst thing though is to mix up the two kinds of relationship. In prayer and in clinging to my God, I no longer yearn to hold a physical hand, see a human face, or press my heart against the similar and finite experiences and personality of another human heart. I believe that flesh and blood, words and expressions, and the human heart itself, are created by my God and although they are precious, I will never bow to them as I do to Him.

For a couple of years, realising this has made the emotions and words of my prayers more quiet. I want to be careful not to come to God in the whole way I was taught, particularly in parts of it. It still leaves the question: as a single woman, whose circumstances of life and choices in front of God make it feel unlikely that this will change any time soon, it can be lonely not to have a partner in life. And yet I know that in every kind of situation in life, God is my fulfillment and closest companion, and holiness is the only path of joy and beauty. So how can I look to Him to be this particular kind of relationship? Or even, if I am not with people or at times don’t feel understood, to fill the need for human friendship of the more general kind? The answer is that I can’t, and won’t, but the relationship with God is enough for our hearts, and every blessing from Him is perfect.

“Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.” (Psalm 63)
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84)

giving advice.

I think this is something really good to learn. It reminds me of Job’s friends who spoke too quickly, all their ideas, but missed where he was really at.


By Dovid Zaklikowski

It is well known that when kids play, they often imitate exactly what they see adults doing at home. So it is not surprising that Zalman Aharon and Sholom Ber, grandchildren of the third Lubavitcher rebbe who spent many hours in his home, would roleplay “Rebbe and Chassid.” But unlike most children’s play, their games reveal a level of insight that is beyond shallow imitation.

When they played, Zalman Aharon, the older son, would sit on a chair and put a hat on his head. He was the rebbe. Sholom Ber would prepare himself by wrapping a gartel around his waist, and he would then enter the “rebbe”’s room for a private audience.

One time when they were playing this game, the “rebbe” asked the “chassid”: “Is there something that you want like to discuss regarding your spiritual life?”

“I did something wrong. Before I was aware that our ancestor wrote, ‘It is better not to eat nuts on Shabbat,’ I cracked nuts and ate them on Shabbat.”

“To atone for this lapse, do not pray from memory,” advised the rebbe. “From now on, always read the prayers directly from the prayerbook.”

Despite the little rebbe’s advice, young Sholom Ber continued to pray from memory. Sholom Ber’s mother noticed this and asked him, “Why aren’t you listening to the rebbe’s advice?”

Sholom Ber replied, “I can’t value his advice. When a true rebbe responds to his chassid about a problem he is facing—whether spiritual or physical—he first pauses for a moment and sighs. Only after demonstrating empathy does he reply.”

When we are in a position to advise another, we must never take the attitude that we are superior and that the other person’s problem is minor and easily solved if only s/he would listen to us. Such advice has no value. Flippant advice, even if it is correct, will never solve a problem.

On the other hand, when we internalize another’s problem as if it is our own, when we feeling another’s pain so that we are forced to sigh before responding—such advice is real, and will go a long way to solving the issue.

As the Talmud says, “Words that emanate from the heart, enter the heart.”

Sholom Ber (1860–1920) grew up to be the fifth Lubavitcher rebbe. His elder brother Zalman Aharon became known as the Raza, and refused to accept any leadership position.


Everything we have now is filled with gifts from unknown people of the past. And we stand on our own frontiers, so we can give as well to other people in generations coming forward. By being born to families and having our own, we’re part of a stream that is bigger than ourselves, and part of many other streams as well. Every choice counts for something meaningful and lasting.

An impression of reviews about ‘Noah’.

I’ve seen two reviews of the new film ‘Noah’ today, one sent to me and another posted in a FB thread. I know many of the sources and influences that the film worked from, and as interesting as they are, I don’t feel that watching it would be a good use of our imagination about our world (I wouldn’t want to). The point I want to mention, though, is that I’m bothered by the way both article-writers claimed expertise regarding ‘Jewish tradition’ (despite being outsiders) and then misapplied it in ways that are really counter-Jewish.

In one article, the author noted both Gnostic and Kabbalistic influences in the film, and compared them to each other, calling Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism- not the ‘Madonna kind’) a form of Gnosticism. I’m not a follower of Kabbalah, so I can’t say too much. I also recognise that this tradition of Jewish mysticism does use some of the scientific, and Gnostic, imagery of the ancient period. But the picture it paints as traditionally taught is very different. While Gnosticism is famous for its concept of the spiritual realms being pure and the material being evil, the Jewish mystical tradition focuses on the role of ‘lower’ realms in bringing about holiness, and the way that God interacts with us through created experiences. Also, the article pointed out that Gnosticism can involve ‘two gods’ or believe that God exists in a hierarchy of emanations. Judaism is directly opposed to this, and to make it clear, Jewish teachers describe the ’emanations’ of God’s attributes as created things with which we interact as our hearts come to know Him personally.

In the other article I happened to read, the way in which the film-makers wedged their own values and ideas into the story is called very Jewish. There is a point to this: Jewish tradition has a genre of storytelling where important ideas are played out through elaborations on biblical stories and themes. But many readers of this article will come away with the sense that the concepts woven through the retold Noah story are the same values as those of rabbinic Judaism, and/or that Jewish tradition has no limits for adding to scriptures. In truth, Jewish midrash is a distinct genre which, when taught as intended, is clearly known to be distinct from the literal. It is a brilliant tool for generations to invest their understanding of meanings and the spirit of observant life into, but its value is based on having sound, authoritative ideas woven in; quite different from those of the movie here. The rabbinic traditions about Noah perhaps only being righteous compared to his own generation are overplayed in the article. And while it is true that some of the stories that the ‘Noah’ film adapts come from ancient Jewish apocalyptic texts, it is not noted that these same texts were not canonised by the rabbinic tradition.

It isn’t right for a society that knows so little about the external details of Judaism, let alone its heart, to acclaim writers who have no expertise in the Jewish tradition at all. The ‘Jewish fettish’ should at least be met with a desire for accuracy, and a willingness to listen deeper to a community that has faithfully held an intricate faith, believing it to be the light for humanity.

personal liberty without justice.

My friend Jess Hope wrote this insightful article about the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia. http://doinghistoryinpublic.org/2014/03/26/on-the-right-to-be-bigots-the-dehistoricisation-of-racism/

I value what she wrote because although physical violence is ‘worse’, spoken violence and other kinds of social alienation fully embody the essence of what has been done to a community in the past. I’m actually hesitant to write that physical violence is worse, because… although people are obviously relieved when it is over… whenever a history of bodily violence exists, there is something of exactly the same thing alive in other aspects of racism. It brings traumatic fear, real or imagined (a painful uncertainty), and is a genuine danger on every level for the future. It also creates a heart within the public that will not see the severity of anything that is done… and that is exactly the point at the moment because of this situation with indefinite and cruel imprisonment of refugees 😦

To quote from her article, “Disturbingly, Brandis’s statement that racially-targeted offence, insult and humiliation amount to nothing more than ‘hurt feelings’ reveals an attempt to embed a ‘just-kidding’ approach to racial discrimination in Australian law. Allowing the majority to define what is and what is not racial vilification of the minority results in further disempowerment where there is supposed to be protection, rendering the minority’s historical and social experiences irrelevant and unheard.”

I think there are times when things should be said that may make ethnic groups uncomfortable, but definitely never through humiliation or without attention to truthfulness. How can a legal system promote the very opposite of justice? Racism is wrong and it makes no sense, it has no value, it only hurts societies, communities, and families.

Jess also spoke about how racial hate-speech can’t do anything but harm, since race isn’t intrinsically linked to any of the values or ideas that we might need to target or discuss. “The amendments normalise the unalterable fact of one’s race, rather than one’s conduct or ideas, as a target for abuse.”

As to freedom of speech… I know that ‘justice’ is culturally controversial, but maybe not so much as other values. And I guess though that if no one sees something as just (fair, true, and reasonable), then it simply shouldn’t be said, and to do so goes against everything that ‘freedom of speech’ protects.

gestures and words in worship, and blessings.

The Jewish Bible and faith are full of expressions of relationship with God that reflect, in our own way, human relationship. Some are gestures: lifting hands up to Hashem, or bowing down. Some are images: to ‘come’ to Him, that He is a ‘Father’ to us, He ‘turns His face’. Some are words, or the way we offer them: ‘speaking’, ‘crying out’, “singing”.

Does someone who holds out their hand, as if to a parent, expect that their Creator comes with a hand of flesh and blood? In Torah God’s hand is His actions, like the wind that held up the sea. Does a person who bows down think the the space in front of them holds matter that is God? Chas v’shalom… and when we call out to God, is it easier for Him to hear us? He created the ear.

Still, this is how we communicate. Feelings of awe and thankfulness are built in to creation, but they are so appropriate for the gift of existence and for many blessings. Words and gestures are the language of a part of our souls.

And how does He respond to physical creatures, as we are? Will He leaves us forever without the touch of our King’s hand, without the sound of words, the embrace of a Father, the sight of His majesty? No hand, no concept, nor any visible beauty could be anything but created. But it is Him who surrounds us with His messengers, saying to our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, He loves us; cling to your Creator.

We don’t hope for anything less, even in the age to come.


I’m just testing something on WordPress. I want to try putting verse references that you can hover over and see the text of the verse. I know there are a few people who receive email updates of posts here… could one of you leave a comment to say whether it displays properly in the email? I.e not writing out the whole verse, just the reference (the way it looks on the blog)… and even whether it works to hover in the email.

For example, Exodus 19:1-6

Thanks 🙂

shall I hide.

In the second part of Genesis 18, Abraham learnt more about what God’s justice and mercy are like. It wasn’t a mystical experience; he learnt it through an event that happened close by him. And it wasn’t something he forced. Hashem set up the whole conversation, for Abraham’s sake. Was it chutzpah that Abraham pleaded with God by bargaining? And did he really change His mind, or remind Him about His righetousness? It seems like Abraham’s questions were a way for him to touch and come to know the way that God would relate to His creation, more closely than he or humanity as a whole had experienced before.

In the same way, in our lives, God opens up opportunities for us to come to know more of His nature with us. We don’t need to strive to try and see what we could never grasp on our own. He starts the conversations Himself, and ties them to our experiences.

How did Abraham come to this knowledge and wisdom? Not in the way that Adam and Eve sought wisdom; they sought it against Hashem’s commandment, imagining He had no place in their world. Abraham sought to know God by obeying Him, responding with faith, and surrendering his life into His hands.

heart, mind.

The mind is the leader of the heart, but the two are a team. If the mind treats the heart like a tyrant relates to a captive, there will be no peace for either. It is not as if the mind knows wisdom and the heart has only desires; the heart has its own kind of wisdom as well, which the mind can’t produce but really can pair up beside.

Sometimes we can follow our hearts tentatively, indefinitely, while allowing our minds to dictate when it is time (if ever) to make a commitment to something. Sometimes we can’t. Either way, it is important to be gentle on our hearts, and listen closely to any sincere desire that is inside.

Until very recently, I thought that the choice to embrace Torah is different for a born Jew than for a gentile who chooses to join the covenant. If a person feels like they have a high level of reason to listen to Torah, and yet they still question the truthfulness of their own feelings and perception… then if they are Jewish and love God they would keep the Torah, because of the risk that they could be breaking God’s commandments. A gentile, on the other hand, isn’t obligated in that way and might need to use their ability to really question and be sure that belief in Torah is not obscuring real knowledge of God, or causing them to make ethically wrong decisions. But now I have realised that a person who chooses to convert, who comes to a place of saying “I will do it without question,” can only do so if they have the same response to Torah in their heart as a born Jew does. The born Jew actually does more than just try to mitigate risk. And the convert basically recognises their place in the covenant rather than simply choosing it.

My heart hears so much in Torah and I desire to embrace it. My mind sees it as very likely, but I’m also confused about my bearings and my own ability to feel or think accurately about this revelation claim. I have learnt that my thought process is almost choking my heart out, and that my mind is too weary to think straight from bearing in constantly on the small possibility of Torah coming from, and being preserved by, any other reason than Hashem. So I want to share this in case anyone is in a similar situation.

One option here seems to be living as a Noachide, just spending time with the Jewish community to enjoy its light without analysing it, and focusing on the fact that despite the confusion of reality we are resting on God because He is our Maker. I could convert in the future, but won’t think about it in this stage of life. I would need to be in a place where although there may yet be a struggle, there is no need to ‘force’ the issue: just ‘naaseh v’nishma’. Another option is to do the same thing, but still allow my heart to make its investment in the desire to join the covenant, and so keep practising the mitzvos while still not planning to make a decision about conversion unless it is right. That second option risks blurring the separation between Israel and the nations, but perhaps not, because it is a true expression of a desire to connect into the heart and service of this people… if God allows it, and really is the One behind the testimony.

The main thing for right now is to rest, and give both heart and mind a chance to enjoy what is already made clear… reminding my heart to be joyful in its embraces, and my mind to be less bossy while learning wisdom. I think that we can become wiser as we go through experiences in life that reveal to us more the attributes of God’s way of relating with creation. So we should choose life, and live… by choosing to give Him the obedience He deserves… and by accepting the blessing of life in the first place.

giving over.

If we really belong to God and know what He deserves, then we need to find the difference between being diligent and being controlling in our lives.

We have much to give to others of the things we’ve learnt with Him, but we don’t need to control anyone else’s journey, or their experiences of the things and places we value.

We can love opportunities to draw closer to God, but if we are tied up in frustration, maybe we are seeking things that He hasn’t shown us or called us to at this time. Better to give the reigns to Him and enjoy the paths that are clear.

And if we really love Him, there are many chances all around to serve Him and draw close to His way and His love, in joy and with peace.

about the oral law.

To a friend:

I will reply to [your] idea that the tradition is just fashion, changeable, not the same as ‘biblical Judaism’, and not authoritative even if you concede that Christianity is not true.

1. It is promised and also implied a number of times that God will protect His testimony in the mouth of Israel for all generations. This is no ordinary nation or chain of tradition. If you’re looking for the group of Jews whose message is the product of this promise, a good place to start is the community who have a parent-to-child chain of Torah observance through the generations, as designed, and it is traditional Judaism for whom that exists.
2. Numerous laws in the written Torah presuppose unwritten knowledge, and we know that Moshe not only continued to answer practical day-to-day questions for the people, but passed that authority on to the judges and priests. Torah says that ignoring their judgments comes with a death penalty. The Christian hero in the gospels also identified the Pharisees as being in Moshe’s seat, referring to that commandment to listen to them (even though he called them ‘hypocrites’). The rulings of the Sanhedrin are preserved in the rulings and discussions of the Mishnah and Gemarah, and they are incumbent on every Jew to follow…even in the modern situation, until a future Sanhedrin is established. You just CAN’T keep it unless you keep to the Talmud and the living testimonial people.
3. Some of these are original Torah, the living understanding of what the written mitzvot look like in practice. Some are fences for the Torah, to help people truly honour its form. And some are rulings to help the community to embody the spirit of the law.
4. Every stringency comes with a cost, so it has to be for a reason.
5. There are also various customs in place to keep communities, and/or the wider community, practicing together as a single testimonial people. Remember that these people are so scattered and that things become complex in many ‘simple’ areas of Torah when in exile (for example, kashrut). Remember that the law is full of observances, which are alive in actual practice. Customs hold a lot of significance from the heart of many generations!
6. There are legitimate debates in halacha and that is a healthy thing. But once you find a rabbi whose heart and knowledge you trust, ‘ask your rabbi’ is a fair thing to do because the common person needs to be able to live Torah with simplicity. Sometimes there are also extra fences just for simplicity. Today’s context is complicated, and deep discussion happens about how different parts of the Torah (considered even more seriously than rabbinic rulings) may be kept together. It is not a free for all.
7. You were right that not all the mitzvot can be kept right now, but the Torah explicitly tells people to return to the commandments Moshe gave them when in exile. What does that mean? You do what you are able to in each generation, with a heart of obedience and not of speculation. It is scripturally enough.
8. If you want to question any particular law, ruling, or custom, say what it is specifically and I can tell you what it is or why it’s necessary.
9. This is also all only the approach required of Jews in their unique situation. For non-Jews, following morality and loving God are more individual and less ritual, so tend to be more intuitive. Jews have that as well, but also the law… which is life to them, though it is a yoke.
10. Here is what is prayed each day, with love… “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…” The Torah is a connection with Hashem that Jews have uniquely with Him, and studying and keeping it is a way of knowing Him.

coping impulsively.

I have heard and read some thoughts recently about how to take a reign over the damaging habits that we use to deal with or hide overwhelming emotions. These impulses are different for each person, but basically everyone wrestles with some of them… more or less, at different times in life.

Emotional eating/drinking, procrastinating or over-sleeping, substance abuse, self-harm, sexual addiction, social media obsession, and various kinds of thought patterns are among the kinds of impulses that we would prefer not to have colouring our lives. Often they cause us and others real loss and damage, or weaken us from being able to offer our hearts, souls, and strength deeply to God; work productively for what matters; and live with a generous, focused emphasis on justice and kindness.

I’ve found four different areas to address this through. They may or may not help much on their own, but they can be powerful in conjunction and with the right support.

Choose and define the big-picture values of our lives.

Often we feel disappointment, guilt, or helplessness about damaging habits, but we dwell on (or avoid) these feelings in a negative way rather than having hope and ideas about how we could live differently. It starts by putting in words why certain behaviours are a problem to us. At the very least, they might be stopping us from dealing well with pain and issues deeper inside. They can interrupt our schedules, over-stimulate us in unhealthy ways, get in the way of our responsibilities, reduce our ability to hold real forms of intimacy, damage our bodies, and prolong experiences of lethargy or depression/anxiety. The next step is to imagine what we’d like things to look like if we could make choices without the unmanagable feelings controlling where we end up. What would be so good about that end point? If we can see clearly how we are harming ourselves and others (whether now or in future) and what we could possibly gain (even if it’s hard to imagine), the motivation are direction become clearer.

This involves also being honest with ourselves rather than justifying, even if at times we only have the clarity to do so after failing, when the tunnel-vision of the impulse subsides. Rather than focusing on guilt, we have the grace and the hope in our lives to focus on the future and the way our small choices will form part of it.

Respond with words to the way our minds are talking.

It helps to listen and recognise the words we say to ourselves in our minds. They can be negative and worth talking back to, while remembering to be as gentle and realistic with ourselves as we would with a friend or child. Sometimes we can answer untrue thoughts rationally, with truth. In terms of impulsive habits, “I don’t need this as a ‘drug’ to cope” can sometimes help. The painful feelings and negative thoguht processes we are coping with to begin with can also be challenged sometimes; optimism is often the truer reality. “I can do this better,” “people do care about me,” “there have been some good things in this day,” etc.

Sometimes the negative thoughts are true, but not helpful, so it is good to answer them as well. “It would help to focus on ___ instead of ____.”

Work ‘long-term’ on healing the underlying emotions.

While challenging the words in our minds can help, usually emotions run much deeper than that. I can’t deal with all the different ways of healing different kinds of pain and damage, and often a counsellor/psychologist/psychiatrist, along with the wisdom of caring and experienced friends, can help. But what we can all do is create long-term changes in our ‘environment’ that help us to heal. Bringing in habits and hobbies that heal can be as little as choosing to open the curtains to the sunshine, take a walk every day, take an unusual route home from work, find past-times or projects that will add interest and beauty to the lives of ourselves and others, become better at keeping a schedule, fit exercise and healthier meals in, and most of all, build the depth and quality of a few relationships with family and friends, while also being as generous as possible for others’ needs. The effort and balance of bringing in things like that can be hard, especially when we are already in a rut. But they help in quiet ways, in the long run, a lot.

Learning to physically and mentally relax is also a good thing to build into each day, and can help in the more specific times when we are overwhelmed as well. Next to this, times of prayer each day and each week are about our relationship with God but also a good chance to rest, think, and find our feet again in His presence. After all, our lives are for His goodness and from His goodness.

Remembering to be thankful for the little and big things makes a big difference. In our tradition we make a blessing to thank God for many things, from waking up in the morning, to everything we eat and drink, to all kinds of experiences that come up daily or in life. It helps us as well, to remember.

Replace habits ‘in the moment’ with non-harmful sensate impulses.

The above things are vital, but sometimes we come to a point where we still aren’t healed inside and pushing away our ways of coping is just too much for the physical aspect of our selves to handle. At times like that, sensory replacement can let us indulge in something, but make it positive rather than harmful. In place of each of the habits above that we struggle with we can choose an alternative. The following ideas are personality-specific, but we can find what works for us. Instead of clicking on our email when we don’t even intend to answer, it could work to find different scents (for example in the spice drawer of your kitchen). Instead of opening the fridge, we could light a candle and find a book to study or an art project to work on. Instead of mulling over something that upsets us in silence, we can put on soothing but sensate music (for example classical music, or any kind that stimulates the mind while comforting the soul) and either think it through to a conclusion or find something else to do for today. Instead of going to sleep in the afternoon when we aren’t underslept, we could take a shower and go for a walk. These are band-aid approaches, but they don’t hurt us as much as the things that we’ve learnt we should avoid or regret. They can also add beauty or energy to our lives even when there’s no strong impulse to cope through.

I find these approaches all helpful in different ways, and although it takes a lifetime to grow stronger and better at life, they have all helped me at various times.

It is meaningful to realise that all of our impulses and needs can serve a meaningful purpose if they are elevated to valuable things in life. A lot of them allow us to make choices of love for God and for His paths of goodness. He knows that we are made of flesh and spirit because that is how He created us: to take a journey of grace and of life. This world for some reason contains both awful pain and depths of blessing, and amidst it there is light in choosing life.

His place.

The Hebrew word “HaMakom,” meaning “the place,” is used as a name for God. Rather than thinking He is in the world, really, the world is in Him. How can we point to His ‘place’? But He is our beginning and our destination.

“His glory fills the universe: his ministering angels ask one another, Where is the place of his glory? Those over against them say, Blessed—Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place. From his place may he turn in mercy and be gracious unto a people who, evening and morning, twice every day, proclaim with constancy the unity of his name, saying in love, Hear—Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One. One is Our God; he is our Father; he is our King, he is our Savior; and he of his mercy will let us hear a second time, in the presence of all living…”

every word.

A person doesn’t survive only because of food, but because of everything declared by the one who forms its existence. We could walk not only on a clear and well lit path, but by the guiding hand of the one who shows us the way. Choosing to walk like this might naturally lead to an acceptance of the importance of Torah, but definitely not without the foundation of trusting and loving Hashem more than the path itself. And that is enough to survive on for a lifetime… more than enough to find the beauty and light of love in.

to worship with His servant (first few letters).

Letters from the Jewish heritage

I am writing a series of letters that reflect what I’ve heard myself from the testimony of the observant Jews I have met and read writings of. These first few represent the questions regarding why to believe in the Sinai revelation at all. Later, God willing, I will add some more that specifically address the Christian ideas.

First letter: Sailing On His Ship


Thank you for the questions and well-wishes you sent. It would be an honour to share the perspective of our inheritance with you.

It will take humility and courage for other nations to listen to our story. You already seem to have a relationship with our Creator. Perhaps you ask these things out of real curiosity, or as a way of sharing your own belief in Christianity with us. Maybe both. But if you are willing to respect us as fellow human beings and listen sincerely to our values, you are welcome to ask.

In reality, all nations have a lot to give in building and restoring our world. We do see our own message as a unique light, important to share and never compromise. We are like sailors up on the mast, shouting to their shipmates what they see in the distance. This calling comes with unparalleled costs and blessings. (Anyone can join our nation if they choose to.) But every other sailor, every nation, has their own great role to play in navigation and sailing. We should exist humbly for the same goal: to welcome our Creator as King in the world.

Jewish communities often keep to themselves in response to the physical, social, and ideological dangers we face in each generation. They do not wish to impose without being asked. Our calling at this time is simply to be faithful to the covenant God made with us. The Western impression of Judaism is shaped largely by the texts of religions other than our own, and many people (even many born Jews) have little interaction with the cherished heritage we carefully pass from parent to child, from teacher to student. But if anyone desires to come closer, the light we have experienced is still held here as a treasure, a light for their path.

Jacob’s children.

Second letter: The Words On Our Hearts


You asked a good question, to begin with. Why do Jews believe in God? That is, why do we think we can personally relate with our Creator? Maybe most of our reasons are similar to yours.

Our nation’s faith has taught us that our lives come from our Him. When we responded in relationship through prayer and through Torah, we met Him closely. Nothing else we’ve ever learnt or experienced matters so much to us.

We know that human feelings can be wrong, but we still can’t take our existence for granted. Everything in this world is dependent and connected, even the way that moments, places, and natural properties exist to begin with. Although there is much that we don’t understand, we thank our Foundation for the simple gift of being. We pray because we know everything we experience, including consciousness and relationship, is familiar to the one who knowingly designed and planted the first seeds of creation.

Psalm 145 says, “The eyes of all look to you.” Nothing good in the world exists separately from the cause of reality. Deuteronomy 6 tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Our hearts come from our Creator. He steals nothing from us, needs nothing from us; the Maker of our hearts deserves our love. Psalm 147 says, “He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.” Astronomy has revealed with increasing complexity the intricacy and vastness of the universe; the properties we observe at the smallest and largest scales are still astonishing; existence, life, sustenance, consciousness, love, and beauty are valuable to us. None of this is separate from the one who holds it together, ‘drawing it continually out’ from non-existence.

All humans are still left with many questions about this mystery. We yearn for real, actual truth. So with every hope we have for real understanding, we don’t call to something finite but only to our souls’ Source. In prayer, sometimes we call out like travelers lost in a vast forest, but we still find intimacy amidst times of confusion. Our very essence rests on the force underlying all creation, regardless of time, beyond cause and effect, which we can only call His ‘will’.

And we ourselves are not the fullness of what matters. No matter how little we know, it isn’t an option to stop caring about whatever our Creator expects from our path in life. The only question is how to hear what is revealed.

Jacob’s children.

Third letter: What we Remember


In your last letter, you wanted to know why we accept the Jewish scriptures and follow the commandments in the Torah. This is so important. Beliefs that aren’t really from our Maker can only obscure the light of His truth and the path of seeking Him.

Our parents’ message compels us for many external reasons. From the time of Hezekiah and Sennacherib, through our scattering to the ends of the earth, and up to the twenty-first century, our nation and our faith have survived by astonishing, documented events. We sense that our consistent awareness of God and what He deserves, for thousands of years, has also been because of His help. Devotion to the Creator alone, totally apart from forms or natural elements, is unique from among the surrounding ancient nations. It has also been unquenchable: held loyally in precarious situations by many in every generation since.

As predicted in the Torah, no other nation before or after the events at Sinai claimed to have a revelation from God to a mass of people who have passed it to their descendants. No religious historical claim is so unique. The surprising and unlikely event that this nation was scattered and yet remained a nation was also foretold in these books. And it was prophesied that the Sabbath would be central in showing for all time to come that God has sanctified Israel; until this day it truly is a deep part of relationship with Him.

But in a big way, our deepest reason comes from inside us, not merely from things we see and understand. People who keep the Torah covenant don’t choose it just because it seems maybe-believable, or even probable. It is a choice to respond to something absolute, deep inside the heart, deeper than words. A gift and a commandment, directly to the soul of a Jew. We feel there is no path of obedience, surrender, wisdom, and relationship with God outside this route: “a tree of life to those who cling to it.”

We all have questions, but no overriding reason to consider this false. Nothing in the study of natural science, history, or textual criticism flatly contradicts our faith. For every observation that brings up questions, others resonate closely with our understanding. When it comes to a choice, we humbly surrender the limitations of our knowledge and love in the path of our nation’s covenant and the laws, ethics, and attitudes we have learnt come from our Maker.

And so our faith in the Hebrew prophets is different from the reasons why Christians accept the same books in their ‘Old Testament’. We start with the experience of those who hold these traditions as their own. They were told, then written, to us personally. Our nation has been given the criteria (outlined in Torah) and the calling to recognise prophecy. All our other beliefs flow out from this awareness. These things were spoken in our cultural context, in our language, according to the promise that those who follow His commandments are His witnesses because of what He showed us. And we have passed these things on in simple faithfulness and blessing, with His help, from generation to generation. So we simply accept these laws, as opportunities to connect with God, with thankfulness.

Jacob’s children.

Fourth letter: We Will Do and We Will Hear


You said you’ve noticed a difference in how observant Jews think about the commandments, and you were right. We come to our scriptures, as everyone does, in light of a living context. So we know that the commandments are not merely a story but a gift to us forever, which sanctifies us.

Two records stand to witness our exodus from Egypt and experience at Mount Sinai. One is the account written in the five books of Torah. The other is imprinted on the covenant nation itself. We came out of the wilderness there with a covenant, a message, and an awareness to hold through history: changed and shaped forever by our Maker, through these experiences and the laws He gave us.

Without the living Jewish nation, the record God created of these events is seen only in part. The scriptures, as documents of our covenant, can’t be properly read without seeing the living, righteous community of Jews; even His rebukes have been always been presented and preserved through a faithful group. And what separates the righteous and preserves our message? We cling to His commandments, with heart and with action; in detail and in spirit.

In fact, Judaism emphasises the centrality of clear commandments above everything else. This is very important in our reading of scripture. We can speculate all we want about many things, and do our best to please God in them, but at the centre we stand on the things He specifically commanded. So the commandments, given through Moses (in the five books of Torah), are the axis for the rest of the Bible. The other prophets spend all their time pointing people back to them. It isn’t legalistic to keep them and guard them. For us they are non-negotiable, like breathing; a precious responsibility.

Although all humans and traditions are fallible (including ourselves), God promised to preserve His own words in our mouths. We learn the commandments from our parents and teachers and are commanded to give them, with details of their essence and spirit, to our children. This is the way it was designed and commanded, with the breath of God in the process.

And Torah is not just an individual obligation for us. There definitely is a personal element, but along with the morality and relationship with God that every human needs to have, Jews also have the particular laws of the Torah covenant (such as the laws of Sabbath, food, and ritual purity). They are ours as a whole community, to shine the light of our heritage as one. The sin or righteousness of each person affects the whole group. We humble our own voices to be part of the eternal community.

So in this collective setting, sometimes our teachers make ‘fences’ around the law, to simplify for the whole community (in many different situations) what it takes to keep it. Sometimes they make rulings to help us keep the spirit of the law strongly as a group. We accept these rulings as binding, yet we take care not confuse the rulings of rabbis with the Torah from Sinai.

Despite our failures, we’re devoted to growing, relying on the mercy and help of our God. The Torah and prophets teach that what matters is whether our hearts are facing and choosing Him today. Whether or not we can see other reasons, and regardless of how good we think we are, we choose to obey simply because He said to and our hearts are open to follow.

While all humans can relate deeply with God through obedience, the ritual laws that are only for Jews help us focus also on our particular calling. They bring huge opportunities to express the surrender we owe to God, and choose to embody our dependence on Him. Through His laws, the values and ideas of Torah permeate not only our minds and even our hearts, but also the substance of our lives.

Jacob’s children.

Fifth letter: Reliving the Testimony


We already spoke about the beauty of God’s commandments to our Jewish nation, along with the context in which a Jew reads the Hebrew Bible. To enter the picture more deeply, it’s not only actions but also important times that specifically consecrate and shape us, every year. Each generation relives the experiences that formed us through the method God designed, and our children experience Torah before they can even read.

The Sabbath is our most familiar testimonial observance. We rest from creative work on the seventh day of each week, commanded to remember both creation and our liberation from slavery in this way. It allows us to remember and experience how all the power we have in our hands is a gift, not inherent to ourselves. By completely abstaining from many categories of creative work, we declare that the whole earth is God’s, and we are His.

The main Jewish calendar begins each year with Rosh Hashanah, a festival of remembrance by blowing horns. Although the written Torah gives little detail about what this memorial refers to, it falls just before Yom Kippur, the day of repentance and atonement. As the first day of the Jewish year it also reaches back to the creation of the world. Reflecting both these things, in Jewish tradition Rosh Hashanah is a day to remember God’s judgment and kingship over His world, and over us. For the entire month of Elul, before Rosh Hashanah, we prepare ourselves in focused repentance and thank God for drawing so close to help us, although we fall so low. On the day of Rosh Hashanah we remember that our Father is also our King, high above us, and lifts us up through righteousness to relate to Him there. While praying and singing about His majesty and His holy, merciful judgment, we bow and blow the horns to coronate Him again as our only King. And after Rosh Hashanah we keep ten days of repentance, allowing ourselves to truly regret our sins and focusing on opportunities to make new choices.

Then comes Yom Kippur, the heavy and yet joyful day of atonement. We fast all day and stand before God in prayer as His people. Although we can’t make sacrifices without our Temple, nor is our national purity for the specific Temple context relevant for this time, we keep the commandments we can for the day and recognise that our purity is still important before our God. Forgiveness is a gift, both for the individual and for the nation. And we affirm on this day that with God’s help, we ourselves can choose obedience and be righteous, pure, before Him.

In the same month of Tishrei also falls the festival of Sukkot. We build temporary huts near our houses to eat in, and often also sleep in and spend our time during that week. We also wave four species of plants and rejoice before our God, as commanded in the Torah. This time is special, spent with family and friends, food and celebration. We thank God for His blessings and favour in the new year. The experience of sitting outside in the huts, with branches for roofs, reminds us how we lived with nothing but God’s protection and provision in the wilderness. His clouds covered us. He still holds us, and during Sukkot we are physically beneath and within His loving commandments. This embrace made us who we are and it still continues to. At the end of Sukkot we also celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, praying for rain during the year, and celebrating the immense gift of Torah.

Chanukah and Purim are not mentioned in the Torah, but we celebrate them to remember later events in our history with God. For the eight nights of Chanukah we light candles to remember the rededication of the Temple after Antiochus IV defiled it. The Maccabees revolted against his ban on teaching and observing Torah, and also against the influence of Greek culture on many Jews of the period. They won, and the holiday celebrates the miracle of God’s provision. While Chanukah remembers the spiritual survival of Judaism and the absolute refusal we should have to compromise in spiritual purity, Purim celebrates the physical redemption of our people in the time of Esther. Because Haman’s plan to exterminate us was foiled and the Jews were able to defend themselves, we celebrate with parties, eating, and drinking, letting our bodies and our souls simply appreciate life and the unconditional aspect of God’s covenant with us. Just as the holidays of Tishrei are powerful moments of deep reflection and the pouring out of our hearts, embracing the conditions of the covenant, Purim embodies this other face of the relationship. And because the hand of God in this miracle happened through events in a book where God’s name is not even mentioned, we traditionally dress up and eat foods with a hidden filling, reminding us that God is with us in everything.

During Pesach we relive the exodus from slavery in Egypt. For a whole week we put away every crumb of leavened food, eating matzah (unleavened bread) and telling again our story of freedom. Our suffering in Egypt, with no explanation, enabled us to serve a suffering world. And at this time we remember that when God brought us out, it was so tangible that we owe Him everything; we became more than ever His people. The miracles He did to show His greatness and redeem us were a powerful spiritual experience, imprinting His justice, kindness, and power onto our minds and hearts forever. He held up the water, moment by moment, and by the time we came through we were a transformed nation.

After counting seven weeks, we approach the holiday of Shavuot. This is the time of the giving of Torah, the intimate details of our role as God’s servants forever. While Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur call us to move towards God, on Pesach and Shavuot we recall the way He first moved towards us. Binding ourselves to this covenant again is the place of our love with Him.

Towards the end of the year falls Tisha B’Av, another rabbinically established day, this time a day of mourning and fasting. We read Lamentations and remember the Temple, and the kingdom, we have lost. The huge losses and trauma experienced by so many countless families in our community are also grieved over on this day. We know that we can’t serve God from a place of being constantly sad, but this is a time set aside for a very appropriate, sharply felt feeling of our exile. We cry out on this day for God to bring our hearts closer to Him as a whole nation, and physically restore and comfort us again.

These times form the rhythm of our weeks and years. Each time weaves different things through our hearts, but the picture comes together as a deep foundation. This national testimony is the context when a Jewish school child opens the first page of Genesis.

Jacob’s children


How can we be repentant and truly feel sorry for the hurt we have made without being lost in negative hopelessness and self-depreciation? If we know we are forgiven, how can we hurt over our mistakes rather than just moving forward and trying to make things right? The sorrow of repentance shouldn’t be exaggerated but it should be embraced, because it is the fire and the tools for transforming the heart.

and yet.

Even if permission from society isn’t given, a mitzvah is a mitzvah. It’s important not to let our attempts to be seen as acceptable by society give the impression that its standards are the definition for our lives. There must be a way to uphold both things.

about bris milah.

I went to a bris and a young brother of the baby said he felt sad. He was compassionately distressed about it, maybe picking it up also from his parents. I said that it’s a special day because the baby is making a promise to Hashem. When you phrase it that way, it is amazing that just by being born and having parents who keep Torah, that promise is formed in a child’s life.

A lot of people are attacking it as against the child’s rights. Really the only question is whether God commanded it or not. But unfortunately some people think He didn’t and they are the ones responsible for making laws about the treatment of children. So now Jews are only asking for freedom to practice their beliefs within the secular standard, and that should only involve showing that a) it is not child abuse even by standards of those who don’t think it is a real mitzvah, and b) it exists within a system not motivated by or possibly escalating to cruelty to a child. That should be enough.

The very minor operation, the fact that even non-Jewish parents opt to do it for other reasons that aren’t urgent (in some hospitals it has been routine), and the fact that this comes out of love for the child… that should be answer enough to those issues. And if people continue to disagree then what they really object to is not the bris, but the freedom of parents to raise children in the Jewish culture and beliefs.

building palaces from time.

It is possible to think about the future but truly live in the present. The secret is to realise that in the choice to build an offering out of time there are countless second chances, and we have eternity to keep at it, and yet each moment a blessing to add to and be part of.

There are also some things that do press for time, in which whether we act now or not does make a difference. But I think those things can be understood within the bigger picture and focused on for what they are rather than as ‘busyness’. Dragging the future too far into focus doesn’t help; it’s amazing how much less energy is spent if our hearts and minds can look at things the right way.

(Inspired by Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath)


I have wondered about how I will be able to teach my children for sure that the Torah tradition is true. It’s a choice I see a lot with logic, but that logic is both begun and completed with the feeling of my heart’s offering to Hashem, knowing that with limited knowledge this is the path to trust. If my children didn’t feel the same way then how could I explain to them that my own personal choice before God became a literal obligation for them also? And how could I tell any Jew but myself, even my children, that they must believe they are obligated?

I realised it isn’t just up to me to teach them reality. Just as I can hope in the nation about things beyond my understanding and join myself to their testimony, so I can point my kids to humbly listen to the same source and make up their hearts before God, not about what I know but about what Israel knows together.

A friend told me that even though conversion is a choice of my mind, intuition, and heart beforehand, once I become Jewish I will no longer be as I was before…it won’t be my choice but my nature. So then, I can only tell my children then what any Jew can tell his or hers. Wise insight.

She also said that some things can be shown, rather than told, and that it is enough to follow what you find most believable…a child should be free to question but perhaps going away from Torah is not about believability so much as just deciding not to ask any more for other reasons. Hashem helps us.


Through the teaching of Moshe the Torah was written down on a scroll; through the teaching of moshiach God will write it on people’s hearts. What does it mean “on their hearts”, if the original Torah was also given to be on Israel’s hearts? It seems that when the law is so deeply internalised, its details will be well known and natural to keep.


We expect passionate love to last forever – how could it ever die if it is so beautiful and bright? But just as we compare this love to a rose in its bloom, so too should we recognise that a passionate love shares the same fate as a rose. It is a better symbol than we realise!

The key is to recognise that a rose is just a part of a plant. We cut it off and present it to our loved ones, seeing it as an object of ultimate value on its own. But cut from the plant it comes from, it simply dies. On a plant, the rose will wilt but, if given all that it requires, the plant will live on to produce more flowers. Our passionate love is like a rose. It blooms brightly, and then wilts. This is inevitable. But that passionate love is not the ultimate goal! It is just a part of real love. Real love, which lasts, is like the rose bush. In itself, the plant does not seem grand. And it will go through long stages with no flowers. But, with enough attention and effort, it will live on and produce roses for those that tend to it again, and again, and again. (Olya Axelrod)

When the world asks a Jew to describe why they believe God gave the Torah, the deepest reason is embedded at the heart of the nation itself: in his or her soul. How can we ask a person (even one who examines their own subjectivity with honesty and eyes on reality) to describe in words to us something that can’t be separated from the very essence of their soul by any descriptions, so that we can know the same reality?

Sometimes it is possible to find words that dance along and illuminate a surface for which there are no words.

When I turn my eyes away from the people Israel, and keep searching for truth, the way they have spoken about our Creator as the one unwavering rock stays with me. Then when I look back at the way Jews have held exactly that message, in such a way… that to me affirms something about the nation. Look at the carefulness with which the pillars of this understanding have been held to and cherished by generations of Jews throughout known history. Look at the insight and wellspring of ingenuity and life that they hold, not part of the nations, but knowing those nations as well as they know themselves and also running on a separate track with a strong life force that stays real even in dispersion. Parent to child, teacher to student. It is a tree of life to those who cling to it.

And if the scholars of natural science and ancient history apprehended some of these realities, they in their brilliance would be reading the same pieces of evidence in quite a different way. True that each little piece should be looked at specifically, among the whole, but the whole may be much bigger than most people are seeing in our universities.

So every mitzvah, every word of prayer, every Jewish holiday and testimonial observance, every line of speech or writing within Yiddishkeit, is less something to appraise and more something to connect through. Appraisal has to be a part of our honesty, but finding this substance is also innately an end point for our yearning. What to say about that?

I’m so thankful to have been taught to respect the Jewish people and faith to this depth, and to look through and beyond them to the one who made all of us.

communicating Judaism.

It’s becoming constantly clearer to me that sometimes it doesn’t matter if people understand only one thing you’re trying to communicate with them, and then misunderstand the rest. Conveying ideas to others and letting them test whether to accept them can never happen all at once; it’s okay to just get one thing across clearly, because it makes all the difference. Sometimes that means not confusing the issue too much by making sure that nothing can be taken the wrong way.

What I have noticed very recently is that sometimes, this actually helps to keep the integrity of the message strong for the future. If people move forward in time and realise why you insisted on particular ways of thinking, without watering them down, then that will become a powerful platform for paradigm shift. For example, some time ago I wouldn’t have wanted to tell a friend that I’m not interested in thinking about or reading about Christianity much of the time, and prefer to keep it out of my thoughts, my heart, and the airwaves of my life… except for at times specifically set aside for listening to things my friends want to send or say. That’s not to say that if I did feel challenged by something I would push it away, of course, but I feel that a friend could misinterpret it that way. Anyway, I realised that it doesn’t matter and that it may even be good to say things like this, because it will convey on some deep-buried level that I believe that particular religion is not only wrong, but there are aspects of it that should be considered ugly and against all that is loved in the world.


There are some things that people need to learn more in life as we get older. Identity, intimacy, and productivity are a few of these. They are all based in knowing Hashem and that is the only ground in which anything can grow to true goodness…

“Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings. Selah. For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.”

“Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.”

“Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it…”

I think that…

We have a responsibility to do our best with the knowledge we have, even though our best understanding on its own is not enough…it is something real… and we offer it to God who gave it to us.

In other words, even our understanding and response to it belong to Him… we can make that a gift we give in love. And in hope.

knowing, something.

I found something to think about today, based on some things people have said in the past couple of years and that have stayed with me. If you think about it, goodness and reality are related to each other. I’m not referring to the assumption that reality is good and blessed, etc. What I mean is… to human beings… what is good is what is real. The good things we desire, we don’t want a fake version, we want it to be true and actual.

This made me think that when we see substance in life… things that are real and good and true… that counts for something and leads even biased human beings to a place where they can make a personal choice about what they consider good in their path with God… truly the best way to walk with Him as far as they can know. That’s not to say we don’t need to keep being honest and re-evaluating (but never out of anxiety, only out of stable, real needs to). But we can make a choice of goodness and of substance when we believe we have reached something real and see no other path calling us somewhere further at that time. We should have the humility that we might be wrong, but also the passion to cling to realities and treasures around us.

For me, I see a real substance in the Jewish community; the lives of people as they follow Torah have an unavoidable real thing in it, to me. I see something similar in other religions where people seek God, but in those other faiths, I see it as drawing on what comes from Torah and being mixed in with other things. That is my perspective. It does scare me that maybe, just as my intuitions and experiences about Christianity were shown false, or as I think a Muslim’s feelings about Islam are false, etc., maybe my ‘mere’ feelings about Torah could also not be proof of a reality there? But I have decided and realised that despite the human inability to fully stand on our own understanding, I can approach it from this other angle: of choosing a path based on what is substantial, and therefore can be assumed to be probably both goodness and reality. If I’m wrong then God will help, I truly hope in that from experience. But we can make a personal choice like that, choosing the reality and goodness in front of us, and continuing to walk in where we see substance… meaning truth, goodness, as much as we can ever know… to be existent.

I don’t know everything, but I accept as well as I know how that there is a real reason why I love this faith and even in doubts or questions, can’t get away from it.

Here is a nation that throughout recorded history has had people clinging to, and testifying to, a unique understanding of God, which matches with what I know of Him in the depths of my heart, and in knowledge that the world is dependent and is not all-sufficient or all-worthy. Not only that, but there seems to be a miracle in their survival, and they are really unique, in the kind of claim they make and in many other ways. But in the end, perhaps the greatest witness to Judaism is in the heart of the present generation of observant Jews who have invested their hearts in knowing God. There is no substance like that anywhere in the world that I have known, in any place that measures with possibility of truth in a real way. I want to be part of it so much.

The interesting thing about it is that this is not something you can just say to someone like a logical argument… it’s just a framework for discovering something in one’s own experiences of heartfelt and careful l searching. I like that a lot. It makes sense of some things a bit more, to me.

22 Tevet, 5774

Even though I don’t celebrate Christmas at all, this is a special day to me in one sense because it is the anniversary of many beautiful and important things that I learnt from my parents. Because of the beliefs in the community I was first taught to live within, this season was always a time of heightened sensitivity to the essence of our relationship with God… not only in the ways that I now think are (accidentally) idolatrous… but also in ways that are the substance of all I am thankful for from my parents, ways that are like a river of life to the roots of my values. I find that because of the sincerity I was given these gifts with, I can separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak and celebrate the greatest gift I received on this day of each year.

My parents taught me that nothing in life is more important than closeness to God and doing what He asks from us. My dad actually barely ever reads any books, but he has read the Christian Bible cover-to-cover countless times. My mum is so often reading it, learning from it, connecting everything in her life to what she reads in the pages and hears at church. In December, we always had to wait till New Year’s Eve to get our presents, because my parents didn’t want to distract our focus from the religious element of the holiday. I think for quite a while we didn’t even have a Christmas tree, even though the house was decorated. Instead we spent time at the Christmas services and, at home, my dad had a felt nativity scene with characters and told us the story that he believes is a gift from God in history.

My parents taught me about honesty. We never believed that Santa was real because they didn’t want us to think that they lied to us or to become disillusioned by fantasies turning out to be false. We still celebrated the Dutch Sinta Klauss day on the 5th of December and learnt that he was a generous historical hero.

They also taught me generosity. Almost every year we had people at our table who had nowhere else to go, and sometimes were difficult people to relate with, or invited out of the blue in the morning. This wasn’t easy for them, but they always wanted to show love and make sure people weren’t alone.

In the last few years, they have taught me even more about love than in the years before. It hurts them that I’m not at home for Christmas, even just for the meal, but they have loved me and held their arms, home, and hearts open to me every day of the year regardless. This year they didn’t put up the nativity scene, even though they have shown adamantly that they aren’t willing to compromise on their beliefs, because they knew that if I was home at all during this period it would be uncomfortable for me. My dad tried to convince me a few days ago when I was in our lounge room that the Christmas tree wasn’t actually about Christmas, it was just a decorated tree 🙂 My mum gave me a gentle hug before I went again.

So even though this day is to me either just an ordinary day in God’s creation, or an uncomfortable time away from the people I love and knowing where their hearts and faith are at, completely cutting myself away from that celebration and its nostalgia and significance… I thank God for this day in the Gregorian calendar, December 25, and all the holiness that He has brought out of it by His mercy and kindness in my life. This gift is such a large part of how I know what I know of my Maker, and for my parents to have played such a big role in that is very beautiful; they gave Him the honour He deserves in our lives.

falling on his neck.

And Joseph made ready his chariot, and went up to meet Israel his father… and he fell on his neck, and wept on his neck (Genesis 46:29)

The sages say that when Joseph embraced him, Jacob was reading the Shema (the passage, “Listen, Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem alone…”).

“Why did Jacob choose that particular moment to read the Shema? Because he knew that never in his life would his love be aroused as it was at that moment of reunion with his most beloved son after twenty-two years of anguish and loss. So he chose to utilize this tremendous welling of emotion to serve His Creator, channeling it to fuel his love for G-d.” (The Chassidic Masters)


Let us consider a meeting between father and son described in the Torah, namely, the meeting of Yaakov and Yosef. When they met, it says, “And Yosef harnessed his chariot, and went up to meet his father, Yisrael, in Goshen, and he appeared to him and fell on his neck, and cried profusely on his neck” (Bereishis 46:29). Let us think: for how long did Yosef maintain this posture of “falling on his neck”? Chazal say that Yaakov did not fall on Yosef’s neck or kiss him, because he was reciting the Shema. For how long was Yaakov reciting the Shema? A half hour or an hour, perhaps somewhat longer. But after that reunion, even though they had not seen each other for a long time, the kind of bond described as “and he fell on his neck,” was not maintained. They did not spend the next seventeen years with this level of bonding. Yaakov remained very attached to Yosef and Yosef to Yaakov, but the strongest expression of their attachment was short-lived.

If one wants to get a sense of the nature of a son’s attachment to his Father in Heaven, he should learn from this example. However, in this case, the son can be in a state of “and he fell on his neck” at all times. In other words, he can achieve a condition in which he is always attached and bound with Hashem (there may, of course, be setbacks, but this could be his general attitude in life). One cannot constantly embrace his physical father and fall on his neck, but one can be bound with Hashem, his Father in Heaven, literally at all times. When a person attains the level of, “I will dwell in their midst” (Shemos 25:8), that is to say that he actually experiences that Hashem openly dwells in his heart, he is then bound with Hashem at all times to a degree analogous to the meeting of Yosef and Yaakov, and even more. This is the soul’s inner bond with Hashem. This is the condition of a Jew who is in touch with his true inner self.

Let us imagine that while Yosef was being reunited with his father, his cell phone would have rung. Would he answer it, or would nothing have interested him at that time? Yosef was in a foreign land, all alone for many years, and finally, the moment comes when he escapes this loneliness and meets his father. At that moment, would he have time to get involved in other things? Likewise, a true Jew lives in a state of being attached literally at all times to the Creator. Inevitably, he lives in a material world, and he must deal with it at least somewhat, but his soul is always tied to the Creator. Whether he is involved in spiritual or material pursuits, his soul will never be detached from the Creator. Even when answering the cell phone, he is attached to the Creator, and is never distracted or inwardly disconnected from Him.

This is the way a Jew must live. This is the one true bond a person has in the world. One day, he will leave his family and remain all alone. The only bond one can sustain both in this world and in the next, an unseverable bond, is the connection he has with Hashem. In Gan Eden, there is no guarantee that one will sit near his father, son, or uncle, but he will be close to Hashem. This is a bond one must develop for himself in this world and the next. Family ties are strong, but they will be severed one day. The bond with Hashem, though, is eternal, and will never break. If one desires a true friend, he should take Hashem as his friend, and He will be his friend everywhere – in this world, in Gan Eden, and in the World to Come, never abandoning him, even for a moment. (Bilvavi)

intuiting reality.

A helpful bit of self-awareness really hit me today. We know that there are many times when our sense of logic and our feelings, comfort, or desire, clash and we need to make deliberate choices about which will win. But the process isn’t so clear-cut. Our feelings can actually affect our logic. If we were more objective, we might think something is important/likely to a certain degree, but then, when it becomes inconvenient (in any way), we actually question that importance/likelihood more.

The same is true with values, perhaps even more so. For example, the feeling that “We should do everything we can to help in this emergency situation”… when it turns out that we just can’t fix everything… can become a question of “What difference does it make?”

theology and simpleness.

On theology and simpleness…

A passion for light and for challenging what we perceive to be untruth can make us kind of seem clinical, logical, intellectual. It *is* this, it is *not* this. Especially when talking about things beyond our comprehension, yet filled with well-directed passion.

So relying on stories and imagery could be more modest and reverent, more appropriate and expressive with the vastness, than plain prose is. But it could also leave a vagueness in which light can be lost, and real problems not addressed.

Any responses welcome. How do we come at this as we speak what’s in our hearts about reality and unreality?

regarding a home.

“The person who is friendly with strangers has not yet passed the test of Shalom. For he may be motivated by praise or self-interest. Perhaps he can be friendly disposed to the stranger simply because of his infrequent contact with him. At home, the same person may flare up at the slightest provocation.

Home is the true test of Shalom…

Ordinary mortals are expected to live in Shalom, run-of-the-mill people incapable of sustaining an idyllic state. The paradox is that Shalom is to be found where people differ in fundamental respects – in behaviour, in aspirations, in desires – where love is not quite pure, and anger presses for expression…

“Who makes peace in His high places…” – reads the passage. Our sages said: “An angel of fire and an angel of water stand side by side and do one another no harm. For God has put one desire in both their hearts: to stand before and serve Him who created both fire and water.””


“The desire to achieve greatness is one of the most human of characteristics, and many who do not succeed in attaining the recognition which they think they deserve become embittered and broken in spirit. Few and rare are those individuals who do not care for greatness and are content to live modestly and happily; who may be engaged in works which benefit the whole of mankind, but avoid publicity…

And the Holy One Blessed be He, found no vessel more suited to motherhood and to act as a source of everlasting influence, than modesty. That is why He implanted modesty in womankind.”


“A quiet house is a tranquil house. Everyone is heard, no one is overpowered. Words go from mouth to ear, ear to heart. And the habit of soft speech is easy to achieve, requiring only moderate effort. Newly-weds who practice restraint in speech from the very beginning are on their way to turning their home into a haven of serenity and a fortress of security.”


“He who shows respect to his fellow man will, in turn, be treated with respect. This esteem and respect will continually grow…

Esteem does not spring up spontaneously. It is a plant that requires cultivation, effort, constant tending before its roots take hold in the hearts of men. The most suitable years for the cultivation of the sentiment of esteem are the years of youth – for youthful love allows a young couple to crown the heart’s affection with respect.

The rule is: Say every word, do every deed that is a mark of respect for both the sayer and the one to whom it is said, the doer and the recipient; avoid any word, any act which is disrespectful to the sayer and the one to whom it is said, the doer and the recipient.”

(A. E. Kitov)

the sparks.

I’ve decided to gradually move old and new quotes from this blog to a FB page:

The plan is to post one or two things each day (just quotes from other people, not my own writing) that could be inspiring for people to read. If there are any posts you like, then you could click like and your Facebook friends could be encouraged by it 🙂

you can jump.

Here’s an illustration I like. When I was young my dad used to let me climb up on garden walls in the neighbourhood and, with eyes closed, jump so he could catch me. It seems the same with us in faith… We believe it’s clear enough that Hashem does want us to jump towards Him specifically from Judaism. Not that we just want to, we really see reason to think it’s a calling. And also, even deeper, we think that if we made a mistake He will catch us anyway. The main thing is to do what we think with integrity we heard, and feel joyful in the chance to do that even as we feel peace in hoping in Him for the rest 🙂

messengers of Him.

When our worlds become less sheltered and our eyes, hearts, bodies, and empathy are opened to the brokenness, then we realise something closer to the truth of how the giver of this world gives. It’s not as we thought.

The giver who needs nothing and would never steal or lie; who owes nothing but knows intimately all that is real.

Who owes no love, but we owe it because our hearts are His, and as for me and us we wouldn’t, couldn’t turn our faces from the will behind our existence. That’s a starting point that doesn’t move. We can’t withhold gratitude for the morning, the evening, all food and drink, every pleasure, comfort, and kindness. Let us also have hearts, minds, souls, and strength both promised and ready to give (to give back).

So we also desire that love and will not turn our faces from pleading for it.

Even in a faith like Judaism, where the kindness, the goodness, the countable and uncountable promises of God are foundations of reality’s vision, there are still prayers pleading with the natural lifeblood of humanity for God to give ear, to turn and care, to give undeserved mercy and undeserved friendship.

Even those who pray every day and say with the wholeness of being that they hear Him, they still call out and wait in case of an answer. So vulnerable and also, it is the light of beauty that lifts our spirits in the place where we would otherwise be crushed in the dark.

The beauty of nature, of creativity, of people’s character, and of a place where our eyes will never see His face but our hearts know Him closer than that.

And the strength of human nature is truly a gift, in a place where we are created and broken unexpectedly, bewildered and often not even able or willing to help each other. We discover that a frightened mother becomes strong and courageous, even if tired and confused, for her child. An exhausted father has something endless to give his family. A lonely person can be a true servant of others and a loyal friend to those around her. And a person whose inclinations drive him to try and do it all in his own strength, for his own pleasure, can find comfort in the place of reality, the willingness to give honour where it is deserved.

the possibilities.

Too Distracted: Understanding the Lack of Kedushah in Our Lives

At Mount Sinai, when God first hinted to us what it would be like to live Torah lives, He promised: “You will be a kingdom of priests and a goy kadosh—a holy nation.” Now, 3,300 years later, what adjectives most accurately describe our daily experience? Many might sum up their existential reality with terms like “harried” and “pressured.” A few might describe their lives as generally “joyous” or “fulfilling.” A tiny minority might go so far as to say that their lives are often “moral” or even “heroic.” But how many of us feel that significant chunks of our existence are kadosh—holy? Is it possible that we unknowingly live lives of kedushah, or are we a generation that has begun to lose contact with the very essence of what it means to be a Jew?

Defining Kedushah and Tumah
What exactly is kedushah? A superficial survey of Talmudic sources lends the impression that kedushah is the opposite of tumah. However, this does not clarify matters much since it is difficult to define tumah in concrete or practical terms. Rashi offers an extremely helpful clue to define both terms. In his commentary on the Torah, Rashi reveals that God spoke to the gentile prophets using lashon tumah (impure language) but He spoke to Moses using lashon chibah (affectionate language). Both chibah (affection) and kedushah are the opposite of tumah. Therefore affection and kedushah must be related. Perhaps kedushah is some sort of closeness or intimacy.

Describing the ideal relationship with God, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) reinforces this impression. Writing in the 26th chapter of Messilat Yesharim, Ramchal defines kedushah as a state in which a person, “even in the midst of performing those physical acts necessary to sustain his body, never strays from the highest intimacy.” According to Ramchal, kedushah is a state in which there are no distractions. It is an experience in which a person becomes so fully united with God that all else is irrelevant. It is the state described by David HaMelech, “My soul clings to You.”

If kedushah is intimacy, then its opposite, tumah, would be distance and disconnection. Lashon hara— speech that destroys relationships—is inherently tamei and during Biblical times produced visible leprous lesions requiring quarantine and ritual purification. Whenever a human ovum or sperm is discharged separately, instead of coming together to form a new unity, there is tumah. When body and soul part, there is tumah.

In a comment far deeper than we are likely to comprehend, Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe writes, “Kedushah is the preservation of the unity of the worlds, and tumah is the ‘troublemaker who separates close-ones.’” The reference to a “troublemaker who separates close-ones” is borrowed from Mishlei, and classical commentaries offer various interpretations: according to Rashi, the “troublemaker” is a gossiper who separates himself from God; according to Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, it is men who inspire violence and cause a breakdown in all social relations; and according to the Vilna Gaon, it is one who destroys a relationship between a man and his wife. According to all, the “troublemaker”— what Rabbi Wolbe defines as tumah— is distance; implying that its opposite, kedushah, is closeness.

Creating Intimacy
Paradoxically, creating intimacy requires separation. First we must remove all that can come between us and our beloved. In parshat Kedoshim God proposes, “Be my kedoshim,” and Rashi explains the offer: “If you separate yourselves from the other peoples, then you will be mine.” Similarly, a man draws a woman close through kiddushin, a process which forbids her to all other suitors. According to Ramchal, we take the first step towards personal kedushah by separating ourselves from those physical indulgences that would distract us from the One we love. The common theme in all these initial steps towards kedushah is the removal of distractions and elimination of interference. Absolute connection requires two surgically sterile surfaces.

Achieving kedushah seems to be a twostep process, however. Ramchal explains: “Its beginning is labor and its end reward; its beginning is exertion and its end a gift. It begins with one sanctifying himself and ends with his being sancti- fied.” By actively removing distractions, we create a space in our lives for real intimacy. All we can do is prepare the ground. The closeness that is kedushah— be it between man and God, between human beings, or between body and soul—is a gift from the Holy One.

Making Room for a Beloved
It is beginning to become apparent why we might feel a lack of kedushah in our lives. There is not a lot of space for intimacy. There is not a lot of room for closeness. Never has a generation been more bombarded with distractions, with troublemakers who separate close-ones, in a word, with tumah. Sometimes we allow technology to get in the way of kedushah. Once upon a time women only had to battle the television and newspaper for their husbands’ attention, and no one would dream of listening to the radio during the chazzan’s repetition. Today the Internet holds the attention of all but the most devoted husbands (and wives), and worshippers routinely scan the stocks and headlines on their Palm Pilots between Kedushah and Kaddish. Cell phones and pagers, ostensibly created to enhance connectivity, follow us into the shul, beit midrash, and most private quarters of our homes, shattering the intimate moments that make life worth living. Sometimes we allow food to get in the way of kedushah. We love sweet things; we love fattening things. We use that word without realizing the frightening truth it conveys. Too often we are so distracted by the chocolate chip cookies, that we don’t notice the spouse who made them for us. Too often we are so distracted by the myriad kosher restaurants and products available to us—and the gustatory experience they promise—that we don’t notice the real Mashgiach behind the banquet. If only we studied the bencher with as much kavanah as we study the menu.

Often we allow clothing, housing, career, and an endless list of other troublemakers to come between us and real intimacy. Perhaps a normal Jew living in the twenty-first century can only experience kedushah by stepping back from these distractions. It is possible that the ancient formula for achieving connection—“ Kedoshim tihiyu—Prushim tihiyu”—never deserved more attention than in this most modern of generations.

A Practical Plan for Achieving Kedushah
The sober reality is that we cannot have the best of both worlds. Selfish indulgence raised to the level of addiction interferes with closeness. Those involved in the treatment of alcoholics, narcotics addicts, and compulsive overeaters have long known this. We need to create more space and time for those whom we want to love. We need to break modernity’s mesmerizing stranglehold so that we can refocus on relationships. We don’t necessarily have to make sweeping changes in our lifestyle tomorrow. Indeed, almost without exception, real spiritual progress happens in tiny but consistent steps forward. But we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by the onslaught of diversions we are exposed to throughout our waking hours and expect to focus simultaneously on a significant other. The pursuit of kedushah doesn’t demand that we rid ourselves of cell phones and pagers, although it might require that we turn them off during certain crucial hours every day. Used intelligently, certain technologies, like answering machines and voice-mail services, can even help create the privacy and quiet necessary for kedushah to flourish. Breaking our food fascination doesn’t require abandoning Chinese cuisine or Ben and Jerry’s, but it might help to limit such indulgences to Shabbat, chaggim (holidays), and other smachot (happy occasions) that help us focus less on the repast and more on God and our loved ones. Many Jews already concentrate their clothing purchases in the periods around the chaggim; more rigorous adherence to this regimen would free us from ritual puttering around the mall and chronic rifling through clothing catalogs and advertising supplements during the interim months. Although we don’t need to walk away from a successful career in order to live a life of kedushah, we might need to make room in our professional schedules for Shacharit, Minchah, and Maariv, daily Torah learning, and perhaps even dinner with the kids.

This is not an exhaustive or universally applicable list of recommendations; nor can all of these be instituted at once. But we could make it a family to take one small, practical step towards kedushah every Rosh Hashanah. The effects of such a minhag over a five or ten year period are probably beyond anything we can imagine.

A Holy Nation
Several years ago, a secular single woman joined my family for the Shabbat meal on Friday night. She sat very quietly watching us talk, laugh, and sing. At the end of the evening, she turned to me and with burning seriousness asked how I managed to have such warm relationships with my wife and children. Like many people growing up at this point in human history, this Jewish woman had never seen kedushah, and it shook her. The truth is that virtually every Orthodox Jew has real kedushah in his or her life. We have Shabbat. We have chaggim. During these special times, we withdraw from distractions and try to focus more on God and family. Kashrut limits our culinary indulgences, just as limits the sort of clothing we can purchase. The intricate halachic systems that we allow to structure our lives create some time and space for closeness. God told us “You will be a kingdom of priests and a goy kadosh,” and we often experience the fulfillment of that promise. We would just like to experience it a bit more. If we make a courageous commitment today, perhaps next Rosh Hashanah we will look back on this year and declare: “Its beginning was labor and its end reward; its beginning was exertion and its end a gift. It began with our sanctifying ourselves and ended with us being sanctified.”

(by Rabbi Lawrence Kelemen)

the times and the places.

Many years ago, there lived a holy man who was known to have the ability to read other people’s thoughts. One day a student asked him, “Rabbi, how can you say your prayers in public around all these people with their unholy thoughts? Aren’t you distracted from your prayers by knowing what’s in their minds?”

The rabbi replied, “When I was a child my parents taught me not to look where I wasn’t supposed to.”

Why do we think that “getting close to someone” means we have to know their every private thought? We’re insulted when those we love won’t tell us everything. We accuse them of “hiding” from us, and we’re hurt. But if you try to peek behind the curtains of someone else’s privacy, you won’t get any closer to that person. Quite the opposite: you’ll become estranged. If a person doesn’t want to reveal a part of himself or herself, then to look there is wrong.

When we are invited to become a part of someone’s life, we have to be careful not to violate the other person’s privacy. The respect that we have for another person’s privacy–however that person has chosen to define it–enables us to nurture an intimate relationship. As soon as we trespass where we haven’t been invited, we destroy the boundaries and dissipate the intimacy. In such an environment, our relationships cannot flourish.

Jewish law has great respect for privacy. If you want to build a home overlooking another home, you cannot do it in such a way that you would be able to see into your neighbor’s courtyard from your window. It would be an invasion of privacy. Gossiping about others or making judgments about their behavior is also prohibited because it means you are looking into an aspect of their existence that is not open to your scrutiny. It’s private, between them and G-d; and if you judge them, you’re trespassing.

When a poor man knocks at your door and says, “I’m hungry,” and your first thought is, “Why can’t you get a job?”, you’ve invaded his privacy. Why would you need to know why he can’t get a job? He didn’t come to discuss his inabilities or bad habits; he came to discuss his hunger. If you want to do something about it, feed him. But don’t probe where you’re not invited. Don’t look behind the curtain he so carefully put up to protect himself.


When we have borders, we express our feelings only when it’s appropriate and do not express them when it isn’t. We do not impose ourselves on others.

When we have no borders, the way we conduct our lives depends on how we feel at the time. That’s not sanity; that creates insecurity. But thinking well of ourselves won’t make us feel more secure. We will feel secure when we know what we ought to be doing.

There’s an old saying, “Don’t laugh at a funeral or cry at a wedding.” In different words, it means: “Establish borders with your feelings and your behavior.”

You might say, “I’m an honest person. When I’m sad, I’m sad. What am I supposed to do, make believe I’m happy? I’m too virtuous for that.”

Well, even honesty has its borders. There are times when your sadness, your happiness, and your honesty are all irrelevant – for example, at a funeral. At someone else’s funeral, expressing your happiness is totally inappropriate and unwelcome, out of its border.

At someone else’s wedding, you’re supposed to do what they expect you to do, what they need you to do, and that is dance and enjoy. Don’t say, “But I’m the honest type,” because no one is talking about you right now. It’s not your wedding. Even if it were, you shouldn’t cry. You invited guests who came to celebrate. If you start crying, you’re out of line. Being out of line means not recognizing borders.

If we have nothing that says our life is described by certain limits, that we may live within these borders, that we may not live outside those borders, then we have no borders except our own egos.

When G-d created the world, it was part of His plan to give everything a limit, everything its borders. By giving us borders, G-d gave us a true sense of security, not through artificial self-esteem or unlimited ego but through morality.

(Manis Friedman)


“If you desire to recognize the character of this people, go and study a single one of its families. For even, Heaven forbid, if all the world’s stormwinds were to seek to uproot this people, it would be rebuilt from any one of its families which had escaped destruction. By what strength? – By the strength of – ‘I Shall Dwell in Their Midst’.

A. E. Kitov, paraphrased by Kol Israel – The Israel Broadcasting Service

He speaks.

Have a very blessed Yom Kippur everyone!

In the words of Rabbi Meir, When He so wishes, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” While when He wishes, “He speaks to Moses from between the staves of the Ark.” This is true not only of places and things, but of times: God allows His presence to be known in places, times, things, people, and ways, and what do we have in life apart from drawing near to those things that are transparent to know Him through… and becoming more transparent ourselves? So that we will know Him by heart, and in our interactions with His creation, and we will make His light clearer in creation as well. That is what matters at the foundation and in the substance of the choices and experiences we have.


Rosh Hashanah recipes.

Here is a beautiful carrot soup from the Chabad website. It takes a while, and I had to add extra boiling water while simmering the onions when it ran out. I also used a small bit of honey at the end to build the flavour, and soy milk because I had no almond milk.

And this honey cake  is nice, not that I know the difference. I just made a third of the amount, to make one round cake. Instead of the one egg needed I got a generous tablespoon of flax seeds, ground them in a coffee grinder, and soaked them in four tablespoons of water for 20 mins. (10 mins would probably have been enough.) Then just added it all in as an ‘egg’, and it worked, without being part of the currently unkind chicken-farming system. The recipe has far too much brown sugar and white sugar, so halve the amount of each (noting that I used dark brown sugar) for a cake that has a honey taste but isn’t too sweet and sticky.

remember it, guard it.

At a time of judgment for the year, people are remembering that fear of God’s judgment is important, even in a close and trusting knowledge of Him.

There’s another type of fear, which may even be more important and is more naturally stirred up: the fear that’s inherent in love and obedience. The closer we come near to God, the more He raises the stakes of the relationship… then, the smaller are the things that can hurt or even sever it. And it’s a beautiful place to pursue with Him and be in more forever because it means He is our everything and we are His only. The fear that if we turn our hearts into apathy, our deepest love will hide from us, is inextricable from the joy that we can run to Him at all times. The only way to run away from turning from Him is just to run to Him in love.

This is only part of the picture. But in trying to be mindful of the reality of dependence on God for every judgment of His will in our lives, if it is hard to remember or truly see what should be felt… maybe all that we need to do in order to stir up that fear in an appropriate and vital way is simply stir up love in the minutiae of the everyday walk with Him, and the constant humility and trust of coming back to knowing Him in love.

for life.

Some really terrible things are happening in the world all the time. A lot of people grow up not knowing hope or security. People are traumatised by war, abuse, sadness, fear, and severe need. We hurt each other often and there is a lot of confusion. At the moment there are some very big environmental issues, such as the dying out of bees and the disasters that come from the unnatural environmental effects of pollution. The struggles of refugees to find a home and then to settle and live, and the way basic needs of so many people and creatures are not met or are abused; they are overwhelming issues.

So many of these things are within our capacity to help. The way we choose to live, spend our time, and give our attention to the world and lives around us can actually make a difference.

In the end, the biggest thing is the mercy of our God. We ask Him to bless every year for good, and to remember those who are hurting. We speak to Him as the king of all things, who provides good things for us, and every joy and blessing we receive is a reminder of His kindness beyond understanding. May He have mercy on us and bring restoration soon. And as we live in this prayer, may we pour ourselves out in every practical way to be a part of it.

it’s His.

If you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures— then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

the slaying of the evil inclination.

What is the cause of the mourning? R. Dosa and the Rabbis differ on the point. One explained, The cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, and the other explained, The cause is the slaying of the Evil Inclination.

It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; but according to him who explains the cause to be the slaying of the Evil Inclination, is this an occasion for mourning? Is it not rather an occasion for rejoicing? Why then should they weep?

[The explanation is] as R. Judah expounded: In the time to come the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring the Evil Inclination and slay it in the presence of the righteous and the wicked. To the righteous it will have the appearance of a towering hill, and to the wicked it will have the appearance of a hair thread. Both the former and the latter will weep; the righteous will weep saying, ‘How were we able to overcome such a towering hill!’ The wicked also will weep saying, ‘How is it that we were unable to conquer this hair thread!’ And the Holy One, blessed be He, will also marvel together with them, as it is said, Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, it shall also be marvellous in My eyes.

they are saying, over and over.

To the God who rested from all works, Who on the Seventh Day was elevated and sat on the Throne of His Glory. With splendour He enwrapped the Day of Contentment- He declared the Sabbath day a delight! This is the song of praise of the Sabbath Day: that on it God rested from all His work. And the Seventh Day gives praise saying: ‘A psalm, a song for the Sabbath Day. It is good to thank Hashem…’ Therefore let all that He has fashioned glorify and bless God. Praise, honour, greatness and glory let them render to God, the King who fashioned everything, Who gives a heritage of contentment to His People, Israel, in His holiness on the Sabbath Day. May Your Name, Hashem our God, be sanctified and may Your remembrance, our King, be glorified in the heaven above and upon the earth below. May You be blessed, our Saviour, beyond all the praises of Your handiwork and beyond the brilliant luminaries that You have formed- may they glorify You- Selah.

it will seek.

Honesty is very beautiful. We all have a lot to gradually learn about and grow in, in many parts of this. But the more of it you hold to value, the more you realise how gaping a loss it would be not to live in it. It holds you more, like gravity, the closer you come!

Many people have made costly choices of honesty, love, and obedience before God. Some people have suffered a lot in choosing these things. And yet we say God’s love is greater than ours, and that we can offer Him so little in return for His love. How can that be, if He needs nothing and if He doesn’t suffer like we do, if He never lost anything in love for us because He has infinity to give from? How can the love between us mean anything when He gives us existence and good things, and we in return give our comfort and our whole lives?

The heart says that not only do we have no capacity to understand the ‘experiences’ of our eternal and infinite Creator, but we have no need to. We experience that we enter true and immense beauty and goodness when we give ourselves back to Him. And goodness like His dispels questions about whether He has real love for us. We don’t need to compare knowing Him with anything else; He is more than enough, near us. A huge gift of being heart to heart with our Maker, who need not open Himself to us, when we are open to His ways with us and follow in them.

The relationships that we are given as humans to have with each other can be very valuable, in faithfulness and closeness. To know Him is more than those, not less than them, if that is a path we’re willing to walk on. That’s why the idea means so much. We have been given a level of recognition that He deserves us, and a level of choice to respond to that with love.

and all the things.

The way that religions are lumped together as being like each other and unlike any other part of life doesn’t make real sense. The first reason is that they have more to separate them than they have in common. Some are lifestyle choices, some are philosophies, some are beliefs about history, some are claimed to be either powers or messages from an unseen power, and some involve either reaching out to the Creator or a claim of the Creator reaching out with a revelation. Some have a prophetic basis, some don’t. Many religions contain a few of those things together, but still… they bear more similarities to other parts of life that aren’t considered ‘religious’ than they do to each other, a lot of the time. Not only that, but the different kinds of claims require quite different approaches to considering their ideas of truth. They don’t all fit on the same spectrum, even. And sometimes the lines between them can be blurred, especially when one group sees itself to be part of (or the true continuation of) a wider faith while the wider faith rejects its inclusion.

The other reason is that even though I believe that relationship with God is the deepest priority in life, it isn’t like the rest of our lives should be or can be completely different from that. We believe in Him as a matter of all that our experience and understanding point to, just like we believe in many non-religious things and have commitments to them, both visible and invisible; both directly known and indirectly known. Everything else, then, is part of and informed by that. It’s a very natural kind of knowledge and commitment. Likewise, loyalty to the idea that God has a special way of relating to our world through the experience of the Jewish nation is not something that is accepted or listened to for no reason, just like other philosophies, historical ideas, and such are acceptable to us and so accepted by us. For sure, there are certain biases and elements of commitment that need to be sifted through, but again, that is not unique to ‘religion’.

The search for truth and the search for goodness are both a normal part of every aspect of our lives. Our interest in the will of the one from whom we’re derived is natural in the same way. And you can’t search for goodness without searching for some kind of truth, because goodness that isn’t true is not goodness at all; it is just nothing. The question for us is what kinds of goodness we are responsible to look into, and what things we would be wise to seek our desires amidst. It shouldn’t be something we push ourselves to believe, it should be real, but hopefully we can also have the patience to wait on things that take time to unravel and dig into when there are reasons to do so. That’s just a part of realistically going about life.