Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Learning from the Goyim - A Rant

Bumper Stickers
You're driving down the road, and pull up behind a black woman waiting for a light. There's a bumper sticker - at least one - on her car. It says, "I brake for rapture!" or "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." or "Know Jesus, know peace. No Jesus, no peace." Maybe she's got all three on there!

Normally I don't think about it. This past week I did. I thought about the Christian community - particularly the Black Christian community, and it occurred to me that they've got something we've lost, for the most part. They're enthusiastic about their religion and their beliefs. And we, well we so often just do mitzvot because we have to; because it's ingrained. We all know, "Ivdu et Hashem b'Simcha", but yet we so often seem to forget that last word there. No wonder we have trouble inspiring our kids! We're not inspired ourselves!! Moreover, when we see someone who is inspired - you know, like new Ba'alei Teshuva - we think of it as just a little weird.

Prayer Mats
I remember walking in Manhattan - something I do very infrequently because I live in Baltimore, and because frankly, I hate NY - and seeing a Muslim taxi driver pull his cab over, take out his prayer mat, and start bowing toward Mecca, right in the middle of the sidewalk. No one bothered him, although he did get a few looks from the passers-by. Now maybe this was an unusal occurrence... but I've seen similar things in other places. Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims, have no qualms about their religious beliefs either. When it's time to pray, they just do.

And us, we try to dress so as not to stand out. We stand in phone booths when we're trying to daven Mincha (unless we're in a minyan), and pretend we're having phone conversations. We're embarrassed by our religious requirements, because they make us different - and we so don't want to be different.

But maybe
...just maybe... (alright, more than just maybe) we're wrong. Maybe this is something we should be making concerted efforts in our communities to address. Why should we be embarrassed by the trappings of our beliefs? Do we feel God is an imposition on our lives? (Maybe we do...) Why aren't we happy about God and our relationship with Him? What is our relationship with Him?

We taught Monotheism to the World. Now we need to study from our talmidim.

Lying to Pharoah

In the past few weeks, the parshiot have discussed the Exodus from Egypt, and the preceding plagues. Something that's been bothering me about them is this:

Exo. 8:23
"What we must do is make a three day journey into the desert. There we will be able to sacrifice to God, our Lord, just as He told us."

He then further tells Pharoah that he's going to take all the women, children and animals when he goes. Pharoah doesn't like it, but eventually (after Makat B'Chorot) relents and sends them out. But it's clear that Pharoah has been given reason to believe that we were not leaving, we were going out for a few days to serve God.

Then we see the following:

Exo. 14:5
Meanwhile, the king of Egypt received the news that the people were escaping. Pharoah and his officials changed their minds regarding the people, and said, "What have we done? How could we have released Israel from doing our work?"

Now that first phrase there - he "received the news that the people were escaping." Clearly, Pharoah had not been under the impression that this was to be a permanent thing.

In other words, we left under false pretenses. At best, we allowed Pharoah to be fooled. At worst, we lied outright. Neither of these is acceptable, in my view, for the "Ohr la'goyim". The Torah tells us, "Mi'd'var sheker tirchak" - stay away from falseness. Yet we didn't exactly exemplify this here.

I haven't come up with a good answer for this yet, btw. Feel free to share your thoughts.


This morning I received an email regarding a program in Israel called Meled (Mercaz L'mida Dati), in Jerusalem, which I think is very important. Meled takes disaffected youth from religious homes, and helps then reorient themselves. These are kids with problems, living in a world in which their problems may seem small to everyone else.

For all the wonderful things about Israel, it is also well known that Israelis can be hard people. If you have a problem, you are expected to just deal with it. I suppose you can't blame them, really, but there are kids for whom that approach doesn't work. Meled is working with them.

On our recent trip to Israel, we saw a number of these kids in Chashmona'im. Troubled kids from nearby Kiryat Sefer. My friend, Arie, told me that on Shavuot, he passed by a group of them, hanging out in the playground near the batei knesiot. One of them called out to him, "Learn with us." He did, and they enjoyed it.

These aren't dumb kids. They aren't bad kids. They're lost kids. Meled is helping them find their way home. Please take a look at their site, and their program, and help out where you can.