Friday, September 18, 2009

A Thought For Rosh haShana

This isn't actually my thought, but I liked it a lot, so I'm stealing it... Alright, it's almost יום הדין (Judgement Day), so stealing's probably not such a great idea... I'll borrow it, with attribution yet!

The quote was a FaceBook post, by my friend, David Dannenbaum. I thought it was a very poignant message.

I saw this family on TV this morning. Something the father said struck me. After his daughter threw back the ball and the crowd laughed and got loud, she looked at her father with a scared expression, realizing she did something "wrong." He... immediately picked her up and gave her a reassuring hug. I was thinking how this mirrors the upcoming Rosh Hashanah experience. We reject our Creator's directives, mostly out of childish ignorance, rather than maliciously. When we realize our mistakes, we adopt a posture of contrition, only to be embraced with love and joy by our Father. That's what I want to plug into this weekend, for myself, my family, my friends. And I hope this coming year to respond to my own children's innocent mistakes with the same sense of love and compassion.

Make sure you check the YouTube link on that one - it's really sweet.

Anyway, of all the quotes and thoughts I've seen this week, leading up to the holiday, I think that one resonates with me most somehow. So thanks, Dave, for the great imagery. May you, and everyone else, merit a year of success, health and happiness.

כתיבה וחתימה טובה!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Of Tale-bearers and Teshuva

Every weekday, three times a day, in the Amida, we say a prayer known as V'l'malshinim - "And to the tale-bearers". The first line says, "And to the tale-bearers, let there be no hope..." It then goes on to say a whole bunch of things, including how they should be broken, and destroyed, etc.

Now that's always bothered me. Why destroyed? Why not do teshuva? What is it about them and what they've done, that proscribes repentance?

Yesterday, Tisha B'Av, during Mincha, I think I figured out why.

Let's think about it in context for a minute: It was written during the brutal Roman occupation. The Romans, like many conquering nations world-wide, including the Incas and Aztecs, figured out some basic standards for conquest of other civilizations. They figured out that if you want to assimilate another culture into your own, the first thing you have to do is get rid of everything that defines them as different. Never mind that "diversity" nonsense.

One of the biggest definers, at least in the Ancient World, was religion, and so the native religion had to be displaced, or replaced.

In order to ensure that this took place, the Romans used very harsh tactics against anyone trying to continue their old religious systems. And we, the Jews, were the hardest.

But we were also smart. We - and by we, I most certainly do not mean all the Jews of the period - did a lot of things clandestinely. And so we had centers of Torah study that were disguised as gambling parlors - this is the origin of the dreidel or sivivon - and many other clever ruses designed to allow us to continue to follow the Torah, without the Romans cottoning on. The Romans must have been completely confounded by their failure to assimilate us.

Enter the Malshinim - those Jews, privy to the disguises, who chose to sell out their fellows. For personal gain? For a sense of lawfulness? Who knows? But they were the Romans' informers, and probably got a lot of Jews tortured and killed. So is that why they can't do Teshuva?

Well, partially... But I think there's another dimension to it.

Remember the Soviet Union? The most horrifying thing about it, I think, was not just the KGB. It was that you never knew whom you could trust. Anyone could be a KGB informant. Your spouse. Your neighbors. Your "friends". Your relatives. Anyone. The entire fabric of society was torn apart.

Maybe that's the real, unforgivable sin of the Malshinim. Not just the loss of the people who were given over, but the destruction of a viable religious society. And in general, it seems that crimes against society are those which are most unforgivable.