Friday, May 20, 2022
Friday, May 13, 2022
Friday, May 6, 2022
by Rabbi Avi Billet
In the days pre COVID and hospitals having their restrictive rules on visitors, whenever I’d visit someone in the hospital or a nursing home facility, patients or residents would see my kippah and ask one of two things. “Is it Shabbos?” or “Rabbi, can you say a prayer for me?”
Understandably it was never Shabbos – so that one was an easy No, often followed by an explanation that I wear this all the time irrespective of the day of the week.
To the second question the answer is of course Yes, but I’d follow it with a reminder “You know, you are allowed to pray for yourself! In fact, that may be a better prayer than mine, because you know exactly what you need and what you would like to see happen.”
The point is simply that you need to do what you want to do, for yourself, rather than pawning it off to someone else. “Pawning” is not the right word – but the idea that some random person who doesn’t know you has more power in Tefillah than you do is not true, and trying to push that responsibility onto someone else to the detriment of one’s own abilities is, in a way, tragic. And while we sometimes ascribe great power to the meritorious tsaddikim who are often enough asked to pray for others, there is no greater example of God hearing the prayer of an individual praying for himself than our Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashana, when we hearing of the ill Yishmael crying out to God on his own behalf.
While it’s not exactly the same, this memory came to mind when reading the verse (19:5) “On the day when you bring an offering, it should be of your own will” and the commentary of R Yosef Bchor Shor on that verse. He writes,
“Put all of your desire into it. Don’t have any negativity towards what you are bringing as an offering before the Almighty. There are people who make an offering before the Almighty, but it is difficult for them (i.e. they don’t really want to do it). Yet [since] they see others who are doing so, they feel embarrassed not to follow suit. This (kind of offering) has no value, because God knows what is in the hearts of people. As Koheles said: And I saw all the toil and all the excellence of work, which is a man's envy of his friend; this too is vanity and frustration.”
It’s a very simple challenge that R Bchor Shor is placing before us. How much are we defined by the Joneses? How much of what we do are we doing because others are doing it? Do we serve God in any way or capacity because it is socially approved in our little circles? What if it weren’t approved in our circles? Would we still do so?
Do we have any hesitation or reticence about our service of God? Our desire to perform Mitzvos and fulfill His will? Do we do anything with reluctance? Prayer? Give tzedakah? Chesed? Speak kindly to others? Hold back from the juicy gossip? Embrace holiday seasons? Engage in Torah study? Listen attentively when someone is teaching us Torah thoughts? Look askance at certain restrictive Kosher measures?
Using a very simple example from our Parsha, R Bchor Shor is reminding us that in terms of our commitment to God and Torah, we should be “All in” at all times. We have our difficult moments and difficult days – that may be true. But the real question driving everything is what grounds me and what drives me? If each of us is committed at the deepest levels of our hearts and minds, then we are in a great space and a great place. We know what we want in this life, and we know that much of the outcomes we anticipate are driven by our input and output.
When we approach our observant lives through a lens of confidence in our life choices and decisions, as well as gratitude for those who came before us who carried and passed on the torch to us, we are in a great space.
Would we have chosen this life if it weren’t handed to us? We all know people who have chosen this life that was not handed to them – either through making changes in their already Jewish life, or through converting to Judaism.
All of us could make a similar thought process into a reality when we actively choose this life through going beyond a familiar routine, and elevating all of our experiences into partially spiritual endeavors, guided by the excitement of a meaningful life being lived under the wings of the Divine.
Friday, April 29, 2022
Friday, April 8, 2022
Friday, April 1, 2022
“Five patients of a California fertility center have been awarded a total of $15m after a freezing tank failed, rendering some of more than 3,500 frozen human embryos and eggs unviable.While the extent of the damage from the accidental thaw is unclear, jurors awarded the sum to clients of the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco after finding that the storage tank maker, Chart Industries, had known about a defect that prevented accurate temperature monitoring and had not warned the center about the problem.The case could have significant consequences for a fertility industry estimated to be worth $37 billion by 2030 and comes amid declining fertility rates and a drop in childbirth, recently described as a Covid baby-bust.” [Regarding that “baby bust,” see here: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2021/05/05/the-coming-covid-19-baby-bust-is-here/]