On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Something To Think About: "You the Man!"

Recently I was flipping through the channels on tv and the 80s Spike Lee classic movie, Do The Right Thing was on. 

If you remember the movie, there was one scene where the lead character Mookie was speaking with his friend, Buggin' Out on the street and as he was about to depart, he said "You the man!". Bugginout replied "No, You the man!" and this went back and forth a couple times until they changed topic without agreeing and they both went on their way.

A simple question came to mind.  No, it wasn't who really was the man between Mookie & Buggin' Out.  It was, why can't they both be the man?  Is there something in our society that dictates that there can only be one "the man"? 

The answer seems to be that there can only be one. We see it in magazines and on tv.   There are tons of lists of the top richest people, most beautiful women or the best athletes and theres always only one person in the top spot.  That leads to another observation. Have you noticed that there's no sports in all of the Torah? In modern society, sports plays a huge role. In Biblical times, it didn't exist.  Theres no time that we hear about our forefather Jacob taking his his 12 sons outside for a game of full court basketball.  Why not? Sports can be fun and it's good exercise. 

The answer is that in sports or on determining who "the man" is, the only way that I can win is to beat you. And if you win, then I lose.  This may be true in modern society, but has no place in the spiritual world. In terms of spirituality, there's no competition between me and another person. The only measuring stick that I have to live up to is my own potential.  If neither one if us live up to our potential, we both lose. The flip side is that if we both work hard and live up to our G-d given potential, we can both win... And if that happens, we can all become "the man".

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Torah Thought: Parsha Toldos

Towards the end of the Torah portion of Toldos, Isaac grew old and became blind.  Since he believed that he was coming towards the end of his life, he wanted to bless his sons.  He told his oldest son Eisav to go out and catch an animal to prepare him a meal before the blessing.  Isaac didn’t realize that Eisav was really evil, but his wife, Rebecca, knew it so she pulled the old switch-a-roo on Isaac.  She dressed her younger son Jacob like Eisav, cooked him some food and sent him in to get the blessing reserved for the first born son.  Since Isaac was blind, he thought it was Eisav and blessed Jacob instead.  When Eisav returned and the plan was uncovered, Isaac gave him a different blessing.

I want to take some time to deal with the question of why Isaac went blind.  After all, Isaac was a righteous person so why did he deserve such a fate?

Here are the answers that I found among the Torah commentaries:

1. Middrash: Since Isaac accepted gifts from Eisav and he overlooked Eisav’s evilness, it was like a judge who accepts bribes and is then blinded in regard to justice.

2. Elazar ben Azaria: Since Eisav was wicked, when people saw Isaac walk around in the market place, they would say “hear comes the father of that scoundrel.” Since Isaac was blind, he stayed home and people couldn’t say disparaging things about him.

3. Rashi: Since Eisav married idol worshiping women, the smoke from their idols blinded Isaac.

4. Rashi: At the binding of Isaac, when Abraham attempted to sacrifice him, the angels in heaven were watching over and they stared crying.  Their tear drops went into Isaac’s eyes and caused his blindness many years later.

5. Middrash: Also at the binding of Isaac, when he was on the alter, he looked up and saw the divine presence which caused him to go blind many years later.

6. Rashi: He went blind so that Jacob could get the blessing of the first born.

You may be thinking… well which one is it?

That’s a very valid question, but not a simple one to answer.  We have an idea that the Torah can be understood in 70 different ways so on a certain level, they are all right.

That being said, I’d like to focus on the last answer where Isaac went blind so that Jacob would get the blessing of the first born instead of Eisav.  After all, Jacob was righteous and Eisav was evil, and G-d, obviously, wanted Jacob to get the blessing.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks a very simple question.  Even if Isaac didn’t realize that Eisav was evil, wouldn’t have it been better for G-d just to tell Isaac that Eisav is evil and the blessing should go to Jacob instead of having him go blind so this elaborate charade can go down?

He answered the question, telling us that speaking negatively about someone is so bad that it would be better for Isaac the righteous to go blind then for G-d to say “Eisav is evil.” 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Jewish Law Question: Kippahs & Sheitels... to cover or not to cover?

Covering your hair is one of the most difficult things for Ba'al Teshuvas to deal with.  As the only real exterior manifestation or sign of our new found choices, it makes a bold statement about our faith and observance.

For men, the kippah is like wearing a big sign saying “Jew Here!” For me it was hardest Jewish law to take on.

For women, both hats and wigs can be uncomfortable and equally as challenging considering the emphasis that must women place on their hair.

Before I go onto my helpful hints on how to incorporate hair coverings into your life, I want to take a few moments to discuss the laws of hair covering. For men over the age of 13, it is forbidden to walk a few steps without their heads covered.  A kippah, hat or even a toupee does the job. That being said, other than in the shower, a Jewish man’s hair should ideally covered at all times. For women, the requirement to cover ones hair starts at marriage, and just like men, there are no circumstances other than bathing or in her bedroom alone with her husband that a woman is permitted to uncover their hair.  For women, there are different opinions regarding how much of their hair can be exposed. I'm not an expert on the subject and you should contact a competent orthodox rabbi for explanations.  If you don't have someone to speak to, let me know and I'll find you someone well versed on the subject.  Maybe I’ll even have someone write an article to post.

That's the ideal... As anything else with BTs, it takes time to incorporate these things in our life and it’s often easier to do it in steps.  Here are some levels that may be helpful to start incorporating hair coverings into your life.

Level 1 - Around the house: Whether you live alone, with your spouse or with other family, displaying your new headgear around the house is an easy way to start.  Keep in mind that you don’t need to wear a purple satin kippah from the 1980s.  There are plenty of nice plain black kippahs out there.  If that’s too much, start with a baseball hat.  Sports hats displaying Philadelphia teams are the best, but I may have a personal bias.  The same goes for women.  You don’t have to wear a wig.  Hats or scarves are fine.

Level 2 – Among the tribe: When you’re at the home of or at an event for religious Jews, it’s also very conducive to cover up.  First of all… you’re not the only one doing it.  Second, nobody is judging you or even looking at you funny.  I never understood why some people keep their heads covered in synagogue, but when they go to someone’s home for Shabbas lunch, the hair gets bared.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not judging them.  I just think that they’re missing an easy opportunity to score some mitzvah points and save their shortcomings for a more difficult challenge.

Level 3 – Out and about: When you’re running errands or are in social settings, seems like the next logical step.  When you’re at the supermarket or Home Depot, nobody really pays that much attention to what someone is or isn’t wearing on their head.

Level 4 – A New Beginning: If you’re going on vacation or taking a new job, it’s another good opportunity to sport the new look.  The people you’re meeting don’t know that you just started wearing it and won’t question it.  Thank G-d, America is such a welcoming society, that diversity is expected and appreciated in most settings.  Of course, if you’re vacationing in Syria, it may not be the best time to start wearing a kippah.  That being said, vacationing in Syria may not be the best idea either.

Level 5 – In familiar territory: Maybe it’s because I’m a man, but I think that women have an advantage in the more uncomfortable situations.  Any half decent wig isn’t going to make people take a second glance, but a man walking around with a “Yid lid” is pretty unmistakable.  For me and, I think, for most people, this is the toughest area.  To go around old friends or old co-workers, especially non religious or non Jewish was the emotionally brutal.  This is where you’re going to draw the most attention and questions.  It’s so hard that I knew a guy who let is beard grow in to a good six inches or so to be stringent in the area of shaving, but still wasn’t wearing a kippah at his job.  One day I was visiting him and we were discussing it in front of a few of his non Jewish co-workers.  I jokingly said to him in a whisper loud enough for everyone to hear “They all know you’re Jewish.”  We all had a good laugh, including the non-Jewish co-workers and he told me later that he started to wear a kippah at work from that time onward.

For me, Level 5 was extremely hard.  Among old friends, I still wear a hat on the rare occasion that I meet someone for a drink.  I also find myself avoiding situations where I know I would feel comfortable walking in with a kippah and decorum won’t allow me to wear a hat.  It took a Jewish co-worker in my office, who wasn’t as observant as I was, to start wearing a kippah first at work to give the guts to join in afterwards.  My co-worker took his kippah off within a couple weeks, but from the time mine went on at work, it’s never came off in any setting.

On a lighter note, the good news is that a kippahs cover up any male pattern baldness that may be surfacing which is a huge advantage.  You may be saying… what do I do if my hair starts receding from the front?  My answer is simple… get a black hat.  J

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Torah Thought: Parsha Chayei Sarah

Towards the end of parsha Chayei Sarah, we witness the death of the probably the greatest person that ever lived, our father Abraham.

Chassidic sources teach that when a great person dies, they are felt more in this world then when they were alive.  This concept always reminds me of Obi Wan Kenobi’s final words in Star Wars before Darth Vader killed him “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine."

That being said, how is Abraham felt more in the world now then when he was alive?

As Jews, we’re known by many names… The word “Jew” itself stems from Judah (Yehuda) who was Abraham’s great grandson.  The name shares the same root word as “Thankful.”  We’re also called Israel or the sons of Israel.  I want to focus on a name that was first used when people described Abraham… Hebrew (Ivri) which means the “other” one.

Abraham lived in world dominated by idolatry and moral deprivation, yet he stood unwavering in his beliefs and brought the concept of one G-d to the masses.  I believe the gift that Abraham gave us as Jews is to be to be the other ones.  To be apart of and yet apart from this world.  It’s clear that Jews are different from other groups… not quite a nationality, not quite a religion, not quite a race.  After all, what are we?

We’re a family that has been given the ability from our father Abraham to bring light into a world of darkness.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jewish Law Question – If I want to start learning Torah, where should I begin?

As you know, learning is a fundamental part of being Jewish.  Since the beginning of the Jewish people, we’ve always gravitated to the intellectual understanding of whatever topic was before us.  We do it in both the secular and the religious world.  In our religious studies there is so much information available and so many books, it’s important to know where to start.

There have been many major transitions within the confines of learning Torah over the last 3,500 years.  When Rabbi Yehuda the Prince first wrote down the Mishnah, which was the teachings of our Rabbis which, up until that point, were only transmitted orally, it was considered revolutionary.  The same holds true for when Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon  first took the vast oral law and broke it down into an encyclopedia-like how to book for Jewish law, titled the Mishneh Torah.  It’s my hope to deal with the evolution of Torah and Jewish law in a later article. 

I believe that history will also show that translation of all major Jewish books and most of the minor Jewish books into clear English with background and instructions will also go down in history as a revolutionary point in the Jewish world.  Now, the millions of Jews who are not fluent in Hebrew & Aramaic can finally learn Torah in depth.

Like my previous articles, I’m making the assumption that you’re committed to learning Torah on a regular basis.  I want to tailor this article on where you may want to start with whatever time you’re willing to commit.  When I first started learning, I had to struggle through this topic, like everything else, collecting many different opinions from many different Rabbis.  After 10 years, I think I have a pretty good learning schedule that will hopefully help you grow into a well rounded and learned Jew.  Keep in mind, there is no final word on something like this.  If you don’t like one of my recommendations, feel free to try something else or mix and match from the different levels.  There are no hard and fast rules.

At the bottom of the article, Ill list links where you can find any of the works that I mention in English.

Level 1: 10 minutes per day
The foundation of Torah is the Torah itself.  The Torah is broken up into weekly portions (parshas) and each portion is broken up into 7 sections.  In level one, I recommend reading the daily section with the commentary by the renowned Torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Yizchaki, better known simply as Rashi.  Rashi’s commentary on Torah is second to none in the Jewish world and is the first stop in understanding the divine wisdom of our creator that’s transmitted through the Torah.

Level 2: 20 minutes per day
On level 2, I would recommend learning the weekly Midrash to go along with the Torah portion.  The Midrash is the homiletic stories that give us the behind the scenes perspective on the Torah portion from the Rabbis point of view.  The Midrash combined with the Torah text and Rashi’s commentary will give you a very well rounded view of the Bible.

Level 3: 30 minutes per day
On Level 3, it’s time to add Jewish law into your study sessions.  The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is probably the easiest “What to do when” books that we have for Jewish law.  It’s great to look up the specific questions that you have, but I would recommend starting on page one and reading it through.  It will give you a great flavor for what’s going on at synagogue over the holidays and Shabbas.  Keep in mind, that Jewish law isn’t confined to any one book.  It is a living, breathing thing that can never be fully contained.  Don’t take anything you read in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch as the final word for any specific situation that you have.  If you have a specific problem, consult with a trusted Rabbi.  If you don’t have one, email me and I’ll find you one.

Level 4: 45 minutes per day
On level 4, I would recommend starting with a book titled Ein Yaakov.  There aren’t a lot of people that study this, but I have no clue why.  I think it gives a tremendous overview of the stories that make up the Babylonian Talmud or Gemara.  The valuable lessons contained in Ein Yaakov seem to have no limits. 

Level 5: 1 hour or more per day
On level 5, it’s time to take the big leap and dive into the Babylonian Talmud.  In all learning, it’s best to have a study partner or class, but with the books in level 1-4, you can make your way through them on your own.  In level 5, it’s a different story.  I don’t recommend starting to learn Talmud without a qualified teacher.  The sea of the Talmud is too deep to go treading through on your own.  There are Rabbis out there who can help you with this, either in person or over the phone. 

Level A.U.:
You may be asking “What is A.U.?”  These articles always end with 5 levels.  Well… for this one, I’m adding A.U. It stands for “Automobile University.”  I’m in the car a good 7 hours per week.  If you’re in the car, train or bus for any length of time, you can take advantage of it by listening to Torah based classes.  I highly recommend Rabbi Berel Wein’s “Travels through Jewish History.”  Rabbi Wein lives in Israel and is truly brilliant and entertaining in my opinion.  Automobile University can give double the amount of learning you do without taking any time out of your schedule.  I can’t recommend it enough.

With all of my articles, I must tell you that I’m not a Rabbi.  I spent a total of two days in Yeshiva.  However, I am a Baal Teshuva for roughly 10 years and I’m hoping that my experience will help you adjust to your new quest for Yiddishkeit with the most success.  I’m also making assumptions about what your knowledge and Jewish background may or may not be.  With any of these areas, it’s best to speak to an orthodox Rabbi who knows and understands you.  His classes and advice may be much better to suit your needs.  My article should be used when there is no Rabbi around who you feel that you can relate to.  If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me.

Where do I find these books?
1. Chumash with Rashi:
2. Midrash:
3. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch: http://www.eichlers.com/Page.asp?ID=051a912641d4572d062357b8c4d49d2aaaa332c7671cd5b9&searchCategoryList=&txtSearchString=kitzur+shulchan+aruch
5. Babylonian Talmud:
6. Berel Wein’s Travels through Jewish History: http://www.rabbiwein.com/ProductsListing/History-C10/All/

Feel free to friend me on facebook at: Baal Teshuvahs Bthandbook

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Torah Thought: Parsha Vayeira

Last week, my wife and I had an unexpected date night.  Out of the blue my brother, who was in town, offered to watch the kids while we go out.  In my secular and single days, I used to have quite a social life, but since we’ve been married with two kids, my wife and I end up going out for dinner about once per year.  My brother came over early and we had a gift card to a local kosher restaurant.  We were ready for the perfect evening.

After putting the kids to bed, my wife got dressed up for a night out while I waited downstairs.  When she came down stairs, she asked me how she looked.  Keeping in mind that she’s 5 months pregnant, I needed to come up with an answer.  The possibilities were:

  1. Fat.
  2. Thin.  You can hardly tell your pregnant
  3. Other.

In the millisecond that I stood there thinking, I had to consider what the Torah would say about truth and lying.  As Jews, we are known for intellectual pursuits, both in and outside the Torah world.  For a true intellectual pursuit to be successful, it demands intellectual honesty down to the minutest detail.  We don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, but could it actually be permissible to deviate from the truth in order to do avoid it?

That brings another question… what, exactly, is truth?  Very often truth is different depending on the participant’s perspective.  In my opinion, General Tsao’s chicken is the best thing one could order at a Chinese restaurant.  Does that make it true?  (On a personal note, when we went out to eat, I had General Tsao’s chicken and it was excellent)   Is there an inherent truth beyond the point of someone’s personal opinion? 

On a more scientific note, can we say that 2 + 2 equals 4 is an inherent truth or is it only true because G-d set up a world where 2 + 2 does equal 4.  If he wanted to, he could have set up a world where 2 +2 equals 5.  If that’s the case, then truth can only be defined by Torah.

In this weeks Torah portion, 3 angels showed up to the tent of Abraham and Sarah.  While Sarah was inside the tent, the angels told Abraham that next year, Sarah would give birth to their first son.  Sarah overheard from inside and considering that she was 90 years old and Abraham was 99 years old, she laughed and said “After I have withered, shall I again have delicate skin?  And my husband is old.”  The G-d spoke to Abraham and said “Why is it that Sarah laughed. Saying: Shall I in truth bear a child, though I have aged?”

The great rabbi, Rashi, asks why did G-d deviate what Sarah said and leave out the part about how she said that her husband was so old.  He answers that G-d did so for the sake of Abraham’s feelings and for the sake of peace between husband and wife.  We would never dare to say that G-d lied, so it must be that protecting someone's feelings and peace in the home (Shalom Bayis) is an inherent Torah truth.  I learned years ago that being "right" is over rated.  Most people that I know who insist on being "right" have very few friends and loved ones.  I once heard that if you have a choice to be "right" or be "kind", choose to be "kind."

With all this in mind, I chose C. Other and told my wife that “To me, you're always beautiful.”  For me, there was no greater truth.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Jewish Law Question – How do I start praying?

We can look at the question of prayer from a couple different angles.  The first is “What should I be thinking about while praying or what should I be praying for?”  The second question is “What prayers should I be saying?”  For the purposes of this article, I’m going to deal with the second question.  Hopefully, I’ll write another article to address the first question later.

Why handle it this way?  I have a couple reasons…  There are a lot of books out there on how to give meaning and inspiration to prayer.  I haven’t seen any books or instructions for someone who’s just starting to pray for the first time.  I’ve also seen situations where Baal Teshuva’s got advice, that wasn’t right for them and it didn’t work out so well. 

About 8 years ago, I was with another BT who was a year or so behind me in learning.  We were with a Rabbi who I respect very much and the BT told the Rabbi that he wanted to start saying morning prayers and asked what should he say.  The Rabbi, who was very well intended, started pointing out enough prayers that would have taken this guy an easy 45 minutes to say every morning.  The problem was that this guy was only ready to devote about 5 minutes every day at this point.  The result was, he felt overwhelmed and didn’t say any morning prayers for quite a while.  As another inspiration for this article, when I started praying, I was basically left alone to figure it out by myself.  I made a lot of mistakes and learned from them.  I’ve seen people go too long without praying, because they didn’t know how to start.  I’ve also seen people try to do too much, burn out and walk away from everything.

With that in mind, I’d like to introduce different levels to the morning, afternoon & evening prayers depending on how much time one has to devote.  Before we get started, I want to point out a couple things. 
1. There are many different prayer books out there, but since it is probably going to be the most commonly used, I’m going to be referring to page numbers in the brown Artscroll Ashkenaz prayer book (Siddur Kol Yaakov.) 
2. I’m going to be referring to everything by their English name with the English page number. 
3. Pray in whatever language is most comfortable to you.  G-d understands English too.  If you really want to start praying in Hebrew, start out saying one paragraph in Hebrew and the rest in English.  As your Hebrew grows, increase the paragraphs.
4. In reference to prayer, please note the following… When I say day, I mean the time from sunrise to sunset.  When I say morning, I mean from the time the sun rises until the 1/3 of the day passes.  When I say afternoon, I mean a half hour after midday until sunset.  When I say night, I mean when it’s dark enough outside to see 3 stars if you live in a place where there is a so little pollution that one could see 3 stars.   
5. It goes without saying that the best thing is to complete the entire prayer service.  That being said, someone who’s taking up running for the first time, doesn’t start with a marathon.  Running down the block is enough and the distance can grow as your stamina grows.

With all that in mind, here are the levels that I’ve come up with:

Level 1 – The 5 minute version:  As far as mornings go, the most important things to do are to put on tefillin and say the Shema (Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one) A couple quick notes.  Only Jewish men above the age of 13 put on tefillin.  I’ll try to tackle why there is a difference between men and women in a different article.  Instructions for putting on tefillin are on page 7.  If you don’t have a pair, ask your local orthodox Rabbi.  If you have nobody to ask, email me and I’ll help you get a pair.  The Shema starts on page 91 and ends on page 95 with the words “Hashem, your G-d, is true.  If you cant even devote the 5 minutes, at a bare bones minimum, say the first line “Hear, O Israel… to the end of the first paragraph on page 93 “…and upon your gates.”  After nightfall, say the Shema again on page 259-261.  It’s the same words, but it’s good to get used to the prayer book.

Level 2 – The 15 minute version: If you want to do more, start on page 85 with the blessings of the Shema and continue until after the Shemoneh Esrei – Amida which stares on page 99 and ends on 119.  The Shemoneh Esrei is high point in the prayer service where we praise G-d, ask for help for us individually and for others.  It’s best to insert any personal requests in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer.  There are lots of instructions on those pages.  At night, start on page 257 and continue through 279.  The nighttime prayer is much shorter then the morning prayers and doing this will cover most of it.

Level 3 – The 20 minute version: In the morning, start on page 15 towards the bottom with the first “Blessed are you…washing the hands” and continue through the middle of page 21 stopping at “…strength for the weary”  Then say the paragraph that starts with “Blessed is he” on page 59.  Then “Praiseworthy are those” on page 67-69.  Then “May your name be praised” on page 83.  After that continue with what you’ve done on Levels 1 & 2.  You can also start adding the afternoon prayer which starts on page 233 with “Praiseworthy are those and you can stop at the end of Shemoneh Esrei on page 249. 

Level 4 – The 35 minute version: In the mornings, after page 21, skip to “Blessed is he” on page 59 and keep going from there until after Shemoneh Esrei on page 119.  After that, say “It is our duty” on page 159 through “will be One on page” 161.  This prayer “It is out duty” is also at the end of the afternoon and evening prayers on pages 253 & 281. At this point, you’re saying most of the morning prayer, most of the afternoon prayers and all of the evening prayers.

Level 5 – The whole Shebang: Start at page 1 and go until the end on each of the respective prayer times.  It’s important to note that the time estimations are exactly that.  The actual time will be determined by how fast you read and how much meaning you put behind each of the prayers.  I know people that can say  everything in under 30 minutes, while others take well over an hour to say morning prayers.  Go at a pace that feels right for you.  Unfortunatly, the more one says the prayers the greater the chance of them falling into the trap of just “getting through them” without any meaning at all.  The best advice that I can give is try to find at least one prayer that moves you and spend a little extra time with it each day.

Prayer can be one of the toughest things to start doing, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.  When we acknowledge G-d in prayer, all at the same time we’re saying that G-d is good, G-d has the ability to change things and G-d listens to us when we speak.  Now it’s our job to speak wisely. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Torah Thought: Parsha Lech Lecha

My 5 year old son came home from school with a challenging question this week.  On Monday he asked me wife what Halloween is and if we celebrate it.

Our son goes to a good Jewish day school with a very diverse group of students.  In his class are kids from all types of homes on the religious observance spectrum.  Apparently some of his classmates celebrate Halloween and brought it up in class.  From my wife’s report, the teacher handled the question well and moved on quickly to other activities. 

Halloween seems to have originated from Pagan customs and we decided early on in our marriage that we didn’t see the need to celebrate it with our kids.  On Purim, we dress up in funny costumes and eat candy, so we didn’t feel like we were depriving them.  As a quick note, before I became religious I used to have huge Halloween parties and would really go all out.  The flip side is that back then I didn’t have a clue what Purim was.

That being said, when a 5 year old asks a question, it requires a simple answer, but it also requires the parent to clarify their reasons for doing certain things in basic terms.

My wife told my son that on Halloween is a non Jewish holiday where people dress up in scary costumes and they go around and ask people for candy.  That’s the treat.  Once in a while, someone will give something or do something less then desirable and that’s the trick.  It’s always tough for a child to understand why a lot of Jews do things that are not in accordance with Jewish laws and tradition.  We try to explain that many Jews were brought up in homes where they didn’t learn Torah and it’s out job to be an example for what  Torah Jew should be.  For Jews, we celebrate Purim. 

Even though Purim may look similar to Halloween at a glance, it’s actually it’s polar opposite.  On Purim, we don’t dress up in scary costumes and try to make people frightened.  We dress up in silly costumes and try to make people laugh.  We don’t go to other people’s houses and take candy.  We go there and give them Shalach Manot (baskets of food which traditionally have candy in them.)  We also give extra money to the poor so they can celebrate with us, along with inviting friends to a festive meal.  The essence of Halloween seems to be to take… either candy or if you really do scare someone, their peace of mind.  The essence of Purim is to give.

At a class given by Rabbi Kelemen many years ago, I remember that he taught the route word for the Hebrew word for love was “to give” and the essence of loving is giving. 

In the weekly Torah portion Lech Lecha, Abraham fights a war against 4 mighty kings who attacked 5 kings and captured Abraham’s nephew Lot in the process.  After Abraham beat the 4 kings, the other 5 kings, who had been vanquished, offered Abraham to keep the spoils of war that he captured.  Abraham did not keep anything for himself.  The only items that he did take, he gave to the priest of G-d, Malchi Tzedek, as an offering to G-d and to thank him for helping him achieve victory and save his nephew.

Traditionally, the Rabbis consider Abraham the epitome of loving kindness and we learn a great deal from him.  As the father of the Jewish people, he taught us that the focal point of being a Jew is to give… not just with money, but also our time and dedication.  Through this giving, we’ll reach the core of loving kindness and will actually receive more than we could ever have hoped for.