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

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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.

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