Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

The Most Outrageous Bar Mitzvah Party Ever

A 13-year old Bar Mitzvah boy in Dallas recently made headlines. In a strident article in the Washington Post, Rabbi David Wolpe criticized the burlesque-themed Bar Mitzvah party thrown for the young man, whom he identified “Sammy.”

bar mitzvah

“To turn a ceremony of spiritual maturation into a Vegas showgirl parade teaches a child sexualization of spirit. Apparently nothing in our society militates against the narcissistic display of short-skirted dancers ushering an adolescent into unearned stardom,” Wolpe wrote.

He continued with a rhetorical question “I am leery of being too maudlin but really, our ancestors struggled and suffered and fasted and prayed so Sammy could cavort?”

The Call For Self-Examination

Wolpe’s article went viral (at least amongst the Jewish community), as we asked ourselves about the propriety of Bnei Mitzvah celebrations in our communities.

I agree with Wolpe’s central point. Some Bnei Mitzvah celebrations go too far. The purpose of becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is not to throw a big party. It is to read and teach Torah. It is to assert and celebrate one’s Jewish identity. It is to begin to take responsibility for our spiritual lives. When we confuse the party with the purpose, we teach the wrong lessons.

When Words Humiliate

Yet, what bothered me about Wolpe’s article was its vituperative tone and singling out of one young man by name. It felt mean-spirited and condescending toward a thirteen year-old-boy.

“Poor Sammy,” Wolpe wrote. “What remains to him of the small triumphs of life? When he struggles with math and earns a ‘B’ when before he could never do better than a ‘C’ will they purchase an island to mark the occasion? Will he take Air Force One to his prom?”

Is such personal humiliation necessary? Jewish law considers lashon harah, malicious language, among the worst transgressions. We need to be extraordinarily careful with our words. Even if we apologize (which Wolpe has done), we cannot undo them.

How To Make Amends

Words are like feathers. An old Jewish folk story tells of a man who sought to make amends as he neared the end of his life. He recalled many of the awful words he had said to those he loved. He asked his rabbi what he needed to do.

The rabbi instructed him to place a bag of feathers in front of the homes of each person he had hurt with his words. The man did so. He felt good. It seemed like an easy way to make amends.

Then the rabbi told him to go out and retrieve every feather he had placed in front of each home. The man turned white. “That’s impossible,” he said. “They have flown off around the world. There is no way I can get them all.”

“So it is with our words,” responded the rabbi. “They spread out like feathers, and we can do nothing to get them back.”

We need to be extra-careful with the words we say. “Life and death,” King Solomon reminded us, “lie in the power of the tongue.”

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

Can God Make You A Better Person?

“Without God all things are permissible.” -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I was recently in the executive lounge at an upscale hotel. After filling my plate with pita chips and hummus, I began nibbling on the way back to my table. A chip (somehow!) fell from my hand. I picked it up and continued walking.

food

A few seconds later, a server rushed over and began thanking me profusely.

“What did I do?” I asked. “You picked up the cracker and threw it away,” he exclaimed. “You would not believe how many people don’t. Most kick it with their foot, creating more crumbs, and try to hide it under the table.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Picking it up seemed like a natural courtesy. You drop something. You pick it up. Now I was being treated like a saint for doing so. Has civility and manners in our culture really deteriorated to such a point?

Someone Is Watching

Perhaps we need to be reminded of an old Jewish story. It tells of a famous rabbi who hired an assistant to be with him at all times.The assistant had a simple job. Every hour he was to say out aloud, “Someone is watching.” Even if they were alone at night walking, the assistant had to say it.

Through this simple story, the rabbi was teaching us something profound about the role of faith. It reminds us to do what is right, even when no one is watching. God is the voice from outside of us that lives inside of us. When we hear God’s voice, we know we are not alone. We know our deeds matter, even if no one is watching.

How Do I Teach My Kids? Mother and Daughter Reading Together

As a parent of young children, I struggle to find ways to teach them this lesson. My faith has been the best means for doing so. My Jewish values remind me of what is right and good. Prayer reminds me to pay attention and follow the voice of conscience that I hear, but could easily ignore.

I don’t believe faith is the only way to teach such values. Nor am not saying every religious person has good values and good manners.

Rather, I am saying faith reminds us to take right and wrong seriously, even if those around us do not. It reminds us of what is right and good. It compels us to pay attention and listen to the voice of conscience we hear inside us.

What do you think? 

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

There Is No Such Thing As Atheism

religion

My teenage students often ask me why we need religion. We don’t need it answer questions about why it rains or why the sun shines. Science gives better answers to those. We don’t need it to explain human behavior or relationships. Psychology gives better answers to those. What, then, is religion for?

I tell them this: Religion  helps us answer the most important questions we face. What is the purpose of life? How can it be made meaningful? Why are we here? What does it all add up to?

None of us can ignore these questions. Our lives determine our answer.

We All Worship Something

The late novelist David Foster Wallace put it best when he said,

In the day-to- day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.

If we choose to worship money and things, there will never be enough. If we choose to worship beauty and sexual allure, we will always feel ugly and when time and age start showing, we will die a million deaths.”

If we worship power, we will feel weak and afraid, and we will need ever more power to keep our fears at bay. If we are not careful, we can slip into this kind of worship, little by little, day by day,… or we can choose to worship, to give our life to, to sacrifice for, to live and die for something else, something good and authentic and important. It’s up to us. We get to decide.

Indeed. We get to decide.

Question: What do you worship?

You can leave an answer in the comments below. 

Three Questions You Need to Ask Yourself

2,000 years ago a great rabbi urged each of us to ask ourselves three questions. Doing so can change our lives.

three questions

1. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” In other words, if what I do does not come from my heart, why am I doing it?

We can be very good and successful at something, yet still find it lacks meaning. Even further, we may not be giving the world our best.

Daniel Pink published a book several years ago entitled Drive. It is about what truly motivates high-performing people. What he found was that money and stature are not nearly as important as the deeply felt human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.

We will give our best when we find follow what drives us.

 Is It Possible?

Sometimes what drives us can drain us. We’re not always going to feel in control and creative and great about what we are doing. Every job and important thing in life – like parenting – has its difficulties and drudgery.

There are, however, practical ways we can figure out what brings out our best. If, for example, I go a few days or a week without writing, I know it. My spirit feels drained and my mind wanders. But all I have to do is start again, and the passion returns.

Each of us has similar passions we can follow. When our work touches our deepest selves, the routine, as Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, can become the amazing.

2. “If I am only for myself, what am I?” Satisfaction does not arrive simply when we do what makes us feel good. It comes when we serve others.

As theologian Frederic Buechner put it, “The kind of work God usually calls us to do is the kind of work (a) that we need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done… The place God calls us to is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Consider that phrase – “the world’s deep hunger.” Each of us brings a dish to help meet that deep hunger. When we help meet that hunger, we also meet our own. Nothing nourishes us like giving of ourselves.

What Will They Say At Your Funeral?  purpose

As a rabbi, I learn this every day through the families of community members who have passed away. When I ask family members about the deceased’s life, rather than talk about work or money, they talk about family and character.

Indeed, I have noticed that the ones who are most missed are not necessarily the most successful and famous. They are the ones who enhanced the lives of others. They are the ones who, like my grandfather, constantly did small acts that helped their communities and the people they loved.

Invariably, family members tell me that the deceased gained more from their kindness than they gave. In lifting up others, they found themselves uplifted. “If I am only for myself, what am I?”

3. “And if not now, when?” One of the best ways to uncover our purpose is to start doing something now.

A story is told of Rabbi Hayim of Volozhin, the leader of a famed nineteenth century Jewish school. As a boy he was an indifferent student. One day he decided to abandon his studies. He announced the decision to his parents, who reluctantly acquiesced.

That night the young man had a dream.  In it an angel held a stack of beautiful books.stack-of-books

“Whose books are those?” he asked. “They are yours,” the angel replied, “if you have the courage to write them.” That night he began writing. The rabbi was on the way to discovering who he was meant to become.

When we discover our purpose, we discover what God put us on this earth to do.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

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