Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Is Purim the Jewish Halloween?

Purim is not the Jewish Halloween. This is a common misconception because Purim does involve dressing up. Yet, it is not only a fun-filled holiday. It actually teaches profound lesson. One of them can be found through an exercise in Jewish numerology.

A Secret Message in the Numbers

Numbers have great importance in Judaism. Seven is holy because God created the world in seven days. Three is holy because the world is sustained by three things: study, prayer and acts of lovingkindness.

Numbers used in the Bible can also teach important lessons. One lesson emerges in a description of  the central character of the Jewish holiday of Purim. Her name is Esther. At the beginning of the biblical Book of Esther, we learn that the area in which she and the King ruled included “127 provinces.”

esther purim hidden

On the surface, the number 127 does not seem important. Yet, the Jewish sages pointed out that this  is not the only time we see the number 127 in the Bible. Back in the book of Genesis, we learn that Sarah, the wife of Abraham, lived to age 127. Is there a connection between Sarah and Esther?

Absolutely. The connection is two-fold.

1. Sarah and Esther lived each day to their fullest: The sages arrived at this conclusion because of the way the Bible describes the end of Sarah’s life. When she dies, the text says “127 were the years of the life of Sarah.” The grammar is odd. It could have just said Sarah was 127 years old when she died.

The odd grammar, however, is meant to teach a lesson. The Bible uses the odd sentence structure “the years of the life of Sarah” to emphasize that every one of those years was full of life. She made each day count.

She knew the truth of words uttered by Steven Carr Reuben, “The most important challenge is not learning how to live after death, it’s learning how to live after birth.” Like Sarah and Esther, we try to make each day count.

2. God is ever-present: The Book of Esther is unique amongst the books of the Bible. God is never mentioned. Unlike every other book, where Goes plays an active role in the narrative, God does not appear. How is this possible?

The best clue to finding the answer is in Esther’s name. The Hebrew word Hester means hidden. God is never absent, but sometimes God feels hidden. God feels absent.

Yet, God is never truly absent. By linking Esther with Sarah, for whom God was frequently present, the text is revealing the Divine role. God is as present for Esther–and for us–as He was in the days of Abraham and Sarah. Sometimes what matters most is hidden in plain sight.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

Are We Busy Wasting Our Lives Away? A Lesson from the Jewish Holiday of Purim

wasting time, esther, purim
A story is told about a rabbi who always saw a member of his conregation running down the street. Every day, the man kept running without missing a beat.

One day, the rabbi stopped him and said, “Why are you always in a hurry?” The man replied, “I’m running to make a living.”

The rabbi paused and answered, “You say you’re running after your living. But how do you know your living is not running after you? Perhaps all you need to do is pause, and let it catch up.”

Are You Running Away From Your Gifts? 

Sometimes we lose ourselves in busyness. We let our gifts run right by us. We treat life as a game to be won rather than experience to savor.

This lesson emerges in the Jewish holiday that begins this weekend. Know as Purim, it celebrates the wisdom of Queen Esther and her boldness in saving the Jews of Persia from annihilation.

The story of Queen Esther is an enlightening one. She is born as a peasant and is plucked from obscurity to become Queen.

Why Esther Became Queen

According to the Jewish sages, part of the reason the King selected her was that her character was “soft and gentle, prudent and careful.” These traits stood out in contrast to many of her rivals for the throne, who were zealous and deceitful and self-centered.

The sages then connect Esther’s character with her faith. Her faith taught her right from wrong, what was real and what was fake, what was just and what was unjust. She was careful not to embarrass or deceive others. She knew she served a higher power than the king.

Her rivals, however, saw becoming queen as their right and sole purpose. It became their consuming passion, and they relentlessly pushed to attain even if it meant embarrassing or destroying their rivals. They knew no higher power other than themselves.

How Can We Learn from Her Example? 

Esther’s example can speak to us today. How often do we relentlessly pursue what is bigger and greater because we think it will make us happy? How often does our desire for rewards and recognition drive our actions? How often do our possessions start to possess us?

When we let this happen, we confuse what we think will make us feel good with what brings ultimate meaning and purpose in life. We keep chasing after what we think we want, when what we really need is standing right beside us.

By following the gentle and faithful example of Queen Esther, we can attain what makes life truly worthwhile.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

How To Talk With God: 10 Bible Verses on the Power of Prayer

One of the Bible’s central themes is the relationship between God and human beings. In particular, the text explores the way we communicate with God.

The conventional term for this type of communication is prayer. It can take many forms and languages. What they all share is the desire to lift our words and thoughts out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. 

prayer and the bible
Here are some of my favorite verses from the Old Testament on this theme.

1) “Worship God in joy; come into His Presence in song.” (Psalm 100:2)

2) “The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, the God of my father, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)

3) I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

4) “And Moses cried unto the Eternal One, saying, Heal her now, O God, I beseech thee.” (Numbers 12:13)

5) “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

6) “If one turns away his ear from hearing My teachings,
even his prayer is not heard.” (Proverbs 28:9)

7) “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless Your holy name.” (Psalm 103:1)

8) “And serve Him with all your heart.” (Deuteronomy 11:13)

9) “Then Abraham spoke up again:’“Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.'” (Genesis 18:27)

10) “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6)

Do you have any favorite biblical verses on prayer?

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

How My 5-Year-Old Daughter Inspired Me

love yourself

A few days ago my five-year-old daughter asked me to download her favorite new song. It’s called “Let Me Love You Until You Learn To Love Yourself.”

The music didn’t speak to my soul, but the title did. Sometimes it can be hard to love ourselves. We need help. We need hope.

Faith can help us. This may surprise some. We often think religion is solely about loving others. It’s selfless rather than selfish. Yet, there is a tremendous difference between selfishness and love of self.

Why Loving Yourself Is Important

Selfishness focuses inward. Self-love radiates outward. In fact, Erich Fromm, in his classic book, The Art of Loving, defines them as opposites.

Selfish persons think only of what interests and benefits themselves. They look at people solely in terms of their usefulness. They look outside for what is missing inside.

Genuine self-love, however, begins within. It accepts and appreciates who we are and what we can become. It helps us form a vision of our higher selves.

The Steps We Need to Take

How do we love ourselves? First, we focus on the unique gifts we bring to the world. This is harder than it sounds. If I were to hold up a big white posterboard, with a small black dot near the side, most of us would focus on that dot. We look at what’s wrong rather than what’s right. 

We do the same things to ourselves. We focus on our weaknesses rather than our strengths; our inevitable failures rather than our many gifts; what others do wrong rather than what they do right.

But it won’t make us any happier or more loving. It will only block our vision.

How Faith Helps

Our faith can enhance our vision. It reminds us that we are created in the image of God. It reminds us of our purpose as people–as husbands, wives, children, friends, grandparents, citizens.

Through prayer and acts of love and kindness, we bring to the foreground what so often remains in the background. We try to remember, as Rabbi Yehuda Kirzner put it, that “All of life is a challenge of not being distracted from the greatness that we are.” 

The greatness that we are can take on many forms. Primarily, it means staying acting on our values and giving our unique gift to the world. 

What Is Your Gift? 

A funeral I once conducted taught me this lesson. The man who died had been an elementery school teacher and author of over 300 childrens’ books.

His children told me of his penchant for wearing the same red sweatshirt they had purchased for him decades ago. On it were the words “One Hot Firecracker.” They spoke of his tendency to quote Sam Adams–about whom he had written seven books–as if he was an old friend.

Yet, as they laughed, they also spoke of his integrity, his honesty, his dedication to teaching students, his friendships, his character inside and out. He knew who he was. He loved who he was. And others loved him for it.

When we love ourselves, we love ourselves for who we are, not who we pretend or are expected to be. Our genuine selves become our greatest source of strength.

To receive Rabbi Moffic’s weekly digest of Jewish wisdom, click here.

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