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As Rabbi C. Sees It
Rabbi Chaiton's smile greets us each morning - a great way to start the day! So we are thrilled to share some of his thoughts and ponderings here with you.
The Chagim are behind us and our children have settled into a routine. It is now a good time to focus on ourselves. The winter months give us an opportunity to grow and explore. This week’s Torah portion begins with Hashem’s – G-d’s, instruction of Lech lecha, the Divine call to Abraham which launches and defines Jewish history. The words literally means, “Go to yourself” to begin a journey of self-discovery.
This year Portland Jewish Academy is partnering with Chai Mitzvah to offer an innovative program that combines text and experiential learning and empowers you as parents and adult learners to take a Jewish journey similar to the one that your child experiences daily.
You will spend nine months studying, practicing ritual and social action, and growing. You can strengthen your connection between the school, parents, the community and local congregations. Your personal journey includes five key components; • Monthly group study through a set curriculum • Personal independent study • Developing or deepening a ritual practice • Engaging in social action • Acknowledging and celebrating your journey
Topics may include: • Tzedakah • Peoplehood • Israel • Mindfulness • Gratitude • Community and more!
Classes will be meeting monthly Wednesday afternoons 4:30 – 5:45 pm at Portland Jewish Academy. The first class will be on October 16th. Please register soon. Cost is just $18 for the year. Take one class or take all nine!Registration is required. Please register here. Drop ins are accepted with an $18 fee.
Dates: October 16 • November 13 • December 18 January 15 • February 12 • March 19 • April 2 • May 14 • June 11
Tefillah, I believe, is a journey into yourself. It allows me to get in touch with the very core and essence of my being, the pure spark of the Divine, חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש—“a part of God above” (Job 31:2), that is within every single Jew. Tefillah is the time and tool to connect with Hashem as is experienced within nature and Hashem that transcends nature. Hashem that we experienced as the “loud voice” at Har Sinai and the quiet voice we struggle to hear in the clutter of noise in our day-to-day lives.
Over the years I had the opportunity to take students on weeklong camping experiences to the many beautiful parts of Oregon and Southern Utah. These trips require a lot of detailed planning in advance and many long hours of supervision of the students. One thing that makes it worthwhile for me is early in the morning before anyone wakes up I find a quiet spot with a view of a still lake, a majestic mountain or an open field. It is so quiet and peaceful that you literally hear the birds fly. Here I find the tranquility to don my tallit and tefillin and daven Shacharit. The tefillah is meditative and refreshing; I try to capture and keep this feeling with me when I return to the busy life of home. This is Hashem experienced through nature.
I also have the privilege to accompany students on a journey to Israel. As part of our itinerary we spend the night in a Bedouin camp south of Be’er Sheva. After nightfall we walk outside the campsite. Instead of a formal Ma’ariv service, students are asked to sit on the sand and allow their eyes to adjust to the darkness. Away from light pollution the sky soon fills with more stars than we can count or imagine.
I ask the students to pick up handfuls of sand and allow it to run through their fingers. I explain to them that somewhere not far from here Hashem told Avraham to step outside his tent—to leave the confines of nature. Avraham was promised that his descendants, you and me, will be as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand of the earth. Light leaving the stars then would in some cases be just reaching Earth today. We sitting here today are looking at the same stars that Hashem showed Avraham. In the interim time how much we, bnei Yisrael, have experienced is miraculous in its own way. I explain that we can tap into these miracles, these transcendent energies of Hashem. We conclude the evening by saying the Shema, but with a new devotion.
Education is the foundation of our future. Education takes place in school, at home, and everywhere else. Teachers, parents and society educate our children. We are all teachers.
Education is not only about acquiring knowledge or the 21st century skills required of our children to be creative and collaborators, to synthesize information and data and solve problems. Education shapes our character, actions, and the choices we make. If we teach love and empowerment, our children will become strong people who embrace the world with compassion. They will be PJA proud “menschen”.
Chinuch – education is about how we can make a difference in the lives of our children and students and to everyone we come in contact with during our day; the positive ripple effect we can have on our family, community and the world. Our Sages teach us that if all you know is the aleph, the first letter of the aleph bet, you could and should teach it to someone else.
Remember just as we make time for everything else we need to dedicate time to reflect on the education of our children.
Chanukah commemorates the victory of the few over the many, light over dark, purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.
More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of Hashem.
When the Jews went to light the Bet Hamikdash’s - Holy Temple menorah - the seven branched candelabrum, they found only a single jar of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly chanuki’ah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.
When discussing the instituting of the Chanukah menorah the Talmud says: Our Rabbis taught: The precept of Hanukkah [demands] one light for a man and his household; themehadrin- diligent kindle a light for each member of the household.
The extremely diligent, mehadrin min hamehadrin — Beth Shammai maintain: On the first day eight lights are lit and thereafter they are gradually reduced;, but Beth Hillel say: On the first day one is lit and thereafter they are progressively increased. - Talmud - Mas. Shabbath 21b
It is the common practice for everyone to observe this mitzvah on the level of mehadrin min hamehadrin. - Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 671:2.
The message of Chanukah is very clear. If we did one good deed yesterday, let us try to increase and do more today. Like the Chanukah candles, we are meant to add light every day. We should always aspire to increase our level of Torah and Mitzvot. Realizing that yesterday when we did our best and reached our potential that was perfect by yesterday’s standard. Today, as perfect yesterday was, it is not good enough. Today we have to go a do our best, a new best all over again.
Having just celebrated a month of Holy Days the real work is ahead of us. How do we take the awe of Rosh Hashanah, the intensity of Yom Kippur, the joy of Sukkot, and the celebration of Simchat Torah and have it inspire us for an entire year?
I would like to wish a wonderful and beautiful Sukkot.
The Sukkahreminds of "clouds of glory” which surrounded us and shielded us from the dangers and discomforts of the desert. May Hashem shield and protect us this entire year.
The Arbah Minim - The Four Kinds, represent the various types and personalities that comprise the community of Israel, whose intrinsic unity we emphasize on Sukkot. May we only experience unity, harmony and peace this year.
Sukkot is also called Zman Simchateinu - the Season of our Rejoicing. May our lives be filled with joy this entire year.
Fun – what a simple word. It is easy to explain yet it is difficult to define. An activity that one person would find fun, someone else would consider “work” or even worse boring. A five mile hike that you might enjoy, your friend might say requires too much effort and sounds like too much work. Today you might say it is fun to sit in front of a TV and watch movies, tomorrow it would not interest you. The meaning of fun is very subjective.
The very epitome of family fun would perhaps be a visit to Disney Land. The first few days it is exciting with so much to do! We can imagine that a few weeks of forced fun would sour the entire experience. Even the “happiest place on earth” would soon become boring.
The Talmud tells a story of a king visiting the country side. He comes across a farmer loading his hay onto wagons and humming a pleasant tune. The king sees how happy the farmer is and how merry the tune is. The king decides to hire the farmer to pitch hay in the royal palace, share his joy with the king and, on top of it all, to be handsomely paid. The farmer agrees. Daily a pile of hay is placed in the throne room and as the king goes about his business in the background, the farmer is working and singing. After a few days the farmer lost all interest in the work. When asked by the king, "What happened, in the field and in the palace you were doing the same work?" The farmer replied, "In the field I was not just doing work, I was accomplishing something, here my work was meaningless.”
As parents and teachers we often hear students and children saying that school is not fun. The real question is: Should school be fun? Do we want to spend all our days in a Disney Land environment or meaninglessly pitching hay? School, as life, needs to be filled with fulfilling tasks. Children need to feel that each day they accomplish something. They are growing emotionally, intellectually, and socially. They learn to gain satisfaction from doing a job well, facing a challenge and overcoming it, and to look at life with a new understanding as they grow as a person.
During this month of Shevat we celebrate Tu b’Shvat the Rosh Hashanah L’eilanot – the New Year for Trees. Today in the midst of the winter the sap begins to flow and new life revitalizes the tree. The buds we will not see for two or three months, its fruits we will not eat for almost six months. Yet we celebrate the New Year for trees today, when the tree begins to face new challenges and overcomes them and when the tree begins to grow in a way in which we will not see immediate gratification.
Fulfillment may not give us “fun”, it may not give us instant gratification, it may not be easy, but it will give us fruits with the seeds to succeed in life.
Chanukah is often referred to as the "Festival of Lights". It's true that we light the Chanukiyah (Chanukah menorah) each night but does this name really reflect the meaning of these days? Really, the Yevanim (Greeks) wanted the lights of the Menorah to shine. They wanted a "secular" religion to flourish. Yes a religion, but one based on human understanding, a human centered approach to life, religion, morals and ethics.
But what does Chanukah really mean?
Chanukah means “dedication” or “induction.” Following the victory over the Greeks, the Maccabees rededicated the Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple) and its altar, which had been desecrated and defiled by the invaders. The word Chanukah can also be divided into two: Chanu—they rested, and Kah—which has the numerical value of 25. On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev the Maccabees rested from their battle, and triumphantly marched into the Bet Hamikdash - the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, ready to rededicate it to the service of Hashem (G-d).
The word is also related to Chinuch loosely translated as "education" but there are differences, subtle but important differences. In most cases education focuses on the skills to make a living, imparting knowledge, content and skills from the teacher to the student. Imparting information is but a small and rather simple component of a Chinuch education.
Chinuch involves learning to understand life itself. A true Chinuch based education consists of teaching children that they have an uncompromising responsibility to live by a Divine Code of morals and ethics. A life with the recognition of G-d and the mission that we are charged with -- refining ourselves and sanctifying our world - Tikkun Olam.
In short, Chinuch is an education for life, it is the development of a moral self that distinguishes between right and wrong and never loses sight of its responsibilities towards G-d and man.
This has a particular connection to Chanukah. On Chanukah we do not celebrate our physical freedom from the Yevanim (Greeks), in fact the Greeks remained in Israel for many years afterwards.
In his record of the Chanukah events, Maimonides writes: “The Greeks laid their hands upon the possessions of Israel.” The Greeks invaded the possessions of Israel in the same spirit in which they defiled the oil in the Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple). They did not destroy the oil; they defiled it. They did not rob the Jewish people; they attempted to infuse their possessions with Greek ideals—that they be used for egotistical and impure ends, rather than for holy pursuits.
The occupying Greek forces were determined to force Hellenism upon the Jews, at the expense of the ideals and commandments of the holy Torah. After the Greeks were defeated it was necessary to re-educate the Jews—to reintroduce a large part of the population to Torah values. Thus the strong link between Chanukah and education.
Appropriately, during Chanukah it is customary to give gelt (money) to children, to teach them to increase in tzedakah (charity and good deeds). Chanukah gelt celebrates the freedom and mandate to think beyond yourself and to act in a way that channels material wealth toward spiritual ends.
This year to celebrate a true Chanukah, consider an everlasting Chanukah gift of Jewish Pride, Identity, Unity and People-hood and help "educate" your child not to think of their egotistical self but to help make the world a better place. This Chanukah give your child just one extra dollar, to be used to purchase a letter in a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll).
A Sefer Torah has over three hundred thousand letters in it each and every Jew, our sages tell us, has a letter in the Torah. A missing or unreadable letter in a Sefer Torah invalidates the entireSefer Torah. But when all the letters are there together, the Torah is one, whole, indivisible.
When every Jewish child buys a letter in the Sefer Torah written especially in the name of all Jewish children, no greater unity can exist. The one indivisible Torah unites the one indivisible people. Teach your child that Chanukah is about our commitment to the morals and ideals as established in our Torah and tradition and not the material.
This year, in addition to however you celebrate Chanukah, reaffirm your commitment to Chinuch, an education based on our traditional values by acquiring a letter in the Children's Sefer Torah being written today in Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). The effects of this gift will last longer than the wrapping paper of most other gifts.
It is new, it is fresh and everybody is excited about it. What is it? It does not make a difference. Children always want a new toy, they can whine and beg and … until they get what they want. It does not make a difference that a day or two later they are “bored” with it. Our tweens and teens can (very successfully) convince us why they must have the latest in fashions or be signed up for latest, most popular after school activity. Despite the fact they may have a closet full of perfectly good clothing ( – not. I would just “die” if I was seen in public in that.)
In reality our children learn from and master this skill by watching the best. That is us. We also need the latest and shiniest. Whether its a new car, the hottest in electronic gadgetry, or the newest whatever status symbol. Despite the fact that in a few weeks the technology is old and outdated by the latest “new and improved”. By the way would a company admit that their previous model was “old and inferior”?
This is not only about our “stuff’, this includes our attitude. Think about Day One of the big family trip; compare it to Day Twelve – everyone getting a little antsy, impatient with each other. Are you ready to turn around and go back home? Guests walk in the front door and everyone is so cheerful. How many days until we look forward to their leaving?
We could say the same thing about the Jewish calendar and Holy Day schedule. One month is filled with many chagim (holy days) and the next month Cheshvan (which we just entered) is “chagimless”. We go from the awe of Rosh Hashanah to the solemnity of Yom Kippur to the joy and festivity of Sukkot to the climax of rejoicing on Simchat Torah to the plain everyday life of Cheshvan.
In reality Cheshvan is the true month in which we affirm our commitment to Hashem (G-d). It is easy to be inspired and filled with awe and joy when we are surrounded by awe and joy. During the chagim when we feel close to and moved by spirituality we can make the everyday into a holy day. The real challenge is to take those feelings, which inspired us during the month of Tishrei and carry it over to the rest of year. To make a regular day into a holy day, to elevate the mundane and make it kodesh (holy) and special, that is the message of Cheshvan and that is our challenge. When it is dark, overcast and raining outside (all day) to bring the light and joy of life and Judaism into our lives is the message of Cheshvan.
This month, Cheshvan is the time to build a genuine relationship with Hashem - G-d and our own spirituality specifically in our everyday lives. Please share with us one way you make the everyday into a Holy Day by commenting below or emailing me directly.