Tag Archives: children

Early in the Morning – Late in Life

Running out of timeMoshe ascended early in the morning and descended early in the morning.

-Shabbos 86a

Rabbi Menachem Bentzion Sacks used to expound upon this theme. The climb to God, the spiritual drive to perfection, must begin early in one’s life. In reference to Moshe’s receiving the second tablets (34:2), the Torah similarly emphasizes: “Be ready in the morning, and go up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and be placed there before Me at the top of the mountain.” Within these words is contained a message for all generations. Namely, one must prepare in the “early morning” of one’s life and begin an ascent in order to stand before Hashem when one reaches the peak of one’s maturity.

Our sages have praised those who partake of a hearty morning meal. We are told (Bava Kama 92b): “I will remove illness from amongst you.” (Shemos 23:25). This refers to the removal of eighty-three maladies associated with the disease called “marah”. Also among the benefits gained by eating a morning meal is that one is granted the ability to study Torah and to teach.

Finally, “Sixty men may pursue one who has early meals in the morning, but they will not overtake him.” All of these advantages can be applied as well to one who partakes of spiritual food. “Torah is compared to water, as in Yeshayahu 55:1.” – Bava Kama 17. The more a young person is nourished early in the morning by studying in the dawn of his life, the stronger and more solid are the fibers of his spiritual foundation. By means of this reinforced and vitalized internal charge, our youth can merit to study Torah, to teach Torah, and to have the knowledge of Torah permeate their beings. Shlomo HaMelech has written (Mishlei 22:6): “Educate a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This system serves to immunize children from illnesses of the soul which otherwise infect them with ‫ .מרה‬Only when our youth are equipped with Torah ideals can they withstand the difficult and corrupting challenges which the world will present to them later.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“Early in the Morning – Early in Life”
Commentary on Shabbos 86a

Fortunate are we that our youth has not caused us embarrassment in later life.

-Succah 53a

Many people gain wisdom in their later years. When they look back on their youth, they regret having squandered so much time. Some people’s “golden years” are unfortunately marred with regret over the time they lost.

Young people can learn from their elders. People who reflect on the past during their last days often say, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time with my family.” Has anyone ever said, “My greatest regret is that I did not spend more time at the office”?

While experience teaches most efficiently, some things are simply too costly to be learned by experience, because the opportunity to apply these lessons may never arise. Our learning too late that we have spent time foolishly is a prime example.

Ask your father and he will tell you; your elders and they will say it to you (Deuteronomy 32:7). In his last words, Moses gives us this most important teaching: “Why learn the hard way when you can benefit from the experience of others who have been there?” We should regularly ask: “How pleased will I be in the future about what I am doing now?”

Today I shall…

try to examine my actions with the consideration of how I will look back at them in the future.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 15”
Aish.com

None of the above is at all comforting to those of us who came to faith later in life. Worse, since my initial coming to faith was not within a Jewish context and there were a lot of “mixed messages” between Christianity and Judaism traveling in my household when my children were young, I was unable to communicate a distinct Jewish “intent” for my children who now, as young adults, operate only marginally within the Jewish lifestyle and not at all within one of religious observance and faith.

interfaithMore’s the pity and certainly as the Father, it is my fault.

Not that my children blame me, I suppose, but given the dangers we hear about intermarriage and assimilation as delivered by the Jewish community and by Jewish history, I feel the weight of responsibility rests upon my shoulders.

Patrick Stewart (in the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation) once delivered the line…

Remembrance and regrets, they, too, are a part of friendship…And understanding that has brought you a step closer to understanding humanity.

Being human and given my particular background, I may understand humanity, but I am no less vulnerable to human foibles and failures as the next man. I suppose, from the Jewish point of view, at least if I use the above quoted commentaries as my guide, I’ve arrived at the party far too late and wearing the wrong suit for the occasion. Only the Master suggests that it may be otherwise.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”

Matthew 20:1-16 (ESV)

That helps me but it doesn’t help my family, particularly my children who, as young adults, are now responsible for making their own decisions without any sort of “parental influence” from me, at least the unwanted kind.

But if I didn’t arrive early enough, perhaps it’s still not too late.

Hearken and hear Israel, (Devarim 27:9) this is the time marked for the redemption by Mashiach. The sufferings befalling us are the birth-pangs of Mashiach. Israel will be redeemed only through teshuva. (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit I:1) Have no faith in the false prophets who assure you of glories and salvation after the War. Remember the word of G-d, “Cursed is the man who puts his trust in man, who places his reliance for help in mortals, and turns his heart from G-d” (Yirmiyahu 17:5). Return Israel unto the Eternal your G-d; (Hoshei’a 14:2) prepare yourself and your family to go forth and receive Mashiach, whose coming is imminent.

“Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Tevet 15, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

early_morning_skyI wish I could prepare my family to go forth and receive Mashiach, but the best I’m able to do at the moment is attempt to prepare myself. On the other hand, my wife recently confided in me that she feels I blog more about my feelings of going back to church than I ever discuss with her. I was rather shocked at hearing this, since I had no idea she had any interest in my church activities at all. Maybe what I do to prepare myself to go forth and receive Mashiach is more noticeable than I thought.

On the one hand, God and faith seem to be happening too late to do much good in my life and in the lives of those I love the most. On the other hand, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman had this to say about the Rebbe’s lessons, which may also apply to me.

There is a recurring theme in the volumes of stories told of the Rebbe: The tale of the man who was in the right place at the right time.

There are the stories of someone embarking on a trip to some distant place, and the Rebbe gave him a book to take along, or asked him to do a certain thing there, or to meet a certain person. Or the Rebbe simply asked someone to go to a place, with little direction of what to do there.

And then, in these stories, it always works out that just at the right time the right person turns up in the right place and all the story unfolds. It’s all a matter of making connections: Every soul has certain sparks of light scattered throughout the world that relate to it in particular. The Rebbe sees the soul and senses, like a geiger counter, the sparks that await this soul. All that was needed is to bring the two within a reasonable proximity and the rest takes care of itself.

The stories are meant as a teaching as well. The Rebbe was revealing to us the wonder of our own lives, that there is purpose latent in whatever you are doing.

To extend the metaphor and express it as a question, is God still writing my story with purpose and intent in what I am doing today? Is it still possible for my life to draw others to God?

“A wise man changes his mind, a fool never”

-Spanish Proverb

A Prayer for Newtown

school_shooting_in_connFor those who suffer, and those who cry this night, give them repose, Lord; a pause in their burdens.

Let there be minutes where they experience peace, not of man but of angels.

Love them, Lord, when others cannot.

Hold them, Lord, when we fail with human arms.

Hear their prayers and give them the ability to hear You back in whatever language they best understand.

Margaret A. Davidson

I can’t think of a worse nightmare for a parent than the death of a child. My children are all adults and I continue to pray daily that God will watch over their lives. I can’t imagine what the parents of the child victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut are going through right now and, coward that I am, I don’t want to know.

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about a child’s death and sadly, I’m sure it won’t be the last. 8-year old Leiby Kletzky was murdered over a year ago in Brooklyn, and several Jewish children were killed at their school in Toulouse, France by a heartless terrorist.

I’m reminded of the final words of John Donne’s very old, very famous poem No Man is an Island:

Therefore, do not send to know
For whom the bell tolls
It tolls for thee

In truth, no matter where a child dies in the world or how he or she is taken, the child is taken from all of us. They are all our children. When someone’s precious son or daughter is killed, they’re taken from all of us and we all grieve.

I know I grieve.

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us
and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights, may He create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

-Mourner’s Kaddish

Doing Joy

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (ESV)

Therefore, first of all, man ought to be happy and joyous at all times, and truly live by his faith in the Lord who animates him and is benignant with him every moment. But he who is grieved and laments makes himself appear as if he has it somewhat bad, and is suffering, and lacking some goodness; he is like a heretic, Heaven forbid.

Igeret HaKodesh 11 (Kehot)

Apparently, I struggle with joy. I suppose it’s part of my nature or my personality to do so, just like I struggle with everything else, including God. I don’t have an easy relationship with joy. It’s like my relationship with all those religious and spiritual people who seem to be so happy and carefree all the time. I just don’t see how they can be perpetually “warm and fuzzy” (kittens, puppies, John Lennon quotes) and still manage to relate to those of us who seem to need to keep a toe or a foot in the real world.

Was that cynical?

While I have recently acknowledged joy, I have even more recently mourned its lack in my life. But I have still managed to say something hopeful about joy.

I can only conclude that joy, like love, is a verb; it’s something you do, not something you feel. We can love by performing acts of love, such as feeding the hungry, hugging a crying child who just skinned his knee, helping an elderly, infirm person across the street, or visiting a sick person in who is in the hospital. But how to you do joy?

This morning (as I write this), I realized that last night I actually did joy. I just didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time. That means I actually do joy more often, much more often than I thought I did.

Here’s what happened.

On Tuesday evenings, my son and daughter-in-law take a class and they ask my wife and I to watch our grandson Landon while they’re out. Last Tuesday night, my wife had to work late, so when I dropped off my son at his place after work (we commute to and from work together), I took Landon home with me (oh, he’s three-and-a-half years old, just so you know). My daughter was home and cutting up lots and lots of organic and recently picked apples on the back patio as part of her latest culinary masterpiece project (cider, I believe). The sukkah was still up, which should help set the scene for you.

Oh, one more thing. Rabbit and Alley. We have two hand puppets that we acquired (I don’t remember the details) when our own children were small. One is a rabbit and the other is an alligator (hence, “Rabbit and Alley”). Landon adores Rabbit and Alley (or “Raddit and Alley” as he calls them). They are his very close friends, almost as close as “Baby” which is his favorite stuffed toy (a giraffe).

When we got to my place, he saw that his aunt was out back and he wanted us all (Grandpa, Rabbit, and Alley) to play outside so we could be with her. My grandson is a picky eater, so he didn’t want to have dinner with me. He did sit beside me and we chatted while I ate. After my hunger was sufficiently assuaged, we proceeded out back.

Landon consumed a lot of (Auntie provided) fresh apples between periods of playing in the sandbox. Rabbit and Alley (and I) watched him as he transferred sand almost endlessly from one container to another. He put sand in a small bucket and pretended that he was planting (alternately) “pretty flowers” and tomatoes. Rabbit received the honor of watering the “plants” (pouring more sand in the bucket). He gave Rabbit and Alley “flowers” to put in their “pockets” and fed them imaginary tomatoes, since Rabbit and Alley like their vegetables (Landon, not so much).

When the sun went down sufficiently, I turned the lights on that are mounted on the sukkah, and we went inside. Landon ate more apples and asked me to read the Hebrew that is on two walls of the sukkah. I can’t read Hebrew, but was able to point out the names of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. Landon was a little confused when I mentioned that David played a harp because his Dad (also David) plays the drums. I had to explain that one is a King and the other is his Daddy.

We ran around the outside of the sukkah “hiding” from each other. He hid behind bushes. He picked up a “pretty rock” and carried it around for a while. I’m pretty sure I was wearing Rabbit and Alley on my hands the whole time. I tend to forget they’re actually on my hands when I’m playing with him, unless I need to take them off to turn the pages of a book I’m reading to him, or some similar activity.

In fact, when the sun went down, we did go in and I read him two books, one about an adventurous young penguin, and the other about a duck who likes to make soup.

His parents came to pick him up and, as is true with most children who are in the middle of having a good time, he didn’t want to go. So, to encourage Landon to go to the car, Rabbit, Alley, and Grandpa went out to the front to see him off. After he and his parents left, I went back inside and only then remembered to take off Rabbit and Alley and place him in their seat of honor near the fireplace.

I woke up this morning and realized that playing with my grandson was “doing joy”. It’s not that I had been emotionally ecstatic and overwhelmed with mind-bending happiness, but I recalled, looking back on the evening, that I had been quietly, pleasantly happy. I’ve mentioned before that one of the acts of love we are able to perform is to hug a crying child who has just skinned his knee. If that’s love, then joy must be playing “Rabbit and Alley” with a small child who on some level (even though he sees me put the puppets on and take them off) believes that Grandpa, Rabbit, and Alley are his best friends.

Love and joy are playing with your grandson. The next time you can’t find the Spirit of God within you and you feel lost, abandoned, and arid inside, play with someone you love. There, you’ll find joy and every other gift that God provides.

When man has moved away from the Divine, the only rectification is for man to move back toward God. Therefore the Zohar concludes that repentance is the key to heal the rift, which caused the destruction of the second Temple. This would also explain the Midrash cited at the outset — Moses knew that the absence of the Temple necessitated man’s movement toward God; therefore, Moses instituted thrice daily prayer, in order to remind man constantly, in all his experiences, that he must not forget God, rather he should take every opportunity to stand in front of God.

Furthermore, prayer is described as “service of the heart.” Evidently the heart, the emotions are crucial for this return.

But the Zohar insists that repentance coming from the heart full of love is needed to return the Jews to the level which should have been reached via the first fruits offerings. When this happens, joy will become a reality — everlasting and complete joy.

-Rabbi Ari Kahn
“Joy: Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tavo”
(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
Aish.com

I’m beginning to think that Moses should have instituted thrice daily play times with small children to remind us constantly that we must not forget God.

Turn away from feeling lost and lonely by cherishing whoever God gives you to play with, and your heart will return to Him. Go do love and joy.

They Are All Our Children

In 1972 I was part of a group of young internationals who travelled to Israel to help defend our land and our people. Communication was rough; we were from South Africa, Britain, Australia, Poland, Argentina, America, France and Russia, and most of us could hardly speak or read Hebrew.

The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) designated me a Nahal soldier – a sort of part pioneer and part fighter farmer. Our base was located halfway between the yellow-bricked, fly-infested Egyptian town of El-Arish and the Suez Canal.

We tramped through sand and desert scrub, looking for any signs of landmines or intruders. I liked to be assigned to the watchtower. No one would bother me up there and I loved to look at the mountains and wonder which one was Mt. Sinai.

For the most part it was blessedly quiet. Our biggest excitement involved a Phantom jet roaring 100 feet above us heading to the Canal.

During basic training I obtained a small prayer shawl, tallit, and a prayer book in Hebrew and English. On Shabbat I would go off on my own to pray.

I wanted a set of tefillin, the black ritual boxes (containing the holy shema prayer) donned on weekdays…I wanted to feel the binding on my arm and the weight of the tefillin on my head. I wanted to be reminded that G‑d is above me. But at Nahal Yam there were no tefillin.

-Jerry Klinger
“Tefillin in the Sinai Desert?”
from the “First Person” series
Chabad.org

I suppose this could be just me quoting a random article because of my support of Israel and my attraction to Jewish religious and faith practices.

But it isn’t.

I recently read another story about the American Girl in the Bunker, a young Jewish woman from New York City to has volunteered to serve with the IDF among 85 combat soldiers on the border of Gaza and Sinai. She’s seen a little more “excitement” than Jerry Klinger did back in 1972:

Three days ago we were just minding our business when we heard a huge explosion that literally shook the ground. I know the floor moved because our coffee spilled.

I didn’t think it could be a rocket or bomb because the warning siren, the tzeva adom, had not sounded. We all ran out to see what the noise was all about, and in the distance, maybe 2 kilometers away, we could see the telltale plume of smoke.

Seconds later, the siren rang and we all ran to the nearest shelter. The shelter is windowless. The room is built to hold 30 people, but somehow we managed to squeeze 70 inside. Luckily there was air conditioning, but it leaked everywhere and no matter where we sat, our bodies were splattered. People were pushing themselves up against the bunker walls to make room for the latecomers. In this chaos, it was my job to get a head count of my whole unit and make sure everyone had made it.

After three hours, we were told by the head of the base’s intelligence that it was safe to leave. It wasn’t for long, though. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Three more rockets fell minutes later, this time even closer to us. The tzeva adom rang, but there was no time to find safety. Two seconds after the siren’s scream we felt the earth shake beneath our feet. We were totally vulnerable.

The nights are hell. I cannot sleep. I lie in bed, fully clothed, boots and helmet on, waiting to hear the alarm, waiting to dash out of the room to safety.

-Talia Lefkowitz, volunteer soldier with the Israeli Defense Force Paratroopers Brigade

My son David served in the Marine Corps for four years. On his deployment to Iraq, he was fired on by mortars on numerous occasions but wasn’t in a position to be able to fire back. I can’t imagine what the experience was like, but I can imagine what it’s like to have one of your children in that position, in harm’s way, in combat, at risk, where he could die.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

There was nothing I could do about it the day David told my wife and me that he was joining the Marines (though we tried very hard to talk him out of it). There was nothing we could do the day he left for boot camp. There was nothing we could do the day he graduated from boot camp, except be very proud of him. There was nothing we could do the day he left for Iraq, the day he left to go to war, the day I knew that I might never see him again.

Except pray that God would watch over him and bring our son safely home.

And He did.

Mostly.

Like a lot of veterans, David suffers from various injuries, not as a direct result of combat, but of the conditions he had to serve under. He has a body that seems much older than his almost 26 years (his birthday is just two days away as I write this). We work out together five days a week. I watch him as he tries to repair a damaged ankle, a damaged knee, a damaged back, the pain he can never escape.

He also struggles with numerous emotional issues as a result of what he’s seen and what he’s experienced. It’s not like his personality is different, but his personality is being forced to filter and manage what it was like when people were trying to kill him with mortars, when people trying were trying to kill him by hiding explosives under pieces of trash so he’d drive over it, making it (and him) blow up, when he had to watch people all the time to make sure they weren’t going to shoot him.

This isn’t movie combat like you see in films such as Saving Private Ryan or gaming combat like when you play Call of Duty. This is real life where real people are holding real guns, getting ready to shoot other real people, listening to explosions, feeling the real fear of what could happen to them, and waiting for the next “boom” and wondering if they will be hurt or killed.

But David came home. He came home more or less intact. He’s married to a loving, compassionate wife and has a wonderful, three-year old son. And he struggles everyday with the consequences of having served in combat zone as a United States Marine.

I talked to him recently about Israel and the IDF. He has a great admiration for the IDF and, as a Jew, he supports the nation of Israel. If things had been different, if he had been a little more mature in years gone by, a little more in tune with a plan, he probably would have done what Jerry Klinger did or what Talia Lefkowitz is doing.

Or what Shayna Detwiler is about to do.

I met Shayna at a conference I attended last May. In fact, she was the co-ordinator for the conference and the person who made sure that I had a room, transportation, and everything else I needed to make it possible for me to attend the conference.

And she’s only twenty years old.

I don’t know what to feel. I don’t really know her, but she seems like a nice person. She young, energetic, friendly, outgoing.

Did I mention that she’s young?

I’m not really old. Not like my father, who just turned 80 is old. But I’m older. I see younger people through the eyes of a father and grandfather. I sometimes look at younger people and try to remember what I was doing when I was their age.

But mostly, I look at people like Shayna and remember the day when David went off to war. I hoped for the best and planned for the worst. Thank God the worst never came, but war is war. You never walk away from it exactly the same person you were when you walked into it.

Jerry Klinger told us what he remembers about his experience with war and in many ways it is very uplifting (read the whole article to find out why). Talia Lefkowitz is the girl sandwiched into a bunker with 85 combat soldiers, listening to the explosions and wondering if the next one is for her. David Pyles is still telling me his stories, even though he’s been honorably discharged from the Marines for a few years now.

David is my son and I listen and I become retroactively scared when he tells me something I didn’t know before about what happened to him. I sometimes get scared when he tells me something that’s happening to him now, which might be a flashback to something that happened years ago, and yet it is also happening to him now.

Shayna has parents and grandparents who love her and are probably worrying about her right now. I can’t help them. I’d be worried, too. In fact, I am worried too, even though I barely know her.

But I don’t have to know her. I have a son who served in war but in the end, they are all our sons and daughters…our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, our mothers. When someone goes off to war, they are all our family, and they all belong to us.

And may God go with Shayna and with all of our young men and women. And may God bring them all home again so that we can continue loving them.

I am a New York City girl who came to Israel to defend the Jewish state. I am proud of my service and of all the remarkable young men I have met who risk their lives every day to keep this country safe. I am the girl in the bunker, and I can tell you that these rocket attacks are a big deal.

-Talia

They are all our children.

Wonder

WonderWonder or radical amazement is the chief characteristic of the religious man’s attitude toward history and nature. One attitude is alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural course of things. To find an approximate cause of a phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder. He knows that there are laws that regulate the course of natural processes; he is aware of the regularity and pattern of things. However, such knowledge fails to mitigate his sense of perpetual surprise at the fact that there are facts at all. Looking at the world he would say, “This is the Lord’s doing, it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalms 118:23).

Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism
pg 45

Astronomers have combined two decades of Hubble observations to make unprecedented movies revealing never-before-seen details of the birth pangs of new stars. This sheds new light on how stars like the Sun form…The movies reveal the motion of the speedy outflows as they tear through the interstellar environments. Never-before-seen details in the jets’ structure include knots of gas brightening and dimming and collisions between fast-moving and slow-moving material, creating glowing arrowhead features. These phenomena are providing clues about the final stages of a star’s birth, offering a peek at how the Sun behaved 4.5 billion years ago.

“Hubble movies provide unprecedented view of supersonic jets from young stars”
Physorg.com

How do you combine these two quotes together? Can you see the hand of God in “energetic jets of glowing gas traveling at supersonic speeds in opposite directions through space?” I can. It’s not always easy, though. Building somewhat on yesterday’s morning meditation, we live in a world that strives to explain everything in terms of naturally occurring events. Nothing is amazing or astounding anymore, it’s just stuff that can be explained by science. But according to Heschel, just because you can explain something takes nothing away from the wonder of it being a creation of God.

Religious people and particularly “fundamentalist” Christians tend to take the opposite approach. They find wonder in all of God’s creation but see science as the enemy of God. Any scientific analysis of observable phenomenon is considered a denial of God’s existence. It’s only a miracle if it remains unexplained in terms of it’s physical, chemical, or electrical properties. Of course, by that thinking, we wouldn’t have the study of medicine which saves so many lives. We wouldn’t have the existence of the Internet which gives us virtually instantaneous access to information that would otherwise take weeks or months for us to locate. We would probably still think the Sun circled the earth and that God made the world as flat as a pizza.

Science is a tool and like any tool, it can be used and misused. In the post-modern era, scientific inquiry is often used as a tool to “prove” that everything in existence has a “natural” origin and that the universe doesn’t require a supernatural agent to explain its formation (and never mind that no scientific inquiry can adequately explain how the universe came into being in the first place). Yet science as a method of investigation, is amoral. It’s neither good nor bad. It simply is (at its most basic level) a set of steps that tells us how to look at something with as much objectivity as possible so we can learn what it is without tainting the conclusions with our own intervention and personality.

That’s of course, if it’s used correctly and with its original intent. Human beings have a tendency to abuse tools in order to acquire the results they believe fits their best interests, the truth not withstanding.

Even if used correctly though, scientific inquiry can have an unintended side effect. It can dull wonder, as Heschel states (pg 46):

As civilization advances, the sense of wonder declines. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our state of mind. Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.

What a hideous way to exist. Nothing is amazing. Nothing is fantastic. No event leads us into the presence of sheer awe at the glory of God’s works. That is such a sad and sorry way to live.

OceanThere are atheists who are proud to call themselves by that name and who marvel at mankind’s genius as it progresses toward a higher and enlightened scientific and social order. As the last gene becomes identified and mapped and the last star in the galaxy becomes classified and planets made of diamonds are cataloged, it all is taken in stride and in self-satisfaction. But it’s all so empty without God, for whose glory creation exists.

Heschel wonders why a “scientific theory, once it is announced and accepted, does not have to be repeated” but observant Jews continue to pray the Shema twice daily saying “He is One”. The reason this is done is because the “insights of wonder must be constantly kept alive. Since there is a need for daily wonder, there is a need for daily worship.”

Heschel continues (page 49):

The sense for the “miracles that are daily with us,” the sense for the “continual marvels,” is the source of prayer. There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living…Even on performing a physiological function we say “Blessed be Thou…who healest all flesh and doest wonders.”

Where is your sense of wonder? Perhaps it is doing well each day but if not, there is a way to inspire yourself. You don’t have to wait. Just start “doing” wonder. It’s like praying twice daily. Even if you don’t “feel” like it, the feeling doesn’t have to come before the doing:

People are not changed by arguments, nor by philosophy. People change by doing.

Introduce a new habit into your life, and your entire perspective of the world changes.

First do, then learn about what you are already doing.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Change by Doing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Do you need help? It’s available, in fact, no one can develop a true sense of God alone because God didn’t create us to be in the world alone. As Rabbi Freeman writes:

Each of us has deficiencies, but as a whole we are complete. Each one is perfected by his fellow, until we make a perfect whole.

What we have, we were given by God. The environment around us, our intelligence, our sense of wonder, others among us to complete us and encourage us. We need only take advantage of God’s gifts including the gift of prayer. We need never lose our sense of wonder in the universe or our awe in God. I suppose it’s why Jesus said this, for who but a child has the greatest sense of wonder at the world and beyond?

Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. –Matthew 18:3 (ESV)

Later today, I’ll post my commentary on this week’s Torah Portion Shoftim. Stay tuned.

When We Were Five

The Rebbe and the ChildIf you want to see the face of the Moshiach, just look at the children!

At Sinai, all men, women and children had to be present. All received the same truth, all at once.

In a simple commentary written for a five year old, great secrets of the Torah can be found. But only once you understand the simple commentary as a five year old does.

From the wisdom of the Rebbe
Menachem M. Schneerson
as compiled by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman in his book
Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

Perhaps in the Rebbe’s words, we find the keys to unlock this 2,000 year old mystery:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. –Matthew 18:1-5

We sometimes make the mistake of imposing our assumptions when we read this teaching from Jesus. The first thing we imagine when we think of a small child is that, compared to an adult, he or she doesn’t know very much about the world. Children have an extremely simple understanding of how things work. They can see the moon in the sky, but not know what it is. They can play with their favorite stuffed toy and believe it is as alive as they are. They are easily convinced of the most outrageous suggestions and accept them as utter truth. How else could we get a child to believe that there is a fat guy who rides in a sled pulled by flying reindeer, and who delivers presents to every child on Earth in a single night?

Translating all of that back into the words of Christ, we imagine he means that we don’t need to know very much about the Bible, the history of the church, the wisdom of the great Sages, or most anything else in order to be saved and have a right relationship with God. It means that studying the Bible is a waste of time, because it doesn’t change the status of being saved. It means that Bible commentaries, the Talmud, and everyone who reads and tries to comprehend them, are just making your relationship with God too complicated. After all, once you are saved in Christ, the deal is sealed and nothing else matters at all. If you’re a Christian it’s only about you and Jesus.

Right?

That tends to illustrate one of the qualities of small children; the tendency toward being self-absorbed and the difficulty in seeing a world outside of our own small sphere. Being saved and becoming a disciple of the Master is the first step in our journey, not the last.

So what does Jesus mean? What does the Rebbe mean? How are great secrets possessed by little, uncomprehending children that elude perhaps some of the greatest scholars who have ever lived? Is Bible study; Torah study a waste of time? Here’s Rabbi Freeman’s response:

The Rebbe often repeated that through the study of Torah you could conquer the world. And from the way the Rebbe discussed Torah you could see he was doing just that: Every thought, every teaching was a new understanding of the entire universe. A simple story..became in his hands an insight to the workings of time and space.

Rabbi Freeman, who describes the Rebbe as one of the foremost Torah scholars of his age, also tells this story about him:

The child he (the Rebbe) saw as a lucid, glistening crystal vessel in which to find G-d. More than once the Rebbe pointed out how his own thoughts strove to attain the simplicity of those of a child. In that simplicity, he taught, can be found the simplicity of the Infinite.

The Rebbe formed a club for Jewish children called “Tzivos Hashem”. He told the children that with verses of Torah and good deeds they would fight the forces of darkness in the world and bring Moshiach.

The Children began to stand close to the Rebbe at public gatherings. Some went under the table near his feet. Legend has it that occasionally a small band would rise up from under the table to snatch a piece of the Rebbe’s cake.

For me, this really clarifies why Bible study and immersion in the Torah are vital to achieving and retaining the perspective of a small child who is contemplating God.

Remember what I said about how adults can cause a child to have an unswerving belief in the existence of Santa Claus? It’s not the child’s fault that he or she believes in a fantasy, it’s the adults who taught them. Children are open to those they trust and they believe their parents (in most cases) mean them nothing but good. Sure, they get mad at us temporarily when we discipline them for some misdeed, but they know with complete trust that we are the source of all good in their lives. This is how we saw the world when we were five.

We fail them when we don’t tell them the truth and prove unworthy of their trust.

TrustBut now let’s bump that concept up the ladder a bit. We, as adults, can question whether or not something is the truth. We no longer believe in Santa Claus and we can (most of the time) recognize the difference between fantasy and reality. We have a Father in Heaven who is the source of all good in our lives. He wants nothing but the best for us and He does not tell us tales of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, which we later find out are quaint lies. God tells us the truth. In essence, we are like children standing close to the Rebbe and sitting at his feet under the table. Now here’s where the “child” part comes in.

If we choose to believe and to trust God as completely as small children trust their parents, whatever God tells us, we will believe. Whatever He wants us to do, we will do, without questioning why. When we “snatch a piece of cake” (so to speak) from His table, He won’t mind, because He knows we’re going to do it and He put the cake there to share with us. If we want to know how to accept God in the manner He desires to be accepted, trusted, and loved, all we have to do is to look at the relationship between little children and their parents.

For me, one of the lessons I must learn about the little children is what the Rebbe says here:

With Torah, you don’t get all the answers all at once.

Why does the moon only come out at night? Why is the sky blue? How can a fish breathe underwater? How old is God? Have you ever tried to answer these questions? It’s hard to do. Even if you know why the sky is blue or how fish breathe underwater, you can’t always communicate the answer in a way a child will understand. It’s that way for me. I want to know so much. It seems as if there’s so little time. And yet I wait. You don’t get all the answers all at once. Sometimes you have to get older first before you can understand.

In the meantime, you trust and believe, because that’s what small children do best.

Now to finish the story about the children snatching the Rebbe’s cake:

Finally, one of the adults became fed up with this lack of decorum and attempted to escort some children away. The Rebbe turned to him and exclaimed, “You are only a civilian and they are soldiers – and you want to remove them?

As the Rebbe also said, “Wealth is not a mansion filled with silver and gold. Wealth is children and grandchildren growing up on the right path.”

May we all “grow up” on the right path, too.