Tag Archives: priorities

The Boy in the Sukkah

Sukkah in the rainIn a sense, Sukkos itself is about getting our priorities straight. Here we just finished with the Days of Judgement, hopefully with Hashem’s blessings for a year of prosperity and success. Yet the first thing we do with our new-found blessings is to leave our comfortable homes for the temporary shade of the Sukkah. We thereby acknowledge that there can be no greater “success” in life that to do what Hashem really desires, even when it’s not what’s most comfortable. Sometimes we shake with the Esrog and sometimes we shake with the horse – the main thing is to strive to understand what Hashem wants of us in a given situation, not what we want or what makes us feel good. As the pasuk says (Mishlei/Proverbs 3:6), “In all your ways know Him; He will straighten your paths.”

-Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffman
“Sukkos: Shaking Up Our Priorities”

My four-and-a-half year old grandson keeps calling me from my Sukkah. Actually, he keeps phoning me from my Sukkah, calling me at work. OK, he’s only done it twice, and he had Bubbe’s (my wife’s) help doing it.

The first time was actually a day or so before the festival began. He and Bubbe were lunching in the Sukkah and he called me to invite me over. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave my job right then, but agreed to join him later that afternoon. The second time was a few days later, still at the same time of day. He wanted to know why “Uncle Mikey” (one of my sons) wasn’t answering his phone. I explained that “Uncle Mikey” was probably in school (university) and couldn’t answer the phone.

The kid really wants more company in my Sukkah. And that’s a good thing.

This is the season of joy for Jewish people. The days of judgment have passed and there is great celebration in or rather outside many Jewish homes, eating, and singing, and dancing, all for the sake of the Torah and Hashem.

As I write this (on Friday before Shabbos), I have yet to take a meal in my own Sukkah (Note: On Shabbos I started taking my meals in the Sukkah). I almost did last night, but my wife and I had a conversation on a serious subject while making dinner and, both being distracted, we sat down at the kitchen table for our meal and were eating before I realized we’d missed eating in the Sukkah together.

I thought about breakfast or at least coffee this morning in the Sukkah, but it was still dark outside and after coming back from the gym, my son (in this case, David) and I were in a rush to get ready for work.

As Rabbi Hoffman suggests, I need to get my priorities straight. Obviously, my grandson already has his up to snuff, since he’s eating every day in the Sukkah and trying to invite others to do the same.

landonAnd I’m pretty sure that at his age, he doesn’t really grasp Sukkot yet.

But who knows?

It’s Friday before Shabbos, but you won’t read this until Monday morning (or later). I’m hoping I can get all the kids over on Sunday for a meal. Everyone has different schedules so it isn’t easy to gather together in our home regularly. But just once this week, it would be nice to eat with the family in the Sukkah (Note: As it turned out, everyone had plans away from our home on Sunday, including my wife…ah, maybe next year).

It is said in Machzor of Succos, “I welcome to my table the saintly guests, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David.” It is said in the Siddur, “I am hereby ready and prepared to fulfill the positive commandment…” It is said in Isaiah 11:6 “And a little boy will lead them.”

And so, we should follow.

Ki Tetzei: Paying Attention

You shall not see your brother’s ox or sheep going astray and ignore them; rather, you should restore them to your brother…

And so you shall do with every lost thing of your brother – you may not remain oblivious –Deut. 22:1-3

When Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch was a young man, he lived in the same house as his father, Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Rabbi DovBer and his family lived in the ground floor apartment, and Rabbi Schneur Zalman lived on the second floor.

One night, while Rabbi DovBer was deeply engrossed in his studies, his youngest child fell out of his cradle. Rabbi DovBer heard nothing. But Rabbi Schneur Zalman, who was also immersed in study in his room on the second floor, heard the infant’s cries. The Rebbe came downstairs, lifted the infant from the floor, soothed his tears, replaced him in the cradle, and rocked him to sleep. Rabbi DovBer remained oblivious throughout it all.

Later, Rabbi Schneur Zalman admonished his son: “No matter how lofty your involvements, you must never fail to hear the cry of a child.”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“The Cry of a Child”
from the “Once Upon a Chasid” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Ki Tetzei

Where do our priorities lie? What is really important to us? I know it’s certainly possible to be so focused on a task or some study, that you don’t hear the cry of a child or otherwise notice something important, (my brother-in-law once burned his toast to the point of filling the kitchen with smoke because he was engrossed in a newspaper article) but on the other hand, it’s very possible for us to mess up what we think is more important. Some “religious people” tend to think their “religious practice” is more important than the “mundane” responsibilities that surround us. How often do we let opportunities to spend time with our families, help a neighbor fix their fence, or smile at a stranger pass us by because we think we’ve got more important things to do “for God?”

What about this?

Many routine actions that we do every day can be elevated by focusing on more elevated thoughts.

For example, when you go shopping for your family, focus on the fact that you are doing an act of kindness. Or, when you say good morning to someone, focus on the fact that you are giving him a blessing. If someone asks you to pass the salt, realize you are doing an act of kindness.

Focusing in this way will increase your level of joy, and increase your desire to do more good deeds.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Elevate you Mundane Actions, Daily Lift #562”

Rabbi Pliskin teaches us that every thing we do, every action we take, no matter how mundane or ordinary, contains the seeds of holiness just by focusing on how those actions serve others and please God. That means mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, washing the dishes, and helping to feed a baby are all acts of kindness that are elevated to works of holiness.

Rabbi Tauber takes it one step further by saying that performing a kindness, one that’s as simple as comforting a crying child, is actually more important than studying Torah.

Imagine that.

I’m not saying that we should stop reading our Bibles, cease pondering scholarly commentaries, and abandon our prayers and corporate worship. I am saying that we should stop thinking of those activities as the only way we serve God. We should stop believing that there’s any separation between what we do that is holy and what we do that is common.

“The thing that I really respect about how Jews live is that God is in everything. If you’re really Orthodox, God is not removed from anything. From the bathroom to the bracha [blessing] you make afterwards, you bless Him and you thank Him. Every time you say ‘Baruch ata Hashem,’ you are showing that you believe that He is the King of the Universe!”

-Ari Werth
Quoting Anglican priest Andrew White
from the article “Struggle for the Scrolls”

We tend to think all of our “work” is what we were really put here for, particularly if we’re “religious.” We pay a great deal of attention to creating congregations, attracting people to help the membership grow, networking with other religious people who think like we do, trying to paste and tape together varied and scattered faith groups to form some sort of unity. But in the end, what if our true purpose in life is to comfort a frightened child who fell out of his crib, help him feel secure again, and then watch him fall asleep in your arms?

Whenever you are feeling particularly “religious,” “holy,” or “righteous,” stop whatever you’re doing. Look, listen, pay attention. Are you being oblivious to what God really wants you to do? Are you failing to help your brother find something he lost? What are you missing?

Good Shabbos.

God is in the Backyard

We don’t say a person “will be going to heaven.”
We say this person is “a child of the world to come.”

Heaven is not just somewhere you go.
It is something you carry with you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Well, I – I think that it – it wasn’t enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em – and it’s that – if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Sometimes I don’t think we know what we want as people or faith. Sometimes I don’t think we know what we have. We are always looking off to the horizon, off to the brightest star in the sky or at the furthest cloud on the wind. We look for God in Heaven and long for the return of Jesus but we forget that we are right here and that God is with us. We forget that we have a job to do here. We forget that God expects us to be His junior partners in repairing a broken world and paving the way for the Messiah’s coming.

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post called The New Testament is Not in Heaven, the title of which, is a play on the words of the Torah in Deuteronomy 30:12. Here we see Moses giving the Children of Israel his final, impassioned speech before he proceeds to his own death and sends the nation of Israel across the Jordan and into war without his leadership.

The Torah is not in Heaven. What does this mean except that what we need from God is not far from us at all. What we have, as Rabbi Freeman tells us, is what we carry with us. Dorothy too tells us that if we think we are missing something, it isn’t missing at all. It’s as close as our “own back yard.” Why do we pretend that God is distant and His will is far away?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8

I’ve written about all this before, using the same scriptures and perhaps even repeating some of what I’ve written for today. Yet those who claim the cause of Christ still look far away for God, still think He can be captured in a list of “dos” and “don’ts”, still think it is pagan to want to feed the hungry rather than condemn a fir tree decorated with lights. Perhaps for those who pursue a spirit of disdain, God is far away. How can we ever share the good news of Christ while we’re spilling out the darkness in our hearts and calling it light?

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? –Matthew 7:3

Take the plank out of your eye and start looking for God. I think he’s in the backyard near the flower bed.