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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Words of Fire

By Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb


Havdalah ceremony in the Israeli military



Misunderstanding unadulterated Judaism


"Words, words, words!", he shouted at me. He was a young man, raised as an observant Jew, but now in rebellion against his traditional upbringing. His parents had asked me to meet with him for several sessions to see if I could at least temper his rebellious spirit, and perhaps even convince him to return to the path they desired him to follow.

To put it mildly, he was reluctant to meet with me. But he agreed to do so, and in fact was a bit more cooperative than other youngsters, of a similar mind, with whom I have had such discussions. He spoke, argued, debated, questioned, and expressed himself quite articulately. Occasionally, he even listened.

I well recall his major concern with traditional Judaism. He felt that our religion insisted that we limit our experience of the world to the verbal modality. "There is so much to see and hear, to touch and feel, to taste and smell, in this world. But all our religion tells us to do is to use words. Read, study, pray. Words, words, words. I want a richer life, a more robust experience!" he exclaimed.


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The attitude expressed by my young friend is not at all limited to rebellious youth. Many of our adult coreligionists have similar objections, although they are often too ashamed to articulate them. But, when they let their guard down, many Jews, including some who are regular participants in synagogue services, admit to finding our religion overly focused upon thought and language.

It is interesting to note in this regard that one of the most profound Jewish thinkers of the 20th century characterized our religion as one of "shmiah", listening and hearing, and not as a religion of "riyah", seeing. I refer to Rabbi Dovid HaCohen, a close disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel.

Rabbi HaCohen's personal lifestyle was an extremely ascetic one, having committed himself to the role of a Nazirite and thus renouncing the pleasures of the products of the vine. It is thus no surprise that he wrote a book called "The Voice of Prophecy", in which he maintained that our religion relies upon the ear, and not the eye, the auditory sense to the exclusion of the visual sense. Hence, the single most popular phrase in the Jewish religious language is "Shema Yisrael", "Hear O Israel".

As for me, I am quite confident that neither my young friend, nor those adults who find our religion excessively verbal, nor even the pious and philosophical Rabbi HaCohen, are correct. For me the Jewish religion is much more full-bodied, and allows for the entire panoply of the human senses: visual, certainly, but also our senses of touch, taste, and smell.

Historically, in the days of the ancient Temple, there were many glorious examples of ceremonies and rituals which employed a wide range of activities besides the mere recitation of words. Granted, nowadays such examples are fewer, but they are readily and regularly accessible to every Jew.

The most powerful of these rituals has its source in this week's Torah portion, VaYakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38). I refer to the verse near the beginning of the portion which reads:

"You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day." (Exodus 35:3)

It is instructive that although we are forbidden to kindle a fire during the Sabbath, it is fire which symbolically ushers in the Sabbath and it is fire which accompanies it at its conclusion. Sabbath begins when, traditionally, the woman of the house lights the Sabbath candles. It ends when the family, and sometimes the entire congregation, gathers around a torch of fire and participates in the post-Sabbath Havdalah service.

The use of fire to bracket the Sabbath experience is a dramatic example of a nonverbal experience which involves the sense of touch, with the experience of heat and warmth, as well as the visual experience, of seeing.

The view of the modest candles heralding the approach of the Sabbath is what sets the tone of tranquility and serenity which defines that holy day.

The fiery image of the Havdalah candle, which according to Jewish law must be torch like, symbolizes the return to the activity and productivity of the coming week.

But Havdalah does not only incorporate the senses of vision and touch; it also includes the sense of smell--the spices--and, of course, the sense of taste--the cup of wine. A multi-sensory experience if there ever was one.

The fire of Havdalah is its dominant image (see accompanying photo of Havdalah at an Israeli Air Force base) and which contains such rich symbolic meaning. This meaning is best conveyed by the following passage in the Midrash, which describes Adam's emotions at the conclusion of the first Sabbath of creation:

"The sun set at the conclusion of the first Sabbath. Darkness began to descend. Adam was terrified... What did the Holy One Blessed Be He do? He prepared for him two flint stones. Adam rubbed them together. A fire was ignited, and all was illuminated. Adam blessed the fire, and thus it is written 'and the night will be light for me' (Psalms 139:11). What blessing did he recite? 'Blessed are You, Lord our G0D . . . Who creates the lights of fire.'" (Bereshis Rabba 11:2)

The message here is clear. Fire was given to man. Man is to use it to continue the work of God's creation. Just as he Divine worked during the first six days of creation, so too must man be productive during the six days of his work week. The Almighty gave Adam fire so that after his restful Sabbath, he could return to the world of action.

How different is this Midrash from the Greek myth of Prometheus. Prometheus stole fire from the gods of Mount Olympus, from Zeus. In contrast to the Greek tradition, in which the gods are protective of fire and wish to keep it from man, the Torah insists that it was the Divine who enabled man to create fire so that he could continue the process of creation using his own resources.

We can readily conclude, then, that there is much more to our religion than words. There is a place, and a prominent one, for visual imagery, for delicious tastes, and for fragrant scents. And above all, there is a demand that we move from our essentially passive Sabbath stance to one of creative and constructive action.

Our faith contains much more than "words, words, words".


Previously:



Redemption
When the utopian idealist met the hardnosed realist in the park
Worrying about idolatry
What Moses knew about motivation
Commuting and Commenting: Conversations of a Life in Motion
Unanswered prayers force unlearning lessons
Dogs, too, have pedigrees
Count Me In
Open Eyes, and an Open Heart

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Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, PhD is currently the Executive Vice President, Emeritus of the Orthodox Union.


© 2012, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

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