Tag: Ethics

8 Blogs of Chanukah: Why did Antiochus’ army ruin all the oil in the Jerusalem Temple?

8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah
Blog #1: Oil and the Secret of the Jew

Question: Why did Antiochus’ army ruin all the oil in the Jerusalem Temple?

When Antiochus’ Assyrian-Greeks entered the Jerusalem Temple, they contaminated all the oils that were in the Temple. One would expect them to plunder the Temple’s gold and silver, the precious stones, as is the custom of warriors — yet the Talmud makes no mention of this type of pillaging. What possessed the Assyrian-Greeks to single-mindedly go about desecrating the oil, and with such thoroughness that it was only through a miracle that one jug was left untouched?

Oil played an important role in the Temple. It was used in special offerings and to fuel the Menorah. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and kings were anointed with it. What is special about oil?

The Kabbalists (Jewish mystics) point to oil’s refusal to mix with other liquids. Oil always rises to the top. It is a liquid that embodies transcendence, holiness. In Kabbalistic terms, oil is the embodiment of that aspect of the soul that relates to the Holy One in a manner that transcends intellect. Oil is the intuitive love and commitment of the soul to God that is not bound by the strictures of rationality and reasoning.

It was the “oil” aspect of the Jew, our commitment to God/godliness/holiness, that the Assyrian-Greeks could not abide. Our devotion to ethical living. Our commitment to social justice. Our Torah-based demand that we and the world live in a way that brings into the world tzedek (justice), emet (truth), ahava (love) and shalom (peace). When each of my actions is Godly-deed, an act that is bigger than me, that then becomes threating to those who would taint the world with egotism, self-indulgence and fear.

And so Antiochus’ armies went after the oil. Every enemy goes after the life-source of their opponent — the wells, the food stocks. The Assyrian-Greeks went after the oil. For therein resides the secret of the Jew.

This Chanukah, as you light candles (even if they are fueled by wax instead of oil), remember that we celebrate – in part – because of the triumph of holy living, ethical living, over self-interest, egotism and fear.

Come back each night to the blog for another of these 8 Blogs for 8 Nights: Answers to Questions You Never Thought About, which enhance your understanding of Chanukah. If you would answer the question differently, share your insights in a comment. I will make a donation to tzedakah for every comment written.

For Chanukah Resources to enhance your celebration – songsheets, blessing sheets, 8 Nights of Chanukah Tzedakah, 8 stories, and more – go to www.orami.org/chanukah

[Adapted from Victory of Light – Mitzvat Ner Chanukah 5738/1977, a discourse by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.]

Gossip, the Anti-Torah

http://www.bizdevblog.com/bizdevblog/images/istockphoto_gossip.jpgNot too long ago, I posted about Rudeness All Around: Loud Public Cellphone Talking, Texting During Services as a way of opening up a conversation about texting, cell phoning and other activities that fragment the common decency upon which civil society depends.  It led me to a conversation about Lashon Harah, gossip, as a nefarious force which undermines community. 

Recently I learned that our ancient rabbis recognized this same danger, branding gossip (in not so many words) as the “anti-Torah.”  My colleague Dr. Judith Abrams, founder of Maqom, a program for spiritual searching and serious Talmud study, illuminating the Talmudic Teaching (originally posted on Tzei ul’mad: A Blog of Continuing Jewish Learning).

One of the things I love about studying Talmud is that it’s like a kaleidoscope: take a look, shake it up, turn it around, take another look and you see a whole new picture.

We all know that there are 4 things that benefit you here and in the world to come:

  1. honoring father and mother
  2. doing deeds of kindness
  3. bringing peace between people and
  4. the study of Torah is equal to them all. (Mishnah Peah 1:1)

The (Talmud) Yerushalmi, in its gemara to this mishnah, shakes the kaleidoscope and show us the other side of this teaching, i.e., the four things that hurt you here and in the world to come:

  1. idolatry
  2. murder
  3. inappropriate sexual relations
  4. lashon hara (gossip) is equal to them all. (Yerushalmi Peah 1:1, 8a1 in the Artscroll Elucidation)

Each of the four good things is paired with its photo-negative. The links are easy to see: Honoring ones parents includes honoring one’s divine parent, i.e., God. So idolatry is the anti-honoring parent deed. Deeds of kindness show we treasure life. Murder, of course, is the farthest from that that we can get. Peace between people depends on appropriate boundaries and inappropriate sexuality dismisses such boundaries as meaningfless. What I especially love is that gossip turns out to be the photo-negative of Torah study. It’s words that can do so much good or so much harm.

But here’s the real catch-22: according to the (Talmud) Bavli (Baba Batra 164b-165a), everyone gossips to some extent every single day. Unless you’re going to stay in a cave somewhere and never speak again, your going to at least do the “dust of lashon hara” everyday. Since you couldn’t live anywhere near a complete Jewish life in such isolation, there’s only one thing to do: add more Torah words to your life. In that context, Torah study isn’t just a good thing…it’s the one thing that tips the balance back into your favor, shoring up the imbalance that inevitably follows gossip.

So Torah study isn’t just good for you lishmah…it compensates for lashon hara.

Rudeness All Around: Loud Public Cellphone Talking, Texting During Services

There is a thread on our Rabbinic listserve addressing the increasingly challenging problem of how to deal with noisy teenage guests at Bar/Bat Mitzvah services.  It has morphed into questions about how to deal with the incessant texting that these kids now engage in during the service.  (Interesting question is whether having them text – thus remaining more quiet – is an acceptable solution to the noise during services.)

A recent New York Times article, As the Rudes Get Ruder, the Scolds Get Scoldier, laments an equally challenging problem – the loud cellphone talker in the restaurant, coffee shop (or in NYC, on the subway).  A relative of the rude person who parks in the handicapped spot (but is fully physically abled), Loud Talker seems oblivious to his rudeness.  So how do we respond?

I recall an incident a few years back, Just Two Weeks after Yom Kippur and Already I’m Sinning. There in the street stood a woman, leaning toward the window of a big SUV, having a conversation. After observing a few cars swerve around her, I came to believe that she was endangering herself and others by standing in the road. I opened my window and called out, “Could you move to the other side of the car? By standing there you are making it unsafe for our kids.” She and the woman in the driver’s seat of the SUV looked strangely at me and said, “What?” I repeated my concern, “Standing in the street, you are making it unsafe for our kids and yourself. The cars are swerving…” She looked at me again, pondered what I said, and called out, “Shut Up!” 

Flabbergasted then, I’m still flabbergasted.

How do we respond?  Torah (Leviticus 19:17-18) teaches “You shall not hate your kinsman in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself.” Say something, because rudeness can be cured.

But say it with sweetness as we learn from 12th century Maimonides, One who rebukes another, whether for [personal] offenses or for sins against God, should administer the rebuke in private, speak to the offender gently and tenderly and point out that he is only speaking for the wrongdoer’s own good… (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot De’ot 6:7).

How would you respond to Loud Public Cellphone Talker?  To Teen Torah Service Texter?  To Handicapped Parking Space Stealer?  I’m dying to know…

Why Bother Being Ethical? A Follow Up

Dr. Bruce Powell, founder of New Jewish Community High School in West Hills, spoke at Or Ami last week about How to Explain to our Teens Why Bother Being Ethical in an Unethical World. It was Fabulous. He was Inspiring. Straightforward. Contemplating still Dr. Powell’s teachings, I came across a sermon by Rabbi Stephen Pierce of Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco. Poignant, insightful, meaningful. Do read it:

Coziness, Drowsiness, The Lulling Effect, False Profits and Truth Decay—Restoring Trust After the Bubble Decade Of Economic Triumphalism, Materialism, Arrogance, Exploitatioin, Malignant Narcissism, and Betrayal

A sermon delivered on Kol Nidre 5770 Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, PhD

Our era is on trial! The financial mess created by uncontrolled greed created an ethical vacuum and destroyed faith in the advice of so- called “experts” and government regulators who reassured us that our assets would grow at an uninterrupted rate, home equity would continue its meteoric rise, and retirement funds would be protected from volitivity— even as the world economy descended into the abyss. harvard Law School economist kip Viscusi called this sad state of affairs “the lulling effect”— the government’s imprimatur that makes people feel safer than they really are. Where did we go wrong? Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, provide a stinging indictment of what led to the current turmoil:

Understanding the narcissism epidemic is important because its long-term consequences are destructive to society. American culture’s focus on self-admiration has caused a flight from reality to the land of grandiose fantasy. We have phony rich people (with interest-only mortgages and piles of debt), phony beauty (with plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures), phony athletes (with performance-enhancing drugs), phony celebrities (via reality TV and YouTube), phony genius students (with grade inflation), a phony national economy (with $11 trillion of government debt), phony feelings of being special among children (with parenting and education focused on self-esteem), and phony friends (with the social networking explosion). All this fantasy might feel good, but, unfortunately, reality always wins. The mortgage meltdown and the resulting financial crisis are just one demonstration of how inflated desires eventually crash to earth. Read on, page 3.