Thursday, April 30, 2009

Question of the week by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I was looking through my closet at my parents' place and found my old pair of Tefillin. I haven't worn them since we left school. I know that we put these black boxes on our head and our arm next to our heart, but other than that, I have no idea what they are about. Do you have an explanation for what Tefillin are?

Our personality has three layers to it - intellect, emotion and action; what we think, what we feel and what we do.

Intellect: My opinions on issues, philosophies on life and attitudes to myself and others.
Emotion: My moods, desires and passions; what I love and what I hate, what I am scared of and what attracts me.
Action: Not my beliefs or feelings, but what I actually do, how I live my life, and how I spend my time and energy.

Ideally, these three faculties should be in sync. My beliefs and ideals should direct my passions and ambitions, which should in turn be translated into my lifestyle. But so often we find this is not the case. What I know is right doesn't always feel right, and what I feel like doing is not necessarily what I do.

- I know I should go and help my mother bring in the shopping, but I feel like staying on the couch eating chips. Then I hear my phone ring, and jump up to answer it.

- I know I shouldn't lie to cover up my mistakes, and I feel guilty about it, but I do it anyway.

- My mind tells me that I am in a damaging relationship, but my heart is too scared to leave. I act as if everything's fine.

One of the greatest challenges in life is to try to overcome this mind-heart-body disconnect - to develop the right attitude in the mind, positive desires in the heart and to then live up to it and do the right thing. This isn't easy.

That's where Tefillin come in. The Tefillin help to achieve a spiritual alignment of mind, heart and body; uniting our thoughts, feelings and actions towards a power higher than all three.

These black boxes are holy objects, tiny treasure chests charged with immense divine power. We place one box on the head - the home of intellect, with its straps dangling down over the heart - the seat of emotion. Then the other box rests on the forearm next to the heart, with its straps wrapped around the arm and hand - the tools of action.

The head Tefillin binds our minds to the divine will, that we should know what's right and wrong. The straps dangle down so that this knowledge should flow into our heart and become a passion and excitement for goodness. And the passion resting in our heart should in turn be translated into action, that we live a life of meaning and purpose, based on clear morals and pure passions.

Could you do with some mind-heart-body alignment? I need it every day.

Biblical Reflections Lesson One: East of Eden

Weekly E*Torah by Rabbi Altein

Friday, April 17, 2009

Question of the week by Rabbi Moss:

Question of the Week:

Ever since I started keeping kosher, there has been major tension in the family. My sister is hurt that I won't eat at her house and says that I am being "holier-than-thou", and my parents say that I am tearing the family apart. What can I do?


There are hundreds of diets out there these days. Whenever a group of friends sit down to eat, someone will say something like, "I can't eat anything here, I'm on the Shmutkin's diet", or, "I can't eat carbohydrates after 10am", or, "I can only eat green peas and watermelons until the next full moon." Such announcements are usually met with little more than a shrug - if they choose to starve themselves that's their thing.

But when someone says, "I can't eat anything here, I keep kosher," the reaction is rarely so tame. For some reason, Jews feel challenged by another Jew being more observant than they are, and often take it as a personal attack. To your sister, when you say you can't eat her food it is as if you are saying that she is not good enough for you, that she's not a real Jew like you. You were talking about your own eating habits, but she is hearing a judgment on her Jewish identity.

This is not a rational reaction. Perhaps in you she hears the subconscious voice of her own Jewish soul, yearning to live a more Jewish life. Whatever it is, your job is to diffuse the situation. You have to make it clear that by keeping kosher you are in no way judging or condemning anyone else, you have merely made a decision about your own observance. You are not asking anyone to change their ways, but only to respect the change that you have made.

It is your responsibility to maintain good relations with your family, and to achieve this you should be willing to bend over backwards. Continue to visit your sister, and organise kosher food for yourself. Be as accommodating and undemanding as you can. If you handle it right, it will bring the family closer, because you will come to respect and understand each other better than before.

The kosher diet is spiritual. It doesn't promise to make you lose weight or feel healthy, but it is supposed to refine the spirit. Be a living example of a refined kosher soul in the way you treat your family.