Friday, June 12, 2009

Weekly E*Torah by Rabbi Avrohom Altein

Question of the week by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:

What do you say to someone who does not find Judaism to be fulfilling? He says the drudgery of performing religious duties doesn't do it for him. Could it be that some Jews need to find fulfilment elsewhere?


The search for fulfilment is one of the plagues of our generation. Today we seek fulfilment in our careers, await fulfilment in our relationships, and expect fulfilment in our spiritual life. Maybe this is why we are so dissatisfied.

Fulfilment is like your favourite pair of nail clippers. When you look for it, you can't find it. Then, when you are not looking, it appears. When you seek fulfilment, it eludes you. But when you go about the business of life and get on with your job, that's when fulfilment appears.

Fulfilment is the by-product of living a life with meaning. And true meaning can only come from living a life that serves a purpose that is beyond self. It's not about fulfilling yourself. It's about fulfilling your soul's task in this world.

Judaism does not promise to provide a feeling of uninterrupted fulfilment. It does promise to provide clarity of purpose and a well-articulated mission for life. The obligations and duties that Judaism places upon us challenge us to reach beyond self-preoccupation and start to serve our purpose.

If you want to find your nail clippers, stop looking for them, and they'll turn up. If you want to find fulfilment, stop seeking it, and it will come. But only when you forget about fulfilling yourself, and start fulfilling your soul's duty.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Review of Lesson Six

Thank you for joining us for our sixth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. The Failure of Leadership

The generation of the flood suffered from a failure of leadership. The leaders who were supposed to serve as role models acted immorally and failed to put an end to corruption by enforcing law and order. Even Noah, described as “righteous,” was unsuccessful at inspiring other to abandon their evil ways.

What leadership qualities might have allowed Noah to have more influence on his generation?The first quality of leadership is an inner strength, the feeling of security and confidence that is a prerequisite to “stepping up to the plate.” The second component, which builds on the first, is a selfless concern for others. Finally, the leader must have a vision worth sharing.

Noah was not able to summon these particular strengths. The text describes Noah as one who “walked with G-d.” He needed G-d’s constant support, for her felt a lack of lack of inner strength. Consequently, he also failed to pray for the generation. Although he did not sin himself, he lacked a broader vision and did little to transform those around him.

Abraham, on the other hand, “walked before G-d.” His solid inner strength enabled him to take charge. Selflessly, he cared for those around him, offering food and respite to tired travelers. He also taught monotheism to the world, envisioning a future free of idol worship.

B. The Ark as a Tool of Transformation

The ark was meant not only as a vehicle of refuge, but also as a means of heightening Noah’s sensibilities. Its shape was square, lacking a front or back that would allow navigation. This indicated that its purpose was to provide protection from the storm, but not to allow leisurely travel or an escape from the flood. The ark included a skylight. This symbolized that Noah was meant to become more receptive to spirituality. The ark was further divided into three levels: human, animal and waste. Noah had to take care of all the levels, signifying the need for him to learn to engage with various dimension of his own life as well as the world around him.

Noah spent twelve months inside the ark, significantly longer than the forty days of rain. This time was meant to transform him and prepare him for reentry into the world. After some time, his refuge began to feel like a prison, and Noah prayed for the time when he would be able to leave. The ark succeeded in teaching Noah that he could not remain unaffected by the fate of his generation.

C. Noah and Abraham: A Comparative Assessment of their Legacies

The Torah describes Noah as “righteous in his generations.” The sages discuss how he might fare in a different time. All agree that had he lived in a generation of good people, their influence would have ensured that he would have been even more righteous. All agree, as well that had he acted in the same way in a more upright generation, his actions would have been totally unacceptable. Yet given the particular challenges of his time, he acted admirably.

Before the flood changed the spiritual fiber of creation, people were either good or bad. Bad people were confined to a downward spiral. Good people were either overwhelmed by their environment (Gan Eden), or they were good because they were born in the shadow of role models. There was little chance that people who had begun to err would be able to reconnect with G-d when left to their own devices.

After the flood, the world was purified and was able to develop its own relationship with G-d. This is mirrored in the legacies of Noah and Abraham. This is the very reason that Abraham excelled as a leader and was able to agitate on others’ behalf. Noah lived at a time where it was possible to reignite the dim sparks of goodness within the sinner. In Noah’s time, however, there was far less potential goodness to retrieve.

Noah was able to survive the flood, but given the constraints of his time, he had no power to transform the generation around him. Abraham, on the other hand, was able to transform calamity into good. As the children of Abraham, each of us has the possibility to likewise deal with the difficult circumstances of our lives by not simply “persevering” in the face of difficulty, but by making those difficulties an opportunity for strength and blessing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Unity Lecture III with Rabbi Lau

Lifetime Opportunity to Hear World Renowned Jewish Thinker and Lecturer

Live broadcast of an address by Rabbi Israel Meir Lau on Sunday, June 14 2009 at the Chabad Torah Centre, 1825 Grant Ave. from 6:30pm - 8:00pm. Join us for an evening of gathering and connection and unite with hundreds of Jewish communities around the world as Rabbi Lau shares a message of healing and hope for our uncertain world. For more information, call 414.5624 or send us an email.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau
Rabbi Lau was born in 1937 in Piotrkow, Poland, scion of a well-known European rabbinic family, Rabbi Lau survived the Holocaust, in which his parents and his entire family, with the exception of a brother and half brother, were murdered. At age eight, he was liberated from Buchenwald concentration camp by the U.S. army, the youngest surviving prisoner. After the war, he immigrated to Palestine on a ship of orphaned refugee children. His autobiography, "Do not raise your hand against the boy," published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald, became a best seller in Israel. Recently, Israel's Cabinet has named him the new chairman of the council of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Rabbi Lau was ordained a rabbi in 1961. He served as chief rabbi in Netanya (1978-1985) and Tel Aviv (1985-1993) and at that time developed his reputation as a popular orator. He was elected as Israel’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi in 1993 and served for 10 years until 2003. In 2005 he was, again, elected Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, his current position. Rabbi Lau is the recipient of the prestigious Israel Prize, the country's highest civilian honor.

Click here to register.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Biblical Reflections: Lesson Six - The Old Man and the Sea

Lesson 6: The old man and the sea

Picture someone whom you view as a mentor. What do you appreciate about this individual? Is it inner character? Or is it the leadership qualities that this person possesses?

Lesson Five of Biblical Reflections profiled the generation before the flood and touched on its fatal flaw. The leaders of the time lacked morality, whereas Noah lacked the quality of leadership itself. Generations later, Abraham distinguished himself not only for moral uprightness, for remarkable ability to influence others.

What characterizes an effective leader? This lesson will examine the stark differences between Noah and Abraham.

Biblical Reflections: Lesson Five - Brave New World

Review of Lesson Five

Thank you for joining us for our fifth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis. Here’s a quick recap:

A. The Corruption of Society

Our lesson began with a discussion of the challenge that results from technological sophistication. Advanced societies are prone to arrogance and hubris. However, with appropriate guidance, their advantages can be used to make the world a better place.

The society that preceded the flood, unfortunately, was an example of an advanced society that was exceedingly corrupt, especially in the social realm. They were adept at subverting the justice system, and so there was little hope for remedy. Noah was a lone exception to this sorry state of affairs, and was worthy of surviving the fate of his contemporaries.

B. The Flood

Although G-d could have destroyed the pre-flood society instantaneously, he did so by bringing about 40 days of rain.This was to highlight that in addition to drowning evil, the flood also had a purifying purpose. It served as a womb of sorts, giving birth to a new world.

After the flood, a rainbow adorned the sky, standing as a promise that G-d would never again destroy the world. This is because the flood purified and transformed the very nature of the earth, making an appreciation for G-dliness an integral part of the earth’s independent identity.

The rainbow served as an apt symbol. Rainbows are formed when the sun is able to penetrate clouds and moisture, causing the light to be refracted by the droplets. The sun is a metaphor for G-d, and the clouds for physical creation. Before the flood, the clouds were too thick to allow the sun’s light to penetrate. But when the droplets of moisture in the clouds are able to reflect the light of the sun, it is a sign that the creation has reached a point of refinement that allows an appreciation of the divine to enter.

Next week we will look at how a failure of leadership may have made the flood inevitable. We will examine why the pre-flood world was particularly vulnerable to this lack, and the factors that are critical to effective leadership. I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lesson Five: The Great Flood

I hope you enjoyed the fourth lesson of Biblical Reflections: Finding Yourself in the Book of Genesis, in which we looked at the story of Cain and Abel.

This week, we will focus on a wealthy, technologically sophisticated society that was so evil that it had to be washed away. Our class will explore the connection between such advancement, on one hand, and such social corruption on the other. Why are societies destroyed, and how can they be rehabilitated?

We will also take a moment to consider the rainbow, G-d’s promise that he will never destroy the entire world by flood again. What might has caused G-d to make this promise? What has changed? Is the world any different today than it once was? We will compare and contrast the nature of the world before and after the flood.

We will also consider ways of guarding against the evils that are sometimes bred by material excess, a topic especially relevant to these times.