Friday, July 31, 2009
Rabbi, I appreciate your invitation to join your classes, but I just don't have time in my life for spirituality right now. My week is packed with work, family commitments, fitness and a little socialising and time to relax. I don't see where I can fit in spiritual activities. I don't want to burn out, do I?
There was once a rabbi teaching a classroom full of students. He started his lesson by saying, "My dear students, today is our last class together before you graduate. For this special occasion I am going to do something different. I am going to teach you the secret of a good cholent."
The students were aghast. Cholent, the traditional Shabbos stew, is a classic of Jewish cooking, but hardly a profound subject for a rabbi to teach his students for their final lesson.
The rabbi took out a crockpot and filled it to the brim with potatoes. He then turned to his students and asked, "Tell me, now that I have filled the pot with potatoes - is the pot full?"
"Yes," his students replied, confused by the simplicity of the question, for there was no way to fit in any more potatoes into the pot.
With a smile the rabbi took out a bag of beans and poured it into the pot, and the beans managed to slip between the spaces among the potatoes. "Ok," said the rabbi, "now is the pot full?" Looking into the pot the students agreed that it was indeed full.
Without missing a beat the rabbi took out a bag of barley and poured it into the pot. The small kernels meandered effortlessly between the cracks and crevices among the potatoes and beans.
"Now it's full," said the students.
"Really?" said the rabbi, taking out his collection of spices. He then began shaking generous amounts of salt, pepper, paprika and garlic powder all over the pot. The students watched dumbfounded as the spices easily settled into what had seemed to be a completely full pot.
The rabbi, obviously enjoying himself, asked again, "Is it full yet?"
Without waiting for the answer, the rabbi produced a jug of water and proceeded to pour its contents into the pot. To the amazement of his students, he was able to empty the entire jug of water into the pot without a drop spilling over the sides.
"Alright, " said the rabbi, a look of satisfaction on his face. "Now it really is full, right?" The students all nodded in agreement. "Are you sure?" prodded the rabbi., "Are you absolutely certain that I can't fit anything more into this pot?" Suddenly unsure of themselves, the students looked at each other nervously and said, "Surely you can't put anything else into there!"
With drama and pathos, the rabbi raised a finger in the air, lowered it slowly and flicked a switch on the side of the pot, turning on the heating element lying beneath. "You see," said the rabbi triumphantly, "I just filled the pot with the most important ingredient of all - warmth. Without it, the pot may as well be empty."
The rabbi paused, and looked deeply into the eyes of his stunned students. "My children," he finally addressed them, "you are about to leave my class and go on to live busy lives. In the big world out there you will no longer have the luxury of studying holy texts all day. In time you will be consumed by the pressures of looking after a family and making a living. But always remember this: your material pursuits are just the potatoes and beans of life. Your spirituality, that is the warmth.
"Until the fire is turned on, the pot is full of disparate ingredients. It is the warmth that unites them all into one single stew.
"If you don't maintain a spiritual connection, through praying every day, studying the holy books, and keeping focused on the true meaning of your lives, then you will end up as a cold cholent - very busy, very full, but completely empty. When you have lost touch with your soul, your family life will suffer, your career will be unfulfilling, you won't even be motivated to exercise.
"But if you keep the fire burning in your soul, if you stick to a daily schedule that nourishes the spirit, even if it is only for a few minutes a day, then those few minutes will bring warmth and inspiration to all your other activities. A spiritual connection imbues your entire life with meaning, keeps you anchored and directed, inspired and motivated. It permeates all you do with a sense of purpose, and makes you succeed."
"You may be wondering," continued the rabbi, "how will you have time for all this? How will you be able to juggle the demands of material life along with your spiritual development? You will find the answer by looking at the cholent. Did you notice that though the pot seemed full of potatoes and beans, barley, spices and water, when I added the warmth it did not overflow? Never think that adding spirituality to your schedule will overburden you. On the contrary, it will bring everything else in your life together, because it will remind you why you do all these other things in the first place - you work in order to be able to live a life of meaning, you get married in order to bring the best out in yourself and your spouse, you have children in order to educate them in the ways of goodness, you keep fit in order to have the strength to fulfil your mission. Spirituality is the warmth that does not take up space, it creates more."
With a loving smile the rabbi concluded his farewell with words of wisdom that I think apply equally to you:
"You should never think that you are so busy that you can't afford to concentrate on your soul. The truth is, you can't afford not to. May G-d bless you, that each and every one of you should always be a warm pot of cholent."
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Join us for a traditional Shabbat experience in an atmosphere of warmth, song, inspiration and discussion. No experience necessary.
Shmooze with young Jewish families and feel the magic glow of Shabbat at Chabad. From fresh challah to piping hot chicken soup, our delicious menu is sure to feel your body and soul! Space is limited so please reserve early.
Our next Community Shabbat Dinner will take place on Friday, August 21 at 7:30pm. In September, our Community Shabbat Dinner will be replaced by a Rosh Hashana Dinner - same time, same place.
Third Friday of every month.
901 Shaftesbury Blvd.
7:30pm - 9:30pm
To contact Rabbi Shmuly or Adina call (204) 414-5624 or email JLI@ChabadWinnipeg.org.
Please note: Starting in October we will, G-d willing, begin our Community Shabbat Dinners at 6:30pm.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Director: Mrs. Adina Altein
901 Shaftesbury Boulevard
Friday, July 24, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
I would love to come to shule one Shabbos, but I have a problem. Every time I come I feel so out of place, like I am the odd one out. I think people are staring at me because I don't really fit in. It seems like everyone else is a part of it, and I am an outsider. Is it just me or am I sticking out like a sore thumb?
You certainly are the odd one out. Everybody is.
Take any group of people - a family, a community, a classroom, sports team or an office staff - and there is one thing that every single member of the group has in common. They each think they are the odd one out. The one thing that makes us all the same is that we all think we are different.
One person thinks the shape of their nose makes them stick out. Another is sure that they are smarter than everyone, or everyone is smarter than them. One guy thinks he is the only one with problems in their life, another thinks that he is weird and everyone else is normal.
The truth is, all noses stick out. That's how they were made. We are all smarter in some ways and not in others, we all have life problems and we are all a bit weird. These things do not really make us different. So why do we feel so self-conscious? Why do we all feel like outsiders?
Because there really is something about you that truly makes you stand out from the rest.
You are different from everyone else, because every person has a unique soul. The miracle of creation is that we are all the same human, but we are all completely unique people. So indeed you are the odd one out, but so am I, and so is everyone else. You are the exception, but there is no rule.
The fact that you are the odd one out should not cause you to avoid the community. On the contrary, that's why the community needs you. What makes a group powerful is when each individual contributes his or her own distinctive flavour, when each single being gives their own something to the all. You are different to everyone else alive, and everyone else who ever lived. That doesn't just make you the exception. It makes you exceptional.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Heaven on Earth: Timeless Vessels, Timely Lessons
Friday, July 10, 2009
I just wanted to ask you for some direction regarding fear of G-d. I was brought up with a Christian perception of G-d as an intimidating figure to be scared of. I embraced Judaism as I thought it sees G-d as more loving and forgiving, but I've noticed in Jewish sources references to G-d as being something also to fear. This is conjuring up all the negative feelings toward religion from my childhood. Can you shed some light on fear of G-d?
I think this is a translation issue. The word fear conjures an image of something scary, like a haunted house, or a dark alley, or a parking cop. I understand why you would recoil from a religion that promotes fear. We should not feel about G-d what we feel towards a bogey man.
Indeed there is a concept in Judaism called "Yiras Shamayim", translated as fear of heaven. But fear misses the true meaning of the word. A better word would be respect.
While love must be a primary motivating factor in our life, we also need a healthy dose of respect. The difference between love and respect is that when I love, I am preoccupied with my feelings toward you; when I respect, I am focusing on your presence rather than mine. Love is my desire to approach you. Respect is my deference to your otherness, your right to be who you are.
When you love someone but do not respect them, it ends up being all about you. The other is simply an object of your love, their opinion is not taken seriously, and they are not treated as a real being. Someone who loves their spouse but does not respect them never leaves space for the other to really exist. If you love your parents without respecting them, then you actually don't have parents, just good buddies. A friend whom you don't really respect is no more than a convenient accessory to keep you company when you are in the mood.
Respect means acknowledging someone else as being a valid and important being, to be listened to and honoured. It means looking up to someone and realising that there are things about the other person that we just have to accept, like it or not. Put simply, respect means taking someone else seriously.
So we love G-d, we feel close and intimate with Him, but we also respect that He is G-d, a real being, with expectations and demands. He is our parent whom we love, but He is also a king whom we must obey. It is this awe and respect that prevents us from thinking that G-d is just an extension of our own ego, a being that we can bend and stretch to fit in to our own image of Him.
Respect, not fear. There's no bogey man. Apart from parking cops, there's nothing to be scared of.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Course titles are subject to slight modifications.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
This question is from my daughter (aged 7 years).
"Why would a supposedly good, just, loving G-d allow so much suffering in the world?" (I started answering and realised I was not talking on her level. Can you help?)
You are a bright seven year old. There are many things that you can understand, but your baby brother would not understand. For example, does your baby brother ever get a rash? I'm sure he does. So what happens when a baby has a rash? Mum applies cream to ease it. The poor little baby screams as his tender skin is stung by the ointment. But mum keeps going, ignoring the screams. As hard as it is for her to inflict pain on her baby, she does it, because she knows that it is for his good.
Imagine it would be possible to ask the baby how he feels about the situation. He would probably say, "I am being brutally tortured by the very person who is supposed to love me and care for me the most! My own mother has no mercy. She ignores my cries. Why is this happening?"
And there would be no answer anyone could offer. There is no way in the world we could explain to a baby that no, it is not torture, it is healing. Yes it is painful, but it is only being done in order to prevent pain and make you better. A baby simply can't understand anything beyond the pain he is experiencing.
We are all like that baby. In front of G-d, even the wisest and smartest person is like an infant. We look at the world and we see the suffering and we ask why. And no one can give us a satisfying answer. We can't understand, all we can do is cry from the pain. G-d is moved by our cries, it pains Him to see our pain. He understands us. We don't understand Him.
The gap between our minds and G-d's is even wider than the gap between a baby's mind and an adult's. The baby will one day reach adulthood, and he too will come to understand the ways of his parents. But we will never reach G-d. We cannot begin to understand G-d's ways.
But the baby still loves his mum, even though he doesn't understand her actions. So too we need not understand G-d to love Him. Somehow, all the suffering in the world is a healing, and every painful experience is there to teach and to fix. Why does it have to be this way? G-d knows. We don't.
Mum knows what she's doing. So does G-d.