Friday, December 31, 2010

Why Smash a Glass? by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
I understand the reason I will be breaking a glass under my foot at the end of the wedding ceremony is to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. This indeed was a significant event in Jewish history, but it doesn't seem to have any personal relevance to me. What does a destroyed building have to do with my wedding?

Answer:The destruction of the Temple has extreme personal relevance. It happened to you. The shattering of the glass commemorates not only the fall of Jerusalem, but also a cataclysmic shattering that happened to your very own temple, your soul.

Before you were born, you and your soulmate were one - a single soul. Then, as your time to enter this world approached, G-d shattered that single soul into two parts, one male and one female. These two half souls were then born into the world to try and find each other and reunite.

At the time, the split seemed tragic. What was once a peaceful unit had become fragmented and incomplete. Why break something just so it should be fixed? If you were meant to be together, why didn't G-d leave you together?

Only when standing under the Chuppah do you find the answer to this question. At the wedding, these two halves are becoming whole, reuniting never to part again. And you can look back at the painful experience of being separated, and actually celebrate it. For now you realise that the separation brought you closer. Only by being torn apart, living lives away from each other, were you able to develop as individuals, mature and grow, and then come together in a true relationship, a deeper oneness than you had before, because it is created by your choice. Had you never been separated, you would never appreciate what it means to be together, because it wasn't earned. At the wedding you realise that your soul was only split in order to reunite and become one on a higher and deeper level than before.

And so we break a glass under the Chuppah, and we immediately say Mazel Tov. Because now, in retrospect, even the splitting of the souls is reason to be joyous, for it gave your connection depth and real meaning.

So you see, your personal story and the story of Jerusalem's destruction are inextricably linked. The shattering that happened to Jerusalem happened to your soul; and the joy you are experiencing now will one day be experienced by Jerusalem too.

The Temple was not a mere building, it was the meeting place of heaven and earth, ideal and reality, G-d and creation. When the Temple was lost, with it went the open relationship between G-d and the world. Our souls were ripped away from our Soulmate.

The only antidote to fragmentation is unity. And the deepest unity is experienced at a wedding. Every wedding is a healing, a mending of one fragmented soul, a rebuilding of Jerusalem in miniature. Our sages teach us, "Whoever celebrates with a bride and groom it is as if he rebuilt one of the ruins of Jerusalem." When soulmates reunite in holy marriage, an energy of love and oneness is generated, elevating the world and bringing it one step closer to mending its broken relationship with G-d.

And one day soon, when the Temple in Jerusalem is rebuilt, our souls will reunite with G-d, our Soulmate, in a true relationship that we built ourselves. We will no longer mourn the destruction, but looking back we will finally understand its purpose, and we will celebrate. Then, even the shattering will deserve a Mazel Tov.

The Rate of Exchange

Monday, December 13, 2010

Chabad in Cyberspace

As you probably know, Chabad-Lubavitch is the known leader in Jewish information and education on the web, as highlighted by an independent study conducted by JInsider which painted Chabad as the “Brand leader”.

This Chanukah, however, was another turning point in the story of Chabad-Lubavitch on the web.

While Chanukah is traditionally a peak traffic time, with millions of people searching for information, entertainment and more, this Chanukah proved to push the number off the charts. This year’s record-breaking traffic was simply a testament to the continued growth and reach of Chabad-Lubavitch in “Cyberspace”.

Here are the stats:

  • 2.1 million (2,109,653) unique households visited during Chanukah this year
  • 6 million (6,003,839) pages were accessed in eight different languages (our Russian site alone had more than 50,000 page views)
  • 350,000 visitors accessed over 1.1 million pages on shluchim’s local sites.
  • 158,062 videos were watched on Jewish.TV
  • 32,342 Chanukah songs were played
  • 39,583 latke recipe pages were printed
  • 112,861 played the Chanukah blessings
  • 97,921 people received Chanukah greeting cards from friends
  • referred 60,000 to Shluchim's local websites and events

Hanukkah menorah lightings around the globe

Thursday, December 9, 2010

But He Started It! by Rabbi Moss

Question of the Week:
My child always blames everyone else for his own misbehaviour. It's always "he started it," "she made me do it," and nothing is ever his fault. How can I teach him to take responsibility for his actions and not shift blame to others?

Yesterday my two year old son snatched a toy from his older sister. She was about to throttle him, so I intervened. I saw this as a chance to impart some Jewish wisdom, so I explained to my daughter the idea of our two inner voices - the Yetzer Tov and the Yetzer Hora.

There's a voice inside that tells me to be upright, moral and well-behaved. This is my drive to be good, called the Yetzer Tov. But I also have a deviant and rebellious side, an inner voice that tries to convince me to do whatever is wrong and hurtful and selfish, known as the Yetzer Hora.

These two voices constantly battle to win me over. I have to choose which side gets the upper hand. And I am responsible for my choice. If I listen to my darker side, then I only have myself to blame.

So before my daughter had the chance to attack her brother I asked her, "Are you going to listen to your Yetzer Hora and hit your brother, or are you going to listen to your Yetzer Tov and just find something else to play with?"

This turned things around. Instead of being in a fight with her brother, she was now facing an inner struggle of evil versus good. She can no longer excuse her behaviour by saying, "He started it." No matter who started it, if she hits him, she has made a bad choice. It was her own Yetzer Hora that she succumbed to.

On the other hand, if she chooses not to hurt her brother and walks away she is not a loser, but a winner. She didn't lose a fight with her brother, but rather won a battle with her own evil inclination. Either way, the choice is hers, and she is responsible for that choice.

She thought about it for a second, and then made her choice. She gave her brother a whack in the face.

Well, at least I tried.

But it was not a failure. Even though she didn't do what I wanted her to do, she heard what I had to say. This episode reinforced in her little mind the idea that there is an inner battle of good and evil. In the long run, with repetition and patience, that message will sink in.

Kids fight. They won't change so quickly. But by moving the battleground from the outside to a battle within, we can help our children channel their aggression toward fighting their own evil, and in the end, their own good side will win.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Review of Lesson Six

Dear JLI Student,

Thank you for joining us for the sixth and final lesson of Medicine and Morals: Secret Code. The following is a brief summary of the lesson:

There are various reasons given by secular ethicists for the importance of confidentiality. In all, these concerns are mostly limited to a professional relationship, e.g., doctor and patient, lawyer and client, etc. Judaism, however, views confidentiality as an obligation incumbent on all. It is forbidden to disseminate even true information about others, even if the information is innocuous. The violation is far more egregious in the case of negative information. This is true even if the subject has not asked that the information remain private. The default position of Judaism is that no one is allowed to share information about others without express permission.

However, when maintaining confidentiality will result in harm to an innocent person, whether physical or financial, it is obligatory to breach confidentiality and reveal the details to the innocent person. Thus, when a parent is diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease and does not want to share this information with his children that plan on marrying, the doctor must breach confidentiality and warn the children in order to protect their prospective spouses. The need for an individual to know that he or she has HD is not sufficient reason to breach confidentiality because there is in any case no known treatment, so there is no direct benefit to having this information. However, a prospective spouse would want to take this information into account in deciding whether to marry someone, and therefore, one would be obligateded to breach confidentiality in order to make sure that the prospective spouse could make an informed decision.

Even when a physician is permitted and obligated to reveal medical information to a third party, it is always better if the physician can convince the patient to reveal this information themselves. Only when this is not successful should the physician do so.

However, if the physician will suffer financially by breaching confidentiality, because of a lawsuit, loss of job, etc., then a more nuanced approach is needed. If the harm to the innocent party is non-life threatening, then the physician has no obligation to incur financial loss and may keep the secret. If however there is a real threat to life, then the physician must disregard his/her financial loss and reveal the information to save the life of the innocent party.

This brings the fall course to a close. Thanks so much for joining us for Medicine and Morals. It has been an amazing journey. Our upcoming winter course will be Towards A Meaningful Life. I hope you will join us then for this fascinating course. Stay tuned for details.


Rabbi Shmuly Altein