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I recently completed Part II of my book, A Spiritual Travel Guide to the World of God. Based on various experiences I have had during my rabbinic career, questions about God often arose that I didn’t always have answers to. This put me on a quest to see what Judaism had to offer for such questions as: Does God Exist?; Does God Hear My Prayers?; Why is There Evil in the World?; Why Do People Suffer?; and What Happens After I Die? The research led me to teach a series of classes with these questions as the topic of discussion. At the end of the classes, many participants came up to me and said, “You should write a book about this!” So I did.
While having discussions such as these, I would often have someone approach me and say, “I want to find a connection to God, but it just isn’t there. How do I do that? This inspired Part I of my book, which I published, knowing it might take a while to complete Part II. (It took four more years to do so.)
Here is a summary of each book.
Judaism has interesting traditions. Unlike most religions, we have many home-based rituals. So, many holidays are centered around family. Shabbat dinners, Passover Seders, meals in the Sukkah, Erev Yom Kippur dinner and Break-the-Fast. In today’s modern world, with family scattered all over the country, and sometimes around the world, even if we can’t physically be with family, we at least call, or Facetime, or Skype, to wish them a happy holiday.
On the other hand, Jewish holidays, especially the High Holy Days, can also magnify differences we have with other family members. We become more aware of how they have related to us during the past year, and how we related to them.
I would to share with you an e-mail written by a Jewish mother to her son, shortly after saying goodbye to him when she dropped him off at college. She was concerned that he had the tendency to be, shall we say “independent minded,”and hoped to give him something to hold on to, that would remind him of the importance of making good choices in his life.
Talmud, Kabbalah and Near Death Experiences My presentation of Talmud, Kabbalah and Near Death Experiences (NDE) during Kol Nidre Services is presented here as a pdf. You can view it online, or download and print the pdf file.
Thought Questions, Taking Time for Reflection My presentation of Thought Questions during second day service of Rosh Hashanah is presented here in worksheet form for self reflection and discussion. You can view it online, or download and print the pdf file.
On the High Holy Days we ask God to “write us in the Book of Life.” We are told that God keeps track of us, and compares all the good we have done during the past year, with what we should not have done. The Unetaneh Tokef prayer – the one which says, “On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die,” reminds us at then end that there are ways to make up for our bad behavior: U’tshuva, utfillah, utzedakah, – But Repentence, Prayer and Tzedakah temper judgment’s severe decree.
This morning I would like to focus on the Tzedakah part of this phrase. Tzedakah is often translated as “Charity” but it means much more than that. It comes from the word Tzedek which means “righteousness” or “righteous one”. In Judaism, tzedakah is not an option. It is not something we do if we feel like it. It is a mitzvah – which is more than a good deed.
Mitzvah means “commandment.” God commands us to do tzedakah – because it is the right thing to do.In the story of creation, which we will read tomorrow morning, it says, “On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing, and ceased on the,seventh day from all the work that God had done.”
If we pay careful attention to the words, it doesn’t say that God is done creating the world. It just says that God is done with what God had been working on at the moment. The Rabbis tell us that God intentionally left some of the work undone so we could be partners with God in the work of creation. We work together with God to make the world a better place.
When God created Adam, God created him “in God’s image.” God also realized that Adam should not be alone, and created Eve. This tells us that living for yourself, is only half a life. We were meant to be with, and do for others. If everyone is created in God’s image, we honor the image of God in others by helping them. Helping others does more than help them. It helps us to feel God’s presence in our own lives.
As we begin the High Holy Day season, we are reminded of all the commandments in Judaism that we are expected to follow. We are told that if we do, we get rewarded. If we don’t, we get punished; maybe not now, but eventually. But how familiar are you with the Top Ten? (look above our ark) Actually, the Torah does not call them the Ten Commandments.
Translating the Hebrew that introduces these laws:
God spoke all these words, saying:
The Hebrew word D’varim means words, or things – so these are really called the Ten things that God told us.
Which of the commandments do you know?
REVIEW OF THE COMMANDMENTS
1. Belief in God: I, Adonai, am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.
2. Don’t Worship the way they do: You shall have no other gods besides Me. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image. You shall not bow down to them or serve them
3. Don’t Make inappropriate oaths – You shall not swear falsely by the name of Adonai your God
4. We have Sacred Times: Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of Adonai your God: you shall not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days God made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore Adonai blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
For those who like legal and police shows on television, the characters in the courtroom are often portrayed as dramatic, charismatic, different, indifferent, or someone you have sympathy for. According to Jewish tradition, we are about to enter the most dramatic courtroom of all. During the High Holy Days, the Yamim Noraim, the Ten Days […]
“YOU SHOULD REPENT THE DAY BEFORE YOU DIE!” These are the words Rabbi Eliezer told his students. They looked at him with puzzlement on their faces and said, “But we don’t know on which day we will die. And to that the Rabbi replied, “All the more reason you should repent today, lest you die tomorrow.”
Judaism teaches that we are expected to repent, to make up for the offenses we have committed. But that is easier said than done. It is hard to apologize. It is hard to admit we were wrong. So we put it off. We often think, well I’ll have time to do that later. It is for this reason that the rabbis saw great wisdom in creating the customs and traditions of the High Holy Days, including the Vidui, the confessional prayers, which we will read tomorrow. We are reminded that even if we are young, we should not delay the act of asking forgiveness.
No matter what our age, the High Holy Days force us to face our mortality. The Unetaneh Tokef Prayer, which we recite at the morning services for the High Holy Days, reminds us, in not so gentle a way, that our lives are on the line, as we read, “How many shall pass on…who shall live and who shall die.” As we recite these words each High Holy Days, we pray that we will not be the ones fulfilling the second part of that phrase.”
Yet, do we want to live forever? In his book, “When I am 164,”writer David Ewing Duncan talks about the advances of science that could potentially increase our live expectancy significantly. In his lectures around the country he posed this question to the audience: “How long do you want to live?” and gave them these options:
· 80 years, currently the average life span in the West;
· 120 years, close to the maximum anyone has lived;
· 150 years, which would require a biotech breakthrough;
The results are very interesting. . .