Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November-December Newsletter

What follows is my November-December Newsletter message in which I answer our students’ “Ask the Rabbi” questions.

What is my favorite color?
Blue.  I like the blue of the Israeli flag.  I like the blue of the sky.  Blue has always been a favorite Jewish color which is why it is often found in a hamsa, a Sephardic amulet.  There is in fact a synagogue in Safed, Israel, the heart of Jewish mysticism, whose interior is painted blue.  Everywhere you turn in Safed you find this blue.  Oops, sorry you just asked about my favorite color.  It is blue like the sky. 

When is my birthday?
July 1, 1964.  21 Tammuz 5724.  The Torah portion Pinhas was read in synagogue on Shabbat a few days later.  Look at what you can learn from the internet!

What is my favorite food?
I love hummus.  It is healthy and delicious and can be added to anything.  Zohan was wrong, however.  It should not be used in your hair.  You really should try some hummus.

How did God get the idea for Hebrew?
I don’t think God invented the language you are now struggling to understand.  People write languages.  The coolest thing about Hebrew is that it has so many different words for God.  It is just like what you learn about the Eskimos and snow.  We love God so much that we have a lot of different names for God.  Our different names are how we try to get closer to God and how we try to bring more God into the world.

What is my Hebrew name?
My Hebrew name is Shmaryah.  The name means God is my guard or perhaps I am God’s guardian.  You decide.  I am named for my mother’s grandmother Sarah, who was the most devout person in our family.  Interesting.  Mysterious.  If you mean what is your Hebrew name, you should ask your mom or dad.  Make sure to ask for whom you are named as well.  That is the most important part.  It is a wonderful Jewish custom that we are named for someone who has recently died.  That way we keep their memory alive.

Why do we say a prayer before we eat?
Actually you are supposed to say a prayer before and after you eat.  It is not really a prayer in which we are asking for something.  It is instead a blessing that we are giving thanks for something.  Before we eat we pause and say, “Thank you.” First we thank God for blessing us with enough food to eat.  It is just like thanking your mom or dad for cooking dinner for you or buying dinner for you. I hope you do that too.  You should always say “thank you.”  Nothing should ever be expected or taken for granted, even the food that you eat.  That is why it is always good to stop before you stuff your mouth with food and say, “Thank you.”  The more we say thank you the more we are likely to count everything that happens, even the ordinary, everyday stuff, as wonderful.  You should never think that everything you have is deserved.  Instead think that everything you have is a gift.  Every day that you get a gift you should say thanks.  The more you say a prayer before you eat the more you will become thankful.  That is a great state of mind.

Is God Catholic or Jewish?
God is God.  People are Catholic or Jewish, Muslim or Hindu, Baptist or Buddhist.  There are many ways to pray to God.  I like the Jewish way the best.  That is part of what makes me a rabbi.  That does not make other ways bad.  I have my favorite.  I hope yours is the same. But God does not have a favorite.  God wants everyone to do his or her best.  God wants everyone to try to make the world a little better.  God wants everyone to start every day and every meal with a thank you.  God wants everyone to think that every day and every life is a gift.

Keep asking your questions.  That is the best way to learn more.  Asking questions has always been one of the things Jews do best.

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