Here are my answers to our students’ Ask the Rabbi questions.
Can you get the words in English for your bar/bat mitzvah?
No. I assume this question is about how hard Hebrew can sometimes be to read and chant. Every one of our students has always been able to lead the prayers. That is why we meet with students for over six months to help get them ready. Sometimes students write notes for themselves in their books to help them remember how to say difficult words, but you can never do that in the Torah scroll. Every student at the JCB reads from the Torah scroll. That takes hard work and practice. Bar/bat mitzvah means taking responsibility for your own Judaism. It is not always easy. I believe that the things that are the best are not those things that are the easiest. I know you can do it! Besides you get to read from the most important Jewish book! On your bar/bat mitzvah day the most important job is yours not any professionals. That is what it means to become a bar/bat mitzvah.
How did you train to become a rabbi?
After graduating from college (Franklin & Marshall, a great college, with a bad mascot, the diplomats) I spent five years studying in rabbinical school (Hebrew Union College). The first year of rabbinical school was in Jerusalem where I met my wife, Susie, who is also a rabbi. Oops I think that is off topic. So that is a lot of school. But the most important thing about being a rabbi is that you have to keep learning. So every year I go back to Jerusalem to learn even more. To be a rabbi means to love learning, and of course love people.
What is your favorite Torah story?
My favorites are the ones I find the most challenging. I continue to be challenged by the story about Moses hitting the rock in anger. Because of this God does not allow him to enter the Promised Land. I have always found this to be a very harsh punishment for what appears to be a small mistake. So I keep searching and looking to see if maybe Moses’ mistake was much bigger than what I originally thought. Maybe part of the lesson is that even small mistakes can sometimes have really big consequences.
Hi, what did you think of Charlie Sheen’s comment?
Shalom! Unfortunately antisemitism still exists. People hate for all different reasons. People blame others for their own mistakes and failures all the time. Sometimes that looks really ugly. Charlie Sheen is not the only example of a person who blames the Jewish people for his own problems. That list is very long. In the end it is just really sad that such a talented man is destroying his life, and also bringing down those who are trying to support him. I used to really enjoy the show, but don’t watch it any more.
Why is Christmas so celebrative and has Santa (who isn’t real), and lights and everything, and Hanukkah is only presents and menorahs?
First of all I would not tell your Christian friends that their hero is not real. That is for them to decide. Second it is not a competition. Third we live in a country where most people are Christian so it appears that Christmas is better because it is all over the radio, and in stores, and in public displays. Instead of looking at what you don’t have, try enjoying the pretty lights. I like how they make the early dark nights brighter! It won’t make you less Jewish to enjoy Christmas lights, or even sing Christmas songs. Most important you have to compare the whole package. Hanukkah is a minor holiday. Present giving for Hanukkah is a really new thing. I promise you that the Maccabees were not giving each other presents or even playing dreidle 2,200 years ago. They were too busy fighting the war! You have to look at all Jewish holidays not just the one that comes near Christmas. Sukkot is a major holiday and is for example all about joy and happiness. My sukkah is even decorated with lights. Or look at Passover, another major holiday. How fun is it to find the afikomen? The most important thing is to remember that Judaism is all about joy and celebration. I look forward to dancing with you during the hora at your bar/bat mitzvah! How much more fun does there need to be?
Keep asking your questions. They continue to be the best way to learn!