Thursday, January 24, 2013

Questions

What follows are some questions from our synagogue's 5th graders and of course my answers.  This article appeared in our congregation's January-February Newsletter.

Why do we wear yamahas in temple?
First of all we wear yarmulkes not Yamahas.  Some people actually ride Yamahas although not too many Jews.  Motorcycles are dangerous.  So don’t ride motorcycles, but if you ever do, wear protective equipment especially a helmet.  We cover our heads in synagogue not for protection but out of respect.  This custom developed at a time when covering our heads was how we showed respect rather than taking off our hats as we do today for the Star Spangled Banner.  Yarmulke is Yiddish.  The Hebrew is kippah.  It simply means “cap” or “dome.”  In fact Israel’s new, and successful, anti-missile missile system, Iron Dome, is called in Hebrew “Kipat Barzel.”  Some people wear a kippah all the time, others only when they are in synagogue.  And still others whenever they are doing something Jewish like reciting blessings or studying Torah.  It is supposed to be a reminder that we are always standing in God’s presence.  Since God is everywhere it is good to have such reminders.  Then we are more likely to be kind and respectful to others and forever thankful to God.

Why did you choose to be a rabbi?
When I was in college I had to take a Bible class.  I fell in love with studying our Bible and Jewish writings.  I always wanted to find a job in which I could help people.  Soon I realized that rabbis help people and are also supposed to keep learning, even many years after college.  Besides you get to stand up in front of people and since I seem to like that as well being a rabbi is the perfection combination of all these things.

Why do you read Hebrew backwards?
Actually English is backwards since Hebrew is an older language.  It is a matter of perspective.  I know learning Hebrew is a challenge but it is an easier language than English.  It is entirely phonetic.  In other words you can always sound out how to pronounce the words.  There are very few exceptions.  Nearly every word has a three letter root that hints at its meaning.  There are only 22 letters.  As soon as you figure out how to pronounce the letters and vowels you can read it.  Just remember to read from right to left.

Why do Iran and Syria hate Israel so much?
I wish I knew.  Not to scare you too much but they also hate the United States.  Also Syria is preoccupied right now with hating itself.  They are in the middle of a civil war.  We hope that when their president Assad is finally overthrown a new government more friendly to its neighbor Israel will replace it.  This is a long shot but still a hope.  Sometimes people, and countries, hate others because that is easier than looking at their own problems.  That is what I think is happening with Syria and IranIran also wants to take over the Middle East and they find it difficult to accept a Jewish state in the middle of the Muslim Middle East.  We have to stand together and be strong even when others hate us. 

Why does God let us have war?
God has nothing to do with wars.  Even though people sometimes say they are fighting wars for God, God does not start wars or end wars, or want us to make wars.  They are in our hands.  God made people free to choose between right and wrong.  War is a result of our choices.  It is unfortunate and sad that sometimes countries can only solve their problems by making wars.  God keeps hoping and praying that we will try to bring more peace.  We always pray for shalom, peace.

Why do you step on the glass when you get married?
A Jewish wedding is the happiest of occasions according to our tradition.  But even at this most joyful event we pause and remember that there is still sadness in our world and sometimes even in our own lives.  The saddest event in our history was the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. That was one terrible war!  That is why this event is often mentioned when the glass is broken.  I always speak more generally before the groom breaks the glass especially because after the Holocaust I don’t think the Temple’s destruction is the saddest event in our history anymore.  We pause and remember, break the glass and then shout “Mazel tov.”

Keep asking your questions.  That is always the best way to learn.

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