Friday, December 29, 2006

Wow ! You're Jewish Too ?!?!

It isn't until Yosef fulfills two classic conditions for identifying a Jew out there in galus, that the brothers really accept him for who he is.

He eats gefilte fish and uses vague yiddishisms like chutzpah and kvell.

No, seriously, he speaks to them in their native tongue, lashon hakodesh, and he cries with them. A lot. Only after Yosef cries with Binyamin and cries upon his brothers, do they accept him.

We may be able to use these two benchmarks to define or redefine ourselves vis-a-vis the world at large. What is it that marks us as Jews ? Especially to our fellow Jews, our speech and our empathy.

Do we speak with the refinement and humility or is our speech littered with the boasts and brags of secular society, so alien to our values ? Have we finally absorbed "looking out for number 1" after being bombarded with it from so many media outlets ? These subtle, yet telling, indicators of our spiritual health are given to us to safeguard.
As a testament to Yosef HaTzaddik, who lived for 13 years in the Egyptian slave and penal system and 9 more in the still more morally corrupt palace, and did not succumb to their enticements - let us pledge to watch them and with them our spiritual development as a whole.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

8 days, but why ?

A famous question asked in relation to Chanukah is : If the little jug had sufficient oil to last one day - wasn't the miraculous aspect of the lighting only seven days ? Shouldn't we then have a seven day holiday instead ?

The answers are many - That in simply finding the oil there was a miracle; that the extra day commemorates the military victory; that they only filled up an eighth of the oil cups in the Beis Hamikdash ( so the miracle was evident even on the first day ) - are among them.

I heard another answer that I believe merits to be shared. This was inspired by a very chashuve bochur in my neighborhood.

After years of battle and watching many comrades perish, the Maccabies would be, perhaps, justified in a certain cooling of their dedication to the cause - after seeing the heavy toll that it took. The miracle was not just the oil that was there to be lit - but also the fire ( double meaning intended ) to light it !

If we ever find ourselves triumphing in a struggle and then losing perspective once we've won - maybe we can find inspiration amongst our ancestors - that had the courage to see the fight through and stay the cause afterwards.

Happy Chanukah !

Friday, December 15, 2006

Must we be perfectionists ?

If there was oil in the Beis Hamikdash and the majority of the population was impure - then there is a halachic basis for permitting the Menorah to be lit with impure oil. What was gained, then, by trying to light in a better manner than was necessary ?

In order to understand, let us preempt.

Why did Hashem allow that jug of oil to escape defilement ? I maintain that it happened ( retroactively, perhaps ) because of the desire of the victorious Maccabies to serve Hashem in purity. If they had been willing to settle for impure oil, which would have been permissible, then Hashem would not have tweaked circumstances to save that little jug.

The concept of purity is perhaps the opposite of realism. Realism says "We'll do the best we can - and we'll deal with whatever shortfall there is". Purity says "It must be perfect. Period. Any other option is unacceptable." This dedication to purity is what enabled the Maccabies to serve Hashem in the unique manner ( militarily and spiritually ) in which they did.

It is also this dedication that ennobles our hearts at this time of year.

Are there aspects of our yiddishkeit that are just too impractical for our lifestyle ? Are there steps which are too difficult to take - for which there are legitimate other options ? Or are we chasing the lower standard, content with "acceptable," when the Maccabies, in our shoes would have fought for the ideal to the death ?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is chasing dreams equivalent to burning bridges ?

Yosef tells his brothers of his impending royal position - and to his great detriment - he finds that they are none too happy with his pronouncement. Should he have kept it to himself ? What about the second dream - surely he could see that this vision was not welcomed by his brothers?! Why did he persist ?

But we must understand - not just the dream - but also the dreamer.

This is the same Yosef who, at six years old, stands in front of his mother to shield her from Esav. This is the Yosef who will be called tzaddik - Yosef the Just. If it is right to block the view of a wicked man from feasting his eyes upon a modest woman - then let it be done ! And if a six year old is the only one acutely aware of that need - he'll do it himself ! Perhaps an average person wouldn't advertise a conviction he had - especially if it would be contrary to popular opinion, or displeasing to others. A true paragon of Justice, however, wouldn't hesitate to state the truth - as it is - however and wherever it is found.
Yosef wasn't trying to hurt his brothers - or his relationship with them - by revealing that he would rule them as royalty in the future. Yosef was simply being himself.
As far as our own bridges - if and when our dreams conflict with them - if we find ourselves pursuing a life course that is inconsistent with the spiritual achievements that we dreamt about attaining - we must ask ourselves - can we not draw inspiration from Yosef ?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Say What ?!?

So Yaakov Avinu finally leaves Lavan after 20 years. After twenty years of exposure to his conniving father in law - Yaakov is justifiably proud of having resisted Lavan's influence - but his proclamation "With Lavan I lived and I kept 613 mitzvos" ( Rashi, Bereshis 32:5 ) - is aimed at ... Esav ?!

Why does Yaakov Avinu feel the need to share his spiritual statistics with his wicked, murderously intentioned brother ? Is Esav going to be his new mashgiach, that he feels the need to tell him of his nisyonos ?

Email me your answers - ydruyan at gmail dot com !

Yaakov was worried about his spiritual state. He was concerned that perhaps his divine protection would be rendered ineffectual due to a sin he may have committed - consequently he would not be worthy of that protection. In order to strengthen his resolve - Yaakov states, in clear, unequivocal terms - I am a taryag Jew - I keep all the mitzvos. In this way, by making the pronouncement public, Yaakov will force himself to live up to it. If he is worried that he may commit a sin - he will raise the bar on his accountability by making his declaration public.

What part of our public persona defines us religiously ? What does it say ?

R Druyan

Monday, December 04, 2006

The sound of silence

The Medrash ( Tanchuma Parashas Pekudei ) compares the various stages of a person's life and afterlife with the four significant events that surrounded the ascension of Eliyahu HaNavi to heaven. The final, and perhaps, most awe inspiring of the four is the silence. It is compared to the final judgment before the throne of glory.

Probably the most powerful attribute of silence is its inevitability. No matter how much noise you make or how many distractions you set up - it's always out there, waiting for your noise to give out or your distraction to finish. It seems as if silence is the inevitable force in the universe - it's the default -to counter it you need to add, to do.

That's probably why the medrash compares it to the final judgment - it's coming, no matter what. And just like silence - it only scares us if we have something to be afraid of. A righteous person - finds comfort and serenity in silence, a wicked one - accusations and guilt.

What do you find ?