Facing Anger

On the eve of Yom Kippur, as I walked from my hotel to Beis Chabad, I felt the presence of Hashem in a remarkable way. I was filled with joy but not terribly surprised. It was, after all, Yom Kippur, the email flow had moderated to a tiny trickle, and it was a comfortable – if not glorious – Fall afternoon. I felt peace with Hashem and the universe, and nothing interfered with what felt like a direct signal to Him, though I could still feel a distance.

The feeling stayed with me until I was suddenly distracted by the driver of a large, luxurious BMW who had parked athwart the walkway in such a manner as to force me into dangerous traffic on my walk. I felt a shot of fury.

I quickly shook the fury off, but the connection with Hashem was no longer as clear.

It hurt. Almost physically.

The lesson could not have been more plain to me at that moment. We are instructed by Torah, the Sages, and the Chofetz Chayyim to refrain from speaking words of baseless hatred. But if we truly desire a connection with the Divine, we must recognize that angry thoughts, the very emotion of hatred, invites the yetzer hara and displaces the Holy Spirit.

Lesson learned. But it gets better.

Sitting in the Sukkah on the first night of Sukkoth, Rabbi Shimon Freundlich stood and gave a talk about anger. He said to us almost exactly what I felt on Erev Yom Kippur, but he went even further: when we get angry at our situation, we are fundamentally questioning the way G-d has made things to be. Anger is, therefore, is Chillul Hashem, a desecration of the name of Hashem.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. There are, after all, no coincidences.

I felt the connection anew. And I heard the Admonishment of Heaven.

I’m heading back to my hotel now, and I’m going to spend some time this evening studying the story of Moshe Rabbeinu striking a rock. Perhaps this is the lesson Hashem wishes me to learn this year.

Not Yet Time for Vegetarianism

“[Rav Kook wrote that] the mitzvot light the way to the perfection of the future – a time when the animals will have been transformed into humans, and humans into angels. Thus kashrut is mean to prepare us for vegetarianism, a great step forward in the moral perfection of the human race – but must not be done before its time, for the complacency and self-satisfaction it might bring. Indeed, he wrote, one could imagine a bloodthirsty tyrant who prided himself on his vegetarianism, eerily presaging Hitler.”

Yehudah Mirsky

Remembering Mumbai

I wrote this letter not long after the Mumbai tragedy. I found it recently going through my files, and I wanted to share it as we remember the events of that awful day, and mourn the martyrs we lost, including Rebbetzin Rivkah Holtzberg and Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, OB”M, pictured. 

As we all try to come to grips with the aftermath off the tragedy in Mumbai, it is only natural that we are afflicted by feelings of anger, or sadness, or hopelessness, or despair. Each of us will feel a different combination of these, and sometimes we will feel them all at the same time.

All of these feelings find their sources in the neshama, that spark of G-dliness that on the one hand cries in pain for our loss, and on the other calls for – indeed demands – a healing of the wound that this event has torn into our nation and into the body of mankind. Whether we stand among the wreckage of what days ago was a refuge of Torah in the heart of a bustling city, or whether we sit thousands of miles away, we are gripped by the desire to do something, the desire to respond, and the frustration that comes with not knowing how.

Yet as we mourn for those we have lost, as we worry for those left behind, act we must. For there is much to do.

Despite having lived through some of the greatest horrors in the history of mankind, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Of Righteous Memory), the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch, understood that not only is it fruitless to respond to darkness, hate, and anger with more of the same, it works against the very nature of the Jewish People to stand as a light among nations, a Kingdom of Priests, a Holy people.

Instead, our Rebbe taught that the way to respond to anger and hate is to reply with love, the way to respond to destruction with charity, the way to respond to despair with hope, and the way to battle the darkness is not with more darkness, but with light.

With your help, we can spread light even into the darkest corners of the world this Shabbos, and help speed the day when Moshiach comes and brings the Light of the Master of the Universe to us all.

Afraid to be Right

But such confidence is not to our liking anymore. We believe that truth is a form of hegemony. We suspect that pluralism may require perspectivism, or at least a denial of the possibility of objectivity. We wish to be right without anybody else being wrong. We prefer questions. And we like commentaries to be comments.

Leon Weiseltier
“Comes the Comer”
The Jewish Review of Books

Has our desire to avoid hurting people’s feelings made us afraid to be right, afraid to assert our convictions in the face of what we know to be wrong? And if we are, what does that make us?

The Real Meaning of Tikkun Olam

Advocacy for saving the rainforests and for saving the whales, for developing renewable resources and for leaving a smaller carbon footprint — these are just some of the enterprises gathered by pop-Jewish philosophy under the umbrella of tikkun olam. According to the ancient wisdom of the Torah, however, every human being is a microcosm of Creation, a world — or olam — unto himself. Yes, it is important for human beings to act as responsible custodians of the Almighty’s world, but the rectification of the universe is a process that ultimately begins and ends within oneself.

Rabbi Yonason Goldson
The real reason why Jews are Liberals

Justice

“Whoever has no need but takes will not depart this world until he becomes dependent on others. Whoever is in need but does not take will not depart this world until he is in a position to support others, and … Whoever is not blind or lame but pretends to be [in order to get charity] will not die of old age until he has become so, as it is said, JUSTICE, JUSTICE SHALL YOU PURSUE (Deuteronomy 16:20).”

The Talmud (Pe’ah, 8:9)