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Rabbi Greisman's Blog

Inauguration

While I strongly believe a rabbi should never publicly take a political side or voice political opinions, I also firmly believe a spiritual leader needs to direct his audience to derive important lessons from current world events. How then, does one treat a Presidential Inauguration, specifically today’s inauguration? Is it politics or news?

In an effort to determine that, I sent a text message last night to about a dozen and a half friends, asking them – putting their political views aside –had they learnt something positive from the elections or the new President?  I was hoping to get an unscientific idea of the feelings out there. Some replies still had political undertones and I cannot share them here; most have focused on the idea that “anything can happen”, something I wrote about in early November; one responder encouraged me to just “stay on Twitter”, not knowing that I haven’t yet learned how to navigate the world of social media.

I found this response to be most inspirational: “I’ve learned that life can be better when you turn off the TV and read a book.” This is so true. At the end of the day, whatever your political view, following politics is guaranteed to give you a headache and if it doesn’t, that only means you haven’t followed it enough. Actually, following anything too much will do the same: work, sports, Facebook, etc.

This is just another great reason to celebrate Shabbos. Imagine having a 25-hour built-in oasis in your life; an entire day that you spend on the gifts of Judaism and family and on no other nonsense? Even if you aren’t yet ready to commit to full Shabbos observance, don’t you think disconnecting from your TV and/or Facebook for one day a week will do you amazing good?

Come to think of it, there is one member of the First Family who is going to be doing just that in Washington. Like or dislike her, I think that as Jews, that’s one message we can rally around.

Gut Shabbos (without your smartphone),

Rabbi Mendel Greisman

 

Death of a Drive-through

Earlier this week I read a news report about the “Pioneer Cabin Tree” in California, better known as “the drive through tunnel tree”, that fell down after a storm rocked the area. Though I grew up in Israel, I heard about this tree – that is presumed to be well over 1000 years old – in my childhood and I was “going to get there” one day. I did make it to Yosemite in 1999, but never to the tree. Now, it’s a part of history.

I always like to learn a lesson from current event, and there are many we can take from this story, but there is one unconventional one I would like to focus on today: Every one dies, even a 1,000 year old giant tree.

Though we all know that – until Moshiach comes – we are all going to die one day, death is not something we like to speak about. Most people shy away from the topic and shift uneasily if they absolutely have to speak about it. I, for one, am not afraid to discuss this topic when needed; perhaps it’s because of dealing with my mother’s passing when I was 13, or maybe another reason; but it’s still not a favorite topic of conversation.

The reluctance to discuss death leads to situations, whether because someone died suddenly or just didn’t get around to discussing it, that family members aren’t aware of what the wishes of the deceased are.

Judaism is very clear about end-of-life rituals and traditions and they are spelled out at length in Halachic texts. The most important rule in my opinion is that after our long life, our bodies must be buried in the ground and not cremated. This is stated as early as the first portion of the Torah in Genesis, through countless references in Talmudic and Halachic sources.

The reluctance to discuss death, however, has led many to simply not be aware of this fact or not discuss it with their children. Over time, the rising rates of cremation in the USA have trickled into the Jewish community and tragically, many Jews don’t merit to “die like a Jew”.

This is why the National Association of Chevra Kaddisha (NASCK) has created TEAM (Traditional End-of-life Awareness Movement) to educate and encourage others to discuss the traditional approach to end-of-life matters and encourage people to make the proper choice and be buried. In addition to their year-round efforts, they have designated this Shabbos, where the Torah discusses at length the death and burial of Jacob our patriarch, as TEAM Shabbos, a weekend to encourage rabbis and lay leaders alike, to overcome the natural shyness to discuss this topic and begin the conversation. Let everyone be aware of Judaism’s approach, and the more knowledge there is out there, the more Jews are going to make the right choice for end-of-life.

I intend on addressing this topic in Shul tomorrow, and I encourage you, whether you are twenty years old or a hundred years old, to have a conversation with your family and friends on the subject. While this platform is not one suitable for a lengthy discussion on the topic, you can find a lot of information here and here. I will be glad to set up a time to discuss this subject with you and your family.

Collectively, we can all make sure that every Jew is not only born as a Jew, but lives a long healthy life as a Jew and after their long, happy life, will also die as a Jew.

To end with a positive note, I wish each and every one of you a gut Shabbos and may we all have a happy and healthy long life, full of meaning and growth.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Mendel Greisman 

 

Do something Seventeen

I love numbers. In school I loved math, and until this day I enjoy any problem or discussion that deals with numbers. So here’s a “number” on 2017.

In Hebrew, every letter has a value: Alef is worth 1, Bet 2 and so on. From Yud through Tzadik we go with tens; Yud is ten, Kaf – twenty and so on; the final four letters represent 100 through 400 respectively. This is known as “Gimatriya”. Often, we will look at the numerical value of a word, i.e. adding up the combined value of each individual letter and thus certain ideas and words can be expressed with numbers.

A famous Gimatriya you may be familiar with is 18. It’s a popular Jewish number and many give charity in multiples of 18. The Hebrew word Chai – which means “alive” of “life” is spelled Yud – 10 and Chet – 8, hence 18 represents life; and since the Talmud teaches that “Tzedakah saves from death” that through charity we earn a blessing for life; it became popular to associate charity with multiples of 18.

The number 17 is a number most of us are going to use daily for the next 360 days or so. This number is almost as popular as 18, as it represents the Hebrew word Tov – good (Tet – 9, Vav – 6 and Bet – 2). In my adolescence I had the merit of attending many of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s talks and often on the 17th of any Jewish month he would refer to that day as “Tov” of the month, rather than the standard “Yud-Zayin”.

So if one needs any indications or encouragement that this coming year will be a good one, there you have it, right in the number.

As Jews, we celebrate our new year and our annual cycle from Rosh Hashanah, but living in a secular world, our fiscal year still begins in January.

Looking at the financials, 2016 was an amazing year for Chabad of Northwest Arkansas. 181 donors have come forward to cover our entire budget of just below $200,000. We are humbled and full of gratitude to each and every one of them, as “every little bit adds up to a large sum” and many small amounts makes a huge difference.

With the onset of 2017, I would like to encourage you to do something so seventeen, so “tov", so "good" and join a growing number of locals and visitors to our area who are part of the “Chai Club”, a group of people who contribute a small fixed amount at the beginning of each month.

The idea is simple: Chabad has no membership dues so we are supported entirely by the generosity of our community members and friends. By allocating a small amount each month, you are making a huge impact on our budget without making a huge impact on yours. Think of it as one leisure activity a month. Pick an amount that you would spend without thinking twice: whether it’s 10, 36 or 50 dollars and designate it as your support for Chabad. Not everyone can dedicate a building, but everyone can make a difference.

Since you’re joining dozens of others, you will be making a big difference in our monthly budget; but even more than that, you will become a partner in every Mitzvah Chabad enables that month; and there are hundreds – if not thousands – each month. It’s a worthwhile investment.

Take a moment and visit our donate page, fill in your generous donation and click the recurring button on bottom to indicate you want this amount to be charged each month. You will feel good knowing you make a difference in the Jewish landscape of Northwest Arkansas.

Thank you very much and Shabbat Shalom, 

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