Musings, insights, stories and nature observations from a Hasidic Jew living in the Great North Woods.
(And respectfully seeking to help my fellow Jews recover from "Nature Deficit Disorder.")
Friday, April 7, 2017
Cleaning for Passover: Don't be a fanatic!
After much deliberation and minute examination of every possible halachic detail, Rebbe Nachman finally came to the conclusion that the only way to be absolutely, positively sure there was no chometz in the water would be to camp out next to a spring in the woods where the water bubbled up fresh and uncontaminated. The problem was, the only such spring was a long way from his home. If he went there, then he would be away from his family, his friends, his disciples, and the whole Jewish community. Was that any way to celebrate a festival?
In the end, Rebbe Nachman decided that such ultra-strictness was unnecessary, even on Passover. Being overly rigid killed the joy and led to depression. Don’t be a fanatic, he taught, and do not worry yourself sick with unnecessary restrictions. “The Torah was given to human beings, not the ministering angels.”
That’s good advice. And lest you think this obsession with “the letter of the law” is limited to Orthodox Jews, let me assure you that it occurs among secular people also. Rebbe Nachman’s lesson came to mind a while back when I received an email about a vegan woman who had decided to take her practice to the ultimate ethical vegan level and refuse to eat anywhere meat, fish, eggs, or dairy were being served. Basically, this meant hanging out only with other vegans in vegan restaurants, vegan homes, or at vegan events.
This ultra-strictness also resulted in her walking out on a reunion of family and friends that she had really been looking forward to, because they were serving meat. It was not enough that the organizers were willing to provide her with a vegan meal. Unless everyone there refused meat, the entire event was, to mix cultural metaphors, not kosher.
Many people in the vegetarian community probably lauded her utmost devotion to the cause. But if I were to do that, it would mean never eating with anyone but my wife. We are vegetarians (not vegans) and we live in a rural area where most of my family, neighbors and associates are not vegetarians, let alone vegans. If I followed that woman's advice to the letter, I would end up in an isolated social bubble, not unlike what would have happened if Rebbe Nachman had decided to camp out next to the spring in the forest during Passover.
It was this kind of fanaticism that Rebbe Nachman warned against. Yes, we must clean house, search out all leaven and remove it, change the kitchen utensils over to the Passover set, etc. But don't drive yourself insane doing it. Don't make it a burden that kills the joy of the holiday.
This is why we have the bitul chametz procedure for declaring any leaven we might have missed to be null and void. This is not a mere legality. The rabbis who enacted this rule long ago were aware of the human tendency to obsess over things. There is always the possibility that we missed a bread crust the kids dropped somewhere. Or maybe a guest you invited for the Seder isn't as thorough as you are, and dropped some crumbs from his pocket on the living room rug. Or a mouse stored grain in the walls of your house... A person can go on and on about this kind of worry.
However, if we have done due diligence to remove all the leaven we know about, then renounced all ownership of what we might have missed, then dayenu, enough. Time to move on and celebrate!
Tuesday, April 4, 2017
Book Review: "The 99 Names of God" by Daniel Thomas Dyer
In a time when there is so much misinformation (and hostility) about Islam in the Western world, this book goes a long way toward opening a window on what true Islam is really like. If there's one thing Jews and Muslims have in common, it's the plethora of hostile websites claiming to "unmask" us by taking quotes out of context and compiling lists of every negative thing ever said by any of us anywhere. For years it has been an uphill climb for me to convince non-Jewish readers that we Jews even have any spirituality. Recent dialogues with Muslim teachers have shown me that they, too, have this same struggle. Hence my delight in finding this very accessible book.
|A sunset reminds us of God/Allah |
as The Majestic One
|God/Allah is the Giver of Life|
Most non-Muslims (including me) would be hard put to name 99 different attributes of God -- which is what the Names really are. God is the Compassionate, The Merciful, the Sovereign, The Holy, the Source of Peace... and so many more. This, I believe, is a great gift that Islam has brought to the world at large, to remind us of how many different ways God manifests his/her Presence. All too often, we limit God to a single attribute -- such as Love or Peace -- and forget how all-encompassing Omnipotence really is. Love is an attribute of God, yes. But God is so very much more.
|A cat manifests God/Allah's|
attribute of Watchfulness
Once again, Muslims and Jews are on a similar quest, to bring our urbanized children more in harmony with the wonders of God's world and our responsibility to care for it. This is where all people can come together in harmony, since we live on one earth. (I was also happy to read that Muhammad loved cats. Readers of this blog know that I do, too!)
(This essay was updated by the author on April 5, 2017)
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