Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving and Shabbat Dinner

This past week we celebrated Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays to spend with the family. There's a major concept to be learned from this holiday - the concept of haKarat haTov - Recognizing the Good. Obviously this isn't something we should only do once a year, but every day! However, the week is a hectic time and Shabbat Friday night dinner is a better time to reflect on the week past.

Shabbat is the time of the week where we take a "time out" from being the creators and shapers of the world around us to "just being" and enjoying the fruits of our labors. Friday night dinner, whether formal or not, is a great time for the family to get together (without distraction or places to run to) and actually spend an hour or two with those closest to us.

It's during this time together that I want to suggest an idea that my mother instituted years ago at our own Friday night dinners - the 3 Gratefuls. It seems that at the time the Gratefuls were brought in, our conversations at the table were not following a positive note and my mom felt that she needed to point out to us the good things that had happened during the week.

Each one of us at the table, including any guests (we tried to warn them ahead of time), had to come up with three things that we were grateful for that had occurred during that past week. There were a few rules that guided us, these were:
* It couldn't be sports related.
* It couldn't be - "thank goodness the week was over".
* It couldn't be for a future event.

Gratefuls could be small things, or big things. You couldn't opt out of doing your 3 Gratefuls either, no matter how rough the week was (and there were some tough ones). It forced us to review the week and recognize the good that happened or was done for us. It also forced us to be a part of each others lives as a family - since all week long was spent running our different ways.

One example of a Grateful by my father on Friday night is that he thanks my mother for making him lunch every day to take to work. Making a lunch may seem like a small event during the course of the week, but when my father makes note of it (every week) - it shows recognition and appreciation of the good done for him.

HaKarat haTov is no small thing. Recognizing the good - big or small, making someone lunch or getting a raise - is all about seeing your life in a different and positive way. I sincerely recommend instituting the 3 Gratefuls at your Friday night dinner - it will truly improve the way you see your life as well as serve as a bonding experience for you and your family.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Keep the Lines of Communication Open!

It's amazing how time flies - we are already at Parshat Vayishlach - the eighth, very busy and exciting chapter of Genesis/Breisheet.

I've noticed some interesting conversations that some of our ancestors have been having with G-d/HaShem over these last eight chapters. (This is not a complete listing.)

In the first chapter, Breisheet, after Adam has eaten the forbidden fruit, G-d calls out (3:9-12):
"Where are you?"
He [Adam] said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid.
And He [G-d] said, "Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree from which I commanded you not to eat?"
The man said, "The woman whom You gave to be with me - she gave me of the tree, and I ate."

This is an amazing conversation. Adam is not taking personal responsibility for his actions, and is instead blaming it on the woman that G-d gave him, in some ways placing the blame on G-d!

In another famous conversation, G-d comes to Kayin/Cain and asks him where his brother is (4:9)
HaShem said to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?"
and he [Cain] said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

Does Kayin actually believe that G-d doesn't know what's transpired? Does Kayin really have the nerve to answer HaShem with an attitude? "Am I my brother's keeper?" Wow.

In Parshat Lech Lecha we find Avram/Abram questioning G-d about his future without children (15:1-2).
...the word of HaShem came to Avram in a vision, saying, "Fear not, Avram, I am a shield for you; your reward is very great."
And Avram said, "My Lord, What can You give me seeing that I go childless...?"

This is the same Abraham (his name will be changed later in this chapter) who left his family, his homeland all based on the word of G-d. We know that Abraham trusts G-d, but still he questions Him?

We also read about the negotiations between Abraham and G-d about the destruction of Sodom - a known evil city (18:23-32). Avram is attempting to stop G-d from destroying the city if a minimum of 10 good people were found. Ultimately, these people were not found, and the city is overturned.

What I'm bringing from all these conversations... is that there was communication between our forefathers/mothers and G-d. All relationships are built through communication - whether between person to person or between a person and G-d. Some people think that we can't question or argue with G-d. I would say that it's a good beginning to building a relationship between us and the Creator.

It's when we stop talking, questioning or arguing with G-d that the relationship begins to fail. At the point where G-d is no longer part of our private dialogue and no longer part of our thought process that the relationship is over.

We see from the Torah that keeping the lines of communication open with G-d is important. He wants to have a relationship with us. When G-d asks the seemingly obvious question to Cain, "Where is Abel your brother?" it wasn't because G-d didn't know where Abel was, it was in order to start a conversation with Cain - to bring him closer to G-d even after the murder took place. To bring him to teshuva/return.

We have to keep the lines of communication open. Feel free to question, argue, and discuss with G-d. At the same time don't forget to ask, thank and appreciate all those things He does for us as well.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rosh Chodesh Kislev

It's the new month of Kislev - most well known for the holiday of Chanukah. It's always exciting to start a new month, hoping and praying for the best. In Judaism the months are set by the new moon - it's known as a lunar calendar.

On the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh (new month), the new month is announced with the day that it will land. This month Rosh Chodesh Kislev landed this Sunday and Monday (November 7 & 8).

I enjoy being in synagogue for this announcement - it's found in the siddur/prayer book under "Blessing for the New Month". It's usually sung with a special tune, the congregation standing at attention, and the person leading the prayers holding the Torah scroll. It's a special moment.

The congregation says the blessing first followed by the leader:
May He who performed miracles for our fathers and redeemed them from slavery to freedom, speedily redeem us and gather our dispersed people from the four corners of the earth, uniting all Israel; and let us say, Amen [Cong: Amen].

The leader then announces the following, followed by the congregation:
Rosh Chodesh (name of the month) will be on (name the day(s) of the week on which it falls) which will come to us for good.

The congregation says the following, followed by the leader:
May the Holy One, blessed be He, renew it for us and for all His people, the House of Israel, for life and for peace [Cong: Amen], for gladness and for joy [Cong: Amen], for deliverance and for consolation; and let us say, Amen [Cong: Amen].

In the spirit of the new month of Kislev I want to wish everyone a wonderful, successful and healthy month - and may we all be blessed with peace and redemption.

The Significance of Rosh Chodesh