I have a question for you ..... it's a little trivial but here goes anyway....
A non-Jewish colleague refuses to say 'Bless-you' after I sneeze. He says it's because I am Jewish. Where did the 'bless you' ritual originate from and is it purely a Christian thing? What is the Jewish equivalent?
Your friend may have a point. The bless you response to a sneeze was enacted by one of the popes during the bubonic plague. So it definitely has non-Jewish undertones.
But long before that, Jews blessed each other upon sneezing. The Talmud records that in the earlier generations, people didn't get sick before they died. They simply sneezed and their souls left their bodies. So it was customary to wish a sneezer "To Life!", for fear that their sneeze was a herald of death.
Things changed in the times of our forefather Jacob. He prayed that one should rather get sick some time before dying, in order to have a little warning and time to prepare for leaving this world. His request was granted, and so sneezing no longer meant impending death. But it still could be a symptom of illness. And so the custom became to wish a sneezer good health - Assuta in Aramaic, Tzu gezunt in Yiddish, or Labriyut in modern Hebrew.
Fascinatingly, one source says that after being blessed with health, the sneezer himself should respond to the one who blessed him "Bless you!" (Baruch tihyeh in Hebrew). Another interesting note: the sages taught that one does not respond to a sneeze while in the middle of studying Torah. Torah study is too holy to be interrupted, and anyway its power will protect the sneezer from all harm.
Indeed these days most people survive a sneeze without any major consequences. But that doesn't mean we should no longer wish each other good health. Words have power. The more we bless each other the better. A sneeze is as good an excuse as any to bless someone.
As a believing Christian, I made a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I was profoundly disturbed by the Jewish state and its criminal occupation of the West Bank. The international community has condemned this time and time again. How can you justify usurping land that belongs to others?
You are entitled to your opinion on the matter. But I hope you are consistent in your beliefs. Being that you oppose a Jewish presence on the West Bank, I assume you will not be participating in any Xmas celebrations during the coming days. According to your view, there is no reason to be merry on December 25.
The Christian holidays celebrate an event that you have named a criminal act - the birth of a Jewish baby to a Jewish family in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Your views should not allow you to have any part in this cheer, for if you did you would be giving retroactive approval to a Jewish settlement on the West Bank that dates back more than two thousand years.
Perhaps you will be joined by the UN and other humanitarian organizations around the world condemning any celebrations that are connected with this controversial birth, as such events would be recognizing the rights of a Jewish family to live on what you see as occupied territory.
However I must warn you, by espousing this view and not celebrating, you will be vastly outnumbered. The international community, by celebrating Xmas, expresses support for the fact that the West Bank has always been the home of the Jewish people.
I was playing the game of dreidel, as we do every Chanukah, when someone asked what it actually means. I wasn't sure what to say, apart from being a fun way to spend time with the family during the holiday, and a kosher way to gamble away your savings. But I guess there's more to it... is there?
Toys don't play a major role in Jewish tradition. I can only think of two Jewish toys that are used religiously (unless you count iphones). On Chanukah we spin the dreidel, and on Purim we shake the gragger. The dreidel is a spinning top used in a game of chance. The gragger is a noisemaker that serves to heckle the wicked Haman, the enemy of the Jews, every time his name is mentioned in the Purim story.
But even toys have deeper meaning in Judaism. The dreidel and the gragger encapsulate the difference between the miracles of Chanukah and Purim.
When Haman stood to annihilate the Jewish people, it caused a mass stirring of emotion and spiritual introspection. The Jews knew that such a decree could only be averted if they changed their ways. And so they prayed, fasted, and recommitted themselves to Judaism. This awakening was the catalyst for the miracle that followed, with Haman's downfall and the Jewish victory over their adversaries.
In the story of Chanukah things were very different. The threat posed by the Hellenists did not inspire mass repentance among the Jews. On the contrary, many Jews of the time welcomed the Syrian-Greek occupation of their land and were happy to assimilate into their culture. Only a small band of rebels stayed true to their beliefs and fought the foreign invasion. And yet, a miracle occurred for the Jewish people, totally undeserved, not earned, a gift from above, and the Hellenists were routed from the Land of Israel.
So Purim is a miracle that was initiated from below, from the people and their spiritual turn around. Chanukah was a miracle that the people had not earned but came completely from above, from G-d.
And so on Chanukah we play with the dreidel, which we spin from on top, symbolizing the divine hand that intervenes from above to spin the wheels of history. On Purim, the miracle we earned from below, we shake the gragger, which is grasped from below.
This is the power of Chanukah, the miracle we didn't deserve. Chanukah is a time where G-d's light can reach the darkest of places, and we can all be blessed, worthy or not. Because sometimes G-d rewards us for the good we have done, and at other times He blesses us for the good we will do. G-d is spinning the dreidel, and on Chanukah we know it will fall in our favour.
With thanks to G-d, we were blessed with a baby boy this week. Bris on Sunday. See below.
Question of the Week:
I have nothing against circumcision. It is an ancient tradition and I will keep it for my children. But I do have an issue with the bagels and lox afterwards. The kid is in pain, we just did a surgical procedure, and then we all eat. Isn't that a little incongruous? We don't eat bagels after operating on an ingrown toenail, so why after a Bris?
People like to kvetch. Kvetch is the Yiddish word that means to complain, moan, grumble and whine. Some kvetches are justified. But most kvetching is unnecessary. It comes from a mistaken expectation that life should run smoothly, so when it doesn't, we kvetch. We want to avoid this misconception, so we give our children a Bris.
The Bris teaches your newborn that life is not always easy, so don't expect it to be. You are in this world to work hard on improving yourself, to really change and refine your being. You will only succeed in this if you are willing to give up on some pleasures. It may even hurt. But despite the pain we do it because that is our purpose, to elevate ourselves and our world to a higher place than it was when we arrived in it.
There are two ways you can go about the hard work ahead of you. You can do it as a martyr, seeing life as a burden and a pain, and you can kvetch about how hard everything is. Or you can do it with joy. You can celebrate the opportunity you have to face whatever life throws at you, and take pleasure in the challenge to develop your soul into all it can be.
By having a festive meal at a Bris, we are choosing the second path. Life can be hard. But it is a beautiful gift nonetheless. Each challenge is another step in the refinement of your soul. So don't complain about it, embrace it. There is no easy path, and we are all here to toil and make real effort. Rather than do it begrudgingly, do it with enthusiasm and alacrity. Eat a bagel with lox and savor every day of life, even when it's hard.
So the Bris tells us that life isn't easy. The meal after the Bris tells us to celebrate the tests that life brings. Don't kvetch about the hole, eat the bagel.
With thanks to Hashem we were blessed with a healthy boy this past Sunday.
The bris will take place G-d willing this Sunday 9am (after 8am morning service) at Nefesh.
Sholom Zochor at our home this Friday night after 9pm.
PLEASE NO GIFTS. We would be honoured if you choose to give a donation in our son's name to a very worthy charity that collects for local needy families:
TIKVA INC. WESTPAC BCC 032-051 ACC 538 528
We look forward to celebrating with you and introducing the latest member of our clan.
Rabbi Moss and Nechama Dina
Chanukah Menorah Lighting
Friday December 14th
6:45pm Grand Lighting of the stunning new Nefesh Menorah (designed and built by Michelle Donde) - Don't miss the donuts!
7:00pm Shabbos Service
SERVICES AT NEFESH ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Candlelighting 7:38pm (not before 6:26pm)
Shabbos Service - 6:30pm followed by Kiddush
No Class This week
Morning Service 10am -12:20pm followed by Kiddush in honour of the upcoming wedding of Danielle Livni and Gidon Weinstein - Mazal Tov!
Shabbos Mevorchim Teves Farbrengen after Kiddush, sponsored by Rev Amzalak in memory of his brother Avraham ben Yitzchak z"l, the Ariels in honour of their trip to Israel, and Ronan Lutman in honour of the birth of his daughter Yiskah Sarah.