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Where God is Depends on Us

When children ask us, “where is God?” We usually tell them that “God is everywhere.”

It’s a beautiful answer, completely true, but it doesn’t help when you are older. When we see what goes on in the world, we often ask ourselves the very same question, “Where is God?” The truth of the matter is that God’s presence in the world is hidden, difficult to perceive, yet embedded in everything.

After the Jewish people received the Torah on Sinai God instructs them in Parshat Terumah, “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Shemot 25:8). God instructs the Jewish people to create a vessel to experience the proximity of God.

Shabbat is another vessel for us to experience the indwelling presence of God in the world. For on Shabbat, teaches the Sfat Emet, we experience the truth that everything that we have and do exists only because of God, and we are able to recognize the sanctity of all creation.

When we gather at the table and bless the Shabbat on Friday night with our candles, wine, and meal, the Shechinah, the indwelling presence of God is with us.

When we gather as a community to sing, dance and pray especially on Shabbat- the Shechinah, the indwelling presence of God is with us.

Whenever we wonder where God is, it usually means that we’re not making a place for

God. Because when we live a life full of Shabbat and community, of gratitude and giving, we cannot help but experience the proximity of God.

God’s presence in the world is truly, as the Rebbe of Kotzk taught, wherever we let God in. Our lives, and the whole world, can be a dwelling place for God. This is what the Torah is all about.

But our relationship with God depends totally on us.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Acting With Godliness

The Torah tells us in Parsha Mishpatim, that we are to “Distance yourself from falsehood.” (Ex. 23:7) No other transgression, said Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, has this commandment. What it is about falsehood that God is so concerned about us falling into?

There is the obvious problems that lying can get one in trouble. Each lie becomes bigger and bigger, and then you have to create new lies to cover up the other lies. Before you know it, you have constructed a life of lies.

But lying, we learn from several places in the Talmud, is at times permitted – especially to save a life and to prevent various levels of embarrassment. So if lying is permitted in those cases, what is the Torah referring to here?

The majority of our sages teach us that Torah is giving specific advice to judges. As Rav Hirsch wrote, “It makes it the judge’s duty to meticulously avoid any and every thing by which there is the slightest possibility of the veracity of the judgement being affected.”

I want to add another layer onto this. The Torah is also telling us to distance ourselves from lying to ourselves, and specifically from lying in how we judge ourselves.

So much personal strife results when we are are not honest with ourselves, who we are and what we are doing. We can end up judging ourselves very harshly, and distancing ourselves from God. Or we can fail to judge our actions and think that we are always right, and it’s the other person who is in the wrong.

We must therefore keep ourselves far, far away from falsehood – from mock piety and self-importance, to self-defeating low self-esteem and not seeing all the wonderful and unique qualities that God gave to us.

Instead we need to judged ourselves and each other favorably, gently, and honestly. Then we will be acting with Godliness in our thoughts and actions, improve our performance of the mitzvot, and deepen our relationship with our friends, loved ones, and with God.
Shabbat Shalom!

VIDEO Featuring Rabbi Chaskel Besser on his 5th Yahrtzeit

This Shabbos marks the 4th yahrtzeit of Rabbi Chaskel Besser. For over 40 years he led Congregation Yisroel Chaim on the Upper West Side and he was a member of the Agudat Yisrael Presidium. He was the founding Chairman of the Daf Yomi Commission which completes the Talmud every seven years. Kiddush and 3rd meal at Pico Shul will be dedicated in honor of his memory this week. See below for video about his life. You can buy a book about his life on the Essentials page.

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Saturday Night Online Shopping Report: Nazi Valentine’s Card on Etsy, Protocols for Kindle on Amazon

Just weeks after the 70th Anniversay of the liberation of Auschwitz, and a month after the brutal slaying of Jews and others in Paris, I am reminded of the fact that for most Americans the Holocaust, and Hitler, are so far removed from our times that they are OK to joke about.

Case in point: Etsy, the craft site, has for sale a card that says, “Will Jew be mine? I’ll be Furerious is you say no.” Including a picture with the likeness of Hitler. “Will Jew be mine” is a cute line for a card. Adding Hitler makes it’s offensive.

I have Tweeted about it, and sent messages to the author / creator bringing attention to the card, with the hope of having it taken off the site.

Mel Brooks mocks Nazis, as have many other comedians, and they are completely in their rights. There should be no law outlawing a joke. France is wrong to put on trial a comedian. I am not for censoring, arresting, or outlawing comedians.

But a site like Etsy — and Amazon who are selling White Power and Nazi music — need to take a stand against racism and antisemitism and refuse to sell this merchandise. It’s in their right as a retailer to choose what to sell, and both sites have plenty of other products to sell. They won’t go hungry, and no one will harm their business for acting ethically.

Amazon has been impervious to this pressure before, but hopefully Etsy will respond positively and remove the card. Better yet, perhaps the card’s author will realize its not just hurtful, but that its bad for business.

Meanwhile, I am ambivalent about the sale of Mein Kamf on the craft site.

Amazon has a longstanding policy of selling antisemitic items — souvenirs, books, music, videos, clothing. Today my biggest disspointment with the online retailer is the Kindle download of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

I guess no matter how much influence we “Jews” supposedly have in control of the world, we can’t seem to figure out how to get Amazon from selling this book.

Also appears on JewishJournal.com