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 judgi

ng 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

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Shabbat is Everything

Can’t wait for tonight.
Candlelight, a bottle of Bro-Deux from Shirah Wine, fresh challah from our French-Persian bakery with a heavy dose of sesame seeds on top, some special guests, our four children, my beautiful wife of over eighteen years, and certainly a feast befitting this auspicious time.

It’s a weekly ritual that grounds me in this world of here and now, and also elevates my soul to appreciate the oneness of Creation.

We’ll sing too. Shabbat melodies new and ancient. We’ll share stories and discuss this week’s Torah portion of Yitro, which contains the most important section of the Torah – the Ten Commandments. (A better translation would be the 10 Declarations, or Pronouncements).

This revelation includes the mitzvah of Shabbat, which in turn contains both the positive and prohibitive elements of Shabbat called shamor (guard) and zachor (remember).” We remember the Shabbat when we recite kiddush on Friday night, and we guard the Shabbat when we refrain from work.
Never before in human history has the wisdom of Shabbat been more apt that in our times. For in a life that is attached 24/7 to the umbilical chord of the data and mobile phone service, we find less time for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Shabbat allows us the time, creates space, and contains rituals to focus on what truly matters.
The Zohar tells us that Shabbat sums up the entire Torah. I would add that Shabbat sums up all of Jewish life, history, and values. For Shabbat is about the sanctity of life, living in harmony with ourselves and others, the preciousness of the Earth, and connecting to the infinite wonder of Creation.

Can’t wait for tonight.