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5 Ways to Keep the Spiritual Momentum of the High Holidays

The High Holidays and Sukkot have ended. This marathon of Jewish holy days earned many of us an increased spiritual awareness, sensitivity, and commitment. But how can we maintain that growth throughout the year? Here are five suggestions for maintaining the momentum of the High Holidays:

1 – Honoring Shabbat

Shabbat is a weekly opportunity to unplug and stay in good spiritual health. Meals with family and friends, communal worship, connecting with community, and creating time to rejuvenate are critical elements to Shabbat, and to keeping the High Holiday growth going during the year ahead. What you do to honor Shabbat, will reward you spiritually and materially.

2 – Creating time for daily Torah study

A person who is not engaged in daily Torah study is depriving themselves of the nutrients they need to stay in good spiritual health, nurture their soul and develop a stronger connection with God. I suggest a Chevruta – learning with a partner. While attending classes is important, it’s often passive learning. The real impact of Torah learning on your life comes from having a study partner. Even 5 minutes a day.

3 – Acquire for yourself a Shul Friend

Our sages teach us in Pirkei Avot, “Acquire for yourself a friend”. Be in regular contact with people you spent the holidays with. This is a natural group of people to help you maintain your spiritual strength this year.

4 – Volunteer for Tomchei and other chesed projects

My last Dvar Torah of the holiday season was about the importance of doing someone a favor. You cannot underestimate the power of helping others — both on how it will positively influence your life and those you are helping.

5 – Paying your pledges

Many people make pledges of tzedakah / charity during the Holidays. Whether in memory of someone during Yizkor, or a misheberach after an honor, an auction, it is critical to pay your pledge for the impact in the world to take place.

May you continue to grow and learn, and be blessed with an outpouring of divine favor!

A Share of the World to Come

There is a tradition to study Pirkei Avot from Passover until Shavuot. Pirkei Avot contains the timeless wisdom of the sages, and inspiring messages for everyday living. In essence, Pirkei Avot is Judaism’s guidebook to success in life.

One of the famous passages of Pirkei Avot reads, “All Israel has a share in the World to Come.” Usually we understand this to mean that everyone, no matter how far they have strayed, still retains a place in eternity. It’s a beautiful affirmation that we all get another chance.

However, the verse says that we “have” as in we “have it now”. What part of the World to Come do we have now?

Shabbat.

The Talmud teaches that on Shabbat we can enjoy 1/60th of the pleasure of the World to Come. Shabbat is in fact the only time that we can access any part of the World to Come.

So what might the sages be telling us?

“All Israel have a share in the World to Come… NOW.”

If you want to access that pleasure of the World to Come now, then dive into Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom!

Image: Marci Weisel Papercut Judaica

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Tragic Loss in Brooklyn Sounds Alarm Across the Jewish World

(Published in Jewish Journal March 27)
During a time when we are preparing our homes and communities to celebrate the joyous festivities of Passover, a painful tragedy has muted our joy.

This past Friday night, a malfunctioning electric hot plate set off a fire that killed seven children in Brooklyn. The world lost seven beautiful souls, children of Gabriel and Gayle Sassoon: brothers David, 12; Yehoshua, 10; Moshe, 8; Yaakov, 5; and sisters Eliane, 16; Rivka, 11; and Sarah, 6. The mother Gayle and fifteen year-old Siporah managed to escape by leaping out of the second-floor windows and are in critical condition, in need of our prayers.

God didn’t sacrifice these children to convince us that keeping Shabbat is dangerous or an anathema to modern life. God didn’t take these precious lives from the world because of our sins. God took these seven souls back, away from this terrestrial existence, for reasons beyond our comprehension. It leaves a gaping hole in the lives of their family members and such a shocking loss reverberates throughout the Jewish World.

However, as a parent, and as an observant Jew who uses an electric hot plate and a Yom-Tov candle, the tragedy is a loud alarm to me, and hopefully to everyone, about the need for increased vigilance and safety in our community.

May God comfort the families of those precious children who perished and heal the injured.

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Protecting a Life is Always a Priority

(Published in Jewish Journal March 27)
The Torah commands us protect our lives, and those of others. Based on the verse, “Guard yourself and guard your soul very much” (Deut. 4:9). According to Jewish law, it is a duty to take all due precautions and avoid anything that may endanger life. “Anyone who violates such prohibitions, saying ‘I’m only putting myself at risk – what business is that of anybody else?’ or ‘I’m not particular about such things’ deserves a lashing, while those who are careful about such things will be blessed” (Choshen Mishpat 427, 8-10).”

Every family that cares for keeping the sanctity of the Sabbath also must care for the sanctity of life and take extra precautions to ensure the safety of our homes.

Below are some guidelines in accordance with Jewish law:

  • All families must install dual-sensor smoke and fire alarms and additional carbon monoxide alarms around their homes, test them weekly, and gently vacuum them monthly. They should be installed in bedrooms, hallways, attics, basements, and you can check the National Fire Protection Association website for details.
  • Never use cracked, worn or sheared electric chords – whether on a hot plate, Sukkah lights, lamps etc.
  • Do not overload sockets or improperly use extension chords.
  • Keep candles under adult supervision, use self-extinguishing Shabbat and Hanukkah candles – and extinguish menorahs before going to bed.
  • Never leave flammable material (curtains, hand towels etc.) in proximity to heat sources such as hot plates, Shabbat, Hanukkah or Yom Tov candles.
  • While we are not permitted to extinguish a fire without reason on Shabbat, it is a mitzvah to extinguish a unintentional fire in a home on Shabbbat as it is a direct threat to people in adjacent homes. Even in an isolated home, with no apparent neighbors, the fire must be put out because it could spread to the field or forest and harm someone else.

Food Safety Guidelines for Shabbat Observance in accordance with Halacha:

  • To enjoy warm food on Shabbat, electric hot plates should be used with an appliance timer, which turns off at bed time and back on in the morning. On Shabbat, solid foods should remain on the cold hotplate overnight. On Yom Tov, when it is permitted to cook, any food can be placed back on the hot plate in the morning.
  • Chulent or Hamim can be cooked safely in an electric slow-cooker overnight. Reminder to remove the pot insert from the slow cooker before serving the chulent in order to avoid stirring a cooked food in a cooking vessel. Also the slow cooker can be put on a timer to turn off after your meal time.
  • Leaving on a gas-range on a low flame is common practice whether on Shabbat or on Yom Tov among orthodox families – please be very cautious. Try to find alternatives. On Shabbos use a metal “blech” to cover a low flame. On Yom Tov, any time the flame is not being used for cooking, covered with a pot of water. If a flame goes out – turn off the gas immediately.
  • Ovens that have built-in Sabbath modes – which overrides the auto-shut-off function for the duration of a three-day holiday – have been tested for this use and are designed to safely operate for 72 hours.

We have a sacred duty to protect life. By educating ourselves, and protecting our families and communities with diligence in these and other safety issues, we are fulfilling that mitzvah.

Feel free to contact me with any questions.