Category Archives: Lifelong Learning

A Message from Rabbi Tom: Finding God in the Everyday

MCJC Connections
January/February 2018 ~ Tevet/Shevat/Adar ~ Vol. 5778

By Rabbi Tom

Rabbi Tom Samuels

Rabbi Rami Shapiro tells a story: Reb Yaakov Shimshon of Kosov loved to share with his students the stories of the great Rebbes and their Hassidim.

It once happened after morning prayer that the Rebbe began to tell one story after another without stopping. He and his Hasidim were lifted to such a state of divine rapture that they stepped out of time. The day passed, and it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that the Rebbe told his final tale. Slowly, Reb Yaakov and his disciples returned to the needs of the everyday world, and realized that they had eaten neither breakfast nor lunch.

One of the students stood up and honored his Rebbe, saying, “Until this moment, Rebbe, I did not really understand Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our sacred teacher, when he said that while on Mount Sinai he ate no bread and drank no water. Now I know what it is like to be filled with the very Presence of God, and to feel no further need to eat or drink.”

Reb Yaakov nodded his appreciation to his student and said, “Your interpretation is a worthy one, my son, but perhaps Moshe was not celebrating his transcendence of food and drink, but regretting it? We know that everything in this world contains a spark of the Divine and that only when a thing is used properly is this spark uplifted and repaired to God, from Whom it came. This is no less true of food and drink than it is of books and tools.”

Moshe realized that in those forty days on Mount Sinai he neither ate nor drank, and thus failed to uplift the divine sparks in his bread and water. “In the World to Come, these sparks will complain to the Holy One that Moshe did them a grave disservice by putting his own love of God before their liberation.”

Imagine that. Even Moses, the only human being to come face to face with HaShem, the Divine, needed to focus on the ordinary.

Rabbi Rami tells us of the great Kabbalist Isaac Luria (1534–1572) who taught that all things contain a spark of the Divine, and that the deepest spiritual work is to release those sparks and return them to God by using the things of this world in a righteous and honorable manner. More often than not, the greatest mysteries in life, we (hopefully) discover, are the simplest ones, the ones that we confront every day.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel famously said, “We tend to read the Bible looking for mighty acts that God does, and not seeing that all the way through the Bible God is waiting for human beings to act.”

He went on and quoted from the Prophet Elijah, “There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, kol demamah dakkah, the sound of delicate silence.” (1 Kings 19)

God, Rabbi Heschel was teaching us, as was Reb Yaakov in the Hassidic story above, is found in the ordinariness, the everyday, the seemingly most mundane aspects of our lives. That is where God resides.

B’Shalom, Rabbi Tom

The Essence of Jewish Education

MCJC Connections
January/February 2018 ~ Tevet/Shevat/Adar ~ Vol. 5778

By Rabbi Tom

The Hebrew word for education is chinuch. The Talmud associates this word with the word chen, grace. That education, in the Jewish tradition, is the act of drawing-out, revealing the unique inner beauty of each and every student.

The Torah is called the Book of Life, sefer ha’chayim – not the Book of Knowledge. Judaism is not something you study; it is something you get intimately involved with. It is a relationship. A meeting place where we meet God.

This is so very relevant to today when knowledge is available
on every Internet-connected device, where what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know.

The determinant for a successful educational program must first and foremost be measured by how well it is able to engage, to integrate, and to inspire the whole child. That is the world they inhabit, and the world they would like to build. Education is, after all, an organic process that when most effective, weaves life and learning together, naturally and seamlessly.

And so, at its core, Jewish education cannot and should not be reduced to disseminating information. Rather, Jewish education is about sharing a world of ideas. It is aspirational, and never about arrival.

Blessed are You God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us through His commandments, and commanded us to be immersed
in the words and in a life of Torah.