Musing by Menachem Bluming: Do You Relish Being in Control?

Don’t you love the feeling of being in control? You have your morning routine, your customized workout, you control every dial and setting and speed that you possibly can. Amazon delivers almost before you press the order now button. Texts are responded to instantly, calls are picked up before they ring and you expect that. You are in control of your life!

Don’t you enjoy and depend on order and predictability?

But control is an illusion. I may feel like I’m in control, but when it comes down to it, I am absolutely not. And if there’s any indication of that, it’s 9/11 or Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and so many other natural disasters.

Weather forecasters can identify the storm. They can track it, measure its force, estimate its trajectory and predict its impact. But they, and we, are powerless to stop or redirect it, despite the tremendous technological and scientific advances we have seen in the last few decades.

In the Torah parshat Ki Tavo we read about the mitzvah of bikkurim. Every farmer in the land of Israel was obligated to bring the first fruits of his harvest to the Temple for the priests to consume. Imagine!

A farmer who tilled and prepared the soil, carefully planted, watered, pruned, and cared for his crop, was then required to give away his very first produce! Why should he? As a reminder that G-d, and G-d alone, controls our livelihood, and, in fact, every aspect of our lives.
Hurricane Irma and 9/11 reinforces this lesson. I am not in control of my life; G-d is.

Menachem M Bluming, Chabad.org and Rabbi Vigler

Question to Menachem Bluming this week: Who needs Religion?!

Q: I am an atheist. I dropped my faith a while ago. To be honest, I don’t feel I am missing anything with G-d out of my life. If anything I am more free. It has made me wonder, if I lose my religion, have I really lost anything worthwhile?
Here’s a thought:

People often make the mistake of thinking that if you take away religion, you just get rid of believing in G-d. This is not true. You lose much more than G-d when you drop religion. Something else you lose when you drop religion is the idea of family.

Family is a concept that cannot be taken for granted. The family is built and sustained on a belief system, a set of values, a worldview that sees marriage as a sacred covenant and parenthood as a moral responsibility. Without these supporting beliefs, the family is a baseless ideal that will erode with time. And these beliefs are religious.

Only religion can provide a meaning to life that is higher than me. I was created with a purpose that is beyond myself. I am here to serve. I was given the gift of life, and I should share it with others. Without these beliefs, there is no ideological base for the concept of family. No secular argument is strong enough to inspire you to give up your own freedom, get married and have children.

Look around at secular societies. The less religious the society, the weaker its families. Marriage is replaced with casual relationships, and having children is optional, as long as it doesn’t interfere with career and living my life my way. In a godless world the lonely, unattached individual is idealized. The disintegration of family life in the west is a direct result of its secularization.

Of course there are atheists and secularists who make devoted husbands and loving wives, dedicated mothers and attentive fathers. But this is in spite of their atheism, not because of it. People often do things that are not consistent with their beliefs. A secular family is one example. Having a family is an act of faith no less religious than attending prayer services.

Menachem Mendel Bluming, Rabbi Moss and Chabad.org

Question posed to Menachem Bluming this week: Should Confederate statues be taken down?

Here’s a thought:
I will leave the resolution of this conundrum to others while I focus on a more fundamental aspect of the matter.

A statue, any statue, is purposely made to look solid, imposing and, above all, enduring – able to withstand the vicissitudes of time and even to seem immortal, as the very word monument (a lasting public tribute) implies. But, in reality this is all only an illusion.

As powerful as these monuments may seem, the truth is that they are ephemeral and transient. What is now being so powerfully demonstrated, is that these monuments only last as long as the ideas they represent endure. The moment that societal sensibilities shift, they can be unceremoniously taken down and shipped off to the closest dump. This is not just a contemporary condition but has been the way of history from time immemorial.

Have you ever wondered why there are no Jewish monuments? Even King David, who fought and was victorious in many wars and secured the land of Israel, didn’t have a memorial erected in his honor. The Torah states “You shall not erect for yourself a (stone) pillar which the L-rd your G-d hates” (Deuteronomy16:22). And, in all of the archeological excavations that have been done in Israel no monuments have been discovered – because none were ever erected.

So what do we, as Jews, do as a memorial?

Stone and metal may look impressive for a time but are temporary. Torah, on the other hand, our four-thousand year old legacy and the spirit of the Jewish people, endures forever. In this vein, the Book of Psalms,composed and edited by King David is the greatest monument to his life and is still recited by Jews around the world today.

It is for this reason that the Talmud informs us that great Jewish sages were memorialized through a custom derived from the Book of Jeremiah and King Ezekiel by erecting a house of study in proximity to the gravesite. Our sages understood that transmitting the knowledge of Torah to future generations was the greatest form of memorial.

Today, this custom has evolved and the Jewish way to leave an enduring legacy is to provide for Torah study and Jewish life for future generations.

R’ Menachem Mendel Bluming, RSK and Chabad.org

My Husband is Often Late and I don’t Want to be a nag; Question posed to Menachem Bluming this week:

Question posed to Menachem Bluming this week:

My husband just doesn’t seem to get it. He came home over an hour late last night without so much as calling to tell me that he won’t be on time. This is the fifth time he has done this and we are only married three months! It may seem petty but it upsets me greatly. I don’t want him to see me as a nagging wife. What should I do?

Answer:

There is something you need to know about men. They are loners. Being in a relationship is unnatural to them. They do not automatically think about how their actions affect someone else. The default emotional state of a man is loneliness.

This is not true of women. A woman has an innate sense of relationship, of connection to others. A woman naturally shares of herself and bonds with others, a man does not. She is a relationship being, he is a lonely being.

Of course, it is a huge generalization to say that all men are loners and all women are connectors. Generalizations are never accurate. But to say generalizations are never accurate is itself a generalization, and thus not accurate either.

So let’s generalize: Man’s natural state is to be single. Woman’s natural state is to be in a couple.

There is a solid base for this theory. It stretches all the way back to the beginning of time, to the first man and the first woman, Adam and Eve.

Adam was created alone. His original state was that of a bachelor. But Eve was created from Adam. She was never single. Eve by her very nature was a relationship being, because she was created with her partner next to her. She had an inborn sense of interconnectedness, she intuitively knew that we are not alone in this world, that our actions impact others and that we must be sensitive to those around us. This was innate to her psyche, for she was never alone.

But all this was new to Adam. He had to learn what a relationship means, and how to be aware of another, for at his core he was a lonely being.

Adam is the essential man, and Eve the essential woman. And so until today women are relationship beings and men are lonely beings. Not that all women are good at relationships, and not that all men are hopeless hermits. Rather, women are more likely to know how to bond with others, and men are more likely to need to learn how to connect.

So your husband has no idea why you are upset when he comes home late. He may be thinking, “Why can’t she occupy herself until I get there? Is she so insecure that she can’t look after herself for an extra hour or so?” What he doesn’t yet understand is that while he is a loner, you are a connector. You don’t need him to be physically with you all the time, but emotionally, he must be with you all the time. If he would just call to say he is late, you will not be feel alone, because he showed that he cares, he has bonded with you.

Eve’s mission was to help Adam come out of his isolation and learn how to connect. You need to do this too. Explain to your husband that it is not his lateness that upsets you, it is that he wasn’t considerate enough to communicate his lateness to you. Help him understand that he is no longer alone, and show him how beautiful the world is when shared with someone else.

Give it time. You can’t cure existential loneliness overnight. But if you persevere, with gentleness and love, he will open up that lonely place inside him and let you in. Then you can share your lives in your own Garden of Eden, and never be lonely again.

Rabbi Moss, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bluming, Chabad.org

Question to Rabbi Menachem Bluming this week:

Question to Rabbi Menachem Bluming this week:

I like the idea of a day of rest. But why should I start my day of rest at a prayer service? Aren’t there better ways to start my weekend?

Here’s a thought:

We each have our own way of spending the weekend. Some play sports, others watch television, paint, write or just vegetate. But often we find that even though we are chilling out, somewhere in the back of our minds is that nagging feeling that we still have a pile of work waiting for us. We indeed left work, but work didn’t leave us. Even while we are enjoying the weekend we are already dreading Monday morning.

There needs to be a transition. It is not enough to stop working; we must leave work behind. We can’t simply collapse into the weekend; we have to welcome ourselves into it. Only by consciously stepping out of our work week and ushering in our day of rest can we truly relax and rejuvenate. Then we will be ready to face the coming week with renewed purpose.

That is the secret of the Friday night service and why it is so critical : to take a moment to breathe out the week, and breathe in Shabbos.

Rabbi Menachem M. Bluming Rabbi Moss and Chabad.org

Jewish Rights to Name Child

Question to Rabbi Menachem M Bluming: We haven’t officially named our firstborn daughter yet. We have a problem. I always wanted to name her after my grandmother. But my wife doesn’t like that name. She wants some other name which is nice, but I think it lacks any real meaning for the family. Doesn’t it say somewhere that the father has the right to choose the firstborn’s name?

Here’s a thought:

I’m not sure you want to know the answer to that.

There is indeed a custom in some communities of alternating the right to name a child between the parents. According to one Ashkenazi custom, the mother names the firstborn child, the father the second and so on. But some Sefardi communities have the father choosing the name for the first son, and then the mother the second son, while all daughters are named by the mother.

In your case, following either system, your wife gets to name this child.

But there is a different approach. These systems were only enacted to avoid intractable arguments between parents. That’s not the ideal way to name a child. It is far better that both agree on a name together rather than one having to reluctantly concede to the other’s wish.

The need for consensus is indicated in the writings of Kabbalah, which state, “When a father and mother give a name to their child, they are given a prophecy to choose the right name to fit the soul of the child.” This implies that the prophecy comes when there is agreement between the parents, and both are happy with the name.

This is just the first of many disagreements you will have with your wife in parenting your child. Inevitably there will be times when you will want to do things one way, and your wife will have a different approach. You could alternate the decision making, so one day you get your way and the kids are allowed to drink Coke, and the next day your wife is in charge and they only get water. One day bed time is optional and the next it is strictly enforced.

But think what this will do to your child. She needs parents who are united and working as a team, with one voice and one standard. When there are cracks in the parents’ unity, kids slip between those cracks.

Consider your child’s needs before your own, and give her a name that is meaningful, comfortable, and acceptable to you both. May this be the first of many harmonious compromises you make for your children.

Menachem Mendel Bluming, Rabbi Moss and Chabad.org

Converting to Judaism

Menachem Mendel Bluming received this question this week:

I am angry. I was brought up Jewish, attended a Jewish school, and have only known Judaism as my religion. Now I am told I have to convert, because my mother never formally became Jewish. Isn’t it a little unfair that all my life I was more Jewish than my friends, was subjected to anti-Semitism, and then I am told I need to convert?!

Here’s a thought:

I completely understand your frustration. It can’t be easy to hear that you need to convert to your own religion. But please don’t take it personally. This is not a reflection on you. The entire Jewish nation went through exactly what you are going through now.

After leaving Egypt, where they suffered as slaves and were tormented for being Jewish, the Israelites reached Mount Sinai. There they were told they had to formally accept the Torah, and convert to Judaism by immersing in a mikvah.

They could’ve had the same complaint as yours. We’ve always been Jewish, we have even suffered for it, and now we’re told we need to become Jewish?!

Indeed they were already Jewish in the ethnic sense, they were born into the Jewish clan, but they had not yet committed to the Jewish mission. Only by sincerely accepting the Torah did they take on the complete Jewish identity in body and neshamah/soul.

The Israelites of old had a moment of truth. Am I ready to stand before G-d and commit myself to being Jewish? Not just for a day or a week or a yea but for generations. And they said yes.

That power of that moment still reverberates to this day. All Jews alive today are descended from a mother who converted to Judaism, who took that plunge, either at Mount Sinai or sometime since then.
Now you have your moment of truth. You can be culturally and ethnically Jewish, as you already are. Or you can stand at your own Sinai and say yes to G-d.

Put aside the frustration and take this decision seriously. If you don’t go ahead, you leave things hanging for your children and theirs. But if you do it, your commitment is forever, for all generations, once and for all.

Menachem Bluming, Rabbi Moss and Chabad.org

Question asked of Rabbi Menachem Bluming this week:

Many times in the Torah it says that we should not say or do something that is forbidden since that will make G-d very angry. What am I supposed to make of that? How can I respect a G-d who is on the edge of blowing up if we don’t follow what He says?

Here’s a thought:

Imagine being married to a man who never gets angry. Ever. About anything. You insult him and he shrugs. You are rude to him and he is nice back to you. You give attention to others and he isn’t the least bit jealous.

Would that be a wonderful marriage?

Well, on one level, yes, it would be fantastic. No tension, no issues, no arguments or fights or silent treatment.

But in truth, it wouldn’t be good at all. It wouldn’t be a relationship. If he never gets upset at you, it means that you don’t really matter to him. If nothing you do moves him, it means he doesn’t care enough to be impacted by you.

Being in a relationship means affecting each other. For better or for worse, your heart is intertwined with someone else’s. If you aren’t getting a reaction, then you aren’t connecting. You may be married, but you are really alone.

G-d created the world so He could have a relationship with us. He made a huge gamble, creating humans with free choice to do whatever we want, and He invested Himself in us, allowing Himself to be impacted by our actions.

So when the Torah says that G-d will get angry if we do wrong, that is the most beautiful statement of love. G-d is saying, “You matter to me. Your actions touch me. I have invested myself in you. This relationship is real.”

We only get upset at people who matter to us. You matter to G-d too.

Menachem Bluming, Rabbi Moss and Chabad.org

Is The Constitution Like The Torah?

The Constitution provides for its own amendment by a supermajority of the Legislature and States, whereas the Torah is eternal and immutable.

It seems to me that many Jews in the U.S. conflate these two documents. They have developed a ‘veneration’ of the transcendence of the humanly conceived Constitution and concomitantly advanced the idea that the Torah is adaptable, whereas the reverse is true. Irrespective of the debate about whether the Constitution is a ‘living document’ or to be understood from the perspective of ‘original intent’, the fact is that the Constitution is a utilitarian document which also itself legitimates change by amendment.

The Torah on the other hand was given to us by an omniscient G-d – as familiar with the future as we are of the past or present – who stipulated numerous times that the Torah is applicable for all future time.

Logic too supports this notion.

Governmental systems and structures must necessarily adapt to societal change. Values and morals however, are truths which transcend the vicissitudes of any particular age or milieu and must therefore not change.

Menachem Mendel Bluming, RSK and Chabad.org

Dying with Dignity

It often happens that foreign, secular ideas creep into the minds of even those who have faith. Usually, the way these concepts infiltrate is via catch phrases and clichés. First they enter our vocabulary, then they become a part of our mentality.

One example is “dying with dignity.”

That phrase is poison. It originates in the movement promoting euthanasia. This is a phrase that deserves to die.

True dignity comes from the soul, from living a life of goodness and holiness and meaning. Our body is a vehicle for that mission to be achieved. But the body is not our real self, and not our source of dignity.

At the end of a good and purposeful life, the body may be frail and weak, but the soul is as bright as ever, having accomplished its mission. If people have to do some unpleasant jobs to bring comfort to that body in its final years, it should be seen as an honor. There is no greater dignity than to serve another.

I am not belittling the pain of seeing a loved one suffer. And I am not saying that the body’s deterioration is easy to face. I am saying that a person’s dignity comes from their soul and their moral achievements. That is living with dignity.

We end our life in the same way we started it, dependent on the love of others. That is a most dignified departure from this world to the next.

Rabbi Moss and Menachem Bluming