I was just thinking a similar question: Why are there so many restaurants in our neighborhood? Shouldn’t there just be one place to go eat? I have counted a dozen on one street!
Would we be better off with just one big restaurant? I don’t think foodies would agree. Some love Thai, others prefer Italian. The formal dining experience in one place suits some, while others seek a casual night out. Family friendly fast food joints will not attract the fine diners, and fancy plates with a tiny little gourmet morsel in the middle will not be popular with hungry adolescents. Vegans don’t seem to enjoy steak houses. Carnivores don’t always go for quinoa burgers.
The wide choice of restaurants caters to all the varied tastes and moods. There can’t be a one-size-fits-all eatery.
It’s the same with synagogues. Each one presents Yiddishkeit with a different taste and unique angle. There are Sephardi and Ashkenazi variants, shuls that sing and shuls that don’t, informal and intimate communal synagogues and grand pompous ones, kid friendly and mature audience only. Long sermon, short sermon, no sermon. Every community style fills a niche and attracts different souls. Each custom has its customers. This is not factionalism or doubling resources. It is opening doors and giving options.
The Jewish people are made up of twelve tribes. Each had their own slightly different way of praying, and yet we are all one People with one common Torah. Even the Temple in Jerusalem had twelve different gates for each tribe to enter in their own way. But everyone ended up in the same Holy Temple. Every shul, with its unique style, is a gateway to that Temple.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
PS. The answer above applies to sizable communities with a critical mass that can sustain many shuls. Smaller communities may not have that luxury. Either way, when we are committed to Torah observance and Jewish unity, we can pray all together or in our own communities and remain one people.
One example is that often one’s passion about Judaism is because they happen to have been born that way but that leads to an important discussion asked of Rabbi Moss and here is his response:
The questioner assumes that I am Jewish by accident. That is false. There is no such thing. The very premise makes no sense.
The postulation “what if I would be born someone else” is as absurd as asking what if a tomato was actually a carrot, or an apple was a Samsung. I am what I am and I can be no one else. My family, my birthplace, my heritage – this is me.
My soul was chosen to be born into a Jewish family. This means that I am the product of thousands of years of Jewishness. I may question it. But it is who I am.
Sometimes a question is a question. And sometimes a question is a cop out. Asking “what if I were someone else?” is an example of the latter.
But even that probably comes from my Jewishness. Questioning our beliefs is an age old Jewish practice we inherited from our forebears. You are born Jewish and you are born questioning. And with all the questions and all the challenges over all the generations, Judaism is still standing strong.
You and I, and all Jews of today, are living testament to the eternity of Judaism. Just by you being you, and me being me.
Rabbi Moss and Rabbi Mendel Bluming
Here’s a thought:
Call him for help.
When you visit him, put aside the illness as if it didn’t exist for a moment, and ask him for some advice. Think of his region of expertise and talent and tell him you need his assistance.
He is an actor and you are a drama teacher. Ask him how he would approach a difficult scene or how to present a particular character. This will be more than just telling him “you matter and you are needed”, it will be actually making him needed.
Now obviously we are involved here with some serious health issues. They will not go away with a few minutes of conversation. It might not work at all. He may not even be receptive to being asked, or perhaps he is incapable of responding. But if you have even a slight chance of getting through to him, it is well worth the effort. It might give him a short while where he is not being absorbed in his own issues. If he can put his thoughts on someone else for even a short time, that may serve as a little gasp of air, and he may be lifted, if even momentarily, above his darkness.
There are times when the trap of depression or illness is the self-absorption it brings. The best antidote for that is serving others. Help him with a chance to do that. If nothing else, you will have expressed to him that whatever he is going through, he can still contribute to the world, and he is valued enough to be asked. That may be just what he needs to hear.
May he/she get well soon!
Rabbi Mendel Bluming, Maryland and Rabbi Moss, Australia
Rabbi Mendel Bluming serves the community as the Rabbis of the Chabad Shul of Potomac and is often challenged with this question.
Here’s a thought created on Jewish philosophy:
Good is only good for G-d chose it to be. G-d is not chained by anything, and could have chosen otherwise. He could have written “Thou shalt steal,” and “Do not help the poor and needy.” Helping our elders across the street would be the wrong thing to do, but mugging them would be desired.
Now you may say, anyone with a healthy conscience knows that to steal is morally repugnant and helping the needy is a righteous and upright deed. But our conscience is created by G-d also. If morality would be inverted, we would be wired in that direction. Luckily for all those old ladies trying to cross the street in the world, G-d chose the other way around.
Does this mean good isn’t truly good? Is morality nothing more than a whimsical imagination? Not at all. Only humans are impulsive and arbitrary. G-d is absolute. Good is absolutely as reality not because it feels good to me but because the Absolute One made it so. Morality is defined by the infinite model of G-d, not the finite nature of human feelings.
The real quandary is this: without G-d, how can anything be good or evil? Who becomes the decision maker? That’s a really good question
Rabbi Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
There is a known theory that we can gather all we need to know about a person in the first few seconds of greeting them. It is a great theory. There is only one problem with it. It is just a theory 🙂
A person is bigger than meets the eye. We are complicated. We have thoughts and feelings, memories and desires, quirks and foibles. We all have a story and we all have a soul. You can’t notice all this at first glance.
How many times have you been impressed by someone’s at first, only to be disappointed later? And vice versa, how many people have you been pleasantly surprised by after getting to know them better? Even looks are deceiving. A person who you don’t find attractive at first can grow on you as their full picture unravels.
I am sure you would support me in saying that no one can know what you are all about by meeting you once. So give the same treatment to others. Don’t always trust your instincts. They can certainly lead you astray.
Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
A convert can marry a king. A convert can marry a prophet. A convert can even marry a rabbi, the highest echelon of Jewish society (if you ask me :). So it makes no sense to say that a convert can’t marry a cohen because they are second class citizens. There must be some other reason.
Here’s a thought for your consideration:
When the Torah forbids a marriage, it is never because one party is not good enough for the other. It is because both parties are not matched to each other. They are simply not soulmates. In the case of the cohen and the convert, their soul dynamics clash, their spiritual energies contradict, and so they can’t marry.
The holiness of a cohen is hereditary. If your father is a cohen, then you are a cohen. Priesthood is a birthright that is not achieved through a person’s effort nor deserved through a person’s righteousness. It is an honor that is bestowed at birth.
The holiness of a convert is the exact opposite. It is completely earned. The convert was not born Jewish. They chose it. They achieve Jewishness of their own initiative and with their own hard work. They are self-made souls.
So these two souls, the cohen and the convert, are moving in opposite ways. The cohen receives their power from above. The convert creates their own soul energy from below. The cohen has the ability to bring down blessings to others, just as their soul was given to them as a blessing. The convert has the power of innovation, of initiative, of creating holiness from the ground up. They are going different directions. For this reason their souls are not a match.
Both the cohen and the convert have awesome holiness. It is a great privilege to be gifted with the soul of a cohen. And yet, the self-made soul of a convert has a depth of experience that inherited holiness cannot compete with. Neither are second class souls.
The cohen is crowned with a legacy from past generations. A convert creates their own legacy for future generations. The Jewish people is richer for both of them.
Rabbi Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss
Rabbi Mendel Bluming leads the Chabad Shul of Potomac and opens the door to even the youngest children to come and hear the 10 commandments being read on the upcoming Shavuot holiday.
The Medrash teaches, that at the time when G-d gave us the Torah He decided to do so on Mount Sinai rather than on a taller mountain in order to teach humility, a core value of Judaism. Well then, why wasn’t the Torah given in a valley?
The Rebbe teaches that at the same time that humility is very important it must not negate pride. Pride in Jewish observance and in being a Jew.
Join Menachem Mendel Bluming or wherever you may be and make sure to be there when the 10 commandments are read out loud and stand proud to humbly receive the Torah this Shavuot. Chag sameach!
Do you struggle with time? Do you feel like you don’t have enough time and years fly by? Jewish holidays never seem to come on time 🙂
Time torments everyone.
Torah empowers us to transform time. How? Repentance makes amendments to our past, Shabbat transforms time into a holy time, Yom Tov too etc
Make time an ally!
Menachem Mendel Bluming
I know a kabbalist who could help. His name is Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. He lived just under two thousand years ago, but his light still shines today.
In his esoteric masterpiece, called the Zohar, he has an understanding and if you internalize it, it may bring you the energy you need. He writes:
During the Friday night prayers, as Shabbos enters, the energy of the world goes higher into the supernal realm, and all negativity and harshness is cut away. All winds of anger and opposition flee and disappear. No foreign power reigns, the world is covered in a divine light, which shines on the holy people on earth, who are crowned with fresh souls.
Rabbi Shimon is describing the spiritual shift that happens as we welcome in the Shabbos. We are not just desisting from our daily jobs, we are lifting ourselves to a higher plane, a place where there is only kindness and light and holiness, where our soul is free from the torments of the mundane lives, and when we are given a fresh burst of soul energy.
The Friday night prayers are the start of this journey. The songs and prayers transport us to this inner space of deep happiness. We actually quote the above passage in the prayers. If you close your eyes and let yourself be uplifted by the moment, you may actually feel yourself being elevated to this peaceful place.
There are no magical answers. Continue your therapy, and also do the spiritual therapy of Shabbos. Both will require work. But you can get there. You are one of those holy people who can be crowned with a fresh soul, every Shabbos.
Menachem Mendel Bluming, Rabbi Moss based on Zohar II 135b, Kegavna from Siddur Friday night service
We all have free choice. We can marry Mr Wrong, or divorce Mr Right. We have to take accountability for choosing a partner, even if things didn’t work out.
However, when a marriage ends in divorce, it’s not to say that it was not supposed to be in the first place. Together with the belief in free choice, we also believe that whatever happened in the past was supposed to happen. And so you wed the person you were destined to marry. It was meant to be. And in retrospect it was destined to end.
This is the paradox of faith: What I am about to do is my freedom. Once I have done it, it was meant to happen. I am responsible for my actions. I made the bed, and I am required to sleep in it. But now that I did, I couldn’t have slept anywhere else.
As painful as the experience may have been, your divorce was integral to your soul’s mission. We can only guess why.
It is possible that the ill-fated marriage was a rectification for something in a past life. It could be you have a soulmate from your former incarnation that you didn’t marry the first time around, as well as a soulmate from your current incarnation, and so you have to wed both.
Perhaps you were required to bring a child into the world who otherwise would not have been created.
Or perhaps it was a necessary step in your journey of learning, bringing you closer to your true self, and your real soulmate.
We don’t take it lightly when divorce happens. It is a tragic last resort when all other attempts to mend a toxic marriage have failed. And sometimes it isn’t in your hands. But if it has happened, you have to trust that this is your soul’s direction. May G-d give you the strength and wisdom to navigate the next step on that path…
Menachem Mendel Bluming and Rabbi Moss