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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Authentic Religiosity: Reality or Dream?

By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo





Lessons from the lights


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | One of the great problems any religious person must struggle with is whether or not it is actually possible to be religious. What, after all, is the essence of genuine religiosity?

It is, no doubt, cognizance of the fact that one lives in the presence of the Divine and feels and acts accordingly. To do so, however, is nearly impossible. The theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel once made the profound observation: "Religion depends upon what man does with his ultimate embarrassment."

What lies at the root of all religions is the awareness that it is extremely hard to live up to the awesomeness of the moment. Our ultimate concern should be to grasp, emotionally and intellectually, that we are in the Divine's presence, and to experience this in the most elevated way.

But for the majority of us it is an impossible mission. How could man ever encounter the Divine otherness? It is the fundamental task of religion to guide us through this almost desperate situation. Paradoxically, admitting the near futility of this task and responding to it in a responsible way is what should make it a genuine religious experience.

How can one live in the Divine's presence and not feel inadequate? Live in the shadow of greatness and not sense it? Be part of the great miracle of existence and ignore it?


STIMULATION AND INSPIRATION

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We may sincerely convince ourselves that we are religious while in fact we are guilty of self-deception.

There's a notable discussion recorded in the Talmud (Shabbos 21a). It is between the great mishnaic schools of Shamai and Hillel. The question is posed whether it is better to light all eight candles of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah, or on the last one. The Academy of Shamai suggests that one should light all eight on the first day, subtracting a candle every subsequent day until only one is lit on the eighth day.

Hillel's opinion is that we should light only one candle on the first day and slowly build up to eight lights on the eighth day. What is this conflict all about?

We suggest that the disagreement between these two schools is rooted in the question of whether the religious personality should express his religious commitment through those acts when they honestly reflect where he stands at the present hour, or when they reflect where he would like to be in the future. Is our spirituality better served by making us act as if we are on a level of high spirituality while in fact we are not, or does it prefer that we express our religious feelings ba'asher hu sham, "there where he is" (Genesis 21:17), reflecting our often middle-of-the-road religious condition?

The Academy of Shamai's suggestion that one should light all eight candles on the first night is, for the most part, an honest expression of our feelings. We are more excited on the first day than we are on the last. For most of us, the notion of novelty is felt at the start, never at the end.

Hence, eight lights on the first day. But such excitement comes with a price. It does not endure. As with the intensity of the sexual act, which wears off after a moment when not accompanied by the binding of souls -- referred to in the Latin phrase Post coitum omne animal triste est, "After intercourse every animal is sad"-- so it is with all religious acts that, when experienced solely as novelty and excitement, lose their impact in the long run.

It is therefore logical that on the second day only seven lights be lit and on the last day only one. The excitement slowly dissipates. It is the Academy of Shamai's conviction that however superficial the quality of the deed may be, we should not put on a show and pretend that we are more than what we are. Such an approach is thoroughly honest but simultaneously lacks a dream and vision of what could be.

The Academy of Hillel, on the other hand, believes that if we do not inspire man with his potential and give him a taste of what could be, he will not even strive to achieve higher goals. As Robert Browning puts it in "Andrea del Sarto," Men and Women and Other Poems: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

According to the Academy of Hillel, we should start with only one light on the first day since it is only one step in the right direction. We need to warm up and slowly strengthen our souls till we reach the fullness of the festival on the last day. We start with one light since this reflects the condition of our soul at the beginning of Chanukah. It has to grow until it bursts with spiritual depth on the eighth day.

The lighting of the menorah should be a transforming act, one that can take place only when it is accompanied by an inner experience that touches the deepest dimensions of our souls, step by step. True, we may not feel this way, but we have to awaken and educate ourselves towards this goal. The last day should be the greatest day. We should act as if, so that one day we may reach this spiritual level. We taste the future in the present.

Novelty is often just a brand new form of mediocrity, while excellence is rooted in the old but revitalized on a higher plain. It is not the honest mediocrity of today that we need, but an exalted dream of tomorrow.

It is between these two positions that Judaism operates -- a balancing act, as in the case of a tightrope walker. It is a difficult position to be in. Most of the time, it requires a compromise. Sometimes Jewish law will opt for a realistic understanding of the here and now; other times it will choose the dream. It is not always clear why Halacha will decide a certain way in one case and a different way on another occasion.

What seems to move Judaism is the realistic understanding that one cannot have one's cake and eat it too. The Academy of Shamai will sometimes have to agree that there is a need to go for the dream, and the Academy of Hillel will on occasion have to go by the facts on the ground. Such differences are even found in the Torah, and among other sages and later authorities. Judaism cannot survive by opting for only one of these ideals. It would be suicidal.

Most interesting is the fact that there is one opinion in the Talmud (Yevamos 14a) that says the Academy of Shamai continued to follow its own view even after the Halacha was decided in accordance with Hillel.

This makes us wonder. Tradition tells us that ruling will only follow Shamai once the messianic times will have begun. There is, however, no source for this in the Talmud. Could it mean that exceptional souls might possibly follow the views of Shamai even today? No two souls are the same. It is this fact that makes religious life a far from easy task.

Should man be honest so as not to pretend, or should he pretend so that one day he will be honest, and true to his dream?

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is a world-renowned thinker, lecturer and ambassador for Judaism and the Jewish people. He is known for his original insights into how Judaism can rejuvenate itself, showing new ways to authentic religiosity. He is a sought-after lecturer on Judaism and Israel at numerous institutions of higher academic learning, including Jewish study programs at leading universities, religious academies and rabbinical colleges. Educated in Amsterdam, he received his rabbinical degree from Gateshead Talmudical College, studied at Yeshivat Mir in Jerusalem, and holds a doctorate in philosophy. Rabbi Cardozo is a distinguished member of the Portuguese and Spanish Jewish community and lives with his wife, children and grandchildren in Jerusalem.

© 2011, Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo