In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestled with an angel and emerged as Israel, “He who struggles.” In the 20th-21st century, Western Jews spend a great amount of energy wrestling with the world of tradition and the demands of the modern world. Few writers have portrayed this inner conflict of the American Jewish community as engagingly as Chaim Potok (1929-2002), a man who lived this struggle himself.
Alexander is certainly not the type of name one typically thinks of as a traditional Jewish name. It may surprise you to learn that the name originated as a way of honoring none other than Alexander the Great.
For those who suffer the loss of a close relative, Jewish tradition provides a distinctive mourning ritual, the most prominent aspect of which is shiva, the seven days of mourning. Mourners, however, only begin sitting shiva after their deceased family member has been buried. And while it is considered best if burial takes place as close to the time of death as possible, there are reasons for which burial might be delayed. In this interim time period between death and burial, mourners enter an in-between state known as aninut (the mourner is known as an onen).
When an important decision needs to be made, people often consider the consequences of their decisions taking into consideration, of course, the near future and the long term goals. Once the decision is made, however, it is almost always impossible to know the long term implications of even the simplest of choices.
Ever feel nervous just before the start of a trip? Ever have sleepless nights before boarding an airplane? Perhaps these hesitations connect back to a time when travel, whether by road or sea, was particularly perilous. Today, traveling is so common that we often think nothing of it, even if there are modern dangers.
There is an old joke among those who are familiar with the Mussar Movement: A new student comes to a Novardok yeshiva and during the first mussar session begins to cry, “I am a nothing! I am a nobody!” An older student whispers to a friend, “He’s here for one day and already he thinks he’s a nobody!” It’s a strange joke until one learns more about the Novardok brand of mussar.
Guarding Shabbat is a Biblical commandment that requires a fair bit of knowledge to perform correctly. The act of guarding Shabbat requires that a person refrain from all creative works (known as melachot) throughout the day of rest. To make it easier for Jews to preserve the sanctity of Shabbat, the rabbis enacted numerous laws, creating protective fences to prevent one from breaking a Torah law. The best known of these “fences” is muktzeh, the Talmudic term for an item that serves no purpose on Shabbat, and thus many not be used or moved on Shabbat.
The mitzvah of hachnassat orchim is so important that it is listed as one of only six mitzvot for which “a person eats the fruit in this world, while the principal remains for that person in the world to come” (Shabbat 127a).
Self-improvement trends come and go, but their continuing popularity underscores people’s general desire to better themselves. It is natural to want to be both liked and respected, and no insult is greater to most people than to be considered a boor.
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam) was a 12th century Jewish philosopher, codifier, commentator and physician. He is best known for his codification of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah), his philosophical writings (Moreh Nevuchim/Guide for the Perplexed) and his Thirteen Principles of Faith.