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Category Archives: feelings

Put It Aside

I started a new job recently. A new exciting job. One that I openly told everyone was my “dream job”. I get to do all the things that I like to do, working with people who are enthusiastic and talented.

Like any new job, there was a lot to learn. So I found myself printing out some of the juicier bits so I could look things over when I was away from a computer. By which I mean Shabbat.

But as I looked at the pile, and imagined how it would help me get ahead. I also imagined the temptation to take notes, to highlight passages, to flesh out ideas.

Which is when a thought occurred to me: “If you put it aside, your commitment will be repaid.”

There’s a well-traveled idea that any money one spends for Shabbat will come back doubled. I believe the same goes for time. If we “spend” our time on Shabbat, focusing on the day and actively choosing not to focus on items from the week, that time will be repaid to us twice over. Maybe it will come in the form of inspiration, or insight, or efficiency.

Or serendipity. I logged in after Shabbat, and found an email waiting for me:

“You know those worksheets I sent you? Don’t worry about them. We scrapped that idea and we’re moving on to something else. I’ll talk to you more about it Monday.”


What if I Try Harder?

There’s an old saying that makes the rounds in karate classes, about a student who is eager to learn. “It will take you 2 years to learn this technique”, the teacher tells the student.

“What if I work twice as hard?” the student asks earnestly. “Then it will take you 5 years.” the teacher responds.

Confused, the student asks “What if I work day and night on it?”. “Then you will never learn it at all.” comes the reply.

Hebrew has been like that for me.

Now I’ll be the first one to admit that I have NOT been working day and night on it. But the harder I work at it, the slower it has gone. This frustrates me because I’m usually good with languages. Every language is different, and Hebrew has A LOT going on that you don’t find in French or Spanish. But it can be a real confidence-shaker to suddenly be bad at something one usually counts as a strength.

Recently, I came to a kind of peace about this. Maybe God didn’t want it to come easy. Maybe I needed to experience how the other half lived. Maybe my time for being good with languages is done. Or maybe Hebrew just isn’t my game. Whatever the reason, the situation wasn’t going to change just because I fretted about it.

And for now, even if I’m not reading Hebrew better, I feel better about myself while I’m reading Hebrew. And maybe that’s a start.

Swimming in the Kitchen

“A father is obligated to do the following for his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him if he is a first-born, to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a trade. Others say: teaching him how to swim as well.” Talmud (Kiddushin 29a)

Once upon a time not so very long ago, those obligations were very real and true in the most literal sense. A parent had to ensure that their child was known in the community, had a certain level of education, learned a trade, found a spouse. That much of the Talmud’s quote makes intuitive sense.

But what about swimming? I’ve heard some people teach that this was a Talmudic shorthand for a parent’s responsibility to teach a child how to protect themselves from dangerous natural forces – more than protect, to have the skills to turn a dangerous situation (drowning) into a positive activity (swimming). In the same category would be teaching a child how to handle animals, how to read the lay of the land to know where to plant or build and how to navigate through terrain to get to their destination safely.

Today, everything this quote from Talmud teaches is still true, although sometimes in a more distilled form. We still welcome our children – boys and girls – into the community and ensure their identity is known. We still work hard to ensure they have the proper level of education. When we are lucky and skillful, we are able to help them grow into people who can create an honest, open and loving relationship with another person; when we aren’t lucky or skillful, they still seem to manage it OK, although with far more bruises than we’d like to see.

We help them see their own natural inclinations and skills and guide them to leverage those skills into a meaningful career.

But again, I’m left with “swimming”. How, in this modern-day, does the injunction for me to teach my children to swim fit in?

Of course there’s summer camp and swimming lessons – the p’shat (plain text) sense of the reading. But there’s got to be more.

I submit to you that in today’s world, the equivalent of “swimming” is “cooking”.

If, in its original form, “swimming” was representative of natural danger, then we need to teach our children to handle themselves in the kitchen to avoid the inherent dangers that food presents: eating too much, eating too little, eating the wrong things. As they move into adulthood, we want them to know that (despite what Bill Cosby says) chocolate cake is not a good breakfast choice. We want them to know that traditional cooking techniques do not include “Swanson” and “Lean Cuisine”.

More than that, we want to teach them to respect and honor the things God provides. We want them to know that they can elevate the fruit of the earth and the trees into something that is both fulfilling and joyful. You can’t do that when it comes from a box in the freezer section.

Keeping kosher adds yet another flavor to the Talmud injunction. As parents we need to teach our children how to feed themselves while maintaining the mitzvah of kashrut, even when their shopping cart contents don’t come with OU stickers.

As I write this, my family and I have been keeping kosher for about a year and a half. It’s been an incredible journey where we’ve learned a lot. But one of the unanticipated results is that all four of my kids are much more involved in preparing our food. I’m not talking about “stir this while Mommy reads the recipe”. I’m saying the 8-year-old takes things from raw ingredients to a prepared dish on the table with little supervision. My older two kids work part-time at a kosher bakery.There is an awareness of (not fixation on, but a healthy respect for) food.

I don’t think that would have happened had we not started down this path.

On Friday afternoon, as everyone is bustling around the kitchen, preparing the best they have to offer in an attempt to clothe the Shabbat table as beautifully as they will clothe themselves for synagogue, it does look a bit like synchronized swimming.

Of course, the idea of swimming – of avoiding life’s dangers – goes beyond cooking. Knowing how to manage one’s time or money both could count as swimming, as do a host of other skills some of us take for granted while others struggle with (and suffer from the lack thereof) their entire life.

So consider, for just a moment, whether you are honoring the Talmudic tradition – are you teaching the children (and by extension the adults) around you to swim? Are you yourself drowning? What can you do to rectify that?

Here There Be Dragons

Let me lay this out up front: If you are keeping Kosher and you are sticking to a diet program (WeightWatchers, for example) and you are on the road away from home, you may as well eat your carry-on bag and snack on luggage tags.

I might be exaggerating (it’s been known to happen), but not by much.

For the last year, my job has included travel. Not long distances nor for weeks on end, mind you. But far enough and long enough that I can’t come home each night. Which means I have to work out the whole “food on the road” thing.

My wife and I have been following WeightWatchers for the last 4 years. It’s been very successful for us, mostly because my wife is a genius both in the kitchen and out, and can calculate all those “points” things for both herself and me on the fly. Then we started keeping Kosher a year ago, and that turned up the difficulty a little. Everything was still reasonably do-able though.

Then I got laid off from my previous job, and landed a consulting position for a company 500 miles away. The money was too good to pass up, and they were willing to let me telecommute SOME of the time. For one week a month, however, I travel to the home office, stay in their company-owned housing, and get in the requisite “face time”.

I’m not complaining. Given this economy I know I’ve got a sweet deal. But the food situation is a real thorn in my side.

Where I happen to be, there are (apparently NO Jews). How do I know this? I called the local Chabad (LINK) to ask what time their morning services started. They never called back. You know it has to be sparse if the CHABAD – of whom it is said (only half-jokingly) that we know there isn’t life on Mars because if there were, they (the Chabad) would already have presence there. And when I asked about kosher food, I was told they go out once a week, driving an hour one way, to pick up kosher food and bring it back. They would pick me up some stuff if I gave them a list.

That’s ok. The local supermarket carries kosher-labeled products. That, plus some paper plates, plasticware, and foil pans and I’m all set.

Except for the fact that I don’t cook very well (read: the only people who eat my cooking are me and… well, it’s pretty much just me).

Then there’s the business meetings. Regardless of how open I am about at work about my Judaism, with the absolute absence of kosher restaurants I have limited options when it comes to face to face discussions over food.

I find myself trying to do my best, but eating poorly the entire week. I arrive home with either my scale or my conscience (or both!) shining a light on my faux pas.

So this is an open-ended blog post. If there are any road warriors out there with kosher clues, I’m all ears and empty stomach.

What this is all about, part 3: Kosher

I have waited a while (9 months, actually) before posting the last of this series (you can find part 1 here, and part 2 here). I waited because I didn’t think I would be able to speak about why I wanted to try the mitzvah (commandment) of keeping kosher right out of the gate. At the start of this experience, everything was too new, too foreign.

Guess what? It’s still new. And some stuff is still foreign. But I do think I have a little perspective and experience to draw on. Read the rest of this entry

The Right to Swing My Posuk

…might end where your level of observance begins. Or it might just be a continuation.

I have been heartened – honestly, sincerely, truly delighted, by the responses to my post about observing Mitzvot. Why? Because more than one person has stated (either here or on the URJ Blog where it was reposted) that I was wrong when I said:

Of course, this analogy can only go so far on a single tank of metaphorical gas. Traffic laws are enforced by humans, and ultimately affect others in a very direct way. Kashrut is not “enforced” by anyone – you don’t get a treif ticket if you chow down on a shrimp egg roll. Nor is there any impact on the people around us for our own dietary observances, or lack thereof.Read the rest of this entry

A Little Kosher Whine

In planning our new (improved?) kosher home, we looked at everything that went into our mouths – from dairy to diet soda; meat to mints, chocolate to cheese. One area I hadn’t thought about until Rabbi SpiceRock brought it up was wines.

I’m happy to say that I’m not hung up with the thought that “kosher wine” is synonymous with “diabetes-inducing sweetness”. So the wine needs a hekshur. OK.

“Uh, no there’s something else”. The good Rabbi offered. “It’s called mevushal, which just means “cooked” in Hebrew and…”

“Hold the phone, Reb,” I cut in. “COOKED wine? Are we talking about mulled cider kind of cooked, or that I can only drink sherry and marsala or…”

“It means,” he said, taking control of the conversation before I got out of hand, “that the wine has been heated. It used to be up to boiling, but these days it just has to get up to 180 degrees. Basically it needs to be pasteurized.”

Read the rest of this entry