Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Let Me Introduce You to...

Hi, my name is Josh. Many of you may remember me from such blogs as "Why Josh Can't be Left Alone." It was this blog where I used to post frequently about my views on Jewish topics - and other rediculous things.

The good news is I am now settled (a bit) in New Jersey. Or at least almost as much as one can be in NJ. I have a bed, a place to park my car most nights, and a 15 minute commute. There are plenty of Minyanim nearby, a couple of restaurants, and I can head to NYC without calling a travel agent. And I got rid of my laptop.

So things have been treating me well, and I've had opportunities to reconeccet with a lot of old friends. But did I mention that I ditched the laptop? So, yeah, I guess my blogging schedule hasn't really been settled out yet. I still read at work, but unless I change my "No Blogging from Work" rule, I guess I'm going to be less frequent.

So more good news (possibly correlated). I may have a life. I've found that there are many things you can do without a laptop (such as speak to live people!). Maybe I'll renew my interest in a personal computer in the future, but somehow, right before Rosh Hashana, I decided to go commando. Not like that, sicko. Computerless. No internet. Like Lakewood. Except that this is a personal decision, and not necessarily something I think everyone needs to do. But I think it'll be good for my religious growth, for now.

And on more good news, I'm a Shadchan! I set up a couple (a girl I dated and a friend of mine) and now they're on Onlysimchas! So crazy, right? Simchas!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ben-Torah Mobile

I drive an Acura.

I admit it, but I'm not proud of it. Truthfully, I've only had it for 2 weeks, since I moved to New Jersey, but I miss my Altima.

Now don't get me wrong, I like all of the whistles and bells that came with this car, and I appreciate all of the fine craftsmanship that went into making it. But it just isn't me. I just don't feel like it matches who I am.

I am an adherent of the philosophy that every decision in life, from life altering to minute, has a Torah approach. Even after Halacha is taken into consideration, Judaism must influence how we approach every choice we face. Unlike halacha, there is no one right way, but if we think that Judaism is a way of life, then it has something to say about how we live our lives between prayers. There is no standard, defined way (in most communities, at least), but that isn't to say that we aren't each responsible for assessing what decision will lead us down the path of growth. This applies to where we live, how we act, what we wear, and, yes, even what we drive.

And something rubs me wrong with the Acura. Does Judaism really encourage the one-upmanship of American consumerism? Does a brand name, fast car, or slick interior make us a better person? Could my money be spent better elsewhere and could I drive around in a more low-key and equally qualitative set of wheels?

Sure, I try to drive like I don't own the road and obey driving norms. Sure, I use my car to get to shul, do chessed, and contribute to society. But I could probably do it in a more modest way.

What would Moshe Rabbeinu do?

No, my car is not for sale. But you're more than welcome to pay for my premium fuel.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Give and Get?

Giving is good. It certainly is a Jewish value that we would all do well to eschew. It is certainly a social value that is simply a good idea. But is there a limit?

Giving can be altruistic, but altruism has its limits. If it didn't, we'd all be communists. So as great as it can be to give for the sake of giving, at some point, realistically, we're going to stop unless we're getting something in return.

So in order to expand giving in the world, should we insist on making every transaction mutually beneficial? For example, I don't mind lending out my car. But there is an inconvenience in doing so. If I get nothing in return, maybe I'll stop lending it out, not because I'm losing so much, but simply because the laziness overcomes the goodness.

And the same is true of all favors. We all have our tipping point between selfless and selfish. We want to do for others, just as we'd want done for ourselves.

And when there is a loss associated with the favor, things can be more delicate. Most of us don't think twice about going over to somebody for a meal. But those meals are expensive. Do we help out? Do we contribute a dish? Do we get the host a gift? A gift is not just a flashy show of gratitude, but also a way of returning the favor. By equalling the balance, we assure that there is enough incentive to keep the flow of goodness moving.

But it's a delicate issue, and one that is hard to broach, if you prefer a generous reputation to a cheap one.

It's like when you are talking to a Shadchan, and you didn't find a girl attractive. You feel really terrible and superficial saying that the girl wasn't pretty enough, so you tiptoe around the issue. I don't want to seem cheap, but there isn't a tactful way of saying that we need to have respect for the financial burden we put on each other. So be a mensch, and pitch in for what you use.

Just because people in NYC treat all property like dirt doesn't mean you can treat other's casually. At least not unless you want to see the favors slow.

******This post is in no way related to anyone or any incident that actually has happened to me. It relates specifically to theoretical ideas and my friends' stories. Nobody who borrowed my car this weekend or any other time should feel that I am criticizing them. It is just a theoretical question of how far I am willing to extend myself for the sake of others. Hopefully it'll continue indefinitely. Because I certainly don't ever want to stop giving.******

Thursday, August 10, 2006

...It means inviting guests

Hospitality has many levels. There's the family that has me and two other permanent non-related residents staying here. And there are the guys having me for Shabbos. But what we don't always realize is how difficult the simple act of being hospitable can be. Aside from the costs and time, it can add a lot of stress, a whole additional head to worry about.

We all appreciate being on the receiving end, but how many of us are ready to give? We're quick to promise to return the favor, but when it comes time, how many of us make the call, reach out and give an invite? Do people feel like they're mooching off of us or bothering us, or do they have to fight off our constant invitations?

Being completely on the receiving end right now, I am acutely aware of how challenging it is to take care of a stranger. But I can also attest to how much of a difference it can make to another person to know somebody is anticpating and fullfilling your needs.

As much as Judaism preaches the importance of looking out for others, is our community as outward to each other as it could be? Do the ghetto walls we build up end up blockading our hearts from each other?

Hospitality means more than hanging out with friends. It means looking for people that you can befriend.

So please, invite me for Shabbos, and I'll return the favor!

Monday, August 07, 2006


It all happened so fast. I threw all my belongings in a car and raced cross country. It didn't hit me until I woke up this morning that I didn't know where I was. I'm not just travelling for the weekend. I won't be coming home to my mom's cooking later this week. I don't know what I'm eating for lunch tomorrow. I don't know what to do at a full-serve gas station. I don't know why everyone keeps honking at me. Is there something I'm missing?

Every thing has gone so smoothly with my move. So why do I suddenly feel a storm brewing around me? There is nothing threatening, no looming challenges. I have a car (two!), know how to drive to work (10 minutes!), and even though the maid service is still up in the air, have a warm home to come home to every day.

But there is still so much unease. So many unknowns that seem just around the corner. And I seem alone. Everyone else continues their lives as they did yesterday, while I start anew. Like a rushing river swirling around a downed tree, a feel pinched in place, frantically grasping for familiar territory to lift myself to safer ground as the water rises ever higher.

I'll be fine. I just need to settle in, see that I can put all the pieces together. Hopefully, in my quest to make the adjustment to my new home easy, I won't forget all the great people that I came to be nearer too, even as I find myself farthest from the people I was closest to.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

What's wrong with this picture - Today my parents left for Israel, and I moved to New Jersey.


Have I told you all how great Blog Blond and her family and her friends are? They know the true meaning of Shabbos. And it isn't sleeping.


Man writes, Gd laughs. I just spent 11 hours with a Meshulach. Don't ask.


I'm tired. I have to be at my new office tomorrow.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where are We?

So much of Tisha B'Av focuses on tragedy and failure, pain and suffering, sin and betrayal. But when I looked around today, I saw just the opposite. I don't live in the most devout neighborhood. In fact, it is one of those Modern Orthodox nieghborhoods that is usually at the butt of many frum jokes. But I was impressed today. I davened at three different shuls, and all three places were packed and the mood was appropriately somber. It seemed as though a high amount of people had taken the day off, and, more importantly, were putting it to spiritual purposes. Not quite what you'd expect from the "modern" world - not just kvetching about not eating while catching up on some chores.

But my point isn't just to rehash stereotypes. As we read about how far the Jewish people have fallen in history, things seem hopeless. But looking around, I see such a spiritual renassaince that I feel that Gd must be on the verge of accepting our communal repentance.

In fact, this is not just an observation you might make on Tisha B'Av. Many people note our generations' unmatched levels of Torah learning and return to observance. You'd think the Messiah must be just around the corner.

But as you read through the Kinnos of Tisha B'Av, you can't help but be reminded of all of the immorality and infidelity that continues in all types of Jewish communities.

So are we at the lowest rung, and about to force the Messiah out of desperation? Or are we just one rung short of proving our devotion to Gd and earning our redemption? Is part of our generation perfect, held back only by a committed core of evildoers? Or does every one of our hearts spend part of the day on Gd's team, even as the other half plots its own coup?

What is Gd waiting for?


As I observed such an inspiring community around me today, I couldn't help but wonder why it is that we can't come together even once during the year in prayer. There are 7 orthodox services in my neighborhood, separated by many things, including geography. But as we mourn the divisions that caused the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, why not take this opportunity to unite our prayers? For one day a year, could we not put aside our differences, realizing that Gd wants our unified prayers more than He cares about whether they are too fast or too slow?

With so many people already making Tisha B'Av one of the few weekday appearances at synagogue, it is the perfect day to prove that we have overcome the differences that created the mournful day. Just Tisha B'Av night, to hold one service for the entire community. I think the message that every particpant would get would be much stronger than any affiliation with a certain rabbi. The service is all the same, and so is the goal. I'm curious if there are any communities out there that do find opportunities to unite (in regular prayer, not picnics or Tehillim).

Dropping our differences to beseech Gd's mercy - I could think of no greater appeal to turn Gd's tears into the speedy rebuilding of His dwelling place amongst the Jewish people and the entire world in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Where are You?

Just a quick thought between my hard-boiled egg and the reading of Lamentations.

Tisha B'Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, and many people aptly use it as a day of reflection to assess where they are spiritually, where the Jewish people are as one group, where the world is as a body. Many will point to current events, and others will explore various communal faults, all as they can be related to the somber tone of the day.

But some will forget that at the heart of everything, today is not about repentance. It is a day of mourning. For all the travesties of history that we recall today, there is really only one that represents the tragedy of Tisha B'Av. On this day, Gd was forced to abandon his House in the world, allowing the Temple in Jerusalem to be burnt for His sake. Today we mourn - the same as if a close relative died - because part of the divine presence left on this day.

As we look for ways to make the day relevant to our lives, let's not forget that at its heart, it is the tear of this spiritual separation that leaves us sitting on the ground of the synagogue floor in prayer.

It is this spiritual rending that we have to yearn to repair. For all of the symptoms, we have to treat the cause.

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