Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Ask Chaviva Anything: Shabbat Candles, Mitzvah #16, and More

Hey hey, it's time for another installment of Ask Chaviva Anything! Let's dig in.

Q: How do Jews participate in lighting candles on Friday evening when they have a son who plays high school football on Fridays?

If someone has a son playing football on Friday evenings, after sundown, on Shabbat, there is a pretty good chance they're not Torah observant (Orthodox if you want to go that route), so their observance of candle lighting will be in accordance to however they understand the law. Many families across the spectrum will light Shabbat candles, have some challah and wine and a nice dinner, and then go to the movies or sit down to binge on Netflix on Shabbat. 

Is this how I believe and feel that it should be done? Nope! Would I chastise someone who is going to take the step to light candles and then go to a football game? Nope! Is this how I want my children to observe Shabbat when they're older? Nope! But Jewish observance is fluid and people are on the ladder moving up and down and up and down. The ladder leads us all to HaShem, so as long as Jews are on the ladder, I think that's a darn good thing. 

Q: I am studying the 613 Mitzvot. #16 - what is the scroll of Torah that is to be written?

Good question here! So according to the Rambam's list of mitzvot, #16 is actually a mitzvah about character: "You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him" (Leviticus 19:17). The #16 you're citing comes from a different list, probably those listed out by the Chofetz Chaim.

In most lists, the writing of the Torah mitzvah is #82 I believe.

Either way, the scroll of Torah is exactly what it sounds like! It's the five books of Moses, the written Torah. 

Q: Do Jews light a 7 branch menorah in their homes and is there a special way to light it?

Nope, and nope. Now, if you're thinking about the chanukiyah that we light every Chanukah, then yes, we light an eight-branched chanukiyah, and there is a special way to light it. Read more here. 

Monday, April 1, 2019

Judaism and Sparking Joy

I might be late to the party, as is want to happen when you've got three kids and a full-time job, but I want to talk about the Marie Kondo "KonMari" movement and that whole "does it spark joy" mantra. I've watched quite a few friends KonMari'd their houses and lives, and I got to thinking about the concept of joy and what sparks joy in my life, not to mention the amount of excess junk floating around my house that leaves me feeling like I'm drowning most days.

You see, I moved around a lot as an adult. I was never particularly attached to things. The stuff I was most attached to were my words, and those went with me wherever I was because of the magic of the interwebs. I remember losing a hand-scribbled poem I feverishly wrote in the back of a poetry venue in college and freaking out until I could actually locate the flyer (yes, the poem was written on the back of a bright orange flyer for another event). Paper was my enemy, things were my enemy, words were my voice and my power.

So, as I moved from Nebraska to Washington D.C. to Chicago to Connecticut to New Jersey to Denver to Israel, I took very little with me from place to place. I had my clothes, some books, a bit of Judaica, and that was it. I didn't need much. I never needed much. Things were replaceable, and they were just things.

Then I met my husband. Although he didn't have much in the way of stuff, he had a lot of stuff. Does that make sense? I feel like over the past six years we've collectively amassed an immense amount of junk and despite taking a bag or two to Goodwill every other week or so, we still have so much stuff. Is it because we have kids? Is it because we're settled? Why do we have so much stuff?

I'm sitting in the basement of our little house (seriously, our backyard is the same square footage as our whole house), looking around the room, and although I love this couch, I could live without it. Same with the TV and most of the books and the lamps and the other random things laying around. The photos, of course, would stay with me, as would the memory books from my kids' schooldays. I want them to be able to look at them someday and decide how and when to dispense of them.

But if I ask myself, do these things spark joy? That's different than asking if I need or even if I want them, isn't it? And it's definitely different than asking if these things make me happy, right?

According to some definitions, happiness is fleeting, while joy is long-lasting and deeply embedded in the mind, body, and spirit. So, although a quick trip out of state alone without having to worry about crying babies in the middle of the night might make me happy, will it bring me joy?

In Hebrew, there are a number of words that are translated regularly as "joy," including:
  • simcha (שמחה‎): broadly used for happiness, but also for special happy occasions
  • osher (אושר‎): used for a deeper, more lasting happiness (also where we get our son's name Asher!)
  • gilah (גילה‎): often refers to an ecstatic outburst of joy
  • ditzah (דיצה‎): often translated as a sublime joy
  • sasson (ששון‎): a sudden or unexpected happiness
  • ... and many, many more
Simcha, in particular, is fascinating in the Torah, because it's never experienced alone. Simcha is joy that is shared. In this way, then, happiness is a larger concept while joy is what happens in the moment (contrary to the definition offered above). Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in a discussion of happiness and joy, quoted J.D. Salinger, who once said, "Happiness is a solid, joy is a liquid." And further, Rabbi Sacks says,
"Happiness is something you pursue. But joy is not. It discovers you. It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to Gd. It comes from a different realm of happiness. It is a social emotion. It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others. It is the redemption of solitude."
This idea really resonates with me. Rabbi Sacks says that Judaism is an ode to joy, because through all of the ups and downs, tragedies and successes, the Jewish people have always found a way to be joyful, to gather, and to rejoice. Joy is found in the now, in the acceptance and appreciation of this very moment, and it all happens in the pursuit of happiness, I suppose. 

So, in a way, the KonMari approach of asking "Does this spark joy?" makes sense in the moment. It makes you consider the very instance in which you're living. However, if joy discovers you and not the other way around, the method makes no sense. 

Looking at my life, and knowing that I don't live in a world based on things, it's easy for me to see what joy there is in my life. People who come and go, experiencing the unexpected, moments that I could never have possibly imagined, those are all of the things that bring me joy, because it's about connections, engaging with words and emotions. It's bigger than things and stuff, it's all about something greater, something larger, something more important. 

And then, of course, there's the whole issue that the KonMari method might be venturing into animism, which presents a whole other issue ... but I'll let Jew in the City tackle that heavy topic.