In this weeks ‘ask the rabbi’, Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet deals with new year’s resolutions, going to shul on Yom Kippur and the rise in anti-Semitism. 

Rabbi Schochet

Rabbi Schochet

 

If you want to contribute a question to ‘ask the rabbi’, you can email asktherabbi@thejngroup.com.

  • What should my goals be?

Dear Rabbi,

For several years now, I have been turning to you for a good New Year’s resolution. I can’t say I always manage to follow them through, but I take a good crack at it. So here I am again. Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.

Kalman

Dear Kalman,

The question is, did you make good on last year’s resolutions? If not, then you need to revisit those first. Let’s face it, many of us will have lived enough years to know that our noblest dreams have a persistent habit of falling by the wayside.

Sometimes it would seem the loftier our aspirations are, and the more firmly we resolve to approach them, the more quickly it seems we lose our way. And the more clearly we gain a sense of our presumed limitations: our lack of strength, our lack of discipline, our lack of motivation. It can easily feel as if we are worse off than before we charted the ambitious course for self-improvement. So, start by re-examining where you have progressed in the past year and where you may have stagnated. Work on the latter and determine if there is more room for improvement in the former. If you get that right, you will dispel any sense of despondency and won’t feel the constant need for someone else to point out to you what you should be doing in your own life.

  • Do Go to shul on Yom Kippur

Dear Rabbi,

Is there any point in coming to synagogue on Yom Kippur if I don’t keep anything all year round and will be going back to old routines the day after?

Kelly

Dear Kelly,

A census was done on a university campus many years ago where it was determined that a mere two percent of non-practising Christian students will still attend their churches or what not during their particular holidays. An overwhelming 82 percent of non-practising Jewish students will be found in their synagogues on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

If you go over to one of those young Jews sitting in synagogue on Yom Kippur morning and ask him: “Do you believe?” he will likely respond with something like: “Don’t confuse me with such questions. Take it up with my rabbi.” If you then ask him: “Do you observe?” he’ll likely look at you and say something like: “Are you kidding me? You should have seen what I had for breakfast this morning.” If you then ask him: “So why are you here?” he will invariably answer: “Because God wants me to be here, that’s why!” Is that hypocrisy? You’d think so, but the reality isn’t so.

It is what we might call the insanity of Judaism; subjective opinions to an objective truth. A Jew is a Jew even if he does not observe and God is God even if I don’t believe. So, go to Synagogue and do what you have to do. You never know how you might wake up the next morning. Wishing you an easy, inspirational and objective fast.

  • The Flipside to Anti-semitism?

Dear Rabbi,

With the rise in anti-Semitism around the world, I feel more passionate about my Jewishness. Would that then be a strangely positive upside to anti-Semitism? Would that be perhaps why it happens, so we all strengthen ourselves? Manfred

Dear Manfred,

They tell of a man just waking up after a lengthy surgery, his wife sitting by his side. He opened his eyes, looked lovingly at his wife and said: “Honey, you’re beautiful. I love you.” Then he fell asleep again. His wife was so touched. Fifty-two years of marriage – she couldn’t remember the last time he said something like that so she decides to stay by his bedside a little longer.

A few minutes later the man’s eyes opened again. He looked at his wife and said: “Honey, you’re cute.” She’s offended. “What happened to beautiful and I love you?” she asked. The husband looked at her and said: “The drugs are wearing off.” Being a Jew is not some spiritual or emotional high that can wear off. It’s not some wave we ride that goes out with the tide of our lives when we so determine. It’s innate. It’s a part of who you are. It’s your spiritual DNA. Even those who don’t want to believe cannot help but acknowledge it. So it is not something you should be feeling only in times of crisis. 

When I was in Israel, leading a Birthright group right at the onset of the Lebanon war several years ago, we were confined to the south of the Land. I was in this taxi in Eilat when the driver turned to me: “Nasralla is doing a mitzvah!” I looked at him and asked: “Why on earth would you consider the head of Hezbollah as doing a mitzvah?” To which he explained: “Because of his war we are all united together!” Isn’t that where our problem really lies? It takes the Nasrallas and Hamas and whichever other enemy to snap us back into some kind of reality check.

Why do we put aside our differences and look to unite only when Israel or Jews are under threat? That you are feeling more strongly connected now is a good thing. But it shouldn’t take anti-Semitism to trigger it. Let’s hope you and everyone else can maintain it, even as, please God, the hatred dies down. Always be proud of who you are and what you represent.