Monday, October 27, 2008

Is "Don't Kill" common sense?

In this past week's torah portion (Genesis) Cain decides to kill his brother Abel and is duly punished by God. There have been some bloggers that have suggested that without the torah we would turn to a life of murder, robbery, debauchery etc. These people claim that we need the torah to help us act as a just society.

So if that is the case, why was Cain punished by God? The torah was yet to be given, so he didn't break any rules. According to this line of thought, he was just acting on a natural uinstinct that God just imbued in him.

I think it is sad that the obvious answer, that common sense is what tells you killing is wrong, is unfortunately not so obvious to some. I am not saying that the torah has not helped improve morals, but to say that we would have none without it just seems ludicrous.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trying (and failing) to find purpose in Prayer

Several weeks ago, I spent some time with friends of mine who happen to be a Rabbi & Rebbetzin. I was talking to them about my general lack of interest in orthodox judaism and how i have a hard time believing in some of the tenants. In any case, the conversation turned to davening (praying) and I said that I just have a hard time really caring about davening. I rarely go to shul during the week and generally go on shabbat, but more for social reasons than anything else.

About a month ago, I saw them again and the Rebbetzin lent me a book called Praying with Fire. It has 80-something 5-minute lessons that are meant to be read one at a time on a daily basis. She had heard good things about the book and thought it might help. I started to read it and have used it to really think about davening in general, the specific lessons for the day, and the words of the prayer i was saying at that specific time.

All this focussed thinking about prayer has led me to believe that prayer is virtually worthless. I don't believe in the power of prayer to change our lot with a higher power. I don't believe that prayer for someone helps them get better.

I have also come to realize, that like the belief in God which can't be proven with absolute certainty in either direction, people have a belief that prayer works. And what happens when the prayers are not answered? Well then, God just said no. So there is really no way to determine with any certainty that prayers do (or do not) work.

This is why I say prayer is "virtually" worthless. If prayer can help someone reflect and think about their life and where they can improve perhaps they will go beyond the prayer and put it into action. Along the same lines, I also think that it shows a caring side of someone when they pray for a sick person.

One side note about the book . . . If you are generally into prayer and just need that extra push or focus, then i would actually recommend this book.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Shofar & a break in the mesorah

One of the main parts of our Rosh Hashana service is the blowing of the shofar. I had always been taught in school that we are really only halachically required to blow a set of tekia-teruah-tekia blasts. However, in our times since we do not know the true sound of the tekia, we cover our bases and blow it in several possibilities. therefore, we have sets of tekiah-teruah-tekia, tekiah-shvarim-tekia, and tekiah-teruah + shevarim -tekia (for those not familiar with these terms, i have defined them below). After these, we blow additional ones just to round out the service.

This doesn't really jive with the concept of an unbroken chain from the time God gave the torah at Har Sinai to the Jews until our present day, which is something that is en essential belief in Orthodox Judaism. For if the chain was trully unbroken, we wouldn't have an issue of forgetting the right sound. This of course leads me to wonder what other things may have been forgotten and we are doing completely wrong.

Shofar sound primer:
teruah - one long shofar blast of approximately 5-6 seconds
shevarim - 3 medium blasts
teruah - 10+ very short blasts
shevarim-teruah - 3 medium blasts folowed by 10+ very short ones.