First, my rabbi, Rabbi Dalfin of Ohr Menachem Chabad of North Bay Village, made a comment on this week parasha (weekly Torah portion), Vayeira (Genesis 18:1-22:24), specifically on the moment when Abraham "argues" with God to save the city of Sodom if there are enough righteous people, starting with 50, then 45, 30, 20 and ending with 10; less than 10 is not enough to spare the city. This is one of those places in the Torah where we see clearly the value and importance of a minyan, the quorum of 10 adult Jewish men.
So the rabbi tells a story of the Alter Rebbe (the 1st Chabad-Lubavitcher Rebbe) of a time when he was travelling in Russia and lodged at an inn run by a Jewish man and his family for generations in a somewhat isolated area of the country. The Rebbe asked the man why did he live so far from a Jewish community, to which the man answered that his family had owned the inn for many years and this is how they made their living. The Rebbe asked the man what did he do for prayers, to pray with a minyan. The man answered that, except for the High Holy Days, when he would travel to the city, the rest of the year he would have no minyan to pray with; a few Jewish travelers here and there, but hardly ever a minyan. The Rebbe spoke to the man about the importance of praying with a minyan, and went to his room, only to be awakened some time later by the sounds of furniture being moved. The man had take the Rebbe's words to heart and decided to move to the city to be able to pray with a minyan. The Rebbe said later to his students that he had been moved by this man, who was not his student or one of his followers, but that had taken his words to heart so thoroughly. It's a great story, and it indeed points to the importance of praying with a minyan.
But there's another side to the story, a side-effect, if you will. Because of the Rebbe's words, this man closed his inn and moved, thereby removing the one small presence of Judaism that there was in this remote area of the country. While the man was there, a Jewish traveller could be assured to find a host sensitive to his special needs, assured to find kosher food in the middle of nowhere, assured to find a candle in the middle of the gentile darkness around. With the man moving away, that candle was extinguished, who knows if ever to be rekindled again. My rabbi took this as a great example to be followed, while I was bothered to no end by it. What if this man's mission was to be a roadside candle for travellers? What if the true difference he made in the world was by being a spark of Judaism where you wouldn't think of finding one? Yeah, it's important to pray with a minyan, but it is also important to bring light to the nations; that's our calling after all!
At its core, this bothered me because one of those "perhaps one day" dreams that I have is to move to Europe (the Dingle Peninsual in Ireland is at the top of my list), open a little B&B, and enjoy peace and quietness while having the wonders of Europe just outside my door. This would most likely mean being the only Jew around for miles, and not being able to pray with a minyan. But this would also mean that I'd be a little spark of Judaism in a place where you wouldn't exactly expect to find one. I'd be that opportunity for a Jewish traveller to find a kosher meal in western Ireland; to find that timers and pre-cooked food (perhaps even some cholent) come Shabbat; to find someone who understand when this traveller says he/she wishes they had some kugel or burekas; to help all the gentiles around get used to the idea of Jews being normal human beings, respectful and amiable, living with the laws of God while fully being a part of this world. In short, to be a Jewish beacon in the midst of a gentile ocean. God knows I wish I had found this when I was travelling in Ireland two years ago! How can we be a light unto the nations if we only keep to our all-Jewish communities?
The other weekend subject I was thinking about was Halloween. I think I'm over it. I used to like Halloween, a lot, but over the last few years that interest has dwindled and it has nothing to do with my conversion to Judaism; while Orthodox Judaism certainly does not endorse the celebration of Halloween (read more about it here), it is not as dire as, say, the position on celebrating Christmas (which is a big no-no). I just, I don't know, don't care anymore. Dressing up in costume is fun, but I don't really want to do it (not even for the Renaissance Faire lately, either). I'm not sure why, either, but I just don't. Though last night I did go to my friend's house to their little party and had a good time (see the pictures). We took their 1-year old baby girl Alexis trick-or-treating and got lots of candies that we ate for her (she didn't mind). Maybe once I have kids it'll be fun again, though by then I'll also have to decided on the issue of Halloween and raising an Orthodox Jewish family... Things don't really get easy as you grow older, do they?
So, to end on a high note, here's a really good article on the position of Judaism in regards to the occult. In short, no, we're not like the Christians at all (thank God for that); Judaism is very much a way of life that stresses the middle of the road and the understanding that EVERYTHING is a part of God and part of His plan. With that in mind, the occult can be understood to be just another tool of God that can be used for benefit or harm (remember that good and evil are human inventions). The article is well-written and is completely non-dogmatic; I invite you to read it.
by Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky