Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Five Minute Scholar

As a kid, I distinctly remember hearing the story of the five-minute torah scholar. I can't remember the name of the great torah scholar that this story was attributed to, but the story went something like this:

A great Rabbi was once asked by a benefactor "How long did it take you to become such a great scholar?" "Five minutes," was the Rabbi's answer, "but not just any five minutes - but the five minutes you would otherwise waste - just sitting around, or waiting in line. Everyone was content to let those five minutes slip, but I maximized those five minutes in that I also studied Torah during that time. Over time, those five minutes add up, and that has made me the scholar that I am today."

Think of how true this is. Imagine if we found ways to maximize our daily idle time with prouctivity. Our commute could become a learning experience, or we could learn a language while lounging. Our life would take on a whole new dimension and we might find ways to get more things done - if only we harnessed those five minutes of time that we would have otherwise piddled away.

Of course, let's say we try this, and discover how much we can learn in 5 minutes a day. At the end of the week it becomes evident how much we have learned and we begin to wonder how much we could actually learn if we actually set aside time to learn each day and how much more we can grow. Will there ever be an end? We will find ourselves on a journey down the path of self-improvement, and to think that it all started with a 5-minute walk.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Through a child's eyes...

Today (well tomorrow, depending on your perspective) is Purim. Purim is probably one of the most joyous days on the Jewish Calendar, but unfortunately somehow, it's meaning and joy has been lost to so many including, to some extent, myself. Maybe it suffers because it seemingly falls in middle of the week and since it is a day where work is allowed, many opt to work on Purim. Maybe it is because of its position relative to Passover - (Moshe Yess, a Jewish Folk Singer, has a song stating that Jewish Mothers hate Purim because it means that Passover is only four weeks away). In any case, I am not sure how much I have 'felt' Purim in the last few years, until watching my son at the megillah reading.

Mitch was so excited and ecstatic. He eagerly waited for each utterance of Haman's name and when it came he jumped up and down with his Gragger (Haman, is the antagonist of the Book of Esther - a.k.a. the Megillah, and it is customary to 'blot out' his name by making noise as the person reading the megillah recites it. A Gragger is a Yiddish word for noisemaker). It is hard to describe the look on his face, but it was a combination of intensity, excitement and joy - yes pure joy.

Maybe that is what I am missing. Maybe the stresses of being a Dad and a Husband and and Orthodox Jew have taken some of the fun away. But just looking at my son, and feeling the sense of pride and accomplishment in his joy for this small piece of our tradition and history put some of the joy back in it for me too, and in turn, made the megillah reading a lot more personal and special.

I guess the moral of this story is that every so often we should all take time to stop and shake our Graggers.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I have been thinking a lot about Kavanah lately. Kavanah is a Hebrew term that is used to refer to the meaning and focus one has in prayer. Kavanah literally means 'direction' - as with everything in life, prayer needs a direction or focus to be meaningful. It is interesting that many Jews view prayer as lines read out of a Hebrew textbook - whether or not you understand their meaning - and don't try to focus on the meaning of the words to find parallels to their own lives.

At the same time, there are those that pray in the classic sense - that is, they give thanks for their lives and request for their needs, but somehow ignore the liturgy as they don't see the relevance. While they may not have the textbook elements of prayer, their prayers are potentially more meaningful because of the personal element.

Don't get me wrong - I am not, heaven forbid, discounting the value of our liturgy, but
I think that both of these approaches are lacking. Many years ago in college I met someone who made me realize that their are many Jews out their who are connected with Judaism spiritutally and culturally but not ritually. While I think that it is great that all Jews find a connection to our religion and to G-d, I ultimately came to this realization - the spiritual and ritual practices of Judaism combine to form their own equilibrium. While the balance will be different for most people, one is useless without the other, and that, during prayer, is where Kavanah comes in.

As I pray, I try to focus on the words set out by our great sages of centuries ago, and fit their meaning to my everyday life. To help you visualize this imagine you have a document in a language that you can't read, and you ask two friends of yours to translate it for you independent of one another. It is more than likely that their translations will differ at least a little bit - even if they have similar backgrounds and levels of fluency in that language. Why does this happen? Because their translation includes their perspective as well. And, IMVHO, so must your understanding of the prayers you say.