Getting Our Heads Into Gear by Lauren Shaps
Dear JWRP Chevra,
There was a beautiful simcha at the JWRP this week as Ruth Baars, our director of programming, celebrated the marriage of her daughter, Tova. This coming Monday, Brielle, the daughter of Manette Mayberg, our board President, is also getting married!
The Palatniks are hosting two different Sheva Brachot meals for the families with more than 40 people at each. In traditional Jewish circles, the seven blessings recited under the chupah can be repeated for the next seven days as long as the bride and groom are at a festive meal with a significant number of people. This often involves a large dinner with family and friends.
This is in contrast to the idea of an immediate "honeymoon," where the bride and groom leave the wedding and go off for a week or two in a far-off land. The message from our tradition message is, you are now a couple who are part of a community; we are here to welcome you, as your joy is our joy.
May both new couples be blessed in every way, and may we only share simchas together.
Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom.
It was big news at the time when Paris Hilton was arrested for cocaine possession. What made that information worthy of top coverage? Everyone knows who Paris Hilton is, including out-of-the-loop me. We live in a society obsessed with the rich and the famous. We watch them, read about them and follow their soap-opera lives. But you have to wonder, is Paris Hilton worthy of all that attention?
Rabbi David Aaron, dean of Isralight based in the Old City in Jerusalem advises, "If you really want to feel good, you've got to focus on doing good, not looking good." My guess is Paris Hilton might look good, but I doubt she feels good. If she did, she wouldn't have needed to buy her high.
At this time of year, we think a lot about being good. We hope to stand before G-d with confidence and report that we had a good year. What is the difference between being good, doing good and looking good?
In one of the most moving sections of the holiday services, we say "repentance, prayer and tzedakah (charity) will avert the severe decree." We can understand repentance and prayer. We spend a lot of time in services focused on that. But where does tzedakah fit in? Ask people if they were good this year, they will probably tell you, "Sure, I was good. I didn't murder, steal, assault anyone. I wasn’t a customer of Ashley Madison. I was good." But our Torah emphasizes over and over that G-d expects more from us. It's not enough to not do bad; we are responsible to be good. In Jewish life, being good means doing good. One way to do a lot of good is to be charitable. Giving tzedakah is a concrete action, easily quantifiable, that benefits both the giver and the receiver. In fact, studies on happiness confirm Rabbi Aaron's comment: When we do good, we feel good.
What about those whose good deeds do not make front-page news? Does that make them less heroic? Often a person’s contribution to the world is quiet, without recognition, but no less important. We look after a disabled child, we care for elderly parents, we work long hours to be able to afford to pay for the necessities of Jewish life. Sometimes there is an empty space, a need in the community, and average, ordinary people become heroes when they step up to the plate to fill the gap.
A few years back, a beloved teacher in our community day school was in a horrible car accident. One of the day-school parents organized a garage sale to raise money for the teacher and his family. She got her family, friends and their children involved and raised a good chunk of cash. To me, that's a hero. A person who identifies a need and then steps up to meet it, engaging others in the process.
When I read about Paris Hilton, I certainly felt good. Compared to her, I'm good, I'm the star and I can go back to complacency. When I read or write about community heroes, I feel a bit uncomfortable. Maybe I'm not there yet, maybe I can do better, maybe I can ramp up the good. They are the superstars, deserving of our attention, because they inspire us to reach higher.
In just a little more than a week it will be Rosh Hashanah, literally the head of the year. Perhaps rosh (head) is a hint to what this time of year calls for. We need to put our heads in high gear, to focus on who we have been, but more importantly, who we can be. We each have incredible potential to transform and grow, to change ourselves, our relationships, our families, our communities and even the world. We, too, can do good and feel good. We, too, can be heroes. We, too, can fly high!
Lauren Shaps, MSW is a JWRP city leader and full time adult Jewish educator. She works closely with her husband, Rabbi Zischa Shaps and they are blessed with 5 wonderful children. Contact at email@example.com