Archive for February, 2010

Purim Thoughts

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Dear Friends,

I want to share some thoughts about Purim as we approach Purim which is on Saturday night and Sunday.

As we think about the various characters in the Purim story, I am struck by the lack of any mention to G-d in the story. The closest that we get to G-d’s name is that “help will come from some other place” in Chapter 4:14 which may be a veiled reference to G-d.

What role does G-d play in our lives? What is the role of religion in our lives?

We see the emphasis upon action in this story. Esther sleeps with the king after winning a beauty contest….Mordecai pushes Esther to go in to see the king in order to lobby for what becomes the party at which she saves the Jewish people.

When the Messianic era arrives, Maimonides says that we will only celebrate Purim since this is the story that reminds us of the power of our actions and the realization that things we do can and do make a difference in our world.

We will continue this discussion tomorrow night at 6pm in Sub 1 and then on Saturday during our Torah study…In the meantime, I hope you will find meaningful ways to give gifts to our friends in order to fulfill the mitzvah of shelach manot, giving gifts which we did to celebrate our victory over the bad guys and in honor of our observance of Purim.

Rabbi Bruce Aft

Parshat Terumah – My Thoughts

Monday, February 15th, 2010

This week we read Parshat Terumah which deals with the special offering that our ancestors brought to the portable Tabernacle that they carried with them in the Wilderness after receiving the 10 Commandments.

I want to discuss two items that I find to be somewhat related to the discussion about the gifts that our ancestors brought to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.

First of all (and you know I am a Law and Order devotee), I recently watched an episode where a teenager committed a crime because she was on medication to keep her awake so she could study more because she was under pressure at her school and among her friends to be the best. I wonder how many of us struggle with frustration or even depression because we do not perceive ourselves as the best. We live in an area of the country where winning is very important because if you win you are in office and if you lose, you move out of town (at least in the political world).

I am afraid that we live in a culture where we feel that if we aren’t the best that we are somehow second rate. This week’s portion teaches us that all of our gifts are important and that each one of us has a unique gift to share. Our unique gifts do not require us to be the best…rather they encourage us to find something meaningful to us and build upon that. Once we find something about which we care, we should pursue this and bring our special “terumah” or offering in order to make our corner of the universe a bit better. We don’t need to be the best…we shouldn’t compare our gifts with others…we should be happy we have something to share and realize that each of us has something to contribute to our world.

Secondly, I have been intrigued by the ongoing discussion about the NCAA one and done rule where a student goes to college for one year to play basketball and be a student and then can go to the NBA. On Mike and Mike( a sports talk show in the morning), a number of key people were interviewed who discussed whether a student who goes to college to play basketball for one year with the intent of going to the NBA is really getting any education or whether this is just a way for them to fulfill the requirement of one year at college in order to try to play professional basketball.

I am concerned that in certain ways, athletes are being exploited because of their gift to be able to play basketball. How many of us take advantage of the gifts of others and try to use them for our benefit without realizing what we are doing to the giver? We may take advantage of a good friend, a friendly or generous teacher, a caring roommate, or a super athlete…

As always, I am eager to either of these issues with you. Don’t hesitate to contact me by e-mail or by phone (703-407-7690). One of these days I will actually get better at Facebook but for now, e-mail and phone work for me.

This week, I will be at Starbucks on Monday night at 7:30pm to talk about Choosing Judaism: Do I Really Think I Want to Convert to Judaism. I also look forward to seeing you on Thursday night this week for the special Israel program which will be advertised separately.

Have a good week.

Rabbi Bruce

Weekly Parsha Thoughts

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Things to Ponder about the Portion of the Week (Mishpatim)

In Chapter 24:7 of Exodus, it states:

They said, “All that G-d has said, we will do and we will listen.”

In Living Each Week, Rabbi Abraham Twersky suggests that we will do, refers to fulfillment of mitzvot and we will listen, refers to the study of Torah(p.154). He proceeds to discuss that some study Torah because it helps them fulfill some deed(ie. building a Sukkah) and others study Torah just lishma, or for the sake of study…

I like to think of this studying things that help us make a living, vs. studying things to help us make a life. How many of us continue to study things that may help us with building a career, finding a job, etc., and do so at the expense of making time to do things that help us enrich our lives?

The paragraph which concludes his discussion of this verse provides a model for parents, but also for us. I would love to talk more about this tomorrow night at our session of spirituality but have a feeling we will be snowed out…So…feel free to comment and hopefully I will respond O:-)

“Parents who are concerned that their children have a secure economic future will provide them with an education that enables them to earn, but may be less enthusiastic about giving them a quality Torah education, since they cannot see what tangible results the latter will produce. An awareness of “naaseh v’nishma”, the declaration whereby we became the nation of G-d, should help parents realize that they have at least as great a responsibility to provide their children with a goal in life as they do in providing them with the means of life.” (p.155)

What do we do in our own lives to”make a life?” There are those who believe that each college student should be required to get a degree in some field of liberal arts in order to help us become more well rounded students.

Thoughts/ comments?????

Rabbi Bruce

Law and Order and Judaism

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

It was a rerun and Illinois was beating Wisconsin, but I watched Law and Order anyway…How many of you remember the Terry Schaivo case that was debated a few years ago?

It wasn’t really the main point, but the show last night made a number of important points about end of life issues. (the husband had an alternative agenda which was unrelated to making the end of life decision in the Law and Order episode)

The husband of the dying patient wants to pull a feeding tube and her mother can’t let go and wants to keep the tube in her daughter. Let’s talk about this if you wish…Unfortunately, this is a decision that we often have to make in our lives with people about whom we care. We are filled with mixed emotions and similar to the episode on TV, there are often numerous agendas we are dealing with in these cases. If you want to ask me any questions about this complicated subject or wish to discuss it further, why don’t you either e-mail me or join me at Starbuck’s on campus next Monday night at 7:30pm? Judaism has much to say about this topic and I hope we can talk more about it…

Be safe in the snow…

Rabbi Bruce,
Hillel Rabbinic Educator

The Torah of the Superbowl

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Okay, I have to confess…I feel a bit strange being a rabbi and rooting for the Saints:-)   But, it made me think about the role Judaism plays in the Super Bowl.

If in fact on Shabbat when we read the 10 Commandments, we remember that one of the purposes of the covenant at Mt. Sinai was to try to build a stronger senses of community, it makes me think that in order to be in the Super Bowl, a team has to have a strong sense of community or a feeling that all its players are on the same page.

I heard a discussion recently about how certain players who are superstars never play in Super Bowls because they are negative influences on the team.  I believe that the truly great participants in the Super Bowl, although often led by superstars, end up in the big game because they are loyal teammates and work well together.

The 10 Commandments were given to us to make us a distinct and holy team that shared the common bonds which adherence to the Commandments encouraged.  In our world today, I wonder how many of us can even name the 10 Commandments and how many of us really live according to them.

Come to Sub I tomorrow night at 6:00pm so we can talk more about the Super Bowl , the 10  Commandments, and whether we live in a world where the 10 Commandments have become multiple choice…


Rabbi Bruce

Rabbi Aft Week 2

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Dear Students,

Here I am again. I hope that you find these columns interesting….I am going to begin checking for your responses now that I am in the swing of things and hope to do so on Tuesday mornings when I will update my information to you.

Please remember that I am available at Starbucks on Monday nights at 7:30pm-9pm and Tuesdays around noonish if you want to get together. Wednesday nights I will be leading various discussions and please remember that Wed. Feb. 3 I will be talking about whether the 10 Commandments are Multiple Choice!!! We will meet in Sub I room 205B at 6:30pm this week. Please e-mail me at so we can set up times to meet or call my cell at 703-407-7690.

I hope that we can begin an Ask the Rabbi conversation where you will share questions with me. Please send me any questions that you may have about Judaism or life or the Chicago White Sox!!!( I am a big fan!!!)

A question came my way recently…Someone asked me how to make prayer a regular part of our daily lives. I believe that reciting the Shema in the morning and then again in the evening is a great way to begin and end our days. I remember when I was younger that I would pray before I fell asleep at night and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for all my blessings, ask for forgiveness, and pray for good health and safety for my family members. These private moments added a very special element to my day and gave me a sense of peace.

I will be leading a session about this on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 5pm for those who are able to attend. (Please note the special time since I have a Federation board meeting that night) We will learn how to make prayer a more vital part of our lives, talk about tefillin(and show those who are interested how to wear them, and answer other questions about spirituality.

We also will be discussing what it means to be a Jew by choice and I would be happy to meet with any of you who are interested in learning about converting to Judaism. If you are not available on Feb. 10, please let me know and we can arrange another time to meet.

Please suggest topics for our Wednesday night study sessions. I want these to be meaningful to you.

Finally, and most importantly, please come to the Shabbat dinner on Friday night since my wife, Sue, is helping Sarah and others bake Challah which you will find is the best Challah you ever tasted!!!! Do you think I am biased???? (My wife made me write this…)

See you soon!!!

Rabbi Bruce Aft
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