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Crossfire

07/12/2019 11:09:56 AM

Jul12

I had the honor of being invited to lead a Crossfire program for the older bunks at my kids’ summer camp.

Throughout the week the campers submitted questions, and my colleague and I were given sixty seconds to answer their questions. When the buzzer rang we had to stop, even if it was mid-sentence.

As the ancient Jewish teaching goes, “I learn a lot from my teachers; even more from my peers; and the most from my students.” I walked away feeling so uplifted and encouraged.

My gut tells me that something special is happening nowadays, and we the adults need to pay close attention. Despite (or perhaps because of) all the distractions and naarishkeit in our world, our kids are searching for truth. For something real. Yes, they – like us – love to enjoy all the gimmicks and gadgets. But a spark deep in their souls is simmering, almost protesting, against the overwhelming artificial lifestyle our society has created.

The campers’ questions were inquisitive, honest and candid. How amazing are the parents, teachers and camps who create the environment in which our kids can feel safe and encouraged to take on their lives with genuineness, confidence and determination.

Some of the questions were about Jewish law and practice. Such as: How does one pray properly? What is the correct method to hold one’s tzitzit during the Shema? Why is there a difference of customs among various communities? What is considered modest dress, for men and women?

There were also many deep and reflective questions about the purpose of life and the quest for personal mastery. Following are some snippets of our discussion – I’d love to hear your feedback on them:

Q: How can I get rid of improper and negative thoughts?
A: You can’t, unless you become a tzaddik, and most of us will never become true tzadikkim. But that’s nothing to feel bad about – it’s how G-d created us. By design, He gave us both a yetzer-tov (an altruistic inclination) and a yetzer-hara (and selfish inclination). Our lives are a constant struggle between doing what’s right vs doing what feels pleasurable. Whilst we can’t necessarily control the temptation to think negatively, we can certainly control what we choose to think about. The best way is to fill our thoughts with positive and productive ideas. The best way to dispel darkness is to shine a light.

Q: I’m nervous that if I begin to strengthen by commitment to Jewish practice, I will lose my popularity among my friends. What should I do?
A: That’s not possible. A friend is someone who respects you for who you are, even if you are different than them. The greatest thing you can do in life is to surround yourself with genuine friends, who will always respect you, and you will respect them, no matter the differences of your lifestyle choices.

Q: I was taught that the Halachik rulings of our Sages are considered true, and an expression of G-d’s Will. But the Talmud is filled with contradictory opinions – how can they all be right?
A: When Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the angles begged G-d to keep the Torah in Heaven. G-d disagreed and decided that the Torah will be given to earthly beings. Since then we have a principle that ‘The Torah does not belong to the Heavens’. This means that G-d allows and expects us humans to figure out the Torah’s application in any given situation with our own human minds. Now, no two minds think alike. As long as someone follows the genuine methodology how to interpret the Torah, then no matter their conclusion, they are correct. So much so, that even if a ‘Heavenly voice’ were to contradict the Rabbi’s ruling, we ignore Heaven’s opinion and follow the Rabbi.

Q: How do I know that G-d is always with me?
A: Who is with you right now? Yes, the people in the room are with you. But are your parents with you? Yes, in two ways. Did you think about your parents today? Then your parents are in your mind and heart. And I can bet you that your parents thought about you today, so you are in their mind and heart. They may be even more ‘with you’ than the people in this room right now. And the same goes for G-d. When you turn to G-d each day, He is with you. And He certainly thinks about you all the time.

Q: Is there an optimal day for when Moshiach should arrive?
A: Yes. Today.

Q: If G-d is compassionate, why did He create evil, and give us challenges?
A: Let’s turn this question around. Because G-d is compassionate, that is why He created evil and gives you challenges. He wants to bring out the best in you, help you to maximize your potential, and set you up to make good choices. And because He is compassionate, always remember that no force of evil or challenge is ever strong enough to overpower you. Your strength to defeat evil and overcome challenges is always stronger.

Q: I was taught that G-d needs to constantly create the world in order for it to exist. But the Torah tells us that G-d worked and created for six days, and rested on Shabbat. If He rests, how does the world exist on Shabbat?
A: G-d certainly continues to ‘work’ and create the world on Shabbat. He ‘rests’ from the method He used to create the world for six days, and ‘works’ by creating the world in a different way. In Kabbalistic terminology, for six days G-d ‘spoke’ the world into existence, and on Shabbat G-d ‘thought’ the world into existence. Thinking through an idea turns it into something more real, alive, and closer to heart. So on Shabbat everything exists as a much more elevated reality. For us, therefore, Shabbat is a time to rest from ordinary and worldly activity, and work on achieving greater discovery and experiences of our higher selves.

Q: Is there such a thing as kosher music?
A: Music is a language, and a very powerful one. Music can stir us very deeply. Which is why it is important to listen to music which will affect us positively – inspire us to make us more hopeful, more loving, more faithful, more committed, more honest. Music composed by holy tzadikkim, such as niggunim, is always very helpful. They certainly contain positive themes and healthy emotions. It is important that the composer of the music is someone we can admire.

Q: What message would you tell your twelve-year-old-self?
A: Dear Eliezer, I want you to know how lucky you are – to be alive, to be a Jew, to live in a wonderful era. Your life is a gift from G-d – cherish it that way. G-d absolutely loves you, and needs you to fulfill a mission in this world. Don’t let yourself doubt yourself, and ignore what others think about you. When you awake each morning, thank Hashem for His blessings, value your life and appreciate your opportunities. And always remember that everyone else is just as special as you are. Lastly - work hard, it will always pay off!

Wed, October 23 2019 24 Tishrei 5780