Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Saturday, September 30, 2006

What Me Daven?

Saw an ad for a tzedaka organization that promises, "if you donate to us, we will have the gedolim daven for you before Yom Kippur."

Sounds like a great idea right? After all, what can be a better way for us to go into the high holidays than to have a godol like Rav Steinman, who does nothing but learn all day, have us in mind in our tefilos?

Besides, doesn't it make more sense for our gedolim to daven than for us to do it? After all, we are such flawed people. Many of us speak lashon horo, and even a quick skim through Shmiras HaLashon will display many quotes from the Zohar about how are tefilos aren't accepted if they come from a mouth that speaks lashon horo. And many of us sin in other ways, whether it's a shmiras ha'aynayim issue or talking during davening. And there are plenty of sources (Zohar, Kav Hayashar, etc.) for how those acts can screw up the acceptance of our tefillos.

So surely, it would seem that having Rav Elyashiv daven for us would be much, much more effective.

In reality, however, let's not fool ourselves; we've still got our work cut out for us. Why else would we be commanded to daven? And if you're a believer in "b'shvili nivra haolam," it would also make sense that we've gotta help our own cause.

But you've gotta wonder if, between the daas torah revolution and this particular idea, many individuals may develop a more lax attitude when it comes to davening and mitzvos, instead preferring to have the gedolim do the heavy lifting instead.

"Jewish" Movies and Anti-Semitism

Not sure why this article by Rabbi Daniel Lapin came to mind recently. It was probably because I was watching "The Frisco Kid." (cute movie, but nothing special) But it got me to think about the issue.

For those who don't want to read Lapin's whole piece, basically, he rips movies like Woody Allen's stuff and "Meet the Fockers" for portraying Jews in a negative light. Jews in these movies come across as neurotic, sex-obsessed wackos. And Lapin thinks we should protest such movies.

I partially agree with Lapin, at least in the sense of the clear double-standard here. If a movie came out that played off of all of the negative stereotypes of black people, one can imagine the outcry from Jackson, Sharpton, and plenty of politicians. But when it comes to the Jews, nobody says a word.

But where I disagree with Lapin is that I think nobody takes these movies seriously. Think about it. Many Jews are successful doctors, lawyers, bankers, and businessmen. When a non-Jewish patient goes to a Jewish doctor, does the non-Jew think that he's being treated by a Woody Allen clone, by some super-neurotic nut? I don't think so. If the general public bought all the stereotypes about Jews from these films, I think it would be very difficult for a frum Jew to get a decent job today. And it would be very hard for a Jew to walk down the street without being laughed at or taunted.

What it comes down to is that, Thank G-d, we've done a very good job dispelling any credibility about actual Jewish life from such movies. When people deal with Jews in a professional or social context, they don't think they're talking to Alvie Singer or Cliff Stern. So until these movies' stereotypes have any reperscussions, we've got more important things to worry about than to waste our time protesting them.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stepping It Up On Rosh Hashana

One thing I've always found fascinating is how it seems like almost everyone steps it up a few notches on Rosh Hashana. Whether it's the chareidi who learns all day and hasn't seen a newspaper since he visited his grandmother, or whether it's the porn addict who's probably best off reading a newspaper, whether it's the baalebos who tries to learn every spare moment, or the baalebos who hasn't cracked open a gemara since Soncino was the most popular translation out there, it seems like almost everyone gets serious on Rosh Hashana. The Chazoras HaShatz, which is usually full of hushed conversations, becomes totally quiet. The two-minute shemoneh esrei grows a lot longer. Especially if you've got an interlinear machzor, or the "Pathway to Prayer."

Some people keep it turned it on even after davening has ended. They come home and try not to discuss sports, movies, or gossip at the yom tov meal. They try to open a mishnayos instead of the New York Times. And they have the carrots, the leeks, the round challey (any commenters know the origin of that name, btw?), and the other segulos with which they can hopefully merit a successful new year.

But then, the year starts, and usually, the status quo sticks around. How many people with parnosso issues step it up on Rosh Hashana, only to have another year of "more of the same"? How many people looking for a shidduch pour out their hearts on the Day Of Judgment, only to come to the next rosh hashana still single? How many people daven on rosh hashana, only to R"L be confronted with challenges and tragedies?

And every year, it seems like one rabbi gets up there and says, "this past year was a difficult one. And the tragedies and wars that occurred this past year were all decreed on the past Rosh Hashana, one year ago!" Yes, that same Rosh Hashana where we thought we gave it our all. Where we thought we tried hard enough.

Yet, year after year, we come to Rosh Hashana, and we try again. We pull out the machzor, go through shemoneh esrei with added fervor, and once again, give it our best shot. What keeps us all going? What stops so many of us from saying "I tried this last year, and look what happened. Why should I do this again?"

- I think there are two issues to think about here. One is the whole tzaddik v'ra lo issue. Definitely plays a big role here.

The other is, after we step it up, are those fervent desires for real? Or do they disappear far too soon? Maybe it isn't enough to just put on a show. After all, God knows what we're all about. And maybe the change has gotta last.

With that in mind, may we all merit to take whatever inspiration and spiritual progress we've made on Rosh Hashana and have it last, and have it change us, and have it be more than just a two-day show.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Still Alive

.. and pretty busy. Be back soon!