The Perilous Fright

I am not amused by amusement parks with their scary rides, nor do I have any appreciation for Halloween. It is simply beyond me, why people are eager to spend money and are prepared to wait in line to get on a hair-raising roller coaster ride or worse so that they can experience fright. Nor do I understand why people are willing to spend money to dress up as ghouls, ghosts, and goblins or use this terrifying trio to decorate their yards for the last night of October each year. Rather than being wild-eyed because of artificial fright, courtesy of our wild imagination as well as the culture of which we are part, we ought to be focusing on a much more perilous fright that comes with being human. We ought to be afraid of ourselves!
I would suspect that there have times in our lives, where we have surprised ourselves. Because we saw ourselves as being incapable of becoming even better versions of ourselves, because we regarded ourselves as not being equipped to adopting courageous positions, however unpopular those positions might be, there have been instances where we have surprised ourselves by rising to an occasion, where we typically would have refrained from taking a stand. By taking such a stand, we surpassed all expectations we had of ourselves. On the other hand, I would suspect that there have been times in our lives when we should have been afraid of ourselves. Because we saw ourselves as being above such behavior or because we regarded such deportment as being so unfathomable, because we were so smug that such repugnant behavior is beneath us, there have been instances, where we frightened ourselves by sinking to sinking to an all-time low.
We are products of a culture where achievement is measured in terms of “better”. Because of financial constraints, it is not in any way unusual for many in our society to make a foray into independence, by renting an apartment, that does not meet their standards. They make a point of reassuring themselves that in time when their earning power increases and their station in life improves, they will move into something better. The same holds true for the car they drive. In a good many cases, the same applies to leisure time activity and vacations. Personally, I see nothing wrong with “better” serving as a goal in our lives. I see everything wrong however when “better” is limited solely to tangible goals. Rarely, if ever, has one set a goal of being a better spouse or sibling Rarely, if ever, has one set a goal of being a better parent or child. Rarely, if ever, has one been resolute on becoming a better sibling or friend. Rarely, if ever, has one pledged to become a more loyal employer or employee. Because self-betterment seems to be relegated to the physical components of our lives while totally ignoring the spiritual component of our lives, we have every reason to be afraid of ourselves.
Long before the Coronavirus reared its nocuous head, our society was plagued and continues to be plagued with a virus, that while not threatening us physically, has severely compromised our taste in attire. Bluntly stated, a good many Americans dress like slobs. Clothing that hoboes of yesteryear would have shunned, is currently seen as being in vogue by Americans of all walks of life. Having acquired the moniker of “Rabbi GQ” by the residents of Lavendale Avenue, as they see me walk to and from Tiferet, I admit that I am far from impartial when it comes to attire. Nevertheless, seeing well-heeled Americans wearing shredded and ripped jeans, as well what can easily pass for undershirts (worn by Marlon Brando in his role of Stan Kowalski in the movie A Streetcar Named Desire) I cannot help but invoke the memorable quote Joseph Welch of the McCarthy Hearings who incredulously and indignantly asked: “Have you no sense of decency”. Ostensibly, the purpose of Halloween costumes is to instill fright. In my opinion, it is our daily dress and not any Halloween costume that gives us ample reason to be afraid of ourselves.
Some ten days ago, we asked for HaShem’s blessings for the upcoming Hebrew month. As part of that prayer, we asked that we be blessed with fear of heaven as well as fear of sin. Perhaps it would have been very much appropriate to have also prayed for fear of oneself.

I’ve Got A Name

by Rabbi Shawn Zell

Where have you gone, Jim Croce? A nation is in desperate need to be reminded of “I’ve Got a Name” the last song you recorded, close to half a century ago. Based on telephone calls I receive, people have either forgotten their names or perhaps out of humility (I am being kind), they neglect to identify themselves. It has become so irksome, that after putting the receiver to my ear and hearing:”Rabbi Zell! How are you?” I typically respond: “I’ll be much better, once I find out with whom I am speaking”. Text messages are even more frustrating, in that voice recognition (for whatever it is worth), is absent. When responding to an anonymous text message, I indicate, that I will be happy to address their concern or question, once the mystery person identifies himself/herself.
Light, the very first creation in the Torah was given a name by HaShem. HaShem called light “Day”. But HaShem did not stop there. HaShem called darkness “Night”. If the Torah deems it essential to convey to us the importance of conferring names on inanimate objects, then surely assigning names to humans, the pinnacle of HaShem’s creations, ought to be of at least as much importance. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to know this, given the absence of identification in the phone conversations and text messages of today’s society. As one who is fascinated by historical trivia, the framers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence were at odds as to whether G-d’s name ought to appear in the document. Only because there were a plethora of names of the divine, were the warring factions finally mollified (Tzur Yisrael or Rock of Israel was finally accepted by all). What then is our excuse for ignoring or deleting one’s name when calling by phone or when texting, wherein the vast majority of cases, there is no other name to serve as a frame of reference?
Yet, HaShem’s name proved to be a hot topic, millennia before David  Ben Gurion stood in the Tel Aviv home of Meir Dizebgoff, proclaiming independence for a nascent Jewish state. HaShem’s name proved to be a hot topic as Moses stood before a burning bush, receiving what he could not help but feel was a “mission impossible”. “Now see here”, retorted the reluctant shepherd to the heavenly voice within the flame. “Do you really expect the enslaved masses to buy this here story that I was sent by the G-d of your forefathers? They are going to ask me to give up Your name. What do You expect me to tell them when that happens? After all, they weren’t born yesterday, You know!” Moses ’point was well taken, for HaShem then instructed Moses to reveal His name as “I shall be”. If HaShem, Creator not only of heaven and earth but also of our people realized how essential and necessary it was to identify Himself, then how much more so is it necessary for us mere mortals to identify ourselves as well.
It has been over 40 years since 16 generic, unbranded, or “No Name” items in black and yellow packaging were placed on the shelves of a supermarket chain. These items were initially promoted as “basic products in plain packaging at down-to-earth everyday low prices”. “No Name” promised savings of between 10 and 40 percent over national brands. By deleting our names when communicating with others, it appears as though we too have reduced ourselves to the level of “No Name” supermarket products. Surely, our self-worth forbids us to discount ourselves, the way supermarkets discount the items they sell. Whenever we neglect to state our name in communication, that is precisely what we do. We end up discounting ourselves!
Midrash Tanchuma (VaYakhel) tells us that we are known by three names: the name conferred upon us by our parents, the name we are called by friends and relatives, and the name that we earn through the way we interact with others. Yet, no one requires us to provide all three when identifying ourselves to others. A modicum of decency has every right to expect us to identify ourselves with at least one of these three names – preferably the name we have earned through the way we have interacted with others. As humans, we have every right to demand recognition by others, provided we are prepared to recognize ourselves first. 

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Rabbi Zell addresses issues in the light of Judaism.

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Rabbi Toba teaches from the Torah.

Skittish About Yiddish…
Rabbi Zell explains Yiddish words for many occasions. No need to be skittish.

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