Be Happy It’s Adar!

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Today is an unusual Jewish day and the beginning of a very special Jewish month – the month known as Adar 1.  Seven times in a 19-year cycle, the Jewish calendar contains 13 months instead of the regular 12. This Jewish leap year is designed to ensure that the lunar-based Jewish year remains aligned with the solar seasons (12 lunar months make up 354 days — about 11 days short of the 365.25 day solar cycle). If the month of Adar I was not added, we would wind up celebrating Passover – Judaism’s Spring holiday – in the winter.

What I love about the Jewish leap year is that the month we double is the month of Adar.  Adar II falls right after Adar I during the leap year (Adar II begins on March 3 this year).  During a regular year, there is only one Adar. The rabbis of the Talmud teach that when Adar begins, simcha (joy) increases. The highlight of the month is Purim, the day on which we celebrate our ancestors’ ability to stop Haman from annihilating them. But the rabbis explain that the joy associated with Adar is not limited to Purim alone. We are taught that the entire month is filled with simcha because Adar is the month during which the Jewish people actively changed their destiny, transforming what seemed like their inevitable destruction at the hands of Haman into a celebration of life and Jewish power. Given the fortunate events of Adar, the rabbis teach us that this month is an auspicious time for our people. We are encouraged to schedule challenging events like court cases and medical procedures during Adar so that the “luck” associated with the month rubs off and benefits us.

This year – we get two joyful, auspicious months!  Purim falls during Adar II (March 16th – SAVE THE DATE!!!).  So Adar I gives us lots of time to get get into a Purim state of mind.

Unfortunately, the joy of Adar does not rub off that easily. You have to know about the joy of Adar in order to appreciate it. You need to be around the joy in order to feel it. You have to be drawn into it in order to truly live it. Once you do appreciate it, feel it, live it, the joy is contagious. I can’t guarantee that it will be as “auspicious” as the rabbis say it is, but I can guarantee that the joy of Adar will make you happy. And in this day and age, why turn down something that makes you smile?

Unfortunately, most Jews do turn the joy of Adar down. This is because while being written in the “Book of Life” during the High Holidays is something most Jews pay close attention to, the joy of Adar is not on most Jews’ radar screens.  “High Holiday Jews” – those for whom Jewish life is all about Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur – focus on the intense, often gut-wrenching aspects of Judaism.  Granted, these are important aspects of our tradition to which we need to pay attention – but, I am committed to turning “High Holiday Jews” into “Adar Jews”, Jews who focus on intense joy, side-splitting laughter, great food and drink, and celebrating Jewish pride with friends and family. I don’t want folks to ignore the serious side of our tradition, but I know that by focusing solely upon the intense themes of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, we run the risk of denying ourselves so many of the uplifting, celebratory, carefree, lighthearted, and pleasurable aspects of our tradition.

This year, we get two Adars – two months to pay attention to the joy that is out there.  And it is out there – if you look for it.  Can you hear the laughter?  If not, listen harder.  Seek it out.  You deserve two months of pure, unadulterated happiness. Go find it!

Justin Bieber: A Letter To Adidas (One of Mr. Bieber’s Sponsors)

Mr. Patrik Nilsson, President
Adidas Group of North America
5055 N. Greeley Avenue
Portland, OR 97217
jan.runau@adidas-group.com

Dear Mr. Nilsson,

I am writing to you as a rabbi, but more importantly, as a father of a 12 year old daughter who admires Justin Bieber.  

It is my understanding that Mr. Bieber made $58 million dollars last year alone, largely from his corporate sponsors – Adidas being one of them.  In 2012, Mr. Bieber signed an endorsement deal with Adidas to be one of the celebrity faces of your NEO line. He is featured prominently on your website and social media feeds, including Twitter where #Neoliebers incorporates your product with Mr. Bieber’s last name.

Clearly, Mr. Bieber needs help.  His reckless behavior is putting himself and others in harm’s way.  We have seen too many young celebrities travel down this path.  We know that if things don’t change, the outcome will be tragic.  Mr. Nilsson, as a sponsor of Mr. Bieber’s, Adidas is in a position to change things.  Sadly, Adidas has come out publicly saying that “nothing is changing in our relationship with Mr. Bieber at this time.”  Mr. Nilsson, as a parent of a young girl who adores Mr. Bieber but is confused and troubled by his behavior, I am truly disappointed that Adidas is not taking a stand, altering its relationship with Mr. Bieber and, thus, doing its part to end his downward spiral.

Certainly, Mr. Bieber is ultimately the one responsible for his reprehensible and dangerous actions.  However, by continuing to fund Mr. Bieber,  Adidas is only helping to fuel his rampage.  Mr. Bieber is a young man who has a tremendous amount of money and power and very little understanding of how to use this money and power responsibly.  Your company can teach a very important moral lesson by pulling the plug on your deal with Mr. Bieber.  You can make it clear to him and his millions of fans, including my daughter, that abusing alcohol, using illegal drugs, driving recklessly, disregarding the law, vandalizing property and treating others with contempt are not tolerated. However, you have not chosen to do so.  Instead, you continue to endorse him and, thus, condone his behavior.

Fortunately, my daughter has learned from my wife and I that Mr. Bieber, while extremely talented, is not worthy of her admiration.  I worry about the countless children and teens out there who have not learned this lesson.  They watch Mr. Bieber make terrible choices but face no consequences.  He can be arrested, charged with DUI and resisting arrest, but he continues to make money from Adidas and other sponsors.  This is a very sad statement about our society.

Mr. Nilsson, I understand that Mr. Bieber has not been convicted of anything at this time.  However, there is no mistaking the fact that he needs serious help.  As a company that is supporting Mr. Bieber and his lifestyle, Adidas has a moral responsibility to make certain that he does not hurt himself or others.  It is also your company’s moral responsibility to teach Mr. Bieber’s young fans that there are consequences to our actions.  Mr. Bieber’s reckless behavior should not be endorsed.  Doing so empowers Mr. Bieber while his life falls apart before his millions of confused and misguided fans.

I do hope that you will reflect upon how your company’s decision to maintain the relationship with Mr. Bieber is actually hurting him and his fans.  The Bible teaches us that one who starts a fire that spreads out of control is responsible for the damage that it causes as it burns everything in its path.  Mr. Nilsson, by doing nothing, Adidas is continuing to fuel the fire.  Please, do something to stop this fire your company is fueling before someone gets burned.  Make a very bold statement and change the way our culture responds to celebrities who are out of control.  Help us bring moral clarity back to society.  

Sincerely,

Rabbi Andrew M. Jacobs

We Are The Trees: Tu B’Shevat 5774

franklin_trees_01Yesterday was Tu B’Shevat.  Literally, Tu B’Shevat means the 15th day of the month of Shevat.  This day has been deemed the “New Year of Trees” because it is on this day that the earliest blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.   It is also on Tu B’Shevat that the trees of Israel stop absorbing water from the ground and begin to draw nourishment from their sap.  For our ancestors, who were required to ritually offer (tithe) a certain portion of the fruit they received from trees to God, the fruit that had blossomed prior to the 15th of Shevat was not to be used as tithe for fruit which blossomed after that date.

What fruit we tithe, when trees start to bear fruit, and when trees begin to draw from their sap – these are not things that most of us worry about today.  Yet, Tu B’Shevat remains a part of our Jewish calendar and is something many of us look forward to each year.  This is because, in Judaism, we are taught that trees have much to teach us about ourselves.

In Torah, we are taught that “man is the tree of the field” (Deuteronomy 20:19).  The “tree of the field” needs soil, water, air, and light if it is going to survive.  And we too need these four elements.

In the Pirke Avot 3:22, we learn that:

A person whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds is likened to a tree whose branches are numerous, but whose roots are few. The wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down. But a person whose good deeds exceed his wisdom is likened to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous. Even if all the winds of the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place. (Avot 3:22)

Our “soil” is our everyday world – the world in which we have the potential to make a difference.  Many of us spend our lives learning and working in an attempt to make ourselves better.  When we do this, we often fail to actively engage with the world around us.  Our good deeds, our opportunities to do tikun olam, are few and far between.  The Talmud teaches us that our good deeds in this world are our roots.  The Talmud explains that it is what we gain from learning and working – our wisdom – that serve as our branches – that part of us that reaches for the heavens.  Interestingly enough, our tradition teaches us that too much study and not enough interaction with the world around us makes us top heavy and, thus, unbalanced.  A person whose actions far outweigh his wisdom, one who is “bottom heavy”, he is grounded and strong.

Our water is not simply the liquid we drink that sustains us, it is also our Torah which is described as much needed drops of rain.  Our “roots”, like the roots of a tree, absorb this precious “water” and we discover an integral lesson of our tradition: we truly absorb Torah not by our branches – not by immersing ourselves in study continuously, but by living a life that actively reflects the values of Torah: by doing good deeds.

Our air is not simply what we breathe, it is our very essence, our soul, as God breathed the air of life into the very first human being. Without this sacred air that God gave to us, we would not be.  Our everyday interaction with the trees, an interaction that often goes unnoticed, is a constant reminder of the sacred exchange of air that created life.  The oxygen that we breathe is produced by trees. The Arbor Day Foundation reports that a mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year.  In turn, trees breathe the carbon dioxide that we exhale and that our technology emits into the atmosphere – and, in doing so, they play a major role in cleaning the air that we inhale as we read these words.

Our light is not simply the sun, the same sun that the trees rely upon, but also the Torah and God.  Our branches, which Pirke Avot refers to as our wisdom (our desire to learn and study Torah), reach toward the heavens, trying to get closer to the source of all wisdom and knowledge.  But, we must remember that the branches that reach toward the light require roots that dig deep into the ground.

The Torah, referring to fruit-bearing trees, states that: “you may eat of them, but you may not cut them down.”  Clearly, a tree that produces fruit that can serve as food and as a gift to God, is a sacred thing.  We may benefit from them, says the Torah, but we may not destroy them.  We, being “the tree of the field”, must take this lesson to heart.  We rely on soil, water, air, and light to produce our own fruit – our actions which are a balance of wisdom and actions that make this world a more beautiful place.  We need to treat our fellow brothers and sisters no differently than a fruit bearing tree.  We may benefit from the fruit of our brothers and sisters – from all the wonderful things they give back to this world.  And we must never do anything to “cut them down” – to harm them in any way.

Living the Values of Tu B’Shevat

healtheworld

The circus comes to town this weekend as we prepare to celebrate Tu B’Shevat (on January 16th) – the new year of trees.  On Tu B’Shevat in ancient times, farmers brought the first fruits produced by their trees to the Temple as an offering to G-d.  This offering was a way to thank G-d for the amazing gift of nature and Judaism captures the fact that Judaism demands that we have great respect for this gift.

Trees, of course, are not the only incredible aspect of nature.  Nature includes all of the beautiful features and products of the earth: plants, landscape and animals.  On Tu B’Shevat we pause to appreciate the miracle of nature – how all of God’s creations can work together and make this world a truly spectacular place.

At the same time, on Tu B’Shevat, we are reminded just how fragile this world is.  This fragility is appreciated by Judaism and it is why our tradition demands that we have a responsibility to go out of our way to protect the environment and all living things.  Related to the trees – our tradition includes special laws that protect trees from being destroyed and ensures that the fruit of the trees would not be picked until the trees were four years old.  Tu B’Shevat was established as the official “birthday of the trees” and was used by farmers to determine a tree’s age and when its fruit was ready to be used.

Judaism’s many laws and teachings on the treatment of animals are also reminders of just how fragile nature can be and how we must take it upon ourselves to protect all of God’s creatures.  The medieval scholar, Maimonides teaches us that:

If one encounters one’s friend on the road and sees that that person’s animal is suffering from its burden, whether the burden is appropriate for the animal or is excessive, it is a mitzvah to remove this burden. (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Rotzeah 13:1)

We are obligated to go out of our way to rescue an animal from harm.

As we prepare for Tu B’Shevat, which we will celebrate together next Friday evening at services, I urge us all to live the words of Judaism.  This Sunday at 12:15PM, many of us will be brining our animals to the synagogue for our annual pet blessing.  We know our animals are loved, but there are so many animals out there that are suffering.  Help make a difference.  Whether you have a pet or not, please drop off paper towels, bleach, cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes, towels, sheets, leashes, collars, crates, pet store gift cards or monetary donations at the synagogue Sunday morning.  No food or toys please.  All donations will be given to Paws 2 Care.

Also, before you rush off to the circus, please, do your homework.  How are the animals treated by the circus?  What are their living conditions?  How are they trained to do the things that they do?  I encourage you to check out this article which asks, “Are Circuses Kosher?”: .  Remember, we are obligated to rescue an animal from harm!