Who’s the Jew? Chanuka #8

The Last Night

It’s the last night of Chanukah. On Chanukah one gives (and receives) gifts each night. A 4 sided wooden top is spun called a dreidle. The dreidle participants bet on the outcome with pennies or chocolate candy that is wrapped in gold foil and looks like coins and called ‘gelt’. After three or four rounds everyone gets bored, eats the gelt and does something else.

Today people are returning from their holidays. I actually found myself eager to go downstairs and set the menorah tonight. Upon arrival in the lobby I find the menorah is already set correctly. I ask the doorman who did that? He told me another woman in the building, that she does it everynight. I laughed and said, I lit it the last 3 nights. He responds that I did it when she wasn’t here. that’s fine. He mentioned that each day represents a different disciple of Christ. I tell him the menorah predates Christ by over 2,700 years and has nothing to do with disciples. Turns out I was right. The menorah is a Christmas decoration.

I spent some time today researching some talmudic notions about death, charity and good deeds (mitzvahs). No profound post here today.

My fathers best friend, “Uncle Al”, was an orthodox jew. He was the principal of an elementary school. He founded 2 orthodox temples. He was very unorthodox in his thinking. He was beyond a Rabbi, he was a teacher of Rabbi’s. A teacher of teachers. My dad would often bring up discussions from the Talmud. He taught me how to use it and said “use it when you want it, listen to it, or not.”

The talmud is on-going and contains discussions and commentaries by great rabbi’s (teachers) over the millenia. The talmud provides commentary for different audiences as well. These can be divided into dogma for the “simple” (just do what we say or be punished), community for the “wise” (this is good), and deeper discussions for the “wicked” (which i would classify as kohlberg > level 4 morality).

It doesn’t really talk about god, it is philosophy.

When questions of ethics and morality come up, the talmud doesn’t tell you what’s right or wrong – that would be dogma. Instead it has many discussions about the deeper issues, and you can decide for yourself.

Ultimately being a good jew is being a good person and has nothing to do with god, prayers or religion. I operate under simple guidelines:

  • Leave the world a better place than I found it.
  • S/he who saves a single life saves the world entire.

The rest is commentary and supporting documentation.

I first consulted the talmud in my 20’s years after my father died. I had an issue with the way a national charity and my employer tried to extort “charity” from my paycheck. My manager told me I had no choice but to agree to the automatic deductions. Apparently they keep score and she got some kind of credit for “signing people up”, probably a piece of the action. It went towards things I would not contribute to and I wanted to understand my moral obligations. Ultimately I told her that if it was required to automatically contribute to an “approved” charity that she would have to fire me.

‘Charity’ in the talmud translates to ‘justice’. there are several types of charity.

The ultimate forms of charity are given freely, without begrudging, Higher forms of charity are given anonomously and before requested. If you get credit, or someone see’s you give it – it’s not charity. Charity can not elevate or benefit the giver, nor can it subjugate the receiver. Finally, a gift you give that has no chance of ever being repaid is the ultimate justice.

The acts we perform for the dead, which they can’t do for themselves and have zero chance of ever being paid back are the ultimate mitzvah that can be performed by a human. I would add, slightly below that are the acts of animal rescue and cleaning the environment.

Tomorrow I will make sure they remove the menorah. I don’t much care when they remove the sacrificed tree. I must admit, I feel just a little less alone knowing that there is at least one other person in my building who felt the need to light the menorah.

The next decade is almost here. Happy Holidays

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