One of the painful realities of Jewish life is that the Jewish people are often judged by a double standard. What in other cultures is done with impunity often causes an uproar when it is the State of Israel doing the exact same thing. While frustrating and unfair, it is a burden we should be most proud of.
When studying literature we must study not only its content, but also its form. This is especially true in the study of poetry, where the words themselves offer only a limited understanding of the text. Our Torah, in addition to being a description of the Divine, is a work of profound literature and poetry, and our understanding of it is greatly enhanced when we apply literary analysis to its study.
Judaism is not oblivious to the power and even importance of physical beauty. Phrases such as yefat tohar v’yefot ma’areh, loosely translated as very attractive, is one we find in the Torah to describe such heroines as Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Esther. The Beit HaMikdash—and, by extension, our shuls—had to physically reflect the fact that it is the dwelling place of G-d. Beauty is to be obvious to all who enter.
“For the sin that we sinned before you with the evil inclination”.
The double alphabetic acrostic of the al chet lists a wide range of areas in which we have not lived up to our potential. Misuse of speech, lack of integrity in our monetary dealings, getting caught up in the loose moral values of our society, infighting, and our general lack of respect for man and G-d are some of the sins mentioned.
“Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: the majority [of people sin] regarding theft, a minority regarding adultery, and all with lashon hara” (Bava Batra 165a).
Not surprisingly, these three sins make up a significant portion of the al chets we recite on Yom Kippur. And if one wonders what areas one might focus on in seeking to do better, any of the above would be a good place to start.
How should one celebrate the receiving of the Torah? The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) quotes a seemingly strange argument as to how to properly celebrate Yom Tov in general, and Shavuot in particular. "Rav Eliezer says, a person on Yom Tov either eats and drinks or sits and learns". One may choose how to celebrate, but that choice must be performed with full dedication. Apparently, he felt that trying to celebrate Yom Tov in two different ways gives neither its proper due.
It is hard to imagine two people who had a greater influence on the development of Judaism during the dark period of Roman persecution than Rabbi Akiva and one of his most prominent pupils, Rav Shimon bar Yochai. It is even harder to imagine two people more dedicated to learning Torah. Akiva, an ignoramus until the age of forty, became “Rabbi Akiva” by dedicating 24 years—with the encouragement of his wife—to learning and teaching the future leaders of the Jewish people. No interruptions were tolerated, not even to visit his devoted wife.
“And Yaakov worked for Rachel for seven years, and they appeared in his eyes like just a few because of his love for her” (Breisheet 29:20). Seven years is a long time to wait to marry the love of one’s life. Seven years is long to wait for almost anything.
But some things are worth waiting for, and while the wait was painful, Yaakov saw the seven years as a passing phase to be followed by a lifetime of happiness.
Twice a year, on Yom Kippur and at the Pesach seder, we conclude with the prayer L’shanna haba’ah b’Yerushalayim. It is specifically on these two days when the loss of the Temple is most felt that we express our yearning for Yerushalayim. Yom Kippur centres around the elaborate service in the Temple, one that we re-enact to this day through our Yom Kippur Mussaf davening.