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Wisdom Works 

02/23/2023 05:52:11 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman -Weiss

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About 15 or so years ago, I heard a most challenging question about Jewish ritual: 
Rabbi Irwin Kula, President Emeritus of CLAL (The Center for Learning and Leadership) who was just here in Houston teaching at Yom Limmud, asked a group of us at Emanuel in Birmingham, AL, “Does it work?” 

For example...

Does affixing a mezuzah to the doorpost of your home work ...

like an amulet to protect you and your family from bad or negative outcomes?

The answer to that question is probably no. 

And these days, most people are  probably not using the mezuzah as a marker to indicate that someone Jewish lives there. And that’s not what it was meant for anyway, well…except maybe in the “blood on the doorposts of the Israelites homes so the Angel of Death passes over” kinda way. 

But when you move into a new home, does putting up a mezuzah create a moment to establish that something holy is happening here? 

Is it possible that while you probably aren’t interested in becoming an inveterate mezuzah kisser upon entering your home, could a mezuzah serve as a reminder that you are entering holy space?  And that whatever “rules of engagement” for work or the freeway are considered acceptable out there, what if the mezuzah reminded us that they may not be what we want to bring in here?  To maybe say to us as we enter our home, “Hey, could you maybe try it again? But this time with greater kindness and patience?”

Jewish tradition is a wisdom tradition:  It is a thousands of years old set of approaches to life, grounded in patience, discernment, and an avowed commitment to joy. And it is imbued with the essential ambiguities of consciousness that have developed as a necessarily defensive response to the threats we Jews have faced for too much of our history. 

Rabbi Kula strongly suggests that we ask tough questions of all the rituals of our faith, not in order to rule them out, but to potentially reframe them so that they shed wisdom on our lives.  Or if they don’t, or don’t right now, perhaps we should let them go? At least for the moment?

  • Shabbat is obviously a wise activity in keeping with this wisdom tradition...But what might it feel like if one day a week, you relinquished that burdensome push to achieve? 

  • Passover is the holiday of freedom... But how might it be truly liberating if this Passover, you shared with those closest to you the way fear and anxiety keep you stuck in the past and that you’d like their help to cross the sea?

  • Torah study is indeed built around the notion of sacred text...But what if the next time you read about Sarah awaking to her absent husband and child, or Jacob learning that his beloved son, Joseph, was dead, or Moses so disbelieving and in awe of what he sees before him that he removes his sandals to feel the earth between his toes–what if then you asked yourself, “How does it feel to feel abandoned?”, “How does it feel to feel distraught?”, and “How does it feel to feel grounded and frightened at the same time?”

Judaism is a wisdom tradition whose purpose is to make our human lives better.  We haven’t cornered the market on truth, but we have inherited a profound ability to discern the truth– a super power we inherited from our ancestors who, despite all odds, kept the faith, crossed the sea, and made it to the other side. 


And by the way, there is a beautiful and brief ceremony (Chanukat Habayit) for affixing a mezuzah to your doorpost that I would love to come to your home and do for you.  All you need is a mezuzah, some wine, some challah, honey and salt!  Email me to set up a day and time!


Sun, September 24 2023 9 Tishrei 5784