Recognizing the Good: Veterans Day

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I vet...
Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982. He is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

הכרת הטוב, Hakarat Hatov, means “recognizing the good.” It’s the Hebrew phrase we use to convey the concept of gratitude. Our tradition encourages us to appreciate every bit of good is in our lives, no matter how many legitimate complaints we may have.

November 11 was originally designated Armistice Day because it was the day that the hostilities of WWI stopped. The Treaty of Versailles would not be signed for months, but the people of every nation involved in that war had learned to recognize the goodness of peace. One of the causes of the war had been the tendency of international leaders to forget that war is horrible: they were focussed on potential gains, offended honor, and on their alliances. WWI was a terrible lesson, with more terrible lessons to follow.

In 1958 in the United States, President Eisenhower changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day, in order to include the veterans of WWII and Korea in the appreciation. It became a day to recognize the good in each of those individuals, and the goodness of their gift to the rest of us. When a soldier is drafted or enlists in the military, he or she takes the oath of enlistment:

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

This oath effectively limits the exercise of many constitutional rights that ordinary citizens enjoy. A soldier in uniform cannot criticize the President or the military, and must be careful about doing so out of uniform. A soldier must follow all lawful orders (and must be prepared to justify in court why an order was not lawful if he does not follow it.)  Search and seizure are perfectly legal on a military base. Most Americans would chafe mightily at these restrictions and others under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.  Military service requires the voluntary relinquishment of freedoms the rest of us take for granted.

Add to that the hazards of serving a nation at war: the physical and mental toll of battle, the stress of living in a war zone for an extended period of time, the strain on family relationships and friendships, and the challenge of return to civilian life, and it’s obvious that we owe our veterans many thanks.

Where we fail, though, is that often all they get is thanks. “Thank you” will not provide health care, education, housing, or mental health care. “Thank you” is cheap, but all those other things are expensive. We and our politicians are quick with thanks and lip service, but not so quick with the rest.

When I am writing a check for taxes it is easy to think about all the things the government does that I  don’t want. (I’ll spare you the list, but trust me, it’s long.) Hakarat Hatov, recognizing the good, demands I look further than the things that are bugging me. It demands that I recognize the good that those men and women have done for me, and that I make sure that enough of my taxes go to at least ameliorate their lost health and lost opportunities.  (If you think that we already take good care of our veterans, I suggest you read this earlier blog post of mine, or this article about veterans and suicide.

In Pirkei Avot 4.1, Ben Zoma says, “Who is rich? He who appreciates what he has.” The question for us each Veterans Day is, do we appreciate what we have? Do we appreciate what these people have given us? And if we say we appreciate it, what are we going to do about it?

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Fringe Element in Judaism: The Tallit

English: Air Force Jewish Chaplain (Capt.) Sar...
English: Air Force Jewish Chaplain (Capt.) Sarah Schechter leads Jewish Services, wearing traditional Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), at 332 AEW Jt. Base Balad, Iraq, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A tallit is a prayer shawl. It may be pronounced “ta-LEET” or “TA-lis” depending on the kind of Hebrew spoken.   (The plurals, respectively, are “ta-lee-TOTE” and “ta-LAY-seem.”) The shawl itself is just a shawl; the important parts of the tallit are the long knotted fringes or tzitzit (tzeet-TZEET). We wear them to remind us of the 613 mitzvot [commandments].

Jews wear a tallit for morning prayers. The person who leads prayers often wears a tallit no matter what time of day.  We get the commandment to wear the tallit from two places in the Torah: Numbers 15:37-40 and Deuteronomy 22:12.  You can learn more about the meaning and history of the tallit from this article by Rabbi Louis Jacobs.

A tallit is one of those things reserved for people who were born Jewish or who have been through the process of conversion.  The purpose of the tallit is to remind us of our 613 sacred duties (mitzvot). Only a person who is bound by those duties needs to be reminded of them.

Occasionally you may see a tallit with blue cords in the fringes. Blue is a difficult dye to find in nature. In ancient times, Jews fulfilled the direction for a blue cord by using something called techelet, a product from sea snails, knowledge of which was lost in the Middle Ages.  Recently, scholars have come to believe that techelet is a dye made from the murex, a sea snail, so some Jews have begun wearing techelet fringes again.

Tallit & Tefillin 6
Photo credit: AngerBoy via Flickr

 

Join me for the Mindful Consumption Challenge!

HaveNotWantChallenge graphic by Eden Hensley

Eden Hensley, one of my students, started a project I found so irresistable that I’ve joined it.  Rather than rewrite the wheel, here is the project in her words on her blog, Road to the Good Life:

The Mindful Consumption Challenge

It’s said that money won’t buy happiness. Yet, the US economy is fueled by consumer spending. More pointedly by ego — the constant need to keep up with “The Joneses.” Find out if you’re immune.

In November, join me as I turn the focus inward as I make a conscious decision to be happy with what I have and challenge myself to be a mindful consumer. I was inspired to take the Mindful Consumption Challenge by Katie of Modern Eve, who in turn was inspired by Joselyn of Simply Lovely. I hope you’ll be likewise moved.
Why November? A month where Black Friday and Cyber Monday signal incredible shopping? Amazing deals? Unheard of “savings”?
I’m choosing November because “I need” “I want” shouldn’t overshadow giving thanks.
Join me in being thankful for what we have today. Let’s let go of expectations that maybe we can be happy if we just had [INSERT WANT HERE] tomorrow.
First, what is mindful consumption or mindful spending you might be asking. Does it mean I can never buy something again? No, you can still go shopping. However, instead of just aimlessly wandering a mall you have a mission. Katie states it simply: “Buy less. Buy only what [you] need, what [you] love and what’s in the budget.” She also created a handy infographic to help you avoid wardrobe creep.

Mantra of the Mindful Consumer

  1. I will only buy things that I need.
  2. I will only buy things that I have budgeted for.
  3. For things I am considering buying or planning to buy:
    • I will only buy things that I envision having for at least five years.
    • I will only buy things that I really, truly love or that intrigue me.
  4. I will end the year with either the same amount of possessions I started the year with or with fewer possessions.
  5. I will gift or donate possessions
    • that I haven’t worn or used in over a year.
    • that I need to have altered before it fits or fixed before it works.

Challenge Guidelines

Each time you’re tempted to get something you don’t need or that’s not in the budget, remind yourself of what you have. In the month of November,

  1. Record each personal or nonessential item that you buy and its cost. Clothing, makeup, accessories, home decor, gadgets, etc. are counted. Food, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc. aren’t counted.
  2. Keep yourself accountable. Each time you’re tempted to get something you don’t need:
    • Tweet what you want with what you’re thankful for with the hash tag #havenotwantchallenge
    • Share a photo collage of what you want with what you’re thankful for on Instagram use the hash tag #havenotwantchallenge
  3. Share your “true” savings for November. Record each item that you wanted, but didn’t need and didn’t purchase, write it and its cost down. Remember to include sales tax. Tally the avoided purchases to calculate how much you saved. Unlike “savings” from retail sales, this translates to an increase of actual money in your savings account.
  4. Share your purchase history for November. Katie has shared herAugust and September purchase histories.

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Hi, it’s Rabbi Adar again.  If you are interested in participating, you can go to Eden’s blog entry to sign up. Just click THIS LINK and leave her a reply.

In case you are wondering what this has to do with Judaism, mindful consumption is a mitzvah.  If you want the Hebrew, it’s Lo Tashkheit: You shall not destroy, or waste.

I invite you to join me in not wasting, in becoming a more mindful consumer this November!

Second Commandment

English: Left to right: iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPh...
Idol?

Do not make a graven image for yourself, or any kind of likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth. You shall not bow down to them and serve them, for I the Eternal your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me, and showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those that love me and keep my commandments. – Exodus 20: 3-4

A closer look, a restatement, a meditation:

Do not make a graven image for yourself, or any kind of likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.A manufactured thing is different from a living thing, like a human being, an animal, or even a landscape.

you shall not bow down to them   –  Do not put any manufactured thing at the center of your life.

and serve them – Manufactured things should serve human beings, not the other way around.

for I the Eternal your God am a jealous GodThis is a high-stakes situation! Mess up the priorities, and there will be trouble, to wit:

visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those that hate meMessing up our priorities and favoring manufactured things, human-made things, over the living world can cause a whole bunch of trouble for our children and grandchildren.

showing mercy to the thousandth generation of those that love me and keep my commandments.Conversely, keeping our priorities in order can make it much more likely that our great-great-grandchildren can live in peace in the living world.

Keep the Change

“Keep the change.”

Is the change just what’s leftover, or is it a generous bonus?

What do I leave behind me, not just on cafe tables, but in every room where I spend time? Do people smile when they see what I’ve left, or do they feel cheated?

These are questions worth asking. Everywhere I go, I leave something “on the table.” It may be just a feeling or an impression but it affects others. How do others feel when I’ve left the room?

What do I leave behind me? Hurt feelings, or warmth? Pain, or relief? Confusion, or confidence?

If I don’t like the answers to those questions, what needs to change?