Mmmm. Yeah.It’s orange season in Southern California and as it happens, my host Rabbi Bookstein has a backyard with two orange trees. This morning I put on my teffilin and recited my morning prayers (Five days in a row! Surely the angels are singing my name in heaven! Heh…). Afterwards, as I walked out of the guest house, I helped myself to one of the scrumptious oranges hanging from a tree. Taking the opportunity to commune with God once more, I thanked my number one deity for the yummy treat and recited the blessing for the fruit of the tree (Can you hear those angels??). That’s another thing I’ve been lax on. In Judaism, any food you eat, any meal you partake of, has a corresponding blessing wherein we basically offer our thanks to God for the grub. This, in tandem with the laws of kashrut, elevate the simple act of eating into a religious ritual. By bringing God into our snack time, we ought to contemplate why this is necessary.

Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the preeminent Jewish Theologians of our time. His religious training and ordination was Orthodox and he was affiliated with both Reform Judaism’s Hebrew Union College and then Conservative Judaism’s Jewish Theological Seminary. I don’t think he was entirely comfortable in any of these places and his theology and approach to Judaism was criticized by many of his peers of all denominations (he must have been onto something then, huh?). In his book God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism he discusses an approach to Judaism that combines faith and spirituality with law and devotion, while eschewing extreme approaches that favor one over the other. Heschel, who as far as I am concerned, may as well have been Sephardic, once said:

Remember that there is a meaning beyond absurdity. Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power. Never forget that you can still do your share to redeem the world in spite of all absurdities and frustrations and disappointments.

That quickly uttered blessing over a modest piece of fruit, the name of God pressed into my flesh by my tefillin straps, these otherwise simple things bring to mind the meaning beyond absurdity that Heschel referred to. What will I do to redeem the world? What will you do? I don’t know. But it seems even the oranges are there to remind me, to remind us, to just keep trying.

About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

15 Comments

  • I tell ya, I have never been able to have this feeling of reliigiousity on such an ongoing basis as you do , int terms of the ritual part. Having been near a similar near death exp. myself, I simply moved on instead of dwelling on that sorry incident.

    It may be diff. w/. you. it is interesting watching how you r dealing w/ the whole thing now.

    Perhaps there are too many disappointments in life and these get in the way for that ongoing three times a day davening thing. Oh I daven and pray but in my own time and space, can’t stand the same crowd all the time.

  • Yah and don;t leave out the more important Chessed works, that G-d needs, not your Blessings. THose are to elevate you so you can do Chessed.

  • SR: I’m not remotely the poster boy for ritual. Nor am I really dwelling on any recent events. I’m cool. I am simply a bit more contemplative. My reference to redeeming the world obviously relates to chessed and elevation. I don’t think one can ever reference Heschel without also making direct or indirect reference to chessed!

    But yeah, thanks for putting up with my crap 🙂

  • Hey, that was well-meaning! I was trying to elicit a laugh from our sad, introspective puppy, that’s all.

    Next time I’ll use a smiley. 🙂

  • curious what is the reason you take photos of the marks left by the tefillin? or is this coincidence?

    i ask because every morning i tend to notice them and have wondered why i think they are kind of cool. i have no arrived at an answer – kind of thought they were proof of how good a wrap I had.

  • Well, the mitzva of putting on tefilin urges you to “Bind them as a sign on your hand” – in Hebrew, totafot-al-yadechem – totafot meaning sign. So after you take them off there is effectively this big Hebrew letter “shin” on your hand and for a while it can serve as a reminder. What does it remind you of? I don’t know – whatever is relevant to you – the presence of God in your midst, the wonder of creation, or to go buy milk at the grocery store. It’s your call!

  • Yeah, its a good thing. And yeah, you tend to squeeze out a thought provoking post here and there.

    This post was more…. spiritual as opposed to the usual socio-political depth. You gave a personal experience, a relevant quote and tied it all together with a really meaningful union. Really, it hit me.

    Again, thank you.

  • Hi CK, it seems that tefillin has made quite
    an impression on you. So much so that you
    uplifted that orange with that impression
    still on hand.

  • derk: A pun after my own heart. And don’t worry about ck being impressionable. Like that orange, he has a thick skin. :-p

  • actually, heschel’s rabbinic ordination was in berlin, which was a liberal seminary. he came from a chassidic family, the scion of the dynasty, in warsaw.
    heschel was very much not sepahrdic, as his theology is so infused with chassidut that at the centenary conference in his honor march 12th, art green made a very persuasive case for heschel as a formative neo-hasidic thinker.

  • Ummm… actually according to his daughter, Dr. Susannah Heschel (who takes credit for the ‘orange on the seder plate’ anecdote), and other sources, Rabbi Heschel did receive traditional semicha, along with liberal Jewish theological ordination. He studied at both the traditional Beit Midrash and the liberal Jewish school (both on the same street!) in Berlin, and was the only scholar respected at both institutions.