Do you remember when a hack was the term for a taxi or other vehicle available for hire? Or when you could or couldn’t hack a challenging situation? Or when someone with no obvious talent who was somehow successful might be called a hack? Or when a cough might be described as hacking?
Then hack somehow morphed into a facility for breaking into computer systems. And now- hack-a noun- is used to describe a super-cool shortcut to achieve a desired end. As in- exercise hack: take the stairs, park further away in the parking lot. As in- love hacks: rejoice in your partner’s successes, touch them affectionately, a lot. Here’s a great life hack I picked up- Do you have a collection of plastic grocery bags? Is the collection out of control? Not sure where I picked up this hack, but how about using an empty tissue box as a dispenser for those bags? Pretty cool, eh?
So, as we enter 2018 and we are all super-busy, I thought I might modestly offer you some tips on 5 ways to hack your Jewish life. Here goes:
- Light Shabbat Candles– Your Jewish calendar tells you what time candle lighting SHOULD be each week. Forget it. Candle lighting should be whenever you get home on Friday night, even if it’s super late and you’re tired. There’s a reason that Shabbat is the only ritual in the 10 commandments and why Ahad Ha-Am said, “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.” Take a moment to remind yourself that you are not just a human “doing,” you are a human “being.” Take a moment to connect with the holiness of Shabbat by lighting Shabbat candles.
- Resolve to read ONE Jewish book this year. Just one! Here are a few suggestions:
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl- you should read this book because every person on the planet should read his inspiring reflection on the triumph of the human spirit amidst the most harsh conditions of a concentration camp.
As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg- not just because it is written by a rabbi. It is a highly readable novel set in the time of the Talmud. When Cantor Wolman and I recently discussed important Jewish books, and, guess what- this was the first book that came to both of our minds! That should be an intriguing enough reason to pick it up.
Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life by Leonard Felder- Perhaps you think the title is overselling? Wrong! Felder offers wildly creative translations of prayers that you already know and re-imagines them in ways that bring depth to our daily lives.
Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis- I gave this book to a friend recently and she reported that just thinking about the title was an elevating experience. Mussar study, learning about our own individual soul curricula, is increasingly popular, and Morinis’ book is the primary text for studying how we can become finer people by applying Jewish wisdom to the refinement of our own character traits.
- Learn about and observe a new holiday. Chanukkah is over and it’s a long time until Passover. Consider joining us for the Jewish Arbor day, Tu B’Shevat, on Feb. 3? You may be surprised and even proud to know that before there was an Earth Day or an ecological movement, YOUR Jewish tradition recognized and celebrated the holiness of the natural world. The Tu B’Shevat seder is an outrgrowth of the Jewish mystical tradition and involves eating lots of yummy fruits and nuts, while sharing texts on Judaism and nature, all in a fun seder format.
- Sign up for an online parshah column and/or A Taste of Mussar. One of the benefits of technology is that inspiration is no further away than your computer screen. There are so many online resources that you can subscribe to. The Union for Reform Judaism publishes “Ten Minutes of Torah” (http://pages.mail.rj.org/subscribe) and there is no cost for this service. A Taste of Mussar is a self-paced introduction to Jewish wisdom on humility, gratitude, patience, and the other middot, soul traits, which are fundamental to mussar study. (http://mussarinstitute.org/courses/taste-of-mussar/) You don’t even to need to leave home and you can enhance your Jewish consciousness.
- Finally, say a blessing. I timed myself saying HaMotzi and it can be done in less than 3 seconds. Perhaps not the deepest spiritual expression, yet, surely better than no blessing? Take two and a half seconds to appreciate the fact that you have food to eat, that nature and human effort combined to bring about the meal you are about to enjoy. Once you become accustomed to saying HaMotzi, there are lots of other blessings you can learn- for seeing a beautiful flower, the clothing on your back, for the healthy functioning of your body. But start with HaMotzi- you have to eat anyway, so why not make it a religious experience?
This is New Year’s weekend and many of you may be thinking about New Year’s resolutions. Forget it! Think, instead, about hacking your Jewish life with Shabbat candles, a good book, a new holiday, an online resource, or a blessing. And, as we say on Rosh HaShanah, I wish you a good year, a healthy year, a sweet year, and also a year filled with many meaningful Jewish moments!