Fear of God?

The Hebrew word יִרְאָה that is translated into English as “Fear of God” means something entirely different. It is spelled phonetically as “yirah” and pronounced as “Year-uh”.

“Fear” is an improper and misleading rendering, because God does not want us to be afraid. It is said that the phrase “Don’t be afraid” appears 365 times in the Bible – one for every day of the year. We are told repeatedly that “God is love”, so why should we be afraid of God?

According to Strong’s, the word actually means “reverence” or “piety”, not fear.

It is to indicate respect, to know before Whom you stand. To not take God for granted, but remember that God is your Creator. It is the same feeling you would have for a good parent or a wise teacher.

However, it is not the feeling that you would have for a friend. You must always remember that God is greater than you and existed long before and will exist long after you. You must remember that God created you and the rest of the universe. There must be some humility because of this.

But it isn’t fear.

Consider what other words that we have been told about God and Jesus that are not true, that were given to control us.

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The Chanukkah gift

Chanukah1 (the lights from the first night of Chanukah)

I learned something on the second night of Chanukah.
I learned to trust that God will provide.

I have a small box of Chanukah candles that I bought last year on clearance. That was the first year that I have lit Chanukah candles. If I did it the normal way, by the time the whole thing is done the entire box would have been used. That is 44 candles. That seemed really wasteful.

What I did instead that first year was to light them and say the prayers, let them burn for maybe ten minutes and then I’d blow them out. I’d use the same candles over and over, so over the course of the holiday this meant that the candles were different heights and looked very odd. There was a definite slope downward to the right where the first night’s candle was, which had been burned the most.

This year I learned that not only are the candles supposed to burn for at least 30 minutes, but the woman of the house is not supposed to work for those 30 minutes. I’m not one for sitting still, so I decided to dedicate that time to making 4 x 6 collages.

I’d started making these this year and posted some here, but got out of the habit of assembling them. I’d taken the time to cut out and sort words and pictures already, so I really have no excuse. The funny thing is that so many of my craft projects are like “There’s a hole in the bucket” song – where in order to do one part, I have to do another part, and I have to do yet another part to get to that part. So sometimes I don’t do anything at all. I’m learning to break up the projects into small bits so that I feel that I’ve gotten something done. Since I already have all the pieces, it is easy to do at least two of these while the candles burn.

This year, while making the collages, I looked at the candles on the second night and saw how lopsided they looked already after letting them burn the longer time the first night. I got up and blew them out.

And then I thought about it. Part of what is celebrated in Chanukah is the miracle that the oil that was supposed to only last for one day lasted for eight. They needed to rededicate the Temple after it had been desecrated, and didn’t want to wait. It took eight days to make more oil, but they knew that it was too important to delay. They lit the light anyway, and God made it last long enough until the new oil was ready.

It is about trusting that God will provide for our needs.

Why was I being so guarded about these candles, only letting them burn for a little bit? I got them on sale, after all. Even before that, they cost $7. I can buy another set next year. They’ll make more.

Things are tight right now, with my husband out of a job, but even before that I’ve lived like a pauper most of my life. I was raised poor. Not having much is my normal. Worrying about future finances was part of my training.

We are comfortable, but not set by any means.

But God is using these candles to teach me something important.

I relit the candles and watched them, delighting in their cheery light.

I don’t think God wants us to be wasteful – certainly not. I think that God wants us to be good stewards of what we are given.

What does Jesus teach us?

Jesus tells us in the story of the loaves and fishes that God can make the little we have much more. We have to give thanks first, and we have to give what little we have away. This isn’t about making more money and hoarding it.

Jesus tells us in the story of the ten talents that we have to use what we are given. God gives us resources (as they said in my previous church – “time, talent, and treasure”) to use them for God’s glory, not our own, and not to hide away.

Jesus tells us to not worry about anything, that God provides for the least of the creatures, so surely God will take care of us.

So this was the gift that God gave to me – to trust, and not be afraid. To not think that I have to do it all. To remember that everything comes from God, and God can do anything.

How to play the Dreidel game at Chanukkah

The traditional Chanukkah dreidel is a reminder of the times when the armies of King Antiochus controlled the Holy Land. This regime passed a series of laws making it illegal to study or practice Judaism. The Jews decided to do their Torah learning secretly in outlying areas and forests. The children brought along small tops to pull out and play with after hiding their texts, so that they could pretend to be playing games instead of studying if a patrol came by.

Playing the dreidel game reminds us to always be true to our faith even when it is dangerous. This is a valuable thing to remember for all faith traditions.

Here’s how to play the dreidel game –

Things you need –

1 Dreidel (or several to speed up the game play)
2 or more players
The “Ante” Chocolate coins, nuts, or pennies, for instance.
A flat surface to spin the dreidel on, such as a table top or floor.

A platter of Latkes (hash browns) and/or Sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) add to the fun. Fried foods are part of the holiday. They commemorate the miracle of the one small jar of oil lasting eight days during the re-dedication of the Temple.

1. All players sit around the playing area.
2. All players get an equal amount of the “ante”
3. To choose who goes first, everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel. The one with the highest spin has first turn. (Nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) Spin again if there is a tie.
4. Everyone puts one unit of the ante (Chocolate coin, penny, etc.) into the pot. (A bowl is useful for this)
5. Player A spins the dreidel and does the appropriate action according to the result.
6. The play proceeds to the left.

Nun looks like נ
It stands for the Yiddish word nul, which means nothing.
Take nothing from the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “nes” – which means “miracle”.

Gimel looks like ג
It stands for the Yiddish word gantz, which means whole.
Take everything in the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “gadol” – which means “great”.

Hay looks like ה
It stands for the Yiddish halb, meaning half.
Take half of what is in the pot.
This letter also refers to the Hebrew word “haya” – which means “happened”.

Shin looks like ש
In Yiddish, Shin is for shenk, which means give.
This means put one item from your ante into the pot.
This letter refers to the Hebrew word “sham” which means “there”.

These four letters together are an acronym for the sentence “nes gadol hayah sham” which means “a great miracle happened there.”

In Israel, the letter “shin” is replace with a “pey” פ – which refers to the Hebrew word “po” – meaning “here” , saying “A great miracle happened here.”

May we all be ready to receive miracles at all times and in all places.

A list of books about Judaism

Here is a short list of books that would be useful to anyone who is interested in learning more about Judaism, especially if they are Christian. They are in no particular order.

Menorahs, mezuzas, and other Jewish symbols by Chaikin, Miriam

The book of letters : a mystical alef-bait by Kushner, Lawrence

God was in this place and I, i did not know : a spiritual encounter : Genesis 28:16 by Kushner, Lawrence

The book of words by Kushner, Lawrence

The book of miracles by Kushner, Lawrence

Living Jewish life cycle by Milgram, Goldie

Jewish ritual by Olitzky, Kerry M

Reclaiming Judaism as a spiritual practice by Milgram, Goldie

Traditions : the complete book of prayers, rituals, and blessings for every Jewish home by Shendelman, Sara

How to run a traditional Jewish household by Greenberg, Blu

Jewish living: a guide to contemporary reform practice by Washofsky, Mark

The Jewish home : a guide to the Jewish holidays and life cycles by Syme, Daniel B

Honey from the rock : an introduction to Jewish mysticism by Kushner, Lawrence

And here’s small selection of Jewish movies that might be useful –
Ushpizin
Arranged
Under the domim tree

Why do women have to cover?

Why don’t Muslims cover up men’s eyes rather than cover up women’s bodies? Why don’t they make some sort of headband/facemask combination that forces their eyes downward and makes it possible for them to only see a few feet in front of them while they walk? It would make life difficult for them but it would certainly stop them from accidentally becoming aroused by women and being unable to control themselves and feeling like they have to attack them.

They must think that women are very powerful and that men have no power at all. Merely by existing, merely by showing an elbow or a calf, a woman can cause a man to lose his self-control. If he has so little self-control then doesn’t this mean he has no self-control? Why do women have to cover themselves up for modesty when it is the fault of someone else if they cross a line?

If I am an omnivore, should I stop eating meat in front of vegetarians for fear that it will make them start eating animals? This is the same issue. It is saying that my actions control another person’s actions.

The Muslim faith is not alone in this. There are sections of the Orthodox Jewish faith that have women not only cover their heads because their hair is seen as sensuous, but the women have to shave their heads as well. The idea is that by shaving their heads (at least monthly) there is no chance that a hair will accidentally show – and thus accidentally weaken a man’s resolve.

I have a strong belief that the original intent of Islam and of Orthodoxy was not to control women, and to reduce men into knee-jerk autopilot sex machines. I believe that both faiths originally respected both genders. I have a suspicion that over the many years since the faiths’ inceptions some radical detours have been made by well-meaning, but control-happy people (namely, men).

How about we stop coddling men by making policies that say that women are responsible for men’s behaviors? How about we stop saying “boys will be boys”? How about we expect men to have self-control, and not feel the need to disturb (and I’m putting it lightly) women?

Hair covering?

I’m feeling a strong desire to cover my head. The traditions of my religious upbringing don’t tell me I must, but they don’t tell me I shouldn’t, either. I’ve been studying Judaism more and more in the past few years, and I know if I was an Orthodox Jewish married woman I would be expected to cover my hair with a tichel (hair covering) if I was out in public. At a minimum, I should be covering my hair when I light the Sabbath (Shabbat) candles.

I’ve been lighting the candles for Shabbat for a year now. At the beginning I was only lighting them when it was time for supper, which was always long after sunset. In the past few months I’ve been making sure to be home to light them before sunset (yes, there is indeed an app for that). The more I learn and practice Jewish prayers and customs, the more of them I want to do. So should I cover my hair or not, in light of the fact that I am not only not an Orthodox Jewish woman, but not even officially a Jew at all?

When I was in college I covered my hair all the time. I wore a bandanna or a snood every day. This lasted for a few years afterwards as well. It wasn’t for religious or modesty reasons. In part it was because I liked it, but in part it was to hide the fact that I had a Mohawk. I was happy with my hair that way, but teachers and managers weren’t. So in a way it was for modesty. My real self was hidden, and I covered my hair (or lack thereof) in deference to others. Even now I cover my head when I am outside, unless I am on a walk and trying to soak up a little vitamin D. I wear a fedora daily unless it is windy, and then I wear a hat that I can cinch up. So covering my hair isn’t a new thing for me. It is just the motivation that is different.

There are New Testament verses telling women to cover their hair, but all of them are from Paul. The verses are a little confusing. Some of them seem to indicate that a woman’s “covering” is her husband. Some of them say that a woman should cover her hair if she is praying or prophesying – but the same writer says in other books that women shouldn’t talk in church at all.

Jesus, however, said nothing about woman covering their hair, and I feel that he wouldn’t care one way or another as long as it was done out of a sense of mindfulness and respect for God and others. Jesus did say that we are to make sure we don’t advertise our piety, however, and that is the biggest reason I’ve not gone ahead with this.

If I were to start wearing a tichel at work, I’d be questioned. Co-workers, managers, and patrons would ask about it. There is actually a policy at work saying that employees cannot wear head coverings except for religious reasons. They know that I’ve been studying Judaism for a while now, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. But I feel that this would call a lot of attention to me, and I would stick out. I’d have to explain it. It wouldn’t be for modesty at that point – it would be the opposite. I’d be cancelling out the whole idea of modesty and piety by calling attention to my modesty and piety.

So at what point should I follow my convictions or follow the world?