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What’s a Man to Do? Road Trip!

Road Trippin’ Yo!

I have serious misgivings about leaving Oak Park and moving back to San Diego.This place has been so good for me spiritually, financially and emotionally that it seems crazy to take the backward step. The circumstances that brought me to Oak Park are much the same as those that are causing me to go. Love and responsibility can make a man do all sorts of things. I’ve learned a lot during this chapter that I can take with me wherever I go in life.

So, all that being said… ROAD TRIP!

I told my daughter to pick five cities to map the route. We both wanted New Orleans, but that was in the wrong direction since she also wanted Kansas City. I wanted Austin TX and Hot Springs AR, but  that adds 12 hours and nearly 900 miles to the straight shot from K.C. to Albuquerque.

Finally, she conceded that she only wanted Kansas City because Richard Hell described it so beautifully in Go Now. So I vetoed into St. Louis to avoid De Moines, but that left Oklahoma City.

Founds lots of pretty climbing spots to visit, and Saphira wants to see the Grand Canyon. Finally, a night in Joshua Tree to finish things off right.

Tradition vs. Custom vs. Halacha

There has been quite a discussion around our table this Pesach concerning our Sephardic minhag of eating kitniot. Usually, such matters follow the tradition of the Baal ha’Bais, but in my case, as a convert to Judaism, I have no custom to follow. Thus, my situation is one of “do whatever you want” within the realm of halacha.

Years ago, before my kids were born, I adopted the customs of the Saphardim under the tutelage of a kind and patient teacher, To this day, I ask many questions about the intricacies of my chosen path. It suits me, and I am perfectly comfortable with the decision. In this fashion, my children have the tradition that I am lacking and also feel a certain comfort in our minhagim.

The Rabbi mentioned in his Erev Pesach drash that a woman who marries can change her custom to follow her husband’s tradition. Since I was recently engaged, my Callah was excited to do that very thing. Her family eats a vegan diet and welcomed the opportunity to eat rice, beans and corn during Pesach. Turns out, however, that it is not so easy as just making a choice. Here’s the rub.

Since my adoption of Sephardic customs is a matter of choice, It is a matter of custom rather than tradition. The Rabbi’s position is that a convert is bound by the customs of the Beis Din that performed the conversion. Well, I was strongly practicing Sephardic customs and fully considered myself Sephardic at the time of my conversion. My first teacher who set up my initial meeting with the Beis Din was Ashkenaz. For a while during my conversion, our community did not have a rabbi. Finally, we hired one and he set up my final meeting with the Beis Din fully knowing that I had adopted Sephardic customs by then.

Whew! What a tangled mess!

So, it looks like my Callah is out of luck in that her tradition trumps my custom when it comes to eating kitniot on Pesach. Guess this is my last year eating BBQ corn…

Happy Purim!

On this day of Purim, we give thanks many times for the miracles that Hashem does for us. The Al HaNissim prayer in particular mentions “the salvations, the mighty deeds, the victories and the battles performed for our forefathers in those days.”

This is all well and good. Historically, we are a most hated of people and our continued existence is a miracle that defies all logic and reason. I was asked more than once during my conversion why I would want to join such a people and place myself in obvious danger. My answer then, and now, points to why we remain a people in the presence of threats from every side.

While learning all those years ago, it became apparent that there was no life for me than one of Torah and Mitzvot. My search for God up to that time was, for the most part, very unsatisfying and ineffective. That I loved God was never a question. The problem was service and how to do it in a way that would affect all parts of my existence. One day of worship weekly was just not enough and the freestyle prayer of the other nations simply didn’t work for me.

Upon discovering the Jewish method of constant ritual and organized prayer, there was no turning back. Being weak of character myself, it made every difference to me that the system of mitzvot would reach into every aspect of my daily life from the most mundane to the incredibly sublime. Finally, a path of action that could result in refinement was found and has been satisfying beyond explanation.

Thus, is the strength of the Jewish people and the secret to their survival at times when all their enemies of old have faded away to become a footnote in a dusty historical text. Our Torah and Mitzvot bind us at all times to a larger picture that renders the world around us a mere stage on which our timeless story continues to play out.

Today, on Purim, we give thanks for this continuity as a people and acknowledge that it simply would not be if not for the countless miracles that our God performs for us. Still, we should see a personal angle in all of this. Hashem act for the individual as well as the nation. Our task is to see the countless kindnesses in our lives and give thanks for them as well.

Be it financial struggles, unemployment, home foreclosure, illness, woes from our children or a lack of focus, it is important to remember that Hashem cares for us as individuals and is working for good through our many daily challenges. We may not understand his ways, but that should not shake our emuna (faith) that there is a bigger picture and that even our suffering is ultimately for our betterment.

So my wish for you on this Purim day is that you be strengthened by the knowledge that Hashem is still at work in this world, as he was in all of our historical moments of oppression and salvation, and will provide for each and every need on a personal basis if we only ask and believe. Miracles still occur, if only we take a moment to see it in the little things that come our way continually.