Brushing Up on “Doing Jewish”

I know that this is not an issue for the regulars of Etz Chaim of Ramona…. I've written and share this more for myself than for others.

I have a challenge for us.

How many exercise regularly?

How many read the daily newspaper?

How many of us floss our teeth daily?

How many brush our teeth at least twice a day?

What other activities can you think of that most of us do on a daily basis, because we know it's a good thing to do (not because we have to… like going to work or school, or eating)?

How many minutes of each day does each of those valuable, yet voluntary activities take? What proportion of each day does that amount to?

525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 525,600 minutes - how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?

525,600 minutes in a year.

How many minutes each year do we spend doing something Jewish?

Erev Rosh haShannah - 2 hrs. = 120

Day of Rosh haShannah - 2 hrs. = 120

Erev Yom Kippur - 2 hrs. = 120

Yom Kippur Day - 8 hrs. = 480

Shabbat with Etz Chaim (= 120 x 10) = 1200

Torah Study (= 120 x 10) = 1200

Total - = 3240

We spend approximately 0.6164383561643836% (two and a quarter days) of our year doing Jewish things.

Each Shabbat is 14.285714285714285% of the week. If we were to spend every Shabbat fully doing Shabbat we would spend 14.246575342465754% of our time doing Jewishly.

Seven years ago I complained to you about the existence of some books called Judaism for Dummies. I told you that I didn't think we need such books. None of us here are dumb or idiotic, some of us have simply not been practicing. Well, it turns out that in 2001 a colleague of mine (who called me for technical support… he was using the program I help develop to write it) published the very book I said that we did not need “Judaism for Dummies”! At that time I asked:

Who here knows how to get to Carnegie Hall?

Some of us probably remember the old response to the kid carrying a violin in its case who walks up to an adult in Manhattan at the corner of 57th and 7th and asks: "How do I get to Carneige Hall?" And the response is: "Practice." To achieve something consequential requires effort (as my father put it, sometimes, "forty years of experience").

Many years ago I came up with a theorem and some corrollaries:

Using a language, whether spoken, musical or mathematical requires practice.

And so it is with the language of Jewish living.And so it is with the language of Jewish living.

You have to be familiar with the language of Jewish life in order to reap the full benefits of what it has to offer. You don't have to master all aspects of it. You do not need to be a "Jewpiterian" a "Jewishician" or a "Jewatician," just as you don't have to be a musician or a mathematician to appreciate music or math. But deeper awareness you have of the concepts, the grammar of each language the easier it is for you to resonate to its harmonics.

Think of it this way:

So, you shouldn't be surprised if I tell you: you can't deny or ignore the beauty of Jewish living, and then expect to experience its power in your life.

It's time to brush up on our “doing Jewish”.

There are 1,440 minutes in each day. My Sonicaire toothbrush “forces” me to brush my teeth for two minutes at a time. In the morning and the evening, that's 4 minutes, or 0.2777777777777778% of each day. So, it seems that we spend three times as much of our lives doing Jewish as we do brushing our teeth. Steve Shevinsky might be satisfied with that ratio (no hard feelings, actually, I've checked and Steve says I can and should press that button again… brushing for a total of eight minutes each day (or 0.5555555555555556%)). But, I'm not satisfied, and I hope that Steve isn't either.

Why not?

Don't get me wrong. Healthy teeth and gums are important. I don't mean to minimize them. But these are in a sense narcissistic needs. They turn us too much towards ourselves… they are, literally, internal. Whereas the Jewish activities I want us to consider, while, quite possibly making us better people internally, help us focus our attention beyond ourselves toward the broader realm of humanity.

What do you think of when you brush your teeth? Do you focus on the pattern of your brushing? For a long time (with the Sonicaire) I counted the seconds between beeps. I wanted to be able to feel the thirty seconds… know which portion of my mouth was getting massaged. Could I count up to 30 and accurately know I'd passed half a minute? I come pretty close… usually somewhere between 28 and 32 seconds. Later I began to focus on the unique shape of each tooth as the brush passed by… its smoothness, its crevices, whether I could feel the plaque build-up, how it grew and why it sometimes develops decay. Now and then my thoughts wander to the events of the day to come or just passed.

Four (now eight) minutes out of 1440.

What would happen to us and the world if we each would spend an additional (minimal) four (or eight) minutes each day brushing up on our Jewish selves, polishing our Jewish souls, massaging the gums of our Jewish lives?

Take a couple of minutes to think about the cosmos…


Praised are You, Adonai, Sovereign of all space and time,
Whose word brings on the dusk of evening.

Your wisdom opens the gates of dawn;
Your understanding regulates time and seasons.

The stars above follow their appointed rounds,
In response to Your divine will.

You create day and night;
You alternate darkness and light.

You remove the day and bring on the night;
You separate one from the other.

We call You “Adonai of heavenly hosts”;
You are our living God.

May You rule over us as You rule over nature;
Praised are You Adonai, who brings the evening dusk.

[40 seconds]

* * * * * * *

With everlasting love You have loved Your people Israel, teaching us the Torah and its directives, instructing us in its laws and judgments.

Therefore Adonai our God, when we lie down and when we rise up we shall speak of your ways and rejoice in your Torah and directives.

For they are our life and the length of our days; on them we will meditate day and night. May Your love never depart from us. Praised are You, Adonai, who loves this people Israel.

[30 seconds]


My God, the soul that you have given me is pure. You created it. You formed it. You have breathed it into me. And you guard it within me. All the time that this soul is within me I am thankful before you my God and the God of my ancestors, greatest of all things, master of all souls, who causes life to happen.
[20 seconds]

* * * * * * *

Praised are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of all space and time, who has made the human with wisdom, and created with us openings and closings. It is known before Your throne of glory, that should one of these should inappropriately open or inappropriately close, it would be impossible to rise and stand before You. Praised are you, healer of all flesh and doer of wonders.
[20 seconds]

* * * * * * *

Praised are You Adonai our God, Sovereign of all space and time,who makes light and creates darkness, who ordains peace and fashions all things. With compassion You give light to the earth and all who dwell there; with goodness You renew the work of creation continually, day by day. How great are Your works, Adonai, in wisdom You have made them all; the earth if full of Your creations. Let all bless You, Adonai our God, for the excellence of Your handiwork, and for the glowing stars that you have made; let them glorify You for ever. Blessed is Adonai, the Maker of light.
[40 seconds]

* * * * * * *

Deep is Your love for us, Adonai our God and great is Your compassion. Our Maker and Ruler, our ancestors trusted You and You taught them the laws of life: be gracious now to us, and teach us. Have compassion upon us, O Source of mercy, and guide us to know and understand, learn and teach, observe and uphold with love all the teachings of Your Torah. Enlighten us with Your Teaching, help us to hold fast to Your directives, and unite our hearts to love and revere Your name. Then shall we never be shamed, for we shall put our trust in You, the great, holy and awesome One. We shall rejoice and be glad in Your salvation, for You, Adonai, are the Author of many deliverances. In love You have chosen us and drawn us near to You to serve You in faithfulness and to proclaim Your unity. Blessed is Adonai, who in love has chosen this people Israel for service.
[50 seconds]

Or, consider for a moment the Jewish people's experience in history:

Praised are you, Adonai our God and God of all generations: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob; God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel and God of Leah; great, might, and awesome God, God supreme. Master of all the living, Your ways are ways of love. You remember the faithfulness of our ancestors and in love bring redemption to their children's children for the sake of Your name. You are our Ruler and our Help, our Savior and our Shield. Blessed are You Adonai, Shield of Abraham and Help of Sarah.
[30 seconds]

And, take another moment to consider the unity of all creation:

 שמע ישראל יהוה אלוהינו יהוה אחד
[6 seconds!]

And your own personal relationship with God and other people:

My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking falsehood. Help me to ignore those who slander me, and to be humble and forgiving to all. Open my heart to your Torah, that I may know Your teachings and eagerly do Your will. Frustrate the plans of those who wish me ill, that I may praise Your power, Your holiness, and Your law. save Your loved ones, Adonai; answer us with Your redeeming power. “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart find favor before You, my Rock and my Redeemer.” O Maker of harmony in the universe, grant peace to us, to Israel, and to all people everywhere. Amen.
[40 seconds]

All of this is for you to do on your own, privately. If thinking quietly and reading is not your “thing”, consider the following:

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan wrote that there are three ways to identify with the Jewish community: by belonging, by believing, and by behaving. These correspond to the Tefilah, Teshuvah, and Tzedkah of the Unetaneh tokef that we read on these awesome days:

Don't brush me off.

I challenge you:

Every day, spend a minute before your Pushke. Think of all the trees you could plant in the Land of Israel, or the lives of others you could make easier by the dime you deposit. (You pick your amount, for JP and his bother, that comes to $36.50 (each) over the year.)

Every night review the events of that day with your partner and family. If you live alone, give a trusted friend a call. Consider where the rough edges of your behavior might have rubbed someone the wrong way. Figure out a better way to act. Don't go to bed angry.

Every day, do what you can to find some time to be with others in such a way that you can praise the awesome cosmos of which each one of us is a tiny unique spark.

Living in a Jewish community, softens the sorrows of life and enhances the joys. Every day provides opportunities for righteousness=tzedakah, turning=teshuvah and communal sharing=tefillah.

And each of these - ma'avirin et ro'ah ha'g'zeirah. They remove the plaque from our hearts opening them to a free flow of compassion for those in need. They strengthen the grip of our bite as we tear off the bitterness that oppresses our fellow earth dwellers. They polish our view of the world so we can clearly see what needs to be done.

All together, they brush us up closer to the divine.

[of course I have toothbrushes to give to everyone.]

©Mark Hurvitz