When Your Tzitzit Come Untied: More Than a Blog About Fringes

There is a Jewish tradition of making a brakha (blessing) over the ritual fringes that are commanded in the Torah: 

דבר אל־בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם ועשו להם ציצת על־כנפי בגדיהם לדרתם ונתנו על־ציצת הכנף פתיל תכלת
“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.”
– Numbers 15:38 

The verse continues to explain why Israel is commanded to wear fringes with cords of blue in them: 
You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.” – verses 39 & 40. 

That was just a little background on tzitzit (tassels/fringes). Now, I will get to the subject matter of the post. 

Anyways, like I was saying; there is a tradition of making a blessing to God for giving us the opportunity to wear these fringes everyday so that they might serve the purpose for which they were intended. That blessing goes like this: 
בָּרוּך אַתָּה ה’ אֱ-להֵינוּ מֶלֶך הָעוֹלָם אַשֶׁר קִדְשָנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָנוּ עַל מִצְוַת צִיצִת

“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us regarding the commandment of fringes.” 

There is another tradition that accompanies the first one; examining the tzitzit to make sure the fringes are suitable to be worn. This means checking out the strands of the fringes to make sure they are tied and that the strands are not overly frayed. In many instances, these fringes can be metaphors for one’s spiritual life. I had an encounter with this recently. 

Though I’m devoted to Torah observance, my practice of certain traditions that surround different mitzvot (commands) of Torah isn’t all that strong. I don’t always kiss a mezuzah when I pass it, I don’t always make a brakha before I eat, and I don’t always check my tzitzit. 

Lately, I had been pretty immersed in things going on at work, things going on with my band, my friends, hobbies, and additional activities to the point of it cutting in on my prayer life and my study of Torah. I was very stressed out about a whole number issues going on in my life one morning, when I went to don my tzitzit, I noticed that the double-knot in the bottom of a few of them had come completely untied. These were not easy knots to untie and I know my cat had not been in my room, they must have been coming untied over the course of a few days.  Instead of just immediately stopping to tie them, I sat on the edge of my bed, held them in my hands, and just stared at them for a couple minutes. 

A rush of shame washed over me. No, not shame of a couple knots that weren’t tied correctly (the Torah makes no law about how exactly tzitzit should be tied, so that part of it has been left up to the wearer’s discretion), but about myself. I had been so wrapped in my life that I had it took God causing my tzitzit to become untied to get my attention. In that instant, my tzitzit were me. They were starting to come untied just like I was letting stress and other activities make me begin to unravel. 

It took me a second to gather up my thoughts, make a blessing to God for my tzitzit, and get to work, but the thought stuck with me the entire day. Wearing tzitzits has been one of the weirdest experiences of my life, but also one of the most rewarding. Just like these strands of white and blue are never far from me, this helps me remember that God is never far from me either. 

Because we can’t see God just like we can’t see the wind, God instructed B’nai Israel to wear these weird fringes on the four corners of their garments so that we can begin to see the good that He brings to the world everyday. They are a reminder that He is always there. Baruch HaShem (Blessed be The Name [of God]).

Shalom. 
– Ken

Just a Simple Hebrew Okie

As I try and help shed some light on the spiritual wisdom found in the Torah to the masses, I have a confession to make to all of you: I’m kind of an idiot. While I’ve studied Torah and have read multiple volumes of different holy books, much of my perspective comes from being a perpetual student who is constantly learning; but the more I learn, the more I find out how little I know.
Some of you might be disappointed to find out that I’m no Torah genius, but rather a simple Okie Hebrew who studies the Torah for the simple nuggets of wisdom and truth. Actually, if any of my Torah observance seems more rigid than the popular interpretation, it’s usually because of my own ignorance in the reason why certain mitzvot (commandments) exist. My aim is not to wow people with my intellect; a task which I think I would continually fail to be successful at performing. My aim is to be able to provide just a dash of peculiar perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures, those who have been inspired by them, and what relevance the Hebrew Scriptures have with our modern society.  
I find it’s important to celebrate how little I know and use it as a constant motivation to never stop learning. 
“When you’re through learning, you’re through.” 
– Will Rogers
World Famous Okie Philosopher
If you have any topics that you’d like to see discussed on this blog or that you’d like this simple Okie Hebrew to address, feel free to submit them to me and I’ll do my best to address them.

Making Blessings While Blessing Make You

Call me old fashioned, but one thing that makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside is when I actually see people in restaurants stop and “say grace” before they eat. It means that these people actually make it a point to stop and thank God for the food they are about to eat no matter who might be watching. I used to work with a Jehovah’s Witness guy who would hardly so much as look at his food before saying a silent prayer. My wife and I try to do so; usually being more successful in our home than when we’re out, but it’s something I’d definitely like to work on. Some questions some might have about this practice are:


1. Is “saying grace” found in the Bible? 
2. What exactly is taking place while doing this? 


I’ll attempt to answer these questions in one explanation that might wind back and forth a little. 


While saying grace before a meal is nowhere to be found in the Bible, the concept definitely in the Torah. The only thing different about it is the order in which most do it. 

ואכלת ושבעת וברכת את־יהוה אלהיך על־הארץ הטבה אשר נתן־לך


“And when shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.” – Deuteronomy 8:10

Yes, most people bless God out of order, but the heart remains. Rabbinic Jews traditionally allot a time of prayer to bless God immediately preceding a meal while most cultures bless Him when everyone is assembled because different people might come and go. It can also be difficult to figure out exactly when a meal is officially over.

Where most commandments in the Torah are extremely concise and to the point with little additional explanation, there is some very good explanation that follows this passage:

“Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – Deuteronomy 8:11-14

Wow. That totally sounds like something you’d see in the commentary section of Chumash by Rashi; but no, that’s the explanation of it given in Torah. Even thousands of years since then, I don’t know if anyone could have put it better if they tried. Still, what is going on here with this communication? 



Just for the record, the command is not to “bless the food.” This concept of blessing food is a relatively new. It was created through a misunderstanding because, while we say a blessing “over” food, we are not blessing the food, but rather blessing God; the Source of all things. 

Though my wife and I are not Rabbinic Jews, rather leaning towards Karaite Jewish interpretation, we do say a Hebrew blessing over our food that Rabbinic Jews traditionally say over bread. Many modern Karaite Jews use these same blessings and many appear in Karaite liturgy. Practicing Orthodox Jews have different blessings for different types of food, but we find that this single blessing best encapsulates the essence of blessing God for all food (after all, its not really about what kind of food you’re eating, but rather that there is food at all).

The blessing goes like this: 
ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, המוציא לחם מן הארץ

Barukh atta Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, ha’motzi lekhem meen ha’aretz.
Blessed are You, LORD or God, King of the universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.

The only other blessing over a different kind of food we recite is when we ceremoniously drink wine on Shabbat or during other holidays. That blessing goes like this:

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, בורא פרי הגפן

Barukh atta Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, bo’rey p’ri hagafen.
Blessed are You, LORD or God, King of the universe, Who creates the fruit of the vine.”

Though some Orthodox Jews might object to us using the blessing for bread before eating a steak, we figure that whatever fed the cow so it could grow large enough to be slaughtered and eaten more than likely came from the earth (that is, unless we start harvesting grains on the moon…which might be a ways off). We use the term “bread” to symbolize food the way the Avinu Prayer says “give us this day our daily bread.” 

Long explanation short: It works for us, which is the most important thing. Finding a prayer, blessing, or whatever expression that you want that best blesses God is all that matters when giving thanks to God for what He provides. It can be spur of the moment or it can be previously composed; as long as it is truly from your heart each and every time you say it, that is the most important aspect of a blessing. 

I hope this blesses you so that you may more easily bless God. 

Shalom. 
-Ken




I Don't Eat Kosher. I Eat Food.

While I was in college, I held many part-time jobs that allowed me to come in contact with many people I normally would not have come in contact with. While I was working at a printer cartridge re-manufacturing store, around the same time I was really shifting away from Christian thought and more into a Hebraic perspective of the Scriptures, I was fortunate enough to have a conversation one day with a certain customer who really shined new light on eating kosher. Interestingly enough, this man was a Christian. By Christian, I mean he probably believed that his salvation came from Jesus, but other than that, I bet this guy had been kicked out of a couple churches just by the way he spoke. 


At this point in my conversion, I did not consider myself B’nai Yisrael, but rather since I kept many of the tenants of the Torah, I considered myself a “weird Christian.” That was the best way I knew how to explain it to anyone who asked by I was wearing blue-accented fringes and didn’t cut my beard. 

I think the customer was waiting on some of his printer cartridges to be refilled and he asked me about my fringes and beard. I explained to him where I was, spiritually, and didn’t really know what to expect in reply. He gave me an approving “hmmp” with “will ya look at that?” happy frown and raised slightly surprised raised eyebrows. 

“Well, ya know, Jesus kept kosher. So did all the disciples; even after Jesus’ resurrection. No, I betcha money even Paul never touched a ham sandwich. The Bible plainly says eating certain things is forbidden and there’s no getting around it.”

His reply surprised me. All the other Christians I knew had quoted the classic “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled?” line from Matthew 17; which goes on to say “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person” as well as “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” What most Christians will claim is Jesus’ way of abolishing the laws of eating kosher in the Torah (which doesn’t make sense because the rest of the Bible says that if anyone comes claiming to be Messiah, but teaches against the Torah, cannot not possibly Messiah) is actually a teaching against speaking evil and also enforcing man-made laws as though they are in the Torah. Though washing one’s hands before eating might be a good idea, the command to wash one’s hands before eating bread isn’t found anywhere in the Torah. 

The customer didn’t quote that famous Matthew 17 verse, instead he started to speak about Torah by quoting verses from Leviticus 11. According to the Torah, Israel is forbidden to eat: 
  • Mammals that don’t both have a cloven hoof AND chew their cud 
  • Fish that don’t have both scales and fins 
  • Birds of prey
  • Winged insects that go on all four besides those that have jointed legs above the feet for hopping
  • Any reptiles or amphibians 
  • Pretty much any animals that eat other animals
This man did not bring the usual argument about these creatures being disgusting or cursed or anything. He made it even more simple than that:

“These animals were not designed to be food. Animals that die in the wilderness are eaten by scavengers; wild pigs, vultures, wolves, some tinier than you can see, and the like. When fish die, they fall to the lake bottom or ocean floor and are eaten by bottom-feeders like crabs, lobsters, and catfish. You wouldn’t try and eat the garbage truck, would you? I wouldn’t eat these creatures any sooner than I’d eat my own shoe. It’s not because I consider my shoe to be cursed, but simply because I need my shoe. God designed these creatures to take care of the earth by keeping it clean.” 

It was very bizarre that this Christian was bringing a very Jewish perspective to eating clean foods, but he was absolutely right. These animals are not necessarily non-kosher food, but they simply weren’t meant to be food anymore than my shoe is meant to be food. 

When I look at a big piece of ham, I don’t really think “Oh, disgusting! That’s sick!” After my chat with that guy one day at work, I see a big sizzling sneaker on a plate and that bacon hidden in the salad is more like little pieces of rubber. 

So, I’m not really against eating non-kosher, but more about eating what the Torah considers to be food.  

"I'm Shutting Down Applebee's, So Don't Be A Dingus."


If you were to ask someone who doesn’t keep Shabbat when Shabbat starts, even if they were knowledgeable of other cultures, they’d probably tell you that it starts Friday night at sundown. While this seems fairly feasible, if you were to ask someone who keeps Shabbat when Shabbat starts for them, they’d probably tell you that it starts Friday afternoon, Friday morning, or even possibly Thursday or Wednesday. I know it sounds really odd, but Shabbat wouldn’t be Shabbat without being prepared. In order to properly prepare for Shabbat, the Torah commands preparedness: 

והיה ביום הששי והכינו את אשר־יביאו והיה משנה על אשר־ילקטו יום ׀ יום
“On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in , it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” – Exodus 16:5

After God have Israelites the Sabbath and then was nice enough to give the manna in the desert, He didn’t necessarily have to say “Oh, and by the way, I’m locking up Hardees this Saturday so please don’t be a dill weed and try to hit it up. Make a run to the Manna Grocery Store and load up before the sun goes down Friday night.” But guess what? To ensure that we couldn’t screw it up, He did anyways. We should feel blessed to have a God that puts up with us; even when we’re complete morons.

Everything God teaches His people goes beyond the immediate understanding and applies to numerous aspects of life. As God had Israel prepare for Shabbat, for the High Holy Days, and as they approach Him in prayer and worship, we are also taught to prepare ourselves for whatever life has in store for us.

Shalom. 
– Ken

"Saying You're Sorry" ≠ Repentance

It is my theory that the reason why Christians see observant Jews as being so diametrically opposed to them because of their commitment to the Torah is, for the most part, dependent on the translation of one word linked to a theological concept. 


This word/concept is: תשובה  – pronounced like “teshuvah.” 

In English Bibles, this term is typically translated as “repentance.” While the word in its entirety shows up very rarely in the Hebrew Bible, its shortened form (“shuv”) shows up fairly frequently. 

“אם־תשוב עדש־די תבנה תרחיק עולה מאהלך”
“If you return to the Almighty you will be built up; if you remove injustice far from your tents.” 
-Job 22:23

In Hebrew, the term simply means “to turn” or “return”. To Jews, this term doesn’t merely mean saying you’re sorry, but literally turning away from your sin, not doing it again, and returning to the ways of the Torah where you were before you slipped up. While righting wrongs between your fellow man is implied, from a Hebraic mindset, teshuvah/repentance can only be done when the sin is not continued.  All spiritual repentance of sin is typically used to express returning to the ways of the Torah. When one begins to move in the opposite direction, only then is repentance actually accepted by God. 


Teshuvah is a continual process that each person works on every single day; all day long. The more teshuvah takes place, the easier it is until the commands of Torah become habitual and a part of everyday life. It can be extremely difficult at first, but grows easier with time and practice.


As an experiment, let’s see how reinserting this Hebrew concept back into some New Testament passages would force change in the lives of some Christians: 


“Return to the Torah; the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
 – Matthew 3:2 


“So they (the disciples) went out and proclaimed that people should return to the Torah.” 
– Mark 6:12


“No, I tell you; but unless you return to the Torah, you will all likewise perish.” 
– Luke 13:2

“Return to the Torah therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out.” 
– Acts 3:19 


“Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of returning to the Torah to all the people of Israel.” 
– Acts 13:24


And this isn’t changing the meaning of the passage since the original meaning of “repent” in the spiritual sense was a returning to the Torah. Interesting perspective, ain’t it? 


Shalom, 
– Ken






God is One. I Am Not.

It is common for people, especially Americans, to sell short the Oneness of our Creator. At face value, the concept doesn’t seem all that exciting. There is only one God; big whoop, right? It is with this grade-school mindset of God’s Oneness that I would like to tackle and dismantle this description of God that has most likely made you bored of this post already. 


I came from Christianity, which does say that God is One, but that also that God is three. Because of this, I could never quite grab a hold of the magnitude of what it means that God is, in fact, One. I also think part of this is because of Christianity’s need to have pictures of images of God; which are really images of us because, supposedly, the “image of God” is meant to mean that He probably had one head, two arms, two legs, a torso, etc.. 

The other reason why I was never able to fully grasp the weight of the Oneness of God is because I was reading it all wrong; literally. Understanding what the Torah meant in Deuteronomy 6:4 cannot be understood with the common understanding of the English translation. Most people are used to this thought pattern which is expressed in the “God’s Word” translation of the Bible: 

“Listen, Israel; The LORD is our God. The LORD is the only God.” 

Sounds good, right? Did it wake you up at all? Me neither. I started nodding off in my chair just reading it. Why? This isn’t what the Torah says! 

The Torah says this: 
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה ׀ אחד
“Hear, O Israel. The LORD is our God. The LORD is One.” 

What is the difference? Here is the difference: 

You see, having a single God is nothing new and doesn’t expand our minds at all. We have one President, nations have one king, we each have one father, and having One God is nothing new. But the fact that God is One changes everything. 

You see the sky? The God is the sky. You see the ground? That’s God, too. Look at your own hand. God. Look at your lunch. God. Even when you look at suffering, pain, evil, and depression, that is all God. God is laughter. God is sorrow. God is…you get the picture.

Now, when you speak to your fellow man, recognize that he is, in essence, part of God’s Oneness; so speak respectfully. When you talk to your wife, to your children, to your husband, your mom, your dad, they are also a part of God’s Oneness. The words you’re putting out there are part of God’s Oneness, so don’t borrow part of God’s Oneness to tell a lie or insult someone.  

Now that we know that God is One and that everything is part of His Oneness, what do we do with that Oneness? 


Shalom. 
– Ken