December 15, 2018

Jewish Holidays: Tools That Will Make the Holidays a Little Easier

The holidays are approaching. This can mean different things for families, such as spending time with each other, shopping, or observing Jewish traditions.

Still, no matter how much one prepares, the holidays can be a little stressful. The following are interesting tools Jewish families have at their disposal to make things a little easier during the holidays.

Calendar Days

One of the most useful tools available today is the Jewish Days app. This application can be downloaded on most smart devices and helps people track special Jewish holidays.

It is okay to admit that some of these days are hard to keep track of, and the app tracks these days for you so you are never caught off guard. The app also allows you to add additional notes should there be something worth noting this year.

Proper Storytelling Tool

Getting the days right is just one thing to worry about. Others worry about telling the Haggadah Passover story. The story is normally condensed, but telling it in front of family and friends can still be intimidating.

This is why the Haggadah for Passover application can be useful. It outlines the story to ensure that it is told correctly, and it also tells the user when to drink from the cup of wine.

It makes the moment easier and makes you feel more confident, which is ultimately what everyone wants. All you have to do is type in the name of the app on your app store.

Gifting Help

You have a lot to worry about, from entertaining guests to updating family with all the information they might be interested in. On top of this, you still have to purchase the right gifts.

Another tool worth adding to your list is BestAdvisor, which allows you to browse through hundreds of gifts. This might not seem too useful at first, but what makes this tool unique is that it aggregates reviews from real people so that you get exactly what you were looking for.

You can also check on the present you are considering seeing how others have rated it before deciding on it.

The Cleanup

Preparing the house for the holidays can be a little overwhelming, but it can be a family affair if you want it to.

Getting rid of all Chametz can be challenging, but there are a number of tools out there that you can use to make this a little easier. For example, there is the No Chametz tool, which is an easy app to install and use.

The tool helps you find out what is Chametz, which can be confusing in this day and age. You should also receive a link that shares information. You will be able to sell things while still observing traditions.

Kosher Eating App

You got rid of all the Chametz, but that does not mean your work is done. Now, you have to make sure your food is acceptable for the holidays. It used to be quite difficult to ensure all food was Kosher, but that is becoming easier.

One tool that is making things easier for families across the country is the cRc Kosher application. The tool lists a number of foods that are considered Kosher. Another effective tool to consider is the OU Kosher application that helps you shop at the grocery store since it tells you if a product is Kosher or not.

Technology is making things easier for people, including Jewish families. Granted, these are just some of the tools out there, so do not be afraid to search your app store to look for other tools worth exploring.

Ready for Judgment?

This week ushers in Elul, the month when Jews traditionally prepare for the High Holidays. In anticipation of the Day of Judgment, we judge ourselves, conducting a full cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul). The Torah portion Re’eh can serve as a checklist for forgiveness, repentance and renewing our lives. Its various laws and themes each suggest avenues for real and lasting change:

Blessing and Curse

The power to choose is staggering — and inescapable. Will we align ourselves with mitzvot and blessings or rebellion and curses? It might seem that our choices are not so stark, or that we can remain safely in “neutral territory.” But Deuteronomy asserts that, on some level, the options we face will incline us either toward life and blessings or toward death and curses. How will you choose life this year?

You Are on a Journey

The Israelites stand at the Jordan, a minor crossing that will take them into the Promised Land. So it is with the small changes of teshuvah (repentance). Turning to God is ein klein drei (one small turn), and yet it covers an immeasurable distance: “As far as East is from West” (Psalms 103:12). What is the Jordan that you need to cross?

Destroy Idolatry

Trying to repent while holding onto sin is, in Maimonides’ image, like immersing in the mikvah (ritual bath) while holding onto a snake. Sin, harm, idolatry and temptation must be relinquished. Is there anyone or anything in your life that is corrupting and corrosive to you spiritually?

Create a Spiritual Home

In Deuteronomy, Jerusalem is established as the central spiritual home. Each of us needs to create centralized places for spiritual focus. Which synagogue will be the locus of your spiritual work this year? Where in your home will you pray, eat mindfully and create rituals, as the Israelites did in Jerusalem?

Choose a Leader Worth Following

It is a mistake, we know, to follow those who desecrate God’s name or ask us to violate divine principles, no matter how charismatic or successful they appear. We need to guard against the tendency to add to, or take away from, the Torah. Checking an idea or opinion against the Word of God is a good test to prove its spiritual worth. Who are your spiritual mentors? How will you filter and assess advice this year?

Your Body Is Holy

Repentance isn’t an abnegation of the body in favor of the soul. Repentance requires the elevation of both body and soul. The laws in Re’eh, like those for Yom Kippur, include restrictions on food and skin care. Many sins are committed through the body, but the solution is to love the body more, not less. How will your honor your body this year?

Tithe to the Temple and the Poor

Bonding to God without supporting community is an incomplete Jewish spiritual expression. What have you done this year, and can you do next year, to create a regular structure and percentage by which you will support a local synagogue and the needy?

Forgive Debts

Re’eh talks about forgiving monetary debts. Elul is the time of year when we tear up the IOU on emotional debts. What grudge, expectation or righteous indignation can you let go of to enter the New Year lighter?

Love Freedom More Than Security

The servant who would rather remain with his master than go out into the world is an extreme example, but all of us have, at one time or another, chosen security over freedom. A familiar sin can seem appealing compared to the unknown, open territory of a changed life. Repentance is a daring act because it requires that we abandon comfortable behaviors and predictable consequences. Is there a destructive pattern in your life that “feels like home,” which you are now willing to give up?

Give First — and Best — to God

Many people give tzedakah (charity) based on how much money is left over at the end of the year. Or we give so much of ourselves at the office that we have little energy to offer family or volunteer organizations. What if, as Re’eh instructs, we paid godly causes first? What if we gave the best that we have — materially and spiritually — to what is most holy, rather than what is most pressing or lucrative?

Honor Tradition Throughout the Year

Re’eh reviews the three pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. How might the themes and observances of those holidays support your cheshbon hanefesh? How does each holiday represent a pilgrimage back to yourself, as well as back to Jerusalem? What holiday observances will you engage in again, or newly, this year?

May you find inspiration in Torah, as step by step, inquiry by inquiry, you prepare to enter the High Holidays.