Dr. H. David Burstein October 2008.

Watching the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics I remembered that Toronto had been in competition with Beijing to host the games. It was obvious to me that we could not have competed with the splendor of the event that they executed. However, when running a non-democratic country, the people in charge can do whatever they want with the money that they control to put on a self-serving spectacular show.

Besides, physically Toronto is not a world class city. However, what we do have is a world class multicultural mix. While it has been pointed out by Dennis Prager “That which makes something great is also its Achilles heel, we have the opportunity to appreciate what people from so many places have to offer. With all its faults, I am fortunate to live here.

It has been discussed that one of the reasons for our multicultural society resulted from a Trudeau idea that to maintain Quebec culture, you had to divide the culture of the rest of Canada. I think there is more to it.

Part of what makes Toronto great has to do with the influence of a vibrant Jewish community. It is not just the Jews who donate to the cultural and medical institutions. Our integration into the social fabric has allowed our ethical foundations to spread. Paradigms that each of us are created in the image of God and with unlimited potential, or the demand to love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt, contributes to the making of a city of great heterogeneity.

While many Jews can enjoy the influence of other cultural groups, there seems to be an inability of Jews to learn from each other. A common refrain amongst Jews is that anyone who observes more than me is a fanatic, and anyone who does less is a goy. Wonderful! (sarcasm)

There is so much to learn from all denominations. I consider myself a serious free-lance Jew. As long as the basis of a teachers lesson is within the triangle of “God (Holiness) Torah (ethics) and Peoplehood (the State of Israel and worldwide Jewry), I am interested in what they have to say.

Among the most important lessons I learned from the Orthodox community comes from a lecture by Rabbi Noah Weinberg of Aish Hatorah. One of the ideas presented in discussing the “Ethics of the Fathers has to do with living a joyful life.

Joy and pleasure are the positive energies of life.

There are five levels of pleasure: physical, love, a cause, using our free will wisely, and knowing God.

  1. The physical pleasures have: a cost to them, an appreciation scale, and being aware of a counterfeit.
  2. Love is higher than the physical. Would you, for example, take a large sum of money if it meant you would never be able to see a loved one again?
  3. While no parent would ever want their child to have to go to war, are there causes that are worth fighting at the risk of losing ones life?
  4. There is an internal pleasure we experience when we know we have done the right thing.
  5. There is a depth of meaning and purpose of living with the sense of the Divine in our life.

We need all of them.

According to the Talmud, one of the first questions we are asked when we die is why didnt we partake in all of the allowed pleasures of life?

With the Jewish High Holidays, Thanksgiving, the world economic crisis, and the Durban II conference looming, it has been a period to refocus on what is important. While there is a time for the superficial and inspiration from our secular temples, they are not the substance of life. Health, passion, relationships, decency and depth are key values for me. The question then arises, that as much as I pursue all of them, how can I remained energized in spite of all the negativity and stress.

One way is the practice of rituals that literally and figuratively restate our values.

Another is to create memories. For most of us, we take pictures and video of special events and quiet moments. But there is an inevitable detachment. As soon as we move away to take the photograph we lose the intimacy and spontaneity of the moment (Sort of like the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle of relationships).

In the past year my wife Lesley and I have had the responsibility of raising our twins, Jack and Ellie. While it has been a lot of work, there has been moments of such bliss that I thank God that I have been given the opportunity to experience them. Getting up to do the 6am feeding of the twins has not been easy, but I have come to appreciate it as my private time with them. I am the first one to see them in the morning, and have the pleasure of giving them their first bottle. (BTW, I do change diapers!)

The feedings can be moments of perfection. I do not want this particular intimacy to end. But it will pass.

With our children, I have done two things. I played my favorite pieces of classical music in the background when I fed our son Charlie his last bottle of the day. With the twins, I recite a Kaddish (as much as I know of it). I have been taught that when we recite the mourners Kaddish, it is a prayer about bringing Gods presence back into the world in that it has been diminished by the death of the person. My feeling is that the birth of these twins has been an affirmation of Gods presence.

So every time I hear this music or recite that prayer, I will remember the pleasure of those moments for the rest of my life.

What have been those moments for you?

Thank you for reading this article. Any feedback is welcome at hdburstein@rogers.com