Follow by Email

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Why Jews love mosquitos

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 38

Mark Twain famously wrote about the desolation of the Holy Land.  One of the major obstacles faced by the pioneers, who paved the way for the return to Zion, were the perilous swamplands full of malaria-carrying mosquitos.  How did the new returnees to the Land resolve this challenge?  They imported eucalyptus trees from Australia and planted them in the problem areas.  Eucalyptus trees require a considerable amount of moisture to thrive, and so as they grew, they soaked up the water around them, draining the swamps in the process.  With the swamps gone, the mosquitos lost their natural environment.  And in no time at all, they died off, taking their malaria with them to the grave.

ת"ר אדם נברא בערב שבת ומפני מה שאם תזוח דעתו עליו אומר לו יתוש קדמך במעשה בראשית דבר אחר כדי שיכנס לסעודה מיד משל למלך בשר ודם שבנה פלטרין ושיכללן והתקין סעודה ואחר כך הכניס אורחין
The Sages taught: Adam was created on Shabbat eve at the close of the six days of Creation. And for what reason was this so? So that if a person becomes haughty, God can say to him: The mosquito preceded you in the acts of Creation. Alternatively, he was created on Shabbat eve, in order that he enter into a feast immediately, as the whole world was prepared for him. This is comparable to a king of flesh and blood, who first built palaces and improved them, and prepared a feast, and afterward brought in his guests. 

Human beings were created last so that we would be humbled by all that preceded us, even the lowly mosquito.  Or maybe, human beings were created last so that the entire universe could be all ready for us to enter the party without having to stand outside waiting in line!  Aren’t these reasons contradictory?  Was it in tribute to mankind that we were the ultimate act of creation or was G-d teaching us a lesson and putting us in our place by creating us last?

No doubt, this powerful question has perplexed millennia of Talmudists.  But finally, in our time, the meaning of the Gemara has become clear.

One of the ways Hashem promised to prepare the Promised Land prior to the re-entry of the Children of Israel was by sending a bug that the Torah calls ‘tzirah.’  The commentators debate whether this bug was a physical insect or an internal disease ‘bug,’ as the word tzirah appears to be connected to tzaraas (the biblical skin disease).  We know that the narrative of the Torah is not some ancient story; if it’s in the Torah, the lesson is important and applicable for all eternity.

How did the Almighty prepare the Land of Israel for our re-entry in the modern era?  He sent malaria-carrying mosquitos.  So in the end both Rashi and Ibn Ezra were correct: the tzirah was a real insect, but it caused an internal bug!  What did the tzirah do?  It ensured that those who were living in Israel while we were in Exile couldn’t inhabit most of the Land.  Only once we returned, armed with the newly-discovered gift from Heaven – the eucalyptus tree – we could remove the tzirah and the Jewish people could return to live in the entire Land of Israel!

Now when you first read our Gemara about the mosquito preceding human beings, it appears to be a negative, demeaning statement.  Nobody likes mosquitos.  And to think that even that awful bug came to this earth before us makes you feel pretty small.  But to the modern Talmud reader, it is abundantly clear that when the mosquito preceded us, it was the greatest blessing we could ever imagine!  The mosquito protected the earth – and in this case, the Holy Land – so that we could enter with ease!  There’s no contradiction in the Talmud whatsoever – both statements are fantastic!

And that should be our attitude to all challenges in life.  Nobody’s first reaction to mosquitos is, “Awesome!!”  But when you realize that the Almighty has a plan and even mosquitos are part of that plan, then no matter what happens, you find yourself saying, “Wow, thank you Hashem, this is awesome indeed!”

It’s like the story of King David who always wondered why Hashem made spiders.  Until one day he was hiding in a cave from King Shaul who was pursuing him.  A spider came and weaved a web over the mouth of the cave.  When Shaul saw the web, he figured that nobody could be inside.  At that point, David perished all doubts over why G-d created the spider!

Everything Hashem made, everything He does, is all part of one colossal plan.  Things may seem unfair, they may appear bleak, all you might be feeling now are the mosquito bites, but never lose your trust in the One Above.  In time, everything will become clear.  You’ll find out soon enough why the mosquito preceded you.  May you always trust in Hashem knowing that even the most challenging obstacles are all part of His incredible plan!

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

No such thing as a sinner

Daf Yomi Sanhedrin 37

There were these cool cats living in the neighborhood of Rabbi Zeira.  In an effort to help reengage them in their Judaism, he befriended them. But the other Sages disapproved of the friendship. When Rabbi Zeira died, the guys cried out, “Until now, Rabbi Zeira prayed for compassion for us!  Who will pray for us now?”  They gave it some thought and repented. 

Reish Lakish taught from the following verse: “Your temples [rakkatekh] are like a pomegranate split open," which teaches that even the empty people [reikanin] among you are as full of mitzvos as the pomegranate is full of seeds. Rabbi Zeira says that the source is from here: when Yitzchak blessed Yaakov, the verse states: “And he smelled the smell of his garments, and blessed him, and said: See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed." Do not read “his garments [begadav]”; rather, ‘his traitors [bogedav],’ meaning that even traitors and sinners among the Jewish people have qualities “as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed.”

Some folks appear to be pretty estranged from religion.  But the truth is, they’re choc-a-bloc full of mitzvos like a pomegranate is full of seeds!  Just think about all the people they’ve probably lent a helping hand to.  Think about the charity they’ve given.  The smiles and good cheer they’ve spread.  The way they honour their parents and care for the earth’s poor and downtrodden.  There’s no telling how many mitzvos they truly have up their sleeve!

Never give up on anyone!  Sure, they might not have looked the part, but Rabbi Zeira knew that deep-down these characters were incredible individuals who wanted a relationship with Heaven.  They might not even have realized themselves that they cared about G-d.  But the second Rabbi Zeira passed, it suddenly hit them that he wasn’t there to pray for them. 

Who knows if they ever thanked Rabbi Zeira while he was alive?  They probably ridiculed him for his religious devotion.  But his friendship was slowly but surely chipping away at the coarseness concealing their neshomo – their inner light.  Until the day finally arrived when they cried out for a relationship with Heaven!

Now, take a moment to go back and reread the story.  After Rabbi Zeira dies, the Gemara relates how, “They gave it some thought and repented.”  Who gave it some thought?  The Gemara doesn’t say.  At first glance we assume it was the OTD’ers (the wayward kids).  But a careful read reveals that maybe it was the Sages who repented.  Throughout Rabbi Zeira’s lifetime they shook their heads disapprovingly when they saw him associating with these ruffians.  But when they heard the kids cry out, “Who will pray for us?” they realized that Rabbi Zeira’s relationship with them had made an incredible impact.  Maybe they still weren’t your typical ‘frum baleibatim,’ but they clearly cared about their connection to the Almighty!  And at that point, the Sages ‘repented’ and decided that Rabbi Zeira had been right all along and that maybe they too should be taking a softer approach and reaching out to their fellow Yidden a little more.

If you find yourself looking down on some of your Jewish brothers and sisters, if you can’t see that they’re full of mitzvos like a pomegranate, then maybe it’s time you looked inside your own soul.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s not them that needs to repent. 

Every individual is overflowing with spirituality!  If you’re not seeing it, you’re not looking hard enough!  And even if they themselves don’t seem to acknowledge it, don’t ever give up on them!  They will come around eventually!  May Hashem open your eyes to see the spiritual beauty in each and every person!

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Hashem hurts the ones He loves the most

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 79

At the college where my father teaches, he has a Jewish colleague, called Fred.  Fred is an atheist.
“Come on, Freddie,” said Aba one day to him, “look at the wonderful world around you!  You can’t seriously believe that it all happened randomly, can you?”
“Look, mate,” Fred replied, “I once had cancer.  I can’t believe in a G-d that would have given me cancer.”
“But, Freddie,” my dad responded bemusedly, “you got better!  Doesn’t that demonstrate the abundant mercies of the Almighty?!”

After the battle with the Emorites, the Torah declares, “We laid waste to them (VanAshim) until Nofach, which reaches until Maidva.”
The Gemara explains: “Until Nofach” means until a fire (Aish) comes that needs no nifuach (fanning).  “Until Maidva” means until He has done what He wants (Mai d’vaee).
Rashbam explains: ‘He’ refers to Hashem. In this world, He allows the wicked to prosper, so that He may trouble them in the World to Come.

Some people mistakenly view suffering in this world as a sign that G-d doesn’t care or that there is no G-d.  That could not be further from the truth!  As the Gemara demonstrates, when people suffer in this world, it’s a sign that G-d loves them! 

How so?

Nobody in this world is 100% righteous or wicked.  We all have a string of positive and negative things that we’ve done in this world.  Hopefully, the positive overwhelmingly outweighs the negative in most of us.  When that happens, Hashem says, ‘I like that fellow.  I’d like to give him total reward in Heaven.  So let me bestow a little hardship upon him in this world and thereby wipe the slate clean.  That way, he’ll enter Heaven sin-free.’ 

The opposite is true for people who are not so great.  Hashem says, ‘That fellow really needs to answer for his sins in the World to Come.  But he’s not 100% wicked, so I’m going to let him prosper in this world.  That way, I won’t owe him any reward later.’

In other words, your Father in Heaven wants only the best for you.  He wants you to enjoy life in this world and the next.  But in order to maximize your eternal bliss, sometimes He has to provide you with a little pain in this world.  And so when we experience hardship, we shouldn’t start questioning G-d’s providence or existence; au contraire, we should be thanking Him for His benevolence!

And if you should be lucky enough to have experienced a storm that Hashem carried you through – like surviving cancer – you should be all the more grateful to Him!  That truly demonstrates how much He loves you.  He loves you so much that He wants you to have a perfect life in the next world!

So next time things aren’t going exactly the way you’d hoped, turn your eyes Heavenward and say, ‘Thank you, Aba!  Thank you for loving me so much and having the confidence in me that I’ll maintain my faith in You through it all!’

Your Father in Heaven loves you more than you could ever imagine!  When He gives you challenges in life, it’s only because He loves you and wants the best for you.  May you forever maintain your faith in Heaven and welcome the trials and tribulations Hashem lovingly bestows upon you! 

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Are all religions basically the same?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 78

Rabbanit Batya is the first rebbetzin in history on the payroll of the Church.  As the coordinator for the Edmonton Interfaith Housing Initiative, her job is to bring together clergy from across Edmonton and inspire them to educate their respective flocks about helping to end homelessness in the city.  While the initiative is a joint project of a number of faith groups as well as the City of Edmonton, practically speaking she receives a monthly paycheck from the Anglican Diocese, making her the first rebbetzin ever to be paid by the Church!

Many people see cooperation between religious groups as incredibly beautiful.  After all, aren’t we really all about the same thing?  Faith means being guided by Heaven to make this world a better place, right?  We’re all essentially doing the same thing, just with some minor differences in approach, right?

Following the battle with the Emorites, the Torah states, “Vaniram avad Cheshbon ad Divon (Their sovereignty over Cheshbon was lost until Divon).”
The Gemara interprets this phrase homiletically: “Vaniram” alludes to a wicked person who says “Ain Ram – there is no G-d on High.” “Avad Cheshbon” means that “The demand for a personal accounting of one’s actions is lost. Hashem responds, however, “Ad Divon,” meaning, “Just wait until the day of judgment (din) comes (ba)!”

Ever wonder how rational human beings could worship idols?  How foolish could ancient man have been?  You fashion these statues out of wood and gold and then treat them as a god?  How could they be divine when you created them yourself?  These idols should have been worshipping man as their creator, not the other way around!

Our Sages explain that idolatry went hand in hand with immorality.  Why?  What led a person who was bowing down to idols to become an exemplar of loose morals?  What is the connection between the two?

Imagine you were our patriarch, Avraham, or the prophet, Eliyahu, and you were trying to convince a person to cease their idolatrous practices and immoral ways.  What would they respond to you?  ‘You have your religion, I have mine.  Who gives you the right to judge me and my religion?  My idols have instructed me to practise my life as I do!  How dare you be so intolerant and disrespectful to another’s beliefs?’

That’s why idolatry was so popular.  It was even better than atheism.  When you debate an atheist, you’re not criticizing their beliefs – they claim to have none!  But when you debate an idolater, there’s nothing you can say to them.  The second you begin to critique their religious practices, they accuse you of intolerance.  But what exactly were their religious practices?  Whatever they wanted them to be!  They could be the most immoral people and claim that their gods instructed them to act the way they do.  When you question their morality, their response is that your definition of what is morally appropriate is simply different to their definition.  

Today we have a name for such abstruseness: moral relativism.  That’s what the Gemara means regarding the person who says “There is no G-d on high.” If there’s no Supernal Being, every religion is equal.  Idolatry was the ancient name for today’s moral relativism.  You have no right to question another person’s theology and practices and claim moral superiority, because everyone has the right to their own beliefs.  To judge another’s religious devotions is to be intolerant.  As the Gemara says “the demand for a personal accounting of one’s actions is lost,” because everyone is entitled to believe and practise whatever they want to believe and practise.

The advantage of idolatry was that you could lead your life however you wanted to, and do it all in the name of religion.  Most religions today are not that overtly depraved.  But that doesn’t make them right.  Many faith groups justify all manner of inappropriate behaviour, all in the name of religion.  Some faiths justify violence, particularly against women.  Other faiths justify alternative lifestyles or the right to determine which babies have the right to be born.  One dare not criticize, because it’s considered intolerant.  When morals are no longer determined by Heaven, but by man, that’s modern-day idolatry.

When Rabbanit Batya and I work together with other faith groups to create a better society, we are not declaring that we believe those religions to be true.  Or equal to Judaism.  When we work with other clergy members, we seek common ground to do good.  Care for the less fortunate, alms for the poor – those deeds are common to most religions and when we work together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 

Other aspects of our respective theologies, however, are not part of the discussion.  As far as we’re concerned every other religion is absolutely false.  In fact, anybody that doesn’t believe that their religion is the absolute truth and that all other religions are false gods should probably question their faith commitment! 

Anybody can justify anything they want in G-d’s name.  You don’t need to respect opinions and beliefs that are immoral.  On the contrary, we should call out those who use G-d to justify their immoral behaviour.  At the same time, however, we must respect and work with others who are making this world a better place in the name of Heaven.  Doing so does not mean that we agree with every theological statement they are making.  May you never fall into the trap of moral relativism, but always be prepared to cooperate with those who are working to make G-d’s name great in this world!

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Why won't Israelis become synagogue members?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 45

There are close to a million former Israelis living in the Diaspora.  From post-army kiosk workers to Silicon Valley geniuses to top university academics and everything in between, there is nowhere in the world that you won’t find Israelis!  But one of the challenges that established Diaspora communities struggle with is: how do you get them to become synagogue members?  In Israel, religious life is state-driven.  Shuls are provided free of charge and so the concept of paying dues is completely foreign to them.  How do you change that mentality and get them to decide to join? 

Rava, and some say Rav Pappa, declared: Those who are making Aliya and those who are doing Yerida (emigrating from Israel), any child of Israel who sells his chamra (donkey) to Israel his friend (i.e. his Jewish friend): if a gentile should come and attempt to forcibly seize it, by law he must retrieve it for him.
Rashbam explains: If the purchaser is being hounded by a gentile who claims the donkey was stolen from him, the seller is obligated to assist the purchaser in seeking justice and the return of his donkey.

In the literal interpretation of the Gemara, chamra means donkey.  But on a deeper level, chamra also means substance or material.  In Modern Hebrew, the former meaning is the word chamor, the latter sense is the word chomer.   

In the literal meaning, Rava is teaching that if you sell your Jewish friend a donkey which is seized by a gentile, you have a duty to help them get it back.  But on an esoteric level, Rava makes a powerful declaration: The greatest contribution a person can make to Israel, his friend is to dedicate his chamra, his substance, material, his entire being.

What does that mean?  Rava makes his declaration both to those who are making Aliya and those who are doing Yerida.  Certainly, the greatest dedication of one’s being to Israel is to make Aliya.  How many of us are prepared to make that ultimate move for the sake of the future of the Jewish people?  There are no words to express our indebtedness to every Israeli citizen and especially those who have voluntarily made Aliya.

But the intriguing declaration is to those who have done Yerida, those who have emigrated from Israel.  Some people’s automatic response to ex-Israelis is one of disdain.  How could anyone choose to leave the Holy Land for life in the Diaspora?  That’s not Rava’s attitude.  Why?  Well, firstly, it’s a little hypocritical to criticize Israelis who have left – after all, did you ever live there?! 

Secondly, most of us could never hold a candle to the average Israeli.  Just think about the three-plus years they dedicated to the safety and security of the Jewish people on the frontlines of the battlefield!  They’ve put their lives on the line for us.  When I see an Israeli, I almost want to reach out and give them a big hug.  There is no way I could ever repay them for everything they’ve done for me and my family!

Now listen to Rava’s declaration: Any child of Israel who sells his chamra to Israel his friend, if a gentile should come and attempt to forcibly seize it, by law he must retrieve it for him.   Nearly every Israeli you meet sold their chamra – gave their entire being – to Israel, by virtue of their time served in the IDF.  For one reason or another, many later end up in the Diaspora, where the gentile world attempts to seize their chamra from them. 

What do I mean?  In Israel, it was easy for them to be Jewish.  Because everyone is Jewish.  Shabbat is a special day; whether or not you keep everything, it’s still called Shabbat!  Pork is hard to find.  Most Israelis fast on Yom Kippur and don’t eat bread on Pesach.  But then they leave Israel and all of a sudden they have to be conscious of their Jewish choices.  Unfortunately, many of them are simply ill-prepared to deal with the religious challenges of the gentile world around them.  And so Rava declares, if they’re losing their chamra, we have an obligation to retrieve it for them.

How? By reaching out to them and inviting them to get involved with Jewish life in our communities.  So why aren’t we doing it?  What’s stopping us reaching out to them?  Often, we get hung up on the fact that they won’t become synagogue members.  Maybe some of them will.  But most of them won’t.  Not today.  Not next year.  Probably never.  They simply have no shul-membership culture – to pay for religion is almost sacrilegious to them! 

So why invite them to take part in synagogue life if we know they’ll never pay synagogue dues?  Because it’s the least we can do.  No money in the world could repay them for the years they put their lives on the line for us.  That’s right: we owe our Jewish safety and security – even in the Diaspora – to the self-sacrifice they made.  They devoted their chamra, their entire being, to the Jewish people.  Now let’s be there for them if Diaspora life is causing their spiritual chamra – their Jewishness – to be stolen from them.  If that means giving them free membership in our shuls, isn’t that the least we could do? 

Every Israeli who put their lives on the line for the Jewish people is as holy as a Temple sacrifice.  We could never repay them for their incredible devotion to the Jewish people.  May we reach out and do what little we can to show our appreciation, by being there for them when they need our spiritual protection! 

Do you own property in Israel?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 44

Jerusalem, The Movie, is a 2013 IMAX documentary that describes the history and contemporary life of the holiest city in the world.  The film begins showing the Jebusites as the original inhabitants of the city.  It was then conquered by the Jews.  Subsequently, the Romans took it.  Then the Muslims.  Then the Christians.  Then the Muslims again.  And finally the Jews reconquered it.  The message of the movie was that everyone really had a part in the city’s history and that we should all ideally share the city.

Only problem is that the first part of the story is absent.  The Torah’s original introduction to Jerusalem happens when our patriarch Avraham returns from his successful mission to rescue his nephew Lot and the other captives.  He is greeted by his great-grandfather, Malkitzedek, King of Shalem.  City name sound familiar?  Of course!  That was Jerusalem!  In fact, our Sages explain that Malkitzedek was Shem, the son of Noach.  Initially, he ruled over the entire area of what would later be called Greater Israel.  But the Canaanites conquered most of the land from him, leaving him with only the city of Shalem, or Jerusalem.  And indeed, after his death, that city too was conquered by a Canaanite people called the Jebusites.

Nevertheless, Hashem promised Avraham that one day, his descendants would return to the Land.  They would be replanted in the country that was once the domain of their forefathers.  It belongs to us and any subsequent conquests are invalid in the eyes of Hashem.

Tosfos: When one creates a power of attorney for monetary matters, one writes, “I hereby transfer four cubits of my yard to my agent” (thereby rooting the transaction in land).  One writes the clause even if he does not own any land, since there is no Jewish person who does not own a portion of land in Israel, for land cannot be stolen.

What is your motivation for Israel advocacy?  Most of us advocate for two primary reasons: first, to help our brothers and sisters in Israel.  Almost half the Jewish people live in Israel and so we want to make sure that Israel is treated fairly and protected by the global society of nations.

The second reason we advocate for Israel is that, following 2000 years of persecution in exile, we all recognize that we need Israel as a safe haven for our people.  G-d forbid should the next Hitler or Queen Isabella rise up, we now have somewhere to escape to.  Unless we fight for Israel’s right to exist and flourish now, it will not be there if and when we should ever need to take shelter under her wings. 

The reality is, though, it’s really hard to motivate young people to advocate on that score.  While many of us grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust, our children have grown up in a world that is so open and accepting to all.  They couldn’t begin to imagine real anti-Semitism, the likes of which existed blatantly in every country until quite recently.  So why should they fight for Israel?

Certainly the first reason – acting for the love of their Israeli brothers and sisters – continues to hold true, but Tosfos here offers an additional, very compelling reason to defend Israel.  You own property there!  Every single Jew, says Tosfos, is an automatic landowner, since we all have a share in the physical land of Israel.  Even if it was stolen by the Jebusites, then the Babylonians, then the Romans, and finally by the Christians and Muslims, it still belongs to us.  You can’t steal land!

If you saw someone trying to steal your car, would you just stand there and let them get away with it?  Of course not!  You would do everything in your power to stop them.  The same is true with any property you own.  So what are you going to do when they try to sweep away your land from under your feet?  You’re going to work your hardest to make sure it doesn’t happen! 

That’s the imagery we need to convey to our children.  Israel advocacy is not about some country on the other side of the world we’re working to support politically.  It’s about our personal ownership rights that are being threatened!

You own a piece of Israel.  Don’t let it slip away.  May you never stop fighting for your rights and the rights of every one of your landowner brothers and sisters!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Why is the Torah reading so boring?

Daf Yomi Bava Basra 43

We had just left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea to freedom at last.  Only to find ourselves trudging through the wilderness.  It had been three long days and we’d encountered no water for our children or ourselves, let alone the animals.  And then we finally reached the water, it was bitter!  Until Moshe threw a special plant into the water and it miraculously became sweet! 

On a mystical level, water represents Torah.  It is our life-force.  It is our basic sustenance.  As Rabbi Akiva would say, a Jew without Torah is like a fish out of water.

This deeper symbolism and its connection to our search for water in the wilderness set the tone for a law that we have until today.  Following the event, Moshe instructed our people that we must publicly read from the Torah at least every three days.  Just like we couldn’t survive without water, and when we finally found it, it was bitter, if we go too long without Torah, it becomes bitter to us. 

How could anyone find water bitter?  And yet we did.  Likewise, if we let Torah be absent from our lives for too long, we stop appreciating its sweetness.  Instead of being invigorating, it becomes a burden.  Hence the obligation to publicly read from the Torah every Shabbos, Monday, and Thursday.  That way we are constantly energized and the Torah is forever fresh and exciting!

If a Torah scroll was stolen from a city, local citizens may not judge the case nor testify, for a Torah is there for all to listen to.
Rashbam explains: Every person in the city is an interested party (and therefore disqualified to be a judge or witness to the case of the stolen Torah), because they all enjoy (listening to) the Torah.

Listen to what Rashbam says: everyone enjoys listening to the Torah!  We all benefit from it!  How lucky we are to have the opportunity to hear the Torah Shabbos morning, Shabbos afternoon, Monday, and Thursday!

Okay now, let’s be honest for a minute: do we all really find the Torah reading the highlight of our religious experience?  How many contemporary shuls make the Torah reading an immensely enjoyable experience?  An awesome moment.  Something we just can’t wait for? 

Back in the day, the layning (Torah reading) was a much more stimulating experience: the Baal Koreh (reader) would read a verse and then an interpreter would stand there and bring it to life for the congregation.  Nowadays, we don’t need all that, because we have printed translations right in front of us.  So many of us end up tuning out – either we find something else to read or we end up chatting quietly to our neighbors.

If you find yourself dreading the Torah reading, you need to figure out how to make it more stimulating and exciting.  Speak to the rabbi.  Speak to the gabbai.  Or even better, offer to be part of the solution.

There are lots of different ways to make it more exciting.  In our shul, we’ve used various approaches over the years.  At one point, I would ask a question between each aliya; the answer could be found anywhere in the text and Stone Chumash commentary.  We currently have a couple of 2 minute D’var Torah breaks – not before every aliya, that can get a little tedious; but here and there, and with different presenters.  We have rabbinic and lay-leader presenters – as long as they’re interesting and present succinctly and cogently.

A good service also can’t afford to allow the gabbaus (ritual call-ups) to be boring.  If you have too many long misheberachs (blessings), people tune out and start talking to their neighbor.  Misheberachs should be short and sweet (and generate maximum funds for the shul)!  And of course, the layning itself should be error-free and read at a pretty decent pace – fast enough to keep things moving, just not too fast that the congregation cannot follow along. 

On the odd occasion, the Baal Koreh should make a deliberate mistake.  That serves two purposes: first, you make sure that people are paying attention.  Second, it gives people a chance to shout out the correction which keeps everyone awake.  (I’m kidding, a good Baal Koreh is always letter-perfect and trop-perfect!!  I was just checking to see you’re all still awake!)

The Torah reading should be the pinnacle of our Shabbos experience.  Find ways to keep it fresh, alive, and stimulating for everyone.  May you merit being part of the solution and quenching the thirst of our people with the holy sweet waters of Torah!