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Interesting quotes from famous Jews
My father never lived to see his dream come true of an
I once wanted to become an atheist but I gave up. They have no holidays.
Look at Jewish history. Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable. So, for every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one.
The time is at hand when the wearing of a prayer shawl and skullcap will not bar a man from the White House, unless, of course, the man is Jewish.
Even if you are Catholic, if you live in New York, you're Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you are going to be a goy even if you are Jewish.
The remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served us nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.
Let me tell you the one thing I have against Moses. He took us forty years into the desert in order to bring us to the one place in the Middle East that has no oil!
Even a secret agent can't lie to a Jewish mother.
My idea of an agreeable person is a person who agrees with me.
It's so simple to be wise. Just think of something stupid to say and then don't say it.
Don't be humble; you are not that great.
I went on a diet, swore off drinking and heavy eating, and in fourteen days I had lost exactly two weeks.
-Joe E. Lewis
A spoken contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.
I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying.
Whoever called it necking was a poor judge of anatomy.
A politician is a man who will double cross that bridge when he comes to it.
Too bad that all the people who know how to run this country are busy driving taxis and cutting hair.
A committee is a group that keeps minutes and loses hours.
I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs.
Television is a medium because it is neither rare nor well done.
When I bore people at a party, they think it is their fault.
"DAILY JEWISH WISDOM" is found @ Beliefnet.com
Fear builds walls to bar the light. - Baal Shem Tov
Engage in Torah and charity even with an ulterior motive, for that habit of right doing will lead also to right motivation. - Talmud: Pesahim, 50b
The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and because of justice perverted.- Ethics of the Fathers 5:8
Ever since Rabbi Akiba used the Passover seder to plan a revolutionary struggle against the Roman occupiers, the Jews have used the seder to begin concrete work on tikkun (healing and transformation).
- Rabbi Michael Lerner, the Tikkun Magazine Passover supplement 2006
To work out ends of righteousness and love are you called; not merely to enjoy or suffer.
- S.R. Hirsch, "Nineteen Letters," 1836
“Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.” Golda Meir
The worship of God, though desirable as an end itself, can somehow never be in the right spirit, unless it impels one to the service of man. - Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan
Concentrate on three things and you will not fall into the grip of sin. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before Whom you will have to give account and reckoning.- Pirkei Avot 3:1
We cannot learn from general principles: there may be exceptions. - Johanan, Talmud: Kiddushin
A truly generous man is he that always gives, whether it be much or little, before he is asked.- Orchot Tsadiqim
The best security for old age: respect your children.- Sholem Asch
A Jew can be Jewish with God, against God, but not without God.- Elie Wiesel
He who promotes his own honor at the expense of his neighbor's has no portion in the world to come.- Judah b. Hanina, Genesis Rabbah
Even if all the world tells you, "You are righteous," consider yourself a sinner. - Rabbi Simlai
Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism and falsehood. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision.- Abraham Joshua Heschel, "On Prayer"
Lose with truth and right rather than gain with falsehood and wrong.- Maimonides, "Tzavaah"
Seek the good in everyone, and reveal it, bring it forth.- Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1811), "Likutey Moharan"
Just as we love ourselves despite the faults we know we have, so should we love our neighbors despite the faults we see in them.- Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov
A man should never impose an overpowering fear upon his household. - Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 6b
If you add to the truth, you subtract from it.- The Talmud
Love unaccompanied by criticism is not love....Peace unaccompanied by reproof is not peace.- Genesis Rabbah 54:3
Quote of the Day
The least outlay is not always the greatest gain.
(620 BC-560 BC)
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Shabbat Shuva /Ha'azinu 5772
Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return, is held to be one of the most important Sabbaths to attend services according to Jewish traditions. It is the only Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. There are those who say that if every Jew were to observe Shabbat Shuvah in a given year, it would bring on the days of Moshiach, the Messianic age. Others, more tied to our pragmatic realities, point out that if one is truly getting into the repentant spirit of the Days of Awe, then that one should be drawn to observance of Shabbat Shuvah as an important step along the path to complete Atonement and Return to observance of the Law on Yom Kippur.
Some feel that there are too many holidays at this season and just cancel any Shabbat Shuvah services. Personally I believe that Shabbat Shuvah should not be ignored. It is a long and arduous path to truly fulfill the steps of renewal asked of us during the Days of Repentance. To confess that we are imperfect is easy, a path that Shabbat Shuvah helps in providing a special space for the contemplation of this challenge. To enumerated how we are imperfect and sinful is harder. Even harder is to apologize individually to those we have wronged or hurt and to be willing to forgive those who have wronged or hurt us. Hardest of all is to make amends for the damages we have caused.
All of these steps need to be completed before the prayers of the Day of Atonement can be received as fully meaningful. How can we be reborn, renewed, and reinvigorated to embark upon a clean slate of a New Year if we still have not cleaned out the rotting garbage we have accumulated in the past? How can we fully return to our roots, to being Jewish, if we continue to cling to and justify the misdeeds of our past? To go forward humbly requires that we seek forgiveness and acceptance from those we interact with and then, in the spirit of cooperation, pursue a goal of working together with each other to build a better future for all.
Sukkot: A Season for Joy as well as Forgiveness
This is the season for Jews everywhere to seek Forgiveness during Yom Kippur, and once the rituals are completed, to pursue Joy. This Joy starts towards the end of Yom Kippur and continues through Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Torah. However, pleading for forgiveness continues through most of this time as well, finishing on Hoshanah Rabah [7th day of Sukkot]with the beating of the willow branches so that we can shed the last of our sins on that morning and welcome the joys of a good harvest and the coming rains. An overview of the forgiveness and joy rituals of this Season are included below:
One common evening tradition starts the 25 hour fast of the Day of Atonement with the leaders of the congregation publicly asking for forgiveness of past oaths and transgressions in order to be worthy to lead the congregation in prayer during Yom Kippur. This is followed by communal confession of sins acknowledging that all sins do occur during the year, but without pointing fingers. People are obligated to individually own up to their specific sins.
In the afternoon, the Book of Jonah is read. It is a reminder that even the enemies of the Jews can repent and be forgiven. It follows then that true repentance on Yom Kippur will succeed in achieving amelioration of harsh decrees by the Holy One.
In Temple days, there was an afternoon practice of betrothals and dancing. Some think that in order to prevent the fervor of the praying from devolving into orgy, recitation of the laws of sexual propriety and decent behaviour were included. In modern times, discussions of social responsibilities may also be included.
The Joy anticipating new beginnings through betrothal and dancing is seen in modern times too. Starting with an enjoyable communal meal ending the day-long fast, it continues with the Season of Joy encompassing one of the biblical Pilgrimage Festivals, the Festival of Sukkot [Huts or Booths], which starts four days after Yom Kippur.
Joy is expressed, for example, through a week-long sharing with guests of food specialties set up in temporary sukkot [booths]. It is possible that these sukkot recall the temporary camps erected in biblical times during the harvest season.
Dwelling temporarily in these sukkot also reminds us to be joyously grateful for the changing seasons now giving relief from heat and now bringing a much needed rainy season. Truly it is a Season of Joy which culminates in a celebration known as Simchat Torah, Rejoicing in the Law, complete with singing, dancing, and sweet treats [Oct. 21 this year]. Perhaps this is why this season was chosen as the time for the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.
In any case, it is the Season to wish each other a Joyous New Year, a year of many joys to come. Chag Sameach! Happy Holy Days!
Excerpt from 60 Days: A Spiritual Guide to the High Holidays, by Simon Jacobson. ©Copyright The Meaningful Life Center, 2010.
8th Day of Assembly and Rejoicing in the Law
adapted from kolel.org
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah Explained
Following on the heels of Sukkot, we celebrate Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. How many holidays are we talking about here? Is this one huge 9 day festival, or three different holidays? The duo of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are among the least-known and least understood Jewish holidays. Shemini Atzeret (as its name literally means in Hebrew) is the eighth (shemonah) day from the start of the seven day festival of Sukkot, a one day observance. Although Sukkot is the festival that marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel, we actually postpone adding the prayer for rain until the conclusion of Sukkot (who wants it to rain in our Sukkah?! as it inevitably does in North America). It is on Shemini Atzeret that we recite Tefilat Hageshem, and begin to insert the prayer for rain in the Amidah, replacing the summer's prayer for dew.
Shemini Atzeret, being its own festival really marks the transition from the final harvest to the next season: winter. And although the distribution is not quite even, the additional festival creates a nice symmetry so that we have a festival for each season:
1. Passover: Spring
2. Shavuot: Summer
3. Sukkot: Fall
4. Shemini Atzeret: Winter
These four seasons/holidays also represent four themes: the birth of the Jewish people, covenant (marriage) at Sinai, maturing during the wandering in the wilderness, and the death of Moses, marking the transition of the Jewish people into a new reality. The death of Moses was the passage appropriately chosen to be read on this last festival that represents winter.
Simchat Torah. It is not in the Torah. Where does it come from? Although it was the custom for some Jewish communities to complete reading the Torah over three years (see The Triennial Cycle sidebar above), during the Geonic period (rabbinic scholars of the Babylonian diaspora, 6-11th century), an annual cycle was established so that the entire Torah was read in one year. Since the Torah's concluding verses were read on the second day of Shemini Atzeret, it was established that the Shabbat after Shemini Atzeret the Torah cycle was begun anew. Later, the first verses from Bereishit were added to the celebrations, and a second day of Shemini Atzeret began to emerge as its own holiday: Simchat Torah, now the ninth day of our original seven day Sukkot festival [or combined together into the 8th in reform circles and many Israeli congregations].
If you are still confused, you are not alone. Should we keep Simchat Torah, a day never mentioned in Torah, or return it to being combined with Shemini Atzeret, a Holy day specified for observance in Torah??? Maybe we should do Simchat Torah at the most convenient time closest to Shemini Atzeret as some liberal congregations do??? A final decision may never be reached...
Shabbat Noach /Rosh Chodesh Mar-cheshvan 5772
The Relative Values of Intent, Commitment, and Mitzvot [Good Deeds]
Noach was a righteous man of his time. His intent was to obey and serve HaShem. With total commitment, he followed through finishing the tasks according to HaShem’s directions. He built and stocked an ark to given specifications.
Later, In Babel, the intent of the people was not so pure. They were arrogant and prideful, believing that they, too, could become gods. Were they motivated by jealousy, selfishness, or ???? Regardless of the source of their desires, their commitment to building a tower to the heavens so that they could join the gods was thwarted by lack of communication. Perhaps they did not have commitment to the same goals for the same reasons. Perhaps they were all selfish in their pursuits. Most assuredly what they did had nothing to do with good deeds nor good intents.
Nowadays we don’t get directives directly from HaShem. Our directives are in our liturgy, primarily the books of Torah. Every year, for those of us who care, we promise during Yom Kippur that we will better follow HaShem’s directives.
Hence we start out with good intentions each year during the Days of Awe. How easy it is for us to lose the commitment we feel during those days of prayer and repentance! How many mitzvot do we actually succeed in doing? Worst of all, there are some vile behaviours some of us can not manage to avoid repeating.
Whether it be lying or stealing, adultery, or destruction of others through Lashon HaRah, shunning, and intimidation of friends to isolate the object targeted for destruction, for all these we asked for and apparently received forgiveness on Yom Kippur. Then we forget about our promises. The temptations to go back to bad habits overcome some of us. The commitment to do better peters out or somehow disappears. The goals of consistent mitzvot and Tikun Olam are never reached. Yom Kippur is over – apparently out of sight and out of mind.
Isaiah [e.g. Ch 56:1-8] had a lot to say on this topic, encouraging reconciliations, pleading for all to get along, and embracing all Jews by birth [practicing or not] or by choice. Were we to focus on Isaiah’s teachings, we would be truly ready to embrace the penitence of Yom Kippur and the ensuing tasks of mitzvot and Tikun Olam [Repair of the World].
May we learn to constantly reflect on how we receive others. May we also constantly seek to do better! Shabbat Shalom!
Lech Lecha 5772
Lech Lecha 5772 – Finding the Path Forward
Last week we ended the parasha, portion, of Noach with a brief paragraph stating that Avram’s father, Terach had three sons Avram, Nachor [father of Lot], and Haran [father of Milcah and Iscah]. Haran died and his daughter Milcah was married to Nachor. Terach took Avram, Avram’s wife Sarai, and Lot his grandson out of the Ur of the Chaldees into Canaan and resettled in Charan. Terach died in Charan at the age of 205.
In this week’s parasha, Avram now needed to decide where the path forward would lead. He took the family out of Charan and settled briefly in Shechem, between Beth-El and Ai, and then down to Egypt in response to a famine.
Sarai’s subterfuge as Avram’s sister nets the family a considerable wealth when the Pharoah realizes that he almost married another man’s wife – and then it seems they were told to leave town. Lot goes one way and Avram another so that they would not be in competition with each other.
All along the way, HaShem has been telling Avram that his descendants will inherit all the land of Canaan, yet Avram had no children up to this point. Nonetheless, Avram stayed the course and established himself in the land as per HaShem’s directives. This loyalty and strength of direction was rewarded not only by offspring, but also by name changes for both Avram and Sarai to Avraham and Sarah.
How many of us struggle to find the path forward even as Avram and Sarai did? Without the Holy One, HaShem, directly telling us what to do, we can only cling to Torah to help us find the path forward. Yet the attractions of the secular world seduce us, distract us, entice us, all the while making it unclear as to where the best path forward really is.
To Avram it was obvious: act compassionately, have children, and provide for them for endless generations even after his death. Some think that we live if far more complex times. Perhaps. Yet power, wealth, and politics are still battled over today even as they were in Avraham’s time such as we read in this parasha in the story of the rescue of Lot from invading forces. Avraham had the power and wealth to keep disaster at bay.
Do power, wealth, and politics dictate today’s outcomes, today’s paths? If so, should they? More importantly, where among the battling factions can we find our safest, best path forward? Does Torah tell us – or does the secular outside world?
VaYera 5772 Resisting Temptations
How did Lot resist the temptation to give the strangers over to the mob even though he risked hurting his own family in doing so?
Why did the pregnant Hagar resist the urge to flee back to Egypt?
How did Abimelech [reportedly] resist the temptation of taking Sarai to his bed?
The simplest answers would be straight from the text of this week’s parsha VaYera [portion]. It would say that Lot was a good person, Abimelech was warned off by HaShem [the Holy One], and Hagar, in fear for her life, was bribed by HaShem and enticed by a brighter future for herself and her son to be.
Yet Lot tried to placate the mob by enticing them with his virgin daughters. Fortuitously, perhaps merely by chance, the mob was thus shamed into leaving both the strangers and his daughters alone. Is this the action of a “good person”?
Through her arrogant and nasty demeanor towards Sarah, Hagar flamed her mistress’s wrath and retribution. Both acted as spoiled children. So why was Hagar rewarded despite her misbehavior?
Lastly Abimelech abused his power for the pursuit of lustful endeavors and, hence, not resisting temptations. It was this abuse that placed him in the position of needing to be warned off by HaShem. Yet he apparently had the ability of a true prophet to communicate with HaShem. How much of what he did then was under his own control and how much was directed by Hashem [as was the later case of Pharoah in the Exodus] ?
In our own lives, how well do we resist temptations? Do we, perhaps like Lot, go forward doing things because they are right to do? Do we make excuses to justify what we do when we embrace temptations – even as Abimelech justified taking to his bed all women who appealed to him just because he was King and powerful? Alternatively, do we like Hagar do what is expedient in order to quiet our fears or to reach for wealth beyond our present status? Plus, what of Lot’s daughters who bore his grandchildren for fear no other humans survived?
As Jews, we hope that we follow the “good person” model in our lives. We are taught to strive for exactly that: mitzvoth and Tikun Olam [good deeds and Repair of the World].
Nonetheless, do we actually succeed in following that “good person” path forward or do we offer just lip services to lofty ideals? What would our ancestors Avraham and Sarah say about how we now conduct our lives?
It is a discussion to be revisited repeatedly and not just on Shabbat VaYera. Shabbat Shalom!
Finding our Blessings and Embracing Them
Commentary Chayei Sarah
Early this week I spoke with my Aunt in Virginia. After exchanging New Year’s and birthday greetings, she suddenly blurted out that after her best friend did not come for meals or leave her apartment, she [my Aunt] went to check on her. The door was open. Her friend was sitting on the couch but unresponsive.
Although my Aunt immediately called 911 and alerted the building managers, it was too late. Her dear friend Adele died shortly thereafter in the hospital.
My Aunt felt guilty that she had not checked earlier. She felt that all of her world was gone. She asked: “Why should I go on living? I am nearly blind, going deaf, and all my friends are dead!
Yet her health is quite decent apart from her vision and hearing. Her mind is sharp. She lives near her caring daughter. Her extended family all care for her and include her in their travels and activities. She still has so many blessings.
This week’s portion focuses on the Life of Sarah through the lives of her sons, Ishmael and Isaac, adopted and natural. This triennial portion covers chapter 24, the middle section dealing with finding a wife for Isaac. It describes in great detail how Abraham chose to focus on his blessings, on life, through orchestrating the arrangements for getting a wife for Isaac, a wife who would have been approved of by his beloved departed Sarah.
How easy it could have been for the elderly Abraham to feel he had no reason to continue on after Sarah died! Yet he chose life. He chose to count his blessings through getting Isaac settled down, through marrying Keturah and caring for their six sons, through setting up his sons so that they would be well cared for after his death and would be together as a family when need be, such as for his burial.
How easy is it for us today to recognize our blessings? Do we embrace them? Do we pursue them as we travel on our paths forward? Or do we get stuck in a rut brooding about what has gone wrong?
May we all take the time to count our Blessings this Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom!
Toldot 5772 erev R"Ch Kislev
Toldot/ Machar Rosh Chodesh Kislev, 5772
Brotherly Love – how far should it go?
Does Brotherly Love require us to listen to everything another wants to say, even if it is Lashon HaRah?
Does Brotherly Love allow us to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of another?
Does Brotherly Love allow us to lie on behalf of another so that they won’t get into trouble?
This Shabbat is the day before the start of the month of Kislev. As a result we have a special Haftorah [I Samuel 20:18-42] which tells the story of brotherly love between Jonathan and David. Their bond was so intense that Jonathan risked his father’s [King Saul’s] wrath and his own life by lying in order to protect David’s life.
It is very different in this week’s parasha [portion] of Toldot in which Jacob lies at the request of his mother, Rifka, in order to receive the blessing from his father, Isaac. This blessing, according to the story, was originally intended for Jacob’s brother, Esau.
Certainly a part of the deception included Jacob taking his brother at his word when he berated and discarded his [Esau’s] birthright. Rather than critically analyzing the worth of his brother’s words, Jacob chose to accept them without thought to what might happen when Esau regretted his actions.
Yet accepting Esau at his word, his promise to kill Jacob, may have then saved Jacob as it caused him to flee to relatives in Haran. Still we are told that Ishmael and Isaac patched things up in adulthood [last week’s parashat Bereishit 25:9] as will Esau and Jacob upon Jacob’s return from Haran [next week’s parasha].
While Esau in this parasha paid little attention to his brother except when angry with what Jacob did, at the end of the parasha he tried to follow Jacob’s example by taking an half cousin to wife. This, too, may have been an attempt to please his parents even as Jacob had before him [sibling rivalry?].
So it appears that brotherly love does not seem to be automatic between brothers. Yet we are taught that we should have brotherly love for others. Lying for a “brother” appears to be okay in order to fulfill a more important mitzvah such as saving a life or honoring a parent.
We have no answers in this parasha regarding whether brotherly love requires listening uncritically to Lashon HaRah or turning a blind eye to misdeeds. Judaism does teach that if we do not try to stop someone from violating the law or committing crimes, then we are also complicit in the sin. Let us discuss these questions this week and see if in later portions we might get more insights to the answers for these questions.
In the meantime, let’s give thanks for all our blessings, including for those who care for us with ‘brotherly love’. Then may we also have a Shabbat of ‘brotherly love’ and peace! Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat VaYetzei 5772
What Makes a Shabbat?, discussion for the week of VaYetzei
“More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.”
Ahad Ha-Am, modern Hebrew essayist
Shabbat is not really about what we can not do but rather about how we should take the time to slow down at least one day a week and what we should do on that day. According to Anita Diamant in her ‘Living a Jewish Life’, there are three things required by the Rabbis in order to observe Shabbat: resting, eating, and praying. The eating is ritually done in three primary meals: Friday night, Saturday lunch, and Saturday just before Havdala. However there are many other things that have been encouraged as Shabbat activities: sleep, read, think, study, talk, listen, meditate, visit the sick / elderly, laugh, sing, welcome guests, and make love. Arranging affairs of heaven such as engagements can also be done on Shabbat.
Just like for Passover, there is an order to the observance of Shabbat, a Shabbat seder. Order gives comfort through familiar [or soon to be familiar, for the beginner] rituals such as for Friday night: tzedakah [putting money for charity aside just before candle lighting], singing, lighting candles, blessing spouses, blessing children, Kiddush, blessing hand washing, blessing challah, a meal, benching [blessings after the meal], more singing, schul/synagogue/ temple attendance, and making love.
Sounds almost simple. Yet how many actually do make Shabbat in the Greater Prescott area? For instance, it is tradition to bless two loaves of challah for Friday night dinner. Then the second loaf can be used for Shabbas lunch. Still, what is to be done if one has not had a Shabbat dinner Friday night? Is it ok to pretend and use only one loaf for Saturday lunch?
Is the afternoon of Shabbat a time to go shopping or to the mall? Or is it:
“a rest of love, freely given
a rest of truth and sincerity
a rest in peace and tranquility, in quiet and safety
a perfect rest in which you find favor…” [from the Shabbat mincha service]
How can we savor the sweetness of the Shabbat: the rest, the food, the blessings? Is there a way to wistfully say farewell to the Sabbath while meandering down the aisles of a store? How do we wish each other a good week, a week of peace with gladness and joy, when we are fixing a car, painting our nails, or screaming for our team to win a ball game?
If we do not commit ourselves to Shabbat unconditionally, what kind of Jews are we? Plenty of thought is herein presented for reflections and discussions. May Shabbat bring us enlightenment to start to understand the importance of Shabbat in our lives… and may we be enlightened enough to embrace that enlightenment. Shabbat Shalom!
Retaliation or Reconciliation?---VaYishlach 5772
In recent weeks we have read in Genesis [Bereishit] about hot tempers and threats of retaliation. For instance, Esau threatened to kill Jacob in retaliation for his taking both birthright and inheritance blessing. In another case, Laban threatened Jacob and his family in retaliation for Jacob’s taking away his daughters, grandchildren, but most especially his family idols [teraphim].
However in both cases, rather than giving into violence, the parties managed to find the path to reconciliation. Jacob [Israel] and Laban feasted [last week in VaYetzei, ch. 33:44-54] upon the agreement to a peace treaty while Esau and Israel [Jacob] maintained an appropriate cordial, if not loving, brotherly relationship despite the fears each may have harbored within [this week’s portion, VaYishlach, ch 33: 4-11 etc.] They even came together to bury their father, Isaac [ch 35:29].
Yet also in this week’s parasha we are faced with an uncurbed urge to retaliate by Dina’s brothers Shimon and Levi over her rape by Shechem, the neighboring prince, despite his willingness to marry her and elevate her to princess of his kingdom. In their rage, the brothers murdered all the males of the city of Shechem [ch 34: 25-29]. In a sense, they also murdered Rachel who died in childbirth along the way as Israel and his family fled the area for fear of retribution by the Perizzites and the Canaanites [ch 34:30 and 35:16].
Did the fear of assimilation justify the annihilation of a kingdom? Was the perceived need for retaliation impossible to mitigate to a reconciliation? Can such a rage ever be justified? Is there anything in our times that would warrant a retaliation of annihilation of a city or a group?
How can we apply this portion of our history to present day circumstances? Is it a lesson in letting elder, wiser leaders make the critical decisions of government? Is it even possible to find a modern application in this story? If not, then what is the significance of this portion vis a vis modern day desires and prayers for peace?
Ponder these questions and until later when we can discuss their significance, may you have a great week ending in a Shabbat Shalom!
Righteous as Tamar – Shabbat VaYeshev
Tzadik k’Tamar – May you bloom righteous as Tamar, a date palm
The righteous will grow strong as a palm tree.
These are words that have been translated in many ways, used in various blessings, and inserted into songs of joy and of prayer such as in a Sabbath psalm. Where do these words come from? It is very possible that they come from this week’s portion, Parashat VaYeshev [Ch. 38 Bereishit, Genesis]…and were later used as inspiration for word play, poems, songs, and blessings.
Tzadik k’Tamar in simple translation means “Righteous as Tamar”. Why was Tamar righteous? Why is this such a wonderful blessing?
Judah proclaimed that Tamar was more righteous than he for following the levirate marriage laws [38:26] despite all fears and difficulties whereas he did not. As a result, it was Tamar’s children who were the honored ancestors of the tribe of Judah, of Kings of Israel. We know nothing of the descendants of Judah’s sons by his Canaanite wife, the daughter of Shua. [38:2 and 38:12].
Was this a convoluted way for HaShem to assure that the tribe of Judah would be mothered by an Israelite? [as she likely was for we are not told differently in the parasha] Perhaps it was Hashem’s way to return Judah to Israelite practices after he strayed to Canaanite practices? Certainly by the time Joseph gained control over the Pharoah’s food stocks, Judah displayed honorable leadership and responsible behaviour as we will read towards the end of the Book of Bereishit, Genesis. Or….
Is the lesson simply that to be righteous one needs to embrace the laws diligently? And… that the righteous will be rewarded for generations to come?
May our upcoming Shabbat be rewarding to us as we ponder these lessons of Torah! Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Chanukah /Miketz 5772
The Hands Behind Miracles, Shabbat Miketz
This is the season we are told to remember the miracle of the burning oil lasting 8 days instead of one. Yet was the flask of oil really a one day’s worth of oil? The flask was not the usual oil sealed by the Priests of the Temple. It was a flask of special oil in a flask sealed by the High Priest, a very unusual occurrence. Was it a special, slow burning oil? Additionally, all of the accoutrements used for the menorot [lamps] had to be rebuilt from scratch. Were the same materials used in their construction as were used in the looted lamps? For instance, were the wicks slower and longer burning? Also, were there the same number of lamps being lit after the reconstruction as were lit before the desecration and looting? Even with such confluence of differences in the rebuilding, did it not seem nonetheless to be a “miracle”?
Just imagine you go to the store and pay for your food with a $20- bill. They pack up your groceries and off you go home. So you unpack your purchases when you get home and “O MY Gosh!” there is a $20- bill in your bag!
Is it a miracle? Is it from a kindly stranger? Is it an error in packing? How would you respond?
Such is exactly the type of thing that happened in this week’s parasha [portion] to Jacob’s ten oldest sons when they were sent to Egypt to buy food during a great famine. Their younger brother Joseph, dressed as an Egyptian vizier, was unrecognizable to them. So they had no clue as to how their payment money re-appeared in their bags! It seemed to be a “miracle”!
Now we know Joseph had the money put there, but why did he do so? Maybe he was acting as HaShem’s tool even as all the events leading up to his exalted position could well have been orchestrated by Ha Shem, the Holy One… as so, too, we are told by the sages of the past. Yet it is not a big stretch to believe that HaShem had a hand in what happened if we believe that we have daily miracles happening to us. How often have we marveled at how the timing of events or the ‘accidental’ encounters of our lives just seem beshert [meant to be] and something quite other than happenstance?
We call this Yad HaShem, the Hand of the Holy One. Nonetheless, while the original source of theses “miracles” may well be Yad HaShem, often there is a clear sequence of events and actions of other people that enabled these “miracles” to occur. One could say that all these folk had a hand in creating the “miracles”, that they are tools of HaShem to construct the “miracles” that the Holy One wants to occur.
Whether secret Santas or charitable organizations or microloan businesses, all of these are with actions that contain a component coming from the heart, an intent to help repair the world even as we are told HaShem wants us to. What blessings and ‘miracles’ have happened in our lives? Have we recognized them and been grateful for them? Do we allow ourselves to be tools for the repair of the World, Tikun Olam? Can we also have a hand in making ‘miracles’? Shabbat Shalom and may we all have a miraculous Shabbat!
Forgiving and Embracing Family and Community
VaYigash 5772, Bereishit, ch. 45
We are all flawed human beings. So why do we expect others to be more perfect than we are ourselves?
Further, when they do not meet our expectations, why can’t we be more forgiving as we should recognize that they as we are all flawed human beings? Are we not taught to make sure that everyone is included in the/our community?
This lesson of unity is well demonstrated in this week’s parasha of VaYigash. In this portion, Joseph forgives his brothers for having caused him to be sold to the Egyptians. He understood that HaShem works in mysterious ways. Had HaShem not led him to a leadership position in Egypt, a path started with the misbehaviours of his family members including himself, then all of his family would have likely succumbed to the famine.
So Joseph forgave his brothers and arranged for all of his family to be resettled together in Goshen. He willingly embraced them and in his love for his family, influenced the Pharoah to embrace and welcome them as well.
In a sense, this week’s Haftorah [Ezekiel ch. 37:15-28] has a similar theme of reunification of the parts of Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] into one nation. Even as Ezekiel predicted, there did come a day (in 1948) when a single land of Israel was re-established.
Can we not take this lesson and these events as models for reuniting our families, our communities, our governments, our World? Perhaps this Shabbat we can focus on the parts we can influence in our families and our communities… with Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat VaYechi, 5772
Shabbat VaYechi, 5772
What Legacy will We Leave?: Ethical Wills
Parents tend to know their offspring. These parents know the strengths and the weaknesses of their offspring as well as the hopes and aspirations they have for their children. Throughout their lives, parents try to guide, to discipline, and to protect their children. Then, when faced with their own mortality, most parents worry about how their descendants will manage without them.
Such is what we read about in this week’s parasha [portion] VaYechi, the closing section of the Book of Bereishit [Genesis] in which Jacob prepares for his death. He meets and blesses his grandsons fathered by Joseph, Ephraim and Menashe [possibly to provide for a double inheritance portion to his favorite son?]. Then he meets and blesses all of his other sons. As we read, we see that the blessings are ones of character and legacy: ethical wills that describe the character of the son being blessed, the bounty that would therefrom result, and cautions against the dangers of character flaws.
What examples of character and strengths do you think are good ones to tell your child in encouragement? Which ones for guidance and discipline? Which ones as protective warnings?
What legacy would you want to leave for the next generation? Would it be ethical, spiritual, and/or financial?
Can you specify an example for a specific person?
I guess my reflective work is cut out for me what with my four children and two grandchildren. How much more so for my Mother with her two children, seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren!
Ponder this and share your thoughts this coming Shabbat morning at Stan’s at 10 am. Shabbat Shalom!
What is in a Name?
This week we start our yearly exodus into the Book of Exodus known in Hebrew as Shemot, the Book of Names. In the section we focus on this week there are three main characters: Moses, HaShem [the Holy One], and Aaron. [Ch. 3-4:17]
HaShem talks to Moses by the burning bush and asks him to go to Pharoah to plead for the release of the Israelites. When Moses asks HaShem how he should answer when asked for the name of his god, HaSHem says, “I continue to be whom I continue to be”…”a name for all eternity.” [Ch. 3:15]. Further, HaShem is described as the God of the ancestors of the Israelites: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Aaron is known as a Levite, the brother of Moses, and a spokesperson for the Israelites [Ch. 4: 16-17]. So we see that Aaron is known by description of actions, status, and capabilities even as HaShem was.
When we look at the name ‘Moses’, we are therefore not surprised to learn that ‘Moses’ is an Egyptian status or position rather than an actual name. An Egyptian meaning is “born of a god” with the word being attached then after the name of the god such as Ra-mses, born of the god Ra [eg. See babynames.com]. If we look in modern encyclopedias, people are located alphabetically by name but all description is of position, status, accomplishments, capabilities, and so forth. Variously ‘Moses’ has been defined as ‘Prince’ [son of a king, where in Egypt kings were considered gods], ‘pulled out from the water’ [a Hebrew understanding of the words mo and uses as reported by Josephus], and Saviour [eg see thinkbabynames.com]. It has also been suggested that ‘Moses’ was a job description attached to the given name of a person even as Potiphar was a Priest and was an appellation attached to the name of the person or the specific site where he served in that position.
So how are we to be remembered? By our given names? By our family names? By our spouses names? OR By our deeds, actions, positions, and capabilities? If the last possibility, then we are remembered for our legacies and our names are merely triggers for those who know us to remember how we were and what we did.
Even as last week we thought of what legacies we wish to leave, so too this week we discuss our legacies as they appear through the remembering of our names and perhaps our lineage. What is truly in our names? Let us ponder that this week as we prepare to welcome this Shabbat and the beginning of the Book of Names with a wonderful dinner service at Leah’s, 5:15 pm, San Carlos in Prescott. Shabbat Shalom!
Plagues, Miracles or Both? VaEra 5772
In the middle of winter we start contemplating the plague suffered by the Egyptians. This week’s parasha [portion] VaEra describes the first 7 of them. It very specifically notes that the court magicians were able to replicate the changing of a staff into a serpent and back as well as the first two plagues of blood and frogs. In fact, it sounds as though the court magicians made the plagues worse by causing more blood and more frogs but being unable to reverse the effects. One could ask if the workings of these magicians were part of these miracles. Why not? After all, there is no law that says HaShem’s miracles are all abracadabra! In fact, there is every reason to believe that it is the orchestration of natural events and timing that will result in such ‘miracles’ and/or ‘plagues’.
When we read our various versions of Tanach such as Hertz or Etz Chaim, we find various attempts to explain individual plagues by natural phenomena such as ‘blood’ being caused by heavy summer melt-off from the mountains feeding the Nile that leaches red mud into the Nile. It claims the salt dilution would kill the fish and cause the stench from rot.
Many of us do see Yad HaShem [the Hand of the Holy One] in our everyday lives. We view these small miracles with awe. Yet we recognize that these small miracles are composed of natural events based on decisions that just ‘happen’ to work out to the right timing and outcome! So why are so many resistant to exploring alternative explanations using natural phenomena to create ‘miracles’? After all, HaShem is known to be able to manipulate all that is in the world at will!
For instance, the massive over 1000 megaton explosion of the volcano on Thera [now known as Santorini] island destroyed half the island and sent a huge dark plume [cloud] of winds, ash, molten lava, and other volcanic debris towards and over Egypt [less than 500 miles to the shore]. There may have also been smaller explosions. Refugees fled by sea away from the plume to the Philistia shore to the east of Egypt. Goshen, where most of the Israelites were, was also to the east of nearly all the rest of Egypt. The darkness over Egypt lasted for days.
From modern occurrences of far less powerful volcanoes [on the order of 50 megatons], we know that :
Ø Iron oxide in the volcanic debris that settles in waters will turn the water red and kill the river fish even thousands of miles away as well as cause a stink from rot.
Ø Pumice from the volcanic debris stinks when in water.
Ø Fine acidic volcanic ash both kills fish and cause severe eye irritation, skin itching, rashes, and even boils to people as well as other animals.
Ø Fiery pellet sized volcanic debris would seem like fiery hail setting fires to houses, trees, and crops.
Ø The turbulence within the volcanic cloud causes great winds and lots of lightning.
Ø The ecological devastation upsets all life forms. Hence swarms of insects [such as flying, stinging ants in the wake of Mt. Pelee’s explosions] are often associated with the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. Tadpoles in protected waters would change into frogs/toads, flee the adverse land/air conditions by going into protected structures, and then die from lack of food and water. Beasts deprived of their natural food sources would overcome their fears and attack domestic animals and humans.
So are all the plagues of the Exodus miracles, natural disasters, or both? Do we really need to classify them to feel the awe of such majestic devastation? What is the significance of these natural disasters for us? Does HaShem speak to us through natural disasters and phenomenal feats of survival and prosperity [Purim, the State of Israel, Joseph in Egypt, etc.] ???
Shabbat Shalom! May it be a Shabbat of awe for us all!
Bo 5772: Continuing Plagues and Miracles?
Locusts, darkness, and death of the first born are clearly plagues in anybody’s view. Yet we can not help but wonder if they are miracles, too.
Locusts can be explained by swarming after their main food source became inadequate or was destroyed by fiery hail or other problems. Swarms of locusts have always been well known in agricultural areas. Darkness that can be touched is explainable by a huge plume or cloud of volcanic debris.
The death of the first born [Makot B’chorot], however, seems far less explainable than the Black Plague or Bird Flu which have random targets. So certainly reports that have come down to us about Makot B’chorot, if true, give the definite impression that a miracle did happen. They do not say that lots of people died that night including some first born. They say that the dead were the first born except among the Israelites who were forewarned and took precautions.
In modern times, we also have very complex politics. Yet we also have mind sets filled with doubt about anything we can not sense ourselves nor control. So even if there were to be a miracle, would we be able to recognize it?
We experience natural disasters but usually do not ask if we were the cause of the disaster[s]. Unusual earthquakes in fracking areas do raise eyebrows. Still, that is an exception in our perceptions. Look at the controversies [popular not scientific] over global warming and our parts in contributing to the effects!
How many of us even take the time to consider or account for the consequences of our actions? So whether what happen are natural consequences, natural disasters, or miracles; who would be around to really understand what it is that we experience, sense, and see?
As we approach Tu B’Shvat [starting the evening of Feb. 7th this year] and its theme of ‘Protecting the Environment’, especially via replenishing forests, we take the reflections over this week’s Parashat Bo [portion of Bo] to help us in our efforts to formulate a meaningful way to observe Tu B’Shvat. In the meantime, let us observe and luxuriate in the Peace of Shabbat this weekend, a peace given us for just these kinds of reflections!
BeShalach 5772, Starting Again
So here you’ve lived all your life in the suburbs doing whatever jobs you can such as housework, animal care, nanny, bricklaying, etc. Then a series of natural disasters hit and the place is just not livable anymore.
The neighbors give you a big send off with lots of gifts, jewelry, clothes, and things. Yet what good are jewelry and things when you need to go on an extended camping trip? Without any experience in hunting, scavenging, camping, etc.; how are you going to move forward? How are you going to take care of yourself and protect yourself from predators? How are you going to start again?
Sound familiar? This is exactly what faced the Israelites and the mixed multitude who fled Egypt as told us in this week’s Parashat BeShalach [portion]. Psychologically and practically they were not ready for nomadic life. They were afraid of everything: of being pursued by Egyptians, of being robbed and killed by Amalekites, of not having enough to eat or drink, of being picked off by marauders, bandits, or thugs.
Fear is hardly a condition that helps people move forward with confidence. Neither does it help with starting over again.
Yet even today most people don’t get to the point of starting over unless they have had some traumatic event[s] in their lives and quite possibly are scarred and fearful in the aftermath. What do we need in order to succeed in starting over?
When have you needed to start over? What helped you to succeed? What would you advise others should they need to start over?
Every week we have the opportunity during Shabbat to reflect on our successes and failures of the week. Every week we start over trying to do better [at least in theory]. Will we succeed? Shabbat Shalom!
Isaiah’s Strange Creatures
According to Isaiah, CH.6, this week’s Haftorah, Seraph’s attended Ha Shem. Each had 6 wings: two covered the face[s], two covered the legs, and two were used for flying. The Seraphs sang the praises of HaShem. One took a burning coal to the lips of Isaiah in order to purge him of sin. Then the Seraph told Isaiah that the land will be purged of those who refuse to repent until only a tenth of the people remain. This is said to have occurred the year King Uzziah died about 730 B.C.E.
About 135 years later, Ezekiel also described strange beings in his book, eg Ch. 1 and Ch 10. There were four creatures with four faces each and four wings with hands each. Each one had legs fused into one leg with a foot like a calf’s hoof. Two wings covered the body. Each body sat on a wheel that could travel in any direction. Flashes of light that looked like burning coals passed among the four. Above the four was what appeared to be a throne upon which was the Holy Presence of HaShem.
Both describe winged creature with lights like burning coals attending to Hashem. Both are considered by modern eyes as allegorical, mystical, or fanciful.
Chapter 10 indicates that Ezekiel was describing the Cherubim of Genesis [Bereishit] who were set to guard the gates of Eden. Yet there is no rotating sword in Ezekiel’s account. Further, if the cherubim are just guards [of the gate, of HaShem, of the Ark, of whatever], then the Seraphim of Isaiah, the Cherubim of Bereishit, and the creatures described by Ezekiel are all guards, are all Cherubim.
Was Ezekiel familiar with the works of Isaiah and merely embellishing in his book the description of the creatures detailed in Isaiah’s writings? Were there other works of the times describing such creatures? [Yes. Even as far back as about 4000 B.C.E. in Mesopotamia!] Were these two separate instances of interactions with non-Earthian entities? OR Were these the hallucinations/ visions of two Prophets separated by a couple generations of time?
The messengers of HaShem who visited Abraham and saved Lot are not described in any detail. Neither are the messengers Jacob saw on the ladder to Heaven. Descriptions only appear later in the books of the prophets, kings, and chronicles. What is the significance of all this? How might it apply to our lives today? Human or alien, all will be welcomed guests to join us as we observe Shabbat this week, as every week. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Shekalim/ Mishpatim
Justice Then and Now
This week’s parsha [portion] of Mishpatim on Shabbat Shekalim describes the first collection of civil, moral, and religious laws that were said to be given at Mt. Sinai to the children of Israel. Slavery, debt, marriage, murder, manslaughter, sexual conduct, kidnap, abuse, property, and sorcery laws as well as instructions to care for the stranger, widow, and orphan, to avoid lying and dishonest business practices, and to observe the Holy festivals are all included in this parsha.
Death is the most described punishment for violations followed by equivalent [undefined] compensation for physical and property losses. Jewish Law refined the concept of equivalent compensation and removed retaliation and vicarious punishment from the acceptable responses unlike the Hammurabian code [@ 1792-1750 BCE] which extolled retaliation in kind for bodily injury and replaced the earlier alternatives of civil [eg Hittite] treatment of assault/ abuse through monetary compensation or the alternative of familial vengeance retaliation.
Extended incarceration with little hope for rehabilitation was unheard of back then. Second chance cities existed for the man slaughterer. These were places where, usually, no one knew the history of the person and a fresh start could be had.
In the US, modern day record keeping , felony tracking for adverse listings and prevention of voting or firearm possession or receipt of social security/ VA benefits, and a dearth of funding for rehabilitation programs seem to make modern punishment more vengeful and not supportive of second chances. Even the less severe penalties in modern Israeli jurisprudence still limit the second chance opportunities and rehabilitation.
So which is the best system of justice? Is it one that tries to use fear to keep people’s behaviour under control and proper while holding out hope for a normal life when death is not the penalty? Who is to decide what is ‘proper’ and what is ‘hope’? OR Is it one that keeps people in purgatory without any hope for a productive future?
How can a criminal repay a debt to society for his criminal actions under such circumstances? Should repayment to society even be a desirable outcome?
Can justice be adequately achieved in any system?
These are worthy questions to contemplate during every Shabbat. May our Shabbat be one of justice, peace, and the promises of second chances. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat Terumah 5772
How do We Support our Sanctuary? Parashat Terumah 5772
According to Torah, the Sanctuary that accompanied the Children of Israel during their sojourn in the desert [described in this week’s parsha, Terumah – defined as a gift or a donation] was supported by free-will donations. Some say that most of it was from the women who refused to donate to the golden calf, although the calf will not be mentioned until a later parsha [portion]. Others wonder if the guilt and the peer pressure of the culture encouraged everyone to contribute. Leaving aside the question as to from where all the materials described in this week’s portion were obtained, we are left with the impression that all costs were covered by the free will [voluntary] donations as mentioned in an earlier portion.
We also know that a form of taxation [sacrifices and tithes] was used to maintain the Temples. Nonetheless, it is somewhat perplexing as to how to apply these ancient practices to modern support of our sanctuaries.
To begin with, how do we now define a sanctuary? Is it any structure used to house a Torah or anyplace where a Torah may be temporarily or permanently located or a place for the study of Torah? Once we define what our sanctuary is, then we can calculate what is needed to support such a sanctuary. The support might include rent, utilities, maintenance of a building or part of a building, food, drink, religious accoutrements, etc. Whatever needs there may be, is it realistic today to expect that all needs will be covered by “free will” donations?
How then are annual dues to be viewed? Is the agreement of a person to pay the annual dues of a congregation a form of ‘free will’ acceptance of the dues obligation? What then can be done to make sure that people who can not afford the annual dues are not disenfranchised from the community?
Our culture has overly emphasized individual self-sufficiency. Hence, many are embarrassed to ask for assistance when they are in need. Whether people have a financial need, a transportation need, or other need; many fear that any request for help will go unmet or, worse yet, will result in ridicule or other verbal abuse. Hence we must ask: “Where are the communities which will come to the aid of those in need?”
Often we hear the lament that there are Christian communities which will help unquestioningly whereas the Jewish communities seemingly spit upon their needy co-religionists. How can we address such a problem yet still maintain [somehow] support for our sanctuaries? Let us ponder these questions this Shabbat as well as throughout the year. May we find a way to meet the needs of all in the community! Shabbat Shalom!
WHAT DOES A LEADER LOOK LIKE? TETZAVEH 5772
During a recent Civil Air Patrol Squadron Leadership School, a feedback questionnaire asked if the material learned in the course would be useful outside of Civil Air Patrol activities. Less than a week later, we read the Torah portion describing the garb, demeanor, and duties of the religious leaders, the Cohanim. Yet how do we define who the modern leaders are? Are the qualities of good leaders the same among religious, political, and other types of leaders?
Do we have different expectations of the conduct in leaders than of the conduct seen in everyday people? Ideally we envision all types of leaders as honest, consistent, fair, organized, caring, inspiring, and acting towards all with respect and integrity. We also want them to be good communicators. Yet many of us no longer [if ever] are able to tell the difference between rational, logical presentation of ideas and rabble-rousing, hate-mongering, or emotional sound bites requiring acceptance based on faith.
Is a “leader” who is physically attractive, displays good theatrics, and/or charismatic deserving of our adoration and support? If so, “where is the meat?”
According to our portion, Parashat Tetzaveh, the Cohanim were glamorous and well dressed figures. The rituals and “theatre” they participated in were awe inspiring to the people of the times, people who accepted nearly all based on faith. Nonetheless, it was generally expected and acknowledged that the Cohanim were very learned in the Law, had studied the intricacies of the rituals, and were trained to be just arbiters able to be flexible with the rules when out-of-the-ordinary circumstances existed.
Unfortunately, many present day “leaders’ display few or none of these qualities nor the educated background with which to lead. The power that brought them to be “leaders” might have been coercive or based on who they know or as a reward by other powerful people for some act that they liked. These are not usually leaders who can inspire or can lead the greater group of the community, congregation, or government to achieve greater goal success. These are not leaders who help those they ‘lead’ to improve the world around them. They do not lead their group to exceed expectations for their achievements.
It seems that education in rational/logical analysis is needed for all followers so that they can choose, when allowed to do so, the best leaders possible. Unfortunately we do not always have the right to choose our leaders.
How best can we assure ourselves good leaders? This is a good question for us to ponder and discuss this Shabbat. May we find enlightenment about leadership and lead ourselves to a restful Shabbat this week. Shabbat Shalom!
Ki Tisa 5772
Ki Tisa 5772, Adele
A few weeks ago, on Shabbat Shekalim, we learned that the support of a sanctuary should be from free will donations. This week our portion seems to be teaching us that donations to idolatrous causes [ie a golden calf] will end up poisoning us [drinking water laced with the metal and wood ashes of the burnt golden calf]. In the end, no one wore any ornamentation, perhaps as a symbol of attempted greater humility [or as an avoidance of metal hypersensitivity symptoms]. This then allowed the use of ornaments as donations to the sanctuary when the free will desire embraced each person. So now we are faced with trying to apply these concepts to our present day budgets.
Clearly charity should be a significant portion of our budgets. Yet how can we decide what the best way to give charity is? Financial? Volunteer Time? Skills donations?
According to Maimonides, there are Eight Levels of Charity
[Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7-14] each greater than the next. From greatest to least so they are:
 The greatest level is to support a fellow Jew by with a gift or loan, a partnership or employment, so that [s]/he need no longer depend on others...
 The next level of charity is to give to the poor with neither the giver nor the recipient know who the other is. Giving to a trustworthy charity fund is a form of this kind of charity.
 The third level of charity is when the giver knows who the recipient is, but the recipient does not know the benefactor. It is said that sages used to secretly put coins in the doors of the poor. This seems liked a good alternative when the 'charities' do not seem trustworthy.
 The fourth level of charity is when the giver does not know the recipient, but the recipient does know the benefactor. It is said that other sages used to throw coins behind their backs so that the poor could pick the coins up unseen and unembarrassed.
 The fifth level is giving to the needy directly before being asked.
 The sixth level is giving to the needy after being asked.
 The seventh level is gladly giving with a smile albeit inadequately.
 The least level of the eight is giving unwillingly.
What ways of giving charity are you comfortable with? Why?
How do these ways contribute to the betterment of the needy and to the maintenance of the community/congregation? In view of Maimonides levels of charity, will you be changing the ways you give charity?
May we all find a way to give charity with grace, love, and humility this Shabbat, and every day of the year. Shabbat Shalom!
Vayachel /Pekudei 5772
VaYakhel / Pekudei 5772
Clouds at the End of Our Exodus?
We are told in Torah that the Presence of HaShem, the Holy One, comes in a cloud. A cloud guided by day, a fire by night as we trekked through the desert [Exodus 13:21-22, Numbers 10:34, Deuteronomy 1:33]. HaShem came to Moshe in a cloud in order to speak with the people at Mt. Sinai [Horeb] and give them the 10 Terms to the pact/ contract between HaShem and the people [Exodus 19:9, 16]. Then the people backed away and asked that HaShem should only talk through Moshe thereafter [Exodus 20:18].
The Holy Presence was said to be in a cloud over the Tabernacle [Numbers 9:15-23]. A cloud guarded the Tent of Meeting/ the Pact or Events where Moshe consulted directly with HaShem to acquire decisions for the inquiries of the days [Exodus 40:34-38, this week’s parshot]. This held true later for Joshua as well [Deuteronomy 31: 15]. The fiery cloud was considered evidence of the Divine Presence over the Sanctuary [Leviticus 16:2]. Such a cloud was present over the Temple sanctuary as well according to I Kings 8:10-12.
Since Temple times, however, has there been a guiding cloud or a comforting presence in a cloud for the Children of Israel? No. There have been clouds of war and clouds from crematoria. Our future is cloudy. Can we really say we have achieved freedom or been liberated from oppression? We are slaves to the almighty dollar and oppressed by uncontrolled propaganda pulling us in many directions at once.
Yet to liberate ourselves from being torn to shreds we would need to devote time to study the issues from all directions, but who has the time to do so when burdened by the financial, logistical, and pragmatic demands on our lives? As we approach this Pesach [Passover] Season, let us ponder how we can truly achieve liberation from oppression. *****Shabbat Shalom!*****
Shabbat HaChodesh, VaYikra 5772
Getting Spiritually Prepared for Pesach
SHABBAT HACHODESH 5772 [VAYIKRA]
The mechanics of observing Pesach [Passover] are well known: clean the house intensively everywhere, sell the chometz you might have missed, on the last morning before Pesach burn the chometz you found the night before by candlelight, and cook enough to feed a small army. Then after candle lighting and seating the guests, the story of the exodus is told with as much flare as can be mustered to keep all in attendance awake and interested.
Still, if it is all in the doing, what do we gain from Pesach and the Seders? Why do we even bother to observe Pesach with anything more than a taste of matzah?
Is it the food? Is it being with friends and/or family? Is it because Torah enjoins us to yearly tell the story of the exodus to our children? It is unlikely to be enjoyment of a full week of eating matzah while avoiding all chometz!
Perhaps it is the desire to teach and share the story of the exodus with our children. Yet we celebrate even when no children are present.
A couple weeks ago we celebrated Purim with the promise to provide assistance, as best we can, to all so that all can observe Pesach fully. That assistance can be physical such as food and clothing. Alternatively, it might be helping each other get revved up to enjoy Pesach and the freedoms we have gained. Further, we may help each other appreciate the pains we suffered to gain freedom: from Egypt, from Persia, from Rome, in Ethiopia, from the Gulag, from the Holocaust, and from all forms of oppression be they religious discrimination or sexism or any other kind of oppression.
How best can we do that? How can we set aside enough time to become spiritually prepared while inundated with things to do? How can we help each other to be prepared?
As we start the month of Nisan, the month of Pesach, this Shabbat HaChodesh, let us see if we can answer these questions, at least in part. Shabbat Shalom!
Shabbat HaGadol 5772, Parshat Tzav
Spiritual Preparation Techniques [that might work for Pesach/ Passover]
Often we hear people say that services at a given place just did not inspire them, did not give them spiritual enrichment. Yet during last week’s discussion, no one could verbalize what it is that would give them better spiritual enrichment! Are people so deprived of spiritual experiences that they no longer can describe what they would be? Perhaps it is a case where they can recognize spiritual when they experience it but still do not have the language to specifically request such an experience.
It is known that some people get joy from singing prayers and other religious music. Is there music that can prepare people to embrace the joy of Pesach?
Other people claim that dancing does it for them. Some Chabadniks say immersion in Torah and prayers does it for them plus study of Hasidism – well at least by the men. One technique involves meditating on a chosen letter of the Hebrew alphabet along with visualizing it and maybe verbalizing the name of the letter repeatedly. Alternatively, some women have noted that getting the house clean and the foods prepared give them a sense of joy for the Holy Days [relief over achieving a temporarily reduced work load?]
There are mysticism traditions practiced by some Jews used to rev up the spirituality of the participants. For example, one tradition has the participants all screaming out as loudly as they can. For instance, during the Rosh HaShanah seder there is a prayer to chase away all evil. One minhag [custom] has the attendees shout at evil to go away, get lost, etc. It always seems that there is a greater joy all around once the shouting stops! [a cathartic effect?]
Another, meditative tradition has the attendees focus on tears, not for themselves, but rather for the sorrows of the world. A third stream focuses on visualizing feelings of ecstatic joy, not the mundane joy of physical pleasures, but rather the all encompassing joy of existence. It is wordless clarity and emptiness while at the same time imbued with the fullness of all aspects of creation.
Many other techniques exist trying to achieve spirituality. What other techniques can you think of that might contribute to a truly spiritual experience for you? Which techniques do you think will work best for you?
May we all find a successful pathway to spiritual fulfillment this Shabbat and every day. Shabbat Shalom!
Pesach first two days
Reaching Out, Pesach 5772
When do we prepare for this our Passover season?
We’re so wrapped up in the rush of everyday lives.
We forget: ‘reach out’ should uplift all folk together!
Yet we should welcome all without attached strings or chide…
Regardless the forecast, be it financial or weather,
The need is to reach out to folk so that they too can eat,
So they can find out Community is the reason
That during this time our hands extend to all so that
It is a prime thought for us, this week, with folk we meet:
None will go hungry for clothes, roofs, drinks, and bread so flat!
Joy at the End of Pesach 5772
Have a sweet, joyous, and kosher Pesach week! Chag Sameach!
Mimouna is a Sephardic celebration at the end of Pesach with great joy, food, and merriment. After being reminded of the Exodus story on the 7th day followed by the 8th day reminding us of our obligations to be there for each other through charity and other support, what better way to seal that pact of our obligations and responsibilities than with a great celebration glorifying HaShem?
More on Mimouna below! Mo'adim l'simchah! A Season for Joy!
JOY AT THE END OF PESACH
When the month of Nissan is coming, we announce it and bless it as the month of Pesach. However, one of the special mitzvot we have the chance to perform in the Hebrew month of Nisan is Birkat Ha-Ilanot, the blessing of the trees.
In order to fulfill this mitzvah, we gather in a place with multiple fruit trees that have budded. We then recite the blessing acknowledging Hashem's kindness in providing us with such an amazing variety of trees and plants to enjoy. We also recognize the miracle of the rebirth of nature each and every Spring. We also do our eight day Passover observances, seders and all.
At the end of the week-long holiday, on the day after Passover, in order to prolong the rejoicing and, many say, as a means of asserting their faith in the final redemption, Jews of North African origin celebrate a unique 24 hour holiday known as “Mimouna.”
While some have suggested that the name Mimouna derives from ma’amoun, the Arabic word for wealth and good fortune, others connect it to the Hebrew word emunah, faith. Taking the latter opinion one step further, the name may be an Arabic adaptation of the phrase, “Ani Ma’amin” (I believe).
The Mimouna holiday, which is most often associated with Moroccan Jews but is customary among many North African communities, has no specific halachot (laws). The customs, however, reflect the community’s exuberant, joyful nature. Tables are decorated, often with symbols of luck and fertility (golden rings hidden in bowls of flour, items set out in sets of five, and sometimes live fish in bowls). Sweet delicacies (made of chametz) are served, particularly mofletta, a special pancake served with honey.
There are three themes for all the food served during this holiday; fertility, prosperity and success. Most of the foods are sweet including the most well known dish for this holiday, mufleta. A mufleta is a mix between a crepe, beghrir and msemmen.
Personal views from Amit Barnea and others on memories of Mimouna [please note that some traditions use seven not five of everything]:
“On the table you will not find typical Moroccan cuisine. It is laden neither with meat dishes nor an assortment of salads. Instead, it is laid out with items, each of which is symbolic in some way: a live fish swimming in a bowl of water, five green fava beans wrapped in dough, five dates, five gold bracelets in a pastry bowl, dough pitted with five deep fingerprints, five silver coins, five pieces of gold or silver jewelry, a palm-shaped amulet, sweetmeats, milk and butter, white flour, yeast, honey, a variety of jams, a lump of sugar, stalks of wheat, plants, fig leaves, wildflowers and greens." Fruits, especially oranges, apples, almonds, and nuts are eaten. Zaben, white almost nougat, marozia, fried raisins with nuts, and mazun, fruit jam also feature prominently. Plates of flour decorate the Mimouna table which is often topped with gold coins, oil, or beans. Live fish are also often found at Mimouna celebrations due to their association with protection and fertility. "All are symbols of bounty, fertility, luck, blessings and joy. The traditional holiday greeting fits right in: “Tarbakhu u-tsa’adu” – meaning, “May you have success and good luck.” from “Lady Luck”! The spread also recalls the exodus and the escape from the Egyptians. For instance, Mimouna foods that symbolize the "Red Sea" or "Sea of Reeds" that are placed on the table include: fish or live fish on a plate with a bed of vegetables and lettuce.
My favorite part of this holiday is that it truly is an interfaith holiday. Often times Moroccan Jews would give all of their flour, yeast and grain that was remaining at Passover to their Muslim neighbors. In return, Muslim neighbors were often the first visitors to Jews after Passover bringing them sweets and other food items that were now permissible. This custom is said to have been started by Maimonides' father, Rav Maimon ben Josef. In the United States you may be able to find mosques and synagogues hosting Mimouna events such as these in Arizona and Boston.
In Israel, Mimouna is often celebrated in a packed park with smoke from the hundreds of grills fired up and cooking everything from kebabs to entrecote steak. Such smoke lends a light haze to an otherwise bright and sunny day.
“People are just happy to have the chance to come out and spend a little more time with their families before they head back to work,” Jerusalem resident Menachem Scherman told the Post in 2010 as he pushed a stroller with his sleeping kids.
“Sure, a lot of people are here for Mimouna or Isru Hag, but also, the yeshivas have yet to resume their schedules and a lot of kids are still out of school,” he said. “If you look around, it seems like kids make up the bulk of the crowd here.”
While the majority of the crowd may be made up of modern Orthodox and haredi families, a decent crowd of secular Jerusalemites were also present and a number of scantily clad teenagers found good spots to set up tents and grills as they spent the day in the park.
At the nearby Jerusalem International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha’uma),
festivities with art and history exhibits also featured a stand selling moufletta, the sweet, flaky pastry that is an essential part of an authentic Mimouna celebration. The festivities continued into the night, with musical performances and appearances by a number of Knesset members.
In the Morocco of yesteryear, Mimouna had a prominent place in the synagogue, which is no longer the case in most communities today. On the afternoon of the last day of Passover, the congregation would take to the fields to recite the “Birkat Ilanot” – blessing over fruit trees. Following the conclusion of Passover, a number of readings were conducted from the Scriptures, especially from the book of Proverbs as well as the Mishna, which formally inaugurated the Mimouna celebrations.
Whether Mimouna is explained as an expression of faith and trust in HaShem and the coming of the Moshiach, or a way to show the world that we are a part of it through celebrating with our neighbors, or a joyous expression of our remembering the difficulties of the exodus and our relief that we are now freed, Mimouna clearly expresses the joy of the Pesach on a level that not only gratifies the physical senses but also borders on the intense expression of spiritual joy. Do you think it possible that such a celebration could help strengthen our communities here in the West?
May our Pesach continue to be one of joy and enrichment this year and every year! Next year in Jerusalem for a barbeque! Moadim L'Simchah, it is a season for joy! and Chag Pesach Sameach, Happy Holiday of Pesach! and Shabbat Shalom this last day of Pesach!
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Shemini 5772 - On the 8th Day...
Shabbat Shemini – On the Eighth Day… 5772……….. by J. Adele
“Never Assume”, the 8th rule of Gibbs in the NCIS TV series…
On the eighth day of purification the Priesthood was constituted for the people for it takes eight days to purify an impure person according to this week’s portion, Shemini, the eighth. According to Torah, the firstborn males are dedicated to the Priesthood on the eighth day of life. Our covenant with HaShem is renewed every time a healthy baby boy has a brit milah on the eighth day of his life. In that covenant, the eighth term we agreed to is not to steal.
Rashi interprets this agreement not to steal as referring to as an agreement not to steal a person whereas the statement to not covet another’s property covers not stealing such property. In particular, Rashi was referring to kidnapping. So it seems that forced slavery has always been a problem. While forced slavery is still a problem today, the interpretation can be broadened in view of our advances in science, psychology, etc. to include other aspects of ‘stealing’. Such ‘stealing’ of a person could mean stealing of a person’s well-being, mental or physical, or the stealing of a person’s spirit or soul.
The sages teach that the destruction of a person is as if we destroyed a whole world. Stealing could also be that destruction.
How many different ways can you think of that will result in a person, in part or in whole, being ‘stolen’?
Perhaps a partial list might include:
· Violence and physical abuse such as sexual abuse
· Forced separation from family, community, and/or love
· Cursing, berating, demeaning, disparaging, etc. comments
· Lashon HaRah, the Evil Tongue
· Sinat Hinam, baseless hatred
There are so many ways we can steal from a person’s well being! The more we do not restrain ourselves, the more likely we will steal again and again. How have we stolen the weal of others? What can we do to stop those behaviours that allow us to steal from others? Is it truly possible to completely observe and follow the eighth term of our contract with HaShem? These are deep questions needing deep thought, perhaps during this upcoming Shabbat of Shemini.
5772 Tazria/ Metzora
5772 Tazria/ Metzora, Amplification of Blessings
The double portion we read this week relates many laws as the book of instructions to the Levites, Leviticus, continues. However the two associated Haftorah portions, taken from II Melachim [2 Kings] are very interesting ones. One describes miracles of Elisha including a brief story of feeding masses with only 20 loaves. This type of miracle story appears in many different cultures from times even before the Patriarchs as do resurrection type stories.
In the second story, lepers alert a town to an invading force but were denied food and sanctuary. When the lepers went to the invaders’ camp to beg for food, there appeared to be miraculous intervention for the town! The invaders were scared away, leaving all their loot behind.
So both stories describe far greater benefit from small blessings and acts of kindness: twenty loaves and a warning about invaders leading to food for the masses and wealth for lepers. It therefor appears that one of the lessons we can draw from these stories is that blessings can be amplified.
How might we see this concept in our everyday lives? How might we apply this concept to our everyday lives?
Two simple things come to mind: smiling and paying it forward. Doing a kindness for someone or a mitzvah in helping someone else can result in the recipient being likely to do a kindness or a mitzvah for yet others. A constant self-reminder to just keep smiling may be the start of an epidemic of smiles and lighter gaits!
How can you amplify and multiply the blessings we have all around us? These possibilities are something we can ponder on and amplify this Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom!
5772 Acharei Mot/Kedoshim
5772 Acharei Mot/Kedoshim
5772 Acharei Mot/Kedoshim
Does ‘Love Your Neighbor’ Include EVERYONE?
For the double portion of Achrei Mot/ Kedoshim, it is very popular to focus on the quote that we should love our fellows [neighbors] as we love ourselves [VaYikra (Leviticus) 19:18]. So, should we pity our fellows if we do not love ourselves?
More seriously, often that focus leads to the discussion of the story of HaRav Hillel who told a potential convert to not do unto others that which is distasteful to you [and that all the rest is commentary to be studied.] In this week’s portions we are also cautioned:
v You shall not take vengeance nor bear a grudge against your countryfolk [VaYikra 19:17] ;
v Don’t hate your kinfolk in your heart [VaYikra 19:17] ; and
v You shall love the sojourner / stranger as yourself, for you were once strangers in Egypt [VaYikra 19:34].
The common English phrase we hear is “Love Thy Neighbor”. It seems simple enough. Strangers, sojourners, and immigrants among us as well as countrymen/women/children, kinfolk, and neighbors should all be loved!
Yet are all the folk in Chino Valley my neighbors and countryfolk? Surely Canadians are our neighbors, but are Israelis? Iraqis? Iranians? N. Koreans? Mexicans? Are Native Americans our countryfolk?
Are we all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers?
Perhaps the best answer is that we all could never agree about whom should be exempted from being loved as a fellow person or a neighbor. Nor could we ever agree as to who might be exempted from following “Love your fellow person, your neighbor”. Hence it is incumbent upon us all to love all or at least not hate anyone: ourselves, our kinfolk, our neighbors, strangers, end so on…that is to say, just everyone. Absolutely everyone.
Can any of us truly achieve such a goal? Let us ponder this question this Shabbat in Love without Hatred. Shabbat Shalom!
Emor 5772, Does Physical Appearance Affect Self-Esteem?
We all claim that we are seeking spiritual enlightenment and growth. We are all told that such growth is possible. We are also told that if we seriously try for such growth, then we are worthy of respect from others and from ourselves.
What component of self-respect does physical appearance then play? In our culture there is a huge emphasis on physical appearance standards. We are raised to think certain physical characteristics are desirable and those having other characteristics deserve negative treatment or comments, shame, embarrassment, or other adverse treatment. Often if we do not have these “ideal” characteristics, we internalize a feeling of being inadequate. We think we do not measure up because we are too fat, or too bald or lame or blind or deaf or …..whatever.
Our culture has effectively stolen our spirits and violated the 8th term to our contract with HaShem: “Thou shalt not steal!” Nonetheless, the fact is that our physical characteristics do NOT determine our worth. For instance, Dr. Hawkins is a renowned physicist despite being wheelchair bound with difficult and limited motion as well as a voice synthesizer. Helen Keller was blind and deaf. Moses was said to stutter.
There was a time when the Rabbis of the Talmud decided that to be blind or deaf was the same as if the person was dead. Some even went so far as to say that their prayers to HaShem would not be heard. The Patriarch Isaac thought that his life was over when he became blind [although he actually lived for many more years]. So, too, this week’s parasha [portion] of Emor bans the physically imperfect from performing Priestly duties.
Yet since those times we have learned that physical variations from the perceived ‘norm’ do not determine our worth, that we can be accomplished despite our alleged deficits. A wise teacher who is an Orthodox Rabbi who sat on the Israeli Government’s Committee on Medical Ethics taught that Rabbis of old made decisions on the ‘facts’ then known to them. However, should we realize that the facts they used were flawed, it is incumbent on us to review the decisions made and adjust them according to what we now know to be the ‘facts’.
So how then are we to view the restrictions on the Cohanim and Leviim [Levites] regarding physical imperfections? How can we now value people if physical attributes are removed from the calculation?
We would need to get to know them: their thoughts, their intentions, their feelings, their spirits. We would need to learn to communicate without being judgemental. Then, perhaps we will be able to see that every creature, every person, has worth and should be encouraged to have good self-esteem.
Let us then work this Shabbat on discovering the good values and worthiness in everybody. In doing so, perhaps we can then achieve the harmony of Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom!
B'Har/ B'Chukotai 5772
5772 B’Har/ B’Chukotai
Land as Entitlement or as Reward?
In these times we often hear claims by ‘settlers’ that they have a right to occupied territories given the promises made to our ancestors Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. They conveniently ignore the conditions spelled out in Torah that need to be met so that we can keep the land and thrive on it. The promises to the ancestors were effectively annulled with the destruction of the first Temple.
The Prophets, too, made it clear that to return to the land would require following the outline given by HaShem to protect the land and to keep the people on the straight and narrow. For a brief time people did observe these requirements and hence were able to maintain the second Temple. However since the destruction of that second Temple, there have been no Prophets and no further promises to guarantee us the “Holy Land”. Indeed, a series of natural disasters thwarted the attempt to open up a third Temple. The sages of the time blamed it all on the misbehaviours of the people.
We have since had over 1500 years of other governments. The laws of these governments take precedence over any alleged verbal promises. During this time the Rabbis agreed that the laws of the governments of the lands need to be observed even if different from Jewish Law with only 3 exceptions. The exceptions given were: a) one can oppose a law that forces one to kill; b) or forces one into sexual impropriety; c) or forces one into idolatry.
As a result, much of what is now Israel was actually purchased from previous owners. So it is a dilemma when ‘settlers’ actually buy the land they wish to live on. If the land is not under Israeli protection, the ‘settlers’ are in extreme danger from an antagonistic government.
The portions for this week, the last two of VaYikra [Leviticus] make it very clear that there is not entitlement to the land if we do not hold up our end of the contract. [e.g. see VaYikra 26:32-45] While we might not be totally destroyed for our arrogance and misdeeds, the picture given is one of a people severely scarred by their losses. Given this, how can we best insure the continued existence of our Jewish homeland? Can we do anything by ourselves or do we need to learn to cooperate with others [as may be being demonstrated by the newly formed unity government in Israel]? If so, how? Clearly this is an ongoing topic for us to consider this Shabbat and every day. Shabbat Shalom!
BaMidbar, 5772 and Shavuot
BaMidbar, 5772 and Shavuot
Are we ready for Freedom?
Two years in the desert and the Israelites of this opening portion [parasha] of BaMidbar [in the desert, also known as the book of Numbers] are taking a census in order to form an army. Yet as we later learn, the numbers were many, but their spirit was fearful. They were not ready for Freedom. Their spirits were still as though they were enslaved. So the Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert… but that is a story for another time.
Here we now stand just before Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks, also known as the Festival of First Fruits and the Festival of the Giving of the Torah. It is as if we stand at the beginning of our exodus preparing to receive the Laws of HaShem.
Even though many years have passed since then, it seems that each year we start over again. When the Israelites received the Laws, they were not ready for freedom. They needed to learn what the obligations and responsibilities of Freedom are as well as what the benefits are and the costs for those benefits.
So if they were not ready for Freedom when they received the Laws, then we feel compelled to ask: “Are we ready for Freedom?” After all, how many of us really know what we are obliged as Jews to do? Which of those obligations can we actually accomplish? How do these obligations affect how we need to respond to our environments, our governments, our communities, our families, ourselves?
Can we honestly say that we have learned enough to responsibly embrace Freedom? The answers are not easy ones. Perhaps during this long weekend of Shabbat and Shavuot, we can make a good start on finding those answers. Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
How Do Our Prayers Get Answered? Naso 5772
We are repeatedly told that if we follow the Laws of Torah, we will be blessed with all sorts of bounty. We are given procedures for sacrifices: burnt offerings to affirm self-surrender to HaShem’s ways; peace offerings in gratitude; sin offerings of sorrow over straying from HaShem’s ways and wishing to reconcile; congregational sacrifices at appointed festivals; etc. However none of these sacrifices are geared to bribe HaShem to do our will. [Nonetheless there are stories where someone would try to bribe HaShem by promising a special sacrifice or peace offering in gratitude if what is wished for happens.] Without sacrifices, many people have turned to prayer as a replacement.
Yet many people today will use prayer to tell HaShem what they think is the proper thing that should happen. Then they expect to have their prayers answered according to their own self-judgment of their own worthiness as well as their own judgment as to what is the right thing that should happen.
In this week’s Torah and Haftorah portions, we learn about Nazarites. Nazarites, we are told, are people with special abilities due to their mode of living without consuming any grapes or grape products, spirits, or vinegar; without cutting their hair; and without allowing themselves to become unclean through contact with a corpse. Such people have either been consecrated by a parent to do HaShem’s bidding or through a vow of their own to do what is right according to HaShem. Yet these special abilities, such as Sampson’s extraordinary strength, are not an answer to a prayer but rather a blessing to help the Nazarite better serve HaShem.
So do prayers get answered? If so, how?
When the end of life approaches, Judaism has a set of prayers for use called vidui prayers. The intent of these prayers is two-fold. One is to prepare the nefesh [soul or spirit] for transition past this life through making peace with the worldly existence, tying up loose ends, and making amends as needed and as possible. The other is to ask for a postponement of death IF IT BE HASHEM’S WILL.
Similarly the sages teach that we must not pray to reverse that which has already happened. For instance, when people heard about the plane crash into the Hudson, we were cautioned to pray for the best possible well-being of the survivors and not for everyone to survive unharmed.
Hence it seems that whether a prayer will be answered may well depend on what is being asked for and in what manner. If our prayers do not allow for HaShem’s judgment over all, then we set ourselves up for possible disappointments. If instead we pray for the best possible outcome for any given situation, we leave the decision of ‘best’ to HaShem and therefore should not be disappointed at whatever the outcome is.
So, do prayers get answered? Should our prayers be answered? Do we deserve to have our prayers answered? When should they be answered? This is a discussion to be looked forward to on this coming Shabbat of Naso. Shabbat Shalom!
Who says “Delegate”?
In Parashat Yitro [Exodus XVIII:18-24] we read that Moshe’s father-in-law encouraged him to delegate in order to prevent burnout. Yitro told Moshe to choose Elders among the tribes to be judges of the people and thereby reduce the burden of leadership on Moshe.
In this week’s portion of B’Ha’alotecha , we read that HaShem told Moshe to do so [Numbers/BaMidbar XI:16-17]. Which us the case? Perhaps HaShem told Moshe to do so by way of Yitro? After all, Yitro was the Priest of his tribe. Yet there are some who would not want to acknowledge that a Priest of another religion might be able to convey the words of HaShem. Perhaps that is why we have two versions of how Moshe learned to “delegate”.
Nonetheless, why should we disparage the words of a non-Israelite? In fact, we are taught in Parashat Balak that prophets of HaShem can be of another religion. They need only to be connected to HaShem and speak only the words of HaShem.
Bilaam was a far-famed soothsayer who spoke only the words of HaShem. He was not an Israelite, yet his words have given us one of our most beloved prayers: “Ma Tovu”. “How goodly are your tents o Israel…!”
Perhaps the answer is simpler: When Yitro came, Moshe delegated to set up a system of tiered jurisprudence. In this parasha, Moshe is delegating prophetic power to Elders in order to keep the masses under control, especially regarding their clamor for meat.
So are the delegates of the two portions the same? Did a non-Israelite convey words of HaShem? Alternatively, are these just stories of using common sense? It seems we are in for an interesting discussion this coming Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom!
Shlach-Lecha ‘’72, To Possess the Land
This week’s parasha, portion, of Shlach-Lecha [you yourself send out] gives two examples of how the land can be checked out. One account is related in the Torah portion [BaMidbar/Numbers Ch. 14] while the other is the Haftorah [Joshua Ch. 2] said to relate events 38-40 years later.
What are the similarities and the differences between these two approaches?
Certainly the goals of the two incursions were similar to some extent. In part, they wanted to answer questions as to what the defenses of the natives were and how they might be overcome.
However during the earlier incursion, there was also the goal of evaluating the value of the land as regards fertility, agriculture, relative occupancy by the peoples already there, etc. From the description the extent of land researched during their 40 day trek was about 60 miles north/south and maybe 20 miles east/west.
When the twelve leaders of the tribes were sent out by Moshe, they seemed like children alone in a candy store. Ten of them were pretty well convinced that they were not going to be given the money to buy any candy. They believed they would not be given the weapons nor the military prowess that would allow them to take possession of the land.
By the time Joshua sent out his investigators, not only were they already convinced of the wealth of the land, but also there were residents who were equally convinced and willing to help them. This combination allowed them the option of taking actions that would result in the possession of at least a part of the land. So they did, not as invaders but rather as a people returning home.
What can we draw from them to apply to modern situations of pre-planning actions we may want to take?
Perhaps some of the elements of the lesson include:
· Know what you are getting into, both obstacles and helpful logistics; [that is to say, know the lay of the land]
· Get allies to assist you;
· Have a clear goal of what you want to achieve; and
· Draw up a comprehensive plan taking into account all aspects of the logistics, both helpful and harmful.
Whether or not to pursue such plans becomes a matter of modern day politics and/or international relations. However that is a matter for other discussions. Shabbat Shalom!
Integrity, Loyalty, and Courage
Reuven was the first born of Jacob and the Reuvenites wanted the power and rights of the first born regardless of whether they were worthy of that power and those rights. As we start this week’s parasha [portion] of Korach, we find the tribe of Levi in disarray with some being jealous of the house of Amram and the power they wielded through Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam.
Levi and Reuven travelled in close proximity to to one another and probably spent long nights around the campfires plotting together to take power. Amidst this dissatisfaction, Korach, a Levite and the namesake of this parasha, was allowed to express his jealousy and criticisms of Moshe and Aaron. In such an environment, it does not take much courage to speak out against the leaders and even spread falsehoods about them as did the ten scouts earlier after their 40 day exploration of Canaan. Their mudraking was clearly a sign of absent integrity.
Still, there was no widespread support for Korach and his cohorts. Most people distanced themselves from them and hence were not consumed by the earth after Korach’s defeat both by rejection of his sacrifices and by his later being swallowed up by the earth along with his closest supporters.
Nonetheless, the people were not loyal to Moshe and Aaron since in the aftermath they “murmured against” Moshe and Aaron, blaming them for the deaths of Korach and his supporters. For this disloyalty, we are told, there was a plague among the people killing another 14,700.
In the wake of these horrors, Moshe and Aaron consolidated power. However, were the people any more loyal to them or were they just in awe and fearful of them? Is it courage or foolhardiness to oppose the establishment? Is there integrity in using propaganda and lies to attempt to win a conflict? Where is the courage to solve disputes through discourse and not violence? Who shows that courage? Where is the integrity to avoid lashon ha-rah? Who shows that integrity? These are topics for this Shabbat and many more discussions to come. Shabbat Shalom!
When Must We Keep Promises?
Promises and oaths are often made in the heat of emotions. Yet do we really intend to keep those promises?
Sometimes parents promise children all kinds of things just to placate them and keep them quiet. At other times, out of ire, they promise grievous injuries to the children if they don’t behave.
Politicians in this country always promise things to the masses, the vast majority of which they could never fulfill without the help of a great many other politicians/ governing individuals.
Every year during Yom Kippur, practicing Jews promise HaShem to do better and often do so with a list of specific goals. At this season every year, Jews also are supposed to make peace with others in the world or at least try to.
This week’s Haftorah includes most of Chapter 11 in Judges. However the last 7 verses are left out. As a result the Haftorah portion ends abruptly after we are told that Jephthah promised to sacrifice the first living creature who greeted him upon his return home should HaShem deliver the Ammonites to him in battle. He won the battle… and the Haftorah stops.
Did it always stop so abruptly? We don’t know. What we do know is that the last 7 verses describe Jephthah being greeting first by his only child, a daughter, whom he then did sacrifice. Rabbi Marc Wolf of JTS notes: “In her book, Texts of Terror, Phyllis Tribble gives a voice to this daughter of Jephthah who is ignored not only by our haftarah, but by the text which leaves her nameless. Her reading critiques Jephthah for making an unnecessary vow—one that was not an act of faith, but faithlessness. What need did Jephthah have for a vow when the “spirit of the Lord” was on him? In this light, Jephthah seeks to bind God, rather than rely on his God-given power: “The meaning of his words is doubt, not faith; it is control, not courage. To such a vow, the deity makes no reply”. It is this careless faithlessness that ultimately causes the death of his daughter.”
In another commentary, Zalman Kastel notes that Jephthah’s daughter agreed to comply with her father’s vow…”and he did to her his vow which he had vowed; and she had not known any man….” Commentaries differ on whether she was killed [Ramban] or isolated for the rest of her life [Abarbanel, Ibn Ezra, Radak]. Either way, it was an avoidable terrible choice. If only he had bothered to study, he would have known that his vow could be cancelled. “
Was he obliged to fulfill his oath in this case? What of Pikuach Nefesh and the prohibition against human sacrifice even from the time of the Akeidah when Avraham almost sacrificed Yitzchak except for divine intervention?
We also know that barren women who prayed for children, promising them to the Levites should they actually have a son, did [according to the stories we have] consecrate them to the service of the Levites. Were there others who did not? We don’t know.
What we do know is that promises to hurt others are not consistent with our laws. What we do know is that promises intended to deceive others into doing what we want them to do are also inconsistent with our laws. We also know that we do not always keep our promises to HaShem to do better – hence the perpetual need for Yom Kippur and the like! So when are we obligated to keep our promises? This is something to ponder throughout the year. May we all have a blessed Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom!
Balak 5772 – What Lessons can we learn from Pinchas?
Before crossing the Jordan, the Israelites settled in Shittim. This was a region both to Moab and to Midian. The women of the region enticed the Israelite men according to this week’s parasha [portion] of Balak. Josephus implies that they married Israelites under the pretence that they would worship HaShem, yet they also continued pagan sacrifices. Hence, we are told in Torah that the men were enticed by the women to worship Baal-Peor, to engage in sexual immorality, to the start of a plague perceived as a punishment for immorality and idolatry.
Moshe’s response was to tell the leaders of the tribes [the judges] that they should slay all Israelite worshippers of Baal-Peor. Hertz tells us that one of these alleged worshippers of Baal-Peor, Zimri of the tribe of Shimon, is said to have publicly flaunted his immoral relationship with a Midianite woman.
Torah tells us that Pinchas was zealous and impaled Zimri and the woman on his spear in public before the Tent of Meeting. However, Josephus tells us that Zimri had actually married the woman, Cozbi, the daughter of a prominent leader of the Midianites by the name of Sur. According to him, Zimri was outspoken against Moshe, promoting both intermarriage and sacrifice to other gods as well as to HaSHem [she does mine and I do hers]. Before Zimri could accumulate a following, Pinchas went to Zimri’s tent and killed both Zimri and Cozbi with his spear.
It was the custom of the time that those killed for idolatry and/or sexual immorality would be impaled on a stake facing the sun for all to see their fate. It is not clear whether or not some of the other idolators were killed by other zealous young men following the example of Pinchas. However, all sources seem to agree that the remaining idolators were all wiped out by a plague.
Many questions come to mind:
· Where did the plague come from?
· How did biblical people view and react to plagues?
· How do modern people view and react to plagues?
· Were the Moabite and Midianite women married to the Israelites?
· What sexual immorality is being referred to?
· Was Moshe justified in demanding the deaths of the idolators?
· Was Pinchas justified in his actions?
· What lesson can we draw from this parasha regarding intermarriage?
· Was this politics, health protection, the word of HaShem or something else or some combination thereof ?
· What other lessons can we draw from this story?
These are many questions to ponder and discuss this week and continuing through next week with Parashat Pinchas. In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom!
Pinchas 5772, Additional Lessons?
In this week’s parasha [portion], Pinchas, the story of Zimri and Cozbi continues. This is followed by another census of military eligible males and then by the story of women’s rights to inherit and own property through the inheritance of the five daughters of Zelophehad. The parasha then returns to military preparedness by the commissioning of Joshua as military leader. Tacked onto the end of this parasha are lists of appropriate daily, Sabbath, and festival sacrifices. Some of these clearly could not be used until times when the people are settled in the Land and agrarian.
In this portion it is confirmed that Pinchas will inherit the Priestly powers after his father and grandfather. Further, the names of Zimri and Cozbi are revealed along with the status of Cozbi as daughter of Midianite tribal leader. She is blamed for the plague among the Israelites [like a typhoid Mary?]. However in the last part of last week’s parasha, we are told that the Moabite women enticed the Israelites to idolatry and the plague was a punishment of HaShem. Yet this week we are told [Ch. 25, verses 16-18] that the plague was the trickery of the Midianites for which Moshes directs the Israelites to defeat the Midianites.
We recall that last week’s discussion of the parasha led us to understand that Pinchas’ spear could only be effectively used in a downward thrust. That would require Zimri and Cozbi to be together in an horizontal position either by the Tent of Meeting [Torah] or in their family tent [Josephus].
We also learned that idolaters who were killed were then tied up onto stakes facing the sun for all to see what would happen to them if they pursued idolatry. In view of the additional information above, what do you now think about Pinchas and his role in our history? To wit:
1] What was the source of the plague?;
2] Why is Cozbi named in Torah when few women ever are?, Did Zimri speak with Moshe and the Judges when he came by the Tent of Meeting with Cozbi?, Did Cozbi speak alongside Zimri in trying to defend the foreign women and sway the decisions of Moshe?, and Was Cozbi related to Moshe’s family and hence felt entitled to speak out?;
3] Was Moshe justified in ordering the death of the Israelite idolaters and the defeat of the Midianites? OR Was he forced to order the defeat of the Midianites by Pinchas’ murder of the Chieftain’s daughter, Cozbi?
4] Was Pinchas justified in his actions? AND Was he rewarded appropriately or was his position of inheritance of the Priestly power the reason his actions were accepted?
5] Was intermarriage considered sexually immoral?
6] Were the actions in this chapter political, health protection, directives of HaShem, caused by something else or caused by some combination thereof?
7] What lessons can be drawn from Ch. 25 of Bamidbar [Numbers]?
The story has become murkier and the answers may not be simple but are fodder for continuing great discussions. Until then, Shabbat Pinchas Shalom!
Zelophehad’s Daughters ’72, Mattot/Mas’ei 5772
Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Micah, and Tirza
When we first met the girls [Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Micah, and Tirza] they were awarded their father’s inheritance given that they had no brothers. It seemed a reasonable judgement to many of us who read the parasha portion.
When my cancer-stricken, dying Father was asked whether he regretted having no sons, he replied that it was okay because he know that I would do all that was expected of a son. It was both an inheritance and an obligation to the family, one that I accepted and accept gladly.
However the concept of inheritance now is very different than that of the times of Moshe and Joshua. Apparently, Zelophehad’s legacy was one of his share of the property, particularly land, that would be given to his tribe. Hence, not only was it important to keep the inheritance in the family, but also in the tribe.
So this week’s final section of BaMidbar, the Book of Numbers, repeats that the daughter’s of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Micah, and Tirza can inherit their father’s estate. However this right is allowed only with the caveat that if they marry, it must be within the tribe. [ch. 36]
Except for Levites, we no longer keep track of tribes. Yet even for Levites, we no longer follow the directives about inheritance by daughters.
So, given this changed approach, what is the lesson we in modern times need to gain from the story of Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Micah, and Tirza?
Are daughters treated differently than sons with regards to inheritances?
Should daughters be treated differently than sons?
If not, then how are we to achieve equal treatment of sons and daughters? Should we?
Shabbat is a time for reflection. May our reflections this Shabbat find answers, lessons, and goals for us to embrace. Shabbat Shalom!
Devarim 5772, Silence is Assent
Last week, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson wrote an interesting commentary about the limitation on negating vows requiring immediate negation upon first learning of the vow or else loosing the opportunity to do so. He took this concept to the broader lesson of “silence is assent” wherein we accept, and even condone, the evils of the world through our silence.
This week in Devarim [Deuteronomy] we find a parallel as Moshe starts two weeks of reminiscing over all the Israelites have been through up to that point of just before crossing into the promised land. Back at Mt. Sinai, the people had said “Na-aseh v’nishman”, we will do and listen to [learn about/ understand] the terms of our contract with HaShem. Now they are silent, listening to Moshe recount their history. This silence among the people was in effect continuing agreement through dedication, fear, and/or apathy with Moshe and his directives. These 100 directives in Devarim include 70 mitzvot we have not heard about in the prior books of Torah. So their silence was assent to the mitzvot as well.
During these last three weeks of desolation before Tisha B’Av [9th of Av], we can well understand the stories of the past viewing these weeks as high risk for tragedies. For instance, the terrorist attack on a busload of Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, chills our souls when we hear of the wounded and the dead [including a pregnant woman].
The traumatic horror continued before we could catch our breaths with the senseless slaughter and maiming of dozens of moviegoers in Aurora [including a six year old among the dead.] We shake our heads and ask ‘why?’ Yet we act as if this is something being done to us, something out of our control. Is it?
Perhaps there was something more we could have done to prevent these tragedies. Reports indicate that just such a terrorist attack was known to be in the planning in Bulgaria. Shouldn’t security have been beefed up? Nonetheless, we and the most involved agencies apparently were silent. It was as if we had shrugged our shoulders and said “that’s life”, that some people will always be victims of terrorists and it costs too much to act or to care. Casualties are acceptable. Our silence gave assent, the green light to terrorists.
Similarly, what could we have done to help prevent horrors like Aurora, rather than just silently assent to such tragic, needless loss of life? Are we to be silent or are we to take action? Serious questions to be pondered, but unfortunately not resolved, this Shabbat. May we all have a week of Peace! Shabbat Shalom!
This week’s haftorah, Nachamu, is the first of the Haftorot of Consolation. In it, we are told that we should be comforted, that the sins of Jerusalem were expiated [through suffering?], that HaSHem proclaims everything will be good again, and that the nations, the potentates and the rulers are as naught [nothing] in the overall scheme of the world.
Is this comforting to us? This haftorah is telling us that Jews will survive, but does not reassure us that we and our communities will survive and thrive. It is as if the horrors that the ‘nations’, the ‘potentates’, and the ‘rulers’ force upon us are also as nothing. We, in our limited view of the world, value every individual to the utmost [unless hatred, divisiveness, and bigotry get in the way.] Each loss, no matter how small, is an agonizing grief to us.
A carte blanche guarantee of security by HaShem without correlated responsibilities and obligations to fulfill on our part would seem rather unrealistic even if that is what we would want ideally. HaShem has never worked that way as far as we know. Even Avraham Avinu had tests to pass and continuous behaviour obligations until HaShem make repeated promises to Avraham regarding his future generations.
So what will comfort us during these seven weeks leading up to the High Holy Days? We have several weeks to discuss and ponder these questions, starting this Shabbat.
Ekev 5772 - Memories
Ekev 5772 – Memories
We now know that memories change with age. They may be lost or they may become more detailed either by additionally remembered details or by imaginary details inserted through wishful thinking or intentional adjustment.
This week’s parasha [portion] is the 2nd of Moshe’s discourses remembering the history of the Children of Israel through his own eyes up to that point. Yet the memories deviate a bit from the accounts we have read previously in the earlier Books of Torah.
Early in the parasha we are told that the taking possession of the land will be little by little as HaShem slowly dispossess the inhabitants [Ch. 7: 16-26] . Yet maintaining possession of the land is conditional, dependent on whether we can resist the temptation of the idols and idolatrous practices of those inhabitants who will be dispossessed [Ch. 8:19-20]. This conditional nature of staying in the Promised Land is reiterated throughout the parasha including in the section that has become the second paragraph of our daily Shema [Ch. 11:13-20].
This parasha also reminds us of our liberation from servitude in Egypt through signs, wonders, and deeds such as the drowning of Pharoah and his army in the Sea of Reeds [Ch. 11:2-4]. Moshe also recalls in this parasha the giving of the two sets of tablets of the Law.
However there are details that we have not read before in the earlier books of Torah [Ch. 9:8-21]! For instance, Moshe saved Aaron for his part in allowing the making of the Golden calf through prayer and interceding with HaShem. Perhaps more interesting are the details about how the Golden Calf was rather than burnt to ash, actually burnt and then smashed/ pulverized to dust. Further, this dust is recalled as having been put into the mountain brook [that was the source of water for drinking, washing, etc.] rather than added to the drinking water as a punishment.
What details are we to believe? Why?
How can other historical and archaeological finds help us to decide?
Are these differing details of any significance to the lessons we need to glean from Torah and this parasha? What are those lessons?
These are good questions to ponder and discuss this Shabbat. May we all have an Enlightened Shabbat of Peace! Shabbat Shalom!
Reeh 5772 Causeless Hatred
R’eih: See, Notice, Perceive! This week’s parasha [portion] implores us to ‘see’ the world around us and choose between the blessings [such as on Mt. Gerazim] and the curses [such as on Mt. Ebal] of the scenario/ landscape you “see”. [Dvarim 11:29] We are told to purge the land of all idols and idolatrous places of worship so that we won’t be tempted to idolatry, not even to use the former sites of worship for our worship. [12:2-7, 29-31] Is this not the same as what many other groups tried to force upon us when they were in control, destroying our places of worship and banning use of Torah scrolls? Further we are NOT told to wipe out the inhabitants. Rather we are told to dispossess them, those that HaShem has ‘cut down’ [12:29]. Yet are there any true idolaters to be concerned with in the Land of Modern Day Israel? Weren’t these directives just for when we first entered the Holy Land?
The rest of the portion deals with the practices to celebrate, observe, and laud HaShem; what to eat; how to treat the land; etc. Yet the clear overriding message is to worship only HaShem and avoid all temptation to idolatry. Then I read the recent news from Israel and wonder if there are not groups of people who worship themselves as having the only true truth even to the point of trying to force others to be just like them. The arrogance of gods, the idols of the self-righteous, themselves! To wit:
· The book “The King’s Torah” calls for the murder of Arab children and babies, etc. thereby inciting violence against Arabs and other non-Jews was recently published by 4 extremist Orthodox 'Rabbis'. Several Jewish Groups have petitioned the Israeli High Court to criminally prosecute these four authors for their racism, incitement to violence, etc.
· Israeli hotels discriminate against non-Orthodox patrons by banning egalitarian prayer services using a Sefer Torah.
· On May 29, 2012, Israel [responding to a 2005 petition] announced that the Reform and Conservative leaders of communities will be recognized as Rabbis, paid salaries by the state, and classified as Rabbis of non-Orthodox communities BUT only for regional councils and farming communities AND they will have no authority over religious and halachic matters.
· At the Kotel, women can not pray out loud, dance, read from Torah, hold a lulav, read a megilla, put on tefillin, wear a tallit, or have a Bat Mitzvah.
· Anat Hoffman was charged with a felony for praying while holding a Torah at the Kotel based on a 2003 ruling that women reading Torah or wearing a tallit might disrupt public order, case pending.
· An orthodox convert, converted in Canada, Yossi Fackenheim was told that he did not need a divorce get because he couldn’t possibly be Jewish with a Reform Rabbi as his father!
· At least now it is a felony in Israel to harass someone for where they sit on a bus.
Yet nearly all these groups being discriminated against believe in HaShem! They do not blatantly worship idols. Shema Yisrael: Hear o’ Yisrael! Adonai Echad: HaShem is ONE! L’chol echad v’echad v’echat: for each and everyone, male or female!!!
How can we successfully oppose this huge level of Sinat Chinam, causeless hatred? A huge task to discuss and contemplate this Shabbat and every Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom!
Shoftim 5772 – the Ultimate Judge
At this time during the middle of the seven weeks of comfort, our thoughts turn to the Day of Judgment soon coming up upon us. It is a Day of Atonement in hopes that our atoning will be enough to get us judged favorably for another year of good life.
This week’s parasha [portion] of Shoftim [Judges] emphasizes again the need to avoid idolatry and hold faithfully to the one true Judge, HaShem. As described in this week’s Haftorah, Isaiah 51:12-52:12, everything that ever happens is decided by HaShem. HaShem is the ultimate judge. So even if we follow the ethical behaviours set out by HaShem via Moshe in this week’s parasha, or at least if our judges do, we can only claim to be a weak imitation of the Ultimate Judge, HaShem.
Why? HaShem is not tempted by the weakness of the flesh, by greed, or by lusts. HaShem does not need to be reminded to judge without favoritism nor can HaShem be bribed.
So I sit here today able to write up this commentary and wondering in awe at the decision that spared my life, that will allow me to try to continue to fulfill mitzvot, work on tikun olam, and provide comfort as best I can to those in need.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, HaGomel l’chayavim tovot, sh’gimaleini kol tov!
Praised are you Lord our God, sovereign of the universe who graciously bestows favor upon the undeserving, even as favor has been bestowed upon me!
Truly Shabbat Shalom!
Ki Tetzei 5772
Ki Teitzei 5772
Who are the People to be Comforted?
The seven weeks of comfort after Tisha B’Av are with Haftorah portions from Isaiah. To whom was he addressing his messages of comfort?
It seems obvious that he was addressing the Jewish People – or is it? Is there such a thing as the Jewish People? If so, who were they? If so, who are they now?
In a recent article in Moment Magazine, this very question was asked of 13 prominent Jews. Their responses can be seen at:
They range from denying there could be such a thing as a ‘Jewish People’ to defining several groups of Jewish Peoples collectively forming the ‘Jewish People’.
So who are the ‘Jewish People[s]’? Who of them need to be comforted at this time leading us to the High Holy Days?
Who of us needs to be comforted at this time?
Perhaps we will not find a complete answer, but we will have interesting discussions on the topic this Shabbat and at other times.
Ki Tavo 5772
Ki Tavo 5772
Where are the Pillars of our Laws?
Last week our parasha [portion] of Ki Tetze [“when you go out to” (battle)], we were instructed on how to comport ourselves when engaged in war or some other interpersonal relationships. This week’s parasha of Ki Tavo [“when you arrive in” (the Land)] instructs the Israelites on what to do upon entering the Holy Land. One of the first things to be done was the building of twelve pillars along with a sacrificial altar for a one time celebration of thanksgiving. The pillars were to be covered with plaster onto which the Laws were to be inscribed. Such a method was commonly used in Egypt for inscriptions to be preserved in the dry Egyptian climate. This instruction is followed by lists of curses that will happen if the Laws are not followed and blessings if they are.
While the instructions to construct the pillars seems to indicate immediate compliance once the Land is entered, verse 4 indicates, on the other hand, that the twelve pillars are to be erected on Mt. Ebal, the 4000 foot high mountain, highest in the region of Shechem, which is some 30 miles from the Jordan where the Israelites are thought to have crossed.
Could all of Torah been inscribed on twelve pillars? It seems possible given the at least 8000 words per pillar seen on one pillar of Hammurabi’s code. Yet was all of Torah as we now know it the form of the Laws known to the Israelites who had newly entered the Promised Land? If so, is the Torah the modern version of our Pillars of Laws? Alternatively, if Torah as we know it was not inscribed upon the pillars, what was in the Pillars of Laws then and what are our Pillars of Laws now in modern times?
Clearly this is a good and interesting topic to contemplate this Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom!
Nitzavim 5772, The Blessing of Life
Nitzavim 5772, the last of the year
THE BLESSING OF LIFE
Dr. Adele Plotkin
As we approach the end of Dvarim [Deuteronomy], and prepare for Rosh HaShanah, we realize that the focus of Moshe’s discourses is to in our contract/ covenant with HaShem! Much of Dvarim explains what curses will fall upon us if we fail to keep the Laws and what blessings will enrich us if we do observe the Laws faithfully.
This week’s parasha [portion] is no different with its lists of curses and blessings. However this parasha ends with a fantastic summation: Choose life!
Life is the ultimate Blessing. Yet the quality of that blessing may depend on the balance from the combination of all our blessings and curses. All of us are flawed human beings. None of us follow the Laws perfectly. Nonetheless, what the balance of our ledgers will be is something we can not determine ourselves.
Hence our need to repent and return at this season. Hence our longing for rituals, traditions, and prayers to help us attain the hope that this year, too, we will be blessed with a year of life, preferably one of health and happiness.
So, as in every year, I reach out to all to let bygones be bygones, to forgive everyone who may have intentionally or accidentally caused harm, to make amends as needed, to make peace with each other, and to move forward into a future of cooperation, mutual respect, and enlightenment. Shalom – Shabbat Shalom! Peace unto us all!