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October 13, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 1:1-6:8 (Hertz, p.2; Etz Hayim, p.3) Triennial Cycle Year I: Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 (Hertz, p. 2; Etz Hayim, p.3) Haftarah: Isaiah 42:5-43:10 (Hertz, p. 21; Etz Hayim, p.35) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (1:1-2:3) The world is created in six days. The first Shabbat. (2:4-25) The creation and, in particular, the creation of humanity. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden “to till it and to tend it.” (3:1-7) The snake tempts the woman to eat of the forbidden fruit. She persuades the man also to eat it. They become aware of their nakedness, and they make clothing for themselves from fig leaves. (3:8-24) God’s first question of human beings: “Where are you?” God punishes the snake by making it crawl on its belly, and by the enmity of human beings; the woman by the pains of childbirth; the man by alienation from the earth. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. (4:1-15) Cain’s murder of Abel and God’s response. (4:17-26) The descendants of Cain. The taunting song of Lamech. The birth of Seth, and his son Enosh. (5:1-6:8) The ten generations from Adam to Noah. This Shabbat's Theme: "The Elusive Search for Truth" Study Text: “In the beginning God created..." (1:1) Hebrew = BeresheeT (,)... barA (t)...ElohiM (n) If we take the last three letters (aleph, mem, tav) of the very first three words of the Torah (see above), we derive the Hebrew word, “emet”. So too, the first word of the Ten Commandments begins with the letter aleph (anochi); the first word of the Mishnah (me’eimatai;) begins with the letter mem and the Gemara of the Talmud begins with the letter tav in the word tanna. Thus, we learn that Torah knowledge begins with a search for emet truth, as it is written “Your word is truth from the beginning” (Ps.119:160) - A.Y. Greenberg, Torah Gems, p. 11.
Consideration of “Absolute Truth” A. The seal (signature) of the Holy One Praised Be He is truth. (Talm. Shabbat 55a) B. The world stands on three foundation stones: on truth, on justice and on peace. (Shimon ben Gamliel, Pirke Avot, 1:18) C. Keep far from falsehood... (Exod. 23:7) The Hebrew word for “falsehood” is sheker which is spelled shin, koof, resh. These three letters are next to each other in the Hebrew alphabet. Accordingly, we have to “keep falsehood afar” by shattering sheker when it comes together as is its natural tend ency. In contrast though, the three letters of the word emet “truth” - are the furthest apart possible in the Hebrew alphabet. The aleph is at the beginning, the tav is at the end and mem is in the very middle. This teaches us that to reveal genuine truth, an extremely great effort on our part is required. (Author) D. The philosopher Emanuel Kant maintained that “any lie was an abomination or, as it were, an annihilation of the dignity of man”. Augustine and Aquinas held a similar view. E. "Truth even unto its innermost parts” (Motto of Brandeis University) “Sparks” for Discussion: Is there such a thing as “absolute truth”? What do you believe is absolutely true in Judaism? Prove it. Next Question: “Shall We Always Tell The Truth?” A. You shall not steal, neither shall you deal falsely, nor lie to one another. (Lev.19:11) B. Does the halakhah prohibit all forms of lying? Not at all... Jewish tradition permits lying when the motive is altruistic... For example, it is permissible to lie for the sake of peace. When Sarah heard she would have a son, “she laughed to herself, saying, Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment - with my husband so old? God changed Sarah’s insulting remark when repeating it to Abraham: “Shall I in truth bear a child, old as I am?” (Gen. 18:12-13) Similarly, it is permissible to stretch the truth when praising an ugly bride at her wedding (Ketubot 16b-17a) and to make a false vow to a robber or murderer (Mishnah Nedarim 3:4). Lastly, in three things rabbis may deviate from the truth: regarding their knowledge (so as not to boast), regarding their sexual relations with their wives (out of modesty) and about their host (so that he will not be inundated with freeloaders) - Bava Metzia 23b-24a. (D. Golinkin, Responsa In A Moment, pp. 57-58) “Sparks” for Discussion: What are we to conclude? That truth is relative to the situation? What are your thoughts on “situation ethics”?
What is your opinion about... Telling the Truth to Terminal Patients? A. Author Joan Gould wrote of her husband’s struggle with cancer. One day, they went shopping for gifts and talked of the future. She asks the reader, “Was I lying to him if I let him think his illness was under control? Was I pretending if we stopped to have lunch and talked of the future?” Late one night, she relates, he rose and got a pill from the bathroom, to help him fall asleep. When he returned to bed he left the bathroom light on. When she got up to turn it off, he said, “Please don’t. I’ll be in the dark long enough.” B. ...In theory, we may certainly conceal the truth from terminally ill patients if it is for their own good, since Judaism commands us to do everything to heal and preserve the life of the patient. The dilemma, therefore, is not “ may we lie to terminally ill patients”, but rather “is lying to terminally ill patients good or bad for them”... (Golinkin, ibid.) “Sparks” for Discussion: “Some things are better left unsaid”. Yet, shouldn’t the terminally ill be told the truth? Where do you stand on this matter for yourself? Would you want the truth?
October 20, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 6:9 - 11:32 (Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41) Triennial: Year I-5762: Genesis 6:9 - 8:14 (Hertz, p. 26; Etz Hayim, p. 41) Haftarah - Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5 (Hertz, p. 41; Etz Hayim, p. 64) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (6:9-22) The earth's corruption moves God to tell Noah that He will destroy humankind. God commands Noah to build an ark in which he and his family and the animals and birds will survive the flood. (7:1-9) God orders Noah and his family to enter the ark, with all the animals. (7:10-24) The rains begin, and continue for forty days. All life on earth is blotted out by the waters. (8:1-14) The Flood ends. Noah sends out a raven and then a dove to discover if the earth has dried. The dove returns with an olive leaf in its bill. (8:15-22) Noah leaves the ark and offers sacrifices of thanksgiving to God. (9:1-7) God blesses Noah and his family, permits the eating of meat, and prohibits the shedding of human blood. (9:8-17) God places the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant, the promise that He won't bring another flood upon the world. (9:18-29) Noah's drunkenness and death. (10:1-32) The descendants of Noah's sons: Shem, Ham, and Yaphet. (11:1-9) The story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of humankind. (11:10-32) The ten generations from Noah to Abraham. This Shabbat's Theme: A Corrupt Society - Considerations: Then and Now When God saw how corrupt the earth was, for all the flesh had corrupted its way on the earth, God said to Noah, "I have decided to put an end to all flesh, for the earth is filled with lawlessness because of them: I am about to destroy them with the earth...” (Gen. 6:13)
So What Was So Bad About The People of The Flood? A. And this is what the people of the age of the Flood used to do: When a man brought out a basket full of peas (for sale), a crowd would gather and each would snatch less than the worth of a perutah (so little of an amount that it was not considered a punishable crime) until the basket was empty. (Genesis Rabbah 31:50) B. They removed the landmarks of their neighbors in order to extend their borders. And if someone saw an ox or a donkey in the hands of an orphan or widow, he took it over. (Midrash Tanhuma, Noah 26) C. A man would take unto himself two wives - one would be for having children and the other for sexual pleasure. (Midrash Hagadol 10:5) They swapped wives. (Genesis Rabbah 23:3) D. For all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth... Rabbi Johanan said, "This teaches that they caused beasts and animals (separate species) to copulate and all these were brought in connection with man. (Talm. Sanhedrin 108a) Wherever one finds sexual immorality and idolatry, disaster soon comes upon the world and overtakes the good together with the wicked. (Rashi on 6:13) E. Our Rabbis taught: The generation of the Flood waxed haughty only because of the good which God lavished upon them. They said, "Do we need Him for aught?" (Sanhedrin ibid) F. The behavior of people deteriorated. At first, they were corrupt - being guilty of immorality and idolatry - and they sinned covertly, before God. Later, the earth had become filled with robbery - which was obvious to all. Then, all of creation was corrupted, because man is the essence of the world, and his corruption infected all of creation. (Zohar) G. Such is the progression of sin. It begins in private, when people have a sense of right and wrong. But once people develop the habit of sinning, they gradually lose their shame, and immoral behavior becomes the accepted - even the required norm. (The Chumash, ArtScroll Series, p.31) H. To destroy them... The Hebrew employs for "destroy" the same stem, as for the word "corrupt". The idea is that humankind cannot undermine the moral basis of society without endangering the very existence of its civilization. In fact, through its corruption, society sets in motion the process of inevitable self-destruction. (N. Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary p. 51) “Sparks” for Discussion: Why did God have to be so "radical", so to speak, wiping the slate clean and starting all over again with human society? Do you see any theological problems here with this happening and the belief in God's omniscience? So What's So Bad About Our Society? A. Rarely, in the whole saga of human history, has a generation more aptly been called a "Crisis Generation"... In the language of an old play: "Everything nailed down is coming loose." Let us take a glimpse at the
picture. Six continents and the three billion people who inhabit them, twothirds of them colored, are seething with hate and heaving with turmoil. Human blood is running thick in many places... Ten thousand people die of hunger and malnutrition every day. Most of the world's population, it was recently reported, go to bed hungry every night. And simultaneously, fifty million Americans are overweight to the point of obesity. The world is afflicted with lawlessness, mindless terrorism. And we all stand by as "mobocracy" takes over. There are twenty thousand murders in our country each year. Hallock Hoffman, of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions informs us that since 1900, Americans have killed more fellow Americans with guns, here at home than have been killed in all the wars America has fought in this period. Infidelity and divorce have reached shocking proportions. Drug addiction, especially among the young, is mounting daily. The alcoholism rate was never higher. The ancient Prophet unconsciously described our day saying: "Swearing and lying, and killing, and stealing and adultery have broken all bounds. Blood touches blood!" (Hosea 4:4) (Joseph H. Lookstein, Faith and Destiny of Man, pp. 63-64; also, Yesterday's Faith for Tomorrow, p. 102) “Sparks” for Discussion: The above passages were written by Rabbi Lookstein in the "Seventies". Does his alarming description of the world at that time apply to today? Based on what we learn from the background of Noah's generation and what we see today, what do you think can be feasibly done by us to improve the world's condition?
October 27, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 12:1 - 17:27 (Hertz, p. 4; Etz Hayim, p. 69) Triennial: Year I: Genesis 12:1 - 13:18 (Hertz, p. 45; Etz Hayim, p. 69) Haftarah-Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16 (Hertz, p. 60; Etz Hayim, p. 94) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (12:1-9) God speaks to Abram: "Go to the land I will show you." Abram, his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot travel from Haran to Canaan. Abram sets up altars to God at Shechem, and near Bethel. (12:10-20) Because of famine, Abram goes to Egypt. He lies saying Sarai is his sister. Pharaoh takes her into his house. God brings plagues upon Pharaoh. Pharaoh angrily sends Abram and Sarai away. (13:1-13) Lot's herds men and Abram's herds men quarrel. Abram generously allows Lot first choice of grazing land. Lot chooses the fertile Jordan valley, near Sodom. Abram gets the rest of Canaan. (13:14-18) God renews His promise to grant Abram the land of Canaan. Abram settles near Hebron. (Chap. 14) Five Canaanite kings rebel against Chedarlaomer, King of Elam. A coalition of four eastern kings moves to punish the rebels. In the battles between the two groups of king Lot is captured. Abram arms his followers and pursues Lot's captors in order to rescue his nephew. He defeats them and saves Lot and the other captives. (Chap. 15) God makes a covenant with Abram renewing His promise of progeny and the land of Canaan. God tells Abram that his descendants will be exiled, redeemed and returned to the Land. The Land's boundaries and its inhabitants. (Chap. 16) Abram's concubine, Hagar, becomes pregnant, leading to conflict with Sarai. Sarai mistreats Hagar, who runs away, but she returns after an angel of the Lord promises her that the son within her womb will become the founder of a great nation. The son is born, and is named Ishmael, considered to be the ancestor of the Arab peoples. (Chap. 17) God establishes circumcision as the sign of the covenant. Atthis time Abram and Sarai are renamed Abraham and Sarah. God also predicts that Abraham and Sarah will bear a son, to be named Isaac. The Sedrah concludes with the circumcision of Abraham, Ishmael, and all the men of the household.
This Shabbat's Theme: "No Pain, No Gain" - But Is It Really Worth It? The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father's house... (Gen. 12:1) A. With ten trials our father Abraham was tried and he stood firm in them all, to make known how great was the love of our father Abraham (for God). (Pirke Avot 5.3) B. Go forth... and I will make you a great nation (12:1-2) ...This means, go forth for your own benefit and reward. (Rashi) C. If God assured Abraham that leaving would be for his own benefit and reward (Rashi above), we should assume that this was not such a difficult test to endure after all! Actually though, this was a great test for Abraham. For the text states later that ultimately Abraham did not leave Haran for his own benefit and reward. It says, "Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him" (12:4) which means that he went only because he followed God's command, without any other specific motive. The real test then was whether, after receiving assurances of a reward (becoming a "great nation"), he would fight against any personal temptations for greatness and set out on his journey for only one reason; he wanted to do what God commands. (Yehudah Aryeh Leib [The Gerer Rebbe, d. 1905, one of the last great masters of Polish Hasidism], Sefat Emet) D. Rabbi Jonathan said: A potter does not try to examine defective vessels, for he cannot give them even a single tap without breaking them. What then does he examine? Only sound vessels, for he will not break them even with many blows. Similarly, God does not test the wicked but the righteous. Rabbi Jose the son of Rabbi Hanina said: When a flax worker knows that the flax is of good quality, the more he beats it the more it improves and the more it glistens; but if it is of inferior quality, he cannot strike it even once without splitting it. Similarly, God does not test the wicked but the righteous. Rabbi Eleazar said: When a man possesses two cows, one strong and the other feeble, upon which does he put the yoke? Surely upon the strong one! Similarly, God tests none but the righteous, as it says in Psalms 11:5 - "The Lord tries the righteous... (Genesis Rabbah 55:2) E. "And it came to pass after these things, that God tested (nissah) Abraham" (Gen. 20:21). It is also written in Psalms 60:6 that "You have given a banner (nes) to them who fear You, that it might be displayed (lehitnoses) because of the truth." This means, trial upon trial, greatness after greatness, God tries those who fear Him in the world and they are like a ship's banner (nes) flying aloft (they are exalted). And what is the purpose? "Because of the truth", in order that the standard of God's justice may be recognized in the world. (Genesis Rabbah 55:1) F. Suffering brings out and develops character. It supplies a field for all sorts of virtues, for resignation, courage, resource, endurance. It stimulates; it purifies. (Claude G. Montefiore 1858-1938) G. Rabbi Yohanan once became ill, and Rabbi Hanina went to visit him. He asked him, "Are your sufferings welcome to you?" Rabbi Yohanan replied, "Neither they nor their reward." (Talm. Berachot 5b)
H. Rabbi Phinehas said in the name of Rabbi Hanin of Sepphoris: It is written, "Happy is the man whom you chasten, O Lord" (Ps. 94:12), but if he loses his temper (because of his sufferings) then "do teach him out of Your law (ib.). For when Abraham, at God's behest, left his birthplace, famine befell him, yet he did not lose his temper and reproach God. So when sufferings fall upon you, do not lose your temper, or reproachGod. Rabbi Alexander said: There is no person to whom no sufferings come; happy is the one whose sufferings come because of the Torah... (Genesis Rabbah, Miketz, 92,1) “Sparks” for Discussion: How comfortable do you feel with the above theological approach to suffering? We are all tested in life. I guess if we do not follow a religious approach, we would probably conclude that whatever bad befalls us is purely by chance. There is no reason. If, however, as Jews or as a believer in other monotheistic Faiths, wedo turn to God in prayer - then what can we say about the evil that befalls us? Is it part of God's overall design to allow evil so that we could relish good occurrences? Does suffering "refine" us? As Jews, we have been tested and suffered greatly. Haven't we passed the test by now? Should we say "enough already!"?
November 3, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 18:1 - 22:24 (Hertz, p. 63; Etz Hayim, p. 99) Triennial- Year I: Genesis 18:1 - 18:33 (Hertz, p. 63; Etz Hayim, p. 99) Haftarah - II Kings 4:1-37 (Hertz, p. 76; Etz Hayim, p. 123) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (18:1-15) Abraham welcomes three wayfarers with full hospitality, not realizing that they are angels. They tell Abraham that Sarah will have a son. Sarah, overhearing, laughs in disbelief. (18:16-33) God tells Abraham of his decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham tries to dissuade God, with the famous words," Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?" Abraham bargains with God, who promises not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if even ten righteous men can be found there. (19:1-19) The angels warn Lot to flee Sodom with his family. His wife disobeys the order not to look back, and is turned into a pillar of salt. (19:30-38) After the destruction, Lot's daughters, believing there is no one else left on earth, trick him into an incestuous union. They each bear sons, the founders of the nations of Ammon and Moab. (20:1-18) Abraham and Sarah are in Gerar. Abraham says that Sarah is his sister, so Abimelekh king of Gerar has Sarah brought to him. In a dream, God appears to him and frightens him away from Sarah. Abimelekh rebukes Abraham, but then compensates him for his trouble. (21:1-8) God keeps His promise; Isaac is born. Isaac is circumcised on the eighth day of his life, and there is a banquet on the day of his weaning. (21:9-21) Due to conflict between Sarah and Hagar and Sarah's fears of the negative influence Ishmael may have over Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael are sent away. God promises Hagar, "I will make a great nation" of Ishmael. (21:22-34) Abraham and Abimelekh make a covenant of peace at Be'er-sheva. (22:1-19) The Akedah, the story of the binding of Isaac (22:20-24) Genealogy which includes Rebekah, future wife of Isaac. This Shabbat's Theme: Angels The Lord appeared to him (Abraham) by the terebinths of Mamre; he was sitting at the entrance to his tent as the day grew hot. Looking up he saw three men standing near him... (Gen. 18:1-2)
Traditional View of Angels A. Three men... As is apparent from the rest of the narrative, they were actually angels in the "guise" of men. God sent three different angels because, by definition, an angel is a function that God wishes to have performed. Thus, each function is a new angel, and since there were three missions to be accomplished in connection with Abraham and Sarah at this time, there were three angels to carry them out. In the words of the Midrash, "one angel does not perform two missions." (Genesis Rabbah 50:2) In this case, the three angels were Michael, who informed Abraham that Sarah would have a son; Gabriel, who overturned Sodom and Raphael who healed Abraham and saved Lot (it being one mission involving rescue). (The Chumash, ArtScroll, p.79, n.2) B. Angels... The three "men" of whom the story speaks belong, according to the biblical setting, to a category of superior beings with special powers. They appear in a variety of forms, sometimes as men and sometimes in other shapes (cherubim, etc.)... Their function may be to worship God, to do His bidding or most frequently, to carry a divine message. Because of this latter function the name malach* (messenger) is often given to these beings. The Greek translation of malach (messenger) is angelos, hence our English "angel." *(Also, in Ugaritic, lak means "to send" - Author.) As a group, angels were considered by tradition as a kind of nobility at God's court, singing His praises and acting as His counsel... Angels were believed to have existed before the creation of the world and to be generally benevolent to men. Belief in angels was widespread in the ancient Near East. Mesapotamian and Hittite deities had their subordinate ministers, and Egyptian sources tell how the gods communicate with each other through couriers. (The Torah, A Modern Commentary, W. Gunther Plaut, p. 124) C. Rabbi Jose the son of Judah said: The angels of the service accompany a man on Friday evening from the synagogue to his house, one good and one bad angel; and if, when he comes to his house, the lamp is lit and the table spread, and the couch arranged, the good angel says, "May it be God's will that the next Sabbath be as this one," to which the bad angel even against his will, says "Amen." But if it is not so, then the bad angel says, "May it be God's will that thus it may be on the next Sabbath also," and the good angel, against his will, says "Amen." (Talm. Shabbat 119b) Angels in the Abstract A. The modern Jewish attitude to angels tend to regard the traditional references and descriptions as symbolic, poetic, or representing an earlier world concept. (Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. II, p. 975) B. The concept of angels, whenever used by the Rabbis, is used exclusively in the concretization of value-concepts. (Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, p. 186 ff) C. Everyone entrusted with a mission is an angel... all forces that reside in the body are angels. (M. Maimonides, Guide for the Perplexed, 1190, 2.6)
D. The more materialistic science becomes the more angels shall I paint: their wings are my protest in favor of the immortality of the souls. (E.C. Burne-Jones to Oscar Wilde) E. Samson Raphael Hirsch associates the word ltkn (angel or messenger) with the word u,ftkn ("His work" or "His message") in the Creation story. In a way then, we humans (and even Nature) are messengers (or "angels", if you will) who are emissaries of God's "work" - melachah - or His "message". (See S.P. Hirsch, Judaism Eternal, pp. 10 - 11) F. In these days you must go to Heaven to find an angel. (Polish Proverb) “Sparks” for Discussion: Angels are very much a part of our tradition appearing in the Bible, rabbinic literature, medieval angelology, Jewish mysticism and in Jewish folklore. On Friday evening, we welcome them into our homes as we sing Shalom Aleichem Malachei Hasharet (Hashalom). Yes, Shalom Aleichem is a marvelous way to greet the Sabbath, yet, what real meaning does the song have for us when we sing it? Also, what do we intend to mean when we say "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh" in our prayers and lift our heels off the ground (in imitation of the celestial angels who are not earthbound)? Do we truthfully believe in angels? If so, in what way? And if not, is there a more modern interpretation of this concept, which was so much a part of our belief system in the past, that can be given today? How can we preserve the customs (such as the ones mentioned above) that we so much enjoy and yet maintain our intellectual integrity
November 10, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 23:1 - 25:18 (Hertz, p. 80; Etz Hayim, p. 127) Triennial - Year I: Genesis 23:1 - 24:9 (Hertz, p. 80; Etz Hayim, p. 127) Haftarah - I Kings 1:1-31 (Hertz, p. 90; Etz Hayim, p. 142) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (23:1-20) Sarah dies at the age of 127. Abraham, after bargaining with Ephron, acquires the Cave of Machpelah, in Hebron, as a family burial plot. This is the first Jewish acquisition of property in the Land of Israel. (24:1-9) Abraham sends his servant back to Aram-Naharaim ("Aram - of the two rivers" = Mesopotamia) to find a wife for Isaac. (24:10-28) Eliezer, Abraham's servant, has been sent to Haran to find a wife for Isaac. He arrives in Haran, and finds Rebecca at a well, where she passes his "test" of compassion and diligence. (24:29-49) Eliezer tells his journey's purpose and recounts his experiences to Laban, Rebecca's brother, and how God led him to find Rebecca for Isaac. (24:50-52) Laban and Bethuel agree to allow Rebecca to go with Eliezer. (24:53-67) Rebecca consents to go with Eliezer, and is given a farewell blessing by her family. Rebecca goes to Canaan and is wed to Isaac. (25:1-6) The genealogy of Abraham's descendants from his second marriage to Keturah. (25:7-11) Abraham dies and is buried next to Sarah in the Cave of Machpelah. (25:12-18) A genealogy of Ishmael's descendants. Sarah died in Kiriat-arba now Hebron - in the land of Canaan; and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her. Then Abraham arose from the beside of his dead, and spoke to the Hittites, saying, "I am a resident alien among you; sell me a burial site, that I may remove my dead for burial". (Gen. 23:2-4) This Shabbat's Theme: Paying Appropriate Final Respects A. Jewish law is unequivocal in establishing absolutely, and uncompromisingly, that the dead must be buried in the earth. God's words to Adam are, "For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return (Genesis 3:19). Later, the Bible crystallizes God's words into positive law, "Thou shalt surely bury him" (Deuteronomy 21:23). (Maurice Lamm, The
Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, pp. 55-56. Also, see on cremation, mausoleums, and autopsy.) Early burial (as a sign of respect) is a long-standing Jewish practice. It is based upon Deuteronomy 21:23: "You must not allow his body to remain on the stake overnight, but must surely bury him the same day". However, a delay in burial is permitted if it is "for the sake of his honor", e.g., for the purpose of making a coffin or providing shrouds or to enable relatives and friends to pay their last respects. (Talm. Sanh. 47a) To accompany the dead to their final resting place is considered a high religious obligation. The famous remark of the eleventh century French commentator is a good indication of the Jewish attitude. Rashi comments on this command of Jacob to his son Joseph to bury him: "Deal kindly and truly with me" (Gen. 47:29). Why "kindly and truly" (hesed ve-emet)? Rashi's explanation is that all other forms of kindness may be in anticipation of reciprocal kindness from the beneficiary. At the back of the mind of the donor there may be a self-seeking motive so that his kindness" is not "true," i.e., completely sincere. The dead, however, cannot reciprocate. (Louis Jacobs, What Does Judaism Say About...?, p. 48) The initial care of the deceased has one major purpose: to respect the God-given vessel in which the soul resided. The human being is sacred in Jewish tradition and the manner in which it is brought to its final resting place has been shaped by the ultimate value of kevod ha-meit, honoring the dead. (Ron Wolfson, A Time to Mourn A Time to Comfort, p. 53) When I was a young rabbi in a congregation, a burial at which I was officiating was held back incredibly at grave side because the cemetery burial crew decided to take a lunch break. We stood there dumb-founded until our cantor, a Holocaust survivor, sprang to the casket and by himself strained to bring it to the grave. With tears in his eyes, he exclaimed, "Whenever a Jew lie dead in the open, whenever we could, we risked our lives to bury the person and now we should wait!?" Everyone of us, young and old alike, participated in the burial to the last shovel of dirt. Our tears mingled with our sweat. (Author) When scholars are studying, and a funeral procession passes or a wedding, they shall not interrupt their study if enough are present (a minyan) with the bier or the bride for the appointed duty. If not enough are present, the scholars shall leave their study to attend to them. (Avot Rabbi Nathan, VIII, 11b) Just as there is a Jewish way of life, there is a Jewish way of death. Two basic considerations come into play when death strikes and the laws of death and mourning become applicable. One consideration involves the principle of kevod hameit, treatment of the deceased with reverence and respect. The other involves the principle of kevod hechai, concern for the welfare of the living (surviving relatives and friends). These two principles provide the basis for many of the laws and customs pertaining to death and mourning. (Alfred J. Kolatch, The Jewish Book of Why, Chapter 3, Death and Mourning, p. 49) In times long ago, funeral expenses were so high that kinsmen would abandon their dead and move away. Rabban Gamliel II (80 - 110 C.E.) ordained that he be buried in simple linen raiment. Following his example,
the financial burden was lifted (from the Jewish masses). (Talm. Moed Katan 27b) “Sparks” for Discussion: Of course, this is the Sabbath and it being a day of joy, we should limit our discussion on the subject of death. Nonetheless, there are just a few pertinent "agenda items", based on the above theme, which may warrant consideration and discussion at this time. If there is no hevra kaddisha (a traditional burial society) associated with your synagogue or your Jewish community would it be feasible to establish such a committee to assist bereaved families in making funeral arrangements? How would it help keep expenses down? How can the congregation (aside from clergy and close friends) get involved in comforting mourners who are members? To what extent should there be "outreach" to bereaved Jews in the community who happen not to be members of any synagogue?
November 17, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 25:19 - 28:9 (Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p.146) Triennial - Year I: Genesis 25:19 - 26:22 (Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p. 146) Haftarah - Malachi 1:1-27 (Hertz, p. 102; Etz Hayim, p. 162) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (25:19-26) Isaac marries Rebecca. During her pregnancy, she feels a struggle within her. She gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob. (25:27-34) Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew. (26:1-11) Isaac and Rebecca, fleeing famine, go to Gerar to live with the Philistines. God appears to Isaac and renews the covenant with him. Fearful of the Philistines, Isaac lies and says Rebecca is his sister. Abimelech finds out the truth and warns the people to leave Isaac and Rebecca alone. (26:12-16) Isaac prospers, inciting the jealousy of the Philistines, who block the wells he dug. Ultimately, Abimelech asks him to leave. (26:17-22) Isaac moves to the valley of Gerar, where there are further quarrels with the Philistines over wells. He finds a peaceful place to settle and names it Rechovot. (26:23-33) Abimelech makes a peace treaty with Isaac, seeing Isaac's prosperity as a sign of God's blessing. (26:34-35) Esau marries two Hittite women, to his parents' distress. (27:1-27) Isaac, his sight now dim, announces his intention to bless Esau, but Rebecca and Jacob conspire to trick him into blessing Jacob instead. (27:28-45) Isaac blesses Jacob. Esau returns home and Jacob's deception is discovered. Esau weeps and pleads for a blessing from Isaac, who complies. Enraged, Esau plots to kill Jacob when Isaac dies. Rebecca hears of this and advises Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in the land of Haran. (27:46-28:5) Isaac blesses Jacob and sends him to Haran. (28:6- 9) Esau realizes that his Canaanite wives displease Isaac, so he takes a daughter of Ishmael for a wife. This Shabbat's Theme: How (Grand) Parents Influence Their (Grand) Children
Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled together within her... (Genesis 25:21-22) A. But the children struggled together within her...When she would pass the doors of the Torah academies of Shem and Ever, Jacob struggled to come out, and when she passed the doors of idolatry, Esau struggled to come out (Rashi - h"ar. This is the acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak (1040-1105). Bible and Talmud commentator. Troyes, France) B. On Rashi's comment above... What this teaches us is that one's environment is of great importance, both in a positive sense and in a negative sense. A person with a strongly held opinion or ideology may be changed by his environment. Even a righteous woman such as our matriarch, Rebekah, can hope to raise a good child such as Jacob as long as she passed the academies of Torah but if she passes the doors where idolatry is taught, an Esau is born. (Derashat HaRamah) C. (God) took (the Israelites) out of Egypt. (Exodus 32:11) Rabbi Huna said in the name of Rabbi Johanan: This can be compared to a wise man who opened a perfumery shop for his son in a street frequented by harlots. The street did its work, the business also did its share (since perfumery is one of the things needed by prostitutes). The result was that his son fell into evil ways. When the father came and caught him amidst the prostitutes, he began to shout: "I will slay you!" But his friend was there, and he said: "You were the vehicle for destroying the character of this young man and yet you dare shout at him! You ignored all other professions, teaching him to be a perfumerand then you ignored all other possible locations and set up a shop for him just in the street where prostitutes dwell"! (So God took the Israelites out of Egypt) (Exodus Rabbah 43:7) D. Judaism was always very sensitive to the powerful influence of environment. As the Midrash explains, when Korah organized his rebellious campaign against Moses (Numbers 16:1 f.), both Dothan and Abiram joined him because they were his neighbors. Man is a highly imitative creature. He absorbs from his environment the values and behavior patterns of those about him, and in his ways tends to conform to them. (Irving Bunim, Ethics from Sinai, Vol. I, pp. 65-66) E. "Every man came with his household" (Exod. 1:1) - Because Jacob knew that the Egyptians were steeped in immoral acts, he made certain to marry off his children and children's children before they came to Egypt. (Midrash Hagadol) o Comment (on above Midrash): Despite modern notions to the contrary, it certainly is the duty of parents to be concerned with the type of mate their children will choose. While parents should not dictate such a choice, nevertheless it is their duty and obligation to guide their children in this matter so that they may make the proper choice. Decisions as to the community in which the family will reside while the children are of marriageable age or the college a youngster will attend should be made with due regard to the opportunities for finding a suitable mate. (Amos W. Miller, Understanding the Midrash, p 17)
F. Rabbi Zev Zitomirer, the "Or ha-Meir", (d. 1800) once glanced through the window of his home and saw a man and his son, both drunk, staggering down the street and falling into the gutter. "I envy that father," said the rabbi to his son, Israel Dov, with a sigh. "He has accomplished his goal of having a son like himself. As for me, I do not know yet whether you will be like me or not. I can only hope that the drunkard is not more successful in training his son than I have been with you." (Bet Pinchas, by P. Shapiro, 1926, pp. 18-19) “Sparks” for Discussion: Until what point in their lives are we able to guide and influence our children in the way which we would hope they would go? Do we ever lose them in this regard? How can we give them the distance, the independence, that they need and yet, still be able to impact on their lives? From the above observations, garnered from our Jewish tradition, there seems to be unanimous agreement that one's environment has a powerful effect on one's behavior. It then follows that if we want our children and grandchildren to adhere to wholesome values we should give serious consideration as to where one could find them. In what environment are they ordinarily? In this respect, as parents and grandparents we have the ability to help determine where that environment will be. In terms of Jewish commitment, how can we as parents and grandparents provide a reinforcing environment when our (grand)children are still young? When they are teenagers? When they are deciding on which summer camp or college to attend? When they are "traveling to see the world"? When they are considering where to settle? When they have their children to bring up? To what extent can we help determine the future environment of our children and grandchildren?
November 24, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 28:10 - 32:3 (Hertz, p. 106; Etz Hayim, p.166) Triennial.-Year I: Genesis 28:10 - 30:13 (Hertz, p. 106; Etz Hayim, p. 166) Haftarah - Hosea 12:13 - 14:10 (Hertz, p. 118; Etz Hayim, p. 188) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (28:10-22) Jacob sets out for Haran, fleeing Esau. He stops for the night, and dreams of a ladder between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. God renews for him the covenant promise given to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob names the place Beth El - "House of God." (29:1-30) Jacob arrives in Mesopotamia. He meets Rachel, his cousin, and Laban, her father. Jacob agrees to work for Laban for seven years in exchange for marrying Rachel, but Laban tricks him into marrying Leah, Rachel's older sister. Jacob is forced to work another seven years for Rachel. (29:31-35) Leah gives birth to four sons - Reuben, Simon, Levi and Judah - but Rachel is barren. (30:1-13) Rachel, jealous of Leah, gives Jacob her maid Bilhah, who bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali. Rachel adopts the sons as her own. Leah, apparently no longer able to bear children, does similarly with her maid Zilpah, who also bears two sons, Gad and Asher. (30:14-21) Leah and Rachel quarrel over some mandrake roots, believed to cure barrenness. Leah has two more sons, Issachar and Zebulun. (30:22-24) Rachel finally has a son, Joseph. (30:24-43) Jacob wants to return home to Canaan, but his father-in-law Laban dissuades him. Jacob stays and succeeds in greatly enriching himself. (31:1-16) Jacob realizes that his increasing wealth is causing animosity among Laban's sons and decides to return to Canaan. (31:17-21) Without telling Laban, Jacob gathers his herds and flocks and leaves. Rachel takes Laban's teraphim-household idols. (31:22-32:3) God warns Laban not to harm Jacob. Laban pursues and overtakes Jacob. In an impassioned speech, Jacob rebukes Laban for his devious ways. Laban and Jacob make a covenant of peace.
This Shabbat's Theme: Prayer Inside and Outside of a "Sacred Space" Jacob left Beersheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. (Gen. 28:10-11) A. He came upon a certain place... The use of the designation "place" (Heb. makom) is suggestive because makom frequently has the connotation of a "sacred site" (JPS Torah Commentary, Nahum Sarna, p. 197). The combination of makom with the name of a city in Gen. 12:6, "the site of Shechem", (Heb. mekom Shechem) is unique. It is very likely that the term has the special meaning of "sacred site," like the Arabic maqam. Sacred sites were always desirable stopping places for travelers and nomads because of their proximity to springs and wells (ibid. p. 91). Makom is mentioned three times in our text. This "place", ie. sacred site, is named by Jacob - Bet El - House of God. (Author) B. Rabbi Yosi son of Rabbi Hanina said, The Tefillot (Daily Amidah/Services) were instituted by the Patriarchs. Abraham instituted the morning Tefillah (Shaharit Service) as it says: "And Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood.." (Gen. 19:27). Isaac instituted the afternoon Tefillah (Minhah Service) as it says, "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at eventide..." (Gen. 24:63) and 'meditation' means prayer (See Ps. 102:1). And Jacob ordained the evening Tefillah (Maariv Service) as it states (see above Gen.28:11), "He (Jacob) came upon - vayifga - a certain place, and tarried there all night because the sun had set". The Hebrew word - vayifga - "he came upon" has the root letters peh, gimmel and ayin which also means to "pray", as in Jeremiah 7:1 6. (Talm. Berachot 26b) C. The talmudic sages praised congregational synagogue worship in the most elaborate terms: "A person's prayer is heard only in the synagogue... If a person is accustomed to attend synagogue and fails to come one day, God makes inquiry about him... When a man leaves the synagogue, he should not depart with hasty steps; but when he goes to the synagogue, it is right to run (Talm. Berachot 6a-b). The verse: "I offer my prayer to You, O Lord, at an acceptable time..." (Ps. 69:14) is interpreted to mean at a time of public worship (Talm. Berachot 8b). (Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts, p. 82) D. Congregational prayer is always heard by God. Even if sinners are present, God does not reject public worship. One should therefore assemble with the congregation; one should not pray in private when one can pray with the congregation. (Moses Maimonides [known as Rambam (1135 -1204) - Halachic codifier, philosopher, Mishnah commentator. Spain and Egypt], Mishneh Torah, Bk II, ch.8) E. Private prayer (three times daily but not necessarily in a "sacred space" or synagogue) was offered by Daniel, as it is written: Daniel...went to his house, in whose upper chamber he had windows made facing Jerusalem, and three times a day he knelt down, and prayed... (Dan. 6:11). Also, this is implied in Psalm 55:18: "As for me, (David?) I call to God; the Lord will deliver me. Evening, morning and noon, I complain and moan, and He hears my voice". If because of some emergency, one is unable to go to
the synagogue or to any other place where a minyan congregates to pray, one should get ten adults together, and have a communal service at home. If this too, is impossible, one should at least, pray at the same time that the congregation prays, for that is the propitious moment. So too, for one who dwells in a place where there is no minyan... (Code of Jewish Law, Kitzur Shulhan Arukh, S. Ganzfried, Trans. H. Goldin, p.42) “Sparks” for Discussion: In today's world, many Jews who belong to synagogues are not always able to get there easily to pray three times a day. Also, it seems that a substantial number of Conservative synagogues do not actually have weekday Services and some may have only one daily Service. Given this situation of no service with a minyan, perhaps we should encourage congregants, who might be inclined to do so, to recite all or any of the three daily services in their homes or offices or "wherever", rather than not at all? It seems that the Minhah Service in particular lends itself best for accomplishing such an objective for us. Recalling that Isaac "meditated" in the field (creating his own "sacred space") for what traditionally became the basis for the Minhah Service, perhaps those who wish to pray daily, in the absence of a minyan, might want to start by creating a "sacred space and time" at home or in the office, etc. for reciting, on a daily basis, at least the brief (15 minutes) Minhah Service which consists solely of three prescribed prayers - Ashrei, Shemoneh Esrei, and Aleinu. Should we Conservative Jews encourage such an approach to "meditate" once a day - to "daven" Minhah in private - no matter where we find ourselves at that time of day?
December 1, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L.Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 32: 4 - 36:43 (Hertz, p. 122; Etz Hayim, p.198) Triennial - Year I: Genesis 32:4 - 33:20 (Hertz, p. 122; Etz Hayim, p.198) Haftarah - Obadiah 1:1-21 (Hertz, p. 137; Etz Hayim, p. 221) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (32:4-24) Jacob nervously prepares for his meeting with his brother Esau. (32:25-33) Jacob wrestles with a "man," and receives from him a blessing and a new name, Israel, at the cost of a lame thigh. (33:1-15) Jacob meets his brother Esau, who receives him warmly. They go their separate ways in peace. (33:16-20) Esau returns to the land of Edom and Jacob arrives at Shechem. (34) The rape of Dinah and her brothers' revenge. (35:1-15) Jacob builds an altar at Bethel, fulfilling his vow from many years before; God renews His promise of the land to him. (35:16-20) Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin and is buried on the road to Bethlehem. (35:21-26) Reuben's sin; a review of the sons of Jacob. (35:27-29) Isaac dies and is buried in the Cave of Machpelah. (36:1-43) A genealogy of Esau's descendants. This Shabbat's Theme: I'm Yours... Body and Soul Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men and have prevailed. (Gen. 32:29) A. The children of Israel merited both of these names (Jacob and Israel), as they refer to the body and soul. Every person has to set aright the body, so that the soul will dwell upon it. Then one is called "Israel"... That is what Scripture means by the verse, "Jacob came to Shalem" (lit. "wholeness", Gen. 33:18). This equalizing of the body to soul is called shalom. The struggle of body and soul goes on in every one of Israel. The better you deal with the body, the more wholeness you will attain. That is why
the Sabbath is also called shalom:; it is the time for righting the body, "a foretaste of the world to come." In the future, bodies will be set right,truly just like souls. We have a taste of this on the Sabbath... (Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger [The Gerer Rebbe, d. 1905 - One of the last great masters of Polish Hasidism], Sefat Emet) A leading scholar in modern Jewish theology, Arthur Green, states in his commentary-book on the Gerer Rebbe's teachings ("The Language of Truth", p.51) that the above text may be understood in two ways. The first is that one's body is capable of reaching the level of the soul which is a "foretaste of the world to come". The other reading, he states: "is an older one, yet it may also strike a chord with the biases of today's reader. Jacob worked to perfect himself in body as well as soul. The Midrash says that Jacob's beauty was as great as that of Adam... It may be that the Sfat Emet understands and appreciates something of this latter reading, that became so much a part of the program to create a "new Jew" which Zionists would preach in the next generation". Hillel the Elder was once leaving his disciples when they said to him, "Where are you going?" He replied, "To execute a pious deed." They said, "And what may that be?" He said to take a bath." They said, "Is that a pious deed? He said, "Yes, for if the man who is appointed to polish and wash the statues of kings, which are set up in theaters and circuses, receives his rations for doing so, and is even raised to honor oftimes, how much more incumbent is it upon me to polish and wash my body which is created in the divine image of God!" (Leviticus Rabbah, Behar, ch. 34,3) One day Rabbi Huna asked his son Rabbah why he did not go to study with Rabbi Hisda whose teaching lessons were said to be superlative. The son replied, "When I go to him, he speaks mundane matters. He tells me about certain natural functions of the digestive organs, and how one should behave in regard to them." His father replied, "He occupies himself with the human body, God's special creation, and you call that a mundane matter! All the more should you go to him. (Talm. Shabbat 82a) When man possesses a good sound body that does not overpower him, nor disturb the equilibrium in him, he possesses a divine gift. A good constitution facilitates the rule of the soul over the body. It is possible to conquer a bad constitution by training (Moses Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed, Part III, Ch. 8) Respect your own body as the receptacle, messenger and instrument of the spirit. (Samson Raphael Hirsch) Is not the body the soul's home? Then why should we not take care of the house, that it fall not into ruins? (Philo [Jewish philosopher, (c. 20 B.C.E. - 40 C.E.), Alexandria, Egypt], The Worse Attacks the Better, 10)
"Sparks" for Reflection/Discussion on Theme Historically speaking, Judaism has not looked too keenly on sports. Yet, there always has been a certain respect for the human body as we see from the quotations above - that we should "set our body aright". Focusing on what the Gerer Rebbe said, is there something more that we can do for the body beyond exercising, jogging, playing sports? What does he mean by "setting the body aright"? How does the Sabbath help us to do that? Why is it a "taste of the world to come" - where body and soul blend? Maybe it means trying to learn how to relax so completely that our bodily tensions melt away and we are re-energized body and soul. What are some Eastern religion techniques to accomplish this? Could they ever become incorporated as part of our regular religious practice as Jews? Postscript Here is a handy rationale for not bothering to exercise: "When God finds pleasure in a person's soul, He weakens his body so that the soul may rule over him more easily" (Zohar, 1, 140b)
December 8, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 37:1 - 40:23 (Hertz, p. 141; Etz Hayim, p.226) Triennial - Year I: Genesis 37:1-36 (Hertz, p. 147; Etz Hayim, p. 226) Haftarah - Amos 2:6 - 3:8 (Hertz, p. 152; Etz Hayim, p. 246) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (37:1-11) The Joseph story begins. Jacob favored Joseph and gave him a "coat of many colors." Joseph's dreams indicate that his brothers will serve him some day. Not surprisingly, Joseph's brothers hate and envy him. (37:12-36) Joseph's brothers plot to kill him. Then, at Reuben's urging, they change their plan to sell him into slavery. Joseph is taken to Egypt. Jacob's sons deceive him into believing that a wild animal killed Joseph. (38:1-30) Events in Judah's life after the selling of Joseph, particularly the story of Tamar. (39:1-6) Joseph's experiences in Egypt at Potiphar's house. (39:7-19) Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph. He refuses, so she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her. (39:20-23) Joseph is imprisoned, but once again rises to a position of authority. (40:1-23) Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker are imprisoned. Each has a dream which Joseph interprets. Joseph's interpretations come true, but the cupbearer who is saved forgets his promise to help Joseph. This Shabbat's Theme: Dream-Work And Joseph dreamed a dream... (Gen. 37:5) A. From ancient times, dreams have tantalized people with their secrets. Today dreams are used to explore the inner chambers of the dreamer's mind. In antiquity, however, dreams were thought to be signs from divine powers exposing their intent. While occasionally dreams contained a direct divine message (as in Gen. 15:13 when God appeared to Abraham in a dream), they usually were considered coded visions to which a key was needed. Professional dream interpreters who claimed to possess the proper keys were prominent in Mesopotamia and especially in Egypt. An Egyptian manual of dreams (ca. 1300 B.C.E.) contains over 200 interpretations (The Torah, A Modern Commentary, W. Plaut, p.261) B. IF A MAN SEES HIMSELF IN A DREAM WHERE... he is reminded of his wife, Good! Evils will retreat from him. Where his manhood is enlarged,
Good! His possessions will increase. Where he plunges into a river, Good! He will be cleansed of all evil. Where he is drinking warm beer, Bad! Sufferings will come to him (Hieratic Papyri in B.M., Alan H. Gardiner, Vol. I, 9-23; see also Wings of the Falcon. Joseph Kaster, The Interpretation of Dreams, p153 ff.) And Joseph dreamed a dream... Dreams were always an important subject for consideration. We live one-third of our life dreaming. Think of it, one-third of our life is spent in a vague, shadowy, unreal, inactive land - the Land of Dreams. If our allotted time on this earth is seventy years, about twenty-three years of them we wear away in Dream Land (Morris Mandel and Leo Gartenberg, Treasures From the Torah, p. 55) There are six dreams in the Joseph narrative and they come in pairs (Joseph = 2, prisoners = 2, Pharaoh = 2). As in other ancient Near Eastern literary sources, multiple repetitions of a dream indicate that they are to be taken seriously. (Author) "Lord of the Universe, I am Thine and my dreams are Thine. I have dreamt a dream and I do not know what it is. May it be Thy will, Lord my God and God of my ancestors, to confirm all good dreams concerning myself and all the people of Israel for happiness; may they be fulfilled like the dreams of Joseph. But if they require amending, heal them as Thou didst heal Hezekiah king of Judah from his illness, Miriam the prophetess from her leprosy and Naaman from his leprosy. Sweeten them as the waters of Marah were sweetened by Moses, and the waters of Jericho by Elisha. Even as Thou didst turn the curse of the wicked Balaam into a blessing, mayest Thou turn all my dreams into happiness for myself and for all Israel. Protect me; be gracious to me and favor me. Amen." (Prayer recited in Orthodox synagogues on Festivals during Birkat Kohanim - the Musaf Priestly Benediction. It is based upon a talmudic passage in Berachot 55b. Translation from Daily Prayer Book, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem, Philip Birnbaum, pp. 628-630) To Freud, a dream is a "bootleg" traffic in repressed desires. Its method of evading the internal-revenue-officers of the moral and social world are interesting. It smuggles its wares by wrapping them in camouflaged packages and employing ingenious dramatic disguises - at times with as little regard for the moral as for the logical properties. The tale as told by the dreamer forms its superficial or patent content. Its below surface, naked meaning is its latent content. That (the latter) is what it really "means".. To derive the one from the other is the task of dream analysis. Unraveling the "dream-work" is part of the art that Freud inaugurated. (Joseph Jastrow, Freud - His Dream and Sex Theories, pp. 54 - 55) Pro and con opinions about dreams - A dream not interpreted is like a letter not read (Talm. Berachot 55a). No wheat without chaff: no dream without nonsense (ibid.) A dream is the incomplete form of prophecy (Genesis Rabbah 17.5). A dream only reflects the dreamer's thoughts (Talm. Berachot 55a). Dreams are of no consequence (Talm. Gittin 52a). A dream brought me into the sanctuaries of God (Judah Halevi, Selected Religious Poetry, p. 9) What you probably can't have is a 'penny scale" of dream interpretation, a code which says "This means that". But you can have so much more. Your brain is doing all this homework for you, getting your mind in order.
In this light, dreams may be nonsensical for the same reason that housecleaning tends to make a mess. My housekeeper makes a mess every time she visits, but it's much cleaner when she is done. (J. Allan Hobson, "The Chemistry of Dreams", Harvard Magazine; May-June 1998; p.67) “Sparks” for Discussion: Dreams are so much a part of the psyche of every person who ever lived. Where then do you stand on this subject? Do you think that there are any telepathic possibilities to dreams? How are the Freudian views holding up today? Are there other more current theories that are more credible to you? In reference to this week's Torah reading, we might want to ask ourselves the following theological question: If Judaism maintains that dreams can be used to predict the future (as in the biblical narratives of Joseph and Daniel) would this not then smack of "fatalism" and contradict the Jewish teaching of "free will"?
MIKKETZ - SHABBAT HANUKKAH - ROSH CHODESH TEVET
December 15, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 41:1 - 44:17 (Hertz, p. 155; Etz Hayim, p.250) Triennial - Year I: 41:1-52 (Hertz, p. 155; Etz Hayim, p.250) Second Torah: - Rosh Hodesh - Numbers 28:9-15 Third Torah: Hanukkah Maftir - Num. 7:42 - 47 Haftarah- Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7 (Hertz, p. 987) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (41:1-44) Pharaoh dreams of seven lean cows devouring seven fat cows, and seven thin sheaves consuming seven healthy sheaves. When none of his advisors can give him a satisfactory explanation, the cupbearer remembers Joseph, who is brought to Pharaoh and interprets the dream to mean that there will be seven prosperous years followed by seven years of famine. He suggests that Pharoah appoint someone to supervise storaging to prepare for the famine. Pharoah chooses Joseph. (41:45-52) Joseph's wife bears him two sons, Ephraim and Menasseh. (41:53-57) The seven years of plenty pass and the famine begins. (42:1-6) Ten of Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to get food. Their brother Simon must be left behind as a pledge that they will return. (42:7-28) Joseph recognizes his brothers, but they don't recognize him. He sets up a deception in order to engineer Benjamin's being brought to Egypt, accusing them of being spies. The only way they can clear their names is to prove their story by bringing the other brother they had mentioned. (42:29-38) The brothers tell Jacob what happened to them. He refuses to send his youngest and most beloved son Benjamin. (43:1-15) After the food runs out, Jacob is forced to agree to allow Benjamin to go down to Egypt with the other brothers. (43:16-34) This time Joseph receives the brothers with great honor, and arranges a feast for them. (44:1-17) Joseph tests the brothers again with the accusation that Benjamin has stolen his silver goblet.
This Shabbat's Theme: Not By Might Nor By Power But By My Spirit After two years time, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile River, when out of the Nile there came up seven cows, fair to look at and sturdy, and they grazed in the reed grass. But presently, seven other cows came up from the Nile close behind them, ugly and lean, and stood beside the cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly lean cows ate up the seven fair sturdy cows. (Gen. 41:1 - 4) A. The Torah portion Mikketz, which relates the dream of the seven lean cows that devour the seven sturdy ones, is always read on Shabbat Hanukkah. This is quite appropriate since Hanukkah is the story of the Maccabees, an heroic saga which tells how in 168 B.C.E. the powerful Syrian king Antiochus attacked geographically tiny Judea. Many assumed that the outnumbered Jews would be vanquished quickly but as it turned out, despite their weak disadvantage, the Jews prevailed. For this reason, on all of the days of Hanukkah we joyously rec ite the al hanisim prayer which reads: "Thou, O Lord, didst deliver the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, and the impure into the hands of the pure". And so too, this memorable truth is proclaimed in the famous words of the prophet Zechariah which is found in today's special Haftarah for Hanukkah: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts." (Zech. 6:6) B. Oftentimes apparent weakness denotes strength that is to come. At the moment of birth, no living creature is as weak and helpless as man, yet man grows up to be the master of all life. The horse secures his rest through sleep while standing; the cattle rest while kneeling; yet man is so weak that he must lie his entire body down. However, after lying in this vulnerable position, he awakens with renewed and superior strength. A Jew fasts on Yom Kippur and on other days. In so doing, he creates a situation of weakness in order to attain the inner and outer strength that follows. We thus behold that there is frequently weakness before strength. (Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz, Nofet Tzufim, pp. 5 - 7. Warsaw, Poland, 1929) C. One of the miracles of Hanukkah was that the small cruse of oil, enough for but one night's illumination burned for eight days. The small candles therefore suggest that great size and quantity are not always the deciding factor. The Jewish people are few in number, but they have given the world some of the greatest teachers, philosophers, scientists, philanthropists, artists, novelists, playwrights and Nobel Prize winners. The Holy Land, a territory of insignificant size produced the Bible and gave birth to three major world religions. Israel, a country of limited resources and people, has already to its credit many impressive and significant accomplishments during its short existence. (S.Z. Kahana, Heaven on Your Head, pp. 246-247) D. "It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you - indeed, you are the smallest of peoples." (Deut. 7:7) E. God said to Israel: "I love you, but it is not because you are more than the Gentiles, and not because you do more mitzvot (commandments)
than they, for they magnify my name more than you do (Malachi 1:11) and you are the smallest of all nations (Deut. 7:7) - but because you make yourselves small before me, therefore I love you. (Tanhuma, ed. Buber, Ekev, 9a fin.) “Sparks” for Discussion: There is genuine concern which exists about the small size of the Jewish population in the world today. Do you know what the size of that population is? What about in the United States (and Canada)? What percentage is that of the total population? And (Eastern) Europe? What are the demographic numbers there? Yet, most people are under the impression that there are more Jewish people than there really are. Why? We have always been a small people and true, we have out-survived the ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian, etc. civilizations. Have things changed in our time that should give us more concern than usual about our lack of number? Is it God's will that the Jewish People should live on, no matter what? Is there an "automatic guarantee"? Postscript The first commandment given to the Jewish People was to know that the moon (month) of Nissan should be the head of all the moons (months). Why does Israel mark its months by the moon? Because Israel is like the moon. When Israel suffers tribulation, it should look at the moon, which, early in the month, is small but grows larger and l arger. Thus, will Israel likewise increase in strength and stature. And when Israel waxes wealthy and fat, it should regard the moon again, which after attaining fullness, decreases daily. So too Israel's stable and secure condition may well be diminished. As the moon increases for fourteen days and then it is full for one day, it inevitably decreases for another fourteen days. So it is with Israel. (Shemot Rabbah, on Exodus 12:2, p. 196)
December 22, 2001/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Etz Hayim, p. 274 Triennial - Year I: 44:18 - 45:27 (Hertz, p. 169; Etz Chaim, p. 274) Haftarah - Ezekiel 37:15-2 (Hertz, p. 178; Etz Chaim, p. 290) Torah Portion Summary (44:18-34) Judah passionately pleads with Joseph to spare Benjamin for the sake of their aged father, offering himself in Benjamin's place. (45:1-27) Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. He calms their fears, and sends them home to tell Jacob the good news and to bring him to Egypt. (45:28-46:27) Jacob agrees to go down to Egypt to see Joseph. On the way, God speaks to Jacob in a vision, saying that He will accompany Jacob to Egypt. A list of the 70 people who went down to Egypt is given. (46:28-30) Joseph and Jacob have a tearful reunion. (46:30-47:10) Joseph appeals to Pharaoh to allow his family to settle in the region of Goshen. Pharaoh agrees. Jacob is presented to Pharaoh. (47:11-27) Joseph's policies of distribution and rationing of food during the famine result in an increase in the wealth and power of the central government. This Shabbat's Theme: Jewish Study and A Meaningful Life (Jacob) sent Judah on ahead of him to Joseph, to prepare before his arrival in Goshen (Egypt)... (Gen. 46:28) A. After Jacob was informed that Joseph was still alive and that he is a ruler in Egypt, he sent Judah to prepare for the family's settlement in Goshen. The Sages seized upon the word used in the text, lehorot, which can be translated as "to point the way" or "to prepare" but also can mean "to teach". One Sage said that Jacob asked Judah to prepare a residence for the family. Another Sage said that Judah was asked to establish a house of study where instruction would be given to students. (Genesis Rabbah 95:2) B. Both Sages in the (above) Midrash were right; It is merely a question of priorities. Let us say that Jacob who assuredly had a sense for the realities in life (e.g. "You will give me bread to eat and raiment to put on...") was concerned that upon arrival in Goshen he find a roof over the head of his dependents. But Jacob was not satisfied with a residence alone. He insisted that there also be a place to study (spiritual matters)
after initially building the residence... (Solomon D. Goldfarb, NYBR "Sermonic Sparks", Dec. 1971) We are the most Jewishly illiterate generation we've ever had. Let's admit that. We're affluent and successful but Jewishly illiterate. (Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of United Israel Appeal, speaking at the CJF General Assembly in Boston, Nov. 1995) Question from E.H.W., a writer, lecturer and consultant: "I am perplexed. Lately, my growing interest in Jewish studies has taken so much of my time that I find myself neglecting my business and my clients. Sometimes I resent the time I am forced to spend on 'meaningless' work when I could be engaged in study and other mitzvot..." (See David Golinkin's booklet, Responsa in a Moment, Halachic Responses to Contemporary Issues, p. 43 ff. for his comprehensive and interesting response) It was a fascinating experience for me which proved to be quite instructive. One day, I went to the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem to purchase a tallit. I arrived at a particular store, which had been recommended to me, at approximately 10:30 in the morning and was disappointed to see that the store was closed. As I stood there peering a bit forlornly through the display window, a Hasid came by, produced a key and unlocked the shutter. He bade me to enter. After having examined a few tallitot for about ten minutes, I decided on a nice large one and gave him the amount of money which he indicated it would cost me. He wrapped it up; I thanked him and walked out of the store. The Hasid followed me out of the store and proceeded to lock up the shutter again. I was really puzzled. Hadn't he just arrived for work? Why was he closing so soon? So I asked him why. His response still fascinates me to this day. He said that he had just come from the House of Study and saw me standing outside his store eager to purchase something. Having sold me the item, he determined that the money that I had given him was certainly sufficient for his needs and the needs of his family for the day. That being the case, he was returning to the House of Study and "G-d willing", he will be as fortunate tomorrow. (Author) If you stop your Jewish education before you reach your complete intellectual sophistication, then you will think about secular issues in a sophisticated way, but you'll analyze Jewish topics immaturely. The only way to pursue a meaningful Jewish life is to keep studying. (Judith Hauptman, quoted in Diana Blette's The Invisible Thread, 1989) Education that is essentially pareve - that's neutral and doesn't take a strong stand - has little chance of succeeding... All effective education has at its foundation a distinct and well-considered vision. (Seymour Fox, Vision at the Heart, 1996)
"Sparks" for Discussion: The "mid-life crisis" comes in many forms and may not always occur precisely at the mid-point of our lives. One form of this crisiseffects even our younger people. As we engage in our occupations day in and day out to earn a livelihood, some people begin to wonder about the relevancy of their careers. Just how meaningful are they anyway? Do they really fit into a purposive existence?
Perhaps, when pondering these thoughts we might be tempted to follow the path "pointed out" by our ancestor, Judah, in this Shabbat's reading. While assuring that the future practical needs ofhis family would be met, he made certain also that there would a House ofStudy in the community to tend to their higher idealistic needs. Accordingly, for us, earning a livelihood (mundane but entirely necessary) should be coupled with a conscious effort to gain some kind of higher vision which Dr. Seymour Fox (above) alludes to by engaging ourselves in Jewish study. But this is not happening in the Jewish community today, says Jewish leader Shoshana Cardin (above). Why? What can be done about it? Also, do you think that the Mea Shearim Hasid (mentioned in the story above) was on to something very profound about life's priorities or do you disagree with his outlook on life?
December 29, 2001 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Genesis 47:28 - 50:26 (Hertz, p. 180; Etz Hayim, p. 293) Triennial I: 47:28 - 48:22 (Hertz, p. 180; Etz Hayim, p. 293) Haftarah: I Kings 2:1-12 (Hertz, p. 191; Etz Hayim, p. 312) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (47:28-31) Jacob senses that his death is approaching. He asks Joseph to swear that he will not bury him in Egypt, but will return him to the ancestral burial place at the Cave of Machpelah in the land of Canaan. (48:1-9) Joseph brings his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to Jacob to be blessed. Jacob says they will be like Reuben and Simon, i.e., equal in status to any of his sons. (48:10-22) Jacob blesses Ephraim, Manasseh, and Joseph, predicting that Ephraim, the younger, would be mightier than Manasseh, the firstborn. (49:1-26) Jacob's last words and testament to his sons, not as they are, but as they will be. This poetic passage is considered to be the most difficult in the Book of Genesis. (49:27-33) Benjamin's blessing. Jacob then instructs his sons to bury him in the family burial place at the Cave of Machpelah. Jacob dies. (50:1-6) Joseph mourns Jacob. Joseph makes all the necessary arrangements to bury Jacob in the family grave, the Cave of Machpelah, in Canaan. (50:15-21) Joseph's brothers fear that he will take vengeance on them now, but Joseph reassures them. (50:22-26) Joseph's last days. He has his brothers swear that when they return to Canaan, they will bury him there (a promise eventually fulfilled by Moses and Joshua). Joseph dies. This Shabbat's Theme: A Proper "Homecoming" The time approached for Israel to die. So he called for his son, for Joseph, and said to him, 'Do me this favor, place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty: please do not bury me in Egypt. For when I will lie down with my fathers, you shall transport me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place' (i.e. the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron)... (Gen. 47:29 - 30) A. Similarly, Joseph later adjures his brothers to rebury him in the land of Canaan (50:25). This motif is found in the Egyptian "Story of Sinue",
where the exiled courtier asks, "What is more important than that I be buried in my native land?" The biblical examples, however, have an added dimension, for the deathbed requests are bound up with the divine promise of redemption and nationhood in the Land of Israel (cf. 48:21; 50:24f.) (Nahum Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary, p. 321) The burial of Jewish deceased in the Holy Land, especially those who ardently loved the land, were religiously observant, or contributed to the support of Israel, is considered an act of pious devotion...The Bible records that Joseph made the special request to be buried, not in the land where he reigned as vice-regent but in the land of his forefathers, the Holy Land. Burial in Israel is considered by the rabbis equal to be being buried directly under the Temple altar. (Maurice Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning, p. 70) In contradistinction to Rabbi Eleazar's view (who held that a person buried outside of Israel would not be resurrected in the End of Days), Rabbi Simai said: The Holy One, blessed be He, will burrow the earth before those buried outside of Eretz Yisrael and their bodies will roll there like bottles (at the time when Resurrection - Tehiat ha-Metim - will take place). (Talm. Ketubot 111a) It is customary, mainly among traditional Jews in the Diaspora, to place a small sack of dirt from the Holy Land into the coffin or grave of a deceased person who is not being buried there. One can purchase such a sack that indicates its purpose. (Author) Feeling that his death was drawing near, Jacob sent for Joseph and asked him to swear that he would bring him to Eretz Yisrael for burial... He wanted (thereby) to establish for his offspring the principle that only Eretz Yisrael was their heritage, no matter how successful or comfortable they might be in some other land. This was especially important then, for he saw that his family had begun to feel comfortable in Egypt, that they were being grasped (see 47:27-vayeahazu) by it... (Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, Genesis) The word Diaspora, from the Greek word diaspora ("dispersion"), is used in the context of a voluntary dispersion of the Jewish people as distinct from their forced dispersion called golah or galut ("exile"). By the same definition, the Jewish communities in the world today, after the establishment of the State of Israel, constitute a Diaspora. The custom has developed of referring to these communities (outside of Israel) as the tefutzot, the Hebrew equivalent of Diaspora (dispersion), in preference to the word golah - exile (since there does not presently exist a forced dispersion). "For behold the days are coming, when I will turn the captivity of My people Israel and Judah... and I will return them to the land which I gave to their ancestors and they shall possess it." (Jer. 30:3) "Sound the great shofar to herald our freedom, raise high the banner to gather all exiles. Gather the dispersed from the ends of the earth. Praised are You, Lord who gathers our dispersed" (Siddur Sim Shalom, p. 112. The tenth blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer recited three times daily)
"Sparks" for Discussion: From our earliest days, the Jewish people have had a powerful attachment to Eretz Yisrael to the extent that some who live outside still desire to be buried there (Jacob, Joseph, our ancestors, contemporary Jews). We all pray daily for our return to our Land. So who's stopping us? Are we still in "Exile" from our Land? If, for whatever reason, we cannot or do not want to make "aliyah" to Israel what then is holding Jews back from even visiting there at least once in their lifetime? What seems to be the problem in your eyes? Should we/can we do anything substantive about it for ourselves, for our children, for our grandchildren? As we conclude the Book of Genesis, we rise just prior to the reading of the last verse of the Torah portion. At the completion of the Torah reading today, we join in chanting: Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened."
January 5, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 1:1 - 6:1 (Hertz, p. 206; Etz Hayim, p.317) Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 1:1 - 2:25 (Hertz, page 206; Etz Hayim, p.317) Haftarah: Isaiah 27:6-28:13, 29:22-23 (Hertz, page 225; Etz Hayim, p. 343) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (1:1-14) A list of the sons of Jacob/Israel who came to Egypt. The beginning of the enslavement. The building of the store-cities and other acts of oppression. (1:15-22) The midwives disobey Pharoah's orders to kill all male Israelite newborns. He then orders every newborn boy to be drowned in the Nile. (2:1-10) A boy is born. His parents hide him for three months. His mother puts him into a reed basket and floats him on the Nile, where he is found by Pharaoh's daughter. She names him Moses. He is raised in the royal palace. (2:11-25) Moses goes out to his people and sees their suffering. He kills an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite, and is forced to flee to Midian. He marries Zipporah and works for her father as a shepherd. Meanwhile, God hears the suffering of the Israelites, and determines to help. (3:1-10) The revelation at the "Burning Bush". Moses is called by God to be a prophet and a leader of the people. He will be God's human agent in freeing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. (3:11-4:17) Moses expresses anxiety and doubt about his worthiness for the task. God encourages and reassures him, and gives signs to Moses to prove to the Israelites that he is indeed God's messenger. All in all, Moses refuses God's assignment five times, and God provides five counter arguments. Finally, Moses accepts the task. (4:18-23) Further instructions from God to Moses. (4:24-26) A peculiar incident during the journey to Egypt: Zipporah circumcises their son to ward off danger to Moses. (4:27-31) God sends Aaron to meet Moses,and together they convince the people that God has sent them. (5:1-6:1) Moses and Aaron's first confrontation with Pharaoh fails. Pharaoh retaliates by oppressing the Israelites even more harshly. The Israelites blame Moses and Aaron for making their plight worse. Moses complains to God, who reassures him that he will soon see what God will do to Pharaoh.
This Shabbat's Theme: "Name Dropping" These are the names of the sons of Israel, who came into Egypt with Jacob; every man came with his household. (Exodus 1:1) A. "And these are the names..." The Book of Exodus, which recounts the first exile and redemption of the Jewish people, is commonly referred to as Shemot-Hebrew for names. This title draws our attention to the importance of maintaining Hebrew names, especially when living in the midst of other nations. We are told that our ancestors did not change their names in favor of Egyptian names and that this loyalty helped them to maintain their Jewish identity. In fact this practice was one of the meritorious qualities which made the Israelites deserving of redemption from the slavery of Egypt. (Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, v. II, p. 2; Midrash Shemot Rabbah, 1; Midrash Tanchuma - Rabbi Tanchuma lived 427 - 465 C.E.) B. Israel was redeemed from Egypt because of four things: because they did not change their names, they did not change their language, they did not speak slander and they were not immoral. We know that they did not change their names, from the fact that they went down to Egypt as Reuben and Simeon and left Egypt as Reuben and Simeon (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 32:5) C. The ancients believed that one's essence was inextricably bound to one's name. If you changed your name, you were, in effect, changing who you were. In a modern sense, we understand this well. The European immigrants who quickly Americanized their names strove to discard their heritage. And those of the Diaspora who Hebraized their names upon immigrating to I srael also wanted to shed the baggage of their past. (L. Kushner and K. Olitsky, Sparks Beneath The Surface, p. 42) D. "The name comes with the voice". (Frank Sinatra, who refused to change his name after being "discovered") E. Most Jews seek to honor the memory of departed parents and grandparents by conferring upon their children the Hebrew names of these loved ones. However, in selecting an English name they completely ignore the English equivalents of the Hebrew name....The English names we give our children should correspond to the Hebrew names so that both may be Jewishly meaningful to them throughout life. (Amos W. Miller, Understanding the Midrash, p. 20) F. A Jew should not accept the name of a heathen idol or saint. (Sefer Hasidim, #195, p. 74 - 13th c.) G. Comparatively few books have been written on the general subject of names. On the subject of Jewish names an even smaller number exists...Today, all of us carry a Hebrew and secular name. How shall these two names be selected? How can we make them harmonize with each other? It is to help create some semblance of order out of the hodgepodge that this book aims. (Preface to a fine book that I would recommend to all on this subject - by Alfred J. Kolatch, The Name Dictionary: Modern English and Hebrew Names)
H. In the year 2020, a woman approaches her friend and says: "Mazal tov! So tell me, what name was given to your grandson?" Her friend answered, "Akiva". "So, who was he named after?" she asked. "After his great-grandfather Kevin" came the answer. "Kevin? What kind of a name is Kevin?" "Sparks" for Reflection/Discussion on Our Theme Herman Wouk once observed that "every Jew who has ever stepped into a synagogue or temple knows that we have two names: the outside name with which we go through life, and the inside name, used in blessings and Torah call-ups, marriage and divorce ceremonies, and on tombstones.. It is a fardrifted Jew who has forgotten his or her inside name" (From his book "Inside, Outside"). Just curious - do you know your full "inside name"? Do your (grand)children know it? What about its meaning? I guess this is as good a time as any to go around the synagogue and have congregants voluntarily announce their names in Hebrew/Yiddish. It would be a good time to find out what they mean. Also, it would be enlightening, perhaps even amusing, to hear how certain family names got changed. We can start off with the "Feurgeson joke" here, if you wish. Finally, let's consider what it means to"live up to one's name". My Jewish name, for instance, is - David. It means "beloved". I was named after my revered great grand-father, a respected Jewish community leader and scholar in Poland. Our namesake is King David who is admiringly remembered for his many memorable qualities. That's a lot to live up to! What do youknow about the person you were named after? Would you care to share some memories about his/her life with us? Postscript "Every man has three names: one that a father and mother gives him, one that others call him and one that he acquires for himself." (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13)
January 12, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 6:2 - 9:35 (Hertz, p. 232; Etz Hayim, p. 351) Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 6:2 - 7:7 (Hertz, p. 232; Etz Hayim, p. 351) Haftarah: Ezekiel 28:25 - 29:21 (Hertz, p. 244; Etz Hayim, p. 369) This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (6:2-9) God reminds Moses of the Covenant He made with the patriarchs, and announces to him the coming redemption of the Israelites from slavery. Moses tells the Israelites, but they are too fearful to listen to him. (6:10-13) Moses is disheartened, and reluctant to go before Pharaoh. (6:14-27) The genealogy of the tribe of Levi. (6:28-30) Moses continues to doubt his ability to carry out his task, saying: I am of impeded speech. (7:1-7) God encourages Moses and Aaron by giving him a glimpse of the successful future of their mission. (7:8-13) Moses and Aaron demonstrate their miraculous sign before Pharaoh: the staff transformed into a serpent. Pharaoh's magicians duplicate this feat, but then Aaron's "snake" swallows up theirs. (7:14-25) The Ten Plagues begin. The first turned the Nileinto blood. (7:26-8:11) The second plague: frogs. (8:12-15) The third plague: lice. (8:16-28) The fourth plague: beasts (Rashi). (9:1-7) The fifth plague: domestic animals' disease. (9:8-16) The sixth plague: boils. (9:17-35) The seventh plague: Hail. This Shabbat's Theme: "Human Rights and Rebellion" The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Go in, speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt,that he let the children of Israel go out of his land." (Exodus 6:11)
A. "They are MY servants" (Lev. 25:55) - "Not servants' servants" (Bava Metzia 10a) B. Repeatedly, Hebrew Prophets would rebuke ruling kings when they overly abused their powers and committed gross injustices. Several instances of this may be seen when Nathan rebukes David (II Samuel 12:1- 15), Elijah castigates Ahab (I Kings 21:17 - 24) and when Amos defies Amaziah the priest of Beth-El and Jeroboam, king of Israel. (Amos 7:10-17) - (Author) C. Since we, long ago, resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God, who alone is the true and just Lord of humankind, the time has now come that obliges us to make that resolution true to practice....We were the very first that revolted from them, and we are the last that fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom, which has not been the case of others..." (The final address of Jewish revolt leader Eleazar ben Yair as reported by Josephus Flavius, The Jewish War, bk. 7, ch. 8) D. Mattathias replied in a ringing voice: "Though all the nations within the king's dominions obey him and forsake their ancestral worship, though they have chosen to submit to his commands, yet I and my sons and brothers will follow the covenant of our ancestors... We will not obey the command of the king... " (I Maccabees, 2:1, 15 - 28) E. Even as there are times when a Jew is obligated to willingly give up his life for oav ause - the "sanctification of God's Name" - so too there is a time when it is incumbent upon a Jew not only to preserve his life, but to rise up and fight with every means at his command against the dangers of tyranny. (Meyer Blumenfeld, "Sanctifying God's Name Through Rebellion" sermon, RCA Manual, 1959, p. 183) F. Long live the fraternity of blood and weapons in a fighting Poland! Long live Freedom! Death to the hangman and the killers! We must continue our mutual struggle against the occupier until the very end! (Manifesto of the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto, April 23, 1943) G. I am happy that I helped my people. I am proud that I knew and worked with such honest, brave, and courageous people as Sakharov, Orlov, Ginzburg who are carrying on the traditions of the Russian intelligentsia. I am fortunate to have been witness to the process of the liberation of the Jews of the U.S.S.R. I hope that the absurd accusation against me and the entire emigration movement will not hinder the liberation of my people (Anatoly Shcharansky, before being sentenced by a Moscow court, July 14, 1978) H. To speak in the accents and with the passion of the biblical Prophets is hardly to invent a new theology. It seems to me that if indeed we are neither prophets nor the children of prophets, we are the descendants of those who preferred the desert to slavery, who understood that God wants all peoples to be free, and who brought the message of ethical monotheism to the world... There is simply no way of permitting the abuse of human rights in the name of, or with the approval of, Judaism. Nor is there any way in reading the texts that perm it us to look the other way and thus be guilty of sins of omission or acquiescence. (Rabbi Marshall Meyer, human rights activist, founder of the Seminario Rabinico
Latinamericano in Argentina. Talk at Hebrew University, January 21, 1992) I. Oh, what a joy simply to dream that one day a President of the United States will put his arm around that good man, the Dalai Lama, smile pleasantly into the camera and say, "Well, the Chinese Communist can just stick it in their ears" (A.M. Rosenthal,The New York Times, March 14, 1990) "Sparks" for Reflection/Discussion on Our Theme The United States has in recent years maintained a very strong foreign policy of protecting the human rights of individuals who live under oppressive regimes. Sanctions have been leveled by the U.S.against a number of countries which have consistently violated such rights. Certainly, as Jews, such a stance is very much in keeping with our tradition as seen in the pertinent quotations above and in particular, in accordance with the entire thrust of the Exodus "liberation-fromslavery" saga. Nonetheless, some maintain that it is not in our national interest to do so. Howstrong should our stance be in this matter vis-a-vis authoritarian overnments such as China, etc? Also, while we are on the subject, we might want to examine the human rights cord, past and present, of both Israeland its Arab neighbors. What has been said regarding this matter? How accurate is what's being said? Finally, in this post-September 11th era, do you think that the United States government is justified in its recent requests for certain emergency antiterrorism powers or might they be regarded as potential civil liberties violations and a cause for concern?
January 19, 2002/5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 10:1-13:16; Hertz, p. 248; Etz Hayim, p. 374 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 10:1-11:3; Hertz, p. 248; Etz Hayim, p. 374 Haftarah: Jeremiah 46:13-28; Hertz, p. 263; Etz Hayim, p. 395 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (10:1-29) The eighth plague, locusts, and the ninth, darkness. (11:1-3) God announces to Moses the last and decisive plague, and instructs him to tell the people to prepare for leaving by asking the Egyptians for jewels and gold, which the Egyptians, overawed by events and by Moses' apparent power, readily give. (11:4-10) Moses announces the tenth plague to Pharaoh, and the slaying of all the first-born of Egypt, but God hardens Pharaoh's heart and he does not respond to this final ultimatum. (12:1-13) The Passover sacrifice in Egypt. The Israelites are commanded to take a lamb, slaughter it on the 14th of Nisan, at twilight, mark the doorposts of their houses with its blood, and eat the lamb on the eve of the 15th. On that same night, God struck down all the first-born of Egypt. (12:14-20) The Israelites are commanded to observe Passover, the 15th of Nisan, for all time. For the entire seven days of the festival they shall not eat, or even possess, any leaven. (12:21-28) Moses and Aaron convey the Passover commandments to the people. (12:29-36) The first-born of Egypt all die, and the Egyptians capitulate. The Israelites prepare to leave. (12:37-42) The Israelites leave Egypt. (12:43-13:10) The laws of the Paschal lamb sacrifice, the dedication to God of the firstborn, and further details concerning the observance of Passover. (13:11-16) Laws concerning redemption of the first-born, the telling of the Passover story, and tefillin.
This Shabbat's Theme: "Pesah Sheini - Reviving An Ancient Observance" Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth day of this month each of them shall take a lamb... and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month... and slaughter it at dusk... (Ex. 12:3, 6) A. In the time of the Temple, those who could not bring the Pascal lamb at the required time, either for reasons of ritual impurity or because they were traveling and were too far from Jerusalem to arrive in time for Passover, could bring the Paschal lamb a month later. Instead of on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan as prescribed above, they could bring the sacrifice exactly one month later - on the fourteenth day of Iyyar (Numbers 9:6 - 12). The day on which this postponed sacrifice was to be offered is called in Hebrew Pesah Sheini or the "Second Passover" (Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 143) B. Pesah Sheini is also referred to as "Minor Passover". Although most of the restrictions of the first Passover apply to Pesah Sheini, according to the Mishnah (Pesahim 9:3) a person observing Pesah Sheini in Temple times was required to eat matzah but was not obligated to rid his house of all leaven - hametz. Some Jews today still commemorate Pesah Sheini by eating matzah on the fourteenth of Iyar as a reminder of the Exodus (cf. Judah Dov Singer, Ziv Haminhagim, 1965). The only real reminder today though of Pesah Sheini for the community is the omission of the tahanun prayer in the liturgy. Also it should be pointed out that because more than one Passover is mentioned in the Bible (as explained above), the tractate in the Talmud that deals with Passover law is called Pesahim (plural), and is not given the singular designation Pesah. (Alfred Kolatch, The Book of Why, p. 210) C. The rule of "making up" a holiday if it is missed, as is the case with Passover, does not apply to Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur or any other calendar on the Jewish calendar. Why is this unique exception made for Passover? A number of very fine homiletical answers (e.g. S.Z. Kahana, Heaven on Your Head, p. 72) and halachic answers (e.g. Jacob Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary, p. 70) have been offered to this question but perhaps, we may may arrive at an additional worthwhile conclusion through the following consideration: Numbers 5:13 states: "The man who was ritually clean and was not on a journey and still refrained from observing the Passover sacrifice unto the Lord, that person shall be cut off from his people." Being "cut off" (Hebrew - khrt) meant separation from the Jewish people, not imposed by a human tribunal but by divine fiat. Clearly, this was a serious punishment. No such penalty applied to any of the rituals, associated with Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or any othe r Jewish Yom Tov Festival. The only application of "excision" then was associated with the premeditated non-observance of Passover. The Torah relates that those Israelites who were not able to observe the Passover ritual due to being ritually impure or who were traveling also felt, in a real sense, "cut off". They, therefore, complained bitterly to Moses
and Aaron, asking, "Unclean though we are by reason of a corpse's impurity, why must we be debarred.. (lit. why should we be made less than the rest of Israel) ...from presenting the Lord's offering?" (Num. 9:7). In response to their desperate plea not to be separated from their people, the Lord responded by originating the unique observance of Pesah Sheini. (Author ) Sparks for Discussion: Of course, there are no more pascal sacrifices. Yet, we do observe Passover in a variety of meaningful ways. Can we create a contemporary and relevant way to observe Pesah Sheini - a "delayed Passover" in our time? One such possibility comes to my mind from my personal experience. While serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army, I delighted in those Jewish military men and women who "stuck to their Faith" despite difficult hardships which would arise from time to time. As it turned out, there were some military personnel who sometimes would find themselves in distant places, remote from the Jewish community and felt at a loss because they could not celebrate Passover in any form - no Seder and not even a matzah to be eaten. We may think that this is no great thing about which to be concerned but several of them asked me, not unlike the complainants in the Bible whom we mentioned above, if there was any remedy for them having "missed out" on Passove entirely. Additionally, there was the situation of an officer who attended our services regularly was unfortunately in the hospital on Passover. His serious operation and illness kept him in the hospital for several weeks thereafter. As he was recovering, he wondered if he could be given a "make up" of a Jewish holiday (such as Passover) as a person could be given a "make-up" for an important exam. It set me to thinking... Should we consider the possibility of a "Second Passover" (on the 14th of Iyyar) being reinstituted in some form to accommodate those who were ill or for some other reason were prevented from observing Passover appropriately? If so, how would you suggest it be observed? Some have already suggested and even initiated a "Third Seder". What do you think? Postscript This year Pesah Sheini - "SecondPassover" - 14th of Iyyar - falls on Thursday night and Friday, April 25 - 26, 2002. If that is too soon to arrange something in your community, then maybe next year you can accommodate those who were forced to miss Passover with a "Second Passover" observance on Thursday night and Friday, May 15 -16, 2003.
January 26, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 13:17-17:16; Hertz, p. 265; Etz Hayim, p. 399 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 13:17-15:26; Hertz, p. 265; Etz Hayim,p. 399 Haftarah: Judges 4:4 - 5:31; Hertz, p. 281; Etz Hayim,p. 423 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (13:17-22) The beginning of the Exodus, and its route through the desert. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire. (14:1-14) The Egyptians pursue the Israelites and catch up to them at the Reed Sea. The Israelites panic and Moses reassures them. (14:15-18) God tells Moses that He will save Israel; they will cross the sea on dry land. (14:19-25) The splitting of the sea. The Israelites pass through safely. The Egyptians pursue them into the sea. (14:26-31) At God's command, Moses stretches his hand forth over the sea; its waters close up again, and the pursuing Egyptians are drowned. (15:1-21) The "Song at the Sea"in praise and thanksgiving to God. (15:22-26) The "bitter waters" at Marah. (15:27-16:36) The encampment at Elim; God feeds the Israelites with manna and quail. (17:1-7) The miracle of the water from the rock. (17:8-16) The war against Amalek, the archetype enemy of Israel. This Shabbat's Theme: "Miracles, Meditation and Direct Access" Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the Lord drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split, and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. (Gen. 14:21-22) A. On the matter of miracles, everyone is welcome to his own opinion. (Flavius Josephus, Antiquities, 2.16.5. Judean general, historian, 37-105 C.E.) B. Miracles occur, but food is rarely provided by them. (Nahman ben Yaakov, Talm. Shabbat 53b)
C. "The waters were split and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall..." Moses outstretched arm brought about the splitting of the sea, which God caused to ha ppen naturally - by means of a strong wind that divided the water. (Abraham Ibn Ezra, Bible commentator, 1089 -1164, Spain) D. The reason for a wind rather than God producing an open miracle was to present an element of questionability. In their wickedness, the Egyptians seeing that there was a strong wind scoffed at the possibility that a miracle was being performed on behalf of the Israelites. They were convinced that it was actually only the wind that was splitting the sea and not God. So they plunged down onto the floor of the sea and met their doom. (Ramban, Acronym for Rabbi Moses Ben Nahman, also known as Nahmanides. Bible commentator, 1194 - 1270, Spain) E. The Emperor of Rome once proposed to Rabbi Tanhum the following: "Come,let us all agree to be one people." "Very well," Rabbi Tanhum answered, "but we who are circumcised cannot possibly become like you, so circumcise yourselves and become like us." The Emperor replied, "You have spoken well; nevertheless, anyone who gets the better of the king (in a debate) must be thrown to the wild beasts (lions)." So they threw him into the arena, but (a miracle occurred) he was not eaten. Thereupon an unbeliever remarked, "The reason they did not eat him is that the lions are not hungry." So they threw him (the unbeliever) in and he was eaten. (Talm. Sanhedrin 39a) F. A man should not needlessly expose himself to peril in the expectation that God will miraculously deliver him. God may not do so; and even if a miracle is wrought for him, the man earns demerit for his presumption. (Talm. Shabbat 32a) G. All agree that the physical world as we see it is only secondary and peripheral to the spirit. The essence of creation and the true reality is spiritual, but people do not fully appreciate the greatness of the supernatural. A miracle thus shows them the error in this regard (Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Lubavitcher Rebbe. Letter written in 1932) H. Every favor which God performs for a person is a miracle. Many a miracle remains unnoticed by the recipient of God's favor. Many a time a person is rescued from danger by the space of a nail's breadth (Zohar, IV, 200b) I. It must be realized, that treating awe and ecstasy which religion elicits from the multitudes as evidence of the truth or desirability of a religion is a dangerous procedure. (Mordecai Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers, p. 86) "Sparks" for Discussion: The Torah portion Beshalah includes two extraordinary miracles: the splitting of the Red Sea and the production of water from a rock. It seems that miracles offer instantaneous evidence of divine involvement in the world. It lends instant certainty to one's religious belief. In a way, it is a "short cut" to faith, for one feels the immediate presence of God by virtue of a supernatural manifestation.
From Judaism's perspective - is this a desirable religious approach? Would you categorize mysticism or meditation also as a form of gaining direct contact with Divine manifestation (like miracles)? Are they then a form of "instant religion"? Accordingly, would you say that these two types of disciplines are in line with the typical Jewish religious approach? If yes,why is there a certain reluctance of introducing them into our contemporary religious practice? In regard to the above, consider further these two statements: While the majority of Americans are not theologically sophisticated, they are profoundly sophisticated about professional development, sexual matters, interpersonal dynamics and psychology. This hastranslated into a demand for tools of personal transformation that, while not necessarily theologically complex, have great potential to help a person spiritually and psychologically and give them direct access to the Divine (Avram David, Introduction to "Meditation From the Heart of Judaism, 1997). Ultimately I see spiritual growth as climbing a ladder. You climb slowly, step by step. With each step you take, you solidify your footing, then move on to the next step. Each step you take up the ladder nourishes your soul. In time, you will feel completely nourished and connected to God. You will have truly met God. (Harold Kushner, "God's Fingerprint on the Soul," Handbook for the Soul, ed. by R. Carlson and B. Shields, 1995).
February 2, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 18:1-20:23; Hertz, p. 288; Etz Hayim, p. 432 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 18:1-18:27; Hertz, p. 288; Etz Hayim, p.432 Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-13; 7:1-6; 9:5-6; Hertz, p. 302; Etz Hayim, p. 451 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (18:1-12) Moses' father-in-law Jethro comes to visit, bringing Moses' wife Zipporah and his two sons. (18:12-27) Jethro advises Moses to appoint officers and judges to help him lead the people, creating the political structure for living by the Torah. (19:1-6) The people prepare to accept the covenant and receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, where they will become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (19:7-15) Moses tells the elders to prepare the people to receive the revelation. (19:16-25) Dramatic phenomena accompany God's manifestation at Mount Sinai. Moses ascends the mountain. (20:1-14) The Ten Commandments. (20:15-18) The people are terrified by God's power, and they beg Moses to mediate between them and God. (20:19-23) More commandments concerning the Altar. This Shabbat's Theme: "Follow The Leader" Next day, Moses sat as magistrate among the people, while the people stood about Moses from morning until evening.. But when Moses' father-in-law (Yitro) saw how much he had to do for the people, he said, "What is this thing that you are doing to the people? Why do you act alone? ...The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well..." (Exodus 18:13-14, 17-18) A. Noting that Jethro was deeply upset with Moses, an ancient sage suggests that what disturbed Jethro was not that Moses appeared overworked but that Moses had become full of self-importance. Moses, he says, was "behaving like a king who sits on his throne while all the people stand." Most interpreters (though) do not criticize Moses for holding himself above his people...but they do cite the dangerous consequences of his decision to judge the people by himself. Rabbi Joshua, for instance, comments that Jethro's warning to Moses was a
practical one. He saw that Moses had taken on too much. The work was overwhelming. fearful that Moses would collapse from exhaustion, Jethro told him, "They will tire you out and cause you to fail in your leadership of them." (Harvey Fields, A Torah Commentary For Our Times, Vol. II, p. 44) "Moses was shepherding the flock (of Yitro)..." (Ex. 3:1) When he was doing so, Moses used to prevent the larger sheep from grazing before the smaller ones, letting the smaller ones loose first to feed on the tender grass. He would then let the older sheep loose and allow them to feed on the ordinary grass. Lastly, he would let the strongest sheep loose to feed on the toughest grass. Whereupon God said: "He who knows how to look after sheep, bestowing upon each the care that it deserves, shall come and tend My people" (Exodus Rabbah 2:2) Another interpretation of "Moses was shepherding...": Our Rabbis said that when Moses was tending the flock of Yitro in the wilderness, a little kid escaped from him. He ran after it until it came to a shady place where there was a pool of water. The kid stopped to drink. When Moses approached it, he said: "I did not know that you ran away because of thirst; you must be weary." So he placed the kid on his shoulder and carried him. Thereupon God said: "Because you have such mercy in leading the flock of a mortal, you will assuredly tend to my flock Israel" (ibid) What does it take to be a Jewish leader in America these days? Clearly, the greatest leader in Jewish history (Moses) wouldn't stand a chance. He wasn't wealthy; his best-known asset was humility, which would not have moved him up the ranks of board memberships very quickly; and he wasn't an orator - in fact, he stuttered. (Gary Rosenblatt, The Jewish Week, June 13, 1997) A leader who commences a deed but does not complete it loses his place at the head of his people. When God wishes to punish Israel, He sends them unworthy leaders. When a person is able to receive abuse smilingly he is worthy of becoming a leader in Israel. (Nahman Bratzlaver, (1770-1811), famous Hasidic Rabbi, Podolla, Sefer ha-Middot, (1912), p. 60-61) What Is Leadership? Leaders should have a vision, a sense of purpose. Leaders don't force others to go along with them - they bring them along. Leaders demand much of others, but also give much of themselves. Good leaders are not "lone rangers" - they combine talents and efforts of many people. Leaders know that when there are two opinions on an issue, one is not bound to be wrong. Successful leaders are emotionally and intellectually oriented to the future - not wedded to the past. Leaders believe in unity rather than conformity and strive to achieve consensus out of conflict. Leaders make the right things happen when they are supposed to happen. (Moshe Edelman, United Synagogue, Director, Department of Leadership Development, Resource Library, June 20, 2000)
"Sparks" for Discussion: In our tradition, Moses has become a paradigm for those wishing to learn how to be an effective leader of people. Even his foibles, an example of which we see in this week's Torah reading, are instructive. In our time, we all recognize that good synagogue leadership is a crucial need in our respective Jewish communities. In this regard, therefore, let us ask ourselves some questions. What qualities should a synagogue leader have? How should synagogues identify and recruit potential new leaders? After identifying such potential new leaders shouldn't they be given some sortof advanced training? Is "OJT" (on the job training) sufficient to run a synagogue nowadays? It is in the area of synagogue leadership training that the United Synagogue does some of its best work. For instance: 1. More and more synagogue vice-presidents are attending the SULAM Program which provides them with essential information before they become synagogue president. 2. The IMUN Program provides congregants with religious skills and knowledge to help lead services, read Torah, etc. 3. Synagogue Board of Directors training programs and practical workshops are offered regularly and with great skill at USCJ regional conferences and at its conventions. We are all aware that synagogue leaders are so vital to Jewish life and that the modern synagogue is a complex institution. Leadership in it is not intuitive. Clearly, it requires learning and personal religious commitment. Would you want to step up to this marvelous responsibility? If so, contact SULAM or IMUN through our website - www.uscj.org.
MISHPATIM - SHABBAT SHEKALIM
February 9, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 21:1-24:18; Hertz, p. 305; Etz Hayim, p. 456 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 21:1-22:3; Hertz, p. 305; Etz Hayim, p. 456 Maftir: Exodus 30:11-16; Hertz, p. 352; Etz Hayim, p. 523 Haftarah: II Kings 11:17-12:17; Hertz, p. 992; Etz Hayim, p. 1276 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (21:1-11) The beginning of the Covenant Code. Laws regarding master and slave. (21:12-17) Capital crimes. (21:18-22:3) Laws of personal injury,property damage, theft, and negligence. (22:4-14) Laws governing different kinds of property custodians: unpaid, paid, and borrowers. (22:15-26) Laws against the seducer, occult practices, and forbidding the oppression of the powerless and the weak, including the stranger, the widow, the orphan, and the poor. (22:27-30) Miscellaneous laws concerning respect for authority, gifts to the priests, and the prohibition of eating torn flesh (trefah). (23:1-9) Laws of righteous behavior toward others. (23:10-19) Laws concerning the Sabbatical year, Shabbat, and Festivals. (23:20-33) An epilogue exhorting the Israelites to follow God's law, emphasizing the rewards they will receive if they do so. (24:1-18) The Covenant is ratified at a formal ceremony of acceptance. Moses and the elders eat a meal and see a vision of God. Moses alone ascends the mountain to receive the stone tablets, remaining there for forty days and nights. This Shabbat's Theme: "Should Israel Have a Constitution (a la U.S.A.)?" Should there Be a Separation of Synagogue and State? "These are the ordinances that you shall set before them" (Exodus 21:1) A. The juxtaposition of this Sidrah (dealing primarily with civil and tort law) with the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Altar provide a startling
insight into Judaism. To God there is no realm of "religion" in the colloquial sense of the word. Most people think of religion as a matter of ritual and spirituality. Western man differentiates between Church and State. The Torah knows of no such distinction. (The Chumash, ArtScroll Series, p. 416) "These are the ordinances..." Why, in the Torah, was the subject of civil laws placed next to the (commandment to construct) the Altar? This is to teach you that the Sanhedrin (which decided cases of civil laws, etc.) had to be located next to the Altar (Rashi). Among the other nations, social laws - those between man and his fellow-man - have no religious basis, but are purely social and civilian, and are needed to ensure the welfare of the state. With us, though, the civil laws are commandments of God, and have the sanctity of the commandments. Just as the sacrifices are the worship of God in the Temple, the civil law is the worship of God in our daily lives. (Avnei Azel) Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk quoted Psalms 147:19-20: "He shows His word to Jacob, His statutes and judgments to Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them ". The Rabbi then asked: "Don't the Gentiles have laws as well? Of course they have laws, but the difference is that they do not praise God through these laws. Their civil laws do not bring them to praise the Creator". As judges we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Catholic nor agnostic. We owe equal attachment to the Constitution and are equally bound by our judicial obligations whether we derive our citizenship from the earliest or latest immigration to these shores..." (Felix Frankfurter, justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, quote from the American Jewish Year Book, 1966) Judaism cannot save Israel. Judaism can only save Judaism, and the souls of believing Jews. Israel will have to save Israel; and it can begin by recoiling from all forms of sacralization of politics, right and left, and affirming, for the sake of the Jewish state and the Jewish religion, a stringent separation of synagogue and state, warning the Godintoxicated radicals in its midst that their dangerous drunkenness will have to give way before the values of democracy and the requirements of the law. (Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, in a letter to the editor, The New York Times, November 23, 1995) Even though it was stated in the Proclamation of Independence -- read by David Ben-Gurion at the ceremony in which the State of Israel was declared -- that the Constituent Assembly, which turned into the First Knesset, would draft a constitution for Israel, this was not done due to differences of opinion with the religious parties. In place of a constitution, it was decided to legislate a series of basic laws, which in the future would together form the constitution. This task is now -- 46 years after the establishment of the State -- close to completion. (Israel Consulate Web site, Dec. 2000) We cannot put constitutions together like prefabricated hen houses. (Albert Blaustein, law professor whose expertise was in drafting constitutions for nations in transition. He believed that for a constitution to work, it must reflect a country's culture and history. Quote from his obituary, The New York Times, August 23, 1994)
"Sparks" for Discussion: As in other nations, Israel is governed by a body of laws. We know that nations will tend to have their own characteristic way of formulating their manner of governance based upon their respective history and culture. In this regard, Israel is at an important crossroad. Some would say that Israel, as a modern democratic country, should adopt the American-styled system of "Separation of Synagogue and State". Some would disagree, pointing out that Israel is the fulfillment of our religious destiny as a nation and that Israel should be governed by civil and Jewish religious law. Arguments in support of this latter point of view may be drawn from some of our quotations above. What are your thoughts on this issue? Should Israel have a constitution? A Bill of Rights? Should there be a separation of Synagogue and State? Should there be a Chief Rabbinate and a Ministry of Religion? If yes, what role should they have? What about the Shabbat rules which are applied in certain municipalities? What are your thoughts about the Knesset voting on a bill to ban women from wearing tallit/tefillin at the Kotel and reading from a Torah scroll there? Recalling that each nation has its own unique character, how can Israel be a modern democratic country and still retain a strong religious commitment to its historic destiny as the "People of the Covenant"
February 16, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, Ph Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 25:1-27:19; Hertz, p. 326; Etz Hayim, p. 485 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 25:1-40; Hertz, p. 326; Etz Hayim,p.485 Haftarah: I Kings 5:26-6:13; Hertz, p. 336; Etz Hayim,p.499 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (25:1-9) God commands that (set-aside) gifts - terumah- be taken from the Israelites for the building of the Tabernacle - Mishkan. (25:10-40) Instructions for making the Ark (Aron) and its covering, the Table (Shulhan) and its accessories, and the Menorah. (26:1-30) Detailed instructions for the making of the Mishkan: the cloth covering, the gold clasps, and the goat hair tent over the Mishkan. Instructions regarding the 48 planks of the Mishkan, and their joining above by means of the rings, and inside by means of wooden bars. (26:31-35) The curtain (Parochet) dividing the Mishkan and screening the Holy of Holies (Kodesh ha-Kodoshim) where the Aron was placed. (26:36-27:19) The screen (Masach) for the entrance, the Altar (Mizbeah), and the enclosure or courtyard (hatzer) of the Mishkan. This Shabbat's Theme: "Where is God?" "Let them make Me a sanctuary so I may dwell among them" (Exodus 25:8) A. O God, where shall I find You? All hidden and exalted is Your place. And where shall I not find You? Full of Your glory is the infinite space (Yehudah Halevi, 1080-1142?, poet, philosopher, author of Kuzari, Spain) B. There is no place without God (Sa'adiah ben Yosef, 882-942, Gaon, head of the major yeshivah - academy - in Pumbedita, Babylonia) C. "The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool; where is the house that you may build for Me? No house can be My resting place, for all these things My hand has made." (Isaiah 66:1-2) D. Since God is infinite, how can we say that the Tabernacle is the dwelling place for the Shechinah? The Kabbalists utilize the concept of Hashem's *tzitzum (contraction) to resolve this enigma. The All-Powerful God chose to withdraw the intensity of His presence unto Himself. The Tabernacle become the focal point of this concentration. He did this out of the love for His Chosen People so that He could establish His dwelling among them in order to lavish upon them His protection and His blessing. (cf.
Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah, Shemos, p. 366) *Note on the Concept of "Tzimtzum": Jewish mystics believe that the same process of God's tzitzum (contraction) also occurred with the universe's creation. Before Creation, the cosmos was totally filled with God, leaving no room for anything else. To create the material universe, God, who is incorporeal and omnipresent, provided a vacuum or "space" for Creation through the act of tzitzum - "withdrawal" into Himself. (Author) "Where is the dwelling of God?" This was a question with which Rabbi Mendl of Kotzk once surprised a group of learned people who happened to be visiting him. They responded as one, "What a thing to ask! Do we not say in the Kedushah prayer that 'the whole world is full of God's glory'?" The Kotzker Rebbe answered: "Yes, that is true. But the greater truth is that God dwells wherever we let God in." (Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, The Later Masters, p. 277) The Kobriner Rebbe once turned to his Hasidim and asked: "Do you know where God is?" Then he took a piece of bread, showed it to them all, and continued: "God is in this piece of bread. Without God's manifestation of His power in all nature, this piece of bread would have no existence." (M.S. Kleinman, Or Yesharim, p. 87) Why did God reveal Himself to Moses in a bush of thorns? In order to make manifest that there is no place where His radiance is not. It may even be found in a thicket of thorns." (Midrash Shemot Rabbah 2:9) Pantheism is a theory which holds the view that God is not a separate being, but is either the entire natural order or an aspect of the entire natural order. Either the universe as a whole is God, or the power or force that pervades the whole of the cosmos is God. God is everywhere, and is everything, or is in everything. Perhaps the most famous presentation of pantheism is the metaphysical system of Baruch Spinoza (1634-1677, Amsterdam). He sought to establish that God and nature were one and the same substance and that everything that exists or takes place in the world is an aspect of God... According to the Spinoztic view, God has no personal qualities, since He is not a being independent of, or separate from, the universe. Thus, through comprehending the structure of the universe, by grasping the vast scientific system, one is expressing the intellectual love of God. (R. Popkin, Philosophy Made Simple, p. 113)
"Sparks" for Discussion: Where is God to be found? Our Torah reading indicates that God commanded the Israelites to establish a ifan Mishkan dwelling place - for Him so that He may be in their midst. For the Hebraists among us, you can see the connection between the word ifan - Mishkan and the word vbhfa - Shechinah (the Divine Presence). This concept seemingly creates a problem theologically. The quotations above represent different and some very unique answers to the question of God's presence. (God is in a piece of bread!) Though Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jewish community, one can detect some commonality between his pantheistic-type thinking and Jewish mysticism/ Hasidism.
Given all of this, let us ask what is the meaning behind God's command to build a place for Him to dwell? Does this have any contemporary relevance to us visa-vis the establishment of synagogues? Do we believe in sacred spaces? What does Catholicism have to say in this matter? Other Faiths? Finally, what other theological possibilities do you see in the concept of oumnhm - tzimtzum (God) contracting inwardly? What practical applications do you see? I see one. I believe good teachers will occasionally practice tzimtzum so as to allow room for their students to grow by their own intelligence. So too does God practice "tzitzum" with humankind. Postscript It occurred to me today that I might spend a whole year in Shul, reciting morning prayers, afternoon prayers, evening prayers, and never have a religious experience. A discouraging notion... Yet, I must not ask for what cannot be given. Shul was not invented for a religious experience, In Shul, a religious experience is an experience of religion. The rest is up to me. (L. Wieseltier, Kaddish, p,119)
TETZAVEH - SHABBAT ZACHOR
February 23, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 27:20-30:10; Hertz, p. 339; Etz Hayim, p. 503 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 27:20-28:30; Hertz, p. 339; Etz Hayim, p. 503 Maftir: Deut. 25:17-19; Hertz, p. 856; Etz Hayim, p. 1135 Haftarah: I Samuel 15:1-34; Hertz, p. 995; Etz Hayim, p.1280 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (27:20-28:30) Instructions concerning the oil for the Ner Tamid, the fashioning of the Ephod and breastplate. (28:31-39) The directions for the High Priest's uniform. (28:40-43) The clothing of Aaron's sons, i.e. the ordinary kohanim. (29:1-18) Instructions for the ritual consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests. (29:19-37) Instructions for the consecration of Aaron and his sons during their seven days of inauguration. (29:38-46) Instructions concerning the Tamid, the daily sacrifice. (30:1-10) Instructions concerning the fabrication of the incense altar and its special function. This Shabbat's Theme: "Who Is 'Amalek' Today?" This Sabbath which comes right before Purim is known as "Shabbat Zachor" because we are admonished in our maftir to "remember Amalek", a ruthless enemy who without provocation, attacked the weak and unarmed Israelites in the desert. According to tradition, Haman the arch-enemy of the Jews in the Purim epoch, was a descendant of the brutal Amalekites. "Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt. How, undeterred by the fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in the rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven. Do not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) A. "You shall blot out the memory of Amalek..." A people so devoid of natural religion as to kill non-combatants had forfeited all claim to mercy. (J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch, p 856)
B. "You shall not hate an Edomite, for he is your brother" - good or bad, he is your brother. "You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a sojourner in his land " - good or bad, for among them you lived many years. But as for Amalek - "Remember what Amalek did to you" - they were and remain the persecutor of the weak. (Pesikta Rabbati 47b) C. 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing - Closure surely is a balm for grief, and we can only hope that the mutilated families will find it. But if the rest of us are now lulled into complacency by a well-conducted trial's fair outcome, that's not closure - it's amnesia. Timothy McVeigh didn't come from nowhere. (Frank Rich, The New York Times, June 5, 1997, after McVeigh was convicted for murder in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing) D. "And Haman said to King Ahasuerus: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the King's laws. It is not in your Majesty's interest to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed...'" (Esther 3:8-9) E. Grant them civil rights? I see no other way of doing this except to cut off all their heads on one night and substitute other heads without a singl Jewish thought in them. (Johann Fichte, a leading philosopher of the German Enlightment, and first rector of the University of Berlin, 17621814) F. The Jew serves (the anti-Semite) as a pretext; elsewhere his counterpart will make use of the Negro or the man of yellow skin. (Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew, p. 54) G. Rabbi Elijah Schochet, in his brilliant scholarly work "Amalek, The Enemy Within", presents another interpretation of Amalek's behavior which is expressed in later rabbinic writings: Essentially, all agree that what the Amalekites did was utterly reprehensible. Yet, it never could have happened if the Israelites had not brought their vulnerability upon themselves. In this regard, the saintly Lithuanian sage, Rabbi Israel Meir haKohen, known as the "Hafez Hayyim", deemed the quarrelsome state of the Israelite community, with its incessant internecine feuding, as the causative factor in bringing about Amalek's attack. He asserts, "Had the Israelites but been unified as a community, the divine clouds would surely have shielded them from all harm". The homilist concludes his observations with an appeal for unity among his contemporaries, bidding them to heed the truth of the promise that "...as long as Israel remains united, Amalek has no power over them" (cf. Schochet, p. 61) "Sparks" for Discussion: In Jewish categories of thought and expression, the mention of Amalek connotes a particular form of behavior which is considered to be both cowardly and odious. Accordingly, the term "Amalek" has always been identified in our historic conscience with and applied to certain situations (e.g. pogroms), specific people (e.g. Haman), to certain nations (e.g. Germany). "Amalekite behavior" or attacks directed against the vulnerable and weak can be applied, of course, universally just as well. A few examples readily come to
mind but none has more relevance to us today then what we have witnessed in recent times - brutal acts directed against defenseless people by an organized form of terrorism. Terrorist acts such as those carried out on September 11th in the U.S. and those perpetrated again and again against Israel's civilian population have an ancient precedent. They are truly a throwback to the cowardly, vicious activity of biblical Israel's ancient inveterate foe - the Amalekites. It is interesting to note that in years past, one might have felt a bit uncomfortable about the biblical commandment found in this Shabbat's parashah, - to "blot out" - to completely eradicate the Amalekites. But what about now? What are your thoughts "post 9/11"? Would you equate the impassioned, forceful remarks of the U.S. President about completely obliterating terrorism and any government harboring terrorists with the sentiments of the ancient Amalekite commandment to "blot out" such evil? Finally, why is this commandment one that the Jews would particularly understand?
KEE TISSA - SHABBAT PARAH
March 2, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 30:11-34:35; Hertz, p. 352; Etz Hayim, p. 523 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 30:11-31:17; Hertz, p. 352; Etz Hayim, p. 523 Maftir: Numbers 19:1-22; Hertz, p. 652; Etz Hayim, p. 880 Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38; Hertz, p. 999; Etz Hayim, p. 1286 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (30:11-16) Instructions concerning the contribution of the half shekel as a means of taking a census of men fit for military service. (30:17-38) Instructions concerning the fabrication of the brass basin used for washing up before entering the Sanctuary and the manufacture of the anointing oil and the holy incense. (31:1-11) Bezalel is appointed in charge of Tabernacle construction. (31:12-17) A special warning regarding the sanctity of the Shabbat. (31:18-32:6) God gives Moses the two tablets of the Covenant. Meanwhile, down in the Israelite camp, the people despair of Moses' return, and demand of Aaron that he make a "god" for them. The result is the Golden Calf. (32:7-35) God tells Moses what the people are doing, and threatens to destroy them. Moses descends the mountain, sees the people dancing around the calf, and in a fit of anger breaks the tablets. The actual worshipers of the calf, 3000 in number, are put to death. Moses intercedes for his people and ascends Mt. Sinai once again. He pleads with God, who relents from destroying the entire people, though He sends a plague as punishment. (33:1-11) God tells Moses to lead the people toward the Promised Land and says that He will no longer dwell in their midst. The people must strip off their finery as an act of contrition. God continues to speak to Moses directly. (33:12-23) Moses pleads to be able to see God as a confirmation both of his authority and his relationship with God, but that request is denied, "for a human may not see Me and live." God does promise that Moses will be able to see His "back," i.e., have an indirect manifestation of His Presence. (34:1-9) Moses returns to Mt. Sinai for the third time and receives the revelation concerning God's Thirteen Attributes. (34:10-26) The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel, with further instruction concerning the keeping of the mitzvot.
(34:27-35) After forty days, Moses receives the second set of Tablets. He comes down from Sinai, his face shining with rays of light. This Shabbat's Theme: "Investigating The Charities To Which We Give" This shall they give... a half shekel of the sacred shekel. (30:13) A. In commemoration of this commandment, on Purim, it is customary to contribute half of one's country standard coin to a communal charity, as an expression of the concept that everyone has an equal responsibility to participate in meeting the community's needs. B. Whoever sees a poor person asking (for assistance) and ignores him and does not give him tzedakah has transgressed a negative commandment as it is written in Deut. 15:7: "Do not harden your heart, nor shut your hand against your needy brother" (M. Maimonides, Gifts to the Poor, 7:2) C. Rabbi Abin said: The poor person stands at your door and the Holy One blessed be He stands at his right hand as it is written in Psalms 109:31: "He stands at the right hand of the needy". (Midrash Vayikra Rabbah 34:9) D. Rabbi Nahman said: This world is like a water wheel - the bucket that is full empties while the empty becomes full. E. Our sages were not blind. They knew that some beggars were frauds... (and yet some) were duped by dishonest beggars as in the case of Rabbi Hanina who was accustomed to sending four zuz to a certain poor person every Erev Shabbat (Friday evening). One time he sent the money with his wife. She returned and said to him, "There is no need... I overheard them say: 'On what will you dine - on the linen tablecloths or on the dyed silk ones?'" (Talm. Ketubot 67b-68a) F. Whoever does not need to take yet takes, will not depart the world until he is dependent on others... and whoever is not lame or blind and pretends to be, will not die of old age before he becomes like one of them, as it is written in Proverbs 11:27: "He who seeks evil, upon him it will come" (Mishnah, Pe'ah 8,9) G. Rabbi Abbah did not want to embarrass the poor by having to look at them, following the principle of mattan baseter (giving in secret) but he was wary of cheaters. He, therefore, would wrap some coins in his kerchief and drag it behind him as he walked by the houses of the poor. As the coins fell out he carefully kept his eyes open for cheaters. (Ket. 67b) H. A person should not give a penny to the communal charity purse unless it is under the supervision of a person (as honest as) R. Hananyah ben Teradyon. (Talm. Bava Batra 10b) I. One does not need to investigate honest collectors. But in order that they be "clean before the Lord and before Israel" (Numbers 32:22), it is good for them to give an accounting. (Shulhan Arukh YD 257:2) J. Giving tzedakah is good, but giving wisely is even better. Danny Siegel writes: "...you do not want to give to wasteful organizations. On the other hand, you would not want to withhold useful, perhaps critical tzedakah money from people who are laboring with love and care to make good
things happen in this world. (D. Siegel, "Which Tzedakah...", Baltimore Jewish Times, Feb. 8, 1991) "Sparks" for Discussion: A bag lady accosts me on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and asks me for a quarter, Should I ask her why she doesn't go out and get a job? A "schnorer" (charity collector) knocks on my door, holds out a letter signed by an eminent rabbi and asks me to contribute to a yeshivah in Jerusalem. Should I check out the letter and the yeshivah? I enter my local Jewish bookstore and see five "pushkes" on the counter. Should I automatically put in a quarter in each, or should I read the fine print and investigate each charity's legitimacy? Lastly, I receive many direct mail solicitations every month. Should I send a small donation to each, or investigate every charity that asks for money and send a larger contribution to the one that deserves it most? (NOTE: Rabbi David Golinkin's booklet, "Responsa in a Moment: Halachic Responses to Contemporary Issues", pp. 51-56 for the halachic responsum given to the above questions.) Some Further Questions: How concerned are you that a huge amount of money raised in some Jewish organizations is used for expenses? Just how bad is it, in your opinion? How do you feel about the way money raised for Israel is distributed among the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform entities there?
VAYAKHEL-PEKUDEI - SHABBAT HA-HODESH
March 9, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Exodus 35:1-40:38; Hertz, p. 373; Etz Hayim, p. 552 Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 35:1-37:16; Hertz, p. 373; Etz Hayim, p. 552 Maftir: Exodus 12:1-20; Hertz, p. 253; Etz Hayim, p. 380 Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18; Hertz, p. 10; Etz Hayim, p. 1290 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary Vayakhel (35:1-3) An additional warning about observing the Shabbat. (35:4-35:20) God instructs Moses to collect all the contributions and prepare the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). (35:21-29) The people of Israel bring their gifts in extravagant measure. (35:30-36:7) Betzalel and Oholiav are appointed to supervise the making of the Mishkan. The Israelites cause a "problem": "The people are bringing more than is needed." Moses announces: No more, thank you. (36:8-37:16) The making of the cloth walls, roof, planks and bars of the Mishkan; the making of the Parochet (cloth partition) and curtain for its doorway; the construction of its various vessels; an accounting of the materials used in building it; description of the Ephod (priest's outer garment) and breastplate. (37:17-38:8) The construction of the Menorah, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar, and the bronze basin. (38:9-20) The construction of the enclosure of the Mishkan. Pekudei (38:21-39:32) A description of the priestly garments. (39:33-43) The Mishkan and its vessels are brought to Moses. He sanctifies them. (40:1-16) God commands Moses to set up the Mishkan and to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests. (40:34-38) God causes His Shekhinah (Holy Presence), to dwell in the Tent of Meeting.
This Shabbat's Theme: "Looking at Rosh Hodesh Anew" "Ha-Hodesh Hazeh - This month (Aviv/Nisan) shall be to you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you" (Ex 12:2) This Sabbath is called "Shabbat ha-Hodesh". The name is derived from the special Maftir reading today which begins with the above verse. Shabbat haHodesh always falls closest to the upcoming beginning of the new month (Rosh Hodesh) of Nisan and is meant to alert us in advance to the celebration of Passover (just in case some of you may have forgotten). A. The celebration of a new month Rosh Hodesh has deep roots in Jewish tradition and in fact, was regarded as an important semi-festival. In ancient Israel, the day was celebrated with special sacrificial offerings and the suspension of everyday occupations (I Samuel 20:18-34; II Kings 4:23). It was a day for sounding the trumpets at the Sanctuary (Num. 10:10). It was also considered a favorable time to offer religious instruction (II Kings 4:23). The prophets regularly mention the new moon festival and the Sabbath jointly, naming the new moon festival in the first place. From Amos 8:5, it is proved that trading was prohibited on both alike - "When will the new moon be over, that we may sell again? And the Sabbath, that we may offer corn for sale?" In Isaiah 1:13-14, the new moon festivals stand at the head of the list of the seasonal holy days, including the Sabbath. The new moon of the seventh (biblical) month (Tishre) was observed as a Sabbath in addition to the usual worship on the day of the new moon, and was designated as a special Sabbath (Lev. 23:23). This celebration assumed the character of a new year's festival, later to be called Rosh Hashanah. (Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts, p. 563) B. Rosh Hodesh is now counted among the minor festivals, because in the course of the centuries, and especially after the destruction of the Temple, it lost its festive character. The only observances still associated with Rosh Hodesh are liturgical. There are no restrictions on work and no special rituals. In former times, pious women used to refrain from working on Rosh Hodesh - a custom based on the tradition that the women of the generation of the desert were rewarded with a festival of their own because they refused to cooperate when their husbands asked them to give their jewelry for the Golden Calf. (Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 256) C. ...At the building of the Golden Calf, the men willingly donated their jewelry but the women refused to donate theirs (Pikei d'Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 45). However, for the building of the Tabernacle, the women did donate their jewelry. The Tabernacle was dedicated on Rosh Hodesh Nisan. The reward of the women (for that act) was that Rosh Hodesh became their holiday. (Another reason for its association with women) is that women, like the moon, have a monthly cycle. This (explanation) is used as an opportunity for many positive and beautiful statements about women and women's bodies. (Miriam Klein Shapiro, "The Woman's Role", Conservative Judaism, Fall, 1978)
D. "Starting and Growing A Rosh Hodesh Group" - A group of women gathers, either in someone's living room, in the shul library, or at the Jewish Community Center. A leader or facilitator - often a woman who's been involved in organizing this first meeting - has planned an introductory program. The format of this program will vary, depending on the interests, expertise, and experience of the leader-facilitator. Some groups will observe a ritual or celebration that is tied to the theme associated with the Jewish month, while others may begin and end with a brief song, poem or activity, but focus mainly on a semi structured discussion or study session. (Ruth Berger Goldstone/Merle Feld, in Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology, ed. by Susan Berrin, ch.10, p. 88) E. Even though I don't like women's separate services, I recommend that rabbis not be hasty in forbidding them. I do not like them because I want to be where the women in my family pray and, after the service, I want to share reactions with them to all that was said and done. But if there are devout and committed women to whom such services are meaningful, then by all means, they should not be made to feel that their innovation is blameworthy... some of the most cherished halachic rules and institutions of today began as innovations upon which one rabbi or another must have frowned when they were first projected. (Emanuel Rackman, chancellor of Bar Ilan University, quoted in Lilith, Summer, 1986) "Sparks" for Discussion: Rosh Hodesh, the new moon festival, has been on the wane. As Susan Berrin puts it, "There are far more Jewish bird-watchers than there are moonwatchers." (op cit. p. xiv). However, over the past thirty years, Rosh Hodesh, has in a certain measure become especially relevant to Jewish women in search of their spirituality and has taken on new forms of observance. How else might we "renew" the new moon in our time? Where do men fit into this? Or don't they? Postscript "On the eve of each Rosh Hodesh, repent and make restitution by word and deed. Enter the new month as pure as a new-born babe." (Isaiah Horowitz, Shne Luhot Haberit, Author, Gerer Kabbalist, 1555 - 1630) As we conclude the reading of the Book of Exodus, let us rise while the last verse of the& Torah portion is read. At the completion of the reading, let us join in chanting: Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened."
March 16, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Leviticus 1:1-5:26; Hertz, p. 410; Etz Hayim, p. 585 Triennial Cycle I: Leviticus 1:1-2:16; Hertz, p. 410; Etz Hayim, p. 585 Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21-44:23; Hertz, p. 424; Etz Hayim, p. 606 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (1:1-17) The laws regarding the olah, or burnt offering. The entire animal, except for the hide, was burned to ashes on the altar. The olah described here is brought by an individual as a voluntary offering to atone for neglect of positive commandments. (2:1-16) The laws regarding the minhah, or meal offering. There were two types: communal meal-offerings brought on Passover, Shavuot, and Shabbat, and individual meal-offerings usually brought by people too poor to afford an animal or a fowl. (3:1-17) The laws concerning the zevah sh'lamim, the peace-offering or "offering of well-being." Unlike the olah, which was completely consumed on the altar, the zevah sh'lamim was a sacred meal, shared by donors and kohanim. (4:1-26) The laws regarding the hattat, or sin-offering. A hattat was given for sins one committed accidentally or unknowingly. (4:27-35) Similar sin-offerings, but for the individual. (5:1-26) The asham, guilt-offering. This was given when one was uncertain whether one had offended, or in a case where someone had wronged another, denied his guilt, then later his conscience bothered him and he wanted to confess and make amends. This Shabbat's Theme: "Restoring Temple Sacrifices?" "When any of you presents an offering of cattle to the Lord, he shall choose his offering from the herd or from the flock.... He shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt offering....and the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord, and Aaron's sons, the priests (kohanim) shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar..the burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into sections... Its entrails and legs shall be washed with water, and the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord" (Lev. 1:2-9) A. Prayer is greater than all sacrifices. (Tanchuma, Vayera 31b) B. And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifice as in hearkening to the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, to hearken better than the fat of rams." (1 Sam.
15:22) [The same theme is found in Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21; Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 6:20] In the law of sacrifices, it says, "If a man has a bullock, let him offer a bullock; if not, let him give a ram, or a lamb, or a pigeon; and if he cannot afford even pigeon, let him bring flour. And if he has not even an flour, let him bring nothing at all, but come with words of prayer. (Tanhuma, Buber, Tzav, 8, 9a) Maimonides (Rambam) considers sacrifices as a way to gradually wean the Israelites away from idol worship and as a concession to the customs of the times. (See Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Vayikra, World Zionist Org. p.16) Nachmonides (Ramban), however, writing on Leviticus 1:9, emphatically disagrees with Maimonides and rejects the theory that the sacrificial system was ordained merely as a concession to the times. It may be compared to a king's son who was addicted to carrion and forbidden meats. Said the King, "He shall always eat at my table and soon get out of the habit". (Vayikra Rabbah) Prayer is the means through which we sacrifice our selfishness and greed and get in touch with our powers for truth, mercy and love. (A.J. Heschel, Man's Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism, p.71) Holy thoughts and higher conceptual images therefore have all the efficacy of sacrifices, with all rites pertaining to them." (Abraham Isaac Kook, "The Lights of Penitence," Classics of Western Spirituality, p. 110) "Whoever sacrifices his evil impulse and confesses it, has honored God." (Sanhedrin, 43) In the reading of the Torah, those passages that relate to the sacrificial ritual should not be omitted. The Torah reading is designed to help the worshiper relive, in imagination, the past experience of his People... In the prayer part of the service, we should, of course, eliminate all prayers for the restoration of sacrifices, since we do not wish to see them restored. (Mordecai M. Kaplan, Questions Jews Ask: Reconstructionist Answers, pp. 242-3)
"Sparks" for Discussion: As if the Jewish People don't have enough issues to fight about among themselves! There is yet another contentious issue, that admittedly is a "back-burner" issue now but could possibly lead to a serious schism in the future? What will happen when, God willing, the Third Temple is restored in Jerusalem? Will there be sacrificial offerings as described in this week's Torah reading or not? Here are how things stand now. The Reform and Reconstuctionist movements are opposed to reinstituting the sacrifices. Their synagogues unilaterally omit any reference to "sacrificial offerings" - past or present in their prayers. Orthodox worshipers, on the other hand, fervently pray for the restoration of the Temple service and its sacrificial offerings. Where do we stand as Conservative Jews? Complete elimination of sacrifices? Instituting some sort of symbolic sacrificial ritual?
Perhaps, some broader questions might also be asked here. How do we feel about building a Holy Temple in Jerusalem again? Should the building of another Temple be attempted in the near future or should we hold to the belief that this can only be accomplished when the Mashiah comes? Postscript Where in the Bible should a child begin studying? In ancient times, the Jewish child began the study of Scripture with Leviticus. Why? "Because little children are pure and the sacrifices are pure, let those who are pure come and occupy themselves with pure things (Midrash).
TZAV - SHABBAT HA-GADOL
March 23, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Lev. 6:1-8:36; Hertz, p. 429; Etz Hayim, p. 613 Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 6:1- 7:10; Hertz, p. 429; Etz Hayim, p. 613 Haftarah: Malakhi 3:4-24; Hertz, p. 1005; Etz Hayim, p. 1295 Torah Portion Summary (6:1-16) Instructions concerning the Olah (burnt offering), the perpetual fire on the altar, and the Minhah (meal-offering); the specific meal-offering brought by Aaron and his descendants. (6:17-7:10) Instructions concerning the Hattat (sin-offering) and Asham (guiltoffering). (7:11-21) The Sh'lamim sacrifice. There are three kinds: thanksgiving, in fulfillment of a vow, and as a free-will offering. (7:22-38) The prohibition of eating chelev, the consecrated fat covering the animal's internal organs, and blood. The portions of the sh'lamim that go to the kohanim. (8:1-5) God commands Moses to take Aaron and his sons and assemble the people for the initiation ceremony into the priesthood. (8:6-21) The priests perform a ritual purification and Aaron is dressed in his holy garments. The Tabernacle is anointed, and then Aaron. Aaron's sons are garbed. Then come a series of sacrifices as part of the consecration and purification of the Tabernacle. (8:22-36) The actual ordination ceremonies, lasting seven days. Theme: Mitzvot - Just Do It! "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus..." (Lev. 6:1-2) In the plural, the term "mitzvot" (divine precepts) signifies specific commands contained in the Torah. In talmudic terminology, mitzvot is the general term for the divine commandments, calculated to be 613. They are classified as being either affirmative or negative (prohibiting). The 365 negative precepts correspond to the 365 days of the solar year. The 248 affirmative precepts correspond in number to the parts of the human body (Talm. Makkot 23b). Colloquially, the word mitzvah has come to express any act of human kindness (P. Birnbaum, Book of Jewish Concepts, p. 390).
Some Reflections on Performing Mitzvot A. "Greater is one who is commanded to do something and proceeds to do it, than one who is not commanded at all to do something and yet does it." (Talmud, Kiddushin 31a) B. Since most people regard doing something voluntarily as being morally superior to an obligatory act, this rabbinic dictum seems puzzling. A major reason the Rabbis so valued people acting from a sense of obligation may well have been their belief that such individuals will behave with greater consistency than those who perform commandments voluntarily. The latter will usually stop doing so when they grow tired of them, whereas those who feel obligated will be deflected neither by tiredness nor by a sense of burden. The statement above which the Talmud attributes to Rabbi Hanina makes considerable psychological sense when analyzed in the light of two types of diet. A large percentage of Americans diet, and usually do so for two reasons: to be both more attractive and healthier. As powerful as these motivations are, very few Americans adhere to their diet for three months or more without breaking it at least once. Compare this statistic with the experience of individuals who observe the dietary laws known as Kashrut. They can go a lifetime without eating such foods as shellfish or pork, solely because Jewish law forbids them, not because refraining from them leads to greater physical attractiveness and/or health. If only the American government mandated putting pork into all chocolate products, I easily could shed twenty pounds! (Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, pp.329-30) C. Rav taught that "the mitzvot were given only for the purpose of disciplining and refining people through their observance... For what concern is it to God whether the animal is slaughtered in one fashion or another? Therefore, know that these laws were given solely as disciplining measures with which to refine those who adhere to them." (Beresheet Rabbah 44:1) Would you agree then that the act of performing so many mitzvot in the Jewish religion ("Oy, it's hard to be a Jew!") is meant to serve the purpose of developing self-discipline so that a person would learn thereby to master his/her ethical behavior also? Or perhaps you have another explanation. Focusing on A Favorite Mitzvah A. (Each Rabbi would practice one mitzvah in particular to perfection.) Rab Judah gave his entire mind to his prayer. Rab Sheshet never went about without his tefillin. Rab Huna bar Joshua never went bare-headed. Rab Nahman prepared carefully for the three Sabbath meals. Abbay never failed to serve wine and make a festive day for scholars when a student had finished studying a tractate (Talmud, Shabbat 118b)
B. You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, (Deut. 6:5) C. One expresses love of God by performing His commandments lovingly. There is no com parison between one who serves his master out of love and one who does so out of fear. One who is motivated by fear might rebel if the tasks become too difficult (Rashi), but one who serves out of love is ready to make great sacrifices for the object of his affection. (The Chumash, ArtScroll, p. 973) A Little Bar Mitzvah Humor It was a proud day for Kevin's parents who sat right up in the first row of the synagogue sanctuary at his Bar Mitzvah. When Kevin completed the Haftarah, the Rabbi addressed him and then presented him with gifts from the various organizational arms of the synagogue. The Rabbi then presented Kevin with his own personal gift. It was an umbrella. After the singing of "Adon Olam" at the conclusion of the service and before the Kiddush, Kevin's parents approached the Rabbi totally puzzled and somewhat upset. "Why did you present Kevin with an umbrella and not a Bible?" they asked. The Rabbi answered: "Because an umbrella I know he will open." Shabbat ha-Gadol This Shabbat before Passover is known as the "Great Sabbath" because of the reading of a special haftarah from Malakhi, the concluding chapter of the "Prophets" section of the Hebrew Bible. He prophesies about the arrival of a "yom gadol"- a great day, of the coming of Elijah, the Prophet and the turning of "the hearts of parents to their children, and the hearts of children to their parents".
April 6, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Lev. 9:1-11:47 Hertz, p. 443; Etz Hayim, p. 630 Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 9:1-10:11 Hertz, p. 443; Etz Hayim, p. 630 Haftarah: II Samuel 6:1-7:17; Hertz, p. 454; Etz Hayim, p. 643 Torah Portion Summary (9:1-24) Concluding the narrative of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as kohanim - priests. On the eighth and final day of ceremonies, Moses instructs Aaron and the Israelites in the proper rituals of consecration. Aaron offers a sinoffering for himself, then Aaron and his sons offer a sin-offering on behalf of the people. Moses and Aaron bless the people, and the Kavod (glory) of God descends upon the Tabernacle. (10:1-7) Nadav and Avihu, Aaron's sons, offer "strange fire" which God had not told them to offer, and they die by fire that comes forth from before God. (10:8-11) Kohanim are prohibited from drinking alcoholic beverages when they are to serve in the Tabernacle. (10:12-20) Instructions to the kohanim regarding the various portions of the offerings that they may eat. Moses finds that Aaron and his sons are not eating the portions of the sacrifices that belong to them, and he instructs them to do so. (11:1-12) The signs of kashrut for land animals, and sea creatures. (11:13-23) A list of forbidden birds and forbidden and permitted insects. (11:24-47) A list of animals whose dead carcasses can cause ritual defilement, and the laws regarding ritual impurity and defilement from carcasses of animals and from reptiles. A general warning to guard against defilement and to be concerned about ritual purity. Theme: The Elderly in Our Disposable Society "Aaron's sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them..." (10:1-2) On Valuing Elders A. One of the rabbinic explanations for the tragic death of Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, is that they had low regard for their elders (ie. Moses and Aaron). They asked themselves, "When will these old men die? How
long must we wait to lead the congregation?" (Midrash, Leviticus Rabbah) You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Lev. 19:32) Rabbi Johanan would stand up even before an aged heathen peasant, saying "What storms of fortune has this old man weathered in his lifetime!" (Talmud, Kiddushin 33a) Regarding old age Rabbi Nachman Bratzlever declared three things: o Old men bring stability to Israel and give good counsel to to the people o The prosperity of a country is in accordance with its treatment of the aged. o Elderly men who are popular with young women are usually without wisdom (Sefer Ha-Middot, p. 66) Rabbi Judah said: Be careful to honor an old man who has forgotten his learning (from old age), for both the second Ten Commandment tablets and fragments of the first tablets were placed in the Ark together. (Talmud, Bava Batra 14b) The Book of Job states, "With the aged is wisdom, and with the length of days, understanding" (Job 12:12). Regarding this a talmudic sage declares that "if the old tell you to pull down and the young tell you to build up, then pull down and do not build up. This is so because the pulling down of the elderly is constructive and the building of the young destructive" (Talmud, Megillah 31b) You sense that you are old when you know all the answers but nobody asks you questions anymore. (From "Over The Hill" Quotations)
Aging and the elderly have emerged as priority issues in America. There are new concerns which were not being addressed before. In this regard, we might ask ourselves what should we be considering which might benefit the senior population of our congregations? On Elderly Parents A. Among the storks, the old birds stay in the nests when they are unable to fly while the children fly... gathering from every quarter provisions for the needs of their parents. With this example before them, may not human beings, who take no thought for their parents, deservedly hide their faces in shame? (Philo Judaeus [Jewish philosopher, c. 20 B.C.E.- 40 C.E., Alexandria, Egypt] - On the Decalogue, Sects 115-18) B. If the mind of his father or his mother is affected, the son should make every effort to indulge the vagaries of the stricken parent until God will have mercy on the afflicted. But if the condition of the parent has grown worse, and the son is no longer able to endure the strain, he may leave his father or mother and go elsewhere, and delegate others to give the parent proper care. (Maimonides [Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as RaMBaM (1135-1204). Halachic codifier, philosopher, commentator on Mishnah. Spain and Egypt.], Mishneh Torah, Ch.6, sect. 10)
Do we "owe" our parents, now that they are elderly? If so, what would they probably appreciate most? On Valuing Your Own Old Age A. When Shmuel asked a certain rabbi what he had taught his pupils that day, the rabbi replied: "I explained the verse 'You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old'". Then Shmuel went to the rabbi's pupils and questioned them as to what they learned that day. "Our rabbi taught us how to live," they replied. Shmuel was puzzled so he returned to the rabbi and asked: "You tell me one thing and your students are telling me another. Whom shall I believe?" "The verse we studied," explained the rabbi, "teaches us that we are to revere our elders but we should also respect our own old age. If we live in a manner that when we reach old age, we can truly respect ourselves and have earned the respect of others then Ashray yaldutenu shelo bishah et ziknatenu. "Happy is our youth which has not brought shame to our old age' " (S.Z. Kahana, Heaven on Your Head, p. 131) B. According to all standards we employ (in our society)... the aged person is condemned as inferior... May I suggest that man's potential for change and growth is much greater than we are willing to admit, and that old age be regarded not as the age of stagnation but as the age of opportunities for inner growth. (A.J. Heschel, "To Grow in Wisdom", Judaism, Spring 1977) C. Freed from the cares and responsibilities that have weighed down upon us through the years, only now can we dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to goals beyond ourselves, and make some contribution to an ideal which we believe. We live in a world replete with problems. Instead of sitting and wringing our hands, lamenting the good old days and castigating the new, we can resolve to choose one tiny corner of the world and help set it aright. (R. Gordis, Leave A Little To God, p.246) When thinking about retirement, what do you see yourself doing on a daily basis? Does it include something which lends special worth to your later life?
TAZRIA - METZORA
April 13, 2000 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Lev. 12:1-15:33; Hertz, p. 460; Etz Hayim, p. 649 Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 12:1-13:59; Hertz, p. 460; Etz Hayim, p. 649 Maftir: Numbers 28:9-15 (Rosh Hodesh); Hertz, p. 695; Etz Hayim, p. 930 Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24; Hertz, p. 944; Etz Hayim, p. 1219 Torah Portion Summary Tazria (12:1-8) The laws governing a woman's state of ritual impurity after childbirth. (13:1-59) Laws concerning tzara'at, the severe skin disease resembling leprosy. If judged by the priest to have this affliction, the person was declared unclean and kept quarantined. Metzora (14:1-20) Instructions concerning the ritual of purification and the sacrifices that the metzora (person afflicted with tzara'at) must bring in order to complete the process of ritual purification. (14:21-32) The sacrifices that the person brings if he/she cannot afford the regular ones. (14:33-57) Law of tzara'at on a house; summary of chapters 13 & 14. (15:1-33) Rules governing discharges of various bodily fluids and their effect on the ritual purity of the individual. Theme: Illness and Faith "When the skin of one's body sustains a burn by fire, and the patch from the burn is a discoloration, either white streaked with red, or white, the priest shall examine it. If some hair has turned white in the discoloration, which itself appears to go deeper than the skin, it is leprosy that has broken out in the burn. The priest (kohen) shall pronounce him unclean; it is a leprous affection." (Lev. 13:24-25) A. When a person is in pain, what does the Divine Presence say? "My head aches. My arm aches." (Talmud, Sanhedrin 46a) B. The Torah gave permission to the physician to heal as it is written: "he shall cause him to be thoroughly" (Exod. 21:19); moreover, this is a religious precept, and it is included in the category of saving life. (Yosef Karo, Shulhan Aruch, Y.D. 336:1)
C. "Heal us, O Lord, and we shall be healed. Help us and save us, for You are our glory. Grant perfect healing for all our afflictions. For You are the faithful and merciful God of healing. Praised are You, Lord, Healer of his people Israel." (from the Amidah prayer in the weekday liturgy) D. On September 11, ten days before my 47th birthday, I was diagnosed with leukemia. Until that day, I had assumed that health and sickness were separate, distinct terrains. I've since learned that those boundaries don't really exist. Instead, the world is composed of the sick and the notyet-sick. (Paul Cowan, "In the Land of the Sick," The Village Voice, May 17, 1988) E. An illustration of the estrangement of our people... Rarely does one find a prayer book or Bible near the bedside of a Jewish patient. But ever so often the rabbi is petitioned, "Pray for me." (Sol Landau, Length of Our Days: Focus on Judaism and the Personal Life, 1961) F. I'm not going to be alive much longer, so I'm planning my demise and memorial service. I've always admired the Jewish religion and I want to acknowledge that I'm Jewish. The only way now is through a memorial service which ties to my background and who I am. (Sheldon Golub, quoted in "AIDS - How can Judaism Help?", Hadassah, August/September 1992) G. If the universal experience of illness were addressed by the Jewish community, I think any number of people would find their way back to a Jewish connection. (Simha Weintraub, rabbinic director of National Center for Jewish Healing, in Newsday, May 7, 1996) H. Major illness is a life cycle event, bringing with it questions of faith, spiritual longings and the need for community. If medicine speaks the language of cure, then religion speaks the language of healing. (Avis D. Miller, Sh'ma, May 27, 1994) I. Perhaps the central healing practice which the (Jewish) tradition teaches is the mitzvah of bikkur holim, visiting those who are ill. There is a natural tendency toward isolation at times of illness. Not only are we often physically displaced from our usual roles as workers, parents and community members, but we often experience psychological isolation as well. The mitzvah of bikkur holim mitigates the existential aloneness and abandonment that illness often brings. (Nancy Flam, "Healing of Body; Healing of Spirit", Sh'ma, Oct. 3, 1997) J. A notice in The Jewish Week, December, 2000: Singer-songwriter Debbie Friedman will lead a healing service on Thursday evening... etc. The service features prayer, reflection, readings and music and is designed for those looking for ways to handle stress, illness or loss with renewed energy and hope. Debbie Freidman's "Mi Shebeirach" Prayer Mi She-bei-rach a-vo-tei-nu M'kor ha-bra-chah l'i-mo-tei-nu May the source of strength Who blessed the ones before us Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing, And let us say, Amen Mi She-bei-rach a-vo-tei-nu M'kor ha-bra-chah l'i-mo-tei-nu Bless those in need of healing With r'fu-ah sh'lei-mah The renewal of body, The renewal of spirit, And let us say, Amen. (Music by Debbie Freidman; lyrics by Debbie Freidman & Drorah Setel) "Sparks" for Discussion: "Faith healing" is a pretty touchy subject for some people. Yet we notice that recently there seems to be a growing interest among Jews in what is called the "Healing Service." Some Jewish worshipers maintain that more emphasis should be placed on prayers for healing; that a one or two minute mi shebeirach prayer at the Torah Service is simply inadequate. If more prayers for healing were to be introduced into the regular worship service, where would you place them? Perhaps, it would make more sense to hold a separate gathering for such prayers on a weekly or monthly basis at the synagogue. What are your thoughts on the matter? Some Ancient Observations About Health A. When someone sees white leprous-like spots on his skin, what should he do? Should he examine them himself? "No", the Torah advises. He should go to the Kohen, who will look at them and determine if they are the disease tzora'at; because a person does not see his own faults (Talm. Negaim, Chap. 2, Mishnah 2) B. There are eight things that taken in large quantities are bad for a person but in small quantities are helpful: travel, sex, wealth, work, wine, sleep, hot bath and bloodletting. (Talm. Gittin 70a) C. Up to forty, food; after forty, drink. (Talm. Shabbat 108b)
AHAREI MOT - KEDOSHIM
April 20, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Lev. 16:1-20:27; Hertz, p. 480; Etz Hayim, p. 679 Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 16:1-17:16; Hertz, p. 480; Etz Hayim, p. 679 Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15; Hertz, p. 509; Etz Hayim, p. 705 Torah Portion Summary (16:1-28) The order of worship on Yom Kippur, including the sacrifices and the practice of the scapegoat. (16:29-34) Laws and practices of Yom Kippur, including the command to fast. (17:1-16) The prohibition of slaughtering animals any place except the Altar; the prohibition of eating blood, or eating any animal which has died (nevelah) or been torn (trefah). (18:1-30) A warning to keep away from all idolatrous practices; a list of the categories of forbidden marriage and other forbidden sexual relationships, followed by a general warning to avoid abominable behavior and follow God's ways. (19:1-14) Laws of holiness, including the mitzvah of imitating God: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." (19:15-22) Miscellaneous mitzvot which express the overall theme of this Torah portion, including just judicial proceedings, love of one's neighbor, and respecting elders. (19:23-37) Other mitzvot, including "orlah", the prohibition of eating a tree's fruit until its fourth year; prohibitions of pagan and occult practices; the requirements to respect the aged, treat the stranger fairly, and have honest weights and measures. (20:1-27) Miscellaneous prohibitions and a concluding passage on the laws of holiness which sanctify the Jewish people and make them distinctive among the nations. Discussion Theme: What/Who Is A "Scapegoat"? "Aaron shall take the two he-goats and... he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel." (Lev. 16:8-10)
"Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. Thus the goat shall carry on it all the iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness." (16:21-22) "He who set the Azazel-goat free shall wash his clothes and bath his body in water: after that he may reenter the camp." (16:26) A. There are three principal interpretations of the term Azazel: 1. It characterizes the animal. This interpretation is based upon the word which may be rendered to mean ez ozel - "a goat that departs" or (e)scape goat (hence, the word "scapegoat"). This is the view of the Septuagint. 2. It denotes the place to which the animal was dispatched. This is the view of most rabbinic commentators. Saadiah ben Yosef Gaon (Babylonia, 882 - 942 C.E.) renders it as "rugged cliff". The inference is that it was a place that was craggy, with an abundance of sharp stones. The goat would certainly plunge to its death. 3. Most modern biblical commentators agree that it is the name of an evil demon inhabiting the desert. In the "Book of I Enoch", Azaz'el appears as a ringleader of rebel angels who seduces mankind. Accordingly, in this ceremony, iniquity is being cast out into the mythic region of Azaz'el or evil. (Author) B. There seems to be a connection between the scapegoat and the (castigated) cult of se'irim in Lev. 17:7 - "that they may no longer offer their sacrifices to goat-demons after whom they stray." This was perceived by Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain-Italy, 1089-1164 C.E.). In a cryptic comment he states: "If you are able to understand the mystery of the word "Azazel" you will comprehend both its mystery and the mystery of its name, for it has analogues in Scripture. And I will disclose to you a bit of a mystery: When you understand thirty-three, you will know it." (It so happens that) Lev.17:7, which refers to the riddance of the ancient cult of the se'irim, is the thirty-third verse after Lev 16:8 where the name Azazel is first mentioned. (Baruch Levine, JPS Torah Commentary, pp. 250-251) C. The rites of the scapegoat have frequently been compared with those prescribed for the treatment of certain ailments and infections. Thus, an individual afflicted with the symptoms of tsara'at, a skin disease, was to be purified by means of a complex ritual involving two birds, one to be slaughtered and the other to be sent forth into the open sky after being dipped in the blood of the first. (Ibid. see Lev. 14:49f for a description of the ritual) D. There are many different interpretations of the ritual of the scapegoat. Moses Maimonides ("RaMBaM", Spain - Egypt, 1135-1204) states that the scapegoat is an active allegory meant to make the sinner understand that his sins will inevitably lead him to a "wasteland". Isaac Abarbanel (Spain-Italy, 1437-1508) sees the two goats as reminders of brothers
Esau and Jacob. Esau was a hunter in the wilderness, while Jacob's life was marked "for God". (Ronald Isaacs, Sidrah Reflections, p. 148) E. The term "scapegoat" was apparently coined by William Tyndale, the first great English Bible translator. Thereafter, it came to be used for a person, animal, orobject to which impurity or guilt of a community was formally transferred and then removed...in common usage today, a scapegoat is someone whom people blame for their own misfortunes, and even for their faults and sins - though the original notion of a scapegoat actually included the acknowledgment by the community of its own transgressions. (Bernard Bamberger, W. Gunther Plaut, Editor, The Torah: A Modern Commentary, p.860) "Sparks" for Discussion: We now have a good deal of background for our discussion of the "Azaz'el" ritual. Do you have any insights that might be added? My colleague, Rabbi Philip Graubart, has suggested that though, according to our tradition, we may repent from our sins by "casting them out", we are cautioned by the "Azaz'el" ritual to remember that the realm of evil "croucheth by the door" - that it is still there, quite near to us. Evil is a constant. It's something that you have to deal with in life. You can't ignore it and hope it will go away. Scapegoats. Who would you say were deemed as "scapegoats" in the past? Who appear to be the "scapegoats" in our world today? Who could possibly be blamed as "scapegoats" in the future? What kind of circumstances would you say creates "scapegoatism" in the world? Is it an inevitable"human condition" or can it be prevented? How?
April 27, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Lev.21:1-24:23; Hertz, p. 513; Etz Hayim, p. 717 Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 21:1-22:16; Hertz, p. 513; Etz Hayim, p. 717 Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31; Hertz, p. 528; Etz Hayim, p. 734 Torah Portion Summary (21:1-22:15) Prohibitions against the priest (kohen) coming near a dead person. The marital laws of the priest, and the special holiness of the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) concerning marriage and bereavement. (21:16-22:16) Laws concerning a kohen who has been rendered ritually impure. Who is permitted and forbidden to eat the meat of the sacrifices. (22:17-33) Defects that disqualify an animal from being sacrificed, and other related laws. (23:1-34) Laws concerning the holiness of Shabbat, Passover, the bringing of the first omer offering, the counting of the omer, and the holiday of Shavuot. Laws concerning Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. (24:1-9) The Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) and the Showbread, twelve loaves left on display in the Tabernacle. (24:10-16) An incident of blasphemy and the punishment of the blasphemer: death by stoning. The law of blasphemy for the future. (24:17-23) Other laws which have major penalties - murder and causing severe injury. Theme: Shame, Come Back, Shame! "You shall not profane My holy name" (Lev. 23:32) A. Not to profane the Divine Name (hillul ha-Shem) imposes an unconditional sacred obligation on every Jew. Any act by a Jew which is a defamation of God's name is considered a sin. A Jew can avoid such defamatory behavior by cultivating the human emotion of shame which prevents him/her from discrediting God and Judaism. (Author) B. Where there's no shame before people, there's no fear of God. (Yiddish proverb) C. "Ah harpeh und ah shandeh far der goyim!" --- "Oy, ah shandeh far der shechainim!" (Yiddish variations on same theme) D. Jerusalem was destroyed because its people had no shame. (Ulla ben Ishmael, Talmud, Sabbath 119a)
E. The chief of all ten virtues is a sense of embarrassment. (Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Poet, Spain, 1021-1058, Mivhar ha-Peninim, #48) F. Rabbi Maurice D. Solomon once wrote: In those tearful High Holiday prayers through which a Jew sought to retrace his lost tracks, we read of a strong promise by G-d - "If your sins be as red as yarn, they shall be whitened as snow." Why this color scheme of red and white? Of what significance is the color of our misdeeds? The prerequisite based on color is indeed important, as if to say; "If your sins will make your face red, only then will they (your sins) be cleansed to be a pure white" - that is, if your face knows how to redden, to blush with shame, then and then only can there be hope for teshuvah. (The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle) G. Shamelessness continues to saunter down Main Street, bold as brass. Oprah, Ricki, Maury, Montel, Phil, Geraldo and so on have created a new genre of entertainment by encouraging their guests to confess infidelity, bestiality, sadism, costumed sex, child beating and so on - not as confessions, but indignant boasts that attack the whole idea of shame. (Henry Allen, "Perspectives", Networker, July/August, 1996) H. While the rest of the world still offered human sacrifices to their gods, and engaged in sacred prostitution, Judaism condemned such practices by unabashedly pointing a finger of guilt at such shameful rites. The Jewish Faith strove to bring the Jewish people, indeed the world, to a new level of morality. Debauchery was innately unacceptable to the Jewish people for it was considered to be an open affront to God's "good Name" since we are a reflection of His image. Oppressing the poor or the stranger in our midst or taking advantage of a widow or oppressing an orphan were all considered to be acts which denied God's Name since God Himself promised to intervene on their behalf. And so, over the course of time, as adherents of the Jewish Faith, we have developed a religious sensitivity to that which is shameful in all of its forms - in the world surrounding us and in our own conduct. Simply put, as Jews, we have come to accept the sacred obligation from the Torah to know when to feel ashamed. (David Blumenfeld, High Holiday Sermon, 5757-1996) I. The sting of shame is the only pain the ego cannot bear and the only blow that may cause its forces to shrink and retreat... Unto Thee, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but unto us shamefacedness. (Daniel 9:7) J. "Why is this so? Said Rabbi Nehemiah: Because even when we perform righteousness, we survey our actions and are filled with shame" (Exodus Rabbah 41:1; Abraham J. Heschel, God In Search of Man, p. 401-2) Some people just don't have any sense of shame at all as is reflected in the following anecdote: It seems that a particularly wealthy Jew had never contributed to the Jewish Federation/UJA campaign, though he was asked to do so many times over the years. So one evening a special high-level delegation went over to his place to solicit a donation from him. After a few social niceties they finally confronted him directly and said: "Look, Morris, we know everything about your financial situation. Not only do you own this magnificent mansion outright, we know about your incredible place in Palm Beach and about your gorgeous chalet in Switzerland. You drive a Rolls Royce, your wife has a Mercedes and we know
that you opened twelve new stores this year. So we truly anticipate a very substantial contribution from you this year to the campaign." The wealthy man, Morris, sat through the entire speech totally unperturbed. When they finished, he responded as follows: "You think you checked into my background so deeply? - Well, let me tell you, did you also find out that my mother has been in the hospital for the past few weeks with a serious heart condition? Do you have any idea what 'around-the-clock' nurses cost? Did you find out about my uncle who is in a mental institution and absolutely has no insurance? And how about my widowed sister, who has seven children, three of whom need extraordinary medical attention? Well I just want you to know... if I don't give any money to them, what makes you think that I'm going to give any to you!!" Punchline Man is the only animal that blushes or needs to. (Mark Twain, Following the Equator, Vol. I, Pudd'nhead Wilson, Chap. 27)
May 4, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Lev. 25:1-27:34; Hertz, p. 531; Etz Hayim, p. 738 Triennial Cycle I: Lev. 25:1-38; Hertz, p. 531; Etz Hayim, p. 738 Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 -17:14; Hertz, p. 551; Etz Hayim, p. 762 Torah Portion Summary Behar (25:1-7) The land shall be sanctified through the shemittah, the Sabbatical year of agricultural rest. (25:8-17) Also, every 50th year is a Jubilee, in which all land and slaves are to be released. The land returns to its original owners, the slaves are freed. Thus, no land is sold forever; it is in effect a lease until the next Jubilee, which must be reckoned in the price. (25:18-22) Faithful observance of these laws is to be rewarded with ample crops in the sixth year of the seventh cycle, so that there will be enough food for two years. (25:23-38) Even between Jubilee years, families must help impoverished relatives regain their holdings. An Israelite or resident alien who becomes impoverished should be loaned money at no interest. (25:39-55) Laws limiting the power of a slave owner. (26:1-2) Laws against idolatry, and for the observance of Shabbat. Behukotai (26:3-13) The blessings of peace and prosperity Israel will receive if they follow the way of Torah and mitzvot. (26:14-46) The curses and punishments that Israel will suffer if they violate the covenant, including defeat in war, famine and exile. It concludes with words of comfort; if the people of Israel will return to God in repentance, God will forgive them. (27:1-13) Laws concerning a vow to donate the valuation of a person and of an animal to the Temple. The Torah sets forth specific shekel amounts for different aged males and females. Pledges of animals to the sanctuary. (27:14-29) Laws concerning the redemption of houses and fields, the redemption of the firstborn, and the devotion of property to the Temple.
(27:30-34) Laws concerning the tithe of fruit, sheep and cattle; the conclusion of the Book of Leviticus. Discussion Theme: When Earth (and I) "Gets Weary" "The seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of the Lord; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land." (Lev. 25:4-5) Why A Sabbatical for Earth? A. The sabbatical year may have been of practical benefit in preventing the exhaustion of the soil, but that was not the intent of the law. It was rather an expression of the Sabbath idea; and, like the weekly Sabbath, has no parallel in the other cultures of the ancient Near East (Bernard Bamberger, The Torah, A Modern Commentary, ed. W. Gunther Plaut, p. 941) B. The land is personified. It, too, tires and requires rest. (Baruch Levine, JPS Torah Commentary, Leviticus, p. 170) C. The fallow, as described in the Torah (above and elsewhere), has nothing to do with crop rotation and does not seem to have had any agricultural value, such as that of replenishing the soil; no other crop was planted that year nor were the fields worked as this was strictly forbidden during the Sabbatical year... Martin Noth is undoubtedly correct in considering it an example of restitution integrum, when the land was permitted to return to its undisturbed rest. (David Lieber, "Sabbatical Year and Jubilee", Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 14, p. 577) Why A Sabbatical For Us Humans A. Thousands of years of Jewish experience about these matters is embodied in the wisdom of Shabbat and the sabbatical year - a time to work and a time to rest, a time to build and a time to heal - so our work does not destroy us. (Arthur Waskow, Moment, June 1992) B. Every commandment in our Torah has a physical as well as a spiritual meaning. Man must not waste his body. He must not indulge in things that are harmful to his body. He must not cramp seventy years' life in one year. He must not become over-civilized, all shut up and covered by thicknesses of polish upon his natural self. At intervals, he must revert to his natural state (as land does in its sabbatical). Work is a blessing; overwork is a curse. Production is a necessity; over-production is a ruination. Voluntary work is a delight; slavery (to one's vocation) is a dungeon of darkness... Even as the soul must have freedom, the body must have rest. Providing the time to be able to learn (i.e. Torah) affords a man with what his soul really craves. (Morris Mandel, Leo Gartenberg, Treasures From the Torah, pp.194-5)
"Sparks" for Discussion: We recognize that the observance of the Sabbath offers us the opportunity to allow our fatigued bodies and minds to rest. So too, we are commanded to allow our workers and animals to rest. Now here, in our Torah portion, we see that even the land "needs a break" - every seven years. It is interesting to note an associated practice which developed among Jews in talmudic times when agricultural work lessened during sabbatical years and at certain seasons. Semi-annual gatherings were held during the spring and fall to which the name "Kallah" was given. The Kallah functioned like a popular university, attracting scholars and laymen alike from all over - who came for extended study. Could that be a possibility in our time, of organizing extended study "retreats" (my colleague, Dr. Morton K. Siegel insists and rightly so, on calling them instead "advances") for lay people? Certainly, "Elder-Hostel" study programs have taken hold nicely. So too, the week-long IMUN and SULAM Programs of the United Synagogue have been enormously popular. And more recently - we see the marvelous success of our "Yeshiva" for adult study at the Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem. Such programs are for extended periods of study. Returning to this week's parashah, we see the possibility of recapturing the grand idea of a "sabbatical" for lay people. In some other religions (for instance, Mormonism) lay-adherents take time off to intensify their faith. How realistic is this for us? How can we accomplish this objective through our synagogues, seminaries, camps, conference centers, etc.? We conclude the Book of Leviticus on this Shabbat. Let us rise as the last verse of the Torah portion is read today, and join together in chanting; Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek "Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another."
May 11, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 1:1 - 4:20; Hertz, p. 568; Etz Hayim, p. 769 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 1:1 - 1:54; Hertz, p. 568; Etz Hayim, p. 769 Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18-42 (Mahar Hodesh); Hertz, p. 948; Etz Hayim, p. 1215 Torah Portion Summary (Num. 1:1-47) God orders Moses and Aaron to take a census of the male Israelites of military age, 20 years and older. Along with their designated assistants from each tribe, they take the census; the grand total, except for the Levites, is 603,550. (1:48-54) Special tasks of the Levites in caring for the Tabernacle. (2:1-3:13) The organization, order, and physical layout of the camping and travel of the Israelites in the desert. The total enrollment of the Israelites, minus the Levites, is reiterated, and we learn of the special enrollment of the Levites, their tasks, and how they came to replace the first-born sons. (3:14-39) The enrollment of the Levites from the age of one month and up, according to their respective clans, descended from Levi's sons Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. (3:40-51) Census of first-born males; their replacement by the Levites. (4:1-20) A second census of the Levites between the ages of 30 and 50, this time in order to determine the number needed for their tasks during the period of wilderness wandering. The Kohathites census and their appointment to the special task of carrying the holy vessels. Discussion Theme: I'm a Jew and Darn Proud Of It Take a census of the Israelite community (Numbers 1:2) A. "Take a census.." Literal translation is "lift the head." This rendering led Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl to comment, "Let the Israelites hold their heads high in pride as they contemplate who their ancestors were." B. "Lift up (your) head" may suggest two interpretations. It may mean that the Jew must live his/her life with head erect. He/she must reflect the dignity and self-respect of a loyal member of the House of Israel. "Lift up (your) head" may also mean to exalt the mind, respect learning, and pursue knowledge. These two interpretations are intimately related. Knowledge of our faith and pride in our heritage are essentials for a rich
and creative Jewish life. (R. Hillel E. Silverman, Rabbinical Assembly Homiletics Service, 1989) I am a Jew because my faith demands no abdication of the mind I am a Jew because my faith demands all the devotion of my heart I am a Jew because wherever there is suffering, the Jew weeps I am a Jew because whenever there is despair, the Jew hopes I am a Jew because our faiths's message is the oldest and the newest I am a Jew because the promise of our faith is a universal promise I am a Jew because for the Jew the world is not complete; people must complete it... (Abridged. Edmond Fleg, 1874 - 1963, France) When I was growing up as the only Jew in my high school, I discovered that I was representing all the Jewish people in everything I did. I was changed by that experience. I knew they would judge all the Jewish people by the few Jews they knew. (Eli N. Evans, The Lonely Days Were Sundays, Reflections of a Jewish Southerner, 1993) For our generation of Jews, this crisis generation doesn't attract us. It's all negative. I'm not going to be a Jew because six million Jews died in the Holocaust. I'm not going to be a Jew because Israel's threatened. (R. Neil Weinberg, in Embracing the Stranger,, Ellen Jaffe McClain, 1995) For too many years, we have expressed ourselves, not by learning Judaism and the pride that comes from that, but by writing checks for Israel and feeling pride in that country and its mighty army. We face extinction in the Diaspora, that's the real threat. (Edgar M. Bronfman, The Making of a Jew, 1996) I have no problem saying this; I've been doing it for thirty years. I am first and foremost a Jew, only then an Israeli. (Ariel Sharon, Jerusalem Post, November 3, 1995) In the 50's and 60's, we made people feel Jewish by talking about Israel and the Holocaust. In the 90's and the 21st century, we have to make people take Israel and the Holocaust seriously by teaching them to be serious Jews. (R. Harold S. Kushner, interview in 92nd Street Y Review, Winter, 1995) Jews were not put here just to fight anti-Semitism. (R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik) The paradigm today is no longer one of being, but of meaning; the question no longer how, but why: Why be a Jew? (Rabbi Rachel Cowan, The New Spirituality in Jewish Life, Cummings Foundation Annual Report 1994)
"Sparks" for Discussion: It has been said that the two "hot button" issues which generate the strongest reaction among Jews today are: anti-Semitism and Israel. Even those Jews who are far removed from religion will react, at least viscerally, to openly virulent statements or acts in both of these areas. But the question arises as to whether these two issues are influential enough or even valid enough in forging/fostering a positive Jewish identity in our time.
How do we develop a sense of Jewish pride for the next generation of Jews? Are you familiar with the "Israel Birthright Program"? It is a program especially geared to bringing college age youth over to Israel for an organized visit at no cost to them. What do you think about that approach? Can such a program have a truly tramsformative effect on young people - so much so that they return home deeply and permanently proud of being Jewish? What else do you think could create a sense of Jewish pride and identity for today's younger generation of Jews?
May 25, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 4:21-7:89; Hertz, p. 586; Etz Hayim, p.791 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 4:21- 5:10; Hertz, p. 586; Etz Hayim, p. 791 Haftarah: Judges 13:2-25; Hertz, p. 602; Etz Hayim, p. 812 Torah Portion Summary (4:21-49) The continuation of the census of the Levites, and their responsibilities in serving at the Tabernacle. (5:1-4) A short list of certain ritually impure individuals who were to be exiled from the camp. (5:5-10) Laws of theft and restitution. (5:11-31) The laws of the unfaithful wife, the sotah, and the testing ordeal to which she was subjected. (6:1-21) The laws of the Nazirite, a person who took a vow to accept extra restrictions upon himself: abstaining from alcoholic beverages, not shaving or cutting his hair, and other extra ritual purity restrictions. (6:22-27) The Priestly Blessing. (7:1-89) The Nesi'im, the chieftains of each of the 12 tribes, bring a joint gift, carts, and oxen for the transportation of the Tabernacle when it is disassembled for travel. Then, on 12 consecutive days, they each bring identical gifts for the Tabernacle. Discussion Theme: Mental Theft and Plagiarism When a man or woman commits a wrong (theft) toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt. he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution for his guilt in full and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged (Numbers 5:7) A. Why is thievery deemed to be so egregious a crime that it is singled out here and described as "breaking faith with God"? In answer to this question, I recall what I once learned in a talmud class. Our teacher asked us whether an armed robber is to be considered worse than a thief. Naturally, one would be inclined to say that an armed robber is worse. But it was pointed out to us that though both are criminal acts and the armed robber is clearly more dangerous, it is the stealthy thief who is considered worse from a religious perspective. The reason? Because the
thief clearly lacks faith in God, thinking that he can sneak around without being seen. (Author) A form of thievery that is considered particularly bad according to our tradition is the stealing of another person's trust under false pretenses. In Leviticus 19:11, we read: "You shall not steal; you shall not deal deceitfully with one another." Samuel said: "The Commandment 'Do not steal' includes the prohibition against stealing a man's mind with misleading words. No one may steal a person's mind, not even a pagan's" (Talm. Hullin 94a) There are seven sorts of thieves, and the first of them all is he who steals the mind of (i.e. deceives) another person For example, he who makes a show of wanting to give gifts to someone, knowing full well that the person will not accept them (Talm. BK, vii, 8) or a person who presses someone to come to a lavish meal, while knowing in advance that the other person will not accept the invitation. (Talm, BB, vi, 14) A merchant may not combine different grades of produce in one bin. A wine salesman whose wine has become diluted with water may not sell it unless he makes it known to his customer, and in any event, he may not sell it to another vendor, even if he makes full disclosure, for fear that the second salesman will deceive his customers. (Talm. BM, iv:11) What follows here is an example of how our Jewish ancestors strictly avoided benefiting from any form of behavior which even mistakenly might have been derived by deceiving others. It shows how far reaching and how serious the prohibition of mental theft was taken. Rabbi Safra was once saying his morning prayers when a customer came by to buy his donkey. Because he refused to interrupt his prayers, Rabbi Safra did not answer. Interpreting the rabbi's silence as disapproval of the price offered, the buyer offered a higher amount. When the rabbi still did not answer, the buyer raised his offer again. After the rabbi finished his prayers, he said to the buyer, "I had decided to sell you my donkey at the first price you mentioned, but I did not want to interrupt my prayers to speak to you. Therefore, you may have it at that price - I will not accept the higher bids." (Aha of Shabha, Babylonian scholar, 680-752 C.E., She'iltot, section 252; quoted from F. Klagsburn, Voices of Wisdom, p.308)
On Plagiarism A. "Whoever reports a saying in the name of its originator brings the world toward redemption" (Pirkei Avot 6:6) B. From Judaism's perspective, a person who takes credit for a statement made by another is a double thief, misappropriating the credit that belongs to the statement's originator, while deceiving listeners into thinking higher of his intelligence than he deserves. (J. Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p.52)
"Sparks" for Discussion: Plagiarism, as we are all aware, has been around for a long time. With the advent of the world wide web internet and its "search engines" and with the ability to "copy" or "cut" and "paste" on our computers - do you think that a new and higher level of plagiarism has or will come about? What temptations in this regard exist for students in school? In other institutions? As descendants of a religious tradition that militated against "mental theft" in any form, how seriously should we take this new form of misappropriation?
June 1, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 8:1-12:16; Hertz, p. 605; Etz Hayim, p. 816 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 8:1-9:14; Hertz, p. 605; Etz Hayim, p. 816 Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7; Hertz, p. 620; Etz Hayim, p. 836 Torah Portion Summary (8:1-4) Aaron is commanded to light the menorah in the Tabernacle. (8:5-26) The Levites are purified and dedicated for their initial term of service in the Tabernacle. (9:1-14) The first Paschal lamb sacrifice, and instructions regarding the "Second Passover" a month later for those unable to observe it at the proper time. (9:15-23) The cloud over the Tabernacle tells when to travel and to rest. (10:1-10) Two silver trumpets used to signal various matters. (10:11-34) After one year less ten days, the Israelites leave Mount Sinai and travel according to a set order. (10:35-36) The two sayings called out by Moses when the Ark traveled. (11:1-15) The complaints of the people at Taberah, and then about the monotony of the Manna. Moses despairs of leading them. (11:16-35) God gives a share of His spirit to the 70 elders so that they can help Moses lead the people. God sends quail for meat. God then strikes the people with a plague out of disgust with their unrestrained cravings. (12:1-16) Moses marries a Kushite woman and endures criticism from Aaron and Miriam. Miriam is punished by God, but at Aaron's urging Moses prays for her healing. After being quarantined outside the camp for seven days, she returns. Discussion Theme: "Going Too Far" With Ritual Objects? Now this is how the Menorah was made: it was a hammered work of gold,hammered from the base to flower petal. According to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so was the Menorah made, (Num. 8:4) Note: The menorah, originally one among many objects in the Tent of Meeting, has become one of the most familiar symbols of Judaism. Today we use an
eight-branched menorah - now known more precisely as a hanukkiyyah - to commemorate the eight days of the Hanukkah miracle. (Etz Hayim, p.816) A. "And Aaron did so..." (Num 8:3) Aaron was praised because he did not change what he was told to do. (Yehudah Leib Alter, the Gerer Rebbe, Sefat Emet) B. How to make a menorah... What shape should the menorah be? As long as the flames are kept distinct and do not merge to form a bonfire, one has a choice of shapes... (The (first) Jewish Catalog, compiled and edited by R. Siegel, M. Strassfeld, S. Strassfeld, 1973, p. 133) C. Highly recommended: forage in the woods to find your own menorah... The exposed root of a fallen tree, fingers pointing in various directions, is striking and lends itself beautifully to adaption as a menorah... (Ibid) Creativity in the fashioning of ritual objects or paraphernalia is certainly not discouraged in Jewish religious life. In fact, the practice of hiddur mitzvah - "the beautification of a mitzvah" - has much positive support in our tradition. A succah, for instance, may meet the basic structural requirements specified by Jewish religious law but more highly commended is a succah which meets those requirements and additionally, is beautifully embellished with festive decorations. A tallit may be fashioned very simply of cloth with fringes affixed in its four corners. On the other hand, an atarah - "crown" may be fashioned for the edge of one side of the tallit, lending it a special beauty. So too, are there numerous creative examples and a broad variety of Havdalah spiceboxes. Returning to the Menorah as described in this week's parashah, we note that it certainly was fashioned in a manner which reflected an appreciation for distinctive beauty. But emphasis is made that in fashioning it, Aaron was somewhat constrained to do so in a specified manner. Which brings us to a consideration of a trend in our time in the fashioning of Jewish religious objects. Take the hanukkiyyah first. Clearly, in addition to artfully designed ones, there is a growing tendency to developing "kitschy" types. Some, we must say, are actually cute though with a biblical motif (eg. animals entering Noah's Ark) and are obviously geared for use by children. But then there are other types of hanukkiyyot There are those, for instance, that are modeled upon a sports motif with baseball mitts, or basketball hoops (and for grown-up children - golf club bags) that serve as candle holders. Some hanukkiyyot have an assortment of well-known Disney characters holding the candles aloft. Recently, I saw a hanukkiyyah displayed in a Judaica store which had the New York skyline as a backdrop for the candles. Could this be a "post9/11 motif" that is supposed to tie in with the Hasmoneans and Hanukkah? I don't know how you feel but I think we should maintain a certain sense of propriety when it comes to Jewish religious items.
June 8, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 13:1-15:41; Hertz, p. 623; Etz Hayim, p. 840 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 13:1- 14:10; Hertz, p. 623; Etz Hayim, p. 840 Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24; Hertz, p. 635; Etz Hayim, p. 856 Torah Portion Summary (13:1-25) Moses sends 12 men, one from each tribe, to scout the land of Canaan, and to bring a report about the nature of the land and its inhabitants. After 40 days, the spies return bringing spectacular examples of Canaan's produce. (13:26-14:10) Due to the report from ten spies that the inhabitants of the land are too powerful, the Israelites panic and rebel against Moses and Aaron, even to the point of wanting to return to Egypt! Joshua and Caleb plead with the people not to believe the negative spies' report and rebel against God. The people threaten to stone them. (14:11-45) God threatens to destroy the people, but Moses intercedes. God relents, but decrees that this after 40 years of Joshua and Caleb. A group of Israelites test God's threat by trying to attack Canaan, and are repulsed by the Canaanites. (15:1-7) Laws concerning sacrifices. (15:8-31) Further laws on sacrifices; treatment of resident strangers; the law of challah, where a portion of the dough for bread is to be given to the priests. The required offering when a whole community sinned unintentionally. (15:32-36) An incident of Shabbat violation for which the offender was put to death. (15:37-41) The laws of tzitzit, the fringes at the corners of the garments, which are to remind us of God's commandments. Discussion Theme: The Hebrew/Yiddish Sources of English "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Send men that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people..." (Numbers 13:1-2) The translation "spy out" (above) is derived from the Hebrew root - tur. The Akkadian (Old Babylonian) cognate is turu - meaning "to turn around" as in exploring, searching around - hence, spying.
This ancient biblical word - tur - has been adopted into common English usage today (via the Old French tourner - to turn) as in "tour" and "tourist". Touring implies turning around looking at things of interest - checking things out (as did the Israelites who spied out, "toured" so to speak, the land of Canaan). Interestingly, the Hebrew root tur is but one of many Hebrew words that have come down to us and which are used in modern English. A fascinating study on this subject was done by Isaac E. Mozeson and was published in a book called "The Word: The Dictionary that Reveals the Hebrew Sources of English" (Jason Aronson, 1995). In his introduction, Mozeson makes the startling statement that "More English words can be clearly linked to Biblical Hebrew than to Latin, Greek or French". I cannot wholly agree with this observation but nonetheless, it does prove fascinating to see so many modern English words that are directly related to ancient Hebrew word roots. (Author) Here are some examples of English words that are possibly derived from Hebrew: SOURCE/ - srs - so-res (root) EVIL/ - ah-vell (iniquity) FRUIT/ - fay-rot CRY/ - kara (call out) MEET/ - moed (assemble) SODOMY/ - Sodom (city) SCALE/ - shekel (weight) NOZZLE/ - nozel (flow) MAIM/ - moom (deformity) SIGN/ - siyon (marked for distinction) Additionally, we know that our modern English vernacular has been enriched greatly by the usage of such Hebrew words as: kosher, meshugah, shibboleth, chutzpah, etc. Then, of course, there are many Yiddish words that are used in ordinary English speech today. Just to mention a few - shpritz, shtick, shmeer, shlemiel, shlemazel, kvetch, etc. I don't know how you feel but hearing such words used so casually by my non-Jewish friends kind of makes me feel "fahrklempt"!
"Sparks" for Discussion: As Jews, it gives us a special sense of pride to see how Jewish "mother tongues' are in daily use with their very special nuanced meanings. While proud, we also feel a sense of concern. We know that Hebrew has had a true rebirth as a modern spoken language. But what about Yiddish or Ladino for that matter? What will be the fate of these two languages? Could it possibly be that in another generation or two they will become as extinct a spoken language as Latin? What can be done? In the meantime, for those of us who share this concern - it might be a good idea to at least lend our support to such institutions as the National Yiddish Book Center (Amherst, MA). Also, might I suggest that we make certain that people not throw out Yiddish books that they may have inherited from their deceased relatives. Let's bring such books to our synagogues where space should be reserved for them in our synagogue libraries. Finally, might it not be of great worth to provide a familiarization of Yiddish culture to the children of our religious schools? Now, For A Little Yiddish Humor So tell me, if you know Yiddish so well... how do you say "three coins in a fountain" in Yiddish? Ask most people who know Yiddish that question and they will fumfah around with an answer like "drei matbayis in ah, and probably give up. So how do you say "three coins in a fountain" in Yiddish? Very simple... three coins in a fountain = "oysgevorfeneh gelt" (You might want to translate the punchline above to those who do not know Yiddish -- nebich).
June 15, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 16:1-18:32; Hertz, p. 639; Etz Hayim, p. 860 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 16:1-17:1; Hertz, p. 639; Etz Hayim, p. 860 Haftarah: I Samuel 11:14-12:22; Hertz, p. 649; Etz Hayim, p. 876 Torah Portion Summary (16:1-15) Korah and his faction rebel against Moses and Aaron's authority. (16:16-35) Moses proposes a test to Korah and his followers: offer incense before God, and see if He accepts it. After the Israelites withdraw from the rebels, the earth splits and swallows up Korah and his followers. Then a fire consumes the 250 rebellious Levites. (17:1-15) As a warning to future generations, the rebels' copper incense pans are gathered up and beaten into a covering for the altar. After further complaints, a plague breaks out among the Israelites, but Aaron quickly offers incense to expiate their sins. (17:16-24) Each tribal chieftain is asked to take a wooden staff to the Tent of Meeting. Aaron's alone sprouts, signifying that God favors his leadership. (17:25-28) Aaron's staff is left before the Ark as "a lesson to rebels." (18:1-7) The division of tasks among the Priests and Levites, beginning with the assignment of the High Priesthood to Aaron and his descendants. (18:8-20) Neither Israelites nor the priests will be given any territory in the land. Instead, they will be supported by donations and shares of sacrifices. (18:21-32) The Levites are to receive the tithe, 10% of the crops harvested by the people. They are then to give 10% of their portion, a tithe of a tithe, also known as terumah, to the priests. Discussion Theme: Korach the "Kvetch"... And Much More There are definite prototypes in the Bible based upon the marvelous narratives found in it. Abraham is the paragon of hospitality. Joseph is seen to be a tzaddik. Moses, despite his prominence, was deemed to be a humble person. Aaron was ever the peace seeker. And later on.. David and Jonathan represented the paragon of true friendship....and Haman (hiss), of course, is forever the villain. On this Shabbat, we read about a person named Korach. One might say that Korach is the perfect prototype of a "kvetch" (played appropriately by Edward G. Robinson in the film "Ten Commandments"). He was very much like the person
in the anecdote who was standing on line somewhere on a hot day and kept saying, "Oy, am I thirsty! Oy, am I thirsty! Oy, am I thirsty!" Finally, somebody gave him a glass of water. Whereupon he said, "Oy, was I thirsty! Oy, was I thirsty! Oy, was I thirsty!" Korach was a complainer. As the chief grumbler of the Exodus generation in the desert, he challenged the authority and leadership of Moses and Aaron. Like many power hungry demagogues, Korach and his cohorts defined themselves in what they were against and not by a positive image of what they professed. This thought finds expression in the following Mishnah: "Every controversy that is in the name of Heaven shall in the end lead to a permanent result, but every controversy that is not in the name of Heaven shall not lead to a permanent result. Which controversy was in the name of heaven? The controversy of Hillel and Shammai. And which controversy was not in the name of Heaven? The controversy of Korach and all his company" (Avot 15:17) In Jewish lore, therefore, Korach is a prototype. But he is a prototype of much more than the simple complaining kvetch - he is a person who has a powerful need to be recognized as being great. Moses on the other hand is viewed in our tradition as the prototype of a humble person, as it is written: "The man Moses was very meek" (Numbers 12:3). The tendency to deify a person was very much in vogue in ancient times. Kings and mythological figures were often venerated as gods or as being superhuman. Our tradition avoided doing that for fear that it would lead to idolatry. This is the reason why, incredibly at first consideration, Moses does not appear at all in the Exodus story as it is related in the Passover Haggadah. But have we indeed escaped from this tendency to venerate ordinary humans? Rabbi Smuley Boteach (of "Larry King Live" fame) makes an important observation regarding this matter. He writes: "Today's confidence that we have graduated from idolatry is based on the erroneous notion that idolatry entails prostrating oneself before stone, a mountain range, or a golden calf... But the real definition of idolatry is simply living for something other than God, or in the analogy of Maimonides, worshiping the hammer and chisel for the work of the architect. Idolatry means not only worshiping idols but also elevating something human or material to the status of a sacred object. If we were to make an honest assessment and engage in sincere introspection, we would have to admit that all of us who indulge and partake of the popular culture have become closet idolaters. And in no area is this more true than the ardent obsession and fanatical fixation with the lives of celebrities. Our hero worship of those with face and name recognition has gone from a past-time to a devotion; from a form of recreation to a noxious form of veneration... Rather than talk about how we can connect with God, we talk about who Julia Roberts is connecting with. And rather than contemplate the mysteries of the Universe, we seek to uncover the enigma of Marlon Brando... Our ditties today
are women who can wiggle their xxxxxxx at the MTV Music awards and men who can throw a ball through a hoop..." (S. Boteach, Judaism For Every One, p. 106f) "Sparks" for Discussion: One might agree with Rabbi Boteach that in our culture the worship of movie stars, may be equated to the worshiping of the heavenly stars in ancient times. Or do you think he is overstating the case and pressing his point too far? However, consider this. Returning to our Torah reading... is there any relevance in what he is saying about veneration of people - as it applies to Christian, Muslim, Jewish religious leadership in our time?
June 22, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 19:1-25:9; Hertz, p. 652; Etz Hayim, p. 880 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 19:1-21:20; Hertz, p. 652; Etz Hayim, p.880 Haftarah: Micah 5:6-6:8; Hertz, p. 682; Etz Hayim, p. 914 Torah Portion Summary Hukkat (19:1-22) The ritual of the red heifer: a perfect red cow is sacrificed outside the camp, and then burned down to its ashes, which were then used for ritual purification of someone who had touched a corpse. However, someone who is ritually pure and comes into contact with the ashes of the red heifer is rendered ritually impure. This paradox caused our sages to point to this passage as a prime example of a "hok", a Divine decree which cannot be rationally explained and simply must be obeyed. (20:1-13) Moses brings water from a rock by striking it with his staff, contradicting God's instructions to talk to the rock. God tells Moses and Aaron that they will not lead the people into the promised land. (20:14-21) Edom refuses to allow Israel to pass through its territory, forcing them to detour. (20:22-21:3) The death of Aaron; an encounter with the Canaanites. (21:4-10) The people complain against God and Moses. God sends poisonous snakes to punish them. Many Israelites die, but Moses intercedes with God for them. God tells Moses to set up a copper statue of a snake; when anyone was bitten by a snake, he looked at the statue and was cured. (21:11-20) Further stages of the Israelites' journey through the Transjordan wilderness. (21:21-22:1) The conquest of the land of Sichon and Og and all the Transjordan area, the first permanent possessions. Balak (Num. 22:2-20) Balak, King of Moab, invites Balaam, who has the power to bless and curse, to help him by cursing the Israelites. Balaam says he must consult with God before he can decide; eventually God tells him that he may go, "but whatever I command you, that you shall do."
(22:21-38) Balaam sets out riding his ass. On the way, an angel of the Lord appears. He does not see it, but his ass does, and refuses to move. After being beaten three times, the ass speaks and complains of this ill treatment. God then opens Balaam's eyes so that he sees the angel, who also rebukes Balaam for beating the ass. Balaam offers to turn back; the angel tells him to go, but warns him again only to say what God tells him. (22:39-23:26) Balaam arrives in Moab and is received by Balak with great honor. But to Balak's distress, Balaam, compelled by God, twice blesses and praises the Israelites, and predicts great things for their future. (23:27-24:9) Balaam makes a third attempt. In this blessing, he says the famous words of the Mah Tovu: "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!" He concludes, "Blessed are they who bless you, accursed those who curse you!" (24:10-25) Balak, totally infuriated, tells Balaam that he won't pay him, and discharges him. Balaam reminds him that he said all along that he could only say what God told him to say, and throws in a fourth blessing, unsolicited, predicting Israel's conquest of Moab. Balaam goes on to make predictions concerning other nations. Discussion Theme: Cloning - A Modern Dilemma This is the ritual law that the Lord has commanded: Instruct the Israelite people to bring you a red cow (heifer) without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has laid (Numbers 19:2) A. "Red... without blemish" - A cow completely uniform in color, without specks of white or black or without even two black or white hairs, is extremely rare. (Etz Hayim, p.881, note) B. If two hairs of the animal were not red, it was invalid. As a result, the red heifer was rare and costly. Several stories are told in the Talmud about the exorbitant price demanded for it. (See Talm. Jerus., Pe'ah 1:1, 15c; Talm. Bab. Kiddushin 31a) The ritual of the Red Heifer, of course, fell into disuse with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the abolition of this law. Interestingly though there are those who, in preparation for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, are busying themselves these days in breeding the perfect blemishless red heifer. But it still is an expensive proposition. To the rescue - modern science! It has been suggested that just as Dolly, the sheep was cloned from the udder of an adult ewe in Scotland in 1996 that the same method could be applied for the animal prescribed in the Torah for ritual purification. Clearly, this matter is not precisely high on our agenda. But it does remind us again parenthetically of an issue which is bound to surface over and over in the 21st century. C. Concerning cloning, Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff writes: "The creation of cloned animals suggests that cloning of human beings may not be far behind. People are interested in that possibility for a number of good reasons. Scientists could learn much about the etiology and cures of diseases like
cancer and Parkinson's and the technique could be used to overcome infertility. Even when used to accomplish those good ends, though, human cloning poses what are undoubtedly the most intriguing and the most complex moral problems of scientific research." D. "Moral Issues: Who would be cloned?... Human cloning may be open to economic exploitation... What would determine good results?... How would bad results be disposed of?... How would the environment be protected from the bad results?..." (For a full consideration of this subject see E. Dorff, Matters of Life and Death, A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics, pp. 310-324) "Sparks" for Discussion: I'm certain that most of us have done some reading on the subject of human cloning and have probably seen a television program or two on the subject. Let's share what we know (if this discussion is to be held in the synagogue or at our Shabbat afternoon tables at home) and analyze our positions. Is there a "generation gap" on this issue? Are religions differing with each other about cloning? Where do you stand?
June 29, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 25:10-30:1; Hertz, p. 686; Etz Hayim, p. 920 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 25:10-26:51; Hertz, p. 686; Etz Hayim, p. 920 Haftarah: Jeremiah 1:1-2:3; Hertz, p. 710; Etz Hayim, p. 968 Torah Portion Summary (25:10-19) Pinchas is rewarded for his quick action, killing an Israelite who was consorting with a Midianite woman and worshiping Baal. He and his descendants after him will be the High Priest. The Midianites are condemned as enemies of the Jewish people. (26:1-51) The second census, prior to occupying the Promised Land. God tells Moses how the land will be distributed; the location of the tribe's territory will be determined by drawing lots, but the size will be according to the size of the tribe. The Levite clans are listed separately because they did not receive a portion of the land. (27:1-11) The daughters of Zelophchad want to inherit his portion of the land, for he left no sons. God agrees that they may inherit. (27:12-23) Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses as leader of the people after Moses' death. (28:1-15) The daily sacrifices offered on behalf of the community; the additional (musaf) sacrifices offered on Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh. (28:16-30:1) The additional sacrifices offered on Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. This last section provides the maftir readings for all the festivals, and passages from it are also included in the Musaf Amidah, which takes its name from these Musaf sacrifices. Discussion Theme: Ancient and Modern Zealotry The Lord spoke to Moshe saying, "Pinhas, son of Eleazar, son of Aharon the kohen, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his zeal for Me..." Say, therefore, "I grant him My pact of shalom (peace). It shall be a pact for all time, because he was zealous for his God..." (Numbers 25:1214) Is zealotry a good or a bad characteristic for a person to have? In a positive way, it is energizing, it is purposive - leading an individual to a powerful personal commitment to an idea or cause which might be beneficial to society. On the
other hand, zeal can lead to a form of fanaticism which could prove to be extremely destructive. Early rabbinic tradition was divided on whether the zealousness demonstrated by Pinhas was to be considered commendable or not. On the surface, it would seem that his behavior was indeed to be judged as being commendable since the Torah quotes God as saying, " I grant him My pact of shalom... because he was zealous for his God." But it is interesting to note two anomalies which appear intentionally in the actual text of every written Torah scroll. Examine verse 11 closely and you will note that the Hebrew letter yod in Pinhas' name is written smaller than the rest of the letters in his name. And in verse 12 the word shalom (ouka) is written in the Torah with a broken vav. These two unusual occurrences juxtaposed so closely to each other just "begged" for some sort of homiletical explanation by our ancient Sages. The interpretations put forward by them unilaterally convey a strong disdain of fanatical behavior. They maintained that the letter yod in Pinhas' name is written smaller than the other letters in order to show visually that there was a diminution of his Jewishness due to his fanaticism (Note: A Jew is called a "Yid" - from the yod in yehudi) Additionally, it was pointed out, that the yod in Pinhas' name is intentionally diminished in size because it is meant to convey the message that through his act of violence his identity with God (written with two Yod's) was diminished. As for the word shalom, it is written in the Torah with a broken letter; that is to say, part of its vav is missing. This anomaly is to serve as a reminder that the experience and memory of Pinhas' act will forever diminish the "peace" that he was to merit. It would be an imperfect peace. "Sparks" for Discussion: We see then that though our Jewish Faith admires strong commitment to its traditional values and objectives, there is a certain reluctance about encouraging over-zealous behavior on the part of its adherents. Support for this view, is readily seen in the chapters of Jewish history particularly in the time of the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. As the vast military might of the Roman Empire pressed around the walls of Jerusalem, there were many in the Jewish leadership of that time who counseled that the Jewish people should surrender so as to lessen the death and destruction that was inevitably about to come. However, history records that a strong, vociferous group of "Zealots" vehemently insisted on continuing the battle against the Romans and they prevailed. The death and destruction which followed the final brutal battles was so devastating that Judea never recovered. But then again, it might have happened even if they did surrender before the destruction. And now to our time. The tragic events which have been occurring in Israel touches us all very deeply. We all know that Israel must defend itself. In so
doing, there can be no limitations and we should not expect to tell Israel what it has to do. In time though, the existence and expansion of settlements in the "territories" will become a major "sticking point" in any peace settlement. Some who live in these settlements will maintain that it is a God-given right for them to reclaim the "Promised Land" of Judea and Samaria. They will insist that even if there is a Palestinian state, it has no right to make it "Judenrein" - (empty of Jews). Other old timers, joined by young settlers, might express their sentiments by nostalgically singing the old song from Jabotinsky days, - "On The Two Banks of the Jordan". We are cautioned against zealotry. But is this zealotry?
July 6, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Num. 30:2-36:13; Hertz, p. 702; Etz Hayim, p. 941 Triennial Cycle I: Num. 30:2-31:54; Hertz, p. 702; Etz Hayim, p. 941 Haftarah: Jeremiah 2:4-28, 3:4, 4:1-2; Hertz, p. 725; Etz Hayim, p. 972 Torah Portion Summary (30:2-17) Laws concerning vows made by women. (31:1-54) The war against Midian, including the distribution of spoils. (32:1-32) The Reubenites and Gadites ask for the land east of the Jordan. Moses agrees after they promise to participate in the conquest of the land of Canaan. (33:1-49) The Israelites' itinerary during their wilderness wanderings. (33:50-34:15) An additional warning to uproot idol worship from Canaan; instructions on dividing Canaan among nine and a half tribes. (34:16-35:8) A list of the tribal heads. Forty-eight cities are set aside for the Levites. (35:9-34) Laws concerning the cities of refuge. Someone who kills someone else by accident was protected from avenging family once he had reached the city of refuge. This section also deals with judicial procedures. (36:1-13) Final discussions ruling that the daughters of Zelophehad could inherit their father's portion of the Land. Discussion Theme: Give Me Your Word If a man vows a vow to God, or swears an oath to bind a bond upon his soul, he shall not violate his word, for all that has gone forth from his lips he shall do (Numbers 30:3) A. Words are cheap... We send more words out into the universe all the time. Long gone are the days when the writing of words actually took the painstaking time of careful execution with fountain pen and ink... Being able to exercise the "delete" command allows us to be much less careful in our approach to writing words. Imagine how much more careful we would be if the use of a feather quill might allow the reader to see our initial intentions beneath any cross-outs. In the ancient Near East, significant documents were chiseled into stone. A word chiseled into existence is a carefully crafted word. And that is why (today's Torah
Reading) Matot offers us a precious gift. Matot does not treat words as cheap or expendable, but as the incredibly powerful blocks upon which an entire society stands or falls. Matot focuses upon the most powerful kind of word that a person can utter: a neder, "vow". A neder is an extraordinarily powerful kind of word, because it is not a word of description. It is a word of action... Matot reminds you that you can't simply "delete" the words you have uttered. (Rabbi Stacy K. Offner, quoted in The Women's Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, pp. 315-16) B. "No" is an oath, and "Yes" is an oath (Talm, Shevuot 6.3) C. God said to Israel, "Be careful what you vow, and do not become addicted to making vows, for whoever is so addicted, will, in the end, sin by breaking his oath, and he who breaks his oath denies Me without hope of pardon" (Midrash, Tanhuma, Mattot 79a) D. Kol Nidre is a prayer for the nullification of unfulfilled promises and broken vows to God (not to other people). Under normal conditions, and especially under precarious circumstances, people make promises to God (resolutions), and take vows which they later find themselves unable to keep. Recognizing that the broken word spoken silently with God profanes the soul, the Jew desires to have such vows nullified on The Day of Atonement so that he/she may face God with a clear conscience. (However, such nullification of ones word does not take place between one person and another.) The story is told of a certain Rabbi Meir who, on the eve of Yom Kippur, ascended onto the bimah of his synagogue and said to his congregants: " I know that you forgive one another now and are making all kinds of promises, giving your word, but tomorrow you may resume your usual ways. Do you promise to abide by your resolutions to each other?" "We will," they promised. Rabbi Meir turned toward the Holy Ark and began to chant "Kol Nidre" (knowing anyway deep in his heart that their vows would be indeed be broken because that is part of the human condition). (Rabbi Louis Barrish, High Holiday Liturgy, p. 100f) "Sparks" Discussion: Examine the literature of our religious tradition and you will learn that there is a great deal of ambiguity as to the positive value of making a vow. For certain, the seriousness of doing so cannot be underestimated. In fact, an entire tractate in the Talmud is called Nedarim - "Vows". Nonetheless, one wonders if vows (seriously-taken) can help solidify certain important moments or occasions in life. In the Christian Faith, for instance, at a marriage ceremony there takes place what is called an "exchanging of vows". Should there be some element like that formally introduced into the Jewish marriage ceremony? Are we missing out on something? Or maybe, we don't want to give the marriage an "ayin hara". When else would you suggest that a seriously-taken vow could be used in a very positive way?
D'VARIM - SHABBAT HAZON
July 13, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut. 1:1-3:22; Hertz, p. 736; Etz Hayim, p. 981 Triennial Cycle I: Deut 1:1-2:1; Hertz, p. 736; Etz Hayim, p. 981 Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27; Hertz, p. 750; Etz Hayim, p. 999 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (1:1-8) A short introduction to Moses' words of warning spoken in various places during his last days. He reviews some of the important events of the desert wanderings, beginning with the departure from Mt. Sinai. (1:9-18) The appointment of judges and officers that helped Moses in administering the Israelite camp. (1:19-2:1) The incident of the spies that resulted in the extension of the wilderness wanderings to forty years. (2:2-30) The stages of the Israelites' journeys through the territory of the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, with additional details about the inhabitants of those lands. (2:31-3:11) Review of the history of the desert wanderings, describing the victorious encounters with Sichon, king of Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, with the emphasis on God's part in these decisive battles. (3:12-22) The division of the land east of the Jordan among Reuben, Gad, and half of Menashe, who are reminded of their promise to send their warriors on with the rest of Israel to take part in the conquest of Canaan. This Shabbat's Theme: "All the News That's Fit to Print" These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel... (Deuteronomy 1:1) The words that a person speaks or writes, according to our tradition, are to be given and taken seriously. In other words, (pardon the pun), verbal communication between humans is a God-given gift, that is not bestowed upon any other creature. Accordingly, we believe that communication is a blessing to be treasured by us and not to be devalued by using it to create untruths. And yet, we know that the standard of truth which is held aloft so consistently in the final communications of Moses is often dropped, particularly, by those whose special responsibility it is to communicate the truth to others. (Author). In this regard, we offer the following quotations for your consideration.
A. How many pens were broken, how many ink bottles were consumed, to write about things that have never happened! (Tanhuma, Shoftim, 18. quoted by L. Browne, Wisdom of Israel, p. 295) B. "If I had the authority I would institute a law that all public liars, newspaper men, that is, who handle truth carelessly, should be treated as common thieves, and the publishers of their fabrications as dealers in stolen goods (Ashmedai, journalist, "If I Were Censor," American Jewish Chronicle, May 11, 1917) C. I had long known that it was impossible for a journalist to convey a hundred percent of truth, but I didn't realize to what extent the truth is distorted, both by the intentions of the journalist and neglect. I don't mean just the interpretations of what happened; I also mean the facts. The reporting about Sharon and the murders were virtually criminal... The victims were assassinated two times: once by the murderers, the second time by the press. (Roman Polanski, interview with Larry Dubois in Playboy, December 1971) D. Jews are news. It is an axiom of journalism. An indispensable axiom, too, because it is otherwise impossible to explain why the deeds and misdeeds of dot-on-the-map Israel get an absurdly disproportionate amount of news coverage around the world. (Charles Krauthammer, columnist, "Judging Israel," Time, February 26, 1990) E. Half the battle for the future of the Middle East will be won on the day when news about this part of the world will be relegated from page 1 to page 16 in The New York Times and other leading newspapers. (Walter Z. Laqueur, "Is Peace in the Middle East Possible?" The New York Times Magazine, August 27, 1967) "Sparks" for Discussion: For some time now, there has been a great deal of dissatisfaction with the media over its news coverage of the Middle East. Many discerning people view what is called "balanced coverage" of the events in the Middle East as a farce. The dismay over the unbalanced reporting in the printed media (particularly in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times) has given rise to organized protest in the Jewish community. Here is what was said in an advertisement by one group which has been protesting what it considers to be unbalanced and unfair reporting in The New York Times: Our critique of The Times is not its editorial viewpoint, which every newspaper is entitled to have. Our critique of The Times is a lack of balance and fairness in its news stories, headlines and choice of photographs dealing with Israel, in violation of The Times' own policies. A few examples: 1. A large photo on the front page after the Israel Solidarity March on May 5th that featured an "End Israeli Occupation of Palestine" sign distorting what really happened (This egregious mistake in judgment occasioned an editors note on the following day)
2. An article describing the death of two girls, a 17-year old Israeli and an 18 year old Palestinian as two high school seniors whose lives intersected, divided by war but joined in carnage... It put a homicide bomber on the same level as an innocent girl shopping for the Sabbath... This is moral relativism at its worse. 3. The 39 day standoff in the church of the Nativity was continually referred to as an Israeli "siege", not an occupation by armed Palestinian terrorists... who were turned into victims taking "refuge" in the church. 4. In articles describing the terrible attacks against the World Trade Center or the USS Cole, the term "terror" was freely used, But in describing the terrible attacks of Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade, the perpetrators were described as militants or activists. (There is no such thing as" bad terror" and "good terror") More incredible examples of "the shading of events" could be cited. Do a few more come to mind to you? But what do you think about the response to such unfair, unbalanced reporting? The suggestion has been made and indeed already followed that 1) subscriptions to offending newspapers be canceled or suspended 2) Obituary notices from organizations be withheld and possibly be placed in other newspapers 3) Communicate errors and distortions to the offending papers 4) Convey to corporate advertisers strong disapproval of unbalanced coverage in offending papers and ask that ads be diminished or suspended until change occurs. Do you agree with this strategy? What would you suggest?
VA'ETHANNAN - SHABBAT NAHAMU
July 20, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut. 3:23-7:11; Hertz, p. 755; Etz Hayim, p. 1005 Triennial Cycle I: Deut 3:23-5:18; Hertz, p. 755; Etz Hayim, p. 1005 Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26; Hertz, p. 776; Etz Hayim, p. 1032 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (3:23-29) Moses pleads with God to enter the Promised Land. (4:1-40) An admonition to follow God's laws to preserve the covenant. If Israel breaks God's law and worships idols, they will be scattered among the nations. However, God will not absolutely abandon them; when they repent, they will return. (4:41-49) Moses designates three cities of refuge east of the Jordan. (5:1-30) Historical review of the revelation at Sinai and restatement of the Ten Commandments. (6:1-3) A warning regarding the observance of the mitzvot. (6:4-9) The Shema. (6:10-25) An exhortation to keep the words of the Torah coupled with a reminder of all the good things God has done for his people. (7:1-11) On the role of Israel and dealing with the idolatry of the surrounding nations. This Shabbat's Theme: "Constructive Revenge" "And the Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the children of Israel and say to them, when you pass over the Jordan into the land of Canaan then you shall designate certain cities to be cities of refuge so that a person who killed another person through error may flee there. The cities of refuge shall be a place of refuge from the avenger, so that the unwitting killer will not die but will be brought to judgment." (Num. 35:9-12) As some of you may know, my daughter, Laura Blumenfeld has written a nonfiction book (published recently by Simon & Schuster) called "Revenge: A Story of Hope". The book focuses on one of the most powerful emotions that we all share in common - revenge. Written in narrative style, she explores the subject and in so doing, arrives at some interesting conclusions which I would like to share with you at the end of this Shabbat's "Torah Sparks". But first let us analyze ever so briefly the Jewish view on revenge.
At the outset, we should make this unequivocal observation. The Jewish attitude toward personal revenge or vengeance is totally negative. We should feel fairly confident in making this observation because it is based upon one of the most recognized verses in the entire Bible - Lev. 19:18. The second part of the verse, is famililiar to all of us. It states: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself". But it is the first part of that verse which speaks directly to us on our subject when it commands: "You shall not take vengeance, nor shall you bear any grudge against your kinspeople". This negation of any type of vengeful behavior finds frequent expression in Jewish religious writings. Let it suffice for our purposes now to quote but just one example. In a 17th century cabbalistic work, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (c. 1565 - 1630) counsels: "If your neighbor wronged you, forgive him at once... Would you punish your hand vengefully for having hurt the other?". One wonders though - what about the Holocaust? If revenge was ever to be considered as a possibility, it certainly could be understood as a perfectly appropriate reaction to the horrific events of the "Shoah". We know that, in fact, many survivors struggled powerfully with themselves precisely over this matter. One well-known survivor put his feelings in a bestseller book which is probably known to you. It is called " The Sunflower" and the survivor who wrote the book is Simon Weisenthal. In the book, Mr. Wiesenthal describes how one day he was taken from his work detail in a Nazi concentration camp to the bedside of a dying member of the SS whose head was completely swathed in bandages. The dying Nazi extended his hand to him and in a cracked whisper confessed to having participated in the burning alive of an entire village of Jews. The soldier, terrified of dying with this burden of guilt, begs to receive absolution specifically from a Jew, from Simon Wiesenthal. How did he react and the question of how would you have reacted is the basis of the book. Would you have had compassion for the young dying Nazi soldier, would you have turned off his life support system or would you have perhaps just simply walked out? When talking to survivors on the subject of revenge, one discovers that many of them have found their own form of nekamah. Some would say that their children and their grandchildren are their revenge. The Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Lau who is a survivor, surely speaks for many survivors when he says that the establishment of the State of Israel is the best form of nekamah - revenge. Others like the Satmar, the Gerer, the Bobover, and the Lubavitcher Hasidim find their nekamah in striving to establish strong, religious communities as they seek to resurrect the splendor of their destroyed former Jewish communities in Europe. For them and all religiously committed Jews, the best form of nekamah is to see and hear our young studying the very same learned Jewish books that the Nazis tried to destroy in their maniacal bonfires. There is a common pattern then that seems to emerge in our minds out of all of this. We see that our tradition does not permit us to engage in acts of revenge. As Jews, we believe that revenge essentially is unsafe in the hands of human.
According to our belief, only God can wreak vengeance. It is so stated in Psalm 94 which we recite every Wednesday morning in our liturgy. Recognizing that revenge will always exist and that it is part of the human condition, like such emotions as love and jealousy - how then are we to deal with it? We do have choices. In response to a vicious act by another, one could apply the approach of an "eye for an eye". A second well-known possibility would be to "turn the other cheek". However, realistically speaking, both do not seem to work that well in real life because the first leads to an unending cycle of violence and the second is simply unrealistic. Laura in her book suggests a third approach which she calls "transformation". Instead of trying to tear the other person down or apart, one should use that fierce inner hurt for the purpose of self-betterment ("constructive revenge"). Looking back, sensing personal growth and improvement can be the best "nekamah". And perhaps, one might even attempt to transform one's assailant in a positive way.
July 27, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut. 7:12-11:25; Hertz, p. 780; Etz Hayim, p. 1037 Triennial Cycle I: Deut. 7:12-9:3; Hertz, p. 780; Etz Hayim, p. 1037 Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3; Hertz, p. 794; Etz Hayim, p. 1055 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (7:12-26) Encouragement in following the commandments, and not fearing the Canaanites. You must destroy all the idols of the nations you conquer. (8:1-18) A warning against overconfidence: Once you have occupied this good and fertile land, don't forget that God brought you there. Thank God for the land and its goodness whenever you eat. Verse 8:10 forms the basis of the practice of reciting Birkat ha-Mazon (blessing after meals). (8:19-9:3) Future existence depends upon loyalty to God. (9:4-29) As part of a long section of exhortation and teaching, Moses reviews some of the history of the Israelites in the wilderness in order to draw instruction from it. One example is the incident of the Golden Calf, the breaking of the Tablets, and Moses' prayer of intercession to God. (10:1-11) The making of the second set of Tablets. (10:12-22) The conclusion of Moses' second speech to Israel, a warning to "fear the Lord and walk in all His ways." (11:1-12) A review of the miracles God did for Israel in the wilderness, and praise of the goodness of the Land that they will soon inherit. (11:13-25) The second paragraph of the Shema, tying the bounty of the land to Israel's faithfulness to the covenant; an exhortation to keep the Torah and its commandments. This Shabbat's Theme: "World Hunger" When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you. Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in... beware least your heart grow haughty. (Deut. 8:10-12, 14) A. BirKat Ha-Mazon, also called benshen, is the grace recited after meals which include bread. It is based upon the biblical commandment cited above. There is also an abridged form of grace, known as auka ihgn
which is a short summary of the first three paragraphs of the BirKat HaMazon. It is recited after meals that do not include bread, but food consisting of the seven species as enumerated in the Torah. Any food that does not consist of these seven species calls for the shortest form of grace, known as ,uapb truc which reads: "Praised are You ...for all the things that You have created to sustain every living being..." In effect then, we see that after partaking of any food, from a mere morsel to a sumptuous meal, one should sense that an expression of gratitude to God is called for. B. The Birkat consists of three ancient blessings, to which a fourth blessing was added later on (along with supplementary petitions). The first blessing is believed to be the most ancient. It gives the essence of the prayer - which is thanksgiving for the food partaken. What should be noted though in particular is that in form and content it is a universal prayer that applies to all of humanity. It may even be said that it is "cosmic" in that it affirms God's care and concern for all His creatures. As a rabbi who was called upon to recite an opening prayer before a meal for community or secular organizations, I felt perfectly comfortable in reciting the opening paragraph of the Birkat (in English, of course) because of its universal expression. Here is how it reads: "Praised are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who feeds the whole world with Your goodness, with grace, with lovingkindness and tender mercy. You give food to all flesh for Your lovingkindness endures forever. Through Your great goodness, food has never failed us. May it not fail us forever and ever for Your great Name's sake, since You nourish and sustain all beings. You bestow that which is good unto all and You provide food for all Your creatures whom You have fashioned. Praised are You, O Lord, who provides bounty unto all... and let us say, Amen." The only difficulty that one might have with this universal prayer is that it concludes by saying that food is provided for all. But unfortunately, that is not the case. As we are well aware there is a serious problem of world hunger. We cannot blame it on God either. We must blame it on ourselves. "Unlike most of the problems with which we are asked to engage, hunger is a soluble problem. We may not know what to do about poverty, and we may not know what to do about arms control, but hunger is a problem that we do know how to solve... According to a World Bank study, 'At the global level, if food distribution were different, present output of grain alone could supply every man, woman and child with more than 3,000 calories and 65 grams of protein per day - far more than the highest estimate requirements. Eliminating malnutrition would require redirecting only about two percent of the world's grain output to the mouths that need it. The fact is that hunger is not a shame or a scourge; it is, pure and simple, a scandal." (Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger. Pamphlet)
"Sparks" for Discussion: The plight of the hungry is constantly before us. Every day throughout the world, 40,000 people, mostly children, die of hunger or diseases related to hunger. There are nearly 15 million such deaths every year. One billion people go to sleep every night suffering from the scourge of hunger. And everything goes on... Shouldn't we feel their pain more than we do and actually do something about it? In 1989, the United Synagogue initiated a project called "Operation Isaiah" to help alleviate hunger. As part of the High Holiday observance, Conservative congregants throughout North America have been bringing food items to their respective synagogues on Kol Nidre Eve for distribution to the hungry. This is just one way that we can fulfill the mitzvah of feeding the hungry. Cognizant that the High Holidays start at the very beginning of September this year, it is not too early for us to begin organizing and publicizing "Operation Isaiah" in our synagogues now at the end of July. Let's all of us at least do that in our synagogues this year!
August 3, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, Ph Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut.11:26-16:17; Hertz, p. 799; Etz Hayim, p. 1061 Triennial Cycle I: Deut.11:26-12:28; Hertz, p. 799; Etz Hayim, p. 1061 Haftarah: Isaiah 54:11-55:5; Hertz, p. 818; Etz Hayim, p. 1085 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (11:26-32) Israel is given a choice: "See, this day I set before you blessing and curse," and warned to obey God's commandments. A covenant ritual is established to be performed at Mounts Gerizim and Ebal. (12:1-19) The beginning of the Deuteronomic Code. The Israelites must destroy all pagan shrines and centralize worship "at the place that the Lord shall choose." (12:20-28) Permission is given to eat meat without offering it as a sacrifice first, a necessary provision once all sacrificial worship is centralized in one place. Eating blood, however, is still prohibited everywhere. (12:29-13:19) An additional warning against following Canaanite practices; laws concerning the false prophet, the person who entices others to worship false gods, and the traitorous city. (14:1-21) A review of the laws of kashrut, including the signs of kashrut in animals, fish, and fowl, and the prohibitions of eating an animal that has died a natural death, a "torn" animal, and of eating milk and meat together. (14:22-29) Laws concerning the second tithe. (15:1-11) Laws concerning the shemittah, or Sabbatical year. Laws concerning tzedakah and help for the poor. (15:12-18) Laws concerning the Hebrew slave. (15:19-23) Laws concerning the first-born of animals, which were dedicated to God. (16:1-17) The celebration of the three Pilgrimage Festivals: Pesah, Shavuot, Sukkot. This Shabbat's Theme: "Judaism and Vegetarianism" When the Lord enlarges your territory, as He has promised you, and you say, "I shall eat some meat" for you have the urge to eat meat, you may eat meat whenever you wish. If the place where the Lord has chosen to establish His
name is too far from you, you may slaughter any of the cattle or sheep that the Lord gives you, as I have instructed you; and you may eat to your heart's content in your settlements. (Deut. 12:20-21) A. It has been suggested that the purpose of Shehitah (Jewish ritual slaughtering) is to indicate a reluctance to allow the eating of meat altogether. In Genesis it is written: "And God said: Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed - to you it shall be for food" (Gen. 1:29). Meat is not mentioned here among the foods permitted to man. Only after the flood was Noah told: "Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all of these" (Gen. 9:3). The implication is that man ideally should not eat meat because it entails taking the life of an animal. Later on there was an effort to limit the use of flesh to sacrifices. How else can we explain the biblical passage (from our parashah)? The permission to eat meat was thus a compromise. Hence the eating should, at least, be controlled by refraining from eating certain parts of the animal, especially the blood, and by special regulations governing the preparation of the meat. (Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 309) B. Along with the permission to eat meat, many laws and restrictions (the laws of kashrut) were given. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook ( First Chief Rabbi of pre-state Israel. 1865-1935) believed that the restrictions of these regulations is an elaborate apparatus designed to keep alive a reverence for life, with the aim of eventually leading people away from their meat-eating habit (See his A Vision of Vegetarianism and Peace). This idea is echoed by Torah commentator Rabbi Shlomoh Efraim Lunchitz, author of K'lee Yakar: "What was the necessity for the entire procedure of ritual slaughter? For the sake of self-discipline, It is far more appropriate for man not to eat meat; only if he has a strong desire for meat does the Torah permit it, and even this only after the trouble and the inconvenience necessary to satisfy his desire." (Richard H. Schwartz, Judaism and Vegetarianism, p. 11) C. The Torah has admonished us against immorality and forbidden foods, but permitted sexual intercourse between man and his wife, and the eating of meat and wine. If so, a man of desire could consider this to be permission to be passionately addicted to sexual intercourse... and to be winebibbers, and among gluttonous eaters of flesh... and thus he will become a sordid person within the permissible realm of the Torah! Therefore, after having listed the matters which He prohibited altogether, Scripture followed them up by a general command that we practice moderation even in matters that are permitted. (Nahmanides on Lev. 19:1) D. The problem with shackling and hoisting is that it causes great pain to the animals and thus violates the Jewish mandate of tsa'ar ba'alei hayim (causing pain to animals). The process involves placing an iron chain around the hind leg of the animal and hoisting the animal into the air by its hind leg while the rest of the body and head are suspended downward. Many humane groups have pushed for legislation banning shackling and hoisting. Unfortunately, some anti-Semitic groups have used the issue to
discredit shehitah as well as Jewish law in general. The Jewish community must work for humane alternatives for hoisting and shackling (i.e. holding pens which are acceptable to Jewish law). Of course, the best way to be consistent with Jewish teachings concerning animals is to be a vegetarian (op. cit., Schwartz, p.91) Postscript "The Torah teaches us a rule, that one can include meat in his diet if he is wellto-do." (Rashi, France, 1040-1105)
August 10, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut.16:18-21:9; Hertz, p. 820; Etz Hayim, p. 1088 Triennial Cycle I: Deut. 16:18-18:5; Hertz, p. 820; Etz Hayim, p. 1088 Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12; Hertz, p. 835; Etz Hayim, p. 1107 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (16:18-17:7) The commandment to appoint judges and officers to keep order, and a warning against setting up a pillar for idol worship. The punishment for idolaters: death by stoning. (17:8-20) The command to establish a central, higher court to deal with cases too difficult for local courts. The laws concerning the king, his privileges and obligations. (18:1-8) The tribe of Levi, priests and Levites, have no territory, and therefore must be supported by dues from the rest of the people. The rights of the Levites who live outside of Jerusalem. (18:9-22) The prohibition of sorcery, with a warning to listen to the true prophet and punish the false prophet. (19:1-13) Laws concerning the accidental killer and cities of refuge. (19:14) The prohibition of removing a landmark. (19:15-21) Deliberately false witnesses: their punishment is whatever their false testimony would have brought upon their intended victim. (20:1-20) Laws for the conduct of war. (21:1-9) The laws of the beheaded heifer which were practiced in response to finding a murdered person in the open country between settlements. This Shabbat's Theme: "Capital Punishment - The Debate Is Still On" "A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. Let the hands of the witnesses be the first against him to put him to death, and the hands of the rest of the people thereafter. Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst" (Deut.17:6-7) Way back in our high school days, you may recall that invariably "capital punishment" would be a subject of debate in our English class or by the school's debating team in a contest against another school. Perhaps, this was
always chosen as a popular debating subject because it had the effect of arousing in us some highly passionate opinions. And yet, we were challenged to present our thoughts in a reasoned, logical way. Not much has changed. There still is fierce debate about the use of capital punishment in our society. Here are some pro and con opinions on the subject. Pro A. It's a terrible commentary on society, but I'm afraid we have reached a point where some people, by their acts, do give up their right to survive. (Diane Feinstein, Mayor of San Francisco, quoted in the Los Angeles Times, February 17, 1990) B. In light of the circumstances, I feel that I must pass such sentence upon the principals in this diabolical conspiracy to destroy a God-fearing nation, which will demonstrate with finality that this nation's security must remain inviolate; that traffic in military secrets, whether promoted by the slavish devotion to foreign ideology or by a desire for monetary gain must cease. (Judge Irving R. Kaufman, speaking at the sentencing of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg to death in 1951) Con A. I'm for capital punishment. You've got to execute people. How else are they going to learn? (Mort Sahl, satirist) B. If John Paul Penry is "put to sleep", as one friend of Penry's put it. It will not be because of his crimes alone - only eleven people were executed in the United States in all of 1988. It will be because he picked the wrong person to kill, he was born to the wrong parents, and the wrong lawyer represented him. (Alan M. Dershowitz, Contrary to Popular Opinion, 1992, discussing the execution case of a mentally retarded man convicted of rape and murder) Jewish Mixed Opinion A. A court that orders an execution once in seven years is branded a murderous court. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah says: Or even once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva said: Had we been members of the Sanhedrin, no one would ever have been put to death. Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel said: If so, they (namely Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva) would also have multiplied the murderers in Israel. (Mishnah, Makkot 1:3) B. There are few areas in Jewish law where the biblical and talmudic view so conflict as in the matter of capital punishment. The dominant, although not exclusive, line of argument proffered in the Talmud opposes the death sentence, even in the case of premeditated murder. It places so many restrictions on the judicial authorities that very few, if any, murderers would be convicted were the restrictions enforced. (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Wisdom, p. 409)
"Sparks" for Discussion: There is a natural abhorrence to executing a human being. Even those in favor of it, are not seized by a sense of ghoulish delight when it is carried out. Generally, (as in the case of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel) a positive rationalization is offered - such as the death sentence is a deterrent to further murderous acts. During the course of time, we know that Jewish religious tradition has moved away from capital punishment. That this is so can be clearly seen in modernday Israel where the death penalty is not imposed. And yet... Adolph Eichman was executed. Can you explain why this exception was made? Are there other specific instances where you think the death penalty should be imposed in Israel or elsewhere in the world?
August 17, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut.21:10-25:19; Hertz, p. 840; Etz Hayim, p. 1112 Triennial Cycle I: Deut. 21:10-23:7; Hertz, p. 840; Etz Hayim, p. 1112 Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10; Hertz, p. 857; Etz Hayim, p. 1137 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (21:10-22:12) Miscellaneous laws: treatment of a woman captured in war, the first-born son's inheritance, a rebellious son, returning lost property, helping a fallen animal, prohibition of cross-gender dressing, sending the mother bird from the nest before collecting fledglings or eggs, building a railing around a roof, prohibition of mixed seed, the law of tzitzit (fringes) on the garment. (22:13-23:7) Laws of marriage. (23:8-24:13) Miscellaneous laws: not to abhor an Edomite or Egyptian, preserving the purity of the camp of Israel during war, prohibition of returning a runaway slave, prohibition of sexual immorality, prohibition of taking interest, keeping vows, maintaining the rights of a laborer, divorce and marriage, on the taking of pledges and kidnapping, on leprosy, limits on collecting pledged items. (24:14-22) Laws concerning the treatment of workers, individual responsibility, and justice for the most helpless members of society. The laws of gleaning, forgotten sheaf, and the field corner. (25:1-16) Miscellaneous laws: regulating and limiting the punishment of lashes, kindness to animals, "yibbum" (the law of the childless deceased brother), on unfair fighting, honest weights and measures. (25:17-19) The commandment to remember Amalek. This Shabbat's Theme: "A Code of Practice During War" When you take the field against your enemies, and the Lord, your G-d, delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife, You shall bring her into your house, and she shall trim her hair, pare her nails and discard her captives's garb. She shall spend a month's time in your home lamenting her father and mother; after that, you may come to her and possess her, and she shall be your wife. (Deut. 21:10-13) A. "Grow her nails": to make her unattractive (Sifre, Talmud Yebamot 48; Rashi; Ibn Ezra; Abravanel) B. These actions are part of the mourning customs which she is required to observe (Nachmonidies)
C. This law requires a soldier who wishes to marry a captive woman to show consideration for her feelings. He must allow her to adjust to all that has happened by bringing her back to his home and waiting a month before marrying her. In case he later becomes dissatisfied with her, he may not reduce her to slavery. A significant aspect of this law is its respect for the person hood of the captive woman and the moral obligations created by initiating a sexual relationship with her. (J. Tigay, JPS Torah Commentary - Deuteronomy; 1996; p. 194) D. Said the Sassover Rebbe; We may understand this verse (Deut. 21:10) to teach us that when we go forth to battle against our (enemies) "evil impulses", the Lord will deliver them into our hands. The Lord assists in such a battle. (Menorah heTehorah, J. A. Frankel; 1911;p.61; I. Newman; The Hasidic Anthology; p. 133) E. This law inculcates thoughtfulness and forbearance under circumstances in which the warrior, elated by victory, might deem himself at liberty to act as he pleased (Driver). After the countless rapes of conquered women with which recent history has made so painfully familiar, it is like hearing soft music to read of the warrior's duty to the enemy woman, of the necessary marriage with its set ritual and its due delay (Zangwill) (J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, p. 840) F. The juxtaposition of the first three passages of this Torah portion are in themselves an implicit argument against this sort of liaison, for after giving the laws of the captive woman (above), the Torah then goes on to speak of a "hated wife" and then an incorrigibly "rebellious child". The implication is that there is a chain reaction, namely, that this improper infatuation with the captive woman will lead to one family tragedy after another (Rashi). (The Chumash, Art Scroll Series, p.1047)
August 24, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi Daniel M. Horwitz Ohev Sholom, Prairie Village, Kansas Annual Cycle: Deut. 26:1-29:8; Hertz, p. 859; Etz Hayim, p. 1140 Triennial Cycle I:; Hertz, Deut. 26:1-27:10; Etz Hayim, p. 1140 Haftarah: Isaiah 60:1-22; Hertz, p. 874; Etz Hayim, p. 1160 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (26:1-15) The bringing of the first fruits to the priests in the Temple; the declaration that all the tithes have been paid, and a prayer for God's blessing. (26:16-19) Conclusion of the Deuteronomic Code, with a charge to keep all the mitzvot. (27:1-10) Instructions to set up large stones at Mt. Ebal, on which all the words of the Torah were to be written. Another charge to obey God and keep His mitzvot. (27:11-16) The covenant ritual at Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. (28:1-14) The blessings for keeping the mitzvot, the terms of the covenant. (28:15-69) The tokhehah, or rebuke: the list of curses that will befall those who break the covenant. (29:1-8) Review of good things God did for Israel since the Exodus. This Shabbat's Theme: "Comings and Goings" Blessed shall you be in your comings and blessed shall you be in your goings. (Deut. 28:6) A. Rav said: "Blessed shall you be in your comings" - this means, when you come in from the road, may your wife be available to you for marital relations (and not be in her menstrual period). "Blessed shall you be in your goings" - this means, may those who go out from your loins be like you. Rabbi Yochanan said: "Blessed shall you be in your comings, and blessed shall you be in your goings" - may your departure from the world be like your entry into the world; just as you came into the world without sin, so may you depart from it without sin. (Talmud, Baba Metzia 107a) B. Rabbi Yehudah bar Simon said: This verse is speaking of Moses. For when Moses came into the world, he brought near those who were distant - specifically, Pharaoh's daughter. And when he left the world, he brought near those who were distant, as we see he said concerning Reuben (who was rejected by his father): "May Reuben live and not die."
(Deut. 33:6) Another interpretation: the verse refers to one's trade. (Perhaps meaning that if your wares are good when you bring them in for sale, you then will leave with success. (Midrash Deuteronomy Rabbah 7:5) C. "Blessed shall you be in your comings" - this means, may blessings be placed upon you when you come into your father-in-law's house, as Isaac blessed Jacob (before going to Laban's home): "May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous..." (Gen. 28:3). "Blessed shall you be in your goings" - this means, may blessings be placed upon you when you go forth from your father-in-law's house (as happened when Jacob left Laban's home). (Midrash, Genesis 82:4) D. One who takes a wife out of lust, of him Scripture says: "They shall eat, but not be sated; they shall swill, but not be satisfied." (Hosea 4:10) One who takes a wife in order to improve his position, in the end his standing will be reduced from that family, and his seed after him excluded. But one who takes a wife for the sake of Heaven, of him Scripture says: "Blessed shall you be in your comings, and blessed shall you be in your goings." (Tanna D'Bei Eliyahu Zuta 16:14) "Sparks" for Discussion: What are the greatest blessings in life? In the commentary above we see a broad sweep of life's choicest blessings. Marital life is mentioned, children and family, one's trade... and also, being "without sin", or, like Moses, possessing the ability to bring people together. We are also cognizant that there is a time when these words refer not only to life but to death. Recall that a very similar verse is recited at Jewish funerals: "The Lord will guard your going forth and your coming in now and forever." (Psalms 121:8) Reflection What would you want people to say or think about you "when you are going forth forever"? Discussion Theme Two: "The Attack of the Crickets" The cricket shall take over all the trees and produce of your land (Deut 28:42) A. The word "tz'latzal" (translated above as "cricket") refers to the locust, which will strip the fruit (Rashi). Note that the locust is one of the 10 plagues in Egypt. If that were the case, that it means locust, it should have been connected with another verse (v. 38) which directly mentions the locust. Rather, it is more likely that the word does not mean locust but instead refers to a hostile army and the Torah is trying to convey the following: "Though you beget sons and daughters, they shall not remain with you" to work for you and to sustain your old age, "for they shall go into captivity" before the enemy. And "...all the trees and produce of your land" will be taken by an army (not locusts). How do we know that the word "tz'latzal" refers to an army? We see it referred to in the phrases from Psalm 150, "tziltz'lei shama" and "tziltz'lei t'ruah", resounding and
loud-clashing cymbals, associated with warring armies. (Nachmanides, 13th c.) B. The "tz'latzal" is indeed a swarm of locusts, and it is called this for two possible reasons. One is that they are so numerous that they put the sun into shade (tzel). The other is because they make such a deafening noise" (as per note B above - clashing cymbals). (Samson Raphael Hirsch. 19th c. Germany) "Sparks" for Discussion: What sometimes seems to be small and harmless (ie. A cricket), even pleasant to see and hear ("Jiminy Cricket"), may be as destructive as an army or any other invasive force. Similarly, we may allow ourselves small and harmless habits, which ultimately can plague and darken our lives. At this time of year, as we recall our misdeeds, let us try to remember the little slights and harms that we did to others. They may seem inconsequential to us (crickets) but may not be so to others who may have been deeply hurt (as with a "clashing army").
August 31, 2002 - 5762 Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations Annual Cycle: Deut. 29:9-31:30; Hertz, p. 878; Etz Hayim, p. 1165 Triennial Cycle I: Deut. 29:9-30:14; Hertz, p. 878; Etz Hayim, p. 1165 Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9; Hertz, p. 883; Etz Hayim, p. 1180 This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary (29:9-28) A warning to preserve the covenant with God and His Torah, with a description of the punishment liable to follow the breaking of the covenant. (30:1-10) After their return in complete repentance, God will have mercy upon His people, and the dispersed of Israel will return to their land. (30:11-14) God's commandments are not "far away". They can be accomplished. (30:15-20) "See, I place before you today life and good, death and evil - choose life in order for you and your descendants to live!" (31:1-30) The last days of Moses. This Shabbat's Theme: "A Commitment For The Upcoming Year" Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say "Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?" No, the thing is very close to you - in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. (Deut. 30:11-14) A. Said the Kotzker Rebbe: the Sages teach us that we should not believe the man who professes to have labored hard in the study of the Torah and found himself unable to comprehend it. How do they come to make this observation? From the statement of the Torah saying that G-d's words are not in Heaven but are near to people. Hence, since every Jew is near to the Torah, it follows that if he makes a sincere effort to understand it, he must attain his wish, else it would be as if it were in Heaven, at least for this person. It is like one who has lost a diamond in a stack of hay. He does not abandon his effort to find it, no matter how long it requires, for he is sure the diamond is there, Likewise, the Torah assures you that the Word of G-d is near to you, and is within your comprehension. Do not leave off your effort, for you will surely discover eventually that you understand it. (Ramataim Tzofim - a commentary on
the Midrash "Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu", quoted in L. Neuman, The Hasidic Anthology, 174:10, p.458) B. The Torah belongs to, and therefore is the responsibility of, all the people. Clearly, the words of Deut. 30:11-14 emphasize this principle and at the same time reject the notion that Torah is secret lore, accessible only to a chosen few... In the religious traditions of antiquity such a commitment to universal accessibility was unique, and it had an even more profound effect on the Jewish people as the centuries passed. The study of Torah became the supreme preoccupation of the Jew; none was too humble to be excluded from the mitzvah of learning and none was too prominent to be excused from it. It was a command, averred the Mishnah, that outweighed all others, for everything flowed from it. (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, G. Plaut ed., p. 1542) C. These are the things whose fruits a person eats in the world while the capital remains for him in the world to come: honoring one's parents, the practice of loving kindness, hospitality to strangers, and making peace between a person and his neighbor. And the study of Torah surpasses them all. (Mishnah, Kiddushin, 39b) D. Emperor Hadrian's daughter said to Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah, a learned but homely scholar, "Such great wisdom in such an ugly vessel!" He answered, "Learn from your fathers palace. In what kind of vessels is the wine stored?" "In earthen jars," she said. "Earthen jars! But that's what common people use," he answered. "You should store your wine in gold and silver vessels." The girl went and had the wine transferred to gold and silver jars, and it turned sour. "You see," he said to her, "the Torah is the same way." "But aren't there handsome people who are also learned?" she asked. "Yes," he retorted, "But if they were ugly, they would be even more learned!" (Talmud, Nedarim 50b) "Sparks" for Discussion: We are coming to the end of the cycle of Sabbath Torah readings for this current year (5762). As Rosh Hashanah approaches next week, and as we resolve in this season of the year to better ourselves spiritually, purposeful direction is offered to us in the verses we have just analyzed. In his final discourse to the Jewish People, Moses counsels: Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say "Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us that we may observe it?" No, the thing is very close to you - in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it (Deut. 30:11-14). Accordingly, the Jewish approach to spirituality lies in the on-going study of the Torah ("Instruction") and the profound teachings that are derived from it.
Religious insight according to our Faith, is gained primarily through knowledge and understanding. Fundamentally, Judaism demands the mind as much as the heart. One does not attain religious insight instantaneously or facilely, it is a process that takes time... and effort. It is commitment time now. How about a real Jewish commitment by you? How about devoting some part of your time every day to the studying of a Jewish subject? If you are not disciplined enough to consistently carry out that kind of commitment, then let us invite you to join thousands of other Conservative Jews in the regular study of Mishnah. Just call us at the United Synagogue and we will get you going. (212) 533-7800, Ext. 2612. Or... we encourage you ever so much to attend your synagogue's adult classes.