Last year around this time, William and I were chatting on our way home from Lehrhaus as we are wont to do. In Lehrhaus we learn from the texts of our tradition, the sage rabbis and scholars who came before us, our engaging teacher, Mr. Rosenberg, and from each other. It was 9 January 2018 and we were talking about the year ahead and what makes us happy. I had one of those special parenting moments that are precious and too rare.
In our Land Beyond Torah class we are learning about King Solomon's superhuman wisdom. His wisdom was "superhuman" because G-d poured it into him. This great divine gift endowed Solomon with an enormous breadth of knowledge and, according to our commentaries, the ability to apply one area of knowledge to another, to synthesize ideas and, of course, to solve seemingly intractable problems.
The Assyrian Greeks commanded the Jews, “Inscribe on the bolts of your doors, ‘I have neither portion nor heritage in the G-d of Israel!’” So the Jews pulled the bolts from their doors. They then commanded the Jews, “Write on the horns of your oxen, ‘I have neither portion nor heritage in the G-d of Israel!’” So the Jews sold their oxen.
This story – from a collection of ancient midrashim about Chanukah – celebrates how our forebears’ bravery, creativity, and faithfulness.
Once again, Jacob has left the past behind. In Va'Yishlach, this week's Torah portion, twenty years after leaving Canaan for Haran, Jacob leaves Haran for Canaan, the land of his birth. On his way back home, before crossing the Jabbok River, Jacob must wrestle with a man. This man's identity is not clear to Jacob. Perhaps he believes the man is a river demon, a common motif in ancient literature. Jacob soon learns, though, that the man is divine. At this realization, Jacob insists, "I will not let you go until you bless me" (Genesis 32:27).
We have experienced a tragedy. Eleven innocent human beings killed for being Jewish. This has been a convulsive tragedy for our community.
The wise Abraham Joshua Heschel did not live to a ripe old age. He passed away in 1972 at 65 years old. Yet, wisdom does not necessarily depend on direct personal experience. It is born as well from a thoughtful, sensitive mind.
Heschel employed that sensitivity in his article To Grow in Wisdom. “The years of old age,” he wrote, “[are] rich in possibilities to unlearn the follies off a lifetime, to see through inbred self-deceptions, to deepen understanding and compassion, to widen the horizon of honesty.”
We have begun the month of Av. It is painful month because tradition holds that major calamities occurred on the Ninth of Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar.
The destruction of the Second Temple pains us the most. Why? Because we did it to ourselves. Yes, the Romans did the actual destroying, but our tradition is clear; our sinat chinam, our baseless hatred toward each other, really caused the Temple to fall. The Romans were merely G-d’s agents.
Aaron has died. Miriam has died. Moses too will die before his people enter the Promised Land. In Pinchas, this week's Torah portion, G-d commands Moses to stand Joshua before the entire community and instill into the younger man some of Moses’s own spiritual authority. Earlier in the portion, Moses stands before the community with Pinchas himself, who eventually would become High Priest. For the Israelite people, new leaders have arisen.
In our final Land Beyond Torah class of the year, we completed the book of Second Samuel. As is customary upon the completion of a sacred text, our class of about 30 rose to recite Kaddish d’Rabbanan, the “Rabbi’s Kaddish.”
This Kaddish – in Aramaic, like all Kaddishes– beseeches G-d to bestow blessings upon teachers of Torah and upon their students. “Al rabbanan,” we intone, “v’al talmideihon.” For our rabbis and for their students.
We are all excited for our Men's Club to lead our Shabbat morning services this Saturday, once again on Father’s Day weekend, just as our Sisterhood so ably led last month on Mother’s Day weekend.
Removing the Torah from the Ark is, for me, the heart and highlight of our services. The Torah tells the Jewish story, part one. That dramatic story continues with the admonitions of the prophets and the wisdom of the Writings. It then moves on into the great corpus of rabbinic literature and beyond.
Not all priests of ancient Israel were created equal. If a priest was born with a defect – or if he (yes, always a “he”) developed a defect through accident or illness – he would not be permitted to function as a priest at the Temple. Note this week’s Torah portion, Emor.
כָּל־אִ֞ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־בּ֣וֹ מ֗וּם מִזֶּ֙רַע֙ אַהֲרֹ֣ן הַכֹּהֵ֔ן לֹ֣א יִגַּ֔שׁ לְהַקְרִ֖יב אֶת־אִשֵּׁ֣י יְהוָ֑ה מ֣וּם בּ֔וֹ אֵ֚ת לֶ֣חֶם אֱלֹהָ֔יו לֹ֥א יִגַּ֖שׁ לְהַקְרִֽיב׃
Many Jews speak of being “cultural” Jews. What does that mean? Often it has much to do with food. Bagels, lox, and cream cheese? Jewish. Chicken soup? Jewish. Pastrami with mustard? Jewish. With mayo perhaps? Not so Jewish.
We are a rich congregation. For the sake of clarity, I mean that we are rich in spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. We are rich because of you and are particularly blessed with several rabbi congregants, enough to produce an Adult Education series called “Our Five Fab Rabbis.” These Sunday morning programs, occurring immediately after minyan, feature our rabbis as the fine teachers they are, teaching topics they love.
Purim is upon us, so that means things are a bit mixed up and not everything is what it seems. So what else is new? I’ve noticed that it’s not just me who has been lamenting these topsy-turvy times in which we live. Are our times really unique or, now that we are the adults, is this just our turn? Both are true.
V’asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham
Build for Me a Holy Place and I will dwell among them (Exodus 25: 8).
Thus says G-d to Moses in Terumah, this week’s Torah portion. In this context, “mikdash” refers to the sanctuary the Israelites carried through the desert. But in common parlance, “Mikdash” refers to the Holy Temple King Solomon built centuries later.
We read the Ten Commandments this Shabbat. We usually call them the Ten Commandments, but in Hebrew they are referred to as “aseret ha’dibrot,” the Ten Utterances.
While most of those “utterances” begin with a grammatical imperative (or command), the very first begins with a statement: “I am the Lord your God who took you out from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Exodus 20,2).
We encounter the great conundrum of Pharaoh’s hardened heart. In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, Pharaoh hardened his own heart during the first few plagues. But in the last few plagues, it is G-d who hardened the despot’s heart.
How could Pharaoh have let the people go if G-d pre-programmed his heart to “no”? Why would G-d do such a thing?
The book of Exodus begins, “And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob” (Exodus1,1). A list of the eleven sons who lived in Canaan with Jacob ensues, plus Joseph, who was waiting for them in Egypt.
Students did Hebrew exercises in handout 3 & 4 of the Ulpan Bet packet. Our new T.A. Adam provided assistance to those who needed it.
We started reading Kings II covering the post Ahab period and the events at the end of Elijah’s minister.
I posed review questions about the material. Going forward we will cover just the major events described in this book such as the Assyrian exile, the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the first Temple.
Saturday was a fun and productive day in our Bet, Gimmel and Dalet class. First, we discussed this week’s Parsha from Exodus titled Va’eira. Rabbi Weill discussed the story of Pharaoh, and the turmoil Jews experienced in Egypt. No matter how bitter their lives were, the Parsha still teaches us an important moral, the importance of being grateful for the things we have.
This Shabbat evening we will distribute our Ad Book, a tribute to Rabbi Neil Brief and his beloved Erica, may she be remembered for blessing. We thank Judy Frank, Ada Rabinowitz, and Debbie Reich for their hard work in making this Ad Book a reality.
An unusual idiom appears in this week’s Torah portion, Va’Yetzei.
וַיִּשָּׂא יַֽעֲקֹב רַגְלָיו וַיֵּלֶךְ אַרְצָה בְנֵי־קֶֽדֶם
And Jacob lifted his feet and went on to the land of the Easterners (Genesis 29:1).
Torah has many examples of someone lifting his or her eyes, but it is unusual to find someone lifting his or her feet. Rashi suggests that Jacob “lifted his feet” because he was still elated – as in, walking on air – after his theophany, his vision of God, at the side of the road.