How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

August 19, 2010

Looking forward, looking back

I delivered the d’var Torah this past Shabbat at Ohr Shalom. I had volunteered to do this months ago, but had completely forgotten about it, so when the rabbi emailed me on Thursday night to remind me, I emailed back with a “no problem” message that, thanks to the emotionless nature of the medium, completely masked my anxiety about figuring out what to say less than 48 hours later about a parasha I hadn’t read yet (this year).

But, as as happened before, the texts along with the particular circumstances of my life (or God’s guiding hand, whichever you prefer) provided me with inspiration and I delivered this relatively succinct message:
While reading this week’s parasha, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Rabbi Meltzer about a week ago, toward the end of shiva for his grandfather, Poppa Harvey. It was a mundane conversation about corrective lenses – how long we’ve worn glasses or contact lenses, that sort of thing. In particular, there’s a passage in chapter 17, verses 18-20, that really jumped out at me:

“When [a Jewish monarch] is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.”

I was struck by the implication of this passage about the centrality of the Torah – how consistent and constant a presence it must be, no matter our station in life. Throughout the generations, though, as our circumstances have changed for better or for worse – and let’s be honest, we’re Jews, so it’s mostly been for worse, right? – our perspective has changed. To put it another way, our vision has been impaired. Distance, in time and space, does that. So we’ve needed corrective lenses to view our central text – in the form of rabbinic commentary, midrash, aggadah, etc. – to help us see some things more clearly. So, for instance, the rabbis made certain that the rules for sentencing someone to death, laid out in this week’s parasha, earlier in chapter 17, were so strictly interpreted and adhered to as to make carrying out capital punishment virtually impossible; there is truly no recompense for errors in such cases.

Some lenses, though, don’t just correct, they OVERcorrect – they distort. I daresay there are interpretations of the Torah – lenses worn by some readers – that themselves make a to’eva (an abomination) of the sacred texts we work so hard to make relevant and accessible in our everyday lives.

Thus there have been numerous violations of chapter 20, verse 19,

When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees…”

The violations have occurred at the hands of settlers, and, to my great shame, at the hands of Tzahal, our Israeli Defense Force, when they have uprooted, destroyed or stolen Palestinian olive trees from land that is occupied – that is, arguably, under siege.

Too hard for you to swallow? Too bad; it’s true. But I’m not here to make a political speech, so I’ll move on to something a bit closer to home:

There have also been countless violations of chapter 16, verse 20,

Justice justice shall you pursue צדק צדק תרדוף

when rabbis and other community leaders deny the personal rights of a segment of the population. Rather than concentrate, as many have, on the fact that some of that segment’s behavior is described as abhorrent in the Torah, more leaders should have actively and eagerly pursued justice for all, a clear mitzvah explicitly laid out in this week’s reading. I do applaud the recent spate of positive news in this regard, but we still have far to go.

As we approach the new year, I encourage all of you to shift your focus inward – get as nearsighted as you possibly can. Take a look at YOUR corrective lenses. We ALL wear them in one form or another:

  • They may be frames that wrap around the sides of our faces;
  • tiny specks that sit right on our eyeballs;
  • or, the most common and insidious of all, those that are completely embedded inside our heads – our preconceptions, our stereotypes, our rushes to judgment, and so forth.

Take a good look at yourselves, and see if you can’t wipe away some of the schmutz that’s accumulated over the last year (or however long it’s been; it’s never too late to start).

Then crown yourselves monarchs – go on, you have my permission (the Rabbi’s not here, it’s OK) – and heed the call of the Torah:
As you sit on your royal throne, revisit our holy texts. Again. And Again. Look at them through your freshly polished lenses and reflect on the words, so that you do not become haughty toward your fellows, and so that you may continue to reign for many years to come.

Shabbat shalom.
A few days after delivering this drash, I received this Jewel of Elul, written by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, which beautifully encapsulates the feelings he and I have as we prepare these sermons.

The blank screen that unfolds before each sermon is my darkness – formless and void. And then I begin to create. As I sit down to write, I am aware of this creation teaching, for it calls me to find the message needed for the moment.

I encourage you to sign up to receive Jewels of Elul via email, and browse the archive of previous Jewels. They are provocative, insightful, inspirational, and powerful.

May we all see more clearly in the coming year.

February 5, 2010

Shabbat shalom x2

Starting off the weekend right with a couple of outstanding drashot from two of my favorite rabbis:
First, again, is Rabbi David Wolpe from Sinai Temple in LA, whose weekly Off The Pulpit I’ve mentioned before – it’s consistently inspirational and thought-provoking (I’m including the sign-up information at he bottom so you can subscribe too):

Yearning to Learn

By Rabbi David Wolpe

Knowing where to find information is not the same as possessing it. Each fact we learn is arranged in the matrix of all we already know. One who knows how to Google “Shakespeare sonnets” cannot be compared to the one who has memorized Shakespeare’s sonnets. The latter carries the words with him. The former is an accountant of knowledge; he knows where the treasure is, but it does not belong to him.

Real education instills a desire for knowledge, not merely the tools to acquire it. We are shaped by what we know and what we yearn to know. The Talmud tells us that as a young man Hillel was so desperate for words of Torah that he climbed on the roof of the study house to hear the discourses of his great predecessors, Shemaya and Avtalion. Noticing the darkness, they looked up and saw the young man on the skylight, covered with snow. The rabbis rescued Hillel, washed and anointed him, and sat him by the fire.

“If you want to build a ship,” wrote Antoine de Saint Expury, “don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.” First teach children to love learning; the web will wait.

We hope that you will email these words to a friend, and encourage them to sign up by e-mail so they will be able to receive similar articles as well as updates in the future. Together, let’s create a virtual community of modern Torah for the 21st century!

Closer to home is my dear Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, who co-officiated at my wedding and continues to be a valued spiritual leader and guide. The Mi Shebeirach prayer is on my mind and my lips a lot these days, so this is particularly poignant and meaningful for me:

Dear Friends:

I meet with our Abraham Ratner Torah School students one Wednesday a month. We usually meet in our Goodman Chapel. This month I introduced them to a new addition to our chapel, the Mishebeirach tapestry that was fashioned from the creative contributions of many members of our Sisterhood and congregation.

This fabrication of this tapestry was the brainchild and labor of love of Sharyl Snyder. Sharyl had seen a similar tapestry on display on Temple Emanu-El and thought we should have one as well. Our Mishebeirach tapestry enlivens our chapel with its very personal artwork and stands as a reminder to all who are ill or in pain that they are not alone. At Tifereth Israel Synagogue they are a member of a community that cares and prays for them.

I asked the students to find the multiplicity of Jewish symbols on the tapestry. They correctly identified many of them and shared how they thought creators of each square expressed their care and concern for those who are ill.

I also used the introduction of the Mishebeirach tapestry to explain to our students the Mishebeirach prayer we say each morning at our daily minyan and on Shabbat (“May the One who blessed our ancestors…send healing to…”).

On the spur of the moment I also said the prayer with them and asked them to share the names of their relatives and friends who were ill and pray for their recovery. It was very quiet during our prayer and I found myself surprised by how it had turned our learning into a spiritual and sacred experience.

That same evening we talked about the Mishebeirach prayer at a meeting of our Ritual Committee. We all expressed the same thought: we all believed that our communal prayers for those who are ill are efficacious and powerful even though we are not sure how they work.

The next time you are in the synagogue, please stop by the chapel to see the new Mishebeirach tapestry. I also invite you to find as many Jewish symbols as you can and try to discover their relationship to Jewish healing and life. You may also want to use the opportunity to say your own prayer for those you love who are suffering or in pain.

Even though your prayer does not guarantee that those who are suffering will be healed, I am confident that their burden will be eased by your caring.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal
Tifereth Israel Synagogue
San Diego, CA

Hope these words help you have a truly peaceful and meaningful Shabbat.

January 31, 2010

We must be doing something right.

Earlier this evening, after a terrific day that started with our amazing music class with the fabulous Ms. Laura and continued with a fantastic get-together with our awesome chavurah (including you, Bernsteins! See you soon!) at Fanuel St. Park, my beautiful 3-year-old daughter, of her own volition, helped clear our dishwasher (she did about half of the top rack while I was on the phone). I briefly thanked her, but I owe her a bigger show of gratitude tomorrow (for the help in the kitchen and for the fact that she was asleep before 8 PM).

It made me think of this beautiful drash by R’ David Wolpe that I received just the other day as part of his Off The Pulpit series (highly recommended subscription; some of the drashot are even shorter than this one, but they’re always thought-provoking, often profound, and ever relevant; I’m including the signup info at the bottom so it’s easy for you):

For My Daughter

By Rabbi David Wolpe

This past Shabbat I had the great joy of addressing my daughter on her Bat Mitzvah. I pointed to the phrase in her parasha (Torah portion), “… a night of watching.” (ex. 12:42) It occurs twice in the Bible, both times in the same sentence. The first time it refers to God’s watching; the second to the Israelites watching.

What were the Israelites watching? It was the eve of redemption and they had to protect their children as plagues ravaged Egypt. Parents do many things — we dream and disappoint; we hope, we advise, we criticize, we draw close, we puzzle, we praise. But mostly, we watch. We watch as our children grow and change. We watch as they listen to our stories and create their own stories. We watch as they become not who we plan for them to be, but who they truly are; as they step from our vision into God’s.

My wife very beautifully said that when she looks into my daughter’s eyes she sees not just where she is, but all the phases of her life. The parallelism in the verse makes sense: as God watches us, when we see a child flourish, we get a glimpse of God.

We hope that you will email these words to a friend, and encourage them to sign up by e-mail so they will be able to receive similar articles as well as updates in the future. Together, let’s create a virtual community of modern Torah for the 21st century!

Author’s note: Yes, I’m very aware of how long and full of adjectives the first sentence of this post is. It’s MY blog. I’m my own editor, and that’s how I like it.

June 2, 2008

D’var Torah: B’Chukotay

Filed under: religion,San Diego Jewish Community,Shabbat,Torah Commentary — howdoyoujew @ 16:04

Yeah, I know I’m posting it a week late, but I delivered it on time (Shabbat, 24 May 2008, 19 Iyar 5768) at Tifereth Israel. Among other things, B’Chukotay is notable for the inclusion of the tochecha, the section of punishments I refer to below, which, according to tradition, is to be read quickly and quietly, in contrast to the rest of the Torah reading this or any other week.
In this week’s parasha, BeChukotay, we reach the end of the Book of Leviticus. It is here that Moses passes along to the people of Israel God’s admonishments to observe the mitzvot and prosper, along with God’s warnings that if the people fail to observe the commandments, punishment will ensue.

The rewards include a bountiful land & plentiful crops, general prosperity, peace with Israel’s neighbors, and, in the case of those not interested in making peace, enemies withdrawing in defeat from the mighty Israelites.

Similarly, the punishment for failure to observe the mitzvot is delineated in graphic detail: drought & famine throughout the land, hunger to the point of parents having to eat their own children, war and consequent defeat, and finally exile – the ultimate punishment for a people whose very existence and relationship with God is tied to a specific parcel of physical space.

Speaking as we are in the early 21st century, in the diaspora, looking from afar as Israel marks its 60th anniversary while under relentless missile attack and constant attempts at “smaller, more minor” attacks, it may seem like things aren’t going so well (I’ll remind you that a suicide truck bomber failed to kill anyone but himself with four tons of explosives at the Erez crossing from Gaza Thursday, and another suicide bomber was shot and killed as he tried to detonate his explosives at a checkpoint outside Shchem in the West Bank on Monday). Sure, not all Jews follow all the mitzvot, but is that really what the text – what God – wants us to achieve?

It’s significant to me that the language used in this section of the parasha, the blessings and curses, is, in contrast to the language used later when talking about the endowments and sacrifices, communal language. That is, it always talks about “the people” doing or not doing this or that, and being rewarded or punished, en masse.

Reading this, I was immediately reminded of the Talmudic saying, kol Israel arevim zeh la-zeh – all Jews are responsible one for another.

Little did I know that, in coining this phrase, the Talmudic rabbis were commenting on this very parasha! Specifically, on chapter 26, verse 37 (page 751),

–>This is where I read the Hebrew. I gotta figure out how to display Hebrew properly in my posts… images, perhaps?<-- “With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword…” No lesser a commentator than Rashi first explains the verse literally, envisioning people bumping into and falling over each other in their frightened retreat. But he then cites the Talmud's midrashic comment, found in Tractate Sanhedrin:

“”…they shall stumble over one another…” meaning one will stumble over the sins of another for all Israel is responsible one for the other.”

Thus, the “stumbling” the Torah warns about is not physical, but spiritual; that the sinning of one – an individual’s failure to follow the mitzvot – will cause others to stumble, eventually bringing the promised retribution from God.

The Hebrew root word that is here translated as “stumble” is CaSHaL, which also means “to fail.” The double meaning is itself significant, for when one stumbles over the sins, or failures, of another, that means the stumbler failed as well.

This spiritual stumbling itself could be interpreted in a couple of ways:

First, one could stumble over the sins of another in the sense that one observes another sinning and is tempted to, um, “join in the fun.”

Alternately, the stumbling could refer to the result – the punishment being meted out on all the people as a result of the sins of some.

This means, friends, that we can’t just look the other way when we see sinning, or the failure in others to observe the commandments. Not only would this be an active shirking of our stated responsibility for one another, but if I “look the other way,” I cannot easily continue walking along the straight path I was headed down in the first place – and I would thus be that much closer to stumbling myself.

Either way, the lesson that we are all responsible for one another should not be lost. There may be individuals in the community who, for a variety of reasons, are incapable of observing some mitzvot without assistance. Some may need a little more… “encouragement” than others. We all need to do our part to live lives that warrant reward, and persuade others to do the same.

Peace on earth, plenty of food, adequate social support for those who can’t support themselves, etc. – all this is possible, and it will come, as the text suggests, as an act of or a gift from God. But not in the way many people expect such gifts.

Gifts from God are rarely obvious miracles of Biblical proportions. We are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and we all have within us the capacity to carry out God’s work. We must engage in this work if we are to enjoy God’s blessings.

Shabbat shalom.

November 24, 2007

My amazing offspring…

…except that, well, you know, she isn’t my offspring in the literal sense of that word. Regardless, she IS amazing, and I happily take credit for her attitude and disposition, seeing as how I’ve been co-responsible for her since the moment she was born. She had a rough night last night, up a few times to eat, crying, not her usual self. She woke up for good at 5 AM, hung out with us in bed for a while, then participated in our morning routine getting ready for Shabbat at Ohr Shalom, where both I and my lovely wife were scheduled to read Torah, so we were obligated to go. She didn’t go down for a nap before we left the house, rested in the car for a short time on the way down there, remained awake the whole length of the service, and maintained her standard good mood throughout.

She catnapped on our way out to Coronado to hang out with Doda Shlomit and Dod Dave and Ben Dod Jonah, woke up promptly after we parked the car, and was up the entire afternoon and evening until about 6 PM, again, with a smile on her face the whole time. She ate like a champ the whole day, and that, in combination with how long she’s been awake, plus the fact that we’ll be keeping the house a little warmer tonight than it has been lately, makes us hopeful that she’ll sleep through the night, as was her habit since the age of 3 months.

All I want to do now is sit and veg in front of the TV. It’s rare that I get like that, but tonight is one of those evenings. If we can’t find anything good on live TV (we only have basic channels) we’ll certainly find something online.

Oh, yeah… This morning at shul I delivered an oral version of the drash I wrote up the other day, and it was well-received. Good times.

November 21, 2007

It feels like Friday

Which means that since it got dark a few hours ago, I’ve felt like it’s Shabbat and I shouldn’t blog until after… but it’s not Shabbat, it’s Erev Thanksgiving, and there’s nothing to prevent me from writing, using the computer, etc.

Jenn spent much of the day cooking and baking for Thanksgiving, which we’ll be celebrating at the Meltzers’ with a bunch of extended family and friends. I successfully lobbied one of my favorite community organizations (in this case, Ohr Shalom Synagogue) to send out an email to the membership about the Give One Get One program I wrote about yesterday. Phyllis & Joel commented on Jenn’s post about the Bone Marrow Donor Appreciation event. Hadarya had a great day and a good evening, including when we went down to minyan.

This week’s parasha is Vayishlach, which includes the story of Yaakov’s struggle (commonly translated as “wrestling”) with… well, with someone – the Hebrew is ha-ish = the man, but this is usually understood as an angel of God. Tonight, though, we looked at four possibilities of who the struggle could have been with:

  1. God
  2. An Angel/messenger of God
  3. Yaakov himself
  4. Esav (Esau, Yaakov’s twin)

The discussion that ensued about each of these was the richest exploration of this story I’ve ever engaged in. My contributions included the following:

  • Assuming the struggle was with God, I thought of the conversation God has with Moses later in the Torah (verse 20) when Moses asks to see God’s face and God tells Moses that “no man can see my face and live.” That said, Yaakov may have gotten so close to God by engaging in this “struggle” that he came away with a physical wound (the hobbled leg, the limp).
  • If it was an Angel (and somewhat spanning the possibility of a struggle within himself): Yaakov remembered, of course, the dream he’d had some 20 years before of the ladder with angels climbing up and down. This time, rather than remaining passive and simply watching, he tried to engage his visitor. He was more mature, more ready this time, but it was still a serious spiritual and physical challenge, and he came away changed (spiritually with the name change, physically with the limp).
  • If the sparring partner was Esav, the thing that struck me most was the parallel of lower limbs in their history: at the beginning of their lives, Yaakov grasped at Esav’s heel, then engaged in some rather unsavory behavior to usurp his brother’s birthright. Here, decades later, HIS leg is injured, mirroring his brother’s “wound,” and the very next day, Yaakov and Esav meet and reconcile.

There was some very nice input (not mine; I think it was Rabbi Scott’s) on this last option, raising the possibility that Yaakov and Esav had to have a physical confrontation, a cathartic wrestling match, to get out their aggression and relieve their longstanding animosity, and that only after this fight could they embrace and kiss and weep.

All in all, a nice lead-in to the holiday. Tomorrow first thing in the morning we head downtown for the 5K Walk for the Hungry, then relax and eventually head to dinner to give thanks ourselves. Happy holiday!

November 20, 2007

Two things that could change the world

1. I’m on Rabbi David Wolpe‘s weekly d’var Torah email list. He can say more with fewer words than almost anyone I’ve ever met. Anyway, a few days ago I received a special message from him:

Below is a mitzvah of worldwide significance. This program, which involves all faiths and nations, is an attempt to bring computers, curricula, and education to the very poorest parts of the world. By purchasing one remarkably inexpensive – yet remarkably effective – computer – you will enable a poor child to receive a computer as well. If you decide simply to donate both, or more, that would be an even greater mitzvah. This is limited; we have only two weeks to act. Let us join people from all over the world seeking to help those who crave knowledge, information, connection. These computers work without electricity and are specially designed to enable the poorest children to benefit. The Talmud teaches that Jews are rachamim b’nei rachamim – merciful people and the children of merciful people. Please show your mercy to children all over the world.

The program he’s referring to is the Give One Get One promotion of One Laptop Per Child, which I’ve been aware of since its inception several years ago by Nicholas Negroponte. I’m hopeful that Jenn and I can find the extra cash somewhere to get involved directly, but I wanted to put it out there for you to see as well, so you could decide if it was worthwhile.

2. In the news over the last couple of days is the recent discovery by Japanese and American scientists that they could essentially transform human skin cells into stem cells. This, too, could change the world, in entirely different ways than OLPC, but I love the thought that some kid with a laptop from OLPC could one day contribute to the effort to treat or cure a major disease using stem cells because he was given a window to the rest of the world by this program.

July 16, 2007

Things that make me sad…

Filed under: Christianity,Commentary,SDSU,Torah Commentary,work — howdoyoujew @ 16:27

Sad in a cosmic, global way, not a “boo-hoo” way:

Evangelical/fundamentalist Christians who co-opt Hebrew, specifically Hebrew sacred texts and liturgy, without understanding or respecting their meanings.

I was prompted to post this by an example I ran into today, which itself reminded me of another from a couple of years ago.

Today I manned an information table on behalf of Career Services for incoming freshmen at SDSU as part of the orientation program that runs throughout the summer. At one point, two young ladies approached the table and my colleague and I asked them if they were interested in finding work on campus, thinking about their careers, etc. – the standard questions we ask to engage the uninitiated and create an opening to tell them about our services. The two immediately informed us that they weren’t, in fact, incoming students, but that they were from Minnesota and South Dakota, respectively. When I asked (politely) what they were doing on campus, they asked if we’d ever heard of Campus Crusade for Christ. My colleague Adam and I admitted that we had, and they told us they were here representing their respective campuses as part of a training program or some such.

This made the fact that one of them (the Minnesotan) was wearing a necklace with a silver pendant reading “אשת חיל” (Eshet Chayil – Woman of Valor) much more interesting to me. I’d noticed it before they’d identified themselves, and I commented that I liked it. When the wearer said she’d been told that it meant “Excellent woman” I noted the standard translation, and she balked, saying she didn’t want to be a woman of valor at all – that it implied things like courage (and a couple of other qualities she spit out) which she, apparently, either didn’t possess at all or didn’t aspire to. It turned out the other girl had an identical pendant (as did, presumably, all the other girls in their study group), and that they’d “studied” Proverbs 31 (Google search results, revealing thousands of pages of Christian reflections on this beautiful poem and nary a Jewish take; I guess all the Jewish web references to it refer to it by its title, as these searches for Eshet Chayil and Woman of Valor show) along with some other important women in the Bible, including Hannah and Rahab.

This exchange reminded me of one that occurred at the end of the 27 hours of parenting classes Jenn and I had to take when we signed up to adopt through the county a couple of years ago. During the last class session, we schmoozed a bit with the other “students” – all prospective adoptive parents. I don’t remember how, but I got to talking to a woman who was wearing a ring with “אני לדודי ודודי לי” (Ani l’dodi ve-dodi li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). She rubbed me the wrong way to begin with by basically quizzing me on the phrase, not satisfied when I told her I knew what it meant in Hebrew; she had me recite the verse, then she showed off her knowledge by parroting the next couple of lines. When I asked about how she came to be wearing the ring, since she wasn’t Jewish, she said she’d gotten it through her church, and that she wore it around the house when she was doing chores and cleaning and stuff.

Wonderful. So our sacred texts are reduced to accompanying non-Jews on their chores and missions. Of course, we elevate the texts when we truly study them, reflect on them, and live by them, but should we be more possessive of them? Seriously, I’m asking.

p.s.: My favorite part of the exchange with the Campus Crusade girls was that the colleague I was at our table with is a practicing Muslim. He and I had a good chuckle at the irony of the whole situation after they left.

July 24, 2006

Commentary on the Torah portion and current events

I delivered this drash this past Shabbat, Saturday, July 22, at Ohr Shalom. I’m proud to say that the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, shares my sentiments, as evidenced by his speech to the Knesset [Hebrew, English] on July 17 (which I had not read until today [hat tip, AbeJ]).

There are some terribly difficult passages in our sacred texts that force us to struggle fiercely to find meaningful lessons for our lives.

In parashat Matot, the nascent Israelite people – still strongly identified by their tribal affiliation – are commanded to exact retribution on behalf of God upon the Midianite people. Leading the Israelite warriors was Pinchas, son of Elazar the Priest. So, a Middle-Eastern nation led by a religious cleric goes out to make war on another nation for real or perceived wrongs, claiming to act on behalf of God.

Sound familiar at all?

It gets better: after the Israelites kill all the military-age males of Midian in battle, they take the women and children captive (along with all the livestock and cattle). When they return with this booty, Moses berates the army and orders them to KILL all the prisoners except for the virgins (who themselves would become servants, slaves or wives to the Israelites).

Despite some commentators’ dancing around this issue, there is no gray area here: regardless of the justification for the war on the Midianites, what the Israelites did afterwards was heinous and inexcusable to our modern sensibilities. Living as we do in a world beset by Islamic fundamentalist terror and all manner of violence rationalized by religious extremism of all stripes, we must unequivocally reject and uproot such behavior from our midst.

At the same time, we must – just as passionately and fervently – stand up to attacks on our being and do everything in our power to ensure that our rejection of senseless attacks on civilians isn’t taken advantage of by our enemies. As we have witnessed over the last week and a half, the IDF WILL take the fight to those who threaten and harm us, regardless of where they hide. And we will not quit until the job is done.

As my friend and teacher Rabbi Daniel Gordis said this week in his dispatch from Israel, “We know why they attacked [this time and in previous wars].  And we know why they’re still attacking.  And we’re determined to hold on for the same reason that they’re so determined never to stop.  There’s one reason, and one reason only:
The Jewish People has nowhere else to go.”

Ecclesiastes famously opined, “(There is) a time for war and a time for peace.” Make no mistake, my friends: we ARE at war, and we will give no quarter. Yet we will continue to seek peace and pursue it with those who wish to share it with us.

For generations we have taken the lessons of our texts and sages and applied them to our daily lives, trying to make our existence more holy and bring healing to a troubled world. But we have learned other lessons from our history, as well: we will never again allow ourselves to be enslaved; we will not again be forced out of our homeland, exiled and made to wander in the wilderness. We will stand up and fight, and those of us who cannot fight should make our voices heard in support of those who can and do.

As this day of rest continues, please join me in praying for the health and safety of the soldiers of the IDF who are defending Eretz Israel, and the successful completion of their mission. And please join me tomorrow at the rally in support of Israel at the JCC.

Shabbat shalom.

July 12, 2006

Short and sweet.

Filed under: Shabbat,Torah Commentary — howdoyoujew @ 17:14

I delivered the following mini-drash on July 8 at Ohr Shalom. I am indebted to my mom for pointing me to the Talmudic passage I reference.
Six hundred thirteen. Sound familiar? It should – that’s the number of mitzvot most rabbis tell us are in the Torah. And we should all believe our rabbi, right?

Yes, but as we also know, Jews never just agree about something. Even if the result is agreement, the road to get to consensus is long, arduous, and filled with, er, shall we say, friendly intellectual debate?

Thus we find that there are alternatives to the much-talked-about 613. One well-known example is Hillel’s response to the man who wanted to learn the entire Torah while standing on one leg: “‘What is hateful to you, don’t do to others,'” Hillel said, “The rest is commentary, now go and study!”

This is essentially all the mitzvot distilled into one. But this isn’t the only time our wise sages played the numbers. In one of those friendly debates in the Talmud (Makkot 23b), Rabbi Simla’i points out that, at the end of today’s haftarah (Chapter 6, verse 8 ), the prophet Micah said, “God has told you, O man, what is good, and what God requires of you: Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

So there you have it! The Jewish trinity! The final word on how many mitzvot there are, right?… well, not exactly, since the same rabbi makes arguments for several other counts as well… But my point is that there ARE always mitzvot – the Torah isn’t just a book of history or tall tales, blessings and curses, begats and animal sacrifices. It’s a powerful guide for our everyday lives and our relationships with each other and with God. Want to know more? Go and study!

Shabbat shalom!

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