130907 – Parshat Hazinu Shabbat Shuva /Rosh HaShanah

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT HAZINU – SHABBAT SHUVAH – ROSH HASHANAH

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftarah – Hosea 14:2-10; Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-27

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Our Parsha begins with the words: “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before HaShem, your G-d…to pass into a covenant with Hashem, your G-d…and to establish you as His people, and He as your G-d…Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this obligation, but also with whoever are not [yet] here with us today” (Devarim 29:9-14).

The implication is clear, an everlasting covenant is being made not only with that generation of Israelites about to enter the Eretz Yisra’el (the Land of Israel), but with all future generations of Jews – that Hashem and they will be faithful, committed and conscious of each other.

How appropriate to read this Parsha before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, which begins this coming Wednesday day night.  Many of us believe that Rosh Hashanah is the holiday acknowledging the anniversary of G-d’s creating the universe; however, this is a common mistake.  Rosh Hashanah marks the sixth day of creation – the creation of Man – the day spiritual consciousness came into being.  It is fitting therefore, that we utilize this holy-day to elevate our consciousness to the pursuit of goodness, for that is what Hashem expects of us.

One of the major difficulties in changing our patterns of life is that we basically consider ourselves “good people.”  We are civilized, charitable, loving and kind people.  We don’t see ourselves as evil wagers of war upon G-d and His definitions of good and evil, we are basically generous promoters of our definitions of goodness, so, what is there to change?

We can gain an insight from the Torah’s description of the meeting between our Patriarch Avraham and Avimelech of Gerar.  The Torah reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (B’rayshit [Genesis] 21:1-34) ends with a renewed peace treaty made between Avimelech and Avraham.  But in order for there to be a renewal, we must first understand the original peace treaty made between them.  Let me set the scene for you from B’rayshit 20:1-18, the chapter immediately prior to the reading on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

Avraham and Sarah were relocating their home after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  They had to travel through Gerar, a province of Philistia, which was known for its “law-abiding” adherence to an upstanding code of civil law, under the jurisdiction of King Avimelech.  Now, Avimelech was known to have an eye for beautiful women, in fact, included in his harem were women who were once married to other men.  Avimelech was not so ghastly as to take a married woman, no, he was a civilized man, and would never consider bedding the woman of another man.  But, somehow that woman’s husband would conveniently lose his life, leaving the door open for Avimelech’s now legitimate advances.

Protocol forced Avraham to pay his respects to Avimelech, and to avoid any threat to his life, he introduced Sarah as his sister.  Avimelech immediately desired Sarah and had her brought (against her will) to his harem.  Before he could do anything with Sarah, Avimelech fell asleep and had a strange dream.  In his dream, G-d came to him and warned him that Avraham was a prophet of great stature, and any abuse to Sara his wife, would of anger G-d.

AviMelech got up from his sleep and with great indignance called for Avraham and Sarah, demanding to know why Avraham lied to him, almost causing him to sin with Sarah.  Avraham answered AviMelech; “And Avraham said: ‘…there is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife‘ ” (Bereishit 20:11).

Avraham came to a civilized part of the world, known for their law-abiding character, these were good people, and yet he eluded the truth about his relationship with Sara because he knew that his life was in jeopardy. “There is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife.”

Being civilized is a wonderful framework to live by, but what happens when there is a conflict with what I want and being civilized?  My desires and not necessarily my morality may win out.  It is the “awe” of G-d that holds man back from his own hungry desires.  Morals based on civilized behavior can change, as we in this generation have seen so often.

I grew up in the sixties, when the call words of my generation were, “make love not war.”  Those words to my parents generation were “prost,” or boorish.  For instance, in my youth, abortions were wrong and practically unheard of for upstanding members of the community.  If one did submit to an abortion, there was a prevailing sense of shame and one tried to keep the deed secret.  Today, abortion is a moral right, and if someone actually verbalizes that it is wrong, she /he is immediately labeled a right-wing fanatic.

Acquiring the fear of G-d, or let us use a more pleasing terminology, becoming G-d conscious, is the main message of Judaism – to Jew or to Gentile.  Realizing His presence in the most mundane or secular aspects of our daily lives is what Rosh Hashanah is all about.

Being a civilized individual is wonderful, if that is all that you can reach for.  But we the Jewish people have more than just being civilized to offer the world, we offer G-d consciousness – which has responsibilities that go beyond just being basically kind to your wife and children, or concerned about the ecology.  It is our obligation to discover our own place in a created world, that is watched over by none other than the Melech Malchay HaMelachim (the King of kings), HaKodosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed Be He).  This responsibility can only be acquired by adhering to laws and principals that go beyond human sensibilities – His Torah and Mitzvot.

So when we are about to put food in our mouths, we must be G-d conscious.  When we ponder our observance of Shabbat or holidays, we must be G-d conscious.  When we consider throwing that tissue out the car window, we must be G-d conscious.  When choosing a mate, we must be G-d conscious. And when considering the worth being a member of a Shul (synagogue), or part of a Jewish community, we must also be G-d conscious.

I believe that what stops many from seeking a committed path to Hashem is the fear of becoming an extremist.  But as the Torah teaches about its own character: “Dera’cheha Darchei No’am, – its trails are always pleasant, V’Chol N’tivoteha Shalom – and all her pathways lead to peace” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 3:18).

Let us mark the year 5774 as a year when G-d consciousness is an acceptable goal to all of mankind and not an expression of extremism.  Let us come together and question our existence and our role in G-d’s plan.  Let us provide every opportunity for our children and our grandchildren’s generations, to successfully traverse the trails and pathways of life.  And let us all pray for a year of blessings, a year of health and a year of peace for all mankind.

I wish you all a K’Tivah V’Chatima Tova, May you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,

Reb Yosil

130824 – Parshat Ki Tavo

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imagesReb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT KI TAVO

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

Haftarah – Isaiah 60:1-22

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This week’s Parsha is one of those in which Moshe reviews the commandments, forewarnings and events of the previous forty years. At the very end of the Parsha, almost as a by–the–way, he refers to a miracle which seems to have been unannounced and not mentioned previously. In verse 29:4, Moshe says to the people: “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes have not grown old upon you…” Of course, we can simply take this at face value, namely, that there was a miracle that over the previous 40 years the people’s clothes did not wear out and fray. However, two points argue for more analysis.

  1. Most miracles involve an action (such as the manna falling from heaven, the Reed Sea parting, etc.) rather than something that doesn’t happen.
  2. The people Moshe is speaking to were presumably children forty years previously and would no longer fit into the clothes they were wearing then!

To what, then, could Moshe have been referring? At least two other incidents in the Torah seem to resonate with this scene and may allow us to add another dimension to Moshes statement.

The first of these involves Ya’acov (Jacob) and his followers after the rescue of his daughter Dinah from the city of Shechem (Bereishit [Genesis] 34:25). As a result of that rescue, the women and children of the city had been absorbed into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishit 34:29). HaShem then spoke to Jacob and told him to rededicate his people to G-d.

In doing so, Ya’acov says: “To all that were with him… put away the strange gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments,         and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” (Bereishit 35:2-3). We find a strange emphasis on the changing of clothes, a single detail of preparation out of the hundreds of important details involved in moving Ya’akov’s camp.

Not only that, but why change garments before the journey rather than at the end of the journey, prior to the rededication ceremonies? Arguably then, the changing of the garments symbolizes the changing of belief systems and the acceptance of Israelite practice.

In the second incident, the Children of Israel, having just escaped from Egypt, are standing at Mount Sinai, about to receive the Ten Commandments. HaShem said to Moshe: “…go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments…” (Shemot [Exodus] 19:10). Again, emphasis on a small detail, but more understandable if we read it as a “cleaning of the slate,” preparing to receiving a unique set of commandments and a whole new lifestyle.

In both of these incidents, references to people’s clothing are in fact references to their belief systems. Following this line of reasoning, we can now read our original quotation from Moshe as saying, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness; the beliefs which you adopted at Sinai have not grown old upon you…”

We also have had our own Sinai experiences and traveled through our own wildernesses. And as we go into the Rosh Hashanah season, perhaps an appropriate prayer is for Moshe’s miracle to again be repeated, that we will rid ourselves of our old clothes for the new year, or, that the new clothes we might try on for the first time, shall not grow old upon our backs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

Yom Kippur – 5773

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

YOM KIPPUR – 5773

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Throughout my career as a congregational Rabbi and even in the Shul (synagogue) that I grew-up in, the contrast between attendance on a regular Shabbat service and a Yom Kippur service was astounding. Synagogues built so that the community could sit comfortably in its pews on the High Holidays remain almost vacant during the rest of the year, save for life-cycle events such as Bar Mitzvahs, weddings and funerals. Highly qualified rabbis and cantors place much effort preparing meaningful sermons and collecting stimulating liturgical songs just for the few hours and/or days that they might be heard. Yet, many who do this work are also aware that no matter how well one might perform on the High Holy Days, after Yom Kippur again, it’s empty pews and a handful of Jews.

Fortunately, this description is not the norm; there are actually vibrant, thriving synagogues that attract worshippers not only every Shabbat, but every day throughout the year. When I didn’t serve as a Rabbi I attended such synagogues and many of my family members belong to vibrant synagogues in other communities. Their synagogues are successful because the worshippers feel compelled to attend and properly take advantage of the various services and experiences offered. Still, for many Jews, for a million different reasons, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only times they set foot in a synagogue and is there nothing that a rabbi can say in a sermon that will change their attitude and bring them back for more? Maybe it’s an unfair question, for no matter how eloquent the words, how relevant the topic, how beautifully delivered the content, if one is not listening with an open heart, then the message cannot pierce the surface.

I must say that the onus is not simply on the synagogue clergy for a successful service, but it rests on all of us. Too often, when I hear people ask each other during the High Holy Day season, “How were the services?,” the answer is usually a critique of the sermons and the cantor’s chanting of the liturgy. But the question should be less about how others performed and more about how did we all do. Did we feel a connectedness to God as we prayed? Did the words of the liturgy bring us a higher awareness of our inner selves? Did the power of group prayer, intensify the experience?

Prayer is at the core of Judaism, the bridge between the human heart and heaven, where the two meet. And yet, too many of us think of spirituality as the domain of Chassidim or Christian Evangelicals. We are uncomfortable with how we should actually approach prayer. We are taught how often to pray, what time of the day to recite which prayer, which words to say and which direction to face. But rarely are we trained in how to open ourselves up to the mood of reflection, and to feel God’s presence.

Why are so many of our young people turned off to Judaism and find it spiritually empty? All my life I’ve heard young people say the High Holy Days are the time for new clothes and old teachings. Talk to Jews who have opted out of Judaism for Eastern meditation and other spiritual expressions and they will tell you their memories of synagogue are those of a place where prayers were recited mechanically, with little emphasis on nurturing one’s soul.

The irony is that Judaism actually is filled with the kind of mysticism and spirituality that many of these people were unable to find. The tragedy within Jewish life is that proper efforts were never made to connect people to the majesty of the liturgy not only at this time of the year but year ’round. So much of it has seemed irrelevant, because the contemporary meaning was never unearthed for those who were in need of a better understanding and in search of relevance.

But in truth, that is but an excuse. So much of what appeared to be irrelevant was in fact extremely relevant, however the building blocks of Jewish knowledge that could support such relevancies were lacking. It is our responsibility to pick up the slack in our own knowledge base in order to be forthcoming with our spirituality. We must endeavor to make Judaism pulsate with fervor and meaning so that it will never become stale, eventually falling into disuse. On the other hand, our synagogues and our schools should not assume that prayer is so fundamental a part of Judaism that it need not be taught and discussed. It cannot be assumed that this is something that one can generally come to understand on one’s known. One primary aspect of Jewish prayer is that unlike Christianity, our clergy do not intercede on our behalf. Instead, our relationship with God is personal, but our prayers are strengthened by the community, by the sense of sharing that we experience when we pray together. And that is why it is preferable to pray as part of a Minyan (quorum) rather than alone, and why the liturgy emphasizes always the plural. It’s “Selach Lanu – forgive us” for our sins, that we say on Yom Kippur; not me or mine, but ours.

Each of us has to take the first step, from the place that we are today, at this moment. If we don’t know the message from Judaism, we at least know it from NIKE in their advertisements, “Just do it” – the rabbi and cantor cannot do it for you. All you need to do is open up your heart and allow yourselves to become part of it. If we are to ask God to keep the gates open for yet a little bit longer, as we do in the Ne’ilah service, then the least we can do is do the same for Him.

There is one other thought that I would like to leave you with. Many years ago, while living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a few of us organized a High Holiday Minyan in a small Shul in the Winnipeg Beach cottage area. While going to perform Tashlich we started calculating how many Jews were attending services in Winnipeg. Estimating the seating capacity of each Shul we came to a total capacity of 6,000 Jews if every seat were filled. Yet, there were 16,000 Jews living in Winnipeg at the time, where were the rest on the Jews? Over the years and in many of the cities I’ve lived in, I found the same calculation to be true, only about one-third of Jews in North American cities attend services on the High Holidays. For all intents and purposes, the three-time a year Jew should be counted among the “religious Jews” within each Jewish community.

My words are not intended to berate Jews who rarely attend services, quite the opposite; I admire them for their desire to cling to a tradition that may be slipping away from them. My intention is for the Jew who is frustrated being a mere spectator at an ancient rite when he/she could be the “star” of the show. In this coming year may we come to pray utilizing skills developed in order to tap into our fountain of Jewish knowledge and make our own participation meaningful. May we be strengthened in our commitment and devotion to the ideals of our special way of life and may we all receive a Chatima Tovah – a fate sealed with goodness,

Reb Yosil

120630 – Parshat Chukat

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Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT CHUKAT

BaMidbar (Numbers) 19:1‑22:1

Haftarah – Judges 11:1-33

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It seems as if strife and disunity followed the B’nei Yisra’el everywhere in the desert. A few weeks ago in Parshat B’Ha’Alotecha we find the nation complaining because they didn’t have meat to eat, only Manna (BaMidbar 11:4 – 6). Of course HaShem “struck a very mighty blow,” (verse 34) to the Israelites for their “murmuring” and their display of faithlessness. In Parshat Shelach-Lecha the disharmony and tension caused by the “evil” report of the spies caused an entire generation of Israelites to die off during their now 40 year sojourn in the desert (14:29 – 35). And in last week’s Torah portion, Parshat Korach, the dissension stemming from both Yisra’el’s leadership and from among the people caused both the earth to “open its mouth” and swallow Korach and his 250 wannabe-leaders (16:30) and later a plague that took an additional 14,700 Israelites – “Those who died in the plague were 14,700, aside from those who died because of the affair with Korach” (17:13 – 14).

In our Parsha, “And the Canaanite king of Arad who dwelled in the south heard…” (21:1).He mistakenly “heard” of the lack of water and the disappearance of the Cloud of Glory from the camp of Israel and assumed that because of the many transgressions made by the B’nei Yisra’el, HaShem had suspended His miraculous supply of water (that flowed from the rock) and the protection provided by the Cloud of Glory, the B’nei Yisra’el were ripe for attack.

I say mistakenly because Tractate Rosh HaShanah 3a teaches us that in the merit of Miriam water was provided for and in the merit of Aharon the Cloud of Glory protected and led them on their journeys. Upon the death of these two great leaders and Tzaddikim (righteous ones) the miracles were suspended. The “king of Arad who dwelled in the south” assumed that they were suspended because of the transgressions of the B’nei Yisra’el and therefore attacked the B’nei Yisra’el. Why did he make that assumption?

The covenant between HaShem and Israel stated that if Israel observed HaShem’s commandments then prosperity and security would be the reality in which Israel would dwell (VaYikra – Leviticus 26:1-4). However, if they did not follow His ways, then HaShem would “…turn My attention against you; you will be struck down before your enemies…” (VaYikra 26:17). Another point, who was this Canaanite king of Arad that dwelt in the south? We know that the arch enemy of Israel, Amalek, dwelt in the Negev which is in southern Canaan (BaMidbar 13:29).

We learned back in Bereishit (Genesis) that there was strife between our patriarch Avraham and his nephew Lot which eventually led to their separating: “And there was quarrelling between the herdsmen of Avram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock – and the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land…So Avram said to Lot: Please let there be no strife between me and you, and your herdsmen and between my herdsmen, for we are kin. Is not all the land before you? Please separate from me: If you go left then I will go right and if you go right then I will go left” (Bereishit 13:7 – 9). Why suddenly are the Canaanites and Perizzites mentioned? Rabbi Mordechai Rogov (1900-1969; Rosh Yeshiva Beit Medrash LaTorah in Chicago) writes: Aharon HaKohen was an Ohev Shalom V’Rodef Shalom – a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace (Mishnah Avot 1:12), who preserved peace in K’lal Yisra’el. Once Aharon was gone, MaChloket – arguments and fights began. Therefore, the B’nei Yisra’el became vulnerable to attack from outside.
What is the significance of the “Canaanite was then in the land?” As long as there was peace between the shepherds of Avram and Lot, their unity was a guarantee of protection from external enemies; but as soon as quarrels broke out, there was a cause for worry about the Canaan being in the land. When there are quarrels among the Jewish people, they become vulnerable to attack from external enemies.”

RaShI teaches us that when “…the Canaanite king of Arad who dwelled in the south heard…” that the king of Canaan was actually the king of Amalek (21:1).The Amalekites confused the Israelites because though they dressed as Amalekites, they spoke the Canaanite language. They knew much about the relationship between the B’nei Yisra’el, they thought that HaShem was angry with the Israelites and that Israel’s prayers for aid against the Canaanites would not be answered because they were not Canaanites, they were actually Amalekites. However, since there was confusion over who these warriors actually were, they requested from HaShem: “If you will deliver THIS PEOPLE in my hand, I will consecrate their cities [give all their booty to the Tabernacle]. HaShem heard the voice of Israel, and He delivered the Canaanite…” (21: 2 – 3).

Amalek, the arch enemy of Israel, knows that we are most vulnerable when we quarrel and desecrate G-d’s Name. As Jews we too must be aware of our vulnerabilities. With so many enemies trying to destroy individual Jews around the world and also the State of Israel, we need to show the traits of Aharon and become pursuers of peace. Though this seems to be a ridiculous notion, it is historically true. With the attitude that many Jews of various streams of Judaism have, namely, that their brand of Judaism is the only true brand, leads us into very dangerous territory. When certain Jews refuse to acknowledge the validity of other Jews, we all are in danger.

Now more than ever we must unite and respect each other even though we are different. We must actively search for paths of peace rather than denigrating our difference. As Avot D’Rabi Natan, chapter 12 teaches us: “How to be a Rodef Shalom? The phrase teaches us that a person should be a pursuer of peace among the Jews, between each and every one. If a person sits in his/her place and is silent, how can s/he pursue peace among Jews, between each and every one? Rather, one should go out from one’s own place and go searching in the world and pursue peace among all the Jews.” Some versions of this teaching read “people” rather than “Jews.”

With the world forming alliances against us, political and social solutions just won’t work. We must become a united people showing love and respect between us. Every derisive remark, every act of violence and disrespect causes a stone to be thrown, a rocket to be launched and evil forces to unite against us. Amalek is confusing us; they are dressed as enemies but speak a language that disguises their true identity.

Behold how good and how pleasing it is if brothers (people) could sit together in unity” (Psalm 133:1) is not just a song; it is the formula for peace. Give peace a chance.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110929/30 Rosh HaShanah – 5772

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VORTIFY YOURSELF
Reb Yosil Rosenzweig
rebyosil@gmail.com
ROSH HASHANAH – 5772
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One of the great themes of Rosh HaShanah embedded in the reading on the second day of Rosh Hashanah is the story of the Akeidah – the binding of Isaac. Though this chronicle (Bereishit – Genesis 22), is ripe with magnificent spiritual and practical concepts, my favorite is the tension between Avraham and G-d, when Avraham is asked to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzchak. In the opening verse HaShem challenges Avraham and calls out to him: “Avraham , Avraham, and he [Avraham] said, Heneini – behold, here I am.”
After Avraham proves his faithfulness and just before he slashes into the throat of his beloved son, verse 11 states: “And the angel of the L-rd called to him from heaven, and said, Avraham, Avraham; and he said, Heneini – behold, here am I.”
For over 30 years I was a congregational Rabbi with various orthodox synagogues in small communities in the United States and Canada, but the make-up of these Jewish communities were primarily non-orthodox. Every year at this season – during these Yamim NoRa’im – Days of Awe – which encompass both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I asked myself the following question: Why do so many thousands, even millions, of North American Jews attend religious services filling the normally empty pews on these High Holy Days? What motivates them to flock to the synagogue on these days in such large numbers? Is it old–fashioned Jewish guilt, or just plain nostalgia? Is it the residual power of custom and tradition? Is it the rabbi’s brilliant sermons, or the cantor’s inspiring chanting of the liturgy which bring them out in such great numbers? Is it the spiritual reminder of repentance (in Hebrew it actually means return) which somehow still strikes a responsive chord in Jews during these few days each year? Or is it something else entirely?
While I am really not sure as to what the answer might be, I have an uneasy feeling that none of the classical reasons just mentioned are operative any more for most North American Jews. Old–fashioned Jewish guilt and nostalgia have long ceased to be a motivating factor in their lives. Moreover, it is rather difficult to ascribe the reason to the power of custom and tradition when these elements appear to be powerless motivators for most of the remainder of the year. And even if some of the celebrants/congregants/repentants actually do listen to the rabbi’s sermons and enjoy the musical renditions of the cantor, these forms of entertainment are not the catalysts that bring so many people to the synagogue for long hours of prayer services.
Perhaps, then, it is the religious message of the need for Teshuvah – Repentance, the main theme of these High Holy Days that still speaks to the hearts of contemporary Jews? Perhaps there is an admission, a reckoning with reality, that we need these few days for some personal and collective introspection which we never seem to have time for during the rat race of our daily living.
Yet, while it is tempting to think that there might be something to this theory – and I am sure many of my colleagues would like to believe this – I don’t think that the theory holds much water or weight. It is just too difficult to imagine that contemporary Jews, who appear to be disinterested in or disinclined to the religious message or the way of life of Judaism for most of the year, are suddenly genuinely interested in HaShem, prayer and repentance, which are the focal activities of these long days in the synagogue. So, there must be another explanation. While I admit and recognize that in fact, there may be no logical or rational hypothesis for this different pattern of behavior, at least not one that can be empirically proven or supported, I nevertheless would like to offer the following theory.
When I moved with my family to Sefat, Israel (1979) I worked for an organization called Gesher (bridge) that brought Israeli youth from a grade 11 class of an Israel secular High School and a religious High School together for a 4 day seminar on Jewish identity. Usually the first two days were fierce, each group attempting to outdo the other and prove that the modern State of Israel is dependent on their ideals and their values. After a few days, the two groups began to realize that they had more in common with each other than what separated them. After first negating the other group’s lifestyles and priorities, they saw that they were one people expressing themselves differently.
On the last night, after the rooms were emptied and all the luggage were placed on their awaiting buses, I concluded the seminar with one last values-clarification exercise. I handed out paper and pencils to all these young people and asked them to draw a picture of a “Yehudi Amiti – an authentic Jew.” 99% of the all the sketches came back as ultra-orthodox Jews. They had fought each other over their legitimate place in the State of Israel and very few drew pictures of themselves.
More than any other days in the Jewish calendar, Jews the world over come out to the synagogue to proclaim symbolically and physically: Heneinu – we are still here! Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as a result, have turned into massive demonstrations of Jewish Solidarity, a major homecoming event, a chance for Jews to emerge from their loneliness and their individuality to announce: We are still Jews! We want to identify with the Jewish People, and even the Jewish religious “Way of Life.”
These days, have then become the most massive demonstrations of Jewish identification – of linkage to a common past, present and future – the greatest solidarity rallies that the Jewish people in modern times have been able to muster.
This is a phenomenon that we should never deride. This homecoming theory, I feel, helps us to understand why so many Jews come to the synagogue for occasions such as this: to see and be seen; to observe that others are still proclaiming that they too, are part of the tribe. They wish to be seen by their rabbis and their fellow Jews, who are still part of the extended family, known as “the congregation,” or part of the larger extended family known as “the Jewish people.”
It’s a mistake that those of us who are committed to the Jewish covenant make when we ridicule the “three times a year Jew.” That Jew actually represents about a third of the Jewish population in any given community.
Here’s and exercise for you. Find out how many synagogues and temples are in your community and the seating capacity that each can handle. Now check with the local federation or Jewish center and find out approximately how many Jews there are in your community. You will be surprised that only about one-third of the Jewish community could possibly fit into all the available spaces. Where are the rest? Their connection with the Jewish people has been all but severed, they still may enjoy Kishka and Kreplach, but that’s about it.
When you see the overflowing congregations during these “Days of Awe,” remember their silent but powerful “Heneini – here I am,” connecting themselves to you – those who are literate and who are knowledgeable. They are silently linking their destiny with yours and stand by your side, even if for only three days a year.
May the year 5772 become a year when we will appreciate each other and through unity cause peace to rain down on the Jewish people, Israel and the whole planet.
Shana Tovah,
Reb Yosil

110924 – PARSHIOT NETZAVIM/VAYELECH

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHIOT NETZAVIM/VAYELECH

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 29:9-31:30

Haftorah – Isaiah 61:10-63:9 110924

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Our double Parsha begins with the words: “You are standing today, ALL OF YOU, before HaShem, your G-d…to pass into a covenant with HaShem, your G-d…and to establish you as His people, and He as your G-d…Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this obligation, but also with whoever are not [yet] here with us today.” (Devarim 29:9-14)

The implication is clear, an everlasting covenant is being made not only with that generation of Israelites about to enter the Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel), but with all future generations of Jews – a covenant that proclaims that HaShem and Israel will be faithful, committed and conscious of each other.

How appropriate to read this Parsha the week proceeding Rosh HaShanah, which begins next Wednesday day night. Many of us believe that Rosh HaShanah is the holiday acknowledging the anniversary of G-d’s creating the universe; however, this is a common mistake. Rosh HaShanah marks the sixth day of creation – the creation of Man – the day spiritual consciousness came into being. It is fitting therefore, that we utilize this holy-day to elevate our consciousness to the pursuit of goodness, for that is what HaShem expects of us.

One of the major difficulties in changing our patterns of life is that we basically consider ourselves “good people.” We are civilized, charitable, loving and kind people. We don’t see ourselves as evil wagers of war upon G-d and His definitions of good and evil, we are basically generous promoters of our definitions of goodness, so, what is there to change?

We can gain an insight from the Torah’s description of the meeting between our Patriarch Avraham and AviMelech of Gerar. The Torah reading on the first day of Rosh HaShanah (Bereishit [Genesis] 21:1-34) ends with a renewed peace treaty made between AviMelech and Avraham. But in order for there to be a renewal, we must first understand the original peace treaty made between them. Let me set the scene for you from Bereishit (Genesis) 20:1-18, the chapter immediately prior to the Torah reading on the first day of Rosh HaShanah.

Avraham and Sarah were relocating their home after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They had to travel through Gerar, a province of Philistia, which was known for its “law-abiding” adherence to an upstanding code of civil law, under the authority of King AviMelech. Now, AviMelech was known to have an eye for beautiful women, in fact, included in his harem were women who were once married to other men. AviMelech was not so ghastly as to bed a married woman, no, he was a civilized man, and would never consider violating the woman of another man. But, somehow that woman’s husband would conveniently be murdered, leaving the door open now for AviMelech’s seemingly legitimate advances.

Protocol forced Avraham to pay his respects to AviMelech, and to avoid any threat to his life, he introduced Sarah as his sister. AviMelech immediately desired Sarah and had her brought (against her will) to his harem. Before he could do anything with Sarah, AviMelech fell into a deep sleep and had a strange dream. In his dream, G-d came to him and warned him that Avraham was a prophet of great stature, and any abuse to Sarah his wife, would of anger G-d.

AviMelech got up from his sleep and with great indignance called for Avraham and Sarah, demanding to know why Avraham lied to him, almost causing him to commit a horrendous sin with Sarah. Avraham answered AviMelech; “And Avraham said: ‘…for there is no fear (awe) of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife‘ ” (Bereishit 20:11).

Avraham came to a civilized part of the world, known for their law-abiding character, these were good people, and yet he eluded the truth about his relationship with Sarah because he knew that his life was in jeopardy. “There is no fear of G-d in this place, and they will slay me over the matter of my wife.

Being civilized is a wonderful framework to live by, but what happens when there is a conflict with what I want and being civilized? My desires and not necessarily my morality may win out. It is the “awe” of G-d that holds man back from his own hungry desires. Morals based on civilized behavior can change, as we in this generation have so often seen.

I grew up in the sixties, when the call words of my generation were, “make love not war.” Those words to my parents generation were “prost,” or boorish. For instance, in my youth, abortions were wrong and practically unheard of for upstanding members of the community. If one did submit to an abortion, there was a prevailing sense of shame and one tried to keep the deed secret. Today, abortion is a moral right, and if someone actually verbalizes that it is wrong, she/he is immediately labeled a right-wing fanatic.

Acquiring the fear of G-d, or let us use a more pleasing terminology, becoming G-d conscious, is the main message of Judaism – to Jew or to Gentile. Realizing His presence in the most mundane or secular aspects of our daily lives is what Rosh HaShanah is all about.

Being a civilized individual is wonderful, if that is all that you can reach for. But we the Jewish people have more than just being civilized to offer the world, we offer G-d consciousness – which has responsibilities that go beyond just being kind to your wife and children, or concerned about the ecology. It is our obligation to discover our own place in a created world, that is watched over by none other than the Melech Malchei HaMelachim (the King of kings), HaKodosh Baruch Hu (the Holy One Blessed Be He). This responsibility can only be acquired by adhering to laws and principals that go beyond human sensibilities – His Torah and Mitzvot.

So when we are about to put food in our mouths, we must be G-d conscious. When we ponder our observance of Shabbat or holidays, we must be G-d conscious. When we consider throwing that tissue out the car window, we must be G-d conscious. When choosing a mate, we must be G-d conscious. And when considering the worth of being a member of a Shul (synagogue), or part of a Jewish community, we must also be G-d conscious.

I believe that what stops many from seeking a committed path to HaShem is the fear of becoming an extremist. But as the Torah teaches about its own character: “Dera’cheha Darchei No’am, – its trails are always pleasant, V’Chol N’tivoteha Shalom – and all her pathways lead to peace” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 3:18).

While we did not physically stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai, or on the day that a new covenant was entered into prior to the Israelites entering the Land of Israel, our Parsha declares that spiritually we were all there. An everlasting covenant with all future generations was entered into with both a sense of awe and faithfulness. Let us mark the new year of 5772 as a year when G-d consciousness is an acceptable goal to all of mankind and not an expression of extremism. Let us come together and question our existence and our role in G-d’s plan. Let us provide every opportunity for our children and our grandchildren’s generations, to successfully traverse the trails and pathways of life. And let us all pray for a year of blessings, a year of health and a year of peace for all mankind.

On behalf of my entire family, I wish you all a K’Tivah V’Chatima Tovah, may you all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tovah,

Reb Yosil

110917 – Parshat Ki Tavo

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VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT KI TAVO

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 26:1-29:8

Haftorah – Isaiah 60:1-22

110917

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There’s a saying, “clothes make the man.” It is true that when we look at an individual we often “size them up” based on what they are wearing. That first impression however, does not always accurately reflect the truth of the individual.

Typical of the Book of Devarim, this week’s Parsha is again one of those in which Moshe “sums up” important commandments, forewarnings of not observing the Mitzvot, and many events of the previous forty years. At the very end of the Parsha, almost as a by–the–way, he refers to a miracle which appears to have not mentioned previously. In verse 29:4, Moshe says to the people, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness, your clothes have not grown old upon you…”

Of course, we can simply take this at face value, namely, that there was a miracle, and over the past forty years the people’s clothes did not wear out. However, two points argue for more analysis.

First, most miracles involve an action (such as the Manna falling from heaven, or the Reed Sea parting, etc.) rather than something that doesn’t happen. Second, Moshe is speaking to survivors of the “forty years,” to adults who were children or yet unborn at the time of the Exodus and should no longer fit into the clothes they were wore originally! To what, then, could Moshe have been referring?

At least two other incidents in the Torah seem to echo this scene and may allow us to add another dimension to Moshe’ statement. The first involves Ya’akov (Jacob) and his followers after the rescue of his daughter Dinah from the city of Shechem (Bereishit [Genesis] 34:25). As a result of that rescue, the women and children of Shechem had been absorbed into Ya’akov’s family (Bereishit 34:29). HaShem then spoke to Jacob and told him to rededicate his people to G-d.

In doing so, Ya’akov said: “…put away the strange gods that are among you, purify yourselves, change your garments, and let us arise and go up to Bethel…” (Bereishit 35:2-3). Here Ya’akov places an emphasis on the changing of clothes, a single detail of out of the hundreds of necessary minutiae involved in moving Ya’akov’s camp. Not only that, but why change garments before a journey rather than prior to the rededication ceremonies at the end of the journey? Arguably then, the changing of the garments symbolizes the changing of a faith system and the acceptance of Israelite practice.

In the second incident, the Children of Israel, having just escaped from Egypt, are standing at Mount Sinai, about to receive the Ten Commandments. HaShem said to Moshe: “…go unto the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments…” (Shemot [Exodus] 19:10).

Again, emphasis on a small detail, but more understandable if we read this as a “cleaning the slate,” by pledging to obey HaShem’s new commandments in preparation to becoming “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6).

We see in both of these incidents, that references to people’s clothing are in fact allusions to their belief systems. Following this line of reasoning, we can now read our original quotation from Moshe as saying, “…I have led you forty years in the wilderness; the beliefs which you adopted at Sinai have not grown old upon you…”

In our own time, we also have had our own Sinai experiences and traveled through our own wildernesses. As we approach the Rosh HaShanah season, perhaps an appropriate plea is for Moshe’s miracle to again be repeated for us so that we will wear our old clothes for yet another year, or, that the new clothes we might be putting on for the very first time, not grow old upon our backs.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

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