130914 – Yom Kippur

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Yom Kippur 01rebyosil@gmail.com

YOM KIPPUR

Shacharit – Morning Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1-34

BaMidbar (Numbers) 29:7-11

Haftarah ‑ Isaiah 57:14-58:14,

Mincha – Afternoon Service

VaYikra (Leviticus) 18:1-30

Haftarah ‑ Book of Jonah and

Micah 7:18-20

130914

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 “For this day shall be an atonement for you to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be cleansed before HaShem. It is a Sabbath of Sabbaths (a Sabbath of complete rest) for you, and you should afflict yourselves; an eternal decree” (VaYikra 16:30-31).

One of the anomalies of Yom Kippur is the status it carries as Shabbat Shabbaton (the Sabbath of Sabbaths). Most of us who observe Shabbat know that to observe one must follow certain Halachik (legal) guidelines: We must dress appropriately; we must eat festive meals; we must read special sections from the Torah; etc. It appears somewhat incongruous that on a day that might be described as a super-Shabbat not only do we not eat our usual three festive Shabbat meals, but we are forbidden to eat or drink any food at all. Why?

The verse says: “you should afflict yourselves,” which is understood as not eating or drinking. The RaMBaM (acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon [Maimonides], 1135-1204, Egypt) the great codifier and philosopher maintains that the root of the word Shabbat means to cease; we are obligated to cease or rest from eating and drinking. In fact, the RaMBaM brings the law (Laws of Yom Kippur 1:4-5): “There is a further positive commandment on Yom Kippur. It is to rest from eating and drinking. It is [also] forbidden to bathe, to apply lotion to the body, to wear [leather] shoes, or to cohabitate. It is a positive commandment to rest from all these just as it is to rest from eating.” The RaMBaM saw the cessation from eating and drinking as a form of rest. HaShem frees the Jews from certain physical activities on that one day allowing us, to strive for something much higher.

The Pirke de Rebbe Eliezer chapter 46 (a Midrash composed by the school of Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, circa 100 C.E.) elaborates even further: Sama’el (Satan, the Angel of Death, the Evil Inclination, the Accuser or Prosecutor) saw that sin was not found among [Israel] on Yom Kippur. He said to HaShem: ‘You have a unique nation, which is like the ministering angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews have bare feet (by not wearing shoes) on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”

On Yom Kippur, we give the impression of being angels. We not only refrain from the five prohibitions cited by the RaMBaM, we also dress in white, the color of the angels – the color of purity. This status is fascinating for us to explore in order to understand it better.

Three days after Avraham our Patriarch was circumcised, he sat at the entrance of his tent looking for a way to do his special Mitzvah – hospitality to strangers. HaShem came to him and was Mivaker Choleh (visited the infirm); during that visit, Avraham saw three figures approaching from the desert. HaShem appeared to him in the pains of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance of his tent, in the heat of the day. He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! He perceived that three men were approaching him, so he ran toward them from the tent entrance and bowed to the ground” (Bereishit [Genesis] 18:1-2).

RaShI (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, France, 1040 ‑ 1105) on the words “three men were approaching” cites an amazing Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 50:2) that claims the three were angels: “One to bring tidings (of the birth of Yitzchak) to Sarah; one to destroy Sodom; and one to heal Avraham. For one angel does not perform two missions.”

Angels are similar to robots; they serve only one purpose or function. Though HaShem has hosts of angels, each is programed for a specific function: Raphael is the healer; Gavriel is the forceful one; Satan is the Accuser, etc.

If Israel is likened to angels on Yom Kippur, then maybe the above mentioned Pirke de Rebbe Eliezer is telling us that our function on Yom Kippur is to focus our lives to our one and only function: to spread holiness in the world through the fulfillment of HaShem’s Torah.

We have to some extent lost track of our true objective. We think that we were created in order to heal the sick, or to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, to compose beautiful music, or to produce great movies, or just to make a living. But that is not so. Our true purpose is to spread HaShem’s holiness in the world; perhaps we can accomplish this by being doctors, musicians, social workers, poets, housewives or rabbis. However, at times we get sidetracked and we focus on how much “I” get out of my efforts rather than how we can fulfill His directives. Yom Kippur is the one day of the year when we attempt to get back on track, look at our faults and rectify them through Teshuvah (repentance or better – a return to His priorities).

And so, one day a year, we are likened to angels who do not need food or drink, or bathing, or applying lotions to our bodies, or wear the hides of animals on our feet, or even cohabit with our spouses. All of these needs distract us from His directives.

Angels do not need to satisfy any physical, emotional or spiritual needs; they are pure energy whose sole purpose is to serve their Creator, though their service is robot-like. since angels do not have the ability to make choices. Human beings on the other hand have souls that are spiritual but are imprisoned in a physical shell, always needing to be fed, clothed, pleasured and nurtured. Yet this imprisonment is also the glory of humanity. Unlike the angels, we can rise above our limitations and serve our Creator by blending both our physical and our spiritual natures. For this reason the Torah was given to human beings rather than to the angels.

So the RaMBaM, RaShI and Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and all of our teachers and mentors stress the point that on Yom Kippur we attempt to fool Satan into thinking that we are angels, not centered on the physical but on our divine purpose. “Sama’el …said to HaShem: ‘You have a unique nation, similar to the angels in heaven. Just as the angels have bare feet, so the Jews are bare foot on Yom Kippur. Just as angels neither eat nor drink, so the Jews neither eat nor drink on Yom Kippur…’ ”

Do not see our abstinence from the five pleasures as affliction; rather we view it as a respite from our limitations as humans. Our true objective is to serve HaShem with joy, awe and love, and to attend Him with our entire body, heart and soul. That is spirit of the day; and when achieved, it deludes the angel Sama’el into perceiving that we too are angels.

Tzom Kal – Have an easy fast,

Reb Yosil

120901 – Parshat Ki Teitzei

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT KI TEITZEI

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-25:19

Haftarah – Isaiah 54:1-10

090829

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fences are fascinating. They make a statement of ownership and personal space. Whether in rural areas or urban neighborhoods, fences define physical boundaries and are clear markers of property lines. They’re not difficult to erect, a surveyor’s skill and a good fence-builder are usually all one needs to define physical space. I wish it were so simple in the other spaces in which we also live. Beyond the private hedges that bound our properties, we live in a Jewish religious world and in a particular community.

Over the past few years I have participated in various efforts within this community to clarify the matter of religious pluralism. The work has been challenging and rewarding, searching for meaningful ways to become truly welcoming and inclusive to other Jewish communities. In the process, I strengthened my own understanding of us as Jews. Knowing how we are different also clarifies our convictions positively.

We often discover that we need to first make clear our separate and then our shared values before we can effectively define who or what is inside and who or what is outside our boundaries. Groups are sustained by shared values and the distinctions we hold in common about what are good, worthwhile, rewarding and ethical.

Boundaries define groups. Whether we are speaking of a 10–person Minyan or the whole Jewish people, all groups use boundaries to define themselves; to define who or what is inside and who or what is outside, a group defines itself by recognizing differentiation. Just think of the Boy and Girl Scout troops of our childhood and the fraternities of our college days. Secret handshakes and special clothing helped create our sense of belonging. Symbols and rituals also point to deeply–held values.

When I was a synagogue Rabbi, defining our orthodox values also helped members of the congregation who did not necessarily live their daily lives by orthodox standards appraise such questions as:

  1. Can one grant synagogue membership to a Jewish person who is intermarried?
  2. Does one offer a Mazal Tov to congregational members on the engagement of a child when they become engaged to a non–Jew?
  3. Do you count a non–Orthodox convert in a Minyan at a Shiva?

Over the past century and a half, the development of at least three new Jewish sub-groups has opened up a schism between each of these groups and demands dialogue in order to reunite. Add to this that fact that we live in an open society that insures freedom and legitimacy to all, confuses and exposes us to the very cost of assimilation and the breaking down of some fences. In contemporary Jewish communities, clarifying our boundaries requires that we first identify them.

The boundaries of a group need to be intelligible about its rights and responsibilities. Anthropology teaches us that when people experience a boundary as coherent – even if they don’t understand it – they will accept it. We read in the Torah (Shemot – Exodus 19:24) read on the festival of Shavu’ot: “But let not the priest or the people break through [YeHareisu] to come up unto HaShem.” Biblical commentators Abraham Ibn Ezra (Spain, 1080-1164, poet, grammarian, Bible commentator, philosopher, astronomer, and physician) and David Kimchi (1160-1235 of Provence, leading Bible commentator and grammarian) interpret the word YeHareisu as “to break through a boundary.” Even at the very moments of Divine revelation, boundaries must be maintained. Boundaries can also be uncomfortable and uneasy. Our challenge is to keep Judaism vital by giving voice to our most–deeply held values. In today’s “open-society” the only way to maintain the group is to maintain its boundaries.

Consider as we discuss the matter of boundaries a few features from this week’s Parsha. The Torah portion includes four laws with a single theme: “A male should not wear women’s clothing, nor should a woman wear male clothing” (Deut. 22:5); “we should not sow with two kinds of seeds” (Deut. 22:9); “we should not plough with an ox and a donkey together” (Deut. 22:10); and “we should not wear clothing made of linen and wool” (Deut. 22:11). These laws all forbid various forms of mixtures.

Two of these passages are included in another passage regarding forbidden mixtures in VaYikra (Leviticus) 19:19. There, along with the laws regarding sowing two kinds of seeds and wearing cloth made of two kinds of material, we are also forbidden to mate two species of cattle. Here, these laws are preceded by the general statement that we are to obey HaShem’s Chukim – ordinances. RaShI (acronym for RShlomo Yitzchaki [1040-1105], considered the commentator par excellence. RaShI’s commentary on the Torah as well as his commentary on the Talmud is considered absolutely basic to the understanding of the text to this very day), in line with the rabbinic tradition, identifies Chukim as Divine decrees for which human beings cannot discern any reason. The paradigm for these apparently irrational (at least to humans) Divine decrees is, of course, the “red heifer” that paradoxically purifies the ritually impure but renders impure the one who administers it (BaMidbar – Numbers 19). We are to obey such laws simply out of obligation to HaShem as Jews.

On the VaYikra 19 passage, the ArtScroll Stone Chumash adds the comment of the RaMBaN (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, a.k.a. Nachmanides, b. Spain, 1194; d. Acre, 1270, one of the greatest medieval Jewish sages, Halachic authority, philosopher, mystic, Bible commentator, poet, and doctor. Participated and was victorious in numerous polemics with church leaders), who acknowledges our human wish to understand HaShem’s precepts and then offers a reason of sorts for HaShem’s forbidding sowing with different kinds of seeds. “HaShem created the world with certain distinct species, and His wisdom decreed that these species remain intact and unadulterated. For man to take it upon himself to alter the order of creation suggests a lack of faith in HaShem’s plan.”

But, ArtScroll continues, “…we should not assume that these laws of mixtures forbid the infinite number of combinations that are so much a part of modern life. To the contrary, man is duty–bound to improve the world and in a sense, `complete’ the work of creation.” Why should we avoid altering the order of creation, and why are certain mixtures forbidden and others permitted?

In order to grasp the principles underlying these laws, it is important to observe that the passage is climaxed with the injunction: “Kedoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – You shall be holy, for I [HaShem] am holy” (Lev. 11:45). This same injunction prefaces the list of laws in BaMidbar 19:2.

What then does Kadosh, or holiness, mean? As I have mentioned many times, the root of the Hebrew word Kadosh – holy – means “distinctive or set apart.” It is, in fact, a synonym for the Hebrew root BDL, as in the word `HaVDaLlah,’ which is the ritual that “sets apart” the Sabbath or holy days from the common week. Havdallah – the separation ceremony performed on Saturday night is the parallel ritual to the Friday evening ritual of Kiddush that enters in the Sabbath. These then are two sides of the same ritual: they both “set apart” the Sabbath or holidays from the week preceding and following.

Holiness is exemplified by completeness. Holiness requires that individuals shall conform to the group to which they belong. Holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused. Finally, echoing the RaMBaN, holiness means keeping distinct the categories of creation. To be holy is to be whole, to be one; holiness is unity, integrity and the perfection of the individual and of the kind. The ultimate purpose of Judaism is to create and maintain an ordered experience of the world. Judaism is our attempt to wrest order out of chaos, harmony out of anarchy.

Let us return to the ultimate issue on fences and fellowship. What is especially necessary in this denominational discussion and inquiry is to hear the other person even if we cannot agree or accept such a position. In this modern age when having personal boundaries is considered anti-social; we become conflicted when confronted by a value system other than our own. However, boundaries are certainly not by definition bad. Just as they are important in maintaining law and order and we clearly accept them in business and commerce, so too do they work in interpersonal relationships. There is no need to deride them just because they exist and operate in the realm of religion and faith.

By respecting boundaries and appreciating their purpose, we preserve our integrity, the uniqueness of our personalities and our individual and shared pursuits. As it says in Pirkei Avot – the Ethics of Our Ancestors (1:1): “…make a fence about the Torah.” Or as a poet wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120804 – Parshat Va’Etchanan/Shabbat Nachamu

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT VA’ETCHANAN

Devarim 3:23 – 7:11

SHABBAT NACHAMU

Haftarah – Isaiah 40:1-26

120804

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Thursday, the 14th of Av was the first Yahrtzeit of my dear mother Helen Rosenzweig – Chayah bat R’ Shmu’el HaKohen. And if my parents would still be alive, this Shabbat would have been their 66th wedding anniversary. This week’s “Vort” is dedicated to their memory. Tehi Nishmateihem Tzerura B’Tzror HaChaim – May their souls be bound up in the bond of life.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The scene is all too familiar, you are making a Shiva call. The wife of an old friend has died suddenly from a massive heart attack. You thought you might be out enjoying a movie or a show; instead, you are uncomfortably visiting the grieving husband to express your sorrow and condolence. The scenario can get even worse. Sometimes it is a son or a daughter, or even a grandchild, who dies. We each have our own examples of such loss and destruction and they all lead up to the same scene. You get out of your car to visit the grieving family, after all, it’s the Jewish thing to do, and therefore you do it. But you find yourself asking over and over again: “What can I say? What possible comfort can I offer?”

This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu – the Sabbath of Comfort (following the first few words of our Haftarah), it’s part of a larger phenomenon linked to the wisdom of our Jewish calen­dar. The genius of an ancient tradition like ours is that over the course of centuries it projects onto the annual flow of time every conceivable human emotion. By living through our calendar we learn to grapple with the gamut of human experi­ences and emotions.

For example, last week, the Shabbat before Tisha B’Av, was Shabbat Chazon – the Sabbath of Vision, or better, the Sabbath of Nightmare. We read Jeremiah’s horrible vision of the destruction of Jerusalem, and thereby we experience, at least vicariously, what it feels like to grieve. By contrast, this week (the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av), we read about comfort, or more precisely, we identify with the prophets whom HaShem charged with comforting Israel after its loss of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. They, too, wondered, how.

Their questions are our questions as we park the car and close the door. “Comfort? How can I comfort someone whose child was just killed by a drunk driver?” How can I find the words to assist those who are grieving the loss of a loved one? How does one begin or open up the discussion? Most simply put, what words of consolation can one say?

I had this very feeling a while back when I called someone to check up on her and see how she was doing. Her husband passed away a few weeks before. I mistakenly asked her the rhetorical question – “how are things going?” Words and language seem so limiting and woefully inadequate at moments of loss and bereavement and it is precisely in this regard that Judaism has some sage advice and good counsel.

This is the time of the year when our calendar asks us to come to terms as best as we can, with tragedy and the aftermath of human sorrow. We remember again that every day of life is a gift, a tenuous extension of the day before, which was itself nothing to take lightly. Why should we be here at all? What are the chances that human life should even occur against the madness which grips so much of our world today?

Perhaps I am more intimately connected these days to the concept of life and creation, having recently attended a Brit – a circumcision just a few weeks ago. Life can appear to be so infallible yet, it can quickly be reduced to something so small and insignif­i­cant. As the prophet Isaiah puts it, “All flesh is grass; all its goodness like flowers of a field – for the grass withers and the flowers fade” (Isaiah 40:6)

So, you get out of your car and make your way to the door of the Shiva house, reminded again that life is tenuous, and you wonder again, “What can I say to comfort my friend?” Again, the prophet has anticipated your question as if he knew the inner dialogue that haunts us all. “One voice cries out, speak! Another asks, what is there to say” (ibid)?

The Torah itself provides an answer. HaShem instructs the prophet in our Haftarah, “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami – Comfort, yes, comfort my people, Dibru Al Lev – Speak tender­ly” (Isaiah 40:1-2). There it is, so succinctly stated, “speak tenderly.” The Hebrew phrase actually reads, “speak to the heart,” that is, speak words that are accepted by the heart, and not simply with the rational faculty that we call the mind. There is nothing logical we can say that will ever bring comfort to those who have suf­fered a loss.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed this phenome­non of human behavior too often in Shiva houses where people are mourning and hurting. I have seen the efforts of well–inten­tioned, well–meaning individu­als who try to offer advice, who engage in plati­tudes, cheap or ill –an improper and poorly placed philosophi­cal exer­cise, in their desire to at least say some­thing. We think that we must offer answers. We feel that we must say something. We feel that we are obligated to provide an explanation. And we are wrong.

For we are not all mind, we are heart as well and we must find a way to speak to their hearts. Forget the logic and speak to the inner core of one’s being, to one’s heart. As Jewish wisdom puts it, “words spoken from the heart enter the heart.” “Dibru Al Lev Yerushalayim speak to the heart” – says the prophet Isaiah.

The next time that one has to make a Shiva call, remember the simple rule of the prophet Isaiah, don’t try to explain. One need not feel obliged to justify a death, or even to reassure the mourners that things will get better. Lacking something profound to say, realize that you do not have to settle for small talk, rather, a loving embrace, a heartfelt look from eyes that understand. We provide some fond memories of the person who died and a few short sentences that mean, “I love you; I am sorry; it’s awful; I don’t under­stand either, but I am here with you in your moment of grief.” That is the comfort we have to offer. We console and we help heal – with our presence, with our hearts and not with our heads.

“Do not reason with people when their deceased lie before them,” advised the rabbis. But that doesn’t mean that there is nothing to say. Yes, you can park your car outside the next Shiva house, knowing that you are appropriate in the power that you have at such a time. You can step confidently through the doorway, realizing that the very purpose of your actions is your presence. “Com­fort,” yes, comfort them – “Dibru Al Lev – speak to the heart” – speak tenderly to them. For what comes from your heart we can believe will surely go directly into theirs.

This is how we as Jews offer comfort and consola­tion. We need not offer answers, but only provide our love and our presence. Our standing together and being available for others in their moments of need – this is one of the highest forms of Chesed – loving kindness.

When my mother passed away last year I was forced to mourn alone, I was in the hospital in Toronto when I received the news of her passing and my sisters accompanied my mother for burial in Israel, joining my brother there. After my children left and I sat Shivah alone I experienced a raw sense of abandonment, until my friends and the friends of my mother sat with me. Our Torah and our tradition, gives us a way to be consoled when we grieve by requiring the presence of others.

May the prophet Isaiah’s words ultimately be realized: “Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God: I will strengthen you; I will help you; and I will sustain you through My power” (Isaiah 41:10). The fulfillment of the Mitzvah of Nichum Aveilim – Comforting the mourners – by our very presence, brings the presence of HaShem into our hearts and into our homes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120707 – Parshat Balak

*************************

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT BALAK

BaMidbar (Numbers) 22:2-25:9

Haftarah – Micah 5:6-6:8

120707

*************************

In this week’s portion we again examine the Ko’ach HaDibur (the power of speech). On the Israelite’s final journeys toward Eretz Yisra’el (the land of Israel), and after the defeat of the armies of Og king of Bashan and Sichon king of Emor, Balak (king of Midian and Mo’av), realizes that Am Yisra’el (the nation of Israel) cannot be militarily defeated in the conventional manner. He sends for Bil’am, a Mesopotamian prophet who has the ability to place powerful curses on people and nations, so that Bil’am’s power of speech might be the impetus for Israel’s downfall. HaShem does not give Bil’am permission to curse Israel but after some cajoling He does allow Bil’am to journey with king Balak’s emissaries to Mo’av.

Bilam saddles his donkey and sets out. HaShem sends an angel to block the way and three times Bil’am beats his donkey for he cannot see the vision of the angel. Suddenly a miracle occurred, “VaYiftach HaShem Et Pi HaAton – And HaShem opened the mouth of the donkey” (BaMidbar 22:28-35).

Over the past four weeks, each Parsha has had a focus on the gift of speech, which to many commentators is the meaning of humans being created “in the image of HaShem.” At the end of Parshat Beha’alotcha (BaMidbar 12:1-14), Miriam and Aharon speak against Moshe’s relations with his wife and Miriam is punished with Tzara’at (leprosy); In Parshat Shlach Lecha (BaMidbar 13:1-14:44), ten spies bring back an evil report of Eretz Yisra’el and Am Yisra’el’s negative reaction triggers their forty year sojourn in the desert; In Parshat Korach (BaMidbar 16:1-35), Korach speaks against Moshe and Aharon which instigates a rebellion against Moshe’s authority, which results in Korach and his assembly being swallowed up by the earth; and finally, in last week’s Parsha, Moshe struck the water-bearing rock rather than speaking to it, and lost his privilege to enter Eretz Yisra’el.

There is a very interesting Mishna in Pirke Avot (The Ethics of our Ancestors – an ethical treatise). Chapter 5, Mishnah 8 reads: “Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, at twilight. They are: 1: The mouth of the earth (Korach); 2: The mouth of the well (Miriam); 3: The mouth of the donkey (Bilam); 4: The rainbow (No’ach); 5: The Manna (Moshe); 6: The staff (Moshe); 7: The Shamir (King Solomon); 8: The alphabet (Hebrew); 9: The inscription (on the Tablets); 10: The Tablets (Yisra’el).”

The universe’ creation ended with the Shabbat, which began at sundown on Friday, but Bein HaShmashot ([literally “between the illuminating orbs,” or twilight] the time between the setting of the sun and darkness) is a difficult time period to define. Does this time period belong to Friday, or does it belong to Shabbat? The mystical quality of Bein HaShmashot is the reason we Jews begin Shabbat at sunset on Friday evening and end it after the stars appear in the heavens on Saturday night. It is during this time that HaShem created the last necessary items needed to make the world perfect. He knew that there would be times when seemingly miraculous events had to take place, but He wanted them included in the natural order of creation. Therefore, these special creations were formed Bein HaShmashot, at the very end of the sixth day, between dusk and darkness in that mystical time that is so hard to define. Let us review these ten manifestations.

  1. Pi HaAretz (the mouth of the earth) – “With this you shall know that HaShem has sent me to do all these acts, that it has not been out of my own heart. If these men die as all men [would normally] do, and that the destiny of all men is theirs, then you shall know that HaShem has not sent me” (BaMidbar 16:28-29).

When the earth opened its mouth (BaMidbar 16:28-33) and swallowed Korach and his assembly, it was not an earthquake or fissure in the conventional sense of the word, this mouth or chasm, had been prepared at the time of creation. Normally prior to an earthquake, the ground experiences tremors and any fissures caused do not close up. This opening left absolutely no suggestion of its existence before or after the occurrence. The death of Korach and his assembly was not natural. Throughout history, many humans have died by earthquakes, but in this case, the earth opened and then closed its mouth.

  1. Pi HaBe’er (the mouth of the well) – Can you imagine 600,000 men between 20 and 50 years of age, plus younger and older men, and plus women, a multitude of approximately 3,000,000 people finding water during their 40 year sojourn in the desert? After the death of Miriam, the B’nei Yisra’el (the children of Israel) found themselves without water. Our Rabbi’s teach us that in the merit of Miriam a fountain of water (the infamous rock) traveled with the B’nei Yisra’el during their sojourns.

Again, this fountain was not an ordinary well, yet its character was part of the natural order, prepared and ready with all of nature prior to the first Shabbat.

  1. Pi HaAton (the mouth of the donkey) – Pay attention to the dialogue between Bilam and his donkey: “HaShem opened the mouth of the donkey and it said to Bil’am, ‘What have I done to you that you struck me these three times? ‘Bilam said to the donkey, ‘Because you mocked me! If only there were a sword in my hand, I would kill you!

The donkey said to Bil’am, ‘Am I not your [she] donkey that you have ridden all of your life until today? Have I been accustomed to doing such a thing to you?’

He said, ‘No.’

Then HaShem uncovered Bil’am’s eyes and he saw the angel of HaShem standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. He [Bil’am] bowed his head and prostrated himself on his face.”

According to Irving M. Bumin (Ethics from Sinai, vol. 3 page 85) Bil’am learned two things from this exchange: “

  • If heaven wills it, even a donkey can see what a prophet cannot. Prophetic vision is under the control of HaShem.
  • Speech is a G-d given gift and Bil’am should reserve his speech for words directed to him from above.”

The ability of the donkey to speak to Bil’am was not miraculous in the common sense of the word. it was arranged even before creation was complete.

  1. The Rainbow – prior to the flood, a mist hovered over the earth and watered all plants. After the flood, the sun was able to shine forth through the clouds and the phenomenon of a rainbow was unable to be seen. This change in reality that affects us even to this day is the result of the atmospheric conditions set forth when the first rainbow appeared.
  2. The Manna – One of the greatest wonders of creation was Manna, a heavenly food that was pure nourishment. The Midrash Tanchuma (Parshat B’Shalach 22) defines the miraculous quality of this food.

“Manna could assume almost any taste, depending of the consumer. It was completely digested leaving no waste to be expelled. The amount gathered would last all day and rot if left over for the next day. On Fridays a double portion would fall, enough for Friday and Shabbat.

The distance it fell from the home depended on the righteousness of the consumer; the more righteous the consumer, the closer it fell to the doorway of the family’s tent.

For the righteous it was as fine bread; for the virtuous, as course cakes; and the wicked had to grind it between millstones, or beat it with a mortar and pestle. Also, for the young it was as bread; for the old, as wafers made with honey; for infants, as mother’s milk; and for the sick, like fine meal with honey.”

  1. The staff – We read in Shemot (Exodus) 4:17, 20: “And you shall take in your hand this staff, with which you will work wonders…and he took the staff of HaShem in his hand.”

This is the staff that turned into a snake/alligator; that set off the Ten Plagues; that divided the Reed (Red) Sea; and that brought forth water from a rock. Made of sapphire with HaShem’s infallible Name written upon it, this staff was no ordinary staff, its origin was part of the creation process.

Where did it come from? Pirke De’Rebbi Eliezer 40 (a Midrashic work [c.100 C.E.] composed by the school of Rebbe Eliezer ben Hyrcanus) gives the history of the staff. “Created at twilight, before the Sabbath, it was given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam gave it to Chanoch (Enoch), who gave it to Metushelach (Methuselah); he in turn passed it on to Noach (Noah). Noach bequeathed it to his son Shem, who transmitted it to Avraham (Abraham). From Avraham to Yitzchak (Isaac), and then to Ya’akov (Jacob), who took it with him to Egypt. Ya’acov gave it to Yosef (Joseph); upon Yosef’s death all his possessions were removed to Pharaoh’s palace. Yitro (Jethro) one of Pharaoh’s advisors desired it, whereupon he took it and stuck it in the ground in his garden in Midian. From then on no one could pull out the staff until Moshe came. He read the Hebrew letters on the staff and pulled it out easily. Knowing then that Moshe was the redeemer of Israel; Yitro gave him his daughter Tziporah (Tziporah) in marriage.” Then, as a shepherd to Yitro, it was while investigating the phenomenon of the Burning Bush that HaShem said to Moshe: “What is in your hand? And he (Moshe) said, ‘a staff‘” (Shemot 4:2).

  1. The Shamir – The Torah (Shemot 20:22) banned the use of metal in building the altar. When King Shlomo (Solomon) built the Temple, he understood that this ban also applied to the stones of the Temple. How could he build a large stone edifice without the use of a blade, or a hammer?

The Talmud in Tractate Giten (68a-b) tells an amazing story of the capture of a miraculous worm that vibrated at a very high frequency (it may have given off super-sonic oscillations) and could split wood and stone. “Placed on the hardest wood or stone it would split them open as into two writing tablets. No iron or metal could have this quality, it would simply split them open. It could be transported only wrapped in a cloth, tufts of wool, or in a lead container filled with barley bran” (Tosefta: Sotah 15:1).

  1. The alphabet – Our tradition teaches us the even before HaShem began creation, He wrote the Torah. This could best be understood as an architect drawing up the plans prior to beginning construction. However, mankind needed a tool to be able to discern this monumental work, hence, the alphabet. Prior to the nation of Israel appearing on the scene, other written scripts did appear, but these scripts were hieroglyphs and pictographs. The Hebrew alphabet has a miraculous and unique quality to Jewish and world history. As Professor David Porush writes (http//www.rpi.edu/~porusd) “I would rate the ‘invention’ of the Hebrew alphabet as one of the single most amazing discoveries in human history, far above electricity, the atom bomb, exploration of space, the printing press, or any other technology.”

Here are a few of his reasons:

    • The Hebrew alphabet was the first alphabet ever invented. This means that it was the first system of symbols to represent the pure atoms of “sounds” that formed words rather than using pictures to represent words and ideas (like hieroglyphs and pictographs do).
    • The Hebrew alphabet is the mother of all alphabets. No other alphabet was ever invented independently of Hebrew and all alphabets can trace their origins to it (Aleph, Bet = alphabet).
    • Since all previous alphabets were pictographs or ideograms (pictures that stand for words), the Hebrew alphabet further enforces the abandonment of idolatry.
    • The most concise script before the invention of the Hebrew alphabet contained over 600 signs. Most pictographic and hieroglyphic scripts contain thousands of signs.
    • Because the 22 Hebrew letters represent sounds not pictures, it requires a higher level of abstraction in decoding them.
    • Hebrew is also different from all alphabets that followed because it lacks vowels. The Phoenicians and Greeks added vowels, and so are often accredited with inventing the alphabet even though the earliest Phoenician alphabet is circa 1200 B.C.E. and the earliest Greek alphabet is circa 850 B.C.E.
    • Because the Hebrew alphabet lacks vowels (and was originally written without spaces or punctuation, too) it is more ambiguous. The same set of consonants very often can indicate many different words. Hebrew, therefore, invites an extraordinary gift of interpretation and tolerance for multiple meanings on the part of its readers. (E.g. “read not Banim but Bonim – not sons but builders” (Talmud Tractate Berachot 64a – commonly recited in the Ashkenazic tradition between Kabalat Shabbat and the evening service on Friday nights); when reading the letters Aleph and Tav are you reading “Et” (the accusative particle); “Oht” (letter or sign) Aht (you – feminine) or the number 401 (Aleph =1 and Tav = 400)?

In other words contained within the Hebrew alphabet are the seeds of the interpretive practices of Midrash and Gematriya.” These designs of HaShem are not only a concise key to communication, but (as we began this “VORT”) they contain the “images of HaShem” that enable us as “images of HaShem” to communicate information that enlightens us to His creation.

  1. The inscription – The inscriptions on the Tablets also had a miraculous nature to them. “Moshe descended the mountain with the two Tablets of the Testimony in his hand, Tablets inscribed on both their sides; they were inscribed on one side and on the other. The Tablets were HaShem’s handiwork, and the inscription was the inscription of HaShem engraved on the Tablets” (Shemot 32 15-16).

The words on the Tablets were engraved so that they completely bore through the stone. But rather than the second side being a mirror image of the first, miraculously, both sides could be read with the same clarity and format.

  1. The Tablets – Made of sapphire, the Tablets were shaped like cubes and measured six Tefachim (about two feet) on each side. Though the letters Samach and Mem Sofit (shaped similar to the letter “O”) have mid sections that should cause the letters to fall out of the Tablets, yet they did not.

Also, it is believed that the Tablets weighed an enormous amount (each Tablet was 8 cubic feet of sapphire) yet, Moshe was able to carry them. It is understood that they in fact, carried Moshe and not otherwise. Therefore our tradition asserts that when confronted by the Golden Calf, it was not Moshe who broke the Tablets, but rather the holy letters and holy inscription withdrew from the Tablets causing them to be too heavy for Moshe to carry and thus they shattered.

This simple Mishnah contains worlds of information, too massive to be contained in this Parsha summery. But we see how a detail in our Parsha can lead us to a Mishna, to various tractates of Talmud, the Midrash and other ancient and modern works.

I once concluded that the center of infinity, by definition, is every point. The Torah is truly infinite, and any one point in the Torah can lead you to every other point. Our duty in life is to remember that we were created in the image of HaShem, with the divine power of speech and the power of communication. May the use of our words bring forth all the great features that were created on the eve of Shabbat and bring about the enlightenment of mankind and the glory of HaShem.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

120505 – Parshi’ot Acharei Mot-Kiddoshim

******************

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHI’OT ACHAREI MOT/KIDDOSHIM

VaYikra (Leviticus) 16:1 – 20:27

Haftarah – Amos 9:7-15

120505

******************

One of the difficulties that many Jewish people face today is their estrangement from Jewish culture. After Churban Europa – the European Holocaust – three million dazed Jewish refugees returned to society. Broken lives had to be rebuilt, and, sometimes with urgency, lifestyle decisions were made often at the expense of our Jewish culture. Many felt that they had to put aside traditions, language, rituals, even belief, in order to acquire the success and security that the modern world could offer.

This past century has seen Jews move from poverty to affluence and from backward villages to an open society. Yet, recent studies agree that today, the Jewish world is in crisis. The alienation of our people from Jewish values and commitments is obvious to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform alike.

All but the largest Jewish communities are withering. Synagogues everywhere are looking for ways to attract the disenfranchised, Jewish community centers are trying to appeal to the unaffiliated and if it weren’t for legalized gambling, many of our service organizations couldn’t finance their on-going projects.

But this does not have to remain the trend. Our Torah portion this week provides the solution to the spiritual trauma that we are witnessing. HaShem says to Israel: “Kiddoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – you shall be holy for I am Holy (VaYikra 19:2).” Some Jews, having lost the ability to communicate in the Hebrew language, perceive Kedusha (holiness) as being god-like. A more accurate translation would be distinctive. If we consider the land of Israel holy, it is because among the nations of the world the State of Israel stands out. If the Jewish people want to be holy, rather than believing that we are better, we must make ourselves unique in the world community.

There is a wonderful story that I read in a National Jewish Outreach Program workbook that illustrates my point. A flock of eagles was flying high over the land. They were able to see the dense forests, the villages, the rivers and lakes; all of the beauties of the world lay beneath them. As they were flying gently, suddenly one of the eagles felt a sharp pull in his wing as if something had snapped. He began to descend towards earth so that he could examine himself and discover what had happened.

When he landed, he found himself in the middle of a chicken coop. He wasn’t distressed because he knew that he simply had to find out what was wrong and return to the sky. But as he examined himself, he realized that his wing had snapped and that it would take time to recuperate. The eagle began to look around and the more he saw, the more he disliked his surroundings.

These are chickens,” he said to himself, “just look at what disgusting birds they are. They call themselves birds and yet they can’t fly. They just flap their wings and hop up and down. And when they need food they actually peck the ground, digging their food out of the dirt.” And so the eagle isolated himself in a corner of the chicken coop, knowing that his recuperation period would be short and eventually he would rejoin his proud fellow eagles.

But time passed and the eagle became lonely. Gradually he ventured out of his corner and began to communicate with the chickens in the coop. Slowly, he began to imitate their ways.

A year passed, and again the original flock of eagles was flying over that same area of the land, looking down at the beautiful panorama. Suddenly one of the eagles in the flock noticed one of his fellow eagles down below. He descended and ascertained that in fact, it was his fellow eagle from the year before, he flew down and landed next to him.

At first, the eagle didn’t even respond. Indeed, the first eagle was flapping his wings, jumping up and down, hopping and pecking the ground for his food. And the second eagle said to the first, “Come, you don’t belong here. You’re an eagle, not a chicken. You don’t belong here in the midst of all these strange birds. Come fly away with me.”

The first eagle said, “No, don’t be silly. This is where I belong.”

The second eagle said, “No, you don’t belong here. Don’t you understand? You’re not a chicken – you’re an eagle. You don’t have to flap your wings and hop. You can fly and soar to the highest places. You don’t have to peck the dirt for your food. Don’t you understand?” said the second eagle to the first, “You’re an eagle.”

Slowly the second eagle persuaded the first eagle that the habits that he had taken on were not his true nature. Eventually the two eagles flew off together, high into the sky where they could see the land, the forests, the lakes and the rivers – all that God had created: the eagle had resumed his destiny.

In order to attract the disenfranchised and the unaffiliated, we must reconnect to the culture that produced the great Jewish personalities of yesteryear. Our effort to become “normal” has deprived us of the uniqueness of our holiness. Ask a Christian who the chosen people are and he will tell you right away, “the Jews.” Ask a Jew what it means to be the chosen people and he/she will rationalize how we’re not so different.  Our eagerness to transform ourselves from ghetto Jews to worldly Jews has taken its toll. Our invisibility has backfired, leaving us to the fate of so many other one-time great civilizations. However, we are a holy people who, like God, endure.

The Torah teaches us Kiddoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – since HaShem is distinctive, so, too, must we be distinctive. HaShem’s distinctive feature (as we explained just a few weeks ago at the Passover Seder) is that He personally cares for His people Israel. We cried out for liberation and He heard our prayers and delivered us from bondage. He is a God of action, not promises.

Synagogues and community organizations in your area are offering adult education classes that can teach you how to reconnect. Take advantage of the opportunity. Keep up with your children’s Jewish education. If they aren’t getting a Jewish education, provide one. Ask a Rabbi what it means to be holy, if he can’t answer you properly, find one that can.

Finally, make the Sabbath a day holy, every single week. Don’t make it a Jewish Sunday, keep it distinctive. Dress appropriately, eat distinctively, pray uniquely, and bless your children in words and in touch. Delight in the distinctive quality of your holy Jewish family and the brightness of our Jewish light will once again illuminate our national character.

Remember, we’re eagles.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110820 – Parshat Eikev

*********************

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

PARSHAT EIKEV

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12-11:25

Haftorah – Isaiah 49:14-51:3

110820

*********************

I write this week’s “Vort” while sitting Shivah for my mother Helen Rosenzweig – Chayah bat Reb Shmu’el HaKohen – who was taken from this world just a few days ago. A heroine of the Holocaust, a devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great- grandmother, she was a true Eishet Chayil (woman of valor). She was a great influence on so many and excelled in the Mitzvot of serving your fellow man with graciousness and showing hospitality to anyone and everyone that came in contact with her. This week’s “Vort” is dedicated to her life and her memory. Tehi Nishmata Baruch – may her soul be blessed.

*********************

 

What is the real miracle of our yearning to return to the Land of Israel? Most historians, in writing about the Middle East, deal primarily with the military victories, the wonders of the War of Independence in 1948-49, when the Arab nations outnumbered us 40 to 1. Or the lightning speed of the miraculous Six–day War in 1967, culminating with the extraordinary liberation of holy city of Jerusalem. For me, the central miracle of the return of our people to Israel is that after 1,800 years of exile, the Jews, with their dream still intact, had never forgotten.

How do you keep a memory alive for almost 60 generations? Could it be that the Torah and our over abundant libraries of holy writings could have served this purpose? Or could it have been having a rich culture filled with Sabbaths and holidays did the task? Can we even theorize that the Hebrew language gave us the ability to survive? No, we all know that these components were not enough for all Jews in all ages.

I don’t know if our historic memory is stronger than that of other nations, but if you repeat something every day, at crucial moments during the day, for 1,800 years, it’s bound to enter your psyche. I refer to the prayer said after every meal served with bread, whose source can be found in this week’s portion: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d for the good land He has given you” (Devarim 8:10).

Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) is only one part of a very special institution in Jewish life: how we eat. We all must eat, but unlike the cultural motto, “You are what you eat,” from a Jewish perspective, it isn’t what you eat – but how you eat, when you eat, where you eat and why you eat.

What makes a person holy? Is it the number of days fasted or hours spent praying? No! Our tradition teaches us that what reveals one’s holiness is their conduct during a meal. The Chasidic sages interpret the teaching, “There is no Kiddush (blessing of sanctification) except where there is a meal,” to mean, “there is no Kiddusha (holiness) except where there is a meal.”

Everyone eats – criminals, animals, “cannibals” but a Jew must be aware of more than just gravy and calorie counting. A Jew must be aware that there are the dietary laws, intended to teach us compassion and lead us gently toward compassion for all life forms. They often stop us from grabbing hamburgers and hot dogs at baseball games and wolfing them down before the curve ball reaches the catcher’s mitt.

If bread is served, we wash our hands ritually, expressing the idea that to be worthy of eating G-d’s food, we should be spiritually cleansed. Should three people feast where words of Torah are not discussed, it is considered as if they’ve just been dining on a dead offering (Ethics of Our Ancestors 3:3), because the source to what becomes our food is HaShem. Therefore, the idea of “just grabbing a sandwich” is a minor dilemma for the spiritually aware.

However, it’s the three major blessings of the Grace after Meals that tell the story of who we are as a people. As long as we live by these words and make them as real as the food we swallow, we are worthy of inheriting and living on this land.

The first blessing (composed by Moshe), begins, “Blessed are You…who nourishes the entire world (‘HaZan Et HaKol’)“ focuses us to recognize that G-d is the source of our sustenance, not a credit card or a lucky reservation. In the animal world, nourishment is the center of reality, but for Jews, we need to understand that “we don’t live by [or for] bread alone” (Devarim 8:3).

The second blessing (composed by Joshua) deals with the land of Israel: “We thank You, HaShem, our G-d, because You have given our ancestors a desirable, good and spacious land…” Which land? Not Egypt, not Babylon, not Russia, not Poland, not Spain, not Germany, not even America. This blessing teaches us that when the food one eats is grown in a land that is not our own; then we will always be subject to the whims of the rulers of those lands. Only food grown in our own land, in our own soil, really belongs to us and gives us true joy.

One of the leaders of the Shomer HaTza’ir movement, Ya’akov Chazzan, tells how he received his most important lesson in Zionism and the fundamentals of beginning an agricultural movement in Palestine, from a Polish peasant while he was still in Poland. As the peasant work the soil, from time to time he would bend down and cup his ear to the ground. Asked to explain, the farmer informed Ya’akov that he was listening to the song of the land. Young Chazzan then cupped his ear and could not hear a thing, with a sly wink the farmer added, “Yankele, that’s not surprising, the only ones who can hear this land’s symphony, are those who own this land.”

We said this blessing in Alexandria, in Venice, in Casablanca, in Warsaw, for a land we had never seen but which we knew was the only land where we’d be able to hear the Ya’akov Chazzan Symphony.

The third blessing (composed by King David) deals with the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Why? The rocky soil of Jerusalem is not known for its wheat fields, yet, it too is crucial to hearing our symphony. Even in your own homeland, feeling as earthy as any Polish farmer with his ear to the ground, if your eyes don’t seek out the glory of Jerusalem, the living symbol of the Eternal One, then your destiny might be annihilated, as described in Devarim 8:19 – 20. The third blessing teaches us to go well beyond earthly symphonies. Indeed, we have little choice because the Torah makes it clear that tilling this soil also depends on our spiritual perfection. The blessing of rebuilding Jerusalem instructs us not to limit ourselves to reaping one kind of crop while forgetting about the ultimate crop.

These three blessings are biblically ordained. Over the course of millions of meals, we could have gotten fat and lazy, but the Grace after Meals was a constant reminder that the day would come when we would again eat our own bread, from our own fields, baked in our own ovens. As Jews, we do not simply eat to sustain ourselves, but to become more connected to the roots of our humanity and our ultimate purpose – to sanctify our earthly endeavors and to walk in HaShem’s ways.

“To G-d belongs the earth and everything in it” (Psalms 24;1). And as His partners in the ongoing experience of creation, we are duty bound to sanctify the soil, to use it not abuse it, and to use it for a higher purpose. If we could but see the soul in the soil, then we could also come to hear its sounds and enjoy its symphony.

My mother Aleha HaShalom, was a Koch Lefel – she was a kitchen utensil – she made the kitchen work for her. The food you ate at my mother’s table, the delicacies that were served at Shiva houses or at Hadassah bazaars (she wasn’t even a member) were made for the purpose of partaking in G-d’s gifts of life. Our Shabbat and festival tables were surrounded by family and guests. Her Passover Seder table presented the flavor of a European Jewish culture that was slowly fading from memory and at the same time incorporated the miracles of that recent Passover when she, almost her entire family and her new husband walked out of the gates of their own Egypt and celebrated their liberation as a G-dly act.

When my son Benji was born my mother catered his Brit in Sefat. His Sandek and one of the most honored of the guests was my Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Leifer ZTz”L who originated from the city of Baniah in Romania, which was very close to my mother’s hometown of Visu. The night before the Brit, in addition to all the other delicacies, she and my father A”H also handmade 300 gefilte fish – and when the Rebbe tasted it, he said it tasted like his mother’s fish, Ta’am Gan Eden – the taste of the Garden of Eden. Rebbe Leifer wasn’t speaking of the taste – he was speaking of the love and the soul that went into the fish. He wasn’t talking about recipes, he spoke of formulas for elevating the food from being mearly tastey, to feeding the souls of all who sanctified to being sanctified by this food.

My mother was 95 years old when she passed away. That means that she was 31 years old when she was liberated from the horrors of Nazism. She represented an era of Judaism that is only remembered by very few remaining survivors. An era of great European Torah personalities, spiritual role models and scholarly works that would have been forgotten by an entire generation if it wasn’t for this handful of Jews transplanted all over the world and their refusal to give up the wonders of their culture.

Helen Rosenzweig was not a great scholar, nor a brilliant teacher, but with considerable grace she taught Judaism to hundreds of Jews at her Shabbat table. She came from a long line of Mitzvah-spreaders who used the table to bring Holiness to the world.  Her grandfather, Yehuda Leib Berger A”H, used the third meal of Shabbat to feed the poor people of Sighet. They ate his holy food, then sang the holy songs around that table that even inspired gypsies who gathered outside the window. When he left this world, the community asked his family to bury this Mitzvah man using the wood from their table for his coffin.

My mother’s table is no longer with us, and she hadn’t cooked a meal in years because of her condition, but I believe that every crumb of her nut-cake, every flake of her apple strudel, every morsel of her Chremzlach, or Pitcha, or Rogoh Krumpli, or the myriad of dishes that she made all screamed: “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L-rd your G-d.”

Bagels and lox never saved one Jew from assimilation and no Jew ever made Aliyah to Israel because they liked falafel. But tens of thousands of totally assimilated Jews of all ages and from all over the world, may have once been invited to a Shabbat or festival meal and found that it kindled sparks in their souls that suddenly began to burn. With great pride our family, our children and some of our grandchildren have cherished memories of holy meals that drew attention to our heritage, encouraged our love for the land of Israel and for the people of Israel, and linked us to an uninterrupted chain that spanned 110 generations.

My mother was a Yiddisheh Mama in every sense of the word and she is already missed by hundreds and thousands of Jews who once sat at her table, or the table of her children or grandchildren and tasted soul food from above.

Tehi Nishmata Baruch – may her soul be blessed.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil

110530 – Parshat Kiddoshim

******************

VORTIFY YOURSELF

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

rebyosil@gmail.com

Parshat Kiddoshim

VaYikra (Leviticus) 19:1 – 20:27

Haftorah – Amos 9:7 – 15

110530

******************

Next week’s Parsha contains a very unique Mitzvah – commandment. Beginning on the second night of Passover, we are commanded to count the 49 day (7 weeks) of the Omer (VaYikra [Leviticus] 23:15-16). Each day after we recite a blessing, we then declare the specific day and week of the Omer. For instance this Shabbat is 11 days, which is one week and four days of the Omer.  One of the functions of the counting is to ascend the 50 levels of holiness so that on the festival of Shavu’ot – Pentecost (50 days later), we have sufficiently elevated ourselves to receive the Torah. This week’s Parsha gives us the guiding principles to successfully make that metamorphosis into the realm of Kedusha – holiness.

One of the difficulties that the Jewish people face today is their estrangement from Jewish culture. After Churban Europa – the European Holocaust – three million dazed Jewish refugees were forced to return to society. Broken lives had to be rebuilt, and sometimes with urgency, lifestyle decisions were made often at the expense of our Jewish culture. Many felt that they had to put aside traditions, language, rituals, even belief, in order to acquire the success and security that the modern world could offer.

This century has seen Jews move from poverty to affluence and from backward villages to an open society. Yet, recent studies agree that today, the Jewish world is in crisis. The alienation of our people from Jewish values and commitments is obvious to Orthodox, Conservative and Reform alike.

All but the largest Jewish communities are withering. Synagogues everywhere are looking for ways to attract the disenfranchised, Jewish community centers are trying to appeal to the unaffiliated and if it weren’t for legalized gambling, many of our service organizations couldn’t finance their on-going projects.

But this does not have to remain the trend. Our Torah portion this week provides the solution to the spiritual trauma that we are witnessing. HaShem says to Israel:

Kiddoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – you shall be holy for I am Holy” (VaYikra 19:1).

Some Jews, having lost the ability to communicate in the Hebrew language, perceive Kedusha (holiness) as being god-like or divine. A more accurate translation would be to become distinctive. If we consider the land of Israel as holy, it is because among the nations of the world Israel stands out. If the Jewish people want to be holy, rather than believing that we are better, we must make ourselves unique in the world community.

There is a wonderful story that I read in a National Jewish Outreach Program workbook that illustrates my point.

A flock of eagles was flying high over the land. They were able to see the dense forests, the villages, the rivers and lakes; all of the beauties of the world lay beneath them. As they were flying gently, suddenly one of the eagles felt a sharp pull in his wing as if something had snapped. He began to fly toward the earth so that he could examine himself and discover what had happened.

When he landed, he found himself in the middle of a chicken coop. He wasn’t distressed because he knew that he simply had to find out what was wrong and return to the sky. But as he examined himself, he realized that his wing had snapped and that it would take time to recuperate. The eagle began to look around and the more he saw, the more he disliked his surroundings.

These are chickens,” he said to himself, “just look at what disgusting birds they are. They call themselves birds and yet they don’t even fly. They just flap their wings and hop up and down.

And when they need food they actually peck the ground, digging their food out of the dirt.” And so the eagle isolated himself in a corner of the chicken coop, knowing that his recuperation period would be short and eventually he would rejoin his proud fellow eagles.

But time passed and the eagle became lonely. Gradually he ventured out of his corner and began to communicate with the chickens in the coop and over time he began to imitate their ways.

A year passed, and again the original flock of eagles was flying over that same area of the land, looking down at the beautiful panorama. Suddenly one of the eagles in the flock noticed one of his fellow eagles down below. He descended, ascertained that, in fact, it was his fellow eagle, flew down and landed next to him.

At first, the eagle didn’t even respond. Indeed, the first eagle was flapping his wings, jumping up and down, hopping, and pecking the ground for his food. And the second eagle said to the first,

“Come, you don’t belong here. You’re an eagle, not a chicken. You don’t belong here in the midst of all these strange birds. Come fly away with me.”

The first eagle said, “No, don’t be silly. This is where I belong.”

The second eagle said, “No, you don’t belong here. Don’t you understand? You’re not a chicken – you’re an eagle. You don’t have to flap your wings and hop. You can fly and soar to the highest places. You don’t have to peck the dirt for your food. Don’t you understand?” said the second eagle to the first, “You’re an eagle.”

Slowly the second eagle persuaded the first eagle that the habits that he had taken on were not his true nature. Eventually the two eagles flew off together, high into the sky where they could see the land, the forests, the lakes and the rivers – all that G-d had created. The eagle had resumed his destiny.

In order to attract the disenfranchised and the unaffiliated, we must reconnect to the culture that produced the great personalities of yesteryear. Our efforts to become “normal” have deprived us of the uniqueness of our holiness. Ask a Christian who the chosen people are and he will tell you right away, “the Jews.” Ask a Jew what it means to be the chosen people and he/she will rationalize how we’re not so different.

Our eagerness to transform ourselves from ghetto Jews to worldly Jews has taken its toll. Our invisibility has backfired, leaving us to the fate of so many other one-time great civilizations. However, we are a holy people who, like G-d, endure.

The Torah teaches us Kiddoshim Ti’hiyu Ki Kadosh Ani – since HaShem is distinctive, so, too, must we be distinctive. HaShem’s distinctive feature (as we explained just a few weeks ago at the Passover Seder) is that He personally cares for His people Israel. We cried out for liberation and He heard our prayers and delivered us from bondage. He is a G-d of action, not promises.

Synagogues and community organizations the world over are offering adult education classes that teach how to reconnect. Take advantage of the opportunity. Keep up with your children’s Jewish education. If they aren’t getting a Jewish education, provide one. Ask a Rabbi what it means to be holy, if he can’t answer you properly, find one that can.

Finally, make the Sabbath day distinctively holy, every single week. Don’t make it a Jewish Sunday, keep it distinctive. Dress appropriately, eat distinctively, pray uniquely, and bless your children in words and in touch. Delight in the distinctive quality of your holy Jewish family and the brightness of our Jewish light will once again illuminate our national character and shine for all nations to see.

Remember, you’re eagles.

Shabbat Shalom,

Reb Yosil Rosenzweig

Previous Older Entries