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Korach 5779

By Abraham Havivi

Korach—a gripping story:

“Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben— 2to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. 3They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?’”
(Numbers. 16:1-4, new JPS trans.)

Korach’s rebellion–prime example of “machloket sh’lo l’shem shamayim” (an argument not for the sake of Heaven)—M. Avot 5:21

Complicated story–joint rebellion by multiple factions joining together against leadership of Moses & Aaron; Rashi, following the Midrash Tanchuma, explains each had their own selfish their motivations—K upset that M & A (his first cousins)—both the political and the religious leader–were siblings from same family; and, that Elitzaphan was named chief (nasi) of Kehat clan (son of Amram’s youngest b., rather than the next b., K’s father); the 250 nesi’im (chieftains) were first-born—they were upset that Levites were appointed to serve at mishkan in their stead (“k’doshim”); Datan & Aviram from Reuben were jealous that Joshua was M’s 2nd in command, in line to be the next leader, from tribe of Ephraim, completing the process of House of Joseph supplanting Reuben, bypassing their first-born status

So—this was a coalition of people who all had their own selfish motivations, but rather than articulating them, they cloaked their challenge in the language of populism—“The entire congregation is holy”—the entire congregation is holy—but, in reality, they wanted to be the leaders, rather than M & A, and the kohanim and levi’im

 K seen by Jewish tradition as arch-example of a demagogue

What is a demagogue? Why is the word used so critically? (Should just mean “leader of the people”, no?) OED–demos signifies “people” as a mob—“A leader of a popular faction, or of the mob; a political agitator who appeals to the passions and prejudices of the mob in order to obtain power or further his own interests” –this is not CNN’s words– it’s the OED!

Interesting machloket about the machloket between 2 commentators about when the K rebellion happened. Ibn Ezra says these events happened about 3 parshas ago, when the people were still in the wilderness of Sinai—before the spies, before the complaining about food and the miracle of the quails, basically at the beginning of Parshat Naso—right after the census, and the organization of the camp, and the establishment of the Levites’ tasks; at that point, the entire leadership that the K group complained about was in place, so it makes sense to Ibn Ezras that that’s when they mounted the rebellion; (he adds that the tribe of Reuben encamped to the South, and the Levitical family of Kehat, K’s family was in the South, adjacent to Reuben, so there is a moralistic point he makes about living adjacent to a wicked neighbor)

Ramban (150 yrs. later) disagrees; he says that Ibn Ezra accepts the principle of “eyn mukdam u’me’uchar batorah” (one needn’t accept that the order of narratives in the Torah reflects the historical order of events)—this is an idea that first appears in the Talmud and midrashim, which not all Sages accept—that the Torah does not necessarily relate events in the sequence in which they actually happened; Ramban says that, with rare exceptions, the Torah tells of events in their correct chronological order; this disagreement is, apparently, a standing one between the two commentators; so, for Ramban, the K rebellion takes place now, after the account of the spies

But this then forces the Ramban to address the issue of, Why now? If the leadership parameters about which the K gang was complaining, had been set some time ago, and in an entirely different geographic location—they had since moved on to the wilderness of Paran–why did K and his band wait until now to mount their rebellion?

Here’s where Ramban’s comment gets interesting. He says: When the Israelites were back in the wilderness of Sinai, before they started to travel, if anyone had anyone tried to rebel against Moses’s leadership, they would have had no following—in fact, says the Ramban, the people would have stoned such rebels, they would have killed them. This is because Bnei Yisrael had total faith in Moses’s leadership; the only bad thing that had happened to them was their punishment after the sin of the Golden Calf; God had wanted to destroy the entire nation, M prayed to God on their behalf and saved them, because God retracted the threat, and only a small number of Calf worshippers died

However, by this point in the story, several other misfortunes had recently befallen the Israelites; they had complained about the boredom of the daily manna—remember, they missed the watermelons etc. of Egypt, that was 2 weeks ago, in B’ha’alot’cha—and both before and after God sent the miracle of the quails—they were punished twice, before the quails with a fire and after the quails with a plague; then, last week, in Shelach, we had the sin of the spies; God again threatened to destroy the entire nation except for Moses, and Moses prayed on their behalf—but, acc. to Ramban, he didn’t pray for full forgiveness, as he had after the Golden Calf, but only that God wouldn’t destroy the whole people; So, God listened to M’s plea, and didn’t wipe them out entirely, but—the whole generation was sentenced to die in the desert. So, according to Ramban, at this point, the people’s faith in M’s leadership flagged; he says, “Az haya nefesh kol ha’am marah”, now the whole nation’s spirit was bitter–people were dispirited. M had let them down, and bad things had happened, and they were suffering. So now K saw his opportunity—he and his band had been resentful before, since they had felt passed over, but they had no chance to whip up support, when the nation felt confident in their destiny and confident in their leader; now, when their leader had failed them, and when they were feeling battered—K seized his moment. When BY felt secure and well-led, they weren’t open to a demagogue’s appeal; when they were hurting, K knew that his opportunity had come.

Ramban’s insight, coming us to from across seven centuries, is strikingly contemporary.  This is what so many pundits, historians, and economists have been writing about the last few years. You’ve all read it many times, so I won’t belabor the point. We live in a time when many across the Western world have found a creeping authoritarianism appealing. Economies seem shakier, the immigrants keep coming—as Nicholas Kristof says, fleeing the world of disorder to find a toehold in the world of order—and people no longer feel confident that their leaders have the people’s interests at heart—“the elites are out of touch.” Ours is a time of insecurity and anxiety, when few of us believe that our children will have it easier and better as adults than we had it. And so, demagogues–would-be leaders who sense the peoples’ fear and disappointment, and know how “to appeal to the passions and prejudices of the mob”—remember the OED definition–see their golden moment. They are truly interested, in the OED’s words, in seizing power and furthering their own interests, rather than the true interests of the people. This is Korach’s time.

But perhaps Ramban’s insight also points a way forward for us. In his understanding, the main problem, it seems, wasn’t K. He was there all along, waiting for his opportunity. The problem was the nation’s spirit—nefesh ha’am. It was marah—bitter, or maybe, sour. Disgruntled. Disaffected. K was just looking for the right moment. So, maybe potential demagogues are always in the wings, waiting for their cue. It’s the people—the demos—that can allow K an opening, or can shut him out. Erdogan, Orban, etc., even Hitler—they all won popular votes, right?  Their people had the opportunity to keep them away from power. In the Western world, at least for now, still, the demagogues have to stand for election. If our leaders were to lead in a way that strengthens people’s spirit—the nefesh ha’am—then people would be more likely to feel optimistic and confident in their national life, and savor a sense of national destiny. Then the am would feel capable and stand strong. And, it’s not only on the leaders—in discussing this with my daughter before Shabbat, she made the point that the people need to recognize their potential for agency, regardless of how the leaders conduct themselves–it’s the obligation of the am to clearly see the demagogues for who they really are. Then, no one would pay Korach any mind.

Perhaps, as in our parsha, God will intervene to set things straight.  But maybe, as they say nowadays, the grownups aren’t coming to save us, and we’ll have to do it ourselves. May Hashem help us find the wisdom and courage to meet our challenges, and the vision to discern our choices clearly.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shavout: The Ten Commandments

Shavout: The Ten Commandments

By Rabbi Susan Laemmle

I begin by asking three questions — please hold them in your mind: (1) How often do we read or chant Aseret Ha-dibrot, the Ten Commandments, publicly in synagogue? (2) Is this an important portion of the Tanach? And (3) If yes, why don’t we publicly read — or even privately daven — this passage on a more regular basis?

I continue with a mixture of answers and speculation. We publicly read Aseret Ha-dibrot in the synagogue three times a year: from the book of Exodus in Parshat-Yitro, from the book of Deuteronomy in Parshat-Va’et-hanan, and on this, the first day of Shavout.

In Second Temple times, the biblical Feast of Weeks, with its first-fruits harvest celebration, got connected to the day on which the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, “the Sages taught: ‘On the sixth day of the month of Sivan, the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish People.’” In due course, Exodus chapters 19 & 20 became the synagogue reading for Shavout. We learn in Tractate Tamid that in the Temple, the Ten Commandments were recited every day. Furthermore, the liturgical scholar Ismar Elbogen places them squarely among the biblical passages expressing the central elements of Jewish faith that made up the religious assemblies that arose during the Babylonian Exile — and then took place parallel to sacrifices in the Second Temple. These religious assemblies evolved into synagogue services.

Why then, after the Temple was destroyed and the synagogue became the central Jewish religious institution, why do the Ten Commandments not form part of the daily, or even the weekly Shabbat, liturgy?

Brachot 12a teaches that “they would have liked to recite them outside the Temple as well, but the practice was stopped because of the insinuations of the minim” — that is, the heretics, among them the early Christians. In the Mishnah Torah, Maimonides provides background to that prohibition: the heretics claimed that these 10 commandments alone were given to Moses at Sinai. That is, the presentation of the Ten Commandments as a distinct, specially revered text in Jewish liturgy was held up by them as proof that only these commandments, and not the other 603, enjoyed Sinaitic authority. Rambam even wanted to prevent a custom we and other Jewish communities still observe — standing when reading the Ten Commandments in public — which he saw as giving the impression that certain parts of the Torah are holier than others.

And so it is that what could be characterized as an equivocal attitude toward the Ten Commandments made its way into Jewish thought and practice. Creative spiritual understanding by Saadia Gaon and others did find ways to have its cake and eat it too by viewing the Ten Commandments as including, or summarizing, all 613 mitzvot. Some prayerbooks include them at an optional point— for example, Artscrolls places them within a section called “Readings following Shacharis,” right after Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Faith. Rabbi David Golinkin (President and Professor of Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem) asserts that the Ten Commandments are very important and it’s good for Jews to know them by heart. But he feels that there is indeed a danger of our thinking that there are different levels in the Torah and neglecting the halachic system as a whole while observing only these Ten Commandments. Golinkin concludes that it’s good that our ancestors only required the public reading of the Ten Commandments three times a year.

I agree with Golinkin’s evaluation, but would like to ask what we gain (and maybe lose) by de-centering the Ten Commandments within Judaism. One way to begin answering this question is with another question: If the Ten Commandments don’t stand at the very center of Jewish liturgy and faith, what does? That is, what liturgical formulation do we indeed recite publicly (as well as privately) on a daily basis? The Shma, of course. This is not the time to focus in depth upon the Shma. But I will draw attention to its rather odd way of coupling the Jewish People’s act of listening or hearing to the articulation of Adonai’s oneness. To my mind, the Shma declarative opening sentence captures the essence of Judaism, which is the relationship between the Eternal Power of the Universe and the Jewish People. And so this is that what we remind ourselves of when we lie down and when we rise up, in private and in public worship multiple times daily, and even more times on Shabbat and holy days: our commitment to the monotheism of one Divine Power and to Jewish Peoplehood. It’s as if everything else we take as vital and commanded stands rooted in that double commitment. Having the Shma at our center, rather than the Ten Commandments, encapsulates Judaism’s unusual pairing of universalism and particularism; the way in which it is both a world religion into which people can convert and a tribal identity encoded into our communal being.

De-centering the Ten Commandments also keeps us from over-simplifying what it takes to be a “good Jew.” We no longer consider Christians to be heretics or worry much about how they view our mitzvah system. But among ourselves and along the spectrum of Jewish observance, we continue to consider and reconsider the weighting of ritual and ethical mitzvot, of commitments that are distinctively Jewish over against those that virtually all civilized people and world religions uphold. Which mitzvot and sorts of mitzvot draw the most attention differs among the movements as well as the congregations within them. This enables individuals and families to find a niche that suits them within Judaism’s large tent.

Preparing to conclude these Shavout reflections, I remind us of this holy day’s essence: the desert encounter between God and the Jewish People. That encounter provided the foundation upon which Jewish life developed — the foundational context within which Jewish life goes forward today and, God willing, into the future. The central emotions of this holy day are gratitude, awe, and love. May they fill our hearts. Chag sameach!


Parashat Tzav

By Rabbi Jim Rogozen

Imagine Richard Dreyfuss’s voice in the background as pictures of famous people appear on the television screen…

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Anyone recognize these words?They were part of an Apple Computer ad campaign called “Think Different” launched on September 28 1997. This was the ad campaign that led to one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in history and it continues to play a role in how we think about change.

Jeremiah’s words in today’s Haftarah should have earned him a spot in one of those Apple commercials. After all, Jeremiah went a little bit crazy. He basically claimed that the sacrifices described in this week’s parasha should be set aside. All 97 verses, 1,353 words…wiped out, gone. What did he see?

In Chapter 6, verse 20:

עֹלֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ לֹ֣א לְרָצ֔וֹן וְזִבְחֵיכֶ֖ם לֹא־עָ֥רְבוּ לִֽי:

“Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, and your sacrifices are not pleasant to Me.”

Judaism’s central, and most public, rituals were being undermined by the paganism and immoral behavior of the people. Jeremiah, and other prophets, pointed out the same thing: In management terms, there was a lack of alignment between the organization’s goals and practices, and the target group. What existed wasn’t working. People weren’t buying in. Jeremiah’s suggestion for change? Drop the program.

Centuries later, when the destruction of the 2nd Temple put an end to sacrifices, it also led to other changes. While they prayed that the Temple would one day be rebuilt, the Rabbis, navigating through their mourning, needed to move on. As a result, the decades following the Destruction were a time of thinking different. It was a time of paradigm shifts: from korbanot to kavanna in prayer, from Hattat sacrifices to Hesed, from Trumah to Torah study.

These were creative and necessary pivots, and the Jewish People embraced them. So much so that when we speak about Judaism we really mean Rabbinic Judaism.

Over a period of 2000+ years, Judaism and the Jewish People have seen minor as well as transformative changes, both in practice and theology. Some changes have been reactive, some have been proactive. Some are complete, and some are still in process.

For instance, in the late 1980s, when the Temple Mount had been in Jewish hands for 20 years, a group of Jews founded the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, and began detailed planning for the 3rd Temple.

At the same exact time, another group suggested deleting all references to sacrifices or changing them to the past tense in what would be the first edition of, wait for it, the Sim Shalom Siddur.

Ahhhh….Jews! It seems that we are the ever hopeful, ever confused People.

Jews opt for a variety of practices and beliefs, some based in Torah and Halakha, some based on family tradition, and some based on a sense of comfort. There are practices and beliefs that work for us, others that don’t. In addition to death and taxes, two things are certain: change happens and change can be hard.

Even more so now. We are living through a time of transition, one that Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution. When it comes to organizations and companies, the common belief is that if you aren’t actively innovating, or “thinking different,” you’re dying.

The vocabulary of change sounds like this: lab, hack, design, catalyst, startup, jumpstart, transformation, digital leapfrogs, makers, boundary spanner, futurist, disruptive, accelerator, or just the letter “X” in the name of an organization.

The speed and volume of change make our heads spin. To make matters worse, Jewish population surveys are adding to this sense of urgency with predictions of gloom and doom. “Jews are abandoning Jewish life. The model is broken. Throw everything overboard. We need to start over.”

Change for survival, rather than change for improvement, has become the 614th commandment.

I think we need to take a collective breath. Yes, there are things that should worry us; there are trends that we must address. Synagogue affiliation, patterns of observance, connection to Israel, antisemitism. But let’s not forget: we know a little something about change. And… there is a lot that’s really good in the Jewish world. For instance: The overwhelming majority of Jewish children are receiving some kind of Jewish education during their school years. For the last 11 years, there have been a steady 16,000 children in Jewish preschools and day schools in Los Angeles. There have been 13 major Jewish fundraising galas in LA in the month of March alone, some on the same night. No one is going anywhere until those pledges have been paid in full.

Surveys report symptoms; they are neither diagnoses nor treatment plans. So before we offer sacrifices on the altar of radical change, let’s go back for a moment to Jeremiah (Ch 7, v 22) and put his plan into perspective.

Bemoaning the problem with sacrifices, God, through Jeremiah, reminds his audience about the early days, when the Jewish People stood before Mount Sinai:

כִּ֠י לֹֽא־דִבַּ֤רְתִּי אֶת־אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶם֙ וְלֹ֣א צִוִּיתִ֔ים בְּי֛וֹם הוציא [הוֹצִיאִ֥י] אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם עַל־דִּבְרֵ֥י עוֹלָ֖ה וָזָֽבַח׃

“When I freed your ancestors from the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them, nor did I command them, anything regarding burnt offerings or sacrifice.”

Rashi explains Jeremiah’s radical comment:

תחלת תנאי לא היתה אלא אם שמוע תשמעו בקולי ושמרתם את בריתי והייתם לי סגולה’ (שם יט)

At the beginning, my only stipulation with the People was “If you hearken to My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be a special treasure to Me.” That was the main message.

Jeremiah and Rashi are pointing out that the sacrifices, the big “fail” described in the Haftara, weren’t even part of the original plan…and that’s why Jeremiah so easily says they should be thrown overboard.

Rambam, in his Guide to the Perplexed, adds: “…the sacrificial service is not the primary purpose [of the commandments about sacrifice]; rather, supplications, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer to the primary purpose, and indispensable for obtaining it.”

Taking the longer view, he says that the practice of animal sacrifice was designed for the purpose of transitioning the people from idolatry to monotheism…and it worked!

The challenge for the Rambam, though, is that the practice of korbanot is required by the Torah, it’s on the books and can’t just be thrown out. Of course, for all he knew, the next time there would actually be a Bet HaMikdash would be in the world to come.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, moving beyond the Rambam, has a more constructivist approach, closer to the post-Destruction Rabbis: He points out that Jewish practices have outer and inner layers of expression. When it comes to connecting with God, animal sacrifice served as the outer layer, as it was limited in terms of time, location, and authorized participants. Prayer, on the other hand, was the longer-lasting inner or personal layer, and open to everyone, anywhere. When the Temple was destroyed, the outer layer disappeared while the inner layer was able to evolve into a central part of Jewish life.

To summarize these three approaches to change: Jeremiah: Drop the practice. Rambam: understand the intent of the practice, but even if the practice has no further value, keep it because it’s in the Torah. Sacks: update the old, as well as allow new practices to evolve that better express our core values or beliefs. By the way, on this matter, Rabbi Sacks sounds suspiciously like a Conservative Rabbi!

So let’s come back to the present.

On the one hand, we have Jeremiah, Rashi, Rambam, post Destruction Rabbis, and Rabbi Sacks. On the other hand, we have the ethos of the Apple ad campaign, which elevates change and innovation to the status of a religious obligation.

So, moving forward, what should our tag line or motto for change be: Tradition and change? Change without tradition? Change tradition? Change and tradition? We’re all about the “and”?

In the last few years, many Jewish organizations have been engaged in desperation programming, hoping something will turn things around. But we know that “ready, fire, aim” doesn’t work.

To quote Bob Dylan, channeling TS Eliot: when there’s too much of nothing, no one has control.

So let’s get in control by asking some tough questions.

What do we care most about as Jews? What are our core beliefs and commitments? What would it look like to שמוע תשמעו בקולי ושמרתם את בריתי

‘hearken to God’s voice and keep God’s covenant’?

In Jeremiah’s words, what would be L’ratzon? – What do we want and need; and, as Heschel would ask: what does God want and need?

What would our schools, shuls, and organizations look like if they were aligned with these core beliefs and commitments? What would job descriptions for Rabbis, teachers, Heads of School, Federation executives, fundraisers, and board members look like?

Once we have our purposes or goals, how would we measure success? Membership and enrollment numbers? The number of people who keep kosher? An increased level of social justice and income equality?

We need a vision and we need a plan, because a vision without a plan is just a day dream, but a plan without a vision is a nightmare.

Lo b’shamayim hee. We can do this. To paraphrase Mordechai:

וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖ענוּ

Who knows? Perhaps this is why we are here right now.

Yes, Jeremiah was a bit crazy, a misfit, a troublemaker. Even the Rabbis in the Talmud had mixed feelings about him. But his message is still relevant:

לֹֽא־דִבַּ֤רְתִּי עַל־דִּבְרֵ֥י עוֹלָ֖ה וָזָֽבַח It can’t only be about the sacrifices.

So, Netze v’nilmad — let’s figure out what it is about, and then… let’s make the main thing the main thing. The rest is programming. Shabbat Shalom



Parashat VaYigash

By Rabbi Jim Rogozen – December 15, 2018

Good morning!

When the Eagles reunited for a concert tour in 1994, Glenn Frey remarked, “For the record, we never broke up, we just took a 14year vacation.” Well, my wife Marci and I never broke up with the Library Minyan, we just went on tour – the Jewish Education Tour – for 32 years. We are happy to be back in L.A., back in the Library Minyan, and we thank all of you for being so welcoming.

When a Head of School changes jobs, it almost always means a relocation. Our 32-year journey included several moves. We’ve lived in Northern California, Ohio, New Jersey, and Florida, and now, back here in Pico Robertson.

The good news is that our moves served our family’s needs: better professional opportunities, more Jewish infrastructure, or being closer to family.  And I’m happy to say that our 19 years in Cleveland gave our children a chance to be in one place from preschool through the end of college.

With each move we faced new realties: new houses, new work cultures, new people. As long as we could find the Food Trinity – Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Starbucks – we knew we would be okay.

With each move, there was also an opportunity re-assess and re-commit to our core values and family goals. Knowing who we were helped us navigate our journeys.

During each annual re-read of the journeys in Genesis, we encounter texts we’ve seen many times: we know the plot, we already know what’s lurking around the next corner. So it’s natural to look for some new insights or lessons.  This year, after what we hope will be our final move, I challenged myself:  What can I learn from the journeys of the Avot and Imahot?

One thing that stands out to me is that the book of Genesis, among other things, is a veritable travelogue of journeys and transformations.

  • The world goes from chaos to order.
  • Adam and Eve leave paradise for the messiness of real life.
  • Noah sails off to a new world
  • Avraham’s “founding family” moves around, adopts a new religion and a new land.

And in this week’s parsha, specifically, the book of Breisheet starts to wind down as the story arcs of Yosef and Yaakov come together.

With each step in their journeys, the three generations of Avraham and Sarah’s family had to do their own re-set. Who were they to one another? To the people around them? How did they understand their move to each new place? Was it due to something they did, or was God pulling the strings? Was there something they needed to learn?

These are the kind of questions we’ve all asked ourselves during our personal journeys. And yes, we’ve all been on journeys – some easy, some difficult. And we know that, over time, the questions change, as do the answers.

Classic Midrash has been the go-to place to understand the inner dialogues of our ancestors. But as we know, Midrash has an agenda. It often characterizes our ancestors, not so much as individuals with free will, but as models or archetypes who often follow a set of divine roadmaps. In mystical texts they are thought to be more than human – they are the Amudei HaOlam – the foundational pillars of the world.

So as much as I like Midrash, I found that the peshat, the plain meaning, spoke to me more directly this year.

Let’s look at how Yosef’s understanding of his journey to Egypt evolves.

When Yosef finally reveals his identity to his brothers, he says:

וְאַל־יִ֨חַר֙ בְּעֵ֣ינֵיכֶ֔ם כִּֽי־מְכַרְתֶּ֥ם אֹתִ֖י הֵ֑נָּה כִּ֣י לְמִֽחְיָ֔ה שְׁלָחַ֥נִי אֱלֹהִ֖ים לִפְנֵיכֶֽם

“Don’t reproach yourselves because you sold me; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.”

In this verse, Yosef is saying, “Yes, you did a terrible thing – you sold me! –  and that’s on you. On the other hand…there was something else going on, and the result was good!”

In the next verse, we see a transformation. His anger disappears completely. He changes his personal narrative.

וַיִּשְׁלָחֵ֤נִי אֱלֹהִים֙ לִפְנֵיכֶ֔ם לָשׂ֥וּם לָכֶ֛ם שְׁאֵרִ֖ית בָּאָ֑רֶץ וּלְהַֽחֲי֣וֹת לָכֶ֔ם

“God sent me ahead of you to ensure your survival on earth, and to save your lives.”

In this verse, the brothers’ bad actions aren’t mentioned. Instead, Yosef says that their safety was the real purpose of his time in Egypt.

And finally, Yosef reformulates the story that his brothers, and we the readers, already know to be different:

וְעַתָּ֗ה לֹֽא־אַתֶּ֞ם שְׁלַחְתֶּ֤ם אֹתִי֙ הֵ֔נָּה כִּ֖י הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים

“So, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

We don’t need Midrash to “interpret” this exchange for us. Yosef is already interpreting it for himself.

We can relate. We’ve all had the experience of re-formatting our memories, taking past events, and understanding them differently as the years go past. For instance, my wife recalls our garden in Northeastern Florida where vegetables grew quickly; I remember the bugs and the humidity. My wife thought the people in Florida were very nice. I remember that half of them owned guns and the other half were just plain crazy.

While Yosef is able to forget the bad, and to reframe his journey as part of God’s plan, his father is still struggling.  When Pharoah asks Yaakov how old he is, Yaakov replies:

יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵ֣י מְגוּרַ֔י שְׁלשִׁ֥ים וּמְאַ֖ת שָׁנָ֑ה מְעַ֣ט וְרָעִ֗ים הָיוּ֙ יְמֵי֙ שְׁנֵ֣י חַיַּ֔י

“The years of my sojourn on earth are 130. Few and hard have been the years of my life.”

One could hope that in his final years Yaakov would be able to put his life into a more positive context. Maybe Yaakov just needed more time, or perhaps he realized he was running out of time. His final words to his children in next week’s parsha are, to put it mildly, mixed blessings.

So, one lesson for me this year is that we are the interpreters of our lives.

Emily Esfahani Smith writes that “Creating a narrative about the things in your life… helps you understand how you became you.” She adds that, “…we are the authors of our own stories and can change the way we’re telling them.”

Professor Dan McAdams, an expert in narrative psychology, says there are two kinds of stories we tell about ourselves:  contamination stories (the bad stuff, going from good to bad) and redemptive stories (where the themes are about love, growth, and success).

Taking it a step further, as we move through our journeys, we can use our narrative of the past to better understand our present, as well as shape our future.

Being a descendant of the Gaon of Vilna, and following in a long line of misnagdim, I am going to break ranks and go Hasidic for a moment. Don’t tell my relatives. Here goes…

Hillel, in Pirkei Avot, famously says: בִמְקוֹם שֶׁאֵין אֲנָשִׁים, הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לִהְיוֹת אִישׁ

This is usually translated as “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a “man,” or a “person” — meaning, be the mentsch in the roomBut Rabbi Mordecai Yosef of Ishbitz, a Hassidic master, said that it’s not about there being no other “people” or mentschen around; it means that each of us must fight against our own sense of complacency. He quotes: Mishle (Proverbs) 3:5:

וְאֶל־בִּ֥֝ינָֽתְךָ֗ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵֽן

Even if you think you’ve learned a lot, or that you truly understand something, don’t lean too much on what you know now. Learn more; re-evaluate. Later on you might come to new conclusions.

So, another takeaway from Breisheet: the journey is an ongoing lesson.

Our daughter’s high school had a great motto:  we learn not for school, but for life. But the lessons of life don’t come easily; they must be learned, and re-learned.

As a response to what she was seeing on campus, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford Julie Lythcott-Haims wrote in her book, How to Raise an Adult:

“If we prevent our children from learning how to navigate the world beyond our front yard, it will only come back to haunt them later on when they feel frightened, bewildered, lost, or confused out on the streets. Each of us…is on a life path that ought to be constructed by our choices, paved with our experiences, and aimed in the direction of our dreams.”

Perhaps our ancestors should be called the Amudei HaOlam (the Pillars of the World) — not because of their perfection, not because there are mystical and hidden meanings to their actions, but because theirs are the first comprehensive stories in the Torah about the journey to be fully human.

In his biography of Leonardo de Vinci (who moved at least 7 times in his life), Walter Isaacson wrote that it took Leonardo 14 years to paint the Mona Lisa.  “He added thin layer after layer of little glaze strokes as he perfected it, retouched it, and imbued it with new depths of understanding about humans and nature…as it was with Leonardo, who became more profoundly layered with each step of his journey.”

The more we know about life, the better. And the more we learn from our journeys, the better able we’ll be to deal with change, and to create change when it is needed.

Just as “God is  מְחַדֵּשׁ בְּכָל יוֹם תָּמִיד מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית …in His goodness, continually renewing the work of creation”……we must do our part.

Living in a time of dramatic upheaval, cynicism, and a profound search for meaning, we all need to remind ourselves that we are not just readers of other peoples’ life stories; nor are we powerless victims of other people’s plots.  We are מחדשים — re-creators, world shapers.

We have the ability and the obligation to re-center and re-balance our communities, and our country, restoring hope to everyone we can, including those who feel that their journeys, their life stories, have been discounted or dismissed entirely.

So what did I get out of re-reading Breisheet this year?  It reminded me that our ancestors were the first, but not the last, to head out on journeys that changed their lives and the lives of those around them. And that what we learn in our personal journeys, through the laughter and the tears, gives us the ability, and the obligation, to create a better future. May we all have the hutzpah and the courage to serve, in some small way, as our generation’s Amudei HaOlam – the pillars of a better world.

Shabbat Shalom






Parshat Vayeshev

By Susan Laemmle, December 1, 2018

Like many of you I imagine, I’m fond of the short insert at the end of the Torah service that comes on the Shabbat before each New Month, rendering it Shabbat M’vorchim — the Sabbath of Blessing. With the wrapped Torah before us, we stand to join the Shaleach-Tzibur in chanting three sections, the central one of which proclaims the upcoming month. Mayer Brenner has just beautifully led us in that chanting as we approach the month of Tevet.

This morning, I’d like to reflect upon the Birchat Ha-Chodesh prayer, and then use one verse of the proclaiming section as a bridge to this week’s parsha.

One would think that Birchat Ha-Chodesh’s opening section Ye-hee ratzon mi-lifanecha was written expressly for this occasion; but that’s not so. Except for the third line referring to the new month, it was composed by Rav during the 3rd century as his personal prayer to follow the daily Amidah. The things for which he asked nearly two millennia ago remain relevant: a life that is extended, peaceful, and blessed; during which we enjoy physical vitality, social abundance, and love of Torah — and avoid shame or reproach. If we are pious and self-aware, we mean what we say in asking to be “conscious of heaven’s demands and wary of sin” and granted only “the worthy desires of our hearts.”

After this largely personal opening section, the second half of the prayer asks blessings upon the Jewish People. In the middle of the prayer, functioning like a hinge between local and national concerns, comes the name and day/days of the new month.

Just before that announcement, God is invoked in a way that particularly fits Chanukah — as “the one who wrought miracles for our ancestors” beginning with the Exodus from Egypt and stretching to “the gathering of our dispersed from the four corners of the earth.” Amidst this historical and theological sweep comes the phrase that particularly resonates with me: chaverim kol Yisrael — translated by our new siddur as: “May the entire people Israel be united in friendship.”

For me, what’s touching about the phrase chaverim kol Yisrael is its compact simplicity and everyday language. Thus, I would prefer the most literal translation: “All Jews are friends.” This statement covers some of the same territory as the well-known kol Yisrael arayvim zeh b’zeh: “All Jews are responsible for one another,” which has motivated us from the redemption of pirated captives to the campaign for

Soviet Jewry. And yet, being friends with someone can actually be more difficult that being responsible for them. To be a real friend, you have to like them and be willing to share with them. That’s the tough part.

We move now to Parshat-Vayeshev, which initiates the Joseph story that occupies the rest of Sefer-Bereshit. The story’s drama focuses on Joseph, favored by his father Jacob and at odds with his 11 brothers. Essentially, the Jewish national story is rooted in sibling rivalry.

From Cain and Abel, to Joseph and his brothers, to many of us with our siblings and among our children, there arises the challenge of nurturing friendship within the petri dish of blood or blood-like relationships —of endeavoring to take the differences among children in a family neutrally, rather than judgmentally and hierarchically. It seems to me that for growing and grown children, this challenge requires significant learning — learning to handle being treated less than fairly, learning to empathize with our sibling’s sense of grievance, and learning to talk things over rather than letting feelings fester.

Such festering breaks to the surface in our parsha. Rashi drashes the opening word va-yeshev thus: “Jacob sought to dwell in tranquility but the anguish of Joseph fell upon him.” We are well familiar with the likely sources of that anguish, going back to Jacob’s having two wives, with the two sons of Rachel preferred over the more numerous, earlier-born sons of Leah.

Whether because of his father’s favor, his brothers’ enmity, or his own nature, Joseph adds insult to injury by becoming a boaster and tale bearer. His father’s sending him to join his pasturing brothers has been interpreted as naïve failure to protect his vulnerable young son and as positive moral instruction urging him to “search out the good points of your brothers rather than their imperfections.” What winds up happening to Joseph — the pit, being sold into slavery, his ups and downs and ups in Egypt — validates both interpretations. In the end, of course, the family is reconciled, though at a very high —even if providentially guided — cost.

Chaverim, kol Yisrael: Are the sons of Israel/Jacob friends by the time their father dies? Are they friends by the time Joseph dies, making his brothers promise to carry his bones with them when they leave Egypt? Are they friends by the time their multiplied descendants go out, cross the parted sea, and arrive at Sinai? By the time they stand at Sinai to receive the Torah, wander in the dessert, and follow Joshua to enter the Land? When they build the Temple, see it destroyed, and build it again? When they leave the Land once again, and then return two thousand years later? After all the destruction and repair, death and renewal, suffering and achievement, do they become — are we now — friends?

The Tanach presents to us at least two great representations of personal, dyadic friendship: David & Jonathan, and Ruth & Noami. The rabbis extol the value of friendship, so that “your friend’s honor is as dear to you as your own” (Avot 2:15). Hassidic Judaism places special emphasis on the value of friendship among the adherents of a given Hassidic rebbe, endowing it with theological significance.

But how do siblings, individual Jews, and groups within the Jewish people grow beyond envy and rivalry to accept who they are and what they have as enough? Can we build families and communities founded on justice and good practice — and carry on with equanimity when complete fairness eludes us? What enables the sister or brother of a talented, attractive Josephine to support her fulfillment, rather than trip her up — or stew with corrosive resentment? In a world of expanding possibilities and declining resources, how shall we find the paths toward peace and well-being?

Being bound together biologically provides a bottom-line, a foundation that is argued with or denied at great cost. In contrast, becoming friends with others takes place in an arena of free choice. The relationship is less encumbered, less fraught; both less, and potentially more, profound. It is an ideal worth striving for, whether yoked to a blood (or legal) relationship or on a separate track. Within our families, our tribe, and our world, the ideal of friendship glimmers like the waxing moon in the evening sky.

Shabbat shalom


Vayishlach וישלח

By Zwi Reznik ,  November 24, 2018

The journey continues. When we left Yaakov last week he was on the run again, as he had been for the last twenty years. In this week’s parsha he stops for a while. The parsha opens with his preparations for meeting his estranged brother Esau. Before they meet Yaakov has a wrenching nighttime encounter which transforms him into Israel. The meeting with Esau actually goes well and they agree to see each other again soon—but we all know how those kinds of plans often work out. This is then followed by a horrific tale of what happens to Yaakov’s daughter Dinah, the subsequent violent conduct of his sons and this story closes with Yaakov being rebuked by two of those sons. The text then returns to Yaakov’s journey, new blessings from God and the deaths of those closest to him. The parsha ends with a lengthy genealogy of Esau. Clearly my first task in preparing this brief drash was to get focused. So let’s get back to just Yaakov.

Yaakov knows he cannot keep running and avoid dealing with his brother and what he, Yaakov, did to him. Recall that Yaakov had once taken advantage of Esau’s great hunger and managed to buy the elder brother’s birthright for a bowl of lentils. That was followed by following his mother’s guidance in a scheme to trick Yitzhak into giving him, rather than Esau, his blessing and his mother’s subsequent advice to run for his life. He can’t avoid dealing with this anymore. So he sends messengers to Esau to let him know that he’s been with their uncle, that he’s done well and (32:6) “…I send this message to my lord in hope of gaining your favor”. The response, via the messengers is brief, (32:7) “… he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him”. In antiquity these are enough men to constitute an army. Then in (32-8) “Yaakov was greatly frightened…”. So he prepares. Rashii succinctly notes that he does so in three ways—“by war, by prayer and by gifts”. Specifically that is, firstly, with strategic planning by splitting all the people and livestock into two camps; secondly, with prayer. After reminding God that he’s on the move because of God’s advice, he then says—(32-11): “I am unworthy of all the kindness that you have steadfastly shown your servant; with my staff alone I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps”. In other words he’s gone from being homeless with just the clothes on his back to becoming wealthy. This is not just a prayer which is asking for things. It is emphatically a statement of GRATITUDE! Think about how much of our own prayer today, on Shabbat, is just saying Thank You. Something has changed in Yaakov after twenty years of servitude with Laban. He is no longer just the “cheat” or “usurper” that his name would indicate. Finally in preparation he prepares a huge gift for Esau. Five hundred and fifty head of livestock; in the gender proportions that would assure future exponential growth in this herd! Now it is nighttime. There is one more thing to do. He takes his wives, maid servants, his eleven children and all his possessions across the stream. Then, (32:25) “Yaakov was left alone,”. He is alone and in the dark! We know what’s coming next but, I want to pause here for a moment. Why did he do that and leave himself alone. Was this some sort of protective act? That is, separating himself, the object of Esau’s hate, from his wives, maids and children. We’ll see him doing something similar to that the next morning. Or was it something as simple as wanting to be alone so he can be by himself and think about what is happening and how he got to this point. The last time he was home, twenty years before, his mother told him to run because his brother was coming for him. Now his brother is coming for him and with an army behind him! Now, back to(32:25)—“Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.”.

We know how the fight turns out. This “man” is losing the fight and tries to prevail by injuring Yaakov. That doesn’t work and Yaakov demands a blessing to let him go. So Yaakov becomes Israel—one who strives with God. This is definitely an improvement over “cheat” and “usurper”. Further, a name change is a clear acknowledgement of an overwhelming transformation of the spirit. We’ve seen that before with Avram becoming Avraham and Sarai becoming Sarah. However those were just a change of a single letter. Israel is a much more comprehensive change.

Now the commentaries of the Midrash do identify this man as an angel of a sort. This sometimes included this angel as being specifically Esau’s angel or guardian which would make this a fight between Yaakov and Esau. We must consider that the writing of the Midrash took place in the context of knowing what happens in the future between Esau-Edom and Israel’s descendants, as well as the period following the devastation done by the Romans. There are in the Midrash commentaries which are even critical of Yaakov and berate him for sending gifts and being conciliatory to Esau. A medieval commentary by Rabbi David Kimhi of Provence states that “God sent his angel to strengthen Yaakov’s courage; having overcome him, he need not fear Esau”.

However for a contrast we should consider Nehama Leibowitz. She notes some of these preceding commentaries but her comments take a different direction. Firstly, she states noting Yaakov’s fear, that “Yaakov’s fears were not indicative of lack of trust in God, but rather a lack of confidence in oneself, in one’s own worthiness and conduct”. So suppose lack of confidence in oneself and in one’s own worthiness are at the root of Yaakov’s feelings of anxiety and stress as he waits alone and in the dark for Esau and his army. So, with that in mind let me explicitly state that Yaakov’s struggling with a man is Yaakov struggling with himself. That struggle to transform oneself and rid oneself of undesirable character traits can itself be the cause of great fatigue and even physical pain. Of course these are not new thoughts original to me and there are numerous contemporary commentaries which correspond to my own thoughts and that can easily be found. However let’s continue with commentaries that are both contemporary as well as traditional in outlook.

Rabbi Avraham Twerski, M.D, is both a Hasidic rabbi and a psychiatrist. He had a psychiatric practice that specialized in addiction treatment. He has a large body of work related to his medical practice. Much of it is addressed to general audiences and much of it is also addressed to Jewish audiences. One of those oriented to Jewish audiences contains short commentaries on each of the parshas in the Torah. The one for Vayishlach, titled “Changing Character Traits” includes the following: “ For Torah to transform one’s personality, the study of Torah in the abstract does not suffice. It must be studied with the intent to live up to what it teaches, and it must be implemented in daily living. The study must involve the ethical as well as the formal halachic aspects. Then and only then can we expect favorable changes in our personalities to occur.”

I also like the clarity and simplicity provided by another of Nehama Leibowitz’s comments: “We have merely to try to understand the significance of the struggle and what the Torah wished to teach us through it.”

So if we accept the need to do so, as Yaakov did heading into that lonely night, a transformation of the spirit is possible.

Next the text informs us that with the break of day Yaakov sees Esau and his army approaching. Israel moves out ahead of his wives, maids and children so that Esau will see him first and that he is separated from the others. We thus see again the protective move akin to what Yaakov had done the night before by separating himself from everyone and everything else. He bows seven times. Then (33:4)—“Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and falling on his neck, he kissed him; and he wept.”. (I have to note that this verse almost exactly describes my father’s description of seeing his brother the first time they met at the airport in Israel twenty-four years after separating in Italy. The only difference was they went to a men’s room first for some privacy). By the way, the Midrash which won’t cut Esau any slack, states that Esau was trying to bite him in the neck. Family is introduced, and after some back and forth Esau accepts Israel’s gift. Rashii notes that Yaakov saying “Please accept my present” is to be understood literally as “Please accept my blessing…”. Both of them know what Yaakov had done, but, with this conversation Esau seems to be saying “I’m doing fine as well, we’re OK!”. They separate and move on.

What happens to Yaakov-Israel next is one tragedy after another in this parsha and the ones to follow. I initially noted the tale of what happened to Dinah and the conduct of her brothers and I will not be talking about that. In the next chapter, 35, there is a seemingly out of place verse which reports that (35:8)—“Deborah, Rivkah’s nurse, died, and was buried…”. We have not seen this Deborah since a brief mention of Rivkah’s unnamed nurse (wet-nurse) who accompanies her on the way to meet Yitzhak. Both Rashi and Nachmanides state that this verse is here to note that Rivkah has died and that Deborah’s death and burial are when Yaakov finds out about it. Yet, Torah makes no specific mention of his mother’s death! I must leave it for others more learned than myself to comment on this erasure of one of the matriarchs. Nachmanides also goes on to comment that this, his mother’s death, is why in the next verse God reappears to Israel. God confirms his earlier name change and promises that a great nation shall descend from him and that the land assigned to Avraham and Yitzhak are assigned to him. However, there is nothing promised to Yaakov in the way of a tranquil life.

Then Rivkah dies.

In another one of his works Rabbi Twerski writes; “We should understand that absolute tranquility is not achievable and that realistic peace of mind exists with some stress and tension”. There are other learned commentaries in a similar vein. For myself I would prefer to close with a poem I first heard at the funeral of a young woman thirty two years ago. At that time I just heard sadness, however, with time I’ve learned it is comforting and provides some measure of hope.

‘Tis a fearful thing

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,
And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

– Yehuda HaLevi







By Melissa Berenbaum, October 27, 2018

Shabbat Shalom! This Parsha is rich, substantial and significant. There are many important topics to be discussed. I could talk about faith…. the Akeda, how Abraham seemed willing to sacrifice Isaac, and believed that God had a purpose and reason for tasking him with this unfathomable directive. I could talk about leadership… and demand for justice …. Abraham’s challenge of God’s intent to destroy Soddom and Gemorah.

But I have another subject in which to take a deeper dive. I want to talk about kindness and acting Godly.

The parsha opens with Abraham at home recovering from his circumcision. He is sitting at the entrance of his tent. Commentators note that he was sitting at the entrance to look out for travelers who made need some rest and water.

But the day was a particularly hot one. Rabbi Chama Bar Haninah wrote that God made it hot, too hot to travel, so that Abraham would not have his rest and recovery interrupted by hosting visitors.

God visits Abraham on this hot day, maybe to check in that his recovery is progressing? Or to show him honor for carrying out the commandment of circumcision.

Nevertheless, Abraham spots three strangers, and despite God’s presence and his own ailment, he runs to greet the strangers. Imagine turning your back on God to go greet strangers? You’re in the middle of a conversation with God, some strangers appear and you tell God to hit the pause button? This is rather extraordinary. Rabbi Shraga Simmons in analyzing these verses, writes, “There is an experience even greater than talking to God. To be like God. Human beings are created in the image of God. God is a giver. Thus, giving is our greatest form of spiritual expression.“

Acknowledging the profound moment, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes: The idolaters of Abraham’s time worshiped the sun, the stars and the forces of nature as gods. They worshiped power and the powerful. Abraham knew, however, that God is not in nature, but beyond nature. There is only one thing in the universe on which God has set God’s image: the human person, every person, powerful and powerless alike.”

Aaron of Karlin taught that when we turn our attention from God to tend to the needs of people, we do God’s will. Conversely, God is not pleased when we place such a great focus on God that we ignore needy human beings.

You may be questioning why I am focused on this message of the parsha. After all, we at the Library Minyan are very welcoming, we have a greeter each Shabbat, we have many programs to include many people. We arrange Shabbat hospitality. We have already taken this lesson to heart.

But I am going to challenge us to act in an even more Godly way with our fellow congregants. We need to make sure that all our Library Minyaners have access to our service in every physical manifestation. We don’t have a large space, whether it’s the Dorff Nelson or Adelson. We don’t have wide aisles. We have to cram in as many chairs as we possibly can. This makes it extraordinarily challenging when someone with a walker or wheelchair enters our prayer space. We need to make room and offer assistance to those who are less able than we. It means if you are sitting by the door or on an aisle, you need to give up your seat. Think of yourself as Abraham, leaving his own tent to greet the strangers and offer them what they needed on a hot travel day.

We also don’t have great acoustics and we have among us those who are hard of hearing. And we recognize that there are also among us, those who don’t use electricity on Shabbat. But as Abraham turned away from his conversation with God to serve strangers, we must give everyone access to every part of our service and that means the use of a sound system and microphone. I will be working with the Steering Committee in the coming weeks to address the regular use of a microphone and speakers so that all of our congregants can partake of the service, while accommodating those who don’t use electricity. And we will bring it back to the Minyan for implementation.

And there is another way in which we can act like Abraham and embody the qualities of God. In the next verses, Abraham invites the strangers for rest and water. He offers to get them a morsel of bread and then runs to find Sarah and asks her to prepare cake with the choice flour. He then ran to the cattle shed, chose a calf and asked his servant to prepare. And there were other refreshments for the strangers. Similarly, we are blessed with Kiddush and refreshments following our Shabbat service. For some, this may be their main meal of the day, and perhaps the bulk of their provisions for the week. Let us offer assistance to those who need help in sharing in our abundance. Lend them a helping hand when they cut in line. There is plenty to feed us all and for some it may be vital sustenance.

We come to shul each Shabbat to talk to God, to pray. That is mitzvah, of course. But perhaps we need to turn away from that mitzvah sometimes to do another mitzvah and assist a congregant or someone who may be visiting our community.

Abraham turned away from God to see the face of God in the strangers; we must see the face of God in each and every one of our fellow Library Minyaners and know when we accommodate them, we are acting Godly.

Shabbat Shalom.



By Judy Weintraub, October 13, 2018

The Window- TSOhar- 6:16 The word for window, Chalon, is attested 31 times in the TANACH.        TSOHAR? EXACTLY 1 time

In fact a few chapters later the word chalon is mentioned in reference to letting out the raven

Baal Shem Tov: no sun and no moon… there was no external light! This opening then, must be referring to a different kind of light – a spiritual light

 Each of us to Hashem  we must take that step –in all 3 situations- (PS 118 Min HaMetzr) Karati Ya
Our light upward… Hashem’s light down to us

Each of us to community
Our light to each other as individuals. Allowing our light to shine
Our light to our community… Our communities light to us

SOS program Rabbi .Efrem Goldberg Sr Rabbi at Boca Raton synag, FL believes so much in Community and Clal Yisrael that he has a full-time Rabbi doing outreach work through various projects one of those projects – Share One Shabbos. In this program members are asked to open their homes to people they don’t know or they don’t know well twice a year. There is no better way to build community than to share a meal in a warm and welcoming home

Each of us to the world  beyond our comfort zone-universality of R Kook, amodel for us – didn’t just see those with similar beliefs, supported Zionists, felt they had a very important function as part of the whole

SPECIFICATIONS – God gives explicit instructions-details are not random
Mishkan—-Beit Hamigdash—-TEIVA

Rabbi Avraham IBN Ezra-12th cent Spanish philosopher, biblical commentator poet: Place where the LIGHT comes from -a ladder was needed to reach it- not so readily accessible- beyond automatic reach- need to expend energy —but always open-

 Opening in the shape of a triangle- 1 measure wide on the top and 6 measures wide on the bottom. A triangle with a solid base- where else do we see that triangle- the Mogen David- with the midrash of humanity striving upward to know God by doing Mitzvot

Here to complete CREATION- but can’t do that w/o light that comes from TZOHAR.

RASHI: Tsohar=  WINDOW & PRECIOUS STONE RADIATING- access to the light coming in to us- our openness to sending our light outside
LIGHT within LIGHT               LIGHT within  DARK

Is it more challenging to see the light when times are blessed- to keep in mind the source of the blessing to remain grateful and humble- to understand the connectedness of humanity and to share the blessings with others

And let’s look at the DARK

RABBI ELIE MINK: Call of the Torah comb  classic commentary, Kabbalistic thought and his own insights.- offers his own thoughts


Another twist: Seeing the light and being open to it uplifting you—EMUNAH=faith
REB NACHMAN of Bretzlov, Aleph Bet Book—SEFER HAMIDOT
A14: Gazing at the sky when it is clear and bright will bring you to faith in the Rabbis (as the Rabbis)

REMEMBER: The window is the opening from the narrow space to the BIG space

Aviva Zornberg describes the Ark as a small enclosed safe space – Why a window if heading into a huge storm-Why do we need that window?

Window allows light to come in us and for light to go out and for us to see out and interpret – a communication between the internal and external world

Midrash Tanhuma:
Noach’s prayer was release my soul from enclosure: our souls can be caught in all kinds of enclosures

WE NEED THAT WINDOW! We need to find, as Zornburg says, our OBJECTIVE reality and our optimal place within it.

REB Nachman of Bretslov offers this beautiful drash on the opening-
Our Bodies- our souls- our essence within our dwellings-within our TEIVAH- we have the challenge of constructing our lives- we are challenged to create a WINDOW for our ark- to allow light in –to let ours flow thru- to make a space for our dove to fly out – to maintain a flow of communication between ourselves and with God, with those we love, with our community, & with the world – to use OUR TSOhar- our precious stone – OUR source of LIGHT-

The window is not just there, but ours to CREATE- it is part of our free will to do it or not- it doesn’t just happen passively- From the Torah we are given the wisdom- TSOHAR TA’ASEH L’TEVAH–AN OPENING shall you create-may we all create our tsohar – our window- our precious stone that RADIATES LIGHT and may we use it well

Shabbat Sukkot

Shabbat Sukkot

By Ilana Grinblat, Sept 29, 2018

Shabbat Shalom. Moadim L’simchah.

On Sunday, we bought our schach for our sukkah and put it in my car. The schach hung out through the right side of my car, such that Tal had to drive on the left hand side of the street, and I was thinking: Wow we have such a weird religion! Weird in the best possible sense of the term – wacky, wonderful religion. We built the beautiful sukkah, and decorated it with new lights. Zman Simchatenu, The time of our joy had come. But the world didn’t get the memo.

World: Is that too much to ask? To have one week of joy and peace?!!

Last year, the day before Sukkot was the Vegas shooting. This year the Kavannaugh hearings. To me, this was a deeply painful week.

I wish I could give a light sermon today – on the symbolism of the lulav in our wild and wacky tradition. Instead, I need to address the following questions:

What does our tradition have to say about sexual assault and harassment?

The bigger question – which I can’t yet answer, as events are still unfolding – is what message do the events of this week – and the next week going to send to the young people of our country? What are we to make what is happening in our country?

There are two stories from our tradition which inform what I want to say:

1) The Talmud (Shabbat 31a) recounts about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism, but would only accept Judaism if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one foot.

First he went to Shammai, who refused to answer this odd request. The man then approached Hillel, who said:

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the commentary—go and study it!”

I love Hillel’s answer. However, I would have responded to that question slightly differently. I would have answered with Genesis 1:27: And God created humanity in the image of God:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם

 If you understand the idea that human beings are created in the image of God, then you understand how to treat other people and how not to treat them.

This principle means that while there are gradations of offences, there should be no such thing as excusing behavior “boys will be boys.” There should be no behavior that treats someone as other than in the image of God. All sexual assault and harassment treats someone as not in the image of God.

2) The second story is from Bereshit Rabbah. When God was about to create first person, he was surrounded by angels who offered different options, some for and some against creating humanity.

The angel Lovingkindness was in favor of humanity being created, and said, “People will perform many acts of lovingkindness.” The angel of Truth argued against creating humanity, saying, “People will be full of lies.” The angel Righteousness was in favor since people would be capable of doing acts righteousness. Angel of Peace was opposed, because people will be full of strife.

What did God do? God took truth and threw it down so that it broke into many pieces, so that the vote would be 2 to1 in favor of creation, and then God created humanity.

This past year and the last few weeks, the truth really took a beating, but in other, powerful ways, people picked up the broken pieces of truth from the ground and at great risk to themselves, spoken deep, painful truths about their experiences.

When I asked myself leading up to the holidays, who has inspired me the most this past year, the first on I wrote on my list of inspirational people was anyone who spoke their truth about sexual assault and harassment this past year.

This was particularly inspiring to me because it was in such stark contrast with the silence and shame that surrounded this topic when I was younger.

I am from Maryland, the same area as Dr. Ford and though she’s a bit older than me, I am basically from that time and from that place.

In college, my closest friend at the time was date raped. She didn’t tell me at first. She didn’t tell anyone. She said something vague on the phone and I asked a question which led her to me. Since she didn’t report the rape immediately, she had no evidence and no witnesses. I supported her through the process of whether to report it. I was gently encouraging her to report it, but she decided not to. She knew that if she did report it, she would be interrogated, etc. She had been through one trauma and didn’t want to go through another one.

Although we’ve been out of touch lately, I called my friend this week, as because I though the President’s statement would surely be hurtful to her. To me, one of the most painful moments of the past week was when the President indicated that if what happened to Dr. Ford was so bad, then she or her parents would have reported it at the time.

Incidentally, I also called my best friend from high school this week, just as we always do this time of year, to say Shanah Tovah, and she mentioned that she had also been in a situations where she barely got away, but didn’t report, because she thought there was nothing to report since nothing occurred. She now understands that attempted assault is a category worth reporting but didn’t have that vocabulary at the time.

If talking about this issue from a Jewish perspective, we have to wrestle with the idea of Shalom Bayit, and ask about how this concept has been applied in these types of situations. Shalom Bayit us a wonderful idea in Judaism of peace in the household. I’m in favor of this idea. Sometimes this concept is used to withhold some information for the sake of peace in the house. For example, maybe we don’t have to tell daddy that we broke that plate unless he notices. Or maybe we don’t have to tell daddy that you drew in magic marker of the floor, since we succeeded in cleaning it up for the sake of shalom bayit.

Yet, when the concept of Shalom bayit become problematic when it is applied in cases of sexual assault and harassment. For example: when I was 15, I went to visit relatives and while there we visited distant relatives. While there, the father in the family that we were visiting would say inappropriate sexual things to me and make gestures when others left the room, but stop when other returned into the room. When we left, I confided in a female relative that I was staying with. She said: ‘let’s not tell anyone because it’ll ruin their marriage. I was relieved by this answer at the time.

However in retrospect, I wonder: were we really helping them by keeping quiet? They did eventually get divorced. Were we really helping them by delaying that? Did that silence foster shalom bayit or just the appearance of shalom which prevents true shalom from immerging? With this silence and millions of other silences like it, were we unwittingly helping to contribute to the proliferation of such behavior by keeping it from having consequences?

In Ecclesiastes, it states that “there is a time for silence and a time for talking.” We’ve tried a lot of silence on this topic and it hasn’t served us well. Now is the time for talking.

To me, there a measure of simchah (joy) and inspiration from the piercing of the silence on this issue over the past year. During Dr Ford’s testimony, calls to the sexual assault hotline rose 150 percent which is positive. I’m afraid that the events of this week and of the coming week may contribute to the increase in that silence, but I hope that it will inspire others to share their truths, no matter how painful. This sukkot, I find myself torn between fear and hope.

My sukkot wish is that next year I hope that the world gets the memo. I hope that next year, we get a sukkot which is less painful, where I can give you a light, uplifting drash about the meaning of the lulav in our wacky, wonderful tradition. This year, Right now, I pray that every person REALLY gets and internalizes the memo – the Memo which says:

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם

God created humanity – male and female in the image of God. The rest is commentary, and let us say Amen.

Practicing Teshuvah — RH 5779

RH 5779: Practicing Teshuvah

By Gordon Bernat-­Kunin
I. Setting the stage: Questionable Teshuvah

A. After creating millions of fraudulent accounts on behalf of its clients and having been fined over a billion dollars, Wells Fargo created a commercial in May, 2018 , entitled “Earning Back Your ” Here’s how Rolling Stone Magazine summarized it:

We know the value of trust. We were built on it. Back when the country went west for gold, we were the ones who carried it back east…

A rugged cowboy nods in agreement. Then: a montage of horses and locomotives and steamships, before we zoom into the prosperous future with stills from the happy ’70s and ’80s:

Over the years, we built on that trust. We always found the way…

…Until we lost it.

Fixing what went wrong. Making things right. And ending product sales goals for branch bankers. So we can focus on your satisfaction… It’s a new day at Wells Fargo [Asian child gives low­five to African­American female bank employee]. But it’s a lot like our first day [Wells Fargo coach barreling across the plains, horses, etc]…

Wells Fargo. Established 1852. Re­established 2018.

B. A second case:

Following Facebook’s debacle with Cambridge Analytica­­the company created the following ad.

We created Facebook to help people get together, and when we did…

We felt a little less alone [heart emoji!]…

But then something happened.

We had to deal with spam, clickbait, fake news and data misuse [angry face emoji]…

That’s going to change. From now on, Facebook will do more to keep you safe and protect your privacy.” When this place does what it was built for, then we all get a little closer.

C. Finally, by contrast, compare the case of Starbucks:

When a Starbucks manager in Philadelphia called the police to arrest two black men for trespassing, Starbucks acknowledged that its training and policies were inadequate, and then flew its CEO Kevin Johnson and chairman Howard Schultz to Philadelphia to meet with the men and with civil-rights leaders in Philadelphia. In a video speech, its CEO offered a personal apology. “To the gentlemen who were arrested in the store­­what happened was reprehensible.

They didn’t deserve this. I am accountable. There will be changes to policy, and training around unconscious racial bias. The company announced it was closing down thousands of stores throughout the country (costing 12+million) as an initial afternoon of training.

D.  Now let’s compare two fairly similar approaches to teshuvah:

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do­­In a recent article in Forbes, she describes six key components of an effective apology:

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgement of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

In his Laws of Teshuvah, Maimonides describes four dimensions and six paths of teshuvah:

  1. first, awareness and
  2. second, for all sins, one must confess before God; sins against one’s fellow require confessing before others and detailing specific
  3. third, one must cease sinning and repay debts. Then, appease the injured and ask for forgiveness. In addition, teshuvah requires paths to inner change, the first of which is crying out to
  4. finally, Complete teshuvah­­the sinner is in the same situation, with opportunity, capacity, and desire, and doesn’t repeat the sin out of ..

The primary difference between these two approaches is clearly the role of God in teshuvah. In the daily Amidah, we express our vulnerability when we ask God to help us turn to God’s Torah and God’s Service in complete teshuvah. Teshuvah is not only an act of self-mastery or self-overcoming (bildung). It is also an acknowledgement of dependence. In Buber’s language, every act of teshuvah involves both will and grace.

E. How do the Wells­ Fargo and Facebook commercials measure up against these categories of teshuvah? Not so well. Listening to the Wells­Fargo and Facebook ads, it is difficult to push past cynicism, to dan l’caf zchut (judge favorably). One could say they are truly striving to renew themselves as in days of old, struggling to re­capture sources of value and vision gone You can imagine different voices in a theatre or board room in which the desire to recover one’s path vies with the marketing department and the business department and the legal department. One could say the ads mirror a battle within the human soul or they co­opt the very process of teshuvah.

II.  Two types of Teshuvah

1. For a meaning junky (like myself), every holiday has its imperative, the thing that challenges us to grow, prompting The imperative of these Days of Awe, the Yamim Noraim, is teshuvah, which induces us to shvitz­­by turning up the spiritual temperature.

Here’s another way of characterizing Jewish holidays. They create contexts or containers for fulfilling core Jewish and human needs. They create opportunities, based on the collective wisdom and experience of the Jewish people, to connect to God, others, and oneself.

2. The spiritual opportunity and demand of the Yammim Noraim is When I speak of teshuvah, I mean two things­­

  1. first, RIGHTING PAST WRONGS­­looking backwards (reactively) to repair previous sins, re­aligning broken relationships with others, oneself, and
  2. And, second, RECREATING ONE’S FUTURE­­ building proactively upon previous flaws, and embracing a vision of what could be in order to refine ourselves and repair the

For the remainder of this drash, let’s explore both types of teshuvah.

3. Particularly during this time of year, we reflect upon those we have hurt, misled, failed to support or betrayed–including Out of apprehension, fear, or shame, we avoid confrontation, rationalize and procrastinate, knowing full well that doing so hardens our hearts and deforms our souls. Each failure to risk teshuvah recalls Parker Palmer’s haunting admonition : Don’t conspire in your own diminution.

4. The 19th Century Hasidic master, the Sfat Emet comments on the following verse from Lamentations (see above­­thanks to Wanda): Hashiveynu Hashem Elechah v’nashuva (Eicha 5:21) Return us to you God, and we shall return.” According to the Sfat Emet, the terms Hashiveynu (return us) and v’nashuva (and we will return) refer to two different types of teshuvah­­one which springs from fear and one which springs from

The first type is reactive­­repairing, with God’s help, previous sins, ­­The second type is proactive­­ pursuing good and embracing God or godliness.

A.  Righting Past Wrongs
  1. TRANSITION: Let’s start with the first type of teshuvah–the type which responds to previous

One of Maimonides’ key dimensions of teshuvah is that the offender must appease the injured party and ask for forgiveness.

Now, I’m not sure where I first learned the practice, but for many years I have recited the following formula to family, friends, and sometimes colleagues: If in the past year, I have offended you or hurt you in any way, intentionally or unintentionally, I ask your forgiveness. Some reply, quoting from Bamidbar and the Yom Kippur liturgy: salachti kidvarecha. I forgive you as you have requested,. The practice attempts to enable those seeking forgiveness to confess offenses and achieve a clean slate before YK.

Now, imagine if I were to ask you–somewhat mechanically– to forgive me for anything I have done intentionally or unintentionally during the past year, and you were to reply: Well, actually, you put me in a a bit of a tight spot.  It’s a lot to respond to.

But come to think of it–I’m immensely glad you asked. Actually, I have been keeping a rather robust list in my phone. Here are 12 or 13 things which I would like to unpack with you.

2. Searching for the origins of this forgiveness formula, I began with Mishnah Yoma:

For transgressions between man and God, Yom HaKippurim effects atonement, but for transgressions between man and his fellow, Yom HaKippurim does not effect atonement, until he has pacified his fellow..

What the Mishnah doesn’t answer is: How does one pacify or appease one’s fellow?

Maimonides, connecting appeasement with forgiveness also leaves the content of how to ask forgiveness open:

In his MISHNEH TORAH, Hilchot Teshuvah 2:9-10, Maimonides writes:

Although he makes monetary restitution, he is obliged to pacify him and to beg his forgiveness…If his neighbor refuses,, he should bring a committee of three friends to implore and beg of him to forgive him (up to 3 times) We will come back to the Mishnah and Maimonides’ analysis shortly.

3. The closest I came to discovering a version of my asking for forgiveness formula was on-line:

First, on a site called “The Yeshiva World,” someone posted this rather expansive request for forgiveness:

I would like say to everyone here­ Please forgive me for anything that I may have said that caused any of you to be embarrassed, upset, hurt, annoyed, or (get this) anything less than happy, directly or indirectly. I sincerely apologize for it. And I absolutely forgive anyone here for anything they may have said that caused me any of the above feelings.

Please be mochel (forgiving) for everything.

(As an aside, on what some might consider a humorous note: the Artscroll siddur’s Bedtime prayer has a similar formula in which the person going to sleep grants every Jew forgiveness not only for intentional and unintentional sins, but for sins committed in this transmigration (gilgul) or other transmigrations.)

Like the Wells-Fargo and Facebook ads, the Yeshiva world post desire comprehensive forgiveness without much specificity or vulnerability.

4. After much fruitless searching, a friend suggested the following explanation for my quandary. The reason I couldn’t find a classic source for the forgiveness formula was that the specific content I was seeking was not meant to be found….In other words, the reason the Mishnah and the Mishneh Torah don’t fill in the blanks with a required formula for how to appease one’s neighbor and seek forgiveness is because this undermines the very purpose of seeking sincere forgiveness.

As Moshe Halbertal puts it, there are limits to what the law can and should specify. “Without the human field, the institution of forgiveness lacks any context or substance.” Put another way, just as the holidays can only create a container for meaning, the law can only get us to the threshold of asking for forgiveness. He continues “the law can only be effective where there exists a fabric of human relationships that allows for that effectiveness –a fabric the law itself cannot create.”

5. In addition to striving for sincerity and specificity in our words, it is our responsibility to create an effective and supportive context for appeasement and forgiveness. Part of that context might include sincere and sensitive listening to the conditions which could enable the other person to respond. Another part could mean seeking humility and relinquishing control by asking God for assistance in achieving teshuvah. Unlike creating commercials or asking for blanket forgiveness, which seem to maintain control, creating the proper context brings us part of the way to fulfillment.

So far, I have described two approaches to appeasement and asking for forgiveness. The first is a generic appeal for forgiveness, by which we express general regret and seek comprehensive forgiveness. The second requires a very specific acknowledgement of wrong-doing and requires a much greater degree of vulnerability. Now, I want to suggest an additional approach.

6. Each year, I approach my children (and sometimes my wife, friends, colleagues or students) with a simple question: I ask my child, in the coming year, what can I do to be a better abba to you? (husband, friend, son or teacher) I recognize that this simple question has its advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, it does not take responsibility for specific offenses done and would ideally be done in  addition to asking forgiveness for specific offenses.

On the other hand, I am enabling the other person to participate in identifying my shortcomings from his or her perspective. My commitment is not to do everything he or she recommends. Rather, it is to listen with as little defensiveness as possible–with an open and full heart to the possibility of change–My challenge is to prove Rabbi Tarfon wrong–when he said: I would be amazed if there is anyone in this generation who can accept rebuke.

Whether or not I agree to accept the criticism, I am open to the possibility of greater erevut— shouldering more responsibility for our relationship.

B.  Righting Past Wrongs

1. I want to conclude with (an exercise which addresses) the Sfat Emet’s second kind of teshuvah, which I would call proactive teshuvah, teshuvah not from fear but from love.

The mishnah in Brachot tells of the sage (Tanna) Nechunia ben Hakanah (Brachot 4:2) who used to offer up a short prayer on his entrance into the house of study and on his departure. They said to him, “What is the intention of this prayer?” He replied to them, “On my entry I pray that no mishap occur through me, and on my exit I offer up thanks for my portion.”

When Nechunia prays that no mishaps occur on his account, what is he concerned about? (I assume) As a conscientious scholar, he fears leading his students astray through faulty interpretations of the law. As he leaves, he expresses gratitude for the privilege of transmitting Torah and dwelling in the House of Study.

2. Let’s read the passage more When I enter a classroom or the place of my work, I ask myself what are the different ways that I might lead my students or colleagues astray. Perhaps, at times, I act impatiently, take up too much or too little room or fail to explain myself clearly. Or I place my love of texts or ideas above my students’ well being. As I leave, I stop to acknowledge the joy of collaborating with colleagues, working in service of a sacred purpose or watching students’ grow.

When we enter the threshold our homes(or our cars or the public space), what kinds of offense do we seek to avoid? And when we leave, how do give thanks for our portion?

When I enter this sacred place of gathering and worship and study, what is my prayer for sanctifying my behavior and how will I remind myself of what I cherish here before leaving?

For each entering and leaving, how will I remember my intentions?

3. Two takeaways for leaving this sermon‑‑REPAIRING AND RECREATING TESHUVAH: (1) the imperative to figure out how to confront or appease one person before Yom

(2) Figure out the mishaps you cause and blessings you receive as you enter and depart one setting of your life.

As we enter this new year with all its perils and possibilities, may we grow as individuals and as a community in our capacity for teshuvah, may we find the courage and compassion to heal broken relationships, seek forgiveness, and…. May our comings and goings refine the soul, renew the Jewish people and repair a small piece of God’s world.