Friday, March 30, 2012

Shabbat HaGadol

So, why is this Shabbat different than all other Shabbats?  The Shabbat before Pesach is known as Shabbat HaGadol or The Great Shabbat, although no one seems to be 100% clear on why it has this A+ designation.
A common explanation is related to the Pesach offering that the Israelites were commanded to prepare... a sheep for the Pesach offering, and tie it to their beds.  The Israelites, of course, did as they were told. The ancient Egyptians worshiped sheep, and when they saw that the Israelites were actually tying up sheep to their beds, they became enraged and demanded an explanation. They calmly explained that they were going to slaughter the sheep as an offering to God. Well, you would have thought that havoc would have broken out, but it didn’t, and not a single Israelite was harmed. In memory of the miracle, the Shabbat before Pesach, the 10th of Nissan, when this miracle occurred, is now referred to as Shabbat HaGadol.

I hear that it’s also a great Shabbat because Rabbis usually save one of their longest sermons for that day. They have to go over all the rules and regulations of Pesach. Nowadays, we can send it out by e-mail. Can you imagine how hard it was for everyone to remember everything years ago?

Traditionally, on Shabbat HaGadol, we read from the prophet Malachi. Malachi reassures us that justice will be done, and he tells us, passionately, not to worry. He tells us that he’s sending Elijah, the Prophet. And, Elijah will return the hearts of parents to children, and the hearts of children to their parents. Malachi tells us that injustice will end, and healing will begin.

Shabbat HaGadol reminds us not to despair. We know that its not Passover yet. But Shabbat HaGadol gives us a moment to catch our breath before we begin our trip out of Egypt.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Day 3 at the Supreme Court

Chief Justice Scalia made a comparison between the health care mandate and forcing Americans to buy broccoli: If the government can make you buy insurance, why not broccoli too?
The lengthy debate centered around the fact that granting the government such power over commerce is perhaps setting a dangerous precedent.
Dont you think that if people knew that the broccoli was going to make them healthy and fit, they would buy the broccoli? Of course they would. That's why Popeye bought the spinach!
So if broccoli is like insurance, of course we should buy the broccoli. (I'll even add a little garlic)
Look, the bottom line is insurance can only help us. It'll keep people working and mentally fit, and eating more broccoli!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lets Reform Health Care

Our Rabbi taught: the non-Jewish poor are to be sustained along with the Jewish poor, the non-Jewish sick are to be visited along with the Jewish sick, and the non-Jewish dead are to be buried with the Jewish dead, for the sake of [the ways of] peace (Gittin 61a)

The Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare (as it is so lovingly called) is currently being debated in the Supreme Court of the United States.
We need a system of Healthcare that includes everyone, is accessible and affordable. This is our responsibility. We are obligated to treat each person with dignity & compassion. Shouldn't each person be allowed to live out the fullness of their potential? It would cost us so much less than what we were gaining.

Netanya Seder Night Massacre 10 years Later

On March 27, 2002, as Israelis were celebrating Passover, 30 people were killed and 140 injured in a suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in the Israeli Coastal City of Netanya. The terrorist walked into the dining room of the hotel in the center of the city and detonated an explosive device as Jews around the world were celebrating the Holiday of Redemption.

The Seder, one of the our most popular ceremonies is full of memories.  The Seder Plate, with the Charoset, symbolizing the mortar that was used for building; Salt Water, symbolizing the tears we shed, helps us visualize the trauma of our slavery.

We always reflect on our losses, not just to remember, but to call us to action, and to commit and recommit ourselves to build and continue to build our relationship with Israel.
Its not about, nor should it be about politics. Its about memory, vision and hope.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

We Shall Overcome

On this day in 1965
The Selma-to-Montgomery March for voting rights ended three weeks--and three events--that represented the political and emotional peak of the modern civil rights movement.

Parashat Tsav

Tsav begins with God continuing to teach Moses many of the various laws about the Tabernacle service. It describes the procedure for offering the sacrifices in the mishkan and repeats many of the instructions from last week’s parasha, with one major difference. Last week’s portion, Vayikra targeted the entire Israelite community and began with the voluntary sacrifices, and then continued with the ones that were designated for specific people. But, Parashat Tsav, which is addressed to the kohanim, the High Priests, lists the sacrifices in the order of their holiness.
When people bring an important part of themselves, whether this is a sacrifice or an interest in learning or being part of the community, we should receive them openly.  On the other hand,, like in Tsav, there are some people among us who, because of their role in the community, are literally commanded to sit down and go above and beyond. This is their life's mission.
 But, we no longer have kohanim, who perform rituals on our behalf. Instead, it is up to each of us to form our own connection with God. Tsav motivates us to move beyond the level of involvement and learning that we usually operate at..hopefully, not only when we find it convenient to do so.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rosh Chodesh Nissan

The Torah reminds us that that the holiday of Passover commemorates our exodus from Egypt, but the celebration begins and continues all month, during the Hebrew month of Nissan. Nissan is referred to as “Aviv”, the month of “Spring”, and we certainly did blossom.

 The Israelites had to prove that they were worthy of redemption, and part of that was having them actively participate in that process.
  God told Moses to communicate to the people to set aside an animal, and at the right moment, to sacrifice it and display its blood on their doorposts. God assured Moses that the people were ready for the challenge and for this time of renewal.
"This month shall mark for you the beginning of months." This month marks a new beginning, the point in time when God's chosen people are finally to come into their own. This month begins a new way of counting time, the beginning of what will be a new and different reality.
Spring, after all, is the symbol of renewal, the time that nature itself is renewed, coming to life after the depths of winter. What makes Nissan the month of spring is not the fact of liberation itself but the fact that the Jewish people took advantage of that liberation to start a new beginning, as a people committed to God and His Torah.
Perhaps that's why the Torah associates the entire month of Nissan with the redemption from Egyptian bondage. Human beings struggle with the challenges that face them, sometimes taking a step back before the next two steps forward.
As in Egypt, our part in the ultimate drama will not be played perfectly. We will struggle, we will stumble and sometimes we will move in the wrong direction. But if we are truly committed to making this Nissan a month of new beginnings, then perhaps, cold as this winter has been, the spring is closer than we think.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Watching A Million Hoodies

 The burden of race still weighs down on much of American lifeThe gains have been enormous—but a dramatic change is often obscured because the road ahead remains long, and because so much damage had been done. We must continue to open our eyes to the power in America.  We must continue to take off the blinders we sometimes continue to wear to age discrimination, sexual orientation.  We must continue to tell the stories of those that lived through the Civil Rights movement, and other struggles for equality, including the women’s movement and the struggle for gay rights.  We have quite a challenge.  America should not have white neighborhoods or black neighborhoods. It should have just neighborhoods.  “Integrated towns and suburbs are a necessary first step to integrated hearts and minds”[1] Education is increasingly the key to success in our society and is there that much of the effort to change the unequal status of some groups must focus. People do not change their vision of the world the way that they change their clothes.  But..change they must if we are going to survive.  “Life in the United States is now calmer and safer for black and Jews than it was 4 decades ago; both groups enjoy unprecedented access to power and affluence and acceptance in the broader society.  But we must persistently and knowingly measure the distance we have traveled, and not mistake that for the distance that remains". (2)

[1] Loewen, James. “Sundown Towns”  Simon and Schuster. New York. 2005.
(2) Schneir, Rabbi Marc. “Shared Dreams”. Jewish Lights”. Woodstock.1999. P.195 

Jewish Women Inspire

In celebration of Women's History Month, the Jewish Women's Archive is collecting stories, remembrances and notes about American Jewish Women who inspire us:

What is Repentance

“The way we act, the way we fail to act is a disgrace which must not go on forever.  This is not a white man’s world.  This is not a colored man’s world.  It is God’s world.  No man has a place in this world, who tried to keep another man in his place. It is time for the white man to repent.  We have failed to use the avenues open to us to educate the hearts and minds of men, to identify ourselves with those who are underprivileged.  But repentance is more than contrition and remorse for sins, for harms done.  Repentance means a new insight, a new spirit.  It also means a course of action."  Abraham Joshua Heschel

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Yesterday's tragedy in Toulouse really shook the Jewish communities, worldwide. It reminded us that the war against Israel isn't just about settlements and land. It's about hate, and trying to break our spirit. We will not be broken.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Racism is Alive and Well in America

Somehow we thought that by electing the first Black President, we finally put some of our racial bigotry behind us.  I wish that I could say that it was so.  It seems as if there are more and more racist statements that are being directed towards our President, including still questioning his place of birth.
 One of which surfaced in the form of a bumper-sticker. It said: “Don’t Re-Nig in 2012”. It had a picture of President Obama on it.  How disgusting!
 And just last month, an unarmed African-American teen, Trayvon Martin, was shot and killed by a 28 year old white man, named George Zimmerman. Trayvon’s only weapon appeared to be a bag of “Skittles”, which he purchased for his brother just minutes before he was confronted by Zimmerman, who thought he looked “suspicious”. Zimmerman has not been charged.
 And, of course, the VoterID laws which are popping up, and are being directed at minorites. What happened to the Right to Vote?
And this is just one small piece of the puzzle. We should all be appalled.
 As we prepare for our Season of Redemption, we cannot forget that we have an obligation to help redeem  those that are still enslaved, as Jews and as human beings.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Judith Kaplan, at age 12, became the first American to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah on March 18, 1922. She was the oldest daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.
Her Bat Mitzvah marked a turning point for Judaism, and for Jewish Women in America, and opened the door for generations of girls to study and succeed, just like their brothers.
This week we read "Vayikra" That small "a" is no accident. In the Torah, the last letter of the word is actually written with a small aleph. A mistake? No. The letter "aleph" is the 1st letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and also the 1st letter of the word "Ani", which means "I". The word "Vayikra" means "And God called", and Moses felt that made him look too important. He wanted to make the "Ani", the "I" seem smaller, in order to make room for others. So, the letter "aleph" was written with a small "aleph" to represent Moses' humility.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chazak, Chazak V'nitchazek
Be strong, Be strong,
and together
we will be strengthened

Thursday, March 15, 2012

“G-d looked into the Torah and created the world. Man looks into Torah and sustains the world”       ..Zohar Bereshit


            This week’s Parashat, “Vayakhel/Pekudei” recounts the momentous occasion of the completion of the Tabernacle, detailing the courtyard and the Tabernacle before God’s entry.  It also describes the colorful vestments and ornate breastplate the priest is commanded to wear as he presents himself to God.  God expects that Aaron will not fulfill his priestly responsibilities wearing rags, but instead wearing flashy designer apparel.  At first glance, the emphasis on the priestly fashion seems unfitting, for holy tasks ought to value inner beauty and intention over whatever one has on the outside. In fact, according to the Rambam, one of the leading scholars of the Middle Ages, Moses, unlike typical rulers, was uninterested in the self-aggandizement of amassing treasures that would be at his disposal.[1]  Based on the story’s lesson, it is not hard to find the Torah’s emphasis on the priest’s garb somewhat off putting.  Our sages, however, provide the necessary context. Exodus 39:43 tells us: “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks as the Eternal had commanded, so they had done, Moses blessed them.”  According to 11th Century Commentator, Rashi, Moses blessed the Israelites so that God’s presence would rest on their work[2].  In that blessing Moses did not just confirm the worth of all the Israelites work in laying out the pieces of the Mishkan and crafting the priests’ ornate outer wear, but also affirmed what the purpose of doing it all had been: to serve God.  What mattered more was not the final outcome, but the meticulousness of the Israelites’ efforts to reach it.  The Israelites only received Moses’ blessing because, unlike their indulgence during the Golden Calf episode, here the Israelites used their abundant resources to bring God into their midst as God asked.  Ultimately God wasn’t as concerned with Aaron’s breastplate as with why the Israelites were going to great lengths to beautify it.  Likewise, God doesn’t care what brand name we wear, but rather the attitude with which we wear it, and how else we live our lives

[1] Scherman, Rabbi Nosson. “The Chumash: The Stone Edition”.  Mesorah Publications. 2001.
[2] Ibid.

Honi and the Carob Tree
A Talmud Tale

"Honi the Wise One was also known as Honi the Circle Maker. By drawing a circle and stepping inside of it, he would recite special prayers for rain, sometimes even argue with God during a drought, and the rains would come. He was, indeed, a miracle maker. As wise as he was, Honi sometimes saw something that puzzled him. Then he would ask questions so he could unravel the mystery.
One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
Honi then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?”
The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”
I want to give you—world,
The inner lattice of my limbs,
My word, my hands,
The wonder in my eyes.
Take me for service to you,
And use me for your ends!
Place me
In alien railroad depots
Like a greeting-statue
For forlorn guests…
With joy, and throat filled with words
With a bright face
And sunny hands.
Send me to exiled brothers,
prisoners in jails.
Send me with good news
And consolation to mourners.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Lech Lecha Tallit