Monday, April 29, 2013

Finding Hope - Parashat Behar Bechukotai

This week, we read the double portion of Behar-Bechukotai. In it, we read in Leviticus 26: 3-12

"If you follow my laws and faithfully observe My commandments, I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit.  Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and your vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your fill of bread and dwell securely in your land.  I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; I will give the land respite from vicious beast, and no sword shall cross your land.  Your army shall give chase to your enemies and they shall fall before you by the sword.....I will be ever-present in your midst: I will be your God, and you shall be My people."

This is such a powerful message of hope during a time that was so difficult for our ancestors. It was hard not to give in to despair. But through those difficult days in the desert, the Israelites gained strength from each other, and built a community that performed acts of kindness and faith.

And just a couple of weeks ago, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, on a day that celebrates Spring and Freedom, resilience and hope were tested yet again.
Oklahoma City, Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Gabby Giffords, Aurora Movie Theatre, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon
We will not give into despair. We are resilient.
"So if you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil--that's it." said President Obama. "Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid."

And just like in ancient days, we will gather strength from each other. The strength is in our gathering.

Countless lives have been changed forever, and life is certainly not perfect. But, hope and faith will forever lose its meaning unless we can really appreciate the blessings that we do have. And that is the only way that we can turn our attention to moving forward toward the future.

So, we reach the end of the Book of Leviticus.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Is There A Cohen In The House - Parashat Emor

Did you know that Jews have a kind of royalty?  Don't get too excited. There are no castles involved here, or even a title like "Your Majesty". The Jewish Royals are the Kohanim, the priests who once served in the Temple of Jerusalem.

Jacob had 12 sons. Each son was the leader of one of the Tribes of Israel. Each tribe had a separate territory, except the Tribe of Levi. During the Exodus, when the Israelites made the Golden Calf, the Levites refused to worship it. Because of their devotion, they were appointed as the servants to God. There were members from this tribe that were descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses. They were known as the Kohanim. Aaron was the first Kohen, the first High Priest. 

Parashat Emor begins with the laws restricting the Priests, the descendants of Aaron, from contact with the dead: "The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any dead person among his kin." (Lev 21:1).

Even though the system of the High Priesthood no longer exists, some descendants of the Kohanim are extremely careful to adhere to the ancient restrictive rules. First and foremost, is the prohibition against coming into contact or even close proximity to dead bodies. (Mind you, the rules get a bit more lax when the deceased person wasn't Jewish, just as long as the Kohen doesn't touch the body)

There are also strict rules regarding where a Kohen can walk  around a cemetery. 

And, obviously from this article, there are strict rules where a Kohen can and can't fly.



‘Plastic Bag’ Airplane Passenger a Kohen Staying Pure?

Look up in the sky? Is It a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Plastic Man – the Orthodox Jew who wrapped himself in plastic on an airplane, apparently because he is a very scrupulous Kohen.
tell a friend

An Orthodox Jewish man, wrapped in a plastic bag in his airline seat, apparently did so because he was probably a Kohen who went to extreme lengths to make sure he would not be ritually impure if the plane flew over a Jewish cemetery.
Kohenim are prohibited from coming into contact with dead bodies, and many rabbis have taken the strict opinion that a Kohen may not ride in a plane if he knows ahead of time that it will fly directly over a Jewish cemetery. Many have ruled that if does not know of the flight plan, he may ride in the airplane.
El Al once agreed to change a fight trajectory to avoid flying over a cemetery.
The man wrapped in plastic, whose photograph first appeared on the Redditor site and later on the Gothamist site, apparently did not want to take any chances. By covering himself in plastic, he established a separation between him and impurities.
However, since he arrived at his destination safe and sound, it can be assumed there was a hole in the plastic bag so he could breathe.
Some readers of Redditor suggested that “plastic man” was making sure he would not come into contact with the woman sitting behind him, but that is doubtful since it is unlikely he carried a plastic covering “just in case.”
Or maybe he simply wanted some attention.

So, if your last name is Cohen, or Kahn or even Schwartz, you just might be a part of this priestly tribe, that are descendants of one man, Aaron the High Priest, who lived 3,500 years ago. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Holiness Code - Parashat Acharei Mot - Kedoshim

If you unrolled the Torah, and then rolled it back to the center, the 2 sides would meet just about this Parashat, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim. It's the center of the Torah for a couple of reasons.

This section of Leviticus is called "The Holiness Code":
And God spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the whole Israelite Community, and say to them, " You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy." (Leviticus 19:1-2)

                     How can we achieve holiness? Where do we start?
It's obvious that we can't be holy alone. We are a part of a community.

  • Do not steal
  • Do not place a stumbling block before the blind
  • Love your neighbor
  • Do not hate your fellow in your heart
  • Leave the corners of the field for the poor and the stranger

This shows us that the Torah is not just a Book of laws, but it's also a lesson in righteousness. Judaism teaches us to love, and respect each other. The laws of Holiness are addressed to the entire Jewish community. The hope is to create a community of people that care about one another, and who show kindness to all. That is what Holiness is all about. There is Holiness when we care for our world, and make it a better place.

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim reminds us that at the center of the Torah there is Holiness. But, also, at the center of Community, there is Holiness, too.

Friday, April 12, 2013

From Sorrow To Joyousness - The Price of Freedom

This year Yom HaZikaron is on:
Apr 14-15

Yom HaAtzmaut is on:
Apr 15-16

It's amazing that when most of our parents were born, Israel was not yet a State. When they were born maps didn't even include a Jewish State on it. We think of the State of Israel always being there.We forget sometimes, just how young it really is. This week we celebrate Israel's 65th birthday. Quite an achievement, considering the threats that Israel has had to conquer in its short life. Israel has accomplished so much in its 65 years, a true light among the nations, but before we leap into celebration, we must stop and remember. The day before Yom Ha-atzmaut is Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance for Israel's fallen soldiers and Victims of Terror.

Sirens will sound across Israel to call the nation to a moment of reflection for Yom HaZikaron. When the State was established, Israel's leaders felt strongly about connecting Yom HaZikaron to Yom HaAtzmaut. Though this is the season of our freedom, we also mourn our people's tragedy, we remember the fallen soldiers and also celebrate the independence of the State of Israel. On Yom HaZikaron are lost sons, daughters, fathers, sons, mothers, brothers, and sisters. Whether it was during one of Israel's wars, or during a senseless act of terrorism, the loss in Israel is profound.

It is not by accident, then, that we go from this day of sorrow to the joy of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Day of Independence. We go from "Yagon L' Simcha" - from Sorrow to Joyousness. In doing this, we can hopefully understand what a sacrifice it was for the generations past and present to build the Jewish State.
We're always reminded of life's highs and lows, and the price of freedom.

Special Yizkor Prayer Memorializing Israel's Fallen Heroes

"יִזְכֹּר אֱלֹהִים אֶת נִשְמוֹת בָּנָיו-גִּבּוֹרָיו, חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, שֶׁנָּפְלוּ בְּמִלְחֲמוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּפְעֻלּוֹת הֲגַנָּה, תַּגְמוּל וּבִטָּחוֹן וּבְעֵת מִלּוּי תַּפְקִידָם, וְנִשְׁמוֹת כָּל לוֹחֲמֵי הַמַּחְתֶּרֶת וַחֲטִיבוֹת הַלּוֹחֲמִים בְּמַעַרְכוֹת הָעָם, שֶׁחֵרְפוּ נַפְשָׁם לָמוּת עַל קְדֻשַּׁת הַשֵּׁם, וּבְעֶזְרַת אֱלֹהֵי מַעַרְכוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵבִיאוּ לִתְקוּמַת הָאֻמָּה וְהַמְּדִינָה וְלִגְאֻלַּת הָאָרֶץ וְעִיר הָאֱלֹהִים. מִנְּשָׁרִים קַלּוּ וּמֵאֲרָיוֹת גָּבֵרוּ, בְּהֵחָלְצָם לְעֶזְרַת הָעָם וְהִרְווּ בְּדָמָם הַטָּהוֹר אֶת רִגְבֵי אַדְמַת קָדְשֵׁנוּ. זֵכֶר עֲקֵדָתָם וּמַעֲשֵׂה גְבוּרָתָם לֹא יָסוּפוּ מֵאִתָּנוּ לְעוֹלָמִים. תִּהְיֶינָה נִשְׁמוֹתֵיהֶם צְרוּרוֹת בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים עִם נִשְׁמוֹת אַבְרָהָם, יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב וְעִם שְׁאָר גִּבּוֹרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּקְדוֹשָׁיו שֶׁבְּגַן עֵדֶן עַד
עוֹלָם. אָמֵן".
May God remember the souls of His heroic children: The fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who fell in the wars of Israel, in defensive, retaliative, and security actions and during the fulfillment of their duty, including the souls of the underground fighters and brigades who fought in the national struggle - all those who sacrificed their lives for the sanctification of God's Name.

And with the help of God, the Lord of Israel's campaigns, they brought about the revival of the nation and the state and the redemption of the land and the city of God.
They were quicker than eagles and stronger than lions as they volunteered to assist the nation, and they saturated our holy land with their pure blood.
The memory of their self-sacrifice and heroic deeds will never disappear from us. May their souls be bound in the Bond of Life with the souls of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and with the souls of the other heroes and martyrs of Israel who are in the Garden of Eden. Amen.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

We Will Not Forget - Yom HaShoah

This year Yom HaShoah 2013 begins in the evening of
Sunday, April 7
and ends in the evening of
Monday, April 8

O God of Israel, we remember the countless numbers of our people who have suffered unspeakable agonies and death. Some were silent sufferers, some rebelled, all were murdered. Some are still remembered by friends and loved ones, others have vanished with no earthly remembrance. We plead that You will remember all of them, that you will hold them in Your heart, that they will find their peace with You.
God of our fathers and mothers, our eyes are now witnesses for the suffering of Israel; our hearts have been torn as we mourn for our people. We will not forget one single thing, not forget to the last generation, lest we ignore threats to our people and all human degradation, or we’ve learned nothing, nothing at all.

On Yom Hashoah we remember.
We remember the young and the old...the 6 million. One and a half million children. Can you imagine. Wiping out 6 million Jews, and all of European culture, because they were guilty of...being different?
We remember what happens when hate takes over the heart.
We remember what happens when humanity turns away.
But we also remember those who who saved lives, and gave so many hope. They were the Righteous Gentiles who helped save people from death camps, and hid them, risking their own lives. 
We cannot go back. We cannot change the past.
We remember all that was lost. We must teach our children.

You who live secure
In your warm houses
Who return at evening to find Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider whether this is a man, Who labours in the mud
Who knows no peace
Who fights for a crust of bread Who dies at a yes or a no. Consider whether this is a woman, Without hair or name
With no more strength to remember Eyes empty and womb cold
As a frog in winter.
Consider that this has been:
I commend these words to you.
Engrave them on your hearts
When you are in your house,
when you walk on your way,
When you go to bed, when you rise. Repeat them to your children.
Or may your house crumble,
Disease render you powerless,
Your offspring avert their faces from you.
—Primo Levi 

"For us, in our time, we must confront bigotry and hatred in all of its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism.  None of that has a place in the civilized world -- not in the classrooms of children; not in the corridors of power.  And let us never forget the link between the two.  For our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate.  So let us fill their young hearts with the same understanding and compassion that we hope others have for them.

Here we hope.  Because after you walk through these halls, after you pass through the darkness, there is light -- a glorious view of the Jerusalem Forest, with the sun shining over the historic homeland of the Jewish people; a fulfillment of the prophecy: “you shall live again…upon your own soil.”  Here, on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear:  The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust.  But with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again." - President Barack Obama, on his March 2013 visit to Yad Vashem