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Archive for February, 2010

Pick on Israel Club has a bad couple of weeks

Posted by rabbiart on February 26, 2010

Massive kudos to Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer. Forced to play all her matches on an outdoor court for security reasons in the recent Dubai tournament, she beat three players with better rankings before succumbing to Venus Williams in the semifinals. Her quarterfinal win was over 10th ranked Li Na of China. That would be China, a country with a totalitarian government that is systematically repopulating Tibet with ethnic Chinese, which ruthlessly suppresses any internal dissent (say, doesn’t Israel allow representative in the Knesset who openly question the very legitimacy of the country?), and is the country most responsible for the world’s inability to stop the massacre of hundreds of thousands of innocents in Darfur. Hmm. I don’t recall ever seeing reports of protests against Chinese tennis players.
In the news this week, the discovery of a 3,000 year old wall that lends archaeological support for a Bible passage on King Solomon and provides even more foundation for the Jewish people’s historical connection to the land of Israel.
Finally, just days before Purim (almost too good to be true), the Iranian leader whom Jay Leno calls “Im a nut job” (welcome back Jay!), met with Syrian President Bashar Assad and a handful of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders to proclaim that “the criminal state of Israel is doomed.” That would be Bashar Assad, who inherits from Hafez el-Assad, who when faced with a threat from his own people, leveled the town of Hama (literally, not figuratively), killing a minimum of 10,000 and perhaps as many as 25,000 Syrians, mostly civilians.

Word to the (not so) wise -Assad, Ahmadinejad and friends. Go home and read the Book of Esther, dudes, and check your ID papers. Chances are someone has changed your name to Haman, ymach shmo. To borrow from and paraphrase The Boss, aka Bruce Springsteen (listed in Jack Moline’s book under ‘people we wish were Jewish’). We’re still here, they’re all gone…. You will be too, b’mheara uv’yamenu!

But hey…. Chag Sameach.

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The Rhyming Story of #Purim

Posted by rabbiart on February 26, 2010

The Rhyming Story of Purim (1)

Ahasverosh gave a party
He told Vashti don’t be tardy
He said to her “come show your beauty”
She said to him “it’s not my duty”
Her response he did not like
So he told her to take a hike
His councilors made his anger fester
A tale told in the Book of Esther .(2)

Ahasverosh soon got lonely (3)
No more his former one and only (4)
He told his men “Find me a Queen” (5)
To be not heard, to be just seen
Hadassah had an Uncle Mort (6)
He told her with the King make sport
But not to say who was her kin
So now our story doth begin

Esther did the king desire
Her beauty really lit his fire (7)
No virgin like her had he seen
So she became the royal queen
Meanwhile trouble at the gate (8)
Mort found out, the rest was fate
“Warn the King, and mention me” (9)
Our villains soon hung from a tree

Now Haman gets a big promotion
Then causes quite a big commotion
Bowing down Mort does not do
It’s unbecoming for a Jew (10)
When Haman saw Mort standing there
He told the King Mort puts on airs
My King, he said, Mort insults you
So here’s the thing that you should do

Decree that we can kill his tribe
And I will pay you quite a bribe
The king’s decree went through the land
But Shushan did not understand
The Jews did mourn and fast and cry
Then Mort gave Esther reasons why
And told her “now it’s up to you”
Its time for you to be a Jew

The inner court she could not trod
Unless she got the golden rod
She told Mort “go fast for three” (11)
And then the King I’ll go and see
Esther waited for the nod
From Ahashveros golden rod (12)
Said Esther, King, now here’s the deal
Invite Haman to a meal

When Haman got the invitation
He told his wife great expectations
For this great deal he could not wait
But when he saw Mort at the gate
He told his wife “I am offended”
She said that Mort should be suspended (13) When the King just couldn’t sleep He summoned records that they keep

Reminded Mort had helped him live
He asked what honor did we give?
They told him nothing had been done
And Haman thought “I am the one!”
So Haman helped the King decide
Upon the King’s horse he should ride
Upon his head he’ll wear your crown
And thus you’ll give him great renown

The King said with your plan I’m down
Dress Mordecai and lead him round
Through Shushan’s streets, my word proclaim This man has the King’s acclaim Haman did what he was told He went home feeling very old Where Zeresh told him straight and true There’s nothing more that you can do

The King and Haman went to dine
Two days eating, drinking wine
Esther told the King her tale
She was quick to close the sale
Haman pled for life with Esther
The King thought Haman a molester
On Mordecai’s gallows Haman hung
The King was soothed and justice done

Uncle Mort got Andy’s ring
Esther told him here’s the thing
To save the Jews you must decide
Send your decree so far and wide
You must do the thing that’s right
And grant the Jews the chance to fight
Defend themselves and smite their foe
Save a people from more woe

The Jewish people proved quite able
On their foes they turned the table
And after all the bells were rung
Ten sons of Haman soon were hung
Throughout the land Jews slew the beast
And then of course they had the feast
Our story now is almost done
They tried to kill us but we won
Ahasuerus did what’s right
Honor gladness joy and light (14)

1  The word “Purim” means lots, or casting lots, to determine one’s fate.    Purim is always one month before Pesach, so when leap year gives us two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month, and the 14th of Adar in the first month becomes Purim Katan, a little Purim.

2 The only book in the Tanach that doesn’t mention G-d.

3  Well, not exactly lonely, but if you’re old enough, you understand. Or as Frank Sinatra said, “I cleaned that one up for you.”

4 Not counting all his concubines, of course

5  Not much is known about Ahasuerus. Being rich and powerful, he demanded a new trophy wife, a fair young virgin to be precise.

6  Mordecai.  Why is Mordecai like an orange?  Neither one rhymes with anything.

7 See footnote #3 and use your imagination, if necessary

8  Bigthan and Teresh, two of the royal gatekeepers, plotted against the King.  Apparently, when their parents named them, they did not consider how difficult it would be to incorporate their names into the Rhyming Story of Purim.

9  The text does not actually say that Mordecai told Esther to mention his name.

10  It would be a violation of the 2nd of the Ten Commandments.  Traditionally, there were four ways this commandment could be violated; ritually slaying a sacrifice, burning any ritual substance on an altar, pouring a libation, or by prostrating one’s self.

11  Days, that is.  At the end of Chapter 4, Esther tells Mordecai to gather all the Jews in Shushan and conduct a three day fast, planning to approach the King without an invitation.

12  The golden scepter. According to the Megillah, no one could approach the King unless he first extended his golden scepter.

13  Haman’s wife Zeresh makes the suggestion that Haman should build a gallows 50 cubits high and have Mordecai hung upon it.

14   This verse, chapter 8:16, reads “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” It is in the Havdalah service, with an added prayer; “so may it be for us”

Other tidbits:

Megillat Esther begins with the word “va-yehi”. R. Levi, or some say R. Yonatan said: The following remark is a tradition handed down to use from the Men of the Great Assembly: Wherever in the Tanach we find the term va-yehi, it indicates the approach of trouble. (Talmud Bavli 10b)

Our tradition takes bowing down very seriously.  Our sages taught: If a splinter has got into his foot while in front of an idol, he should not bend down to get it out, because he may appear as bowing to the idol; but if not apparent it is permitted. If his coins got scattered in front of an idol he should not bend and pick them up, for he may be taken as bowing to the idol; but if not apparent it is permitted.

(Avodah Zarah 12a)

Resh Lakish said: It was well known before the One at whose word the world came into being that Haman would one day pay shekels for the destruction of Israel. Therefore He anticipated his shekels with those of Israel. And so we have learnt: “On the first day of Adar proclamation is made regarding the shekalim and the mixed seeds.”

(Megillah 13b)

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A Great Purim Shtuss that is making the rounds – Author Unknown

Posted by rabbiart on February 24, 2010

Got this via email from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (seriously). Unfortunately the author by this point is unknown.

Hello –
My name is Rabbi Olabamu Wabatunji and I am the Morah D’Asra of Lagos, Nigeria. Thank G-d, we are now forming a New Kollel for over 30 yungerleit and their families, to be known as Kollel Yirei Areeos. We have collected significant funding for the new building, and obtained the services of the well know architect Moishe Ben-Pil, whose study of the first prakim of Shmos has made him an expert on construction using mud bricks. Our funds currently exceed 13.5 million US dollars, which we must convert into Nigerian Nairas (NGN 1,822,500,000) Due to your well know honesty and tzidkus, we are pleased to offer you an opportunity to take part in this great mitzvah. Since we must deposit this money in an American bank account to begin the currency conversion, we will gladly give you 10% of this money ($1,350,000) if you will let us use yours.
Simply reply to this email and send us the following information:

Your social security number
The name of your bank, and your account number The name of your next of kin Your yichus Your hat size How long you wait after eating fleishigs

My G-d bless you for your help, and may you have a freilech Purim

If you are the author, let me know so I can give you the credit you deserve.

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614th Commandment Discovered – Remember the Purim Day to Keep it Funny

Posted by rabbiart on February 24, 2010

Inspired by a hilarious post on the Hebrew Union College alumni email list, I decided to have a mild bit of fun on Facebook. I wrote the Facebook post shown below. Since all my FB friends and devoted readers here are well aware of my passion for the Arava Institute and the 2010 Israel Bike Ride. I created this entry.

I just landed a $50,000 donation to the Arava Institute Bike Ride and wanted to share the news with all my FB friends. this is really exciting and I hope you share my excitement (.read…more…about..this..donation) over the fact that Purim is only three days away.

So far six people have been taken in by this post. They shall remain nameless, because we are not supposed to hold anyone up for public humiliation, even in private, and heck, they know who they are.

Upon closer research of the Torah and entire Tanach, I discovered that all authorities who claim there are 613 commandments are wrong.  These cases suggest that specific commandments contained in the Torah have penumbras, formed by emanations from those commandments, that help give them life and substance. The practice of “mukzeh” is contained in the penumbra of “Remember the Shabbes day to keep it holy.” The prohibition of assault and robbery is contained in the emanations of “Thou Shalt Not Steal”. The oral tradition provides: “The enumeration of specific commandments and aspects therefo shall not be construed to delimit or set boundary conditions, on other commandments to be practiced by the people.

In our tradition and the historical life of our people, we have had many controversies over these penumbral rights of “practical observance.”  (See ikar shtuyot op. cit. or listen to audio version for precise citation.)

The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of practice created by several fundamental commandments. And it concerns a law which, in forbidding or failing to understand the use of humor on the said holiday in question, seeks to achieve its goals by means of having yidden take various texts, including the Facebook post mentioned inter alia without tongue firmly planted in cheek, or the greater failure of having neglected to read to the end of said post.

Respectfully submitted.  Rabbi Joker in Chief

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Parshat Terumah – its all about the Benjamins

Posted by rabbiart on February 19, 2010

Notwithstanding that at our shul we are in the third part of the triennial cycle, the full parshah opens with a deceptively simple statement.

דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ-לִי תְּרוּמָה: מֵאֵת כָּל-אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִדְּבֶנּוּ לִבּוֹ, תִּקְחוּ אֶת-תְּרוּמָתִי.

(HaShem spoke to Moshe saying) Speak to the Israelites so that they take for me an offering, from each man whose heart is willing, you should take my offering.

Would that it were so simple… and often it is!

What Jewish person hasn’t asked for, or been asked for a ‘voluntary contribution’. My regular readers (Hi Mom) are well aware that I’ve been doing my own version of terumahfor – of course – the Israel Bike Ride. I’m not Moshe, the Arava Institute is not the mishkan, but in its own way it is striving to bring into our lives the same effect, a living sanctuary right here in our world

Reading the opening lines of the parshah sends me right into thinking about building structures so that Hashem can live among us, whether HaShem is called by that name, or call Allah, or all of the other names by which the one and only Creator is known and called upon.

The particular words of the opening verse call our attention to a particular aspect of the donation.  The words do not say ‘that they give me an offering” but that they take me an offering.  Whether then or now, whether money or some other form, we can only take from what we have, in order to donate.

The words describe the ideal reaction we should all have when asked to take-and-give. We should have a willing heart.  Perhaps the words also hint at the inherent nature of humans.  Over the past couple of years Discover magazine has published several articles about the search for the “altruism gene” and research into whether individuals who are wired to be generous and who naturally share have a specific evolutionary advantage over those who are wired to be selfish.  I don’t have specific hyperlinks handy, but I have also read of studies reporting that different parts of the brain light up when the generosity impulse is triggered.

So actually – its not all about the Benjamins as that phrase is commonly used in ‘street talk’ now.  ‘All about the Benjamins’ is code for what you can get and keep for yourself, not about what you can give away to help others.

In verse eight we get the reason, the explanation, and the secret of HaShem’s design for our world, that we are meant to have open and generous hearts, to give often and early, and to cause HaShem to eagerly dwell in our midst.

Shabbat Shalom

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – Mitzvah Milers contingent adds two riders

Posted by rabbiart on February 14, 2010

In exciting news, the Mitzvah Milers contingent going to Israel in October has doubled from two to four. Randy Goldstein of Berkeley (he was going anyway) accepted my invitation (nudge, actually) to list as a Mitzvah Miler. My newest Israel ride buddy – Jeff Daitz – is going to Israel for the first time in his life. A great story. Jeff lives in Atlanta, read a news story about the ride, found my blog, contacted me, and three days later is signed up and is geeked about the ride as I am. There are now 55 riders registered for the Israel Ride with a pledge total of over $215,000!  My personal training is way ahead of the schedule that I was on the first year I did Waves to Wine and the training schedule for the 2008 Israel ride. (So is my fundraising.  If you’re reading this and your name is not on the contributor list, you should think about what Joe Louis said before his fight with Billy Conn LOL)

Hazon is doing its first California ride in May and Clif Bar
will be donating bars in support of the ride.

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Two Verses – Unlimited Questions

Posted by rabbiart on February 12, 2010

We are focused on two verses from the sedrah – Shmot 23:4-5. As mentioned in the prior post, the verses translate as

4. If you come upon your enemy’s bull or his stray donkey, you shall surely return it to him. 5. If you see your hater’s donkey lying under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely return it to him.

There is a host of questions that we might ask about these verses.

1. Should the first word – ki – be translated as “if” or “when”?  What would be the difference?

2. How should we translate the words oyvecha and son-a’acha?  Are they the same or different?

3. What is (not the translation but) the definition of each of these words? Who is included or intended by each word?

4. Do these words create one mitzvah or two?  If two, what would each be?
5. What’s the “real point” of this mitzvah?

6. Is there a deliberate allusion to the “original sin” in the Torah? (The worlds’ first murder, that is.).  Check out Breshit 4:7.

7. What observations about human nature are bundled into these two verses? Does the latter part of verse 5 suggest that we have the natural tendency to be helpful, but when an enemy or a hater is involved we stop ourselves from being helpful?

We can – if we choose – learn some crucial lessons from studying these verses. Taken seriously and applied broadly, they have the potential to completely transform the way we move through the world.

Think about it.

Shabbat Shalom

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Parshat Mishpatim – so many mitzvot, so much to learn

Posted by rabbiart on February 11, 2010

As we move into Sedrah Mishpatim with its compendium of mitzvot we go from the sublime not to the ridiculous but to the practical mitzvot of everyday life. Some of the mitzvot about which we learn reflect customs and practices which we no longer observe, like proper treatment of indentured servants. Others reflect the vision of a society when Jewish courts are both the criminal and civil legal system. These are mitzvot which are perhaps the quote/unquote modern Jew may not relate to. But some of the mitzvot resonate with our lives today, and are important to the conditions of life in the secular year of 2010.We live now, especially in the U.S. in time when fear and loathing (sorry Hunter Thompson) seem to stalk the land as if they were living, breathing entities. It as if the entire world has been divided into warring camps, where those who are not known to us as friends can only be seen as enemies. Each time we go to the airport there are more procedures, more technology that is supposed to keep us safe, but only increases are sense of insecurity.

As I studied the sedrah this week two verses in particular spoke to me.  My attention was drawn to them last Shabbat by the Bat Mitzvah drosh of one Emma Zamutt that we attended last week. (Minchah Bat/Bar Mitzvah shared with her brother Matt, so they of course read and taught the upcoming parshah).  The verses are Shmot 23:4-5 which address a portion of our behavior toward “our enemy” and a person who hates us (and by implication, whom we hate).  The verses read

כִּי תִפְגַּע שׁוֹר אֹיִבְךָ, אוֹ חֲמֹרוֹ–תֹּעֶה: הָשֵׁב תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ, לוֹ.
ה כִּי-תִרְאֶה חֲמוֹר שֹׂנַאֲךָ, רֹבֵץ תַּחַת מַשָּׂאוֹ, וְחָדַלְתָּ, מֵעֲזֹב לוֹ–עָזֹב תַּעֲזֹב, עִמּוֹ.

If you come upon your enemy’s bull or his stray donkey, you shall surely return it to him. if you see the donkey of the one who hates you lying under its burden would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help along with him.

According to Rambam as explicated by Sefer HaHinuch these verses form the basis for the mitzvah of “unloading another person’s burden”. Relying on several passages from the Talmud Bavli, the Sefer gives this mitzvah a wide field of operation. He begins by inquiring into why we would have an enemy or the emotion of hatred, and toward whom we might adopt this attitude.

The narrow interpretation and example is that one Jew sees another Jew committing a transgression when the witness is alone. We know from the halachah that two witnesses are required to establish guilt, especially in a capital case. So when there is only a single witness, that witness might develop a hatred because he knows that the transgressing party will suffer no consequences. As he explicates various instances, he arrives at the conclusion that the laws of this mitzvah extend to cases where non-Jews are involved, either as owners of the animal or owners of the load it is carrying. We can easily imagine modern analogues of this situation involving commercial or private vehicles carrying goods, and from there it is an easy step to other, broader contexts.

At first blush this commandment would appear to simply instruct us to put our emotions and feelings aside and “do the right thing” (thanks for the movie, Spike Jones). Sefer HaHinuch goes on to say (in translation) “at the root of the precept lies the purpose to teach our spirit the quality of compassion, which is a noble trait of character.

This is a mitzvah that is in effect in every place at every time for both men and women; in other words, it applies universally. To violate this mitzvah it to disobey precept and to display the attribute of cruelty. It occurs to me that this mitzvah might be understood even more powerfully, and as a mean to bringing about a transformation of not just behavior but attitude. If we can teach ourselves to regularly help “our enemy”, how long can it be before we find ourselves seeing our enemy not as “other” but as a creature of HaShem like ourselves, and from there it becomes possible to discard the notion of ‘enemy’, recognize the humanity we all share, and move in the direction of understanding and friendship. Would that it become so.bimherah b’yamenu, speedily and in our day.

Shabbat Shalom

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