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Archive for July, 2010

Parshat Ekev – The 2nd Haftorah of Consolation (#Torah)

Posted by rabbiart on July 29, 2010

This Shabbat we are on the second rung of the seven step ladder leading us up from the depths of Tisha B’Av to the heights of the Holy Days. In this haftorah the prophet oscillates between the themes of abandonment, desolation and the sense of being forgotten on the one hand, and the consoling thought or remembrance and deliverance on the other hand. The haftorah opens with this startling declaration:

וַתֹּאמֶר צִיּוֹן, עֲזָבַנִי יְהוָה; וַאדֹנָי, שְׁכֵחָנִי.

Zion said ‘ HaShem has forsake me, HaShem has forgotten me

Yet the prophet himself responds to this outcry, saying on behalf of the creator

הֲתִשְׁכַּח אִשָּׁה עוּלָהּ, מֵרַחֵם בֶּן-בִּטְנָהּ; גַּם-אֵלֶּה תִשְׁכַּחְנָה, וְאָנֹכִי לֹא אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ

Can a mother forget the child suckling at her breast, would she not have compassion for her very own child? Even if these could be forgotten I will not forget you!

Much of the haftorah continues in this vein; a dialogue between the voice of despair and the voice of hope. At the end Isaiah concludes with an unequivocal message of comfort and consolation. HaShem has comforted Zion, HaShem has turned the wilderness into the garden of Eden and the desert into his very own garden. We are left with this declaration, that we will hear – and give voice to -שָׂשׂוֹן וְשִׂמְחָה (sasson and simchah – joy and celebration) thanks-giving and the sound of melody.

In our time when we know too many people who have reason to despair on both the personal and economic front, and about the increasing degree to which Zion our homeland is under attack, it is easy to remain “stuck at Tisha B’Av”. The wavering back and forth between the feelings of despair and the sound of joy is all to easy to understand. The haftorah is a powerful reminder that we can hope for hope, and hope to see hope fulfilled speedily and in our day.

Shabbat Shalom

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Israel Bike Ride – Thank you to a mensch twice over

Posted by rabbiart on July 29, 2010

Just a quick post to say thanks to an old (heck, I guess we’re both old now) classmate from rabbinical school – Mark Hurvitz. Mark has made a second contribution in support of the ride. Maybe he just forgot he pitched in last November, but I prefer to believe – and I know – he’s just a generous person and a mensch. To this day I can remember our class trip through the Negev and Sinai. Mark had started making little piles of stones at various places along the way as we stopped, and soon enough a number of the other fellow travelers (now there’s a phrase that used to mean something else and you have to be old enough to be ha-mavein ya-vein) started flattering him with imitation.

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Parshat Eikev – Command and Obedience, or Love and Affection

Posted by rabbiart on July 28, 2010

At shul this week we are reading the third triennial section of the parshah. In this section it is as if we were reading a duel between mitzvot and obedience on the one hand, and the longing for love and affection on the other.

As we near the end of the parshah we find the section of Torah that has been brought into the liturgy as the second paragraph of the Shema. This is the section known as kabbalat ol ha mitzvot, the acceptance of the yoke of the commandments. Many also think of this section as the ‘reward and punishment’ section. In short, this particular passage steers us in the direction of the “Old Testament” G-d, who is all about obedience and the fear of what happens when there is insufficient obedience.

But here and there the word ahavah shows up in the verses. In two verses in particular – Devarim 10:19-20 – we are told to love the convert (although in the Torah’s time, as opposed to later rabbinic literature, the pshat reading of the text is to love the stranger, as we were strangers in Egypt and certainly not converts there). In the opening of chapter 11 we learn that love of HaShem precedes observance of the commandments.

Finally, as we conclude the parshah, it finishes in a crescendo of love and connection. Beyond simply following and observing the mitzvot, we are encouraged to love HaShem and attach ourselves to HaShem, a concept brought to life in the concept of devekut or absolute cleaving to our creator. If we do this, we will see the realization of everything that has been promised us.

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Israel Bike Ride – Big Round Number Approaching

Posted by rabbiart on July 28, 2010

I want to thank an old friend – Charles Davis – for his contribution that has brought me to within spitting distance of $3,000.00 raised toward the ride.

Thank You Charles

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Israel Bike Ride 2010 – 12 week countdown

Posted by rabbiart on July 25, 2010

With twelve weeks to go before leaving for the Arava Institute Israel Bike Ride, I am almost to the $3,000.00 mark on my fund-raising, and our little touring group has almost all its plans in place. Two weekends ago I had the privilege of hosting parlor meetings featuring one of the many awe-inspiring graduates (and in this case staff member) of the Arava Institute – Ilana Meallem. Thanks to the generous loan of a camcorder from my friend Stu Korn, I have most of Ilana’s Sunday night talk recorded, but I’m still struggling to learn how to select and publish clips from it. I hope to have that figured out soon and share some of the special moments. We also were lucky enough to have Hazzan Richard Kaplan of Temple Beth Abraham set the mood for the evening with a wonderful nigun – Lamenting her temple so wounded – that can be heard right here.

I want to thank this week’s contributors, my younger brother Shep, and a cousin on my father’s side, Paul (and Iris) Goldstein, for their generous donations.

A Thousand Thanks
אלף תודות
شكراً جزيلا

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Eikev – Mitzvot in this Parshah – Our actions have consequences

Posted by rabbiart on July 25, 2010

According to Sefer HaHinuch, there are eight mitzvot in this parshah.

#428: Not to derive benefit from any ornamentation of an idol
#429: Not to take any object from idolatry into our possession in order to derive benefit from it
#430: To bless HaShem for the food we receive
#431: To love the convert
#432: To continually have yirat shamayim (awe/fear/respect for HaShem) in our consciousness
#433: The commandment to pray
#434: To associate with Torah scholars and adhere to them
#435: When taking an oath, to swear by the name of HaShem

In his book B’Dibur Echod Asher Ben-Zion Buchman mentions the assertion that each sidrah is a conceptual unit, and attempts to find the central theme in each sidrah. In order to stay close to the text he follows the principle that אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו (A verse may not be interpreted in a way that its plain meaning – the pshat is removed. For this parshah he posits the central theme to be that future prosperity of Israel, both spiritual and physical, is dependent on the fulfillment of the mitzvot.

As proof that the sustenance of Aretz Yisrael is dependent on its creator, he points to the passage from our parshah that says the land of Israel is not like the land of Egypt. In Egypt, crops grew because of the over-flooding of the Nile river, whereas in Israel, the land is watered only by the rains from heaven. Of course in modern Israel, crops are irrigated from water carried by the national aqueduct, but that simply means that there must be sufficient rain to keep the Kinneret at acceptable levels.

For quite some time in the last two centuries, many have had difficulty in accepting the connection between human behavior, divine reward and punishment, and she who is known as Mother Nature. The rain will come in its season – we are told – only if we listen carefully to, and observe, to love and serve HaShem. It is from this parshah that rabbinic authority took the second paragraph of the Shema, the ‘reward and punishment’ paragraph.

In our time, we can see that science has caught up to theology. Living our lives as if there are no consequences to poisoning the earth and the atmosphere does in fact have consequences. Whether we think of ourselves as religious mitzvah observing Jews, or part of the “I’m spiritual but not religious” crowd, avowedly secular or determinedly atheistic, it is now unfortunately so easy to see that our behavior can shut off the rain, or poison the waters, or foul the air.

In short, actions have consequences. Chase after idolatry, fail to appreciate our blessings, denigrate the “other”, and yes, inevitably, the water will catch fire, or be polluted with oil, the earth will be either too dry or too wet, and the air will become unbreath-able. When the rain falls – or doesn’t fall, when the air is too hot – or too cold, when the ground is too dry for crops and the rivers too shallow for fish, then we can see we are all united in suffering the consequences, whether we are religious, or spiritual, or secular, or woshippers at the altar of atheism. Actions have consequences.

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Va-Etchanan – the brief mitzvah guide to building a society

Posted by rabbiart on July 23, 2010

Our parshah contains 14 commandments; eight positive and four negative. The first two, according to their order of appearance, are the command not to desire what belongs to our fellow-Jew, and the command to believe in the oneness of HaShem. In most conversations about the essence or the heart of being Jewish, we emphasize that our tradition is focused on how we act, not what we believe. Yet the first two mitzvot of this parshah are clearly about what happens in our heart/mind and not our behavior.


In this view, thought is father (parent if you prefer) to the deed. If we desire our neighbor’s house (Devarim 5:18), we will begin to scheme on how we might get hold of it. On further study, we find that we control our thoughts, and not the other way around. We can decide not to covet, or desire that which is not ours. This commandment it also counted among the seven Noahide commandments, so it appears (and is) fundamental to the construction of an orderly society.

The second mitzvah of our parshah is to believe in the one-ness of HaShem. It is followed by the third mitzvah of the parshah, which is to love HaShem. These are based on Devarim 6:4 and 6:5, which we recognize as the beginning of the Shema. Many authorities have delved into how we say, what we should think, and how we should hold ourselves physically when reciting the Shema. There are many ways to translate the Shema. I like to think of the first phrase not as “Hear O Israel” but (borrowing a bit from Quincy Jones) “Listen Up, Israel”. Hearing is passive, listening is active. Regarding the remaining four words of the opening declararation, often translated as “the lord is our god, the lord is one”, as HaShem is our God, HaShem is everyone’s God (whether their name is Moshe Rabbenu or Richard Dawkins, if you know what I mean).

Don’t let our minds desire and leave us astray, believe in HaShem, Love HaShem. Shorthand version no doubt, but a society based on these three principles, will be a good place to live.

Shabbat Shalom

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