In the days of communism's fierce grip on the Soviet Union, there lived a Chasidic Jew named Reb Mendel Futerfas. Reb Mendel repeatedly put his life at risk with his efforts to promote Jewish education behind the Iron Curtain and for some 14 years was incarcerated in prisons and labor camps for his "crime" of teaching Torah.
A rabbinical colleague of mine tells me that he's had extensive contact with one of the most popular and renowned entertainment celebrities of our time. This star is not only hugely famous, wealthy and successful, but has been acclaimed around the globe for his rare talent and genius. Hundreds of thousands of fans wish they could have his life; that they could be him.
In the course of their conversations, the rabbi asked this man what it is that he constantly wishes for in life. His answer: Obscurity. His dream is to fade from the limelight, and lead a simple, anonymous, man-on-the-street, white-picket-fence existence.
In this week's Torah portion, Korach, we meet a man who, by all accounts, was a very intelligent, affluent and gifted individual. A Levite by birth, he already occupied a position of prominence and prestige within the community of Israel. Yet, he rallies together a band of fellow Levites to challenge the leadership of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron.
Whether it's keeping the Shabbat holy, sending our children to Torah schools or going the extra mile to keep a kosher kitchen, shmittah reminds us that Mount Sinai represented a bridge between theory and practice; faith and action; trust and resolve. Upon that mountain, the Almighty took us in as His partner in the business of creation. He's been imploring us ever since: "Don't be a shvacher shutaf."
Let me the set the scene for you: It's the final hours of Moses' life and after five epical books, it's time to wrap it up; make the quintessential points that will capture the essence and function of the entire Torah. How does Moses do this? With this week's Torah portion of Haazinu, otherwise known as "Shiras Haazinu." In the Torah scroll, this portion is scribed in lyrical/poetic form, rather than prose.
Back in 1981, when I was attending rabbinical college in Boston, there was a young rabbi -- fresh out of seminary -- who founded a small congregation in the Boston suburb South Brookline.
So what's with the blood on the doors? In this week's Torah portion of Bo, we learn of the final steps leading up to the liberation of Israel from slavery in ancient Egypt.
In introducing us to the patriarchal family of Isaac, son of Abraham, this week's Torah portion of Toldot begins: "And these are the offspring of Isaac son of Abraham -- Abraham begot Isaac." Since Torah is not given to redundancy, this opening passage raises the question: