What would it take for you to disown your child? I know that for most everyone this is a hypothetical question, but please indulge me:
Two Jewish philanthropists were overheard disagreeing about how to give charity. “I only support Jewish causes — the Jewish people need our help more than anyone else in the world,” Cohen said.
When looking for biblical themes on the importance of community, one needs look no further than those portions at the end of Exodus that deal with the construction of the mishkan (Tabernacle). This special structure represents the collective spiritual power of the Jewish people, which is far greater than the sum of the individual parts. Separately, the individual Jew does not have enough spiritual energy to bring the Divine Presence, the Shekhinah, into this world. But when the Jewish people join in the construction of a communal edifice, a structure that represents their collective worship and spiritual energy, the Shekhinah eagerly embeds Itself within the people.
The history of the cliffhanger probably isn’t much older than the late 19th century. Stories were serialized, first in newspapers and later in motion pictures, and authors wanted to entice the reader or viewer to tune back in for the following installment. A common device was to interrupt the story at a point where the hero was hanging for dear life onto a cliff — either literally or figuratively — and you needed to wait until the next episode to discover his or her fate.
The 21st century is a time when man should be at his greatest level of stability and security.
Shabbat in 16th-century Safed must have been a mind-blower. Reading the historical documents of this era and the exploits of the Safed mystics transports one to another universe. The rabbis of this mystical city used to usher in the Sabbath out in the field with tremendous fervor and emotion. One can only imagine the throng of rabbis in flowing beards and white tunics, their feet barely touching the ground, dancing with the angels in a circle as the sun was setting. The Sabbath Queen was never more palpable than amid the beauty and mystery of this magical place and time. We try to recapture that magic every time we sing “Lecha Dodi,” the Friday night hymn written by one of these mystics, Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Alkebetz (d. 1580).
Our Torah portion this week contains a story filled with more tragedy and pathos than any soap opera. A young man, whose mother was an Israelite woman by the name of Shlomit bat Divri but whose father was Egyptian, gets into an argument with another fellow. Scripture does not reveal their exchange, but, as a result of this quarrel, Shlomit’s son cursed God, which was deemed a capital offense; he was executed by Moses’ court.
“Hopeless romantic” would probably be the last description on your mind were you to conjure the image of a twelfth-century rabbi. But Hillel Halkin’s “Yehuda Halevi” (2010, Schocken Books, 368 pgs.), the latest in Schocken’s “Jewish Encounters” series, provides just that image. And what a beautiful portrait it is, of a deeply religious man enthralled with poetic expression and esthetics, who spent his life enriching Jewish thought and literature with his inspiring poetry and philosophy. One of the reasons why Rabbi Yehuda Halevi remains such a fascination through the ages is that he is an inspiration to those Jews who view their religious lives as much more than just doing things by the Book.
Joseph had a hard life. His own brothers sold him as a slave. He was libeled by his master, thrown in a horrible prison and forced to live far away from his beloved father and family. Yet he was not broken by his experience and he never shed a tear.
What makes for a good tragedy? What ingredients need to go into a play or story for it to evoke strong emotion from the audience? This topic dates back to the times of the ancient Greeks, who invented the word “tragedy” and who considered it a very important form of entertainment.
Corporal punishment is one of the most controversial subjects in child rearing. We have seen too many examples of child abuse from overzealous and emotionally unstable parents. At the same time, many families see nothing wrong with an occasional potch in tuchis (slap on the derriere) as a legitimate form of discipline.
Charlton Heston (alav haShalom) made a great Moses; on screen, he seemed perfect — tall, handsome, gravelly voice, and not even Anne Baxter could seduce him.
An observant Jew was once brought before the judge on counts of tax fraud. Seeing the kippah-wearing Jew before him, the judge innocently asked, “Mr. Schwartz, you are clearly a God-fearing man. How do you explain your immoral behavior?”
Parshat Shemot (Exodus 1:1-6:1) We are at the eve of our new president’s inauguration, a time of new beginnings.
Parshat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) Why does a mourner eat a round food? The circle represents the circle of life, and it is supposed to remind the mourner that life is cyclical: The tragedy of death that has stricken me today will strike my neighbor tomorrow.
Parshat Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) God tells Moses that although he's faithfully led His people through the desert these past 40 years, and although the Jews are now standing at the very border of the Holy Land, Moses himself will never be allowed entry, and will die and be buried outside of Israel.
Parshat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)
The prophet Hosea describes the relationship of God and Israel as a husband-wife relationship. Hosea himself did not have the happiest of marriages. God told him to marry a loose, immoral woman, so that he would know God's anguish over having a "wife" like the Jewish people who behaved scandalously in their religious choices during the prophet's era
Some recent negative press in our community indicates, lamentably, that some Jews in America still view themselves as Persecuted Jew instead of Patriot Jew. Of course, we all can learn from Mordechai how to maintain a pristine patriotism for the country that has been so good to us.
Who talks more, men or women?
Noah's behavior after the flood represents the ultimate consolation to mankind.
God awarded the land of Israel to His chosen people, but He didn't just give it to us on a silver platter. He expected us to work for it by draining the swamps, working the soil, planting our crops and, yes, driving out the indigenous nations whose crimes against God and humanity no longer allowed them to remain in the Holy Land.
There are some fascinating prayers that we say at a baby boy's brit milah (ritual circumcision ceremony), a mitzvah that is highlighted in this week's Torah reading.
We all instinctively identify and label the heroes and villains in our lives, and Judaism supports the need for iconic heroes.
Of all the regular columns in The Jewish Journal, I enjoy the Singles column the most. You know, the one typically written by a 30-something still out there, searching for
Mr. or Ms. Right.
One of the most daunting and intimidating experiences in life is walking into a new synagogue for the first time. You enter the sanctuary, and it feels like 1,000 eyes
are focused only on you. You're not sure what prayer book they're using, what page they're on, and where you can find a tallit.
Too often, we become discouraged from pursuing our dreams because of the opposition we face. We assess our chances of success based on the strength of our competitors or enemies. If we would only focus more on our own passions and ambitions, on our own strength of conviction, we would get much farther in life. A very successful person once told me, "I've never worried about the competition; the only person I'm competing with is myself, to see if I can rise to my potential."
We are all a little too dependent on others' approval and admiration. This is not only psychologically unhealthy, but it also may show that one doesn't feel close with God.
Stories abound of natural tensions between sons-in-law and their fathers-in-law. One is about the man speaking with his future son-in-law, who was studying to be a rabbi.
Parshat Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3)
fear of Isaac
The recent tragic hurricanes in the South have been difficult to watch.
A guy gets a Labrador and he can't wait to show him off to his neighbor. So when the neighbor comes over, the guy calls the dog into the house, bragging about how smart the little guy is. The dog quickly comes running and stands looking up at his master, tail wagging furiously, mouth open in classic Lab-smile position, eyes bright with anticipation. The guy points to the newspaper on the couch and commands: "fetch!"
Immediately, the dog sits down, the tail wagging stops, the doggie-smile disappears; he hangs his head, looks balefully up at his master and says in a whiny voice, "Oh! My tail hurts from wagging so much. And that dog food you're feeding me tastes absolutely terrible. And it's so hot in here. And you're not giving me any treats. And I can't remember the last time you took me out for a walk...."
The neighbor's jaw drops.
"Ah," the dog owner explains, "he's a little hard of hearing. He thought I said 'kvetch!'"
Have you ever read in an advertisement inviting you to buy an overpriced suit or necktie that "It's true, clothes do make the man"?
Do clothes make the man or woman? On the one hand, we'd like to think that people aren't affected by something as superficial as clothing. But on the other hand, it does make a big difference when people are appropriately dressed. For example, an undertaker must wear conservative clothing in order to achieve the desired effect. Can you imagine Chuckles, the Mortician Clown, bedecked in red nose and floppy shoes officiating at a funeral? He probably wouldn't stay in business too long (although, this is California).
Single malt Scotch. Schmaltz herring. Cholent. Kugel. Marble sheet cake. What do all these delicacies have in common?
Yes, they all contribute to heart disease, but there's something more: They are all served at the Kiddush Club. A Kiddush Club is an exclusive group of shulgoers that meets somewhere outside the sanctuary during services -- usually during the chanting of the Haftorah -- to have a private "pre-Kiddush" Kiddush.
I remember my feelings upon reading the news -- so many conflicting emotions. I was initially filled with profound shock, sorrow and anguish upon hearing the news. Such a pathetic, tragic loss!
It's hard to believe that a whole year has passed. Almost one year ago to the day, Dr. David Appelbaum and his daughter, Nava, were murdered when a suicide bomber exploded himself at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem. Dr. Appelbaum, 50, was the head of emergency medicine at Shaarei Tzedek Hospital, and was a rabbinical scholar to boot. He had treated countless victims of terror, Jewish and Arab patients alike. Nava, 20, was to be wed the next day. Alas, she never made it to her chuppah.
These are painful memories that we are tempted to shelve into the recesses of our distant memories. Yet we dare not, just as we dare not forget the holy martyrs of the Shoah and all other martyrs of our people's past.
One of my most memorable Torah lessons from elementary school was the one about the manna. This was the magical food that the Jews ate while traveling through the desert. It was some kind of amorphous bread that fell from heaven daily, and the Torah describes it as being like honey wafers. Part of the magic of the manna was that it could taste like whatever one wanted it to. And this is where the imagination of the wide-eyed child was piqued: If you were thinking about pizza, the manna tasted like pizza; if you were thinking about a thick, juicy steak -- well, you get the picture.
Imagine a foreigner hearing some American idioms for the first time, and the ensuing confusion.
Part of my traditional upbringing as a yeshiva bocher was the belief that anything that took my attention away from a page of Talmud was bitul Torah -- a waste of time. And while that may have been a good lesson for an easily distracted teenager, I have since discovered as an adult that there is so much Divine beauty in the world that we forfeit if we keep our noses exclusively inside our books.
For all of you ecologists out there (and I believe every good Jew should be one), you know there's been a lot in the news lately about this new "Healthy Forests Initiative," which was introduced by our government to help thin overcrowded forests. The debate continues among different environmental groups as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But imagine, for a moment, a world without trees at all. Indeed, this could have been the fate of our world had God's original plan been realized. But I'm getting ahead of myself....
The fact that Tisha B'Av falls in the summer is not just a stroke of bad luck. God deliberately destroyed the Temple in the summer. Summer, when the world is outside their closed homes and offices, taking vacations, having fun.
Dear Rabbi Wolpe,
I admit it.
As an Orthodox rabbi, I'm genuinely embarrassed at the moment.
Judging by the recent goings-on in the Jewish book publishing world, where certain Orthodox authors have been taken to task for their controversial writings and books have either been banned, forcibly censored or book tours were canceled, it would seem that we don't have our act completely together.