Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This story is told by Howard Schwartz who based it on the tale by Zevulon Qort from Ben Zion Asherov of Afghanistan (I have edited his original telling):
“There was once a Jew who went out into the world to fulfill the Biblical commandment – Tzedek tzedek tirdof [Deut. 26:20] – ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’
Many years passed until the man had explored the entire known world except for one last, great forest. He entered the forest and came upon a cave of thieves who mocked him, saying: ‘Do you expect to find justice here?’ Then he went into the huts of witches, and they too laughed at him: ‘Do you expect to find justice here?’
At last he arrived at a fragile clay hut, and through the window he saw many flickering flames and wondered why they were burning. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Then he pushed the door open and stepped inside.
As soon as he entered, he realized that the hut was much larger than it had appeared from the outside. He saw hundreds of shelves and on every shelf there were dozens of oil candles. Some of the candles were sitting in holders of gold, silver, or marble, and some were in cheap holders of clay or tin. Some were filled with oil with straight wicks and bright burning flames. Others had little oil left and were about to sputter out.
An old man in a white robe and white beard stood before him, and said: ‘Shalom Aleichem, my son. How can I help you?’ And the Jew said: “Aleichem shalom. I have gone everywhere, searching for justice but never have I seen anything like this. Tell me, what are all these candles?”
The old man said: “Each is the candle of a person’s soul.” As it says in Proverbs 20:27 – Ner Yah nishmat Adam – ‘The candle of God is the human soul.’ As long as that person remains alive the candle burns; but, when the person’s soul takes leave of this world, the candle burns out.’
The Jew who sought justice said: ‘Can you show me the candle of my soul?’ And the old man said: ‘Follow me.’
He led the Jew through that labyrinth of a cottage. At last they reached a low shelf, and there the old man pointed to a candle in a clay holder and said, ‘That is the candle of your soul.’
A great fear fell upon him for its wick was very short with little oil remaining. Was it possible for the end to be so near without his knowing it? Then he noticed the candle next to his own full of oil, long and straight, its flame burning brightly.
‘Whose candle is that?’ he asked.
‘I can only reveal each person’s candle to him or herself alone,’ the old man said, and he turned and left.
The Jew stood there staring at his candle, then heard a sputtering sound, and when he looked up, he saw smoke rising from another shelf, and he knew that somewhere someone was no longer among the living. He looked back at his own candle, then he turned to the candle next to his own, so full of oil, and a terrible thought entered his mind.
He searched for the old man, but didn’t see him. Then he lifted the candle next to his own and held it above his own, and all at once the old man appeared, gripped powerfully his arm, and said: ‘Is THIS the kind of justice you seek?’
The Jew closed his eyes from the pain caused by the old man’s iron grip, and when he opened them the old man was gone, the cottage and candles had disappeared, and he stood alone in the forest, and heard the trees whispering his fate.”
This story is not just about justice but about who we are, what we believe and how we behave. Indeed, unless we are through and through committed to the highest moral and religious principles of our tradition, we cannot bring about a more just and compassionate world.
The month of Elul that began this past Saturday night brings each of us into a great forest of our own. In the Garden of Eden God called to Adam Ayeka (Where are you?). That question is addressed to every Jew, especially now, and we have to respond ourselves, for like Adam, there is no place to hide. What is inside each of our hearts and souls must be a reflection of the deeds we perform, and hopefully they will be based upon compassion and justice.
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August 20, 2012 | 12:08 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
For those who do not receive emails from the Israeli Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), I refer the following to you for your information and for action. Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of IRAC sent this notice out this morning and it is self-explanatory and a shocking display of intolerance and misogyny by the Ultra-Orthodox rabbinate that grown in unprecedented influence within the government of the State of Israel, in the affairs of the Jewish state and in the every day lives of Israeli citizens. Please sign this petition and send it along to your friends.
August 20, 2012
Dear Rabbi John,
Yesterday four women were detained at the Western Wall, each for wearing a tallit. The authorities say they were disturbing the public peace according to regulation 201 A4 of the Israeli legal code. The punishment for this crime is six months in prison. They also broke regulation 287A by performing a religious act that “offends the feelings of others.” The punishment for this crime is up to two years in prison.
When these four women wore their tallitot they challenged the division at the Western Wall. This is a place where men pray, dance, sing, sound the Sofar, read Torah, celebrate b’nei mitzvah, wave the lulov, and express their Judaism in any way they wish. Women, on the other side of the partition, stand silently in the little space that remains.
IRAC fights all layers of gender segregation in Israel, and I believe that the Kotel is ground-zero in the fight against gender exclusion. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us, one of the main strategies of non-violent struggle is to “dramatize” the injustice. There is a real need for drama to actualize how far the situation of women in the public sphere in Israel today is from the dream of the State’s founders. Israel’s founding document, our Declaration of Independence, had a vision of full equality for all the citizens of Israel irrespective of religion, race, or gender.
According to that vision, we are working to create a reality that is currently hard for Israelis to even imagine. In this we mean a Kotel where Israeli families will be able to pray together as a family, a Kotel where families can celebrate a bat mitzvah, a Kotel where egalitarian services can be held proudly, instead of hidden out of view from the Western Wall Plaza. I want to live to see it and for that I need your help.
The key to changing the status quo is in the hands of the authoritative that run the Kotel, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. This is why IRAC and the IMPJ are about to go to Israel’s Supreme Court to demand a change in the make-up of the Western Wall Heritage Council, which is currently made up completely of Orthodox Jews. We want this body to resemble the real diversity of the Jewish people in Israel and the Diaspora.
Thank you for already signing the petition. Please help us collect signatures by forwarding this email, using our special tell-a-friend link, or by clicking here and then forwarding that link to as many of your friends as you can. We have over 10,000 names already, and we will reach our goal of 50,000 if everyone helps us get five more names. With that kind of support, the Israeli Government will see that we cannot be ignored. Days like yesterday must stop.
Executive Director, IRAC
Action Alert: Help the petition grow
Please help collect signatures for this petition. You can do it by forwarding this link to your friends or forwarding this blog entry.
August 17, 2012 | 5:44 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
King Abdullah II’s memoir (publ. 2010) is an important read. The 50 year-old King of Jordan is intelligent and enlightened, and his story offers an inside look at a moderate Arab leader and one of the most stable nations in the Middle East.
Educated in America and England, Abdullah understands the western world as few Arab leaders do. In reading the memoir, it is important to be conscious of what the King says and does not say, especially when speaking about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
He is sharply critical of terrorism and fanaticism, eloquent about his Islam as a religion of peace, and proud of his Hashemite legacy.
Though Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, when it comes to the Jewish state Abdullah is almost always critical while almost never critical of the Arab world. His lack of self-criticism strains credibility, and that is the chief weakness of this memoir.
Abdullah is ever-willing to shine a bright light on the dark underbelly of Israeli policies. However, without his giving fair and appropriate context for why Israel has done what it has done, he cannot be seen as helpful enough in bringing about a resolution to the conflict. Peace requires acknowledgment of what has gone wrong on all sides.
Abdullah emphasizes the importance of protecting the holy sites of the three great religions that regard Jerusalem as sacred, but he neglects to note that under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan between 1948 and 1967, his grandfather King Abdullah I and his father, King Hussein, did NOT protect Jewish holy sites. Every synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was blown up after the 1948 War, and no Jew was allowed access to the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, for the next 19 years when Israel took control over all of Jerusalem.
Though the King harshly characterizes Israel’s 2009 war against Hamas terrorists in Gaza as a war crime, and sites the UN Goldstone Report as justification for this condemnation, he does not mention that the Goldstone Report that charged Hamas to be also guilty of war crimes, nor that Richard Goldstone retracted his conclusion about Israeli actions. Nor does he mention that the offensive came after Hamas launched 12,000 missiles at Israeli civilian targets inside Israeli territory, which Hamas cynically launched from heavily populated areas, including mosque and hospital rooftops and school playgrounds. Israeli leaders, in truth, delayed launching this war for years because of their concern over the likely loss of innocent Palestinian life.
Abdullah believes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of all problems in the Middle East, and that Arab and Muslim extremism would be reduced if the core conflict were resolved. Perhaps this is so. However, he does not note that Muslim on Muslim and Arab on Arab violence has resulted in far more deaths and injuries of innocent men, women and children over the past decades than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has in its entire history.
The King neglects to mention, as well, that in order to protect the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan from overthrow by Yasser Arafat’s PLO in 1970, his father, King Hussein, launched a war resulting in the death of 10,000 Palestinians.
Abdullah says not a word about Arafat’s deliberate targeting of innocent children on Israeli Kibbutzim, of civilians in Israel’s Pizza parlors, worshipers at Passover Seders, and commuters on Jerusalem buses. How can he expect the Israeli side to think he is fair-minded if he ignores these dark facts of history.
He castigates Israel’s decision to build the security fence without acknowledging why Israel was forced to do so, nor that not one suicide bomber has successfully infiltrated Israel from the other side of the fence since it was built, thus saving countless Israeli lives.
He does not critique the Palestinians for refusing to prepare their own people for peace with Israel. He fails to note that anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hate is taught to Palestinian children in school text books and that the shaheed (martyr) has become heroic in Palestinian culture. Finally, and not insignificantly, he glosses over Hamas’ principled objective to destroy the state of Israel.
Context is important when thinking about and evaluating the Middle East. Therefore, to place all blame one side as Abdullah does with Israel will not help this conflict move towards resolution.
Having said this, King Abdullah is a sincere, intelligent, moderate, and responsible Arab leader who I believe truly wants peace in a two-state solution to this conflict. He rightly calls upon the United States to be an active agent in bringing the two sides together. He will be among the first to say that the road will be hard and arduous. But, it will be eased, I believe, if both sides acknowledge the truths of the other and then embrace much of his vision for the future.
August 14, 2012 | 5:59 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
This coming Saturday evening (August 18) at nightfall is Rosh Hodesh Elul, the first day of the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that precedes the High Holidays. From the first of Elul to Yom Kippur is exactly 40 days, the same period of time that Moses spent on Mount Sinai communing with God and receiving Torah.
Tradition beckons us during these 40 days beginning Saturday night to “turn” and “return” in a process called t’shuvah, the central theme of the High Holiday season. The goal of t’shuvah is to return to our truest selves, to God, Torah, Jewish tradition, community, family, and friends. It requires us to make amends, to apologize for wrongs committed and seek forgiveness, to forgive when approached by others seeking the same.
As we prepare to enter Elul, I share a prayer written by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi called “T’shuvah – Coming Back Around” (All Breathing Life Adores Your Nam e –At the Interface Between Poetry and Prayer, with a Forward by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner and Edited by Michael L. Kagan, published by Gaon Books, 2011, page 97):
A year has gone by,
I say with a sigh –
O Lord I did not progress.
Your Torah not learned,
Your Mitzvot not earned,
This I am forced to confess.
This to remake
My life anew to fashion.
So help, me please,
From sin to cease
And only to You
Give my passion.
I seek Your light,
I need Your aid.
Without Your joy
I am afraid.
Heal me God
In body and in soul.
Please, good God,
Pour out Your blessing,
That in Your sight
We’ll be progressing.
O Lord above,
Let us feel Your love
And perceive You,
Our souls caressing.
May we not be
In waiting for ben David
With Your open hand,
Bless our Holy Land
And our leaders
Whom we have appointed.
August 9, 2012 | 5:43 pm
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
A word can link worlds, as the name of our portion, Ekev, does this week.
V’haya ekev tishm’un – “And if you listen/hear/heed/obey these statutes, observe and do them” (Deuteronomy 7:12) then you will enjoy bounty, security and progeny.
The word ekev here is translated “if,” and it appears instead of the more common Hebrew word im. The word ekev also appears in the stories of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22:18) and in the times of famine when our forebears were forced to leave the land of Israel (Genesis 26:1).
Why? What is the significance of this little word?
Ekev has the same Hebrew three-letter root that is in Jacob’s name Yaakov. As Jacob was being born he held the “heel” (an alternative meaning of ekev) of his brother Esau.
Rashi says that ekev in our verse refers to “light mitzvot” that a person “tramples with his heels.” Rabbi Robert Rhodes has written that “The promise of divine bounty depends on how we use the underside of the foot and what we crush underneath. God is listening to the noise our feet make as they step on the little things that seem unimportant but are the real stuff of life – commandments that appear to be of little value and principles of ethics [that] people [commonly] violate.”
Rabbi Michael Curasik noted this very week on his on-line “Torah Talk” that the heel (ekev) relates to “turning” because the heel turns 90 degrees from the leg, pointing us towards t’shuvah (“turn”, “return”), the Jewish pre-occupation during the High Holiday season that is fast approaching.
Also, in this first verse of our Parashat Ekev appears another key word - tishm’un (meaning, “listen/hear/heed/or obey”).
What is the significance of ekev and tishm’un appearing together?
Of all the five senses, the closest one to revelation is hearing. The people heard God’s voice at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16, 18-19). Elijah heard the kol d’mamah dakah (“the still small voice” - 1 K 19:12) on Mount Carmel. We are commanded to “hear” (tishm’un) the statutes (Deuteronomy 7:12).
My wife Barbara and I recently returned from 5 days at Lake Tahoe. Each day we took long walks along mountain paths and through forests. It was at times so very quiet and serene, and through this quiet we heard so very clearly the singing birds, scampering chipmunks, rustling wind, running streams, and buzzing hornets. We felt physically alive and spiritually high, an easy melding of body and soul, blending the magnificent environment with the inspiring metaphysical world.
Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav emphasized the principle of hak’balah (i.e. “parallelism” or “correspondence.” See Anatomy of the Soul, translator Chaim Kramer, publ. Breslov, p. 15); “as above, so below; as below, so above.” In truth all is one – echad! There is no distinction between body and soul.
Making pilgrimage and listening are keys to religious quest. The prophet heard the call and walked in God’s ways. Mystics wandered through forests and intuited the longings of plants and brush, of trees and flowers, mountains and rocks all reaching out towards their heavenly source.
Not only in such serene settings is spiritual/physical oneness possible. Rabbi Heschel famously prayed with his feet when he marched with Dr. King from Selma to Montgomery. Many of us too have marched for peace and to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, breast and uterine cancers, and genocide in Rwanda, Darfur, Sudan, and the Congo.
Communion with God happens in many ways, here, in the mountains and in the city streets.
The month of Elul commences in 8 days on Saturday evening, August 18. At that time, ekev, we Jews are called to begin our turning and returning to our true selves, to family and community, to tradition, Torah, faith and God, all for the purpose of infusing holiness into our lives and the world, that we might become, one and all, Godly Jews.
That is the Jewish business! Nothing more and nothing less.
Let our feet walk and let us listen.
August 9, 2012 | 7:31 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
Aly Raisman is not only a gold-medalist Olympic Champion, but she is a Jew with a conscience, a memory, and not afraid to speak truth to power. Her use of Hava Nagila as the music for her individual routines was deliberately chosen as a statement of protest to the International Olympic Committee that refused to honor the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics in 1972. Read the full story here.
Kol hakavod to Aly not only for her medals, but for her character!
August 1, 2012 | 7:00 am
Posted by Rabbi John Rosove
On the occasion of his son’s bar mitzvah a father offered this blessing concerning the importance of laughter as an agent in healing the world of its cruelty and injustice:
“Let your laughter be world-enveloping; a tonic against the pompous and the proud; a slingshot in the bully’s eye. Let it poke glorious holes in the narrow-minded zealotry of fanatics and extremists and absolutist goons who want the world to subscribe to their small-minded views regardless of the human lives it costs. Let your humor be a form of tikun olam, healing of the world.” (Barry Smolin to Milo – June 9, 2007)
Media Line News posted this video today covering an international conference of clowns in Haifa, Israel who use humor, parody, silliness, and other techniques to lift the hearts of children and their families burdened by illness. It is an uplifting story.
VIDEO: LAUGHTER — PROVEN TO BE THE BEST MEDICINE —http://media.themedialine.org/media/120724_clown.wmv
Here are some worthwhile quotes concerning pain, laughter, silliness, joy, and service to others:
“Laughter is carbonated holiness.” (Anne Lamott, writer)
“The secret of joy is the mastery of pain.” (Anais Nin, writer)
“Finding true joy is the hardest of all spiritual tasks. If the only way to make yourself happy is by doing something silly, do it.” (Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav)
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” (Rabindranath Tagore, philosopher, writer, composer, painter, Nobel laureate)