This week’s parasha is one of the most central to the Jewish narrative. We read of the final plagues, the storm brought by God’s mighty hand and outstretched arm gathering on the border of Egypt, the Divine command to prepare for the Exodus by baking the matzot and eating the bitter herbs. It is the essence of the Passover story. Our greatest glory — Divine liberation — emanated from the nadir of our enslavement.
We are an American generation sadly marred by excess, addiction, and reduced public morals. On line at the supermarket we see magazines that headline Lindsay Lohan, Brittany Spears, and Charlie Sheen. Purim is around the corner, and the question arises: What’s the deal with getting drunk on Purim? So here’s the deal:
Parashat Terumah is the first of the weekly Torah portions with a narrative that fails to excite. We have been reading about the world’s creation, the Flood and its diluvial ramifications, the stories of our matriarchs and their husbands, the Great Exodus from Egypt that brought us — with no apparent exit strategy — to the Sea of Reeds, and then Mount Sinai, where God Almighty, amid thunder and lightning, revealed Himself to our nation of millions by declaring the Ten Pronouncements, which later would be engraved in stone as a memorial. One exciting event after another.
Parshat Devarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22) In Parshat Devarim we begin a new book, Deuteronomy, the fifth and final volume of the Five Books of Moses, or the Pentateuch. In Hebrew, we call it the Chumash, or the Torah. Christians call it the Old Testament. Each of these names implicitly perceives the Book of Devarim as part and parcel of an integrated package
When I was a kid, I was a very important person in shul. My dad was not at all prominent in the greater society -- he merely worked for his brother, selling toys and stationery as a wholesaler in Manhattan's Lower East Side, starting his workday at 7 a.m. and working through 7 p.m. every day, including Sunday. (Sabbath-observant, he got to leave midafternoon on Fridays.) But at shul, he was well liked, even loved, and was the vice president of the local Young Israel. He was very important there, and I got treated great.
Then he died -- cut down by leukemia at age 45. At his funeral, everyone from shul attended and promised to love our family, to remain close. In time, though, the bonds loosened. There were fewer visits on Shabbat to our home; fewer invitations to others' homes. And then it happened. One Shabbat, amid 20 talking boys, I was singled out to be chastised -- to be quiet. That had never before happened to me.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) plans to construct a grotesquely invasive "Bus Rapid Transit" corridor (the term is MTA's) along Chandler Boulevard in the East San Fernando Valley, and MTA's 300-page-plus environmental impact report (EIR) deceives the public in its effort to whitewash the plan. As one salient example of deceit, the EIR disingenuously tries to hide the rapid- transit's impact on community safety, conceding the possibility of increased "pedestrian/bus conflicts."
To facilitate pidyon shvuyim (redeeming captive Jews from secular prisons) we are commanded to go so far as to sell a community's Torah scroll. Yet it is hard to rejoice that Bill Clinton pardoned four chassidim from the village of New Square, N.Y., along with an alleged tax evader who donated megabucks to Israel. In contrast to the complex moral and ethical questions that grated pro-and-con during discussions over the possible pardons of Michael Milken and Jonathan Jay Pollard, there is something unequivocally outrageous in Clinton's decisions to pardon the four Squarer chassidim and the international oil merchant whose dealings prompted the Justice Department to allege, among other things, tax evasion and trading illegally with Iran.
Initially, one cannot help but think that the surge of retired, elderly Jews to Florida, augmented by this year's Lieberman Factor, has redefined Florida politics into an Israel-style method of governance. While the rest of America was voting and deciding on Tues., Nov. 7, Florida was telling us - just as Israel runs under Barak - "Wait 48 hours, and then we'll decide." Two days later, as the last recount came in from Seminole County with Bush a nose ahead, Florida essentially told us, "Well, wait 48 more hours, and then we'll really decide." Even today, Nov. 17, with all the incoming mail ballots from those Floridian voters stationed out-of-state in the military and on campuses tallied, we still have the proverbial 48 hours and more. Recounts. Manual recounts. Just like Barak's Israel.
So it turns out that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria really hate the guts out of us Jews.
As a centrist observant Jew working in the secular professions, I am particularly struck by Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's selection of Senator Joseph I. Lieberman as his vice-presidential running mate for the November 2000 elections.