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The Importance of Civility
It's always been a bit ironic that as we move into the more carefree summer months, in which we hope to relax and to live a life of leisure, that the Jewish calendar calls for us not to relax but to move into a three week period when we don't eat meat (except for Shabbat), and when we limit swimming, weddings and shaving. The three week period commences this year on July 1 and ends with Tisha B'Av July 21-22 (beginning after Shabbat). All this quasi-mourning-like behavior is due to the fact that we twice lost Jerusalem and the Holy Temples on this day. Our sages taught that we were exiled and destroyed, not because we were outmatched militarily, but also because we were weak inside.
One of the people's flaws was that of sinat chinam, unwarranted hatred of our fellow man. The classic story is told of a host, Kamza, who was not ready to forget the dislike of his guest, Bar Kamza, even though the guest had come to Kamza's home thinking he was forgiven. The story's pathos is the missed opportunity of civility, forgiveness and friendship. In its place, the host humiliates the person who tried to build a relationship with him. Our sages compare the act of shaming another as the equivalent of shedding blood (murder), because humiliation drains the blood from the face or fills it with redness. Rabbi Shammai, a great rabbi, humiliated a potential convert by throwing him out of his Yeshiva when the convert challenged Rabbi Shammai to tell him about Judaism while standing on one foot. When the convert came to Rabbi Hillel with the same challenge, Rabbi Hillel responded, “That which is hateful to you, don't do to another, all the rest is commentary.” “Receive everyone with joyful countenance,” he says elsewhere. Anger and impatience get the best of even the greatest among us. Moses doesn't get into the Promised Land because of it and even God, at times, is held back and talked down by the righteous. Rabbi Meir once prayed for the death of sinners. “Pray instead,” says his wife, Bruria, “ for their repentance and change, and there will not be any sinners and wickedness will cease.” Rabbi Meir admits that his wife's solution is far better.
Another of the people's flaws was the way they spoke to and about one another. Lason Hara, or evil speech, is a grave sin, even if what we say is true. Motzi Shem Ra is badmouthing another. It's not even permitted to praise a person in front of someone who dislikes that person because it will often elicit words to the contrary! These laws are not easy to follow. All the more difficult is to hold one's tongue. Our sages tell us that we have one mouth and two ears, so that we can listen twice as much as we talk, and that we have teeth and lips to restrain our tongue from what we shouldn't say. There are even rules against rebuking another. It is an important mitzvah to call out another when they are doing something contrary the the Torah, but it should be done in private so as not to embarrass them. And if one knows that it will only entrench the bad behavior, it too, should be avoided.
It is a new year, a time of new beginnings! I hope that everyone had a lovely Chanukkah. As everyone knows, Cantor Nussbaum is now retired. He and Avrille are making arrangements to move closer to their family in New Jersey. He is extremely appreciative of the love and support he has received.
A lot has been happening over the last couple of months, so I would like to give an update of where we stand. We have hired Eliza Zipper as Religious School principal. She is a graduate of the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary and has many years of experience as a Jewish educator and youth leader. She brings a great deal of energy and excitement about Jewish education. We look forward to working with her.
Also in the Religious School, we have hired Rabbi David Shain as the Hay Prayer and Hebrew Skills teacher. Those of you who have spent time at Gurwin may be familiar with Rabbi Shain, who has served there as a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and their Shabbat Rabbi. Rabbi Shain is very personable and knowledgeable. I am confident that our Hay students are in good hands.
Turning our attention to B’nai Mitzvah preparation, we have hired Dr. Paul Kaplan, a former long-term congregant, to tutor our B’nai Mitzvah students. Dr. Kaplan is a retired college professor with decades of teaching experience. In addition, in his own words, he has prepared “a thousand students” for their Bar and Bat mitzvah including at least one member of our Board of Directors. We are lucky to have him on board.
Finally, the Cantor Search committee has been meeting regularly since mid-November. With input from the Board and committees, a job description for our Cantor position has been developed. We have submitted our job posting to the Cantor Assembly Placement Office and we have begun to receive applications. It is still very early in the process, but we are on course and schedule. Look for future updates as things develop.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul! Read More
Musings About the Fast Day in Tammuz
Beginning on July 1, we enter into the period of Bein HaMeitzarim (between dire straits). We begin with a day of fast on the 17th of Tammuz, and we end on the night of Sunday, July 22 with Tisha B'Av. This year, we extend an extra day, due to Shabbat falling on the 9th of Av. This period of time, according to tradition, includes certain restrictions– in music listening, in eating meat (except Shabbat), swimming and purchasing new items, and the restrictions ramp up after the new month of Av begins (Should you be interested in these details, please contact Rabbi Ian). The day of fast, with no food or drink, begins with first light and ends with starlight, and is quite demanding because of the long days and heat of summer. Those who attempt to fast should stay in air conditioning and drink, if they feel their health at risk.
Here are some historical events that are associated with the 17th of Tammuz:
1. Moses broke the tablets when he saw the Jewish people worshipping the golden calf.
2. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, the Jews were forced to cease offering the daily sacrifices, due to lack of sheep.
3. Apostomos, a Roman ruler, burned the Holy Torah.
4. An idol of Zeus was placed in the Holy Temple.
5. The walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, in 69 CE, after a lengthy siege (Three weeks later, after the Jews put up a valiant struggle, the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple on the 9th of Av).
6. The Jerusalem Talmud maintains that this is also the date when the Babylonians breached the walls of Jerusalem and would, in three weeks time, finish destroying the first Temple.
It is interesting that the formative event at the time of Moses, was the smashing of the tablets upon seeing idolatry. Tradition tells us that the first Temple was made into rubble because of the same sin of idolatry. Anther midrashic legend connects the spies giving a bad report and convincing Israel of its inadequacy to the 9th of Av. One begins to think that certain days of the calendar have bad karma. But this cannot be in Judaism, because we know that all is in God's hands, except reverence and faith in Him, and if this is so, when we are penitent and pray and are charitable, we avert the evil decree. Thus, in Jewish belief, misfortune can be undone, but so much of that depends upon our choices and our mindset. Read More