The festive holiday of Shavuot is quickly approaching and I thought that I would focus on just one minghag (custom) of this beautiful chag.
It is customary on Shavuot to eat cheese blintzes which is rather interesting and curious. The underpinning of Shavuot is that we received the Torah on this chag, which makes it extraordinary. Reverting back to the custom of eating cheese blintzes. The shape of a cheese blintze is like a Torah as the cheese is rolled into the dough. The inside is sweet and makes for a delicious snack!
We can absolutely learn much from this custom. Judaism is like a cheese blintze in that it sweetens our lives and adds meaning and flavor. Further, limudei kodesh, the study of Torah, can and should be sweet at all times. Studying Torah should not be a drag or feel boring. On the contrary, our approach should be one of excitement as we study the Torah and multiple texts that have resulted, since we received the Torah at Mount Sinai.
With the idea of sweetness in mind, we recently had a TEENS REUNION at the ENJC. I contacted all of our teens who have celebrated a Bar or Bar Mitzvah at our synagogue in the past 3-4 years and encouraged them to come down to Shabbat morning services on Saturday/Shabbat, May 14th. Thirty-one teenagers and many parents joined us for services and their presence certainly sweetened our services tremendously. My personal thanks to all of the teens and their parents for making our services so very special.
Beginning Saturday night June 11th and commencing June 12th and 13th, we observe the holiday of Shavuoth. Shavuoth is an important pilgrimage festival and the day that marks 50 days from when we began counting the Omer sheaf offering on the holiday of Pesach. The narrative of Exodus, Chapter 19, also makes a good case that it was the day on which we stood at Sinai and received the thunderous utterance of Ten Commandments that provided the scaffolding of the entire Torah.
There are many theories as to why it became customary to eat dairy on Shavuoth. One theory suggests that when the Israelites received the kosher laws, they were reluctant to eat meat since the laws were complicated, and ate dairy. Another theory says simply that the Torah would be our manual in the Land of Milk and Honey. Another states that just as we wean our young and vitalize them with milk, so we must passionately do so with our Torah. A sage points out that the numeric equivalent of Halav is 40, reminding us of the forty days Moses spent on the mountain top.
Here is a favorite from Nachalat Tzvi. When Moses went up to the top of the mountain he was transported to heaven. There he was required to wrest the Torah away from the possessive angels, who had possessed them for 954 generations, even before the creation! G-d transformed Moses' face to look like Abraham's. He turned to the angels and said "did you not eat milk with meat when I served you at the time you came to tell me about Sarah having Issac?" They had to admit that they did. "If that is so, then you violated the rules of the Torah that you possessed!" Having softened them up by this strong offensive parry, he continued his argument "...do you do work that you need to observe the Sabbath? Do you steal things so that you need a commandment that says thou shall not steal? ...do you worship idols that you need a commandment that says serve no other gods before me?" The angels, defeated by this argument, surrendered the 10 Commandments to him. As a result, it became customary for Jews to begin their Shavuoth festival with the dairy meal, and follow it after a short time with a meat one!
We will be observing this custom with blintzes and ice cream sundaes on Saturday night, June 11th at our special learning session in honor of the festival. Our Tikun Leil Shavuoth will be covering rabbinic ideas on the nature of revelation and aspects of the Book of Ruth. It will begin with Maariv at 9pm.
Please help make this a delectable and successful program. May I take this time to wish you and yours a sweet and joyful Shavuoth festival!
As your rabbi, and in the name of our wonderful Community Relations Committee, it is my honor to invite you to attend our Yom HaShoah Program at 7:00 pm on May 5th at East Northport Jewish Center.
This year, our program will feature the exciting and deeply meaningful discovery of Chris Nichola. Mr. Nichola, while spelunking (aka, caving) in the Ukraine, came across remnants of what was, no doubt, a record for the continuous habitation of a cave. Jews near Kerowlowka, Ukraine survived there, underground, for over a year-and-a-half, hiding from extermination efforts by the Nazis. Nichola traces his discovery and the subsequent meeting of survivor families, whom he came to know and befriend, with a multimedia presentation. It is a most moving story which has been made into a feature length documentary film.
Unlike our usual format, this year’s service will precede the program, as we are only able to have our presenter on Thursday, the day of Yom Hashoah, May 5th. We will begin our ceremony at 7:00 pm sharp, with the participation of some of our survivor families. The ceremony will include The Theme from Schindler’s List, performed by pianist Terry Bernstein, and the participation of Rabbi Silverman and Cantor Nussbaum. All families will be invited to stand on the bima with our Torah scrolls and our Holocaust Torah from Kolin, Czechoslovakia, as Cantor chants the mournful Kel Mahlei Rachamim. Once our moving ceremony is completed, with the lighting of candles commemorating the loss of our precious 6,000,000, we will begin our special program.
This ceremony and program is our yearly marking of Yom HaShoah. There may be some relatives or friends you wish to invite because our program will probably be a day later than the one that others might attend. Please invite your loved ones and friends to ours.
May the clarion call of Zachor (Remember) and “Never Again” be reinforced and echo strongly this Yom HaShoah season. Our Kedoshim–those who perished–must never be forgotten and the lessons of the Holocaust must never cease. Please grace us with the attendance of your family at this important event.
Let’s talk minyan. Ten is a number in Judaism that is greater than the sum of its parts. It implies totality and completion. Ten is the number of times G-d utters, “Let there be,” and with it, creates the universe. Ten are the commandments that make up the meta-categories of all of Jewish Law. Ten are the generations from Adam to Noah, and then from Noah to Abraham. Ten is the number of plagues which were the catalyst to launch and liberate the Israelites from Egypt. Ten are the emanations for the “Infinite One” that enables G-d to unfold from mystical transcendence to spiritual access and proximity. And, ten people are the number that makes up a rudimentary community.
A minyan is a precious phenomenon in traditional Jewish thought. Ten individuals praying together make up a community of Jews. They reflect all of the divine arrangement of ten “Emanations of God,” and in a sense, mirror a divine aspect. It’s combined prayer helps stir the heavens above to the earth below. The Mishna teaches us that ten people praying ushers in the presence of the Shehina, God’s immanent quality. And a minyan, of course, introduces the necessary “holiness” level that allows for the recitation of Kedusha and of Kaddish and the chanting of the Torah in the morning services. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, a minyan conveys the message, that a Jewish communal whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts. I believe that this is a valuable message that has sustained Jewish community over millennia. Put bluntly, if individuals were as big a deal as a community of ten, there would probably be no Jewish people. We would have evaporated into a million different fragments long ago.
We hope to serve you and your family well by providing the necessary communal backdrop to support your recitation of Kaddish during some very difficult moments of mourning. But we cannot provide this without many others paying backwards and forwards. By this I mean, some of us have been there in our mourning, but after our year or months of attending is over, recede into the shadows again. Some only become conscious of its fragility when they have a new obligation of saying Kaddish, having considered it someone else’s problem prior to their personal need.
We just concluded the festivities of Purim and it was truly amazing.
Passover is quickly approaching and this being the case, I thought that I would share with you a "vord", an interesting commentary relating to my favorite holiday.
We all know the reason that Pesach is called Passover, as it's explained in great detail in the Haggadah that we recite and chant from during this festival. G-d commands the children of Israel to utilize blood on their doorposts in Egypt, and by so doing, the Malach hamavet–the angel of death–would pass over their homes, and their first born children would not die. This was the tenth plague that G-d punished the Egyptians with and we also know that the Jewish people, who lacked faith and did not conform, had their first born children unfortunately perish in conjunction with the Egyptian people's first born children! We also know that this is the reason for having a m'zuzah on our doors.
As all of you are aware, I always search for a modern day approach to Judaism and to the Torah and all of the related commandments. What can we learn from this Passover event as it relates to our lives during the course of the year? Ah ha, an interesting question right? I came across a beautiful and very meaningful explanation by Rabbi David Goldwasser, a rather famous modern day Talmudic scholar.
During the course of the year, our lives can be a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of G-d's name as we observe Torah, and thus our lives are meaningful and have direction. We have the ability to participate fully in Judaism to the fullest extent, observe mitzvot, reflect acts of chesed and kindness, show kindness and compassion to our family, friends and community, involve ourselves fully in our community at large, visit the sick and show compassion to the mourners, be respectful to one another, observe Shabbat and all of the holidays, etc. We do indeed have ample opportunity on a daily basis to be observant Jews and serve G-d and everybody involved in our lives.
On the other hand, we can allow our lives to be shallow and lacking in ethics by ignoring Judaism and not observing anything, and thus, Jewish ideals will pass over us and our lives will not be enriched as a consequence! This is a very positive message of the holiday of Passover as it relates to our lives for the rest of the year.
I would like to take this opportunity of wishing you all a chag kasher sameiach–a wonderful holiday of Passover.