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.
I am extremely happy to report that Chazzan Nussbaum will be back as our school’s Principal when school resumes after the winter break, on Monday February 22nd. He is getting stronger and healthier every day. It was beautiful to welcome him back these last two Shabbats and to hear him sing from the bima.
I want to thank Bobbi Weinstein and Barry Sosnick for helping out while Chazzan was out. Yasher Koach! I also would like to thank Melissa Kurtz for the extra work and duties she helped out with in this time period. On a sad note, Melissa has resigned as our VP of education because of personal reasons. Melissa has worked endless hours and put her heart and soul into doing the best for our ENJC children. She will be missed.
On a personal note- I want to thank all for your support, kind words, and for visiting me during my shiva, and in supporting the daily shiva minyan (even on Super Bowl Sunday, with 22 people – 15 minutes before kickoff!) Please make contributions to ENJC or Sisterhood's Torah Fund for my Mom’s passing. Thank you and Yasher Koach to all!
An Upside Down World
(this sermon may or may not reflect the view of management)
The portion this week, tezaveh, introduces us to the most beautiful of all accessories that the High Priest would don over his garments–the choshem mishpat, made up of twelve different precious stones, each mounted on a gold frame. In each of these sectors, the gems had one of the twelve tribes etched into it. According to the Bible, the choshen was arranged in four columns of three.
I have always depicted the gems in my Parasha pictures in this fashion, but found, to my distress, that English translations don’t correspond to my depiction. Oddly, the Hebrew word “tur” was translated as rows, whereas I had always translated “tur” as columns. Four rows of three on the choshen isn’t the same as four columns of three; the gems are arranged differently. “What?” I said to myself. “I know that the Modern Hebrew translation of “tur” is column, and a column is vertical! Except that when I checked the Hebrew dictionary for “tur” it states, “generally a column but can also have the meaning of row!” Oy! I frantically checked the Art Scroll Bible, which depicts the Temple and the vestments, and indeed, they were arranged in rows. Then I checked other sources and they seemed to interpret “tur”as rows too. I was about to redo my picture when I came across this commentary in the Aryeh Kaplan Torah commentaries: “According to some authorities, the names were ordered downward in columns rather than across in rows.” Kaplan cites the famous Minchat Chinuch 99, a legal commentary on the Sefer ha-Chinuch, written by Yosef Babad ("Rabbeinu Yosef"; 1800–1874). Therefore, I again was on solid ground! Phew! I didn’t have to change it, and here it stands.
Upwards or sideways is not the only discrepancy in Jewish tradition. There are times, in the Hebrew calendar, like at Purim, when we make the case that everything can be turned upside down. Hafuch! Totally upside down. Purim, which comes in the second Adar this year, reveals that every evil thing Haman intended for the Jews was actually thrust the heads of their enemies. Thus, Purim is a time we can do things topsy-turvy, like men dressing as women and women dressing as men (not that there is anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say), and no one, even in frum communities, would bat an eyelash. That is the basis behind the Purim obligation that a person becomes so drunk that he doesn’t know the difference between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai. On Purim, you can do things not just upwards or sideways, but you can do things topsy-turvy– just for a little bit of craziness. (Our sages implore us not to take this too literally.)
Unfortunately, today’s world shows us a constant Purim–a topsy-turvy world. For instance, Fox News shows footage of Sports Illustrated. Now I am no prude, but this is not news—it’s exploitive! It’s a network’s cynical calculation for holding on to market share during their morning program. Or maybe it’s just me– But what about this: political debates used to be respectful opportunities for candidates to agree to disagree and point out the larger or more nuanced differences with one another’s view and philosophy. But in today’s world they have devolved to food fights and mutual recrimination; calling one another liars and, gads, “Canadian”. This insulting behavior may have engendered a gun duel a hundred and fifty years ago. Dignity and reputation used to mean something! Now candidates threaten litigation. Years ago, good leaders would calm and channel anger and frustration into constructive and productive ends. Called to mind are phrases like “the only thing to fear is fear itself.” Or “it is not for you to ask what can your country do for you.” Candidates spoke to ennoble the masses. Now they aim to mirror and magnify the worst tendencies in their constituency and compete for the most intolerant of postures.
This is always a very active and busy time of the year in our Religious School as we have a multitude of events and programs taking place. I would just like to focus on a few of these.
PURIM SERVICES: WEDNESDAY EVENING 3/23/16
We always have a boisterous turnout of parents and children. Services will begin at 7.15 p.m. for all children and parents followed by an adult service at 8.15 p.m.
EXCITING FIELD TRIP: SUNDAY 4/3/16
I will lead an educational and exciting field trip into New York to the Jewish Theological Seminary. The outing will include busing, a tour of the JTS then lunch at my favorite kosher restaurant in Queens-Chosen Gardens.
SPECIAL "HAVDALAH" SERVICE FOR OUR DALED & HAY CLASSES: SATURDAY EVENING 4/9/16
This special service will conclude with a special Havdala service for all in attendance.
YOM HAATZMAUT-ISRAEL INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATION: THURSDAY 5/12/16
Last year we had a fabulous celebration of Lag Baomer. As this special day this year is after the conclusion of our school year, we will celebrate Israel's Independence instead. Numerous outdoor activities, games, live entertainment, a BBQ, frisbees for all of the children and so much more. My personal thanks to Mark Infald who co-chaired this event with me last year and has agreed to do the same this year.
OUR SHABBAT FAMILY SERVICES
These lively, educational, uplifting and interactive services continue to attract marvelous turnouts of children AND their parents. My personal thanks to the parents for making these services so very special and important.
The above activities are just a few of so many taking place.
How do we elevate the holiness and importance of Shabbat? There are, I am certain, thousands of answers to this question. One obvious answer would be to join the Rabbi and I in conjunction with your fellow congregants at Shabbat services on a weekly basis. The Rabbi always presents a wonderful and uplifting sermon, I attempt to sing uplifting tunes to the prayers (I even include operatic and Broadway melodies) and at the conclusion of services, we all have the opportunity of socializing with other fellow congregants. I encourage your participation! You will depart from the ENJC uplifted spiritually.