G-d's message is a tolerant message–no religion is an island. In today’s day and age, it is easy to believe that certain peoples and certain religions are abhorrent. The path of least resistance is to distrust and to put up walls of intolerance, suspicion and prejudice against Muslims, as we see currently expressed in the presidential campaign. Many folks, jarred by recent events such as the growth of ISIS and home-grown terrorism, take the position that certain quarters cannot be trusted in any way, shape, or form. But it is important to keep channels open, and not paint and condemn whole communities based on the barbaric acts of those who hijack religion.
I am privileged to have signed a clergy petition against terror, circulated by Ransaq, that reads, “We, the undersigned clergy, representing a diversity of religious backgrounds and organizations, are deeply pained by all acts of terror, and especially those acts committed in the name of G-d. Our faiths are designed to promote peace and mutual understanding, not terror or indiscriminate death. Those who believe that such acts are in any way heroic or noble, are the victims of insidious deception. Such acts do not guarantee entry to heaven. To the contrary, those who commit such atrocities walk a road that is divorced from our sacred traditions and alien to G-d. The clerics who convince others to give their lives and take the lives of others are charlatans. They have abused their power and influence, recruiting others to advance their own personal political and military objectives with false promises of eternal bliss. We unequivocally condemn their actions and demand that they cease from further profaning God’s name. We dare not be silenced by those who have distorted G-d’s great message to all of humanity. That is why we have signed our name to this petition.”
This petition was penned by Yousuf U. Syed, Trustee, Islamic Association of Long Island, The Selden Mosque, who also wrote the following in an “Open Letter of Muslims to fellow American Citizens,” The Selden Mosque (The Oldest Mosque of Long Island) stands in solidarity with all our fellow Americans. We send our heartfelt condolences to all the families of the victims, who were murdered and injured in San Bernardino’s mass shooting. The Prophet of Islam said: “A strong person is not the one who throws his adversaries to the ground – a strong person is the one who controls and contains himself when angry.” Such are the teachings of Islam–for those who can understand. Rev. Wes Granberg Michaelson, from The Reform Church in America, has called the Paris incident an “Identity theft of the Muslim Faith.” Islam, in fact, is indeed a peaceful religion. The true blasphemers are those who ridicule and insult other faiths. The killers and others like them who do not understand that by forcing their false and murderous distortion of Islam, which in its truest expression is a religion of peace, do great damage to the image of Muslims and Islam. Islam requires that Muslims possess “ upright character” and deal justly with the entire human race, irrespective of their ethnicity, nationality, creed, and whether they are friend or foe. These are the teachings of Islam. How could a man like the San Bernardino killer, claim to be Muslim, when he has no respect for his own one-year-old innocent baby child, whom he left behind without mercy. I cannot call him an animal, because it would be an insult to animals. They would not abandon their offspring like that, they will fight to death to protect them.”
The holidays we celebrate in the late fall months of November and December are all about family. Relatives travel from far and wide, children come home from college, and we all gather together to share extravagant meals and to cherish this special time with loved ones. Families pull together to meet the challenges of the inevitable ups and downs of life. I’m looking forward to the return of my children, Amanda and Danny, who will be traveling home from college. My mother recently moved from Florida into an assisted living facility in Westbury and adapted beautifully. She is happy to be near our family and we are thrilled to have her near by. My in-laws have struggled with health issues and we hope the coming year will bring them good health.
The ENJC functions as a family as well. We all share simchas and celebrations, as well as life challenges and struggles that also serve to bind us together. While we have lost dear members, and suffered illnesses in our community, we have also been awed by our Bar and Bat Mitzvah children, who are so well prepared and poised on the bima. At times the temperature is too hot or too cold in our synagogue, but the warmth of our congregants coming together for the High Holidays and other occasions is perfect.
The ENJC is thankful you have chosen it as your synagogue for your family, and in turn, have become a part of the greater ENJC family. In times when other synagogues are closing or merging, we continue to grow. Keep attending services and events and bring your friends. Please join us on December 8th for our annual Chanukah Party! It is for congregants of all ages and free for the entire congregation. Bring your menorah too!
יודע לפני מי אתה עומד
KNOW AT ALL TIMES BEFORE WHOM YOU STAND!
As you can see above, this particular quotation is utilized frequently in synagogues, above the Aron Hakodesh (the Holy Ark) and numerous other places. Among the other tens of thousands of meaningful quotations that can be found in the Torah and Talmud, why particularly this one? As always, I am certain that when researched, there are thousand of explanations and commentaries that can be found in this regard. I would share with you just a few:
• When in synagogue and we are reminded to remember before whom we stand, the message is especially powerful and meaningful. We realize how holy the sanctuary is, the Sifrei Torah (the Torahs) that are in the Aron Hakodesh, the Ark, and the aura of sanctity and holiness that prevails and can be felt in the sanctuary.
• Quite obviously knowing before whom we stand refers to G-d, the Almighty King, who is always watching over us, in good times and, unfortunately, challenging times as well. Most certainly there are people who believe that when they are in synagogue, they should be respectful and thankful to G-d but conversely, when they leave the holiness, they can act in whatever manner they feel is appropriate. They can be less than honest and respectful to others, ignore the Torah, it's commandments and rituals, show a lack of kavod (honor) and respect to family and friends, etc.
There is much we can learn from this quotation. It is essential to strive to lead lives that are based upon Torah and the observance of good deeds and mitzvot, both when in synagogue and most certainly in our daily lives. Look to be charitable both financially and in our actions, volunteer on our CHESED COMMITTEE to deliver a meal to those in OUR Congregation in need on a Friday once in awhile, help out with our evening minyanim (minyans), volunteer in our growing school to help out in the numerous and ongoing programs and activities, participate in community events, etc. By so doing, you will be living a life as a KIDDUSH HASHEM, a sanctification of G-d's name at all times!
Candle Math: One little candle, two little candles…
The ladino song says it well: “Una kandelika, dos kandelikas, tres kandelikas, kuatro kandelikas, sintju kandelikas, sysh kandelikas, sieto kandelikas, ocho kandelikas para mi.” One, Two, Three, Four, five, six, Seven, Eight candles in front of me. Why do we light the Chanukah candles beginning on the first day with one candle and proceed through the Chanukah holiday adding one more each day? Is that not the opposite of what took place with the miraculous little cruse of oil? After all, it is only logical that there was more oil in the little cruse when it was found on the first day, than the oil it contained on the eighth day when it ran out? This was the contention of the students of Rabbi Shammai, who made the point that we should begin lighting with eight and proceed downward, a light each day going forward! But our sages, like Hillel, argued that each day the spirituality deepened, the holiness increased, and therefore we start with one and work our way up. That argument stuck and Chanukah stands for ח' נרות וכן כדברי הלל “eight candles and so it is in accord to the words of Hillel.”
But here is another argument for the School of Hillel, starting slowly with one candle and working our way up. Rabbi Ishak of Berdichev notes that we light, in total, 36 candles on all eight days of Chanukah. And because we “stir the heavens,” the “menorah on high” also illumines 36. Thirty-six is an important number. There is a legend that there are 36 truly righteous people roaming the earth, and at all times and through their actions, the world is rescued and redeemed. Thirty-six times does the Torah tell us to show love and concern for the “stranger.” A lamed vavnick is person who shows compassion to the most marginal and the least regarded among us. That is not an easy attitude to develop. Logic would have it that we treat our friends and family right. But the Torah is concerned that we not end our compassion there. The Torah wishes that each of us develop this attitude. Step by step, one act, then two, then three….
Others note that with the Shamash there are in total 44 candles lit! On High, inspired by our enthusiasm in lighting below, the mirror image of another 44 candles shines from Heaven. Together our sages note that that equals 88! The number eighty-eight spells out the word Pach in numerology ((פח, recalling the phrase from Psalms mi pach nishbar nimlatnu, “from a broken trap did we flee.” This is the trap that Antiochus and his Hellenists sought to set for us–having us becoming fully assimilated Greek citizens at the expense of our Judaism. Today, we are also confronted with such a choice: should we disguise our Jewish practices and identity, suppressing them and dispensing with them to “fit in?” Or, should we allow Jewish values, practices, identity markers, and mitzvoth to proliferate; to consolidate our Jewish identity and fortify our Jewish faith?
Beginning with one and moving up the scale is a good suggestion for how we develop as Jews. We cannot light all cylinders at once. If we are dormant in terms of our social activism, let’s start with one act of being kind to the poor and the stranger and build from there. If we are lagging in our Jewish involvement and have donned the robe of assimilation, let’s remove it, and take upon ourselves to link to our faith and our Judaism. This can be done by learning Hebrew, coming to more to services, helping with the minyan, and joining the Sisterhood or Men’s Club. These things can break out in a fiery way, but we are better off getting the kindling going first. Start with your first mitzvah today. Disengaging with our outer society is not a good idea. Disentangling ourselves from our lifetime of accommodating the society around us is not realistic. But putting in place Jewish markers of prayer, community building, and learning, step-by-step, is the challenge of Chanukah. Like a dreidel, we start with a flick and the momentum carries. Let’s get going, because even one little light chases darkness away.
Chag urim sameach– May your Chanukah be joyous and bright
A QUICK TALMUDIC THOUGHT
I was recently teaching a class and asked the question: "What makes Shabbat holy, restful, peaceful and uplifting?"
My students mostly said that as part of creation, G-d instructs us that the seventh day of the week (Shabbat) should be holy. In the Kiddush prayer that we chant on Friday night, it ends with "Blessed are you G-d, who sanctifies Shabbat....” As is my minhag and custom, trying to always teach in a positive and interactive manner, I complimented all of them and confirmed that all of their answers were "spot on" and beautiful.
I then offered them an explanation shared with me by one of my many teachers who offered the following insight. Shabbat, in of itself, is not really holy as it can be like any other day of the week. In actual fact, it is our actions and committment to G-d that elevates this seventh day of the week to a day of holiness and sanctity! What am I referring to exactly? All other days of the week, we may eat dinner in the kitchen with our cell phones ringing and beeping, everybody rushing to make the next appointment, music and TV blaring in the background, etc. On Friday/Shabbat evening, we can choose to have our dinner in the dining room with a beautifully arranged table, a special and sumptuous dinner, the chanting of the Kiddush, reciting the blessings over the candles, challah and the washing of our hands. Singing beautiful z'mirot and so much more. Consequently, it is our actions that elevate Shabbat to a level of holiness and sanctity.
NOTES FROM OUR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL
I reported last month that we would probably signup approximately close to twenty-five new families, which would relate to twenty-five plus new students. My estimation has reached fruition!
People often ask me as to what I am most proud of as it relates to our growing school. My answer has never changed. Last year we had seventeen teens, graduates of our Religious School, who chose to come in once or twice per week, to help out as either tutors or class assistants! None of these teens are paid or participate in order to receive community service hours needed by their schools. I have already been contacted by a number of students from last year's graduating class requesting to become tutors in our school. Off the top of my head, I would estimate that if I accepted all of these newly graduated teens, we would have approximately twenty-five plus teens involved in this amazing mitzvah.