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.
Read Rabbi Silverman's Kol Nidre sermon HERE
Hashomer Achi Anochi – Am I My Brother’s Keeper?
Presented at Friday Shabbat services October 9
Parashat Beresheet (with thanks to Rabbi Mitch Wahlberg for some ideas included in this sermon)
The Jewish people are now conflicted, as is the rest of the world, by the recent swamping of Europe with refugees from the Syrian crisis. No one can be inured to the suffering that we see– tens of thousands of desperate refugees scrambling into rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea, with many failing to arrive in Turkey or Greece, and then making their way through these regions to get to Macedonia and to points west, into Hungary and beyond. Many of us were disturbed at the position that the Hungarian PM took in saying “we don't want more Muslims,” requiring them to be detained until being transported to Austria and Germany. We are seeing babies who have drowned and how smugglers have taken refugee’s money and then abandoned them, locked in trucks along the highways of Western Europe. These sights are shocking to our senses. The idea of Hungarian police putting up razor wire to detain these people in order to prevent them from entering Hungary, and insisting they board trains to Germany and Austria conjures horrible imagery for the Jewish people.
Beyond this we have the strong values of hospitality stressed at the time of Sukkot. Strangers and friends should be invited in to take part in the festival. The sukkah is a symbol of how God gave us shelter in unkind and dangerously hot conditions. Further, we read point blank in our portion this Shabbat, the condemnation of Cain for his callousness. In trying to avoid all responsibility for his brother, even after he has murdered Abel, he answers God, who asks where Abel is, “hashomer achi anochi”– “Am I my brothers keeper?” You’d better believe you are! is the message of this text, and Cain is punished and made to wander the earth as a marked man after acting in the way he did. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks rightly points out that it’s an even higher standard, ve ahavta et Hager–love the stranger (not just the brother), for you once were strangers in the land of Egypt. This not only reflects back to our enslavement, it rightly points out that when we were needy refugees from a famine, in the time of Jacob and Joseph, the Egyptians did take us in and fed us, and we should learn from their example. Here, close to a time of Thanksgiving, we remember the hospitality of the Indians in those first years and an attitude of welcoming they gave the pilgrims of old. And certainly we can learn from our history of being tossed, exiled and refused entry in the last centuries by many nations in our time of distress, and thus the need to take a proactive position when needy refugees need a safe harbor.
Having said this, some other words, too, need saying. Why is Europe, the US, and Israel alone being criticized for not being welcoming? Israel actually has helped over 1000 seriously injured men, women, and children on the northern border in Israeli field clinics, but that’s not being publicized, and why? –to protect the Syrians! And Europe shouldn’t’ worry about its demographics? The most popular name for baby boys in London now is “Muhammad.” There are parts of Sweden and Denmark that are being overtaken by Arab immigrantion, and are being pressured to adopt Sharia law. We have seen the problems of high Arab population demographics in France (even from earlier generations) that occurred at this time last year during the Gaza and Charlie Hebdo affairs. It is not so simple when Europe is dealing with immigrants who don’t wish to integrate into society but who prefer to remain aloof and idealistically detached, affiliated instead with Middle Eastern society and fundamentalist Islam. Countries need to proceed carefully in these matters.
Below is Frank's Yom Kippur Appeal:
I was recently out for dinner with friends and we all ordered drinks. After the toast I said, “Good Health- that is what is really important.” Then I turned to Meryl, my wife, and said, “I have become my mother.” That is what my mother always says. Mom is 89.
I have learned, in the last 6 months, between dealing my in-laws' health issues, Chazzan’s battle with his illness, and not being able to attend services on the second day of Rosh Hashana myself, that a wish for a “HEALTHY NEW YEAR’ is most important.
When I realized that I was not going to be able to atttend services, I was at first, concerned, but quickly realized that I shouldn't worry–“Team ENJC” would handle things. As a team, we ar able to accomplish anything. We all miss listening and singing along with Chazzan Nussbaum, but fortunately the team was able to have Chazzan Epstein join us and lead our services this year.
I am glad that Chazzan Nussbaum and his family are with us and looking forward to a full recovery and leading us next year. As my mother says, “Good Health – that is our New Years wish.”
The health of the East Northport Jewish Center has never been better ! We have, 20 new members this year, after 17 last year- THANK YOU for choosing ENJC. This is truly an incredible fact, when all you read about is decling membership in Conservative synagogues, especially in Suffolk County.
I say – Thank You Team ENJC
Prior to my involvement in synagogue life, I coached youth baseball, soccer and basketball as well as a Men’s softball team. In my business, we have a sales rep team of 25 strong. In all that I am involved with, there must be a team effort. WE, at the ENJC, have a winning team of talented individuals. It is a pleasure to work with this amazing group of intelligent people. I know that there are more talented members with skills that we can tap. Please get involved– our team can always use more players.
Read Rabbi Silverman's Kol Nidre sermon HERE
My comments on Sukkoth
We speak of the lulav and etrog as the quintessential symbols of Sukkoth in the Torah (along with the sukkah building!) I will review some of their symbolism. Some of these may sound familiar, but I am hoping you learn at least one theory that is new.
A Midrash tells that the lulav and etrog remind us of the features of the human body, which we must consecrate to God, The lulav is the spine, with its myrtle shaped like the eyes and the willow shaped like the lips. The etrog is shaped like the heart and so it reminds us, in shaking, that we must stir ourselves in heart, eye, and lips to see the wonder and miracles of God, and we must stand straight and proud in our Judaism.
Another Midrash, which I always find confusing, reminds us of each item having or not having fragrance and taste. Fragrance stands for good deeds and taste stands for study. The palm has taste but no scent, the myrtle has fragrance but no fruit, the willow has neither and etrog has both. Thus, these are the four different kinds of Jews–the scholar with few deeds, the doer with little study, the nebbish Jew with neither learning nor deeds, and the person with both learning and good deeds. On Sukkoth, when we bring all these species together as one, we band all Jews together to meld together one another’s strengths.
The Sfat Emet, a Hasidic commentator, tells us that there are masculine and feminine sides of God in the symbolism of these objects. The lulav represents the male and the etrog, the breast– the female side of God! When we shake it 18 times we are enlivening the sacred union between masculine and feminine aspects in God and restoring the proper balance of justice and mercy... Now I bet you didn't know that one!
Here’s another one: Each object represents a letter in the name of God. The etrog is the yud, the lulav is the vav, the willow one heh (think of the two branches bending) and the myrtle, another heh (three branches bending but the last one is a period). Thus, we are grasping and attaching ourselves to the name of God.
Finally, Adam and Eve also held a lulav and etrog, but for all the wrong reasons. The sin they committed with the tree of knowledge was none other than the etrog tree! After Yom Kippur, every Jew has five days in which sin is not accounted of us in the new year. Each free day is allotted for a service, with five services counted from Yom Kippur. But on the sixth day, Sukkoth, we become accountable again. What better way to come before God with same fruit Eve and Adam sinned with, but this time to consecrate the branch and fruit in a mitzvah before God at Sukkoth.
When we absorb all of these associations we understand it as the refinement of two things. On one hand, the refinement in the God head itself. The other is the refinement of the soul within us. I am not big on how we can influence and control the God Head. But I am hopeful that we will internalize those interpretations that advise we refine our heart, mind, lips and eyes; that we try to balance both learning and good deeds, and that we aggressively take on the 'evil inclination' of the snake within us to become better people.
Come on out to shake the lulav and etrog this year! Shake yourselves up! May the lulav and etrog stir us and awaken us to these challenges and let us say: Amen
Can you believe it? Another Rosh Hashanah is on its way in just a few short weeks. The sounding of the shofar is by far the most pervasive symbol of Rosh Hashanah. What are some of its associations? Here is a sampling…
The Torah tells us that Rosh Hashanah is a Yom Truah, a day of sounding the shofar. Interestingly the Torah tells us that Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the seventh month, and never refers to Rosh Hashanah as New Year’s Day. Why was the shofar sounded on the first day of the seventh month? Perhaps to usher in the special ten day period of the days of Repentance and return before the Day of Atonement.
In days of yore, trumpets were sounded to organize a community. We see this as the Israelites march through the wilderness for forty years. The first long note, Tekiah, was for the purpose of convening the people together. The long short notes of staccato the Teruah was a signal for them to march and do battle. Our rabbis teach that the three broken notes, Shevarim, represent the weeping or brokenness of prayer Yevava. Therefore, the sounding of the shofar telegraphs to the Jewish people to convene, to weep and pray, to allow yourself to sense remorse and regret, and to march and do battle with your “evil inclination,” so that you may achieve a greater purity this coming year.
An ancient Midrash notes that Yevava, the broken crying, is also the sound of gentile mothers mourning for the likes of Sisera the Canaanite general that was killed when he fled the battle. On Rosh Hashanah we must be sensitive even to the suffering of strangers and even to the sufferings of those who are our enemies. Like the famous prophet on Yom Kippur, Jonah, we have to cultivate sensitivity and sense of responsibility even for our enemies.
According to Avot 5:9, the ram of the Binding of Isaac (Akedah) was created at twilight at the end of the 6th day of creation. This was, in a sense, the very beginning of history as human consciousness was experienced for the first time. A famous Midrash in Midrash Pirke de Rebbi Eliezer mentions that neither horn of the ram slaughtered in place of Isaac went to waste. The first horn was used to proclaim the giving of the Torah. The second horn was to be given to Elijah to use in gathering together all the Jews at the time of the Messiah. With this we see the shofar reminds us not only of creation, but of Revelation and Redemption, and thus represents the broadest sweep of all of Jewish religious history.
The shape of the shofar reminds us that we must bend our will heavenward. It is thought that its shrill and piercing gevaldik sound will scare away any evil demons or forces that might wish us harm. This is the superstitious reason why we sound the shofar—to scare away the evil forces and the prosecuting angels who are making a case against us!
Other well-known associations accompany the horn of the ram which appears in the story of Isaac’s near sacrifice. According to some traditions, it was during the days of Teshuva and around the time of the autumn equinox that this test for Abraham took place. It was the horn of the ram stuck in the thicket and its bleeting that indicated to Abraham that God could not want the sacrifice of his son. Isaac was saved in the nick of time. Some say the sight and sound of the shofar blasting in every Jewish community at once makes a powerful petition heavenward. God, in hearing the shofar and in seeing the horn, will remember the ram and will remember the time that our ancestor Isaac (our very first-born Jew) was spared and given a new lease on life. On Rosh Hashanah, we, like Isaac, are on the altar. The prayer book in the Netane Tokef prayer says it well: “Who shall live and who shall die? who by fire and who by sword?" Each of us, a little Isaac, shall be "let off the hook" too, when God, through the sight and sound of the shofar, remembers his mercy to the first Isaac.
Of course much of this imagery, in a sense, argues that we can influence God in a ritual manner, and this is the reason we sound the blast. But it’s Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon's (Rambam's) view of the shofar that resonates with us the most: The shofar is an alarm clock. It tells us it’s time to wake up spiritually. It tells us to dust off the lethargy and the apathy. It tells us it’s time to forgive and empathize more, love more, and observe Torah more. That, for many of us, is the shofar’s most important association.
Each year, at home in my morning prayer, I sound the shofar, beginning the month of Elul (30 days before Rosh Hashanah). I take my time and playfully sound long Tekiot. After all, I have to be ready for my big-time gig on the first day of Rosh Hashanah!
My dog, Charlie, thinking himself a fire house mascot, immediately begins to howl. The shofar should spur us to howl as well–to howl for those who are in distress and are hungry. It calls for us to convene, to repent, to do battle with our destructive inclination, to be mindful of the precariousness of our lives and God’s effort for leniency, and to pray for the welfare of all of Israel and all of mankind. It incites us to bend our wills and our inclinations to do even better as Jews and as menschen this coming year, and let us say, Amen.