A beautiful teaching by The Brisker Rav (Yizkak Zev Halevi Soleveichick) explains some important lessons we can glean from the four special Shabbatot that we observe on our way to Passover. These are the Sabbaths Shekalim, Zachor, Parah, and Hahodesh, in which we orient to the holidays of Purim and of Passover.
On Shekalim we read about the half shekel that every Israelite was to give yearly for the fixing and maintenance of the Holy Temple. On Zachor we read about remembering Amalek, the enemy that sought to destroy us. On Parah we concentrate on the ashes from the roan cow ritual, used to purify us when we have come into contact with a decease person and allow us to make a Pesach offering in the Temple court. And on Hahodesh we remember when all of Israel stood shoulder to shoulder, ready to do God's bidding by slaughtering a sheep and using it's blood to mark their doorways before the exodus from Egypt.
These Sabbaths, the Brisker held, reinforce the teaching of the Mishna Avoth, in which Ben Zoma said the following: Who is truly wise? He or she who learns from every person. Who is truly strong? He or she who conquers their selfish impulse. Who is truly wealthy? He or she who is content with what he or she has. Who is truly honored? He or she who sets out to honor every one else. Shabbat Shekalim teaches us that in the end, all Israel was equal in maintaining the holy temple no matter how wealthy, as they shared the burden equally. What is important is the zeal one offers from the wealth they have. Shabbat Zachor teaches that no matter how powerful Amalek was, we could not be defeated if we remained vigilant and reinforced with faith. Amalek can also exist inside a person–his or her selfish impulse seeking to ambush us. We, too, need to be vigilant and prepared against it by conquering that impulse. Shabbat Parah teaches that no matter how wise one is, even someone as wise as King Solomon, there are unknowables in the Torah and in life for which there are no known answers. Only God has the answers. Shabbat Hahodesh teaches that all of Israel worked together and honored each other by working in concert and in solidarity “for the sake of heaven” and for their own sake. It was that unity that sprung them from their enslavement. It not only got them from Egypt, it began the process of getting “the Egypt” out of them.
As Pesach approaches and as we inhabit this holy time, let's be more fully alert to opportunities we have to honor “one another” this year, an in so doing, find our purest honor:
1) We have an opportunity to work for those who are downtrodden through our food drives and the tikun olam work we do on behalf of those who are in need. Our Torah reminds us 36 times to “love the stranger, because you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
2) We have an opportunity to honor and support our minyan of daily and weekly Shabbat davenners, and on Friday and Shabbat mornings, who so want your added presence and support. Let's not lose sight that ENJC is, at it's core, a faith community that finds it's primary purpose in providing a “community of faith.” When this weakens, our mission is weakened.
3) On April 15th this year at 7 pm., we have an opportunity to honor fellow Jews whose lives were cut short by a Holocaust brought upon us by enemies who sought our annihilation. Honoring their memory has become a new obligation of the Jewish calendar each year on Yom Hashoah. This year we will view the moving film Pola's March and have our young people join us in a special reading of children's poetry. Be a part of it.
Everyone of us finds his or her greatest honor in the manner in which we honor others. May this be an insight that we put into practice more these coming weeks, months and years.
The recent festivities of Purim were simply fabulous at the ENJC and we all realize that once we are celebrating Purim, Passover is "around the corner" and fast approaching.
Passover is certainly one of my most favorite of the Jewish Holidays, except for the physical work that accompanies the preparations. We change all of our dishes with no exception. This includes shlepping the Pesach dishes, pots, pans etc. from our garage, taking all of our regular ones out of the closets, unpacking and re-packing–OY VEI! Always a fun time of the year. However, all of this effort is inconsequential to the celebration and beauty of this meaningful holiday.
Did you know that Passover is probably one of the most celebrated Jewish Holiday of the year, as most Jewish families celebrate this holiday in some form or another? Having a seder, not eating bread, getting together with friends and family and so much more.
I would like to share with you a modern day commentary on the importance and meaning of Passover. We usually focus on the Talmudic scholars of the past to share their beautiful insights regarding Judaism and all of the laws and customs that are associated. It was my decision to go in a slightly different direction this year. Why do we celebrate Passover? We can all provide, I am sure, hundreds of meaningful answers to this question. I am going to provide a very diverse answer to this important question.
The children chant the beautiful Mah Nishtanah which contains four questions. "Why is this night different from all other nights?" On other nights we eat unleavened bread–tonight we eat Matzah. On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables–tonight we must eat bitter herbs, etc. As per a teacher of mine back in my Yeshiva days, Rabbi Suchard, the main question that we should be focusing on in is Why is this night different from other nights from a Jewish point of view. Yes, we focus on the four things that we do differently during the chanting of the Mah Nishtana. However, what about the evening itself? What is special about the seder socially and from a Jewish viewpoint as well? I am certainly not implying that all of the laws and customs that we observe during the seder and Passover are not important.
What makes the seder so very important socially and from a family point of view, is the fact we gather together to celebrate Judaism itself and our exodus from Egypt! How often during the course of the year do we gather together with family and friends to celebrate Judaism, Torah and the beauty of our religion? How often do we get together to celebrate Shabbat, Jewish Holidays and enjoyable events like Purim and Chanukah? Why does the Mah Nishtana chanting come at the very beginning of the seder? I believe that it is perfectly positioned to remind all of us that we don't need to wait a year until next Passover to get together to celebrate Judiasm! Shabbat is celebrated weekly. Why not have a massive celebration of Shabbat once is a while? Why not gather for other Jewish Holidays and events on a regular basis? I believe that this certainly can be a very important message for all of us as we sit down at our seder tables this year.
I wish you one and all a fabulous and meaningful Passover.
Hopefully, as you read this, the weather is beginning to warm up. Yet, as I write this article, sitting in my home office, I watch as once again the thermometer heads down toward zero. It’s hard to imagine right now, but I know that spring is right around the corner. Springtime means nice weather, an end to cabin fever, and the opportunity for you to take advantage of the many exciting events happening at the ENJC, particularly our Shabbat services and social occasions.
Over the past year the L’Chaim Club has come into being. The L’Chaim Club members gather after Saturday morning Shabbat services for a shot of scotch. The club started small with a handful of men. Soon, some of the women decided to try a taste and they joined the club as well. Our Shabbat group has lately grown to over fifteen men and women, joining together to celebrate Shabbat with a L’Chaim toast. So come on down and join us for Shabbat and the L’Chaim Club. We would love to see more of our congregants celebrate Shabbat with us.
On Friday evening, February 6th, ENJC held a Religious School Shabbat Dinner before services that was attended by over 150 adults and children. It was a wonderful evening and everyone had a great time. Amazingly, one hour after services had ended, over thirty people were still at the synagogue, enjoying one another’s company.
Another such opportunity to socialize and share Shabbat with fellow congregants comes on March 13th, when we celebrate Shabbat across America, beginning with a Shabbat dinner at 6:15 pm. I would love to see the ballroom filled with two hundred people or more, of all generations, enjoying a Shabbat dinner together.
With the onset of spring also comes Purim. We will be having our annual Purim Party on March 1st. Purim services will take place on March 4th and 5th. The Purim Party is always a fun time, with everyone in costume and noshing on hamentaschen. This year’s party will feature a DJ and dancing, games and dinner. And just think, Passover is right around the corner.
The coming spring months promise many fun and special opportunities that you can share with your family and fellow congregants. I look forward to warmer temperatures, and seeing you for a L’Chaim Shabbat toast and a hamentaschen or two.
The Masks We Wear and the Masks We Remove...on Purim
Patrick Rothfuss, in “The Name of the Wind” writes, “We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”
There are many instances of hiding in the Purim story. The name “Mordecai” comes from the name of the strange god, “Marduk”, and perhaps he was named as such to hide his intense piety in a society that didn’t encourage it. Esther, too, was originally named “Hadassah,” but she changed it to “Esther,” which is reminiscent of the goddess “Ashtart,” and may also be a concession to her environment and to hide her Jewish identity. Esther disguises her motives and asks Haman and the king to two banquets. Two courtiers disguise their malevolent motives to kill the king. Even Achashverush hides his intention to assimilate the many peoples to his religion by intoxicating them with constant feasting. All these disguises and masks are eventually removed and the naked truth is revealed. Esther held as secret her Jewish identity. She covered it over with Persian coating. We, living in a modern and secular society, often do something similar.
A symbol of the masks worn by the characters is the hamantashen! Just as the Hamantaschen is sweetest in its inner core, it’s important for us to find expression for our Jewish essence, which we so often bottle within us.
Purim actually demads a removal of masks through its four mitzvoth. The mitzvah of “Shalach Manoth,” sending dainties to our friends, reminds our friends, family and neighbors of how they are valued by us, noticed and appreciated. So often we are oblivious of our neighbors and friends. Distractions, work obligations and deadlines have us “cattle chuted” to such an extent that we often don’t have the opportunity to meet with our friends and family, and they don’t see the “real” us–the part of us that values them.
Purim requires of us (with warm intent) to engage in the mitzvah of matnoth leevyonim, in which we seek out the poor who would appreciate a meal. We suffer from “tzedaka fatigue.” Many agencies send us emails, letters and phone solicitations, and we are so overwhelmed by them that we hide behind a mask of irritation and resentment.
This past Friday night/Shabbat, February 6th, we had a simply amazing Religious School Dinner, which was attended by in excess of 150 people! It was by far the largest turnout that I can recall for a Shabbat dinner at our synagogue in a very long time. What a joy it was having over 70 children of all ages present with their parents, all enjoying and experiencing a traditional Shabbat meal which included all of the traditional prayers, songs and customs that elevate our experience of Shabbat. There were many people involved in the planning and orchestration of this special event, thus guaranteeing its success. However, I would like to recognize Karen Schweitzer, who arranged many of the important details pertaining to this wonderful event. I would also like to recognize our totally dedicated and talented Education V.P. Melissa Kurtz for her ongoing efforts on behalf of our vibrant Religious School.
Our annual Cholent Shabbat is fast approaching and will take place on Shabbat/Saturday morning, February 28th beginning at 9:00 a.m. In past years, we have always a had a large, boisterous and hungry crowd in attendance, all of whom are attending lichvod Shabbat–to honor and enjoy Shabbat together. This year will certainly be no different! We will also celebrate our Daled & Hay Shabbat at the same time, which will absolutely enhance the service. These are our two senior classes in the Religious School and they will, without doubt, sing beautifully as they perform some of the prayers.
This year, I will be preparing a few different cholents as compared to past years. We will have chicken and beef, veggie and a special new brown rice cholent (my wife's recipe) as well. In addition, Amy Wisotsky will prepare some delicious kugels, we will have "homemade" gefilte fish, tuna, Israeli salads (babaganush, techina, chumus), pita bread, etc. I invite you to join us as we have a fabulous celebration of Shabbat in conjunction with a wonderful social event.
As is noticeable, I have focused on two particular events, both of which enhance our enjoyment and appreciation of Shabbat, but simultaneously, bring us together socially as a congregation and community! Both events also raise our awareness of the importance of the ENJC 's efforts to provide each and every congregant, young and slightly older, with the opportunity to pray and sing together, in conjunction with enjoying the warmth of sharing special times together.