In keeping with our focus on Torah, Avoda and Gemilut Hasadim, Congregation Ezra Bessaroth's Discretionary Fund, on Tuesday, made a generous contribution to help people impacted by the disastrous tornado in Oklahoma.
The magazine "Israel21C" has some great articles on modern technological developments in Israel. Here's a recent post on their website:
In the not-so-distant future, people blinded by retinitis pigmentosa may be using Israeli technology to see beyond shadows once again. By Karin Kloosterman (Israel 21c)
About one in 4,000 people in the United States suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disease of the retina that causes light-sensing cells to degenerate and eventually leads to vision impairment. Symptoms might start as night blindness.
Recent advances in optogenetics have opened the possibility of restoring light sensitivity to vision cells using a simple injection and gene-based therapy. But how can these newly programmed cells reconnect with the brain to process images? This is the million-dollar question.
Israeli researchers from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have found a futuristic and bionic way to bypass neural circuitry and directly stimulate restored vision cells with a computer-driven technique called holography.
The researchers have developed a tool to photo-stimulate retinal cells with precision and high resolution, suggesting that one day in the not-so-distant future, people blinded by RP may see beyond shadows once again.
“It’s something like Google Glass for the blind,” Prof. Shy Shoham from the Technion tells ISRAEL21c, referring to Google’s wearable computer with a head-mounted display, set to be released later this year.
“We did not develop optogenetics and it’s a young technology, but it is firmly established and the potential is recognized. What is missing, and what we are offering, is a powerful solution driving the neural networks of these optogenetically restored cells.”
Shoham explains, “What our system will do is activate these cells with patterns. It’s a system that drives the projection of ‘movies’ powerful enough to stimulate retinal cells artificially.”
Like any responsible scientist, Shoham, an engineer and lead scientist of this new research presented in Nature Communications, is not offering false hope to people who are already blind. Unfortunately, he cannot help them. But if a significant financial investment were to be made in the project, “clear” results could be seen in the future.
Restoring sight in mice; humans next?
“The basic idea of optogenetics is to take a light-sensitive protein from another organism, typically from algae or bacteria, and insert it into a target cell, and that photosensitizes the cell,” Shoham explains.
However, the genetically repaired cells are less sensitive to light than normal healthy retinal cells, so they need a bright light source — a laser, or in the new research project, a holograph — to be activated.
The researchers plan to develop a prosthetic headset that looks like the new Google Glass, or create an eyepiece that would translate visual scenes into light, which would stimulate the genetically altered cells.
The Israeli scientists used computer-generated holography to stimulate repaired retinas in mice. The light stimulus was intense, precise and capable of stimulating many cells at one time, which are all necessary for proper vision.
They previously tried lasers and digital displays used in projectors, but both approaches had their drawbacks.
“Lasers give intensity, but they can’t give the parallel projection” that would simultaneously stimulate all the cells needed to see a complete picture, says Shoham. “Holography is a way of getting the best of both worlds.”
This new approach could power new retina prostheses being tested in the United States. One called Argus II was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) early this year, but offers only rudimentary vision to the wearer.
“You need to be careful with these things so the technology doesn’t run ahead of us,” Shoham cautions. “The system we are working on can potentially restore vision that is very high quality. But it will take at least five to 10 years.”
The technology also has many potential applications in the field of virtual reality.
A few words about the following post: You may or may not be aware of the ongoing "innovations" that Rabbi Avi Weiss has introduced into the North American Orthodox community over the past several years. One of his projects is Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, created as a foil to Yeshiva University's RIETS. Chovevei is known for its left-leaning hashkafa and "social action" agenda. In 2010, Weiss pushed the envelope by giving Sarah Hurwitz the quasi-rabbinic title, "Rabba", with the goal of moving towards Orthodox ordination for women. The Rabbinical Council of America, of which I am a proud member, formulated a clear resolution at the time to respond to the Hurwitz story. Now Weiss' dream has become a reality with an upcoming ordination ceremony for three women at "Yeshivat Maharat".
What makes this issue tough to navigate for most people is the distinction between advanced learning opportunities for women within the Orthodox fold and women rabbis. This is a nuanced issue that relates to the difference between Torah knowledge and establishing innovations and precedents in Halacha. It takes poskim with "big shoulders" - those who internalize the dictum איזהו חכם - הרואה את הנולד --- "Who is wise? One who sees what is born of his actions" - to facilitate major changes that will impact on the Torah community for generations to come. At any rate, here is the RCA statement:
The EB Discretionary fund has just issued two significant donations - one to the Stern family of Boca Raton, who lost their daughter Shoshie in an accident last week. For anyone interested in donating, click on http://www.shoshiestern.com/donate.html
We also donated to Jeff Bauman, injured so seriously in the Boston Marathon bombing. Here is the page, and the donation we sent with a message from our congregation. Those interested in donating, click on http://www.gofundme.com/BucksforBauman
This has been a very trying week for Americans and for members of a Jewish community in Florida.
By now, nothing more really needs to be said about the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon. As I write, Boston police are in the midst of a manhunt for the second bomber, after having killed the first one in a shootout Thursday night.
In Boca Raton, Florida, 12 year-old Shoshie Stern, daughter of Denise and Rabbi Mike Stern, was tragically killed at an intersection nearly the family home. The Sterns, whose contributions to Jewish outreach in Philadelphia, Milwaukee and now Boca Raton over the past 20 years is legendary, are still trying to digest the enormity of their loss.
As a congregation that is tuned into what is going on around us, and which waves the banner of Torah, Avoda and Gemilut Hasadim, we should offer a meaningful Jewish response to these two tragedies.
Though we cannot help all of the victims, we can do our part. There are a number of legitimate campaigns that have been set up to help the Stern family in Boca Raton and Jeff Bauman, the man in the photograph (now viral!) who became a double amputee as a result of the bombing; Jeff was also instrumental in identifying the bombers.
Over the next week, I will be accepting checks for the Discretionary Fund earmarked for the Stern and Bauman families. Please get cash or check to the EB office, or donate online at http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb and choose “Stern and Bauman Family Collection”
Israel week at Ezzy Bezzy has been great so far. We kicked off the week with a community-wide Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration. Festivities began at 5:15 pm on Tuesday afternoon with the screening of "Israel Inside: How a Small Country Makes a Big Difference". I had seen this film last year at a StandWithUS event, and felt strongly that we should find the opportunity to show it. Over 70 members and friends of EB attended, and thoroughly enjoyed the film. Here's the trailer:
The film is available through the Israel Inside website at http://www.israelinsidethemovie.com/ An inspiring film, it can serve as a tremendous "counter-propaganda" piece. Particularly noteworthy was the unit on "Save a Child's Heart", an international Israeli humanitarian program that performs open heart surgery on kids from all over the world...Here is its mission statement:
Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) is an Israeli-based international humanitarian project, whose mission is to improve the quality of pediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease and to create centers of competence in these countries. SACH is totally dedicated to the idea that every child deserves the best medical treatment available, regardless of the child's nationality, religion, color, gender or financial situation.
SACH is motivated by the age-old Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. By mending the hearts of children, regardless of their origin, SACH is contributing to a better and more peaceful future for all of our children.
The SACH mission is achieved through:
Providing life-saving cardiac surgery and other life saving procedures for children from developing countries at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel;
Providing a full outreach training program for the medical personnel from these countries in Israel;
Leading surgical and teaching missions to partner countries in the developing world;
Holding pre-operative and follow-up cardiology clinics in Israel and abroad.
Over half the children treated in recent years have been Palestinian. Need we say more?
You can get more information about this amazing program by visiting their website at http://www.saveachildsheart.org
While adults (and some teenagers!) enjoyed the film, kids were occupied with a bouncy house, cotton candy and popcorn (thanks to Ari Hoffman and NCSY!), caricaturist Graham White's wonderful talents, and Rochelle Romano's Israeli cookie decorating extravaganza. At about 6:30 pm, Dalia and staff opened the Social Hall doors and treated us to a delectable Israeli meat dinner. Hen Mazzig, StandWithUs shaliach to the Pacific Northwest spoke to the crowd about his ambitious work on behalf of Israel, while Fran Israel offered us a warmhearted peek into her recent adventures in Israel; for the full story see the blog entry posted here on the Ezzy Bezzy Blog back in January: http://www.ezrabessaroth.net/leadership/rabbi-s-blog/entry/how-i-traveled-to-israel-and-had-my-bathroom-remodeled
Pictures of the event can be found on our home page.
Special thanks to Susan Jensen for all her work on this program!
This Shabbat, Harley and Lela Franco are sponsoring: "Israel: A Sephardic Perpsective" featuring Rabbi Daniel Bouskila from the Sephardic Educational Center. All the classes and the Kiddush Luncheon are open to the whole community. Those considering joining Ezzy Bezzy are encouraged to attend!
Govt: Israel's Population Grew Tenfold Since 1948
Just in time for Yom Ha'atzma'ut, the Central Bureau of Statistics released data on Israel's population.
By David Lev (Israelnationalnews.com)
A total of 8,018,000 people live in the State of Israel on Independence Day 2013, the CBS said. When the state was established on the fifth of the Hebrew month of Iyar in 1948, that number was a mere 806,000. Today, there are 6,042,000 Jews (75% of the country's population) living in Israel today, along with 1,658,000 Muslim and ChristianArabs (20.7% of the population). The country also has an additional 318,000 (4%) residents classified as “other,” including non-Arab Christians and members of other religions.
Israel's population grew by 138,000 since last Yom Ha'atzma'ut, a growth rate of 1.8%. In 2011, it was announced that over 70% of the Jewish population were born in Israel, with more than half second-generation Israelis. In 1948, only 35% were “native Sabras.”
The rise of the metropolitan area has been another important development in Israel over the past decades, the CBS said. In 1948, only one city – Tel Aviv-Jaffa – hand more than 100,000 residents. Today, there are six cities with more than 200,000 residents, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Ashdod, and Petah Tikvah.
Friday night, between Minha and Kabbalat Shabbat, we began to recite Shir HaShirim - Song of Songs. Set as a romantic encounter between a suitor and his beloved, Song of Songs is a highly symbolic text depciting the relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. In Chapter five, the pesukim read:
Just as the suitor, for whom the young woman has been waiting, arrives, the woman refuses to get up to open the door, excusing herself: she has already donned her sleeping attire, and does not want to soil her feet...
What are we supposed to derive from this passage?
In this week's Perasha, Shemini, we experience the tragedy of the demise of Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu after they bring an אש זרה, foreign fire, to Hashem.
As Jews, we look to our Torah as a guide on how to respond to such tragic events.
This coming week, we observe Yom HaShoah, and the following week, Yom HaZikaron – Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen – followed by Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israel Independence day.
The traditional response to the Shoah has always been grief over the tragedy coupled with
וַאֲחֵיכֶם, כָּל-בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל--יִבְכּוּ אֶת-הַשְּׂרֵפָה, אֲשֶׁר שָׂרַף יְהוָה
Your brothers the entire family of Israel should mourn for the ones whom God burned.
But there is another response - that of the father, Aharon. The Torah reports:
Aharon was silent
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, who was a guest at Ezra Bessaroth quite a few years ago, relates the following story:
I was present, as a very young boy, at the first Sabbath circumcision of the Klauzemberger Hassidim in the temporary home they made for themselves in New York – their way-station between the European destruction and the rebirth of their community in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya. The Rebbe intoned the time-honored verse, "Then I passed and I saw that you were rooted in your blood, and I said to you, 'by your blood shall you live'" (Ezekiel 16:6), as he blessed and named the newly-circumcised child entering the covenant of Abraham.
At the conclusion of his blessing, the Rebbe commented, "I always understood these words from the prophet Ezekiel, ‘be'damayikh hayii,’ to mean ‘by your blood shall you live,’ because of the sacrifices the Jews have forced to make for our God and our faith, we merit the covenantal gift of eternal life. However, now that we have suffered the unspeakable tragedies of the European conflagration, it seems to me that Ezekiel's ‘damayikh’ comes not from the Hebrew dam, blood, but rather from the Hebrew dom, silence, as in 'Vayidom Aharon’ – and Aaron was silent. It is because we held back from battering the gates of heaven with our cries, because we swallowed our sobs and continued to pray and to learn and to build and to plant, because we utilized our energies not to weep over our past losses but rather to recreate our communities, our synagogues, our study-houses, here in America and, please G-d, soon in Israel, that we continue to live and even to flourish…"
The silence of Aharon is the silence of our people, who understand how to face tragedy, personal, communal and national. As human beings, we will never be able to grasp the reason: כי לא מחשבותי מחשבותיכם נאם ה' – My thoughts are not your thoughts, says Hashem. Aharon’s silence is a period of quiet that allows him to meditate and reorient himself, in order to decide what course of action is appropriate in response.
The Klausenberger Rebbe’s approach recalls that of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik in his monumental essay “Kol Dodi Dofek”. The Rav presents two models of how an individual can potentially perceive his existence: A person either sees himself as an object of history – tossed about aimlessly in a reality beyond his control. The fatalist tends towards esoteric, speculative exercises at analyzing his fate.
Another approach is that of one who sees himself as not the object, but as the subject of history. Born into a particular time and place, this type of person grapples with the question of personal mission, how to harness his resources in order to achieve his destiny. Instead of engaging in philosophical speculation, plagued by “why"?, he asks the question “what”? What am I meant to do in response? Like Aharon Hakohen according to the Klausenberger, this response is one of silence, of holding back from battering the gates of heaven with our cries, swallowing our sobs and continued to pray, learn , build, plant and flourish…
The Rav’s essay, “Kol Dodi Dofek”, analyzes the tumultuous twentieth century Jewish experience from the perspective of this model. “Kol Dodi Dofek” refers to the scene in Shir HaShirim of the male suitor knocking on the door of his beloved. In modern Jewish history, we, the Jewish people, can discern six distinctive “knocks” at our door, by our beloved.
The first knock is political: the astounding vote by the United Nations to grant our people a Jewish state in Palestine. Rav Soloveitchik declares that the U.N. justified its entire existence with this single historical vote.
The second knock is military. For those of us who recite “Al Hanisim” on Chanukah, we are familiar with the theme of רבים ביד מעטים – the many were given over into the hands of the few. The astounding victory of a handful of refugees from the Shoah over well-trained Arab armies was truly a modern expression of רבים ביד מעטים.
The third knock is theological. The return of the Jews to their homeland and to Jerusalem, was a severe blow to certain elements of the Christian world committed to the belief that the Jews had surely been rejected by G-d and that all of the Biblical references to the return of Israel to Zion and Jerusalem was merely an allegorical reference to Christianity and the Christian church….
In his fourth knock, Rav Soloveitchik reflects on the process of assimilation that had overtaken the diaspora Jewish community by the mid Twentieth century. The rise of the State of Israel slowed down this process by providing a broad umbrella under which Jewish youth, who would otherwise have abandoned their Jewishness – could find themselves. It brought to the fore the inescapable reality of their Jewish identity in a way that no other process could have succeeded to do.
The fifth knock is the message that דם יהודי לא הפקר. Jewish blood is not worthless. The individuals and nations who have committed grievous crimes against our people will be held accountable. The capture, trial and subsequent execution of Eichmann is but one concrete expression of this new reality.
I recall growing up in Canada, the book, “None is Too Many”; it documents the discriminatory post WW II policies of the Canadian government towards Jewish immigration. As one reviewer put it, “even when the war ended and the full evidence of the death camps became clear to all Canadians, there was no immediate lifting of the immigration barriers for the survivors”. The sixth knock is that of a homeland committed to opening its gates to all Jews. This final knock should not be treated lightly. “Kol Dodi Dofek”!
Returning now to the verses in Shir HaShirim with which we began: On a number of levels, our beloved, the G-d of Israel, of Jewish history is knocking. How are we going to respond to our suitor? Are we going to answer, “I have taken off my robe, how can I put it back on once again? I have washed my feet – how can I soil them?” Are we going to see G-d’s hand in history and respond in kind, or are we going to doze off, ignore that knock at the door?
What is our personal, communal and national mission?
How do we go about living out our destiny?
This past Shabbat, a member of our congregation, Uri Chotzen, was called to the Teva in honor of his upcoming Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. What an auspicious week, the week of Yom HaShoah, to be making such a profound statement of identification with the Jewish people, with our destiny!
As we individually and collectively all work to figure out what our response is to the various Divine cues that we’ve discussed, we congratulate Uri and wish him and his family a hearty Mazal Tov on his response!
On Shabbat Hagadol, we delved into the topic of the “Four Sons” of the Pesach Seder. It seems each time that one discusses this topic, conversation tends to focus on the בן הרשע, “the wicked son”. What seems to make us most uncomfortable is the approach we take to answering him, not politically correct nor prudent during an age where Jewish life demands a pleasant, welcoming, “outreach” approach to those Jews who are distant from Jewish learning and tradition.
One approach is that of Rabbi Amnon Bazak; he notes that the question of the wicked son מה העבודה הזאת לכם - What is this worship/service to you? - appears in the Torah in the context of the Pesach sacrifice. The cynicism with which this “son” asks his question is understood as an attack on the religious value of the Korban. There are only two positive mitzvot in which failure to act makes one liable for the punishment of כרת – excision from the Jewish people: one is the Korban Pesach, the other: Brit Milah – circumcision.
What links these two mitzvot is that they both are highly symbolic “signs” of identification with our people. One who refrains from performing Brit Milah on his son or from offering the Korban Pesach when the Temple is standing effectively opts out of the Jewish community. Karet/excision is therefore an appropriate consequence of this conscious disconnect. It’s by no coincidence that the Hagadah rebukes the Rasha by saying that had he been in Mizraim, he would not have been redeemed.
On Shabbat Hagadol, we observed that the Hagadah’s “Four Sons” represents a midrashic, homiletic understanding of the Torah, that on a “peshat (plain meaning)” level, the wise, wicked, and simple sons do not appear clearly in the text. On the second day of Yom Tov, I presented what I think is a more authentic source for the רשע of the Torah:
יג וַיֵּצֵא בַּיּוֹם הַשֵּׁנִי, וְהִנֵּה שְׁנֵי-אֲנָשִׁים עִבְרִים נִצִּים; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָרָשָׁע, לָמָּה תַכֶּה, רֵעֶךָ.
Moses went out the next day, and he saw two Hebrew men fighting. 'Why are you beating your brother?' he demanded of the wicked one.
Rashi observes that the future form תַכֶּה, implies that the one Hebrew was about to hit his fellow Hebrew, though he had not done so yet. “We derive from here that merely raising one’s hand to smite another person gives a person the status of a רשע, a wicked person.” The aggressive Hebrew was indeed a רשע, and the Torah is conveying an essential lesson about its view of aggressive behavior.I would like to offer an additional understanding of the passage. Perhaps the status of רשע – “wicked” was a label that Moshe had bestowed on the Hebrew; in other words, Moshe had assessed his behavior, judged him, effectively “taking him out of the community”.
Moshe’s appeal: why are you about to hit your fellow (Hebrew) – hoping that their shared nationality would strike a chord in the aggressor – fell on deaf ears:
יד וַיֹּאמֶר מִי שָׂמְךָ לְאִישׁ שַׂר וְשֹׁפֵט, עָלֵינוּ--הַלְהָרְגֵנִי אַתָּה אֹמֵר, כַּאֲשֶׁר הָרַגְתָּ אֶת-הַמִּצְרִי; וַיִּירָא מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר, אָכֵן נוֹדַע הַדָּבָר.
'Who made you our prince and judge?...Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?'
Moses was frightened. 'The matter is known,' he said.
It could be that we are being taught here that Moshe’s advance judgment of the aggressor itself triggered the unreceptive response:
יט כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים-- כֵּן לֵב-הָאָדָם, לָאָדָם.
(19 As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man. (Mishlei/Proverbs
In other words, Moshe’s assessment itself could have contributed to the negative response; after having himself been “written off,” the Jew rejects Moshe’s appeal to “nationhood” as the basis upon which he should refrain from striking his fellow.
This in turn, prompts Moshe’s response. “The matter is known!”
On a "peshat" level, Moshe means that the word was out that he had killed the Egyptian. On a homiletic level, Rashi offers the following explanation:
….the matter I was wondering about, [i.e.,] why the Israelites are considered more sinful than all the seventy nations [of the world], to be subjugated with back-breaking labor, has become known to me. Indeed, I see that they deserve it.
Moshe proceeds to paint all of the Israelites with the same brush: the level of wickedness exhibited by this Israelite is symptomatic of the entire nation. Moshe subsequently flees not only from Paroh’s death threat (plain meaning of the text) but from his own people. Paradoxically, his critique of the Israelites failure to appreciate that which binds them together..... brings about his own voluntary disconnect from his people!
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited in “Nefesh HaRav”) suggests that the encounter between G-d and Moshe at the burning bush be understood as a continuation of the passage that we are now identifying as the new passage of the Wicked Son.
When G-d commissions Moshe to lead the Jews out of Egypt, Moshe asks:
מִי אָנֹכִי, כִּי אֵלֵךְ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה; וְכִי אוֹצִיא אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִמִּצְרָיִם.
: For Rashi, this question can be divided into two parts
For Moshe, the nation which deserved to be enslaved when he fled Mizraim, remains a nation of רשעים, of wicked people.
G-d’s answer to Moshe is already built into the image of the burning bush: G-d speaks to Moshe out of the fiery heart of the bush, but the fire does not spread outwards. Moshe is perplexed: Why does the bush remain intact and not get consumed by the fire?
Rav Soloveitchik: The bush represents the Jewish people, a nation with a warm fire burning inside. True, its external behavior has long hidden this inner flame. The outside of the bush is not consumed: the inner flame has not yet manifested itself. The Midrash hints at this when it cites G-d’s words:
Midrash Rabba: Moshe, you see one dimension, I (G-d) see another…
Rav Soloveitchik: Moshe, you simply perceive the externalities, the apparent wickedness of this people, but I see the internal flame. I am sending you to redeem this people; their merit may not be obvious now, but it will become apparent once they accept the Torah on this very mountain.
Over the centuries, Jews have often been at the forefront of major political and social movements. Jewish participation in these activities may not always strike a responsive chord in each of us, but engrained in the Jewish psyche over the ages is a sincere desire to “repair the world.” In contemporary Jewish life, authentic Jewish strivings also do not always express themselves in the most traditionally Jewish contexts. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we often write off our fellow Jews if we think they are too far gone, too secularized, too removed from Jewish life to claim a place in our community.
So Moshe’s conviction that the Israelites do not deserve to be redeemed – a view first expressed in his encounter with the two Israelites in Egypt – continued at the burning bush. His approach echoes the Hagadah’s declaration about the בן הרשע – the wicked son,
אילו היה שם לא היה נגאל
Were he to have been there, he would not have been redeemed.
It took G-d Himself to convince Moshe to tap into the פנימיות, the fire, burning in the heart of the bush.
Food for thought .... and a profound meditation for anyone questioning the value of Jewish outreach in the 21st century.
With sadness I share the news of the passing of Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l (not to be confused with YU RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Hershel Schachter yltv”a), beloved husband of Mrs. Penina (nee Gewirtz) Schacter, beloved father of my beloved teacher and mentor Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, beloved father of Dr. Miriam Schacter of Riverdale, beloved uncle of my colleague and friend Rabbi Gershon Gewirtz of the Young Israel of Brookline. Although Nissan is not a time period during which Hesped– eulogy is permitted, the Halakah exempts a great rabbi and/or teacher from this proscription. And although, as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik tz”l (whose 20th Yahrzeit will be observed this Chol HaMoed Pesach) taught, the purpose of a Hesped is partly to make us cry, my purpose with these reflections is to inspire and honor a life dedicated to the Jewish people.
Rabbi Herschel Schacter graduated Yeshiva University in 1938, and in 1941 became the first musmakh of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l at RIETS. He was also a student of the Rav’s father, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik zt”l. Rabbi Schacter was the former Director of Rabbinic Services at YU/RIETS, and the former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He was the Rabbi of the Mosholu Jewish Center for more than 5 decades. There was a very poignant article about the Mosholu Jewish Center’s last Shabbat (close of an era…) not too long ago in the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/22/nyregion/final-sabbath-for-spiritual-hub-synagogue-that-embodied-earlier-bronx-closed.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm For more of his communal and rabbinical achievements, I append below the New York Jewish Week Obituary for him that appeared today.
Although emphasis should be given to the community building, Jewish education and pastoral work he did as a rabbi for over five decades, these essential sacred activities remain primarily unseen and untold. Rabbi Schacter’s place in the history books stems from the role he played in the Shoah and its aftermath. During World War II, Rabbi Schacter was a chaplain in the Third Army's VIII Corps. and was the first US Army Chaplain to enter and participate in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 and later aided in the resettlement of displaced persons.
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel and current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, tells of Rabbi Schacter’s role in liberating him at Buchenwald. In his must-read inspiring memoir, Out of the Depth’s http://www.amazon.com/Out-Depths-Story-Buchenwald-Returned/dp/140278631X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363963616&sr=8-1&keywords=from+the+depth+lau, Rabbi Lau writes: "I remember the looks of horror on the faces of the American soldiers when they came in and stared around them. I was afraid when I saw them. I crept behind a pile of dead bodies and hid there, watching them warily…Rabbi Herschel Schacter was the Jewish chaplain of the division. I saw him get out of a jeep and stand there, staring at the corpses. He has often told this story, how he thought he saw a pair of living eyes looking out from among the dead. It made his hair stand on end, but slowly and cautiously he made his way around the pile, and then, he clearly remembers coming face-to-face with me, an eight-year-old boy, wide-eyed with terror. In heavily-accented American Yiddish, he asked me, 'How old are you, mein kind?' There were tears in his eyes. 'What difference does it make?' I answered, warily. 'I'm older than you, anyway.' "He smiled through his tears and said, 'Why do you think you're older than me?' "And I answered, 'Because you cry and laugh like a child. I haven't laughed in a long time, and I don't even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?'"
Here is an iconic picture of Rabbi Hershel Schacter leading a Shavuot Service at Buchenwald on May 18th, 1945.
Rabbi Schacter had previously led a Pesach Sheini Seder at Buchenwald on April 27th, 1945. In the Torah, Pesach Sheini is the holiday of second chances. The Pesach sacrificial observance for anyone who for reasons beyond their control could not participate in that year’s Passover. This was probably the first Pesach Sheini Seder since the time of the Beit HaMikdash. Could you imagine a Pesach Sheini Seder for liberated concentration camp victims?!
Shiku Smilovic, in his autobiographical memoir, "Buchenwald 56466," tells the following about that day http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/ce/cc/nf-camps-buchenwald-01.htm:
“All Jews were invited by Rabbi Schacter to attend services and to eat Matza, since it was Pesach Sheini that day. The second Pesach, for Jews that couldn't observe the holiday of Pesach at the proper date. Rabbi Schacter brought Matzos and distributed them to everyone. Rabbi Schacter started to deliver his sermon, when suddenly he was interrupted by a fellow prisoner. When he heard the Rabbi say, "We know what you have gone through" The man screamed and said: "No one, but no one, can dare say that he knows what we went through unless, he or she was there! Only they can say, I know what you went through!" He continued at the top of his voice with quotes from the Torah and other scriptures. He was no plain ordinary every day Jew. He spoke with authority. "Why did G-d forget about his children? And we were devastated, just because we are Jews?" he continued. "Before we make a blessing and eat this Matza. We want a Din Torah with the REBONEH SHEL OLAM (Hold Court with the All Mighty): Why? Why the little children? They didn't have a chance to sin yet? Why so many thousands of true dedicated Talmidei chachomim (Jewish learned men), that were sitting and learning JOMAM VLAJLA day and night? You can take your matzos back to America. I don't want them, as far as I am concerned. The rest of you: you are free! You can do what your heart desires!" Rabbi Schacter did not interrupt the man and he let him finish. He moved his fists towards his heart and said, "Chotosi Uvisi Pushati Lefonecha: Please, may I have your forgiveness?" The man raced up to the Rabbi and embraced him for a while. The rest of us just stood there in silence, and our tears did the talking. After that scene we all decided to have some Matzo anyway. We made the blessing of ACHILAT MATZOT in unison. I am sure that this blessing was heard in heaven, and all the Angels answered Amen.”
Shiku Smilovic also tells how after visiting Buchenwald post-liberation, General Eisenhower ordered that the men, woman, and children from the nearby city of Weimar, about 10km away, be forced to tour the liberated camp. “[After] being herded into Buchenwald through the main gates. They were then shown all the corpses and all the killing facilities in Buchenwald, some of them couldn’t take it any longer, some fainted, some of them were holding their hands over their eyes, but the G.I.s removed their hands and told them: "Look, look good and never forget what you have seen here today. Maybe you will be able to tell your children, and grandchildren, what your beloved Fuhrer Adolf did to mankind in the twentieth century. In your fatherland, and all over Europe." When the exhibition was completed, they were all assembled on the Apell Platz, where Rabbi Schacter, the Chaplain of the American first and second division of the liberation Army, spoke to the German population of Weimar from the top off a military truck. In his hand, Rabbi Shachter held a young Jewish boy who looked about 6 years old. He raised the child for everyone to see and with his great voice declared: "This child was your Fuhrer's greatest enemy! Can you imagine a greater enemy?" he asked. Their faces were stiff, frozen and ashamed, being part of this devastation. Rabbi Schacter continued and said, "This child will be a witness to your persecutions, and also a witness, that over one million Jewish children never made it."
That child was Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, the future Chief Rabbi of the Modern State of Israel!
I met Rabbi Herschel Schacter zt”l many times during my tenure as a rabbinic intern and then Assistant Rabbi to Rabbi J.J. Schacter at the Jewish Center in 1993-95. He was an exquisitely nice, soft-spoken, older Jewish man, a mostly-retired rabbi who took great-pride in his increasingly prominent rabbi son. I had heard some of his stories from him, from Rabbi J.J., and through the rabbinical grapevine. I remember him as being kind, gracious and complimentary to me. I remember thinking then, as now: He seems so kind, so nice, so normal. A consummate Zeide figure. But I also knew that he was a giant of a man, a “Bemakom she-‘ein Ish” type of mensch, and a rabbi of our time and for the ages. Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night: “Be not afraid of greatness: Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Rabbi Herschel Schacter’s greatness stemmed from all three sources.
May his living memory inspire all of us on this Pesach to find the greatness within ourselves and our community. May we, a people once enslaved, who walked with faith across the dry bed of the roiling Sea to Sinai, and then onward the Land of Promise, may we find within ourselves the courage and compassion, strength and determination, to rise above everydayness to a measure of greatness as modeled by Rabbi Herschel Schacter throughout his life.
May the Omnipresent comfort the extended Schacter family and all of Klal Yisrael with all those who mourn for Tzion and Yerushalayim
3/21/13 The New York Jewish Week, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, Chaplain At Buchenwald Liberation, Dies At 95http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/national-news/rabbi-herschel-schacter-chaplain-buchenwald-liberation-dies-95
Rabbi Herschel Schacter, a national Jewish leader and the only Jewish chaplain present at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, died Thursday at the age of 95. The first rabbi to be ordained by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the founder of Modern Orthodoxy, the resident of Riverdale led the Mosholu Jewish Center in the Bronx for more than 50 years and held leadership roles in numerous national Jewish organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which he chaired from 1967 to 1969. A statement from Richard Stone, chair, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference, described the rabbi as “an exemplary leader who often spoke of his `deep commitment to Jewish inclusiveness and unity.’” The rabbi’s son, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, university professor of Jewish history and Jewish thought and senior scholar at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, and daughter, Miriam Schacter, a psychotherapist, recalled: “Our father modeled for us the great importance of caring for other Jews and devoting one’s life and efforts to the Jewish people.” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, president of the Rabbinical Council of America, described the senior Rabbi Schacter as “a warm, friendly man and an orator’s orator, someone his colleagues would turn to [for guidance on] speeches and sermons.” While serving as a chaplain in the VIII Corps of the Third Army of the United States Armed Forces, Rabbi Schacter participated in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp and brought comfort to many survivors. He then led a UNRRA Kindertransport from Buchenwald to Switzerland after World War II. In 1956, he was a member of the first rabbinic delegation to the USSR, and he escorted a transport of Hungarian refugees from Austria to the U.S. His communal activities included president of the Mizrachi-Hapoel Hamizrachi; founding chairman of the American Jewish Conference on Soviet Jewry; chairman of the Chaplaincy Commission of the Jewish Welfare Board; and director of Rabbinic Services at Yeshiva University. In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by his wife, Pnina (nee Gewirtz, who he married in 1948), four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Rabbi Schacter should not be confused with Rabbii Hershel Schachter, who is Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshiva University's Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
Rabbi Benjamin J. Samuels
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Just click on this link - and you can see the sources for this Shabbat's class at 5:40 at EB
Two days ago, Pepsi released a commercial that has gone viral in a big way. On its first day, it had 2.95 million hits; By erev Shabbat, the number stood at 15 million...and as I write, the video has over 24 million views.
In the video, race car driver Jeff Gordon arrives at a used car lot somewhere in North Carolina, presenting himself as a simple guy looking for a used car. A series of hidden cameras, including in Gordon's eyeglasses, his Pepsi Max can mounted on the dashboard of the car, and elsewhere, film the ensuing spectacle. The victim? Unsuspecting used car salesman, Steve, who joins Gordon on a test drive in a 2009 Chevy Camaro. What ensues is a five minute terror trip, as the Camaro reaches breakneck speeds, salesman Steve curses Gordon - and hangs on for dear life! As they screech back to the dealership, Steve is furious and runs to call the police. Gordon reveals the prank: fake moustache and beard, cameras all around.... a 2013 version of "Smile- you're on Candid Camera!"
At the recommendation of my wife, I consulted Snopes.com and read of the many clues indicating that the entire event was staged. A stuntman, not Gordon, drove the vehicle and salesman Steve is an actor: Were Steve to have been a real salesman, he could have sued Pepsi for tens of millions of dollars!
A couple of days have passed since I first saw the commercial, and I've had some time to let things gel, so that I can present what I hope is a mature response.
Perashat Vayikra opens:
וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר
He called to Moshe - Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of the meeting
On this verse, the midrash says:
ד"א ויקרא אל משה וידבר ה' מיכן אמרו כל ת"ח שאין בו דעת נבלה טובה הימנו תדע לך שכן צא ולמד ממשה אבי החכמה אבי הנביאים שהוציא ישראל ממצרים ועל ידו נעשו כמה נסים במצרים ונוראות על ים סוף ועלה לשמי מרום והוריד תורה מן השמים ונתעסק במלאכת המשכן ולא נכנס לפני ולפנים עד שקרא לו שנאמר (ויקרא א) ויקרא אל משה וידבר להלן הוא אומר (שמות ג) וירא ה' כי סר לראות וגו' בסנה הפסיק אליו בין קריאה לדיבור באהל מועד אין כאן הפסקה בסנה
"He called to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him"...From here, the sages taught: "Any Torah Scholar who lacks wisdom, an animal carcass is better than him!" We can learn this from Moshe, the father of wisdom, the epitome of prophets, who took the Israelites out of Egypt, and through whom a number of miracles were wrought in Egypt along with wonders at the Red Sea; Though he rose up to the heavens and brought us down the Torah and was involved in the construction of the Tabernacle, he did not enter into the holy of Holies until Hashem called him.
The Midrash goes on to say that in the merit of Moshe's caution, Hashem spoke to him directly and consecutively from the Tent of the Meeting; this stands in contrast this to the manner in which Hashem spoke to him years earlier, at the burning bush, where communication was less direct.
What is the concept of a Torah Scholar who lacks wisdom? For the Torah scholar, what is wisdom but Torah knowledge ? How is a Torah scholar without wisdom worse than a carcass??
The answer, I think, lies in a commentary by Rabbi Yitzhak Hutner, the Pachad Yitzhak. Rabbi Hutner distinguishes between pure Torah knowledge - the intricacies, ins-and-outs of the minutae of halacha, vs. what he calls "elective acts" - mundane matters that a person faces on a daily basis not specifically governed by halacha. Following the Rambam, Rav Hutner notes that the extent to which mundane activities are subsumed under the rubric of "mitzvot" depends on the degree to which the individual chooses to imbue them with meaning by approaching them from a Torah perspective; the דעת referred to in the midrash is this second type of understanding: an intuitive sense the Torah's perspective on matters unlegislated by Jewish law.
Technically, it is possible, therefore, for a Talmid Hacham to lack דעת. Though he may have the entire corpus of Torah under his belt, this is no guarantee that this knowledge impacts on his life in general.
The meat of an animal that was killed or died on its own is halachically forbidden. Though its value is questionable, everyone would agree that the animal during its liftetime was worth something, a purposeful creation. A Talmid Hacham who lacks the faculty we have been describing, however, is completely worthless. Torah knowledge stripped of its ability to impact on our broader lives is absolutely pointless!*
Rambam, following our sages, points out that there are two crowns - Keter Malchut and Keter Kehuna - the crowns of kingship and of priesthood; these crowns are inaccessible to most Jews, since they are positions that one must be born into. Keter Torah, the crown of Torah scholarship, on the other hand, is open for all to access. True, the midrash speaks of a classic Talmid Hacham, but it is relevant for all who engage in Torah study. We must all make sure that our Torah learning impacts on our lives as a whole!
The Torah prohibits something called אונאת דברים, verbal abuse. If I give someone advice that's not in his best interests (especially if I have some self-interest in his decision) or remind a penitent of his past or a convert of the idolatrous deeds of his ancestors, I am guilty of verbal abuse.
Ya'akov Avinu, our forefather Jacob - after whom we are named - is encouraged by his mother Rivka to dress up like his brother Esav in order to acquire the birthright. His response? אולי ימשני אבי -"Maybe my father will feel me and discover that it's really me." The use of the word אולי - denotes a hopeful "maybe", says the Talmud. Even though it was for a right cause - guaranteeing the Jewish future - Ya'akov hoped against hope that he would be found out! So greatly did he detest שקר, deception....
Can the Jewish revulsion towards abuse and deception impact on the sphere of our "elective thought process?"
What should be our response to the Pepsi commercial? It depends on a frank answer to the following question: When we watch the commercial - and the camera hones in on the mortified "used car salesman", why are we laughing? Are we laughing out of nervousness, empathizing with the fear of the terrified passenger? Or is our laughter more sadistic? Do we identify with the perpetrator of the prank?
My guess is that the video's general appeal to the viewer is that we identify with Jeff Gordon; that explains the video's 24 million hits.
As heirs to the legacy of our father Jacob, the deception that frames this prank - real or staged - should be inherently repulsive to us. And if a mere harsh word is a Torah prohibition, we should distance ourselves from the torment - real or staged - that takes place in the film. The דעת that we should have as faithful students of Torah demands no less.
Responding in the spirit of our tradition is an indicator that we have allowed Jewish law to mold our personalities. If we have been successful in doing so, we will ultimately merit, as did Moshe Rabeinu, being summoned by Hashem, directly -- from the Tent of the Meeting!.
*Commentary of Artscroll Vayikra Rabba
My wife Miriam, Rubisa of Ezzy Bezzy, advised me (in the heat of my passion over the Gordon commercial) to look at Snopes.com, which I have done. "Snopes" attests to the fact that this commerical is fake: the car salesman was an actor, Gordon didn't do the stunts, but stuntman Brad Noffsinger did them; liability issues make it impossible for Pepsi to have really tried to pull it off. I was sensing something similar after writing the first blog post, figuring they must have paid the salesman millions of dollars not to file a lawsuit...
At the end of the day, I don't think it makes a difference if the salesman was real or an actor. Pepsi clearly wished to create the impression that it was a true practical joke. For that reason, I still consider the commerical an assault on our common humanity.
It's a reason NOT to purchase Pepsi products. In fact, as a protest against the basesness and cruelty of this practical joke, I urge all clear-thinking people to specifically boycott Pepsi products until there is a formal apology for this assault on our common humanity.
In the video, race-car driver Jeff Gordon dupes an unsuspecting used car salesman into thinking Gordon is a geek who does not know much about cars - only to take him on a five minute drive of terror; it has no doubt evoked laughs in the 2.95 million people who have already viewed the film on YouTube, but when the dust clears - we have to ask ourselves: what are we laughing at ?
At the discomfort and terror of the salesman? A laugh expressing our tension, as if we were the salesman ?
Or is our laugh instead a sadistic laugh of Gordon and the people at Pepsi who so cruelly abused this man during the prank?
Back in the 1960's, many of us remember Candid Camera. I submit to you that the difference between CC and the Pepsi prank is not just a difference in degree, but in kind.
See for yourself. First, the Pepsi prank, which I call "Cruelty Gone Viral", and then the Flying Phonebooth of CC of the early 1960's.
Last week saw a plague of locusts of Biblical proportions in Egypt and reaching as far as Israel. Locust enthusiasts were excited, a chance to eat the rare kosher species....This week's "Fundamentals" class will explore the issue of Kashrut of locusts from a number of perspectives. Join us after Kiddush in the midrash!