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19
Mar
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New Maccabeats - Les Miserables - Passover Story

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18
Mar
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From the Tent of the Meeting

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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.


usedcarIn 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

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14
Mar
0

Were We Duped, too?

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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.

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14
Mar
0

Cruelty Gone Viral

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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.

 

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13
Mar
0

Fundamentals Class to Explore the Kashrut of Locusts

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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!

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13
Mar
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Indepth Study of Hagadah this Shabbat Afternoon

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JOIN US THIS SHABBAT AFTERNOON AS WE DELVE INTO THE HAGADAH SHEL PESACH.  
BOTH MEMBERS OF EB AND OF THE BROADER COMMUNITY ARE INVITED TO COME AND LEARN IN EB'S FAST-PACED, INTERACTIVE FORMAT !

hgdh1

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01
Mar
0

Rambam Hilchot Leil Haseder 8 am Shabbat Morning in the EB Library

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Click on the link to see the PDF file of the Rambam:

rambamleilhaseder.pdf

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01
Mar
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"Fundamentals" to focus on Bedikat Hametz - Searching for Hametz

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To access the article that will the basis of this week's Fundamentals discussion, click on http://ravron.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/bedikat-hametz.pdf

Our session immediately follows the Kiddush in the EB foyer

See you there!

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27
Feb
0

Pre-Pesach Learning Starts This Week @ 4:10 pm

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27
Feb
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Jews for Judaism Seattle Shabbaton!

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21
Feb
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Collecting Matanot La'evyonim for Distribution this Sunday

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Please bring your donations for Matanot La'evyonim to Kehilla this afternoon at 5:10 pm or Saturday night at 7:15 pm at EB - thanks!

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15
Feb
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Hatikva Through the Prism of History

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aryeankriDr. Galit (Ankri) Eliahoo, a newcomer with her family to Seattle and Ezra Bessaroth, will be presenting a special mini-lecture in honor of the memory of her father, R. Arye Ankri, on the occasion of his first Meldatho.  You are invited to join us Wednesday evening at 7:30 pm, following Arvit, in the EB Social Hall to hear Galit share her research on "Hatikva Through the Prism of History" Light refreshments will be served.

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15
Feb
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Re-release of "Outside-Inside" - Last Year's Tribute To Hacham Behar

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hachambeharThis Shabbat, Teruma, is the annual Shabbat honoring Hacham David Behar. Here's a re-release of the Dvar Torah I wrote for the occasion:

This past Shabbat, I had the unique honor of delivering a drasha in honor of the late Hacham David J. Behar.  Each year, on Shabbat Perashat Terumah, the Behar family honors his first Shabbat in 1917 as Hazzan of Ezra Bessaroth.

The Torah describes the ark that carried the Tablets of the Covenant: It must be covered with gold on both the outside and the inside. According to the Gemara in Tractate Yomah, there were actually three pieces to the ark: an outer box; set into it was another box, and yet a third box.  The two boxes on either side are to be layered with gold while the inner box is made of wood.

Our sages understand the Aron (ark) homiletically: “Any Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside – תוכו כבורו – is not a true Torah scholar.”  The scholar is compared to the Aron, in that they are both repositories of Torah; just as the outside and the inside of the Aron are gold, so too,  the Torah scholar’s outer presentation must accurately reflect his inner qualities.

The normative understanding of this dictum is that a Torah scholar must be genuine: He should not put on airs and feign a high level of religiosity, when he is actually lacking spiritually.  The same goes for everyone one of us who professes a connection to Torah study and observance: we have to strive for authenticity.

The Talmud, Tractate Berachot, discusses the transition from the leadership of Rabban Gamliel to that of R. Elazar ben Azaria.  The former had a restrictive Bet Midrash (study hall) entrance policy: Only a student whose outside matched his inside would be allowed in; when R. Elazar took over, the Gemara reports, he removed the guard at the door, and Torah learning became more democratic.

Reading the principle as we have to date raises an obvious question: how did R. Gamliel know whose demeanor matched his inner self? How could he possibly be tuned into the degree to which a student was authentic or not?

Rabbi Aryeh Stechler suggests that the Talmudic principle we cited – תוכו כבורו – has a different meaning: Rather than requiring a person’s external appearance to match his inner essence, the imperative is to have your external actions impact on your internal ethical and spiritual development.  The Sefer Hachinuch is known for his theory that more than anything else, our actions impact on our thought processes and emotions; instead of “waiting” to be inspired, we should, says the Chinuch, avail ourselves of the power of mitzvot to impact on our growth.

Viewing תוכו כבורו this way, it is quite understandable how R. Gamliel would assess students: Those he detected were not going the extra mile in mitzvah performance, he sensed were not growth-oriented.  A lax attitude towards Jewish observance was, for R. Gamliel, a sign that the student was on the road to stagnation.

On the other hand, the ability of action to impact on one’s personal growth is no “quick fix”; change is not guaranteed. This is the symbolism of the wooden box, the possible impediments to this process.

I did not know Hacham Behar personally, but from all the anecdotes of his sons and grandchildren – and from Jewish commitment of those descendants,who ably led the Tefillah this past Shabbat - it’s clear that for Hacham Behar, תוכו כבורו was a guiding principle on both levels: He was a genuine, unpretentious man whose outside matched what was going on inside. He was also a “doer”, someone who understood that, at the end of the day, it’s action that cultivates the Torah personality.

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12
Feb
0

Purim: Seeing the Big Picture

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purimdrinkThe Purim story truly has something for everyone: costumes, treats and surprises for little children, a nail-biting story of suspense and intrigue, and for the more spiritually and intellectually-oriented crowd: profound lessons of irony and Divine Providence. 

That’s why it’s so surprising that one issue attracting so much attention is the mitzvah to imbibe alcohol. The practice traces its way back to the Talmud, where Rava apparently instructs us to drink wine until we do not know the difference between “Cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai.”

That’s like saying that a Jew should drink so much that he cannot differentiate between Ahmadinejad and the Chief Rabbi of Israel!

Many commentaries have noted that the follow-up to this directive – in which Raba becomes intoxicated, “stands up” and kills compatriot R. Zeira - illustrates the dangers of excessive drinking.  Within this view, one commentator suggests that Raba did not directly murder R. Zeira, but merely served up so many drinks that R. Zeira almost succumbed to alcohol poisoning; it was only Raba’s last-ditch fervent prayer vigil that rescued R. Zeira from a tragic demise!  In recent years, the Union of Orthodox Congregations (of which Ezra Bessaroth is a proud member) has warned parents and their teenagers to refrain from excessive indulgence.  Moreover, DUI is not just a violation of American law, it is a violation of Torah law.  Celebration is one thing – putting yours and others’ lives in danger, quite another.

One esoteric interpretation of the story suggests that during their feast, the two scholars indulged in deep mystical secrets, and Raba "stood up,” - rose to a higher level of understanding - and drew R. Zeira after him, sharing Raba’s mystical insights. R. Zeira, whose soul was more limited in its capacity to grasp such concepts, nearly died from the spiritual intensity of the encounter. This interpretation finds support in the names Raba, which means “large” or “great”, in contrast to “Zeira”, which means “tiny” or “small.” According to this view, the limited perspective of R. Zeira simply “couldn’t handle” Raba’s lesson!

At times, modern Jewish life seems to suffer from the Raba-R. Zeira tension. Two centuries ago, the enlightenment ushered in a new vision of what it meant to be Jewish; the Reform movement encouraged the abandonment of what it deemed to be ancient small-minded practices in favor of a broader vision. Put simply, Reform promoted a gradual sell-out of what was hitherto known as Mitzvot Ben Adam Lamakom – Mitzvot between Man and God: Kashrut, laws of family purity and other associated mitzvot were relegated to the dustbins of Jewish history. In the 1888 Pittsburgh Platform, for example, the Reform clergy asserted “that observance [of many of these early mitzvot] in our days is apt to obstruct rather than to further modern spiritual elevation.”

Eretz Yisrael, with Jerusalem at its center, also ended up on the editing-room floor of early Reform. It wasn’t until 1937, when its naïve position on Zionism was called into question by historical and political realities, that Reform backtracked.

As one Reform rabbi notes:
"...from the earliest days of Reform Judaism, back in the 19th Century, long before the Holocaust, anti-Zionism stemmed from an ideology that we may actually consider praiseworthy. The founders of Reform Judaism dreamed of a beautiful and all-encompassing redemption. For them, the mission of the Jewish people was to serve as God’s partners in tikkun olam, repairing a broken and troubled world, for all humanity. They were turned off by a narrow Messianic vision, focused on the Jewish people’s return to its homeland. Instead, they worked for the betterment of all humanity. In their minds, the Jewish people could best do God’s work by remaining dispersed throughout the world, laboring alongside men and women of every race and religion to make the entire Earth a better place.” (Rabbi Barry Block, Anti-Zionism in Early American Reform Judaism)

Seeing itself as the visionary “Raba” of Purim, Reform was determined to slaughter the parochial, insular, small-minded “R. Zeira”, the old world-Jewish perspective. Predictions –bordering on quasi-prophecies - abounded in the 1960’s – foretelling the death of Orthodox Jewish life in America. A smug brand of triumphalism developed: Raba would finally overcome R. Zeira, once and for all!' 

To be sure, parochial elements within the Torah-observant community abound; scholars throughout the Jewish world have documented these inward-looking trends in books, journals and in classes over the past couple of decades, and continue to critique these developments from within the Torah tradition. Yet the past few decades have also seen the increasing professionalization of Jewish education and outreach, with an ambitious mission to reframe the classical Torah tradition for the modern world. With scholars such as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik at the helm, the minutiae of halacha, of Jewish law, and the splendor of Jewish thought have been able to express their essence: Correctly articulated, the true “Raba” is none other than the resilient, eternal, Torah tradition of our past! Paradoxically, approaches within the Jewish world once thought to be leading the way towards broad new horizons, have begun to expose themselves as small-minded efforts to curry favor with popular opinion in both the general and Jewish community, in religion, ethics and politics.  

With Purim around the corner, it’s time to reflect on what it means to be Jewish, to identify which approaches best epitomize “Raba” in his struggle with “R. Zeira.”


Purim Alegre !
Rabbi Meyers

 

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11
Feb
0

Jews of Sephardic Origin Needed for Bone-Marrow Transplant

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Shalom from Israel.  

Our son, Guy Bar-Yosef, was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia this past April 2012.  He  underwent aggressive chemotherapy for 8 months, and now the doctors are saying that there is hope for recovery only if he receives a bone marrow (=stem cell) transplant from a matching donor.   We are turning to everyone and anyone who may be able to help.  

Because of Guy’s genetic lineage, we are specifically looking for donors with mixed genetic backgrounds, and hence this letter to your synagogue membership.  My husband Ami's parents were, respectively, of Moroccan and Lithuanian origin, and my parents hailed from Latvia (Baronovich, Russia, and nearby). (My father was a Conservative Rabbi - Morris Gordon from Washington, DC).  In Israel the organization which does tissue typing and matching is “Ezer Mizion”, and in the USA it’s “Be The Match” or “Gift of Life”.  Healthy donors are accepted into these international registries between the ages of 18-45.  Blood type does not matter.  There are not enough people of Sephardic origin in the international bone marrow donor registries.  This is a chance to save a life!

People in the USA can ask for a kit to do the test at home and mail it in.  All other developed countries have similar setups, and the Israeli hospital is conducting a worldwide search on our behalf.   The initial test is merely a saliva swab taken from inside the cheek.  It is painless and quick.  If someone is found to be a tissue match, he/she will be asked to come and donate blood on a given day, at the hospital in Tel Aviv.  The procedure is similar to donating blood.  No surgical procedure is involved. If the person is from abroad, his/her flight to Israel and all expenses will be paid. 

Another way to assist us at this time, is by a monetary donation, in any amount to "Ezer Mizion".  They claim that it costs them 250 NIS ($65) to process each test, and as they don't have the necessary budget, they seek donations to cover the costs.   The website is: https://www.ezermizion.org/Donate   (tax-deductible receipts will be issued).  There is a place to mention the name of the person in whose honor the donation is being made - in this case, Guy Bar-Yosef.  Tests take a few weeks to process.  Therefore, Time is of the essence. Anyone who has Facebook or other social network media, or who work or study in places where they can notify friends, colleagues, etc., is kindly asked to help spread the word.  We sincerely appreciate every and all effort made on Guy’s behalf.

Guy is a licensed tour guide in Israel, and works in Jewish education.  He has led many Jewish high school groups and Birthright groups, as his way of interacting with youth is special, and highly valued by various sponsors of  Jewish tour groups.  He is married, and the father of 5 young children who need him.  He deserves any help, and we are seeking every possible avenue.

Thanks so very much.   Arlene and Ami Bar-Yosef, Moshav Sittrya, Israel

Questions can be addressed to me at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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10
Feb
0

Ladies Bake Sale ON NOW

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07
Feb
0

"Crossing Delancey" Tickets Now On Sale

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The Seattle Jewish Theater Company will present Crossing Delancey on stage in the Ezra Bessaroth social hall at 3:00 p.m.on Sunday March 17.

The charming, romantic comedy was written by Susan Sandler for the New York Jewish theater where it was well-received. Sandler later adapted her stage play for the hit Warner Bros movie starring Amy Irving. The play has none of the racier scenes that appear in the movie and focuses on traditional Jewish values. It is a sweet, family drama that all ages can enjoy together.

The New York Times called the play, "An amusing romance that tells its story believably, rarely trying to make its gag lines, of which there are many, upstage its narration or outshine its heart." Isabelle “Izzy” is a single young Jewish woman working in an upscale Manhattan bookstore who longs to be part of the intellectual literary scene. But her old-world grandmother and a matchmaker are trying to fix her up with Sam, a quiet young man who runs a pickle store in the neighborhood. The conflict is resolved with a generous dose of humor, affection, and wisdom.

Crossing Delaney will be directed by SJTC founder and artistic director Art Feinglass who launched the company in 2011. “The mission of the Seattle Jewish Theater Company www.SeattleJewishTheater.com is to bring quality Jewish plays to the Seattle area. Crossing Delancey is a warm Jewish story with themes of love and family and the value of old-world tradition that are universal. It’s a very enjoyable play with a great cast. The audience is going to love it.” To buy tickets, contact Susan in the Ezra Bessaroth office at 206-722-5500 or go to our website and click on "Support EB", choose "Campaigns": http://ezrabessaroth.net/support-eb

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01
Feb
0

The Many Faces of Yitro

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yisroName-Calling

In the second chapter of Bereshit, Adam gave names to all the living creatures. Ramban comments:

והענין, כי הקב”ה הביא כל חית השדה וכל עוף השמים לפני אדם, והוא הכיר טבעם וקרא להם שמות, כלומר השם הראוי להם כפי טבעיהם

The Holy One, Blessed be he, brought every beast of the field and bird of the sky before Adam; he identified their essence and gave them their names – ie the name appropriate to them in accordance with  their nature…

In other words, for the Torah, names reflect essence.

Elusive Character

Speaking of names, Yitro, who appears briefly again in Perashat B’ha’alotcha – has multiple names: no less than seven, according to Rashi.

Since names reflect the essence of a person or being, the inquiring classical Jewish mind will want to ask: “What do the various versions of Yitro’s essence have to teach us?”

Religious Coercion

Flashback: In Moshe’s first encounter with him, Yitro is Kohen Midian – literally: the Priest of Midian.   A man of great influence, he imposes his religious views on others.

In fact, the Yalkut Shimoni states that Yitro only grants Moshe Tzippora’s hand in marriage once the Egyptian fugitive dedicates his firstborn to a life of idolatry. For the midrash, it is this commitment that triggers G-d’s “attempt” on Moshe’s life on the way to Egypt.

Only a quick-thinking, resourceful Tzippora rescues her husband from the spiritual and physical abyss: A last-second circumcision redirects Moshe and his family back onto a monotheistic track!

Fast-Forward….

.. to chapter 18 of Shemot, Parshat Yitro:   Moshe is the leader of B’nai Yisrael.   Ten plagues and a miraculous battle with Amalek later, Yitro now rethinks his beliefs:  As Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religious at MSU (Midian State University) the former cleric crowns the Creator, the “greatest of all gods!”

One of the glaring features of the perasha is not so much the wide array of names, but of descriptions used in reference to Yitro: (in the following order): Yitro, the Priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law ; Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law (x3);Moshe’s father-in-law (x2); Yitro (x2); Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law; Moshe’s father-in-law (x6).

A proverbial field day for Bible Critics!  In Perashat Bha’alotcha, yet another reference labels him as “Chovav ben Reu’el the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law.” Surely, the patchwork “four editor” theory can explain the inconsistency of the text!?

Look Again

Classical Jews, holding firm to the conviction that deep messages are embedded in an eternal Torah, will look to the context of these references to unravel the intent of its Divine author…

In other words…

Only once is Yitro labeled as Kohen Midian (Ch. 4)  That’s when we first meet him.  Moshe, fleeing from Egypt, is a foreigner while Yitro is in a ‘good place’ both religiously and professionally.

It is from this comfortable position that “Yitro, the Priest of Midian, Moshe’s father-in-law” begins to read the breaking news out of Mizraim.  With open eyes, he interprets the events of the day.   Distancing himself from his previous beliefs, he seeks to connect himself to Moshe; at this point,  he is now, “Yitro – Moshe’s father-in-law”.

Moshe reaches out to Yitro, now only referred to as Moshe’s “father-in-law”.   In fact, no less than six consecutive references at the end of the chapter use the term, “Moshe’s father-in-law”.

The Message

Consistent with the Mechilta’s declaration that, though Yitro “lived amidst the greatest honor of the world,  his heart prompted him to go forth to the desert wasteland to hear words of Torah” – the text leads us subliminally through the change in labels…. marking Yitro’s shifting values and self-perception.

With his new identity as “Moshe’s father-in-law”, he could have settled with passive membership in the community of Israel.  Instead, he draws on his intuition and talents to streamline the Jewish judicial system.  This is what earns him a perasha in his name.

More life lessons:

  •     Newly-adopted values must not remain theoretical, but need to express themselves practically
  •     Existing talents garnered from past experience should be channeled in creative and productive ways
  •     Altruistic, constructive criticism of the religious status quo does not threaten a society governed by Torah, it enhances it!

Two PS’s

PS #1

Earlier, we noted two mid-story references to Yitro by his personal name, stripped of both the titles “Kohen Midian” and “Moshe’s father-in-law”; the text is followed by a return to “Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law”, then by the six references to Yitro as simply “Moshe’s father-in-law”.

Why?

The answer may lie in another midrash cited by Rashi.  Upon hearing the details of the Exodus, including the demise of Pharoah and Amalek,  “Vayichad Yitro”.  This either means “Yitro rejoiced” – or “Yitro got goosebumps…”

Change comes hard, and he greets the graphic retelling of the events with a degree of ambivalence.  After all, these were his former neighbors and fellow idolators!

“Yitro” here hints that he is not yet fully comfortable with his new identity.  Only after Yitro fully digests the story, is he able to return to his identity as first -”Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law”, then, simply: “Moshe’s father-in-law”.

PS #2

Chovav ben Reu’el the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law.“  This is the name used in Perashat B’ha’alotcha.  Rashi teaches us that he was called Chovav because of his love for Torah.  The term “Chiba” in Hebrew means love…

Why, then, recall that he is the son of Re’uel the Midianite, then label him “Moshe’s father-in-law”?

A theory: Here we have a more sophisticated Yitro.  He is no longer giving technical advice; he’s someone who has spent time absorbing the sanctity of what it means to be part of the community of Israel.  What was once a fascination has now become incorporated into his very essence.   No mere outsider or consultant, he is a Jew who possesses Ahavat Torah, love of Torah.

He reflects on and appreciates his path towards religious growth: From the son of Re’uel the Midianite to the father-in-law of Moshe, he matures into a “Chovav”..

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Manti Te'o and the Plague of Darkness

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One of the most prominent stories of this past week here in the U.S. is the story of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o.  He is at center of a bizarre story involving a woman that he met online, who supposedly died in the fall of Leukemia.  This past season, Te’o dedicated his games to her recovery, and then sadly, to her memory.

Some say that Te’o was the victim of an elaborate hoax, while others suggest that he fabricated this relationship and death as a way of evoking support from Heisman Trophy judges.  According to the official version of the story, supported by the Notre Dame administration, Te'o never met the woman, the relationship relegated to “Tweets” and phone conversations.

Texas Christian University Prof. Sage Elwell observed that "relationships that solely exist online often times allow someone to overlook red flags, or character flaws, that may only become evident in face-to-face interaction." Elwell added that, ".... if you don't meet face-to-face at some point, it's hard to know if the relationship is a healthy, or real, one."

!

With the Te’o debacle once again raising the issue of the "the Dark side" of social media.. other related incidents come to mind: Recently, a Connecticut man hijacked a woman's Facebook and e-mail accounts and demanded compromising photos of her as ransom.

Here’s another story from this fall’s devastating Hurricane Sandy:

Shashank Tripathi's resignation from Republican Christopher Wight's campaign will take effect immediately . Wight is running in New York's 12th congressional district for U.S. House.

Buzzfeed first identified Tripathi as the man behind the @ComfortablySmug twitter handle. He tweeted a number of false reports during Sandy, including that the New York Stock Exchange was flooded and that utility company ConEdison was preemptively shutting down power in all of Manhattan.

Tripathi later apologized to the people of New York, but the panic that he generated by his "tweets" had already done its damage.

The sinister side of social media.  (In Tripathi's case, the Conn Edison tweet even claimed that Manhattan would literally be plunged into total darkness!)

These stories got me thinking of a possible connection between the dark use of social media and the plague of חושך, of darkness, in this week's Perasha, Bo.

Bo features the last three plagues wrought on Egypt, including locusts, darkness, and the smiting of the Egyptian first-born.

Rav Ze`ev Friedman (cited in an article by Goldie Guy) suggests that the Egyptians' continued blindness to G-d's dominion over the world - exemplified by Pharaoh`s saying: “Who is G-d that I might heed his voice?” – lead to the physical blindness of the plague of darkness.  Mida k'neged Mida - Measure for measure: blindness begets blindness.

In one internet article dealing with anonymity in the use of social media, the author writes:

...use of social media can go over the proverbial line and become vicious attacks. This is especially true with anonymous or pseudonymous speakers. Identifying anonymous or pseudonymous social media users who act with malice or ill will is not easy.

In an article about the Te’o hoax, the Columbus Dispatch writes,

People can create fake personas fairly easily, said private investigator Dean Boerger of Boerger Investigative Services in Grandview Heights.

“There are ways, easy ways, to cloak yourself and be someone you’re not,” he said.

People can steal photos from another person’s legitimate Facebook page, take on a pseudonym and create a fake phone number on Google Voice, Boerger said.

The perpetrators of the Manti Te'o hoax, the facebook account highjacker, and the Congressional campaign manager whose secret tweets generated hysteria in Gotham City, thrive on the "cover" provided by their social media platforms.

Midrash Hagadol cites this verse in Sefer Yeshaya in reference to the Egyptians:

הוי המעמיקים מיהוה לסתר עצה והיה במחשׁך מעשׂיהם ויאמרו מי ראנו ומי יודענו

Woe is to them that seek to hide their counsel from Hashem, and all their actions are in the dark, saying ‘Who sees us and Who knows’?

This midrash makes the direct connection that we referred to above – the Egyptians’ perceived lack of accountability, the brushing aside of G-d as the watchful eye – in the language of Pirkei Avot – triggered the plague of darkness as more of a consequence than a punishment.

לפיכך לוקין בחושך שנאמר יהי דרכם חשך וחלקלקות

Therefore, they are smitten with darkness, as it says (Tehilim) “Let their paths be darkness and slipping”.

Back in Egypt, another midrash recounts how the Israelites, visiting their Egyptian neighbors during the plague of darkness,  were accompanied by light that would literally follow them into the Egyptian homes and leave with them upon their departure.

כשהיה ישראל בא אצל מצרי לשאול ממנו היה בא האור עמו וכשהיה יוצא היה האור יוצא עמו

The midrash goes on to say that the Israelites on the other hand, had light in their homes because they are involved in Torah and mitzvot, regarding which it says

כי נר מצוה ותורה אור

Because a mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light.

Now, at that time – in Egypt – there were no overt mitzvoth being practiced by the Israelites, since the Egyptian exile of course preceded the giving of the Torah.

Instead, I would like to understand the midrash as referring to the character of our lives both at the time of the Egyptian exile and for generations to come. We Jews are preoccupied with light.  Rooted in our belief that there is no such thing as absolute anonymity – Hashem observes all of actions – we know that each of our actions is intrinsically significant , and that we are accountable for them.

As Jews living in the modern world, we do not believe that the Torah requires us to insulate ourselves from secular knowledge or modern technological developments.  Just the opposite, a Torah agenda for the world bids us to confront the latest developments and channel them in a kosher fashion, seeing them as tools to further the Torah agenda.  The Jew walks around carrying the enlightened perspective of accountability, of a sense that there is no ultimate anonymity. It is this firm belief that generates a consistent commitment to Torah and mitzvot, to a modern Jewish society that utilizes the latest technologies in ways that create meaningful connections and support causes that benefit the world.

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14
Jan
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Reviews of Art Benjamin

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ARTBWhat Others Say About Dr. Benjamin

"He talks like a performer, acts like a magician, and multiplies faster than a calculator."
--- The Los Angeles Times.

"Someone you can count on!"
--- People Magazine

"This is fun!"
--- Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, Comedy Central, 2010

"Thanks again for presenting at the Amazon event. The feedback I received was amazing; everyone loved your show. It was *perfect* for the team there assembled. Now my big challenge is how do I even come close to something like that for next year?"
--- Colin Bodell, Senior Vice President, Amazon.com, 2010

"Your gift for mental calculation is truly astounding. The technology, risk management and compliance professionals who attended the Summit were completely captivated by your presentation, and we appreciate the excitement that you brought to our event. You had the complete attention of everyone in the room throughout your entire presentation, and your feats of mind were a major point of discussion for the remainder of the Summit. You inspired us all to use our brains a little bit more, and we will never forget your incredible show."
--- Alex Bender, Vice President of Marketing, Archer Technologies, 2008

"It was great. I only heard positive comments from everyone. Thanks!"
--- Mindy Harris, President, NAGDCA (National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators), 2008

"Doctor Benjamin's presentation ranks among the very best. He is able to entertain, motivate, stimulate, and educate simultaneously, a rare ability that helps to bring the joy of math and science into the lives of his audiences."
--- Dr. Steven Murov, Director, Modesto Area Partners in Science

"Parents, teachers, and children, with multiple layers of math phobia, related easily to your imaginative style of storytelling and theater that brings math to a 'Wow!' level."
--- Sarah Orleans, Director of Programs, The Franklin Institute Science Program

"Dr. Arthur Benjamin made two presentations at Millersville University as part of the 21st annual Brossman Science Lectureship. The audience for the afternoon presentation consisted of 5th through 9th graders. The audience for the evening performance consisted of children through adults including university students and faculty. There was standing room only for both presentations (750 each). These were the largest crowds to ever attend the Science Lectureship. Dr. Benjamin appealed to all ages. His presentations were energetic and humorous as well as being informative. He had people excited about mathematics. One teacher stated: 'Dr. Benjamin was a fantastic lecturer and truly inspiring to the students.'"
--- Dr. Lyman Rickard, Millersville University

"Your presentation at BMS was thoroughly enjoyed by both the students and the faculty. You were phenomenal! You have such a great way of getting kids thinking and enjoying math!! We look forward to having you back in the future."
--- Christy Romano, Enrichment Coordinator, Bow Memorial School

"Arthur Benjamin, the `mathemagician,' wowed the crowd with his demonstration of lightning calculation. It's hard to believe that watching someone do math would be entertaining, but Arthur is a knockout."
--- Magic Magazine, November 2007

"That was one of the most incredible finishing acts we've ever had!"
--- Carmie Henry, Vice President, Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, 2008

"Arthur Benjamin and his human calculator act is one of the most exciting, entertaining acts imaginable."
--- Academy of Magical Arts Newsletter, January 2010

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