The EB Discretionary Fund has been making an impact both within our community and on Jewish communities elsewhere in the world. Recently, we had the opportunity to offer a modest donation to the
Comunidad Hebrea "Adath Israel" de Cuba. Today I received this email:
Dear Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers :
We are very grateful for the help that we received from you. The economic situation in Cuba is everyday worse and we try to give everyday breakfast, lunch and snack free for all the people. The best food that they get is what they eat here. Every thing that you can bring is important and we know that we are not alone in the world we have our brother in the entire world.
We are very grateful and we hope to see you in Cuba.
Yacob Berezniak H.
Dear Members and Friends of EB,
By now, you have surely heard about the terrible tragedy that struck a Jewish family in New York this past Shabbat. The Sassoon family of Brooklyn, who had just moved to the United States from Israel a year ago, lost seven of their eight children in a horrible fire that began in their kitchen with a Shabbat hotplate. The tragedy is unfathomable and it personally took me two days to begin to digest what has befallen the family. I was so numbed by the tragedy, I could not even begin writing this letter.
Aside from grieving alongside the parents and remaining daughter - identifying with the trauma of the family, it is incumbent upon us to learn some lessons from the incident and apply those lessons in our own lives. It is in that spirit that I write you today.
As we approach Passover, the issue of how to both run our kitchens in keeping with halacha and custom - and ensuring the safety of our families - demands our attention.
Let me restate the obvious: Pikuah Nefesh - the saving of a life - pushes aside the restrictions of both Yom Tov and Shabbat! Even a possible danger to life - "safek pikuah nefesh" - overrides the prohibitions of Shabbat and Yom Tov. Anything that must be done to save a person from danger is not only permissible to do, but is an unequivocal mitzvah to do!
That said, not every situation is considered a danger that pushes off Shabbat and Yom Tov; for less urgent situations, like a sprained ankle, or an upset stomach, there are different guidelines. Feel free to contact me for advice in such situations. Those who end up traveling on Shabbat or a Yom Tov to a hospital or clinic should also be aware of proper procedure once the urgent situation has been dealt with; I am also available to discuss these situations at your convenience.
A colleague of mine sent a list of recommendations out to his congregation. I have reprinted his recommendations following this letter.
Wishing you a Pesah Alegre and a Happy and Kosher Passover!
A partial list of recommendations by Rabbi Akiva Males
1) Each floor of our homes should have at least one smoke detector
2) Each home should have at least one carbon monoxide (CO) detector near the sleeping areas (please ensure all smoke / CO detectors are in working condition)
3) The batteries in those detectors should be tested / replaced whenever the clock is changed
4) Every home should have a simple-to-use and highly accessible fire extinguisher on each floor
5) Create and familiarize your family with a fire emergency plan
6) Shabbat / Yom Tov candles should be lit in a safe place (i.e. on a sturdy and non-flammable surface, away from curtains, out of reach of children / pets, etc.)
7) If gas stoves / ovens are left on, a kitchen window needs to be left open a few inches to provide ventilation (thereby avoiding potential CO poisoning)
8) Electrical appliances (i.e. hot water heaters, crock pots, hot plates, etc.) should be UL listed
9) Extension cords should not be used for kitchen appliances
10) Only 'heavy-duty' electrical timers should be used with kitchen appliances
11) In all emergencies, do not hesitate to call 911
Rabbinical Council of America Expresses Alarm at
Rhetoric Surrounding of US-Israel Relations
The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest organization of orthodox rabbis in North America, expresses alarm at the excessive criticism leveled at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for comments made in the closing days of the Israeli election.
While we commend the United States administration for its assurances of unwavering support for the security of Israel, we call upon it to desist from statements that are perceived as threats to the only democracy in the Middle East. Support of Israel is built on the rock solid foundation of our shared values of democracy and freedom. Israel is the only country in the region that preserves these values. In this election, Arabs voted freely and the chairman of the elections committee was the Arab Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran. The elections were not followed by violence and bloodshed, as other so-called "democratic" elections in the region have been. The United States and Israel share the values of western democracies, societies built upon open education, open opportunity, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression.
In the heat of a hard fought campaign, comments without context and explanation, were made by Prime Minister Netanyahu. In light of the context of these comments and their intent, excessive criticism of Mr. Netanyahu for these comments from Jewish groups is sorely misplaced. There are those who would have preferred different results. Democracy, however, grants privilege to the voters, who saw national survival as the most important election issue. Israel remains committed to a peaceful solution with its neighbors, arrived at by negotiation, and not imposed from without. Israelis will beat a quick path to the negotiating table when there is a partner with whom to negotiate, rather than a terrorist government in Gaza, and a weak, corrupt one in the Palestinian Authority whose imams call for the annihilation of all Jews.
We call on all Americans to renew their commitment to Israel, a commitment rooted in the prophetic visions of our Bible, visions of justice, kindness, peace and the dignity of all people. American support of Israel is predicated on our shared visions, a support that rises above occasional differences.
I would like to dedicate this devar Torah in memory of my mother, Simcha bat Victoria Varon
I would like to thank Chabad.org, Torah.org, and 70 Faces .com
Today is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, not only the first day of the month, but also the first month of the year. As Jews we take the concept of time very seriously, our Torah begins with the words “In the beginning…” and while studying the Talmud one traditionally starts with the question: “From what time may one recite the evening Shema?” So it perhaps should not be surprising that the first commandment given to the Nation of Israel was to create a calendar based on the cycles of the moon, and to sanctify the moon “And G-d said to Moses… in the land of Egypt… this month is for you, the head of the months. First it is for you among the months of the year (Shemot 12:1-2)
The process of sanctifying the new moon was a complicated one. Only a Beit Din composed of judges who are linked, student to teacher, directly to Moshe are permitted to sanctify the month. Those who have witnessed the new moon and come to the court to share their knowledge have to endure a thorough examination by the judges. The laws are complex and detailed, so why is this so important?
Sefer HaChinuch states that if it were not for the fact that we are assured that the months of the year occur at their proper time, the calendar would be in a constant state of flux. This would create many problems. For example we know that Passover is supposed to be in the spring and Sukkot is to be in the fall. If the months were not carefully calculated and an extra month not added when needed, the holidays would not occur in their proper time, and therein lies the importance of this commandment.
The Rambam echoes this reasoning. He explains that the sanctification of the new month is the foundation for all the holy days of the year. As I mentioned, if not for the proper reckoning of the months, all of the holidays would fall out in the improper seasons. We would then not have the holidays, their holiness, and their accompanying commandments, which would be a huge loss for Beni Israel. Therefore, in order to maintain the integrity of the calendar, and in some respects, our “religion”, we were given this commandment, the sanctifying of the new month, before any other commandment.
The Medrash, when speaking about this commandment, tells us that all who bless the new month in its proper time, it is as if they have seen the Holy Countenance of G-d. The Medrash learns this from a connection between the distinctive use of the word “this” in two places: the commandment about the sanctification of the new moon “THIS is to you…” and the praise of Hashem by the nation of Israel after the splitting of the Red Sea- “THIS is my G-d and I will glorify Him”. The Ksav Sofer explains why the blessing of the new moon is analogous to “seeing” Hashem. He explains that there are those who deny the divine providence of G-d by saying that the only time that G-d had input into the world was when he created the world, and that since then, it has been running on “cruise control” and continues to exist only according to “nature” without any divine direction. We believe that Hashem’s providence is with us daily and see Hashem’s hand in all we do and see around us. And what event in history is the most striking proof, and made it clear to all who witnessed it that indeed Hashem controls all aspects of the physical world, but the splitting of the Red Sea. By blessing the new month, we are acknowledging that it is because He is the one who causes the renewal of the new month and that all is under Hashem’s control. The meaning of the Medrash is now clearer. All who bless the new moon, and therefore indicate that they believe in the providence of G-d, and stand before Him always as if they were pointing and saying “This is my G-d!,” because of the closeness of the relationship that exist between G-d and man, it is as if they have seen the holy countenance of G-d.
The following was written by Rabbi Pini Dunner, of the Beverly Hills Synagogue. He has given permission for his words to be disseminated:
The controversy over Binyamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress on the threat from Iran has been raging for weeks. On the face of it those who oppose his appearance on Capitol Hill seem to have some very valid arguments. In the first instance, everyone in Congress is already fully aware of the threat from Iran. Secondly, the United States and others are currently in the middle of tense and delicate negotiations with Iran – the speech therefore seems, at best, to be imprudently timed – or, at worst, well timed, if the intention is to ruin the talks. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, bipartisan support for Israel in Congress has endured for decades – why would Netanyahu be so reckless and irresponsible as to endanger this unanimous support just to give a speech?
On February 4th, British historian Sir Martin Gilbert died at the age of 78. I remember this gentle man well from my years at University College London, where he taught us a course on the history of the Holocaust. Although his contribution to Holocaust history was broad and deep, his greatest contribution to historical literature was certainly as Winston Churchill’s biographer. His incisive insights into Churchill’s personality and political genius are a testament to his prodigious research and profound understanding of his subject.
The curious thing about Winston Churchill is that our view of him is completely dominated by the focus in popular culture on his wartime leadership. It is therefore generally unknown that in 1929, after falling out with his party over British policy in India, Churchill commenced a decade of political obscurity that to even his greatest admirers appeared to represent a slow but inevitable disappearance from meaningful public life. Sir Martin wrote a book about this period that he called ‘The Wilderness Years.’
During those dreadful years Churchill decried the decline in British spending on the military, and he also repeatedly pointed out the growing threat from Hitler’s Germany. Everybody heard him, but no one was listening. Appeasement and isolationism dominated foreign policy, and Churchill’s prescient speeches and brilliantly written articles were dismissed as the rantings of an irrelevant has-been. But this only spurred him on. “Those Germans are not looking for equal status,” he told the House of Commons in 1933, “they are looking for weapons.” In 1934 he shocked his political colleagues by revealing the true extent of German military production, after foreign office friends fed him secret information. Rather than take him seriously, however, and address the threat posed by Germany, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin quipped: “the real danger to [Great Britain] is Winston - he is the warmonger, not Hitler.”
Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful thing. Winston Churchill’s warnings are now seen only through the lens of his elevation to the leadership of Great Britain in 1940, and his incredible success as the man who took on and eventually beat the unbeatable Nazi war machine. But what was he thinking in the 1930s as he watched his political career disintegrate ever more with each speech he gave to the House of Commons? His detractors scoffed and derided him as they watched this once great political figure defy the popular political trend and talk about containment, and military action, in an era of conciliation and diplomacy. Churchill was no fool. He knew his message was falling on deaf ears, but he kept going. Why?
In Terumah we are informed for the first time about the Mishkan, the wilderness sanctuary, and how it was to be built. Each piece was constructed in such a way that it could be deconstructed for transportation purposes – except for the poles that held up the Ark of the Covenant: בְטַבְעֹת הָאָרֹן יִהְיוּ הַבַדִים לֹא יָסֻרוּ מִמֶנּוּ - ‘the poles should remain in the rings of the Ark, they may never be removed.’ Ralbag explains that the Ark needed to demonstrate the completeness of the Torah, as it contained the Luchot. Even if everything else could come apart, the Ark could not, to show that the Torah can never be deconstructed. But the Ralbag’s suggestion seems ridiculous. Surely the generation that had encountered the Almighty at Mount Sinai would never question the integrity of the Torah? And if one of them did, why would this non-removal of the poles make the slightest difference?
Rabbi Alter Henoch Leibowitz z”l explains that keeping the Ark intact was decreed by G-d to confirm that which the Jews already knew, but for one reason or another was proving difficult to hold onto in their hearts. The faithful need to be reinforced, particularly when their faith is being challenged, and their world is falling apart. At such a time, seeing the Ark unchanged, unyielding, and undiminished, would reinvigorate the belief they already had, and give them the strength to go on.
Winston Churchill had no way of knowing that he would one day be Prime Minister of Great Britain, much less that he would spearhead the war against Hitler and his evil cohorts. But even though logic militated against this outcome, he knew with great clarity that his understanding of the dangers posed by fascism and expansionism needed to be heard by those who shared his views, but whose spirit was weakened by the appeasement zeitgeist. They needed to see the Ark of the Covenant unchanged, unyielding and undiminished, if there was to be any hope that Hitler would one day be vanquished.
For this same reason Netanyahu must stride into Congress with confidence and conviction, and tell the world what they all already know – that Iran is intent on becoming a nuclear power. Not because he will convince the appeasers, but because he needs to reenergize the spirits of those who are his fellow travelers, but who have all but given up hope in the face of those who insist on placing the world in grave danger, on the basis of skewed foreign policy and diplomatic incompetence. Let us listen to Prime Minister Netanyahu speak to Congress with pride, in the knowledge that when the time comes, he will be acknowledged as the person who, to his own detriment, called it out loud and clear long before anyone else, and who understands best how to deal with Iran’s evil regime.
כח כָּל-אֵלֶּה שִׁבְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר; וְזֹאת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר לָהֶם אֲבִיהֶם, וַיְבָרֶךְ אוֹתָם--אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם
49:28 All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them. He gave each one his own blessing.
Sefer Bereishit concludes with Ya’akov’s blessings to his sons. The expression אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר כְּבִרְכָתוֹ, בֵּרַךְ אֹתָם, loosely translated as “He gave each one his own blessing” seems redundant; after all, the Torah had just exhaustively recorded the details of each of the blessings. What new information are we to garner by the additional words?
The Ohr HaHayim HaKadosh explains:
אשר כברכתו. פי' הראוי לו כפי בחינת נשמתו וכפי מעשיו, כי יש לך לדעת כי הנפשות כל אחת יש לה בחינת המעלה יש שמעלתה כהונה ויש מלכות ויש כתר תורה ויש גבורה ויש עושר ויש הצלחה, ונתכוין יעקב בנבואה לברך כל אחד כפי ברכתו הראוי לה המלך במלכות והכהן בכהונה וכן על זה הדרך ולא הפך המסילות
Each according to his blessing: That is, the blessing that was fit for him according to his specific spiritual make-up and his actions. You should know that souls each have their own special quality: there are some whose level is Kehuna/priesthood, others who are characterized by Malchut/kingship; those with Keter Torah/Torah knowledge…those oriented towards courage, wealth…Ya’akov had in mind in his prophetic state to bless each one according to the blessing fit for him…and not according to an opposite path…All too often, we commit ourselves to a sweeping vision of what our children must achieve. Though it comes from a good place – there are certain behaviors, academic and religious standards which, as parents and grandparents, we feel it’s our obligation to transmit to our kids….. In our zeal to be role models and educate those entrusted to us, we sometimes overlook the unique qualities of each child. We end up trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and thereby unwittingly deny the child the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. In the words of the Ohr HaHayim, we should make it possible for a child to tap into the blessing that was fit for him according to his specific spiritual make-up.
The same is true of community. The verse in Tehilm 136 says, “He sliced Yam Suf into segments, His kindness endures forever.”The midrash explains that Hashem carved out twelve unique paths in the sea through which the Jewish people were to travel on their way to their redemption from Egyptian slavery. The message is clear: to be redeemed as a collective, it would have been sufficient to forge one path in the midst of the sea; after all, isn’t this narrative all about being saved from the clutches of Pharoah and his army- from being killed or relegated to continued slavery? Apparently, though, such a plan would not have engendered a complete liberation from Mizraim. The root word for Egypt in Hebrew is the word מצר, connoting restriction and limitation. Geula, redemption, to be ultimately meaningful and sustainable, had to address both the needs of the collective and the needs of the specific tribes that together form our people. Traversing Yam Suf had to both be physically and spiritually redemptive.
The same midrash continues: though “sea-walls” separated the respective paths, those walls were transparent; each tribe saw that his fellow tribe, too, had a legitimate path through the sea on the road to redemption.
Over the last several years, it’s clear that our community is moving in a similar direction. Within the larger framework of a Torah-based life, various initiatives have begun that give expression to the orientation of respective members of our community. It’s our duty to respect these differences and not, G-d forbid, feel threatened by them. Lest anyone think that encouraging others to follow their own spiritual path within Torah is a threat to the כלל, to the community, the Ohr HaHayim’s closing words provide guidance:ברך אותם וגו'. אמר "אותם" לשון רבים להיות כי ברכת כל אחד ואחד תועיל לעצמו ולכל אחיו -Â He blessed THEM…it says “them” in the plural, because the blessing to each one will benefit not only himself, but also his brothers….
The American Cancer Society needs drivers! Amy Dzisenu, a representative of the King County branch, notes that getting to and from cancer treatments is one of the toughest challenges that cancer patients face. If you are interested in doing some wonderful Gemilut Hasadim work, you can call the Society at 1 800 227 2345 to get involved.
(Published in this week's Vaad newsletter)
This has been a very tough week for the Jewish people. With the images and reports that came to us almost instantaneously from across the world, we experienced the horrific events in Har Nof in "real time." Many of us here in Seattle even have close personal connections with the victims and their families....Unfathomable, the barbarism - the cruelty!
No doubt, serious questions arise in the minds of many of us. Yitzhak, unable to see, is confused:
הַקֹּל קוֹל יַעֲקֹב וְהַיָּדַיִם יְדֵי עֵשָׂו
The voice is the voice of Ya'akov and the hands are the hands of Esav.
Our sages declare: "When the voice (of the Jewish people) is the voice of Ya'akov in the synagogues and Batei Midrash, then the hands are not the hands of Esav."Seemingly, a promise that the more we Jews commit ourselves to Torah and Tefilah, we will not fall victim to the violent actions of our enemies…..
And yet Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Kalman Levine, Rabbi Aryeh Kopinsky, and Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg -- devout Jews, true Torah scholars -- engaged in those very activities of Torah study and fervent prayer, enwrapped in their tefilin and talitot, the sweet song of Jacob on their lips – are butchered by loathsome terrorists!No words can do justice to the deep sadness we feel for the families left behind , and the victims, who died al Kiddush Hashem.
At a time when it would be natural and fully understandable to become self-absorbed, the widows and their families sent the following message to Jews around the world. It reads, in part:
"Our hearts are broken and melting amidst tears over the spilling of the blood of the martyred heads of our families…..
"We turn to you, our fellow Jewish brethren wherever you may be! Let us all unite in order that we receive Hashem's mercy. Let us take upon ourselves to increase love and brotherhood between people, communities, and diverse groups.
"We implore each person to take upon himself at the onset of Shabbat, to sanctify this Holy Shabbat, Parshat Toldot (the eve of the Rosh Chodesh Kislev), to make this Shabbat a day of unconditional love - a day of refraining from divisiveness and arguments, gossip and tale-bearing. This act will bring about a great elevation of our husbands' souls, slaughtered in sanctification of God's Name, may He be blessed.
Signed with a broken and crushed heart:
Chayah Levine and family
Breina Goldberg and family
Yaakovah Kupinsky and family
Bashi Twersky and family
Disbelief, denial, fury, calls for unbridled revenge?
Just the opposite: these families radiate deep faith, acceptance of their harsh personal reality...and immediately issue a call for Jewish unity!
Their piety recalls the words of Rachel Frenkel, mother of Naftali, who declared before Rosh Hashanah, "We went out searching for the boys and we discovered ourselves…We had days and days of lightning. . . . [W]e saw about ourselves that we are part of something huge, a people, a true family. That’s for real.”
As Jews living outside of Israel, we continue to unconditionally support the Israeli government's efforts to tighten security, foil terrorist plots, and prevent atrocities.
But equally important as our show of political support is that we derive lessons from the faith and inner strength of the victims' families. We owe it to them, and we owe it to ourselves - to heed their call for a recommitment to Jewish unity and all that entails, here in Seattle and beyond.
Here's the link to see the trailer:
Join Ezra Bessaroth and a number of great community institutions for "Body and Soul". Body and Soul – The State of the Jewish Nation presents a comprehensive examination of the broad and deep connections between the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. World-renowned historians, archaeologists, political scientists, religious leaders, and international law and media experts trace the evocative evolution of the relationship between the Jewish People and their homeland that is over 3,000 years old.
"Jewish identity is born in a journey to the Land of Israel", declares Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom. That journey moves through the First and Second Temple periods and the Middle Ages, then to modernity, where the development of political Zionism catalyzed the blossoming of a new Jewish spirit. That renewal of Jewish spirit resulted in the rebirth of Jewish sovereignty in the Land, an event that Harvard University Professor Ruth Wisse declares "a miracle of truly Biblical proportions."
This powerful documentary, produced and directed by award-winning Gloria Z. Greenfield, conveys eloquent messages of determination, focus, and calls to action.
Registration is free and donations are always accepted. Register by clicking here:Â http://www.eventbrite.com/e/seattle-premiere-body-and-soul-the-state-of-the-jewish-nation-tickets-14405512275?aff=efbnen
RCA Announces Committee To Review Conversion Process
Committee Reflects Cross Section of Community, Including Women and Men, Converts, Mental Health Professionals, Rabbis and Other Professionals
Oct 29, 2014 -- The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) today announced the members of a committee that will review its current Geirus Protocol and Standards (GPS) conversion process and suggest safeguards against possible abuses. The RCA committed to forming this committee following the recent arrest of Rabbi Barry Freundel, of Washington, DC, which brought to light the need for a thorough review of GPS to identify changes that will ensure a more effective and appropriate conversion process.
Rabbi Leonard Matanky, President of the RCA, named the following individuals to the committee:
Mrs. Evelyn Fruchter, a convert to Judaism and an attorney specializing in litigation;
Rabbi Shmuel Goldin (chair), Honorary President of the RCA and Rabbi of Ahavath Torah, Englewood, NJ;
Mrs. Abby Lerner, educator and teacher of family purity laws;
Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, Rabbi of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, New York, NY;
Mrs. Bethany Mandel, a convert to Judaism, former staff member at Commentary Magazine, and freelance writer who recently authored a column entitled, “A Convert’s Bill of Rights”;
Rabbi Yona Reiss, Av Beit Din, Chicago Rabbinical Council; Dayan, Beth Din of America; and Chairman, GPS;
Mrs. Bracha Rutner, Yoetzet Halacha (advisor in Jewish law) for the Riverdale, NY and Washington, DC communities;
Mrs. Shana Yocheved Schacter, CSW, a psychotherapist in private practice;
Rabbi Yaakov Shulman, Rabbi of Congregation Talmud Torah, Brooklyn, NY who is an experienced member of a rabbinic tribunal for conversions;
Rabbi Adam Starr, Rabbi of Young Israel of Toco Hills, Atlanta, GA;
Rabbi Kalman Topp, Rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation, Beverly Hills, CA.
“Our hearts continue to go out to those victimized by the unconscionable actions of a Rabbi they trusted in the conversion process,” said Rabbi Matanky “The RCA recognizes the inherent sensitivities and vulnerabilities involved in the conversion process and will do all it can to ensure that such victimization will never be repeated. We believe the formation of this committee, reflecting a cross section of our community, is an important first step in this regard.”
Rabbi Goldin commented on the committee’s mandate, “The RCA continues to believe that a national network of conversion courts remains in the best interests of the Jewish community in general and potential converts in particular. It is clear, however, that the current structure of GPS requires a thorough review and enhancements to avoid future abuses. Our committee will look carefully at a wide range of matters including: the standardization of conversion procedures, the intake system, safe processes for potential converts to voice complaints and discomfort with their experiences, communications of Bet Dins’ expectations of potential converts and oversight of Bet Din operations, among others. We are determined to be clear of vision and bold in action in order to properly serve the important community of converts.”
Rabbi Mark Dratch, Executive Vice President of the RCA, added, “The Torah repeatedly commands us to love the convert. Individuals who choose to join the Jewish community are to be admired and treated with the utmost respect. The RCA will not rest until we fulfill that commandment to its fullest extent.”
The committee will begin its deliberations immediately, will report its findings to the RCA Executive Committee by January 31, 2015, and will make its recommendations public thereafter.
By now, many of you have read the reports of a prominent Orthodox rabbi on the east coast who has just been arrested on voyeurism charges. Although everyone is innocent until proven guilty, these accusations are very grave, and our hearts and thoughts are with victims of such activity and with the rabbi's family and community.The Hilul Hashem/desecration of G-d's name brought about by the charges themselves is also very severe. All of us, as committed Jews, should feel the pain.
Despite the somber turn of events, I would like to wish the EB and entire Seattle Jewish community - Mo'adim Lesimha. Let us rejoice in Sukkot as it draws to a close and welcome in Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah!
Members of the Sephardic community greet one another with the expression תזכו לשנים רבות - "may you merit many years" from Rosh Hashana to Yom Hakippurim.
Rav Hayim David HaLevy, late Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was asked to identify the original source of this greeting. In the course of his response in his book, "Aseh Leha Rav", Rav HaLevy cites Rav Hayim Palagi, who identifies the source as the verse in Devarim 16:13
ז,יג חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃
When you bring in the products of your threshing floor and wine vat, you shall celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days.
The verse uses the future tense, "you shall celebrate"; and so we wish our fellow Jews, "If you celebrated Sukkot this year, may you merit doing so for many years to come…."
This source is perplexing: Even if we see the hint in the language, what is there about Sukkot that makes it fit to be the basis of this greeting? And why did Sephardic custom develop along different lines, namely, to greet others with תזכו לשנים רבות until the end of Yom Kippur, but "Moadim Lesimcha" –on Sukkot?
I would like to propose an answer based on an excerpt from Rav Shlomo Aviner's book, עם כלביא. Rav Aviner notes the odd phenomenon of two opposite themes during the month of Tishri: both the High Holydays, the "Days of Awe", and Sukkot, "Zeman Simhatenu - the time of our joy"! The Rishonim also note that there seems to be no intrinsic connection between Sukkot and the month of Tishri; after all, Sukkot recalls the divine protection afforded the Children of Israel the entire stretch of 40 years in the desert!
Rav Aviner quotes Peleh Yo'etz, who explains: "[Sukkot is right after the Days of Awe] to cause us to rejoice from our anguish and sadness of the days of repentance." Sefat Emet notes: "…After the Days of Awe, there is a special need for joy, because a person is not complete if he is only exposed to awe and fear."
In other words, we need to be emotionally "healed" from the impact of the High Holydays. During Elul, we gradually detach more and more from this world, and turn our attention to spiritual pursuits – with the climax – Yom Kippur. Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook says that, of necessity, this process triggers a "disconnect" with the sanctity of this world. "But, in truth, this world and the next hug each other; they are intertwined, and the cultivation of one serves as the basis for elevation in the next. True, during the days of repentance, we need to intensify our spiritual pursuits; that is why the days of joy arrive – to return ourselves to (normative) life."
Unfortunately, many American Jews, including our own congregations, make the most concerted effort to attend services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Often, their last Jewish religious experience for the year is the exhausting 25-hour Yom Kippur fast.
With this in mind, let us return to the source of תזכו לשנים רבות – may you merit many years, the verse in Devarim Ch. 16 mandating the observance of Sukkot:
ז,יג חַ֧ג הַסֻּכֹּ֛ת תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים בְּאָ֨סְפְּךָ֔ מִֽגָּרְנְךָ֖ וּמִיִּקְבֶֽךָ׃
When you bring in the products of your threshing floor and wine vat, you shall celebrate the festival of Sukkot for seven days
When we wish someone תזכו לשנים רבות, we are not just wishing him a long life; quality of life is also important! We want our fellow Jews to live long, happy, fulfilled lives. As Sefat Emet notes, one whose relationship with G-d is built only on awe and fear, does not become spiritually whole. With the verse in Devarim as the backdrop, we can be understood as wishing another a long, quality life of joy and closeness to the Creator!
True, the custom is to issue תזכו לשנים רבות as a greeting between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, because that is when our lives are literally hanging in the balance; embedded in our good wishes is a beracha for a joyous fulfilling life, the kind of life we begin to taste from with the arrival of Sukkot, זמן שמחתינו.
(originally published in the Vaad of Seattle newsletter)
A few decades ago, Tradition Magazine published a wonderful article by Prof. Yehuda Gellman entitled “Teshuva and Authenticity”. Whenever I have the opportunity, I enjoy giving a class using this article as a springboard for discussion.
Essentially, Prof. Gellman argues that doing “teshuva” is especially complex in our day and age. If a person were to be lost on a desert island, it would be challenging to respond authentically to the predicament – because of the many movies and books we have all read about people getting shipwrecked on desert islands. As human beings, we naturally refer to the models we’ve seen or read about – as we respond to our own personal predicaments.
Back in the 1980’s, at the height of the Ba’al Teshuva movement in Israel, it became suddenly possible for someone with little or no background in Torah learning to attend a yeshiva or seminary. No longer only the domain of great scholars, yeshivot opened up with the goal of teaching the religious novice the depths of Torah in an authentic and inspiring way. This had major impact on Jews the world over; in fact, many of us greatly benefited from this watershed development!
That said, it also became a greater challenge to forge one’s own religious personality. Having a role model is essential for religious growth; after all, who does one learn from if not from one’s rebbe and one’s peers? At the same time, we all have a tendency to cut corners, to adopt the form and approach of others – “copying and pasting” their experience and approach, and applying it to ourselves. This tendency can often lead to unintentionally negative results. For, since we are all individuals, each of us must confront, head-on, our own personal deficiencies. Although a religious framework – including Rambam’s laws of Teshuva – is helpful in that process, it cannot replace an honest reflection on one’s own particular challenges.
Prof. Gellman beautifully illustrates this in his closing passage:
“Several years ago, when I was in graduate school, the calendar of studies allowed a month's vacation to study at a famous yeshivah in the greater New York area. The intensity of the learning contributed to a mounting sense of the seriousness of the day of judgment. By the time Rosh Hashanah came this feeling was very strong. The experience of Rosh Hashanah increased it to the point where at Yom Kippur I was completely gripped by the awesomeness of the day of judgment. My davening on that day expanded the experience of being judged more and more; until I got to the words Yodea mahashavot be-yom din, "He knows my very thoughts on this day of judgment. " At that moment the utter simplicity of those words aroused within me the absolute conviction of their truth. For the first time in my life I actually believed that He knows my thoughts. As a result I couldn't continue to daven. I was paralyzed. All about me people were throwing themselves around, waving their hands in remorse and pleading. I couldn't go on. Since He knows my thoughts, He knows that what I am doing is a fake. He knows my true feelings, what I really believe and what really is important to me. The external signs mean nothing to Him. He knows the truth. It's no use. I sat down, paralyzed. Finally, I went out for a walk in the neighborhood. Gradually the feeling wore off. The absolute conviction that He sees through me faded away. Then, when I no longer believed it, only then was I able to return to the beit midrash and daven, shaking, waving my hands, contorting my face, with the rest of them. I had returned, from the “I” to the “they”. The disorientation of being torn out of context was replaced by the feeling of the beauty and the pleasure of castigating oneself in fellowship. The fear of being alone gave way to the strength of community.”
In other words, community is both a beautiful and helpful component in the teshuva process – but it cannot replace personal reflection and an internal “accounting.”
Let us all use the upcoming fast to experience a profound re-encounter with our true selves.
Gemar Hatima Tova & Tizku Leshanim Rabbot!