How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

August 19, 2010

Looking forward, looking back

I delivered the d’var Torah this past Shabbat at Ohr Shalom. I had volunteered to do this months ago, but had completely forgotten about it, so when the rabbi emailed me on Thursday night to remind me, I emailed back with a “no problem” message that, thanks to the emotionless nature of the medium, completely masked my anxiety about figuring out what to say less than 48 hours later about a parasha I hadn’t read yet (this year).

But, as as happened before, the texts along with the particular circumstances of my life (or God’s guiding hand, whichever you prefer) provided me with inspiration and I delivered this relatively succinct message:
***
While reading this week’s parasha, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Rabbi Meltzer about a week ago, toward the end of shiva for his grandfather, Poppa Harvey. It was a mundane conversation about corrective lenses – how long we’ve worn glasses or contact lenses, that sort of thing. In particular, there’s a passage in chapter 17, verses 18-20, that really jumped out at me:

“When [a Jewish monarch] is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching written for him on a scroll by the levitical priests. Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows or deviate from the Instruction to the right or to the left, to the end that he and his descendants may reign long in the midst of Israel.”

I was struck by the implication of this passage about the centrality of the Torah – how consistent and constant a presence it must be, no matter our station in life. Throughout the generations, though, as our circumstances have changed for better or for worse – and let’s be honest, we’re Jews, so it’s mostly been for worse, right? – our perspective has changed. To put it another way, our vision has been impaired. Distance, in time and space, does that. So we’ve needed corrective lenses to view our central text – in the form of rabbinic commentary, midrash, aggadah, etc. – to help us see some things more clearly. So, for instance, the rabbis made certain that the rules for sentencing someone to death, laid out in this week’s parasha, earlier in chapter 17, were so strictly interpreted and adhered to as to make carrying out capital punishment virtually impossible; there is truly no recompense for errors in such cases.

Some lenses, though, don’t just correct, they OVERcorrect – they distort. I daresay there are interpretations of the Torah – lenses worn by some readers – that themselves make a to’eva (an abomination) of the sacred texts we work so hard to make relevant and accessible in our everyday lives.

Thus there have been numerous violations of chapter 20, verse 19,

When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees…”

The violations have occurred at the hands of settlers, and, to my great shame, at the hands of Tzahal, our Israeli Defense Force, when they have uprooted, destroyed or stolen Palestinian olive trees from land that is occupied – that is, arguably, under siege.

Too hard for you to swallow? Too bad; it’s true. But I’m not here to make a political speech, so I’ll move on to something a bit closer to home:

There have also been countless violations of chapter 16, verse 20,

Justice justice shall you pursue צדק צדק תרדוף

when rabbis and other community leaders deny the personal rights of a segment of the population. Rather than concentrate, as many have, on the fact that some of that segment’s behavior is described as abhorrent in the Torah, more leaders should have actively and eagerly pursued justice for all, a clear mitzvah explicitly laid out in this week’s reading. I do applaud the recent spate of positive news in this regard, but we still have far to go.

As we approach the new year, I encourage all of you to shift your focus inward – get as nearsighted as you possibly can. Take a look at YOUR corrective lenses. We ALL wear them in one form or another:

  • They may be frames that wrap around the sides of our faces;
  • tiny specks that sit right on our eyeballs;
  • or, the most common and insidious of all, those that are completely embedded inside our heads – our preconceptions, our stereotypes, our rushes to judgment, and so forth.

Take a good look at yourselves, and see if you can’t wipe away some of the schmutz that’s accumulated over the last year (or however long it’s been; it’s never too late to start).

Then crown yourselves monarchs – go on, you have my permission (the Rabbi’s not here, it’s OK) – and heed the call of the Torah:
As you sit on your royal throne, revisit our holy texts. Again. And Again. Look at them through your freshly polished lenses and reflect on the words, so that you do not become haughty toward your fellows, and so that you may continue to reign for many years to come.

Shabbat shalom.
***
A few days after delivering this drash, I received this Jewel of Elul, written by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater, which beautifully encapsulates the feelings he and I have as we prepare these sermons.

The blank screen that unfolds before each sermon is my darkness – formless and void. And then I begin to create. As I sit down to write, I am aware of this creation teaching, for it calls me to find the message needed for the moment.

I encourage you to sign up to receive Jewels of Elul via email, and browse the archive of previous Jewels. They are provocative, insightful, inspirational, and powerful.

May we all see more clearly in the coming year.

February 5, 2010

Shabbat shalom x2

Starting off the weekend right with a couple of outstanding drashot from two of my favorite rabbis:
First, again, is Rabbi David Wolpe from Sinai Temple in LA, whose weekly Off The Pulpit I’ve mentioned before – it’s consistently inspirational and thought-provoking (I’m including the sign-up information at he bottom so you can subscribe too):

Yearning to Learn

By Rabbi David Wolpe

Knowing where to find information is not the same as possessing it. Each fact we learn is arranged in the matrix of all we already know. One who knows how to Google “Shakespeare sonnets” cannot be compared to the one who has memorized Shakespeare’s sonnets. The latter carries the words with him. The former is an accountant of knowledge; he knows where the treasure is, but it does not belong to him.

Real education instills a desire for knowledge, not merely the tools to acquire it. We are shaped by what we know and what we yearn to know. The Talmud tells us that as a young man Hillel was so desperate for words of Torah that he climbed on the roof of the study house to hear the discourses of his great predecessors, Shemaya and Avtalion. Noticing the darkness, they looked up and saw the young man on the skylight, covered with snow. The rabbis rescued Hillel, washed and anointed him, and sat him by the fire.

“If you want to build a ship,” wrote Antoine de Saint Expury, “don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the sea.” First teach children to love learning; the web will wait.

We hope that you will email these words to a friend, and encourage them to sign up by e-mail so they will be able to receive similar articles as well as updates in the future. Together, let’s create a virtual community of modern Torah for the 21st century!

Closer to home is my dear Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, who co-officiated at my wedding and continues to be a valued spiritual leader and guide. The Mi Shebeirach prayer is on my mind and my lips a lot these days, so this is particularly poignant and meaningful for me:

Dear Friends:

I meet with our Abraham Ratner Torah School students one Wednesday a month. We usually meet in our Goodman Chapel. This month I introduced them to a new addition to our chapel, the Mishebeirach tapestry that was fashioned from the creative contributions of many members of our Sisterhood and congregation.

This fabrication of this tapestry was the brainchild and labor of love of Sharyl Snyder. Sharyl had seen a similar tapestry on display on Temple Emanu-El and thought we should have one as well. Our Mishebeirach tapestry enlivens our chapel with its very personal artwork and stands as a reminder to all who are ill or in pain that they are not alone. At Tifereth Israel Synagogue they are a member of a community that cares and prays for them.

I asked the students to find the multiplicity of Jewish symbols on the tapestry. They correctly identified many of them and shared how they thought creators of each square expressed their care and concern for those who are ill.

I also used the introduction of the Mishebeirach tapestry to explain to our students the Mishebeirach prayer we say each morning at our daily minyan and on Shabbat (“May the One who blessed our ancestors…send healing to…”).

On the spur of the moment I also said the prayer with them and asked them to share the names of their relatives and friends who were ill and pray for their recovery. It was very quiet during our prayer and I found myself surprised by how it had turned our learning into a spiritual and sacred experience.

That same evening we talked about the Mishebeirach prayer at a meeting of our Ritual Committee. We all expressed the same thought: we all believed that our communal prayers for those who are ill are efficacious and powerful even though we are not sure how they work.

The next time you are in the synagogue, please stop by the chapel to see the new Mishebeirach tapestry. I also invite you to find as many Jewish symbols as you can and try to discover their relationship to Jewish healing and life. You may also want to use the opportunity to say your own prayer for those you love who are suffering or in pain.

Even though your prayer does not guarantee that those who are suffering will be healed, I am confident that their burden will be eased by your caring.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal
Tifereth Israel Synagogue
San Diego, CA
rabbi@tiferethisrael.com

Hope these words help you have a truly peaceful and meaningful Shabbat.

June 4, 2008

Something…something…COMPLETE!

I’ve been wearing a kippah full time now for three years, I think (somebody can check me on this; I’m pretty sure I have previously blogged about this), and that one little mitzvah definitely has me thinking more consciously about all the other mitzvot I observe and those I don’t.

There are some mitzvot that I can observe daily, others that present themselves less frequently but with some regularity (various Shabbat observances, for instance), and then there are those that only occur irregularly and that I have no control over – namely, those related to life cycle events that are not my own. I’ve had the honor of being a kvatter at a bris (the person who carries the baby boy to the sandak, the person who will hold him during the circumcision), I’ve held the chuppah and signed the ketubah in a wedding, I’ve participated in taharat ha-met, and this week, I witnessed the delivery of a get.

I was recruited for this last task in typically impromptu fashion by my friend and teacher Rabbi Scott Meltzer, with no question posed as to my willingness to participate nor warning given as to the purpose for which he was pulling me (and a fellow congregant) out of the congregational meeting for which we had gathered at our shul. Since I’m not entirely daft, I guessed what we were doing when the Rabbi walked us up to his office accompanied by a couple who didn’t display the kind of joy you reserve for, well, joyous occasions. We all stood in the Rabbi’s office and listened to him read the document in Aramaic, translate/explain it in English, then instruct the man on the proper procedure of delivering it to his soon-to-be-ex-wife, and finally guide her in the final steps (literally – the woman takes 4 steps away after taking possession of the get to signify that she accepts it), making the deed official.

I was uncomfortable for a bit, feeling like I was standing in this couple’s personal space, witnessing something so intensely private and painful. But I recognized, too, that, just as the wedding is a communal event, so this too must be. After all, these two individuals deserve their own happiness, and they could not find it with each other. Just as witnesses were required when they declared their commitment to each other, they had to go through this ritual, witnessed by two unrelated members of the community, to free them to seek that happiness with someone else, both times according to the laws of Moses and Israel.

And, like with my previous opportunities to fulfill life cycle mitzvot, I got a chance to reflect on and marvel at the wisdom of the sages who framed these rules, and thank God that I am part of this tradition.

Oh, and Paul: Yes, I purposely waited until the end of this post to acknowledge our in-joke just to force you to read all the way through it so that maybe you’d learn something. Yeah, I know it’s not really our in-joke if Family Guy has lampooned it.

June 2, 2008

D’var Torah: B’Chukotay

Filed under: religion,San Diego Jewish Community,Shabbat,Torah Commentary — howdoyoujew @ 16:04

Yeah, I know I’m posting it a week late, but I delivered it on time (Shabbat, 24 May 2008, 19 Iyar 5768) at Tifereth Israel. Among other things, B’Chukotay is notable for the inclusion of the tochecha, the section of punishments I refer to below, which, according to tradition, is to be read quickly and quietly, in contrast to the rest of the Torah reading this or any other week.
***
In this week’s parasha, BeChukotay, we reach the end of the Book of Leviticus. It is here that Moses passes along to the people of Israel God’s admonishments to observe the mitzvot and prosper, along with God’s warnings that if the people fail to observe the commandments, punishment will ensue.

The rewards include a bountiful land & plentiful crops, general prosperity, peace with Israel’s neighbors, and, in the case of those not interested in making peace, enemies withdrawing in defeat from the mighty Israelites.

Similarly, the punishment for failure to observe the mitzvot is delineated in graphic detail: drought & famine throughout the land, hunger to the point of parents having to eat their own children, war and consequent defeat, and finally exile – the ultimate punishment for a people whose very existence and relationship with God is tied to a specific parcel of physical space.

Speaking as we are in the early 21st century, in the diaspora, looking from afar as Israel marks its 60th anniversary while under relentless missile attack and constant attempts at “smaller, more minor” attacks, it may seem like things aren’t going so well (I’ll remind you that a suicide truck bomber failed to kill anyone but himself with four tons of explosives at the Erez crossing from Gaza Thursday, and another suicide bomber was shot and killed as he tried to detonate his explosives at a checkpoint outside Shchem in the West Bank on Monday). Sure, not all Jews follow all the mitzvot, but is that really what the text – what God – wants us to achieve?

It’s significant to me that the language used in this section of the parasha, the blessings and curses, is, in contrast to the language used later when talking about the endowments and sacrifices, communal language. That is, it always talks about “the people” doing or not doing this or that, and being rewarded or punished, en masse.

Reading this, I was immediately reminded of the Talmudic saying, kol Israel arevim zeh la-zeh – all Jews are responsible one for another.

Little did I know that, in coining this phrase, the Talmudic rabbis were commenting on this very parasha! Specifically, on chapter 26, verse 37 (page 751),

–>This is where I read the Hebrew. I gotta figure out how to display Hebrew properly in my posts… images, perhaps?<-- “With no one pursuing, they shall stumble over one another as before the sword…” No lesser a commentator than Rashi first explains the verse literally, envisioning people bumping into and falling over each other in their frightened retreat. But he then cites the Talmud's midrashic comment, found in Tractate Sanhedrin:

“”…they shall stumble over one another…” meaning one will stumble over the sins of another for all Israel is responsible one for the other.”

Thus, the “stumbling” the Torah warns about is not physical, but spiritual; that the sinning of one – an individual’s failure to follow the mitzvot – will cause others to stumble, eventually bringing the promised retribution from God.

The Hebrew root word that is here translated as “stumble” is CaSHaL, which also means “to fail.” The double meaning is itself significant, for when one stumbles over the sins, or failures, of another, that means the stumbler failed as well.

This spiritual stumbling itself could be interpreted in a couple of ways:

First, one could stumble over the sins of another in the sense that one observes another sinning and is tempted to, um, “join in the fun.”

Alternately, the stumbling could refer to the result – the punishment being meted out on all the people as a result of the sins of some.

This means, friends, that we can’t just look the other way when we see sinning, or the failure in others to observe the commandments. Not only would this be an active shirking of our stated responsibility for one another, but if I “look the other way,” I cannot easily continue walking along the straight path I was headed down in the first place – and I would thus be that much closer to stumbling myself.

Either way, the lesson that we are all responsible for one another should not be lost. There may be individuals in the community who, for a variety of reasons, are incapable of observing some mitzvot without assistance. Some may need a little more… “encouragement” than others. We all need to do our part to live lives that warrant reward, and persuade others to do the same.

Peace on earth, plenty of food, adequate social support for those who can’t support themselves, etc. – all this is possible, and it will come, as the text suggests, as an act of or a gift from God. But not in the way many people expect such gifts.

Gifts from God are rarely obvious miracles of Biblical proportions. We are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and we all have within us the capacity to carry out God’s work. We must engage in this work if we are to enjoy God’s blessings.

Shabbat shalom.

April 11, 2008

Shabbat shalom and happy bageling!

Despite the name of the practice, bageling is a very appropriate Pesach activity. I was introduced to this charmingly named entertainment by a friend of my dad’s, who forwarded me the column below today. Happily, unlike in the case of many such forwards, this one still had the author’s byline, and a little Googling turned up the happy coincidence that she is a fellow San Diegan. One quick missive turned into a spirited round of Jewish geography, mutual Shabbat dinner invitations, and a new friend in town. So without further ado, please enjoy (original post at aish.com, with comments):

The Bagel Theory
by Jessica Levine Kupferberg
Some Chanukah food for thought about Jewish connectedness. (originally published December 9, 2007)

This time of year can be challenging for Jews. After the joy of Chanukah subsides, we find ourselves adrift in the Red and Green sea. Our halls are markedly undecked while most of the world is encrusted in boughs of holly. The glare of tinsel and little multi-colored lights blind us at every turn. We dread the awkward pause after someone wishes us something merry and know the discomfort of holiday parties for a holiday that we don’t celebrate.

What can be done to combat the isolation? How can we satisfy a hunger for Jewish connection?

‘Tis the season to go forth and …. bagel.

The Beginning of Bageling

It all started when my friend Doodie Miller– who wears a kippah — was back in college and suffering through a tedious lecture. As the professor droned on, a previously-unknown young woman leaned over and whispered in his ear:

“This class is as boring as my Zayde’s seder.”

You see, the woman knew that she did not “look” Jewish, nor did she wear any identifying signs like a Star of David. So foregoing the awkward declaration, “I’m Jewish,” the girl devised a more nuanced — and frankly, cuter — way of heralding her heritage.

This incident launched a hypothesis which would henceforth be known as the Bagel Theory.

The Bagel Theory stands for the principle that we Jews, regardless of how observant or affiliated we are, have a powerful need to connect with one another. To that end, we find ways to “bagel” each other — basically, to “out” ourselves to fellow Jews.

There are two ways to bagel. The brave or simply unimaginative will tell you straight out that they are Jewish (a plain bagel). But the more creative will concoct subtler and even sublime ways to let you know that they, too, are in the know. (These bagels are often the best; like their doughy counterparts, cultural bagels are more flavorful when there is more to chew on.)

Bageled at Boggle

I suspect that Jews have been bageling even before real bagels were invented. And while my husband and I may not have invented bageling, we do seem to have a steady diet of bagel encounters.

An early bagel favorite occurred when my kippah-wearing husband and I were dating, and we spent a Saturday evening at a funky coffee house with friends. We engaged in a few boisterous rounds of Boggle, the game where you must quickly make words out of jumbled lettered cubes. Observing our fun, a couple of college students at a nearby table asked if they could play too. After we rattled the tray and furiously scribbled our words, it was time to read our lists aloud. One of the students, who sported a rasta hat and goatee, proudly listed the word “yad.” Unsuspecting, we inquired, “What’s a yad?” He said with a smirk, “You know, that pointer you read the Torah with.” Yes, we were bageled at Boggle.

On our honeymoon in Rome, we were standing at the top of the Spanish steps next to a middle-aged couple holding a map. The husband piped up in an obvious voice, “I wonder where the synagogue is.” My husband and I exchanged a knowing look at this classic Roman bagel and proceeded to strike up a conversation with this lovely couple from Chicago. After we took them to the synagogue, they asked to join us at the kosher pizza shop. As we savored the cheeseless arugula and shaved beef pizza — to this day the best pizza I have ever had — this non-religious couple marveled at traveling kosher and declared they would do so in the future. A satisfying bagel to be sure.

Holy Bagel

In the years since, our bagel encounters have become precious souvenirs, yiddishe knick-knacks from our family adventures in smaller Jewish communities. Like the time the little boy at the Coffee Bean in Pasadena, California, walked up to my husband, pulled out a mezuzah from around his neck, smiled and ran away. (A non-verbal bagel!) Or our day trip to the pier in San Clemente, California when an impish girl in cornrows and bikini scampered over to say “Good Shabbos.”

We have been bageled waiting at airline ticket counters, in elevators, at the supermarket checkout. And I myself have been known to bagel when the situation calls for it, like the time I asked the chassid seated a few rows up on an airplane if I could borrow a siddur.

On a recent trip abroad, however, we did not get bageled even once. That was in Israel where, thankfully, there is just no need.

Ultimately, why do we feel this need to bagel? Does it stem from our shared patriarchs, our pedigree of discrimination and isolation, a common love of latkes or just the human predisposition to be cliquey? I maintain it is something more. Our sages say that all Jews were originally one interconnected soul which stood in unison at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Now scattered across the Earth, as we encounter each other’s Jewish souls, we recognize and reconnect with a piece of our divine selves. The bagel may have a hole, but we bagel in a quest to feel whole.

So the next time a sweaty stranger at the gym says to you, “I haven’t been this thirsty since Yom Kippur,” smile. You’ve just been bageled — adding another link in the Jewish circle of connection.

November 24, 2007

My amazing offspring…

…except that, well, you know, she isn’t my offspring in the literal sense of that word. Regardless, she IS amazing, and I happily take credit for her attitude and disposition, seeing as how I’ve been co-responsible for her since the moment she was born. She had a rough night last night, up a few times to eat, crying, not her usual self. She woke up for good at 5 AM, hung out with us in bed for a while, then participated in our morning routine getting ready for Shabbat at Ohr Shalom, where both I and my lovely wife were scheduled to read Torah, so we were obligated to go. She didn’t go down for a nap before we left the house, rested in the car for a short time on the way down there, remained awake the whole length of the service, and maintained her standard good mood throughout.

She catnapped on our way out to Coronado to hang out with Doda Shlomit and Dod Dave and Ben Dod Jonah, woke up promptly after we parked the car, and was up the entire afternoon and evening until about 6 PM, again, with a smile on her face the whole time. She ate like a champ the whole day, and that, in combination with how long she’s been awake, plus the fact that we’ll be keeping the house a little warmer tonight than it has been lately, makes us hopeful that she’ll sleep through the night, as was her habit since the age of 3 months.

All I want to do now is sit and veg in front of the TV. It’s rare that I get like that, but tonight is one of those evenings. If we can’t find anything good on live TV (we only have basic channels) we’ll certainly find something online.

Oh, yeah… This morning at shul I delivered an oral version of the drash I wrote up the other day, and it was well-received. Good times.

November 21, 2007

It feels like Friday

Which means that since it got dark a few hours ago, I’ve felt like it’s Shabbat and I shouldn’t blog until after… but it’s not Shabbat, it’s Erev Thanksgiving, and there’s nothing to prevent me from writing, using the computer, etc.

Jenn spent much of the day cooking and baking for Thanksgiving, which we’ll be celebrating at the Meltzers’ with a bunch of extended family and friends. I successfully lobbied one of my favorite community organizations (in this case, Ohr Shalom Synagogue) to send out an email to the membership about the Give One Get One program I wrote about yesterday. Phyllis & Joel commented on Jenn’s post about the Bone Marrow Donor Appreciation event. Hadarya had a great day and a good evening, including when we went down to minyan.

This week’s parasha is Vayishlach, which includes the story of Yaakov’s struggle (commonly translated as “wrestling”) with… well, with someone – the Hebrew is ha-ish = the man, but this is usually understood as an angel of God. Tonight, though, we looked at four possibilities of who the struggle could have been with:

  1. God
  2. An Angel/messenger of God
  3. Yaakov himself
  4. Esav (Esau, Yaakov’s twin)

The discussion that ensued about each of these was the richest exploration of this story I’ve ever engaged in. My contributions included the following:

  • Assuming the struggle was with God, I thought of the conversation God has with Moses later in the Torah (verse 20) when Moses asks to see God’s face and God tells Moses that “no man can see my face and live.” That said, Yaakov may have gotten so close to God by engaging in this “struggle” that he came away with a physical wound (the hobbled leg, the limp).
  • If it was an Angel (and somewhat spanning the possibility of a struggle within himself): Yaakov remembered, of course, the dream he’d had some 20 years before of the ladder with angels climbing up and down. This time, rather than remaining passive and simply watching, he tried to engage his visitor. He was more mature, more ready this time, but it was still a serious spiritual and physical challenge, and he came away changed (spiritually with the name change, physically with the limp).
  • If the sparring partner was Esav, the thing that struck me most was the parallel of lower limbs in their history: at the beginning of their lives, Yaakov grasped at Esav’s heel, then engaged in some rather unsavory behavior to usurp his brother’s birthright. Here, decades later, HIS leg is injured, mirroring his brother’s “wound,” and the very next day, Yaakov and Esav meet and reconcile.

There was some very nice input (not mine; I think it was Rabbi Scott’s) on this last option, raising the possibility that Yaakov and Esav had to have a physical confrontation, a cathartic wrestling match, to get out their aggression and relieve their longstanding animosity, and that only after this fight could they embrace and kiss and weep.

All in all, a nice lead-in to the holiday. Tomorrow first thing in the morning we head downtown for the 5K Walk for the Hungry, then relax and eventually head to dinner to give thanks ourselves. Happy holiday!

November 2, 2007

THIS is how you spend Shabbat?!

Filed under: Blogging,Jewish holidays,SDSU,Shabbat,technology,work — howdoyoujew @ 23:09

Well, not normally, no.. er… wait a minute! Why am I making excuses? This is MY blog!

Yeah, well, I decided long ago that Shabbat observance for me was not going to look like the traditional, Orthodox version. The key elements in the concept and point of Shabbat for me were the separation from the rest of the week and the relaxation and rest. Thus, I decided that if that meant getting away from the grind of wherever I happen to be living and working/going to school by driving out of town or otherwise distancing myself from my daily surroundings, so be it.

When I first moved to San Diego for grad school in 1999, I made a conscious decision to not engage in schoolwork on Shabbat. I knew I’d be plenty busy with it the rest of the week, and I wanted to establish a set time for a break, so I took the time our tradition has already set aside. This served me very well, and was indeed extremely relaxing, for most of my grad school career. Then came time to prepare for the comprehensive (final) exams for my program, and the discovery that they are administered over a weekend. Normally, you are provided with the exam questions on Friday and turn them in on Monday.

I was so firmly entrenched in my Shabbat habit by this point, that I was fairly comfortable speaking with my faculty and asking for an accommodation based on my religious observance. My position was aided by the presence of a fellow student who was even more explicitly observant than I (Avraham [I’ll never get used to calling you Greg, dude] wears a kippah full time, was a first-rate study partner and remains a good friend, and would find it quite amusing that I’m blogging about this after sundown on Friday, even though he won’t be reading it until after sundown Saturday night. One of the brightest, most open-minded people I know.) and required the same accommodation. So it was that my esteemed teachers and department administrators agreed to provide me and Avraham with the comp exam materials on Sunday and accept them, without penalty, on Wednesday. And yes, we both passed.

And so it is that we hosted Shabbat dinner tonight, with Jenn’s parents and sister and my mom, celebrating Jenn’s birthday, enjoying our daughter’s company while she was up, then sat around talking and laughing with everyone, and eventually wound up flipping open the laptops, searching for stuff on the interwebs and finally getting around to making good on this commitment to post every day for a month.

I love saying Shabbat shalom – it’s a greeting that encompasses so much, so compactly (like many words and phrases in Hebrew). So let’s leave it at that: have a peaceful, restful, happy Shabbat. Shabbat shalom!

June 1, 2007

Did I mention I was on TV, too?

Filed under: Podcasting,Shabbat — howdoyoujew @ 08:52

The local TV news piece about me and Phyllis (my bone marrow recipient) will be uploaded as soon as I figure out how to move it from VHS to the PC and then to YouTube.

In the meantime, my PodHero, Adam Curry, played an audio comment I sent him today, and will use an intro I made for episode 613 of his show, the Daily Source Code, on Monday, June 4.

Shabbat shalom, everybody!

July 24, 2006

Commentary on the Torah portion and current events

I delivered this drash this past Shabbat, Saturday, July 22, at Ohr Shalom. I’m proud to say that the Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, shares my sentiments, as evidenced by his speech to the Knesset [Hebrew, English] on July 17 (which I had not read until today [hat tip, AbeJ]).
***

There are some terribly difficult passages in our sacred texts that force us to struggle fiercely to find meaningful lessons for our lives.

In parashat Matot, the nascent Israelite people – still strongly identified by their tribal affiliation – are commanded to exact retribution on behalf of God upon the Midianite people. Leading the Israelite warriors was Pinchas, son of Elazar the Priest. So, a Middle-Eastern nation led by a religious cleric goes out to make war on another nation for real or perceived wrongs, claiming to act on behalf of God.

Sound familiar at all?

It gets better: after the Israelites kill all the military-age males of Midian in battle, they take the women and children captive (along with all the livestock and cattle). When they return with this booty, Moses berates the army and orders them to KILL all the prisoners except for the virgins (who themselves would become servants, slaves or wives to the Israelites).

Despite some commentators’ dancing around this issue, there is no gray area here: regardless of the justification for the war on the Midianites, what the Israelites did afterwards was heinous and inexcusable to our modern sensibilities. Living as we do in a world beset by Islamic fundamentalist terror and all manner of violence rationalized by religious extremism of all stripes, we must unequivocally reject and uproot such behavior from our midst.

At the same time, we must – just as passionately and fervently – stand up to attacks on our being and do everything in our power to ensure that our rejection of senseless attacks on civilians isn’t taken advantage of by our enemies. As we have witnessed over the last week and a half, the IDF WILL take the fight to those who threaten and harm us, regardless of where they hide. And we will not quit until the job is done.

As my friend and teacher Rabbi Daniel Gordis said this week in his dispatch from Israel, “We know why they attacked [this time and in previous wars].  And we know why they’re still attacking.  And we’re determined to hold on for the same reason that they’re so determined never to stop.  There’s one reason, and one reason only:
The Jewish People has nowhere else to go.”

Ecclesiastes famously opined, “(There is) a time for war and a time for peace.” Make no mistake, my friends: we ARE at war, and we will give no quarter. Yet we will continue to seek peace and pursue it with those who wish to share it with us.

For generations we have taken the lessons of our texts and sages and applied them to our daily lives, trying to make our existence more holy and bring healing to a troubled world. But we have learned other lessons from our history, as well: we will never again allow ourselves to be enslaved; we will not again be forced out of our homeland, exiled and made to wander in the wilderness. We will stand up and fight, and those of us who cannot fight should make our voices heard in support of those who can and do.

As this day of rest continues, please join me in praying for the health and safety of the soldiers of the IDF who are defending Eretz Israel, and the successful completion of their mission. And please join me tomorrow at the rally in support of Israel at the JCC.

Shabbat shalom.

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