Posts Tagged ‘ Learning Jewishly ’

History Lesson: Chain

2017.09.08
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adtn“Everything you do, here and at home, is part of Sonoma Valley Jewish history.”

That’s what I like to tell the students in our synagogue’s Hebrew school, and it’s also one of the lessons from this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo.

The relevant piece of Torah comes at the beginning of the portion, when the Israelites are commanded to bring the season’s first fruits to “the place where G?d will establish His name” — meaning, in later years, the Temple in Jerusalem. Part of the agricultural primacy ceremony involves reciting the formulaic history of the Jewish people we review every year at Pesach, beginning “My father was a wandering Aramean” and recalling the slavery in Egypt before ending with “And now I’m here, in this land, with these fruits.” (Those aren’t the actual words, but they’re close.)

To know where you stand, it’s important to know where you’ve been. Read more »

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Lamed-Vavniks, Unite!

2017.06.08
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adtnAre you a Lamed-Vavnik?

According to Jewish tradition, there are 36 exceptionally righteous (read: supermensch-like) people in the world in each generation, and without whom the world would cease to exist. (In Hebrew counting, 36 is “lamed vav” (lamed = 30, vav = six)). The thing about Lamed-Vavniks is that they are secretly righteous; they do their deeds under the cover of anonymity.

That type of exemplary behavior is modeled for us in the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, according to the Kotzker Rebbe (1787-1859). The portion begins with G?d telling Moses to tell his brother Aaron to light the menorah inside the Tabernacle — where no one outside could see it. “This was a matter of the inmost heart,” writes the Kotzker. “All the great things have as their central idea something that is hidden and concealed in the heart — with no outward manifestation whatsoever!”

This idea is also substantiated by Pirke Avot, a collection of wise sayings of the sages and early rabbis: “Do not be as servants who serve the master in order to receive a reward, rather be as servants who are serving the master not in order to receive a reward.” That reward could include recognition via Facebook posts or “bragging rights” — both of which are incompatible with the concept of the Lamed-Vavnik.

May we all merit to serve each other in quiet humility, and with a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity.

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Confronting Evil

2017.04.24
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(From a friend, for Yom Hashoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day.)

April 15, 1965
יוסף דוב סולוביצ’יק
JOSEPH SOLOVEITCHIK

Dear Dr. Vogel:

I received your letter. Of course, you may quote me.

The gist of my discourse was that Judaism did not approach the problem of evil under the speculative – metaphysical aspect. For such an inquiry would be a futile undertaking. As long as the human mind is unable to embrace creation in its entirety and to gain an insight into the very essence and purposiveness of being as such it would not succeed in its attempt to resolve the dilemma of evil. Read more »

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Midrash Beshallach

2017.02.06
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WORF: These are our stories. They tell us who we are.
BA’EL: …Are they true?
WORF: I have studied them all of my life, and find new truths in them every time.
– “Birthright,” Star Trek: The Next Generation

Here’s a radical thought: does the story of the Exodus and its miracles — including this week’s splitting of the Sea of Reeds — need to be true in order to be meaningful?

Biblical literalists, who take the Torah to be G?d’s word, see the text as the ultimate truth and the miracles as G?d’s handiwork. Modern critics see the Torah as a unique document compiled from numerous sources, and explain the miracles in terms of natural events. But both may be missing the point.
Read more »

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Torah Study: Going, Going, Ain’t Gone Yet

2011.11.04
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OUR TORAH PORTION THIS WEEK begins with God’s famous exhortation to Abram, “Lech Lecha — Go for yourself from your land … I will bless you and make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

What does that mean, to be a blessing? Rashi says it’s an investment in Abraham of God’s power to bless, to pass along the Divine influence for growth and attainment. According to the Etz Chayim chumash, it means “to serve as the exemplar by which a blessing is invoked.” Rabbi Samson Hirsch, however, sees it as a commandment: to receive the divine rewards, one must live so as to be a blessing to the world.

Perhaps it also means to live in such a way as see the Divine in every moment — to bear witness, however unlikely it may seem, to the action of God as context for our lives (to paraphrase R’ Jack Gabriel). To be a blessing is to sanctify everything within reach — and to learn to extend that reach by joining hands with others. After all, we can’t do it alone!

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011: 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:27-41:16

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Torah Study: Rewrite

2011.09.23
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Among its other directives, Torah contains the seeds of its own begetting — each of us is instructed to write a Torah scroll for ourselves. In that spirit, I would paraphrase one of this week’s verses to say “Torah is not in heaven, for you to say, ‘Who will ascend and get it for us?’ It is not over the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea and get it for us?’ No, the matter is very near to you — two blocks south of Sonoma Plaza and hang a left on most Saturdays — to do it.”

That would, of course, include tomorrow. We’ll leave the light on for you.

Be well, happy autumn, and Shabbat shalom!

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, Sept. 3, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Netzavim-Vayeilech (Deuteronomy 29:9-31:30)
Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9

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The Best Quote Ever About Torah (And Stories In General)

2011.09.04
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“What does that song mean?” I asked Ernie once about a particular song.

He thought for a bit and then replied that if I wanted to know what the words meant, he’d be glad to translate them for me. But if I was asking what the song meant, that was different. A song, he explained, carries much more meaning than just its words. For him, for example, a large part of a song’s meaning is about who first taught it to him — a relative? an elder? a friend? What instructions were given with that teaching? Can it be sung in the daytime or only at night? Can it be sung only at one particular season? Is it a public song or private? Can women sing it or only men? Is it spiritual or ‘just for fun?’ Are there dietary or behavioral restrictions placed upon the singer as he prepares to perform? Each time a song is sung, he went on to explain, it accumulates further meaning — from the people he is singing it with, the audience he is singing it to, the circumstances under which it is sung. If a song is brought out at a funeral, for example, the funeral lends a weight and history to the song that is felt each time it is subsequently sung. Even my own curiosity about the song, he smiled, adds to its meaning.

– Malcolm Margolin, The Ohlone Way
(And yes, I excerpted this Friday, but it’s quite too good not to share in full.)

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Torah Study: Books Within Books

2011.09.02
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IN THE OHLONE WAY, AUTHOR Malcolm Margolin relates the following story-about-stories asking one of his Native American sources about a particular tribal song:

“He thought for a bit and then replied that if I wanted to know what the words meant, he’d be glad to translate them for me. But if I was asking what the song meant, that was different. A song, he explained, carries much more meaning than just its words. Read more »

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An Erev Shabbat Invitation

2011.08.26
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YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO attend tonight’s Erev Shabbat service at Sonoma’s Congregation Shir Shalom, 252 W. Spain St., which service I am both grateful and privileged to lead. Services begin at 7:30 p.m. PDT and will be followed by an oneg Shabbat. (If you’d like to attend an informal Saturday morning Torah study, please RSVP.) Shabbat shalom!

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Torah Study: Worshipful Wordplay

2011.08.19
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THERE ONCE WAS A RABBI who was so lost in his studies that when the congregation called on him to deliver a sermon for that week’s Torah portion he didn’t know which one it was. Undaunted, he stepped to the bimah and said:

“A sermon should be true, from the heart, and based on the weekly Torah portion. I do not know which portion is this week’s reading from our holy Torah. This is true, I am sorry from my heart, but it is all that I can say about the portion. Amen.”

This week’s portion is Eikev. It means “heel” and “because.” So “because” we’ve all had a tough week, you are cordially invited to help “heel” yourself by studying Torah with us tomorrow morning. This is true, it is from my heart, and I hope to say more about it when I see you.

Shabbat shalom,

Neal.

Neal & Ann’s Torah Study
Saturday, August 20, 2011, 10 am-noonish (RSVP)
Torah Portion: Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25)
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14-51:3

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Torah Study: Deutero Is The Best Nomy

2011.08.05
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THIS WEEK BEGINS THE TALE of Moses, and his five-week testimonial to the nascent nation of Israel.

Unlike the Torah’s first four books, tradition ascribes Deuteronomy strictly to Moses’ hand. Like the second creation story in Genesis, the Moses-eye view of the Egyptian Experience and Sinai Event differs somewhat from the first account in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers: most famously, in the wording of the Fourth Commandment and the “guard/remember Shabbat” dichotomy. I like to think that’s deliberate, to encourage us to think instead of blindly obey. It’s certainly part of a pattern.
Read more »

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Another Definition Of Judaism

2011.08.05
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ETHNOTHEOLEGALITY. (IF YOU WANT TO get more specific, then Levantine ethnotheolegality. Or pedantically: a Levantine people’s god’s code.)

Eh?

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Recent Tales

Not Like It Used To Was

Mom in the drug store Called out to her son: “Brooklyn!” Am I getting old?

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Prosatio Silban and the Starving Survivor

A BUOPOTH IS A STRANGE beast: some say it is half-composed of men’s dreams, others prefer not to speculate. But of the little that...

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Prosatio Silban and the Visitor From The Sands

PROSATIO SILBAN WAS NOT KNOWN for nothing as “The Cook For Any Price.” He had long ago foresworn the Sacreanthood and serving people’s souls...

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The Poet

HE COULDN’T TELL WHETHER HE loved beauty or women more until the day he called his mom and said “Guess what? I’m marrying a...

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Storyteller’s Knot

THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF any story is the point at which it’s attached to the reader.

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