Like many religious Jews, our bookshelves contain a variety of sefarim. Among the sifrei Mishnah, the Gemara, the Chumashim, among others, there is one sefer that has special meaning to my family and me.
The GPS had not been invented when Shelly set off on a Friday afternoon many years ago to join the Bnei Akiva camp in the English countryside. The organizers always managed to find a farmer who welcomed young campers under adult supervision; thus they set up their tents and during the week took the opportunity to learn the halachot of building an eruv. There would be no problems on Shabbat and they would be able to carry within the campsite.
The highway was packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, and there I sat with hands gripped tightly on the steering wheel, begging the cars to move. My heart swelled at the thought of seeing my son, who was just coming back from his year of learning in Eretz Yisrael. How I had missed him! Though I was used to him being away (if you can ever really get used to a child being away), a special space in my heart was empty – as I waited for him.
Dear Readers: You may remember how we once did an experiment with a story (about a monster fire in Arizona) without Jewish protagonists, but containing a universal lesson that I believed worthy to record for the readers of Chodesh Tov. We are there yet again, this time directly north in Wisconsin. Please bear with me as we once again record a story we investigated in the hope that the lesson is unique and worthy of our attention. It is going to take us five full columns to complete the tale, and I thank you in advance for your patience.
For the first and only time, Moses invokes a miracle to prove the authenticity of his mission
With so much to do before our recent trip, I was walking on a cloud. It must have been evident to one and all, since my feet barely touched the ground. Who would have believed that I would arrive at this special time – so grateful am I to HaKadosh Baruch Hu?
Soon after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was just starting to sink in, news of a second approaching powerful storm called a “Nor’easter” was heard around the tri-state area. Another probable loss of power, hot water and other conveniences left us anxious and worried. In Lakewood, New Jersey there is a small mikveh building near the lake, and the woman working there shared this story about the storm’s impact.
This week’s sedrah, Shelach Lecha, ends with one of the great commands of Judaism – tzitzit, the fringes we wear on the corner of our garments as a perennial reminder of our identity as Jews and our obligation to keep the Torah’s commands.
The rav was not a wealthy man, but earned enough to live comfortably. He earned his money by serving as the rav of a religious community in Yerushalayim. He also received some royalties from sefarim he had written over the years. He was well known, and many people approached him for a berachah, advice and help. They were not turned away.
Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, is remarkable for the extreme realism with which it portrays human character. Its heroes are not superhuman. Its non-heroes are not archetypal villains. The best have failings; the worst often have saving virtues. I know of no other religious literature quite like it.
A flash of red caught my eye, and I looked up and saw a cardinal perched on the picnic table on my deck. What a miracle, I marveled. You’re beautiful. Thanks, Hashem. And then my mind’s wheels began to roll, and it struck me that several miracle stories had come my way this week. The stories prodded me to think of and feel Hashem’s presence as a more tangible and vivid reality.
It was a lovely summer night in the Holy Land. My husband and I, and a dozen or so of our colleagues, straggled into our hotel, exhausted but exhilarated after a long action-packed day of touring and activities. As we entered the lobby, we heard the unmistakable melodic strains of a piano being played in an adjacent room.
On the face of it, the connections between the sedrah and haftarah of Bamidbar are slender. The first has to do with demography. Bamidbar begins with a census of the people. The haftarah begins with Hosea’s vision of a time when “the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or numbered.” There was a time when the Israelites could be counted; the day will come when they will be countless. That is one contrast between the future and the past.
Reb Elimelech personally selected his burial spot, explaining that on that location he perceived the soul of the Baal Shem Tov. Reb Elimelech returned his pure soul to his Maker on 21 Adar, 1787 at the age of 70. Ever since, his burial plot has become a center for prayer and personal requests.
Growing up with Cerebral palsy, I was angry. I asked, “Why am I disabled? Why is the kid next door Reform and healthy and my family is so religious and I am disabled?” I thought He was supposed to love us, but it seemed He was punishing me.
Recently, I was elated to hear that my daughter had left Shaare Zedek hospital content that the surgery to remove a growth under her eyelid had been successful, Baruch Hashem. It is always difficult when a loved one must endure a painful experience while separated by land and sea, but when I heard about the hashgachah she had encountered I was comforted that the One Above was again watching over our family.
In its account of the festivals of the Jewish year, this week’s parshah, Parshat Emor, contains the following statement: “You shall dwell in thatched huts for seven days. Everyone included in Israel must live in such thatched huts. This is so that future generations will know that I caused the Israelites to live in sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your G-d.”
When I call my friend on her birthday and ask her how it feels to be her new age, she answers, “It's better than the alternative.” Yes, we’ve all heard Vivian Greene’s words: “Life’s not about waiting for the storms to pass, it's about learning to dance in the rain.”
At the center of the mosaic books is Vayikra. At the center of Vayikra is the “holiness code” (chapter 19) with its momentous call: “You shall be holy because I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.” And at the centre of chapter 19 is a brief paragraph which, by its positioning, is the apex, the high point, of the Torah:
A pale young man shuffled into the small Jerusalem yeshiva during kriyat haTorah one Shabbat morning.
Ahavas Yisrael, the genuine love of one Jew for another, stood at the center of Reb Elimelech’s teachings. He always found a way to speak in praise of a fellow person and elevate the status of the Jewish people.
We live in a world that is often too cruel and unkind. Living in Israel for the last 30 years, I have attended too many funerals for those whose lives were taken through incomprehensible acts of terror. During the years of the second intifada there were many days that I found it impossible to continue teaching, as a student would burst into my classroom and announce that there had been another terrorist attack. How could I just go on with a regular lesson when lives were lost?
Living in Staten Island provides us with a certain type of suburban living that is enjoyed and appreciated by most, if not all. We have less congestion of cars, easier parking and more camaraderie, as there are less people than in the other boroughs. We have no alternate parking, and it’s easier to park in all shopping areas. The rabbis know each person individually, and are very familiar with their families and life histories. This is not an advertisement for our neighborhood; it’s simply background to my story.
“If you have children, you are a millionaire. And if all of your children have children, you are a billionaire.”
Judaism is less a philosophical system than a field of tensions – between universalism and particularism, for example, or exile and redemption, priests and prophets, cyclical and linear time, and so on.