To the misnaged-opponent, chassidus was not perceived as a different strand of normative Judaism, nor as a movement to uplift downtrodden Jews – but as an existential threat to Judaism itself. And the threat was no longer viewed as a futuristic potentiality; it was a real and imminent danger, for the movement was no longer limited to just the commoner but had infiltrated the ranks of scholars.
Feeling more alone than at any time since arriving in New York, I looked inside myself for anything that could anchor me to bring me back to who I was, to move away from illusions of romance to my central sticking point. Suddenly and unexpectedly, being a Jew meant more to me than anything else in the world.
You don’t become a ba’al teshuvah overnight. There were many events in my life that contributed to the deepening of my religious commitment, including a party I attended with young, beautiful church members who tried to make me one of them, and how I met their “Jewish priest.” (I’ll discuss both experiences during the course of this continuing column.)
It is a scene that still has the power to shock and disturb. The people complain. There is no water. It is an old complaint and a predictable one. That’s what happens in a desert. Moses should have been able to handle it in his stride. He has been through far tougher challenges in his time. Yet suddenly he explodes into vituperative anger:
Yom Yerushalayim, a national day of thanksgiving to Hashem for the liberation and reunification of the Holy City of Yerushalayim, is celebrated in Israel with many different meaningful programs. One of them is the annual bike ride from Hebron to Yerushalayim, celebrating the former’s liberation.
My husband and I are living in our house for over 30 years. We have wonderful neighbors on both sides. The one on the right, a non-frum Jewish couple, lived in their house longer than we’ve resided in ours. We always got along very well with them, as they are unusually kind, friendly and helpful people.
The Baal Shem Tov was the founder and the visionary of chassidus, but the architect who built and spread the movement was Rabbi Dov Ber, the maggid of Mezeritch.
Zohara was born in Morocco. With her husband, she raised a large family. A busy woman, she always seemed to find time to help others in need. Her daughter, Aliza, told me of the many sleepless nights her mother spent nursing babies. That is not unusual in itself, were it not for the fact that many of the babies she nursed were not her own.
The episode of the spies has rightly puzzled commentators throughout the centuries. How could they have got it so wrong? The land, they said, was as Moses had promised. It was indeed “flowing with milk and honey.” But conquering it was impossible. “The people who live there are powerful, and the cities fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of the giant there … We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are … All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the titans there … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we seemed in theirs” (Numbers 13:28-33).
Adaptive leadership is called for when the world is changing, circumstances are no longer what they were, and what once worked works no more. There is no quick fix, no pill, no simple following of instructions. We have to change. At a certain point, Moses had to help the Israelites change, to exercise responsibility, to learn to do things for themselves while trusting in God instead of relying on God to do things for them.
Huge crystal chandeliers sparkled with points of light that shone like diamonds. Hundreds of ornate, gilded chairs had been arranged on the ballroom’s thick, blue and brown carpet in the palatial Miami Beach hotel. This elegant space had been converted into a temporary synagogue for the holiday.
There was an ongoing debate between the Sages as to whether the nazirite – whose laws are outlined in this week’s parshah – was to be praised. Recall that the nazirite was someone who voluntarily, usually for a specified period, undertook a special form of holiness. This meant that he was forbidden to consume wine or any grape products, to have a haircut, and to defile himself by contact with the dead.
Judaism holds that nothing happens by chance, that everything is orchestrated by Hashem. And so it was long ago on a Sunday morning, about a month after Pesach when my father ran an errand for his parents.
It was a brisk fall day in late October some years ago when Chavy (name changed) decided that since the weather was perfect she would walk to work. She had, Baruch Hashem, just resumed her work schedule after being home for six weeks due to her maternity leave for the birth of her latest child. She felt the exercise was good for her, as it was only about a half mile to her job. She put all of her work papers into her knapsack and gingerly swung it over onto her back for the trek to work.
Scholars have debated where precisely the Baal Shem Tov was born, few giving credence to the tiny village of Okopy (pronounced Akup). Most likely he hailed from Kolomyya on the slopes of the Carpathian Mountains and on the banks of the Prut River. Nearly 300 years have lapsed since the passing of the Baal Shem Tov and all the while the stories of his miraculous abilities have increased. Yet all fail to fully portray his greatness.
“Mum, you’ll never guess what happened.” My daughter Tammy’s tone of voice at the other end of the phone indicated that it wasn’t something pleasant. “Someone took my baby stroller from the bus. When I went to pick it up and get off the bus, it wasn’t there any more. I couldn’t believe it. Who would do such a thing?”
My daughter, son-in-law and three children had reason to move to Buffalo, NY from Brooklyn this past summer. As we watched our grandchildren’s cute little faces peeled and waving through the back window, we knew we were in for a huge adjustment. We knew we would obviously miss them but we also were aware that we gave our children wings to do as they saw necessary (and they saw it necessary to drive seven hours away to their new home).
It is simply not the same to put on tefillin or keep kashrut or observe Shabbat in the Diaspora as in Israel. The Torah is the constitution of a holy people in the holy land. Only in Israel is the fulfillment of the commands a society-building exercise, shaping the contours of a culture as a whole. Only in Israel does the calendar track the rhythms of the Jewish year.
My son lost his backpack when traveling back to his base. He had put it in the hold of the bus in which he was traveling. He would need to replace his wallet, tefillin, clothes, books, phone charger and all of his documentation. Of course the tefillin was the most important item of all. It was a bar mitzvah gift from his grandparents and specially written for him, and we all know how expensive tefillin are. But obviously the sentimental value was irreplaceable.
It was the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, that translated tzara’at, the condition whose identification and cleansing occupies much of Parshiyot Tazria and Metzora as lepra, giving rise to a long tradition identifying it with leprosy.
It was early evening in Jerusalem. I was exhausted, and thankful that the light rail train had arrived. Along with all the other passengers, I jockeyed for a place to stand where I could place some of my bundles on the floor. At the next stop a seat became available, and I was grateful to be able to claim it.
Why was spontaneity wrong for Nadav and Avihu, yet right for Moshe Rabbeinu? The answer is that Nadav and Avihu were kohanim, priests. Moses was a navi, a prophet. These are two different forms of religious leadership. They involve different tasks and different sensibilities, indeed different approaches to time itself.
In 1648 and 1649 Bogdan Chmelnitzky and his hordes of Cossack warriors perpetrated an annihilation campaign against the Jews of Poland and the Ukraine. Almost 100,000 Jews and 300 communities perished at the hands of these murderous mobs. All of the Jews, including infants, were targeted for murder; the general populaces nearly always joined in the attacks, and the torture and degradation of Jews was an integral aspect of the murderer’s procedures.
A little more than six months ago, my sister-in-law passed away after battling a serious illness. For more than 30 years she had given symposiums on the Holocaust to youngsters in the Philadelphia area, and we talked about her activities many times on our visits to the U.S. After her passing I was determined to do some kind of volunteer work for Yad Vashem in her memory.
It was an ordinary day and Dovid (name changed) was preparing to catch the late afternoon EL AL flight to Eretz Yisrael. He had yahrzeit for his father and planned his trip so he’d arrive there just in time to join his brother at the kever. He parked his car in the area that facilitated a faster trip to JFK for his flight. Little did he know that he was being observed by a team of thieves who were “working” the Diamond District that day in order to rob the merchants of their goods.