web analytics
November 23, 2014 / 1 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Holy One’

Chad Gadya – Pesach & the Order of Things

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

As the Seder night ebbs away – long after the Four Questions have been asked and answered, after the festive meal has been eaten and the post-feast drowsiness descends, after the evening’s mitzvot have been observed and the fourth cup of wine emptied – we raise our voices in a curious, delightful, seemingly whimsical song at the end of the Haggadah.

The song is Chad Gadya, a lively tune that is one of the most popular of the many Pesach songs as well as one of the strangest.

On the surface, Chad Gadya appears to be nothing so much as a simple folk tune. Perhaps even a nursery rhyme suitable for the youngest among us, the very child who sang the Four Questions early in the Seder.

Like so many nursery rhymes – an egg perched upon a wall? A fork running away with a spoon? A cow jumping over the moon? Two young children tumbling down the hill? – it is filled with odd images and paradoxes.

What are we to make of these curious images? Likewise, what are we to make of a song that seems, on its surface, to be about the purchase of a goat? While it is possible to enjoy the song just in the singing, the paradoxes and troubling images draw us deeper as we search for meaning and significance.

Why have the rabbis placed this strange song in the Haggadah?

Certainly it keeps the children awake so that the end of the Seder is as filled with delight as its beginning. But more than that, the song is part of a sublime and meaningful religious/halachic experience.

A skeptical reader will no doubt ask: A religious experience? About goats? What does Chad Gadya – a song worthy of Dr. Seuss, a song that goes on and on about goats, cats, dogs, sticks and butchers – have to do with the leil shimurim, the night of geulah and redemp­tion?

Is this any way to conclude Sippur Yetziat Mitzrayim?

* * * * *

Among many other things, our ancient rabbis were brilliant educators. God had commanded that we teach our children. The question then became, How best to teach? How best to fulfill this commandment?

The answer: To engage and to reward. And to keep the focus on the student – the child. For Pesach is a holiday of children. And it is right that it is so. Our Egyptian servitude was made more painful for its cruelty to our children.

“And he said, When you deliver the Hebrew women look at the birthstool; if it is a boy, kill him.” With these words, Pharaoh sought to cut off our future by denying us a generation of children. He demanded that “every son that is born… be cast into the river.”

Why did Pharaoh cause such suffering for the Jewish people? For no other reason than we grew. We became numerous. We gave birth to children, in accordance with God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Pharaoh felt threatened by our numbers. “The children of Israel proliferated, swarmed, multiplied, and grew more and more.”

How great was Pharaoh’s hatred of the Jews and our children? How threatened did he feel? So threatened that the Midrash teaches us that when the Israelites fell short in fulfilling the prescribed quota of mortar and bricks, the children were used in their stead to fill in the foundation of the store cities built in their servitude. Another Midrash describes Pharaoh bathing in the blood of young children.

When redemption was finally at hand, children were once again at the forefront of this historical and religious drama. When Moses first confronted Pharaoh with the request to be free to go into the desert to worship, he proclaimed, “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters.” In making this proclamation, he was giving voice to the ultimate purpose of our redemption, found in the central command of Pesach, “You will tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt…”

Judaism is a faith rooted in the past but which is always forward looking. Tradition loses meaning unless it is passed forward to the next generation. We do not look for individual redemption so much as communal salvation.

For that to happen, our children must thrive. They must go forward with a solid foundation in the godly lessons of our history. The Exodus from Egypt is rife with the significant role our children played in its historical narrative.

Perhaps Chad Gadya, in its guise of a nursery rhyme, is no different from the afikoman, one more in a series of games and songs and techniques to stimulate and motivate the interest and curiosity of the youngest among us on the Seder night.

Not The Jewish Way

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Those of you who have heard me speak or who read my columns and books know that whenever I opine on a subject I try to base what I say or write on our Torah and the teachings of our sages. There are so many things taking place so rapidly in front of our eyes that before we can absorb one event, another one unfolds. This rapid succession is so overwhelming that it allows us no time to think.

Nevertheless, all global and personal events, major or minor, are orchestrated by Hashem. “All that befalls us in the world, the good as well as the bad, are tests…” (Mesilas Yesharim). Consequently, there is always a Jewish way of viewing things. There is a huge difference between seeing events through secular eyes and through Torah eyes.

Consider, for example, the overwhelming jubilation that reigned throughout the United States when the news of Osama bin Laden’s death was announced. Undoubtedly, he was the incarnation of satanic evil, and every freedom-loving person has cause to be grateful he is no longer alive.

There is, however, a vast difference between being grateful he is no longer among us and actively celebrating his death.

Before we proceed, I wish to make it quite clear that not for a moment do I compare the reaction in our country to the vile, obscene frolicking in Muslim cities and villages when Jews are killed – as we saw in the wake of the recent carnage in Itamar where the savage killing by Muslim terrorists of members of the Fogel family was followed by frenzied dancing and carnivals in Arab areas. Children were given candy. The insane rejoicing knew no bounds.

Such a response – celebrating the barbaric murder of a father, mother, children and an infant, making the killers “holy martyrs” – can only emanate from savages, yet no one raises a voice.

Consider what would have happened if the reverse had occurred. If Israelis had perpetrated such a barbaric act, the entire world would have descended on the Jewish state in fury. The UN would have been called into special session. Sanctions would have been enacted. Every Internet site, every newspaper, would have declared their abhorrence.

But when Muslims perpetrate such satanic acts, when they celebrate Jewish blood being spilled, there is hardly a murmur.

The elation we witness in our United States over the death of bin Laden is a far cry from the savage rejoicing in Arab countries when terrorists slaughter innocent men, women and children. Nevertheless, as tempered as our celebration is, it behooves us to ask, Should this be our reaction? Is it right to rejoice in someone’s murder even if he be evil?

We, the Jewish people, who from the genesis of our history have always been targeted for annihilation, have tragically had much experience in dealing with this question. While we have encountered persecution and pogroms and Inquisitions and Holocausts in every generation, we have also seen our killers crumble before our very eyes, but- and this is a big but – we have never danced or rejoiced in reaction to their deaths. Rather, we humbly thanked G-d for having saved us and asked Him to help us continue our mission of kindling the light of Torah in a dark world. I do not speak theoretically. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I witnessed this with my own eyes.

Just recently we celebrated the festival of Pesach, which marks the birth of our nation, our exodus from Egyptian bondage. At the Seder table, when we recall the ten plagues that destroyed that tyrannical nation, do we dance? Do we clap our hands? Do we exult? None of that. Instead, we take a full cup of wine and with the mention of each plague we spill out a drop, for our cup can never be full when we witness the destruction of others -even if those others were our oppressors and killers.

This teaching is reinforced throughout our holy writ. In Psalm 104, King David, the psalmist, the sweet singer of Israel, proclaimed: “Let sin be erased and the wicked will be no more” – meaning, we beseech the Almighty to obliterate evil deeds, not human beings.

When we wish to utter the most horrific curse at those who are totally evil, we do not ask that they be savagely slaughtered. We do not pray for bloody carnage. Rather, we say, “Y’mach shmo” – May his name be obliterated may his evil mission be wiped out.

Perhaps this can be summed up through a powerful story involving Bruriah, the brilliant rebbetzin of Rabbi Meir. We are told they had a miserable neighbor who gave them no end of trouble and grief. One day Bruriah overheard her husband praying, asking G-d to remove the neighbor from this planet.

Upon hearing her husband’s words, Bruriah said, “Rabbi Meir, instead of praying that our neighbor be removed, why don’t you pray that G-d remove his malicious ways. And if you do that, not only will you have peace from him, but we will gain a good neighbor.”

Just think about it and you will realize with awe that it is only G-d who could have taught us that.

Finally, there is yet another consideration of which we, the Jewish people, are keenly aware: “Vayokom melech chodosh” – and a new king arose over Egypt,” which teaches us that there is always a new, malevolent person to replace the one who is gone, and this new one may be even worse than his predecessor. So while bin Ladin is gone, there will, sadly, be others to take his place. And thus it will be until Mashiach comes.

But we must not despair. We must remind ourselves of that which we proclaim on Seder night: “In every generation they arise to annihilate us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, is always there to save us.”

And so it shall be until Messiah comes speedily in our own day.

(To be continued)

Crowning Our King

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

“I want a new me. But every year after Yom Kippur it seems the ‘old’ me is still here. After all those heartfelt prayers! The shofar blowing! Fasting! Crying! What happened to all my good intentions?”

This is a terrible problem. It even threatens our confidence in the reality of the Days of Repentance. Can we change? Does teshuvah “work”?

* “The loudest sound in the universe is the sound of a habit being broken.” (Rabbi Yisrael Salanter)

* “A person should constantly agitate his Good Inclination to fight against his Evil Inclination, as it is stated, ‘Tremble and sin not.’ If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should engage in Torah study, as it is stated, ‘reflect in your hearts.’ If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should recite the Shema, as it is stated ‘on your beds .’ If he vanquishes it, fine. But if not, he should remind himself of the day of death, as it is stated, ‘and be utterly silent’ ” (Berachos 5a).

* “In the future, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will bring the evil inclination and slaughter it in the presence of the righteous and in the presence of the wicked. To the righteous [the evil inclination] will appear like a high mountain and to the wicked it will appear like a strand of hair.

These will weep and these will weep. The righteous will weep and say, ‘How were we able to overcome such a high mountain?’ And the wicked will say, ‘How were we not able to overcome this strand of hair?!’ And so too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, will wonder with them, as it says, ‘Thus said Hashem, Lord of Hosts: As it will be wondrous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in those days, so will it be wondrous in My eyes’ ” (Sukkah 52a).

The yetzer hara, the evil inclination, never stops attacking.

Every day I struggle with myself. (At least I think I do.) My faults and inadequacies seem endless, but I’ll mention two that bother me very much. I don’t have to go far in the alphabet to find them: they both begin with the letter “a”: anger and appetite.

I could discuss these subjects for years. I wish I could consider myself a righteous person, as described in the Gemara I just quoted, but let’s just say I would like to be one. The yetzer hara does, however, seem like a mountain to me.

What about anger?

I get angry at those I care about the most. It is easier to look good in the eyes of people I hardly know, since I have relatively little to do with them. How much time do I spend with them, after all?

With those close to me, however, it is much more difficult. Here I have to work hard, because I’m with them all the time.

But actually, I say to myself, since they are all close to me already, even related to me, why do I need to present such a front? Why do I need to impress them? I can be a kvetch. I can be selfish and demanding. I can even be angry, because what are they going to do to me? Are they going to walk out of my life? (Watch out, Neuberger! This is getting dangerous.) What do I have to worry about?

So I am lazy. I know that there are tools to control anger. I know that “A person should constantly agitate his good inclination to fight against his evil inclination,” but it is hard. I can take it for granted that those close to me “will understand.”

Am I a fool? Don’t I understand I’m playing Russian Roulette with my life?

What about appetite?

You know the old joke: “I am on a ‘see-food’ diet.”

* “A wayward and rebellious son is not liable [to punishment] until he steals and eats a [huge amount of] meat and drinks a [huge amount of] wine. [He] is killed because of his end. The Torah [foresaw] the culmination of his way of thinking. The end [will be] that he will exhaust his father’s money and seek [to maintain] his habit, and not find [the money he needs]. He will then stand at a crossroads and rob the people. The Torah says, ‘Let him die as an innocent person, and not die as a guilty person’ ” (Rashi on Deuteronomy 21:18).

* “The death penalty imposed on this youngster is not because of the gravity of any sins he actually performed, but because his behavior makes it clear that he will degenerate into a monstrous human being” (Commentary to ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash, Deuteronomy 21:18-21).

* “One who drinks his cup in one draft is a guzzler, [in] two [drafts is following] proper manners, [in] three [drafts, is] among the haughty” (Pesachim 86b).

I find that when I eat and drink, I am so involved in the desire for satisfaction that I swallow the brachah as if it were food, usually not even thinking about it. In my obsession for the sensation of taste, I forget all restraint. In my haste, I swallow without chewing, which is not healthy and certainly not “following proper manners.” Then I feel too guilty to say a brachah acharonah with kavanah.

Is that an exaggeration? Not much.

I am reminded of the story of the chassid sitting at the tisch. He thinks, “My Rebbe is certainly greater than I, but, after all, he is just flesh and blood and I am also flesh and blood. He eats and drinks, and so do I.”

The Rebbe looks at the chassid.

“Chaim Yankel, I know what you are thinking. I will tell you the difference between us. It is true that we both eat and drink. It is also true that we both make brachos. But here’s the difference: You make a brachah in order to eat; I eat in order to make a brachah.”

* * * * *

 

Day after day, year after year: the obsession with food, the slavery to anger.

And every time I succumb, I promise myself it will be different next time. I invent new strategies, and they are as good as the old ones. With each failure, I feel more hopeless. I cannot climb that mountain of self-restraint and Torah dignity. I cannot act like the holy Jews, the great Torah scholars I have seen who are majestic in their self-control and dignity, the sense of peace radiating from their shining faces, as the glory of Hashem radiated from the face of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Multiply this situation by an infinite number of bad habits, and you get a real headache. I’m serious, despite the tone. The sense of depression is dangerous, because one does not know where to turn. One’s entire life seems to be a maze from which one cannot escape. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur threaten to become mere exercises in words. I really don’t believe that I can change, so what after all is the point? My life will drag on and I will continue to be the same inadequate me.

Can I realistically grow into the person I want to be?

Do I really want to be the person I should want to be?

If I wanted it enough, I could be that person.

Now we understand why we must crown Hashem as King on Rosh Hashanah. We must elevate Him so that He will rule over us.

He will save us if we let Him.

“Praise Hashem, all nations, praise Him, all the states. For His kindness has overwhelmed us, and the truth of Hashem is eternal .” (Psalm 117).

“This is the shortest chapter in Psalms. Radak explains that its brevity symbolizes the simplicity of the world order which will prevail after the advent of Moshiach” (ArtScroll commentary).

“His kindness has overwhelmed us . Ki gavar alainu chasdo .”

What does “gavar” mean? Strength.

This is our salvation: when Hashem enters our lives and overwhelms us.

“Almighty God, this job is too big for me. I admit it. I can’t do it! I am not a tzaddik! I do not have the strength of my ancestors, who were mighty in their battle with the evil inclination. I feel so weak and incapable of winning the battle. Please help me. I know that is my only hope. Our Father and King, I know You are not only all-powerful but You are also our Father! You love us so much. Don’t abandon us! ‘Al tashlichaini milfanecha.’ Do not cast us away from You. As a father has mercy on his children, so, Hashem, please have mercy on us!”

Every weekday we say, “Riva rivainu – take up our grievance.”

“Please fight for me, Tati! I am weak, but You are completely powerful. If You will fight for me, I know I will be successful.”

* * * * *

 

I do believe it; I do believe that if I beg and plead, God will listen. And do you know my proof? I look back on my life and I see that He has saved me time and again. I see that my life has been a series of miracles, one after the other.

“Hashem protects the simple. I was brought low, but He saved me” (Psalm 116).

I make mistake after mistake, but I am still here. Time after time, He has rescued me, even though I keep stumbling.

Years ago, our rabbi asked if we could invite a visiting rosh yeshiva from Israel to our home for a Shabbos meal. The rosh yeshiva was sitting at our table in his beautiful Shabbos attire. My wife had prepared a platter of many different types of salad. The rosh yeshiva wasn’t taking any food, so my wife decided to bring the food to him.

She approached him carrying the salads. Apparently, there was a malach hidden there. My wife never spills anything (unlike her husband), but this time the tray tipped over. The salad went flying, covering the rosh yeshiva from the top to the bottom of his beautiful black coat. Not one salad, but many salads. Mayonnaise, beets, tomatoes, pickles, olives, vinegar, humus all went flying through the air and landed on the rosh yeshiva.

We wanted to die a thousand deaths. At that moment I felt the fate of Korach would be appropriate: let the earth open up and swallow us. Could any good come from this? The most embarrassing moment in the history of the world!

Believe it or not, that insane moment turned into a lifetime friendship with the wonderful rosh yeshiva. He became our beautiful friend and opened the door for us to the world of gedolim and the holiness of the Torah communities of Eretz Yisrael. He helped us in countless ways, and still does to this very day.

And now, every time he comes for Shabbos, he jokes, “Spill more salad! Spill more salad!”

Can you imagine? The moment of greatest insanity, the moment of greatest embarrassment, the moment of complete darkness becomes a symphony of light. This has happened time and again. Looking back on our life, I see that Hashem has overwhelmed us with His mercy over and over again.

Yes, we have to make Him our Melech – our King. We have to daven and daven again and then again, without stopping.

* * * * *

 

“Avinu Malkainu, my Father and King, please take over my life. Rescue me. I can’t do it, but You can do it, because you are the Only One Who is invincible. There are no limits for you! There is no strength that compares with Your strength! I know that if I ask You and never stop, You will listen to the cry that emanates from the depth of my soul.”

And at this time of year, our cries are buttressed by the sounds of the shofar.

What is a shofar? The instrument that allows the volcanic eruptions inside of us, the galactically powerful scream – HELP ME! – to emerge from within us. It travels through a piece of bone. A ram’s horn, the most animalistic piece of dead tissue you can imagine. And from that dead tissue issues forth a cry that is so cosmic it pierces the heavens.

Tati, Help me.

And Hashem hears our cry. He comes to the rescue of his weeping children. He hears.

* “The Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel: ‘My Son! I have created the evil inclination and I have created Torah as its antidote. If you involve yourselves in Torah, you will not be delivered into its hand” (Kiddushin 30b).  

Do we hear this? Hashem created the evil inclination. It didn’t just “happen” to be there. He made it.

Soon we will see that all God brings upon us is good. We will understand that we must cry out to our Father in Heaven to save us. We must grip the Torah with “all [our] heart, with all [our] soul and with all [our] resources” (Shema).   

This Rosh Hashanah let us indeed make our Father in Heaven our King.

“Hu Elokainu. Hu Avinu. Hu Malkainu. Hu Moshiainu. He is our God! He is our Father! He is our King! He will save us!”

May the shofar scream out our cry.

May our Father and King rescue His beloved children from all our troubles.

May He renew the world in the primeval purity of its ancient perfection.

May all our tears turn to laughter and our troubles into triumphal glory as we witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in our Holy City of Yerushalayim, the capital of the world of peace and justice that will last forever in the days of Mashiach ben David.

 

Roy Neuberger is a popular speaker and author. His latest book, “2020 Vision” (Feldheim), is available at Jewish bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Borders, and online at Amazon.com. Roy can be contacted at roy@tosinai.com.

Mourning in the Morning

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Regarding the positive Torah commandment to pray, Rambam writes, “This commandment obligates each person to offer supplication and prayer every day and utter praises of the Holy One, blessed be He; then petition for all his needs with requests and supplications; and finally, give praise and thanks to God for the goodness that He has bestowed upon him – each one according to his own ability” (Mishneh Torah 1:2).

Come this Sunday, 29 Tammuz, I will have spent 24 of 26 months in official mourning for my dear parents.

Their physical departure has left an indescribable void, but the spiritual guidance of tefillah – the essence of my parents’ life together – has lightened the burden of sadness that has dictated my emotions these past two years.

Spending ever more time in shul to recite Kaddish (and arriving in timely fashion, perhaps one of my greatest tributes to Mom and Dad), I see and feel daily prayer – specifically the morning Shacharis prayer – in a more meaningful and powerful light than ever before.

No longer do I simply mouth the words; I now try to appreciate their depth and significance and how they relate to the noble, godly life my parents lived – all the while trying to emulate the spiritual example they set.

This appreciation begins with the “Mah Tovu Ohalecha” prayer upon entering shul. What better way to be reminded of parents who, as pulpit rav and supportive rebbetzin, always expressed their love to God for “the house where You dwell, and the place where Your honor resides”?

The approbation continues with man’s closing liturgical recitation upon donning tefillin. The sentiments expressed – “I will betroth you to Me [God] forever, and I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness, and mercy. I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, and you shall know Hashem” (Hoshea 2:21-22) – are God’s declaration of His eternal betrothal to his people. These words are said when wrapping the tefillin strap around our fingers, just as a chassan places the ring on his kallah’s finger.

Saying these words reminds me of my parents’ 56 years of wedded bliss. Their kindness to and love for each other, coupled with a mutual commitment to practice Hashem’s divine portrayal of righteousness, justice and mercy, made their marital union a model to be duplicated.

* * * * *

 

There is good reason why noted 11th century liturgical poet Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabirol’s Adon Olam (Master of the Universe) song of praise is recited at both the outset of the daily Shacharis and the conclusion of the Shabbos Mussaf. God is omnipotent, and while His decision to separate me from my beloved parents saddens me greatly, I am comforted by the guarantee that – as Mom and Dad felt in life and undoubtedly now feel in death – “Hashem is with me, I shall not fear.” This consoling emotion is thus sensed literally from the beginning (daily) to the end (on Shabbos) of the davening.

The Adon Olam song has an additional spiritual significance to my wife, my siblings, and me. When sung jointly by Dad and our son in their joyful manner, a unique line of communication between zaidy and grandson was created. They sang this song one last time over the phone when Dad called our son on visiting day at Camp HASC. Just as the Shabbos davening ends with Adon Olam, so too would their close and loving relationship fittingly conclude with one final rendition – for Dad would join Mom in Olam Ha’ba just two days later.

The final of the series of fifteen blessings (based on the teachings of Maseches Berachos 60b) at the start of the congregational Shacharis service blesses God, “Who removes sleep from my eyes and slumber from my eyelids.” God’s grace in permitting us to awake yet another morning, and in granting us permission to serve Him for (at least) one more day, gives us the ability to practice the signature act of Judaism: avodas Hashem. While the physical act of implementing the awesome responsibility of serving God is challenging enough, the emotional desire to succeed at this task must be self-implanted.

This was my parents’ way. Every day, from the time God removed sleep from their eyes and slumber from their eyelids, they put into practice the words of Psalm 100:2, recited just moments later: “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before Him with joyous song.” Their joy in serving God’s wishes while singing His praises has been emulated by their children, grandson, and countless worshippers and students.

* * * * *

 

Tzedakah, no matter the quantity, was a central element in Mom and Dad’s life together, which makes it especially enjoyable to contribute my share whenever it’s time to recite the “va’yevarech David es Hashem (And David blessed God)” prayer (1 Chronicles 29:10-13).

Why is it traditional to give tzedakah at this point in the davening?

Despite his having been denied the privilege of building the Beis HaMikdash, King David nonetheless thanks God for letting him gather the needed donations and resources so his successor, King Solomon, would have the necessary tools in place to build the Beis HaMikdash upon assuming the throne.

Regardless of our disappointment at sometimes being rebuffed by God when a desire is made known, it is incumbent on us to always – like David – thank Him for allowing us to contribute what we can to a worthy cause. What better time to be charitable than when quoting from David’s declaration to God that “You rule everything”?

My parents followed David’s example. Even when not granted every life wish, they never wavered in helping their fellow human beings whenever possible. They acknowledged God’s rule over everything by giving of themselves to help better the lives of others. From financial assistance to those in need to guiding their family and many of their students to a more meaningful Torah life, their commitment to tzedakah (and chesed, its natural partner) was an outstanding illustration of the lives they touched.

Their giving inspires my family and me to giving that something extra.

* * * * *

 

I recall Mom and Dad’s profound and unflinching love for Israel and its Zionist ideals; their beseeching God in the following words said shortly before the Shema: “May You shine a new light on Zion, and may we all speedily merit its light. Blessed are You, Hashem, who fashions the luminaries.”

Visiting Israel with my parents – from praying at the Kotel to walking on the hallowed grounds of our people’s historical mileposts, from observing the daily life of the average Israeli to respectfully and lovingly remembering with endless gratitude my maternal grandparents at their final resting place in Har Hazeisim – was always a treasured experience. Mom and Dad truly took pleasure in being a part of speedily meriting “its [Israel's] light.” That delight is instilled in their surviving loved ones.

* * * * *

 

No less than a minimum of four times a day does the tefillah “Kadosh, kadosh,kadosh (Holy, holy, holy is Hashem, Master of Legions; the whole world is filled with His glory)” appear in the davening. This “song of the angels” is articulated loudly by the worshippers in order for God’s angels to hear us enunciate His mastery over the entire world and to then righteously plead our case to Him.

What is the need to say the word “holy” not once, not twice – but three times?

Targum Yonason (the work of the tanna Rabbi Yonason ben Uziel, a student of Hillel’s) offers an explanation that best explains Mom and Dad’s unquestioning emunas Hashem: God is holy regarding both the physical and spiritual worlds, along with the World to Come. I have no doubt that my parents’ unequivocal faith that God tended to their (and their loved ones’) physical and spiritual needs during their lives will be at least matched in its intensity in Olam Ha’ba.

Together with the tefillah of Shema (the ultimate subservience of every aspect of our lives to God’s control), the Shemoneh Esrei stands unique as the only prayer in the entire davening to combine the three main ingredients in the relationship bein adam laMakom (between man and God): paying homage to and making requests of God while expressing gratitude to Him for his kindness toward us.

To me, the last of the Shemoneh Esrei’s 19 requests to God, the plea for peace in all its forms, best sums up my parents’ daily, heartfelt attempts to put into practice on a human level the six attributes – “peace, goodness, blessing, graciousness, kindness and compassion” – that we pray for God to show us. Their commitment to this most basic foundation of the relationship bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and his fellow person) helped better the lives of those they positively influenced, while improving their lives for having interacted with many who made them better. That is perhaps their crowning achievement.

To be sure, thesereminders of God’s incomparably positive influence on my parents’ life give me great solace and much hope for a better future. So why does the hole in my heart still persevere? Why does the Tachanun (supplication) tefillah immediately following the Shemoneh Esrei bring me fear and insecurity, just when I’m starting to feel that today might be easier to bear than yesterday?

Despite having prayed up to this point in every conceivable way – standing and sitting during the davening, and now via Tachanun’s Nefillas Apayim (putting down the head) – the following frightful words appear toward the conclusion of our heartfelt plea for God’s merciful empathy: “We know not what [else] to do” (II Chronicles 20:12).

After all this effort to find favor in Hashem’s eyes, all the while trying to learn from my parents’ example of succeeding in that goal, I start to wonder what else it will take to get my message across.

But I am suddenly reassured, as the solution to knowing “what [else] to do” emerges in the subsequent words: “but our eyes are upon You.”

Mom and Dad followed God’s spiritual lead with the human parental reassurance that when in doubt as to what course of action to take, exercise maximum hishtadlus and focus your eyes upon Him. That recipe for tranquility will always remain with me.

* * * * *

 

As significant as the aforementioned tefillos have been in the healing process, it is the mourner’s Kaddish, thrust upon me by Hashem’s decision to end my parents’ stay in this world, that has comforted me most.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Rav to his admirers and students, explains the mourner’s Kaddish this way (Reflections of the Rav, Volume 2): “The mourner declares that no matter how powerful and terrifying death is, we are not surrendering and we will not be satisfied with less than the full realization of the ultimate goal – the establishment of God’s Kingdom, resurrection of the dead, and eternal life for man.”

It is precisely my not being “satisfied with less than the full realization of the ultimate goal ” that gives me the drive to muster the strength to say every Kaddish with ever-growing kavanah.

Through Kaddish, I look forward to working overtime in this life to one day merit entrance to the destination I am confident my parents call home – Olam Ha’ba.

I look forward to not surrendering to the feeling of helplessness that often pervades my heart.

I look forward to expanding in my core the optimism offered by the Rav’s description of the Kaddish.

* * * * *

 

It is not formally part of the Shacharis service, but kabbalistic literature maintains that it is admirable to remember, through recitation, the Six Remembrances crucial to the history of the Jewish people: the exodus from Egypt; receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai; Amalek’s attack; the Golden Calf episode; Miriam’s punishment (and subsequent healing); and the holiness of Shabbos.

Reciting these Remembrances inspires me to never forget the unconditional love, attentiveness and closeness my parents provided my family and the discipline (my area of expertise) needed to make us more productive.

Another recommendation for private reflection at the conclusion ofShacharis is Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, emphasizing belief in God, the everlasting Truth of Torah, and an individual’s responsibility – as well as his or her ultimate reward – for a life well lived.

My parents lived those doctrines with earnest conviction.

They willingly and unhesitatingly believed in God’s direction and decisions.

They genuinely appreciated the Torah way of life incumbent on us as His servants.

And they took seriously their responsibilities as God’s creations to learn what they were taught and practice what they preached toward others.

I am confident that, having carried out this formula for success in this world, they have ensured their ultimate reward as alluded to by Rambam in his thirteenth and final principle: “I believe with complete faith that there will be a revival of the dead whenever the wish emanates from the Creator; blessed is His Name and exalted is His mention, forever and for all eternity.”

* * * * *

 

Rambam described prayer as “the uniting of the soul of the individual with the mind of God.”

As I continue my quest to reach this challenging goal through the power of prayer, I look back on the lives lived by my parents, Rabbi Aaron and Rebbetzin Lillian Chomsky, a”h, for inspiration and guidance.

If forced to look back, it’s a beautiful way to start the day.

Eli Chomsky is an editorial staffer at The Jewish Press. He can be reached at echomsky@jewishpress.com.

Why Did G-d Create Bullies?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

He looks at me with such a wistful expression in his clear blue eyes. His young shoulders are sagging and he appears to be carrying the world’s burdens.

 

“It is so hard to have a bully in my class,” my son states sadly. “The bully always wants to be at the center of attention. He bosses us all around. Every game that we play, we have to follow everything that he orders. And all the other kids are afraid of him.”

 

His expression is so sad; but I am even more saddened that at the young age of ten, my son has already come to accept bullying as an unchangeable fact of life.

 

*********

 

There are “little” bullies-like the aggressive and dominating boy in my son’s fifth grade class; a situation that we’re trying to deal with so that he need not come home so sad, day after day.

 

But then there are the world’s “big” bullies-those who take pleasure in intimidating and mistreating those that are smaller or weaker or in less influential positions than them.

 

Though bullies are a universal scourge, as the Jewish people we’ve suffered perhaps more than all others from the bully phenomenon; we’ve shed rivers of tears over these bullies. From Pharaoh in Egypt, who mercilessly slaughtered our infants, till today, there have been Hitler-like tyrants throughout the generations, who rule through intimidation and mistreatment.

Which makes me wonder about the source of bullying-where did the concept of such inequality begin?

 

The Talmud (Chulin 60b) records an incident that happened on one of the first days of creation that I’ve always found intriguing:

 

The moon said to G-d: “Sovereign of the Universe, can two kings share a single crown?”

 

             G-d replied: “Go and make yourself smaller.”

 

“Sovereign of the Universe,” she said to Him, “because I made a proper claim before You, am I to make myself smaller?”

 

On seeing that the moon would not be consoled, the Holy One said, “Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.”

 

Initially the sun and moon were equal in size and luminescence. But the moon pointed out a fundamental flaw in creation–how can two “kings” equally dominate the same territory? G-d commands the moon to make herself smaller, implying that one luminary needs to be bigger. The moon complains that this decision is unjust. G-d agrees, but instead of remedying the situation asks that we offer a sin offering every month to atone for this injustice.

 

I’ve always wondered at this. What is the message of making the moon smaller and why would G-d, the perfect Being, need a sin offering for diminishing her size?

 

But perhaps the lesson of the waning moon is that G-d is providing us with the potential for growth through our rises and declines, through our ability to be givers or receivers.

 

We live in a world of inequality where some of us will be stronger, richer, smarter, better connected and more influential, powerful or charismatic. How will we use these positions of superiority? How will we treat those beneath us?

 

And, will we seize our descents or positions of weakness as opportunities to reach higher? To gain a new perspective of compassion, sensitivity and faith?

 

But even with these newfound insights and spiritual gains, the times when we are down are hard and (at least from our perspective) so unfair.

 

To this G-d says, “I see your tears. I hear your cries. I empathize with your pain. And despite its necessity, because I diminished you in size, and put you through the suffering of inequality, I will bring an atonement offering.”

 

G-d also promises us that there will come a time when humanity will evolve and realize the responsibility of these positions of strength and realize, too, the benefits gained from being a receiver. And at that time, the moon will regain her former stature and shine with the same luminescence as the sun.

 

G-d makes it our duty and our mission to get us to that period.

 

We do so by not allowing bullies to create suffering and injustices in our world.

 

Big ones. And even little ones.

Why Did G-d Create Bullies?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

He looks at me with such a wistful expression in his clear blue eyes. His young shoulders are sagging and he appears to be carrying the world’s burdens.

 

“It is so hard to have a bully in my class,” my son states sadly. “The bully always wants to be at the center of attention. He bosses us all around. Every game that we play, we have to follow everything that he orders. And all the other kids are afraid of him.”

 

His expression is so sad; but I am even more saddened that at the young age of ten, my son has already come to accept bullying as an unchangeable fact of life.


 


*********

 

There are “little” bullies-like the aggressive and dominating boy in my son’s fifth grade class; a situation that we’re trying to deal with so that he need not come home so sad, day after day.

 

But then there are the world’s “big” bullies-those who take pleasure in intimidating and mistreating those that are smaller or weaker or in less influential positions than them.

 

Though bullies are a universal scourge, as the Jewish people we’ve suffered perhaps more than all others from the bully phenomenon; we’ve shed rivers of tears over these bullies. From Pharaoh in Egypt, who mercilessly slaughtered our infants, till today, there have been Hitler-like tyrants throughout the generations, who rule through intimidation and mistreatment.


Which makes me wonder about the source of bullying-where did the concept of such inequality begin?

 

The Talmud (Chulin 60b) records an incident that happened on one of the first days of creation that I’ve always found intriguing:

 

The moon said to G-d: “Sovereign of the Universe, can two kings share a single crown?”

 

             G-d replied: “Go and make yourself smaller.”

 

“Sovereign of the Universe,” she said to Him, “because I made a proper claim before You, am I to make myself smaller?”

 

On seeing that the moon would not be consoled, the Holy One said, “Bring an atonement for Me for making the moon smaller.”

 

Initially the sun and moon were equal in size and luminescence. But the moon pointed out a fundamental flaw in creation–how can two “kings” equally dominate the same territory? G-d commands the moon to make herself smaller, implying that one luminary needs to be bigger. The moon complains that this decision is unjust. G-d agrees, but instead of remedying the situation asks that we offer a sin offering every month to atone for this injustice.

 

I’ve always wondered at this. What is the message of making the moon smaller and why would G-d, the perfect Being, need a sin offering for diminishing her size?

 

But perhaps the lesson of the waning moon is that G-d is providing us with the potential for growth through our rises and declines, through our ability to be givers or receivers.

 

We live in a world of inequality where some of us will be stronger, richer, smarter, better connected and more influential, powerful or charismatic. How will we use these positions of superiority? How will we treat those beneath us?

 

And, will we seize our descents or positions of weakness as opportunities to reach higher? To gain a new perspective of compassion, sensitivity and faith?

 

But even with these newfound insights and spiritual gains, the times when we are down are hard and (at least from our perspective) so unfair.

 

To this G-d says, “I see your tears. I hear your cries. I empathize with your pain. And despite its necessity, because I diminished you in size, and put you through the suffering of inequality, I will bring an atonement offering.”

 

G-d also promises us that there will come a time when humanity will evolve and realize the responsibility of these positions of strength and realize, too, the benefits gained from being a receiver. And at that time, the moon will regain her former stature and shine with the same luminescence as the sun.

 

G-d makes it our duty and our mission to get us to that period.

 

We do so by not allowing bullies to create suffering and injustices in our world.

 

Big ones. And even little ones.

The Divine Ecology Of Janet Shafner New Paintings

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

“When the Holy One, blessed is He, created the first man, He took him and led him around the trees of the Garden of Eden and said, ‘Look at My works! See how beautiful they are – how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world, for if you do, there is no one to repair it after you’” (Koheles Rabba on verse 7:13). Creator and created became partners in creation, sharing responsibility. Janet Shafner takes a long hard look at this mutual responsibility and how it connects us back to the Garden of Eden in her new series of paintings, “The Divine Ecology.”

In the first act of disobedience, man soiled Paradise and brought death into the world, paradoxically giving life its ultimate value. And just as life became precious, the very volition that could remove it - free will – became the foundation of human existence. In the Divine act of choice, G-d chose the Jews and redeemed us from the shackles of Egyptian slavery so that we could freely choose to serve Him. The glory of the Jews is our freedom; we can choose to serve G-d and maintain His world, or rebel and ravage His creation. Our history and that of our co-occupants on this planet has been discouraging at best.

The Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil / Hiroshima Maidens (2003) establishes Shafner’s insistence on the timeless nature of the Torah. She depicts the Primal Tree in the center, barren and twisted, rising from angry, crimson rubble. The bark and some branches are still burning. The side panels of this triptych utilize images from the Hiroshima Peace Museum that show the aftermath of the nuclear bombing of Japan. Ghostly shattered figures, emerging from the burning rubble, are slowly understood as a kind of twisted echo of Adam and Eve. Smoke and steam belch from the fallen architecture evoking not only Hiroshima, but the World Trade Center.

On August 6, 1945, some 70,000 men, women and children perished in the first nuclear bombing. Another 70,000 died soon after. The image of the Hiroshima Maidens forms a complex metaphor for our awesome power of choice between good and evil. The Hiroshima Maidens refers to an attempt on the part of some Americans to repair the terrible damage we had wrought. In 1955, twenty-five Japanese women who survived the bombing of Hiroshima were brought to New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital for reconstructive surgery to remedy disfigurement.

Hosted by local New York Quakers, their stay here was plagued by constant attention of the press and, in an effort to raise the necessary funds, an appearance on the TV show, “This is Your Life.” In perhaps one of the most bizarre twists of this strange tale, the Mystery Guest was the co-pilot of the Enola Gay, Captain Robert Lewis. The agony of the survivors of the nuclear blast is reflected in the twisted forms of the tree. We begin to realize that frequently, human choice is tragically flawed and yet is constantly necessary to maintain our world.

The Tree of Life (2003) is depicted as entangled with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to make them existentially dependent upon each other. In their unity, they give birth to a visual representation of a burst of cellular life. The interdependence of knowledge (implying choice) with the breath of life itself, affirms the Jewish belief that the essence of life is spirituality, rooted in worldly action. Shafner’s choice of this motif attempts to move the primeval story of creation out of the cosmic and into the mundane. Her pictorial contrast of interlocked branches, earth reds juxtaposed with blackened limbs, are framed by two fiery pods of painted energy that seem deeply rooted in an abstract mythological symbolism.

In stark contrast, The Four Rivers (2004) brings the mythological firmly into a contemporary reality by means of narration. The barren, otherworldly landscape forms a primal source for water - water that is not only literally life-giving, but acts as a spiritual link to the lost Eden. Quoting the Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (20:47b) Shafner reminds us that Adam consoled himself after his expulsion from the Garden by touching the waters of the four rivers that flowed out of the Garden. Their source was beneath the Tree of Life and they flowed out to all four corners of the world.

Shafner depicts a man on one side and a woman on the other using the water as a mikveh that offers, as living waters, connection with the original source of life. This painting makes a leap through the millennia, reminding us of not only the need for ritual purity, but also the ecological purity of the waters we so carelessly pollute and defile. She insists here that this is no mere symbolic connection, rather our responsibility is in the here and now.

The last painting in the series, The End of Paradise (2004), reverts to a mythological vision, depicting “the flame of the ever-turning sword” as a barrier against the Tree of Life. The floating image of a whitish yellow ellipse surrounded by conflagration of red and yellow fiery static exists in a pictorial void, forever warning an absent audience not to approach the forbidden goal of life eternal.

Shafner’s “Divine Ecology” vacillates between a sharp narrative edge and images that lull the eye into a mythological stasis of the organic world. This tension between narrative and symbol seems central to her understanding of the Torah’s purpose. While I’m not sure this dialogue is entirely fruitful, it certainly makes one aware of some of the different ways the Torah can be seen, especially in the early passages of Genesis that seem so distant and in fact, mythological. It seems to me that her genius is in bringing a narrative, discursive and critical perspective to exactly this material that is so removed from our everyday life.

Janet Shafner invokes a Talmudic perspective to her many paintings of the Torah, juxtaposing texts and contemporary images to reawaken meanings, long dormant.

Another recent painting, Compassion for the Mother Bird/Out of the Whirlwind (2003), plumbs the issues of reward and punishment as they clash with G-d’s justice and our finite understanding. “Divine Ecology” challenged us with our responsibility as guardians of
G-d’s creation; here she explores the boundaries of our knowledge and understanding.

The main panel depicts the age-old enigma of why the good suffer, depicting a young man, fatally falling (or diving) from a tree after fulfilling the mitzvah of sending the mother bird away. The classic Talmudic text (Kiddushin 39b) relates the story of a son who obediently obeys his father and chases the mother bird away before retrieving a chick from the nest. In the midst of performing two mitzvot whose reward is long life (obedience to parents and sending the mother bird away), death overtakes the faithful lad.

The Gemara struggles with explanations but is clearly unsettled with the incomprehensible stark reality. Shafner crowns her painting with a cosmic vision (again a contrast between narrative and symbolic) that alludes to the verse in Job (Iyov) that reminds us that mortal man cannot comprehend the Mind of the Creator: “Then Hashem responded to Job from out of the whirlwind, saying: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations for the earth? Pray tell ? if you are so wise! … When all the morning stars sang in unison, when all the angels shouted? … Have you ever ordered up the morning, told the dawn its place?’” (Job 39; 1-12).

This remarkable painting returns us to the “Divine Ecology” series, challenging us in our Divine partnership. We must do our part; maintain G-d’s creation, carefully exercise our choices between good and evil and, after all is said and done, hope for the best. As stewards of our world, we have awesome responsibility and yet tragically limited power. We simply cannot know G-d’s ways and must finally accept His judgments. It is in the acceptance of His will, frequently incomprehensible, that our true freedom rests. As in the startling image of Shafner’s last painting, the falling figure – clearly contemporary – is welcoming his fall, indeed soaring in acceptance of the Divine will. This is the final challenge of faith that Shafner’s paintings dare us to match.

Richard McBee is a painter of Torah subject matter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at www.richardmcbee.com


Janet Shafner may be reached at: sshafner8262@sbcglobal.net

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/the-divine-ecology-of-janet-shafner-new-paintings/2004/11/10/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: