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August 30, 2014 / 4 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Moses’

Would American Jews Have Told Moses to Get Lost?

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Imagine if Moses were to come to America today with the mission of bringing the Jews to Israel. Chances are that his call would be met by deaf ears. Maybe he’d be stoned. Let’s face it – outside of a few weirdos, who would listen? He’d be interfering with their plans, their college degrees, their careers, their businesses, their golf games, and tennis lessons. Some would question his authority. Others would want to see proof that God had really sent him. Reform Jews, like Pharaoh, would say, “Who’s Hashem that I should listen to him?” Others would laugh at Moses’s biblical garments and staff. Probably most of them would tell him to get lost.

Not that it would ruffle Moses. After all, he had witnessed the very same scenario before, when he came to take the Jews out of Egypt. Back then, only a fifth of the Jews agreed to follow him to the Land of Israel. Four-fifths of the Diaspora-loving Jews died in the plague of darkness, as this week’s Torah portion reveals.

The Torah describes the plague as darkness that could be felt, darkness “mamash” (Shmot, 10:21). The darkness was so thick, you could literally reach out your hand and feel it. Rashi says that Hashem brought the plague of darkness upon Egypt “because there were Jews in that generation who were wicked and they did not want to come out of Egypt, and they died in the three days of darkness, in order that the Egyptians should not see their fall and say, ‘They too are smitten as we are’” (Shmot, 10:22). To avoid the great embarrassment that His people, the Children of Israel, did not want to go home to the Land of Israel, G-d brought a thick, tangible darkness over Egypt so that the goyim wouldn’t see this terrible disgrace.

Unfortunately this same dense darkness has enveloped Diaspora Jews today. It is a darkness so thick, you can actual feel it. Jews who have made aliyah, and who go back to America, or France, or England, to visit relatives, know what I mean. After speaking with fellow Jews there for a few minutes, you get the creepy feeling that they are totally out of touch with what’s really important. They think they know what’s going on, but they don’t know what’s going on at all. You can talk about aliyah until you are blue in the face, but they don’t understand a thing. Things that aren’t important at all, like the latest hit movie, their new car, their jobs, and the standing of the Knicks, are what really turns them on, not what’s going on in Israel. Whenever I have to go there, I get the feeling that I am in a gigantic Alzheimer’s ward, where the patients have forgotten who they are.

I’m not talking about the many devoted addicts of The Jewish Press, who click on every day to see what’s happening “b’Aretz.” I am talking about your average Haredi, Modern Orthodox, or assimilated Jew. For them, Washington D.C. is their nation’s capital. America is their homeland. Judaism is their religion, not their nationality. They are Americans first. Hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” at baseball games gives them goose bumps. Their children pledge allegiance to the American flag. Their forefathers are Betsy Ross and George Washington. If Moses himself came and tried to persuade them that the Land of Israel was their real home, they’d look at him like he was nuts.

That’s the meaning of darkness so dense you can feel it.

I am not blaming them. The darkness of materialism is so great, who can fight against it? And there is nobody there to teach them about true Judaism and the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Torah. So instead of working to bring an end to the exile, they endeavor to lengthen it by strengthening their local Jewish communities. That was all well and good before God established the State of Israel, but now that we once again can live in our own Holy Land, strengthening Jewish life amongst the gentiles in American, France, Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa, is darkness “mamash,” just like back in the days of Egypt when 80% of the Jews didn’t want to leave and follow Moses to Eretz Yisrael.

Where was God When Hurricane Sandy Struck?

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

What was G-d thinking when he sent Hurricane Sandy and what could have been its purpose?

In truth, I don’t much care, because our role as humans is not to understand G-d’s plan in the face of horror and tragedy, but to challenge God and demand that human life always be protected and preserved.

Did I say demand? Yes, humanity has rights before God. We are His children. He commanded us to preserve and promote life always. “Choose life,” Moses orders the Israelite nation in God’s name, on the last day of His life. And the Creator must abide by the same dictates He expects His creatures to.

Reading The New York Times story today about the approximately 39 people who died in the storm, I was sick to my stomach. I read it out loud to my kids over our candlelit dinner in a home with no electricity or heat. They could not listen any more. There was the Manhattan woman whose only sin was to walk her dog and was killed by a falling tree. There was the woman whose iniquity was to take a picture of a downed power line. She did not see the puddle in front of her. Her body, the Times reported, was on fire for half an hour before rescue workers could salvage what was left of her. There was the young Jewish couple killed walking a dog in Brooklyn. There were the two boys in New York state killed when they walked just outside their house to peer at the storm briefly.

Did any of these people deserve to die?

In the face of these natural disasters there are always those who are trying to divine the mind of God when really their role as humans is to argue with God. That’s exactly what the name Israel means, He who wrestles with God. Isn’t that what Abraham does in this week’s Torah reading where he raises his fist to the heavens and proclaims, in the face of God’s announcement that he is destroying all the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, “Will the judge of the entire earth not Himself practice justice?” Would God really allow the righteous to die along with the wicked?

Is this not also what Moses says to God after he is told that the Jews will be annihilated for the sin of the Golden calf? If you do so, says the great prophet, “then I beseech you, erase my name from the Torah You have written.”

And when God had earlier sent Moses to free the Jews from Egypt but Pharaoh had instead intensified their suffering and servitude, Moses, defiant, says to God, “Why have you behaved wickedly to this people, and why have you sent me… You have thus far not saved Your people.”

The role of human beings in the face of seeming divine miscarriages of justice is hold God accountable and demand clemency for humanity. God is all powerful. He does not need a defense attorney. But humans are fragile and vulnerable and they need all the protection they can get.

Today me, my family, and our campaign staff toured the devastation of our district. We saw cities deluged in flood waters, homes with trees crashed down on their roofs. We witnessed long lines of cars of people trying to buy gas, including tens of people with gas canisters waiting in line for hours. And as far as our campaign is concerned,, it has been reduced to me and our staff sitting in the Garden State Mall tonight plugged into a single outlet on the floor trying to charge our laptops and phones. All this is an inconvenience and, God willing, we’ll dig out. But the people who buried children, the residents who will never again see a spouse, the citizens will mourn parents, my God, my God, what are they to do?

I have grown weary of those who say that suffering is somehow redemptive, that it carries with it a positive outcome. I do not deny that this is at times so. Those who suffer can sometimes emerge humbler, wiser, gentler. But let’s get real. There is nothing beneficial that comes from suffering that could have not been achieved far more effectively through a positive means. To the contrary, suffering leaves us broken and cynical, disbelieving and forlorn, miserable and depressed.

It is time we human beings agreed to wage an all out war on suffering so that it is never excused as something blessed again.

Never again should we say that earthquakes in Haiti are caused by a compact the Haitians had earlier made with the devil. Never again should we say that Israeli soldiers die becauseKibbutznikim eat rabbit and other non-kosher meat. Never again should we say that innocent Palestinians, who are used as human shields by the terrorist monsters of Hamas and Hezbollah, die because of the wrath of Allah. And never again must we say that the Jews of the holocaust died because they wanted to be cease being Jewish, choosing to be German instead.

Because I am disgusted with this kind of thought, I wrote a full-length book that is to be published in November called The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering. But I could not have divined, when I wrote it, that the place I live would have experienced such immense devastation.

The Bible in Deuteronomy is clear. “The hidden things are for G-d to understand, but the revealed things are for us and our children.” Why G-d allows good people to suffer is a secret known to him. But we human beings ought to have no interest in knowing the secret. What we want, what we demand, is that the suffering stop completely so that God and humanity can finally be reconciled, after a long history of human travail and agony, in a bright and blessed future, bereft of suffering, absent of tragedy, and filled with blessing.

Did You Know This About Mormonism?

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Did you know this about Mormonism?

…The Book of Mormon clearly states that Nephi built a temple modeled upon the temple of Solomon upon arriving in the Americas (2 Nephi 5:16).  In addition, the Book of Mormon says that other temples were built in the Americas (see 3 Nephi 11:1 and Helaman 3:14)…the Israelites in the Americas were trying to faithfully follow the law of Moses…

From a commentary:

Ne 5:16 I, Nephi, did build a temple

This temple was fashioned, as Nephi says, after the temple of Solomon. It is fair to conclude that they practiced the same forms of animal sacrifice that were performed in the temple in Jerusalem. The only difference between the administration of the temple of Solomon and Nephi’s temple is that the Nephites were not of the tribe of Levi, and therefore the priesthood they held was the Melchizedek priesthood (2 Ne 6:2). As Melchizedek priesthood holders, they could administer all the temple ordinances which were done according to the Levitical order.

And more.

Visit My Right Word.

Two Old Men

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

As the men danced around below us, I had a lot of time to notice the people who were there – many are friends and neighbors of mine; children and grandchildren of people I know. The rabbi that is so loved in this community; a woman who regularly collects food for needy people. This one has a child who is ill; a boy with Down Syndrome who is so loved and cherished. This family has more boys than I can count; this one just had a daughter who got married. She’s a grandmother now. Her son just got engaged.  That one there is married to her over there. And on and on – a community of people.

Around and around the dancing went as I pointed out different people and stories to my mother. The ages ranged from a newborn baby held in her mother’s arms, transferred to a young aunt, to the grandmother and back to the mother. The baby was at most a few weeks old, sleeping happily despite all the noise.

And back to the dancing – the boys playing on the side; several men sitting down to rest and talking (and they accuse women of gossiping too much!) and finally my eyes turned to two elderly men. One was the one I wrote about in A Torah and the second, not nearly as old, was in a wheelchair. Both were afforded so much respect; as the men danced around they were always so careful not to bump into these two older men.

When the older one walked with a cane, there was always someone who walked behind him; sometimes three men would join together and dance moving backwards, their faces towards the elderly man – almost clearing the path for him. When the other was pushed in his wheelchair, he was often given a Torah to hold and he too was often escorted by others. His voice was amazingly strong when he was given the honor of singing out the beginning phrases of one of the hakafot (circles) as he held the small Torah with the green velvet cover.

Later, after the dancing and the seven hakafot had been finished, each man was given a chance to say the blessing over the Torah on this special day that we end and begin again. Each Shabbat, the weekly Torah portion is divided into 7 sections. Seven men are called up each week to recite the blessing – one at a time. They recite the blessing, the section is read, they say another blessing, and then the next one is called up.

In a synagogue where there are 200 men – giving all 200 the opportunity to say a blessing could take many hours and so – they divide up into several areas – and still each section is read 10-15 times before each man finally gets his chance. For close to an hour, again and again, they began the section:

.וְזֹאת הַבְּרָכָה, אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ מֹשֶׁה אִישׁ הָאֱלֹהִים–אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: לִפְנֵי, מוֹתוֹ

And this is the blessing wherewith Moses the man of God blessed the children of Israel before his death.

The next to last chapter of Devarim (Deuteronomy) was read until almost all the men had been given the chance to bless the Torah. There were now two blessings left to be said – the one to say the blessing over the final section of the Torah, and the one to say the blessing over the beginning of the Torah.

One man came up and began a special prayer honoring the one who would be given the opportunity to say the blessing for the final section of the Torah for this year. Calling up the Hatan Torah (the one to receive the last blessing) is done with much fanfare, “Arise, arise, arise,” and then they call out his name Eliezer, son of….and come give honor to the God who is great and awesome.”

And then, four men raised a tallit, a prayer shall over a man as he was escorted to the central area where he would say the blessing and the final segment of the Torah would be read. Four men, perhaps even six, held the edges of the prayer shawl high above their heads to create a canopy…and under the canopy, in the center, about to be honored, was the man in the wheel chair who was rolled down the aisle as all stood and sang. His chair was gently lifted in reverse up to the raised platform where the Torah is read. Usually before saying the blessing, a man kisses the Torah.

Finding Moses (Part I)

Friday, September 21st, 2012

As the year draws to a close we have the book of Deuteronomy before us week after week, reviewing many of the halachos and reminding us of our harrowing trek through the wilderness. Moshe Rabbeinu is the stern narrator, guiding us to the very edge of the Promised Land, a final step he will never take. He pleads with God to let him enter the Land to no avail. Finally, “Moses, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moab, by the mouth of Hashem. And He buried him in the depression, in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, and no one knows his burial place to this day. (Deut. 34: 5).” We complete our reading of the Torah with tears in our eyes for our faithful teacher, prophet and leader, whose life seems to end in angst and frustration. What was the inner life of our brave and tenacious leader?

Moses at the Red Sea (detail) (ca. 235) fresco at Dura Europos Synagogue
Courtesy National Museum, Damascus, Syria

He was everywhere and then mysteriously disappeared in early Jewish Art. In all of the ancient synagogue mosaics that have survived from the first 500 years of the Common Era, not one depicts Moses. And yet in the Dura Europos synagogue murals, created around 235 CE in what is now Syria, we see Moses depicted no less than eight times, easily the most represented figure in all the 28 narratives depicted. We see his rescue from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter in extensive images at Dura featuring Pharaoh, his royal court, the midwives, Yocheved and Miriam, as well as a mysterious female figure fetching the baby Moses from his floating basket. Higher up on the synagogue wall multiple images of Moses are seen; heroically leading us out of Egypt, parting the sea and bringing the sea back to destroy the Egyptian army. Further along he proudly presides and towers over the Miraculous Well (Numbers 21:16-20) that sustained us after Miriam dies. Moses sustains us and then, in this ancient visual narrative, disappears. His poignant death is not even alluded to.

In Ravenna, Italy there flourished a school of Christian mosaic decoration between the 5th to 7th centuries that have yet to be surpassed in beauty and opulence. These churches and monuments formed the capital of the Byzantine Church in Italy, most notably the Basilica of San Vitale (548). These extensive and lush mosaics in the polygonal apse (altar) depict the Empress Theodora on one side and the Emperor Justinian on the other. Immediately adjacent to them are the biblical episodes of Abraham and the Three Angels and the Sacrifice of Isaac opposite the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedech to God. Significantly, Moses is prominently featured three times. He is tenderly guarding his father-in-law’s sheep and right above that is removing his sandals before what appears to be the Burning Bush conflated with the fiery Mountain of Revelation. On the other side is Moses accepting the Law from the Hand of God. In each image Moses is smiling and clean-shaven, depicted with a halo and in typical Byzantine Roman garb that is, for that matter, much like many of the figures in Dura Europos three hundred years earlier.

Moses Tending Sheep and at the Burning Bush (548) mosaic at St. Vitale
Courtesy Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy

While for us these narrative episodes depict the beginning of our redemption as a people and the Covenant at Sinai, for Byzantine Christians the meaning was considerably more complex, almost certainly colored by the interpretations of typology. This form of Christian biblical analysis seeks to synthesize events in the Hebrew bible with the Christian scriptures, notable the belief that much of the Tanach is but an allegory that predicts the life of Jesus. Therefore Moses tending sheep foreshadows Jesus as the Good Shepherd, a humble Moses called by God predicts Jesus calling his humble disciples and the giving of the Law at Sinai reflects the new Christian covenant. This was a prominent form of Christian exegesis to give Jewish subjects an explicit Christian meaning from the time of the early Church, flourishing in the Middle Ages and prevalent up through the Protestant Reformation. Parenthetically it should be noted that Jews have used typology as a means of exegesis from the time of the Mechilta of Rabi Ishmael, a 3rd century midrash on Exodus, not to mention the fact that the Ramban was quite fond of this method of analysis based on the maxim, “ma’aseh avot siman levanim.” But one example of this is on the verse; “And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt 17 years.” …that Jacob’s descent into Egypt alludes to our present exile at the hand of the ‘fourth beast,’ which represents Rome.” (Ramban on Genesis 47:28.) The simple faith of Moses here depicted does not even hint at his tumultuous past nor the burdens of leading a stiff-necked people.

Selichot

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

However remote the prospect of acquittal, a Jew must never give up. God commands us to challenge indictment with prayer. And the rabbis urge us to confront sentencing with hunger strikes. And so, the Midrash tells us, when Moses stood before God, at a loss for words with which to defend the sin of the golden calf, God Himself donned a tallit, took to the prayer stand, and showed Moses how to pray and what to say:

“And God passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, [His Thirteen Attributes]: The Lord, The Lord, mighty, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in love and truth; He remembers deeds of love for thousands of generations, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; He does not forgive those who do not repent…”

The Midrash continues, “that day, God covenanted with Moses that whenever and whatever their sin, Israel will always be forgiven if they recite the Thirteen Attributes.

Accordingly, religious leaders in the past would combine the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur with ten days of fasting and prayers for forgiveness. However, because, fasting is prohibited on four out of the Ten Days of Repentance – namely, the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Shabbat Shuvah and Erev Yom Kippur – they would begin to fast and to recite Selichot four days before Rosh Hashanah.

These four days of fasting and prayer are known as the “Days of Selichot.” When Rosh Hashanah occurs on a Wednesday and Thursday, Selichot begin on the Sunday of the same week. When Rosh Hashanah occurs before Wednesday, Selichot begin on the Sunday of the week preceding the week of Rosh Hashanah.

Today, few people fast during the Days of Selichot, but the custom is to rise early to recite Selichot. Another reason for observing the Days of Selichot is that a person’s status before Rosh Hashanah is compared to that of a sacrifice about to be offered up in the Bet HaMikdash. Four days prior to its offering, each sacrifice underwent close examination to ensure the absence of any blemishes that would disqualify it for sacrifice. We, too, should examine ourselves during the four Selichot days for any defects that would render us unacceptable to God on the Day of Judgment.

In addition to the Thirteen Attributes, there are seven categories of Selichot prayers. These are: introductory prayers called petichot, prayers in the form of refrains called pizmonim, two-stanza prayers called sheniyot, three-stanza prayers called shelishiyot, four-stanza prayers called shalmoniyot, prayers recalling the binding of Isaac called akeida, and prayers for grace called techinot. Many of the Selichot prayers contain verses or phrases culled from the following scriptures: Exodus 32:11 and 34:9; Numbers 14:13-19; Psalms 25:11; 1 Kings; 8:36; Amos 7:2; Daniel 9:4-9 and Nehemiah 9:31-37

According to one opinion in the Talmud, at midnight God rises from His seat of judgment and occupies the seat of mercy from which He sustains the world. Midnight, therefore, according to this opinion, is the best time for Selichot. According to another opinion, God rides His Chariot through our world during the last three hours of the night. According to this opinion, the best time for Selichot is the last three hours before dawn. If one rises before dawn, he should recite Birchat HaTorah before reciting Selichot and the chazzan should wear a tallit without reciting the tallit blessing. Selichot may be said after daybreak. Selichot written in Hebrew may be recited by an individual in the absence of a minyan, but Selichot written in Aramaic may not. The Thirteen Attributes may not be recited in the absence of a minyan, but they may be read in the absence of a minyan with the tune used by a ba’al koreh when reading the Torah in public.

The Tur points out that a person on trial for an offense carrying capital punishment would don dark clothes and be in a general state of mourning. We, on the other hand, are so confident of God’s mercy that we wear white and festive clothes and celebrate the Day of Judgment.

Raphael Grunfeld’s book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Moed” (distributed by Mesorah) is available at OU.org and your local Jewish bookstore. His new book, “Ner Eyal on Seder Nashim & Nezikin,” will be available shortly.

Depending On A Wise Sister

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

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:

“Listen now, you rebels, shall we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. (Numbers 20: 10-11).

It was such egregious behavior, so much of an overreaction, that the commentators had difficulty in deciding which aspect was worst. Some said it was hitting the rock instead of speaking to it as God had instructed. Some said it was the use of the word “we.” Moses knew that God would send water; it had nothing to do with Aaron or with Moses himself. Others, most famously Maimonides, said that it was the anger evident in the words “Listen now, you rebels.”

The questions I want to raise are simply these: What made this trial different? Why did Moses momentarily lose control? Why then? Why there? These questions are entirely separate from that of why Moses was not allowed to enter the land. Although the Torah associates the two, I argue elsewhere that this was not a punishment at all. Moses did not lead the people across the Jordan and into the land because that task, involving a new generation and an entirely new set of challenges, demanded a new leader. Even the greatest figures in history belong to a specific time and place. “Dor dor u’parnasav – Each generation has its own leaders” (Avodah Zarah 5a). Leadership is time-bound, not timeless.

Behind Moses’s loss of emotional control is a different story, told with utmost brevity in the text: “In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There, Miriam died and was buried. Now there was no water for the community…” Moses lost control because his sister Miriam had just died. He was in mourning for his eldest sibling. It is hard to lose a parent, but in some ways it is even harder to lose a brother or sister. They are your generation. You feel the angel of death come suddenly close. You face your own mortality.

But Miriam was more than a sister to Moses. She was the one, while still a six-year-old child, to follow the course of the wicker basket holding her baby brother as it drifted down the Nile. She had the courage and ingenuity to approach Pharaoh’s daughter and suggest that she employ a Hebrew nurse for the child, thus ensuring that Moses would grow up knowing his family, his people and his identity.

Small wonder that the Sages said that Miriam persuaded her father Amram, the gadol hador (leading scholar of his generation), to annul his decree that Hebrew husbands should divorce their wives and have no more children since there was a fifty percent chance that any child born would be killed. “Your decree,” said Miriam, “is worse than Pharaoh’s. He only decreed against the males, yours applies to females also. He intends to rob children of life in this world; you would deny them even life in the World to Come” (Midrash Lekach Tov to Exodus 2:1). Amram admitted her superior logic. Husbands and wives were reunited. Yocheved became pregnant and Moses was born. Note simply that this midrash, told by the Sages, unambiguously implies that a six-year-old girl had more faith and wisdom than the leading rabbi of the generation!

Moses surely knew what he owed his elder sister. She had accompanied him throughout his mission. She led the women in song at the Red Sea. The one episode that seems to cast her in a negative light – when she “spoke against Moses because of his Cushite wife,” for which she was punished with leprosy – was interpreted more positively by the Sages. They said she was critical of Moses for breaking off marital relations with his wife Zipporah. He had done so because he needed to be in a state of readiness for Divine communication at any time. Miriam felt Zipporah’s plight and sense of abandonment. Besides which, she and Aaron had also received Divine communication but they had not been commanded to be celibate. She may have been wrong, suggested the Sages, but not maliciously so. She spoke not out of jealousy of her brother but out of sympathy for her sister-in-law.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/depending-on-a-wise-sister/2012/06/27/

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