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November 28, 2014 / 6 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Dr’

Shavuot

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Although Megilat Rut is one of the most beautiful stories regarding unadulterated chesed, it also serves as a primer on leadership. After all, its primary purpose is to establish the lineage of King David’s dynasty. Therefore we should expect to glean from it some important leadership lessons. Yet at first blush it would appear more apt to describe it as a book about followership. Rut’s noble commitment to join the Jewish people, despite all the hardships this entailed, is captured in her stirring words (1:16): “To where you will go I will go, where you will sleep I will sleep, your nation is my nation…” These words seem to constitute a declaration of what is termed “followership” more than leadership. However, a recent class trip, with my Yeshivah’s 8th grade, to the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis helped clarify matters.

In the gift shop I saw a little book entitled Reef Points. The cashier explained to me that this book is the key book all midshipmen (at the naval academy students are called midshipmen, not cadets) are given upon entering the academy. It includes the principles, procedures and protocols that midshipmen must live by at all times. They literally have to memorize the book. While skimming through the book on the bus I came across the section on principles. One of the principles is “followership.” Strikingly, in a counter-intuitive way, the Navy feels it necessary to instruct its future leaders on the importance of being good followers. In the explanation to followership the book states: “There are several advantages to being a good follower even when you have been made a leader. First, you will never become a leader if you have not been a good follower. No one is going to recommend you for a leadership position if you have been poor at responding to the leadership of others. The most important reason goes back to the second principle. As a leader, you must always set the example” (p.39).

A deeper reason for the necessity of leaders to be good followers is that every leader is part of a greater whole. To be a trustworthy and credible leader one must demonstrate that he can subordinate himself to a greater good and be able to follow orders, instructions and directives. Even leaders at the top of the pyramid must be able to subordinate themselves to the greater goals of the people. Certainly, leaders in a Torah-based society must subordinate themselves to the Torah. Much of the chapter in the Torah describing the appointment of a king focuses on his adherence to the mitzvot. Rut, by exemplifying followership, taught her descendants this very important lesson.

Another attribute of leadership highlighted in both a positive and negative way in the megillah is optimism. A leader must believe that change and success are possible. This does not mean that a leader should be unrealistic and naively imagine the sun is shining on a cloudy day. Rather, a leader must see opportunities in setbacks and encourage his followers to move forward. Regrettably, the midrash describes (Rut Rabbah 1:4) how Elimelech had the means to support many people during the famine, but chose to abandon his leadership position for the plains of Moav, despite the damage this would cause to Bnei Yisrael’s economy and morale. In fact, the Gemara (Bava Batra 91b) points out that another name for Elimelech’s son Machlon was Yoash, which is related to the word despair. Elimelech’s son had to carry an ignominious name that highlighted for everyone the despair his family caused to the nation.

Contrast this behavior with Rut’s. Rut, who Chazal explain was from royal lineage, chose to abandon her comfortable lifestyle to begin anew as a pauper in a strange land. We can only imagine the boost to morale her accompanying Naomi and subsequent joining Bnei Yisrael precipitated. In addition to all her other attributes, Rut became the harbinger of hope and an exemplar of optimistic leadership at its best.

Leaders must also know how to exploit moments of inspiration and convert them into action plans. In his commentary on Megilat Rut, Rav Avigdor Nebenzal underscores the tragedy of Rut’s sister-in-law Orpah, who also had a very real inspirational moment. She too sincerely wanted to accompany Naomi. But unfortunately for Orpah this inspiration lasted for only a mere moment. Rut on the other hand was able to sustain her inspiration and turn it into a life-guiding vision. Rut, it turns out, was not only endowed with the ability of “followership” but with the ability of “follow-upship” as well.

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

In a famous photo, President John F. Kennedy is seen facing the windows of the Oval Office with his back to the camera. Slightly bent over, with his hands spread out on a credenza, he appears in deep and painful thought. The caption of the picture says it all: “The Loneliest Job.” Only the relatively few people who have been President of the United States truly understand the enormity of the job’s burden. It is for this reason presidents, despite their party affiliation, and often after leaving office, develop close bonds with one another, give the current office holder the benefit of the doubt and make themselves available to whoever may be president at the moment to help and advise.

Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, in their fascinating new book, The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity (2012), describe this phenomenon. Perhaps the most poignant example of such relationships is the very warm friendship that exists between former presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush. In recognition of this, the younger Bush, when president, once joked that “when Clinton woke up from surgery he was surrounded by members of his family—Hillary, Chelsea and ‘my father.’”

Candidates running for office may be somewhat clueless as to what the real pressures of the job are. Eisenhower, who knew his fair share of pressure while serving as commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II explained: “The problems a president faces are soul-racking…. The nakedness of the battlefield, when the soldier is all alone in the smoke and the clamor and the terror of war, is comparable to the loneliness—at times—of the presidency, when one man must conscientiously, deliberately, prayerfully scrutinize every argument, every proposal, every prediction, every alternative, every probable outcome of his action, and then—all alone—make his decision” (p.8). Kennedy, who more than thought himself ready for the job during his campaign and post-election preparations stated a mere ten days into his tenure, during his first State of the Union address: “No man entering upon this office could fail to be staggered upon learning—even in this brief 10 day period—the harsh enormity of the trials through which we must pass in the next four years. Each day the crises multiply. Each day their solutions grow more difficult” (p.128).

The book is full of examples of presidents turning to their predecessors for advice, guidance and support. After the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs, Kennedy invited Eisenhower to Camp David to advise him in dealing with the military and to garner his support to forestall a national crisis. LBJ called upon Truman and Eisenhower in the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination for support and often called on Eisenhower for guidance during the Vietnam War, their different party affiliations notwithstanding. In an almost bizarre interaction, Clinton often discussed foreign policy with Nixon and mourned the loss of his advice upon his death.

Current presidents come to realize that they cannot do it alone. While they have staff who are more than willing to offer advice, they find the need to talk with people who understand them and can guide them from a common vantage point. As their terms progress, presidents begin to view their predecessors as necessary friends instead of political opponents.

All leaders will benefit by engaging colleagues who share their challenges. We see the importance of this idea from an elaboration on a comment by Chazal, quoted by Rashi, at the beginning of this week’s parsha. The Torah states (26:3): “If you walk in [the path] of My statutes and you observe My commandments and perform them,” then you will be the recipients of wonderful blessings. Rashi explains that this verse exhorts us to immerse and exert ourselves in the study of Torah. Torah does not come easily. Mastering Torah requires intense and sustained effort. In fact, Pirkei Avot (chapter 6) describes the set of 48 strategies it is necessary to employ in order to successfully acquire it.

The tenth strategy instructs us to learn from and be apprenticed to rabbis. This requirement is self-evident. The twelfth strategy instructs us to teach students Torah and get involved with the passionate give and take that characterizes such endeavors. As any person who has taught a class is aware, the level of learning and preparation needed to teach without a doubt sharpens one’s skills. However, the eleventh strategy that underscores the importance of learning Torah with peers seems at first blush somewhat puzzling. While certainly a nice idea—why should learning with peers be so necessary as to be counted among the 48 strategies?

Events In the West

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Events In the West: West Coast synagogues will be hosting scholars-in-residence for Shavuos. They include Vancouver’s Congregation Schara Tzedeck: Dr. Alan Morinis, an anthropologist, founder of The Mussar Institute, and author of Climbing Jacob’s Ladder & Everyday Holiness; L.A.’s Young Israel of Century City: Rabbi Yitzchak Blau, whose articles have appeared in The Torah U-Madda Journal, Tradition, and First Things. He teaches at Midreshet Lindenbaum, Orata Yeshiva and the Web Yeshiva; and Beth Jacob Beverly Hills: Rabbi Dr. Shnayer Leiman, professor of Jewish history and literature in the Department of Judaic Studies at Brooklyn College in NY, and visiting professor of Bible at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University. Additionally, several local L.A. shuls are utilizing local community scholars. Joining Rabbi Jonathan Rosenberg for the all-night learning at Valley Village’s Shaarey Zedek will be Rabbis Avrohom Stulberger, Rabbi Yisroel Maza, Dovid Felt, and Yehuda Pollack. In the La Brea-Hancock Park area, Rabbi Arye Greenes of Bais Naftoli will have Rabbis Zvi Hollander, Gavriel Cohen and Chaim Friedman delivering shiurimthroughout the night.

CALABASAS, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Elchonon and Sori Steinberg, a son. Mazel Tov – Engagement:Matt Witjas, son of Scott and Billie Witjas, to Dani Gordon.

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Yakir and Cheryl Levin, a son. Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah:Michael Epstein, son of David and Sara Epstein.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Edgar and Linda Fox, a daughter… Yitzi and Aviva Matanky, a daughter (Grandparents Harvey and Bonnie Feldman Rosenbaum)… Rabbi Aaron and Molly Katz of Chicago, a daughter (Grandparents Dr. Ernie and Frieda Katz)… Dovid and Daphne Levine, a daughter… Rabbi Meyer and Chaya Rodal, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Menachem and Shterna Rodal)… Shmuly and Michla Pinson, a son… Aryeh and Elizabeth Ribak, a daughter (Grandparents David and Gitel Rubin; Great-grandparents Noam and Bella Rubin; Alan and Adelle Goldstein)… Eli and Baila Kramer, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Yitzchok and Debbie Summers)… Phillip and Rebecca Ettedgui of NY, a son (Grandparents Joel Yachzel and Beverly Yachzel)… Yehuda Dov and Shprintzy Safran, a son (Grandparents Ben Tzion and Esther Safran)… Raphael and Rena Mavashev, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvahs: Shmuly Greenfield, son of Yossi and Bella Greenfield…Yehuda Mandelbaum, son of Shemaya and Dvorah Mandelbaum.

Mazel Tov – Engagements:Uri Davidi, son of Rabbi Nissim and Alti Davidi, to Rikki Kuessous of Deal, NJ… Ruchama Drebin, daughter of Shmuel and Bluma Drebin, to Mordy Siegal of Chicago, IL… Chaim Treitel, son of Yossi and Eva Treitel, to Rochella Benenfeld of Flatbush, NY… Yisroel Naiman, son of Yossi and Sari Naiman, to Esty Barski of Arad, Israel… Zalmi Klyne to Malky Raskin of Melbourne, Australia… Aryeh Vojdany to Chaya Hauck.

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Bas Mitzvah: Neva Rubenstein, daughter of Zev and Janet Rubenstein.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Birth: Dov and Yehudis Dukhovny, a daughter.

VALLEY VILLAGE, CALIFORNIA

Mazel Tov – Births: Micha and Tehilla Wiesenberg, a daughter (Grandparents David and Jamie Wiesenberg)… Rabbi Michoel and Etil Bloom, a son (Grandparents Bruce and Sandy Bloom; Great-grandmother Rickey Bloom).

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

Mazel Tov – Births: Rob and Lori Grad, a daughter (Grandparents Ralph and Clare Swartz)… Jeff and Elizabeth Nider, a daughter (Grandparents Marvin and Barbara Nider; Yuri and Alla Elperin)… Dr. Daniel and Jessica Rootman, a daughter (Grandparents Dr. Jack and Penny Rootman)… Eli and Slava Borodow, a son… Jess and Lauren Silver, a son (Grandparents Dr. Mel and Marlene Hirshfield; Great-grandmother Ruth Superstein)… Jon and Shoshona Freedman, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvahs: Yair Rosenthal, son of Aaron and Smirah Rosenthal… Jake Hauser, son of Josh and Kate Hauser… Jordan Boroditsky, son of Dr. Alan and Lisa Boroditsky… Shmuel Hart, son of Drs. Alexander Hart and Kathryn Selby… Matthew Peretz, son of Alan and Lianne Peretz… Noah Hayes, son of Jeff and Sonia Hayes… Jayden Wolfe, son of Isaac and Lauren Wolfe… Harley Lancit, son of Robert and Elana Lancit.

Mazel Tov – Bas Mitzvah: Julia Switzer, daughter of Alan Switzer and Sandy Hazan.

Mazel Tov – Engagements: Greg Lewis, son of Colin and Michelle Romain, to Adina Hoppe, daughter of Sheldon and Bonny Hoppe… Rafi Allman to Leah Goodman… Amanda Diamond, daughter of Craig and Carrie Diamond, to Brian Geffen, son of David and Sylvia Geffen… Dara Nadel, daughter of Josephine Nadel, to John Pavlich, son of Dennis and Susan Pavlich… Eva Yekutieli, daughter of Shlomo and Hagar Yekutieli, to Ari Shortt, son of Dr. Shmuel and Lindy Shortt.

Proposed ‘Add-Ons’ To Classic Informal Blessing

Friday, May 4th, 2012

It seems that from time immemorial, or more specifically from some time after G-d first declared that a person’s days shall be limited to 120 years, at best (Genesis 6:3), Jews have been blessing each other with the wish “May you live to be 120.” I have noticed, however, that many people look at that goal with trepidation, as if it is not necessarily something positive to live for.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller, z”tl, once – or in all probability more than once – remarked that people who do not believe in the World to Come look at all of life as one long march to the grave. But even many people who do believe in the World to Come tend to get a little nervous when contemplating the march to 120.

I passed the half way mark to 120 not that long ago, only to reflect on Rav Yehudah ben Tema’s classic description of the stages of a person’s life, “At 60 a man attains old age.” If this isn’t depressing enough (especially for a person like myself who still has the self-image of a teen-ager in various ways), ben Tema continues: “At 70 the hoary head, at 80 labor and sorrow, at 90 decrepitude, at 100 he is as though he were dead and had passed away and faded from the world.” Ben Tema doesn’t even have a metaphor for life as it actually approaches 120.

On the bright side, the Rambam, Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides, world history’s greatest rabbi/philosopher/physician, who crammed the achievements of many rabbis, philosophers, and physicians into his own life of 69 years, quoted dietetic advice from the Talmud before concluding with optimistic words of general – if not literal – encouragement: “To every man who obeys these rules, I guarantee that he will never be ill, but on the contrary, will achieve old age and need no doctor (Hilchot De-ot 4:20). (Of course, if old age is 60, this still isn’t terribly comforting.) With further advances in science, the prognosis can be even more optimistic, however (at least for those who stay away from carcinogens and other toxic products of our time, and lead lives of moderation).

Some people mistranslate King David’s request of “al tashleechaynee l’et ziknah” as being “don’t send me into old age,” rather than “don’t abandon me in my old age.” Either way, life as it approaches 120 years may not seem like a very pleasant stage for most people, which recently led me to wonder whether people can honestly want their friends and relatives to actually live to 120, and whether the wish “until 120” is or even CAN actually be uttered in pure and complete sincerity. Of course, ideally, every Jew believes that every moment is precious and needs to be protected, fought for and savored. But the reality is that even many observant Jews, while doing whatever they can to extend human life, may not actually look forward to or savor a life that has become characterized by ill health, dementia and loneliness, G-d forbid.

The point has been made that when we are informed that Moshe Rabenu – the first Moses – lived to 120, he was still in good health, which is why the blessing to live to 120 is doubly significant, since it conjures up images of longevity with good health. However, in actuality, most people are not aware of this, and even those who are aware do not tend to articulate it or to think of a vigorous leader of the Jewish people every time they conjure up an image of life at 120.

Upon discussing this with some bright and creative observant Jews (who prefer to remain anonymous), we came upon a formula that can indeed be said with true sincerity, “Until 120, in good health” (bivree-ut). In a further discussion with additional bright and creative observant Jews (who also prefer to remain anonymous), the idea was proposed to add “uvitzleelut, and with clarity of thought.”

Some time after I mentioned this to some additional observant Jews, I received feedback that this blessing – with the add-on – was beginning to be incorporated into the vernacular. Upon still further consideration, it occurred to me that people of very advanced years often outlive all their friends and are abandoned by their descendents or confined to a nursing home. Hence my final proposed blessing for one and all to wish each other: “May you live to be 120, in good health, with clarity of thought, and with the emotional and physical support of friends and relatives.” In English, this is too cumbersome for routine usage. In Hebrew, it can be summarized in a way that is shorter and catchier, while still encapsulating these nuances by implication. I wish all of you readers, and suggest that all Jews consider wishing each other to live a life “ad meah v’esreem shanah, bivree-ut, bitzlee-lut, ubiyidee-dut.”

Events In The West

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Events In The West: This Shabbos, May 4-5, features the Religious Zionists of Los Angeles Community Yom Ha’Atzmaut Shabbaton in the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Beverlywood-Pico-Robertson, Beverly Hills and Hancock Park. Speakers will include Rabbanit Make Bina, director, matan, chancellor and founder of Michlelet Bruria; Rabbi Rafi Feurstein, president and zohar; Rabbi Dr. Binyamin Lau, director of Beit Morasha and rav of the Ramban Synagogue in Jerusalem; and Rabbi Benjamin Levene, senior vice president of Gesher… On May 6 at 11 a.m., Rabbi Dr. Benzion Twersky will be speaking on “The Internet: A Blessing Or A Curse” at L.A.’s Congregation Sharei Tefila… Also in L.A. on May 6, The Jewish Marriage Institute conducts a Shalom Workshop from 12:45-5 p.m. for newly engaged or married couples at Morry’s Fireplace… On May 11-12, Palo Alto’s Emek Beracha and the OU’s Our Way will be hosting “A Signing Shabbat,” a Shabbaton designed for the deaf. The Torah reading and the drasha will be signed simultaneously, and classes will be available in sign language… On May 11-13, northern California’s Jewish Study Network is hosting a “Getaway Shabbaton” featuring Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz… And on May 15 at The Mark, Chai Lifeline West Coast and Bear Givers present “Through the Eyes of our Children,” featuring art work by children impacted by serious illness.

CALABASAS, CALIFORNIA Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvah: Benji Fink, son of Sam and Belloria Fink.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA Mazel Tov – Births: Seth and Tali Merewitz, a daughter… Ben Tzion Yachzel and Rivka Yachzel of Kew Gardens Hills, NY, a son (Grandparents Joel Yachzel and Beverly Yachzel… Dr. Ryan and Danielle Spivak, a daughter… Jacob and Shoshana Polevoy, a daughter (Grandparents Dr. Ernie and Suzanne Agatstein; Great-grandparents Rochelle Agatstein; Ben and Lea Lax)… Donny and Alyssa Wiesel, a daughter (Grandparents Bernie and Elaine Wiesel and Gary and Serena Apfel; Great-grandparents Ben and Betth Jakobovits and Jenny Apfel)… Rabbi Ami and Zisi Meyers, a daughter (Grandparents Herb and Myrna Meyers)… Dovid and Stacy Oyen, a son… Yaakov and Rivky Aguirre, a daughter… Michoel and Rochele Vago of Monsey, a son (Grandparents Yossi and Erica Vago)… Moishe and Gittle Treitel, a daughter (Grandparents Stanley and Barbara Treitel)… Shlomo and Hadassa Dubin, a daughter (Grandparents Rabbi Mordechai and Debbie Dubin; Barry and Tova Kohn; Great-grandmother Helene Kohn)… Mordechai and Shoshana Diskind, a daughter (Grandparents Marilyn Rubin; Elly Rubin)… Shlomo and Ahuvah Gurwitz, a son (Grandparents Beinish and Peggy Kaplan)… Avrumi and Yitty Goldberg, a daughter (Grandparents Moishe and Chanala Chopp; Great-grandparents Chaim and Suri Kassirer; Chaim and Leah Chopp)… Rabbi Hananya and Mindy Jacobson of Lakewood, NJ, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Dovid and Emily Jacobson; Great-grandparents Dr. George and Grace Fox)… Yaakov and Leah Kest of Suffern, NY, a son (Grandparents Michael and Suri Kest)… Rabbi Yanki and Basya Inzlicht of Lakewood, NJ, a daughter (Grandparents Michael and Suri Kest)… Rabbi Shmuel and Faigi Lurie, a daughter (Grandparents Rabbi Meyer and Shulamith May)… Aaron and Gilah Dorfman, a son… Rabbi David and Dr. Gaby Mahler, a son… Shneur and Rivkala Gottlieb, a son… Levi and Malka Lesches, a daughter (Grandparents Moshe and Miriam Fishman)… Ari and Shira Twersky, a daughter (Grandparents Baruch and Eva Twersky)… Yaacob and Rivka Assayag, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Amram and Nicole Gabay)… Rabbi Motti and Zippy Klein, a son (Grandparents Robert and Erica Klein)… Akiva and Rachel Greenfield, a daughter (Grandparents Gerard and Marlene Einhorn; Dr. Bruce and Anne Greenfield)… Daniel and Keren Katz, a daughter (Grandparents Mike and Shelly Sussman)… Zev and Chani Karpel, a son (Grandparents Howard and Gity Gluck)… Rabbi Yechezkel and Nechama Raeburn, a son… Munish and Rikky Weiss, a son (Grandparents Rabbi Marty and Hadassah Weiss)… Dr. Ryan and Danielle Spivak, a daughter.

Mazel Tov – Bar Mitzvahs: Yehoshua Krich, son of David and Michelle Krich… Yoni Zisblatt, son of Uri and Effie Zisblatt… Jack Levkowitz, son of Howard and Elayne Levkowitz… Eitan Halpert, son of Jeffrey and Ziva Halpert.

Mazel Tov – Engagements: Shira Leventhal, daughter of David and Beth Leventhal, to Zev Rottenberg, son of Yossi and Faye Rottenberg… Rachel Adison, daughter of Avraham and Dina Adison, to Samuel Schwartz of Savannah, GA… Chava Feigen, daughter of Rabbi Yehuda and Simi Feigen, to Binyomin Braun of Lawrence, NY… Ruchi Dear, daughter of Rabbi Moshe and Lea Dear, to Ephraim Sternberg of Bayswater, NY… Yitzy Greenbaum, son of Arieh and Felice Greenbaum, to Aliza Vishniavsky of Newton, MA… Shmuel Werner of Toronto to Faiga Malka Lehman, daughter of Kenneth and Libby Lehman (Grandparents Rabbi Jacob and Leah Friedman)… Shaul Klein, son of Lazer and Tova Klein, to Rachayli Fuchs of Flatbush, NY… Michelle Taitz, daughter of Emanuel Taitz, to Moshe Goldfeder… Yossi Schusterman to Chaya Mushka Lieberman… Uri Okrent, son of Dr. Derek and Bathsheva Okrent, to Atara Jacobs of NJ… Ariel Hausman, son of Jacob and Ellen Hausman, to Zahava Sara Yaffa of Atlanta, GA… Tuvia Korobkin, son of Rabbi Daniel and Karen Korobkin, to Adina Klein of Toronto. Mazel Tov – Wedding: Rebecca Praw, daughter of Albert and Heidi Praw, to Michael Share.

How Can Orthodox Jews Deny The Miracle Of Israel?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

For me, Israel is personal.

I was born as Israel’s War of Independence raged, just weeks after the state’s miraculous birth. As I lay in the hospital room with my mother, the windows shattered with the relentless attacks of those who sought, once again, to destroy us – this time not on their bloodstained soil but on our own sacred land. Once again, by God’s hand, we prevailed. The few against the many. The weak against the so-called strong.

My parents arrived in Palestine on the very last boat to sail from Romania. They were broken, demeaned and degraded but they were determined to find renewal in the holy land. For my family, galut and geulah are not chapters in a history book. They are real life experiences.

For us, Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Atzmaut were not mere dates on the calendar but days filled with piercing memories that called for reflection, remembrance, and, ultimately, celebration.

For many years, my family was not alone in fervently claiming these dates, these searing modern commemorations, as our own. Growing up in Forest Hills, New York, I remember the crowds of Jews – all Jews, of every age and background – that came together in synagogues and sanctuaries to remember, to pray, and to promise.

I remember the power those long-ago days held for those of us who gathered to commemorate and to celebrate them. But now? Many progressive Jewish communities continue to celebrate Israel, but in the majority of today’s major Orthodox communities it’s rare to find recognition – let alone active celebration – of these most sacred days.

How do we explain this Orthodox response, or lack of it, to the state of Israel? Can any of us deny the miracle Israel represents? For the first time in two thousand years the ingathering of exiles is realized as Jews have returned home to the land promised by God. The city of Jerusalem is rebuilt. The desert once again blooms.

All this on the heels of the greatest churban in Jewish history, the Holocaust.

Miracle of miracles! The gates of Auschwitz closed and the gates of Haifa opened. If ever there was a confirmation of the Divine Covenant, of the eternal relationship between a people, a Torah, God, and a land; if ever there was a fulfillment of prophecies that in spite of a bitter galut and the terror of persecution there would be ultimate geulah and return to the land and its God; if ever there was a period of Messianic possibility and challenge – it is now.

More Jews are engaged in serious, regular, and creative Torah learning in Israel than at any time in the last five centuries. “From Zion the Torah will come forth and the word of God from Jerusalem.” And so it does. The world’s Torah is nourished from its source in Jerusalem. A distinguished chassidic leader recently told me that most Jews are not aware that “the government of the state of Israel is the world’s most generous donor in support of Torah study.”

The silence of the Soviet Jews ended. The influence of Jews in America and Europe is palpable. All this, and more, only because Israel exists.

Yet the majority of Orthodox Jews in America act as though nothing of note happened on May 14, 1948. They refuse to acknowledge God’s outstretched arm or recognize our generation’s restored glory. What arrogance causes them to summarily reject the opportunity to celebrate and rejoice on new Yomim Tovim? How do they show such disregard for those who love, support and sacrifice for Israel? What thinking is behind the rejection of the Hebrew language and the distancing of all that speaks of Tziyonim?

There are Orthodox schools of thought and practice that educate their children – toddlers even! – to think and live as kanaaim.

The fact that modern Israel may not as yet be the fulfillment of all Messianic dreams and aspirations does not, cannot and must not mean its rejection, denial, or disdain.

“Israel,” Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz poignantly wrote, “is focal to our people. It is not an afterthought. It is not something to be tolerated for the sake of unity or because it is home and protector to so many of our brothers and sisters. It is a step, small or large is irrelevant, toward redemption. Its triumphs and celebrations are our triumphs and celebrations. There may be differences in the manner of celebration, but we affirm, with strength and conviction and without apology, that it is our simcha and that we want to, and need to, be a part of it. We are proud of its symbols, be they flag or anthem, for they have become sanctified…”

My grandfather, the Romanian gaon Rav Bezalel Ze’ev Shafran, was asked, “Why is it that in the Nusach S’fard Keter Kedushah we ask, V’hu yigaleinu sh’einit?” Why do we ask that God redeem us for the second time? The second redemption has already occurred! Are we not eagerly anticipating the third and ultimate redemption?

Parshat Shemini

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

More than 1500 people died on the Titanic. As a result of the tragedy, out of date conventions and procedures were changed, navigational mistakes were identified and corrected, and the threat of ice was taken seriously—even in the era of modern ships. Walter Lord, in his seminal book on the disaster, A Night to Remember (1955), wrote: “Never again would men fling a ship into an ice field, heedless of warnings, putting their whole trust in a few thousand tons of steel and rivets. From then on Atlantic liners took ice messages seriously, steered clear, or slowed down. Nobody believed in the ‘unsinkable ship.’ Nor would icebergs any longer prowl the seas unintended. After the Titanic sank, the American and British governments established the International Ice Patrol, and today Coast Guard cutters shepherd errant icebergs that drift toward the steamer lanes. The winter lane itself was shifted further south, as an extra precaution” (p.87).

One of the great tragedies of the disaster is that so many little things went wrong and conspired against the great ship. Had any of these things not happened the voyage might have turned out differently. Lord captures this sentiment with the following prose that seems almost poetic in nature. “What troubled people especially was not just the tragedy—or even its needlessness—but the element of fate in it all. If the Titanic had heeded any of the ice messages on Sunday…if ice conditions had been normal…if the night had been rough or moonlit…if she had seen the berg 15 seconds sooner—or 15 seconds later…if she had hit the ice any other way…if her watertight bulkheads had been one deck higher…if the Californian had only come. Had any one of the ‘ifs’ turned out right, every life might have been saved. But they all went against her—a classic Greek tragedy” (p.145).

One of the most striking examples of a small thing that might have changed history is the case of the lookouts’ missing binoculars. To help navigate the Titanic through dangerous waters two lookouts were stationed high up in the crow’s nest toward the front of the ship. In the days prior to radar, the lookouts’ job was to scan the ocean, identify any dangerous objects and alert the bridge to avoid them. To help the lookouts execute their duty, binoculars were procured for their use. However, the Titanic’s lookouts had no binoculars. They were locked up and nobody could find the key.

Due to a personnel change shortly before she sailed, David Blaire, who was the Titanic’s original second officer, was transferred off the ship. Among Blaire’s responsibilities was the safeguarding of the binoculars for the crow’s nest. In his hurry to leave the ship he apparently locked them up without telling anybody where they were, and left the ship with the key to the locker. As a result the lookouts scanned the dark ocean on the night of April 14 without the benefit of binoculars. The surviving lookout, Frederick Fleet, testified in the U.S. inquiry that he believed had he been using binoculars he would have spotted the iceberg somewhat earlier, leaving enough time for the Titanic to have evaded the iceberg. Alas, another small detail that might have given the Titanic the few more seconds it so desperately needed to escape its doom.

Although leaders must think about the big picture, they ignore details at their own peril. The Torah at the end of this week’s parsha makes this point abundantly clear. Regarding the laws regulating the criteria of kosher animals, the Torah states (11:47): “That it must be distinguished between the pure and impure and between the animals that can be eaten and those that cannot be eaten.” Rashi explains, based on Midrash Halacha, that the Torah in this pasuk does not come to exhort us to differentiate between kosher and non-kosher animals. That requirement had already been made abundantly clear. Rather, the Torah is underscoring the importance of differentiating between an animal that has been slaughtered properly and one that has not been slaughtered properly. The difference between them is negligible. If even slightly more than half of the animal’s parts which require cutting have been cut, then the animal becomes edible. If, however, only half (or less) has been cut, then the animal remains forever assur to eat. This sespite the fact that the difference between these two cases is barely noticeable.

The great Chassidic master Reb Bunum of Peshischa teaches that this pasuk warns humankind that the difference between good and evil, holy and profane, and purity and impurity is often the smallest amount. A person must bear this message in mind at all times. A story is told in the name of various great rabbis, of the student who was offered the opportunity to become a shochet. Upon receiving the invitation the student turned to his rabbi and related to him that he is afraid to accept such an awesome responsibility. After all, many people will rely on his actions and the slightest error on his part might cause them all to eat non-kosher food. The rabbi responded by asking his student rhetorically—“Who should I recommend for the position, someone who is not afraid? Someone who thinks he is ready for the job?”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-shemini/2012/04/19/

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