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August 28, 2014 / 2 Elul, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’

‘Move De Line’: Shalom Bayit; Shalom Aleinu

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

In parshah Ki Tetzei, Moses teaches us, almost as an afterthought, “Do not hate an Edomite because he is your brother.” This teaching is understandable. After all, even an estranged brother who has wronged me is still my brother. But then, in a leap hard to grasp for many of us, the Torah goes on to teach, “Do not hate an Egyptian, because you were a stranger in his land” (23:8).

What? How can we help but hate those who enslaved us? Whose king demanded that “every male Israelite born be thrown into the Nile”? There must be a deeper meaning to these words. How can we be expected to develop good relations with such a mortal enemy? Which do we do? Do we recall our suffering in Egypt (l’maan tizkor et yom tzetcha m’eretz Mitzrayim) or do we “not hate an Egyptian”?

When I studied at Yeshiva University, hundreds of us would rush to the cafeteria after morning seder to quickly get our lunches so we could make it to our afternoon shiur on time. As you can imagine, the line could grow very long. There, standing behind the counter, dishing out daily helpings of whatever was on the menu was a gentle Holocaust survivor, Mr. Weber. To this day, so many years later, I can still hear his voice prompting us along: “Move de line, move de line.”

Over the many years of my life, his constant refrain has become integral to my personal philosophy. To me, he was not simply asking us not to slow down the line; he was telling us not to get stuck in a tough spot and, by extension, not to remain mired in the bitterness of the inevitable challenges and disappointments we all face – not to bear grudges for the rest of our lives.

We all have to “move de line.”

That means letting go of the negatives that hold us back – the things that enslave us, that humiliate us, that degrade us. Ironically, until we can let go of those things, we will remain enslaved, even long after our captors have set us free. We need to “move de line” if we are to forge new paths and realize new goals.

Hurt begets hurt. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. If you want to move de line, you have to let go of hurt and anger. If your “captor” allows you to go free, the least you can do is grant yourself the same grace. As long as you continue to be enslaved by negativity, you can know no freedom; you cannot embark on a new beginning. You are stuck.

As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks eloquently teaches, “To be free, you have to let go of hate. That is what Moses is saying. If they continued to hate their erstwhile enemies, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. Mentally, they would still be there, slaves to the past. They would still be in chains, not of metal but of the mind – and chains of the mind are the most constricting of all.”

But what of all the mitzvot centered on Yetziat Mitzrayim – including those recalled on Shabbat, when laying tefillin, putting on our tzitzit or reciting the ancient truths at our Seders? In fact, there is no hate, no rage, no call for revenge or retaliation – not even a shred of negativity – in any of these mitzvot. Instead, they focus on the positive: Remember. Learn. Grow.

Move de line.

Rav Soloveitchik views the Egyptian exile and suffering as the “…experience which molded the moral quality of the Jewish people for all time.” Rather than embitter us, our experience in Egypt and subsequent emancipation teaches us not to hate and retaliate but rather “…ethical sensitivity, what it truly means to be a Jew. It sought to transform the Jew into a rachaman, one possessing a heightened form of ethical sensitivity and responsiveness.”

The most practical method of teaching compassion, sensitivity and concern for others, the most direct way of imparting a sense of mitgefiel, is to recall one’s own experience of tzarah. It should come as no surprise that it is often he who has suffered sickness who best understands the discomfort of the ill; he who has sustained loss who can best comfort the bereaved, and he who knew wealth and success but who suffered reversals who can best identify with a colleague or neighbor who confronts similar obstacles.

Britain’s Rabbi Sacks Says Thatcher as More like Moses than Aaron

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks paid tribute to Margaret Thatcher on the day of her funeral, saying that “in public, her leadership style was more like Moses than Aaron, more conviction and confrontation than compromise and conciliation.

“But we need both. Aaron was more loved than Moses. The sages said that when Aaron died, everyone mourned, but when Moses died, not everyone did. But without Moses, there would not have been a Jewish people. Sometimes leaders have to be strong at the cost of being divisive, because they see no other way of getting from here to there.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the funeral of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, Wednesday, along with 10 other serving Prime Ministers from around the world.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The Fear Of Freedom

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

The episode of the spies has rightly puzzled commentators throughout the centuries. How could they have got it so wrong? The land, they said, was as Moses had promised. It was indeed “flowing with milk and honey.” But conquering it was impossible. “The people who live there are powerful, and the cities fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of the giant there … We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are … All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the titans there … We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we seemed in theirs” (Numbers 13:28-33).

They were terrified of the inhabitants of the land, and entirely failed to realize that the inhabitants were terrified of them. Rahab, the prostitute in Jericho, tells the spies sent by Joshua a generation later: “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you … our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2: 10-11).

The truth was the exact opposite of the spies’ report. The inhabitants feared the Israelites more than the Israelites feared the inhabitants. We hear this at the start of the story of Bilam: “Now Balak, son of Zippor, saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites, and Moab was terrified because there were so many people. Indeed, Moab was filled with dread because of the Israelites.” Earlier the Israelites themselves had sung at the Red Sea: “The people of Canaan will melt away; terror and dread will fall on them” (Exodus 15:15-16).

How then did the spies err so egregiously? Did they misinterpret what they saw? Did they lack faith in God? Did they – more likely – lack faith in themselves? Or was it simply, as Maimonides argues in The Guide for the Perplexed, that their fear was inevitable given their past history? They had spent most of their lives as slaves. Only recently had they acquired their freedom. They were not yet ready to fight a prolonged series of battles and establish themselves as a free people in their own land. That would take a new generation, born in freedom. Humans change, but not that quickly (Guide III, 32).

Most of the commentators assume that the spies were guilty of a failure of nerve or faith – or both. It is hard to read the text otherwise. However, in the chassidic literature – from the Baal Shem Tov to Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger (Sefat Emet) to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn – an entirely different line of interpretation emerged, reading the text against the grain to dramatic effect so that it remains relevant and powerful today. According to their interpretation, the spies were well intentioned. They were, after all, “princes, chieftains, leaders” (Numbers 13:2-3). They did not doubt that Israel could win its battles with the inhabitants of the land. They did not fear failure; they feared success. Their concern was not physical but spiritual. They did not want to leave the wilderness. They did not want to become just another nation among the nations of the earth. They did not want to lose their unique relationship with God in the reverberating silence of the desert, far removed from civilization and its discontents.

Here they were close to God, closer than any generation before or since. He was a palpable presence in the Sanctuary in their midst, and in the clouds of glory that surrounded them. Here His people ate manna from heaven and water from the rock and experienced miracles daily. So long as they stayed in the desert under God’s sheltering canopy, they did not need to plow the earth, plant seeds, gather harvests, defend a country, run an economy, maintain a welfare system, or shoulder any of the other earthly burdens and distractions that take peoples’ minds away from the Divine.

Here, in no-man’s-land, in liminal space, suspended between past and future, they were able to live with a simplicity and directness of encounter they could not hope to find once they had reentered the gravitational pull of everyday life in the material world. Paradoxically, since a desert is normally the exact opposite of a garden, the wilderness was the Israelites’ Eden. Here they were as close to God as were the first humans before their loss of innocence.

Crossword Puzzle – (Mostly) Jews On First

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Across

1. Search engine option

7. Moshe’s stick might have been one

10. Is it ___ ___ or a no?

14. Abandoned

15. ___ ledodi

16. Not happening

17. Like a metaphor

18. Darling Mets announcer?

19. Famous Fort

20. Who’s on first for 66-Across with 13-Down?

23. Utilizes

24. Tempt

25. Took a load off

27. View

28. Whirlpool

31. Who’s on first for 68-Across?

36. Many a Mel Brooks film

38. Wheel

39. Kind of remark

42. Relief

43. See 45-Across

45. Who was on first for 43-Across?

47. Yang’s pal

48. ___ been a while

51. Win over

52. Some strike callers

54. Hillside

58. Who was on first for 49-Down?

61. Big desert

62. Mess up

63. Claim

65. Give off

66. See 20-Across

67. Net fisherman

68. See 31-Across

69. Like Lavan

70. Place for quarters

 

Down

1. Survivor station

2. Asian poem

3. Singer LeAnn

4. Holy fruit

5. __­_ & Doug (puzzle team)

6. Where a snake once walked

7. Hank who hit homers without steroids

8. Schnozzes

9. Tiny appendage

10. High tops protectorate

11. Me

12. Many sports stars have them

13. See 20-Across

21. Fictional snowmen

22. Good snack on a hot Shabbos afternoon

26. Hollywood’s Gardner

28. Fly

29. ___ a threat

30. Little bit

31. Tiny

32. One from New Zealand

33. Andrews of ESPN

34. Daniel’s famous site

35. Another title for Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

37. Sugar or snow

40. Put out a flame

41. Tokyo, once

44. Hit the bottom, perhaps

46. Shoe fixer

49. See 58-Across

50. Brownish-orange (horse color)

52. Apartments

53. Not cool

55. Museum item

56. Gladiator site

57. Pushed

58. Israel, for most Jews

59. Just ___ ___ too late

60. Space letters

61. Ruby, e.g.

64. Before, for a poet

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Holy People In The Holy Land

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

I had been engaged in dialogue for two years with an imam from the Middle East, a gentle and seemingly moderate man. One day, in the middle of our conversation, he turned to me and asked, “Why do you Jews need a land? After all, Judaism is a religion, not a country or a nation.”

I decided at that point to discontinue the dialogue. There are 56 Islamic states and more than 100 nations in which Christians form the majority of the population. There is only one Jewish state, 1/25th the size of France, roughly the same size as the Kruger National Park in South Africa. With those who believe that Jews, alone among the nations of the world, are not entitled to their own land, it is hard to hold a conversation.

Yet the question is worth exploring. There is no doubt, as D.J. Clines explains in his book, The Theme of the Pentateuch, that the central narrative of the Torah is the promise of and journey to the land of Israel. Yet why is this so? Why did the people of the covenant need their own land? Why was Judaism not, on the one hand, a religion that can be practiced by individuals wherever they happen to be, or on the other, a religion like Christianity or Islam whose ultimate purpose is to convert the world so that everyone can practice the one true faith?

The best way of approaching an answer is through an important comment of the Ramban (Rabbi Moses ben Nachman Girondi; born Gerona, 1194, died in Israel, 1270) on this week’s parshah. Chapter 18 contains a list of forbidden sexual practices. It ends with this solemn warning:

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. The land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws … If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you (Leviticus 18:24-28).

The Ramban asks the obvious question. Reward and punishment in the Torah are based on the principle of middah k’neged middah, measure for measure. The punishment must fit the sin or crime. It makes sense to say that if the Israelites neglected or broke mitzvot hateluyot ba’aretz, the commands relating to the land of Israel, the punishment would be exile from the land of Israel. So the Torah says in the curses in Parshat Bechukotai: “All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it” (Leviticus 26:35). This means: This will be the punishment for not observing the laws of shemittah, the sabbatical year. Shemittah is a command relating to the land. Therefore the punishment for its non-observance is exile from the land.

But sexual offenses have nothing to do with the land. They are mitzvot hateluyot baguf, commands relating to person, not place. Ramban answers by stating that all the commands are intrinsically related to the land of Israel. It is simply not the same to put on tefillin or keep kashrut or observe Shabbat in the Diaspora as in Israel. To support his position he quotes the Talmud (Ketubot 110b) that says, “Whoever lives outside the land is as if he had no God” and the Sifre that states, “Living in the land of Israel is of equal importance to all the commandments of the Torah.” The Torah is the constitution of a holy people in the holy land.

Ramban explains this mystically but we can understand it non-mystically by reflecting on the opening chapters of the Torah and the story told about the human condition and about God’s disappointment with the only species – us – He created in His image. God sought a humanity that would freely choose to do the will of its Creator. Humanity chose otherwise. Adam and Eve sinned. Cain murdered his brother Abel. Within a short time “the earth was filled with violence” and God “regretted that he had made human beings on earth.” He brought a flood and began again, this time with the righteous Noah. But again humans disappointed by building a city with a tower on which they sought to reach heaven, and God chose another way of bringing humanity to recognize him – this time not by universal rules (though these remained, namely the covenant with all humanity through Noah), but by a living example: Abraham, Sarah, and their children.

In Genesis 18 the Torah makes clear what God sought from Abraham: that he would teach his children and his household after him “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” Homo sapiens is, as both Aristotle and Maimonides said, a social animal, and righteousness and justice are features of a good society. We know from the story of Noah and the ark that righteous individuals can save themselves but not the society in which they live, unless they transform the society in which they live.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The Power Of Art

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

In Parshat Vayakhel we meet for the second time the man who became the symbol of the artist in Judaism, Bezalel: “Then Moses said to the Israelites, ‘See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel, son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts’ ” (Exodus 35:30-33).

It would be Bezalel, together with Ohaliab, who would make the Tabernacle and its furnishings and be celebrated through the centuries as the inspired craftsman who used his skills for the greater glory of God.

The aesthetic dimension of Judaism has tended to be downplayed, at least until the modern era, for obvious reasons. The Israelites worshipped the invisible God who transcended the universe. Other than the human person, God has no image. Even when he revealed himself to the people at Sinai, “You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice” (Deuteronomy 4:12). Given the intense connection – until around the eighteenth century – between art and religion, image making was seen as potentially idolatrous. Hence the second of the ten commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4).

This concern continued long after the biblical era. The Greeks, who achieved unrivalled excellence in the visual arts, were, in the religious sphere, still a pagan people of myth and mystery, while the Romans had a disturbing tendency to turn Caesars into gods and erect statues to them.

However the visual dimension was not wholly missing from Judaism. There are visible symbols, like tzitzit and tefillin. There is, according to the Sages, a meta-mitzvah known as hiddur mitzvah (beautifying the command) to try to ensure that all objects used in the performance of a command are as beautiful as possible.

The most significant intrusion of the aesthetic dimension was in the Tabernacle itself, its framework and hangings, its furniture, the cherubim above the ark, the menorah, and the vestments of the priests and the high priest – l’kavod u’letifaret (for dignity and beauty) (Exodus 28:2).

Maimonides, in The Guide for the Perplexed (III:45), says that most people are influenced by aesthetic considerations, which is why the Sanctuary was designed to inspire admiration and awe; why a continual light burned there; why the priestly robes were so impressive; why there was music in the form of the Levitical choir; and why incense was burned to cover the smell of the sacrifices.

Maimonides himself, in the work known as The Eight Chapters (the introduction to his commentary on Mishnah Avot) speaks about the therapeutic power of beauty and its importance in counteracting depression: “Someone afflicted with melancholy may dispel it by listening to music and various kinds of song, by strolling in gardens, by experiencing beautiful buildings, by associating with beautiful pictures, and similar sorts of things that broaden the soul…” (chapter 5).

Art, in short, is balm to the soul. In modern times the thinker who spoke most eloquently about aesthetics was Rav Kook. In his Commentary to the Siddur he wrote, “Literature, painting and sculpture give material expression to all the spiritual concepts implanted in the depths of the human soul, and as long as even one single line hidden in the depth of the soul has not been given outward expression, it is the task of art [avodat ha’umanut] to bring it out” (Olat Re’ayah, II, 3).

Evidently these remarks were considered controversial, so in later editions of the Commentary the phrase “Literature, painting and sculpture” was removed, and in its place was written, “Literature, its design and tapestry.”

The name Bezalel was adopted by the artist Boris Schatz for the School of Arts and Crafts he founded in Israel in 1906, and Rav Kook wrote a touching letter in support of its creation. He saw the renaissance of art in the Holy Land as a symbol of the regeneration of the Jewish people in its own land, landscape and birthplace. Judaism in the Diaspora, removed from a natural connection with its own historic environment, was inevitably cerebral and spiritual, “alienated.” Only in Israel would an authentic Jewish aesthetic emerge, strengthened by and in turn strengthening Jewish spirituality.

Perhaps the most moving of all remarks Rav Kook made about art came in the course of a conversation he had with a Jewish sculptor:

When I lived in London I used to visit the National Gallery, and my favorite pictures were those of Rembrandt. I really think that Rembrandt was a tzaddik. Do you know that when I first saw Rembrandt’s works, they reminded me of the rabbinic statement about the creation of light? We are told that when God created light [on the first day of creation, as opposed to the natural light of the sun on the fourth day], it was so strong and pellucid, that one could see from one end of the world to the other, but God was afraid that the wicked might abuse it. What did He do? He reserved that light for the righteous in the World to Come. But now and then there are great men who are blessed and privileged to see it. I think that Rembrandt was one of them, and the light in his pictures is the very light that God created on Genesis day.

I have often wondered what it was about Rembrandt’s paintings that so enthralled the Rav. Rembrandt lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, knew Jews and painted them, as well as painting many biblical scenes, though the closeness or otherwise of his connection with Jews has been the subject of controversy. Rav Kook’s admiration for the artist had, I suspect, nothing to do with this and everything to do with the light Rembrandt saw in the faces of ordinary people, without any attempt to beautify them. His work let us see the transcendental quality of the human, the only thing in the universe on which God set his image.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/the-power-of-art/2012/03/14/

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