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Posts Tagged ‘shul’

Combat Boots

Friday, September 21st, 2012

They called the colt Unbridled Song.

His father’s name was Unbridled, his mother’s Trolley Song. The colt loved to run, with an energy and spirit that stretched into an endless melody of wind and pounding hooves and the freedom of the open track. They hoped he would become a champion.

As a two and three year old, Unbridled Song won many of the races in his age class division. Those with a keen eye for thoroughbreds – and even those without – looked down at the racetrack at the spunky colt and said, “Now that one is going to be one to watch…”

The spring season of his third year brought with it hopes for the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is the race for three year olds, perhaps even the race of a thoroughbred’s whole career. In Mandysland Farm, excitement was high. Their colt, Unbridled Song, was registered to start in the Derby. They had a good crack at it.

A few weeks before the Derby, Unbridled Song won a prestigious race. In doing so, he also cracked his left hoof. The injury would heal, but the colt would need to wear a cast-like bar shoe to protect the leg while it healed. The question was on everyone’s minds. Would the gray colt compete in the Derby, or would he be scratched?

James Ryerson, the colt’s trainer, decided to go ahead with the Derby plans. Despite his injury, Unbridled Song was the favorite to win.

The crowd cheered as the tall gray colt came to the post on Derby Day. This was one to watch…

And they were off!

Barely two minutes later, it was all over. Unbridled Song had started strong but had soon weakened, finishing a disappointing fifth.

A picture in the news showed James Ryerson standing at the colt’s head, a friendly arm draped over his long neck. “He had a hard race there,” the reporters quoted him as saying, “and he did the best he could. He ran the best race that he could have run with that leg. Look at this boot he’s wearing. It’s like wearing combat boots. Can you imagine running a marathon wearing combat boots? He did the best race he could, and we’re proud of him.”

The reporter questioned the trainer as to his decision to take the colt to the post in this condition.

“Yeah, we could’ve pulled him out of it,” Ryerson responded affably. “We could’ve kept him in the pasture til it was totally healed. But, you know… the Derby is the Derby. Yeah, we could’ve kept him in the barn, but… what would we have been saving him for…?”

I have a medical condition that makes it hard for me to get up and do things. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed, or even to wake up at all. The weakness and the darkness and the apathy… they take their toll on the mind as well… sometimes I don’t even want to have the strength.

Rosh Hashanah is hard. Yom Kippur is hard. It’s hard to stand in shul all day. It’s hard to daven all day. And you know what? I don’t even want to. I feel those days coming with a kind of dread… the thought of feeling sick, exhausted, and miserable… I will not have any satisfaction at all from davening. It’s not something I can do.

And yet, whenever I think of that long, cold, early morning walk to shul, I think of Unbridled Song.

We could keep him in the barn… but what would we be keeping him for…?

I could stay in bed and conserve my strength, but what would I be conserving it for?

I could sleep late and save my energy… but what would I be saving it for?

Sometimes I tell myself that this is it, this is the time to throw myself into tefilla and beg for mercy. But sometimes I’m beyond that. There are times when I don’t care about mercy and tefilla, and all I care about is my aching body and tired mind. But then I say…

Shulamis, this is it.

These days… they are it.

What else can you say when Almighty God, King of the universe, descends to visit us in our humble earthly dwellings? “Call Him when He is close.”. He is close, right here, right now. Do I even have the choice, the option, to ignore? The mighty awe of these days screams through the blast of the shofar. Forget forgiveness. Forget judgment. Forget mercy.

All In The Mind

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

It was Yom Kippur eve. The shul began filling rapidly as the time approached for Kol Nidrei. Herzl Machlis sat in his seat, cloaked in his tallis and kittel, quietly reciting Tefillah Zakkah, composed by the Chayei Adam 150 years ago.

This emotional prayer ushers in Yom Kippur with an admission of our spiritual inadequacies and a supplication that the afflictions and prayers of the day should atone for our sins. It includes a declaration of forgiveness and forgoing bygones to those who have wronged us, and a request that others may forgive us, as well.

“I forgive completely to anyone who sinned against me, whether physically, monetarily, or verbally …. except for money that I [intend to and] can collect in beis din … Everyone else I forgive completely, so that no one should be punished on my account. Just as I forgive every person, so, too, give my favor in the eyes of other people that they should forgive me fully.”

Mr. Machlis paused to think about Mr. Schor. Earlier in the year, Mr. Schor had borrowed money from him to marry off a child. As the months wore on, it became clear the money would not be returned quickly. Mr. Machlis had decided in his mind to forgo the loan as an additional “wedding gift,” but had never said anything to Mr. Schor.

A month ago, though, the two had gotten into a dispute. Mr. Machlis changed his mind and was no longer was willing to forgo the debt; he had asked for the money back.

As Mr. Machlis stood there just before Kol Nidrei, he reflected about this incident. He wondered whether it was correct to demand the loan back after having decided to forgo it.

Mr. Machlis decided to speak with Rabbi Dayan after davening.

G’mar chasimah tovah,” he wished Rabbi Dayan. “Tefillah Zakkah made me think about an incident that happened this past year.”

“Indeed, Yom Kippur is a day to reflect on the past year,” said Rabbi Dayan. “What happened?”

“I loaned somebody money and decided to forego the loan, but we got into a dispute and I changed my mind,” Mr. Machlis said. “After I intended to forgo the loan, am I still allowed to demand the money?”

“The primary intent of Tefillah Zakkah is to exempt the debtor from heavenly punishment,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Although is uses the term “mechila gemura” (forgoing completely) it likely does not express intent to forgo legal rights. Nonetheless, the issue you raised is a fascinating one, known in halacha as ‘mechila balev’ – forgoing in one’s mind.”

“Oh, really?!” exclaimed Mr. “Who addresses this issue?”

Ketzos Hachoshen [12:1] cites a statement of the Maharshal that a person who decided to forgo his loan and now wants to take revenge and collect it may no longer do so,” replied Rabbi Dayan, “since mechila in the mind is considered mechila.”

“The proof is from a Gemara [Kesubos 104a] that a widow who did not claim her kesuba for twenty-five years can no longer do so,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “One explanation is that, in the context of kesuba, her extended silence indicates intention to forgo the kesuba. Although she never said anything, her intention to forgo is valid.”

“Does the Ketzos accept this view?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“The Ketzos is troubled by the principle, ‘devarim shebalev ainam devarim,’” said Rabbi Dayan. Thoughts alone are not of legal consequence, with the exception of sacred donations.

“But what about the proof from the case of the widow?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“The Ketzos, citing the Maharit, differentiates between that case and the average case of mechila balev,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “When the intention is clearly evident to all, as in the case of the widow, we attribute significance to thoughts. However, when the intention is not clearly evident, as in the average case of mechila balev, it is not of significance.”

“What is the accepted ruling?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“Most authorities agree with the Ketzos that thought alone is insufficient,” said Rabbi Dayan. “There are some, though, who concur with the Maharshal.” (See Nesivos 12:5; Aruch Hashulchan 12:8; Yabia Omer C.M. 3:3)

“So what do I do?” asked Mr. Machlis.

“You are certainly entitled to demand your money, in accordance with the majority opinion,” said Rabbi Dayan. “If it were to become known to the beis din, though, that you initially decided in your mind to forgo the loan, they would likely not enforce payment, in deference to the minority opinion and the principle of hamotzi mei’chaveiro alav hare’aya – the burden of the proof in on the plaintiff.”

My Personal Shofar Blower

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Rosh Hashanah memories take us to our shuls, homes and families. They remind us of promises made about how we would change our lives and rearrange our priorities. There may also be memories of the delicacies we ate when we were children – the chicken soup, gefilte fish and great desserts. And one sound, the sound of the shofar blasting away with its shrill notes of tekiah, shevarim… and finally the long, very last sound – the tekiah gedolah.

For me the most unique memory of the shofar blowing did not come in a shul or a home, but rather while doing my reserve duty here in Israel. And although it happened many years ago, it seems like it was yesterday. Reserve duty, miluim in Hebrew, is a 2-4 week period of guard duty, or patrols that one is required to do after completing compulsory army service. After we moved to Efrat from Beersheba I was assigned to a local unit that patrolled the Gush Etzion area (about 10 minutes south of Jerusalem). We did eight-hour shifts along with an officer who had significantly more training than us. But we all had our M16s, and had to shoot a few bullets to make sure that we remembered how to pull the trigger.

One September evening I had just completed my eight-hour shift and was allowed to return home to sleep. But before retiring I turned on the 11 p.m. news. The lead story was a terrorist attack on a jeep that fortunately did not result in any injuries, but had taken place in the exact area that I had just finished patrolling. I was shocked. The area has many Arab villages, and there was always the possibility that something dangerous could happen. Somehow, I just never thought about this real possibility.

Two days later was Rosh Hashanah, and I had been told that I would be allowed to be home for the holiday. Everything was prepared, and I was excited to be home with the kids and friends. But then I received a phone call informing me that I would not be able to stay at home; rather I had to be on duty in case there were any more incidents. Sad as it was there was no choice, and even though I would be only walking distance from Efrat I would not be able to actually leave the base.

I packed my machzor and clothes, and my wife gave me some kugel and cake. But the one thing I didn’t possess was a shofar. What would I do without a shofar? Would someone come to the base, or would it be a Rosh Hashanah sans shofar blowing?

I recall being the only religious soldier on this small base, and it was lonely having to do all the davening alone. However, the meals were eaten together with the others, and I was given the “duty” of reciting the Kiddush. The following morning I again took my machzor in hand, and went up the lookout tower (called a pill box due to its shape). Right before I got to the Mussaf prayer that has all the shofar blowing I heard steps, and there was one of my fellow reserve soldiers, Rav Uri Dasberg, with shofar in hand! I couldn’t believe it. Uri lived even closer to the base and was allowed to stay at home, but came especially for me. As I had done in my own shul for many years, I called out the sounds of the shofar and Uri did every note to perfection. He was my personal shofar blower.

The following day, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the same pattern was repeated. I considered myself very lucky. I thanked Uri profusely for personally helping me out. At some point that second day the base commander informed me that I could walk home to Efrat, but I had to tell one of the other soldiers to replace me.

My wife and family were so excited and surprised to see me; I would be able to spend a few hours of Rosh Hashanah at home with my family. As I devoured the many dishes that my wife had prepared, I relayed the story of what had happened to me in the tower.

Going In Circles

Friday, September 14th, 2012

When people ask me what kind of column I write for The Jewish Press, I say, “advice,” but I actually make those quotes with my fingers. I don’t think I’ve actually saved any lives yet. But this column is still great way to vent about your problems, so long as you can figure out how to put them in the form of a question.

Dear Mordechai,

The guy next to me on the road is talking on his phone while driving. Is he trying to get us all killed?

Sent from my iPhone

Dear Sent,

I would say you should stay right on him, lean on your horn, and don’t stop. Eventually, he’ll have to hang up.

This all makes us long for the good old days, when phones were attached to people’s houses, so there was only a limited distance that you could drive with them, depending on the size of your cord. Most people couldn’t leave their neighborhoods.

But the truth is this kind of multitasking is nothing new. People have always been doing other things while driving, and people have always been doing other things while talking on the phone. Before we spent all our driving time staring at our phones, we were eating, finding something good on the radio, shaving, clipping our toenails, blindly groping for things our kids dropped under the seat, and passing back open drinks. And back when we had separate devices for phoning and computing, we would only half pay attention to the people we were on the phone with, who would think they had our full attention until we mumbled, “Uch, where are all the jacks?”

“Um, are you playing solitaire?”

“No, I’m… playing jacks.”

It’s not like the really old days, when phones came in two separate pieces – one for the ear and one for the mouth — and the wire was six inches long, so to talk on the phone, people had to lean over them and use both hands. Maybe that would solve the problem.

Or maybe not. People text with both hands too.

Dear Mordechai,

Why does everyone in my shul walk so slowly during Hoshanos? I need to get to work.

Sent from my iPhone

Dear Sent,

I don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t be suggesting we all walk faster while holding lulavim.

No shul I’ve ever been to has ever managed to do any better. They could bring in city planners to figure out the best route around the shul, and they could move tables and put up traffic signs, and people will still take shortcuts across corners and merge back in, which, in the end, makes the line go even slower. .

Half of them don’t even realize they’re merging. They’re just looking down at their siddurim and following the tallis in front of them.

Somehow I always end up with a guy in front of me going really slow, and a guy behind me leaning on my back. Or else the guy behind me is a kid, and every time the guy in front of me makes a short stop, the kid pokes me in the back with his lulav. Not that I blame him. The poor kid, with his tiny hands, can’t hold a thousand-page Artscroll machzor and a lulav and an esrog that is bigger than his hands. None of us can really hold all that and turn the page (because somehow you always have to turn the page. That’s the other nice thing about the Artscrolls).

So you figure, “Look, the chazzan is saying everything out loud, 3 words at a time. Why do I need my own siddur?” But then as soon as he’s done, there’s a whole paragraph that you have to say by yourself, and it’s going to take you ten minutes to get back to your seat, because the chazzan, when he finishes, is somehow right back at his shtender, but everyone else is on the exact opposite side of the shul from where they need to be. So yes, you need to have a siddur with you, so you can say the paragraph while blindly making your way to your seat.

We don’t have this problem on Simchas Torah. We go around the shul then too, but people are running, they’re holding each other’s shoulders, weaving in and out, and everything’s fine. And this is on top of Torahs and piggyback riders and sticky hands from all the candy. And I’m not even talking about the kids. But on Sukkos, those same people can’t manage to make it around one time.

Israel And The World Baseball Classic

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

For the first time, Israel will participate in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic.

That’s the good news.

The bad news concerns the dates they’ll be playing in Florida. Earlier in the year it was thought the early rounds would start in other countries before moving to Florida in November. Assuming Israel would still be in the WBC games, the Florida site would be Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter.

That would have been great for me, as my winter dugout in West Palm Beach’s Century Village, near the Aitz Chaim shul, is not too far of a drive from the Jupiter ballpark. But September replaced November and the dates don’t make it easy for us even though the site is the same.

Team Israel makes its debut on the day after Rosh Hashanah, Wednesday, September 19. If Israel beats South Africa it moves on to the winner of the France/Spain game on Friday (Yom Kippur is the following Tuesday evening). So the schedule wasn’t made for us.

To qualify for a spot on the team, a player just has to have one Jewish grandparent. Three former Jewish major league players, Brad Ausmus (Jewish mother), Shawn Green and Gabe Kapler will be wearing the Israel uniform. (None of the trio chose Jewish spouses.) Green and Kapler will serve as player/coaches while Ausmus will manage the team.

After the regular major league season and postseason games, Ausmus hopes to lure big league stars such as Ryan Braun and Ian Kinsler (Jewish fathers) to Team Israel. If T.I. survives the November rounds in Taiwan and Panama, it would get a shot at the big March series in the World Baseball Classic at Miami’s new retractable dome home of the Marlins.

* * * * *

I’ve been hearing from many citizens of Red Sox Nation. All liked the mega-trade with the Dodgers and the brooming of close to a hundred million a year in salaries.

Boston can rebuild quickly, Jewish Press readers say, if they sign the right free agents this winter with the freed-up money while prospects received from the Dodgers get more minor league seasoning. It should be a very interesting off-season for Boston fans.

But the question remains: Will Bobby Valentine be back to manage the new-look BoSox next season?

Another question: Why did the Dodgers add all that payroll due Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and the injured Carl Crawford? Answer: The name recognition of the additional stars will help fill seats and drive up the price the Dodgers can command as they negotiate a new multi-year cable contract for the left coast.

Speaking of new cable contracts, ESPN’s contract with Major League Baseball doubles the amount the sports cable network will be paying over the next five years. The good news for fans is that there will no longer be blackouts in cities when the home team plays. Those of us who live in areas with good teams that pop up often on ESPN games couldn’t see them play, and we were fed other programming.

But how is ESPN going to pay for it? The bad news is that we can expect cable rates to go up.

Irwin Cohen headed a national baseball publication for five years before moving to a big league front office position where he earned a World Series ring. The author, columnist, lecturer and shul president, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net. His column appears the second week of each month.

Kashrut – More Than Just A Symbol On A Box

Monday, September 10th, 2012

When I walk in to the grocery store it is second nature for me to just check to make sure that that bag of chips or that cookie has an OU or other kosher symbol on it. To many Jews, it is just something that they do, and it usually is like that for me. But when this question was asked, I thought deeper. I began to think about how this label gives me a sense of community; and as I made that connection, I thought of our rich heritage, and once that relationship was made I thought about our homeland – Israel.

When I look at the kosher label on a box of cereal or a chocolate bar, it reminds me that this symbol is something bigger than just a letter or a word on the box. It reminds me that I am part of a community – a community bigger than just my shul, or even Denver in general. A community all around the world, a community of Jews. All around the world there are people like me. Someone who won’t eat bacon at his classmate’s birthday party, or who won’t go to that basketball game with his teacher on Saturday. When a terrorist attack happens in India and a rabbi and his wife are killed, we in Denver, Colorado feel the pain and mourn the loss of our fellow brother and sister.

A couple weeks ago I went to a deaf school to learn about the deaf community. One of the teachers asked me what my school’s letters, DAT, stood for, and I told her that they were letters in Hebrew. She pulled out her necklace with the word chai on it and said to me, “I am Jewish, too.” This is what the Jewish community is. It is larger than just me and my friend, larger than just me and everyone in Denver. This is a community all around the world that show and feel a rich connection to a Jewish past; people deaf or hearing, blind or seeing, religious or not.

Our rich history is something that unites us. I often feel that one of the reasons is because in the Torah we see great role models and leaders uniting us. There is Avraham – the original leader; Moshe – who united us and brought us to a great level; and in the future, Mashiach – who will bring us all back to Israel. Unity started when the ‘Father of Judaism’ brought us all together. We know Avraham went around traveling and converting people to Judaism. He showed people there is something greater than just themselves – something bigger than them all in which they can all connect and join together. Moshe brought us out from a time of pain and affliction from the King Pharaoh. He united us, and we all went in togetherness, relying on one another, out of Mitzrayim. We know that in the greatest time of Bnei Yisroel we were all in unity as we heard the Ten Commandments being given. This was what made Hashem so happy, and this is what Moshe brought to Bnei Yisroel. For forty long years he helped us unite when we were in the desert at a hard and rough time. He made sure we were all protected and that we followed the way of Hashem – the ultimate Being that keeps us united.

Finally, I would like to focus on Mashiach. Every day we await and hope for the arrival of Mashiach, who will bring us all back from the galut into Israel. Have you ever thought why this is so important? I think this is so important because all around the world there are people searching for something deep inside with this connection to our history. When Mashiach comes, he will do that. He will bring us all together in oneness underneath the greatness and the awesomeness of Hashem – something that connected us all as one with Avraham.

The third connection that I have to this bottle of apple juice with some letter on it is my homeland Israel and how it came to be. During the Holocaust, six million Jews were killed by terrible people and their entire Jewish identity was threatened. In a sense, to me personally this symbol shows the world ‘we are here; we are here to stay.’ After this tragic event happened, people came together and Israel was formed. When I look at this can, I know that my friend Gali in Israel has the same symbol on her can of soda, too. In Israel today people have come together – Jews everywhere can look at that tiny sliver on the map and say, ‘that is my home.’ Everywhere, people connect to Israel. I am very fortunate to have a community with Bnei Akiva – a youth group centered on Israel – where we learn about Israel and get to experience people with the same fiery passion within for Israel. Israel is our home and on every single kosher symbol we can see that connection to home.

Tevye in the Promised Land, Chapter 12: Hodel

Friday, September 7th, 2012

It was impossible to tell which thought gave Tevye more happiness. The thought of stepping foot in Jerusalem, or the thought of seeing his Hodel again. True, Hodel was his own flesh and blood. She was like a little piece of his Golda. Hadn’t he listened to his wife’s painful groans through eight excruciating hours of childbirth? Hadn’t he cradled the girl in his arms when nightmares disturbed her sleep? With pride and with great fatherly joy, he had watched her grow from a tot into a woman. And how empty and heartbroken he had felt when she rode off on a train to follow her Perchik into exile. But Jerusalem – Jerusalem was more than a child. Jerusalem was more than a man’s family. Jerusalem was a dream. It was more than a dream. Who ever thought that the dream of Jerusalem could ever come true?

How could it be, you ask? How could it be that a city which Tevye had never seen could occupy such a powerful place in his heart? For a Jew, the answer was simple. For two-thousand years, three times a day, Jews prayed to return to their city. After every meal, after every piece of bread, and every piece of cake, they prayed for Jerusalem’s welfare. No matter where a Jew lived, the city of Jerusalem was to be the center of his life. It was the place where the Pascal lamb was to be eaten on the Passover holiday, and where first fruits were brought on Shavuos. There, by the pool of Shiloach, joyous water celebrations were held on Sukkos. It was the site of the ancient Temple, the Beis HaMikdash, may it soon be rebuilt. It was the place where the Sanhedrin declared the new months, and where the High Priest atoned for the nation on Yom Kippur. There, the miracle of Hanukah had occurred when the Maccabees had won their great victory over the Greeks. For Jews all over the world, each day started with the hope – perhaps this was the day that God would rescue them from their exile in foreign lands and bring them back to Jerusalem.

But the dream of his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather before them, and all of his grandfathers all the way back to Abraham wasn’t to come true for the moment. They only had use of the JCA wagon for a week, so the ascent up the mountains leading to Jerusalem would have to be postponed so that they could make the three-day journey up north to the kibbutz where Hodel was living.

With tears in her eyes, Ruchel kissed her sister Tzeitl goodbye. Tzeitl seemed so frail and so thin, Ruchel feared that she might never see her big sister again, God forbid. For weeks now, Tzeitl hardly touched any food, and the weight she lost had hollowed her cheeks. Her cough clung to her like a menacing shadow, and her always hopeful smile seemed more to comfort others, so as not to cause her family anguish. The sisters hugged without looking too deeply into each other’s eyes. Ruchel kissed Hava, Bat Sheva, and gave the children big squeezes. Then she turned toward her father. The time had come to return to Rishon so that Nachman could assume his new position as melamed, teaching in the Talmud Torah. Tevye wore a big happy grin. If he had done one good thing in his life, it was bringing Ruchel to the chuppah to marry Nachman. Not that the match had been so much his doing, but it showed that he had succeeded in educating his daughter along the right path. Married to Nachman, she would always live a life of tradition. So even if they were setting off on their own for Rishon LeZion, away from the rest of the family, Tevye felt happy and confident that he was entrusting his girl to a God-fearing man who loved her with all of his heart.

“Remember, Abba,” she called from the wagon, using the Hebrew expression for father. “Tell Hodel and Perchik that we are expecting them to come visit us soon.”

Though Shmuelik and Hillel wanted to accompany their childhood friend, Nachman, he advised them to wait until he could arrange permission for them to join the already established yishuv. Though he was skeptical about his chances of persuading Dupont, he felt the resourceful Aharon might be able to help. In the meantime, they agreed to travel with Tevye. The decision required no forceful persuasion – both of them nurtured a secret attraction for Bat Sheva, Tevye’s fiery, plum-cheeked daughter. Though she hardly glanced at them, each had high hopes.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books/the-book-shelf/tevye-in-the-promised-land-books/tevye-in-the-promised-land-chapter-12-hodel/2012/09/07/

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