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 Around The Jewish Year


Passover | Shavuos | Yom Kippur | Chanukah


Afterthoughts - Passover Editions

"You find that the exiles will only bring themselves in(to the land of Israel) in the merit of faith. You also find that our ancestors were only redeemed from Egypt in the merit of faith. Also, Abraham only inherited this world and the next in the merit of faith, for he (He - G-d?) believed in those who have faith. What does it say? "Gates open up and let in a nation who guards faith." Who (What?) caused us to come to this joy? It was only in reward for the faith that our ancestors had in this world. (Yalkut Hoshea 519)

This is some Medrash!

For now, let's focus on a part of the first sentence.

To date, our exile has lingered on. As the years wear on, we become more remote from those great events of the past that demonstrated G-d's existence, His awareness, care, and management of the affairs of mankind. Passover of the year 2000 is 3312 years from the redemption from Egypt.

Each year should make us further removed from the Divine demonstrations that provided our foundations of faith. If, as this Medrash implies, having faith is an exit criteria for our exile, how can we ever hope to reach the end of our exile?

Also, why does the Medrash focus on bringing ourselves in? It says that our ancestors were redeemed in the merit of faith. Why doesn't it use the same language? Why doesn't it say, "The Jewish people will only be redeemed in the merit of faith."

The following came to mind.

A great gentile philosopher of long ago, once remarked that the greatest proof of G-d's existence is the existence of the Jewish people. (I sometimes wonder if he would have said the same thing about Mankind, had he lived to see the year 2000).

So, history becomes only more impossible for the Jewish people to survive, to even exist.

And here we are, alive and even growing, but not by accident!

(Actually, I sometimes wonder if the reason the redemption has not yet occurred is because it is not yet sufficiently impossible.)

You know, the astronomers tell us that the universe is both expanding and contracting at the same time. Well, with my spiritual telescope I say that the faith of the Jewish people and all Mankind, is both growing and shrinking at the same time.

So, we can now better understand how faith can be used as an exit criteria for our redemption.

Now, from personal observation, I say that this phenomenon of shrinking and growing faith occurs on a macro and on a micro level. That is, it is true for the Jewish people as a whole and it is true for each and every person.

We begin our lives with open and trusting faith in everything we are taught by our parents and teachers. As we grow (and begin to feel the cost and implications of this here faith), it loses its impact, some people lose their grip.

Then, a funny thing happens. We get thrust into a hostile and rough world, with all sorts of frustrations, risks, and dangers. We complain. We whine. We are scared; We are lonely. But we are still here. The vast majority have roofs over their heads, their bodies are covered, they are not starving. How? Are we all just so smart, so well sprinkled with the charm from some gods of luck? Baloney.

Another funny thing happens as we get older. We look for meaning in life, to life.

We need it.

In the earlier years, physical stimulation is the focus of life. As a person matures, it loses significance. Many people who have difficulty in coping with this begin to use physical stimulation to distract themselves from the pain of the emptiness that this causes.

(By the way, we have links for those who would like additional opportunities and resources for meaning. One is through our own Judaism 101 program, which has referred many people to Partners-In-Torah. http://www.jewishamerica.com/ja/features/jew101.cfm Another great resource is Aish Hatorah, www.Aish.com.)

So, as each of us gets further into life, we grow both more remote and yet more closer to our faith, we need it more, we appreciate it more, we find ourselves more, we even find G-d more.

Now we're ready to tackle something rather sticky.

It's about our being stuck, each and every one of us.

OK. Now, ready for the Moshiach drill? Here it goes.

Toooot

Were your bags packed from before? Did you jump when you heard the shofar? Did you scramble and head for the door?

Which door?

You know, we can get so involved with life, with affairs, with career, with school, with toys.

Do you feel a bit stuck? A bit disappointed in yourself?

Let's change this.

At the end of our seder we open our door for Elijah the Prophet, the person who will announce that Moshiach is about to arrive.

We let him do his thing and then we sink back in our comfortable home and go on with the seder, feeling somewhat full and sleepy.

This year, lets do something different.

Get up.

Walk right out of your house. Command everyone else to follow.

Think.

Say:

Goodbye house.

Goodbye job.

Goodbye career.

Goodbye new car.

Goodbye Game Boy .

I have no idea what will happen next. How will G-d care for me now. How will we all survive? What will life be like?

Well, G-d took great care for us up to now and He will take great care of us from now on! We will thrive. We will find joy. We will find greatness.

Unstuck.

You can now go back home and continue on with the seder, unless you see a bunch of eagles at your feet. If you do, then don't look back. Forget your toothbrush. Just keep on moving.

So, perhaps we can now understand why the Medrash puts focus on bringing ourselves in.

You see, when we show our desire and energy to take ourselves out our exile and out of our homes, then G-d will show His energy and His desire to bring us into His land, His home, measure for measure.

We can and we will bring ourselves to the redemption, with G-d's help. It just may take a bit more time and practice. Perhaps we are ready right now.

Have a happy and special Passover.


The Torah gives us three wonderful pilgrimage festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavuos, and Succos.

Now, a Jewish wedding consists of three phases: Kidushin, Chuppa, and Yichud.

A parallel between the three pilgrimage festivals and the three wedding phases came to mind.

Kidushin is the start of the marriage process. At Kidushin, the groom consecrates his bride. Among other things, it says that he chose her. By accepting the ring, the bride dedicates herself to her groom. She is no longer free to marry anyone else. She is a married woman, but not in all senses of the word.

The next stage in the Jewish wedding is Chuppa. The groom takes his bride into his home. The Kesuvah is written by then and it becomes fully effective. This is a document which delineates their obligations to each other. At this point, they are fully married but they have not yet lived together as husband and wife.

The final stage is Yichud, when the husband and wife are alone together.

Now they’re really gone.

Today, the bride and groom stand under the groom’s wedding canopy during the Kidushin and Chuppa follows immediately. The Kesuvah is signed before the ceremony but is read and given to the bride after the Kidushin.

During our earlier history the young couple waited a year between the Kidushin and Chuppa to give them some time to furnish their home. (Thank Heaven today for Sears and the Credit Card.)

The Yichud follows the Chuppa, after the groom (finally) breaks the glass, the photographers get their way, and the young couple somehow gets through the throng of well-wishers and dancers.

During Pesach we started our relationship with G-d as His nation. The unprecedented public miracles of the Exodus demonstrated to us and to the world that G-d chose the Jewish people. We left civilization and went out into the wilderness with Moshe (Moses). We accepted the ‘ring.’

Shavuos was like our Chuppa. The Oral Torah teaches that G-d spread Mount Sinai over the Jewish people like a huge canopy. In a figurative sense, the Torah is our Kesuvah and we accepted it during Shavuos. The Torah delineates our obligations to G-d and His commitment to us. No wonder we are careful to study and observe it.

The ‘bride’ unfortunately ‘broke a glass’ with a golden calf but with G-d’s mercy we made it to Yichud, the construction and dedication of the sanctuary, a ‘House of G-d.’ The demonstration of G-d’s presence in the sanctuary was a sign of full forgiveness.

During the holiday of Succos we build our small outdoor shelters and celebrate inside them for seven days. This is a small reflection of our happiness together with G-d in His sanctuary, some thirty-three centuries ago.

Have a great Pesach. May it be a time of renewal for us all.


Nowadays, after circumcision, Passover is the Jewish practice observed by the greatest percentage of world Jewry. The seder is intended to facilitate our re-living our people's exodus to freedom. Here a few brief insights into each of the 15 stages of the Seder designed to make your evening a more meaningful and spiritual experience. So don't forget lean back (to your left), relax, and enjoy the ride.

Step 1) "Kadesh" --we make kiddush on the first cup of wine. The words Kadesh and kiddush derive from the word "kadosh", literally "distinct" or "holy." From the outset we remind ourselves and declare that this night is distinct from other nights and holy as compared to them. 

Step 2) "Orechatz"-- washing of the hands: This unusual practice of washing our hands at the table instead of at a sink is a sign of luxury and should also spark curiosity. It is intended like many other practices and peculiar sayings to pique our interest and begin to inquire of the meaning of all the evenings activities.

Step 3) "Karpas" -- dip the vegetable in salt water. Dipping in itself is a luxury, because tonight we can enjoy the luxury of true freedom, yet we dip into salt water to remind us of the bitterness of slavery. This duality of slavery and freedom runs throughout the seder. Look for it.

Step 4) "Yachatz" -- breaking the middle matzah. We reserving the larger half as the Afikoman (which symbolizes that taste of freedom) the smaller piece becomes the "bread of affliction" over which the Passover story begins.

Step 5) "Magid" -- the telling of the story of Passover. -- Before the four questions. Judaism arose out of the probing questions of our forefather Abraham: he saw the order of nature and asked what lay behind it. So, too, our quest to know establishes the connection we have to that which lies behind what we immediately sense--to reconnect with the 3000 year old experience of our people. Therefore we two must start with questions.

--The Four Questions: read by the youngest child. On this night we eat matzah and bitter herbs, yet we also dip our food and recline while we eat. So, what are we doing, trying to relive slavery or revel in our freedom? The essence of the contradiction stems from the fact that our transition from slavery to freedom has both physical and spiritual dimensions. The physical freedom of leaving oppressive Egypt and the spiritual freedom of breaking away from idolatry. The freedom we celebrate every year at this time is our ability to express and pursue our values and ideals. The slavery we try to overcome is the capitulation of these to social conformity. We eat matzah and marror while dipping and reclining because we recognize the importance of the entire Egyptian experience, both the slavery and the redemption. For we simply could not appreciate one without the other. We each should take a moment to reflect how in our own lives there exist areas in which we are too entrenched in habit or conformity to express our true feelings or ideas. Tonight is our opportunity to break out of that rut, and become totally free.

--After the reading of the four sons: This tale is a profound statement of Jewish values. Many might erroneously assume that the most negative of the four sons is the "wicked" one. In truth, however, it is the forth attitude, the one who is too ignorant or apathetic to even ask a question who poses the greatest threat to our continuity. This child becomes completely subject to the order of the society in which he lives because no one can truly express their beliefs or values through complacency. Yet our freedom only comes with our ability to question, therefore we value the wicked son more than the simpleton and the child who doesn't know to ask.  But the wise son, unlike the wicked son, doesn't condemn what he sees before understanding the answer to his own question. He seeks the truth and desires to integrate that truth with his personality.

-- The reading of the ten plagues: The gradual escalation of the plagues illustrates the unfolding of the redemption process. The Egyptians had to be convinced of G-d's power so that they would release our ancestors out of freewill. G-d could have taken us out of Egypt without all the plagues but the recognition of Pharaoh, the leader the most powerful nation in the world, demonstrated, to all people at all times, G-d's omnipotence and the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to be His chosen people. However, because we view any loss of life as a tremendous tragedy, even of our worst enemies, we subtract from our joy by depleting our cups of wine by one drop for each plague.

-- The need to mention Pesach , Matzah, and Marror: Pesach, was the sacrifice of a lamb, (a god of the Egyptians) represents a rejection of the cultish aspect of culture. Back then with was the rejection of paganism. In our generation, what we may most need to repudiate is "money-theism!" We perhaps can better understand this through the symbol of the matzah which shows that we are satisfied even by returning back to the very basics_just flour and water_which is indicative of the nature of true inner freedom. Marror reminds us of the deeply bitter spiritual pain we suffer when we become mere laborers for another's wealth, rather than laboring for our own growth, goals, and dreams.

Step 6) "Rachtzah" -We wash our hands before partaking of the matzah. This is not for mere cleanliness, rather it is a sublime action of spiritual preparation. Our enjoyment of the meal will be an act of divine service. We wash our hands to resemble the Jewish temple's priests who would wash their hands in  preparation of any other divine service.

Step 7) " Motzi"--We say two blessings over the matzah. In the first we reflect in our appreciation of the delicious meal we are about to enjoy. The second is a declaration that we are fulfilling one of  G-d's explicit commandments to eat matzah on the Seder night.

Step 8) "Matzah" --Eating a piece. Matzah is basically bread without the yeast, but as such is actually a more pure form of bread, bread that has not risen, isn't fluffed-up to taste good, a food to be eaten for its sustenance rather than indulgence. Perhaps, then, one aspect of freedom requires a level of self-sacrifice: the willingness to strive for what we truly need rather than what appeals to our senses.

Step 9) "Marror" --recalls the bitterness of enslavement, the wickedness of the Egyptians, and also the scour of a spiritual cleansing which was the purpose of our enslavement. It comes after the matzah because we can only truly appreciate the bitterness of suffering for the sake of our growth after it has actually taken place.

Step 10) "Korech" --We make Hillel's famous sandwich of matzah dipped in charoset and marror. Perhaps we can see this more as an allegory_that true freedom as symbolized by the matzah doesn't always mean life is sweet and simple. Freedom more than a right is a responsibility. Making decisions can sometimes be painful, while other times, when we are wholly accountable for our actions mistakes seem bitter. However, as long as we are free to try our best, and be individuals, even our short-comings will be intermingled with the sweetness of self-worth and empowerment. 

Step 11)  "Shulchan Orech" --Finally, the festive meal! This too is a holy act, Judaism emphases both body and soul. Now is the body's time to enjoy.

Step 12) "Tzafun" --We eat the Afikoman as our desert signifying that keeping the mitzvot (commandments) is sweeter to us than the most elaborate of dessert foods.

Step 13) "Barech" - We express thanks to the Creator for providing us with a delicious meal, the land of Israel, and like we say in every grace after meals all year round, for our freedom and redemption from Egypt.

-- Open the door for Elijah the prophet: The challenge of maintaining the spiritual freedom of which we talked earlier confronts us, as it did our ancestors in Egypt, in every generation and we confront it by celebrating in the Passover Seder. We open our door now for all to see our celebration and express our readiness for the world to embrace our ideals.

Step 14) " Hallel" -- We say the Hallel service to take pleasure in how fortunate is our lot to have the Creator of the Universe with us and providing us with such an exquisite world.

Step 15) "Nirtzah" -- NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM. The seder ends on the eternally optimistic note that if today we are still, in a sense, prevented from fully expressing our potential as Jews, we hope that next year we will be able to celebrate the seder as free men and women in Jerusalem.

We wish you a wonderful Passover holiday,

Gavin Enoch, Joel Padowitz, and all of us here at Insights from Jerusalem.

Don't forget to check out our website: http://www.aish.edu


Passover is the holiday of redemption. It is also a time of redemption as we are taught: "In (the month) of Nissan they (our ancestors in Egypt) were redeemed and in Nissan they (hopefully everyone who is reading this) will be redeemed (according to Rabbi Yehoshua, Rosh Hashana 12b)."

When thinking about what to write for Passover the following (unrelated) questions came to mind:

1. Passover is the English translation of the word 'Pesach'. G-d passed over the homes of our ancestors in Egypt. Is there another meaning (and translation) of the word 'Pesach'?

The Rambam (Judges:Kings; 11:1) reminds us that we are obligated to expect the redemption to occur at any moment. (I've been working on this for a while. 'Think I sometimes get it down to five-minutes. Still working on it.)

2. But look around. Pick up a (kosher) newspaper (if/when you have time). Are we any better than our ancestors were for which we should be worthy of experiencing the Great Redemption?

3. Actually, our obligation to expect the redemption at any moment contradicts the above-mentioned Gomorra in Rosh Hashana. Is the Moshiach (Messiah) precluded from coming in the month of Iyar?

4. What life be like during the Messianic period?

5. Why is the exile so long?

6. Finally, how is it that am I always staying up late into the night to prepare for the holiday? (Please don't tell me that I'm not organized enough.)


Here is what came to mind. If you have other thoughts, please let me know. Just click here.


1. Is there another meaning (and translation) of the word 'Pesach'?

The Targumic translator Unkolus frequently uses the words similar to chos for Pesach. Chos means to have mercy and pity. We were brought out of Egypt with G-d's great mercy and pity.

2. Are we any better than our ancestors were for which we should be worthy of experiencing the Great Redemption?

Who knows. Who says that we have to be better? Perhaps just like we have suffered for the transgressions of a minority among us, we can also be redeemed because of the merit of a minority among us. The further removed we are from Sinai, the more remarkable it is that we are still attached to G-d and his Torah. Our mitzvos (good deeds) must count pretty heavily. Anyway, when the redemption happens, it will occur because G-d wants it to happen at that time. Period.

G-d is NOT bound by us and our acts. He is in control of history, not us. In fact, the more unlikely the redemption looks, the more will it be a demonstration of His power.

There is an astonishing Medrash on our redemption from Egyptian. After seeing this Medrash, it can be better understood that our future redemption can happen whenever G-d wants it to happen, regardless of how we are.

You can find it in Shemos Rabba within the discussion of Zos Chukas HaPesach.

"Many of them (our ancestors in Egypt) did not want to circumcise themselves.

(This is remarkable. We are dealing with the period immediately prior to the redemption. Already four-fifths of the nation had already perished, those who were not worthy [willing?] to leave Egypt. Whoever was left must have been relatively virtuous. Whoever was left had experienced during the past year nine out of the ten plagues. Just one more to go and we're out. Anyway.)

G-d told Moshe that they should do the Pesach offering.

When Moshe made the offering, G-d decreed that the four winds (of the sky) should blow within the Garden of Eden. The winds of the Garden of Eden (then) came forth and attached themselves to that (Moshe's) offering, as it says 'Awaken O-North and come O-South' (Songs of Songs 4). The scent went forth a distance of forty days.

All of Israel gathered to Moshe. They said, 'We beg of you, please give us from your Pesach (offering) because we are worn out from its scent.' (Don't worry. We won't wear out when we make it to the Garden of Eden.)

G-d had said, if you are not circumcised then you can not eat (from it), as it says .. (see Exodus 12:43).

They immediately took it upon themselves (to do this) and circumcised. The blood of the Pesach offering became mixed with the blood of circumcision.

The Holy One Blessed Be He passed over (them), taking each and every person. He kissed them and blessed them."

3. Is the Moshiach (Messiah) precluded from coming in the month of Iyar?

G-d forbid. The Moshiach can come at any time!

Actually, my Rebbie (Horav Yaakov Kulefsky SHLITA of Ner Yisroel, may G-d grant him long life and health) raised issue this even further.

There is another Gomorra (Eruvin 43a) which says very strongly that Moshiach will NOT arrive during Shabbos or Yom Tov.

So, if Moshiach comes during our Seder then we will have a Kashe (question) on the Gomorra on Eruvin. If Moshiach comes during a month other than Nissan then we will have a Kashe on the Gomorra in Rosh Hashana.

"Nu," said my Rebbie, "we'll ask him the Kashes."

Actually there will be a lot of things that will need answering, like all of the Teiku's throughout the Gomorra. Eliyahu the Prophet will be there to answer questions, also.

Bottom line is that Moshiach can come at any time!

4 What life be like during the Messianic period?

I don't know. We'll certainly be keeping the Torah then, too. It will be a happy and peaceful time for all of Mankind.

The Gomorra Sanhedrin (97a) says the following: "Three things come (/ shall come) in an unexpected manner: Moshiach, finding something valuable, and (the sting of a) scorpion.

The following thoughts come to mind:

Perhaps the three are all related. Some people think of the Messianic Era as being 'free lunch,' like finding something valuable. We'll just sit back take it all in; we'll take it easy.

Other people may tend to think of the Messianic Era as being like the sting of scorpion. The jig will be up. No more fun. One big prison. Maybe he can wait until I pass the CPA exam?

Then there is a third thing - Moshiach.

So far, the free lunch people and the scorpion people are missing the boat. Hope they will hop aboard soon.

It'll be wonderful. We'll be plenty busy. They'll straighten out.

5. Why is the exile so long?

You are asking some very good questions!

You know, the redemption with all of its descriptions looks impossible.

The Rambam says that the Moshiach must rebuild the Temple in its proper location. Anyone who claims to be the Moshiach but who does not rebuild the Temple is a F A K E R!

Can you imagine anyone in this day and age letting someone do that? Everyone, from the greatest of our Torah sages to the politicians (Jewish, American, and Arab) are in full agreement that this is not for us to do!

From a purely religious viewpoint this seems to be impossible. We are not sure where the exact location of the Altar is. There are requirements for the Temple service which are totally lost to the Jewish people (let's start with t'cheles, verified Kohanim, etc.). Go look at that big sign near the Western Wall. It says that according to the Jewish tradition it is FORBIDDEN for a Jew to enter the Temple Mount. Actually, stepping foot in the holy area is about as severe a sin as eating on Yom Kippur. How are we going to build a Temple if we can't go there?

So do you agree with me that it looks impossible?

Well, it's my guess that if Moshiach doesn't come this Pesach then it appears that it does not look impossible enough.

The coming of Moshiach WILL BE A VERY IMPRESSIVE DEMONSTRATION OF G-D's CONTROL AND POWER.

Ever been to a chiropractor? He gives this one great push in a certain spot and everything goes into adjustment. The pain just goes away. I don't know how he does it.

These are all just my thoughts.

6. How is it that am I always staying up late into the night to prepare for the holiday?

You know, from the tenth day of Nissan, our ancestors in Egypt had to watch the lamb for the Pesach offering. At night they tied it to their bed posts. How did they sleep? They had a lot of other things to prepare for. They were also moving!

If you're like me and miss a few hours of sleep for Pesach then we're in good company. I guess the rush and the strain to keep awake is part of the holiday experience. I haven't yet figured out the connection.

If you're not like me then go and enjoy your Pesachdik latkes on Chanukah. I'll still be eating chometz then.

Have a Kosher and Happy Pesach; A great Pesach.

All The Best From JewishAmerica.


PS:

Above was written prior to Pesach.

Just said Havdoloh after Yom Tov. Would like to share something that came to mind during the Seder.

Three of the four sons appear to differ in their learning capabilities during the night of Pesach. The Wise Son and the Simple Son represent the two extremes. The Son Who Is Unable To Ask represents those who have no capability.

The fourth, the Wicked Son, seems either out of place or his counterpart, the Pious Son, is not represented. Why?

The following came to mind.

The Wicked Son also represents a learning capability. It is that which is corrupted. It's not that he can or can not learn. Rather, he doesn't want to learn, not out of a lack of motivation, but out of choice.


This next section was submitted by Eliel Davis.

The following was heard from Rav Nachum Rabinovich at a hesped (eulogy) for Rav Pinchas Hirschprung zt"l, former Chief Rabbi of Montreal.

The Talmud (Rosh Hashana 28:1) asks whether a person can fulfill the commandment of eating Matzah if he/she was coerced into eating it.

The Talmud analyzes several cases of coercion and focuses the discussion on a person who was forced by Persians.

Rav Hirschprung zt"l asked why the Talmud chose to talk about Persians.

He answered this from the Talmud in Brachot (8:2).

Raban Gamliel praises the Persians for three things and one of them is that they eat modestly. Rav Hirschprung zt"l explains that this refers to the fact that they recline when they eat, like the civilized people did at that time.

A person must recline while eating Matzah.

Now it is clear why the Talmud in Rosh Hashana used the example of coercion by Persians. If a Persian forces someone to eat, he will force the person to eat in the manner that he normally does, which is reclining.

Thus, the Talmud provides a case where a person eats Matzah in the proper manner but without the normal intent.


Shavuos 

Of Mountains and Movements:
A Contemporary Reflection on Shevuos

Rabbi Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America

It may lack the imagery and import of the High Holy Days, the radical rearrangement of living quarters that Sukkos entails, the warmth and spectacle of the Chanukah lights, the joyful abandon of Purim or – thought it follows on Passover’s distant heels – the Jewish spring-holiday’s powerful symbolism.

Yet, in a way, Shevuos, which will be celebrated this year on June 11 and 12, may be the most important holiday on American Jew’s calendar.

For while its Biblical description is entirely agricultural in nature, the Jewish summer celebration coincides – and is closely associated – with the date in the Jewish year when our ancestors received the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is an aspect of the holiday that solidly informs both its prayers and its customs.

Placing Mt. Sinai in Time

It is striking though, the famed Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch points out in his Biblical commentary, that the written Torah never actually identifies the date of its own revelation, leaving the information to be provided only by the Oral Tradition, the component of classical Jewish belief that makes the Written Lay (what most folk call the Torah or the Jewish Bible) truly comprehensible. That oddity, Rabbi Hirsch maintains, is in truth a pointed lesson – about the essential and indispensable nature of the Oral Tradition, the ultimate source of Jewish religious attitudes and law, or halacha. Without it, the Torah is teaching us, we cannot even claim to know the revelation’s most fundamental fact : its placement in time.

Holding Tight to History

Once, and not terribly long ago, every self-identified Jew unconditionally accepted the veracity of that fundamental Jewish conviction : G-d revealed the Written and Oral Torah to His people, our common ancestors, at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Every Jew accepted his or her parents’ recounting of the event and its implications – as did their parents before them of their own parents’ account.

Indeed, until fairly recently, rejecting that carefully transmitted historical trust was tantamount to – in contemporary terms – denying that there was a Holocaust. Though Sinai (like the Holocaust) was a literally incredible, mind-boggling piece of history, history is precisely what it was, and so as such was it preserved.

Roots of Schism

All of that, though, radically changed during the previous century, when some European Jewish leaders decided to deny their children and followers the historical tradition their own parents had solemnly entrusted to them. They chose instead to relegate Sinai to the realm of myth – and, by extension, halacha to the fuzzy domain of "culture", to be sampled or discarded at will. Thus was the German Reform movement born, and while its contemporary American form has since adopted religious practices and terminologies that would have scandalized the movement’s founders, the conviction that Sinai is mere metaphor and not fact remains one of the movement’s core beliefs.

In our own century and shores, another group of Jewish leaders, convinced that traditional Judiasm was doomed in the modern world and fearing for the utter disappearance of Jewish practice, formed a movement to counter the Reform, to "conserve" Jewish traditions. While the "Conservative" movement claimed fidelity to both halacha and the proposition that the Jew’s responsibility is to obey the Creator’s revealed will, in practice the movement has consistently validated whatever a majority of its members and leaders yearn to do, from violation of the Sabbath (albeit to get to the synagouge) to blurring of halachic gender roles (over which subject several prominent Conservative rabbis, observing a few years ago that any claim to halachic integrity had been forfeited by their colleagues, resigned from the movement to found an offshoot group of their own).

Jacob Stein, a co-author of the Conservative movement’s "Statement of Principles" recently wrote that "there is nothing divine about [halacha]. It was not revealed at "Sinai" (Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, 5/16/97).

Meanwhile, lamenting al the abandonment of what Judiasm had always meant, other Jewish religious leaders set about revitalizing traditional Jewish belief, practice and learning. They comprised no "movement" per se, but were simply a continuation of all Jew’s Jewish past. They shunned labels but were nevertheless assigned one by the others. "Orthodox" they were called.

The Critical Credo

The defining Jewish response to Mt. Sinai is recorded in the Written Torah : Na’aseh v’nishma – "we will do and we will hear." The meaning of that credo, which Jewish tradition teaches is at the very root of the Jewish people’s "chosenness", lies in the word "do" preceding the word "hear". That ordering implies that the essence of the Jew’s relationship with the Creator is his or her willingness to accept His will even in the absence of its comprehension, our acceptance of halacha’s requirements and definitions even when they are counterintuitive or other than what we might wish.

There are Torah commandments, of course, that are more easily related to than others : the interpersonal laws, the Sabbath and many others. But the crux of Judiasm, in the end, lies in how we deal with the elements of the Torah that bespeak no obvious benefit to either us or larger society but, puzzling though they may be, are nevertheless part of the historical trust bequeathed to all Jews.

Time to Think

In recent months, and through events whose nature allowed for very little calm and collected consideration, the issue of just what constitutes Judiasm and what does not has loudly confronted the contemporary Jewish world. However it may have come to the forefront, though, the issue remains the most critical one any Jew can ever face.

And so, face it we Jews must, all of us. Without preconceptions or rancor, without the influence of political, social or personal concerns – with commitment only to truth, history and the preservation of our peoplehood.

In particular as Shevuos approaches, nothing could be more important, more useful, more downright, deeply Jewish than to ponder he meaning – and the implications – of the quintessential Jewish credo : Na’aseh v’nishma. To consider, in other words, the question : Are we here to do what we feel is best or to hear – and respond to – the sublime sound of Sinai echoing accross the generations?

May we all live up to our legacy, and may our Shevuos be truly happy and truly meaningful.


Afterthoughts - Yom Kippur Edition 

Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It culminates the Ten Days of Return (to G-d/Repentance).

It’s easy to feel that saying sorry to G-d is of little significance. Our kids tell us this all the time and they frequently go right back to their mischief soon afterwards.

Everyone has their own list of sins to work on. Most (probably all) people are overwhelmed by its size and are inclined to give up without even trying.

Don’t.

Saying sorry to G-d has great significance.

Actually, is quite a significant experience when my kids tell me that they are sorry.

The big weepy eyes that look at me are saying that I am their parent, an authority that they must submit to. The sorry implies a recognition of expectations for conduct. There are rules and there are consequences. The sorry includes a confession, indicating that the parent is aware of the misdeed.

So while my kid may get into trouble again, I can assume that the experience has solidified many positive attitudes which provide a basis for better conduct in the future.

To put it differently, saying sorry is something and it does something.

Our saying sorry to G-d should be no less significant than saying sorry to parents.


The Torah provides the following formula for repentance:

  • Confession
  • Regret
  • Resolve.

The Torah teaches that G-d, who is all merciful and understanding, gives partial credit to us humans. So, if we feel shaky about the sincerity of our resolve for the future, we should not dismiss the benefits which confession and regret provide.

G-d also listens to calls for help. Don’t be proud to ask for assistance. A feeble resolve and a not-so-feeble distress call may bear surprising results. "Make an opening (in your heart) for Me that is (just) the size of a needle and I will make an opening for you that is the size of the opening (to) the Great Hall."


I don’t have to tell you to eat before the fast. I do want to remind you or tell you that it is a MITZVAH to eat on the day before Yom Kippur. You see, on some days G-d wants us to eat and on some days He wants us not to eat. Judaism views abstinence as a means, not as an end.

Don’t forget to drink a lot of liquid before the fast. It may make a difference in whether you get a head ache or not.


Have a great Yom Kippur.

Have a greater day after Yom Kippur.

The Talmud teaches that the day which follows Yom Kippur had been one of our greatest holidays.

Why?

We are certain that G-d recognized the efforts to repair our behavior and that He definitely took something off from our ‘bill.’


For Chanukah

WHAT IS HANUKAH AND HOW DO WE CELEBRATE IT?

By Rabbi Kalman Packouz

There are two ways which our enemies have historically sought to destroy us. The first is by physical annihilation; the most recent attempt being the Holocaust. The second is through cultural assimilation. Purim is the annual celebration of our physical survival. Hanukah is the annual celebration of our spiritual survival over the many who would have liked to destroy us through cultural assimilation.

In 167 BCE the Syrian-Greek emperor, Antiochus, set out to destroy Judaism by imposing a ban on three mitzvot: The Shabbat, The  Sanctifying of the New Month (establishing the first day of the monthby testimony of witnesses who saw the new moon) and Brit Mila (entering the Covenant of Abraham through Torah-ordained   circumcision). The Shabbat signifies that G-d is the Creator andSustainer of the Universe and that His Torah is the blueprint of creation, meaning and values. Sanctifying the New Month determines the day of the Jewish holidays. Without it there would be chaos.    For example, if Succot is the 15th of Tishrei, the day it occursdepends upon which day is declared the first of Tishrei. Brit Mila is a sign of our special covenant with the Almighty. All three maintain our cultural integrity and were thus threats to the Greek culture.

Matityahu and his 5 sons, known as the Maccabees, started a revolt and three years later succeeded in evicting the oppressors. The victory was a miracle -- on the scale of Israel defeating the combined super-powers of today. Having regained control of the Temple in Jerusalem, they wanted to immediately rededicate it. They   needed ritually pure olive oil to re-light the Menorah in the Temple.Only a single cruse of oil was found; enough to burn for just one day. However, they needed oil for eight days until new ritually pure olive oil could be produced. A miracle occurred and the oil burnedfor eight days.

Therefore, we light Hanukah candles (or better yet, lamps with olive oil) for eight days. One the first day, two the second and so forth.The first candle is placed to the far right of the menorah with each additional night's candle being placed to the immediate left. One says three blessings the first night (two blessings each subsequent night) and then lights the candles, starting with the furthermostcandle to the left. The menorah should have all candles in a straight line and at the same height. Ashkenazi tradition has each person of the household lighting his own menorah. Sefardi tradition has just one menorah lit per family. The blessings can be found on the back of the Hanukah candle box or in a Siddur, prayer book. The candles may be lit inside the home. It is preferable to light where passersby in the street can see them -- to publicize the miracle of Hanukah. In Israel, people light outside in special glass boxes built for a menorah or little glasses with olive oil and wicks.

The tradition to eat latkes, potato pancakes, is in memory of the miracle of the oil (latkes are fried in oil). In Israel, the tradition is to eat sufganiot, deep-fried jelly donuts. The traditional game of Hanukah uses a dreidel, a four-sided top with the Hebrew letters Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin (the first letters of "Nes Gadol Haya Sham -- A Great Miracle Happened There." In Israel, the last letter is a Pay -- for "here.") In times of persecution when learning Torah was forbidden, Jews would learn anyway. When the soldiers would investigate, they would pull out the dreidel and pretend that they were gambling. The rules for playing dreidel: Nun -- no one wins; Gimmel -- spinner takes the pot; Hey -- spinner get half the pot; Shin/Pay -- spinner matches the pot!

By Rabbi Nachum Braverman, educational director of Aish HaTorah Los Angeles

It's ironic that Hanukah is so widely observed in America because it's not clear that Jews today would side with the Maccabees. The Jews didn't battle the Greeks for political independence and Hanukah can't be recast as an early day version of Israel against the Arabs. Hanukah commemorates a religious war.

The Greeks were benevolent rulers bringing civilization and progress wherever they conquered. They were ecumenical and tolerant, creating a pantheon of gods into which they accepted the deities of all their subjects. Their only demand was acculturation into the melting pot of Greek civilization and religion.

The Jewish community was divided in response to this appeal. Some believed assimilation as a positive and modernizing influence and they welcomed the release from Jewish parochialism. Opposed to these and led by Judah Maccabee was a small group prepared to fight and to die to preserve the exclusive worship of Judaism. (The name "Maccabee" is an acronym for the verse "Who is like you among the gods, Almighty.")

This was no war for abstract principles of religious tolerance. It was a battle against ecumenicism fought by people to whom Torah was their life and breath. Would we have stood with the Maccabees or would we too have thought assimilation was the path of the future? Would we fight for Judaism today, prepared to die to learn Torah and to keep Shabbat?

We face now a crisis of identity as serious as the one confronted 2, 500 years ago. Will we survive this century as a religious community or merely as a flavor in the American melting pot? Hanukah calls to us to combat assimilation and to fight for our heritage.

Besides those who actively supported assimilation there were many who passively acquiesced. What is the use in opposing the force of history, they reasoned. We can't halt assimilation any more than we can stop the tides or the passage of the seasons. Who would be so foolish as to oppose the inevitable? Today, too, there is paralysis before the apparently inevitable progress of assimilation. What chance do we have of convincing our children not to intermarry? Jewish particularism is a past value swept away on the tides of liberalism. With the barriers of anti-Semitism down and the land of opportunity beckoning, the day of cohesive Jewish community seems gone. It's with resignation that we accept the spiraling intermarriage rate which spells our destruction as a people. Not so the approach of the Maccabees.

Remember the end of the story? Finally triumphant, Jews captured Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple. (The word Hanukah means dedication and refers to this act.) They found just one flask of oil but the flame which should have lasted one day burned for eight as if to testify that our determination was enhanced by some ineffable power suffusing our efforts with transcendent glow and power. Light the candles, says the holiday to us. Act vigorously, teach, reach, courageously and with determination, and G-d will invest our efforts with a power, a permanence, and a glow, far beyond our capacity to convey.

CHANUKAH: REKINDLING OUR INNER FLAME

by Joel Padowitz - Aish Hatorah

During Chanukah, the Jewish people relive their military and ideological victory over ancient Greece. We still hear the echoes of this cultural clash today, as Winston Churchill wrote in his History of the Second World War, "No other two races [but the Jews and Greeks] have set such a mark upon the world. Each of them from angles so different have left us with the inheritance of its genius and wisdom...the main guiding light in modern faith and culture."

Jewish historians label the period during which the Hellenists had influence over Israel as the "Greek Exile." Ironically, during the era, there was no attempt to drive the Jews from their homeland. This begs the question: Who or what did they view as having been exiled?

Jewish sages provide an explanation by comparing our existence within the Greek nation to the darkness at the very beginning of creation. The first two lines of Genesis read, "In the beginning...the earth was empty...and darkness was upon the face of the deep." The command "Let there be light" banished the darkness. However, according to the sequence of events presented in the Torah, the luminous bodies including the sun and stars did not come into existence until much later. This first "light" must be understood not as light in a conventional sense, but as a reference to raw spiritual energy. The Greek exile is therefore seen as comparable to a universe lacking all spirituality.

While traditional Jewish sources compare Greek culture to primordial Darkness, they simultaneously confirm that externally, ancient Greece was the most beautiful and cultured of all civilizations. Many Jews found in Hellenism an alternative to Judaism's intellectual stimulation and rich culture. Consequently, the glamour of Greece, her arts and comforts, enticed many Jews into complete assimilation.

The Hellenistic world glorified the human mind and body. To the Greek philosopher, the world was run by natural laws, entirely accessible to the human intellect. Phenomena and concepts to which logic could be applied were exhausted, and those which lay beyond the confines of pure reason were shunned as folly.

The foundation of modern Western thought derives from this view. We see as an illustration of this point, a prevailing modern-day assumption that there exists nothing beyond the physical world. Such a view relegates the notions of love and the soul to the realm of merely base biochemical phenomena. Existentialism - the philosophy of life's absurd futility and inherent meaninglessness - is also a natural outgrowth of Hellenistic thought. Additionally, the common notion of "relative morality" - which denies the existence of any absolute right or wrong - prevails through all facets of Western culture. These conclusions emerge from the perspective of this world as just a circus of atomic nuts and bolts lacking any overall purpose or intentional design.

At the same time, however, many thinking people consider ridiculous the attitude that life is utterly meaningless. They view as untenable the claim that there is nothing wrong with cold-blooded murder other than personal preference. Even Bertrand Russell, this century's most eloquent atheistic philosopher, conceded, "I cannot see how to refute the arguments for the subjectivity of ethical values, but I find myself incapable of believing all that is wrong with wanton cruelty is that I don't like it." Those who posses the humility to concede that the human mind's reasoning faculty has its limits are forced to reexamine this constricted view of reality.

At the time when Athens and Jerusalem locked horns, a core of Jews maintained that the mechanical laws of nature are subordinate to a higher reality. They saw the glory that was Greece, certainly not as a dimness of intellect, but as a bleak shackling of the human spirit by a disinterested and lifeless world. The brilliant spiritual intensity of humankind was left overshadowed by the superficiality of externals, because they are more readily grasped by simplistic logic and reasoning. This is the "darkness" of Greece. What Greek culture exiled was the spark of the human soul and spirit. The Maccabees, meanwhile, recognized the intellect as the soul's most powerful and reliable tool, but nothing more.

This is the struggle which rages today between secular thought and Judaism.

Chanukah is by no coincidence called the Festival of Lights. We place a delicately flickering candle in our window to shine into the stark black night in the dead of winter. For while society may portray man as merely a dull sack of cells, the reality is that deep within each one of us glows a spiritual ember waiting to burst aflame. This is the message of Chanukah, this is the message of being a "light unto the nations," and this is the message of the Jewish people.

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In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
In Loving Memory Of Our Mother, Mrs. Norma Black (Nechama Bas Tzvi Hirsh) O"H
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© 1996- by Harlan Black, JewishAmerica. All rights reserved.

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