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There is room for diverse opinions on Israel within the Jewish Community

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Guest Column: By Rabbi Brian Zimmerman

The following is an edited version of a sermon given by Rabbi Brian Zimmerman on March 8.
The recent events of the past few months are deeply troubling for many, many reasons. Once again, it is clear that anti-Semitism is real on the left and on the right. On one side of the spectrum, we see the usual neo-Nazis, racists and Jew-haters and on the other, people who challenge our very allegiance to our country, who use our commitment to free speech and free religion as way to challenge our right to love both Israel, our Jewish homeland and America, our physical homeland.
In case you have somehow missed the events of these past weeks, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has challenged Jews by questioning the power of AIPAC, implying that Jews use their money to unfairly influence American congressional leaders and inquiring about the dual loyalty to Israel and America of a Jewish representative who critiques her. In each instance, Omar has apologized and then gone a bit farther and deeper down the path of invoking old and overused but effective anti-Semitic stereotypes. While I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt (after all, she could be a confused freshman House member from a heavily Muslim district caught between different constituencies and narratives), each new outburst of Omar’s has moved farther from legitimate critique of Israel to anti-Semitic stereotypes. I can no longer entertain the idea that she does not know what she is saying and the pain that it causes.
Representative Omar has been hailed as a hero by no less than David Duke for pointing out the secret Zionist government that runs America and the world. There is a saying that at a certain point the farthest left and right meet each other in the extremes and have far more in common than what separates them. These past weeks of escalating rhetoric and hate speech across the spectrum challenge us to the core. While I believe in the power of free speech, words like “dual allegiance” and loyalty to dollars smack of anti-Jewish hatred that is thousands of years older than Representative Omar.
How ironic is this turn of events? In America, a country presumably committed to freedom of religion, a Muslim woman often accused of being a spy, a foreign agent and an outsider with a hidden agenda, hurls the ancient, insidious anti-Semitic motif of Jew as plotting outsider! Whether she is truly naïve, she sees herself as the only victim or she is merely repeating what she has learned as a child is almost completely beside the point.
I could conclude my remarks here. It would be easy, a bit lazy and far less controversial. But, it would let us off the hook.
There is something equally and maybe even more disturbing going on that has been occurring for months. Just below the surface, Jews are challenging the loyalty of other Jews to their own religion! I receive regular emails and phone calls asking why liberal rabbis and leaders don’t call out the now completely 100 percent “anti- Semitic Democratic party” when, in fact, liberal Jewish leaders have been writing about this growing anti-Semitic rhetoric from the left for weeks. Unfortunately, these days too many of us rely on much of our information from forwarded angry emails, anonymous bloggers, social media or op-ed pages that carry their own agenda.
There is without doubt a disturbing increase in openly anti-Semitic words and actions in America. There are some dangerous anti-Semites on the right and the left, but I would never accuse a temple member or for that matter even a political representative of being personally racist or anti-Semitic because of some of the extreme voices in their party. Statements like “How can any Jew remain a Republican or a Democrat?” are easily tossed around at Friday night oneg Shabbat moments and in emails to each other. These statements poison thoughtful Jewish discourse. Neither political party is monolithic in its thinking and, once again, this is beside the point. What concerns me most are the charges made by one Jew against another, the charges that defy dialogue and polarize the Jewish community.
Division is a powerful weapon, and divisions seem to be ever-present these days. When people are scared, it’s easy to run for cover and point fingers. The darkness of fear clouds judgment and scapegoats easily emerge. In a democracy, healthy debate is essential, but we are experiencing the demonization of Jews by other Jews.
So, as you discuss important issues, paramount to the life and health of the Jewish community, ask yourself — am I open to dialogue or am I looking for a fight? I am worried about the weakness of a divided Jewish American community and about how that will be exploited by others who gain power from division and divisiveness.
I am particularly concerned about our young people caught between their values of free speech and compassion and the angry challenges to Israel’s very existence. Some will call their love for Israel “dual loyalty” while others will ask if they are “good enough” Jews for not responding in the “right” way. There is a nuanced and thoughtful discussion waiting to be had that is lost among the screeching noise of accusations and recriminations. The vast majority of our youth, caught in this contentious environment will choose not to engage at all in thoughtful debate about Israel. Rather, they will check out from any meaningful relationship with Israel and from Judaism, and then the Jewish people will really lose.
I am not calling for a uniform, mindless Jewish body politic! A family can disagree on the details. Our millennia-old Jewish debates can be found in books, midrash and rabbinic commentary. Our ability to question each other makes us a truly unique religion. But, when we begin to dispute whether certain members of our “tribe” are legitimate or worthy of being considered loyal, based on different approaches to outside threats, we move into dangerous territory. When Jews split — not disagree, but split — it rarely ends well. This new political tribalism is not asking us to choose our brand of Judaism but which Jewish neighbors we will accept as valid.
There is so much more at stake than just the issues we are discussing. Powerful outside forces gain power when they force us to choose which Jewish side we take. Will we have the strength to remain calm on social media and in worship spaces, in community gatherings and Jewish festivals, in America and in Israel? Will we remember that despite our differences we remain one Jewish people?
I look forward to a variety of responses from our very diverse Jewish community made up of Americans, Israelis, Republicans, Democrats, born-Jews and converts, classical Reform Jews and Modern Orthodox Jews, but I presume the right to maintain my own political views without having my loyalty to Judaism challenged.
In addition to my Jewish values, I have other core beliefs that are also a part of a Jewish identity that causes me to struggle and shift. My friends of different political persuasions would and should expect me to show the same respect for their own struggles to balance their most deeply felt Jewish convictions. It is painful enough when hateful outsiders question our Jewish loyalty, but it is unconscionable for Jews to do so.
Rabbi Brian Zimmerman is the spiritual leader of Beth-El Congregation in Fort Worth.

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Esther a scintillating story, if you read between the lines

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
For most of us, the holiday of Purim is a children’s holiday and it is a wonderful one.
However, the problem is that most of us have only read the “children’s version” of the “Book of Esther. If that is true for you, boy, have you missed out on a great story!
The Megillah of Esther is a powerful story with many important lessons. As teachers of young children (and parents are the most important teachers!), it is crucial that we understand and learn on an adult level so that we can teach our children.
Please read the book but look for these passages highlighted below to enhance your celebration and discussion this Purim.
The book of Esther
• The whole book is an exciting story of intrigue, killing and sex — perfect for adult reading (but you do have to read between the lines!).
• Vashti refuses to dance! — the refusal was problematic because the king’s advisers said, “This very day the ladies of Persia, who have heard of the queen’s behavior, will tell their husbands, and there will be no end of scorn and provocation.” So what really was the concern over Vashti’s refusal? This is a great lesson for our daughters on their right to refuse (although there are some who would disagree with me!).
• Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s houses will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis .” First, we are all part of the Jewish people and we suffer together but also celebrate together. Most important, each of us has our moment to rise to the challenge — Esther was lucky to be in the position to be the hero!
Purim is a holiday of fun to remind us of the presence of God in Jewish history although the Book of Esther is the only book in the Tanach in which God’s name never appears. Our survival depends on our commitment to each other.
And now, how do we celebrate this holiday? “When it comes to mitzvot, shalach manot is a slam-dunk,” says my favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver. Each mitzvah is an opportunity and Purim provides a wonderful way to celebrate and connect! Most of us have a pretty good memory of the story of Purim, but the holiday comes with four easy-and-fun-to-do mitzvot: slam dunks, Jewish style!
1. Hear the story — read the Megillah of Esther! This is a serious must-read for parents because it is filled with intrigue, power plays and s-e-x!
2. Celebrate: wear costumes, eat, drink and enjoy! Eating is crucial as in most Jewish holidays.
3. Give tzedakah to the poor — yet another opportunity to give to those in need.
4. Shalach manot, gifts of food to send to friends.
Of course, there are traditional rules:
• Begin by making your list of family, friends, teachers, and all people who are important to you. This includes Jews and non-Jews.
• Prepare your packages of food by these “official Purim rules”: These gift packages must include at least two different kinds of food. (That’s it — hamantaschen are traditional but not obligatory!)
• Create (or buy) a container for each and include a little card.
• On or around Purim, hand-deliver all the gifts. This step provides the real connection!
There are so many “opportunities” for talking to our children about this fun-filled holiday. Try a discussion on women as heroes, costumes/masks and hiding, standing up for ourselves when it is hard, and living in a diverse world. Ask your children, your friends and yourself: Who is the real Purim hero? Esther, Mordecai, Ahasuerus, God?
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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The JCCs: how this great idea got started

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

I go to the J every week: to the Tycher Library to find a book, to attend the monthly Jewish War Veterans breakfast meeting, to have a coffee and schmooze, to hear a speaker, to have a senior lunch, to attend a program, to “get in” a workout, to attend the monthly Men’s and Ladies’ Book Club Meeting, etc.
It may not all be in the same day or week, but the list gives you an idea of just a few of the many activities I participate in at the J.
Of course, there are probably many folks who use the J much more than I do.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how the Jewish community center movement got started? We should never forget the pioneers in this movement of Jewish activities outside of synagogues.
It began in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1854, as the Hebrew Young Men’s Literary Association under the leadership of Dr. Aaron Friedenwald, a renowned eye surgeon and medical school professor and benefactor to many Jewish causes.
There was a need for expanded space to accommodate ever-increasing numbers of immigrants seeking classes on American culture, civics and citizenship at that time.
Both the numbers of Jewish community centers and the diversity of activities they offered increased as Jewish immigration surged.
It has been brought to my attention that another reason for increased interest in Jewish communal activities may be due to the establishment and growth of the Reconstructionist Movement led by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan.
Among the ideas expressed by Rabbi Kaplan is the concept of Judaism as a civilization, not just a religion of beliefs and rituals.
He suggested the idea of a synagogue, which offered not only prayer services, but also programs which included song, dance, drama, study and even sports and exercise, the very activities being incorporated into the growing JCC movement.
Twenty years after Baltimore’s Jewish center was begun, the first YMHA was opened in Manhattan, in 1874, followed by a women’s annex, the YWHA, in 1888.
As a result of various mergers of Jewish service organizations during World War I and World War II, many were renamed Jewish Community Centers (JCCs), while others retained their historic titles.
To encourage a true community spirit, JCC membership was offered to non-Jews beginning in the 1960s.
The reality is that the JCCs each became what its Jewish community wants them to be.
The early JCCs helped turn immigrants into American citizens. During the two World Wars, they ministered to the needs of the Jewish military.
In more recent years, the J has come to serve as a common meeting area for all Jews while striving to enhance the welfare of the entire community.
There is something for everyone at the J.
“See you there!”

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The People of the Book must heed its calling

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

We Jews call ourselves the People of the Book. It’s not unusual to see Jewish art depicting us with our faces transfixed by the words on the page of a Chumash or Talmud. But the Torah doesn’t imagine us that way. Instead, it teaches us that we are not readers, but callers.
By the time God calls to Moshe in this week’s parasha (Vayikra —“God called out”) listing the rules for sacrifice, we should be very familiar with this important biblical verb. The book of Genesis uses the verb kuf-reish-alef for two very important purposes. The first is naming: God “calls” light and darkness, heaven and earth, land and sea into existence. The second is to indicate a connection being forged over some distance, either geographic or spiritual. God “calls” out to Adam after he hides himself after eating from the Tree of Knowledge.
These actions — naming and connecting — are linked. When we name someone, we don’t just say their name, we announce it.
We let others know that this name is who this new human being is. That’s why so many of the names in the Torah are descriptive. Sarah calls her son Yitzchak because she fears that others will laugh (tzchok) at her for conceiving a child at such an advanced age. Ya’akov is so named because he holds on to the ankle of his brother’s heel (akev) as he emerges from the womb. When we call someone by their name, the Torah teaches us, we should be reaching out for that person’s essence, for their true character.
In the first part of the book of Exodus, surprisingly, it is Pharaoh who does most of the calling. Five times, Pharaoh calls out to Moshe and Aharon to plead on his behalf to God and convince Him to cease the plagues He is raining down upon the Egyptians. But the most significant shift that occurs with regard to the word Vayikra begins with the first conversation between God and Moshe, when calling becomes the “default” way of creating a connection with God. Sure, God has to “call” out to Moshe to get his attention at the burning bush. But the frequency with which the word is used post-Exodus, when Moshe and God are in such regular contact, indicates a change in the word’s meaning.
Where Vayikra once indicated some sort of gap that needed to be bridged, it now reflects the constant back and forth between human and divine voices. It is no longer distance that the verb Vayikra is suggesting, but its opposite — closeness. God calls out to us to sanctify our lives with the commandments, and we call out to God to hear and answer our prayers. Most significantly, we call out to God by name in order to evoke his compassion. After the sin of the golden calf, a moment fraught with danger for the Israelites, Moshe calls out in the name of God: “The Lord, The Lord, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness in truth.”
In Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), God calls out to teach us how to offer a sacrifice, a korban, literally an object of closeness. God encourages us to draw close to express our gratitude, to ask for forgiveness and to celebrate our well-being. Sacrifice opens the door to a regular practice of calling out to God, a practice our Sages reconstituted as daily prayer.
Too often, I fear, our spiritual spaces are spaces of distance, of discomforting silence and of restrained emotion. And though we find great meaning and insight in reading and in thinking, when we don’t encourage each other to find ways to give our words a full-throated voice, we risk distancing ourselves not only from our sacred tradition, but also from our God. Though we are, indeed, the People of the Book, we must never forget that our Book is also a book of calling — Sefer Vayikra.
Rabbi Adam Roffman has served at Congregation Shearith Israel since 2013.

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Here’s a question; do you have an answer?

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Dear Friends,
I would like to put before you a question I recently received, and, before I offer an answer, I would be interested in challenging the readers to get your feedback and thoughts about the following query.
I’m looking forward to your responses!
– Rabbi Yerachmiel Fried, yfried@sbcglobal.net
Hi Rabbi,
I understand there is a Torah imperative to give to one’s fellow Jew and I had the following question:
Is the obligation to give to my friend what he wants or is the obligation to give to my friend what would be best for his service of Hashem? (God)
Scenario 1:
Let’s say my Jewish friend (religious or secular) appreciates being praised for his talents and abilities, such as being smart or handsome, because he defines his value based on these characteristics. If my obligation is to give him what he wants, then it would seem to be advisable that I praise him for being smart and handsome.
But if the obligation is to give him what would be best for his service of Hashem (in the case of my secular Jewish friend, the “potential” service of Hashem) then it would seem to be advisable that I not praise him as my praise would simply reinforce the false notion that his value and success is a function of results, when from a Jewish perspective, his true value and success is a function of his effort in performing Hashem’s will.
Indeed, according to this understanding, there would seem to be little room for any praise from a Torah perspective, as praising my friend’s results would be reinforcing this false notion of success and praising my friend’s effort in performing Hashem’s will is very difficult to do as I can’t see his effort and therefore don’t know how much effort he is putting forth!
Scenario 2:
My Jewish friend (religious or secular) comes over to my house and would like something to eat. Let’s assume he would much prefer that I give him cake/cookies over salad/fruit as he loves indulging in sugar and carbohydrates. If the obligation is to give him what he wants, then it would follow that I should give him the cake/cookies.
But if the obligation is to give him what would be best for his service of Hashem ((in the case of my secular Jewish friend, the “potential” service of Hashem) then it would seem to follow that I should give him the salad/fruit.
Please let me know your thoughts.
Thank you for your time and effort!
Sammy

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How Oscar winner helped me learn history of Jackson, Ohio

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Sometimes it’s funny, the way things connect. Here’s my most recent proof of that point…
As I read The Dallas Morning News, I cut out articles and bits of information that I think will be of particular interest to family and friends in other places. I call this “correspondence by clipping,” and find it an excellent — and often time-saving — way to promote connection and closeness across many miles.
I have a dear friend from many years ago, when we both labored in Chicago’s south suburbs in the fields of intergroup relations. Don was our town’s community relations director, and I was on its citizens’ committee, so we worked closely on many projects having to deal with successful integration and the maintenance thereof. Remember: That was back in the ’60s, when we made decisions that seemed right and good at the time, but eventually backfired on us — like school busing. Oh, well…
Now Don is retired and living in Philadelphia, where he’s become an avid letter writer to The Daily Inquirer. In my last note, I asked him if he had yet gotten to see Oscar-winning film “The Green Book” and if he was aware that Jews used to have a similar book, one that helped travelers avoid the places with “no dogs/no Jews”policies that didn’t advertise them on signs outside.
No, he hasn’t seen the movie yet; yes, he knows about the Jewish book; and he’s had an interesting personal experience w/the real “Green Book.” Here is his ever-clear memory of the days he lived and worked in Ohio, before coming to Illinois:
“In 1968, I stayed for several weeks at Mrs. Moorman’s Tourist Home in Jackson, Ohio. I had left the Toledo Board of Community Relations to become the Jackson Human Relations Commission’s executive director, and had to leave the family behind to see the Toledo house. So I needed a place to room in Jackson, and decide I could introduce myself to the town and learn about it by staying in ‘Green Book’ lodging. Mrs. Moorman’s place was not far from my new office. If I’d stayed only a day or two, I’d have learned nothing much, because Mrs. Moorman was initially a bit suspicious of me — she didn’t ordinarily have white guests, and this one was a municipal employee in a town with a long racist history.
“But,” Don continued, “I had time to work through her unease. She was knowledgeable and perceptive, and began to share stories. And soon after, she ran for and got elected to the city commission, the first black commissioner ever.”
And now, for the finish: “While lots of not-good stuff happened in Jackson during that time, I have fond memories of Mrs. Moorman, a woman in her 70s during those great days of the Green Book.”
I had never heard of Jackson, Ohio, until I got Don’s note the other day. At first, I thought he was talking about Jackson, Mississippi, which we all know was a “not-good stuff” place in those days.

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Children’s book reminds adults they need courage, too

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Our Goldberg Early Childhood Center celebrates a different Jewish value each month. Not only are each of our values important ones but they help us learn how we should act and they connect us with our history.
Our value for this month is “Courage — Ometz Lev.” The most interesting thing about the Hebrew phrase is that it translates as “strength of heart.” It is not just about being strong in a physical way but doing the right thing when it is hard.
More than that, it is also about doing something new and different. Here are a few sections from an article titled “Giving Ourselves Permission to Take Risks” by Elizabeth Jones. The article was written primarily for early childhood but it is really a message for all of us.
“Courage, as we’ve learned from the Cowardly Lion, is a virtue that is hard to sustain. New experiences are often scary; we don’t know what will happen next or what we should do. Yet all new learning involves risk. We learn by doing — and by thinking about the past and the future.
“Risk is inevitable; it’s a requirement for survival. The challenge is to name it, practice it, enjoy the rush of mastery, and bear the pain when pain is the outcome.
“A child who climbs may fall. But a child who never climbs is at much greater risk. Fall surfaces under climbers aren’t there to prevent falls, only to make them less hard. And hugging doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does make it more bearable.”
We chose this value as we get ready for the holiday of Purim. We go beyond the great fun of the holiday with dressing up, giving gifts and tzedakah plus telling the story to much noise of our graggers. There is the important message of “ometz lev — courage” that Queen Esther must display.
Having courage does not mean that you are not afraid but that you must step up and do the right thing (and sometimes the scary thing) even when you are afraid. As you plan your costume and your gifts, think about doing something that scares you — it will help you grow!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Wisdom of the heart: 3 cognitive abilities

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

The main topic in the latest Torah readings of Exodus is the construction of the Sanctuary and all its attractive vessels. The previous chapters of Terumah and Tetzaveh relate the instructions for the structure, while the most recent, Vayakhel and Pekudei, concern the execution of the commands.
Creating a sacred environment is all about choosing the right type of people, those willing to work hard and to give, as well as knowing how to maximize each person’s skillset. Specific instructions alone would not have sufficed to permit any person to participate in constructing the Sanctuary — talented artisans were needed.
Moses informed the entire congregation of Israel that God named Betzalel to do the job, and “filled him with the spirit of God, with wisdom (chochmah), understanding (binah) and knowledge (daat), and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship.” (Exodus 35:31)
Mind power
In this verse, the Torah first mentions three cognitive abilities called chochmah, binah and daat, distinct powers of the mind, which are expounded throughout traditional Jewish literature. Each of these intellectual faculties has precise functions and limits.
Chochmah, usually defined as wisdom, involves our ability to reach inside the mind and “pull” an idea from the storehouse of information into consciousness, like drops of water surfacing from an underground wellspring. This power manifests as a flash of insight. The essential idea is initially perceived but has yet to take form. To get that mental spark to stick, long enough to examine it within the mind, necessitates concentration and curiosity.
The second power, binah, translated as “understanding,” involves the process of analysis. This ability develops the seed of insight (chochmah), to discern and pick up distinctions, as the rules and logic become more revealed, until the breadth of the concept can be comprehended clearly with words.
Though distinct, these two powers usually work quickly together as a pair. It is possible, however, for someone to tap into creative insight, while struggling to develop or explain what is seen. Let’s give a practical example in a visual context: Looking at a painting hanging on the museum wall or admiring a building, one may be struck by its magnificence (chochmah) yet unable to explain that impression to someone else (binah).
“Wow, look at that! I can tell it’s created by a master,” she says.
“What exactly makes it so great?” the other person asks.
“I’m not sure, but I can see this is something special.”
That recognition is chochmah without developing into binah. By gazing longer, or gaining more knowledge of art history and architecture, one comes to understand the reason for the initial perception — how the positioning of figures, or proportions or combination of colors, all combine to create the desired effect on the viewer.
Daat, the third faculty, is the central power of the mind, translated as “knowledge” or integration. Two people, for example, may possess the same capacity to perceive (chochmah) and analyze (binah), yet one person is pulled toward the subject, able to focus for hours, while the other is less interested. This personal connection to the subject learnt relates to the sense of daat.
The main function that daat serves is to bridge intelligence to emotions, which then becomes a motivation to act — to enact what we understand and feel. This is a crucial step to bring our inner world into outer reality. In this way, it is perhaps the most important in all-inclusive power of the soul.
The heart metaphor
The heart is often used as a symbol for character traits. We speak of someone who is caring or courageous, for example, as having a “big heart,” or the cruel as having “a heart of stone.” On the surface, mind and heart, intelligence and emotions, appear to be two opposite forces — though they certainly complement one another. The mind is relatively cool and collected, the heart hot and excited. The keen mind strives to be objective and detached, to observe reality as it is. The dynamic heart, in contrast demands experience — what this does to me.
The heart is also concerned with the other person. The Hebrew term chesed conveys a simple love, the natural desire to do good to another, while compassion or empathy enables one to feel the other’s situation. The goal in character refinement is to build a smooth bridge between the mind and the heart. We all know cases where people’s intelligence, emotions and actions are disconnected. But wisdom, when it’s complete, must influence character.
From the other angle, a rectified heart receives guidance from the mind — a heart that seeks to do acts of kindness yet can also discern good from evil. Combining intellectual and emotional traits in one term conveys a healthy exchange between these two inner islands.
The wise of heart
Returning to our biblical scene, in the passages describing those chosen to build the sanctuary, Moses continues to explain how God gave Betzalel and his assistant, Oholiav, “a wise heart.” (Exodus 35:35) This quality of wise-heartedness distinguished those able to build from those who could not: “Everyone with a wise heart among you shall come and do all the work.”
When reading these lines, the immediate question is: What is meant by a “wise heart”? Is it some additional acumen, an instinct or intuition? After all, wisdom belongs to the mind, distinct from feelings inside the heart. For some, the phrase “a wise heart” may invite associations with a more recent term that’s gained popularity in psychology — “emotional intelligence” — the ability to identify and be aware of emotions inside oneself, and in others, and to deal with them in a healthy way, manifesting in successful interpersonal relationships.
But this context, dealing with construction, suggests something more in line with divinely-inspired artistry, wherein cognition and creativity merge. The commentaries explain that Betzalel was able to intuit what God wanted in the craftsmanship of the Sanctuary, independent of Moses’ command.
This ability is even reflected in his name, as described in the Talmudic narrative, where Moses responds to Betzalel’s suggestion by saying “Were you betzel El, in the shadow of God, that you know this?” Nachmonides further notes that his ability to craft all these vessels was a kind of miracle, since during the centuries of slavery in Egypt, the Jews had no access to precious metals such as gold, silver and copper.
Generosity
Concerning those who donated toward the sanctuary, the Torah uses a different description: “Every man whose heart uplifted him came, and everyone whose spirit inspired him to generosity…The men came with the women; every generous-hearted person (nediv lev)… And all the women whose hearts uplifted them with wisdom, spun the goat hair.”
The full spectrum
Thus, in just a few lines the Torah communicates a timeless message about what it takes to build a community and house of prayer: a collective effort, utilizing the full spectrum of the congregation’s abilities — from wisdom to generosity to action. The final chapter of Exodus, therefore, fittingly closes with this collaboration, completing the specific requirements of the sanctuary. All its components were then brought to Moses, who erects it and anoints it, initiating Aaron and his four sons.
The wise and noble choices of created beings — in this case the Israelites devoting their property, their bodies and their souls toward the construction of the Mishkan — evokes the ultimate divine response: “And the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Sanctuary.”
Rabbi Dan Lewin is director of the nonprofit Maayan Chai Foundation. For information, visit www.maayanchai.org.

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Beyond treif symbolism, pork has added significance

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi,
I’ve often wondered, if there are many animals which are forbidden by Jewish dietary laws, such as horses, dogs, cats and many others, then why is pork considered the classic symbol of “treif”? Is there something more “treif” about pork than all the others?
– Shawn P.
Dear Shawn,
Sorry, I can’t resist! There were once a rabbi and a priest having breakfast together; the rabbi was having scrambled eggs and the priest, bacon and eggs. The priest suddenly exclaimed, “You know, Rabbi, this bacon is so delicious! The Lord gave us the pleasures of this world to enjoy them, not refrain from them. When are you finally going to taste some bacon?” The rabbi replied, “At your wedding, Father!”
The Torah gives two signs which signify that an animal is kosher: that they chew their cud and they have split hooves. All animals lacking these two signs are “treif,” or non-kosher. The Torah further cites four examples of animals which present only one of these two signs: The camel, hyrax and hare all chew their cud but do not have split hooves, and are therefore not kosher. The pig is the opposite, it has split hooves but does not chew its cud, and therefore also not kosher. (See Leviticus 11:1-8.)
The early Sages noticed this distinction between the pig and the first three animals; what does it teach us about these animals?
They explain that the “kosher sign” of the first three, chewing their cud, is internal. Internally they are kosher, but externally they are not, and therefore cannot be consumed as we need both. The pig, however, is internally not kosher; its very essence is “treif”; it’s only on the outside that it presents itself with the appearance of being kosher.
The rabbis cite a verse which compares Esau to the “pig of the forest.” Esau presents himself as being righteous, excelling in the honoring of his father, tithing foods that don’t require tithing such as salt, but inside harbors a hatred toward true holiness and to his brother Jacob, who represents holiness and sanctity in every aspect of life. The Sages remark that Esau, like the pig, holds out its paw and proclaims: “Look at me, I’m kosher!” In reality, however, he’s rotten to the core. The Amalekite nation, which the Talmud places as the forefathers of the Germans, traces back to the lineage of Esau. It was the most cultured of nations, the most polite and polished on the outside, that gave birth to the Nazi fascists who committed the most heinous of crimes ever known to mankind as a result of their hatred for us deep inside.
The rabbis further explain that the Jews were destined, from the time of creation, to suffer four exiles among the nations. The first three, the Babylonian, Persian-Median and Greek exiles, correspond to the first three animals mentioned above. These three were clearly and obviously idolatrous nations. They are linked to the state of the Jews of that time. The three cardinal sins were at the root of the First Temple’s destruction and subsequent exiles: idolatry, murder and illicit relations. These were clear and open sins, and they were subjugated to nations which were openly sinful.
The reason for the Second Temple’s destruction and subsequent exile was far less clear; the true reason was hidden, since on the surface the Jews seemed to be very observant. Only through prophecy did we learn that their deep-down hatred for one another was the reason for the destruction. That’s why the fourth destruction was by the hand of the Edomites, the great-grandchildren of Esau, the pig. They claimed to be righteous, and gave birth to Western civilization, of which many claim to be the “real Jews,” extending their “kosher hoofs,” but with something rotten to the core — the core which has wrought pogroms, crusades, inquisitions and the unspeakable Holocaust.
Your question comes at a great time. March in Dallas is “Kosher Month,” when you can join Dallas Kosher and the entire Dallas Jewish community to learn more about kosher! Just check out dallaskosher.com and join the fun!

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Boursin on sale; memories of Aunt Polly included

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Sometimes something small, something altogether ridiculous, evokes a memory that is neither of the above.
So it was with me when I looked into the cheese section of my favorite supermarket and saw a small box of French Boursin on sale for $2.98 — about half of its regular price. About the same price that was regular for it almost 50 years ago, when I first visited my long-gone Aunt Polly in North Carolina.
Boursin was her favorite cheese. It was expensive even then, but she always had some on hand when she had company. I had never bought it at all, but when I tasted it there for the first time, I was hooked. However, not enough to indulge myself by spending that kind of money on a small block of cheese when I got back home, where I was newly on my own and totally responsible for the upkeep of two children on my own salary.
Still, the desire lingered for a while. After some time, it slowly faded away, but I always remembered that Aunt Polly gave the best to her company, and I tried to emulate her in that (minus the costly Boursin). And I also learned from her about “the “gettin’ place,” a spot where she squirreled away potential gifts. There was always something waiting for anticipated birthdays and anniversaries, new babies, holidays, other special occasions and unexpected visitors.
When Aunt Polly was diagnosed with lung cancer, her doctor, her family, she herself and everyone who knew her knew it was her final illness. One day, when she was still able to be out and about on her own, a neighbor spotted Aunt Polly shopping in a jewelry store. Far from being the world’s most subtle person, that woman asked, “Why are you buying jewelry now?” And Aunt Polly, her usual cool self, answered, “It’s not for me. I’m buying it to give away!”
In her honor and memory, I set up my own “gettin’ place,” in the back of a walk-in closet. But over the years, the closet seems to have gotten much smaller as the accumulation has grown much bigger. I now keep bags — one for each branch of the family, one for holiday items, one for children (like Aunt Polly, I keep things on hand in case a child comes by — maybe with a visiting adult, or if I’ll be visiting a home with kids). And there are others: one filled with Judaica suited for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, one just for items I’ve liked enough to bring home with the idea that someday I’d find the right time to give it to the right person, whomever that might be. (Truthfully, that last bag is the one that always overflows.) I also keep a pile of books — for both adults and children — in a nearby corner.
Now, here’s the cheese connection: That lonely little box of Boursin in the supermarket took me back to my first taste on my first visit, and then to the one made for Aunt Polly’s funeral. She was only 60, yet it was the effort of will she’d made that kept her that long, until she was able to empty out her “gettin’ place.” (Lately, I’ve managed to curb my advance gift buying, fearing that many, if not most, of these items will outlive my identifying the right recipients for them.)
So I put the Boursin into my cart, finished shopping for the things on my list (and also the few others that called me to take them home as well), and gladly paid the reduced price, which I’m sure was the full price when Aunt Polly also gifted her visitors with local cigarettes that cost $2 a carton! And as soon as I arrived, I opened that little box, picked up a spoon, and ate every bit of it!

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