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Be happy having only what you need

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

With the Ten Plagues and the other great miracles that God wrought to bring us out of slavery in Egypt, I will admit that the miracle I’m fascinated with in this week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, is not as spectacular. It’s kind of a quiet, unpretentious miracle that I am drawn to examine and understand.
Once we escaped Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds on dry land and began our journey through the wilderness, God spoke to Moses (Exodus 16:4): “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion…”
That God provided manna for us in the wilderness, miraculous as it is, isn’t what fascinates me the most. Rather, I am drawn to verses 15-18 later in the chapter: “…And Moses said to them, ‘That is the bread which the Eternal has given you to eat. This is what the Eternal has commanded: Gather as much of it as each of you requires to eat, an omer (a unit of dry measure) to a person for as many of you as there are; each of you shall fetch for those in his tent.’
“The Israelites did so, some gathering much, some little. But when they measured it by the omer, he who had gathered much had no excess, and he who had gathered little had no deficiency: they had gathered as much as they needed to eat.”
There it is, a small, quiet miracle: Gather much or gather little, everyone had as much as they needed. The fascinating part is that some wanted to gather more and some wanted to gather less, but what they actually got was precisely what they needed.
The entire episode gets me to thinking: How much does a person need, as opposed to how much does a person want? The simple answer is we almost always want more than we need.
I have a personal finance book called “Uncommon Cents” and quoted within it is a study that asked people of four different income levels if they had “enough.” They all answered no. When asked how much more they would need to feel comfortable they all answered “about 10 percent more.” Whether they made a little or a lot, all groups wanted more. It doesn’t matter how much you might make, the desire for more is there and our wants outstrip our actual needs.
Ben Zoma understood this basic truth about human nature when he asked in Pirkei Avot (4:1): “Who is wealthy? The one who is happy with their portion.” It is not possible to be happy with your portion if your portion doesn’t meet your basic needs. But once your basic needs are met, your happiness is up to you. Will you be satisfied with what you have or will you be perpetually unhappy that you don’t have more?
Furthermore, when you are out gathering for yourself, don’t forget about the people left behind in the tents who are unable to gather for themselves. We are commanded also to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. There is sufficiency for all of us, if we look out for each other.
Only you can answer the final question: Whether you gather much or gather little, will you be happy with what you have?
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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1920s-1940s were Jewish gangsters’ heyday

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

As a young “boychik” growing up in the Bronx in the ’40s, one of my fondest memories was attending the movies, especially enjoying western and gangster movies, followed by war movies during World War II.
Little did I realize at that time that many of the real gangsters, especially those in the New York City area, were Jewish like myself, my friends and my neighbors.
It seems that thievery and corruption knew no bounds. Each immigrant group — Irish, Italian, Chinese, Jewish and others — had their “no-goodnicks” and thieves.
Formed into organized gangs, they often found themselves competing and fighting for control of ever-expanding territory of all sorts of illegal activities within their own ethnic group and sometimes across ethnic neighborhoods.
There have been primarily four or five phases of Jewish organized crime in the United States.
With the large influx of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, there also arrived mobsters who formed gangs in New York’s Lower East Side. Organized crime activity included “protection,” prostitution, tax evasion and gambling.
During the period known as prohibition (1920-1933), when alcoholic beverages were illegal to produce, bottle, transport and sell, Jewish gangsters such as Arnold Rothstein, Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Abe Bernstein, Dutch Schultz, Moe Dalitz, Kid Cann, Charles “King” Solomon and Abner “Longy” Zwillman all became wealthy.
An unusual “twist” in the traditional relationship between the “feds” and the mobs occurred after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Fear of possible infiltration through American ports by German and Italian agents led U.S. Naval Intelligence to gather information from the many Italian-American dockworkers and fishermen in the New York-New Jersey area.
Little success resulted from Naval Intelligence’s efforts, because the dockworkers were reluctant to work with government agents. The agents became more successful by switching tactics.
Enlisting the aid of Lansky, a known Jewish mobster who hated the Nazis, Naval Intelligence was able to negotiate with the top mobster of organized crime at the time, Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano.
Luciano, who was serving 30-50 years in prison, was open to an arrangement that might prevent him from spending the remainder of his life behind bars.
Lucky’s deal with Naval Intelligence resulted in full cooperation by the dockworkers and fishermen, but more significant was the gathering of intelligence concerning the Sicilian coastline in preparation for the Allied 1943 invasion known as “Operation Husky.”
In Israel’s 1948 War for Independence, Lansky and other Jewish gangsters took an active role in the collection and shipping of weapons during the arms embargo in which shipment of arms to either side was prohibited.
Other than Italian-American criminal elements, Irish-Americans and Jewish- Americans in organized crime have somewhat faded into obscurity.
Since the decline of the former Soviet Union, Mafia types have emigrated to Israel, some posing as Jews seeking asylum. Various Russian and Israeli Mafia groups include the Mogilevich, Fainberg and Abergil crime families.
In more recent years, beginning in the 1970s, Jewish-American organized crime has formed primarily in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn, where many former Soviet immigrants have settled, including criminal elements.
Hopefully, the New York City Police Department and the FBI, with their long history of having to deal with organized crime, will continue to be up to the challenge that these groups present.
While gangster movies might make for good entertainment, in real life, too many good people are hurt by organized crime and Jewish organized crime is a shameful situation.

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Torah says to protect, preserve the planet

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
We will celebrate Tu B’Shevat on Monday, Jan. 21. Hopefully, it is not one of those things that either we don’t know about so we don’t stop and think about it, or we know about it, went online and bought a tree at www.jnf.org and we were done.
There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by God to care for our earth. Yes, we must teach our children, but today more than ever, we must be reminded to go out in nature and renew our sense of wonder in the world.
The Torah tells us how the world was created, but then goes on to tell us how to protect and preserve the earth. A very important Jewish law is Bal Tashchit (Do Not Destroy). The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste. Take time to talk and think about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. Go radical — bring a text to the dinner table.
Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask, “What do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable).
• Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b)
• It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodashim 4:12)
• When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19)
• Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of Bal Tashchit. (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
• The whole world of humans, animals, fish and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. (Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabba 2)
As you walk outside to begin your day, say this:
“May our souls be rekindled as we open our hearts to the world and take good care of God’s world. ‘When you look out at the world around you, you are looking at God; and He is looking back at you.’” — Reb Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Esau’s angel wanted to cripple Jacob’s Torah love

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Thank you for your response about the encounter between the angel of Esau and Jacob. I still was wondering what is the significance of touching his hip, of all places. It seems like there’s more important places to try to harm than the leg. I understand what you said about the Jewish people limping, but is there anything more to this?
Mark T.

Dear Mark,
There is, in fact, another understanding of the encounter that you mention, which explains why Esau’s spiritual patron was out to affect Jacob’s legs.
The deeper Jewish mystical sources explain the following (Zohar, Parashas Vayishlach 171a). Jacob, of all the patriarchs, represented the study of Torah. “The lads grew up and Esau became one who knows trapping, a man of the field; but Jacob was a man of completion, abiding in the tents” (Genesis 25:27). “Abiding in the tents” means that Jacob spent his days and nights studying Torah, according to Rashi’s analysis of Genesis 25:27.
The Zohar teaches that the struggle between Jacob and the patron angel of Esau was a spiritual one; Esau did not want Jacob to take the birthright and the Torah that accompanied it. The angel was attempting to remove the Torah from Jacob’s ownership, taking it out of his hands and heart.
When the angel saw he could not overcome Jacob, because his love of Torah was so intense that he would rather die than to cease his study and observance of it, the angel touched his leg. The legs of a person hold him or her up. They represent standing up and walking forward.
Like the legs of Jacob held him up, so too the supporters of Torah throughout the generations are like the legs of the Torah. Those who monetarily support Torah become the legs of the Torah who prop it up, making it accessible to those who want to study it. As the sages say, “if there’s no flour, there’s no Torah” (Mishna, Avos 3:17).
When Esau touched Jacob’s leg to move his hip out of place, he was “touching” the supporters of Torah throughout the generations. He knew that the Jewish people loved the study and observance of Torah too much to minimize it directly, so he had an alternative plan. He would minimize the desire of the Jews of means to appreciate the importance of Torah study, so they won’t support it wholeheartedly and to the extent they should (R’ Tzadok Hacohen, Pri Tzadik, Kobeitz Ha’mincha 37 in explanation of this Zohar). The lack of support will minimize the amount and intensity of Torah study, thereby weakening the “voice of Jacob” in the yeshivos, kollels and synagogues.
This, says the Zohar, will give Esau and his offspring (namely the Roman and, subsequently, Western culture and nations) the ability to control Jacob. Isaac said to Jacob, at the time of the blessings, “… the voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau” (Genesis 27:22). The Talmud explains this to mean that when the voice of Jacob is strong and powerful, reverberating the sound of Torah in the study halls, then the “hands of Esau” are powerless to harm us. But when the voice of Jacob becomes weak (see commentary of Vilna Gaon), Esau’s hands then are empowered and able to harm us and take us over.
The angel of Esau, by minimizing the support of Torah by touching the support of Jacob, crippling his legs, was preparing the stage for later troubles he would cause to the Jewish people.
Those individuals who, indeed, stand up and wholeheartedly and generously support the Torah become the “legs of Jacob,” the support of the Torah itself. Upon them the Torah bestows the blessing, “Baruch asher yakim es divrei haTorah hazos” (Deuteronomy 27:26), blessed is he who upholds this Torah.

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A meaningful Star of David makes its debut

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

I made a promise to myself on the day of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in my native Pittsburgh: I would no longer go out in public without something identifiably Jewish around my neck. I have stars, Hamsas, even a miniature State of Israel made there from the metal of a scud rocket. I have silver and gold to match any outfit. As if that were the important thing, which of course it is not…
What is important: I can finally let go of the shaming insult I received as a teenager from a shoe salesman. Too bad my feet are long and narrow and hard to fit; what he commented on was the necklace I was wearing. And what he said was, “You Star of David girls are never satisfied with anything.” I didn’t wear anything identifiably Jewish after that — except in Jewish settings only — my Boubby the Philosopher’s old star, set with bits of marcasite that sparkled like diamonds.
She gave it to me immediately after my wedding, just before my husband and I left for New York to be unit directors at a big Jewish camp in the Catskills. I put it on and never took it off until, in mid-August, the chain broke, and I put the star aside to await my next chance to shop for a replacement. But it never happened, because that same night, the staff residence in which we lived burned to the ground, taking Boubby’s star along with it. I’ve tried for years to replace it, but — as the old saying goes — “close, but no cigar.”
That lost star isn’t my favorite story. This one is: When Fred and I visited Poland, first we saw the Holocaust horror sites, but then we visited one of the country’s other main draws: the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow. It’s really an underground museum, since miners over centuries have carved statues in that salt. Down we went on an elevator with other visitors for a long look. Previously, in both Warsaw and Krakow, I had visited shop after shop stocked with items carved from the ubiquitous amber of that area, looking in vain for any Jewish star. There were hundreds and thousands of crosses in all sizes, but not a star anywhere. Should I have been surprised? Frustrated.
I just abandoned my search.
But of course, this mine, like most tourist attractions, had a gift shop, where I gave my hunt one last try: “Do you have any six-pointed stars?” I asked the young woman behind the counter. “A Jewish star?” She answered no, which didn’t surprise me. But as I started to walk away, she called me back to wait a moment. And, reaching under her counter, she brought up a small box of odds-and-ends, pulling from it a pair of earrings — small, dangling stars of silver, each centered with amber. I asked no questions, paid whatever she wanted and brought my treasure home.
I do not wear earrings, having been warned never to put any weight on either ear ‘way back in 1969, when I had surgery to remove a tumor from behind the right one. So, I took these to a jeweler friend, who formed a pendant for me — one star atop the other. Today was my day to wear it for the first time since the massacre.
Since making that personal promise to wear a Jewish symbol every day for the rest of my life, I have done so. And no one yet has ever made a comment on anything that was hanging around my neck. Sorry to disappoint you, but today (which was a week before you’re reading this), nobody said a word, either. I’m disappointed, myself. And I puzzle over this: Are my most treasured symbols invisible? Well, it doesn’t matter: It was enough just to be a proud, public Jew, wearing what may well have been the last Jewish stars left in Poland.

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If it seems out of reach, God will stretch your arm

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

I had it relatively easy. I met with a shadchan (a traditional Jewish matchmaker) one night in the middle of 2001, described myself (a then bright-eyed 21-year-old yeshiva student with an eye toward a future in Jewish outreach) and what I was looking for in a spouse, and shortly thereafter received suggestions of different girls to consider dating.
I went out once or twice with four different girls before relaying the news to the shadchan that I just didn’t think these girls were for me. It only took one date with the fifth girl I went out with to know that I had found my bashert, and a short 2½ weeks later, we were engaged. (It’s worth noting that this is an incredibly short courtship even by traditional standards — ahh, to be young and bold.) Overall the shidduch system had worked for me, and so, I imagined, did it work for everyone else.
My now wife burst that rosy bubble shortly after our engagement, explaining to me how hard it was for so many others. Girls left waiting by the phone, hoping to hear from a shadchan or a friend with a suggestion, only to go weeks or months without a call. I was flabbergasted. It seemed like the moment I called the shadchan to call off a courtship, another suggestion was at her fingertips ready to go. I hadn’t realized how fortunate I had been, and resolved then and there to be part of the solution.
My life in yeshiva quickly changed. Instead of sitting together with my close friends for lunch, I slowly made my way around the cafeteria, getting to know other yeshiva students whom I’d scarcely known before. I eventually compiled notebooks filled with comprehensive details about the yeshiva boys I had met, along with the candid details of what they were seeking in a bride. I would set them up with girls that I knew, or with single friends of my wife, and before we knew it, we had made three successful shidduchim.
Word got around town that there was a new shadchan in town and, as if overnight, I began getting calls from single girls and guys, fathers and mothers, both local and out of state, all around the clock. And phone calls weren’t the end of it. People wanted to meet with me face-to-face, the same as I had done with my shadchan many months before. And almost every night of the week, after a full day at study, I’d come home, eat a quick supper with my wife and newborn, and prepare for a barrage of eligible singles knocking on my apartment door.
We successfully made our fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh successful shidduchim, and along with that success came more and more visitors and more and more phone calls. I had planned to try to make a difference, but all of this, I could never have imagined. It was all too much for me.
Besides for the ridiculous demands on my already limited free time with my young family, I began feeling the growing pressure of the many expectant and hopeful singles that had put their hopes in me. I couldn’t possibly help them all, and it gnawed away at my core. A growing anxiety creeped in, grabbing hold of me and not letting go.
It was around this time of the year, the week of Parashat Shemot, that I walked to shul on a brisk Shabbat morning still filled with the disquieting shadchan angst that was increasingly hard to shake. I took a seat in the back and eyed the amazing array of sefarim (books on Jewish subjects) that lined the synagogue’s shelves. One old book caught my eye. It turned out to be a commentary on the weekly parasha written by one of the earlier rabbis to settle and establish Jewish life in Baltimore (unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the author). My interest was piqued, and so I turned to his writings on the week’s Torah reading.
The subject was the daughter of Pharaoh who, the Chumash relates, had gathered in and cared for the crying baby (later named Moshe) who had been floating down the Nile River in a wicker basket.
“Pharaoh’s daughter went down to bathe, to the Nile, and her maidens were walking along the Nile, and she saw the basket in the midst of the marsh, and she sent her maidservant, and she took it” (Shemot 2:5).
The rabbi noted Rashi’s commentary on this verse, which points out a homiletical interpretation of the Sages who suggest that the Hebrew word for “maidservant,” “amata,” can also mean an “arm.” Thus, the verse is teaching that the daughter of Pharaoh sent forth her arm to grasp the wicker basket and God miraculously lengthened her arm so that she could reach the distant child. (Whether this midrash is meant literally or figuratively is another matter.)
Upon this mysterious midrash, the rabbi from Baltimore wrote these words which are carved into my memory. “We learn from here that if we try our best to accomplish great deeds, however lofty and out-of-reach they may seem, God will stretch our reach, just as he stretched the daughter of Pharaoh’s reach, so that we might accomplish them.”
I exhaled a deep breath. I realized for the first time that it wasn’t my burden to worry about how many shidduchim I would make or how many people I would eventually help. These matters were far beyond me and my control. All I needed to focus on was sincerely reaching for the goal. It would ultimately be God’s job to stretch my arm, the Almighty’s task to complete the mission.
I walked home from shul that day and excitedly relayed the rabbi’s profound words to my wife over the Shabbat lunch meal. We smiled together and for the first time in a long time felt at peace.
Rabbi Yogi Robkin is the outreach director of DATA of Plano. He can be reached at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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New customs are great, but I prefer the old ways

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

“Wow! That would really jar your mother’s pickles!” That was the nonsensical phrase my own mother always used when something strange hovered on her horizon. I’ve never used it until now, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. For me, this is it.
The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (since I’m a Jew strongly identified with a Conservative congregation, that’s one of my favorite organizations) has announced that — just in time for the annual World Wide Wrap begun years ago by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs — it’s now joining the men to “truly educate and encourage women to don tefillin, and embrace the mitzvah…” The premise — and promise — are to give women the increased spirituality that men achieve by drawing closer to God in this particular way.
“Spirituality” is a buzzword these days. I recently received a pamphlet about how to be spiritual without being religious. But I consider myself both: a person religious and spiritual, without separating the two. I have never thought tefillin would increase either of these things.
Full disclosure: My being religious and spiritual is not only possible and present without tefillin, but I embrace both without a tallit as well. My decision not to wear that came a long, long time ago, because I was educated in Judaism a long, long time ago by men. They said some things were not for women, and I believed them. And I live with those old “beliefs” — for that is what they are — to this day. I’m sure I’m wrong in the eyes of many, but I am content in myself. The things I was denied as a female Jew in the predominantly male Jewish world of my growing-up time set patterns for me that even now, when my choice is to keep or break them, I choose the former.
Believe it or not, this isn’t always easy. My congregation allows me to bless the Torah, but when I ascend the bima to do so, I do not touch it. I do not carry any on Simchat Torah. When one is paraded past me on Shabbat mornings, I “kiss” it with the binding of my prayer book. This is how I grew up, and it still satisfies me. However, a (male) rabbi once, fairly recently, chastised me for not donning a tallit: “Why are you denying yourself that spirituality?” was what he asked. And I answered, “My spirituality does not reside in a piece of cloth.” I was not happy with his question, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy with my response, either.
Girls of my time did not go to Hebrew school, and a bat mitzvah was not yet a rite of female passage. So, I never felt deprived of things that clearly were not mine, and I grew up happily Jewish without them. I still live happily Jewish without them. I have not wanted a bat mitzvah as an adult any more than I want to wear a tallit or adopt the straps and boxes of tefillin. I am happy for girls — and women — of today who have these opportunities and want to take advantage of them, but I am not envious.
For me, religion and spirituality — Judaism and Jewish spirituality — go together. They are united in my very bones, and cannot be separated. And I feel the latter in a way of internal peace that needs no external enhancement.
So: What does it mean, to “jar your mother’s pickles”? Maybe to put cucumbers and brine together in a jar and let them sit and mellow into something quite different — an act of creation of a sort. Or it could mean to shake the jar — maybe to the point of its falling and shattering, destroying its contents altogether. I choose the first. The opportunities open to women today do not upset my metaphoric pickles, which continue to satisfy me as I live happily, and Jewishly, without them.
Your opinions are welcome.

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The sages want you to get fit and healthy

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the new year, and the Aaron Family JCC fitness department is seeing those who have made being fit and healthy one of their resolutions. We all know how resolutions tend to go, but there is always hope.
A few Jewish thoughts may help motivate you to continue working out. We too often have the picture of the Jew who keeps his (or her) head in the books, and that is important. But that is not all our sages have promoted and written about.
Here are some excerpts from an article by Abbie Greenberg that came from JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance:
• Already in the Talmud (Shabbat 82a), Rav Huna urges his son Rabbah to study with Rav Hisda. Rabbah resists, saying that Rav Hisda focuses only on secular matters: anatomy and hygiene. Rav Huna admonishes his son, saying, “He speaks of health matters, and you call that secular.”
• Maimonides states that a person “should engage one’s body and exert oneself in a sweat-producing task each morning.”
• Martin Buber recorded a story of Rav Simhah Bunim, of Przysucha, who took very literally the words of our prayer that relate to physical awareness. According to the story, Rav Simhah arrived late for synagogue one Shabbat morning. When asked why he was so late, he quoted from Pesukei d’Zimra, preliminary blessings and psalms, which he had missed reciting because of his lateness: “All my bones shall say, who is like You, God?” How then, Rav Simhah asked, could he come to pray before his bones were all awake?
• In the 20th century, Rav Kook went much further in connecting physical and spiritual health. He claimed that physical health is in itself a value in the process of repentance and that, in each human organism, there is a constant reciprocal relationship between body and spirit.
Rav Kook promoted a Zionism that strove to restore health to the body of the Jewish people so that its spiritual life could flower to its fullest. He intended this restoration to occur not only on the metaphorical level in terms of the strength of the State of Israel, but also with respect to the strength of every person.
All of the sages placed emphasis on the body/soul connection — a concept that is coming back into our fitness programs today. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation are all part of many fitness regimes. The most important value in life is balance, and Judaism has always spoken to this need.
As we go into this new year, let’s promise ourselves that we will strive for balance in our study, our exercise, our families, our work — we do not need to do everything in every area of our lives, but we do need to live a well-rounded life.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Angels touched Jacob to divide Jewish people

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have been contemplating the message of the struggle between Jacob and the patron angel of Esau in Genesis 32. Are we supposed to learn something from the angel touching Jacob’s hip? Jacob won the struggle against the angel but walked away limping; is there a message in this, or is it just what happened then and there?
Mark T.

Dear Mark,
As I think you understand in your question, there are no stories or messages in the Torah that were mentioned solely for their historical value. All stories told in the Torah carry a timeless message that applies to today as it did then. The Torah is not meant to be a history book (although it is certainly rich in historical facts), rather a book of laws and moral teachings.
The Torah itself, at the end of that chapter, mentions a ramification in Jewish law for all time due to the touching of the angel to Jacob’s hip: that the Jews are not allowed to eat the sciatic nerve of an animal. This is codified into Jewish law, known as gid hanasheh, and requires the hindquarters of a cow to be dissected in a special way that avoids the sciatic nerve and its surrounding fats.
This doesn’t really answer your question; rather, it strengthens it. What is so important about this encounter that it has been encoded into Jewish law for all time?
Let us consider a message offered by our sages.
One is a message of assimilation. The Talmud teaches us, based upon a verse, that a Jew, no matter how far he or she may stray from Jewish beliefs and practices, remains a Jew (Tractate Sanhedrin 40a). Once a Jew always a Jew. “Yisrael, af al pi she’chata, Yisrael hu.”
This teaching carries both a positive and a potentially negative connotation. The obvious positive message is that a Jew can always return and need not convert back to Judaism, even after joining another religion.
That very same point carries a damaging perspective; we could have Jews within the fold whose lives are antithetical and even hostile to Judaism and its teachings, and still be part of the fold. The Jews of every generation are collectively considered as one body. If one’s leg is sick, then the entire body is unhealthy. If one is limping due to a broken leg, the entire body is limping.
When Esau’s angel saw he couldn’t destroy Jacob, he touched him in the hip to make him limp; he touched the many Jews that his (later Western) society would one day influence many Jews to assimilate into the culture of his offspring. Although this would not destroy the Jews completely, that assimilation causes the entire body of the Jewish people to be severely impeded in their attempt to be a light unto the nations.
The Torah says that Jacob limped until he came to the city of Sukkos (Genesis 33:17), when at that point he was cured of his limp (Rashi on Genesis 33:18). The Rabbis teach that Sukkos is hinting to the final time of our history, the Messianic redemption, when the Jews will become complete, like Jacob was considered complete at that moment.
When we usher in the long-awaited Messianic period, the entire Jewish body — all those who are part of Klal Yisrael — will recognize their part in the mission of the Jewish people and its requirements. We so look forward to when the Jewish people will be fully healthy again.

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The perfect Aryan was really Jewish

Posted on 02 January 2019 by admin

Here is a perfect follow-up to my Dec. 20 column on the significant role of Jews in the story of photography.
The following story unfolded in 2014 during a presentation of a gift from Hessy Levinson Taft, now 80, to the Yad Vashem archives.
A newly married Latvian Jewish couple came to Berlin in 1928 with hopes of finding success as opera singers. Once the husband’s stage name of Lenssen was revealed as the Jewish name of Levinson, his contract was canceled and he had to find work out of his field.
Bad timing, as his wife soon gave birth to Hessy Levinson, a beautiful baby girl. At the urging of her mother, she took her child at 6 months to a professional photographer, Hans Ballin, who produced what they considered a beautiful photograph of a beautiful baby.
Once they placed the framed photo on their piano, proudly satisfied, they thought no further of it until a visitor recalled having recently seen it on the cover of a Nazi endorsed publication.
Once the parents confirmed that the photo on the magazine cover was that of their daughter, they sought out the photographer for an explanation.
They were terrified, since this was a Nazi-endorsed publication. They couldn’t understand why their (Jewish) baby would be displayed.
Their photographer explained. The Nazis approached him and nine of the other top photographers to each submit their 10 best photos. The best one of the Aryan race was to be chosen by Joseph Goebbels.
The photographer laughed, but the Levinsons were terrified that they would be found out and be punished severely, if not executed.
Their photographer thought that the business about the superiority of the Aryan race was stupid and that this contest result proved it.
The Levinsons made a series of moves to avoid being swept up in the Holocaust, making it to Cuba and eventually settling in the United States.
The Nazis never realized that their beautiful Aryan baby contest only proved one thing, that they were fools.
Hessy, “the perfect baby,” eventually grew up to raise her own family, becoming a chemistry professor in New York state.

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