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Honoring Roddie Edmonds, Righteous Among Nations

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

This non-Jew saved 200 Jewish POW during WWII

Many accounts of bravery have emerged among the many thousands of American prisoners of war during World War II in the Pacific and European Theatres.

September 20 is POW/MIA Recognition Day, a day worth remembering the actions of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee. Edmonds, along with others of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, was forced to surrender to an overwhelming force of Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, toward the end of the war in Europe.

As was the custom, officers went to one camp while the enlisted men went to another, Stalag IXA, located near Ziegenhain, Germany.

Jewish-American soldiers had been warned to throw their ID tags away, so they could not be singled out by the Jew-hating Nazis. In violation of the Geneva Convention, the Nazis were sending those soldiers to slave-labor camps where chances of survival were minimal.

As the highest-ranking enlisted man, Edmonds was in charge of all 1,275 prisoners — 200 of whom were Jews — whose well-being he considered his responsibility. After they arrived in the bitter cold, the Nazi commandant ordered Edmonds to identify all the Jews in his group, and to have them in formation the next morning. Instead, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 men to assemble outside their barracks, which they did. Outraged, the Nazi commandant drew his pistol, pointing it at Edmonds, demanding that he identify the Jews.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds said. “If you want to shoot Jews, you must shoot everyone.”

He warned the commandant that, with the war ending, if the prisoners were harmed, he would be hunted down and tried as a war criminal. The commandant holstered his gun and walked away.

Edmonds, who also served in the Korean War, never received official recognition saving the Jewish soldiers. It was only after his death in 1985, when his wife gave Edmonds’ two diaries to his son, a Baptist minister, that Edmonds’ bravery became known to his own family.

In 2015, Yad VaShem named Roddie Edmonds a Righteous Among the Nations.

Unfortunately, an attempt to confer the Congressional Medal of Honor has stalled because no battle had been fought nor blood shed in his efforts. Yet, with or without a medal, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds will always be remembered as a non-Jewish, Jewish American Hero.

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Particularism & universalism: Outlook divides us

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

I’ve lived my life between the two largest Jewish communities of our time, those of Israel and the United States. And over the past several decades, drastically different levels of religious observance and opposing positions on the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians have both been described as some of the driving factors behind a growing divide between these two communities. However, at its core, this divide is about more than simple policy; it’s about the opposing ways that our communities view the world. By and large, the Jewish community of Israel is particularist and American Jewry is universalist. 

Particularism is usually defined as attachment to one’s own group, party or nation, whereas universalism is loyalty to or concern for all of humanity. Though Judaism has always fostered elements of both, modernity has seen individual Jews and even entire Jewish communities adopting only one exclusive lens through which to view the world. 

Yossi Klein Halevi, eminent Zionist author, writes of these differing ideologies as various interpretations of Jewish history.

 “Jewish history speaks to our generation in the voice of two biblical commands to remember,” he explains. “The first voice commands us to remember that we were strangers in the land of Egypt, and the message of that command is: Don’t be brutal. The second voice commands us to remember how the tribe of Amalek attacked us without provocation while we were wandering in the desert, and the message of that command is: Don’t be naive. 

“The first command is the voice of Passover, of liberation; the second is the voice of Purim, commemorating our victory over the genocidal threat of Haman, a descendant of Amalek. ‘Passover Jews’ are motivated by empathy with the oppressed; ‘Purim Jews’ are motivated by alertness to threat.”

The Jewish community of Israel, though not without its fierce universalist progressives, is largely made up of “Purim Jews.” Zionism at heart has always been a particularist endeavor, it deals with the fate of the Jewish people, not the entire world. And after decades of war and terrorism, surrounded by enemies who claim to seek their destruction, Israeli Jews have come to identify strongly with particularism, a worldview normally adopted by ethnic communities that feel unsafe and insecure about their place in the world. American Jews are often seen as naive, assimilationist, and more concerned with social justice everywhere than with Jews anywhere.

For their part, American Jews, even those proud Zionists, live their lives as “Passover Jews.” After centuries of successfully integrating into American society and climbing up the socio-economic hierarchy, American Jews feel secure enough to reach out to disenfranchised communities. Commitment to broad social justice and political causes including immigration reform and religious tolerance are seen as the essential values that Jewish history seeks to teach us. They find Israeli Jews nationalist, provincial, conservative, and out of touch with “true” Jewish values.

What these communities lack is the understanding that each of these approaches are authentically Jewish; they’re each an expression of different lessons of our history. Halevi writes, “both are essential; one without the other creates an unbalanced Jewish personality, a distortion of Jewish history and values.”

Particularist Israeli Jews are spearheading the first sovereign Jewish state since the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE. If anything, we should feel more secure in our identity and more free in our expression than any diaspora community. In true Zionist fashion, we must be able to escape the ghetto mentality and extend a hand to others. And though throughout the short history of our state we’ve extended aid all over the world in times of natural disasters, in the wake of another national election, it’s time for us to acknowledge the stranger that lives and struggles right beside us. To see so fully our own identity and heritage that we are blind to the narratives of others is a violation of the Jewish sense of justice.

American Jewry, the most prosperous Jewish community that has ever existed, has spearheaded Jewish universalism and solidified it into a distinct political agenda. But with staggering rates of intermarriage, plummeting rates of synagogue attendance, and widespread estrangement from the Jewish state, American Jews would do well to take the lessons of particularism in their hearts. Jewish tradition, the Hebrew language, our sacred texts, and our attachment to the Land of Israel are all particular and essential parts of Jewish identity. American Jews cannot forge forth as citizens of a multicultural world without first having a deep love and appreciation for their own rich heritage.

Rav Kook, the intellectual father of Religious Zionism, wrote that modernity has whirled the three central dimensions of Jewish identity — what he terms “the holy, the nation and humanity” — away from each other and that “the sacred, then, is the energy that synthesizes all three elements — religious commitment, national identity and ethical universalism.” Inspired by our love for God, we must challenge ourselves to see both the world in our people and our people in the world.

Dallas native Matan Rudner made aliyah in August 2017 and serves as a Lone Soldier in the IDF.

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The dos and don’ts of apologizing

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

There is more to ‘sorry’ than just saying it

Dear Families,

As we approach the High Holidays, I am reading more and more on how to prepare. Apologies are definitely being thought about and written about, as this is the season to say “I’m sorry,” and to mean it. 

JewishBoston.com offers a fascinating article by Judy Bolton-Fasman titled “The Art of the Apology: The Dos and Don’ts of Apologizing.” The information comes from an interview with journalist and author Marjorie Ingall, who is a co-founder of SorryWatch, a blog that analyzes effective and botched apologies.

One of the key issues with any apology is that you must own the actions and consequences. It is important to say the actual words, “I’m sorry,” not “I regret.” Said Ingall: “An apology needs to stand on its own feet and be unconditional, even if you think the other person owes you an apology.”

The article goes on to refer to Maimonides, who tells us to apologize three times. If the other person does not accept the apology, you have done your best. “Our tradition notes that this notion of holding on to your venom and rage after receiving an apology is like holding onto a lizard while going into the mikveh,” noted a wonderful quote from the article. I’m not sure if that was from Bolton-Fasman or Maimonides, though it sounds more Rambam-like! Meanwhile, you are not obligated to forgive, but who are you hurting by not doing so?

Often at this holiday time, we make general blanket apologies and sometimes even to a group via email. And, we all accept that apology in spirit, of course. Maimonides says, however, that you must state what you did wrong and show remorse and follow by making amends, if possible. The main object is to acknowledge, so the hurt does not happen again.

Here are a few more recommendations from the article.

• If you’re not sorry, don’t apologize because you will do it badly.

• Don’t ask forgiveness in an apology. Forgiveness is a gift for the wronged person to grant. You don’t ask for a gift.

All of these thoughts are good for us at this time of year. Yet often, we hurt others unintentionally without realizing it. This year, as we make our “New Year’s Resolutions” (though we don’t really call them that, from a Jewish perspective), let us all ask for greater awareness of our actions and especially our words. Additionally, don’t wait for this time each year to apologize for everything. Listen to your words, look to see their impact and strive to be kinder all year. And if you have reason to apologize, stand up and own the mistake.

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Keeping it fresh: Appreciate the newness of every moment

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

Every day can be unique, with the correct mindset

This summer featured a fun dose of fresh and new for our family vacation. We went on an Alaskan Cruise with my extended family — (Wow, Alaska is stunningly beautiful!) — and spent time in Vancouver and Seattle, two other places we had not previously visited. One of summer’s special blessings is the opportunity to experience necessary moments of renewal by taking a break from our normal activities. But of course, before you know it, summer comes to a close and we are back to the grind again. In these first few weeks of September, we might already find ourselves sneaking peeks ahead to December, or February or June, thinking about our next opportunity for travel. Aside from going to the Southwest or American Airlines apps and booking flights, are there other ways to find renewal amid, rather than outside, our routine? 

A teaching from this week’s parashah, Ki Tavo, offers some insight along these lines. On the doorstep of the land of Canaan, our ancestors are commanded to bring forward the bikkurim, their offerings of first fruits, when they ultimately get settled in the fertile land that God has given them and begin reaping its bounty. Each Israelite is instructed to go to the Kohen, the priest, and tell him: “I acknowledge today before God that I have entered the land that God swore to our fathers to assign us” (Deuteronomy 26:3). Later in the parashah, we also read hayom hazeh, this day, “the Lord commands you to observe these laws and rules, to observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in God’s ways…” (Deuteronomy 26:16-17). The repeated use of the word hayom in this chapter and the next chapter grounds the action in the immediate present. Reflecting on the one time the phrase hayom hazeh — this day — specifically appears in the text regarding the command to observe the mitzvot, commandments, the great medieval biblical commentator Rashi (11th-century France) quotes an earlier teaching saying that each day the mitzvot should be like new in your eyes. Said another way, an Israelite in that era was expected to relate to the commandments every day, in the same way, as that day when he was on the doorstep of Canaan, excited about reaching the end of the desert-wandering period, and in the same way as when he was offering his first fruits to God in the spirit of gratitude for being settled in the land and enjoying its fruits.

Even at the beginning of something exciting and completely new — entry into Israel, the promised land — our ancestors were reminded several times to be present in the day and moment at hand. Our experiences on a daily basis are not always going to be as awe-inspiring as seeing Israel for the first time, or as breathtaking as seeing the Alaskan glaciers for the first time. But the Torah reminds us that it is important for us to appreciate the uniqueness and newness of every moment and every day, even if those moments and days could just as easily be classified in the “ordinary” or “routine” category. Truly, is anything ever completely routine or the same? 

We may feel as though we are repeating patterns and cycles of life, but the third year on a job is not the same as the first year or the first day, the experience of 11th grade is different from first grade, and the 23rd year of marriage is different from the first, or the eighth or the 12th. There is something fresh and new to be found in even our longest cycles, if we only look for it.

May this coming New Year of 5780 bring each of us countless fresh, precious and blessed moments in our lives.

Rabbi Ari Sunshine in senior rabbi at Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas.

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Commemorating two strong women

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

September means two yahrzeits, for mother and aunt

It happens like this every year, sometime in September. I stand in shul, on two successive Shabbats, for two beloved relatives who died in the same hospital within the same week, so many years ago. 

It was 1984. My mother had no definitive illness; she just went slowly, slowly downhill until she passed away. On her death certificate, the reason given is “anemia of unknown etiology.” 

My Aunt Luba had cancer, throughout her body. She was wiry and strong all her life, until one day she fell, and couldn’t get up. But she had neglected to tell anyone — especially not her doctor — that she had been spitting up blood. 

Two women, two sisters, so different in life, so different in death. I made a last visit to see them just a week or so before they died, just a few days apart — but just long enough to make their yahrzeits fall in two different weeks. 

I had just had my first breast cancer surgery, and was undergoing radiation treatment, when I knew I had to go home to say goodbye to my mother and my aunt. My treatment team gave me one day off, giving me a three-day weekend away from my own illness, to face the illness of two beloved others. My visit to my mother was the hardest: I had not told her about my own disease, and had no intention to do so at this time of finality. 

When I entered her room, she was awake, but so weak. She gave me a small smile, limply held my hand while we exchanged a few words about — I can’t even remember what. What I will never forget is that she asked me to adjust her pillows, so that her head was higher, and she could be more comfortable. But I knew I couldn’t do that with my weak right arm, and I was not going to say no, and be honest about why. Thinking as quickly as I could under the circumstances, I said: “Let me call a nurse. Nurses are much better at this kind of thing than I am.” And, I managed to leave the room before I started to cry. My dear mother’s last request of me, and I couldn’t fulfill it. I hope none of you who read this ever have to experience such a dreadful moment. 

When I found a nurse, I told her I would walk down the hallway to see my Aunt Luba. She was her usual cheerful self, even as I came in just in time to hear her doctor give the final, fatal report. “What can I say?” was all he said. She received the news of her impending end with the same spirit she had handled everything else in a life that was — thankfully — not filled with difficulty, but like all lives, had its difficult moments. 

I kissed her and said goodbye. Then I walked back up the hallway to my mother’s room. She was asleep. I kissed her and said goodbye. I was not able to be at either of their funerals. 

There are sad things in life that are often not talked about as much as they should be. But they need to be told, to be understood, to be sympathized with. Every year, for two consecutive Shabbats, I stand in the synagogue to say Kaddish, and I cry inside for those incomplete, unsatisfying goodbyes. But I also say thanks for my own survival, which has allowed me to fulfill these sacred duties every year for the past 35 years. The lights of my mother and my aunt are lit, one the first week, the other the second, next to their plaques on my shul’s memorial board. I am grateful to be in a good place for remembering them, and for seeing the lights that remind everyone that they are remembered. 

Life is like this: It is for loving and for remembering.

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Understanding the basics of Israel’s upcoming election

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

Regardless of whether or not you have Israeli family or friends or even someone just involved with the country’s politics, you have likely been hearing about an upcoming election on Sept. 17 (see pages 10-11 of this week’s TJP for more information). And if you are confused about how there is already another election after the last election in April, here is a breakdown on everything with the Israeli electoral system, from the Knesset to the president.
Despite the fact that the Knesset is elected to a four-year term, with a majority vote, it can be dissolved with a Knesset dissolution bill that both dictates that the present representatives will no longer be in power and states when a new election will take place. On April 9 the latest election created the 21st Knesset, which serves as the legislative branch of the government. Similarly to the Senate or the House in the U.S., the Knesset creates laws that are then approved or vetoed. However, instead of a president operating from their own executive branch to approve or veto these measures, the Israeli prime minister, who is chosen based on the party leaders in the legislative branch, has that power. Since Israel has such a variety of different parties beyond a bipartisan system, it is nearly impossible for one party to have a majority vote. Therefore, at the end of elections, the president meets with the leading party and their leading Member of Knesset (MK) to discuss forming a coalition with other parties that together represent the majority of the 120 seats in the Knesset. If in 28 days, with a maximum extended time of 42 days, the party can successfully form a coalition between parties over similar goals representing the majority of the seats in the Knesset, then a new government is formed with elected ministers from each party.
So what happens when a party cannot successfully create a majority coalition and government? The majority of the time the president has very limited power and is similar to a figurehead like the queen of England, but during the unsuccessful creation of a new government, the president plays an important role. First, they can give the largest party’s leading MK an extended time of 14 days to continue discussions with other parties to form a coalition. However, if it is clear that negotiations have failed, then the president can ask a different party’s leading MK to attempt to create their own coalition and form a government, which is common after elections where two large parties win a similar number of seats. This takes us to May 30, when Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister and leading MK of the Likud party, officially reached the end of his extended time to form a majority coalition. Normally, this would have resulted in the country’s President Reuven Rivlin approaching Benny Gantz, the leading MK of the Blue and White party, to form a coalition and government. However, before this could happen, the Knesset decided to pass the 21st Knesset Dispersion Law and dissolve the current legislature in favor of another election.
So what can we expect from this upcoming election and why is it controversial? The dissolving of the current Knesset is not something so out of the ordinary, and occurs fairly frequently when a party in the coalition feels it is not being properly represented. What makes this event different is how soon the dissolution occurred after the April elections. Because of this, one of the main issues politicians are concerned about is the possibility that voter turnout could be much lower. Israel historically has a very high voter turnout rate, with 68.5 percent of the eligible voters participating in the April elections. However, with very little time for parties to campaign successfully, voters may believe that their party will fail to form a coalition again and not see a reason to vote.
While it may seem excessive to have such a direct way to dissolve a coalition or government, the Knesset has the ability to provide its own checks and balances. In a coalition, it is ensured that all parties involved will have their voice heard to some degree to prevent parties from pulling out of the coalition and bringing down the government. In this way, while Israeli governments tend to lean either right or left, there is always a representation from multiple parties. Voters may not always directly influence the election of their prime minister; however, they always influence which party’s voice is heard.
Ethan Liebnick, a senior at Plano West, is the 2019-20 StandWithUs High School intern. He is the son of Nicole and Matthew Liebnick, a member of the executive council of Plano West’s student congress and recent past president (Godol) of Morton Lewis AZA.

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Thoughts on the month of Elul

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

Introspection is important to begin the New Year


In developing any business or refining a craft, it is essential to establish set periods for gathering information and assessing performance. Sometimes this process takes the form of setting goals, while other times it’s gaining an overview of activities to know where you stand. Financial calculations involve income and expenses. In other areas, it’s more about evaluating personnel.
The same type of thorough analysis applies to one’s spiritual performance and character traits. Each person is given a chelek be’olam, an area of the world (i.e., community and people) in which to make an impact. The process of intermittent self-review, to access performance, is called a cheshbon hanefesh, or an accounting of the soul. And this month, Elul, is known as the season of “accounting.”
Unlike Rosh Hashanah — the Day of Judgment — where we stand in awe and concentration in prayer, during Elul we take stock amid our busy schedules, through setting aside time for careful review and self-reflection. To be sure, there are already traditional slots for reflection installed throughout the year. Usually, five minutes of introspection and review at the end of each night is enough to determine what needs to be fixed. Before entering the Shabbat, one looks back and evaluates how the past week went. Then there’s an assessment — right before Rosh Chodesh — when the new month begins. But the accounting that takes place during Elul is different.
Throughout the year, the emphasis is on action. Reviewing our performance is helpful only as it leads to better decision making the following day. Elul, however, is a more comprehensive evaluation. How am I doing in general? Where do I stand in accomplishing my most important goals? How is my relationship with God, within my private time and space? What are my biggest weaknesses? In which areas am I doing particularly well and how can I further commit to cultivating those? The objective is to mentally scan every facet of life and find ways to improve.
Such an examination may appear to be essential for personal growth and beneficial to perform more often. Yet, too much reflection can reduce our productivity by taking time away from study or positive deeds. Our energy, therefore, should be spent not on reviewing past mistakes or making a general assessment, but on judging how best to move forward.
There is another danger when it comes to the more intense reflection: Honest analysis of one’s character and performance, if done in excess or at the wrong time, can be psychologically damaging. Choosing to take a closer look inside oneself is a particularly difficult task — you may not like what you see. Someone, for example, who realizes the extent to which he or she is falling short in crucial areas can naturally become despondent and decide to give up. So, what we don’t see about ourselves, in effect, shields us emotionally.
For this reason, some of the most successful people in the professional arena are also some of the least introspective individuals, seldom stopping to consider how they’re perceived by others around them. At the same time, this failure to reflect allows them to keep moving, to be highly efficient and confident.
If so, the commentaries ask, why should we focus so much attention on intense self-examination during the entire month of Elul? The surface answer is a preparation for the upcoming “Day of Judgment” (i.e., Rosh Hashanah). Change is already in the air. Or, from a more positive angle, there’s an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. Knowing that each year brings new mazel — the time to reinvent oneself — adds hope to what otherwise may be a grim personal picture.
But on a deeper level, this type of introspection is placed in Elul because it’s the month of compassion and divine assistance. More specifically, the kabbalistic works relate that during Elul, the 13 Attributes of Mercy — “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in kindness and truth…forgiving of iniquity, willful sin and error, and cleansing…” (Exodus 34:6-7) — are predominant during this time, shining strong behind the scenes.
Explained more concretely, God interacts with creations through various channels or manifestations. The heavenly attribute of din, or, judgment, is designed to make a just, but sharp, assessment which often results in undesirable consequences for us. The attribute of rachamim, mercy, introduces another approach, a warmer relationship with God in which flaws are discounted, and a setting for growth is created. We receive a gust of inspiration rather than fear. This environment of compassion, in turn, allows us to perform an in-depth cheshbon hanefesh — an analysis of where we stand — where we can internalize what we discover without the usual risks or side effects.
So, in this sense, even without the upcoming holidays, Elul would still be designated as a refuge in time, a window of opportunity to evaluate oneself without any excess judgment or pain, to probe within and uncover more resources to accomplish our mission. If we use this month wisely, the stage will be set for a sweet new year.

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Start the New Year surrounded by books

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

Fill your homes with knowledge, then pass it on

Dear Families,
I’m Laura and I’m a biblioholic. It is as real as any addiction but most think it isn’t the worst — after all, we are the “people of the book.” Can we ever have too many books? As I thumbed through the pages of my Sunday edition of The Dallas Morning News this weekend, I came across an amazing article in the Real Estate section that caught my eye titled “Books Everywhere!” In the article, Joseph Pubillones, states, “If you are a book lover like me, the question that comes to mind when organizing books is how to display them. Books are important as a source of knowledge, but to some, books are also cherished treasures, almost like friends, and decorating with them is a serious matter.” The article was not about what books to buy, but rather, how to organize your books. Here are the suggestions from the Real Estate section:
·Bookcases — wood, metal, movable case, old china cabinet?
·Books can decorate every room — living room, office entryways, hallways, coffee tables, even the bathroom.
·A sometimes-overlooked area for books is the bedroom. As the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges once stated, “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”
So what does this mean to us “people of the book”? If someone comes to your home do they see books? What books do you display? What books are in the rooms of your home? Do you have books at your place of work? And, even, do you have books on your phone? While the term “people of the book” refers to Torah it can loosely be interpreted as reading everything and every book. Torah teaches us how to live our lives and every book that we read that gives us ideas and thoughts on how to live a form of Torah.
One of the most deeply felt Jewish values is that of lifelong learning. We must keep studying and books are a great method. But you must share what you read and as you share what you have learned, others continue learning. The way of Jewish learning is chevruta, or learning with a partner. Nothing reinforces learning like arguing points with others. As we go into the new year, go buy a book and find a friend — create a book group to discuss your book. Learn from each other. And one more thing: Fill your home with bookcases and your bookcases with books!

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Learning from Joseph’s rebuke in Genesis

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

Defining the difference
between rebuke
and judgment
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Every year, at the end of the Book of Genesis, I’m always bothered by the same question. In the episode of Joseph and his brothers, when Judah is pleading to let their brother Benjamin free (as his capture would cause the death of their father), suddenly Joseph reveals himself to them by proclaiming, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” Why would he ask if his father is alive, if the whole point of Judah’s pleading is to save the life of his father?
Dru R.
Dear Dru,
Your question is posed by a renowned commentary, the “Bais Halevi.” He answers the question in true Jewish fashion: with another question! The Midrash quotes a verse saying, “Oy to us for the day of judgment, oy to us for the day of rebuke.” Explains the Midrash, “This is referring to Joseph and his brothers on the day he rebuked them, and they could not answer him, since they were dismayed by his rebuke.” This is referring to Ch. 45 verse 3, which you mentioned in your question. The problem is, that verse seems to say nothing about rebuking the brothers.
The Bais Halevi explains the difference between judgment and rebuke:
•Judgment looks at the action itself being judged at face value, if it was proper or forbidden, based upon the laws of Torah.
•Rebuke, however, looks at the action in a different light. Rebuke, in Hebrew, comes from the word hochiach, which means to prove to the other person inherently, from within the action itself, the wrongness of the act.
The first is fairly straightforward.
The second requires some explanation. For example, when one comes before the Heavenly court after leaving this world, he or she may be asked why they gave so little tzedakah. If the person will answer they couldn’t afford any more than they gave, they may be asked, “So then why did you have enough to buy a new car every year? Why was the yearly trip to the Caribbean within the budget? If you didn’t have enough money to do what’s important, why did you have enough for that?” In this situation, the act is being judged against itself: giving for one thing against giving for another, which is the ultimate rebuke.
This is what Joseph was expressing to his brothers during the plea of Judah to free Benjamin — rebuke. Judah’s argument was the unfairness of capturing Benjamin, as he is the most beloved son to Jacob their father, and his capture would surely bring their father’s untimely death. To that proclaims Joseph: “I am Joseph, the son who, at the time of my kidnapping and sale by you, was the most beloved to my father. Is my father still alive?” Meaning: Did my sale kill him? And if you’re concerned that Benjamin, my only maternal brother, being taken will kill our father, why weren’t you concerned about the exact same effect when you sold me away from my father? They couldn’t answer them due to their dismay from the penetrating power of that rebuke.
The lesson is to take a careful look at one’s own actions and see how many things we don’t do that we should be doing, based on lame excuses. We need to ask ourselves honestly: Will our answers hold up against the questions of rebuke at the time of truth? Will our answers be turned against us, showing us that all our excuses don’t hold water because what we claimed we couldn’t do, we actually did do, just at the wrong time and for the wrong purposes? We need to be ready for the day to come when we will hear: “I am God, did you care about me?!”

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The unspoken tzedakah of 9/11

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

A personal account
of helping a
stranger in need
9/11/01. Another day, like Pearl Harbor, to forever “live in infamy.” Did you spend all day yesterday remembering, as I did?
What stories can be told about it? There’s a seemingly miraculous tale about nine observant Jews who prayed together regularly in a little shul near their World Trade Center offices being delayed that day because a 10th man never turned up to make a minyan. Just one of many reports invoking the Almighty.
My tale isn’t miraculous — except for the fact that it happened. I woke up that morning, turned on the TV, and started screaming. But being nothing, if not practical: I had a voucher for a flight refund from a small airline (no longer in existence) that had to be redeemed in person at its D/FW desk. When I called the airline — which, it turned out, was clueless — I was told that yes, it was business as usual, I should just come in with my voucher. So I did.
I drove to D/FW: no traffic. I drove to the proper gate entrance — no cars anywhere. I went to the airline desk: Two women were there; next to them was another airline’s desk which had already been deserted. I claimed my refund and was about to leave when suddenly a crowd of people came on the scene; the last plane in the air on its way to DF/W had just landed, and all its passengers were looking for representatives from their next-desk airline, which had none on duty.
What could I do? Everyone was milling around, needing all the help that people who have suddenly been totally deserted most need: information, and contacts for using the information they get. To their great credit, the two at the desk of that insignificant, long-gone airline stayed there, using their phones to contact hotels, to see if cabs could come to pick people up. What more could they do?
But I knew — because my Judaism has taught me nothing if not this: I could help one person directly, and by myself “save one (granted, small) world.” I picked out a man at random — tall, with thin sandy hair, looking to be in his mid-40s, wearing shorts and sandals. I went over to him and asked if I could help, and how. Turned out, he was a top-level internationally known soccer coach and judge on his way from Australia to participate in some up coming events. He was stranded far from where he was supposed to be. I invited him to come home with me, and he was more than grateful. My car — my beat-up beloved old Prizm — was the last private vehicle to leave D/FW Airport for several days to come.
Once in the house, I showed him the guest room, cleared out a shelf in the refrigerator, and offered the telephone, plus my promise to drive him to shop for his own food. (You all know by now that I am not a cook, so I included him in the amounts of whatever I threw together for my husband and myself, but gave him an option I was sure he’d also be glad to accept!) Fred also took part in driving this unexpected guest as necessary.
Our Aussie was, of course, unable to get to any of the matches he’d traveled so far for, because no planes would be flying in time. Instead, he lived with us for three weeks, until he was finally able to make arrangements for getting back to the Outback. In all that time, even at its end, no money changed hands. I never did ask for compensation, and he never did offer. We both knew that this was a once -in-a-lifetime situation that was beyond material charge or cost. We did not become friends; we have had no contact since. This was just one of those strange things — and there were so many of them — that happened in the wake of 9/11.

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