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Intellectual pursuit important in Judaism

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Over the past year, I read all the books I could on the topic of Judaism versus other religions. It did not take long to decide Christianity is illogical. I don’t find it bothers me that it is the largest religion because they “just believe.” They are no different from the vast majority of my Jewish friends in yeshiva who “just believe” what they hear without putting much thought into it. Do you feel there’s any difference?
— Aryeh
Dear Aryeh,
We need to draw a vital distinction between the fact that Christians “just believe” and that many of your friends in yeshiva “just believe.” It is true that, when you compare people to people, the masses that accept things at face value without putting thought into it and do things by rote, you may not find much difference. They are oftentimes buying into different belief systems by rote. If many of them would have happened to have been switched and brought up by the families of the opposite beliefs, many would probably fall right in line with whatever is being taught to them. That does not show a similarity in the belief systems, rather a similarity in some of the people following them.
When it comes to the actual systems of belief, however, they could not be more diametrically opposed in their outlooks, especially with regard to taking their beliefs for granted! Often in certain branches of Christianity, to “just believe” is meritorious. Numerous times former Christians have approached me to discuss conversion to Judaism because they were not allowed to ask questions! When they would approach their religious leaders with difficulties about their religion, contradictions in teachings and the like, they were dealt with like heretics or told they need to “just believe” and not ask questions.
For some reason, otherwise inquisitive people, even people of science who are rigorous in their criticisms of scientific theories and in their peer reviews of the ideas and postulates of their colleagues, see fit to have a double standard about religion. They have been brought up since their youth that, with regard to religion, you are required to “just believe.” With regards to much of Christianity, to “just believe” is not a lack of effort by the masses; it goes to the heart of the belief system.
The Torah and Judaism, however, could not be more diametrically opposed to that outlook. The first thing a child is taught, at the Pesach Seder, is to ask questions! We have an entire, vast Talmud which consists largely of rigorous challenges to anything and everything stated, whether in verses, Mishnah, rabbinical statements, even acts of the Al-mighty! Our greatest teacher of all time, Moshe, strongly challenged God on some of His actions, and God accepted his challenges — not only without rebuke, but He changed many of His decrees due to Moshe’s challenges! We also point out the mistakes and misdeeds of our greatest leaders, those of Abraham, Moshe and others.
With regards to our essential belief system, the monumental work Daas Tevunos by the esteemed sage R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Italy 1700s) writes that we have an obligation to not take our beliefs at face value, rather to delve deeply into them, challenge them and come to a deep understanding — an understanding that sits well in our hearts and satisfies the inquisitive, intellectual part of our souls.
Most people, many of the friends you mention, may not be so intellectually inclined and they’re satisfied, perhaps, with what we call emunah peshuta, or simple belief. I’m not out to judge them, but that’s the people, not the religion. As a religion, certainly anyone who has an intellectual side to them needs to work on achieving a profound understanding of everything Jewish.

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The trials of golden calf syndrome

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

My experience with rabbinic smicha testing is certainly one to which any rabbi can relate.
Months of intense study followed by weeks of intense preparation culminated in a fateful, exhilarating day when an elderly Jewish sage, sitting at arm’s length, posed query after detailed query in the minutiae of Jewish law to a then-young yeshiva student shaking nervously in his chair.
I remember the anticipation I felt waiting to hear my results, and the wave of euphoria and feelings of accomplishment that washed over me upon hearing that I had passed the examination with distinction. And then, almost as quickly as that blissful day came to a close, a new emotion crept in to fill euphoria’s place. It was the “comedown” that often follows the “high.”
Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, past executive vice president of the Orthodox Union and a practicing psychotherapist, describes this phenomenon beautifully in his recently published collection of essays, The Person in the Parasha (see essay on Ki Tisa).
“It is as if, now that the goal with which one had been long preoccupied has been reached, life has become meaningless. There is nothing further to do, no ongoing purpose. A pervasive sense of emptiness ensues.”
And as to our response to this new emotional reality, R’ Weinreb adds, “The struggle to fill that emptiness is fraught with danger. In my own case, the emptiness thankfully passed in relatively short order, with no harm done and no unusual ‘acting out’ on my part. But others in similar predicaments frequently attempt to fill that emptiness in ways that result in great, and sometimes tragic, difficulties.”
It is the keen understanding of this psychological mechanism that Rabbi Weinreb utilizes to explain the seemingly incomprehensible sin that is the golden calf.
After all, how does a people who had just received the Torah and heard the voice of the Almighty at Sinai amid thunder, lightning and fire reduce themselves to the worship of a golden heifer mere weeks later? Can it be that a nation steeped in the rarefied air of authentic holiness and standing on the summit of spirituality can so quickly descend into the depths of idolatry?
Rabbi Weinreb argues that as inconceivable as it may sound, this follows the patterns of normal human phenomena:
“People are capable of attaining greatness, but they are not capable of sustaining greatness. They can achieve ‘highs’ of all kinds, but they cannot maintain those ‘highs.’ There is an inevitable ‘comedown.’”
So, what is the solution to this natural human dilemma? Is there a way to ward off the “comedown” that follows the “high”?
R’ Weinreb seems to take comfort in the knowledge that these changes are normal, noting that “almost all human experiences are transitory and are followed by feelings of hollowness.” He encourages us to “humbly accept our descent, our frustrating failures and limitations, and persist in climbing the mountain.”
I must admit, though, that as much as I found Rabbi Weinreb’s approach to the sin of the golden calf revelatory and insightful, I couldn’t help but feel let down by this “surrender” to fate. Might there be a way to escape this maddening cycle of inevitable “lows” that supplant our ambitious “highs”? Is acceptance of the natural roller-coaster-like nature of life the best we can hope for?
Beyond that, how are we to make sense of those extraordinary individuals who seem impervious to the “lows” that plague most of us? Examine the many great rabbis and sages who, having already accomplished many lifetimes’ worth of scholarly understanding and accomplishment, persisted without pause, toiling in the study hall all of the days of their lives.
Consider the Kobe Bryants of the athletic world who win championship after championship and remain as hungry and motivated as they were at the beginning of their careers.
And what of the giants of the business world who remain insatiable in their hunger for “new” and “improved,” never gratified by their past accomplishments or tired of the race?
If we are to trust our eyes it would seem that these exceptional figures had discovered some magical elixir, some immunization against the “lows” that plague common man. What, then, do they have that we do not, and how can we too share in their life-altering secret?
I believe the answer to this question lies in the unique way these individuals perceive goals. Instead of considering each realized goal as an endpoint in its own right, a “high” attached to an inevitable “low,” they valued each accomplishment as a large step toward a more significant goal, one of virtual perfection that they would likely never realize. Each accomplishment was worthy of celebration, but with so much left to be done, the feelings of emptiness or aimlessness were kept permanently at bay.
We need to approach our achievements less like winning the battle and more like taking the yellow jersey in a stage of the Tour De France. We are certainly justified in celebrating the day’s victory, but unless we keep our eye on the prize ahead of us and muster the strength to ride with a similar sense of urgency the very next day, we cannot hope to take home the ultimate crown.
With an approach like this our “highs” remain “high,” but our emotional pendulum holds steady.

To contact Rabbi Yogi email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Moses’ dream lives on, even in American Seders

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Studies have proven it time and time again that sitting down to dinner together is one of the best things you can do for your kids and your family. And what better family dinner is there than the Passover Seder? (Of course, you need to eat dinner together more often than yearly for it to make a difference in your family!)
The Seder is designed to open conversation and create an enjoyable learning (and remembering) session. This is how we pass on our traditions — through study, conversation, story and food! It is not too early to begin planning your Passover conversation — the story is really more important than the food.
So as you perhaps peruse a new Haggadah or plan to create your own, I have a book recommendation: America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story by Bruce Feiler.
The book jacket alone grabs your attention: The Pilgrims quoted his story. Franklin and Jefferson proposed he appear on the U.S. seal. Washington and Lincoln were called his incarnations. The Statue of Liberty and Superman were molded in his image. Martin Luther King, Jr., invoked him the night before he died. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama cited him as inspiration.
For four hundred years, one figure inspired more Americans than any other. His name is Moses. This is our story — the one we tell every year — yet it is a story that inspires all. Read the book and add this to your table discussion. The story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt is a story about freedom, a story about an imperfect leader rising to the occasion, a story with lessons on remembering so that you don’t repeat the same bad ways — and it is a story about us.
Read this book and you may add a mini-Statue of Liberty or Liberty Bell to your Seder table — that would definitely start conversation!
Feiler concludes: I will tell my daughters that this is the meaning of the Moses story and why it has reverberated through the American story. America, it has been said, is a synonym for human possibility. I dream for you, girls, the privilege of that possibility. Imagine your own Promised Land, perform your own liberation, plunge into the waters, persevere through the dryness, and don’t be surprised — or saddened — if you’re stopped just short of your dream.
Because the ultimate lesson of Moses’ life is that the dream does not die with the dreamer, the journey does not end on the mountaintop, and the true destination in a narrative of hope is not this year at all. But next.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Quick study in Jewish mother-daughter dynamic

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

I don’t think I’m a typical Jewish mother.
I don’t cook very much — actually, next to nothing. As I’ve been aging, I’ve been doing so in the same home where I’ve lived for the past 33 years. I’ve made no attempt to move closer to either of my two children. I’ve always been independent. But I didn’t realize until very recently how important independence is.
My daughter was just here for a long weekend. We’ve made short visits to each other over decades; when I go to her, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. And this time, as always when we’re on each other’s turf, we fight.
So why does this happen? Is it a normal part of the Jewish mother/daughter relationship? Maybe because she hasn’t been a typical Jewish mother, either. She has two sons, but became a widowed single parent before the older of them had even graduated from high school.
I know she has recurring thoughts that she didn’t do everything she should have for those children, because I have the same guilt about what I did, and didn’t do, for her and her older brother. Maybe Jewish mothering is always fraught with regrets. Maybe her eggshells feel to her here as fragile as mine do there. …
So we had a three-day visit during our beautiful early spring. I planned many things for us to do together: Walking the downtown arts district to see the varied architecture. Having lunches of our choice from the food trucks at Klyde Warren Park. Shopping at Central Market (a special treat for someone who lives in central Illinois, the home of Aldi’s!), and exploring NorthPark Mall (a special treat for someone to whom Kohl’s is big-time!). The Chili Cook-off. Tea at the Arboretum, with plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of Dallas Blooms. And even though I’ve never been a cook, and she’s used to that, I managed to turn out one passable supper, featuring delicious hamantaschen (baked by my Sisterhood sisters, not me!), for a post-Purim dessert treat.
I used to bake hamantaschen, package them up and send them to my children. But I hated every minute of the process; baking has never appealed to me any more than cooking.
I was only nine when I made my first pie “from scratch”; after I saw it disappear 10 minutes into dessert, I knew it was also my last — I wanted to put my energy into things that would live longer than that. I have the kind of visual memory that lets me put myself back into key situations of my past and see them again exactly as they were, so I can recall watching my mother take a pan of cookies out of the oven and saying to myself, “When I grow up, I don’t want to stay home and bake cookies. I want to go out and do things!”
And I can recall, just as clearly, that my daughter was about that same age when she said to me — as I rushed to leave home after a thrown-together supper so that I could cover a story — “When I grow up, I don’t want to go out to meetings. I want to stay home and bake cookies!”
Maybe that’s why we fight — because being such opposites actually makes us very much alike. Even as a working mother, she has always found time to bake those cookies. And even when I was a stay-at-home mom, I found opportunities to go after outside stories. Maybe those inside-outs keep us from understanding each other when they should really make it easier to do so.
I guess a Jewish mother never stops being a Jewish daughter, and a Jewish daughter grows into being a Jewish mother, and both fight for their elusive freedom from each other when it’s not what either really wants. I’ll try to keep all that in mind for our next get-together.

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Read it and eat: Gefilte Manifesto

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

We all know some books of the “read it and weep” variety. But here’s one that challenges you to “read it and eat.”
The catch is, you’ll have to cook what you’ll eat yourself — unless you’re lucky enough to be somewhere in New York within easy getting distance of The Gefilteria.
If you’re of Ashkenazi descent but have given up on your bubbe’s cuisine, The Gefilte Manifesto is the cookbook for you. For authors Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern, it’s an outgrowth of their joint venture into venerable Jewish culinary adventures at their business, The Gefilteria. Located in Brooklyn, this is where they plan, prep and sell the results of New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods, which is the subtitle of their tome. They worked in this kitchen together for five years before committing their “secrets” to print.
A chance meeting led to these two dedicated cooks, both from traditionally Ashkenazi homes, discovering how much they shared a liking for all those good old foods of their childhoods. But in this world of today, Jewish Millennials would like those foods only if they were ramped up to their healthier expectations. So Yoskowitz and Alpern set about making the changes demanded by potential customers — and by themselves. The result? Eastern European “cuisine” morphed into a new specialty that started with gefilte fish.
Their Gefilteria website explains: “We took the classic dish and re-imagined it, making it colorful, gluten-free and responsibly sourced, with non-GMO olive oil and the highest quality fish. And we also made sure it tasted really great!” Young Jews tried it, and liked it. Dinners hosted by members of this adventurous generation started to pop up. Seeing a good thing, the Gefilteria principals expanded their offerings; the book includes recipes for soups, breads, main dishes and side dishes, and even suggests creative ways to use up your leftovers.
And pickles are almost as important as the gefilte fish! Yoskowitz apprenticed in pickle-making on an Urban Adamah, one of a fellowship of Jewish farms that “cultivate the soil and the soul to produce food.” There he learned the kind of fermentation that pickles and preserves without vinegar — the authentic way of his forefathers.
“Not only does that pickle have a lot of flavor,” he says, “but it’s good for your digestion. It’s probiotic. Eating a pastrami sandwich with a full sour pickle next to it — it’s the best way of helping digest that fatty pastrami!” Yoskowitz likens the good effects his pickles have on the stomach to those provided by yogurt!
The most expert Jewish cooks and food authors are kvelling about The Gefilte Manifesto. Leading the pack is Mollie Katzen, who helped usher in the age of vegetarianism with her famed Moosewood Cookbook. She gives lavish praise, saying it “…beautifully manages to frame traditional Ashkenazi cuisine with perfect twists and newness. It’s no small feat to retain the character of an old, emotionally held culinary culture while imparting fresh life to the standards. Jeffrey and Liz nailed it, not only with outstanding recipes, but also with history and stories and context, impeccably written.”
And Leah Koenig, author of Modern Jewish Cooking, says that this even more modern book “…digs deep into our Ashkenazi ancestors’ recipe boxes, pulls out time-tested favorites and lost gems, and finds ways to make them taste at once fresh and innovative, and utterly authentic.”
To learn more about The Gefilte Manifesto, just type those words into your browser. You can definitely find the book itself on Amazon — or maybe even at Target!

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‘Hidden’ Jewish hero of American history

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

In my opinion, one of the great weaknesses of American history textbooks, at least the ones traditionally issued in Texas public schools, has been the omission of those “common” people who took an unpopular position to do the “right” thing.
One such person was Dr. Herman Bendell of Albany, New York, who served as a field surgeon on various battlefields throughout the Civil War, and was even present at Lee’s surrender to General Grant at Appomattox.
After providing four years of outstanding combat medical services as a field surgeon, Dr. Bedell, at the war’s end, left active duty with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Five years later, Dr. Bendell was called back into government service by his old commander, Ulysses S. Grant, who was now the president of the United States.
Bendell became the only Jew ever appointed into what had been an all-Christian Bureau of Indian Commissioners. His job was to manage supplies for the native population in Arizona Territory, as well as to establish and maintain positive relations with the tribal leaders.
After almost two years of his conscientious effort, helping to establish a good working relationship with the tribes, his fellow commissioners recognized and praised his accomplishments.
They felt he was deficient in one category: religion. They felt that Indians becoming Christian was an important step in their “civilizing process.”
They petitioned the president: “Dr. Herman Bendell, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Arizona, is a most excellent official, a man of splendid judgment, strict integrity, who has managed the affairs of the office to entire satisfaction, but unfortunately he is not a Christian.”
Bendell was asked to step down, but in consolation for his efforts, President Grant appointed him for a short-term as consul to Denmark.
Following his stint in Denmark, Bendell returned to the States.
And so, “The Jewish Chief of the Indians of Arizona, 1871-1873” married, had four children, and finally settled down to a normal life as a physician in Albany, New York, one of the unsung (Jewish) heroes in American history.

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Many options for Haggadot

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
It is time to plan for Passover (yes, I know Purim is barely over)!
The rush to the stores for favorite items will begin — we start gathering Diet Coke (a real essential in my family) the minute it hits the stores. The cleaning probably won’t start for a while although so much is last-minute.
What about planning the Seder? Are you going to just bring out the same Haggadah as last year — have you been looking for the Maxwell House Haggadah at the store — or are you going to try something new?
There are so many options for Haggadot that it is a challenge to find the best one for your family. One year for our second Seder, I brought out a rather offbeat Haggadah thinking my teenagers would love it. After about 10 minutes, they insisted I put it away (or throw it away) and go back to a more traditional choice.
This Haggadah is great for young families! For those of you willing to try my family method, here is the idea: We have a simple (and inexpensive) Haggadah that everyone has. Then everyone has another Haggadah (or two) and we offer different texts and commentary throughout the Seder. And we also have a few Chumashim for us to look at the story of the Exodus.
It is a little complicated and sometimes gets lengthy but we have great discussions, lots of questions raised and lots of thinking and experiencing.
Try it!
Now this doesn’t work as well when you have lots of young children unless, of course, you plan lots of games and activities for them. Also important is to involve them in the questions and answers. The Four Questions are not the only ones for children to ask. Encourage them to come up with good ones.
Preparing for your Seder with young children requires lots of planning, but don’t forget to plan for the adults — you want it to be meaningful for the children but also for the adults. Plague bags with toys for each of the plagues are fun — but how do we teach our children that the plagues were bad? And then we must balance that with not scaring children — it is a challenge.
Begin now to plan your Seder so that the learning experience and meaningful memories happen for all ages. Then don’t forget that Passover is not over with the Seder.
Keeping Passover in the traditional way is not something every family has done but it is a wonderful learning experience for young children (even when challenging for parents). Start small — just eliminate bread and eat matzo! But even if you have always kept Passover traditionally, take the time for the discussion — now that you can have almost everything (from rolls to cereal to tacos), the question becomes “Can you keep the law but lose the spirit of the law?”
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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We’re mourning silent voice in DFW harmony

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

The true measure of a man is not, as some folks misguidedly think, the state of his finances. And it is not measured by how many mourners attend his funeral.
What matters most is how many people loved and valued him at the time of his death, because of what he had done before it.
I have no idea about Bruce Feldman’s finances. But I do know that the mourners at his recent memorial service came in a huge number, and all of them were people who had loved and valued him during his life, and who will miss him sorely now that he is gone.
The sanctuary of Anshai Torah — both downstairs and upper level — was fairly bursting for the service that preceded Bruce being laid to rest. The congregation’s two rabbis sat on the bimah, rising to do their parts: the younger, newer one offering a psalm at the start; the one who is older — in both senses of the word — spoke words of his own that revealed how long he had known Bruce, and how much he respected and appreciated him.
It’s impossible to count the number of young students whom Bruce readied for bar and bat mitzvahs. One father told me it was Bruce’s incomparable teaching touch that helped lead a recalcitrant teen into solid adulthood. I wondered, looking at the crowd, how many parents sitting there had similar memories. And I wondered how many of the youngsters sprinkled through that crowd, now preparing for their own entrances into adult Judaism, were wondering, too: Who will be their tutor now? A tough act to follow …
I knew Bruce because my misfortune of breaking enough bones to go into rehab three separate times was my good fortune: I recuperated and had physical therapy at the Legacy Preston Hollow when it was under the aegis of our Jewish Federation. Now I’m healed, and L-PH has been sold. But I was there for High Holy Days when Bruce conducted services for full-time residents and short-timers like me and when he led Seders of amazing beauty and meaning. I was honored because he called upon me to read long passages from the Haggadah, and chant the blessings over the Rosh Hashanah candles.
Yes, chant. I can no longer sing as I used to. But Bruce’s voice never lost its resonance, and was always a soothing, integral part of Jewish holidays in that place. In his honor and memory, Kol Rina — the men’s choir of Anshai Torah — sang at the service. I know how much they missed him at his usual spot in their midst; their music was beautifully muted for the occasion.
Bruce gave to many not only his voice, but also the very special gift of his presence; on occasions when rabbis had to be with their congregations or with their own families, he was the surrogate whose time and talent was ever available. That was a gift also from Bruce’s family, who understood why he was not always with them on those occasions, so gladly lent him to those in greater need than they. And of course, some of those family members also spoke their overflowing love at the service, with eloquent goodbyes.
We were under threat of a storm that day, but rain fell for only a few moments while we were inside, barely leaving traces as we left the synagogue. As I stood waiting to join the crowd of exiting cars, I looked up into the still cloud-filled sky and saw a flock of birds, winging in changing formation high overhead, then disappearing into the thick, grayish-white distance. Were they singing as they flew? Bruce Feldman’s earthly heart had given out; perhaps these messengers were on the way to welcome him to his new heavenly home.
A sad postscript: Herschel Feldman passed away soon after his brother; that funeral was last Monday morning. May the family be doubly comforted.

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Why God’s name is missing in Esther

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I recently heard a talk where the lecturer was challenging the choice to include the Book of Esther in the Tanach since the name of God doesn’t appear in the entire book, unlike other books of the Tanach, which would imply that it is a secular work and not fit for the Tanach.
Do you have an explanation why it is included?
Bart W.
Dear Bart,
The Talmudic sages address this question, and explain that whenever the Book of Esther says “the King” without the name Ahasuerus, it is hinting to “The” King, the Al-mighty. This, however, is also strange; why, in fact would it only “hint” to God and not come straight out and say His Name?
The answer goes to the crux of the Purim story and message. The Talmud says that the hint in the Torah that there will one day be an Esther and a Purim story is in a verse which foretells the future downfall of the Jews when they will sin and will be presented with tremendous trials and tribulations: “… and they will say because God is not with among us that these tribulations are befalling us, and I will surely hide My Face from them on that day” (Deuteronomy 31:18). The word I will “hide” My Face in the verse is pronounced astir but written without a yud; it has the same spelling in Hebrew as “Esther”!
Unlike Pesach and the other holidays which celebrate great miracles by which we were redeemed, the events of Purim were in the category of “hidden miracles.” It was clear to all that the 10 plagues were an act of God; the splitting of the sea was obviously an open miracle. What transpired in Shushan over a period of nearly a decade, with many of the events seemingly antithetical to what was good for the Jews, was not at all clear to anyone as to what was happening. It was only at the end that the Jews realized, after piecing together these events, that they were pieces of an intricate puzzle which made a big picture. That picture told a thousand words: that God still loves the Jews even as they have sunken to their lowest spiritual level and have distanced themselves greatly from their Creator.
The commentaries point out that any time God’s Name appears in Tanach, it means at that moment God revealed Himself to those involved in the story. Since in the Purim story God was controlling events from behind the scenes, His Name doesn’t appear; only a hint in the form of “The King.” It was upon us to delve more deeply into these events and to realize that the actions of the lowly King Ahasuerus are ultimately in the Hands of a Higher King.
The Vilna Gaon, some 250 years ago, explained this with the following parable: A rich and powerful king showered innumerable gifts upon his only son, who quickly began to become spoiled and haughty, to the ire of many in the palace who craved his demise. One day the prince was so brazen as to slap his father in the face! At that moment, the king realized that all the warnings of his advisors were true and he needed to teach his son an important lesson. He would banish him to the dark, dreary forest to get the message. Knowing how many were savoring the opportunity to finish the prince off, the king called his closest confidants and instructed them to protect his son that no harm should befall him. He wanted to teach him a lesson, not find him dead. They must, however, in no way let the prince know they were sent by the king!
The prince entered the forest thinking his time is near. Soon thereafter he saw a man brandishing a large knife running in his direction. At the last moment, he heard an arrow swish by, taking down his would-be killer. The next day the prince found himself surrounded on four sides by huge men, and as they closed in on him, he heard the quiet swishes of arrows and all four men fell. Like the day before, he looked around to see who saved him and saw no one. He thought, what a lucky break twice in a row! On the third day, he knew it was all over when he was being charged by a huge bear and, again, a few arrows took it down at the last moment. But, no one was to be seen!
The prince then sat under a tree and began to contemplate. Once, twice, could have been good luck. Three times in a row is more than good luck. Someone was looking out for him. Who could it be?! Surely not his father, for he now hates him after slapping him in the face. But, there’s nobody else out there with the power to do this…could it actually be his father after all? It must be, showing that he still loves him despite what he did! The prince, upon realizing this, began to weep and resolved to ask forgiveness and change his ways, which he soon did.
We also slapped God “in the face” by performing the sins which got us banished from our Land to the dark, dreary and dangerous forest of the Diaspora, with many wanting our demise. With the decree of Haman, the first “final solution,” we thought we were finished. Then we saw that our Father, the King, still loves us and was protecting us behind the scenes despite the chutzpah we had shown Him. We learned the lesson which instilled into our hearts even a deeper love than when we were in the palace, in our Land with the Temple. We went from a time of mourning to a time of great joy and celebration.
This is why God’s name is absent in the Book of Esther, but why it very much belongs in the Tanach!
A joyous and meaningful Purim to all!

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Whether hippie, punk or other, God returns Jewish souls home 1 at time

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

My student Efraim asked me if I would meet with his buddy and try to get him interested in his Jewish heritage.
“I’m just letting you know that he’s a really big hippie and a Jew by birth and nothing else,” Efraim warned me. “I’d be happy to sit down with him,” I told Efraim.
It was around a week later when I met up with Efraim and his hippie friend in the beis midrash (study hall) of DATA. We spent an interesting hour or so talking together about the roots and nature of Judaism and its relevance for modern man and, shortly afterward, Efraim and his beatnik buddy left.
“Can you meet with my friend’s brother?” Ephraim asked me a short while later. “Sure,” I answered. “I have to warn you though,” Ephraim continued. “This guy is a real punk from the UK. OK?”
“It’s no problem,” I assured him. This was turning out to be quite the counterculture family! Either way, the date was set, and we were to all meet at a Starbucks shortly after his brother got in town from England.
A rabbi, a hippie and a punk walk into a Starbucks. It sounds like the beginning of a corny joke, but this was real life and we certainly made for an eclectic entourage walking into the coffee shop that day.
“I know this might sound crazy to you,” I told the brother, “with me in my strict-looking garb and you in your ‘I-don’t-care-what-you-think’ punk-wear, but I’m the free one here and you, my dear friend, are enslaved!”
“What are you talking about?” he asked with an incredulous look matted on his face.
“You see … the Ten Commandments that were given to the Jewish people at Sinai were engraved in stone. The word for ‘engraved’ in Hebrew is charut, but the Talmud says that the same letters make up another word — cheirut, which means ‘freedom.’ In other words, the Talmud is teaching us that it is the strict adherence to the Ten Commandments, the representation of the entirety of the Torah, which ultimately sets a person free! I know it sounds counterintuitive to suggest that binding oneself to a set of God-given laws would grant you true freedom but that is in fact the case.
“You see … as human beings we are susceptible to myriad addictions, vices and negative behaviors when left to our own devices and unfettered free will. It is only when we submit ourselves to a higher power and a set of laws given to us for our own good that we are able to overcome our natural instincts and ironically find ourselves in a place of unique, true human freedom.”
He admitted that I was onto something and his interest was certainly piqued. We exchanged email addresses and departed.
I had to pick my jaw up from the floor as I read an email I received from the punk around a year later. He had become an observant Jew and even his non-Jewish punk girlfriend had undergone a halachic conversion before their wedding!
His external transformation (from piercings to peyos and black leather jacket to black hat) had not begun immediately following our talk at Starbucks, but I do hope that the internal stirrings of positive change might have been birthed then.
I can’t help but think about this story as the holiday of Purim approaches. It is the holiday and the miracle that most keenly resembles our modern lives — no open miracles in sight, but hidden miracles to be found in abundance for those wearing spiritual lenses.
The miracle of Jewish continuity is highlighted in the Megillah, and Mordechai is so sure of the coming deliverance of the Jewish people that he declares to his niece Esther that even if she were to refrain from playing her potentially instrumental role in Jewish history the Jews would be saved nevertheless: “For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source.” (4:14)
The miracle of Jewish continuity would happen with or without Esther’s assistance. In our times as well, the Jewish people are under attack, but more than any external threat to our existence it is the internal threat of intermarriage, ignorance and apathy that is most quickly decimating our ranks.
As to the question of who will remain a part of our eternal people and who will depart from its holy confines, only history will tell. What I can tell you, though, is that it is up to us to decide if we want to be a part of this ongoing miracle that is the preservation of the Jewish people.
We can take a stand and play roles of great importance like Mordechai and Esther or we can sit on the sidelines and watch the miracles happen without our input. The only thing I know I AM sure of is that I want to be a part of this miracle.
I want to step into the batter’s box of Jewish history just like our Jewish heroes of old, swing for the fences just as they did and let God work His ever-present wonders, returning one Jewish soul home at a time.

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