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Misconception of rules regarding teaching Torah

Posted on 08 June 2017 by admin

Hi Rabbi Fried,
I’ve heard the concept that we are not supposed to teach Torah (specifically halacha?) to non-Jews.
In academia, the goal is to develop enough expertise that you are trusted to begin creating or discovering or bringing down new knowledge. Somehow, with social media and openly sharing information, that expertise gets replaced with credentials and popularity and whatever combination of things determines how much other people want to absorb and spread your ideas.
I’d like to extend this concept to Judaism. If every bit of knowledge is given by God, nothing is a coincidence, and ideas are revealed to the world at the moment they are intended and needed, then moving toward Mashiakh is a matter of the global consciousness absorbing higher ideas of love and oneness (compassion, connection, consciousness, creativity, judging favorably, etc. etc.), and considering them common knowledge.
Let me attempt to ask the same question many times in different words: How can I navigate this, when it comes to revealing Truth to the world? What credentials are required to be sure that I am following Torah, and not just spewing my own misunderstanding into the world? How can we understand that there’s a Truth, and that we each resonate with only some part(s) of Torah, and our mission is to spread our unique understanding, but not to muddy that message with individuality…?
If every possible thing I could ever write is both uniquely created by me, and also wholly embodies the will of God bringing information into the world, precisely where and when and how it is needed for His audience, then how can we understand the restriction to not teach Torah (to non-Jews)?
I am (at this point in my life/career) finding my passion for unifying science and religion (and all information that God has made available to man thus far), and making this terribly-misunderstood topic more approachable and accepted in the global mind. So, the fact that I’m drawn to this means that God has given me the tools I need to pursue this. How am I to understand the restrictions around how and what I can teach?
Thanks for your time, and sorry that this email became so long.
All the best,
Michael K.
Dear Michael,
It’s exciting to see someone of your scientific background and inquisitive mind searching the truths of Torah and acquiring its deep knowledge and teachings with so much depth and searching. May you succeed in your journey to much joy in its understanding!
With regards to the teaching of Torah to Gentiles, it is as you have surmised that this applies to the deeper and more esoteric parts of Torah, and halacha. Many authorities maintain it does not apply to the written Torah. This question certainly has no bearing on what you seek to accomplish, namely to bring out the Truth of God in science and in the universe. Not only is this not included in the said prohibition; on the contrary, it is a tremendous mitzvah to show that truth to all of mankind!
The seven “Noahide laws,” those laws which apply to all mankind as commanded to Noah upon exiting the ark, include the belief in God. The Jewish people, the children of Abraham, are first and foremost in the obligation to fulfill God’s mission of promulgating that belief to all peoples.
May you have much success in doing so!

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Are you sensitive to Judaism’s moral notes?

Posted on 02 June 2017 by admin

I find Shabbos dinner to be the perfect setting for those deep philosophical conversations that happen so rarely these days. We’re all so busy with work, family, technology and never-ending errands that finding the time or space to have meaningful conversations is becoming more and more difficult.
For all of our modern distractions, Shabbos has the answer with its spirit of calm and quiet. The candle-lit, technology-free Shabbos dinner provides the perfect setting for people to come together and discuss issues of the day as well as matters of the spirit.
It was one such Friday night and the conversation at our Shabbos table turned toward the benefits of halacha, Jewish law.
“The Shabbos, with its many rejuvenating benefits to self, family and community might possibly be my favorite mitzvah of the Torah,” I shared with my guests.
“That being said, and this might come as a surprise to you, but If not for the fact that halacha obligates me to keep the Shabbos, I don’t know that I would chose to keep it each and every week.”
“There are times when I’m exhausted by the end of the week and, if given the choice, might take the weekend off instead of prepping and readying for Shabbos.”
“There are Shabbosim when my favorite sports team is playing in a pivotal playoff game and all I want to do is follow the action.”
“Essentially, it is the binding nature of halacha that compels me to always put the observance of Shabbos above everything else, and ultimately reap its rewards.”
My guests looked stunned.
Most were stunned by my admission that my personal will might not always echo halachic jurisprudence.
(It’s worth noting that the convergence of human and divine wills is considered a high spiritual plane that we should all aspire to. See Pirkei Avos 2:4: “Make His will your will.)
But one particular guest looked less stunned than genuinely confused.
“How can you say that you are not “choosing” to keep Shabbat?” my bewildered guest inquired with more than a hint of disbelief in his voice. “No one is compelling you to keep it! You are choosing to keep it even as we sit here at this very moment!”
His question was so simple on the one hand and yet so complex on the other that I found myself at a sudden loss for words (something we rabbis aren’t used to!). You see, inasmuch as he’s technically right that I choose to observe the Shabbos, this choice didn’t and doesn’t feel like other life choices.
Schnitzel or hamburger from the lunch menu certainly feels like a personal choice, as does electing to go with Cupcake Blue as the paint color for the living room. Embracing Shabbos observance, on the other hand, seems more like opting into a value system than anything else, and therefore functions as a choice of a wholly different sort.
To the halachicaly observant Jew, Shabbos observance is understood as part of G-d’s moral code. Do I choose, then, to observe the Shabbos, or do I more affirm its moral character and therefore feel myself compelled to its observance?  It seems to me to be the latter, and the word “choose,” then, just seems out of place.
I found myself contemplating my guest’s question throughout the following week and troubled with why I had found it so difficult to piece together a cogent response at the Shabbos table.
Enter professor and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and his revelatory The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Haidt had discovered in his time in university that the modern Western student perceived morality almost entirely through the limited prisms of two principles, one relating to harming others and another relating to fairness. The outgrowth of this kind of thinking: if something is fair and does no harm it is morally permissible.
Haidt points out that there are at least three other dimensions of the moral life as understood in non-Western cultures. One is loyalty and its opposite, betrayal. Another is respect for authority and its opposite, subversion. The third is the need to establish protective walls around certain nonnegotiable values. These are things we call sacred.
This, I came to understand, is why I had such difficulty explaining my thoughts to my guest. We truly come from two very different moral universes and speak two very different moral languages.
Through my friend’s Western eyes, Shabbos observance was a choice because it had nothing to do with fairness or harm. No one would be harmed if I took the Shabbos off, nor would it negatively tilt the scales of fairness. It therefore had nothing to do with morality per se. It was, rather, a choice, perhaps a good one at that, to practice Jewish ritual.
But in my moral universe, the Torah as my guide, the observance of the Shabbos was most certainly a moral commitment, rooted in my sense of loyalty and submission to God, and in the belief that I ought not profane that which is hallowed.
If I wanted to ever explain my point of view to my Shabbos guest, I would have to do much more than speak words. I would have to introduce my friend to a whole new way of thinking about morality.
I write all the above not to denigrate those who don’t observe the Shabbos fastidiously, nor to raise those who keep the Shabbos on high. We are all, hopefully, on our own paths up the holy mountain.
Rather, I feel it’s time, as we re-accept the Torah on Shavuot, that we re-examine our moral palates and make sure we’re sensitive to all of Judaism’s moral notes. We need those notes of fairness and harm, so esteemed in our times, and we need to take a second look at loyalty, respect for authority and the world of the sacred so revered in our time-honored tradition. If we do so we will surely be worthy of receiving the Torah once again.
To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Active participation needed to remain committed to values

Posted on 01 June 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
After weeks of counting, we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot — it is a holiday with all night study and blintzes and cheesecake. It is also the time for confirmations and conversions.
Why? Shavuot is the experience of receiving the Torah (some say the Ten Commandments) from God at Sinai. It is a time for us to learn and grow. Those being confirmed (at 16 in some synagogues) and those converting (on Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth, described as the first convert as she left her home and people and became part of her new family) commit and accept the Torah at this holiday.
“Na’aseh v’nishma — We will do and we will understand.” This is what the Israelites said at that moment to Moses and God. What an interesting and amazing response. They said they would accept and commit to the laws and expectations, following them before understanding. (of course, there is that midrash that says from the text “they stood beneath the mountain” that meant that God lifted the mountain over their heads and asked if they would accept the law and they, of course, agreed saying, “Just put the mountain down!”)
What did our ancestors know about the necessity of doing something even before understanding it?  They knew that to really understand, you need to “do” – you need to act, behave, create, and participate actively in the learning and understanding. For greater understanding, they knew they must be actively involved in this partnership with God and each other.
Fast-forward a few thousand years, the great educational thinker, John Dewy, professed that children learn best through doing. He taught that it is through action and doing that we create meaning and understanding. It is how we make connections, solve problems and see new possibilities.
Fast-forward again to today. Brain research again validates what our ancestors knew, and what educators like John Dewy knew as well. When you are actively engaged and creating, you learn best. Children (and adults) learn best by being actively engaged in learning that is authentic, relevant and interesting.
A lot has changed since the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai, and some things never change. To remain committed to our values and traditions, we need to be active participants. The more we do, the more we will understand our purpose and value in our lives today.
The rabbis say that we all stood at Sinai – together we do, accept, learn and understand every day anew. Na’aseh v’nishma!
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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Weiner’s criminal actions gives us all bad name

Posted on 01 June 2017 by admin

So Anthony Weiner has finally confessed to the specific behavior that will earn him a jail sentence.
Not too long ago, the former U.S. Representative stood before a judge in his home state, New York, and confessed his sexual indiscretions. Many of them. But the one that finally brought him before the bar of justice was “sexting” a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina.
I first heard this on the radio, which I always listen to in the car. Much safer than texting (although I wouldn’t be surprised if Weiner had done more than a bit of that himself). When I got home, I watched the clips on television. The next morning, I read all about it in the daily paper.
My reaction was, I suspect, exactly what that of my Boubby the Philosopher would have been: “I hope to God this man isn’t Jewish!  That would be bad for the Jews!” But of course, he is. I had pinned my hopes on learning otherwise because his first name isn’t one most folks would consider particularly Jewish. But Anthony does, indeed, belong to him. (His father’s name, for the record, is Mort.)
I have been in rehab at what used to be Legacy Preston Hollow three different times in recent years. When you’re rehabbing from broken bone surgeries and knee replacements, as I was, the routine is simple: every day you have physical therapy, and if you’re not moved by the day’s activity offerings, you stay in your room and watch a lot of TV. Other than attending Rabbi Howard Wolk’s always-interesting sessions, I mostly stayed in my room and watched a lot of TV. And I have a clear memory of seeing Anthony Weiner making public excuses for himself, vowing to do better (which meant less of what he was doing in the sex department) in the future. I’m not sure exactly when that was, but appearing with this man in disgrace was his wife — near him but a bit behind him, looking downward, as if she’d been crying her eyes out: a classic picture of Stand By Your Man. When the long-running series The Good Wife began airing on television, I wondered if that poor woman had been its inspiration.
A Bronx native, Weiner began what might have become a distinguished public service career as a Democratic congressman from New York, making his first headlines with pleas in the U.S. House urging better health care provisions for emergency responders. But his later headlines went downhill from there, a toxic mix of sex and politics. His wife, Huma Abedin (a Muslim who never took his last name) was a right-hander to Hillary Clinton, which embroiled Weiner in some other problems during the last presidential campaign. But like a “good wife,” she was long-suffering yet forgiving: The New York Post noted, sarcastically, just a couple of months ago that she kept downplaying her husband’s indiscretions: “Fool her four times and she’ll still take you back” was its published remark.
But no more. I’m certainly not going to repeat here what you can find so easily (and in full) in both online and print sources these days: to follow the trail of his dalliances, in person and in pictures, offers the same sort of sick fascination as watching a snake swallow a mouse. However, it seems that Huma is quite human, after all; she has finally filed for divorce. And Weiner, now marked with a lifetime brand of sex offender, cried as he admitted that his actions were both morally and legally wrong, but that he could not overcome his “evil inclinations.” He will be sentenced Sept. 8 — perhaps to 10 years in prison.
Full disclosure here: One of my nieces is a senior attorney in New York’s Southern Federal District, where Weiner will be learning his fate. I have not asked her any questions about this.
She would not have answered them, anyway…

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Concepts of justice, fairness tough for children to learn

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each year as we prepare for camp, we think about the many issues that children face and how to guide them in the right direction. One of the things that we hear from children is, “It’s not fair.”
They spend a lot of time learning to understand the concept of fairness and justice. We want to guide them with our heroes from the past and present.
Tzedek is the mitzvah of doing justice. The words tzedek and tzedakah appear almost 300 times in the Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that justice and compassion are two of the most important qualities for people to survive and live together.
Leviticus 19, also called the Holiness Code, says that being holy is being just. Elie Wiesel told this story: A man who saw injustice in his city protested against it every day. One day someone asked why he continued to protest since no one was paying attention. The man answered, “In the beginning I thought I would change people, but now I continue so people will not change me.”
There is much talk in the news about the Supreme Court Justices. There have been many famous Jewish Justices, and we can learn from their examples. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated with honors from Columbia Law School, not one law firm in New York would hire her because she was a woman. She became a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights, and she argued six landmark cases on behalf of women before the Supreme Court. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court. Upon accepting the nomination, she spoke of her background. “I am very sensitized to discrimination. I grew up at the time of World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child…seeing a sign in front of a restaurant: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’ I have a last thank-you to my mother. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most recent Jewish Justices and the first Jewish woman Justice; however, many great American Jews have served the United States as lawyers and judges. Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice from 1916-1939.
He was nicknamed “The People’s Attorney” because he was an advocate of social and economic reforms. He was also a leading Zionist, and Brandeis University is named after him. Benjamin Cardozo served on the Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938. The school of law at Yeshiva University is named after him. Felix Frankfurter served from 1939 to 1962 and he helped create the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas served in the 1960s and Stephen Breyer was named to the Court in 1994.

Conversation starters

  • 1. Sometimes children say that something isn’t fair — something a parent, teacher or coach decides. What does it mean to be fair? Think of some examples and then think of a way to decide what is fair. For example, when sharing a piece of cake, one person gets to cut and the other gets to choose first.
  • 2. Why is it so hard to be a judge? What does it mean to be “impartial”? What would make it difficult to judge someone? Can we judge ourselves? Why or why not?
  • 3. Making sure there is justice in the world is not the same as making sure there are judges. What is justice all about? Some people say that life isn’t always fair — is that fair?

Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Paying forward lesson easily glossed over

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

She’s the only friend still left from my elementary school days.
Patricia (she was Patty then) now lives in Denver, but we keep in good touch, often reminiscing about our shared, early hometown experiences.
Malcolm Cowley, a distinguished American writer, was also a Pittsburgher, and during the time I was studying at the city’s university, he returned to his hometown to teach some literature courses. Sad but true: His classes were not required, so I took none of them.
Patricia attended another college but enrolled in one of Cowley’s courses as a grad student. So she asked me recently — since we’ve both exceeded that “certain age” — if I’d read his book The View from 80. She had, and wasn’t much impressed. I hadn’t, but easily found a used copy online. Its less-than-75 pages made for one fast, easy read.
Cowley (born 1898, died 1989, just before his 91st birthday) wasn’t Jewish. Patricia isn’t, either. But I found something distinctively so in this little book, because the author paraphrases the “parable” that you, I, and probably every other Jew knows: about the man who, planting a tree he’ll never live long enough to see bear fruit, explains to a questioner that his descendants will. That’s what his planting was all about: Someone long-gone left fruit trees for him, so he was paying it forward.
Here’s what Cowley has to say: “Very often an old person’s project has to do with things that live on and are renewed … He plants trees to profit another age. Cicero quotes an earlier author as saying this, and himself continues, ‘If you ask a farmer, however old, for whom he is planting, he will reply without hesitation, “For the immortal gods, who intended that I should not only receive these things from my ancestors, but also transmit them to my descendants.” ’ ”
Cicero’s “immortal gods” came much earlier than Cowley’s singular one; he’s such an Orthodox Christian, he describes himself as one who shrives: that means seeking forgiveness for sins, then doing penance and finally receiving absolution. But I just wondered: Who might that anonymous pre-Cicero author have been?
I found that our Pirke Avot is not the source; It’s from the Mishnah, a product of the Common Era’s third century; Cicero died almost 50 years before CE even started. I’m sure Malcolm Cowley had read extensively, but I suspect not much in Jewish texts. Of course he read Cicero — surely in the original; for scholarly men of his time, Latin and Greek were regular educational givens. He may even have read some Hebrew. So I’m guessing now: If one of those texts was Ethics of the Fathers, might he have assumed that it predated Cicero?
Whatever. I’m recommending Cowley’s little book to everyone who’s growing older (and who isn’t?) because I’d already come to believe, even before reading it, what he preaches: Everyone has a story to tell, made up of many individual stories remembered from the course of a lifetime. He recommends “telling” your story by writing down memories from childhood to the present.
Now, here’s my truth: Without our stories, we will virtually cease to exist. Therefore, I’m devoted to our Dallas Jewish Historical Society’s oral history project, which gives us all the opportunity to tell our life stories that someone else will write down, for access in perpetuity. (How many of us have come to adulthood full of regret that we never asked our parents or grandparents to sit down with us and tell us their life stories? This sorrow isn’t something we want to pass on to our own descendants!)
I suspect that friend Patricia, not knowing Pirke Avot, glossed over the tree-planting tale very quickly, and I’m at least reasonably sure that she has no idea of how it reinforces, if not echoes, Judaism’s own story. As I send her my “review” of Malcolm Cowley’s little book, I’ll be sure to mention this!

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Why Shavuot holiday isn’t explicitly addressed in Torah

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have done a search and am shocked to have found that the holiday of Shavuot is not mentioned in the Torah! How could something as important as Shavuot being the day the Jews received the Torah at Sinai not be mentioned in connection to that holiday?
Brian S.
Dear Brian,
The Torah states, “and you should count … from the day after the Shabbos (i.e., the 1st day of Pesach) …  seven complete weeks… you should count 50 days and offer a new mincha offering to Hashem.” (Levitcus 23: 15-16) All the Torah mentions at the end of the counting of 49 days, which culminates in the holiday of Shavuot, is to bring a “new mincha” (bread offering). What about the fact that it’s Shavuot, the day we received the Torah?! That’s not even mentioned, as you pointed out. Furthermore, why is the bread offering called a “new mincha”? What is more “new” about that offering than any other?
The classical commentator Keli Yakar (Rabbi S. E. Luntschitz, early 17th-century Prague), comments that the “new mincha” is a hint to the holiday of Shavuot, the day of receiving the Torah. This is because the Torah needs to always be “new” for each person. Every day he or she should feel like it was given to them that very day from Sinai!
This is why the Torah did not explicitly single out a specific day as the day of receiving the Torah from Sinai. Although historically it was given on the day of Shavuot, to write explicitly that Shavuot is the day of receiving the Torah would minimize the Sinai experience to only that day, whereas the Torah wants us to feel that every day it is being given anew to those who toil in its study. Every moment that we delve deeply into Torah we bring out new subtle nuances and understandings that are hidden within its infinite wisdom and waiting to be discovered.
With this recognition, the study of Torah never “gets old,” one never gets bored from its toil. On the contrary, it’s always exciting and new! That’s why it’s hinted to by the bringing of a mincha chadasha, a “new” mincha. Every offering brought is technically new, but here the Torah actually calls it such, to stress that everything about this day is fresh and new.
The Keli Yakar proceeds to reveal a profound point. Nearly all the wheat offerings were brought from matzah, as the Torah doesn’t allow offerings of chametz (leavening). The two breads which are the special mincha offering for Shavuot must be brought from breads which are chametz. Generally, chametz is forbidden in the Temple because it represents the “evil inclination” (yetzer hara). On Shavuot, however, the day of the giving of Torah, where there is Torah the yetzer hara has no power to control us. This is what we learn from the Talmud, which states, “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as its antidote.” (Kiddushin 30b)
Furthermore, if not for the yetzer hara needing its antidote, the Torah never would have been brought down from its lofty place in Heaven to rest among mortal men in the physical world. This is the answer utilized by Moses to the angels when he ascended Sinai to receive the Torah. When the angels protested to the Al-mighty for His taking his most precious possession and defiling it by presenting it to mortal men, Moses retorted by asking them, “Do you have a yetzer hara for which you need this Torah?!” (Talmud, Shabbos 88b-89a) The essence of Torah is as an antidote to the yetzer hara; consequently the Torah requires, specifically on Shavuot, to bring an offering of chametz to show the yetzer hara is powerless against the Torah.
Although Keli Yakar does not explain how the Torah is the antidote to the yetzer hara, I think the answer is implicit in his words. Chametz comes about in merely 18 minutes by the wet dough sitting idle. If, however, you are constantly kneading and working it, it doesn’t become chametz in even 18 hours! Newness ceases the chametz process!
The toil of Torah in a way which makes one renew himself constantly doesn’t allow the “chametz process” to take hold of himself. That is truly the antidote to the yetzer hara, and is precisely why Shavuot is not explicitly written in the Torah as the day of receiving the Torah. Every day we make the Torah as new, as we find in the opening lines of Shema where we recite that “these words should be ‘today’ upon your heart,” to which Rashi comments, “Every day they should be fresh and new as if they were given that day.”
On this Shavuot let us all re-accept the Torah with all its vigor, in a way that we will continue to keep it fresh and new throughout the year. Best wishes for a joyous Shavuot to all the readers!

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Make this Memorial Day more meaningful

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

With Memorial Day weekend just ahead, here are some suggestions to make these three days an opportunity for each of us to perform a mitzvah.
Whether or not you are Jewish, attend your house of worship, paying homage to the sacred memory of those men and women who gave their lives defending our country.
On Sunday morning and early afternoon, members of the Jewish War Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary will be collecting your contribution, handing you a poppy, as they shout, “Please help the hospitalized veterans.”
Combined with funds collected again on Veterans Day in November, the total will help the VA Medical Center in Dallas to purchase one or more needed items which our Congress has not funded.
Past “poppy drives” have helped pay for acupuncture treatment equipment, waiting room furniture, television sets, recreational equipment, an ice machine, an ice cream maker, a miniature golf course, and other items selected from the Dallas VA’s “wish list.”
Then Monday, Memorial Day, take a friend, the family and especially yourself, and attend the very meaningful programs at Restland Cemetery in Richardson or especially at the DFW National Cemetery in Grand Prairie. It will be a learning experience, especially for children, one which they cannot get in the classroom.
While you are at one of these locations, members of The Dr. Harvey J. Bloom Post 256 of the Jewish War Veterans will be placing American flags at grave sites of deceased JWV members at all of the Dallas Jewish cemeteries, to be repeated on Veterans Day in November.
Unlike a number of other veterans groups who often spend time drinking, smoking, playing cards and telling “war stories,” JWV Post 256 and its Auxiliary truly devote their energies to performing mitzvot for our hospitalized veterans.

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Don’t ignore Shavuot’s value to individuals

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Let’s talk about counting — specifically about counting the Omer. Some people don’t know what I’m talking about, some think it is meaningless today, and some, like me, have an app on their phone. It reminds me, gives me the blessing and even gives me some things to think about each night. At this reading, we are getting to the end of this period — Shavuot is coming.
So what is it? The special period between Passover and Shavuot is called sefirah, meaning “counting,” from the practice of counting the Omer, which is observed from the night of the second Seder of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. The counting of seven weeks on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple, until Shavuot, serves to connect the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt with the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that it was announced to the Israelites in Egypt that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. As soon as they were liberated, they were so eager for the arrival of the promised day that they began to count the days, saying each time, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
Does it matter today? The Omer continued even after the development of a standard calendar eliminated its initial necessity: to let the people know exactly when to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It remained an opportunity to help us move out of enslaving patterns of thought and behavior. For the ancient Israelites, each day was a step away from the defilement of Egypt and a step toward spiritual purity. Like the Israelites who began to get ready for their encounter at Mount Sinai as soon as they crossed the Reed (or Red) Sea, we use the seven weeks beginning on Passover to similarly prepare ourselves for the arrival of Shavuot. During this time, we are supposed to evaluate our behavior and work to improve ourselves.
We all count days leading to something special — maybe good (can’t wait for my vacation), maybe bad (10 days until I have jury duty). But I count something that each of you should be counting. As many of you know, I’m a camp director and I’m counting how many days until camp. I’m also counting how many young lives we will impact at camp. Camp changes lives and through your commitment to camp scholarships, you are part of those lives touched. How many can we count? Here is the story I remind my staff (who are the leaders of tomorrow that we are also impacting each summer): The story is of a little boy on the beach with hundreds of starfish on the sand.
Starfish cannot live outside the water so the little boy was picking up one at a time and throwing it back in the ocean.
A man comes by and sees what the boy is doing. He says, “There are too many. You can’t make a difference.” The little boy picks up one and throws it back — “Made a difference to that one.” That’s what we do — make a difference to one at a time.
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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Evolution, religion and house gnats

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

The Dallas Theater Center has brought Inherit the Wind back to a local stage. Once again, we can live the infamous Scopes trial about science versus faith in the classroom.
But — how far have we come in more than nine decades? Texas continues to argue about public school textbooks: how to teach ninth-graders the coming-into-being of birds, animals and especially humans. This day and age isn’t all that modern when deciding how to pass on information about such vital matters.
Do you believe the Biblical creation story? Or do you believe Darwin’s theory of evolution? Can both really be taught in the same classroom at the same time? Are young minds able to handle this controversy, reasoning clearly enough to formulate their own conclusions — especially when some parents want their children to reach one conclusion while some prefer the other?
I’m thinking back now to my first day in college and my very first class: introductory zoology, which involved dissecting a frog. But before that came a disclaimer from our instructor, a graduate student teaching assistant, which I’ll paraphrase here: “I’m a scientist,” he said. “And I’m a Catholic. I believe in God and the Bible, but I also believe in science and evolution. This is how I make both work for me …”
Then followed the part I’ve never forgotten that I can recall virtually word for word after more than 60 years: “I believe that God created Adam and Eve, and put them into the Garden of Eden, just like the Bible says. But then along came Sin. So God made them leave that beautiful place, but not in the form they were in then. Instead, He took them down by the water that He’d already created, reduced them to amoebas, dropped them in and said ‘Now, work your way back!’ And that’s how we have evolved…”
What a wonderful, simple (OK — simplistic) answer to the whole question! I remember Ed Zadorozny’s words better than I remember the innards of the poor frog I cut up that day.
Recently, I suffered a Passover return of sorts: A plague of flying insects invaded my home. Thirty-three years in the same house, with never anything like this before! By day, they flew straight for the windows; at night, when everything else was dark, they flew to the TV screen. So I flew to Home Depot’s garden department for information.
“They’re not houseflies,” I told the expert. “They’re gnats,” he said. “Flies are attracted by odors. Gnats like light. And they’re attracted by house plants.” But I’ve never had any of those, because I have a truly black thumb and can’t grow anything. I once killed a small cactus garden just by breathing on it! The only outdoor work I’ve ever succeeded at is weeding! So why did they choose me?
The infestation lasted about 36 hours, making me wonder how long the Egyptians had to suffer from their bugs. A swatter was totally ineffective against them, so I had to resort to a spray that kills flying insects — something I find environmentally unsound in principle and truly offensive in the odor department. And afterward came another unappealing task: gathering up and disposing of the little black bodies littering every windowsill.
I would like to be in on those textbook debates. Did God create such annoying creatures? If so, for what purpose? Or did they just evolve from amoebas, developing wings and flying out of the water, but moving no further along on God’s — or Darwin’s — evolutionary scale?
Next Pesach, when I dip wine from my Seder cup as the plagues are read, I’ll recall this assault. But today, I’m remembering Ed Zadorozny, and wondering, Where are you now, with your elementary wisdom, when our sophisticated educators really need you? And this-coming weekend, I’ll be seeing, again that old (1955) play about an even older (1925) event, the Monkey Trial.
Maybe you’ll join me?

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