Sukkot: The Holiday of Temporary Housing and More

Sukkot: Vignettes
On chol hamo’ed – the intermediary days of – Sukkot, I do what all Israelis do: go out to nature. Bear Mountain is less than an hour away with trees in unbelievable fall colors, beautiful lakes and stunning views of the Hudson River. With the aid of a couple of “trail angels”, I manage to find the route I was planning for, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail, a lake and a steep climb back up to Bear Mountain Tower. I run into other MOT’s (“Members Of the Tribe”) all along the way: One calls me her “savior” as she follows me after being stuck in some bushes off the trail; some are in white shirts and black pants, long skirts, dark socks and head covering, and speak only Yiddish, but came prepare with a rope for the slippery rocks. I wonder if they recognize me as I recognize them. By the time I get back to my car, the parking lot is quite full; so much so that a couple of guys stop each other to ask, “nu, when is mincha?”…
Sukkot: The Holiday of Temporary Housing
Sukkot is holiday when we move out of our comfort to celebrate our temporary housing as a permanent one, while realizing our permanent “stuff” is only temporary. It’s a reminder of how everything is all “backwards”: we live our day to day life with the illusion that nothing changes; that for sure, tomorrow, we’ll have the same looks, health, wealth, thought power, job and friends, when in reality, they all change all the time, and the only constant is – change itself. Tomorrow, as did today, doesn’t guarantee us the same anything, but somehow, we behave as if it does.
My own stuff, packed earlier this summer, and I have been separated for almost 4 months. Living the last few months mostly out of my suitcase has been thought provoking to say the least. More than the “stuff”, there is a longing for it which keeps one busy; and there is the wondering about how much stuff we actually need in life; and the doubt: what have I packed there?? and the planning: oh, when it comes…
Of course, it all has to arrive “davka” during this festival of temporary housing! When it comes, I’m excited, like meeting an old friend. There is an old movie ticket in my pocket, my kids’ art, old letters, my books and piano, all here, and even a little dust from Oakland. But in a way, it also makes the move a little more finite, a little further away, a little more isolated. Fall is all around, emphasizing Sukkot’s message all the more so.
On Shmini Atzeret, the last extra day of Sukkot, coming this Sunday evening, we’ll start praying for rain. Although initially intended to be about rain in the Land of Israel, much has been written about the ecological meaning of this day, our impact on our climate, the need for clean water, and the wish for timely, blessed rains, which is all good and meaningful, but also, a little bit, bothered me. Because if that’s what it’s all about, why not extend it to say the words of “mashiv haru’ach umorid hagashem” – the one who bring wind and brings down rain – all year long? If we impact the world through our words and prayer, and half the planet now begins summer, does this explanation really make sense? is it enough??
I’d like to add an insight into the Hebrew of this saying. If we look at it carefully, it some of it should be familiar: here is the same root we’ve heard about sine before Rosh Hashana: mashiv, being back, just like teshuva; and ru’ach? True, it’s wind, but it is also the word for soul, spirit (as in spirituality). And what about geshem, the word for rain? That shares its root with gashmiyut, reality and hitgashmut, fulfillment. So maybe we can read it to say something like , please, return our soul, our spirit, and reign on us fulfillment, and may that sustain us through the dark months ahead.

Shabbat Shalom & Mo’adim Lesimcha.

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Almost Shabbat, Almost Sukkot

Throughout most of the day, Riverdale seems like a suburb and not really part of the bustling city, just a couple of miles south. Here’s there are big beautiful trees, nearby trails along the river, gorgeous homes, and people who are pleasant to each other like in any other small town. But it’s still in NYC, and that relationship is perhaps most evident when it comes to looking for parking. “There’s plenty of parking”, I was told, “ach, don’t worry about it!” I’m not. That’s why I am out in all wrong hours of the day: morning (schools drop off time), early afternoon (schools pick-up times), late afternoon (back from commute), evening (everybody’s home) and night (you’re out at night??), not to mention the nights before alternate street cleaning, unless it’s Yom Kippur when street cleaning is suspended, and everybody is anyway already parked, getting ready. If there is a space,it’s probably a fire hydrant. So, after putting lots of miles-weight, my blue stallion is on a serious diet. It’s easier to walk almost everywhere; buses and subway are close; and if all else fails, there’s uber. Anything but to move the car. In the famous words of a typical “Tel-Avivi” (person from Tel Aviv): “We should totally get together! No, sorry, I can’t move my car, but you can come here; there’s plenty of parking!!”

Torah: Ha’azinu
This Shabbat we read a song, Shirat Ha’azinu. What is the difference between prayer and song? The Kabbalist point out that tefila (prayer) and shira (song) have the same numerical value. A song is a kind of a prayer but possibly while prayer is more spontaneous, a song is more perfect, more thought-through. The text of this week’s reading is written in two columns as opposed to the usual running text. The words are arranged like bricks, building two towers one on top of the other. There is a parable about a man who watches a tailor preparing a garment. The man, who does not know the art of sewing, is alarmed when the tailor reaches for the cloth and starts cutting and tearing at it, but the end result is a beautiful garment. So it is with us. The song, opening by a call to connect heaven and earth, the spiritual and physical realms, can be seen as a teaching that the two are not inseparable but they do connect. Just before we delve into the endless details of the New Year, it helps remind us that somewhere, sometime, there is a possibility for perfection.

Coming up: Sukkot:
Almost as soon as Yom Kippur was over, an email flew in from the shul: come pick up your Lulav & Etrog! Currently night life in Riverdale (when not looking for parking) includes shul hopping (when it’s Shabbat and Holiday) and getting ready for the next Shabbat or holiday. Sukkot is fun and it’s everywhere, but this year, as the holiday is “late”, there is also great concern that it might rain. We go out davka (especially) when it gets colder outside and everybody thinks about going in and getting ready for winter. Sure, we can say that the Torah didn’t know we’d be living in North America and thought more of fall in the Land of Israel but even there it starts raining during this season.
Much has been written about going out as a symbolism for having faith; maybe we can just stop after “going out”. oaith is a complicated thing, with no guarantee, while on so many levels, it’s crucial to first, just “go out”. G-d told Abraham to go out of his homeland and birth place. Jacob had to go out from that homeland. The Children of Israel left their land and then again left Egypt. And after centuries back in the Land, the Jews were dispersed all over the world. To be clear, I am not suggesting a nomadic lifestyle, but there is power in going out: going out of our homes and seeing nature, miracles and other people with their wisdom, joys, and pains; going out of our minds and expanding our thinking; going out as individuals, couples, families, communities, to see that which we don’t yet know.
On Yom Kippur, Rabbi Steven Exler, Senior Rabbi of HIR, gave a beautiful sermon telling about the Temple service and the High Priest of old who according to the Talmud used to say: : יותר ממה שקראתי לפניכם כתוב כאן – More than I have read before you, is written here (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 70:1). Should we think that what we have in front of us, is all there is, we’re reminded again and again: there is so much more. Rain or shine, let’s go out and see.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Same’ach!

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Chatima Tova!

Kenneth Bone went from being an undecided voter in the “middle of nowhere” to a national hero after asking a question in the recent debate. Perhaps more than his question, it was the following comment: “I feel like Mr. Trump represents my personal interests very well; economically, he would probably do more to protect my job at the fossil tower industry. But Secretary Clinton is a better representative for all of America so this election cycle, personally to me, is about my interest versus the common good”.
This is also what Yona, the prophet is juggling in the Yom Kippur afternoon reading: personal or common good?
We know Yona’s story: G-d wants him to tell the people of Ninve that they must repent. Yona instead, runs away the other direction, trying to hide from G-d, first in the boat, then in the belly of the big fish, from which, according to the midrash, he watches the world, as if the fish’s eyes were windows. He then decides to go back to his task and deliver his prophecy. The king and his city listen and repent, and everybody lives happily ever after. The book should have ended right there, after three chapters. If all it is, is a ‘be less selfish’ and ‘do something for the greater good’, the 4th chapter is not needed.
Kum lech, arise, go, says G-d in the beginning of the book, and we may be reminded of Abraham, who was also told – lech – lecha. Another verb that repeats itself it “kra” (k.r.a.), to call, like Abraham calling G-d’s name, G-d calling on Moses and more. Yona ben Amitai is definitely a prophet. His name might suggest something about him: Yona comes from the root n.h.y. which means to mutter, speak softly, possibly whine. The Yona, dove, was a kind of fowl that was brought up as sacrifice. It was also a symbol of peace, and at times, a symbol of Israel. The name Amitai is made of G-d’s truth (emet Hashem) and implies the kind of words he spoke. An example of that we see when the sailors ask him who he is and what’s his profession, he says: ‘I am a Hebrew; and I fear the God of heaven’ (1:9).
If so, why did he run away?
Only in chapter 4, Yona prays and says (slightly paraphrasing), ‘I fled because I know You, oh G-d, to be gracious, compassionate, patient and abundant in mercy’ i.e. I knew You, G-d, would forgive them! (Yona 4:2).
Wait, what? Didn’t he flee because he thought he would fail? Because he thought, he’d do what G-d asked him, and everybody will reject his words, or laugh at him?
Turns out, it’s possible that Yona fled, not his failure, but his success. Unlikely?? Not so. Studies show that it is often much harder for us to be successful, to fully rise to who we can and should be, than to fail. Especially, the “yona” character, the sacrificial dove, might have found it easier to be that ‘nobody loves me’ yet, the G-d of the Book of Yona is not interested in that.
Ok, so shall he be triumphant, “successful”? Then hide away again? After all, he’s done his job! Now what?? Why is G-d still “bugging” him in chapter 4??
Perhaps G-d is mostly not interested in the end result, but rather in the conversation. This theme repeats again and again, but there isno place it is more appropriate than towards the end of Yom Kippur. By the time we reach the end of this reading, we too, are tired, hungry, thirsty. Now what, we too might ask? Aren’t we done already? Havent we done everything to be good for the year to come?
The Book of Yona ends abruptly, strangely. We remain wondering, what’s going on. Like Yona, we too, might want a period, a clear end to the sentence, but G-d ends with a question. That question is an invitation to continue our dialog throughout the whole year.

Chatima Tova!

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Shabbat Shuva: on Finding Balance – or – Standing and Walking

In Riverdale NY, it seems like the whole world is celebrating this season. First, the weather has been a sunny, pleasant fall; not humid anymore and not yet freezing. Some of the famous trees are starting to change; there is a river (who knew…) and beautiful woods to walk near it. It’s easy to find round challahs and pomegranates and cards. On the night of Slichot (special pre-Rosh Hashana prayer night) people were walking in the streets way past midnight back and forth between different shuls. The same could be seen on the holiday, as it is not uncommon to “shul-hop” and check out different places with so much creativity in exploring Jewish expressions.
Saturday night right before Rosh Hashana I moved to my new place: a little one bedroom apartment pretty close to my school. For the first time in decades, there are neighbors down the hallway, and – Shabbat cooking smells all around. Between me and Ikea, we managed to build some things so there is a table and some chairs, while waiting for the “stuff” to travel cross-country. There are big windows and lots of light. In the spirit of new beginnings, the empty make space for wondering: What shall the year ahead be filled with?
Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, offers a very short Torah reading (off-set by the rabbi’s traditionally extra long talk…). In fact, according to Rabbi Se’adia Ga’on (882-942) it’s not even its own Torah portion but simply the second part Nitzavim (which this year, was read last week), to be separated out when needed (like this year-).
Looking at them like this, I could not help but notice the swing between the two. Nitzav means to stand erect, almost at attention. As mentioned earlier, the word is used for the pillars in the tabernacle. During the British Mandate the Hebrew term for High Commissioner was the “Natziv”, from the same root. The Or Hachayim (1696-1743) says that by nitzav we really mean one’s calling or one’s appointment (as in assignment) in the world. To hear that, it’s as if one has to stop, stand and pay full attention.
What’s even more interesting, is that the counterpart of Nitzavim, the “standing” Torah portion, is Vayelech, “and he went” or alternatively, the walking Torah portion. This might remind us of Ki Tetze and Ki Tavo – when you go out and when you come in, which also go hand in hand.
Possibly my favorite aspect of Jewish teaching is that path of seeking balance while holding on to two conflicting ideas. Are we standing or going? Leaving or entering? Which way is it? The answer is and must be – Yes. There are times to go out and times to come back; there are times to stand in attention, and times to walk and fulfill that attention. That tension is the core of life. Anytime we seek the easy route of “it’s always this” or that, we miss out, largely because it is not about definitive solutions. It’s not about arrival, but about the journey. It’s not about the period; it’s about the question marks. It’s not about the silence, but the deep conversation that led to it. We’re constantly holding on to both ends of the rope. If we let go of one of them, we lose the other one too.
This Shabbat, known as Shabbat Shuva speaks of return, or repentance. What does it mean? maybe to be back who we are; to find the balance we strive for.
Our tradition tells us about these Torah portions (Nitzavim-Vayelech) that, along with the two last ones of this book, all four were said on Moses’ last day of his life. It is a farewell of a leader, and hard to not think of another contemporary farewell, that of Shimon Peres. A lot has been written lately and I have only one small anecdote. I had the great honor to hear Shimon Peres at the 2008 GA (Federation’s General Assembly) in Jerusalem, where he presented his beautiful vision for peace and prosperity in the Middle East. He also spoke of the following (paraphrasing from memory): “People always say,ask the young, but the young often don’t have time or perspective to look at life. Ask the young, of course, because of their energy and because they will have to live with whatever it is we decide, but do ask the elders; ask those who have seen it all, who can tell you about life, who have a solid vision, who have experience”… Interesting, Moses too, in his upcoming poem of Ha’azinu, will remind us of the same. We’ll wait to read more of that.

From HIR High Holidays:
These are the Days of Awe… awe is a wonderful thing. A little awe is great – in fact, it’s awe-some, but too much… can be aw-ful.

Shabbat Shalom.

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CA Girl in NY, Week 4: Vignettes from Yeshiva Life before Rosh Hashana


When I packed my “shmates” – assorted loosely fitting clothes, more than a few acquired as treasures in second hand and thrift stores – many ended up in the giveaway bag because “that’s not how people dress in NY”. Turns out, that might have been true for many parts of this city but not here. Here, my style finally not only found a home and support (as evident by great finds at our recent “clothing swap” exchange) but a name: “settler chic” they call it in the place that prides itself on possibly the highest Aliya percentage in the US. So there you go: no longer shmates, but new fashion!


Every morning we say “or chadash” – a new light may you shine of Zion. It’s stuck somewhere in a long paragraph the chazzan is mumbling quietly, too early for most of us to even be in shul to hear.

A new light. What does it mean? Other theologies tried to tell us that they are the new light, but if it’s new, really, really new, how can anyone possibly know what it is?

So maybe it means – stay open. Every day is not “same old”; we “don’t know what’s coming” and “that’s how these things always turn out” and been there, done that”. A new light will shine. It can be any minute now. Can we actually see anything special in what’s around us? A new light will shine, and – continues the verse – may we merit – to stay open, fresh and attentive – so we can see it.


Facebook once had some way to check your most used or most suitable word. My word was “word” – surprise. But that was before intensive Talmud days. Now, my word is “maybe”. That is the Talmud. Very humbling.

Talmud study also comes with two exciting languages: Aramaic and Yeshivish. Aramaic is a “real thing” with vocabulary and grammar. Yeshivish on the other hand, sounds like this: “if the nafka mina there hashkafikly implies that halachikly I should be mekabel Shabbos at … so shoin”, and if this makes sense, then sh’koych and zey gesund!


Almost every verse in this week’s reading is a wow, starting with its name (Nitzavim – which isn’t just “standing” but holding an upright posture, like the pillars of the Tabernacle) and on. One of my favorites is “the hidden are to Hashem our G-d and the revealed for us and our children to do all the words of this Torah” (Deuteronomy 29:28), and the question is, where are the comas in this verse??

We might think it should be: the hidden – are to our G-d (while) the revealed (are) for us and our children to do… as if, hidden stuff – is the Divine’s, but the revealed is ours. Except, that leaves the tail of the verse slight off, so we need to try something different.

The tropes (musical cantillation marks) add an unexpected insight: the word “the revealed” is “hanging”, as if it go either way. It is not obviously connected to the latter part of the verse. Consider the Hebrew word olam which means olam but comes from the same root as ne’elam, hidden. The world is a combination of revealed and obvious – and unseen. We tend to think that what we see is what we get, but turns out, not so, and there are miracles all around. In that case, we can read it something like this: “the hidden are to Hashem our G-d as well as the revealed; for us and our children (it is) to do… this would in turn direct us to the world of action, moving with more intentionality as we’re doing our best at what we’re doing, while leaving the rest to G-d.

Shana Tova U’Metuka!

Why do wish each other Shana Tova U’Metuka? A good – and – sweet year? It could be that this is a completely coincidental development but while walking, I had an idea about it. I was reminded on the verse from Psalms “hine ma tov u’ma na’im” which has become a famous song and dance: behold how good – and pleasant. Tov – and – Naim. Sometimes, there are things that are good but not pleasant and vice versa, things that are pleasant but not necessarily good. Either one is a form of torment. The most peaceful is to have things that are both, and maybe in the same way, we wish each other that the New Year should be good and pleasant.

Shabbat Shalom & Shana Tova U’Metuka!



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California Girl in NY, Week 3: Ki Tavo… coming and going

The Weather – again…
Summer rainstorms?? If the CA “weather paradox” imagery might be skiing in t-shirt, NY’s might be negotiating puddles in shorts, flip-flops and umbrella…

New Yorkers 101
My morning walk is great, mostly because it saves me from dealing with parking near the Yeshiva, a near impossible task. But what about after school, or Sunday?
In order to successfully drive in NY, I have to dig up an almost forgotten ability: my Israeli driving skills. I’m too slow, right now, too polite. In the time it takes me to figure out whether a spot is even meant for parking, I am cut mercilessly by a car that u-turns right into it. Honking is the drivers’ language and I am not sure if mine even works.
To go to “the city” (technically speaking, this is the city too!) I prefer public transportation, and therefore became the newly proud owner of a metro card.
The other day I was the only passenger on the BxM (Bronx-Manhattan bus) and before too long, the driver was telling me all about his life, plans for retirement and – his faith and understanding of scripture. I know, I know, the driver is not supposed to talk with the passengers but so it went. And – it was friendly, not evangelical in nature (I’m sure driving around Riverdale for years, he could tell who’s “team” I’m on). So- maybe that’s just the sort of thing that happens to me (it does), but maybe also, this is just one small example to refute some of the bad rap handed to New Yorkers (I guess I now have a vested interest in improving this reputation!). In that way too, it’s a bit like Israel: if you smile at someone randomly, they’ll likely look at you with a ‘do I know you from somewhere?’ stare, but if you need something, someone will help. So far, the people I’ve run into, whether someone on a street corner offering me help (did I look that lost??); showing me how to add money on my card; how to find things in the store (there’s no kosher section….); or give good advise for my car at a gas station; maybe I’m just lucky but contrary to rumors, people have been super nice and helpful. And some even smile.

Shabbat in Riverdale
There are things for which I don’t yet have all the right words. Central Park is one. Shabbat in Riverdale is another. Wow. More later.

Yoga and Avoda Zara
Last Friday, at a lovely Shabbat dinner, the conversation suddenly shifted from the usual how are you and where you’re from to whether yoga is “avoda zara” (idol worship). At first, I thought it was a joke, but a quick look around the table indicated, it was not funny. It took me back some 30 plus years to when I first started practicing yoga and encountered it universal as well as Hindu sides. The universal – was all over the place with slogans like “G-d is one, names are many; G-d is one, paths are many”. And even the “Hindu” was mild, and felt very “decorative”. It was always very clear that any “idols”, pictures, songs, names – were all just manifestations – just very few manifestations of how is possible to experience – the true Divine Oneness. I remember friends telling me that their parents won’t visit them at the ashram since it is “idolatrous”. My own mother asked me if I’m not “a little uncomfortable”, having grown up with Jewish traditions at home, shul life etc. I explained the whole thing and she said something like, oh. When she went back to Israel, she found a suitable yoga class for herself.
Very distraught over the dinner situation (week 2 in Riverdale and here I am…), I asked my Rosh Yeshiva for help. He in turn, directed me to Dr. Alan Brill, and you can read more here. But the question remains, because it is bigger than anyone taking a moment to stretch and breathe in some yoga postures. It is about our conversation with the world around us. What kind of conversation is it and what guides it? Is it love or fear, trust or caution, happiness or suspicion, and maybe all of these? Where is the line between learning wonderful new things and losing sight of our own path? Is in individual or communal? How do we decide? How do we treat others who decide differently??

Ki Tavo: Coming and Going
It is the season of “coming and going”, said Rabba Sara Hurwitz at a recent event. This can be based on the names of last week’s and this week’s Torah reading: Ki Tetze – when you go out, and Ki Tavo, when you come (in), and also reflects this time of year. To me, it sometimes feels like an extended / mega Friday afternoon – a minute to Shabbat – with everybody rushing about trying to get ready. The “High Holy Days” are here! Soon, we’ll be in shul for millions of hours, beating on our chests and what will be the take away? Starting a new year, is there any one thing to focus on, something new to “take on”, to pay attention to, to try and incorporate more into our lives?
This week’s Torah reading offers a challenge:
יא וְשָׂמַחְתָּ בְכָל-הַטּוֹב, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ–וּלְבֵיתֶךָ: אַתָּה, וְהַלֵּוִי, וְהַגֵּר, אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבֶּךָ 11 “And you shall rejoice in all the good which the Hashem your God has given unto you, and unto your house, you, and the Levite, and the stranger that is in the midst of you“.
It also tells us what if not. In the middle of the harsh section about the “consequences, it says:
מז תַּחַת, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-עָבַדְתָּ אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּשִׂמְחָה, וּבְטוּב לֵבָב–מֵרֹב, כֹּל. 47 “because you did not serve Hashem your God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, by reason of the abundance of all things“;
In Hebrew, there are two words for joy – simcha & sason. What’s the difference? Turns out, the latter, sason, is unexpected joy (finding a treasure) while simcha is a joy one works hard for. If so, maybe it’s no wonder that we can be commanded to be happy. If we’re commanded, that means it is within our power to do so, just like anything else we can and should do.
In one of our classes, Rabbi Avi Weiss asks us to do a fascinating exercise: instead of the usual list of ashamnu, of what we have erred and wronged and been guilty of and bad at, try a list of ahavnu, we have loved. Instead of “dibarnu dofi’ – we spoke badly, maybe dibarnu yofi – we spoke of beautiful things. Hebrew or English, go letter by letter and see what comes up, what have we done well at. Then use this to learn how we can increase goodness, and in turn, joy in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

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California Girl in NY – Week 2: Vignettes and Torah

Choices I’ve never had to make:
When I walk out of the Yeshiva this afternoon, the morning clear, beautiful, blue sky gives way to glorious thick, dark, grey clouds. Within minutes, torrents gush down the streets. I’m drenched and hurry on to the little corner store, my extra long skirt (davka today…) tangled around me. There I discover a new unexpected predicament: to be very wet yet very warm outside, or very dry yet very freezing from the a/c inside? I get a couple of items fast. Option one wins.

Co-op Lunch:
There are lots of wonderful things in learning in a Yeshiva, many of which are challenging to imitate anywhere outside this magical bubble (it is-), but here is one: we have a co-op lunch. That means, that a group of us who signed up, shares preparing lunches for each other. Each one of us (depending on how many people sign up), makes lunch for the rest of us once every 2-3 weeks. Lunch has rules but because Riverdale is (a little) like a Jewish Bay Area, food is mostly vegan / vegetarian (serving meat requires a 24 hour notice) and healthy (beat salad, steamed kale, brown rice, African peanut soup etc etc…). I look forward and am thankful daily. Those who have worked with me know what I would eat if it wasn’t for this invention (yes, grapes, and trail mix and some more grapes…).

Daily Schedule:
Starting at 9am and going till 5pm, we’re learning things that from afar all sound the same: Halacha (Talmud), Gemara (Talmud), pastoral care (with passages from… you guessed it) and more. A dear friend of mine – successful engineer – once said that the only thing more interesting than the Talmud is the stock market. You might not like the stock market at all; the point is, that’s one way to explain the wow of Talmud. Talmud is life. There’s everything in it, with incredible depth. Yes, sometimes we’re “splitting hairs” and “dancing on top of a pin”, but I like dancing. And there is great love in the attention to small details.

At some point I realized that I am going to be in NY on 9-11. What to do? perhaps overwhelmed with choices, I opted to create my own day in this place I’m starting to call home. I bought a metro card (yeh! a local!) and boarded a subway to the city (luckily there is only one option from here). Feeling somewhat adventurous, I got off at the George Washington Bridge station, found my way to the bridge itself and walked on it. It’s not gold, but I have to admit, it’s very impressive. Spanning almost 5000’, it has 14 lanes (8 upper deck, 6 lower deck), and some consider it the most beautiful bridge in the world. Best; there is a (really narrow!) path for pedestrians and bicyclists alike on its south side, from which the view of NYC is amazing.
From there, I navigated my way down to Ground Zero(subway, of course! It’s easy!…). Walking in Lower Manhattan, I merged into swarms of people heading to the same place. There were many visitors, tourists, police and firefighters from all over the country. People approached the “uniforms” to say ‘thank you for your service’ and asked to take pictures. A guy behind me told someone on his phone: ‘I just didn’t know where else to go today’. What was most striking to me, was the relative quiet: hundreds and thousands of people, walking around silently, in an outdoor temple of remembrance.

Some Torah Words:
On Wednesdays, we take turns to share a short Torah word, and I jump in. The Torah portion of “Ki Tetze” has the most commandments any parasha in the Torah has: 74 in total: 27 “positive” (do this and that) and 47 “negative” (don’t do this and that). The commandments are very detailed and on the surface, all dealing with our immediate physical existence, starting with war situations and moving on. But already Rashi (1040-1105) states that the real war this section is talking about, is an internal war one wages against one’s own “evil” sides. If so, what about the rest of the reading? Can we see more in the outward references? Here are a few ideas:
Deuteronomy 22:8 states: “When you build a new house, then you shall make a railing for your roof…”. Ok, so this totally makes sense: if you have a flat roof which you might use to dry apricots, hang laundry, sleep in the summer or sunbathe in winter – as is still the custom in many places in Israel and around, make sure there is a railing so no one falls. Does the Torah need to tell us that? The Kabbalists add a less obvious layer. They play with the fact that in gymatria “gag-cha” – your roof – is numerically equal to G-d’s four letter name (26), and tell us that we should have a railing – or what today we would call “boundaries” – around ourselves to protect ourselves and disallow disruptive things from coming in. Our human “gag” – roof, the highest point in our being is our mind, our thoughts, and much of our connection with the Divine. That part need to be secure and safe.
The next verse (22:9) states: “You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seeds; lest the fullness of the seed which you have sown be forfeited together with the increase of the vineyard”. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “two kinds of seeds” is “kil’ayim”, which literally means – two jails. Rav Hirsch (1808-1888) explains in his commentary elsewhere, that “two jails” implies that we are not to mix two different kinds – of seeds or anything that grows, people too – who inhibit and limit each other’s growth, because they make each other feel in “jail”. Our goal should be to grow to our fullest potential; boundaries and a good environment – are key necessities.
And last: In the beginning of that chapter (22:1-4) is a famous favorite mitzvah, that of returning lost objects. The mitzvah is what’s called “a double mitzvah”: it says both “hashev teshivenu” – “indeed you shall return”, in itself using the same root-verb twice, and also a negative one: “lo tuchal lehit’alem” – “you will not be able to ignore / avoid”. The sages teach us that if you find your neighbor’s lost object you must return it even 100 times, and again I wonder: really?? What can we possibly return 100 times??
So as we are right before Rosh Hashana, here is an alternative. Maybe the construct hashev teshivenu does not only refer to returning a lost object but also – to another word that shares the same root: teshuva, which also mean return as well as repentance (its own kind of return). If so, maybe this is also about us noticing within us – or others – things that are lost; different qualities that went astray, like our ox like stubbornness, our lamb-like meekness and what we do with our possessions. Maybe these are the things we must notice and can’t ignore. Maybe it’s a reminder for making teshuva with each and every one of our separate, lost pieces, and even if it takes us 100 times, it’s ok. As the U’netane Tokef High Holiday prayers tell us:
כי לא תחפץ במות המת / כי אם בשובו מדרכו וחיה
ועד יום מותו תחכה לו / אם ישוב מיד תקבלו.
“For You do not wish the death of the dead, but rather in his return from his path and living;
And until the day of his parting You shall wait for him; if he returns, you’ll immediately accept him.

Shabbat Shalom!


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