Love math and more

In Daf Yomi (the daily Talmud page) we’re reading Masechet Z’vachim or “Tractate Slaughtered Offerings”; 120 pages of detailed descriptions what kind of actions and intentions should there be during the mostly meat sacrifices, which makes me think about meat consumption in general, and especially back then. To the question, ‘can we have meat’? the Torah said simultaneously, yes and no, presenting a complex view. Taking the life of another living creature so that we can have “food”, or anything, was not to be taken for granted, and could be done only in the context of G-d and the Temple. One could not run over to the store, buy a few packages of frozen-something-shapeless and lifeless, and then have a b-b-q. Rather, there was a whole list of “to-do’s”, so much so that if you did it wrong, you could almost be called a murderer (Leviticus 14:4). This “to-do” expressed a nuanced idea: sure, we’ll compromise and “let you” eat meat, but we’ll create such a process that you can’t take it lightly or do it often. For the vegans among us, it’s not enough and for the carnivores it sounds dreadful, but what if nowadays we’d only eat meat once a week, a month or only during the holidays, under specific circumstances?
In the heart of the Torah we find the famous ‘love your fellow as yourself”. Rabbi Akiva taught that it’s the greatest rule in the Torah and we’re left to wonder: is this a commandment – or – a fact, a natural outcome of fulfilling these words and living sincerely with the Torah?
It’s not clear if we understand this overly quoted verse (Leviticus 19:18); we barely know the meaning of “love”, especially in the Torah or “re’a” (fellow, neighbor). Traditionally we explain “re’a” as fellow Jew to which there’s an immediate reaction; what, why not everybody? Why only (about) 13 or 15 million people??…. to paraphrase Rav Kook, it’s sort of an exercise: we’re not telling you to not love others and everybody, but why don’t you start with your immediate fellow and let’s see how’s it’s going and go from there. We all know people who “love” their “fellow” thousands of miles away but can’t get along with their next-door neighbor (well, that person is really so so aggravating!!…).
The fact that the verse ends with “I am Hashem (G-d)” indicates that loving one’s fellow appears in the context of one’s greater relationship to G-d. “Coincidentally, in Hebrew the word “ahava” (love), in gematria, has the numerical value of 13. Loving one another could be seen as 13X2 which is 26 and stands for G-d’s name and presence. That’s “all” it takes: two people that wholeheartedly care for each other.
Interestingly, the next verse also instructs us “not to let (your) cattle gender with a diverse kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed (“kil’ayim”) (19:19). What and why? “Kil’ayim” means not any mixing but – “materials that are mutually exclusive”. Rabbi Hirsch in his poignant dig into Hebrew roots, teaches that “kil’ayim” shares its roots with “ke’le”, jail, prison, literally meaning – “two jails”. Accordingly, this speaks to mixing things in a way that “imprisons” them, in a place where they cannot grow and develop to their fullest potential. Not all mixtures fall into this category, but as we all know from our lives, that some combinations help us grow while others – don’t.
Which brings us back to “love your neighbor”. Because of the unusual Hebrew grammar in the verse, Rabbi Hirsch concludes that we are not asked to “love” all people in the romantic sense of the word, which would be impossible and unreasonable, but, we are asked to see the other as we’d like to be seen ourselves, as an equal and separate, special human beings created in G-d’s image, whom we allow space to be just that, each unique for who he or she is. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Shabbat Shalom.


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On memory & celebration, and an invite to see and heal

When the 8th day of Pesach fell on Shabbat, something happened: the Torah reading in Israel, where there is no 8th day, proceeded to the Torah portions in Leviticus, while those of us in “chutz-la’aretz” stayed one more day with the holiday. What this means is, that during these weeks, we, outside of Israel, are reading a different Torah portion – one behind – the Jews in Israel. This pattern will continue until the week before Shavuot, so that when we get to Sinai, to the Giving of the Law, we will be all together.
This is a normal pattern which occurs every few years, and yet, there must be no other days in the calendar, where the distance between “Israel” and “diaspora” is so great and the pain so acute.
Not only it is the time of counting the Omer, remembering the strife and sadness of long ago, with some placing an extra focus on the death of Rabbi Akiva’s students, but at the same time, it is Yom Ha’sho’a – Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and Bravery, and Yom Hazikaron – Israel’s national Memorial Day for Soldiers and Terror Victims.
Growing up in Israel, these days are shot straight to the vein in large doses. There is no escape, from the loud siren and everyone – everyone – standing still, to ceremonies everywhere – from national locations to neighborhood memorials, to school assemblies; there are special songs on the radio, and neighbors talking in hushed voices. You don’t have to do anything to know what’s going on and be part of it.
And then you come to America, or wherever. And it’s not “kaf-zayin benissan” or “hey be’iyar” but April whatever. The radio plays the same giddy nonsense, the neighbors smile their usual, chat about the weather and wish you a wonderful day, and the flowers decide to burst out in joyful blooms. Unless you’re in the heart of a Jewish… some other organization, which bothered to bring fiery shlichim who shove yellow stars and sad, faded, black framed photos along with streamers of blue and white at you, it’s still April whatever and no one cares.
And your heart breaks.
For years, I was the one with the stars and photos and streamers. And this year, for variety of reasons, I felt tired; tired of being “the program”, the “token Israeli” who insists on having a “tekes”, who shows (off?) how we mourn our loved ones (head bowed down diagonally ever so quietly, teary eyes blinking behind dark sunglasses, lips shut tight). This year, I feel a resentment, both towards the “Yom Hazikaron industry” (of which I am a part!); And towards this being “the Israelis day”. By the end of the week, I’m exhausted (my blog – late…) and the heavy load of memory and celebration weighing down on my shoulders.
This year, I am wondering:
At the establishment of the State of Israel, there were talks, when to schedule the “new” national memorial days. Some said, we already have a national mourning day, known as “Tish’a Be’av”, the day we commemorate the destruction of not only the first but the second Temple as well, and many other calamities. But others, whose pain was fresh and oozing with no comfort, wanted their own day. In a rush, the day before Yom Ha’atzmaut was decided. We, the “young sabras”, had to build an ideology around it, talking about the juggle of sadness and joy.
But what if it was different??
Had Yom Hashoa and Yom Hazikaron been in mid-summer, on an already established 2000 years old fast day, most likely, I would have not known anything about it, and maybe, no one would: The secular Israeli would not see it as it’s off the school year, and the Ultra-Orthodox, who observes the day, might ignore that modern aspect of it. But maybe, just maybe….. the reverse is also possible: the seculars would have had to learn about Tish’a Be’av, and the Ultra-Orthodox – appreciate the State of Israel as “resheet tzmichat ge’ulatenu” – the beginning of our redemption, a welcomed part of our religious, national, historical amazing everlasting tale.
Perhaps the saddest aspect is that over the years, by establishing different mourning days, we separated our people, which now means, on Tisha Be’av some “crazies” fast and mourn for a faraway, to many – irrelevant – Temple of long ago, while others cry, alone, on Yom Hazikaron. We divided ourselves twice: first, according to religiosity and then, according to geography. The geography piece is that outside of Israel and its defense force, national memorial days mean very little in other countries. There are ceremonies, and I thank those who taught me so, but it is very different, as the “one-off” and nto the norm. By creating the first separation, we also took those days away from (almost) everyone who is not in the Land, or directly connected. And then we stood there, ever so sad, not knowing why no one cares. Again.
So how do we?
Rav Benny Lau teaches about this week’s Torah portion, Metzora, where we read about leprosy that in order to “diagnose” leprosy, there are two aspects: the wounded leper, and the diagnosing priest, one who is “seen” and was who “sees”. There are many conditions before determining one a “leper”, and thus “removed from the camp”. In a way, it is a dis-ease which relies on one person being honest and open about their hurt, and another, who can see through and understand what’s before him. True, in the Book of Leviticus, it is the job of the priest, but elsewhere (Exodus) were told that we are all a “kingdom of priests”. What do we see? How do we see our brethren? How do we create, in the words of Rav Avi Weiss, not uniformity but unity?
The separation is painful but it’s also an opportunity. May we find the way to remember and celebrate, together.

Shabbat Shalom.

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The Sound of Silence

My great grandmother, Flora Grünberger, loved ice-skating. In the winter months, when the Oder river would freeze over, she’d take her granddaughter, my mom, bundle up, and go out into the cold. They’d put on their special shoes, hold hands and have fun. When my Zionist grandfather, fearing new regime, opted to schlep her daughter and beloved granddaughter to Palestina, she wasn’t about to join. For one, there were not get enough “certifikatim” (immigration certificates); and besides, what nonsense! She was not about to leave her lifelong “homeland”, where her husband, my great-grandfather, was a decorated WWI sniper; nothing can possibly happen, let alone to her!!
Today, Yom HaSho’a 2018 I lit a candle in her memory. I thought of my grandma, trying to make a life in the sandy red soil of the Sharon, learning to care for chicks and oranges, live under the hot sun, griding her teeth over the strange, rocky language, all the while, the gnawing fear as no letters arrive, then horrifying news of what’s happening in Europe, what might be happening to anyone’s relatives.

And then.


Silence was also what accompanied the surviving relatives. My nuclear family all arrived in Israel in the 1930’s with the “5th Aliya”, so I made that assumption about everybody. I knew that my aunt (by marriage) left Berlin in 1935. Clearly, where would one go? I assumed she too, came to Israel then.
It was not until I was 32 years old and a mother to three children already that I learned the “rest of the story”. I was in Israel for my uncle’s shiv’a when my aunt was asked when she came to Israel. Me, knowing “everything”, jumped and said, 1935! My aunt looked at me puzzled: ‘no, that’s when we left Germany’. ‘Yes, so? 1936’? I thought, what’s so hard to calculate?
She thought for a long moment, then said, ‘1949’.
‘What??? Wait, but didn’t you leave Berlin in 1935’? I said, as if trying to change what’s about to be revealed.
‘We went to Holland’.
‘Holland?? In 1935?? That’s not good. What happened’??
‘Well…. yes, things were not so good… nu, maspik, enough with the boring stories. Tea anyone? I have an excellent cake’…

This week is usually accompanied by the loudest silence in the Torah.
In the Torah portion of Shmini, in the heart of the Torah, we read the horrific story of Aaron’s sons, on what should have been, a proud and joyful day (Leviticus 10:1-3):
וַיִּקְח֣וּ בְנֵֽי־אַ֠הֲרֹן נָדָ֨ב וַאֲבִיה֜וּא אִ֣ישׁ מַחְתָּת֗וֹ וַיִּתְּנ֤וּ בָהֵן֙ אֵ֔שׁ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ עָלֶ֖יהָ קְטֹ֑רֶת וַיַּקְרִ֜בוּ לִפְנֵ֤י יְהוָה֙ אֵ֣שׁ זָרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֧ר לֹ֦א צִוָּ֖ה אֹתָֽם׃
Now Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the LORD alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them.
וַתֵּ֥צֵא אֵ֛שׁ מִלִּפְנֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה וַתֹּ֣אכַל אוֹתָ֑ם וַיָּמֻ֖תוּ לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃
And fire came forth from the LORD and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the LORD.
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֜ה אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן הוּא֩ אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֨ר יְהוָ֤ה ׀ לֵאמֹר֙ בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵ֑ד וַיִּדֹּ֖ם אַהֲרֹֽן׃
Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD meant when He said: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And gain glory before all the people.” And Aaron was silent.

After extensive preparations. As the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was built and set for worship, Aaron and his sons, in their finest clothing, begin the dedication ceremony. But in the midst of this festive day, Aarons older sons die. And Aaron, following Moses’ explanation, is silent.
What is this silence? The Rashbam (1085-1158) thinks that Aaron held back, didn’t cry and didn’t mourn. Ramban (1194-1270) however thinks that Aaron was crying in a loud voice, and then, kept quiet, in order to show the people he accepts G-d’s actions, and has no doubts.
The Hasidic master, “Tif’eret Shlomo” taught: about Aaron is says “vayidom Aaron” – And Aaron was silent, which is a great measure, but King David says: למען יזמרך כבוד ולא ידום – That my being may sing praise for Your sake endlessly, and not be silent (Psalms 30:13). Whether in times of joy or sorrow, King David would play his harp and sing.
Someone is painfully missing from the Aaron story: Elisheva bat Aminadav, his wife. What happened to her after her private holocaust, losing her two elders to “holy fire”? And what happened to Aaron in his (or their) later years? Did the outward stoic presence finally seep in and fill him with true acceptance and comfort, or did he continue to be haunted by what happened, what would have happened if only, making sure his shell won’t crack? Could he sit with grandchildren one day, and share with them??
Silence is commendable and powerful. For some of us, is a great tool to express and process, but the world was created through words. That’s were creativity and healing was found. May we learn those too.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Lovingly passing over, hopping and skipping

The Hebrew word “aviv”, spring, sounds almost the same as “be’ahava”, with love, and is identical in its gymatria. Just a coincidence?
We might never know. It’s up to us to choose what we want to see. That too, is what Pesach is all about, and that too, is love.
Among the Five Megillot (scrolls) in the TaNaCh, Shir Hashirim – Song of Songs – is the one we read on this holiday. It was Rabbi Akiva who famously insisted: “the whole world is only worthy as the day the Song of Songs was given to the People of Israel; for while all the writings are holy, the Song of Songs is the holy of hollies” (Mishna Yadayim, 3:5).
Shir Hashirim is passionate, poetic, and full of colorful imagery (a belly like a “heap of wheat”?), but perhaps what is most striking are the intense details. There is no “he’s a good guy”; “she’s a nice person”. No generalizations, but a great attention to every little minutia. The beloved know each others’ every move, every wrinkle, the way he smiles, the way she listens. They can see each other clearly, even from miles apart. They hear each other without words. They share themselves wholeheartedly and are completely attuned.
Love makes it so everything matters. Small things are suddenly a big deal that can make or break a whole day. One kind gesture; one silly word. Everything is magnified; everything is critical; everything has significance.
This is what we do just before Pesach too. We’re looking for every little spec of chametz, every crumb. It all must be burned, for between lovers there is no room for even the littlest secret; nothing separates them. We’re so meticulous! It must be done just right
And then comes Pesach eve, and what do we celebrate? That G-d “passed-over” our homes, that we were taken to freedom and liberation, that we were given another chance.
Through what great merit did we deserve this? Have we done anything great? So we were slaves, big deal! What are we whining about? Other people were slaves, and— remained slaves, at best assimilated into their masters’ nation and disappeared. The fact that we know the “rest of the story” doesn’t mean we can take it for granted. Why are we here? Is there truly anything magnificent we can point to that we have done?
Our sages tell us that there are 50 gates of “tum’a” טומאה, “spiritual impurity” and distance, and that we made it to gate 49. But nevertheless, G-d “passed-over” us. He knew we had sunk deep; He knew we were no longer in our best, but He had another plan for us and He saw our “potential” and our ”light” and the “big picture”.
And that too, is love.
Rashi says that the word “u-fasachti” ופסחתי “and I will pass-over”, means “vechamalti” – וחמלתי “and I have shown compassion”.
Yet the same root – – פ.ס.ח. can also mean lame: someone who is limping is a “pise’ach” פיסח, and therefore, describing situations that incomplete.
So which way is it?
The prep has to be scrupulous. Such is winter: we count rain days, precipitation, temperatures, clothing, supplies. But when spring comes, that’s all gone. The windows are open; heater is off, and we are joyful to see just the smallest blossom. There is no way to “measure” that. We say thank you not because the tiny flower is physically greater than however many months of darkness and cold we had, but because it’s here; because it exists; because it teaches us hope. We “forgive” all the hardship. Our joy and appreciation “skip over” all the previous days.
The Song of Songs, among its incredible details, introduces a loving form of “passing over”, that of the lover’s voice rushing to his beloved, leaping and skipping over any obstacles:
קול דודי הנה זה בא, מדלג על ההרים, מקפץ על הגבעות
Behold! my beloved! behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, hopping upon the hills.. (2:8)
It seems like love is both about paying close attention to details, and about skipping over; about daily tedious hard work, and about dancing for joy and not seeing the little spills. The art and challenge is when to apply which. Perhaps figuring that out, is the heart of the journey and exodus from slavery to freedom.

Chag (Hug) Same’ach & Shabbat Shalom!

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Seder Pesach in Bnai Brak Hills

It’s almost a regular seder. There is matza and grape juice, a lovely tablecloth and a beautiful seder plate, traditional hagadot and yummy food waiting. As the sun peaks in through the barred windows, it’s time to sit down and tell stories of freedom and hope.

Most women in the room wear green; the kind that faded in endless laundries, though not enough to erase their first initial and last name from their heart pocket. Some manage to put on a little make up and redo their hair; some smile; some want a hug, others just nod correctly. Very few have family visiting.

When we’re not reading, blessing, singing and tasting the traditional foods of the seder, the conversation veers to one of the inmates who just received her probation: will the board allow her out? Will she be granted her freedom? The woman next to me leans over and says, ‘I’m due to go in front of the board in seven years, but you know what, I don’t think I will. There is nothing for me out there”.

There are moments that the whole world disappears, and all that’s left is this room, these women and this celebration. And yet. Pesach seder at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility is a whole different story. How do we discuss freedom behind bars? What is the meaning of “zman cherutenu” here? Is there anything, or are we just mimicking old customs?

The Hagada opens with a strange story about a group of rabbis who gather in Bnai Brak “all that night” to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt until their students come to tell them it’s time for the morning prayer. The story is full of peculiar information. We tend to think it was the night of their seder since, after all, they were telling about “Yetzi’at Mitzrayim”; but if so, why meet at the hometown of the youngest one of them, and not honor the elder? In fact, why even specify the location? Where are their wives, children and families? And why are the students outside? Can’t the rabbis themselves see the morning light? Not to mention that if I was one of their students and had a chance to attend a seder with Rabbi Akiva, for example, surely, I would want to be inside and hear these five amazing rabbis’ insights and commentaries. Unless… maybe it was not a seder after all.

It’s possible that the story addresses the previous comment:

וכל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים ,הרי זה משובח” “and the more one exceeds in telling about the exodus from Egypt, the better”.

Really? We’re so used to this statement that we might have forgotten to ask what it means. One could argue that there is only so much to say about the same old story of the Children of Israel leaving Egypt. What’s to add? We read it every year when the relevant Torah portions come up, and then again, on Passover. What’s going on? The hint might be in the words אותו הלילה –– that night. Their talk is not only about the once upon a time but about their own night, the darkness of their own lives under the Roman rule, and their own exodus plans. This explains why they meet at Rabbi Akiva’s place, who will be the spiritual leader and staunch supporter of the Bar Kochva Revolt.

And if that’s not enough, the students invite the rabbis for “ קריאת שמע של שחרית ” – the shma prayer of dawn. In the Jerusalem Talmud, – עמוד השחר “the pillar of dawn”, refers to redemption. It’s clear that while the sages discuss and plan, sitting “inside”, ultimately, it is the next generation who is “outside” which is watching to see the ge’ula (redemption) with its very first rays of light, to announce it to the world. A careful read reveals that what they are really telling us is that the way one “exceeds in telling about the Exodus” is by talking not only about the past, but about the present as well. They set an example that this story is current to each one of us in our here and now.

Then comes Rabbi Elazar Ben Azaria and talks to us about המשיחיות – the future Messianic days, and we’re told that we are going to tell the story of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim even then too. What is the question here? In Sanhedrin 99, we learn that the only difference between this world and the Messianic era is שעבוד מלכויות – that we will not be subjugated to other nations, i.e. political freedom. The Hagada reminds us that even then the story of the Exodus will be recited and repeated. At the end of the Hagada’s Magid section we talk about – שיר חדש a new song, namely a song we have not yet sung at all!

What is that new song? For each of us it can and should be different. And for some, it might even be the challenge of finding freedom in prison.

This year, let’s not just tell the story of 3000++ years ago; let’s tell the story of us, of our own grandparents and parents, and let’s explore and open the door to the story of tomorrow, that story that is one day still to come.

Shabbat Shalom & Pesach Same’ach!


More Pesach enrichment divrei Torah:



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Melting our hesitations by the fire

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Tzav, holds the middle point of the verses in the Torah, in the heart of the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus, Vayikra, is the only book whose name begins with a vav – a letter which literally means “hook” and stands for “and”, expressing connectivity. The parasha’s name, Tzav means – command. Add one letter and you get tzevet – team. Add another letter and you get tzavta – togetherness. Perhaps, there is something about creating togetherness that needs a certain amount of order and guidance.

The parasha open when Hashem tells Moshe to instruct Aaron and his sons regarding the Korban Ola (Ola sacrifice). The instructions describe how to offer the Mincha (Meal), Chatat (Sin), Asham (Guilt) and Shlamim (Peace) Offering; who brings it and who eats it. The parasha continues with a detailed description of how Moshe takes Aaron and his sons, gathers the whole community of Bnai Israel at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, washes Aaron with water, dresses him with the High Priest’s garments (including the choshen, urim & tumim and more) and anoints him with the special oil. The whole Mishkan is anointed as well as all its vessels. Then Aaron the Kohen brings the Sin offering, the Ola and the Milu’im for the very first time. There will now be seven days when Aaron and the priests are to begin their service and not leave the Tent. The 8th day will be the day the Mishkan will be dedicated.
We are so used to Aaron being the High Priest that we might miss the fact that it is Moshe who, very quietly, transferred the priesthood to Aaron! This process is accompanied by a very unusual musical marking or “trope” known as shalshelet.
The “tropes” are a system of special cantillation signs or marks for chanting the TaNaKh (Hebrew Bible). They help accent certain words, divide a verse and in general, add meaning to the reading.
While some tropes appear in every verse and other quite regularly in any given paragraph, the “shalshelet”, which is very (very!) undulating, appears only four times in the whole Torah! What is the meaning of the shalshelet? In order to understand it better, we’ll check where it appears:
1. When the messengers instruct Lot to escape from Sodom, the shalshelet appears above the word “and he lingered”– vayitmahameha:
וַיִּתְמַהְמָהּ–וַיַּחֲזִיקוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָדוֹ וּבְיַד-אִשְׁתּוֹ וּבְיַד שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו, בְּחֶמְלַת ה’ עָלָיו; וַיֹּצִאֻהוּ וַיַּנִּחֻהוּ, מִחוּץ לָעִיר.
And he (Lot) lingered; and the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the Lord being merciful to him. And they brought him forth, and set him outside the city (Genesis 19:16)
2. When Abraham’s servant travels to search for a wife for his master’s son, Isaac, the shalshelet is on top of the word “and he said” – vayomer:
וַיֹּאמַר—ה’ אֱלֹהֵי אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם, הַקְרֵה-נָא לְפָנַי הַיּוֹם; וַעֲשֵׂה-חֶסֶד, עִם אֲדֹנִי אַבְרָהָם.
And he said: ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, send me, I pray, good speed this day, and show kindness unto my master Abraham (Genesis 24:12).
3. Joseph is being challenged as he is tempted by Potifar’s wife. Here, the shalshelet appears over the word – va’yema’en – and he refused:
וַיְמָאֵן–וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-אֵשֶׁת אֲדֹנָיו, הֵן אֲדֹנִי לֹא-יָדַע אִתִּי מַה-בַּבָּיִת; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יֶשׁ-לוֹ, נָתַן בְּיָדִי.
And he refused, and said unto his master’s wife: ‘Behold, my master, knows not what is in the house with me, and he has put all that he has into my hand (Genesis 39:8).
And this is how it appear in this week’s reading:
4. We find the shalshelet under the word vayishchat – and he slaughtered:
וַיִּשְׁחָט–וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה מִדָּמוֹ, וַיִּתֵּן עַל-תְּנוּךְ אֹזֶן-אַהֲרֹן הַיְמָנִית; וְעַל-בֹּהֶן יָדוֹ הַיְמָנִית, וְעַל-בֹּהֶן רַגְלוֹ הַיְמָנִית.
And he slaughtered. And Moses took of the blood thereof, and put it upon the tip of Aaron’s right ear, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot (Leviticus 8:23).
We should note that there are other tropes which are rarer than the shalshelet and yet, the shalshelet has caught our interest. There is an idea that all these “shalshelet” cases, always on the first word of the verse, communicate a hesitation, some desire to delay, tarry, postpone the act ahead. Lot does not really want to leave Sodom; Abraham’s servant is possibly uncertain about his mission; and Joseph is pulled by his desires which he barely overcomes. But what about Moses? Is it possible that Moses here has a “hick-up”? a moment of regret, realizing it is Aaron and his offspring who will receive the honor of priesthood? A little pained grimace across his face??

In the beginning of the parasha, we find the following (Leviticus 6:2):

ב צַו אֶת-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶת-בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר, זֹאת תּוֹרַת הָעֹלָה: הִוא הָעֹלָה עַל מוֹקְדָה עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ כָּל-הַלַּיְלָה, עַד-הַבֹּקֶר, וְאֵשׁ הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, תּוּקַד בּוֹ. 2 Command Aaron and his sons, saying: This is the law of the burnt-offering: it is that which goes up on its firewood upon the altar all night unto the morning; and the fire of the altar shall be kept burning within.
The verse’s ending is unclear as to where will the fire keep burning? Within “bo” – does it mean within the altar? Or perhaps, within Aaron, the priest attending the fire? It’s possible to understand that the fire should be within the one serving, within us. This continues in 6:6: אֵשׁ, תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ–לֹא תִכְבֶּה.  Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.
Rav Kook says: “the fiery, stormy Divine thirst, which burns in mighty flames in the heart, it is forbidden to quench. Anyone who extinguishes an ember off the physical altar, transgresses “shall not go out” [of this verse – as it says in Tractate Zavachim 91:b]. Even more so, if someone extinguishes the high spiritual ember off the spiritual altar…”
The shalshelet allows us our hesitation. We have conflicting wishes, desires, plans, dreams, hopes, disappointments, and the Torah recognizes all that. And yet, at the same time, it encourages us forward, to overcome reluctances and second-guessing ourselves, to feel the warmth of the fire, grow and enjoy its light.

Shabbat Shalom.

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You got a call… ויקרא

It’s Sunday morning and I’m invited to a breakfast where dear friends are the honorees of the FHBA. In my rush to get out (especially with the time change), I didn’t read the fine print to learn more about “HFBA”. Once there, I’m touched beyond words.
HFBA stands for Hebrew Free Burial Association. It’s an organization of saints, that’s the only way to describe its team, which devotes its resources to performing chesed shel emet (truthful act of lovingkindness), being the only agency in the greater New York metropolitan area dedicated to assuring that every Jew, regardless of financial means or religious affiliation, receives a dignified, traditional Jewish funeral and burial.
Since its inception in the 1880’s, the Hebrew Free Burial Association has buried over 65,000 indigent Jews. They have ranged in age from newborn to the elderly, and they may meet their ends in a hospital, nursing home, lonely apartment or even on the street. In the intersection of life’s harshness and deep compassion, the specific stories leave you with tears in your eyes.
Last week was the yahrzeit of Sara Shneirer. As someone who grew up outside the Ultra-Orthodox world, her name was largely unknown to me, but once I learned about her life and work, I couldn’t figure out how come “no one knows”.
The short is – she was the founder and director of the Bais Yaakov movement, an elementary, secondary and college – Orthodox education system for girls, which, by now, spread throughout the world and touches tens of thousands. Born in Poland in 1883 into influential rabbinic family, she had a strong desire to learn, and was envious of her brothers’ opportunity to learn and interpret Torah. The story should have ended right here, or when she asked her brother who told her this would not catch on, or when her friends made fun of her, but it didn’t.
As she describes in her writings, all she wanted was to teach and engage the girls. In 1918 she opened the first classes. Within 5 years, Schenirer’s lessons grew into 7 schools with 1,040 students. By 1933, there were 265 schools in Poland alone, with almost 38,000 students, and the endorsement of highly esteemed rabbis.
You’d think she was beautiful, had great fiends and an amazing support system, and you’ll learn that she was not; her friends teased her; her first marriage ended in a divorce; she was childless; her second ended with her early death from cancer at age 51. How did she have the strength to push through? To me, it’s impossible not to marvel, admire and be inspired by the monumental task – and achievement – Sara Shneirer took on. May her memory be for a blessing.
This is an extra special Shabbat when (3) Torah scrolls will be taken out of the ark and read from (for those who have three! :): One to read the regular Torah portion, Vayikra, the first one in the Book of Leviticus; the second, to read the section for Rosh Hodesh (Numbers 28:9-15) in honor of the beginning of the month of Nisan – one of our New Year’s and the day the mishkan (tabernacle) was erected, which calls for special celebrations; and the third, for Shabbat Hachodesh, describing the first mitzvah the Jewish people, creating a calendar (Exodus 12:1-20).
The first Torah portion in the Torah’s 3rd book, Leviticus, is Vayikra, “and He called”. G-d calls Moses before speaking to him; G-d calls Moses in order to speak to him. Their speech is not coincidental and that direct attention through the “call” implies a close, personal, loving relationship: G-d means for Moses to pick up the phone. There was a call for the talking (vayedaber) and then time for silence between the words, both needed for communication to work. Earlier (Exodus 33:11) it says that G-d and Moses spoke פנים אל פנים, כאשר ידבר איש אל רעהו – “face to face, as one speaks to his companion”. That clear voice, that “call”, giving us our “assignment”, is what we long for in our life too.

Shabbat Shalom.

קול קרא והלכתי,
הלכתי כי קרא הקול.
הלכתי לבל אפול.
אך על פרשת דרכים
סתמתי אזני בלובן הקר
כי אבדתי דבר.

שדות ים קיסריה 12.1942

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