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Parsha Essay Apr 29: Time For Maturity

March 28, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under Featured Essays

Torah Portion: Tzav  – Leviticus 6:1-8:36

There are many reasons given for the designation of this Shabbat, the one that precedes Passover, as Shabbat Hagadol-the Great Sabbath. The primary reason given is that on the Sabbath immediately preceding the Exodus from Egypt the Egyptians were informed of the impending “tenth plague” in which all the Egyptian first born would die. Upon hearing this, many of the first-born demanded of the Egyptian leadership to let the Jews go. When they refused, a civil war ensued. Hence from that time onward, we mark this Shabbat as Shabbat Hagadol-the Great Shabbat because of the great miracle that occurred then.

One is entitled to ask, why is this miracle considered so great? It did not involve any supernatural occurrences, nor did it seem to have helped the Jews in any meaningful way.  More specifically, we must understand why the term gadol-great is used in connection with this  Shabbat? It could have been called, “Shabbat  haness-the Sabbath of the miracle,” or some other similar expression.

The Hebrew term gadol implies maturity and independence, as the Talmud states: “An adult child who is supported by his father is considered a minor, whereas, a minor who is independent is regarded as a gadol.” Hence the word ‘gadol’ is not intended to convey the idea that it was a great and spectacular miracle, but rather that it was a miracle that demonstrated a level of maturity. The fact that the Egyptian elite fought against their own leaders on behalf of the Jewish people was a sign of their independence and maturity.

This Sabbath is thus intended, among other things, to cultivate spiritual maturity in each and every one of us. This maturity can be applied to every aspect of life in general and to every aspect of Judaism in particular.  For example: One can look at a Mitzvah simply as a good deed, or a beautiful Jewish tradition.  Another more “mature” and sophisticated view of a mitzvah is to see it as our way of “connecting” with G-d. Moreover, a Mitzvah affects more than just the people involved in its performance; it has cosmic effects, for it is the medium that shapes and molds the entire universe to conform to the very purpose G-d had for its creation.

Similarly, one can view the Torah simply as a beautiful piece of literature that teaches us right from wrong. This is true and valid. Yet a more advanced  and mature approach to the Torah is to view it as Divine wisdom that transcends all aspects of creation.

With respect to freedom, which we celebrate on Passover, there can also be two perspectives. The “immature” view of freedom is to see it as an end. The more mature view is to view it as an opportunity to rise to a higher spiritual level. In its simple formulation, freedom is the removal of external constraints; while a more mature and advanced understanding of freedom sees it as removal of the internal forces that inhibit us as well.

In short, the less sophisticated level sees things in their most narrow sense, the view of the gadol, the mature view that is represented by this Sabbath, sees everything in its broader and deeper context.

One could raise the question, why is Shabbat hagadol-that gives us the ability to see things through the mature eyes of a gadol-situated right before Pesach? Why don’t we have a “Shabbat of Maturity” before Rosh Hashanah, or at some other time of the year?  Moreover, the Holiday of Passover seems to focus on the katan, the child: Children ask the “Four Questions;” we read about the “Four Sons,” and indeed, many of the customs of the Seder revolve around children. Passover is also seen by the Prophet as the birth and infancy of the Jewish people. How then is it that precisely before this child-oriented holiday, we have a Sabbath that highlights the level and role of the gadol-the fully mature individual?

The answer is that while a person must go from the level of a newborn to the level of maturity, one step at a time, one must know, from the very outset, that there is a higher and more advanced level. Even one who is just beginning his/her development must be made aware of the goal and objective of one’s life. The little girl or boy will play house, acting out the adult roles of mother and father. A healthy child fantasizes about adulthood. This Shabbat then can be viewed as our collective adult role playing.

Conversely, the fact that we follow the “Shabbat of Maturity” with an emphasis on the child, conveys yet another profound message: no matter how sophisticated we are, we must always seek to find and reveal the child within all of us, because it is that childhood innocence and purity that is truly liberating and G-dly. Hence the Passover season is a synthesis of maturity and childhood. We attempt to see things from a mature vantage point, even while we capture the untainted innocence of the child within.

The foregoing analysis explains why the future Messianic Age is characterized both as a time when we will experience total child-like innocence and purity, while simultaneously attaining complete maturity.

Got (Shmura) Matzah?

March 19, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under General Info

Passover (Shmurah= Hand baked) Matzah.

If you will be needing Shmura (hand baked Israeli) Matza or just plain old quility matza for the passover holiday, please contact us at info@brooklynyid.com or 347.787.0864 for prices and details.

1-on-1 Study Sessions

March 19, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under General Info

ichavrusa-008Bet Midrash One-on-One Learning for Men & Women

Have you been paired yet?

You choose the topic.
We make the connection.

Partner up with a Chavrusa/learning partner and prepare to dive into the sea of Torah learning. Knowledgeable and personable young men and women will be on hand to study one-on-one with participants.

The program will allow you to create your own course of study. Whether it’s the Talmud you crave, Chassidic thought, Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, history, contemporary issues, Hebrew and Yiddish language or any of the hot button topics of the day, it’s your choice!

Thursday evenings, 8:00-9:00pm Oct – June 2008/9

Please contact our project coordinator, Zalman, at IChavrusa@gmail.com or 347.406.1155 to discuss your options and begin your journey today.

The Bet Midrash sessions are held at Cong. Kol Israel of Prospect Heights synagogue, located at 603 St Johns Pl bet Classon/Franklin Ave. (Subway: 3/4 to Franklin Ave)

Light refreshments served. Open to the public. No registration fee. Sponsors welcome

Weekly Essay March 15-21: Moses Vs. Madoff

March 16, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under Featured Essays

By YY Jacobson
A woman called a local hospital. “Hello,” she said. “I’d like to talk with the person who gives the information regarding your patients. I’d like to find out if the patient is getting better, doing as expected or getting worse.”
The voice on the other end of the line said, “What is the patient’s name and room number?”
“Sarah Cohen in Room 302,” the woman answered.
“I will connect you with the nursing station.”
“3-A Nursing Station. How can I help you?”
“I would like to know the condition of Sarah Cohen in Room 302.”
“Just a moment, let me look at her records. Oh, yes. Mrs. Cohen is doing very well. In fact, she’s had two full meals, her blood pressure is fine, her blood work just came back as normal, she’s going to be taken off the heart monitor in a couple of hours and, if she continues this improvement, Dr. Weiss is going to send her home Tuesday at noon.”
“Thank G-d!” the woman said. “That’s wonderful! Oh! That’s fantastic, that’s wonderful news!”
The nurse said, “From your enthusiasm, I take it you must be a family member or a very close friend!”
“Not exactly,” the woman said. “I’m actually the patient herself; I’m Sarah Cohen in 302! Nobody here tells me anything.”
The Long Journey
The drama was almost complete. The people exiled in a foreign country for more than two centuries, and for much of that time in unbearable conditions, experienced a miraculous liberation through direct and manifested intervention by the Creator. At Mt. Sinai, G-d and Israel enter into a mutual covenant to become partners in tikkun olam: repairing a world estranged from its essence. Never again in history, would G-d completely part the veils that conceal Him, communicating His presence to an entire nation.
Forty days later, in a moment of collective insanity, the people deny G-d. They substitute the moral sovereign of the universe with a golden calf. G-d now views His attempt to mold a people into a “kingdom of princes and a sacred nation” as a colossal failure. He sees no value anymore in the Jewish experience. Moses stands up to G-d, eliciting from Him a deeper chord in His relationship with Israel. G-d re-embraces the people and instructs them to build a home in their midst for His elusive presence. In this sanctuary, the all-pervading truth of G-d would be more manifest and accessible. The Jewish people en mass present to Moses large amounts of gold, silver, copper and many other materials required for the construction of an exquisite tabernacle. Moses appoints brilliant architects, sculptures and designers to build the home, design the vessels, carve out the furniture and craft the items that would make up the new Divine home.
At the opening of the Torah portion of Pekudei (1), the work is complete. Soon, the sanctuary would be erected and the Divine presence would reside therein. This is a charged moment, a dramatic peak in a long and turbulent journey of a people. After all of the ups and downs, G-d is about to “move in” with the Jewish people.
The hero of the story is, no doubt, Moses. With courageous selflessness, he triumphed, over G-d, as it were. He is the man responsible for bringing the people — and G-d — to this extraordinary moment, when humanity would reintroduce G-d to a world that banished Him.
Time for Bookkeeping
But wait. Right at this moment, the Torah interrupts the narrative, shifting the story from creating a space for G-d in this world, to the realm of bookkeeping. Moses, at this point, presents a detailed account of all the wealth contributed to him for the construction of the tabernacle. He reports to the people how many pounds of gold, silver and copper he received, and how exactly it was used in the structure. He gives an account for every last piece of jewelry and metal that came into his hands.
Why? The Midrash (2) relates that some Jews murmured about Moses’ stealing some of the money, using charity funds for his own purposes. Thus, Moses gave a detailed account of the destination of every “dollar” collected in the grandiose “building campaign.”
This is a simple but very telling scene. Moses, let us recall, is the spiritual giant of history, whom Maimonides defined as the greatest human being to ever walk the earth (3). “G-d would speak to Moses face to face, as a man would speak with his friend,” the Bible says (4). “Not so my servant Moses,” G-d thunders on Aaron and Miriam after they had gossiped about Moses. “In My entire house he is the trusted one. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles; he gazes at the image of G-d. Why do you not fear to speak against My servant, Moses (5)?”
Does a man who speaks to G-d face to face really need to prove that he is not using money for a cruise in the Caribbean, for a new BMW or to build his portfolio? The Jews, observing Moses’ unparalleled devotion and love to them in the most trying of circumstances, knew full well that Moses was no charlatan. If G-d trusts him, they could trust him too. Even if some Jewish rabble-rousers murmured about Moses’ stealing some of the money, we would expect Moses to ignore them.
“Who do they think they are to question my integrity,” we would expect Moses to think to himself. “I gave my life for these rebels, when G-d wanted to destroy them. After all, it was G-d Himself who appointed me to my present position, against my will (7). How dare they challenge my honesty?”
These feelings would be understandable. Yet, astonishingly, without even being asked or instructed to do so, Moses, in total humility, stands up and gives an accounting for every last penny that came into his hands.
One of the great Halachik authorities, Rabbi Joel Sirkish, known as the “Bach,” derives from this episode a law (7). Even the most beloved and believable collectors of charity are obliged to give a detailed account to the community of the destination of every cent they collected for charity. Nobody, writes the Bach, could be trusted more than Moses, the man whom G-d Himself trusted. Yet even he felt compelled to give an accounting of all the contributions.
This is one of the great moral messages of Judaism: When it comes to somebody else’s money, be accountable for every dollar. Don’t cover up, don’t lie, don’t deceive. You can’t lie to people and than be honest with G-d, with your wife, with your children, with your friends. Either you are an honest human being or you are a scoundrel.
If only Bernie Madoff would have internalized this story…
Respecting another Person
There is yet something deeper. Moses truly believes in the dignity of the people and in their right to know what has transpired with their contributions. Moses does not allow his spiritual greatness and extraordinary authority to implant in his psyche a sense of superiority over the masses, in which it is beyond his ego to give them a detailed account of his spending. On the contrary, he views his G-d given power as a means to confer dignity and greatness upon all of the people.
Moses set an example for all the generations to come. The great Jewish leaders always understood that what qualified them as leaders, teachers and what bestowed upon them the rights to power was not their charisma, brilliance, skills, or even the fact that the Almighty Himself appointed them to their position. It was, rather, the fact that deep down in their hearts, they really viewed their “subjects” as equals. They possessed a sincere belief that dignity was the property of all.
Insecure leaders must resort to fear and tyranny in order to ensure loyalty and secure their position. They must speak in the name of authority rather than in the name of integrity. They must remain aloof and superior and never allow the simple folk too much access to the truth. Vulnerability is too dangerous. At best, they create followers. Genuine leaders, on the other hand, gain the trust, appreciation, and affection of their people, because of their trust in the people and their unyielding faith in the majesty of every individual human being molded in the image of the Divine. They create leaders.
This is true about all of our relationships in life. If you wish to inspire genuine loyalty, in a marriage, in the work place, in friendships, you must learn to genuinely accept the other person as an equal, conferring upon him or her the dignity you hold dear for yourself (8).
1) Exodus 38:21.
2) Shmos Rabah 51:6.
3) Rambam, commentary on Mishnah, introduction to Sanhedrin chapter 11.
4) Exodus 33:11.
5) Numbers 12 7:8.
6) Exodus chapter 3.
7) Yoreh Daah section 257. Cf. an interesting story related by his son-in-law, RabbiDavid Segal, known as the “Taz,” in his “derashos” for Parshas Pekudei.
8) This essay is based on a talk delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbas Pekudei 5744, March 3, 1984.

Unity Lecture Sunday, March 29 2:30pm

March 16, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under Upcoming Events

jonathansackspJoin us for the 2nd part of our four part series celebrating the year of Hakhel.

Address by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth on the theme of  Unity and Redemption. Let’s Celebrate Freedom Together

Sunday, March 29, 4 Nissan 3:00 PM

Hosted by Rabbi & Mrs. Kirschenbaum at their home. 765 St johns Pl. #2A Brooklyn, NY 11216 Subway: 2,3,4,5, to Nostrand or Franklin Ave.

Pre-Passover Gourmet Cooking Demo & Dinner Tue, March 31

March 16, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under Upcoming Events

levanaThe Brooklyn Jewish Woman’s Circle is proud to announce “The Seder Meal From Beginning To End” Our annual Pre-Passover gourmet cooking demonstration and dinner led by acclaimed Chef & Author Levana Kirschenbaum (Levana’s Table, Levana Cooks Dairy Free & In Short Order – Click here to visit her site)

If you feel like your hands are tied when it comes to making the Seder meal, or just looking for a fabulous feast and fantastic tips, Let Levana expertly guide you. Best of all, enjoy a feast of a dinner post presentation!

Roast salmon with pomegranate sauce; Beef roast with fingerling potatoes, wild mushrooms and artichoke bottoms; vegetable chicken soup; mixed greens with walnut dressing; individual chocolate beet coconut cakes with chocolate glaze.

Tuesday, March 31
7:30 – 9:30 pm
$35 per person
Location: Hosted by Alisa Boymelgreen
535 Dean St. #304
Brooklyn, NY 11217
R.S.V.P. by Sunday, March 29 as space is limited.

Sponsors Welcome.

Click here to read the Brooklyn Paper article on last year’s event

Click here to view pictures of the cooking course

Weekly Parsha Essay: Moses the Lawyer

March 12, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under Exodus, Featured Essays, Ki Tisa

Sunday, March 8, Totrah Portion: Ki Tisa

Moses, the faithful leader of the Jewish people, was devastated when he was told by G-d that his people had worshipped the Golden Calf. When G-d told him that He wanted to destroy them because they had worshipped another g-d, Moses began to plead on their behalf.

In addition to prayer, the Midrash relates, Moses actually acted as a good defense lawyer and argued with G-d about the guilt of the Jewish people on a “technicality.” The crime that they were charged with was idolatry. The prohibition against idolatry was, of course, taken from the first two of the Ten Commandments, where G-d declared, “I am the L-rd your G-d, Who has taken you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,” followed by: “You shall have no other g-ds in My presence” Moses’ “legalistic” argument, our Sages tell us, was that these commandments were phrased in the singular form: For example, if G-d was making it clear that He was addressing all of the Jewish people, He should have stated, “Lo yihyeh lachem,” You (plural) shall not have any other gods. The Hebrew word lecha, means “you” in the singular form. Thus, Moses argued that in fact the commandments were only clearly addressed to Moses. How can G-d then hold the entire Jewish nation responsible for something they had not been commanded to follow?

At first glance this Midrash is difficult to understand. Did Moses really think that the Ten Commandments were not given to the entire nation? Wasn’t it obvious that G-d wanted all of Israel to hear these commandments? So even if the language wasn’t so clear that He was addressing every individual, wasn’t that the context of these commandments? Thus, Moses entire defense seemed to based on a seemingly dishonest premise.

In truth, the fact that G-d gave the Torah through Moses begs a question, the answer to which will shed light on Moses’ “defense” strategy. Couldn’t G-d have revealed these teachings directly to all of Israel? Why did He need an intermediary?

One answer to this question is that were G-d to have miraculously implanted the Torah in our minds, regardless of our mental and spiritual capacities, the Torah would never have become our Torah. To bring the Torah down to our level, there had to be a hierarchy of sorts. Moses, the greatest intellect and spiritual giant of all time, was able to receive the Torah on his level, which, in turn, he transmitted to the next level so that they could comprehend it and absorb it and then pass it on to the next level or generation.

This process guaranteed that: (a) Every Jew who studies Torah from a worthy teacher will have the benefit of having been linked to an earlier and higher generation (in terms of its proximity to the initial revelation at Sinai). (b) Every Jew will receive the Torah on his or her level and not be overwhelmed by it, as he or she would have been had it been revealed to us spontaneously, indiscriminately and miraculously. (c) Every Jew knows that it is his obligation to pass the Torah on to others, on their level, so that they are completely receptive to it.

We can now appreciate why G-d did, in fact, transmit the Torah to Moses specifically, though He meant to give it to everyone. G-d wanted the Torah to reach and resonate within every Jew, by making the Torah relevant to each and every Jew individually. This He accomplished by transmitting it through the conduit that was Moses.

Thus, when Moses wished to defend the Jewish people’s worshipping of the Golden Calf, Moses’ argument was that the Torah was given to him specifically. By this he meant that the Torah did not yet filter down from him to the level of the people. Immediately after G-d spoke the Ten Commandments, Moses went up onto the mountain for forty days and forty nights. Moses did not have the time to bring the message down to their level. And while they also heard the commandment not to worship idols, they had not yet fully absorbed the true meaning of that Mitzvah and they could not yet be held responsible for violating it.
The process of bringing the Torah to the level of each and every Jew is one that started at Sinai, but has not ended yet. The “graduation,” i.e., the point at which we will have fully internalized all of the Torah, will occur with the coming of Moshiach. While there will never be another revelation at Sinai, the full import of Sinai will become evident to every Jew in the future Messianic Age.

To prepare for this time, it is our obligation to serve as the next link in the chain of Torah; to brings its message to yet another generation of Jews, so that the Torah will not remain foreign to anyone.

Weekly Essay. Oil and Wine – An inside-out festival

March 6, 2009 by RabbiAri  
Filed under Featured Essays


Purim: Oil and Wine – An inside-out festival

  • Oil permeates the entire substance of a thing

Shulchan Aruch, (code of Jewish law) Yoreh De’ah 105:5

  • When wine enters, secret emerges

Talmud, Eruvin 65a

Oil is in. Oil shuns superficiality–you won’t find it riding a fad or angling for a photo opportunity. When oil comes in contact with something, it saturates it to the core, permeating it in its entirety.

When set aglow, oil is the master of understatement. Soundlessly it burns–not for the oil lamp the vulgar cackling of firewood or even the faint sizzle of candlewax. Its light does not burst through the door and bulldoze the darkness away; instead, it gently coaxes the gloom to shimmer with a spiritual luminescence.

Wine is a tabloid reporter. Wine barges past the security guard of mind to loosen the lips, spill the guts and turn the heart inside out. Wine smears the most intimate secrets across the front pages of life.

Chanukah is oil, Purim is wine.

Chanukah is the triumph of the Jewish soul. The Greeks had no designs on the Jew’s body; it was the soul of Israel they coveted, seeking to indoctrinate her mind with their philosophy and tint her spirit with their culture. The Jew fought not for the freedom of his material self but to liberate his spiritual identity from Hellenist domination.

Haman and company did not bother with such subtleties. They had one simple goal: the physical destruction of every Jew on the face of the earth. Purim remembers the salvation of the Jew’s bodily existence.

Chanukah is commemorated with oil. Chanukah celebrates the innerness of the Jewish soul, the essence which permeates and sanctifies every nook and cranny of the Jew’s life. Chanukah celebrates the secret glow of the spirit, which, rather than confronting the darkness, infiltrates it and transforms it from within.

On Purim we pour out the wine. Purim is a noisy party, a showy parade, a costumed extravaganza. Purim celebrates the fact that the Jew is more than a soul–he is a body as well. Purim celebrates the fact that our Jewishness is not only an internal spirituality but also a palpable reality; that it not only permeates our beings from within, but also spills out into the externalities of our material lives.