Thursday, April 2, 2020

Tell Me All That You Know; I'll Show You (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Bird Song")


          Like so many living through “Sheltering in Place”, our family watches the news. We watch both Canadian news broadcasts and American news broadcasts. When we listen to the American news there are two people, in particular, to whom my family and I stop what we doing and pay close attention: Governor Cuomo of New York and Dr. Fauci. Why? They seem to be the only two experts that speak honestly, that give a clear picture and doesn’t mince words. It’s not that we only listen to Governor Cuomo and Dr. Fauci, we only pay attention to experts. It seems kind of obvious, and it is the advice that we give our children. When unsure of something, get information from someone who knows. Who is someone that knows? Normally we assume that an expert knows or at least knows whatever their expertise is in. If a person has an accounting questioning or needs an accountant, one doesn’t ask a doctor. If one has a medical question or needs a doctor, that person doesn’t see a lawyer. When a person has a halachic question or needs to speak to a Rabbi, well the person should probably not seek an answer from a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant or a businessman. We have been taught to seek out experts. Here in Canada, that attitude has remained essentially true. As a result, there hasn’t been a level of mistrust in institutions that have permeated in America. For the past several years, experts have bee denigrated, dismissed, and ignored by certain elected officials claiming to represent the alienated and the ignored. Certainly, as long as there is no need for an expert is not required to handle a problem, then we don’t need an expert. However, if there is an issue or a problem that requires an expert to analyze the data, develop a test, track data, or discover a vaccine, well, experts in society are actually pretty important.
          This week’s Parsha is Tzav. It is also Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Chag HaPesach, the Passover Festival. Like last week’s Parsha, Parsha Tzav focuses upon KoRBonot (offerings). While last week, we read of God’s commanding Moshe to teach the laws of KoRBonot (offerings) to B’nei Yisroel; this week we read of God commanding Moshe to teach the laws of KoRBonot (offerings) to Aaron and his sons. The Parsha concludes with instructions for Aaron and his sons to remain outside the camp for seven days. These are the seven days required for spiritual and to some degree physical preparation and process required to become an expert. The Priests must remain outside of the camp because they are in the process of purifying themselves for this extremely sacred and vital position, Kohen Gadol.

          Besides Moshe, the Kohen Gadol was the most vital role in Israelite society. It was the Kohen Gadol that served as a vehicle for the common person to draw closer to God. When the common person or the king needed to atone, they would bring an offering to God. However, it was the Priest that had to check for blemishes, It was the priest that had to slaughter the animal in a very precise way. It was the priest that had to sprinkle the correct amount of blood in the correct manner. Later on, it was the priest who became the “spiritual advisor” to the king. Unlike any other position, the Priesthood was based upon two requirements: genealogical lineage and training. The position was promised by God to Aaron and his descendants for eternity (or as long as there was a Temple). The focus of the Parsha is entirely upon Aaron and his sons. Tzav et Aharon V’ Et Banav Leimor Zot Torah Ha’Olah Hee - Command Aaron and his sons saying: This is the law of the elevation offering (6:1-2); Zot Torat HaMacheneh Harkreiv Otah Bnei Aharon Lifnei Hashe el Pnei HaMizbeach - this is the law of the meal offering: the sons of Aaron shall bring it before Hashem to the font of the Altar. Lev. 6:7. Zeh Korbon Aharon U’Vanav Asher Yakrivu La’Adoshem God spoke to Moses saying: This is the offering of Aaron and his sons, which each shall offer to Hashem on the day he is inaugurated 6:12-13. Nearly every offering focuses upon the role that the Kohen: checking to make sure that the offering is blemish-free, that the slaughtering is cleanly, that it is done in the correct manner and at the appropriate time. The entire institution of the Korbonot hinges upon the purity and expertise of the Kohen.
          Our sages understood the importance of experts and learning from experts. Pirkei Avot Ethics of the Fathers teaches us to Asei Lecha Rav- Find for yourself a Teacher. Knowledgable people teach. people with knowledge teach. As much as the sages understood the importance of experts, of knowledgable people transmitting information, they understood the importance of not paying attention to the Am Ha’Aretz the common lay person. An expert has specific knowledge and wisdom that needs to be transmitted. The Kohen’s expertise allowed B’nei Yisroel to achieve a closer relationship with God. An expert finds a vaccine, an expert understands the severity of a situation before more than 200,000 people in America are infected with the COVID 19 virus. An expert understand how to “push down the curve”. From an expert, we learn facts and truth. Yes, we watch the news and listen to the experts here in Canada and in the U.S. and appreciate their depth of truth and the clarity in which they share their expertise.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Call For Me And I WIll Be There (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Lazy River Road")


          Like everyone, we have remained mostly confined to our home. Our three children who are home go outside and take walks. I go to the office to pick up books. Running “errands” are infrequent and confined to Passover and essentials. Indeed the world has become a frightening place that seems quite arbitrary. Some people get infected some don’t. Some have symptoms and some are asymptomatic. Some will survive and sadly many have passed away. With our daughter in Boston and our older parents “sheltering in place” in San Francisco and Rochester, NY, with our sisters, brothers in law and nieces and nephew in Los Angeles and New York; we are all filled with anxiety We all make a concerted effort to speak to each other, to check-in, to connect. Among the casualties of this “new normal” has been our ability to connect to God. We no longer connect to God a minyan, we daven by ourselves. We no longer connect to God when we see grandparents, extended family or friends gathered together for Shabbat meals, we Facetime, Whatsapp, Skype or Zoom. We no longer sense God amid the joy of dancing at a wedding or consoling each other with a hug during times of sorrow. We make a phone call, we send an email and we watch from afar. So we are left to listen for God, sense God’s presence, and connect to God in different ways.

          This Shabbat, we begin the third book of the Torah with the Parsha of the same name, Vayikra, otherwise known as Leviticus. B’reishit and Shmot are essentially a series of narratives about a family and ultimately an entire people. However, Sefer VaYikra is presented in both a narrative format as well as a user manual for ritual sacrifices - KoRBonot. This “user manual” seems to be designed for the Kohanim since it was their job to make the ritual sacrifice on behalf of the B’nai Yisroel. Since one of the most important issues in making KoRBonot is ritual purity. Ritual purity extends to three aspects of the Korbonot process, the person making the KoRBon -the Kohen; the Korbon itself, and the person bringing the KoRBon-everyone who was not a kohen. The Parsha begins with the general rules for Korbonot, mainly that the animal in question, needs to be pure, that is to say, blemish-free. The Parsha lists the various categories of Korbonot to beginning with the Oleh Offering, an offering completely for God. The offering was completely consumed by God and its purpose was to create a means for a person to connect to God for no reason except out of a desire to do so. Other offerings have distinct purposes such as the Sin-offering (seeking forgiveness), and Peace offering (showing a deep love of God), the Guilt offering (in case one has doubt about doing something wrong). Included in each of the categories of offerings was a list of animals to be offered as well as what was to be cooked completely and left for God, what was cooked and left for the Kohen, and what was cooked and to be shared with the community. Operating beneath the institution of KoRBonot was B’nai Yisroel’s desire to be near God, to connect with God. Even the word KoRBonot - with the three-lettered root Ku-f Resh- Bet means “close in proximity”. These offerings were designed to allow the person to draw closer to God for the myriad of reasons that a person would want to be near God including: thankfulness, forgiveness, joy/happiness, or doubt in the relationship. Following the fiasco of the Golden Calf, B’nai Yisroel required an acceptable format so that they could connect to God, they required a means that when they heard God, they could offer an appropriate response.

          Even before God tells Moshe about all the commandments concerning KoRBonot, God does something very unique, something that God had never done before and could only do because of his relationship to Moshe Rabeinu. Vayikrah El Moshe, VaYidaber Adoshem Eilav M’Ohel Moed Leimor - He called out to Moshe and Hashem spoke to him from the Tent of the Meeting saying (Lev 1:1). God called, God spoke and God said; three very similar verbs yet slightly different when examined through the lens of “proximity” “intimacy” and “formality”. One calls out to a person when there is a physical distance that needs to be overcome, or when trying to get another person’s attention. Rashi, the great 11th-century French commentator, offers several explanations. First, this “calling” is Lashon Chiba - a language of endearment. God called out to Moshe in a loving manner and only to Moshe. No one else heard this particular call. Once called, Moshe knew to approach. After Moshe draws closer, God speaks to him. “Speaking” to someone assumes a relationship, a partnership, and a dialogue. The partnership might not be a 50/50 split and the dialogue might not be an equally two-sided dialogue, but “speaking” suggests that there is a response. However “telling” someone something suggests a clear delineation of authority. The party “telling” has the authority and the person to the listening lacks authority. “Telling” suggests neither partnership nor dialogue but rather the dry transmission of data and information. For the first time and the last time God Vayikra el Moshe - God called out to Moshe. God singled Moshe out for a vital task: to instruct the Kohanim and B’nai Yisroel how to appropriately connect to God. While it was certainly novel that God called, it was equally important that Moshe heard the call. Indeed, Moshe was spiritually sensitive and in tune with his relationship to God that he, and only he, herd the endearing call from God.

          Sometimes we are not able to hear so well. Maybe there is too much noise. Maybe we are so out sorts that we can’t hear past our own fears, our own anxiety, or our own guilt. Sometimes we ignore God’s loud whisper that is meant only for us. So we will listen to God when we take a walk with our children. We sense God when we watch a wedding occur outside on the neighbor’s front lawn. Maybe God calls out to us when we take a moment and reconnect with friends through a Zoom party. Maybe we sense God by being a little more considerate of everyone in the house, by pitching in, by engaging in one more act of Kindness than the day before. Amid all of this we know that God is present, we need to only listen closely to the whisper in order to connect.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Crown Yourself The King Of Clowns Or Stand Way Back Apart (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Foolish Heart")

           We are all struggling with this “new normal”. We hear terms such as “essential travel”, “social distancing”, “shelter in place”, and “the curve”.  Religious institutions have closed, as well as the notion of “community” is beginning to take on a new reality. Our family, like other families, has essentially remained at home. In order to lighten the mood, our kids have surfed the web to find funny and inspired moments. Our daughter found John Legend, a famous pop star, gave an online free concert because there are no more concerts. We found an incredibly clever Public Service Announcement made by Max Brooks and his famous legendary comedic 93-year-old father Mel Brooks. With Mel standing inside his home behind sliding glass doors, Max introduced himself and explained that he loves his 93-year-old father. Max explained that he does not know if he is a carrier of the Covid 19 virus and if he did not practice social distancing, if he did not stay away from his father there would be a chance of him passing the virus to his legendary father and his father could pass it to his long time comedy partner, Carl Reiner, and he could pass it along to their friend and former actor on one of their legendary shows, Dick Van Dyke.  Max explained that in one fell swoop he would be responsible for wiping the last of a generation of legendary comedic writers and performers. Max reminds us, the viewers that this behavior will save lives, and it is something that we can all do.

            This week we combine the final two Parshiot, Vayakahel-Pekudei, and complete the Book of Exodus. After the destructive behavior of worshipping the Golden Calf, B’nai Yisroel comes together and shares a common constructive experience bound by a common goal. Their goal is to complete the construction of the Mishkan. The common experience is their contributing raw materials. V’Yavo’u  Kol Ish Asher Nasahu Libo V’chol Asher Nadvah Rucho- Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone whose spirit motivated him brought the portion of God for the work of the Tent of the Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred clothing (Ex.35:21). By participating in this constructive process, everyone had an opportunity to repent for the sin of the Golden Calf and for their lack of faith. If viewed as a process, B’nai Yisroel began its relationship with God by struggling to connect. They didn’t quite know how to connect to God, let alone each other. This explains the need for the Aseret DibrotThe Ten Commandments as well as Parsha Mishpatim with its focus upon Civil Law. However the episode of the Egel Zahav Golden Calf indicated that B’nai Yisroel’s default behavior was idolatry. This makes sense since they had been slaves in an idolatrous society for several centuries. Now that B’nai Yisroel has repented as a nation, they began to re-connect to God in a more acceptable manner. They came together as a community and began the actual construction of the Mishkan.

           The double Parsha begins in a peculiar manner. Before the community begins construction, Moshe gathers them together as a community to remind them of Shabbat. Why does he need to gather the community together to remind them about Shabbat, they already knew about Shabbat? Also, what is the point of gathering together in the first place? Clearly, the construction of the Mishkan is a communal effort. However, the construction of the Mishkan also embodies a nation’s attempt at its version of creation. This nation was creating a means by which it connects to God. Therefore, prior to the nation engaging in creating its new world embodied in the Mishkan, Moshe gathers the nation together to remind them that God created something as well, and established the Shabbat as part of Creation. In a sense, B’nai Yisroel was being presented with something very new. As former slaves, they knew all about building things. They knew all about working together to create cities pyramids etc. However incorporating Shabbat, incorporating the opposite of labor (e.g. rest) was antithetical to what they understood to be the creative process.

          We are living in very troubling times. We are being forced to rethink the “how” we do things. However, we should not rethink the “why” we do things. Grandchildren love their grandparents. However, this virus seems to be fatal in people who have been blessed with grandchildren.  Our eldest daughter is in Boston, which is now quickly becoming another “hot spot” in the U.S. Her grandparents felt bad that she was there by herself so they called her and suggested that she could come to them and stay. She needed to remind her grandparents that although she would love to, she didn’t want to put them at risk. She loved them too much to do something like that. Much like Max Brooks didn't want to put his father Mel and a bunch of legendary comics at risk.  As difficult as this time is, we have all been empowered. We can have all been empowered to save lives. Saving a life these days is as easy as rethinking how to connect to people. Rather than a Mishkan, for a community to gather together, the Jewish community will have to learn to rely on another medium. While we need to figure out the “how” to connect; we should not question the “Why” to connect in the first place. We connect because we hunger for relationships with our family, our friends and with God.
Rav Yitz

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

I Know It's Just Another Trick She's Got Up Her Sleeve (Jerry Garcia - "Cream Puff War")

Our university daughter made an unscheduled return home this week. She should be in the middle of midterms and watching college basketball in New York where she attends university. Because of the Coronavirus, U.S. universities  have closed for the two weeks including Columbia, Princeton, Ohio State, Stanford, Washington St. and a variety of others totaling approximately 100,000 students. Our daughter’s school is one of them. So we flew her home and we will wait and see if the school re-opens as scheduled. Earlier this week, Israel declared that anyone, Israeli or non-Israeli, entering the country will automatically enter a 14 day quarantine period before resuming their time in Israel.  Italy has essentially closed down. There is a genuine concern about the spread of this virus. Yet information remains scant, there seem to be too few tests and the number of tests given has been compared to South Korea, another hard-hit area has been minuscule. The concern has been that widespread testing would mean that far more people are infected than currently reported. However without having all the information, without knowing who may or may not be infected, then diminishing the intensity of the virus’ spread becomes more and more difficult. This lack of information, this lack of transparency has become a snare or a trap that has paralyzed universities, school systems, numerous public events as well as financial markets.
This week’s Torah portion is entitled Ki Tissah. Parsha Ki Tissa is divided into several parts. The first part being the commanded to take a census of the population and collect a half-shekel for each person counted. The second part is the final blueprints for the Mishkan, the spices that are to be used, as well as the oil that is to be processed prior to burning. God then designates two men, Betzalel ben Uri from the tribe of Judah and Ahaliav ben Achisamach from the tribe of Dan to be the Master Builder and Designer of this national project. God reiterates the commandment of the Shabbat and reminds Moshe that anyone who violates it will be put to death and his/her soul will be cut off from the people.  The next part B’nai Yisroel commits the sin of the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf): they built and then worshipped an idol. God wants to wipe out the people but Moshe urges God to reconsider. Moshe then descends the mountain and becomes just as upset as God, and he throws down the Shnei Luchot HaBritthe Two Tablets of the Covenant. After a day or two when calm has been restored, Moshe re-ascends the mountain in order to pray for national forgiveness. Moshe then has an opportunity to experience another personal revelation even more powerful than the Burning Bush; Moshe has the opportunity to witness God’s passing before him. Dictated by God, Moshe chisels the Aseret Diberot into two new Tablets. He then goes back down the mountain. This time he descends with light and glory of God emanating from him.
During the moment when Moshe re- ascends the mountain seeking forgiveness for the people and Moshe experiences a personal revelation and watched God pass by; God re-iterates the covenant.  VaYomer Hinei Anochi Koreit Brit Neged Kol Amcha E’eseh Niflaot Asher Lo Nivre’u V’Chol Ha’Aretz U’VeChol HaGoyim - God said, ‘Behold, I seal a covenant: Before your entire people I shall make distinctions such as have never been created in the entire world and among all the nations; and the entire people among whom you are will see the work of Hashem – which is awesome - that I am about to do with you. HiShameir Lecha Pen Tichrot Brit L’Yosheiv Ha’Aretz Asher Atah Ba Aleha Pen Yiheyeh L’Mokeish B’Kirbecha- Be vigilant lest you seal a covenant with the inhabitant of the land to which you come, lest it be a snare among you. (Ex. 34:11-12)The lesson of the Eigel Zahav, (the Golden Calf) was that B’nai Yisroel mimicked the indigenous idolatrous people that were living in B’nai Yisroel’s covenanted land.  God reminded Moshe and by association reminded the people that they must not weaken the nature of the covenant. They must not deal with these nations for fear that B’nai Yisroel becomes ensnared (L’Mokeish), trapped, and weakened. How could these idol-worshipping nations ensnare B’nai Yisroel? The fact is these nations cannot trap or ensnare B’nai Yisroel unless B’nai Yisroel ceases its vigilance, if they start dealing with these nations, or if they think that peace with these nations will lead to the perpetuation of B’nai Yisroel. From God’s perspective is to remind Moshe that the desire to make peace with those who want to destroy B’nai Yisroel, is not peace but rather will lead to B’nai Yisroel’s destruction.
Yes, it has been wonderful having our daughter home for this past week. However, the circumstances for her return raise troubling concerns. We are a highly interconnected society. Individuals are incredibly connected but institutions are also highly connected to each other. The strength of that connection is only as strong as there are immutable facts, trust, and transparency. The snares and the traps are clear and obvious. Financial markets, public health, and welfare can easily be trapped when trust and transparency diminish. While such concern may seem too distant, the concerns are quite immediate. The lack of trust affects all those who have been advised to stay home, all those who have been quarantined, all those university and high school students who will now have to take classes online, all those who have lost portions of their retirement to the market decline and all those who have a loved one at risk. The result is that numerous aspects of daily life will become snared and trapped. In the meantime, we behave responsibly.
Rav Yitz

Thursday, March 5, 2020

His Job Is To Shed Light, And Not To Master (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Lady With The Fan/ Terrapin Station Suite")

Several weeks ago, an article appeared in the New York Times, dated February 17th entitled “Most Visible Jews Fear Being Targets As Anti-Semitism Rises”. The article explained that since Pittsburgh and Poway, synagogues and day schools have responded with increased security measures. However, the more recent displays of anti-Semitism have been less focused upon Jews who happened to be at those Jewish institutions and now anyone that “looks” Jewish. Just the other day, in a small town outside Rio De Janeiro, a Jewish man was beaten as thugs yelled anti-Semitic epithets. The 57-year-old Jewish man converted to Judaism 30 years ago and was wearing a Kippah. The recent anti-Semitic attacks in the New York Metropolitan area was aimed at those who wore the typical “Black Hat” uniform: a male wearing a black hat, dark suit, white shirt, and beard. As a step towards shining a light upon the rise of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community of New York had organized a series of “No Hate No Fear” solidarity marches. New York’s mayor created a new position: Office For The Prevention of Hate Crimes. Deborah Lauter, who worked for many years at the ADL has been named to the position. In an interview she gave to the Times of Israel, Lauter explained that prevention begins with education, dialogue and getting disparate communities to engage with each other.
This Shabbat we read from Parshah Tetzaveh. This Shabbat is also the Shabbat that immediately precedes the celebration of Purim. The day in which the Jewish people celebrate the redemption of Persian Jewry during the second or third century BCE. This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Zachor – Shabbat of Remembrance. Besides the weekly Torah portion, Tetzaveh, three verses (Deut. 25:17-19) are recited. In those verses, we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish people as they left Egypt. They attacked and murdered the escaped slaves. The villain of the Purim story, Haman, according to Midrash (Rabbinic legend) comes from the tribe of Amalek, the Torah’s symbol of evil. However, the weekly Parsha Tetzaveh has nothing to do with Purim or Amalek. Instead, the Parsha focuses upon Aaron, Moshe’s brother, Aaron’s sons, their position as the Kohen Gadol, (High Priest), their “work uniform” and their preparations. Just like last week’s Parshah, Terumah contained numerous details concerning the construction of the Mishkan; Tetzaveh’s focuses primarily upon the details concerning the Kohen Gadol’s uniform. From material to design, this aspect of the Parshah is a tailor/fashion designer’s dream. Once the details for the uniform have been taught, the Parshah concentrates upon the necessary preparations that the Kohanim must engage in so that they are spiritually pure enough to make offerings on the behalf of the people. Only then, when the construction is complete, when the clothing is finished and the purification process fulfilled, then God will rest God’s presence among the people.
Despite the primary focus upon Priestly vestments, the Parsha begins with the commandment of the Ner Tamid, an Eternal Light. Until now Moshe has been a conduit: VaYiDaber Adoshem El Moshe Leimor, Dabeir El B’nai YisroelGod spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to the Children of Israel’. Now, regarding the Lamp, Moshe doesn’t speak to the children of Israel or to the Priests; instead, Moshe is instructed to command the priests. No longer is he just a conduit. Regarding the Lamp, the command emanates from Moshe. Regarding God’s first command of Moshe, the Torah tells us,  V’Atah T’tzaveh et Bnai Yisroel VYikchu Eilecha Shemen Zayit Zach Katit La’Maor L’Ha’Alot Neir TamidNow you shall command the Children of Yisroel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination to kindle the lamp continually (Ex. 27:20). So why is it so important for the command to appear as if it comes from Moshe and not God? Why is this Moshe’s commandment to the priests? Shmot Rabbah (Talmudic Rabbis’ commentary on the Book of Exodus) offers a figurative understanding of the perpetual light that Moshe commands to be lit. See how the words of Torah give light to man when he is occupied with them. But whoever is not so occupied and is ignorant, he stumbles…’The way of the wicked is in thick darkness’…. (Shmot Rabbah 36:3). Moshe is told to command the Aaron and his sons to light the Ner Tamid in perpetuity. Light and learning, not darkness and ignorance must be perpetual and constant. Light and knowledge must provide a lamp for all those who are in need of light and all those who are ignorant and don’t even realize it. Moshe, ever the teacher, ever the lawgiver, has been tasked to bring light, knowledge, and understanding in perpetuity.
I suppose our children are more sensitive to and are more acutely aware of antisemitism than I was at their age. Maybe I was more oblivious. Maybe society was more polite and such “unpleasantness” was part of the extreme aspects of society that scurried about in the dark shadows where polite people didn’t venture. Nowadays society is far less polite and over the past year, we have watched extreme aspects of society receive a warm embrace by what used to be thought of as “mainstream”. As this week immediately precedes Purim, a celebration that commemorates Persian Jewry’s victory over Anti- Semitism; we are reminded that darkness and ignorance remains present even here and that we need to remain vigilant. Generally, light is symbolic of wisdom and enlightenment. The only way to combat intolerance and ignorance is to shine a light upon it, a strong glaring light of an enlightened, educated, sensitive, and democratic society that possesses a profound respect for its democratic institutions and the strength of will to root out the Amalek, the evil, ignorance, and intolerance that exists in every generation.