Parshat Korach 5778 –Shabbat Torah Study at Adat Shalom Synagogue– Argue at Your Own Risk

Do Jews ever argue? With the popular expression—“2 Jews, 3 opinions” or “The only thing 2 Jews can agree on is how much money the third Jew should give to charity,” it seems clear that even we perceive ourselves as susceptible to makhloket (disputes).

Certainly arguments have their place. We have many ethical teachings on the subject. Our Rabbis use this week’s Parasha is its basis.
In this week’s Parasha, Korach challenges Moses’ power and authority. Moses is known as and is even called by God the “most humble man to have ever lived.” Yet, Moses does not step down when challenged.

Being humble does not mean being a pushover either.

What are the bounds of propriety in an argument or dispute? The Torah values argumentation so long as it is L’shem Shamayim—for the sake of heaven, but what does that even mean? Pirke Avot gives the arguments of Hillel and Shammai as an example of good faith arguments characterized by mutual honor and respect.

This Shabbat we are privileged to learn with Andy “Rav Abdul” Pass who will help us learn about “dissent in the ranks.” This will be a fascinating discussion. I am sure nobody will disagree about that. However, arguments l’shem shamayim are all welcome.

9:45 a.m. Don’t argue with me about it. Just be there! Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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Shabbat Parshat Naso 5778–Shabbat Torah Study–Imitation Can Be a Good Thing

Torah Quiz Time: Which is the longest single sedrah in the Torah? You guessed correctly. It is the sedrah we read this week: Naso, the second of the parshiyot in the Book of Bamidbar–Numbers. It contains many interesting subjects including the laws of the Nazir (one who vows to abstain from certain acts and practices), the laws of the Sotah (a practice designed to maintain peace in the home where infidelity is suspected), the extremely famous Birkat Kohanim — “Priestly Blessing,” an impressive dedication of the Mishkan and more!

In reading Naso, it is beyond curious that the recital of the dedication gifts of the princes of each of the Tribes goes on in repetitive fashion, in excruciating detail for pages. Bamidbar, Chapter 7:10-88. Each gift is identical. Nobody brought more than anyone else or tried to show anyone else up. Since we know of the Torah as being extremely spare and economical with descriptive words, one wonders why the Torah would not simply say that each of the 12 princes brought the following gift….. and just say it once.

This is a very good Parasha for a bar mitzvah celebrant to leyn because the same paragraph repeats itself 12 times! I should know because this is the anniversary of my bar mitzvah! How come nobody asked me to leyn?

The Sages teach us several lessons from the princes’ gifts. Here are a few:

1) the gift that each individual brings or gives as service to our People, to Israel or to our community is individually and separately precious to God. Each gift is special because of the intention of the donor,
2) that in doing the right thing, it is not about competition. Climbing the ladder of success can be done without stepping on anyone else’s head,
3) emulating the worthy examples of good people is not cheap copycatting, but a statement of praise, honor and support—“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” –Charles Caleb Colton

It is human nature to be competitive and try and out do your neighbor. Yet, no prince tried to outdo the other. Instead, each acted out of total humility and respect for others. So important are these values that the Torah spends columns making an example of these virtuous individuals and their exemplary behavior.

This Shabbat at Adat Shalom, we are privileged to learn with education professional Andrew Pass. He states that, “we are going to discuss the concept of Kedusha, Birkat Kohanim and the role of Kohanim in Rabbinic tradition.” He adds that “ It’ll be particularly interesting for any Star Wars fans.” I am bringing my light sabre, just in case.

We begin at 9:45 and end in time for the Rabbi’s Drasha. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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Shabbat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5778–Shabbat Torah Study — What does it mean to be holy?

The essence and framework, perhaps the prime directive, of our faith is contained in this week’s Torah Reading. We are all commanded to be Kadosh—Holy!. Leviticus 19:2.

But what is holiness? Our sages have a variety of ways to understand this mandate.

The one I like best is one that says that it is not enough to live by the letter of the law. Rather, we must look for ways to effectuate the most beautiful meaning and purpose God could intend for us.

In all that we do, we are to look for ways to honor and respect others and be caring and concerned for their needs. Being Kadosh or Kodesh should mean that our behaviors are always glorifying to the Almighty.

What if we evaluated our speech and our actions by whether it would put a smile on God’s face (so to speak) or cause God to feel pride in us.

Is there anything that cannot be said or done with greater kindness, thought or consideration? Sometimes it is not even what we do, but how we do it or say it.

One meaning of “Kodesh” is to be separate or different. It may be unfortunately true that anyone who actually does look for ways to honor and respect others in all that they say and do would truly be different from the majority.

Wouldn’t it feel good to be thought of as one who elevates others and all they are involved in?

I think of holiness as being that little something extra…the secret sauce of the truly good person.

By commanding (and not merely saying) “Kedoshim Tiheyu!”, it is clear this is something to which God would like each of us to strive by looking for opportunities to make a positive difference through acts and words large and small.

Is it possible to ask ourselves each day to do something that is holy? Is there a way to spice up our menu of daily activities with the secret sauce God has given us?

This Shabbat we learn with Ruth Bergman at Adat Shalom Synagogue. About her topic she states, “What does it mean to be holy? What does it mean to come (too) close to God and why might there be danger?” There may be an allusion to Nadav and Avihu there. Maybe look that up for independent study. 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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Parshat Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor 5778–Shabbat Torah Study–See the Light and Be the Light

This week’s Parasha Tetzaveh contains the instruction for the Ner Tamid—the so-called “eternal light.” The light of the Ner Tamid symbolizes God’s eternal and imminent presence. We cannot see light. We only recognize light because of what it allows us to see. Perhaps we equate God and light because, “while we cannot see God, we become aware of God’s presence when we see the beauty of the world and when we experience love and the goodness of our fellow human beings.” Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary at 503.

The Sages debate what the word “Tamid” means. We translate it as “eternal,” and since the light bulb was invented, keeping the light lit has made it seem eternal. We don’t usually see our custodians, fulfilling the duty of the Kohanim, changing the bulbs in the synagogues of today. The Sages tell us that the lights in the Mishkan were not necessarily lit at all times. They only needed to be lit from evening until morning—every day. The eternal aspect of the command is that it is “chukat olam” a statute for all future generations. Exodus 27:21.

Is the light bulb in the Ner Tamid good? Was it an advance? Progress? Is technology a good thing?

Maybe it depends on how it is used.

My concern is that we take the Ner Tamid for granted because it is just there. It is a tiny light bulb in an already lit room—people wondering if it really is lit or not. Did you ever do that?

The Ner Tamid used to be quite a big deal because of the effort and expense it took to maintain. How did the Ner Tamid function before the electric light bulb in the synagogues of the not too distant past?
This was actually quite a major effort. We still say a prayer before the Musaf service on Shabbat asking for a special blessing for those who provide funds for purchasing oil for the lamps—now a metaphor for those who support the synagogue and Jewish community in general. The Ner Tamid is the only commanded practice associated with the Mishkan that is still with us today. But if we think about it at all, we may think of having the Ner Tamid to remember the Temple, but not think about what it truly stands for.

I am not advocating going back to an oil lit menorah or Ner Tamid in our synagogues. That would be very messy, cause carpet stains and would probably cause a huge increase in insurance costs.

However, I am advocating greater awareness of the Ner Tamid as a symbol of the special light of God in our lives. There may be times when we cannot perceive God’s light, but we must constantly look for it in ourselves and in each other. The Ner Tamid must burn brightly in each of us.

This Shabbat we learn with Jodi Gross, Adat Shalom’s Director of Adult Learning who will teach on the ner tamid as tehe sacred light that elevates us in times of joy and sorrow and how the clothing of Aaron and his sons, inspire our Torah scroll covers and metal accessories. Our Shabbat Torah Study is something many people look forward to every Shabbat—and with very good reason. 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

P.S. On Shabbat Zachor it is a special mitzvah to come to synoagogue for the Torah reading involving the evil of the Amalekitse and for us to alwsys remember and never to forget its lessesons. This year’s communal Purim celebration is hosted at Adat Shalom, the grown up fun begins at 7:15 p.m. with the Mgiallah reading and a dessert reception with live music from renowned Maggie McCabe. See you there!

P.P.S. If you have not bought your tickets to Adat Shalom’s annual fun and fund raiser—Missebaba, do so before it is too late. Saturday, March 3rd at 7:30 p.m. Cocktails, dinner and dancing with Hazzan Gross and the Cliff Monear Big Band! I am not saying that you should come just because it is the coolest party ever, but it is. Buy your tickets on line now. http://www.adatshalom.org

P.P.P.S. Also REMEMBER our annual day of learning, Limmud Michigan 2018. With a faculty of more than 80 experts, it is a day devoted to the exploration and celebration of all things Jewish. Sunday, March 11, 2018 10:00 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. at the Wayne State University Student Center. You must register. Don’t miss it! http://www.limmudmichigan.org

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Shabbat Chanukah 5778–Parashat Miketz–Shabbat Torah Study–Joseph and Chanukah

Chanukah has so many important meanings and messages. For table conversation this Shabbat, try to think of as many as you can. Perhaps reward the child (of any age) who can think of the most. Try to include in the discussion why Chanukah is as relevant these days as ever and why it may be even more important now than ever.

I try every year to make sure that I learn something more about Chanukah than I knew or thought about before. In my case, that is not that difficult.

I love Chanukah because, for me, it symbolizes the war we fight every day to maintain the identity, values and traditions we hold dear against the pressures of society, that God is with us in our struggles and that as partners with God, we can help bring about miracles for ourselves and others.

Now a little learning….

On Chanukah we read from the Book of Bamidbar in Parashat Naso and specifically about the gifts of the Princes of the Tribes for the dedication of the Mishkan. One might think that perhaps we should read about the Menorah in the Mishkan instead. Indeed, isn’t Chanukah about the miracle of the lights of the Menorah?

Actually, our Sages tell us that the construction of the Mishkan was actually completed on the 25th of Kislev (but the dedication was delayed to Nisan for another reason). So, we are told that the dedication of the Mishkan is the template Torah reading. It is also no coincidence that these readings from the Torah are immediately preceded by the priestly benediction (and it is the Kohanim who are the heroes of the Chanukah story). Interestingly too, the gifts of the princes are followed immediately with the dedication of the Menorah in the Temple in the Parasha of B’haalot’cha.

So the Torah itself has a clue to Chanukah and the Torah reading is a micro version. And now you know the rest of the story.

This Shabbat we learn with Jodi Gross who says that we will discuss, “…Joseph’s transformation from a slave to a leader in Egypt, how he handles new responsibilities and his reactions to reuniting with his brothers who sold him into slavery.”
Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Please accept my heartiest best wishes to you for all the blessings of Chanukah to be renewed through and for you. May you celebrate many more Chanukah festivals with family and friends long into the future.

Chag Chanukah Sameyach and Shabbat shalom!

Paul

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Parashat Vayishlach 5778–Paul Magy’s Shabbat Torah Study–The Lord Helps Those who Help Themselves

This week’s Parasha reunites Eisav and Jacob for the first time in at least 20 years (some say 34).

Jacob prepares for this dangerous and fearful meeting in three (3) ways — gifts, preparation for battle and prayer.

For a man of Jacob’s faith, blessing and connection with God, why wouldn’t prayer be enough?

There is a reason for the saying that the Lord helps those who help themselves. Jacob’s preparations, PLUS prayer establish the important precedent that we must first expend our own energies and resources to bring the good we are looking for.

Of course, we see doctors, buy life insurance to protect our loved ones and much more. We ask God’s assistance in our lives and with our struggles, but show God that we care enough to be making our own efforts too.

In the end, Jacob (now renamed Israel) was successful.

Jacob struggled with and succeeded against the Angel of Eisav and his prayers for a safe (and non-eventful) reunion with Eisav were answered.

May you be successful in all of your struggles with evil and, with strong and positive efforts on your part, may all of your prayers for good be answered favorably as well.

We learn with Ruth Bergman this Shabbat at 9:45 a.m. She says that part of her shiur will include the symbolic mathematical properties of the ages of the patriarchs. Learning with our Shabbat Torah Study is a great way to be prepared for our daily struggles (apparently this week too if math is one of your struggles). I am confident her session will be fantastic as it always is. The Torah Study is completely informal, casual and friendly. One hour. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Stay for the sermon and the rest of a wonderful Shabbat experience if you like…or not. No judging. Just incredible learning.

Shabbat shalom my friends,

Paul

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Shabbat Vayeitzei 5778–Shabbat Torah Study–More Strength than You Thought Possible

Jacob finally arrives in Haran fourteen years after fleeing home to avoid Esau’s revenge. His mission now is to fulfill his parents’ instructions to find a wife among his mother’s people. On arrival and waking from the famous ladder dream, Jacob finds a group of shepherds waiting for other shepherds needed to help roll a stone off the mouth off a well. Genesis 29:9. While speaking with the shepherds, it turns out that Jacob is in the exact place that Rachel will arrive, bringing her own flock. Jacob sees her and rolls the stone off the well by himself!

Have you ever felt like you were actually watching God’s plan unfold? Have you ever felt that you were in the plan and an important part of it? Have you ever felt that something could not just be a coincidence? The Sages say that this is exactly what happened to Jacob. He was completely overwhelmed by witnessing the hand of God. After 14 years away from home and suddenly arriving in Haran, the first woman he would meet would be the woman he was intended and destined to meet; none other than Rachel.

Jacob was so inspired, so moved, so excited and so empowered by personally experiencing this providence that he drew the strength to move the well stone himself. Though Jacob is described earlier as the mild man of the tent, compared to Esau pictured as the burly hunter of the outdoors, we can see that Jacob was a man of strength too, not merely brains. The midrash is that during the 14 years between home and Haran, Jacob studied at the Yeshiva of Shem and Eber in preparation for dealing with the Laban’s chicanery. It may be that the Yeshiva had a gym there for Jacob to work out in.

Have you ever been surprised at you own strength—mental or physical—courage, perseverance or drive? Was it in response to inspiration? Desperation? Adversity? Didn’t know that you had it in you? Look at what you can be accomplish.

This Shabbat we do not have a formal Torah Study, but a wonderfully warm Shabbat community awaits you anyway!

Have a great Shabbat,

Paul Magy

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