Shabbat Shabbaton — Yom Kippur 5778–Yom Kippur/Yom HaKippurim

I read recently that we sometimes refer to Yom Kippur as “Yom HaKippurim.” This is not just the Day of Atonement (singular), but a Day of Atonements (plural). What can that mean? We seek forgiveness for ourselves. We seek forgiveness for our families. We seek forgiveness for the sins of our relatives, now deceased (for instance pledging Tzedaka in their memory). There is an interesting Midrash that as we seek forgiveness from God, God also seeks forgiveness, faith, trust and understanding from us!

The Almighty knows that we do not and cannot fully understand God’s ways. As parents we may ask our children to do things our way, to trust us because we know better and to have faith that one day they will come to understand. Even more, we tell them that one day they will thank us for what we have required of them or how we may punish them. Yet, we ask them to forgive us for the stress, anxiety or even pain we may cause them as we help them to grow into mature, contributing adults in our society.

Has anyone ever used the cliché expression that this hurts me more than it hurts you? Is it hard to imagine God asking us to trust that whatever is inscribed and sealed for us in the Sefer HaChayim is for our own good? If God has given each of us responsibility for completing the work of creation and helping bring holiness and betterment to the world, is it hard to imagine God asking to be forgiven for imposing such an awesome responsibility on us?

My prayer is that each of us and our families will be inscribed and sealed for a year filled with the love of the Almighty and God’s love of each of us, a year of Torah, mazel (the stars aligned for us), brachah (blessings), hatzlachah (success), parnasah (livelihood) and gezunt (good health).

I pray for a strong, vibrant and peaceful Israel under God’s sheltering protection.

I pray for a strong, vibrant and peaceful United States of America to stand as an example of freedom, liberty and hope against tyranny and oppression in so many places around the globe.

I pray that each of us will be up to any challenges the new year presents.

My prayer is that we will develop a deep appreciation for all of the blessings in our lives and take nothing for granted.

Let us be partners with God in God’s work, just as we ask God to help us in our own lives.

It may not be easy to fast, but most matters of true and enduring worth are not obtained with ease. Or, if easily obtained, they may not be fully appreciated or truly valued. May you be so focused on the meaning of Yom Kippur and so intent in achieving its purpose that the day seems short.

If you have not experienced Neilah at Adat Shalom, I encourage you to do so this year. The warmth and special holiness of the final moments of Yom Kippur are palpable. The Doors of the Ark are open and everyone has the opportunity to approach with private intensity.

G’mar chatimah tovah! Easy fast,

Paul

P.S. This Yom Kippur, there will be 2 opportunities for Torah Study (in addition to the readings in the worship). After the Rabbi’s Drasha, Ruth Bergman will teach us. Then at 3:00 p.m. Adat Shalom holds its annual “Ask the Rabbi.” Rabbi Bergman is most approachable and accessible, but this Yom Kippur tradition is a congregational favorite. So come prepared!

P.S.S. We say that Teshuvah, Tefilah and Tzedaka have the power to transform any potential harshness of our destiny. As we are partners with God in Tikkun Olam, please remember to bring Tzedaka and food items for Yad Ezra to Kol Nidre services.

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Shabbat Netzavim-Vayelech 5777–Shabbat Torah Study at Adat Shalom will feature Ruth Bergman–Standing before God

How do you approach Rosh Hashanah? One of my favorite Bible verses comes from this week’s Parasha. “Lo bashamayim he” we are told by Moshe in Deuteronomy 30:12. “It is not in the Heavens…” We learn from this that all that God expects from us is within our reach and grasp.

The Sages tell us that Netzavim always falls within a week of Rosh Hashanah exactly because God wants to remind us how important our own personal choices and decisions are to our futures and that this applies to each and every one of us.

So too, the gift of Rosh Hashanah is within our reach. How many ways can you think of that Rosh Hashanah truly is a gift? The question is what will you do with that gift? Will you unwrap it, unpack it and make a lot of use out of it? Or, will it be one that gets little attention after it is received? Will you thank the Giver of the gift? How do you express your gratitude for the priceless gift you pray to receive?

This week’s Parasha begins with the words: “You are standing TODAY day ALL OF YOU before the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 29:9. Some say the day is Rosh Hashanah. Others say that it is EVERY DAY. Everyone agrees that it applies to each of us.

This Shabbat, we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman who will address with us the subject of “What does it mean to stand before God? What does it mean to choose life?” 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Zachreynu l’chaim, Melech chafetz b’chaim, v’chatveynu b’sefer hachaim. “Remember us for life, O King Who seeks to give life, and inscribe us in the Book of Life..”

Avinu Malkeynu, I pray for each of us to have a Shanah tovah u’metukah (“a good and sweet year”).

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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Parshat Ki Teitzei 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–The Value of Every Mitzvah

Parshat Ki Teitzei contains more mitzvoth than any other Parasha in the Torah. It is also home to one of the most beloved mitzvoth in the Torah that speaks to a core value of Judaism. Devarim 22:6-7. We do not take the mother bird with her young. Rather, we send the mother away. This mitzvah is called Shiluach haken. The common thought is that this is an example of mercy, much like the prohibition against boiling a baby goat in its mothers’ milk. No doubt we recoil from the thought of having a mother of any kind see its children suffer or die. Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg of Bais Chabad of West Bloomfield shared a midrash with me that, in addition to mercy, the core value of sending the mother away was actually Tikkun Olam. There is a midrash that explains that we do not take the mother with the young to save her to keep the species alive and to reproduce in the future, that taking the mother with the young can lead to extinction of a species. A midrash written down more than 2000 years ago speaks of environmental sustainability!
No doubt we are, as they say, Rachmanim b’nai Rachmanim—Merciful people who come from merciful people AND as merciful people we have an obligation to care for our planet and all of God’s creations.

Tomorrow we learn with D. Melissa Ser. 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. We finish in time for the Rabbi’s sharing of Shabbat wisdom.

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5777–Paul Magy’s Shabbat Torah Study E-drasha in the D–Our Battle Cry!

This week’s Parasha, like many, brings modern insights out of ancient rituals.

When Israelites were going to war, a Kohen would say to the troops:

Shema Yisrael! (“Hear O Israel”) You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear or in panic or in dread of them. For it is the Lord your God who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy to bring you victory.”

Deuteronomy 20:2-4.

Just as with a real war, when we are told “Shema Yisrael”—God is with us, we say Shema Yisrael EVERY DAY (hopefully twice) to remember that God is with each of us every day, in each of our struggles and personal battles and in everything we do.

Chasidus speaks of our daily lives as a struggle and battle against the forces of evil and its twin step-brothers apathy and complacency. Shema Yisrael—God is with us as we do battle with those forces in the hopes of making the world a better place.

We know that our daily lives are filled with choices, some easy and mundane, some challenging and painful, some with far reaching consequences. Some of our choices require very thoughtful analysis and decision making. Some of our choices require decisions that involve personal struggle.

Remember though, “Shema Yisrael”—do not fear or panic—God marches with you. How do you feel when you say it? Try it.

Tomorrow’s Shabbat Torah Study will be led by our teacher Ruth Bergman on the topic of “Due Process and Deuteronomy.” She states, “We will look at what the Torah demands in terms of investigation, witnesses, and moral character of the judges. Laws of the king—that he is under the law, not above it—what to do in cases of negligent homicide, and what to do when a body is found and no one knows who did it.” This promises to be a fascinating discussion.

9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. We finish in time for the Rabbi’s sharing of Shabbat wisdom.

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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Paul Magy’s Shabbat Torah Study in the D–Parshat Korach 5777–Adat Shalom Torah Study– Looking for the Good

The best known rebellion in the Torah is retold in this week’s Parasha. We even name the Parasha after Moshe’s chief antagonist Korach. Pretty nice reward for someone who dared to challenge Moshe and God, huh? Perhaps the name of the Parasha is less important than some think.

Another irony is that God orders Moshe to turn the 250 firepans on which the rebels performed their acid test of leadership into a special covering for the Altar itself. (Bamidbar 17:1-5) What?!?  How could the tools of these wicked, despicable people be used for the Altar? Shouldn’t the firepans have been buried or destroyed? Perhaps, if we assume that Korach was all evil or that his followers were also. God doesn’t.

We learn that God sees each of us as very complex individuals. Yes, Korach was jealous and power hungry, but his followers may have been striving for greater holiness and a role in the divine service and God saw that spark of holy desire. It was Moses who ordered the incense test that the 250 brought. It was a peaceful test, not a violent coup d’ etat. There was holiness in the firepans and an honest belief that they were deserving of the honor of service as well.

God looks for the good in each of us and so must we all.

Each of us has a holiness as well as the contrary. God asks us to find the holy and sacred in everyone and everything and to  harness it for good purposes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

P.S. Of course the ultimate test that determined leadership related to the staffs of the chieftains, only one of which (Aharon’s) produced sprouts,  blossoms and almonds. You know what that proves, don’t you?

P.P.S. Our teachers have taken a break from our Shabbat Torah Study which will resume August 5 (Va’etchanan / Shabbat Nachamu) when we will learn with Rabbi Joey Krakoff.

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Shabbat Parashat Shelach 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–Feeling the Warmth of God’s Love

This week’s Parasha contains the commandment of tzitzit, the fringes on the corners for the four (4) cornered garment we have come to call the tallit and what we think of as the prayer shawl.

The fact is that this commandment is applicable to EVERY 4 cornered garment, but not to any other. We may don a talit which, as a 4 cornered garment, requires tzitzit, but there is no Torah mitzvah obligation to wear a tallit either. It has become a tradition to wear a tallit during prayers in the morning, but it is not required (note that in some circles men do not wear a full talit until after marriage). Some hold that a tradition can, overtime, have the force of Halacha—the law, but it is not a Torah obligation. Wearing tzitzit is not required (e.g. wearing 4 cornered garment is not required). It is voluntary.

Curiously, though it is voluntary, our Sages in the Gemara tell us that the mitzvah of tzitzit is equal to all other mitzvoth in the Torah. Why might you think that is?

We read in this week’s Parasha that “you will glance upon them and you will remember all the commandments of the Lord”. Bamidbar/Numbers 15:39.

Did you ever see a sweater that your mother or grandmother knitted for you and instantly feel a sense of warmth and, as you put it on, your heart was flooded with memories of her love for you?

Could we think of the tallit as the sweater that God has knit for us and when we wear it, think of God’s loving embrace?

And why is this mitzvah given in this week’s Parasha? The words tell us to gaze upon the tzitzit to remember all of God’s mitzvoth, to observe them and not to follow our hearts, eyes and lustful urges. “Lo taturu” we are told—follow God’s way, not your personal agenda. Bamidbar/Numbers 15:39. It is that exact verb that was used in the directive to the spies, “V’yatur” Bamidbar/Numbers 13:2 and “Latur” Bamidbar/Numbers 13:17. Yet instead of remembering all that God had done, could and would do for the Israelites, the sin of the spies was to be influenced by their heart, eyes and passion and spread fear, doubt and anxiety among the people.

Having the physical reminder of the tzitzit can be that extra ounce of prevention, the reminder of God’s warm embrace, God’s love for each of us and awareness of what God expects from us.

It can be an awesome feeling. Why not try it? How about this Shabbat?

This Shabbat we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman who will discuss many of the issues related to the entire spy story that is the centerpiece of the Parasha. Who sent them? Whose idea was it? What was the mission? How did the spies speak to the people and why?

Please consider spying on us at 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are and stay as long as you like. We finish in time for the Rabbi’s sermon.

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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B’haalot’cha 5777–Shabbat Torah Study in the “D” — Just Make the Effort!

This week’s Parasha includes a fairly significant mystery, one that is only solved by Midrash.

The Menorah, symbolic of the light within each of us, the light that each of us shine and of God’s light, is installed and lit in the Mishkan. The Torah teaches the intricacies and details of the Menorah, which is also said to have been created out of a single great piece of gold, but is ambiguous as to who created it. One interpretation is that it was Moshe who closely followed God’s instructions. Yet another interpretation is that it was God. Bamidbar/Numbers 8:4.

Rashi relates that Moshe was actually unable to replicate God’s instructions, try as hard as he might, so he placed the block of gold into the fire, perhaps to soften it for another go and the Menorah miraculously emerged.

The Ramban explains that this vagueness was to teach us the importance of effort. Moshe was actually credited with making the Menorah because he worked with such dedication and focus to accomplish it—even though he was not ultimately successful.

We learn that God wants to credit us for any mitzvah for which we devote a good faith effort. The Torah teaches us that just making the effort is an accomplishment. This is one of many such examples in the Torah.

There is the quote attributed to Henry Ford (whose neshamah is probably delighted to be quoted in a Torah drash) that “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” Henry Ford may have gotten this thought from the Ramban. God wants us to make the effort and there is reward in that whether the task is accomplished or not.

This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Herbert Yoskowitz teaching a brilliant study session. Rabbi Yoskowitz quotes Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, head of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem who on June 7 , 2017 wrote : “For me Baha’lotcha is the saddest parashah in the Torah.” While Rabbi Yoskowitz disagrees with that assessment, he will never-the-less focus on what he regards as the happiest Haftarah which is chanted both on this Shabbat and on Shabbat Hanukkah. This Haftarah includes the words “a brand plucked from the fire – whose words in Hebrew: “Ude Mutzahl Maesh” (Zachariah 3:2) are attached to the wall in our sanctuary adjacent to the Holocaust Torah. In Zachariah 4:6 are the words “Not by might, nor by power, but by MY Spirit says the Lord of Hosts,” one of the most popular of phrases in the Bible, words which are sung by Jewish teenagers as well as by Jewish adults.

Come study with Rabbi Yoskowitz the meanings of these phrases as well as the importance of the message in this Haftarah which has echoes in current Israel and Jewish History.

9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. We end in time for the Rabbi’s Sermon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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