Shabbat Naso 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–Say It with Love!

It is said that Hebrew –the “Lashon Kodesh” is the ultimate and source of world languages, not merely because it was through the power of speech that God is said to have created the world, but that there is no word in any other language that is not alluded to in some derivation from the holy tongue. Remember the story of the Tower of Babel? I did not make that up and I cannot prove it myself, but this is what I have read. I recently read an example of it from this week’s Parasha.

Parashat Naso contains the oldest known and most beloved of blessings, the blessing bestowed upon the People of Israel daily through the Kohanim (the religious leadership of Temple times), still daily in Israel and on major holy days around the world by those whose tradition traces their roots to the Kohanim.

This was a commandment to the Kohanim and before a mitzvah is performed, it is our tradition to recite a “brachah” –a blessing. Before conveying God’s blessing, the Kohanim would themselves recite “…asher kideshanu b’kedushato shel Aharon, v’tzivanu l’varech et amo Yisrael b’Ahavah” […who has sanctified us with the sanctity of Aaron and commanded us to bless His nation Israel, with love].

The Torah itself does not include the obligation that the blessing be conveyed with love—or does it?

The Torah says “…amor lahem” (literally “say to them). Bamidbar/Numbers 6:23.

This is said to imply the obligation of love. For instance, how does one say “love” in French? Amour. How does one say “love” in Italian? Amore. In Spanish? Amor.

A coincidence? I think not.

In learning of this example I was surprised at the number of scholars who have pointed out the many, many words in many languages that have their origins in Hebrew.

God may be teaching us an even broader lesson if we think of the relationship between the Hebrew word with the root “Amar” meaning “Say” and the word of the Romance languages “Amour” meaning love.

If we are obligated to “…love your neighbor as yourself,” then when you speak to your fellow, should you not speak in a loving way? Do we not wish to be spoken to kindly, respectfully…lovingly?

What a blessing that would be if we all spoke to each other with love.

Our Shabbat Torah Study this Shabbat is led by Adat Shalom’s Director of Education, Dr. Melissa Ser. 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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Bamidbar/Shavuot 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–Where Are You Now? Where Are You Going? Are You on the Right Path? Do You Have a Map?

Ever feel lost? We began Bamidbar this week—Book 4 of the original, best selling 5 book series. Literally, “in the wilderness,” it is the story of the 39 years of “wandering.” Shavuot always falls within the reading of this book. Shavuot is the time of the giving of the Torah.

Why give the Torah in the wilderness you might ask?

The Rabbis give many answers. Here are two.

First, if you were lost in the wilderness, wouldn’t you want a map or guidebook? Torah is the ultimate guide for our lives which can sometimes feel like a wilderness.

Second, “wilderness” is generally ownerless territory. It belongs to all. So too, the wisdom of the Torah belongs to and is accessible to all. Like the wilderness, the Torah may also be difficult to traverse and find your way, so it is helpful to have those who can serve as your guides.

This Shabbat we learn with Jodi Gross, Adat Shalom’s Director of Adult Learning. With her guidance, we will explore what it means to be counted in the wilderness and how, like our ancestors, we seek a balance between how we matter as individuals and how we contribute to the greater good of our communities. We hope you can make it. 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are and stay as long as you like.

If learning is your cup of tea and you have a real thirst for knowledge, then you will be delighted to know that we have our annual Tikkun Leyil Shavuot this coming Tuesday night, May 30th starting at 8:00 p.m. During the study sessions, we will enjoy a light nosh including the traditional Shavuot dessert-cheesecake. Rabbi Bergman, Rabbi Shere and Hazzan Gross will teach on a theme of “These Are a Few of My Favorite Texts.” Whether you come to learn at Adat Shalom or at any of the other wonderful learning opportunities around our community—take advantage of the opportunity!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameyach,

Paul

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Behar-Bechukotai 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–The Mitzvah that Requires Faith

The Parasha of Behar contains the genius of Shemita—the Sabbatical Year. We allow the land to rest and remain fallow for a year to allow it to regenerate and rejuvenate. Just as we need a Sabbath, so does the land. Some say that this Mitzvah is also evidence of the divine origin of the Torah. After all, why not simply allow 1/7 of your fields to lie fallow each year in a form of field or crop rotation? That would be the most rational and logical approach. Instead, the Shemita year requires there to be complete faith, so much faith that the farmer does not even plant the fields, but knows that there will be sufficient quantities in store. No mortal would write such a mitzvah and risk responsibility for that.

This Shabbat we learn with Melissa Ser. We hope you can make it. 9:45 a.m. Come as you are and stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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Parashat Emor 5777-Shabbat Torah Study -Show Me the Bread!

This week’s Parasha contains the origins of a beautiful tradition in many homes. We may hold up the challot (plural for challah) as we say the “motzi” (blessing over bread) at the Shabbat dinner table.

Parashat Emor contains the mitzvah of the “Lechem Panim”—the show breads. Every Shabbat, the Kohanim placed 12 loaves on the Shulchan (the display table). The loaves remained there the entire week. The following Shabbat the Kohanim removed the loaves, replaced them with new loaves and ate the loaves that they had just removed. [Vayikra 24:5-9] What kind of reward is that—eating week old bread?

One of the miracles in the Holy Temple was that the “show breads” remained fresh during the entire week. Not only did they not become stale, but they remained warm, as if freshly baked. Our sages report in the Talmud that the Kohanim would lift the Shulchan to show the loaves to the people and say, “See how dear you are before Hashem—miraculously, the loaves are removed a week later in the same state that they were placed on it.” This ritual did not exist with respect to any other miracle that occurred in the Mishkan or the first Holy Temple and there were many others.

What do the loaves have to do with the Jewish People such that their retained freshness is symbolic of God’s love for us?

We are taught that the 12 loaves correspond to the 12 tribes. We are taught that each of the 12 tribes may have had slightly different approaches and outlooks. We do not have discernible tribes any longer, but we certainly have Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Chasidim and many, many subsets based on country, region, thought, philosophy and tradition. There is no one to say that any one of them is better than the other. God loves each of them and each of us.

The message of the 12 challahs and the 12 tribes is that we are all loved by God. When we hold the challahs at the Shabbat Dinner table and show them to our children we are sending a message of how precious each of them, each member of our family, each guest and each person is to us.

The tradition of the challahs at the Shabbat dinner table is deeply rooted and deeply precious. As we say the “motzi” and thank the Almighty for all our blessings and as we hold the challahs tenderly and dearly as we do so, we can imagine a symbolic hug from the Almighty. We share and emulate that love of God with our children and family from Shabbat to Shabbat and from generation to generation.

If none of this is your tradition, maybe consider it. What could ever be wrong with freshly baked bread and a hug from someone you love?

This Shabbat we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman. We will begin at 9:45 a.m. and finish in time for the Sermon. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat shalom,

Paul

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Shabbat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–Being Holy and Doing Holy

The Shema prayer has become THE Torah mandated mantra of the Jewish people. My vote for the next best alternative comes from the second of this week’s double portion of Acharei Mot – Kedoshim in which each and every one of us are told, “Kedoshim Tiheyu” — “You shall be holy, for I—Adonai your God—am holy.” Leviticus 19:2.
We are told that we are created in God’s image—not that we look like God (or vice versa), but that we have the capacity and are instructed to imitate God’s attributes of love, kindness, mercy, justice-–all encompassed by the supremely important word Kodesh—Holy (very loose translation).
My vote for “Kedoshim Tiheyu” as mantra extraordinaire comes from the fact that it is action oriented. Shema Yisrael is certainly important, but unless the recognition of God’s oneness spurs the understanding that we and the universe are part of the same oneness and that what we do to others we simultaneously do to God and ourselves, there is no impact on our behavior. That is a fairly complex process.
On the other hand, “Be Holy!” is pretty straightforward and understandable. Show love. Be kind. Be merciful. Be just. Fortunately, the Shema and Kedoshim Tiheyu are not mutually exclusive. While we are truly deepening our understanding of Shema Yisrael, we must always be holy and act in holy ways.
The question is, “What does being holy mean to you?” What of your behaviors qualify as holy? What do you do daily because God wants you to do it? Are you consciously aware that your acts of ahava (love), chesed (kindness), rachamim (mercy), and tzedekah (acting justly toward others) are fulfilling the divine directive to be holy or are you just doing the “right” thing?
Of course, it is all good. Perhaps we can merge the mantras. Shema Yisrael—Listen Israel: Kedoshim Tiheyu. Do the right thing and BE HOLY.

This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Joey Krakoff. About this he states: “This week’s double portion Achrei Mot- Kedoshim is overflowing with commandments that get to the heart of what it means to live our best morally upright and ethical conscious Jewish lives. Together we will explore several of these mitzvot and their applicability to our day to day experiences. Together we will explore the essence of what it means to embody kedusha-holiness.”
We begin at 9:45 a.m. and will adjourn in time for Rabbi Bergman’s Sermon. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
Shabbat Shalom,
Paul

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Parshat Shemini 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–The Silence that Speaks Volumes

At a time of great joy in the sanctification of the Mishkan/Tabernacle, Aaron’s first born sons, Nadav and Avihu, die bringing a special offering of their own.

What did they do to deserve a death sentence? Where was the justice?

The commentators have a number of different suggestions. None of them are particularly satisfying (to me).

Most interesting is Aaron’s response to this tragedy: silence.

How we struggle in life trying to come to grips with the mystery of God’s ways. How we agonize over what we cannot control.

Aaron’s silence actually speaks volumes.

We cannot control the actions of others, especially not God’s, but we can control how we react.

Sometimes we respond quickly, speak impulsively or judge rashly. Responding out of anger and emotion risks much and generally gains little. We sometimes say things we later regret. There is no satisfactory answer to Aaron’s question. He does not even ask it.

Was Aaron just in shock and speechless or was he exercising great inner strength and faith that there were reasons for these deaths, whether or not God has yet shared them?

We cannot judge a person in such unspeakable pain, but we can admire their strength in how they choose to deal with it.

This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Herbert Yoskowitz at 9:45 a.m. About this, he states that he will discuss, “Life and Death in Plato’s Phaedo and in Parashat Shemini.”

Our Torah Study is always enlightening and inspiring and all are welcome to be a part of this warm and welcoming community. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–The Journey from Passover to Shavuot

Many people use the time from the Second Night of Passover to Shavuot—Sefirat HaOmer as a time for personal reflection and refinement.

After all, the Midrash tells us that B’nai Yisrael was at the lowest level of spiritual degradation in slavery, almost beyond recovery, they nevertheless refined themselves and merited receiving the Torah—just 7 weeks after the Exodus!

We count 49 days after the first day of Pesach and the 50th day is Shavuot. The rabbis teach us that the time of “Sefirah,” as it is called, offers another opportunity to think about self-improvement.

During the Passover Seder we were supposed to speak about making an exodus from our own personal Mitzrayims—an escape from the problems, issues and circumstances that hold us back.

During the time of Sefirah, we can be implementing the plan to do so.

This can be an important time for spiritual growth. Like everything though, God puts the keys to our freedom in our own hands. What we do with those keys is up to each of us.

This is a very powerful time and opportunity. How will use it to maximum effect?

This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Aaron Bergman. About this edition of Shabbat Torah Study, Rabbi Bergman describes the topic as, “We are the ones who ask the questions at God’s Seder: a history of arguing with God.”

9:45 a.m. Come as you are stay as long as you like.

Moadim L’simchah and Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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