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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Shabbat HaGadol 5777– Plan Your Journey Well

This is Shabbat HaGadol. What I like best is not why we call it Shabbat HaGadol, but what tradition asks us to do on it. The Pesach Seder is so important on so many levels that we make sure that we at least use the Shabbat beforehand to think about it. It is our custom to actually review the Haggadah on the Shabbat before the Sedarim.

The essence of Pesach and of the Seder, is to see ourselves as though each of us personally came out of Egypt. This is our story and how we came to be.

When you plan a trip, do you go on line and check out interesting places to visit? Do you ever purchase a travel book, investigate the customs, temperature, activities and adventure opportunities there? Ever ask your kids to go on line to pick some places or activities? Do you think about what you will pack, maybe buy new clothes for the trip? If a foreign language is being spoken there, will you find a glossary of important terms?

Isn’t it true that we prepare to make the trip fun and exciting for ourselves and our families? Of course it is. As parents and grandparents, we are in the memory making business and we want to create the most meaningful memories for our children and grandchildren.

The Passover Seder is a very real spiritual journey. How will you prepare for it? What will you do to create deep, positive and meaningful memories for yourself and your family? Will you just be jumping on the plane in your pajamas with no suitcase and no plans. Are you going to go on a weeklong journey and just wing it? Will you spend more time thinking about Spring Break than the Passover Seder? If you are not leading your own Seder, how might you be able to help the leader? Have you offered?

We have the famous Four Questions. A question I never want to be asked is, “How Come You Did Not Really Try to Make This Night Different From All Other Nights” or worse, that as a result of our not giving this spiritual journey our best effort, our grandchildren are not even at a Seder to ask a question.

Don’t ask why it is called Shabbat HaGadol. Rather, ask what you can do to make sure it is and do it!

Torah Study starts at 9:45 a.m. Ruth Bergman will be leading us!

Best wishes to you and your family for a Shabbat Shalom and a Chag Kasher v’Sameyach!

Paul

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Shabbat Vayikra 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–From Freedom to Slavery?

Last week we noted that the very first mitzvah given to us as “free” people would be to take control of our time. Prior to freedom, the slaves lived according to their masters’ calendar. Now that the Israelites would be free, they would have choices about their time and calendar or would they?

As we prepare for Passover, we frequently think of ways that we continue to be enslaved or enslave ourselves. We creatively think of Passover as a time when we may break free from those chains of bondage, whether it be from any manner of bad habit or, God forbid, an addiction. We look for ways that we can free ourselves.

At Limmud Michigan a few weeks ago, Rabbi Yisrael Pinson of Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit led an interesting discussion of what he called a “reverse narrative” of the Passover Story. He assembled proof texts, commentary and Midrash that suggested that the Passover Story could actually be views as having gone from freedom into slavery. The Israelites went from the freedom of an unethical and immoral society (work hard by day, play hard by night) to becoming the servants of God with the boundaries of the ethics and morality imposed by God through the mitzvoth of the Torah. Our so-called new freedom was the freedom imposed by a new master, the Master of the Universe.

As parents we know that it is because we love our children that we establish boundaries. It is not love that allows chaos and disrespect to rule. The same holds true for the love that God shows us. Our children have freedom, but there are rules. We have freedom, but there is Torah.

Instead of asking what we would like to be free from, Rabbi Pinson challenged us to reflect on what we would like to become obligated to.

So, we would not focus on what we would like to stop or do less of. We would focus on what we would like to start and do more of.

Could we become more devoted to positive and healthy behaviors and traits? What might those be? I am sure we can all think of a few. I know I can. What would yours be?

This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Joey Krakoff at 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. He wrote: “As we begin the Book of Vayikra/Leviticus this week we see a distinct shift in focus as the Israelites seek to establish a code of holiness in behavior. We will explore the initial steps the people took in transforming their destiny as a people seeking to be separate and set apart from both their upbringing and from all other nations.”

I do hope you will join us. Being part of a warm and friendly gathering as part of a Shabbat community engaged in achieving a better understanding of our people and faith is just one example of a positive and healthy behavior. We also finish in time for the Rabbi’s sermon!

Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat shalom and best wishes to all for a Hag pesah kasher v’sameah!,

Paul

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Shabbat HaChodesh: Parshiyot Vayakhel & Pekudei 5777–Shabbat Torah Study–Happy New Year!

This is Shabbat Mevarchim (the Sabbath of blessing) for Chodesh Nissan (the month of Nissan) and Shabbat “Chazak” (for what we say) as we conclude the reading of the Book of Exodus. It is also Shabbat HaChodesh. To translate, that means we are getting closer and closer to our celebration of the holiday of Passover!
On this Shabbat, two Torah Scrolls are removed from the Ark. The special Maftir reading for this Shabbat is Exodus 12:1-20: “HaShem spoke to Moshe and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month is the first of your months, it is the first of the months of your year…”. This constitutes the commandment that we sanctify the months and that the Sanhedrin calibrate our calendar. It is also the first commandment to what would become the Jewish people as a nation.
Many are unaware that the month of Nissan (renamed in Babylonia or Persia from the Torah’s word Aviv —“Spring”) is the first month of the Jewish Calendar. They often think of Tishrei as being the first month because of Rosh Hashanah—the “Jewish New Year.”
Tishrei is the actually the 7th month, so the “Jewish New Year” occurs on the first day of the Seventh Month!
Some are unaware that there are actually 4 new years described in the Talmudic World. The Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1) tells us that “the first of Nissan is New Year for kings and for the Festivals; the first of Elul is New Year for tithing animals, [and Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say it is on the first of Tishrei]; the first of Tishrei is New Year for years, for the Shmitah years, for the Jubilee years, for agriculture, and for vegetables; and the first of Shevat is New Year for trees according to the School of Shammai, and the School of Hillel say on the fifteenth”.
Perhaps it is not so strange that the Talmud recounts different new years for different purposes when we think of our own modern parallels such as the calendar year beginning January 1, but fiscal year’s starting July 1 or October 1 and school years commencing in September.
It is also interesting to note that the very first mitzvah given to us as “free” people would be to take control of our time. Prior to freedom, the slaves lived according to their masters’ calendar.
Now that the Israelites would be free, they would have choices about their time and calendar or would they?
Next Shabbat, God willing, I will plan on discussing that new freedom to choose.
Until then, try to think about time: what you do with it and how you prioritize it. Is there such a thing as time that is sacred to you? Is there holy time? Are those concepts different? How so?
Since it is Shabbat HaChodesh perhaps spend some of your time in the next week thinking about Passover time and how you can be making it a most meaningful—perhaps sacred for the memories you will create. Perhaps visit http://www.haggadot.com/ to see what a resource it can be for you, your family and friends. Perhaps visit https://onetable.org/ to see if that site gives you any ideas.
This Shabbat we will learn with Jodi Gross, Adat Shalom Synagogue’s Director of Adult Learning who will focus on how the Mishkan as tabernacle for the people, built by the people and described in detail in this week’s parshiyot translates into creating scared space and time today.
Please join us at 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom,

Paul

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Shabbat Ki Tisa 5777 Parashat Parah–This Is Not Bull

Passover is fast approaching. The first Seder night is Monday, April 10th. The are 4 special readings of the sacred scroll the lead us into preparations for Passover and this coming Shabbat is the 3rd.

It is Parshat Parah.

In addition to the “regular” reading form the Torah, we read a section related to the mysterious laws and practices related to the purification rituals of the red heifer. What do the purification rituals of the red heifer have to do with Passover preparations you ask? Naturally, the rabbis, past and present give us a number of reasons.

First, it is an alarm clock reminder for preparing for the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. All of the pilgrimages are important, but being in Jerusalem Erev Pesach to sacrifice the Korban Pesach—the Pascal Lamb was even more so. The Talmud relates that the farthest point in Israel from Jerusalem was two weeks’ journey. When needed, the purification ritual was a one week process, so the Rabbis instituted the Parah reading 3 weeks before Passover as a reminder.

The desire for many of our co-religionists to go out of town for Passover has a lengthy history, but before there was Florida, Arizona and any number of cruises, there was Jerusalem.

Second, Passover is the holiday of redemption and a time when we anticipate the coming of Moshiach. The Haftarah reading for Parshat Parah speaks of an exile from the holy land and the purification that occurs through the suffering of that exile. We are reminded to use this time to reflect on what it is the God expects from us and to understand our role in bringing about the ultimate redemption.

Third, there is a mystical construct and parallel between the Parah rituals, the diaspora and Passover. Our Sages speak of the Red Heifer as the most mysterious of the chukim, because in the purification ritual, the person performing the purification ritual became impure themselves. In the diaspora, we have helped bring the beauty of Torah to the rest of the world, but our interactions have exposed our people to the risks of assimilation. Have we helped make the impure pure and in so doing rendered the pure impure?. Passover begins with the Exodus and the journey to the Promised Land. We left that state of impurity to ultimately merit the giving of Torah. Parah is a reminder to be on our own journey of improvement. We say, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Perhaps there is a metaphorical Jerusalem too to which we can aspire.

Fourth, it is a reminder to invite guests to your Seder. How so? The Tzaddik Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorki is said to have taught that the essence of the Parah Adumah ritual was “love your neighbor.” He taught that when someone forfeits something to help someone else, that is an example of love and selflessness. The sacrifice in the purification ritual is that the Kohanim temporarily give up their own purity so that others may be purified. Helping others may require taking time away from yourself or cost you in money or other resources. Yet, when you love someone, it seems to you a pleasure and not a sacrifice at all. When you lift your child from the mud, you may get muddy yourself, but would you not do that for your child? Are we not all God’s children? Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in relating Rabbi Yitzchak’s words states that “… the test of your level of love for your fellow human being is the amount of sacrifices you are willing to make.”

With just 3 weeks left until Passover, now would be an excellent time to show your love, care and concern for others by making sure that every person who wants to attend a Seder can. Who can you invite?

Parashat Parah is also a reminder to begin re-familiarizing yourself with the customs and rituals of the Haggadah and the Seder. I cannot think of a Synagogue, Temple or outreach organization that is not offering workshops to help you prepare to make your Seder interesting, engaging and FUN—yes, you read that correctly. Find one!

The Seder is supposed to be fun, especially for the children and extra effort is to be made to make each Seder experience a very memorable one. Passover is THE DOR L’DOR experience par excellence. Why not have your family and other Seder guests collaborate this year to make your own Haggadah? The learning process and fun involved could make this the most special Passover ever. Haggadot.com has a program that allows you to access incredible information and artwork and a platform that allows you to collaborate and it is all free.

Purim is now behind us and Parashat Parah starts the countdown to a very meaningful Passover.

This Shabbat we learn with our teacher Ruth Bergman. She will teach a little about the Red Heifer and purity, but plans to focus mostly on a different cow, this time the baby one that was the Golden Calf. That catastrophic event is told in this week’s Parasha of Ki Tisa. Reading of the Golden Calf and reading about the Red Heifer on the same Shabbat? Is that a mere coincidence?

Our Torah Study will begin at 9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.

Shabbat Shalom.,

Paul

P.S. Limmud Michigan 2017 is Sunday, March 19th in the Student Center Building at Wayne State University. It is not too late to register and you will be very glad if you attend. Register today or at the door!

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