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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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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