“Tish Talk” by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz
Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table
Tazria-Metzora, 5777/2017~ “Buried Treasures”
As we are reminded every year, the two Parshiyot we will read tomorrow relate in a big way according to our Rabbis of the Talmud, to the sins of “Lashon Hara”-tale bearing, gossip and the negative talk (and treatment) of others. During the Temple periods, when we had active Priests/Kohanim, one who has been guilty of Lashon Hara might suffer the leprosy of the Torah, or “Tzaraat” which will hopefully encourage him or her to change ways and take the necessary steps to heal. What is fascinating is that this disease was not limited to the skin or body, but might first hit one’s home, then clothes, and finally, if the sinning persists, the body itself. What always fascinated me more however, is that while this disease is clearly understood as punitive- a heavy handed “reminder” from Hashem, the first stage-the disease on the house—is also described by our Rabbis as a gift from Hashem. Almost like a reward or a “prize” in disguise. As Rashi explains, as we proceeded to conquer the Promised land, the Emorites, believing we were but a temporary nuisance, hid their treasures inside the walls of their “soon to be Israelite Occupied” homes. After we settled the land, occupied the abandoned homes, and presumably started speaking Lashon Hara (an inevitable result of Jewish life?-I so hope not), we get our first divine consequence-our homes are hit with dreaded Leprosy-and Voila! As we take apart the leprous walls we discover the Emorite treasures and become millionaires overnight.
Does this make sense to you? Why would G-d reward our destructively horrible rumor mongering and reputation assassinating slanderous ways with riches? And if Hashem sought to shower us with gifts as we settled the land of Israel why do so in such a backhanded fashion? Why not just mail each home a winning lottery ticket? Or have the cash buried in the exact spot we nail in our Mezuzot, for example, granting us the prize while we are engaged in a Mitzva-not as the result of our libelous actions towards our sisters and brothers?
Here is an idea: Our sages, philosophers and Rabbis throughout the generations have always understood that the intense desire to speak ill of others stems actually, not from our negative view of those others of whom we speak, but of our own insecurities and self-loathing. The confident and healthy-egoed person has little or no reason to speak less of others. She is not threatened by another’s prominence. It is when we feel “less than” that we often feel the urge to lift up ourselves by bringing others down. After all, “I’m not so bad after all…look what happened to her or him, look what they did…..”. This reality has also been understood by leading psychologists and behavioral scientists, who have placed a great deal of emphasis on the building of self-worth and the “rehabilitation of the ego” as an antidote to expending “negative” energy-never a truly productive endeavor and almost always destructive.
Well, the Torah, beat us all to it with its own rehabilitation program. What better way to show someone who suffers from a lowered self-esteem or feelings of unworthiness, that he is so wrong about himself? What a brilliant manner through which to demonstrate how we each possess infinite inherent worthiness? We literally sit on top of buried treasures! Look at what’s behind the walls! Under the stones! The temporary and illusory benefit gained from putting others down pales in comparison. We just need to tear down some of our own walls, to uncover who we really are and remove the stones that block us from seeing that we are actually and personally loaded with treasures underneath. This is how Hashem rehabilitates the bad-mouthing gossiper. The “punishment” is indeed the greatest gift-building us up as we learn to notice-and realize our own value, a value not contingent on comparison to the next door neighbor. By us finding the hidden “Emorite” * gold in our own homes, we learn how little is to be gained by looking at others, and reminds us of the greatness that lies within-and under our very noses. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Digging!
* The Medrash cited by Rashi singled out the Emorites as the ones who buried their treasures- despite there being seven nations inhabiting Canaan. Why then just mention Emorites? You might note that the word “Emorite” also relates to the Hebrew word “Emor”, which implies “soft” speaking, devoid of harshness or perhaps negativity. Maybe that lesson is the real “gold” of the Emorites” hinted to by the Medrash/Rashi. Some more food for thought.
at the “Shul on the Beach, Venice, California.
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“Tish Talk” by Rabbi Shalom Rubanowitz
Thoughts from your Rabbi for Your Shabbos Table
Shabbos Hagadol, 5777/2017~ “Hunger Games” at the Seder
Almost every Haggada I read provides another explanation for why the Shabbat before Pesach is called “Shabbat Hagadol, or as we Ashkenazis say, Shabbos Hagodol”. In this Tish Talk I get to share an idea of my own, which sprung from my attempt to answer the following question, asked pretty much every year by somebody: “At the start of the Seder, in the “Ha Lachma” part, we say: “Kol Dichfin…Kol Ditzrich”, which is Aramaic for “Whoever is hungry, or whoever needs [ to partake in the] Pesach…please join us-and eat! “. But–what kind of invitation is it when it occurs after everyone is already home “for the Seder” and behind closed doors? Who are we inviting? We are all here! Is this just meaningless lip service?
But–how about reading that Aramaic with a little different emphasis, like so: “Whoever is HUNGRY, let him eat, whoever NEEDS Passover, let her partake…”. In other words, the invitation is to those present, here with us, offered with a caveat: “This experience will inform you-and transform you, if you are hungry for it. If you are seeking to glean. If you have identified a need to connect, learn, change. The stuff that happens here is not automatic. Many leave the Seder just a little tipsier that when they arrived but with their soul untouched. Others become unhinged, elevated to another plane. Thus, some deep soul searching, questioning oneself with “what does the Seder mean to me and how do I hope it will affect me” must occur prior to jumping in.
Alas, how can this be helpful to the perhaps many of us who are at a loss to inspiration? What if we cannot identify any deep need or appreciation for the freedoms that the Seder night afford us? Enjoying the unique “freedom” of the Jewish identity is not axiomatic to our nature. How many of us pine for the opportunity to live a life consistently committed to Torah, G-d, and all the attendant obligations? Who really can say they NEED and are HUNGRY for this commitment to Judaism?
The answer lies in Shabbos. Experience a great Shabbat, a day of true peace from this world enveloped in the sphere of the spiritual, of Torah and of love- of our family, friends and community, and you will develop, cultivate and curate that desire to connect and be part of that holy world, that seat at the Seder table. Hence the Hunger Games. If you want the real Seder experience, try a GREAT Shabbos first, a Shabbat Hagadol, and you’ll not only be begging for that invitation, you’ll extend it to others.
Now here’s to a GREAT Shabbos to you!
at the “Shul on the Beach, Venice, California.
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Purim, 5777/2017: WHERE’S MY DRINK? I CAN’T SEE! A PURIM CHIDDUSH
We all know the famous/infamous command of Purim: “One must become intoxicated until he knows not the difference between cursed is Haman and Blessed is Mordechai”. (Talmud, Megilla). Much ink has been spilled on understanding this “Jewish drinking Mitzva” of getting hammered on Purim. It defies logic for so many reasons. One would have to be really, really drunk to not know the difference between say, Hitler and Churchill, wouldn’t we? Let alone the difference between Hitler and a Tzaddik like the saintly Chafetz Chaim! For modern times, would that mean we should get so plastered that we walk right into the heart of Gaza offering every sworn terrorist a L’chaim? And what about all the Mitzvos, the commandments we could so easily abandon while being smashed? Praying? (on time?) Damaging property? Remembering about G-d, Loving him…, being “conscious” in our Judaism and practice?
Here is a radical idea. The Talmud does not wish us to lose our identity and ourselves through the escapism of inebriation. Rather, the Talmud seeks us to lift the cloud sufficiently so that we find clarity and vision amidst a hazy world. To know who we are and what we stand for. To escape our day to day just enough to see ourselves and everyone a bit more clearly. It is so easy for us, especially us of American sensibilities, to say: “live and let live”. I’m ok you’re ok”. It’s a melting pot. To celebrate “Chrismikkuh”, and to bumper-sticker Rose Avenue with “Coexist” signs (see pic below). Too many of us like to be Mordechais -but with a “touch” of Haman. Let’s be Othodox, but not so much that our friends notice it. Let’s be spiritual but embrace materialism for “balance”. Says the Talmud: on Purim, remember that the Germans, the Hamans never forgot who we are. Mengele’s hand wouldn’t waiver because someone lit up a Hannuka Bush instead of a Menorah. Super clarity is what we seek: that we untangle the scurried and blurred lines. In this age of the “global citizen”, Haman and Mordechai cannot share the same identity. One must realize that indeed there is no actual difference between Blessing Mordechai and Cursing Haman. If Mordechai is blessed-that’s an automatic curse for Haman, and vice versa. Hamans and Mordechais, Israelis and Amalekites (those who wish us eliminated from the face of the earth), simply don’t get to share the same Kiddush cup.. May we all merit clarity of vision to know and see ourselves for who we are and what we stand for-this Purim and forever!
Good Shabbos and a Freilichen and Happy Purim!
Parshas Teruma, 5777: “Elevate your money-Elevate Yourself”
“These are the donations that you shall take…gold, silver and copper….” . Our Parasha starts by detailing the forms a of donations accepted/collected for the establishment of the Mishkon, our mini-temple in the post Exodus Sinai desert. As a child, I remember reading a cryptic comment by the “Chasam Sofer” (Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, 1762–1839) stating that letters making up the words “Zahav, Kesef and Nchoshes” (Gold, silver and copper) each correspond to another day the Torah is read in public, in Shul.
[Check it out as a Shabbos Homework Project! Here is a hint at how it works: the “Zayin from “Zahav” represents Shabbos, the seventh day of the week…etc.…, the “Samech” from KeSef represents Sukkos…etc.…]
I always thought the Chasam Sofer was providing us a “Torah hint” hint to the popular practice of offering a gift or a donation (money or anything of value) to the Shul at the time one gets an Aliya. I continued to wonder however why we would taint a clearly spiritual event like an Aliya to the Torah, being called up to bless the Torah, with the mundane commerciality of fund raising, or as some call it, “Schnoring”?
It’s Not Just Us that Gets the Aliya-Our Wallet Does Too!
Here is my offer of explanation: By bringing you and your “wallet” to the Bima of an Aliya, Judaism is making a statement: Money is not the root of all evil. It is not “bad”. It’s as wonderful or as crippling as we are. Utilize it properly, and it will elevate you, your souls and all those around you. Direct it towards negativity, and it brings you and all its directed to down as well. So, when we get an Aliya-which literally means an “elevation”, our practice has been to make sure our money gets an Aliya too! We couple our Bracha on the Torah with any donation we can make, so that we give our “gold silver and copper” a chance to rise to its destiny and take us along of the ride for lives of royal, but holy splendor. So, step on in let’s ride this elevator to the top!
Very Truly Yours,
Rabbi, Pacific Jewish Center
“Shul on the Beach” Located at
505 Ocean Front Walk, Venice Beach, CA
Email: email@example.comYisro – Standing up for Aseres Hadibros / The Ten Commandments
While we didn’t have a formal TOWN HALL discussion this past Wednesday, a Shiur/Torah talk actually occurred at the Kosher Food & Wine Expo attended by a number of our wonderful Chevra from the Shul on the Beach. It was great to see you all, pourers and pourees alike! We had a wonderful “Shomer Shabbos” representation! Here are the highlights of our Herzog-infused Torah:
THE QUESTIONABLE CUSTOM
You may be familiar with the following custom: About three times a year during the Torah reading/Laining when we read the Ten Commandments (when we read Parashas Yisro, Veschanan, and on Shavuos), the Gabbai “Klops” ( bangs) on the Bima and/or announces loudly: “ We will all now rise for the reading of the Aseres Hadibros/Ten Commandments…”. I have yet to see a Shul in North America in which this doesn’t occur (perhaps my Sephardi friends report differently?), but indeed this does not occur in every Shul-some rule that if the congregation sits during the rest of the Torah reading, it should remain seated during the reading of the Ten Commandments as well. What is the issue/debate?
The support for the custom: Quite obvious-it’s the Ten Commandments! These represent the very covenant between Israel as a people and Hashem. Surely we should stand up for this-no? As explicitly stated in the Torah :
In Sh’mot 34:28:
|28He was there with the Lord for forty days and forty nights; he ate no bread and drank no water, and He inscribed upon the tablets the words of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments.||כחוַיְהִי־שָׁ֣ם עִם־הֹ אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה לֶ֚חֶם לֹ֣א אָכַ֔ל וּמַ֖יִם לֹ֣א שָׁתָ֑ה וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב עַל־הַלֻּחֹ֗ת אֵ֚ת דִּבְרֵ֣י הַבְּרִ֔ית עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִֽים:|
And in D’varim 4:13:
|13And He told you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets.||יגוַיַּגֵּ֨ד לָכֶ֜ם אֶת־בְּרִית֗וֹ אֲשֶׁ֨ר צִוָּ֤ה אֶתְכֶם֙ לַֽעֲשׂ֔וֹת עֲשֶׂ֖רֶת הַדְּבָרִ֑ים וַיִּכְתְּבֵ֔ם עַל־שְׁנֵ֖י לֻח֥וֹת אֲבָנִֽים:|
The opposition however will say: Have we forgotten about the rest of the Torah? If we stand up for the Ten Commandments, how does that reflect on our reverence for the rest of the Torah? As Torah Jews of course, we firmly believe that every part of the Torah is of equal importance – it is all the word of Hashem.
RAMBAM/MAIMONIDES SPEAKS OUT
Rambam/Maimonides penned a Responsa on this issue and after discussion concludes that the proper practice is to not stand for “select” parts of the Torah. He felt that standing would lead to a diminution of belief in Hashem and the Torah by causing people to think some parts of the Torah are more important than others (See Talmud Berachot 12 discussing certain heretics’ belief about only certain parts of the Torah being valid).
THE CHALLENGE-HOW DO WE JUSTIFY MAINTAINING THE CUSTOM THAT THE GREAT MAIMONIDES OPPOSES?
Over the years I have shared a few approaches that support our prevalent custom to indeed stand up during the reading of the Aseres Hadibros. I will cite them briefly before I share with you my most recently inspired thought (Wednesday night):
- The Entire Torah is indeed contained and incorporated within the Ten Commandments, which are a composite of all 613 Commandments. Rashi on Sh’mot 24:12 states this, citing the Medrash Raba and R’ Sa’adiah Ga’on’s Azharot. [Philo’s De Decalogo has been suggested as an early source for this idea];
- When we stand up for the reading, we are simply “replaying” the actual scene/event in which the Torah was give, where we all did indeed stand as we listened to the delivery of the Ten Commandments. In recreating the event, we reenact and “reaccept” the Torah. This idea resonates when learning the words of the [ Medrash] PESIKTA: “HAKADOSH BORUCH HU [G-D] SAID TO YISROEL, MY CHILDREN, READ THIS PARSHA EVERY YEAR AND I WILL CONSIDER IT AS IF YOU ARE STANDING IN FRONT OF ME ON HAR SINAI AND RECEIVING THE TORAH.”. It was gratifying to hear this idea, shared as an original thought and Chiddush, by my dear friend R’ Avi Erblich, who attended our TOWN HALL impromptu gathering this past Wednesday night at the KFWE. Avi: Yasher Koach and Baruch Shekivanta!
MY WEDNESDAY NIGHT CHIDDUSH-FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I recall a Gemara, a famously quoted Talmudic statement from Tractate Makkot, 22b , as follows:
“אמר רבא, כמה טפשאי שאר אינשי, דקיימי מקמי ספר תורה ולא קיימי מקמי גברא רבה, דאילו בספר תורה כתיב ארבעים ואתו רבנן בצרו חדא”—Rava said: How foolish are some people, who stand up in honor of a sefer Torah, but they do not stand up in honor of a “gavra rabbah.” For it is written in the sefer Torah “forty”; the Rabbis came along and subtracted one.
In other words, people who show respect for a sefer Torah but not for the great men who interpret the Torah are truly foolish. For the Torah specifically states: “He shall administer forty lashes,” and yet the sages possess the power to override the Torah’s specific prescription and establish the maximum number of lashes as thirty-nine.
How about if we view the custom to stand during the reading of the Aseres Hadibros not as specifically rising to the words of the Ten Commandments-those are indeed not more divinely delivered than the rest of the Torah, but rather, we stand in honor of us humans, to whom the Torah was given! WE were given the ultimate gift-the opportunity to learn, absorb, and interpret the Torah and the actual word of Hashem. At Mt. Sinai, we, the Jewish people were inaugurated as “Living Torahs”. The “Ten Commandments” was our “swearing in” ceremony. The Covenant is remembered not because those words above all have heightened importance, but because at the time those words were delivered, we were raised up to achieve a level higher than the very words of Hashem themselves! Indeed, each and every one of us has been given that opportunity. To not only know the Torah, but to become its very master.
So my friends, when I will stand up this Shabbos, I will be standing up in honor of the Torah no doubt, but with a new enlightened understanding. I will be honoring each and every one of you-all of us, with the hope and prayer that we listen, absorb, share and embody those life-giving lessons in very beings so that we become as elevated-or even more elevated-than our beloved Torah itself!
Good Shabbos and Shabbat Shalom!