Monday, November 25, 2019

Follow- Through is Key

Recently I’ve decided to try golfing. I am still working on my swing at the driving range. The good news is that I’m missing the ball less often. I also have no plans of giving up my day job. One of the things I’ve learned about golf is the importance of the follow-through on a swing. Good follow-through enables the golf ball to travel further and more accurately. The same is true in baseball (something I know a little more about than golf). As a baseball coach, I would remind my players of the importance of follow- through: both when hitting the baseball, as well as when you’re running to first base. Follow-through is an important quality to have in life. A person without follow-through ends up being inconsistent and not dependable. When we examine Eisav’s persona, one trait that stands out is his lack of follow-through

If Eisav was such a bad guy, how could Yitzchak have loved him? Our point of departure is the Torah itself, as it says at the beginning of Parshat Toldot: “Yitzchak loved Eisav Ki Tzayid B’fiv.
According to the literal meaning of the words, Yitzchak loved Eisav because Eisav provided him with good meat. According to Midrash Tanchuma, Eisav tricked Yitzchak into loving him. The Midrash goes on to elaborate that Eisav would ask his father things that would make him look righteous, such as whether one needs to give tithes from salt. The question still remains: How could Yitzchak have been fooled so easily?

There are two ways in which a person can be deceitful. A person can have an accurate sense of self but tries to fool others by not showing his or her true colors. Alternatively, a person can take the deceit so far that they even deceive themselves. In this case it is much more difficult to spot the deception as the lines between truth and lies has been blurred. Eisav is depicted as a person who began to believe his own lies. Medrash Rabba teaches that Eisav is symbolized by the pig. A pig has split hooves but does not chew its cud. The pig is described as always laying down with its hooves outstretched for everyone to see, as if to say, “look at me, I’m kosher.” Eisav’s ability to deceive even himself was what caused Yitzchak to be deceived as well.

Alternatively, one can view Eisav as being sincere, yet his flaw was being terribly inconsistent. Our Rabbis teach that on the day that Eisav sold the birthright to Yaakov he violated five serious sins, among them “Kafar B’Ikar” denying the very existence of G-d. And yet this does not prevent Yaakov from demanding that Eisav swear that his deal to buy the birthright is binding. It seems peculiar that Yaakov would accept Eisav’s oath in light of the grave sins that Eisav had recently committed. The Altar from Slobodka explains that Eisav’s problem was that he lacked any shred of consistency. He was capable of committing the worst of sins one moment, and then takes an oath and truly means what he says.

The Talmud in Sotah quotes the Midrash that Eisav’s head was buried in Me’rat Hamachpela with his righteous relatives. This is because Eisav might have had good intentions. However there was never any follow-through that enabled those intentions to be translated into attitudes and deeds. Let us learn from Eisav’s shortcoming and ensure that we have good follow-through that enables our intentions to translate into actions that hit their mark every time.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Shabbat Chevron

Parshat Chayei Sara has been designated as Shabbat Chevron because the Parsha describes Avraham’s purchase of the Machpela Cave and surrounding land as a burial location for Sara. Last year 40,000 Jews celebrated Shabbat Chayei Sara in Chevron, in a strong demonstration of the Jewish connection to this city. 

The Ramban cites Bereishit Rabbah (55:10), which claims that the origin of the name Machpelah (double) may stem from the fact that the Hashem is said to have folded the very tall corpse of Adam in half, in order for it to fit into the cave. Even though the cave was always known as Machpelah, the local Hittite people were unaware of the name’s significance, or that there were graves in the cave. That may also be the reason why in our Parsha, the local people refer to the entire area as Machpelah, whereas Avraham refers only to the cave as Machpelah.

The Midrash teaches that Avraham and Sara had longed to be buried in the final resting place of Adam and Eve. However, no one knew the exact location of that burial place. On the day that Abraham was informed by the angel that Sara would give birth to Yitzchak, Scripture states (Genesis 18:7) that Avraham went out to his herd to select animals in order to prepare a feast for his guests. According to the Midrash, one of the calves ran away into a cave. When Avraham followed the calf, he found Adam and Eve resting on their couches, and a spiritual light of incredible brilliance burning above them. The entire scene was enveloped in incense-like fragrance. This place was the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, the Hittite

Chevron was Avraham and Sara’s first permanent home in the land of Canaan. They lived there for some 25 years, relocating to Beer Sheba only after the destruction of Sodom and the incestuous behavior of Lot and his daughters. In Beer Sheba, Avraham proclaimed monotheism, and the Torah states (Genesis 21:33) that he maintained an Eishel in Beer Sheba, which is interpreted by the Midrash to mean a food pantry, or an inn for wayfarers. Even when living elsewhere, Avraham apparently visited Beer Sheba frequently. We now find that Avraham and Sara have moved back to Chevron, and they have been living there for approximately twelve years.

As residents of Beer Sheba, Avraham and Sara were concerned that the Hittites would not allow them to purchase the burial plot in Chevron; so when Sara was 115 years old, they moved back to Chevron, in order to establish permanent residency there, enabling them to purchase the plot.

The name Chevron comes from the Hebrew root of Chibur. As we learn from the previously cited Midrash, Chevron is a location that connects Heaven and Earth. This is one of the hallmark tasks of a Jew: to contribute to the world while acknowledging and publicizing the existence of a spiritual realm. Chevron is also a location that fosters a connection between us and the land of Israel, as well as the connection between us and our heritage / our ancestors (as the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, besides Rachel, are all buried there).

On this Shabbat Chayei Sara/ Shabbat Chevron, let us consider our connection to the Land of Israel and to our Jewish heritage: In what ways are they meaningful? How can we gain more from these connections? How do we transmit the importance of these connections to our children? How can we strengthen these connections in the future?

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cultivating a Culture of Caring

As a way to purify himself and improve his character, Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk accepted upon himself two years of wandering in exile. When he finally returned to Lizhensk, Reb Elimelech wanted to know how his family had fared during his self-imposed exile. He approached the very first man he saw and inquired about his family. The man replied that his son Eliezer was very sick. Reb Elimelech hurried home, burst into his home and immediately asked his wife, “What’s wrong with Eliezer?” His wife responded that Eliezer is fine and in school at the moment. “But I was told that Eliezer was very sick,” Reb Elimelech explained to his wife. After a moment’s thought she responded, “Whoever told you that must have confused our Eliezer with another Eliezer in the neighborhood, who is indeed very sick.” Reb Elimelech was relieved to find out that his son was okay. But after a moment of reflection, he chastised himself saying, “Elimelech! After two years of exile, undertaken to improve your character, you still distinguish between your Eliezer and someone else’s Eliezer?!” If so, then I have not accomplished anything with my exile.” Then Reb Elimelech turned around and went into exile for another year.

In Parshat Vayera we read how Hashem remembers Sara and she gives birth to Yitzchak. This episode comes immediately after we are told how Avraham prayed on behalf of Avimelech and his household, thereby restoring their reproductive functions after they were taken away as a Divine punishment. The Talmud (Baba Kamma 92a) notes the connection between these two stories and teaches:

“Anyone who asks for compassion from Heaven on behalf of another, and he requires compassion from Heaven concerning that same matter, he is answered first.”

The Tiferet Shmuel translates this Talmudic passage slightly differently: “Anyone who prays for another as intensely as he would pray for his own needs, is a prayer that will be given priority.”

Empathy and sympathy are benevolent emotions. Both are ways in which a person shows concern for a fellow human being. But neither of these emotions achieve the level of connection and concern that Jews are supposed to show for one another. Within the Jewish People, it’s not enough to love one another. The Torah commands us to “Love your fellow as you love yourself.” Rabbi Akiva taught that this mandate is a fundamental principle in the Torah. It is a high degree of identification with another person, one that is meant to be a hallmark of the Jewish People. The principle upon which this identification is built is called Arvut: Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Lazeh. On a spiritual level, the Jewish People are one complex yet unified organism. If one Jew is in trouble, it’s not only a personal problem, but it has an impact on the totality of the nation. When we help a fellow Jew we should view it in some way as if we are helping ourselves.

Parshat Vayera has been designated as Bikur Cholim Awareness Shabbat. Just as God visited Avraham when he was recuperating from his circumcision, so too do we have an obligation to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of those who are ill out of a sense of Arvut. Please take a moment to review all of the services offered by Bikur Cholim of Hollywood and find a way to get involved.
We are also fortunate this Shabbat to host participants in the Peace of Mind program. We are honored to have with us a group of soldiers who bravely defended the State of Israel. As proud Zionist we believe that members of the IDF serve not just the State of citizens of Israel, but all Jews around the world. It is a privilege for us to express our sense of gratitude and Arvut to those who have demonstrated their sense of Arvut in defense of the Jewish State.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

New Cheshvan Holidays

The Jewish month after Tishrei has no Biblical nor rabbinic holidays contained therein. While most people refer to our current month as Cheshvan, according to most sources its proper name is Marcheshvan or M’rachsh’van. Marcheshvan is probably derived from its location in the calendar. In Akkadian (Babylonian/Assyrian), “w” (vav) and “m” (mem) sounds can interchange. As a result, Marcheshvan which is from the two words “m’rach” and “shvan,” would have been “warh” and “shman,” in Akkadian, corresponding to the Hebrew “yerech shmini,” thus “eighth month.” When the eighth month is mentioned in the Mishnah and Talmud, it is referred to as Marcheshvan. Throughout all of Rashi’s Biblical and Talmudic commentary, he also refers to the month as Marcheshvan.
Some people erroneously think that the correct name for this month is Cheshvan, and the prefix “Mar” was added because it’s the Hebrew word for “bitter”.  According to this theory, Cheshvan is “bitter” because there are no Jewish holidays contained therein, and the bitterness is even more pronounced due to the abundance of holidays in the previous month of Tishrei. Even though this is false, this misconception has halachic implications. Since the mistaken practice of simply calling the month Cheshvan is so widespread, either Cheshvan or the two-word Mar Cheshvan is now acceptable, post facto, if erroneously used in a legal document such as a get (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 126:17).

In Israel today, Cheshvan contains two Jewish holidays. On the 29th of Cheshvan is the holiday of Sigd. Sigd is a holiday of the Ethiopian Jewish community, known as "Beta Israel". The Knesset legislated the Sigd Law-2008, declaring the 29th of Cheshvan as a national holiday. The name of the holiday is derived from the Hebrew word for prostration, "sgida".

During Sigd, which is celebrated on the 29th of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan – 50 days after Yom Kippur (similar to the holiday of Shavuot, celebrated 50 days after Passover), the community marks the renewal of the covenant between the Jewish people, God and His Torah. During the holiday members of the community travel to Jerusalem and visit the Wailing Wall and the promenade in the city's “Armon Hanatziv” neighborhood. The holiday serves as an annual gathering of the entire Ethiopian community, and its members view it as an opportunity to strengthen the connection with their roots and culture.

The Kessim (Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders), dressed in their traditional robes, carry the Torah scrolls while holding multi-colored umbrellas. They stand on an elevated stage, read excerpts from the Bible and recite prayers before members of the community, also in Hebrew. Public officials attend the celebration and greet the audience, and many of the community members continue to fast until late in the afternoon.

And this past week, on the 7th of Cheshvan, was Yom HaAliyah, the newest Cheshvan Jewish holiday. It is an Israeli national holiday established to acknowledge Aliyah, immigration to the Jewish state, as a core value of the State of Israel, and honor the ongoing contributions of Olim to Israeli society. Originally, the proposed date was the 21st of Tevet, Eliezer ben Yehuda’s birthday, since he was the one who revived the Hebrew language. They felt that his birthday would be the best day to celebrate since Modern Hebrew is the tie that connects all of the immigrants to the State of Israel and gives them a common language. Then people began to celebrate Yom Ha’Aliyah on the 10th of Nisan, the date that B’nai Yisrael crossed the Jordan River 3500 years ago when the entire nation made aliyah and entered the land with Yehoshua bin Nun. However, the date was rejected since the 10th of Nisan falls out during Pesach vacation and would not be celebrated properly. The final date that was decided on is the 7th of Cheshvan which always falls out during the week that we read Parshat Lech Lecha, where we read about Avraham and Sarah’s aliyah to the Land of Israel.
The 7th of Cheshvan is also the date on which in Israel, the request for rain is included in the weekday Amidah. It emerges that in modern times, after a busy month of Biblical Tishrei holidays, Cheshvan is an opportunity for us to celebrate the modern miracle of the State of Israel and the ingathering of Jewish exiles from around the globe.