Saturday, April 26, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Pesach (Our holiday has an egg too, sans rabbit)

I wanted to include some words I offered at the second seder about the egg.

The egg is an underexplained part of the seder plate. We popularly know it as a symbol of spring, which is the season (and in the bible, month, Aviv) of Passover, and of rebirth. It's round shape (actually an oval, which is elliptical) which indicates the cycle of the year and of life. It is the first thing we eat during the meal as it relates to Tisha B'Av which ALWAYS falls in the calendar on the same day of the week as the first day of Passover. The holidays relate as the days of redemption and of exile and both holidays are the two most auspicious in the ultimate redemption of the Jewish people (such as strong traditions indicating the Messiah being born on Tisha B'Av and Nisan being the month of both the past and future Redemption).

But it also is a symbol of the Jewish people, according to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz who, at his tisch at VBS a few months ago (and also written by Isaac Klein in "The Guide...", and I will add to both of them) spoke about the egg as the symbol of the Jewish people. Most foods soften as you cook them, but the egg hardens the longer it cooks. We Jews have been subjected to fire for millennia, from the time of Pharaoh to today and yet instead of weakening we have been forged through fire. We are known as an am kshei oref, the stiffnecked people. This has been detrimental when our stiffneckèdness caused us to wander the desert for 40 years. But it has also kept us Jewish. No matter what the world threw at us, we kept the course. All of these ancient civilizations who tried to destroy us are gone and we are still here. "For in every generation people try to destroy us, but the Holy One, Blessèd be He, saves us from their hands."

Gut Shabbos un Gut Yontif,

Saturday, April 19, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Acharei Mot/HaGadol (Pesach and Yom Kippur? What a Great Shabbat!)

Interesting Torah Portion for Shabbat HaGadol, the week where the Rabbi traditionally explains the complex preparation for Passover. (Though this year as it leads immediately into the first seder and chometz is already cleaned and nullified, it is merely symbolic)

But this week's actual Torah Portion in the cycle is Acharei Mot, the reading which serves as the reading for both the morning and controversial afternoon reading for Yom Kippur, which explains the complex preparations and service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur. It mirrors the tradition that after the Destruction of the Second Temple, the home became the Temple, the kitchen the Holy of Holies due to the familial discourse, the kitchen table the altar, with the head of household standing in as the High Priest.

The psychological, spiritual, and physical preparation of the Kohen Gadol very much parallels our own preparations the week before Pesach. The success of preparation is critical. Incidentially both the sabbath prior to Yom Kippur (Shabbat Shuvah) and the sabbath prior to Pesach (Shabbat HaGadol) used to be the only two at which a rabbi would speak. If only...

A gut shabbos un a gut yontif!

DVAR TORAH S3: Metzora (Find a bad name)

Quickly on last week's Torah Portion, I have in the past I have mentioned that the word Metzora, a person affected with a impurifying skin disease of Tzuras, is possibly a contraction of Motzi Shem Ra, someone who "seeks a bad name". We are studying (or were studying at that point) something called ona'at dvarim, harming people with words. It is considered worse than killing someone or committing adultery, as examples. Rabbi Schulweis, for both Tazria and Metzora discussed this particular piece in the Talmud. To be continued when I write the contents of my Chevruta Journal where I discuss this...

Shabbat Shalom.

Monday, April 14, 2008


As I have been kashering my apartment for Passover, the building has been hitting high heats, combined with the fact that it is is the 90s outside and I am burning the stovetops after using industrial oven cleaner, so I have all of the windows open as well as the front door and the air conditioner running full blast.

About a half hour ago I saw a bee flying around my dining room table. As someone who doesn't react well to bee-stings, I decided I can't just have him flying around my apartment, but I also didn't want to hurt him (unlike mosquitos whose sole existences is to suck my blood and spread disease which I will dispatch without regret, and sometimes on Shabbat; for though it is forbidden to kill on Shabbat, because mosquitos may carry a host of deadly diseases, including West Nileand therefore Pikuach Nefesh kicks in), but the bee doesn't actually want to hurt me. So I turned off the lights, ended up crashing my leg into the coffee table which I had turned around in order to clean and so my leg started bleeding.

Anyway, I tried to direct the bee outside, spraying some scented air fresheners as bees rely heavily on their sense of smell (or so is my understanding). But instead he went into my window screen. I shut the window trying to figure out what to do with him. I got a long umbrella and tried to remove my window screen or use it to direct him to the two gaping holes that were in the window screen before I moved in. He was just running around frantically. I tried to dustbuster him and then planned on reversing it when I got outside, but he ran away from it. I accidentially crushed him with the umbrella tip after about 15 minutes, he was mortally injured at this point, so I put him out of his misery, feeling horrible about it, though needing to uphold the mitzvah against Tzar Baaleh Chayim, that you shouldn't subject animals to pain.

This is part of a trend of ways I have been feeling about living creatures as of late. I have been seriously considering vegetarianism recently. Some, such as my downstairs neighbor, may scoff at my suggestion (though he has recently dropped a ranking in the food chain, himself). I was somewhat affected by the class we did on Shechita as well as seeing a rooster sacrificed for Kapparot with my cousins before Yom Kippur.

I, in fact, have been having feelings regarding the wastefulness of our culture, how we waste food, electricity, water, fill the landfills, it's totally ridiculous. I am totally guilty of all of these things. As someone who, due to my job, goes to bar mitzvah and wedding parties beyond number I notice the sheer wastefulness of people, beyond money.

I think the way we slaughter animals is the most humane way to do it. After seeing "No Country for Old Men" I think the captive bolt pistol is just barbaric. At least in Kashrut we need to show respect for the animals (or ideally we should)

I don't know what I'm going to do regarding this. I do enjoy eating meat and don't see myself as a vegetarian. But I'm thinking of cutting back. I don't know. Time will tell. Besides, this is a poor time of the year to give up meat. What can a vegetarian eat during pesach because soy, beans, rice, seeds, and corn are all forbidden. I can't just eat flax seed for an entire week (for some reason flax is okay...)

Anyway, that's just another rant. Delayed Dvar Torah on Metzora soon... possibly...

Friday, April 04, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Tazria/Shabbat HaChodesh (Next, on a very special month...)

One of my fellow First Year Rabbinical Students asked me to quickly tell her what the Torah portion was about earlier this week. I smiled at here and said, "bodily excretions!". Luckily for us, this happens to be the fourth of the four special Sabbaths (there are really five, but we don't talk about that one) leading up to the Festival of Passover.

We learned in our parshanut (rabbinic analysis of the Bible) class that some say that the Torah should have began with the mitzvah recorded in Exodus 12, that "this month is to be the first of months for you". The month we know by the Babylonian name Nisan and was known in Biblical times as Aviv is supposed to be the one with which we start the year.

The Exodus is the central event in all of Jewish history. More than Creation, more than Abraham's realization of God or his Covenant with God, Isaac's binding on the altar, Jacob's fight with the angel and subsequent name change, the Building or the Destruction of two Temples, the Exodus from slavery into freedom. Passover is the first holiday given to the Israelites; it actually is celebrated by them as they prepare to leave Egypt and it commemorates this night that was a dawn of a new era annually.

As we recite the psalm of the day at the conclusion of morning services daily, for Monday we say "today is the second day of the Sabbath". Shabbat is recalled daily. So too, we are to actually count our months from the month of Nisan. In my opinion it makes more sense to begin a year in spring, with rebirth. However Rosh Hashannah begins on the exact opposite side of the year with the autumn. Mishnah Rosh Hashannah 1:1 records actually FOUR New Years in Judaism (all referred to as Rosh Hashannah), two of which are the 1st of Nisan (two days from now) and the 1st of Tishrei (that which we refer to as the holiday of Rosh Hashannah). The month of Tishrei is referred to as "the Seventh Month" in the Torah because Nisan is supreme.

Nisan is possibly the most important month in the calendar. One might say that Tisrei with its many holidays which include Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur as well as the holiday which the Talmud refers to as "The Holiday", Sukkot, is the ultimate month. However, Nisan is the month in which we were redeemed in the past and according to legend is the month in which we will be ultimately Redeemed again through the Messiah. The month is so joyous that we don't recite the penitentiary service of Tachanun throughout the month. Fasts and eulogies are forbidden for the duration of the month, something which cannot be said about Tishrei.

So Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov, and indeed Shanah Tovah, on this Biblical New Year.