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As we sit in our sukkoth, reminding us that we aspire for God to spread over us a Sukkah of Peace, we turn our thoughts and reflections to the State of Israel. I thought this sermon recently given would be food for thought.
The portion, Ki Tavo speaks of pillars to be plastered and carved when crossing the Jordan. We were told to make twelve pillars with the words of the Torah carved in Hebrew. Some understand that these are to be left, and a new set of stones carved on Mt. Grizim in Samaria. Others, that these same pillars be erected on Mt. Grizim, but plastered anew, and this time more clearly carved. About this our midrash says ketov al ha avanim baer Hetev. It means write it on the stones in seventy languages for all of the world to get the message of Torah.
One wonders why they needed to do the task twice. Why write it only in Hebrew the first time, and only after, in the land on the mountains in Samaria, should they then be written in seventy languages? Why not do the opposite? Let them see the Torah in languages they understand outside of Israel! Why do both at all? Our sages answer that Israel must first carve out its own distinct identity before it can give to the world. It would be nice to be “all one” as some Eastern religions strive to accomplish. But Judaism is not this way. Rabbi David Zemmel, in his book, The Soul is the Story, puts it this way: Humanity is the whole body. But the whole body cannot function with all the organs being "as one." A liver needs to be a liver and a spleen a spleen. Individuated, each organ contributes to the beautiful functioning of the whole. If every religious culture was a liver, humanity at large would be in big trouble. As Y.L. Peretz put it, in the time of the Messiah we will all bring our individual brand of wheat to the Universal Silo. Until that time, each people must cultivate their own brand. Diversity is the name of the game. Viva la difference is the order of the day.
So it was important that the entire Torah be written out first in Hebrew and absorbed as the inheritance of one people–the mission of one religious entity. Only then can that religious Peoplehood have the strength to convey it to world at large. As I read much of the criticism of the new Basic Law (Nation-State Law) which the Israeli Knesset approved last month, I get the idea that many would wish Israel to be for every culture and every language. I believe, however, that this is asking more of the State of Israel than is either possible or ideal. If Ruven Rivlin, the President of Israel, calls some of its language problematic for minorities in Israel–that some terminology may emotionally disenfranchise them–then clearly some changes are warranted. But not its basic premise. It bothers me that so many Jewish organizations have given this impression.
Its basic premise is that The State of Israel is the one and only Nation State of the Jewish People. It was declared so from the get-go, both by the Zionist Congress in 1897 who birthed Zionism and the British who bequeath a far larger territory in Lord Balfour’s time, 20 years later, as a place for a “Jewish Homeland.” As such, Israel and Jewish Israelis have a right to declare that it is a State, wherein self-determination is to be realized by the Jewish People. Israel and the Jewish Israelis therein have a right to declare Hebrew the national language and those of Jewish origin to have the right of return. That, after all, is the point of a Jewish State. Furthermore, this always implicit understanding about Israel’s raison d’etre was necessarily explicit by calls to make it a bi-national state and to dissolve the Jewish majority through Palestinian immigration. It is made necessary by those who claim Jews are not indigenous to the land of Israel but rather, Palestinians are, Which is, historically, patently false. It was made necessary by BDS, designed to dismantle Israel as a Jewish State. And it is made necessary by the adamant refusal of Palestinian leadership to establish a state and coexist side-by-side with Israel.
Certainly all of Israel’s citizens–Jew, Arab or Druze–should have equal rights before the law. Certainly the state should provide security, employment and educational opportunities to its minorities, especially those that serve in the Israeli Army. But many democracies have a national religion–England, Belgium, Holland and France, for instance–and three of the four have one national language. And it is hypocritical for Arab nations to call such a basic law racist or supremacist. Every single Arab nation declares itself an Islamic State where Sharia law is part of its judicial fabric. Every single Arab Nation has Arabic prominently featured as its national language. And every single Arabic nation (numbering 24 of the 56 Muslim Nations) has either a small, persecuted Jewish community or none at all, having expelled them before or after the birth of the State of Israel, telling them to pack up and "go home."
Israel, ensconced in its Hebraic and Judaic character, however, is and will be, only the beginning. Israel wishes to send out an articulated expression of the Jewish State in seventy languages. Israel not only wants to send its Torah to the diaspora as a whole through Jewish education, but also to send its technology, its intelligence, its first response teams, its agronomic advancement, and water and solar strategies. Israel wishes to make its imprint in 70 languages. But only with its Hebraic and Judaic identity intact can it do so most effectively. So says our Torah today: first comes the Torah fully articulated as a Jewish reality, then comes its translation to the world.
May there come a time when Israel can share all to the world at large, even "former" enemies, and to that let us say Amen. Read More
Four years ago I stood on the bima and said, “We now come to the part of our Yom Kippur service, when everyone is thinking, ‘Ahh, I do not have to stand up and then sit down every other minute. I can sit back and relax, maybe close my eyes and take a little nap.’” While I am sure all have come today with a idea of what your commitment to the synagogue’s appeal will be, I will not mind if you take a nap, as long as you double your commitment!
It is my honor to give this ENJC Yom Kippur appeal. Today, in giving the Yom Kippur appeal, I want to “appeal” to each and every one of you. My appeal to you is to HELP US HELP YOU!
ENJC is now in its 62nd year of existence! Obviously we have been doing something right, and we are continuing to do so. I am very excited to be your ENJC president again. We have a wonderful staff, with Mary, our executive secretary, Fran, our Religious School principal, Emily, our Religious School secretary, and our custodians, Glenn and Lou, under the leadership of Todd. Next time you are in the building, please say Thank You to them!
Thank you as well to Rabbi and Cantor Magarik, and the numerous congregants that have led and participated in our services. I want to thank all the people of ENJC who have helped make this the “hamish” synagogue that we are today. Rather than run the risk of upsetting someone by not naming them, I will not to mention any names individually this year. You know who you are. Whether you help financially with your generous donations, you come to for daily minyan, Shabbat or Sunday morning services, are on the board as a VP or trustee, or if you are one of the many that we know we can call and you will be here for whatever needs to be done, Thank You! And a very special thank you to all who have contributed in any way to this year’s High Holiday services–be it coordinating babysitting, the various children services, ushering, all the honors and aliyahs, to chair and book set-up, sukkot set-up and all those small important details that I am sure that I left off.
If you are not involved, it is time to get involved. We can never have enough people to help. Everything is easy when there are many to do it.
It is necessary to spend money in order to save money going forward. We have been making improvements throughout the building. We are in the process of changing all of our lighting to LED. Our major expense is the roof. We have recently sealed the portion of our roof over the ballroom area where there had been numerous leaks. Fortunately, because we invested in this project, despite the heavy rains of late, we now have a dry ballroom. We need to continue this project to repair the remainder of the roof area.
I want to remind all that our Yom Kippur appeal is the ENJC’s major fund raiser of the year. Please be generous. Please help by increasing your donation this year. I would rather try to raise the money through this appeal than find it necessary to add an additional surcharge to your bill.
So now it’s time to wake up. Remember my deal–if you sleep, you have committed to doubling your Yom Kippur contribution. And because I must admit that I am guilty of falling asleep in prior years, I, too, will double my contribution this year.
Of course doubling your donation is not limited to those who fell asleep. Remember the roof project!
Have a happy and healthy New Year! Read More
Deuteronomy begins with the statement, Hoyil Moshe Baer et Hatorah Hazeh, explaining that Moses explicated a Torah document in his last month of life, reviewing it and reflecting upon its meaning. Interestingly, the commentator Nachalat Tzi notes that the word "Baer" should really be the infinitive of "to explicate," leading to a rich additional meaning: that Moses himself had become a "be'er," a wellspring–a Maayan mitgaber, an everflowing fountain of understanding and insight into the profundity of Torah and a fountain to express it to the people.
Look at how far Moses had come, from a person who stuttered and felt he couldn't communicate! He actually exhibits that fear of public speaking. Being summoned by God himself at the burning bush, for most of us, would have been sufficient inspiration. But Moses argues with God, "God, please send someone else..." While here, in Deuteronomy, we see a Moses who is actually a co-author of the fifth book of the Torah, which is the written transcript of his explanatory comments before the people in his last month of life. It makes us ponder that sometimes it's very important to break through perceived limitations no matter how much we hold on to them.
We sometimes have no choice. There are things that make us uncomfortable and situations we avoid. We have notions of our own limitations and we proceed in life pretty much trying to avoid them. We cannot but take them into account. Yet that does not mean that we should be defined by them and ruled by them.
Actually we have words for this, which is a bit of psychobabble, but we call them our fears and our phobias and our "I'd rather nots." An internet site that Google brought me to tells of the six most common of phobias. I'll stop at six because on the seventh we rest! The first most common phobia is mysophobia, the fear of germs. People who succumb to it look like they have OCD, but actually they just have mysophobia. The second most common phobia is pteramahamophobia, or fear of flying. Most of these folks cannot be coaxed onto a plane for even the most important family reunions. Then there is the socialphobic, who has a fear of social gatherings and especially public speaking. Such folks are found inside their homes most of the time. There is the tryptanophobic, the one who fears doctors appointments and especially needles, and the astarophobic who fears thunderstorms. I had a dog like that once, which was so phobic that it ran under the bed, shaking, during thunderstorms. Finally, we end on the six most common of phobias–the cynophobic, who fears man's best friend, the family dog.
Often, people who have severe manifestations of these phobias are doomed to being limited by them, preferring not to confront them. But most of us are somewhere in the more midrange of the spectrum and need, bluntly, the "courage to confront them." Scientists have shown that many of these conditions can be cured by the method of successive approximation–the facing of lesser to eventually more intense examples of the phobia. For instance, with a fear of snakes, folks start with stuffed animal snakes, then eventually rubber ones, and then finally the courageous at heart are ready to encounter and hold a boa constrictor. A willing heart can hopefully one day master fear and reluctance.
Moses is a case in point. This was a guy who didn't like speaking in public. "God," he said numerous times, "I am slow of speech, I stutter, I am heavy of tongue." God's responds with, "Take Aaron with you and he will speak for you." Moses reluctantly agrees and then grows into the job. First he has Aaron as a spokesman, then he lets Aaron hold and use his rod while Moses himself speaks, then Moses has the rod and speaks without Aaron there, and then he speaks without the rod and commands respect. During the plague of locusts, he not only speaks, but by darkness his rod touches heaven. Moses becomes not only great in the eyes of the Hebrews, but he is eventually more greatly respected by the Egyptians than even their Pharaoh. By the time of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses cannot help but wax eloquent. He's a cross between Shakespeare and Churchill. Two-thirds of the Book is Moses's compelling oratory. He cannot stop talking and motivating.
Heres a poem I wrote, inspired by this evolution:
Moses at first was so reticent
he claimed that he couldn't speak.
He hemmed and he hawed, how could he present?
He had no charisma or cheek.
God said 'enough, Aaron's your mouthpiece.
I'll tell him just the right words to say.
Just take this miracle rod at least
when to Pharaoh the visit you pay.
Moses agrees but soon we shall see
that Aaron's the one with the rod.
Moses is talking quite capably
a switcheroo that is quite odd.
Soon Aaron is along for the ride;
the staff it's not mentioned at all.
And by the fifth plague Aaron's not by his side,
Moses as leader stands tall.
By locusts Moses is raising his staff,
by darkness his hand touches the sky.
At the start, sure he's nervous, his speech full of gaffes
and now get a load of this guy!
At first Moses stutters and mutters,
for talking he hasn't the bent.
But by the fifth book, he elegantly utters,
he's compelling and eloquent.
It gets us thinking, does it not bro,
that our potential we often abort,
when we limit ourselves by saying "no"
when at times we are selling ourselves short.
Learn from Moses that sometimes hard toil
is the way to excel and exceed.
Low expectations are so often our foil
they stop us in way's we'd succeed.
To be honest to ourselves is to admit that we can't do everything well. But our self-imposed limitations so often keep us from even trying. May all of us take stock of our assumed and ingrained limitations. Perhaps we will ask, "Is it really so," and then work on these phobias and limitations. May we, like Moses, blossom into something we never knew we could be, by trying and by working at our phobias, foibles and false assumptions, and let us say, Amen. Read More