YOM HAZIKARON

Baruch atah … asher kiddshanu b’mitzvotav V’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Yom HaZikaron.” (Blessed…who has sanctified us through His mitzvahs and commanded us to kindle the candles of the Day of Remembrance.) So reads the blessing for the kindling of Rosh Hashana candles in Hassidic homes, as well as others who have adapted that text. “Yom HaZikaron” is another name for Rosh HaShana.

My own personal “Yom HaZikaron,” my own personal “Day of Remembrance” occurred earlier this week, as I witnessed the dismantling of the contents of the house I grew up in. True, I had only lived in that house for 10 years, but those 10 years were years of my childhood; those 10 years were my formative years. As the disposal companies carried away the bed I slept in, the desk that I all too often left hopelessly cluttered and the bookshelf that held the books that defined me as an individual, I watched in silence. Long before I set out for my home town this past Sunday, I knew that in all likelihood, I would not be able to bring myself to drive past 14 Coralberry once it was sold. It would be much too painful.

But the memories will not only remain within the walls of that three-bedroom structure with its “L shaped” living room and dining room. The memories will be shared with siblings and family members; the memories will be passed along to my grandsons, although I find it difficult to believe that they will have any interest to hear about squeezed joint mortar which, short of a major remodeling by the new owners, will remain in place, and the roxatone (white with gold flecks) paint that covered the used dining room set purchased at Cosman Furniture that has long been replaced. Similarly, my grandsons will in all probability roll their eyes, as I tell them about the primitive gas mower with a separate cord for starting purpose, that I all too often would have to coax to start before tending to the front and back lawn during the all too short Winnipeg summers.

Even though I am no psychologist, I cannot help but feel that memories fall into three categories:

Although it borders on an oxymoron, there are memories that, were it not for others to jog your mind, you would never have recalled the event or moment. However, once those memories are brought to mind – provided they are neither embarrassing nor painful – you are most incredulous that you could have suppressed the event or moment but are so very grateful that others reminded you of it. Thanks to their having jogged your mind, you now have yet another memory that you can fondly recall and possibly even embellish a little.

There are shared memories. These are the most common and quite often the funniest to recall. Share memories are substantiated memories. Shared memories are validated memories that reassure you that the event actually did take place and that you are not dreaming it or fabricating it. Shared memories are enriched memories. Others often tweak shared memories by contributing their own version, either real or contrived, in the hope of making the memories more special than you recall them to have been. At the very least shared memories tweaked by others add a level of  entertainment. Even if you are positive that the other person is stretching the truth, let that person remember  things that way he or she believes they actually happened. After all,  does it really matter if it was the hottest day ever or if you never said what they claim you said?

Perhaps most important of all, there are memories that are personal. Not because there is anything embarrassing, secretive or untoward about these memories. It’s simply because these memories  involve only you. And even if others were in fact part of these memories, it matters little if anything to them. Personal memories are the most special, because they are uniquely yours. And whether they bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye, it is your smile and your tear and no one else’s. Personal memories are uniquely yours without being cast as selfish. Personal memories are the glue that holds your past, your unique past together. Now that the contents of 14 Coralberry have been disposed of and once the house is sold, it will be these personal memories that I will cherish the most.

EIGHTY

For so many in this country, this past Sunday went by largely unnoticed. Other than being part of Labor Day weekend, precious few were aware that this past Sunday marked the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II. As Jews, we have a sacred task. Aside from continuing to serve as the moral conscience for a world that would all too willingly relegate remembering World War II to historians, we Jews must look for a deeper meaning to this 80th anniversary. The carnage that occurred between September 1, 1939 and May 8, 1945 must not be viewed solely in terms of a world war; the carnage that occurred between September 1, 1939  and May 8, 1945 must be viewed as a war that was thrust upon the Jewish world!

It was the great Talmudic sage Yehudah ben Teima who taught us that 80 is commensurate with strength. Little could he have realized just how prescient his words would prove to be. These last 80 years have been years of amassing unimaginable strength, both for Jews in Israel as well as for Jews here in these United States. During this time period (actually only 71 years, since Israel did not become a sovereign state until May 1948) Israel has succeeded in building an army that is feared by its enemies, begrudgingly respected by those who are ambivalent towards the Jewish State, and admired by her friends. From a non-military aspect, I never cease to be amazed by the non-stop construction of factories, office buildings and private homes; I continue to remain in awe at the founding of new towns and the paving of new roads. As for Jews in this country,  who could ever have dared to imagine back in 1939 that there would come a time where there would be annual Chanukah parties at 1600 Pennsylvania  Avenue? Our strength is not that there are Jews who are members of the first family, but that for the most part, American Jews are nonchalant about it. Currently, there are at least two presidential hopefuls who are either Jewish or who have Jewish spouses. Again, American Jews remain un-phased.

Centuries after Rabbi Yehudah ben Teima, lived Rabbi Chanina who was known for his wit when it came to word plays. An example his ingenuity can be found  toward the end of Shabbat services, between Ein Keloheinu and Aleinu, where he asks us to read a word as “Bonei’ich” (builders) rather than “Banei’ich” (sons). In the spirit of Rabbi Chanina, I suggest that “shmonim” the Hebrew word for “eighty” be read as “shmanim” (oils), a word that appears in the all-time Chanukah favorite “Ma’oz Tzur.” I do so, because for the better part of eighty years, we have been amassing Holocaust stories and vignettes that defied the odds and were therefore very much Chanukah in nature. With our marking the 80th anniversary or “shmonim shanah,” perhaps the time has come for us to focus on “shmanim”  or oils that are post Holocaust defying of odds, where survivors built and produced and contributed in ways that far surpass  the building, producing and contributing of those who never knew from such horrors. Not unlike Chanukah, it borders on the incredulous when one accomplishes the unimaginable during periods of darkness; not unlike Chanukah, survivor stories border on the incredulous, given what they were able to accomplish during periods of light.

On any typical weekday during Shacharit and Mincha, we implore the Guardian of Israel, “Al yovad goy echad” that the “unique nation” not be destroyed. If there were ever a time for this imploration to take on special meaning, it would be at this very moment. Numerically, “al yovad goy echad” equals 80. This nation, the Jewish nation, I believe is here to stay. Whether or not this nation remains unique is dependent upon us.

For the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II to have meaning in our lives, let us look back on these eight decades and regard them as 80 years of distinction, 80 years of defying the odds, and 80 years of strength.

HAPPY HEART

Typically, a visit to Israel for me consists of visiting relatives as well as taking in the sites. There were three sites I took in during this most recent trip, two of which I was totally unprepared for.

After dining at a pricey restaurant in Tel Aviv last Thursday night (not my style), rather than hail a cab, Shirah and I opted to embark on a 15 minute walk to the Arlozorov bus station to catch a bus back to Jerusalem (very much my style.) En route, we encountered a daughter pushing her elderly mother in a wheelchair. In all likelihood, the mother had sustained a stroke, given her unintelligible speech. It was however evident, that the mother had taken an immediate shine to me, in that she reached out to me with her good arm. Hand in hand,we walked for about 5 minutes, as I made small talk with the daughter. The daughter informed me that her mother’s native tongue was French. With the bus station across the street, it was time for daughter and mother to go their own way as well. Thereupon, I took the hand I had been holding, pressed it to my lips, turned to the mother and said, “Tres enchantez. Bon soir!” The smile on the mother’s face along with the smile on the daughter’s face was only equaled by the smile on my heart, knowing that I had made a difficult situation just that much better, even if it was only for a mere 5 minutes.

The bus to Jerusalem was already boarding. I handed the driver a 50 Shekel bill and said, “Two for Jerusalem.” “You’ll have to take your seats. You’re blocking the door. You can pay me later,” said the bus driver. Shirah and I took our seats and settled in for the 45 minute trip to Jerusalem. Upon arrival, I suggested to Shirah that we wait until everybody was off the bus, lest I hold anyone up as I paid the driver for the trip. “I owe you for the two of us,” I explained to the driver. “Look, I’m tired,” said the bus driver. “On your next trip to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, you’ll pay double.” Never in my life had this ever happened to me before! There was no way the bus driver could have known what transpired between me and the woman in the wheel chair. Was it an immediate reward from HaShem? But haven’t I taught any number of times, that HaShem does not interfere in interpersonal behavior, whether it be good or bad? And so, rather than rather than spend the rest of the evening trying to make sense of what just happened, I decided to add yet another smile  to my heart.

Little did I realize that I would be going for a trifecta that evening. The lobby of the hotel at which we typically stay is known for the “dating scene” that takes place in the Orthodox Jewish world. Because their culture is so unique, dating amounts to a one evening event – two evenings if absolutely necessary – on “neutral territory.” Hence the hotel lobby. While waiting for the elevator, I had the opportunity  to take in one particular scene. The young man was sartorial in dress; the young lady was clad in the very best of taste. A number of empty soda bottles on the little table in front of them, testified that they were enjoying each other’s company. The smiles on their faces confirmed this. And once again, there was yet another smile on my heart.

This time however the smile was different. Aside from shepping naches, that young love was very much in bloom, I could not help but wonder if marriage were in fact to ensue from this meeting, would the opportunity present itself over the years for either of them to have a smile on the heart because of a kindness done by either of them to a compete stranger? Alternately, would there be a smile on the heart because of a kindness done to either of them by a complete stranger?

Fifty years ago, Andy Williams hit the airwaves with a song known as “Happy Heart.” For me a happy heart became a reality – three times no less – within a very short period of time in Israel. Should any one ask me “How was Israel” I might just be inclined to respond: :Heartfelt and heart filled”.

 

WORTHY OF BURIAL

When the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Your people will be totally righteous” he hit it out of the ballpark. Implied, is that at present, HaShem’s people are anything but righteous. What happens then, when a Jew, a scoundrel, a low life, a “shandeh” to his fellowman as well as to his maker, dies of either natural or unnatural causes? Should that person be accorded or denied a proper Jewish burial?

I couch my question carefully, in that one must not confuse Jewish burial with a Jewish funeral.

The two, while inextricably connected, are so totally different from one another. Jewish burial – perhaps burial in all religions and ethnicities – revolves around tending to the corpse and ensuring that it is properly laid to rest in accordance with law and practice; a Jewish funeral revolves around tending to and reflecting upon the life of the one who has been taken from the world. Jewish burial requires following a checklist, mandated by halacha; a Jewish funeral calls upon clergy and other eulogizers to dig into their resourcefulness, so that the positive attributes of the deceased are brought to light, while the negative attributes of the deceased are either downplayed or overlooked. A Jewish funeral is for the living; a Jewish burial is for the dead.

When the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish law presents the halachot or laws concerning a bringing a deceased to his or her final resting place, the only reference to the character of the deceased concerns murder. A murderer – whether when someone else is the victim or when oneself is the victim (viz. suicide, assuming mental or psychological abnormalities were not at play) is not to be buried together with all others. Rather, a separate section is to be made available in the Jewish cemetery for the grave. A murderer, a dangerous thief, a miscreant, a molester, a sexual predator or any other type of “oisvorff” (Yiddish for someone who is to be ejected from society) is to be accorded a Jewish burial. No if’s, and’s or but’s. As far as according a murderer, a dangerous thief, a miscreant, a molester, sexual predator or any other type of “oisvorff” a Jewish funeral (viz. that which occurs between preparing the body and burying the body),  both the community as well as the individual have (in the words of Samuel Goldwyn) the right to say “include me out.”

I cringe when a hear someone invoke “who are we to judge.” Little does that person realize that he is restating “judge not, lest you be judged” from the Book of Matthew. Source aside, would that same individual invoke “who are we to judge” when it comes to proclaiming another person as innocent, a jewel of a person, a real sweetheart, a beautiful human being? Is that not also judging? More importantly, when it comes to burial, a far more adept, capable and equitable judgement is taking place, by a force far greater than any mere mortal. It is at that judgement, that final judgement, where we believe fitting  punishment is dispensed and just rewards are given out.

Permit me to introduce a new word to your vocabulary: moirologist. A moirologist is a professional or paid mourner, present at the cemetery when a burial takes place. At one time moirologists were common in Egyptian, Chinese, Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures; at one time, moirologists could be found in the shtetl, bewailing a loss. I, for one, would very much like to see the reinstatement of moirologists. There are certain burials, where their presence would be most welcome, necessary and hopefully most effective. Among those burials would be that of a miscreant, a scoundrel, an oisvorff, a “shandeh” to his fellow man, as well as to his maker. I would like to hear crying and wailing, not for the deceased, but for the living. Let the moirologists evoke tears from good and decent people in society, realizing that a life was snuffed out long before the last breath was breathed. Let good and decent people mourn for the innocent lives of victims damaged and scarred. Let good and decent people cry, letting HaShem know that He is not alone in His disconsolation, that such an individual unfortunately walked the face of this earth and is now being tossed back into that earth.

BEAUTY IS VAIN

Sadie Hawkins Day, it isn’t. It’s much older with a totally different intent. The 15th of the Hebrew month of Av, otherwise known as Tu B’Av, which this year coincides with the 15th day of August, although mentioned in the Talmud, has received short shrift throughout Jewish history.

“There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av… The daughters of Jerusalem went out dressed in white and danced in the vineyards. ‘Young man’, they called. ‘Consider whom you choose to be your wife. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain; a woman who revers HaShem is to be praised.’”

Times have changed, but traditionally speaking, what makes the hearts of young men and women go pitter-patter has remained the same ever since Adam and Eve. I believe it’s fair to say “I have nothing to wear” is an inter-generational lament on the part of the fairer sex. Even if it’s true, it’s a sad commentary about (male) society. Are those one wishes to impress more likely to remember the dress of the female or the demeanor of the female? Are those one wishes to win over more apt to recall the outfits or the outbursts. Clothing and comportment are diametrically opposite. Clothing is ephemeral; comportment is enduring.

If the fairer sex frets over what to wear, the male sex frets over where to go. No different than the one they invited out for the evening, the male also wishes to make an impression. Heaven forbid that the guy comes off looking cheap! Is it really so terrible to take a date walking through a windy park or take a drive along the beach? Does going to Chez Pierre guarantee a better time than Chef’s Pizza? Even more important, at which of the two places is one more apt to see the “real McCoy.” Isn’t it fair to say, that for the vast majority of us, our daily lives are more akin to a pizza parlor than to an expensive restaurant? Doesn’t the bright fluorescent lighting of the pizza parlor shed more light on the subject than the dimly lit candle of the expensive restaurant? Doesn’t it behoove us to enter a relationship with eyes wide open?

The aging process is in many cases unkind to one’s looks. It is the exception, rather than the rule, that one becomes better looking with the passage of time. The above cited quote, “charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” which is intoned at the Shabbat table each Friday night, serves as reminder that beauty must never be skin deep. Pirkei Avot or Ethics of Our Fathers is famous for laying out combinations of four. One such combination that never made it into Pirkei Avot, reads as follows:

There are four types of people: Those who are attractive to behold but are inwardly repulsive; those who are repulsive to behold but are inwardly attractive; those who are repulsive, both to behold as well as inwardly; there are those who are attractive, both to behold as well as inwardly.

Yes, it is possible for people to have beautiful personalities as well as beautiful physical features, but bear in mind that personalities rarely, if ever, change. Alternately, physical features – facial  and otherwise, rarely, if ever stay the same.

Our rabbinic sages were on to something, when they designated the 15th of the month of Av as a date for establishing relationships. With Tisha B’Av still fresh in our minds, they were keenly aware that relationships (in the case of Tisha B’Av, the relationship between HaShem and His people) undergo great strain. For there to be any hope at all to withstand the strain, it is essential that those relationships be founded upon comportment and not clothing, sensation and not location, alluring and not luring. May love – true love, sincere and genuine love – conquer all.

KEYS

The Talmud records a powerful Tisha B’Av story about what took place in Jerusalem as the first Beit Hamikdash or Holy Temple was ablaze, courtesy of the Babylonians. Groups of young Kohanim ascended to the roof of the building that housed the Holy of Holies. In their hands, they held keys to the various buildings located on Har HaBayit, or the Temle Mount. Turning their faces heavenward, they exclaimed: “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe! We failed You miserably! You designated us to be the custodians of Your House. Instead of serving You with all our hearts and all our souls, we served ourselves. We were corrupt and deceitful. Of what use are these keys we hold in our hands? Neither the doors nor the chambers that comprise the Beit HaMikdash exist. And even if those doors were not being consumed by flames, we have shown ourselves to be unworthy to have been entrusted with these keys. We therefore return these keys to You.” They then threw the keys towards Heaven, from which a hand-like form extended and received them. The groups of young Kohanim then threw themselves into the flames below.

To be sure, Kohanim are still extant. The function that they once filled went the way of the Beit Hamikdash. What about the keys?

The keys did not remain up in heaven. After a brief period of time, HaShem once again directed the keys to earth. Only instead of once again entrusting those keys to the Kohanim, HaShem entrusted those keys to us.  As such, it is we – synagogue leadership and laity – who hold those keys. And because we have been entrusted with those keys, it is fair to say that we hold the key to the well-being of the synagogue. Thankfully, in most cases, we need not be troubled by corruption and deceit on the part of those who hold the keys. Nevertheless, there is cause for concern, particularly for those of us at Tiferet.

We, at Tiferet, hold the key to self-confidence. Having recently returned from Chicago, where I attended Shabbat synagogue services during the week of Shivah, only to hear a talk from the rabbi which was at best tepid, as well as a weekday morning service (prior to heading to the airport to catch a flight back to Dallas) at a different synagogue, where I was utterly ignored, I cannot help but feel that we sell our synagogue woefully short.

We hold the key to our success. As such, we need to constantly remind ourselves that Tiferet has more to offer than many other synagogues. Last week, I was at Shacharit services at a synagogue in Chicago before heading for the airport on my way back to Dallas. No one so much as said “welcome” or “Boker Tov” to me. Such incognizance would never occur at Tiferet! Aside from our nationally renowned Chili Cook Off, Tiferet provides phenomenal programs (despite the fact that the last two Sunday evening events drew a paucity of Tiferet members at best). Our education programming, such as our weekly Torah class prior to Shabbat services is stimulating, our weekly Yiddish class is entertaining, and our adult evening classes are thought-provoking. But few are aware of what we offer, because we refuse to make use of the keys we hold, to open our “public address” system. It would be interesting to find out, how many synagogues our size, continue to attract the amount of congregants who assemble at Shabbat morning services – especially during these summer months!

Many of us do not hesitate to share the latest and greatest about our grandchildren as far as how bright and what a delight they are. Why then do we hesitate, to blow our own horn when it comes to telling others about your synagogue? After all, there are those who are at Tiferet more often than they are with their families! When has self-effacement which seems to be so pervasive replaced pride?

The groups of young Kohanim of the Beit Hamikdash realized that they had no future. They surrendered their keys. We at Tiferet have every reason to build a bright future, provided we remember that the keys are in our hands.

I Did Not Cry When My Mother Died

Think of me what you will, but I did not cry at my mother’s funeral.  Perhaps it was because I had time to prepare myself mentally and emotionally, or perhaps that’s just the way I am.  It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those of you who know me well, but from the very beginning to the very end, when it came to escorting my mother to her final resting place, I was forever the Rabbi.

But I did cry.  The day after the funeral when I began to sit shiva at my sister’s house in Chicago, I read a note that the flight attendant had handed me.  We were late leaving DFW and I feared missing my connection in Minneapolis to the G-d forsaken city, Winnipeg (which ultimately did happen.)  Because I was seated in practically the last row of the aircraft, I explained my plight to the flight attendant.  Not only did she move me to the front of the plane, but as I bolted from the aircraft, she handed me a handwritten note on a napkin.  It read:  “Dear Mr. Zell, I’m very sorry to hear about your recent loss, and I’m sorry that our unexpected delay has added more stress to your already difficult situation.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.  I wish I could do more.  She’lo teida od tza’ar (may you know of no more sorrow.)”

I cried the day of the funeral, when I greeted two cousins of mine.  It’s been thirty years since I’ve seen one of them. One flew in from Edmonton and the other turned his car around 120 miles west of Winnipeg as he was heading home to Banff.  There was no doubt in his mind that he would be present to bury his Aunt Ida.  Together, with four others, these two cousins from different sides of the family met to escort my mother’s casket to the hearse, as we made our way to the cemetery for the service.  Upon arriving at the cemetery, I was nearly brought to tears as I looked out and saw thirty-five people, who had come to pay their respects. Some of them family, some of them friends – going all the way back to grade school.  And there I was, having been of little faith, doubting very much that a minyan would be present so that my sisters and I could recite kaddish.

I cried when I met Harlene and Jay Pine, neighbors of my sister, who two weeks earlier, were on an odyssey to visit a grave of a great grandfather buried in the G-d forsaken city.  While there, they made it a point to visit with my mother and spend over an hour with her looking at photographs.  I cried at the daily phone calls that my mother would receive from her friend, Miriam Diamond, checking in to see if everything was okay.  I cried at the visits my cousins would make from time to time coming over to the house to spend precious moments with their Aunt Ida.

I cried at the outpouring of concern and support, the trays of food, the text messages, emails, and phone calls from Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey, Israel, and of course, Dallas.  They mean more to me than anyone can possibly imagine.  They will be remembered and cherished for many years to come.

In all likelihood, I will continue to cry from time to time, not because my mother died but because my mother lived, imbuing me with priceless, as well as timeless, lessons of life that no institution of education could ever offer, and precious memories that will be cherished increasingly with the passage of time.

It is the prophet Isaiah who reminds us that Hashem will wipe away the tears from all faces.  My tears of blessing and gratitude however will remain in my heart for as long as I live.

JEALOUSY

If there is one emotion that has received a bad rap, then without doubt its jealousy. Even those who are unable to distinguish between jealousy and envy, implicitly understand that envy is “kosher,” while jealousy is “treif.” Our culture is quick to point out that jealousy is the product of insecurity or lack of self-esteem or that it is the by-product of a controlling individual.

Brace yourselves. Contrary to most psychologists, jealousy can be a most healthy emotion. For the most part, there has been failure to recognize that just as there is “bad” jealousy, so too is there “good” jealousy.

Would any true believer in HaShem concur  that HaShem lacks self-esteem?  Would any true believer in HaShem agree that HaShem is insecure? Yet, in introducing Himself to our ancestors at Mount Sinai, a mere seven weeks after extricating them from Egypt, along with the enslavement that was part and parcel of Egyptian society, HaShem was quick to point out “I am a jealous G-d.” Is this the way to begin what HaShem hoped to be a beautiful relationship? Surely those of us who are familiar with the Ten Commandments are missing something when we read that HaShem is a jealous G-d!

Jealousy, “good jealousy” is a product of dashed expectations. Jealousy, “good jealousy,” wreaks of disappointment. To suggest that HaShem is green-eyed over a piece of wood, a slab of stone or shaped metal demeans HaShem; to suggest that HaShem is devastated that His people have no problem forsaking  Him for a statue or for an idol is an understatement. Implicit is the understanding that rather than being the chosen people, HaShem chose a nation of rejects (you may wish to enrich your Yiddish vocabulary  with term  “oisvorff” – literally “throw out.”) HaShem is jealous that this group of 600,000 “oisvorffs” gave its commitment and loyalty to a lifeless object, rather than to the Creator of the Universe. How lamentable!

Jealousy, “good jealousy” is anything but an outgrowth of negative self-esteem. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Jealousy, “good jealousy” is the product of a healthy self-image. No one with a healthy self-image will brook being treated like a “shmatteh” (another Polish/Yiddish word which means rag.) And when HaShem is treated like a “shmatteh” by His people and then sees an idol or statue, a hunk of metal, wood or stone, being accorded deference, HaShem cannot help but be jealous. Jealousy in this case, expresses indignation. Jealousy is an emotional response that is the equivalent of HaShem exclaiming: How dare you accord the respect and reverence due Me to something that is My creation!

Contrary to what western civilization teaches us about how love and jealousy are antithetical, it is the Zohar that teaches us that love without jealousy, is not true love. Conversely, there is nothing sadder than unrequited love. And yet, it is in the Haftorah of (the second day of) Rosh Hashana no less,  that the prophet  Jeremiah quotes HaShem telling us “I have loved you with eternal love.” It is tragedy when that love is not reciprocated; it is a travesty when that love is showered on a third party.

The Torah reading for this Shabbat opens with Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Moshe’s brother, assuaging HaShem’s jealousy. Pinchas discerned that HaShem’s jealousy came about because of dashed expectations.  HaShem’s was incredulous at how He was being repaid by 600,000 “oisvorffs!” Pinchas was well aware of HaShem’s indignation. How dare the Israelites accord idols with the love and respect due Him! Pinchas was sensitive to the fact that as far as the Children of Israel were concerned, love was a one- way street. They readily accepted HaShem’s love, only to take that love and shower it elsewhere.

How ironic that it was Pinchas, and not his grandfather Aaron, who was served as a most suitable counterpart to Moshe. Moshe was adroit at assuaging HaShem’s anger; Pinchas was adroit at assuaging HaShem’s jealousy.

ONE GIANT LEAP

A linguist, I’m not. I am however intrigued by two Hebrew words used for that waxing and waning disc that appears up in the sky each night. As we make note of the fact that this Saturday marks exactly half a century since Neil Armstrong broadcast: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” to a television watched by riveted, spell bound American people, I should like to pay respect an honor to that earth shaking historic event by focusing on two Hebrew words, Yareach and Levanah.

Although no mention of either word is made in the creation story – the moon is simply referred to the smaller luminary in contradistinction to the sun which is referred to as the larger luminary – both Yareach and Levanah are deserving of our stargazing.
Yareach and Levanah are concepts, albeit of a totally different nature. Yareach  connotes time. When taking, a female captive, a spoil of war, we are commanded to permit her to cry (mourn) for yerach yamim or thirty days, as she mourns being wrested from her father and mother (Deuteronomy 21:13). Levanah, on the other hand, connotes color. Lavan is the Hebrew word for white. It does not take much imagination to visualize our ancestors looking up and seeing a white “disc” set against the background of a black sky. Conceptually, Yareach is imperceptible (try to define “a long, long time”) while Levanah (provided the individual is blessed with sight) is perceptible. For one celebrating and appreciating the fiftieth anniversary of the lunar landing, perhaps time should be taken to ponder, whether Neil Armstrong walked on the Yareach or the Levanah?

In addition to telling us about a celestial creation, Yareach and Levanah tell us about ourselves. Among the many offhanded phrases, used by us in our culture is “make time.” We can set aside time, we can and unfortunately all too often “kill time,” but we cannot “make time.” Time is gifted and assigned to us by HaShem. Time is a stark reminder of our mortality. For those of us who are productive, each day is a race against time; for the religious among us, time serves as an invitation or a challenge beckoning us to use it wisely and productively, so that we ultimately leave this world and particularly our little world in better shape than we found it. When it comes to time, it is up to us, how to make use of the time that we have been allotted. Yareach reminds us that as humans, we are limited. Levanah is totally different. Because it connotes color, Levanah is a gentle reminder that the sky is the limit, when it comes to our resources and ability. Because new colors  are being created all the time, they are limitless. So too is our ability to continue to grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Less than a decade after President Kennedy proposed that the United States “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth,”  Neil Armstrong landed on the Yareach. Only time will tell how much closer the gap remains between us and the Levanah.

Unlike English, the Hebrew language is gender sensitive. Nouns are either masculine or feminine It ought to be noted, that Yareach is a masculine noun, while Levanah is feminine.  Just as Eve was created to complete and complement Adam, perhaps the same can be said about Yareach and Levanah. Independently, each has an aura all its own. Yet, an interdependence must exist for Yareach and Levanah  to truly shine. With that interdependence, there is harmony between that which is imperceptible (time) and that which is perceptible (color). Interdependence between Levanah and Yareach, helps us distinguish between that which is beyond our control, from that which is within our control. Interdependence reminds us that in and of themselves, Yareach and Levanah are woefully incomplete. Yareach and Levanah need the other to truly shine.

As America celebrates that small step taken by Neil Armstrong fifty years ago, as America gratefully recalls that concomitant  giant leap for this country and the rest of the world, come Saturday night after the conclusion of Shabbat, I invite you to step outside and look up at a Yareach  and Levanah that is full, in more ways than one.

HURTFUL

If I hear or read that someone’s  (read: politician’s) words were “hurtful” one more time…

How did things get so far? Unless I’m mistaken, my generation was raised on “sticks and stones will break my bones, names will never hurt me.” My grandchildren’s generation on the other hand, is being raised in such a manner, that the greatest social sin is to say something “hurtful.”

I pity my grandchildren’s generation. They are being shortchange when it comes to the facts of life. “Everybody hurts somebody sometime.” Most of the time, it is totally unintentional. Some of the time, it is totally misconstrued. I recall officiating at a wedding for the Rabinowitz family. It was a family of three children. I had previously officiated at the weddings of the older two siblings. In my remarks, I made mention of the fact of how delighted I was, that each Rabinowitz child had married into a nice Jewish family. No sooner was the glass broken, when I was accosted by cousin Mel. “Rabbi, I want you to know that you stabbed me with a knife and then twisted the knife while it was in me.” It turned out, that Mel’s three children had married out of the faith. Had this wedding taken place on 2019 instead of 1989, chances are that cousin Mel would have accosted me by saying, that my remarks under the chuppah were “hurtful.”

As Jews, we bear a brunt of the responsibility for introducing the overused usage of “hurtful” into American parlance. As Jews, we have been much too sensitive and far too quick to take non-Jews to task for saying “hurtful” things, despite the fact that being hurtful was the furthest thing from their mind. Although this may very well be regional, G-d help any Christian who invokes Jesus in an invocation. There is bound to be at least one of us present, who will not hesitate to point to the one who invoked, how offended he/she was by including the name “Jesus.” As a group, we have a knee-jerk reaction whenever we hear the term “Jew” come out of a Christian mouth. Any Christian who innocently goes up to the microphone and proclaims how touched he/she is seeing so many Jews in attendance, will be pronounced guilty for not have used the phrase  “Jewish friends.”  Perhaps it’s time to give Christians the benefit of the doubt, that they mean no harm.

As Jews, we are quick to go on the defensive.  Even when a reckless comment is made, such as “Jews have all the money” or “Jews control the media,” we Jews must remind ourselves never to go on the defensive. We bear no guilt. Hence, we have nothing to defend. Rather than going on the defensive, we should consider responding in a totally unanticipated fashion.  To the former comment, we may consider saying: “If that’s wishful thinking on you part, I appreciate your comment more than you will ever know. If that’s a criticism on your part, I wish we Jews had even more money than that.” To the latter, we may consider saying: “Perhaps you should be more careful in how you treat me, because I have powerful friends in the Jewish controlled media…you wouldn’t believe what they can do for people like you, or to people like you!”

It was the great sage, Elazar from Modiin (an uncle of the revolutionary Bar Kochba), who said: “He who (negatively) embarrasses his friend in public, it is as though he sheds his blood.” Clearly, hurtful statements have been around ever since the advent of communication. But with Rabbi Elazar, it was personal. How Rabbi Elazar would have responded to thoughtless comments couched in generalizations, how Rabbi Elazar would have reacted to worn out phrases, is best left open to speculation. Remember however, if personal (negative) embarrassment is tantamount to murder, then personal accolades ought to be a boon to someone’s life.

Rather than zero in on real or perceived “hurtful” words from others, we Americans would be well advised to listen for “pleasing” words  from others. Our society and culture can only benefit from such an approach and in doing so become healthier and stronger.