MORE THAN IT’S CRACKED UP TO BE

Blessings upon those who cheer the Red, White, and Blue. Kudos who asked whether that star-spangled banner still waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave. Where, however, have all the Liberty Bell fans gone? It seems that that have become silent as the Bell itself. And that is quite a shame. It may very well be, that the Liberty Bell carries with it a message that ought to be heard by everyone in this country, especially those whose task in life seems to stress the shortcomings and sins of the United States.

Although not designed as such, it is the crack in the Liberty Bell that proudly represents the very essence of this country. “One nation under G-d,” is a phrase much too poignant to be relegated to the Pledge of Allegiance. A mere look at a map of the world or a glance at a globe, provides an excellent commentary for the opening chapter of Torah. When HaShem separated water from dry land, it was not by any means a clean break. The ragged shorelines of what was ultimately to become continents suggests “cracks” more than mere divisions. Put differently, the world handed down to humans, is replete with cracks. Yet, in no way ought this to suggest carelessness on the part of our Creator. Quite the opposite! HaShem wished to convey, that quite often in life, cracks are a prerequisite for completion.
Ironically, it was an 18th century French Royalist soldier and politician Francois de Charette who taught us “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Meaning no disrespect, but when it came to cooking and especially understanding HaShem’s world, Francois de Charette “knew from borscht.” Truth be told, you cannot eat any style of egg, without first cracking the shell. So too is the case with nuts. Would anyone even think of eating peanuts, or walnuts, or hazelnuts without first cracking the shell? Completion for these types of foods, necessitates that cracks be made. True, other foods may be neater to eat, but life is not always neat. Quite often, cracked shells are a reality of life. Moreover, tragedy abounds when society refuses to clean up the cracked shells, just as tragedy abounds when society refuses to recognize and applaud those who cleaned up the cracked shells.

Halacha forbids a male over the age of 13, and a female over the age of 12 (otherwise known as an adult) to be together in a closed room. Because halacha is a legal system, and because learned rabbis are steeped in the study of halacha, a solution was found. It was determined that it is permissible for a male and a female to be together in a room, provided the door to that room is left open a crack. In doing so, those in the room are in no way in violation of halacha, yet at the same time, those in the room are afforded their privacy. Modern technology, however, often operates totally differently than halacha. Advances in technology have trained us – perhaps even spoiled us – with the efficacy of sealed systems. Cracks, no matter how minuscule, often compromise the functioning of that system. As dependent as we have become on technology, let us never lose sight that human relationships – particularly when a feud and a falling out has occurred in human relationships – are often repaired, once there is a crack. When there is a “crack in the ice” that has developed in the relationship by one of the injured parties, there just might be a warming to that “crack in the ice” on the part of the other injured party.

It was the 19th century great sage Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, more commonly known as the Kotzker Rebbe, who taught that “there is nothing so perfect as a broken heart.” Had the Kotzker Rebbe been fluent in English, he might very well have followed up by saying that the best remedy for one who is stiff-necked, is a cracked heart. Stated differently, the best atonement for inflexibility is flexibility. As far as religion is concerned, “wholehearted” is synonymous with one who realizes and acknowledges that his heart is broken or cracked. For only then is there the possibility of repair and improvement of that heart, for only then is there the possibility of growth. Much to HaShem’s chagrin, Adam and Eve were not broken-hearted over disobeying HaShem and eating the forbidden fruit. Neither was their son Cain for the murder he had committed. One can only speculate how different things might have been had Adam, Eve, and Cain felt cracks in their hearts for what the acts they committed.

This Thursday, we commemorate and mourn a crack or chasm in the wall of Jerusalem by the Romans, which culminated in the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash or Holy Temple, three weeks later. If only our ancestors would have had their own version of a cracked Liberty Bell, and if only our ancestors been able to realize that the crack or chasm in the wall surrounding Jerusalem was moral warning sign of crack or chasm that existed within Jewish society, things might have turned out differently.

LIBERTY AND INDEPENDENCE

L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim or “next year in Jerusalem”, I believe is more than a centuries old aspiration or hope, that continues to urge our people never to give up faith. By serving as a link between two auspicious days on the Jewish calendar, separated by exactly six months, L’Shanah HaBa’ah B’Yerushalayim, intoned at the completion of reading the Haggadah and at the end of Yom Kippur, serves to inextricably link the complementary messages of Pesach and Yom Kippur. While Pesach is our festival of national liberty, Yom Kippur is a day of personal independence. The former reminds us that as the Children of Israel, we no longer have to answer to another nation that exercised complete control over us; the latter reminds us that as a Child of Israel, each, must now answer for oneself. It is the individual and no one else, who is responsible for himself or herself.

Barring self-destructive behavior – emotionally or psychologically – liberty typically can only be achieved through separation. Politically, attempts are made by the masses or by rebel forces to overthrow oppressive governments. Alternately, individual citizens seek to escape the repressive system under which they live and ask for asylum from a democracy. So too with family relationships. Children are determined to leave home so that they no longer need to endure overbearing and domineering parents. For some time now, divorce has become a viable and acceptable alternative to an insufferable spouse. Not so independence. Unlike liberty with separation as its prerequisite, independence comes about through melding. Once liberated from the antagonist, the individual or the political entity must muster all energy and pool all available resources to ensure that there is now self- reliance. For without self- reliance, there can be no independence. Independence is the corollary to liberty.

Independence is dependent upon liberty. Without liberty, independence is an exercise in futility. When the Thirteen Colonies declared their independence from British rule 244 years ago, King George III responded, that the colonies will remain under the British, and that any declaration of independence is an act of treason. It was not until 1789, after 13 years of bloody battle, when the last of the British troops withdrew and that freedom was able to ring throughout the colonies that George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the United States of America. Liberty without independence results in chaos. Liberty serves as the necessary bridge between being deprived of responsibility and being able to develop responsibility. It was one thing for our biblical ancestors to be liberated from Egyptian tyranny; it was quite another thing for our biblical ancestors to become a nation capable of governing themselves. Independence can only be achieved once there is liberty. Otherwise independence remains a fantasy. Liberty without independence results in chaos. Independence without liberty is a pipe dream. Perhaps better stated, independence is the converse of liberty

It was never planned that way, but prior to immigrants to this country arriving by passenger jet, they traveled by ship. Those who landed at Ellis Island, would without fail, sail past the Statue of Liberty. Usually, it was only after setting foot on American soil, that these immigrants would experience their very first Independence Day celebration. Although it would fall on deaf ears, the implicit message to these new Americans was that liberty precedes independence.

As Americans, let us never take Independence Day for granted. Let us bear in mind, that our liberties were dependent upon freeing ourselves from British control, while our independence is predicated upon the way we as a nation, control ourselves. Let us understand that neither liberty nor independence can exist by itself, and that each needs the other. Liberty by itself is hazardous; independence by itself is a delusion. Let us realize that the liberties that are ours, are necessary but insufficient unless they result in independence. Were that not the case, come July 4th, we would be celebrating Liberty Day or Freedom Day, but not Independence Day.

MAGEIFEH CHASSENEH

Hand over the gloves. Face down the masks. According to Jewish tradition, there is a completely different way to respond to the current pandemic. Playwright, cultural critic, and journalist, Rokhel Kafrisen recently wrote about a practice among our people that took place to ameliorate previous epidemics that befell our people, as well as society at large. This practice was referred to as a Shvartzeh Chasseneh or Mageifeh Chasseneh  (Plague Wedding). With the month of June known for nuptials, perhaps the time is propitious to learn of weddings in our past, that were held with the specific intent of combatting a plague.

Mea Culpa may be a Latin term, but it is totally Jewish as far as reacting to calamity. From time immemorial, Jews have always looked inwardly when placing blame. After all, didn’t our Talmudic sages point out, that it was Sinat Chinam or baseless hatred among Jews and not the clash of Jewish and Roman belief, culture, and lifestyle that brought about the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash in Jerusalem?  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when a cholera epidemic broke out 150 years ago, our rabbinic sages viewed it as Divine punishment for the rampant adultery that was taking place among our people. Logic dictates that if sin on our part caused the epidemic, then it stands to reason that noble acts on our part would serve as an antidote to the epidemic. And what nobler act is there than bringing two individuals together in holy matrimony – individuals who might otherwise have been consigned to a life of singlehood? After all, don’t our rabbis teach us that marriage is so dear to HaShem, that ever since the creation of the world, our Heavenly Father has occupied himself with making matches?

Yet, however commendable these matrimonial machinations might have been in theory, they were anything but commendable in practice. In no way was it implausible for a young woman, orphaned at an early age, penniless and without a dowry, to be “encouraged” by a concerned community to marry a gentleman significantly older than her, with noticeable physical defects.

It made no difference at all to the community if the young bride was repulsed by her husband to be. The community justified what it was doing as a great mitzvah, in that marital prospects for both bride and groom were slim to non-existent. Of greater importance, was that the marriage was sure to please the celestial matchmaker, and at the same time placate a much-angered Creator of the Universe. Just as the biblical Job reminded us that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, so too should those same powers of giving and taking apply to the epidemic that HaShem gave us and would hopefully take way.

However loathsome the “mitzvah” imposed upon the young girl and perhaps even the deformed groom by the epidemic-stricken Jewish community, matters got even worse. When it came time to present gifts to the bride and groom, a beggar-woman from the community was at the head of the entourage of “guests” in attendance. Pulling a tin spoon out of a sack, the beggar-woman would lift the spoon and twirl it over her head, while incanting: “It should be taken from me and remain with you”. All others assembled to witness the marriage would follow suit, chanting “from me to you.” The piece de resistance was that this Mageifeh Chasseneh would be held in the Jewish cemetery, with freshly filled graves of those who succumbed to the epidemic.

The Yiddish writer, Joseph Opatoshu (father of actor David Opatoshu, who played the role of Akiva Ben Canaan, uncle of Ari Ben Canaan, played by Paul Newman) was most accurate in his piece “A Wedding in the Cemetery” when he drew an analogy between the practice of Kappores, the night before Kol Nidrei and the Mageifeh Chasseneh. It is the fowl that takes the “hit” in the former, he pointed out, while the bride and groom take the hit in the latter. Yet, Opatoshu stopped short in his analogy. The cemetery with the annual custom of Kever Avot or cemetery visitation is integral to both Yom Kippur and the Mageifah Chasseneh. Most of all, the Mageifah Chasseneh shows to what lengths our people were prepared to go, to absolve themselves from sin.

Let no one think that the Mageifah Wedding was left behind in Eastern Europe when our ancestors departed for the new world. Records indicate that such nuptials took place a century ago, during a Flu epidemic, in the very same cemetery where my parents are buried. I can only hope that the bride and groom were better suited for each other, that a mere Mazel Tov captured the sentiments of those in attendance, and that beggar-woman was not able to be present.

OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN

Our Father Who Art In Heaven is not, nor has it ever been, an exclusive of the Church. Long before it served as the  opening phrase of the Lord’s prayer, Our Father Who Art In Heaven was firmly ensconced in Judaism. Those of us with a fair knowledge of Hebrew liturgy, know it better as Avinu Sheh BaShamayim. With Father’s Day soon upon us, it would be of great value to look at a Hebrew prayer that begins by referring to HaShem as Avinu Sheh BaShamayim, in the hope that it serves as a guide and perhaps even a goal, toward which mortal fathers should aspire.

Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a prayer typical of, but in no way limited to Shabbat morning services. In that prayer we find several requests: The first request is one of protection. Few will argue that the Israel Defense Forces has gained the respect (in some cases, begrudgingly) of governments of countries throughout the world. Among Jews, few should argue about HaShem’s role in that army. When it comes to military accomplishments, there are the explainable as well as the unbelievable. Yet, to those with a firm belief in HaShem, there is no unbelievable. There is only reaffirmation, that Avinu Sheh BaShamayim or Our Father Who Art In Heaven, continues to take an active role in keeping Israel safe. Once upon a time in America, whether deservedly or not, Hollywood portrayed the American father as a role mode to be looked up to and admired. Once upon a time in America, fathers in American society earned and deserved such admiration, because they protected their families – often in ways that required no physical prowess or skills. Often, such protection was in the form of arming children with the necessary skills and under-standing to be able to stand on their own two feet as they matured into adulthood.

We learn in the Talmud that “Shalom” or peace is yet another name for HaShem. Put differently, HaShem is pinnacle of peace. Whether in the form of silent prayer, or in the form of song, we are reminded that HaShem is interchangeable with Shalom, each time we conclude the Shemoneh Esreh. Oseh Shalom – May He who establishes peace in the heavenly spheres, establish peace upon us, as well as upon all Israel. The fathers we would like to remember from the “good old days” were the peace makers, even if peace came at the expense of a heavy hand. It was not at all unusual for those of my generation as well as earlier generations, to hear a mother at her wits end because of unruly and incorrigible children, serve those unruly and incorrigible children the following  final notice and warning: “Just wait until your father gets home.”  So conditioned were we by our society and culture, that we began contemplating heading for the hills or at the very least running away from home to avoid the perceived consequences of our fathers in “peace-making” mode.

It was the prophet Isaiah, who introduced the term “light unto the nations”. Perhaps this light reflected a greater light. Perhaps the very first light, was HaShem Himself. Metaphorically, HaShem’s first comment in Genesis,: “Yehi Or” translated as “Let there be light” may very well be an introduction on the part of the Creator of the world, just as I am HaShem your G-d was an introduction on the part of the Creator of a nation. Put differently, HaShem serves as a light to the world and we serve as a light to all other nations. Once upon a time in America, it was the father who served as the light for his family. It was the father who was able to shed light on an issue or problem that had seemed insurmountable up until that moment. It was the father who served as the Light House to whom all could flock to with problems. It was the father who was the guiding light, serving as vanguard for all other family members.

Avinu Sheh BaShamayim. Our Father who art in Heaven is more than a prayer. Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a template that serves as a blueprint for fathers of flesh and blood. Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a guide for mortal men who have brought children into this world. Most of all, Avinu Sheh BaShamayim is a challenge for fathers here on earth to serve as a wellspring of protection, to establish peace and to provide direction to those who ought to good reason to look up to him.
    

BELIEF AND WORSHIP

Have you ever pondered the difference between belief and worship? They are not the same. Belief is about granting an individual or a concept of legitimacy. Belief is cerebral. Worship is how you feel about an individual or a concept. Worship is visceral. Worship often requires a willingness to devote time and energy. An anecdote that has been around for some time, tells of two Jews discussing and perhaps even debating the existence of G-d. With sunset soon upon them, one turns to the other and says: “Let’s table our discussion. It’s getting late and it’s time for us to go the shul to daven Mincha.”

Belief is personal. Everyone is entitled to his/her belief in G-d or lack thereof. G-d help anyone to question, doubt, or second guess and especially ridicule the belief of another person. Unless one is a hermit, worship tends to be communal. There are many Christians and Jews who profess to believe in G-d. Yet not everyone who professes to believe chooses to worship. Alternately, there are those who worship religiously, yet by their own admission fall woefully short when it comes to belief. There are those who attend synagogue service who do so lest they be the broken link in the chain of tradition. There are those who attend synagogue services solely to support the synagogue. There are those who attend synagogue services for social purposes. There are those who attend synagogue service because it provides them a break from the boredom of their everyday life.  As a rabbi, I speak from experience; as a Jew, I find it difficult to believe that the same does not apply to Christians and church attendance.

Belief is invisible. Worship is for all to see. Worship extends far beyond a synagogue or church, a mosque, or a shrine. Outside of religion, the most common worship is hero worship. We find this particularly in politics, we find this, particularly in entertainment. With the advent of television, political aspirants have been voted into office because of popularity, rather than philosophy. Entertainers have become the rage, because of their appeal to the public, more than their skill at acting or singing. Thanks to hero-worship, hairdos are copied as are head coverings (a la Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hats). The public is quick to mimic speech patterns of its heroes along with that hero’s gestures and sayings. Belief plays no role in the popularity of the hero, however lasting or ephemeral. Those of my generation may have worshipped four long-haired lads from Britain, but few, if any believed in them. The only ones who believed in them were their promoters. And such belief was totally commensurate with their popularity. Should it happen that their popularity began to wane, or that another music group was nipping at their heels to displace them, then belief on the part of their promoters would be redirected to the new group soon gaining that same worship of the youth of this culture.

Fifty-three years ago this week, belief and worship melded into one. Towards the beginning of June 1967, Israel was engaged in a war that would bring about tremendous change to its place among nations, as well as the way it saw itself. Despite all military analysis – for me as well as for others – the Six Day War was nothing short of a Divine miracle. As such, it strengthened my belief in HaShem. For the Israeli army, the swift and decisive victory over an enemy that vastly outnumbered them in numbers and equipment strengthened its belief in itself. And with good reason. The army of a country that was in existence for less than two decades, proved its mettle. Yet, its belief in itself, as necessary and as healthy as it was, soon turned to self-worship, exacerbated by the adulation of Jewish communities around the world, along with the respect of governments of countries around the world. And it was self-worship and not belief in itself, that would end up costing the Israeli army dearly. Belief in itself, assured the Israeli army, that it could beat back the armies of its enemies. Worship of itself led the Israeli army to become smug and regard itself as invincible. It was only after a rude awakening and a heavy cost that the Israeli Army was brought back to reality.
Let belief and worship never be confused as being the same. Let us realize that one is cerebral while the other is visceral. Let us recognize that one is personal while the other tends to be communal. With regard to the Israeli army, in light of events that took place fifty-three years ago, let us learn that belief in oneself is both healthy and necessary. Self-worship however can prove to be quite dangerous.

DEMONSTRATE

As one who has been arrested twice for (peacefully) demonstrating the plight of Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain, as one who has joined other demonstrations including joining others at the United Nations to decry their “Zionism equals Racism” vote, I’m very much in favor of demonstrations. In fact, I issue a plea to Americans of all colors to demonstrate.

Demonstrate your solidarity for the victims of the tragedy that occurred in Minneapolis, on May 25. In all probability, I’m barely scratching the surface, but among those left to deal with George Floyd’s death are Bridgett Floyd, his sister, who has begun a “Go Fund Me”, Philomene Floyd, his brother, George Floyd’s six year old daughter who lives with her mother Roxie Washington, and Courtney Ross, George Floyd’s girlfriend of these last three years. And what about members of Derek Chauvin’s family? Do they deserve to be indicted, on grounds of guilt by association? Whenever there is a death and/or devastation has occurred, there are in all likelihood innocent family members, who are either deliberately shunned or unintentionally overlooked or forgotten.  They too, are victims. Ten years ago, (May 2010) a grave was desecrated at Agudas Achim cemetery. Upon returning from the cemetery (where I made sure that the grave was properly restored, and then worked with police and dealt with reporters), I immediately contacted the mother of the perpetrator to see if I could offer help, in that her son’s insanity must surely be taking a toll on her as well.

There are any number of innocent victims – innocent by all account – whose property has been vandalized in cities throughout this nation, and whose merchandise has been looted. They too are victims, who meant no harm to George Floyd or to anyone else for that matter. For all we know, some of these victims  may have been as enraged as any, at what took place in the Twin Cities. Yet, regardless of their knowledge of what took place, independent of their views of the tragedy, they became victims of looting and violence. Shouldn’t there be demonstrations of solidarity with those whose property, business and perhaps even lives have been shattered? I can only hope that there will be those who offer to lend a helping hand to those who were not even remotely connected to either the Floyd or Chauvin families. I can only pray, that there will be demonstrations, orderly and peaceful on behalf of those whose only crime was owning property or operating a business where violent demonstration got out of hand.

Those whose lives have been in greatest danger for those past week are law enforcement officials, of all races. Dozens of police officers were injured in New York, for simply wearing a uniform and a badge. Their skin color was of no consequence. As one who will be the first to admit that not all police officers are best suited for that line of work. (And yes, I have been mouthed off at by an officer who ultimately sheepishly walked away after I explained that he did not have all the facts.)  I will also be the first to admit that there are easier and safer ways to earn a livelihood. If we can demonstrate against “bad cops”, we ought to be able to demonstrate on behalf of “good cops” as well. January 9 has been designated as National Law Enforcement Day. I cannot help but feel that a good many who are currently demonstrating in a peaceful, respectful manner to protest an unlawful and despicable act, would be equally prepared to come together and demonstrate in support of the good many who properly and respectfully enforce the law with malice toward none.

I have no idea how the current situation will end. I do know, however, that the effects of the demonstrators will be felt by officers of the law of all color, creed, and race for some time to come. I also realize, that no different than so many other demonstrations that get out of hand, many innocent people will be dealing with the damage done for an unknown period of time and an inestimable amount of money. Last but not least, there are innocent members of George Floyd’s family and of Derek Chauvin’s family who will be left scarred. Demonstrations in support of all three would truly be an act of Chessed or kindness.
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COMFORT FOOD

Even though there is no shortage of reasons why we have the tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot, I should like to offer one more reason. I do so because milk, from which all dairy foods derive, is the epitome of paradoxes. Originating in the udder of a cow (or goat or sheep or any other kosher mammal), milk is encased in a pouch of flesh (udder is a meat available for human consumption in other cultures). Yet, the moment milk is extracted from that pouch of flesh, “dairy distancing” comes into effect, both as far as time and space.
Yet, paradox defines Judaism. As a world population, we Jews are in the decimal digits. As far as land, (the State of Israel), the vast majority of states in this country are larger than the State of Israel. Yet, if American culture and society are any indications, one could easily be duped into thinking that Jews are a significant portion of the population. Jews are overrepresented in the fields of law and medicine. Jews play a major role in entertainment – so much so, that many believed that Ed Solomon (sic) of the Ed Sullivan show was Jewish (he was married to Sylvia Weinstein). The Irish comprise 10% of the population of this country. Yet, in my lifetime, I have never been aware of politicians in this country running for national office being concerned about the Irish vote. Nor does Ireland or its population and politics garner front-page news the way Israel does. So entrenched is the paradox of Jews and Israel in this country, that few if any, even regard it as a paradox.

It is not in any way unheard of for non-Jews, to see Judaism as an extremely logical religion. Perhaps so. But Jews, as well as the Jewish State, defy logic. I am no statistician, but I am told that if the number of Jews killed throughout history by the outside world “in the name of heaven” were fed into a computer, then according to logic, there should be no Jews left on the face of this earth. No different than the one-day supply of oil, discovered in the ransacked Temple in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago, Jews defy the odds. Even Look Magazine ran a front-page story in 1964 on “The Vanishing American Jew”. Look Magazine has long been consigned to history; Jews continue to make history. Jews are a paradox when it comes to lasting power. No other people could endure what we Jews have endured and continue to exist, much less thrive. So too the Jewish State. According to military analysts in the Pentagon in the Spring of 1948, the newly established State of Israel did not have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of survival. Then again, paradoxes pay no heed to logic, analysts, or predictions.

Perhaps the greatest paradox concerning our people is our resistance. Judaism is and has always been resistant to outside forces. While the Hellenists, the Romans, the Church (the Crusades) the Communists, and the Nazis were successful in destroying Jews, not one of these enemies could claim victory in destroying Judaism. If anything, the exact opposite turned out to be the case. Known for our obstinance, we Jews defiantly sounded the shofar, lit Chanukah candles, baked Matzahs, and conducted seders even under the most hellish conditions. At the same time, Judaism is extremely vulnerable to forces from within. Unlike the impotence of our enemies, we Jews can cause Judaism to vanish and disappear. All we have to do is to ignore our religion with its traditions and practices. Within a short time, Judaism will cease to be. Perhaps, this is the greatest paradox of all. We Jews have within our ability to undo what the enemy has tried to do over the ages. All that is required of us, is to do nothing. 

Comfort food has been defined as food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value. Perhaps so. With the festival of Shavuot soon upon us, I propose that cheese blintzes, calzones, lasagna, and pizza be considered comfort food. By eating dairy, let us find comfort, that like milk, we Jews, despite our numbers, are a paradox as far as our importance in this country. Let us find comfort in realizing that typically, milk has a short shelf life. We Jews, however, have been around for ages. As far as Jewish lasting power, expiration dates are academic. Most important of all, let us find comfort in knowing that when it comes to milk, we cannot afford to ignore, without risking placing the cow in jeopardy. Similarly, when we ignore Judaism, we risk placing ourselves in jeopardy. Regarding milk, it has been said that it is good for all ages.
So too Judaism.

A meaningful Dairy Festival of Shavuot to all

ZIKARON and ZECHER

Dictionary definitions aside, I feel it safe to say that a memorial honors a person or an event. It wasn’t until recently however, that I felt it safe to say why the Kiddush on Friday night contained both Zikaron and Zecher, two very similar words akin to memorial, arbitrarily translated as “remembrance” and “memorial.” With Memorial Day less an a week away, I offer what I believe to be three distinctions between the terms Zikaron and Zecher, in the hope that these terms add meaning and significance to a day that I cannot help but feel is not accorded its proper due.

Despite untold hours sitting in the dentist chair with my mouth open, I know next to nothing when it comes to terms such as “mesial” and “distal.” I do know however, that dentistry is one of the few professions, if not the only profession, where “injection” and “extraction,” antonyms if you will, are commonly used terms, in that a dentist does both. I also know that the terms “injection” and “extraction” help explain the difference between Zikaron and Zecher.

Zikaron,hearkening back tothe creation story, connotes injection, in that it relates everything HaShem saw fit to place into this world. Zecher, hearkening back to the story of the exodus from Egypt,relates everything that occurredwhen our ancestors were taken out of Egypt. While both terms are so very similar, in that they ask us to recall an event, both terms are so very different, in that the Zikaron events of creation of the world and the Zecher events of creation of a nation are diametric opposites.

It has been close to 8 decades, sinceRobert Lee Scott Jr. brigadier general in the United States Air Force and flying Ace of World War II wrote God is My Co-Pilot. Close to 5800 years ago, HaShem came up with the converse. As far as HaShem was concerned, we humans were His co-pilot. Once the six days of creation had taken place, HaShem handed over the controls to us. Yet, it is He who remains in charge. Every Friday evening, during Kiddush; we are reminded of this through Zikaron. But we are also reminded of one other thing during Kiddush as well. We are reminded that just as HaShem devoted His energies to this world for the very first six days ever recorded, so too are we reminded that we need to devote our energies to our comtemporary world for six days each week. Hence, the other Kiddush term, Zecher.

Perhaps Memorial Day can be seen and appreciated along similar terms. Zikaron ought to be understood as those in our armed forces who injected themselves in the fight for liberty; Zecher ought to be understood in terms of our being able to extract and enjoy the blessings of freedom, thanks to those in our armed forces who gave of themselves and put their lives on the line.
Time was, when American students were called upon to remember the blessings of this country on a daily basis, with reciting  the Pledge of Allegiance. This was Zecher. Time was, when a day was set aside at the end of May to pay tribute to those who were prepared to give their lives – and at times did – for their blessed country. This was Zikaron.  Last but not least, during the Song of the Sea, which we recite in the daily Shacharit service, we are reminded HaShem, Ish Milchamah, HaShem is a warrior (Exodus 15:3). That’s Zecher. HaShem’s warrior days are long over. HaShem now limits Himself to overseeing battles and wars and  keeping a watchful eye over those who risk their lives, as they fight for freedom and liberty. Let us set aside one day a year to keep those whom HaShems oversaw throughout battles and wars in our hearts. That’s Zikaron.

A meaningful and moving Memorial Day to those in Uniform

CAVE MEN

Justified or not, the term caveman connotes primitive, uncouth, and uncivilized individuals. When it comes to what we in contemporary society seem to be proper behavior, a caveman is regarded as the antithesis of one who is looked up to because of admirable traits, respectability, and comportment. With the intent of dispelling preconceived notions toward cavemen, I should like to bring to mind, three “cavemen” from our heritage, who were exemplary when it came to caves.

Leaving Ben Gurion Airport after landing in Israel, one enters the highway linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  That highway is referred to as the Ayalon, a name hearkening back to Yehoshua, Moshe’s successor. Persuading the sun to stand still over Givon, and the moon to remain fixed over the valley of Ayalon, Yehoshua was able to proclaim stunning victory over the Amorites. By all accounts, it was quite a feat. In my opinion, however, an even greater feat occurred at the cave of Makedah, near what is now Beit Horon. It was at the cave of Makedah, where Yehoshua kept his word to the Givonites, despite having a good reason not to. It was at the cave of Makedah, where Yehoshua meted out justice to five kings, who declared war against the Givonites for having forged a pact with Israel. Realizing that they were about to be vanquished, the five kings sought refuge at the cave of Makedah. When Yehoshua learned about their whereabouts, he gave orders to seal off the cave until he and his regiment could arrive and give those five kings their just desserts. Thanks to Yehoshua, the cave of Makedah, in my opinion, is a cave of loyalty.

If one were to head in the opposite direction upon landing in Israel, bypassing Jerusalem, toward the Dead Sea, one would reach Ein Gedi. There are caves at Ein Gedi as well. Centuries after Yehoshua and the cave of Makedah, the drama was to unfold between King Saul and David, his perceived adversary. King Saul’s fear of and hostility toward David was such, that it depleted the King of tactics, energies, and resources that were sorely needed to rout the Philistines, Israel’s preeminent enemy. Pursuing David, rather than the Philistines, King Saul and his entourage find themselves at Ein Gedi. David is closer than King Saul realizes. Much closer. It is in one of the caves at Ein Gedi, where King Saul enters to answer nature’s call. Unbeknownst to King Saul, David and his inner circle are in that very same cave. David, however, is well aware that his nemesis is mere feet away. Taking his sword, David slashes the corner of King Saul’s robe, which moments before had been removed. David’s message to King Saul was implicit. “Just as I ran my sword through your robe, so too could I have run my sword through you”. David’s message to his inner circle was far more explicit: G-d forbid that I should do this thing to His Majesty, HaShem’s anointed, by stretching out my hand against him”. Because of David, and his ability to refrain from doing what others would have done in a similar situation,  the cave at Ein Gedi, in my opinion, is the cave of integrity.

Zigzagging to the north, east of Akko and north of the modern city of Karmiel, there is the ancient city of Pekiin. Pekiin also has caves. It is believed that a little over 1900 years ago, the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, together with his son Eliezer sought refuge from the Romans in one of those caves for a period of 13 years. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was set up by the Romans and ended up a victim of a sting operation. His crime was speaking the truth about the Romans who brought their way of life to Israel. When word got back to the local Roman authorities, a price was placed on Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s head. The great sage was wanted dead or alive. In turned out that the cave where he hid, was known to all his many students. Dressed in sports attire to throw off anyone who might follow them, in the hope of discovering the hiding place of a fugitive from (Roman) justice, his students continued to study Torah from their learned and revered master. It just so happens, that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s yahrzeit is Lag B’Omer, this Tuesday. Others would have spent their time as fugitives, differently. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai decided to spend his time as a fugitive disseminating Torah. Because of this, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s cave in Pekiin, is the cave of invincibility.

Three caves of renown. Three caves embodying the values of loyalty, integrity, and invincibility. Three caves are a source of pride for our people. Three caves that give new meaning to the term cave men.

THE VERY FACT

Being the lover of Yiddish that I am, it was more than with a modicum of interest, that I recently read an article by Shalom Goldman, Professor of Religion at Middlebury College (Vermont) about Yiddish Plague Songs. In that humans, being the creative creatures we know them to be, have been known to react to crises through song, Professor Goldman writes that Simon Small (Shmulevitch), songwriter, lyricist, bard, actor, badkhn (wedding entertainer), balladeer, and early recording singer, responded to the Spanish Flu, the epidemic of a century ago that killed ten times as many Americans than the current crises, with the song Menshenfresser (devourer of people). If Menshenfresher is any indication of the general feeling that pervaded this country a little more than a century ago, then based on what has been forwarded to me within the last few weeks, I cannot help but feel that in reacting to the current pandemic, we’ve come a long way.

Just as Germany coined the term schadenfreude, a term that can be understood to mean rejoicing at the misfortune of others, so too did Germany coin the term galgenhumor, more commonly known to us as gallows humor. Gallows humor refers to cynical humor as a form of reaction to traumatic situations. My first glimpse of gallows humor as a reaction to the current pandemic was a YouTube forwarded to me, showing Shayla Fink of Winnipeg, Canada, sitting at the piano, playing an upbeat song she composed, called “Corona, Corona”. Since then, I have received other, similar parodies. Mah Nishtana? How do we explain these diametrically opposite reactions to life-threatening plagues?

In that all parodies I have received have been composed by Jews, I cannot help but feel, that as a people, we have come a long way. A century ago, when the very notion of a Holocaust against our people was totally unfathomable, we Jews were already in possession of a persecution complex. Justifiably so. Our brothers and sisters in Eastern Europe were still dying in pogroms. A total of 1,326 pogroms were taking place across Ukraine, around the very time the Spanish flew was indiscriminately attacking helpless individuals in this country. True, there was no anti-Semitic strain in the Spanish Flu, but a victim is still a victim.

One of the first lessons implicit in the Torah is that of time. As soon as HaShem began the creation process, “evening” and “morning” were introduced. Once HaShem concluded His role in the creation process, Shabbat was introduced. In both cases, humans adjusted their lives to time. Until recently – it wasn’t until less than a century ago, that electricity was commonplace in the homes of the country – society adjusted itself to going to bed at sunset, waking up at daybreak and setting aside the Sabbath as a day of rest. Within the last few decades, society transformed itself, so that time had to adjust itself to society and more specifically to the individual. It may very well have begun with foods such as instant coffee. The radar range or microwave oven exacerbated our ever-growing impatience by turning hours into minutes and minutes into seconds. It is time that conforms to us; we don’t conform to time. And so, we are indignant to a virus that interrupts our daily schedule. We regard it as some kind of joke, albeit in the poorest of taste and we respond accordingly.

Because these United States of America have proven to be the ultimate equalizer, Jews and non-Jews alike, have developed a sense of invincibility. Advancements in technology and medicine have made us smug. With the cold war having been consigned to history, Americans seem to have adopted the attitude actor John Wayne portrayed in his role as a cowboy, on the silver screen. Perhaps our 43rd President captured that attitude best on September 11th, 2001, when he in effect said: “No tinhorn terrorist was going to keep him out of Washington.” That very same attitude was very much evident last month when American college students defiantly flocked to the Florida beaches. No foreign virus was going to prevent them from having fun in the sun. How very differently, the attitude of Americans manifested itself, when this country was overtaken by the Spanish Flu. Back then, the people of this country – in no small part a conglomerate of immigrants – would have to wait close to another 2 ½ decades to hear the encouraging words: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

The parodies will undoubtedly continue. Whether they are worth listening to, is a matter of preference. The very fact that we Jews no longer bewail epidemics, the very fact that Americans can afford to respond to the Coronavirus with indignation, the very fact that that we see ourselves as being invincible, says more about us than it does about the virus.