Esther Hayehudiah

By Rabbi Shawn Zell

Living at a time when political correctness knows no bounds, it would be totally unacceptable for someone to say, “I decided to choose Davis the Jew, to serve as my accountant”. No one seems to utter a peep, much less whirl the gragger, however, upon coming across the phrase “Mordechai the Jew” while reading the Megillah. It is a phrase that appears time and time again, in the book of Esther. Far from being disparaging, Mordechai the Jew is an honorific appellative. Yet, if the Purim Megillah regards it as a badge of honor, to refer to the hero of the Purim Megillah as Mordechai HaYehudi or Mordechai the Jew, why doesn’t the Purim Megillah accord the same honor and respect to Esther, by referring to the heroine of the Purim Megillah as Esther HaYehudiah or Esther the Jewess? After pondering this question, I offer three suggestions, why Esther, like Mordechai, is most deserving to be viewed as a quintessential Jew.

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Five and One by Rabbi Shawn Zell

Mention the term “Five and Dime” 75 years ago, to just about anyone living in this country, and there would be immediate name recognition. “Five and Dime” was synonymous with what was once known as a variety store. “Five and Dime” was synonymous with chain stores such as Ben Franklin Stores or Woolworths. Alas, such names have been consigned to the annals of history.          

Mention the term “Five and One” to just about anyone living in this country and you will be met with a blank stare. And that is a great shame.  “Five and One” ought to evoke a connection with Presidents Weekend, in that Abraham Lincoln’s portrait graces the five-dollar bill, while George Washington’s portrait graces the one-dollar bill. For American Jews, the messages conveyed by “Five and One” are both profound and invaluable.               

“Five and One” are parts of the human anatomy. “Five and One” are inextricably linked and are interdependent. Bilaterally, humans are designed to come into this world with five fingers as part of one hand. Our Jewish heritage sees yet, a deeper message when considering “Five and One”. The Torah reminds us that “Five and One” are inherently connected with liberation. It is G-d, who reassures Moshe that Pharaoh will ultimately send the Children of Israel from Egypt because of a divine strong hand consisting of five fingers (Exodus 6:1); it is Pharaoh’s band of sorcerers, however, who point out, that it would be wise for Pharaoh to cut his losses when they exclaim: “It is the finger of G-d” (Exodus 8:15). American currency – the one-dollar bill and the five-dollar bill – is also inherently connected with American history. Was it not George Washington who held up his hand, proclaiming that the thirteen colonies would no longer remain subservient to the British? Was it not Abraham Lincoln who extended his five fingers from his gangly arms, as he granted pardons for ex-Confederates because he knew that a house divided against itself cannot stand?            

“Five and One” evokes the relationship between G-d and His chosen. A mere seven weeks after leaving Egypt, our ancestors stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It was there, that a relationship unique in the history of mankind, would be etched in stone, in the most literal sense. Pledging fealty and loyalty to one G-d, our biblical ancestors received via Moshe, a covenant that would eventually be recorded in five volumes. We refer to those five volumes as to the “Chumash” or the Five Books of Moses. Although not intended as such, American history buffs ought to be able to point out, a mere month prior to revolting against British rule, an act that would immediately result in war against King George III, a committee of five was appointed at the Second Continental Congress, to draft what would ultimately become the text of the Declaration of Independence. Remarkably, the efforts of five committee members resulted in one document that would change the course of history.  

Quintessential is a word used when people wish to express terms such as “consummate” and “exemplary”. Quintessential hearkens back to medieval philosophy when it was believed that the world was composed of four essences: earth, air, fire, and water. Not so, the stars and planets. Unlike the earth, there was a fifth, ultimate essence that defined these celestial bodies.  Hence the term quintessential. Judaism believes that if a person were truly able to follow and absorb the mitzvot, he would become the quintessential Jew; if a person were truly able to incorporate all five essences, he would evolve into a one-of-a-kind person.              

If a picture is worth a thousand words, let us then look at a one-dollar bill; let us look at a five-dollar bill. In doing so, let us recall the hand of Washington, who was signaling to the British that the Thirteen Colonies had endured enough. Let us think of the beckoning fingers of Lincoln, imploring both sides to unite. Let us remember, that perhaps the Declaration of Independence being authored by a committee of five, was unwittingly fashioned after the declaration of G-d’s uniqueness, embodied in the five books of Moses. And let us appreciate that the quintessential aspects of these United States, find their origins in the one-of-a-kind leadership of President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln.

Keeps on Ticking by Rabbi Zell

Every fourth January, a significant proportion of the people in this country fall into despair and in some cases becomes incensed because of the occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, in this nation’s capitol. We call this democracy. 
This week marks the fourth presidential inauguration taking place since I moved to Dallas to serve as rabbi at Tiferet. I would be less than genuine if I were to say that I was always happy or even satisfied with the people’s choice. Nevertheless, I have long accepted the following which I believe is beneficial to share with others:
Any and every individual voted into this nation’s office, deserves to be given an opportunity to lead before one decides whether the new leader is a blessing or curse. Furthermore, when making that choice, one ought to strive to be as objective as possible. This would of course require (gasp) ceasing to listen to news channels, as their newscasters spew skewed news. Impartiality seems to have gone the way of the public payphone. However sad it may be, it appears as though Americans are no longer interested in the truth; Americans are interested in having their preconceived notions validated. To prove the point, I once wrote an article (tongue and cheek) on how headlines would have appeared in six leading newspapers, reporting the Egyptian army drowning in the Sea of Reeds, while the Israelites crossed on dry land. One would have thought that six totally different events had taken place! Personally, I begin each day by reading op-eds of leading newspapers, very much aware and attuned to the predilections of the contributor. In other words, I consider the source. Op-eds do not report the news. Op-eds present opinions of events, behaviors, and people, that are currently in the news or were at one time in the news. Reading Op-eds affords the luxury of digesting information and pondering. Watching or listening to radio or television does not.
Three times in my life, have I had the opportunity to spend time with the Governors of the state where I lived. I even asked one of the Governors to take a walk with me, which she did. The Governors I saw on a one-to-one basis, were nothing like the Governor portrayed by the media. And yes, those Governors were from both major political parties. I cannot help but feel, that the same applies to Presidents as well. Behind closed doors, Presidents are real people who put up with mishigas (garbage), sit down with people they loathe (often for good reasons), and settle for bills far from the ones they conceived of originally. Usually, any ill will that is theirs, is directed at others in the government. If Presidents personally wish us no evil, how can we find it in our hearts to wish them evil? For those of us who place great importance on how any administration relates to Israel, we often fail to realize, that the priorities of an American President and the priorities of an Israeli Prime Minister do not always coincide. And it would be unfair on our part to expect any two Presidents to behave in the same fashion toward the Jewish state.
It has been well over a half-century since American news commentator John Cameron Swayze introduced the phrase  “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” into American homes. Ostensibly, Mr. Swayze was hawking Timex watches. Upon deeper consideration, Mr. Swayze may have been making a statement about this country. Whereas totalitarian regimes either implode or are overthrown, Democracies have been known to be able to take a licking and keep on ticking. Within the last sixty years, Americans have witnessed a presidential assassination, a presidential resignation, three presidential impeachments that did not lead to convictions, as well as a president that never ran for office and was therefore not elected. Yet, never did the United States of America miss a beat. Aside from insufferable governmental bureaucracy as well as intolerable governmental ineptitude (seemingly incurable diseases that afflict both political parties), my concern and fear are not what any president of either party will do. My concern and fear are what any president of either party will either fail to do or be unable to do. While it is true that law-abiding citizens fear rioting, as they well should, it must not go unnoticed that rioting seldom, if ever takes place because of the President’s political affiliation.
It has been a long-established practice at Shabbat services to ask for HaShem’s blessing for our country and its government. Included in this blessing is the President. I am not aware that the siddur has any political preference. Regardless of how we cast our ballot let us allow the incoming President to lead. Let us not fall prey to the lack of objectivity that has infected the media. Let us realize that behind closed doors, one typically finds an individual much different than the one seen in the public eye. And let us remember, that regardless of who occupies the White House, America keeps on ticking.