SUPER BOWLS

I have no idea how many rabbis devoted their sermons last week to the Super Bowl. Nor do I care. For me, and hopefully, for all Jews, the Super Bowl has nothing to do with 100 million Americans glued to the television set, nor does it involve companies prepared to shell out 5 million dollars for a 30-second commercial being aired at the same time when many viewers in all likelihood, have momentarily absented themselves from the television set, because they are heading to another room of the house, either to satiate their needs or to tend to their needs.

Long before the first Super Bowl took place long on January 15, 1967, there were three other Super Bowls that were in no way connected to Football. While I am not able to provide the exact date, I can tell you what took place at the first of these three Super Bowls: There were two brothers in that first Super Bowl. As a matter of fact, those two brothers were fraternal twins. Even though neither brother had ever seen a football before, that first Super Bowl had all the makings of a competition. It centered itself around a bowl of lentil stew. One brother had prepared the stew and was just about to pour it in a bowl when the other brother walked into the kitchen totally famished. He had spent the entire day in the field hunting.  “Fork over some of those vittles”, demanded the hunter. “I’m starving.” “Be happy to,” answered the other brother. “But it will cost you your birthright.” Without the least bit of hesitation and totally without a word of remonstration, the hunter went and exchanged his birthright for a bowl of lentils. Unlike the Super Bowl of today, there were no winners. That first Super Bowl produced only losers. In addition to giving up his birthright, the hunter lost his self-respect; in addition to acquiring a birthright, the other brother lost his integrity.

The world would have to wait a few centuries until the second Super Bowl. Here too, I am not able to provide the exact date, but in addition to telling you what took place, I can also tell you where it took place. The second Super Bowl did not involve lentil stew or any other food. The second Super Bowl involved sparkling jewels and glowing coals. It took place at a royal palace in Egypt. In that second Super Bowl, there were also only two players: The Pharaoh himself and his adopted toddler son whom we know as Moses. It turns out, however, that the Pharaoh was no match for the toddler. As paranoid as the day is long, the Pharaoh feared that the day would come when he would meet his downfall at the hands of the toddler. After all, the toddler had just raised his little arms and removed the crown from Pharaoh’s head and placed it on his own head. Surely, a sign and portent were to be found in what had just occurred. At the suggestion of one of Pharaoh’s three advisors present, who was adamant in rescuing the toddler from certain death, a test was hastily arranged and two bowls – one filled with sparkling jewels and the other filled with glowing coals – were set before the toddler. That second Super Bowl produced two winners, one immediate and the other ultimate. True, Pharaoh walked away with a big smile and put his paranoia on hold, but it was the tongue torched toddler who would one day bring down Pharaoh and his country, as he led his people from slavery to freedom.

The third Super Bowl took place in this country during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Benny Shapiro entered a non-descript Drug Store on Delancey Street on New York’s Lower East Side, walked up to the soda fountain at the back of the pharmacy, and climbed up onto a stool. He caught the attention of the waitress and asked: “How much is a sundae?”  “Thirty-cents,” answered the waitress. Benny reached into his pocket and began to count the coins. The waitress was impatient. There were other customers to be served. Benny looked up at the waitress. “How much is a bowl of plain vanilla ice cream?” asked Benny. “Twenty cents,” answered the waitress with more than a hint of irritation in her voice. Again, Benny counted the coins. Finally, Benny said: “I’ll have a bowl of plain ice-cream.” Benny put a dime and two nickels on the table. The waitress took the money, brought the bowl of ice cream and walked away. Fifteen minutes later, the waitress returned. The bowl was empty. Benny was gone. The waitress picked up the empty bowl and began to cry. There, next to the wet spot on the counter where the bowl had been, was a nickel and five pennies. Benny did have enough money for a sundae all along, but he ordered a bowl of plain ice cream instead so that he could leave the waitress a tip. Unlike, the previous two Super Bowls, both the waitress and Benny were winners – the waitress for being the recipient of the thoughtfulness of a ten-year-old boy, and Benny for being such a mentsch.

Yasher Koach to the Kansas City Chiefs, the winners of this year’s Super Bowl. When all is said and done, however, the three Super Bowls of this article, and not any of the previous 53 televised Super Bowls are the ones worth remembering.

INTERNATIONAL HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL DAY

Practically 75 years ago to the day, a glimmer of light came into this world that would have ramifications decades later. On January 27, 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz – Birkenau, arguably the most infamous of all Concentration/Extermination Camps of the Third Reich. On the 60th anniversary of the liberation, a special session was held at the United Nations which culminated in designating January 27th as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Gevald! I was raised on Yom HaShoah. Each year on the 27th of Nissan, Yom HaShoah commemorations were held in Jewish communities throughout the world. When I learned of International Holocaust Memorial Day, I was indignant, to say the least. How dare the United Nations and then the 42nd president of the United States proclaims another date to memorialize Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man! By what right and under whose authority could they do such a thing? Yom HaShoah is a collective yahrzeit for the Jewish people. I don’t recall any Jewish leader suggesting that another date be chosen so that the yahrzeit of the six million be shared.

When a cooler head prevailed, I realized that while intending to pay homage to the same dark chapter in the history of mankind, International Holocaust Remembrance Day and Yom HaShoah couldn’t have been more different.

International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates a twentieth-century version of the Exodus from Egypt. It was the Soviet Union ironically, that led the pack of allied armies, playing the role of the biblical Moses, while those miraculously still alive in a hellhole in southern Poland, the very descendants of the Israelite slaves freed from the diabolical Pharaoh were the first of their people to be redeemed from unspeakable enslavement and unfathomable treatment. Military prowess aside, International Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the first step of allied armies being able to reassure the victims, “Don’t worry. We’re here to save you. We’re here to free you. We’re here for you to reaffirm your faith (whatever faith you may have left) that the forces of good have ultimately triumphed over the forces of evil.”

Not so, Yom HaShoah. Although chosen to coincide with the date of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, where a handful of Jews armed chiefly with chutzpah, managed to stave off the Third Reich for weeks, Yom HaShoah commemorates a twentieth-century version of the biblical Lot and a handful of others managing to survive the destruction of his society. Even though the Sodomites were in no way blameless or faultless like the Jews of Eastern Europe, there are still parallels to be made. The pillars of fire and the stench of death of Sodom and Gomorrah served as prototypes for the pillars of fire and the stench of death of Auschwitz and Birkenau. Both Lot, as well as the survivors of Nazism, set about building a new future for themselves. Both were cautioned of the dangers of looking back. Looking back was only helpful in that it ensured that those who succumbed not be forgotten, as well as it served as a reminder that we do not forget.

International Holocaust Memorial Day is a day for the outside world to justifiably remind itself of its success is thwarting evil and rescuing the few that remained; Yom HaShoah is a day for the Jewish world to remind itself, that the remnant that survived will serve as living proof that it refuses to wallow in self-pity and victimhood and that Jews must never inflict upon others what others inflicted upon them.

We commemorate an event that took place seventy-five years ago that gave the free world reason to be optimistic and those still alive at Auschwitz – Birkenau reason to dare to hope, that humanity did not go up in the chimneys of the Nazi crematoria after all. For me personally, International Holocaust Memorial Day is beyond my expectations. As for Yom HaShoah, I would have expected nothing less.
  
 


MLK DAY ISN’T JEWISH

Decades ago, Jewish leaders, especially rabbis, were very much actively involved in the civil rights movement in this country. Aside from the social justice reason commanded by the Torah, Jewish spiritual leaders of yesteryear were quick to see parallels between the Jewish experience and the Black experience. However noble their effort to draw similarities between the two groups, Jewish leaders, religious or otherwise were blatantly wrong.

Addressing the annual meeting of the American Jewish Congress in 1958, Dr. King remarked: “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe.” I couldn’t agree more. I have no idea how many Yiddishisms were adopted by American Blacks, but Goldeneh Medineh wasn’t one of them. “ Moving on up” (to the East Side) by J’anet Dubois served as the theme song for the television sit-com The Jeffersons that debuted four and a half decades ago. The real moving on up, however, began 140 years ago as our Eastern European ancestors moved on up to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It may have been a cold-water flat with a shared bathroom at the end of the hallway, but it was a far cry from fetching a pail of water from the well and making one’s way to the outhouse in the shtetl. The only discrimination encountered in the overcrowded, unsanitary, and even dissipated world of the self-imposed ghetto of Jewish immigrants were not being hired at a “sweat shop” by another Jew for refusing to work on Shabbat.

To be sure, Jews did suffer from discrimination in this country. There was a tacit understanding among Christians – a gentleman’s agreement – that Jews were not welcome to live in certain neighborhoods throughout the United States. There were restricted country clubs, quotas in medical schools, and doors closed to Jews in corporate America. Jewish power responded far differently than black power. Amongst Jews, there were seldom any protests, peaceful or violent. Instead, Jews circumvented quotas. Jews built their own neighborhoods or “gilded ghettos”, Jews built their own country clubs. Any Jew could not get into medical school, would often “settle” getting into dental school. And if Jews were unwelcome by the Big Three automakers in this country, they became most successful, owning dealerships selling automobiles manufactured by those very same corporations who refused to hire them. True, Jews were known to go out on strike demanding better wages or better working conditions, but seldom if ever was there ever any looting or rioting. It wasn’t until the ‘60’s that Jews became involved in protests, against the war in Viet Nam or for freedom for Jews in the Soviet Union. And those protests were not because they were being treated less than equal because they were Jews.

Martin Luther King Jr. saw himself as the Moses of his people. “But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop… I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land” said King Luther King Jr., a day before he was felled by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. Our Moses predated Reverend King by over three thousand years. Facing 600,000 newly liberated slaves, our Moses soon laid down the law by transmitting to them a Torah from HaShem. And in that Torah, there was a long list of do’s and don’ts otherwise known as the 613 commandments. The understanding was that a successful future was commensurate with the willingness of the newly freed slaves to incorporate those mitzvot into their daily lives.

MLK Day isn’t Jewish because no one individual campaigned for our people’s equal rights. In 1963, MLK led a march on Washington of 250,000 people. It was a tremendous achievement. The closest we Jews ever came to matching that, was twenty years prior when 400 rabbis traveled to this nation’s capital having been led to believe that they would be meeting with the president. It was an abject failure. MLK Day isn’t Jewish, because we have been known to handle discrimination on an individual basis. MLK Day isn’t Jewish because we too were gifted with a leader who had been to the mountaintop, and soon after made it clear what was expected of us. MLK Day isn’t Jewish, because it was never designed to be Jewish. It is a day for Black Americans. May his message live on as his legacy is honored.

MEGXIT

There is a corollary to the Yiddish proverb “Little children don’t let you sleep; grown children don’t let you live”. I would suggest that it read: “little children run their parents’ lives; grown children run their own lives”. As a parent, who adjusted to this corollary decades ago, I was served a poignant reminder of it last week. Like so many others, I read about the decision of Harry and Meghan to leave the “family business” and strike it out on their own. Unlike so many others, I am neither supportive nor opposed to their choice. As I rabbi, I cannot help but see their choice in terms of Judaism and its leaders.

Some 70 years ago, as those who somehow managed to survive Hitler’s “hell on earth” were rebuilding their lives, an American Jew paid a visit to the Satmar Rebbe who had recently arrived in New York. The visitor to the Satmar Rebbe was beside himself. His son had strayed from the path of Torah Judaism. Rather than rising early to go to synagogue to satiate himself with the spiritual, he was now staying up late to go to the tavern to satiate himself with spirits. Whereas once, his reputation was such, that any number of rabbis knew him by name, now his reputation was such, that any number of women knew him by name. The Poker Table had replaced the Shabbos Table. In short, he was a bum. The father wanted to disown his wayward son, and he was seeking the advice of the Satmar Rebbe on how to go about doing so. “Heaven forfend” exclaimed the Satmar Rebbe to the disconsolate father. A child, you don’t disown! A child is a gift from HaShem. How can you despise a gift from HaShem? Children do not come with guarantees.

Down the street from where we lived in New Jersey, there was a nice, quiet Jewish couple. If they did attend synagogue services, it must have been at another congregation, because never in the 20 years I served as rabbi at that pulpit, did I ever see them at services. Once and only once, did they turn to me for help. There had been a death in the family, and they asked if I would officiate at the funeral. I was there for them and did what I could to help them through their loss. In gathering information, I asked my neighbor what his father did for a living. Without blinking an eye, he told me that his father was a Lieutenant for Abner (Longy) Zwillman, a Jewish Mafioso of renown. Thinking back to this neighbor, serves as a reminder of a different nature, that children do not come with a guarantee. There are good, decent law-abiding citizens who were brought into this world by parents of ill repute. On a totally different level, we are constantly reminded by the Jewish world of today, “this is not your father’s Judaism”.  There is a growth of congregations and kosher restaurants opening in newly established observant communities, where two generations ago, neither Shabbat nor a kosher kitchen played a role in their families. Nowhere is it etched in stone, nor should we assume that children retain the values and beliefs of their parents.
  
There is a fable found in the writing of Gluckel of Hameln. It tells of a mother bird and her three little fledglings. There was a river to cross which was simply beyond the flying capability of the young birds. The only solution was for the mother bird to take one of her offspring in her claws and carry it across the river and safely deposit it in dry land and then circle back to transport the next offspring. As the mother bird was halfway across with the fledgling in her claws, she remarked to her child, “look how I am struggling and risking my life on your behalf.  When you are grown up, will you do as much for me and provide for me in my old age?”  The fledgling replied, “Only bring me to safety, and when you are old, I shall do everything you ask of me.”
Immediately, the mother bird dropped the fledgling, leaving it to fall to its death. Swooping back, the mother bird transported her second child. Again, she asked “will you do for me and provide for me in my old age?  The second child gave the same answer only to meet the same fate. Carrying the third child in its claws, the mother posed the very same question. “Mother,” answered the third fledgling. “The best I can tell you is that just as you have been there for me, so too will I be there for my children”. And with that, the mother bird carried her third child to safety.

The latest news out of Britain should serve as a reminder, that contrary to Jewish teaching and tradition, it is not always true that “Ma’asei Avot Siman L’Vanim”  or the actions of the parents impact upon the children. Children do not make the dreams parents have for them come true, nor do they necessarily meet their parent’s expectations. There are honorable parents who have children who are embarrassments to society and there are honorable children who have parents who are embarrassments to society. Above all, the obligation of parents is toward their children; the obligation of children is toward their children.                                              

MAY SUCH ATTACKS CONTINUE

 A week ago, an event took place that should have captured the attention of any and every law-abiding American who has been following the onslaught of attacks that have been taking place against those in our society, who simply wanted to come to pray and participate in their religion.

Ninety thousand Jews converged on MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The event was Siyyum HaShas or the completion of the study of 2711 double-sided pages of Talmud. At the rate of a folio (both sides of a page) a day, the faithful devoted over 7 years, of painstakingly making their way through the endlessly daunting Talmud, to gain a better understanding, as well as a deeper appreciation of the text. Written in Aramaic, the Talmud is devoid of vocalization and punctuation. But even if one is capable of mastering reading the text, one is left with the formidable task of understanding the text. To a large extent, the depth of Talmudic thought and reasoning is mind-boggling, to say the least. It would in no way be an exaggeration, I believe, to say that just as the English language deems it correct for us to say, that one “attacks” a problem,  so too is it correct for us to say that those who devote themselves to serious Talmud study do so, by attacking the plethora of issues found in the Talmud. As such, last week’s Siyyum HaShas was a classical Jewish response to the seemingly unceasing attacks against our people within the last few years in general and the last few weeks in particular.  Upon completion of a tractate of the Talmud, as well as the entire Talmud, five non-textual paragraphs are included, followed by the reciting of a special Kaddish. Among these five paragraphs, we find “…for we rise, and they rise. We rise to study Torah, but they rise to kill time… we run, and they run. Our running will ultimately gain us entry into heaven, but their running will ultimately lead them to the pit of destruction.” In light of recent events, I believe that it would have been most fitting for those participating in Siyyum HaShass to have added “we attack, and they attack. We attack in order to master a tome, but they attack to create disaster as part of a syndrome.”

Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize that our constant attack of the Talmud text is out of love and reverence. We attack the text cerebrally and spiritually, with the goal of unlocking hidden treasures and solving a myriad of mysteries. The greatest disservice one can render the Talmud is to treat it like any other text. I once recall reading the following statement from a renowned Talmudic scholar: “Quite often, when I scrutinize the same text for the hundredth time, I see something that I failed to notice the previous ninety-nine times.” True appreciation is accorded the Talmud when it is viewed as a holy puzzle, filled with cryptic statements as well as phrases and words that drop hints to the trained eye.

Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize that our unceasing attack of the Talmud, reveals much about ourselves. Aside from our trademark tenacity – we Jews never give up – we have also shown that we are capable of a rebirth. Sixty years ago, it would have been unthinkable for a Siyyum HaShas to have taken place in a setting even remotely comparable to MetLife Stadium. Instead, any Siyum HaShas sixty years ago was in all probability a private affair with little fanfare, where at best, hundreds participated, rather than tens of thousands.

Last week’s Siyyum HaShas was to recognize what’s in the crosshairs of a sizeable segment of our population. Rather than spending time fomenting hatred against those who are a thorn in our side and mean us harm, instead of devoting time to devise different ways of revenge, those who participated in last week’s Siyyum HaShas, set aside roughly an hour a day, in a way that threatens no one. Groups of people who are “on the same page” both literally and figuratively, agreed to get together, using their time productively as they set out on a holy quest that hopefully sharpened their thinking and ideally improved their character.

May such attacks continue.

JEWISH GENIUS

For me, the last Shabbat of 2019 began with a bang. In those early morning hours, prior to setting out for the weekly Torah class preceding services, my eyes did a double-take as I scanned the op-ed articles in that day’s New York Times. I was immediately taken by The Secrets of Jewish Genius. Written by Bret Stephens, a Jewish Journalists, the article shows a lopsided representation of Ashkenazic Jews as far as Nobel Prize Winners in Science (27percent) and recipients of ACM Turing awards (25 percent). The latter is an annual prize given by the Association for Computing Machinery to an individual selected for contributions “of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field”. Mr. Stephens could have justifiably pointed out similar lopsided Jewish representation in the fields of Accounting, Law, and Medicine.

Although my reading tastes rarely include novels, I immediately thought back to Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, where the fictional Chasidic Reb Saunders delivers a soliloquy against the Jewish mind. Having had a brother in pre-war Europe who was arguably one of the most brilliant minds ever to come into this world (this mattered not one iota to the Nazis who herded that brother along with six million other Jews of varying IQs into the gas chamber), Reb Saunders cries that better minds will in no way guarantee a better world. There was no shortage of brilliant, albeit diabolical minds among Nazi leadership. What the world needs, lamented Reb Saunders is not Jewish minds, but Jewish souls! I take no issue whatsoever with Bret Stephen’s op-ed. I cry from within, however, wondering when Bret Stephens or any other journalist – Jewish or non-Jewish – will ever write, or perhaps better stated, will ever have any reason to write an article about the Jewish soul.

Our Rabbinic sages fumbled when it came to what could have been one of the most meaningful prayers of the day, leaving the editor of the siddur to drop the ball altogether.  “My G-d! The soul you placed within me is pure. You created it. You fashioned it. You breathed it into me…”

Known to us as Elohei Neshamah, it is beyond me, why there is no mention anywhere in this prayer, about appreciation on our parts for this divinely entrusted soul, tailor-made for each and every human being brought into this world. It escapes me why we are not challenged to take that soul and put it to the best use possible. For the life of me, I fail to understand why the prayer Elohei Neshamah segues into the litany of morning blessings at the beginning of daily Shacharit services, for bleary-eyed worshippers to mumble through. If focus on HaShem and His goodness along with His tender mercies is integral to our daily existence, shouldn’t focus on our G-d given soul, so that it too be a source of goodness and tender mercies, be given top billing as well?
 
In my book “The Right Word”, I pointed out the difference between an obituary and a eulogy. I stressed that the former tells us that a person has died; the latter tells us that a person has lived. I should like to point out yet another difference between the two. An obituary informs us about the individual’s accomplishments and acuity. Whether telling us that the deceased was CEO of a major company or president of the P.T.A., an obituary emphasizes the mind of an individual. A eulogy, on the other hand, is about the individual’s influence and impact. Whether telling us how the deceased was a veritable Will Rogers who never met a person he/she didn’t like or how the deceased volunteered at the Police Station every Christmas day to express appreciation for Officers of the Law, a eulogy emphasizes the soul of an individual. So too inscriptions found on grave monuments. The next time you are at a cemetery, take a few moments to read the epitaphs on these monuments.  Do those inscriptions focus in on the mind or the soul of the individual?

As we welcome 2020, in addition to looking at accomplishments of the past year, let us also look forward to a year of care and concern for others. As important as it is to live smarter, it is crucial that we live better. If we can make that happen, then perhaps there will come a time when Bret Stephens or another journalist will write an op-ed about The Secrets of a Jewish Soul.



CHANUKAH PAST CHANUKAH PRESENT CHANUKAH FUTURE

In discussing whether a Chanukah light that was prematurely extinguished musty be rekindled, the Talmud cites that the mitzvah (commandment) of lighting Chanukah candles extends from when the sun sets until foot traffic has vanished from the market. Implied of course is that the (optimum)  time for lighting the oil/candles of Chanukah is from dusk, until the end of what has come to be known as the evening rush hour.

Yet, the phraseology of time employed by the Talmud begs interpretation. To be sure, Judaism is a time-bound religion, very much concerned about the earliest and latest time one may perform mitzvot. Typically, Judaism refers to dusk as bein ha shmashot  (between the “suns” viz. the sun and the moon) and the end of evening rush hour as tzeit ha kochavim (emergence of the stars). Why then the departure from the norm in phraseology when the topic is Chanukah lights?

Through the ages, it has become pretty much accepted that the kindling of Chanukah lights is for external purposes. Long before neon signs were invented, our religious leaders deemed it vital that the outside world is made aware of a divine quid pro quo sign of gratitude, bestowed upon the Maccabees. Very much impressed that a small, ill-equipped and poorly trained rag-tag army took on a fighting force of ancient Hellenists, thereby going against human nature, HaShem showed His recognition and appreciation by going against the very forces of nature, by having a one day supply of oil burn for eight.

Perhaps our religious leaders misunderstood the directive of the Chanukah Menorah. Perhaps the kindling of Chanukah candles was not for external purposes, but for internal purposes after all! Why should our religious leaders care what the outside world thinks? Did our religious leaders really believe that they could impress the outside world with Jewish miracles? Hasn’t Judaism always prided itself as being a live and let live religion?  Perhaps the initial dictate of placing the candles outside one’s door and later on at one’s window was a message to the Jews themselves! Perhaps that message was “before you go out and let yourself become absorbed by the outside culture (placing the menorah outside one’s door), perhaps before you look out to see what’s out there in the outside culture (placing the menorah by one’s window), look first at the Chanukah candles. Be mindful that if you are looking for the “greatest show on earth” then look no further. Our very own Judaism provides it.

This past Shabbat, at Se’udah Shleesheet or the third Shabbat meal, we studied five similarities that exist between Chanukah and Pesach. Long before Charles Dickens wrote about Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Future, our sages spoke about Pesach Past (our ancestor’s departure from Egypt), Pesach Present (our annual celebration of the Festival of Freedom throughout the generations) and Pesach Future (our being able to celebrate our ultimate redemption). Perhaps the same can be said about Chanukah! Perhaps our festival of miracles lends itself to Chanukah Past, Chanukah Present, and Chanukah Future as well! Chanukah Past occurred over two millennia ago when a small band of Maccabees accomplished the miraculous in warfare and then witnessed the miraculous in oil. Chanukah Present has been our reenactment of the miracle of yore through the annual kindling of Chanukah lights. It may very well be, that Chanukah Future is what the above stated Talmudic dictum has been alluding to all along!

When the sun sets may not be in reference to the time of day, but rather a time or era to come. When the sun sets may, in fact, refer to the time when the sun (viz. the other nations of the world, in that the other nations count by the sun, while Israel counts by the moon -Talmud, Sukkah 29a) is no longer looked up to by Jews. When foot traffic has vanished from the market may, in fact, refer to the propensity of our people to visit the “market” of foreign cultures. When that time comes, when Jews cease to be infatuated by the sun and finally stop running to the market, the flame of the Chanukah candles will no longer need to be relit, for we Jews will no longer have a need to be reminded that it is the light within that illuminates.

HELL!

Last week, the White House hosted its 19th official Chanukah party. I was not invited. But a Southern Baptist Minister who preaches not far from Tiferet was. And predictably, a good many Jews were in an uproar. As far as they are concerned, a Chanukah party is no place for a  man of the cloth, who has in the past preached that those who do not accept Jesus into their lives will end up in hell.

Hell! If clergy were able to decide who ends up in Hell, there would be a waiting list from here to eternity. Countless are the number of times clergy have flippantly muttered  “go to hell” to drivers who cut them off in traffic or to drivers who won’t let them into another lane of traffic. Why, there is a place reserved in hell for all who are employed at the DMV in this city because of clergy who, along with others, have had to wait for hours to renew their drivers’ licenses. (Believe it or not, clergy are right up there with the best of them when it comes to cussing.) Regardless of the Theological Seminary this Southern Minister White House invitee attended it is my belief, that it is the Creator of the World, together with His heavenly tribunal, and not religious leaders, who will decide whether heaven or hell is the ultimate destination for any soul who has departed this world. Can it be that this Southern Baptist Minister along with others like him have some inside line when they so confidently spout the “final destination” of those who do not accept Jesus into their lives?


Hell! Most Jews don’t believe in Hell anyway. According to a Pew report conducted five years ago, a paltry 22% of Jews believe in Hell. While I have no evidence to support this, I cannot help but feel that more Jews believe in Santa Claus than Hell. Why then the ire over a guest at an annual White House Chanukah party, who tells those who do not accept Jesus into their lives that they are destined for a place that most Jews maintain does not exist? As a rabbi, I am indignant. More Jews care what a Southern Baptist Minister has to say about their ultimate destiny, than care what I, a rabbi,  have to say about their current status in this world. Publicly, I try very hard not to take fellow Jews to task, especially those who are at services. And that includes those who fall asleep during my Shabbat morning Torah talk! Hell has no fury like indignant Jews for a man of the cloth who, on the one hand, intimates that as rejectors of Jesus we are headed for Hell, yet on the other hand, has the chutzpah to show up at a White House party celebrating a Jewish festival.

Hell! This cleric has his head in the clouds. Clearly, he has no understanding whatsoever of the meaning of Chanukah story! Does he not appreciate the message of the Maccabean victory? Over two thousand years ago, a band of our coreligionists took up arms to protest a culture, as well a religion, that flew in the face of Judaism. Two thousand years ago, a band of coreligionists went to fight for religious freedom and religious tolerance. Because this ancient band of coreligionists respected, yet rejected, an ancient belief system and culture that was not theirs, the very message of Chanukah is the right, nay the duty, of contemporary Jews to respect, yet reject a contemporary belief system and culture that is not theirs, as well. Other than opportunism, it is therefore beyond me why this man of the cloth who espouses credentials for entrance into Heaven, would accept an invitation to attend a celebration that rejects deities (including Jesus)  that are contrary to Judaism.

Personally, it matters not one iota to me whether this Dallas preacher attends a Chanukah celebration at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in this nation’s capital. He does, however, make himself look ridiculous by doing so. By joining a group of people who not only reject Jesus as the savior but the very existence of Hell, as well. Similarly, it is beyond my understanding, why so many are up in arms for his showing “his face in the place.”

As I extend my heartfelt and sincere wishes for a Merry Christmas to my fellow man of the cloth, as well as to all those of the Christian faith, may I be so bold as to remind them that if “peace on earth” is to have any real meaning, then instead of espousing necessary credentials for entry into heaven,  perhaps our primary focus ought to making our society just that much more heavenly.

FRAU CHANCELLOR

Note to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany:

Frau Chancellor, I wish I had known in advance that you would be visiting Auschwitz last Friday. I would have asked if some members of Congress could accompany you. You see Frau Chancellor, these members of Congress have no concept of what a Concentration Camp, as well as an Extermination Camp (Birkenau, which is adjacent to Auschwitz), was all about. Otherwise, it is simply beyond me (as well as any other normal thinking individual) why these government officials make odious comparisons, essentially equating Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of Jews. Perhaps if they saw Auschwitz up close, they would be forced to admit, that the only camps found under Arab control are Refugee Camps, which are in fact cities with the infrastructure of cities.  And should these members of Congress ignorantly point to the poverty and unemployment that prevail in these Refugee Camps, it could be patiently pointed out that Auschwitz was well beyond poverty and unemployment. What was very much apparent in Auschwitz, was the fetid smell of death as Jews were systematically starved and systematically exterminated.

Frau Chancellor. Hans Joachim Gustav Meyer was a Landsmann (sic) of yours. Bielefeld was his birthplace. Why, Hanjo as he was known, was even incarcerated in Auschwitz for a period of ten months, for having committed the crime of being a Jew. Yet, Hanjo managed to survive that Hell Hole. I would have wanted Hanjo to join you on last Friday’s trip so that he could revisit Auschwitz. Alas, Hanjo died five years ago. Surely, there must be other Jews who share the view of Hanjo Meyer. Surely there must be other Jews who are convinced that the way the Israeli military mistreats the Palestinians is similar to the way the Nazis mistreated the Jews. Standing with you as you toured Auschwitz, Hanjo’ Meyer’s protégées could have also viewed preserved artifacts, like piles of shoes (including prosthetic limbs) taken from Jews and human hair shaved off heads of Jews. Perhaps seeing these artifacts, so would have spurred those who see the Israeli military as Nazis to seek out piles of Palestinian shoes confiscated the Israeli military and human hair that Israelis shaved off Palestinian heads before they were “interred” in Khan Yunis or Rafah or any of the other six Refugee Camps within the Gaza Strip.

Frau Chancellor. No doubt you noticed “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the iron gates of Auschwitz, during your visit last Friday. Granted, you are a politician and not a linguist, but permit me to ask you, if it is correct German to say “Erziehung Macht Frei” that education makes (one) free? If so, perhaps, I could send such signs to the countless professors throughout the free world who are prisoners to propaganda and as a result, continue to infect impressionable minds of College and University students with poisonous misinformation, as they compare Zionism to Nazism. Instead of remaining true to the curriculum and imparting knowledge in disciplines such as Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology, these professors unscrupulously besmirch the reputation of the only democracy in the Middle East. Perhaps if these professors were better educated as far as Nazism and Zionism, perhaps if it were pointed out to them that they have no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Nazism, because they have yet to visit what Nazism produced, namely Auschwitz, they would soon realize that when all is said and done, that Nazism is the moral opposite to Zionism. Granted, they would have to make a visit as well to see how Israelis treat Palestinians.  Perhaps if they were open-minded to such an education, they would conclude Nazism produced a stain on humanity, while Zionism is a source of pride to humanity.

Frau Chancellor, you are in my prayers for your recent visit to Auschwitz. As for certain members of Congress, as for Jews who make odious comparisons between Zionism and Nazism, as for College Professors who don’t know what they are talking about, I cannot help but feel that such individuals simply don’t have a prayer.

INFAMY

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941— a date which will live in infamy— the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” So spoke the 32nd president of this country to a joint session of Congress 78 years ago.

Meaning no disrespect to FDR, it can be argued that there was nothing infamous about the pre-meditated attack on Pearl Harbor whatsoever. What the Japanese carried out was an act of war, not an act of infamy.

“Have you no sense of decency?” would have been an excellent question to have posed to our Patriarch Jacob. When directed by Rebecca to go to the flock to fetch two choice young goats, so that she might prepare them according to Isaac’s tastes, thereby enabling her favorite son to usurp the blessing intended for Esau, Jacob offers up a most feeble response. Jacob is concerned that their ruse be discovered! Surely, one would have expected Jacob to protest that such a shenanigan was patently wrong. But Jacob failed to do so. When a  patriarch of our people is unable to see that he was about to engage moral turpitude, that is a day that will live in infamy.  

Yet, it only took one generation for yet another day to live in infamy. And no, it wasn’t Jacob’s ten sons casting Joseph into a pit only to sell him to a caravan of traders bound for Egypt. While such behavior was totally criminal and inexcusable on the part of the brethren, it was never the less understandable. The infamy came about while Joseph was left to languish in the pit. The infamy came about when the brothers sat down to eat bread. While in no way illegal, their decision to dine as though no altercation had ever taken place was unacceptable as well as inexcusable. Other brothers would have been too enraged and upset to eat. Other brothers would have lost their appetite and blamed Joseph for making them sick to their stomachs. But Jacob’s ten sons were not other brothers. Jacob’s sons lacked emotions. That’s why their eating of bread was a dastardly act. That’s why their eating of bread ought to have been a meal that will live on in infamy!

Among important biblical figures who have been given short shrift for far too long is the Prophet Natan. Sent by HaShem to give King David a dressing-down for his ignoble behavior with the wife of Uriah the Hittite (arguably of star general status), the Prophet Natan misses the point. However eloquent his analogy was (there are so many damsels to dally with who are at your beck and call, why start up with the wife of one of your most loyal military men) the Prophet Natan was remiss in not pointing out King David’s most egregious shortcoming. However necessary it was to convey to King David that adultery (Bat Sheva was a married woman) is amoral, the Prophet Natan was derelict in taking the King to task for his ultimate failure. However inexpiable it was on King David’s part to send Uriah out on a suicide mission so that King David could marry the woman, pregnant with his child, the Prophet Natan failed to shed light on King David’s unforgivable sin vis a vis the Jewish people. And that is how totally reprehensible it was for King David not to show the slightest bit of remorse when receiving the inevitable news from a messenger that Uriah had died in battle. It was King David’s unconcerned reaction to a death for which he was ultimately responsible, that made for a day that will live in infamy.

“Heroes often fail,” reminds us of the songwriter and recording artist Gordon Lightfoot. It would be unrealistic for the masses to expect heroes not to fall from the pedestals to which they have been elevated. After all,  they are human and are therefore prone to mistakes and misjudgments. When those very same humans do fail, yet neglect to show contrition and remorse, then that is a day that will live in infamy.