THE KEYS WE HOLD

Although there are better known stories depicting last week’s stain on Jewish history, there is one that holds greater meaning for me than all the rest. It depicts young Kohanim or priests in training, ascending the roof of the Beit HaMikdash with keys to various chambers of the holy edifice in their hands. Turning their faces heavenward, these young Kohanim admitted that they failed in their responsibilities of keepers of the keys. It was therefore only proper and befitting, that they return the keys that they had been entrusted  with by HaShem. No sooner did these young Kohanim toss these keys up in the air, when a heavenly hand emerged, removing the keys from human possession.

While admittedly resorting to idiomatic expressions in the English language, there were three keys that were never offered to be returned by the young Kohanim and could therefore never be accepted by HaShem. Perhaps of even greater importance, these three keys that the young Kohanim refused to surrender served as the very antithesis to those keys returned to HaShem. Whereas those keys returned to HaShem by the young Kohanim symbolized keys of destruction and ruin, the three keys that the young Kohanim adamantly refused to surrender represented keys of perseverance and perpetuity.

The first key that the young Kohanim refused to surrender to HaShem, was the “key of recrimination.” Even if they wanted to, the young Kohanim could not have surrendered the “key of recrimination” because they could not claim exclusive ownership. The “key of recrimination” was a key that was first used by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was then passed on from  generation to generation. It was Abraham however, who refused to have any part of the “key of recrimination” just as Abraham refused to have any part in the worship of idols. Abraham understood that recrimination and idolatry absolve the individual of responsibility. Idolatry placed everything that went on in this world in the hands of deities: the “key of recrimination” placed everything that went on in one’s own world in the hands of others. In both situations, the individual remained devoid of responsibility. If the “key of recrimination” was in the sole possession of the young Kohanim, and if the young Kohanim had chosen to surrender it to HaShem, then the message of Tisha B’Av would have been: “Just as it was beyond our scope to have played any role whatsoever in the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, so too is it beyond our scope to play any role whatsoever in the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.”

Although never intended as such, it was HaShem who defined our very essence as a people. In a state of anger and exasperation, it was HaShem who told Moshe that our ancestors were a group of “stiff-necked” people. The personality trait of being “stiff-necked” was one that would remain with us as a people from that moment on; that personality trait would prove define our very essence and explain our being able to defy overwhelming odds time and time again. As a people, we are determined and resolute. As a nation, we are contrarians. While I am neither a sociologist nor a historian, it nevertheless appears, that as a people, we Jews seem to thrive in the face of adversity. Stated differently, time and time again, it has been shown that our shining moment as a people often occurs when the chips are down. Despite quotas in Law Schools and Medical Schools in this country a century ago, Jews gained admission as well a grudging acceptance into fields reserved for Christian America. Yet, once admitted and accepted, Jews continued to aspire to the top tier, so that instead of being looked down upon, Jews were suddenly being looked up to. The characterization of being “stiff-necked” turned out to be one of our greatest strengths and attributes as a people. The key of being “stiff-necked” was the second key that the young Kohanim refused to surrender to HaShem.

The human head is more than just home to four of the five senses. The human head possesses  the ability to refine and distinguish those senses. Not only can the human ear hear words, but it can also discern how those words are spoken. Not only can the human nose inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, but it can also distinguish between pleasant scents and unpleasant odors. So too the human eye. Depth perception aside, our tradition maintains that we were gifted by HaShem with two eyes, so that we could use one eye to see how others affect our lives and the other eye to see how we affect our lives. If Jewish sources – religious as well as secular – have taught us anything, it is that we Jews have a tendency to favor the eye that allows us to see how we affect our lives. Whether tragedy or triumph, our focus as a people has primarily been on ourselves, rather than the enemy. Regardless of the hand dealt us, we focus on introspection.  As a result, little, if any energy is expended on grudges or revenge or seeking justice. Instead, most, if not all energy, is directed to picking up shattered pieces, left in the aftermath and building a brighter future. The key to introspection was the third key that the young Kohanim refused to surrender to HaShem.

The time period between last week’s commemoration of Tisha B’Av and next month’s celebration of Rosh Hashanah is designated as seven weeks of consolation. True and meaningful consolation comes about when we realize that that the key to recrimination, the key to being stiff-necked and the key to introspection were never surrendered to HaShem but remain in the firm grip of our people. May we find meaningful consolation knowing that we possess all three keys.

JERUSALEM RECONSIDERED

A certain irony exists when we pray for the rebuilding Jerusalem. As part of our established daily  prayers, we ask HaShem to rebuild Jerusalem without qualification. During Birkat HaMazon or Grace After Meals, we ask HaShem to rebuild Jerusalem in His mercy. Come Tisha B’Av during the Mincha service, we ask  HaShem to rebuild Jerusalem out of reconsideration.  Why the shift in our requests? Why do we qualify our request with either  mercy or reconsideration?

Mercy or rachamim as it is known in Hebrew, is visceral. Mercy is a feeling. Mercy emanates from the heart. Mercy is an attempt to soothe the hurt and pain that one is experiencing. Oddly enough, the first usage of rachamim in the Torah, deals with a wishful or hopeful expression of concern. “And may Almighty G-d grant you mercy before the man… (Genesis 43:14)” says Jacob to his sons, after they returned from Egypt, only to discover that the money they had paid for the provisions they had purchased, turned up in their sacks of grain. Reconsidering, often  used interchangeably with consoling or tanchumim as it is known in Hebrew, is cerebral. Reconsidering is a thought process. Reconsidering emanates from the mind. Reconsidering is an attempt to assure the one who is hurting and in pain, that all is not lost. Oddly enough, the first usage of tanchumim in the Torah, deals with HaShem. Seeing the evil and wickedness of mankind, “HaShem reconsidered having made man on earth (Genesis 6:6). Rather than throw in the towel and give up, HaShem reconsidered whether He did the right thing when He created mankind.

Mercy implies victimhood. Mercy conveys that you feel for the individual who is hurting. Mercy is an attempt  to bandage the emotional wound visited upon the one who is grieving. Whether it is through sympathy, where one feels for the victim or through empathy, where one feels with the victim, the one experiencing hurt and pain is told that he or she does not have to weather the crises alone. The one experiencing hurt and pain is assured there are others who will be at his or her side, either in the literal sense or in the figurative sense. Reconsidering implies being in control. Reconsidering conveys a silver lining for the individual who is hurting. Reconsidering is an attempt to redirect the focus from the emotional wound and to redirect it to the many healthy areas outside that wound. Rather than assure the victim that you are very much aware that he or she is grieving, reconsidering reassures the individual, how important it is to realize that grief is a passing experience and that you are there to assist in planning for once the pain has passed. An example of this is seen each morning toward the beginning of the Shacharit service, where we are asked to reconsider  that even though “In the evening, one lies down weeping, in the morning there are shouts of joy (Psalms 30:6)”.

Mercy implies a past. Mercy assures  the one suffering, that you are not oblivious to the upheaval that has occurred in his or her life. Mercy is a reminder that while you cannot change what has happened, the crises need not be confronted alone. Among the many misnomers in our society, is the term self-help groups. Self-help groups are organized by individuals who have gone through similar experiences to meet with those who are hurting to help them deal with their  past. Reconsidering on the other hand, implies a future. Reconsidering focuses on what will take place. Reconsidering assures the one suffering, that there is a promising future. Perhaps the greatest healing available  to individuals at a time when they are all too quick to dismiss their future, is that you have confidence in them. Reconsidering assures those grieving, that their future must neither be disregarded nor overlooked. We live in a society where there is no shortage of investment clubs. The objective of such clubs is to secure a safe and strong financial future for its members. Reconsidering does much the same in helping to secure a safe and strong emotional future for those who are hurting.

And so it is with Tisha B’Av. Three times a day, we pray for the unqualified rebuilding of Jerusalem. Finding ourselves satiated at the conclusion of a meal, we find it difficult to identify with a city that continues to hunger for spiritual and religious completion. We therefore pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem in mercy. Finding ourselves toward the close of Tisha B’Av, we can empathize with a city that has been deprived of (spiritual) nourishment. We therefore pray for HaShem to reconsider and to bring an end to the two-thousand-year-old plight of the holy city . Whether out of mercy or out of reconsideration or neither, we beseech HaShem to rebuild a city that means so much to so many.  

ALL WASHED UP

With the Hebrew month of Av being inaugurated this Thursday, there are several practices, particularly among Ashkenazi Jews, that must not escape our attention. Among them, are the prohibition on the consumption of meat, other than on Shabbat or a Mitzvah meal such as a Bris, swimming and bathing for pleasure, and the laundering of and wearing of freshly laundered clothes. Admittedly, our revered rabbis had excellent reasons for instituting these practices. Without a scintilla of second-guessing on my part, I should like to inject new symbolism into the prohibition of laundering clothes, as well as wearing freshly laundered clothes, during these nine days.

It has been a half century, since the recording artist Linda Ronstadt, in her hit song “Long, Long Time” reminded us that “time washes clean.” In Judaism, nothing could be further from the truth. If time washes clean, then graggers, along with all other noisemaking, would become passé with the reading of the Megillah. Better yet, why read the Megillah at all? Shouldn’t forgive and forget serve as the natural follow up to “time washes clean?” Judaism, however, operates on an entirely different wavelength. Each Friday evening, for example, while reciting kiddus we are reminded – albeit employing different phraseology – of both the creation of this world, as well as the creation of our nation. In reflecting upon the latter, the only washing that took place at the creation of our nation was the washing ashore of lifeless bodies of those who gave chase to our ancestors leaving Egypt. As Jews, we eschew sanitized or laundered versions of our past.

It would be wonderful if the history of our people, was one of fairness and equity. Yet, to speak of justice and Jews in the same breath, is an absurdity (a quote from the movie Exodus, that left a profound impression on me). If there were justice towards Jews in this world, then human rights abuses by any number of countries would be highlighted and addressed by the United Nations instead of focusing on Israel. But the United Nations along with many of our own Jews, are far too busy scrutinizing how Israel is treating (many would insist that “mistreating” would be a much more appropriate word) the Arabs living within its borders. It has been said, that “one hand washes the other.” Implied is that reciprocity and fairness are the rule of thumb. Yet, reciprocity and fairness do not seem to apply to Israel and its relationship with other nations. Because of this sad reality, there have been numerous occasions where Israel has extended its hand to other nations, only to receive underhandedness in return. There have been numerous occasions where Israel has extended its hand to other nations, only to be shown the back of the hand in return. It seems that no matter how much Israel works toward the biblical ideal of a clean hand and a pure heart, it is well advised to count its fingers when offering its hand to other nations. The aphorism “one hand washes the other” has yet to apply to Israel when it attempts to reach out to other countries.

Many Jews ought to be surprised to learn that there are sayings we commonly use that are Christian in origin. Among them is the expression “to wash your hands of the matter.” It is found in the Christian Bible (Matthew 27:24) and it is attributed to the Roman governor over Judea, Pontius Pilate. “Washing one’s hands of the matter” is the same as absolving oneself from responsibility. Tisha B’av is the antithesis of washing one’s hands of the matter. Tisha B’av is assuming responsibility. That is why the Babylonians are not blamed for the destruction of the first Holy Temple; that is why the Romans are nor blamed for the destruction of the second Holy Temple. In both cases, we Jews have looked inward and have “refused to wash our hands of the matter.” In both cases, we, as a people, have come up with reason how our behavior led to the destruction of the Holy Temple.

Perhaps, the rabbinic prohibition against laundering and wearing freshly laundered clothing during the nine days prior to Tisha B’Av ought to serve as a reminder that our existence as a people is not, nor has it ever been, predicated on the notion that “time washes clean.” Perhaps, beginning this Thursday, we neither launder nor wear freshly laundered clothing is to recall that “one hand washes the other” does not apply to the State of Israel. Perhaps, our refraining from laundering and wearing freshly laundered clothing is a badge of pride that rather wash our hands of the matter, we willingly assume responsibility. Hopefully, pondering these three explanations will lead to an even more meaningful Tisha B’Av.

SINGING THE BLUES

For over three months, with Jennifer’s assistance and support, I have been preparing three videos a week on Facebook for the benefit of Tiferet congregants and others. I have done so undaunted and without trepidation… until now. With Tisha B’Av looming at the end of this month, I will be preparing a video of me chanting Eichah or the Book of Lamentations , where the holy city of Jerusalem and is residents are mournfully and sorrowfully depicted . Because HaShem did not bless me with a singing voice, I do not look forward to preparing such a video. This daunting, trepidatious undertaking has also caused me address a human behavior that far too many of us take for granted. While few would question singing to express happiness and joy, how do we justify singing, when recalling a lugubrious chapter in our people’s history?

A modicum of research provided me with the answer: Humans use song to express emotions. Singing provides us the opportunity to connect with our neshomehs or souls. When we sing, we release pent up emotions of happiness or sadness. Long before, mental health professionals fulfilled their role by asking troubled souls “do you want to talk about it”, any number of those troubled souls chose to sing about it instead. It was through song that Vera Lynne, who died less than a month ago, at the age of 103, guided countless frightened and unnerved citizens of the free world through World War II with her signature song “We’ll meet again.”.It was through song, that Hirsch Glick, an inmate of the Vilna Ghetto, gave assurance and hope to our people, with his Partisan Song, encouraging fellow Jews never to lose faith in humanity, and never to despair in beating the odds and making it out alive through Hitler’s hell.

The Hasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, was not as direct in handing down a somewhat similar directive . Known for his exhortation, G’vald Yidden, zeit zich nisht m’yei’ish – For heaven’s sake! Jews do not despair, Rabbi Nachman penned a plea expressing the very same sentiments. Written during most difficult and trying times for our people, Rabbi Nachman assured fellow Jews, that the enemies of our people will sooner or later meet a black or miserable end. Leave their punishment to the one above. In the meantime, what can we do to alleviate our pain and suffering? Let us dance! Implicit in Rabbi Nachman’s plea was let us make music. And because a fiddler may not have been at hand, the Jew created his own music, straight from the soul. More often than not with Hassidim, it was a niggun or a song without words that filled the air as they danced.

Wonders never cease. On a whim, I googled the joint Hebrew term “mahpach-pashta”. Lo and behold, the internet also dabbles in trop, otherwise known as cantillation. While reading from a Chumash, it ought to be apparent that there are various cantillation characters or trop signs inserted, either over or under each word. Among these trop signs, there is one known as “mahpach-pashta.” These trop signs take on one specific sound for Torah reading and another specific sound for Haftorah chanting. Yet, another specific sound is accorded to the chanting of Eicha or Lamentations for Tisha B’Av. Unsurprisingly, the trop for the chanting of Eicha or Lamentations, is of a mournful and haunting nature. While I admittedly know nothing about music notes and music composition, I do not in any way feel that I would be overstating it, if I were to say that Marty Robbins of Country Western recording artist fame, was not in any way the first to lay claim to “singing the blues.” Our people have been singing the blues for centuries, with the chanting of Eicha at the top of the list.

I pray that my chanting of Eicha turns out better than I fear. Come July 29th in the evening, I pray that there will be those who read along to my chanting, so that Tisha B’Av, the day when we commemorate the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, will take on a profound meaning. Most of all, I pray that the time comes, when the sad chanting of Eicha will replaced with the celebratory singing of redemption.

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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