Sweet Revenge by Rabbi Zell


     As one who believes that it is difficult to restrain or even temper anger, I have always been one to dismiss the adage “revenge is sweet”. Until now. With the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht being observed this week, I believe that revenge, is very much in order, as we are summoned to recall a heinous event that would culminate in Hitler’s Final Solution, the Holocaust. Such revenge, must, however, be sweet revenge. Sweet revenge, I believe is the converse of tough love. Just as there are times where love must manifest itself in atypical ways to be effective, so too, are there times, when revenge must manifest itself in atypical ways to be effective. Kristallnacht, the precursor of the Holocaust, I believe, is one of those times.
     As one who believes that any and all atonement falls woefully short for the way Germany left an ineradicable stain on humanity, as it attempted to cleanse this world of Jews, I maintain that it is time for Jews, particularly those whose family members were persecuted, and in six million cases murdered, to mount a campaign of sweet revenge against Germany. I believe that it is repugnant for any Jew, to go through life with a chip on one’s shoulder, as a response for a horrific time period in our people’s past, which began with the breaking of glass of synagogues, business, and homes. I believe that the time has come to remind Germans of this generation of the unforgivable, dastardly acts of previous generations.
     The current pandemic notwithstanding, we are living in an age where any number of Jewish families in this country, elect to celebrate a Simcha, particularly a Bar Mitzvah, in Israel. In addition to celebrating in Israel, sweet revenge dictates that Jewish families, particularly families with a German past, where property and businesses were confiscated and family members were wiped out by the Third Reich, celebrate their Simchas in Germany as well. Let the descendants of Hitler’s War machine witness the success of the descendants of those whom Der Fuhrer and his loyal followers wished to eradicate from the face of this earth. Let the Aryans of today eat their hearts out! Let the joyous sounds of Jewish celebrations ring loud and clear. Let Das Deutsche Volk (the German people) see elegantly clad Jewish women walk out of luxury rental cars into elegant catering halls. Let Israeli music blast through the air, far louder than Deutschland Uber Alles was ever played. And let the aroma of kosher food assail the nostrils of the sauerkraut, blutwurst crowd. Let modern day ostentatious Jewish Simchas in Berlin, Dusseldorf, Munich, and other German cities, serve as a reminder to the grandchildren of those who served in the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, that German superiority which shattered the air in November 1938 is being drowned less than a century later, by the sounds of Jews celebrating and reveling.       Reminding Germans that Kristallnacht was not what it was cracked up to be, is sweet revenge.
     As one who has participated in kosher escorted tours of Vienna, Prague, and Budapest, Scotland, and Ireland as well as Italy, I would very much welcome a kosher escorted tour to Germany. There are any number of sites of Jewish interest, such as Heiliger Sand, Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery in the city of Worms, and the Neue Synagoge in Berlin that are well worth the trip. There is however a caveat. The kosher escorted tour must be first-class in every way. Let American Jews travel through Germany on luxurious motor coaches, preferably with large signs in German on the sides of the vehicles welcoming their Jewish guests. Eight decades ago, the  Omas and Opas of today’s generation lamely protested “We saw nothing”. Now it is time for their grandchildren to stand wide-eyed in amazement, as luxurious motor coaches roll through the streets of Munich en route to Dachau. Better yet, let them also hear the Partisan Song or similar Yiddish music of the Holocaust blare through the loudspeakers of the luxurious motor coach, as it makes its way to the Todes Lager or Extermination Camp. I have every confidence in the world, that the Germans will comprehend the Yiddish lyrics. Let Kosher escorted luxury tours break all record for tourism, as our response to the broken glass of Kristallnacht. The Third Reich failed dismally. Let us show them that hose with whom they were so obsessed, succeeded admirably.  Let das Deutsche volk (the German people) know that we Jews have “arrived”. That’s sweet revenge.
     Rav Archa Karchinaah (Talmud: Berachot 33a) points out, that “revenge” (Psalm 94:1) appears between two different names of the Divine. In his opinion, revenge if properly executed can be extraordinary. I cannot help but feel, that the revered rabbinic sage would wholeheartedly agree with, and even endorse sweet revenge.


By Rabbi Shawn Zell

I read obituaries. Every so often, I find material useful for a Dvar Torah. Rarely does an obituary grate on my nerves. Recently, I came across one of those rare obituaries. A month ago,  Richard Rubenstein, a rabbi, theologian, and a denier of G-d’s existence, died at the age of 97,  in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
The death of G-d is an absurdity for any Jew. Just as G-d was never born, so too can G-d never die. One need not be a Judaic scholar, nor need one be steeped in Jewish philosophy to know that G-d is infinite. One need merely look at the English translation of Adon Olam, arguably among the best known liturgical selections in Judaism, to be reminded that G-d was, is, and will be. In contradistinction, Christianity “remedied” this astonishing concept, by introducing both the birth (Christmas) as well as the death (Easter) of a part of what is known as the Holy Trinity. Judaism (begrudgingly) concedes that G-d can be ignored and abandoned. Yet in no way, will ignoring G-d or abandoning G-d lead G-d to disappear, much less die. By no means do I claim to be an anthropologist, but I cannot help but feel, that as long as humans have contemplated the divine, there were those who either denied G-d’s existence or claimed that once upon a time G-d did exist, but no longer does. But for one with rabbinical ordination (Jewish Theological Seminary) to espouse such a view? Gevald!
Story has it, that back in 1961, Richard Rubenstein met with the theologian Heinrich Gruber, dean of a Protestant church in East Berlin. In addition to holding the German people responsible for the Holocaust (collective guilt), Heinrich Gruber wistfully remarked, “it must be that it was G-d’s will that Hitler did what he did”. Rather than offer Heinrich Gruber a tutorial on “Bechirah Chofsheet” or “freedom of choice”, a  principle of Judaism, which teaches that G-d deliberately refrains from intervening in human behavior, Richard Rubenstein did the exact opposite. He saw the German theologian’s remark as an impetus for reassessing G-d’s role in the Holocaust. Rather than erroneously hold G-d responsible for the murder of six million of our people, as so many of our people are wont to do, Richard Rubenstein chose to dismiss G-d’s existence. By doing so, he fell prey to an age-old human failing. Whenever it happens that G-d does not fit into the theological framework you have constructed, you have the choice of either dismissing that framework or dismissing G-d. Richard Rubenstein opted for the latter.
Two of my many shortcomings as a rabbi is that I do not see it as a priority to change people’s minds about G-d. Far be it for me to challenge people’s beliefs or lack thereof a supreme being. I am much more interested in old-fashioned ideas, such as davening and teaching. Yet, as laissez-faire as I am when it comes to Jewish laity, that is how demanding I am when it comes to Jewish leadership, particularly religious leadership. Accordingly, the only response I have for a graduate of a rabbinical seminary who denies the existence of G-d, is “Shanda”, a Yiddish word that means an embarrassment. It is simply beyond me how a Jewish theologian can argue that the Holocaust invalidates the idea of an omnipotent, benevolent deity who safeguards Jews as a chosen people. Would that same Jewish theologian who is prepared to invalidate the idea of an omnipotent deity who safeguards Jews because of national catastrophe also be prepared to invalidate the idea of an omnipotent deity because of a national miracle? Perhaps in neglecting the existence of G-d, deity deniers have also neglected the term “She’ereet  Yisroel (Shearith Israel) or remnant of Israel, a term that is in my opinion synonymous with Am Yisroel. Put differently, do we not recognize that as much as we Jews are a people, we are the remnant of a people?
As one who prays that G-d believes in me and finds time for me, it would seem that the very least I can do,  is believe in G-d and find time for G-d in return.


By Rabbi Shawn Zell

At roughly the same time the Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus was sharing his thought that“One man’s meat is another man’s poison,” the sages of the Talmud were handing down essentially the same teaching. Regardless of its source, we would benefit greatly, if we were to pay heed and revisit the unfounded allegations of Korach, an infamous malcontent of the Torah. Had Korach hurled those very same charges in the here and now, that he hurled against Moshe in the upcoming Torah portion, Korach might very well have achieved remarkable statesman status. In contemporary language, Korach accused his cousin Moshe, of being out of control.
Can you imagine if Korach had accused all the players in the current Israeli balagan (a Hebrew word taken from the Russian, to mean an unmanageable mess) vying for the office of Prime Minister of being out of control? Rather than having reduced himself to sinner status, as was the case in the Torah, when he caustically confronted Moshe, Korach would have elevated himself to saint status. Korach would have achieved such status, by reminding those vying for the position of Prime Minister, that they unknowingly appropriated a verse from the First Book of Chronicles, we sing at Shabbat services, as the Torah is paraded around the sanctuary, prior to being read: “For mine is greatness, the strength, the splendor, the triumph, and the glory”. If it is true that power corrupts, then I believe that vying for power also corrupts. If one common factor exists among this disparate as well as desperate gaggle of greatness grabbers, it is their willingness and preparedness to negotiate a Faustian Bargain. They are prepared to go to any lengths and stoop as low as necessary for the title of Rosh Memshalah or Prime Minister.
Back in the day, “G-d’s country” was a term that was often spoken with abandon throughout these United States. If it were up to me, “G-d’s country would be spoken in the here and now, with even greater abandon. If it were up to me, “G-d’s country” would be spoken of on a regular basis. And not just here, in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. In Israel as well. Especially in Israel. Everyday Israelis would do well to remind themselves, that Israel transcends geography and politics. Everyday Israelis would do well to remind themselves that whether it is Yerucham or Yerushalayim, Tel Mond or Tel Aviv, Israel is G-d’s country. Accordingly, however frustrating it may be to lead a nation of 7 million Jews, a Prime Minister of Israel dare not see his mission in the Knesset as overwhelming; a Prime Minister of Israel must see his mission in the Knesset as sacred. This is independent of his own personal practice of Judaism or lack thereof. A Prime Minister of Israel has been entrusted with the sacred task of leading G-d’s chosen in G-d’s country. Oh, Korach! We could surely use your admonition of those clamoring for the position of prime minister when you reminded them that they had a sacred task before them. Oh, Korach! If only you could defiantly sound off at those longing for leadership, the same way you defiantly sounded off at Moshe.
Every time we visit Israel, the Rebbetzin and I take in a site that we had heretofore not seen. Such was the case, during our last visit when we toured the previous residence of the Prime Minister. After years of neglect and abandonment, what was once the residence of Ben Gurion and Levi Eshkol, was meticulously repaired and refurbished. To say that it was a modest dwelling, would be an understatement. Walking through the various rooms, I was greatly impressed, because there was nothing great about it. Unlike the glory and grandeur of today, the Prime Minister in the formative years of the state lived a very down-to-earth existence. As Korach admonished Moshe,  “What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of HaShem’s people”? As off base as Korach was when reading Moshe the riot act, Korach would have hit a home run, had he spoken those very same words to today’s hopefuls. When one is prepared to sell one’s soul for glitz and glamor, one would do well to be concerned whether that same individual would end up selling the country entrusted to him down the river.
As detestable as Korach was to confront Moshe in such a fashion, Korach would be very much welcome to inveigh against those who are at best, very suspicious in their quest to assume the position of a leadership role in a country at a most pressing time.  


By Rabbi Zell

One of the earlier works for Burt Bachrach and Hal David (What the World Needs Now, I’ll Say a Little Prayer for You) was the rarely remembered “Twenty-four Hours from Tulsa”. Although it centers around falling in love, the song is pitiful and pathetic, in that it is addressed to one who was needlessly wronged. Furthermore, the very title is ludicrous, in that the boyfriend was so close – much closer than twenty-four hours – to coming back to the waiting hands of the one he purportedly loved in Tulsa. I thought of the song, not so much because of the hundredth anniversary of the murder and mayhem that took place in Tulsa a century ago, but because of the asinine attempts on the part of leaders to redress the horrendous happenings of May 31 and June 1, 1921.
I have no idea if it ever happened to you, but I have had a German Christian of my age, come up to me to offer a “mea culpa” for the Holocaust. I was uncomfortable, to put it mildly. Neither he nor I were even on the “drawing board” during the Holocaust. In no way did we wrong me. Both of us were born close to a decade afterwards. Who is he to apologize? Who appointed him to do so? Who authorized me to accept such apologies? So too, is the case with Tulsa. If any apologies are to be offered, it would be assembling the offspring of those who besmirched humanity so that they could express remorse to the offspring of the victims. Even so, such an act of contrition would fall woefully short, in that from a Jewish point of view, no child should be held responsible for the sins of his or her father. I could be wrong, but contemporary society has not yet sunk to the level of digging up dirt on parents and grandparents, as they set about ruining the careers and lives of innocent individuals.
Jennifer Cavalleri (played by Ali MacGraw) was onto something when she told Oliver Barrett IV (played by Ryan O’Neal) “love means never having to say you’re sorry” in Erich Segal’s “Love Story”. Love means making it up to the one you wronged. There is good reason, that Yom Kippur is a triple play of “Slach Lanu, M’Chal Lanu, and Kapper Lanu” or “forgive us, pardon us and grant us the opportunity to atone. It is “Kapper Lanu” that is of greatest importance. Asking for forgiveness is pro forma. It’s all about making amends. If our venerable sages (sic) of today are to be seen as genuine, then they would do well to hold the apologies. I have yet to hear or read one of our elected officials offering to “make things right”. Other than budgeting funds (the panacea for all wrongs in this world), not one of them has yet to come up with a plan or suggestion showing real remorse. Until that happens, our elected officials show little respect towards those to whom they apologize and even less respect for themselves.
I have no idea whether this applies to the entire human race, but I cannot help but feel that there are those, whose roots are from central and western Europe, who have a certain air of superiority about them. We saw this when Christian missionaries went into Africa to “civilize” and enlighten the indigenous population. Funny, I don’t recall that they received an invitation to do so. Similarly, these very same righteous Christians pulled off the same “shtick” in this part of the world, dehumanizing both the indigenous population as well as those who arrived on this shore from Africa. And now, a century after bringing about uncalled for and unwarranted death and destruction in Greenwood, our elected officials have the chutzpah to unilaterally address the dastardly actions that took place a century ago. Has it ever occurred to any of our great leaders to sit down with Black leaders of Tulsa, descendants of those whose lives were ruined during the horrific event, and ask them for direction in attempting to right a wrong?
The media decided to make a big tzimmes over what transpired in Tulsa a century ago. By all means! Perhaps the day will come when the media will be able to make an even bigger tzimmes over our elected officials meeting with descendants of the victims of Greenwood and then set about the rebuilding of a neighborhood that was diabolically destroyed and atoning to families whose were snuffed out.

It’s Just A Matter of Time

by Rabbi Zell

Jerry and Ruth Finkleman were among my parents’ closest friends. By day,  Jerry was a salesman at a clothing store where finer gentleman acquired their attire. By night, Jerry, an accomplished saxophonist, led an ensemble that brought music into people’s lives at various venues – more often than not, at  Jewish weddings. At this time of year, there was always a lull for Jerry and his ensemble, in that no weddings took place from the 17th of Tammuz, a date when the Romans breached the walls of the city of Jerusalem until after Tisha B’Av, when the Romans mirroring the Babylonians, destroyed the  Holy Temple.
Although there are other ways to refer to this period of time, we of Eastern  European descent, would without fail, refer to it by the Yiddish term “Drei Vochen” or three weeks. Why then didn’t we refer to these 21 days as   Bein HaMetzarim (excerpted from Lamentations 1:3) or the Churban (a Hebrew term meaning destruction,    appropriated by Yiddish speakers, to refer to the destruction of the first and second Temple in Jerusalem and more recently the Holocaust). Why did we employ the term Drei Vochen?
We Jews are a “time” people. We Jews are forever consulting the luach or Jewish calendar to find out exactly when Shabbos begins and ends.  Yahrzeit observance is determined whether the passing occurred before or after sunset. Halachah deals with a situation where one has been knocked unconscious in a horrific accident. After coming to, the injured person does not know whether he has been unconscious for a matter of minutes, hours, or days. Other than being rescued, the chief concern – aside from food – is what to do as far as Shabbat observance, in that the survivor has no idea what day it is.  Halachah asks that the survivor count seven days from the time he regained consciousness. That day and every seventh day thereafter becomes Shabbat for that survivor. However unforgettable the song “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof may be, it carries with it far deeper implications when it comes to time. So too does the term “Drei Vochen”, especially for those of us who refuse to acknowledge that an impending tragedy engineered by an enemy of our people maybe just a matter of time.
“Nu” is a word that finds its origin in the Russian language. When used by our people, especially as an exclamation, “nu” exudes Jewishness. As Jews, we detest being held in limbo. For those who see us as being impatient, “nu shoin” (enough already) confirms their suspicions. I, on the other hand,  prefer to see “nu shoin” as pointing to us as being goal-oriented. We find    evidence of this each week, during the Shabbat Shacharit service in the         Kedushah prayer, where we ask        HaShem: “when will You (again) reign in Zion?” We find evidence of this in the Talmud. Just as the very first words of the Torah are “In the beginning”, the very first words of the Talmud form the interrogative “From what time”. Lastly, for American Jews, “Jewish Standard Time” has been part of our culture for decades. Yet, there is a certain irony to the implied “what’s the rush” for those who set their watches to Jewish Standard Time. The very same individuals who seem to have no problem taking their own sweet time showing up for meetings or dinner engagements seem to morph into “Nu Shoin Jews” when it involves long-anticipated events. Among those events, “nu shoin Jews”, in addition to the arrival of the Moshiach, long for the concurrent peace of Jerusalem.
“Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed, and is placing, medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no — don’t wait for the translation – yes, or no?… I am prepared to wait for an answer until Hell freezes over…”,        remonstrated Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the infamous Cuban Missile Crises of 1962.  Little did Adlai Stevenson realize that his remarks would go down in the annals of history. Little did Adlai Stevenson realize that he would be teaching the world an invaluable lesson in history. When it comes to justice and truth, we are prepared to wait. Time is prepared to take a back seat and put itself on hold, as long as there is reason to believe, that eventually truth will triumph over falsehood, and right will declare victory over wrong.
We begin the “Drei Vochen” the last Sunday of this month. As we do so, we would do well to keep in mind, that halachically, we as a people are defined by time. Similarly, we would do well to consider, that as much as we bear the moniker of “Jewish Standard Time” we ought to take pride in being known as “nu shoin Jews”. Perhaps most important of all, “Drei Vochen “ serves to remind us that rather than “Drei Vochen” we are prepared to wait three millennia and maybe more, provided that lamentation is replaced by celebration and mourning is supplanted by joy.


By Rabbi Shawn Zell

Because my formative years were spent in Canada, it wasn’t until after I moved to New York City, that the American national anthem took on special meaning in my life. Thanks to Hamas and its desire to turn everyday life into a living hell for Israelis, there is one particular phrase in the Star-Spangled Banner, that I can’t seem to get out of my mind: the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air. In light of these last few weeks, this phrase has suddenly taken on an entirely different meaning.
For Francis Key Scott, author of the Star-Spangled Banner, these words spoke of victory against the British, in the war of 1812. For me and others, these words conjure a relentless attack by Hamas, sending Israeli citizens running for cover, as barrage after barrage of missiles streaked through the air, aimed at civilian centers such as Ashdod and Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I took great comfort in the Iron Dome air defense system that intercepted and destroyed most of these missiles (I would take even greater comfort if a system were developed to transform the missiles of the Hamas enemy into boomerangs so that they rained down on the heads of those who launched them). I take no comfort whatsoever, knowing that despite Israeli prowess as well as the damage Israel was able to inflict upon Hamas, the victory that Israel will be able to proclaim, will be a hollow one. No matter how much carnage Hamas wreaked upon its own, it is just a matter of time, until Hamas once again builds up its arsenal of missiles, once again placing innocent Israelis along with its own, in harm’s way.
The victory of the Americans over the British in the War of 1812, was a true cause for celebration. Not only has there been peace for over two centuries, but commerce, trade, and warm relations soon followed and remain in place until this very day. Acrimony was replaced by harmony and distrust was supplanted by trust. With a cease-fire in place between Israel and Hamas, acrimony is sure to remain. It is to the benefit of Hamas to incite anger among its people toward Israel. For without Israel as the target, everyday Palestinians would begin to vent their venom against Hamas’ own corrupt leadership, in that Hamas cares little if any about its own people. It has been close to half a century since the idiom “sleep with the fishes” has become popularized. It means that the body of the person in question can now be found sleeping with the fishes, at the bottom of the deep blue sea. Long before “sleep with the fishes” attained idiom status, Jacob, while blessing his two grandsons Ephraim and Menashe, prayed that they proliferate abundantly like fish (Genesis 48:16). Our commentators point out, that as a people, it is important that we sleep like the fishes. That is to say, that we remain vigilant even while sleeping by keeping our eyes peeled. Because there is absolutely no reason to trust Hamas,  the citizens of Israel along with their leaders must continue to sleep like the fishes with their eyes open.
The rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air were reassuring to the American troops at Fort McHenry. They signaled that victory against the British was at hand. If only Israel had similar reassurance, signaling victory against Hamas. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Even though important Hamas operatives were neutralized and significant devastation was brought upon Gaza, victory – ultimate victory for Israel, remains as elusive as ever. Because of the world in which we live, where the differences between perpetrator and victim have long been blurred, Hamas can never lose. Regardless of the damage and loss it incurs, Hamas will come out as the victor. Hamas leaders will proudly point to the havoc they wreaked against Israel, by the number of missiles it launched; Hamas leaders will be quick to remind its people, that they were able to weaken Israel to such an extent, that despite media reports, Israel pleaded for a cease-fire. Most of all, Hamas leaders will revel in the fact that they now have the sympathy and support of much of the world, while Israel has brought condemnation and dismay upon itself.
The rocket’s red glare and the bombs bursting in air tug at the heart of the citizens of the United States. As for Israel, it will have to come to terms, that given its respect for human life and its high sense of morality, it has escaped the rocket’s red glare of the enemy, with a clear conscience and clean hands.

Two by Rabbi Zell

Ever wonder why the Ten Commandments were handed down in two tablet form? All joking aside, wouldn’t it have made more sense, for all Ten Commandments to have been inscribed in smaller letters on one tablet. Perhaps, HaShem could have handed down the Ten Commandments in ten separate forms, much like charms on a charm bracelet. Better yet, if the Torah is likened to a Tree of Life, then the Ten Commandments could have been handed down as a tree with ten branches, with a commandment attached to each branch. What message can we interpret, what sense can we make of the two-tablet format of the Ten Commandments?
The two tablets convey balance. In a variety of ways. Most apparent, are the commandments between Hashem and us, and the commandments between our fellow human beings and us.   The former commandments represent ritual, while the latter commandments encompass ethics and morals. The Ten Commandments appear in two formats: Thou shalt, as well as Thou shalt not. Many of us know them better as positive commandments and negative commandments. For some now, our culture has been emphasizing diet. I couldn’t agree more. But our culture stresses a well-balanced diet only as far as eating. Judaism stresses a well-balanced diet as far as living. Judaism cringes at those of us who focus solely on G-d, but totally ignore other humans; Judaism cringes at those of us who focus solely on other humans, but totally ignore G-d. Whether understood or not, whether acknowledged or not, our mission in life is to bring heaven and earth closer together. Perhaps one tablet should be seen as representing heaven, while the other tablet should be seen as representing earth.
I have no idea whether it is still part of the elementary school curriculum, but back in the day, we were taught that 1 is a whole number. Judaism however is not mathematics, nor does Judaism portend to be. As far as Judaism is concerned, in the world, as we know it, 1 is an incomplete number. That is why  HaShem immediately realized that it was “not good” for Adam, a singular human creature, to be alone. Later on, the sages of the Talmud frowned upon one who does not marry. Judaism views 2 as a whole number. Judaism sees marriage – provided that it a decent match, as taking two “incomplete” individuals and making them whole, by turning them into a unit. Similarly, Judaism (the Talmudic sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiah) strongly advises us to acquire a friend. Whether or not Rabbi Yehoshua ben Prachiah felt it was important for a person to get out there and mingle, I have no idea. I do however that the great Talmudic sage saw the importance of having a friend (singular) as opposed to many friends.
An anecdote is told about a person sitting down with a psychiatrist. It is his initial appointment. After pouring out his heart, the patient turns to the psychiatrist and asks for a diagnosis. “I think you’re crazy”, says the psychiatrist. The patient is irate. “I demand a second opinion” he shouts.
“You are also ugly”, says the psychiatrist. Second opinions are not limited to patients. Because we humans are fallible, would do well to seek input from another individual, because humans are fallible, we would do well to run ideas past another individual. American English defines a “significant other” as a person with whom someone has an established romantic or sexual relationship. I define a “significant other” as one who will tell you what you need to hear when you are hurting, as one who will tell you what you need to hear when you are oblivious to necessary information concerning you, as one who will tell you what you need to hear when your entire world has turned upside down. Two is a reminder of our need for a significant other.
As much as our tradition emphasizes the giving of the Torah as we celebrate the festival of Shavuot, let us also emphasize the giving of the two tablets. In doing so, let us recall the need for balance in our existence. Let us understand that 2, not 1 is a whole number, and how incomplete we are if left to ourselves. Let us appreciate the role played in our lives by a significant other.


BY Rabbi Zell

While the Jewish world is still numb in the face of the tragedy that occurred in northern Israel last week, with the unimaginable death of 45 innocents from the (ultra-Orthodox) or Haredi community, I find myself in a distinct minority. Even if the most recent tragedy had not occurred, there would have been something gnawing at me for a number of years. It is simply beyond me, why well over a hundred thousand of our people take it upon themselves to make the trip to Meron in northern Israel to mark the yahrzeit of a great sage.
To be sure, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai deserves all the reverence and esteem in the world. In fact, several decades ago, when I devised a course on sages in the Talmud, I devoted an entire section to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Yet, one would be led to believe that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is the sole sage interred in Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth! The soil of ancient Israel is home to the earthly remains of numerous biblical personages and dozens of sages. Why isn’t there a similar-sized crowd at the tomb of Rabbi Akiva in Tiberias, immediately prior to Yom Kippur each year (it is believed that Rabbi Akiva was one of 10 sages who were executed on Yom Kippur by the Romans)? Why don’t Haredi Jews travel to Beit Shearim en masse each year on the 15th of Kislev to commemorate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi? Don’t  Haredi Jews realize, that by according such honor and respect to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, it is at the risk of not showing similar honor and respect to other Talmudic sages, who are no less deserving of esteem and praise?
Many of the Haredi community are in awe because of the belief that like the prophet Elijah, the soul of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. I am in awe because Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in defiance of the Romans remained a fugitive from so-called Roman justice. For twelve plus years, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son Eliezer, holed up in a cave, subsisting on a daily diet of carob and water. It was in that cave, that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai disseminated Torah to devoted students who risked being followed by the Roman authorities. However commendable, it is to visit a grave on a yahrzeit,  there is a tradition to dedicate a rabbinic text on a yahrzeit so that the soul receives an “Aliyah” viz. ascends even higher in heaven. It would seem to me, that those so intent on marking a yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai would be well advised to consider joining ten others – thereby assembling a minyan – and heading off to the woods, where they would proceed to study various selections of the Talmud where Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is mentioned, reciting Kaddish D’Rabbanan and then munch on carob, ideally washed down by water or another beverage (despite my misgivings, I would probably cave into liquor, so that a L’Chaim could be made for the soul). As meritorious as a visit to the grave is, I cannot help but feel that my suggestion is far superior. A visit to the grave, recalls that Rabbi Shimon Bar died; a visit to a cave, recalls that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai lived.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai raised civil disobedience to a most high and commendable level. He did not hesitate to speak out against the government. His sole objective in doing so was neither to entice others into rioting nor to stage demonstrations and confrontations. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai merely desired to expose the truth. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was a pragmatist. For Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, it was a matter of Torah over politics. As far as Rabbi Shimon was concerned, Torah trumped politics. His attitude toward the Romans was one of acquiescence, where he had no intention of causing the government any trouble. In return, he did not want the government to cause him any trouble. This was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s notion of “Social Distancing”. It would seem to me that if one’s love and respect for Torah is so great that Torah must be kept pure at all costs, then why sully the Torah by exposing it to politics?  Shouldn’t the clean hands and pure heart mentioned in Psalm 24, also apply to those visiting a grave of a revered rabbi on Lag B’Omer?
May the day come when those who observe the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai consider the following: Are my hands clean enough and is my heart pure enough? Should I not perhaps observe the yahrzeit by focusing on Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s life rather than his death? Shouldn’t I  accord other rabbinic greats the same honor and respect I accord Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai? Observing a yahrzeit in such a fashion would produce a far brighter image for mankind than the flames emitting from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s chariot when he departed this world.