t was almost two months ago that I wrote about #bringbackourgirls, lamenting the kidnapping of a school full of young girls in Nigeria and talking about the sad relevance of the mitzvah of pidyon sh'vuyim / redeeming captives.
Here we are again, two months after the Nigerian girls were captured by the Boko Haram terrorist group. Some of those girls escaped, some are still in captivity and are being held prisoner until they can be exchanged, apparently, for Boko Haram activists being held in Nigerian prisons. We do not know the fate or state of those girls. Let us not forget them as each news cycle brings us fresher causes for concern.
We must, though, protest, voice our outrage, yell into the wind: the new vogue in terrorism seems to be the capture of children. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by the Hamas terror organization just over a week ago.
There is little sense in asking why when discussing an act of terror. The "why" is to generate terror. And now, apparently, with the well-oiled mechanisms of social media, a new "why" is to draw the world's attention to the terrorist cause. Free publicity. Had you ever heard of Boko Haram, or knew what it meant before mid-April? Had you grown complacent about Hamas as it took its place in the government of the Palestinian Authority? The horror of children in captivity is too painful to contemplate for more than a moment or two . . . but those children, the remaining captive Nigerian girls and Israel's three boys, are living that horror every single moment of every single day.
This week's Torah reading, Korach, opens with one of the Torah's most difficult passages. A leader from the tribe of Levi, Korach, stirs up a crowd and pushes into Moses' face challenging Moses' authority and therefore challenging God's choices and leadership as well. The fate of the rebels is brutal: they, their homes, their families are all swallowed up by the earth. This is, of course, a cautionary tale against challenging God's authority and decisions. At a time like ours, as we look with helpless outrage at the faces of terrorist-abducted children, we wish some of that biblical justice could be meted out right now while the children are whisked safe and sound back to the embrace of their families.
God has adjusted the parameters of divine intervention in human affairs since the days of Korach and, I believe, is a source of strength, wisdom and guidance for us in the face of events we cannot fathom alone. We will pray for Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach . . . and their parents and all those who love them at Shabbat services here at Torat Yisrael.
For those of us who find that music helps express what is deepest in our hearts, here is a video of a song by two Israeli musicians:
One of the key elements of this week's Torah reading is introduced in the opening passage. God instructs Moses: "Send men and let them scout the land of Canaan that I'm giving to the children of Israel...." From that moment to this very day, Jews have examined the Land from outside her borders and used the culled information to sustain our bonds to that place.
This past week was one of the times when diaspora Jewish communities all around the world were focussed sharply on Israel. The Knesset was voting to appoint the 10th president of the State of Israel.
Many of us regretted, but reluctantly accepted the inevitability of , President Shimon Peres' retirement. Over the course of his decades of service to the State of Israel, the people of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole, Shimon Peres has been much more a statesman than a politician. He has proven to be an insightful and wise leader and innovator.
After months of conjecture, lobbying, speculating and commenting, the members of Israel's Knesset have elected Shimon Peres' successor, Ruby Rivlin. Mr. Rivlin is a controversial figure from the point of view of Jews living outside the state of Israel.
I invite you to follow the link I've provided to read an insightful "Open Letter" to Israel's new president by Times of Israel blogger and president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, Yehuda Kurtzer. You'll find a balanced and intelligent review of Mr. Rivlin's career and an intelligent presentation of the concerns raised here in the American Jewish community. I join Mr. Kurtzer in hoping that our most dire predictions about Mr. Rivlin's presidency will prove baseless:
Today we mark the first day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. Few first days of the month in the Hebrew calendar serve as milestones of significance as does this date. Since the second evening of Passover, over six weeks ago, we have been counting the Omer, marking the beginning of each Hebrew day (in the evening) with a blessing and a ritual counting of the day. Like marking off days on a calendar in anticipation of a great event, counting the Omer is our Jewish anticipation-builder . . . for at the end of the counting we will have arrived at the 6th of Sivan, Shavuot, the festival marking the paradigm-creating revelation of Torah at Sinai. From the moment that our Israelite ancestors looked back at the Sea of Reeds behind them and found their pursuers drowning in the waters that God had held back for them, until approaching the wilderness of Sin (please don't get caught up in the coincidence between the English word "sin" and the Hebrew geographic term, there is really and truly no connection save coincidence) the Israelites had already experienced some elevating and some challenging moments: They had faced the uncertainties of food and water in the wilderness and learned to rely on God to sustain them; they had been introduced to Shabbat as a day of rest for God (who did not produce manna on Shabbat) and for themselves (they did not collect manna on Shabbat); they withstood a fierce attack by Amalek and his troops and were defended by Joshua and the Israelite troops sustained and inspired by God; Moses, advised by his father-in-law, Jethro, established a system of self-governance and dispute resolution . . . all before arriving at Sinai.
Although the walk to Sinai was through uncharted territory, the wandering of our ancestors was not random. The Israelites arrived at the third new moon . . . today's date, the beginning of the month of Sivan . . . guided by God's pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire by night and there they prepared themselves for the most extraordinary event they could not possibly anticipate.
I took a look at the challenges our walk from Passover to this first day of Sivan has involved as we, too, prepare to re-experience the revelation of Torah on Shavuot this coming week. We have mourned the victims of the Holocaust and shuddered when notes bearing Nazi rhetoric were handed to Jews attending Passover services in the Ukraine. We have found compassion and the conviction to speak out on behalf of the abducted schoolgirls of Nigeria, a compelling contemporary parallel to our own slavery story. We have organized to lobby for poverty-alleviating legislation here in Rhode Island. We have mourned both the troops who gave their lives for the establishment and defense of the State of Israel and those who gave their lives for the establishment and defense of the United States of America in two Memorial Days. Even in these GPS-guided days, our wanderings take us through uncharted territory.
We know that something great is going to happen next week. We have the advantage over our wilderness-walking ancestors in knowing that the revelatory moment awaiting us can bring wisdom and guidance, inspiration and challenge. The Sinai revelation was not a one-time event . . . our tradition teaches us that revelatory moments happen throughout time. When we come together as a community on Shavuot this week, let us stand shoulder-to-shoulder ready to accept the renewal of covenant with God which is the glue that binds us together . . . binds us to God and binds us to each other.
Letting the eternal and eternally renewing teachings of Torah into our daily lives will guide our walking and provide us with goals and aspirations and the tools to navigate the complexities we encounter in life.
This Shabbat, we embark on our annual reading of the book of Bamidbar, in English, the book of Numbers. The English name for this fourth book of the Torah is taken from the opening verses in which Moses is directed to conduct a census . . . "Add up the heads of all of the congregation of Israel by their families, by their fathers' houses, with the number of names of every male by their heads. From twenty years old and up, everyone going out to the army in Israel: you shall count them by their army units, you and Aaron." (Bamidbar/Numbers 1:2-3)
It is of profound significance to me that the United States Memorial Day and our reading of the opening passages of Numbers / Bamidbar coincide this weekend.
There are so many ways a God-ordained census of the Israelites might have been structured: There could have been a count of each woman and her progeny; there could have been a count of each household within each tribe; there could have been a count of each head of family . . . but this was a count of each male, twenty years old and up, able-bodied and serving in the army. God was instructing Moses to prepare for wandering through a wilderness, an intermittently populated wilderness in which it was going to be necessary to defend the column of trekking Israelites: men, women, children, elderly, ill and well. From a military point of view, it is, of course, important to know how many troops are at your command. From a community's point of view, it is, or should be, crucial to know the name of every single individual placing life on the line for the sake of the safety and integrity of the community.
In my close to 20 years living in Israel, I became part of a population protected by a citizens' army: our sons and daughters were drafted after high school, trained superbly, served honorably and then came home, or didn't. Every single military death in Israel is honored by the entire country: every fallen soldier's name, photograph, rank are shared on the national evening news. The entire country mourns, for every fallen soldier is a child of ours. Israel is a small country, so we feel these losses in a very immediate sense. Every family has someone who has served, is serving or is about to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, so we feel these losses in a very immediate sense. There is meaningful counting, census, acknowledging each individual in Israel, not just on the Shabbat we begin the reading of the book of Numbers.
When I came back to the States, I found the distance between the general population and our military losses to be disturbing, wrong, unhealthy. So it has been my practice to share not the just the numbers, but the names, ranks, ages and home states of those killed serving our country since the previous Memorial Day each year. We should enjoy the weekend's barbecues and family gatherings . . . but let us spend more than a moment acknowledging that we are enjoying this leisure because our children have served honorably and many have lost their lives serving our country.
Yes, we may have differences of opinions about the policies that have brought our troops into the range of fire; but our support and appreciation and mourning for our children who have died in military service is not a political or policy issue, it is a sacrifice we must humbly acknowledge.
Please do not skip over the rest of this blog.
Please read each and every name.
These are the US troops who died serving in Afghanistan since last Memorial Day . . . יהיו זכרם ברוך: May their memories be blessed; may their families be blessed with healing and peace of mind.
Date of death Name Rank Age Service Home State
5-17-2014 Perkins, Adrian M. Specialist 19 U. S. Army California
5-13-2014 Barreras, Martin R Command Sergeant Major 49 U. S. Army Arizona
5-11-2014 Rasmussen, Deric M. Chief Warrant Office 33 U. S. Army California
4-28-2014 Chandler, Christian J. Private 1st Class 20 U. S. Army Texas
4-28-2014 Farrell II, Shawn M. Sergeant 24 U. S. Army New York
4-15-2014 Danyluk, Kerry M. G. Specialist 27 U. S. Army Texas
4-01-2014 Chaffin III, James E. Captain 27 U. S. Army South Carolina
2-28-2014 Poirier, David L Master Sergeant 52 U.S. Air Force Rhode Island
2-28-2014 Erickson, Caleb L. Lance Corporal 20 U.S. Marine Minnesota
2-15-2014 Torian, Aaron C. Master Sergeant 36 U. S. Marine Kentucky
2-12-2014 Pelham, John A. Specialist 22 U. S. Army Oregon
2-12-2014 Skelt, Roberto C. Sergeant 41 U. S. Army Florida
2-10-2014 Landis, Christopher A. Specialist 27 U. S. Army Kentucky
2-10-2014 Gray, Joshua A. Private 1st Class 21 U.S. Army Kentucky
1-20-2014 Balli, Edward Chief Petty Officer 42 U. S. Army California
1-17-2014 Sipple, Andrew H. Specialist 22 U. S. Army North Carolina
1-15-2014 Lee, Daniel Tyler Sergeant 28 U. S. Army Tennessee
1-10-2014 Scobie, Drew M. Sergeant 25 U. S. Army National Guard Hawaii
1-10-2014 McAdams, Andrew L. Chief Warrant Officer 27 National Guard Wyoming
1-04-2014 Lacey, William K. Sergeant 1st Class 38 U. S. Army Florida
1-01-2014 Hess, Jacob M. Sergeant 22 U. S. Marine Washington
12-27-2013 Lyon, David I. Captain 28 U. S. Air Force Idaho
12-23-2013 Vasselian, Daniel M. Sergent 27 U. S. Marine Massachusetts
12-17-2013 Billings, Randy L. Chief Warrant Officer 2 34 U. S. Army Oklahoma
12-17-2013 Silverman, Joshua B. Chief Warrant Officer 2 35 U. S. Army Arizona
12-17-2013 Bohler, Peter C. Sergeant 29 North Carolina
12-17-2013 Forde, Omar W. Sergeant 1st Class 28 U. S. Army Georgia
12-17-2013 Gordon, Terry K. D. Specialist 22 U. S. Army Mississippi
12-17-2013 Williams, Jesse L Staff Sergeant 30 U. S. Army Indiana
12-11-2013 Smith, James L. Petty Officer 1st Class 38 U. S. Navy Texas
12-11-2013 Rodriguez, Matthew R. Lance Corporal 19 U. S. Marine Massachusetts
11-17-2013 Viola, Alex A. Staff Sergeant 29 U.S. Army Texas
11-13-2013 Vazquez, Richard L. Staff Sergeant 28 U. S. Army Texas
11-03-2013 Robertson, Forrest W. Sergeant 1st Class 35 U. S. Army Kansas
10-20-2013 Grant, Christopher O. Lance Corporal 20
10-18-2013 Turnbull, Lyle D. Sergeant 31 U. S. Army Virginia
10-13-2013 Quinn, Patrick H. Sergeant 26 U. S. Army Pennsylvania
10-06-2013 Moreno, Jennifer M. 1st Lieutenant 25 U. S. Army California
10-06-2013 Hawkins, Patrick C. Sergeant 25 U. S. Army Pennsylvania
10-06-2013 Peters, Joseph M. Sergeant 24 U. S. Army Missouri
10-06-2013 Patterson, Cody J. Private 1st Class 24 U. S. Army Oregon
10-05-2013 Lopez, Angel L. Specialist 27 U. S. Army Ohio
10-05-2013 Collins, Jeremiah M. Lance Corporal 19 U.S. Marine Wisconsin
9-26-2013 Baysore, Jr., Thomas A. Staff Sergeant 31 U. S. Army Pennsylvania
9-22-2013 Gibson, Jonathan S. Chief Warrant Officer 32 U.S. Navy Oregon
9-22-2013 Jones, Landon L. Lieutenant Commander 35 U.S. Navy California
9-21-2013 Nevins, Liam J. Staff Sergeant 32 U. S. Army Colorado
9-21-2013 McGill, Timothy R. Staff Sergeant 30 U. S. Army New Jersey
9-21-2013 Strickland, Joshua J. Specialist 23 U. S. Army Georgia
9-20-2013 Wickliffchacin, James T. Specialist 22 U. S. Army Oklahoma
9-19-2013 Brown III, William D. Sergeant 44 U. S. Army North Carolina
9-13-2013 Thomas Jr., Robert E. Staff Sergeant 24 U. S. Army California
9-05-2013 Lobraico Jr., Todd J. Staff Sergeant 22 U. S. Air Force Connecticut
8-31-2013 Bowden, Joshua J. Staff Sergeant 28 U. S. Army Georgia
8-28-2013 Ollis, Michael H. Staff Sergeant 24 U. S. Army New York
8-28-2013 Young, Ricardo D. Sergeant 1st Class 34 U. S. Army Arkansas
8-26-2013 Togi, Jason 1st Lieutenant 24 U. S. Army American Samoa
8-23-2013 Alvarez, Kenneth Clifford Specialist 23 U. S. Army California
8-23-2013 Hostetter, Jonathon Michael Dean Private 20 U. S. Army Missouri
8-20-2013 Banner Jr., George A. Master Sergeant 37 U.S. Army Virginia
8-11-2013 Hicks, Jamar A. Sergent 22 U. S. Army Arkansas
8-11-2013 Grace Jr., Keith E. Specialist 26 U. S. Army Texas
8-11-2013 Herrera, Octavio Staff Sergeant 26 U. S. Army Idaho
8-06-2013 Welch, Nickolas S. Specialist 26 U. S. Army Oregon
7-30-2013 Burley, Nicholas B. Specialist 22 U. S. Army California
7-28-2013 New, Stephen M. Sergeant 29 U. S. Army Tennessee
7-27-2013 Lawson, Eric T. Sergeant 30 U. S. Army Georgia
7-27-2013 Nouv, Caryn E. Specialist 29 U. S. Army Virginia
7-23-2013 Russell, Jonam 1st Lieutenant ?0 U. S. Army Arizona
7-23-2013 Smith, Stefan M. Sergent 24 U. S. Army Georgia
7-23-2013 Nichols, Rob L. Specialist 24 U. S. Army Colorado
7-22-2013 Maddox, Anthony R. Specialist 22 U. S. Army Texas
7-16-2013 Zimmerman, Sonny C. Staff Sergeant 25 U. S. Army Ohio
7-14-2013 Tuttle, Benjamin W. Lance Corporal 19 U. S. Marine Arkansas
7-04-2013 Milliard, Errol D.A. Private 18 U. S. Army Alabama
7-03-2013 Stapley, Tracy L. First Sergeant 44 U. S. Army Utah
7-02-2013 Clayton, Hilda I. Specialist 22 U. S. Army Georgia
6-28-2013 Rogers, Justin R. Sergeant 25 U.S. Army New York
6-23-2013 Garver, Corey E. Sergeant 25
6-23-2013 Sanchez Jr., Javier Specialist 28 U. S. Army California
6-19-2013 Johnson, Justin R. Sergeant 25 U. S. Army Florida
6-19-2013 Alt, Ember M. Specialist 21 U. S. Army South Carolina
6-19-2013 Ellis, Robert W. Specialist 21 U. S. Army Washington
6-19-2013 Moody, William R. Specialist 30 U. S. Army Texas
6-16-2013 Brown, Jared W. Lance Corporal 20 U. S. Marine Florida
6-10-2013 Thomas Jr., Jesse L. Staff Sergeant 31 U. S. Army Florida
6-08-2013 Leonard, Jaimie E. Major 39 U. S. Army New York
6-08-2013 Clark, Todd J. Lieutenant Colonel 40 U. S. Army New York
6-03-2013 Sisson, Justin L. 2nd Lieutenant 23 U.S. Army Arizona
6-03-2013 Pierce, Robert A. Specialist 20 U.S. Army Oklahoma
6-02-2013 Mullen, Sean W. Warrant Officer 39 U.S. Army Delaware
6-01-2013 Stoeckli, Kyle P. Specialist 21 U.S. Army Virginia
6-01-2013 Ramirez, Ray A. Specialist 20 US Army California
6-01-2013 Raymundo, Mariano M. Private 1st Class 21 U.S. Army Texas
5-30-2013 Nunezrodriguez, Joe A. Staff Sergeant 29
At our Torat Yisrael annual congregational meeting last evening, I had the privilege of installing the officers and board members who will lead our congregation through the 2013-14 / 5774 year. This is one of the rabbinic tasks that gives me the greatest pleasure year after year.
Our congregation is led by an extraordinary group of committed lay leaders. I've said this for as long as I've been at Torat Yisrael, but now their accomplishments truly speak for themselves as we held an annual congregational meeting for the first time in our beautiful new synagogue building.
The booklet that is distributed at each year's annual meeting includes a list of the officers and the board members and the terms for which they are nominated to serve. About a third of our board has one year left in their term, another third has two years left, and the newest "class", of course, has three years left in their term. We designate new board members with an asterisk.
As I looked over the new list, I could not help but noticing that almost half of the group of board members who are beginning their three-year term are new to our board. That may not strike many of you as anything more than "expected." For our congregation, this is actually a very significant development. Our board includes many people who have served multiple terms: this creates an experienced leadership who bring a rich collective communal memory to the table as we plan for the future. Now, we are succeeding in reaching out and bringing new leaders to our board table. This will energize our discussion, broaden our horizons and help us develop the strong and experienced leadership that will be key to guiding our congregation in the future.
Happily, this week's Torah reading emphasizes the importance of just this dynamic of growing leadership for the future. Moses, elsewhere described as ענו מאוד [very humble / anav m'od] turns to God with concern for the welfare of the people after Moses himself will no longer lead. Moses says: "Let the Lord, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in, so that the Lord's community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd." (Numbers/Bamidbar 27:15).
Exhibiting perceptive understanding of the vulnerabilities at times of transition of leadership, God not only indicates to Moses that the "heir" who will next lead the people will be Joshua, son of Nun, but further instructs Moses to bring Joshua before the people now, before the crisis in leadership arises, and make it clear to the people that Joshua is both God's and Moses' choice to serve next as leader of the people.
We witness, at the end of Deuteronomy and the beginning of the book of Joshua, that this very contentious and irritable people, the Israelites, experience the transition from Moses to Joshua seamlessly. They mourn Moses, of course, but they are supported and led through challenging times by Joshua with complete confidence in the young leader's capabilities. Joshua was designated early on. Joshua was "trained by the best." Joshua was known and respected and had earned their trust before ever he was called upon to lead the people on his own.
Of course, our situation here at Torat Yisrael is not analogous to the transitions in leadership from Moses to Joshua. But as we laud our current leadership and look to the faces of our newest leaders, we can learn much from this week's Torah Reading about leadership development and planning transitions for the future.
This week, we read the opening chapters of the book of Numbers, Bamidbar. This is a clear case in which meaning is lost in translation: The book is entitled "Numbers" in English based on the census that is related in the opening chapter of the book, but in Hebrew the title "Bamidbar" means "wilderness" . . . as the book relates the saga of the Israelite journey through the wilderness from Sinai to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.
This is also a week in which the whole world is watching the spiritual wanderings of the residents of modern Israel.
The Christian Science Monitor, The Arab News as well as The Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and every other Jewish news source has covered the turn of events at the Western Wall this week.
One month ago, at the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Iyyar, police arrested (for the umpteenth time) women who were participating in a participatory women's service celebrating the new month . . . for disrupting the peace. Following these arrests, a series of Israeli justices have ruled that it is not the praying women who have disturbed the peace of this significant historic sight (the Western Wall is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, the height on which the long-destroyed First and Second Temples stood).
Today, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Sivan, saw a new development in the wake of the court decisions. This month the women returned to pray . . . but instead of arresting the women, as ultra-Orthodox Jews threw chairs, water and worse at them, the police restrained the outraged onlookers.
Since 1948, with Jewish sovereignty over Israel established, a significant dynamic of wandering came to an historic resolution. We are, in the words of Israel's national anthem: am chofshi b'artzeinu . . . a free people in our land.
But in other profound ways, we have not yet arrived.
The tendency to self-righteousness and even contempt between Jew and Jew is not limited to the conflicts within Israel around the Western Wall. Although generally less violent, there are those within the Jewish community who label other Jews as violaters of Torah, abductors of innocents, sabotagers of our tradition.
In my view, we will remain at the very beginning of our spiritual growth as a people as long as we foster theological one-upsmanship and self-righteousness. I await the spiritual milestone at which all of us who identify with our Torah and our people and our God and our tradition will be able to address each other with theological humility and say: your path may not be mine, your interpretation of Torah may not be that which is practiced in my community, but we are all the children of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, Jacob, Leah and Rachel and we share the same God, the same values and deserve the same respect.
In this week's parashah / Torah portion, the book of Bamidbar/Numbers takes an uncharacteristic diversion into the whimsical: we meet Mr. Ed's precursor, Bala'am's female donkey. Like Mr. Ed, Bala'am's verbose steed was able to see and understand her surroundings more perceptively than her human "master." Unlike Mr. Ed, Bala'am's donkey was beaten for her efforts:
The Moabite king, Balak, seeking an advantage as his people pursue a military conflict with the Israelites, instructs the seer Bala'am to "curse Israel." The seer replies that he can only bless what God blesses and only curse what God curses. Balak persists, and after consulting with God, Bala'am mounts his donkey and sets off. Three times, God places and angel in their path. Three times the donkey stops and Bala'am beats her. Until finally, God grants the beast the gift of speech: “What have I done to you that you hit me three times?” Balaam answers, “Because you act against me. If I had a sword in my hand I would kill you.” The donkey then says, “Am I not your faithful donkey whom you always ride? Have I ever done this to you before?” At which point God causes Bala'am to see the angel in the path.
The narrative continues: "Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, 'I have sinned. I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back'" (Numbers 22:34)."
My colleague, Rabbi Neal Loevinger, cites a Hasidic teaching which asks a potent question: "A Hasidic commentator points out that if Balaam really didn't know about the angel, how could he have "sinned" in trying to move along?"
We often joke about the selective hearing of spouses, or teenage children, or elderly parents, or even our dogs . . . but there is a parallel phenomenon of selecting seeing which is just as widespread. The image that is screened onto the retina and is decoded by the brain is literally inside our head. Seeing is not something we do from a distance, what we see is not external to us . . . so sometimes we physically shield our eyes and sometimes we figuratively shield our eyes from that which we do not want to let in to our heads.
So many people and organizations and co-workers and media sources and loved ones and advertisers and acquaintances and complete strangers are trying to get us to see stuff. It's overwhelming and it is no wonder that out of self-defense we decide to selectively see.
Sometimes are selective seeing is an exercise in good judgment: there are images "out there" that can be soul-destroying. But once in a while, we need to review the barriers to seeing that we have put in place and examine our motives for setting them up:
Am I not "seeing" my mother's loneliness because it is easier than addressing it?
Am I not "seeing" the extent of the hunger in my community because it is easier than accepting responsibility for it?
Am I not "seeing" the invitations from my rabbi to learn, to pray, to engage in my congregation because it is easier than changing my priorities?
Once Bala'am owned up to his selective seeing the path before him was clear once more. He could go forward to bless and thereby be blessed himself.
It's ironic that the things we selectively do not see are often the things that are blocking the way to clarity and inner peace in our lives. Bala'am's sin was not against God as much as it was sabatoge against his own soul . . .
As we approach the end of the book of Bamidbar ("In the Wilderness)/the book of Numbers, we witness the death of two iconic leaders: Moses' sister, Miriam and Moses' brother, Aaron. The accounts of the deaths of these siblings are stark and thought-provoking. Of Miriam we read: "The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon, and the people stayed at Kadesh. Miriam died there and was buried there." (Bamidbar/Numbers 20:1)
Verse 2 takes us to a new subject: "The community was without water, and they joined against Moses and Aaron."
On the surface, it seems as though Miriam's death goes unmarked, she is buried and we move on to the crisis of water. The classic commentators on this passage were moved to associate these two passages and concluded that the people were without water as a result of Miriam's demise, that a well would magically appear wherever Miriam was situated, so that the people always had water as long as Miriam lived. Miriam's Well became a midrashic symbol enriching and entrenching the image of Miriam as the spiritual leader of the people who nourished their souls through her special gifts of song and of water.
Moses and Aaron are depicted as engaged in a defensive position coping with the anger and fear of their parched Israelite charges. The brothers consult with God at the Tent of Meeting and God instructs them:
8 "You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water. Thus you shall produce water for them from the rock and provide drink for the congregation and their beasts."
9 Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, "Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?" 11 And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.
Moses does indeed produce water from the rock, but instead of "ordering the rock" as God instructed, Moses "struck the rock twice with his rod." Moses seems to have lost his composure . . . and I think we are given a glimpse of the very human Moses in this moment.
Moses is usually very conscientious about following God's instruction to the letter: in Moses' approach to the Israelites, in his approaches to Pharoah, in the management of the plagues and in orchestrating the Israelite departure from Egypt, Moses did not put his "personal spin" on anything explicitly described by God.
But in this moment, Moses strikes, rather than instructs, the rock that will produce water.
I see Moses in mourning for his sister, Miriam, in this moment: in his grief and in the anger over his loss (an emotion many of us experience after the death of a loved one), in the intensity of having to lead while still mourning, Moses strikes out. The circumstances of this incident could only have deepened his grief: his sister, Miriam, who watched over him when he was consigned to water as an infant; his sister, Miriam, who provided water for the people in the wilderness . . . it is due to her death that he must now produce water himself: he strikes out in grief and anger instead of maintaining his facade of measured, precise leader and obedient servant of God.
Perhaps if Moses were permitted the seven days of shiva which wraps us in an embracing cocoon of family, friends and community when we mourn, he would have been spared his outburst of grief. The wisdom of our tradition, guiding us to put aside even the most pressing professional obligations, abdicating our control of logistics while family, friends and community cook and clean for us . . . all of this is the tangible expression of the insight afforded to us by this moment of Torah: we need time to mourn, to contemplate our loss before we return to the pressing world of work and responsibilty. Even as he mourns and suffers, Moses is our teacher.
This week's parashah/Torah portion contains the powerful story of the rebellion instigated by Korach. Korach challenged the relationship between God and Moses and presumed to decide for God who would control and interpret God's word to the people. For this hubris, Korach and his followers were swallowed up alive as the ground opened up beneath their feet.
This very week, as we approach the Shabbat during which we read of Korach, the man who presumes to know who should serve as God's representative in the world, the Masorti (Conservative) and Mitkademet (Reform) rabbis in Israel and, indeed, all over the Jewish world were attack by the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar.
I bring you the Jerusalem Post report on Rabbi Amar's remarks and some of the aftermath. I invite you to share your opinion of Rabbi Amar's remarks, and to share your opinion on the recent Supreme Court decision to recognize Masorti (Conservative) and Mitkademet (Reform) rabbis in Israel with Israel's Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Michael Oren: Israel Embassy to the United States,
3514 International Drive Northwest, Washington, DC 20008, (202) 364-5500
Amar: Stop recognizing of non-Orthodox rabbis
By JEREMY SHARON
19/06/2012 / The Jerusalem Post
Sephardi Chief Rabbi plans to convene emergency meeting of Chief Rabbinate to combat state’s recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said Sunday night that he would be convening an emergency meeting of the Council of the Chief Rabbinate next week to discuss the state’s recent recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis and its decision to pay their wages.
“With God’s help, a great voice [of protest] will come out against this shameful phenomenon in which they [non-Orthodox rabbis] insist on describing themselves as rabbis at the same time as they uproot the foundations of Judaism,” Amar told haredi radio station Kol Berama.
“We have tried to explain the great damage they cause,” he continued. “There is a great danger here to the Jewish people. It is well known that the greatest danger in our times is assimilation and they recklessly enable this phenomenon.”
Last month, the Attorney-General’s Office announced that the state would recognize non-Orthodox rabbis working in regional council jurisdictions, kibbutzim and other small communities as “rabbis of non-Orthodox communities,” and would fund their wages from state coffers.
This decision came in response to notice from the High Court of Justice that unless the state changed it’s position, it would issue a ruling in favor of the non- Orthodox Jewish groups who filed a petition with the court against the state on this matter back in 2005.
Orthodox rabbis serve in state-funded positions such as rabbis of cities, towns and neighborhoods. Non-Orthodox rabbis have been excluded from such positions, and the attorney-general’s decision covers only positions in small municipal jurisdictions.
Several non-Orthodox movements have already petitioned the High Court to allow non-Orthodox rabbis to be selected for positions in larger jurisdictions as well.
In addition to convening the Council of the Chief Rabbinate, Amar will also be inviting rabbis from across the country to participate in the meeting in order to form a broad coalition against state recognition of non- Orthodox rabbis.
Reaction to Amar’s comments was strong, with non- Orthodox groups condemning him as unrepresentative of Israeli society and the broader Jewish community.
Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Reform Movement in Israel, called for Amar to resign, and until then to internalize the principles of democracy.
“Amar’s intentions to work against the decision of the state, supported by the High Court of Justice, proves how much the Chief Rabbinate has lost its state function and how much it is disconnected from the heart of broader Israeli society, which is fed up with the Orthodox monopoly.”
Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, head of the Hiddush religious- freedom lobbying group, added to this theme saying that Amar’s proposal was “proof of how disconnected the rabbinate is from the values of democracy, the rule of law and equality.”
Regev accused Amar of seeking to recruit rabbis in a struggle against “the majority of the Jewish people, which is non-Orthodox” and putting Israel on a “collision course with the Jewish people.”
Yizhar Hass, head of the Masorti Movement – the branch of Conservative Judaism in Israel – said in response that Amar was abusing his position as a state official to promote hatred instead of respect, and was responsible for the declining perception of the rabbinate.
Planning for Adina's bat mitzvah Shabbat was a challenge for us: We were active members of Kehillat Ramot Zion, the Masorti (Israeli Conservative) congregation on French Hill in Jerusalem. Many of our best friends were living on the "Hill" walking distance to us and to the congregation, we enjoyed this tight-knit community of knowledgeable and committed observant Conservative Jews, largely immigrants from the US like us.
But Ramot Zion's leadership would not allow anyone of the female persuation to read from the Torah. And for her bat mitzvah, Adina wanted to "leyn", to chant the parashah. Not just an aliyah or two, but the whole Torah portion. Not the "shlish", not the third of the triennial cycle, but the whole thing. And lead the service. And chant the Haftarah. And the congregation she grew up in said "no."
But our friends Roz and Ray understood that community is not just what happens within the official four walls of a synagogue building. So they offered their home as the venue for the Shabbat of Shlakh L'cha 5752 (1992) and we set to creating a home-made bat mitzvah. I baked a lot . . . a lot . . . of muffins. My husband shlepped a lot . . . a lot . . . of chairs. We packed the room and Adina did everything she had set her mind (and I hope her heart) to do. It was a magnificent, intimate, triumphant simkha. A real source of joy.
Adina's parasha, Shlakh L'cha, contains the famous story of Moses sending spies into the land promise to the Israelites by God . . . most of the spies come back with intimidating stories of giants and military might. But two men, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yefunneh, spoke of faith. They praised the land as "flowing with milk and honey" and that, as God had promised the land to them, God would support their efforts as they came to settle the land.
This was a stirring story for my 12 year old daughter to read, standing in friends' living room, chanting what others told her she should not do. Crossing a border she felt so compelled to cross, despite the objections of others.
Twenty years later, Kehillat Ramot Zion is led by their spiritual leader, Rabbi Chaya Rowen Baker . . . a female rabbi! I would like to think that all those members of Ramot Zion who spent that Shabbat with us down the street instead of in the Ramot Zion building appreciated the potential of women organically engaged in our tradition and perhaps had Adina's image in mind when, so many years later, they voted to engage a woman as their rabbi.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.