Last weekend in El Paso and Dayton, our country was once again shaken by hate manifested in senseless gun violence. We cannot stand idly by. As individuals and as a congregation, let us work with political and other civic leaders to combat white supremacy and prevent gun violence. We must also support those who are most vulnerable. On Sunday, I plan on standing in solidarity with members of the Muslim community and Hispanic community when they gather for their respective prayers. Please let me know if you would like to join me.
This weekend, as we gather in prayer to remember the destruction of the temples in ancient Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history, we will also honor the victims of domestic terrorists in Pittsburgh and Poway and now El Paso. Please join us in reading the book of Lamentations, reflecting on our losses - then and now - and discerning what we can do to address the pressing challenges of this moment. Tisha B'Av services are Saturday night at 8:55 pm and Sunday at 8:30 am and 7:15 pm. Just know that your presence at services gives strength to me and other members of our community.
This brief reflection by Rabbi David Wolpe about mourning and memory really resonated with me and I hope it resonates with you too:
Saturday night and Sunday are Tisha B'av, the day on which we commemorate the catastrophe of the destruction of the Temple. Many other tragedies of Jewish history - the expulsion from Spain, some terrible episodes during the crusades and other calamities - are also remembered on that date.
We mourn from memory, not morbidity. Judaism is not a sad tradition, but one of joy, gratitude and appreciation for the manifold gifts we are given. Mourning is the natural reaction when you lose something precious, and Jews have known great losses. We are ever mindful of the shattered lives, the expulsions and annihilations that our people have endured throughout the centuries. When we sit on the floor and recite Lamentations, as Jews all over the world will do on Saturday night, it is a dirge that reaches back through the ages in solidarity with suffering.
You don't need to have any particular belief to mark Tisha B'av. You need only agree that the homage we pay to the agony of those who came before us is memory. That to let our ancestor's experience be forgotten is a betrayal and to remember is a tribute.
Memory is a guardian and a spur: it enables us to carry our past with us in order to shape our souls and shape our future.
Please take seven minutes to listen to Torah of Tears - a personal teaching on vulnerability, compassion and community inspired by our observance of Tisha B'Av by Rabbi Tali Adler of Hadar.
Truth and Falsehood
What is truth? In recent years, discerning truth has become as much a question for citizens as for philosophers. Yesterday, I learned Jewish perspectives on truth in a class taught by Dena Weiss at a day of Jewish learning held at Hadar in New York. (To learn more about this learning experience, please speak to me or other Chisuk Emuna members who participated - Nancy Simmons, Barbara Bazelon, Holly Engelman, and Lara Match - and Sheila Lampel who attended last year. Please plan on joining us next July for Hadar's annual Day of Learning.)
Please read the texts below and consider these two different views towards truth and falsehood. Which view resonates with you more? Why? Try to apply these different approaches to real-life situations. Does one approach work in all cases? Are there differences between interpersonal situations vs. a question of communal policy?
Please email me your thoughts on this critical topic. I look forward to sharing my thoughts on these questions in the future.
And the repulsiveness of falsehood is not a product of its trickiness, [like] when someone uses his falsehood for the sake of a benefit that he hopes will come from tricking his fellow. Rather, even a [linguistic] change that does not serve to exploit, like empty chatter, these can be called lying and is included in the sin of falsehood.
Hazon Ish (R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz 20th century)
The truth is those things that match the will of HaShem and falsehood is those things which oppose the will of Hashem. What is truth and what is falsehood? At the outset of our education they led us to understand that truth is when facts are recounted as they happened, and falsehood is when they were distorted. But this is just in simple aspects, but, in fact, there are many ways in which the matter is not so. Sometimes, it is forbidden to speak matters as they are, like to recount something that may damage a friend with no purpose or necessity. And sometimes it is actually necessary to distort - like when the truth will not help, and rather will hurt - for then what seems like truth will indeed be falsehood because it will produce bad results. It turns out that truth is that which leads to the good and the will of the Creator and falsehood is what gives success to the dealings of the Prince of falsehood, the Other Side.
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, 20th century author of Strive for Truth
There are different Hebrew words for law, including mitzvah, mishpat and chok. In studying the Torah, the Sages of the Talmud discerned that a chok is a law that seemingly defies logic. Several examples are cited; one begins this week's portion, parashat Chukkat.
The Torah outlines a ritual that purifies those who have become impure through contact with the dead. What is perplexing is that those involved in producing the purifying waters become impure. How can the same process purify the impure and impurify the pure?
The Rabbis say that this perplexing question stumped even King Solomon, who according to Jewish tradition was the wisest person ever created. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai - the great first century sage - teaches that "it is not the corpse that makes one impure nor the water that purifies. Rather the Holy One Blessed Be He declared... 'This is the chukah of the Torah.'" Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchick argues that from this confounding mitzvah of the red heifer, we learn that all of the commandments are actually chukim; we cannot fully understand the rationale for any mitzvah.
Given the mystery of this mitzvah, it is surprising to read this week's dvar Torah from Dena Weiss of Hadar, "Solving the Mystery."
Here are just a few paragraphs of Weiss's compelling presentation:
"Solving this 'mystery' of how a pure person becomes impure in the process of removing someone else's impurity will teach us about what it means to truly invest in and sacrifice for someone else. It will also encourage us to recognize and appreciate the invisible investments and sacrifices that we benefit from.
"Purity and impurity are not absolute categories like forbidden and permitted; they are states that people and objects can enter into and escape from. When a human being contracts impurity it is a temporary state that needs to be remedied, a stain that needs to be cleansed. Death touches us all and we all come in contact with the impurity it imparts. But unlike death, impurity is a state which is impermanent... Ritual impurity... is more dynamic-it travels, it comes and goes; it is absorbed and it is removed.
"When we pay attention to this quality of impurity we are able to understand the "mystery," the hok of the parah adumah [red heifer] and reveal that it is actually quite intelligible. To illustrate: If I have a dirty floor that I would like to clean, I take a mop and a pail full of clean soapy water. After I am done mopping, the floor is clean and the pail of water is now dingy and disgusting... When something is cleaned or purified, the defilement doesn't disappear-it is transferred... The kohanim who prepare the ashes and the sanctifying water of the red heifer are absorbing the tum'ah [impurity] that is being taken away from the people they are purifying.
"The mechanism of the parah adumah is not hard to understand because we have all seen rags, sponges, and mops become dirty in the process of making our counters, dishes, and floors clean. It is dangerous to insist that this ritual is mystifying because the more we say that we don't understand how the purifier can become impure the more we obscure the hard work of the cleaner and the person who themselves absorbs the dirt. The kohanim are generally not allowed to become impure, and if they do, they cannot perform their duties in the sanctuary, the mikdash, and cannot eat their holy food. When the kohanim purify the people, they are giving up the purity that they have worked so hard to maintain so that regular people, whose needs for purity are less, can become clean and have access to the mikdash...
"Our insistence that the things we benefit from magically appear, that the process of our purification is a mystery that can't be solved, reflects our unwillingness to encounter and really appreciate the people in our lives who make the way we live possible. But, we need to pull back the curtain and pay loving and appreciative attention to who is cleaning us, who is providing us with spiritual and physical sustenance, who is enabling us to take them for granted."
Sometimes, the Torah is inscrutable. And sometimes, its mysteries can be solved. Dena Weiss' analogy between the purification ritual of the red heifer and the mopping of a floor is brilliant and clear. The lessons of the Torah - even the seemingly obscure ones - can shed light on the challenges we face in our own lives.
Wishing you a Shabbat filled with appreciation for all those who have sacrificed for you to be the person you are today,
Losing Miriam - a penetrating exploration of how the death of his sister affected Moses and how bereavement affects all of us. Please read Rabbi Sacks' Dvar Torah on this week's portion, Chukkat.
In April, Chisuk Emuna co-sponsored a film event at WITF. The subject of that powerful film, Holocaust survivor, Eva Kol, died this week. Please read the obituary. Also, please note that
WITF will present an encore broadcast of the documentary EVA: A-7063 on August 29 at 9:30 pm.
A Mom thanks a passenger who befriended her 7-year-old son with autism during a flight. She wrote a letter to the person who would wind up sitting next to Landon.
On Sunday, Joel Burcat, a member of our Jewish community was profiled in a powerful NYT column about blindness and creativity. Writing With Your Eyes Closed
Check out an NPR interview with parenting expert - Mary Pipher and her daughter and co-author of the new edition, Sara Pipher Gilliam- 'Reviving Ophelia' Turns 25.
Believing is Seeing
Our Torah portion opens with the mitzvah to light the menorah, the lamp which illuminates God's tent which is pitched in the midst of the Israelite camp. In a powerful teaching, Dena Weiss of Hadar points out that God doesn't need a lamp; afterall, G-d has the stars, moons and sun! So why are the Kohanim commanded to light the menorah?
"When God invites us to light a lamp for Him, an imperfect, ordinary light, that is a moment when God is humbling Himself to meet us where we are and lovingly accept what we are offering Him. What is meaningful to Him is that we have set the table and lit the lamps for Him. The primary function of the menorah is not functional; it is mood lighting, creating an intimate environment when we are close to God." (Dena Weiss)
"Where is God?" asked the Kotzker Rebbe. "Wherever we let him in," he taught.
God wants to connect with us. Rituals, like lighting Shabbat candles and kissing mezuzot, mark liminal times and places and remind us to invite God into our lives. It is always possible to become aware of God and to discern that we belong to something larger than ourselves.
As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught,
"Mankind will not perish for want of information; but only for want of appreciation. The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living . What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder...
"The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal."
When do you "perceive in the world intimations of the divine"? Are there special times and places where you find it easier to "sense the ultimate"?
Wishing you a Shabbat filled with an awareness of God's light,
May God Bless You
This week's Torah portion includes the Priestly benediction. Below is a teaching about this blessing by Dena Weiss, excerpted from The Fire Within Us, the collection of reflections published by Chisuk Emuna last Fall.
Wishing you a Shabbat
filled with the blessing of peace,
May God bless you
To bestow a blessing is one of the most beautiful practices religion gives a person. A blessing is not just a wish, or a hope, or a desire - a blessing is a hope that we have for someone else, or that someone else has for us. It is a way to appreciate that goodness comes through investing our resources, both spiritual and physical, in people other than ourselves. Blessing trains us to acknowledge the Source of what we have, and inspires us to be a source of support and positivity for others.
We have the privilege of being called to bless God, while the priests, the Kohanim,
are entrusted to bestow the blessing that God grants to us...
Blessing is a medium that relies on a feeling of fullness and of plenty. When the hazzan says, "yevarekh'kha-May God bless you," he is blessing the kohanim.
The kohen knows that he is blessed by God not because he hears a heavenly voice thundering or whispering through the pews. He knows it and feels it because he hears the congregation's representative say to him, "May you be blessed." When the kohanim then say, "May God bless you," there is an implied, "as you and God have blessed me."
... how can we bestow blessing when we feel empty? How do we thank God while we still feel bereft of what we truly need? The answer seems to be that we need to get support from one another. The source of the people's blessing is the priests and the source of the priestly blessing is the people. So, too, in our own quest for blessing we need to step out of ourselves and into the loving community. When we make each other feel supported and validated we can bless and be blessed.
What makes you feel full and capable of bestowing blessing?
Where could you use more support in being a source for blessing? How can you elicit that support?
Who in your life would appreciate a blessing from you? How can you be a source of goodness for them?
Dena Weiss is the Rosh Beit Midrash and Director of Fellowship Programs at Hadar, where she teaches Talmud, Midrash and Hasidut. Dena is a gifted teacher who guides students to study Torah in ways that are both intellectually rich and personally relevant. I have had the privilege of studying with Dena, both in person and online. Dena is one of the faculty members at Hadar who has welcomed me to their Beit Midrash and encouraged our community to partner with Hadar in deepening our connections to Torah study and prayer.
In Israel on Yom Hazikaron, sirens sound in the evening and the morning; everyone and everything stops. On Israel's Memorial Day, families and friends visit the graves of their fallen loved ones, on television, names of soldiers killed in battle scroll across the screen and on radio sad songs are played.
In the United States, our connection to the military is often more remote. Yet as we approach Memorial Day in this country, I pray that we all make time to honor the memories of those who sacrificed their lives so that we can be free.
In 1971, at the USS Utah Memorial groundbreaking
Senator Frank Moss offered these words that continue to resonate today, "All of us hope and pray that the time will come when we no longer need to dedicate memorials to men who died in battle--that we will dedicate memorials to those who live in peace--to all nations and all men."
We honor the fallen most by not taking our freedom for granted and by continuing the struggle to strengthen our country and pursue peace.