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Finding Meaning in the Omer: Leadership in Endurance

This week’s Torah portion includes the commandment of counting the Omer:

“And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering—the day after the Shabbat—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Eternal” (Leviticus 23:15-16).

In a day and age when we no longer bring agricultural offerings to a Temple in Jerusalem, how can the Omer be significant and meaningful in our lives? Our Sages explain that the Omer is a road to transformation through time, the seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. Kabbalah teaches us that the Omer is a time when we should focus on ridding ourselves of negative influences. It is during these seven weeks that we are called to break open the klipot (negative shells) from within us which will release the Light that has been trapped by our choices in life. Although the extraction is sometimes painful, the benefit of releasing the trapped sparks of Light are more than worth it for our souls.

Each of the seven weeks is associated with one of the seven lower Sefirot (Kabbalistic Jewish Chakras): Chesed (loving-kindness), Gevurah (might), Tipheret (beauty), Netzach (victory), Hod (acknowledgment), Yesod (foundation), Malchut (kingdom). This week we are to focus on Netzach translated as Victory or Endurance.

Netzach represents Eternity and is representative of the right brain where the creative process takes place. Netzach is therefore the artist, the poet, the musician and the dreamer. Netzach radiates the desire to share and becomes the channel of that energy as it approaches the physical world we live in.

The Kabbalistic Sages teach that each day of each week is also associated with one of these same seven sefirot, creating forty-nine permutations, i.e. 49 days between Passover and Shavuot. This Shabbat is when we should focus on leadership (Malchut) in endurance (Netzach). 

Robert F. Kennedy once said, “each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, s/he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance… Few are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, the wrath of their society. Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.” 

May we be worthy of leadership that can endure the challenges of our times. 

Shabbat Shalom.
 

The Empathetic Imperative - Kedoshim

ואהבת לרעך כמוך
And you shall love your neighbor as yourself
-Leviticus 19:19

Being commanded to love by the Torah is a challenging theological concept for us to wrap our heads around. How can we be commanded to love? Is this not a personal feeling we manifest as a result of our personal choices? Perhaps the Torah is asking of us something else. The command “ואהבת” - “and you shall love” really means to care for and protect, to be loyal. It is all about how we show love, not with feelings but with action. 

To reinforce this idea, we need to move onto the next word of this commandment: “רעך” - your neighbor? Who is this neighbor? There are some who understand it as someone who is ‘like you,’ who acts like you, lives like you and thinks like you. This person is “your neighbor” specifically because s/he is like you.

There are other Sages who invite us to understand our neighbor in the most universal sense possible. This person is the other par excellence, the one who is perhaps at the opposite end of your beliefs but is still made in the same Image of the Divine that we all share from Adam, the first human being.

This week was Israeli Independence Day and with independence comes sovereignty. And sovereignty mandates that the Jewish state take responsibility over the other in our midst no matter what race or religion they come from. 

And now we come to why I call this commandment the ‘empathetic imperative’. Why wasn’t the commandment merely “love your neighbor,” why add, “as yourself”? Because to love the other, to take care of them, to value them, one has to love themselves, one has to value what they are, we have to see ourselves as someone worthy of being loved. It is our self love that allows us to love others especially if they are not ‘like us’.

Hillel puts it best in Ethics of the Fathers 1:14- “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for my own self, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Shoah* Remembrance Day 5782/2022 by Rabbi Raanan Mallek 

"The Eternal spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal" (Leviticus 16:2).

Our Torah portion this week is called Aharei Mot in Hebrew which means, "after the death." And yet, the sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu died six chapters earlier in Leviticus 10. After their death, instead of comforting his brother, Moses says, 'This is what the Eternal meant by saying: Through those near to Me I become holy, and gain glory before all the people.' And Aaron was silent." (Leviticus 10:3). Most difficult of all is how Aaron and his sons are told not to mourn the loss of their sons and brothers.  

As a student of theology, I am confronted by the Shoah (Holocaust)* and the denial of our greatest thinkers to ever attempt to justify or explain why such a tragedy happened to our people. Where were we as the Jewish people after the death of one third of our people, 80% of our scholars and an untold cultural history lost for all time? I can not help but remember stories of how for thirty years after the founding of the State of Israel, Israelis tended to distance themselves from remembering those who were killed and instead sought to focus on the future of the "New Israeli". Survivors of the Shoah* found living in Israel challenging since many of their brethren were "silent" like Aaron.

At the end Passover we recite Yizkor (Hebrew for "remembrance") prayers which just so happens to ready us for Shoah (Holocaust) Remembrance Day. Although traditionally Yizkor is recited by those that have lost either one or both of their parents, most modern prayer books include a remembrance prayer for the victims of the Holocaust. In this prayer, they are rightly remembered as martyrs. Our tradition holds that martyrs are closest to the divine thro

"And the Spirit of the Eternal Shall Rest Upon Him": Traits of Leadership

"The spirit of the Eternal shall alight upon him: A spirit of wisdom and insight, A spirit of counsel and valor, A spirit of devotion and reverence for the Eternal. He shall sense (smell) the awe of the Eternal..." (Isaiah 11:2-3)

How are we to identify traits of leadership that we hope to bestow to our children? Isaiah prophesied that through history we will be able to historically identify a series of repetitive and confirming truths. For Jewish memory, the Eternal’s redemptive acts constitute one such truth, and the source of hope. The festival of Passover is one of many ritual occasions when this truth and this hope are publicly celebrated (Etz Hayim p. 1316).

The messianic era is one that is identified by justice, kingship and restoration. It holds a vision of social and natural transformation and this requires a generation of leaders able to reveal the influence of the Spirit through wisdom, council, justice and impartiality.

And how is this leader to sense the awe of the Eternal? The commentators Radak (1160-1235) and Ibn Ezra (1089-1164) interpret this as an inner perception, in contrast to the external senses of sight and of hearing. The Hebrew word "והריחו" is also used for “smelling”. 

The incense has the same fragrance as the Garden of Eden, because our sources state that from the aroma of his offering, Adam remembered his former home in Eden. This is the first instance of memory that ever occurred. That is why fragrance imprints on memory and is so deeply connected with it, and also why our primordial ancient collective memory is actually all about fragrance and the Garden of Eden (Rabbi Avraham Sand). 

May we merit to have leaders in this generation who can identify truths that will act as road signs on our way to turning this world into Eden. Together we can then “smell our way home”. I will certainly be smiling when I recognize frankincense and myrrh. 

“For you will not depart in haste” Isaiah 52:12The Long Unfolding of the Exodus and the Redemption

"The inner liberty is gradually manifesting itself in the small steps of our renewal, 
in limited amounts according to the measure of the redemption which is being revealed to us.” Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook

Many are of the opinion that the Exodus from Egypt was an immediate success and that the Israelites were saved at the blink of an eye. Such, however, was not the case. Leaving Egypt was a long process that took place over many years.

First, Moses had to be convinced to assume leadership. The next stage was interacting with Pharaoh and begging him to free the Jewish People. Upon Pharaoh’s refusal, the Lord’s miracles began to afflict Egypt, and the country was crippled by a long series of plagues. Finally, after the final plague, the Israelites marched out of Egypt. It was not an instant salvation, but a process.

Psychologically, Moses must have struggled deeply when the first audience with Pharaoh was a failure. He was heart-broken and despaired before the Lord, “Why have You sent me?! Since I have come to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has harmed the People, You have not saved Your People” (Exodus 5:22-23). 

The Eternal proceeds to teach Moses that his despair was misplaced. Moses had to step back and realize that he was in the midst of a far larger picture, standing within a longer, historic process. The forefathers and foremothers stood at the beginning of the process. Imagine how Abraham felt when he was told, “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs, and they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years” (Genesis 15:13).

It was not only our ancestors who waited, but also the Almighty. The great commentator Rashi explains that the Holy Name YHWH was not known to those who came before Moses because this Name means that the Eternal is faithful to verify His words as He made promises to them, but did not fulfill them while they were alive (see Rashi on Exodus 6:3). 

When Exodus 12:42 relates that the Passover night is “a night of anticipation for the Lord, to take them out of the land of Egypt; this night is the Lord's, guarding all the children of Israel throughout their generations,” Rashi explains that the Holy One was also waiting and anticipating, in order to fulfill His promise to take them out of the land of Egypt.

The Exodus was one part of the spiritual evolution of the Jewish people. Moses began to lead the people in the middle of an unfolding process. Even the manifesting of the Eternal to all of Egypt was not the culmination, but the beginning of the events which would lead to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. “Don’t worry,” the Lord was telling Moses, “this will be a gradual, incremental mission; success will come with time.”

The message is that success is a process that we are a part of and may very well not see the culmination if even there is one. Perhaps it is the journey of Torah unfolding that is the purpose of life we seek. 

The Torah never finishes, it is alive with the ever present promise of redemption. The Land of Israel may be in the process of being established, and yet we know from the news how volatile the current situation is. Just as the Exodus unfolded over so many years, so too the Messianic era. 

The prophet Isaiah clearly explains that the redemption of the future is one where we shall not go out in haste (Isaiah 52:12). Its gradual nature is one by design so that all of humanity can experience the full nature of redemption alongside us. And this takes time. Maimonides explains that Christianity and Islam came about to pave the way for the Messianic Age and to prepare the entire world to worship the Eternal together (cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Kings and their Wars 11:7).

Our ancestors had to travel for a whole generation in the Wilderness to change the mentality of the nation from one of a slave mentality to that of a nation building mentality. They could not enter into the Holy Land thinking as they did in Egypt, because when they encountered the first sign of struggle, they would seek security in the strong handed tyranny of Egypt. 

We are taught that life is a process and that achievements are gradual. We can only improve ourselves gradually. As Rabbi Dessler teaches, “Our humble, everyday choices to do the right thing is the only way we can battle and climb up the ladder of self-perfection to become better people.” 

Jewish prayer is designed to be daily and repetitive precisely for this reason. It helps us to slowly inculcate values within ourselves and gradually draw us closer to our Creator. The message of the Lord to Moses is, “Lead my People out of Egypt but know that this won't be an overnight success, you are part of a long process that started centuries ago. Put one foot in front of another and see that you will climb Mount Sinai to receive the Torah that will carry My people through the ages from now until the redemption of all humankind: “For then I will turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the Name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9).

Happy Passover

Parshat M'tzorah: How Guarding our Tongues Strengthens One Another

"When you enter the Land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess, the owner of the house shall come and tell the priest, saying, 'Something like a plague has appeared upon my house.' The priest shall order the house cleared before the priest enters to examine the plague, so that nothing in the house may become impure; after that the priest shall enter to examine the house." Leviticus 14:34 

Of all the difficulties our ancestors had to deal with, plagues on our houses seems like one challenge too many. How could this have been part of our reality? Midrash Leviticus Rabba 17:2 says that the plague of the house was a punishment for the owner. If a person lied that s/he did not have something that a neighbor requested, the Lord would bring this plague on the house and then the person would need to put everything outside of their house (like a yard sale) so that everyone would be able to see what they have. 

And yet, as we learned last week, impurity is not something "bad" (in the normal sense of the word), nor is it something dirty. Impurity is a state in which something that was brimming with life is now emptied of the life force it contained. The Torah is meant to be read allegorically as we learn from the greatest sages and interpreters of old: Philo of Alexandria, Maimonides and Rabbi Samson Hirsch. Our portion is therefore an allegory for the inner vitality and potential for life, that emanates outwards and is unproductively emptied of its life-enhancing promise.

How do we channel our inner vitality so that instead of being emptied, it is filled with life enhancing promise? Another Midrash interprets the reason for this plague in houses as follows:

"The plague on the home was a warning for people to stop speaking 'Lashon HaRa' or Evil Tongue. As a person runs with their speech the lives of others, the Lord can ruin the home of someone if they do not repair their behavior." -Midrash HaGadol Leviticus 115 

Psalms has a beautiful way of helping us into realization of these concepts:

"Who is it who is eager for life and desires years of good fortune? Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from deceitful speech." -Psalms 34:13-14

Even though today we no longer experience this plague in our homes, it is incumbent upon us to learn the lessons as though it were. Speaking badly about others empties our inner vitality and prevents us from realizing our full potential. If we desire a fortunate long life, may we guard our tongue and find ways to strengthen one another with our speech, for we learn the power of speech from the beginning of Genesis when the Eternal Spoke Creation Into Existence.  

Shabbat Shalom

Preparing for Passover - Parshat HaHodesh

 On years such as the current year when the New Moon (new Hebrew month of Nisan) falls on Shabbat, the special section known as Parshat HaHodesh - the Month Portion, is read on Shabbat. This special section is read in anticipation of the festival of Passover, which begins on the 15th of Nisan. 

 The special section is Exodus 12:1-20 and tells of the first commandment received by Israel, while still in Egyptian bondage, to mark the new moon and to prepare a lamb for the Passover offering. The famed commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki 1040 – 1105) begins his commentary of the Bible by reminding us of this: "The Torah which is the law book of Israel should have commenced with the verse (Exodus 12:2) - 'This month shall be unto you the first of the months' which is the first commandment given to Israel." 

 We learn the following: "Thirty days before Passover, questions about the laws of the festival are asked and expounded" (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 429:1). The Talmud teaches: "A woman having Passover Seder with her husband need not recline, but if she is an important woman then she must recline" (Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 108a). A thousand years later the Rama says: "All of our women are called important" and therefore they are also obligated to recline and relax during the Passover Seder. 

 I would like to suggest that we men do our part to manifest 'peace in the home' by helping to prepare and serve the Passover meal so that the important women in our lives can recline and take in the spirit of freedom we are all supposed to enjoy.

In the mean time, Shabbat Shalom.  

The Significance of Eight in Judaism

Shmini / Shabbat Parah 5782
Rabbi Raanan Mallek

 וַיְהִי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י
On the eighth day (Leviticus 9:1)

In previous sermons I have discussed how the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was representative of the process of Creation. The seven day week symbolizes the completion of a cycle and the eighth day represents starting over at a new level. As Rabbi Hirsch explains, it is like concluding a musical octave and leading to a higher octave.

Rabbi Kaplan explains that as opposed to six which represents the six directions of the physical world or the six days of the week, and seven which represents an integrating factor that unifies and perfects the physical world, eight represents the spiritual dimension or the realm that transcends the physical.

These values are also represented in the ceremony of the Brit Milah or the Covenant of Circumcision of Jewish boys. On the eighth day of their life they are brought into the Covenant as they begin the second week of their life as a member of the Jewish people. 

The emergence of the eighth day challenges us to begin living in the day to day world of ordinary events while keeping in mind the changes effected by the previous work undertaken, whether that is creation as a whole or the building of the Tabernacle. 

Transformation of being is clearly indicated in the Haftarah for the special Shabbat (Parah) we will be observing starting tonight. Ezekiel’s prophecy says, “And I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit into you: I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh; and I will put My spirit into you.” Paying attention to what kind of heart we have, a heart of stone or of flesh is the first step in the spiritual awareness that Ezekiel is prophesying. I would like to suggest that everyday living, the consciousness of the eighth day, calls for us to return to our humanity and strive to be just a bit better than the day before.

Shabbat Shalom

Welcoming the Convert - Purim 5782          Rabbi Raanan Mallek

Lotan’s sister was Timna (Genesis 36:22)

 Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook once explained that this is the very origin of Purim. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) states that Timna wanted to join the household of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but was rebuffed. She became the concubine of Esau’s son Elifax, thinking: “It is better to be a maidservant of this nation than the governess of another nation:

Timna was a concubine of Esau’s son Eliphaz; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.          (Genesis 36:12)

 As punishment for the sin of rejecting Timna she gave birth to Amalek, who grieved Israel. Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite was a descendant of the Amalekite king whose life was spared by Mordechai’s ancestor, King Saul, in direct contravention of the prophet Samuel’s instructions.

 One of the greatest enemies of the Jewish people was born as the result of Timna’s inability to convert many generations before. Amalek (and Haman) was a descendant of Abraham. This fact is overlooked by so many and yet it calls out to us from the depths of our intellect which seeks the root causes of ethical challenges in the Torah and in our lives. How can the same Torah which recognizes the image of the Creator in every human being (Genesis 1:26) call for the genocide of the nation of Amalek (Exodus 17:14-16 and Deuteronomy 25:17-19)?

 Reconciling such a dichotomy calls upon us to think differently. The Unity of Opposites is the central category of dialectics related to the notion of non-duality in a deep sense. It defines a situation in which the existence or identity of a thing (or situation) depends on the co-existence of at least two conditions which are opposite to each other, yet dependent on each other and presupposing each other, within a field of tension. (1)

 I would like to suggest that the textual challenge of Amalek calls for us to remember the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael or the thirteen rules compiled by Rabbi Ishmael b. Elisha for the elucidation of the Torah and for making halakhic deductions from it. The last of the rules states that when two Biblical passages contradict each other the contradiction in question must be solved by reference to a third passage.

 When Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Mandatory Palestine (1921-1935) explains that Genesis 36:22, “Lotan’s sister was Timna” he is bringing awareness to the idea that stringency in conversion almost led to the destruction of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire.

 The Talmud in Sanhedrin 88a explains that the Eternal overturned Mount Sinai above the Israelites and said to them: “If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, this will be your burial.” The Rabbis questioned whether or not such a Torah would be obligatory to follow. (2) The Jewish people can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah, and it is therefore not binding. Another Rabbi (Rava) then said: “Even so, they again accepted it willingly in the time of Ahasuerus (Purim), as it is written: ‘The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them’ (Esther 9:27)”, and he taught: “The Jews ordained what they had already taken upon themselves through coercion at Sinai.”

 Purim resulted in a great change among the Jewish people. Whereas before Purim they were under a paradigm of coercion, now they would be in partnership with Torah, having chosen to remain among the Jewish people instead of assimilating into the masses of the Persian Empire.

 Jewish demographer Gary Tobin z"l in his 1999 book, Opening the Gates: How Proactive Conversion Can Revitalize the Jewish Community, says: "No number of day schools or summer camps is going to turn back the clock on religious freedom and competition....It is time for Jews to join every other group in America and quit obsessing about who is being lost and start acting on who might come in".

 Perhaps the true way to counter Amalek and confront assimilation is to ensure that all who wish to convert have a path to do so. Forging a path to Judaism is a deeply individual process and it is a blessing to be here on Maui to assist those who choose to climb Mount Sinai together with our people.

Happy Purim!

(1) - V.T. JMcGill and W.T. Parry. "The Unity of Opposites: A Dialectical Principle (PDF)", Science & Society, vol. 12 no. 4 (Fall 1948), pp.418-444.

(2) - https://steinsaltz.org/daf/shabbat88/

Why is it important to us to know that we are "doing it right"?

Torah Portion of Leviticus by Rabbi Raanan Mallek

  Last week we finished the Book of Exodus where the grand finale of the Divine Presence (Shechinah) came down upon the Tabernacle. I imagine the Israelites sitting around after this amazing experience wondering, "and now what?" They wanted to know how to worship the Eternal. In our modern world we tend to discount prescribed ritual in favor of spontaneous religious expression. And yet there is power in the knowledge that we are doing what generations of our people before us have done in similar situations, something that other people in other places are doing at the same time and in the same way. 

  It must have brought comfort to our ancestors in the middle of the desert confronted with the unknown in front of them that they had clearly laid out guidelines for how to properly express their devotion to the G!d of Israel.

  Our modern day sensibilities have difficulty accepting sacrifice of animals as a method of worship. And thankfully that is the case. The Midrash imagines the Creator saying: "Better that they bring their offerings to my table than that they bring them before idols" (Lev. R. 22:8). The Israelites at the time could not conceive of religion without sacrificing animals. So human conception of the divine and what the divine wants of us is translated into our ritual practices, even if this is not the true desire of the Eternal.

  On Thursdays at 7pm here at JCM and on Zoom we study the weekly Torah portion together. We decided to delve into the deeper question of understanding for what sake we are doing something. Is not the intention what determines whether or not we are doing it correctly?

  I suggest we listen deeply to the words of the prophet Micah who said, "With what shall I approach the Eternal, do homage to the Most High? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? He has told you O' human what is good, and what the Eternal requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk modestly with your G!d."  

  May the justice that we perform and the love of goodness around us be the guiding light for helping us feel that we are "doing it right" as we walk modestly with the Eternal One.

  Shabbat Shalom 

Manifesting Encounter and Presence

ב"ה

Manifesting Encounter and Presence
Torah Portion of Pikudei
Rabbi Raanan Mallek
ר"ח אדר ב' תשפ"ב March 4, 2022

Exodus 40:33-34; 38
When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle. For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Eternal rested by day, and fire would appear in the cloud by night, in the view of all the House of Israel throughout their journeys.

During the Torah portion of Terumah the Eternal said, “There I will gather with you, and I will speak with you” (Exodus 25:22). The Tent of the Meeting (Mishkan) is not just a place where the Israelities come to worship and honor the Eternal, it is a place of the Eternal’s presence. This is not a metaphor; it is an actual physical manifestation. Thus our forefathers and foremothers in Sinai could visit and dwell with the energy of the Creator’s presence in a very physical way because it was actualized on the physical plane. 

It is challenging for us to comprehend such a physical manifestation. Many of us live in a modern scientific paradigm which rejects the premise that spirituality can transcend the divide into the physical world [Notable exceptions are: Professor Michio Kaku's The God Equation: The Quest for a Theory of Everything (2021), Professor Gerald Schroeder's Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible (1991) and especially John Horgan’s book, Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border Between Science and Spirituality (2004)]. And yet the end of Exodus is clear, all of the House of Israel would see the Presence of the Eternal throughout their journeys. 

The tabernacle was to function as a portable Sinai, a means by which a continued channel of communication with the Eternal could be maintained. As the people move away from Sinai, the Mountain of Revelation, they need a visible, tangible symbol of the Eternal’s abiding presence in their midst, in other words the Shechinah.

A portable place of holy ritual accompanying the Israelites and engaging the nation in something other than material affairs or the personal needs of its members, it demanded a Legion of Cohanim (Priests) to disassemble and pack it up for transport for 39 of the 40 years of wandering. It was the place through which consciousness could be altered. The sanctuary enabled ritual devotion, purification, and unification.

Jewish legend says that when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the Shechinah withdrew from the earth. Over the centuries, through the various patriarchs and matriarchs, this aspect of the Creator, referred to in feminine terms, was successively brought back to the material world from each of the seven dimensions (or firmaments), above which the Infinite encompasses all. 

It is said that it was Moses who brought the Shechinah into full embodiment on the physical plane, making the Tent of Meeting the archetypal model for uniting our lives with the Shechinah. Today we are charged with redeeming the light of the Eternal within and without, knowing that divinity is everywhere. Our challenge is to recognize this constant Presence in our lives without it becoming so ordinary that we take it for granted. It will be worthwhile to discuss as a community how JCM can grow as a place more conducive for encountering and being present with the Divine. Please email me with your ideas and interest to be part of this conversation: rabbi@mauijews.org 

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Month of Adar II.

Honoring Jewish Women in the Partisans during Women's History Month

"The future historian will have to dedicate an appropriate page to Jewish women in the war. She will take up an important page in history for her courage and her steadfastness. By her merit, thousands of families have managed to surmount the terror of the times." - Emanuel Ringelblum, (Jewish historian - 1900-1944, notes from inside the Warsaw Ghetto)

Today marks the beginning of the 42nd Annual Women's History Month celebrating women who changed the world. The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation website offers an extensive library of easily accessible resources and lesson plans to help you teach students about female Jewish partisans who helped change the course of history. Empower them through the lives of Sara FortisBrenda Senders (z''l), and Cesia Blaichman (z''l) (pictured above), and the many other women who fought back against the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. 

These JPEF resources offer in-depth insights into the lives of Jewish women who resisted as soldiers, spies, saboteurs, medics, and vital support personnel, helping to save people and end the war:

  • Women in the Partisans Resource Page: Includes free curricula, links to profiles with biographies, primary-source video testimonials, and photos, plus a printable poster and other resources.
  • Short FilmsEvery Day the Impossible: Jewish Women in the Partisans (15:00) and A Partisan Returns: The Legacy of Two Sisters (21:00) – both narrated by Emmy-winner, Tovah Feldshuh.
  • Free Curriculum: Women in the Partisans Study Guide
  • Video Course: A 41-minute training that can be used for lesson preparation (offering free CEUs), or shown to students in the classroom.

For more information, read JPEF's blog about female Jewish partisans. There are now 34 extensive biographies of female Jewish partisans on JPEF's Jewish Partisan Community website, and thirteen that include video testimony at www.jewishpartisans.org.

Restoring Unity and Shared Purpose - Vayakhel by Rabbi Raanan Mallek

Exodus 35:1-2
Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble...

The Israelite community was struggling with a sense of failure after the incident of the Golden Calf which introduced divisiveness and disillusionment. I would hope that the community of nations is also feeling a sense of failure as they watch Russia invade Ukraine. How can it be that in the 21st century humanity is still resorting to state sponsored violence after the horrors that the 20th century left behind?

After the incident of the Golden Calf, the community sought to restore a sense of unity and shared purpose which had existed before this incident. Jewish tradition teaches that although the majority of the Jewish people worshiped the Golden Calf, the instigators of this incident were not the Jews themselves, but the “mixed multitude” which accompanied them out of Egypt. The stigma of those who convert to Judaism for the wrong reasons are attached to this mixed multitude. 

The human tendency to blame the Other is one deeply ingrained. Social scientists sometimes claim that this was a useful evolutionary trait as separating out those who do not adhere to the majority creates the sought out sense of cohesiveness and shared purpose. And yet, we as the Jewish people, know all too well the dangers of being used as a scapegoat for the woes of other nations; whether they be the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans or Germans. 

The Talmud in Yoma 9b tells the story of why the first and second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. The First Temple was destroyed because of idol worship, forbidden relations and bloodshed. However, considering that the people during the Second Temple period were engaged in Torah study, observance of commandments, and acts of kindness, while refraining from the sins of the First Temple, why was the Second Temple destroyed? It was destroyed due to the fact that there was baseless hatred, which is equivalent to the three severe transgressions. 

Generalizing and blaming the other for our problems is a direct extension of baseless hatred. To counter this we need baseless love, or loving even when you may not have a reason to do so. If we want to see the manifestation of Isaiah’s prophetic words that one day all peoples will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks so that nation shall not lift the sword against nation and neither shall they learn war any more,” we have much work to do. Instead of children being taught the ways of war, they must be taught the ways of the garden. Different people coming together to tend the land is a tool within our grasp to build unity and shared purpose. Join us here at JCM to help tend our new garden. And on Sundays during Kulanu, the kids will lend a hand.

Imagine that instead of violently battling one another, nations would plant gardens together and work out their differences while growing a shared outcome. The environment would be conducive to constructively figuring out their conflicts and we will be able to overcome irrational fears as dialogue flourishes.  

May we see a peaceful consciousness overcome the fears from our past. 

Shabbat Shalom.

Ki Tissa 18th of Adar I, 5782 - 2/18/2022

  What a Parsha! We begin with laws that continue to detail the building of the holy Tabernacle and the ways to worship within. Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab are singled out to lead the design and building of the Tabernacle. Bezalel will be endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft. The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 40:2) tells of Moses' assumption that he would have to build the items of the tabernacle himself. The Eternal explains that he can delegate to other Israelites and that they too will be able to fashion artifacts of holiness capable of bringing people close to the Divine.  

  Just when Moses may be able to relax, knowing that tasks have been delegated to others, the incident of the golden calf transpires. Imagine the scene: Moses is so happy that the two tablets inscribed with the finger of the Creator have been given to him. He is assured that the Israelites will be filled with an all encompassing consciousness to assist him on the rest of the journey to the promised land. He loses himself in the sublime joy of the seeming success of his mission. And then disaster. The slave mentality takes hold of the Israelites when Moses does not appear exactly when he is supposed to. Their impatience translates into idolatry. They can not comprehend a deity without a physical form.  

  Moses is brought out of his exalted position on the mountaintop and is told by the Eternal to, "hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have acted in a corrupt way." It is interesting to note that even the Creator struggles with blaming others. No longer are the Israelites the Lord’s people who were brought out from the Land of Egypt by His hand. Instead it is Moses who did this and must take responsibility for them as his people.

  And Moses answers the call in an exemplary way. After practically dealing with the situation at hand, Moses intercedes on behalf of the people and does not let the Almighty destroy them. Although Moses has been let down as a leader, he focuses on the failure of the behavior and not the failure of the people as a whole. The Midrash relates a beautiful reflection on behalf of the Creator: “Whenever I win an argument with My children, as at the time of the Flood or of Sodom and Gemorrah, I lose (in other words the Lord ends up destroying culpable human beings). Whenever I lose an argument, I win (as here, when Moses persuades the Lord not to destroy Israel.)”

  How many times do we lose when we win an argument? How many times does it fracture a relationship with a friend or family member, even if we are ‘right’? When is it helpful to lose an argument for the greater win?

  I think that the Eternal realizes that the nation of Israel is not ready to uphold a divinely ordained Torah in the Land of Israel. They need to become part of the Torah that they receive. In the words of the Hatam Sofer, we can not see the Eternal directly. We can only see the difference that the Eternal has made after the fact. We can recognize the Eternal’s reality by seeing the difference made in our lives. The first set of tablets was fashioned by the Divine alone. Moses passively received them. The second set will be a joint divine-human effort. This second set was written with a greater knowledge of human weakness, at the hand of an imperfect human being, rather than by a perfect deity. It is truly a Torah for human beings.  

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi advised: Be careful to continue to respect an elder who has forgotten his Torah knowledge due to circumstances beyond his control. Even though he is no longer a Torah scholar, he must still be respected for the Torah that he once possessed. As we say: Both the tablets of the Covenant and the broken tablets are placed in the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. Even though the first tablets were broken, their sanctity obligates one not to treat them with contempt. An elder who forgot the Torah knowledge he once possessed is likened to these broken tablets (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 8b).

  The Talmud explains here that the fragments of the first set of tablets that Moses broke were carried in the Ark of the Covenant along with the replacement set. That which was once holy retains its holiness even when it is broken. So too the elderly, the senile, and the infirm may not be cast aside. They must be accorded the reverence they have earned in their lives (Etz Hayim p. 540).

  The Japanese have a form of art called kintsukuroi or “to repair with gold”. It is the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken. Perhaps the second set of tablets were kintsukuroi. They were repaired with the humanity of the Jewish people so that the Torah could manifest as a vessel that would carry us for thousands of years.

Tetzaveh 2/11/2022

Exodus 28:15, 29

You shall make a Hoshen of Judgment, the work of a master weaver. You shall make it like the work of the ephod; of gold, blue, purple, and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen shall you make it. Thus shall Aaron carry the names of the sons of Israel in the Hoshen of Judgment over his heart when he enters the Holy, as a remembrance before the Lord at all times.

In the midst of all the rituals that have to be done for the Tabernacle, it is particularly interesting to pay attention to the miraculous shining stones that the High Priest used to wear to divine the will of the Eternal.

Why did the High Priest wear such a vestment? Rashi (1040-1105CE) says that Aaron, the first High Priest, had a good heart. When Moses returned to Egypt after the Eternal chose him to be the leader of the nation, Aaron was not jealous of Moses and was happy for his brother - in his heart. The Eternal therefore wanted to reward Aaron and gave him the vestment to wear.

Each one of the precious stones had the name of one of the tribes carved into it. The stones and their corresponding tribes are as follows: Carbuncle - Levi, Prase - Simeon, Ruby - Reuben, Pearl - Zebulun, Sapphire - Issachar, Emerald - Judah, Crystal - Gad, Turquoise - Naphtali, Leshem - Dan, Jasper - Benjamin, Onyx - Joseph and Chrysolite - Asher.

Another Jewish commentator, Sforno (1475-1550CE) explains that by having each one of the tribes on the heart of the High Priest, the High Priest would remember to pray for the whole of the nation of Israel.

Ethics of the Fathers 1:12 quotes Hillel who says, “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to the Torah.” We need to learn from Aaron to love others and to love peace. We must strive with all our being so that peace can manifest between peoples. May we merit as a community to see such peace manifest around us.

Thu, May 19 2022 18 Iyyar 5782