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Showing posts from June, 2014

Hukkat, Soccer, You and We

The hero of the Torah, Moses, is not allowed to enter the Promised Land. The reason for this is because of what happens in this week’s portion. The people were once again complaining. This time they were screaming for water. Moses is instructed to order a rock to provide water. Instead Moses hits the rock in anger and shouts at the people, “Listen you rebels!” (Numbers 20) Because Moses did not follow God’s instructions, hitting the rock and screaming at the people he was punished and told that he would only see the dream from afar, that he would not be allowed to lead the people into the land of Israel. It seems a rather harsh punishment for a man who devoted so many years to leading a rather difficult people through even more difficult circumstances. Then again we can discern a lesson from this: one moment of anger can undo a lifetime of work. On the other hand Moses’ sin might not so much have been about his anger but as some commentators suggest the fact that he separated hi

Korah, Revolutions and Altalena Moments

On June 20, 1948 a ship, the Altalena, carrying arms and fighters bound for the fledgling army of the newly founded State of Israel, reached the shore off the coast of Tel Aviv.   There was only one problem.   The arms shipment was arranged by the more radical Irgun led by Menachem Begin and not by David ben Gurion and the Israel Defense Forces.   Begin and ben Gurion had only recently made an agreement to bring the Irgun under the leadership of the IDF.   In addition a truce had recently been brokered between Israel and the Arab armies. Ben Gurion was adamant that the Altalena and its cargo of weapons and fighters surrender to the IDF.   There could be only one leader and one army during this trying moment in Israel’s history.   Begin refused to compromise.   He insisted that at the very least the arms be guaranteed to the Irgun fighters in their new IDF units.   Ben Gurion believed that such compromises would only create an army within an army. The IDF concentrated forces on

Shelach Lecha, Wild Things and Faith

“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” (Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are) And ten of the spies sent by Moses to scout the land report: “The land that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers.  All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the giants and the children of giants, and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13:32-33) Max, the hero of Sendak’s book, overcomes his fears, and in particular his anger, by imagining that he is their ruler, that he is their master.  Imagination is a powerful tool.  Within it we discover the secret of our success.  Within it are the sparks of creativity.  This is exactly the wisdom of Judaism’s insights about the yetzer hara, often translated as the evil inclination.  Within this we discover, for example, desire and drive.  These traits can le

Shavuot and All Night Study

This evening begins the holiday of Shavuot.  Although it celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, it is not widely observed.  Why?  Unlike Passover with its Seder and four cups of wine and Sukkot with its booths and four species (the lulav and etrog), Shavuot offers little more than an all-night Torah study session.  That is to be honest a difficult sell. And yet what could be more defining than the study of Torah?  More than anything else Talmud Torah, the study of Torah, is what makes us a Jewish people.  This act has allowed us to breathe new life into an ancient text for generations.  It is not an easy task of course.  Study is challenging.  The meaning discovered in these words can sometimes be elusive.  But we continue to pour over the words of Torah. Year after year we read the same portions.  Generation after generation we uncover new, and different, meaning in the Torah’s words.  This is what Shavuot celebrates. The freedom we mark on Passover discovers