Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Orderly Conduct: Naso 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever regretted following someone else’s orders? What were the consequences of your compliance?

An apparent redundancy in the Torah text indicates our ancestors’ willingness to do as God says:

The Pitch: “The Israelites did so, putting [people with the skin affliction tzara’at] outside the camp; as יהוה had spoken to Moses, so the Israelites did.” – Numbers 5:4

Swing #1: “Why does the Torah say again at the end of the verse ‘so the Israelites did’? Not only did [the Children of Israel] fulfill the letter of the law by ‘putting them outside the camp,’ but they also acted in accordance with the spirit of the law, keeping away from the sins that cause leprosy, foul discharge and death. ‘As יהוה had spoken to Moses, so the Israelites did;’ that is, they acted in keeping with the purpose for which God had given them the commandment.” – Binah Le’Ittim

Swing #2: “This verse expresses compliance. … It was also important to make the point that all of the details of law and ritual prescribed in the Torah came directly from God, through Moses.” – Baruch A. Levine, Numbers 1-20

Swing #3: “There was no difficulty from the point of view of those who had to command the metzora’im to go outside the Israelite camp, and that did not require warning. The difficulty might have been only from the perspective of the metzora’im, who had to be asked to leave the Cloud of Glory, and perhaps an argument would arise. However, the metzora’im accepted this command with joy, to attain atonement for their sin. Thus, it was not as if they harkened to a warning, but rather as if they easily fulfilled the word of God as well.” – Meshekh Chokhmah

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators think that the Israelites are so willing to comply with God’s request, especially since the Israelites have no problem defying God at other times? Are you skeptical that the Israelites are as enthusiastic as our commentators think? Is it better to practice civil disobedience or uncivil obedience?

On-Deck at TBT: June is Pride month, and TBT will celebrate Pride Shabbat Saturday, June 24th. Our guest speaker will be Jack Kavanaugh, Executive Director of Gay and Lesbian Youth Services of Buffalo, NY. Plus, enjoy rainbow challah at kiddush!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of following orders – or not following them – I have fond memories of watching a Cleveland game in July 1999 in which Alex Ramirez was supposed to play right field and Manny Ramirez was supposed to be the designated hitter. But Manny, being Manny, ran out to right field for the first inning, which caused Cleveland to lose their DH and forced starting pitcher Charles Nagy to bat sixth in the batting order. That might have been the crucial factor leading to their 4-3 loss to Toronto.

Shabbat Shalom!

Meet John Doe: Shavuot 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: When do you prefer to stay anonymous? Do you meet resistance from others on those occasions?

We read the book of Ruth on the second day of Shavuot, and we learn that before he’s allowed to marry Ruth, Boaz must consult with a family member who has a closer claim to Ruth than he does. But we never officially find out this man’s name:

The Pitch: “Meanwhile, Boaz had gone to the gate and sat down there. And now the redeemer whom Boaz had mentioned passed by. He called, ‘Come over and sit down here, So-and-So!’ And he came over and sat down.” – Ruth 4:1

Swing #1: “Boaz probably addressed him by his real name, Tov; it is Scripture that disguised his name to avoid his embarrassment.” – Rav Alkabetz

Swing #2: “Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥman said: He was mute from matters of Torah. He [So-and-So] said: ‘The first ones died only because they took them, and I will take her? Heaven forbid that I take her, I do not want to taint my children, I do not want to mix dross with my children.’” – Ruth Rabbah

Swing #3: “The author’s anonymization of the man must … be an expression of indirect condemnation of him as a man who refuses to safeguard the good name of the family for posterity.” – Kirsten Nielsen, Ruth

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators think of this nameless man? By not revealing the man’s name, are the text’s authors and editors being too judgmental about his character, or are their opinions justified? When is it helpful and when is it hurtful to withhold a person’s name?

On-Deck at TBT: We’re getting close to our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a time to hear from leaders and teachers throughout Jewish Buffalo as we celebrate the anniversary of the encounter at Mount Sinai. Join us through the night of Thursday, May 25th-Friday, May 26th, concluding with a sunrise service and breakfast.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of withholding names, according to, there’s a great story of Casey Stengel managing the first New York Mets team and almost forgetting one of his starters: “‘We got five or six fellas that’s doing very good. And the best played for Hornsby in Cincinnati, bats left-handed, and hit .300, done very good. Delighted to have him, is married, has seven kids in the station wagon he drives down here from Cincinnati where he lives,’ – on and on went the ‘Old’ Perfessor, remembering everything except Bell’s name. Finally as Stengel rambled on and declared, ‘if he can hit for us like he hit for the Reds, he’d ring the bell … and that’s his name: Gus Bell!’”

Chag Sameach & Shabbat Shalom!

Leviticus – The Sequel?: B’midbar 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you seen any movie sequels that you felt were superior to the original film? Why do so many sequels fall short of expectations?

Even though we’ve started reading a new book of the Torah, there are many indications that the text has not moved on from the concerns of Leviticus:

The Pitch: “For the Lord had spoken to Moses, saying: Do not on any account enroll the tribe of Levi or take a census of them with the Israelites. You shall put the Levites in charge of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall tend it; and they shall camp around the Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down, and when the Tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up; any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death.” – Numbers 1:48-51

Swing #1: “These verses describe the appointment of the Levites as the aristocrats of the tabernacle of testimony – the nobles and counts, one might say – for all time. Later in the Bible, the Levites will become the administrative arm of the kingdom of David, and will be counted as part of the loyalist core of the Davidic and Solomonic administrations. Indeed, in every biblical society that has passed through the first two stages – census and assignment, or counting and accountability – there evolves a third stage, namely the administrative bureaucracy of managers and accountants.” – Avraham Burg, Very Near To You: Human Readings of the Torah

Swing #2: “The obvious sense of the verb is ‘to appoint’ or ‘to install,’ but the Hebrew puns on the term paqad used for the census, recasting it here in the causative conjugation: you are not to reckon the Levites, but instead you must make them reckon with the Tabernacle, confer upon them the responsibility of its maintenance. The emphasis on the central role of the Levites will continue through much of the Book of Numbers.” – Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #3: “The Midrash explains that God does not need the light of the candelabra, but He wanted us to provide that light in the tabernacle so that He in turn could provide a great light for us in the world of the future. God also wishes to demonstrate to mankind at large that those who kindle lights for Him, deserve to have Him light the way for them. … The leaders of the people especially, need visible reminders of that. Therefore, leaders, i.e. Levites were encamped around the tabernacle.” – Akeidat Yitzhak

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe that the Book of Numbers continues talking about Levites? Does the book simply have the wrong title, or do book titles not matter as much as we think they do? Is this similar to the fact that one of the Five Books of Moses never mentions Moses? Should a title summarize the work, or should it simply invite us to look inside?

On-Deck at TBT: We’re getting close to our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a time to hear from leaders and teachers throughout Jewish Buffalo as we celebrate the anniversary of the encounter at Mount Sinai. Join us through the night of Thursday, May 25th-Friday, May 26th, concluding with a sunrise service and breakfast.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of strange names, both the New York (now San Francisco) Giants and the New York Mets once played their home games at a Manhattan stadium called the Polo Grounds. Hopefully, their fans knew what sport to expect when they bought tickets to the games.

Shabbat Shalom!

Open Doors: BeHar-Behukotai 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: How literally do you understand the phrase “All Are Welcome” on an event invitation? Do you trust it, or wonder whether the event planners will truly accommodate all people according to their needs?

As the Torah text begins to explain the laws of the sabbatical year, the list of those allowed to consume that which grows during that year is extensive:

The Pitch: “Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of יהוה: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land during its sabbath will produce—you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may eat all its yield.” – Leviticus 25:3-7

Swing #1: “There are … several features of Solomon’s [Temple-building] program that recall its protological archetype. For example, it takes him seven years to complete the work, just as it takes the divine king seven days to complete creation. That the correspondence is more than coincidence can be seen from the fact that Israelite agricultural law included a cycle of seven years, six of work, and one of rest, which is called ‘Sabbath’.” – Jon D. Levenson, Sinai & Zion: An Entry Into the Jewish Bible

Swing #2: “The only woman directly mentioned in Parashat Behar is the amah (the slave woman), and this is significant because it indicates Behar’s concern for the most vulnerable members of society. The amah is listed as one of the people who will eat the wild produce of the land during the shemita year rather than harvested food. In that respect, she is equal to all other Israelites, although she may have sold herself, or been sold by her father, into slavery.” – Sharon Brous & Jill Hammer in The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights From Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #3: “A subdued but present association in the Commandments [is] the Sabbath Commandment and the coveting Commandment lift[ing] up cattle, the ox, and the ass as being provided rest and protection.” – Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem surprised by the extent of inclusion in these verses? Does it seem to differ in spirit from other passages in the Torah? Should we be impressed by the Torah’s progressive stance? Is some inclusion better than none at all?

On-Deck at TBT: We’re getting close to our Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, a time to hear from leaders and teachers throughout Jewish Buffalo as we celebrate the anniversary of the encounter at Mount Sinai. Join us through the night of Thursday, May 25th-Friday, May 26th, concluding with a sunrise service and breakfast.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of inclusion, it’s heartening to know that 28 out of the 30 Major League teams will be hosting a Pride Night at one of their games this season. Now if we can only get the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers to sign on …

Shabbat Shalom!

Food For Thought: Emor 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have any “sacred” recipes in your home or family? Are they kept secret from people outside your sphere of influence, or do you share them freely?

It’s curious that, in the laws defining proper priestly conduct, a special “Godly food” is introduced:

The Pitch: “For [the priests] are holy to their God and you must treat them as holy, since they offer the food of your God; they shall be holy to you, for I, יהוה who sanctify you, am holy.” – Leviticus 21:8

Swing #1: “Although the priest depends for his living on the ‘Priestly Gifts’ which you give him, you are not permitted to treat him with disrespect or contempt. Instead, you are required to sanctify him, because ‘he offers the bread of your God.’ The meal of a righteous man or of a scholar has the same hallowed character as a sacrifice. Accordingly, the gifts which you give to the priest are equal in value to the offerings which serve to atone for your sins. Moreover, the priest in his turn hallows the people of Israel with his study and worship. For all these reasons, the priest ‘shall be holy to you, for I, יהוה, who sanctify you, am holy.’ I, יהוה, have sanctified you through the priest who hallows you with his study and worship. Hence you must honor and hallow him even though he is dependent on your gifts for his living.” – Ketav Sofer

Swing #2: “There is some curiosity regarding the designation of offerings … as ‘the food of their God’. There are indications that Israel’s neighbors thought of sacrifices as food for gods, but the Old Testament writers consistently reject this notion for sacrifices offered to יהוה. Perhaps the cult of the dead involved food offerings to one’s ancestors, and these laws make it clear that Israelite offerings should go to יהוה  alone.” – Timothy M. Willis, Leviticus

Swing #3: “All that is contained in the ‘order of sacrificial service,’ its proceedings, offerings, burning of incense, singing, eating, drinking, is to be done in the utmost purity and holiness. It is called … ‘the bread of your God’, and similar terms which relate to his pleasure in the beautiful harmony prevailing among the people and priesthood. He, so to say, accepts their hospitality and dwells among them in order to show them honor. He, however, is most Holy, and far too exalted to find pleasure in their meat and drink. It is for their own benefit … the nobler ingredients of the food go to strengthen the heart; the best of all, the spirit.” – Yehudah HaLevi, Kuzari

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand “the bread of God”? How do these opinions contrast with passages in Leviticus that describe God enjoying the aroma of certain sacrifices? Is it all right to think of God as enjoying the sense of smell but not the sense of taste? How can we ensure that eating is a “holy act”?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to welcome my friend Rabbi Jeni S. Friedman, PhD, as this year’s Klein Weekend scholar. Please join us and support the program, taking place May 5th-7th, as we explore Global Jewish Peoplehood.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of holy food, the owner of the 19th-century St. Louis Browns, Chris von der Ahe, is widely credited with inventing the hot dog. He sought an easier way to sell sandwiches at the ballpark, and – whether you regard the hot dog as a sandwich or not – the concoction has remained closely associated with baseball ever since.

Shabbat Shalom!

Blood Curdling: Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever gone to great lengths to bring someone a gift, only for something to go wrong before the person could receive it? Were you able to compensate for the snafu somehow?

The Torah speaks of consequences for a particular improper sacrificial offering:

The Pitch: “If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or sheep or goat in the camp, or does so outside the camp, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to present it as an offering to יהוה, before יהוה’s Tabernacle, bloodguilt shall be imputed to that party: having shed blood, that person shall be cut off from among his people.” – Leviticus 17:3-4

Swing #1: “The starkness of this formulation is quite startling, and very much in keeping with the emphasis throughout the chapter on the sacrosanct character of blood as the principal bearer and symbol of life. The person who slaughters an animal without having the priest cast some of its blood on the legitimate altar of YHWH is considered to have committed murder. The blood on the altar, then, offered up to the deity together with the burnt suet, is an expiation for the blood of the animal spilled in the slaughtering process, a ritual recognition that the taking of life, even for consumption as food, is a grave act that must be balanced by an act of expiation.” – Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #2: “Such slaughtering seems to be equated with the murder of a human being, cut off from amid his kinspeople; Schwartz understands this as premature death (dying before one’s normally allotted time); Tikvah Frymer-Kensky as dying without heirs.” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Swing #3: “It is as if it said, ‘It shall be considered [for that person] as blood of a person.’ Because if not, would we not know that it is considered bloodshed [of an animal] when a person spills blood during the slaughtering?” – Siftei Chakhamim

Late-Inning Questions: How does this rule reflect respect for animals? Does this seem to contrast from so many other rules regarding animal sacrifice? Is it sensible to regard animal life as equally important to human life?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to welcome my friend Rabbi Jeni S. Friedman, PhD, as this year’s Klein Weekend scholar. Please join us and support the program, taking place May 5th-7th, as we explore Global Jewish Peoplehood.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of gifts that go awry, I admit that I love the comment made by college football commentator Beano Cook after Major League Baseball gave a lifetime pass for any game to the Americans released from Iranian captivity in 1981: “Haven’t they suffered enough?”

Shabbat Shalom!

The Born Forgiveness: Tazria-Metzora 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you achieve a sense of normalcy after life’s most dramatic moments? Do you rely on the passage of time, or do you find other ways to speed up the recovery process?

The Torah prescribes rituals to enable a mother of a new child the chance to restore a sense of equilibrium:

The Pitch: “On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord and make expiation on her behalf; she shall then be clean from her flow of blood. Such are the rituals concerning her who bears a child, male or female.” – Leviticus 12:6-7

Swing #1: “That is why the birthing mother at the end of her ordeal brought a burnt offering to the Tabernacle as well as a purification offering. Whereas the latter signified the end of her impure state, the former embodied a joyful gesture of thanksgiving to the Almighty for an instance of unmerited grace.” – Ismar Schorsch, Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

Swing #2: “The reason why the expression וטהרה, ‘she regained her ritual purity,’ is in place is because until the expiry of these days and her having brought the requisite offerings, she cannot partake of food which is the residue of animals that have been slaughtered on the altar in the courtyard of the Temple, as well as agricultural products to be given to a priest.” – Daat Zkenim

Swing #3: “Our sages of old hold that the reason why most women are in personal need of atonement is that during the excruciatingly painful experience of giving birth they vowed never again to have marital relations with their husbands. Seeing that such a woman swore out of extreme pain and her oath is therefore not really effective legally, since she is contractually obligated to have relations with her husband, God wanted her to escape the consequences of such an oath, and by allowing her to bring this sacrifice He forgave her.” – Tur HaAroch

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that the Torah text is sensitive to a new mother’s emotional and spiritual needs? Do these seem to be helpful rituals for such a woman? How does the arrival of a new life cause us to reassess our own?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to welcome my friend Rabbi Jeni S. Friedman, PhD, as this year’s Klein Weekend scholar. Please join us and support the program, taking place May 5th-7th, as we explore Global Jewish Peoplehood.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of reestablishing normalcy, I always liked the way the 2016 Chicago Cubs celebrated each victory. For the first 10 minutes upon entering the clubhouse after winning a game, the players would have a raucous dance party. Then, the lights went up, and the players and coaches regrouped to focus on the next game. If it sounds odd, well … they did win it all that year.

Shabbat Shalom!

Playing With Fire: Shemini 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: When was the last time you saw something that startled you? Do you think you’ll be less startled if you see it again?

At the opening ceremonies for the portable sanctuary, the Israelites appear to be shocked at an unexpected sight:

The Pitch: “Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces.” – Leviticus 9:24

Swing #1: “Life in the desert was undoubtedly terrifying and astounding, filled with peaks of faith accompanied by expressions of wonder at the presence of God among his chosen (and choosing) congregation. But the peaks were invariably followed by depths of loss and failure. It took many years for the emotional pendulum to slow down and reach an equilibrium that allowed it to swing with the experiences of the believer and not the rages of God.” – Avraham Burg, Very Near To You: Human Readings of the Torah

Swing #2: “Anthropologists see the altar fire as a gateway to the other world through which offerings are transmitted to God and through which the power of God is directly manifested to man. The correctness of this observation is accentuated by a Priestly rule concerning the altar fire; it may never be allowed to die out. The reason is now apparent. Because the altar fire is of divine origin it must be perpetuated.” – Jacob Millgram, Leviticus 1-16

Swing #3: “We find that during various times in our history there have been twelve recorded occasions when fire descended from heaven (to accomplish a specific task). Six of these occasions were for the sake of accepting sacrificial offerings; the other six occasions were demonstrations of Divine displeasure and anger.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what do the Israelites think when they see the fire from God? Is their awe based more in appreciation or in fear? Do our fears motivate us as much as they impede us?

On-Deck at TBT: I’m excited to welcome my friend Rabbi Jeni S. Friedman, PhD, as this year’s Klein Weekend scholar. Please join us and support the program, taking place May 5th-7th, as we explore Global Jewish Peoplehood.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of fear as motivation, a recent documentary about the Seattle Mariners revealed that, as a child, Ken Griffey, Jr. was treated cruelly by Yankees manager Billy Martin when Griffey’s father played there. Junior swore to foil the Yankees when he reached the Major Leagues — which he famously did during a dramatic 1995 playoff series.

Shabbat Shalom!

Spring Awakenings: Pesach 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: What signs of spring are the most reassuring to you? Do you wish that spring lasted longer before the start of summer?

As the Song of Songs is read on the Shabbat of Passover, the theme of spring connects the two:

The Pitch: “My beloved spoke thus to me, ‘Arise, my darling; my fair one, come away! For now the winter is past, the rains are over and gone.” – Song of Songs 2:10-11

Swing #1: “This lyric is perhaps the most beautiful expression of love in the spring to be found in literature.” – Robert Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations: A Study, Modern Translation and Commentary

Swing #2: “The meaning of this is that the period when perfection with him was impossible has passed. This was the period when the faculties of the soul turned toward the physical desires. He allegorically compared that time to the winter and the rain since at that time most plants do not produce fruit because of the great cold.” – Gersonides

Swing #3: “‘For, behold, the winter is past,’ these are the four hundred years that were decreed upon our ancestors in Egypt. ‘The rain is over and gone,’ these are the two hundred and ten years [of actual enslavement].” – Shir HaShirim Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: What does the spring mean to our commentators? How do they feel that it’s represented in the Song of Songs? Is spring more a time of unbridled joy or a waiting room before the start of summer?

On-Deck at TBT: We’d like to offer a friendly reminder that there will not be evening services today (Wednesday) or tomorrow (Thursday) so that we can get the most out of our Seders. And since Seders often run long into the night, we’ll begin Yom Tov services on Thursday and Friday at 10:00 a.m.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of springtime, it amazes me that Major League Baseball does not yet schedule early-season games in domes or cities where it doesn’t rain. Don’t we want the start of the season to move forward without the threat of postponements?

Chag Sameach and, soon, Shabbat Shalom!

The Unforgettable Fire: Tzav 2023

Pre-Game Chatter: Don’t you just hate it when we read something redundant? Don’t you just hate it when we read something redundant?

A description of the eternal flame in the portable sanctuary seems awfully repetitive:

The Pitch: “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.” – Leviticus 6:6

Swing #1: “This is redundant, and this makes it emphatic: this ritual law has special significance because it brings together space and time. YHWH tells Moses to command Aaron and his sons to keep an eternal fire burning at the altar. This law thus provides for a visual expression of the idea that the ritual structure that is starting here is to prevail for all time to come. This fire that is not to be quenched is also reminiscent of the account in Exodus of Moses’ encounter with YHWH at a bush that burns without being consumed.” – Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah

Swing #2: “In every Jew there flickers a spark of Divine fire that will never go out. But the leader, priest, prophet or scholar must feed that little spark with fiery oratory, and stir it up anew each morning, with regard to the duties of man toward his Maker. … If the priests do this and kindle the sparks of the Divine in the hearts of the Jews they may be sure that the fire of God will burn continually upon the altar of Judaism and never go out.” – Torat Moshe

Swing #3: “Even while the Israelites were journeying through the desert, God’s honor demanded that precautions be taken that this flame be kept going. According to Rabbi Yehudah, they used a kind of metal dome fixed above it to insure that it kept going.” – Chizkuni

Late-Inning Questions: Why do our commentators believe it was important for the Torah to emphasize the perpetual nature of the sanctuary flame? How does the Torah appreciate both the destructive and creative nature of fire? What things and ideas must remain eternal?

On-Deck at TBT: I look forward to Men’s Club Shabbat on Saturday, during which we will use the Sefer Haftarah scroll, a unique item meant to foster a greater appreciation and understanding of the ritual of chanting Haftarot. Hope to see you there.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of redundancy, it’s so exciting that much of the redundant, dead time between pitches of Major League games has been eliminated by the new pitch clock. Let’s hope the clock is here to stay.

Shabbat Shalom!