Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Home Sweet Home: Balak 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you looked at your life differently because of the perspective of someone outside your immediate social circle? How can an “outsider’s perspective” help us gain valuable insight of our own challenges?

The prophet Balaam may have been hired to curse the Israelites, but some of what he says about our ancestors are as thoughtful as anything we say about ourselves:

The Pitch: “How fair are your tents, O Jacob, your dwellings, O Israel!” – Numbers 24:5

Swing #1: “What is the difference between a true prophet and a false one? The true prophet can be identified in most cases by their scoldings. They point out the blemishes and defects and want to break the measure. The false prophet flatters the people with sweet talk and sees none of the low land. ‘Peace, Peace, everything’s fine and there’s no need for correction.’ But true prophets, genuine loves of the people, they scold. Balaam, however, does not sing from any great love of Israel, even though he has many songs and praises for Israel. On the contrary, he intends to entice Israel so that they will not do anything, so that they will no longer yearn to ascend higher and higher up the ladder. They are absolutely perfect; they are blessed with every good quality. And just this is the difference between him and the prophets of Israel.” – Toldot Yaakov Yosef

Swing #2: “What did Balaam see that caused him to say, ‘How fair are your tents, O Jacob …’? He saw their schools.”  – Targum Yonatan

Swing #3: “Instead of reading ‘your tents’ (mishk’notecha), you might read ‘your forfeits’ (mashkanotecha), for tent and temple were to be forfeited when they sinned.” – Numbers Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: Even though he says many positive things about the Israelites, Balaam is not looked upon fondly in the Jewish tradition. How much, then, should we take his words to heart? Can infamous people still impart wisdom? Or should we attach a big proverbial asterisk on their words?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of outside perspectives, many traditional scouts bristle at analytically-based baseball theory, particularly from scholars who never played the game professionally. Is that a fair critique?

Shabbat Shalom!


You Shall Not Pass: Hukkat 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have many adversaries? Do you find yourself finding ways to work with them cooperatively when necessary? Or do you sometimes feel the need to be confrontational when advocating what you need from them?

When the Israelites aim to pass through the Amorite land, Moses asks kindly first — but not a second time:

The Pitch: “Israel now sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, ‘Let me pass through your country. We will not turn off into fields or vineyards, and we will not drink water from wells. We will follow the king’s highway until we have crossed your territory.’ But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. Sihon gathered all his people and went out against Israel in battle. But Israel put them to the sword, and took possession of their land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as [Az] of the Ammonites, for Az marked the boundary of the Ammonites. Israel took all those towns. And Israel settled in all the towns of the Amorites, in Heshbon and all its dependencies.” – Numbers 21:21-25

Swing #1: “It is interesting to compare the version of the encounter with Sihon found in Deuteronomy 2 with that of Numbers 21:21-25. The Numbers version also makes the case for the reasonableness of Moses’ appeal to Sihon. Moses promises more briefly that his people will not disturb vineyards or native wells, but Sihon refuses and is put to the the sword, his land taken by Israel. No ban is invoked or implemented, however. In the Numbers version, the ban is not a form of punishment, a way in which judgment is imposed upon the inhospitable resister of Israel’s divine destiny.” – Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “Moses did not add the word ‘please,’ as he had done in the case of Edom, as he did not really want to make peace with Sichon. This is why the messengers he sent delivered the most succinct messages possible. This is also why Sichon did not bother to send a reply to Moses, as opposed to the King of Edom who had sent Moses a warning not to set foot on his land.” – Rosh

Swing #3: “Israel is said to be like sand and the nations like the sea: They take counsel against Israel, but the Holy One depletes their strength. … Should not Sihon and Og have learned from Amalek? Still, ‘Sihon … went out against Israel’, and ‘Og … went out against them’. Balak, likewise. Should he not have learned from Sihon and Og? Yet Balak was determined to wage war against Israel, and so he sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel.” – Yalkut

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think the Israelites fought with the Amorites too quickly? Was there a better alternative? Or did the ends justify the means? How do you know when confrontation is necessary? 

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of confrontation, a recent study by FanGraphs found that Major League managers are ejected from games less often as they age. Is it because they grow more passive as they get older, or perhaps they understand better the futility of losing their temper with umpires?

Shabbat Shalom!

Levi’s Leftovers: Korah 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever given up certain privileges so that you could gain other privileges? If you have, do you feel it was worthwhile? Do you have any regrets?

Our Torah portion describes both the extent and limitations to the role of the Levites, the assistants to the Israelite priests:

The Pitch: “And to the Levites I hereby give all the tithes in Israel as their share in return for the services that they perform, the services of the Tent of Meeting. Henceforth, Israelites shall not trespass on the Tent of Meeting, and thus incur guilt and die: only Levites shall perform the services of the Tent of Meeting; others would incur guilt. It is the law for all time throughout the ages. But they shall have no territorial share among the Israelites, for it is the tithes set aside by the Israelites as a gift to Adonai that I give to the Levites as their share.” – Numbers 18:21-24a

Swing #1: “[The Levites] are to relate to God all the material elements of the people’s lives; this is their office and task in the nation. The flourishing of this relationship in understanding and in practice is their portion, their share in the nation’s achievements, and handing down these spiritual achievements from the parents to the children is their inheritance, their spiritual heritage. Both together – the portion and the inheritance – are the basis of their existence and of their material prosperity.” – Samson Raphael Hirsch

Swing #2: “The regulation concerning the Levitical tithe recalls Nehemiah’s concern for the economic maintenance of this ancillary clerical order on which he could count for support in his often acrimonious relations with the priesthood.” – Joseph Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch

Swing #3: “How do we reconcile this repetition of the same legislation? It appears that there are two aspects to the tithes with God assigned to the Levites. One reason they receive the tithes is in compensation for the Levites not having received a share of the land. The second reason is to save them having to till the land, i.e. the seven stages of work until the farmer’s wheat is finally ready to be milled, etc. This is the reason the Torah gives a different reason in verse 21, i.e. that it is given to them in exchange for the service they have to perform in the Tent of Testimony.” – Or HaChayim

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think it was worthwhile for Levites to not own land in exchange for their ritual privileges? Must all positions of power have limitations? If so, how do we determine which limitations are reasonable?

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of exchanging privileges, there are numerous American League pitchers who wish they could play by National League rules so that they have the opportunity to hit, even though doing so increases the risk of injury. Isn’t it odd that the two leagues still have such divergent rules in this matter?

Shabbat Shalom!

Wants and Kneads: Shelakh Lekha 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What is your favorite aspect of a Shabbat meal? Is it the company, the atmosphere, or the food itself? What are some of the best things we can do to make a Shabbat meal special?

It’s tough to beat eating a piece of freshly-baked hallah on a Friday night or Saturday – a custom with its roots in our Torah portion this week:

The Pitch: “When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set some aside as a gift to Adonai: as the first yield of your baking, you shall set aside a loaf as a gift; you shall set it aside as a gift like the gift from the threshing floor. You shall make a gift to Adonai from the first yield of your baking, throughout the ages.” – Numbers 15:18b-21

Swing #1: “The observance of the commandment to take hallah because one believes that all which man has is derived from the Lord, and that therefore the first portion of whatever man possesses must be given to the Lord as an offering of gratitude, constitutes the most effective repudiation against paganism. It gives the lie to the erroneous notion that ‘my own strength and the skill of my own hands have done all this for me,’ which is the most heathen idea of all. As the Psalm has it: ‘Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands’ (Psalms 115:3). Their idolatry is that they regard the silver and gold they possess as having been obtained by their own might, by ‘the work of man’s hands.’ These are the ‘idols’ which are destroyed by the observance of the commandment to take hallah from every mass of dough that is prepared.” – Avnei Ezel

Swing #2: “When the Temple was destroyed, and with it most of the rituals of the Priestly Cult, the rabbis ruled that Jews must still set aside a small piece of each loaf of bread and burn it to symbolize the portion once given to the priests.” – Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teusch, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols

Swing #3: “And so we pray, reciting the uplifting words of the pious Sore bas Toyvim: ‘You should remove a portion of the first dough that you knead, and by virtue of this, “God will fill your storehouses to the brim” (Proverbs 8:21). … In the past, the koyen [priest] would take the heave offering and the leyvi [Levite] would take a tithe. The pauper would take the pauper’s tithe and there would also be a second tithe at other appointed times. But now, because of our many sins, the beys hamikdesh [Holy Temple] has been destroyed, and all sacrifices have been annulled except for the mitzve of the khale [hallah], which has remained. Therefore, riboyne shel oylem [Master of the Universe], we beseech You to accept this mitzve of khale and to send us many blessings, wherever we may turn. May our children not become estranged from us, for many years to come. May the mitzve of khale be accepted as equivalent of the 613 mitzves of the holy toyre [Torah].’” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe are the symbolic meanings of hallah? At a time when many people are trying to reduce their consumption of bread, would it make sense to find less carb-heavy alternatives to traditional hallah? How do we best harmonize our health concerns with religious practice?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I am leaving for a summer sabbatical on Sunday, and I’m pleased that Rabbi Alan Cohen will be “minding the store” over the following five weeks. He will write the Friday rabbinic emails during that time. (I’ll continue to post weekly commentaries on this blog during my sabbatical.) I hope you’ll participate in services and events when Rabbi and Linda Cohen are here; they always add so much to our congregation when they are present.

The Big Inning at the End: I had a hard time connecting this week’s theme with baseball, so I’ll simply say that the new voting format for the All-Star Game is an inventive way to keep fans interested and involved in selecting the best players for the game. I hope it sparks renewed interest in the event.

Shabbat Shalom!

Mo’ Better Blues: B’ha’alotkha 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you know when you really know someone else? Is it just a feeling you get, or are there signs that should alert us that we really understand another person?

When God comes to Moses’ defense after his siblings criticize him, God claims that their relationship is unlike any other:

The Pitch: “[God] said, ‘Hear these My words: When prophets of Adonai arise among you, I make Myself known to them in a vision, I speak with them in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of Adonai. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!’” – Numbers 12:6-8

Swing #1: “Moses achieved the exalted status of stenographer, hearing God directly, but he was the only prophet to do so. All other prophets are mere translators; they perforce must figure out precisely what God means to communicate, because their contact with the divine is less direct, and the messages they perceive reach them through a glass darkly. In more abstract terms: in all cases other than Moses’, there is a human factor in biblical prophecy.” – Benjamin D. Sommer, “Prophecy as Translation,” from Bringing the Hidden to Light: Studies in Honor of Stephen A. Geller

Swing #2: “The encounter between the transcendent God and Moses, as described in the prophetic tradition of the Tent of Meeting, is blatantly anthropomorphic. ‘With him I speak mouth to mouth’: It seems that because of the marked anthropomorphism in the depiction of God in this tradition, there was an urgent need to achieve a spatial difference between God and human beings, i.e., to make God transcendent. Even though God is perceived with a human shape, there is still a marked border between humans who sit on earth and God who dwells in heaven. However, the Priestly Torah, with its non-anthropomorphic conception, can allow for an immanent God without fear of blurring the difference between God and humanity.” – Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony: The Bible’s Many Voices

Swing #3: “Does not the Hebrew verb Habata imply a looking down from somewhere above? ‘The likeness of Adonai’ which Moses beheld refers not to a [true] likeness of God but to His Divine qualities of graciousness and mercy, qualities which Moses brought down with him from above, down to earth and into the hearts of the Children of Israel.” – The Rabbi of Ger

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the relationship between Moses and God differently? What is unique about it? How many other people do you truly understand? Is God and Moses’ relationship a model for knowing other people in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m so glad that we’ll get a chance to bring our Friday night services to different parts of the Charleston area. Tonight, we’ll be in Mount Pleasant, and next Friday, we’ll be in Summerville. We’re happy to spread our wings to wherever we find an audience.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of knowing people well, if you ever doubted that future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols has a humongous heart, watch this.

Shabbat Shalom!

Hail to the Chiefs: Naso 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you ever repeat yourself? Do you ever repeat yourself? Do you ever repeat yourself? Do you ever –

All right, enough of that, but you could be forgiven if you found the end of this week’s portion to be ridiculously repetitious, in which each tribe brings the exact same offerings to the Tabernacle, and these offerings are described identically each time:

The Pitch: “The chieftains also brought the dedication offering for the altar upon its being anointed.” – Numbers 7:10a

Swing #1: “Numbers 7, in which tribal chiefs deliver their offerings to the tabernacle, reminds me of a question that’s been bugging me ever since I came across the sublime name Zillah in Genesis. (She was the wife of Lamech.) Why do parents limit themselves to just a few biblical names (Isaac, Ezekiel, Samuel, Rebecca, etc.), and ignore so many other marvelous ones? This chapter alone has Eliab, Zurishaddai, Eliasaph, Gamaliel, Ochran, Gideoni, and Ahira. Wouldn’t life be better with fewer Davids and Pauls and more Ahiras and Zurishaddais?” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “These were they who were appointed over them in Egypt, regarding whom it is stated: ‘And the officers of the children of Israel, whom Pharaoh’s taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, saying: Wherefore have you not fulfilled your appointed task in making bricks both yesterday and today …?’” – B’midbar Rabbah

Swing #3: “Moses had to make a difficult choice in this gift-giving process: Which tribe was to go first? He chose Yehudah, not, it is generally believed, for its ‘leadership’ role but as a way of doing honor to Nakhshon ben Aminadav, the one Israelite who fearlessly plunged into the waters of Yam Suf, his faith in God’s promise to protect these people utterly unshaken.” – George Robinson, Essential Torah

Late-Inning Questions: Some believe that the list of offerings brought by each tribesman is listed in full every time because each set of offerings needed to be recognized, even if they were identical to all of the other sets. Does that sound like a valid rationale? To what extent is our obligation to recognize every person’s contribution to a worthy cause? How much do we need to be recognized?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I wish to express my gratitude to so many in the congregation who stepped up last Shabbat and during Shavuot. I became ill last Friday and was briefly hospitalized. Thankfully, I’m much better now, and I’m thoroughly impressed how Daphne Hubara and other congregants stepped up to run services effectively and smoothly. It’s heartening to know that this congregation has the depth to pitch in as needed.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of being repetitious, the otherwise unremarkable career of John Lowenstein hit a high-water mark in the mid-1970s when he posted the exact same batting average three years out of four. Unfortunately for him, that average was only .242.

Shabbat Shalom!

Holy Dangerous Things, Batman!: B’midbar 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: How impressionable are you? Do you tend to be highly influenced by watching the actions of people you respect? Or are you more cautious before mimicking the way that others go about their business?

The end of this week’s Torah portion is concerned that a group of people might see the actions of the Levites and imitate them inappropriately:

The Pitch: “Do not let the group of Kohathite clans be cut off from the Levites. Do this with them, that they may live and not die when they approach the most sacred objects: let Aaron and his sons go in and assign each of them to his duties and to his porterage. But let not [the Kohathites] go inside and witness the dismantling of the sanctuary, lest they die.” – Numbers 4:18-20

Swing #1: “‘Do this with them’ – that is to say, do on behalf of them, that they may live and not die, by incurring the punishment of Karet (excision), when approaching the holy of holies, since the human soul on approaching that which is holy, naturally, yearns to see beyond the boundaries that are permitted it. Therefore you must cover up and conceal so that they shall not die, as a result of breaking through to see.” – Abarbanel

Swing #2: “Sometimes a hasid comes to the tzadik in order to learn by watching how the tzaddik behaves. But the tzaddik is in a state of spiritual smallness. The hasid copies this way of being from his master without realizing that he must know where to exercise caution to protect the soul. In this way it happened once that a hasid came to Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav and saw him drinking coffee while he was dressed in his tallit and tefillin. The hasid returned home and began to do the same thing! Our verse hints at such a warning. ‘But let not [the Kohathites] go inside and witness …’ means that they should not come to the tzaddik in order to see how the tzaddik behaves and naively act the same way. ‘And … witness the dismantling of the sanctuary …’ means that it may be that the tzaddik is in a state of spiritual smallness, because the holiness has been covered and is concealed. ‘Lest they die’ means that the people might then fall from whatever spiritual levels they had attained. For this reason, a person needs to be especially prudent to learn only during times of spiritual greatness.” – Otzar Hamachshava Shel HaHassidut

Swing #3: “‘For-a-moment’ (in verse 20): Literally, ‘as long as it takes to swallow.’ Similarly, in German, ‘moment’ is Augenblick, literally, ‘the blinking of an eye.’” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: How often are you concerned that other people might watch your actions and imitate them inappropriately? Do you ever change your behavior to make sure that no one gets the wrong impression? Are perception and reality really the same thing? Or should we not worry what others think of our actions, as long as we’re behaving ethically?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re excited to enter these next three days – Shabbat, followed by the festival of Shavuot, when we observe the anniversary of receiving the Torah. We hope you’ll join us, especially for our joint learning session with Congregation Dor Tikvah on Sunday evening!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of making lasting impressions, our favorite athletes have millions of fans, and countless imitators. One of the most famous examples took place at Billy Crystal’s Bar Mitzvah, in which the future comedian delivered his d’var Torah in an Oklahoma drawl to honor his favorite ballplayer, Mickey Mantle.

Shabbat Shalom and, soon, Hag Sameach!

Who’s On First?: Behukotai 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you believe there are qualities inherent in firstborn children that differentiate them from other children? If so, what are they? Or do you know many firstborns who depart from what they’re “supposed” to be?

As the book of Leviticus comes to a close, special rules are specified for the sacredness of firstborn animals brought as offerings:

The Pitch: “A firstling of animals, however, which – as a firstling – is Adonai’s, cannot be consecrated by anybody; whether ox or sheep, it is Adonai’s. But if it is of impure animals, it may be ransomed as its assessment, with one-fifth added; if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold as its assessment.” – Leviticus 27:26-27

Swing #1: “With regards to firstlings, as with tithes, [Moshe] Weinfeld argues that [the Priestly biblical source] considers sanctity an inherent quality of the animal. Thus, he argues, Leviticus 27:26 views a firstling as holy by virtue of birth; consequently, humans cannot make it holy by consecration or ‘secularize it by redemption,’ which is specifically forbidden in Numbers 18:17.” – Peter T. Vogt, Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reappraisal

Swing #2: “The conflicting laws on the firstling reflect historical development. Originally sacrificeable firstlings were entirely incinerated on that altar as burnt offerings [Exodus 13:15] … The priestly laws, however, prescribe that the meat of the sacrificed firstling is a priestly perquisite. … Finally, Deuteronomy revokes both laws, by declaring that the meat of the sacrificed firstling belongs to its owner.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23-27

Swing #3: “A first-born, whether unblemished or blemished, may be proscribed. How can it be redeemed? They estimate what a man would give for this first-born in order to give it to the son of his daughter or to the son of his sister. Rabbi Ishmael says: one verse says, ‘[All first-born males] you shall sanctify,’ (Deuteronomy 15:19) and another verse says: [‘The first-borns among beasts] no man shall sanctify it’ (Leviticus 27:26). It is impossible to say: ‘You shall sanctify,’ since it was said already: ‘No man shall sanctify,’ and it is impossible to say: ‘No man shall sanctify,’ since it is also said: ‘You shall sanctify’? Therefore resolve [thus]: you may sanctify it by consecrating its value [to the owner], but you may not sanctify it by consecrating it to the altar.” – Arakhin 8:7

Late-Inning Questions: Does the confusion over what to do about firstborn animals reflect a confusion of how to categorize firstborn humans? Should birth order matter? Or should we evaluate people individually, rather than how they compare to their siblings?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, is almost upon us, and this year, we’ll be learning Torah with Congregation Dor Tikvah. Join us Sunday, June 9th, in Ashley Harbor. First, we’ll gather at the home of Patti & Mickey Bagg for Minha/Ma’ariv at 6:30PM, and then we’ll walk to the home of Arlene and Peter Rosenthal at 7:00PM for wine, cheese, and a bit of Torah by the lake!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of siblings, Hank and Tommie Aaron have the most combined home runs by sibling big-leaguers, with 768. Of course, Hank hit 755 of them …

Shabbat Shalom!

Release Me: BeHar 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What factors prevent you from reaching your full potential? How, if ever, do you feel trapped? To what extent are these barriers real or imagined? What do you think you’d be able to accomplish if only those barriers were lifted?

By establishing the Jubilee Year, the Torah provides a periodic way for Israelite indentured servants to get a new lease on life:

The Pitch: “You shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee (yovel) for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family.” – Leviticus 25:10

Swing #1: “The halakhot (laws) of the Jubilee Year apply only when all its inhabitants are in the land of Israel, and not when some of them have been exiled.” – BT Arakhin

Swing #2: “A kabbalistic approach to the word yovel: It is derived from the expression ‘sending forth its roots by a stream’ (Jeremiah 17:8), a hint that all the succeeding generations are traced back to their original roots, to the prime cause which determined their development. This is the reason why the yovel is called “freedom”, a reminder of when man was free from sin. All of mankind originated with the pool of souls at God’s disposal, and eventually this is where the souls will return to.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Swing #3: “According to the plain meaning, the word yovel connotes moving from one place to another. In fact, the deer is also called yovel because it is always going from place to place.” – HaAmek Davar

Late-Inning Questions: What do you think it meant to Israelites to have the periodic ability to be free to pursue their own livelihood? How important is economic freedom to you? Is it more important than other kinds of freedom? What kinds of freedom do you value most?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’ll have the good fortune to partner with the Charleston Jewish Federation in welcoming Dr. David Breakstone of the Jewish Agency to our synagogue Tuesday, May 28th, at 7:00PM. Dr. Breakstone has received rave reviews for past speeches and we’re looking forward to seeing him in person.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of valuing freedom, fifty years ago, baseball players were not allowed to be free agents and to sign with teams of their choosing. Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals famously refused to play rather than accepting a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies. He said, “After twelve years in the major leagues, I do not feel I am a piece of property to be bought and sold irrespective of my wishes.” His stance likely cost him several more productive years in the majors, but he paved the way for many other players to reach their economic potential.

Shabbat Shalom!

Lulav is All You Need?: Emor 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What do you do when you’re happy? Do you celebrate with other people, or do you tend to be joyous privately? Does it ever make you uncomfortable if people “overshare” their good fortune? Is it even possible to “overshare” good fortune?

While this week’s Torah portion reminds us that Sukkot is the festival of our joy, there are different ideas of why we’re supposed to feel so joyous:

The Pitch: “Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to Adonai, to last seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to Adonai. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to Adonai; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.” – Leviticus 23:34-36

Swing #1: “The Yemenite Jews place great emphasis on the commandment of the Four Species because of its aesthetic requirement, as Rabbi Shlomo Korah wrote [in Arikhat Shulhan]: ‘Even though by the strict letter of the law an etrog need be no larger than an egg, the larger the etrog, the finer; likewise with the length of the lulav, myrtle and willow, people take pride in larger and longer branches.’” – Dr. Aharon Giamanti, “The ‘Four Species’ in Yemenite Tradition”, from A Divinely Given Torah for Our Day and Age, Volume II

Swing #2: “The expression of rejoicing occurs three times in connection with Sukkot. … But no such expression occurs even once regarding Pesah. This is because the fate of man’s crops is still in the balance on Pesah, and he does not know whether there will be a yield or not. Similarly, on Shavuot, only one expression of rejoicing is mentioned. … This is because the corn has already been harvested and gathered in the barn. Two expressions of rejoicing are not mentioned, because the fruit of the trees have not yet been picked and their fate is still in the balance. On Sukkot, however … when both the corn and fruit are already stored inside, three expressions of joy are justified.” – Yalkut Shimoni

Swing #3: “‘To make atonement for the first sin’ (Genesis Rabbah). Which first sin is being spoken of here? In Midrash Rabbah, Parashat Bereshit, in the verse ‘And there was evening and there was morning, one day,’ meaning one that says ‘echad.’ This is Yom Kippur. Which is to say that the first day of the six days of creation was Yom Kippur. This means, consequently, that the sixth day was the day on which Adam HaRishon, the first human being, was created, and [therefore, also] the first day of Sukkot, and on that very day, according to the reasoning of the sages, Adam ate from the tree of knowledge. So therefore, ‘And on the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees (etrogim)  … to make atonement for the first sin.’” – Kol Kol Yaakov

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, why should one feel joy on Sukkot, and how should it be expressed? If we’re not feeling particularly happy around the time of Sukkot, how can we be expected to express it? How does a joyous time on our calendar contrast with simple moments of everyday joy?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It isn’t too late to have three chances to win! Our Spring Fling will take place this Sunday from 2:00-4:00PM, where we will draw our three winner of Pennies From Heaven raffle. Plus, I’ll be in a dunking booth …

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of joyous expressions, more and more batters tend to flip their bats in ecstasy after hitting a home run. To some, this kind of enthusiasm adds a colorful element to the game. To others, it is a form of taunting opposing pitchers. Which opinion do you find more compelling?

Shabbat Shalom!