Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

A Stiff Upper Lip: Tazria-Metzora 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you react when you feel embarrassed in public? Do you try to go somewhere private as quickly as possible? Do you try to laugh at yourself? Or do you try to ignore or forget what caused you embarrassment?

Our two portions this week explore what happens when people are afflicted with a potentially embarrassing skin ailment:

The Pitch: “As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” – Leviticus 13:45

Swing #1: “Nobody likes to talk about such things as skin disease and blotchy skin – and yet the Torah includes this topic and devotes two full portions to it. Precisely because we find these things difficult to discuss, synagogues should provide opportunities to discuss them and to learn more about them – for the sake of our our lives. … Synagogues need to get involved in teaching and promoting the mitzvah of health care. For if our bodies are not well, then our souls cannot be well either.” –  Rabbi Jack Riemer, “Take Care of Yourself!”, from The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Swing #2: “‘He shall cover over his upper lip’ – this means that he is to keep his mouth covered so that his breath does not offend anyone around him as it contains bacteria harmful to others.” – Rosh

Swing #3: “He informs that he [the one with tzara’at – not the other people in the vicinity] is impure, and they keep away from him.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Which one of our commentators’ comments seems most useful to combat an embarrassing moment? Should a person with tzara’at have even felt embarrassed in the first place? What can we do to lessen other people’s embarrassment? Is it sometimes better to speak openly about embarrassing things so that they become more normal, and thus less embarrassing?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so grateful to everyone who worked to make last Saturday’s gala a tremendous success. It was wonderful to link our congregation’s anniversary with someone as giving and decent as Anita Zucker. Thank you to everyone who was a part of it.

The Big Inning at the End: The many cancelled games in the season so far reminds should reinforce to baseball’s owners that every new stadium needs to have a retractable roof. Fans pay too much money for games that may or may not take place.

Shabbat Shalom!


Beasts of Bird-en: Shemini 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What is your oddest personal habit? Did you start that habit on your own, or were you imitating others around you? Have you considered trying to change that habit? What caused you not to change it?

When the Torah introduces the species we are not permitted to eat, we can only guess why we must follow these culinary habits:

The Pitch: “The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination … the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.” – Leviticus 11:13a, 19

Swing #1: “[The stork is unclean] because it is kind only to others of its species but will never give food to a creature not of its own kind.” – Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter

Swing #2: “[This bird] feeds on dunghills, has a filthy nest, and the smell of its flesh is rank. … [Words for this bird in other Ancient Near Eastern traditions] stand for the hoopoe and onomatopoeically represent its sound.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

Swing #3: “However we evaluate the text, it does evince the efforts at eliminating access for a hungry or covetous person to a large group of birds. But why? Were all these animals known to be flesh and carrion eaters, so that an Israelite conscious of purity concerns might have become infected indirectly through them with the corpse odor of impure animals? Although this thesis does exhibit a certain degree of plausibility, it would de facto also require a prohibition against eating many other species of birds as well.” – Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus

Late-Inning Questions: What do you make of our commentators’ theories as to why certain birds are permitted for consumption while others are not? Are any convincing to you? In your religious observance, how much do you rely on logic to direct your behavior? How much do you rely on your personal feelings?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In an effort to enable our congregants to welcome Shabbat with joy and ease, Friday night services at Emanu-El will now begin each week at 6:00PM*. For the most part, services will last no more than 40 minutes. Please stay tuned for more announcements of special programming surrounding Friday night services!

(*There will be some exceptions in the coming months due to prior commitments on the Synagogue’s calendar.)

The Big Inning at the End: Of all the absurd “hot takes” in the sports media, one of the strangest was the notion that Major League Baseball was happy that a fight broke out at a recent Yankees-Red Sox game. I know rivalries can add richness to the game, but I still like to think that baseball is a gentleman’s game, even if the players aren’t always gentlemen themselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

In the Name of Love: Shabbat Pesach Day 8 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Fifty years ago yesterday, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated; a great leader who preached love and non-violence was slain in the most violent of ways. How can Jewish tradition help us to appreciate Dr. King’s legacy and the challenges that remain?

When it comes to love, it’s worthwhile to look at the Song of Songs, which will be chanted in synagogues on Saturday, the final day of Passover:

The Pitch: “Oh, give me of the kisses of your mouth, For your love is more delightful than wine.” — Song of Songs 1:2

Swing #1: “The material intellect said, expressing its desire, ‘Would that God would kiss me with the kisses of His mouth!“, that is, cleave to Him so far as possible, for ‘kissing’ indicates cleaving and coming close, and thus the sages said of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam that they ‘died by a kiss,’ that is, that at the time of their deaths they cleaved to God.” — Gersonides

Swing #2: “It was said in reference to when God gave them God’s Torah and spoke to them face to face. And that love is still more pleasant to them than any pleasure, and they are assured by God that He will appear to them again to explain to them the secret of its reasons and its hidden mysteries, and they beseech Him to fulfill His word.” — Rashi

Swing #3: “The word שפתים, instead of meaning ‘lips’ is derived from שפת הנהר, ‘the banks of the river,’ meaning ‘the boundaries of the river.’ Keeping this in mind, the meaning of the whole verse quoted above is: ‘the wise man who is tuned in to the fundamental aspects of wisdom in the celestial domains, a wisdom which is freely available at all times without interruption, can answer all questions and questioners correctly, being always in tune with them.’ He can do this as he has reached the outermost limits (שפתים) of this wisdom.” — Rabbeynu Bachya

Late-Inning Questions: Dr. King once famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” How do our commentators interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of the love between God and Israel? How do Dr. King’s words, coupled with the words of our text, remind us that love lasts beyond all of life’s challenges, including death?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It was a pleasure to celebrate the beginning of Passover with 106 other people at our congregational Seder. I hope that your Seders were festive and thought-provoking, and that the topics discussed will help to inspire us as we face the spring and summer ahead.

The Big Inning at the End: Shohei Otani already has shown his prowess with the bat and on the mound. Is this the beginning of an era when the Major Leagues will welcome more “two-way” talents to the game’s highest level?

Hag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Immigrants – They Get the Job Done: Shabbat Pesach I 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: From where did your family originate? When did they arrive in the United States? When did they/you arrive in Charleston?

The hot-button topic of immigration is a central theme in the Passover seders we will observe tonight and tomorrow night:

The Pitch: “In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: ‘And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”‘” – Haggadah

Swing #1: “Due to your personal experience of such a status, you, better than anyone else, know that seeing that the oppression of strangers is a great wrong, the punishment for violating such a commandment is equally harsh.” – Rashbam

Swing #2: “Once the stranger accepts not to worship idolatry, you cannot oppress him in your country/land, because you are more powerful than him. … And the same way that the text reminds you that the stranger does not have power, so too the widow and the orphans, who are Israelites, have no power.” – Ibn Ezra

Swing #3: “I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. Then I realized that it is easy to love your neighbor because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose color, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, ‘Love the stranger because you were once strangers’, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now. … Wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.” – Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe are the main challenges in loving the stranger? How must we overcome these challenges? To what extent does our obligation to love the stranger apply to legal immigrants? Illegal immigrants? Refugees?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: A big thank-you to our custodial staff for once again doing a fantastic job cleaning our synagogue so that we can be prepared to observe Passover. We invite you to come to our building and to enjoy the festivities.

The Big Inning at the End: With one game down, the Cubs are on a pace to finish 2018 with a 162-0 record. I can live with that. Wishing all of your teams similar (albeit not equal) success.

Shabbat Shalom, and Hag Kasher V’Sameach! Happy Passover!

Thanksgiving Menu: Tzav 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you been unsure whether an occasion requires the giving of gifts? Did you give a gift anyway, just to be on the safe side? If not, why not?

As the list of sacrificial offerings continue in the text of Leviticus, we are given strict directions of how to show our appreciation to God:

The Pitch: “If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour with oil mixed in, well soaked.” – Leviticus 7:12

Swing #1: “As for him who was fortunate enough never to have sinned even in error so that he need not offer any other sacrifices, he is duty-bound to make an offering of thanksgiving to demonstrate his gratitude to God for having protected him from sin.” – Divrei Shaarei Hayyim

Swing #2: “If a person had made a vow using the expression todah instead of using the expression sh’lamim to describe what he vowed to bring. The most common occasion when people make such a vow is when they have been saved from imminent danger. The sages in Berachot 54 described the four types of dangers which qualify for the party who has been saved to offer such a “thanksgiving” offering, todah. The total number of challot which this offering consists of are 40. Here we are told all the details.” – Rashbam

Swing #3: “Though all sacrifices may be discontinued in the future (for, in the messianic age, men will be sinless), the offering of thanksgiving will never cease. Though all prayers may be discontinued, the prayer of thanksgiving will never cease.” – Leviticus Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators differ on the reasons to offer a Thanksgiving offering? How do they understand the significance of such offerings? Do you think these offerings are appreciated by God? Who appreciates gifts more: the giver or the receiver?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: As our Passover preparation continues, don’t forget to think of those who lack sufficient funds for daily nourishment. We are available to sell your hametz (leavened food) prior to the beginning of Passover, and if you do, please consider making a donation to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. We’ll be happy to help you out up until the morning of Friday, March 30th.

The Big Inning at the End: There’s a growing concern that many current contending teams do so by losing a lot for several years, then building slowly with young talent. My Cubs are a primary example. Is this just the way of the world, or do teams owe it to their fans to try to win without rebuilding?

Shabbat Shalom!

Taking One For the Team: Vayikra 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When have your mistakes had negative consequences on others around you? How do you try to make up for these errors?

As the sacrificial system is introduced in the opening chapters of Leviticus, we learn that the ancient priests’ mishaps must be corrected for the sake of the entire community:

The Pitch: “If it is the anointed priest who has incurred guilt, so that blame falls upon the people, he shall offer for the sin of which he is guilty a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin offering to the LORD.” – Leviticus 4:3

Swing #1: “One who has been acknowledged as a leader must be even more careful than ordinary people not to fall into the trap of sin or even of error. For the masses are only too eager to point to him as their example when they sin, so that any sin of his – even one which he commits in error – may lead them to do evil on purpose.” – Jacob ben Jacob Moses of Lissa

Swing #2: “While I do not subscribe to a general theory of sacrifice, sacrifice is definitely a way to create, maintain, and restore a specific order. Its benefits are felt by the larger community or by an individual. When a person sins, inadvertently breaking any of YHWH’s laws, a specific sacrifice needs to be offered in order to restore the individual back into the community. Distinctions are made for various social groups: the sinning priest as well as the entire community have to sacrifice a bull …” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #3: “He made a mistake while bringing an offering for the people’s guilt.” – Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: How do you think the Israelites felt knowing that the priests would make up for mistakes that would negatively impact the community? How important is it for us to have leaders that truly have our backs?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are dedicating this coming Shabbat to hunger awareness. Our program at our March 16th FNL and our talks at our March 17th Shabbat morning service will set a proper tone for the upcoming Passover holiday, in which we are charged with the notion of “All who are hungry, come and eat.” Please join us for a meaningful Shabbat.

The Big Inning at the End: This year, the minor leagues will experiment with several major innovations intended to speed up the pace of the game. Critics may complain, but every great game must at least consider evolving when their product needs improvement.

Shabbat Shalom!

Call a Copper: Vayakhel-Pekudei 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: In a society so consumed with material gain, are there occasions when the kinds of materials we use truly matter?

As the Israelites complete the Mishkan (portable Tabernacle) in this week’s portions, we get a brief glimpse into the thought process behind some of the construction details:

The Pitch: “He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” – Exodus 38:8

Swing #1: “Copper was an atonement for the people’s stiff-neckedness as Isaiah said (48:4): ‘Your neck is like an iron sinew, and your forehead like copper.’” – Rashi

Swing #2: “[The fact that they are made of mirrors] might support the contention that the ‘copper’ mentioned here is actually brass.” – Abarbanel

Swing #3: “This was not included in the ‘copper for the waving,’ as is explained in verse 30. The copper basin and its stand are mentioned as having been constructed from the amount of copper representing these mirrors.” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: Is it good for the Israelites to have a sacred object that reminds them of their shortcomings, as Rashi suggests? Can the fact that the copper basin is made from mirrors help the people reflect, literally and figuratively, about their choices? When is it most helpful for us to have reminders of our flaws, and can they inspire us to be better?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We will dedicate next week’s Shabbat to hunger awareness. Our program at our March 16th FNL and our talks at our March 17th Shabbat morning service will set a proper tone for the upcoming Passover holiday, in which we are charged with the notion of “All who are hungry, come and eat.” Please join us for a meaningful Shabbat.

The Big Inning at the End: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., is baseball’s hottest prospect at age 18. His father, the “original” Vladimir Guerrero, will be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. To what extent is an athlete’s success tied to his/her genetics? His/her opportunities as a youth? His/her work ethic and attitude? It will be fun to see how the younger Guerrero will provide us with another test case.

Shabbat Shalom!

Erasure: Ki Tisa 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you taken a risk by showing loyalty to a person or group? What caused you to be so loyal?

Even though the Israelites angered both God and Moses by building the Golden Calf, Moses nevertheless is willing to eschew personal glory while standing by his people:

The Pitch: “‘Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!’” – Exodus 32:32

Swing #1: “Moses said to the Lord: ‘In either case, blot me, I pray You, out of Your book. If You are willing to forgive them if they have someone to suffer for their sins, I am willing to serve as their instrument of atonement. And if You should not be willing to forgive them, why, then, I have nothing left for which to live.” – K’lei Yakar

Swing #2: “We have not exhausted the strategies of Mosaic intercession. … It looks as if prophetic audacity has won. But this is not the case, for God answers: ‘And now, go lead this people to [the place] which I tell you …’ (Exodus 32:34).” – Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy: Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel

Swing #3: “[Moses] has no purpose apart from his people. Moses is not, it should be stressed, offering to substitute for his people but rather to share their destiny. Having broken Holy Writ, he joins his sin to the people’s apostasy.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think Moses is so loyal to the Israelites? Do you find any of our commentators’ reasoning compelling? Is Moses simply a “good soldier” trying to do his job? Or do you think he also has an emotional attachment to the people, warts and all? What would you have done if you were in Moses’s sandals?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: A big thank-you and yasher koach to the Sisterhood women for another successful Sisterhood Shabbat, and to everyone who participated in our talent-filled Purim celebration. Our congregation ended February with a flourish of accomplishment, and we’re looking forward to more in March, starting with Men’s Club Shabbat tomorrow!

The Big Inning at the End: How would you manage Shohei Ohtani, the new Los Angeles Angels player who has major-league talent both as a pitcher and a hitter? Should the Angels try to maximize his diverse skills and play him every day? Or, as in the case of Babe Ruth, should his team ask him to pick one skill over another so he can excel on “one side of the ball”?

Shabbat Shalom!

Pom-a Lama Ding-Dong: Tetzaveh 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What symbols at synagogue mean the most to you? How do they bring you meaning? Are there others that mainly puzzle you?
In a portion filled with symbols, Tetzaveh at one point describes the origins of pomegranate-shaped bells, which were originally attached to the high priest’s robes; today, we often use this design on silver ornaments atop our Torah scrolls:

The Pitch: “On its hem make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the hem, with bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe.” – Exodus 28:33-34

Swing #1: “Israel is compared to a pomegranate, as full of good deeds as this fruit is of seeds. Good students are said to model their study habits upon the pomegranate, eating only the good fruit, but discarding the bitter peel.” – Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols

Swing #2: “They were round and hollow, in the shape of pomegranates, which are made like a hen’s egg.” – Rashi

Swing #3: “Between pomegranate and pomegranate, not inside the pomegranate.” – Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: Are the pomegranates effective symbols for those who attend synagogue? Do the explanations provided by our commentators add to their meaning? How does an effective use of symbols add positively to the synagogue experience?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re continuing our tradition of drawing lots on Purim! At our Megillah reading this Wednesday night, bring food items to donate to the Kosher Food Pantry. For every item you bring, you’ll get one raffle ticket, making you eligible for some fun prizes to be given away throughout the night!

The Big Inning at the End: Hopefully, the suggestion that Major League managers will be allowed to change their batting orders in the 9th inning was merely a trial balloon meant to get reactions — and if the reactions are any indication, this practice never will see the light of day.

Shabbat Shalom!

What Holds Us Together: Terumah 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How is the construction of a building an effective metaphor for the construction of society? What are the essential foundations and building blocks of a healthy community?

Amidst the myriad of details the Torah provides for the dimensions of the Tabernacle, we can draw lessons from even the most specific instructions:

The Pitch: “Of the planks of the Tabernacle, make twenty planks on the south side.” – Exodus 26:18

Swing #1: “The Hebrew word KeReSH (‘board’) spells SHeKeR (‘falsehood’) in reverse. In other words, if you succeed in ‘reversing’ falsehood you will achieve the highest level of holiness – you will be worthy of becoming a part of the Sanctuary.” – Noam Elimelekh

Swing #2: “The fact that there are to be twenty frames on each side and six plus two corner frames at the rear of the structure indicates its overall rectangular shape. Yet, because the thickness of the frames and the way they are to be fitted together remains obscure, the overall dimensions of the structure remain approximate. For two millennia, many have tried, with little unanimity, to ascertain its size and shape.” – Carol Meyers, Exodus

Swing #3: “The traditional shoebox-shaped tent would have to have perfectly vertical walls in order to be aesthetically pleasing. … If the structure tilted to one side or the other, the whole tent would look like a shanty. It would be not only ugly but seem to be the work of foolish or inept builders. This is hardly what one wants for the holy abode of God. … If, as I suspect, there were bars going across the top that connected the frames of the north side to those of the south side, the structure would be more stable than one with vertical walls, and there would be no danger that the whole thing would lean to one side or the other.” – Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators’ thoughts parallel lessons applicable to modern dilemmas? In what ways must we, to quote Noam Elimelekh, reverse falsehood in the information we receive? In what ways is a secure structure of a building similar to the security we need in our society? How can these lessons inform our response this week’s abhorrent murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida? What will it take for us to realize that we need to reverse the false narratives of the NRA and pass common-sense gun-safety laws for the sake of our security?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Synagogue Emanu-El is excited to welcome Shalom Orzach, a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter. Shalom will speak after dinner of our FNL Friday, February 16th on the topic “The ‘State’ of the Jews”. On Saturday, February 17th, Shalom will lead Danish & D’rash at 9:00AM and also will deliver the sermon at Shabbat morning services on the topic “Belonging or Believing”. Please join us for an enlightening scholar-in-residence weekend!

The Big Inning at the End: Am I excited about the Cubs’ new pitcher? “Yu” bet!

Shabbat Shalom!