Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

A Womb With a View: Toldot 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you have an opinion about whether gender-reveal parties (or intricate announcements thereof) are appropriate? Are they fun? Tacky? Are they insensitive to modern ideas of gender identity?

While Rebecca is pregnant, God reveals a great deal about her future children:

The Pitch: “The Lord answered her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” – Genesis 25:23

Swing #1: “Only a few characters in the Hebrew Bible have their arrival foretold. … Note that the greatest biblical figures – Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon – are never heralded in utero by Divine voice. In general, the annunciation is a minor type-scene in the Bible, a short episode – taking at most a verse or two – that emphasizes God’s power to intervene in human affairs.” – Elliott Rabin, The Biblical Hero: Portraits in Nobility and Fallibility

Swing #2: “Rebekah on some level already knows the truth hiding under the lies. Instructing Jacob to disguise himself as Esau and to take his blessing by stealth, Rebekah may unconsciously believe she is acting according to God’s will: Jacob is the son destined to lead. Of course, deception comes with consequences. … On a mystical level, the more lies are spread, the more husks exist, and the less divine essence reaches the world. In our own lives, the less we are able to discern the truth, the more we bring suffering to ourselves and to those around us.” – Rabbi Lisa L. Goldstein in The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living an Ethical and Meaningful Life, Rabbi Barry H. Block, Ed.

Swing #3: “Perhaps the reason that we are told that Isaac loved Esau who brought venison to him is to point out that Rebecca possessed enough independence of spirit to love Jacob, whose behavior warranted this, and in whose character she could see the promise of the prophecy that had been revealed to her prior to the birth of the twins that in time the older one would become subservient to the younger one.” – Akeidat Yitzhak

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators believe Rebecca makes good decisions based on her knowledge of her sons’ future destinties? Should she have shared this knowledge with her husband? Her sons? When are we obliged to reveal a secret?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Due to the Thanksgiving holiday, evening minyan on Thursday, November 24th, will be held on Zoom only. Hope everyone has an enjoyable holiday!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of secrecy, I still don’t know whether it’s best for MLB award voters to have their votes revealed to the public. I understand that many people want writers to be accountable for their choices, but I’m not sure if it’s worth arousing the wrath of fans whose favorite player may have been overlooked.

Shabbat Shalom!

Male-Ordered Bride: Chayei Sara 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: At what point in your life were you told to be cautious around strangers? How old were you when you stopped being too worried about them? Or, to what extent do strangers still scare you?

While asking his servant to find Isaac a wife, Abraham makes clear to avoid choosing women of one suspicious nation:

The Pitch: “I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I dwell …” – Genesis 24:3

Swing #1: “Even when Abraham does act in opposition to others … there is no sense that he is motivated by any religious difference. … When Abraham instructs his steward to avoid ‘the daughters of the Canaanites’ in his search for a wife for Isaac, the reason commonly given elsewhere for avoiding intermarriage – that ‘their daughters will lust after their gods and will cause your sons to lust after their gods’ (Exodus 34:16) – is conspicuous for its absence.” – Jon D. Levenson, Inheriting Abraham: The Legacy of the Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity & Islam

Swing #2: “Abraham’s own family had been idol-worshippers. What, then, made them better than the Canaanites? The Canaanite tribes were morally corrupt – the Scriptures contain many references to the ‘abominations of the land of Canaan’ – and moral corruption can be passed on from parent to child. Abraham’s kin, on the other hand, were not corrupt; they were merely victims of error in that they worshiped teraphim, and error is not inheritable.” – Abraham Bornstein

Swing #3: “[Abraham instructs his servant] carefully: ‘Do not get a wife for my son from the women of the Canaanites in whose midst I dwell.’ When the servant meets the family of Rebecca, daughter of Abraham’s cousin Bethuel, he repeats the command that Abraham had given him: ‘Do not get a wife for my son from the women of the Canaanites in whose land I dwell’ (Genesis 24:37). Even though the servant introduces Abraham’s instructions with the Hebrew word that denotes direct quotation, he is not concerned with repeating Abraham’s wording mechanically, merely with accurately conveying his meaning.” – Michael Carasik, The Bible’s Many Voices

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators think that Abraham is more concerned with religious difference or cultural difference? Do you think he fears more that Isaac will assimilate, or that his new wife wouldn’t be “good enough” for him? Can we learn about a person’s character from their choice (or lack) of spouse?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: An information session for Camp Ramah Canada will take place at the Community Religious School (at Congregation Shir Shalom) this Sunday. Learn about all the great things Ramah has to offer!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of spouses, it is said that Joe DiMaggio never got over losing Marilyn Monroe — and that, on his deathbed, he expressed gratitude that he would see her again. No matter how famous a celebrity couple is, we shouldn’t lose sight of each person’s humanity.

Shabbat Shalom!

Retreat ‘Em Right: Vayera 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: How do we know when we’ve asked as much as we can from someone else? How do we cope when that isn’t enough?

After Abraham convinces God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if 10 good people can be found, both God and Abraham walk away, with the cities’ future in the balance:

The Pitch: “When the Lord had finished speaking to Abraham, He departed; and Abraham returned to his place.” – Genesis 18:33

Swing #1: “‘Abraham went back to his place’ can also be understood to mean that he went back to his ways, to his custom. And what custom is that? To defend the underdog, to look out for the needy and help those in trouble, even if they are not the most righteous of people. Abraham refused to become disillusioned in defeat.” – Rabbi Yossy Goldman, From Where I Stand: Life Messages From the Weekly Torah Reading

Swing #2: “The Yahwist’s ability deftly to describe the Lord’s ease in moving around the world of people and places is unmatched in scripture. ‘The Lord went his way’ is reminiscent of Yahweh’s walk in the garden in the cool of the evening (Genesis 3:8), or of Yahweh smelling the pleasing odor of Noah’s sacrifice (8:21). This comfortable God of here below has an awesome side, though. The Yahwist often locates that side above, from where the Lord will soon rain sulfur and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah.” – W. Sibley Towner, Genesis

Swing #3: “Abraham remained in a waiting posture. He had not given up hope to expect further prophetic insights until it became clear to him that God’s presence had departed.” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: Do you agree that Abraham walks away from bargaining with God disappointed? Would Abraham have been successful if he had bargained God down to, say, five good people? Why do some victories feel like defeats and some setbacks feel like triumphs?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: An information session for Camp Ramah Canada will take place at the Community Religious School (at Congregation Shir Shalom) on Sunday, November 20th, at 11:30am. Learn about all the great things Ramah has to offer!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of victories, while I wasn’t rooting for the Astros to win the World Series, I must admit that they were worthy champions (assuming they were following the rules this time). And it was great to see the World Series winners celebrate in front of their home fans for the first time in nine years.

Shabbat Shalom!

We Can Work It Out: Lech Lecha 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: Are you particularly reluctant to engage in confrontation? If so, what do you fear the most about it? Are you most worried about the reaction of the person you must confront, or about the thoughts of others who will hear (or hear about) the conflict?

When Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen argue, Abram seeks out peace – but why, precisely?

The Pitch: “And there was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and those of Lot’s cattle — the Canaanites and Perizzites were then dwelling in the land — Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen.’” – Genesis 13:7-8

Swing #1: “[Since] the Canaanites and Perizzites are … mentioned, it must be that they became involved in this family squabble. Perhaps, indeed, they joined with Lot’s herdsmen and began trying, as the Testament of Levi suggests, to reduce the size of Abraham’s livestock in any way they could. For this same reason Abraham next suggests that the dispute be ended, ‘for we are kinsmen’ – that is, ‘Let’s keep the Canaanites and Perizzites out of this.’ And, if it is Abraham who says this, that would tend to confirm the supposition that these outsiders had intervened against Abraham.” – James L. Kugel, The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and his Children

Swing #2: “This passage conveys in allegorical terms the importance of the proper religious training of our young. … It was due to the failure of the parents to train their young in the Law and in its observance that the Jewish people lost their home and strangers settled on the soil of the Land of Israel. … As long as all Jews will not agree that there is no other alternative but the way of Abraham, the land of Israel will be ruled by alien peoples, for the Jews will not be worthy of dwelling there. ” – Avnei Ezel

Swing #3: “I detect a special meaning in Abraham employing the feminine form for the word strife, i.e. מריבה, although the Torah had already reported a ‘strong’ quarrel, ריב, having occurred between their respective shepherds. Abraham considered מריבה as a development of ריב. He considered the ‘fruit’ of ריב to be מריבה. The latter word is akin to מתרבה, ‘constantly increasing.’ Since women produce children, he used the female form of the word ריב, i.e מריבה, in order to allude to the peculiarity of quarrels which keep increasing. He viewed ריב as something masculine, unable to give birth.” – Shnei Luchot HaBrit

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators believe that Abram is motivated for peace more because he seeks tranquility or more because he’s concerned about what other people might think of the conflict? Is there ever a bad reason to pursue peace?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Please join Temple’s Lifelong Learning students and their teachers as they lead us in prayer on Saturday, November 5th at 6:00 pm. We will be together for Mincha, Ma’ariv and Havdalah. The service will be in person as well as on the Temple’s livestream.

The Big Inning at the End: I’m finding this year’s World Series to be highly intriguing. It’s a matchup of two teams that are very different from one another, and each game has taken on its own character. I’m glad there will be at least two more games of baseball this year.

Shabbat Shalom!

Don’t Miss the Boat: Noah 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever been advised to “read the room”? In other words, have you said or done something reasonable only to find out that it was not the time or place to do so?

While Noah’s family must have been gratified to know they would be saved from God’s flood, their celebration needs to be limited:

The Pitch: “But I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall enter the ark, with your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives.” – Genesis 6:18

Swing #1: “As commanded by God at the time of the great flood, Noah’s wife accompanies her husband, her sons, and her son’s wives into and out of the ark. Having already had children, her fertility was not the reason for her survival of the flood; she comes as part of the family unit, and her inclusion shows the importance of companionship in the biblical concept of marriage. Noah’s wife is not mentioned after the flood.” – Tikvah Frymer-Kensky in Women in Scripture, Carol Meyers, ed.

Swing #2: “Mourning is necessary in the aftermath of loss or tragedy. The text appears to be saying that it is neither natural nor healthful to ‘just move on’ without experiencing grief. Instead of executing an instantaneous switch between the old and new worlds, God gives Noah and his family a transition period.” – Rabbi Eli L. Garfinkel, The JPS Jewish Heritage Torah Commentary

Swing #3: “At a time when the entire human species is being wiped out, it is not appropriate for the survivors to indulge in physical pleasures. All they were allowed to do was to eat enough in order to keep themselves alive and well.” – Radak

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe is the proper frame of mind of survivors? To what extent should they celebrate, and if so, when? To what extent should they react with humility? How do we determine when it is “a time to dance and a time to mourn”?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Join us at Temple this Sunday at 10am for coffee and to learn more about the partnership between Jewish Family Services of Western New York at TBT.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of being appropriate for a specific moment, is it relevant to play a national anthem before a sporting event that does not involve national teams? Or does that ritual add some gravitas to the moment?

Shabbat Shalom!

SkyDome: Bereshit 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: Is life better in a climate-controlled environment? Or should we be willing to regularly spend time outdoors even if it means being subjected to a non-ideal climate?

Whether or not life would be better under cover, our earliest ancestors believed that the sky was, in fact, a roof:

The Pitch: “God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, that it may separate water from water.’ God made the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse. And it was so. God called the expanse Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.” – Genesis 1:6-8

Swing #1: “The creation of the firmament, dry land and seas in fact constitutes one unit that may be termed ‘the limitation of the waters.’ This should help explain why the term ‘good’ fails to appear on Day Two in reference to the firmament. In fact, it does appear in reference to the firmament – but only [on the third day of Creation], at the end of the process of the ‘limitation of the waters,’ a process in which the creation of the firmament constitutes merely a preliminary stage. Only after the waters have found their final place, only after the creation of the sea-land-sky system is complete, does the word ‘good’ appear. Only that which is complete and ‘in place’ can be termed good in God’s eyes.” – Rav Chanoch Waxman in Torah MiEtzion: New Readings in Tanach, Rabbi Ezra Bick and Rabbi Yakov Beasley, ed.

Swing #2: “[The word firmament] is based on the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew word raqi’, ‘beaten out, stamped’ (as of metal), suggesting a thin sheet stretched out to form the vault of the sky.” – E.A. Speiser, Genesis: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary

Swing #3: “This ancient cosmology, which the Israelites shared with their neighbors, included a flat disk-shaped earth with mountains at its ends supporting a multi-layered sky, or domed firmament. The sun, moon, and stars crossed this dome in regular and predictable patterns. Moreover, the dome had chambers through which the water above it came down as rain, and there was also water under the earth, and water around the whole making up the cosmic seas.” – Bill T. Arnold, Genesis

Late-Inning Questions: Does our ancestors’ ancient understanding of the universe make the creation story seem naive? Or does it seem charming? What aspect of the creation story do you most wish you could have witnessed first-hand?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: If you missed last month’s drive-up food drive and vaccine clinic, you’ll have another chance to join us this Sunday from 11am-1pm. Stay healthy and generous!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of life under a dome, when the New York Yankees and Mets initially considered getting new stadiums, the original plan was for both of them to have retractable roofs. That might have come in handy Monday night, when fans waited for hours at Yankee Stadium for a decisive playoff game only to hear that it was postponed until the middle of the next afternoon. All big-league parks need retractable roofs, period.

Shabbat Shalom!

When the Levi Breaks: V’Zote Ha’Bracha 2022

(Note: The Torah reading for this Saturday is specific to the holiday of Sukkot, but V’Zote Ha’Bracha, the final Torah portion, is read on Simhat Torah morning, on Tuesday.)

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever had to justify the conduct of those in your family? Did you struggle to do so? Or was it easy to defend them?

Apparent in some of Moses’s final words is a complimentary but somewhat distant reflection on his fellow tribesmen:

The Pitch: “Who said of his father and mother, ‘I consider them not.’ His brothers he disregarded, ignored his own children. Your precepts alone they observed, and kept your covenant.” – Deuteronomy 33:9

Swing #1: “This statement is intended to emphasize the extreme zeal of the Levites … It would seem that according to a few sources, familial ties might be subject to termination under circumstances, in contrast to many other texts, which do not suggest this possibility.” – Saul M. Olyan, Friendship in the Hebrew Bible

Swing #2: “[This verse] alludes to a divine covenant between God and the Levites … here, however, the plural verb leaves room for the notion that this covenant is in fact with the Levites as a tribe rather than with the individual named Levi.” – James L. Kugel, The Ladder of Jacob: Ancient Interpretations of the Biblical Story of Jacob and his Children

Swing #3: “When he blesses his own tribe of Levi … [Moses] speaks of their righteousness at the instance of the golden calf and at the waters of Meribah. But he does not even mention his own brother, Aaron, whose actions were crucial in these trials. Moses makes no reference to his nephews, who will serve as high priests in the Promised Land, nor to his sons, also Levites, who will not. The blessing is generic, for the whole and not the part. It is as though Moses had no personal relationships with or no blessing for those closest to his heart.” – Rabbi Sandra J. Cohen in The Women’s Torah Commentary: New Insights From Women Rabbis on the 54 Weekly Torah Portions

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent does Moses seem proud of his fellow Levites? To what extent is he embarrassed? Does Moses necessarily need to stand up for them? Should a leader stand up for everyone s/he leads, without exception?

On-Deck at TBT: We can certainly all stand up to applaud Cantor Mark Spindler and Rusty Zackheim, this year’s Simhat Torah honorees. Join us for their special aliyot at services beginning at 9:30am this coming Tuesday.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of standing up for others, as we edge further into the baseball playoffs, more and more teams are eliminated, testing the resolve of their fans. Is there ever a circumstance in which a lifelong fan can abandon his/her team? If so, what might that be?

Shabbat Shalom!

Peekaboo: Ha’azinu 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you believe that the world still has secrets waiting to be revealed? If so, do you believe that they will be revealed sometime soon?

In Moses’s farewell song, God threatens disobeying Israelites with hiding God’s presence:

The Pitch: “[God] said: I will hide My countenance from them, and see how they fare in the end. For they are a treacherous breed, children with no loyalty in them.” – Deuteronomy 32:20

Swing #1: “Sometimes God’s punishment takes the form of the withdrawal of His protective concern over Israel, leaving the community vulnerable of the oft-repeated reference to God’s ‘hiding His face’ … in most cases, God’s hiding of His face is understood as punishment.” – Neil Gillman, Sacred Fragments

Swing #2: “The words indicate not only anger, but also sorrow, for a loving Father finds it hard to look on while his children invite disaster by their sinful behavior. Although God was faithful, the unfaithfulness of his sons separated him from them.” – Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy

Swing #3: “[The generation of the Exodus] had considered the beneficial acts I had performed for them as harmful for them. As a result they became disloyal to Me.” – Daat Zkenim

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators characterize God’s feelings at the prospect of the Israelites disobeying? Does God seem to believe that the Israelites might fear being left alone? Why do so many of us fear the prospect of loneliness?

On-Deck at TBT: I was gratified to feel the opposite of lonely during the High Holidays. Thanks to everyone who helped to fill our sanctuary on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as well as the tent for our Young Family service.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of loneliness, I was glad that Aaron Judge hit his 62nd home run of the 2022 season. It must have felt lonely for him in the waning days chasing the American League record, just as it was lonely for Roger Maris on the way to hitting 61 home runs in 1961. I’m happy that he finally got to celebrate.

Shabbat Shalom!

Caring and Oversharing: Vayelekh 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: How badly do you wish you knew what other people say about you when you aren’t around? If you had one superpower, would that be the one you’d choose?

Moses doesn’t necessarily worry about this, but he is concerned about what the people will do to God once he is no longer alive:

The Pitch: “Well I know how defiant and stiff-necked you are: even now, while I am still alive in your midst, you have been defiant toward the Lord; how much more, then, when I am dead!” – Deuteronomy 31:27

Swing #1: “As for [Moses’s] death, he refers to it only in the context of a melancholy comment on the people’s rebelliousness. He has, it seems, the darkest expectations of their future ‘after my death.’ The meaning of his death, then, is limited, in his account, to its presumed effect on their future history. But, for obvious reasons, he cannot include the experience of his own death in his final narrative.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Moses: A Human Life

Swing #2: “The emphatic ‘anokhi, ‘I myself,’ before the conjugated verb has autobiographical resonance for the speaker Moses, who through forty years has had to cope with the refractory nature of the people and to be the repeated target of their resentment.” – Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary

Swing #3: “This again reminds us of what the [Babylonian] Talmud stated in Berachot 18 that the righteous are called alive even after their bodies have died. When Moses mentions the words: ‘here when I am still alive amongst you,’ he did not imply that he would soon die, but that he would live in a different region of the universe, one which could not be described as עמכם, ‘amongst you.’” – Or HaChaim

Late-Inning Questions: Why would Moses express such deep resignation that the people will defy God after his death? Does he hope to get the people to change their ways at the last moment? Or is he just letting some frustration off his chest? Is oversharing always overdoing it?

On-Deck at TBT: I wish all of you a g’mar hatimah tovah – a good conclusion to the High Holidays, and an easy fast on Yom Kippur.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of oversharing, Ozzie Guillen was an excellent Major League manager who eventually lost his job with the Miami Marlins for saying sympathetic words about Fidel Castro, angering South Florida’s Cuban population. It’s yet another example of the public saying they appreciate it when someone “tells it like it is” while simultaneously being unable to cope when it deems that that person has crossed a line.

Shabbat Shalom!

Facing the Music: Nitzavim 2022

Pre-Game Chatter: How confident are you that your decisions are in your best interests? Do you tend to make decisions with your brain or your (proverbial) gut, or both?

God identifies the moment when the Israelites will realize their missteps:

The Pitch: “When all these things befall you—the blessing and the curse that I have set before you—and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which your God יהוה has banished you …” – Deuteronomy 30:1

Swing #1: “It is during the time of the curse, when the Jewish people is in exile, beset with oppressors and foes, that the blessing becomes most apparent. That ‘blessing’ is the special care and providence of the Lord which has permitted the people of Israel to survive in spite of all the persecution and oppression which it has suffered at the hands of so many great and mighty nations.” – Ketav Sofer

Swing #2: “Israel’s repentance begins with a ‘return to sanity,’ as it were. Disobedience and rebellion are not only contrary to YHWH’s intentions, but also to Israel’s own best interests, its well-being, its purpose, and its nature.” – Mark E. Biddle, Deuteronomy

Swing #3: “‘And you take them to heart’: you will be able to distinguish the truth between apparently contradictory phenomena. When you become the victim of what has been predicted for the sinners, you will realize how far you had strayed from God’s Torah, i.e. from God Himself.” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators believe that the Israelites will come to terms with their mistakes eventually? If so, how might they explain the mistakes they repeat throughout their history? Is it better to learn from mistakes or to never make the mistakes at all?

On-Deck at TBT: I wish all of you only blessings in the New Year. I hope to be able to see you at synagogue during Rosh Hashanah if you’re physically able.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of repeating mistakes, I’m glad that MLB has made several rule changes for next season, but “robotic umpires” to call balls and strikes should have been one of them. Computer umpiring works in tennis, and there’s no reason why it can’t work in baseball.

Shabbat Shalom!