Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: August, 2016

Great Expectations: Ekev 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever feared that you cannot meet expectations others have for you? How have you managed that fear? To what extent do your expectations of yourself match the expectations others have for you?

The Torah, of course, is filled with expectations for the Israelite people, although at certain times, such as in this week’s Torah portion, the text tries to boil down these expectations into just a few simple ideas.

The Pitch: “And now, O Israel, what does your God Adonai demand of you? Only this: to revere your God Adonai, to walk only in divine paths, to love and to serve your God Adonai with all your heart and soul, keeping Adonai’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)

Swing #1: “’What is it that the Eternal your God demands of you?’ The ‘what’ refers to humility, as when Moses and Aaron say ‘What are we?’ Hence, in our text too: Humility is what the Eternal requires.” – The Baal Shem Tov

Swing #2: “When man prays to God to fulfill a request of his, he cannot be certain that his prayer will be answered. The decision is entirely ‘in the hands of God.’ God is free to choose whether or not to fulfill the request. But such doubts do not obtain when a man prays to God to inspire him with the fear of God. In that case he may be sure that his prayer will be answered.” – Ohel Torah

Swing #3: “God has told the Jewish people that He doesn’t ask much – just fear! … When Datan and Aviram rebelled against Moshe, the Torah tells us that ‘Moshe sent to call Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav’ (Numbers 16:12). The Chasidic masters explain this verse in a fascinating way. Everyone has a spark of good in them, for if not, they would cease to exist. The way to influence a person to abandon negative and self-destructive behavior is to get in touch with that person’s spark, and ignite it. But sometimes, it seems a person cannot be reached. They have so covered over that spark that it is only by connecting back to their parents [and appealing to their fears] that one can reach them.” – Rabbi Elchanan Shoff, Paradise: Breathtaking Strolls Through the Length and Breadth of Torah

Late-Inning Questions: Ohel Torah and Rabbi Shoff thinks that God’s main demand is for us to fear God, while the Baal Shem Tov believes it centers on humility. If you were to try to boil down what God expects of us in one or a few words, what would it/they be? Would doing so be an oversimplification of the Torah and its commandments? Or might it help to keep us focused in our day-to-day tasks?

On Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us for the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light” will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush. Don’t miss out!

The Big Inning at the End: While I’m obviously a Cubs fan, I still like rooting for some players on other teams, and I’m especially impressed by Cincinnati Reds outfielder Adam Duvall, who is having a standout season while managing Type 1 Diabetes. It’s always inspiring when athletes can overcome massive physical obstacles. I’ll be rooting for him to have a great conclusion of the season (providing he doesn’t hit Cubs’ pitching too well, of course).

Shabbat Shalom!

Hear, There, and Everywhere: Vaethanan 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: What are some of your favorite quotes? Why do you like them so much? Why do you think we are drawn to famous quotes?

Our Torah portion this week contains many of Judaism’s most famous quotes, including perhaps the most famous one of all: the Shema.

The Pitch: “Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai alone. You shall love your God Adonai with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

Swing #1: “At first glance [Rashi’s contention that the phrase “all your might” means you must love God with your money as much as you love God with your life] seems odd. How could there be someone whose wealth is more precious to him than his body? Perhaps the answer is this: … One who hands over his money in order to dwell in distress and hardship, and the misery transports him on behalf of their Creator — a test like this is harder than risking his life.” — S’fat Emet

Swing #2: “When a Jew recites the verse ‘Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai alone,’ with the purpose of proclaiming God’s rule over the four ends of the earth, he must not forget to allow God to reign also over his own person.” — Rabbi Israel Salanter

Swing #3: “[King] David said: ‘I wanted to hear just what the Holy One, blessed be God, speaks about. And I heard that God speaks about peace, as it is said: “Let me hear what God, Adonai, will speak; God will promise well-being to God’s people, God’s faithful ones” (Psalms 85:9).’” — D’varim Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think the Shema is one of the main centerpieces of our prayer services? Do any of the above explanations enable you to understand the Shema better than you did before? Or do you prefer your own understanding? Is it easy to say the Shema without thinking about what it means? Does this mean that famous and important quotes sometimes lose their power if they are repeated frequently? How can we ensure that important quotes are properly appreciated and applied to our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m excited for the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. It’s called “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light”, and will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush. Don’t miss out!

The Big Inning at the End: It’s refreshing to hear that, in the coming years, Major League Baseball will consider rule changes such as limiting the number of pitching changes a team can make in one game, restricting certain defensive shifts, and enforcing a time limit between pitches. While I don’t necessarily agree with all these ideas, it’s about time MLB realized that sports usually benefit from evolving the game rather than letting it remain stagnant. I hope that MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will approach potential changes with an openness to innovate.

Shabbat Shalom!

Just Joshing You: D’varim 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: Have you ever been jealous of other peoples’ experiences? How have you handled that jealousy? Are there legitimate reasons to be jealous of others? If so, what are they?

As Moses reflects on the things he has told Joshua, his successor as leader of the Israelite people, he notes that Joshua has already entered the Promised Land (as documented in Numbers 13) — a privilege denied to Moses.

The Pitch: “I also charged Joshua at that time, saying, ‘You have seen with your own eyes all that your God Adonai has done to these two kings; so shall Adonai do to all the kingdoms into which you shall cross over. Do not fear them, for it is your God Adonai who will battle for you.’” (Deuteronomy 3:21-22)

Swing #1: “Rabbi Huna said: As soon as God said to Moses, ‘Hand over your office to Joshua,’ immediately Moses began to pray to be permitted to enter the land. He can be compared to a governor who so long as he retained the office could be sure that whatever orders he gave, the king would confirm; he redeemed whomsoever he desired and imprisoned whomsoever he desired. But as soon as he retired and another was appointed in his place, he had in vain to ask the gate-keeper to let him enter [the palace]. Similarly … when [Moses] was relieved of his office and Joshua was appointed in his stead … he began to supplicate to be permitted to enter the land.” —Deuteronomy Rabbah

Swing #2: “Moses meant that he commanded Joshua not to be afraid of these nations, as we find at the end of verse 22, ‘do not fear them.’ Moses did not repeat the words ‘your eyes are seeing’ at the end of verse 22, as this is not something which forms the subject of a command.” — Or HaChayim

Swing #3: “In the Hebrew ‘your eyes’ is put first for emphasis: ‘It is your own eyes that saw’ — you have no grounds for doubt, since you saw personally.” — Jeffrey Tigay, Deuteronomy: The JPS Torah Commentary

Late-Inning Questions: Do you think Moses is jealous of Joshua’s prior visit to the Promised Land? Or is Moses simply empowering Joshua based on Joshua’s prior experience? Is Moses turning his own feelings of disappointment into positive motivation for someone else? In doing so, does Moses provide us with a model for dealing with our jealousy?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m excited for the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. It’s called “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light”, and will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush. Don’t miss out!

The Big Inning at the End: I was a big Alex Rodriguez fan when he began his career in Seattle. His talent was otherworldly, and he seemed to be a perfect ambassador for the game. It’s sad to me that, as we learned more about him, we realized that much of what we thought we knew about him was a well-crafted illusion. It’s not just that he took performance-enhancing drugs – many other ballplayers have, and I believe, still do – but it’s the fact that, for years, he was not true to himself. As he plays his last game tonight, I hope he can find genuine and satisfying inner peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Homeland: Matot-Masei 2016

Pre-Game Chatter: To what extent is your connection to the state of Israel based on the biblical promises made in the Torah? Do you see Israel today as a fulfillment (complete or partial) of those promises? Or do you mainly see Israel as a place that attempts to be a safeguard for all Jews?

As the book of Numbers hurries to a close, the peoples’ conquest of the Promised Land is imminent – and the urgency is reflected in God’s commandments to the ancient Israelites:

The Pitch: “Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy all their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images, and you shall demolish all their cult places. And you shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have assigned the land to you to possess.” (Numbers 33:51-53)

Swing #1: “We have been commanded in the Torah to take possession of the land which the Lord, blessed be He, granted to our forefathers … and not to leave it in the hands of others or allow it to remain desolate … a proof that this is a special mitzvah can be adduced from the Almighty’s order to the spies, ‘Go up and possess it, as the Lord has spoken to you, fear not and be not dismayed’ (Deuteronomy 1:21). And when they refused to go up, it is written, ‘And you rebelled against the word of the Lord …’ This indicates that we are dealing with a specific precept and not merely a promise.” – Nahmanides

Swing #2: “The main purpose of occupying Canaan was to lead a holy life there and to preserve the sanctity of the land by keeping the Torah and its commandments. Without the Torah the Land of Israel is no more important than any other.” – Ma’yanah Shel Torah

Swing #3: “The need for God to declare war leads to the conclusion that there is no teaching on just war in Numbers. Israel is a theocracy in the wilderness throughout the book. All war in Numbers is waged through the sanctuary. … The book of Numbers does not present a single teaching on war, but all of its different writers agree that evaluation of and participation in war are responsibilities of the sanctuary, not of the state.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentaries reflect the biblical consensus that the conquest and security of the land of Israel is a holy mission of the highest order. To what extent are you willing to go to protect the modern state of Israel? What are the best ways for us, living in the Diaspora, to do so? How has the challenge of protecting the state of Israel changed in the last generation? Do the words of this week’s Torah portion make you any more or less motivated to stand up for Israel?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I’m pleased to announce the kickoff to our 2016-2017 Adult Education program. It’s called “Or Hadash: Prayer in a New Light”, and will feature a familiar face for us: Hebrew College Cantorial and Jewish Education student Dara Rosenblatt. Join us for services Friday, August 26th, at 8:15PM services, and then on Saturday, August 27th (9:00AM Danish & D’rash, 9:30AM services). Dara will unfold the mysteries of key passages of our prayer book, as we begin a yearlong exploration of the meaning of prayer. Dara will lead Danish & D’rash as well as an alternative learner’s service during the first part of our Saturday morning prayers, followed by a brief discussion at Kiddush.

The Big Inning at the End: Like many of you, I enjoy watching the Olympic Games, which begin tonight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, in recent years, I’ve been disappointed that baseball is no longer an Olympic sport. One of the first baseball games I ever attended was a match between Canada and the Dominican Republic at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics. There’s no doubt that sports like soccer and basketball are more popular worldwide, but surely the best baseball players should have an opportunity to go for the gold.

Shabbat Shalom!