Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: March, 2017

Call-Waiting: Vayikra 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: How have technological advances changed the unwritten rules of communication? What kinds of conversations that used to take place over the phone now take place in other ways (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)? How do we best teach these unwritten “new rules” to friends and colleagues?

As the book of Leviticus opens, God doesn’t simply speak to Moses; God “calls” to Moses, raising questions about how the relationship between the two has transformed:

The Pitch: “The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying …” – Leviticus 1:1

Swing #1: “Even though Moses attained the highest level, he never became impressed with himself because of it. He regarded himself with an exceedingly humble spirit. Like a person who stands on top of a high mountain, to whom it does not occur to magnify himself because of his high position (for it is not on account of himself but on account of the mountain), Moses knew that his exaltation was on account of God. … And this is the meaning of ‘God called to Moses.’ Even though God summoned him and brought him up to the heights, despite all this he remained modest and humble – a small alef.” – Simchah Bunem of Przysucha

Swing #2: “Wherever there is a ‘call’ it implies a definitive placement … ‘Jacob called to his sons’ (Genesis 49:1) means he came to define permanently their placement; … ‘Moses called Hosea ben Nun Yehoshua’ (Numbers 13:16) means that he attached him to where he needed to be. This is also the meaning of ‘called to Moses’ – that he might exist as he must.” – Zohar

Swing #3: “Moses, of course, reported what he heard. It was precisely when the report of the voice did the work of the voice that tradition was born. Absent the fire, there is the altar. And absent the altar, there is its successor: the synagogue. … That is why the religion survives. But it is also why the impatient son chafes in his love, why the obedient son ponders the withholding of ecstasy.” – Leon Wieseltier, from Congregation, edited by David Rosenberg

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what does the notion that God “calls” to Moses reveal about Moses’s character? About God’s character? Likewise, what factors cause us to adjust our style of communication?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tomorrow is April Fool’s Day. All I can say is, prepare for some surprises at services, beginning at 9:30AM.

The Big Inning at the End: Thomas Boswell once wrote a book called “Why Time Begins on Opening Day.” With that in mind, I wish all of us a Happy New Year, beginning with this weekend!

Shabbat Shalom!

Come Together: Vayakhel-Pekudei 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you prefer working individually or in a group? Does your creativity find its voice better when co-workers inspire you, or is it better if it happens without the distraction of others?

As our reading of the book of Exodus comes to a close, we are reminded that the construction of the Mishkan (portable sanctuary) combines the best of individual motivation and teamwork.

The Pitch: “And let all among you who are skilled come and make all that the Lord has commanded …” – Exodus 35:10

Swing #1: “If you wish to perform a commandment, do it with dispatch. Wasting time on ingenious discussions may impede action. Hence the verse tells us: ‘Let him who is truly wise and anxious to fulfill the commandments of the Lord not waste too much time discussing them but set about at once to translate his resolve into action.’” – HaDrash VeHaEyun

Swing #2: “The greatest wisdom is not to be too wise, but to obey the command of the Lord without much speculation.” – Pardes Yosef

Swing #3: “The Tabernacle, like the Sinaitic event, involved the people of Israel in its entirety. It was meant to minister to the religious needs of the whole of Israel, to be the cynosure of its spiritual yearnings and the visible focus of the tribal unity. Hence, its creation must be a cooperative enterprise. Therefore the narrative is punctuated with items that stress the pan-Israelite nature of the institution.” – Nahum Sarna, Exploring Exodus

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what are the chief attributes of those who completed the Mishkan? Is it more important that they are individually proactive, or that they work together? What are the best methods to ensure both qualities when we collaborate on an important project?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This is a busy time for our Synagogue’s youth; last weekend, all of our Religious School’s 8th-graders traveled to West Palm Beach attend “Gesh Con”, the convention for soon-to-be USYers in the HaNegev (southeastern) region. This weekend, our COSY high-schoolers are traveling to Birmingham to take part in the Ein Gedi sub-region’s spring convention. Special congratulations to Noa Leigh Hubara, who will be completing an outstanding term as Ein Gedi president.

The Big Inning at the End: Even with Israel eliminated from the tournament, the World Baseball Classic was a fantastic event, punctuated by an impressive, first-ever victory by the United States team. While the event format could use some tinkering, I hope it will continue to grow in esteem in the years ahead.

Shabbat Shalom!

All Along the Wash Tower: Ki Tisa 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you prepare for the tasks you find most important to you? Are there certain rituals you go through to allow you to feel prepared?

Among the numerous items in the ancient sanctuary was a laver (washstand) that the Israelite priests would use in their preparation for ritual sacrifice:

The Pitch: “Make a laver of copper and a stand of copper for it, for washing; and place it between the Tent of Meeting and the altar. Put water in it, and let Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet [in water drawn] from it.” – Exodus 30:18-19

Swing #1: “The washing of feet occurs in the context of hospitality as well as in the context of specific rituals, such as the priestly ordination, the general context of sacrifice whereby the priests are to wash feet and hands, the purification rituals of lepers and leprous houses, and so on. While the washing subrites do not always mean the same thing, they transmit the general idea of an important change in status or position in different cultural and religious spheres.” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #2: “No dimensions for the laver, which consists of a basin set on a stand, are provided for this less important object. Similarly, it is funded by neither donations nor the census tax. The implied simplicity contrasts with the elaborate design of the ten large basins and stands of the Jerusalem temple and the decorated metal lavers recovered from excavations of Iron Age sites.” – Carol Meyers, Exodus

Swing #3: “Rabbi Yehudah says: I might think that the pedestal could serve for ablution just as the laver does; it is, therefore, written ‘copper,’ ‘copper’ (twice) – it is likened (to the laver) only in respect of its being copper, and not in respect to washing.” – Sifra

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, how does the simplicity of washing – and the washstand itself – add to the ambiance of priestly ritual? Likewise, in today’s world, how do our simpler, more “mundane” habits enable us to do our most important work?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I apologize that this is belated, but I wanted to congratulate our congregants Adel Lazarus (honored by Emanu-El Sisterhood), Samantha Goldberg (honored by Dor Tikvah), Ava Kleinman (honored by Charleston Jewish Federation), and Gail Snow (honored by Hadassah) for being named Women Who Make a Difference last week. It was a lovely ceremony that honored nine fantastic women in our Charleston Jewish community.

The Big Inning at the End: Even though Israel’s team has been eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, the darlings of the tournament brought forth a great deal of pride. Who says Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg were the only great Jewish baseball players?

Shabbat Shalom!

Forehead Thinking: Tetzaveh 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: What do you do to practice “mindfulness”? Do you meditate? Exercise? Read? What allows you to clear your head of distractions and to focus on the task at hand?

In Terumah, our Torah portion this week, we learn that some of the Israelite priests’ clothing is held together by the headpiece, thus literally connecting the head to the rest of the body:

The Pitch: “The breastpiece shall be held in place by a cord of blue from its rings to the rings of the ephod, so that the breastpiece rests on the decorated band and does not come loose from the ephod.” – Exodus 28:28

Swing #1: “Scripture teaches the leader in Israel that when insolence and disregard of authority are rampant everywhere, he, the true leader of his people, must continue to bear with pride his Divinely-bestowed crown upon which is written, like the engraving on a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ This will serve as a counterbalance for all the insolence in this world, an acceptable atonement before the Lord.” – Rabbi Y. Lipschitz of Kalisz

Swing #2: “There were four gold rings on the breastpiece (one at each corner) and two gold rings on each of the two shoulder pieces (one ring high on each shoulder piece and one ring down low). The lower rings may have been on parts of the two shoulder pieces that went down behind the priest’s back. The blue cord would have attached there, passed around to the front side of the priest, and then been attached to the lower rings of the breastpiece, making it secure.” – Duane A. Garrett, A Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “[This is] an expression of ‘fastening.’ … So, too, [it’s similar to a verse from Isaiah,] ‘And the mountain range [shall become] a valley.’ Mountains that are close to each other that it is impossible to descend to the canyon between them without great difficulty, for as a result of their closeness the canyon is steep and deep, will be [flattened into] a valley of a plain, and it will be easy to traverse.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: What are some of the symbolic meanings of the connection between the priest’s headpiece and breastplate, according to our commentators? Does it resemble a connection between mind and heart? How important is that kind of connection?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: First, I hope you’ll attend our Shabbat morning services this Saturday, as Joe Engel will speak on the occasion of Shabbat Zakhor (Sabbath of Remembrance). We must take every opportunity to hear Joe’s story and to pass his message to future generations.

Also, we’re excited about our Purim festivities! Join us for a Megillah reading Saturday night at 7:15PM. And then … on Sunday, join us for minyan at 9:00AM, the Megillah reading at 9:45AM, a fantastic brunch at 11AM, followed by packing Blessings in a Backpack for needy children. We are collecting food for the Kosher Food Bank. For each non-perishable food item you bring, you will receive a ticket. After each chapter of the Megillah reading, one lucky ticket will be drawn, and you could win one of many fabulous prizes!

The Big Inning at the End: What a week! Israel’s World Baseball Classic team shocked the baseball establishment by winning all three games in their opening-round pool. They advance to the quarterfinal round in Tokyo next week. Even though its players are almost all American-born Jews (and automatically eligible for Israeli citizenship, thus enabling them to represent the country), their success on the field – coupled with their mascot, the Mensch on the Bench, and wearing kippot during the singing of Hatikvah before each game – has sparked perhaps the greatest pride in Jewish baseball since the days of Sandy Koufax.

Shabbat Shalom!

Not-So-Hidden Figures – Terumah 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: What kinds of artwork inspire you? Are you more drawn to paintings, sculptures, photographs, or other materials? How does spending time immersed in art make you feel?As God continues his instructions to Moses in the Torah portion of Terumah, the Israelites are commanded to create works of art intended to resonate with all who enter the Mishkan (sanctuary).

The Pitch: “Make two cherubim of gold – make them of hammered work – at the two ends of the cover. Make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubim at its two ends. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.” – Exodus 25:18-20

Swing #1: “The Sages relates that the cherubim had the form of a child’s face. Thus the two cherubim upon the Ark were to remind him who would study the Law that he must be like a child in two respects; he must accept the authority of the Law like an obedient child who has not yet begun to study, and he must be pure and innocent of sin like a child.” – Nahal Kedumim

Swing #2: “They stood ten spans above the ark cover when God spoke. This is another hint that God never quite descended to Earth, even as man – including Moses and Elijah – never quite ascended to heaven.” – BT Sukkah 5a

Swing #3: “[The cherubim were] hammered out of the thickness of the lid, i.e. the whole was a single chunk.” – Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: While the Israelites are commanded not to make a graven image of God or of people, the cherubs are permitted. How are the cherubs different? What lessons, according to our commentators, are the Israelites to glean from the cherubs? If a synagogue today were to have sculptures of cherubs, what kinds of feelings might they elicit? Would they help or harm the ambience of modern synagogue practice?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re excited about our Purim festivities. Join us for a Megillah reading Saturday, March 11th, at 7:15PM. And then … on Sunday, March 12th, join us for minyan at 9:00AM, the Megillah reading at 9:45AM, a fantastic brunch at 11AM, followed by packing Blessings in a Backpack for needy children. Also, we are collecting food for the Kosher Food Bank. For each non-perishable food item you bring, you will receive a ticket. After each chapter of the Megillah reading, one lucky ticket will be drawn, and you could win one of many fabulous prizes!

The Big Inning at the End: The World Baseball Classic begins in South Korea on Monday, and Israel will play the host country in the opening game. While the odds are against Israel advancing to the single-elimination round, never underestimate Israel’s ability to produce miracles!

Shabbat Shalom!