Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: July, 2017

Go Tell It On Some Other Mountain: D’varim 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: What sometimes prevents you from getting important things done? Are you occasionally prone to inertia? Are you sometimes afraid of the unknown?

As the book of Deuteronomy opens and Moses begins his review of the Israelites’ wanderings in the wilderness, he notes that their journey from Mount Sinai was long overdue:

The Pitch: “The Lord our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” – Deuteronomy 1:6

Swing #1: “(Said Moses to the Children of Israel): When you were on the mountain of Horeb, the Lord told you that you are not to look upon every obstacle and hindrance as an unconquerable mountain, but that you must surmount any obstacles that might stand in the way of your worship of the Lord.” – Mo’or VoShomesh

Swing #2: “Every move of the Israelites comes in the wake of a divine command, and indeed Moses takes the trouble to inform each time that the move was executed according to God’s command. … The autobiographical style of the book of Deuteronomy could create the impression that the Torah of Deuteronomy emanates from Moses and not from the divinity itself, and therefore the statements are added that it is God who is speaking and commanding, not Moses.” – Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1-11

Swing #3: “There is much eminence for you, and reward for your having dwelt at this mountain. You made the Tabernacle, Menorah, and [holy] implements; you received the Torah; you appointed sanhedrin for yourselves, [composed of] leaders of thousands and leaders of hundreds.” – Sifrei

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what is the agenda of Moses’ statement at the beginning of his soliloquy? To what extent is it to speak well of the Israelites, and to what extent is it to bring glory to God? To what extent must our words accomplish both of those goals?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us as Emanu-El observes Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. Just as it is meritorious to celebrate the great achievements of the Jewish people, it also is important for us to remember the obstacles and setbacks that helped to make our achievements all the more glorious. Services will take place Monday at 8:00PM, Tuesday at 7:00AM, and Tuesday at 8:00PM (there will not be 5:30PM minyan on Tuesday).

The Big Inning at the End: “Life will always throw you curves, just keep fouling them off … the right pitch will come, but when it does, be prepared to run the bases.” – Rick Maksian

Shabbat Shalom!

The Final Showdown: Matot-Masei 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: When completing a project, do you find the last task to be the most difficult? If so, is this because you purposely left the toughest job for last? Is it because you’re exhausted from what you’ve done before?

In the first of this week’s portions, Moses is informed that coordinating a brutal battle against the Midianites would be his last major task as leader of the Israelites:

The Pitch: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Avenge the Israelite people on the Midianites; then you shall be gathered to your kin.’ Moses spoke to the people, saying, ‘Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.’” – Numbers 31:1-3

Swing #1: “Why … did Moses, relaying the message to the Children of Israel, say: ‘… to execute the vengeance of the Lord on Midian’? It was quite true that the Midianites had sinned against the Lord, for they had caused His people, the Children of Israel, to fall into immorality. But they had sinned against the Children of Israel, too, because they had caused the death of 24,000 Jews from the plague [at Baal-Peor]. Therefore the Lord said to Moses: ‘I will forgive them the affront to My own honor, but what they did to the people of Israel I cannot forgive. Therefore avenge the Children of Israel of the Midianites.’ But when Moses heard the rest of God’s command, the news that ‘afterward you shall be gathered to your people’ (31:2) so that he knew that the time of his death would coincide with the end of the battle against the Midianites, he feared that the Children of Israel would protest that there was no need to avenge their honor, because they would naturally want to prolong the life of their leader. It was for this reason that Moses told the people that they would have to go to battle ‘to execute the vengeance of the Lord,’ thus stressing that what was at stake was not their personal honor but the honor of the Lord Himself, and that it was not in their power to forgive an affront to the honor of God.” – K’lei Yakar

Swing #2: “So God tells Moses … that he’s going into a battle where he will for sure die and there are no two buts about it. But? No. No buts! And you know what Moses does? Runs right up in there! High knees even! That is the depth to which God (and Moses, I guess) takes promises seriously. Even in the face of certain death, your vows must be upheld. Well, fair enough! The truth is, it’s a pretty apt metaphor for just about everything we do, whether we believe in Him or not.” – Gabe Delahaye, from Unscrolled, edited by Roger Bennett

Swing #3: “Pitched battles were fatal for the Israelites. To compensate for their inferior armament and for their lack of military formation they would attack with a small group of picked men.” – Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel

Late-Inning Questions: To our commentators, what does the prospect of fighting the Midianites tell us about Moses? About the strength of the Israelites? About what God expects of the people? In general, what can a society’s culture during wartime say about the character of the society? Can similar lessons be learned in this case?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are looking forward to telling you more about our Adult Education offerings this year, including our first foray into the Chai Mitzvah program. Stay tuned!

The Big Inning at the End: Even though I’m a Cubs fan first and foremost, my second-favorite team is the Colorado Rockies, the team of my childhood hometown. The Rockies often are forgotten by casual baseball fans, but they are playing well this year, and include perhaps the best under-the-radar player around: third-baseman Nolan Arenado. He hits for power and average, and fields his position as well as anyone since Brooks Robinson. Hopefully, a trip to the postseason will give him a chance to shine (as long as they don’t defeat the Cubs in the process!).

Shabbat Shalom!

Putting Names to the Faces: Pinhas 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: When learning about your family ancestors, what information is most interesting? Are you more intrigued in biographical details, or stories about their character? Are you concerned you might find out that you are too little – or too much – like them?

After the Israelites’ self-inflicted massacre at Baal Peor, our Torah portion reveals the names and some details of the two people who were killed at the conclusion of the plague:

The Pitch: “The name of the Israelite who was killed, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, chieftain of a Simeonite ancestral house. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur; he was the tribal head of an ancestral house in Midian.” – Numbers 25:14-15

Swing #1: “At the time the action was taking place (in the previous parasha) we were told only that ‘an Israelite man came and publicly brought a Midianite woman’ (25:6). But now we assimilate the truly relevant information – their pedigree, of all things! Strangely enough, pedigree grabs our attention as the dominant issue throughout the parasha.” – Matis Weinberg, Frameworks: Numbers

Swing #2: “The Hebrew name Cozbi may derive from the Akkadian word kuzabatum, meaning ‘voluptuous’ or ‘well developed.’” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “Kosbi: Connoting ‘deceiver.’” – Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses

Late-Inning Questions: Now that we know a bit about Zimri and Cozbi, do we understand more about the depth of the Israelites’ sins in the wilderness? Does knowing possible meanings of their names (“Zimri” comes from the Hebrew word “Zemer”, meaning “song”) add to our appreciation of the story? If so, what do we learn? When we learn negative things about our ancestors, how do we turn our potential embarrassment into a learning experience?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We still have 200 copies of Mahzor Lev Shalem, our new High Holiday prayer book, waiting to be dedicated. Help us to fill our pews with this innovative and illuminating volume, which will add meaning to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for many years to come.

The Big Inning at the End: What a difference one year makes. At last year’s All-Star Game, Cubs started at each infield position for the National League (Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell & Kris Bryant). This year, only one Cub even made the team (Wade Davis) – and he gave up the game-winning home run. Something tells me that 2017 is different …

Shabbat Shalom!

Resistance is Futile: Balak 2017

Pre-Game Chatter: Do we learn best when we make mistakes first? How forgiving are we of those who make mistakes? Are we confident that they will learn from them, or do we fear that they can’t be trusted?

In God’s encounter with the non-Israelite prophet Balaam, God warns him to not make the damaging mistake of cursing the Israelites – then allows Balaam to do so anyway:

The Pitch: “But God said to Balaam, ‘Do not go with them. You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.’” – Numbers 22:12

Swing #1: “There are two ways in which the nations of the world seek to bring about the destruction of the Jewish people. While some want to do it by humiliating and oppressing them, there are others who want to achieve the same end by showing them too much friendship, thereby leading them into assimilation and conversion. The evil Balaam first tried to curse the Children of Israel. When he saw that it was to no avail … he wanted to employ the other method, to lavish blessings and kind words on them so that they might want to cease being Jews. For this reason, the Lord, blessed be His name, said to him: ‘Keep your favors and your blessings; as I do not want your sting, so, too, I do not want your honey.’” – Divrei Shaarei Hayyim

Swing #2: “At first Balaam was told not to go, but when he insisted he was given permission by God. From this you learn that God lets a man go the way which his heart desires.” – Numbers Rabbah

Swing #3: “This steady insistence on God as the exclusive source of vision is complemented by reiterated phrase-motifs bearing on the disposition of blessings and curses. … God Himself is quick to set matters straight in a night-vision to Balaam in which He uses the same two verb-stems: You must not curse that people, for they are blessed.” – Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative

Late-Inning Questions: Why does God allow Balaam to go through the motions of cursing the Israelites, even though it is impossible? Does God think Balaam will learn from his mistakes? Or, perhaps, does God think that by using reverse psychology, Balaam will come to appreciate the Israelite nation? What does this episode teach us about how we supervise and motivate other people in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: The commandment to save lives cannot be underemphasized, and in two weeks, you’ll get the chance to do so. Please participate in our blood drive on Friday, July 21st, and then join us for our FNL services and dinner that evening.

The Big Inning at the End: I was fortunate to be in Cincinnati this past Sunday to attend a Cubs-Reds game. This was the first time I’ve seen a big-league stadium with a “social-media center”, an area of the stands where fans can charge their electronic devices while documenting their experiences at the ballpark on the Internet. Is this glimpse into the future  – where we mainly see life’s events through social media platforms – a good way to keep fans engaged?

Shabbat Shalom!