Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: February, 2018

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!

The Donkey of My Enemy is My Friend: Mishpatim 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the best way to treat someone you dislike? Is it better to ignore the person whenever possible? And when you are in situations in which you cannot ignore them, how should you act?

Among the many laws in the Torah portion of Mishpatim, we discover the requirement of when we must help even the people we don’t want to deal with:

The Pitch: “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” – Exodus 23:5

Swing #1: “The good deed carries all the more weight if the donkey belongs to an enemy, because then the deed involves not only kindness to an animal but also the suppression of the evil impulse to hate. But the enemy referred to in this verse cannot be construed as one whom one hates for personal reasons. After all, we know that it is forbidden to hate a fellow-Jew. … Therefore the Torah, intending to make sure that hatred based on a commandment should not degenerate into a personal dislike, specified that one must give help to such an enemy when he is in trouble.” – Tosafot Pesachim

Swing #2:Azav is the word for both ‘abandonment’ and ‘binding together,’ consolidation.’ See, for instance, the injunction, ‘Azov ta’azov imo  – You shall indeed come to the aid of your enemy, whose donkey has collapsed under its burden.’” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire

Swing #3: “Verses 4-5 require neighborly help, even for someone ‘who hates you.’ This is not simply an emotional designation but refers to someone outside the kin group or someone otherwise lacking a social bond to the addressee.” – Mark S. Smith, Exodus

Late-Inning Questions: Should we be more committed to helping someone we know and dislike than someone we don’t know at all? Should it make a difference either way?

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: Pitchers and catchers report in less than four days. That is all. 🙂

Shabbat Shalom!

It’s All Grandpa’s Fault?: Yitro 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How have you seen your generation’s actions already have an impact on younger generations? What is it like to see that impact in real time?

Among the Ten Commandments, God informs the Israelites that their missteps will cost their descendants dearly:

The Pitch: “You shall not bow down to them or serve [idols]. For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” – Exodus 20:5-6

Swing #1: “[In Ezekiel 18,] Ezekiel goes on to discuss at length the principle of individual sin and punishment passing from one generation to another. In making this assertion, he argues against a conception already found in the Ten Commandments, according to which God visits the sins of the fathers upon the children. No, says Ezekiel, ‘The person who sins, only he.’” – Israel Knohl, The Divine Symphony: The Bible’s Many Voices

Swing #2: “The expression that God ‘keeps in mind the sin of the fathers for their children’ occurs four times in the Torah (Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9). Here and in Deuteronomy, [where the expression occurs in the Ten Commandments,] it means that God punishes them and obliterates their names from the world. Therefore, the verse ends by saying ‘for My enemies’. However, later in Exodus (34:7), and in Numbers, there is no mention of ‘enemies’. [There the expression is given in the context of God’s Attribute of Mercy.] It means that God keeps in mind the sin of the fathers for their children, punishing them little by little in each generation, so as to atone for their sins through their suffering. This is so that they will have it good in the World to Come.” – Rabeinu Bachya

Swing #3: “That [vengeance] should take place ‘unto the third and fourth generation’ can only mean, since there is no reason to assume any arbitrary introduction of the figures, the precise number of generations or direct lineal successors which a man living to a ripe old age is likely to see gathered round him. This in turn can be understood in two different ways: either that the guilty one sees how the consequences of his guilt work themselves out on his grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or else that his punishment comes to affect those of his descendants who are then alive. The passage in the Decalogue itself does not tell us which of the two possible interpretations is correct …” – Martin Buber, Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant

Late-Inning Questions: Do our commentators seem to think that recurring punishment is fair? Or is this harsh penalty sensible mainly for idolaters? Have you made mistakes that you wish will not affect your descendants? Have you tried to rectify your actions for your descendants’ sake?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re gearing up for Purim at Emanu-El, and we’re excited that a talent show will accompany our Megillah reading! Contact Daphne Hubara if you’re interested in being part of the show.

The Big Inning at the End: With many top free agents still unsigned, something fishy is happening between players and ownership. I hope the building mistrust does not bring harm to the game in the same way that it did during my childhood.

Shabbat Shalom!