Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: March, 2018

Immigrants – They Get the Job Done: Shabbat Pesach I 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: From where did your family originate? When did they arrive in the United States? When did they/you arrive in Charleston?

The hot-button topic of immigration is a central theme in the Passover seders we will observe tonight and tomorrow night:

The Pitch: “In every generation a person must regard himself as though he personally had gone out of Egypt, as it is said: ‘And you shall tell your son in that day, saying: “It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.”‘” – Haggadah

Swing #1: “Due to your personal experience of such a status, you, better than anyone else, know that seeing that the oppression of strangers is a great wrong, the punishment for violating such a commandment is equally harsh.” – Rashbam

Swing #2: “Once the stranger accepts not to worship idolatry, you cannot oppress him in your country/land, because you are more powerful than him. … And the same way that the text reminds you that the stranger does not have power, so too the widow and the orphans, who are Israelites, have no power.” – Ibn Ezra

Swing #3: “I used to think that the most important line in the Bible was ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. Then I realized that it is easy to love your neighbor because he or she is usually quite like yourself. What is hard is to love the stranger, one whose color, culture or creed is different from yours. That is why the command, ‘Love the stranger because you were once strangers’, resonates so often throughout the Bible. It is summoning us now. … Wars that cannot be won by weapons can sometimes be won by the sheer power of acts of humanitarian generosity to inspire the young to choose the way of peace instead of holy war.” – Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe are the main challenges in loving the stranger? How must we overcome these challenges? To what extent does our obligation to love the stranger apply to legal immigrants? Illegal immigrants? Refugees?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: A big thank-you to our custodial staff for once again doing a fantastic job cleaning our synagogue so that we can be prepared to observe Passover. We invite you to come to our building and to enjoy the festivities.

The Big Inning at the End: With one game down, the Cubs are on a pace to finish 2018 with a 162-0 record. I can live with that. Wishing all of your teams similar (albeit not equal) success.

Shabbat Shalom, and Hag Kasher V’Sameach! Happy Passover!

Thanksgiving Menu: Tzav 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you been unsure whether an occasion requires the giving of gifts? Did you give a gift anyway, just to be on the safe side? If not, why not?

As the list of sacrificial offerings continue in the text of Leviticus, we are given strict directions of how to show our appreciation to God:

The Pitch: “If he offers it for thanksgiving, he shall offer together with the sacrifice of thanksgiving unleavened cakes with oil mixed in, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour with oil mixed in, well soaked.” – Leviticus 7:12

Swing #1: “As for him who was fortunate enough never to have sinned even in error so that he need not offer any other sacrifices, he is duty-bound to make an offering of thanksgiving to demonstrate his gratitude to God for having protected him from sin.” – Divrei Shaarei Hayyim

Swing #2: “If a person had made a vow using the expression todah instead of using the expression sh’lamim to describe what he vowed to bring. The most common occasion when people make such a vow is when they have been saved from imminent danger. The sages in Berachot 54 described the four types of dangers which qualify for the party who has been saved to offer such a “thanksgiving” offering, todah. The total number of challot which this offering consists of are 40. Here we are told all the details.” – Rashbam

Swing #3: “Though all sacrifices may be discontinued in the future (for, in the messianic age, men will be sinless), the offering of thanksgiving will never cease. Though all prayers may be discontinued, the prayer of thanksgiving will never cease.” – Leviticus Rabbah

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators differ on the reasons to offer a Thanksgiving offering? How do they understand the significance of such offerings? Do you think these offerings are appreciated by God? Who appreciates gifts more: the giver or the receiver?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: As our Passover preparation continues, don’t forget to think of those who lack sufficient funds for daily nourishment. We are available to sell your hametz (leavened food) prior to the beginning of Passover, and if you do, please consider making a donation to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. We’ll be happy to help you out up until the morning of Friday, March 30th.

The Big Inning at the End: There’s a growing concern that many current contending teams do so by losing a lot for several years, then building slowly with young talent. My Cubs are a primary example. Is this just the way of the world, or do teams owe it to their fans to try to win without rebuilding?

Shabbat Shalom!

Taking One For the Team: Vayikra 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When have your mistakes had negative consequences on others around you? How do you try to make up for these errors?

As the sacrificial system is introduced in the opening chapters of Leviticus, we learn that the ancient priests’ mishaps must be corrected for the sake of the entire community:

The Pitch: “If it is the anointed priest who has incurred guilt, so that blame falls upon the people, he shall offer for the sin of which he is guilty a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin offering to the LORD.” – Leviticus 4:3

Swing #1: “One who has been acknowledged as a leader must be even more careful than ordinary people not to fall into the trap of sin or even of error. For the masses are only too eager to point to him as their example when they sin, so that any sin of his – even one which he commits in error – may lead them to do evil on purpose.” – Jacob ben Jacob Moses of Lissa

Swing #2: “While I do not subscribe to a general theory of sacrifice, sacrifice is definitely a way to create, maintain, and restore a specific order. Its benefits are felt by the larger community or by an individual. When a person sins, inadvertently breaking any of YHWH’s laws, a specific sacrifice needs to be offered in order to restore the individual back into the community. Distinctions are made for various social groups: the sinning priest as well as the entire community have to sacrifice a bull …” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #3: “He made a mistake while bringing an offering for the people’s guilt.” – Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Late-Inning Questions: How do you think the Israelites felt knowing that the priests would make up for mistakes that would negatively impact the community? How important is it for us to have leaders that truly have our backs?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are dedicating this coming Shabbat to hunger awareness. Our program at our March 16th FNL and our talks at our March 17th Shabbat morning service will set a proper tone for the upcoming Passover holiday, in which we are charged with the notion of “All who are hungry, come and eat.” Please join us for a meaningful Shabbat.

The Big Inning at the End: This year, the minor leagues will experiment with several major innovations intended to speed up the pace of the game. Critics may complain, but every great game must at least consider evolving when their product needs improvement.

Shabbat Shalom!

Call a Copper: Vayakhel-Pekudei 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: In a society so consumed with material gain, are there occasions when the kinds of materials we use truly matter?

As the Israelites complete the Mishkan (portable Tabernacle) in this week’s portions, we get a brief glimpse into the thought process behind some of the construction details:

The Pitch: “He made the laver of copper and its stand of copper, from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.” – Exodus 38:8

Swing #1: “Copper was an atonement for the people’s stiff-neckedness as Isaiah said (48:4): ‘Your neck is like an iron sinew, and your forehead like copper.’” – Rashi

Swing #2: “[The fact that they are made of mirrors] might support the contention that the ‘copper’ mentioned here is actually brass.” – Abarbanel

Swing #3: “This was not included in the ‘copper for the waving,’ as is explained in verse 30. The copper basin and its stand are mentioned as having been constructed from the amount of copper representing these mirrors.” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: Is it good for the Israelites to have a sacred object that reminds them of their shortcomings, as Rashi suggests? Can the fact that the copper basin is made from mirrors help the people reflect, literally and figuratively, about their choices? When is it most helpful for us to have reminders of our flaws, and can they inspire us to be better?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We will dedicate next week’s Shabbat to hunger awareness. Our program at our March 16th FNL and our talks at our March 17th Shabbat morning service will set a proper tone for the upcoming Passover holiday, in which we are charged with the notion of “All who are hungry, come and eat.” Please join us for a meaningful Shabbat.

The Big Inning at the End: Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., is baseball’s hottest prospect at age 18. His father, the “original” Vladimir Guerrero, will be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer. To what extent is an athlete’s success tied to his/her genetics? His/her opportunities as a youth? His/her work ethic and attitude? It will be fun to see how the younger Guerrero will provide us with another test case.

Shabbat Shalom!

Erasure: Ki Tisa 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: When have you taken a risk by showing loyalty to a person or group? What caused you to be so loyal?

Even though the Israelites angered both God and Moses by building the Golden Calf, Moses nevertheless is willing to eschew personal glory while standing by his people:

The Pitch: “‘Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!’” – Exodus 32:32

Swing #1: “Moses said to the Lord: ‘In either case, blot me, I pray You, out of Your book. If You are willing to forgive them if they have someone to suffer for their sins, I am willing to serve as their instrument of atonement. And if You should not be willing to forgive them, why, then, I have nothing left for which to live.” – K’lei Yakar

Swing #2: “We have not exhausted the strategies of Mosaic intercession. … It looks as if prophetic audacity has won. But this is not the case, for God answers: ‘And now, go lead this people to [the place] which I tell you …’ (Exodus 32:34).” – Yochanan Muffs, Love & Joy: Law, Language and Religion in Ancient Israel

Swing #3: “[Moses] has no purpose apart from his people. Moses is not, it should be stressed, offering to substitute for his people but rather to share their destiny. Having broken Holy Writ, he joins his sin to the people’s apostasy.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Late-Inning Questions: Why do you think Moses is so loyal to the Israelites? Do you find any of our commentators’ reasoning compelling? Is Moses simply a “good soldier” trying to do his job? Or do you think he also has an emotional attachment to the people, warts and all? What would you have done if you were in Moses’s sandals?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: A big thank-you and yasher koach to the Sisterhood women for another successful Sisterhood Shabbat, and to everyone who participated in our talent-filled Purim celebration. Our congregation ended February with a flourish of accomplishment, and we’re looking forward to more in March, starting with Men’s Club Shabbat tomorrow!

The Big Inning at the End: How would you manage Shohei Ohtani, the new Los Angeles Angels player who has major-league talent both as a pitcher and a hitter? Should the Angels try to maximize his diverse skills and play him every day? Or, as in the case of Babe Ruth, should his team ask him to pick one skill over another so he can excel on “one side of the ball”?

Shabbat Shalom!