Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: April, 2018

Location, Location, Location: Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you like to travel to places where famous historical events transpired? How do you feel when you walk in the same places where people changed the world?

Location mattered in our ancient texts as well, as evidenced by the Torah’s rules for sacrifices:

The Pitch: “Say to them further: If anyone of the house of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice, and does not bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to offer it to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people.” – Leviticus 17:8-9

Swing #1: “Said the Lord to Moses: ‘To you I have revealed the reason for the prohibition against slaughtering sacrifices outside the Sanctuary. But you must not tell it to the Children of Israel. For if they were to know the reason, there would be some who would persuade themselves that their offering would be no less sincere if it were made outside the Sanctuary. But for every commandment there are other, hidden reasons and purposes beyond those explicitly stated in Scripture. Therefore, it is just as well that you do not give them any reason at all for My command.’” – Bikkurei Aviv

Swing #2: “Now that the Israelites would become accustomed to bringing their sacrifices to the Tabernacle they would no longer follow the pagans, who slaughtered to demons in the middle of the fields.” – Alshekh

Swing #3: “The priestly history employs many ways to indicate otherness of the ger: in the common comparison with the ezrah; by juxtaposing the ger with ‘someone from the members/households of Israel’ in casuistic formulations; and by representing the ger as one of two separate addressees of the law.” – Simeon Chavel, Oracular Law and the Priestly Historiography in the Torah

Late-Inning Questions: While one of our commentators explains why the Israelites don’t need to know why they had to bring their sacrifices to a particular place, to other commentators, the reasons are fairly obvious. How important is it for us to assign special status to a particular location? Do we have the authority to call any place “holy ground”? Or should that be reserved for God alone?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Join us for a lovely Shabbat of song as we welcome Hebrew College cantorial student Jessica Woolf to Emanu-El on the weekend of May 4th-5th. Jessica will lead Friday night services at 6:00PM. She also will lead part of Saturday morning services starting at 9:30AM, as well as Junior Jam with our youth.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of “holy ground”, the locations of many ballparks of yesteryear are commemorated with signs or placards. Perhaps the oddest example is in Minneapolis; the location of home plate from Metropolitan Stadium, home of the Minnesota Twins for more than 25 years, is covered by a bronze plaque on the floor of the middle of the Mall of America.

Shabbat Shalom!

A Stiff Upper Lip: Tazria-Metzora 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you react when you feel embarrassed in public? Do you try to go somewhere private as quickly as possible? Do you try to laugh at yourself? Or do you try to ignore or forget what caused you embarrassment?

Our two portions this week explore what happens when people are afflicted with a potentially embarrassing skin ailment:

The Pitch: “As for the person with a leprous affection, his clothes shall be rent, his head shall be left bare, and he shall cover over his upper lip; and he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” – Leviticus 13:45

Swing #1: “Nobody likes to talk about such things as skin disease and blotchy skin – and yet the Torah includes this topic and devotes two full portions to it. Precisely because we find these things difficult to discuss, synagogues should provide opportunities to discuss them and to learn more about them – for the sake of our our lives. … Synagogues need to get involved in teaching and promoting the mitzvah of health care. For if our bodies are not well, then our souls cannot be well either.” –  Rabbi Jack Riemer, “Take Care of Yourself!”, from The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, edited by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Swing #2: “‘He shall cover over his upper lip’ – this means that he is to keep his mouth covered so that his breath does not offend anyone around him as it contains bacteria harmful to others.” – Rosh

Swing #3: “He informs that he [the one with tzara’at – not the other people in the vicinity] is impure, and they keep away from him.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Which one of our commentators’ comments seems most useful to combat an embarrassing moment? Should a person with tzara’at have even felt embarrassed in the first place? What can we do to lessen other people’s embarrassment? Is it sometimes better to speak openly about embarrassing things so that they become more normal, and thus less embarrassing?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so grateful to everyone who worked to make last Saturday’s gala a tremendous success. It was wonderful to link our congregation’s anniversary with someone as giving and decent as Anita Zucker. Thank you to everyone who was a part of it.

The Big Inning at the End: The many cancelled games in the season so far reminds should reinforce to baseball’s owners that every new stadium needs to have a retractable roof. Fans pay too much money for games that may or may not take place.

Shabbat Shalom!

Beasts of Bird-en: Shemini 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: What is your oddest personal habit? Did you start that habit on your own, or were you imitating others around you? Have you considered trying to change that habit? What caused you not to change it?

When the Torah introduces the species we are not permitted to eat, we can only guess why we must follow these culinary habits:

The Pitch: “The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination … the stork; herons of every variety; the hoopoe, and the bat.” – Leviticus 11:13a, 19

Swing #1: “[The stork is unclean] because it is kind only to others of its species but will never give food to a creature not of its own kind.” – Rabbi Isaac Meir Alter

Swing #2: “[This bird] feeds on dunghills, has a filthy nest, and the smell of its flesh is rank. … [Words for this bird in other Ancient Near Eastern traditions] stand for the hoopoe and onomatopoeically represent its sound.” – Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16

Swing #3: “However we evaluate the text, it does evince the efforts at eliminating access for a hungry or covetous person to a large group of birds. But why? Were all these animals known to be flesh and carrion eaters, so that an Israelite conscious of purity concerns might have become infected indirectly through them with the corpse odor of impure animals? Although this thesis does exhibit a certain degree of plausibility, it would de facto also require a prohibition against eating many other species of birds as well.” – Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Leviticus

Late-Inning Questions: What do you make of our commentators’ theories as to why certain birds are permitted for consumption while others are not? Are any convincing to you? In your religious observance, how much do you rely on logic to direct your behavior? How much do you rely on your personal feelings?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: In an effort to enable our congregants to welcome Shabbat with joy and ease, Friday night services at Emanu-El will now begin each week at 6:00PM*. For the most part, services will last no more than 40 minutes. Please stay tuned for more announcements of special programming surrounding Friday night services!

(*There will be some exceptions in the coming months due to prior commitments on the Synagogue’s calendar.)

The Big Inning at the End: Of all the absurd “hot takes” in the sports media, one of the strangest was the notion that Major League Baseball was happy that a fight broke out at a recent Yankees-Red Sox game. I know rivalries can add richness to the game, but I still like to think that baseball is a gentleman’s game, even if the players aren’t always gentlemen themselves.

Shabbat Shalom!

In the Name of Love: Shabbat Pesach Day 8 2018

Pre-Game Chatter: Fifty years ago yesterday, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated; a great leader who preached love and non-violence was slain in the most violent of ways. How can Jewish tradition help us to appreciate Dr. King’s legacy and the challenges that remain?

When it comes to love, it’s worthwhile to look at the Song of Songs, which will be chanted in synagogues on Saturday, the final day of Passover:

The Pitch: “Oh, give me of the kisses of your mouth, For your love is more delightful than wine.” — Song of Songs 1:2

Swing #1: “The material intellect said, expressing its desire, ‘Would that God would kiss me with the kisses of His mouth!“, that is, cleave to Him so far as possible, for ‘kissing’ indicates cleaving and coming close, and thus the sages said of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam that they ‘died by a kiss,’ that is, that at the time of their deaths they cleaved to God.” — Gersonides

Swing #2: “It was said in reference to when God gave them God’s Torah and spoke to them face to face. And that love is still more pleasant to them than any pleasure, and they are assured by God that He will appear to them again to explain to them the secret of its reasons and its hidden mysteries, and they beseech Him to fulfill His word.” — Rashi

Swing #3: “The word שפתים, instead of meaning ‘lips’ is derived from שפת הנהר, ‘the banks of the river,’ meaning ‘the boundaries of the river.’ Keeping this in mind, the meaning of the whole verse quoted above is: ‘the wise man who is tuned in to the fundamental aspects of wisdom in the celestial domains, a wisdom which is freely available at all times without interruption, can answer all questions and questioners correctly, being always in tune with them.’ He can do this as he has reached the outermost limits (שפתים) of this wisdom.” — Rabbeynu Bachya

Late-Inning Questions: Dr. King once famously said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” How do our commentators interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of the love between God and Israel? How do Dr. King’s words, coupled with the words of our text, remind us that love lasts beyond all of life’s challenges, including death?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It was a pleasure to celebrate the beginning of Passover with 106 other people at our congregational Seder. I hope that your Seders were festive and thought-provoking, and that the topics discussed will help to inspire us as we face the spring and summer ahead.

The Big Inning at the End: Shohei Otani already has shown his prowess with the bat and on the mound. Is this the beginning of an era when the Major Leagues will welcome more “two-way” talents to the game’s highest level?

Hag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!