Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: January, 2019

My Name is … WHAT?!: Yitro 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What is the worst name you’ve used to refer to another person? What is the worst thing someone has called you? Do you take insults of your name with a grain of salt, or do they haunt you in some way?

As God reveals the 10 commandments to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, the people learn early on that disgracing God’s name will not be tolerated:

The Pitch: “You shall not swear falsely by the name of Adonai your God; for Adonai will not clear one who swears falsely by God’s name.” – Exodus 20:7

Swing #1: “Thou shalt not carry the Name of God on they person in a dishonest manner. This means: Thou shalt not pretend to be more honest and pious than thou really are.” – Or HaHayim

Swing #2: “This prohibition includes even mentioning God’s name unnecessarily without the context of an oath. It is as if the Torah had said: ‘Do not bring this name over your lips.’” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Swing #3: “Lord’s name? Strange gods? Spooky language! Designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious nonsense like this apply to the lives of intelligent civilized humans in the 21st century.” – George Carlin, “The Ten Commandments”, from Complaints and Grievances, HBO, 2002

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators say are the indirect consequences (if any) at taking God’s name in vain? At a time when public figures, including some politicians, mock other peoples’ names, does this commandment have extra resonance today? When we shame someone else’s name, does our own name suffer more?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re just two weeks away from our visit from our Scholar-in-Residence, Dr. Mitchell Bard, who will speak both Friday night and Saturday at the synagogue about the importance of Israel and stopping the BDS movement. Join us for our FNL and Saturday services February 8th-9th to take part in these vital conversations.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of insulting names, numerous Major League players carried dubious nicknames throughout their careers. Joe Medwick, for instance, was known in most baseball history books as “Ducky”. Thankfully, we don’t often refer to him by his full nickname during his playing days: “Ducky Wucky”. (Seriously.)

Shabbat Shalom!

The Descent of Mannah: Beshallach 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Are there foods that you would never try? Have you been turned off by a food’s smell or texture before daring to put it in your mouth? Or are you willing to try just about any food?

With the Israelites in need of sustenance in the wilderness, a mysterious food descends from the heavens:

The Pitch: “When the fall of dew lifted, there, over the surface of the wilderness, lay a fine and flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ – for they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, ‘That is the bread which Adonai has given you to eat.’” – Exodus 16:14-15

Swing #1: “In Saadiah Gaon’s opinion, the manna was a greater wonder than the marvels the Israelites witnessed in Egypt. For, as he points out in his introduction to his philosophical tract, Emunot Ve-De’ot, sustaining close to two million people for forty years with food created, as it were, from the air, is no mean feat. The manna was a delicate food, a diet suited for the teaching of wisdom to the Jewish people. … The manna was a natural and miraculous phenomenon, with Saadiah adding a spiritual dimension as well.” – Dr. Aharon Gimani, “They Said to One Another, ‘What is it?’ … ‘That is the Bread,’” from A Divinely Given Torah in Our Day and Age, Volume I

Swing #2: “Every Israelite who partook of the manna from heaven changed so greatly in appearance that the others were unable to recognize him. He was not the same as he had been before. … Each would say of the other: ‘Who is this? He is no longer the same man. He has taken on new spiritual dimensions.’ … [Moses explained] to them that this change had been wrought by the bread from heaven of which they had partaken.” – Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Rimanov

Swing #3: “Manna’s appearance represents an anomaly in the context of the Bible’s miracles, since miracles do not usually introduce previously unknown substances or creatures. Instead, they change the world by undermining the order of the various elements of Creation; they resemble (somewhat) a surrealistic painting in which the components, all common and borrowed from reality, achieve their fantastical effect by having been rearranged. … The deviation of the manna from this pattern, it being an entirely new creation, becomes clear by the Bible’s various attempts to define, describe, and fathom it by comparing the manna with other, known phenomena.” – Avigdor Shinan and Yair Zakovitch, From God to Gods

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentators indicate that the mannah is supposed to be more than mere sustenance; it also is meant to fulfill some of the Israelites’ spiritual needs. In what ways does food fill our souls as well as our bellies? How is eating a spiritual experience? Are there ways we can make eating a more spiritual experience?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This weekend is all about legacy. Our Tu Bishvat Seder at tonight’s FNL will speak of the legacy we leave for the earth; tomorrow morning’s service will recognize the dozens of congregants who have signed up for our Life & Legacy society; and our participation in Monday’s MLK Day March (which will include some of our friends from Pittsburgh) will honor Dr. King’s legacy and challenge us to make it a reality. Hope to see you there.

The Big Inning at the End: The bizarre eating habits of some ballplayers are well-documented, but perhaps my favorite example is that of pitcher Turk Wendell, who chew on the mound not tobacco, not gum, but licorice. And he would brush his teeth between every inning. (Seriously.)

Shabbat Shalom!

First Thing’s First: Bo 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you subscribe to the idea that “the early bird gets the worm”? Should someone who arrives first always be given priority over someone who arrives later? Why does arriving first connote special status?

Just before the Israelites depart from Egypt, God reminds them that the first-borns of all families are special in God’s eyes:

The Pitch: “‘Consecrate to Me every male first-born; human and beast, the first [male] issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.’” – Exodus 13:2

Swing #1: “When God said to Moshe, ‘My first born son is Israel,’ this implied that he had other children. Every nation is a child of God, for every human being was created in the divine image. At the moment of theophany, when God revealed himself to the Jewish people and gave us the Torah, we were chosen as the am segulah (a treasured nation), but God did not abandon the rest of the world. We are God’s firstborn – and a critical task of a firstborn child is to be a role model and an effective teacher for the other children. This is accomplished not only through learning but by setting an example in our daily lives of sanctifying the divine name: behaving honestly and treating others with dignity. A Jew who commits a crime violates the teaching of ‘My first-born son is Israel.’” – Rabbi Avishai C. David, Darosh Darash Yosef: Discourse of Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik on the Weekly Parashah

Swing #2: “Our daughters ask: And what if the first issue of the womb is a daughter? Doesn’t she also belong to God? Miriam the Prophet answers: Although Judaism has no ritual for consecrating or redeeming her, we can create one. For she too occupies a special place in her parents’ hearts, as the first fruit of God’s bounty. Lilith the Rebel protests: We no longer need to sacrifice one child for the sake of another, or single out one child as more privileged than another! And since we no longer have a functioning priesthood, there’s no need to redeem our children in order to exempt them from sacred service. So we don’t need to add yet another redemption ceremony. We should abolish them all!” – Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam

Swing #3: “As Morton Smith reminds us, the Hebrew Bible is dominated by particular ideologies that may well be at odds with the unprinted, cultural attitudes of the majority of Israelites who did not get the last word, and their attitudes are never completely covered up. They are found in polemics, in laden silences, in some of the methinks-he-doth-protest-too-much frameworks of the Hebrew Bible. Thus the Hebrew Bible insists that first-born humans not be offered in sacrifice but be redeemed side by side with the less nuanced statement that ‘Whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.’” – Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible

Late-Inning Questions: According to our commentators, what is the significance of God “possessing” the first-born of every family? Why do you think the law is mentioned immediately prior to the Exodus? When is it a blessing to finish first, and when is it a burden?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We can’t wait for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout, this Sunday, January 13th! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston. Tickets are still available, so contact the office today at 843-571-3264.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of arriving first, Bob Watson of the Houston Astros scored the one millionth run in Major League history on May 4, 1975, by scoring from second base on a home run by his teammate Milt May. Knowing he was on the precipice of history, Watson sprinted to home plate. Had he not done so, Dave Concepcion of the Cincinnati Reds would have scored the magic run; Watson crossed home plate in San Francisco about two seconds before Concepcion did in Cincinnati. For his hustle, Watson won a wristwatch and 1,000,000 Tootsie Rolls.

Shabbat Shalom!

Three Day’s Company: Vaera 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What’s the longest trip you’ve gone on, in terms of time? Did you wish it could’ve been shorter, or longer? Upon your return, did such a lengthy trip enable to see your home in a different light?

As Moses asks Pharaoh for the Israelites to leave Egypt in order to worship God in the wilderness, he explains why they must be gone for so long:

The Pitch: “But Moses replied, ‘It would not be right to do this, for what we sacrifice to our God Adonai is untouchable to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice that which is untouchable to the Egyptians before their very eyes, will they not stone us! So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness and sacrifice to Adonai as our God may command us.’” – Exodus 8:22-23

Swing #1: “Pharaoh was under the impression that even if one was deeply entangled in the corruption of Egypt and bound to ‘the land,’ the earthly elements, one could proceed to worship God and to offer sacrifices to Him without proper spiritual preparations. But Moses explained to him that this is not the way of the Children of Israel. Before a Jew may go forth to worship the Lord and to offer sacrifices to Him, he must first move away from the corruption of which ancient Egypt was a symbol and cleanse himself of all earthly things. It is only after he has repented of his sins and removed himself from evil that he may make his offering to the Lord.” – Shem MiShmuel

Swing #2: “The Children of Israel traveled from Raamses to Succoth, and from Succoth to Etham, and from Etham to Pi-hahiroth. [They traveled on] Friday, Shabbat, and Sunday, which were the 15th, 16th, and 17th [days of the month of Nisan]. On Monday – which was the fourth [day] of their journey [and] which was the 18th day [of Nisan] – Israel was readying their cattle and preparing their equipment to leave. The commanders said to them, ‘Your appointed time has arrived to return to Egypt! In accordance with what is said in Scripture: “So we must go a distance of three days into the wilderness”.’ They said to them, ‘When we left, we left with Pharaoh’s permission.’ They said to them, ‘No matter what you want, you will end up returning and upholding the orders of the kingdom!’ Israel rose against them and struck some of them, wounded some of them, and killed some of them [which caused Pharaoh to chase after the Israelites at the Sea].” – Tanhuma d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai

Swing #3: “‘Untouchable to the Egyptians’: It can furthermore be interpreted in a different sense: The sacrifice that we sacrifice is an abhorrent thing to Egypt, for it is their deity that we sacrifice.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Was Moses’s request for a three-day journey a method to trick Pharaoh into granting them a one-way ticket out of town? If so, was it justified, given the years of suffering the Israelites had endured? Or could God have found a different way to liberate the Israelites? Is deception ever justified?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Tickets are going fast for our 8th annual Jews, Brews, and Ques Kosher Cookout on Sunday, January 13th! Please join us to be a part of one of the great programs in Jewish Charleston.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of deception, one of my favorite baseball stories took place in 1987, when a minor-league catcher named Dave Bresnahan hid a potato in a spare glove during the game and, at an opportune moment, threw it into foul territory, and then tagged a runner out with a real ball. Bresnahan was caught in the act and his playing career ended shortly thereafter but … points for creativity, at least?

Shabbat Shalom!