Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: June, 2020

Give Peace a Chance: Korah 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Which people in your life have a way of smoothing out difficult situations? What qualities do they possess that enable them to be peace-makers?

When Korah and others directly challenge Moses’ leadership position, Moses’ response speaks volumes:

The Pitch: “Then [Moses] spoke to Korah and all this company, saying, ‘Come morning, the Lord will make known who is His and who is holy, and will grant him access to Himself; He will grant access to the one He has chosen.’” – Numbers 16:5

Swing #1: “We do not judge each other; that is God’s task, and we are not God.” – Rabbi Elyse D. Frishman, from The Women’s Torah Commentary, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #2: “One who is concerned merely with ‘winning the argument’ will go to any extreme to come out on top. This attitude caused the downfall of the 250 leaders who joined Korach, rather than acknowledge the truth of Moshe’s declaration” – Si’ach Yitzhak

Swing #3: “‘Now (this hour of the day)’ — [Moses] meant — ‘is a time of excessive drinking, and it is therefore not proper to appear before Him’. But his real intention in postponing the matter was that perhaps they might repent (abandon their opposition).” – Tanhuma

Late-Inning Questions: How does Moses’ behavior deliberately contrast with that of Korach and his followers? From this and other examples in the Torah, does Moses seem to have an inclination toward peace, or do other examples suggest otherwise? Must one always incline toward peace to be considered a peaceful person?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: I have been touched by recent tributes in my honor, most notably at last night’s Zoom Toast. Thank you to everyone who was a part of it. I plan to say a little more at our 5:00PM Kabbalat Shabbat virtual gathering tonight, which I will lead from our synagogue sanctuary.

The Big Inning at the End: There are still many unanswered questions regarding health and safety, but if we’re going to have a 60-game baseball season, may it bring us joy. PLAY BALL!

Shabbat Shalom, and WEAR A MASK!

The Bad Ol’ Days: Shelakh Lekha 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Why do we tend to look back at the past in an oversimplified manner? Is it because we can’t remember enough details to recall the nuances of past days? Or is it because we prefer to ignore such nuances?

Upon hearing negative perspectives about the Promised Land, the Israelites suddenly see slavery in Egypt as a preferable option:

The Pitch: “‘Why is the Lord taking us to the land to fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be carried off! It would be better for us to go back to Egypt!” – Numbers 14:3

Swing #1: “The catastrophe of the narrative of the spies is conveyed through the imagery of ‘falling.’ They complain of a destiny, in which any claim to vertical stature will be doomed.” – Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Beginning of Desire

Swing #2: “[The Israelites] do not deny God directly, but by impugning the leadership of Moses they imply a deception. … This makes sense, if leaving Egypt behind meant also leaving behind the magic that liberated them from Egypt. If God (or Moses) is not a magician, He (or he) may be a seducer or a deceiver.” – Geoffrey H. Hartman, “Numbers”, from Congregation, David Rosenberg, ed. 

Swing #3: “They thought that these present troubles were all retribution for the abominable things they had been doing while in Egypt, or on account of some other cause they were not aware of which had caused God to hate them. ” – Sforno

Late-Inning Questions: In what ways do our commentators believe that the Israelites are misremembering Egyptian bondage? In what ways might the Israelites’ reaction seem reasonable? How do contemporary matters obscure our understanding of the past? How can we reclaim historical clarity, especially on events like Juneteenth which illuminate our modern need for racial justice?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Next week will be my final set of classes for Emanu-El; I invite you to tune in to Judaism 101 on Tuesday at 8:00PM, Lunchtime Torah on Wednesday at 12 noon, and Virtual Danish & D’rash on Wednesday at 7:00PM. The synagogue website includes links to register if you haven’t already done so.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!

Hair, There and Everywhere: B’ha’alotkha 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Should our bodies be artistic expressions of what we believe? Do we ever have the right to criticize others for treating their bodies in an artistic way that we find objectionable?

Our Torah portion this week speaks of how the Levites’ bodies need to be altered for the Divine service.

The Pitch: “This is what you shall do to [the Levites] to cleanse them: sprinkle on them water of purification, and let them go over their whole body with a razor, and wash their clothes; thus they shall be cleansed.” – Numbers 8:7

Swing #1: “God’s abhorrence of body hair continues. In Leviticus He praised bald men and ordered healed lepers to depilate. Now He mandates that His tabernacle servants purify themselves by shaving off all their body hair. (And on the eighth day, the Lord created the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog.)” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “The need for this was due to people who had been contaminated through contact with the dead of the people who had been executed due to their involvement in worshiping the Golden Calf.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Swing #3: “When speaking of the process of purifying the Levites … the reason [is] that ‘hair’ symbolizes clothing, and clothing is something that separates between one’s essence and contact with something from the outside.” – Kedushat Levi

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentaries for this verse vary wildly; did you find a deeper meaning in it, or did you react to it more sardonically? Is it difficult to understand ancient rituals as products of their respective places and times, or can you find some universal meaning in them? Would you ever alter something on your body for another person or for a cause?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It’s a little bit belated, but I want to congratulate Bob Greenberg for being hired as Synagogue Emanu-El’s Executive Director. I’ve enjoyed talking to him in recent weeks and I believe he’ll be an excellent addition to the synagogue staff. I’m sure the Emanu-El community will reach out to enable him to feel at home.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!

Shema Yisrael — It’s Time to Start Listening

As we approach Shabbat after a horrific week of violence and unrest, I wish I could put proper perspective on the experiences of those in this country who live every day in fear. But sometimes, talking isn’t the answer — listening is. Instead, this week, I’ll let others talk, and encourage everyone (myself included) to listen. This week, of all weeks, may we take the words “Shema Yisrael” — “Hear, O Israel” —- to heart.

Here is an interactive site that details police brutality in the United States.

Here is a TED talk on deconstructing racism.

And here is a good summary of our need to stay active during this turbulent time.

It’s not much, but it’s a start. Wishing everyone a tranquil and meaningful Shabbat.