Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: September, 2020

V For Vexation: Ha’azinu 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Do you find it difficult to be equally inclusive of others? Are such difficulties unintentional, or do you wonder whether you may have been influenced by your biases?

For once, God describes in this week’s Torah portion of being equally upset with all Israelites:

The Pitch: “The Lord saw and was vexed, and spurned His sons and His daughters.” – Deuteronomy 32:19

Swing #1: “This is the only place in the Torah, and one of only two places in the Bible, where the daughters of Israel are named and made visible in their own right and not simply folded into the phrase ‘children/sons of Israel’.” – Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin in The Women’s Torah Commentary, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #2: “If a person transgresses the Torah that transgression ascends before [God] and says, ‘So-and-so made me.’ And [God] appoints it to remain before Him so that He will lay His eyes upon it and remove the person from the world. This is the meaning of the verse, ‘The Lord saw and was vexed’; ‘The Lord saw’ — the transgression standing before Him.” – Kav HaYashar

Swing #3: “The women as well as the men offered incense to the idols.” – Abraham Ibn Ezra

Late-Inning Questions: When we make missteps, does the process of repentance cause them to “stand before us,” to borrow from Kav HaYashar? How difficult is it to admit our shortcomings to ourselves? How do Yom Kippur services and rituals enable us to put our shortcomings in perspective?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Adult Education is on a brief hiatus, but we’re coming back in October! For your convenience, here are direct links for you to pre-register:

Jewish Views on Citizenship

Pscintillating Psalms in Pservices

Lunchtime Talmud

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of putting shortcomings in perspective … this is not usually one of a professional athlete’s strong points. Though few players were quite reportedly as arrogant as Alex Rodriguez, who was rumored to have a large painting in his house that depicted him as a centaur.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Hatimah Tovah!

Change: Rosh Hashanah 2020

The Internet is filled with amusing pictures of the absurdities of modern life. One such collection is entitled: “Wonderfully Sarcastic Responses to Well-Meaning Signs.”

An example from this collection is a picture of a vending machine; there is a small sign on it that says, “Not Accepting Change.” Below that sign, there is a Post-It note bearing the words, “Change is inevitable! Get used to it!”

Even though the vending-machine operators clearly are talking about coins, the response is vital to remember. It is impossible to think that society can or should remain stagnant when new and unanticipated scenarios come to the fore. Just as importantly, we as individuals are constantly changing, and therefore, it is irresponsible for us to think that we can always live the exact way we used to, or to think that we cannot adjust our long-held patterns of behavior.

Change is inevitable, and as our High Holiday journey commences, it behooves us to get used to it.

Shabbat Shalom and L’shanah Tovah!

Need Not Be Present To Win: Nitzavim-Vayelekh 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Is 80 percent of success just showing up, as the saying goes? Or do we need to add far more than “just” our presence in order to make a true impact?

With all of Israel gathered near the end of Moses’s life, the people learn that they didn’t necessarily need to show up at all:

The Pitch: “I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing with us this day before Adonai our God and with those who are not here with us this day.” – Deuteronomy 29:13-14

Swing #1: “You will therefore have to explain to these unborn generations in due course that you yourselves only received this land on the understanding that subsequent generations of Jews would remain loyal to the terms of your acceptance. They will continue to inherit the land from you only on that basis.” – Sforno

Swing #2: “I’m confused about this covenant business. … Now they’re signing yet another agreement, just as they’re about to cross into Canaan. How many drafted covenants does one divinity need, especially since they all say virtually the same thing?” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #3: “R. Isaac said: All the prophets received the inspirations for their future prophesies at Mount Sinai. How do we know this to be so? … “Standing with us this day” refers to those who were already born, and “with those who are not here” alludes to those who were to be born in the future.” – Tanhuma Yitro

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the importance of marking important days for posterity? On this day of national remembrance in America, are we well-equipped to communicate the lessons of the September 11, 2001 attacks to future generations? How can we ensure that history provides lessons and not just stories?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: We’re excited to kick off the High Holiday season with Selihot on Saturday night, September 12th. Join us for a Zoom discussion at 9pm with Rabbi Rosenbaum and Congregation Shir Shalom’s Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein at 9pm (register here), and then switch to the TBT livestream at 10pm for services with Cantor Spindler and Rabbi Rosenbaum (follow along with the Selihot book here).

The Big Inning at the End: Mazal Tov to Dean Kremer, the first Israeli to play in — and win — a Major League Baseball game this week.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!

Tithe After Tithe: Ki Tavo 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: When you make donations, are you motivated more by a sense of obligation or a sense of kindness? Should it matter what your motivations are?

In the Torah, as well as Judaism in general, giving to those less fortunate is considered a law first and foremost:

The Pitch: “When you have set aside in full the tenth part of your yield – in the third year, the year of the tithe – and have given it to the Levite, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that they may eat their fill in your settlements …” – Deuteronomy 26:12

Swing #1: “A.A. Anderson recalls that the widows, orphans, and foreigners share in the tithes and in the offerings at the annual festivals. They are shown kindness according to the principle, ‘Share because you have already received (cf. Psalms 142:7).’” – Andre LaCocque & Paul Ricoeur, Thinking Biblically: Exegetical & Hermeneutical Studies 195

Swing #2: “And Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Even [bringing it into the] courtyard determines [its status as having completed the production process and obligates the produce to be tithed,] as it is written [in the confession of the tithes: ‘And I have given to the Levite, the stranger, the orphan and the widow,] and they shall eat in your gates and be satisfied.’” – BT Berakhot 35b

Swing #3: “Give them sufficient to satisfy them. From here [the Rabbis] derived the law: one must give the poor in the barn no less than half a kab of wheat or a kab of barley.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: While our commentators concur with the importance of tithing, the reasons and methods are in question. Can our obligation to give be quantified? When do we know when we’ve given enough?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: We’re excited to kick off the High Holiday season with Selihot on Saturday night, September 12th. Join us for a Zoom discussion at 9pm with Rabbi Rosenbaum and Congregation Shir Shalom’s Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein at 9pm (register here), and then switch to the TBT livestream at 10pm for services with Cantor Spindler and Rabbi Rosenbaum (follow along with the Selihot book here).

The Big Inning at the End: Since we have been speaking of generous souls, it is appropriate to note the death this week of Tom Seaver, an all-time great pitcher who also became known for his generous and kind character. You didn’t have to be a Mets or Reds fan to know that Seaver was special both on and off the field.

Shabbat Shalom!