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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador—From Generation to Generation since 1883
לדור ודור

 

Chaired by Dr. Ellier Russ with the assistance of the Rabbi, this committee coordinates programs and classes to engage members in lifelong learning. Events include our yearly Scholar in Residence program, Talmud Study, Mah Nishtanah: What’s Different About Today’s Judaism, The Observant Life Book Series and more. Guest speakers, online webinars and Shabbat morning discussions additionally provide congregants with opportunities to expand their knowledge of Judaism and living a Jewish life.

TALMUD

 In fulfilling the following commandments one enjoys the yield in this world while the principal remains for a eternity, honoring father and mother, performing deeds of loving kindness, punctually attending the house of study morning and evening, showing hospitality to strangers, visiting the sick, helping the needy bride, attending dead, praying .with devotion, and making peace between individuals. And the merit of Torah study is equal to all of these. Talmud Shabbat 12 e

TORAH SPARKS
NASO 5780
June 5, 2020 |  13 Sivan 5780

Annual (Numbers 4:21-7:89): Etz Hayim p. 791; Hertz p. 58
Triennial (Numbers 7:1-89): Etz Hayim p. 805; Hertz p. 596
Haftarah (Judges 13:2-25): Etz Hayim p. 813; Hertz p. 602
 

D'Var Torah: What Women Want
Rabbi  Shoshana Cohen, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

Parshat Naso contains the detailed Sotah ordeal, the law of the “wayward woman.” This title is a bit of a misnomer since the ritual is performed in a situation where the husband is gripped by a spirit of jealousy. Unsure whether his wife has strayed or not, he brings her to the Temple so that she can endure a harrowing ritual meant not only to ascertain her guilt or innocence but also to assuage his feelings of jealousy. If during the ritual the woman is proven guilty then her insides, perhaps a reference to her womb, will grotesquely fall. If however, she is innocent then that womb will be filled with a child - she will become pregnant. This dichotomy lies at the foundation of this conception of sexuality and femaleness. No one actually asks this woman what happened - the ordeal will tell whether she has strayed. And if she hasn't she receives pregnancy as a reward - also without anyone asking whether that is what she wants.

Throughout Biblical literature, the overarching assumption is that women want nothing more than to become pregnant. Almost all of our matriarchs have difficulty becoming pregnant (they are “barren” in the words of the Bible.) The majority of these women are bothered greatly by this fact. Rachel cries to Yaakov that she will die without a child (Gen 30:1), Yitzhak prays on behalf of Rivka when she has trouble conceiving and she herself goes to speak to God to figure out what is going on (Gen 25:21-23). This trope repeats itself in the story of Hannah at the beginning of the book of Samuel.

However, if we look a bit more carefully we can see that not all women saw pregnancy as a reward. In the story of the Shunammite Woman in the book of II Kings (4:11-17) we are told that she has no children but it is Gehazi and the prophet Elisha who decide to reward her with a child. She herself pushes back several times and says basically that she is fine without a child. 

Sara, unlike Rachel, Rivka or even Leah, never expresses any desire for a child. When she is told she will have one she laughs (Gen 18:12). If she had been pining her whole life for a child her reaction would have been different, perhaps she would have smiled or burst into tears of joy. Instead, she laughs. The Talmud in Yevamot (64b) claims that Sara the matriarch was an aylonit, that is a woman who never reached sexual maturity and therefore could not bear a child. This is partly a way for the Rabbis to highlight the miraculous nature of the birth of Yitzhak but it can also give us an opportunity to think about the event from Sara’s perspective. Perhaps she had always understood herself as someone who would not have children and suddenly that part of her identity shifted and she laughed in discomfort and shock.

While the parashah of Sotah contains the popular assumption that all women want babies, there is precedent in the Bible to think about women who might not. The relationship between this woman and her husband may very well have deteriorated at this point and it is not hard to imagine that this woman might not want to be pregnant at all, such that the “good” part of the ceremony could be just as “bad” as the bad part.

In light of current events regarding reproductive rights, it is critical that we bear in mind the simple truth that society cannot make assumptions that it is better for a woman to be pregnant than not to be pregnant. Only a woman herself, with her own perspective on her body and circumstances, can determine whether a pregnancy is wanted or not and whether it should continue. This week’s parashah falls short in asking this woman what she wants but it gives us an opportunity to do better, to ask and to listen and to accept the authority of women over their own bodies.  

D’var Haftarah: To Speak With Angels 
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, From the Archives

The Tanakh is full of stories of barren women who miraculously give birth after divine intervention. Infertility was a problem which troubled biblical heroes just as it troubles couples today. While biblical stories tend to remedy this malady through miraculous means, using these stories as an opportunity to illustrate divine mercy and providence, they frequently also use them to examine the interplay of the individuals involved, husband and wife, as they tackle this challenge to their relationship.

The annunciation story of the birth of Samson bears elements of this dramatic (and traumatic) tension: “And there was a man from Zorah from the clan of the Danite, and his name was Manoah. And his wife was barren, she had no children. And a messenger of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Look, pray, you are barren and have born no child.’” (verses 2-3) This laconic pronouncement, delivered to Manoah’s anonymous wife, places the onus for the couple’s infertility clearly on her shoulders.

In pre-modern times, the assessment of the cause of this problem was never simple and its resolution, when it happened, was often nothing short of miraculous. In a rabbinic midrash, some sages, aware that in such cases there is often a “blame game”, use the dialogue between the angel and Manoah’s wife as a means to explore the very human interaction of spouses contending with such a problem:

There was a dispute between Manoah and his wife. He claimed that she was barren and that she was the reason they were childless and she claimed that he was impotent and that he was the reason they were childless… Manoah’s wife was a righteous woman (tzadeket) [and on account of this] she merited to speak with the angel and to bring peace to her relationship with her husband and to [have him] inform her that she was barren and that she prevented the pregnancy and not her husband. (adapted from Bemidbar Rabbah 10:5)

While it is easy to look at this midrash and its attempt to place the onus of blame on Manaoh’s wife as a means for protecting male honor, it might 

also be significant to note how the gift of prophecy is given to someone who willingly takes upon themselves the burden of making peace in a particularly difficult and “charged” setting. The hero (or heroine in this case) then, is the one displays great strength and fortitude in taking it upon themselves to defuse an explosive situation.

Connecting Heaven and Earth

Vav – a special letter
You probably know that there is a correspondence between Hebrew letters and numbers. Number 6 corresponds to the letter “vav”. “Vav” is shaped like a hook holding two things together (ו); normally, “Vav” is translated as “and”. This letter is also referred to as “vav of connection” therefore, “the Sixth Day”—Yom HaShishi (Yom Vav)—connects the spiritual and physical; heaven and earth, six days of Creation and Shabbat. 

The day of connection
We can see a wonderful confirmation in today’s Jewish life. Anyone who has experienced Shabbat in Israel knows that Friday, Yom Shishi, is a really special day of the week, since it is the beginning of Shabbat. As such, it connects and holds together the six days of the week and the most important day of the Jewish week, Shabbat (Saturday). 

Discover the nuances of the Bible
The importance of this day is clearly emphasized in Judaism: the day we celebrate as the Jewish New Year, is not actually the anniversary of Creation, it is the anniversary of the sixth day of Creation—Yom Hashishi. According to Jewish understanding, Creation became meaningful when man was created: the Sixth Day connected heaven and earth, and God was proclaimed King! Enroll in our live online Biblical Hebrew course and Hebrew will reveal the nuances of the Scripture!  

Shavout 5780:Money Is A Greta Servant But A Bad Master (Francis Bacon)
Naso 5780
Naso  (Numbers 4:28- 7:89)
May 31, 2020 
|  by 

When is the Truth the Biggest Lie?

GOOD MORNING! As the United States slowly begins to open, the businesses that were closed the last several months start anew, and people begin to emerge from isolation, everyone is trying to adjust to the new normal. A good way to start is by counting our blessings while we continue to pray for those who were severely affected and those who are still suffering (as addressed in the Shavuot Bonus Edition). We must also pray that our economy continues to improve, that jobs are quickly restored, and that people remain conscientious to avoid a second wave.

Perhaps most importantly, we must adjust how we think and step back for a clearer perspective. Ordinarily, we have a tendency to zero in on all that is wrong in our lives and to believe that as our lives get better, we will have more joy. But the truth is really quite the opposite; when a person has more joy, he has a better life! How do you begin to acquire joy? By focusing on all the blessings in your life!

I am reminded of a joke about a group of seniors who were sitting around drinking coffee and discussing their various ailments. “My arms have gotten so weak I can hardly lift this cup of coffee,” said one. “Yes, I know,” said another, “My cataracts are so bad, I can’t even see my coffee.” “I often forget where I am, and where I’m going,” said a third. “What? Speak up! I can’t hear you!” shouted the fourth.

“I guess that’s the price we pay for getting old,” winced an old man as he slowly shook his head. The others nodded in agreement. “Well, count your blessings,” said the last member of the group, “Thank God we can all still drive!”

In this week’s Torah reading we find perhaps the most well-known blessing in Judaism, the “Priestly Blessing.” God instructs Moses to entrust his brother Aaron and his sons – the Cohanim (priestly caste) of the Jewish people – with the responsibility of blessing the Jewish people. This blessing, known in Hebrew as “Birkat Cohanim," is:

“May God bless you and keep watch over you.
May God’s countenance be illuminated towards you and endow you with grace.
May God direct His providence toward you and grant you peace.”

The Torah continues, “They will thus link My name with the Israelites and I will bless them” (Numbers 6:24-27).

The practice continues to this very day; in Israel the Cohanim bless the worshippers in the synagogue daily, while in the diaspora the Ashkenazi custom is to only bless the congregation during the prayer services of the holidays (many Sephardic congregations continue to do the blessing daily). In addition, the Priestly Blessing is also used by Jewish parents all over the world to bless each child on Friday night before the Shabbat meal.

Perhaps fittingly, this is also the oldest known Biblical text that has been found; silver scrolls with these verses written on them have been found in graves at Ketef Hinnom (an archeological site a little southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem). These scrolls dating from the First Temple Period are estimated to be from late 6th century BCE – about 2,500 years ago! This “Silver Scroll” is on display at the Israel Museum.

During the priestly blessing, the Cohen stands in front of the congregation with the tallit (prayer shawl) over his head and body and with outstretched arms he raises his hands with the palms facing downward and the thumbs of his outspread hands touching. The four fingers on each hand are customarily split into two sets of two fingers each. The Cohanim chant the same Priestly Blessing that Moses taught their ancestor Aaron 3,500 years ago, and in this manner bless the congregation.

(For those of you having a difficult time picturing the position of their hands in your mind, the following anecdote will certainly clarify it for you. In the mid-1960s, actor Leonard Nimoy, who was raised in a traditional Jewish home, used a single-handed version of this gesture to create the Vulcan salute for his character, Spock, on Star Trek. He has explained that while attending Orthodox services as a child, he peeked from under his father's tallit and saw the gesture; many years later, when introducing the character of Mr. Spock, he and series creator Gene Roddenberry thought a physical component should accompany the verbal "Live long and prosper" greeting. The Jewish priestly gesture looked sufficiently alien and mysterious and thus became part of Star Trek lore.)

In Hebrew, the word for blessed is “baruch” and a blessing is called a “bracha.” The Hebrew language is a holy one and words aren’t merely happenstance. According to Jewish tradition, there is a deeper, more mystical meaning to the root of the word blessing.

As explained in prior editions of the Shabbat Shalom Weekly, each Hebrew letter has a numerical value assigned to it. Almost everyone is familiar with the importance of the number 18 in Judaism; this is the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “life – חי”. The Hebrew root word for blessing is comprised of the three letters ב-ר-ך (bet – reish – chaf).

These three letters are unique in that they are the only letters in the Hebrew alphabet that are a precise doubling of the numerical value of the previous letter (bet is 2 while aleph is 1; chaf is 20 and the previous letter yud is 10; reish is 200 and before it kuf is 100). Thus, when you give someone a blessing (bracha) you are in essence giving a blessing that they should receive a multiple of what they have. But this needs further clarification. A multiple of what?

It is interesting to note that while there are many Midrashic explanations as to what precisely this blessing refers, Rashi – the preeminent commentator on the Torah – understands the first line of the Priestly Blessing to be referring to a blessing of wealth and a special protection from the Almighty not to lose it (see Rashi’s comment Numbers 6:24).

This is rather difficult to comprehend. First of all, it is practically stereotypical to claim that the most important thing to Jews is money. What about a blessing for family or one of good health? There seems to be many things that should precede an emphasis on money or wealth. Moreover, we find some teachings related to wealth that are downright negative: In the second chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) we find the teaching, “One who increases possessions increases worry” (2:8).

The answer lies in the concept of the true power of money. While it’s true that money is generally viewed as a vehicle to buying what a person desires, the real value in money is the potential good that one can accomplish by using it properly. In other words, the real point of money isn’t in the accumulation of it or even in the accumulation of material objects. The sages’ teaching that an accumulation of possessions also equals an accumulation of worries applies to a person who mindlessly focuses on acquiring many homes, cars, and other expressions of wealth to impress others.

On the other hand, for a person whose main focus and desire is to help improve the lives of others, their wealth can be put to use in a way that can essentially clone themselves, so to speak, to do far more good.

For example, if a person has an innate desire to feed those who don’t have access to healthy and nutritious food, there are only a limited number of people for whom a person can prepare and distribute food. If a person is a doctor and wants to help people get healthy, there are a limited number of patients that he or she can actually see in a day. If a person’s goal is to enlighten people with education, there are a limited number of hours in a day that they can spend teaching.

This is true no matter what good works a person pursues, because their individual time and resources are finite. However, with the proper resources (i.e. wealth) a person can, in effect, “multiply themselves” and achieve very lofty goals that they would be unable to achieve on their own. They can fund a food bank that will feed hundreds weekly, build hospitals that will care for thousands monthly, and set up schools that will educate generations to come. This is why the root for the word blessing (bracha) hints to its real power– that of being a multiple. If a person spends their money and energy focused on what they can buy themselves they are only increasing their long term anxiety. In that case, is money a blessing? Hardly.

In this way, money is a unique blessing to an individual; it is a multiple of one’s self that cannot be accomplished even by having a large family. In fact, show me a person who looks at his children as an extension of himself and I will show you a person with a terrible relationship with their kids.

Thus, the ultimate blessing that a person can get, in terms of actualizing one’s life, is the blessing of having resources to accomplish on behalf of others. Therefore, it is the focus of the Priestly Blessing for the Jewish people.

 

Torah Portion of the week

Naso,   Numbers 4:21- 7:89

This week's portion includes further job instructions to the Levites and Moshe is instructed to purify the camp in preparation for the dedication of the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary.

Then four laws relating to the Cohanim are given: 1) Restitution for stolen property where the owner is deceased and has no next of kin -- goes to the Cohanim. 2) If a man suspects his wife of being unfaithful, he brings her to the Cohanim for the Sotah clarification ceremony. 3) If a person chooses to withdraw from the material world and consecrate himself exclusively to the service of the Almighty by becoming a Nazir (vowing not to drink wine or eat grape products, come in contact with dead bodies, or cut his hair), he must come to the Cohen at the completion of the vow. 4) The Cohanim were instructed to bless the people with the Priestly Blessing (as described above).

The Mishkan is erected and dedicated on the first of Nissan in the second year after the Exodus. The leaders of each tribe jointly give wagons and oxen to transport the Mishkan. During each of the twelve days of dedication, successively each tribal prince gives gifts of gold and silver vessels, sacrificial animals, and meal offerings. Every prince gives exactly the same gifts as every other prince.


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Quote of the Week

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
-- Charles Dickens

On-Line Learning


Rabbi Gaber lead several Adult Education programs using ZOOM Web conferencing technology.  "You don’t have to leave the warmth and comfort of your home to have a discussion on confronting Antisemitism and Hate or the Human Genome or to discuss how to bring Judaism into the 21st century. I will be leading an online class.  You will not  only be able to hear me and see me, you will also see your friends in the same virtual classroom. There was an interesting line up of  webinars this past winter. Our final CBOI Online learning program this season has a dedicated link: https://zoom.us/j/7686776767.     All you need do is enter this link into your favorite browser and follow the instructions.  If you get stuck, please let me know and I will help you get on line."  

*Don't worry, if you can't make the discussion at the appointed time, you'll still be able to learn about each topic:
See the CBOI On-line Learning page in Learn Navigation bar to see all the previous  On Line Zoom Learning sessions.

TALMUD CLASS IS HELD MOST WEDNESDAYS FROM 11:00 AM - NOON

FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE THE NEXT FEW WEEKS OF TALMUD STUDY WILL BE ON ZOOM - see IMPORTANT INFORMATION on the website home page

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780