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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.

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!  

VAYIKRA  5780
Vayikra (Leviticus 1-5
March 22, 2020  |  by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

GOOD MORNING! As the vast majority of the world practices social distancing and people spend extended periods of time in isolation, we are forced to consider how much time we can really handle being with ourselves.

Luckily, we live in remarkable times, the likes of which have never been seen or even imagined by preceding generations. As much as we seclude ourselves to our private world we can still, quite literally, pull the outside world into our own. One of the most powerful breakthroughs in the history of education is the now ubiquitous concept of virtual schools whereby we can maintain a relatively high level of learning and even achieve a modicum of social connectivity.

For me, in particular, this is an important breakthrough. I run an educational system here in South Florida that begins with toddlers and goes all the way through graduate school. The responsibility of creating educational continuity for a thousand souls can be a little overwhelming. While grateful for the technology that makes it all possible, the actual execution of creating meaningful educational experiences for each division has certainly been challenging.

Furthermore, just because we make educational content available virtually to students of all age groups, this does not magically convert parents into competent teachers or even managers of their children’s “classes.” The very first day we had virtual school in session, the principal received the following message from a parent: “After three hours of home school: one student has been suspended and the other has been expelled.”

The good news is that no one will complain about paying tuition any more. Perhaps even more importantly, parents will finally begin to believe what teachers have been saying about their children. Sigh.

One of the unique aspects of our educational system is the focus on teaching critical thinking skills— even at a young age. This is an outgrowth of my father’s philosophy that we need to develop each student’s mind, not merely feed them information. In order to implement this we have broad crossover between the different divisions. As a case in point, every kindergarten class pays a visit to the head of the university (in Hebrew this is known as the “Rosh HaYeshiva” – head of the Yeshiva) for an introduction and to have a friendly conversation.

My brother Rabbi Akiva Zweig – whom I have previously mentioned – had the pleasure of hosting one of the kindergarten classes this year. After some pleasantries he asked them the following question, “Who loves you the most?”

“Why not?” he continued, “Because it’s hard to love someone who you don’t know. But Hashem knows you best of all. If you break a lamp in your house, even if your parents don’t know who did it, Hashem surely knows that you did and loves you anyway and unconditionally.” He then thanked the children, gave each child a snack and they happily went on their way.

When Kobe Bryant died a few short months ago I was perplexed to see so many people that had never really known him, nor even spoken to him, crying uncontrollably. Somehow they felt that they really loved Kobe. But this was difficult to understand, after all they didn’t actually know him. He may very well have been a remarkable person in many respects, but you cannot have a genuine love for someone you don’t know; even a child understands that!

The truth is that many of us don’t know ourselves much better than we knew Kobe. We’re constantly on the run and working hard, often experiencing more self-loathing than self-love. We never measure up to impossible standards and we mistakenly believe that our shortcomings are who we are. But it needn’t be this way. God created each of us in a perfect way – exactly the way we were meant to be. It’s each and every person’s job to get in touch with that essential self and act in a way that reveals the true person that God intended you to be.

The self-isolation that has been thrust upon us should be seen as a real opportunity for growth. We can begin to focus on who we truly are and who we want to become. We must each take this time to explore how we want to improve ourselves – our minds, our bodies, our spirits, and our interpersonal relationships. This will ultimately lead to greater self-knowledge and therefore a closer relationship with one’s self.

We need to remember that we are all created by God and imbued with a beautiful soul. We were created in His image and therefore the more we are connected to who we truly are the more we can love ourselves.

This week’s Torah reading follows a similar theme. This week we begin the third book of the Five Books of Moses. In Hebrew tradition it’s known as Torat Kohanim – the laws of the priestly caste (Leviticus is a mistranslation as the majority of Levites were not of the priestly caste). Much of this book deals with the different offerings that were brought in the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the laws of holiness that the priestly caste had to maintain.

Thus, this book introduces the concept of a “korbon – offering.” Until this time, the only word the Torah used was “zevach,” which means to sacrifice. But once we built a home in our midst for the presence of God to descend, we now had a daily relationship with Him. We see this from the etymological source of the word “korbon.”

The root of the word korbon is “kiruv – closeness.” Hashem is informing us that the service in the Mishkan isn't simply to pay homage to Hashem; it is to gain a closer relationship with Him, which is what He desires. This is because God knows who we truly are and loves us unconditionally. Now is the time to focus on what it is that He loves about us, commit ourselves to being worthy of His love, and learn to love ourselves just as much.

 

 

 

 

Torah Portion of the week

Vayikra  1:1- 5:26

The book of Vayikra (Leviticus) primarily deals with what are commonly called "sacrifices" or "offerings." According to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: a "sacrifice" implies giving up something that is of value to oneself for the benefit of another. An "offering" implies a gift which satisfies the receiver. The Almighty does not need our gifts. He has no needs or desires. The Hebrew word is korban, which is best translated as a means of bringing oneself into a closer relationship with the Almighty. The offering of korbanot was only for our benefit to come close to the Almighty.

Ramban, one of the essential commentaries on Torah, explains that through the vicarious experience of what happened to the animal korbanot, the transgressor realized the seriousness of his transgression. This aided him in the process of teshuva – correcting his erring ways.

This week's portion includes the details of various types of korbanot: burnt offering, flour offering (proof that one does not need to offer "blood" to gain atonement), the first grain offering, peace offering, unintentional sin offering (private and communal), guilt (for an intentional sin) offerings – varied upon one's ability to pay, and an offering for personal use of something designated or belonging to the Tabernacle or the Temple.

 

* * *

Quote of the Week
We may be alone, but we are alone together.
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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

 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
Parashat Vayikra

March 28, 2020 | 3 Nissan 5780
Annual  | Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26 (Etz Hayim p.585 -605; Hertz p. 410 - 423)
Triennial  | ​​​​​​ Leviticus  1:1:- 2:16 (Etz Hayim p. 585 - 592; Hertz p. 410 - 415)
Haftarah | Isaiah 43:21- 44:23 (Etz Hayim p.606- 612 Hertz p.424 - 428)

Editor’s Note - Torah Sparks submissions are made weeks in advance, so the following was written before our lives were turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, we believe its message still resonates as we focus on our homes as spiritual centers, for the Pesach seder and beyond.

Sharing a Meal with The Creator of the World
Rabbi Daniel Isaacson, Conservative Yeshiva Alumnus (1997-1999) & Director of Spiritual Care Services of Jewish Family & Children's Services in San Francisco.

Sefer Vayikra begins mid-sentence, continuing directly where Shemot left off and on the very same day, the first of Nissan, that God’s kavod entered the mishkan in Shemot 40:34. (Vayikra 7:37-38, following scholars like Baruch Schwartz in his Jewish Study Bible commentary on Leviticus, summarize chapters 1-7 as having all taken place on the first of Nissan.) We generally associate Rosh Chodesh Nissan as “the beginning of the months'' (Shemot 12:2): the first of the year, the month of the Exodus, the month when God establishes the Israelites as a People, the beginning of Jewish time. But the Rosh Chodesh Nissan in this week’s parashah, which takes place exactly one year after the Exodus events, marks a pinnacle in what is arguably the Torah’s most central drama: the completion of Creation itself, the establishment of God’s home on earth, and—most specifically in Vayikra—the Israelites’ charge to maintain God’s home and keep God present on earth.

Having a home on earth was a kind of “sof ma’aseh b’machshava techila,” much like Shabbat was. Just as God completed creation in Bereshit 2:2 (“va’y’chal Elohim bayom hashevi’i melachto”), so too did Moshe complete the mishkan at the end of last week’s parashah, in Shemot 40:33 (“va’y’chal Moshe et hamelacha”). The mishkan is Shabbat’s parallel: one establishes God’s time, as it 

were, and the other establishes God’s space. In Bereshit, Shabbat completed the creation of the world, but God still sought a place to dwell in that world; in Shemot, the building of the mishkan fulfils this vision of a world that God’s kavod could ultimately inhabit.

In Vayikra, the Torah lays out the laws and rituals that would keep the mishkan habitable. Localizing God’s Presence in a specific space, having the transcendent God also become immanent and physically manifest, wasn’t just paradoxical—it was also potentially very dangerous. The mishkan functioned in essence like a power plant: it housed the cosmic force that would pump out blessing, which in turn sustained life, rain, and bounty. But if too much impurity attached itself to the mishkan, God might withdraw the Presence, the power would shut down or backfire, and the blessing would transform into curse, resulting in Israel’s exile. 

The mishkan had a magnetic quality that literally attracted this impurity—the ritual and moral impurities of tumah and avon—which the Torah considered actual, physically polluting substances. Thus the latter part of our parashah, in chapters 4 and 5, lists the hattat and asham korbanot that were meant to purify and transform the effects of sin and ritual impurity, by way of blood, so that Israel could maintain the conditions necessary for the transcendent God to remain immanent.

Keeping God’s house in order made possible the other set of sacrifices listed in the first three chapters of Vayikra, which are sacrifices in the true sense: they are gifts given to God, sometimes required and other times given freely in gratitude, sometimes individually and other times given communally. JPS translates the isheh offerings as “offerings by fire,” but according to modern scholars (again, see Schwartz on Vayikra 1:9), the word isheh is not derived from esh, “fire,” but from a Hebrew root meaning “gift.” 

We read about these gift offerings as a series of detailed instructions that on the surface may seem to lack any real narrative or theological message, but in their own way they illuminate profound visions of both the transcendent and immanent God. On the one hand, the olah, or “whole offering,” in chapter 1 is offered entirely to God, and the mincha, or “gift offering,” in chapter 2 goes to God and the kohanim; both provide a “nachat ruach” to God (Rashi on 2:2), and both are given over to the transcendent Being that Israel serves.

On the other hand, the zevach ha-shelamim, or “well-being offering,” in chapter 3 is more the description of an intimate, shared, festive meal with the divine. The choice organ meats go to the immanent God, while the family enjoys the rest of the offering. It is hard to imagine an experience as sublime as going to Jerusalem with one’s family and dear friends, offering a zevach as an expression of joy or gratitude, and then quite literally sharing that food with the felt Presence of God. In Shemot 25:8, God said, “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them, v’shakhanti betocham.” In Vayikra chapter 3, God gave us the opportunity to dine at the shekhinah’s table. 

D'Var Haftorah: Taking Responsibility
Rabbi Mordecai Silverstein, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty

The prophetic tradition seeks to explore the meaning found in events. It asks not only how events happened but also how they relate to who we are and what we have done. In this week’s haftarah, the prophet offers an interesting and difficult explanation to explain the reason for the destruction of the First Temple in a rather bizarre verse: “Your first father (avikha ha’rishon) offended, and your spokesmen (malitzekha) transgressed against Me (God). So, I profaned the sanctuary’s princes and gave Yaakov to destruction and Yisrael to reviling.” (43:27-28)

There is so much to unload in this prophecy. First, let us say that the prophet here is not the original Isaiah, who lived over a hundred years before the destruction of the First Temple, but rather a prophet whose message was appended to the message of the original prophet, who lived after the destruction of the Temple. He seeks an explanation for a tragedy which has changed his life and the life of his nation. He identifies the culprits as the “first father” and the “spokesman”. Who was this “first father” and who was the “spokesmen” whom he declares as guilty? While the “first father” has variously been identified with Adam or Avraham, the most likely candidate is Yaakov, the founder of the “people” whose sins in the book of Bereishit stand out. Yaakov, as the “founding father” collectively represents the nation as a whole, both past and present. As for the code name, the “spokesmen”, most commentators identify him with the leaders of the people and/or the kohanim – the priests, those whom he assumes misled the people and created the conditions which led to the tragedy. (See S. Paul, Isaiah 40-48, Mikra L’Yisrael, p. 185)

Why place the blame on these two figures, one a figure from the past and one contemporary? The prophet’s point, it seems to me, is to awaken the people to take responsibility for who they are, what they have done, and what they must do. It asks them to approach their condition with open eyes and awareness and the ability to examine how they might have contributed to the tragedy and not to shirk doing what the situation requires of them to repair what has been destroyed.

We are now living through traumatic times and in order to get through them we must make sure that we are doing our part so as not to bring the “house down”. This requires each of us to take responsibility for our actions, our own health and that of others, and afterward to join together to rebuild a world that is better than the one before this “plague” fell upon us.

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, March 31 2020 6 Nisan 5780