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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
NOACH 5781
October 24, 2020 |  6 Heshvan Tishrei 5781

Annual | Genesis 6:9-11:32
Haftarah | Isaiah 54:1-55:5  

D'var Torah: Seizing The Rains 
Ilana Kurshan

What was the sin of those who built the city and tower of Babel? According to one Talmudic opin­ion (Sanhedrin 109a), the builders wished to reach the heavens and strike the sky with pickaxes so as to make the rain flow. The Babel builders, traumatized by the flood stories their grandparents told them, wanted to prevent any unexpected meteorological disasters. They wished to place the rain on an automated timer that only they could control. But the One Who causes the winds to blow and the rains to fall destroyed their giant sprinkler system and scattered them to the four winds, seizing back the rains. 

It is difficult for us, who live in a world of Siri and satellites and self-cleaning ovens, to accept that our lives are not entirely in our control. We think that our technological prowess has rendered God obsolete. Not so, Parshat Noah reminds us, with its forty days and forty nights of uninterrupted flooding. Rain is emblematic of the part of our lives that is in God's hands. As such, it is a central locus of prayer. According to the Talmud (Yoma 52b), the only prayer recited by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur—a prayer that had to be recited quickly, so as not to frighten the people waiting anxiously outside—was about rain. In the holiest place at the holiest time, the emissary of the people to the Holy One devoted his few precious seconds of prayer to the matter of precipitation. 

We pray for rain because we cannot control it – we accept that it is out of our hands. The Talmud (Taanit 2a) teaches that there are three keys that God does not entrust to any messenger – one of them is the key to rainfall, which nurtures the seeds we plant beneath the soil. (The others are conception, in which God nurtures the seed of new life, and the revival of the dead, which restores the life buried beneath the soil.) God does not entrust the key to rainfall to anyone, an indication of the significance of rain in biblical theology.

Throughout the Torah, the relationship between God and humanity—and the relationship between God and Israel in particular—is mediated through rain. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the Israelites that if they obey God’s commandments, then God will grant rain in its time; but if they serve other gods, “the Lord’s anger will flare up against you and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain” (11:12). This verse is part of the second paragraph of the Shema, recited twice daily as an affirmation of our faith in God. Similarly, in the long list of blessings and curses at the end of Leviticus and repeated again in Deuteronomy, God begins by promising that if the Israelites follow the commandments, then God will open the storehouses of the heavens to bring rain; and if not, God will “make your skies like iron” (Leviticus 26:19), incapable of precipitation. The Torah contrasts the land of Israel with Egypt – unlike Egypt, which is watered by the Nile, the land of Israel “soaks up its water from the rain of heaven. It is a land which the Lord your God looks after” (Deuteronomy 11:11-12). The people of Israel and the land of Israel need rain in order to survive, and it is God who unlocks the floodgates. 

The Talmud teaches that “a day of rain is as great as the creation of the world” (Taanit 7b), perhaps because the world’s creation can be sustained or undone by means of rain. Rain allows life to happen. The modern Hebrew word used for "to actualize" or "to make real" is l'hagshim, which comes from the same root as geshem, rain. The Babel builders wanted to actualize the rain by coming within striking distance of heaven. But the Shema and indeed the entire Siddur teach us otherwise: If we wish to bestir the heavens, we must do so with words rather than weapons, and with prayers rather than pickaxes. If, as we read in Deuteronomy (32:2), God’s teachings fall down like the rain, then our prayers rise up to heaven like evaporating mist, completing a theological water cycle. It is not we but our prayers that have the power to pierce the heavens, opening the divine storehouses and showering the earth in blessing. 

D'Var Haftarah: Moments of Hope
Bex Stern Rosenblatt

This week’s haftarah, Isaiah 54:1-55:5, should sound familiar. We’ve read it recently, split into two sections, as two of the seven haftarot of consolation read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh HaShana. These haftarot serve to comfort and console us, rebuilding us after the commemoration of loss on Tisha B’Av, so that we are ready for the renewal of the new year on Rosh HaShana. 

And for a brief and glorious moment, we savour that renewal. We begin the Torah cycle anew, we read of creation and hope and possibility. Human is created in God’s image, a co-partner in the creation of the named world. 

But that moment is all too brief. Almost immediately, we read of the expulsion from Eden, the killing of Cain, and the boasting of Lamech. By this week’s parsha, God regrets that God ever created humans on the face of the earth and sends a flood to destroy creation. 

Isaiah 54 picks up on that ever imminent threat of total destruction, on humankind's sense that our existence is precarious and sometimes things are going so badly that it seems as if God would prefer that the flood had wiped us all out after all. And yet Isaiah 54 tells us to rejoice. We are to sing out, to enlarge our tents, for we are re-entering our relationship with God. 

How can we possibly deal with this tumult? How can we reread these words of comfort only weeks after having to comfort ourselves after the last tragedy in our calendar? How can these words still have meaning and God still be good?

Our haftarah passage offers a reframing. Yes, we are still suffering. We are still “abandoned,” “fearful” and “in distress.” But we do not have to see this as normal. In Isaiah 54:12 we are told, “For a brief moment, I abandoned you. But with great mercy, I will gather you.” Rather than viewing our lowest points as constitutive of our lives, we are urged to view those points as temporary and passing. It is our relationship with the Eternal that is eternal and worth dwelling on. 

Isaiah 54:9 connects us directly back to the story of the flood: “For this is to me like the waters of Noah, which I swore would never again pour over the earth. So too I swear not to overflow my anger against you and not to rebuke you.” We reread these words of comfort because the world is a tumultuous place. And yet we can choose the story we tell. This week’s haftarah gives us permission to tell a story of hope and of creation, even when we are sitting in moments of despair. 

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!  

NOAH 5781: TALK ABOUT DELUGIONAL!
Noach  (Genesis 6:9-11:32)
October 24, 2020 
|  by 

When is the Truth the Biggest Lie?

GOOD MORNING! With the presidential election now visible on the horizon, both Republicans and Democrats are making a final push and flooding the nation with ads on television, social media, and print media. Fascinatingly, I finally realized the one point on which both Democrats and Republicans agree: each one believes that the world will come to an end if the other party wins the presidency.

Anyone familiar with last week’s Torah reading knows that at one point the earth was ACTUALLY threatened with destruction. It tells the story of a time when mankind had utterly corrupted itself and became morally bankrupt: “God saw that man’s wickedness on earth was increasing. Every impulse of his innermost thought was only for evil, all day long. God regretted that He had made man […] God said; ‘I will obliterate humanity that I have created from the face of the earth’” (Genesis 6:5-7).

This week's Torah portion is called Noah – named after the man the Almighty charged with saving a sliver of mankind and the creatures that inhabited the earth. Noah was a righteous man, in fact he is the only person in the entire Torah to be called a tzaddik – a righteous person (ibid 6:9). Noah is not considered the first Jew – that title belongs to Abraham. Thus, quite remarkably, the only person in the entire Torah to be called a tzaddik was a non-Jew!

“God said to Noah; ‘The end of all flesh has come before me, the world is filled with man’s crimes. I will therefore destroy them from the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood…’” (ibid 6:13-14).

The Almighty gives Noah very specific instructions on how to construct the ark. I am going to presume that – outside of seeing a cartoon drawing of the ark – most readers have no idea what the ark actually looked like. By contrast, most people have seen pictures of and are familiar with the ill-fated Titanic. So I have prepared a chart comparing the two.

Now a couple of items probably jump out at you, but the most puzzling is why it took Noah 120 years to build the ark? It actually reminds me of the following joke:

God appears to Noah and asks him to build an ark to save a few good humans and two from every living species. He also gave Noah the blueprints, saying, “You have 6 months to build the ark before I will start the unending rain for 40 days and 40 nights.”

Six months later, the Lord looked down and saw Noah weeping in his yard – but no ark.

“Noah!” He roared, “I’m about to start the rain! Where is the ark?” “Forgive me, Lord,” begged Noah, “but things have changed.”

“First, I needed a building permit. That’s been held up because I’ve been arguing for months with the fire inspector about the need for a sprinkler system. Then my neighbors claim that I’ve violated the neighborhood zoning laws by building the ark in my yard and exceeded the height limitations. We had to go before the city’s planning and zoning board to ask for a variance. They wanted to know how I was going to get it to the ocean and I tried to explain that the sea would be coming to us, but they just thought I was crazy.

“Getting the wood was another problem. In order to save the spotted owl, there’s an EPA ban on cutting local trees. I tried to convince the environmentalists that I needed the wood to save the owls – but of course that went nowhere! Oh by the way, the EPA is also demanding an environmental impact study on your proposed flood.

“When I started gathering the animals, the animal rights groups sued me. They insisted that I was confining wild animals against their will. They argued the accommodations were too restrictive, and it was cruel and inhumane to put so many animals in a confined space. I’m also still trying to resolve a complaint with the Human Rights Commission on how many minorities I’m supposed to hire for my building crew and the trades unions say I can’t use my sons. They insist I have to hire only union workers with ark-building experience.

“So, forgive me, Lord, but it would take at least 100 years for me to finish this Ark.” Suddenly the skies cleared, the sun began to shine, and a rainbow stretched across the sky. Noah looked up in wonder and asked, “You mean you’re not going to destroy the world?”

“No,” said the Lord. “The government clearly beat me to it.”

Jokes aside, according to our sages, Noah purposefully took 120 years to build the ark so that people would ask him what it’s all about and hopefully after hearing his explanation they would take the opportunity to repent and mend their ways.

Here is another fact you may not have known: Not all the species that Noah collected into the ark were limited to two (one male and one female). Noah brought additional kosher animals.

“From the pure animals take for yourself seven by seven, a male and it’s mate” (Genesis7:2).

Why would God ask Noah take more of the kosher animals? Mankind had not yet been given permission to eat the animals – that only came after Noah and his family left the ark (see Genesis9:1-3).

The answer is that upon leaving the ark the Almighty wanted Noah to have the opportunity to bring sacrifices and the only ones permitted to be sacrificed were the kosher animals.

But this is still troublesome. As the great medieval commentator Rashi points out – the ark was a pretty miserable place to be: It was crowded, noisy, smelly, and mostly dark. Compounding those issues was the fact that some animals eat during the day and some at night, so Noah and his very limited crew were on call 24 hours a day. Rashi points out that Noah was actually coughing up blood from the stress of it all (Noah even prayed to God that the time on the ark be shortened but was turned down) (see Rashi’s commentary on 7:23).

So why did the Almighty ask Noah to exacerbate the issue by bringing in even more animals than were necessary to the ark? Noah lived for three hundred years after the end of the flood; he could have simply waited a few decades until the different species of kosher animals became re-established, grew into large flocks and herds, and then easily brought sacrifices. Why the urgent need to pack them into the ark at this time and make a difficult situation more unbearable?

The Almighty was conveying a very important message to the survivors of the flood. Even though Hashem had been bitterly disappointed by the state of humanity and their immorality to the point that He decided that they had forfeited their right to live, He still desired a relationship with mankind.

It was critical for those entering the ark to know that Hashem desired a relationship with them. Every relationship is built on communication and one of the first ways of communicating with the Almighty was worshipping Him with sacrifices. In fact, the prayers that the Jewish people offer every day of the week in synagogues all over the world were instituted in place of the sacrifices that were brought in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, beginning about three thousand years ago.

The means of communicating with the Almighty were the kosher animals that were to be brought as sacrifices upon exiting the ark. By assuring those entering the ark that the Almighty wanted to continue to maintain a relationship, it enabled them to not feel abandoned or alone. Furthermore, when they exited the ark they were immediately able to reconnect with God. That is why it was critical to bring many more kosher animals on to the ark, even if it meant more work and discomfort.

This also has a lasting message for all of mankind: No matter how far you feel you may have strayed, God is patiently waiting for you; and yes – He desires that you once again begin a conversation with Him. What could be more empowering than that?

 

Torah Portion of the Week

Noah  Genesis 6:9-11:32

The story of one righteous man in an evil generation. The Almighty commands Noah to build the ark on a hill far from the water. He built it over a period of 120 years. People deride Noah and ask him, "Why are you building a boat on a hill?" Noah explains that there will be a flood if people do not correct their ways. (According to the comedian Bill Cosby, Noah would ask, "How long can you tread water?") We see from this the patience of the Almighty for people to correct their ways and the genius of arousing people's curiosity so that they will ask a question and, hopefully, hear the answer.

The generation does not do teshuva, returning from their evil ways, and God brings a flood for 40 days. They leave the ark 365 days later when the earth has once again become habitable. The Almighty makes a covenant and makes the rainbow the sign of the covenant that He will never destroy all of life again by water (hence, James Baldwin's book, The Fire Next Time). When one sees a rainbow it is an omen to do teshuva – to recognize the mistakes you are making in life, regret them, correct them/make restitution, and ask for forgiveness from anyone you have wronged as well as from the Almighty.

Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk and then occurs the mysterious incident in the tent after which Noah curses his grandson Canaan. The Torah portion concludes with the story of the Tower of Babel and then a genealogy from Noah's son, Shem, to Abram (Abraham).

 

 

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Quote of the Week

Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.
– Soren Kierkegaard

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

Sun, October 25 2020 7 Cheshvan 5781