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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.

Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:01)
July 18, 2019  |  by Rabbi Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING! Did you ever wonder what really distinguishes a human being from an animal? Every human has four deep seated needs - meaning, pleasure, understanding and self-actualization. Cows don't have these needs. Dogs and cats don't have these needs.

The renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "Man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a 'secondary rationalization' of instinctual drives... A public-opinion poll was conducted a few years ago in France. The results showed that 89 percent of the people polled admitted that man needs 'something' to live for."

According to Western ideology, there is no absolute purpose to life. God and evil, meaning and meaninglessness, are matters of personal taste. Yet with all the "freedoms" this philosophy embraces, it disposes of the one and only ingredient that gives life profound and lasting satisfaction: a transcendent purpose -- the recognition of a Creator who cares about man's actions. A Creator Who invests him with the ability to make choices that either further God's purpose or undermine it.

As vitally as he needs to breathe, eat and sleep, every human being needs to know that his existence matters. The philosophies of relativism and purposelessness, however, inevitably engender in man gnawing questions about the meaning and purpose of his life. "If nothing really matters, why am I making such an effort to be a good person? Is life just about killing time until death?"

Understandably, this creates a subconscious anxiety which many people dread uncovering. Better to convince oneself that life has no purpose at all, than to confront the tormenting realization that I have lived life in ignorance of that purpose.

Those who do confront the question often embark on a painful, protracted search for meaning. Frequently, they drift through the array of alternatives to Western values, such as Zen, Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation. The greater majority, however, accepts society's insistence that there are no answers, and tries to deaden their pain through various mediums of distraction.

Some lose themselves in the world of entertainment and illusion -- television, movies and video games. Others dedicate mind and soul to "making it" in their careers. Many, in an attempt to relieve their anxiety, adopt the belief that there is no Creator, no responsibility, no accountability and no goals. Without a viable alternative to meaninglessness, these people have no choice but to avoid contemplating life too seriously.

However, despite the best efforts of distraction and rationalization, our souls long for meaning. And until the soul receives the nourishment (read: meaning and purpose) it so vitally needs, man will never find lasting tranquility. On some level (most often subconscious), he will continue to be plagued by disharmony between what he deeply craves and what Western ideology claims life to offer.

As Torah Jews, our inner longing to lead meaningful, productive lives is nurtured and guided. The goal is our relationship with God. Our tools are the mitzvot, the commandments. The framework for success and meaning is neatly laid out for us in the intricate structure of Torah life. Best of all, we need not struggle to find the goal. We are free from the start to focus our energies and resources on achieving it.

Through Torah, the most mundane and routine activities of life are elevated to a Higher purpose. While we may never accomplish all that we should, a Torah lifestyle removes the specter of meaninglessness that haunts so many lives. The Torah provides an internal stability, gained from the knowledge that life is purposeful and valuable. We are given ongoing opportunities to accomplish things that are meaningful -- and the realization that our choices truly matter. This is tremendously empowering and reassuring.

(from the teachings of Rabbi Noah Weinberg, adapted from The Eye of the Needle by Rabbi Eric Coopersmith)

To delve more into making life meaningful, read Twerski on Spirituality, by Rabbi Abraham Twerski.


Torah Portion of the week

Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 - 30:1

In last week's Torah portion, Pinchas acted to stop a public display of immorality. He thus stemmed the plague of retribution which was killing the multitudes. He is rewarded by being made a Cohen -- by Divine decree.

The Almighty commands Moshe to attack the Midianites in retribution for the licentious plot the Midianites perpetrated upon the Israelites. A new census is taken of the Jewish people revealing that there are 601,730 men available for army duty. God directs the division of the Land of Israel amongst the tribes. The Levites are tallied. The daughters of Tzelafchad come forward to petition Moshe regarding their right of inheritance. Moshe inquires of the Almighty Who answers in their favor.

Moshe asks the Almighty to appoint a successor and the Almighty directs Moshe to designate Yehoshua (Joshua). The Torah portion concludes with the various offerings -- daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"And the Lord spoke to Moshe saying, 'Pinchas the son of Eliezer, the son of Aharon the priest, has turned away my anger from the Children of Israel in that he was jealous for my sake amongst them, so that I did not consume the Children of Israel in my jealousy.' " (Numbers 25:10-11)

Why does the Torah trace Pinchas' heritage to Aharon, his grandfather?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the former Rosh HaYeshiva (head of the yeshiva) Mir, answers that only someone who is a true lover of the Jewish people, such as Aharon who loved peace and pursued it, can react with such zealousness. Zimri brazenly committed an immoral act with a Midianite in public. In response, Pinchas killed them both. Pinchas' reaction might appear cruel and could have conceivably have been motivated by a tendency towards violence or by a personal hatred. If one is a true Ohaiv Yisroel, a lover of Jews (as was Pinchas), however, we can be sure that he is motivated solely by his great love for the Almighty and the Jewish people.

Rabbi Chaim of Brisk once said about zealousness: "Both the owner of a house and a cat want to destroy mice. The sole difference lies in their attitudes. The owner really wants to be rid of them. The cat, however, wants to have mice to attack. The same applies to protests against misdeeds. One must sincerely not want the misdeeds. One should not just use the misdeed as an opportunity to engage in protesting.

Quote of the Week

The meaning of life ...
is to live a meaningful life

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:     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.


 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



Parashat Balak
July 20, 2019 | 17 Tammuz 5779
Annual (Numbers 22:2-25:9): Etz Hayim p. 894; Hertz p. 669
Triennial (Numbers 23:27-25:9): Etz Hayim p. 903; Hertz p. 677
Haftarah (Micah 5:6-6:8): Etz Hayim p. 914; Hertz p. 682


D’var Torah: Trusting Your Gut
Rabbi Andy Shapiro Katz, Conservative Yeshiva Director of Engagement
Afraid of the approaching Israelites, Balak, King of the Moabites, sends messengers to convince Bilaam, a Mesopotamian prophet, to curse them. Bilaam consults with God and is told not to go. But after King Balak sends a more impressive delegation, Bilaam asks again and God relents; he can go, but he must do whatever God commands.
In the morning, Bilaam saddles his donkey to ride to where he can look down upon the Israelite encampment. But as he travels, suddenly his donkey refuses to move forward. God has sent an angel with a flaming sword to stand in their path. But while Bilaam doesn’t see it, the donkey does, and it turns to the side rather than proceeding forward. Bilaam is incensed and begins to beat the donkey to get it back on the path. But the donkey swerves again to avoid the angel. Bilaam beats it again, and the donkey gives up, laying down in the middle of the road. Now totally enraged, Bilaam beats the donkey to within an inch of its life.
But then, miraculously, God enables the donkey to speak. It calls out to Bilaam: “What have I done that you are beating me? Am I not the same donkey you have always ridden, who has never done this before? Is my odd behavior - my refusal to move forward - not a sign to you?” God uncovers Bilaam’s eyes and he sees the angel, who explains how the donkey actually saved Bilaam’s life. Bilaam says to the angel that he’ll turn back if God still disapproves, but the angel lets him go, reiterating that he may ONLY speak what he is told.So what is going on here? Despite recognizing his limits as a conduit for divine speech and will, it is apparent from Bilaam’s multiple requests that he really wants to curse Israel. The text signals this when it tells us that “Bilaam got up in the morning and saddled his donkey.” (21:1). This odd bit of information, Rashi notes, parallels a line in the story of the Binding of Isaac, where Avraham also woke up early and saddled HIS donkey for the journey to Mt. Moriah. In both cases, Rashi explains, it would have been normal to have their attendants saddle the donkey, but their strong motivations made them do it themselves.
But the Chassidic tradition delves deeper into the psychology of these “donkey-saddlers” by inviting us to see the donkey and rider as one being. The Baal Shem Tov taught that a donkey (חמור/chamor) is connected to both the word for clay (חימר/cheimar) and material (חומר/chomer), thus the donkey symbolizes the body and the rider the soul/intellect. When Bilaam and Avraham are described as saddling their donkeys, it was not just to RIDE their bodies but to OVERRIDE them. Avraham’s love for God caused him to override his body’s unwillingness to sacrifice his beloved son. But what was Bilaam’s motivation to override his body’s unwillingness to curse Israel? For Rashi, it was hatred for Israel, but it could also have been fear, jealousy, desire for profit, or ego.
In both cases, it would seem, the bodies got it right, as neither is ultimately allowed to do the deed. In the split second before he kills his son, Avraham hears the angel and looks up to see the ram he is to sacrifice instead. Bilaam, on the other hand, needs God to open the mouth of the donkey for him to hear anything and open his eyes for him to see anything.
Religion often asserts that the body - materiality and carnal desire - is the source of sin, and that the soul and intellect are pure and good. Our tradition sees the intellect as the seat of the yetzer hatov (good inclination) and the body as the seat of the yetzer hara (the evil inclination), and prescribes that the former should “saddle” and drive the latter. But this story flips that on its head and reminds us that goodness and morality can sometimes be natural instincts - something rooted in our gut. Sometimes things that we THINK are right can FEEL wrong, and our intellects can betray us through elaborate rationalizations. But if we habituate ourselves to doing good, our own bodies may keep us from taking the wrong path.

D’var Haftarah: A Core Concern
Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty
For decades the Jewish community has been roiled with the question of “Who is a Jew?” This question focuses on conversion policies and procedures and boundaries between communities. But the deeper question is, “What is a Jew?” or more exactly, “What is it that makes a Jew a Jew?” What should we make of a Jew who has no cognizance of the past - a Jew who has no Jewish consciousness? This has been a debate within our tradition since time immemorial, and it permeates this week’s haftarah.
The prophet Micah records a confrontation between God and Israel where God presses his case for why Israel should remain faithful: “For the LORD has a case against His people, He has a suit against Israel. ‘My people! What wrong have I done you? What hardship have I caused you? Testify against Me! In fact, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of bondage, And I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.’” (6:3-4) Micah reminds us that the root of Jewish consciousness - our identity and mission - is the Exodus from Egypt.
That we were enslaved and then freed was to inspire in us feelings of humility and gratitude. Thus we find the Exodus mentioned more than forty times by the Prophets. But lest we think that God expects our gratitude to exclusively take the form of prayer, sacrifice, and acts of dedication, Micah later offers a corrective, saying: “With what shall I approach the LORD, Do homage to God on high? Shall I approach Him with burnt offerings, With calves a year old? Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, With myriads of streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, The fruit of my body for my sins? ‘He has told you, O man, what is good, And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice And to love goodness, And to walk modestly with your God.’” (6:6-8). The Exodus was meant to inspire tangible action as well, not just to defend ourselves from new would-be oppressors, but to make the world a juster place for all people.
Leaders in Israel and the diaspora make dire pronouncements about the diminution of the Jewish people, through inter-marriage and so forth. But taking Micah’s message seriously means spending less time policing our borders and more time sharing and living our story. Jewish communal vibrancy flows directly from this deep shared sense of purpose.



Tue, July 23 2019 20 Tammuz 5779