Sign In Forgot Password or Set Up New Password

Congregation Brothers of Israel

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

 

Chaired by Dr. Ellier Russ with Rabbi Gaber. This committee coordinates programs and classes to engage members in lifelong learning. Events include our yearly Scholar in Residence program, Talmud Study, 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 all 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 in 12e

TORAH SPARKS

 

TORAH SPARKS
 NITZAVIM 5782
September 24, 2022     28 Elul 5782
Torah: Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
 Triennial 29:9-30:20
Haftorah:  Isaiah 63:1-9
                                           

D'var Torah:  Beyond The Sea
by Ilana Kurshan

Parashat Nitzavim, which we read just before Rosh Hashanah, speaks of the importance of repenting and returning to God after we have sinned. Immediately after the description of returning to God, Moshe tells the people, “For this commandment which I have given you today is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens that you should say, ‘Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us…’ nor is it beyond the sea.” Rather, says Moshe, it “is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). These verses are so poetic and inspiring that we might overlook how cryptic they are. What is the nature of this commandment that is neither baffling nor beyond reach, but rather close in our hearts?

Both the Ramban and Seforno base their answer to this question on the proximate context in which these verses appear. Moshe has just told the people that they will return to God and resume a life of following in God’s ways. And so these medieval commentators understand “this commandment” which is not in the heavens to be a reference to repentance. What does it mean for repentance to be “not in the heavens” and “not beyond the sea” but rather “very close” to us? In the Talmud, a story about the repentance of a wayward rabbi sheds light on this question, helping us to understand how we can take responsibility for the spiritual work incumbent upon as at this time of year.

In tractate Avodah Zarah (17a), the Talmud introduces us to a little-known figure, Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya, who does not behave like a rabbi at all; he focuses his energies on trying to sleep with every prostitute in the world. This rabbi can never sit still, but travels far to the cities overseas to pursue his obsession. We might say, invoking our parashah, that Rabbi Elazar is convinced that what he most fervently desires in life is to be found far away, “beyond the sea,” and that he needs to travel the world to access it.

The Talmud relates that on one occasion, Rabbi Elazar hears about a certain prostitute overseas who charges a hefty fee for her services. Undaunted, he takes a purse full of coins and travels across seven rivers to reach her. The prostitute is exotic and remote, and since he is a rabbi, she probably ought to be the furthest thing from his thoughts. But Rabbi Elazar is determined to gain access.

The story then takes a rather off-color turn. The Talmud recounts that while they are engaged in the act, she passes wind. Presumably her flatulence deflates the magic of the moment, because the prostitute then turns to Rabbi Elazar and makes a pronouncement that seems to seal his fate: “Just as this passed wind will not return to its place, so too Elazar ben Dordaya will not be accepted in repentance.” The prostitute tells Rabbi Elazar that on account of his runaway sexual appetites, he has crossed a line. He will never be able to return to God.

Rabbi Elazar, who is used to traveling far and wide to get what he wants, looks far and wide for a solution to his problem – how can he mend his ways and return to God? He sits between two mountains, again defining himself in relation to that which is remote and far-reaching. “Mountains and hills, pray for mercy on my behalf,” he pleads, but the mountains and hills refuse, insisting that first they will plead on their own behalf. “Heaven and earth, pray for mercy on my behalf,” he entreats, but the heaven and earth refuse as well. He then appeals to the sun and moon, and then to the stars and constellations, all to no avail. Finally Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya places his head between his knees. He cannot rely on the lofty mountains around him – his knees are now the mountains, and nothing outside him is going to intercede on his behalf. “Clearly the matter depends on me alone,” he realizes. He cries until his soul leaves his body. Repentance has come too late for this world, but a divine voice pronounces that he is destined for the World to Come.

Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya has to accept that he is not going to be able to change his ways by appealing to anything beyond himself. After spending his whole life pursuing prostitutes to the furthest reaches of the sea, he has to change course. He cannot appeal to the heavens or to the constellations, because what he is seeking is to be found only within himself. To invoke the words of our parashah, “It is not in the heavens”; rather, the only way to repent is to recognize that the power to change ourselves lies “very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it.” Or, as Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya puts it, clearly the matter depends on us alone.

At the time of year when our tradition calls upon us to mend our ways and to conduct ourselves more appropriately, there is always the temptation to look outward rather than inward. Perhaps we blame someone else, waiting for them to apologize to us first, rather than engaging in our own spiritual work. Perhaps we tell ourselves that we’ll wait for circumstances to change—for the stars and constellations to re-align in our favor. But as we learn from Rabbi Elazar ben Dordaya, the work of repentance depends on us alone. As Lori Gottlieb writes in her bestselling book about the workings of psychotherapy, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, “At some point, being a fulfilled adult means taking responsibility for the course of your own life and accepting the fact that now you’re in charge of your choices.” We have to take responsibility for who we have been, and only then can we transform whom we will become. This is not easy work, but it also does not lie beyond our reach. It is the work of our mouths and the work of our hearts in this season of repentance and return.

D'Var Haftorah:  The Big Bad Wolf
Bex Stern Rosenblat

Our haftarah, Isaiah 61-63, is the final of the seven haftarot of consolation. We’ve made it now. We have survived Tisha B’Av, come back into the land of Israel, and begun the process of teshuva in preparation for the holidays. We might have thought that our haftarah would tie the process up with a bow, ending neatly and happily. But we are not a people for fairytale endings.

Instead of thanking God for returning us to the land, we quiz God about why God’s clothes are so dirty. In the manner of Little Red Riding Hood noting her Grandmother’s awfully big teeth, we approach God and inquire after God’s clothing.  We read, as translated by Robert Alter, “Who is this coming from Edom, in ensanguined garments?… Why is there red on your garments and your clothes like one treading a winepress? It is a crazy set of questions. We are approaching the most powerful ruler in the world and asking why he is covered in blood.

God’s answer spares us no details. We read, as translated by Alter, “In the vat I have trodden alone— of the peoples, no one was with Me, and I trampled them in My wrath, stomped on them in My fury, and their lifeblood splattered My garments, all My clothes I have befouled… And I trampled peoples in My wrath and made them drunk with My fury, and shed their lifeblood on the ground.”

There is a confluence of images here. Wine and blood become synonymous. God becomes a winemaker, making wine out of the blood of humans, and God then makes the humans drunk. The word that Alter translates as “lifeblood” is netzach, usually understood to mean something eternal, enduring, and strong. Ibn Ezra explains that we should read nezach as blood, because the span of human life is measured by how long blood endures, flowing through a human’s veins. God is playing with human lives, exposing that the netzach, the duration, of each human life is not netzach, eternal, as God is, but rather as easily disposed of as a grape.

But human death does affect God. The remnants of our lives have made a mess of God’s clothes. Of course, it is a bizarre thing to imagine a clothed God in the first place. In the image here in Isaiah, God is taking on distinctly human characteristics, wearing clothing and making wine. But this is happening on a divine scale. The consolation we find is that God understands us, God knows what it is to have dirty clothes and a broken heart. Moreover, God is on our side. The blood on God’s clothing is not our own. Faced with the enormity of our loss and our return, we find comfort in God’s ability to be like us, to understand us, while still being totally alien in God’s netzach, God’s strength.

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!  

NITZAVIM 5782: 

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

 
Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20) 
September, 2022

GOOD MORNING!Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins this upcoming Sunday evening, September 25th. Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday that begins on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei. The celebrations for the Jewish New Year are very different from those of the secular New Year, which is celebrated in many parts of the “enlightened” world by partying, drinking to excess, and watching a sparkly ball descend at midnight from a tower in Times Square.

Rosh Hashanah follows the contemplative month of Elul, during which we ought to undertake what Jewish tradition refers to a cheshbon hanefesh – an accounting of one’s soul. We are supposed to be self-reflective and take stock of how we did the previous year; what we did right and what we still need to improve upon. Rosh Hashanah follows this theme and it marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminate on Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement.

When I was in business school the phrase “Time is Money” was ingrained into my psyche. In prior columns I have explained why this is a complete and utter fallacy: Time is infinitely more valuable than money because time represents our potential and what we can accomplish and become. Money, by contrast, is merely a means to an end. Just as it is natural to make a complete accounting of how monies were spent or invested, we should be even more compelled to account for how we invested and spent our time.

Because time is so precious, every second counts. In fact, even a hundredth of a second is significant: it sometimes separates the Olympic gold winner – who becomes famous – from the Olympic silver winner – who is often quickly forgotten. Every year we are granted about 31,000,000 seconds to spend and this is the time of year when we should all look back and review how we invested those precious seconds. At the end of this column I will suggest some questions and themes that may help you in this process.

Typically, Rosh Hashanah is observed by Jews all over the world who attend synagogue to pray, hear the sound of the shofar (ram’s horn), listen to the rabbi’s sermon, reflect upon the past, and commit to correcting their mistakes. This is followed by celebrating with festive holiday meals.

Sadly, many (if not most) only make an effort to attend synagogue on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It is therefore only natural that most synagogues charge enormous amounts for “tickets” to attend – it is their one opportunity to raise the monies needed to fund the operations of the synagogue. Reflecting on this, I realize that if I too only came to synagogue three times a year and had to spend most of the day there in prayer services and listening to the rabbi’s sermons while paying an exorbitant sum for that privilege, I also wouldn’t want to attend more than three times a year.

Because Rosh Hashanah is such an important part of Judaism we are compelled to understand what it’s all about and what exactly we are trying to accomplish on this holiday.

Q & A: WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF ROSH HASHANAH AND HOW DO WE OBSERVE IT?

According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. The Talmud states (Rosh Hashanah 8a) that this is derived by from a pair of verses in Psalms: “Sound the shofar at the new month, at the time when it is covered, for the day of our festival. For it is a statute for Israel, a (day of) judgment for the God of Jacob” (Psalms 81:4-5). Thus, we pray that we are inscribed in the Book of Life for life, for health, and for sustenance.

Many years ago, I attended a trial of a good friend who was wrongfully charged with some very serious crimes and, if convicted, would spend decades of his life behind bars. The feeling in the courtroom was one of dread and palpable apprehension. I remember being very afraid for him and I could barely eat or sleep. Indeed, for many this is what Rosh Hashanah is all about. But this perception is a mistake.

According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah is a time when we celebrate with elegant clothes, festive meals with family and friends, and by sending gifts to others. This is based on the verse found in the Prophets: “He said to them, ‘Go eat fat foods and drink sweet beverages, and send gifts to anyone for whom nothing was prepared, for today is holy to our Master. Do not be sad, for the joy of Hashem is your strength’” (Nehemiah 8:10).

How can we celebrate when our very lives hang in the balance? Ultimately, we have faith in the kindness and mercy of the Almighty – that He knows our hearts and our intentions and judges us with love and the knowledge of what is best for us. Therefore, we trust that He will accordingly grant us a favorable verdict and bless us with a sweet new year. But there is really a much deeper lesson to understand here.

When a person is being judged in a typical court of law, what is the best result that he could possibly hope for? The best possible outcome is that he be restored to the life that he had prior to entering the courtroom. In other words, he can only lose – he has no possible upside. In fact, after paying his attorney and court costs he is already far poorer than when he began. Essentially, he already lost; it’s only a question of whether he also loses his freedom. That is a devastating situation in which to find oneself.

But Rosh Hashanah, our “Day of Judgement,” is quite different. According to Jewish tradition, the world was created on the 25th day of Elul and man was created on the first of Tishrei. Thus, man was actually created on Rosh Hashanah! Why is this important?

The great medieval philosopher, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, explains in his classic work The Way of God that the Almighty created the world in order to bestow kindness on mankind. The very purpose of creation was a gift so that man could experience the most amazing life.

But God, in His infinite wisdom, understood that a gift is never fully appreciated. As we know, a person often feels ashamed to accept a gift, and in fact a person only feels fulfilled when he has acquired something that he has earned through his efforts. Thus, man was given the opportunity to earn his existence.

Every Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of mankind’s creation, we are given this opportunity to earn our existence. This is the EXACT opposite of a typical courtroom judgment. We can absolutely hope for improvements in every aspect of our lives and we have much to gain on our Day of Judgement, which is why Rosh Hashanah can be a day of amazing fulfillment and joy, one to be celebrated with friends and family.

Now, everyone wants to have a more meaningful and fulfilling life. We want God to bless us with an amazing year filled with every blessing imaginable. How do we begin to achieve this?

The main objective that we have to achieve on Rosh Hashanah is to actively accept God as our king and the ruler of everything in existence. If we carefully study the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah it becomes rather clear that the theme of God as our king is the major focus of the day. Our job is to define ourselves as living in a theocentric world, a world in which we are committed to living by His laws and bringing Him into our daily lives and into the lives of others.

Rosh Hashanah is much less about begging forgiveness from God than it is about establishing a relationship with Him and creating the rightful place for God in your life. The process of teshuvah– repentance – can only begin once a relationship is in place. (We will discuss the actual process of repentance further in next week’s column.)

The key element to understanding Rosh Hashanah is remembering that life is a gift from the Almighty and therefore quite precious. Consequently, we are charged with making it meaningful and making sure that we live up to our potential and earn our continued existence. In this way we fulfill God’s purpose for creation.

SOME QUESTIONS TO THINK ABOUT IN SYNAGOGUE AND/OR DISCUSS AT YOUR ROSH HASHANAH MEALS:

  1. Knowing what I know today, what advice would I have given myself going into last year’s Rosh Hashanah?
  2. What am I doing to improve my relationship with God?
  3. What are the most important relationships in my life? What can I do to nurture those relationships this year?
  4. What am I doing to improve my relationship with myself?
  5. What would bring me more happiness than anything else in the world? Am I proud of this?
  6. Are there any ideals I would be willing to die for?
  7. What are my three most significant achievements since last Rosh Hashanah?
  8. What are the three biggest mistakes I’ve made since last Rosh Hashanah?
  9. What project or goal, if left undone, will I most regret next Rosh Hashanah?
  10. What is the most important decision I need to make this year?
  11. What important decision did I avoid making last year?
  12. What did I do last year that gave me the strongest feeling of self-respect?
  13. If I could change only one thing about myself, what would that be?
  14. What are my three major goals in life? What am I doing to achieve them?

Wishing you and yours a sweet New Year filled only with blessings, good health, and the peace of mind to enjoy it all!

Torah Portion of the Week


NITZAVIM,  Deuteronomy (29:9-30:20)

On the day of Moses’ death he assembles the whole Jewish people and creates a Covenant confirming the Jewish people as the Almighty’s Chosen People for all future generations. Moses makes clear the consequences of rejecting God and His Torah as well as the possibility of repentance. He reiterates that Torah is readily available to everyone. He warns us against idolatry (thinking anything other than God has power) and assures us that eventually the Jewish people will do teshuva (repent) and will be redeemed and brought back to the Land of Israel — and those who hate the Jewish people and pursue us will get their just recompense.

Nitzavim concludes with perhaps the clearest and most powerful statement in the Torah about the purpose of life and the existence of freewill: “I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil […] the blessing and the curse. Therefore, choose life that you may live, you and your descendants.” (Now that's a real Quote of the Week!)

 

Quote of the Week

If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to be where you’ve always been.

 

 

On-Line Learning


Rabbi Gaber lead several Adult Education programs using ZOOM  "You don’t have to leave the warmth and comfort of your home to hear a discussion on confronting Antisemitism and Hate or the Human Genome or to discuss how to bring Judaism into the 21st century. 

See the CBOI On-line Learning page in Learn Navigation bar to see all the  On Line Zoom Learning sessions.

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

FOR YOUR CONVENIENCE  TALMUD STUDY WILL BE ON ZOOM - see IMPORTANT INFORMATION on the website home page

Wed, September 28 2022 3 Tishrei 5783