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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 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
 PARSHAT:SHEMINI 5781
April 10, 2021|  21 Nisan 5781
Torah: Leviticus 9:1- 11:47 Triennial 10:12-11:32
Haftorah: II Samuel 6:1-7:17

                     

D'var Torah: We Didn't Start the Fire
by Ilana Kurshan

The Torah offers a rather cryptic explanation for the death of Aaron’s sons, stating only that they offered a “strange fire which God had not commanded” (Leviticus 10:1). The incident takes place immediately after the Mishkan has at last been inaugurated: Moshe and Aaron have just blessed the people outside the Tent of Meeting, the presence of the Lord has appeared, and the people “saw, shouted, and fell on their faces” (9:24). In the very next verse, this dramatic climax is followed by tragedy, and the sages rush in to explain what might have gone wrong: Were Nadav and Avihu drunk? Were they wearing the wrong clothes? Did they enter the Holy of Holies? According to one Talmudic explanation, the death of Nadav and Avihu—and indeed the fate of all of Aaron’s sons—offers us a surprising lesson about the value of originality and the reverence we accord to the wisdom of our teachers.

The Talmudic sages consider the death of Aaron’s sons in the context of a discussion about according proper respect to one’s teacher. They teach that one must never rule on halakhic matters in the presence of one’s own teacher, but must instead defer to that teacher’s authority. The sin of Nadav and Avihu, they argue, is that they issued a halakhic ruling in Moshe’s presence. The rabbis explain that Nadav and Avihu followed their own understanding of God’s words to Moshe that “the sons of Aaron shall put fire on the altar” (1:7) and thus offered their own fire, rather than waiting for the fire to come forth from God, as Moshe had done. They reasoned, “Even though the fire will come down from heaven, it is a mitzvah to bring ordinary fire” (Eruvin 63a). In so doing, they came up with their own halakhic ruling rather than following their teacher’s example.

The Talmudic sages offer various examples of biblical and rabbinic figures who failed to take this injunction seriously and were punished harshly. Joshua, they argue, was fated to remain childless because he was so brazen as to tell Moshe to destroy Eldad and Meidad, who presumed to have prophetic powers; Joshua should instead have waited for Moshe to deal with them as he saw fit. The Talmud also cites the story of one of Rabbi Eliezer’s students, who ruled in his teacher’s presence. Upon hearing of the matter, Rabbi Eliezer confides in his wife Ima Shalom, “I will be surprised if this one is still alive at the end of the year.” Within a few months, the student dies, and Ima Shalom wonders how her husband knew the fate that was in store for him: “Are you a prophet?” she asks him. He responds, “I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I have received the following tradition: Anyone who issues a halakhic ruling in his teacher’s presence is deserving of death.”

Why is it so dangerous to rule in the presence of one’s teacher? One answer is to be found in the incident that follows immediately on the heels of Nadav and Avihu’s death, when two of Aaron’s other sons, Elazar and Itamar, are rebuked by Moshe for burning the goat they have offered as a sin offering: “Why did you not eat the sin offering in the sacred area?” (10:17). Moshe insists they should have eaten the sacrifice rather than burn it, but the sons do not say anything in their own defense. Rashi (on 10:19), drawing from the midrash (Sifrei Zuta), explains that Elazar and Itamar were with their father at the time, and they reasoned, “It is inappropriate that while our father is sitting in front of us, we should answer in his presence, and it is also inappropriate that a disciple should refute his master.” Chastened perhaps by the deaths of their brothers, they have learned not to try to offer their own interpretations to justify their actions. They keep silent, and it is Aaron who explains to Moshe that it would not have been right to eat the sacrifices while in a state of mourning for Nadav and Avihu. Moshe approves—“it was good in his eyes” (10:20)—and this time no fires break forth.

The rabbinic insistence on keeping silent in the presence of one’s teacher may seem foreign to our modern sensibilities. Our educational system rewards students for their independent thinking; a student who can teach something to the teacher is generally praised, not censured. And our society at large places a premium on originality and innovation. We are not supposed to lower our heads and accept whatever we hear from those who came before us, but to question, challenge, and come up with our own way of making sense of the world around us. But in the Talmud we encounter figures such as Rabbi Eliezer—the same rabbi who predicted his student would die—who prided himself in never saying anything he had not heard from his own teachers. The rabbis praise those who can remember their teacher’s words accurately and quote their teachers by name. They argue that it is better to be a Sinai—a block of stored knowledge—than an Oker Harim—an overturner of mountains (Horayot 14a). Better to be a repository for the wisdom that came before you than to come up with your own groundbreaking insights. Better to keep silent like Elazar and Itamar than to offer your own interpretation of the verse like Nadav and Avihu.

While we will never stop valuing originality and new insight, perhaps there is something to be learned from the rabbinic veneration of tradition. None of us can be expected to be extremists like Rabbi Eliezer and treat all new ideas with scorn. But in an age where so many of us rush to light our own fires, there is something to be said for stepping back for a moment to wait for the heavenly fire of received tradition. The American poet James Merrill once cautioned that “writing poetry without reading it is a very dangerous thing.” When we write, we are joining a literary tradition that we have inherited. No matter how original our work may be, it will be received as part of a context that is greater than ourselves. May we learn from the lesson of all of Aaron’s sons to listen to those who came before us, thereby nuancing and enriching our own contributions by reference—and deference—to the traditions of which we are a part.

 

D'Var Haftorah: Michal's Choices
Bex Stern Rosenblat

We’re told Michal’s story in bits and pieces. We meet her as the second daughter of King Saul and come to know her as the first of the wives of King David. She is forever bound by both identities, stuck between the kingship of Saul and the kingship of his rival and replacement David. From the beginning though, Michal is the one who chooses on which identity to act, which loyalty to follow.

Michal appears to be the hero in her first two stories. In 1 Samuel 18 and 19, Michal drives the action, emerging from her role as daughter of Saul to choose David and to protect him. In 1 Samuel 18, Saul plots to have David killed by sending him to fight. He offers his daughter, Merav, as a reward. David does go into battle and does well. Yet he is not offered Merav. Instead, we are told, Michal loves David. It stands out as the only time in the Tanakh that a woman is said to love a man. And this choosing of Michal is enough. Saul modifies the terms for David. Now, rather than the amorphous promise of marriage in exchange for an unknown number of battles, David is promised Michal if he brings Saul 100 Philistine foreskins. Of course, Saul is still hoping that David will be killed in the endeavor and he will not have to marry his daughter off. But, through Michal’s choice, she changes the narrative. David brings Saul 200 foreskins and marries her.

Michal’s choice is even more striking in 1 Samuel 19. By this point, Saul has abandoned all pretense and is trying to kill David. Michal, knowing this, sneaks David out the window and pretends to Saul’s servants who come to seek David that David is ill in bed. When the servants come up to check the bed and discover that Michal was lying, Michal goes even further in her deception. She chooses to tell her father that David forced her to do it.

Michal’s choice here is tragic. She chooses to save her husband, forsaking her father. And yet David does not choose her back. He flees Saul and abandons Michal. And Saul takes advantage of this situation, acting as if David is dead and marrying Michal off to someone else, to Paltiel. Eventually, David will call her back to him, after he has already married a number of other wives. Saul is dead and David is mopping up all the remaining potential heirs of Saul, securing his right to the throne. In 2 Samuel 3, David demands the return of Michal from her new husband. She comes, with Paltiel following behind her, weeping. In this moment, Michal chooses to present a blank face, showing no signs of emotion or weakness, as her first husband brings her back in a power move and her second husband weeps over her departure.

Michal’s last narrative appearance is in this week’s haftarah portion, 2 Samuel 6. With great joy, David returns the ark of the covenant to its rightful place in Jerusalem. He runs before it, dancing wildly and jubilantly. We watch the scene with Michal, from a window. Upon seeing David acting like this, Michal, the only woman we’re told loves in the Tanakh, despises David in her heart. She turns to him and accuses him of debasing himself, exposing his nakedness before the female servants of his servants. In her words, David hears her choice, her rejection of servants become king like him, her preference for decorum over God. He reminds her that God chose him over the house of her father and that he will do as he pleases. The story ends by telling us that Michal had no children till the day of her death.

Michal’s story is tragic. Her position in life forces her to play certain roles, to be subject to certain forces. Her choices are always between two bad options and she might not always choose correctly. Nonetheless, Michal retains her dignity and her selfhood. She exercises her right to make choices. May we all Be so brave.

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!  


SHEMINI 5781: To Eat Or Not To Eat 
Shmini (Leviticus 9-11) 
April 10, 2021 
|  by 

When is the Truth the Biggest Lie?

GOOD MORNING!  I have on occasion written about some of the spirited discussions and disagreements that can be found at my family’s Shabbat table. Just this past Friday night I observed, with no small measure of amusement, two of my sons arguing about the correct solution to a well-known mathematical riddle

One son is a very advanced conceptual thinker with a natural inclination towards philosophy. The other son is an extremely logical and linear thinker who is studying to be an engineer. Of course they clashed over whether the philosophical approach could be practically applied, and if it could not, whether or not it was still a valid solution. Their argument went on for perhaps twenty minutes, each one refusing to give in.

Watching them I was reminded of the following passage in the Talmud (Kiddushin 30b);

“Said R’ Chiya; ‘Even a father and a son or a teacher and a student, that are sitting and studying Torah [in the study hall] become enemies, but they don’t move from there until they become devoted friends.’”

The reason they veer into enmity is because intellectual conversations can get very heated, and challenges and rebuttals are issued with some intensity (as well as some occasional vague or not so vague inferences and insinuations as to the other’s lack of intelligence).

But as the Talmud asserts, these arguments end with the combatants becoming true friends. This is because their motivation for argument was an honest one; it was to provide illumination to a Torah or philosophical concept. It wasn’t to belittle or denigrate the other individual. Thus, they become bonded in the study of Torah.

I know that many readers use this column as a springboard to conversation at their Shabbat tables. Therefore, I am presenting a well-known philosophical dilemma in the hope that it leads to meaningful discussions and perhaps even a closer family bond through Torah and philosophy.

Is it better to desire to sin and restrain oneself, or is it preferable to not want to sin in the first place?

At the end of this week’s Torah portion we find no less than forty-seven verses devoted to the identification of the various kosher and non-kosher creatures; animals, fish, birds, and insects. Considering much of the Torah’s usual brevity on a variety of topics, the extensive elaboration on some of the finer points of the laws kashrut (kosher) is rather remarkable.

Perhaps this can be understood by the central theme that food plays in our every day life. After all, we just finished a holiday whose entire celebration is more or less centered around a long festive meal – the Passover Seder. I have previously written a piece on kashrut with some elaboration on some of its details and the reasons for it. If you are interested, you can find it here https://tinyurl.com/ssw-kosher.

Returning to our philosophical dilemma, we find a very relevant verse to this discussion in this week’s Torah reading:

To distinguish between the impure and the pure, and between the animals that can be eaten and those animals which you should not eat (Leviticus11:47).

The verse refers to kosher animals as animals that may be eaten (vegans take heart – there isn’t a command to eat them – it’s merely permission), while non-kosher animals are identified as those that you may not eat. The Torah is clearly distinguishing a difference between kosher animals and non-kosher animals.

Kosher animals are designated as edible, while non-kosher animals are notdesignated as inedible; instead they are merely designated as prohibited to be consumed. While this may seem to be a slight and rather minor detail, it is, as we will shortly see, a monumental distinction.

Maimonides, who wrote a comprehensive commentary on all of Mishnah, also wrote a well-known philosophical treatise called Shmona Prakim as an introduction to the section of Mishna called Pirkei Avot – Ethics of Our FathersEthics of Our Fathers is a collection of the wisdom and ethical teachings of many generations of Jewish sages.

In the sixth chapter of Maimonides’s introduction to Pirkei Avot we find the question we have raised above regarding moral achievement: What is a higher level of morality; is it better for one to not want to sin or is it better for one to desire to sin but control his desires?

Maimonides answers that it depends on the type of sin one desires to do. He then divides sins into two categories.

The first are those sins that “are commonly agreed upon evils; such as murder, theft, ingratitude, contempt for one’s parents, and the like.” As Maimonides points out, “These are sins that the rabbis have said ‘even if they hadn’t been written into law it would be proper to add them.’” These are acts that one can rationally understand as being wrong and any civil society would naturally add them to their code of conduct.

The second category is of sins that had the Torah not forbidden them they would not be considered transgressions at all. This includes: laws of what constitutes kosher food, the prohibition of wearing clothes that are made of wool and linen, consanguineous marriages, and similar transgressions. These are acts and behaviors that we would not otherwise recognize as wrong had the Torah not prohibited them.

According to Maimonides, regarding the first category of “rational sins,” it is better not to want to do thes sins. As he terms it; “a soul that desires these sins has a defect.” Meaning, a person with some sensitivity to others and the world around him would instinctively understand that these acts would constitute improper behavior. Desiring to do them anyway constitutes a moral defect.

The second category contains sins that are only forbidden because the Torah prohibits them, not because they are morally wrong. According to Maimonides, regarding these sins it is better to say, “I desire to do them but what am I to do, Hashem has forbidden them.” In other words, we may long for a cheeseburger, bacon or shellfish, but we get “extra” credit for exerting control over our desires because God has asked us not to eat them.

Maimonides’ brilliant distinction may also have very practical applications to a variety of situations in our daily lives. For example, it would seem that a religious Jew shouldn’t reject shellfish on the basis that he finds them repulsive. Rather, he should decline consuming them because the Almighty has asked him not to eat them. (Besides, anyone that has ever eaten tongue or sweet breads or real kishkehas clearly abandoned the notion that they won’t eat things that would seem disgusting to many normal people.)

Similarly, there are many Torah observant people who grew up without knowledge of the Torah’s commandments. How are they to view the indiscretions of their past? Are they permitted to look fondly on their earlier lives when they enjoyed eating shellfish, pork, and cheeseburgers?

With Maimonides’s explanation the answer would seem to be yes. Perhaps they get even more reward knowing what they are missing and that they freely choose to adhere to the kosher laws because that is what Hashem desires. This is why the Torah describes the non-kosher animals in this week’s Torah portion as those that one is commanded not to eat, rather than calling them inedible.

There are many who try to explain the laws of kosher observance as rationalizations in order to achieve better health outcomes (e.g. eating pork could cause trichinosis, mixing milk and meat has deleterious effects on the body, eating properly slaughtered meat has less toxins and hormones than animals that are slaughtered in a non-kosher way, shrimp and lobster have exceedingly high cholesterol levels and therefore kosher is a healthier way to live, etc.).

While some of these claims may be valid, the overall theory is faulty. The reason we don’t eat these forbidden foods isn’t because they are “inedible”; we don’t eat them simply because the Almighty has forbidden us to eat them.

 

Torah Portion of the Week

Shemini (Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

Concluding the 7 days of inauguration for the Mishkan (Portable Sanctuary), Aaron, the High Priest, brings sacrifices for himself and the entire nation. Nadav and Avihu, sons of Aaron, bring an incense offering on their own initiative, and are consumed by a heavenly fire (perhaps the only time when someone did something wrong and was immediately hit by “lightning”).

Quote of the Week

Wisdom is recognizing that not everything needs a comment.

 

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

Sun, April 11 2021 29 Nisan 5781