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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
SHABBAT HOL HAMOED SUKKOT 5781 
September 18, 2021|   12 Tishrei 5781
Torah: Exodus 33:12-34:26 Triennial Numbers 29:23- 28
Haftorah: Ezekiel 33:18-39:16, Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)

 

D'var Torah: Gone With The Wind
by Ilana Kurshan
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This coming Shabbat we will read the book of Kohelet, as we do every year on the Shabbat of Hol HaMoed Sukkot. The book of Kohelet, one of the five Megillot, is about the vanity and futility of all human pursuits. The author, traditionally thought to be King Solomon, writes about loneliness, the tears of the oppressed, the hollowness of wealth, the transience of life, and the similar fate that awaits the righteous and the wicked, and the wise and the foolish alike. The book’s images – which include snakebite, stillbirth, dead flies, and the relentless rising and falling of the sun – seem to have nothing to do with the holiday of Sukkot, which is at once a harvest festival in which we celebrate our bounty and a commemoration of God’s loving care for the Israelites during our wilderness wanderings. Why do we read such a depressing book on the holiday known as “the time of our rejoicing”? The Talmudic rabbis, amidst a discussion of the nature of the Sukkah, begin to hint at an answer to this question, offering insight into the meaning of Sukkot and its nuanced emotional valence.

The first chapter of the Talmudic tractate about Sukkot opens with a debate about the structure of the Sukkah and its architectural requirements. How tall may the walls of a Sukkah be? Must a Sukkah be strong enough to withstand heavy sea winds? What if a Sukkah is smaller than four square cubits in area, or can fit only one person not including the table where he or she eats? What if it’s built atop a wagon or a ship? As the rabbis demonstrate, the answer to all of these questions hinges on the extent to which the Sukkah is regarded as a temporary structure. Everyone agrees that the mitzvah to dwell in a Sukkah is for seven days alone, but how solid and stable must the Sukkah be? The Babylonian sage Abaye contends that the sages are divided about this matter – some hold that a Sukkah must be fit to last more permanently, while others maintain that the Sukkah should be an inherently temporary structure (Sukkah 7b).

Rabbi Eliezer is listed among those sages who argue that a Sukkah must be fit to be a permanent structure; in contrast, his student Rabbi Akiva maintains that a Sukkah is inherently temporary, and thus it need not be strong enough to withstand uncommonly strong winds (23a). Their disagreement is interesting in light of another debate between them, about the nature of the Sukkot we are commanded to dwell in on the holiday. Drawing on the verse in which God commands us to dwell in Sukkot “in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in Sukkot when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43), Rabbi Akiva argues that the requirement is to dwell in leafy-roofed huts – actual Sukkot. But his teacher Rabbi Eliezer disagrees, insisting that Sukkot refer to the clouds of God’s glory which protected the Israelites in the wilderness (Sukkah 11b). And so Rabbi Akiva, who holds that the Sukkah is inherently temporary, also understands the Sukkah as a physical structure; whereas Rabbi Eliezer, who holds that the Sukkah must be fit to last more permanently, understands the Sukkah as a reference to God’s presence.

On Sukkot we realize that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer are both right. The physical structures we build on Sukkot, like most anything human beings construct, will not last forever; only God’s protective presence endures eternally. It is for this reason that Kohelet is so appropriate to read on this holiday, as Rabbi Uri Brilliant and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks have noted. Kohelet teaches that everything material is temporary; a rich man hoards wealth only to find that it is suddenly lost in an unlikely venture. “Getting and spending we lay waste our powers,” as Wordsworth put it. And yet God’s glory and God’s sheltering presence are permanent and enduring, as the book of Kohelet concludes: “The sum of the matter, when all is said and done: Revere God and observe His commandments, for this is the whole of man” (12:14). On Sukkot a keen awareness of temporality intensifies our yearning to know the comfort of God’s eternal presence.

Sukkot, like the book of Kohelet, is about the relationship between the temporal and the eternal, reminding us of what truly endures. All year we can delude ourselves into thinking that our houses and possessions will be ours forever, but on Sukkot we realize the vanity of that assumption. Nothing we own is truly ours; we are at best custodians for a world God created and entrusted to our care. Our time on this earth, too, is inherently temporary – one generation comes and another goes, like the abundant harvest of the fall that dwindles in the winter months, and like the leafy branches that adorn our Sukkah but will soon wither and crumble to dust. “We live on this vast earth for such a short while,” writes poet Edward Hirsch, “that we must mourn and celebrate right now.” On Sukkot we rejoice at the knowledge that through the very precariousness of our temporary structures, we can find shelter and shade, beauty and bounty and blessing.

D'Var Haftorah: Endings And Beginnings
Bex Stern Rosenblatt

The Tanakh has a pretty specific idea of how the apocalypse and its aftermath is going to play out. Using language and imagery that are similar to the ways it described the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, the Tanakh describes an epic final battle and truly gruesome casualties. This is the content of our Haftarah portion, Ezekiel 38-39, which we read over Hol HaMoed Sukkot. It is hard to read and hard to know what tone or mood to read it in. 

The end of days happens in parts. First, God uses Gog as God’s instrument, to wreck destruction on Israel and on the earth. As Robert Alter translates:

“And you shall come up against My people Israel; like a cloud to cover the land, in the days afterward, you shall be. And I will bring you against My land so that the nations may know Me as I am hallowed through you, O Gog. … And the fish in the sea and the fowl in the heavens shall quake before Me, and the beasts of the field and every crawling thing that crawls on the earth, and every human who is on the face of the earth.… Each man’s sword shall be against his brother.”

We do not know exactly who Gog is. But in this first stage, God uses Gog to undo creation, to undo the order of life made in the beginning of Genesis. But even as the world falls to pieces, the purpose is not total destruction. Rather, “And I will be magnified and hallowed, and I will become known before the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD.” God wants the world to know who God is. Destruction becomes a tool for the spread of knowledge. Just as we have interpreted every defeat of Israel as a theological lesson in God’s might in punishing Israel and bringing Israel back onto the correct path, here too defeat is a learning experience. 

The next stage of the apocalypse is the destruction of God. We read God telling Ezekiel to tell Gog of his coming destruction: “On the mountains of Israel you shall fall, and all your divisions and the people that are with you. I will make you food for carrion birds, every winged thing, and for beasts of the field. On the surface of the field you shall fall, for I have spoken, said the Master, the LORD.” Those very animals which had seemed to be undone in the undoing of creation now rise up to feast on the one who tried to destroy them. 

Moreover, after the animals are through, Israel rises up to purify the land from this desecration. It is in the seventh month that the land will finally be purified. Of course, the seventh month, as the Tanakh often counts, is Tishrei, this month in which Sukkot falls. And the haftarah portion for the first day of Sukkot, Zechariah 14, explicitly connects Gog and Sukkot. This holiday we are living now is the final stage. As we dwell in our sukkot, we can imagine ourselves in a post-apocalyptic world. Whereas the Tanakh imagines Gog as the incarnation of all evil and the tool with which to excise it, during this past month, we have seen the evil in ourselves and gone through the powerful process of teshuvah. Now, let us sit in our sukkot and enjoy the beauty of the world, created anew through our new eyes. 

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!  


SUKKOT 5781: A Time For Unity
SUKKOT  (Leviticus 22:26-23:44)
September19, 2021 
|  by 

When is the Truth the Biggest Lie?

GOOD MORNING! On this upcoming Monday night, September 21, begins the seven day holiday of Sukkot (though outside of the Land of Israel an extra day is added). This holiday is unique in many ways, not the least of which is that it is known as zman simchateinu – “The time of our joy.” Although the word “joy” is sometimes used interchangeably with the word “happy” they really are very different.

Happy is a description of a momentary state of being. At any particular moment a person may be happy, sad, angry, jealous, etc. These emotions are generally outcomes caused by a specific event or occurrence. I am reminded of the quote: “Some people bring happiness wherever they go; and others whenever they go.”

Joy, on the other hand, is very different. Joy is a state of mind that comes from lasting relationships, working towards meaningful goals and achievements, and living with a set of values and ideals.

Of course, a person who is in a state of joy will also experience being happy more often. But this happiness is derived from being able to focus on the simpler pleasures in life like a great cup of coffee, a walk on the beach in the early morning, or truly experiencing a spectacular sunset.

Many people (perhaps even the majority of our society) believe they will be happy when they get rich, marry the right person, have an expensive car, or have a ten million dollar home. Obviously, this is terribly wrong.

Research shows that the “sweet spot” for being able to experience happiness with income is somewhere between $60,000-$95,000. Likewise, if you are unhappy when single, you won’t be happy in a relationship. Being happy doesn’t come from external “things,” it come from within. This is the true message of Sukkot.

The Torah tells us, "The festival of Sukkot shall be to you for seven days when you gather from your threshing floors and your wine cellar. You shall rejoice in your festival [...] for the Almighty will bless you in all of your produce and in all of the work of your hand and you shall be completely joyous” (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).

The name “Sukkot” is derived from the Torah mandated obligation to live in a “sukkah” – a temporary outdoor hut, which symbolizes that the Almighty sheltered the Jewish people when they left Egypt:

“So that your future generations will know that I sheltered the Children of Israel when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:43).

The word sukkah comes from the materials that we use as a temporary roof to cover these huts – the schach – which means to shelter. We are enjoined to live these seven days in our sukkah – we eat in it, sleep in it, and try to spend as much time in it as possible.

Sukkot is celebrated as a harvest festival; a time when we look at all the “fruits” of our labors. In other words, it is the time of year when we step back and appreciate all that we have achieved through our hard work. But it is also a time to appreciate all the good that the Almighty has bestowed upon us.

It is no accident that farmers – people who work the earth – are amongst the most religious of people; trusting in the benevolence of the Almighty. They take a perfectly good seed that could be eaten and they stick it in the ground not knowing whether there will be rain or drought or floods or pestilence. They put forth hard work not knowing the outcome. They trust in the Almighty for their food and their very existence.

The mitzvah of dwelling in the sukkah teaches us that our lives our totally intertwined with God. We often lose sight of this key element of our existence. We tend to think that our possessions, our money, our homes, our intelligence, will protect us.

But during the holiday of Sukkot we are exposed to the elements in a temporary hut. Living in a sukkah puts life into perspective. Our corporeal bodies are even more transient than our possessions.

Life is vulnerable. Jewish history has borne out how our homes and communities are fleeting. No matter how well-established, wealthy, and "secure" we have become in a host country, in the end it too has been a temporary dwelling. Our trust must be in the Almighty who sheltered us when He took us out of Egypt and continues to do so every day of our lives.

Sukkot is one of the Shelosh Regalim, Three Festivals (the other two are Pesach and Shavuot), where the Torah commands all Jews to leave their homes to come to Jerusalem to celebrate at the Temple. For the last 2,000 years since the destruction of the Temple, we've been unable to fulfill this mitzvah (may we soon be able to fulfill this mitzvah once again in its entirety!).

In the times of the Temple, during the Festival of Sukkot, seventy offerings were brought -- one for each nation of the world -- so that the Almighty would provide for them as well. The Talmud tells us that if the nations of the world understood the value of what the Jewish people provided them, they would have sent their armies to defend our Temple in Jerusalem to keep it from being destroyed!

Aside from the mitzvah of eating and sleeping in a sukkah, we have another unique mitzvah on the holiday of SukkotThe Torah informs us in Leviticus 23:40 of a special commandment for Sukkot -- to take the arbah minim – the Four Species. The four different species that we are commanded to take are 1) etrog – citron, 2) lulav – a branch from a date-palm, 3) hadassim – myrtle branches, and 4) aravot – willow branches.

Being a harvest festival, it is only natural that we collect different things that grow and incorporate them into our prayer services for this holiday. In the prayer section known as Hallel we gather these four species in our hands and wave them in the four directions of the compass as well as up and down. The waving is symbolic of several things, including a reminder that the Almighty’s presence is everywhere.

Still, we must try to understand why these four species are specifically designated for this mitzvah.

Our rabbis teach that each one of these four species represents a different type of Jew. The etrog (citron), which has both a fragrance and a taste, represents those Jews who have both Torah wisdom and good deeds. The lulav (date palm branch), which has a taste (from the dates) but no fragrance, represents those Jews who have Torah wisdom but no good deeds.

The hadassim (myrtle branches), which have a fragrance but no taste, represents those Jews who have good deeds but no Torah wisdom. Lastly, the aravot (willow branches), which have neither a taste nor a smell, represents those Jews who are lacking in both Torah wisdom and good deeds.

I once heard from my father a beautiful lesson related to this concept. My father pointed out a very interesting contradiction to this teaching. According Jewish Law, if one is present at the precise time that another Jew passes away one is obligated to do “kriah” – a several inch tear of the outer garment which is over the heart (generally a shirt). This is similar to the kriah that mourners typically do after burying a loved one.

The great medieval commentator known as Rashi explains the reason for this. Says Rashi “There is no Jew who passes away that doesn’t have some Torah knowledge or mitzvot for which their soul is credited.” Therefore, when a Jew passes and one is present at the very moment that the soul leaves the body then a sign of grief is required, which is fulfilled by kriah. 

“If this is true,” asked my father, “How is it possible that the lulav represents the Jews without mitzvot or that the hadassim represents Jews without Torah knowledge or that the aravot represents Jews that have neither Torah knowledge or mitzvot – Rashi just explained that every Jew has some Torah knowledge and some mitzvot?”

My father explained the contradiction with a fundamental principle of Judaism: “It’s absolutely true that every Jew has at least some Torah knowledge and some mitzvot. But the message that we learn from the four species is that there is also a taste and a smell related to the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot.

Taste and smell are attributes that relate to how an item impacts something else, positively or negatively. Unfortunately, there are many Jews who have Torah knowledge but they don’t impact others in a positive way. They may be very knowledgeable, but don’t take others into consideration.

Likewise, there are many Jews who rush to do mitzvot, but sometimes it comes at the expense of others (I often see people rushing to prepare for Shabbat while double parking in the middle of the street and inconveniencing everyone else because they are in a hurry).

These people may have Torah knowledge and fulfilled many mitzvot, but they don’t have the pleasant “taste” of the Torah or the fragrant “smell” of the mitzvot. Consequently, a person may actually have significant Torah knowledge and a multitude of mitzvot, but on the whole they are still represented by the “lowly” aravot – the one species with no taste or smell.

But even with all our shortcomings as a people, on Sukkot we are commanded to bring all these four species together as a single entity. In other words, to complete the mitzvah we need all four of them and they need to be held together at the same time when making the blessing for this mitzvah. Likewise, if any are missing there is no mitzvah.

The message here is very clear. We must recognize that each and every Jew is integral to the unity of the nation. Whether a person is as big a scholar as our teacher Moses, or as ignorant as a child who never even went to school, all are a necessary component of the “body” of the Jewish people. If either one is not included in the group, we as a people are incomplete.

We symbolically bind together and recognize every Jew as an integral and important part of the Jewish people. Whether or not we agree with everything they do or how they comport themselves, if even one is missing, the mitzvah is incomplete.

Our people are one; we must do all we can to bind together the Jewish people and work to strengthen the Jewish future!

 

Torah Portion of the Week


SUKKOT Leviticus (22:26- 23:44)

 

 

Quote of the Week

I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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

Sat, September 25 2021 19 Tishrei 5782