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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.


 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



January 22, 20222   20 Shvat  5782
Torah: Exodus 18:1- 20:23  Triennial Exodus 18:1-20:23
Haftorah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6, 9:5-6 Ashkenazim
6:1-13 Sephardim

D'var Torah: Sitting Atop A Sundial
by Ilana Kurshan

Our parashah contains the words of the Ten Commandments, which God speaks to Moses and the people of Israel from Mount Sinai. The Ten Commandments are introduced by the verse, “God spoke all these words, saying” (20:1). The midrash comments on the seeming redundancy in this verse; why does the Torah need to specify that God spoke “all” these words? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to say that God spoke these words? The rabbis understand that the additional word “all” comes to teach about God’s unique relationship to time, which has implications both for the way we understand the revelation at Sinai and for the way we experience life’s temporality.

According to one of the earliest midrashim on the book of Exodus, the Mekhilta, the Torah teaches that God spoke “all” these words to signify that God spoke all the Ten Commandments simultaneously, as one utterance (Mekhilta d’Shirata, 20:1). Unlike human beings, who can articulate only one syllable at a time, God can utter many words simultaneously, as if God’s speech transcends temporality. As a result, the Ten Commandments were not spoken at one particular moment, and were not addressed only to the Israelites who had left Egypt; rather, as the midrash in Exodus Rabbah (20:1) explains, all prophets received at Sinai the prophecies they would deliver in subsequent generations. The midrash quotes Isaiah, who says, “From the time that it was, there was I, and now the Lord God has sent me, accompanied by His spirit” (48:16). Isaiah received his prophecy in “the time that was” on Sinai, but only “now,” centuries later, has he been given permission to prophesy.

The midrash adds that it was not just the prophets, but also the sages of every generation, who received their wisdom on Sinai. Since God spoke “all these words” at once, in one timeless utterance, all the sages heard them as well, and thus their wisdom—which fills the Talmud and the midrash and countless subsequent commentaries—was spoken at Sinai as well (Exodus Rabbah 28:6). In this sense both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah were given at Sinai, and every new insight we have into God’s Torah is essentially the recollection of a teaching our souls once heard directly from God. The rabbis add that the words spoken at Sinai had no echo, which makes sense, since they did not unfold in time, but were spoken simultaneously to everyone who had been and would be created. Every soul received its share of Torah at Sinai, states the midrash, citing Moshe’s words to the people in Deuteronomy (29:14): “I make this covenant…not with you alone, but with those standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day.” 

In further elaborating on the verse that introduces the Ten Commandments, the rabbis explain that it is not just God’s speech that transcends time, but all of God’s various activities. “Come and see that the ways of God are not like those of mortal man,” declare the rabbis (Exodus Rabbah 28:5), invoking a common midrashic trope. Unlike a mortal king, who cannot “wage war and at the same time be a scribe and a teacher of little children,” God can simultaneously execute both the Exodus from Egypt (waging war against Pharaoh at the sea) and the revelation at Sinai (dictating and teaching Torah). God is not hampered or limited by time, but can speak and do everything all at once. Likewise, God can turn dust to man and man to dust in the same instant, which explains how life and death can take place simultaneously, and how one person might rejoice while another weeps bitterly (Exodus Rabbah 28:4). God, in other words, is the ultimate multi-tasker; before God can even get around to drafting a to-do list, God has already gotten it all done.

For the rabbis, God’s unique temporal capabilities attest to God’s intimate connection with humanity. God can hear the prayers and cries of all human beings simultaneously, regardless of where they are called out and why, as per the verse from Psalms, “O You that hears prayer, unto You does all flesh come” (Mekhilta d’Shirata 15:11). Furthermore, God can respond to all prayers instantaneously, as per Isaiah’s prophecy, “And it will be that before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear” (65:24). As Lynn Kaye notes in her book Time in the Babylonian Talmud (Cambridge, 2018), “God’s temporal precision is an expression of ‘closeness,’ analogous to physical presence in the material world.” God can transcend time, but God is also closely in touch with mortal human beings who exist very much in time.

We might be tempted to wish that as human beings, we could emulate God’s temporal prowess. If only we could speak and do everything at the same time, how efficient we would all be! And yet as Mark Twain is credited as saying, “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” So much of the meaning in our lives is a product of our temporality. Our emotions are powerful because they are distinct from one another; if we always felt the same way, a wedding would not be a height of joy, nor would the loss of a loved one be an occasion for acute sadness. Likewise, if we always knew everything we’d ever know, we’d miss out on the pleasure of learning and discovery. Since we exist in time, the periods of our lives are distinct from one another: Shabbat feels different from the rest of the week, youth feels different from maturity, and a graduation is a moment of poignancy because it signifies the end of a stage of life that will never recur and the beginning of a future that is still uncertain. Unlike God, who is depicted in the midrash as sitting atop a sundial (Mekhilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai 12:29), we human beings experience time casting its long shadow on our lives, and illuminating us with its radiance.


D'Var Haftorah: Stumps And Seeds
Bex Stern Rosenblat

One of the recurrent themes in the Tanakh is the promise of regeneration after near complete destruction. It’s a necessary theme - we experience near total destruction over and over again. Not only do we have to believe that times will get better, times also do consistently get better before they get worse. This week’s haftarah portrays that elegantly. We read this week of the call of Isaiah to be a prophet. It’s strikingly similar to the call of many other prophets, including the call of Moses. They both protest, claiming to be unworthy and unsuited to the task before being reassured by God that God will be with them. But Moses and Isaiah are located on opposite ends of the destruction-regeneration spectrum. Moses leads the people out after near destruction. Isaiah prophesizes the coming terrible destruction to a people who are doomed not to heed his word.

The final image of the chapter is striking. We read, as translated by Robert Alter,

“And the LORD shall drive man far away and abandonment grow in the midst of the land. And yet a tenth part shall be in it and turn back. And it shall be ravaged like a terebinth and an oak which though felled have a stump within them, the holy seed is its stump.”

It’s a typical image of regeneration following destruction. Israel is represented as a tree which has been cut down, only the stump remaining. Yet a tree can send up new trunks out of its felled stump, so long as the root system is intact. Likewise, Israel will create a new version of itself after the majority of the people have been wiped out. Another possible translation, as suggested by Rashi, presents an image of a tree casting away its leaves, with only the trunk left behind. In this image, destruction is more natural and also more positive. The holy seed is found through the necessary process of casting away the frivolous surroundings. Nothing good was harmed in the discovery of the holiness.

Shel Silverstein also created a striking image of a stump. In the finale of his book for children, The Giving Tree, after a tree who loves a boy has given him everything she had, nothing of the tree remains except for the stump. The boy, grown now to an old man, returns to the tree to sit and rest on the stump. “And the tree was happy.” Here, there is no future, no next step. The boy and the tree have grown old together, reduced each other to nothing. And there is nothing more to give, nothing more to come from either of them. The stump, at least, is happy. 

Perhaps, reading Isaiah and The Giving Tree in light of each other, we can make sense of both of them. The Giving Tree has given of herself so completely that she nearly ceases to exist. But there is an existence as a stump. Sometimes, it is when we are reduced past any point we thought was possible, that we discover what our essence is, that we can decide to be a holy seed.


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!  

YITRO 5782: That Healing Feeling
YITRO Exodus (18:20)
January 16, 2022
|  by 

When is the Truth the Biggest Lie?

GOOD MORNING! If I asked you, “What is the one thing that all Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe, agree upon, and (quite surprisingly) have incorporated into their religious beliefs?” I bet you would be hard pressed to give the correct answer.

Would you believe that all three of these main world religions believe as part of their doctrine that God descended upon Mount Sinai and gave the Torah to the Jewish people? In fact, they all consider the prophets of the Old Testament to be authentic conveyers of God’s truths.

Of course, Christians believe that Jesus then superseded and supplanted Jewish beliefs and traditional practices, while Muslims believe that Mohammed was the true and final prophet, who replaced both Christian and Jewish theology with a greater truth.

In fact, while Islam considers all those who don’t accept Mohammed to be infidels whom have forfeited their right to life and possessions, Jews and Christians are in a different category as they are considered “People of the Book.” Both religions fall under the category called Dhimmis, which basically means protected people. Thus, as long as they paid the obligatory jizya tax, they maintained certain basic rights. While this is a fascinating subject, we’ll save a more complete and in-depth discussion of this concept for another time.

Have you ever wondered why so many hospitals, recovery centers, and medical facilities are named Mount Sinai? On the surface this seems to be a very random and rather odd name to associate with healthcare.

This week’s Torah reading gives us a clue. In this week’s portion we find the following verse, “God shall descend before the eyes of all the people on Mount Sinai” (Exodus 19:11).

The implication of this verse stating that everyone was able to see God descend is that even those who had been blind could actually physically see God descend. A two thousand year old Jewish tradition therefore concludes that an incredible miracle occurred prior to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai: Everyone was miraculously healed.

In other words, all the sick, infirm, and handicapped were cured at Mount Sinai. We can now understand why almost every large city has a hospital or medical facility named “Mount Sinai.”

Yet, we must wonder why God deemed it necessary to perform such an incredible miracle. What was the purpose of healing everyone? Clearly, God wasn’t just showing off. What was the message that we were meant to take away from this incredible revelation of God’s power and the departure from the physical norm?

In a famous paraphrasing of Karl Marx, critics have called religion “the opiate of the masses.” Marx believed that religion had certain practical functions in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person. Opiates reduce people's immediate suffering and provides them with pleasant illusions, but have no meaningful long term benefits. So too, Marx thought, was the purpose of religion.

(By the way, Marx was referring to religion as an opiate for the sickness and suffering brought on by soulless rampant capitalism. Meaning, religion was a temporary respite from the evils of capitalism. But with his communist agenda there would be no need for religion. We all know how well his philosophy worked out for the communists; yet, Marx’s criticism of religion persists even after his ideas for a new world order have been shown to be abject failures.)

This was EXACTLY why God delivered the incredible miracle of healing everyone prior to the gifting his law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The purpose was to teach us that religion isn’t primarily a bromide to suffering; on the contrary, the optimal way to accept the Torah is when we are in perfect health, both physically and emotionally.

Of course, the Torah also has the answers when we are suffering and/or not operating at our ideal level, but we can only fully appreciate all that God wanted to gift us on a personal and communal level when we are completely healthy.

When a person is ill or otherwise distracted by the pain of physical or emotional issues, his focus becomes distracted as well. The Torah can be helpful in addressing those issues, but at that moment all he can see is a very limited perspective of the truths the Torah contains. This is because a person in a state of pain sees everything through the lens of that suffering.

However, when one is at 100% strength, both physically and emotionally, the Torah can be seen for what it is really meant to be; a blueprint of God’s wisdom for the world and a guide for getting the most fulfillment out of the life that God has bestowed upon us. God cured everyone at Mount Sinai so that each person could fully appreciate the infinite wisdom that the Torah offers and connect to God’s truths contained therein without the slightest distraction.


Torah Portion of the Week

YITRO Exodus (18:1-20:23)

This is the Torah portion containing the giving of the Ten Commandments. Did you know that there are differences in the Ten Commandments as stated here (Exodus 20:1-14) and restated later in Deuteronomy 5:6-18? (Suggestion: have your children find the differences as a game at the Shabbat table during dinner).

Moshes' father-in-law, Jethro (Yitro or Yisro in the Hebrew), joins the Jewish people in the desert, advises Moses on the best way to serve and judge the people -- by appointing a hierarchy of intermediaries -- and then returns home to Midian. The Ten Commandments are given, the first two were heard directly from God by every Jew and then the people begged Moses to be their intermediary for the remaining eight because the experience was too intense.

The portion concludes with the Almighty telling Moses to instruct the Jewish people not to make any images of God. They were then commanded to make an earthen altar; and eventually to make a stone altar, but without the use of a sword or metal tool.



Quote of the Week
My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for He is always right.
— Abraham Lincoln


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.



Sat, January 22 2022 20 Shevat 5782