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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 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
 PARSHAT SH'LACH 5782
June 25, 2022     26 Sivan 5782
Torah: Numbers 13:1
 - 15:41 Triennial  15:8-15:41
Haftorah:  Joshua 2:1-24
                                           

D'var Torah: Thoughts About Riding A Camel Under The Knee Of The Dead
by Ilana Kurshan

Our parashah is bookended by the story of the spies and the commandment of tzitzit. At the beginning of the parashah, God instructs Moshe to send twelve spies to scout out the land of Canaan; ten of them return and distress the people with their negative report, and as a result, God decrees that over the course of the next 38 years, the entire generation will die out in the wilderness. At the end of the parashah, God instructs Moshe to tell the people to make fringes on the corners of their garments to serve as a reminder to observe God’s commandments. These bookended passages are linked by the verb la-tur, to scout out or search after, as Rashi (on Numbers 13:25) and others have noted. Just as the spies were sent to scout out (v’ya-turu) the land, the mitzvah of tzitzit is intended to remind us not to search after (ta-turu) the lustful urges of our hearts and eyes. But the Talmud also conjoins the story of the spies and the mitzvah of Tzitzit in the context of a strange, unusual rabbinic travelogue, offering insight into the purpose of the mitzvot and the way they can shape our lives.

In the fifth chapter of tractate Bava Batra (73b-74a), amidst a discussion of the laws governing the sale of ships and other moveable property, the Talmud embarks on a long digression in which the late-third-century Babylonian sage Rabbah bar ba Hannah recounts his fantastic adventures at sea and in the desert. Rabbah bar bar Hannah is guided by an Arab who points out various sites along the way, playing Virgil to his Dante. At one point the Arab says to Rabbah bar bar Hannah and his travel companions, “Come, let me show you the dead of the wilderness.” He shows the travelers the corpses of the wilderness generation, those whose death was decreed as punishment for the episode with the spies.

Upon seeing the dead bodies resting on their backs all around him, Rabbah bar bar Hannah observes that the knee of one of the corpses is elevated. The corpse is so enormous that the Arab guide is able to ride his camel underneath its knee while holding his spear upright – perhaps an allusion to the wilderness generation’s all-too-credulous belief that the people of the land were like giants. Rabbah bar bar Hannah leans in and cuts one corner of the dead man’s garment affixed with tzitzit, at which point he finds himself paralyzed; he cannot take another step. The Arab says to him, “Perhaps we are stopped because you took something from the dead? Return it, as we know that one who takes something from the dead cannot walk.” The rabbi returns the corner of the dead man’s garment and they proceed on their journey.

In the continuation of this passage, the sages denounce Rabbah bar bar Hannah for cutting off the dead man’s tzitzit. They assume that Rabbah bar bar Hannah was motivated by a desire to bring these fringes before a rabbinical court, thereby settling once and for all the dispute between the school of Hillel and the school of Shammai over how many threads need to be conjoined in the fringes (see Menachot 41b). But the Tosafot (on Bava Batra 74a) take this story in a different direction, questioning whether Rabbah bar bar Hannah’s testimony is evidence that the dead are supposed to be buried with tzitzit affixed to their garments.

The Tosafot cite a story in tractate Berakhot in which Rabbi Hiya and Rabbi Yonatan were once walking through a cemetery when Rabbi Yonatan’s tzitzit began dragging on the ground. Rabbi Hiya told him to lift them up so that the dead would not think that Rabbi Yonatan was mocking them, since the dead are not obligated in mitzvot and thus do not wear tzitzit. The Tosafot resolve the apparent contradiction between the two stories—why did the dead man of the wilderness generation wear tzitzit, while the dead men in the cemetery did not—by explaining that only the members of the wilderness generation were buried with their tzitzit, because of the unusual way in which they died: Every Tisha b’Av in the desert, a voice would instruct every individual to dig his or her own grave and sleep in it, then in the morning, the voice would proclaim, “Let the living separate from the dead,” as only some would rise. When the Israelites got into their graves, then, they were still wearing their tzitzit. However, ordinarily a person is not buried with tzitzit because, as the Tosafot quote from the Talmud in Niddah (61b), “Once a person dies, he is free from the mitzvot.”

The notion that the dead are no longer obligated for the commandments is all the more true of tzitzit, which are a sort of meta-commandment that serve to remind us to fulfill all the other mitzvot. The midrash (Tanchuma on Numbers 15:37) invokes the analogy to a person who was drowning at sea, when a helmsman on a passing boat extended a rope to him, urging him, “Grab this rope and do not let go, for if you let go, you will lose your life.” In the same way, God extends the tzitzit fringes to us and tells us that as long as we adhere to the commandments, we will remain alive. The tzitzit are a reminder of the mitzvot that sustain us and allow us to draw close to God in this world; once we are dead, we have no need for them anymore.

Over time it became customary to wrap the dead in a tallit, but to cut off the tzitzit prior to burial. As the midrash teaches, the dead no longer have any need for the lifeline that tzitzit represents. But tzitzit is not just a lifeline, but also an opportunity. So long as we are alive, we still have the chance to draw closer to God and to elevate ourselves through the performance of God’s commandments; once we die and our souls are restored to God, we lose that chance.

I was reminded of this teaching a few months ago when running in the Jerusalem half-marathon. At the end of the race, my legs were heavy and tired and I was so tempted to slow down and take it easy for the last few kilometers. But I could see the finish line off in the distance, and I knew that once I crossed it, I would have ample time to rest. Now, while the race was still on, I had the chance to run as fast as I could and achieve my best time.

Death is the ultimate finish line. The conjoining of the story of the wilderness generation fated to die with the life-affirming mitzvah of tzitzit reminds us that so long as we remain alive on this earth, we still have the chance to keep pushing ourselves to perform the mitzvot that enable us to live a full life.

D'Var Haftorah:  Whores And Heroes
Bex Stern Rosenblat

This week’s parasha starts out gloriously - we are to scout out the land in order to enter it. This land is that very land which has been promised to us for hundreds of years, and now we, a group of former slaves, are about to be the generation to enter it. The ending of the parasha is dismal. Not only will we not merit to enter the land, we are told, repeatedly and graphically, that we will die before entering the land, that our carcasses will fall in the wilderness.

It is only natural that before our second attempt to enter the land, we are thoroughly warned about what constitutes proper and improper behavior so that we do not lose out again on living in the land. The main thing we must not do, above all others, is worship other gods when we enter the land. The language used to describe this action is to whore, whoring after other gods. We are warned in Exodus 34 not to make a covenant with the peoples of the land lest that led to us whoring after their gods. Likewise, God warns Moses shortly before he dies that when Israel enters the land, they will whore after foreign gods and break the covenant.

Entering the land is scary. We have longed for it all of our lives but we also know that to be in relationship with the land is a tremendous responsibility. We have been warned. Yet in our haftarah, just as we are poised to enter the land again, Joshua sends out scouts again to “go and see the land.” And yet their very first action is “go and enter the house of a woman, a whore.” Despite the warnings, despite the memory of the last stories of the spies, we can’t get two steps into Israel before stumbling into the house of a whore. It makes something of a mockery of the warnings.

The text portrays Rahab, the whore, incredibly positively. She is the only named character besides Joshua in the story. She functions as the driver of the action, the hero who recognizes God’s power and takes action against the Canaanite enemy. Rahab is rewarded in the end with a place in the new world order. Rashi follows the Targum and tries to soften the irony - he understands her as an innkeeper rather than as a whore.

Malbim goes in a different direction. He reads the spies’ move as clever and strategic. The spies, in his eyes, go to Rehab because, as a whore, she will have all the relevant gossip. She will know state secrets and perhaps be willing to divulge them. This understanding of what it means to be a whore is in accordance with the way the rest of the Tanakh describes whoring. Rahab is functioning as a traitor to her people, but the god she whores after is our God.

The idea of whoring after foreign gods develops throughout the historical and prophetic texts as we see it happen in real time. We do enter the land and we do go astray after foreign gods and foreign nations. We do it to such a degree that the prophetic texts start to describe us as a whore rather than just someone who has the propensity to whore. It becomes our defining attribute.

But the story of Rahab helps us understand ourselves in a different light. We read her story with respect and with sympathy. We will inevitably go astray and we will inevitably suffer. We will see others from our own nation suffer for our actions. But there is a way to remember ourselves as heroes even as we go astray. 

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!  

SH'LACH 5782:  You Really Shouldn't Have !

by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig

 
Sh'Lach (Numbers 13:1-15:41)
June 25,  2022
|  by ig

GOOD MORNING! Recently, I began thinking about gift giving and the inherent conundrum it creates. A gift is given to make the recipient happy and to express the closeness of the relationship. In order to make the recipient happy you need to know what they want. However, if you don’t know what they might want, you can’t ask them because that demonstrates that you aren’t close enough to really know them.

Then, of course, there’s the situation where you get the person exactly what they want, but this gift might make someone else in their life miserable, like getting your grandchild a puppy or a drum set. This reminds me of the following story, a version of which happened to a friend of mine.

When the four-year-old boy opened the birthday gift from his grandmother, he discovered a water pistol. He squealed with delight and headed for the nearest sink. His mother was not so pleased. She turned to her mother and said, “Mom, I’m surprised at you! Don’t you remember how we used to drive you crazy with water guns?”

Her mother smiled sweetly and replied, “I remember.”

This week's Torah portion includes a remarkable lesson regarding the importance of giving someone what they actually desire and not something that you think they should want.

“They awoke early in the morning and ascended toward the mountaintop saying, ‘We are ready, we shall go up to the place of which Hashem has spoken – we have sinned’”(Numbers 14:40).

This week's Torah reading recounts the tragic story of the twelve spies whose negative report on the Land of Israel caused the Jewish nation to reject the notion of entering the land, and sowed seeds of both discontent and insurrection; “Why is God bringing us to this land to die by the sword? […] Is it not better to return to Egypt?” and “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt!” (Numbers14:2-4).

It is quite astonishing that a nation that was barely a year removed from miraculously leaving Egypt – a country that had enslaved them for hundreds of years – was now pining for their halcyon home of yesteryear. As one might imagine, God did not take kindly to this ingratitude and He decreed that the Jewish nation would wander in the desert for forty years and that the entire generation would die and not enter the Land of Israel.

The story of the twelves spies is well-known, but there is an oft overlooked postscript to this calamitous story, it is the incident of the “Mapilim – Defiant Ones.”

In brief, the morning after the terrible decree that the entire generation would perish in the desert and not enter the Land of Israel, a large group decided that they would show the Almighty that they really did desire to enter the land. Thus, they began ascending the mountain and told Moses, “We are ready, we shall go up to the place of which Hashem has spoken – we have sinned” (Numbers 14:40).

Upon hearing their plans, Moses warns them explicitly, “Do not ascend, it will not succeed. Do not ascend, for God is not in your midst [...] You have turned away from God and He will not be with you” (Numbers 14:41-43).

So the people listened to Moses, abandoned their plans and went back to their tents to spend some time reflecting on their misdeeds, right? Of course not!

Naturally, the people were intransigent; they adopted an attitude of “we’ll show you!” and defiantly attempted to go up to the Land of Israel anyway. Of course, and just as Moses had predicted, they were utterly wiped out by the Amalekite and Canaanite nations who dwelled in the mountains surrounding the Land of Israel.

One of the overriding principles of Judaism is that the Almighty desires a relationship with His children and gives mankind the opportunity to repent and return back to Him. This is the concept and process known as teshuvah and this opportunity is one of the greatest gifts that God bestowed on an imperfect humanity.

The great 18th century Hasidic master known as Bal Shemtov wonders why their admission, “We have sinned” isn’t considered a true repentance. In other words, they seemingly accepted responsibility for their sin of trusting the twelve spies and rejecting the Land of Israel. Why didn’t the Almighty accept their contrition and allow them to enter the Land of Israel? Why were they punished so severely?

There is a fundamental misunderstanding about what exactly the transgression was in the episode of the twelve spies. It is commonly understood that the Jewish nation was punished for not trusting in the Almighty and not believing that the land He was taking them to was a truly wonderful place.

While it is true that it was wrong not to trust the Almighty, this trust was violated initially by sending the spies in the first place. In other words, the very idea that the Land of Israel needed their approval was already a breach in their trust. Still, God tolerated this indignity.

Their real transgression, the one that caused the decree of death on the entire generation, was their refusal to go enter the Land of Israel even after knowing it was what God desired. The punishment of wandering in the desert for forty years wasn’t because they expressed distrust; rather it was for not fulfilling the will of the Almighty.

We know that the Torah was given as a means of having a most amazing life. This often leads us to attempt to justify or explain why keeping the mitzvos is really better for us – being faithful to one’s spouse will lead to a more fulfilling marriage, we shouldn’t eat pork because it can cause trichinosis, Shabbat is a great day to charge the physical and emotional batteries, etc.

This is a mistake. While it is important for us to recognize the amazing benefits of a Torah based life, we don’t just keep the laws for which we devise reasons or deduce God’s intent. We must never lose sight of the fact that the real reason we follow all the commandments in the Torah is because we accepted the Torah and committed to obey God’s will.

It just so happens that my wife HATES the cold. Anything less than 75 degrees and she wants a sweater. If I would decide to gift her with tickets to see Shakespeare in the Park in New York in January, it wouldn’t be much of a gift. You can’t gift others something that you want them to have, you have to give them something that they would want or recognize that they need.

This is what happened with the story of the “Mapilim – Defiant Ones.” The morning after the calamity of the twelve spies, they admitted that they made a mistake in listening to the spies who misled them regarding the dangers of the Land of Israel. However, they never admitted to the fact that they were wrong in not listening to God in the first place. They assumed they could undo the previous night by showing God that they now agreed with Him by expressing their enthusiasm for the Land of Israel.

But they missed the point. This wasn’t about the sin of trusting the spies, this was simply about not following God’s wishes to go into the land. The reason that their admission of “we have sinned” isn’t considered a proper act of repentance is because the Mapilim misunderstood what their sin was. They thought it was about not trusting God, when really it was about not obeying God.

This is why the next morning they immediately repeated their mistake: Moses explicitly told them that they were not obeying the will of God and that He would not be with them. Stubbornly, they went anyway because they wanted to display that they now agreed that the right decision was to enter the Land of Israel.

Unfortunately, they wanted to give God something that He did not want. Sadly, this led to their slaughter at the hands of the Amalekites and Canaanites

Torah Portion of the Week


 SH'LACH,  Numbers 13:1-15:48)

The Jewish people received the Torah on Mt. Sinai and were ready to enter the land of Israel. There was a consensus of opinion amongst the people that we should send spies to see if it was feasible to conquer the land. Moses knew that the Almighty’s promise to give the land included a guarantee to conquer it. However, one of the principles of life, which we learn from this portion, is: the Almighty allows each of us the free will to go in the direction we choose. Even though one man and the Almighty is a majority, Moses – by Divine decree – sent out the princes of the tribes (men of the highest caliber) to spy out the land.

Twelve spies were sent. Ten came back with a report of strong fortifications and giants; they rallied the people against going up to the land. Joshua ben Nun and Calev ben Yefunah (Moses’ brother-in-law) tried to stem the rebellion, but did not succeed. The Almighty decreed 40 years of wandering in the desert, one year for each day they spied in the land of Israel. This happened on the 9th of Av, a date noted throughout Jewish history for tragedy.

 

Quote of the Week
A true gift comes with ribbons, not strings.

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

Mon, June 27 2022 28 Sivan 5782