February, 2011 Archives

28
Feb

Shekalim: Who Can Weigh?

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week

“Sinners were afraid in Zion; trembling seized hypocrites.

Which of us can live with consuming fire?

Which of us can live with the eternal conflagration?

One who walks with righteousness and speaks with truthfulness,

who spurns extortionate profit and shakes off his hands from holding a bribe,

who seals his ears from hearing of bloodshed,

and shuts his eyes from seeing evil.

He shall dwell in heights;

in rocky fortresses is his stronghold;

his bread will be granted, his water assured.

Your eyes will behold the King in His splendor;

they will see Him from a faraway land.

Your heart will muse in dread,

Where is the one who counts?

Where is the one who weighs (Shokail)?

Where is the one who counts the towers?

You will not see bold people,

the people whose speech is too difficult to understand,

of garbled tongue,

without comprehension (Isaiah 33:14–19).”

Isaiah promises that the righteous who will live at the time of Redemption will look back on the past and wonder, “How was it ever possible that we would reject God, the One who counts everything we do, the One who weighs every action, thought, and word?”

The “Shokail,” the One, Who weighs, only God can truly weigh all that we do.

The Half Shekel, not a full Shekel, is our statement that we are incapable of understanding the full weight of what we do, speak, and think, it is a statement of faith that only the True Judge can accurately weigh all of these things.

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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28
Feb

Midrash Esther XX: Judge or King?

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week

“And princes of the provinces, being before him.” Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Samuel the son of Nachman explained this differently. Rabbi Eliezer said: They were placed as in this state room of Geder (Gadara in Transjordania), where the King sits on a raised dais to give judgment, while all the people sit before him on the ground.

Rabbi Samuel the son of Nachman said: They were placed as in the Basilica of the powerless when it is full of people, where the King sits on his couch and all the people lie prostrate before him; therefore it says, “and princes of the provinces before him.”

Rabbi Eliezer pictured the scene as the King the sitting as a judge. He sees this conference, and probably this seven day party that followed, as the King’s attempt to present himself as a wise judge.

Rabbi Samuel, on the other hand, pictures this scene as the King asserting himself as King. He wants all to lie low, prostrate before him.

When we study the end of the first chapter of the Book of Esther, we find the King gathered with his most important guests in judgment over Queen Vashti. Perhaps the entire scene, which I believe was planned by Achashveirosh all along, was for him to present himself as a wise ruler, one who would serve as the ultimate judge of the people. This was his chance to display his greatness as a judge.

Rabbi Samuel does not view the final scene in the first chapter as that of a king functioning as a judge. He reads this story as one of a King desperate to assert himself as a king before whom all must bow, who is now in a terrible situation having been humiliated by his wife before the powerful people sitting with him, the only ones who knew what Vashti had done.

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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28
Feb

The Ivy Room

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week

James Joyce’s “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” mourns the state of Irish politics and people’s inability to maintain consistent beliefs. The group of men gathering in the once active and promising room of the national party, which used to be Parnell’s headquarters, show little enthusiasm for the candidate they apparently support, and instead bicker about trivial things.

The men in the story dwell on the past so much that almost no constructive action takes place. The men in the room are paralyzed in a cycle of inactivity and equivocation. At one moment one character bemoans another’s empty promise to send beer, while in the next moment he defends the same person’s sense of honor and recites his promotional speech.

The appearance of a priest indicates that this inability to devote oneself to a cause also applies to religion.

The men in the room are stirred into quiet reflection on their unremarkable contribution to politics. After they applaud his speech, the men sit in silence, respect, and perhaps, guilt. The men of “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” realize they that they are not the ones to lead the charge. Instead, they will sit year after year, impotently wearing their ivy. The story mourns the death of firm political opinion in general.

I often find myself feeling as if I too am sitting in the “Ivy Room.” I join passionate conversations and debates about service of God, only to find that moments after the conversation has ended people’s passion has dissipated. We discuss lofty ideas and ideals, and yet so many of us just sit around like the characters in Joyce’s story. We speak of our concerns, our ideas, our goals, our dreams, only to quickly forget and reinsert ourselves into our lives without any of what we discussed. I hate sitting in the “Ivy Room.”

I can understand motion is strange blessing to the children of Israel upon viewing their completed work for the Mishkan: “May it be your will that God’s Presence dwell in this place.”

Moshe is blessing them with the will and desire to have God’s Presence rest in the building for which they have worked so assiduously. He is blessing them that the Mishkan never become the “Ivy Room.”

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Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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27
Feb

Shekalim: Only Part

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week

“Who measured the waters in His palm, gauged the Heavens with a span, measured in a huge vessel (Bashalish) the dust of the earth, and weighed mountains with a scale and hills with a balance (Isaiah 40:12)?”

The Hebrew for “huge vessel,” is, “Bashalish,” meaning, only a third: A person does only a third, or part of what he can and should. We can think, speak, and act, yet, many, those who are “the dust of the earth,” do not invest all they do with all three. God responds in a “weighed measure,” and the person will only see one third of the potential results of his Service of God.

(Be’eir Mayim Chaim – Vaeira)

The Half Shekel, or, in our context, the partly measured, is a question we must ask ourselves: Are we fully invested in what we do with thought, speech and action?

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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27
Feb

Midrash Esther XIX: Who Were The Partemim?

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week

“The Partemim.” Rabbi Eliezer said: The Partemim are the two Imperial Legions of the King; for a king is not called Augustus Caesar unless they first proclaim him. And they, the legions, are the following: Rabbi Isaac said: they are the Decumanian and Augustan legions. (The reference is probably to the Praetorian Guards, which frequently deposed and set up emperors until they were finally disbanded by Constantine the Great.) It was these which suggested to Nebuchadnezar (Vespasian) that he should go up and destroy the Temple, and God exterminated them and raised up others in their place. These are, according to Rabbi Judah the son of Rabbi Simon speaking in the name of Rabbi Eliezer, the Joviani and Herculanei. (A bodyguard instituted by Diocletian bore the name of Joviani.) Rabbi Huna said: They, the Partemim, where his counselors and viceroys. Rabbi Isaac said: “Benei ta’amaya means counselors, as we read, “Then Daniel returned an answer with counsel and advice (Daniel 2:14).”

This Midrash is clearly an example of the Sages using the Purim story to parallel their experiences with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, by the Romans. Nebuchadnezar is used to describe Vespasian. Achashveirosh’s counselors are used to describe the Roman Legions.

Some of the Sages focused their ire on the military, while others focused their anger on the counselors of the King. I believe that they do this because although with the Romans it was clearly a military effort,  the story in the Book of Esther is not is not a story of war as much as a story of strategy.

The Midrash closes with a reminder that we must study the Book of Esther as a confrontation between great strategists.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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25
Feb

Midrash Esther XV: Paying Attention

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week

“Which was in Shushan the capital.” Rabbi Pinchas said in the name of Rabbi Chananel: Said the Holy One, Blessed is He, to Achashveirosh: “Cyrus, in mentioning the Temple, mentioned also its city and its country, since he said, “to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah (Ezra 1:2),” I also will mention along with your throne the name of your capital.” So it says, “which was in Shushan the capital.”

Is it really so unusual to describe a city as the capital of the kingdom that the Sages must understand why the verse mentions that Shushan was the capital? Is it really such a great reward for Achashveirosh that the Book of Esther mentions that Shushan was his capital? Did Achashveirosh care?

I believe that this Midrash is a continuation of the previous one (Midrash Esther XIV). As long as the Jews did not have their capital, Jerusalem, they could not understand how God or one of His prophets, could refer to any other place as a capital city. God’s capital city lay in ruins. How can we honor any other city by describing it as a capital?

The sages insist that Shushan was not being honored as a capital but that the authors of the Book of Esther did not forget how a Persian King went out of his way to describe Jerusalem in detail. They wanted to send a message to Achashveirosh that they would honor his city as Cyrus had honored God’s. They sent a message to Achashveirosh that they were paying very close attention to everything he did and every word he spoke.

I suspect that as soon as Achashveirosh realized how carefully the Sages were paying attention to his every action and word, he took advantage of that attention to send them whatever message was on his mind at any given time.

We must therefore understand that when Achashveirosh allowed Haman to issue his letter of decree condemning the Jews to death, the king was sending a message, a warning to the people who did not fully appreciate his ideas or his way of thinking.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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25
Feb

Vayakhel: Moses and Miracles by Michael Carasik

by developer in Portion of the Week

This week’s portion contains what may be the greatest miracle in the entire Torah—though it’s one that people rarely think of as miraculous, or would put into the same category as the splitting of the sea (Exodus 14), the manna (Exodus 16), or the quail (Exodus 16 and again in Numbers 11). Each of these has been given naturalistic explanations by those who prefer to keep talk of miracles at a distance. But at the beginning of this week’s reading, Moses assembles the Israelites and addresses all of them at once: an event that could not have happened without miraculous intervention.

The person who determined experimentally how many people could be addressed at once without amplification was none other than Benjamin Franklin.  He writes in his Autobiography of a visiting Irish preacher in Philadelphia who “had a loud and clear voice, and articulated his words so perfectly that he might be heard and understood at a great distance”:

Being among the hindmost [of his hearers] in Market Street, I had the curiosity to learn how far he could be heard by retiring backward down the street toward the river; and I found his voice distinct till I came near Front Street. . . . Imagining then a semicircle, of which my distance should be the radius, and that it was filled with auditors, to each of whom I allowed two square feet, I computed that he might well be heard by more than thirty thousand.

“This,” Franklin writes, “reconciled me . . . to the history of generals haranguing whole armies, of which I had sometimes doubted.”

The crowd that Moses was addressing, though, was greater by two orders of magnitude.  There were more than 600,000 Israelite men of military age; give each of them a wife and 2.2 children and you’re up over two-and-a-half million people.  And, in contrast to Franklin’s preacher with his loud and clear voice, Moses was “not a man of words.” Assembling all of these people at the same time and speaking to them as a single crowd is reminiscent of the miracle that, according to the Talmud, took place in the Temple every year on Yom Kippur, when the entire nation “stood crowded together, but all prostrated themselves with ease.” In both cases, as when (later in the Bible) the sun stood still for Joshua, the laws of physics must have been suspended.

But Moses was performing another kind of miracle, too: a sociological one.  The verb that describes Moses’ action—the first word and the name of our portion, Vayakhel—is a causative form of the root k-h-l.  (It’s the same root that gives us the Hebrew name of Ecclesiastes, “Kohelet.”)  Moses was not just addressing the Israelites; he was causing them to become a kehillah, a congregation or community, united behind a single purpose: creating a tabernacle (mishkan) where God could dwell (shakhan) among them.

The Jewish mystical tradition actually refers to the “Assembly of Israel” not as making a space for God but as constituting an element of God, the Shekhinah—that aspect of the divine that dwells among us on earth and connects us to the infinite God beyond time and space. That’s a purpose that well deserves the greatest miracle ever.

It would take an equal miracle, or an even greater one, to unite all Jews behind a single religious purpose today.  But as the scholar Moshe Halbertal has pointed out, “In the Jewish tradition the centrality of the text takes the place of theological consistency.”  There can be many different perspectives on the Torah, but the Jews who take them are all reading the same chapters of this ancient book at the same time—starting, this week, with the word describing one of the miracles wrought by Moses: vayakhel, “he created a community.”

Michael Carasik is the creator of The Commentators’ Bible.  He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.

www.jewishideasdaily.com

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24
Feb

Midrash Esther XVII: Nine of Ten

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week

“The Army of Persia and Medea.” In the name of Rabbi Nathan the following list of “10 Measures” was taught: (compare this to Kiddushin 49b)

There are 10 portions of lewdness in the world, nine in Alexandria and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of wealth in the world, nine in Rome and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of poverty in the world, nine in Lydia and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of witchcraft in the world, nine in Egypt and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of stupidity in the world, nine among the Ishmaelites and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of robustness in the world, nine among the Ishmaelites and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of vermin in the world, nine among the Persians, they were very hairy, and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of physical beauty in the world, nine in Medea and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of ugliness in the world, nine in the East and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of physical strength the world, nine among the Chaldeans and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of courage in the world, nine in Judea and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of beauty in the world, nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of wisdom in the world, nine in the Land of Israel and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of the Torah in the world, nine in the Land of Israel and one in the rest of the world.

There are 10 portions of hypocrisy in the world, nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world, as it is written, “For from the prophets of Jerusalem is hypocrisy gone forth into all the earth (Jeremiah 23:15).”

This midrash is wondering why Achashveirosh specifically chose the armies of Persia and Medea to attend his great six month conference. If he wanted physical strength; he should have chosen the child didn’t. If he was looking for robustness; he should have chosen the Ishmaelites. If he was looking for courage he should have invited the previous inhabitants of Judah. The most obvious answer would be that he chose those who were closest to him.

Achashveirosh was not looking for the best. He simply invited those who were in his physical proximity. This would imply that his six-month conference of the United Nations about I share Auch was not intended to collect the best of all the nations, but rather to use those whose provinces were closest to his capital, Shushan. The six-month conference was not intended to collect the best minds, the best officials, the best organizers, the best political activists from all the provinces of his kingdom. There was an element of convenience.

Did Achashveirosh intentionally avoid inviting the best, did he feel threatened by those who possessed qualities far beyond his own? Was he using all the great wealth he displayed at this party to compensate or distract the attendees from his obvious lacking’s?

If so, Achashveirosh was feeling vulnerable. We then must consider whether his response to Vashti was simply a result of these vulnerabilities.

If all of the attendees sensed his insecurity and vulnerability; we can assume that they went out of their way to fawn over him, to take advantage of a relationship with this king to secure their own positions, and to make some money. After all he was certainly sending a message that he was willing to “share the wealth.”

When we understand his mental state and that of his guests, we have much more information to keep in mind when considering their support of his ultimate decision as to how to deal with his rebellious Queen.

The mental state of these attendees can also inform their willingness to support his gathering of the young women for his contest, their response to the elevation of Haman, their willingness to go along with the devastating decree against the Jews, and perhaps a hint as to why they felt so empowered when Mordecai rose to such a high rank in the king’s palace.

This Midrash also gives us a sense of how the Jews experienced this conference, the party that followed, and this entire. Of time: these people, who possessed, nine of the 10 portions of courage in the world, nine of the 10 portions of beauty in the world, nine of the 10 portions of wisdom in the world, nine of the 10 portions of Torah in the world, would have been devastated to have lost the right to such elevated praises.

Perhaps the closing of the Midrash is an explanation as to why they forfeit all their qualities, when it explains that nine of the 10 portions of hypocrisy in the world could also be found in Jerusalem. No wonder they are thrust into a situation so filled with the hypocrisy of Achashveirosh and Haman.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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24
Feb

“An Honest Day’s Work” by Prof. Gerald August

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week

The Tabernacle was built with raw material and labor. The material came from anyone willing to give of their possessions to the building. Labor came from Betzalel, the master craftsman, and other craftsmen. They built a place where The Divine Presence dwelt. Did they gave an honest days work? For such an important project with the whole community watching closely, it seems reasonable to assume they were honest in their labor.

In our lives at work, what is our obligation under Jewish thought? The answer is given in a strikingly direct teaching by the Sages of the Talmud. When someone comes before the heavenly court for judgment, the first question to be asked is: Were you honest in business?

An example of not giving an honest day’s work is exemplified by people who spend time at work using the computer to play games or otherwise waste time. Of course, you are allowed a few breaks, but overall do you put in a productive day?

Another area of honesty has to do with deception. The meticulousness of Torah thought in this area is highlighted by a story about Rabbi Aaron Kotler, of blessed memory, who was raising money for a new building for his yeshiva. He was shown an artist’s rendition of the building. It would be used when soliciting funds, so the donors could see what they were paying for. As he looked at the drawing, he noticed a small flowerbed near the entrance to the building. He asked if it was certain that the flowers would be planted. He was told, no, but this made the place look nicer. He immediately told the artist to take it out! If it was not certain the flowers would be there, it would be dishonest to tell donors their money would be put to this use.

The concept of the giving heart is mentioned in the building of the Tabernacle. Is there a place to do more at work than just your job?

A good example is my friend Leah. She was working at a residence for special needs people. Her duties involved doing food preparation and cleaning the bathroom. When she was cleaning, she made sure the place was spotless, unlike some of the other people who did this. This was her job, and she gave an honest day’s work. She also noticed that some of the food was not appropriate for those residents who were diabetic, and would point that out to her bosses. It was not her job to be a dietician, but her giving heart wanted to take care of the residents. By bringing these problems to the attention of the senior staff, she also protected her employer from possible lawsuits if people got sick.

The Torah portion mentions the givers of the material and the workers. Together they made the Tabernacle possible. In our time, there is no Tabernacle, But even today the willing heart and honest work can blend to create a place where The Divine Presence dwells.

Next week is Adar I, and the yartzeit of my mother. This is in her memory.

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24
Feb

Wisdom

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week

“See I have called them by name Betzalel (Exodus 31:2).” This had to be mentioned as it was quite impossible to find amongst the Jews, who had been bricklayers of the most primitive kind, anyone who could possibly excel in the disciplines required to master the task  of constructing such a portable Sanctuary. Even if by chance there had been the odd individual who had some expertise in one of the many arts and crafts needed for this project prior to becoming enslaved, he would long ago have forgotten it. When the Torah lists the various disciplines in which experts were required for this work, this teaches us that only someone Divinely inspired could possibly have mastered all of these arts. (Rabbeinu Bachya: Terumah)

It’s worthwhile when considering Betzalel’s Divinely inspired wisdom, used to construct the Mishkan, to review Chapter 28 of the Book of Job:

“For there is a source for silver, and a place where gold is refined.

Iron is taken from the soil, and copper is smelted from stone.

He sets a limit to the darkness, and, He investigates the end of everything:

the source of gloom in the shadow of death.

A river bursts forth from its normal flow, to where it is unknown to human feet; it rises and surges over people.

There is a land where food once grew; but its place was transformed, resembling a fire.

It was a place whose stones were sapphires, and it had dust of gold;

a route not known to the buzzard,

that the vulture’s eyes has not seen.

Lions whelps did not traverse it and lions did not pass over it.

But God stretched out His hand to the flint and overturned mountains from the root.

He split open river channels in the rocks.

His eyes saw every precious thing.

From the waters of the deep He fashioned rivers;

He brings secret things out into the light.

But as for wisdom:

Where can it be found?

Which is the place of understanding?

Mankind does not know it’s worth;

it cannot be found in the land of the living.

The Depth says, ‘It is not in me! And the Sea says, ‘It is not with me!’

Precious gold cannot be exchanged for it and its price cannot be weighed in silver.

It cannot be compared to Ophir gold or to precious shoham or sapphire.

Gold and glass cannot approximate it, nor can its exchange be in golden articles. Corals and Crystal cannot be considered;

the pursuit of wisdom is more precious than pearls.

The pitdah of Cush cannot approximate it; the purest gold cannot be compared to it.

Wisdom: from where does it come?

Which is the place of understanding?

It is hidden from the eyes of all living things and is concealed from the bird of the heavens.

Doom and Death say, ‘With our ears we have heard its reputation.’

Only God understands its way,

and He knows its place.

For He peers to the ends of the world;

He sees what is under the entire heavens,

making a prescribed weight for the wind,

apportioning water with a measure,

when He makes a set allotment for the rain and a path for clouds of thunder.

Then He looked and recorded it;

He prepared it and perfected it;

and He said to man,

‘Behold, the fear of the Lord is wisdom, and refraining from evil is understanding!”

Can you find how many of the materials used in the Mishkan are included in this chapter?

Can you find the allusions to the symbolism of the Mishkan’s parts in the verses?

This chapter, applied to the Mishkan, would describe the Sanctuary as a representation of Wisdom. Thus, we can understand why God would speak to Moshe from inside the Holy of Holies.

Why choose someone other than Moshe to construct the place of Wisdom?

See if you can find the references to the Garden in Eden.

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone™ is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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