March, 2011 Archives

31
Mar

Beware Portia

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

The Bard invokes Portia to show how lawyers behave and misbehave, as well as how justice prevails. Portia is a resourceful and cunning courtroom manipulator. But those who are her judges, whatever their bias and prejudice, are not fooled. Justice wins the day. Antonio warns against any corruption that would stain Venice’s reputation for justice, offering a practical rather than moral argument:

“For the commodity that strangers have

With us in Venice, if it be denied,

Will much impeach the justice of the state, Since that the trade and profit of the city

Consisteth of all nations.”

It seems strange that we praise God for giving the Torah before we praise His taking us out of Egypt: “Blessed is the Omnipresent. Blessed is He. Blessed is He, Who gave the Torah to His nation, Israel. Blessed is He.” Why are we leaping to Shavuot and the giving of the Torah before breaking the skin of the Exodus story? Why do we mention the gift of Torah just before we list the Four Sons?

Justice.

This is a night for being Portia; resourceful, cunning, insightful, creative, even, at times, manipulative. We are free to question, ask, challenge, analyze, theorize, posit, argue and debate. We are about to sit in judgment of our children’s questions; Only a wise child asks that. That’s a wicked son’s question. You’re too simple minded. “Nu! Ask already!”

Our behavior on Pesach must reflect the Torah we received.

Our behavior at the Seder reflects on the Torah God gave us.

How’re we doing?

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.

Share
31
Mar

Looking at the Interpreters

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

“In 1948, Ralph Ellison heard the street slang Oh man, I’m nowhere and heard the identity crises, negation and psychic despair provoked by daily life under white supremacy. In 1961, James Baldwin, writing ‘Fifth Avenue, Uptown,’ perhaps writing from Paris, remembered a different greeting: ‘How’re you making it?’ ‘Oh, I’m TV-ing it.’ Perhaps those greetings and their interpretations say more about the interpreters than about those who are purported to use them. Don’t get corrupted!” (“Harlem is Nowhere” by Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts)

We will spend much of the Seder examining and interpreting the words of people who are hurting: “What does the Wicked son say?” We examine the Son who does not care enough to ask. We wonder how the slaves reacted to their suffering: “Why did they cry about their work when their children were being slaughtered to provide baths of blood for Pharaoh?” How could the students of the Rabbis interrupt their teachers’ Pesach discussions to remind them to say Shema?

I suspect this is why we, the interpreters, begin Maggid with an (worthless in practical terms) invitation to all who need a place to celebrate Pesach: We have to interpret the story with a generous spirit. We have to listen to all the ideas and opinions offered over the Haggadah with generosity. We have to create an environment in which the stranger will feel comfortable joining our Seder.

We must also not, as did Baldwin, write while in Paris of the angst in Harlem; if we want to understand Abraham and Jacob, if we want to examine our children’s questions, if we want to discuss the slaves in Egypt; we have to be where they are/were: “In every generation a person must see himself as if he left Egypt.” Be there. Be a generous interpreter. Don’t get corrupted!

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.

Share
31
Mar

Who is Evil?

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

Peter Godwin has been described as “The Dante in Mugabe’s Hell,” for his book, “The Fear – Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe.” He describes Mugabe as a, ‘musty anti-colonialist in Saville Row suits. Mugabe likes to wrap his cudgel in a veneer of bureaucratic normality. Lawyers defend torture victims in the courts, but judges are arrested when they rule against the government.” A policeman berates Godwin for blocking traffic, then goes back to cracking women’s and children’s skulls with his stave.   (Think of Moshe’s reaction to the Egyptian striking the slave.) And two Anglican bishops, one legitimate, the other a pro-Mugabe usurper – duel, prissily, with their ceremonial crosiers inside a sedate Harare cathedral. (Think of Pharaoh sending his “bishops,” the magicians, to duel with Moshe.)

We are all too familiar with evil in the veneer of normality. We are the Dantes of countless hells all over the world, throughout history: “In very generation they stand against us to destroy us.”

We describe our encounter with the Mugabe of Egypt, Pharaoh: “And the Egyptians did evil to us,” as it says, “Come, let us outsmart him, lest they increase…” I read this as, “The Egyptians portrayed us as evil,” to themselves and to us. They created a reality in which we had to prove our loyalty to their land.

The Egyptians were not the first Mugabes: “Pharaoh decreed only against the males, and Laban wanted to uproot everything.” Laban used his propaganda to portray Jacob as a thief who could not control his urges. “Why do you sneak away as a thief in the night?” “Why did you steal my gods?”

Laban was the first Mugabe. He wrapped himself in his own Saville Row suits of righteousness, “I am the patriarch of this family. The girls are my daughters. The boys are my sons. I am the Zaidy of this family.”

Laban wanted to flip the whole picture upside down: He, not Abraham, was the patriarch of the family. He wanted to discombobulate our identity as a family with a grand mission.

The story continues in a world that challenges the most moral nation on the planet for being immoral. They speak with the same intention as did Laban and Pharaoh; they want to deprive us of our identity as a unique and holy nation.

Pesach night is our celebration of identity and our ability to hold on tight to that identity despite the unceasing attacks of the Labans, Pharaohs, and all the Mugabes in history.

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.

Share
31
Mar

The Moment of Execution

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Relationships

“There is no such thing in man’s nature as a settled a full resolve, either for good or evil, except at the very moment of execution.” (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

I wonder if the Ba’al Haggadah (Author) would agree: The way most of us understand the Four Sons is as each having a fully resolved nature. “What does the Wise Son say,” implies an established nature; he is a wise child. So too, with the wicked, the “simple,” and the one who doesn’t care enough to ask. Our responses certainly seem to be to defined characters: if the Wicked child doesn’t have a fixed nature; why would we take such a firm, almost aggressive approach?

We are all too familiar with people who become the way they are treated. Why would we respond in such a manner, rather than offer an opening to a new way of thinking. Yes, I can explain the answer in a different way, but the words are the words, and they convey a hostile response.

“Blessed is the Omnipresent. Blessed is He. Blessed is He Who gave the Torah to His nation Israel. Blessed is He. The Torah spoke “Kineged,” corresponding to four children.”

Actually the Torah describes four questions, and offers answers different from some of the ones we offer in the Haggadah. Many are under the impression that the four questions listed in the Torah are about Pesach. Some are, and some are not! The Wicked and the one who doesn’t care to ask are about Pesach. The Simple question is about the complexities of the redemption of the First Born people and animals. The Wise question is about becoming someone who naturally knows how God wants him to act. The different issues instigate different sorts of questions.

The Wicked son is only child’s question presented in the present to the people about to offer the first Pesach; the rest are in the future, after we enter the land of Israel. The Wise question is presented in the context of an unusually elevated level; no wonder it’s the Wise child who appears! The different contexts stimulate different questions.

Perhaps Hawthorne was correct: their natures are not fully resolved. The “moment of execution” shapes the question and the questioner. Our challenge at this point of the Haggadah is to create an environment that will nurture a certain type of question, and not another. We create the “Kineged,” the environment to which the child responds.

There is the home that focuses on, “Blessed is the Omnipresent,” God is everywhere. His Presence permeates the family.

There is the home that lives, “Blessed is He,” in which God is an ill-defined pronoun, a weak force, of which the parents speak in vague terms. The family observes without any clarity.

There is the home of, “Blessed is He Who gave the Torah to His nation Israel,” that focuses on our unique relationship to God, and that He speaks to us through His Torah. And, there is the other type of “Blessed is He,” home, in which God is an empty noun, without any real feelings or awareness.

Each home becomes a “Kineged,” as a wife is an, “Eizer Kinegdo,” a force that pushes against the most important issues, and motivates growth.

The Torah offers answers to four types of questions. The Haggadah evaluates four types of environments.

The Seder night is our moment of execution. We can look at our Seder, see which nature or environment we have expressed, and better understand our children’s questions.

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.

Share
30
Mar

Patience While Suffering

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays

“Patience, how it mitigates physical pain, makes it easier, more bearable, even lighter. It’s a question of non-resistance, mental resignation, a certain quieting of mind while suffering. You can sneer at this virtue or call it cowardice if you like; When resistance ceases, troubles and suffering become easier, lighter. (Giacomo Leopardi, December 30, 1826)

I remember the first time that I was able to stay awake until the end of the Seder. If I recall correctly, I managed to stay awake all Shavuot night before managing to stay awake until the end of the Seder. Perhaps it was all the grape juice that made me fall asleep. I clearly remember experiencing my eyes becoming heavy and falling asleep as suffering.

My father zt”l somehow caught the look on my face, my suffering, and said, “Let me explain to you the difference between the Wise son and the Wicked: the Wise Son asks for details; he asks about the testimonies, the statutes, and the laws. The Wicked Son bundles everything together and asks about the whole thing, without any details; “What is this service to you?” The Wicked Son is impatient. He doesn’t want to hear all the details. He wants a simple answer. He suffers through the Seder with all its details. The Wise Son however, has the patience to pay attention to each detail. He doesn’t suffer through the Seder; he thrives. Try to be more patient, and you’ll be able to stay awake as long as you want.”

As usual, he was right. I stopped being impatient for the Seder to end so that I could finally claim to have been awake for an entire Seder. I began to pay attention to the details of each moment and each step. All of a sudden, I was no longer suffering. I learned a powerful lesson about patience.

I have been hospitalized many times. The hospital stay often was worse than the illness and pain. I couldn’t wait to get out, to return home to my own bed. I didn’t have patience for all the doctors and their tests, certainly not for all the theories. That is, until I remembered my father’s lesson about patienceI stopped resisting the details. I stopped resenting all the horrible aspects of being hospitalized. I practiced the patience of the Wise Son, and the suffering was mitigated; it became bearable.

I always wonder about the hours between the conclusion of the first Pesach and beginning of the journey out of Egypt which began only the next morning. The people had been instructed to eat the Pesach with their travel clothes on and their bags packed, as if they were immediately leaving on their trip. Yet, midnight came, the First Born of Egypt died, the Egyptians were crying, the plague itself was over, but they didn’t leave. They waited.

They waited just as they had to wait through all those months of the plagues wondering, “when are we finally going to leave?” They waited just as they had waited for redemption since the slavery began. All this waiting, why?

Eventually, these people ended up waiting forty years until they were able to enter Israel. All this waiting; why?

Patience. “Perhaps, there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.” (Franz Kafka, in W H Auden, The Dyer’s Hand)

The Redemption from Egypt is all about Time: God offers as His first commandment to the nation, the law of Sanctification of the New Moon. Many of the plagues are an issue of time; “When would you like me to remove the Frogs?” “Tomorrow I will stop the Hail.” “At midnight, God will slay all the First Born.” Patience is an essential key to learning about Time. Adam and Eve failed in Paradise because they were impatient. If we were to learn how to have a relationship with God, Above and Beyond Time, we had to learn to live according to His schedule, not ours.

The impatience of the Wicked Son causes us to miss the lessons of many essential details and important moments. It distracts us. It causes suffering. Patience, however, not only mitigates the suffering, it frees us of the boundaries of time; the first lesson of the Pesach offering, the lesson of Parshat Hachodesh.

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.

Share
29
Mar

Sanctifying the New Moon

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, What is the Reason?

Since we are approaching Rosh Chodesh Nissan, I would like to ask about two strange customs in Kiddush Levana – The Sanctification of the New Moon: 1) Why do we recite “May fear and trembling befall them, at the greatness of Your arm may they be still as stone” (Exodus 15:16) forward and backward? 2) Why do we say “Shalom Aleichem” to three people during this ceremony? By the way, I have often heard you say “Shalom Alecha” rather than “Aleichem”. Why do you prefer “Alecha” and which do you say during Kiddush Levana? G.N.

I actually refer to the ceremony as Birchat HaLevana, which is the more ancient formulation. (See Rabbi Yosef Kapach: Moreh Nevuchim 2:5 fn. 15)

I will use this week’s column to refer to the classical answers to your first question. I hope to continue next week:

Rabbi Alexander Ziskind of Horodna (Yesod VeShoresh HaAvodah, p. 192) asserts that the recitation of this verse, backwards and forwards, accomplishes, according to the Kabbalah, great and wondrous things in the upper worlds, and to drive away shells. I have no idea what he means.

In a poetic explanation, the Zohar HaLevana, by R. David Weissman, explains that a righteous person is protected by God “on all sides”, indicated by the verse being read in both directions. The evil, live with the converse, they will fear the vengeance of God from all sides.

Rabbi Yitzchak Lipiatz, in his Sefer Matamim HaChodesh, explains that this verse refers to the wicked and the righteous; concerning the wicked, which turn from right to left, the verse reads, “may fear and dread…” In the future God will remove the wicked from the world, just like the evil inclination, which is likened to a stone, will also be removed from the world. Reading backwards, the verse speak of the righteous, who turn from left to right, “Like a stone they will be silenced, your arm, in its greatness,” which means that at the time when God’s strength becomes manifest the righteous will be comparable to a stone, meaning the Divine Presence, which is also likened to a stone, as the Talmud states that the righteous are referred to in the name of God.

Share
29
Mar

The Lessons of a Stained Haggadah

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Relationships

“Certainly one cannot read this poem without effort. The page is often corrupt and mud-stained, and torn and stuck together with faded leaves, with scraps of verbena or geranium. One must put aside antipathies and jealousies and not interrupt. One must have patience and infinite care and let the light sound, whether of spiders’ delicate feet on a leaf or the chuckle of water in some irrelevant drainpipe, unfold too.”

“The Waves,” Virginia Woolf, 1931

 

Reminds me of the Seder!

When we set the table for the Seder, we would place a huge comfortable chair for my grandfather zt”l in front of his own table as the top of a T, placed against the table around which the rest of us would sit.  Why did he need his own table? He wanted us to gather his hundreds of commentaries on the Haggadah and pile them on his table for him NOT to use!

“Why does Zaidy not look at his Haggadahs if they’re in front of him?”

“I want you to see that I’m more interested in what my grandchildren will say than I am in what is in all these Haggadahs!”

You may not know, but Weinbergs are opinionated! (Shocking, I know!) Each of us had our own ideas, and had to practice patience in front of our grandfather, not interrupt, and listen carefully to what everyone had to say (yes, even That sister!) because our Zaidy would often ask us to repeat what someone else said.

The Seder became an exercise in self-control, patience, and listening with respect.

I decided that I would emulate my grandfather and use the same simple Maxwell House Haggadah every year. No commentaries. Its pages are stained with wine and filled with bits and pieces of Marror and Matzah crumbs. I look at my simple Haggadah and remember my grandfather’s lesson of listening to what everyone else has to say.

The Seder becomes an exercise in listening; or, as my grandfather would say: “How does the parent know which of the Four Sons is asking? By listening.

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.

Share
29
Mar

“The Torah’s Charm School” by Prof Gerald August

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week, Relationships

When you look closely at one aspect of the Torah reading this week, you find a message that is relevant every day, but only if you want to be charming.

If a someone developed a skin condition, he would go to a priest, not a doctor, for diagnosis. There was a protocol that told him how to check the condition. The priest was told to, “Look…and behold!”The Torah says this 20 times. Why so many times? And since he is already looking, why do we need the word behold?

We look at things all the time, but do we really see them? Not if you just glance, or your mind is somewhere else. The classic example is when Moses saw a bush burning. Then the Torah tells us “Behold! The bush was not consumed.” If Moses had just looked and turned away, he would have missed the whole picture. To behold means to concentrate on what (or who) is in front of you.

The challenge for us is to do this every time we interact with someone. Do we pay attention with our eyes and our ears? Have you been at a party where you were introduced to someone and while you were speaking that person was looking elsewhere? No attention was being paid to you.

A few years ago I was on the phone with my friend David. At one point an e-mail popped up and I was reading while he was talking. David asked “Are you multitasking?” I sheepishly replied, “Yes”. The phone clicked in my ear as he hung up! I sat there stunned, and then realized David had done me a big favor. He dramatically called attention to my rudeness. Since then, whenever I get a phone call, I swivel my chair around to look at the floor so I can concentrate on what the person is saying.

Paying attention fulfills the mitzvah of respecting people. It says” You are worth my time and what you are saying matters.”

Many years ago I read a book written by the daughter of a famous Hollywood star. There is one paragraph I still remember. Talking about the biggest star of her time, she said, “Clark Gable was the most charming person I ever met. When you talked to him, he listened with both ears and both eyes. He made you feel that what you said, no matter how trivial, was the most important thing in the world. Truly, Clark Gable was the most charming person I ever met.”

The numerous repetitions of “Look…and Behold!” teaches all of us how to be charming every day. Move over, Clark. You have company.

This is in memory of my mother whose yartzeit is this Shabbat.

Share
29
Mar

The Patience of a Sheep

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in 613 Concepts, Holidays, Portion of the Week

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and

self-contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,

Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of

owning things,

Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of

years ago,

Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

”Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

It was clear to them that God could take them out of Egypt in an instant, but for some reason, He had chosen to take His time. The Plagues had already lasted more than six months. Six months of no work. Six months of no abuse. Six months of self respect. Six months of not knowing what was next. They were becoming impatient.

Finally, Moshe summoned them, and began to speak. It was his first speech to them since they stormed away from him after his first meeting with Pharaoh and things got worse. He had tried to speak, but the people were too exhausted from their increased work load to even listen to him. Things were different now. They were willing to listen. Most of all, they wanted to know what was next. They were impatient.

Moshe presented the laws of Passover and the Pesach Offering. He instructed them to take the animal on the Tenth day of the month and and wait until the 14th. Most understood that this simple act was a declaration of Spiritual war with the Egyptians who worshipped these animals as gods. The Children of Israel were going to fearlessly slaughter the Egyptian gods in front of their former masters, and the Egyptians were helpless to stop it.  People understood the point. Perhaps they even appreciated it, but, “five more days?” More waiting? They were impatient.

Except, that is, for one child staring out the window from morning till night at the sheep in its pen in front of the house. He couldn’t stop staring.

His parents were initially pleased. He was staying out of their way and, unusual for him, wasn’t causing any trouble. By the third day; they were concerned. Television would be better. Wii would be okay. But a sheep! How can someone stare at a sheep all day for three days?

“I love watching how peaceful they are,” he said in response to their question, “everyone  is nervous, agitated and impatient, but the sheep is perfectly content, placid and patient. I wish you guys could be like that even for just a few minutes!”

His parents joined him on the couch, staring out the window at the sheep. They felt themselves relax. The kid had a point.

Pesach is Pesach. The adults could not afford to sheep watch all day. They had to clean the house, prepare for the guests, and pack everything they wanted to take with them on their journey. Back to work it was! They were too busy to be impatient.

Pesach began. They offered their Pesach sacrifice. They rushed through the meal. They finished and began to hear the screams from the Egyptian neighborhoods. They were waiting. They were impatient again. That is, except for a little boy and his parents who had learned patience from the sheep in the yard.

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.

Share
28
Mar

The Consolation of the Stars

by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in 613 Concepts, Portion of the Week

“His mother had often taken him out after dark and shown him the sky. On such occasions her weary face would break into a smile. The stars provided some consolation for the hard life she led. She normally lived with her face pointed down to the ground, which embraced her rice plants as if it were waiting for her to join them there one of these days. When she gazed up at the stars, just for a brief while, she didn’t need to look at the brown earth beneath her.” (“The Man From Beijing” by Henning Mankell, p.89)

I imagine that the slaves in Egypt had a similar experience of consolation when they looked up at the stars after a day of laboring for Pharaoh on the brown earth of Egypt. The night sky was a way of looking up, not down. It was an escape from the earth that was waiting for their bodies.

And then came the commandment, the first to the people as a nation, the Mitzvah of Kiddush HaChodesh, the Sanctification of the New Moon. Looking up at the sky would no longer be an escape, but a call. It would no longer be a consolation, but a challenge. It was no longer a far away distant place where there is no suffering, but an immediate presence in their lives.

God made them the masters of the heavens, and they began to taste the possibilities of freedom.

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.

Share