Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sealed with Peace

Parshat Naso
12 Sivan 5772 / June 1 – 2, 2012
Bamidbar 4:21 – 7:89

Sealed with Peace
by Joey Yadgar, MH Great Neck

In Parashath Naso we are introduced to the Priestly Blessing that Aaron and his Sons, and all Kohanim (Jewish Priests) today, are to bless the Jewish people with. The blessing is as follows:

'May G‑d bless you and guard you.
'May G‑d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you.
'May G‑d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.'" (Bamidbar 6:24-26)

What is the source of this blessing? Is it a blessing from the Kohanim to the Jewish people of Israel?

After looking one Pasuk further in the Torah, we find our answer. The Pasuk says, They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.’ We find that the blessing is directly from Hashem, and the Kohanim are the agents through which the blessing is given.

Why doesn’t Hashem bless us directly rather than through Kohanim? We will find our answer after we further look into the meaning of these three Pasukim.

One of the most well-known commentaries to the Torah is Rashi. He gives a brief explanation about the meaning of these three verses above.

Rashi explains that in the first Pasuk, 'May G‑d bless you and guard you.’ is a blessing asking Hashem to bless and protect all of our possessions as Hashem is the provider of all of our possessions. The blessing continues with, 'May G‑d shine His countenance upon you and be gracious to you.’ Here the Kohanim ask Hashem to show us a pleasant and radiant countenance upon our faces, and to show favor to us. Finally, the blessing concludes with, 'May G‑d turn His countenance toward you and grant you peace.’ Rashi explains this verse as a request to Hashem to suppress his wrath, and for Hashem to grant us peace.

It is the ending, ‘…and grant you peace,’ where we find the essence of the entire blessing; without peace, we would not be able to enjoy all of Hashem’s other blessings.

The Kohanim are reminded of the importance of peace in the introductory blessing recited by the Kohanim before the Priestly Blessing; this introductory blessing ends with the words … to bless His nation Israel with love." Hashem is teaching the Kohanim and the Jewish People of Israel an important lesson; that only when we are united through peace and love, the Kohanim will be able to act as agents between Hashem and the entire Jewish Nation, and as a result we will all be able to receive Hashem’s blessings. Therefore, in order to convey this message, Hashem decides to not bless us directly, but rather use the Kohanim to give us the Priestly Blessing.

Rabbi Eli Mansour of Brooklyn goes on to explain that the Priestly Blessing consists of fifteen words. The first fourteen words correspond to the fourteen joints in the hands of the Kohanim with which they hold outstretched when performing the Priestly Blessing. (It is no coincidence that the numerical value for the Hebrew word for hand, Yad, is fourteen)

What does the fifteenth word, “Peace” correspond to? Rabbi Mansour explains that the word peace corresponds to the palm of the hand. It is through the palm that we are able to make peace through the common gesture of a handshake. Additionally, without the palm, the hand is unable to hold anything, and it is therefore needed to receive all of Hashem’s blessings.

May the Priestly Blessing be a constant reminder for the entire Jewish nation to be united with love and peace so that we can continue to receive Hashem’s infinite blessings, and may we all celebrate the coming of Mashiach in Jerusalem speedily in our days!

Shabbat Shalom.

Sources used: chabad.org, torahmitzion.org , atorahminute.com, dailyhalacha.com, Rabbi Alex Israel, Hakham Ya’aqob Menashe, and Rabbi Eli Mansour

Monday, May 21, 2012

Everything in its Place?!

Parshat Bamidbar
Bamidbar 1:1 – 4:20
5 Sivan 5772 / May 25 – 26, 2012

Everything in its Place?!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

It is not easy roaming through the desert, especially with such a large group of people. You are susceptible to hunger, to spreading disease, and to attack. And added to this, the Israelites have a pretty serious mission. They have to transport these mystical tablets inscribed with God’s law through the desert to an only envisioned homeland. There is a lot riding on their survival.

The book of Bamidbar shares a strategy for their survival. Each tribe had a specific role and place in the encampment. The East was protected by Yehudah, Issaschar, and Zevulun. The West was covered by Ephraim, Menasheh, and Binyamin. The South was held by Reuven, Shimon, and Gad. And to the North, the tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naftali secured the nation’s safety. (Game of Thrones anyone??) And in the heart of the camp were the Priests and Levites securing the safety of the Ark and Tablets, and all the other instruments of holy work.

This past weekend, at our Shavuot Learning Retreat, Sarah Lesser (MH Director of Repair the World Programming) helped us to see that Shavuot is a holiday which reminds us that every Jewish person has a place in a Torah-based community. No matter your gender, sexual orientation, race, denomination, or conversion status, according to Torah-lore (midrash) YOU were present at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given.  And so YOU, with your unique Jewish identity, is extremely important to the complete narrative of the Jewish people.

It could be so wonderful if, like the Israelites in the desert, we were given a clear role and placement in this community. But we all know that life comes with doubt. And sometimes we can feel so estranged from the surrounding Jewish community. We might disagree with the majority stance on Israel. We might have been told that we cannot love who we love. We might have been barred from leadership roles in our synagogue. We might feel whole-heartedly that Judaism should not exclude our non-Jewish friends and family members. It can be really hard to feel a part of a system that feels so foreign or even harmful.

At these times, I remind myself that Yisrael comes from the root to wrestle. Jacob was renamed Yisrael because he wrestled with God. And in our modern time, Israel, has been translated as the God Wrestlers (by Rabbi Arthur Waskow). And so, sometimes STURGGLE is the role that we play in our Jewish community. We grab hold of the fringes of our faith and tug with all our might to stretch its values to include an even greater expression of truth.

As we head into Shavuot, the holiday where we renew our commitment to greater revelation, I want to offer all of us a blessing that we can feel a part of the Jewish story as a framework that gives our life greater collective meaning. I wish you a healthy balance between certainty and doubt.     

Many blessings!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Wounds of our Words

Parshat BeHar – Be’Chukotai
Vayikra 25:1 – 27:34

27 Iyar 5772 / May 18-19, 2012

The Wounds of our Words
by Taras “Izzy” Prokopenko, MH Gomel

These two weekly portions are overflowing with interesting laws and commandments; I would like to talk about two of them- “ona’at mammon” (a prohibition of over-estimation of a price) and “ona’at d’varim” (a prohibition of offending another Jew). 

“And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, you shall not wrong one another.”  and “And you shall not wrong, one man his fellow Jew, and you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord, your God.” (Vaikrah, 25:14, 25:17)

Both of these laws protect us from the danger of offending people- both financially and spiritually.
But the spiritual injury is considered to be more harmful - because the stolen money could be turned back and compensated, the wrong calculation can be recounted and changed to the correct one, but “heart wounds” are hard to cure.

I want to share one of my favorite stories with you:

One day a Jew came to Rabbi and said:

“Rabbi, I need Your help. I had a quarrel with my brother yesterday, you know, I am a fiery person, and I talked too much and, I guess, he was deeply offended. This morning I woke up with a strong feeling that I was not right in this quarrel, so I turned to him with apologies, but he even didn’t want to listen to me! What is his problem! It was a hard task for me to talk to him and to admit, that I am not right. He should forgive me!”

The Rabbi answered: “You know, my dear, I need your help first. Here are 20 big nails and a hammer. Please, go outdoors, there is a big tree right in front of you, be so kind and batter these nails into this tree!”
The shocked student went out and returned 10 minutes later.

“I see you have finished the task, thank you! And now, my dear, please, go back and take these nails off the tree and bring me them back!”- asked the Rabbi. He refused to answer any questions, and this man had to go out and to complete the task.

When he returned with the nails, the Rabbi began to explain:

“You see, my dear, your words are like these nails - they may hurt a tree - another person - and stay in his heart. Sure, you can apologize - and to take off these nails. Perhaps, it would be not an easy task. And it may seem to you that everything turned back to its previous state. But, please, let’s go out now, and see the wounds and holes on the body of the tree, left after your nails, that will need so much time to cure!”

And I would like to wish you, my dear Moisheniks, much powers not to offend people, making your business and earning your money, and, for sure, be careful and not to hurt your friends and relatives!

Have a nice week,
With warm regards from Gomel,
Taras Izzy Prokopenko and MoHoGo team

Monday, May 7, 2012

Parshat Emor
Vayikra 21:1 - 24:23
20 Iyar 5772 / May 11 - 12, 2012

Keeping Difficult Decisions Difficult
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

How do you go about making tough decisions? What information do you gather? Who do you consult? Where do you go for the clarification of values and ethics that allows you to choose one course of action over another, even when all choices are not perfect? When I read the final section of this week’s Torah portion these questions come to my mind.

Even today, people pay with their lives in response to seeking increased liberties. And each nation’s government has to make a decision if, and how, they should get involved in foreign conflicts. They often respond with military action that includes killing and supporting. The lines between enemy and civilian are blurred. The lines between helping and intruding also become blurred.

What about in our own communities? How do we punish behaviors and what does our reaction say about the kind of community that we are trying to establish? In Chapter 24 in the Book of Vayikrah (verses 10 – 23), we are told a story about a man who publicly curses G-d’s name. The people do not know what to do, so they take him to Moshe who locks him up. Moshe consults G-d who commands that this man must be stoned to death, AND in the same breath G-d says,

And a man – if he strikes mortally any human life, he shall be put to death.” (24:17)    

Now hold it there G-d. You just told us to kill this guy because he cursed You and now you seem to be saying if we listen to You and put him to death, we will be put to death too. What to do? A tough decision indeed!

This week, I understand this conundrum as saying – There is always a consequence to killing someone. Death will always lead to more death – even if you have a good justified reason to do so. It seems to me that when we make a decision to go to war (figuratively, against one person, or literally, against an entire nation) we think only about the immediate effect of stopping whatever behavior we do not agree with. This story about the blasphemer widens my perspective to think about how violent action will inevitably lead to further violent action. I think history has proven this time and time again. I am not necessarily advocating for complete pacifism. I am offering a reminder that the question to kill should always be a difficult one. If you can so easily agree with bloodshed, it might mean that you have ceased to see the other as a living person, like yourself. If we have lost our ability to recognize humanity, we can never create a humane world.

I hope that while the governments and armies of the globe are keeping peace within the model that is currently functioning, we Moisheniks – people living all over the world – are doing our part to educate against stereotypes, are learning deeply about the real issues from the perspective of the people facing them, and are innovating models of working for peace through peaceful means.