Song of Peace
Excerpts from Rabbi David’s Rosh Hashanah Morning Sermon
(Rabbi David’s Disclaimer: This does not refer to any particular person, group or association. It is a general statement.)
According to the Bible there were close to a million soldiers that served in King David's army. By comparison 1,000 years later, the great Roman empire in its heyday had a similar amount of soldiers divided into 30 legions.
When the Jewish nation split into two kingdoms, Judea and Israel, the huge army split as well. It was then that the Israelites lost their unity. They lost their might. In the following centuries during endless wars with their neighbors, Judea and Israel each lost territory and population. This division, lack of unity and hostility between Judea and Israel continued until they were both eventually destroyed.
In the first century when Judea revolted again Rome, there were a bit less then 300,000 Jewish soldiers facing 350,000 Roman soldiers. If you play a pure numbers game the odds of winning was not necessarily with Rome. The Jewish revolt failed not because of an inferior number of Jewish warriors but again because of lack of unity. Due to the animosity between Jewish groups, they could not find a way to work together against a common enemy.
There is a famous Talmudic story about a wealthy man in Judea who had a party and wanted to invited his good friend Kamtzah. By mistake, the wealthy man's personal enemy named Bar Kamtzah was invited instead. When the wealthy man saw his enemy, he demanded that Bar Kamtzah leave his house immediately.
Bar Kamtzah asked the wealthy man not to embarrass him in front of the entire village and to invite him as well. The wealthy man refused. Bar Kamtzah then offered to pay for whatever he would be eating at the party if he would be allowed to stay. The wealthy man still refused. Bar Kamtzah then offered to pay for the food for everyone in the celebration which was the entire village, in order not be embarrassed. Still, the wealthy man refused and demanded that Bar Kamtzah leave the premises immediately.
The rabbis who were present at the party did not come to his defense and were silent throughout this whole episode. In his Anger, Bar Kamtzah went to the Roman emperor and told him that the Jews intended to rebel against him. The emperor in his anger attacked Judea and destroyed the temple.
According to our tradition, the Temple was destroyed and our ancestors were chased out of our land because of this incident. Because of senseless animosity between brothers…
I realize of course that hate is a very harsh word to use. It is one of the most destructive powers in society. It is what brings out the worst in us. It robs us of our clear thinking, our ability to reason. It takes away our humanity, our dignity. It has the power to literally change our personality, to bring people to violence.
There is a fine line between opinions which are kept as civil disagreements and those differences which breed hostility, that completely take over and create intolerance.
In the story of Bar Kamtzah and the wealthy man, what made G-D so upset was that this dispute was senseless. It caused humiliation and dishonor. It is known in Judaism as Sinaat Chinam, which translates as pointless hate.
We have all seen on TV and social media people saying malicious things about others. From the top echelon to the rest of us. Many seem to be consumed by this affliction of attacking others.
Have we lost our will to build a bridge between political opinions and ideologies? When principles and ideologies become very emotional we defend them to the end. We know we are right and anyone who does not share our opinion cannot be right.
As we go through our political unrest, people seem to dig their heels into their positions and like a snow ball, our differences lead to even stronger discontent and intolerance. Emotions take over and paralyze our ability to work together for solutions.
I have never seen any political or social debate where one side manages to convince the other side to change their position. The debates just go on and on... with bitterness and high emotions everywhere.
Political debates are healthy and good. It is a sign of diversity. It is sign of a free nation. But disagreements should not be allowed to escalate into rifts and chaos.
Building a bridge of understanding must start by all of us reexamining the idea that one's political views are completely correct and others’ opinions are completely wrong. We must try to find some common political ground.
We have always taken pride in our diversity. Different ideas and ideologies lead to healthy debates among us. Working together despite opposing opinions unite us. It makes us stronger.
We need this unity. In today’s world we simply cannot afford to appear as a divided nation. This weakens us in the eyes of those who are trying to hurt us. Divided we are in danger.
We have already seen how this intolerance has come into the fabric of our personal lives. It has torn apart families, hindered friendships, brought brother against brother. It is even hurting our freedom of speech. People are afraid to express themselves on social media or among family and close friends for the sake of not fighting.
We are all concerned with our national and personal safety, and prosperity for all. We all want to preserve our strength and respect among all nations. We don't have to agree with each other but we have to work together. Being united means a stronger America which means a safer world.
Senseless hate, whether politically or socially based or otherwise, is not an option for us anymore. There are no winners, we all lose.
We can do better.
Remember that whatever our children learn from us they may continue doing as adults and as future leaders of our nation.
From the top of the leadership echelon to every single one of us, let us change all this. Let us resolve that this coming year we will not be a part of all this negativity. This ray of hope and unity has to start somewhere. Let it start from us, today.
For this coming year I pray that we curtail all inappropriate verbal expressions due to political or ideological disagreements or for that matter, any disagreement.
In honor of the New Year.
For the sake of generations to come…
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From Rabbi David
For everything there is time. As the earth rotates around the sun it creates cycles in our lives. Jewish life, of course, is based on those cycles of time. Seasons change, they come and go and turn into years and decades. Some scientists will tell you that there are physiological and even psychological “rotations” in our bodies which reflect the seasonal changes in nature. While these changes seem to be more noticeable in animals we as Jews recognize that each season puts us in a certain frame of mind or “mood”. As Fall approaches, we become increasingly aware of the High Holy Days.
In the past, the mere approach of the season evoked fear and awe in the hearts of our forefathers. There was a literal change in their demeanor. People became truly weary of their fate which traditionally is decided, written and finally sealed during the course of the season. In order to tilt fate to their side, they intensified their yearly practice of the three “Ts”: Teshuva – repentance, Tefila – prayers and Tzedaka- acts of kindness and good deeds.
In Judaism, this is serious business. Our legends teach that the Book of Life is opened in the heavens as the Almighty begins the process of evaluating the lives of all creatures. The heavenly High Holy Days scene is similar to our modern courtroom. However, while the accuser angel is busy preparing his material against each of us, there are no attorneys to defend us. We are our own advocates. Not fair you say? Well, that is why we are given time to probe our behavior and deeds. We are given time between the first day of the last month of the Jewish year, the month of Elul to the holiday of Succot which comes four days after Yom Kippur. Traditionally, we first engage in “Cheshbon Nefesh” literally, soul searching, then we take steps to correct (or begin to correct) that which needs correction. Moving in the right direction will go a long way to sway the heavenly scales of judgment to our favor. That is why the three “T’s” are so important.
As adults in a modern Jewish world we all have some doubt about the concept that our deeds are being judged by a mighty entity which we call G-D. What could we have possibly done to face severe consequences such as, G-d forbid, disease, poverty, or other adversities? In fact, what does all this mean to us, living in a modern, more sophisticated world? At the first glance, the mysterious Book of Life along with the an old fashioned scales to weigh our personal Good vs. Bad deeds, is not an effective way to “sell” us on the important concept of a yearly personal audit of ourselves. Where is the Almighty, anyway? None of NASA’s deep space probes has ever encountered large heavenly books, scales or angels.
For many of us these questions create a modern day dilemma. Other then the importance of merely keeping the Jewish tradition as it has been celebrated for millennia, how can we make all this resonate within us? How can we understand the High Holy Days in a way that is meaningful to us?
To “buy into” the traditions of the High Holy Days, one has to accept its concept and symbolism. If we remove the physical dimension from the heavenly scale, the Book of Life and the accuser angel, their modern relevance becomes clear.
It is about us, you and I, here on Earth. It is about the way we live our lives and the principals that guide all of us, whether we are believers or not.
The scales are about having a very clear understanding of what is right and what is wrong in our life and having a commitment to base our life on this understanding.
Grab the scales from its heavenly hideout and place it upon your heart. Then use it to weigh your deeds regularly. Evaluating oneself and having the courage and determination to correct that which needs to be corrected is a wonderful way to deal with difficult and challenging issues and keep our life on track.
Pull the Book of Life from its heavenly hideout and place it inside of you. Since our life is guided by free will, it is you who writes your destiny in it. Jewish tradition subscribes to the idea that life without compassion and acts of kindness is like a book with empty pages. So in order to rejuvenate and energize our days, and make them meaningful, our deeds should benefit us by benefiting others. Be for you, Be for others.
And why our prescribed prayers in the prayer book that constantly petition for forgiveness? Why are we confessing so many “sins”? It is about exercising our inner strength to recognizing our own fallibility as humans. Judaism ask us to have the courage to pry into ourselves and dig out that which is wrong with us, set it free and start anew. Not an easy task - just ask any psychologist.
We recognize that we are not perfect. As we go through life we err by wrong thoughts and wrong deeds. As we all know, the first step to recover from a bad situation or a bad habit is identifying and recognizing the problem. The High Holy Days, therefore, are a celebration of the human spirit, a time when we honor our ability to probe deep into ourselves with courage and humility to expose and correct our wrongdoings.
May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year!
L'Shana Tova Tikatevu,
Throughout the years we have had various children do a particular project. It involves having the Bar or Bat Mitzvah teen remember a child who died in the Holocaust, one who didn’t have a chance to come of age. It is such a beautiful mitzvah project and one that has always touched my heart! But this past weekend something was different.
There are several organizations that arrange for Bar or Bat Mitzvah “twinning” with a Holocaust child. This family chose “Remember Us” I always love how they try to match the name of the child with the Bar/Bat Mitzvah child’s English or Hebrew name. In this case Abigail’s middle name is Eliza as is her Hebrew middle name. She received the name Liza Akerman to remember.
Abigail and her mother researched to find out as much as they could about Liza. They learned she was born in Kishinev in 1931 and died in Belgorod-Dnestrovky 12 years later. There isn’t any mention of her mother but Liza, her father Dudl, grandmother and two sisters were in concentration camps during the war. All perished.
I wondered after the service what it was that made Liza’s memory become so alive for all of us. Was it her name on the chair? Abigail insisted that there would be a chair of honor, that Liza would stay beside her during the service, that Liza was included in the pictures beforehand.
When Abigail spoke about Liza during the service there was such a Sacred Presence that came into the room! It was a Presence of such Love, of such adoration! It touched something so deeply within all of us! As I looked around I saw the tears streaming down faces. Was it the soul of Liza saying thank you?
There was just something so profound that happened during that service. Later I understood so deeply within that the Presence in the room had come to bring healing for the wounds, the scars, the memories that we carry of the Holocaust.
May this healing continue as we remember all children in our collective history who were prevented from coming of age, as we remember all children of today’s world who are being prevented from coming of age.
This Presence of Love brought such hope! I know that there will come a time when there will no longer be new names to put on future chairs.
May it be soon…
From Rabbi David: It is a well known fact that humans are social creatures. Unlike some animals he is not meant to live a solitary life. We have an emotional need to share life experiences with others. Maybe that is the reason we evolved into the sophisticated creatures that we are. It seems that sharing one’s experiences whether happy such as a wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, graduation or sad ones of sickness or death lead to better human understanding of the world around us. We call it progress. Whatever the reason for our needs of human interaction, I learned its power recently when I lost my beloved father.
Dad was an amazing, high achieving and loving human being. He lived a long life but that did not make leaving us any easier. Mourning is a very painful process. In its wisdom the Jewish tradition dictates that in the first week of mourning, when the shock and the pain are most intense, we sit and deal with the pain without really doing much of anything else. It is called "Shiv-ah" literally, "seven" for the seven initial days of mourning. This is the time when human interaction with the mourners is so critical.
There is a Jewish saying that visiting the sick or the mourner is such an important mitzvah that it is as if the visitor physically revives the sick or the mourner back to life. When a visitor enters the house of a mourner it is as if angels accompany him or her.
This past month, I became so much more appreciative of the mitzvah of visiting the mourner. The encouragement and consolation I received from all of the wonderful people and children who visited me or expressed their condolences in other ways cannot be put into words. I am very grateful to all of you for the love and care you have shown me and Cantor Lee not only during Shiva in my most intense time of need but also throughout the years. We are family. We care deeply for each other. Knowing that helps me immensely as I go through the continued process of grieving for my Dad.
From Cantor Lee: I wondered how it would be for Rabbi David to officiate his own father’s funeral. He has had experiences officiating for other family members, including my brother-in-law eight years ago. I still remember that when it came to my turn to chant the prayers, of looking out at everyone and wondering if I could actually sing. But as I have learned over the years, there is just something so powerful about our prayers. I only need to surrender and the prayers will sing for me.
As I watched Rabbi David I could see how difficult it was for him to begin the service. But he too surrendered and let G-d speak through him. Yes, I know he is my husband, but each time during any funeral we do, I am always touched so deeply by the comfort and healing he brings. And so it was during my father in law’s funeral.
When I think of my father in law, Tzvi, I just automatically associate him with Israel. As Rabbi David said in his eulogy, “My dad was Israel. Israel was in his soul. He ate, drank and thought about his beloved country all the time from the minute he woke up to night time.” I am grateful that my children have heard first hand his stories over the years for Tzvi truly lived the history of Israel. He helped make Israel’s history!
Tzvi lived in the land of Israel from the time he was a very young child. Born in Poland, his mother died when he was four years old. His father, wanted by the government as a Bundist, fled to South America. Tzvi’s maternal grandparents smuggled him into what was then Palestine in 1928.
(I am continuing with excerpts from Rabbi David’s eulogy)
“He was forced to leave school at the age of 10 to help in his grandparents’ shop. At the age of 12 he went on his own and opened a kiosk in the Tel Aviv food market and ran it for 4 years. My dad was a life warrior. Whatever difficulties he faced from childhood, he learned quickly to face it head on.
At the age of not quite 17 he joined the struggle for Jewish Independence in the land of Israel. It meant fighting in four different wars and surviving all of them.
He first joined the British army in early WWII. A few years later he joined the Jewish underground, the Haganah, which actually fought the British. From there he joined an elite fighting group which after several bitter battles literally stopped the Egyptian army from advancing into Tel Aviv. This was during the heroic War of Independence. He then fought two more wars. The first was when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria in 1956. The other was the well known Six Day War in 1967.
For a while he even served in the Israeli Secret Service in Lebanon since he spoke several dialects of Arabic, Hebrew, English, Yiddish and a little of a few other languages. In his house he displayed proudly pictures from all the wars as well as an official State of Israel's recognition for his bravery in the battlefield.
My dad fought the war of life. He did well as a provider, as a meat distributor to factories and to the army. He worked physically hard. Very hard. From childhood until he retired the hours were always long. Leaving very early in the morning and always returning when it was already dark.
My dad had his share of issues and challenges which were thrust upon him many times during the course of his life. Some of the issues were painful and frustrating and very difficult to deal with. But he stood tall in all of them, facing his challenges head-on. Always.
Many years ago he had a complicated triple bypass operation which the doctors did not think he would survive. He used to joke that he probably buried all the doctors who treated him as he lived to almost 94.
Dad did things his way. Always. Known for his stubbornness, in Israel he was a very well known figure. He seemed to know everyone in the country. He was an arranger. If you needed something arranged, no matter how difficult, he would have a friend or know someone in the field to arrange it for you. We are talking all walks of life. He even knew the upper echelon of the Israeli military, the highest ranking officers of the IDF including the likes of Moshe Dayan and Itzchak Rabin.
He had his own ideas about everything and that was the way he lived his life. Even the last day of his life.......”
My father in law left us on July 4th. Rabbi David had hoped that wouldn’t be the day he would choose as we would always associate the holiday with his death. But on each July 4th as I celebrate America's Independence, I will remember that Tzvi was a part of making Israel once again Independent. What a perfect day to honor him each year!
May his memory be a blessing…. and may his deepest wish that Peace comes to the Middle East, that there is no longer such as a thing as war....come to be…
Rabbi David and Cantor Lee
I know....I have written about it previously. But each time Rabbi David and I continue to be in awe that there is never a Torah portion by accident. Each B’nai Mitzvah child is meant to receive a specific one!
This time I initially didn’t know the child that well. The family lived out of town and had been referred to us. I didn’t think we could help as we weren’t available on the date that was already planned for the child’s Bar Mitzvah. I remember being surprised that the mother changed the date without even meeting us. It wasn’t until later that I understood why the new date was so important, of G-d's hand at work. It meant the child would receive the specific Torah portion of Naso containing the Priestly Blessings.
When I spoke to the mother I learned the family’s story, that her husband had died a little more than seven years ago. The first thing her husband said after learning he had cancer was that he just wanted to see his sons each become a Bar Mitzvah. “Of all the things he could have said!” the mother told me. After her husband died, the mother made sure her two boys received their Jewish education through a day school and that the family remained active in their local synagogue.
When it came time for the child to write his speech explaining the Torah portion I excitedly shared how Spock from Star Trek took his greeting from the hand position used during the Priestly Blessings. Leonard Nimoy had grown up in a traditional synagogue where the Kohanim, the descendants of the Priestly Tribe would bless the congregation using this specific hand position. The child told me he really didn’t watch Star Trek but he knew his dad loved it. He also told me his dad was a Priest, a Kohen. “Oh, that means you are too!” I told him. (see Rabbi David’s explanation below)
At that point I began to get goosebumps along with the message to pay attention, something is important here! I told the boy, “There is never a Torah portion by accident. G-d wanted you to have this one which is all about the Priests!”
As soon as the lesson was over the mother called. She had sat in on the lesson and was still flooded with chills. “I have to send you a picture.” she said. It was of her husband’s tombstone. The hand symbol of the Kohanim was engraved on it.
(Last name erased for privacy)
I always wonder how G-d manages to arrange these things. What are the chances that out of the whole year, this is the Torah portion the boy received, the only one with the Priestly Blessings! And quite honestly, even though it is a custom, with all the funerals we have officiated, I have never seen a tombstone engraved with the hand symbol of the Kohanim!
When it came time to give his speech during his service, the boy explained that he knew his father was sending him a message through his Torah portion, that he was always watching over him. I caught Rabbi David’s eye. He too felt the strong presence of the father in the room.
As with any life cycle event there is always “stuff” that comes up within families that needs to be processed. In this case it once again brought up the grief of the father’s death. But there was also healing and it came through the Torah portion’s message. It was such a beautiful message from beyond! A message from a father saying Love never dies...
Information about the Kohanim from Rabbi David When G-d instructed Moses to dedicate several families from the tribe of Levi as priests, ("Kohanim" in Hebrew) they were given the responsibilities of overseeing the carrying of the holy tent and the holy vessels such as the holy lamp, ark and other ritual objects during the forty years of wandering in the desert. They were also entrusted with conducting all the sacrificial rituals which were quite elaborate.
During the time of the First Temple built by King Solomon as well as during the Second Temple, many Kohanim actually lived in the Temple itself and conducted all the daily, Shabbat and holiday rituals. Many others lived among the tribes of Israel and became instructors of the Torah laws, making sure that the rituals were followed precisely. For example, Prophet Jeremiah came from a family of priests who lived in the Galilee city of Anatot.
It is quite amazing that for the past 2,000 years the Jewish priesthood has been passed from father to son for countless generations. In modern times, since we have no Temple, animal sacrifices are of course out of the question and ritual practices are officiated by rabbis who are not necessarily priests, the function of the modern day Kohanim is limited. In synagogues they are called to bless the Jewish people with the Priestly Benediction and also are part of a ceremony in the home called a pidyon haben, the redemption of a first born son so he is relieved from the requirement as serving as a priest.
Although there are Kabbalistic explanations of why the specific hand position is used for the Priestly Blessing most people only know the tradition goes back to Temple times. The special blessing they recite was actually commanded in the Torah. G-d dictated to Aaron, Moses's brother, the exact text of the blessing. When blessing the congregation at the end of the service the Kohanim cover their entire body with their Tallit first, then they spread their fingers and offer the blessing. It is important not to add or subtract from the text and to recite it exactly as written in the Torah.
The English translation of the blessing is:
May G-d bless you and guard you
May G-d cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you
May G-d lift His face upon you and bring you peace
May we all receive these blessings in our daily lives!
Love, Cantor Lee and Rabbi David
Origin of Spock's Vulcan Hand Symbol
My Mother’s Divine Plan
I call it the Driving Force and also the Divine Force. When it comes I have no choice but to follow it. It came the Friday morning before Mother’s Day. I was planning on spending the day with my mother in her rehab facility where she was recovering from a fall. But the Driving Force said, “Go Now! Do not go later as planned!!”
I was frantic as I was driving! When I arrived the ambulance was on its way. The paramedics asked “Which hospital?” I thought, “No wonder the Divine Force wanted me to get there! It was so I could pick the best hospital!”
In a short amount of time the two doctors came to me. My mother would die within a few hours without surgery! My brother was on speaker phone. “No,” we said! “Her heart doctor said no surgery! Find another way!” The two doctors were upset. “You want your mother to die? You want to put her in hospice?”
My brother and I wondered later why as two intelligent beings we didn’t stop and ask for more information, of what the consequences would be. We have made certain promises to our mother. But the emotions had taken over.
As they took her I knew I needed to stay centered, peaceful, pray. This is always my way. I was able to observe from within how my body was reacting, that I was shaking, freezing cold. I noticed how tears came when I finally reached my sister and husband.
As I sat in the waiting room, I wondered why I couldn’t connect to my spiritual healing gifts. They are second nature to me! All I could do was put on facebook and other groups to please pray for my mother! I asked G-d that all the prayers sent on her behalf would be used for her highest good. I spoke to my brother. We both were having doubts whether we made the right decision.
“The surgery went well,” the doctor told me. But late that evening we were losing my mother. The nurses said, “Tell your brother to come straight to the hospital from the airport. There isn’t much time.” At 12:00 p.m. we all gathered around and Rabbi David said the final prayers. The Divine Force was back. “Sing the Misheberach!” it said! Later my sister asked me why the healing prayer. “It was for the ultimate healing,” I told her.
Everyone was shocked when my mother opened her eyes in the morning. It wasn’t until the next day, Mother’s Day, that she could get some garbled words out. I wanted to follow her wishes. She managed to communicate that this is not what she wanted. But then clear as day, another voice came from her that said, “I knew I was dying. I had to come back.”
Later that afternoon she needed to have a nasal feeding tube to receive nutrients. “Absolutely not!” my siblings and I agreed! We decided to wait 24 hours for any decisions about hospice. Maybe there would be improvement tomorrow. The Driving Force came back late that evening. “Go back to the hospital immediately!!” I understood why when I saw my mother. She made her decision. No more treatment, no medications. I accepted this and was filled with gratitude to see the peace that came over her.
But with each day in my home, even off all her medications, my mother improved. She could now swallow, eat by herself and even move in the bed with help. Soon it became a party everyday with all the grandchildren traveling in to say goodbye!
After a week we moved my mother to her own apartment with an aide. She still has much ahead of her and is still off her medications. My brother and I have discussed that in honoring her wishes, if we had to do it over again we would make a different decision. But I keep on going back to that voice that came through, “I had to come back.” In the end the decision we made was in alignment with my mother's Divine Plan.
Rabbi David always says that when G-d told Abraham to go to a new land He used the famous words, “Trust Me.” That is all I can do right now. Trust in my mother’s Divine Plan, the one she has planned with G-d.
To all who offered your prayers, thank you! There have been so many miracles along the way. One thing I know without a doubt – your prayers have helped to bring them about!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing them…May they all be used in alignment with my mother's Divine Plan!
May 15th will mark the 70th anniversary of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. In Israel the actual Independence Day, Yom Ha-atz-maut is celebrated according to the Jewish calendar which is on the 5th day of the month of Iyar. This year it fell in the middle of April.
It is interesting to note the real meaning of the term "Independence Day. It marks the original date of a nation's independence. If an independent nation suddenly finds itself occupied by a foreign nation or several nations in succession and then finally frees itself, its independent day celebration would still be the original date before the occupation.
Therefore the celebration of Israel's independence day on Iyar 5 1948 is not accurate and in fact may be detrimental to the state of Israel. Claiming that Israel became independent in 1948 allows the Arabs and their many supporters to claim (as they have being doing) that the Jews had nothing to do with the holy land until they started illegally occupying it at the beginning of the 20th century. This is exactly why the Arab claim is that in 1948 Israel became an independent country for the first time ever on land not belonging to them.
The truth is that Israel was independent from the 12th century BCE to the 5th century BCE. It was then conquered by a foreign army only to be liberated in the 1st century BCE by the Maccabees. It was then occupied again by a long succession of foreign invaders including the Moslems, Ottomans (Turks) and the British.
It is also interesting to note that over these dark centuries there were several Jewish attempts to regain control over the land. These were naive messianic attempts and not military attempts. Because of the long history of independent living in the land of Israel the modern term Israel Independence Day is no doubt misleading.
It is my opinion that Israel's Independence Day should officially be named "Israel's Day of Regaining Independence.”
Yea, I know, it will never fly, but it is a thought...
May Israel continue to stand for Truth, Peace and Light.
We all understand the significance of Passover as the holiday of freedom. It is a freedom granted to our ancestors who were enslaved in Egypt through divine effort and sadly through much suffering of the Egyptians. Passover's profound message of freedom is of course universal. It speaks to the core of mankind’s basic instinct, the "yearning to be free." Although the holiday of Passover is a Jewish holiday, it also represents a universal appreciation of freedom everywhere.
When the Jewish people began celebrating this freedom festival the world was still very cruel and barbaric. It was only in 1776 with the American Declaration of Independence that both personal and national freedom was finally understood to be a natural right of all mankind. While the declaration was written 242 years ago, the world is still in the process of catching up to its message. Three thousand years after the event of Exodus there is still much oppression around the world. In many countries slavery or slavery conditions of workers as well as oppression of women and gay people still exist.
It is interesting to note that even in the ancient kingdom of Israel, while there was a concept of workers without pay for war captives or under certain circumstances for Hebrews, the fundamental human rights for this kind of workers were spelled out in the Torah and were strictly observed. They were treated as domestic help with decency and respect. The word "Eved" which is the Hebrew word for slave is a basic derivation from the word, worker, "Oved". That means that in ancient Israel the concept of slavery was much different then what the ancient world understood it to be.
The struggle for freedom as depicted in the story of exodus gained much significance not only in the African American community during centuries past but during the second world war as well, when a most incredible Jewish revolt against the Nazis took place in the Warsaw ghetto under impossible conditions We remember the small group of Jewish fighters led by 23 years old Mordechai Anielewiczw who held the mighty Nazi war machine back for three weeks and never gave up until there was no more pistols and Molotov cocktails left to fight with. This year on the first night of Passover we are commemorating the 75th year anniversary of what was an iconic symbol for heroic resistance to the Nazis throughout occupied Europe.
May they inspire us to love and protect freedom as much as they did.
Jewish people have been celebrating the holiday of Purim for about 2400 years. It is, as we all know, a fun holiday of parties, dressing in costumes eating hamantaschen and enjoying the day. It is a celebration in remembrance of the great salvation of the Jews of Persia who were under a great threat of annihilation only to be saved by the Jewish queen Ester and her Uncle Mordechai.
But the story of Purim has much deeper roots. It involves a very old and bitter political rivalry between two royal families. which goes all the way back to King Saul and King David some 3,100 years ago, way before the events of the story of Purim in Persia.
While all of the 12 tribes that inherited the land of Israel were considered one nation, there was friction between the ten tribes who lived in the center and northern part of Israel, known as the northern region tribes, and the two southern region tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
King Saul, the first king of Israel, came from the tribe of Benjamin of the southern region. This created friction with the northern tribes who wanted the king of Israel to come the northern region. Nevertheless, King Saul in his wisdom was a unifying king who treated all the tribes fairly and therefore all of the tribes of Israel considered him their king.
However, things did not work well for King Saul. G-D explicitly ordered him to totally annihilate the Amalekite nation, man, woman and children and completely destroy all of their property. (Indeed, we do have some moral issues in the Bible.) King Saul granted "professional curtsey" to the Amalekite king, Agag, as well as his wife and did not kill them. He also allowed the people to take booty from the Amalekites’ possessions against G-D’s explicit instructions. In order to follow G-D's order, the Amalekite king, Agag, was eventually killed by the prophet Samuel. With King Agag’s death it was thought that this was the end to all living Amalekites.
But that was not the case. Our great sages explain that even prophet Samuel neglected to kill Agag's wife who happened to be pregnant . The Amalekite line therefore continued throughout the generations.
G-D was furious with King Saul. He took away the kingdom from him and gave it to King David who was from the tribe of Judea. The ten tribes considered the anointment of David to be a king as another insult since he too like King Saul came from the southern tribe region.
Unlike King Saul, King David and his son, King Solomon, had an ongoing animosity towards the northern region. They treated the northern tribe very unfairly. Among other things, they imposed heavy taxation, long military service as well as other national duties. That unfair treatment came about probably because the northern tribes refused to accept David as their king for seven years until they finely capitulated.
Fast forward centuries later to Persia where a large Jewish population had formed over centuries of exile.
King Saul's descendents never forgot the humiliation of tearing the kingdom from them and giving it to the house of David. They were hoping to regain back the respect of G-D and maybe even any future kingdom of Israel. At least part of the Jewish population in the Persian Diaspora who centuries earlier belonged to the ten northern tribes probably preferred the house of Saul as well since he was considered a national unifier as opposed to King David and his son King Solomon who held a grudge against them.
The major characters of the story of Purim which took place in Shushan, the capital of Persia, have a direct connection to the story of King David and King Saul. In fact Mordechai who was most likely the leader of the Jewish community in Shushan and Ester, the heroes of the story, were direct descendants of King Saul. It seems that the house of King Saul was still enjoying a leadership position among the Jews.
We know that because the narrative refers to Mordechai as "the son of Kish", referring to Kish, the father of King Saul who was also called "Saul, son of Kish." Obviously the narrative is making sure that we are aware of the connection between Mordechai and King Saul. The narrative refers to Haman as the Aggagite, making sure we understand that Haman is a direct descendent of Aggag the king of the Amalakites.
So now we see the story of Purim clearly. This is the second round of the conflict between the house of King Saul and the house of Agag the Amalekite. Mordechai knows that this time around the all the descended of the Amalekites must be killed in order to comply with G-D's order as well regaining the honor of the house of Saul. This is about an unfinished business that must be completed.
When Mordechai suggests to Queen Ester that G-D had made her the queen of Persia for a specific reason, this is the reason to which he is most likely referring.
But the story of Purim does have a twist at the end. While Haman and his ten sons were hanged, his wife and possibly daughters were not. So yet again the Amalekite line was not completely annihilated and may have continued through the wife who might have been pregnant at the time or through the daughters.
However it is interesting to note that from this point on Judaism takes a more philosophical approach to the line of the Amalekite. We consider every enemy of Israel who is trying to annihilate the Jewish people as an Aggagite, a descendent of the Amalekite king.
Haman and the rest of the cruel enemies who throughout the generations have tried to destroy us, are considered the manifestation of evil in the world. That evil is what we are trying to eradicate by spreading around the world the Light of G-D which dwells within each and every one of us, in order to make our world a better, more peaceful one.
May this holiday of Purim be joyful to all of us.
I first learned of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at 3:00 p.m. when my sister texted me. She was in lockdown at a nearby pre-school where she holds her music program. After checking the current situation (deaths weren’t being reported yet,) I immediately posted on social media and in healing groups I belong to asking for prayers for our entire area.
I already knew some parents wouldn’t be bringing their children to our Hebrew School later. As parents our instinct kicks in, we feel vulnerable and want to protect our children, keep them close to us during such times. I remember it well from 9-11. Even now I had the urge to call my own children even though they are adults.
Of the few children who did come to school, most of the older ones knew about the shooting. So of course we prayed and sent our Light to the entire situation. Just connecting to that Sacred Energy with the children was a balm for the shock I was still feeling.
Later as I worked individually with a child, I received another text that 17 had died. Although the shock was now back I somehow continued to finish working with the student. I then went into the next room to tell my husband. I planned to say “seventeen dead” in Hebrew so the children wouldn’t understand but I just couldn’t remember how to say “seventeen!” Instead I said “seventeen” in English and the word “dead” in Hebrew. One student immediately asked “Seventeen died?” I answered, “Yes.” The next question was, “Why?”
There were six children, 5th-7th graders, sitting around a table, now looking up at me, expectantly waiting for an answer. I froze. How do I answer them? Should I tell them what I know? This has always been my promise to G-d, to bring to my students the hidden spiritual teachings on a child’s level. My guidance took over and I began answering their questions.
We talked about how we never really die, only our bodies do. That all who died from the shooting are in a different form and are with G-d now. That when terrible things happen changes can be made, that all those who died sacrificed their lives for us. They didn’t know about it consciously but did on a deeper level, the soul level. But this still doesn’t erase the pain and grief that loved ones left on earth are feeling, that we are all feeling.
We talked about the shooter, of how people who act in such ways do not feel loved. We compared this to bullies not feeling loved, of how they feel alone. But even so this doesn’t mean we will allow their actions.
We discussed how it was when I grew up. Special needs and mentally ill children were isolated, bullies could do whatever they wanted, problems were hidden. We are now living in a time when all the hidden problems are being shown to us so we can make changes. G-d needs each of us in our own way to make these changes. For children it can mean speaking up even if scared, expressing feelings, being kind.
I am never ceased to be amazed by my students. As the children shared their own stories they once again showed me their innate understanding of who they really are.
A part of me wonders if the fifth grade girl would still have asked, “Seventeen died?” if I had said both words in Hebrew. But another part of me knows the answer for in the deepest workings of the universe, the children are here on earth to bring forth changes.
To all affected by this horrific tragedy, Rabbi David and I offer our deepest condolences. May we all receive healing, love and support as we move forward with the changes that need to be made to provide a safe and loving world for our children.
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