Just in Time for Sefer Bereishis

October 30, 2014


Ebb and Flow in the Book of Numbers

October 28, 2014

Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers

Rabbi Francis Nataf, author of Redeeming Relevance in the Book of Numbers, was interviewed  on Voice of Israel.

Rabbi Nataf shares his personal journey with Eve Harow. Deeply intelligent and thoughtful, his insights are profound.

You can listen to the interview here.

Genesis: From the Heart of a Lion

October 26, 2014

By Alan Jay Gerber

One of the most charismatic young rabbis in education today is Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, the Mashgiach Ruchani at the DRS High School in Woodmere. Recently Rabbi Cohen assembled in book form (“From The Heart of a Lion,” Penina Press) a series of eloquent and timely essays themed to each parasha in Bereshis, the book of Genesis. The content of each chapter fully lives up to the rabbi’s reputation of combining his analytic learning style with anecdotes relating to life’s experiences.FromtheHeartofaLion9789655241969

In this week’s parasha, Noach, we find Rabbi Cohen’s gift of relating a personal relationship as a tool to demonstrate respect for authority especially in terms of religious reverence and mentorship.

The rabbinical authority in this essay was HaRav Nosson Finkel, zt”l, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who was in Rabbi Cohen’s words the “foundation of my life as a Jew.” This relationship as described by Rabbi Cohen in the most heartfelt manner will serve as the bulk of this essay demonstrating the author’s style and the greatness of his subject.

“From the time I began to attend his weekly Erev Shabbos shmooze in his house while I was still learning in Keren B’Yavneh, I immediately needed to stay close to the Rosh Yeshiva whenever possible,” writes Rabbi Cohen. “Eventually, I had the zechus to learn in the Mir for a zeman and further strengthen my kesher. I was constantly asking for advice and learning from the Rosh Yeshiva. It was a relationship that continued after leaving the Yeshiva. … The final time I was zoche to be in the Rosh Yeshiva’s presence was exactly one month before his Petirah [passing] on the 11th of Tishre, 5772, the day after Yom Kippur., and the parting kiss is still felt. So much of who I am today is owed to the Rosh Yeshiva.”

This experience with Rav Finkel, of blessed memory, is reflected in the passion of love that permeates throughout the teachings of Rabbi Cohen. Consider the following:

“Upon leaving the ark, Noach was seemingly not only overwhelmed by needing to rebuild the world from scratch, but was also doubtful as to how the new generation that would arise would reverse course from the previous and behave in a more dignified way. After living with a generation of wicked individuals which he was unable to influence over many years and attempts, his hope for the next generation of mankind was dimmed.” G-d was to see this otherwise and guided Noach to serve as a partner with G-d in the spiritual reconstruction of the world.

Rabbi Cohen goes on to connect this divine relationship with the numerous changes in culinary and dietetic habits and mandates that were to serve to better reinforce a divinely guided society in the years ahead. Rabbi Cohen’s take in this matter is unique and deserves your further perusal.

Throughout this work, the human element is demonstrated as a major factor in the destiny of those Biblical personalities who were to serve as role models in service to G-d’s rule. This is the main contribution that Rabbi Cohen makes to Torah learning and teaching, in a way that places him as a role model, a teacher who through example demonstrates the reality of historical experience to today’s world. Rabbi Cohen surely demonstrates to this world, so full of death and tears, fear and dread, how to smile and learn to be confident in the coming of a better day, with G-d’s help.

In Rabbi Cohen’s words to this writer he expands further on his life’s work:

“The book is a unique combination of an in-depth analytical essay on the weekly parasha coupled with an inspiring personal story. The book is written in a way that all readers could comprehend, but is meant to be appreciated by the most well-versed of learners as well.

“The hope is that the sefer will not merely be used to learn from, but to be greatly inspired by. My personal mission in life is to try to inspire others to build a deeper relationship with Judaism and G-d. I deeply hope and believe this sefer will be a great tool in bringing inspiration to the masses. The synthesis of textual analysis with inspirational ideas based on books of machshava and mussar are enlightening, and the crowning personal story connected to each essay should leave a reader awakened. The truth, I believe, teaches that the heart and emotion of the Torah can be felt in every place and climb.

“D’varim hayotzim min halev nichnasim el halev, as the book’s title says it all: ‘Lev Aryeh — From The Heart of a Lion’.”

Thus is the name of this work, and such is its goal.

This review originally appeared on The Jewish Star 

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission, and Legacy

October 23, 2014

by Rabbi Louis A. RiesercarlebachbioWeb1

Anyone who met Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach knew they were in the presence of someone extraordinary. Known as the guitar-laying rabbi, he reshaped Jewish music, created a unique outreach that embraced everyone regardless of background, and brought new life to Judaism around the world. Carlebach began as an emissary from Chabad Hasidism but morphed into a messenger of love and acceptance for all people. His music, with compositions numbering in the thousands, is sung in services across the breadth of the Jewish community. Often people do not even know that it was Carlebach who composed these “traditional” tunes. He reached out to hippies in the Haight-Ashbury and Jews in the former Soviet Union, brought a new spirit to Jews in Israel, and had a word of encouragement even for the beggar on the street.

This is the first extended biography available in English. It chronicles in exquisite detail the arc of Reb Shlomo’s life. We hear of his concerts, when and why he composed certain tunes, and who accompanied him. We learn of people whose lives were changed through their encounters with Carlebach. His charismatic power is evident. As with many leaders, there is a controversy surrounding him, and that gets recounted in this volume as well. For some readers, the detail may be excessive, but I found that its cumulative effect gave a feel for Carlebach’s tremendous impact.

This book tells an important chapter in the life of twentieth-century Jews.

This review appeared in the third issue of Church and Synagogue Library Association’s congregational libraries today.

Kaddish Review

October 21, 2014

By Evelyn Pockrass Kaddish: Womens Voices

Jewish mourning rituals affect survivors for the remainder of their lives. We remember loved ones in prescribed ways during the first year after their passing and in special ways hereafter…

Kaddish: Women’s Voices edited by Michal Smart and conceived by Barbara Ashkenas, gathers more than fifty short essays by women (mainly Modern Orthodox) about their experiences during the first year after a close relative has died. When a parent dies, part of the traditional observance required of men for eleven months is to attend services three times daily, during which the Kaddish (from the root meaning “holy”) prayer is recited.

Some Orthodox synagogues accept the participation of women in this ritual. The stories in Kaddish reflect the contributor’s experiences, both positive and negative, in carrying out the ritual. Some of he women endued poor treatment and other hardships, but saying Kaddish was nevertheless a great source of comfort and healing for all.

The volume’s layout is appealing; there are twelve chapters, each beginning with a part of the Kaddish prayer (in Aramaic and Hebrew) and a poem in English. Kaddish won a 2013 National Jewish Book Award.

This review appeared in the third issue of Church and Synagogue Library Association’s congregational libraries today.

Video Drasha for Sukkot

October 14, 2014

By David Bar-Cohn OhrHaShachar

What’s the whole idea of inviting “Ushpizin” into the sukkah? And why these seven people in particular and not anyone else? The answer may lie in the connection to Pesach…

To view the video drasha, click here.

How Not to Have Too Much Integrity on Yom Kippur: Lessons From Jonah

September 29, 2014

By Rabbi Francis Nataf Redeeming Relevance in the book of numbers

Familiarity with Bible stories often works against us. That’s because we remember simple, sometimes fantastic stories from our childhood and then have a hard time re-reading these stories as adults.

Reading the Book of Jonah as an adult, as I finally decided to do, made me realize that Jonah should be remembered for much more than using a whale (the text only tells us it was a big fish but it is a reasonable assumption to say it was a whale) as the world’s first submarine. A more mature read shows Jonah to be one of the Bible’s most outrageous characters. Such a read has this small book that we read every year on Yom Kippur emerge as one that requires serious thought in order to understand.

From what I make of it, Jonah’s main problem was that he had too much integrity. In fact, he had so much integrity as to even disagree with how God runs the world! That is to say that he felt that it lacked the “higher standards” that he would have expected from God.

To put this into perspective, most Biblical prophets prayed to God to have more mercy or to complain that he was too strict. With Jonah, however, it was just the opposite – he complained that God was not strict enough. As a result, he gets bent out of shape by God’s decision to accept the repentance of the city of Nineveh and to commute its destruction. Indeed, it causes him so much distress that he tells God that he’d rather die than have to see such things! Moreover, instead of apologizing for refusing God’s mission until he is forced to comply, he holds his ground and explains that it was knowing that God would relent from destroying Nineveh that led him to turn down the mission to begin with.

Nor is the above an isolated incident. The text presents Jonah’s response here as a case of deja-vu. Before being swallowed by the fish, Jonah also seemed to prefer death to involvement in what he believed to be a mere parody of repentance. At the point in the story when his ship is threatened by a raging storm, the sailors all realize that the time has come to pray and improve their conduct. But Jonah doesn’t buy it. So instead of participating in the popular religiosity of his shipmates, he simply goes to sleep! For Jonah, better that than the triviality of the sailors’ new found “commitments.”

Lest one think Jonah was just a cruel and strange character, the people of Nineveh were far from righteous and we can reasonably assume, like Jonah, that their repentance was short-lived. (And it is quite possible that Jonah’s sailors weren’t much better.) But if Jonah knew this, clearly God must have known it as well. And yet the Bible often shows – and this is exactly the thing that Jonah objected to – that God is willing to accept repentance, even if it is mostly for ulterior motives and likely not to last for very long. We can only speculate why this is so. Perhaps simply getting people to move out of their inertia has more of a chance of long-term success then not doing anything at all. Or maybe because some good, no matter how temporary, is better than no good whatsoever. Or maybe there is something very powerful when an entire community decides to change its ways, whatever its motivation.

Whatever the reason for God’s acceptance of the sailors’ prayers and the repentance of Nineveh, these typically Biblical responses to imminent disaster, do seem more productive than what we see today. Imminent disaster rarely, if ever, produces introspection of any kind, now that we think we are too educated for that sort of thing (another example of modern man having become too sophisticated for his own good). Resultantly, we tend to focus on whether there is someone to blame and whether there is some sort of technical way to impede the disaster. I am certainly not against finding ways to avoid disaster and a good case can be made that the Torah obligates us to try to do so. Still, it would not be such a bad thing if we also used such occasions as an opportunity to move ourselves to try and do better.

But it is really not so easy. When you think about it, many of us are not so different from Jonah. We don’t want to pretend. We don’t want to just go through the motions. Rather we want to come to personal turnarounds worthy of the name. And so we will wait until that special moment comes. But the Bible knows that for most people, that moment never comes and as a result, it provides set times to improve regardless. Yom Kippur is one of those set times.

Perhaps we can now better understand why we read Jonah’s story on Yom Kippur.

Given the above, the message may be pretty straightforward – don’t worry about integrity, just say you’re sorry and do the best you can! For many of us, this may sound fairly uninspiring. It sounds like it shouldn’t be good enough – and that’s exactly what Jonah thought. But the big news is that God thought otherwise.

This article appears in The Jewish Press 


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