Friday, January 12, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram, January 11, 2001

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to about 250 congregants and others, plus, on occasion, to a college student list of about 50. If you know of any congregant, college student or anyone else who does not get this mailing and might be interested, please have them e-mail me at my temple address,

Shabbat Shalom!  A special welcome back to campus for our students on the college list, including a few new ones that I've dug up since last semester ended. 

By popular demand (actually, one person requested it, but what the hay), we begin with...


Candle lighting Friday: 4:32 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat service (here): 8:00
Shabbat Morning (here): 9:30
Children's Services: 10:30 (there will be one consolidated children's service only this week, led by Bert Madwed in the chapel)
We celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of Jonathan Koretz.  Mazal Tov to Jonathan and his family!
Torah Portion: VA - YECHI

The Learn Torah With D'var Torah can be found at
This commentary on the portion by Dr. Neil Gillman of JTS is a moving tribute to his mentor, Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose yahrzeit is commemorated this week.  By extension, any tribute for Heschel also evokes the memory of his friend, Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birthday we also mark this weekend.

Shabbat ends on Saturday night at 5:32 PM


Our experiment with less-formal Shabbat morning services in the lobby has proven to be a big hit, so much so that the ritual committee this week decided to schedule a few more during the winter.  Also, when we are in the main sanctuary (on a non-Bar/Bat Mitzvah week), we'll now be roping off the sections near the windows to promote more "togetherness" in the central sections.


Nearly 150 of us, a virtual sellout, will be spending part of the weekend on our first congregational off-site Shabbaton.  Check-in begins at 3:30 PM on Friday at Holiday Hills.  To whet our appetites for the speaker, Dr Jack Wertheimer, here is a review sent by a rabbinic colleague of Jack's appearance at his synagogue just last weekend:
"He was incredible.  Our event attendance started out at “incredibly good” at his keynote presentation, and just got better and better over the weekend.  People are already asking to bring him back.  The presentations all were top-drawer quality; we addressed the realities of the Conservative Synagogue, the conflict between Jewish and American values, and the latest information relating to intermarriage.  In short, there was not a single lightweight presentation to be had. Not only did Jack wave the flag, people stood and saluted."
Of course, our attendance will not vary from beginning to end -- but there are still a few openings available for last-minute reservations.  If you were looking for something to nudge a fellow family member over the fence, show 'em this review. 

D'VAR TORAH (courtesy of Rabbi Brad Artson)

Today’s Torah
By: Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson
from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

Jews have always been a community drawn together by virtue of Torah. No matter where you may be, we welcome you to the Ziegler community through Today’s Torah e-mail.

Shabbat Parashat Vayechi
January 13, 2000 - 18 Tevet 5761
For the Love of a Patriarch

Put yourself in Jacob’s place.  Laying on his death bed, he is filled with apprehensions about the special way of understanding God and the world that his grandfather, Abraham, established.  It wasn’t so long ago, he must have mused, that everyone worshipped a multiplicity of deities, that people sacrificed children to their gods, that they gashed themselves with knives as part of a religious fervor, that cultic prostitution was an integral part of worship.

Abraham’s insight changed all that.  By recognizing that the diversity of nature is only apparent, that beneath that variety is an underlying unity, Abraham was able to recognize that all things are linked to that one source of life, and that Source, God, demands justice, morality and compassion.  He and Sarah were able to transmit that heritage to only one of their sons, to Isaac.  Isaac and Rebecca were able to pass this vital truth on to only one of their sons, to Jacob, who was also known as Israel.

And now, nearing the end of his life, the weary patriarch must have feared for the future of this precious insight.  His twelve sons were an unlikely source of religious heroes.  Marred by their propensity toward violence, their explosive tempers and their jealousy, they had given Israel abundant cause for alarm throughout their young adulthood.  Could he trust them to hold fast to the central legacy of Judaism, one God who is passionate about ethics, who infuses moral fervor with ritual profundity?

Just before he is about to die, Jacob summons his children to gather around his bed.  He tells his sons, “Come together, that I may tell you what is to befall you in days to come.”  Then, rather than beginning his list of predictions, he interposes the comment, “Assemble and hearken, O sons of Jacob; ve-shim’u el Yisrael avichem (Hearken to Israel, your father).”

The Rabbis were struck by the unexpected disruption.  Why didn’t Israel simply continue with his predictions for each son?  They also noticed that the language of this digression sounded very much like one of Judaism’s most famous declarations, “Sh’ma Yisrael.”  That had to be more than coincidence.

Midrash Devarim Rabbah makes explicit why Israel digresses, and why this verse echoes the lines of the Sh’ma.  From where did the Jewish People merit to recite the Sh’ma?  From the death of Jacob, who called all the tribes and said to them, “Perhaps after I perish from the world, you will worship other deities?”  The sons responded to their father, “Hear, O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone.”

The Rabbis used the fact that the third patriarch, Jacob, was also called Israel.  Thus, the Sh’ma could be understood as addressed not to the Jewish People, but to Jacob himself.  The use of similar language between the Sh’ma and what Jacob says to his sons confirms that reading.  So the midrash develops a dialogue between the Patriarch and his descendants.

Fearful that they maintain a superficial loyalty to Judaism out of deference to their father, he asks them whether they will turn from Judaism once he has died.  In unison, the sons respond, “Listen, Dad, Adonai, the God our great-grandfather recognized as the exclusive sovereign of the world, is our only God.  We’ll stick with it, not for your sake, but for our own and for God’s.”
In response to his sons’ fidelity and conviction, Jacob exclaims, “Baruch Shem Kevodo l’olam va-ed (praised be God’s glorious sovereignty throughout all time).”  The Sh’ma, then, becomes a living drama in which the latest generations of Jews promises those who have come before us that our loyalty is undimmed by years, that our faithfulness to the covenant of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah still motivates our deeds and informs our identity.

How many Jews remember keeping a kosher home to care for an observant grandparent or parent!  And how many have allowed those precious practices to evaporate, the  inheritance of millennia past vanishing in the short space of a single lifetime?  Isn’t it time to stand with the children of Jacob, swearing our renewed loyalty to the Jewish calendar, the sacred deeds and practices of our ancient heritage, to renew our loyalty to the God of Israel?

Can we, in honesty, conjure the memories of Bubbes and Zeydes, of childhood Rabbis and the great scholars, martyrs and leaders of our people throughout history and tell them that their God is still our God, that their legacy is apparent in the food we eat, the rituals we observe, and the deeds of lovingkindness that we practice?  Can we give Jacob the same assurance and comfort that his sons were able to provide?

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism, a rabbinical school for the heart, mind and soul.

REQUIRED READING: If I forget thee, O Jerusalem...

Our own Jan Gaines wrote a terrific and passionate op-ed in the Stamford Advocate this week which unfortunately is not available at the Advocate's online site.  Seek it out!

From David Hartman in the Jewish Week, a noted dove, this dispassionate evaluation of peace prospects:

From the Boston Globe, this history lesson:

And a letter sent by Conservative leader in Jerusalem known to many of us (he spoke to a couple of our Israel tour groups several years back), Rabbi Paul Freedman, on the huge rally that took place in Jerusalem this week.  My only regret about the rally, aside from not being there, is that the organizers did not bring in all of Israeli society.  Although the event was not overtly partisan, the omission of the entire left wing of the Israeli political spectrum from any official representation, as well as a large segment of Diaspora Jewry, lent the false impression that Jerusalem is sacred only to the right wing.  What could have been a unifying and reaffirming expression of love was tainted in that way.  Nonetheless, the fact that such a massive rally was peaceful stands in dramatic contrast to the cries coming from the throngs in Gaza and Ramallah.

Dear friend:

It is quite unprecedented for me to write to you in such a short space of time , but last night’s gathering in Jerusalem by the Jaffa Gate , was such an extraordinary experience that I just have to communicate with you while the glow is still here.
It was not a demonstration .It was , quire simply , an expression of the will of the Jewish people. Young and old , Sabras and new immigrants , Jews from abroad , religious and secular , people who had no interest in politics and those from the left and the right . No politicians , unless you count Ehud Olmert  , the Mayor of this wonderful ancient , thriving city , who spoke better last night that we ever heard him before.

According to the police at the event last night , there were between 350,000 and 400,000 people there. The crowd stretched all the way from Jaffa Gate to King George Street , and we were able to see the speakers since Nina and I arrived at 4:15 P.NM>? and stayed till the end .

It was quite clear.: the love of the Jewish people for Jerusalem and its holy sites has not only not diminished: it has increased. Speaker after speaker , those whose great  grandparents had come from Yemen in the early days of the last century , those who had come from the Former Soviet Union, those from the United States , all gave the same message: If I forget Thee , Oh Jerusalem…
And within the crowd , people who had traveled all over the country to be there , everyone sharing their life experiences and in true Israeli fashion their strong opinions , all united for once.

There was absolutely no violence. The event was superbly organized from start to the ending with HaTikvah , which all 400 , 000 sang with full hearts. What really brought tears to my eyes , in the end , was the sight of four young Israeli high school girls , their arms around each others , their shining eyes raised to the ancient walls , singing their hearts out. And every one of us knew , that all the Jews , all over the world who could not be there last night , were there in spirit. May it so continue , and may the Almighty bless His people, and all people everywhere, with His peace.
From Yerushalayim
Paul Freedman

For the latest on Israel, check out the Kol Yisrael English news, updated twice daily, at

AND FINALLY, SOME "GOOD AND WELFARE" Hot off the presses....

Mazel Tov to Hazzan & Sandy Rabinowitz on the birth of a grandson,Samuel Edward (Ilan Dovid), born today to Alissa & Ed Locke.  This Brit Milah will be on Thursday in Virginia.

From the collection of Heschel's essays, "Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity" (p.55):

"To live as a Jew means to feel the soul of everything, in others and in our own existence.  And this soul requires spiritual elevation.  Everything that has within it the spirit of life longs for repair.  (We are) like candles waiting to be lit... The soul in us will not find satisfaction merely in physical fulfillment.  In each of us flckers the longing for Shabbatness, for beauty, for serenity.  Anyone who chains and represses these longings and allows the powers of the soul to disperse to no good end not only contaminates the self, but contributes to the world's destruction....

The purpose of Judaism is to destroy the instinct toward madness which lurks at the gate of the human soul, (and) to cause something of this world of divine nobility to dwell in this world....Judaism teaches that beauty which is acquired at the cost of justice in an abomination."

Amen, and Shabbat Shalom

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