Friday, March 30, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram March 29, 2001

Kosher Pigs: Why This Pesach is Different

The Jewish Week

The late and beloved Rabbi Richard Israel once wrote a book entitled, “The Kosher Pig.” The intriguing title stems from a story he tells about a pious Jew who was told by his doctor that he had a rare disease that could be cured only by eating pork. Now Jewish law states that in order to save a life, virtually any of its requirements can -- in fact must -- be broken. But that wasn't enough for this man. He determined that the pig had to be slaughtered in the Kosher way, painlessly, before he ate it. So he brought the pig to the local ritual slaughterer, who acquired a special knife that would never be used on a Kosher animal. After slaughtering it in the “proper” ritual manner, the Shochet examined the pig's lungs to look for blemishes. He had no idea what he was looking at, but he finally concluded that the lungs had no serious abrasions (and was therefore “smooth” or “glatt”).

"So, nu?" the man asked, "Rabbi, is this pig kosher?" "The rabbi examined the lungs for some time and the declared, "It may be Kosher, but it's still a pig."

Modern Jewish life is filled with Kosher pigs, utter inconsistencies that we sometimes hardly notice; but they are there, and they are enlightening.

This year, Passover begins on a Saturday night, something we haven’t experienced since 1994. I can recall receiving numerous inquiries that year as to when one should stop eating bread: on Friday morning or Saturday morning? I tend to go by the book on matters of tradition (when I sneeze, I even say “Ah-choo!”), so without hesitation, I offered the traditional response, which is that was that the house should be virtually hametz-free on Friday, before Shabbat.

Now why is that?

Because one is not supposed to clean a house on Shabbat, or do the kinds of things we do to get rid of hametz: burn it, sell it, etc. -- the kinds of activities, incidentally, that most Jews would not hesitate to undertake on any given Shabbat.

To be "consistent" with his normal practice, the non-Shabbat observer should simply have ignored my advice and eaten bread until Saturday morning. Why should this Shabbat be different from all other Shabbats? That week in 1994, however, many people had their houses ready for Passover by Friday afternoon because they wanted to do Passover "right," when in fact they were rushing their preparations in order to keep Shabbat rules they don't normally keep.

The same thing happens every year regarding dietary restrictions. On Passover, otherwise non-Kashrut-observant Jews become fanatic about ridding their homes of leaven and bringing matzah sandwiches to the classroom or office. A ham-on-matzah sandwich is hardly an unthinkable scenario in this perplexing world of Kosher Pigs. It's kind of like the guy who drives to synagogue on Yom Kippur but tells the policeman writing him a ticket that he can't put money in the meter on a Jewish holiday.

Some more gems from Richard Israel’s book: "Rabbi, I am marrying an Episcopalian woman. Can I get married during the week after Passover?"

And another: "An observant Jew has just made a serious pass at me. Do you think he will want me to go to Mikva before I have an affair with him?"


One commercial fisherman in California called his rabbi to see if it was kosher to use pieces of squid as bait when he goes fishing. An interesting question, because squid has no fins and scales and is therefore unkosher; but does it affect the Kashrut of the fish caught? A fascinating question, except that he called the rabbi on Saturday morning to ask it.

Harold Kushner tells of another beaut. He was at a clergy meeting, and everyone brown bagged their lunches. The local Reform rabbi brought a ham and cheese sandwich, and before he began to eat it, he paused and recited ha-motzi. His Orthodox colleague said to him, "Aren't you being a hypocrite, saying that prayer over blatantly non-Kosher food?" He replied, "Not at all. The Jewish dietary laws don't impress me as religiously valuable; but the habit of thanking God for having food to eat impresses me very much."

Kushner's reaction is interesting. He disagrees with that rabbi's evaluation of the dietary laws, as do I, but he appreciates the seriousness of the response. A good Jew, he concludes, cannot be measured by checking someone's dietary habits or counting how often someone prays. A good Jew is someone who is constantly striving to become a better Jew.

All of these people are, to some degree, serious Jews, and for that alone we must commend them. We might laugh at the inconsistency, we might even call it hypocrisy, but if they are hypocrites, we should all be so hypocritical. We all must learn the difference between pretending and striving, between going half way in earnest and throwing it all away without giving it half a chance.

To be a hypocrite means that at least we've set high, virtuous goals for ourselves, even if we don't always live up to them. I'd rather do that, and fall short, then set no high standards at all. Most of us are so afraid of being called hypocrites that we take the easy road. If we expect little of ourselves, we usually deliver.

So as we approach this unusual alignment of Passover and Shabbat, let’s allow for a little Kosher Pig-headedness. If you’ve rarely kept Shabbat in this manner before, don’t feel funny about keeping it a little more meticulously this time. You might even enjoy it. It’s OK to be inconsistent, especially when the alternative is to cop an all or nothing plea and then cop out.

Friday, March 23, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram March 23, 2001


(As ever, I’m trying a few different things in preparation of the O-Gram this week, in the hopes of minimizing the glitches that seem to have occurred in its transmission lately.  Let me know if it works for you)


As we close in on Passover, this week we celebrate Shabbat Ha-Hodesh, literally “The Sabbath of the Month.”  We’ll announce the upcoming new month of Nisan during the service as we do for any new month, but we’ll also announce it with a special reading from a second Torah.  The reading, from Exodus 12, proclaims that this new month is to be “the first of months.”  In the Torah, the spring month (not yet called Nisan) was the New Year; it was most often called the month of “Aviv,” which literally means, “when the ears of barley ripen.”

In Exodus 12 this month is identified solely by a number, as “the first of the months.”  According to Nahum Sarna’s commentary (JPS), the absence of a name is “probably due to a desire to avoid any confusion with the polytheistic calendars that associate days and months with astral bodies or pagan deities and rituals.”  Ironically, the names and symbolism now used for months, borrowed from the Babylonian calendar during the first exile (6
th century, BCE), DO incorporate astrological imagery.  Ancient synagogue art shows many examples of the zodiac being employed to depict the Hebrew months.  Among the most famous is the one at Bet Alpha, in northern Israel.  Read about it at, as well as how the zodiac became a Jewish thing, at  And check out some photos at

Either New Year’s date, whether spring or fall, makes more sense as than the arbitrary mid-winter date of January 1 (It’s also much, much warmer in Times Square in April and September). What’s most wonderful about the Hebrew calendar is how it is based on the cycles of the earth and the needs of agricultural life.  Jewish time is always in synch with seasonal changes -- and therefore so are we.



Candlelighting time: 5:53 PM
Shabbat Shalom Service (for young families): 6:15 PM
Congregational Shabbat Dinner: 7:00 PM (140+ are signed up, another smash-hit)
Kabbalat Shabbat Service: 8:00 PM

SHABBAT MORNING (Shabbat Ha-Hodesh)

Double Portion: Va-Yakhel, Pekuday  we conclude the book of Exodus.  Learn Torah With commentary can be found at, and The JTS commentary by Dr. Schorsch, along with the text of the Torah and Haftarah readings, can be found at:  For a slight change of pace, check out the O-U’s Torah Tidbits on this portion, at

Pesukey d’zimra:      9:15 AM
Shacharit:                 9:30 AM
Children’s Services:10:30 AM

MAZAL TOV  to Dayna Sheinberg, who becomes Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.


By popular demand, we are organizing an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, with the goal of completing the course in about a year and preparing for a service in May of 2002. The course of study will be taught by the Hazzan, Barb Moskow and myself, and include some synagogue skills and a basic overview of Jewish history, prayer, customs and ceremonies and sacred texts. We will gladly accommodate all levels of Hebrew proficiency. If you are at all interested (and at least seven have already signed on), please contact the education office (322-6901 X306). An organizational meeting will be held on Tues., April 24, at 8:00 PM. Subsequent classes will likely be held on Thursday evenings.

You might recall that after our congregational Shabbaton in January, several people requested the chance to sit down with a small group to further discuss some of the issues raised.  It was my pleasure to pursue the matter, and we will be having that little gathering of about a dozen families at the home of a congregant this Shabbat afternoon, from 5-7, concluding with Havdalah.  The kids will have a great time with Nurit while the adults talk about, well, whatever they wish to talk about.  Which reminds me to remind those who will be coming to bring in articles, texts, quotes or questions that they wish to raise.  While this program is now fully-subscribed, let me know if you would like to be involved in a future one, or, better yet, if you would like to plan one.

YOM HA-SHOAH: The Legacy of the Generations
This year's community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day program, to be held here on the evening of April 19, will focus on the second and third generations of survivors. If you are a child or grandchild of a survivor and would be interested in sharing your story, please let me know. How have the stories you grew up with changed your life? What do you feel is your special legacy or obligation as the descendant of a survivor? The program will feature brief testimonies given by people of all ages, including children, and we will be collecting additional written testimonies to be distributed that night.

SALE OF HAMETZ FORMS: They were sent out this week with our mid month mailing.  If you would like me to be your agent in this little Pre-Passover legality, please sign the form send it back at your earliest convenience.

JEWISH HERITAGE TOUR OF EASTERN EUROPE: JULY 1-15, with Hazzan Rabinowitz.  Includes Warsaw, Krakow, Budapest, Prague, and Vienna.  For information, contact Hazzan Rabinowitz at 322-6901 X309.

SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS ON THE WEB: Constructing Sanctuaries

1)      Avodah

“Work” has always meant something other than “daily drudgery” in Jewish tradition.  From the earliest days of the Bible to the advent of modern secular Zionism, there has always been something sacred about the work we do.  In fact, the Hebrew words for work are directly connected to the sacred.  The most common term, “avoda,” not only means “work,” it also is the term used for the sacrificial rites followed in the days of the ancient Temple.  Later, when the Temple was destroyed, “avoda” came to be associated with that which replaced sacrifices: prayer.  “On three things the world stands,” says Pirke Avot, “on Torah, Avoda and G’milut Hasadim (acts of kindness).  Work and worship stand united, for one leads to the other  prayer leads to world-mending activity, and such work engenders an attitude of awe and gratitude, i.e. prayer.

So it is appropriate to make our first stop on this journey the prayer book itself.  Click on to find a very helpful transliteration of many prayers.

2) Melacha

So, you may be asking, if work is worship, why are we expected to worship on Shabbat, a day in which we are not supposed to work?  The kinds of work specifically not allowed on Shabbat are not categorized in the Torah as “avoda,” but rather as “melacha.”  To my knowledge, the term is used only in regard to Shabbat and, in a modified form, festivals, and it is found in this week’s portion, Va-yakhel.  We read in Exodus 35:2, “On six days work (melacha) may be done, but on the seventh you shall have a complete rest, holy to the Lord.”  Melacha isn’t seen as bad, simply inappropriate for one day (but very important on the other six).  As if to underscore the holiness of melacha, it is closely aligned with the term for “angel,” “malach,” indicating that such work is hardly daily drudgery, but rather the vocation of heavenly beings.  And, specifically, what kind of work is melacha? 

I found a good definition in a chat recorded at

“Melacha means "creative act." By refraining from creative acts, we recognize G-d as the Ultimate Creator.   Melacha is any act that represents the uniquely human ability to put our intellect to work and shape the environment. Thus, switching on a light is a melacha. Among other things, it can be considered "building" a circuit. Specifically, a melacha is anything that fits into one of 39 categories of activities listed in Tractate Shabbat page 73a. This list includes activities such as seeding, uprooting, building, writing and burning.”

The rabbis derived those 39 categories based on the verses that follow Ex. 35:2, which describe in detail the building of that tabernacle.  All you will ever need to know about these 39 categories can be found on the Web.  Check out, for a quick delineation, and  for more detailed information.

So what we are talking about here is not “work” per se, but a sacred, creative act, the construction of sacred space during the week, leading to what we do on this seventh day, in the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the building of a “cathedral in time.”  Rabbi David Wolpe elaborates on this beautifully at

3)      Building the Sanctuary

Heschel’s concept transcends all boundaries, as is evidenced by a sermon found at pastor writes: “The great Jewish Rabbi Heschel speaks of the Sabbath as the cathedral of time. The great European cathedrals are sacred space, but the Sabbath is sacred time. It was an oasis; it was a resting-place; it was a very, very great gift. It was a gift that was marked by the cessation of work, of labor.”
Also check out another sermon at In fact, there are about 175 references that I could find on the Web citing this expression of Heschel’s.  One site that doesn’t, but which is all about work, worship, and sacred space, is at  This article is about the construction of a Hindu holy place, and the site is also a wonderful portal to Indian culture and music.  And then there is, which gives us a fascinating Baha’i perspective.

4)      The Mishkan

All of this discussion of sacred places gives us pause to wonder what that original tabernacle, the Mishkan, described in such detail in our portion, must have looked like.  A word of caution here: If you plug the word “Mishkan” into search engines, you are bound to land on one of many sites run by  “Messianic Hebrew” organizations.  The mishkan is a key symbol for them, since the sacrificial cult is a natural link from ancient Judaism to Christianity (just trade the sacrificial lamb for you-know-who and you see what I mean).  If you venture onto these sites, you’ll get a clear signal as to the wool they are trying to pull over our eyes (to stick with the lamb image), by dressing up Christianity as a natural extension of Jewishness (the, ahem, “wolf in sheep’s clothing”).  The only thing is, I’m not going to help get you there.

Safer sites to visit include  I don’t know who Carol Miller is (I ran a quick search but still couldn’t locate her credentials), but her analysis of the Mishkan’s symbolism is excellent, including references to a great scholar of religions, Mircea Eliade:

“This then was a point of connection between Heaven and Earth, between Man and God; "the paradoxical point of passage from one mode of being and another."  Eliade speaks in depth about "…the reason for the elaboration of techniques of orientation which, properly speaking, are techniques for the construction of sacred space. But we must not suppose that human work is in question here,  that it is through his own efforts that man can consecrate a space. In reality the ritual by which he constructs a sacred space is efficacious in the measure in which it reproduces the work of the gods."

Miller’s also got pics.  Not only do we find a solid depiction of the Mishkan here, at, but she then traces the evolution of Jewish sacred space from that point to the rise of the modern synagogue, at  Included in this is the floor plan of none other than the synagogue at Bet Alpha, mentioned in my Byte of Torah above.  Finally, a nostalgic trip back to the Maimonides Day School in Brookline, Mass., which so many of my closest friends attended in my youth, leads us to a fascinating student project, a 3-D view of the Mishkan.  Find the Virtual Mishkan at

5)      A Sanctuary in Cyberspace

Where does this journey lead us? We’ve explored the construction of sacred spaces, as well as sanctuaries in time.  Taken to its logical conclusion, the next step is to explore sanctuaries in cyberspace.  I do lots of that in my book, but for here, it’s enough to look at one more link:, billed as a “Synagogue Without Walls.”  You would be surprised at how many synagogues classify themselves in this way (I turned up 14,000 hits on a recent search), including many, many synagogues that actually do have walls.  It tells us about the impact of the Havurah (Jewish fellowship) movement, for sure, and even more about the impact of new technologies and other innovation on synagogue life.  To that end I highly recommend two studies that have just been released.  From the Pew Research Center the report, “Wired Churches, Wired Temples: Taking congregations and missions into cyberspace.”  And from the Hartford Seminary, a landmark study released just last week, “Faith Communities Today,” the largest survey of congregations ever conducted in the United States, found at

Heschel concludes his masterpiece, “The Sabbath,” with the assertion, “We must conquer space in order to sanctify time.”  He could hardly have imagined the conquest of cyberspace when he wrote that, but it is clear to me that he might have sensed some of the same boundlessness in cyberspace that he saw regarding Shabbat.  For cyberspace resides in that murky area between sacred space and sacred time, in that moment of twilight between the holy Shabbat and the six days of angel work (melacha) preceding it.

Shabbat Shalom

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to hundreds of Beth El congregants and others.  Feel free to forward it to your friends, and if you know of anyone who might wish to be included, please have them e-mail me at  To be taken off this e-mail list, simply click on "reply" and write "please unsubscribe" in the message box.

For more information on the synagogue, check out Beth El's Web site at  To check out some previous spiritual cyber-journeys I have taken, see my book's site at

Friday, March 16, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram for March 16, 2001

Evidently the problem was widespread enough, especially on AOL, that I am sending this week's O'gram out once more, this time in plain format -- no colors, no italics, no frills.  It looks like I may have to go this route from here on, but I'll give it another week or two to be sure.  I apologize for the inconvenience.

Shabbat Shalom!

Welcome to our "Adar Madness" edition of the Shabbat-O-Gram.  No NCAA basketball predictions yet, but I do have a sports-related quickie quiz:  Why would this be Phil Rizzuto's favorite Shabbat? (See answer at bottom)

A Byte of Torah: Unto The Fourth Generation

This week we read one of the most mysterious and theologically potent passages of the entire Torah, the oft-repeated "Attributes of Divine Mercy."  Following the Golden Calf debacle, the stage was set for this historic reconciliation between God and Israel, with Moses as the conduit.  To the extent that we can begin to "know" God, we are told that such knowledge can never come visually, as with an idol; but ethically, through acts of kindness.  We'll take a closer look at the concept of kindness (Hesed) in our Web journey below.  Another key question beckons here.  With all the talk of God imparting kindness "to thousands," why does this otherwise uplifting passage conclude with a stern warning that a parent's crimes will be reckoned upon the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, all the way to the fourth generation (really the fifth, including the parents)?  What stands behind this form of generational collective punishment?

It's noteworthy that mercy knows no bounds here, but that punishment clearly has a statute of limitations placed on it (albeit one stretched to great great grandchildren).  In his new Torah commentary, Richard Elliott Friedman adds that five generations constitutes the maximum time of living acquaintance.  Also, he notes that Israelite rock-cut tombs prior to the 7th century BCE were multi chambered, with room for at least four generations of offspring. Finally, he comments that psychological traits appear persevere through that many generations.  It's not that my great great grandchildren will be punished for my sins, per se, but that my deeds will have consequences that will trickle down to them: embarrassment, pride, stigma, and both conscious and unconscious imitation. 

A perfect example for today would be that of Germany.  There is no longer any talk of punishment or collective guilt for Germans born since 1945.  But there is a collective burden that they bear and will continue to, quite likely unto the fourth generation.  Fifty years from now, the shadow of the Holocaust will undoubtedly continue to haunt them.  The Torah, then, is speaking not of divine vengeance but of the way things are in real life.  It is not God alone who "Nosay avon v'fesha v'hata'ah," who "bears (our) crime, offense and sin."  It is our grandchildren, and their grandchildren too, who will have to pay the price -- or reap the rewards.




Shabbat Candlelighting 
on Friday at 5:46 PM

Kabbalat Shabbat service: 8:00 (No Shabbat Shalom family service this week -- it will be held next Friday, March 23, at 6:15, prior to our Congregational Shabbat Dinner.  To reserve for the dinner, contact Bonnie at 322-6901 X306)

Shabbat Morning: Pesukey d'zimra (preliminary service) 9:15 AM. Shacharit at 9:30. Mazal Tov to Bradley Wunderlich, who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat morning.

Children's Services: 10:30 (in the Chapel and Kindergarten room)

Torah Portion (Ki Tissa -- Shabbat Parah). The Learn Torah With commentary can be found at
and Chancellor Schorsch's commentary at

Shabbat Ends: 6:46 PM Saturday

Daily Minyan: Sunday at 9, weekdays at 7:30 AM. While we normally do have at least ten at each service, please e-mail me to let me know if you wish to be here for a yahrzeit and want to make sure we have a minyan that day.


MINI PARLOR CONCERT: Sunday, March 18, 11-Noon, featuring the family Pasternak in a delightful mini-concert of instrumental and vocal arrangements of Klezmer, Hebrew, Israeli and Yiddish music. Pre-concert reception at 10:30

ATID PROGRAM (K-2): Sunday afternoon, a field trip to the Mother Earth Mining Company.

By popular demand, we are organizing an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class, with the goal of completing the course in about a year and preparing for a service in May of 2002. The course of study will be taught by ther Hazzan, Barb Moskow and myself, and include some synagogue skills and a basic overview of Jewish history, prayer, customs and ceremonies and sacred texts.  We will gladly accommodate all levels of Hebrew proficiency. If you are at all interested (and at least seven have already signed on), please contact the education office (322-6901 X306).  An organizational meeting will be held on Tues., April 24, at 8:00 PM. Subsequent classes will likely be held on Thursday evenings.

YOM HA-SHOAH: The Legacy of the Generations
This year's community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day program, to be held here on the evening of April 19, will focus on the second and third generations of survivors. If you are a child or grandchild of a survivor and would be interested in sharing your story, please let me know. How have the stories you grew up with changed your life? What do you feel is your special legacy or obligation as the descendant of a survivor? The program will feature brief testimonies given by people of all ages, including children, and we will be collecting additional written testimonies to be distributed that night.

Christian Jewish Perspectives Series, this Tuesday, Mar. 20, 7:30 p.m. at the JCC. "Spirituality vs. Organized Religion" featuring Yours Truly and Rev. Dr. James Kowalski, St. Luke's Episcopal Church.  Sponsored by the Council of Churches and Synagogues.

Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) Workshop, March 18, 12-2:30 PM, at Agudath Sholom. It is very important that more Beth El members participate in this vital organization that does such important and work in preparing Jews for burial in a dignified and loving way. For more information, contact Stephen and Penny Block at 316-0519.

JEWISH HERITAGE TOUR OF EASTERN EUROPE: JULY 1-15, with Hazzan Rabinowitz.  Includes Warsaw, Kracow, Budapest, Prague, Vienna.  For information, contact Hazzan Rabinowitz at 322-6901 X309.

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism first-ever Tri-Regional Shabbaton/Convention: Mar. 23-25, hosted by Congregation Knesset Israel - Pittsfield, MA. For information call (800) 594-7098.

We're doing it again! "BOOKS & VIDEOS 4-KIDS" A program designed to share children's books and children's videos (new or used, but in good condition) with kids who need them. Please donate your books/videos and place them in the box near the Temple office, and we'll make sure they get to agencies which help kids here and in Israel. Funds are also needed to pay for shipping them to Israel. Collection will take place Mar. 1 - 30. Sue and Alison Greenwald, 329-1662.

BETH EL CARES, the social action arm of Temple Beth El, has begun a letter writing campaign to the soldiers in Israel to let them know we care and are thinking of them. You may write whatever is in your heart.Special Beth El Cares cards are available in the synagogue office for FREE. You may use your own stationery or cards if you wish. Everyone can participate…adults and children. School age children may write a card and younger children may draw a picture.Because the Israeli government cannot give out names, you can address your card to "Dear Friend" or whatever salutation you choose. Please bring your cards back to the
synagogue office where they will be sent collectively to Israel. Beth El Cares will pay for the postage.

FANTASTIC PURIM PHOTOS ARE UP on our Web site,, as well as photos from our recent Senior's Lunch and Dinner Dance.



While the Golden Calf account makes it clear that God's essence can not be ascertained visually, God's presence is revealed to Moses through what has become known as the "Attributes of Mercy,"  found in Exodus 34:7.  Of all the terms found in this famous passage, the key one is Hesed.  To understand what Hesed is, at least in some sense, to understand divinity.  While we could never hope to come as close to God as Moses did, (and I'm not too keen on having to wear a veil for the rest of my life, as subsequently happened to Moses, anyway), who knows what insights we might find as we peel away at the layers of this key Jewish concept?  And so we dive....

1) Defining the Term:

Let's begin with the Britannica, at,5716,37042+1,00.htmlwhich informs us that the term is "an attribute of God said to be imitated by those who in any of countless ways show personal kindness toward others. A Jew who does not manifest sensitive concern for others is considered no better than an atheist, regardless of his knowledge of the Torah."

Hey, some of my best friends are atheists!  But at least the Brits have gotten beyond that Shylock syndrome -- the site's definition even goes on to show how Jews are expected to be kind and ethical money lenders.  A Google search turns up this definition:

Hesed is a peculiarly and distinctive Hebrew word which has no adequate translation into English. The best definition of the word is "the steadfast love" which exists in a relationship between two partners in a covenant. Yet it is not merely an attitude or emotion. Hesed is a beneficent action performed in a deep and enduring commitment, where the receiver of the action could not have helped himself or herself. This is more characteristic of God than of humans because of God's divine nature. God loves because God is love. Hesed is the enduring quality of God to continue to love sinners in hope that they will repent and renew the covenant. Thus it defined the relationship between Yahweh and the Israelites

These contrasting definitions present us with this question: Are human beings capable of true Hesed, or does this quality belong solely to the realm of the divine? 

A good Christian definition comes from, a site that provides filters and screen savers for churches. They define Hesed as "the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God!"

And how do we show that relentless love for God?  From a Jewish perspective, at least, such passionate love for God can best be demonstrated through equally passionate acts of Hesed toward other human beings.  And while your visiting this Hesed site, stop off at to see the spectacular display of photographic greeting cards.  To look out at the peaks of Yosemite helps us to imagine how Moses must have felt in that crag atop Sinai.

A more bookish explanation of Hesed can be found at, and you can see what Hadassah Magazine had to say, at we learn that the term is "so full of vigor that it has the power to mean both goodness and its opposite, abomination.

Overwhelmingly, in Hebrew Scripture the word retains its positive connotation. One of the 13 attributes of God is rav Hesed, abundant goodness. The proverbial woman of valor is praised for the torat Hesed, righteous learning, that is always on her tongue. When Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, eulogized his wife, Paula, he quoted Jeremiah's zakharti lakh hesed ne'uraikh, "I remember the kindnesses of your youth."

There is an expression, Hesed Shel Emet, that is applied specifically to the one good deed that cannot be repaid — accompanying a dead body to burial. Other specific terms using our root are somewhat tricky: Gemilut Hesed, an interest-free loan, and Gemilut Hasadim, charity, philanthropy.

Everybody knows that, according to the Rabbis, the way to celebrate before a bride is to sing Kallah Na'ah Va-hasudah, a beautiful and gracious bride. The Talmud asks why a stork is called a Hasidah. Because, the Rabbis answer, she does Hasidut, acts of kindness, to her friends. And why, therefore, is the stork counted among the unclean animals? Because she is kind only to her own kind.

And where, you ask, does Hesed mean abomination? My Brown, Driver and Briggs Biblical Lexicon informs us that in Leviticus 20:17 and Proverbs 14:34 it means "shameful" and "reviled."  Maybe the stork's name is a lesson to us all, that kindness to one's own kind alone is not true Hesed -- rather, it is perversity of Hesed.  To contain truly an element of the Divine, kindness cannot stop at the front door.

2) Crossing Boundaries

And so, we leave the neighborhood.  Hesed is found all over the Web, transcending boundaries of culture and language, even of reality and fiction.  Click on and you'll come to a Trekkie site revealing the Klingon "House of Hesed."  And go to you'll find yourself in a restaurant somewhere in Korea.  A number of Hesed links that I tried appear in Japanese.  And of the many dozens of Jewish links for Hesed organizations, including synagogue and communal social action committees like Denver's Hebrew Educational Alliance (, an extraordinary percentage appeared in Russian, including a Hesed society helping Jews in Odessa 

3) Back to the Bible

A fairly complete and annotated list of where Hesed appears in the Bible (from a Christian source) can be found at

Some examples of acts of Hesed between human beings, including some that support the idea that, for humans, it has a ring of quid-pro-quo, thereby making less pure than the divine model:

a) In Genesis 40 the Pharaoh's Cupbearer and Baker find themselves in prison with Joseph. They dream puzzling dreams, but Joseph interprets them. After interpreting the dream of the Cupbearer he tells him, "...When all goes well with you, remember me and show me Hesed; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison." (Gen 40:14).

b) In Joshua 2:12, after Rahab has given aid to the spies, she makes a request of them: "Now then, please swear to me by Yahweh that you will show Hesed to my family, because I have shown hesed to you. Give me a sure sign..."

c) A fascinating variation occurs in Psalm 141:5: "Let a righteous man strike me - it is Hesed; let him rebuke me - it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it."  Punishment from the righteous is recognized as an act of Hesed.

We find many places where Hesed goes hand in hand with Emet (truth).  They are a "hendiadys," a poetic technique where two words together express a single idea, something like "faithful love."  Hesed often joins forces with Emunah (faithfulness) and Rahamim (womb-like, maternal compassion). These double expressions typically connote Hesed from God, as they do in our portion.  When the Hesed comes from God, it acquires a degree of permanence that no human relationship can sustain. 

It's refreshing and noteworthy that this Christian Web site portrays the "Old Testament" as a chronicle of kindness, God-like kindness, rather than the stereotypical "Old Testament" litany of bloodshed and punishment.  It's nice to see this "OT is violent" theory dispelled elsewhere too, such as at expressing the "spontaneous, unforced energy in oneself, that is called Hesed, apprehends the God-like in oneself....In the world of Hesed is truly in his element; he acts spontaneously and naturally, and "walks in the ways of God" by acting of his own accord, of his own free will and unforced consciousness.  

All this talk about Hesed in the Bible, and I haven't even mentioned Ruth!  I don't have to  -- check out this Presbyterian sermon at, entitled "The Harvest of Hesed."

Now before I tell you word's meaning
I have to let you in on a secret
No English word or words
Can even come close to what it means...

Think about it
Think about all the instances of
Mercy, tender mercy, kindness,loyalty
Loving-kindness, and steadfast love
In the Bible
Now you know the secret
All those occurrences were one word
Hesed ...

Hesed is that quality of relationship
Between people in commitment
Between people who have a covenant
With each other
It is used especially in respect
To how a person in a superior position
Relates to a person in an inferior position.

In other words, Hesed is kindness
When you don't have to be kind
Mercy when it is not demanded
Love which is not only unrequited
But which remains unbroken

A less lyrical sermon on Hesed can be found at, but it does contain this nice bit of wisdom: "Hesed serves as a window that allows us to look into the very heart of God to see the kind of God we serve."

4)  Rabbinic Wisdom, Kabbalah, and Hesed

More insight, from Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, (The Beginning of Desire) "The paradox is Hesed is that it is gratuitous, free of necessity. It is given at God's will, so that ...[one] cannot demand it as a right. But without it, everything fails."

At, you'll find some Talmudic wisdom, including the insight that the Torah both begins (God clothes Adam and Eve) and ends (God buries Moses) with acts of divine Hesed.

is also a key Kabbalistic concept, as it is one of the divine emanations (Sefirot).  Go to and you'll see how it can be proven mathematically (through the Kabbalistic tool known as Gematria), that "There is no Torah without Hesed."  Also enjoy the relaxing music there, before venturing next to

5) Applied Hesed

It remains for us to put these lessons into practice.  One chiropractor literally did just that, echoing the thoughts of Abraham Joshua Heschel in this beautiful discourse on incorporating the Hesed model into the doctor-patient relationship: It's required reading for all health and human service professionals.

The secular usage of Hesed describes the relationship of a superior with responsibility to someone else (the recipient). This act of Hesed fulfills a need for the recipient, which is something they cannot do for themselves. It appears the technical actions in the delivery of health care can fall into this type of relationship. The superior person is the physician with the knowledge and skill to help the needy recipient.

Another usage of Hesed, which is similar to the secular usage, is also found in the biblical tradition. Hesed is never a special favor, but always a provision for an essential need, and an action performed by a stronger party for a weaker party. This description is what we should consider. As practitioners we are not doing patients favors when we perform an essential act for their good and for society in general. In some cases chiropractic care is not an option for the patient; it is the only service that will bring relief. By this fact, chiropractic health care providers can develop a deeper appreciation of our necessary role to serve the common good.

Another biblical meaning of Hesed is divine conduct. We can look to this meaning to see how we should perform our actions. God's Hesed is offered by enduring love, kindness and mercy to His people. Since we are more than just technical professionals, we need to develop a covenant relationship with the patient that has a true spiritual and human approach as its foundation. No longer can we say that we have a physician-patient relationship, if we are only relating in the contract model. We need to be whole ourselves. We are, as humans, more than our skills. We are multidimensional: physical, spiritual and mental. We need to develop a physician-Hesed-patient relationship.

In one of the messages released by Pope John Paul II this March, he called for a concept of health to include attention to the patient's spiritual state. He stated, "Health includes the well-being of the whole person -- his physical, psychic and spiritual state. It also includes the circumstances of his life. The concept of health cannot be restricted to the absence of disease. Any act of assistance to a sick man should be recognized as a form of health-care work, and also as an act of charity -- ultimately, a religious act. And health-care personnel should recognize that their goal is not only to offer [treatment], but to help restore and strengthen the entire person, including his interior life, his taste for life, his joy and love and communion."

With this statement as a guide, we can see that our acts are transformed from a technical action to one of Hesed. One that is offered in love and charity, with faith as a response having as our center a moral foundation rooted in holism.

That, in the end, is the true meaning of Hesed:  We can never achieve true Godly love, but we can come closest to it when we cease to treat other human beings as objects.  The more we see the Other as Thou, rather than It, the more we realize the promise of Hesed.  Martin Buber would be proud. 

I conclude with an anecdote appropriate to the season and this week's special maftir of Parah, which reminds us to purify ourselves for the upcoming Passover holiday.  Here is how spiritual purification is attained, according to Jewish Heritage Magazine, in two stories found at

Supervising the Matzah Baking

Rabbi Israel Lipkin Salanter was most meticulous in the baking of matzot (unleavened bread) for Passover. To make certain that everything was done according to the strictest interpretation of Jewish Law, he personally undertook to supervise the baking.
One year he was bedridden and unable to go to the bakery. He instructed two pupils to go in his stead. As the pupils were about to depart for their assigned task, they asked their teacher: "Is there anything special that we should watch?"
"Yes," the rabbi replied, "See that the old woman who does the mixing is paid sufficiently. She is a poor widow."

Milk at the Seder

A local Jew came to Rabbi Akiva Eger of Posen on the eve of Passover. "Rabbi, I've a ritual question to ask you," he said: "Is it permissible to use four cups of milk at the seder instead of four cups of wine?"
"Why would you want to substitute milk for wine? Are you, God forbid, ill?"
"No, rabbi I am well but I can't afford to buy wine."
The discerning rabbi then said: "I'm sorry. It is forbidden to use a substitute for wine." Reaching into his pocket, he continued, "Take these twenty rubles and purchase wine."
After the Jew had left, the rabbi's wife angrily chided her husband:
"Why did you give him twenty rubles for wine? Two or three would have been sufficient."
"Don't be angry," the rabbi answered. "The fact that this poor man was prepared to drink milk at the seder is evidence that he also did not have money to buy meat and perhaps not even fish and matzot. With twenty rubles he will be able to observe the seder properly."

Shabbat Shalom

Answer to the Quickie Quiz: Because the special maftir on Shabbat Parah is all about a "Holy Cow."

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to hundreds of  Beth El congregants and others.  Feel free to forward it to your friends, and if you know of anyone who might wish to be included, please have them e-mail me at  To be taken off this e-mail list, simply click on "reply" and write "please unsubscribe" in the message box.

For more information on the synagogue, check out Beth El's Web site at  To check out some previous spiritual cyber-journeys I have taken, see my book's site at

Friday, March 2, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram, March 3, 2001

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Pre-Purim!

A BITE OF TORAH: "Take my God, Please"

When we think of Purim, two things immediately come to mind: how funny it all is -- and how sad.  Comedians have long discussed the fact that there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy, and indeed, the Purim story is both exceedingly amusing, when you look at the outcome, yet equally pessimistic and tragic in its view of the Jewish condition in Exile. Great, we beat out this Haman guy, (ha ha), but there will be others (sob), and we'll never be safe as long as we are strangers in a strange land.

This Shabbat we read the special selection from Deuteronomy (beginning with 25:17) reminding us of the evils of the Amalekites, those archetypal arch-villains of the Bible, ancestors of Haman, the rear-guard attackers who earned eternal condemnation for their cowardly stunt. The first word of that reading, also the name for this special Sabbath, is "Zachor" (Remember). The Hebrew says, "Zachor et asher asah lecha Amalek baderech b'tzeitcham mi-mitzrayim." "Remember what Amalek did to you on the way when you came out from Egypt." The line can't be more explicitly serious and urgent in tone. Yet the verse rings strangely familiar, in a manner that suggests an ironic twist is at hand and some textual mischief is at work.

Sure enough, all we have to do is go back about 29 verses, to Deut. 24:9, and we see almost the exact same verse, with noteworthy modifications. "Zachor et asher asah Adonai Elohecha L'Miryam baderech b'tzeitcham mi-mitzrayim." "Remember what YHWH, your God did to Miriam on the way when you were coming out from Egypt." The context here is a command to Israel to be careful to avoid the plague of leprosy. Indeed, Miriam was afflicted by that disease, ostensibly, at least according to Rashi, for the sin of gossip. In his new Torah commentary (whose translation of these verses I'm using here), Richard Elliott Friedman suggests that Miriam's sin was not gossip, but rather her direct challenge to Moses' leadership. I love what I've seen of Friedman's new commentary thus far, but I think here that both he and Rashi are off the track. They are missing the joke -- and the joke is on God.

And what is the joke? If we look at the two verses, crossing out all the words that they have in common, we are left with a curious and most troubling equation: God and Miriam in the first instance, are replaced by Amalek and Israel. In some subliminal but none-to-subtle way, the Torah is suggesting that what Amalek did to Israel, God also did to Miriam. Just as Amalek afflicted Israel at her time of greatest weakness, so did God afflict Miriam at her time of her peak vulnerability. Miriam wasn't the one to blame here; she was the victim! But rather than blame God directly, the Torah here does it indirectly, something Jews have gotten very good at doing over the years, through humor. These verses in Deuteronomy might well have been the first recorded example of great Jewish political satire. The greatest ancient example of such satire is, of course, the Book of Esther, in which God's name is not mentioned at all. The editors were smart to leave God out of this "Saturday Night Live" skit of a novella. Had the Name been inserted, God would have come out looking no better than a hybrid of Ahashverosh and George W. Bush. Come to think of it, the two are already one and the same...

And so, what is it that we are to "Zachor" from all this? We need to remember the unfairness of both the Amalekites and God --- in essence, the unfairness of life itself. While Amalek was burning us, God was fiddling with Miriam's health. Zachor is our call to arms against evil, and a reminder that the One doing the calling might not always be there to pick up the phone. We'll have to tackle the Hamans of this world on our own.  To quote a Purim commentary from the Jewish Outreach Institute, "In Esther, God does not step forward to save the Jews, neither does s/he step forwards to save non-Jews. In short, when we live in times where there are no contemporary prophets to guide us, we as children of God, individually and communally, must take responsibility for our own actions."

And in order to accomplish that daunting task, we'd darn well better have a good sense of humor. We'll need it!




A special "Shabbat Shalom" and "Lehitraot" to our Third Graders, who this weekend will be attending their first class Shabbaton.  Word of mouth from older siblings must have been very positive, as about 36 kids will be heading up to Camp Sloan on Friday.

Candlelighting on Friday: 5:30 PM

Kabbalat Shabbat service: 8:00

Shabbat Morning: Teen Shabbat -- 9:30 AM -- about 90 of our teens will participate in the service, to be followed by a lunch in their honor.

Children's Services: 10:30 (in the Chapel and Kindergarten room)

Torah Portion (Terumah). The Learn Torah With commentary can be found at, and Chancellor Schorsch's commentary at
I'd also like to call your attention to a Social-Action oriented Torah commentary at  Social also has some nice Purim-related material.

Shabbat Ends: 6:30 PM Saturday

Dinner Dance: 7:00 (beginning with Havdalah)

Daily Minyan: Sunday at 9, weekdays at 7:30 AM.  While we normally do have at least ten at each service, please e-mail me to let me know if you wish to be here for a yahrzeit and want to make sure we have a minyan that day.


Sunday morning

SEVENTH GRADE FAMILY PROGRAM -- 8:45 - 10:45 AM, on Sunday.
For all parents and students of 2001 Bar Bat Mitzvah class. Through videos and discussion, we'll explore what it really means to become Bar and Bat Mitzvah.  I'll also be giving each student a surprise pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah gift.

EIGHTH GRADE MINYAN AND BREAKFAST -- 9-10 AM, Sunday, with the Hazzan

SENIOR'S LUNCH -- Noon on Sunday (This event is already sold out)

PURIM CARNIVAL SET-UP: 1PM, Sunday, for Kadima and USY
Bring creative noisemakers and come in costume (adults too).  We'll have lots of prizes and surprises, fun for all ages!  Purim is not just for Kiddies anymore.  It's a time for all of us to exclaim to the world how proud we are to be Jews and to see just how much fun being Jewish can be.

By popular demand, we'll be organizing an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class within the next few months, with the goal of completing the course in about a year and preparing for an adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah service in May of 2002. The course of study will be taught by our senior staff and include some synagogue skills and a basic overview of Jewish history, customs and ceremonies and texts. We will gladly accommodate all levels of Hebrew proficiency. If you are at all interested, please contact the education office (322-6901 X306).

YOM HA-SHOAH: The Legacy of the Generations
This year's community-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day program, to be held here on the evening of April 19, will focus on the second and third generations of survivors. If you are a child or grandchild of a survivor and would be interested in sharing your story, please let me know. How have the stories you grew up with changed your life? What do you feel is your special legacy or obligation as the descendant of a survivor? The program will feature brief testimonies given by people of all ages, including children, and we will be collecting additional written testimonies to be distributed that night.

Join me on Sunday, March 11, at 8:45 or at 11 AM, for an introduction to the fascinating and confusing world of Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws.  This fourth grade family program (for our Religious School and Bi-Cultural fourth grade families) is also open to the entire congregation.  You've got questions?  We've got answers!

MINI PARLOR CONCERT: Sunday, March 18, 11-Noon, featuring the family Pasternak in a delightful mini-concert of instrumental and vocal arrangements of Klezmer, Hebrew, Israeli and Yiddish music.  Pre-concert reception at 10:30.

SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS ON THE WEB: Between Irony and Parody -- Finding Shushan and Unmasking Purim

1) A Drunken Stupor

In the Talmud, the sage Rava (Megillah 7b) comments, "A man is obligated to get drunk on Purim to the point where he can no longer distinguish between `Cursed is Haman' and `Blessed is Mordecai.'"  The Cyber-Talmudist and author Eliezer Segal notes that later authorities had trouble accepting the ruling at face value. For an arch-rationalist like Maimonides it was unimaginable that the halakhah could be condoning such actions; hence he re-interpreted the ruling to refer to drinking only enough to fall asleep. Some authorities understood that the statement was rejected by the Talmud, a view which it indicates by juxtaposing to it an incident wherein Rabbah slaughters Rabbi Zera while under the influence (Rabbah is able to revive his colleague, though the latter politely refuses an invitation to the next year's festivities).

Maybe Rava is making a comment not on the confused state of drunkenness, but rather on the confusing nature of Purim itself. For even before we've had a drop to drink, Purim leaves us in such a stupor that we can't even figure out when it falls or whether these events ever really happened.  In search of these answers, we begin our journey with some basic links about the holiday: (Jewish Community Online) is a great place to begin, along with

2) When does Purim fall?

Purim begins next Thursday night; that is unless you live in a walled city, when it falls the next day.  That is unless the next day is Shabbat, when, since we can't read the Megillah on Shabbat, it is postponed until Sunday.  Confused enough?  Click on  There you'll discover that in Jerusalem and other walled cities (you find out why walled cities there too), the reading of the Megillah and the main festivities are held on Sunday (the 16th of Adar). However, both Friday and that Sabbath take on a festive atmosphere. In this way the holiday is felt and marked in Jerusalem for three days and therefore Purim in such a year is called a "Triple Purim."  While you're figuring all that out, take a peek at these other informative Purim sites, at  and

3) Irony

...and, where I read the following informative passage:

"...There is an essential connection between the ironic style of the Megillah and the ironic style of Purim. Just as this Megillah differs totally from the other books of the Bible, so Purim is totally different from other Jewish holidays, both in the popular customs associated with it (dressing up) and in the mitzvah, unique in Jewish tradition, of imbibing alcohol at the Purim meal to the point of intoxication ("ad delo yada"). Is this a "Jewish custom"? The Jews seem to have decided to lose control on this day and to change to the point where they no longer resemble Jews. On Purim, the Jews do not only relate the story of the Megillah, they also act it out and live it anew each year."

More even than confusion, Purim is steeped in irony.  Some commentators have noted the similarity between Purim and, of all holidays, Yom Kippur (also called Yom Kippurim, or, literally "a day like Purim."). At,   you can read a commentary by Rabbi Noson Scherman.  While no two holidays would seem to be more different (which reminds me of the old joke that, while on Purim all the Jews dress up as fools, on YK all the fools dress up as Jews), yet the Talmud teaches us that when the Messianic Age arrives, the only holidays that will remain on the books will be Purim and Yom Kippur. Scherman equates the two days in that just as "Israel survived Haman's threat with renewed vigor, it survives every Yom Kippur with God's acceptance of its repentance. In place of death there is life. "

If irony is a key to understanding Purim, it also is a key to understanding the Jewish condition.  Samuel Johnson defined irony as, "A mode of speech in which the meaning is contrary to the words."  The Jewish condition has run contrary to the facts of history.  No other people has lasted so long, in such small numbers, without a homeland.  No other has survived such tragedies and yet developed such unmatched skills at generating comedy.  There is no logical reason for us to be here!  We have survived through history because we have learned how to transcend it.  In the realm of time, the Jews have been perpetually weak and in danger of extinction.  But lifted beyond history, in the sacred time that we all experience when on Shabbat the table glistens, and the home of even the poorest peasant becomes in her eyes a palace, that is where we have found our hidden strength. 

For a definition of Irony, see And to better understand the term, look at,,3266,49434,00.html,, and  The Time article claims that "Irony is dead," and at, a Globe and Mail columnist declares that a "war on irony" is on; but the Village Voice piece claims that "Irony is On the Rise."  Ironic, huh?  Irony has even infiltrated the sacred, dusty pages of the New York Times:

"Not so long ago, irony was viewed as a menace on 43rd Street, where the tone was consistently sober and any humor that crept in purely unintentional. But that's all changed. No one can pinpoint the exact date, but sometime between the arrival of Adam Moss and the departure of Abe Rosenthal, irony has received the imprimatur of The New York Times.
Consider the frequency with which the words "irony" and "ironic" appear in the Times. In fact, the Times' use of the I-words has risen steadily through the 1990s, to a record high of more than 1050 in 2000, or an average of three times a day. That's almost double the irony quotient that Times readers were treated to in 1980."

Ironic, isn't it, that this most assimilated of Jewish-owned publications has suddenly adopted that most Jewish of traits.  Will wonders never cease?  Soon they'll be laying tefillin in the cafeteria and praising Ariel Sharon on the editorial pages.

4) Parody

Irony is only part of the secret power of Purim.  Ironic wit is best expressed in parody, the Purim version of which is commonly called the Purim spiel.  The spiel (play) lifts the story from a particular time and place and gives it's message a timeless quality -- and it allows us to laugh a little at ourselves and at the world around us.  On the Web, Purim parodies proliferate (say THAT five times fast). At we see that a Pittsburgh congregation will this year be doing "The Megillah According to the Beatles." The script isn't printed, but I can only imagine the lyrics: "Hey Jew, don't be afraid, take this sad song and make it better, remember that Haman's not gonna win, Esther will begin, to make it better..."  Not bad, off the top of my head.

Art Waskow sees even the book of Esther itself as being a Purim spiel, at"Most Jews today understand the whole story of Esther not as an historical chronicle but as a novel, the first Purim spiel, a double joke on anti-Semites and misogynists. Haman is hanged on the same gallows he intended for Mordechai; the king who had denounced Vashti and said he would never take orders from a woman ends up by doing exactly what Esther tells him."

And at Eliezar Segal's commentary at we see how, in the Babylonian Talmud, an exceptional passage (Hullin 139b) serves as a model for subsequent "Purim-Torah"-- that is, playfully using some of the far-fetched methods of talmudic logic and Biblical exegesis in order to reach absurd conclusions.  The passage in question relates how a visiting rabbi was challenged to find references to Mordecai, Esther, Haman and Moses (!) in the Torah. The sage responds to the riddles with audacious, clever puns. For example, ignoring the traditional vocalization, he finds an allusion to Haman in Genesis 3:11: "Is it from (hamin) the tree..." (also hinting at the villain's hanging); and to Esther in Deuteronomy 31:18, where God says, "I will surely hide (haster 'astir) my face" (recalling Esther's refusal to disclose her origins to the king).

Typically, some of the later commentators approached the talmudic passage without full appreciation of its humorous intent. Thus Rashi gravely tries to justify the need to find an "allusion" to Moses' name in the Torah. Or to take another example, the later custom of donning masks and costumes on Purim--a practice which is first reported in Provence in the early fourteenth century, and later achieved popularity under the influence of the German Fastnacht celebration and the Italian carnivals--was afterwards tied to the idea of God's "hiding his face" as found in the Talmud!

5) Place

Once we've finally figured when Purim falls and we've gotten past all the irony and parody, we are left wondering whether the story actually happened in a real place, or whether this timeless tale has no firm rooting in geography as well as history.

The Megillah describes a city that really did exist, called Shushan, in Persia.  We learn from that, according to the noted medieval Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish quarter of Shushan was separated from the palace by a river.  For some information about the original city, check

And to see how Shushan impacted Jewish history even before the days of Mordechai and Esther, see are told that in the 6th century BCE, following the Babylonian Exile, when the Persian king (Cyrus) allowed Ezra to rebuild both the Temple and Jerusalem, he was worried about the possibility of a Jewish rebellion. To remind his Jewish subjects that he was boss, Cyrus instructed the builders to carve a picture of the Shushan skyline over the main entrance.  That became known as the Shushan Gate of the Temple.  Think about it.  Shushan, which has become for us the very symbol of the condition of Exile, was actually the name of a gate in the very epicenter of the Jewish nationhood, Jerusalem.

There are other Shushans on the Web, like Shushan's in New Orleans, which specializes in, of all things, Mardi Gras Clothing and Hats.  And in New York State you'll find the picturesque hamlet of Shushan, which as a beautiful covered bridge. Visit it at .  At, Michael Ross takes us on a parody walking tour of Shushan.  And if you're just in the mood for Shushan and Purim jokes, there's always  And finally, meet the Shushan family at, and congratulations to Tati on his new car, "Shimon."

6) Where does all this leave us?
This journey leaves us spinning -- right where we began, with a non-alcoholic drink in our hand yet dizzy from another day in Persian Exile.  It leaves us right we where have been all along, at the gates of the palace, with Haman's shadow lurking around the corner; and at the entrance to the king's chamber, begging his indulgence, praying for victory, and readying for the battle that surely lies ahead.

Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach.

This Shabbat-O-Gram goes out weekly to about 500 congregants and others, plus to a college student list of about 60. Please feel free to forward it to your friends, and if you know of any congregant, college student or anyone else who might wish to be included, please have them e-mail me at my temple address,
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