Friday, May 11, 2001

Shabbat-O-gram may 7, 2001

 Shabbat Shalom!


Friday Night:
Candle lighting: 
7:51 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat: 7:00; outdoors weather permitting, otherwise on the sanctuary bima
Shabbat Shalom service: 7:15; in the lobby, with Nurit Avigdor, for grades 1-4 and their families

Kabbalat Shabbat (outdoors): 7:00 PM

Shabbat Morning:
: 9:15 - Pesukey d’Zimra -- introductory psalms; 9:30 - Shacharit
Children’s Services: 10:30
Family Service 11:00, with student cantor Laura Berman.  We encourage families with religious school-age children to try out this informal, enjoyable parent-child experience.

What’s Special This Shabbat: We celebrate as Matthew Beck becomes Bar Mitzvah.  Mazal Tov to Matthew and his family.   On Shabbat morning I’ll also discuss the age-old burning question that suddenly has heated up again, “Did the Exodus Really Happen?”

Torah Portion: Be-Har  Be-Hukkotai
This week’s Learn Torah With commentary is found at:



JTS Commentary:

Sunday Morning
Annual Meeting
: 9:30 AM
We thank all our volunteers, welcome new board members and envision the future.

Kindergarten Open House
Let all your friends know that, if they have a child entering Kindergarten in the fall, they are cordially invited to see our remarkable school in action this Sunday morning, at either the early (8:45) or late (11:00) sessions. RSVP to Bonnie in the education office, at 322-6901 X306. We look forward to greeting them!

Last day of Religious School: Have a great summer!  And hey, don’t be a stranger! We look forward to seeing our Religious School students here often between now and September.

Atid and Kesher Youth Groups go to the Bluefish game in the afternoon.  A few seats are still available on the bus.


1) Israel Day Parade in NYC this Sunday.  Our 7th grade will be attending en masse.  In addition, a solidarity rally in support of Israel has been scheduled for Sunday, June 3 at 11:00 AM, in front of the Israeli UN Mission, on 2nd Ave, between 42nd and 43rd St. The world needs to know that Israel has our full support.  A small turnout would be worse than having no rally at all.  For the world (and the US government), it would signal that American Jews are apathetic.  For Israel, that would be a disaster.   I have signed on as a rabbinic sponsor of the June 3 rally and I encourage you to consider going, either to the parade, the rally, or both.

2) Media: Amidst all the bad news on the media front some good news from an unlikely source: NBC.  See the transcript of a terrific report by Martin Fletcher at

3) Settlements and Violence: If you need to explain to people just why there can be no linkage between Israel’s settlement policy and an end to Palestinian-instigated violence, see for Dore Gold’s expert analysis of the matter.  To find out why have the settlements have suddenly come front and center (because the Palestinians have lost the battle to pin the blame on Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount), see “Changing the Script,” a column in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post, at   It is amazing how gullible ostensibly smart journalists can be (e.g. Anthony Lewis), to have swallowed this linkage.

4) Monday is Yom Yerushalyim, Jerusalem Day, an excellent time to brush up on modern Israeli history and especially that of the 6-Day War.  The Jerusalem Post has some nice supplements at, including one featuring Jerusalem in snow, and you’ll find a Jerusalem history timeline at  Plus, you can go to our very own Web site at, to see photos of our Religious School’s spectacular Jerusalem experience held on May 6.

5) I’ve gotten some positive feedback on the idea of starting an Israel Defense Committee here as a means of coordinating our collective response to events as they unfold.  We’ll be meeting informally on Thursday, June 14. That evening, at 8:30 PM in our chapel, we’ll be hearing from Steve Zacharow, rabbi of Kehilat Shevet Achim, a new Masorti synagogue in the embattled Gilo section of Jerusalem. His lecture is entitled "Gilo Story: Life on the Frontline." That presentation might be the perfect springboard to further action on our part, something we can discuss both during and after the presentation. (BTW, the Bi-Cultural graduation that night, also taking place in our building, will be over before the lecture begins). Do plan to join us.

6) US Embassy in Jerusalem: Finally, a notice from AMCHA, the Coalition for Jewish Concerns about an age-old issue.
May 31st is the deadline for President Bush's decision to fulfill his campaign promise and relocate the American Embassy to Jerusalem.  

This decision comes up every 6 months. The President can either give the order or defer it by 6 more months.  Please call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or 456-1414 and voice your opinion about this issue. It is important that as many calls as possible reach the White House BEFORE May 31st.  

Please send this e-mail to every person on your list who cares if every one of us sends it to 10 to 20 of his/her correspondents, urging them to do likewise, this vital lobbying exercise will reach massive proportions within a matter of days.

The phone call should not take more than a few moments but if you can't call, please send an e-mail to:

7) If you didn't hear,  Maccabi Tel Aviv did indeed win the European champonship, and 250,000 Israelis celebrated in Rabin Square (even the locale of the celebration has to be bitter-sweet).  It was their first such triumph in 20 years, after being the perrennial bridesmaid.  Bodes well for the Red Sox.

This week, with Jerusalem Day in mind, we feature Rabbi Brad Artson’s commentary.  For more on our relationship with the Land, see the spiritual journey at the conclusion of this Shabbat-O-Gram.
Shabbat Parashat Behar/Behukotai
May 19, 2001 - 26 Iyar 5761
"Love for the Land of Israel"
Torah Reading: Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34
Haftorah Reading: Jeremiah 16:19 - 17:14

One of the central paradoxes of Jewish history is that the Jewish People were land-less through most of our history. Yet, we were always profoundly aware of our link to the Land of Israel, perhaps because we did not live in a place we could call our own. The intense love between the Jews and their homeland permeated our prayers, our Torah and our hearts. Today's Torah portion speaks directly to the centrality of the Land of Israel in Jewish thought and deed. God instructs the Jewish People, "You must provide for the ge'ulah (redemption) of the land."

What does it mean, to bring redemption to a land? It might make sense to use tangible terms --"irrigate" the land, "fertilize" the land, even "cultivate" the land. Those are terms upon which a farmer would act and recognize. But how does one "redeem" a land? According to most biblical commentators, this verse is understood as mandating a loving Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. Thus, Hizkuni (France, 13th Century) interprets our verse to mean "there can be no [permanent] selling, only [temporary] dwelling."

Jews do not have the right to sever their connection to the Land of Israel. That claim  our inextricable link to the Land of Israel -- is at the very core of biblical and rabbinic religion. The Land is referred to as an 'ahuzzah,' a holding -- given to the Jewish People as God's part of our 'brit,' covenantal relationship. Our ancestors agreed to serve only God, and God agreed to maintain a unique relationship with the Jewish People. That relationship was given form in the detailed legislation of the Torah and the Talmud as a way of shaping and cultivating the reciprocal obligations between God and the Jews. And the one place in the world where the Jewish People could act on every part of our 'brit' was within the Land of Israel. Only there could all the laws and practices of Judaism receive their full articulation, because, in the words of Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (Italy, 16th Century), "Outside of the Land [of Israel], there is no Sabbatical Year, nor a Jubilee Year."

The many agricultural 'mitzvot' -- of leaving gleanings for the poor, of offering first fruits and others -- were operative only within the Land of Israel. There, in the Land, the Jew could most directly encounter God and sanctity. What was true in the past is true today as well. There is a special quality to the Land of Israel that exists nowhere else in the world. In the words of the Talmud, "the air of the Land of Israel makes one wise."

Our generation is uniquely blessed. While Jews have prayed facing Jerusalem for thousands of years, while our ancestors longed for the messianic future as a time when Jews could freely live as Jews in our homeland, we have seen the establishment of a Jewish state -- a thriving democracy and a world center for Jews and Jewish expression -- in our own time. Unlike our great-grandparents, we can travel to Israel's holy sites any time we choose. Unlike the Jews of the past, we can learn our holy language, Hebrew, from people who speak it on a daily basis. We can contribute to the liberation of Jewish people who have left lands of oppression and suffering -- places like Ethiopia, Syria and the former Soviet Union -- to be reunited with their people and its history. We can redeem the Land.

Rambam (Spain, 13th Century) translated God's instruction to mean, "that I wish to redeem My land from the hand of those who hold it, as I have not given it to them as part of their possession." We make the Land of Israel ours by translating our possession into deeds. For example, by planting trees through the Jewish National Fund, we are able to literally make the deserts bloom, while also assuring a Jewish presence throughout the Land.

By contributing generously to federations and UJC, we make it possible for hundreds of thousands of former Soviet Jews to rejoin our people and to strengthen our land in freedom. By visiting Israel ourselves, often, we demonstrate our love of the land and our solidarity with the first free Jewish state in over two thousand years. "You must provide for the redemption of the land." What have you done for Israel lately?
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.

SCHOLAR IN RESIDENCE: Is Judaism Open to Everyone? 

Our Scholar in Residence this year, on the weekend of June 1-3, will be Prof. Egon Mayer. The theme for the weekend will be "LOVE & TRADITION: Marriage, Family Patterns and the Jewish Future." Mayer’s specialty is outreach to those at the fringe of Jewish communal life, including and especially interfaith families. Our program for that weekend will be most appealing to those families, as well as to the rest of us, so it is incumbent upon us to reach out and find them.

The Schedule:

Friday evening, June 1: Services will be held at 7:00 PM (outdoors, weather permitting), followed by a dinner at 8 (contact our education office to reserve). During dinner, Dr. Mayer will speak on the topic: “Tevyeh’s Lament: What’s Love Got to Do With It -How Modernity Broke Tradition in the Lives of the Jewish People.” We will have concurrent programming for children with Nurit Avigdor but keep in mind that there is no Tot Shabbat that night (Tot Shabbat will be held on the 8th). 

Shabbat morning, June 2: During our family services -- “A Sermon on the Future of Welcoming and Reconciliation -- Ready or Not: Thinking Beyond Minority Status.” Lunch and questions follow the service.  We’ll also be celebrating the completion of a year’s membership here with our no-longer-new members.

Saturday evening at 7:30PM: Dessert-Havdalah. An evening of discussion at the home of congregants Milton and Norma Mann, with limited space available (RSVP to our education office soon to guarantee a spot). Topic: “The Demographic Revolutions of America’s Jews: Major trends that are transforming the prospects of the Jewish future in Modern American society.” 

Sunday morning, June 3 at 9:30 AM: brunch for the leadership of the congregation (board, ritual committee, board of education, sisterhood, men’s club leadership, and anyone else who is interested), following morning minyan (minyan at 9:00, brunch at 9:30). "Developing Strategies for Outreach.”

Background materials: take a look at the latest statistics on children of interfaith families:
“Do Kids Of Interfaith Families Choose Judaism? And a response to that article, written by  the publisher of, is found at


Adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah Class
With 22 participants, this is the largest such class ever at Beth El. There is still room for you. Classes are being held on Thursdays from 7-9 PM. The course will last exactly one year. All skill levels and backgrounds welcome. Contact the education office for more information (322-6901 X306).

Lost and Found: If you lost a pair of sunglasses at the Beth El Cares AmeriCares project two weeks ago, we’ve got ‘em here.  Contact me at

Project Ezra: We are looking for volunteers to help deliver pre-shiva meals to mourners in our congregation.  Please contact our office to let us know if you are interested in this vital task.


Get our full Shavuot Schedule by clicking on the service schedule at our Web site  Note especially the dinner, service and late night discussion (Tikkun Layl Shavuot) at Temple Shalom in Greenwich on Sunday the 27th, and our Elders Day commemoration on the second day (when we also have Yizkor services), Tues. May 29.  This year’s honoree, Harry Bennett, has always been so important to our community.  Please join us that morning in giving Harry the thanks and recognition he so richly deserves.  On the first day (Memorial Day), we’ll continue our custom of unrolling a Torah scroll at the conclusion of services, so that we and our children can once again “receive the Torah,” as did our ancestors at Sinai, and we’ll read from the book of Ruth.  Children’s services will be held on both days of Shavuot.


This week, the Bush administration has revealed it’s long-awaited energy program.  It comes to no surprise that it is heavily weighted toward production as opposed to conservation,” with the goal of producing lots more fuel so that Americans can continue to buy gas-guzzlers and so coal and oil company stocks can continue to rise.  The Washington Post has a number of articles helping us to understand that we are in the midst of a power crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen since the ‘70s.  (Back then, King Faisal was vilified as “the Mohel of Oil  the Man Who Cut it Off”)  Find the Post series at

Our portion chimes in with a reminder that we are custodians of land and that the Earth belongs, ultimately, to God.  Judaism has always been pro-environment, with the caveat that we can derive benefit from the land, as long as we don’t abuse the privilege.  The first two chapters of Genesis, along with this week’s selection from Leviticus, lay out a path of environmental restraint and responsibility, and other sections of Deuteronomy prohibit us from wasting precious resources.  A superb site on Jewish environmental matters is Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, at  Within that site, an article by Rabbi Lawrence Troster discusses Jewish perspectives on “Sustainable Development.”  The key, he reminds us, is humility.  We need to look at the needs of today, the horizontal axis, as well as the needs of the future, the vertical axis, and understand that we are only a small part of the big picture.  God did not create the Earth just so that I might buy an SUV and crank up the A/C.

A Revolutionary Idea:

Along comes parshat Behar with a revolutionary idea: the Sabbatical and Jubilee years.  In cycles of seven, seven days, seven years, and seven times seven (49) years, we build in a rest-period for the land  and for us, reminding us of our task of custodianship.   The 7-year Shmita cycle, as it’s is called, like our annual seasonal festivals, helps us to live out our lives within the rhythm of Jewish time, sacred time.

A very nice explanation of the various elements of Shmita, written by Micha Odenheimer, can be found at  Art Waskow has long championed the cause of renewing the concept of Sabbatical and Jubilee.  Find out why at  He writes:

If we reexamine the production end of the material process, where environmental destruction begins, will we not lessen the need for typical environmental programs that focus on cleanup and recycling? If we create more spiritual sustenance to ensure our own survival, will we not restrain our material consumption and ensure the planet's survival?

What would it mean, in our society, to draw on this biblical teaching as a way of addressing the three intertwined sicknesses--economic, environmental, and compassional--of our generation? What would it mean to build a movement and constituency around a "Jubilee program" that would bring more energy and political power to bear than most secular progressive coalitions can generate

Shmita in Israel

This year is the seventh in the cycle, a Shmita year.  The Halacha of Shmita is very involved and tricky.  Read about it from a traditional perspective at

Last fall it became front-page news in Israel, before the current violence threw everything else off the front pages.  What was the big deal?  Well, for centuries the restrictions of the Sabbatical Year were irrelevant to most Jews, sicne they apply only to the land f Israel.  With the advent of modern Zionism, that all changed.  For historical background, go to, where you’ll read that in 1889, Rabbi Elhanan Spector of Kovno issued a ruling instituting a heter mechira. This sales permit would allow Jewish farmers to nominally "sell" their lands to Moslems, similar in fashion to the sale of hametz (leaven) before Pesach. The first Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Avraham Yitzhak Kook, regarded the heter as a matter of national necessity. Israel's Chief Rabbinate has reluctantly endorsed this arrangement, but this biblical loophole is viewed by ultra-Orthodox Jews as insufficient.

Haredi circles have always opposed the heter mechira. They note that the sale is a true "legal fiction," since in reality neither the landowners nor the government would ever agree to transfer land to an Arab. Haredi families rely on their own kashrut authorities, especially the Ultra-Orthodox. During previous Shmita years, Haredi Jews would only purchase fruits and vegetables from Arab and Palestinian farmers, or from Jewish farmers with lands outside the borders of biblical Israel. The Shmita commandment does not apply to farmlands in the Golan Heights, Gush Katif or the Arava.

Read about last fall’s to-do as covered in the Jerusalem Post, at

For the Land  or for us?

It is unfortunate that Israel has yet to find creative ways to celebrate the Sabbatical year as an expression of Jewish environmental values rather than turning it into another religious-secular tussle.  An opportunity has been lost.  For in the end, Shmita is not as much about the land as it is about us.  It may not change the environment much to leave farms fallow for one year in seven, but it has a huge impact on our awareness of the environment.

The Talmudic sages discussed the very same matter, of whether it is for the Land’s benefit or ours.  Find out what they said at  The solution given here is that Shmita, like Shabbat, was instituted to give us more time to study Torah.  Sounds like a Sabbatical idea I could go for. 

Which reminds me, if I just celebrated by 13
th year here, that means I’m going on to year 14.  That’s a multiple of  let’s see  seven. I just might be ready for, “Sensational Sabbatical Suggestions.”

But for now, a peaceful Shabbat will do just fine.

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 And to check out some previous spiritual cyber-journeys I have taken, see my book's site at

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