Friday, June 8, 2001

Shabbat-O-Gram, June 14, 2001

Shabbat Shalom


Friday Night
Candles: 8:11 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat (outdoors, weather permitting); 7:00 PM, led by our  Junior Choir
Shabbat Shalom Service (Grades 1-4 and families): 7:15 PM (in the lobby)

Shabbat Morning:
Pesukey d’zimra: 9:15 AM
Shacharit (morning service) 9:30
Children’s Services: 10:30           

Mazal Tov to Benjamin Lazerus and family.  Ben will become Bar Mitzvah here this Shabbat.

Torah portion: Shelach.  Learn Torah With commentary (fascinating, entitled “A Bug’s Life”):

Scouting Out the Land

This week’s commentary is supplied by Rabbi Brad Artson, Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic
Studies at the University of Judaism

Moses instructs twelve spies, one for each of Israel's tribes, to investigate the characteristics of the land the people are about to enter. They travel throughout the land of Israel during the course of forty days, and they return to the camp bearing an enormous load of the fruit of the land. Yet when they return, their testimony is contradictory. On the one hand, they assert that the land is one which "flows with milk and honey," a land bounteous and fertile. On the other hand, they also insist that the people in the land are giants--nefillim--who cause the hearts of those who see them to collapse. Based on the perceived strength of the inhabitants, the spies urge Israel not to occupy the land, despite the assurances of God and of Moses that they would do so successfully. Alone among the spies, Caleb and Joshua assert, with complete faith, that Israel should enter and take the land immediately.

What is striking about the spies' report is the central role of subjectivity in any report of reality. What mattered to them was not a simple compilation of facts, but rather an internal sense of what those facts mean: "We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them." The spies, faced with the sight of fortified cities and armed soldiers, looked at each other. And what they imagined revealed a lack of imagination, a failure of vision. Rather than envisioning themselves as carried by God's promise, sustained by the covenant of Israel, they became overwhelmed by the facts as they appeared on the surface. Caleb, on the other hand, saw the same facts and refused to bow before them. Infused with passion, conviction and Torah, he intended to shape reality to conform to his vision. And his vision was one of a faithful Israel, led by a loving God, occupying the land of its promise. The facts looked glum--they demonstrated just how unlikely Israel's occupation of the land would be. Yet Caleb, with his idealism and his energy, proved to be correct.

The history of the Jewish people is the continuing saga of the power of ideas to alter statistics. One hundred years ago, no one expected traditional forms of Judaism to survive--yet there are now kosher bakeries and butchers flourishing in communities throughout North America, and Conservative and Orthodox trends within Judaism remain strong. In the time of Maimonides (12th Century Egypt), people wrote of the demise of Judaism, only to have their predictions ignored. When the Temple of Solomon was destroyed and the Jews were exiled, few would have expected the survival of our people. Yet we are still thriving, some 2,500 years later. We have witnessed the rise and fall of Egyptians, Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, the Holy Roman Empire, the British Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, just to name a few. They rose and fell, and we remain.

As the 20th psalm exults: "They stumble and fall, but we rise and stand firm." That there are still Jews who care about Judaism is a statistical impossibility. Yet we are still here, still passionate and still Jewish. The secret weapon of our survival is our continuing excitement and fascination with our ideas. Passionate about our relationship with God, thrilled with the challenge of doing mitzvot, energized by the values and ethics that form the core of our rich inheritance, we make ourselves eternal by linking our identity to the One who is eternal. The Psalmist explains that "some trust in chariots, others in horses, but we honor the name of the Lord our God." In the process, we show the obsession with "facts" and statistics to be lacking. Through passion and conviction, we mold mere reality to match our vaunted dream.

In our day, the situation has changed dramatically: Now we are talking about an established Jewish state, which many Jews living in the Diaspora have great reluctance to visit.  Tourism is way down, the Reform movement has cancelled its youth group trips, and the Maccabiah Games, one of the great symbols of Jewish and Zionist unity, could well be postponed or cancelled.  

It is noteworthy that many youth trips to Israel will still be taking place, including those of the Conservative movement, although with a significant drop-off in numbers.  At this time, 240 are signed up for the Ramah Israel program.

As with most such matters, there are valid arguments to be made on both sides.  Those who are not sending children over this summer claim that it would be better for the teens to have a more positive experience of Israel at other times, when they might walk freely among the people and enjoy the nightlife without fear.  And, as the Forward states in an editorial, ( )“The notion that Jews in other countries ought to respond to the Israelis' plight by sending their own children to stand in the bombers' path defies comprehension. Parents do not normally send their children to spend their vacations in a war zone.”

Others say that part of being Jewish is understanding that sometimes life is about more things than shopping on Ben Yehuda street, and that this is precisely the opportunity when Jewish identity might be strengthened most by a visit to Israel.  See Dennis Prager’s moving  piece in Moment, “My Son’s Turn,” at  He writes, “Why, then, am I encouraging (my son) to go to Israel? And why does he agree? Because as a Jew, an American, and a manmy three primary identitiesI believe there is more to life than living in safety. For life to be worth living, one has to take risks for the preservation of one’s most cherished values.”  Prager takes the position of Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who did not feel like grasshoppers in the face of giants, understanding that the perceived dangers are far greater than the real ones.

Israelis from both the left and the right are feeling abandoned and expressing it angrily.  Jerusalem Mayor Olmert has threatened to break ties with the Reform movement  (see  That, in my opinion, is a blatant overreaction, although I do believe that the Reform movement could have handled the matter with greater sensitivity to the message it would send.  Both sides overreacted here.   In the end, collectively, adults need to stand together behind Israel, to visit whenever possible and as soon as possible.   I hope to lead a solidarity group from here sometime in the fall and am glad to see that the United Jewish Communities, among others, is actively organizing large solidarity missions through the summer and fall.  But the decisions we make regarding the safety of our children are purely an individual matter, and they should not be questioned.


Gilo Speaker, tonight,  June 14 at 8:30, in our chapel.

If you are concerned about Israel, do join us to hear from a rabbi who is living through the nightly gunfire aimed at his neighborhood of Gilo, on southern border of Jerusalem. We’ll be hearing from Steve Zacharow, rabbi of Kehilat Shevet Achim, a new Masorti synagogue. 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.

Solidarity Visit to Israel

I’m beginning to make preliminary plans for a solidarity visit to Israel next fall from our congregation.  This would be a quick, affordable (and subsidized) four or five-day visit designed to combine some touring, learning, consoling and shopping, to give a needed boost to Israel’s morale and economy.  It would be geared primarily for adults (first-timers or those who have visited before) and would be designed to minimize security risks while maximizing our impact.  Please let me know if you might have some interest in this crucial project and which weeks might work for you. 

Staying Informed

Click on for free e-mail briefings on the current situation vis a vis the Palestinians. Carefully selected quality writing from a wide variety of sources. The site has sign up information plus archives of articles sent out from October '99 to the present. Excellent source of background.

For charts and graphs explaining the impact of terrorism on Israel (constantly being updated), go to

For an interesting “I told you so” commentary by Seth Lipsky of the Wall Street Journal, lashing out at Jewish doves, go to

For an interesting pep talk by Meron Benvenisti, imploring doves to stop their self-flagellation see

To remain fully informed, check on Ha’aretz
and the Jerusalem Post several times daily.


Morning Minyan

To quote the old Yiddish saying, nine great rabbis cannot make a minyan, but ten cobblers can.  We need a few good cobblers!  This week we were just short of a minyan twice (so far).  With summer vacation upcoming, this does not bode well.  This is what we need from all our congregants: 1) Come whenever possible; 2) tell your friends to come; 3) Let us know when you plan to be here on a weekday morning for yahrzeit and I will get the word out on our “Guaranteed Minyan” e-mail service.

Send in Your Surveys! 

We need your input to determine our future and this is the main vehicle for the Strategic Planning Committee to determine what our congregation wants to become over the next several years. If you haven't submitted your survey, please set aside an hour to complete it. If you have misplaced it, call the office for another copy. We can't know what you expect of our Temple unless you tell us -- and this is the best time and place to do it and have your voice recognized as we set our course for the future.

Pre-school Program for the Fall

This fall, we’ll be featuring Mechinah, a new Sunday morning Jewish enrichment program for pre-school students, plus other special holiday-centered activities on select Sunday afternoons.  Also, we’ll be adding one more Friday evening Tot Shabbat per month, and we’ll be enhancing our Shabbat morning program for young children, as Nurit Avigdor will now be here every week.  For registration materials and information, contact our education office (322-6901 X306).

Jewish Communities of Stamford & Greenwich 1st Annual Legislative Breakfast

Sunday, June 24 @9:30 at the JCC Cost: $12.50 for the breakfast
Featuring: Speaker of the House Moira Lyons, Senate Majority Leader George Jepsen , Chairman of the House Finance Committee Anne McDonald.
For information contact: Gary Geller: (800) 317-3002 (daytime) (203) 322-8564 (evening) or Marcy Bick at the Federation.

Mazal tov to Nancy and Jeff Herz on the birth of Jacob Saul Herz. He arrived on Monday June 11, 2001 at 6:03 pm at Stamford Hospital.
His vital statistics are as follows:
Weight: 6 lbs, 9 3/4 oz.
Length: 19 inches
Mazal tov also to grandparents Lynn and Alan Pearce and great grandmother Ann Pearce.

Mazal tov to all our graduates (of all ages)!  A special welcome/Mazal Tov to the 8th graders of Bic-Cultural Day School, who will become graduates right here on our bima tonight.  It is our pleasure to enhance the community partnership between BCDS and TBE in this manner.


This week’s portion includes the last paragraph of the Sh’ma, detailing the commandment of the tzitzit (fringes) and the tallit.  I’ve always loved this mitzvah, ever since I first fiddled with my dad’s fringes when I was a child.  If Judaism is to be multi-sensual, and it is, than the sense of touch is no less important than hearing, sight, smell and taste…well, OK, taste takes the kugel, but I’m still a great proponent of tactile Judaism.   On the simplest level, the tzitzit are like the proverbial string-around-the-finger, reminding us constantly of the 613 mitzvot.  But there is so, so much more.

So here’s where you can read about those little sacred strings and knots
For a good introduction, go to  There you can find out what the 7-8-11-13 winding pattern is all about.  Then take the quiz at, and be sure to click on All the answers.
Another fine explanation site, with an emphasis on liberal Jewish practice and some good historical background, can be found at  Once there, see especially the reasons cited at
Also, check out for material on the knots and fringes.

The graduating students of the Solomon Schechter School of Greater Boston did a fantastic “online Bet Midrash Rabbinics Lab” on this topic recently.  The home page is at, and some relevant tzitzit links are at (Talmudic references), and (on that mysterious blue thread, techelet).  I am very impressed!

For a more traditional view of tzitzit and their place in Jewish law and mysticism, go to and

Other religions have much to say about sacred knots and threads.  For the Catholic view of this biblical precept, look at, and for a Hindu commentary on sacred thread, look at  Reading about Hindu practice helps us to understand the universality of this tactile experience, and how meaning is often derived from numerology:

The composition of the Sacred Thread is full of symbolism and significance. Its length is ninety six times as the breadth of the four fingers of a man, which is equal to his height. Each of the four fingers represents one of the four states the soul of a man experiences from time to time, namely, waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and absolute Brahmanhood (Turiya or the fourth state). The three folds of the cord are also symbolical. They represent the three Gunas (Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas) reality, passion and darkness, out of which the whole universe is evolved. It was done, so that the Sattwaguna or the good quality of reality may predominate in a man, and so he may attain spiritual merits. The three cords remind the wearer that he has to pay off the Three Debts he owes:

1.To the Rishis (ancient seers), 2.To the ancestors and 3.To the gods.

The three cords are tied together by a knot called Brahma-granthi, which symbolises Brahma, Vishnu and Siva (the trinity of gods, Creator, Sustainer and Destroyer). Besides, extra knots are made in the cords to indicate the various Pravaras of a particular family.

Finally, if you are so inclined and never have done so before enwrap yourself in a tallit for the first time.  You can find a meditation for this ritual at  The CLAL faculty also provides a nice image for us to ponder as we don the sacred, flowing garment:

“Like paratroopers who always take their parachutes with them when they jump from planes, those who have begun wearing a tallit as they pray discover just how essential it is. Like the parachute that catches the breath of the wind, protecting those who dare to jump into the air, the tallit ensures God’s embrace for those who dare to leap into prayer.”

Whether we see the garment and accompanying threads as a parachute, uniform, blankie, reminder-string or sacred knot (and indeed we are “tying the knot” with God), or even as the prototype for the Israeli blue and white striped flag ( and find out the importance of Morris Harris in Jewish history), there is no denying its distinctive allure.   But if a tallis is a parachute, does that not make us all…“tzitzit flies?”

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.

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