Friday, June 8, 2001

Shabbat-O-gram June 7, 2001

 Shabbat Shalom


Friday Night
Candles: 8:08 PM
Kabbalat Shabbat (outdoors, weather permitting); 7:00 PM. We celebrate with our 7
th graders at their “Aliyah” service, and look forward to their continuing on with our various teen and Hebrew High School programs.

Tot Shabbat: 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 Rachel Maimon and family.  Rachel will become Bat Mitzvah here this Shabbat.

Torah portion: Beha’alotcha.  Learn Torah With commentary:

A BYTE OF TORAH: Bread and Matzah, Together at Last

This week’s portion covers an assortment of obscure matters, among them what was known as the Second Passover, which was observed exactly one month after the Original Passover. It’s fascinating for a few reasons, one of which is that the timing of its initial observance in the Wilderness throws the entire chronology of the book of Numbers out of whack. This was later used as a basis for rabbinic acknowledgement that the Torah is not written in chronological order.

But what’s most interesting about the Second Passover is in that it existed at all. The idea was that when Israelites were either ritually impure or too far away to participate in the Passover sacrifice, they were given a second chance to do it a month later. Evidently, this really happened, as we read in Chronicles 30:1-5, where it says, “The king and his officers and the congregation had agreed to keep the Passover in the second month, for at the time they were unable to keep it for not enough priests had sanctified themselves, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem.”

It’s nice to know that Judaism offers us second chances to celebrate holidays that we might have missed the first time around. Second chances are a key idea of Judaism; we need look no further than the concept of teshuvah, repentance, so central to the High Holidays.

Even to this day, when the issues of impurity and distance are not relevant to Passover observance, some Jews still mark the Second Passover. Some have the interesting practice of eating bread and matzah together on that day. Imagine that, hametz and matzah, these two polar opposites of the palate, together. What significance can this have, to be Passover and so un-Passover at the same time?

It gets back to the notion of second chances. If hametz and matzah can find common ground on the same menu, reconciliation of other opposing forces gains an air of possibility.  Second chances abound this week for Republicans and Democrats in Congress, although for Israel and her neighbors, those hopes seem far more remote.

But if hametz and matzah can break bread together, there’s still a crumb of possibility for reconciliation everywhere else.


As Mel Brooks humbly accepted a dozen Tony Awards last Sunday for his smash hit, ‘The Producers,” he acknowledged the “phalanx of Jews” behind him who created the show.  But the question buzzing around this week had less to do with the rest of the phalanx than with Brooks himself: Is he indeed Jewish? 

Now normally, the question is one for the trivia books, the occasional Bar Mitzvah speech or an Adam Sandler song, but with Brooks it carries more weight.  Why?  Because, as with so many Jewish comics, his religio-ethnic identity is central to his humor.  And since much of his humor pokes fun at Jews, and since he has been accused of trivializing the Holocaust, the fact of his Jewishness or lack thereof becomes more of a factor.  His art will stand on its own (and indeed, he makes fun of lots of others, not just Jews), but his place in the pantheon of Jewish role models most definitely hangs in the balance.

So I checked (, to find some definitions of “who is a Jew?”  Several are offered.  Certainly by the broadest definition (the ethnic one), Brooks qualifies.  He sees his humor as coming from the deepest wellsprings of Jewish culture.  Quoted in a recent academic paper on his life, Brooks describes his role in this way: "For every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast-beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one."  See the paper at

In a recent 60 Minutes Interview, he was even more emphatic about his Jewishness (see,1597,285293-261,00.shtml).  Yet, according to the JTS academic paper, it is known that following his marriage to Anne Bancroft, their son was baptized, supposedly with the understanding that he would later become Bar Mitzvah.  That fact in and of itself is far less disturbing than the various reports, including one in last week’s Boston Jewish Advocate, that Brooks himself converted to Christianity at the time of his marriage to Bancroft.  I’ve not been able to verify this first-hand on the Web and would be interested in knowing if anyone out there has.  It’s not just a trivial matter to know whether our “phalanx of Jews” has been diminished by one. 

In the ever-shifting sands of Jewish identity, apostasy is one category whose definition has remained relatively stable over the centuries.  The traditional view has pretty much held, and should continue to, especially in the face of large-scale missionary activity directed against us.  See that traditional view at  To quote:

The halachic rule is that "An Israelite, even though he has sinned, is still an Israelite" (B.T. Sanhedrin 44a). But an apostate is a Jew only in the limited sense that the obligations of the Torah still apply to him, as they do to all biological Jews and converts to Judaism. The apostate has absolutely no communal status. A Jew who follows another religion is Jewish only insofar as he/she retains a spiritual obligation to repent and return to Judaism. However, as long as he/she owes a spiritual allegiance to a foreign religious philosophy he/she cannot be considered a member of the Jewish community.

So if indeed Mr. Brooks falls into that category, it would be hard to place him in the pantheon of Jewish greats, much as I admire and enjoy his work, generally support his irreverent style, and absolutely loved the way Bancroft played Golda Meir (though Ingrid Bergman was better).  But, pantheon or not, if you have an extra pair of tickets to “The Producers,” I’d be happy to check the matter out further!



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

If you are concerned about Israel, whether or not you can make it to the rally, 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. (BTW, the Bi-Cultural graduation that night, also taking place in our building, will be over before the lecture begins).

Solidarity Visit to Israel

Last week, Israel’s President made a plea to American Jews to visit Israel.  Indeed, and predictably, Israel’s tourism industry is suffering greatly right now.  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. 

Last week’s Tel Aviv Terror Attack

A memorial tribute to the victims, including very moving photos, discussion, Russian translation, and info on where you can send donations to help victims of terror, can be found at  The night is over but the pain is not.


Send in Your Surveys! 

The arrival rate of your surveys has dropped off precipitously over the past few weeks. That means that many of you have put it aside for later or discarded it. That's bad news, because 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).

Junior Choir Service

Join us outdoors, weather permitting, at 7:00 on Friday, June 15, for our final Junior Choir service of the

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 Sheila & Gordon Brown, who have a new granddaughter.  Amanda Ashli was born to Mindi & Michael Brown.

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 next Thursday night.  It is our pleasure to enhance the community partnership between BCDS and TBE in this manner.


In the middle of the portion Beha’alotcha, something truly strange occurs. For the first time, pretty much, since we left the golden calf in mid-winter, there is movement. After months of focus on laws, sacrifices and the description of the sanctuary, the Torah picks up the narrative as the nation of Israel picks up camp.
As the nation begins the march, two verses are encircled in brackets, which, in the Torah text itself, look like two “nuns” (the letter, not Sally Field), one normal though enlarged, the other inverted. The verses enclosed between these brackets also happen to bracket our current Torah service, including the well-known “Vayhi binsoa ha-aron vayomer Moshe,” “And when the ark set forth, Moses exclaimed; rise up O Lord and scatter your enemies…”

What is this “nun” thing all about?

First, take a look at what a nun is, at

Now, here are a number of commentaries on the matter:

At, read what is said by one of the great Torah teachers of the past century, Nechama Liebowitz. Reference is made to the popular notion that the inverted nuns set these verses apart as a separate body of literature, even a separate book of the Torah. In some sense, these words are intended to be read differently, as being more timeless, more about us than them, more about now than then.

In the “Torah from Dixie,”, Rabbi Mendel Dickstein, quoting the Talmud, claims that the bracketed section was imported from a more chronologically correct place in the Torah and inserted here to break up a series of three consecutive episodes in which the Israelites sinned.

Click on, and see how Rabbi Shlomo Riskin turns the inverted nuns into a moving personal story about the love of one’s fellow Jew (Ahavat Yisrael) and love of family.

Got Gematria? Check out for a Kabbalistic take on all this, based on Hebrew numerology. Nun, BTW, equals 50.  Some good Kabbalistic background on the letter nun can be found at

Want a martial arts slant? Yes, you heard me right. Go to the “Tora Torah” commentary, at What Moses is saying to God in these verses can well be seen as a call to the fighter within each of us to emerge and confront the enemies of fear and apathy. Not bad.

The march of Torah is going to be a long one, with the inevitable pitfalls. To “fall” in Hebrew is “nofel,” which begins, of course, with a nun. And from there the great Rabbi Soleveitchik derived his interpretation of this section, as noted in The aforementioned Rav’s lecture on leadership, at, also contains references to the nuns.

OK, so what is your favorite approach: traditional, linguistic, mystical, martial?  Or perhaps “nun” of the above?  Then let me give you one more: the Joshua-centric approach, my personal favorite.  For who was the man who led the Israelites into battle, both during and after the Wilderness wanderings?  It was “nun” other than Joshua, the son of Nun!  That’s right, his Dad’s name was the very same as the letter.  So the nuns were then a heavenly sign that Joshua should lead the people, and a signal that Joshua’s leadership should be marked by a special protectiveness toward his people, always reaching out to them, encircling them like a pair of parentheses.  

Shabbat Shalom

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