Friday, February 14, 2020

Shabbat-O-Gram: Which Candidate Would Moses Pick? Love, Jewish Style


Hebrew School graduation and old confirmation pics have been moved to the school wing, to make way for our new elevator!

Shabbat Shalom 

OK, so it's my birthday.  I'm only mentioning it because this morning Judy Aronin (whose birthday was yesterday) gave me an all time best birthday present.

A Red Sox Afikoman bag! The best thing to get me through what looks like will be a crummyseason!

As I sit back and relax this holiday weekend, Rabbi Gerry Ginsburg will be co-leading with Cantorial Soloist Katie Kaplan on Friday night and Cantor Debbie Katchko-Gray on Shabbat morning.  Join us (them) for this, and over the coming weeks, for our cantorial candidates' guest appearances.  It means a lot for you to take in interest in this process that is so important to our future.  Also note that morning minyan on Monday's holiday will be at 9 AM.

Some recommended holiday weekend reading...

"To bigotry no sanction..." George Washington's letter to the Jews of Newport (1780) Here's some background on that famous missive.

This story really made me proud to be a Jew - that a congregation would both 1) take care of one of their own in a time of great need, and 2) stand up for what is right at a time when taking a stand has become increasingly uncomfortable. There should be no controversy here.  Vindman did what is right, for all the right reasons. The smear campaign against him should only cause more people to stand up for him, and as we can see, at least one synagogue, his own, unequivocally has. To which I add another. Lt. Col Vindman, if you are ever in the area, you are welcome here any time as an honored guest. The only issue I have with this article is that the shul is fundraising off of this, which doesn't smell right, even if it is at the family's request.

The Jewish Nightmare of Bernie vs. Trump (Yossi Klein-Halevi, Times of Israel).  While I don't agree entirely with him, Yossi gets us thinking about this choice from the perspective of a right-of-center American immigrant in Israel.

Ganz Maintains Lead in Latest Israeli Polls (Ha'aretz)  A consequential Israeli election is just a couple of weeks away, the panel of judges has been selected for the Netanyahu corruption trial (including some notable toughies), and Israelis are, by and large, yawning.

-  Interfaith Group Renames Itself - Bluish, Jew-ish, and Jew-theran (Forward) 
We've had a longstanding relationship with InterfaithFamily, having participated recently in a pilot project called the Interfaith Inclusion Initiative (IILI). This week they re-branded
 themselves and launched a new website: "18 Doors."  See their brief video introduction below, and here's a link to their new site. 

18Doors: Unlocking Jewish
18Doors: Unlocking Jewish
Is Bernie vs. Bloomberg Good for the Jews? (Jonathan Tilove, Austin Statesman); also, New Hampshire Just ushered in a Bernie vs. Bloomberg Title Fight (The Intelligencer: New York Magazine) and  Is 2020 Really the Year for the First Jewish President? (JTA)  Something must be in the zeitgeist this week.  As Allison Kaplan Sommer wrote Jan. 27 in Haaretz: "For some American Jews, (this match) evokes two uncles feuding across a Friday night dinner table." Bloomberg and Sanders "embody two very different classic modern Jewish archetypes: the rumpled socialist and the buttoned-down capitalist," she wrote. Or, as the trolls will translate it, Trotsky vs. Rothschild.

Could make for interesting seders this year.  Are we ready for this?

Embracing Auschwitz:
Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism
that Takes the Holocaust Seriously 
Now Available on Amazon!

I'm happy to announce that as of this week, my new book is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here is the link to the Amazon page. The early response has been very positive. You can read the advance praise here, including this:

"Starting with a jarring book title, Joshua Hammerman captures our imagination and re-pivots our approach to dealing with the horrors of the Holocaust. As a gifted journalist and spiritual leader, he makes his case with a clear voice and open heart, showing us that we can fulfill the biblical mandate to 'choose life' by doing so with new forms of joy and sanctity. Hammerman's brave new vision challenges us and demands our attention."
-Gary Rosenblatt, Editor At Large, The Jewish Week

The Moses Primary

כא  וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת.Ex.18:21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.
With the primary season at last upon us, people naturally are asking who among the Democrats running the Torah would pick to contest Trump for the presidency.  Well, in this week's portion Moses makes his choice.  And it's.... (drumroll, please)...well, everyone.
You see, Moses' father in law Jethro (not the guy from "Beverly Hillbillies") suggests to Moses that he delegate some of his leadership responsibilities, so that he won't continue to be overwhelmed by the many cases being brought to him by the rank and file.  The criteria they establish for choosing these new leaders is illustrative. If you take a look at this page of commentaries from the portion, you will see that one of the qualifiers is that the nominees be "capable people," ("Anshei Hayil," in Hebrew). 

What does that expression mean? 

Well, pick a commentator and you get a current candidate.  Rashi says, "Rich men," who are beholden to no one.  He would clearly be a Bloomberg supporter. Rashbam focuses on the quality of fearlessness, one we can certainly ascribe to Joe Biden, who has never backed down from a fight.  Ibn Ezra looks for physical endurance - think of Klobuchar in that blizzard.  Nachmanides is looking for wisdom and honesty, which frankly, means he is possibly thinking about writing in Larry David, but these qualities could define any number of candidates, including Buttigieg, whose birth chart reveals that he is "wise beyond his years." And then there's the next line in the Torah, the next qualification, "who spurns ill-gotten gain," which Ibn Ezra immediately defines in one word: "money."  So he would be the Sanders or Warren delegate. 

All of which goes to show us that political eligibility is in the eye of the beholder. And Moses will probably wait until at least Super Tuesday before deciding.  

Love, Jewish Style

Touching photo of Rabbi Vicki and Harold Axe in the
Stamford Advocate this week. Read the article

A few years ago, I wrote this about love in a High Holiday sermon - words appropriate for Valentine's Day.  Some of these thoughts came back to me this week, as in our "Beyond Dispute" class we studied the famous Ben Azzai - Akiva debate (presented below).

Reb Shlomo Carlebach said, "If we had two hearts like we have two arms and two legs, then one heart could be used for love and the other one for hate. Since I have but one heart, then I don't have the luxury of hating anyone."
For ours is a religion of Love. Ours is a God of Love.

There's an argument in the Talmud between Rabbi Akiva and Shimon Ben Azzai, over which is the most basic principle of the Torah. Akiva says, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He was a big fan of love. He LOVED love. He's the guy who put the Song of Songs into the Bible, and his late-blooming romance with his wife Rachel is maybe the greatest Jewish love story of all time.

But Ben Azzai trumped him by saying, "No, even more important than 'Love your Neighbor' is the verse from Genesis that states, "On the day that God made human beings, they were made in the likeness of God, male and female God created them."

Rabbi Arthur Green, whose book "Radical Judaism" is must reading for any post-modern Jew - and we'll be teaching it here this year - thinks Ben Azzai was on to something important. It's not enough simply to love your neighbor. Anyone can love a neighbor. Azzai says that's not enough! We have to love everyone. Not just the person who lives next door. Not just a fellow Jew. Every human being is in God's image. True, some are harder to love than others. Some are nearly impossible.

And we all know who they are!

Some days you can love them, and some days you can't. Even if you can't love them, you have to treat them with dignity. 
The Sh'ma is our most important prayer and the prayer that commands us to love - V'ahavta - "You shall love the Lord your God." So, one may ask, how can you command love?

Well, it's not really a command, as professor Reuven Kimelman has pointed out. Read properly, "V'ahavta is a response. An instinctive reaction projecting love out into the world. Projecting back what we have received."

In both the morning and evening liturgies, the Sh'ma is immediately preceded by a prayer about love. In the morning, that prayer is Ahava Rabbah - "A Great Love," a transcendent love, an UNCONDITIONAL love. The word for love, "Ahava," appears in various forms no fewer than six times in that single prayer, including the first, middle and last words. Love, love, love, love, love, love. Six times! Like a mantra.

We are loved by an unconditional love - a boundless love, as we say at night, Ahavat Olam. When you've been loved in that way, when the world has loved you in that way, the only way to respond is to give love in return.
V'ahavta - We will love. Not we MUST but we will. We will love because we've been loved. Even at times of enormous suffering, we've been touched by an Ahavah Rabbah. We will love because our God is a God of love, our Torah a Torah of love; every ounce of breath that comes from us is a breath that was given to us in love.

This is the journey we all need to take, the journey from receiving to giving, the journey to unconditional love. Let us make the passage from Ahava Rabba to Ahavat Olam, from a great love, to the greatest love of all, the love of all with whom we share this earth.

It is easy to be cynical. It is easy to be suspicious. It is easy to throw up our arms and disengage.

It is easy to hate. But IF WE HATE - THE HATERS WILL HAVE WON. They will have turned us into them.

No, they don't all hate us. And in the end, it doesn't really matter who hates us and why. All that matters is that we love. Why?
Because we have been loved.

Two Special Interfaith programs this coming week:

1) The first event in the Sharing Sacred Spaces Initiative

THURS., FEBRUARY 20, 2020 6:30-8:30 PM Guru Tegh Bahadur Foundation 633 West Avenue, Norwalk CT 06850 203.857.4460 ●  Everyone is welcome! Join us, and find out all about the Sikh faith. Our turn to host will come in June.

2) Religious Voices and the Climate Emergency


Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman (and reserve now for our 2020 Eastern Europe trip!)

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