Thursday, March 31, 2022

In This Moment: In the Moment, April 1: Ten Curses, One Slap; Getting Past the Anger' We Won...Let's Eat!!! The Bitter and the Sweet

In This Moment

The Bitter and the Sweet in this Holiest of Months

Ramadan starts today, and at sunset the new Hebrew month of Nisan begins. It's also Shabbat Ha-hodesh, the special Sabbath where we announce this most special of months. And soon to come: Passover & the Christian Holy Week, forming a rare trifecta of Jewish-Christian-Muslim holy days for us to enjoy with our April showers. You can throw in the opening of the baseball season and the table is truly set.

ISIS tried to overturn a heap of good will with several terror attacks in Israel this week. (Responsibility for the attack in Bnai Brak still has not been claimed by any group). The Hebrew headline above says, "Terror Wave," and "Eleven Killed in One Week." And there is a photo of Amir Khoury, the hero police officer, an Arab-Israeli, who was killed while taking out the terrorist in Bnai Brak. We pray for the victims - and in today's NYT we can read some of their stories, which are as diverse as Israel itself - just as we continue to pray for those suffering in Ukraine. The attacks in Israel seem clearly timed to upset the good will generated by the diplomatic coup of this week's summit in the Negev, featuring the strangest of bedfellows, the foreign ministers of Bahrain, UAE, Morocco and Egypt, Israel and the United States. Mahmoud Abbas, the Turkish embassy and Jordanian King Abdullah, who were not there, and numerous key Arab leaders in Israel and the West Bank have nonetheless led an unprecedented chorus of condemnation for the terror attacks, so the news is not all bad - though the increase in ISIS-led terror is very concerning. Why the condemnations? Part of it has to do with ISIS, but mainly, it's because the last two Ramadans have been busts, due to Covid in 2020 and last year's Gaza war. No one wants to upset this year's mega-festival season for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Let it be a time when peace reigns, there, in Ukraine, and everywhere.

Happy April Fools!

Bring out that haroset and that chrain! Lots of bitter these days, but also a little something sweet. We've got the promise of Passover's liberation and springtime warmth, and on Friday, April Fool's Day. Perfectly timed, this Sat night we will be hosting Muslim and Jewish comedians - the best possible tribute to this bittersweet season of Ramadan and Passover.

Is April Fools a Jewish thing? There's speculation that it is connected to Purim, along with a Roman festival called "Hilaria," observed on March 25. According to William Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities,” Hilaria was a day for games, masquerades and relentless mocking.

Here are some prime examples of Jewish April Fools prankslike the time traffic signs were reversed in Tel Aviv and no one noticed, because... have you ever driven in Tel Aviv? And below, see some select Hebrew April Fools phrases alongside an all-time Israeli prank - a video of a spaceship hovering over the Old City of Jerusalem. it's very convincing, but as Ha'aretz noted at the time, "Well, if an alien spaceship had hovered over a city of 800,000 mobile-phone addicts there wouldn't be two clips, there'd be thousands. Then there’s the pesky matter of why the spacecraft didn’t reflect light off the dome’s gold plating."

"War of the Worlds" it 'aint.
They Tried to Kill Us. We Won...Let's Eat!!!

Click below to see this week's Parsha Packet for this special Shabbat where we welcome the month of Nisan, It's the month of heavy eating! See in the packet the stories behind a a variety of Passover foods, taken from "The 100 Most Jewish Foods,by Alana Newhouse of Tablet Magazine - lots of great material for your seders! We'll discuss this packet at services on Shabbat morning

Ten Curses, One Slap
Getting Past the Anger, Then and Now
Will Smith Slaps Chris Rock at The Oscars
Last Sunday night's Oscars featuring the "Slap Heard Round the World" will be debated for quite some time. it was shocking, even at a time when flying off the handle is fast becoming our national pastime. Rather than recapitulating all the points that have been made, I want to recommend an excellent essay by none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, "Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing."

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Yes THAT Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who yelled at a kid in "Airplane" and swung his elbows at Larry Bird in the 1984 Finals. (To be fair, that followed the famous Kevin McHale takedown of Kurt Rambis). But Kareem's now a champion of nonviolence and, incidentally, a really good writer too.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar swings elbow at Larry Bird - NBA finals 1984 game 4
After laying out a solid case for condemnation of Smith, Abdul-Jabbar writes, "I don’t want to see him punished or ostracized because of this one, albeit a big one, mistake. I just want this to be a cautionary tale for others not to romanticize or glorify bad behavior. And I want Smith to be the man who really protects others—by admitting the harm he’s done to others."

Anger management was an issue long before The Slap. How about the Bible? We know about King Saul's infamous temper (which some trace to PTSD), and you've got Jacob (Genesis 31:36), Moses (Exodus 32:19), Samson (Judges 14:1, 19) and Samuel (1 Samuel 15:16-31), just for starters. Some would add God to that list.

But this past week raised the issue of destructive behavior to a whole new level, and not just because of the Oscars. An astounding archeological discovery was revealed, the so-called curse tablet, uncovered near Mt. Ebal, the Curse Mountain, in Samaria, forty miles north of Jerusalem, the site of a ritual enactment of blessings and curses described in Deuteronomy 27(Read all the curses here)Joshua 8 and below in Deuteronomy 11:29.

Cursed, cursed, cursed – cursed by the God YHW.
You will die cursed.
Cursed you will surely die.
Cursed by YHW – cursed, cursed, cursed.
Oh, and by the way, you'll also be cursed!

Sounds like a scene from "The Wolf of Wall Street," which had a reported 3.81 swear words per minute, a record at the time for films. Or maybe it's like a half hour watching HBO, or, in pre-cable days, a George Carlin routine about the seven words never spoken on television. The Deuteronomist did not mince words - compiling a long list of curses later in the book that is far more negative than a similar list found in Leviticus, and Leviticus's is pretty racy. So bottom line: people are acting very strange these days, no doubt. But they were pretty strange back then too, even without two years of quarantine.

There's another side to this remarkable discovery. Some say that this postage stamp sized tablet may show the earliest imprinted text displaying the name of God - and the earliest by a matter of centuries. So, the Name of Names, the ultimate source of spiritual power and goodness, of morality, peace and liberation, of loving our neighbor as ourselves, comes embedded in a thicket of epithets. Ten curses, one divine name (YHW - which appears twice). It's twelve curses if you include the two times it says "you will surely die" as a couple more curses.

What is the message here? Is it that you need to cut through the curses and craziness in order to discover the treasure hidden beneath? Is holiness akin to a sabra, prickly and hard on the outside but all sweetness within? Or it more like the engagement ring your dog swallowed, which needs to make it out the other end and be excavated from the doggy's dirty deposits before it can be appreciated? Or is it within the squalor of suffering humanity, where Mother Theresa asserted that God can most easily be found.

Life is messy, and so is holiness. You have to swing a few elbows at Larry Bird or slap a fellow actor (never excusable); but then, at some point, you realize that all the cussing and hitting doesn't get you anywhere - and that's when you discover God. After the hard work, the suffering, you find the Good Life. You have to clean the house for Pesach - and get rid of all the schmutz that's accumulated over the course of the year - and fill it with sublime (albeit nearly indigestible) food; only THEN can you gather for the greatest family moment of the year.

You have to get through all the things that make you curse before you can find the blessing.

As this week's portion reminds us, you have refrain from cursing or gossiping about the people you can't stand. The Chafetz Chayim says that, regardless of what sticks and stones may do, words can in fact hurt you. And living a holy life can only come when you've made your way through this moral muck. And the center of the book of Leviticus, Tazria calls on us to live holy lives through sensitivity in our use of language.

Two upcoming Torah portions, which form the heart of the book of Leviticus, give us the road map: Ahare Mot / Kedoshim. Taken together it literally means "After the death, holiness.In non leap years, the portions are read together on the same Shabbat. We take that journey from the curse of death to the blessing of life, all in the course of a half hour's Torah reading. We do it at the Seder too.

And Jews aren't the only ones on this kind of journey this month from anger and epithet to peace and reconciliation.

According to the American Jewish Committee, the notoriously anti-Semitic Passion play Oberammergau was first performed in Germany in 1634, as the fulfillment of a vow made by the townspeople. In 1633, Oberammergau was struck with the bubonic plague, and many people died. The townspeople vowed that if the deaths would stop, they would perform a Passion play every ten years to show their appreciation for God. The plague ended, and the townspeople fulfilled their vow. And they continue to do so.

But the play needed to be cleaned up before it could be performed again.

For the 2022 play, originally scheduled for 2020 but delayed by the pandemic, AJC convened an Academic Advisory Group to recommend, through ongoing dialogue with the play’s leadership, additional steps in this decades-long process of ridding the play of any lingering anti-Jewish tropes. The revised play is now scheduled to premiere in May. Like the ceremony on Mt. Ebal, another scripted ritual replete with curses directed toward Jews, Oberammergau's curses have passed their expiration date. When there are no more epithets to scream and shout, only holiness remains.

Only God. In God's original form. Centuries older than any other tablet with God's ancient name. Surrounded by curses but ultimately dwarfing them.

Maybe, in this year of convergence for Ramadan, Passover and Easter, this year when we are peeking out from behind the darkest plague since that plague, the lovely view from this rounded mountain near Nablus, which can be seen below (and in other photos), can bring us closer to a world at peace. Let's run past the curses and head straight to holiness.
One Final Question to engage us, now and at our Seder tables,
on this topic of God, holiness and anger management.
If Will Smith were God, would he have gotten away with it -
or would he have gotten off with a... um... slap on the wrist?
See this response from three faith leaders:
Recommended Reading

Prayer Vigil for Ukraine

  • Zelensky aide says Ukraine now understands Israel's terror fight (TOI) - In a series of tweets, a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expresses solidarity with Israel following a terror attack Tuesday that left five dead, including two Ukrainian nationals.“Terrorism knows no borders and neither does pain and grief,” tweets Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s chief of staff. “[Ukraine] now understand what [Israel] has been facing for decades.” But he says both countries “will prevail – absolutely certain.”

  • Jews say making daylight saving time permanent threatens morning prayer The Sunshine Protection Act, which passed the Senate on March 15, will make it nearly impossible for Jews to pray communally in the morning, Jewish advocates say, and still get to work or school on time during the winter months. According to Jewish law, morning prayers must take place after the sun rises. Daylight saving time, which currently begins on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November, extends darkness on late-winter mornings.

  • When a rabbinical school closes (Rabbi Jeff Salkin, RNS) (Writing on hearing of the planned closing of the Hebrew Union College's flagship Rabbinical School campus in Cincinnati), Salkin calls it a "cultural tsunami" and explains why he thinks so many fewer young Jews are choosing to become progressive rabbis: This is what I see: a portrait of Jews in the 18-49 age category — the generation that would be producing new rabbis — and their would-be congregants:
Fewer say that being Jewish is important to them.
Fewer feel a connection to the broader Jewish people.
Fewer report having close Jewish friends.
Fewer observe Jewish traditions, however defined.
Fewer are members of synagogues.
Fewer attend services.
Increasingly, they are Jews of “no religion.”
This cultural tsunami has affected not only Reform Judaism. It has not only affected Judaism. It has affected all American religion. Religiously speaking, America is becoming Europe. Secularism has won.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman

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