Dvar Torah Nitzavim 2022

Dvar Torah Nitzavim 2022

 Rabbi  dr Barbara Borts

As you cannot help but know, Queen Elizabeth II died earlier this month. I’m not a monarchist – I was raised in that most republican of all countries, the USA, and when I became a Brit and was offered the choice of an oath or affirmation of allegiance, I choose the latter. I know many people avoided becoming naturalised here because they did not want to be subjects instead of citizens. Nevertheless, I find it astonishing that she began her reign in the year of my birth, and I admit to some teary eyes watching the various films about her during the week of her mourning.

Deuteronomy is the textual equivalent of those films,  the history of Moses and his service to the people, his highs and lows, leading us to Nitzavim, Vayeilekh, and Haazinu, his death and the public mourning thereof. And a whisper about the future – the king is dead, long live the king.`

Moses enters our story in a startling manner, demonstrating great courage when, despite being one of the royals and therefore wealthy and privileged, he stands up for slaves and the injustice of their mistreatment. He has a mystical encounter with God, and the intimations of his life’s ‎mission, which he humbly attempts to decline, then bravely accepts. He –  what is the expression people are so fond of – speaks truth to power on behalf of the suffering Israelites, to persuade Pharoah to let them go, and then turns his work towards persuading the people to free themselves from servile attitudes and commit themselves to God and become a holy people.

His life, as we read, was often a nightmare. He was both administrative and legislative leader all in one, a go-between for the people and God, a therapist, helping to mediate between the fear, despair and rank superficiality of the people, and he bore the awesome responsibility of meeting God ponim el ponim, face to face.  No descriptions of him playing with dogs, or having a laugh with a friend. Even his family proved difficult to manage.

After all of what he endured to get to the edge of the wilderness, why was he not allowed to lead them into the land? The usual explanation was that it was because he lost his temper with the people and disobeyed God in the process, at the waters of merivah, but I wonder if it is simpler than that. New historical circumstances require different leadership skills and refreshed perspectives. Just as the queen served through the times of war and empire, so Moses served through the Exodus and the Revelation. For the sake of the future, Moses needed to move aside for the people to assume responsibility for themselves, and for their relationship with God, as they proclaimed there again at the threshold of their entry,  and with Joshua, neither prophet nor teacher, new potential arose for the people.

I would assert something similar with regard to the queen. I waded into a bit of controversy when I posted on Facebook that, although I acknowledged that Elizabeth had ‘queened’ extremely well, was an admirable and fine leader, I thought this was an opportune time to lay monarchy to rest, playing my role as  the prophet  Samuel,  warning against the establishment of a monarchy. Many commented,  insisting that a nation could either have a monarch, or a president, the spoken and unspoken fear that ‘President’ inevitably brings Trump. The monarchy was essential to prevent that, they maintained.  And there it was – people want leaders, no, they want superheroes, stars, sporting greats, messiahs, and what Rabbi Jack Bloom called Symbolic Exemplars, leaders who are experienced as, treated as, and expected to act as substitutes for Jewish tradition, and even for God.

Many people bestow upon an idealised ‘other’ the power to make sense of life, to locate clarity, stability, and answers within that ‘one’  and thereby help us to understand a world that is often bewildering.  As my friend Rabbi Richie Address wrote to me, “We fear the knowledge that we are alone, and that much of what we will make ‎of life rests within our hands‎.”  Anything rather than face full on the fundamental questions about how to find meaning in life because, and I believe this strongly, there is no a priori meaning, just that which we forge and create. And it is hard work. And it can be painful and frightening.

So what about Moses, as we visit him on the precipice of his own death? Moses’s vision was similar to that of the queen, in that it came with the imprimatur of divine calling, hers inherited, his bestowed, neither democratically ‘elected’. Both were modest, both avowedly religious. Both were very old. And both worked hard until the day they died.

Moses was given a  mission – to bring the people out of Egypt and to Sinai, to accept a covenant with God. And from there, to lead them to the land promised them. Here in Nitzavim, he assembles the people and asks them to reaffirm their ‎covenant with God, which they do – the verb ‘nitzav’’ means ‘to position ‎oneself,’ an active decision to place oneself somewhere rather than passively simply being there. Then Moses dies, and as Torah tells us, his burial spot is unknown, nor we do not mention him in ‎the Haggadah at Pesach, all of which to ensure we do not place human beings, however worthy, at the centre of our worship.  Not even Moses! And who ‎‎better than ‎you in Poland to understand the dangers of placing a human being at ‎the centre ‎‎of a nation ‎‎– we only need to look at Putin, or back further, to Hitler, ‎to ‎‎understand the dark flipside of charismatic leadership.‎ ‎

We are told concerning the Queen that she united the nation and inspired people, but did she? Could she even have done so? She may have been admired and loved,  ‎‎but the UK  is a nation on the ‎precipice of disaster, torn in half by the Brexit vote, and by ‎‎schisms between ‎North, where I live, and South. Scotland may still leave, ‎‎Northern Ireland is in ‎turmoil once more, again due to issues with Brexit. There is ‎‎rampant ‎xenophobia, many Polish people bearing the brunt of this. And so on.

Did Moses succeed? Let’s look at the  ‎Jewish people. Are we yet unified within our religious world, dedicated to the ‎highest of values? I wish we were, but we definitely are not.

Given all of this, I question the core idea that we need inspiration from symbolic exemplars, queens, or even prophets.  The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote, „At the end of his life, Moses recognized one great failure of his leadership. He ‎had taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he hadn’t taken Egypt out of the ‎Israelites. He had changed his people’s fate, but he hadn’t changed their ‎character… So long as there is a Moses ‎performing miracles, the people do not have to accept responsibility for ‎themselves…”[1]

This is the excruciating task of the HH days ahead, to accept responsibility for themselves. There are limits to that, as I will discuss on Rosh Hashanah. But that seems to be Moses’s fervent wish, as he ends his life: ‎‘It is not in heaven, ‎it is in your mouth to do it, choose life.” There is an oft-quoted midrash, whose punchline is, when you appear in olem habo, the world to come, they will not ask you why were you not Moses, but rather, why were you not yourself.

As I wrote this, I became rather more agnostic about that the idea of an inspirational figurehead. I read another compelling passage by Jonathan Sachs, where he also argues for the opposite. He stated, “There is a danger in a religion like Judaism, with so many clear cut rules … that we may forget that there are areas of life which have no rules, only role models, but which  are no less religiously significant for that…There are text books and there are text people. We learn virtue less by formal instruction than by finding virtuous people and observing how they live. Sometimes we make a difference less by what we do than by what we are.”[2]  And I thought, perhaps those who earned their prominence, a Marek Edelman, or a David Attenborough, are worthy of emulation.

The task is still the same and whether motivated by a Moses or a Queen Elizabeth, an Edelman or an Attenborough, or through ones own religious experience, or in reading an inspiring text, it is ultimately up to the individual to accept responsibility for what they do in life and situate that inside of themselves, which is the message of these days of repentance. Otherwise it is still too easy to wave a flag and then vote to keep immigrants out, or to carefully examine ones food, but then insult another person. It is set before you today…

[1] Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks

[2] Ibid. To Heal a Fractured World. P.239

 

 

 

Nitzavim

Prayer as a decision making tool

Thoughts on parashat Nitzavim

Menachem Mirski

Prayer. Why do we pray? When do we pray? What do we expect from prayer? What’s the meaning or function of prayer today? What are the good things that come from the experience of prayer?

These are all important questions for religious people and have many answers. But before trying to answer them again, let’s take a brief look at history. It seems that prayer was not a central element of Jewish worship in antiquity, although it was known for quite a long time. Even though the first acts of prayer described in the Torah are at the very beginning of Jewish history – the first person that prays in the Bible is Abraham (Gen. 20:7), in the Torah itself it is quite a „spontaneous” activity, i.e. without a structured, ritualistic character. Obviously, Moses constantly communicates with God, and often utters petitions, using the Hebrew particle נָא (nah), it is a dialogue between a prophet and God.

Our Torah portion for this week starts with that kind of encounter with God. The Israelites, upon their entrance to the Promised land, are literally standing before God, in order to affirm the Covenant they entered into with Him:

You stand this day, all of you, before your God יהוה – your tribal heads, your elders, and your officials, every householder, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer – to enter into the covenant of your God יהוה, which your God יהוה is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions, in order to establish you this day as God’s people and in order to be your God, as promised you and as sworn to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before our God יהוה and with those who are not with us here this day. (Deuteronomy 29:9-14).

Although this experience is projected to have an eternal character, the nature of the event above is slightly different from what we have typically understood through prayer since the beginning of the rabbinic era. The 'core’ verb describing this activity – לְהִתְפַּלֵּל (lehitpalel) appears in the entire Pentateuch only 7 times and it occurs in the context of the activity of only two people – Abraham and Moses. 'To pray’ in Hebrew does not mean “asking God for something” as is often understood in Indo-European languages, but „to expose oneself to God’s judgment”. However, despite these linguistic nuances I would define the phenomenon of prayer more broadly, namely, as any verbal encounter with God, any type of communication with God. That’s because I believe that not every verbal encounter with God involves his judgment.

Prayer never is, and has never been, a magic wand that makes things go as expected. A true, deep prayer is always a dialogue, although the response from God we get in this or other way (i.e. something happens to us, in reality or just in the realm of our internal life) is almost never immediate.

We, human beings, should not pray for things we know that are impossible, like praying for suspension of the laws of gravity. As Abraham Joshua Heschel put it:

Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.

Surely, the line between what is possible and what is not is not carved in stone, it is not clearly defined. It is a matter of our faith and our wisdom. People of great faith draw this line elsewhere than people of small faith. Some people believe that prayer never has a direct, objective impact on reality. Some of them believe that prayer has no meaning at all; for some others prayer is merely a tool of self -reflection or self-programming. But there is, I believe, also another way to understand prayer in our times, that is more objective than self-reflection and self-programming.

I strongly believe that what we need today is the fundamental distinction between theology of nature and theology of spirit. The Tanakh, as well as the rabbinic literature makes no clear distinction between them; however, throughout history we have discovered that the natural and the spiritual are separate realms, governed by different sets of laws and principles, even though they are complementary and strongly dependent on each other. The solution I would propose is to have a theistic theology of spirit and deistic theology of nature. In short, only the spiritual and everything that belongs to the realm of human will can be directly controlled by us and by God. The realm of Nature was pre-programmed by God and as such cannot be a subject of arbitrary decision or momentary change. The borderline between human free choice and natural determination is at the same time the borderline between theology and science. Both fields operate in a different way, according to different principles, assumptions and postulates.

In what area will prayer then work according to that kind of philosophy? The answer is: in every area where human decision making is involved. There is a certain degree of freedom in the world. Although we don’t have absolute freedom and in the realm of human freedom we still deal with forces that affect our experiences and decisions. Not everything in our life is really determined, on the contrary, many things we experience are almost pure consequences of our choices and decisions. For example, being sick or healthy may be one of them. Everything we do has real, objective consequences, and very often long-term, durable ones.

In the realm of human freedom one of the factors that leads us to positive or negative results is prayer (or absence of it). We can never be sure of it but it always may be a crucial factor that will decide whether things would go this or the other way. Human factor opens a space for the Divine act. Therefore, wherever human decision makes an impact that’s where prayer can have an impact as well. That’s why when I want something to happen, I pray for it.

Medical decisions – that’s where the decision making is crucial and determines matters of life and death. You can heal or save yourself by a good decision and kill yourself by a bad, thoughtless or spiritless one. In the old times where people had much less control over reality it was a daily experience. In our times our control over reality and natural phenomena is tremendously expanded, but still this reality of a complete uncertainty and lack of control is looming from time to time. That’s why it is very important to be thoughtfully prepared to make good decisions in these moments, because everything may depend on it. Thoughtfully prepared means also prepared spiritually, by having hope and endorsing true values.

Whenever there is free will and free decision involved – there is no strict determinism, we only deal with forces and factors we can accept or object. At this point reason and science do not dictate anything; they become just a tool, a helpful tool to make good, proper decisions. In the realm of human freedom, hope, belief and motivation play a crucial role. We think of ourselves, we think of our bodies and treat our bodies according to the ideology and the system of values we believe in. Our fate is determined by what we believe in, as well as on how determined, motivated or responsible we are. For example, you can drive to a dive bar, get drunk and get killed on your way back driving drunk on the freeway. You can stay home, read a book or watch a movie, and remain alive because of that. Obviously, none of this has to happen if you are a responsible person; for thoughtful and responsible people the example I have just given is a false alternative. You can still go to a dive bar but spend some more money and take a taxi or an Uber. How is it connected to prayer? Prayer instills in us everything our religion talks about: views on the meaning of life in society, meaning of the universe, value structure, the importance of self-control, responsibility etc. Jewish prayer is also an important component of Jewish identity and everything we consider Jewish values. All of that is instilled in us through prayer and will determine our fate, through our own actions or lack of them.

מִי יִחְיֶה, וּמִי יָמוּת, מִי בְקִצּוֹ, וּמִי לֹא בְּקִצּוֹ, מִי בַמַּיִם, וּמִי בָאֵשׁ, מִי בַחֶרֶב, וּמִי בַחַיָּה, מִי בָרָעָב, וּמִי בַצָּמָא, (…) מִי יַעֲנִי, וּמִי יַעֲשִׁיר, מִי יֻשְׁפַּל, וּמִי יָרוּם.

Who shall live and who shall die, who in good time, and who by an untimely death, who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by wild beast, who by famine and who by thirst (…) who shall become impoverished and who wealthy, who shall be debased, and who exalted. (Unetane Tokef)

Shabbat shalom and Shanah Tovah!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Shoftim

Politics and truth

Thoughts on parashat Shoftim

Menachem Mirski

You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that your God יהוה is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. (Deuteronomy 16:18, the first verse of parashat Shoftim)

There are three classical theories of truth that also define what truth is. The first, formulated by Aristotle, says that truth consists in conforming to reality: what is true is what is in accordance with reality. It sounds quite obvious. This definition, of course, is logically correct – it was formulated by one of the founding fathers of logic as an exact science. However, this definition suffers from one fundamental problem: to say that something is true, to confront an idea with reality, we need to know what the reality is, right? So, in order to check if something is true, we must know this reality in advance, or more specifically – the truth about it. So in order to know the truth, we must know the truth. Sounds like taken out of statements of some politicians.

The second classical theory of truth is the concept of (mutual) consistency. According to this concept, a thought, idea, or hypothesis is true if it is consistent with other theories and concepts that are commonly believed to be true. While this concept has some application (it is widely applied in science), it is riddled with problems: for example, we need to be absolutely sure that all our other knowledge, previously acquired, is true in order to conclude that the hypothesis we are investigating is true. It is enough that one element of this logically coherent puzzle is false and our entire system may fall apart like a house of cards. Obviously, one can always come up with all sorts of arguments and strenuously defend some theories until there is nothing left to defend. Moreover, the concept of consistency itself, devoid of the condition of „compliance with reality” paves the way for all kinds of bizarre theories and various, logically coherent, lofty-sounding pseudo-academic delusions that have inspired dozens of social experiments and brought poverty, starvation, wars and death to millions of people.

The third classic concept is the so-called pragmatic theory of truth. According to this concept, a thought, idea, or theory is true if it produces the effects it says it will produce. A specific version of this concept is expressed in this week’s Torah portion:

Whereupon יהוה said to me, “They have done well in speaking thus. I will raise up for them from among their own people a prophet like yourself, in whose mouth I will put My words and who will speak to them all that I command; […] And should you ask yourselves, “How can we know that the oracle was not spoken by יהוה ?” — if the prophet speaks in the name of יהוה and the oracle does not come true, that oracle was not spoken by יהוה; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously: do not stand in dread of that person. (Deuteronomy 18:17-18,21-22)

Obviously, all of this is expressed in a context that contains an underlying premise that everything that God thinks or says is true. So if a given idea comes from God, it will come true, it will have an effect in reality – it will work in practice in accordance with its intent. If, on the other hand, it does not come true, it does not act as it „should” according to itself, then it does not come from God; it is not true. According to the Torah, one should not be afraid of such an utterance or the person who utters it. (Deut 18:22) And this is a very important suggestion that can be understood in several ways, for example: such a man is not to be feared and his „truth” can or even should be ignored.

In reality, at least from a theoretical point of view, in order to get really  close to the truth, all three theories of truth above must be applied. So if, for example, we want to gain knowledge about which political party really wants our prosperity and will finally bring the 'messianic age’, and which only deceives us to use, abuse and betray us, and give us over to our enemies, we must be sure that: 1. We know the intentions, plans and competences of these people, ideally all of them, realistically – at least of their leadership (we would actually need to know the thoughts of these people, not just what they say publicly, and definitely not what other talking heads on TV say about them). 2. Our knowledge about them is logically consistent and we do not reject given information only because it does not fit into our „wishful” puzzle, 3. The ideas and plans that they implement bring the intended results (and they are the results we desire as well). However, in practice, the implementation of points 1 and 2 requires a lot of effort and is time-consuming. Therefore, living in professionalized societies, we rely on others in our diagnosis, e.g. the media to provide us with information. This, however, does not solve the problem, only moves it elsewhere: in this situation, we have to apply points 1 and 2 to our sources of information, and therefore to the media. And since the media very often says what politicians expect of them, the situation becomes a vicious circle and becomes pretty dramatic. So let’s forget points 1 and 2, and just focus on whether the given ideas bring (their intended) results – whether the things the people say bring intended and predicted by them results. This is a good sign because it means that those people are in touch with reality and are able to influence it in an intended way.

That’s basically all we can do. Everything else, especially if it sounds like nonsense – is inconsistent or out of touch with reality – is best ignored, as well as the people who utter it.

For their own good and for our peace of mind.

Shabbat shalom,

Menachem Mirski

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Va’etchanan

Faith as a remedy against the obsession of control

Thoughts on Parashat Va’etchanan

Menachem Mirski

What are mitzvot/commandments? The word commandment has many synonyms, such as command, recommendation, indication, regulation, guideline, order, norm, imperative, rule, instruction, directive… Using these synonyms, we can say that commandments are certain directives that order or recommend to do something. And while for the vast majority of the commandments of the Torah this kind of definition would not be problematic at all, in the parashah we read this week we have two commandments that elude this understanding, namely:

You shall love your God יהוה with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

which is obviously the first line of our daily V’ahavta prayer; the second of these commandments begins the repetition of the Decalogue:

I יהוה am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage:  (Deuteronomy 5:6)

This mitzvah seems to completely fall short of our definition of a commandment; primarily because it is not expressed in a normative language at all, it seems to be simply a statement of a fact. Yet this verse is considered a commandment in our tradition, and the one of the most fundamental! It is understood as the commandment to believe in God, and everything is based on it – the entire normative, moral and ritual code of the Torah.

This problem troubled the rabbis, who asked how could you command faith in God or the love of God or neighbor? This question led some commentators to conclude that the term mitzvah / commandment could not apply these verses. The medieval Spanish philosopher Hasdai Crescas argued that:

The very nature of the term „mitzvah” implies by definition that it can only apply to matters of free will and choice. But believing that God exists is one of those things that are not subject to free will and choice. Accordingly, the term mitzvah (commandment) cannot apply here.

Likewise, Abrawanel, a 15th-century Sephardic biblical commentator, believed that the first commandment was merely a prelude to subsequent commandments and commands, a declaration informing the Children of Israel who addressed them. Our tradition, however, rejected this view and placed both mitzvahs in the 613 commandments of the Torah. Ibn Ezra pointed out that there are more commandments of this kind, like those prescribing certain states of mind or emotion:

You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but* incur no guilt on their account. (Leviticus 19:17)

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against members of your people. Love your fellow [Israelite] as yourself: I am יהוה. (Leviticus 19:18)

This group also includes the last commandment of the decalogue, which forbids coveting one’s neighbor’s spouse, as well as things at his disposal.

There are (at least) two ways of understanding this issue with different but complementary practical implications. The first is that the commandments ordering us to certain states of mind or feelings are to teach us the self-control that is necessary for a conscious and moral life. According to this approach, action is understood very broadly and also includes the processes taking place inside us. The second understanding defines the aforementioned commandments as general principles from which all the more detailed commandments for practical actions per se derive. Thus, the commandment „You shall love Adonai your God” finds its fulfillment in keeping all God’s commandments. Thus, love, both for God and for the neighbor, is not limited only to specific feelings and emotions – it acquires a practical character, and thus real, deep and true.

In my opinion, these commandments, understood as general principles, are at the same time the deeper grounding for all specific commandments: they are the source of the appropriate kavanah in our moral actions. These general commandments remind us that the purpose of our actions is to build a better world for us and our descendants. With the right kavanah, genuine love and faith, our actions gain a deeper meaning.

While one of the fundamental, practical goals of our religion and of our entire religious law system is to teach us discipline and self-control, we should be aware of their limitations. Many of our actions ultimately go beyond ourselves and we often don’t have control over their outcomes, especially the more distant ones. Where our control ends, faith begins. If our actions are motivated by good, positive intentions, we have a right to believe that God will lead our actions to the ultimate and good goals we have intended. (He usually does it with the hands of good and righteous people, although He has many other impenetrable ways as well.) Human arrogance and the obsession with controlling everything and everyone do a great deal of damage to our lives, both private and social, especially if they are accompanied by a fake collectivism in thinking that does not respect our individual rights and personal freedoms. Faith understood in the above-mentioned way teaches us humility, awareness of our own limitations and is a spiritual remedy for the above-mentioned destructive forces and endeavors.

 

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Toledot

When Something Goes Wrong, You May Have to Do the “Wrong” Thing

Thoughts on Parashat Toledot

 Menachem Mirski

The main theme for this week’s Torah portion is the struggle between Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau. The struggle between them begins already in the womb: Jacob, still unborn, tries to pull Esau back into his mother’s womb.

But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist? ”Meaning of Heb. uncertain. She went to inquire of the LORD, and the LORD answered her, “Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when they were born. (Gen 25:22-26)

It was Jacob who was supposed to be Icchak’s firstborn, but things simply “went wrong”. The entire story of rivalry between the two brothers is about a reversal, a correction of “what went wrong” at the time of their birth, and God legitimizes it by foretelling the final outcome of this rivalry. This struggle is even reflected in Jacob’s name: the name Yaakov means heel holder or supplanter, and its root akav means to follow, to tail, to watch.

[Esau] said, “Was he, then, named Jacob that he might supplant me these two times? First he took away my birthright and now he has taken away my blessing!” And he added, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (Gen 27:36)

In biblical times the birthright son was entitled to a double portion (that is, twice as much as any other son) of the father’s inheritance: one portion as a son, the second portion as the new head responsible for the whole family including the care of his mother and unmarried sisters (Gen 48:22, Deut. 21:17). Given the biblical descriptions of Esau’s character and lifestyle we can rightly conclude that is was not a good fit for the forefather of the Chosen People:

Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” And Esau said, “I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. (Gen 25:31-33)

First of all, Esau seems to be underestimating the privilege of being the firstborn, to say the least. Secondly, his hunting lifestyle leaves much to be desired. Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Gen 25:32 states that:

He was daily exposed to danger when he went out hunting, as an animal might kill him. Thus there was a possibility that he would predecease his father.

Given all of that it seems that Esau was not the most reliable person to bear all the responsibilities associated with being the firstborn, and we know that his father, Icchak, was advanced in years at that time.

This sheds additional light on Rebecca and Jacob’s deceptive actions to take Esau away from his birthright. The welfare of the whole family, tribe, the future of the chosen people and the fulfillment of God’s promise were at stake here. What was important here was not who was actually born first but who was a better fit for a leader of the tribe; a better fit – socially, psychologically and intellectually – to be the father of the Chosen People.

In ancient times, and basically until modernity, people didn’t question existing laws, regulations and customs as they do today. These laws and customs have always been “calculated” on large groups of people, and thus were not flexible and typically allowed no exceptions. The strictness of the law and custom “required” lying. In psychology, situations like these are called lie invitees. Rebecca and Jacob had to use a trick, to achieve a goal desired not only by them, but by God himself. In order to “correct the things that went wrong” at the beginning they had to act unethically. Our story is then a story about the necessity of an exception in custom and culture.

This is a story about the circumstances in which the existing ethics and law need to be questioned, suspended or broken for a higher purpose. It is about an exceptional situation where the only law is the will of God. We deal with a similar situation in Akeda (Gen 22) as well as in the story of Pinchas and Zimri (Num 25). The situation here seems to be less drastic, but it still posed a direct threat of the death of one of the people involved: Esau promised to kill Jacob, and therefore Jacob had to flee. Our story seems to convey a theological statement that God’s will sometimes override the Divine law. It’s not a norm, however, it’s an exception. This story can be also used as an illustration that sometimes reason, human design and common sense have to triumph over convention, a given state of affairs or even nature.

Shabbat shalom,

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Ki Tavo

Gratitude as a Jewish value

Thoughts on parashat Ki Tavo

Menachem Mirski

What are the Jewish values? Typically, when this question is raised, the following values are mentioned: devotion to live in community (Israel), education (Torah), governance of life by law (halacha), truthfulness and trustworthiness (emunah), justice and righteousness (tzedek), kindness and taking care of others (chesed), respect and dignity (kavod) and responsibility (acharayut). They all have their social and their religious dimension, and traditionally they were all put under one umbrella: belief in God. They can also be put under another umbrella: fixing up the world (tikkun haolam).  These values are at the core of our Jewish religious system. They remain forever unchangeable despite changes in our rituals, customs, despite halachic changes and even some changes in Jewish ethics. These core values are the felt commitments of lived religion; they remain the same even though their ritual and practical expressions may change.

However, these core values are not completely immune to erosion: a change in religious practices may cause their erosion and disintegration. This danger never disappears (that’s one of the reasons there are those who object to any changes in our religion and tradition) and it was specifically acute in the early stages of our religion’s development, when judaism was particularly vulnerable to a damaging influence from surrounding cultures which did not share many of the values of our religion. That’s why we read in our Torah portion for this week:

If you do not obey the LORD your God to observe faithfully all His commandments and laws which I enjoin upon you this day, all these curses shall come upon you and take effect: Cursed shall you be in the city and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the issue of your womb and the produce of your soil, the calving of your herd and the lambing of your flock. Cursed shall you be in your comings and cursed shall you be in your goings. The LORD will let loose against you calamity, panic, and frustration in all the enterprises you undertake, so that you shall soon be utterly wiped out because of your evildoing in forsaking Me. The LORD will make pestilence cling to you, until He has put an end to you in the land that you are entering to possess. The LORD will strike you with consumption, fever, and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew; they shall hound you until you perish […] The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, which will swoop down like the eagle—a nation whose language you do not understand, a ruthless nation, that will show the old no regard and the young no mercy. It shall devour the offspring of your cattle and the produce of your soil, until you have been wiped out, leaving you nothing of new grain, wine, or oil, of the calving of your herds and the lambing of your flocks, until it has brought you to ruin. It shall shut you up in all your towns throughout your land until every mighty, towering wall in which you trust has come down. And when you are shut up in all

your towns throughout your land that the LORD your God has assigned to you, you shall eat your own issue, the flesh of your sons and daughters that the LORD your God has assigned to you, because of the desperate straits to which your enemy shall reduce you. (Deuteronomy 28:15-22,49-53)

These are only 13 verses out of the entire 54-verse passage that tells about what will happen to the Israelites when they disobey the Eternal. Disobeying means questioning the Divine laws and wisdom and it basically means the same today.

This disobedience starts with mere ingratitude towards the Holy One, which is diagnosed at the beginning of our Torah portion, where it stresses the necessity of the annual, mass and solemn sacrifice of the firstfruits (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). Rabbi Yitzhak Breuer eloquently summed up various interpretations of this ritual:

The bikkurim brought every year are an unparalleled demonstration of a happy and blessed nation living on its land in quiet and security. It is a demonstration of the sovereignty of the Holy One over the nation, which each year accepts anew, with bended knee and with bowed head, the land from its God. In that tremendous national joy, the nation offers up its confession, a national confession stemming from national joy.

The Torah is deeply aware of one of the essential features of human nature: when people become well-off and have a leisurely life, they develop a tendency to become conceited and to rebel against the existing norms and rules of life, as we see in the following verses:

When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the LORD your God—who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14)

It all ends by abandoning the true values and in idol worship – today this most often means worshiping money, power, position and technology – namely the products of human hands and minds: the things that should never be worshiped by man. The worst case scenario is worship of man himself – cult of personality. All this, at the end of the day, leads us to decadence and all that it brings: depression, destruction of the social fabric and the decay of social and cultural life.

The remedy lies in the constant and true practice of gratitude towards the Eternal, for everything that is given to us, including every moment of our life. Therefore, it can be said that gratitude to the Eternal is the foundation on which all our Jewish values arise.

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Ki Teitzei

Between collectivism and individualism

Thoughts on parashat Ki Teitzei

Menachem Mirski

I visited Poland over the last few weeks to perform my dad’s funeral and to help my mother to find herself living in new circumstances, without him. Not having a car throughout most of my four weeks’ trip I was dependent on public transportation. One day I got on the bus in Przemyśl and I went to the driver to get a ticket. I had no change in my wallet, so the driver could not sell me the ticket because he wasn’t able to give me the rest of the money. When I was walking back to my seat in the bus, an older, probably retired woman gave me 5 zloty and said “please go and buy this ticket”. I went back to the driver, got the ticket, thanked the woman and gave her back the rest.

Another day I got my mom a small tv so she could watch it at the rehab center she is currently in. She shares the room with three other women. She was very happy when she got it but her first instinct was to share it with others: “Put it please the way so the other women could also watch it”. I was thinking for a moment and then I said: “Well, if I do that, you won’t be able to watch it, only them”. “I can just listen to it” – she replied – “place it this way, at least for now”.

I’m bringing these stories because they show healthy collective thinking and actions. But is collective thinking always good and healthy? Is it something always recommended by our ‘community oriented’ religion?

Our Torah portion for this week contains the greatest number of laws among all the parashot: 72 positive and negative commandments. Among them are those pointing out to collective responsibility for one another in the society:

When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it. (Deuteronomy 22:8)

Another great example of good collective thinking are the laws of returning the lost animal/item:

If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him. You shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent. If you see your fellow’s ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it. (Deuteronomy 22:1-4)

Another set of laws teaches us social responsibility for the poor and needy:

When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow—in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)

These laws are to teach us collective responsibility. I believe that most of them are to be internalized rather than enforced by the court due to the fact that situations of returning the lost item often do not involve more than one witness so their legal application is limited. But our parasha also contains commandments that definitely limit the scope of collective thinking and action:

Parents shall not be put to death for children, nor children be put to death for parents: a person shall be put to death only for his own crime. (Deuteronomy 24:16)

It is yet another expression of individual moral responsibility which is at the core of the Jewish concept of justice: if you do good you will be rewarded, if you do evil, you will be punished; nobody else should be punished for your sins, nobody else should be blamed for them and no man should be your scapegoat. If that happens, the system you have created is flawed and unjust.

Although it is not easy to make such a general statement, I believe that our religion is neither  individualist nor a purely collectivist in its nature. Both extremes, when applied exclusively, are harmful to society and human life. Radical individualism may cause indifference towards the needs and fate of others. Radical collectivism, not balanced by individual freedoms, brings forms group responsibility, which are never just and cause social conflicts as well as resentment, especially if mandated by force or the government. But most importantly, if something is ordained and enforced, it stops being voluntary. Thus, enforced collectivism often kills real, internalized, good collective thinking, together with empathy and compassion, which by its nature cannot be enforced by any law or system.

Collective thinking is always good when it’s voluntary.  A good, healthy life has both aspects, a collective and an individual one. It incorporates both perspectives in our daily life and chooses between them depending on the case. The laws in the Torah were given to us to teach us this necessary balance between what is individual and what is collective. These laws, together with maturity and experience, help us to know what perspective is appropriate in a given situation.

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Ekev

The importance of human experience

Thoughts on parashat Ekev

Menachem Mirski

This week’s Torah portion includes a beautiful vision of the Promised Land, spoken through the mouth of Moses on the eve of its conquest:

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing; a land whose rocks are iron and from whose hills you can mine copper. When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)

Rabbinic minds developed this vision of Eretz Israel by exceedingly idealizing the Promised Land. For example, Rabbeinu Bachya believed that the land of Israel, as well as Jerusalem itself in particular, contained all six climates of the world, which rendered the land’s climate as marvelous. Gaon of Vilna believed that the land of Israel contained all possible minerals and all the plants people needed, so there was no need to import anything. The rabbis, however, idealized the land of Israel even more. The nineteenth-century rabbi of Bratislava, Moses Schreiber, in his work Chatam Sofer wrote that fruits of Eretz Israel were tremendously large, as, for example, wheat grains the size of ox kidneys and lentils the size of gold dinars. Rabbi Shlomo Efraim Luntschitz, who lived at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, in his work Kli Yakar claimed that Eretz Israel does not need storage cities; it always has abundance, and there is no need to save from one year to another – its crop is blessed every year, without a break.  Other 19th and 20th-century commentators, such as Jehuda Arie Leib Alter and Shabbatai HaKohen, have argued, for example, that bread made from grains of the Land of Israel has miraculous properties: it can be eaten in infinite amounts, without fear of gaining weight.

There was a disagreement regarding whether the streams and fountains could itself provide enough water for irrigation of fields. 13th century French commentator, Hezekiah ben Manoah, known as Chizkuni, believed that the abundance of water in these streams and fountains depend on rainfall, thus each individual will have to trust in God’s grace for his water. Nachmanides, however, saw a natural blessing in them and that they carry enough moisture to every place it is needed, therefore the land needed no rivers, nor a specific ‘water engineering’.

The first Zionists emigrating to Eretz Israel in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries found out how true all these visions were. These visions do not correspond to reality even today: yes, Israel is a very developed country, abundant in various goods, but all this is the result of hard work of many generations. These rabbinical visions actually teach us how important human experience is when it comes to knowing and judging reality, and how easy it is to make a mistake when one does not have such an experience. These commentators have spent their entire lives in a different world, in Europe, only fantasizing about the Promised Land. The same is often true today, due to instant access to information on everything that is happening anywhere in the world: people are constantly tempted to form and express themselves their opinions about places and countries, having in fact no idea about the reality of these places. Let it be a lesson of restraint for us; let us be restrained in our words, concepts and recipes for the life of human communities who live in other countries and on different continents.

 

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA.
Menachem Mirski is a Polish born philosopher, musician, scholar and international speaker. He earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy and is currently studying to become a Rabbi at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. His current area of interests focus on freedom of expression and thought as well as the laws of logic as it pertains to the discourse of ideology and social and political issues. Dr. Mirski has been a leader in Polish klezmer music scene for well over a decade and his LA based band is called Waking Jericho.

Nitzavim-Vayelech

 Open your heart to receive blessing

Thoughts on parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

Menachem Mirski

Human beings are religious beings. This means we have a natural tendency to develop religion or something that metaphysically deals with the problematic mystery of human  existence. Every time human beings want to get rid of religion something else fills this gap and becomes a new religion. This new religion is usually a political ideology, an ideologized science or a random stream of philosophy that was accidentally popular at the time.

The problem is that what is metaphysical cannot be replaced with something physical, scientific or political. Whenever humanity tries to do so it hurts itself in the long run.

Conceaed acts concern the LORD our God; but with overt acts, it is for us and our children ever to apply all the provisions of this Teaching. (Deuteronomy 29:28)

We cannot repress or get rid of our metaphysical needs. We cannot escape from our need for transcendence. Why? Because by repressing things that concern our God we will end up, sooner or later, in self denial and nihilism. We were created in divine likeness which means we naturally strive for the divine. Our religious drive is a drive for something holy and eternal – something that is good, something that does not pass. This eternal and good thing has to be able to mark everything we freely do and experience- mark with meaning.

To mark means to affirm, not to subject – and no science, no political ideology nor philosophy is able to fully do that. Why? because the products of human intellect are, by definition, limited. Science and philosophy can give you explanation, political ideology can give you the goal. Religion gives you meaning.

At the end of the day human intellect is there to serve, to make our lives easier, more comfortable and more predictable. Religion very often does the opposite or at least starts with the opposite. Judaism, our religion, does not unconditionally affirm our life. It affirms it deeply, but only when we bring holiness, good and justice. It affirms life with a spirit that deliberately opens itself towards unknown and concealed things. None of these concealed things, nor holiness nor good are the notions that can be politically or scientifically defined without reducing them to fractions.

When all these things befall you—the blessing and the curse that I have set before you—and you take them to heart amidst the various nations to which the LORD your God has banished you, and you return to the LORD your God, and you and your children heed His command with all your heart and soul, just as I enjoin upon you this day, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love. He will bring you together again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. Even if your outcasts are at the ends of the world, from there the LORD your God will gather you, from there He will fetch you. And the LORD your God will bring you to the land that your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will make you more prosperous and more numerous than your fathers. Then the LORD your God will open up your heart and the hearts of your offspring to love the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:1-6)

These words contain an endless, divine promise. Note, they don’t make many conditions. There is only one essential: we have to return to God, to everything He revealed to us on Mount Sinai.

Everything that is concealed is known by God. During the coming High Holidays I encourage all of you to express everything that is concealed in us before Him, with our entire hearts and entire souls. If we do that He will turn His countenance towards us and will bless us with all His generosity.

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA

Devarim

An atheist’s guide to prayer

Thoughts on parashat Devarim

Menachem Mirski

Prayer is the salient expression of religious emotion and of man’s relationship with God. Presumably every religious person has asked themselves this question: how much prayer do I need in my life and does it make my connection to God stronger? There may be many answers to this question. One analysis may be: I need to make teshuvah, come closer to God and use religion to organize my life because when I let the world rule my life it brought me chaos and suffering and deprived me of meaning. Alternatively one might muse: I need to focus on action, not prayer. I don’t need to spend that much time in the synagogue and I don’t need to pray all the time. I already have learned what I need to know and now it’s time for action!

The Torah portion for this week suggests the latter:

The LORD our God spoke to us at Horeb, saying: You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Start out and make your way to the hill country of the Amorites and to all their neighbors in the Arabah, the hill country, the Shephelah, the Negeb, the seacoast, the land of the Canaanites, and the Lebanon, as far as the Great River, the river Euphrates. See, I place the land at your disposal. Go, take possession of the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to assign to them and to their heirs after them. (Deuteronomy 1:6-8)

The revelation on Sinai is complete. The Israelites have their instructions. Now is the time to go and implement the Divine plan. Notwithstanding, are they commanded to drop spirituality, conquer the land and immerse themselves in practical life exclusively? No, not by a long shot. God will accompany them throughout their mission and beyond. The instructions they received in Sinai clearly state their duties to God, such as obeying his laws, the Sabbath, and making sacrifices to him, etc. Forever, they will be His witnesses and He will be their witness.

It is not uncommon today to hear people explain that they are not religious, but they are ‘enlightened’ or ‘spiritual.’ They explain that they don’t need prayer or even God because, they say, it is enough to ‘live in harmony with the universe,’ thus claiming “the God hypothesis” is redundant. Yes, we all know that prayer alone in life is not enough and that to achieve anything in life action is required. But is prayer really unnecessary? Let’s look at this in practice. Imagine I am up for a promotion at work. I pray to God for it but I also know that my promotion won’t happen without my hard work. So in harmony with my prayers, I work hard to impress my boss. What if I get this promotion? Is it because of God’s blessing or simply a result of my hard work? What if I don’t get the promotion? Was it not God’s will? Taking the argument a step further, if we believe things happen because of God’s will anyway then…. what’s the point of praying? Wouldn’t it better to just work in harmony with the universe and simply reap what we earn?

Let’s consider first two incorrect assumptions about (petitionary) prayer in the argument above. First, the person is incorrectly understanding prayer as a kind of magic, believing that you can influence reality with just words and thoughts and God is just a mere element in the process. Another incorrect assumption is that since we cannot measure the exact impact of the Divine action it doesn’t play any role in the entire process.

Sometimes we indeed have a feeling that we don’t need a prayer to achieve something. The task is clear and everything seems dependent on us. But there are other times where we feel that prayer is a necessary part of the process. In these situations we usually know that the goal we want to achieve is attainable, but at the same time we are aware there may be some obstacles and complications on the way that we will need to overcome. We often don’t know what these obstacles will be and we do know that not everything is dependent on us. That is when we need prayer to ensure us that despite the obstacles, we will achieve the goal.

Now, what about those who don’t believe in a higher power? Why should they pray? It turns out prayer is kind of magical – its superpower lies in its ability to harness the mind. Prayer is a great source of strength and motivation. It’s helpful in getting the right mindset and prioritizing things. By getting into a right mindset and setting priorities properly we avoid procrastination. Prayer prevents us from going astray, from giving up. Prayer continuously ensures us that the goal we want to achieve is worthy and meaningful and all the obstacles we will face will cease to exist and at the end of our journey we won’t even remember them. Prayer, when supported by reason and experience, makes us more cautious, sensitive and prevents us from making obvious mistakes.

Prayer also, amazingly, stimulates self-reflection: why didn’t I achieve this or that? It is often the case that the reasons for which I haven’t achieved something were in fact in me, not in the universe. I thought that the universe conspired against me, but after some time I realized that the main obstacles were in fact in me: in my habits, in my behavior, in my wrong priorities, bad time management, in my hierarchy of values, in the choice of pleasures that I pursued, in my erroneous thinking, in my arrogance, in my lack of faith, in my laziness or ignorance. This life wisdom I achieved was and is facilitated through prayer. Regular prayer helps to eliminate the obstacles within ourselves, obstacles that are often more relevant than the objective challenges that we face. In the context of prayer we also ask ourselves questions about what we have achieved and what we want to achieve. These are important questions at any stage of life and they are questions that should be pondered regularly. Quite simply regular prayer promotes this type of internal analysis.

Prayer also helps tremendously when we experience failure. When this connection is supported by reason and experience it will enlighten the reasons of your failure. You can discover the meaning behind the failure.

Finally, and above all prayer connects you with God and to a moral system around which you orbit. This connection tells you that your life and your goals are not only about you.

By praying we learn to control our internal, spiritual life. Control of our inner life is essential to having true control over our lives in general and the circumstances in which we live. Often things that happen ‘to us’ are, in fact, a combination of both independent objective circumstances and our reactions to them. The more considerable and meaningful are our responses, the more power we gain over the circumstances and their outcome. In this way we expand the borders of our freedom. Through prayer we can come to understand the complexities of the situations we are faced and the positive and negative consequences that ensue.

 

It was a lack of faith and close contact with God that delayed the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land by 40 years. Thus any call to action should be understood as a call to action with prayer. Sincere prayer improves the quality of our actions and our experience. And every prayer is heard, one way or another.

 

Shabbat shalom!

Menachem Mirski- student rabinacki w Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, USA