Parashat Yitro

Parashat Yitro – פרשת יתרו

Shmot 18:1-20:23

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and the Rabbi of the „Shirat ha-Jam” congregation in Haifa.

Does human behavior depend on one’s nationality? One’s character, thinking and feeling, wisdom – do they depend on one’s ethnic background or religion?

This week, as we read Parasha Yitro, we are in one of the most important Shabbats in terms of Torah reading. After about ten weeks from their liberation, the Israelites have set up a camp in front of a holy mountain. The exodus from Egypt represents the physical birth of Israel as a nation, but the spiritual meaning of its existence is supposed to be defined exactly here – at Mount Sinai. Without the revelation and the covenant Israel would not differ in any way from other nations; it is exactly thanks to them that the Israelites will become a goy kadosh – a holy people. It’s worth emphasizing that the covenant will be made not only with those present at that moment,  but   “both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Eternal, our God and with those who are not with us here this day.”, which means even with the yet unknown descendants of those who witnessed it. (Dvarim 29:14).

The scene looks very dramatic: thunders, lightning, clouds of smoke and fire, the sound of the shofar sounding louder and louder. The Midrash describes the giving of the Torah as a mysterious and powerful event. In the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 88A it says that God forced the people of Israel to accept the Torah on Mount Sinai:

„Va-itjacvu be-tachtit ha-har” – “they took their places at the foot of the mountain” (Shemot 19:17). Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa said: the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain, and the verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial.

We can find a similar story about a “mountain hanging over the Israelites” in Tractate Avoda Zara 2B. The story’s background is a question about other nations of the world and their right to accept the Torah. According to the Talmud God had already offered to give the Torah to other nations earlier, but they didn’t want it. So, when He came to the Israelites:

 “…the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial”

That’s what the Midrash says…  Whether we believe these words or not, in our parasha the Israelites will become “chosen among all nations(Shmot 19:5). The promise of a special chosenness will be the key factor in Jewish life for thousands of years. It is exactly in parasha Yitro where the culmination point of the Book of Shmot takes place – God is revealed to the people of Israel. God reveals the fundamental rules of the Torah which we call the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue.

Why is such an important Parasha named after a goy – a Midianite priest? Who was this man? Why did he come? From where and for what purpose?

Rabbi Gil Nativ, Phd, believes that according to the traditional rule the name of this week’s Parasha should be “Vaishma”, after its first meaningful word:

 „and Yitro heard…” (Shmot 18:1).

Just like Parashot Vayetze and Vayishlach in the book of Bereshit and  Vaikra at the beginning of the book of Vaikra, Vayelech in the Book of Devarim. Each of these names is a past tense verb in the third person singular. Nonetheless, our tradition preferred to name this Parasha after  Mose’s father-in-law – Yitro.

The Torah portrays him as a man of strong religious beliefs, hospitality and wisdom. It was him who gave shelter to a refugee from Egypt and gave him his daughter Tzipora as a wife. During the meeting Moshe told his father-in-law everything that God had done to the Pharaoe and the Egyptians and how God had liberated his nation. Yitro rejoiced after hearing that and made offerings to the God of Israel!

Yitro gave Moshe wise advice on how to enforce justice (Shmot 18:19-23), and in a later passage in the Book of Bemidbar he was invited by Moshe to join Israel permanently during the conquering and settlement in Canaan. Although he declined this invitation, he came back to his country as a loyal friend of Israel – he was Israel’s friend from the moment when he became related to Moshe.

Midrash Vajikra Raba 9:3 tells a story about a man who didn’t know the Torah or even how to say a blessing, but he behaved appropriately towards people. This story led to the creation of a Talmudic rule, according to which  “Derech Eretz kadma la-Tora” – appropriate behavior precedes the Torah.

Yitro is a wonderful example of this rule, especially since he is someone who comes from the outside and not from the people of Israel. He appears  before the offering of the Torah to share his wisdom and teach us appropriate behavior. This way the Talmud states loud and clear that it’s possible, and even worthwhile, to learn from persons who are not part of the Jewish people!

Every person deserves respect from others. But often our pride, our prejudices and our fear make us blind. In contemporary times we find ourselves in a multicultural environment on a daily basis. People can be good, people can be bad. But dividing them based on the color of their skin, their ethnic and national background, their religion or lack thereof, sexual orientation, gender, age or disabilities shows a lack of respect towards God Himself, who created everyone in His image and likeness. No person can declare that they’re better than others.

Yitro was not a Jew, and Moses was a refugee. If he spoke Hebrew, he must have certainly had a heavy Egyptian accent.

May there be a will that we learn how to see in front of us first and foremost a human being.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים:

„Blessed are You, o Adonai, our God, who rules the universe, opening the eyes of the blind”. (Siddur, Morning blessings)

Shabbat Shalom!

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinic student at HUC in Jerusalem, 
A Rabbi at the Shirat ha-Yam congregation in Haifa.

Beshalach

The enslaving power of habit and comfort

Thoughts on parashat Beshalach

Menachem Mirski

Tyranny never gives up on its own. With a very few historical exceptions, it has never subsided until it was completely defeated. And there are typically no polite, peaceful, democratic methods to unseat the tyrant. It has to be done in a radical way.

This is one of the lessons from this week’s Torah portion. Pharaoh did not abandon his dream of keeping the Israelites captive until he suffered a final defeat and his armies were sunk into the sea. The Israelites who left slavery have achieved liberty and physical freedom. But they carried with themselves their slave mentality. As long as things were going clearly their way, as long as everything went smoothly, they were happy and content. When the Egyptians suffered their final defeat, drowning in the sea, the Israelites joined Moses in the most joyous and extatic song of praise and gratitude to God:

And when Israel saw the wondrous power which the LORD had wielded against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD; they had faith in the LORD and His servant Moses. Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD. They said:

I will sing to the LORD, for He has triumphed gloriously;

Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea…

(Ex 14:31-15:1)

But the minute they encountered problems, challenges and when things suddenly became difficult – they were immediately willing to give up their freedoms and go back to Egyptian slavery. They conveniently forgot how Egypt had afflicted and tortured them:

The Israelites said to them [Moses and Aaron]: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.” (Ex 16:3)

They immediately forgot the infinite kindness of the Eternal, who redeemed them in the most wondrous way… In their weakness, they were able to think almost only about the here and now; they were able to think about the past and future only very selectively. It looks like their logic was as simple as that: “We don’t have food. Where did we have food? In Egypt. So let’s go back to Egypt.”

That is what the slave mentality about – about being (permanently) powerless and turning to whoever has power at the moment. Mentality of this kind is also about lack of faith, lack of self-respect and short sightenness, but at the core of the slave mentality is weakness, weakness of any kind – physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual. Human beings have a capacity to be slaves in all these realms separately. We can be enslaved physically by people or conditions that overpower us. Then we need to find strength (not necessarily a physical one) to overpower the force that enslaves us. We can be enslaved emotionally, while fully free in other realms, but to live a full life we need to be able to break the yoke of this emotional slavery as well. We can also be enslaved intellectually or spiritually; if that’s the case then our “lower” freedoms don’t matter a lot. Physical freedom is important but it is not enough to make us fully free people; it is not as important as intellectual independence and spiritual freedom. Physical freedom has no meaning and no purpose if it is not guided by free intelect and independent spirit, that is the source of identity, psychological integrity, meaning and purpose. Only then we are able to enjoy all our freedoms and pursue happiness. Thus, the intellectual and spiritual freedoms are in fact the sources of all the “lower” freedoms – the psychological, emotional and physical one. That is why the Israelites needed Moses and his guidance – only a free man, raised among free people, without the slave mentality and victimhood syndrome could have liberated them.

To avoid the intellectual or spiritual enslavement we need to be able to constantly reevaluate our views and ideas, lest we become slaves to them. We do, sometimes, stick to the theories and ideas even if we know they don’t work (for us) anymore. Additionally, just as the Israelites constantly forgot about the true, miserable reality of Egypt, so too we tend to diminish or understate the evils we were once subjected to. I’m sure that many people in Poland heard the phrase “Life was not that bad in the Communist bloc, wasn’t it?” This phenomenon is the result of our innate, psychological tendency to idealize our past, which is usually a helpful adaptation mechanism, although, as it turns out, the effects of this mechanism are not always positive.

Thus, in order to be fully free we need to be able to counter ourselves – to counter our feelings, our views and even to challenge our entire belief system. All of that is necessary to be able to separate the (informational) wheat from the chaff and pursue intellectually meaningful and coherent life in the times of widespread misguidance and confusion.

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.

Miketz

Thoughts on Parashat Miketz

Menachem Mirski

How should we live? On what basis should we make life choices? Should we trust God, ourselves, or maybe other people, for example those from the government? Or maybe we should trust only some people, or for example experts and science and technology?

Of course we can find answers to these questions in the Torah and Rabbinic literature. Last week’s Torah portion ends with the story about Joseph interpreting the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker. According to the prophecies conveyed in both dreams the chief baker will be sentenced to death, whereas the cupbearer will be restored to serving at the Pharaoh’s court. Joseph knows that this will happen, that’s why he asks the cupbearer:

But think of me when all is well with you again, and do me the kindness of mentioning me to Pharaoh, so as to free me from this place. (Gen 40:14)

In this week’s Torah portion we read that Joseph had to wait for two years to get out of jail:

After two years’ time, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, when out of the Nile there came up seven cows, handsome and sturdy, and they grazed in the reed grass. (Gen 41:1-2)

Why is the Torah even mentioning this? Why did 2 years have to pass before the Pharaoh had a dream that only Joseph could explain?

According to Midrash Bereshit Rabbah Joseph had to spend two additional years in prison because the Divine plan for the world and the people of Israel had to be fulfilled. But the Midrash adds one detail: these two years correspond to the two words that Joseph “inadvertently” said to the cupbearer:

But think of me… and [mention me] to Pharaoh… (Gen 40:14)

Joseph was punished because these words show his desperation, and at the same time his lack of faith in the Eternal. Joseph sinned because he did not have trust in the Eternal, but instead he was relying on one, ordinary person (which actually sounds quite rational, considering the possibilities and limitations and the strengths and weaknesses of an average person). Joseph was punished because he was a tzadik, and Adonai medakdek im tzadikim k’chut ha’saara – Adonai is scrupulous with tzaddikim even to a single hair. The essence of being a tzadik is therefore extraordinary scrupulousness and completely  entrusting God with one’s life, in every aspect of one’s life. Everything comes down to fulfilling God’s law and to faith in the Eternal; since everything that happens in our lives comes from Him (including of course various punishments and rewards). But on the other hand in the rabbinical tradition we have a clear doctrine stating that we should never, especially in difficult situations, expect that a “miracle will happen” and we shouldn’t rely on such faith:

A person should never stand in a place of danger saying that they on High will perform a miracle for him, lest in the end they do not perform a miracle for him. And, moreover, even if they do perform a miracle for him, they will deduct it from his merits. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 32a)

So is there a contradiction between these two concepts? No, if we define more precisely what faith in God is. First of all, faith in the Eternal does not come down to believing in miracles. The great majority of paths that God shows us in our lives do not have a miraculous or supernatural character, but are rather completely ordinary and natural. Relying on miracles is perceived as “testing God” and is forbidden:

Do not try the LORD your God, as you did at Massah. (Deuteronomy 6:16)

Actually in Massah the Israelites did try God: while standing in front of the Horab Mountain, waiting for Moses to miraculously retrieve water from the rock for them, they asked:

“Is the Eternal present among us or not?”  (Ex 17:8)

Let’s go back to the questions we asked at the beginning: How should we live? On what basis should we make life choices? Should we trust God, ourselves, or maybe other people, for example those from the government? Or maybe we should trust only some people, or for example experts and science and technology?  Certainly we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket and not leave everything to God, whom we should nonetheless trust. So in each situation we should have a multi-prong approach and have several alternative plans. We should trust both people and ourselves, as well as science and technology, but consider each of them with prudence and necessary critical thinking.

Trusting God entails mainly fulfilling His commandments. And when it comes to our expectations towards Him, then yes, we can expect from God help in every life situation. But we shouldn’t expect that God’s answer will have a miraculous, supernatural character or that it will be exactly as we wish. God usually offers us many different solutions; they are not always what we’d imagined they would be, although they often come close. Joseph trusted one possibility; a possibility that God didn’t actually consider in His plans.

God’s answer can come in different shapes: for example the Eternal gives us wisdom as well as inspiration and motivation to act and He removes the obstacles standing in our way. But in order to access His help and protection, we must open our hearts and minds to the world as widely as possible, so that we can notice everything that the Eternal has planned for us, since everything that happens around us is an element of the Divine plan – usually an element “which is not aware of itself”.

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.

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

Parsha Vayeshev – פרשת וישב

Parsha Vayeshev – פרשת וישב

Bereshit 37:1 – 40:23

 

Miriam Klimova,

Rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and the Rabbi of the „Shirat ha-Jam” congregation in Haifa.

Every person needs hope. Each one of us is searching for light, but the path towards light is not easy.

Parsha Vayeshev opens a cycle of fourteen chapters, out of which all but one describe the lives of Joseph and his brothers. We will accompany them for several decades, during which dramatic changes will take place in the life of each of the protagonists – mental, spiritual, and even geographical changes. For us, their descendants, the stories of the lives of our forefathers are a lesson and an example of good and bad deeds, of wisdom and fear, of action, courage and inaction. They didn’t always know how to reflect on their actions and learn their lessons.

Isaac [loved] Esau… but [Rivka loved] Yaakov. (Bereshit 25:28)

Yet another generation, and the situation repeats itself:

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons… (Bereshit 37:3).

This is an uncomfortable and embarrassing topic, but contemporary psychologists claim that most parents have their “favorite child”. Why was Joseph loved more than others? He was the son of the beloved wife Rachel. He was a beautiful young man – יפה מראה – yafe mar’e – who later will be admired by Potiphar’s wife. Only two persons in the whole Torah have been described as jafe mar’e –  Joseph and his mother Rachel. This is one of the rare instances when the TaNaCh describes the beauty of a man. Maybe his face reminded Yaakov of his first love? Is this why he dresses his son in a colorful tunic? What does it symbolize? Who’d usually wear this kind of garments? We can find the answer to this question in another part of the Tanach. Here is a description of the daughter of king David, Tamar, whose beauty was also extraordinary:

She was wearing an ornamented tunic, for maiden princesses were customarily dressed in such garments.(2 Sam 13:18).

 So Yaakov dresses his son in the clothes of maiden princesses. A special fondness for one child has its consequences. And just because we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t show. Midrash Bereshit Raba (4:3) accuses Joseph of unmanly behavior, and Rashi explains that Joseph didn’t help his brothers support their family, but he cared only about himself and his looks. In our parasha we read how he believed in his superiority and told his brothers about his prophetic dreams about him becoming the feature leader of the family. They reacted by hating him and throwing him in a desert pit devoid of any water: “ve-ha-bor rek mi-maim” ( Bereshit 37, 24). According to a Midrash instead of water in the pit there were snakes and scorpions. By stomping his feet maybe he managed to scare them off, or maybe they squeezed his arms and legs as if with chains, so that he froze with fear. Was this a breakthrough moment in his life? It probably felt as if this moment  lasted for eternity, but Joseph didn’t lose hope that one of his brothers would take pity on him or that some curious passerby would look into the pit, see a man calling for help and save him. Joseph’s eyes were not turned towards the bottom of that pit nor towards the slippery walls that surrounded him, but rather upwards, towards the light, towards the faint glimmer of hope.

Each story and event described in the Bible carries a message for the next generations, otherwise it wouldn’t be mentioned there. Who among us doesn’t want to get out of a “pit”; we all want to free ourselves from our habits, fears, pride, anger, prejudice, hurt, addiction to success… which stop us from being free persons.

But wanting something is not always enough. Joseph was trying to start a new chapter in his life. Everything was going well, but suddenly the beauty of his face again turns into a misfortune. As a result of Potiphar’s wife’s false accusations he gets twelve years in jail. This would be enough for him to break down, but Joseph doesn’t lose hope for the “light at the end of the tunnel”, he doesn’t go back to “his former self”. When he interprets the dreams of Pharaoh, the meaning of which the sages and priests were not able to understand, there is  no trace of pride nor contempt left in him. He humbly says to the Pharaoh: “I am not important, God will give the answer… 

Many people believe that we all have the same personality for our whole life, from the day we’re born and that it will never change. But Joseph’s story conveys a completely different approach – it’s never too late to transform one’s personality, to change into a better human being. Becoming a different person, which is something we dream about, requires from us a lot of hard work, effort, an even a miracle. But Jewish tradition says that a miracle is not something supernatural, but rather a part of our being. Several times a day in the Amidah prayer we repeat that we’re grateful:

„ועל נסיך שבכל יום עמנו, ועל נפלאותיך וטובותיך שבכל עת, ערב ובקר וצהרים”

„ve-al nisecha she-be-chol yom imanu, ve-al nifleotecha ve-tovatecha she-be-chol et, erev va-voker ve-cochoraim” – for Your miracles which are with us daily, and for Your continual wonders and beneficences which are with us at every time, in the evening, in the morning and at noon.

The Festival of Chanukah is almost here. Outside it’s already very dark, but inside our homes the chanukijah will light up with colorful candles. May it be your will… that we always have the ability that Joseph was blessed with – to see the good light, and not the dark corners, to be blessed with this light and to help others find it… May it be your will…. that we don’t renounce hope, even if sometimes it’s hard, that we choose to see the miracles which are with us daily, „erev va-voker ve-cochoraim”. Shabbat Shalom!

 

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem and the Rabbi of the „Shirat ha-Jam” congregation in Haifa.

Vayishlach

Don’t worry, nothing is really happening

Thoughts on parashat Vayishlach

Menachem Mirski

Worry is psychologically consuming. Fear of the unknown may lead us to many irrational actions and reactions, some of which may hurt us or keep us in a mindset that limits us emotionally and intellectually, not allowing us to function normally and efficiently.

In this week’s parsha Jacob returns to Erec Israel after his 20-year stay at Laban’s in Charan. He prepares to meet with Esau at Seir, in Edom. He sends messengers to Esau in hope of a reconciliation. The messengers return to Jacob with a following message:

“We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” (Gen 32:7)

The news frightens Jacob greatly:

[…] in his anxiety, he divided the people with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, the other camp may yet escape.” (Gen 32:8-9)

Jacob prepares for war. He prays, he sends Esau a large gift (consisting of hundreds of heads of livestock) to appease him. At some point, after crossing the ford of Jabbok, he is left alone and wrestles with an angel:

And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven  with  beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Gen 32:26-29)

According to the rabbis, the man/angel sent by God was a spiritual representation of Esau. He was sent to empower Jacob spiritually and to convince him that the meeting with Esau will be a success for both of them. However, even the fact of overcoming God Himself did not make Jacob calm. Just before meeting his brother, he reorganizes his retinue to possibly save those he loved the most:

He divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maids, putting the maids and their children first, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. (Gen 33:1-2)

But ultimately all this fear and panic turns out to be something completely futile because:

Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept. Looking about, he saw the women and the children. “Who,” he asked, “are these with you?” He answered, “The children with whom God has favored your servant.”

Jacob didn’t see Esau for more than 20 years and the last memory he had about him was that Esau promised to kill him. His fears were somewhat right and justified, but it seems that they determined his inner life too much. For example, the not entirely clear message he received from his envoys, was interpreted by him unambiguously negatively, as a direct threat to his and his family’s life. His own sense of guilt might have played some role in all of that. Obviously, based on the past behavior of Esav, Jacob’s fears seemed legitimate but because many years had passed since that time they were, in fact, only “theoretically legitimate”.

And that’s the point, that’s the major issue here. Everything Jacob did preparing himself to meet with his brother was based on speculation. He did not have a chance to verify his presumptions prior to the meeting, when he ultimately confronted them with reality. He was “in his bubble”, to use a contemporary colloquialism, and got stuck in it.

Experiences of that kind are becoming more and more common today, in the digital era. People become anxious, insecure and sometimes even terrified solely on the basis of supposedly true and rational information, which they themselves are unable to confront with reality. More and more people are afraid of things our grandparents would not treat seriously even for a second. Fear is commonly used as a tool to “divide and conquer” by various political demagogues, tyrannical governments and, unfortunately, various powerful media machines in the “democratic, free world”. There are people in this world, quite powerful, who want us to live in fear or to be constantly caught up in problems that are not really relevant. Population that is afraid or confused is much easier to control and manipulate. Information disseminated to the general public is often framed in the way to achieve that goal.

People today are often too preoccupied with their feelings, thoughts, as well as with not particularly real issues. They escalate in their minds everything they feel strongly about. Being worried all the time about “things that might happen” is psychologically damaging and detaches us from reality. It is similar to materialism and being caught up in buying things we don’t really need. It’s like chasing the wind. None of this makes any sense. From our individual, everyday perspective none of what happens on facebook or any other social media platform ultimately matters.

There is also no point in worrying about things that we know will eventually happen to us, such as old age and the diseases that will affect us then. “There is no point in experiencing now, in your imagination, the suffering that is to come in the future” – as the Polish philosopher, Tadeusz Kotarbiński, wrote.

The best way to end our fears and internal struggles is to confront our fears with reality. If we are unable to do so at the moment then prayer, studying Torah and other spiritual practices can help us to maintain the balance and to keep us sane and reasonable. If you are currently worried about something, try to remember your past worries that have never been substantiated. None of them ultimately mattered, right? At the end everything was perfectly fine. It will be so also this time.

 

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.

Chajej Sara (Bereszit 23:1 – 25:18)

Chajej Sara

(Bereszit 23:1 – 25:18)

Miriam Klimova

She was beautiful; jealous of her husband; she wanted to have her own place under the sun. She agreed to give up a peaceful, routine life in comfortable conditions for the dangers of a nomadic life with her beloved husband, who said that he talks with God. She was a mother who wanted the best for her child, and for his good she was even ready to act with cruelty.

” Now Sarah lived one hundred and twentyseven years…(Bereshit 23:1).

Why is the parsha called “Sarah’s life” rather than “Sarah’s death”? The name “Chayei Sarah” refers to the time when she lived, but the parsha describes only events after her death.

“Of the dead nothing but good is to be said”, but the tradition of learning and commenting the Torah tells us to disregard this rule, since it’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes. She wasn’t really a perfect woman. In the situation with Hagar and Ishmael she said to Avraham: „Throw out this slave and her son, for the son of this slave will not inherit along with my son Itzhak„. We could try to explain her position. In the future this decision was supposed to prevent a fight over inheritance between Ishmael and Itzhak. But let’s look at this situation with more empathy. After all they lived near a desert!  Sending a woman and a child to the dry areas around Beer Sheva was basically a death sentence. Why not send them to some distant relatives. Not on foot of course, but on camels in the company of some household members. Avraham himself keeps quiet and fulfills his wife’s will, he sends away Hagar and his first-born son, giving them only bread and water for the road.

If in the case of “sacrificing Hagar and Ishmael” God ordered Avraham to listen to Sarah, then in the story of sacrificing Itzhak which we read in the previous parsha no one asks for her opinion. Fate turns against Sarah. The same father who sent his older son along with his mother to the desert, now takes also Sarah’s only son, for whom she waited for so long and whom she loved more than life itself. Did you ever wonder what she felt that day? Did she get out of bed? Was she able to eat? Did she cry? Scream? What thoughts were running through her head: “What did I do, what did I do!”?

There are many different meanings hidden in these lines. A Midrash  (Bereshit Raba 56, 8) reinterprets the Torah’s words and says that it only seems to Avraham that God expects him to sacrifice his son. Avraham actually didn’t understand what God was asking him to do:

 “The Holy One,  blessed be His name, told him: “Avraham… I didn’t say “kill him” [shechatehu], I told you “elevate him!” [haalehu]”. You lifted him up and you tied him to the altar, and now bring him down again!”.

The world play with  עָלָה  [alah], which has several meanings – to elevate, lift up, bring up a sacrifice – lets the Midrash suggest that Avraham’s trial was both successful and unsuccessful. Avraham proves that he is a man of faith, but he fails, because it turns out that his understanding of God’s nature is incorrect.

This story gives us a paradoxical lesson about life. It tells us that true faith is when someone is ready to sacrifice that which is most precious to them: their own life and their children’s lives. But at the same time God commands us: [u-vacharta ba-chayim] „Choose life”! (Devarim 30:19).

Could Sarah look her husband in the eyes again after they came back?  How could she trust him. Did he even love her? On the one hand this is a normal question, but on the other hand – it’s too anachronistic. After all we’re  talking about a time when a woman was viewed in a sense as an object which can be taken or purchased. Sometimes the one making the purchase wasn’t even the fiancee himself, as we read in our parsha, when Avraham sends his slave Eliezer to find a wife for Itzhak. It looks as though in Biblical times love was not the basis of marriage. However, this statement is not completely accurate. The Torah states that Itzhak started to love Rivka, after they were married of course, but still…. Itzhak is the only one among the forefathers who didn’t take neither a second wife nor a concubine. This shows his faithfulness, which is one of the most important elements of family life.  

Parsha “Chayei Sarah” marks the end of a certain era: the period of Abraham’s and Sarah’s life ends and it opens the chapter of Itzhak’s and Rivka’s life, the era of sons, of successors. Avraham was a man of faith, sometimes blind, he was a dreamer who created something new. Itzhak’s task is to go further, to continue his father’s ideas. Most of the time he is passive, he walks straight on his path, he doesn’t stray neither to the left nor to the right. Which isn’t actually surprising, that’s how he was brought up, these were his parents’ expectations. How should a transition from one era to the next one look like? What should a successor be like? Today’s generation is focused predominantly on self-fulfillment, finding themselves and their own abilities. But it’s worth remembering that it’s no less important that we find worthy successors who will be able to continue the path that we’ve set out, but who at the same time should be free from our expectations and their own harsh destiny.

None of the protagonists of the book of Bereshit is perfect, and neither are we. The main conclusions that we draw from it are the fundamental ideas regarding the essence of human beings, the relationship between man and God and between two persons.

The Torah – “it is not in heaven” (Devarim 30:12, Bava Mecia 59b) and it shouldn’t be treated as a history or biology handbook. The stories and events we read about in the Torah will never lose their relevance, because in the layers of symbols and allegories deep meanings, morality and wisdom are hidden, whose aim is to educate and protect our society.

May there be a will…. for us to learn from the successes and well-being as well as from the mistakes and weaknesses of our foremothers and forfathers. May we be worthy successors of the good that was inside them. May we pay attention to the people who surround us, may we open our hearts, eyes and ears to see and hear their cries and tears. May our faith never be blind, so that every day we can “choose life” anew!”.

Shabbat Shalom!

Miriam Klimova,
Rabbinic student at HUC in Jerusalem, 
A Rabbi at the Shirat ha-Yam congregation in Haifa.

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

Thoughts on Parashat Vayera

A Clash With the Divine Reality of Eternal Transformation

Thoughts on Parashat Vayera

Menachem Mirski

Since human interests have an inherent tendency to come into conflict, no society can exist without laws and law-enforcement institutions. Thanks to laws which regulate interpersonal relations and their efficient enforcement an organized and peaceful societal life is possible, which in turn contributes to the development of that society – if the law is well-considered, wise and effective.

However, there are boundary situations in our lives when all the laws – or, to be more precise: almost all or their vast majority – are suspended. According to our tradition that suspension of laws occurs in life and death situations. To save human life (pikuach nefesh – literally watching over a soul) all existing moral laws can be suspended with the exception of three prohibitions: against murdering, immoral sexual relations (gilui arajot) and idolatry. And if someone’s close one dies, the mourner is not only exempted from a number of religious and secular duties, but some of them are explicitly forbidden (such as paid work – for at least 3 days, depending on the person’s financial status, or for example the study of Torah, which by definition is a joyful act).

So it seems that in Judaism the suspension of certain or almost all laws applies to situations which are – according to tradition – decided by God. God is the One who gives life and the One who takes it away; the One who interferes to save it and the One who seems to keep silent in the face of doomsday events on Earth. We have a similar situation, which leads to the suspension of certain moral laws, in the case of Akedah, i.e. the story of the Binding of Itzchak, which we read in our Torah portion for this week:

Some time afterward, God put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.” And He said, “Take your son, your favored one, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the heights that I will point out to you. (Gen 22:1-2)

As we know, there is an enormous amount of interpretations of this story, both within and outside the Jewish tradition. But we won’t be mentioning them here. I propose, quite reasonably, that we view Abraham’s and Itzchak’s situation as an example of those boundary situations, life and death situations, in which everything is decided by God. God is an endless potential for the world’s transformation. Since in one instance He can decide about the shape of the whole world, He can also decide to suspend its laws, which are secondary to the real world – they either describe it or they normalize it.

Considering that the most fundamental moral law – You shall not murder – is being suspended in the story of the Binding of Itzchak, we can rightly believe that all moral laws are being suspended here. In such a case the only law is the will of God Himself. God decides to put Abraham in this reality and this is what this test is about.

In our story God is disagreeing with Himself – at first he makes one decision (to sacrifice Itzchak), only to “change His mind” shortly after and save Itzchak from death. God puts Abraham in this situation on purpose to test his reaction. As we already know from the same parasha, Abraham is capable of arguing with God (the negotiations regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen 18:20-33). In this new situation God is checking if Abraham is also capable of being completely obedient to Him. Abraham passes this test (although unfortunately at the cost of his son’s psychological trauma) and God views him as a righteous one, and therefore worthy of being “the father of nations”.

Abraham’s trial is a test if he can fully embody God’s will, even if it’s incomprehensible. So not only are all the laws and ethics suspended here, but human reason as well. Abraham was capable of doing all this for the sake of carrying out God’s will, but that’s not all. In a sense this was only the beginning. An experience of a close one’s death, the nearness of a close one’s death or the nearness of one’s own death permanently changes our character. These are events which orient us in our lives. They ultimately teach us what is truly important, what is truly essential in life, and what is only an illusion, devoid of any meaning. They polarize us morally. That’s the baggage that Abraham came out with from this experience. Laws, both natural and moral ones, are secondary to Divine reality and are dependent on it. God is an endless potential for the world’s transformation. Abraham clashed with that endless, Divine reality of transformation and survived that clash by fully devoting himself to it. Until the very end he didn’t know if he’d ultimately become the father of the nations or not. At the end Itzchak was given to him once again, so the Divine promise has been fulfilled twice and the world has followed the path planned by God.

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.

Translated from Polish by: Marzena Szymańska-Błotnicka

Technology and Upbringing

Technology and Upbringing

Thoughts on Parashat Bereishit

Menachem Mirski

God made a world that is good but unfinished. He left his work to be completed by us people, or rather to be constantly completed in the context of changes taking place in the world. There are basically two ways of creating / changing / completing the world around us within our human capabilities: through technology, its development and application, and through the upbringing of subsequent generations.

These two ways of changing the world have always been related in some way. The invention of writing made it possible to pass on knowledge and experience to future generations. The invention of printing caused a real revolution in education and greatly increased the possibilities of its popularization. Today, however, both these areas of human creative activity in the world have become extremely close. Because technology has absolutely permeated all areas and aspects of our lives, never before has it had such a huge impact on upbringing and education, and thus on the formation of human beings.

Apart from their undoubted, revolutionary benefits technology brought to the human world, there are also enormous dangers in bringing these two mentioned areas closer together. Some vivid examples of how technology can negatively affect the formation of human beings are to be found in works of Dr Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, author of over 120 scientific publications and the books Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic.

In her latest book, iGen, the author focuses on the changes that have been made by the latest technological advances of our time: smartphones and social media. Using extensive research, insightful interviews and in-depth analysis of data collected from over 11 million respondents over several decades, Twenge shows that the uniqueness of the iGen generation is reflected in the way they spend their time, behave, and finally in their unique attitude to religion, sexuality and politics. These transformations, however, related to the total domination of life by smartphones, negatively affect every sphere of teenagers’ lives, from social interactions to mental health.

Social media and texting have largely displaced other forms of recreation and communication – an iGen spends less time with friends and family, resulting in levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness never seen in young people before. In fact, the statistics are alarming, to say the least.

The research done three years ago on young instagram users (and similar results have been known in academic research on this topic for many years) proved that the longer a teen girl spends on social media the more likely she is to be depressed or to engage in behaviors like self-harming, cutting etc. The suicide rate has doubled among children aged 10-14 since 2007 and quadrupled for girls in that age group right, as social media became more and more popular… There are lots of children who are 12 years old and younger on those platforms even though they are not supposed to be there. For example, facebook consistently doesn’t enforce that age limit, partly because no one makes them enforce it. The social-media companies are getting away without pretty much any regulation while other things that hurt children are very carefully regulated. The big-tech and social media companies are making billions of our children, wrecking their lives to the extent that they kill themselves… and nobody is actually paying attention to it.

The recent research has proven that every major indicator of mental health among teens – depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal tendencies – started to escalate right at the time smartphones were introduced and when they became popular around 2012. Teens’ lives fundamentally shifted at that time: they stopped spending as much time with each other in person and started communicating online through platforms like instagram. Being in the bedroom all the time on your smartphone as opposed to actually being with other people – that is a very poor recipe for mental health.

Whether it is all exclusively about social media or not, it is definitely a part of a more complex problem involving a complete change of the regular, ‘normal’ way of life. It absolutely has to do with the disappearance of traditional social values, like devotion to live in the human community, so much cherished in the Jewish tradition. All these traditional values are constantly forgotten in the world of immediate gratification and overstimulation of senses our children are constantly exposed to.

The long-term consequences of this situation are difficult to predict, but they are likely to be permanent. Destruction of the human world starts from the destruction of young, vulnerable people. One of the foundations of the rise and success of Nazism was the tragedy of young people, especially men, forcibly drawn to the fronts of World War I. It instilled a resentment in their young minds and largely determined who they backed politically as adult men two decades later.

The LORD saw how great was man’s wickedness on earth, and how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time. And the LORD regretted that He had made man on earth, and His heart was saddened. The LORD said, “I will blot out from the earth the men whom I created—men together with beasts, creeping things, and birds of the sky; for I regret that I made them.” (Gen 6:5-7)

Contemporary technology is less and less “just a tool that can be used for good to bad purposes.” Its impact on our lives is deeper and much more often beyond our individual control. Of course, the evil that mankind can do to itself through the uncontrolled influence of technology in shaping young human beings may not be of “biblical dimensions”: God ultimately promised that He would not bring a flood-sized catastrophe to the earth any more (Gen 8:20-22). But in humanity as such and the institutions it creates, there is still a dormant potential for evil of “biblical dimensions”, as the 20th century painfully convinced us of. So let us be attentive, understanding, foreseeable and responsible for how the genius of “our generation” affects the development and condition of the young generation that grows among us, because the direction in which they will go determines the direction of the development of the whole world.

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.