Sh’lach

Be careful what you wish for, it might come true

Thoughts on parashat Sh’lach

Menachem Mirski

Our Torah portion for this week tells us a story of 12 spies sent by Moses to investigate the Promised land before conquering it. They return forty days later, carrying a huge cluster of grapes, a pomegranate and a fig, to report on a lush and bountiful land. But ten of the spies warn that the inhabitants of the land are giants and warriors “more powerful than we”; only Caleb and Joshua insist that the land can be conquered, as it was commanded by God.

Our rabbis analyzed this story from many perspectives. One of the issues they were particularly focused on can be expressed in the following questions: What was the sin of the spies who were sent to investigate the promised land? What did the spies do so dreadfully wrong that it brought the punishment of additional forty years of life on the desert for all the Israelites, making many of them never see the Promised land? One of the answers suggested by our rabbis is that they presented their biased opinion about the land and the possibility of conquering it instead of giving a relatively unbiased factual account on what the Promised land was like. According to Ramban, their goal was to gather the information about the land mainly for logistic purposes, to be able to develop a good strategy to conquer it; this, according to Rashi, is expressed in the name of the parasha shelach lecha – “send out (the spies) for yourself”. But none of that happened and it even seems that these ten spies were on the side of all the complainers among the Israelites who constantly murmured against Moses and God and wanted to come back to Egypt. They did not really go to investigate the land; they went there to collect the information that would prove their narrative, to use contemporary language.

What can we learn from it? The ten Israelite spies who lacked faith in God deemed the Promised land impossible to conquer. The remaining two, Joshua and Caleb, who had faith in God help were way more positive about the land and the ability to conquer it, although they admitted that the Divine help is necessary:

And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, of those who had scouted the land, rent their clothes and exhorted the whole Israelite community: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If pleased with us, יהוה will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against יהוה. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but יהוה is with us. Have no fear of them! (Numbers 14:6-9)

The entire story can serve as an illustration of the 20th century proven epistemological view that our perception of the world (and ourselves) is dependent on our previously acquired knowledge about the world. In other words, we perceive and interpret everything that is around us (and within us, like our identity) in terms of what we have already learned, what we already believe about reality, through the entire cognitive apparatus that is the core structure of our knowledge and our belief system. This cognitive apparatus might be an adequate tool with an adequate language to describe reality; it might be a less adequate or completely inadequate tool for comprehending reality, and therefore a serious obstacle to our perception and ability to process information. It’s not a new concept. The idea that the human subject plays an active role in comprehending reality, was already developed in the writings of philosophers such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and some versions of it can already be found in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers. However, this knowledge/belief based determination of our perception and cognitive abilities, contrary to the opinions of some postmodern thinkers, does not create an absolute obstacle in our cognition would make it impossible for us to know the objective truths of the universe. We have already learned how to overcome these obstacles; much of what we call the methodology of science is about overcoming various cognitive limitations, including these ones. Generally speaking, scientific methodology has been very successful in this matter and it is important to mention this because some postmodern concepts completely blurred  the distinctions between science and pseudoscience, opening a path to the reign of ignorance, cognitive nihilism, bringing and perpetuating a variety of cognitive delusions.

Our perception is then determined by our knowledge and beliefs. All of that, in turn, influences our actions. What we believe to be true can have a tremendous impact on our actions and therefore on our fate. But fortunately our beliefs can usually be verified in practical life; therefore, whatever we do we should reflect on (practical) consequences of our beliefs and constantly ask ourselves questions like these: what my beliefs led me to? Do they make me happy? How do they influence my relationships with other people, including my loved ones? How do they influence my career? Are they helpful in achieving my life goals? Is there something I need to correct in my belief system? How, in fact, did I get to believe this and that? An so on.

Getting things wrong can have a bad impact on us; some consequences of our beliefs might be terrible for us, equally bad to those the Israelities faced in our biblical story. The only remedy for that is a prudent, reflective life in which we are able to critically look at our beliefs, even the most fundamental ones, and subject them to re-evaluation. Only this can ultimately save us from many things we never want to experience.

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.

 

Thoughts on Pesach 5782

Leave Behind

Thoughts on Pesach 5782

Menachem Mirski

This Friday at sunset we will mark the beginning not only of Shabbat, but also the festival of Pesach, which is one of the main pillars of our religious experience and our identity. Passover is a festival of freedom and joy, but also of certain duties and necessary sacrifices which are supposed to shape us psychologically so that we become conscious “owners of freedom”:

The Egyptians urged the people on, impatient to have them leave the country, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls wrapped in their cloaks upon their shoulders… Moreover, a mixed multitude went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had taken out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay; nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves. (Ex 12:33-34;38-39)

The above story is the source of a law according to which during Pesach we don’t eat not only leavened bread, but also any kind of products containing chametz, i.e. made based on the leaven of five grains: rye, wheat, spelt, oat and barley, or containing even trace amounts of them, if the process of their production could have led to the creation of leaven. Not only eating, but also owning these products on Pesach is forbidden.

Sometimes it is generally said that we do all this to commemorate those events; but this statement is not correct, since this tradition is based on a “stronger” rabbinical rule expressed in the Mishna (Pesachim 10:5): “In each and every generation a person must view himself as though he personally left Egypt, as it is stated: ‘And you shall tell your son on that day, saying: It is because of this which the Lord did for me when I came forth out of Egypt’ (Exodus 13:8)”. This rabbinical rule is almost ordering us to “embody” the fact of leaving Egypt, so that we never go back there again and so that once and for all we can remain free people, which in the human world has always been and still remains a challenge, often an uneasy challenge.

That’s among others the reason why our tradition abounds in rituals and laws helping us “embody” the experience of the exodus from Egypt. Some of them are laws regarding chametz:

When one searches for chametz on the night of the fourteenth or the day of the fourteenth [of the month of Nissan] or in the middle of the festival, he should recite the blessing before he begins to search: Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us about destruction of chametz. And he searches and seeks [it] in all of the places into which we introduce chametz, as we have explained. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Leavened and Unleavened Bread 3:6)

And he searches and seeks [it] in all of the places into which we introduce chametz…– such a search can be very time consuming or actually never ending, if someone treats this matter very meticulously. So we don’t become obsessed over this, the Rabbis decided that there must be a rule limiting the practice of searching and getting rid of the chametz:

And when he finishes searching – if he searched on the night of the fourteenth or on the day of the fourteenth [Nissan] before the sixth hour, he must nullify all of the chametz that remained in his possession and that he does not see. And he should say, “All the chametz that is in my possession that I have not seen – behold it is like dust.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Leavened and Unleavened Bread 3:7)

Therefore we are obliged to end the search for the chametz at a certain point and recognize that we’ve done everything in our power and seal this with the above mentioned statement. In my opinion what’s very important here is that we should use such “limiting rules” not only with regards to chametz, but also many other areas of our lives. Let us then engage in an intellectual experiment and let’s consider that chametz is: a burden, a problem, a hardship, a yoke or – a weakness or addiction. All such things are obstacles limiting our freedom. We should be always eliminating them from our lives. In many cases we should be as meticulous as with the searching for and destruction of chametz, otherwise the problems and burdens will quickly come back to us. But here we also need a “limiting rule”, so that we don’t become obsessed with fighting against all these things, since this can yield contrary to expected effects. For example focusing obsessively on one’s own weaknesses or an exaggerated search for evil in everything that surrounds us, even if the motivation behind it is positive, doesn’t make our life better. At a certain point while fighting against such things we must simply recognize that we’ve done a lot, that we’ve done all that was in our power, seal it with a blessing, leave those burdens and weaknesses behind us and keep on living our lives, not letting ourselves be determined by something we have already largely overcome, yet not completely.

Shabbat shalom,

Chag Pesach Sameach!

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

Neal Brostoff: Polish Jewish Art Music

Beit Polska and Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland present a new series

Freighted Legacies: The Culture and History of Jewish Interactions in Poland

Neal Brostoff:  Polish Jewish Art Music

Klezmer music has dominated the conversations about the post-communist Jewish culture renaissance in Poland.

However, creative activity in art music (classical music) has its own proud history, beginning with the virtuoso pianist and composer Maria Szymanowska in the late 18th century We will listen to one of her nocturnes, which strongly influenced Frederic Chopin’s compositional style. The webinar will offer an overview of primarily 20th century music of the Polish-Jewish experience, including the work of Krzysztof Penderecki (not Jewish) whose powerful Kaddish Oratorio concludes with the version of the Kaddish prayer sung at the High Holydays morning services. Szymon Laks survived Auschwitz, where he conducted the inmates’ orchestra. We will learn about his haunting art song on the poem of Antoni Slonimski, Elegy for the Lost Jewish Villages.

The program’s presenter, Neal Brostoff, taught courses in Jewish and Israeli music history and Jewish music  performance in UCLA’s Departments of Ethnomusicology and Musicology from 2011 to 2016. Mr. Brostoff has also served as the music programs coordinator for the Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA. He has taught Jewish music courses at Loyola Marymount University and at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. In his professional career, Mr. Brostoff has produced Jewish music concerts and festivals and has lectured on Jewish music topics. He has also served as director of cultural affairs for the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles and as a music specialist at the Skirball Cultural Center. Active as a cantorial accompanist and choir director, Mr. Brostoff served congregations Adat Ari El and Temple Aliyah in Los Angeles from 1971 to 2007. He holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in music from Mount St. Mary’s College and California State University, Fullerton.

 

********************************************************************
LINKS:
FREIGHTED LEGACIES
THE CULTURE AND HISTORY OF JEWISH INTERACTIONS IN POLAND
https://www.jewishrenewalinpoland.com/freighted-legacies/

 

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Shemini

Things we deserved and things we didn’t deserve

Thoughts on parashat Shemini

Menachem Mirski 

Does everything (bad) that happens to us happen for a reason? If so, where should we look for answers? In theology, science or our moral conduct as individuals or groups? The Torah portion for this week brings up this topic. On the eighth day, following the seven days of their inauguration, Aaron and his sons begin to officiate as kohanim (priests); a fire comes down from God to consume the offerings on the altar, and the divine presence comes to dwell in the Sanctuary. Aaron’s two elder sons, Nadav and Avihu, offer a “foreign fire before God” and die before God. Aaron is silent in face of this tragedy. Moses and Aaron subsequently disagree as to a point of law regarding the offerings, but Moses concedes to Aaron that Aaron is in the right.

The reason that Nadav and Avihu died is mentioned in theTorah:

And the sons of Aharon took each his censer, and they put in them incense. And they offered before יהוה foreign fire which He had not commanded them.

(Leviticus 10:1)

Yet the Sages and the midrashim give numerous reasons and explanations as to what their sin was and why they died. Some commentators praise Aharon’s sons and consider them as exceptional people: the sons meant what they did for the best and did more than they were commanded. But they were punished because no man has the right to do more or less in the Divine service than he was commanded. Other commentators find serious faults in the actions of Aharon’s sons. Some claim that they showed disrespect for the Mishkan and the Divine service, for example, that they entered the Mishkan wearing the robes of a regular Kohen rather than those of a Kohen Gadol; they had previously imbibed wine; they offered a sacrifice which they had not been commanded to bring. There are also commentators who accuse them of improper behavior which discredited their priesthood: that they were arrogant and did not take wives because of their conceit, for they felt that no other family was as distinguished as theirs, and they did not have children; that they were not friendly to one another; they wanted to determine the halachah in the presence of their Rebbi (Moshe), or, they awaited the death of Moshe and Aharon, so that they could take over the leadership of the nation.

The list of reasons for their sudden death goes on and on. Thus, it is legitimate to ask why the Rabbis were not satisfied with the simple answer given by the Torah and had to bring all of the other reasons. The answer to that question lies in the two fundamental theological assumptions of rabbinic thinking with regard to theodicy: 1) Everything bad that happens to the (Jewish) people can be and generally should be seen as Divine punishment; 2) The rabbinic mind has always been sensitive to injustice, and consequently, to any sort of incommensurability of the Divine punishment. The first assumption actually belongs to the oldest strata of biblical theology and theodicy: God is always just and every suffering/injustice comes from human sin/error. It’s not the only theodicy in Judaism; other answers to the problem of evil, including various concepts of unjustified suffering, had been successively developed starting from the late Second Temple period. But the idea that every misfortune and suffering is a result of human and not Divine action marks the rabbinic mind definitely until Holocaust and to some extent even until today. Thus, regarding the second assumption, the Rabbis, seeing the disproportion of the punishment, had no other choice than to come up with a variety of reasons for it.

Whether it is right to see everything that happens to us through the lens of Divine reward/punishment is a very extensive topic. To see everything that way is more “faith oriented”, so to say, whereas to admit that there is undeserved pain and suffering seems to be more “reason oriented”. Both approaches have their pros and cons. To see everything through the lens of Divine punishment can be for us, and often is, a driving force to be more moral, more careful, more observant, namely, to be conscious of our own responsibilities. To admit that there is an undeserved pain and suffering opens our eyes and minds to everything we have no influence on and it often helps us deal with our feelings of guilt.

All that is particularly relevant in our political judgments today. There are always things we, as individuals, communities or nations could have done better. But there are also the things we had no influence on, even though we could sense long before that they would determine our fate in a way we would want to avoid. Let’s apply this to the current situation of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people: this country has a long record of corrupt governments and social injustices stemming from it. Had they done better in this matter, as a nation and society, their position right now would have probably been better. Even their president, Zelensky, with my entire sympathy and admiration towards him, committed several mistakes, like those in his speech in Knesset a few days ago: his comparisons of the present situation of Ukraine to the Holocaust, as well as his claims about the role of Ukrainians in saving Jews during that time, were very inaccurate. But none of what the Ukrainians and their leadership did or didn’t do in recent decades makes them deserve Putin’s Russia aggression. What the Ukrainian people absolutely deserve is greater support from the West, in every politically doable matter. But on the other hand, this fact should not make us blind to the difficult and painful events that took place in the course of Polish-Jewish-Ukrainian history. It’s not necessary to talk about these events right now but it’s also unnecessary to idealize the victims in order to help them to bring peace and justice.

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.

Eliyana Adler „Survival on the Margins”

Beit Polska and Friends of Jewish Renewal in Poland present a new series

Freighted Legacies: The Culture and History of Jewish Interactions in Poland

Eliyana Adler „Survival on the Margins: Polish Jewish Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Union”

The implementation of the August 1939 accord between Germany and the Soviet Union (Molotov-Ribbentrop) erased Poland. The Jews in the Soviet controlled sector of the former Poland, many of whom fled eastward or were deported by Soviet authorities or simply exiled to vast howling regions found a paradoxical refuge. They were at a far remove from unfolding persecutions and murders the Germans planed. The narrative about the fate of the 200,000 Polish Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union remained peripheral to the study of the Holocaust for over 75 years. Dr. Adler’s ground breaking work has opened up these areas of study for the English speaking audiences.

In the Soviet Union, refuge was an arduous path including meager food, hard labor, freezing temperatures, illness, inadequate shelter, and the Soviet system – all, were a tortuous obstacles to survival. Initially Jewish Poles were designate to the Artic regions – “Siberia” and later, other locations in central Asia. After the war, they were allowed to return to Poland, where they discovered the full extent of the Holocaust’s destruction. By 1946, these Jewish Poles were the majority in the Displaced Persons camps established in Germany. Their story was subsumed into the main Holocaust narratives.

In a prescient supplementary essay What’s in a Name? How Titles Construct and Convey Knowledge about Migrants, Adler frames for us some of the difficulty and complexity facing those of us who seek to understand the circuitous paths of Polish Jewish Refugees. Dr. Adler remarks cross temporal boundaries to indirectly, comment on contemporary and historical constructs about migrants. Dr. Eliyana Adler’s ground breaking study employs the still meager Soviet era archival sources but foregrounds the recollections of survivors. Adler’s work confronts us with several questions: how we understand the Holocaust? What does it mean to be a survivor? We are left to understand and ponder the paradoxes of history.

********************************************************************
LINKS:
FREIGHTED LEGACIES
THE CULTURE AND HISTORY OF JEWISH INTERACTIONS IN POLAND
https://www.jewishrenewalinpoland.com/freighted-legacies/

CLICK HERE TO BUY THE BOOK
https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674988026

EXCERPT FROM SURVIVAL ON THE MARGINS
https://www.jewishrenewalinpoland.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Adler-Intro.pdf

EXCERPT FROM SURVIVAL ON THE MARGINS. (POLISH)
https://www.jewishrenewalinpoland.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Introduction_Adler_POL.pdf

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Parashat Ki Tisa

Parashat Ki Tisa

(Shemot 30:11 – 34:35)

 

Miriam   Klimova,

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

           

It’s said that whatever we think about has a tendency to come true. But can we control our thoughts?

The mysterious bond between Moshe and the invisible God must have been a source of endless discussions and doubts among the people. At the beginning of parashat Ki Tisa Moshe is alone on the top of Mount Sinai, where he receives detailed instructions from God regarding the building and functioning of the Tabernacle. In the meantime the people of Israel are left alone, without their leader. Uncontrollable thoughts are filling their heads and are sowing a seed of fear in them. The prolonged absence of Moshe provokes deep anxiety – he disappeared! He said that he was going up the mountain to God, but the Israelites, tired of the desert, need God to be down here, next to them. Why is he spending so much time on that mountain? Does God, who needed only one night to dry up the water and to lead the Israelites through the sea, now need forty days and forty nights to carve 10 Commandments on two tablets?! We must act, we must take matters into our own hands! But how? Maybe we should make us a deity, and then God’s power will enter into it and show us the correct path? Moshe is still not coming back, so even more distressing thoughts appear – that this God of his has disappeared along with him, and these thoughts are slowly starting to drive them crazy.

We are tormented by questions about the people’s morality; how could they have come back to idolatry so quickly?! But did they really view the calf as a change of God? Moshe was a visible link to an invisible God. The Israelites did not think that God could be created from the gold of their decorations. This is a mistaken understanding of ancient beliefs. The calf was their new link to God and it was supposed to replace not God, but “this man Moshe”.

Aaron had nothing against this. He was convinced that the people would not believe in a God who cannot be seen. While Moshe demands an unconditional submission to an omnipotent, invisible Deity, Aaron wants to  express the idea of God in a way that can be understood. We can assume that this wasn’t strictly speaking idolatry. An abstract idea of divinity poses a great challenge for modern people, not to mention in the ancient times.

Why choose a calf? They have just been saved from Egyptian slavery. More than one generation was born there and of course they were being raised under the influence of the surrounding culture. Indeed the two main incidents of idolatry described in the Tanach are directly connected to ancient Egypt. One – described in parashat Ki Tisa, and the other was initiated by Yeroboam after he successfully took control over the fragmented Israeli kingdom  (1 Kings 12). The two stories have several things in common. First of all, in both cases the objects of cult had the shape of calves or caws, and secondly: these events took place in a difficult interim period, when the nation needed a sense of safety and unity. The link to Egypt is not an accident. The ancient Egyptians worshiped several deities which made use of the images of bulls and cows. There was a widespread cult of a heavenly cow – the goddess Hathor, sometimes presented as a cow, and then as a woman with a cow’s head and with a solar disk between the horns. A cow was perceived as life-giving; it sustained life through its milk, it was even said about certain Pharaohs that they were fed by Hathor.

Hathor as a cow suckling Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh,  at Hatshepsut’s temple at Deir el-Bahari, 15th century BC

The goddess-cow strengthened, sustained and granted divinity to royal rule. When Yeroboam wanted to further unify his people, he probably made use of “pop-culture”. And similarly the Israelites, while left without a leader, on a hostile territory, with helpless families, in a time of need turned to a familiar cult in order to save themselves in a difficult situation.

Could this incident, which has left such a deep mark in Israel’s memory, have been avoided? Could they have overcome the fear that had poisoned their lives on more than one occasion? Could they have controlled their thoughts?

A similar question is raised in the story „Sipur chasidi”. It describes how a certain Chassid once came to Dov Ber of Mezeritch, called the Great Magid[1], to ask a question and share his doubts if freedom of choice applies to our thoughts as well – “The Torah forbids us to think evil thoughts. But what can we do when evil thoughts come to our mind? Can man control their thoughts?!”. Rather than giving him an answer, the Magid sent him to a remote place, Zhytomyr, to one of his students, rabbi Zeev. In the middle of winter, after weeks of travel, the Chassid knocked on the door, but there was no answer. With nowhere to go, he kept knocking on the door, while the Rabbi himself, just a couple of steps away from him, was reading by a warm fireplace… Finally Rabbi Zeev got up from his chair, he opened the door and welcomed the Chassids with his characteristic kindness and hospitality. After regaining his strength, the Chassid mustered the courage to ask his question. And Rabbi Zeev smiled and said: “I’ve already answered your question”. With his behavior the Rabbi wanted to show that I am the master in my home: “I let in whoever I want, and whoever I don’t want, I keep them outside”.

This story teaches us that every person is the master of their thoughts and only they can decide who can enter and who cannot. If there is chaos in our head, we won’t be able to fulfill our desires, fear will be bringing us down like a heavy stone, and a bad mood will not let us enjoy the rays of sunshine on our face.

The past few years have been a difficult experience for all of us – sickness, decisions about vaccinations, worrying about our loved ones, remote work or even losing one’s job, and also war conflicts. And although Moshe is not present in our lives as well, we shall not give up. And let us thank our ancestors, the Israelites on Sinai, for the possibility to learn from their mistakes.

May there be a will… that we learn how to control our thoughts and actions, so that each one of us can decide autonomously who can enter into our house-mind. After all, positive thinking, optimism and a sense of happiness require conscious skills!

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

[1] Dov Ber (18th century) was a student of Baal Shem Tov and after his death he succeeded him as the Chassidic leader.

Studiowanie Paraszy Jitro z Miriam Klimovą

Studiowanie Paraszy Jitro z Miriam Klimovą

W tym tygodniu, czytając paraszę Jitro, jesteśmy w jednym z najważniejszych szabatów pod względem czytania Tory. Po około dziesięciu tygodniach od wyzwolenia, Izraelici rozbili obóz naprzeciwko świętej góry. Wyjście z Egiptu stało się fizycznymi narodzinami Izraela jako narodu, jednak duchowe znaczenie jego istnienia ma nastąpić właśnie tu – na Górze Synaj. To właśnie w paraszy Jitro następuje punkt kulminacyjny Księgi Szmot, objawienie się Boga ludowi izraelskiemu. Bóg objawia podstawowe zasady Tory, które nazywamy dziesięcioma przykazaniami lub Dekalogiem.

Miriam Klimova jest Studentką Rabinacką w Hebrew Union College w Jerozolimie oraz Rabinką Kongregacji „Szirat Ha-Jam” w Haifie.

Zapraszamy do wspólnego studiowania Tory!

 

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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.

Paraszat Jitro

Paraszat Jitro – פרשת יתרו

Szmot 18:1-20:23

Miriam Klimova,
studentka rabinacka w Hebrew Union College w Jerozolimie
oraz rabinka kongregacji „Szirat ha-Jam” w Haifie.

Czy zachowanie człowieka zależy od narodowości? Charakter, myślenie i odczuwanie, mądrość – czy zależą od pochodzenia etnicznego lub wyznania?

W tym tygodniu, czytając paraszę Jitro, jesteśmy w jednym z najważniejszych szabatów pod względem czytania Tory. Po około dziesięciu tygodniach od wyzwolenia Izraelici rozbili obóz naprzeciwko świętej góry. Wyjście z Egiptu stało się fizycznymi narodzinami Izraela jako narodu, jednak duchowe znaczenie jego istnienia ma nastąpić właśnie tu – na Górze Synaj. Bez objawienia i przymierza Izrael nie różniłby się niczym od innych narodów; to właśnie dzięki nim Izraelici staną się goj kadosz – ludem świętym. Warto podkreślić, iż przymierze zawarte będzie nie tylko z obecnymi w tamtej chwili,  „lecz z każdym, który tu z wami  stoi dziś przed obliczem Wiekuistego, Boga waszego, i z tym, którego tu nie ma dzisiaj”, to znaczy nawet z nieznanymi na razie potomkami samych jego świadków (Dwarim 29:14).

Scena wygląda niezwykle dramatycznie: grzmoty, błyskawice, kłęby dymu i ognia, dźwięk szofaru rozbrzmiewa coraz głośniej i głośniej. Midrasze opisują dawanie Tory jako tajemnicze i potężne wydarzenie. W Talmudzie Babilońskim Traktat Szabat 88A opowiada się, że Bóg zmusił lud Izraela do przyjęcia Tory na górze Synaj:

„Wa-itjacwu be-tachtit ha-har” – „uszykowali się pod górą” (Szemot 19:17). Powiedział Raw Awdimi bar Chama bar Chasa: naród Izraela rzeczywiście stanął pod górą, werset ten uczy, że Święty, błogosławiony, przewrócił górę nad Izraelitami jak wannę i powiedział do nich: „Albo przyjmiecie Torę teraz, albo będziecie pochowani tutaj!”

Podobną opowieść o „wiszącej nad Izraelitami górze” spotykamy w Traktacie Awoda Zara 2 B. Historia toczy się na tle pytania odnośnie innych narodów świata i ich prawa do przyjęcia Tory. Według Talmudu Bóg już wcześniej zaproponował podarować Torę   innym narodom, jednak one nie chciały jej przyjąć. Więc gdy przyszedł do Izraelitów:

 „… Święty, błogosławiony, przewrócił górę nad nimi jak wannę i powiedział: „Albo przyjmiecie Torę teraz, albo będziecie pochowani tutaj!”.

Tyle midrasz…  Uwierzymy tym słowom czy nie, w naszej paraszy Izraelici staną się „wybranymi z pomiędzy wszystkich ludów” (Szmot 19:5). Obietnica szczególnego wyboru będzie kluczowym czynnikiem w życiu żydowskim przez tysiąclecia. To właśnie w paraszy Jitro następuje punkt kulminacyjny Księgi Szmot, objawienie się Boga ludowi izraelskiemu. Bóg objawia podstawowe zasady Tory, które nazywamy Dziesięcioma Przykazaniami lub Dekalogiem.

Dlaczego tak ważna parasza nazywa się od imienia goja – kapłana Midianu? Kim był ten człowiek? Dlaczego przyszedł? Skąd i w jakim celu?

Rabin dr Gil Nativ uważa, że według tradycyjnej zasady nazwa paraszy w tym tygodniu powinna była brzmieć „Waiszma”, jak pierwsze znaczące jej słowo:

 „I usłyszał Jitro…” (Szmot 18:1).

Podobnie jak parasze „Wajece”, „Wajiszlach” w księdze Bereszit i „Wajikra” na początku Księgi Wajikra, „Wajelech” w Księdze Dewarim. Każda z tych nazw jest czasownikiem czasu przeszłego w trzeciej osobie liczby pojedynczej. Mimo to tradycja wolała nazwać paraszę imieniem teścia Moszego – Jitro.

Tora przedstawia go jako człowieka o silnych religijnych przekonaniach, gościnności i mądrości. To on zapewnił schronienie uchodźcy z Egiptu i dał mu za żonę swoją córkę Ciporę.  W czasie spotkania Mosze opowiedział swemu teściowi wszystko, co Bóg uczynił faraonowi i Egipcjanom, i jak Bóg wybawił jego naród. Jitro cieszył się z tego i złożył ofiary dla Boga Izraela!

Jitro udzielił Moszemu mądrej rady, jak wymierzać sprawiedliwość (Szmot 18:19-23), a w późniejszej wzmiance w Księdze Bemidbar został zaproszony przez Moszego do przyłączenia się na stałe do Izraela podczas podboju i zasiedlania Kanaanu. Chociaż odrzucił to zaproszenie, powrócił do swego kraju jako lojalny przyjaciel Izraela, jakim był od chwili, gdy został spokrewniony z Moszem.

W Midraszu Wajikra Raba 9:3 znajdziemy opowieść o człowieku, który nie znał Tory, a nawet nie umiał powiedzieć błogosławieństwa, ale zachowywał się właściwie wobec ludzi. Opowieść ta spowodowała ustanowienie zasady talmudycznej, według której „Derech Erec kadma la-Tora” –   właściwe zachowanie poprzedza Torę.

Jitro jest cudownym przykładem tej zasady. Właśnie on, osoba, która pochodzi z zewnątrz, a nie z narodu Izraela. Przychodzi przed darowaniem Tory, aby podzielić się swoją mądrością, nauczyć nas właściwego zachowania. Tym samym Talmud głośno stwierdza, że można, a nawet warto uczyć się od ludzi, którzy nie są częścią narodu żydowskiego!

Każdy człowiek zasługuje na szacunek ze strony innych. Jednak często nasza duma, nasze uprzedzenia, nasz strach czynią nas ślepymi. W czasach współczesnych codziennie znajdujemy się w środowisku wielokulturowym. Ludzie bywają dobrzy, ludzie bywają źli. Ale dzielenie ze względu na kolor skóry, pochodzenie etniczne i narodowość, wyznanie lub jego brak, orientację seksualną, płeć, wiek czy niepełnosprawność jest przejawem braku szacunku dla samego Boga, który stworzył każdego na swój obraz i podobieństwo. Żaden człowiek nie może uznawać siebie za lepszego od innych.

Jitro nie był Żydem, a Mosze był uchodźcą. Jeśli mówił po hebrajsku, to na pewno miał ciężki akcent egipski.

Niech będzie taka wola, abyśmy nauczyli się widzieć przed sobą przede wszystkim człowieka.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם פֹּקֵחַ עִוְרִים:

„Błogosławiony jesteś, o Adonaj, nasz Boże, co władasz wszechświatem, otwierający oczy ślepym”. (Sidur, Błogosławieństwa poranne)

Szabat Szalom!

Miriam Klimova,- studentka rabinacka w Hebrew Union College w Jerozolimie
oraz rabinka kongregacji „Szirat ha-Jam” w Haifie

Bemidbar

Wykonać Boską pracę zanim On ją wykona

Refleksja nad paraszą Bemidbar

Menachem Mirski

Życie stawia nas czasem w trudnych i skomplikowanych sytuacjach, w których mówimy do siebie “jakoś to będzie”, po czym okazuje się, że rzeczywistością staje się to, czego najbardziej się obawialiśmy. Czasem jest też tak, że jesteśmy w tych trudnych przepełnieni optymizmem, przez co dostrzegamy tylko to, co pozytywne i wręcz nie dopuszczamy do siebie myśli, że może wydarzyć się inaczej. Nasze rozczarowanie jest wtedy dużo większe. Wówczas, po fakcie, rozliczamy samych siebie i czasem stwierdzamy, że nie zrobiliśmy wszystkiego by owej sytuacji zapobiec, że mogliśmy być bardziej przewidujący i zrobić więcej.

Nasza porcja Tory na ten tydzień rozpoczyna się od słów, które wydają się nie mieć nic wspólnego z tym, co napisałem powyżej:

Dnia pierwszego drugiego miesiąca, w drugim roku po wyjściu z Egiptu, tymi słowami przemówił Pan do Mojżesza na pustyni Synaj w Namiocie Spotkania: Dokonajcie obliczenia całego zgromadzenia Izraelitów według szczepów i rodów, licząc według głów imiona wszystkich mężczyzn. Ty i Aaron dokonajcie spisu wszystkich Izraelitów zdolnych do walki od lat dwudziestu wzwyż, według ich zastępów. Z każdego pokolenia winien wam towarzyszyć mąż, głowa rodu. (Liczb 1:1-4)

Bóg nakazuje Mojżeszowi policzyć plemiona Izraelskie w celu określenia ilości mężczyzn zdolnych do sformowania wojska i wyruszenia w bitwy, aby podbić Erec Israel. Możemy zapytać: dlaczego (wszechwiedzący) Bóg potrzebuje tej liczby, czyżby jej nie znał? Odpowiedź na to pytanie brzmi następująco: On tej liczby nie potrzebuje. Potrzebuje jej Mojżesz, inni liderzy Izraela i lud Izraela jako taki, żeby zaplanować i dokonać owego podboju. Potrzebują tego, bowiem od momentu wyjścia z Egiptu boska protekcja i interwencja ulega stopniowemu zmniejszeniu. Jedynie pierwszą bitwę, z Egipcjanami, Bóg sam stoczył dla Izraela, własnymi rękami, zatapiając egipskie wojska w morzu.  Następna bitwa, stoczona z Amalekitami zaraz po wyjściu z Egiptu (Wj 17:8-16) stoczona była już przez Izraelitów, Bóg jedynie pomógł im ją wygrać. W takiej też postaci – relacji partnerstwa, nie zaś kompletnej zależności od Boga – zostaje utrwalona relacja ludu wybranego z Wiekuistym.

Jak ujął to, idąc za mędrcami, Nachmanides nigdy nie powinniśmy zakładać, że wydarzą się cuda; musimy zawsze poczynić wszelkie niezbędne przygotowania, aby realnie móc się zmierzyć z wrogiem. Podobnie w naszym indywidualnym życiu, w naszych zmaganiach z rzucanymi nam wyzwaniami: musimy być stale zdolni oszacować co jest od nas zależne, co jest w naszej mocy i co, w konsekwencji, należy do naszych obowiązków, czym nie powinniśmy obarczać Wiekuistego, ani też innych ludzi. Wtedy powinniśmy zrobić wszystko, co w naszej mocy, aby stawić czoła złu lub niebezpieczeństwu. Z powodu naszej wyjątkowej relacji z Wiekuistym, cuda się (prawdopodobnie) wydarzą (co mieliśmy okazję zaobserwować w naszej nawet nieodległej historii). Jeśli się one wydarzą, będzie to dla nas dodatkowy dar, który będzie nagrodą za naszą mądrość i gotowość do działania, dar który przyniesie nam ulgę, przywróci szczęście oraz pokój między ludźmi.

Szabat szalom!

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