Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – Summer, 2011

I love books, and I hope to be able to hold a book in my hands and read for the rest of my life.  I love turning the pages.  I love flipping back and forth between pages.  Sometimes, I go back to a book I have read in the past because I remember a particular passage or concept, and I find it based on the location in the book, where it is on the page, and I can scan paragraphs very quickly to find what I am seeking.
Some of you know that in my pre-rabbinic early college life, I studied computer science.  I begin my love affair with calculators when I was about 10, graduating on to desktop and laptop computers, PDA’s, and iPad, and dabbling in programming, testing software, using electronic communication, and creating web pages.
The experience of reading electronic materials is very different, and although I like reading short articles, I still prefer the feel and small and texture of the book.  Nevertheless, just as the scribes of old would have been foolish not to see that the codex was going to replace the scroll and the  printing press was going to replace the codex, we would be foolish to imagine that the proliferation of ways to read electronic documents will not someday displace the book.
We supplement our written communications, the Voice and the Shabbat announcement page, with a weekly email and a web site that is intended at some point in the future to evolve into a replacement for the Voice.  We designed the web site with specific features in mind to help this happen.
First of all, although a web site is something that you can go to for information, it is also designed to be able to send the information to you automatically. For example, if you use a google calendar to keep track of your personal calendar, you can subscribe to the synagogue calendar, so that events, classes, and meetings automatically appear in your calendar.  Do this simply by adding AhavasIsrael@gmail.com in the entry box under “Other Calendars” along the left side of your google calendar page.  You can also subscribe to the Jewish Holidays/candlelighting times and UJS calendars, but the calendar addresses are a complicated string of numbers and letters – email me and I’ll send them to you.
You can subscribe to my columns in several ways.  If you go to EmbodiedTorah.Wordpress.com, there is an entry box on the right side to type your email address and click “I want to embody Torah,” and you will get email notifications of every blog post.  Alternatively, if you go to the Divre Harav section of the web site, there is a set of five little buttons beneath the right menu.  The last of these buttons is an RSS feed.  RSS is normally explained as “really simple syndication,” an easy way to subscribe to articles on web sites.  If you click on the RSS button, your browser or computer should give you options for how you want to read the articles.  You can choose to read them in your browser, in your email program, or in another RSS reader program.  You can also subscribe to any page of our web site, such as the upcoming events, the home page (where the most important/urgent articles will be posted), the library news column, and the presidents column.
The Voice will continue to show up in your mail box 10 times a year, but if you take advantage of ways to subscribe via our web site and calendar, you will be completely up to date at all times.

A Comment on How Difficult it is to FIGURE THINGS OUT

In the field of Jewish ethics, Reb Simha Bunum suggests a way for the human being to balance humility and self worth:

“Rabbi Bunum said to his disciples: “Everyone must have two pockets, so he can reach into the one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to the words:’For my sake was the world created,’ and in his left:’ I am earth and ashes.”

Anochi Afar va-efer  (from Gen. 18:27)


Bishvili nivra ha-olam (from Sanhedrin 37a)

[from Volume 2 of Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim, p. 249]

The comic strip “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal,” by Zach Weiner has a slightly more complicated take on the same basic idea:

What do you learn from a Holocaust Museum?

I brought a group of college students to the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills Michigan today. The experience of visiting Holocaust museums always leaves me uneasy. While walking through the exhibit and listening to the docent, I am constantly asking myself, ‘What is the intended outcome of such a visit? What impression is it meant to give the visitors?’

The tour began with a nod towards the Armenian holocaust, with a look at a special exhibit by an Armenian artist. The implied message is, ‘See, Jews are not unique. It happened before, and no one noticed.  There has always been tremendous evil in the world, and unless we recognize the signs and take action, it will happen again we will be guilty of complicity.’  At the same time, however, we wonder why, if Jews are not unique, there are no museums of the Armenian Christian Holocaust?  Why don’t they remember and shout out warnings to the world, as we do?

The tour guide made the point over and over again that Jews are not unique. ‘Who is the Jew,’ he asked. ‘Every and any one of you,’ he answered. The average citizen who knew what was happening and let it happen made the Holocaust possible. You have to believe that it can and will happen again.  You have to believe that you might be among the next set of victims, unless you understand how to watch for the signs and how to take action.

Then we approach the introduction to the permanent exhibit, pausing at a list of Jewish Nobel prize winners. A sign points out that Jew make up less the one percent of the population, but comprise 25 percent of the Nobel prize recipients. We are asked to imagine what the world destroyed when 40 percent of world Jewry was wiped out.  We are invited to imagine how much better the world would have been if the brilliant potential of European Jewry had been allowed to flower.

I wonder what my students took away from the experience.  I wonder what the two predominantly (or completely) non-Jewish grade school groups who were also visiting today took away from their experience.  Did they absorb the message that Jews are better and smarter than other people, and therefore our tragedy is monumentally worse than the Armenian Holocaust?  Or did they absorb the message that the same philosophy that gives birth to Jew hatred also spawns hatred of people of color, people with disabilities, and/or people of any minority religion?

The exhibit seems to want it both ways.  On one hand, Jews are just like anyone else, and the next victim could be you.  Other other hand, Jews are a unique treasure.

We realize that Jews have ritualized memory and the importance of remembering things, good and bad, to a depth possibly unmatched by other ethnic or religious groups.  Deep down, however, I think there is deep Jewish ambivalence about what to do with the Holocaust memory.  We have been trained by Passover and Purim and Yom Kippur to reenact our most important memories in order never to forget them.  On the other hand, we recognize that the Holocaust was an intensely painful and deeply dysfunctional period of our history, and we understand that unlike our other historical memories, this one does not have a positive lesson unless we can convince other people to join with us in taking responsibility for the evil and guarding the world so it will never happen again.

Students — Tell me:  How do you understand the experience you saw and heard today?

On the Death of An Enemy

What do you do and say when your enemy falls?

Do you follow the advice of Proverbs 24:17, ” If your enemy falls, do not exult; If he trips, let your heart not rejoice?”
Or do you follow the advice of Proverbs 11:10, ” When the wicked perish there are shouts of joy.”

Do you follow the practice of the Pesah seder and spill drops of wine and tears over the loss of life?
Or do you sigh with relief that a man dedicated to evil and death has been eliminated from our world?

Do you bless God, the righteous judge?
Do you bless God who breaks the enemy and humbles the arrogant?

Did you rejoice, or would you have rejoiced on this day 66 years ago when Hitler’s death was announced?
Did you take a breath in wonder at the coincidence of Osama Bin Laden’s death on that anniversary, on the oh-so-grim day that we remember the Shoah?

Along with that sign of relief and that grateful breath, let me just say that I am grateful to our President and our armed forces for their persistence. May it be understood as a message to Islamic fascists that attacks against our country will not go unpunished.