Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The cure for stagefright

pic from https://www.jisc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/janet-txt-banner.jpg labeled for reuse
I heard Shira Smiles speak this morning in Lawrence. (I'm sure the talk will be posted to Torah Anytime at some point if you want to find it). The theme was the connection of tefila to effect geula as in Pesach Mitzrayim. But she also veered a bit into a theme she addressed the last time I heard her speak there -- that of being in the moment. The story that applies to the latter them is the reason for the title of this blog post.

I'm not sure if the event was a siddur or chumash presentation event for children. She recounts that a child was very anxious about his upcoming role on stage until one morning he was completely calm about it. Asked what changed, he said he realized that the audience will be filled with moms who will be texting on their phones the whole time. As no one will really be watching him, there's no reason to be nervous!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Becoming Queen Esther

The eponymous heroine of Megillas Esther never sought attention for herself until she had to step up and act for the sake of her people. She certainly is one who had greatness thrust upon her, and she rose to the occasion. After preparing with fasting and prayer (5:3), she didn't merely don royal robes but royalty itself, when she came, unsummoned, to face the king. Her reward was adding a book to the canon of TaaNaCh named in her honor that is read twice every year. And we established the holiday of Purim. Thus the Jews established a celebration of a great woman's achievement 2,000 years before International Women's Day was a thing.

Purim posts from previous years:





Kreplach recipe at http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/09/kreplach-recipe.html

Sunday, February 26, 2017

It's All About the Fathers in Ancient Egyptian Thought

Today we popped into the Brooklyn Museum and made sure to stop into the new section set up in the Egyptian collection. It's called  A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt. The exhibit is really small, consisting of fewer than 30 objects that don't really do much to explicate the theory of what Egyptians believed about the condition for a woman's rebirth stated thus:
The ancient Egyptians believed that to make rebirth possible for a deceased woman, she briefly had to turn into a man. Guided by new research inspired in part by feminist scholarship, the exhibition A Woman’s Afterlife: Gender Transformation in Ancient Egypt tells this remarkable story of gender transformation in the ancient world, exploring the differences between male and female access to the afterlife.
Egyptian medicine taught that a woman, once in her tomb, faced a biological barrier to rebirth. Because the ancient Egyptians believed that in human reproduction it was the man who created the fetus, transferring it to the woman during intercourse, rebirth was impossible for a woman alone. To overcome this perceived problem, a priest magically transformed a woman’s mummy into a man long enough to create a fetus. This required representing a woman with red skin on her coffin—the color normally assigned to a man—and reciting spells that addressed the woman with masculine pronouns, spells also recorded graphically on the coffin. A woman later returned to her original female state and incubated herself for rebirth into the afterlife as a woman.
Though I don't find the use of red paint alone compelling enough to buy into the theory of a woman needing to become a man after death to be reborn as a women, I do find the idea fascinating in light of our own tradition.

We're all familiar with the original genocidal plot against the Jews when they were enslaved in Egypt. The plan was to kill all the baby boys and leave only the females. Now this has been explained as an assumption of patrilineal descent. If the child follows the father's status, no Jewish males as fathers means no more Jews. However, this is even more significant in light of the theory that is advanced in this exhibit. Egyptian thought was that the woman's role in carrying the fetus is completely passive, and that the father is the only one credited with its formation. In their view, it's not merely a choice of patrilineal over matrilineal because you have to choose one for your society. They really thought that a child sired by an Egyptian man would be wholly Egyptian.

Clearly, though, they were wrong, not just in terms of biology, but in terms of the life force of the people. As Chazal tell us, B'zchus nashim tzidkanyios nigalu avothenu m'Mitzrayim. The merit of the rightous women is what engendered our ancestors redemption from Egypt. See  http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-women-in-moshes-life.html

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Your phone just doesn't understand you

This post was inspired by an event my husband related from this morning. At the minyan, someone's phone was, surprise, surprise, not off. Seeking to serve in some way, the voice activation component let the owner and everyone else know, "I didn't understand that."
Prayers were not meant to be understandable to electronic devices. They are the means of communication with the One who does understand you, the One who understands the import of the words better than you do yourself. No matter how responsive your phone may be and how advanced the predictive analytics that are built into its operating system grow, it will still not be capable of understanding what you truly are about.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

We should be saying olive rather than apple

pic from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Centenarian_olive_tree_1_(4752183682).jpg
That is we should be saying "the olive doesn't fall far from the tree." That would reflect the halacha that says you can identify which tree an olive is from. The same does not hold true for apples or other fruit.  In the case of most fruit you'd find in the road, you can assume hefker status because it is considered impossible to determine which tree bore the fruit. In contrast, an olive can be identified as coming from a specific tree.

Rav Goldwicht stated this in a special Tu B'Shvat shiur he dleivered this Sunday in NYC on the occasion of the yahrzeit of Rabbi Copperman (see http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.jp/2016/01/the-life-of-rabbi-copperman.html). He connected that halacha to the blessing for a household expressed in Tehillim 128:3
Your wife will be as a fruitful vine in the innermost parts of your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.גאֶשְׁתְּךָ | כְּגֶפֶן פֹּרִיָּה בְּיַרְכְּתֵי בֵיתֶךָ בָּנֶיךָ כִּשְׁתִלֵי זֵיתִים סָבִיב לְשֻׁלְחָנֶךָ:
Rav Goldwicht raised the question, what's the blessing in having children comparable to the growth of olives? The answer is to be found in the halacha, The olive attests to its tree. So too, the blessing for a good person is that his offspring will be like him.

The same theme of the blessed tree source is what we find in Taanit 5b

When they were taking leave of one another, Rav Naḥman said to Rabbi Yitzḥak: Master, give me a blessing. Rabbi Yitzḥak said to him: I will tell you a parable. To what is this matter comparable? It is comparable to one who was walking through a desert and who was hungry, tired, and thirsty. And he found a tree whose fruits were sweet and whose shade was pleasant, and a stream of water flowed beneath it. He ate from the fruits of the tree, drank from the water in the stream, and sat in the shade of the tree.
And when he wished to leave, he said: Tree, tree, with what shall I bless you? If I say to you that your fruits should be sweet, your fruits are already sweet; if I say that your shade should be pleasant, your shade is already pleasant; if I say that a stream of water should flow beneath you, a stream of water already flows beneath you. Rather, I will bless you as follows: May it be G-d’s will that all saplings which they plant from you become like you. So it is with you. With what shall I bless you? If I bless you with Torah, you already have Torah; if I bless you with wealth, you already have wealth; if I bless you with children, you already have children. Rather, may it be G-d’s will that your offspring be like you.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Lesson of Shmos: Don't Underestimate a Woman

This occurred to me today: a common theme in both the text and the Midrashim associated with this week's parsha is that women are the driving force that the powers that be fail to register.  The story recounts how the king of  Egypt put Yosef's accomplishments out of his mind and took a xenophobic view of the Israelites. He stirred up public opinion against them as he appointed tax collectors and then taskmasters over them, pushing them into the subjugation of slavery. Not content with that, though, he started a policy of genocide.

But the genocide was to be effected via the males only. Pharaoh ordered the midwives to only kill the baby boys, figuring the girls pose no threat and can be assimilated into Egyptian society. That is where he erred. The females were not the passive creatures he thought them to be. Even when the midwives gave some indication of that by not carrying out his order (though they claimed that the women managed to give birth on their own, denying them the opportunity to perform a partial-birth aborition) he failed to grasp that this Israelite women were a force to be reckoned with.

He extended his final solution to eliminating the Israelites via the male infants by ordering them all cast into the waters. That prompted the leader of the Israelites, Amram, to separate from his wife. But his daughter put him straight on that. The Midrash Hagadol explains:

 Miriam told her father when he divorced her mother, "Your decrees are harsher than Pharaoh’s. He decreed on the boys, and you have decreed both on the boys and girls. He is wicked so it is doubtful if his decree will hold or not, but you are a righteous man, so your decree is bound to hold. That is not all, but I have seen [through prophecy] that in the futures there will come from you the savior of Israel" Her father saw the truth of Miriam's assertion and remarried his wife. When she gave birth to Moshe and had to throw him in the Nile, her mother slapped her face and said, "Now where is your prophecy?"  Immediately, his sister stationed herself at a distance’ (Shmos 2:4).

The type of faith in redemption that Miriam demonstrated here, as she did (according to the Midrashic identification) in her role as midwife, reflected what the Israelite women were credited in doing in the description of the maros tzovos the mirrors that were then melted down to form the kiyor of the mishkan. Even when their husbands despaired, they asserted their hope for the future and continued to have the children to assure the continuity of their people. The women were the ones with the vision to see beyond the immediate state to the promise of the redemption they knew would come. And their vision remained clear even when the men's was clouded.

Though I've only included some details about Miriam here, in the past, I've looked at some of the individual women in that context who were each remarkable in their own right.  You can read more about Moshe's sister, his mother, his adopted mother, and his wife in: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-women-in-moshes-life.html

For other insight into Shmos, see http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/12/shmos-cause-of-oppression.html

Friday, January 13, 2017

Vayechi, a unique form of swearing

I heard Rav Goldwicht speak last night. Among the things he touched on was a bridge from Sukkos to Chanukah to Asara BeTeves in the parsha. He said that Yaakov died on Sukkoth (interesting, as that is the holiday associated with him) and was then carried out to Eretz Yisrael on Chanukah (due to the delay in the 40 day mummifying process followed by 30 days of mourning within Egypt) and then finally buried on Asar BeTeves because of the 7 days of mournig observed by the family prior to placing him in Maaras Hamachpela. It was soon after, following the death of the shvatim that the children of Israel came down spiritually, as they picked up on the culture and practices of their surroundings,  and then physically when they were enslaved.

My own thoughts on the parsha were this: Yaakov exacts a form of shvua from Yosef that we only see one other place in TaNaCh, and that is when Avraham exacts a shvua from Eliezer. They both request that oath be signified by the other person placing his hand tachat yereichi. Rashi explained in connection to Avraham that it was the milah that he wished to have him swear by. It was their equivalent of the practice of swearing on a Bible as a physical manifestation of a mitzvah. I was thinking tht there could be something else going on in connection with the milah and both exacted promises. Though Avraham's primary concern was getting Eliezer to find a bride for Yitzchak, he also explicitly stated that his son not be taken out of Israel. Likewise, Yaakov's request for burial was to be returned to Israel after his death.

The bris milah is associated with taking our place in the land of Israel, as mentioned in the connections said in Birchas Hamazon. Accordingly, I thought it's possible that swearing on the milah is about exerting oneself to make the efforts required that will keep that connection to the land -- even on behalf of another.