Thursday, December 29, 2016

For Shabbos Chanukah 5777

I'd like to wish everyone a Lichtige Chanukah, a good Chodesh, and a good Shabbos.

First I'll quote something I heard from Michal Horowitz in her Chanukah shiur last Sunday. Chanukah, as we all know runs eight days, which means it always includes a Shabbos, obviously. But something unusal about it is that it also is a holiday that runs over Rosh Chodesh. She pointed out that in that way it counters the particular decress that the Syrian-Greeks made against Jewish identity by targeting three essential practices: Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh, and Bris Milah. The first two are included in the days of Chanukah and the eight days are a clear reference to Bris Milah, done on the eight day.

I wrote about other associations with eight in the past. One year, I observed that the 3 letters that make up the word for oil shemen also correspond to the root of the word shmone, the number 8. My husband then added that oil floats on top of water, just as the eighth level is lema'ala min hateva [transcends the natural order]. That's what Chanukah is all about, which is why we call the eighth and last day, Zos Chanukah -- this is Chanukah.

This is the only single holiday that is celebrated for eight days. While both Pesach and Sukkoth are celebrated for 8 days outside of Israel, they are, in essence, 7 day holidays with one day added on for those in exile. Chanukah is eight days all over the world with no additional day added. Eight is a highly significant number in Jewish thought. It represents a level of spirituality that rises above nature. That is why a brith [circumcision] is performed on the eight day.

The small jug of pure oil that should have sufficed only for one day burned for eight days to allow enought time for more pure oil to be made. That always leads to the question of why we celebrate the miracle for eight days, when the miracle was really only for seven. There are various answers for that. The most common are that finding the oil at all was a miracle or that the additional day is for the miracle of our victory in battle when our forces were so outnumbered. But the number eight is also what this holiday is all about -- reaching beyond the natural order in our spiritual aspirations.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Which angel are you?

I heard Michal Horowitz reference this piece from Rabbi Yissocher Frand  today and felt I finally have proof positive that what I said many years ago was correct.  I once shared by recollection of what I considered a completely wrong lesson for children back in the days when my kids were small and I participated in a carpool. After she picked up my kid, the mother who was driving that morning got a request from a man who lived nearby. He was walking to the train station but found it difficult because his leg was in a cast, so he asked if she could drop him off there. She said she would take him but wouldn't bring him all the way to the train because she didn't want to go out of the way for the school, lest the kids arrive late.

To me it was crystal clear that this was the wrong thing to do. She should rather have driven him all the way,a nd if the kids would have been late, they could say it was for the sake of an act of chesed. That's positive chinuch in my view, as opposed to the model that says you only help someone to the extent that it doesn't inconvenience you. But I got a number of reactions that said I was wrong, and the mother may have been right because a delay to school entail bittul zman Torah for these kids under 7. That line of reasoning is wrong halachically as well as hashkafically.

Here's Rabbi Frand's take on a parallel situation  in his piece entitled G-d’s Plans Will Happen

A Jew in Europe walked into a shtetl [little village] and saw another Jew walking by. He stopped him and said, “Reb Yid, let me ask you a question.” The Jew responded, “I can’t answer you now. I’m late for shul.” And he ran off. The question the first Jew in fact wanted to ask him is “Where is the shul?”
This second Jew said he was on his way to shul, so the first Jew followed him. When he got to shul, he approached the second Jew who was too busy to listen to his question and said “I have a question for you. In our parsha, it states that Yaakov told Yosef ‘Go now, look into the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring me back word.’ A man found Yosef blundering in the field and asked him what he was looking for. Yosef told him he was looking for his brothers and asked the man where he might find them. The man responded that he heard them saying they were going to Dosan, so Yosef went after his brothers and found them at Dosan. [Bereshis 37:14-17]
Our Rabbis tell us that this was not a simple man, but it was the Angel Gavriel. In other words, when the Torah said ‘A man found him,’ it was actually the Angel Gavriel out to save him. Now let me ask you a question: In last week’s parsha, when the pasuk said, ‘A man wrestled with him (Yaakov)’ our Rabbis tell us that this ‘man’ was Saro shel Eisav – Eisav’s guardian angel, Sa-mael, an evil Angel. When the Torah uses the word ‘ish’ [man], how do Chazal know whether it refers to a good angel or a bad angel?
The second Jew had no answer. The first Jew responded with an insight attributed to the Sanzer Rav, the Divrei Chaim. After his epic battle with the Angel, Yaakov asked the Angel for a blessing. The Angel responded “I do not have time to give you a blessing. It is Alos HaShachar, time for the Angels to sing Divine Praises to G-d. Leave me alone! Get out of here so I can get back to shul.” [Rashi on Bereshis 32:27] If that is the answer a person receives from a stranger, rest assured that he is speaking to a bad angel. But when someone sees that you are lost and he says “Can I help you?” [Bereshis 27:15], then he is speaking to a good angel – the Angel Gavriel.”

What that mother was showing was how to be a bad angel -- the one who says I care about my kids' coming on time to davening more than helping a fellow Jew with a broken leg get to where he needs to go. I'll help, but only half-heartedly and halfway.

 Related: post on Vayeshev

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Deck the bride

I had another idea to add on to an idea I presented here a few years ago. I posted it on my Times of Israel blog
For the blog I wrote last year on the parsha of Vayetzeh  based on my grandfather's sefer see

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Posts on Parshas Toldos and the different marriage models among the Avos

The truth is whole and in order

A good chodesh!

In the past few weeks, we've been hearing a lot about fake news. Those on the left, tend to brand all conservative news outlets as peddlers of fake news, while those on the right fault left-leaning sites for the same. As Michael Tracey wrote here: fake news really is in the eye of the beholder.

Surely even fake news has some truth in it, so what makes one story a true account and another fake. It could be jumping to conclusions like the early accounts of the Ohio University attack that declared the attacker used a gun (that was due to taking the warning alert used in the school as a statement of actual fact). So there we have a modification of what really happened because that made the story fit a preconceived narrative about violent acts being linked to guns in the US. We also saw the NY Times fall into that kind of misrepresentation due to its own wishful thinking perhaps in misrepresenting the fact that the exact location of the Kodesh Kedoshim on Har Habayit is not clear to a questioning if the Temple ever stood on the mountain at all. So even newspapers that claim a venerable legacy can fall into promulgating fake news, particularly when they incline toward a particular political agenda.

That kind of agenda also pushes some media outlets to lie through omission -- something we see all the time in headlines that declare "Israeli shoots Palestinian" while leaving out that the person was attacking people much like the Abdul Razak Ali Artan did in Ohio University. I don't recall seeing any headlines that said "Policeman shoots student" or the like after the event, though, technically that would be a true statement that just leaves out critical context.

So perhaps all this was on my mind when I thought about what truth means to us. I thought about the significance of the word for truth in Hebrew. אֱמֶת It begins with the first letter, ends with the last letter, and includes the middle letter in the middle. To relate something that is truly true, it is not enough to include the beginning and ending but to also detail the what may have occurred in between. You also have to stick to the correct order of events. Without all those in place, you can have a partial truth, which -- like a cropped picture-- can give a very false impression of the context.