Archive for Juliol de 2011

In Masei, our reading from the Torah this week, we will conclude reading from the book of Numbers, the fourth book of Torah. After the conquest of Midian the Israelites’ subsequent journeys en route to their promised land all have a place in this parashah. Yet what is more remarkable than the battles and wars forged through these journeys is the underlying spirit which pervades the text. The ancient Israelites must engage in the difficult task of expelling idolatrous behavior as they attempt to establish monotheistic worship and practice. But even as they pursue war to achieve their efforts, Torah reminds them that they must ultimately work to become a nation who, collectively, pursues lasting peace.


The Israelites are commanded, “You shall not pollute the land in which you live for blood pollutes the land, and the land can have no expiation for blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I myself abide, for I the Lord abide among the Israelite people.” [ Numbers 35:33-34] Admittedly, these words are hard to accept, given that just a few chapters earlier, the Israelites were commanded to “wreak the Lord’s vengeance on Midian.” [ Numbers 31:3] How in one part of our parashah can we read words which command us to “wreak vengeance” and then also read words which tell us “not to pollute the land by bloodshed?”


Much has been written in Jewish commentaries of the place of war in Jewish history and in Jewish life, and generally, war is regarded as a necessary, yet unfortunate evil, the step that is taken only as an absolute last resort Ultimately, the message of Torah, and of subsequent generations of Jewish commentary, involves the pursuit of peace in all of its forms, by living lives of holiness and compassion, seeking to repair and rebuild our fragmented world. It is as if Torah wants to teach that war will be a necessary part of taking control of the land of Israel. Yet once the Israelites have the land in their possession, there will be certain behaviors expected of them – namely that they pursue lives of peace, fairness and justice.


At this time of year, the quest of our ancestors becomes part of our journey too. We find ourselves in the darkest period of the Jewish calendar, the three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, in which we commemorate the destruction of the ancient Temples in Jerusalem and other calamities which have befallen our peopl throughout history. From this time, we will emerge into a period of consolation and comfort, the seven weeks that lead from Tisha b’Av to our celebration of Rosh ha-shanah. In this season, as we focus our attention on our connection to the land of Israel, we also begin to focus our attention on what is good, pure, and holy in our lives and what “defiling” aspects of our own existence we might seek to improve upon and correct in the year ahead. Ultimately, from bringing about war, and being victimized by war, Jewish tradition’s reaction rings equally true – pursue peace within yourself, within your family, within your community, and upon your land. It is up to us to work together, determining how we will pursue and achieve such significant and meaningful goals.


Shabbat Shalom


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El llibre de nombres, que comença amb un cens de la població, ara s’acosta al seu final enumerant llocs. Moltes sinagogues utilitzen una melodia especial per a cantar els 42 llocs en els que acamparen els israelites durant el seu pelegrinatge a través del desert. Però per què és necessari aquest llarg itinerari de viatge?

Dos famosos comentaristes ens donen dues explicacions oposades sobre el precepte que Déu donà a Moisès per a que crees una relació exacta de tots els llocs on acamparen els israelites durant els seus anys al desert.

Raší (França XI-XII) explica que aquest quadern de viatge en realitat és un tribut a la bondat divina perquè emfasitza que el poble canviava el seu lloc d’acampada menys d’un cop a l’any. També explica com en cada estadi del seu llarg viatge de la esclavitud a la llibertat, els israelites eren objecte de l’atenció divina. Per a subratllar aquest punt, Raší cita un commovedor passatge midràixic

Això s’assembla a un rei el fill del qual va caure malalt i el va dur a un lloc molt llunyà buscant una cura. Quan tornaren, el pare començà a narrar totes les etapes del viatge dient-li: “Aquí vàrem dormir;Aquí varen descansar a l’ombra; Aquí vàrem tenir mal de cap…”

Sforno (Itàlia XV-XVI) adopta un aposició contrària. La relació de llocs no té l’objectiu de lloar Déu com diu Raší, sinó lloar els israelites pels seus anys de dedicació al llarg de totes les dificultats i privacions. AL final del llibre de Nombres, que narra les queixes del poble, la Bíblia es preocupa d’equilibrar aquest quadre negatiu ressaltant la confiança que han demostrat en el moment d’afrontar els reptes al llarg de 40 anys.

La història del poble hebreu és, en molts aspectes, una història de viatges, i qualsevol família pot documentar una relació pròpia de llocs per on varen passar les generacions passades i presents. Per a alguns d’aquests viatges l’aproximació de Rasi sona correcte, perquè podem assenyalar amb claredat els moments de treva i bondat que han caracteritzat diferents estadis del viatge. En canvi moltes altres de les etapes sembla encaixar millor en la descripció que en fa Sforno quan recordem amb temor reverencial el valor que varen manifestar aquells que han hagut d’afrontar dificultats i privacions inimaginables.

Tot i que aquestes dues aproximacions puguin semblar-nos divergents, ens enenyen que és la nostra responsabilitat registrar i recordar els viatges de les generacions precedents que ens han portat fins a on som avui. Es a aquesta natura particular d’aquests viatge que fa referència el curiós verset que obre la nostra lectura aquesta setmana “Moisès va escriure les seves sortides, per etapes, [motsaehem le masehem]seguint l’ordre de Jahvè. Aquestes són les etapes de les seves sortides [mesehem le motsaehem](Nm 33,2)

Han estat molts els comentaristes que s’han fixat en aquesta curiosa construcció en hebreu i en particular com la darrera expressió és la formulació inversa de la primera motsaehem le masehem … masehem le motsaehem…” Aquesta insòlita formulació sembla suggerir-nos que, mentre avancem, portem amb nosaltres el nostre passat i a més hi tornem. Mentre caminem cap al capdamunt del carrer del temps, sempre hem de tenir davant nostre els llocs dels nostres orígens. Preparem el mapa del nostre futur redescobrint el nostre passat. El nostres punts de partida han de ser els objectius del nostre futur.

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Parasha Pinchas continues the story of Aaron’s grandson Pinchas. At the end of last week’s story, we read that Pinchas, upon witnessing an egregious act of apostasy between an Israelite man and a Midianite woman, takes immediate extrajudicial action, executing them on the spot. This week we hear God’s word in response to Pinchas’ deed, “[Pinchas] has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people in My passion. Say, therefore, ‘I grant him My pact of Peace.’” Both God and Pinchas are depicted as characters of zealotry and passion. Despite the Torah’s seeming endorsement of Pinchas’ act of zealotry, Jews throughout the centuries, sages and student alike, have questioned Pinchas’ act in particular and zealous behavior as a Torah principle. Today, it is not just Judaism that struggles with what it means to be willing “to kill for God,” for all religious traditions have a text or tradition that endorses that type of killing.


Those who endorse Pinchas’ action, and zealousness for God, argue as the great 19th century Orthodox rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch: “anyone who wages war on the enemies of what is good and true is a champion of the Covenant of Peace on earth even while engaged in war.” Of course, what is good and true is defined within the very scripture that allows one to kill in its pursuit. The commentary in our Etz Chayim Chumash points out that, “The tradition generally considers moral threats to be more dangerous for national survival than physical threats. Although the Egyptians and the Edomites threatened Israel’s physical existence, we are commanded not to hate them. We are told to wipe out the Midianites, however, for they tried to undermine Israel’s moral standing.” For some, upholding one’s moral standing by taking action that is against the law is problematic.


Accordingly, an entire other tradition arose in Judaism, one that over time has become preponderant. Thousands of years ago, the rabbis of the Talmud established so many rules that a person ready to take zealous action had to follow that for all intents and purposes, that they halachically classified as murderer one who claimed to kill for God as a zealot. In addition to this restriction in law, they added the following homiletic teachings. The early rabbis noted that Pinchas’ name in the opening of this parashah is spelled in the Torah scroll with a small “yud”, the same letter used in God’s name, and learned from that that one who commits violent acts, even for a “good cause”, has diminished his own Godly nature. Similarly, the “vav” in shalom is written with a broken stem, suggesting that peace achieved through force is not complete or sustainable. While the minority position endorsing zealotry in Judaism still exists (Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir have not been condemned outright by the tradition, the former having a grave visited by many as a shrine and the latter still considered as a hero by hundreds of thousands), the majority finds such action abhorrent. Pinchas’ actions are considered to be “of that time” and it is noted that he is assigned to the priesthood partly to disarm him. The essence of the message of the Torah and the prophets is that those of us who wish to create real shalom know it is achieved with justice tempered by compassion. As a good friend and teacher recently reminded me, Martin Luther King said decades ago: “…now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and love without power sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.”

Shabbat Shalom


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The world endures only for the sake of the breath of school children.

Babylonion Talmud, Shabbat 119b –


“I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let the lead the way…”

The Greatest Love of All –


Our traditions emphasize the importance of education. Teaching and learning are core Jewish values and this is why our community at Temple Beth Shalom wants to share some exciting news about our Hebrew/Religious school program.

During this past year, we have embarked on a long process to expand our call to serve the needs of the West Shore Jewish Community as specified in our mission statement. Yet, during the last decade, the Jewish community of Greater Harrisburg has experienced changes, made even more challenging by our weak economy. In response to these challenges we should all recognize the importance of shared resources for the continued success and stability of our community.

In this spirit, our community has opened our Hebrew/Religious school to members of the Jewish community regardless affiliation. While traditional services such as pastoral counseling, life cycle events, High Holy Days, B’nei mitzvah training and other congregational events still require a Temple membership, our school program will not.


The other area we addressed was our school calendar.  We understand the challenges that face the modern family, particularly when it comes to time (or the lack thereof).  To address this we have changed our school programming starting this fall to blend our twice weekly Hebrew/Religious School curriculum into an extended weekly Sunday School curriculum. 


Much care was made to preserve a traditional core curriculum without sacrificing quality or depth, but we must understand that today children approach Jewish learning very differently than in days past.  Our education committee has introduced brand new Hebrew textbooks that incorporate lessons about Shabbat, and morning liturgy, as well as parent-friendly software tools for home study and review.


Attached you will find a summary outlining a typical TBS Sunday School day. The price for an academic year (96 hours depending on liturgical calendar) is $500. This comprises tuition, book, snacks, and a team of devoted teachers supervised personally by the rabbi.


If you are curious or intrigued by this proposal, or if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.


Temple Beth Shalom Religious/Sunday School Itinerary

  9:30  – School begins with a short Havdalah service.

  9:35 – 9:40 – Information time  (community news, handouts and announcements).

 9:45 – 10:45 – 1 hour of Judaica class  – children will learn about Jewish festivals and traditions, scripture, history, and values.

10:45 to 11:00 –  Snack-time.

11:00 – 12:00 – another hour of class on Hebrew language.

12:00 – 12:15 – Sunday school concludes in our Sanctuary with 15 minutes of music and song.

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Una de les descripcions dels israelites més acurades i més inquietants ve de la boca d’un profeta no hebreu i apareix en la lectura d’aquesta setmana. Preocupat per l’èxit dels israelites en la batalla contra el amorreus, el rei moabita Balak fa venir el profeta Balaam per a maleir els israelites. Però els plans de Balak fallen quan, en comptes de maleir el poble, Balaam el beneeix.

Entre els famosos versets pronunciats per Balaam trobem el següent «Vet aquí un poble que viu a part, que no és comptat entre les nacions.» (Nm 23,9)

El rei Balak està furiós «Què m’has fet? T’he cridat per maleir els meus enemics, i tu els beneeixes!» (Nm 23,11), però, de veritat podem considerar aquesta declaració profètica de la situació aïllada dels israelites com una benedicció? O potser és una maledicció?

De tots és conegut que el poble d’Israel ha estat distingit per ser tractat de manera particular. En moltes institucions de la comunitat internacional no existeixen precedents o paral·lels per a la atenció dedicada a Israel. Exclòs de grups regionals i examinats de manera desproporcionada respecte a la seva dimensió i importància, ens colpeix la exactitud de la vella profecia de fa 3000 anys: Israel sembla un poble que «…viu a part, que no és comptat entre les nacions.»

Però com hem d’entendre aquesta profecia? L’hem d’acceptar o hi hem de lluitar en contra? És un fet etern de la vida que hem d’acceptar o és un repte de la història que hem de superar?

Al llarg dels segles els qui han comentat aquestes paraules de Balaam reflecteixen una varietat de pensament respecte a «viure a part.» He triat 4 interpretacions de la profecia on cadascuna representa una perspectiva diferent.

1- La separació com a part de l’ordre natural. El midraix (Èxode Rabbah) es basa en el curiós terme hebreu hen amb el que Balaam inicia aquesta profecia i observa que està compost per dues lletres (consonants), la he i la nun. El midraix fa notar que les lletres de l’alfabet hebreu, 22 consonants, tenen una parella. És a dir, la lletra àlef (valor 1 perquè és la primera lletra de l’alfabet) i la tet (valor 9 perquè és la novena) van juntes i sumen 10. Seguint aquesta regla la bet i la het van en parella, la guimel i la zayin també va en parella perquè sumen deu, deixant a la lletra he, amb un valor de 5, tota sola. Amb les altres consonants succeeix una cosa similar però amb el total 100. Al final la nun, amb un valor de 50, es queda tota sola. Al que aquestes dues lletres queden soles, conclou el midraix, també així ha estat decretat que el poble hebreu que romangui separat de les altres nacions.

2- La separació com a símptoma de l’anti-semitisme. Rashi, el comentarista per excelència del segle XI veu la paraula hen com una derivació de la paraula hana’à, acontentament, i dóna a la frase una lectura molt pessimista «.quan el poble hebreu és feliç, cap altre poble és feliç amb ell.»

3- La separació com a necessitat per a la supervivència jueva. El rabí Naftalí Zvi Yehuda Berlin (Minsk, Bielorússia XIX) suggereix que cal puntuar el verset de manera diferent de manera que llegiríem «un poble que quan està apart, viu.» En altres paraules, el poble hebreu continuarà existint mentre conservi la seva identitat, però si la perd s’arrisca a anar desapareixent.

4- La separació com a repte per a l’acció. Israel Lau, l’ex-rabí en cap d’Israel i supervivent de la Xoà, ens proposa que la profecia de Balaam no és una profecia aïllada sinó que està inserida en un context que també comença amb la paraula hen (hen am ke-labí yakum) «Mireu, un poble que s’aixeca com una lleona…» (Nm 23,24) el fet que Balaam es concentri en l’aïllament d’Israel és només una part de les dues profecies que criden Israel a l’acció i a assumir el control del seu propi destí.

Fins aquí 4 aproximacions que ens suggereixen 4 lectures ben diferents de la profecia de Balaam. Però totes elles ens sobten per un aspecte en comú. Totes accepten com a fet indiscutible la veritat de les paraules de Balaam: és un poble apart i diferent.

Potser va ser per això que els rabins varen acompanyar aquest text amb la lectura profètica, haftarà, que fa de contrapès a aquesta aproximació particularista perquè s’obre amb una visió del poble jueu no aïllat sinó com a part integrant de la humanitat amb un missatge adreçat no a un grup ètnic sinó per a tota la humanitat «Aleshores, la resta de Jacob serà, enmig de tants de pobles, com la rosada que ve de l’Etern, com gotetes de pluja sobre l’herba,…» (Mi 5,7)

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Any of us who have ever looked for a property knows, after a while of trawling through the property sections you become a bit of an expert at reading the real estate advertisements. You learn that a “renovator’s delight” is a place which is lucky to be standing, possibly a health hazard and definitely not inhabitable. “Scope for improvement” tells you that it probably has fluorescent pink walls and green carpet with a bathroom that was built just after the invention of plumbing. “Price on request” means really expensive, “ocean glimpses” means if you stand on the toilet, lean out the window, and wait for the breeze to blow the tree a little to the left you may see the ocean. You get the picture. So when I read in this week’s parasha “Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael” “How lovely are your tents oh Jacob, your dwelling places Israel!” I wondered what it meant. What kind of real estate-speak was this? “Lovely” tents, does that tell us that the Israelites had “room for improvement” or were living in “renovator’s delights” How much would those tents fetch at auction?


Well the commentators tell us that there were a number of things which made the Israelites’ tents lovely and the ad would probably go something like this: don’t miss this opportunity to buy into this tightly held enclave. Fabulous, quiet, private location in the heart of the desert. Community feel, close to restaurants, 24 hour access to prophet of God. Strata fees: 613 mitzvot per annum. Price on request.


We are taught that the Israelites merited the glowing report about their tents, their homes in the desert, because even though they were temporary dwellings, they were homes. The tents were arranged in an incredibly ordered fashion, with no tent looking into another, no ones privacy was compromised despite the close living quarters. Yet they were not distant from one another. Each person cared for the other and was aware of what those around them needed. It was a true community and their homes reflected who they were and what was important in their lives; community and family, a place to be together and also the space to be alone with those you love most dearly.


Today we are very good at creating homes with privacy. The doors to our tents definitely do not open to the street for people to see inside. We build walls and barriers between ourselves and our neighbors and we are losing the sense of community so valued by our ancestors. And at the same time we are building physical walls to shut others out, we are inviting them into our private worlds through the internet, Facebook and reality television. The barriers between public domain and the private one are so blurred as to be almost indistinguishable. Even though we cannot look into each other’s homes, we have access to each other’s most intimate secrets and thoughts. So ironically, as we are creating more physical distance between one another we are dissolving the personal barriers. But it is not giving us the sense of community that our ancestors felt. It is not providing us with the balance that the Israelites managed to forge in the desert.


Researchers who have studied happiness suggest that one of the major sources of happiness and contentment is to be part of a community with shared values and goals; to be involved in something which is larger than each of us as an individual. We need to find that again, to recognize the value and importance of caring for those around us and connecting with them. And we also need to find the private space and time too, moments where we can connect with those closest to us, to have personal space and place to be. I hope that we can be like the Israelites, our tents pitched together in community but with our own privacy and special space too, so that our synagogues and homes will truly merit the blessing “How beautiful are your tents Oh Jacob, your dwelling places Oh Israel.”


Shabbat Shalom

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