Friday, September 30, 2016

Tashlich

The Rosh Hashana tashlich ceremony is a tradition that is dear throughout the many diverse Jewish communities. Tashlich literally translates as "You will throw." But what, exactly, is it?

Tashlich is meant to be a symbolic physical representation of casting away one’s sins. Along with a selection of Psalms and supplications, Micah 7:18-20 is repeatedly recited: "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and forgiving transgression to the remainder of His heritage. He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in kindness. He will again have mercy on us. He will suppress our iniquities; yes, You will cast our sins into the depth of the sea."

The reference in Micah to the depth of the sea appears to be the source for the custom of reciting tashlich next to a body of water, such as a lake or a river (or an ocean, of course) in which fish live. As long as one can see the water, even from a distance (even by climbing to the rooftop of a building), one may recite tashlich.

Tashlich is usually performed in the late afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashana. However, if one is unable to do tashlich at that time, the ceremony may be performed until Hoshana Rabbah. If the first day of Rosh Hashana is on Shabbat, Ashkenazim wait until the second day.

Although descriptions of tashlich often include the casting of bread crumbs, feeding wild animals is prohibited on Shabbat and the holidays. The casting of bread is a poetic physical expression of tashlich, but is not necessary to the ceremony. This custom may have evolved from the chassidic custom of intentionally shaking off crumbs to represent casting away sins.


This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

God's Secret Things

In less than a week, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, will be celebrated. While New Year’s celebrations are nice (the Jewish calendar actually has four of them!), Rosh Hashana’s significance is far greater than a mere New Year. It is, in fact known as Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and is a time when Jews focus on recognizing God as the King of Kings.

The weeks leading up to Rosh Hashana are meant to be spent reflecting on one’s actions and evaluating whether one has sincerely become a better person. Unfortunately, our 24-hour media-fueled world not only teaches us to focus on that which is going on around us, but also presents a world of tragedies.

As we move into Rosh Hashana (and, in truth, throughout the year), the way in which we perceive the often tragic events in the world colors our ability to connect with and relate to God as the King of the world.

Why did a hurricane flood Vermont? Why is there a drought? Why did any tragedy strike? The answer is...we don’t know. As painful, difficult and unhappy as these situations are, Jewish tradition teaches that God runs the world and therefore there is a reason for everything.

Not knowing is a great challenge for many people, especially in today’s “information age.” In the Western World we are accustomed to being in control, which makes it harder to accept the Bible’s declaration that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:28).

Moses makes this statement after describing the violent repercussions that will happen to the Israelites if they cast off the yoke of Torah. However, like every verse in the Torah, it has a deeper meaning as well. The Torah is a guidebook for living, and it contains much wisdom to help us to better understand the world. We must always remember, as the conclusion of the previously cited verse states, that “the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”



This Treat was reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Last Shabbat of the Year

Celebrate the last Shabbat of 5776 with friends and/or family.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Annulment of Vows

"I swear that this time I will lose weight"

"I am going to pray every day..."

We make promises all the time. We swear that we are going to do something, and then hope that we will be in a position to fulfill the vow.

But did you know that according to the Torah, words often have binding force and may not be taken lightly? The Jewish legal view on oaths and vows is based on the verse, "He shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that he has uttered" (Numbers 30:3).

When you swear to do something, you’ve made a serious commitment. Words, from a Torah perspective, are binding. (It is for this reason that many people, after promising to do something, will append the caveat "bli neder" - without intending to vow, to prevent themselves from vowing falsely.)

According to the Torah, vows and oaths, however, can be retroactively nullified, by a "court" of knowledgeable people.

It was considered particularly important by the sages that, as the High Holidays approach, people ensure that they have not violated their previous year’s vows. They therefore created a formal nullification of vows that all are urged to perform before Rosh Hashanah. Known as "Hatarat Nedarim," the traditional "annulment of vows" takes place in front of a Jewish court of at least 3 knowledgeable men. In addition to nullifying past vows made "in error," the Hatarat Nedarim also declares that any such statements made in the coming year should be considered null and void.

(Of course, the nullification only covers those vows that are allowed to be nullified - not vows such as those regarding owing someone money - and vows that are made by one individual to another.)

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Symbolic Foods

Since Rosh Hashana is the Day of Judgment, it is customary to eat simanim,* foods with symbolic meanings that invoke God's blessing. We also recite a short prayer before eating them. While apple with honey is a universal custom, other symbolic foods eaten depend on family custom. Here are some examples:

Apple and Honey: A slice of apple is dipped in honey. After reciting the blessing for apples (Boray p'ree ha’etz) and taking a bite of the apple and honey, the following brief prayer is recited:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You renew for us a good and sweet year.
Beets: The Hebrew word for beets is selek, related to the Hebrew word l’salek, "to remove."

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our enemies be removed.
Pomegranate: It is said that each pomegranate has 613 seeds, representing the 613 commandments of the Torah.

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that our merits be as plentiful as the seeds of a pomegranate.
Head of a Sheep or a Fish: The head of the sheep or fish can be eaten or can be left on the table as a visual symbol. The customary prayer is as follows:

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that we be like a head (to lead) and not like a tail (to follow).
There is one type of food that is actually avoided on Rosh Hashana: Nuts. They are not eaten since the numeric value of the Hebrew word for nut, egoz, is connected to the numeric value for the Hebrew word for sin, chayt.

This is just a sampling of the simanim. For more foods and their associated prayers, click here.

*The simanim are eaten at the beginning of the evening meal.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Without A Vow

Be careful in how you state a promise so that you are not making a vow.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Light of the First Day

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters. And God said: 'Let there be light.' And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:1-4).

When most people think of natural light, they think of the sun. Strangely enough, the sun (along with the moon and stars) was not created until the fourth day. So what was the “light” that God placed in the world on the first day?

Rashi, commenting on Genesis 1:4, explains that God “saw that it was not proper for the wicked to use it [the first light] so He separated it for the righteous in the world to come.” Obviously, the light that Rashi is describing is not our everyday light. That first light is frequently construed to be a form of righteousness “spiritual light.” In fact, the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah explains the first light as the light that shone when "God cloaked Himself in a white shawl, and the light of His splendor shone from one end of the world to the other" (Bereshit Rabbah 3:4). This description implies that the light refers to a Divine radiance, a pure form of righteousness.

Rabbi Elazar states that with this first light “a person could see with it from one end of the world to the other”(Chagigah 12a). After God created the light and saw that it was good, He separated it from the darkness. Or, as our tradition explains, He hid it in the Torah!

The idea that the righteous light was hidden in the Torah, brings a new dimension to the verse in Psalms 97:11: “Light is sown for the righteous.” The righteous, through their relationship with Torah and mitzvot, can uncover this holiness.

But what about the rest of us, the not so righteous? Proverbs 20:27 declares that “the soul of man is the candle of God.” Just as a candle holds a small bit of light, each human is invested with a spark of the Divine light with which we are able to enlighten the entire world.



This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Remembering the Akeidah

In neither of the two Torah references to the holiday of Rosh Hashana (Leviticus 23:23-25, Numbers 29:1), is there a specific mention of the shofar, the ram's horn. Only the Teruah, the sound made by the shofar, is noted. So why do we only use the shofar on Rosh Hashana when the same sound can be made on another instrument?

In the Talmudic discussion, Rabbi Abahu (c. 279-320 C.E., Caeseria, Israel) responded to this question by referring to the oral tradition that God wanted the Jewish people to use a ram's horn to remind Him of the binding of Isaac (known as the Akeidah), which culminated in a ram being offered as a sacrifice in Isaac's stead. The shofar represents that ram.

Why is it important to God that the Jewish people remind Him of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashana? On a simple level, the oral tradition states that the Akeidah took place on the first of Tishrei, which is Rosh Hashana. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Akeidah reminds God of the Jewish people's commitment to the ways of its ancestors.

On Rosh Hashana, humanity is judged...and far too often it is the negative side of the scale that is weighed down. However, when God sees the Jewish people recalling the patriarchs' and matriarchs' devotion and commitment, and demonstrating that we, ourselves, strive toward that devotion, His attribute of mercy can override His attribute of judgment and enable Him to judge us favorably for a good year to come.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Clean Slate

In honor of the upcoming new year, pay off any minor debts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shofar Shorts

The shofar is one of the most recognizable symbols of Rosh Hashana. Although it is preferable that a shofar be fashioned from a ram’s horn, the horn need only come from a kosher animal.* However, not all the horns of a kosher animal are usable. For instance cows’ horns and deer antlers are solid bone and cannot be fashioned into a shofar, whereas the horns of animals such as rams are made of keratin and can be hollowed out to become a shofar.

Shofars are prepared by applying heat. They are cleaned in boiling water, and heat is applied in order to either straighten or bend the horns. A shofar may be engraved or decorated with metal as long as the weight does not alter the shofar’s sound. However, extra material may not be placed near either end of the shofar.

On Rosh Hashana four distinct sounds are blown on the shofar:

Tekiah - The tekiah is a long, solid blast like the blowing of a trumpet at a king’s coronation. This sound reminds us that God is the King of Kings.

Shevarim - The shevarim are three medium-length blasts, reminiscent of deep sighs or soft crying, (where one is gasping for breath). The shevarim represents the first step in recognizing all that God does for us, and all that we could be doing, thus the sighing sound.

Teruah - The teruah are nine quick staccato blasts which evoke the feeling of short piercing cries of wailing. It represents the recognition that the new year is upon us, and the time for repentance will soon pass.

--A combination of Shevarim-Teruah is also sounded during the shofar service.

Tekiah Gedolah - The tekiah gedolah, the final blast, is a long solid note. It is a triumphant shout that reaches out to the hearts of all to assure them that their prayers have been heard.

(*If one has absolutely no other option, one may use the horn of a non-kosher animal, but cannot recite the blessings over hearing the sounds.)



This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Five Names of Rosh Hashana

In Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashana has several names that can help us understand the importance and power of this holiday.

Rosh Hashana literally means "Head of the Year" because Rosh Hashana marks the point when we begin the new calendar year (e.g. from 5775 to 5776).

Yom Harat Olam is translated as "The Birthday of the World."

Yom Hazikaron is translated as "The Day of Remembering."

Yom Hadin is translated as "The Day of Judgment."

Yom Teruah is translated as "The Day of Sounding (the Shofar)." This is the actual name that the holiday is called in the Torah.

Ok, so there are five different names for the holiday. What is the significance of that? How do these different themes relate to each other?

The Teruah is the staccato sound blown on the shofar. Yom Teruah serves as a call to attention because this day is Yom Hadin, the Day of Judgment, and it is imperative that one be cognizant of the importance of the day.

It is the Day of Judgment because it is Yom Hazikaron, the day on which God looks back and "remembers" our deeds, individually, collectively and historically (a record of over 4,000 years of Jewish history).

Why is this the Day of Remembrance? Because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world (Yom Harat Olam). Since the annual cycle is closing, it is the perfect time for reflection and judgment. This new beginning allows us to enter the new year with a clean slate.

And since the old year and the new year are seamless, this day is also Rosh Hashana, the head of the year.



This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
If you can't attend Rosh Hashana services, find out the time of an alternate shofar blowing.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Year is Set

Rosh Hashana, the head of the year, is the day on which God determines the fate and fortune of both individuals and communities for the year to come. It is assumed that on this day God determines exactly how much money one will earn in the coming year. As it says, "All of a person's earnings are fixed in the time from Rosh Hashana until (and including ) Yom Kippur, except for his expenses for Shabbat, holidays and expenses incurred in teaching his children Torah" (Beitza 16a).

But if God decides on Rosh Hashana that a person is to earn $80,000 for the year, what need is there for that person to remain "good"? Since judgment has been already rendered, can’t we just relax until next Rosh Hashana?

The Talmud addresses this question on a communal level (Rosh Hashana 17b):

Let's say that on Rosh Hashana the Jewish people were judged to be in the category of the completely righteous, and Heaven decreed abundant rainfall for that year. But, later, they went off the straight and narrow. Reducing the total amount of rainfall is impossible, because the decree has already been issued. Therefore, the Holy One, blessed be He, may make it rain during the wrong season or on land that does not require rain.

On Rosh Hashana a judgment is rendered. How that judgment is executed (whether in a single check, a monthly increase, or random $1 bills that are spent without thought) is up to each of us.



This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Festive Poems

Take a survey of the most common adjective used to describe the Jewish High Holidays and the word might just be “long.” One reason for the long services is that in addition to the usual sections of prayer, the services are also embellished with a host of piyyutim, liturgical poems.

The inclusion of piyyutim in the prayer service is a tradition that goes back to ancient Israel. These inspirational poems not only served as a means of religious expression for the paytan (the poet), but in some communities they actually served as alternatives to the set liturgy in times and places where Jewish prayer was outlawed.

Piyyutim carry distinctive styles depending on the time and place they were composed. Those included in the service come from such a variety of places as Israel, Spain, Germany and France, all countries with distinct traditions.

An excellent example of a piyut is L’Ayl Oraich Din, which is recited on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. L’Ayl Oraich Din helps us understand God’s role as Judge, King and Father. In the following sample (the first several verses of the piyut), note the repetitive alternating ending:

And all shall ascribe the crown to You:
To God Who prepares man for judgment
To the One Who tests hearts on the day of judgment
To the One Who reveals the depths in judgment
To the One Who speaks fairness on the day of judgment

Another well known piyut is Hayom T’amzeinu. The piyut as it is recited today is only seven verses long. However, it is believed that is was originally composed as a full alphabetic acrostic. As can be seen from even just the first three verses (below), this piyut celebrates the completion of the main prayers of the day and the firm belief that these prayers have been accepted:

Today, may you strengthen us...Amen
Today, may you bless us...Amen

 Today, may you make us great...Amen


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Priority List

Make a list of priorities for requesting for the new year.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Holiday Greetings

The standard pre-Rosh Hashana greeting of “K’tiva v’chatima tova” ("May you be written and sealed for good”) is deduced from a Talmudic discussion concerning the three heavenly books that are opened during the High Holidays.

Rabbi Jochanan (as quoted by Rabbi Kruspedai) clarified that on the New Year three books - a book for the completely wicked, a book for the completely righteous and a book for those in the middle - are opened. According to Rabbi Avin, the existence of these books is alluded to in Psalms 69:29: “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” According to Rabbi Nahman ben Isaac, Moses actually refers to one of these books in Exodus 32:32: “...blot me, I pray You, out of Your book which You have written” (Rosh Hashana 16b).

Both of the proof-texts brought in the Talmud appear to refer only to a Book of the Righteous. Since tradition has it that the world is balanced
between extremes (prophecy was balanced by idolatry, Moses was balanced by Balaam), a Book of the Wicked must also exist. This, of course, leaves a gap for those who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked...in other words, the majority of humanity. Thus it could only be assumed that there was a third book.

Rabbi Kruspedai further explains that, on Rosh Hashana, the completely righteous and the completely wicked are immediately written into their respective books, but “the judgement of the intermediate group is written but not finalized from the New Year till the Day of Atonement” [when it is sealed].

Because of the “suspended” status of most people between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, after Rosh Hashana the greeting is altered to “G’mar chatima tova” ("May it finish with you being sealed for good").

Jewish Treats wishes all of its readers l’shana tova tikatayhvu v’taychataymu (that’s the plural form).


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we declare: "Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!" In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts: Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

Teshuva (repentance), a central theme of the High Holidays, means more than just saying "sorry." Teshuva means recognizing one’s errors and making an effort not to repeat them. In many ways, teshuva is a private act because one must be introspective in order to recognize one’s own mistakes.

Tefila (prayer) is the acknowledgment of God as the King and Ruler of the universe. Tefila is almost private, but not quite. It is a conversation between the person and God.

Tzedaka (charity) is a critical step necessary to reverse an evil decree simply because it constitutes an action. The performance of this mitzvah affects the person giving, the person receiving, and its benefits often extend to others as well. Tzedaka is reaching out beyond one’s self, and is thus a public act.

Everything that a person does affects the world in multiple ways. It affects the person’s relationship with him/herself, his/her relationship with the Divine and his/her relationship with his/her fellow human beings. The path to reversing an evil decree must therefore involve the private, the spiritual and the public spheres of our lives.


This Treat is reposted in honor of Rosh Hashana.
Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Holidays Are Coming

Rosh Hashana begins one week from tonight, make plans now.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Selichot

In addition to the unique prayer services of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays are known for one other service: selichot. A collection of religious poems and verses, selichot are penitential prayers that help one focus on the mood of the season.

An integral part of the selichot service is the repetition of the "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" (Exodus 34:5-7). After the incident with the Golden Calf, Moses returned to Mount Sinai and assuaged God’s anger at the Israelites. According to the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b), God, appearing as a prayer leader wrapped in a prayer shawl, instructed Moses that the Jewish people should recite the following "Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy" and they would be granted forgiveness:

Hashem: He is merciful (to one before he/she sins).

Hashem: He is merciful (to the sinner who repents).

Ayl: He is powerful.

Rachum: He is compassionate.

V’chanun: He grants even undeserved favors.

Erech Ah'payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment.

V’rav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency.

V’emet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.

Notzer Chesed La’alafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations.

Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation.

Va’fesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him.

V’chata’ah: He forgives sins committed carelessly or unknowingly.

V’nah'kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance.*

In Sephardi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continues through Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazi communities, the recitation of selichot begins on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana (unless Rosh Hashana begins on a Monday or Tuesday, in which case it begins the previous Saturday night - as it does this year). The first communal recitation of selichot in the Ashkenazi community usually takes place after midnight. On all other days until Yom Kippur, selichot are usually recited prior to the morning service.

--Explanations of the 13 Attributes are from The Companion Guide to the Yom Kippur Prayer Service by Moshe Sorscher, printed by Judaica Press.


This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Rosh Hashana.

Read 'Em

If you can't attend Selichot services, find a copy of the text in your native language and read through it.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sheket...Bevakasha

There are not too many cultures where people laugh when they are told to “shut up, please!” Yet, there are many Jews who, in that situation, do exactly that- laugh! In fact, anyone who went to a Jewish camp or Hebrew school may now be feeling a desire to yell “Hey!” after reading the words sheket bevakasha...(go ahead, yell ‘hey!’).

While sheket means quiet, religious texts more often use the word shtika to refer to silence. The famous Rabbi Akiva is noted for saying, “a safety fence for wisdom is silence” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 3:13). Elsewhere in the Talmud it is written, “the best medicine of all is silence. When Rabbi Dimi came, he said: ‘In the west they say a word is worth a sela, silence two selas” (Talmud Megillah 18a).

By extolling the merits of silence, the sages were not trying to hush a gathering of noisy, rambunctious youth. Rather they were discussing a character trait.  Jews may joke, Jews may debate, and Jews may even argue, but Judaism places tremendous importance on peace. Knowing when to refrain from speaking is often the best way to maintain peace. Whether this means refraining from gossip, holding back a sharp retort or not trying to prove that one person knows better than another, shtika is the silence of self-discipline. That is why the recommended remedy to employ when one finds oneself about to say something one shouldn’t, is to tell oneself Sheket...Bevakasha.


 

Good Communication

Listen carefully to what other people are saying and think before you speak.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Partners Throughout

The relationship between two people sharing authority can often be difficult. Nevertheless, in the early Talmudic era, the leadership of the Jewish people was usually shared between two sages. Known as zugot, one of these leaders was the head of the Sanhedrin (nasi) and the other was the head of the court (av beit din). Among the many unique zugot was the famed partnership of Shmaya and Avtaliyon.

According to tradition, not only did these two share their leadership, they actually studied together under Rabbi Judah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shetach. Additionally, they were both converts to Judaism, believed to be descendants of Sancherib, the Assyrian King who had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Living in a time of great political upheaval - the era of Herod the Great (74 BCE-4 BCE)- Shmaya and Avtaliyon were more than just scholars. They were greatly loved by the people. The Talmud relates how one year, just after the conclusion of Yom Kippur, they came upon a crowd escorting the High Priest to his home. So beloved were Shmaya and Avtaliyon, that when the crowd saw them they abandoned the High Priest and followed the nasi and av beit din (Talmud Yoma 71b).

Another story that demonstrates how beloved they were and how eager scholars were to study with them is about one of their most famous students, Hillel the Elder. A very poor man, one Friday,  Hillel did not have the small fee necessary to enter the House of Study. Rather than return home, he climbed up on the roof of the House of Study. The next morning, Shmaya and Avtaliyon noticed that the skylight was blocked. Finding Hillel frozen and covered in snow, they quickly  brought him inside and revived him (Talmud Yoma 35b). They decided never to charge fees again.

Even in death Shmaya and Avtaliyon are joined together. Their tomb, located in the village of Jish in the Galilee region of northern Israel, receives many visitors each year.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
Bibliography

Say It

Express gratitude to someone from whom you have learned something valuable.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Unclean?

The Book of Deuteronomy records the statement declared by the ancient Israelites upon fulfilling  the mitzvah of tithing. Within this declaration it is written: “I have not eaten of it while in mourning, I have not cleared out any of it while I was unclean, and I have not deposited any of it with the dead....” (Deuteronomy 26:14). This particular verse offers an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the term “unclean.”

The Hebrew word tameh does not have an accurate English translation. It actually refers to the state of one’s spiritual rather than one’s physical being.  It is most frequently translated in English as “unclean” or “impure” because one who is tameh may not participate in certain sanctified  rituals or enter the Temple. The opposite of being tameh is to be tahor, which is equally inaccurately translated as “clean” or “pure.” These translations are reinforced by the fact that one must go through a ritual cleansing process in order to go from tameh to tahor.

The reason, perhaps, that there is no proper translation for tameh and tahor is that both these terms reflect a metaphysical state of being related to life. The “energy” that is often referred to as one’s life force is a flow of Divine energy. When someone (or anything living) dies and loses that Divine energy, those who come in contact with it become tameh.

Being in mourning after the loss of a close relative and having contact with death can both have a profound effect on one’s spiritual and emotional ability to connect to the Divine, which, in turn, can affect a person’s ability to fulfill a mitzvah properly. On a simplified level, this is the fundamental  meaning of the biblical term “unclean” or “impure.”

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Live It!

Celebrate life whenever you can.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Incomplete Repentance

“Repentance” sounds like a grand and powerful word. In truth, the most important adjective that must be attached to the act of repentance is the word “sincere.”

At one time or another, we all experience insincere apologies, and it doesn’t make anyone feel better to receive one. Since an apology is critical to the repentance process, an insincere apology does not bode well for true repentance.


One particular story in the Bible highlights the tragedy brought about by an insincere apology: King Saul, the first King of Israel, was responsible both because of a general commandment in the Torah (Deuteronomy 25:17-19) and a personal directive issued through the words of the prophet Samuel, to completely wipe out the Amalekites, ancient enemies of the Jewish people. While he was victorious over them, “Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, oxen ... and lambs, and all that was good...”(I Samuel 15:9).


When confronted the next morning by Samuel (to whom God had already expressed his anger over Saul’s disobedience), King Saul’s response was to declare that he had listened to the Divine command, capturing King Agag alive and destroying the Amelekites. He then added, “the people took of the spoils, sheep and oxen, the chief of the devoted things” (I Samuel 15:21) to sacrifice to God. Finally, Saul admits his wrong-doing, but still does not take responsibility: “I have sinned; for I have transgressed the commandment of God, and your words; because I feared the people, and hearkened to their voice” (I Samuel 15:24).


By blaming the people, Saul voided his apology. Perhaps, if he had immediately recognized his mistake, admitted it and apologized sincerely, the dynastic line of kingship would not have been removed from his family and given to David.


This Treat was last posted on September 10, 2014.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Plan Ahead

Make a plan to put any personal resolutions into effect.

Friday, September 16, 2016

He Gave Us Curious George

Today, September 16th, is the birth date of the father of the famed children’s book series Curious George. Hans Augusto Reyersbach, better known as H.A. Rey, was born on this day in 1898 in Hamburg, Germany. Still a teenager at the outbreak of World War I, Rey served in the German army during the war and later painted circus posters while attending university.

Several years after moving to Rio de Janerio, Brazil (in the mid-1920s), while selling bathtubs in the Amazon,  H.A. Rey met fellow Hamburg native Margarete (Margret) Waldstein. He had actually met her once before, at her older sister’s birthday party, but in Brazil they fell in love. After their 1935 wedding, the Reys decided to return to Europe and moved to Paris, where they began writing and illustrating children’s books.

Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, the Reys’ first published title, came out in 1939. The youngest monkey, Fifi, was so popular that the Reys began writing just about him. On the threshold of true success, their lives were suddenly overshadowed by world events. Hours before the Nazis entered Paris in 1940, the Reys, aware of the danger they faced as Jews, fled the city on self-assembled bikes.

After they arrived in the United States, the already-written Fifi manuscript was published with a new name for the title character, Curious George. The Reys only wrote eight Curious George books, the rest were written by other artists/illustrators.

In addition to his love of animals and art, Rey was fascinated by astronomy. In the 1950s, he produced an illustration of the constellations that made them easier to recognize and identify. The Stars: A New Way to See Them was re-released as recently as 2008.

H.A. Rey passed away on August 26, 1977.

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Curiously

This Shabbat, take some time to be curious about Judaism.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Assisting a Runaway

Once upon a time, slavery was an almost universally accepted economic system. Whatever our values and opinions about slavery may be today, slaves were a fact of life in the not nearly so distant past. In some cultures, slaves were simply unpaid labor, treated decently. In others, slaves were no better than objects or livestock. Because slavery was such a natural part of life, it is not surprising that the Torah includes slavery and laws on how a slave must be treated.

Beyond the laws that define an Eved Ivri (Hebrew slave) and an Eved Canaani (non-Jewish slave), there is an additional halacha (law) concerning runaway slaves: “You shall not deliver to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He will dwell with you, in the midst of you, in the place which he shall choose within one of your gates, where it is good to him, you shall not harm him” (Deuteronomy 23:16-17).

This law applies to any slave, whether Jew or non-Jew. One might then ask, how can a society that permits slavery not return a runaway slave? The Jewish laws on slavery are focused very much on the proper master-slave relationship. A slave is given the same accommodations as a member of the household (quality of food, sleeping quarters, etc.), and if a master accidentally maims (even just knocking out a tooth) a slave, then that slave is set free. Perhaps, Deuteronomy 23:16-17 is premised on the belief that any slave who needed to run away was not being treated to the Torah’s standard and was therefore deserving of freedom.

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Respectful

If you have household help, be certain to treat them with honest respect.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Games in Tel Aviv

This week is the main week of the 2016 Paralympic Games being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These Games, which provide a competitive opportunity for people with disabilities, receive far less attention that the Olympic Games themselves, although the stories of these athletes are often truly inspirational.

What few people know is that Israel, which never hosted an Olympic Competition, took up a dropped torch and welcomed the 1968 Paralympics to Tel Aviv. In 1963, Mexico won its bid to host the 1968 Summer Olympics, and it was understood that this would include the Paralympics. In 1966, however, Mexico determined that they would not be able to meet the technical needs of a second schedule of games. When Mexico backtracked on the Paralympics, Israel jumped in and volunteered.

There were many reasons to be impressed with this short-notice change of venue. Most significantly was the fact that the State of Israel had only been created 20 years earlier in 1948. Nevertheless, they not only arranged a successful multi-event competition, they even added several sports such as Lawn Bowl and Women’s wheelchair basketball.

The opening ceremony for the games was held in Jerusalem, at the Hebrew University Stadium, on November 4, 1968 (not late, considering that the Mexican Summer Olympics took place in late October). The remainder of the games took place in Tel Aviv.

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Volunteering

When you see a person in need of support, don't hesitate to volunteer what you can to help.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Seeking God in Elul

Psalm 27 is read twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul through the holiday of Sukkot in order to help each Jew develop a beautiful relationship with the Divine.

“One thing have I asked of God, one thing do I desire: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the graciousness of God, and to visit in His Temple” (27:4). This poignant phrase is an expression of the true longing that is reflected in this psalm. While one may look to God as a protector and a savior (which, indeed, is how God is referred to through much of this psalm), it is critical to also seek out God and to try to be close to Him.

Psalm 27 was written by King David, who certainly did not have an easy life (King Saul wanted him dead, his sons rebelled...), and yet King David remained steadfast in his faith in God. With all his troubles, David had the incredible gift of being able to look at the world and recognize the ways in which God protected him. “Had I not believed that I would look upon the goodness of God in the land of the living!--Hope in the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, hope in the Lord" (27:13-14).

The month of Elul, which leads into Rosh Hashana, is a time for reflecting on the wonderful gift of having a relationship with the Divine--and how one can work to achieve that relationship.

This Treat was last posted on August 21, 2015.


Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Moments

Take time out each day to connect with God.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Swiss Jews

A Jewish presence in Switzerland can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Until the 19th century, Jews in Switzerland were restricted in their residence and employment. While there were several notable physicians who were given special treatment, the most common Jewish profession for Jews in Switzerland was moneylending. Because Christians were forbidden to lend money, there was an all-too-common cycle of the expulsion of the Jewish community when an area became too indebted, and then, when the economy began to stagnate, an invitation for the Jews to settle in the area once more.

This ambivalent history of the Jews of Switzerland is not particularly surprising for a Western European country. The Jews were constantly persecuted and harassed, especially during times of trouble such as the black plague, when the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. There were also numerous instances of blood-libel accusations.

As in many Western European countries, the first real taste of equality came with the Napoleonic conquest, but left with it as well. Only in 1841 did the Swiss grant Jews any level of civic equality, and even the new Swiss Constitution of 1848 did not actually open the country to free Jewish settlement. Full civil rights only came to Jews in Switzerland with the revised constitution of 1874.

Although the Jews were considered equal citizens after 1874, there remained issues over certain Jewish religious practices, such as ritual slaughter (shechita). In 1887, the Jews of Baden challenged a general prohibition against shechita, but the ban was upheld by the Swiss courts, which ruled that preventing cruelty* to animals was more important than religious freedom. The prohibition of kosher slaughter was added into the constitution, and it remains forbidden to this day. (Kosher meat must be brought in from other countries.)

The Swiss are most noted for their neutrality, and, because of this policy, the Jews of Switzerland were protected during World War II. However, the Swiss very quickly closed their borders to any refugees with a J-marked passport, leading to the ultimate demise of an untold number of Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

*Please note that the specific methods of shechita have been scientifically proven to minimize any cruelty to the animal by causing an almost instantaneous death.

Today, September 12, is the anniversary of the signing of the constitution of the modern state of Switzerland in 1848.

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Home Base

Support charitable institutions in your home city.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Natural Born Leadership

“No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President” (U.S. Constitution II.1).

Over the last decade or so, the question of defining “natural born citizen” has come up with increasing frequency, although mostly for the purpose of political posturing. The terminology appears to be derived from British citizenship laws, but the legal qualification of being a natural member of the nation can be traced back to the Biblical laws of kingship.

“You shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother” (Deuteronomy 17:15).

One might wonder why any nation would choose a foreigner to rule over them, but it has happened. The natural born status necessary to serve as the king for the Children of Israel, however, is just one of numerous laws that are listed in the Torah regarding a Jewish monarch. A Jewish king cannot have too many wives or own too many horses. He is also obligated to write his own copy of the Torah, which he is to use in order to increase his knowledge and fear of God. The ideal Jewish king is inextricably tied to the Torah, and thus a foreigner would be unable to fulfill this role and its obligations.

When the time came for a king to be appointed over Israel, God first chose Saul from the tribe of Benjamin and then David from the tribe of Judah, from whom all future Jewish kings must descend. While this guarantees the paternal lineage of any king over the Jewish people, one should not conclude that the terms used (brother/foreigner) are entirely exclusionary. After all, King David was the descendant of a Moabite convert (Ruth) and considered just as much a part of the nation as one who could trace his complete lineage back to Jacob himself.

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Shabbat Is Coming

Greet the Shabbat Queen by lighting Shabbat candles.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Paralympics’ Jewish Roots

The competitive spirit of this year’s Summer Games in Rio did not end with the Closing Ceremony. From September 7 - September 18, 2016, thousands of athletes with physical disabilities will take over Rio’s Olympic venues for the 2016 Paralympics. These amazing athletes can credit this grand event, and indeed an entirely new philosophy in dealing with physical disabilities (particularly spinal injuries), to a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.

Sir Dr. Ludwig Guttmann (1899 - 1980), a native German, believed, at first, that the Nazis were a temporary departure from the norm. After he was prohibited from working in public hospitals in 1933, he immediately accepted the position of Director of the neurological/neurosurgical department at the Breslau Jewish Hospital. It was not until after Kristallnacht (1938), after he was forced to justify the admission of 64 patients to the hospital following the beginning of deportations, that Dr. Guttmann realized he had to leave Germany.

In England, a paper by Dr. Guttmann was influential in the creation of the Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, a unique institute for dealing with spinal cord injuries. As the director, Dr. Guttmann took a holistic approach to helping those with spinal injuries. Dr. Guttmann showed the injured that they could use their bodies in new ways.

The athletics that were a natural part of Dr. Guttmann’s rehabilitation program soon became recreational for his patients. On July 29, 1948, the same day as the opening of the 1948 London Olympics, Dr. Guttmann oversaw the first Stoke-Mandeville Games. Sixteen injured soldiers competed in archery. Four years later, Dutch soldiers participated, making the games international. The Stoke-Mandeville games continued to shadow the Summer Olympics. The 1960 games in Rome are formally recognized as the first Paralympics, as the competition was open to veterans and civilians alike. The winter Paralympics began in 1976. Since 1988, the Paralympics have been held in the same city as, and  immediately following, the Olympics.

This Treat was last posted on August 29, 2012.


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Inner Strength

Push yourself to overcome challenges.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Customs of Place

Jewish life is defined by halacha (Jewish law) and colored by minhag (Jewish custom). While Jewish prayer may have the same form and structure around the globe, the way in which it is recited varies from community to community. There are many ways in which minhag affects a community: foods served on Shabbat, traditional dress, songs...even the pronunciation of Hebrew.

In previous generations, before technology made travel and communication almost effortless, communities were often isolated and, therefore, homogeneous. A person followed the customs of his/her family, which were usually the customs of the town unless the family had accepted stringencies upon themselves. Then, as now, a woman assumed the customs of her husband and his family to ensure shalom bayit (domestic tranquillity).

As the world has grown smaller, so to speak, the question of community, identity and, thus, minhagim has become slightly more complicated. A neighborhood can include Jews from several different backgrounds who form independent communities within the larger community.

Sometimes, however, minhagim are rooted in location, and people who come to that location follow the guideline of observing the minhag hamakom, the distinct customs of that particular place. There are many examples of issues affected by minhag hamakom. For instance, in most communities, the time to light candles before Shabbat is 18 minutes prior to sunset, but in Jerusalem it is customary to light candles 40 minutes before sunset.

If one has a strong family or personal custom, it might seem odd to deviate from it because of a change in location. However, the dominant purpose of minhag hamakom is to ensure peace among people and a way to avoid disagreements.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Know It

Be aware of the customs of your family and your community.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Alarm Clock

New beginnings are often difficult.

For those who are not “morning people,” every day is a new beginning, and we must be thankful to whoever invented the alarm clock, which keeps us from being labeled as “slothful” and “lazy.”

No other beginning is quite as profound as the one we face annually at Rosh Hashana. During the High holidays, God gives all people the chance to face His judgment and wipe their slate clean.

Looking honestly at one's actions and resolving to make changes to one's life is a daunting task. Just as in the morning, people naturally desire to continue sleeping and not wake up at what feels like the crack of dawn, most people wish to roll over and bury their heads back in the blanket rather than face the challenge of change.

The great symbol of Rosh Hashana is the shofar. Knowing well the nature of people, the sages realized that what was really needed was an "alarm clock." They therefore instituted the custom of blowing the shofar every morning during the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashana. When the shofar is sounded in the synagogue, it is meant to serve as an alarm clock that awakens our souls and reminds us that Rosh Hashana is soon at hand.

This Treat was last posted on Monday, August 18, 2015.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Time To Think

Use the month before Rosh Hashana to contemplate what role you want Judaism to have in your life.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Proud Maker of Music

Giacomo Meyerbeer (born in 1791 as Yaakov Liebmann Beer) succeeded in creating the 19th century’s most frequently produced operas while maintaining and taking pride in his heritage. While so many are known to have changed their names to hide their Judaism for fear of anti-Semitism, he actually added the name Meyer in honor of his grandfather. (He began using Giacomo, an Italian form of Jacob, while studying in Italy.)

The son of a wealthy businessman, Meyerbeer was raised with the greatest advantages of Berlin society. However, his natural talent and his incredible musical abilities, particularly on the piano, were recognized while he was still quite young.

As he matured, however, Meyerbeer’s true desire was to compose, and in order to learn composition, he took himself to Venice. Meyerbeer was strongly affected by his time in Italy, especially by the friendship he formed with the famed Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. The two collaborated on some of Meyerbeer’s earliest works.

In 1824, Meyerbeer’s first major success, Il crociato in Eglitto, premiered in Venice. It was produced in London and Paris the next year, giving Meyerbeer his entry into the world of Parisian Opera. When his Robert le diable premiered in Paris in 1831, Meyerbeer became a true celebrity.

In addition to his Parisian operas, which he continued to create throughout his life, Meyerbeer remained attached to his native Berlin. His wife and daughters resided there, and he was appointed as the Royal Director of Music.

Whereas most other artists struggled to get by, Meyerbeer benefited greatly from his family’s wealth. It is known that he lent money to both Heinrich Heine and Richard Wagner, the latter who was once an ardent fan but later repaid Meyerbeer’s generosity (both financially and in assisting in getting Wagner’s earlier work produced) with vitriolic anti-Semitism later in life.

Meyerbeer passed away on May 2, 1864, at the age of 72. His final opera,
L'Africaine premiered after his death.

Today’s Treat was posted in honor of Classical Music Month and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s 225th birthday.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
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Talent to Praise

Use your natural talents to express gratitude to God for those talents.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Krymchaks: The Unique Jews of Crimea

The Crimean Peninsula, which extends into the Black Sea, has been home to a succession of dominant cultures. Among the many who have settled in this region have been Jews, whose presence there is recorded as far back as the first century C.E. In fact, there is a fascinating document describing how the Jews freed their slaves on condition that they convert and join the community, which the former slaves did.

The Jewish community stayed in the Crimea when the Huns invaded in the fourth century, and when the Byzantines arrived in the sixth century. When the Khazars took over the region in the seventh century, the Jews found like-minded rulers, especially after the Khazar nobility converted to Judaism. At this time, the Crimean Jewish community also absorbed Jewish refugees fleeing Byzantium persecution.

In the mid-13th century, the area was conquered by the Tatars and the Mongols, who remained the dominant culture even when the area was under Turkish rule until the area was annexed by Russia in the late 18th century. This was a critical time for the development of a unique Jewish community. While Jews from all over had migrated to Crimea, the distinctions between Ashkenazic and Sephardic had disappeared so that the community not only had their own distinct nusach (customs in prayer) but also their own patois language as well. Like other Jewish tongues, Krymchak, as it later came to be called (when the community labelled themselves in order to distinguish themselves from more recent Ashkenazic communities), was a meld of the local language and Hebrew. In this case, Crimean-Tatar and Hebrew. It was written in Hebrew characters.

By the 20th century, the Krymchak population was a shrinking community, having faced first Russian persecution and then Soviet oppression. The community’s fate, however, was tragically sealed when the Nazi High Command in Berlin ruled that the Krymchaks were not to be seen as a distinctive community and were to be treated like all other Jews (some other distinct communities were given exemptions).
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More than half the Krymchak population was murdered, and assimilation and social pressure took care of the rest. In the last few years, however, there has been a resurgence in interest in the Krymchak language and descendants of this unique community have been trying to preserve their near extinct linguistic history.

Sunday September 4, 2016, is the European Day of Jewish Culture, which this year will be celebrating Jewish Languages. 

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Preservation

Try to preserve any special languages or customs that are part of your family heritage.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

On the Canadian Prairie

Thirty-three years old at the time of his immigration, Grodno-born Rabbi Israel Isaac Kahanovitch was called to Winnipeg, Manitoba, after spending a year in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He had left his Russian homeland two years earlier in the wake of devastating pogroms and traveled across the ocean with his wife and several small children.

When Rabbi Kahanovitch and his family arrived in Winnipeg, the prairie city was still quite young and the Jewish community was composed of struggling groups of immigrants, most of whom had fled from Russia following pogroms in 1882 and 1905.

In addition to his high level of Torah knowledge, Rabbi Kahanovitch was known for his warmth, energy and dedication to the people of the region. He organized Talmud study groups and helped establish the Hebrew Free School. In addition to his rabbinic duties in Winnipeg, Rabbi Kahanovitch traveled throughout the Canadian prairies to support the larger Jewish community. He was involved in creating a Jewish school in Regina, a synagogue in Melville (both in Saskatchewan), and etc. He was often referred to as the Chief Rabbi of Western Canada.

A passionate Mizrachi Zionist, Rabbi Kahanovitch served on the National Executive of the Zionist Organization of Canada. This was not his only national activity. He was overwhelmingly elected to serve as a delegate at the first Canadian Jewish Congress in Montreal in 1919. Additionally, Rabbi Kahanovitch created Winnipeg’s Unity Charity organization.

Rabbi Kahanovitch passed away on June 22, 1945. His contributions to Canadian society were recently recognized by the Canadian government. In March 2016, a plaque in his honor was unveiled by Parks Canada, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada.

On September 1, 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan, two of the three prairie provinces, joined the Canadian confederation.

Related:
http://www.jewishtreats.org/2012/07/western-frontier.html

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.
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New in Town

Make a special effort to meet a new rabbi in town.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

B'sha'a Tova

“Mazal Tov!” This Jewish expression has, without question, crossed the societal divide and is a well-known phrase throughout the western world. And while many popular entertainers and media figures may mispronounce it, it is no longer considered a foreign phrase to Americans.

While “Mazal Tov” is used in lieu of congratulations, it is most accurately translated as “good fortune.” But the Jewish faith does not believe that fickle fortune, otherwise known as “fate” or “destiny,” rules the lives of Jews, and so this too is an inaccurate translation. Rather, Mazal Tov is a means of declaring that God has brought good fortune upon a person. (For more see Rabbi Buchwald's comments on parashat Balak 5768)

Mazal Tov has come to be used as a means of congratulations for virtually every event--from getting married to getting a raise. For some situations, however, there is a far more appropriate term: “B’sha’a Tova,” which figuratively means “in a propitious time.”

What is the true meaning of the term “B’sha’a Tova”? In actuality, it is a blessing calling for the good tidings to come to a fortuitous conclusion. Most often it is said to an expectant mother, although it can be applied to any good news that has not yet come to a full conclusion, such as an engagement.

This Treat was last posted on November 4, 2010.

Copyright © 2016 NJOP. All rights reserved.