Monday, January 21, 2019

Tu B'Shevat is Coming

While it may seem as if winter has just begun, it may be time to look beyond the turbulent weather and see that spring is just around the corner. You might wonder how one can possibly think of spring at the present time, but, according to Jewish wisdom, now is precisely the time because Tu B'Shevat is the New Year for trees.

Tu B'Shevat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, marks the official (halachic) start of spring in Israel, even though the weather is still cold. According to Jewish tradition, this is the day on which the long dormant sap in the trees begins to flow again.

Why is Tu B'Shevat celebrated as a holiday and elevated to the status of being one of the four New Years on the Jewish calendar? In Judaism, a holiday usually marks a day on which there is a unique connection between the spiritual and physical worlds and signals an event from which we can learn and grow.

Because of Tu B'Shevat, Jews around the world are given a moment to stop and think about the trees and the greenery around them. Spiritually, there is much that one can learn from a tree. For instance, almost every person goes through a “spiritual winter,” a time in which it is hard to connect to God or to follow religious beliefs. According to tradition, deep within each Jew there is a pintele yid (Yiddish for a "little bit of Jewish spirit"). Like the frozen sap that is thawed by the coming of spring and brings new life to the tree, the pintele yid can be ignited by a spark of inspiration and revitalize the Jewish soul.

Some people follow the custom of eating special Israeli foods and conduct a special Tu B'Shevat Seder. For more information on Tu B'Shevat or for an outline of a Tu B'Shevat Seder, please visit

This Treat is posted annually in honor of Tu B'Shevat.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Tu B’Shevat

Although Tu B’Shevat is technically a demarcation point in order to identify the age of trees, many celebrate it by planting or supporting the planting of trees in Israel, and eating some of the fruits of Israel.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Scud War

On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, a region they have historically claimed as theirs. U.S. President George H.W. Bush assembled a vast international coalition to force Iraq’s military out of Kuwait. The Coalition established a January 15th deadline. Saddam Hussein warned that if Coalition forces were to attack, the Iraqi military would launch Scud missiles at Israel. Since Iraq possessed chemical weapons in its arsenal, the threat to Israel’s entire population was very real and terrifying. Israel’s Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shamir, the leader of Israel’s right wing Likud party and one of its founding fathers during Israel’s battle for independence, had to suppress every instinct to agree to President Bush’s plea to avoid retaliation against such an offensive attack and to keep Israel’s military grounded.

The United States government sent Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries to Israel along with troops to man them. The Israeli government provided gas masks to Israel’s population and counseled how “sealed rooms” should be prepared, which would shield people from the potentially noxious weapons. The Israeli people, pawns in this larger international war, felt tremendous anxiety. Images of helpless Jews from fifty years earlier traumatized the Survivor community and beyond.

At 3:00 am on January 18, 1991, sirens wailed through Northern and Central Israel as up to eight Scud missiles rained down upon greater Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, and Haifa, Israel’s chief port. That missile attack became the first time Tel Aviv had been targeted and attacked in Israel’s history. Thank God, the initial reporting that one of the missiles contained a chemical warhead, was erroneous.

After the initial attack, Israel’s security cabinet met to determine Israel’s response to this blatant attack on its sovereignty. They knew a response might break up the Bush anti-Iraq Coalition, which included Arab nations uninterested in allying with Israel. In the end, Israel maintained that it reserved the right at any time to retaliate. Coalition forces dispatched 2,000 sorties a day against Iraqi targets, many of which targeted the Scud missile launchers. The Coalition forces initiated a ground war on February 24th. The overwhelming force of the Coalition forces resulted in a fairly immediate Iraqi retreat. President Bush declared victory on February 28th.

Despite 39 missiles falling upon Israel in 19 missile attacks over a month during what is now known as the First Gulf War, casualties were in the single digits. Many in the religious community noted that Divine intervention is the only plausible explanation for this incredibly low casualty rate in the wake of such an attack, and was nothing short of a Divine miracle.

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Military Strategy

Sometimes holding fire can be more effective strategically than taking offensive action.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Jewish Boy Goes to Hollywood

Joshua Charles Malina, a prominent Jewish American actor, was born January 17, 1966 in New York City. His father, an investment banker and Broadway producer, and mother, moved to Westchester County, New York, where they were among the founding members of the Young Israel of Scarsdale. The last name Malina means raspberry in Polish, and is often confused with the Latino surname Molina.

Malina attended Westchester Day School, and graduated high school at the Horace Mann School. He attended Yale University, where he received a B.A. in theater. Malina made his acting debut in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of his movie, “A Few Good Men.” In addition to the Malina family connections to Sorkin, Malina, known for his quick wit and prolific practical jokes, noted that he once performed the Heimlich maneuver on Sorkin at a cast bowling match when the famed director and producer began choking. Malina has appeared in many Aaron Sorkin projects. He portrayed the on-screen assistant to Annette Benning’s character, Sydney Ellen Wade, in Sorkin’s “An American President,” Jeremy Goodwin on Sorkin’s “Sports Night” and speech-writer Will Bailey on Sorkin’s acclaimed “The West Wing.” Malina has also appeared in the ABC series “Scandal” and has a recurring role on the CBS hit, “The Big Bang Theory.”

Malina’s wit, charisma, humor and strong opinions come through on his ubiquitous social media presence, in media interviews and on his podcast for fans of “The West Wing.” Malina wears his Jewish pride on his sleeve; Judaism plays a central role in the life of his family. He participated in a Jewish celebrity campaign encouraging financial support of Jewish Federations, along with Greg Grunberg, Marlee Matlin, Kevin Weisman and Jonathan Silverman. He also starred along with Jewish actress Lisa Edelstein in a “Get Out the Vote” campaign for Hillel International.

Malina has been married to his wife Melissa since 1996, and they have two children, Isabel and Avi. Yom Huledet Sameyach (Happy Birthday) Joshua!

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Use Your Fame to Benefit Judaism

Utilize every opportunity to help Judaism and Jews, especially exerting any influence you may have.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Arc in the Sea

God’s incredible miracle splitting the Red Sea and saving the Israelite people from the oncoming Egyptian army, was one of the greatest miracles and moments the world has ever experienced. As depicted in Parashat B’shalach, this week’s Torah portion, the act saved the Jews from imprisonment or death, provided yet another reason for the former Israelite slaves to have unbridled faith in God, and at its conclusion, enabled the Israelites to see their former taskmasters dead before them on the beaches. The Song of the Sea followed as an ode of gratitude to the Almighty for saving the Hebrews and removing the concern of future enslavement from their minds.

“Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore. And Israel saw the great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians; and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

While many assume that the splitting of the sea served as a bridge to enable the Israelites to arrive to the other side of a body of water, several Biblical commentaries reject that assumption. The Tosafists (Erechin 15a) point out that the most direct path toward the land of Canaan did not include crossing the sea. They claim that the Israelite journey in the sea was merely a semi-circular “arc” route that began at one point of the bank of the sea and ended at another point on the same bank of the sea. Nowhere does the text indicate that they actually crossed the sea. The Tosafist commentary even includes an illustration. Chizkuni, (Rabbi Chizkiya the son of Manoach, 13th century France), another Biblical commentary, suggests that the whole purpose of entering the sea was to bait the Egyptian forces into the water so God could drown them in front of the eyes of the Israelites. He claims that Eitam is both the name of the location where the Jews entered the water (Exodus 13:20) and exited (Numbers 33:8) the sea.

The main takeaway from the awesome splitting of the Red Sea was to imbue the Israelites with a sense of faith in God, and God’s commitment to protect the Children of Israel.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study the Torah Closely

There are unlimited ways to understand and read the Torah. The mystics have described 70 paths to interpret the Torah. Perhaps you will discover one of those tracks!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Rabbi Eliezer Silver

Historians have noted the seemingly underwhelming response of the American Jewish community to the Holocaust as it unfolded in Europe. Among the few who were prominent activists was Rabbi Eliezer Silver (1882-1968).

Born in Lithuania, Rabbi Silver came to the United States in 1907, shortly after receiving rabbinic ordination. After a brief period in New York, the Silvers moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where Rabbi Silver accepted a rabbinical position.

An early political activist, Rabbi Silver helped circulate a petition against a U.S. treaty with Russia (as a protest against persecution of the Jews) and was active in World War I relief efforts. Between the two World Wars, Rabbi Silver first took a position in Springfield, Massachusetts, and then Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In the 1930s, Rabbi Silver started the first American branch of the Agudath Israel, a non-Zionist, Orthodox political organization founded in 1912 in Europe. Agudath Israel became the organization through which Rabbi Silver attempted to organize rescue efforts for European Jewry. In 1939, he formed the Vaad Hatzalah (Rescue Committee). The Vaad Hatzalah raised over $5 million for rescue efforts and organized synagogues to secure 2,000 contracts for rabbinic positions, resulting in numerous emergency visas being issued. The Vaad Hatzalah used all means (preferably legal but if necessary, illegal) to rescue Jews.

One poignant story frequently repeated about Rabbi Silver describes how he and Dayan Grunfeld of England came to a Christian orphanage in Europe after the war looking for hidden Jewish children. The head priest denied knowing whether any of the children were actually Jewish. The rabbis decided to return at bedtime, and, when all the children were gathered together to recite their bedtime prayers, the rabbis loudly recited the Shema in front of the children. Remembering the prayer that had once been part of their bedtime ritual, many children in the room started crying and calling out for their mothers.

Rabbi Silver passed away on February 7, 1968, corresponding to the 9th of Shevat.

This Treat was last posted on February 2, 2012. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

American Response during and after the Holocaust

There were a handful of heroes who gave their all to save Jews during the Holocaust and provided aid and solace to the survivors after the war. Learn about them.

Monday, January 14, 2019

An Eight or Nine Day Week?

Practically all civilized humanity has agreed on some basic common measures to mark time. A day consisting of 24 hours follows the natural rotation of the earth on its axis. The lunar calendar uses the waxing and waning of the moon to note the passing of a month. A year passes when the earth completes a lap on its track around the sun.

What does not fall neatly into nature, but is nonetheless universally accepted, is the seven-day week. There is no natural phenomenon which parallels the seven day cycle. Seven, a prime number, does not neatly fold into a month, or a year.

What then, is the source of the seven day week? The billions-strong human religious community acknowledges that the seven day week finds its source in the biblical story of God’s Creation of the Universe, as described in the first two chapters of Genesis. However, there have been attempts through the years, to alter the seven-day week, to fit more neatly into our method of marking time.

The Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian calendar, but the Gregorian calendar has its own flaws. In 1923, the League of Nations considered updating the calendar. They very much wanted each month and day to fall on the same day of the week each year. In order to accomplish this, they suggested creating a 364 day year (which is divisible by 7). Their plan was to insert a “blank day” every year, where Monday would not follow Sunday that year, but would come a day later. During Leap Years, two blank days would be added. The idea had financial backers, most notably the now defunct Eastman Kodak company.

This, of course, would cause bedlam for Sabbath observers world-wide. The day after Sunday is Monday, and five days after that is the Sabbath. It does not matter what the world calls it. According to the Ramban, Jews fulfill daily the mandate to “Remember the Sabbath,” by announcing in morning prayers the relationship of each day to the Sabbath. Sunday is the first day of the Sabbatical week; Monday is the second day of the Sabbatical week, etc…

Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz (1872-1946,) Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, known to many as the editor and author of the once-ubiquitous “Hertz Chumash” containing his Bible translation and commentary, partnered with religious leaders across many faiths, to lead the successful battle to defeat “Calendar Reform,” also known as “The World Calendar.”

Rabbi Hertz passed away on January 14, 1946, corresponding to the 12th of Shevat. May his memory be a blessing.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate Every Shabbat

There is an innate need to rest every seventh day, after a productive six days. Make sure to reinvigorate every Shabbat.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Inside or Outside?

Seder night is an event pregnant with tradition and ritual. As the Hagaddah instructs, “we are obligated to see ourselves as if we ourselves were slaves in Egypt.” So much of the Seder night reenacts the exodus and the final night that the children of Israel experienced in Egypt.

The sages identified two prototypical seders: the seder on the eve of emancipation while still in Egypt, (Pesach Mitzraim, Passover in Egypt), and the seder in every subsequent year afterwards (Pesach l’dorot, Passover in subsequent generations).

One component of the former category, the first Seder while still in Egypt, which has never been repeated, is detailed in this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Bo. “And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, in which they shall eat it” (Exodus 12:7). One may assume that the blood was painted on the outside of the lintel and doorposts of the doors of the Israelites. After all, a few verses later (verse 13), we read about the need to see the blood: “And the blood shall be to you for a sign upon the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.” On the other hand, the Torah teaches that the “blood shall be to you for a sign,” which may imply that the blood was smeared indoors.

The Midrash (M’chilta Bo, 6) records both opinions, based on both sources above. The Midrash then cites Rabbi Yitzchak’s opinion who argues that the blood was smeared on the outside, to intimidate the Egyptians. Others ask why would God need a sign. Does not God know which houses were Egyptian and which were not?

The Torah provides textual verses that can serve as sources for the ritual blood being painted both on the outside and the inside. Perhaps the best message we can learn from this important debate is that in those moments on that night in Egypt when the Children of Israel became a nation and experienced liberation from servitude, they had to distinguish themselves from those outside. That separateness must be appreciated by both Jew and non-Jew alike.

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Celebrate Judaism’s Distinctness

As Jews who live in exile, we must never forget those critically important components of our religious personalities that are distinctly Jewish.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Baba Sali - Praying Father

Although it is not uncommon for Jewish sages to be known by a pseudonym, such names are most often either abbreviations of their full names (e.g. RaMBaM, an acronym for Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) or the names of their most popular writing (e.g. Chafetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan). Rabbi Israel Abuhatzeira (1890-1984), on the other hand, is most often referred to as the Baba Sali (the Praying Father).

The Baba Sali came from a long line of scholars. He was born on Rosh Hashana in 1890 in Tafelatetch, Morocco, where his father was the head of the Jewish court. He grew up immersed in Torah study and, as soon as he passed bar mitzvah age, joined the yeshiva housed on his family’s estate.

For years, the Baba Sali threw himself into a rigorous schedule of Torah study. With the coming of World War I, however, his world was upended. When the French moved into North Africa, many Moroccans in his region rebelled. The rebels not only fought the French, but harassed the Jews as well. When Rabbi David Abuhatzeira, the rabbi of the community and the Baba Sali’s older brother, was murdered, the Jews of Tafelatetch fled to Badniv, where they asked the Baba Sali to assume his brother’s position. The Baba Sali initially refused and, instead, went to Jerusalem to publish his late brother’s writings. One year later, however, he returned and accepted the position. In time, he (reluctantly) agreed to serve as the Chief Rabbi of Morocco.

In 1950, the Baba Sali moved to Israel and eventually settled in the southern town of Netivot. Soon Jews, both those from Morocco and elsewhere, were flocking to Netivot to receive blessings from the Baba Sali. There are many credible stories of miracles that occurred through the prayers of the holy Baba Sali.

He passed away on 4 Shevat 1984.

This Treat was last posted on January 15, 2013. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Seek Guidance from Rabbis

Thousands seek spiritual direction from rabbinic mentors. Building a relationship with a spiritual leader can inspire, uplift and enable great improvements.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

In a South American City

On January 18, 1535, the city of Lima, Peru, was founded to serve as the capital of the Peruvian Viceroyalty. The region’s mining riches drew, among others, a large number of Crypto-Jews (Conversos, Jews who lived as Christians in public) who lived in relative peace until January 9, 1570, corresponding to the 3rd of Shevat, when King Phillip II of Spain ordered the establishment of the Inquisition in Lima.

Please see

Early Peruvian Jewish history is not a happy one. The first auto-da-fe occurred in December 1595. These grim trials of pre-determined guilt were repeated in 1600 and 1605. In 1639, the largest auto-da-fe (ever) occurred in Lima. Over 60 people, accused of being part of La Complicidad Grande (The Great Congregation), were tried for practicing and/or preaching Judaism.

The end of the Inquisition in Lima in 1806 meant Jews could come to Peru and live openly. 
Moroccan Jews came as trappers and traders in the early nineteenth century. In the 1870s, there was an influx of Jews from Alsace, France. While they assimilated into the general populace, they established the Sociedad de Beneficenci Israelita, which still exists today. Around this same time there was a boom in the demand for rubber, drawing adventurous businessmen into the interior of the country. A smaller Jewish community developed in the interior region in Iquitos, and while that community was not sustained, it left a mark on the region such that a surprising number of their descendants have come forward today looking to rejoin the Jewish people.

World War I brought Jews from the fallen Ottoman Empire - from Turkey, Syria and North Africa. It is interesting to note that there are particular references to the immigration to Lima and other South American cities of a large group of Jews from the town of Novoselitsa on the Romanian border.

The Jewish population of Lima has never been large. Today there are still several active synagogues and the Leon Pinelo school to serve that community of a little more than 2,500 members.

By Reproducción (Museo de la Inquisición (Lima)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This Treat was last posted on January 18, 2018. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn the Jewish History of Your Travel Destinations

Due to the extensive Jewish diaspora, most spots on earth have a history of Jewish communal life. Before traveling, be sure to learn the local history.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Sadducee King Yannai

Alexander Jannaeus (Yannai or Y’honatan in Hebrew) served as the second Hasmonean king of Judea from 103 BCE until his death in 76 BCE. The third son of John Hyrcanus, he succeeded his older brother Aristobulus I, and married his late brother’s wife, Shlomtzion, as she had not yet borne any children. They had two children together, Aristobulus II, who served as High Priest from 66-62 BCE, and Hyrcanus II, who succeeded his brother in 62 BCE. While Alexander Yannai identified with the Sadducee fringe, his wife Shlomtzion supported the Pharisees, the more traditional rabbis, as her brother, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, was a leading Pharisee. As descendants of the Hasmoneans, Alexander Yannai claimed to be a member of the priestly caste, and served as the High Priest, as did his father. The rabbis opposed having one individual serve both as king (who was supposed to descend from the tribe of Judah) and High Priest (tracing lineage to Aaron, the brother of Moses, who were from the tribe of Levi).

Alexander Yannai’s reign is most remembered for the wars he waged, both to expand his kingdom and the brutal civil war that ensued.

One year during Sukkot, Alexander Yannai, acting as High Priest, refused to follow the Mosaic tradition of pouring a water libation in to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem’s altar, and instead, poured the water on his feet. This rebellious act so incensed those traditionalists gathered at the temple to witness the water libation, they pelted the High Priest/King with their etrogim (citrus fruits Jews take on the festival of Sukkot). Alexander Yannai ordered his troops to kill those responsible for the insult. 6,000 Jewish pilgrims were massacred in the Holy Temple’s courtyard. This incident greatly inflamed the Jews, and was one of the prime causes of the Judean Civil War that began during Alexander Yannai’s tenure. The rebels sided with the Greek Selucids, who defeated Alexander Yannai and his mercenaries in Shechem. Eventually Alexander Yannai rebounded and had 800 Jewish rebels, mostly Pharisees, crucified in Jerusalem. Prior to their brutal executions, he executed their wives and children in front of them while he and his concubines dined.

Alexander Yannai died on the 2nd of Shevat, 76 BCE. Megillat Ta’anit, an ancient listing of important dates on the Jewish calendar, classifies the day of Alexander Yannai’s death as a Jewish holiday.

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Study Jewish History

Studying Jewish history, especially its low points, will aid us in improving our lot going forward.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Is Today Rosh Hashana?

A quick perusal of the Jewish calendar will note that today, the first of the Hebrew month of Shevat, always falls two weeks prior to Tu B’Shevat, the beginning of the end of the winter, one of the four “New Years” on the Jewish calendar. However, according to one of the greatest rabbis of the Mishnah, today, the first of Shevat, is the New Year for trees, not the 15th of Shevat.

“On the first of Shevat, [we observe] the new year for trees, according to the opinion of the Academy of Shammai. The Academy of Hillel state on the fifteenth of it [Shevat]” (Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:1).

Hillel and Shammai, and later their eponymous schools, often disagree in the pages in the Mishna. There are many celebrated disputes between these two rabbinic titans. In practically all cases, including the aforementioned debate, normative Jewish thought follows the opinion of Hillel. The Talmud (Eruvin 13b) records in the name of Rabbi Abba, citing Samuel: “For three years there was a dispute between the Academy of Shammai and the Academy of Hillel, the former asserting, ‘the halacha is in agreement with our views’ and the latter contending, ‘the halacha is in agreement with our views.’ Then a heavenly voice issued announcing that [the utterances of] both are the words of the living God, but the final halachic ruling is in agreement with the ruling of the Academy of Hillel. If both are the words of the living God, why do we follow the opinions of the Academy of Hillel? Because they are easy-going and modest, and when discussing their own rulings, they consider Bet Shammai’s opinions too. And that’s not all, but they would first discuss Bet Shammai’s views and only then formulate their own position… This comes to teach that if a person humbles himself, the Holy One, blessed is He, raises him up; and if anyone elevates himself, the Holy One, blessed be He, humbles him. Whoever seeks greatness, greatness runs away from him…”

The Jewish New Year for trees is thus observed two weeks hence. Let’s remember the reason we follow the Academy of Hillel.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn How to Argue!

Increase civility by expressing opinions, while simultaneously showing respect for those with different opinions.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Fire and Ice

A news story in June, 2017, reported that a combination of ice and fire doomed the Titanic and caused its sinking on April 14, 1912. Photos of the ship prior to its departure from Belfast shipyard identified 30-foot long black marks along the hull, in the area where the icebergs would later cut through the ship. The report conjectures that coal fires in the shipyard during construction weakened the hull, which enabled the iceberg to penetrate the ocean liner. The fire attained the temperature of 1,000 degrees and even a 12-man crew was unable to extinguish it twice. It was contained and continued to rage only in coal bunker six, according to testimony from a stoker who survived the shipwreck. This stoker testified that the largest hole in the hull was torn adjacent to coal bunker six.

The Medrash recorded in Parashat Va’era claims that the plague of hail has was unique, that melon-sized hail contained fire inside of it, a miracle from God as fire and water cannot co-exist in nature. What is the significance of this supernatural act found in the seventh plague?

The plague of hail was meant to demonstrate God’s power. Boils are boils, lice are lice and pestilence is pestilence. But, creating a form of deadly precipitation that in Egypt’s warm climate had never been seen before, was meant to show God’s supremacy and to highlight the futility of resisting the requests of God’s messenger, Moses.

One interpretation tries to keep the hail within the realm of nature, and suggests that the ice contained the fire until it burst forth from the ice and descended like a bomb over Egypt (Moses warned the Egyptians to bring everything and everyone indoors as everything outdoors would be destroyed – see Exodus 9:19). Another opinion suggests that the pelting of Egypt with hail was meant to parallel the experience of the wicked in purgatory, which, according to tradition, are punished simultaneously with both ice and fire.

Rabbi Don Isaac Abrabanel suggests that each plague served as a measure-for-measure punishment to the Egyptians for evil actions they perpetrated upon the Israelite slaves. The Egyptians abused the Israelite slaves with fists, rocks and screams; hail punished the perpetrators by pelting them and their possessions, while deafening and frightening sounds injected fear into the Egyptians.

The only reason Pharaoh did not release the slaves after the hail was due to God hardening his heart. Any other mortal would have capitulated due to the show of force and the massive damage.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Find Modern Day Applications to Biblical Models

Events in the Bible serve as signposts for future generations. Find meaning in your life from Biblical texts.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Chassidic Rebbe and His Snoopy Tie

On January 3, 2000, the final edition of the “Peanuts” comic strip appeared in the daily edition of newspapers worldwide. For the followers of Charlie Brown and his gang, it was the end of an era. The syndicated daily comic strip began on October 12, 1950 in nine newspapers. In its heyday in the 1960s, the strip was carried in over 2,600 newspapers, with a readership approximating 355 million people in 75 countries, and was translated into 21 languages. The 17,897 Peanuts strips, produced by Charles M. Schultz, Peanuts’ author and illustrator, were described by Syracuse University professor, Robert Thompson, as “arguably the longest story ever told by one human being.”

Among those fans of Charles Schultz’ artistic brilliance was a psychiatrist who happens to also be a Chassidic Rebbe. Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski (born in 1930), is the son of the Hornesteipler Rebbe of Milwaukee, WI, and maternal grandson of the Bobover Rebbe who was martyred in the Holocaust. Rabbi Dr. Twerski became a world-renowned expert on drug and alcohol addiction, and founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Rabbi Twerski enjoyed reading “the funnies” as a child, and as an adult, he enjoyed “light reading” including Peanuts comic strips. One day, Rabbi Dr. Twerski was counseling an addict who rationalized each time he relapsed to alcoholism, continuously denying he was an addict. Rabbi Twerski showed him the famous Peanuts cartoon of Lucy moving the football each time Charlie Brown lined up to kick it, causing Charlie to fall backwards. Yet Charlie irrationally continued to trust Lucy to hold the football for him. The patient immediately understood how he was rationalizing his condition.

Rabbi Twerski began collecting Charles Schultz’ wisdom and displayed relevant ones on a bulletin board titled, “Post-Graduate Education.” Eventually Rabbi Dr. Twerski received permission from United Feature Syndicate, Inc., owners of Peanuts at the time, to use Peanuts artwork in his books on self-esteem and other mental health issues. Rabbi Dr. Twerski suggests that each of the Peanuts characters have issues: Lucy’s bravado masks her low self-esteem, Charlie Brown feels inadequate, Snoopy lives in a fantasy world, Schroeder and Lucy’s relationship describes unrequited love and Linus and his security blanket reflect many aspects of addictive behavior.

Rabbi Dr. Twerski met Charles Schultz four times, including their final meeting just two days before Schultz’ passing. Rabbi Dr. Twerski often wears Snoopy ties as a tribute to Schultz, generally not part of the raiment of a Chassidic Rebbe.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Learn From Everything

Life lessons and meaningful growth can be culled from almost any source. Seek it out!

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Duties of the Heart

The concept of “being spiritual” is often assumed to be a fairly recent one, resulting, perhaps, from the enlightenment’s deconstruction of organized religion.  The idea of spirituality - how to create, live and grow in a relationship with the Divine - is, however, not really new. In fact, it is a question that has often caused Jewish scholars to put pen to paper. Among the most highly regarded of such texts is Chovot Halevavot, most commonly translated as Duties of the Heart.

Chovot Halevavot was written by Bachya ben Joseph ibn Paquda. Not much is known about Ibn Paquda other than that he was a well-regarded scholar who lived in Muslim Spain (Sargossa) in the eleventh century. His great work was written in Judeo-Arabic (in Hebrew letters) under the title Kitab al-Hidāya ilā Fara'id al-Qulūb. It was given the name Chovot Halevavot by the famed translator Judah ibn Tibbon.

Bachya ibn Paquda, divided his work into 10 chapters:

1. The Gate of Divine Unity
2. The Gate of Reflection
3. The Gate of Serving God
4. The Gate of Trust in God
5. The Gate of Unification of Action
6. The Gate of Humility
7. The Gate of Repentance
8. The Gate of Self-Examination
9. The Gate of Seclusion
10. The Gate of the Love of God

The term gate that is used in each title infers the progressive nature of ibn Paquda’s gates.

The detailed laws of the Torah, both written and oral, are the backbone of Jewish life. Ibn Paquda’s Chovot Halevovot clarifies how they are also the heart and soul of Jewish life and the means of creating an intimate spiritual relationship with the Divine.

The first edition of Chovot Halevavot was published in Mantua, Italy, on January 4, 1559, corresponding to the 25th of Tevet.

This Treat was originally posted on January 7, 2013. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Study Mussar!

Mussar is the study of ethical teachings, that are geared to spiritual self-improvement. We can all benefit from the study of Mussar.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Entry Point

Although immigrants from around the world came through Ellis Island, the immigration station in the harbor of New York* had a distinctive impact specifically on Jews and on American-Jewish history. As January 1 is the anniversary of the opening of Ellis Island as an immigration center, Jewish Treats presents a brief history of this famous island.

Ellis Island is named after Samuel Ellis, the man who last owned the island before it was acquired by the U.S. government in 1808. When the government purchased the island, however, it had basically been abandoned. The defense ministry controlled the island until 1890, when it was designated to serve as an immigration station.

Preparing Ellis Island for its new role required the government to expand the island, which it did via landfills. A beautiful Georgian building was erected, and the first immigrant (followed by 700 more newcomers) was welcomed on January 1, 1892. In June 1897, however, a fire destroyed all of the wooden buildings on the island - thankfully no lives were lost. The new brick compound, which still stands today, opened in December 1900.

Arriving at Ellis Island was a grand, exciting and terrifying experience for many of the immigrants, who mostly spoke no English. The immigrants were scrutinized for any health issues, and, quite often, the relatives they were expecting did not come to meet them. For Jewish immigrants, some relief came with the establishment of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in 1902, who sent representatives to help the new arrivals. In 1911, HIAS was permitted to set up a kosher kitchen on Ellis Island, which was particularly helpful to the Orthodox Jewish immigrants.

Isolationist policies following World War I limited the number of incoming immigrants. During World War II, part of Ellis Island was used as an enemy detention center. Ellis Island was taken out of service after 1954.

*Determined to be legally New Jersey by the Supreme Court in 1998.

This Treat was last posted on January 1, 2015. 

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Most of us descend from, or are, immigrants!

Learning the stories how our ancestors came to the “New World” help us appreciate the plight of immigrants today.

Monday, December 31, 2018

From Midnight to Noon

Frank Sinatra famously sang that New York is a “city that never sleeps.” However, of all the sleepless nights, New Year’s Eve is Gotham’s most awake night, as tens of thousands often stand in frigid temperatures waiting for the ball atop a building in Times Square to descend. At the stroke of midnight, those in Times Square and everyone beyond, ring in the new year with embraces, songs, drinks and best wishes.

Midnight is the official demarcation point, as the day of the week, date of the month, and year change at that moment.

Midnight, also has various Jewish legal ramifications. There is also Jewish wisdom about Midday, or noon - midnight’s polar opposite, which is also the time of day many New Year’s eve revelers wake up. The famed super-commentary Rashi, notes three places where the phrase “the midst of the day” is employed in the Bible and how they are connected. First, Noah and his family entered the ark “in the middle of the day” (Genesis 7:13), in broad daylight. The people living at the time of Noah had sworn to physically block Noah and his family from entering the ark. God purposely resolved to instruct Noah and his family to enter the ark in the presence of everyone, to highlight the people’s inability to stop what God decreed.

Second, God liberated the Jews from Egyptian slavery in the “middle of the day” (Exodus 12:51). The Egyptians vowed to stop the Jews from leaving Egypt, even with axes and other weapons. God took the Israelites out in the middle of the day and dared anyone to try to stop Him. Finally, when describing Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 32:48), the term “in the middle of the day” is once again used. The Jewish people claimed that they would not allow Moses, the man who delivered them from Egypt, split the sea for them, provided the Manna and quail from heaven, hydrated the nation with water found in the desert, and gave the Torah to the Children of Israel, to die. Nevertheless, God summarily took back Moses’ soul in the middle of the day.

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Proudly Assert Your Jewishness

At times, even in public, we are called to stand up as Jews.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Moses’ Mysterious and Mortal Maternity

Moses is arguably the central and most important figure in the Hebrew Bible. Maimonides advances that of the 55 Jewish prophets, Moses’ type of prophecy was quite different and far more elevated than the other 54. No mortal knew God as did Moses, “face-to-face" (Deuteronomy 34:10). That is why he is simply known as Rabbeinu, our teacher.

After describing the enslavement of the Children of Israel under the Pharaoh who “knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8), the Torah records Moses’ birth, how his mother hid him from the Egyptian soldiers who were enforcing Pharaoh’s edict to drown the baby boys, and Moses’ miraculous salvation by the daughter of Pharaoh.

Therefore, the opening verse to the Bible’s greatest protagonist seems odd and grossly understated. “And a man went from the house of Levi and took [married] a daughter of Levi" (2:1). The names of this man, Amram, and this “daughter of Levi,” Yocheved, who were Moses’ parents, are not even disclosed until a later chapter.

Rabbi Yitzchak ben Rabbi Nissan of Vilna, a 19th century Lithuanian rabbi, suggested an interesting reason. In the commentary, he advances that given how central Moses is to the Jewish religion, the Torah sought to stress that he was but a mortal, born of mortals, in an effort to avoid even the slightest appearance of any deification, as is seen in other faiths.

God also buried Moses in an undisclosed location, with no witnesses, to avoid any deification. Praying to a person would fall under the severe prohibition of idolatry, a cardinal sin. Had Moses’s burial spot been known, well-meaning pilgrims may have traveled to that location to worship him, instead of God. Although most Jews maintain the custom of visiting the burial sites of loved ones and holy individuals for heavenly intervention, there is a minority who strongly oppose the practice, as one could inadvertently pray to the deceased, a violation of idolatry, instead of asking the dead to intercede with God, the true and sole destination of all prayers.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Jews Only Pray to God

Jewish prayer is only directed to the One and Only God, even if through an intermediary.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Hail The Accuser

In the era of social media, it is almost an everyday occurrence to be asked to sign a petition or to “like” a cause. When Emile Zola, the celebrated French novelist, published J’Accuse on January 13, 1898, corresponding to the 19th of Tevet, he could only hope that his essay would gain popularity and stir a response from the masses. He had no idea of the impact it would have on his own life.

J’Accuse was Zola’s reaction to the Dreyfus Affair. Zola was not only certain that the 1895 conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus on charges of espionage was a deliberate miscarriage of justice, but that it was primarily motivated by anti-Semitism.

Printed as an open letter on the front page of a liberal French newspaper, Zola accused:
Here then, Mr. President, are the facts which explain how a miscarriage of justice could be made; and the moral evidence, the financial circumstances of Dreyfus, the absence of reason, his continual cry of innocence, completes its demonstration as a victim of the extraordinary imaginations of commander [Armand] du Paty de Clam, of the clerical medium in which it was found, of the hunting for the "dirty Jews," which dishonors our time.

J’Accuse split public opinion. Dreyfus was given a second court-martial in 1899, but was once again found guilty (on forged evidence). However, shortly thereafter he was pardoned by the President of France.

As J’Accuse was addressed to the President of France, it did not surprise Zola that he was then charged with libel. Sentenced to a year in jail and a 3,000 Franc fine, Zola fled to England. He returned to France when a new government was formed in June 1899. Zola died of carbon monoxide poisoning four years later, two years before Dreyfus was fully exonerated.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pursue Justice:

Judaism greatly values the pursuit of justice, especially when someone is being wrongfully accused.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Jewish Boxing Days?

In many countries, especially those associated with the United Kingdom, December 26th is known as Boxing Day. There are divergent views as to the source of this day and the origin of the name of this secular holiday.

The Oxford-English Dictionary claims the observance denotes that on this day workers sought out holiday gratuities, or gift boxes. For some, it was a day to celebrate Christmas, since they worked on December 25th. In appreciation of their working on a holiday, the workers were given gift boxes to take home on their day off. Indeed, in the United States, it is common for people to give tips to bus drivers, teachers, door-men, newspaper deliverers, sanitation collectors, domestic help and the like.

Others claim the “box” does not refer to one’s laborers and service employees, but to the alms box found in places of worship, to provide funds for the needy. Finally, in some countries, Boxing Day is a shopping day featuring huge price reductions (similar to Black Friday in the United States). Some have even opted for Boxing Week.

The two primary goals of Boxing Day, i.e. tipping loyal employees and service providers, and offering alms to the poor, may have an early Jewish source as we find Jewish practices regarding the poor and service employees that are associated with holidays, which were instituted centuries prior to Boxing Day.

The custom among Ashkenazic Jews to recite Yizkor on the holidays (Yom Kippur, Shmini Atzeret, Pesach and Shavuot) is connected to the tzedakah Jews are mandated to share with the poor to enable them to experience joy on the holidays. Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, laws of Yom Tov 6:18) writes that those who rejoice on a holiday without helping to provide joy to the Jewish poor are really celebrating hedonistically. Only later, did the practice begin to dedicate tzedakah to the memory of one’s loved ones. A critical component of Yizkor is committing funds to tzedakah. This practice parallels the alms box that was prominent on Boxers Day.

The genesis of Chanukah gelt (“Chanukah money” in Yiddish), finds its source in 17th century Poland, where the children were given coins to be distributed to their Torah teachers. This parallels the practice of offering gratuities on Boxing Day.

Happy Boxing Day to one and all. Jewish Treats encourages one and all to tip and offer charity generously.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Tip Generously

Laborers in certain service industries count on gratuities to help support themselves. Tipping not only shows our gratitude, but may even help sustain these individuals as well.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Preacher Man

One does not often associate preachers with Judaism. There are, however, certain distinct personalities in Jewish history who are known for their ability to inspire through their oratory. The maggid (literally “teller”), as such a person is called, is known for bringing Torah and Jewish law to life through stories. This unique skill was epitomized by Rabbi Yaakov ben Wolf Kranz, better known as the Dubner Maggid (Maggid of Dubno, c. 1740 – 1804).

Born in Zetil, near Vilna, in Lithuania, Rabbi Kranz first began speaking in public in Mezeritch, Poland, where he was a student of the yeshiva there. He so impressed the town elders that they offered him a position as a preacher. After working in Mezeritch and Zolkov, he accepted a position in Dubno, where he remained for 18 years.

What made the Dubner Maggid such a powerful speaker was his use of parables, stories that illustrate moral points. When asked how he produced such accurate parables, he replied with a story of a man who found an archer at an archery range who had only perfectly accurate shots. When the man asked the archer how he had such consistent accuracy, the archer responded that first he shot the arrow and then he painted the target. The Dubner Maggid felt that this was very similar to his own method of preaching. First he understood the point he wished to make, and then he created the parable.

To help his listeners understand the words of the Torah, the Dubno Maggid created parables concerning kings, princes, parents, children, in-laws, and a wealth of other characters to whom the common person could relate. He was also recognized as a great scholar of Jewish law and his company was sought out by one of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history, the Vilna Gaon.

The Dubno Maggid passed away on the 17th of Tevet in 1804.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Judaism Relevant

To make Torah relevant to our lives today, use allusions to modern day phenomena, reference contemporary culture, or apply cute stories to explain broader concepts.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Nittel Nacht

Jews of the 21st century may comment, or even grumble, about the pervasiveness of Christmas in our society, but, let's be honest, in this day and age, the effects of the holiday season are rather benign. Of course, we must still deal with frequent questions from our children about festive trees and the jolly guy in the red suit. But, nowadays, people do their own thing.

It might surprise some to know that Christmas Eve actually has a name in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition: Nittel Nacht. In many Ashkenazi communities, particularly in Chassidic communities, it is customary NOT to learn any Torah on Nittel Nacht from sundown until midnight. After midnight, however, one is encouraged to study.

Nittel (which may mean either hanged/crucified or birth) Nacht (night) is a custom whose origins are, unfortunately, lost. Many believe that the custom of not studying Torah on December 24th arose as a pragmatic act of protection. On a night of religious fervor among their Christian neighbors, and during days when one needed no real excuse to start a murderous pogrom, it was safest, perhaps, for Jews to stay inside their darkened homes rather than venture out to study collectively in a hall/synagogue. Other opinions believe it may be a custom that was established to minimize any feeling of holiness on that night. Still others opine that it is an act of mourning, commemorating the suffering of the Jewish people during various periods of the "Christian Age."

In Jewish life, customs have a strength of their own. Whatever the reason for Nittel Nacht, it is a custom that is still followed in various Ashkenazi communities around the world.

This Treat was last posted on December 24, 2012. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sensitivity to Jews in Danger

In addition to learning about, and helping, Jews in danger around the world, it behooves us to recall historical calendrical times when Jews’ lives were at peril.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Predicting the New Emperor before Exit Polls

On December 21 in the year 69 CE, the Roman Senate declared that Vespasian be elevated to serve as the Emperor of Rome. A famous Talmudical story (Gittin 56b) described how a rabbi foresaw Vespasian’s promotion from general to Emperor.

The Jewish residents of Jerusalem were suffering from a self-imposed famine and a siege by Vespasian’s legions. The militant Biryonim prevented Jews from going in and out of the city and starved their fellow Jews in an attempt to facilitate their more extremist plans to confront the Roman menace. The leader of the Biryonim, Abba Sikra, was the brother-in-law of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the rabbinic leader of Jerusalem’s Jews. The two leaders devised a plan to enable Rabbi Yochanan to leave the city, past the Biryoni sentries. Rabbi Yochanan feigned illness and then death, and his students asked for the bier to be taken out of the city (burials are not allowed in Jerusalem due to its sanctity).

The scheme worked. Rabbi Yochanan emerged from the casket when approaching the Roman camp and upon seeing General Vespasian, stated twice, “Peace be unto you, O King.” Vespasian responded angrily that Rabbi Yochanan deserves execution on two counts: first, he said, “I am not the king and you addressed me as such.” Second, “If I am the king, why are you only coming now, to accord me regal homage?”

Rabbi Yochanan responded, “I knew you have to be a king because the Jewish prophets foretold that the Temple, which was to imminently fall, would be destroyed by a king. As to why I have only come now,” continued, Rabbi Yochanan, “it is because the Jewish extremists would not let me out.”

The two leaders continued talking until a messenger arrived from Rome and announced, “Rise! The Emperor has died and the Senate has decided to elevate Vespasian as the new emperor.”

Before leaving for Rome, Vespasian offered to grant Rabbi Yochanan a request. Rabbi Yochanan famously requested that the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) be allowed to relocate to Yavneh unmolested, that the Roman government guarantee the survival of the family of Rabban Gamliel, the President of the Sanhedrin, and that the Roman physicians care for Rabbi Tzadok, who was in precarious health due to his fasting to avert the destruction of the Temple. Vespasian did honor these requests.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Root of Insight

The Talmud serves as more than a Jewish legal text. Insights into more mundane but important matters are shared as well.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

IPO Music

On December 26, 1936, corresponding to the 12th of Tevet, the Palestine Orchestra, founded by Polish-Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, held its initial concert in Tel Aviv. At that time, Jewish musicians were being fired from orchestras all across Europe due to growing anti-Semitism. Between 1938 and 1945, the Palestine Orchestra was led by Leo Kestenberg, a German Jew unable to work anymore in his home country, Germany. While the initial performance was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, the famed conductor of the ubiquitous NBC Symphony Orchestra, William Steinberg served as the orchestra’s first principal conductor. That initial concert featured music from German composer Richard Wagner, a practice that ceased after Kristallnacht, and has become the de facto policy.

During World War II, the Palestine Orchestra performed 140 times in front of Allied troops, including a concert before the Jewish Brigade of the British Army at El Alamein, Egypt. After Israel declared independence, the orchestra was renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO).

In addition to Toscanini, the IPO has been associated with other great conductors and musicians. From 1947 through 1988, acclaimed composer Leonard Bernstein shared his talents with the IPO. In 1988, the IPO named Bernstein Laureate Conductor, a title he kept until his death two years later. 

Celebrated conductor Zubin Mehta, was appointed Music Advisor of the IPO in 1969, having appeared as a guest conductor since 1961. In 1977, Mehta was appointed Music Director and in 1981, he was granted the title “Music Director for Life.” Although he himself was not Jewish, Mehta was associated with the IPO for five decades, having conducted thousands of concerts in Israel and abroad during his tenure. He flew back to Israel during the 1967 Six Day War, to conduct several concerts as a sign of solidarity with the Israeli people. In 1982, he brought the IPO to Southern Lebanon where Arabs in attendance rushed the stage after the concert to hug the musicians. During the 1991 Gulf War, with its threat of Iraqi Scud Missiles falling on Central Israel, Mehta conducted the IPO with an audience that had gas masks at their sides.

Since October 2013, Israeli pianist and conductor Lahav Shani (born in 1989) has served as guest conductor. In January, 2018, he was appointed IPO’s Music Director.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Israeli Art, Music and Culture

Find ways to support the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Israel or abroad.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Relative Suffering

In Parashat Vayechi we find the patriarch Jacob saying goodbye, and offering blessings and words of wisdom to his loving family.

Before offering parting words to all of his sons, Jacob specifically blesses Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Menashe. The language of the blessingThe angel who redeemed me from all evil, may he bless the lads and may my name be declared upon them” (Genesis 48:16) has served for millennia as the spiritual aspiration of all Jewish parents when they bless their children.

Clearly, Jacob faced his share of difficulties during his challenging life. One can make the argument that the angel deputized to protect Jacob from harm should be called to task. Jacob’s parents sent him away, fearing his brother would kill him; he was deceived multiple times by his father-in-law, Laban; Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel died in childbirth; Rachel’s eldest son, Joseph, was attacked by his brothers and sold into slavery (Jacob was led to believe that he was ripped to pieces by a wild animal); despite learning 22 years later that Joseph was still alive and viceroy of Egypt, Jacob was forced to leave his beloved Land of Israel with his family and relocate to Egypt, due to a famine. And there is more.

Can it be said that this an angel redeemed Jacob from tribulations? Arguably, Jacob faced more trials in life than anyone, save for Job.

A story is told about a man, down on his luck, who approached his Rebbe, wanting to know why his life was so difficult. The Rebbe sent the man to find the answer from a certain individual. The man knocked on the door and informed the man to whom the Rebbe sent him why he was there. The petitioner saw unimaginable poverty, illness and agony. When the host was asked about his approach to suffering, he looked up at his guest and responded, “I have no idea why the Rebbe would you send you to me. I am a blessed man with a wonderful life and have no claims against the Almighty.” The petitioner left the house with his answer.

As Jacob faced his mortality, he realized how blessed his life really was, despite the many years of misery and sorrow that he experienced. That positive attitude is the blessing we pass from generation to generation.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Silver Linings

No matter how down one may feel, it’s both spiritually and emotionally constructive to find the light amid the darkness.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Tenth of Tevet

And it was in the ninth year of [King Zeddekiah’s] reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth (day) of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, came, he and all his legions, upon Jerusalem, and encamped upon it and built forts around it. And the city came under siege until the eleventh year of King Zeddekiah. On the ninth of the month [of Tammuz] the famine was intense in the city, the people had no bread, and the city was breached. (The Second Book of Kings 25:1-4)

Siege! The word itself resonates with pain and suffering. In the case of the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in (587 B.C.E.), the siege was also the beginning of the end.

Having just vanquished the great Assyrian empire, the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, sent his troops to quell any rebellion in the land of Judea, whose heart was the city of Jerusalem. The siege lasted for a year and a half. During this time, the city suffered immensely. Starvation, thirst, disease...all the horrors of siege were borne out, just as it had been predicted by the prophet Jeremiah.

The siege of Jerusalem was the first step in what would become the Babylonian exile. When the Babylonians finally broke through the walls of the city, they destroyed the Holy Temple built by King Solomon. Adding to this great tragedy was the fact that the majority of the Jewish people were then exiled to Babylon.

The great sages declared the Tenth of Tevet, the day that the fateful siege began, as a fast day from sunrise to nightfall, to provide a time for people to reflect on their actions and do teshuva (repentance).

*This Treat was originally published on January 5, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the Fast of the Tenth of Tevet.

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Purpose of Fasting

Fasting is meant to help people focus on important issues when tragedy strikes.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Source of Leadership

Great leaders can move mountains...or at least, masses of people. Ezra the Scribe was just such a leader, and it was his charisma and wisdom that inspired the Jews to leave their Babylonian exile and return to the land of Israel.

Many of the Jews living in Babylon had grown complacent in their exile. Ezra, however, was the student of Baruch ben Neriah, the man who had been the scribe and assistant to the Prophet Jeremiah in Jerusalem. As a living witness to history and a great scholar (and some say a prophet) in his own right, Baruch was an inspiring teacher. In fact, the Talmud (Megilla 16b) relates that “As long as Baruch ben Neriah was alive, Ezra did not leave him to go up [to Israel].”

The relationship of Ezra to Baruch and Baruch to Jeremiah is an important one for the Jews of every generation. Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers (1:6), encourages each Jew to “make for yourself a teacher/rabbi.” Ezra’s personal history demonstrates the significant impact that a teacher can have. Had Ezra learned with anyone other than the personal scribe of Jeremiah, perhaps he would not have had the strength to inspire so many people. 

Ezra did far more than lead the Jews from one city to another. He oversaw the construction of the Second Temple. He also reinstated laws that had been forgotten in the exile, and created new customs (such as calling three people to read the Torah on Mondays and Thursdays). He was such a great leader that it was said of him “Ezra was worthy of [bringing] the Torah to Israel, had Moses not preceded him” (Sanhedrin 21b). 

Tradition teaches that Ezra died on the 9th of Tevet.”

This Treat was last posted on December 16, 2010. 

Copyright © 2018 NJOP. All rights reserved.