Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Bond of Brothers

Caring for the psychological well-being of children (and adults) is of great concern to modern society. Of course, parents have always wanted to shield their children from pain, but, for most of human history, it was often not possible to do this.

While the Torah never directly talks about children’s psychology, many such topics are indirectly referred to in the biblical narratives. For instance, Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel, was 9 years old when Joseph was sold into slavery. (Joseph was 17 at the time.) The mysterious disappearance of his older brother affected Benjamin deeply. The impact of his brother’s disappearance may be seen from an interesting Midrash (Sotah 36b) referring to the names of Benjamin’s 10 sons (Genesis 46:21), each of whom was given a name that specifically reminded their father of Joseph.

1 - Bela, because [Joseph] was swallowed up (nivla’) among the peoples.

2 - Becher, because [Joseph] was the firstborn (bechor) of his mother.

3 - Ashbel, because God sent [Joseph] into captivity (sheva'o el).

4 - Gera, because [Joseph] dwelt (gar) in [strangers'] lodgings.

5 - Naaman, because he was especially beloved (na'im).

6, 7 - Ehi and Rosh, because [Joseph] is my brother (ahi) and chief (rosh).

8,9 - Muppim* and Huppim, because [Benjamin said: ‘Joseph] did not see my marriage-canopy (huppah) and I did not see his.’

10 - Ard, because [Joseph] descended (yarad) among the nations. Others [say] because [Joseph's] face was like a rose (vered).

* According to Midrash Tanchuma, Muppim derives from “his mouth (pi) was like that of our father [in Torah learning].”

Benjamin spent 22 years enduring the after-affects of his brother’s disappearance. Benjamin didn’t become wild or angry. In fact, the Midrash implies that he was a complete tzadik (righteous man)--and, perhaps, this too, is a reflection of the impact of Joseph’s disappearance.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Meaning Of

If you can, ask your parents the reason they chose your name.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chanukah-What's The Mitzvah?

Here’s a quiz:
What is the primary mitzvah of Chanukah?

a) Eating latkes (potato pancakes)
b) Giving Chanukah gifts or gelt (money)
c) Publicizing the miracle of the oil that lasted 8 days
d) Playing Dreidel

The correct answer is C. While the customs of Chanukah include eating latkes, giving monetary and other gifts and playing dreidel, the only actual mitzvah of Chanukah is to light the menorah and display the lights, thus publicizing the miracle of the lights in the Holy Temple burning for 8 days.

In order to fulfill this mitzvah of publicizing the miracle, the menorah/chanukiah should be lit where it can be seen by the public. Chanukah lights were originally lit in the doorway of the home, opposite the mezuzah, facing the street. However, it is now common practice to place the menorah in a window facing the street.

In order to make certain that the lights are visible, the menorah is lit after sunset. (There are two opinions regarding the correct time to light, so please consult your local rabbi.)

If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night, as long as there is someone else in the house who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).

If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light the menorah without the blessings.
If there are still people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit menorah, it is also permitted to light and say the blessings.

If the menorah was not lit at all during the night, there is no "make-up" lighting during the day.


NOTE: Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Menorah

Chanukah is two days away. Prepare for Chanukah by setting up your menorah early. (And don’t forget to download Jewish Treats’s Guide To Chanukah eBook!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

A-Hunting We Won't Go

Ah, Fall. The crisp air, the beautiful foliage and, for those who live in rural areas, the hunting season! Yes, this is the time of year when, permit in hand, hunters take to the woods for sport.

The permissibility of hunting according to Jewish law is not as straight-forward as one might imagine. Actually, there are cogent arguments for and against hunting and trapping in Jewish tradition.

In Genesis (1:26), God explicitly gives human beings dominion over the entire planet - meaning all animals, vegetables and minerals. Dominion, however, does not mean tyranny or abuse, but rather responsibility. In fact, this verse is one that is at the heart of Judaism’s sensitive environmental philosophy.

While humans have dominion over animals, Judaism prohibits “tza’ar ba’alei chayim,” causing undue suffering to living creatures. For this reason, hunting for pleasure is strictly prohibited.

And while humankind has Divine permission to be omnivorous, Jewish law deems any animal not properly slaughtered to be "not kosher" (unfit) for Jewish consumption. Animals with life-threatening wounds, such as those resulting from guns, arrows or traps, are not kosher.

So if animals may not be hunted for either food and pleasure, when might hunting be permitted? One may hunt only for a legitimate need, such as collecting fur and leather for clothes or shoes or to obtain animal products that are used for medicine. Even then, the animal must be killed in a manner that ensures the least possible pain.

JewishTreats leaves you with this question: Would hunting to thin out a herd in danger of starvation be prohibited as tza’ar ba’alei chayim or would it be permitted in order to make certain that fewer animals starve to death? Let us know your opinion by either commenting on the Jewish Treats Blog or emailing us at jewishtreats@njop.org.

This Treat was originally published on November 24, 2008.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Butcher

If you live in a city with a significant Jewish population, find a kosher butcher or supermarket with a kosher section for all your meat purchases.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Bird of Thanks

On Thanksgiving day, it is customary in the United States to eat a turkey dinner. The Hebrew word for turkey is “tar'negol hodu,” literally, an “Indian Rooster.” It came by this name because turkeys are indigenous to North America, which the first explorers thought was actually part of India. The country of India is called Hodu in Hebrew, most commonly recognized from the opening lines of Megillat Esther (Book of Esther, Purim), when King Achashverosh is depicted as ruling a kingdom that stretched “me’hodu v’ad kush” from India to Ethiopia.

“So what?” you might ask. Actually, this really might be one of life’s weird coincidences, since there is another way to translate tar'negol hodu. Using the other meaning of the word hodu--thanks, a turkey in Hebrew actually means a “rooster of thanks.”

The phrase from Tehillim (Psalms) 118, Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov, is generally translated as, “Give thanks to God because He is good.” However, the phrase may also be translated as, “Give thanks to God because it is good.” Giving thanks to God is good for us!

Almost every child is trained by his/her parents to say, “Thank You” when given something. But, when one is constantly receiving, it is easy to let those manners slide. Human beings are constantly receiving, or to put it another way, we are all totally dependent upon the Divine forces of nature (to make bread you need wheat, wheat you need rain, etc.). From the first moments of life, we are all takers..and that is okay. That is what was intended. What is not, okay, however, is ingratitude.

Hodu LaHashem Ki Tov! Every act of thanking God has a positive effect on a person! So go ahead and carve that tar'negol hodu, but don't forget to take a moment to thank God for the bounty before you.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

If you’ll be eating a full meal, you can say the
Ha'motzee
blessing for bread at the beginning of the meal. If you’re just having turkey, say the She'ha'kohl blessing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Truth Is Often Sadder

The Torah is filled with stories of people’s lives. Some of these stories are uplifting and inspirational, others are depressing and tragic. Of all the Biblical biographies, that of King David is certainly one of the most riveting. His life is full of adventure, danger and romance. His family life, however, was filled with pain and tragedy, none greater than the tragedy of Amnon and Tamar.

Amnon was David’s eldest son. David was known as a very lenient father, and it could therefore be assumed that Amnon was used to getting his way. As a young man, Amnon became infatuated with his half-sister Tamar (David’s daughter from a different wife). This being young love, Amnon “was so distressed that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar” (II Samuel 13:2).

At the advice of his cousin Yonadav, Amnon feigned illness and begged of his father that Tamar come and nurse him. David, sympathetic to his son, agreed, and instructed Tamar to go to Amnon’s quarters to care for him and prepare food for him. When Tamar finished preparing a meal for him, Amnon ordered his servants to leave, attacked Tamar and raped her. “Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred; for the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her” (13:15).

Tamar, raped and then cast aside, was taken into the household of her brother Absalom. All that is said of David’s reaction is that: “when King David heard of all these things, he was very wroth” (13:21). Torn between two children, he refrained from action. Two years later, however, Absalom avenged his sister by killing Amnon.

It is a very sad story indeed, but the Torah does not shy away from presenting harsh realities...in the hope that people will learn from these stories and be kinder to one another.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Reach Out

Support, either financially or through volunteering, a local women's shelter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Forget Custer

Hungarian immigrant and apprentice cigar maker, Sigmund Shlesinger (1848-1928) probably never expected to become a frontiersman. After he ended up in Kansas and had several business ventures fail, Shlesinger applied for a position under General George Forsyth, who was seeking 50 new frontiersmen to fight the Cheyenne and Sioux Indians (who were attacking white settlers). Shlesinger, who had almost no experience with either horses or guns, was hired only because there were not enough applicants.

After several minor engagements, Forsyth’s Scouts, as his troop was known, were set upon by the Cheyenne warrior Roman (Hook) Nose. For nine days the Scouts were trapped at the Arikaree Fork of the Republican River. They ran out of food and clean water, and 19 scouts were killed before the Scouts were finally able to vanquish their enemy. And while he received several bullet wounds, Shlesinger survived the “Battle of Beecher Island,” which would be known only because of the death of the famed Indian warrior, Roman Nose.

Shlesinger left frontier life shortly after Beecher Island, settling eventually in Cleveland, Ohio, where he opened a successful cigar store and was an active member of the Jewish community.

In response to an inquiry by Rabbi Henry Cohen of Galveston, Texas (the reason for the inquiry is no longer known), Shlesinger’s general recalled his valiant deeds and wrote:

“He had never been in action prior to our fight with the Indians and throughout the whole engagement which was one of the hardest...he behaved with great courage, cool persistence and a dogged determination that won my unstinted admiration as well as that of his comrades... I especially mention the pluck and endurance of this young man of Israel and speak of him as a worthy descendant of King David."

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Drive On Up

Use your car to help others.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Judah The Prince

Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, begins:
“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly...” (1:1)

The Men of the Great Assembly were succeeded by great scholars, the leader of whom came to be called Nasi. While literally translated as “prince,” this office is best understood as Patriarch or President. After Hillel was appointed to this position around 30 B.C.E., it became hereditary.

Only one man in history, however, bore the title “Nasi” as an extension of his name: Rabbi Judah Hanasi. He was born 65 years after the destruction of the Second Temple, during the Bar Kochba rebellion, the failure of which led to the exile of the Jews from Palestine by the Romans. In fact, Judah’s family lived in exile throughout the persecutions of the Jews by the Emperor Hadrian. When Jews were finally permitted to return to Judea, Judah’s family settled in the new center of learning, Usha, in the Western Galilee. Judah grew up surrounded by the greatest scholars of the generation (his father being one of the leaders).

Having seen life in exile and life after exile, Rabbi Judah Hanasi feared that the great body of knowledge that had been transmitted orally for about 1500 years from one generation to the next was being diluted and would be forgotten. He therefore authorized, on the basis of an emergency ruling (ayt la’asot l’hashem) to transcribe the Oral Law (Mishnah), which had already been catagorized by Rabbi Akiva into six major sections.

Throughout the Talmud, Rabbi Judah Hanasi is referred to as “Rebbe” or “Rabbenu Hakodesh” (Our Holy Rabbi), in recognition of the incredible efforts he invested to ensure the integrity of the Oral Law.

The 15th of Kislev is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Judah Hanasi.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Support Study

Institutions of Jewish learning are always in need of financial support.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Adopting Moses

In honor of National Adoption Day (November 20, 2010), Jewish Treats pays tribute to Bithia, the daughter of Pharaoh, whose adoption of a baby in a basket changed the course of human history.

While Moses’ tale is best known from the perspective of Yocheved (his mother, who set him in the Nile to save him) and Miriam (his sister, who watched over his floating cradle), little is said about the brave woman who raised him. Bithia (as she is called in the Midrash) knew that the babe in the basket was an Israelite, but, despite his pedigree, from the moment she spied him in the basket, a bond was formed.

Certainly there were challenges, Pharaoh’s advisors did not trust the foreign child (see Rabbi Buchwald’s comments on Shemot 2002). But “Pharaoh’s daughter hugged and kissed him and loved him as if he were her own son” (Exodus Rabbah 1:26).


This love and devotion brought her the ultimate reward: “Said the Holy One to Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh: ‘Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You, too, are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter. Thus it is written (I Chronicles 4:18) ‘These are the sons of Bithia’ (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3) who is Bat (daughter) Yah (of God). This is why she is commonly referred to as Batya."

While Moses was raised by Bithia, he did eventually come to know his biological family. While they also had a great impact on his life, the Midrash notes that, “Although Moses had many names, the only name by which the Torah refers to him is the one given him by Bithia, daughter of Pharaoh” (Exodus Rabbah 1:26).

Jewish Treats salutes all the adoptive/fostering families out there for the tremendous love that they provide to God’s children.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Appreciation

Express appreciation to all the people you know who have taken on the difficult task of raising children.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Smokeout

As the world changes, the modern day sages must often reevaluate the application of Jewish law in order to correlate it with the findings of contemporary medicine. One of the best examples of this challenge is cigarette smoking. Originally, smoking was assumed to have many health benefits. After all, smokers seemed to feel refreshed and relaxed, a beneficial physical side effect. From a Torah perspective, the only apparent problem with smoking was lighting a cigarette on Shabbat (prohibited).

Toward the middle of the 20th century, however, scientists and doctors came to better understand the true effects of the cigarette. It is now common knowledge that smoking has many negative effects on the body. By the time this information became common knowledge, however, smoking was a common vice, and rabbinic authorities understood that an outright ban on smoking would be too difficult to enforce (especially given the addictive nature of nicotine).

When the issue of cigarette smoking was raised with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, regarded as one of the greatest Jewish legal minds of the 20th century, he strongly discouraged the habit but did not outlaw it outright.* His primary source against prohibiting smoking totally was from Yebamot 72a: “Since many people are in the habit of disregarding these precautions, ‘The Lord preserves the simple’ (Psalms 116:6). This statement has always been understood that there are some dangerous practices that are not prohibited because it is already the custom of too many people, but that those who are wise should certainly abstain from this behavior. Today, however, there are many strong calls to ban smoking entirely.

*This ruling was given in 1981. He included in his ruling a prohibition against starting to smoke.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Try

Encourage yourself to stop smoking, perhaps donate a quarter every time you smoke a cigarette.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spiraling From Adam

“The Chosen People,” as the Jews are sometimes known, has been misunderstood by some as an indication that Judaism disdains those who are not Jewish. This, of course, is not true. Adam, the first human, was not Jewish...nor was Noah. In fact, there were twenty generations, many thousands of people, who lived before the birth of Abraham. Abraham, who is the forefather of the Jewish nation, is considered to be the first Jew. But even after Abraham and Sarah had their son Isaac, it was still several generations until their descendants were numerous enough to be considered a “people.”

Humankind was banished from the Garden of Eden, symbolic of a perfect world, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Humanity has been trying to return to that perfect world ever since. This process is known as tikkun olam, repairing the world.

Just as the process of rebuilding a home takes many specialists (carpenters, electricians, plumbers, decorators...), tikkun olam takes many types of people. Accordingly, every nation has its own special mission.

One interesting kabbalistic concept (based on the teachings of Rabbi Isaac Luria as written down by Rabbi Chaim Vital in Shaar Hagilgulim) describes Adam as having a neshama klalit, a universal soul, that shattered when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. Every human being after Adam was born with a shard of Adam’s soul, which each person helps return to its state of pre-banishment perfection through his/her individual actions and accomplishments. Different pieces of the broken soul require different actions in order to be perfected. When a person does not achieve a tikkun for the soul within them, that shard is further shattered and returns in yet another generation.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Chez Kosher

If possible, choose a kosher restaurant when going out to eat.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cleaning The Water

This year, National Geography Awareness Week (this week) has chosen the theme of “freshwater.”

The Torah is laden with prohibitions against harming the environment. Soldiers may not cut down fruit trees that surround enemy cities. The soldiers of Israel must designate a separate place, outside of camp, for their bodily wastes.

Sadly, people have not done as good a job at maintaining the health of the world as one might hope. Freshwater, which is so critical to a healthy environment, is becoming very scarce in many parts of the world. Indeed, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the largest freshwater body in Israel, is shrinking at an alarming rate.

As we of the twenty-first century fret and fuss over whether we can reverse the trend, perhaps we can take heart at the words of the prophet Ezekiel. In chapter 47 (1-9) of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet is lead by a guide to a trickle of water. They walk together and the water becomes increasingly deeper...to the ankles, knees, loins..until it is unpassable. The guide then passes Ezekiel through the water and says:

“These waters...shall enter into the sea, into the sea of the putrid waters, [and] the waters shall be healed. And it shall come to pass, that every living creature with which it swarms, wherever the rivers shall come, shall live; and there shall be a very great multitude of fish...”

This mysterious passage can, of course, be interpreted in many ways. However, it may also be read as a prophetic teaching that humankind has the responsibility and ability to repair our rivers and streams and, in so doing, rehabilitate the oceans, so they may team with life.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Just You

Volunteer and involve yourself with a neighborhood clean-up committee.

Monday, November 15, 2010

All I Need Is A Miracle

Are you an adrenaline junkie? Know someone who is? An adrenaline junkie, for those who are not in the know, are those people who love the rush of danger, who seek out thrilling, often life-endangering adventures. Many such people take up extreme sports such as cliff-diving and bungee jumping.

Judaism considers life a most sacred gift, and regards harming one’s self deliberately as a serious crime. In fact, Rabbi Yannai states in the Talmud (Shabbat 32a) that “One must never stand in a place of danger and expect a miracle to occur, lest it not occur.” This seems like sound and obvious advice. However, Rabbi Yannai goes on to further explain that “if a miracle does occur, it is deducted from that person’s merits.”

It is a well known concept that one’s merits and transgressions are weighed against each other on Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgment. This statement of Rabbi Yannai implies, however, that the equation may not be as simple as good versus evil, but rather that one’s good deeds can actually be reduced “on account.”

Rabbi Hanin explains that Rabbi Yannai deduced this fact from Jacob’s statement to God: “I have become small from (unworthy of) all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant” (Genesis 32:11). Jacob, in Genesis 32, is preparing to meet Esau, who wants to kill him. Jacob’s statement alludes to the purpose of this “system of accountability,” which is to underscore that no person may sit around resting on their laurels--there are always more good deeds that one can perform.

Just as one must not deliberately place one’s self in danger, one must also not depend on a miracle in his/her daily life. “Hishtadlut,” one’s personal effort and input, is the Jewish equivalent of “God helps those who help themselves.” By doing one’s hishtadlut, a person is no longer relying on a miracle.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Auto Check

If you are a car owner, make certain to maintain your car to ensure its safety standards.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Great Maharsha

How is it that one of the greatest Talmudic commentators in Jewish history, the Maharsha, has a name that sounds like the name of an Indian yoga master? Maharsha is actually an acronym for the words Moraynu Harav Shmuel...” our teacher, the Rabbi Samuel Eidels (Poland 1555 - 1631).

Recognized early in life for his brilliance, Rabbi Samuel chose to dedicate his life to Torah study. After his marriage, he moved to the town of Posen to oversee the yeshiva there, established and maintained through the incredible financial generosity of his widowed mother-in-law, Eidel Lifschitz. In her honor, Rabbi Samuel became known as Rabbi Samuel Eidels. After the death of Eidel Lifschitz, when the yeshiva no longer had sufficient funds, the Maharsha served as the rabbi of Chelm, Lublin, Ticktin and Ostrog.

That the Maharsha was a brilliant scholar is best attested to by the fact that his commentary on the Talmud, called Chiddushei Halachot, is included in almost every printing of the Talmud. The initial writings were printed anonymously, but their overwhelmingly positive reception encouraged the Maharsha to continue. He also published Chiddushei Aggadot, which is a commentary on the non-legal portions of the Talmud.

The Maharsha was intimately involved in the politics of his time and was an active member of the Council of the Four Lands (link). It is interesting to note that he refrained from writing commentaries on those sections of the Talmud that his yeshiva studied while he was away at Council meetings.

Known for his humilty and generosity, it is reputed that the door of Rabbi Samuel Eidel’s home was inscribed with a quote from the Book of Job (31:32): “No sojourner spent the night outside, my door was always open to the guest.”

The Maharsha passed away on the 5th of Kislev, 5392 (1631).

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Blowing Cold

As the cold weather starts, donate any spare coats or sweaters to those in need.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Flying Aces

On November 11, 1918, at 11:11 AM, the death and destruction of World War I came to an end. It was the conclusion of an immense catastrophe that left a death toll on both sides that was staggering.

World War I was the first major war in which airplanes were used as weapons, and the flying ace, a pilot who downed enemy aircraft, was the epitome of the World War I hero among both the Allied and the Axis nations. A fact not well-known in history, however, is that there were a number of German Flying Aces who were Jews. The most famous were:

Willy Rosenstein (1892 - 1949), who received the Iron Cross, shot down nine enemy aircraft. He briefly served under Goering before transferring to another unit. Wisely, he left Germany in the late 1930s, after the Nazis came to power.

Fritz Beckhardt (1889 - 1962) shot down 17 enemy aircraft. During the Nazi regime he was arrested for impropriety with an Aryan woman. Upon his release after 1½ years in prison, he and his family escaped to England. Beckhardt and his son returned to Germany in 1950.

Berthold Guthmann (1893 - c.1943) received the Iron Cross for his service in the German Air Force. Despite his medals, he was sent to Auschwitz in 1943 and murdered.

The heroism of these Jewish pilots might have been forgotten were it not for the efforts of Dr. Felix A. Theilhaber, a doctor in the German army. He began researching the Jewish airman as a means of disproving the anti-Semetic media reports that Jews were not participating in the war efforts and that Jewish cowardice was the reason. Theilhaber’s book J├╝dische Flieger im Weltkrieg (Jewish Flyers in the World War), catalogued over 100 airmen who put their lives on the line for their country.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Tribute

If you had a relative who fought in World War I, find out more about their involvement and record it for future generations.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rachel The Great Romance

The story of Jacob and Rachel is as close to true romance as one finds in Biblical literature.

Jacob, the son of Isaac and Rebecca, went to the home of Laban (Rebecca’s brother) to find a bride. (In those days, marrying first cousins was not uncommon.) Jacob arrived at a well that was covered by a large stone. When Jacob asked the gathered shepherds if they knew his uncle, they pointed to a young shepherdess approaching the well and announced that this was Laban’s daughter Rachel. They also explained to him that they were waiting until all of the local shepherds arrived at the well to roll back the rock and distribute the water. Jacob immediately rolled the rock away himself and gave water to Rachel’s sheep. Laban agreed to let the smitten Jacob marry Rachel, if Jacob first worked for him for seven years.

When the wedding day finally arrived, however, Laban decided that it would be very embarrassing if his younger daughter, Rachel, were to marry before her older sister, Leah. Therefore, without any warning, he ordered Leah to don her sister’s wedding veil secretly and be wed to Jacob without his knowledge.

Rachel now faced a great dilemma. She could fight for her right to wed Jacob as promised, or she could expose the plot, humiliate her sister in public and bring great shame to the entire family. Putting her sister’s honor before her own, Rachel gave Leah the secret signs that she and Jacob had prepared in case of just such a likelihood, so that Leah could marry the man Rachel loved. When the festivities of Jacob and Leah’s wedding were completed a week later, Rachel and Jacob were wed and Rachel became his second, but more beloved, wife.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Make A Match

Don't be afraid to make blind date suggestions.

Simple Safety

Don’t take unnecessary risks with your life or other peoples' lives.

Fences

The Bible commands the owner of a home with a flat roof to put up a ma’akeh - a fence - around the roof, so that blood will not be on the owner’s hands (Deuteronomy 22:8). Sefer Hachinukh, an anonymously written book detailing the 613 commandments (13th century), explains the underlying principle of the command to build a ma'akeh(Commandment 546): In our lives, it is imperative that we take nothing for granted as far as safety goes. Some people are blessed with "nine lives" like the proverbial cat. Nevertheless, relying on miracles is not the Jewish way, so we must do our part to secure our lives by putting up safety barriers and not taking any unnecessary risks.

To cite two examples, the Chinukh warns against drinking directly from a lake or river without a utensil because of the danger of swallowing a leech. People are also cautioned against putting money into one's mouth, simply because one never knows who or what has come in contact with the money. 

While many people today no longer have flat roofs or homes with roof access that would require a ma’akeh (except for apartment houses), the modern day equivalent of this mitzvah for most people might be putting bars or safety locks on upper story windows, a railing around a deck, and erecting fences with locked gates around swimming pools. The spirit of this law warns against damaging and doing harm to our bodies and to others.

This Treat was originally posted on July 30, 2008.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Memorial Prayer

According to Jewish belief, when people pass away, they move on to sojourn in the “next world,” to hopefully enjoy the spiritual rewards they have earned from their good acts in “this world.”

In the “next world” a soul cannot grow spiritually, perform mitzvot or earn a better place. Basically, in the “next world” the soul reaps what it had sown in “this world.” However, a soul may gain merit through the deeds of its descendants.* During the festivals, the gates of heaven are already open to accept prayer, thus making it a perfect opportunity to add a special prayer for one’s deceased parent(s) or other family members. This service, known as Yizkor (“He shall remember”), is recited on Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot and Shemini Atzeret.

The Yizkor service is more than a prayer. On a personal level, it is an opportunity to reflect upon and remember the wonderful things that made the deceased person special. It is also a promise to act properly and give charity in the name of the deceased. (This is also why there are often synagogue fund-raising forms to be found attached to the Yizkor prayer--if people are pledging money, it is only proper for them to pledge support for the synagogue that provides for their religious needs.)

Yizkor may also be recited for other relatives (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.). In many communities it is also customary to recite a special prayer during Yizkor in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. In fact, many speculate that the memorial service originated as a result of the Crusades, when tens of thousands of Jews were murdered.

It is the custom among most Ashkenazi Jews that those whose parents are both still living leave the sanctuary during the service so as not to disturb the reflections and prayers of those who are reciting Yizkor.

*Descendants can also be non-biological--those one has taught or influenced in a significant manner.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Anytime

Make a charitable donation in memory of a loved one anytime, not just at Yizkor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Intentions Matter

Halacha (Jewish Law) can be defined, literally, as “the way of walking” or “the path.” This single word defines Judaism’s unique legal system. Some paths are straight, others bend. So too, most aspects of Jewish law are defined by strictly objective reasoning, while others are determined by employing elements of subjectivity in their implementation.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines subjectivity as “Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world.” One way in which this is reflected in halacha is in the importance of intention. For instance, if one has recited the blessing for an apple (fruit - boray p’ri ha’etz), it is a question of intent whether the blessing must be repeated if a pear is eaten five minutes later. If the person intended to eat both fruits when the blessing was recited, then it is not repeated. If, however, the person intended only to eat the apple, but found that he/she was still hungry, a second boray p’ri ha’etz is recited.

With intent, comes the more challenging question of being honest with one’s self. Thus, if one eats pizza intending it only to be a snack (and eats a limited amount), a m’zo’note blessing for grains may be recited. But, if it is intended as a meal, ha’mo’tzee (for bread or a meal) is said.

One’s sense of honesty comes into play in many contexts. On a minor fast day, the fast may be broken if one feels ill. But what does that mean? Who can measure another person’s discomfort? One has to be honest that they aren't feeliing ill just because they do not wish to fast. (In that same vein, an ill person needs to accept the fact that he/she is not fulfilling a mitzvah by fasting if his/her health is at risk.)

Jewish law is not just a civil legal code for managing society, but a way of life to allow each person’s soul to truly flourish.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Evaluation Within

Try to always be honest with yourself so that your actions reflect your true intentions.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

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.

While B’sha’a Tova could be seen simply as a blessing that the unborn child will be born healthy or that a couple will have a happy marriage, it is also an indirect reminder of the Talmudic phrase: “gam zoo l’tova,” this too is for the good. A broken engagement, for example, can be an emotionally crushing event...but it is also one of the challenges that those involved must overcome in order to properly fulfill their purpose in this world.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

For Now And The Future

Go out of your way to wish someone well when you hear of their “good fortune.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Heightened Senses

It has always been noted that the Torah is unique by virtue of the very human terms with which it describes its great heroes. Even the patriarchs and matriarchs are not presented as models of perfection. This is not only true of their actions, but also of them physically. The most prominent example is that of Isaac, of whom it says: “His eyes were too dim to see” (Genesis 27:1).

Beyond the obvious fact that if Isaac weren’t blind,* he would never have blessed Jacob instead of Esau, what can be learned from this description of Isaac?

It is a well-known fact that many people who are impaired in one sense compensate for it with their other senses. In the very same chapter in which Isaac’s blindness is described, sound, touch and smell are each used by Isaac for identification. When he doubts his hearing ("The voice is the voice of Jacob..."), Isaac relies on touch ("but the hands are the hands of Esau."). After eating the meal presented to him by Jacob, Isaac tests his son one last time by smelling him. Jacob, however, was wearing Esau’s clothes, so Isaac "smelled the fragrance of his garments, and he blessed him."

The Jewish understanding that blindness is not a reason to consider someone inferior (something which lesser people often do) can be seen in the tale of the blind Rabbi Sheshet, who was able to tell when the king was approaching by the sound (or lack thereof) of the crowd. When asked how he knew, he responded by saying that earthly royalty is like heavenly royalty, and God, the King of kings, is found" in the still small voice" (I Kings 19:11). And though Rabbi Sheshet could not see him with his eyes, he nevertheless said the blessing recited when seeing a king.

*While Isaac’s blindness is the primary reason that he was fooled, his “blindness” can also be read as a metaphor for the fact that he was “blinded” by Esau’s false pretenses of righteousness.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Accentuate the Positive

Thank God for the wonder of your senses.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The First In The Senate

As U.S. citizens vote in the midterm elections, Jewish Treats introduces David Levy Yulee, the first Jewish man to be elected to the United States Senate.

Like his more famous contemporary, Judah P. Benjamin (who was the second Jewish senator), Yulee hailed from the south. Born on the Island of St. Thomas (in what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands), Yulee was raised in Florida. His first Federal position was serving as the delegate to Congress for the Florida Territory. When Florida was granted statehood in 1845, Yulee was elected to the Senate. He lost his seat in 1850 and founded the Yulee Sugar Mill, the ruins of which are now a state historic site. He also began building the Yulee Railroad, which was the first railroad to cross the state of Florida.

Yulee was re-elected to the Senate in 1855, only to resign when Florida seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy. After the war, he spent nine months imprisoned in Fort Pulaski for his support for the Confederacy. Following his time in prison, Yulee continued his involvement with Florida railroads. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1880, and died in 1886.

Born David Levy, he legally adopted the name Yulee in honor of his Moroccan ancestors. Sadly, this seems to be the only part of his Jewish heritage that he honored. He married Nannie C. Wickliffe and raised his children as Christians.

This was in sharp contrast to his father, Moses Elias Levy, an observant Jew from Morocco who made a fortune in Caribbean timber. He then purchased a large parcel of land in Florida (near Jacksonville) and established Pilgrimage Plantation, a Jewish utopian settlement for Jews fleeing persecution in Europe. The Plantation was destroyed during the Second Seminole War in 1835.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Vote

To express your appreciation (hakarat hatov) of the United States, go out and vote today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hail The Holy Pomegranate

The Pomegranate is a funny sort of fruit. Rather than eating the flesh and throwing away the seed, as one does when eating an apple or orange, pomegranate seeds are eaten and the flesh discarded. It is, therefore, interesting that God commanded that this fruit be reproduced on the High Priest’s garb: “You shall make on its [the coat’s] hem, pomegranate ... and gold bells between them all around. A gold bell and a pomegranate, a gold bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the robe all around ... the sound thereof shall be heard when he [the High Priest] goes in to the holy place before God, and when he comes out. (Exodus 28:33-35). After all, what is so special about a pomegranate?

The pomegranate is a very symbolic fruit. Judaism views it as a representation of the righteousness within each Jew: “Even the sinners of Israel are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate, as the verse states (Song of Songs 4:3), ‘Like the separating of a Pomegranate are ra'kataych.’ Don’t read the word ‘ra'kataych’ but rather ‘rey'kataych,’ [empty ones] even the empty ones [the sinners] among you are filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate” (Eiruvin 19a). Traditionally, pomegranates are reputed to contain 613 seeds representing the 613 mitzvot, which is why it has become customary to eat pomegranate as one of the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana and pray, “That our merits shall increase like a pomegranate.” (Before you ask, pomegranates do not have a set number of seeds!)

Pomegranates are one of the seven species identified with the Land of Israel. (Deuteronomy 8:8), and many Jewish artisans found the fruit an alluring subject for reproduction. They were used as decor in Solomon’s Temple (I Kings 7), on ancient Judean coins and, even today, are often part of the silver ornaments found on many Torah scrolls.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Pom-enjoyment

Make sure to say the proper blessing over your National Pomegranate Month (November) treats: Ha'etz
for the fruit, She'ha'kol for pomegranate drinks.