Friday, February 28, 2014

Just A Half Shekel

This Shabbat is Parashat Shekalim (shekels). The Torah portion that speaks of Shekalim (Exodus 30:11-16) is read as the Maftir portion after the regular weekly Torah reading has concluded. It refers to God's commandment that a census of the Jewish people be taken by the donation of a half-shekel coin, rather than by a head count.

The most significant aspect of this half-shekel census was that it was blind to wealth. Rich or poor, each man* above the age of 20 was required to give a half-shekel coin. Exodus 30:15 states: "The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less..."

The half-shekel collection was specifically designed to be egalitarian, so that no person would stand out as an individual. Every person was (and still is) an equal part of the whole.

Parashat Shekalim is always read on Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Adar (the first day of the month of Adar) or on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh. (This year, Rosh Chodesh is celebrated on Sunday and Monday.) In the time of the Temple, the half-shekel was contributed by the people during the month of Adar, and the reading of Shekalim served as an announcement of the upcoming obligation.

Additionally, the section of Shekalim reminds us that Purim is soon at hand (Adar 14-this year, March 15/16). The wicked Haman offered Achashverosh 10,000 silver pieces for the right to destroy the Jews, assuming that his silver pieces would off-set the sum total of the Jews' half-shekel donations in the wilderness. Thankfully, he was wrong!

*The census counted every male over the age of 20, under the assumption that every male over the age of 20 had already established a household. Thus, the census, in effect, counted all Jewish households.

This Treat was last published on February 8, 2013.

Related Treats:
Parashat Parah
Parashat Zachor
Parashat HaChodesh

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Last King of Judah

When Mattaniah, the son of King Josiah, was 13 years old, his brother King Yeho'yakim (who had succeeded Josiah) of Judah died after an open rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Eight years later, Mattaniah’s nephew, King Yeho'yachin (son of Yeho'yakim) offered himself and his family as a prisoner to Nebuchadnezzar in order to end the siege brought on by his own rebellious acts (aligning himself with Egypt). When Mattaniah was 21 years old, the King of Babylon placed the crown upon his head and declared his new name to be Zedekiah.

One would think that having witnessed the exacting revenge of the Babylonians on those who rebel, Zedekiah would have passively accepted Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion. Indeed, at first Zedekiah played the perfect role of a puppet monarch and swore (upon the Torah , no less!) that he would not rebel.* It was a promise that did not last long.

While Zedekiah wanted to assert himself as more than a puppet king, the prophet Jeremiah warned him time and again that Judea’s subjugation to Babylon was part of God’s plan and that the people would suffer from any further instigation on Zedekiah’s part. Zedekiah responded by imprisoning Jeremiah.

Nine years after elevating him to the throne, Nebuchadenezzar had had enough of Zedekiah. The brutal, final siege of Jerusalem began. Two years into the siege, Zedekiah and his family were captured as they attempted to escape the city.  Nebuchadnezzar forced Zedekiah to watch as he killed his ten sons, after which Nebuchadnezzar blinded Zedekiah with hot iron pokers. Taken in chains back to Babylon, Zedekiah was left to rot in the dungeon for 25 years until six days after the death of Nebuchadnezzar, when Nebuchadnezzar’s son,  Evil-Merodach, released both Yeho'yachin and Zedekiah from jail. On that same day, the 27th of Adar, Zedekiah passed away.

*According to Pesikta Rabbasi

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Be charitable with your money, time and personal experiences.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Young girls often wish for fairies, and brash youth dream of dragons. There is a delightful allure to the legends of fantastical creatures. But, according to the Midrash, not all such creatures are borne of the imagination. The Midrash discusses Leviathan, a great sea monster, and places the phoenix on Noah’s ark.

So what are we to make of the most popular mythical creature of all - the unicorn?

In the commandments to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Moses was instructed that the tent be covered with ram’s skin and the skin of a “tachash,” an animal whose correct identity was lost even to those who transcribed the Oral Torah.

It is written in the Talmud: “Rabbi Elai in the name of Rabbi Simeon bar Lakish, Rabbi Meir used to maintain that the tachash of Moses’ day was a separate had one horn in its forehead, and it came to Moses’ hand [providentially] just for the occasion, and he [Moses] made the [covering of the] Tabernacle, and then it [the tachash] was hidden” (Talmud Shabbat 28b).  Furthermore, the tachash was particularly unique because it had a many colored pelt (Shabbat 28a).

Other opinions suggest that the re’em, another species whose exact identification is also unknown, was a unicorn. However, according to the Talmud, the re’em was no dainty and delicate creature (as fantasy often imagines the unicorn), but rather an enormous creature so large that it could not fit on Noah’s ark and survived the flood only because its horn was tied to the ark (Zevachim 113b).

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Opportunity Knocks

Find opportunities to learn and share about Judaism. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

In-House Audit

Reading news reports about financial misconduct should definitely be more shocking. Alas, since it is an all-too-common occurrence, most of us merely sigh in disgust and move on with our lives, hoping to be spared ever being thus victimized.

Let’s face it, there are many ways to cheat and steal - whether by brazenly taking possession of another person’s belongings or the more devious means of stealthily embezzling a company’s financial resources.

Sadly, financial misconduct is not a new crime. People have always been drawn by the dream of getting rich quickly and easily. King Solomon, who was blessed with great wisdom, advised: “A faithful man shall abound with blessings; but he that makes haste to be rich shall not be unpunished” (Proverbs 28:20).

Because human nature is easily swayed by greed, and because people often assume that others may be guilty of deceit, it was ruled that in the dealings of the Temple that “the treasurers were [to be] not less than three, and the superintendents not less than seven, nor may authority be exercised in matters of money by less than two [officers present]” (Mishnah Shekalim 5:2).

The Midrash (Exodus Rabbah 51:1) connects this administrative law back to the building of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 38, a comprehensive accounting is conducted of every item used in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The statement of account concludes: “These are the accounts of the they were rendered according to the commandment of Moses, through the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, the son of Aaron the priest” (Exodus 38:21). The understanding, according to the Midrash, is that Ithamar served as Moses’ accountant, making certain that every gift that was received was properly recorded. This secondary audit prevented any negative speculation that Moses had personally gained from the wealth of gifts given to the Tabernacle fund.

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Double Checking

Don't let pride stop you from asking a co-worker for assistance or to double check important projects. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

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 oneself 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 oneself 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.

This Treat was last posted on November 15, 2010.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Safety First

Buckle up, look both ways...follow basic safety procedures.

Friday, February 21, 2014

It’s Not Vanity

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the fairest of them all?” Snow White’s wicked step-mother is the perfect example of how society associates mirrors with vanity and wickedness. Believe it or not, this became an issue for Moses during the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

The majority of the materials used to build the Mishkan were donated by the people. Gold, silver and copper were melted down and molded into the holy vessels. While the Torah describes each of the vessels of the Tabernacle and notes the material with which they were made, the description of the kiyor (wash stand) goes a step further and notes the source of the material: Betzalel “made the kiyor of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting...” (Exodus 38:8).

Because the Torah specifically notes that the copper used for the kiyor came from the mirrors of the women, it is understood that this information is vital. According to the Midrash (oral tradition),* the use of these mirrors was, at first, questioned by Moses. In fact, Moses initially rejected the mirrors because he worried that they were tools that were used for inciting illicit feelings.

The Torah, however, uses the term tzo’v’ot, which means legions, leading to the understanding that the women set up legions. In the fierce conditions of slavery, romance was far from anyone’s mind. The Midrash infers that overworking the men was one of Pharaoh’s many methods of limiting the Israelite population growth. When the Israelite women brought food to their husbands in the fields, they also brought their mirrors. The women would sit beside their husbands and look in the mirror and note their own loveliness, inspiring romantic thoughts and...well, let’s just say that the Midrash cites a subsequent sixfold growth in population!

When Moses questioned the appropriateness of accepting these mirrors as donations to the Mishkan, the original use of the mirrors was made known to him. The dedication of the Israelite women and their actions to insure a Jewish future was recognized by the unique creation of the kiyor - a tribute to the women.

*As noted in the Midrash Tanchuma

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Proper Vanity

 Dress up to celebrate Shabbat.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Words of Protest

Today is the World Day of Social Justice, a perfect topic for Jewish Treats, as Jewish law often addresses issues of social justice. There are halachot (laws) that dictate giving tzedakah (charity), caring for widows, orphans and strangers, visiting and caring for the ill, and the list goes on.

It is a sad reality that almost every society faces corrupt elements and that, often, the glorious ideals upon which communities first develop are abandoned. Every generation, however, is blessed with those who speak out for justice and protesters who raise their voices to help bring about a better world.

Some of the most renowned social justice protest language in history can be found in the recorded words of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Today, Jewish Treats shares just a few examples:

“Hear the word of the Lord, children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. Swearing and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery. They break all bounds, and blood touches blood” (Hosea 4:1-2).

“Your princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loves bribes, and follows after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither are they bothered by the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:23).

“Therefore, because you trample upon the poor, and take from him exactions of wheat; you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them, you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink wine thereof” (Amos 5:11).

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Take To Heart

Take the words of the prophets to heart and try to be more proactive in helping others.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On The Ice

As a Semitic nation, the Jewish people emerged as a nation in the warm, dry region of the Middle east. And while snow may occasionally fall in Jerusalem, winter activities are not frequently discussed in the Torah and the Talmud.

Due to the long years of exile in wintery climates, however, Jews have left their mark on a host of varied winter activities. Take, for example, Louis Rubenstein (1861-1931), who is known as the “Father of Canadian Figure Skating.” Rubenstein trained with Jackson Haines, whose innovations of the sport transformed it from “fancy skating,” when skaters traced fancy images on ice, to “figure skating,” which incorporates dance movements. At age 17, Rubenstein won the Montreal championship and, five years later, the Canadian championship. From 1888-1891, he also held the U.S. title. 

Rubenstein was born and raised in Montreal, but his parents were Polish Jews who fled Russian rule. Their fears of Russian anti-Semitism turned into reality in 1890, when their son competed in St. Petersburg at the first international figure skating championship. During the competition, he faced harassment from all segments of Russian society, including the police. In fact, only the intervention of the British ambassador made it possible for him to participate in the competition. Despite terrible outside pressures, Rubenstein won two of the three components of the competition.

Although he retired from competition shortly after he returned from St. Petersburg, Rubenstein remained active in the world of figure skating. In fact, Rubenstein was involved in many sports, and was even president of both the Canadian Bowling Association and the Canadian Wheelmans Association (Cycling). Beyond sports, it should be noted, Rubenstein was also a communal leader who held the position of alderman for 17 years.

Click here for a list of Jewish figure skaters.

This Treat was last posted on February 18, 2011.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Winter Exercise

Embrace the last few weeks of winter by trying some winter sports or just taking a brisk walk.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies

Did you grow up with the planetary mnemonic “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies”? Of course, since 2006, when Pluto was removed from the roster of planets, the mnemonic has changed.

Until the 17th century, when Neptune and Uranus were first discovered, everyone, including the sages of the Talmud, recognized the other five planets of the Milky Way: Mars, Venus, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn. (In the Talmud, these planets are not, of course, listed by the names of Roman gods, but rather as Maadim, Kochav Nogah, Kochav, Zedek, and Shabbetai.)

While the sages debate the efficacy of astrology, the Torah testifies that God made Abraham and all of his descendants beyond the influence of such metaphysical mysteries. (Click here to read more on this subject.) Nevertheless, some sages assigned different astrological influences to different parts of the day and declared that planets affect the people who are born under their influence:

Those born under the influence of the sun will be distinguished, self sufficient and “his secrets will lie uncovered,” (and will be an unsuccessful thief.)

Those born under the influence of Venus will be wealthy, but immoral.

Those born under the influence of Mercury will be wise and have a good memory.

Those born under the influence of the moon will “suffer evil, building and demolishing...eating and drinking that which is not his and his secrets will remain safe.” (He will be a good thief.)

Those born under the influence of Saturn will have frustrated plans, although it is also said that plans against such a one will be frustrated.

Those born under the influence of Jupiter will be right-doing.

Those born under the influence of Mars will be a shedder of blood. On this “Rabbi Ashi observed: Either a surgeon, a thief, a slaughterer, or a circumciser” (Shabbat 156a).

(Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930.)

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Look To The Stars

On the next clear night, look up at the stars and contemplate the infinite details of the universe.

Monday, February 17, 2014

An American Treat

In honor of Presidents’ Day, Jewish Treats presents a brief summary of how George Washington and Abraham Lincoln interacted with, and impacted on, the Jewish community.

There are no specific instances of direct interaction between George Washington and the Jews that stand out in history (although he certainly interacted with Haym Solomon, who financed the revolution). However, Washington’s letter to the Jews of Newport, RI, (written in response to their salutation to him) has become a well-known statement regarding religious freedom for all:
“...For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens....May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
There are two particular situations in which Abraham Lincoln showed himself to be a friend of the Jews:
1) In 1861, Congress passed a law that all army chaplains had to be ordained Christian ministers. When, shortly thereafter, Rev. (Rabbi) Dr. Arnold Fischer was denied a position, he brought his case before the President. Lincoln immediately acknowledged the injustice of the law. Rather than issue a specific exemption for Rabbi Fischer, Lincoln asked Congress to amend the law -- which it did.
2) In late 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant issued an order expelling all Jews from his theater of action (Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi). The cause of the order was Grant’s desire to stop the black market smuggling and selling of cotton, which he blamed on Jews. Cesar Kaskel of Paducah, KY, traveled to Washington and petitioned Lincoln, who immediately canceled Grant’s order of expulsion.
This Treat was last posted on February 16, 2009.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved

American Appreciation

Take a moment to appreciate the freedom to live a full Jewish life in America.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Purim Katan

In a Jewish leap year, a second month of Adar is added to the Jewish calendar, creating Adar I and Adar II. The question that arises is, in which Adar does one celebrate the important events that occur in that month? On a communal level, this question refers to the holiday of Purim. On a personal level, this affects the observance of yahrtzeits and bar/bat mitzvahs

The holiday of Purim marks the anniversary of God’s overturning the wicked plot of Haman (read the full story) on the 14th of Adar. According to tractate Megillah 6b, during a leap year Purim is observed in Adar II. However, during Adar I, the importance of the 14th of Adar must also be acknowledged. Purim Katan, “Little Purim,” as 14 Adar I is called, is therefore observed as a minor holiday. On Purim Katan certain aspects of the prayer service are omitted, fasting is forbidden and eulogies are generally prohibited. Additionally, it is considered praiseworthy to mark the day with a small festive meal (perhaps ordering a nicer lunch). 

Aside from Purim, individual celebrations may also be affected by the extra month of Adar. A child born in Adar during a regular year celebrates his/her bar or bat mitzvah in Adar II, if it occurs during a leap year. A bar or bat mitzvah celebration is only celebrated in Adar I if the child was born in Adar I (This leads to the possible interesting anomaly that a child born on the first day of Adar II celebrates his Bar Mitzvahed one month before a child born on the 30th day of Adar I, if the Bar Mitzvah year is not a leap year). 

With respect to yahrtzeit observances, however, there is a difference of opinion. The Ashkenzi custom, which follows the Rema, is to observe the yahrtzeit during Adar I (but there are those who observe in Adar II, and even those who observe both Adars). According to Sephardi custom, which follows Rabbi Joseph Karo, the nachala is observed during Adar II. However, the yahrtzeit of one who passes away in either Adar of a leap year is observed only in the Adar in which they passed.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Special Treat

Enjoy a special treat in honor of Purim Katan.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Radio Man

The World Day of Radio, that is held annually on February 13th, was approved by the 26th General Conference of UNESCO on November 3, 2011. Its goal is to emphasize the importance of radio throughout the world, a fact easily forgotten in a smart-phone dominated Western society.

David Sarnoff (1891 - 1971) precociously understood the immense power of radio and even suggested, in 1950, that the United States distribute radios behind the Iron Curtain on which the Voice of America could be broadcast. Of course, as the Chairman of the Board of RCA (Radio Corporation of America), he may have had a bias toward the power of radio.

Born in Russia, Sarnoff received an early Torah education. When Sarnoff was 15, after six years in America, he was hired by the Commercial Cable Company but quit when they refused to allow him time off for Rosh Hashana. He then took a position with the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America, which eventually became RCA.

Sarnoff proved himself as an innovator and quickly moved up the RCA corporate ladder. Sarnoff saw the new radio technology’s potential for mass communication and worked to capitalize on radio’s great potential. In his early years, he arranged for the broadcast of the Dempsey-Carpentier heavyweight boxing match (1921). As he was continually promoted, he took even greater business initiatives, helping to develop NBC (the National Broadcast Company),  promoting AM radio and developing a combined radio-phonograph player. Sarnoff was also heavily involved in the development of television, and, following the Second World War, Sarnoff successfully moved RCA into the new world of television.

Utilizing his exceptional communication skills, Sarnoff served his country during World War II and, in 1945, was awarded the Brigadier General’s star.

Sarnoff retired in 1970 and died the following year.

*There remains a dispute regarding Sarnoff’s claims that he was the telegraph operator who intercepted the calls for help from them Titanic.

Torah Tech

Download Jewish apps to enhance your daily Jewish activities. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


Buckle up, look both ways...follow basic safety procedures.The speed skating competition at the 1928 Olympics, held in St. Moritz, Switzerland, ended in a literal “melt down.” During the 10,000 meter race, U.S. skater Irving Jaffe, who had finished fourth in the 5,000 meter skate, was in the lead when the rising temperatures began to melt the ice. Due to the conditions, the race could not be completed,. The Norwegian referee declared the race void, the International Olympics Committee awarded the gold to Jaffe, but then the International Skating Union took it away and re-declared the race void. 

Speed Skating, 1928, St. Moritz

While Jaffe was denied his gold in 1928, his performance in Lake Placid, NY, at the 1932 Olympics, confirmed his right to claim the title of champion. He took gold in both the 5,000 and the 10,000 meter races. There was, perhaps an extra reason for joy in the victory of winning gold in 1932. A vacation haven in the Adirondacks, Lake Placid’s clubs were known for their “No Hebrew (Jews) Allowed Winter Olympics” policies. 

Like many, Jaffe suffered bitterly during the Great Depression, even finding it necessary to pawn his gold medals. Sadly, he was never able to recover them. 

Beginning in 1934, Jaffe started a new career as the Winter Sports Director at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort, where he remained for several decades. During his Sports Directorship, Grossingers built an artificial ice skating rink, hosted Olympic speed skating trials and arranged professional ice shows. While at Grossingers, Jaffe broke the world record for the 25-mile skate in front of a crowd of thousands. 

In addition to his role at Grossinger’s, Jaffe served on the board of the second Maccabiah games in 1935. In 1940, he was elected to the United States Skating Hall of Fame, and in 1979, to the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. 

Born in New York City in 1906, Irving Jaffe passed away in San Diego, California, in 1981.

Just A Snack

When grabbing a quick snack, take a moment to make certain it is kosher.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Tribe of Zebulun

As the ancestors of the tribes of Israel, the lives and personalities of each of the twelve sons of Jacob significantly impact on the history and behavior of the tribe members who descended from them.

Jacob’s deathbed blessing to Zebulun was, perhaps, the most straight-forward message: “Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea, and he shall be a shore for ships, and his flank shall be upon Zidon” (Genesis 49:13). The descendants of Zebulun were destined to become the great businessmen of Israel. From the land that they settled on the banks of the Mediterranean, the Zebulunites created a renowned merchant fleet.

The Tribe of Zebulun is mentioned rather infrequently in Scriptures. The judge, Eilon, whose name appears only in passing in Judges 12:11, was descended from Zebulun. The tribe itself was highly praised by Deborah in her poetic summation of the war against Sisera: “...out of Zebulun, they that handle the marshal's staff...Zebulun is a people that risked its life unto the death” (Judges 5:14, 18).

Zebulun is best known for its partnership with the tribe of Issachar. At the end of his life, when Moses blessed the tribes, he spoke of Issachar and Zebulun together, saying: “Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and, Issachar, in your tents. They shall call people unto the mountain; there shall they offer sacrifices of righteousness; for they shall suck the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand” (Deuteronomy 33:18-19).

Zebulun and Issachar had a truly unique partnership. It is related that the proceeds of Zebulun’s trade supported the Torah scholars of Issachar. Not only did the Zebulunites receive a share of the spiritual merit earned by those of Issachar, but they were rewarded for their generosity with the blessing to suck “the abundance of the seas, and the hidden treasures of the sand” (ibid).

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Act of Support

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Seeking Gold

 This week’s confluence of the Olympic Games and Valentine’s Day means many more people than usual will probably have gold on their minds. While gold is not the most expensive precious metal, it is the most desired. Throughout history, it has caused madness and strife and has brought out the natural human proclivity for greed. Notwithstanding, gold is often seen as the symbol of both romance and success. 

It is not surprising that a great deal of gold was used in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the temporary dwelling place for the Divine Presence in the wilderness. The use of gold was regarded as an elevation of the precious metal, a means, perhaps, to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf.

The story of the Golden Calf is a fascinating one that, when read without the oral tradition, leaves one with more questions than answers. Why did the Israelites want an idol? How could the people doubt God so soon after their experience at Mount Sinai?

One of the most frequently asked questions regarding this event is how could Aaron have agreed to fashion the calf? The description of events in Exodus 32 suggest that as soon as the people asked Aaron to make for them an idol like they had in Egypt, he complied. However, the oral Torah explains that his response, “Remove the golden earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters and bring them [[the earrings] to me” (Exodus 32:2), was actually a stalling tactic. According to the Midrash Tanchuma, Aaron expected that the women and children would refuse to hand over their precious jewelry and the issue would be delayed. According to this Midrash, however, those who requested the idol didn’t bother to ask their families but promptly took out all the gold that they had upon themselves and forced Aaron, under threat of violence, to create the idol. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

With Full Knowledge

When asked for a donation, do not hesitate to ask for more information on what the money will be used for. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Martin Buber

I and Thou (Ich und Du), the best known philosophical work of Martin Buber (February 8, 1878 - June 13, 1965), was published in 1923. I and Thou presents Buber’s philosophy of dialogue, the idea that humans relate to objects/people from the perspective of either I-You (which has mutual engagement) or I-It (in which one or both participants is objectified).

I and Thou was not Buber’s only philosophical tract. In fact, Buber was involved in far more than just philosophy. Born in Vienna, he was raised by his grandparents in Lvov, Poland.

In 1896, Buber began his philosophical studies in Vienna, where he met Theodore Herzl and was introduced to Zionism. Buber supported the call for the creation of a Jewish state, but after working as the editor for Die Welt (the main Zionist paper), he began exploring other Zionistic factions and eventually supported the idea of a bi-national state in Palestine.

In the early 20th century, Buber developed his interest in the Chassidim. He was intrigued and impressed by the Chassidim’s complete integration of Judaism into every aspect of their lives. He went on to publish several collections of great Chassidic tales.

Buber was very focused on Jewish life. During World War I he established the Jewish National Commission to help the Jews of Eastern Europe. He edited the Jewish monthly Der Jude. He befriended Franz Rosenzweig, with whom he worked on creating a famed translation of the Bible in German.

Although Buber was given an honorary professorship at the University of Frankfurt am Main, he resigned three years later when Hitler came to power. In 1935 he created the Central Office for Jewish Adult Education and began teaching full time at Rosenzweig’s “The House of Jewish Learning” (Der Lehrhaus). In 1938 Buber emigrated to Palestine and began teaching at Hebrew University. Buber continued teaching, lecturing and writing until his death in 1965.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

In Conversation

During your Shabbat meal, talk about how you incorporate Judaism into your daily life.

The First Inquisited

Although it was not the first Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition* was unique from its very inception on November 1, 1478, because it was controlled by the monarchy rather than the church. While the organization of the Office of the Inquisition was slow moving, taking almost two full years before the first two inquisitors were named, it wasted no time in creating a reign of terror. 

Rarely does one hear stories of conversos (Jews who converted in name only) rebelling against the Inquisition. However, the victims of the very first auto-de-fe (burning at the stake - the favored execution method of the Inquisition) were actually brought to trial for preparing defensive measures. 

When the Inquisition arrived in Seville in September 1480, Diego de Susan knew that protective measures had to be taken. De Susan, a wealthy banker, gathered other powerful conversos and began to form a plan of action that included assembling troops for their own defense. Many of the conversos in Seville were among the city’s esteemed citizens - bankers, ministers and even men of the cloth who feared the repercussions of their Jewish heritage. Their plans, however, were undone, when de Susan’s daughter, Susanna (who was renowned for her beauty), revealed the plans to her secret beau, who was not a converso and informed upon de Susan. 

On February 6, 1481, six of the ring leaders were burned at the stake. De Susan was executed three days later. It is said that Susanna, who had revealed the secret, briefly entered a convent to hide from the world, but ended her days on the streets overcome by shame at what her actions had wrought. 

*It should be noted that the Inquisition’s purpose was not to persecute Jews. Rather it was to purify the Christian masses and to extirpate any Jewish practice or belief held by those who had undergone baptism, many of whom did so purely to save their lives. After the expulsion in 1492, it was assumed that anyone remaining in Spain was a faithful Catholic. 

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Keep A Secret

Revealing any information about another person, except in absolutely necessary situations, can be considered lashon harah (wicked speech). 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Cloudy With A Chance Of

Today, with the proliferation of personal electronics, most people check the weather forecast without giving it a second thought. But long before the development of scientific meteorology, knowing the weather, or predicting the future weather, was a fascination of every society.

The Talmud quotes Rabbi Yochanan saying that porehot (a thin cloud under a thick cloud) is a sign of rain. “Rab Judah said: Should fine rain come down before the heavy rain then the rain will continue for some time; should it follow a heavy downpour of rain then the rain will soon cease” (Taanit 9b).

On the very same page, however, it is written: “Ulla chanced to be in Babylon and observing light clouds [porehot ] he exclaimed, ‘Remove the vessels for rain is now coming’. No rain however fell and he exclaimed, As the Babylonians are false, so too is their rain” (ibid).

Meteorologists are somewhat more specific today than they were two thousand years ago, but they benefit from the highly complex technology that allows them to observe the climate from both below and above (using satellites).

It might be easy to look back and scoff at the rudimentary meteorological knowledge of the ancients, but, in truth, the sages had tremendous insights into the natural world, which came both from the Torah and their own observations. For instance:

“It has been taught: Rabbi Eleazar said: The whole world draws its water supply from the waters of the ocean, as it is said (Genesis 2:6) , ‘But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole of the ground’*” (Taanit 9b).

Today’s Treat is brought to you in honor of National Weatherman's Day.

*The Talmud also cites other opinions about the source of rain.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Joy at the Rain

When it rains on your plans, try to remember all of the benefits of rain. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Writing On The Wall - The Idiom with Jewish Roots

After the great financial chaos of the last year, many people wonder why none of the brilliant financial minds saw “the writing on the wall.” This interesting and unique idiom, however, is an explanation in and of itself...for the “writing on the wall” is usually something that people misunderstand or attempt to ignore.

This famous expression is actually straight out of the Jewish Bible (Daniel 5) - here’s the story:

Belshazzar, the last king of Babylon, made a great feast and served wine in the silver and gold vessels that his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had pillaged from the Temple in Jerusalem. While praising his false gods during the feast, Belshazzar became the first person to see “the writing on the wall.”

At the feast, a supernatural hand appeared and wrote upon the palace wall. Terrified, the king called for his wise men and astrologers and announced that whoever would read and interpret the writing would be “clothed with purple, have a chain of gold about his neck, and will rule as one of three in the kingdom.” But none of Belshazzar’s advisers had any clue as to the meaning of the words.

However, Daniel, who had come to Babylon with the exiles from Jerusalem and who was known for interpreting dreams and understanding riddles, explained the message. First, however, he accused the arrogant Belshazzar of knowing God’s power and ignoring Him. Then he read and explained the writing on the wall: “MENE MENE, TEKEL UPHARSIN.

MENE MENE - God had numbered Belshazzar’s kingdom, and brought it to an end.
TEKEL - Belshazzar has been measured and was found wanting.
UPHARSIN (based on the root–peres) - The kingdom will be divided between the Medes and Persians.

Belshazzar rewarded Daniel as he had promised. On that same night, the king was assassinated and the kingdom overthrown.

This Treat was last posted on August 4, 2009.

Copyright © 2014 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Talking To You

Try to see positive Divine messages in everyday life.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Communicating with God

There is an old joke in which the President of the United States receives an exorbitant phone bill after calling God, while the Prime Minister of Israel gets to call God as a free local call. The joke touches upon a sentiment that many feel, but about which they do not speak: the desire to receive a direct answer from God to their prayers. It is human nature to want to know what the right choice is, without question or reservation.

There was a time when the Jewish people actually possessed what one might think of as a direct line to the Divine. Within the breastplate of the High Priest was a small piece of parchment on which the holy names of God were written. This parchment was known as the Urim V’Tumim. (“They [were] called ‘Urim and Tumim’? ‘Urim’ because they made their words enlightening. ‘Tumim’ because they fulfill their words” - Talmud Yoma 73b.) When the High Priest wore the breastplate, which contained 12 precious stones representing each of the tribes and on which the Hebrew alphabet was inscribed, God would communicate by illuminating the letters on the different stones. The rabbis further explained: “The inquirer had his face directed to him who was consulted, and the latter directed himself to the Divine Presence... One does not inquire in a loud voice...One should not put two questions at the same time” (Talmud Yoma 73a).

While it sounds like the perfect opportunity to allay one’s fears of the future, the Urim V’Tumim could not be used for everyday questions. In fact, those who were permitted to consult God in this way were “the king and all the children of Israel with him, the [priest] Anointed for Battle, [and] even all the congregation, which is the Sanhedrin” (Talmud Yoma 73b).

It should be noted that the Urim V’Tumim were lost after the destruction of the First Temple, as noted in Talmud Yoma 21b.

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Sending A Message

If you want to communicate with God but are uncertain what to say, pick up a Jewish prayer book and look for inspiration.