Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Operation Peace for Galilee/ the (First) Lebanon War

In 1981, frequent katyusha rockets launched into Israel by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists located on Lebanon’s southern border, made life unsustainable for Israelis living in settlements in the Galilee. When the PLO were expelled from Jordan in 1970, they relocated to Lebanon and created havoc for Israelis living in northern Israel. A year later, on June 3, 1982, Israel’s ambassador to Great Britain, Shlomo Argov, was shot in London and seriously wounded by assassins representing the Palestinian Abu Nidal terrorist group. Three days later, on June 6, 1982, corresponding to the 15th of Sivan, the Israeli military invaded Lebanon with the goal of neutralizing the threat to Israel’s north by pushing the PLO 40 KM further north, creating an Israeli-occupied security zone. The Israeli government named the operation Mivtza Shalom HaGallil, Operation Peace for Galilee, which included 60,000 Israeli soldiers and 800 tanks, along with a massive air assault. Within hours, Israel’s Air Force destroyed the Syrian Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries in the infamous Beka’a Valley, and downed 25 Syrian fighter jets – mostly Soviet MIG 23s –neutralizing the Syrian threat. Phase one of the operation ended on August 23, 1982 with the expulsion of the PLO from Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. The PLO subsequently moved their operations to Tunisia.

Phase two, which lasted three years, was aimed at preventing the PLO, or their Syrian allies, from returning to Beirut. Since Israeli forces were stationed in Lebanon, they were subject to daily ambushes, by a newly-formed terror organization funded by the Iranians, named Hezbollah. The massive casualties associated with these ambushes, demoralized the Israeli public. During the three-year operation, 656 Israelis were killed in action, and 3,887 were wounded. In May 2000, the Israelis removed their presence completely from Lebanon after suffering the loss of an additional 559 soldiers. About 10 Israeli civilians were killed and 248 were wounded from the missile barrages.

Another casualty of the war was the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his defense minister, general, Ariel Sharon. Support for the government soured when a very public investigation found that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was passively complicit in a horrific Christian attack on unarmed Moslem men, women and children in a refugee camp in Beirut, which followed the assassination of Lebanon’s pro-Israel Christian President, Bashir Gamayel.

The number of 656 casualties from Operation Peace for Galilee has grown recently, due to the identification of remains of some of the Missing in Action including American-born Zachary Baumel. Israelis, always aware of God’s role in the world, noted that the gematria (numerical equivalent based on assigning each Hebrew letter a value) for Mivtzah Shalom Hagalil is 656. It has been pointed out, however, that most Israelis use the less formal, Milchemet Levanon (Lebanon War). Those words too, amazingly, add up to the gematria of 656.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Pray for Soldiers During Times of War

Soldiers are heroes willing to put their lives on the line to defend the values and borders of their homeland. When they go to war, it behooves the rest of the nation to pray for their safety and the success of their missions.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Disputation of Paris

The month of June in the year 1240 C.E. was not a good time for the Jews of Europe. The trouble began with a Jewish apostate named Nicholas Donin. Wanting, perhaps, to prove his loyalty and faith to the church, he sent a letter listing 35 charges against the Talmud, many of them details of texts reputedly belittling Jesus or Mary, telling seemingly lewd stories or relaying other “offensive” messages. The letter went to Pope Gregory IX and a debate was arranged at which Donin would argue his charges against four prominent French rabbis: Rabbi Yechiel of Paris, Rabbi Moses of Coucy, Rabbi Judah of Melum and Rabbi Samuel the son of Solomon of Chateau-Thierry.

The “Disputation of Paris,” as the debate came to be known, was a dispute with a foregone outcome. Although the rabbis were guaranteed their safety by the queen so that they would be free to respond, there were strict limitations on what they were allowed to say about Christianity and the Church.

The Chief Jewish spokesman, Rabbi Yechiel, responded well during the Disputation and was able to reply to and reframe the derogatory accusation of Donin. For instance, he argued that in the points brought up referring to Jesus, it was simply a matter of two men with the same name, and that these passages that they found derogatory were discussing a different man named Jesus.

Not surprisingly, the Disputation ended with a condemnation of the Talmud and other rabbinic writings. It was determined that these holy Jewish texts should be confiscated and destroyed. Two years later, 24 cartload of Hebrew books, including many volumes of the Talmud, were brought to Paris and burnt, this at a time before the printing press, when every volume was copied by hand! So great was the loss that the date of the burning of the Talmud was subsequently marked as a fast day that was observed by many European Jewish communities in the Hebrew month of Sivan.

The mass burning of the Talmud in the aftermath of the Disputation in Paris took place on June 17, 1244.

This Treat was last posted on June 12, 2017.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Appreciate the freedom of religion afforded to all Americans

The Founding Fathers’ addition of the “Bill of Rights” was a revolutionary moment in human history, where nation-states were enjoined to be tolerant of different forms of spiritual belief. These rights should never be taken for granted.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

The Importance of Dad

In honor of Father's Day, Jewish Treats presents this classic Treat on the importance of a father. 

Where does a child learn to be a mentsch (a good person)? From his/her parents! Indeed, in the Talmud (Sukkot 56b) it even notes that a child repeats in the streets what he/she hears at home. 

According to Dr. David Pelcovitz (author of Balanced Parenting), research studies have found that the active involvement of both parents in a child’s moral education is the strongest predictor of children's moral reasoning and empathy as they grow older.

In the traditional family model, in which mom tends to have the central role in parenting (i.e. spends a lot more time with the kids), it is important to note that these studies have found particular importance in dad’s involvement.

The father is often seen as the enforcer of the rules laid down by the mother. However, far more important than being involved in discipline is dad’s actual involvement in teaching his child(ren) how to live a Jewish life (i.e. being a mentsch), which has an incredibly positive influence on the child’s future. As King Solomon wrote in Proverbs (22:6), “Educate a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

According to the sages of the Talmud, after circumcision and Pidyon Haben (redemption of the first born son), a father’s primary responsibilities are to teach the child Torah, to find him/her a spouse, and to teach the child a trade. Some say, to teach him/her to swim too (Kiddushin 29a). At the bare minimum, his fatherly obligations are to make certain that the basic necessities of child-rearing are attended to (by a third party if necessary). But, the best child-rearing includes dad sharing his time, knowledge and wisdom, and truly leaving a lasting and meaningful impression on his children. This

Treat is reposted each year in honor of Father's Day. Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Celebrate Father’s Day

Reach out to a father, yours or someone else’s, and wish them a happy Father’s Day. For anyone hoping to become a father, offer them the prayer that their dreams should come true.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Importance of Flag Day

Today is celebrated as “Flag Day” throughout the United States. On this day in 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the “Stars and Stripes” as the flag of the United States. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that established every June 14, as “Flag Day.” An act of Congress followed suit in 1946, making Flag Day a national observance, though not technically a Federal holiday. On June 14, 1937, Pennsylvania, became the first U.S. state to celebrate “Flag Day” as a state holiday.

Why is a flag so important? Let us illustrate by discussing another flag.

In the late 1940s, there were those in the Jewish community who felt that only a religious state established by the Messiah, and that a secular Jewish state should not be celebrated or acknowledged. When an organization with such values held its convention in Jerusalem, they asked that the flags of all the convention participants be flown in addition to that of the State of Israel, given their antipathy to the State and her flag in its early days. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in a now famous lecture given before the Religious Zionists of America, responded as follows.

“If you were to ask me, how do I, a Talmudic Jew, look upon the flag of the State of Israel, and has it any halachic value? – I would answer plainly. I do not hold at all with the magical attraction of a flag or of similar symbolic ceremonies. Judaism negates ritual connected with physical things. Nonetheless, we must not lose sight of a law in the Shulchan Aruch to the effect that: “One who has been killed by non-Jews is buried in his clothes (and not in the traditional burial shrouds), so that his blood may be seen and avenged, as it is written: ‘I will hold (the heathen) innocent, but not in regard to the blood which they have shed’ (Joel 4:21). In other words, the clothes of the Jews acquire a certain sanctity when spattered with the blood of a martyr. How much more is this so of the blue and white flag, which has been immersed in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the War of Independence defending the country and the population (religious and irreligious alike; the enemy did not differentiate between them). It has a spark of sanctity that flows from devotion and self-sacrifice. We are enjoined to honor the flag and treat it with respect. It does not require a hechsher (rabbinic approval) from the non-Jewish Union Jack.”

On behalf of Jewish Treats, Happy Flag Day!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Proudly Fly the Flag

Show your patriotism and proudly fly the Stars and Stripes today. It’s a symbol of a great nation, with great values.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Who Was a Nazirite?

One of the areas covered in Parashat Naso is about the Nazirite. This is a man or woman who opts to avoid the vices of wine and grape products, eludes any contact with the dead and does not cut his/her hair.

The Biblical verse (Numbers 6:7) informing that a Nazirite may not come in come in contact with the dead, states as follows: “He shall not make himself unclean for his father, or for his mother, for his brother, or for his sister, when they die; because the consecration of his God is upon his head.”

Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, of blessed memory, Dean of New York’s Yeshiva Torah VoDaath, noted that when the Torah describes (Leviticus 21:1-3) the deceased family members with whom a Kohen (priest) may come in contact, the list is more expansive. “God said to Moses; Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them: a dead person he shall not become impure among his people; except for his relative who is closest to him (his wife), to his mother, and to his father; to his son, to his daughter, and to his brother; and to his virgin sister who is close to him, who has not been until a man; for her he shall make himself impure.”

Why, asks, Rabbi Kamenetsky, when the Torah describes those for whom the priest may come in contact with the dead, the list includes parents, spouses, children and siblings, yet when the Torah lists those for whom the Nazirite may not defile himself or herself, the list is limited to parents and siblings?

Rabbi Kamenetsky offers a brilliant insight. Being a Kohen is not an optional status for a young man, as it is determined at birth purely by lineage. A Nazirite, however, is a voluntary vow that an individual chooses to make. What type of person swears off wine, haircuts and contact with the dead? An idealistic, somewhat ascetic young person! As such, there is no mention of children and spouses because the Nazirite has not attained a point in life where they have married and had children. Rabbi Kamenetsky cites a verse in Amos (2:11) and a Talmudical passage (Nedarim 9b) as support for his thesis.

The ability to alter one’s life drastically, as is seen by the actions of the Nazirite, cannot be accomplished by someone established in years. Rabbi Kamenetsky understood that the youth are more prone to make drastic changes and adopt idealistic actions such as that of a Nazirite.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Live in Moderation

Maimonides counseled that we should choose the path of moderation in life. Extreme actions are usually not beneficial to us. When making decisions, the middle path is often the best path.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Falafel Day

What tasty food is made out of crushed chickpeas, often served with salads, and offers itself as a healthier snack alternative? You guessed it: Falafel.

Happy International Falafel Day!

Falafel historians are unsure of falafel’s origins. Many associate its beginnings with the Copts (Egyptian Christians) about a thousand years ago who ate it instead of meat during the Christian period of “lent.” Others have even speculated that it was eaten in the period of the Pharaohs, a much earlier era. Some opine that falafel was invented in Western Asia, specifically in India, where the culture enjoyed deep frying from an early time. Etymologically, some will point to the word falafel’s association with the Aramaic/Arabic/Hebrew “pilpal” which means a small round thing, or a peppercorn. The Persian “pilpil” means long pepper. A Coptic (Christian Egyptian) dictionary cites the phrase “pha la fel,” meaning “has lots of beans.” The Oxford English Dictionary first listed the word “falafel” in 1951.

It’s hard to identify Jewish food, or Jewish music, since most Jewish food and music derive from the diaspora cultures that have hosted Jews. Even though falafel is considered the national food of Israel (and that of Egypt), it clearly came from the cuisine culture of Middle Eastern countries that hosted Jews. Because falafel is plant-based, it is considered pareve (neither meat nor dairy) in Jewish law and may be eaten with any meal. As such, it is quite conducive to be regarded as a national food of a Jewish nation.

North American Kosher fast food restaurants have been serving falafel on their menu for decades, but since the 1970s, falafel has broken through to the mainstream American market mostly due to the marketing of the Israeli Sabra brand, and is often available as street food and in vegetarian establishments nation-wide. During the same time, falafel has become very popular in Germany as well, not just in Berlin’s large Arab community, but in its gentrified strata as well.

Want to make falafel? Take raw chickpeas (if you cook them prior they will fall apart) and soak them in water overnight. Some add a dash of baking soda in the mixture. Drain and grind the chickpeas together with some spices (popular ones are parsley, scallions, garlic, coriander and cumin). The mixture is shaped into small balls and then deep-fried. If you prefer, the balls can be baked. The balls are usually placed in a pita (small bread with a pocket), adding salad, and some garnishes such as tehina (made from sesame seeds) or humus (a paste made from chickpeas).

Bon Appetite and B’tayavon!

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Support Israel: Eat a Falafel

Find a local kosher restaurant and enjoy some fresh falafel. There, you will likely be able to learn about ways to support Israel by reading the ads on the bulletin board and speaking to the patrons.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Extended Isru Chag

Today is Isru Chag, the name given to the day that follows the 3 Pilgrimage festivals (Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot). Usually the main ritual manifestation on the day of Isru Chag is accomplished by omitting the Tachanun prayer, as it is on festive days. However, in regard to Shavuot, most congregations have the custom to skip Tachanun for the entire week following the festival, not just the day after the holiday. The reason is as follows:

Shavuot is the only pilgrimage festival that lasts only one day (two in the diaspora). Both Passover and Sukkot last at least a week, and they both have a festival day at the beginning and end of the holiday (two days in the beginning and two days in the end in the diaspora). The festival days also have the restrictions of Shabbat in that productive and constructive work is prohibited except that the Shabbat prohibitions of cooking (and the process of cooking) and carrying in a public domain are permitted. The intermediate days known as Chol Ha’moed, possess some characteristics of the festivals, and other features that resemble regular days. There are five days of Chol Ha’moed Passover (four in the diaspora) and six days of Chol Ha’moed Sukkot (five in the diaspora). Shavuot, however, has no days of Chol Ha’moed, although Nachmanides writes (Leviticus 23:36) that the 49 days of the Omer, the days that are counted between Passover and Shavuot, are a type of extended Chol Ha’moed between the two pilgrimage holidays.

So why does the omission of Tachanun in the daily prayers continue for a week after Shavuot? Rabbi Abraham Gombiner claims (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 131 :7) that the custom originated around the Korban Chagiga, the festival offering. Ideally, the Korban Chagiga is offered on the day of the festival, but if not, one has a week afterward to comply. On the pilgrimage holidays where there is already a built-in seven-day period, no extra time is needed. But since Shavuot only lasts a simple day, this extra week is added after the festival, not during the festival. Since the offering could be offered on these seven days, the additional week of potential festivity was recognized, and Tachanun is not recited. As such, the six days, and according to some, the seven days, (taking the extra day in the diaspora into consideration,) following the festival took on a certain level of joy.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Continue Studying Torah!

Don’t let the end of the Shavuot festival stop you from continuing to study Torah. Make sure to set aside time to continue learning Torah.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Where in the World is Moses?

The centerpiece of Parashat Yitro is the Decalogue, the Revelation at Sinai, where the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Utterances (also known as the Ten Commandments) were declared. But you may need some Dramamine if you try to identify Moses’ location during this most seminal moment in human history.

Chapter 19 of Exodus describes the preparations for Revelation as the Children of Israel arrived in the Sinai wilderness. Verse 3 informs us that Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive a message from God for the Children of Israel, describing their chosenness and the miracles God performed on their behalf. Verse 14 states that Moses descended the mountain.

On the day of Revelation, the Children of Israel saw lightning, heard claps of thunder and the enduring sound of the shofar, and the nation of Israel trembled. In the midst of these tremendous natural phenomena, God descends upon Mount Sinai (verse 20) and summons Moses to the top of the mountain. In the very next verse (verse 21), God commands Moses to “go down to the people” and enforce the Divine imperative not to approach the mountain. In verse 24, once again, God commands Moses to, “Go, get you down, and you shall come up, you, and Aaron with you; but let not the priests and the people break through, to come up to the Lord…” The next verse states: “So Moses went down to the people, and spoke to them.” Immediately thereafter (Exodus 20:1), God spoke the words of the Decalogue, the “Ten Commandments.”

Why does God ask Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai so many times prior to Revelation?

A Midrash (Sh’mot Rabbah 28:3) advances the notion that had Moses been atop Mount Sinai during the Revelation, the Israelites may have been unclear if the statements emanated from God or from Moses. Moses was therefore dispatched to be with the people so there would be no ambiguity. Why then all the instructions from God for Moses to ascend and descend Mount Sinai, despite being 80 years old and in great shape? Rabbi Shmuel Goldin suggests in his Unlocking the Torah Text that his sorties up and down Mount Sinai were meant to teach Moses a lesson about leadership: Ultimately, the leader is the representative of the people that he or she represents. During the greatest moment in human history, consummating God and the Children of Israel’s relationship, Moses needed to be with those whom he represented and for whom he cared. God wanted Moses to learn this lesson on his own, by going up and down Mount Sinai.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Green Cheesecake At Midnight

The holiday of Shavuot has three well-known, and well-loved, customs:

Decorating our Homes and Synagogues with Plants and Flowers: According to the Midrash, at the time of the giving of the Torah, Mount Sinai burst forth in blossoms of verdant greenery, covered with plants and flowers. This is the basis for the custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with plants and flowers on Shavuot.

Dairy Foods: On Shavuot, it is customary to eat dairy foods – cheesecake and blintzes are particular favorites.

Among the reasons given for this custom are:

Once the Torah was given, the Israelites refrained from eating meat because they needed to learn the laws of kosher slaughter and to make their utensils kosher. They specifically chose to eat dairy and give themselves the time necessary to learn the laws.

On a more mystical level, the gematria (numeric value of the Hebrew letters) of the word chalav, milk, is 40. Forty corresponds to the forty days and nights that Moses spent on Mount Sinai learning the Torah.

All-Night Learning: To demonstrate our love for Torah and our appreciation for God's revelation on Mount Sinai, it is customary to stay up all night on the first night of Shavuot either studying Torah, listening to lectures on Torah topics, or simply discussing Jewish ideas.

Another reason given for the custom of learning all night is to atone for the apathy of the Israelites, who, according to tradition, actually overslept on the morning that they were to receive the Torah, rather than being wide awake in excited anticipation.

For further explanations of these customs, please visit NJOP’s Shavuot website. (The customs are at the bottom of the page.)

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Sleep on Shabbat to Enable Shavuot Torah Study

Although one should not prepare on Shabbat for events that take place after Shabbat, taking a nap this Shabbat is permissible since it will provide the energy and stamina to study Torah on the night of Shavuot, this coming Saturday night.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Give Them a Choice

There is an oft-cited Midrash (Sifrei, Dvarim 343) describing how God offered the Torah to the other nations of the world before He gave it to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. According to this Midrash, the first nation to whom He offered the Torah asked what was in it. When God told them about the law prohibiting stealing, they couldn’t fathom a life without theft. The next nation reacted incredulously to the prohibition of adultery; they were horrified at the idea that God would monitor people’s bedroom behavior! Another nation was unable to accept the prohibition of murder ... and so on. When God asked the Jewish people if they would accept the Torah, there were no questions. They declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma” (“We will do and we will listen”).

So, if one understands the Midrash correctly, it sounds like the so-called “chosen people” were God's last choice for receiving the Torah. However, God understood that, unlike the other nations, the Israelites were truly free to accept the Torah since they did not yet have a homeland, they did not yet have an existing government, culture or “way of life.” It was this freedom that God gave them when He brought them out of Egypt into the wilderness that made the Jews more inclined to receive the Torah. They were not chained to a pre-existing life-style and thus were not reluctant to change themselves for the better. Perhaps this is the practical reason why the Jews were able to accept the Torah so readily.

One must also bear in mind that the Israelites still remembered the generation that had come to Egypt and those who had been enslaved. They still claimed the spiritual heritage of Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, and Jacob, Rachel & Leah.

It is this heritage that we have today. On Shavuot we commemorate the day that God gave the Torah to our ancestors. Now the choice is ours.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparing for the Torah

Shortly after the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, they agreed to accept the Torah and do all that God had commanded. And so, God declared that He would bring Himself, in the form of a thick cloud, close to the people, that they might hear Him speak. First, however, God instructed Moses that the people must prepare themselves. 

There is no way to describe the effects of being in the presence of God because there is no human being alive today who has experienced this level of holiness. In fact, Moses was the only prophet who had direct interaction with God, and God’s Presence at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given was a one-time-only event. 

However, it is understood that being in the Divine Presence requires preparation, both physical and spiritual. Therefore, the Israelites, under the guidance of Moses, prepared themselves for three days. They washed their clothes and prepared their souls. 

It was not just the people who needed to be prepared. God’s presence affected the inanimate earth as well. The Israelites were instructed, under threat of death, not to go up, or even draw close to, the mountain until the shofar was sounded. 

The three days preceding Shavuot (Sivan 3, 4 and 5) are known as Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of boundaries. These three days were, and still are, days of preparation. Today, while we do not stand at the physical base of Mount Sinai, we can, and should, prepare ourselves to ascend to a higher level of spirituality and religious commitment on Shavuot. 

Today is the first day of the Sh'loshet Yemei Hagbalah, the three days of preparation. The holiday of Shavuot, which commemorates the receiving of the Torah, begins on Saturday night, immediately after Shabbat.  

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Preparation is a Key to Success

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration” is attributed to American inventor, Thomas Edison. The same applies spiritually. One only grows spiritually with assiduous preparation and hard work.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Littlest Mountain

When the Israelites were gathered at Mount Sinai, God gave them the Torah.

Scholars and academics have spent lifetimes debating the exact location of Mount Sinai. The Sinai peninsula is covered with mountains, some wide and flat, others tall and rugged. Trying to establish which mountain is actually Sinai based on the fact that the Jews converged on Mount Sinai just short of 7 weeks after leaving Egypt, is almost impossible given the many different factors such as speed, route taken and stops made.

There is a mountain on the Sinai peninsula that is called Mount Sinai (in Arabic Jebel Musa, the mountain of Moses), but many doubt that this is the true location.

What do you picture when you think of Mount Sinai? Given the important event that occurred there, most would assume that it was a tall, grand mountain when, in fact, it was just the opposite: The Midrash relates that all of the tall mountains fought to be chosen as the location for the giving of the Torah. Mount Sinai, knowing that it was the smallest of the mountains, remained silent, and God chose Sinai because of its simple humility.

The allegories of the Midrash are not whimsical fancies, but are an important means of teaching critical life lessons. Judaism considers humility to be a most important character trait. Moses is described as the most humble human who walked the earth. However, being humble, according to the Torah, does not mean making one’s self a doormat. Rather, a humble person will know his/her own strengths and self-worth (as well as his/her weaknesses), and will not need others to acknowledge his/her significance.

This Treat was last posted on June 6, 2016.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Day of Distinction

On the first day of Sivan in the year 2448 (Jewish calendar), only seven weeks after leaving Egypt, the Israelites reached the Wilderness of Sinai. On the desert plain around the mountain, they set up camp and watched as Moses set off toward the mountain to hear God's will.

The next morning, Moses called for the elders of Israel and transmitted God's message to them (which they then related to the rest of the nation). God had instructed Moses to tell the Israelites:

You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now, therefore, if you will listen to My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own treasure from among all peoples; for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:4-6).

On that day, 2 Sivan 2448, the Israelites made the most monumental decision in history. They chose to become a people with a distinct and direct relationship with God. They chose to become God's servants, to follow His rules and to faithfully serve Him. They chose to strive for holiness. On the second of Sivan, they chose to be “chosen” when they responded with one voice: “All that God has spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8).

The second day of Sivan is not marked as a holiday, as is the sixth of Sivan (Shavuot), the day on which the Israelites actually received the Torah. However, to honor the agreement that was presented and accepted on this day, the second of Sivan is known as Yom Ha'meyuchas, the Day of Distinction.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Contemplate Jewish Chosen-ness

If Jews historically accepted being God’s “chosen people” on this day, what does that unique selection mean for us in our lives?

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

King David's Day

According to tradition, King David was born and died on Shavuot. To try and summarize the life of King David in a 300 word Treat would be impossible. In the annals of Jewish history, David was more than a king. He was a shepherd, a warrior, a scholar and a poet -- and these descriptions do not even begin to describe the complex personal life of David and his family. 

There are many reasons given to explain why King David was considered so extraordinary, but the Midrash reveals that he was unique even before he was born. According to The Midrash, God showed Adam the entire future of humankind. Adam noticed one particularly bright soul that was full of potential but had no years of life attached to it. Adam offered to give  this soul 70 years of his own life. Thus it was that David lived exactly 70 years, and that Adam lived 70 years short of a complete millennium.

David was born the eighth son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah. He was born under what seemed to be questionable circumstances (click here to read more). In addition, according to Talmud Sotah 10b, he had the unusual distinction of being born circumcised.  

The Midrash also notes that King David's death was unusual. The Talmud, Shabbat 30a, relates that David was aware that he would die on Shabbat and wished to die on Sunday instead so  that he could be buried without any delay. God told him that this was not possible, but David took matters into his own hands. He spent every Shabbat immersed in Torah study so that the Angel of Death would have no power over him. Not to be put off from his Divine mission, the Angel of Death caused a great noise in the orchard beside David's study. David continued to study as he went to see what the noise was, but paused momentarily when a step broke beneath him. In that moment, the Angel of Death completed his mission.

This Treat was last posted on May 17, 2015.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Book of Ruth

Ruth was the Moabite wife of Machlon, one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a wealthy couple who had fled Bethlehem during a bitter famine. Elimelech's family had settled in Moab, a neighboring country with which Israel had a history of conflict.

When Elimelech and his two sons died, Naomi chose to return to her homeland. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, decided to go with her. When they reached Israel, however, Naomi urged them to go back to their fathers’ homes. Orpah did leave. Ruth refused, declaring: "Where you [Naomi]  go, I shall go, your people will be my people...your land will be my land, and your God will be my God" (1:16).

Upon their return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi lived a lonely and impoverished life. People resented that Naomi’s family had fled the famine, and they did not trust her Moabite daughter-in-law. To keep from starving, Ruth gathered excess barley that fell during the harvest in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz noticed Ruth’s unique qualities of modesty, loyalty and humility and encouraged her to continue gleaning in his field until the end of the harvest.

In the meantime, the elders of Bethlehem debated whether Ruth was a true convert and whether she could marry a Jewish man. Naomi, however, knew that Ruth was devout and sincere. She directed Ruth to go to the ceremony at the close of the threshing and seek out Boaz, who had been so kind to them. She told Ruth to present herself to him as a potential mate and assured Ruth that Boaz would take care of her.

That night, Ruth demurely waited at Boaz’s feet, signaling her intentions. Boaz, who was much older, an established landowner and a leader in the community, had not thought of himself as a possible suitor until that night.

Boaz and Ruth married and their son, Oved, was the grandfather of King David. The Book of Ruth is read on Shavuot, which, according to tradition, is the anniversary of David's birth and death.

This Treat is reposted annually in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Familiarize Yourself with the Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth, one of the 24 volumes of Tanach (Jewish bible) was canonized and included in Jewish Scriptures for a reason. Find a commentary with which you are comfortable and study this penetrating and relevant book.

Monday, June 3, 2019

A Different Set of Loaves

There are several well-known connections between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. The most obvious of these is that the celebration of Shavuot is dependent on the count of 49 days that begins on the second day of Passover. Additionally, on Passover we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt and on Shavuot we celebrate the true culmination of that event, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.

One fascinating juxtaposition of the two festivals is that whereas on Passover there is a prohibition against eating bread, on Shavuot the priests brought a special Offering of the Two Loaves (of bread) in the Temple. In fact, they were specifically leavened bread (chametz), as opposed to the unleavened bread (matzah) of Passover. The holiday of Shavuot is also known as Chag Habikurim, the Holiday of the First Fruits, because of the offering of the first fruits that was brought to the Temple. Although the Offering of the Two Loaves was officially separate, it was another form of offering “first fruits,” as the Two Loaves were made from the first cut of the new wheat harvest.

Generally, when one thinks of sacred Jewish bread, one imagines beautifully braided challahs, perhaps the stunning twelve (or more) stranded challahs often seen at weddings or bar/bat mitzvahs. Actually, the Offering of the Two Loaves were shaped like large bricks. Their dimensions were seven hand-breadths long, four and a half hand breadths wide and four 'fingers' high (approximately 22 inches x 9.5 inches x 3 inches).

The rules associated with the Two Loaves go into great detail as to the preparation of the wheat and the loaves. The Torah instructs that the Two Loaves be taken as a wave offering, after which each of the priests is given a small piece to consume with a portion of the peace offerings. All of this comes to underscore our constant dependence upon God for our sustenance and our gratitude to Him for our total well-being.

This Treat is reposted in honor of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

The Feast of Weeks

Shavuot, which we begin celebrating next Saturday night (June 8), is the only holiday not listed in the Torah by the date on which it is to be observed. Rather, the Torah teaches that this festival takes place on the day following the 49th day after the first day of Passover (see Counting of the Omer), the day on which the Omer Sacrifice was offered. The name Shavuot, therefore, reflects the fact that this holiday occurs seven complete weeks (shavuot) after Passover. In mystical terms, the number 7 represents the natural order of things, and so, a complete, natural cycle has occurred.

The natural cycle that has been completed is agricultural. Therefore the holiday is also called Chag Ha'bikurim, The Holiday of the First Fruits, and is the time when the offering of the First Fruit of the harvest was brought to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem as a gesture of thanksgiving for the successful crop.

Seven times seven days, the count of 49, expresses the natural cycle, but Shavuot takes place one day after the seven weeks--one step beyond the natural cycle. It is, therefore, also representative of an event beyond nature as well.

When the Israelites left Egypt, the people acted as though they were merely cousins bonded by mutual misery. By the end of seven weeks, however, at the base of Mount Sinai, the former slaves rose above their human limitations and, by accepting the Torah, took upon themselves a total commitment to God, the final step in becoming the Nation of Israel. Shavuot is therefore also known as Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of the Torah.

Like all holidays on the Jewish calendar, Shavuot celebrates both the “mundane” and the holy, and, in this way, reminds us that nothing in life is mundane.

*This Treat was originally published on May 21, 2009. It is being re-Treated to help us better understand the holiday of Shavuot.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

Make Shavuot Plans

If you have not yet made plans for the festival of Shavuot, now is the time to begin preparations.