Audio Classes on Chanuka online

Hello friends,

I hope you all had a meaningful Chanukah. And I wish you all an easy and meaningful fast this Thursday, Asara B’Teves.

The fact that this fast day takes place just one week or so after Chanukah, during a time of year considered festive by others, makes one think. A few years ago, I addressed the confluence of these days on our calendar in a series of three classes I called “Chanukah – The War you didn’t know” or “Chanuka, Asara B’Teves, and Christianity”.

The classes are on the shul’s website and can be accessed here: http://www.hjcs.org/podgen11/?p=archive&cat=all&pgn=3

They can also be accessed individually here:
Class one: http://www.hjcs.org/podgen11/?name=2009-03-26_0712chanuka1.mp3
Class two: http://www.hjcs.org/podgen11/?name=2009-03-26_0712chanuka2.mp3
Class three: http://www.hjcs.org/podgen11/?name=2009-03-26_0712chanuka3.mp3

(Other recordings can be found on the site as well.)

I invite you all to listen.

Stay warm
Rabbi Davidovich

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#PesachPrep: T minus 18 days: What it’s all about

The farmer who takes some of his first fruits to the Beis Hamikdash declares
הִגַּדְתִּי הַיּוֹם
“I declare today.”
The Hebrew word is Hagada. There is a word-to-word connection between Bikkurim and Pesach. That is nice as a pseudo “Gezeira Shava”. But what lies beneath it?
The simplest, and truest answer, is that Mikra Bikkurim is about the farmer expressing gratitude to God not for giving him good produce, or a good harvest, but for giving the Jewish People the Land of Israel.

And the farmer doesn’t just say “Thank you for the Land of Israel.” He thanks God for the entire flow of history that led to that gift of the land, going all the way back to his first Aramean ancestor. According to the Hagada, that is a reference to Yaakov, who almost lost the promise to Lavan. Lavan could have destroyed it all by killing Yaakov before he even returned to the land with his family. But Yaakov survived that assault, and proceeded to continue the story of God’s promise to Avraham that his descendants would inherit the Land of Cnaan.

It’s all about that promise to Avraham Avinu that his descendants would permanently inherit Eretz Yisrael.

Avraham asked “How will I know?” i.e. What is the down payment on that IOU?
He is told, “The experience of foreignness and slavery, and the redemption from those things, is the down payment.”

This is the whole meaning of Pesach. The Exodus is the Down Payment, of the full promissory note, which is bringing us to Eretz Yisrael and having a Beis Hamikdash.

Hence, the first-fruits declaration.
Hence, Yehoshua’s farewell speech, which is at the settlement of the Land.
Hence, the full meaning in Dayeinu.
Hence, “next year in the land of Israel.”

It’s not about the Exodus as Exodus. It’s about what the Exodus means in the context of all of Jewish history.

#PesachPrep: T minus 22 Days: Parshas Parah

Parshas Parah is the outlier of the four special parshios read in the 6 weeks before Pesach. There is no reason why purification is more relevant before Pesach than it is before Shavuos or Succos. Yet we only make a point of emphasizing the need to be pure on Pesach.

There must be a broader concept that is being addressed. I think the extensive piyutim, extra poems (that most shuls no longer say) address the super-rational element of the mitzvah, that seems to violate the rules of logic. (Purifies the impure, and defiles the pure.)

This idea has to be part of the foundation of our relationship with the Almighty; Especially at Pesachtime, when all the mitzvos seem to be commemorative, and make sense on a symbolic level. And the 26 haggados I have explain how logical and sensible every line and mitzvah and custom is. Yet as we relive our birth as a nation, we need to “get” the concept that we are about to be betrothed to a Groom who won’t always make sense to us.

#PesachPrep: T minus 23 Days: Four Cups of Wine

People who have hosted Sedarim for years have developed wine strategies.

As a public service, I thought I’d share some thoughts, about the theory and practice of the Mitzvah of the four Cups.

* Wine has an effect on human behavior.
* In English, we call it “lowering inhibitions.” In Hebrew, we have the phrase “Nichnas Yayin – Yotzei Sod” When wine goes into a person, the inner part of the personality is expressed.
* Sometimes that inner truth is too potent.
* Because of this, the alcohol-influenced personality is one that workers and slaves cannot afford to show, and have no right to show on the job.
* The act of facilitating the lowering of one’s inhibitions is something only a free person may do.
* The Rambam paskens that on Seder night, a Jew is obligated to personally express himself to others as if he had just left Egypt.
* Ergo, This attitude is actualized by drinking wine at the Seder.
* While most poskim agree that grape juice is considered wine for halachic purposes, there is an aspect of wine at the seder that expresses “Cheirus”, freedom. Grape juice can’t do that. Wine does that.
* Based on the Gemaras that say that wine in Talmudic times was diluted to one part wine to three parts water, and that scientifically speaking, pure wine can’t have more than 15% alcohol, Rabbi Heinemann points out that wine is expected by Chazal to be valid wine if it has ~4% alcohol.

* Practically speaking:
* dry wines are better on the stomach. But at 4 oz of wine per cup, basically chugged, can create quite the buzz, and might have you too buzzed for a functional maggid.
* Sweet wines can be harsh on any empty stomach. But some of the light wines out there are light.
* I recommend:
* Malvasia (rather pricey though)
* Rashi Joyvin (too sparkly for some)
* Rambam Joven
* Rashi light red concord (not high quality, but a good inexpensive choice.)

#PesachPrep: T minus 25 Days: Something New

Just as the physical preparations for Pesach take weeks, so should the spiritual/educational prep take weeks. Good teachers don’t just walk into class and wing it; they’ve got a plan. The week of Pesach, especially the two “intensives” of the Sedarim, can be a Jew’s most important Jewish studies course ever.

So the new hagada should not be something you get on Erev Pesach afternoon. Give yourself a few weeks to think of some new insights to share. The Jewish Day Schools all plan for weeks with their students. So should the adults.

And not only at the sedarim. Pesach here is eight days long. There is so much time. How many hours can be spent eating Matza and Cream Cheese?!

Maybe it doesn’t have to be only a Dvar Torah. My kids and I have thought of some new decoration, or new element to introduce at the seder.
If you are musically inclined, a new tune.
etc.

#PesachPrep: T minus 26 Days: Remember Purim?

With Pesach rushing ahead at full speed to greet us, one would think that Purim has receded into the background, a speck in the rear-view mirror. Yet all the hamentaschen and bags of received shalach manos foods make forgetting difficult.

This is good, because, Purim should not be forgotten at all.

In fact, Chazal (the Rabbis of the Talmud) did everything they could to make sure that Purim would still be on the brain while planning for Pesach. This year’s calendar demonstrates this. Even with our extra “leap” month named Adar, THE Purim month, and even though the Megilla calls Adar “Month twelve”, the rabbis insisted that Purim be celebrated in Adar Sheini, the second Adar and the thirteenth month of the year, counting from Nissan.

Why?

Because they wanted to produce an effect called “Semichas Geula L’Geula”, make one redemption adjacent to the other redemption. I can add a lot of bracketed words to have that make more sense. Like this: “Make [the celebration of] one redemption be adjacent to [the celebration of the] other redemption.” Either way, the concept is rather deep when expanded, though it loses the poetic effect.

Here is how it works:

Pesach and Purim are polar opposites. Pesach is a celebration of God taking total control of the redemption of the Jewish people, with said Jews being as passive as humanly possible. The Matza rule is a testament to this Jewish passivity! (They didn’t have time to let the dough rise!) At the Red Sea, Moshe tells the Jews, “Hashem Yelacheim Lachem, V’Atem Tacharishun”. God will wage war on your behalf, and you should be quiet [as He does so]!

Purim, by explicit contrast, is the celebration of Jews taking total control of their redemption, with God being as absent from the events as Divinely possible. Mordechai tells Esther ” Im Hacharish Tacharishi B’Eis Hazos… At u’beis Avich Toveidun” “If you are SILENT at this time, you and your family will be lost!”

Two entirely different theology lessons here.
Yet one God orchestrating them both.
We need to know this.
One God bridges the Gap between Purim and Pesach.
And Chazal tell us this by making the gap as short as possible.

Enjoy your remaining Chometz Hamentaschen.

This Jew’s Thoughts on Thanksgiving – First Draft

I know that many Orthodox Rabbis and many Orthodox Jews have a jaded view of Thanksgiving. Sure, there are the required articles that debate the permissibility of celebrating a non-Jewish festival. Then there are the articles, historical and Halakhic, that debate the Kosher status of the turkey. But that’s not how I look at the issue of Thanksgiving. I am comfortable in following the views of those rabbis who see nothing wrong in celebrating the fourth (or is it the last?) Thursday in November by having a festive meal, and who consider the turkey kosher. I see something bigger about Thanksgiving.

Before the Pilgrims came to America, Jews were never viewed as individuals by the non-Jewish world. Even during the best of times, when Jews were not being persecuted or killed, but rather were honored in the halls of government, such as during the Golden Age of Spain, the nations of the world treated Jews collectively. I contend that even today in most other democratic countries, Jews are seen as a collective interest group.

The United States of America has always had a policy of not caring about collective groups of people. They care, or don’t care, about individuals. Here, Jews qua Jews are not granted rights or privileges. A Jew is merely an individual, like everyone else. This places a tremendous burden on a Jew who wants to cleave to his people. The government will not help him. The government will not stop him either. But even the attempt to stop him has had historic effects along the lines of reverse psychology that keep a Jew loyal to his people and his God. So the Government that doesn’t care one way or the other has been a challenge.

In the USA, Yiddishkeit is more difficult because it is all personal. But that makes it all the more rewarding. “Bishvili nivra haolam”, “The world was created for my sake” is not just a line, it is a way of life. In Europe, traditions and a lack of options made Jewishness the status quo. There is no status quo in America. We have to justify ourselves every day. Even though the Torah asserts itself as an obligation, nobody in the US will enforce it. It is up to us to enforce it through Simcha and real personal fulfillment.

Even when Moshiach comes, the American Jewish experience will be appreciated for this positive development. It is this that I celebrate. I offer my Thanksgiving to God at the turkey meal not for life’s blessings. Judaism has many other opportunities for that. On this last Thursday in November, I offer my thanksgiving to God for this mixed blessing of a gift called the United States of America.

Pre-Shabbos warm-up: Chayei Sarah

How many stories are in this week’s parsha? Well, I counted it once, and there would seem to be four stories.
It’s two stories followed by two epilogues, which is actually only one epilogue.
Well, that epilogue is only really an addendum to that second story.

The two stories are the contract to buy the burial ground for Sarah; and the marriage contract between Yitzchak and Rivka.

The two epilogues are the epilogue of Avraham’s life and the epilogue of Yishmael’s life. The epilogue of Yishmael’s life is only relevant to the Torah’s story in that it is the conclusion of that part of Avraham’s path, leaving us free to continue down the other path.

And that epilogue to Avraham’s life is only there to tell us that even though Avraham continued to have a robust life after Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivka, it is that marriage to Rivka that ensures Avraham’s legacy. Avraham’s remaining years, as active and fulfilling as they may have been, are not part of the Legacy. He gives the other children gifts and they find their destinies in the Eastern lands.

So really, there are only two stories in the parsha: The purchase of Sarah’s burial ground and Yitzchak’s marriage.

Well, Sarah’s death puts two acts into motion:

The purchase of her burial location is the first everlasting contract that binds her son and descendants to Chevron, David Hamelech’s first capital.

And the need to have Yitzchak start his own family that will emulate Sarah’s example becomes pronounced and overt upon her passing. The conclusion of her life becomes the catalyst for acts that will perpetuate her legacy forever. As the Zohar says, a Tzaddik who dies is still alive. Sarah’s death makes her more alive and relevant to people’s actions than before.

So this parsha has one story: Sarah’s death, which starts her afterlife effects here in this world.

Thus, the parsha has only one story. Chayei Sarah. “The Lives of Sarah.”