Your Shul at the Jersey Shore

Jonathan Shapiro

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Shabbat Parshat Tetzaveh 5778

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The Why of Anti-Semitism

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

This past Thursday marked the beginning of Israel apartheid week 2012. It is the 8th annual event run by an organization whose goal in their words is:

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events held in cities and campuses across the globe. The aim of IAW is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.

Lectures, films, and actions will highlight some of the successes of the BDS movement and build / support ongoing campaigns. Speakers and full program for each city will be available on this website. Join us in making this a year of struggle against apartheid and for justice, equality, and peace.

 This series of events, the celebration of Purim and the reading of Parshat Zachor and Amalek are our annual reminder that Jew hatred is alive and well in the world. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Terumah 5778

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Tocho k-boro

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

Many of you know that I am not a big fan of Gematria, of trying to find value in the numerical value of the Hebrew letters.  Nevertheless there are a few that have caught my eye over the years. I believe that Torah is meant to be studied seriously, poured over and analyzed until it is understood and integrated. Numbers games don’t speak to me in that way.

Yet I was drawn to one this week. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, the author or the code of law that preceded the Shulchan Aruch, also has a commentary to the Torah in which he primarily occupies himself with gematrias.

He notes that the phrase טהור מבית ומחוץ is numerically equal to הנה החכם יהיה תוכו כברו  . Pure from inside and out = behold the sage should be equal on the inside and outside.

These are not one word calculations so I pulled out my phone and added each one up. The first phrase equaled 822 and the second equaled 823 which is close enough in the world of Gematria.

My first thought after reading this was, God how long did it take him to think this up?  My second thought was – this gematria is a cute way to introduce and remember a critical lesson about the Torah and the rabbis.

Let me explain. When describing the Aron, the ark in the tabernacle that is to hold the Torah the Torah records: וצפית אתו זהב טהור מבית ומחוץ תצפנו You should cover it in pure gold, and you must cover the wood in gold from the inside and outside. Imagine an ark here with a golden outside and when you opened it up, it would be golden as well. That would be stunning but physical beauty is not why the sages thought this was commanded.

We learn in the Gemara in Yoma 72b

מבית ומחוץ תצפנו אמר רבא: כל תלמיד חכם שאין תוכו כברו – אינו תלמיד חכם

What do we learn from the fact that both the inside and outside must be coated in gold? That your inside and outside must be the same, they must be equal. Rava extends that principle to the Torah scholar- he argues that any Talmid Chacham who does not have this quality, whose interior and exterior don’t match, is not a Talmid Chacham.

This concern was taken so seriously that according to some this was reason to bar you from entry into a yeshiva.

He was eighteen years old that day, and a miracle was wrought for him and eighteen rows of hair [on his beard] turned white. That is why R. Eleazar b. Azariah said: Behold I am about seventy years old,2 and he did not say [simply] seventy years old. A Tanna taught: On that day the doorkeeper was removed and permission was given to the disciples to enter. For Rabban Gamaliel had issued a proclamation [saying]. No disciple whose character does not correspond to his exterior3 may enter the Beth ha-Midrash. On that day many stools4 were added.

That extension requires clarification. I understand that in the holiest of holies, the ark that holds our most treasured possessions… (Talmud Berachot 28a)

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah thought that a student without that quality can enter the Beit Midrash but according to Rabban Gamliel that student should be and was barred from entry.

One certainly has to wonder:

Why does Rava believe that a sage without this quality is not a sage? How does he learn that from the requirement of the ark? What’s the connection?

Why would Rabban Gamiel not allow a student without that quality in the Beit Midrash?  Why keep so many students from learning Torah? Don’t they deserve to learn too?

Recent events and encounters have helped me to understand the following.

The Ark and Torah must be pure and consistent because they are the heart and soul of Judaism.

We extend that to the sage because like it or not the Talmid Chacham and Rabbi represent Judaism to Jews and to the world. How they act or don’t act is a reflection upon God and the Torah. If they act in a certain manner, externally to the world but internally do not reflect True Torah values people will sense the discrepancy and come to disrespect the religion and Torah because of it. 

That is why Rava says – any person like that is not a Talmid Chacham- don’t be fooled, don’t let that person stand for Judaism.

That is why Rabban Gamliel did not allow such a person into the Beit Midrash. It wasn’t because they should not learn, it was because Rabban Gamliel was afraid that they would go out and misrepresent Torah Judaism to the world.

Unfortunately not all rabbis represent us well. But I will leave you with one positive thought that gives me solace.

History seems to be on our side. The rabbis who are remembered as giants, the great ones, the true Gedolim all seem to have this quality. It seems that history judges those who don’t have the quality as Rava did- they are not true Talmidei Chachamim.

Think of Rav Moshe Feinsten and Rav Shlomo zalman Auerbach, arguably the two greatest Jews of the 20th century here and in Israel. They were Genuine Torah scholars who embodied  the torah and lived its ideals in every fiber of their being. Think of Rav Kook and Rabbi Soloveitchik.

Those are our giants!




Shabbat Parshat Shemot 5778

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Nature of the Redemptive Process

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5770 

How much does Moshe know about what is going to happen and how it is going to happen? Does he get a laid out plan of the how the redemption will take place or does he get his information piecemeal as the events unfold?

At the beginning of the third chapter of Shmot we read of the burning bush- Moshe’s first encounter with God. At that time he is informed that God is planning to redeem the Jews and he is commanded to appear before Pharaoh as God’s agent and deliver the most famous of messages- let my people go and worship for 3 days. The end of the chapter and the first half of chapter 4 detail the negotiations between Hashem and Moshe as to whether or not Moshe is the best person for the job. In those conversations Moshe learns that at first Pharaoh will refuse the request and God will have to “hit the Egyptians with wonders” and eventually they will let the Jews go. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Miketz 5778

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Maximizing Our Spirituality

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5768

Last Tuesday I was at a Chaplaincy meeting with federation leaders and other community rabbis and one of the other rabbis shared with us the following anecdote. A family of his attending public school was dismayed that a Christmas tree was put up in the school but there was no menorah. When challenged, the principal responded that the school does not allowed religious symbols and that a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol, but the menorah is.  Leaving aside the rationale of the principal, at least I said to myself there is recognition that the menorah is indeed a religious symbol. Depressingly however it has come to resemble the Christmas tree. It reminds us that the holiday is here but asks very little of us if anything at all. This morning I want to share an important Chanukah idea with you. It is an idea that is based on a chapter that I recently read in a book of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s writings on Chanukah and Purim, and it speaks to what the menorah asks of us.  Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach 5778

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Was Dina to Blame

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5772

The first thing that a rape victim is told is, at least on TV, it is not your fault. You did not ask for this to happen and the blame lies squarely with the rapist.

That is not however, the approach taken by Rashi in his commentary to the rape of Dina recorded in this morning’s parsha.

Rashi, quoting the Midrash, argues that Dina is partly to blame because she was a yatzanit, “a person going out for lewd purposes”.

I could never completely understand why the Midrash, Rashi and others take this approach, and it always bothered me. Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Vayetzei 5778

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How did Yaakov not know it was Leah?

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5774

This past Tuesday night I presented the religious Zionist worldview of Rabbi Shlomo Goren. He believed that our future in the state of Israel and our fate as a people in our land is dependent upon the spiritual and religious nature of the state and its people.

That is a frightening argument. It might well be right, but it is frightening. Therefore we come up with alternate strategies. 

One of the primary sources for such argument stems from a very puzzling episode in this morning’s parsha. Yaakov works seven years for his beloved Rachel. As we all know Lavan takes Leah and gives her to Yaakov in place of Rachel.

The Torah then tells us that

כה) ויהי בבקר והנה הוא לאה ויאמר אל לבן מה זאת עשית לי הלא ברחל עבדתי עמך ולמה רמיתני

25. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah; and he said to Laban, What is this that you have done to me? did not I serve with you for Rachel? why then have you deceived me?

The Midrash and subsequent commentators read And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah to imply that until this point he did not know.

How in the world could Yaakov not know that it was Leah? There is a wedding; they go back to the tent, together as husband and wife. Are we really meant to believe that he did not see her face or recognize her voice? He loved her for seven years! Continue reading

Shabbat Parshat Toldot 5778

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Isaac and Rebecca

Adapted from Rabbi Braun’s sermon in 5769

Rivkah falls off  the camel as she encounters Yitzchak.

As with every verse in the Torah, we must ask ourselves “why is it recorded, what is it there to teach us? It certainly creates a memorable picture in our mind of the encounter but we must then ask, who cares? Why is this piece of information important enough to merit inclusion in the eternal Torah?

In order to answer that question, in the age old Jewish tradition, I will ask you another one.

At the end of our parsha we encounter the classic scene in which Yaakov and Rivkah trick Yitzchak and steal the blessings from Esav. That episode raises many questions: What was Yitzchak thinking? How does the blessing work? Were Yaakov and Rivkah right or wrong?

Of most interest to me this morning is the following powerful question:

Why doesn’t Rivkah simply tell Yitzchak that he is making a terrible mistake? Or at least question his decision and have a conversation about it. Continue reading

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