Beyond Facetime: The Blessing of Presence

I have been away for work a lot over the last few weeks. Being away reminds me how much I love my family. Another moment that this comes into focus is every week when Adina and I get to bless our children with the Priestly Blessing. This blessing that we say on Friday night comes from Naso, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

And the Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying: On this wise you shall bless the children of Israel; you shall say to them: The Lord bless you, and keep you. The Lord make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace. ( Numbers 6:22-26)

With my absence on my mind I have been thinking about how the essence of this blessing is that the children of Israel will get face time with God ( see use of the word Panav). While I am sure my children miss me while I am gone, I am not sure how much they realize how much I  miss them. While I love Facetiming with them, it does not cut it. What I need is being physically with them. Our virtual connection makes us numb to need for being face to face with the people we love. Being in the presence of my family is the best present. That is a blessing. Do we ever pause to think that is God who really wants to be brought into that space?

Back to Bamidbar – Cornerstone 2015 Shavuot and Going Back to Camp

I just got back from an exhilarating week at the 2015 Cornerstone Fellowship Seminar. There we trained over 330 counselors and supervisors who will be enriching the Jewish lives of thousands of campers and staff members this summer. I was thinking about this as we are in the final countdown to Shavuot and as we start the reading the Book of Numbers this Shabbat. In Hebrew, the book is called Bamidbar, the wilderness. With Shavuot we celebrate the giving of the Torah, what is the significance of our “entering the wilderness?”

In the Midrash we learn, “There are three ways to acquire Torah, with fire, with water, and with wilderness” (Midrash Numbers Rabbah 1:1). This Midrash could be understood to mean that we acquire Torah through passion (fire), immersion (water), and through a long trek in unknown land (the wilderness). Shavuot coming means that the end of school is close at hand. And with the end of school, the camp season is around the corner. This Midrash seems to be lived out at Jewish camp.

Camp is an amazing place where our children will make s’mores and memories by a camp fire (the fire), take the deep water test (the water), and go on a physically challenging hike (in the wilderness). Jewish camp is amazing on another level though. There, our children will be led by extraordinary role models who will ignite our children’s passion (the fire). There they will be part of building their own immersive purpose-driven Jewish community (the water). And there, we hope their experience will set them on their life journey to have a community of people to travel with along life’s path (the wilderness). As we are getting ready for Bamidbar and Shavuot I hope we are all also getting ready for camp, they are all profoundly revealing and edifying.

Chag Shavuot Sameakh – have a great holiday and enjoy packing for camp!

Areivim Zeh B’Zeh – Jerusalem Unity Day

In Behar Behukotai,this week’s Torah portion we read:

They will stumble , each man over his brother as if from before a sword, but there is no pursuer; you will not have the power to withstand your foes (Leviticus 26:37)

The plain meaning of this is that they will live in fear unable to help each other. Rashi interprets it that they are living in religious and not existential fear. He writes that:

“they will stumble, each man over his brother” means one stumbles through the sin of another, for all of Israel are guarantors for one another. (Rashi on Leviticus 26:37)

The Gemara in Sanhedrin sites our Torah portion to prove that we are each others guarantors. There we read, “Kulan Areivim Zeh B’Zeh– All of Israel are each others guarantors.”(Sanhedrin 27b)

How will we go about trying to protect each other? It seems that the plain meaning speaks to Jewish peoplehood and our being bound up in each other in our very being. Rashi in quoting the Gemara transforms this bond into a conversation about faith, sin, and religion.

Last summer Eyal Ifrach, Gil-ad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel were kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from school. Jews from around the world came together to support their families by searching, praying, and just reaching out. The sense of unity reached its peak 17 days later as the three boys were found and ultimately laid to rest side by side. Now, one year later, the families of the boys are asking the Jewish people to come together again.  Together with, Nir Barkat, the Mayor of Jerusalem and Gesher, we can honor the teens’ memory by joining in ‘Unity Day’ to bring back that sense of togetherness, hope, and being  Areivim for each other. Unity Day programs will be held across the globe on the 16th of Sivan 5775 – June 3rd, 2015. To get involved check out this link.  Being Areivim is not just an idea, it needs to be a practice.

What Is In A Name?

God willing Adina and I are expecting our fourth child at the end of July. In this context we have been giving a fair amount of thought into what to name this child. What is in a name?

This question reminds me of interesting writings in Freakonomics where University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner tackle the importance of names. How much does your given name impact your opportunities in life?

This question of the importance of a name was in my head when reading Emor, this week’s Torah portion, in which we account of the case of the blasphemer. There we read:

And the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel; and the son of the Israelite woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp. And the son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name, and cursed; and they brought him to Moshe. And his mother’s name was Shelomit, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. And they put him in ward, that it might be declared unto them at the mouth of the Lord. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Bring forth him that has cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: Whosoever curses his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemes the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him; as well the stranger, as the home-born, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.  (Leviticus 24:10- 16)

On one level we see the tragedy of this unnamed person who is killed because he uttered God’s name. British anthropologist Mary Douglas suggested that if wordplay is admitted, the story could be read to say that the blasphemer hurled insults at the Name of God, and then God ordained that the blasphemer should die by stones hurled at him. Douglas goes on to suggest that the story told to children could go like this: Once there was a man with no name, son of Retribution, grandson of Lawsuit, from the house of Judgment, who pelted insults at the Name, and God said that he should die — because he pelted God’s Name, he should be pelted to death. In this context even though he does not have a name the names of his ancestors have a large impact on his path. He seems to destined for death row. Another interpretation might be that if he actually had his own name he would not have cursed God’s name.

All of this is to say that we are open to suggestions for good names for our child.

On Middot: The Measure of Inclusion

In Aharei Mot- Kedoshim, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the transgression of falsifying Middot– weights in the market place. There we read:

You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, weight, or volume. Just balances, just weights, a just efah, and a just hin, shall you have: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. And you shall observe all My statutes, and all Mine ordinances, and do them: I am the Lord. ( Leviticus 19: 35-37)

Dishonesty in business is not just immoral, according to the Sifra  it constitutes a chillul Hashem, desecration of God’s name. After all, “Deceitful scales are an abomination of the Lord” (Proverbs 11:1). In fact, any deception or dishonest business practice is “an abomination unto the Lord, your God” (Deuteronomy 25:16). We are mandated to avoid any kind of dishonesty and certainly financial dishonesty.

I bring this up in light of our persistent choice to exclude gay members from our community because we claim that Aharei Mot- Kedoshim, our  Torah portion, calls sex between two men an “abomination” (Leviticus 18:22) . It is shocking because we are happy to turn a blind eye to the abominable  business practices of  people in our community. Rabbi Levi said, ” The punishment for false measures is more rigorous than that for forbidden relatives” (Baba Bathra 88b). In light of this our exclusion of Lesbian Gay and Bisexual members of our community just seems cruel and not nice. We should be as careful about our Middot (measurements in business) as our Middot (ethics in life).

 

-See other essays on GLBT Inclusion:

 

 

March of the Penguin: Netzach Yisrael

March of the Penguins is a documentary depicting the annual journey of Antarctica’s emperor penguins. In autumn, all the penguins of breeding age leave their normal habitat of the ocean to walk inland across the frozen tundra to their ancestral breeding grounds. There, the penguins participate in their yearly courtship ritual that, if successful, results in a chick. For their baby to survive the brutally cold environment, both parents must make multiple arduous journeys between the ocean and the breeding grounds over the ensuing months.

This harsh prelude introduces the immense joy of the next generation of penguins. Watching these families of penguins surviving the winter in these extreme conditions is mesmerizing. It is more invigorating then watching your favorite sports team win a come from behind victory in the last second of the game. The endurance and fortitude of the emperor penguin is a wonderful depiction of the sefirah of Netzach.

With the resurgence of global anti-Semitism, our low birthrates, and growing assimilation rate, on communal level it is hard not relating to the difficult polar conditions of the emperor penguins.  In a 1975 interview, Professor Salo W. Baron, thought to be the greatest Jewish historian of the 20th century, said “Suffering is part of the destiny [of the Jews], but so is repeated joy as well as ultimate redemption.” This is Netzach Yisrael– the joy, victory, and eternity of Jewish life.

It seems that the power of Netzah, like the annual journey of emperor penguins, is that we need to know that falling is not the same as failing, we are never doing it alone, community is critical to success, and the greatest joy is when a family shares its love with the next generation.

– Reposted from Lippman Kanfer Foundation For Living Torah Blog on Sefirat HaOmer and the Sefirot

My Grandfather’s Poem: A thought for Israel Independence Day

I was named for my father’s father Abram Orlow. This week I came across a poem that he published when he was 18. It is very meaningful to me in that I know very little about him. My grandfather died when my father was just thirteen. It seemed fitting to share this today for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Enjoy.

 

Awake, Arise, Thy Goluth Is No More by Abram Orlow

O Palestine! thou land of Maccabees of old,

Where once the streams with milk and honey flowed,

Canst thou see how a new and wondrous light

That drives away your tears and brings delight?

 

Seest thou thine legions as of old,

Bedecked with fighting splendor, brave and bold,

Fighting again for thine own freedom’s sake?

So of thee once again a home for a nation’s make.

 

Seest thou the hand of Powers great?

Seest thou the hand of Victory’s fate?

Once more beknighting thee and raise thee from the dust,

And crown thee ” Jewish Homeland.” as soon the nations must

 

Seest thou thy people answer Zion’s call

And flock unto thy standard, one and all?

Awake! Arise! Thy Goluth is no more!

Aye, soon thou  thou’lt be the Palestine of yore

– The Jewish World January 11, 1918


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