Plenilune of Av

Rosh Chodesh and Rosh HaShana, the Jewish new month and new year are notable in that they are celebrations of the new moons. They are not plenilune, the time of the full moon, but rather a time marked by the absence of a moon.

In that today is Tu B’Av, the Jewish Valentine’s Day, is the 15th of the month, I pause to explore the other plenilune celebrations on our calendar. We have Sukkot, celebrating our sojourn in booths in the desert after escaping Egypt. We also have Shushan Purim, Passover, and Pesach Sheni each a month from each other. Each of these is also a celebration of liberation. First not being killed in Haman’s genocide,then from slavery in Egypt, and then those who could not celebrate Passover. Another notable 15th full moon is Tu B’Shvat the New Year for the Trees. This is a celebration of nature, the advent of spring, and marks the liberation from the winter months. What do all of these celebrations on the 15th have in common?

In light of today being Tu B’Av, it is tempting to frame the full moon as an expression of our hearts being full with love in the air. But I wanted to offer another frame for these plenilune celebrations. What is a full moon?

The full moon is the lunar phase when the Moon appears fully illuminated from Earth‘s perspective. This means that the lunar hemisphere facing Earth—the near side—is completely sunlit and appears as an approximately circular disk. The full moon occurs roughly once a month. We see it as full because the light from the sun is reflecting off the surface of the moon unobstructed by our shadow.

There is a depth to thinking about these celebrations of love and liberation in a context of seeing things reflected in the world in their fullness without the weight of your pekelah on it. Our nature is to be self-centered and only look at things in the shadow of our needs. At the same time we are inherently limited to see things from our unique perspective. We need to strive for a balance between seeing things for our perspective and trying to also see the reality in its fullness. To experience love and liberation we have to deeply understand that we share this rock called earth. Merry plenilune of Av.

Alone vs Private: Exploring Tisha B’Av and Tzniut

Tomorrow is Tisha B’Av, but because it falls on Shabbat, the annual fast day commemorating the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and our subsequent exile from Israel will be observed on Saturday night and Sunday. Through it all Tisha B’Av seems to be a day of isolation.

At the start of Eicha we read:

How does the city sit alone, that was full of people! How has she become as a widow! She who was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!  She weeps sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks; she has none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Yehudah is gone into exile because of affliction, and because of great servitude; she dwells among the nations, she finds no rest; all her pursuers overtook her within the straits.

Lamentations 1:1-3

Jerusalem is alone with none to comfort her. We as a people are in exile. This theme tracks through the course of Eicha and the customs and traditions of Tisha B’Av. We are alone individually and as a nation.

It is noteworthy that this isolation of Tisha B’Av seems almost prescient of the CDC requirement for the social isolation protocols meant to stem the spread of Covid-19 and the newer variants. Above and beyond getting vaccinated following these guidelines is supposed to save us. At the same time being alone in isolation can be devastating and we have seen the impact of social isolation on our MESSH needs. At the same time doing everything under the ever watchful and unforgiving eye of social media can be equally damaging. We find ourselves between a rock and a hard place.

This theme of social isolation reminded me of a great midrash. There we learn:

Eikhah-How does the city sit”, three prophecised in the language of eikhah-How, Moshe, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, Moshe said, “ How can I myself alone…”(Deut. 1:12). Isaiah said, “How (is the faithful city) become a harlot!” (Isaiah 1:21). Jeremiah said, “How does the city sit alone” (Lam 1:1). Said Rabbi Levi this is analogous to a matron who had three grooms.  One who saw her in security, one who saw her in recklessness, and one who saw her in disgrace.

Lamentations Rabbah 1 (Vilna)

Moshe’s eikhah comes from Devarim, this week’s Torah portion. The people seemed to be in the security of being with God in the desert. Moshe is complaining that he is alone in carrying the burden of the people. Isaiah is depicted the city as a harlot and she is seen in her recklessness. The city is exposed to not being alone at all. She is with her customers. And Jeremiah’s eikhah is what we learned above. The city sits alone as a widow morning the loss with no one to console her.

In thinking of this theme of isolation and Tisha B’Av I go back to what I wrote last week on the thinking of Jonathan Haidt. This will clearly be a longer effort in my life of exploring Tzniut as a 7th Moral Foundation.  We translate this word Tzniut as privacy or modesty. But modesty has a certain element of shame connected to it. Clearly we see this shame on Tisha B’Av. But, that is not the point. The question I ask is can we cultivate a value around creating moments of connection and intimacy between people? Not everything needs or should be done in public. Instead of running in fear from social media, we need to curate experiences of privacy and deep human connection to fortify ourselves. In these tender moments of intimacy we might be alone, but there is no shame or humiliation. Tisha B’Av seems to be an object lesson in the devastation of publicly being revealed to be alone. This commemoration of isolation makes us realize the value of connecting the rest of the year.

In this exploration of Tzniut as a 7th Moral Foundation as a counterweight to the destructive potential of social media it makes sense to look at it through the prism of the midrash quoted above. What can we learn from these three eikhahs?

How do we cultivate experiences that support our security? When we use these free platforms we have to understand that we are the product being bought and sold. They are not interested in our safety or security. These companies are only interested in the value we provide them and their share holders.

How do we leave room for us to do teshuvah when we are recklessness? Once we put something online it is there for everyone and for all of time. We all make mistakes. The permanence of this public record makes it very hard to ever recover and repair from our misdeeds.

How do we make sure that we are not party to platforms that work to disgrace people? There is so much clickbait in the world. Things get “likes” because it hurts people. The anonymity of the internet makes us a threat to ourselves and others. How do we condition ourselves to not fall into that trap? ( See here the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza)

Indeed the questions are eikhah– how? how? how? There might be hope for us as a society if we show a little Tzniut. Choose to send one less tweet, post one less FB update, and sit alone to reflect for a moment on ending senseless hatred. The world will only be rebuilt when we invest in actually finding ways to meet people privately one-on-one and face-to-face. This is a lesson of Tisha B’Av. The isolation of the day is supposed to motivate us to make connections every other day of the year.

Haidt and Shabbat: Exploring Tzniut as a Moral Foundation

This week I had the good fortune of getting to hear Jonathan Haidt speak at conference run by the Maimonides Foundation. He is a social psychologist, Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and author. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality and moral emotions. I have been a big fan of his work for some time. In his talk he decried the coddling of the American Mind and the shaking of the foundation of our cultural values. These trends map on squarely with the rise of the smart phone and social media. It seems that so much in our world is broken and not getting better. It makes you wonder, is the smart phone actually a smart?

At this conference we also had the occasion to explore Moral Foundations Theory. Outlined in Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, this theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations for which we think the evidence is best are:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

You can find out your own moral foundations profile at www.YourMorals.org.

In thinking about these Moral Foundations in the context the current challenge of the rise of the smart phone, I got to thinking that we might need to explore a seventh Moral Foundation to repair our society. But what would that be?

This question got me thinking about a Gemara in Beitzah regarding the gift of Shabbat to the Jewish People. There we learn:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: All the mitzvot that the Holy One, Blessed be God, gave to the Jewish people, God gave to them in public [parhesya] except for Shabbat, which God gave to them in private [b’tzinah]. As it is stated: “It is a sign between Me and between the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:17), meaning that in a sense, it is a secret between God and the Jewish people.

Beitzah 16a

Surely one of the gifts of Shabbat is the opportunity to put away our smart phones. But, on another level, the essence of the gift is Tzniut itself. We translate this word as privacy or modesty. But modesty has a certain element of shame connected to it. That is not the point. Can we cultivate a value around creating moments of connection and intimacy between people? Not everything needs or should be done in public. Instead of running in fear from social media, we need to curate experiences of privacy and deep human connection to fortify ourselves today. This Shabbat I will be giving more thought to what Tzniut might look like a 7th Moral Foundation. I invite you to do the same. Shabbat Shalom.

A Modern Orthodox Reader: First Draft

When it comes to parenting, ” We plan and God Laughs”. We have planned and tried to raise our children to live as Modern Orthodox Jews, but who really knows what will happen? We can just do our best to model, educate, and curate experiences for them.

Near the end of his Senior High School Yadid came to me and said, “Aba, I do not think I am an Orthodox Jew” I responded, “But you have been excited all year about returning to Camp Stone this summer. How is that anything other than a Modern Orthodox camp?” He replied, ” Well I am going to camp, if you want to send me articles to read this summer- we can talk about it throughout the summer.”

Wow, what a great request? It was a great process to explore what were the shortest and most critical article and resources. I vividly remember when I was not much older than Yadid reading Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein‘s article Does Jewish Tradition Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakha? This piece was critical to my own identity formation. Reading this I was able to imagine a philosophical underpinning for the existential significance of Halacha without rejecting other world views or falsely claim Jewish supremacy. So, what would I put on the reading list?

In the process of answering Yadid question I asked a bunch of people. I got a torrent of content, but mostly books, and not articles. I will share the fruit of that labor at another time. I drafted to a curriculum of critical readings on Modern Orthodoxy. I even have done some editing since I sent a hard copy of it off to camp with Yadid. While our talking about the articles has not worked out so well- his phone broke twice this summer- the process of putting it together it self was compelling. Regardless I wanted to share with list of articles that one might find formative to Modern Orthodox identity and practice. I would love your thoughts, feedback, and input on this list. What did we miss? What other questions would you want to ask? I will update the resource over time.

The Secret Sauce of Duality: Being Jewish for Micah and Today

This week’s Haftarah comes from the book of Micah. Micah’s messages were directed chiefly toward Jerusalem. He prophesied the future destruction of Jerusalem and Shomron and then future restoration of the Judean state. He rebuked the people of Judah for dishonesty and idolatry. The Haftarah starts off by saying:

The remnant of Jacob shall be,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like dew from the Lord,
Like droplets on grass—
Which do not look to any man
Nor place their hope in mortals.

The remnant of Jacob
Shall be among the nations,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like a lion among beasts of the wild,
Like a fierce lion among flocks of sheep,
Which tramples wherever it goes
And rends, with none to deliver.

Micah 5:6-7

The recurring language of “remnant of Jacob” in these two sentences is striking. Will this remnant be enough? Will we the Jewish people survive? It seems to be our question throughout history, from Micah’s time until today.

While the language here is parallel, it draws attention to the contrast in images. In the first is an image of “droplets on grass”. In the second one we have an image of a fierce lion. While the dew is giving nutrients to its environment, the lion is fighting for survival/dominance.

This juxtaposition is as relevant now as it was for Micah. He is pointing out the duality of the Jewish condition. Is our survival wrapped up in our capacity to sustain the world around us (like the dew) or our ability to be defensive and protect ourselves (like the lion)? Is the secret to our longevity our commitment to universal causes and our investment in the larger ecosystem or is it dependent on our particularism and our fiercely looking out for our own?

To resolve this question I go to one of my favorite essays by Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik‘s on Ger v’Toshav. His thesis is derived from the duality in the language Avraham uses when buying a burial plot for Sarah. There is says, ” ‘I am a stranger and a resident with you: give me a possession of a burying-place with you, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.'” ( Genesis 23:4) What is he telling them? Is he a stranger or a resident? The Rav points out that the nature of being Jewish is holding this duality as being true. We are always strangers and residents. Like Micah we are always dew and lions. We are resident committed to nurturing the universal cause around us and strangers who are fierce like lions looking after our own. The secret sauce to our surviving and thriving if our dual commitment to continuity and contribution.

Being Mortal and Moral: Gawande and the Red Heifer

In 2014 Atul Gawande wrote Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End addressing end-of-life care, hospice care, and his reflections and personal stories. It is one of those paradigm busting must reads.

Being Mortal is a meditation on how people can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness, and approaching death. Gawande calls for a change in the way that medical professionals treat patients approaching their ends. He recommends that instead of focusing on survival, practitioners should work to improve quality of life and enable well-being. Gawande shares personal stories of his patients’ and his own relatives’ experiences, the realities of old age which involve broken hips and dementia, overwhelmed families and expensive geriatric care, and loneliness and loss of independence.

I got to thinking about this in the context of reading Chukat, this week’s Torah portion. There the Israelite people are instructed to bring a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which no yoke has been laid to sacrifice. The critical ritual involved the ash from this perfect cow. There we read:

Another party who is pure shall take hyssop, dip it in the water, and sprinkle on the tent and on all the vessels and people who were there, or on the one who touched the bones or the person who was killed or died naturally or the grave. The pure person shall sprinkle it upon the impure person on the third day and on the seventh day, thus purifying that person by the seventh day. [The one being purified] shall then wash those clothes and bathe in water—and at nightfall shall be pure. If any party who has become impure fails to undergo purification, that person shall be cut off from the congregation for having defiled God’s sanctuary. The water of lustration was not dashed on that person, who is impure.

Numbers 19:18-20

While Israelite society was much more at home with death than our own, there is an interesting notion that there is no room for death in God’s house. Just as Gawande points out, there is a taboo of death that we are struggling to make sense of in their lives.

Gawande also points out how this dynamic impacts how generations deal with each other. This comes into focus when we think about the exceptional and rare case of actually finding a perfect red cow as we learn about in our Torah portion. In the Gemara we learn an amazing story about Dama ben Nesina. There we learn:

Rav Yehuda says that Shmuel says: They asked Rabbi Eliezer: How far must one go to fulfill the mitzva of honoring one’s father and mother? Rabbi Eliezer said to them: Go and see what one gentile did for his father in Ashkelon, and the name of the son was Dama ben Netina. Once the Sages wished to purchase precious stones from him for the ephod of the High Priest for six hundred thousand gold dinars’ profit, and Rav Kahana taught that it was eight hundred thousand gold dinars’ profit. And the key to the chest holding the jewels was placed under his father’s head, and he would not disturb him. The next year the Holy One, Blessed be God, gave Dama ben Netina his reward, as a red heifer was born in his herd, and the Jews needed it. When the Sages of Israel came to him he said to them: I know, concerning you, that if I were to ask for all the money in the world you would give it to me.

Kidushin 31a 

Gawande offers us a lens to see our distance from death and an older generation. Like Being Mortal, the ritual of the Red Heifer gives us a window into how we might reconnect with our own mortality and morality.

Other posts on Gawande:

On Originalism: Mourning Rabbi Halivni z”l

This last week has been a real doozy when it comes to the Supreme Court. Between the landmark decisions in expanding gun rights, eliminating the protection of abortion rights, seeming delusion of the division between church and state, limiting the role of the EPA, and now states’ roles in Federal election reform, I am dizzy. It is challenging to keep up with it all. It feels that the world is changing too fast and not for the better. It is unlikely that we have seen the end of this socially right leaning super majority on the court. What is driving all of these changes? It seems to be part of their conservative political/social agenda, but their claim it is part of their legal philosophy of Originalism. I am not sure they have much credibility, but what does that even mean?

Originalism is a type of judicial interpretation of a constitution (especially the US Constitution) that aims to follow how it would have been understood or was intended to be understood at the time it was written. It is founded on the belief that a text should be interpreted in a way consistent with how it would have been understood or was intended to be understood at the time it was written. They assert that all statements in the Constitution must be interpreted based on the original understanding “at the time it was adopted”. This concept views the Constitution as stable from the time of enactment and that the meaning of its contents can be changed only by the steps set out in Article Five. This notion stands in contrast to the concept of the Living Constitution, which asserts that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the context of current times and political identities, even if such interpretation is different from the original interpretations of the document.

This concern of their judicial interpretation came into focus a couple of days ago with the news of the passing of Rabbi David Weiss Halivni z’l. Born in 1927, Halivni was raised in Sighet, Romania, by his mother and his maternal grandfather, Isaiah Weiss, a prominent rabbinic scholar. Recognized as a talmudic prodigy (ilui), Halivni was ordained before reaching the age of 17. When they were occupied by the Germans, the family was confined to the ghetto of Sighet, and then deported to Auschwitz, Halivni being transferred to forced labor in Silesia. The sole survivor of his family, Halivni was liberated from the concentration camp of Ebensee, in Upper Austria, in May 1945, and came to the U.S. in 1947. Through the coincidence of a relative of Saul Lieberman being employed in the Bronx orphanage where Halivni was, he soon met that scholar, and so was taken under the wing of the leading academician in the field of rabbinic literature. Following undergraduate studies at Brooklyn College, in tandem with residence in the Yeshivat Rav Chaim Berlin, and graduate study at New York University, Halivni pursued a doctorate of Hebrew letters under Lieberman at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America where he joined the faculty as professor of Talmud and Rabbinics.

Through his magnum opus Mekorot u-Mesorot -Sources and Traditions, Halivni developed a source-critical approach to the Talmud, aiming to uncover earlier, variant readings and textual substrates altered in transmission. This methodology and aspects of Halivni’s personality, provided a basis for characters and for a paradigm of critical talmudic study dramatized in the first two novels of Chaim Potok . In the mid-1980s, Halivni left the Seminary for a professorship at Columbia University and also participated in the founding of the Institute of Traditional Judaism. He also became the Mara D’Atra at KOE, a prayer community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I had the fortune to learn from him while at Columbia, pray with him at KOE, and later while studying to be a Rabbi at YCT to be the intern at Ramath Orah where he was a congregant.

Many people, who were much closer to him and his work, have written some amazing tributes to him. I am sure that much more will be said about this luminary, but for now I wanted to focus on the subject of his undergraduate course. It was based on his book, Peshat and Derash: Plain and Applied Meaning in Rabbinic Exegesis (1991)

From the days of Plato, the problem of the efficacy and adequacy of the written word as a vehicle of communication has challenged us, yet the mystery of how best to achieve clarity and exactitude of written expression has never been solved. The most repercussive instance of this universal problem has been the exegesis of the law embodied in Hebrew scripture. Peshat & Derash is the first book to trace the Jewish interpretative enterprise from a historical perspective. Applying his vast knowledge of Rabbinic materials to the long history of Jewish exegesis of both Bible and Talmud, Halivni investigated the tension that has often existed between the plain sense of the divine text (peshat) and its creative, Rabbinic interpretations (derash).

The first level is peshat, taking the text at face value, in context . This doesn’t quite mean “literal”, because we of course take into account idioms, metaphors, personification, etc. The peshat is the message that the originalauthor intended to get across to the original audience. This is compared to derash, the way the rabbis of the Mishnah, Midrash and Talmuds – interpreted the text.  In derash we ask why the text is phrased the way that it is. Rabbinical literary techniques plumb the depths of the text to find new meaning, or may bring out lessons that may not have been intended by the original authors. It gets interesting in the discussions by the Rabbis which reveal that, in some cases, they felt that derash was discovering the original meaning of the text, while in other discussions they clearly understood derash as filling-in-the-blanks – creating new meaning. For example Rashi, the famous commentator, often accepted much derash as literally and historically true, aka peshat. But commentators like Rashbam, Abraham Ibn Ezra disagreed with Rashi.

All of this is to say that it is clear that one cannot understand Torah properly and adequately if one lacks the requisite tools to decode, read, and interpret the text. Halivni’s efforts were to provide those tools. Halivni also addressed the theological implications of the deviation of derash from peshat and explores the differences between the ideological extremes. The religious right denies that Judaism has a history. The religious left claims that history is all that Judaism has.

Halivni’s comprehensive and critical narration of the history and repercussions of Rabbinic exegesis is of interest to students of scriptural traditions, hermeneutics, and legal texts. Of all week’s the absence of his nuanced and deeply grounded approach to legal text is palpable. Halivni had a profound and important response to Originalism.

Much ink has been spilled in the attempt to define the peshat and derash of the Constitution. It could happen that in a given debate, everyone could agree that one of the proposed interpretations is a peshat one, while the other interpretation is a derash one, and yet disagree with one another as to which one is which! In fact, a well-known aphorism contends that “My interpretation represents the peshat, while yours represents derash.” One can clearly be an Originalist and maintain an orthodoxy to the nature of the law without having to conform the institutional chauvinism, bigotry, racism, or homophobia that was the original meaning of the Constitution.

My fear with SCOTUS is that they do not listen to the words of Rabbi Tzaddok. He taught:

Do not act as a counselor-at-law (when serving as a judge). Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig.

Avot 4:5

The judges have become tools of the political profess as compared to scholars who use tools, like those Rabbi Halivni z”l tried to teach, to make sense of the law and justice in the land.

Maybe Rav David Weiss Halivini’s memory be for a blessing.

A Shabbat Thought For Camp Post Roe v Wade

Note to Camp Director: I offer you this message which you might adopt/adapt/share with you staff this Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom. Welcome back to camp. I pause at this moment of our coming together in this place we love with the people we love at a time we love to give space to what some of us might be feeling at this moment. 

For so many of us, camp is special because when we come here we get to explore our best selves. Here we try on new elements of who each of us might be or are becoming. Camp is not just a location, time of the year, or even a group of people. Camp is an educational philosophy. Camp is a way of thinking about how we might self actualize and, in the process, help our campers do the same. Camp is a home away from home. Camp is a bubble away from all of that stuff out there. For many of us camp is the Shabbat of our year. 

I pause at this moment to recognize that many of us feel at risk. We find ourselves amidst the storm of COVID, political upheaval in Israel, rising racism and anti-Semitism, gun violence, war in Ukraine, and shifting of who makes laws about our bodies at home. Today, June 24th, the US Supreme Court overruled the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case. To many of us this ruling seems like a trespass of people’s personal and religious rights to have agency over their own bodies. This may feel scary. While this may or might not directly impact you or people you love, this ruling represents a challenge to our sacred Jewish obligation to prioritize the life and health of the pregnant person. What could our camp’s role be in supporting our community members who may feel existentially threatened? What role does our community play in helping people regain personal agency and their capacity to self-actualize?

I find some comfort in the words from the chorus to Yom Shabbaton – The Sabbath Day, a song traditionally sung on Shabbat. Written by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi (1075–1141), this poem describes the complete rest and peace of Shabbat. As we sing:

Yonah matz’ah vo manoach v’sham yanuchu y’giei choach.

The dove does find her rest, and there rest those whose strength is spent.

The dove that rested on the Shabbat day is instantly identifiable as Noah’s dove. Sent from the ark to check if the flood had receded, the tired dove found rest on the dry land (Genesis 8:12). Hidden amidst the chaos of a world that is destructive and painful, Shabbat is a small island poking out from the vast and threatening sea. While the world stands shattered and torn, this small perch for the dove is the first glimmer of hope for all of us. 

But it is hard to have hope, when we are feeling grief and loss. One quote that speaks to this feeling comes from Martin Prechtel’s The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise. He writes:

Grief expressed out loud for someone we have lost, or a country or home we have lost, is in itself the greatest praise we could ever give them. Grief is praise, because it is the natural way love honors what it misses.

Before we run ahead to meet the demands of the day — and we will —  let’s reflect on this praise for what we may miss. We might miss ideas and ideals of our country’s “more perfect union”. We might be missing the feeling of autonomy and agency. We also might be missing the feeling we have of self-actualization. For many of us this is something that we discovered here at camp. In this moment of grief I want to take a moment to praise, honor, and love our camp community as a home.

In seeing how many people feel unsafe right now, I find hope right here right now with you. In our coming together to make Shabbat at our camp we can find respite from the storm out there. Together we need to make camp for ourselves, each other, and our campers. From that perch, our community will start to rebuild our broken world. In this way, Shabbat will provide us Shalom– peace. Welcome back home. Shabbat Shalom.

Note to Camp Director: Thank you for everything that you do for our community. If we can be helpful  in anyway do not hesitate to be in touch avi@jewishcamp.org Also please share any resources that you might have so we can share it with the field. We are curating content for camps here.

If you or your staff need immediate mental health supports beyond your community’s capacity, for any reason, here are some resources to share:

  • Text “HOME” to 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line
  • Text “START” to 678-678 for The Trevor Project LGBTQ support center
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free, confidential 24/7 support

Blessing of Emunah: Reflections of Faith, Fidelity, & Trust for Emunah’s Bat Mitzvah

Over the years people have asked me what we named our eldest daughter. After they hear the name, Emunah, they usually ask me what that means. I know the simple answer would be ‘faith’, but that does not exactly speak to our intention. While I am a Rabbi, faith has not been something that comes easily to me and not a name that I not necessarily wish upon our daughter. I found this quote by Martin Buber in his book Two Types of Faith that seems to get a little closer. Buber writes:

This ‘existential’ characteristic of Emunah is not sufficiently expressed in the translation ‘faith’, although the verb often does mean to believe לְהַאֲמִין (to believe someone, to believe a thing). It must further be noticed that the conception includes the two aspects of a reciprocity of permanence: the active, ‘fidelity’, and the receptive, ’trust’. If we wish to do justice to the intention of the spirit of the language which is so expressed, then we ought not to understand ’trust’ merely in a psychical [soulful] sense, as we do not with ’fidelity’. The soul is as fundamentally concerned in the one as in the other, but is decisive for both that the disposition of the soul should become an attitude of life. Both, fidelity and trust, exist in the actual realm of relationship between two persons. Only in the full actuality of such a relationship can one be both loyal and trusting.

(Two Types of Faith 28-29)

In this way, Emunah is less theological, philosophical, or axiomatic and more relational. 

Seeing that my name is Avram, I always yearned for that “Hey” of God to complete me. Belief might not come naturally,  but I feel that Buber’s ‘relational faith’ is one that I can strive for and work on. In so many ways, you,  Emunah, are my “Hey”. Thank you Emunah. Thank you for the person you are, the person you are becoming, and the person you make me want to be. 

In our founding Emunah narrative, God took Avram outside in the dessert and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them”, “So shall your offspring be.” By design this is an impossible task. No one could count all of those starts. But Avram did it anyway:

וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן And he put his trust in God,who reckoned it to his merit.

(Genesis 15:5-6)

Emunah- While we still hope that you continue to develop a deep relationship with God, we are more interested in your deeds than your creed. 

In the spirit of Buber, your Mami and I strive to model for you healthy and open relationships with each other, our family, our community, and the world. We love you and bless you with all of these deep relationships in your life. You are emerging as someone who is thoughtful, caring, and “both loyal and trusting”. May you be blessed like Avraham Avinu in being worthy of trust. There is nothing you cannot accomplish when you step out and cast your eyes to heaven. This will be reckoned to you for merit. We expect great things from you.

Mazel Tov – Emunah

Other posts I have written about Emi over the years:

  1. Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog
  2. Little Birdy: Emunah and Protecting Our Children
  3. 7 Years of Emunah: Reflections on Faith and Fidelity
  4. Emunah Second Birthday
  5. Our Type of Emunah
  6. Our Blessing for Emunah
  7. Fearless: On Emunah’s Bat Mitvah and being a Nazir

What the Eye Sees: Manoah, Noah, and Emunah

In Parshat Naso we learn about the case of the Nazir, and I am excited to learn more about that from Emunah. In the Haftarah we learn about Shimshon, who was a warrior leader, a biblical Judge Dredd, and apropos our Torah portion a nazir. He is a bit of a tragic superhero with extraordinary strength and a sad ending. It seems fitting that the haftarah is told like a classic Marvel origin story.

Here we are introduced to Manoah and his wife (sadly unnamed in the text). They were childless, but an angel appeared to Manoah’s wife and told her that she would give birth to a son. The child was to be dedicated from the womb as a Nazir, which entailed restrictions on drinking alcohol, coming into contact with the dead, and not cutting his hair. The woman told her husband, “A man of God came to me”. Manoah was incredulous, prayed and the angel returned to instruct the both of them that their son would be a nazir and they named him Shimshon.

This got me thinking about this guy Manoah. Who is this character? What is his significance in this story? It also got me looking at the connection between Manoah and Noah. Manoah was the father of the judge, general, leader, and savior of his generation. Noah saved the world by building an ark to perpetuate life through the flood. Linguistically their names are connected:

  • Manoah (מנוח) is “a place of rest”
  • Noah (נוח) is “ being comfortable”

Their two names comes together with the story of Noah and the dove:

וְלֹֽא־מָצְאָה֩ הַיּוֹנָ֨ה מָנ֜וֹחַ לְכַף־רַגְלָ֗הּ וַתָּ֤שׇׁב אֵלָיו֙ אֶל־הַתֵּבָ֔ה כִּי־מַ֖יִם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כׇל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח יָדוֹ֙ וַיִּקָּחֶ֔הָ וַיָּבֵ֥א אֹתָ֛הּ אֵלָ֖יו אֶל־הַתֵּבָֽה׃

But the dove could not find מָנ֜וֹחַ- a resting place for its foot, and returned to him to the ark, for there was water over all the earth. So putting out his hand, he [Noah] took it into the ark with him. (Genesis 8:9)

Their names are linked but not the same. It is interesting here that Noah, the man of rest could not find Manoah, a place to rest. This place of rest eluded him. And later even when the dove finds a place to rest and brings back an olive branch, Noah stays in the ark. Even when presented with evidence that the coast is literally clear his place of rest is still hidden from him. Noah needed to be told to leave the ark.


צֵ֖א מִן־הַתֵּבָ֑ה אַתָּ֕ה וְאִשְׁתְּךָ֛ וּבָנֶ֥יךָ וּנְשֵֽׁי־בָנֶ֖יךָ אִתָּֽךְ׃

God said- “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives.”

While for some, faith could be that much needed resting spot amidst a storm, to others faith can blind us to the opportunities which are right in front of us. Like Noah, Manoah did not believe his wife when she told him that they were going to have a child. He did not believe the blessing the angel brought her. Harry Houdini said, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes.” But in the cases of Manoah, Noah, and many of us “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Why are we limited to see what we expect to see?

I would like to take the liberty of illustrating this point with a special story about our child, Emunah:

It was Passover Yom Tov and we were at the Olsons. Emunah was 2 years old. She was a big girl and wanted to wear big girl underpants like her big brothers. We were mortified when she peed all over their floor. But Adina and I are experienced parents at this point. This is our 3rd kid. We’ve got this. So we clean her up, clean the floor, and put another pair of underpants on her. And you can see this one coming in slow motion….yes #2.

So now we are in it. There is a reason that diapers open up the way they do as a clam. Seeing that it is Yom Tov there is no way to cut off her soiled underpants. There is just no easy war to get them off of her and we do not know what to do. Adina whisks her off to the bathroom and we are screaming. Get this, get that, we are so sorry, etc.

You’ve got to see the scene. I come into their bathroom wielding wipes. Adina is trying to get her underpants off and contain the mess. Emi is contorted head down and with a leg in the air or on the edge of the toilet. We are screaming at each other and Emi says “ Mami… And we both go silent.

We have all been there. There is that moment when the child absorbs all of the energy around them and just channels it back at you. In that moment Adina and I looked at each other and braced ourselves for Emi to start to cry uncontrollably. A hot mess. This is what we expected to see.

There is our Emunah… “Look Mami- I am doing Yoga

Shanti- Ah serenity. It would have been understandable or even expected for her to cry in fear, embarrassment, or just matching our energy, but there you were Emunah at 2 years old doing Downward Dog. You pushed and continue to push us to see the world from different perspectives.

Emunah- It is wonderful to pause at this moment and see how much you have grown over the last decade. Unlike Manoah and Noah you are restless without a resting place. Emunah, you have never been about blind faith. Emunah, you have a gift to see what others do not. Emunah, you see things in your own way. Emunah, your creativity abounds- your mind is prepared to comprehend anything.

I am always reminded that no matter how bad things ever get, even if we feel that our lives are a hot mess, if we are not complacent, do not “rest”, we can shift our perspective, “do some yoga”, and things will start to look up.

Thank you Emunah. Shabbat Shalom. Namaste


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