11/29/2012

Shabbat Vayishlach

Candles Friday 4:10 pm
Havadalah Saturday 5:05 pm

(Remember you can make payments to the community by clicking the DONATE button to the left.)

After Yaakov and his family return to the Land of Israel, his daughter Dina is raped by the Prince of Shechem. Yaakov hears of the crime but chooses not to act. Dinah’s two closes brothers, Shimon and Levi take the law into their own hands. They suggest a merger between the two communities but require circumcision as a condition. While the men of Schechem are weak and in pain the brothers enter the city, destroy it and massacre the inhabitants.

Yaakov is stunned and calls them to account. His argument is that they have now endangered the whole family by being branded as violent interlopers. The brothers reply that they cannot allow the locals to get away with this. Clearly Yaakov wanted to resolve the issue peacefully, through negotiations. The brothers argued for deterrence. The issue is not resolved. Only on his deathbed does Yaakov publicly condemn them. Most commentators condemn the brothers too. They argue that even if they were justified in responding to a breach of law (which the whole city condoned) their motives were not idealistic but selfish.

I am reminded of the position Israel is in today. Israel needs deterrence to survive surrounded by enemies. Yet violence is not a long term solution. Negotiation is. That’s why Shimon and Levi are rebuked in the end. But what if there is no reliable partner to negotiate with?

Earlier in the Torah Yaakov returns from Lavan to face Esav. He fears he will be destroyed. He prepares for peace and for war. That is how we should be today. Without the two sides coming together there will never be long term peace. That avenue must always be an option. Every power that has relied only on its military has eventually collapsed. But in the meantime until there is a partner willing to negotiate, force is the only protection.

11/22/2012

Thanksgiving

Today as I write, it is Thanksgiving; a specifically American tradition that goes back to early Puritan settlers from Europe who survived a particularly harsh winter. You might think therefore that it would make sense to celebrate this day after the winter not before it. But actually the Puritans adopted many Jewish and Biblical traditions.

It was always a tradition in Judaism to fast at times of danger or uncertainty and to thank God when deliverance came. If you recall at Succot we celebrate Simchat Beit HaShoeva, the Rejoicing over the Well House, which was a ceremony initiated by the prophets as part of the ceremonies asking God for rain. In Temple times they poured out precious water over the altar. By pouring out before the need became acute they hoped that God would accept their gratitude and accede to their prayers by sending plenty of rain.

In a similar way, by thanking God in advance of the winter by dedicating and enjoying our food and thanking Him for our good fortune, we hope that we will continue to receive these gifts. In fact every day in Judaism should be a thanksgiving day. The first thing we say in the morning when we wake is the prayer that starts “Modeh Ani", “I thank you God for being alive.” Then during the course of every day, we make a bracha and thank God whenever we enjoy the good things of life.

11/15/2012

Shabbat Toldot

Candles Friday 4:18pm 
Havdalah Saturday 5:15pm

Remember: Donations to the community can be made here on the website by clicking the "Donate" button on the left (under the "Welcome" message). Thanks!

This week’s reading deals with misunderstanding and miscommunication. Sometimes it is accidental and sometimes it is intentional. Esav and Yaakov are very different in character and values. They had little in common and there was no love lost between them. On the other hand there was just such a gap between Ishmael and Yischak. But Yischak being more reflective a person made an effort and in the end they got on together and both came to bury their father.

But it is more surprising that Isaac and Rivkah were so far apart. Especially if one considers that at first they were very close and really loved each other. But as time passed and their children grew up, they disagreed about how to bring up their children. They favored different sons and Yischak was too indulgent and spoilt his firstborn, as indeed many fathers do today. His wife, on the other hand, knew that the second son was a gentler better human being. Why didn’t they talk about the issues and try to reconcile their differences? Perhaps they did but failed. Either way, you can see how the best of marriages can fail if the partners do not communicate, explain themselves, and try to resolve their differences.

Some disagreements simply cannot and should not be reconciled. But most can, with a combination of love and honesty.

11/08/2012

Shabbat Chayey Sarah

Begins Friday 4:24pm
Havdalah Saturday 5:20pm

Rosh Chodesh Kislev is Thursday Nov 15

On Shabbat after the service, Kayvan Hakim is donating a special Kiddush and great collection of his favorite drinks upstairs in the gymnasium which will be combined with a Question and Answer session with Rabbi Jeremy on any topic you would like to talk about. It is in honor of his late mother, COUBA HAKIM A”H.

This is also to remind you that we have now upgraded our website www.persianjewishcenter.org. It also has a DONATE button (on the left side of the page, under the "Welcome" message) so that you can give to the community directly for membership, honors or just charity.

Let me try to illustrate why Rebeccah was such a special person. Imagine a modern day Rebeccah living in say, Brooklyn or Great Neck. She goes to the door and there’s a strange man who says his car has run out if gas and asks if she can she help. And she says “Sure, let me grab my coat, fetch the gas can we have in the garage and I’ll walk with you to the nearest gas station, fill it up walk back and pour it into your tank and give you a cup of coffee before you go on your way.”

Wouldn’t you think she was something really special? How many girls nowadays do you think would do that? More likely they’d be on their cells texting and probably send the help to answer the door! The trouble is that if she were very good looking and slim she’d have no trouble finding a husband. But if she were just kind and caring, but not so hot, she’d probably find it much harder. Which set of values is the Torah telling us is preferable do you think?

11/01/2012

Shabbat Vayeyra

Begins Friday 5:30pm
Ends Saturday 6:30pm

We have all had a difficult week; some much more than others. For most of us in Mid and Upper Manhattan we have been spared too much discomfort. But for many of our families in Brooklyn, Long Island, and New Jersey, it continues to be fraught.

We are reminded that for all our progress and technology we remain at the mercy of nature. The idea of God represents the reality that there is so much in this universe we cannot comprehend and so many forces beyond our control. We humans tend very easily to get arrogant. One of the values of religion is to remind us of our limitations. If we think what secular society has to offer us is enough, we are failing ourselves. By all means go to the gym and beauty parlor to improve your bodies, but remember your souls too. They also need feeding.