Shabbat Vayikra

Candles - Friday, March 16th @ 6:51pm
Havdalah - March 17th @ 7:40pm

Rosh Hodesh Nisan
Shabbat HaHodesh

The Book of Vayikra that we begin this week, introduces the subject of sacrifices. Something that was considered the natural way to worship God then, and still is in parts of the world today. But the idea no longer makes make much sense to us. Even the Biblical Prophets complained that the Israelites thought that giving sacrifices was more important than being a good person. That they could commit all sorts of crimes and think that coming to the Temple and sacrificing, would atone for their crimes.

In the English language, a sacrifice means giving up something (hopefully for a good reason). To sacrifice one’s pawn in a game of chess. To sacrifice one’s life for a cause. To sacrifice a career or a relationship. The Hebrew word for sacrifice, Korban, means to get closer to someone. You give in order to achieve something. Now we know full well that it is easy to give a present in the hope of getting love or preference in return. But the real achievement is to strengthen a relationship by giving of oneself, time, love, energy, effort.

In more primitive societies the simple act of giving an animal was regarded as the best way to show love or commitment. We do it to God by giving time, by communicating through prayer and meditation. And that is the lesson we can learn today from sacrifices.

The Torah divided sacrifices into three categories. The first was to demonstrate our commitment to God and to maintain the Sanctuary on behalf of the community. We do this now by supporting religious and communal institutions and Israel.

The Second was to atone for failures and mistakes. But as the Torah says, this only works if we really mean it. If it is just a way out, it is meaningless.

The third was to show gratitude to family, friends, those who help us and support for the poor.

But what really matters is the intent, the feeling. If a sacrifice, a donation, a present is just an act, without love or commitment, without the desire to be a better person, a better partner, a better friend, it is as misguided and pointless as thinking that money buys love.

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If you need to sell your Hametz at home or your office, please email me authorizing me to do it for you and specify the location of the Hametz.


Shabbat Vayakhel & Pekudei

Shabbat Parah
Shabbat Mevarhin Rosh Hodesh Nisan (next Shabbat)

Candles - March 9th @ 5:36pm
Havdalah - March 10th @ 6:32pm

The two combined parts of the Torah we read this week are all concerned with designing, building and dedicating the Tabernacle. It makes technical and dull reading unless you are an architect or an interior designer. But as always, beneath the surface, there are some important themes.

Whereas most of the Torah is concerned with personal behavior, moral and ethical values, this week we are concerned with community and the community buildings. Everyone, male and female, was involved in the construction in one way or another and the financing was based both on a communal tax and personal contributions of goods or skills. Honesty and trust, says the Torah, was the primary condition of both of the donors, the collectors and the contractors. The Mishkan was not just a building that housed the religious center but also the judicial. It was the symbol of Jewish life.

But as we know, putting up buildings will only achieve something of value, if what goes on inside is of value. Times change. The public buildings disappeared. What was left? Us!

That is why the rabbis called our homes a Mikdash Me’At, a mini Tabernacle. And what we learn from this is the qualities needed to construct the Tabernacle are those we need to build and decorate our homes. Spiritual as well as physical.

This is the secret of our survival now. Home life and home values, that require the same qualities, dedication, commitment, contribution, honesty and hard work as the Tabernacle did. And that is why every time the Torah describes the Tabernacle it also reiterates the command of Shabbat. For it is Shabbat that took priority over public life and encourages us to focus on being together, at home, with our families, to invest in our Jewish life.


Purim Wednesday Evening

The Persian Jewish Center will be
reading the Megillah this evening @ 6:30pm
at Park East Synagogue

There will also be a children's party and entertainment at 6pm
and a supper party for adults at 8pm

You Are Invited to my Weekly Classes

I invite you to join me for a weekly class after services and kiddush in the shul every Saturday afternoon at 12:30pm. The current topic is Rambam (Maimonides) on Tefillah (prayer).

You are also invited to my weekly "What the Bible Says and What It Doesn't" class at the JCC on Amsterdam and West 75th St every Monday from 1:30pm - 3:00pm.

Join Me @ jeremyrosen.com

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Shabbat Tetzaveh, Shabbat Zahor

Candles - Friday, February 23rd @ 5:20pm
Havdalah - February 24th @ 6:06pm

Special Kiddush is sponsored by Kayvan and Yassi Hakim
to celebrate the arrival of their granddaughter
Scarlett Yasmin Lalezarian, (Hebrew name Sarah)

Mazal Tov to parents Michelle and Michael

Fast of Esther Wednesday 5:24 am-6:06 pm
Purim Megillah 6:30pm

The Shabbat before Purim is always called Shabbat Zahor, the Shabbat to remember. We read from a second Sefer Torah, the part that records how Amalek attacked the Israelites as they came out of Egypt. Even though the Israelites intentionally diverted their route to avoid conflict. Amalek attacked from behind, the weak and the exhausted. The Israelites were forced to fight despite their lack of preparedness. And they won. The Torah then commands the Israelites to remember, to never forget Amalek. Whereas the Torah commanded the Israelites not to hate other tribes or even the Egyptians.

The reason was that Amalek represented baseless hatred, without cause. Other Canaanites might have had just cause to attack. Israel was after all threatening them. But Amalek had no cause.

Now Amalek as a tribe, disappeared, together with all Canaanites, during the Assyrian invasions and expulsions 2,700 years ago. There is no record of their existence after that time. But it is true that Haman, in the story of Purim, is called Haman the descendant of Agag, an Amalekite King mentioned in the book of Judges. So that although Amalek as a tribe does not exist, individuals who are the equivalent of Amalek, still do. Anyone who hates Jews for no valid reason.

And as we see, there are plenty of them still around. Which is why we celebrate Purim and remember Amalek in order to be strong and survive. After all the best reply to Hitler was that we survived him and are still here whereas his Thousand Year Empire is not.

Happy Purim!


Shabbat Terumah

Candles - Friday, February 16th @ 5:12pm
Havdalah - February 17th @ 6:08pm

In the Torah, we read about the construction of the tabernacle, as the focal point of the Israelite community. It was a temporary, collapsible structure. And it combined the role of the religious sanctuary with the judicial center and the political, of the people.

In the Haftarah, we jump from Moses, around three thousand three hundred years ago, to the time of King Solomon two thousand nine hundred years ago. He transferred the Tabernacle into the Temple which replaced it, but maintained its dual role.

The idea of a sanctuary, a holy place, as the center of our people has, since the destruction of the Second Temple been transferred into the idea that the text, the Bible and the Talmud are the core of our religious life as individuals and as a people.

But what we also learn this week is that everyone had to contribute to its construction. Each according to his or her skills, assets or ability. Everyone, as we would say nowadays, had to have skin in the game. It is only when everyone feels invested that we can flourish and survive. It is as true today as it was then even if the structures have disappeared or changed. It's the message that counts and our involvement that keeps it alive.


Shabbat Mishpatim, Shabbat Mevarhin, Shabbat Shekalim

Rosh Hodesh Adar - Thursday & Friday
Candles - Friday, February 9th 2 5:03pm
Havdalah - February 10th @ 6:00pm

Last week we read about the fundamental principles of Judaism. This week we begin the listing of the detailed laws of the “Jewish Constitution.” Thanks to archaeology and historical research, we can see that many of the laws in the Torah were already part of earlier codes in the Middle East and Egypt and elsewhere. The most famous is the Hammurabi Code which dates roughly to the time of Abraham and parts of it can be seen in the British Museum.

It is not surprising that laws existed long before Moses. After all civilizations around the world date back thousands and hundreds of thousands of years. They might have been pagan, but they still had laws of various kinds. Even the Torah itself tells us about early laws like those that applied to Noah and pre-existed Sinai.

If so what was unique about Israelite laws? In earlier codes, different standards applied to different classes and sexes within the society. Aristocrats were treated much more favorably than the poor or servants. Men had privileges over women. The greatness of the Torah constitution was its civil law treatment of everyone, including strangers, equally under the law. Yes, there were differences in regard to ritual and temple service, certain tasks allocated only to priests. And women and men although treated equally in terms of status were certainly not equal in the way are now in the free, modern world. Outsiders did not have the same privileges unless they became citizens, but they were protected in ways that Jews under Christianity and Islam were not.

But to me the important difference was the introduction of a dual system, of Justice and Charity. Mishpat and Tsedek. Sometimes the law can seem rigid and inhuman. By insisting on care, concern for humanity as well as the law itself you combine the two core principles that made the Torah unique. Important as law is, humanity even more important. We need both. Either without the other is inadequate as we can see in our society how often the best of laws can go wrong or be applied unfairly.


Shabbat Yitro

Candles - Friday, February 2nd @ 4:55pm
Havdalah - February 3rd @ 5:51 pm

The last of the Ten Commandments, the Aseret HaDibrot is “Lo Tahmod.” It has for hundreds of years been translated into English as “Do not covet.” A strange word that we rarely use nowadays. What does it really mean?

The Hebrew word literally means to desire something, passionately or lustfully. So, is the Torah telling us we should not desire someone else’s wife or property? That, after all, is just a thought, a mental process. And the Torah does not punish us for our thoughts. Of course, there can be bad thoughts. They can be very destructive. And mystically, having bad thoughts, like mixing in bad company, or even depression, can have a very negative effect on us. But is this commandment Lo Tahmod about thoughts alone?

No, it isn’t. The Talmud says that the punishable offence is when you take steps, actions to take something you desire that belongs to someone else, away from them. By encouraging them, say, to divorce their wife so that you can marry her, or get someone to sell a building reluctantly because it helps your portfolio. The actions count much more than the thought.

Even so, the thought is wrong morally. We respect private property and we respect relationships. We might like the look of someone else’s car or dog. We can appreciate nice people and nice things. Appreciation and desire are two different emotions.

But if we desire what is not ours, then we are going against the Torah. The Torah wants us to be good people. Good for ourselves and good for others. Not to envy what others have. That's why in addition to laws there are also moral principles and correct positive thoughts in the Torah.


Shabbat Beshalah

Friday, January 26th - Candles @ 4:46pm
January 27th - Havdalah @ 5:42pm

Kiddush & Luncheon to welcome Zoe Tate Gohari

The Children of Israel leave Egypt and they come up against the Red Sea. No tunnels or bridges. How are they going to get across? And to make matters worse, the Egyptian army is pursuing them and getting closer. They are trapped and desperate. They turn to Moses who asks God what to do. God says, “Don’t cry out to me. Start moving.”

Which sounds strange to us because we have been brought up to think precisely that. That when things get tough we pray. We do indeed pray to God for help.

So here they were doing what they were expected to do. But God says to Moses, “Stop praying to me, just get on with it.” He tells Moses to stretch out his arm with the staff over the waters and they begin to part. And the children of Israel cross to safety.

The Rabbinic commentators tell us more than the text. They suggest that even after Moses raised his hand the water began to recede, but slowly. It did not suddenly turn into hard dryland. Still, no one had the courage to step into the water. Who was going to be the first to jump in? Who was prepared to lead? It took one person to take the decision to act, a man called Nahshon Ben Aminadav, the brother in law of Aaron. He jumped in and when everyone saw that he did not drown, they followed.

It makes me think of our own community. Joe has jumped in to lead and buy a building. It is up to the rest of us to follow.


Shabbat Bo

Candles - Friday, January 19th @ 4:38pm
Havdalah - January 20th @ 5:34pm

Just before the final plague results in Pharaoh allowing the Hebrew slaves to leave, God instructs Moses to give the first religious commands to the Hebrew people as a whole. It is the command to keep the Pesah in Egypt with special laws that will only apply to that specific night. The Children of Israel had to daub the blood of the Pesah sacrifice on their doorposts. They had to eat the sacrifice dressed in their travelling clothes with their shoes on their feet and staff in hand. They would not be allowed to leave any food left over and to roast it in such a way as to ensure there would be no need to wash up pots and pans afterwards. And the meat would have to be eaten together in the family with Matzah and bitter herbs. And it would have to be eaten in a hurry, ready to leave at a moment’s notice.

The Torah specifically says four times “when your children ask you why” (three times here and a fourth in Devarim, which is why four sons ask four questions on the Seder Night). And you, the parents, have to reply and answer them. The rituals are really just tools to hang ideas on. To remind them of our history, of our traditions.

Our survival is due to our passing on the traditions from one generation to the next. But it doesn’t happen automatically. We should not rely on schools to do that. And we should not just command obedience. We need to encourage. We as parents have a personal obligation to know in order to transmit. But think of it. Most religions require obedience without question. But we encourage questions. We encourage debate and education. We like to be challenged.

The sad fact is that nowadays too few parents have the knowledge to respond to their children. And as a result, most Seder nights do not involve discussion or debate. We think only of the food and some strange customs and rituals. But in truth the food is secondary. It's the message of survival of overcoming setbacks and opposition that we have always encountered that has made us strong. The rituals are ways of reminding us and reinforcing our identity and making things more meaningful.


Shabbat Vayeyra

Candles - Friday, January 12th @ 4:30pm
Havdalah - January 13th @ 5:29pm

Kiddush this week kindly sponsored by the Dror family.
Everyone is welcome, and please bring your friends.

Before the plagues begin, God tells Moshe, “I am going to make you a god to Pharaoh.” Everyone needs some certainty, some greater power or value than themselves. Pharaoh thought his Egyptian gods were that certainty. But God told Moses that in the end, when Pharaoh lost confidence in his own system, he would come to realize that Moses was greater than he was.

The ten plagues slowly but steadily undermine Pharaoh’s supreme and absolute authority. All the things he relied upon to sustain him as the most powerful human being of his era, were attacked. Starting with his dependence on magic, then the River Nile and from water to land, then air, until finally death. All the things they depended on. Everything they had faith in. The process was one of removing all sense of control over the universe. How else could a nation of downtrodden slaves challenge the mightiest power?

But as we have seen, it is possible for the most incompetent, venal and cruel despots to hang on to power. After the plague of locusts, the servants of Pharaoh said to him “How long will we be held to ransom by these people. Let them go and worship YHVH their God before Egypt is destroyed.” Pharaoh could maintain his grip on power through force and fear. But once the ordinary people begin to doubt him and wonder whether he knows what he is doing, the end is in sight.

Even so, the Torah describes a process that takes time. Bad people and bad States do not always change right away. Slavery in Egypt lasted for three hundred years. The Roman Empire lasted for some four hundred years. Communists controlled Russia from 1917 till 1991. Venezuela has been suffering and Chavez and Maduro since 1997 and Iran under the Mullahs since 1979. But when the masses begin to rebel, the end is inevitable even if it takes time.


Shabbat Shemot

Candles - January 5th @ 4:23pm
Havdalah - January 6th @ 5:20pm

Pharaoh’s daughter is a remarkable character in a period of amazing, strong women. Ziporah , Moses’s wife supported and protected him. Yoheved, Moses’s mother defied the order not to have male children or to kill them. Miriam his sister played a role in keeping an eye on him in his hiding place and then acted as an intermediary to ensure that Moses was taken care of by his mother. Not to mention the midwives.

Pharaoh’s daughter defied her father. She knew Moses was an Israelite baby but adopted him as her own. Interestingly there is a debate as to whether the name Moses was Egyptian, based on an ancient Egyptian word for water, Moos. This is why the Midrash says that he also had a Hebrew name which was Yekutiel. Other Midrashim say that he had seven different names and each one of his family called him a different one. Or whether Moses was a Hebrew name that she intentionally gave him. As the Torah says, deriving from the Hebrew ”to pull out” of the water. In which case where did she learn Hebrew?

Much later, in the Book of Chronicles, Pharaoh’s daughter is called Bitya, the Daughter of God. A nice Jewish name. When she went down to the river it was as part of the ceremony of conversion and the river was a Mikvah. She had already committed to Judaism when she found Moses and brought him up to know his background and to be a leader of his people. Which is why the Torah said that although he was brought in the Palace, he went out to see what was happening to “his people".

Imagine the courage it must have taken to defy the most powerful monarch in earth. This story is part of an important theme of how crucial women have always been in the struggle for Jewish survival. It is not just the personal character and fortitude of women but also their roles in determining the character of the home. Which is why marrying someone committed to the religion for its own sake is so essential for Jewish survival.