Posted by: jdiscover | July 2, 2010

A Little More Zeal – Please

This week’s Parasha, Pinchas, begins with Pinchas being rewarded for his quick, zealous action, killing an Israelite and a Midianite woman who were consorting and worshipping Baal.  He will be the High Priest and his descendants after him.

 We are all uncomfortable with Pinchas’s zeal and the Torah’s reward.  Zeal, we know, is dangerous and destructive.  History is filled with cruel acts caused by zealousness.  The Crusades, the Inquisition, pogroms, 9-11, homicide bombers, and the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, all were acts of zealousness.  Not only are we disturbed by Pinchas’s act, some commentators suggest that perhaps even God disapproved. God’s gift of a covenant of peace to Pinchas, some suggest, is a response to his violent act.  God gave him the rules and boundaries associated with the Priesthood so that he would not again be consumed by his zealotry. Pinchas’s zealotry is replaced with serenity; God’s “pact of shalom.” 

Unbridled zeal is dangerous, but so is a lack of a passion.  American Jewry doesn’t suffer from over zealousness, but from a lack of zeal.  If religion means anything it must mean commitment and passion.  More than a sense of obligation, Jewish survival requires enthusiasm.  We must be motivated and excited to play our part in the Jewish future.  We cannot be detached observers, we must be active, engaged participants. Our zealousness, tempered by serene faith, should burn brightly in our hearts and our deeds.

 Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | June 25, 2010

The Afterlife

This week the Basic Judaism class I teach, Gateways to Judaism, took up the subject of  Jewish views on the afterlife. After these classes I wrote a piece on the same subject for the website Jewish Values Online ( I attach here my thoughts:

We read in the Mishna (circa 200 CE) in the Tractate Pirkei Avot (Sayings of Our Ancestors) a number of statements affirming the existence of an Olam HaBah – A World to Come. Teaches Rabbi Jacob; “This world is like a foyer leading the world to come. Prepare yourself in the foyer, so that you may enter into the inner chamber (Pirkei Avot 4:1).” And teaches Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappar; “The ones who were born are to die and the ones who have lived are to be brought to life again, and the ones who are brought to life are to be summoned to judgment… (ibid 4:29).”
For more than 2,000 years this belief in an afterlife and its combined concept of judgment has been an important part of Jewish thought. Our tradition teaches that the righteous of all peoples have a place in this afterlife. Our vision of this eternal life is not exclusive. Nor is it clearly and definitively imagined in its detail. Jewish thinkers in every age have speculated as to the particulars of this world to come. The great abundance of different imaginings as to the nature of eternal life reminds us that we will not be able to comprehend this future existence until the end of our days – may they be blessed and long.
Along with this belief in a world to come, Jewish life has always emphasized the greater importance of this world – of the here and now.
The same Rabbi Jacob who calls this existence a “foyer” says; “Richer is one hour of repentance and good works in this world than all of life in the world to come; and richer is one hour’s calm of spirit in the world to come than all of life of this world (ibid 4:22).” With this paradoxical statement I believe that Rabbi Jacob is encouraging us to be in the moment, to make the most of our time in this world by focusing on the here and now. Yes, he is saying, there is an afterlife, but before you get there remember that each hour of life is an opportunity to bring goodness into this world. While we are yet living, the existence of the world to come should not be of ultimate importance.
I find this viewpoint to be exceptionally meaningful and important. The promise of an afterlife is a powerful force. This assurance has inspired many to acts of great goodness but it has also led to much troubling evil. All too often in days past and in our own day brutal acts have been justified as being ways to paradise. Judaism, in focusing on acts of goodness in this world, in believing in a hereafter open to the righteous of all faiths and in encouraging a multiplicity of viewpoints as to the nature of life eternal has made this belief a blessing for one and all.  Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose
BTW – My next cycle of Gateways to Judaism starts on July 6. It will meet at Beth El in Bethesda. This is a great class, if I may say so myself, for “the wondering and wandering”, interfaith couples and others of all backgrounds of faiths interested in exploring Jewish wisdom and practice. If you are interested or know anyone who may be sen them my way 
Posted by: jdiscover | June 18, 2010

Magic, Superstition and Ritual

Italian footballer (soccer player), Gennaro Gattuso, declared “Every day (of the 2006 World Cup) I wore the same sweater than I’d worn the first day of the competition. I was sweating buckets and in a terrible mood because I couldn’t bring myself to take it off.”

Many other players also have a rather unhygienic superstition of wearing the same underwear during every game. Other rituals include wearing bandages in certain spots, not shooting practice goals and even urinating on the football pitch.

Fans too are also gripped by ritual. Says, Malkudi, ““Before every game, I usually kiss my girlfriend 3 times, and strangely we’ve won every game I’ve done that, and we’ve either drawn or lost every game I did not do it. Writes, Vinni, “I kiss my TV before every match.  I came late for the final of the and didn’t kiss my TV and we lost.” (CNN, Connect the World, June 9, 2010)

Sports bring out some rather strange magic! Magic, a belief that some unique action performed in the correct manner at a specific time or an object (rabbit’s foot) can force a desired outcome. But magic is not just for the football pitch or baseball diamond. At first glance there is plenty of magic in this week’s Parasha – Chukkat.  A rock brings forth water, when spoken to or hit by a special rod. And a statue of a serpent, when gazed upon, cures those bitten by poisonous snakes.

Does the Torah believe in magic?

I think not! Rather, I think the Torah is teaching us that we cannot force God’s hand. The first time a rock gives forth water it comes about when Moses hits it with his rod. This time he is commanded to speak to the rock. The change of procedure teaches that it is not the act that causes the water, but God. And it is God, not a sorcerer, who directs Moses to make the serpent figure and it is God, who heals.

The act, the object or the symbol have no power. As we read in the Mishnah, “But could the serpent slay or keep alive? It is rather to teach you that when the Israelites directed their thoughts on high and subjected their hearts to their Father on High, that they were healed.” (Rosh ha-Shanah 3:8)

Rituals in of themselves, be they kissing the TV or the Torah, have no power. Their power exists only when they point us beyond the act or the object. In other words they are symbolic. Symbols must not become the objects of our worship or belief. As Albert Einstein said; “Most mistakes in philosophy and logic occur because the human mind is apt to take the symbol for the reality.”

We honor the Torah, we celebrate its teachings. The power of Torah comes not from magic but from the direction and meaning it gives to our lives.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | June 11, 2010

Be A Giver!

This week’s Torah reading begins, “And Korach…took…” the text does not indicate what exactly he took.  Many translations understand that he took his followers, but literally, the words indicate limitless open-ended taking.  Some of us are givers, Korach, was a taker. 

Korach wanted power and control. With Korach the traffic was all one way. Korach challenges Moses leadership of the people because he wanted the benefits of being in charge – the prestige, the perks and the honor. What he didn’t want were the responsibilities. He wanted to be above the community. He had no interest in contributing to the welfare of his community. 

To be part of community is, as the preamble to our constitution puts it; “to promote the general Welfare.” Korach was not interested in the general welfare, his interest was his welfare. 

In my opinion, America today has too many Korachs. Too many citizens, people of means and influence, who are takers and not givers. We have too many individuals, politicians and groups who worry only about their own power and influence. We live in a time when the political and societal gaps are increasing and becoming more extreme and divisive. One “interest group” after another places their interests, like Korach, above the interest of the whole.

 Please do not misunderstand me; I believe that lively debate is healthy for society. Moses welcomes the advice and even the prophecies of others. What he and God cannot tolerate is an individual, like Korach, who takes from others without giving in return. Teaches our Torah, only those who demonstrate concern for “the general Welfare” should be able to exercise influence. Concern and responsibility for society must be a common denominator for all leaders be they political, financial or opinion leaders.

 What do you think? Do we have leaders and institutions who are responsible only for their own welfare? What are we to do about it?

 Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | June 4, 2010

The Only Moral Road: The Gaza Blockade

I don’t wish suffering on anyone. Embargos, sanctions and closures do cause shortages and deprivations. They do harm innocent civilians – but they are, unfortunately, at times, absolutely necessary!

 We all know this. We all understood this necessity when the United States put Saddam Hussein’s regime under an embargo. No ‘peace activists’ to my knowledge, tried to break the Allies’ blockades of Germany and Japan during WWII. We all, I believe, realize that ‘crippling sanctions’ are essential in attempting to stop Iran from creating deliverable nuclear warheads. In fact we hope that sanctions are sufficient to stop Ahmadinejad, for if they are not, millions of civilians will suffer much greater harm than that created by a sanction regime.  

 Israel has absolutely no choice but to enforce an embargo on Gaza. The Hamas leaders of Gaza have made absolutely clear that they are committed to the destruction of Israel. They have demonstrated this commitment by firing more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians; including many this past week. Israel does send 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid into Gaza each week; but unexamined cargo? What country would commit such suicide?

 I am deeply saddened by the loss of life on the Gaza flotilla. I am terribly pained by the human suffering caused by Hamas in Gaza. But I recognize that until Israel has a partner for peace in Gaza, Israel’s naval blockade is the only moral alternative.

 If you agree, share this blog, comment or write your own. Let your feelings be known to one and all. We must all stand with Israel at this difficult time!

 Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | May 28, 2010

Views on; Israel, Aliyah and Palestinians

I was asked by a teenager to briefly share my views on Israel, Aliyah and Palestinians. I thought others might find my responses of interest and I am very curious about your reactions, so please comment.

1)  Israel – Judaism is much more than a religion. It is the civilization of the Jewish people. We are a ‘people’ in many different ways. One of the attributes of our peoplehood is that we have always been connected to and by the land of Israel. Our dispersions in 586 BCE and 70 CE did not destroy us or our bonds with each other in large part because of our ties to this land. For the almost 2,000 years of our dispersion, of our persecutions and of our successes in many lands we survived largely because we believed that we would return to our land. We prayed for this return, we faced towards Israel in prayer. When it was possible we visited or moved there – we always kept a presence in the land. In the 19th Century when emancipation opened doors to the larger world for us we discovered that we would rarely (or many places; never) be fully accepted if we wished to retain our unique identity. Our survival, spiritually and physically, as a people required not only a dream of return to our land but an actual rebuilding of our people in our land. The tragic events of the 20th C. only made clear the necessity of a physical homeland. We live in miraculous times when the dream of 2,000 years has come true. No longer will our destiny be determined by others but we will shape our own future.   
2)  Aliyah – Making aliyah is a very important mitzvah. We are able to fulfill many mitzvot only in our land. Being part of modern Israel is a gift to the Jewish future. There are, however, many mitzvot that each of us is unable for different reasons to do. Also Jews outside of Israel have an important role in defending and supporting Israel. Judaism which survived in the diaspora for 2,000 years will always have a diaspora. These communities outside of Israel are strengthened and supported by the existence of Israel. Every Jew who for whatever reasons is unable to move to Israel must try to visit, making Aliyah, for short periods; so that they understand what it means to be Jewish in this miraculous time.
3)  The Palestinians – The conflict with the Palestinians is a terribly unfortunate and needless outcome of our return. From the beginning of our return to our land we have tried to coexist with those who inhabited the land for centuries. Our desire for mutually coexistence has been rebuffed countless times. The Palestinian peoples have been used as pawns by their Arab cousins to prevent and then, to uproot the Jewish return. Their turning to violence and an inability to compromise has further hardened and deepened the conflict. Some say that this conflict will never be resolved and that Israel must therefore focus only on security. I believe that Israel must, while being concerned about security, continually demonstrate its desire for coexistence, even when this requires some sacrifice. Our dream is not only for our land but also to live in it in peace.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | May 21, 2010

God’s Smile

This past Wednesday, Shavuot, we reenacted the blessing of receiving Torah. On this Shabbat, in Parashat Naso, we receive the text of the priestly blessing. We learn how the kohanim, the priests are to bless us, the people of Israel. Today this threefold blessing is still used by the kohanim and it is recited by parents when they bless their children on Friday nights.

The blessing is usually translated as; “The Lord bless you and protect you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you! The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6: 24 -26) Blessings, protection, kindness, grace, favor and peace; a very good blessing indeed! As individuals and as parents we all hope that we and our children are blessed in these ways. A more exacting translation, though, yields important additional blessings we are requesting.  

Robert Alter in his translation of this passage writes; “May the Lord bless you and guard you. May the Lord light up His face to you and grant grace to you; May the Lord lift up His face to you and give you peace.”

I am intrigued by the phrases; “light up His face” and “lift up His face.” What does this mean? Surely the Torah does not wish that we think that God has a face! What images are these metaphors meant to evoke?

As a parent I find that my face has a unique smile, it is “lit up” when my children choose to follow the teachings and practices I and my wife have tried to instill in them. When I discover that “they got it,” that they, of their own volition, have made Torah and mitzvot a part of their lives my face “lights up.” And when they go further, when they teach me with their actions; I “lift my face!” Taking note, with pride and admiration of how they have grown into their own, unique, Jewish lives, lifts my heart and head.

Read this way, the blessing God is seeking for each of us is that we choose to live out the teachings of God’s Torah, bringing to God a smile of pleasure. And as we in living the Torah give it new meanings and purpose may we make God proud.

May it be so! May we and the generations to come bring, so to speak, a bright smile to God’s face by living the Torah passed down to us! May we and the generations to come make the Torah new so that God is proud of our accomplishments!

What does this blessing mean to you?

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | May 14, 2010

No One is a Number!

When we count for a minyan, the quorum of ten, needed for the public recitation of certain prayers, we do so in a very strange way. Some count by saying; “Nisht ein, nisht drei… Not one, not two…” Others use a biblical verse with 10 words, assigning a word to each individual. Some have adopted an American version, counting each person with; “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light.” The key to all of these systems is that – no one is a number!

So what are we to make of this week’s Torah Portion? This Shabbat we begin the Book of Numbers. Moses is commanded to take a census; to count the Israelites.

A close examination of the command reveals that Moses too is instructed to count in a unique respectful way. God charges Moses; “Siu et rosh kol adat b’nai Yisrael…Lift up each head of the community of Israel.” The people are not to be simply counted. The census is to be conducted in a manner that lifts up each head. The census takers are to look each person in the eyes, noticing their unique individuality as part of the counting. In fact the Midrash explains, each person was asked their name. No one is a number!

The commentary “Beit Aharon” beautifully explains: “Each person must know and think that he is unique in his/her own way, and that there never was anyone like him/her before…. In truth everyone is a new creation in the world…. Not only must we recognize the uniqueness of every other individual; we must also discover our own uniqueness and the special contribution which it is our privilege to make.”

As we start the Book of Numbers, as a census is being taken in our day, let us each be reminded of this central Jewish teaching to the world – everyone has a name. Each and every person we interact with is a unique creation of God and is to be treated in a manner that “lifts up their head.” And we too should lift up our own heads, standing tall and proud of our own uniqueness. No one is a number!

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | April 9, 2010

Clergy Misconduct

Priestly misconduct is both in our current news and in our Torah Portion.

 Today the Associated press reported; “Norway’s Catholic Church has received new allegations of clergy abuse….” Hardly a day has past in the last months without the revelation of additional clergy violations of their authority.

In this week’s Parasha we read that Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, the high priest; “offered before the Lord alien fire, which he had not enjoined upon them.” Nadab and Abihu are severly punished for their violation; they are consumed by a fire from the Lord. Biblical commentators have debated throughout the ages the nature of their sin. Were they intoxicated? Did they perform some pagan ritual? Did they usurp their father’s authority? Was it excessive piety? Or was their grave sin some other infraction? All these and many other speculations describe their crime as a violation of their priestly role. Nadab and Abihu ignored some important boundary.

I wonder; why do some priests/clergy, those we have entrusted with moral authority, breach the trust we have bestowed upon them? Do clergy sin more often than others? Or are they under greater scrutiny or stress? Is it just that their sins receive international publicity or is something else going on here?  

It seems to me that religious authority is a powerful force in life. Like any force, physical, emotional and spiritual, it can be used as a wonderful blessing for society or as a destructive curse. We structure boundaries in life to contain and direct all such powerful energy. To be a member of the clergy is to be ever mindful of this potent influence. Individual clergy members must be trained to use their authority with great caution. They must be constantly vigilant that they are using their sacred trust for blessing. And clergy associations and religious hierarchies must structure programs and procedures to monitor their officials. God had no tolerance for Nadab and Abihu’s violation neither should we!

What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi David Rose

Posted by: jdiscover | April 2, 2010

How Was Your Seder?

Inquiring minds would love to know; How was (were) your Seder (Sdarim)? What was the best part?

The Seder is an amazing experience! Year after year, generation after generation we have gathered around our Seder tables, sharing our Jewish narrative, our personal Jewish journeys, much laughter and great food.

If I may say so myself; I and my family enjoyed outstanding Sdarim this year. Of course there was the company, the laughter and the food to enjoy, but my favorite part was, as it always is, the questions. Every year the same basic text and every year new and penetrating queries! The questions make the Seder fresh, personal and deeply meaningful.  There is no Seder without questions.

Our sages teach; even the person who is alone for Seder (God forbid!) must ask him/herself the questions. Why? I think that questions are central to freedom. Asking questions leads to acquiring information. Information broadens the mind, shares new perspectives and opens one to the world. The opposite of freedom, teaches our tradition, is Mitzrayim. Mitzrayim, the word usually translated as Egypt, means, literally, the ‘narrows or confines’. A person whose body or whose mind is confined is never truly free. Knowledge is liberating, even to the one who is physically restrained. The leaders of China certainly understand this truth. They wish to limit access to Google, because they know that the more their people are able to search online for answers to their questions, that is, the more they are informed, the more they will demand their freedom.

Questions are always the start of a journey to freedom. They are my favorite part of the Seder. What was your favorite part of the Seder this year?

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach! Rabbi David Rose

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