Help Make a Difference for Congo

Mar 31, 2011 at 10:03 PM

As many of you know, we care very much about the people of Congo and desperately want to see peace in the war torn country. 5.4 million Congolese have died and 200,000 women have been raped in our world's deadliest war since WWII. In November Congo will be holding only the third election in the country's history. Human rights groups, political experts, and concerned individuals around the world are joining Congolese in calling for free and fair elections. For far too long the world's deadliest war, and many of the other issues affecting the people of Congo have been largely ignored by our government. It is time the U.S. appoints a special envoy to Congo! We absolutely need to monitor the elections, work to end the war, and speak of for the people of this great country.

Please join us in signing this petition (it literally only takes one minute). This petition is not like all petitions. If it's successful, it could actually be a huge step towards peace in a war torn land.

Please sign it, share it, and help us reach 200,000 signatures in 5 days! Sign the Petition HERE!

To find our more about Congo or the upcoming elections visit the FALLING WHISTLES website (

Help end the war in Congo and be a whistle blower for peace!

Yad L'Achim Exposed

at 9:18 PM

This last week Israel's Channel 1 News aired a special investigative report on the anti-missionary organization, Yad L'Achim. The group is responsible for regular acts of harassment and violence against religious minorities in Israel, especially Messianic Jews. There is even a link between Yad L'Achim and the Jewish terrorist Jack Teitell who is currently being held for multiple acts of hate and violence, including planting the bomb that nearly killed a young Messianic Jewish teenager.

Along with the growth and influence of Yad L'Achim in recent years, there has also been an increase in its chutzpah. It is now taking upon itself to stalk and harass Israeli citizens who are not even connected to a religious minority.

The most telling part of the video is Yad L'Achim's founder, Rabbi Dov Lipshitz, responding to the inquiries of the reporter with the comment:

"The government is using democracy in order to not do what it is supposed to do. They need to decide if this is a Jewish country or a democracy. But they don't always go together - They are not friends."

And all of this is with the full support if Israel's Ministry of Interior. Many Israelis are joining with the voices of Israel's Messianic Jews and others in speaking out against this hate-group.

Watch the Channel 1 News special report here:

Quote of the Day: The Sacrificial System

Mar 30, 2011 at 3:54 PM
"The darkness of the sacrificial order must not be ignored. In sacrifice, man alleviates the darkness of his situation ... Sacrificial Judaism brings the truth of human existence into the Temple. It does not leave it outside its portals. It does not reserve sacred ground only for silent worship. Instead, the bruiting bleeding, dying animal is brought and shown to G-d. This is what our fate is. It is not so much, as is usually said, that we deserved the fate of the dying animal and that we have been permitted to escape this fate by transferring it to the animal. It is rather that our fate and the animal's are the same because its end awaits us, since our eyes, too, will soon gaze as blindly as his and be fixated in deathly attention on what only the dead seem to see and never the living. In the Temple, therefore, it is man who stands before G-d, not man as he would like to be or as he hopes he will be, but as he truly is now, in the realization that he is the object that is his body and that his blood will soon enough flow from his body as well. The subject thus sees himself as a dying object. Enlightened religion recoils from with horror from the thought of sacrifice, preferring a spotless house of worship filled with organ music and exquisitely polite behavior. The price paid for such decorum is that the worshiper must leave the most problematic part of his self outside the temple, to reclaim it when the service is over and to live with it unencumbered by sanctification. Religion ought not to demand such dismemberment of man."

-Dr. Michael Wyschogrod, from his classic book, The Body of Faith, p. 18-19.

Holy Cow!

Mar 25, 2011 at 9:33 AM

Shabbat Parah

This week is a special Shabbat, called Shabbat Parah. It is named after the special maftir reading from Numbers 19 that describes the process for sacrificing the Red Heifer. This portion is always read before the beginning of the Jewish month of Nissan.

In biblical times, every person was required to bring a Korban Pesach, a Passover Sacrifice on the eve of Passover that was to be eaten during the Seder. However, only people who were ritually pure were able to partake of it. Therefore, right before the month of Nissan (the month in which Passover falls) a public announcement would be made that every person who had become impure must purify themselves, and be extremely careful not to become impure before Passover.

The parah aduma (red heifer) represents the quintessential chok (divine decree without any seeming rationale). The ashes of the Red Heifer were used for purification. Through the death of a calf, the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and those who served were purified and ritually cleansed to serve in the presence of G-d. The ashes were also used to purify someone who became ritually impure through contact with a dead body.

In Likutei Halachot, Rebbe Nachman explains why this special portion (Shabbat Parah) is read after Purim. In the course of our victory over Haman-Amalek, we become defiled through contact with death and evil, and need to be purified. The Sfat Emet further explains that tumat met (impurity from the dead) is a function of mortality, which entered the world as a result of the primordial sin of Adam who ate from the tree of knowledge. According to Rabbi Zvi Leshem, man’s desire to be all knowing like G-d, placing the value of knowledge over that of faith, led to his downfall, bringing death and impurity into the world. Ritual purity comes through the willingness to serve HaShem even in a reality permeated by doubts and confusion.

On this Shabbat Parah we focus on a cow. Although this does not make any sense to our rational minds in the modern age, there are significant reasons. For it is not about us, but about HaShem. The purpose of the red heifer is to to bring forth purification and life where there seems only death.

The New Rabbi

Mar 21, 2011 at 2:31 PM

The New Rabbi by Stephen Fried is an absolute MUST READ! I recently finished the book and have been recommending it to a number of other rabbis and leaders. I originally came across the book a few years ago. However, a recent leadership decision prompted me to pick-up the book and read it.

Written by an award-winning investigative journalist, the book chronicles the politics of community, the power of inspirational leaders, the retail business of religion, the yearning for spirituality, and the wonderfully complicated world of American Jews.

Although a work of non-fiction, the book reads like a novel - full of excitement, intrigue, and emotion. Stephen Fried is able to write a book that pulls you into the story and gives you a glimpse into the search process of finding a new rabbi.

The center of this compelling chronicle is Har Zion Temple in Philadelphia, which for the last eighty years has been one of the largest and most influential congregations in America. For thirty years Rabbi Gerald Wolpe was its spiritual leader - a brilliant sermonizer of wide renown. But with the announcement of his retirement, a remarkable nationwide search process is begun. The story of how such a congregation searches for a new leader is largely unknown to the lay world. During this dramatic moment, Wolpe agreed to give extraordinary access to Fried, inviting him - and the reader - into the intense personal and professional life of the clergy and the complex behind-the-scenes life of a major Conservative congregation. The result is a front-row seat at the usually clandestine process of choosing a new rabbi - as what was expected to be a simple search for a successor nearly tears a venerable congregation apart.

If you are part of a search committee looking for a new congregational leader, if you are currently a congregational leader looking to retire, or if you are a newly hired young leader - this book is for you. And even if you are none-of-the-above, but are intrigued at the inner workings of the clergy and the politics of congregational life, you too will enjoy this quick, easy to read, and well-written book.

And make sure to read the paperback which has a new afterward which gives an update on the congregation, the rabbi, and many of the other individuals in the book.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Pick it up and let me know what you think!

Harassment in Arad

Mar 20, 2011 at 9:19 PM

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about the
hate-fest in Ashdod directed against Messianic Jews in the city. Recently, similar protests have been held in another Israeli city, Arad. Going back to 2006, Arad has been the location of many violent acts directed against Messianic Jews, especially by the Gur Chassidim. Messianic Jews have been harassed, fired from their jobs, physically attacked, and protested against. This is despite the fact that Messianic Jews are faithful citizens, contribute to the greater good of the country, serve in elite military units, own businesses, and even serve in the government.

Yet, there are individuals and groups within Israel who violently oppose Messianic Jews. Below is a recent news segment from Israel's Channel 1 News on the demonstrations in Arad directed toward Messianic Jews:

Purim: A Sudden Reversal

Mar 18, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Shabbat Zachor

The Shabbat that precedes Purim is called Shabbat Zachor – the Shabbat of Remembrance. For on this Shabbat, there is an added maftir (a different concluding reading) and a different Haftarah reading because we are to recall the Torah command to blot out the memory of the Amalekites.

The sages recognized the direct connection between the command to blot out the memory of Amalek (Deut. 25:17-19) and Purim. Haman, the chief villain of the Purim story is a descendent of Agag (see Esther 3:1). And we learn from the special Haftarah reading this week (1 Samuel 15:1-34) that this is King Agag, the king of the Amalekites during the reign of King Saul.

Thus, the rabbis maintained that this portion should be read right before Purim because Haman was an Amalekite – a descendent of King Agag. Haman continued the same hatred against the Jewish people as his ancestors, the Amalekites, did. Therefore, Purim is not just a deliverance from Haman the individual, but a deliverance from Amalek.

In her commentary on, Alana Vincent raised an additional interesting question regarding the Torah command to “remember what Amalek did to you … (Deut. 25:17)”:

“What does it mean to remember? How on earth am I supposed to remember something that happened thousands of years ago, to someone else? How can we both remember and blot out the remembrance of Amalek? Why go through such terrible mental contortions at all—isn’t it better to just forget?”

Amalek and Purim represent a clear biblical theme of sudden reversal - when G-d turns everything upside down. After all, with all of this talk of wiping out the Amalekites, and the threatened destruction of the Jewish people mentioned in the book of Esther … why do we celebrate? Why is Purim associated with so much joy? As Alana asks, isn’t it better to just forget?

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair points out that the only difference between a tragedy and a comedy is the ending. The book of Esther is written in the classic style of a comedy. The whole tragedy is turned upside down, Haman is hung on the enormous gallows he himself built, the Jewish people are saved, thousands of Persians convert to Judaism, and a Jewish girl becomes queen of what is now modern day Iran. The irony of the book should be evident.

And yet, Rabbi Sinclair adds that this is what it will be like with the coming of Messiah. It will be a sudden reversal. “When Mashiach comes, he will come in an instant and things will be turned upside down in a second just like Purim.”

We must always remember … and … never forget. We must never forget our past and struggles, and yet we must remember that redemption is near, for Mashiach is coming.

Chag Sameach!

Quote of the Day

Mar 16, 2011 at 9:08 AM

The Rabbis teach that in messianic times, "when all the other festivals will be abolished, Purim will remain." (Midrash Mishle 9:2) Why?

Why is this strange, party-strewn, hero and villain tale so powerful that it must never disappear? Perhaps the secret is that Purim is the only holiday set aside for laughter. Skits, sketches, revelry, joking — these are all part of Purim. Purim occurs in Adar, the month when, the Rabbis tells us, we are invariably joyful. Of all the things that mark human life — pain, seeking, questioning, spirituality, hope — could it be that laughter alone abides?

In the Talmud, (Ta'anit 22a) we read that a certain Rav Beroka once met Elijah the prophet in the marketplace. Visitations from Elijah are periodically recorded in rabbinic literature. Elijah brings wisdom and counsel to this world. Rav Beroka asks who of those in the marketplace will inherit the world to come. Elijah points to two men.

Rav Beroka wants to figure out what accomplishment separates these two from their fellows. "What is your occupation?" Rav Beroka asks.

They answer: "We are jesters. We make the sad laugh, and when we see two people arguing, we try to make peace between them." Happy Purim, forever.

-Rabbi David Wolpe from this week's "Off the Pulpit."

Esther the Superhero

Mar 15, 2011 at 7:20 PM

What little girl doesn't want to wear a Queen Esther costume for Purim? She's the paragon of our every dream - the beauty of all Jewish beauties, the savior of the Jewish people, the dutiful niece of great Mordechai ...

I remember feeling slightly competitive with the other little girls in my shul when they showed up in Esther costumes, as well. The nerve! I'm the daughter of the President of the Board. Doesn't she know better?!?! In defense, I adopted Vashti as my Purim alter ego, and imagined her as an enlightened feminist with too much dignity to put up with her dopey king. There was never any competition there in the costume category.

Secretly, though, I've never given up my admiration for Esther. So I'm particular delighted that she's been recast as a Jewish superhero in the wake of recent fanfare over the role of Jews in the comic book industry.

It all started with Arie Kaplan's book, From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books. Published in 2008, his book inspired the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles to open ZAP! POW! BAM!, an exhibit documenting "the genesis of cultural icons such as Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, and Wonder Woman." Wonder who was behind these characters? Yup, Yids.

Two years ago, we brought our synagogue's youth group to the above exhibit, and were stunned to see artwork (published well before the United States' intervention in WWII) of Captain America and other comic book heroes battling Hitler and other Nazi villains. Turns out these poor Jewish kids growing up on the East side of Manhattan in the 30s and 40s found their creative outlet in the comics, and their depiction of Jews as superheroes shaped an entire generation.

Well, all this superhero hullabaloo inspired Hayley Siegel at Jewcy to reflect on the "real" Jewish superheroes, in a blog post titled "What it means to be a Jewish Superhero." My little Esther-loving heart is twitterpated. Here's an excerpt:
Within both Jewish tradition and comic books, there comes a pivotal moment when every hero must step into his/her destiny and take charge of his/her obligation to help those in need. However, during these moments of change and transition, a hero oftentimes has to negotiate for the opportunity to save the day! Once these characters openly convey their heroic intentions, they find the courage to step into swift action when the time calls. For example ... in Megillat Esther, Queen Esther comes forward with the admission of her Jewish identity to the King. Esther's confession, which comes just at the right moment, saves the entire Jewish nation from the perilous schemes of Haman. In the world of comic books, we find that superheroes such as Spiderman, Superman, and Batman initially run away from their heroic duties. However, after they complete honest conversations with loved ones and supporters (like Esther!), each character eventually acknowledges that they must utilize their powers for tikkun olam (repair of the world).
Maybe next year I'll wear an Esther costume ... with some Wonder Woman power cuffs for added measure.

A Prayer for Japan

at 12:20 PM

The situation in Japan only seems to be getting worse. The eathquakes and tsunami last week devastated the country, leaving thousands dead and many, many more wounded and trapped. Now we also have the possible threat of a nuclear disaster to add to the mix. If Japan ever needed our prayers and support it is certainly now.

Mechon Hadar posted a prayer, written by Rabbi Shai Held, for those suffering in Japan on their website. I would greatly encourage us to use (or adapt) the text of this prayer while praying for Japan both within our own private davening, and in our services this coming Shabbat:

Ruler of Creation, Master of the World

אבינו שבשמים, אדון כל המעשים, רבון כל העולמים

Have mercy on all those who are suffering from the raging waters and the storming waves.

רחם על כל אלה הסובלים מן המים הגועשים והגלים הרועשים

Have compassion on Your creatures - Look, O Lord, and see their distress; Listen, God, and hear their cries.

חמול על מעשיך - הביטה יי וראה צרתם, האזינה אלוהים ושמע צעקתם.

Strengthen the hands of those who would bring relief, comfort the mourners; Heal, please, the wounded.

חזק את ידי המצילים, נחם את האבלים, רפא נא לפצועים.

Grant us wisdom and discernment to know our obligations, and open our hearts so that we may extend our hands to the devastated.

חָננו בינה והשכל לידע את חובותינו, ופתח את לבינו למען נושיט יד אל הנדכּאים.

Bless us so that we may walk in Your ways, "compassionate ones, children of compassionate ones."

ברכינו אלוהינו ונלך בדרכיך, רחמנים בני רחמנים.

Grant us the will and the wisdom to prevent future disaster and death;

תן בנו אומץ וחכמה למען נמנע אסון ומות.

Prevent plague from descending upon Your earth, and fulfill Your words,

מנע מגיפה בעולמיך, וקיים מאמריך

"Never again shall there be another flood to destroy the earth."

וְלֹא־יִהְיֶה עוֺד מַבּוּל לְשַׁחֵת הָא

Amen. So may it be your will.

אמן. כן יהי רצון


There are also a number of ways to donate to help the victims in Japan. Here are a few recommended resources:

Tragic Events

Mar 13, 2011 at 4:41 PM

This weekend the world experienced two very tragic events:


The first was the multiple earthquakes and tsunami that began on Friday, March 11th, that has devastated Japan. As of today, the BBC reports the death tole currently stands at over 1,500. And the earthquakes have continued through the weekend, making rescue efforts even more difficult and dangerous. Countries around the world are sending support to Japan, including Israel, which sent a search and rescue team this morning. May HaShem comfort all those who mourn, may He guide the efforts of the rescuers, give support and hope to those still trapped, and bring healing to all the victims.


The second tragic event was the brutal murder of a family in Israel late Friday night. A husband, wife, and three children were all viciously murdered (the youngest being only 3 months old!) when a terrorist sneaked into the home. Two children, ages 8 and 2 miraculously survived the attack. The murdered family was discovered by their 12 year old sister who came home late in the evening. As news of the brutal murders spread throughout Israel, the country stirred in shock, grief, and anger. May HaShem also comfort the remaining children, their friends and family, and the nation as it mourns this family.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet - Blessed are You, the True Judge (the blessing recited upon hearing terrible news)

Holiness of a Different Kind

Mar 11, 2011 at 10:47 AM

Parashat Vayikra

This week we begin reading the book of Leviticus. To many people, this is just a book of do's, don'ts, and lots of boring details. However, what most people do not realize is that packed within the entire book of Leviticus are details of Holiness.

According to the great Jewish thinker Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“The question of religion is what we do with the presence of G-d: how to think, how to feel, how to act; how to live in a way compatible with our being created in the image of G-d.”

Holiness is not some mystical state we all someday hope to obtain. Rather, according to Scripture holiness is a lifestyle. If we want to know how to live a holy life, HaShem gives us the details – show neither partiality to the poor nor deference to the mighty … don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor … keep my Shabbat … observe the mitzvot …

These are the details of holiness. The Torah often paints an image quite different from our western concepts of what it means to be holy. Although there is an element of mystery to holiness, holiness also does not exist apart from a way of life. We are to be holy because G-d is Holy.

Quote of the Day: The Shema and its Blessings

Mar 10, 2011 at 1:12 PM

“At the heart of the Jewish liturgy, recited twice daily, stands the Shema. The opening line of the Shema consists of an acknowledgement of Hashem as One. In the blessing that precedes and prepares for the recitation of the Shema, the divine unity serves as the basis and goal for a corresponding unity among those who confess it – initially, in the heart of each Jew (“Unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name”), and then in the community of dispersed Jews throughout the world whom Hashem will gather together as one (“Bring us in peace from the four corners of the earth, and lead us upright to our land”). As a result of Hashem’s action to establish Israel in spiritual and physical unity, Israel will be able to acknowledge in eschatological fullness the unity of the divine Name (“Draw us near to Your great Name in truth, to acknowledge You and Your unity in love”)."

-Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer - from his recent paper, "Messianic Jewish Community: Standing and Serving as a Priestly Remnant," delivered at the 2011 Hashivenu Theological Forum.

Quote of the Day

Mar 9, 2011 at 10:37 AM

"I will accept G-d only if I can confront G-d. Not benign acceptance, but the eternal wrestling of the soul. Jacob wrestled with You and he came forth limping from the arena. I am damaged as well, and I understand completely the Yiddish lament, 'Oh, L-rd, You help complete strangers, why won't You help me?'

There's a Midrash where the question is asked with the addition of a poignant cry, 'G-d, it is such a difficult world, why don't you send someone who can change it?' and G-d answered, 'I did send someone. I sent you.'"

-Rabbi Gerald Wolpe z"l - from his final Kol Nidre sermon delivered before his retirement, as recorded in the book, The New Rabbi, p. 101.

Hitbodedut: Praying in Solitude

Mar 8, 2011 at 10:45 AM

I have
blogged before on the Chassidic concept of Hitbodedut - the practice of being alone with G-d. In addition to regular davening from the Siddur, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov frequently recited extemporaneous prayers. In fact, he taught his Chassidim (his followers) that they should spend at least one hour alone each day, talking aloud to G-d in his or her own words, as if "talking to a good friend."
This practice was to be in addition to the prayers of the Siddur. Breslover Chassidim still follow this practice, which is known as hitbodedut (literally, "to make oneself be in solitude").

Today I ran across a short documentary video that does a great job of introducing the concept of Hitbodedut to a wider audience:

According to Rebbe Nachman:

Hitbodedut is the greatest thing - above all else. That is to establish at least one hour or more to be alone in some room, or in the field, and to voice one’s dialogue between himself and his Owner. Reasoning and arguing with graceful words of appeasement and conciliation, requesting and beseeching before Him who is Blessed to bring one close to His service in truth. And this prayer and supplication should be in the language one speaks naturally.”

-Likutei Moharan II, 25

Yeshua, himself, encouraged the practice of spending time alone in prayer:

"But you, when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. For your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

-Matthew 6:6

Moses, Leadership, and Humility

Mar 4, 2011 at 12:02 AM

Parashat Pekudei

No task is ever below our dignity. No matter how far we climb on the social ladder, we should never think too highly of ourselves. How is this supported in this week’s parasha? The answer is found where G-d calls Moses to be personally involved in the building and erecting of the Tabernacle:

HaShem spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘On the first day of the first month, you are to set up the Tabernacle, the tent of meeting (Exodus 40:1-2).’”

In verse 40:2 and subsequent verses, G-d tells Moses, “YOU are to set up the Tabernacle.” It was not enough for Moses to simply oversee the work that was being done, he had to be actively involved. Despite the fact that Moses experienced God face-to-face, and received the Torah upon Mt. Sinai, G-d called him personally to set up the Tabernacle. G-d expected even Moses to lead by example.

Moses could have balked at this idea. He could have refused. But he didn’t. He obeyed. Although he was the leader of the Israelites, and one of the greatest figures who ever lived, he did not consider himself as too important to do such work. Rather, throughout the rest of the parasha he was actively involved in the construction of the Tabernacle.

Speaking on this verse (Ex. 40:2), the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, once stated:

This teaches that a person cannot only busy himself with his own spiritual development and Torah study. He needs to also be involved in helping others, just like G-d who wanted Moshe to be involved with the Tabernacle, not just as a spiritual leader and mentor, but also, “with his hands” (Gutnick Edition Chumash, 609).

True leadership is always by example. It is being willing to do whatever needs to be done. No matter how big or how small. When I formally began my rabbinical studies, I remember my rabbi asking me a very vivid question: “How good are you at plunging toilets?” His response was that if I was not willing to plunge toilets I had no business becoming a rabbi. And he was right. I cannot tell you how many toilets I have plunged since that day nearly fourteen years ago. Because any time something goes wrong in a congregation … “O Rabbi!”

Often we look at those in leadership or influential positions and covet their jobs. Yet, if we really saw what the position entailed, most of us would actually pass it up. For example, what most people see congregational leaders doing in public, is really often only about ten percent of our work. What they do not see is what happens on all the other days of the week and behind the scenes - moving chairs, administration, volunteer coordination, or cleaning stains out of the carpet after oneg. We must always be willing to serve. And in whatever capacity is needed.

This also follows the leadership model demonstrated by Yeshua, who taught that the greatest shall be least, and the least shall be the greatest (Mat 20:16). Furthermore, the greatest leader is to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35). Yeshua never perceived a task or person as below him. Rather, he served all, washed their feet, or supported all those who were hurting. As a “greater Moses,” Yeshua was our greatest example. Like Moses, G-d has called each of us to be participants in the building of his Kingdom. And each of us has the opportunity to partner with God in bringing redemption into the world. G-d has a role for each of us to play. The question is, are we willing to do it? For as James writes (1:22), it is not enough to only be hearers of what Torah says, but we must be doers as well!

*This week's commentary was originally written for the Set Table.

Quote of the Day

Mar 3, 2011 at 11:30 AM
"The future of Jewish life is dependent upon Jews - not just rabbis - taking hold of the rich, challenging, surprising, and inspiring heritage that makes up our texts and traditions. It is not about the new "big idea" or innovation for its own sake, but a recognition that the big ideas in Judaism were laid out clearly by our ancestors thousands of years ago. It is about reclaiming those ideas, bringing them to life in this century, and taking them so seriously that they might change your life ... we have the potential to empower Jews to own - really own - what has been ours for years. We have no time to waste."

-Rabbi Elie Kaunfer - from his book, Empowered Judaism, p. 1.

National Day of Unplugging

Mar 2, 2011 at 7:39 PM

Last week I posted about the Sabbath Manifesto, an initiative of Reboot, which has launched a campaign for a National Day of Unlpugging. The campaign encourages Jews across America on this COMING SHABBAT, March 4-5, 2011 (from sundown to sundown) to take one Shabbat to simply focus on 10 things:
  1. Avoid Technology
  2. Connect with Loved Ones
  3. Nurture Your Health
  4. Get Outside
  5. Avoid Commerce
  6. Light Candles
  7. Drink Wine
  8. Eat Bread
  9. Find Silence
  10. Give Back
I encourage us all to join thousands of other Jews to take the Sabbath Manifesto challenge - and spend a Shabbat focusing on 10 simple points that can better ourselves, our families, and our world.

The Shechinah in Exile

Mar 1, 2011 at 11:26 AM

The concept of a compassionate and personal G-d is not foreign to Rabbinic thought. One particularly interesting example is the concept of "the Shechinah in Exile."

According to the Tanya[1] (quoting the Gemara), “When they [the Israelites] were exiled to Edom, the Shechinah went with them.”[2]

I find this to be a very powerful idea. It is a picture of HaShem not as being distant, but as rather very near to us. It is a very personal conception of G-d - an idea that G-d suffers along with Israel and is exiled alongside the Jewish people. That G-d chooses to be exiled along with His people. In thinking about this concept, I cannot help but think about Abraham Joshua Heschel’s description of “G-d in search of man.”[3] That more than we think we are pursuing G-d, G-d is actually in pursuit of us. And not only is this a G-d who pursues us, but is so moved by, and with us, that G-d too is exiled along with Israel.

This very personal conception of a compassionate G-d is also a popular motif within Midrash. This is especially true within a particular group of texts from Eichah Rabbah regarding “Rachel Weeping.” These texts clearly demonstrate HaShem’s compassion over Israel where G-d is described as weeping alongside Rachel:

כיון שראה אותם, הקב"ה מיד, "ויקרא ה' אלוהים צבאות ביום ההוא לבכי ולמספד ולקרחה ולחגור שק." ואלמלא מקרא שכתוב, אי אפשר לאמרו. והיו בוכין והולכין משער זה לשער זה כאדם שמתו מוטל לפניו. והיה הקב"ה סופד ואומר אוי לו למלך שבקטנותו הצליח ובזקנותו לא הצליח.

“As soon He saw them, the Holy One, Blessed be He, immediately declared ‘HaShem, G-d of Hosts, on that day has called for crying, lamenting, pulling out one’s hair, and for putting on sack-cloth [Is. 22:12].’ If it were not written in Scripture, it would be impossible to say. [Yet], they would weep continuously from one gate to another as a man who’s dead is laid before him. The Holy One, Blessed is He, lamented and said, ‘Woe to him, to the king who succeeded in his youthfulness, but was unable to succeed in his old age.’”[4]

In this particular text from Eichah Rabbah, HaShem declares a day to cry and lament (ויקרא ה' אלהים צבאות ביום ההוא לבכי ולמספד), and is described as weeping along with Rachel (בוכה, ומבכה הקב"ה עמה). In another closely related text[5], “Rachel” is meant to be understood as representing both Rachel and HaShem (אל תיקרי רחל ... אלא רוח-אל).

These “Rachel Weeping” passages in Eichah Rabbah (and Seder Eliyahu Rabbah) exemplify an idea similar to the concept of the Shechinah in exile represented in the Tanya. In the Eichah Rabbah passages it is not just Rachel weeping over her children, but HaShem as well. As such, these texts, along with the Tanya's reference to the Shechinah in exile demonstrates a perception of the Divine that is personal, compassionate over the Jewish people, and actively involved our daily lives.

[1] The Tanya is one of the primary texts of Chassidut – Chassidic life and thought, and could even be said to be an introduction to “Chassidic Psychology.” It was written by the founder of Chabad Chasiddism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe) and was first published in 1796.

[2] Tanya, Chapter 17.

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man (New York: Farrar, Straus and Groux, 1983).

[4] Petichta 24, Eichah Rabbah HaMevuar (Jerusalem: Machon Hamidrash Hamevo’ar, 2004) 78. (Translation mine)

[5] Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, Ch. 28, Siman 2. (Davka)