Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat Bereishit Shabbat Machar Chodesh Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh Live and Learn!

Dear Friends,

I hope you will join us this Friday night and Shabbat morning as we celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of Zachary Busch. Mazal Tov to Zachary and to his entire family!

Having just completed the annual reading of the Five Books of Moses on Simchat Torah, we now begin anew reading the Creation story in the Book of Genesis.

I am always excited to begin reading the Torah anew each year at this time. I always anticipate learning something that I never knew before – noticing something that had previously eluded me when I read the Torah – and growing in understanding and, hopefully, in wisdom.

In “real life” when I encounter a surprising phenomenon, I find myself saying: “Live and Learn!”

This year, as I opened the first Torah portion of the new year, Bereishit, Genesis, I had that same feeling of “Live and Learn!”

How so?

Did you ever notice that the two trees that are mentioned in the story of the Garden of Eden are the Tree of Life (as is: “Live”), and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (as in “Learn”)? Did you ever connect the Garden of Eden story with the phrase: “Live and Learn!”?

I must admit that I did not.

And yet, this year, I noticed that the Creation story sets the stage for our two most existential challenges as human beings. We are challenged to deal our mortality – with the transient nature of our life on earth. And, we are challenged with the fact that our ability to learn about our selves and about the world around us is limited. Our knowledge is limited.

Each one of the two trees in the Garden of Eden represents one of the two most basic existential challenges of our human lives: The challenge of facing our mortality, and the challenge of facing the limits of our ability to know as much as we would like to know.

Today, as we face the future amid the current pandemic that surrounds us, we are confronted more starkly with both of these challenges. What do we do with our limited lives? And, what do we do with our limited knowledge? And, how can we make the most of both?

The Torah comes to offer us a way forward as human beings living in theĀ “real world” into which we have been placed. The Torah offers us a path of Mitzvoth, a plan of action, that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, even as we acknowledge the limitations of our physical and intellectual capabilities.

The Torah assures us that, even though we are “mere mortals”, having encountered the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, we can still walk in ways of holiness. We can still achieve greatness. We can still “Live and Learn!”

Wishing us all many new beginnings, many new insights, and many new joyous occasions.

This Shabbat we will recite the blessing for the new Jewish month of MarCheshvan. Rosh Chodesh MarCheshvan will be on Saturday night, Sunday and Monday of this coming week. May it be a month of healing, of comfort and of blessing.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

Shabbat Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah A Different Simchat Torah!

Dear Friends,

This year, on this Shabbat, we are combining our celebration of Shemini Atzeret, when we recite Yizkor, with our celebration of Simchat Torah, when we rejoice with the Torah!

How do the two holidays fit together? Actually, very well….

The inclusions in the Amidah prayers we recite on Simchat Torah are, in any case, the inclusions for Shemini Atzeret! And the joy of Simchat Torah is one of the reasons that we love our tradition and it is also a very powerful reminder of one of the reasons that we love our Jewish families!

So, what could be more fitting than to combine our love and celebration of Torah with our remembrance of our loved ones? Combining the two holidays really does work. And, in fact, these two holidays are always combined into one day of celebration in Israel.

However, this year, both in Israel, and here, Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah will be celebrated differently from the celebrations we have been used to experiencing in past years.

In Israel, there has been a total lockdown for the past couple of weeks, and people are not allowed to congregate in synagogues on this Shabbat and holiday. While, thankfully, we are not in total lockdown, we are making significant adjustments to our lives as well.

But, Jews have always found a way to maintain the essence of their tradition, to celebrate Shabbat, and holidays, and their love of Torah, no matter what the external circumstances might be.

What is the essence of Simchat Torah all about?

In his article: “The Four Faces of Simhat Torah” which was published by The Jerusalem Post, on October 24, 2005, Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin reminds us that “Simhat Torah ties us to the Torah physically and emotionally in a knot which cannot be undone.”

Additionally, the holiday reminds us of the cyclical nature of Torah study. There is no beginning and no ending to study of Torah. That is why on Simchat Torah, we read the ending of the five books of Moses and immediately segue into the reading of the Creation story at the beginning of the five books of Moses!

And, the holiday reminds us of the democratic nature of our relationship with Torah. Men, women, boys, girls, old and young, scholars and lay persons, all of us, together, celebrate the joy of having Torah at the center of our spiritual lives.

Finally, the holiday reminds us of the development of Jewish law and custom. Golinkin reminds us that the holiday of Simchat Torah originated in the 10th century in Babylonia. It does not originate in the Torah itself. In the 12th century in France, they added the Atta Horeita verses. In the 12th century in Spain, they began reciting the beginning verses of the Creation Story on Simchat Torah. In Ashkenaz, in the 15th century, they added a hakafah in the evening service. In Safed (in Israel) in the 16th century, they added the custom of 7 hakafot around the bima….And so, this very holiday, celebrating our love of Torah, in fact, demonstrates how much creativity, democracy, and diversity are wrapped into our Jewish customs and celebrations!

What a wonderful holiday. What a wonderful people. What a wonderful Torah we have!

On this Simchat Torah, we may not be able to do exactly what we have been used to doing in past years, and to keep us safe and healthy, but we can appreciate the fundamental beauty of Torah and of our tradition. And we can find ways to continue celebrating even if we have to do it a little differently this year!

I look forward to seeing you tonight, and tomorrow morning at our virtual Shabbat/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah services.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach [A Joyous Holiday]!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

Shabbat Sukkot – Day 1 Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!

Dear Friends,

The think I love most about Sukkot is that we are “commanded” to rejoice for the entire seven days of the Sukkot holiday! Imagine that! I am sooooo ready to try my very best to fulfill this mitzvah!

I look forward to seeing you all at Zoom services tonight, Friday night, and tomorrow morning, Shabbat and, coincidentally, also the first day of Sukkot, to celebrate this wonderful holiday.

Here are some tips for the traditional celebration of Sukkot:

Cook all your food for Shabbat, in advance of Shabbat. Finish all your cooking for the second day of Sukkot (which begins on Saturday night), either before Shabbat, or by cooking after Shabbat is over on Saturday night.

To light candles for the Second day of Sukkot, prepare a long-burning flame from before Shabbat, so that after Shabbat, you may light the candles for the Second Day of Sukkkot, by transferring fire from a burning flame, rather than by striking a match to create a new flame!

It is a mitzvah to eat all meals in the Sukkah, except in inclement weather. Let’s hope we get good weather this week…:) But, we can always “snack” outside the Sukkah, even in good weather….

The first time you eat a meal in the Sukkah this holiday season, recite the

Sh’heh’chehyanu blessing, thanking God for allowing us to enjoy this moment in life.

On all occasions, when we eat a meal in the Sukkah, after the initial kiddush or motzi, we sit down in the Sukkah and recite the following blessing before we eat: “Baruch Atta Adonai, eloheynu melech haOlam, asher kiddeshanu v’mitzvotav v’tzivanu Layshev baSukkah [Blessed is God who has sanctified us with the mitzvoth and commanded us to dwell in the Sukkah].”

Lulav and etrog are used on all the days of Sukkot, except for Shabbat. No lulav and etrog on Shabbat.

Most importantly, this is a holiday of joy, of outdoors, of confidence, of blessing and of great beauty!

Whose etrog will be the most beautiful? Well, that depends on what each one of us sees as beautiful. Here’s the real answer: Your etrog should appear to you to be the most beautiful etrog of all….Just don’t argue with your neighbor if they feel the same way about their etrog!

I feel the joy of Sukkot beginning to descent upon me already….Can’t wait to see you at services!

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach [A Joyous Sukkot Holiday]!

Rabbi Gilah Dror