rhu: (530nm330Hz)
In today's parsha, we read:

וַיְדַבְּרוּ אֵלָיו אֵת כָּל-דִּבְרֵי יוֹסֵף אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֲלֵהֶם וַיַּרְא אֶת-הָעֲגָלוֹת אֲשֶׁר-שָׁלַח יוֹסֵף לָשֵׂאת אֹתוֹ וַתְּחִי רוּחַ יַעֲקֹב אֲבִיהֶם.
And they spoke (vay-dabru) to [Jacob] all the words (divrei) of Joseph that he said (dibber) to them, and he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to him, and the spirit of Jacob his father was restored to life. (Gen. 45:27)

What struck me about this verse was the emphasis on the root D-B-R (which doesn't come across so well in the English.)

What were these words? Rashi quotes a midrash from the gemara that Joseph reminded his father that when last they were together, they had been studying the laws of the egla arufah, the calf with the broken neck, and that the wagons (agalot, a pun on egla) were an allusion to this, and this was a way to confirm his identity. I find that explanation.... fanciful.

Let's set this question aside for a moment and ask another one.

Why did Joseph test his brothers? Some commentators say it was to give them a chance to perform teshuvah gemurah, complete return from sin, by placing them in essentially the same situation they were in when he was kidnapped, so they could demonstrate that they would not respond in the same way. Some say it was so he could determine whether Benjamin needed rescuing from his brothers. Both are good answers, but I want to suspend that question for a moment as well.

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of Vayeshev, Joseph brings to his father a bad report about the activities of some of his brothers. And what does Jacob do?

וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ לֶךְ-נָא רְאֵה אֶת-שְׁלוֹם אַחֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלוֹם הַצֹּאן וַהֲשִׁבֵנִי דָּבָר וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה.
And [Jacob] said to [Joseph]: Go now, please, and look into the shalom of your brothers ... and return word (davar) to me.... (Gen. 37:14)

Here's the word D-B-R again. Decades ago, Jacob asked Joseph to send him word about the shalom of his brothers. Usually, this expression means the person's well-being, but it can also relate to their shleimut, their wholeness. Perhaps Jacob wanted to know if his sons were whole people.

And so now we can return to my two questions. Perhaps Joseph remembered the task his father had given him, which he has yet to fulfill.

But now that his brothers appear before him, he doesn't know the answer to his father's question: Have his brothers become shaleim in the intervening years?

So he tests them. He finds out whether they have done complete teshuvah, so that he can finally complete his father's assignment and return word to Jacob that his brothers have indeed, after all that transpired, become whole.

Shabbat Shalom.
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Koren Publications has sent me a new book of theirs, Norman Lamm's Derashot Ledorot - A Commentary for the Ages on Genesis. I enjoyed it very much.

This book is a collection of divrei Torah (sermons) that Rabbi Lamm gave in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s when he was a pulpit rabbi. (For those who don't know the name, Rabbi Lamm is now the chancellor of Yeshiva University.) There are three sermons on each of the weekly parshiyot.

These sermons are very much a product of their time. The Jewish experience in mid-20th-centruy America was one full of tensions. There was the pull of assimilation; there was the struggle among the Conservative, Reform, and Orthodox communities to define what American Judaism would look like. There was the fight for civil rights in the South. You cannot read these without being strongly reminded of the upheaval the world was undergoing during those decade.

At the same time, these sermons are timeless. Rabbi Lamm writes well and powerfully. His topics are not fleeting; the details of the issues he grapples with may have changed, but fundamental human needs and Judaism's perspective on them haven't.

To his credit, the editor of this volume, Stuart Halpern, has not tried to modernize the sermons in any way. Rabbi Lamm's voice comes through, authentic and unfiltered. I am looking forward to the remaining volumes in the series.
rhu: (torah)
My Rabbi gave a very interesting Shabbat Shuvah Derasha yesterday, focusing on how the Rambam structured his Hilchot Teshuvah, his explanation of the laws of repentance. And the question arose: Is there a commandment to repent? Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
My Rabbi gave a very interesting Shabbat Shuvah Derasha yesterday, focusing on how the Rambam structured his Hilchot Teshuvah, his explanation of the laws of repentance. And the question arose: Is there a commandment to repent? Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
As we approach the beginning of the thirteenth cycle of the Daf Yomi, the "page-a-day" study program that covers the entire Babylonian Talmud in seven-and-a-half years, a bunch of new resources are becoming available. A few months ago, I breathlessly praised Koren Publications' new translation of Rabbi Steinsaltz's explication of the Talmud.

Today, I have the pleasure to review "Relics for the Present: Contemporary Reflections on the Talmud" by Rabbi Levi Cooper, which is published by Koren's Maggid imprint in conjunction with the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. (Obligatory disclaimer: Koren sent me a review copy of this book.)

Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
As we approach the beginning of the thirteenth cycle of the Daf Yomi, the "page-a-day" study program that covers the entire Babylonian Talmud in seven-and-a-half years, a bunch of new resources are becoming available. A few months ago, I breathlessly praised Koren Publications' new translation of Rabbi Steinsaltz's explication of the Talmud.

Today, I have the pleasure to review "Relics for the Present: Contemporary Reflections on the Talmud" by Rabbi Levi Cooper, which is published by Koren's Maggid imprint in conjunction with the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. (Obligatory disclaimer: Koren sent me a review copy of this book.)

Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
So for the past few months I've been working on rethinking the Dafcast website. And I'd like a sanity check here, folks. Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
So for the past few months I've been working on rethinking the Dafcast website. And I'd like a sanity check here, folks. Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
This is the d'var Torah that I gave this morning at the kiddush that we sponsored in memory of my father on the occasion of his first Yahrzeit, which is this coming Monday.

Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
This is the d'var Torah that I gave this morning at the kiddush that we sponsored in memory of my father on the occasion of his first Yahrzeit, which is this coming Monday.

Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
This evening, I will complete the eleven months of saying kaddish for my father. While I remain an avel, a mourner, for another month, in Jewish traditon kaddish is not recited for the last month of the year of mourning.

So at the end of the 7:50 mincha service, I will say kaddish. And at the end of the 8:05 arvit service, I will respond to the kaddish recited by others.

People have asked me how I feel about it, and it's a mixed bag. But one thing that I'm certain of: I'm looking forward to being able to say "Aleinu", the prayer before kaddish, at my own pace, without rushing to make sure I'll be ready to say "Yitgadal".

I don't hold by mystical interpretations of kaddish. I know that for some, there is a concept of an immediate afterlife, and they have the idea that every time a child says kaddish, the soul of the parent ascends one level, and their goal is to ensure that they say kaddish at least enough times to elevate their parent's soul from "doomed to purgatory" to "ensured a place in the next world." Almost sounds like a rule out of Dungeons and Dragons, doesn't it?

That's not how I see kaddish.

A co-worker who lost his mother a few months ago commented to the effect that his mother, a devout Catholic, could now talk to God directly. And in the broader culture in which we live, there is an amorphous concept that the living can ask the dead to intercede on their behalf, that they are somehow closer to God than we are.

That's not the Jewish view. The Psalmist wrote: "The dead do not praise God, nor does anyone who has descended into the grave." My father's ability to pray ended with his last breath eleven months ago. It is we, the living, who can speak words to God --- words of praise and words of anger, words of gratitude and words of despair.

For me, kaddish must have a function in this world, among the living.

And so I have been going to synagogue, twice daily (usually), to say the kaddish that my father cannot. To lead the community in prayer, as my father cannot. To fulfill the fifth commandment, showing respect for my father, in the symbolic act that our people have used for millenia.

In short, to present evidence, through my actions, of what kind of Jew my father was, by demonstrating what kind of Jew my father raised.

And yet that means that, to a greater or lesser degree, my prayers for the last eleven months have not been entirely mine. My father's absence has been a constant companion. About one service out of every six, I have been leading as "the representative of the community," as it is called, which means often I've also been sharing my prayer mindspace with everyone else in the room.

It's gotten crowded in there.

But tonight, at arvit, it will be just me. When I say the "Amen" that concludes my father's one remaining kaddish, the final echo of his voice will fade out, and I will enter the penultimate stage of mourning. I will have to start learning how to leave daily mourning behind, to prepare for the final stage, the one that starts on his first yahrzeit and lasts for the rest of my life.

For the next month, I will be ineligible to lead services both on weekdays (as someone no longer saying kaddish) and on Shabbat and Yom Tov (as one in the year of formal mourning). I intend to use that month to rediscover my own voice, and to find my way back to that quiet, solitary space so I can once again learn how to become intimate with God.
rhu: (torah)
This evening, I will complete the eleven months of saying kaddish for my father. While I remain an avel, a mourner, for another month, in Jewish traditon kaddish is not recited for the last month of the year of mourning.

So at the end of the 7:50 mincha service, I will say kaddish. And at the end of the 8:05 arvit service, I will respond to the kaddish recited by others.

People have asked me how I feel about it, and it's a mixed bag. But one thing that I'm certain of: I'm looking forward to being able to say "Aleinu", the prayer before kaddish, at my own pace, without rushing to make sure I'll be ready to say "Yitgadal".

I don't hold by mystical interpretations of kaddish. I know that for some, there is a concept of an immediate afterlife, and they have the idea that every time a child says kaddish, the soul of the parent ascends one level, and their goal is to ensure that they say kaddish at least enough times to elevate their parent's soul from "doomed to purgatory" to "ensured a place in the next world." Almost sounds like a rule out of Dungeons and Dragons, doesn't it?

That's not how I see kaddish.

A co-worker who lost his mother a few months ago commented to the effect that his mother, a devout Catholic, could now talk to God directly. And in the broader culture in which we live, there is an amorphous concept that the living can ask the dead to intercede on their behalf, that they are somehow closer to God than we are.

That's not the Jewish view. The Psalmist wrote: "The dead do not praise God, nor does anyone who has descended into the grave." My father's ability to pray ended with his last breath eleven months ago. It is we, the living, who can speak words to God --- words of praise and words of anger, words of gratitude and words of despair.

For me, kaddish must have a function in this world, among the living.

And so I have been going to synagogue, twice daily (usually), to say the kaddish that my father cannot. To lead the community in prayer, as my father cannot. To fulfill the fifth commandment, showing respect for my father, in the symbolic act that our people have used for millenia.

In short, to present evidence, through my actions, of what kind of Jew my father was, by demonstrating what kind of Jew my father raised.

And yet that means that, to a greater or lesser degree, my prayers for the last eleven months have not been entirely mine. My father's absence has been a constant companion. About one service out of every six, I have been leading as "the representative of the community," as it is called, which means often I've also been sharing my prayer mindspace with everyone else in the room.

It's gotten crowded in there.

But tonight, at arvit, it will be just me. When I say the "Amen" that concludes my father's one remaining kaddish, the final echo of his voice will fade out, and I will enter the penultimate stage of mourning. I will have to start learning how to leave daily mourning behind, to prepare for the final stage, the one that starts on his first yahrzeit and lasts for the rest of my life.

For the next month, I will be ineligible to lead services both on weekdays (as someone no longer saying kaddish) and on Shabbat and Yom Tov (as one in the year of formal mourning). I intend to use that month to rediscover my own voice, and to find my way back to that quiet, solitary space so I can once again learn how to become intimate with God.
rhu: (torah)
I got a sneak peek at the new Koren/Steinsaltz English Talmud Bavli this week. Regular readers of my blog know that I admire both Rabbi Steinsaltz and Koren Publications greatly. I am very pleased to report that this project blew me away, exceeding my expectations. Although I'm sure acquiring the entire set won't come inexpensively, I will find some way to afford to buy these as they come out. They're that amazing. [Disclaimer: Although Koren has been sending me review copies of some of their books, this review is based on a copy that I borrowed for a few days from my rabbi.]

My review -- long, and with pictures )

I look forward to getting my own copy so I can learn from it. When I do, I'll update this review.

My understanding is that Koren Publishers plans to release the entire set over the course of the next four years, faster than the Daf Yomi schedule. I wish them the financial success they deserve; this edition merits to become the new standard for English-language Talmud study.
rhu: (torah)
I got a sneak peek at the new Koren/Steinsaltz English Talmud Bavli this week. Regular readers of my blog know that I admire both Rabbi Steinsaltz and Koren Publications greatly. I am very pleased to report that this project blew me away, exceeding my expectations. Although I'm sure acquiring the entire set won't come inexpensively, I will find some way to afford to buy these as they come out. They're that amazing. [Disclaimer: Although Koren has been sending me review copies of some of their books, this review is based on a copy that I borrowed for a few days from my rabbi.]

My review -- long, and with pictures )

I look forward to getting my own copy so I can learn from it. When I do, I'll update this review.

My understanding is that Koren Publishers plans to release the entire set over the course of the next four years, faster than the Daf Yomi schedule. I wish them the financial success they deserve; this edition merits to become the new standard for English-language Talmud study.
rhu: (torah)
I haven't had much to say here about the mourning process in the last few months; I haven't had any observations that seemed worth recording.

But I'm getting towards the end of the eleven months of saying kaddish. Next week, Jews start counting the 49 days of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot. Coincidentally, today, I realized, I start the final 49 days of saying kaddish.

It's a turning point. Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
I haven't had much to say here about the mourning process in the last few months; I haven't had any observations that seemed worth recording.

But I'm getting towards the end of the eleven months of saying kaddish. Next week, Jews start counting the 49 days of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot. Coincidentally, today, I realized, I start the final 49 days of saying kaddish.

It's a turning point. Cut for length )
rhu: (torah)
I love the seder, and it saddens me that so many Jews, not having learned why the seder was assembled the way it was, go through the motions but come away feeling that they've done their duty, dry and off-putting as it may be.

For a few years, I've wanted to write a hagadah to address this: no mystical commentary, no midrashic exegesis, just some simple answers to the disaffected child's question: "What does this service mean to you, anyway?" Somehow, I've never gotten the time.

But if I can't do the whole thing from soup to nuts -- er, from wine to wine? -- then I can at least open up a discussion thread here on my blog. What part(s) of the seder do you find alienating or do you wonder about? I'll do my best to answer.

[Feel free to share this link if you wish.]
rhu: (torah)
I love the seder, and it saddens me that so many Jews, not having learned why the seder was assembled the way it was, go through the motions but come away feeling that they've done their duty, dry and off-putting as it may be.

For a few years, I've wanted to write a hagadah to address this: no mystical commentary, no midrashic exegesis, just some simple answers to the disaffected child's question: "What does this service mean to you, anyway?" Somehow, I've never gotten the time.

But if I can't do the whole thing from soup to nuts -- er, from wine to wine? -- then I can at least open up a discussion thread here on my blog. What part(s) of the seder do you find alienating or do you wonder about? I'll do my best to answer.

[Feel free to share this link if you wish.]
rhu: (torah)
The month of Nisan has started, and in a few weeks we will be sitting down to our sedarim. As you may know, I collect haggadot, and each year I try to add at least one to my collection. This year, Koren Publishers sent me a review copy of their newest haggadah, The Koren Ethiopian Haggada: Journey to Freedom / The Gould Family Edition, edited by Rabbi Menachem Waldman. It is a welcome addition.

The title is somewhat misleading, though. The text of the haggadah is the standard Ashkenazi text; this is not an "Ethiopian Haggada" because a fixed rite of seder narrative did not exist, apparently, in their community. What makes this excellent volume "Ethiopian" is that the additional readings and graphic elements tell the story of the modern-day exodus of the Jews from Ethiopia.

(Cut for length) )

Of course, the mark of a successful seder is that you leave with more questions than you came in with. I opened this Haggadah not knowing that there were questions to be asked, and it has brought me up to the level of "What's this?"

If the worst that can be said about The Koren Ethiopian Haggada is that it leaves me with a world of new questions, then it is a very successful Haggadah indeed.
rhu: (torah)
The month of Nisan has started, and in a few weeks we will be sitting down to our sedarim. As you may know, I collect haggadot, and each year I try to add at least one to my collection. This year, Koren Publishers sent me a review copy of their newest haggadah, The Koren Ethiopian Haggada: Journey to Freedom / The Gould Family Edition, edited by Rabbi Menachem Waldman. It is a welcome addition.

The title is somewhat misleading, though. The text of the haggadah is the standard Ashkenazi text; this is not an "Ethiopian Haggada" because a fixed rite of seder narrative did not exist, apparently, in their community. What makes this excellent volume "Ethiopian" is that the additional readings and graphic elements tell the story of the modern-day exodus of the Jews from Ethiopia.

(Cut for length) )

Of course, the mark of a successful seder is that you leave with more questions than you came in with. I opened this Haggadah not knowing that there were questions to be asked, and it has brought me up to the level of "What's this?"

If the worst that can be said about The Koren Ethiopian Haggada is that it leaves me with a world of new questions, then it is a very successful Haggadah indeed.

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Andrew M. Greene

January 2013

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