Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Tzedek the Same as Justice?

By Daniel D. Stuhlman, DHL

In this past week's the Torah reading we read, "Justice, justice you shall pursue." (Deut. 16:20) . [Tzedek, tzedek tirdof] Justice, or the Hebrew, tzedek is a concept that we use often, but have difficulty explaining. Let’s start with the etymology of the words. Justice is from the root “just” which comes to English from the French and Latin iustus meaning lawful, legitimate or equitable. The Hebrew root of tzedek seems be connected with righteousness and speaking the truth. When a court tries a case it seeks to find the truth.

On last Shabbat afternoon I asked a neighbor who is a lawyer what he thought was the definition. He prefaced his remarks by saying, “You’re not going to like what I have the say. Justice is connected to power and public policy. “ The others at the table couldn't believe him especially since he is now a defense attorney and was once a prosecutor. We tried to argue with him that justice is about being fair and right under the law. He was insistent, that justice has more to do with who has the power and less with what is righteous and just. He gave historical examples of a time when being poor was a crime and to ask for help was forbidden. Other examples are when the ruling elite did not allow places of worship for other groups to be built and did not allow voters who were of another group to vote {1}.
In examining the meaning of the Hebrew term, tzedek we should look no further than the first book of the Torah. In the first chapter of Genesis (1:27) we get a clue as to the the relationship between man and God - man was created in the image of God, b'tzelem elokim. We are but guardians of our bodies, God is the owner. Later (Genesis 4:9) we are told that we are responsible for one another; we are our brothers’ keepers. In Exodus (20:12) we are commanded to honor our parents; parents are the agents of God as transmitters of traditions and knowledge.

In Leviticus (19:14) it is written, “You shall not curse the deaf. . ” Which means even if someone has a defect in one of their senses they are to be treated with dignity. “Love your fellow as yourself” in Leviticus 19:17 teaches us to respect everyone as we would want be be respected.

The verse, “Justice, justice you shall pursue” in Deuteronomy (16:20) gives us a clue as to how we express tzedek. The word, “Justice”(tzedek) is repeated to indicate one should certainly pursue the righteous or just decision. Finally in Micah (6:8) “Do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with God.... “ . equates justice, good and Godliness. Godliness and the "image of God" from Genesis are equated. One who administers the law fairly is following the Divine mandate.

In English, “justice” is supposed to be a systematic and fair way of satisfying claims, both monetary and criminal. In the criminal justice system the “state” is the party that makes a claim in the name of the “people” against the law breaker. In business or contract law the parties are the one who can make a claim against one another. In the secular law system “justice” has nothing to do with Godliness. When I discussed “justice” with my lawyer sister, she said the same thing about power and public policy that my neighbor expressed. If one has power or money they can pursue more “justice” than someone without. While society is much better today in respecting the “other” we are still far from equating “justice” with righteousness and Godliness.

{1} 90 years ago this month the 18th amendment that allowed women to vote was ratified. See: “My Favorite August,” by Gail Collins. Published as an op-ed column in the New York Times, August 13, 2010, Retrieved from

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Parshat Eikev: What I Did On My Summer Vacation

This drasha was delivered
on Shabbat Parshat Eikev 5770
and also as part of the dedication
of the Boys' Migrash at Camp Moshava
in memory of Bernice and Mitchell Macks

By: Rabbi Daniel Kroll

In 1995, when I was 12 years old I headed up to Camp Moshava for the first time. I was nervous as I got off the bus. I had been there before to visit my brothers, but never without my parents. I was in a kvutzah, or bunk, for those of you who don’t know the lingo, with some friends from Chicago, and new kids from Minneapolis and Phoenix. I was relieved when I found out that my madrich was Avi Karesh, whose health should please God continue to improve, because our families were friends. Soon after we had unpacked it began to pour, the likes of which I had never seen before, but I soon found out that this was a good thing as I went with some friends who had been to camp before and went slip and sliding on the grass down various hills around camp - they called it mudsliding. After I had finished mudsliding and changed into dry clothes I wrote a letter home to my parents. “Dear Mom and Dad” the letter said, “I’m coming back here next year and for the rest of my life. I love it.” And I have stayed true to my word; over the past 15 summers I have spent 23 months at Moshava as a camper and staff member, and have not missed a summer.
Last month I served as Rosh Machal, running the program for campers who have just completed 9th grade. Why do I still go back every year? My desire to go back and serve in leadership positions, stems from a simple idea found in this week’s parsha. Moshe, while delivering his farewell speech to the generation that would enter Israel, admonished the people and told them that in a very short time they would go and wage successful wars against the inhabitants of the Land of Israel. The victories they would enjoy would leave them with a vast, beautiful, fertile land filled with vegetation and natural resources. However, he warned them,
השמר לך פן תשכח את ה' אלוקיך
Take care lest you forget Hashem your God,
פן תאכל ושבעת ובתים טבים תבנה וישבת
Lest you eat and be satisfied and you build good houses and settle
ואמרת בלבבך כחי ועצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה
And you may say in your heart, ‘My strength and the might of my hand me all this wealth

Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, in his work the Ktav Sofer, asks the obvious question. How could it be that Bnei Yisrael would ever forget what they had been through? The slavery and subsequent miracle laden Exodus from Egypt. The 40 years of travel through a desert riddled with snakes and scorpions in which no one was ever injured, in which water was provided from rocks and food rained down from the heavens? For forty years they were able to wear the same clothes and shoes! How could it be that they would forget where they came from and what they had been through? Explains the Ktav Sofer that in the desert it was clear to everyone that all that they had, their food, property and their lives came directly from Hashem and no one in their right mind would have attributed their survival and successes to their own strength and might. Up until this point it was easy to see the hand of God in all that they had been through. They departed Egypt after 210 years of slavery without having to wage a war or fight a single battle and in the desert they ate and drank without having to exert a single ounce of energy to prepare their food. However, the future settlers of Israel would only reap the benefits of the land through hard work, both militarily and agriculturally. They would have to fight wars in order to conquer the land and they would have to work the fields in order to produce fruit. And as a result Moshe feared that they, no longer seeing obvious miracles in their everyday lives, would not recognize that all that they had, had come from God and instead would attribute their successes to their hard work.
This is human nature. We are often so consumed with who we are and where we are going in life that we forget how we got there. We forget the people, the moments and the lessons which molded us into the people we are. Occasionally I reflect upon where I am in life and how I got here and I always come to the same conclusion. The single greatest contributing factor to me becoming a rabbi and a teacher, taking a leadership role within the Jewish community, is not my 15 years in the day school system, nor was it my two years in Israel post high school or going to college at Yeshiva University, but it was my time spent at Moshava. As a camper at Moshava I learned how to be independent, but most importantly I experienced and lived Judaism and Religious Zionism. I have few if any memories from when I was 12 years old, but I remember vividly and with complete clarity dancing at Kabblat Shabbat, Friday night zemirot, and the slow, beautiful melodies of the songs at Seudah Shlishit.
What makes camp so special? In short, it’s not school, there are no classrooms. The atmosphere has a strong influence on a child’s learning; there is something about being outdoors and away from your home environment that enables a person to open their mind to new ideas. Oftentimes by as early as first grade children are labeled and categorized by their level of intelligence - classes are tracked and limits are placed on a child’s potential. But in camp, there are no grades. People learn in different ways and for many children text based learning is not one of them and camp recognizes that. For example this year I gained further insight into how strongly our children feel the State of Israel when a discussion about the Gaza flotilla incident went much longer than expected when so many campers wanted to voice their opinions on the subject. On Shiva Asar B’Tammuz we spoke of how fast days are a time for introspection and reflection; a time for self assessment, teshuva and resolving to improve ourselves. I gave everyone a piece of paper and an envelope and instructed them to write letters to their future selves about who they are now and what they hope to be when they graduate from high school; the letters are in my closet and will be mailed in three years. The campers each went to their own spot and privately wrote their letters, some of them taking well over an hour to reflect upon the way they see themselves. Because our schools are text based, such experiences would never take place in the classroom.
To illustrate this point let me share with you the story of a boy from our very own community and the impact Moshava had on his life. This boy, who was 10 years old at the time, had never before showed an active interest in davening, bentching, or singing zemirot. Over the course of the summer he underwent a transformation. His passion for Judaism increased every day. By the final Shabbat of camp he was standing on his bench during singing at Seudah Shlishit, singing with all his might and waving his hands in the air. All of his inhibitions about signing and being religiously expressive in public had faded. He was living Judaism and he loved it. When camp ended and he returned home he was transformed, a new person who was more passionate about his davening and learning. He was only there for one summer, but it was clearly the turning point in his young life; that month at camp fostered his commitment to a religious life.
This is just a small sampling of the power of experiential, informal Jewish education. For me, I know that I am the person, the father and husband I am because of my experience as a counselor and program head. I am a committed religious Jew because of the strong emotional connection I developed to the expressive religious components of Jewish life in Moshava and I will forever be indebted. Which is why I disagree with the decisions of parents who are in the financial position to send their children to camp, but instead opt to send them to summer school or take family vacations. What some people fail to realize is that the impact of Jewish camp does not end on the last day of the summer. Children with meaningful camp experiences are more likely to become adults who value their Judaism, their heritage and its traditions - thy support Jewish causes and take on leadership roles in their communities. As Amy Sales and Leonard Saxe write in their study of the Jewish summer camp experience, anecdotal and statistical evidence confirm that children who attend Jewish summer camps are more likely than those who did not to become leaders in the community, whether as rabbis, educators, professionals or lay leaders.
And if for whatever reason your child did not go to camp encourage them to work at one. Sales and Saxe conclude that some of the strongest effects of camp are on the counselors. As they are forced to become parents for a month, their lives are transformed.
So that’s what I did on my summer vacation. I reflected, I revisited and gave back to the Camp I owe so much of my life to. - כחי ועוצם ידי לא עשה את החיל הזה, my strength and the might of my hand did not give me this wealth, my beloved camp did. It was a productive, fun and meaningful month for me, my family and my campers, even though it did rain an awful lot. One day it rained, some of the hardest rain I have ever seen. I even took some of my campers mudsliding and when I had dried off I called my mother and she asked me, “Do you still like going to camp? Do you think you’ll go back next year?” I told her, “Mom, I’m coming back next year, and for the rest of my life.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Parshat Eikev: By His Name Swear

By Daniel D. Stuhlman

את ה' אלוקיך תירא אותו תעבד ובו תדבק ובשמו תשבע
The Lord your God shall you revere (fear), and Him shall you serve, and to Him shall you cleave, and by His name swear (or take an oath). (Devarim 10:20)

This pasuk appears twice in Devarim (here and in 6:13).

We are so careful when making an oath, that we have a ceremony (Kol Nidrei) Erev Yom Kippur to nullify oaths. Many workers in the labor movement tried to combine socialist ideals with religious ideals. A group of brush makers “swore on a Torah scroll during a strike that they would not serve as strike breaker.” (From Der bund, no. 6 [May 1905] p. 16 quoted in A Time for Building by Gerald Sorin page.30) In 1897 in Krynki there was a general strike after which the workers swore on tefillin that they would support the strike followed by the singing of a Yiddish revolutionary song, Di Shuve (The Oath). (See Sorin page 31) {1} It is interesting that these workers used a Torah and tefillin for an oath because it is close to using God’s name. They used the Torah as a guarantor that their words would be true.

If we want our words to be accepted we use an outside certification of some kind. To verify our signature we use witnesses or a notary public. To verify our identity we use ID cards issued by the State, our school, or employer. We don’t need to use an oath or swear to our identities. I imagine that in a society without third party guarantees, using God’s name or the proxy of the Torah was a way of proving one’s words were true. The oath takers are claiming that God would exact punishment if the words are false.

In Hilchot Shavuot Maimonides tells us what an oath is and warns us to be careful to take only necessary oaths.

כשם ששבועת שוא ושקר בלא תעשה--כך מצות עשה שיישבע מי שנתחייב שבועה בבית דין בשם, שנאמר "ובשמו תישבע" (דברים ו,יג; דברים י,כ): זו מצות עשה--שהשבועה בשמו הגדול והקדוש, מדרכי העבודה היא, והידור וקידוש גדול הוא, להישבע בשמו.
He has commanded us to swear by His name in affirming or denying a matter, lending gravity and dignity to the declaration. The Torah admonished us to swear by his name. On the one hand the Torah also warned us against taking an oath. This is to show us that just as we are specially forbidden to take an oath so we are specifically admonished to take a necessary oath.

Nahmonides attacks Maimonidies’ statement in his Book of Commandments

The taking of even the necessary oath by His name is no duty and constitutes no positive commandment, but merely a permissive action, dependent on us, with many conditions attached. This text is no command, but merely a permissive statement, not as Maimonides make out.

What is the power invoked by swearing with God’s name? Do we need to swear oaths today?
Many of out laws are directly against the practice of idolatry. Does this pasuk tell us anything against idolatry?
Based on comments by Nehama Leibowits in Studies in Devarim Deuteronomy pp. 106-112.

{1} This song, which can be found in Wikipedia, written by S. Ansky in 1902, encourages a united struggle to free the worker-slaves in an oath of blood and tears. The only connection here is the name and nature of the song. It has no connection with my arguments in this article.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What's So Important About the Number 316?

By: Neil Harris

For me, Tisha B’Av isn’t easy. I find that it is difficult for me to mourn and feel the natural and national sorrow that I should for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, at times. Of course, several years ago when our thoughts were on Gush Katif, it was “easier” for me, because everything on the television , radio and web browsers were all turned towards what’s happening in Israel. As I reflect back on this year I can only see headline after headline of Chillul Hashem.

As each day brings us closer to Tisha B’av, I think about what I, as an individual, and we, as a people, are missing without the Beis Hamikdash. Several years ago it was explained to me what’s missing. The number 316. Based on the Chofetz Chaim’s Concise Book of Mitzvos, 316 is the number of mitzvos we, as a people, cannot perform without the Beis Hamikdash. Another way to look at it is that there are 297 mitzvos (including 26 mitzvos pertaining directly to the land of Israel) that we can perform today.

Mitzvos are ways that we can directly attach ourselves to Hashem. But if we only have the ability to perform 297 mitzvos today, without a Beis Hamikdash, then there are 316 ways to attach to Hashem that we are missing. I know there are times when I feel that I’m very far from Hashem. With a Beis Hamikdash things would be different. Wouldn’t it be great to just go stand outside the Beis Hamikdah? Feeling the presence of Hashem would be an automatic spiritual recharge. But I can’t. We, as Knesses Yisrael, can’t. We are missing 316 more ways to get closer to our creator and maybe, this is the point. More of an attachment to Hashem would create more of a Kiddush Hashem and not the opposite.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making Prayer Count

By Daniel D. Stuhlman, DHL
If we think of davaning as an obligation, we leave ourselves open to “speed davaning” and “catching up.” If davaning is just an obligation, one could just hurry to mumble the words and complete the motions. We should look upon daily prayer as a discipline. As a discipline we have an opportunity to vary how we concentrate on aspects of prayer based on mood, time, or surroundings. The experience could change often. As a discipline we have to be regular participants and learners. Everyday we have an opportunity to make the experience special for ourselves and the people around us. Sometimes the experience is better than other days just as some days we arrive at shul in different moods and stages of wakefulness. The more often we davan, the more the words and feelings become part of our inner selves.

As an old text, the words of prayer are not always understood. The meanings could change based on what we know or feel. Sometimes regular attendees of the daily and Shabbat minyan say the words of prayer, but have little conception of the meanings and connotations of the words or the prayers. One’s teachers could have made you memorize every single Hebrew word and its translation, but that is not the way to understand and feel tephilah.

Tephilah is both the communication with God and with your inner self. Tephilah is a way to change yourself, to get going in the morning, to put some divine meaning into the routine of life, or to understand personal struggles.

Tephillah thanks, affirms, praises, requests, and connects us to God. Prayer is more than the liturgy of the siddur and the minhag of the service. Tephilah happens on the personal, communal and divine levels. Sometimes these levels happen to us all in the same service and sometimes we only experience some. We recite the words so that we can hear ourselves and yet not disturb our neighbors. We shake or sway to get the body to participate in the words. The lexical meanings of the words are but one part of the experience. Anyone can be taught the words; it takes a real expert to understand the spaces between the words. When one finishes the amidah, the silence before the hazzan starts the repetition is part of the prayer experience. This silence, called meditation by some, is the silent time when you allow the mind to open up to God’s message. It is the time we wait for an answer.

Silence gives us a break from the words, song, and chatter around us. We not only have to say the words of the liturgy, we have to listen to the answers. Silence is a gift to ourselves indicating that we are more than our social life. Silence is a partner with the liturgy and the social experience of the minyan. Silence banishes external distractions and helps create an inner calm. This inner calm or meditation becomes a partner to establish a clear communication with God and our inner self.

I look forward to listening, visiting, and talking with you after services, at kiddish, in a class, or online. If that is not possible, silence will be sufficient.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Korach: More Than a Feeling

by Neil Harris
Written in merit of a refuah shelaima for Esther bas Sara

If you were served a meal at someone's house and you knew you wouldn't enjoy what was prepared, could you just eat it without making a bracha because you were not at all thankful for what you were about to eat?
If it was Tisha b'Av and you decided that not speaking all day would be more meaningful to you than fasting, would it be ok if you didn't speak, but chose to eat?
Well, if your posek was Korach, then he would probably tell you that what you feel and experience is the basis for how your perform a mitzvah.
In discussing Korach, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that Korach's view was one that utilized "common-sense". Korach argued that each of member of Knesses Yisrael is holy and of equal status to Moshe Rabbeinu. It was a pretty good arguement, since 250 people joined him. However, his campaign was totally fueled by his own feelings that it was "unfair" that only Aaron and his sons were upgraded to the level of being Kohanim, while he, Korach, remained among the Leviim.
This exploration of Korach's thought process can be found in a lecture that was printed in Reflections of the Rav and also in Shiurei Harav (although the version there contains a slightly different summary of this lecture). The Rav states that "Korach was committed to the doctrine of religious subjectivism, which regards one's personal feelings as primary in the religious experience. The value of the mitzvah is to be found not in its performance, but in its subjective impact upon the person, its ability to arouse a devotional state of mind." This was how Korach thought. Rav Soloveitchik felt that "there are two levels in religious observance, the objective outer mitzvah and the subjective inner experience that accompanies it. Both the deed and the feeling constitute the total religious experience; the former without the latter is an incomplete act, an imperfect gesture. The objective act of performing the mitzvah is our starting point. The mitzvah does not depend on the emotion; rather, it induces the emotion. One's religious inspiration and fervor are generated and guided by the mitzvah, not the reverse. The goal is proper kavvahan and genuine devekus, but these can be religiously authentic only if they follow the properly performed mitzvah."
It's not just "how you feel" that gives meaning to the mitzvos we do. First we have to follow halacha, then we can, hopefully, feel something during or after the performance of a mitzvah. That's why there's a separate "reward" for performing a mitzvah and another "reward" for performing a mitzvah with simcha". Korach didn't quite get that concept. He was more concerned about how the person would feel prior to doing a mitzvah, just as he was concerned about himself and his own feelings. His emphasis wasn't on being a servant of Hashem, an Eved Hashem, but only serving himself.
Rav Shlomo Woble, in the second volume of his sefer Alei Shur writes about the concept of '"frumkeit". Usually defined as a term meaning high or superficial piety, it refers to a misplaced Avodas Hashem. It could be an attitude of arrogance or guy'vah about how one performs mitzvos. Frumkeit could also be externally taking on a specific chumra. At its core, frumkeit is simply a false image of our closeness to Hashem. I believe that this was the path that Korach was walking on. He was too focused on what he felt his service to Hashem should be, not what Hashem wanted from him. It was a very false sense of holiness. When a person chooses to be mevater, to put aside or give up his own will for what Hashem wants, then there is nothing that feels better!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Parshat Behalotcha: The Trumpets of Silver

By Daniel D. Stuhlman, DHL

In the fourth aliyah (Numbers 10:1-10) we read instructions for the preparation and use of חצוצרות כסף which is usually translated as “trumpets of silver.” The kohanim are commanded to use these instruments to call the congregation to the אהל מועד (tent of meeting). This is in sharp contrast to the use of an animal horn for the making of a shofar. (For more information on the shofar see my article, “The Translation of Shofar” The חצוצרות כסף were made of beaten sheets of silver, while a shofar could only come from the horn of an animal. A shofar with a silver mouthpiece or covered in metal is not kosher for ritual use. The חצוצרות כסף by law could only be sounded by the priests.

The root of חצוצרות is possibly .חצר This is not a certain root since this root has at least three other meanings in Biblical Hebrew. Hatzotzra (the singular) is possibly a duplication of the צר and/or onomatopoeia. But this is not certain.

One creates a trumpet by taking a sheet of metal, folding it over a form and then hammering it into shape. The seam is soldered or brazed to connect the two sides, sanded and finally polished to remove any signs of a seam. This process takes a skilled artisan and precision tools to make a usable trumpet. The trumpet was a long narrow instrument compared with the bent shape of shofar.

In the upper left quarter of this picture[1] is a 13th century representation of a trumpet. There is also a similar picture on the Arch of Titus. Note the bell is aimed skyward. I was told by trumpet players that this is physically difficult and probably counter to the need to project the sound to the audience. Players normally aim the bell toward the audience by holding it parallel to the ground. This is the posture that I found in modern pictures of trumpet players as soloists and in ensembles.

The חצוצרות were used a both a secular and religious instruments (see II Kings 11:14, 2 Samuel 6: 12–16 and Hosea 5:8 for secular uses). It is interesting that we have no modern equivalent to this instrument. It is not used as a religious instrument or even a Jewish symbol. This is a very distinct contrast to the shofar which today is attached to Jewish ritual.

In our parasha the חצוצרות were used only by kohanim as an alarm and to gather tribes. The word, תרועה is used for the sound. This is the same sound as a shofar. Verse 10:8 even says that this blowing is law for all generations. In mesekhet Rosh Hashanah 27a they discuss blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana with חצוצרות on the two sides of the shofar. This verse is also quote in Yoma 3b. (The full discussion of this Gemara is before the scope of this paper.) In Rambam’s Mishna Torah in Hilkhot Shofar he describes the blowing of the shofar with חצוצרות and says we don’t do it that way.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, The War of the Sons and Lightness and the Sons of Darkness 7:8 – 9:9 (see Theodor Gaster’s translation 3rd ed. Pages 408-410) is a description of the use of both the shofar and hatzotzrot in a battle. Only the priests and levites blew the sounds for directing the battle. Numbers 10:9 is quoted as a source.

In 10:10 we are told to sound the hatzotzrot in every time of gladness and season, which means every holiday. Since the destruction of the Temples, we do not use musical instruments on Shabbat or holidays. This leaves us with a question as to what we can learn from this section. If we turn to II Chronicles 13:12-14, “See, God is with us as our chief, and His priests have trumpets for sounding …” and I Maccabees 4:40 “… and sounded the ceremonial trumpets and cried out to heaven.” The hatzotzrot were viewed as ceremonial objects and sounded by the priests to give the people courage, direction and cheerfulness. We don’t know exactly how instruments were used in the time of the Temple and we don’t know exactly why Numbers 10:1-10 has no connection to any Talmudic, medieval, or contemporary ritual or liturgy. We have no modern equivalent. I have no final conclusion, because we are missing too much information.

[1] This picture is from a book in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, A Book of Testament Miniatures of the Thirteen Century. (Found in: