Friday, September 25, 2009

He'ezinu: Opening Line

This poetic parsha begins with the words:
"He'ezinu hashamayim va'adabeirah,
vetishmah ha'aretz imrei fi -
Pay attention heaven
And I will speak
And the earth will hear
The sayings of my mouth
Rav Dovid Feinstein noticed that regarding shamayim two strong words are used, while two gentle ones are employed for aretz. The heavens are told to listen attentively (he'ezinu) as Moshe addressed them in a strong way (adaberah). The earth is described as hearing (vatishmah) his softly spoken words (imrei fi).

Since the heavens are spiritual in nature, Rav Dovid explains, they are cooperative to commands and can be spoken to bluntly, but in order to remember what they were told they must be cautioned to listen carefully. The earth is physical and must be delicately tilted toward obedience. However, after being gently pulled in, the ground hears and is convinced, therefore no strong admonition to hear or remember is required.

Perhaps this metaphor of heaven and earth and the variant ways they are spoken to and listen alludes to man. People are made up of two parts. What truly makes us human is the piece of us that is different from animals. Our physical side needs to be lured into paying attention to spiritual matters. On the other hand, our souls are quick to respond to the word of G-d. We must remember that although these two aspects coexist inside us, our true selves are our souls.

The analogy the Magid of Dubno used to explain this idea involves a deaf man and a lame man who were close friends. The deaf man carried the lame man on his shoulders, and the crippled man directed and protected the deaf man as they walked. Once they passed a concert hall and the lame man wanted to stop and enjoy the symphony, but the deaf man couldn't hear the music. The lame man quickly handed down a bottle of whiskey to his friend. And as the lame man stopped to take a drink the deaf man was able to stand and listen to the music. Similarly, our bodies are earthy and slow to hear the spiritual, so we get their attention with the physical and bring them along for the spiritual ride.

Alan Morinis wrote a book called Climbing the Ladder of Jacob. It's a book about mussar as a guide to spiritual growth. It's fascinating to read this book and be reminded that mussar doesn't mean being told off. Mussar is a system for self refinement. One line that struck me from the book was the assertion that we don't have souls, we are souls. I knew this, maybe we all do. But how I need to be reminded!

May we all be blessed to appreciate and purify our souls, and to serve G-d with our souls and our bodies, to hear His message and to always grow.

Gemar Chatima Tovah
Good Shabbos
Rabbi Neil Fleischmann

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Rabbi Pesach Oratz Z"TL 2

I am writing and posting in real time and have about seven minutes to do so. I'm between a program and a meeting. The meeting is of the Tanach department. The program was about faith. There was a powerful speaker and then we ran sessions discussing G-d, asking students to write down on a piece of paper a moment in their life when they felt close to G-d. The option was then presented to share what you wrote. One student spoke about losing a disabled sibling and how during the years of that sisters life she felt G-d in their relationship. I wrote a card to and will keep it to myself for now.

I can't stop thinking about Rabbi Oratz. He was a true man of faith, honesty, kindness, and integrity. He was like Kalev, as compared to Moshe/Yehoshua. I believe that he was one of the greatest men alive in our generation. People that know me know that this is not just a case of acharei mot kedoshim emor. I felt strongly that Rabbi Oratz was a great man and said so often while he was alive. The first question I would ask Stern students was if they had him as a teacher.

Not that long ago Rabbi Oratz had the occasion to got to Rav Shlomo Zalman for an eitzah. He stressed to me how taken he was by the friendly, warm manner in which Rav Shlomo Zalman received him. He felt Rav Slomo Zlaman's warmth , caring, brilliance, and presence, and was blown away. That's the way I always felt about Rabbi Oratz.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ki Tavo - Guest Post

"A Torah Portion Of Old Age and Sound Advice"

Wow. I just read a piece. Wow. It's about something I think about all the time: time. It's filled with phrases that explode in your head a second after you read them like literary Pop Rocks ("a fugue for the wisdom of the old playing softly against the stentorian symphonies of youth"). And it's a dvar Torah (sic) which works in the straight Torah and a chidush - that rings true to me - to boot. paints a vivid picture of an old woman named Francis and then organically mentions an old man named Moshe. This piece blew me away.

Youth No More

by Liel Leibovitz

"My next-door neighbor, Frances, cast her first ballot in 1920. She was among the approximately one million women in New York State who celebrated the suffrage movement’s monumental victory that year by participating in the electoral process for the first time in American history. She had voted, she told me, for the socialist Eugene Debs; it was the only time in her life she hadn’t given her voice to the Democratic Party’s candidate. Frances shared that story with me a few days after John Kerry’s defeat in the 2004 election, and I could swear by her look that she still felt a little awkward about having wasted her vote." CLICK FOR FULL ESSAY.