Sunday, February 28, 2010

Freilechin Purim

7:05 AM - Minyan (the one I've chosen) is at 8:15. I just received a message from an old friend from ninth grade. I switched schools for tenth and the next time I saw him was in YU. It was about five years but in adolescent years that's about a million. We spotted each other and we marvelled over the passing of time. He was in the Morg. elevator I was on the outside and as the door closed, through the crack He said, as I recall, "See you in the old age home!"
Friday night I had two students over. I am more comfortable with the term students than former students, even though when I say students it confuses people. I was so happy that one of them who's not often around here for Shabbos emailed me and asked if he could come. I made chicken soup, they brought mandel bread, but my favorite part of the meal was the conversation.
Each of these students amaze me. One was my student for Gemorah in two different grades and was a stand out. He remembers things I taught, extra credit questions and asides that I forgot! The other was valedictorian and his graduation speech was about his hero, the Sridei Eish...
10:50 AM Recently returned from minyan.There was an announcement mad that money was being collected to be be given todayto poor people in NYC. It stood in contrst to the usual, which is Yerushalayim.
Last night and today I used the Artscroll Esther, which holds the distinction of being the first Artscroll book to come out. I didn't know about it when it first appeared but was made aware of the Ruth commentary when it was published a few months later. I recall Shep Rosen excitedly showing it around like a treasured jewel on Shavuos night at the all night learning.
3:39 PM Soon seudah. In the vein of my mentor Mr. Rogers' sincere sentiment that if it's mentionable it's manageable I share with you that action is hard for me. There are four kabbalistic spheres, and the "lowest" is asiyah - action. To quote my student, "Sometimes when it says the lowest it means the highest." Yes. The world of action is the one we live in. When I was an adolecent and on a crusade to find out why Gemorah is the focus of learning I collected many answers. One Rebbe told me that Gemorah is very in this world, you get your hands dirty when you learn it, it reminds us of the world we're meant to connect with.Purim is an action focused holiday. You have to plan a seudah, prepare mischloach manot, read a megillah twice. It's very community oriented, very much about putting your money where your mouth is and truly doing not simply saying. For me, Purim is hard.


I should be on my way to a communal seudah. Slowly, slowly, said the sloth. Soup made? Check. Matzah balls? Check. Cutlery and paper goods? Check. Wine and soda? Check. Sorbet? Uh oh. Another action to do. Two students that want me to stop by their seudah on the way to mine? Don't think it's gonna happen. Tisch in Brooklyn after seudah, via ride that needs arranging? Maybe. Prep for school tomorrow? Not now. Clean up from Shabbos? Not


4:01 PM - People ask how I write so much. The thing is I hold back. If I could I would write much more, now and always.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tetzaveh, Purim, Death, Life

9:00 PM - It's Purim night and here I am at the keyboard. I have my pride, so I'm writing here and not my (slightly) more public blog. This aveilus thing is confusing. the books don't talk about it, this whole keeping away from celebrations even on Shabbos. I was told that a seudah is fine, any amount of anything. But what about tonight? I live right by Y.U, one of the biggest and best chagigas around, and yet...
I'm going to keep returning to parsha and Purim, so it's not totally random that I'm posting here. But it will be broader than just the parsha ma'am. It'll be kind of like some of my posts from the end of the summer of '08 and the surrounding times.
I feel like a kill joy when I say kaddish. No one wants to hear it. I pick my minyans in part based on acoustics. The new YU Beis Medrash has not worked well for me in terms of acoustics and big crowds in the past as far as kaddish goes. So I went to a smaller minyan in the Rubin Shul. There I was, getting in the last word while every one wanted to eat, drink, and be merry and be done with davening.
Before megillah reading the gabbai announced that if you don't hear a word from the reader you should say it aloud yourself. He said you are halachically permitted to read up to half of the megillah yourself from a book. You shouldn't read it all along with the ba'al korei, Gabbai said, because then you're reading it all not from a klaf and not yotzei and also annoying people around you. He also warned that sometimes you can't make out all the names of Haman's sons and should read them yourself if that's the case (the ba'al korei took umbrage to to this).
The obligation about hearing the megillah always left me wondering, now more-so. What does it mean to hear something. We use the word "hear" as synonymous with understand - as in, "Do you hear what I'm sayin' man?" But they are not necessarily always synonymous. You can hear something with your ears and not understand what's being said, just as you can sometimes not get the words coming out of someone's mouth and yet understand what they are trying to convey.
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The nurse at mom's bedside told that hearing is the last thing to go but that understanding is gone way earlier. They were sure that mom could hear but not understand, and I took their word on that even as I doubted it. In those kind of intense death threatening at your door moments there's an acute need to trust people - sometimes despite your own inclination. I wonder. This is what came to mind this year as I thought my usual thoughts about the reading.
I was also tuned in to timing. How long did the story take? It seems to me that it takes at least ten years. I folded over the pages that stated dates, also pages with lines that resonated.
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11:27 PM I stopped by the YU chagigah. I got there around 9:30 and things were just starting up. It's unclear to me what I can do. My main rebbe/mentor says that anything goes on Purim and that on Shabbos also for the most part. The rabbis I know in the halachik YU community have this thing from Rav Soloveichik about simchas merei'us. Based on that I was told tonight that I could stay on watch but dancing was the one thing it would be better not to do. The rabbi that answered was very kind and other oriented. He gave me a hug and wished me happy times (not in exactly those words). I tried to ask an elder rebbe first but couldn't get to it as he was going on about he's never been before been at the chagigah before it started and it's not like people had to eat after fasting so it's hard to understand how an it be that things aren't underway yet and...
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I can't find my Jewish Week right now. It might be under the couch. As I was dozing last night I read this week's dvar Torah, something I've been doing with added interest since I've published my divrei Torah in that paper. I feel a camaraderie with the other writers, also a curiosity - who else is writing what. This week's writer raised the issue of the paradox of being commanded to destroy the memory of Amalek and also in the same breath being commanded to never forget them. Also raised was the fact that Haman's descendants learned Torah in Bnei Brak.
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I forgot to include in my Tetzaveh piece the idea that a message of the parsha seems to be that even, or perhaps especially, clothing is a major part of avodat Hashem. Also, Rabbi Twerski turns his Tetzaveh thoughts to azut - arrogance, and so does Rabbi Baruch Simon, each coming at it from a different angle....
12:01 AM Wow!!! I am moved. The young rabbi that I spoke to earlier at the chagigah just called me to see how I'm doing! He said that I should keep in mind that the restrictions of the 12 months are a fulfilment of kibbud eim - honoring my mother. He said it was good to see me and that I'm a very special person. It was real, not perfunctory feeling. He was in no rush to go. Gestures like that restore my sometimes wobbly faith in humanity.
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It reminds me of a story I heard from Rabbi Ben Tzion Twersky. His son was in a serious car accident and was in the hospital. He was surrounded by student friends. One of them was a sensitive and talented violin player who played for him, while other offered conversation and company. When the room became filled with students the boy's mother stepped out and sat in the hall outside the room. A few minutes later her cell phone rang. It was the mother of the violin player. He was worried that she felt lonely and could use some company herself and so he asked his mother to give her a call.
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I feel like I could write forever. We all pass time in different ways. I think thoughtful, introspective writing, shared with thoughtful introspective people is a better way to invest time than ways of passing time that I can think of. I thank G-d for this writing. I thank G-d for everything.
Good night and G-d bless
he wrote, thinking about Mom
On Motzai Shabbos
When it was also Purim
And she was completely dead

Tetzaveh - Guest Post - Where's Moshe?

By Kovi Fleischmann

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When looking through Parshat Tetzaveh, one will notice the astonishing fact that it is the only parsha since the time of Moshe's birth that Moshe’s name is not mentioned even once. Among the reasons suggested is that of the Baal Haturim who says that when Moshe was praying on behalf of the Jewish people after the Cheit Ha’egel he said “And now if You would but forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from your book that you have written” (Shemot 32:32). Although Hashem did forgive the Jews for their sin, the words of a Tzadik, at least in some fashion, will always come true. Thus, in this one parsha Moshe’s name is erased. Why, however, was this the Parsha chosen as the one in which Moshe’s name was to be omitted?

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The Vilna Gaon explains that since Moshe was to die on the 7th day of Adar, which almost always falls out during the week of Parshat Tetzaveh, Hashem left out his name here as an allusion to this fact. Why did the Chachomim who set up the parshiot wish to for the parsha in which Moshe’s name is omitted to coincide with the time that he died?

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Rav Zalman Sorotzkin, in his Oznayim LaTorah, explains that it was done to emphasize the fundamental principle in Judaism that we do not treat the leaders of our nation as central factors in our belief and service of Hashem. Our holidays do not revolve around the birth or death of our great leaders, as is often found in other religions. We do not idolize Moshe nor do we atone for our sins through him. Although we know that Moshe was the faithful appointee of Hashem and the greatest navi who ever lived, our emunah is only in Hashem and our service is to Him alone as our master and creator. The Torah leaves out Moshe’s name specifically in this parsha to remind us of this fact.

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Perhaps there is another reason why this, the parsha about the bigdei kehunah, is the one that Moshe is, seemingly, unconnected to. The kohanim, and more specifically the Kohein Gadol, are the spokesmen for the Jewish People. As we know, Aharon was the one who spoke on behalf of his brother Moshe throughout their time in Mitzrayim. The job of the kohein is to reveal the glory - the tif'eret - of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. It says that the qualifications for the Kohein Gadol are that he must be wise, rich, and handsome. It seems quite strange that he must he be handsome; why is this the case? The answer is that he is the ambassador of the malchut of Hashem, and he must be like a magnet to all the people around him to cling to. Moshe Rabeinu was the opposite of the Kohein Gadol. Nowhere does it say that he was handsome, in fact it is implied from the Tiferet Yisrael (who quotes an unknown medrash), that Moshe had the appearance of an ugly man. Nowhere do we find chitzoniut - externals focussed upon in regard to Moshe, but we do an emphasis on this in regard to the kohanim and their clothes - the bigdei kehunah - in particular.

Moshe, who was the ultimate expression of revealing the shechinah - divine aura of Hashem constantly, had no need for these externals. When this idea is taken even further, one can find its connection to why the parsha chosen to be absent of Moshe’s name is the parshah read before Purim. In older editions of the Rambam’s introduction to his magnum opus the Mishneh Torah, Mordechai ias a balshan – a linguist, an expert in languages. Proof to this is the fact that he was able to understand the language of Bigtan and Teresh in their plot to kill King Achashverosh. A parallel medrash calls Mordichai by the name Petachya, one who can find hidden meaning in things.

The message of Purim, expressed through the amazing story of Megilat Esther, is about seeing Hashem where he seems the least apparent. It is about realizing that Hashem is the Master Puppeteer pulling all the strings behind the scenes and that He always, although we may not see it, has the solution set in place even before the problem arises. The essence of who Mordechai was, was the ability to reveal Hashem even when it seemed like Hashem was hiding his face from us. Moshe was on such an unbelievably high level that he was not relevant to this aspect of Mordechai and Purim. Moshe was a walking, talking revelation of Hashem, and even spoke to him face to face. He was the leader of the nation in the time in history that had many open miracles; nothing about his relationship with Hashem was hidden. Since Moshe was the epitome
of openness with Hashem, perhaps it is appropriate for Tetzaveh, the one before Purim, to be the only parsha from Moshe's birth till the end of the Torah, , in which Moshe’s name is hidden.