CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 10

(Continued from page 8) VOICES OF TORAH

Matot
(Amy Scheinerman)
Numbers 30:3 says there is no out
for one who makes a vow to God or,
through an oath, enters into a selfimposed obligation. What is said cannot
be unsaid. In a society that depends
on oral, rather than written, contracts,
spoken vows and oaths play an
important role.
On the one hand, R. Akiba approvingly
asserts, "Vows are a means to
asceticism" (Pirkei Avot 3:17), R.
Pinchas b. Yair includes asceticism as
a necessary component in a causal
chain beginning with Torah study and
leading to resurrection of the dead (BT
Avodah Zarah 20b), and Rava advises,
"Sanctify yourself by abstaining even
from that which is permitted to you" (BT
Y'vamot 20a). Not exactly a call for hair
shirts, but is this necessary to prevent
licentiousness?
On the other hand, the primary mitzvah
of Sukkot is joy, sexual pleasure in a
committed marriage is lauded, Nazarites
are approached with mistrust and
contempt by the Sages, who call them
"sinners" for rejecting the pleasures
God has sanctioned, and the Y'rushalmi
(Kiddushin 4:12) quotes R. Chizkiah
HaKohen in the name of Rav, "In the
future one will be judged for all that
their eyes saw but they didn't eat."
In an era with few restrictions, our
challenge is to teach a golden mean
that emphasizes effect we have on
the lives of others and the benefits
or detriments to our own souls in the
decisions we make and actions we
take-without sounding like we are
promoting asceticism.

Mas'ei
(Amy Scheinerman)
In an era in which Marie Kondo is a
cult hero and her book is a bestseller,
YouTube is glutted with videos on
decluttering, minimalism, and "tiny
houses," and many are rethinking their
relationship with the "stuff" of their
lives, the S'fat Emet (4:193) offers
us valuable spiritual guidance. He
notes that Numbers 33:1-2 mentions
the Israelites' going forth from Egypt

before their marching forward-as we would expect-but then reverses the order, mentioning their "going
forward" prior to their "coming forth." The underlying message, he tells us, is that "going forward" depends
upon "coming forth," which is not merely a chronological fact, but a spiritual message for our lives. "A
person who turns away from material things has to do so in order to cleave to God to be a person of
heart. We should not turn away from the corporeal because we find it repulsive." The initial, chronicle, and
expected order-"their coming forth and going forward"-teaches us that "God gave such great beauty
to physical things [but rather] so that our deed should be only for the sake of heaven." The subsequent
reversal denotes one's spiritual development farther from dependence on material possessions and closer
to God. The S'fat Emet is not recommending asceticism, but rather prioritization: when we "go forward,"
beginning from the perspective of closeness to God, then we have "come forth from Egypt," not enslaved
by corporeality and material possessions, but rather understanding them as a means to serve God and
humanity. Think how much easier that will make decluttering.

D'varim
(David Novak)
The Book of D'varim is spoken words by Moses, impassioned rhetoric to influence communal behavior
after he dies. He has seen for himself how often during the journey the people have rebelled. For Moses,
irrespective of his speech impediment, this is a liminal moment between life and death requiring passionate
exhortation. His words reflect his fearful interiority, having led and experienced this people for four
decades, rightfully concerned that acting out their anxieties and unconscious behaviors, they will turn away
from the God of Israel and be easily seduced into foreign practices.
Throughout his orations, one hears an echo of the Golden Calf apostasy. There, Moses's temporary
absence heightened the people's anxiety. To soothe themselves, they created and celebrated an idol.
Moses uses this seminal event as a dire warning as they enter the Promised Land.
As for Moses, spoken words are one of the tools with which we confront the anxieties of our time for the
people we serve. We rely on words to comfort, to inspire, to heal, to soothe. We employ our words of
persuasion to provide spiritual uplift and convey moral authority.
Recognizing that people will do what they will do, we would do well to take our cue from Moses: to use
all of our rhetorical power to address contemporary worries, reduce fear and unhealthy behaviors, and
encourage healthier outlooks that promote community, gentleness, kindness, caring, and self-compassion
as paths to soothe life's jagged edges. In so doing, we echo Moses in confronting the dangerous
seductions that permeate modernity.

Tishah B'Av
(Charles Middleburgh)
As a lifelong liberal Jew I never paid much attention to the Ninth of Av. Its primary focus as a day of
mourning for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temples, the latter of which ended the sacrificial cult and
democratized early Judaism, felt like something to celebrate rather than mourn. Contemplating later
disasters deemed to have befallen our people on the Ninth of Av struck me as a recognition that the day
needed to have its relevance regularly updated and reinforced, a sign that the impact of its initial cause
was dwindling. For some, the Judeo-centric focus on past tragedies may feel out of keeping with our
globalist times.
Yet today more progressive Jews are marking the Ninth of Av than ever before, albeit not always by fasting.
This demands a reevaluation of attitude. Striking the balance between recalling the past without being
shackled by it is difficult to achieve. Why not juxtapose a grim memory of suffering with a positive one of
achievement, of violence with peace, of sadness with joy? This would remind us, in a way that traditional
observance of the Ninth of Av does not, that Jewish history includes highs as well as lows, extraordinary
achievements as well as suffering. Above all it would prevent us from that most egregious failing: seeing
the Jew as victim and Jewish history as a vale of tears. Let it rather encourage us to embrace our diverse
and remarkable past and remember that Jews are always at their best when looking outwards and
engaging with the world.

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CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019

CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 1
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 2
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 3
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CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 5
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 6
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - i1
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CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 7
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 8
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CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 10
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CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 12
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