CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 8
Voices of Torah
When a man or woman commits any
wrong toward another person, thus
breaking faith with Adonai ... that person
shall confess the wrong ... [and]make
restitution.... So, too, any gift among
the sacred donations that the Israelites
offer shall be the priest's. And each
shall retain his sacred donations: each
priest shall keep what is given to him.
(Numbers 5:5-7, 9-10)
Torah deems a wrong done to another
as an offense against God. It employs
the language of m'ilah (misappropriation
of God's property) and prescribes
confession and atonement. Numbers
5:10, however, is an enigmatic verse.
Despite its apparent meaning, BT
B'rachot 63a explains that "his" refers
not to the priest, but to the donor. How
is ownership conveyed from one party to
The Apter Rebbe, Avraham Yehoshua
Heshel, in his commentary Ohev Israel
(Naso 1) interprets the verse as eluding
to a three-step process for how the
things of this world belonging to God
(Psalm 24:1) become ours (Psalm
115:16). The mechanism that launches
the process is the recitation of a blessing.
But there is more: the blessing ultimately
returns to bless the entire world. Reciting
a blessing unlocks the divine flavor and
spiritual aroma of even mundane food
and drink, which in turn elevates the
matter's divine sparks to return to their
Source and Roots. This, in turn, pulls the
Shefa (Divine Flow) into all the worlds,
infusing everything with God's influence.
The Apter Rebbe invites us into the
spirituality of blessings by experiencing
them sensually, viscerally, and not merely
as an intellectual exercise in adherence
All this is triggered by a simple b'rachah.
Imagine every blessing you recite as
igniting divine sparklers that sets the
process in motion.
Trumpets proclaim transitions. Just as shofar blasts heralded the epiphany (Exodus 19:16, 19), so trumpets in
B'haalot'cha bracket the entire 13-month Mount Sinai experience.
The shofar plays a resounding role in Israel's most significant transition, from slaves to Pharaoh to servants
of God. From the Exodus 18 arrival at Mount Sinai to Numbers 10, our people encamped for revelation.
Committed now to God and possessing the Torah, one might argue that the shofar blasts promulgate the
moment Jewish history truly commences.
The Rosh HaShanah shofar service also addresses transition. We remind God of our repentance and return,
a sacred experience marked with the blaring horn. The shofar sounding in our new Mishkan HaNefesh, which
prioritizes the shofar as the central feature of morning worship, emphasizes both personal and communal
return to God.
In the seventh intermediary blessing of the weekday T'filah, we implore God to gather in the exiles,
announcing this momentous messianic event with the shofar, fulfilling Isaiah 27:13. Yet liberal Jews today are
embroiled in a machloket. Is the emphasis of our prayer cheiruteinu, universal freedom for all humanity, or
kibbutz galuyot, a particularistic ingathering demarking Israel's uniqueness before God? Is the future divine
transition we pray for primarily about the special status of the Jewish people in God's eyes or about universal
Clearly the two major Jewish events of the twentieth century, the Shoah and Hakamat HaM'dinah, have
sharpened the debate over the historical universalist ethic of Reform Judaism. Is the State of Israel primarily
about the safety of the Jewish people confronting persecution or the universal redemption of humanity?
Precisely whose deliverance, in the 21st century, ought the shofar proclaim?
As I write this, it is match day for New York City middle schoolers entering public high schools. The match
works much the same as the medical school-residency match, allegedly resulting in as fair a process
as possible. At every step in the application process, families are advised not to list only the top two or
three high schools desired, but rather include acceptable, if less desirable, options. Yet every year, some
parents try to "game the system," listing only their first three or four choices. Children who are unmatched
are assigned to a random high school, and their angry parents demand they be allowed to resubmit their
choices, with more schools on the list.
When the Israelites hear God's judgment that the current adult generation will die in the wilderness, they
react much as many New York City parents do. They pretend it didn't matter that they spurned God's plan
for the conquest of the Promised Land and show up bright and early the next day ready for battle. Moses
(like the Board or Education) tells them, in essence, "It's too late-the opportunity has passed." They
persist, but to no avail (Numbers 14:40-45).
Decisions are only as good as the information on which they are based. Strong emotions warp perceptions:
"We felt like grasshoppers" (Numbers 13:33). Wishful thinking ("Of course my child will go to Harvard")
results in false optimism. Conspiracy theories prevent us from accepting our limitations to achieve our
hopes and our dreams.
Life choices demand considerable forethought. Very rarely are we given a "do-over."
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
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 4
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 5
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 6
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - i1
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - i2
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - i3
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - i4
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 7
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 8
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 9
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 10
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 11
CCAR Newsletter May/June 2019 - 12