CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 4
Voices of Torah
Voices of Torah has lost a magnificent and mellifluous voice of Torah. Rabbi Louis Rieser, z"l, our
teacher, colleague, and friend, contributed to this column for nine years, just one of the countless
contributions he made in his lifetime. Louis's fertile and creative mind taught wonderful Torah
to his congregants, students, as well as to us, his colleagues. We dedicate this column of Voices of
Torah to Louis. In particular, I wrote two pieces with Louis in mind, touching on the sorts of texts
and conversations we enjoyed together as chevruta partners. We extend our sincerest condolences
to Louis's beloved family and all those privileged to know, admire, and love him. Zecher tzaddik
livrachah-May our memory of Louis's righteousness, kindness, and Torah continue to bless us all.
During the week prior to 27 Nisan, on which
Israel marks Yom HaShoah, we read how
Aaron's sons, Nadav and Avihu, were burned
to death. The classical commentators disagree
as to why it happened. Either they had dressed
inappropriately, or had drunk wine, or entered
the Holy of Holies unannounced, or offered
a sacrifice that was not required, or had not
married because they were too busy. There are
always people out there who will tell us why
a particular tragedy occurred. The traditional
Musaf service states that we were exiled from
our land because of our sins.
More interesting is Aaron's response to his loss,
which is expressed in just two words: Vayidom
Aharon. Aaron was silent. The fifteenth-century
Spanish rabbi Isaac Aboab wrote that Aaron
was entrusted with blessing the people because
of his humility. The Priestly Benediction
contains sixty letters-equal to the numerical
value of vayidom.
Not everything requires an answer or an
explanation. Sometimes the best response is
silence. Following the slaughter of the prophets
of Baal, God was neither in the wind, the noise,
or the fire, but in the "still, small voice" (I Kings
But let us return to the Shoah. Rabbi Zvi
Freeman asked: "Who has more faith? The
person who cannot believe in the existence of
God after the Holocaust, or the believer who
attributes the atrocities to God's will? To believe
that it was a punishment for their sins is an
unacceptable affront both to the Jewish People
and to God." A third path would be to refrain
from judging. Sometimes there are no simple
answers. Perhaps this was Aaron's wisdom and
why he remained silent.
We recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a place so depraved that more
than seven decades later we still lack adequate language to describe the organized torture and wanton destruction
that occurred there. We may never fully grasp the extent of loss in the annihilation of millions of Jews, Gypsies,
gays, and racial "others."
Those who survived the abyss are now elderly; fewer remain with us each year, compelling us to find new ways
to preserve their words and experiences. The USC Shoah Foundation is employing artificial intelligence and
holograms toward this end. The project is called "Dimensions in Testimony" (see video at sfi.usc.edu/dit). Survivors
appear in front of a green screen and thanks to technology, one can ask a question in real time and the survivor will
answer. This is a remarkable step in preserving survivor testimony to transmit beyond their natural lifetime.
So many in the United States and Eastern Europe lack basic awareness of the Shoah and elect politicians who deny
historic responsibility. "Dimensions in Testimony" is a prodigious challenge to Shoah deniers who walk the bloodsoaked soil of Europe and Nazi-idolizing white supremacists who lurk in dark corners of the Internet working to
bring their insidious voices to the public square, as in Charlottesville.
Our challenges remain twofold: first, to ensure that the survivors among us have all they need to live out their lives
in dignity; and second, that we continue to tell their stories so that their voices are never silenced.
Tazria-M'tzora discusses two unpleasant and embarrassing subjects: genital discharges and skin diseases. Medicine
addresses disease these days, but what if we used Torah's teaching to address modern plagues such as racism, sexism,
enviousness, and unkindness? Perhaps a family member points out our unkind behavior or a friend identifies an
opinion we have voiced as racist.
Our first impulse on hearing such accusations may be denial. Torah offers us a different path: It directs us to go
to a priest (in our day, a trusted counselor) and confess, "My wife says I am unkind ... or, envious of accolades
paid to others ... or, I would hate it if my child dated a black person." The priest-counselor would consider both
evidence and context and explore with us whether things are other than they seem ("he is clean") or delve into
issues to address, toward the end of helping us change for the better. Seeking guidance requires honesty, humility,
and courage. It is excruciatingly difficult to tell a counselor, "So-and-so said my behavior was racist."
As with the mysterious diseases discussed in our parashiyot, these modern plagues affect others. Racism and
sexism are communicable (children learn them) and some are just plain contagious, such as when I am unkind to
someone, and that person transmits their pain to a third party. Healing is rarely spontaneous; we may need help to
There are many diseases we can cure in the 21st century, and many more we can manage. Beyond physical illnesses
are moral plagues crying out for attention and progress. Perhaps the approach of Tazria-M'tzora can help us cure the
plagues of the human spirit.
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 1
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 2
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 3
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 4
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 5
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 6
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 7
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 8
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 9
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2020 - 10