CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 6
Voices of Torah
(Joshua Minkin with Amy Scheinerman)
How long should a prayer be? The shortest
prayer in the Torah is in this week's
parashah. Moses prays for God to heal
Miriam when she is struck with tzara'at for
gossiping against Moses. Moses's prayer is
a mere five syllables in length: El na r'fa na
lah (Numbers 12:13). The longest prayer is
Moses' prayer for God to forgive Israel for
the sin of the Golden Calf. Moses prays for
forty days and forty nights.
We saw the Nephilim there... and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves. (Numbers 13:33)
Forty days and nights and the people are
forgiven. Five monosyllables and Miriam
is forgiven. Same result. Why does Moses
pray for forty days and nights if five
syllables would suffice? Some would say
that the lengthy prayer fulfilled a need for
Moses. Others would say that while God is
poised to forgive, since God loves to hear
the prayers of Israel, God withholds the
grant of forgiveness until Moses exhausts
his capacity to pray.
Rabbi Akiva used to pray all night long
when he was praying by himself, but when
he was leading the community he kept
it short so as not to burden anyone (BT
The effectiveness of worship is not
dependent upon the length of the service.
The traditional Jewish three- or four-hour
service is consistent with the cultural
custom of Eastern Europe. Russian
Orthodox Sunday worship is approximately
that length. The hour-long worship of
classical Reform is consistent with the
culture of Central and Western Europe.
The best length for a worship service is
that which best suits the needs of the
I am a procrastinator. Often I put off a task thinking it is so easy that it will be a snap to get it done
later. There always seems to be something more critical to do until the task I have put off has
become the critical one. I sometimes avoid projects I believe will be difficult or distasteful. When I
finally get to it, I find myself facing a frighteningly blank page filled with what I haven't yet done. It
has become enormous and I am as a grasshopper in my own eyes.
Experts report that 20 percent of the population self-identifies as chronic procrastinators.
Psychologists often term procrastination a maladaptive "lifestyle," or a learned response to
authoritarian parenting that prevents a child from learning self-regulation, or a rebellion against
domineering parenting. Some procrastinators lie to themselves (e.g., "I work best under
Some focus on what others think, fearing failure or even success. The ten spies seem unaware
that Moab dreads the Israelites (Numbers 22:3), and as Rahab reports to the spies who penetrate
Jericho, "The dread of you has fallen upon us" (Joshua 2:9). Their fear outstrips their ability to
The happy news is that psychologists tell us that procrastinators can change. Menachem
Mendel of Kotzk envisioned God asking the ten spies, "Why are you so concerned with how the
Canaanites see you, so much so that it distracts you from your sacred task?" Often I find the
solution is to do what Joshua and Caleb urge the Israelites to do. Just do it. Trust that in the end,
success will follow. I write-something, anything-and the page is no longer blank. Intimidating,
yes, but I am now a creator, not a grasshopper.
This week's Torah portion tells us of how Korach and his band rebel against the authority of Moses
and Aaron, contending that inasmuch as all of the community is holy, they have no right to set
themselves above the rest. Of course, neither Moses nor Aaron has chosen their respective roles.
It is God who told Moses to go to Pharaoh in spite of the former's misgivings, and Aaron, in turn,
was called upon to minister in the Tent of Meeting.
Perhaps it is time for a change of leadership, and Korach's act could, therefore, be viewed as a
revolution rather than as a rebellion. Are Korach and his followers really so evil that they deserve to
have the earth swallow them up?
Whereas the disputes between Hillel and Shammai were l'shem shamayim, Korach is motivated
by ego and self-interest, and therefore our tradition condemns him. He is accused of having asked
Moses annoying questions such as whether one needs to affix a mezuzah to a house filled with
holy books or whether a tallit that is entirely blue requires fringes (see Rashi on Numbers 16:1).
The Talmud tells us that Korach discovered one of the treasure troves hidden by Joseph (P'sachim
119a) and is, therefore, very wealthy. Rich people frequently seek power.
However, perhaps his greatest fault is in stating that "all of the community is holy" (Numbers 16:3).
Holiness is not a state of being but rather an aspiration. "K'doshim tihyu" (Leviticus 19:2) is a call
to strive to be holy. Korach thinks that he is already there. Rabbi Eliezer HaKappar taught that
envy, desire, and honor drive a person from the world (Pirkei Avot 4:21). Unfortunately, Korach fails
to understand that.
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 1
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 2
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 3
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 4
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 5
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 6
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 7
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 8
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 9
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 10
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 11
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 12
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 13
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 14
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 15
CCAR Newsletter May-June 2014 - 16