CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 2

Voices of Torah
(Joshua Minkin)
Now the man Moses was very humble,
more so than anyone else on the face of
the earth. (Numbers 12:3)
Humility is a trait highly prized in our
tradition. Musar stresses that it should
be the first soul-trait worked on, because
humility entails an unvarnished and
honest assessment of one's strengths
and weaknesses. Our understanding
of the world and ourselves is refracted
through the lens of ego. Those who have
an inflated view of themselves fail to
recognize their faults and magnify their
However, humility is not humiliation. Too
often we think the paradigm of humility is
Peretz's Bontche Schweig, a man utterly
lacking in self-esteem. Excessive humility
excuses one from taking responsibility for
self and others.
Ironically, arrogance and prideful
behavior are often a mask for low
self-esteem. Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein,
in Musar for Moderns, says he learned
from Rav Kook that "only one who
is unconvinced as to his inherent
worth will feel the need to find
artificial compensation in approval
from without" and speaks of "the
wallowing pre-occupation with one's
past achievements, which is needed to
compensate for the missing conviction of
Krumbein asserts that "positive pride
actually assists humility." This genuine,
balanced humility says, "No matter
how much I have done ... it will never
be enough, because I know myself well
enough to realize that I could have done
much more."
Here is the rationale for Moses's humility.
Despite being the great lawgiver and
teacher and knowing God panim
el panim, Moses restrains his pride.
He takes advice, acknowledges his
ignorance, and always places the
prestige of Israel above his own.

Sh'lach L'cha

(Louis Rieser)

Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to
make for themselves fringes on the corners of their
garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord
of blue to the fringe at each corner. (Numbers 15:38)
The Besh"t taught that his tzitzit had an actual living
soul and moved independently of his body. How
could tzitzit have a soul of their own? He explained
that the inherent holiness of performing a mitzvah
sustained their living soul.
Rav Kook described a hierarchy of soul/character/
behavior that ostensibly suggests the opposite: the
tzitzit are the external expression of the soul, mediated
by our character traits and values. The core of the
soul comes from God. The soul (body) is clothed
with character: "Through its distinctive characteristics
[garments], the soul [body] reveals itself to the outside
world." The tzitzit are the actions and behaviors, an
expression of the character traits of the soul, that
extend from the garment into the world.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, marshalling evidence from
Behavioral Economics that people behave differently
if they believe they are being watched or are
reminded of the values to which they subscribe, tells
us this is the role of the tzitzit: Look at it and recall
all the commandment of Adonai and observe them
(Numbers 38:29).
Rav Kook noted that the sky-blue t'cheilet connects
us to the very Source of life from whom all forces
flow." Sacks notes: "Tsitsit with their thread of blue
remind us of heaven, and that is what we most need
if we are consistently to act in accordance with the
better angels of our nature."
If our tzitzit are to have a living soul, it is because
we give them one by connecting our actions to our
values and character traits back to our souls. To
do that, it might help to life "as if" we are being
watched by God.

Korach (Amy Scheinerman)
Are there people so evil they are beyond any
possibility of redemption?
Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3 lists among those who
have no cheilek baolam haba and his followers.
R. Akiba and R. Eliezer argue the "finer points"
of each group's ignominious demise: Will they
stand in judgment at the time of resurrection, or be
consigned immediately to dissolution? Are some
people irredeemably evil and therefore God utterly
obliterates them? R. Akiba asserts that Korach and
his minions will forever remain in Sheol, never to be
brought up. R. Eliezer (on the basis of I Samuel 2:6)
disputes this: All those who entered into covenant
with God have a cheilek baolam haba-even those
who committed egregious sins.

The Gemara (109b) on this mishnah begins with a
Baraita: "[They went down alive into Sheol, with all
that belonged to them;] the earth closed over them
and they vanished from the midst of the congregation
(Numbers 16:33): This is R. Akiba's view. R. Yehudah
b. Bateira said: They are a lost article, which is
sought, as it says, I have strayed like a lost sheep;
search for Your servant, for I have not neglected/
forgotten Your commandments (Psalm 119:176)."
R. Akiba is focused on the enormity of their sin and
God's retribution. R. Yehudah is concerned with
God's enduring concern for all God's creatures.
When we consider the issues of crime, incarceration,
and capital punishment, do we resemble R. Akiba or
R. Yehudah?

Chukat (Charles Middleburgh)
In all stages of life, we make myriad decisions. Most
are inconsequential but some are highly significant,
even life-changing. They not only define us but
redefine us, changing, potentially, not only what we
become in the world but how we see ourselves.
Chukat illustrates the power and danger of decision
making: Yet again, the Israelites are fed up about
something. As their wanderings in the desert have
stretched out, they have become more pointed in
their disagreements with their leaders and more
rebellious, indeed threatening, toward them. In

Sh'lach L'cha, the people are so furious with Joshua
and Caleb that they threaten to stone them to
death; in Korach, Moses and Aaron's closest relative
engages in sedition to deny their leadership.
After these incidents, a row about the lack of water
may seem incredibly mundane, but it is disastrous for
Moses and Aaron.
Moses seeks guidance from God and he receives it,
simply and clearly expressed. But when the people
assemble in front of the rock, though he knows
(Continued on page 3)


Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017

CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 1
CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 2
CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 3
CCAR Newsletter May - June 2017 - 4
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