An Absence of Color and Light

By Student Rabbi Stacey Robinson

We sat among the willows,
and we wept,
there by the river
that flowed
clear and cold and swift,
–branches dancing,
barely dancing–
as they swayed
and swept the ground.

We stood among the weeping trees,
Prayers mixed with
visions of ash.
and smoke
that rose and billowed,
Black against purple-stained blue
— the blue of periwinkles
and royalty–
and a sky smudged with soot and
an absence of color
and Light,
and the altars we had left behind.

How can we sing
with no stone walls
adorned with lapis and gold:
— the blue of royalty
and the blaze of the sun–
How,
before that pillar of fire,
that billowing smoke
that is empty of God
and absent of Light?
That raged in a fiery, metallic storm,
licking at loose rubble,
that once was strong walls,
that once was adorned with
the presence of God?

We wept,
and did not sing,
and found no music
in our unstrung lyres
and broken harps.
We wept,
for how could we sing?

And after the weeping
and the fire
and the absent,
Empty,
broken altars–
Pale morning.
and skies of purple-stained blue
shot through with scarlet and gold.
Mist tangled in those willows,
their branches dancing–
barely dancing–
barely skimming the swiftly flowing waters.

A moment–
A breathless,
silent
sacred moment.
that was a psalm,
A hymn of color,
and holiness
Made anew.
And there was no absence.
And there was light.

And there,
among the willows
by that swiftly flowing river,
We found a new prayer
And sang.

 

For Tisha B’Av

 

Hebrew Seminary Celebrates its 25th Anniversary!

We cherish and honor our Board members who devote much time and energy to support our program and our students. In April we celebrated our 25th Anniversary with great fanfare and learning. We also honored the Golder Family Foundation — Joan Golder is seen here with Allen Meyer.

Because we are a 501c (3) not for profit organization, we rely on generous individuals and corporations to support our programs.https://www.hebrewseminary.org/donate_online.aspx

 

Hebrew Seminary’s 25th Anniversary also brought honor to Nona Balk who served as director for 20 years; seen in the top photo with her son David and President Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer. Below, Advisory Board member Allan Rosenblum greets guests.

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The Teaching of Pinchas Cannot be Condemned, But ….

By Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

In last week’s Torah portion, members of the community of Israel profane themselves by engaging in licentious behavior with Moabite women and worshiping the Moabite god. Hashem becomes incensed with Israel and tells Moses to impale the leaders committing these actions.  “The Lord’s wrath may turn away from Israel.” (Numbers 25:4)  Pinchas witnesses an Israelite consorting with a Midianite woman in front of Moses and the Israelite community. Pinchas takes a spear and stabs the guilty Israelite Zimri and the woman Cozbi fatally.

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, begins with Hashem saying to Moses, “Pinchas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the Israelites by displaying among them his passion for Me, so that I did not wipe out the Israelite people…I grant him my pact of friendship…It shall be for him and his descendants after him a pact of priesthood for all time, because he took impassioned action for his God.”  By killing Zimri and Cozbi, Pinchas fulfilled Hashem’s command to Moses. He directed his complete being, body and soul, to maintain the complete integrity of the Jewish people’s commitment to the covenant of God which was clearly articulated at Sinai.

Pinchas publicly challenged the community of Israel and its lack of adherence to the sacred code of the 613 commandments of Torah.  Clearly, the moral code of the New Israelite polity was put to its first public test.  Zimri and Cozbi participated in an irresponsible and despicable return to pre-Sinai morality.  If God was everything, as Aristotle teaches (“thought thinking itself”), then God was subject, predicate and object.  As Torah maintained again and again, there is nothing but God. Therefore, Pinchas’s zealotry was a religious act, determined not only to preserve the crown of God’s glory – the New Covenant of Torah—but it was also a moral act, designed to preserve God Himself.

In commenting on this week’s Torah portion, Levi Yitzhak writes in Kedushat Levi, Pinchas zeh Eliyahu. Pinchas is Elijah [Zohar II, p. 190A) and Elijah lives on forever (Zohar II, p. 197A-B.) How is this so? We must understand that our physical bodies are not deeply connected to Divine service, since the body tends to look out for its own needs.  But, our soul is always attuned to the fear of heaven. The body is unlike the soul.  It is corruptible, it dies. However, if the body could serve God like the soul at all times, no one would die….”

Pinchas accepted that in killing Zimri and Cozbi, his own life was at risk.  He might be killed for stabbing Zimri and Cozbi.  But, Pinchas did not give thought to his own physical needs. He was devoted to serving God, with both body and soul. Pinchas saw his body and soul as one, having no distinction.  And for this zealotry, God rewards him with “a pact of friendship and a pact of priesthood for all time.”

Yet, last week’s Torah portion and this week’s portion, are not that clear cut. Of course, we are all God. There is no separation between us and God. There is no empty space in the universe that is devoid of God.  This leads to all kinds of healing.  As I said,  Aristotle’s definition of God as “thought thinking itself” denies that there are some places devoid of God and affirms the Deuteronomic claim that God is everything and everywhere.   I know our Kabbalistic tradition holds Pinchas at the highest level, but I have difficulty championing Pinchas’s zealotry and murder and then God’s particular blessing.  I am puzzled that God can reward someone for the savage murder of two people.

I love God; indeed, God is love. I recognize that Levi Yitzhak’s commentary suggests that the reason Pinchas received this blessing was that he had transcended physical needs and physical concerns, and was completely devoted to God. Does this redeem the terrorist, particularly in our age of “suicide martyrs”?  Levi Yitzhak’s view is profound, but it steps onto a slippery slope. This teaching of Pinchas cannot be condemned, but at the same time, it cannot be applauded. Yes, the Aristotelian teaching that soul and body are one is very important, and is part of our Jewish faith, but each time we learn that soul and body are one, we have to recognize its context. We cannot be so open minded that our brains fall out, and we applaud the suicide martyr.

When we look at this text in our Torah scroll, the letter yud in Pinchas’s name in verse 11 is written smaller than the other letters. This teaches that, when we act with violence, the yud in us (standing for the name of God and for the name “Jew”) is greatly diminished. Let us remember that the Torah is truly the word of God. Frankly, there is no separation between the word and the writer. The Torah is indeed the Lord our God.

Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer is the senior rabbi of Congregation Bene Shalom, Skokie, and the president and professor of Kabbalah at Hebrew Seminary, Skokie.

The Jewish People Have the Ticket

As part of our 25th Anniversary Torah v Talmud debate, Hebrew Seminary Board member Allen Meyer presented the following well received and most enjoyable story about the relevance and longevity of Jewish values, traditions and peoplehood.

Chapter One

Albert Einstein boards a train. It leaves the station. The conductor comes to collect the tickets. He gets to Einstein who looks high and low for it. He looks in his cuffs, in his pockets, his briefcase and even gets up to see if he is sitting on it. The conductor says, “Don’t worry, I know who you are. You are Albert Einstein. I don’t need your tickets. I am sure you have one. You are Albert Einstein, it’s an honor.” The conductor moves on to other passengers. He hears rumbling and looks back. There is Albert Einstein on all fours. Looking under the seat, opening his suitcase which he had taken down from the overhead compartment. The conductor comes back and says, “Mr. Einstein, I told you I know who you are. I don’t need to see your tickets, I am sure you have one.” Einstein replies, “I understand, but I need to know where I’m going!”

The Jewish people have taken many trains. Some to places of wonder, some sadly to places of death. But we have survived because we always have had the ticket. The Torah has been our ticket, our template. It has remained unchanged, undeterred and steadfast. The Jewish people have the ticket.

Chapter Two

Three airplanes are flying east over the Atlantic. The first one lands in Athens. An old man exits and is greeted by an attendant. “What is your name the attendant asks?” “My name is Socrates.” “And what brings you to Athens?” Socrates replies, “What brings me to Athens? This is my city, this is my country.” “Never heard of you.” “Take me to the Acropolis!” The attendant replies, “The Acropolis? For $7 you can see the remnants, I think a tour starts in 45 minutes. Socrates says “Take me to Zeus!” The attendant replies, “We don’t worship at Zeus anymore.” Socrates asks, “What do you worship?” “We have the Greek Orthodox Church.” “What is the Greek Orthodox Church?” “The religion of Greece … (which of course developed centuries after Socrates.)” “Tell me, how is Greek philosophy doing, where do they study my work, the works of Plato and Aristotle?” The attendant replies, “It’s pretty obsolete, maybe a few Professors teach it on one of the Islands. I heard there is a retreat once a year; it’s mostly drinking.” “Do people still fear the Greek Empire?” He replies, “There is no Greek Empire, we are barely a country. People fear if their money will still be available to them in the banks tomorrow.” Socrates asks, “Why aren’t you speaking the language I wrote in; the language of Ancient Greece?” The attendant replies, “We don’t speak that language anymore.” Socrates says, “This is not my Athens, this is not my country. Get me out of here.”

Chapter Three

Another plane lands in Rome. A Statesman exits looking old and disheveled, blood still on his shirt. An attendant greets him and asks what his name is. “My name is Julius Caesar.” “Oh, like the Caesar salad?” Caesar replies angrily, “How is Rome doing? How is the Roman Empire doing?” The attendant laughs and says, “There hasn’t been a Roman Empire in 1,500 years!” “So what is Rome now?” “It is a city; the capital of Italy.” “What is Italy?” “A member of NATO.” “Take me to the Coliseum!” The attendant replies, “For $8 I can show you the remnants. I think a tour starts in 45 minutes.” “Do people still worship Venice?” “No, we have the Vatican.” “What is the Vatican?” “The seed of Catholicism?” What is Catholicism?” “You never heard of Christianity or the Pope?” “No, tell me.” “Well it’s a long story, you see there was this Jewish boy.” “Why aren’t you speaking Latin?” “Who speaks Latin? A few Academics.” “What do you speak?” “We speak Italiano, the language of Italy.” “What is this Italy known for?” “Pizza and Pasta.” Julius Caesar says, “This is not my Rome, get me out of here.”

Chapter Four

A third plane lands at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. An old man comes out and is greeted by an attendant who says two words to him, “Shalom Alechem.” The old man replies, “Alechem Shalom.” The attendant looks at the old man and says, “Ma shimcha, what is your name?” The old man says, “My name is Moshe, and what is your name?” The man replies, “Gam ani Moshe, my name is also Moshe. I come from Russia. Where do you come from?” The old man Moshe replies, “I come from Egypt.” “Really! What brings you here?” The old man Moshe replies, “I come to my homeland.” “Have you been here before?” Moshe answers, “No, but I tried getting here for 40 years, believe me I tried. I tried very hard; it didn’t work out. Trust me, I made a lot of sacrifices for this land. I’m entitled to call Israel my homeland.” The attendant says, Moshe, Welcome to your homeland!” Old man Moshe turns to him and says, “I have an embarrassing question. Socrates and Caesar were in such a rush to find their golden roads in Athens and Rome, I forgot something. Does anyone in this country have what is called a Tallis and Teffilin?” Moshe laughs pointing to his bare arm, “I just finished Shachrit, the morning prayer. Look at the marks on my arm from the Teffilin straps, the box mark on my head. You can borrow mine; they are in my backpack. You see that room there, it a Shul here in the airport. Maybe 200 people are also finishing their prayers. Anyone would lend you their Tallis and Teffilin!” Old man Moshe says, “I have one more favor; I’m starving. I haven’t eaten in a few thousand years. Do they have food here in Israel?” “Food?” the attendant Moshe says. “They don’t stop eating here. In the airport alone there are 90 restaurants.” Old man Moshe says, “You may not understand, I need Kosher. You know from Kosher?” Moshe replies, “Kosher? They have every type of kosher. Glatt Kosher, Semi Glatt, Almost Glatt, Tuesday and Thursday Glatt, Deli Glatt, Dairy Glatt, Jewish style, every type of certificate. OU, KU, Gluten Free Certificate, Free Range Kosher, Grass Fed Kosher, and coming soon Amazon Kosher! They have every type of Kosher. Chinese Kosher, Thai Kosher, French Kosher, Brazilian Kosher, even Subway and McDonald’s Kosher…..no cheeseburger, no cheeseburger……fries!” “WOW!”

Old man Moshe finishes eating and then asks, “So what do they teach in the schools today?” “Come with me, I have a security pass. There is a small school nearby.” They walk across the street and Moshe hears a song. They enter a small classroom and the teacher tells her students to open their Chumash, their Bible, and repeat as one. And old man Moshe hears, “”Va y’dabeir Adonoi el Moshe l’mar.” And G-d spoke to Moses and he said….” And two huge tears fell from the eyes of Moshe Rabbenu.

If Socrates and Caesar land today in Athens and Rome, what will they recognize? Only the geography, if that. But if Moshe Rabbenu lands in Israel what will he find? The same language, the same values, the same heritage, the same traditions, the same G-d, the same Mitzvot, the same Shabbat, the same Yiddishkeit, even the same arguments. The same Rams horn, the same Tallis and Teffilin, the same philosophy, and yes my friends, the same letters, written the same way, with the same spacing on the same parchments forming as it still exists  behind every ark in every Synagogue on this planet, giving we Jews our continuity despite everything. Moshe Rabbenu will find the exact same template which has kept us as a people for centuries…..The Torah. As it says over our ark, Da lifnei mi atah omed. Know before Whom you stand.

Summer is a perfect time to visit Hebrew Seminary and find out what we are all about.

What makes Hebrew Seminary unique and different is that we struggle to find the text in God. Yes, we want our rabbis to be teachers, scholars and pastors. That’s what a rabbi should be. But Hebrew Seminary teaches its students to also be healers and spiritual guides.

Hebrew Seminary Summer Semester 2018
June 25 – August 23, 2018

Mondays
10:00 – 11:30                                          Rabbi Pinchas Eisenbach
Pastoral Counseling

Tuesdays
11:00 – 1:00                                             Rabbi Michael Cantor Davis
Advanced Biblical Hebrew

1:15 – 2:45                                               Rabbi Michael Cantor Davis
High Holiday Liturgy

Wednesday
10:30 -12:30                                            Rabbi Marcey Rosenbaum
Jewish Calendar & Holidays **

12:45 -2:45
Biblical Hebrew                                     Rabbi Shari Chen

Thursday
10:30 – 12:00                                          Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub
The Status of the Heresh in Jewish Law

12:30 – 2:00                                             Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub
Talmud

1:15 – 2:45                                                 Rabbi Shari Chen
Biblical Hebrew

3:00 – 4:30                                               Dr.Stephanie Kutzen
Rabbinical Skills in Crisis Intervention & Self-care as First Responders

 

To visit classes, please call Alison Brown @ 847/ 679-4113.

Jewish Calendar & Holidays **
This class is open to the Hebrew reading public.
The first hour will look at the Yomim Tovim from the aspect of ritualized time and the second hour will focus on Torah and commentary to view the holidays.

For the Rest of Us, It Is Subject to Debate

On April 29 we celebrated our 25th Anniversary. Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer introduced the (Heavenly) debate: Torah v Talmud with these well-received words:

The Torah contains  the 5 books of Moses, given or inspired by God to Moses. In later years, Jewish scholars would write 19 additional books. These 24 books would be called Tanach, or the Hebrew Bible, or, by the Christians, the Old Testament.

After our two ancient temples and the Sifrei Torahs, were destroyed in 586 and 70, our sages pondered how we Jews could continue to study Torah in the diaspora- Persia, Iraq, Germany, Spain, and throughout the world. And so, over a period of hundreds of years, the Rabbis wrote a multi-volume, or multi-tractate interpretation and adaptation of the Torah , which we studied in foreign lands. These books or Tractates were called the Talmud.  And yet, after the passing of hundreds and hundreds of years, it appeared that each text was a Torah in itself.  If you close your eyes, you can manifest a vision of the rabbis studying the original Torah, and if you continue to manifest your vision, you can see rabbis of the Talmud discussing passionately the Laws of the Torah in different countries of the Diaspora, as if these rabbis were a living community of Torah scholars.

Let me share a story that one of these rabbis of the second torah tells. It’s found in

Talmud Tractate Gittin 56B. We are told that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, leader of the Jewish people, during the Roman invasion, faced a question of life and death.  Vaspasian, leader of the Roman army, and soon to become the Roman Emperor, brought the Jews to almost death.  Jerusalem fell. There was nothing to eat.  Despair and lack of faith overtook the Jews. The Jews intuited that the second temple would be looted at any moment.  The Roman Army was huge, and cruel, and had much greater weapons than the Jewish army. Yet, Rabbi Yochanan thought of a plan that saved Judaism. He hid in a coffin, and his disciples smuggled him into Vaspasian’s camp, where Rabbi Yochanan then went before Vespasian. “Why are you here?” asked Vespasian.

“We are willing to surrender on one condition,” said Rabbi Yochanan.  “Give me the city of Yavney and its sages.”  You see, the city of Yavney was the center of Jewish learning in Israel, and was the home of brilliant rabbis.

Vespasian saw no harm in such an agreement.  He did not realize that the agreement would allow the Jews to outlive the Romans by thousands of years. The Roman Empire is no more. The Greek Empire, the Moabite kingdom, the Amalakites and Hittites have also disappeared.

But Israel survives: Rabbi Yochanan understood that the issue of Jewish survival does not depend on Israel’s possession of the land or a large strong army. But rather, on a strong sense of identity and ideology and deep love and understanding of Torah, whether it be the 5 Books of Torah, or whether it be the new Torah that paints pictures of rabbis discussing loving the laws of Torah as if these rabbis of the Talmud were a contintinuous living community of men of Torah.  So the question is not which is the greater text – Talmud or Torah. But the question is which is the greater text ; Torah or Torah?

Rabbi Yochanan turned the sense of Jewish peoplehood on its head. He created what Heinreich Heine called “a portable fatherland.” This land was none other than the covenant between God and His people. This Covenant manifested itself in the first Torah and in the Second Torah. It was Torah and Torah, each supporting a covenant with God.

There is a Jewish tradition that says there is no heaven, no hell. We all go the same place when we die – where Moses and Rabbi Akiva give everlasting classes  on Torah and Talmud. For the righteous, this is eternal bliss; for the wicked, this is eternal damnation. For the rest of us, it’s subject to debate…..

 

Thank you once again to our debaters Rabbi Pinchas Eisenbach, Allen Meyer, Rabbi Marcey Rosenbaum, Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub and moderator Arnold Pritsker for an excellent program!

 

 

 

Be Our Guest!

Kiddushin 29a

The Talmud says that you must teach your children Torah, how to make a living and how to swim.

At Hebrew Seminary, under the leadership of Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer, we have been teaching these skills for 25 years!

 

We teach Torah to rabbinical students who wish to learn and teach Torah forevermore.

We prepare students to make a living by Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid, always placing God before us to assure acting with kindness, understanding, love and Jewish learning.

We teach our rabbinical students how to swim while guiding others to shore amidst the ebb and flow of life.

Be Our Guest!

29 April 2018

12 noon – 2:30 pm

Hebrew Seminary’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

at Hebrew Seminary

 

Practical Applications of Kabbalah for Your Daily Life

“Practical Applications of Kabbalah for Your Daily Life”

A ten-session class

With Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer

Sundays, February 25 – May 6

12:00 – 1:30pm

Kabbalah has many important practical applications that can impact your life on a daily basis – your health, your finances, your relationships with others.  Learn how to connect with Hashem, and activate the Divine within you.  In this class, noted scholar and author Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer will focus on the fundamental principles of Kabbalah and how it can change your life for the better.  If you are new to the mysteries of Kabbalah, or want to learn practical applications of Jewish Mysticism for your life, this is the class for you.

 

Hebrew Seminary’s 2018 Spring Semester
begins February 11.

Visit Hebrew Seminary and visualize your possibilities!

847 – 679 – 4113