Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

wicked are dead and righteous are alive

Torah Study this week ended with a quote regarding wicked vs righteous - further research traced it to Rashi - Berachot 18 (spelled differently in different places)
Rashi adds another interpretation: The wicked during their lifetime are considered as dead and are designated “dead”. The righteous on the other hand, are called “living” even after they die. There is proof from a verse in II Shmuel: “Benayahu son of Yehoyada was the son of a living man” (23: 20). His father was called a living man though he had died. (cf. Brachot 18a-b).

While this was quoted in Torah study in relation to capital punishment - the quote I found was related to Honoring ones Parent. It was a question regarding Abraham and his father.

These two interpretations should be seen as reflecting one idea. The obligation to honor your father exists as long as he lives. Terach, since he was a wicked person, is considered to have died even while alive, and therefore, Avraham is not obliged to honor him.

The verse should be understood as follows (Rashi’s interpretation): It was made clear to the world at large that Terach had died and that Avraham did not owe him any honor. This released Avraham both from any obligation he might have thought he had, and solved his particular problem of giving the impression that he was not concerned about his father’s honor.

I found it again at

The Gemara in Berachot tells us cryptically that the righteous are alive even when dead and conversely, the wicked are dead even when alive. The Gemara can be understood perfectly using the approach of R. Sorotzkin. Someone whose life is not contributing to the world may be physically alive but in Torah terms he is very much dead, while the imprint that a righteous person leaves on the world continues long after he or she has passed on.

Again the commentary related mainly to Abraham and Sarah but emphasizing that they are still alive and with us. This does give us encouragement to remember and honor them and others from our past.

And again I saw reference to this in relation to the story of Noah (Noach)

And relates it to nourishment and studying Torah.

Amazing how one interpretation can be spread to enhance the meaning of so many different situations in the Torah and beyond.

Part of this statement brings a lot of comfort to remember those wonderful good people who are no longer with us and yet they are still alive within us.

The part about wicked being dead is a bit more difficult because the wicked cause physical and emotional harm to our community and their memories haunt us like bad dreams even after they are no longer among us.

Can it be that we can learn from the wicked as well as the righteous?

This is a very perplexing quote to end a discussion.

Friday, May 27, 2005

It is Lag B'Omer

I found several interesting accounts of what Lag B'Omer celebrates.

The most common answers include the lifting of the plague in the time of Rabbi Akiva, the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who shared his "enlightenment" with his students when he died and thus is a day to celebrate. But one perspective I thought was quite different was from

The holiday of Lag Ba'omer originated in the era of Roman rule in Judea, when Torah study was forbidden and Jewish teachers had to carry on a guerilla war (on the battlefield and in the classroom) to insure that the Torah would be passed on.

A legend tells us that Lag Ba'omer commemorates a day on which a plague which had been killing Rabbi Akiba's students suddenly ended. But--many say that the 'plague' was really 'the Roman plague,' the students were dying in battle, and Lag Ba'omer commemorates a victory, perhaps even the recapture of Jerusalem.

On Lag Ba'omer it's traditional to go on a picnic to remind ourselves of the secret study of the Torah and the secret planning meetings for the rebellion which were conducted in the woods. By so doing we remind ourselves that there have been times when (and still are places where) Jews have risked their lives to study Torah and to pass it on.

Lag Ba'omer has become a day for honoring teachers of Torah, those who own Torah and pass it on.

Pass It On!

It is especially celebrated in Israel with parties and bon fires and many weddings. Everyone gets their hair cut because they have not had a haircut since before Pesach as a sign of mourning for those who died in the "plague".

This is also a reminder day that Shavuot is only 16 days away...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Deuteronomy 17 Wisdom & Questions

This week discussion had so many diverse subjects bouncing around that actually I think I mostly picked up little bits of wisdom and thinking:

' to deify what "is" is dangerous because what "is" can be destroyed'

' what "is" versus what "will be" defines that God is not static'

Torah in this part of Deuteronomy shows that there was a strategy to 'fight' against the Paganism of the times which was a threat to their existence and thus worshiping idols and nature was like treason.

Torah doesn't respond to what you believe, it responds to what you do.

Maimonides - We are free to choose how we live and thus we are accountable. If we were not free then there would be no accountability.

Freedom is the "Cornerstone of Judaism"


Justice & Witness Validity is specified and makes it very difficult to prosecute without substantial evidence of the 'crime'

Later texts interpret that an exhaustive study of witness and testimony is needed to justify a capital crime.

Instructions to the witness according to the Mishna Sanhedrin includes a very strict admonishment of the witnesses to warn against using hearsay and emphasizing their responsibility in a capital crime.

Link: Mishna on Witnesses

Quote from web on subject:

"How are witnesses inspired with awe in capital cases?" the Mishna begins. "They are brought in and admonished as follows: In case you may want to offer testimony that is only conjecture or hearsay or secondhand evidence, even from a person you consider trustworthy; or in the event you do not know that we shall test you by cross-examination and inquiry, then know that capital cases are not like monetary cases. In monetary cases, a man can make monetary restitution and be forgiven, but in capital cases both the blood of the man put to death and the blood of his [potential] descendants are on the witness's head until the end of time. For thus we find in the case of Cain, who killed his brother, that it is written: 'The bloods of your brother cry unto Me' (Genesis 4:10) — that is, his blood and the blood of his potential descendants.... Therefore was the first man, Adam, created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Bible considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single life, the Bible considers it as if he saved an entire world. Furthermore, only one man, Adam, was created for the sake of peace among men, so that no one should say to his fellow, 'My father was greater than yours.... Also, man [was created singly] to show the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for if a man strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, made each man in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obligated to say, 'The world was created for my sake"' (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:5). (One commentary notes, "How grave the responsibility, therefore, of corrupting myself by giving false evidence, and thus bringing [upon myself the moral guilt of [murdering] a whole world.")

Telling us that people are not like coins... each one is not an exact duplicate of the previous one or the die...

The Mishna tells us, "Whoever saves the life of a Jew it is considered as if he had saved the entire world."
And the contrary "whoever takes the life of a Jew also kills and entire world"
This refers to not only the person but also his/her descendants.

seems like scattered thoughts all from the same few lines of Torah...

This document never ceases to amaze how much is in each word, sentence, etc.

BUT on the other hand... here is a link to an almost dangerous interpretation of this part of the Torah:

The Skeptic Point of View

Sometimes it is good to look at this viewpoint to see how dangerous some parts can be when the whole history is not explored.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Nature inspires spirituality ... Why not worship the heavenly bodies? Why not worship "mother nature"?


"God is NOT coterminous with nature."

Nature gives us so much inspiration and sometimes seems to be the essence of God. There are so many wonderful Psalms and prayers with reference to the beauty and power of nature that it sometimes feels as if nature itself is God. And yet when you think again, this beauty, power and order that we call nature is a creation of God. We do not deify nature.

The difference: God offers what "OUGHT" to be while Nature and Heavenly Bodies offers what "IS".

Nature doesn't ask or expect anything from us, while God requires our moral accountability. Nature can be inspiring but God gives us the Laws that offer us a standard of right and wrong.

I hope that we will explore this concept further. It sounds so simple when put this way, and yet, how is it that God's creations can help us to better understand God?

Deuteronomic History - The Setting Explains the Laws

When you read the harsh punishment for praying to idols or heavenly bodies it seems that Deuteronomy prescribes intolerance.

But looking at the history of what was happening at the time and Deuteronomic History helps to explain the way it is written. This is found in Second Kings and Joshua. Timing about 740 BCE: The Aramaic influence of the Syrians was permeating the Temple and the culture and put the Israelites at risk of being lost to assimilation. It was as if they forgot the Law.

About 622 BCE Jeremiah and King Josiah "found" the scroll thought to be Deuteronomy. It was read and remembered which caused them to completely change things and cleanse the Temple of the idols and re-educate the people to how they were to follow the laws of God. This was when the centralization of worship once more became the focus.

Reference Book:
God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch
God Against the gods - Interview

Book - God Against the Gods