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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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Genesis 1:1 - A new start

Genesis – Bereshit – 3/15

What a great beginning it was at Torah Study last week. Many new faces joined us – that was really terrific.!

We learned about Bereshit – the word and the construct state that is not quite as it might be in Hebrew language usually. That is, the word would usually be followed by a noun but here it is followed by the verb for 'creation'. And of course we reviewed several interpretations of that. We can’t miss exploring the first word in Torah!

We also talked about several theories of why the first letter of the Torah is a Bet. There are several midrashim on that topic, the two we focused on was that the Bet visually is a guide to go forward. Which can also help to say that there may be other theories of creation from before but now we need to look forward through the Torah to get our answers. The other thought was that the Aleph is a silent letter and that before Bereshit there was silence.

We did move on to discuss the third word, Elohim, which is in the plural form. Why? Well the discussion covered several different thoughts on this as well. The one that stood out to me is that Elohim is so encompassing that the word should be plural.

We talked about the other creation stories from different cultures. Many of them contain violence and sexual implications which does not appear in Genesis 1 although other creation stories are implied in other parts of the Bible – especially in the prophets. This creation explanation has no violence but it is very planned and methodical. And it is “good”

Wikipedia includes some other interesting details about this first verse of Torah.

The significance of having Genesis and the creation in Torah gives a wider breadth of understanding for those who choose to study and follow the mitzvot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Torah Study Siyum – 3/15 R. Marder

A Siyum - A siyum (“completion”) means the completion of any unit of Torah study, or book of the Mishnah or Talmud in Judaism. A siyum is usually followed by a celebratory meal, or seudat mitzvah, a meal in honor of a mitzvah, or commandment. Siyum also refers to the celebration. (wikipedia)

She read those last words from our Torah that survived the Holocaust. As the sun glittered through tiny holes in the parchment she read of Moses’ death. Some of the letters were faded and difficult to read. She read it and translated it along the way. It was a siyum to remember.

And Moses died by the mouth of God. Some say with a “Kiss from God” which is said to be an easy death.

Moses was buried but no one knows exactly where – which makes it so there is no memorial or shrine to Moses, only a memory of the prophet like no other prophet.

The 7th of Adar is Moses’ Yhartzeit.

And Israel mourned for 30 days. The period of shloshim.

And again there was discussion of who wrote the Torah and especially who wrote this part.

Moses was like no other after him. And after 10 years of this class we read the end and as is our tradition we also read the first few words of Genesis...

This week - “In the beginning...”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Video Clip - The End is Next

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

In the High Places

Torah Study 3/8 R. Marder

OK so it is the last chapter before Moses dies and he is still trying to give the people a sense of security to go forward into the land.

He is like a general boosting the morale of the troops.

As usual, R. Marder brought in the interpretation of “high places” from the point of view of Rabbi Nahman bar Itzhak in Talmud Shabbat, Samuel Raphael Hirsch, and Hafitz Chyam. And as expected the range of interpretation runs from the physical high places to domination and superiority.

And there was even reference to the Purim story and the question of whether it is appropriate to celebrate one’s enemy’s demise.

Books mentioned:
In the Lake of the Woods (1994) is a novel by Tim O'Brien
Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008) by David Rieff A son's loving tribute to his mother, Susan Sontag.

And we end with an appropriate tribute to Moses and the end of the Book:

Dirge without Music

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.

So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned

With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.

Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.

A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,

A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,

They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled

Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave

Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;

Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.

I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Look forward to our wonderful Siyum and starting once again at Genesis...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Betach Badad ein Yaakov

Torah Study 3.1.08 R. Marder:

It is always amazing that we can discuss one small phrase for the whole class and get so much meaning from it!

Deuteronomy 33

v. 28

betach badad ein Yaakov

Betach: Free - Assured - Strong - Safe - Trustworthy

Badad: Untroubled - Alone - Solitary

“Thus Israel dwells in safety, Untroubled is Jacob’s abode, In a land of grain and wine, Under heavens dripping dew” (Plaut Translation)

Another translation: “sure, alone is the eye of Jacob."

Interesting link that shows the numerology of this part

Different ways of looking at this:
Alone – unmolested by others
Alone – set apart or different from others
Alone – preserving the integrity of our people

Rashi: Each individual will sit under his own vine / fig tree.
R. Yochanan: (Talmud) Promise that Israel will dwell in safety if they follow the mitzvot.
19th Century interpretation: Safety and tranquility of the soul. Absolute separate and distinctive. A deterrent to intermingling with others outside the community.
This phrase is also referenced in a link that relates to Pesach .

Ein Yakov - ‘Fountain of Jacob’, "Land of grain and wine, Under Heaven’s dripping dew"

This image of water and flourishing was especially positive to these people who had lived in the desert.
But the image is also tied to the moral conduct of the people.
There evolved a different interpretation in the diaspora.

There is an organic connection between the condition of the land and how we behave in a collective way. And now we come to discover how true this view is especially in the ecological sense.

The prophets set an ideal that we should live together in peace. The voice of longing for home pervades the Torah. As the Bible was written most likely from the point of view of those who were in exile.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Art of Criticism - Noam Zion

Noam Zion – Art of Moral Criticism

At Beth Am 2/24

The Art of Protest -

To protest effectively takes creativity and sometimes even a bit of humor/sarcasm.

Examples: McDonalds in Israel had a garden planted to illustrate a cause but they failed to water the plants. To protest a person wrote a check to McDonalds for 20 sheckles to specifically cover the cost to water the plants. It got their attention and the protest was effective.

To protest the release of Holocaust criminals the official protest was to read the names of all victims known. This started a tradition to read the names every year.

Noam Zion’s talk was filled with stories and examples of how criticism can be done in a more effective way.

Tocheicha – the mitzvah of confronting ones neighbors in the community with misdeeds and character faults in such a way as to catalyze the process of teshuvah (reflection and repentance)

It is with great care that we practice this mitzvah so it will be effective.

Robert Fulghum (of All I Really Know I Learned In Kindergarten) offered Hassidic advice to a man seeking to understand his failures. He suggested that he look at the baseball statistics for Ty Cobb. This pointed out that, while he was a great hitter he only got a hit less than half the time. This worked to show that even the best don’t succeed all the time.

Peace must have an element of criticism to be real PEACE. You need to confront the real issues and it is important for people to be self-critical.

A Story to make the point: Martin Buber – How to tell of your Rabbi: A tale of Six Scenes (summarized)

1. Rabbi Jacob Joseph was very rigid in his rituals and his ways. A stranger comes to town that is a great storyteller and captivates the people so they forget to be punctual to morning prayers that day.
2. Rabbi gets to the house of prayer and finds it locked and is outraged. He is ready to beat the stranger that caused this delay in his prayer time.
3. Baal Shem, the storyteller, goes to see the Rabbi as he is summoned. The Rabbi yells that he was keeping people from prayer. Baal Shem tells a story about driving cross-country with 3 horses that were ‘not happy’. When a peasant saw this he suggested slackening the reins. When Baal Shem did this the horses were happy again and moved faster. The Rav immediately understood.
4. The Rabbi fasted for a whole week each month to try to amend for his wrong ways.
5. Baal Shem visited again and reminded the Rav that the Devine prefers to have him see joy in the commandments rather than gloom.
6. The Rav changed his ways and began to spread the message that “worry and gloom are the roots of powers of evil”.

There are lessons to be learned from the stories of Talmud. There are ways to criticize that are more effective than yelling and punishment.