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From the Rabbi - May 2009 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

Saturday, May 2 (remember, the Shabbat really begins on Friday night, May 1), is the 7th of Iyar, and it is a day to be reckoned with in biblical history. In the apocryphal book of Jubilees (3:16), it is alleged that this is the exact day in pre-history when the serpent visited Eve in the Garden of Eden.

There are at least two other dating traditions for this event. The Falasha Jews of Ethiopia believe that the encounter occurred nine days later on the 16th of Iyar [Teezaza Sanbat, a book entitled “The Commandment of the Sabbath], while the Talmud fixes the date on the first of Tishri (Rosh HaShanah). [b. Sanhedrin 38b]

There are consequences for each of these different understandings. If the serpent tempted Eve on Rosh HaShanah, a day that is also supposed to be the birthday of the world in rabbinic tradition, we would need to assume that temptation was present in human life from its very beginning. On the other hand, if the serpent waited until Iyar, about seven months later, might we be justified in thinking that the concept of temptation can only occur when people have matured a bit.

I don’t know when temptation first reared its head in human life, but I do know that there is scarcely an hour, or at least a day, when we are not beset by tempting choices. Some choices offer temptations which are easy enough to reject; they involve choices between something evil and something good or between two bads. But most of the time, the image is hardly black and white; the choices are between values and things that might be considered good and might, but under other circumstances, be thought of as bad. And, as if that were not difficult enough, the Jewish tradition says that something in one light might be evil (like sex turned to incest or child abuse) might in other guises be the root of procreation and enjoyment. In other words, good is not always so good and bad is not always so bad; there are rarely absolutes; everything depends on the context.

Our role in the face of temptation is to make thoughtful and mature choices. Judaism can help us do this, because rabbis and scholars over the millennia have recorded the struggles they went through to find the right path. I commend to you some of the great volumes of the Jewish tradition in this respect. Luzzato’s The Path of the Righteous is a good place to begin. You will not find them wanting for sage advice and copious wisdom.

Shalom,
Kenneth D. Roseman

 
From the Rabbi - April 2009 PDF Print E-mail
From the Rabbi ...
(5769) April 2009

Dear Friends:
Do you know that Pesach is really a double festival? I am not referring to the practice of celebrating a “second day of Pesach” at the beginning and end of the holyday period, but to the earliest ages of our people’s history.
The Israelites left Egyptian slavery in approximately 1250 BCE. It took them forty years to move through the Sinai and the Negev and, eventually to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. There, they conquered the native tribes, eventually settling down side-by-side with the indigenous people. In the earliest phase, they were ruled by Judges (see the biblical book by that name) and then, as the books of I & II Samuel and then I & II Kings tell us, by Saul, David, Solomon and a series of lesser monarchs who governed the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judea. The northern ten tribes were taken captive by the Assyrians in 721, and they disappeared from the annals of history shortly thereafter. The two southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) were taken into exile by the Babylonians in 587, but returned to Canaan and self-rule in 538.
During the majority of this early history, there were two Spring festivals. The first festival was an agricultural festival, focusing both on planted crops and herds of animals. For centuries, this festival ran parallel to a freedom festival, commemorating the liberation from Egyptian bondage. But eventually, the two festivals merged into the Passover celebration with which we are familiar today. Many scholars date this amalgamation sometime around the time of the Babylonian Exile.
Obviously, the historical references of Pesach trumped the agricultural connections, especially as Jewish life moved into cities and away from a direct linkage to the land. Many of the distinctive items we find on our seder plates have strong historical allusions: the matzah is the bread that the Israelites baked in a hurry as they were leaving Egypt; the shank bone is reminiscent of the lamb’s blood that was daubed over the lintels of the Israelite houses; the charoset ( a relatively new tradition) reminds us of the mortar the slaves had to use; and the bitter herbs and the salt water teach us about the bitterness of slavery.
But consider some of the other things on the seder plate. The lamb bone doubles as a reminder of the spring sacrifices during the agricultural festival; the lettuce and the egg are not used during the seder, but they are connected intimately with the spring growing season and the birth of new life at that time of the year. They are vestiges of the older agricultural festival, but, even while we think primarily of the historical connotations of the seder, they help us recall the dual origins of the festival of Passover.
As you gather at your seder table, I hope you will visualize both aspects of Pesach, the agricultural and the historical, and rejoice both in the bounty of the land that we enjoy and the bounty of freedom which is our most precious possession.
Chag sameach,

Kenneth D. Roseman
 
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