Friday, January 28, 2022

A Time to Remember

The daily news cycle offers an avalanche of news stories that are filled with controversy and anguish. The news media knows that stories that communicate messages of kindness, hope, and optimism won’t boost ratings. The message of every silver lining has a cloud is much more like to be retweeted and gain traction in the social media world and beyond. For this reason, I was astounded at a most remarkable that caught my attention in the news that did not appear to be widely circulated. Ceremonies were held around the world to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day this week on January 27. This date was chosen as it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Bundestag (German Parliament) invited Mickey Levy, the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset to deliver the main address to commemorate the vent. Levy delivered a heartfelt and emotional speech from the podium in the Bundestag. “Here, in this historic building, the house of the German parliament, one can grasp — if only slightly — the ability of human beings to take advantage of democracy to defeat it,” Levy said. “It is a place where humanity stretched the boundaries of evil — a place where the loss of values turned a democratic framework into racist and discriminatory tyranny. That is why it is precisely here, within the walls of this house, which stand as silent stone and steel witnesses, that we are re-learning how fragile democracy is, and are once again reminded of our duty to guard it with all vigilance.” Levy concluded his remarks by reciting the Kaddish from a Siddur that was used by a Bar Mitzvah boy immediately before Kristallnacht. He was visibly emotional as he concluded the Kaddish. The members of the Bundestag rose to give him a standing ovation. I thought it was nothing short of extraordinary that on the very same stage that Hitler stood to call for the completer and utter destruction of all Jews, the Kaddish was being recited by a leader of the modern Jewish State. It reminded me of the words in the Haggadah, שֶׁלֹּא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד עָמַד עָלֵינוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנוּ, אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר עוֹמְדִים עָלֵינוּ לְכַלוֹתֵנוּ, וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם. The translation is since it is not only one [person or nation] that has stood [against] us to destroy us, but rather in each generation, they stand [against] us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, rescues us from their hand. It also reminded me about the fragile state of security that we are forced to confront regularly. It wasn’t long ago that we thought we had turned a corner on global antisemitism and the Holocaust was becoming a distant memory. It appears that may be wishful thinking as 2021 was the worse year for antisemitic attacks in a decade, seeing an average of ten incidents a day with the likelihood of many more incidents not being reported, according to an annual review published Monday by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. 2021 was “the most antisemitic year in the last decade,” the two organizations said in a joint statement. The average number of antisemitic incidents reported in 2021 was more than ten per day, the report found. Many in our community are asking more frequently if the unthinkable can occur in the United States of America. The Torah emphasizes the importance of Zachor/ Remember in regards to the evils of Amaleik. As many around the world paused to commemorate the Holocaust this week, the need to internalize the notion of Zachor is more relevant than ever. Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, January 21, 2022

Important Message from Rabbi Fisch

The leadership of our shul recently began a process of exploring the viability of adjusting our mechitza to make it more halachically appropriate. Our current mechitza has been in place since the construction of our current building in 1986, so it’s natural to question the logic behind this seemingly controversial decision. Every organization and entity must recognize and understand its mission. Our beloved shul, which I am privileged to lead, is no exception. The Talmud teaches that the purpose of a synagogue is to be a מקדש מעט or a mini Beit Hamikdash. The purpose of the Beit Hamikdash was to have a spiritual oasis where Godliness can manifest itself in this mundane world. The service in the Beit Hamikdash required a level of decorum to the highest degree. For this reason, the Talmud teaches that men and women were in separate areas to avoid frivolity during the sacred times of prayer. As a mini Beit Hamikdash, Orthodox synagogues have been steadfast to this tradition for thousands of years, in an effort to maintain its sacred space. It is an unfortunate misconception to project the mechitza as a way of denigrating women. Nothing could be further from the truth. We respect and revere the women of our community. We also recognize the sacred space necessary for prayer and, in that spirit, there is a need for separate areas for men and women. The reality is that, in the range of halachic allowances, our current mechitza meets the bare minimum of acceptability. For this reason, we are exploring ways of upgrading the mechitza in an effort to fulfill our mission of having an appropriate mini Beit Hamikdash in our community. While this initiative is once again reminding us of how we must balance modernity and tradition, it’s important to remember that our commitment to Halacha has kept us anchored to our tradition. In engaging in this process, it’s important for everyone to know that there is another fundamental value to which we are committed. We pride ourselves on being an open and inclusive shul. In fact, our organizational motto is “a community shul with doors open to everyone.” Our diversity is our strength and, in an era of increased polarization and factionalism, we consider it a badge of honor that our membership consists of individuals with varying degrees of observance. We have been, and are still, committed to ensuring that everyone feels comfortable at Etz Chaim Synagogue. The fundamental values of fidelity to tradition and Halacha, coupled with our commitment to being an open and inclusive synagogue, is the mandate that our mechitza committee seeks to address. It is not mutually exclusive to be a kehilla that has a commitment to a high standard in Halacha and, simultaneously, to be an inclusive shul. I am not naive enough to believe that everyone will be happy with the recommendation of the committee. I am confident that our kehilla has the ability to communicate any disagreements with Derech Eretz and mutual respect. I am confident that our kehilla can be courageous and embrace a rock solid commitment to Halacha and tradition, while remaining the community shul with doors open to everyone. Have a peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, January 14, 2022

Manna in 2022?

The anxiety one can have about earning an adequate salary to pay all the bills can be rather debilitating at times. Inflation in the United States hit its fastest pace in nearly four decades in 2021 as pandemic-related supply and demand imbalances, along with stimulus intended to shore up the economy, pushed prices up at a 7% annual rate. With the cost of living rising dramatically and our paychecks not keeping up with that pace, it continues to weigh on our minds at all hours of the day and night. Yet, with all the efforts that we invest in this area, it’s important to remember there is a G-d that provides for our needs and make enables us to pursue a livelihood. That was the lesson of the manna in this week's Parsha. The Jews in the desert were at their wits when they realized the food they had was dwindling and were likely going to starve to death. Keep in mind, this was before the Amazon Prime trucks were providing deliveries in every neighborhood. One day they woke up and they realized that there was food outside everyone's tent. This was the Manna from heaven. Moshe told the people that this must be remembered for all of the time. If we are not receiving the Manna every morning at our doorstep with the newspaper that's delivered, in what way can it be remembered? Many times we might think if only there were fewer restrictions in Judaism our careers and livelihood might be more lucrative. The lesson of the manna should debunk that notion. Yes, we must not take anything for granted and work hard to yield that elusive paycheck. However, it is because of the grace of G-d that we are empowered to do just that. Compromising on Mitzvos or on our value system is not going to be more rewarding in this area. The next time we have doubts on this issue, it would be worthwhile to remember the lesson of the manna. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, January 7, 2022

Escaping Confinement

The Jewish People evolving from a small family to a proud nation is nearly complete in the narrative of this week's Parsha. The story of the Exodus is recorded in great detail. It is nothing short of remarkable to hear once again about how a few million Jews who were slaves marched out to freedom in broad daylight and their former masters were powerless to stop their journey to liberty. Putting it into a historical context, there were upwards of 650,000 casualties (that’s a conservative estimate) in the Civil War which was primarily fought for the emancipation of slaves. In the Exodus, the former Jewish slaves marched out of the clutches of a mighty superpower without a shot being fired. For this reason, the Exodus occupies such prominence in our lives and is remembered on our calendar with the celebration of Pesach and Sukkos. As important as the Exodus is in the story of the Jewish People, there seems to be disproportionate attention to this particular event. There are so many Mitzvahs connected to the Exodus that are well beyond the observance of Pesach and Sukkos. There is a special Mitzvah to remember all the days of our lives. Doesn't there seem to be a disproportionate focus on this event that occurred 3,300 years ago? There are a variety of perspectives on this pointed question and I would like to share the perspective of the Nesivos Shalom. He writes that it is imperative to not just merely view the Exodus as a one-time event but rather as a struggle that we are regularly experiencing. He notes that the word מצרים or Egypt is associated with the word מצר or confinement. All of us are confronted with challenges that feel as מצר or confinement in areas such as health, family spirituality. No one has immunity from any obstacles or difficulties. At these moments it is not unusual to have a crisis of faith and wonder when G-d will come through for us to deliver some relief. It is precisely for that reason that there is such a strong emphasis on the Exodus. It is for that reason that we are regularly reminding ourselves about salvation when all seemed bleak. As the Torah states in Devarim (6:23) וְאוֹתָנוּ הוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם or He took us out of there. We may never have been to the geographical territory named Egypt nor do we have any plans to get there but that matters little. The most important element to remember is that no matter what place of confinement a person may find themselves in, we believe in the Al-Mighty that continually delivers redemption in any place and at any time. That message of hope is something we ought to reflect on the next time we observe any of the mItzvahs connected to the Exodus. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...