Friday, May 24, 2024

Reflections on a Painful Tragedy

In light of a tragedy here in the community that leaves us feeling multiple layers of sadness and anguish, I will attempt to communicate some of my thoughts at this time. Firstly, we must offer unconditional love and support to the beloved Cohen family. It's unfathomable to begin to comprehend their pain, and there is very little that we can materially do to alleviate their anguish. Nonetheless, it is important for us as a community to let them know that they are not alone. The notion of one experiencing a heartbreaking tragedy is all the more raw and painful when one does experience it alone. The words of Tehilim/Psalms 13 resonate for us. King David wrote, עַד־אָנָה ה' תִּשְׁכָּחֵנִי נֶצַח עַד־אָנָה ׀ תַּסְתִּיר אֶת־פָּנֶיךָ מִמֶּנִּי: עַד־אָנָה אָשִׁית עֵצוֹת בְּנַפְשִׁי יָגוֹן בִּלְבָבִי יוֹמָם עַד־אָנָה ׀ יָרוּם אֹיְבִי עָלָי How long, Hashem, will You ignore me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I have cares in my mind, grief in my heart all day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? It is not sacrilegious to wonder how long the face of G-d will be concealed from us. This phase of Hester Panim has intensified since October 7 and the subsequent rise of rampant Jew-hatred. Unfortunately, this phase of Hester Panim extends on the personal level to an unspeakable tragedy that befell one of our families. As people of faith, this is acutely challenging as we are once again forced to reconcile how a benevolent G-d can allow such pain and suffering to righteous people. Unfortunately, we have a precedent with a grand celebration marred with tragedy, which is recorded in the Torah. As the Mishkan was being inaugurated after many months of great anticipation, tragedy struck with the unexpected death of Nadav and Avihu, the two sons of Aaron the Kohen Gadol. The Torah records Aaron's reaction as "Va'yidom Aaron," translated as Aaron being silent. With the unspoken words of Aaron, he was teaching us that there are times when words do not suffice when they can be unproductive. No words of comfort will assuage the collective pain in our hearts. We may be willing to accept the justice of G-d, but we know as long as we are in this world, we will never fully understand. For us, in the face of overwhelming tragedy, there is only one response for now: silence. As Aaron taught in the face of immense tragedy, silence may be the most profound communication. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 17, 2024

Pay Attention to the Dew

It's incredible how much the world can change in a few weeks, let alone a few months. As if October 7th wasn't enough for us to feel surrounded by enemies within our homeland, now, within weeks, as the college campus demonstrations spread like wildfire and even public high schools are allowed "Nakba" days in their halls, many of us feel surrounded by enemies even here in America. Despair and depression, given the current moment, are becoming rampant, made worse by the role America, which formerly seemed like our unconditional friend and ally, is now showing some cracks in the armor. I would like to suggest that while the world around us is not in our control, our internal world remains our domain. It is up to us to recognize the opportunity within our minds and hearts during these terrible times. Being subject to world hatred is not new to us. It is not out of the blue. And yet, because of this, we have a roadmap to help us navigate this complex landscape. Already in the Torah, within the tochacha ("rebuke") that we read in the Torah shortly before Shavuot, we have a deep contrast between the harshness of Hashem's rebuke and a statement of our eternal destiny. Although G-d paints us a picture of what will happen at our worst, He also commits to keeping us always at our best: to be bonded forever with Hashem, with a promise that He will never sever this bond. At the heart of our faith lies a profound divine commitment. It's an unbreakable promise of our eternity, a pledge that no matter how dire the circumstances, no force can succeed in our destruction. This commitment not only assures our eternal bond with Hashem but also presents us with an opportunity for introspection and strengthening of our faith during these challenging times. In the Book of Hoshea (14:4-6), we are told of the following prophecy: Assyria shall not save us, No more will we ride on steeds; Nor ever again will we call Our handiwork our god, Since in You alone orphans find pity!" I will be to Israel like dew; He shall blossom like the lily, He shall strike root like a Lebanon tree. We are reminded by these words that the nations of the world will not be there to save us with their great might (as represented by Assyria). Instead, it will be G-d who will heal us and take us back. How? Interestingly enough, not with imagery of strong horses and swift action. Instead, G-d is likened in this text to dew. The thing about dew is that people don't even realize it is there. It is such a light mist that people may not notice it at first. It is not giant torrents of water or loud cacophonies of rain like thunderstorms. Instead, dew is the gentlest manifestation of water, such that it might rest in tiny beads on your windshield in the morning or cling to your flower petals. And G-d tells us I will be this presence in your life. Even when you don't realize I am there, I am there clinging to you. At the end of the tractate of Sotah, the Mishna states, "We have no one to rely on other than our Father in Heaven." What this means is, that we know who is running the show, and that we should stop caring about the fickleness of the world's nations because they were never there for us to rely on in the first place. There is a difference between man and the Divine. Man is subject to changes in mood akin to the weather- emotions blow in and opinions blow out, and unfortunately, when you are dealing with flesh and blood, so do commitments. With Hashem, this is not so. We can rely on Him, we can believe in His power, and we can recommit our hearts to serving Him and trusting in Him and Him alone. Instead of succumbing to despair, let us view this as a chance to reaffirm our connection to our destiny, our fellow Jews, and our beloved Land of Israel. Our earliest history, as chronicled in our supreme guidebook, the Torah, foretold that the end of days wouldn’t be easy. We were destined to be a nation that dwells alone, yet in this aloneness, we are not truly alone. Stay strong and cultivate your inner world, your garden of faith, your love of your fellow Jew, and the land of our ancestors. Everything else is just noise. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 10, 2024

People Love Dead Jews

People Love Dead Jews. Dara Horn authored this book with this provocative title. Society is fascinated with the death of Jews but cares little for living Jews. To Horn, the destruction of world Jewry is a compelling historical narrative, but the current crisis of antisemitism is minimized. In a subsequent interview with The Atlantic, Horn argues that Western society prefers to tell stories about how Jews died rather than how they lived because "it's much easier to mold dead Jews into martyrs and morality tales than it is to coexist with living ones." A chilling example of this theory came to the forefront of the national arena. The President delivered remarks in observance of Yom HaShoah. He said, "'Never again,' simply translated for me, means never forget. Here we are, not 75 years later, but just seven-and-a-half months" since October 7, "and people are already forgetting." On the very same day, the WhiteHouse confirmed that it was withholding key weapons Israel needed to wage war against a genocidal enemy. Let that marinate. Israel is fighting an existential war that it did not ask for against an adversary that unabashedly calls for its destruction. Not to mention that this adversary is still holding over 130 hostages. Israel is told by its "greatest ally" that it will not be granted the weapons in this just cause. How can these actions be reconciled with the rhetoric of remembering October 7? While there can be different theories on disconnect, the words of Dara Horn ring accurate as for too many, Holocaust remembrance means feeling sad for the Jews. However, helping Israel defend itself with capabilities to bolster its defenses makes it equivocate. As a community of faith, we are reminded of the words from the Mishna, עַל מִי לָנוּ לְהִשָּׁעֵן עַל אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם. This is translated as (In the End of Days), upon whom should we rely? Only upon our Father in Heaven. The silver lining to all this upheaval is the benefit of gaining clarity. For years, many have thought the secret to the military strength in Israel was due to its reliance on its "best friend" or commitments that were "ironclad." The auspicious times we find ourselves in are an opportunity to turn again to the true Guardian of Israel, who can deliver us salvation. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, May 3, 2024

Shattered False God

Many false gods have been shattered since October 7. Sometimes, we find ourselves stunned when these false gods disintegrate before our eyes, and sometimes, I wonder if we should even be surprised. The latest false god to hit the dust has been the institutions of higher education, including the universities in the vaunted Ivy League group. The disconnect between its stated purpose and mission and the reality on the ground is vast and pathetic. For example, the Mission Statement of Brown University (one of the eight Ivy League schools)" is to serve the community, the nation, and the world by discovering, communicating, and preserving knowledge and understanding in a spirit of free inquiry, and by educating and preparing students to discharge the offices of life with usefulness and reputation." The reality at Brown University is quite the opposite. In a capitulation to the bullying protests and threats in favor of Hamas, Brown University became the first university to consider divesting from Israel officially. It will convene a vote if it should formally divest from Israel. The decision was celebrated by the Pro Hamas coalition of students and others who hailed this decision as a "great victory." The charged atmosphere has resulted in Jewish students being concerned for their physical safety. There are too many schools to mention that have become a cesspool of hatred and bigotry. (Of course, other schools, especially in Florida, are not kowtowing to the bullying tactics of agitators, but they appear to be the outliers.) There is a widespread custom to study Pirkei Avos, the foundational text of Jewish Ethics, on Shabbos afternoon in the weeks following Pesach. The first Mishna begins with a rather bizarre introduction, stating that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai and transmitted the teachings to Yehoshua, which started the transmission of sacred Jewish belief. The famous sage from the fifteenth century, Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura, wrote this introduction in Pirkei Avos, which is necessary to teach us that our ethics and values emanate from the original transmission of the Torah at Sinai. The Oxford Dictionary defines wisdom "as the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment." The notion of someone acquiring wisdom at any of these institutions of higher education seems remote. It may be an opportune time to re-acquaint ourselves with the ancient wisdom of Pirkei Avos. 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 ...