As we begin reading the Book of Numbers this week during the Torah service on Shabbat, we are reminded that a census was taken of the Jewish people. I believe that as we conclude the counting of the Omer with the celebration of Shavuot this week, this would be a good time to count our blessings, reach out to those who count in our lives, and try to count in someone else’s life.
One of the prayers we recite during memorial services, is to count our days so that we can fill our hearts with wisdom. Do we try to fill each day with meaning? How many of us count off the days instead of making each day count… only 30 days until graduation, only three weeks to a wedding, only two years until retirement, only a year until I get my driver’s license… How many of us find that we are “killing time” when we have a few spare moments?
I hope we can take a census of the ways in which we spend our time so that when we do count our days, we will feel that we have filled our hearts and lives with wisdom and time well spent.
When I was a child, my parents and one of my brothers gave me the following poem, which should be familiar to all of you, and which speaks to making sure that both time and people count. I hope you find it to be as inspiring as I have. (By the way, I would conclude the poem, with “you will be an adult, my child.”)
Rabbi Bruce Aft
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
I wanted to share some thoughts about Shavuot and have included an article from MyJewishLearning.com which offers an interesting explanation about why it is customary to eat dairy on Shavuot.
Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, takes place exactly seven weeks after Passover and commemorates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. This is also the time when the Counting of the Omer is now complete (an “omer” is a measure of barley, offered as a sacrifice in ancient times) and the Spring Harvest begins. Although it is not well known, Shavuot is a holiday of tremendous importance and I welcome your participation in any or all of our upcoming Shavuot events:
Tuesday, May 14 at 7:00 pm – Six of our High School students will become confirmed at our Erev Shavuot Service. Please support them and their families at our Festival observance.
Tuesday, May 14 at 9:00 pm – Tikkun Lel Shavuot: Maurice Mizrahi will lead a three hour study session about the last Chapter of the Scroll of Ruth. Please join us as we prepare for the revelation at Mt. Sinai through our own study!
Wednesday, May 15 at 9:30 am – Please help us make a minyan by joining us for our Shavuot Morning Service at Adat Reyim. It is customary to recite Yizkor prayers of remembrance as we think about our loved ones by lighting a yahrzeit candle on Tuesday evening at sundown and attending our memorial service which is part of our Shavuot service (Yizkor usually begins around 11:30 am).
Mazel tov to our confirmation students!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
Why Dairy on Shavuot?
A survey of the many explanations given for the tradition of eating milk products.
By Lesli Koppelman Ross. Reprinted with permission from Jason Aronson Inc.
Although everyone agrees that the food of choice for Shavuot is cheese (most typically blintzes, crepe-like pancakes filled with farmer cheese, or a Sephardic [Mediterranean Jewish] equivalent such as burekas, cheese-filled dough pockets), there are differences of opinion (some quite charming) as to why it is a custom.
Some derive the practice directly from scripture, saying we eat dairy to symbolize the “land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8) promised to the Israelites, or that “milk and honey are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11). These passages, along with “The precepts of the Lord are… sweeter than honey” (Psalm 19:9-11) also indicate we should eat honey, which is customary in some communities.
A sage discovered that the initials of the four Hebrew words in Numbers 28:26, which describe the sacrificial meal offering on Shavuot, spell mei halav (from milk), suggesting that dairy food is the acceptable dinner for the festival. At Sinai, the Israelites were considered to be as innocent as newborns, whose food is milk.
Those of kabbalistic [mystical] bent equate the numerical value of the word halav, 40 (‘het’=8, ‘lamed’=30, ‘vet’=2), with the number of days Moses spent on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and other teachings (Exodus 24:18). Others look to the mountain itself, which is termed in Psalms mount of gavnunim (68:15), meaning many peaks. They connect that description with the Hebrew word g’vinah, meaning cheese.
Scholars who trace all Jewish customs and rituals to practices common among various ethnic groups claim that spring harvest festivals characteristically featured dairy dishes, perhaps because cheese was produced during that season.
There is also support for the custom based on the spiritual development among the Israelites in the wake of Sinai. After the Torah was given, they were obligated to follow its laws, including those governing dietary practice. As they returned to the camp from Revelation, they could not eat the previously prepared meat, which had not been done according to the laws of kashrut [dietary restrictions]. Since butchering and cooking fresh meat would take too long for the tired, hungry Israelites, they took the dairy food that was readily available. Symbolizing modesty, the dairy was also seen as appropriate for the occasion of receiving the Torah, which should always be approached with humility.
In some Jewish communities, it is customary to follow the traditional dairy meal with a meat dish (after waiting the requisite 30 minutes per the laws of kashrut, except in places where the rabbis waived the normal separation). The two foods represent the two loaves brought on the festival. We are also supposed to eat meat as a contribution to our joy on a festival day. This can cause practical problems, however, not only in terms of the time lapse, but because you cannot mix milk and meat dishes and utensils. Therefore, it is more common to have a dairy meal on the first evening of Shavuot and then serve meat the next day.
Along with blintzes and burekas, cheesecake is a widely popular Shavuot item. Some eat kreplach, three-cornered dumplings that are often filled with meat but can be cheese filled or even vegetable filled. They are supposed to remind us of the Torah, which is comprised of three sections (Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim/Torah, Prophets, and Writings), which was given to Israel, which is comprised of three categories (Kohanim, Leviim, and Yisraelim) through Moses, who was the third child of Amran (after Aaron and Miriam), following three days of preparation (Exodus 19:11) in the third month of the year (Exodus 19:1).
Lesli Koppelman Ross is a writer and artist whose works have appeared nationally.
She has devoted much of her time to the causes of Ethiopian Jewry and Jewish education.
I was asked to write a d’var Torah for BBYO which was sent out to participants of BBYO around the country. I thought you would want to read it and hope that all of us can find ways to make sacred time in our lives, whether through observing Festivals, or doing other mitzvot. By the way, yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in greeting our WWII and Korean War Vets at Dulles Airport at an honor flight. Arnie Daxe, a member of our congregation, helps coordinate volunteers who greet these flights. Please call him if you want to participate or you may contact Jeanne Kadet, our Social Action Chairperson!
This week, we read from the weekly portion, Emor, which discusses the laws and customs of the Biblical festivals, sacred times in the Jewish calendar. Apart from the Holidays, without their majesty and awe-inspiring ceremonies, how do we create sacred time in our everyday lives?
Recently I had the opportunity to see the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player to join the Major League. The time spent watching 42 was undoubtedly sacred, demonstrated by two powerful scenes. First, when Jackie Robinson asks Branch Rickey, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, why he is trying to integrate baseball, Mr. Rickey responds that at one point in his life, he had a chance to help someone who was being oppressed yet he didn’t. By helping to integrate baseball, he was making up for a time when he didn’t do what he felt he should have done. Second, there is a scene where a player makes a comment to Jackie that perhaps someday everyone will wear number 42 and no one will be able to tell the players apart. What a sacred time it will be when we don’t judge someone by their sexuality, gender, color, religion, or creed!
Both of these anecdotes reminded me of what makes my time sacred. When I can reach out and help someone in need, when I can give my time somewhere and really make a difference, when I encourage people to get along with each other or simply say a kind word to someone else, I feel that I have both experienced and helped someone else experience a sacred moment. We often wait for these moments to occur, but I believe that this week’s Torah portion charges us with the responsibility to make these moments happen for ourselves and for others.
We are taught in Mishnah Sanhedrin, that if we save one life we save an entire world. What an incredible statement about the value of a making a difference in the life of even one person. The entertainers, Seals and Crofts, provide us a model when they sing, “we may never pass this way again…” Since we may never pass this way again, let us promise that when we see an opportunity to make a difference, we will seize it!
May your Shabbat this week by a holy and sacred time for you.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
Last Shabbat I shared a story with the congregation on both Friday night and Saturday morning. I want to share it with all of you because I was very touched by what occurred.
We are occasionally asked to help preside at a funeral for a Hesed Shel Emet funeral, which means for a family that cannot afford the costs of a funeral. The Jewish community provides for the funeral and JSSA has a core of rabbis to whom they turn for these services.
I had the opportunity to preside at one of these funerals last Friday. The deceased, Rachel bat Yaakov, v’Sarah, was a Ukrainian woman. She had been a survivor of the Holocaust and the only family that could attend the funeral was a niece and nephew. The niece told me that she was very happy that her aunt’s last moments on earth could be filled with a Jewish ritual since most of her life she had been deprived of opportunities to practice Judaism. With tears flowing down from her eyes, she told me of her aunt’s kindness and I told her that Judaism teaches in Pirke Avot that the world stands on three things; Torah, worship, and deeds of loving-kindness. Through her kindness, she had lived a very Jewish life and the niece was clearly very appreciative of the time we were spending together at her aunt’s graveside. Finally, she turned to me, grasped my hand in her hands, and thanked us for providing this service for all those Ukrainians who did not have a chance to ever practice Jewish ritual.
Needless to say, the Funeral Director, the representative from the Hebrew Free Burial Society, and I were incredibly moved by this special outpouring of feelings. We so often have opportunities to make a difference, but I have seldom been told I am making a difference for people who I never met and who could never offer their personal thanks.
We are taught that among the greatest mitzvot we can perform are those we do with no hope for reward. Obviously, those in the Ukraine to whom she referred will never say thank you, but somehow I felt their presence on that special day.
May each of us make a difference in someone’s life as often as we can.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
Yesterday (Thursday) was our Membership Services Coordinator’s last day! Roberta Katz has served us with a smile and with great care for almost two years. We have been blessed to have her as a member of our staff. I am thankful that she, Jeff, and their children will continue to be active at Adat Reyim and wish her well in her new position with Fairfax County.
Roberta, may you continue to go from strength to strength… and before you go, can you type this message for me??
Rabbi Bruce Aft
On Sunday we celebrated a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar called Lag B’Omer. I thought I would include a brief description from About.com. We had a wonderful program on Saturday night that was coordinated by David Berkowitz where we made smores, enjoyed music from our folk group, and did Havdalah, the service which concludes Shabbat.
This was a special intergenerational program that was very well attended and makes tonight’s meeting for those interested in the spiritual life of our congregation much more significant. I believe people are hungry for spiritual alternatives that can meet the needs of all ages so please join Liz Bayer and Andrea Cate who have set up this important meeting to talk about spirituality at Adat Reyim. The meeting is tonight at 7:00 pm and we look forward to seeing you there!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
What Is Lag B’Omer
From Ariela Pelaia, former About.com Guide
All About the Meaning of Lag Ba’Omer
Lag Ba’Omer is a minor Jewish holiday that falls between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. “Lag” is a combination of two Hebrew letters: lamed and gimmel. According to Hebrew numerology, lamed stands for the number thirty and gimmel stands for the number three. These two numbers are significant for Lag Ba’Omer because it is celebrated on the 33rd day of Counting the Omer.
The Significance of Lag Ba’Omer
Lag Ba’Omer is a joyous holiday but no one is sure what it celebrates. The Talmud mentions a plague that is thought to have killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students during one Omer, and some have suggested that Lag Ba’Omer is celebratory because the plague abated on the 33rd day.* Others have suggested that Lag Ba’Omer is connected to Rabbi Akiva’s support of Simon Bar Kokhba, a Jewish rebel leader against Rome. The Romans responded to Bar Kokhba’s revolt with incredible brutality, but perhaps Lag Ba’Omer was a day when either the Jews won a victory or there was a brief respite from the violence. (Ultimately, Bar Kokbha’s rebellion failed.) The military connection is supported by the tradition of taking children to open fields to play with toy bows and arrows on Lag Ba’Omer.
*(my addition, RBA) some believe that the plague was due to the ways in which Rabbi Akiba’s students were unkind in their behavior! We celebrate when we learn to be kinder in the ways in which we treat others!
Observing Lag Ba’Omer
Lag Ba’Omer is a time during the Counting of the Omer when people can celebrate. While the Omer is a time of mourning, on Lag Ba’Omer marriages can be performed, children are taken to parks to play, and people often gather for large bonfires. The fires represent the light of the Torah. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (an important Kabbalistic text), also died on the 33rd day of the Omer. In Israel many people commemorate his death by visiting his grave in the northern town of Meron. The anniversary of his death is a day for celebration because it is believed he revealed the secrets of the Torah to his students before he died.
As we witness events unfolding this morning in the Boston area as the authorities try to apprehend those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings, we hope and pray that those responsible will be brought to justice and the people in the surrounding communities will feel safe again.
In this week’s Torah reading, we read of the death of Aaron’s sons and Aaron’s silence in the wake of this tragedy. After a funeral awhile back, Rabbi Glazer from Beth Emet was speaking of this portion and said that sometimes there are unspeakable tragedies where there are no words that one can say to alleviate the pain. He suggested that when a child dies, there is really nothing one can say and so we learn from Aaron that silence may be the only response. In light of the terror in Boston, we have witnessed another unspeakable tragedy and we continue to pray for healing for those wounded and for comfort for those who have suffered loss of family members and friends.
There is another way of looking at this story and, that is, that we not be silent in the face of brutal violence and that we advocate for an end to senseless shootings and other violent acts. I hope that each of us will pursue whatever means we believe can help alleviate the violence we find in our society. Whether it is fighting for gun control, trying to improve our mental health system, teaching our children to perform random acts of kindness rather than succumb to the feelings that our actions can’t make a difference, I hope we will use these horrible occurrences to teach our children well about the importance of being caring people. During this week in which we commemorated the anniversary of the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech, let us resolve to not be overwhelmed by tragedy but vow to try to make a difference in whatever way our hearts lead us.
It is easy to feel helpless at moments like this, but on this Shabbat, when we also read that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, may we remember the power of coming together as a community as is stated by the Psalmist: Hiney Mah Tovu Manayim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad, how good and pleasant it is when we come together. May we come together to work to save lives and support each other.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
I am saddened to have to write this column which is to express our sympathy for those who were killed and wounded at the Boston Marathon yesterday. As news emerges, we hope that those responsible will be brought to justice as President Obama has indicated.
As a congregation, part of the agenda of our executive committee meeting tonight (which was part of the agenda before yesterday’s tragedy) is to analyze our own security plan and I am sure that our leadership will be sharing our plan with you in the near future.
As horrified as we all are by the events in Boston, we should take note of the acts of kindness which we witnessed yesterday as people reached out to help unite family members, provide support for so many from so many places, and the special efforts that remind us of our potential to be human.
Each of us should include the victims in our prayers for healing and remembrance. As I write this, I do not know if any members of our congregation were personally affected, but if so, please let me know so we can support you. My brother, his wife, their daughter, and grandchildren were at the Marathon, but are safe. Our nephew works near the finish line but he is also okay and we are grateful.
May we all find the courage to make our lives a blessing and remember how precious life is. I guess the best response we can personally have here is to hug those we love.
Rabbi Bruce Aft
As we all watch the news, we pray for peace in our dangerous world. As I write this, reports coming out of North Korea are very serious and we all hope that this situation will resolve itself without any loss of life.
We also celebrate Israel’s 65th anniversary and we hope and pray that perhaps this will be the year in which the Israelis and Palestinians can move closer to a more peaceful relationship built upon trust and cooperation. I hope that perhaps more of you will let Russell Rayman know of your interest in traveling to Israel with us next January! This will be a very sacred pilgrimage.
Those of you who attend services know my favorite meditation which we recite almost every Shabbat morning. It begins, “Guard your Tongue from Evil and Your Lips from Telling Lies…” This Shabbat when we read the weekly portions Tazria/Metzora, we are reminded of the negative power of gossip and negative speech (lashon hara) to afflict us like leprosy. As you may remember, the Chofetz Chaim, (Google him to find out more information!) says that guarding your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies is the secret of life. I hope that many of us will make a special attempt to be careful about the words we use. I have both said and written before that although sticks and stones can break one’s bones, words can break one’s heart.
I want to also mention a new way of looking at this. I suggest that the new interpretation of this meditation could be “Guard my Tongue from speaking on the cell phone while I am driving and my fingers from texting while driving…” I know that I am a prime offender for speaking on my cell phone with my ear piece, but statistics that were shared this morning are a reminder about the potential fatality of both speaking on a phone and texting while driving. I hope that as we read this portion, we will reconsider how important it is that we either speak or text something at a particular moment. Please be careful and think about whether it might be worth waiting until we are at our destination before we risk our lives and the lives of others. Recent statistics which show how many of us text and speak while we are driving are very frightening and in fact something serious doesn’t just happen to the “other guy.”
Finally, on a much lighter note, although I root for the Nationals except when they play my White Sox, the last three games have been very challenging. And so to all the Nationals fans out there (myself included except against the White Sox!), congratulations on your sweep of my team. I hope we can return the favor some year in the World Series!
Rabbi Bruce Aft
As we approach Yom HaShoah, Debra Linick from the Jewish Community Relations Council reminded me of a reading which was done at a Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemoration a number of years ago. As we commemorate the Holocaust this Sunday evening at 7:00 pm at the Jewish Community Center of Northern VA, I hope that many of you will be there to remember this horrific event in our history.
The lyrics of this song, My Zeyde (grandfather), were written by Moshe Yess and I hope they remind us of people who have made a difference in our own religious identities and the powerful influence they have had in our lives. These words also inspire me to realize how important it is for each of us to play a vital role in transmitting our heritage to the next generation. When he concludes by saying “who will be the zeydes of our children, if not we?” I believe that each of us has a responsibility to be sure that we learn about our religious heritage and be a link in the transmission of Judaism from generation to generation, m’dor l’dor. One of the readings we recite before saying the Mourner’s Kaddish suggests that we live lives worth remembering and I hope we are providing meaningful Jewish memories for those we love. If you need or want suggestions about how to do this, please contact me!
See you on Sunday night and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Bruce Aft
My Zeyde – Moshe Yess
My zeyde lived with us in my parents’ home
He used to laugh, he put me on his knee
He spoke about his life in Poland
He spoke but with a bitter memory
He spoke about the soldiers who would beat him
They laughed at him they tore his long black coat
He spoke about a synagogue that they burnt down
And the crying that was heard beneath the smoke
But zeyde made us laugh, and zeyde made us sing
And zeyde made a kiddush Friday night
And zeyde , O my zeyde how I love him so
And zeyde used to teach me wrong from right
His eyes lit up when he would teach me Torah
He taught me every line so carefully
He spoke about our slavery in Egypt
And how God took us out to make us free
But winter went by, summer came along
I went to camp, to run and play
And when I came back home they said “zeyde’s gone”
And all his books were packed and stored away
I don’t know why and how it came to be
It happened slowly over many years
We just stopped being Jewish like my zeyde was
And no one cared enough to shed a tear
But zeyde made us laugh, and zeyde made us sing
And zeyde made us Seder, Pesach night
And zeyde , O my zeyde how I love him so
And zeyde used to teach me wrong from right
Many winters went by, Many summers came along
And now my children sit in front of me
And who will be the zeyde of my children
Who will be their zeyde if not me
Who will be the zeydes of our children
Who will be their zeydes if not we
Repeat 1st chorus
This is a belated message but with the office closed during Passover, it is going out today.
I hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Passover. One of the subjects I discussed at services was what do we do after the Seders to celebrate this seven or eight day Festival (depending upon whether one is reform, conservative, orthodox, reconstructionist, or progressive conservative)? During Sukkot, we continue to celebrate in the Sukkah, but during Passover, except for eating matzah or not eating bread or leavened, most of us don’t do much. Hopefully, many of us light a memorial candle on the evening before the final day in order to remember our loved ones.
One of the options for us is to put some time aside to count the omer. Please read a description of the custom of counting the omer and perhaps you can find some meaningful way to put a few minutes aside each evening to participate in this ritual.
What is the Counting of the Omer?
Forty-nine days divide Passover from Shavuot. But this seven-week period is not an ordinary one. It is actually a link that binds these two festivals together. Every one of these days is counted in orderly progression. On every one of these forty-nine nights, a Jew recites a blessing (found in the prayer book) and then verbalizes the number of that day. This counting, called “Sefirat Ha’Omer” (the Counting of the Omer), expresses a Jew’s eager anticipation of receiving the Torah on Shavuot, forty nine days after experiencing the liberation of Passover. This period is a time of personal refinement and introspection in preparation for receiving the Torah
In Leviticus (23:15) the commandment of counting the Omer is stated: “You shall count .. from the day that you brought the omer as a wave offering.” The omer was a measure (around two quarts) of barley which the Jews brought as an offering on the second day of Passover. This was followed by the counting of the omer, which led into the fiftieth day- the festival of Shavuot. Even after the destruction of the Temple where the omer offering was brought, this tradition of counting the omer continues.
This is taken from www.meaningfullife.com where you can find special meditations and readings for counting the omer.
Please note that as we have cleaned out the hametz from our homes for Passover, this can be an ongoing time of cleaning out the hametz from our lives through reflecting a bit each evening about the direction we wish to go in our lives as we journey toward Mt. Sinai on Shavuot to receive the Torah. Perhaps a nightly reflection on the weekly Torah reading? If you need resources for this, please check with me or go online for the many sites that deal with Torah study and commentary.
Other things you can do after the Seders and after Passover include each time you stop at the store pick up one or two items to put in a bag and at the end of the month bring them to ECHO or another community food bank. Or find a way to work in a soup kitchen or help out in a food pantry. As we just invited those who are hungry to eat with us during the Seder, let’s remember those who are in need by volunteering to help them throughout the year.
Finally, I hope that as you read the information about a congregational trip to Israel shortly, you will strongly consider joining us next January on our first congregational trip to Israel! For further details, please contact Russell Rayman. As we just celebrated our ancestors’ exodus from slavery to freedom and on to the promised land, maybe this is the year to think about taking our own personal journey to Israel!
Rabbi Bruce Aft