Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El

The Little Shul with the Big Heart

8339 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027
Phone: 215-635-1505 | Email: office@mbiee.org

Divrei Torah (Commentary Prepared by MBIEE Board Members)

   At the beginning of each monthly meeting, a Board member delivers a Dvar Torah  – a talk on the portion of the Torah read in our shul that week.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 – Shelley Schwartz

WHERE DO WE PUT OUR FAITH?

      I try not to read the newspaper anymore.  I try not to listen to the evening news. Every day begets yet another tragedy.  On almost every day, another war, another devastation to mankind.  In all of this senselessness, where do we put our faith
     In his book Homo Deus, written by Yuval Noah Harari, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he writes that Humanism has gone array:  it has become its own religion which worships man’s intellect instead of G-d.  Humans, in search of perpetual happiness, sovereignty, eternity ….  turn into machine-like creatures to create eternal life.  Man conquers disease, and hunger, and moves towards immortality and power.  Man, no longer has meaning in life.  This evolution of supreme intelligence of Man uncouples itself from consciousness.  Man becomes algorhrthmic and in that sense— Man’s essence has been destroyed.  We are only data-driven and have lost what’s in our heart. We have lost Faith.   Man has become the equivalent of machines, as they have no heart.  But G-d is in our heart….  Consequently, In Harari’s book, he projects that in Mankind’s current course, G-d will be lost and all that will be left is AI (artificial intelligence).  Humanism and faith in G-d will cease to exist. 
     Tonight, in the secular calendar, it is January 16, 2019.  In our Hebrew Calendar, it is 10 Shevat 5779.  In the secular calendar, next Monday we acknowledge MLK day—a day of service to mankind and community—a rebirth of giving back.  In our religious calendar, next Monday we celebrate Tu B’Shevat which celebrates a symbolic tie to the land of Eretz Yisrael where it is Spring, the season of rebirth. 
     The planting of trees, particularly fruit trees resonates throughout our ancient Hebrew literature as in Deuteronomy (20:19-20) where G-d commands that the cities may be conquered and destroyed, but not the trees.  Or, in the Talmudic story of the Emperor Hadrian who meets an Elderly Jew planting a carob tree.  The Emperor questions the Jew stating that the man will never see the tree bear fruit as it takes 70 years to mature.  The elderly man replies: “my father performed the mitzvah of planting a carob tree whose fruit I have enjoyed.  As such, I will plant this carob tree for my children to enjoy”.   Traditions and rituals that we carry out are rooted in our rich Jewish past.  The future of Judaism depends on our performance of mitzvot and teaching our children the importance of it to our future generations.
     The 10th of Shevat, January 16, falls during Shabbat Bo and is followed by Shabbats B’Shallah and Yitro, all of which lead to the expulsion of the Jews from Egypt and the celebration of the Passover.  Taking snippets of each Shabbat gives relevance to the upcoming events both secular and religious.
     The parashah from Shabbat Bo introduces the last 3 plaques and culminates in the collective fleeing of the Israelites from Egypt.  It is in this parashah that G-d commanded that the Hebrew calendar be formed and that the Passover Seder be celebrated.  An interesting concept arising from theses commandments is that both are dependent on the phases of the moon.  Passover is celebrated on the 14 Nissan which is always a full moon; and of course, the Hebrew Calendar is in congruence with the phases of the moon.  The full moon is symbolic to our Sages of rebirth:  renewal:  commitment—a reaffirmation of Faith.  Faith in G-d, faith in the strength of our Jewish Community
     Next, parashah B’Shallah which is presented in poetry and song, the Haftarah by D’vorah and the Torah reading by Moses.  D’vorah’s song depicts the victory of the Israelites over the Canaanites—a portrayal of the power of G-d on behalf of his people, the Covenant.  The force of the Canaanites was a divine punishment to the Israelites for their defiance of Faith in G-d.  Only when faith is returned to G-d, can the Israelites conquer their enemy. 
     The Torah reading is highlighted by the parting of the Red Sea to allow the Israelites safe passage and ultimately the destruction of their enemy.  However, the seas would not part until the Israelites united in one voice with Moses thus proclaiming their Faith in God.  But not merely in G-d, but as it is written, “The G-d of my fathers”,.  This revelation taught faith from generation to generation not only because they believed in the G-d of their ancestors, but because they experienced G-d first hand in united faith.
     And lastly, parashah Yitro.  Here, Isaiah is the central figure where the Torah reading and the Haftarah both present the juxtaposition of judgement and revelation.  In the Torah, a blueprint of justice and judgement for the nation.  In the Haftarah, a spiritual revelation for Isaiah depicting the failure of the people of the Covenant to perform the commandment of G-d to be a nation of priests—this failure, this impurity—can only be remedied in, as described in the Etz Hayim, by a “holy seed” a new generation.  The underlying theme joining the Torah and Haftarah is one of future generations.  The predominant theme:  The Planting of The Seed.
     In summation, in a world, where it seems as though every day we are besieged by plague after plague, let us not loose Faith in what is good.  Let us not loose Faith in G-d.  Let us not turn into the machines Harari describes defunct in terms of soul, but fill ourselves with heart and giving, and maintaining our Faith in G-d, and teaching our children our ritual and the importance of l’dor va dor.
     Where do we put our faith?  We must put it in the hands of G-d.  May G-d’s hands lead us, as he did our ancestor’s, to unite in Faith.  As we approach MLK and Tu’Beshevat, may G-d lead us to the betterment of ourselves, of our families and of community as a whole.  May G-d lead us to continue to plant these Seeds of Faith for generations to come.

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March, 2019 – Shelley Schwartz

PURIM

Tomorrow night we celebrate the holiday of Purim. Every year we read from the Megillah or the Book of Esther, the story of ancient Persia, of King Ahasueras, Queen Esther, Mordechai, Haman( a descendent of the Amalakites whom the Israelites were called upon to remember in last week’s parashot Zakhor and were defeated by Saul’s army in the Haftorah Samuel I). We wave our groggers at the mention of Haman’s name, dress in costume, listen to a Purim speil, eat hamantash, give mishloach manot and drink to excess if we wish. As we partake of this revelry, let us not forget the reason for celebrating this holiday as defeating yet another effort to destroy the Jews. We have experienced blatant antisemitism and horrific genocides against our people over the millennia culminating with the Shoah and Nazi Germany in our lifetime. As a child during World War II, I was too young to understand the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the destruction of the lives of 6 million of Europe’s Jews. As I entered into young adulthood, I felt safe and privileged to live in the United States which was a melting pot of religions and different ethnic groups. We all rejoiced in the founding of the State of Israel as a place where we could be Jewish without fear of being singled out and discriminated against. We were proud of that little country during the six day war in 1967 when against all odds, Israel defeated the invading armies, and we were fearful during the Yorn Kippur war when Israel came perilously close to being decimated. The United States has traditionally been a forceful ally of Israel since its founding. True it is not a perfect country but how comfortable it makes us feel to have a country of our own. Indeed some of our children have made Aliyah and have helped foster the feeling of a national homeland.

Now however I am frightened for  our people, our children and grandchildren  in our “safe, secure America.” The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions or BOS movement  which has taken hold world wide is an effort to force governments, companies and institutions to boycott Israeli products and divest themselves of any investments in Israel’s so called occupied territory. It supposedly is to  counter the oppression of the Palestinians under Israeli “occupation”. Anyone who has even a modicum of knowledge of the history of Israel knows this to be nonsense. During my many trips to Israel I have spoken to many Israelis from all sides of the political spectrum, including those that were staunch supporters of the Oslo agreement for  a two  state  solution. Sadly these friends have become disillusioned as time after time the Palestinians have walked away from negotiations  which could have brought  about this two  state solution. I was initially in favor of the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 where thousands of Israeli farmers were uprooted from their homes, leaving their farms intact so the Gazans could jump start their own economy. What happened? Within days the farms were overrun and destroyed, Hamas took over and now Israel has to endure rockets pouring into the South and last week even to Tel Aviv. And when the Israelis defend themselves against weekly lethal demonstrations, the soldiers are called murderers and child killers. Now there is no pretense when the slogans are repeated here and abroad to free Palestine from sea to sea which is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. The purpose is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. The goals are to end the occupation, create a Palestinian state and have the now 5 million refugees return. This propaganda has created a generation of Israel haters and has infiltrated college campuses which are filled with anti-Semitic professors who spew out their venom to vulnerable, naïve students. They are not even censured lest the administration be accused of interfering with free speech. And those students that differ, are so intimidated they are afraid to speak out.

BOS singularly attacks Israel and ignores human rights violations all over the world. BOS is the newest form of antisemitism, portraying Israel as the worst offender in the world and portraying caricatures  of Israelis as Nazis, murders and worse. There are those that try to separate BOS against Israel as different from antisemitism against the Jewish people. However much of the BOS rhetoric is anti-Semitic. A new word has come into use “intersectionality. This was a term coined by Black Feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 and attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those most marginalized in society and considers that various forms of social stratification such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, creed, disability and gender do not exist separately but are woven together. However lumping together dissimilar victims of oppression in one group fosters hatred. Using this concept the BDS movement has been hijacked by Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ community and more recently The Women’s March. The supporters of BDS ignore the fact that the Palestinians in these areas are working and that boycotting these products results in a loss of jobs for them. Take for example Soda Stream which was forced to move from the west bank causing the loss of 500 jobs for Palestinians. When they relocated to the Israeli Negev Desert, the BDS proponents still urged boycotting the company because they see nowhere within modern Israel that was not once Arab land.

The President of South Africa calls Israel an apartheid state which is ludicrous since the people of South Africa lived under that horrible system for  decades. In Israel Arabs and Jews work together,  go to  university together, serve in the Knesset together, work side by side in hospitals treating all regardless of who they are. Ireland is in the process of passing a bill criminalizing visits to Jerusalem or any territory in Judea or Samaria. The Labor leader in the UK has made no secret of his antisemitism. France has had so many attacks on Jews living in that country that many are leaving. And now here in the United States we had 11 people attending Shabbat services massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Synagogues which were formerly open to all are now locked and monitored by security camera and guards. Attendees at Jewish events are screened and the venues are patrolled by security guards. We have representatives in Congress who regularly spew the old canards of antisemitism. When the legislators tried to pass a bill outlawing antisemitism it was so watered down it was unrecognizable. Weeks ago the Senate passed a bill condemning BDS which would in effect prohibit the U.S. government from doing business with any companies that applied it. Although the bill passed there were 23 senators who voted against it, including at least half a dozen who have thrown their hat in the ring as presidential hopefuls. Some of these senators claimed that the bill would inhibit free speech.

However that is false because while the first amendment protects the right of individuals to free speech, it does not protect the right of entities to engage in discriminatory conduct. For the first time in my life, I am concerned about the blatant antisemitism being promulgated by some of our elected representatives and about the future of the Jews in the U.S. I would like to end by quoting Martin Neimoller, a Lutheran minister and early Nazi supporter who was later imprisoned for opposing Hitler’s regime.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.

It is my hope that when faced with decisions concerning the direction of our country you will not only make them with your heart but also with your head and exercise caution lest you become one of the ones that are left when there is no one else to come for.