by Motzen | Jul 29, 2020 | Halacha
Usually the restrictions of the Nine Days continue through the day after Tisha B’av at midday. This year, because the day after Tisha B’av is Friday and we need to get ready for Shabbos, some of the restrictions do not apply.
One may launder, cut hair, and bathe regularly starting Friday morning. If one will not have enough time on Friday, one may start Thursday night.
One should not eat meat, drink wine, or listen to music until midday on Friday. In Baltimore, midday on Friday is at 1:13 PM.
by Motzen | Jul 29, 2020 | Halacha
On Tisha B’av one is not supposed to do anything that can be seen as joyful.The following things are therefore forbidden:
– Eating and drinking (If one has any medical concerns please contact me before the fast)
– Studying Torah that does not pertain to Tisha B’av
– Washing oneself in any way. This includes a prohibition against brushing one’s teeth. However, one may wash their fingers upon waking up. If one’s hands become dirty in any way, one can wash whatever part of their hand is dirty. If one wishes to bathe a child or wash dishes and their hands will get wet in the process it is permitted to do so.
- This year, due to Coronavirus, if one is washing their hands after being in public etc., one may wash their entire hand regularly with soap.
On Tisha B’av one may not wear leather shoes.
One should not greet others. If one is greeted they may respond.
One must sit on a low stool until Halachic midday, which in Baltimore will be at 1:13 PM on Tisha B’av.
One should not work for the first half of Tisha B’av. Ideally, one should not work the entire day.
There are some who sleep in a less comfortable fashion on the night of Tisha B’av. For example, if they normally sleep with two pillows they sleep with one. If they normally sleep with one pillow they sleep with none. If one can do so, it is a meaningful custom. If it will prevent them from sleeping and they will have a harder time fasting, or they have some condition which will make sleeping (or the next day) extremely uncomfortable, there is no need to do so.
The fast is over at 9:06 PM.
by Motzen | Jul 13, 2020 | Sermons
This past Shabbos, I spoke on the topic of racism. After shul and for the past few days I have received much feedback, and engaged in many passionate discussions. I learned a lot from those conversations. They also helped me crystalize the most salient point I had been trying to make: The dismal state of employment, education, health, and crime in the black community is undisputed. The impact this has on all Black people, the stereotypes they must all endure regardless of where in this country they live or how educated or wealthy they may be, is also something that most of us agree upon. These are the facts. Where there is less agreement is the question of cause; whose fault is it that this is the case? Politicians of a certain persuasion? The police? The black community? The white community? That’s where the disagreements begin.
So here’s the point I want to make – Ben is right, facts do not care about feelings. But faith does. Our faith cares deeply about feelings; the feelings of others and the emotional response from us.
What is so troubling to me is the detached tone to our conversations, as if we are discussing a theoretical question. There is a community of people who are suffering a few blocks away from us irrespective of who is to blame. It is the role of politicians and pundits to discuss, develop, and debate effective policies. It is the role of decent people to care.
I would argue that the appropriate emotional response is righteous indignation. I realize not everyone would agree with that assessment and I am not confident enough in my ability to interpret the statistics to say everyone should. At the very least, we must all feel compassion. Regardless of who is to blame, it must break our hearts that my child has to look both ways before crossing a street so that he won’t get hit by a car, and a little boy growing up a few blocks away has to look both ways so that he doesn’t get hit by a stray bullet. It must break our hearts that my neighbor, a tall, muscular Black man, must own a cute little puppy so people won’t call the police on him every time he walks down his own block. The sad state of the Black community and the never-ending prejudice they all must deal with should break our hearts. That’s all I’m suggesting, that we care.
If a man was executed in ancient Israel for committing a heinous crime, his wife and children, the widow and orphan, would still receive our compassion. We would still be prohibited from oppressing them in any way, and we would still be obligated in displaying the utmost sensitivity in dealing with them. Why? Because they are in pain and they feel vulnerable and G-d demands of us to feel and display compassion to those who are marginalized in our society irrespective of the cause.
Who is to blame, or rather what needs to change, is relevant and should be discussed, respectfully and without fear of being labeled in any way. Black Lives Matter is used at times to espouse antisemitism, and should be called out when they do. The fact that you were held up by a Black youth is scary, it impacts your worldview, and cannot be discounted. However, none of that should detract from the fact that our faith cares about feelings. And so should we.
by Motzen | Jul 9, 2020 | Sermons
This past Thursday, we began what is known as the Three Weeks of Mourning which culminate on Tisha B’av. It is a time to reflect upon the exile from Israel and the destruction of the Temple. Every year at this time, I am asked, the State of Israel was established over 70 years ago, Jerusalem has been in our hands for over 50 years, why are we still observing these days of mourning? The Three Weeks are passé! And every year I respond that we are not praying for sovereignty alone, but for the rebuilding of the Temple and all that it represents. The Bait Hamikdash is more than a building, it is an idea. It represents a return of Godliness into this world and all that His presence brings along; peace, justice, harmony, the love of kindness, and overflowing blessing. When we yearn for a rebuilding of the Temple, we are yearning for personal and universal redemption from a state of brokenness. In other words, I respond to their question by suggesting that the Three Weeks is not about Israel alone, its focus is on a far larger and more universal picture.
While my first inclination this year is to focus on the big picture – you do not need me to tell you how broken our world is today – I think we would be remiss if we do not take a moment to think about Israel. It is true that we have sovereignty, it is true that Israel’s military is mighty, it is true that the economy is strong, and it is true that Jerusalem is ours today more than it ever was before. However, there is a growing voice of dissent overtaking the Western world. Thinly veiled anti-Semitism seeking to delegitimize the State of Israel is rampant. It is being espoused by sports players, musicians, and intellectuals alike. It has muddied the waters of social justice movements and become the de facto viewpoint on many college campuses. Israel may be stronger than ever but those seeking to tear it down have grown frighteningly vocal and organized.
So as we reflect on our losses these Three Weeks – and there is much to reflect upon, let us also think about and speak up on behalf of our beloved ancestral land. The State of Israel is far from perfect, we are confident enough to admit our shortcomings. But we must also give voice to the fact that the State of Israel has tried and tried and tried to make peace but received violence in response. We must give voice to the fact that we have 3,000-year roots in the land. We must give voice to the fact that Israel has avowed enemies and it cannot afford be flippant about its security. We must give voice to the fact that though there is corruption, Israel is a beacon of democracy and a world leader in human rights and freedom.
May God hear our voice – of protest and of prayer – and may He wipe away the many tears that have been shed for our personal setbacks and losses, for the land of Israel and for our people, and for the world at large. May we merit to experience a true redemption speedily in our days.
by Motzen | Jul 6, 2020 | Sermons
The great debate raging across America right now is do we or don’t we take down statues from our public squares? And if we do, which ones come down?
Some have been arguing for a removal of any Confederate heroes. After all they fought for slavery and committed treason against this country! Others take this even further and suggest that anyone who ever owned a slave should not have the honor of a statue and any such statue should be ripped down. Of course, this would include almost all the founding fathers, up to and including George Washington.
Sometimes this approach has strange ramification – like when protestors toppled the statue of General Grant who was instrumental in defeating the Confederacy and by extension, defeating slavery. All because he owned a single slave who he received from his father-in-law and who he ultimately freed.
And there are those arguing to leave them all up, the poet-philosopher, George Santayana famously said, those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Leaving the statues up is a way of reminding us of the past, in all its ugliness.
It’s an important question to grapple with on July 4th; what is this country? What does it represent? How do we understand its past? And how does that affect its future?
Reading about these debates I have gained new appreciation for the Torah’s ban on statues. According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to create a statue of a person. Some go so far as to forbid dolls, and if you look closely in some Chassidic homes, the dolls in their homes are slightly mutilated for this reason. Most do not take it to this extreme, but full-fledged statues will not be seen in Jewish institutions. Israel, famously, has very few statues of its leaders.
The simple rationale behind the prohibition is that a statue may come to be worshipped. But it’s a little deeper than that –
A statue conveys perfection – and our tradition goes out of its way to highlight the imperfections of our leaders, the greatest example of whihc is found in this week’s parsha: Moshe, the paragon of perfection – the individual who speaks to G-d face to face, like a man speaks to a friend, even he succumbs to failure, to mistakes, to poor judgment.
Whatever he did is immaterial to the broader point that the Torah makes over and over again – our leaders are imperfect. Our leaders are… human.
A statue is not only an affront to G-d but it misrepresents what it means to be human. A bronze statue, a stone bust – that’s not who we are. We are flesh and blood, pushed and pulled by our emotions and faulty thinking, trudging our way through life.
It’s a view with important ramifications. I am reminded of R. Berel Wein’s famous and somewhat cynical statement – don’t judge Judaism by the Jews. He’s often quoted when some great Jewish leader fails to represent the Torah and its values. There’s truth to his statement; no Jew is perfect, and some are downright evil. And for this reason, no one can be immortalized with a god-like statue.
But I believe that this is an oversimplification or perhaps an incomplete picture – that simply focusing on the imperfection of leaders is not the Torah viewpoint either.
This same parsha that tells us of Moshe’s failing begins with the laws of reclaiming ritual purity. Coming into contact with the dead brings about a change in a person; a change that necessitates a process of reintegration into the holy camp.
Reintegration does not happen on its own – you cannot get a DIY purity kit. The individual who is trying to break free from the chains of impurity NEEDS a kohein, a priest; a priest who is placed on a pedestal and given the title of leader, of spiritual guru.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that is an intrinsic part of the process. You know, you don’t need a rabbi to give a speech on Shabbos morning, you don’t need a rabbi to officiate at a funeral, and you don’t really even need a rabbi to perform a wedding. But here, when it comes to spiritual growth, to break free from evil, we need to have a role model, an individual who represents to us what is good and what is pure.
And so we are not anti-leader; Korach was wrong, wasn’t he? Kol ha’am kulam kedoshim, the entire nation is equally pure, was rejected. There are individuals who we look up to.
And like most things, a balance is needed:
In 1967, Dr. Gordon Allport, the father of personality psychology developed a model to better understand why people connect to religion. He described two extremes; intrinsic religious motivation and extrinsic religious motivation.
Some are drawn or stay connected to their faith for extrinsic reasons; the social element, the camaraderie, maybe the cholent or the kiddush.
And some, are drawn or connected to the beliefs of their faith, to the practices, independent of anything and anyone else.
All of us fall somewhere between these extremes, but it’s important to reflect upon where on this continuum we are.
Two weeks ago, we sent out a poll to our membership, asking people if they felt more or less connected to shul; a similar question would have been, do you feel more or less connected to Judaism right now.
I imagine that for those who have a more intrinsic connection to Judaism, these past few months did not affect as them deeply, maybe, away from everyone else, they even felt closer to G-d.
For those who have a more extrinsic orientation these past few months, apart from shul and Jewish social life, has been especially trying to their faith.
Parenthetically, as my colleague Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin has suggested, this model helps us better understand why some people leave their faith; some leave because they were bullied or mistreated or perhaps when they witness great people acting very small. Others leave because they have questions. Presumably this is all a reflection of where they fall on this continuum. An intrinsically motivated religious individual isn’t so deeply impacted by the failures of a leader, just like they’re not deeply impacted when there’s no kiddush after shul. Whereas an extrinsically motivated religious individual isn’t bothered to the same extent by a question, a challenge to their faith; they listen, they think, they discuss, but they’re comfortable moving on.
I see our parsha as preaching the value of both; of growing in our intrinsic connection to G-d; not being swayed by other people, be it the social elements or the role models. My religious persona must stand alone and independent of all influences. Because such a persona can weather so many storms; it could overcome scandals which leave us leaderless and it could overcome pandemics which leave us all alone. Moshe can fail and the Jewish People can live on.
And at the same time, there is value in the Kohein, in the priest, in the role model who inspires us, who connects to us, who teaches us. You could be fully Jewish living alone on an island filled with Jewish books and religious items, but something would be missing. So much of our faith comes about from THIS; what we are experiencing right here. And yes, from a give and take with role models, with teachers.
I’ll be personal – I am one of those people who would be very comfortable living my life on an island with those Jewish (and non-Jewish!) books, but I have started to appreciate now, more than ever, how much I would be missing.
Exposure to real, living people who are so much greater than me in so many way – that forces me to grow. The interaction with people of different viewpoints – that forces me to think. And the warmth of community allows me to breathe – it gives me comfort, knowing that I am part of something.
So ask yourself who you are; what’s your motivation to be here, or to be Jewish? Is it intrinsic or is it extrinsic?
And when we realize where we are on that continuum, to move just a little bit in the opposite direction.
For those of us who are more intrinsically motivated – to check our arrogance and to find people who we can aspire to, who we can emulate. To lower our guard, to stop being so independent and instead recognize how good we feel in the embrace of others.
For those who are more extrinsically motivated – we may be going back to our Covid islands in just a little while, who knows. So what does my faith look like behind closed doors? How can I develop a more personal connection to God?
There are no eternal statues in Judaism. The only things eternal in Judaism are G-d and the Jewish People – netzach Yisrael. Whatever your motivation, you’re here, you’re part of this people, and you’re beloved by G-d. May we all be motivated to deepening our relationship with G-d and with one another.