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Laws of Shabbos #63

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 26, 2017

The Gemara in Shabbos states that it is forbidden to put salt on radish. However, if it is only one piece of radish and it will be eaten immediately it is permitted. It is also clear from the Gemara that it is not limited to radish but rather includes other similar types of vegetables.

There is debate as to the nature of the prohibition. Some suggest that it is similar to working on animal hides where a process similar to slating was used to toughen the hide. Others suggest that placing salt on these vegetables is a form of pickling which is similar to cooking.

We will discuss the practical ramifications in the days to come.

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Positive Extremism Yizkor Pesach

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 25, 2017

Growing up we had some pretty extreme customs around Pesach time. We never did the cover-the-house-in-tin-foil-thing. (We probably would have but we’re Hungarian, and it just didn’t look right.) However, we would go through every single book on the bookshelf and clean it out from any crumbs – my father by the way had a tremendous book collection, and somehow this thankless task was usually mine. My family would not eat gebrochts which means that we did not have Matzal ball soup on Pesach? Imagine that! And, growing up, the OU was not a good enough kosher-symbol for Pesach and so in my family, we only purchased items from a rather limited group of Kosher-agencies that my father trusted.

I’m embarrassed to say that I dropped some of those customs. I still keep a good few of them from my youth. We line our dish cabinets so that the utensils don’t touch the floor of the cabinet even though there is absolutely no need to do so. And, we still buy hand Shmura Matza. Do you know how much this box over here costs? $26! Okay, that is $2.60 for a Matza. And in a few hours, the Matza will be worth nothing!! And this year, we bought gluten free Shmura hand Matza for some of our guests. You’re not going to believe how much it costs – $10 a Matza!! I kid you not! Unbelievable!

But whether you have such customs or not, whether you buy box matza, or have Matza ball soup, I think we could all agree that Pesach is a holiday of extremism. And I mean that in a good way; good old positive-extremism. Whether it’s the extremely stringent Ashkenazi custom of not eating legumes on Pesach; kitniyot, whether it’s the extreme measures we take to ensure that every single person in our family is with us at our Seder, or whether it’s the extremely time-consuming and mind-numbing preparations that everyone here put in to make their Pesach a beautiful one. Pesach is intense and it’s extreme.

And that’s why I spent the last week talking about the Chassidic movement. The Chassidic movement was a movement of extremism. Whether it was Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who loved every Jew to the extreme, seeing value in even the most evil and despised men, whether it was the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, who was consumed with matters of the intellect, whether it was the Kotzker who was obsessed with honesty or Rav Nachman of Breslove who did everything in the extreme. The Chassidic movement was a movement of fanaticism, of extreme extremism.

And I’m sure some of you here were scratching your heads wondering – Chassidim, with their long beards, white socks, and over-the-top-stringencies, do not belong in our shul! Am I trying to convert this Modern Orthodox synagogue into a Chassidic Shtiebel? Am I trying to change you and make you ultra-Orthodox?

Well, the truth is that I am. I would love for everyone here to become Chassidic, and I would love nothing more than everyone here to become an ultra-ultra-ultra-extremist, a fanatic!

Now before you walk out the door, allow me to explain myself. I want to share with you what it really means to be a Chassid, or at least what the word Chassid means to me. Literally, a Chassid means one who is devout. But that doesn’t really capture its inner meaning. And so I’ll share with you some stories about a chassid I knew. Many of you, at Yizkor today will be recalling a loved one. Thank G-d, my immediate family is intact and so on Yizkor days I try to think about my grandfathers who have passed away and I would like to speak about one of my grandfather’s today.

My father’s father was a Chassid. Not in the typical sense. He didn’t have a beard, he dressed like everyone else, and he worked in a factory. But he was a Chassid nonetheless.

He was born in Hungary and like so many Hungarians, spent part of World War Two in Auschwitz. Right before Rosh Hashana, my father and his brother-in-law somehow managed to get their hands on a shofar. On Rosh Hashana morning, my father and his brother-in-law went to one of the barracks that they thought was out of hearing range of the Nazis, and they blew a Shofar in Auschwitz.

A few days later, the crematorium did not have room for 100 young girls who were going to be burned. They were put into a holding area until the crematoria was empty. My grandfather heard their cries, broke open the fence, and at least twenty of them were able to escape.

Later in his life, after losing his youngest son, my grandfather decided to open a library of Jewish books in his son’s memory. He never had a lot of money, but he successfully built it up and today that library is one of the largest in Israel.

Now my grandfather did not have an obligation to do any of those things. You don’t have to risk your life to save others, you certainly don’t have to risk your life to listen to the Shofar, and you don’t have to spend all your money to purchase books of Torah. But Sabba, my grandfather was a fanatic, he was an extremist; he was a Chassid, not in looks, but in spirit.

Because you see another way of looking at all of this fanaticism that we’ve been discussing is by understanding that not all fanaticism is evil. Yes, there is certainly an ugly, a very ugly side of fanaticism that exists not only in other faiths but in ours as well. But not all extremism is dangerous. On the contrary, there is a fanaticism that I would actively promote. It is a fanaticism that is driven by love because love is by definition extreme.

My grandfather loved Judaism and so he risked his life to keep its laws, my grandfather loved people and so he risked his life to save them. My grandfather loved Torah and so he spent so much of his resources on buying books so other could people could study Torah.

And that’s what the Chassidic movement is really all about, or at least what it is supposed to be about. Their dedication to a fellow Jew, their dedication to Jewish law, their dedication to Torah study – You could call it extremism if you’d like, you can call it fanaticism, but I would prefer to call it love.

And we have a whole lot to learn from the Chassidim in this respect. All of us are generous – until it impacts our lifestyle. All of us are kind to others – until we feel uncomfortable. All of us do Mitzvos – until they become cumbersome and inconvenient.

We could all use a good dose of Chassidic fanaticism in our lives.

And it’s not only good for our souls, four spiritual growth, we will enjoy ourselves more! We will get more out of life! And I’ll prove it to you –

The Pesach customs that we maintain from our past, the extreme measures and the expensive bills, we may sigh deeply, we may gripe about them from time to time, but I think if we were to be really honest with ourselves, we love it. We love connecting to our family, even the family members that get on our nerves. We love connecting to our traditions, even the ones we question. Despite all the anguish, we love it!

That’s what love does to us; it makes us do extreme and crazy things. All of you are in this room because someone loved you! It doesn’t make sense to have a child! It is the most irrational thing man has ever done. Think about the bills, the sleepless nights, the grief, need I go on? But there were crazy, fanatical, extremist people who came before you and said, I’d love to have a child. And then when they did have a child, they showered you with love!

In the past decade there has been an explosion of books about child-rearing. Check-lists – make sure you say this to your child, you say that to your child. They’re great, don’t get me wrong. But what guided your parents or your grandparents? There was no check-list, there was love.

Some of you today will be remembering a spouse – what is more fanatical than the love between two strangers? What is more irrational than a love that transcends beauty, health, and hard times? The love of marriage is the most irrational and extreme of all.

I want to read to you an article, one of the most well-read articles in the New York Times this past year, titled, You May Want to Marry My Husband. It speaks to the extreme measures, the wild places that love can take us. And I quote:

“Want to hear a sick joke? A husband and wife walk into the emergency room in the late evening on Sept. 5, 2015. A few hours and tests later, the doctor clarifies that the unusual pain the wife is feeling on her right side isn’t the no-biggie appendicitis they suspected but rather ovarian cancer.”

The author of the article, a writer, is speaking about herself. Listen as she shares how she dealt with earth-shattering news of her imminent death.

“As the couple head home in the early morning of Sept. 6, somehow through the foggy shock of it all, they make the connection that today, the day they learned what had been festering, is also the day they would have officially kicked off their empty-nestering. The youngest of their three children had just left for college.

So many plans instantly went poof.

No trip with my husband and parents to South Africa. No reason, now, to apply for the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. No dream tour of Asia with my mother. No writers’ residencies at those wonderful schools in India, Vancouver, Jakarta.

No wonder the word cancer and cancel look so similar.

This is when we entered what I came to think of as Plan “Be,” existing only in the present. As for the future, allow me to introduce you to the gentleman of this article, Jason Brian Rosenthal.

He is an easy man to fall in love with.

First, the basics: He is 5-foot-10, 160 pounds, with salt-and-pepper hair and hazel eyes.

He is a sharp dresser. Our young adult sons, Justin and Miles, often borrow his clothes… If our home could speak, it would add that Jason is uncannily handy. On the subject of food — man, can he cook… Jason loves listening to live music; it’s our favorite thing to do together. I should also add that our 19-year-old daughter, Paris, would rather go to a concert with him than anyone else.

Jason paints. I love his artwork. I would call him an artist except for the law degree that keeps him at his downtown office most days from 9 to 5. Or at least it did before I got sick…

Wait. Did I mention that he is incredibly handsome? I’m going to miss looking at that face of his.

If he sounds like a prince and our relationship seems like a fairy tale, it’s not too far off, except for all of the regular stuff that comes from two and a half decades of playing house together. And the part about me getting cancer. Blech.

I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. But that is not going to happen. I probably have only a few days left being a person on this planet. So why I am doing this?”

And she concludes, “I am wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine, non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins.”

 

The author of this touching article, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, died ten days after this letter was published.

That’s love in all its irrational glory. Love is not a contract, it’s not even ‘to death do us part!’ Too many people see their marriage as a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I did this, why can’t you do that? But that’s not love! Love is not a transaction; love is a feeling that transcends life itself!

And so yes, I would love nothing more than for all us to become ultra-ultra-extremists! Ultra-lovers of our children, extremely-affectionate to our spouses, fanatically-caring for our parents, and wildly-positive about the people we are surrounded by. Don’t just do what you have to do, that’s boring. Be a fanatic! Be extreme! Go beyond the call of duty! Be a Chassid.

I’d like to conclude with an appeal. It’s an appeal to something that is beyond the call of duty. It’s not something you have to do, but it’s Pesach and today we are speaking of things that lovers do.

We are writing a Sefer Torah. A Torah scroll is a book that has been loved in an almost fanatical fashion by those who came before us. If that wouldn’t be the case, you wouldn’t be here in shul today.

You don’t have to give anything, you really don’t. But Pesach is a time to be a little extreme, and on Yizkor we remember those who were extreme for our sake, and give charity in their memory. So on this day of love, may we give charity in honor or in memory of those we love, to an institution that I know I love and I hope you love too. And if I could ask you, in the spirit of this sermon, to be just a little extreme in your giving and give a little more than you would otherwise.

With G-d’s help, may we be extreme in our charity, extreme in our connection to G-d, extreme in our love to our family and extreme in our love for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Laws of Shabbos #62

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 25, 2017

Making items smooth is prohibited on Shabbos (more on this in the weeks/ months to come). According to most Halachic authorities this prohibition does not apply to food. Therefore, one may make dips (chummus, etc.) flat at the top although it is preferable not to. Similarly, spreading a spread on bread is permitted but one should ideally not try to make the spread very smooth.

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Laws of Shabbos #61

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 24, 2017

Changing the color of an item is prohibited on Shabbos. Food, however, is not included in this prohibition according to most authorities. Therefore, if for example one would like to change the appearance of a white cup of wine and make it red by adding some grape juice, this would be permitted.

However, if the item that one is coloring is not something one plans on eating it is forbidden to do so. For example, a toilet bowl flush cleaner that colors the water should not be used on Shabbos. One may place the cleaner in the tank as this will cause the coloring but not do so directly.

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Laws of Sefiras HaOmer

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 21, 2017

Starting the second night of Pesach men and women are obligated to count Sefiras HaOmer. One should ideally count after nightfall (tzeis hakochavim). However, some shuls (like ours) have the custom to recite Sefira after sunset, and some even after Plag HaMincha.

If one who attends services is confident that they will remember to say Sefira after nightfall, they should say Amen to the Chazzan/Rabbi’s blessing, not say a blessing, and count the Sefira while having in mind the following stipulation: “If I remember later on this should not be considered a counting. If I do not remember later on this should count.” Later in the evening, after nightfall, they should count Sefira with a blessing.

If one is not so confident that they will count later they should say the blessing at the earlier time and count. After nightfall, they should repeat the count without a blessing.

If one did not count for the entire evening, one should count during the following day without a blessing. If one missed counting for an entire day, they can no longer count Sefira with a blessing. However, there is still an obligation to continue to count every day without a blessing.

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Laws of Pesach: The Day After

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 20, 2017

There is a prohibition against eating chameitz that was owned (and not sold) by a Jew over Pesach. This poses a potential issue in purchasing from a number of stores in Baltimore immediately after Pesach as one of the major the distributors in the area is Jewish and does not sell his chameitz. Please see the attached link for stores where chameitz may and may not be purchased: http://www.star-k.org/articles/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/StoresAfterPesach_2017.pdf

Please bear in mind that one may buy non-chameitz items from those stores.

For those who drink beer, this issue affects a number of brands. Please see the list of forbidden beers: http://www.star-k.org/articles/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/BeerAlertListing.pdf

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Creating our Spiritual Bucket Lists Parshas Vayikra

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 5, 2017

George, a doctoral candidate at the University of California in 1939, arrived late for his graduate-level statistics class and found two problems written upon the blackboard. He assumed it was a homework assignment, so he jotted them down and a few days later, he solved them. When he finally finished the homework assignment, he brought it to his professor, apologizing for the delay.
About six weeks later, around eight AM on a Sunday morning, George was awakened by someone banging on his front door. It was his professor. The professor rushed in his dorm room with the papers in hand, all excited. “I’ve just written an introduction to one of your papers. Please read it so I can send it off right away for publication.”

For a moment, George had no idea what the professor was talking about. It was then that he found out that the homework assignment on the blackboard was not homework. The equations that he found on the board were two famous ‘unsolvable’ math problems in statistics.

Had he known what they were, George Bernard Dantzig would have never tried to solve them.

Another story – For years, it was thought to be humanly impossible to run the 4 minute mile. On May 6, 1954, a man by the name Rodger Bannister managed to run a mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. In the next couple of years, a fascinating thing happened, numerous runners suddenly also succeeded in running the 4 minute mile. Having seen that it can be done, runners were able to push themselves to make it happen.

So often, the biggest impediment to our excellence is no one else other than ourselves. We are the ones standing in the way of our dreams. Often times, by not even dreaming.

Three thousand years ago, our ancestors in Egypt had no aspirations, no goals, and no dreams. How could they? They were slaves without a moment to breathe. The world had not even been introduced to the concept of freedom. And so they lived their life day by day, entirely focused on the present, unaware and incapable of dreaming for a better tomorrow.

According to the Slonimer Rebbe, this was Moshe’s argument of, “I am not a man of words.” – Moshe wasn’t speaking about himself. According to this interpretation, Moshe was speaking about the Jewish people and he was saying, “G-d, how can I rally the Jewish People to think about freedom when they can’t see beyond their shoes. Their talk revolves around survival, not redemption. They are not a people of words. They are not a people of dreams.”

But ultimately, Moshe was wrong. The Jewish People found their mouth, they found their heart and they dreamt. The AriZal explains that is the essence of this holiday. It is Peh Sach, which literally means, a talking mouth. The Jews were no longer silent, struggling to stay alive. They talked of freedom, they talked about redemption, and they talked about travelling and conquering the holy land of Israel.

This is why by the way, the Jewish People could celebrate the first Pesach Seder in Egypt! Think about it – it makes no sense. The first celebration of redemption took place in Egypt, before they were free?! How does that make any sense?

It makes sense because the real celebration of Pesach is not the physical freedom per se. It’s the freedom to imagine, the freedom to plan for the future, it’s the freedom to dream. The message of Pesach is that you could be in the depths of hell, you could be a slave in Egypt, a prisoner in Auschwitz, or an inmate in the gulag, but if you’re free, you could dream about a better tomorrow.

That is the essence of Pesach and ironically, we sometimes get it all wrong. Instead of dreaming, we act like slaves and think about survival.  Instead of thinking about the Seder night, we get fixated on the challenging of preparing for it. Instead of thinking about the foods that remind us of our parents and grandparents, we gripe about the prices we pay for the ingredients. Slaves think about today’s challenges, free people dream about a better tomorrow.

Pesach is a time to dream about what could be, not what is.

Which brings to bucket lists. A bucket list, according to the dictionary, is a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish during their lifetime.

There is a website called bucketlist.org. They have listings of popular items that people put in their own personal bucket list. The most popular are things like learning a new language, going bungee jumping, skydiving, getting a tattoo, or, my favorite, covering someone’s car in post-it notes. There are thousands of people whose life dream is to cover a car in post-it notes…

What I would recommend this Pesach is that we make our own spiritual bucket lists; a number of spiritual experiences or achievements that you hope to have or accomplish during your lifetime.

Pesach is a time to dream – What are your spiritual goals that you would like to accomplish, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but in your lifetime; what could you do that will give you an incredible amount of satisfaction?

For some of you it may be finishing a Jewish book, a book of Tanach, a book of Talmud. For some of you it may be to truly eradicate a negative characteristic. We too often give up on changing ourselves. Don’t. Put it on your bucket list and work on it. For some it may be learning how to read or understand Hebrew.

If you could do anything at all, what spiritual goal would you like to accomplish in your lifetime? What would you put in your spiritual bucket list? Think about it, discuss it, write your own personal, spiritual bucket list of things you’d like to accomplish before it’s too late.

 

Now I have a couple of things on my spiritual bucket list, but there is one thing that I never added because I thought that it would simply be too hard and honestly too expensive, and that is to write a Sefer Torah. Writing a Sefer Torah is seen as one of the greatest mitzvos. It’s actually the final and lasting directive given by Moshe to the Jewish People. Mitzvah #613.

This Pesach, I will be adding writing a Sefer Torah to my list because our sages teach us that even if one cannot write or finance the writing of an entire Sefer Torah, participating in any way is still a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.

Most of the Torah’s in this ark are quite old and are not so functional any more. Fran and Henry Reitberger generously agreed to underwrite the purchasing of a new Torah for Ner Tamid in the memory of Fran’s beloved father, Isaac Goldman, a member of this shul, a philanthropist, and a man beloved by all.

However, the Reitberger’s were kind enough to invite everyone here to take part in this wonderful Mitzvah. There are fliers in the back listing all the opportunities available – you could buy a book of the Torah, you could buy a Parsha, you could buy an Aliyah, and you could buy a letter. You could buy it for a loved one, in memory of a loved one, or just because. It’s a special Mitzvah, if not one of the most special of Mitzvos and I hope that all of you will join me in adding this Mitzvah to your spiritual bucket list.

While you’re cleaning for Pesach this week, while you’re spending your savings on Matzah, do yourself a favor and think like a free person and not like a slave. Think about the things you’d like to accomplish, think about the dreams you’d like to live, experience freedom at its finest. And may G-d give you the strength and ability to live your spiritual dreams.

 

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A Deeper Look at the Splitting of the Sea

By: Rabbi Motzen | March 30, 2017

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Laws of Pesach #20

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 9, 2017

Tomorrow, Monday, April 10, chameitz cannot be eaten past 10:30 AM (all times are for 21209 area code). There is a Mitzvah to destroy one’s Chameitz on Erev Pesach. This should be done no later than 11:49 AM. (Contrary to popular belief, there is no Mitzvah to go to Dunkin Donuts on Erev Pesach.)

One must also nullify all Chameitz that they may have and are not aware of before 11:49 AM. One can do so by saying the following: “All chameitz and leaven that is in my possession that I have seen and not seen, that I have destroyed and not destroyed, that I know about and that I do not know about, shall be null and ownerless like the dust of the earth.” (This should be said even if one already nullified all chameitz the night before.)

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Laws of Pesach #19

By: Rabbi Motzen | April 7, 2017

There is an obligation to eat marror twice during the seder; once on its own and the other time in a sandwhich. The proper amount of marror to be eaten each time is one ounce worth of marror. If one is using lettuce to fulfill the mitzvah of marror, one big leaf or two stalks of lettuce suffice. One does not lean while eating marror.

 

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