There is one word – a Hebrew word – which over the years has taken on a specific meaning. The word used to be considered neutral but now it’s considered a negative. The word is “matzav” – literal translation: “situation.” The word used to be used quite innocently. One person would say to another, “Mah hamatzav – what’s up?” It’s a question that didn’t even need an answer! Or, one Israeli would say to the other: “Yesh matzav” which can mean, “Something’s going on.” If an Israeli Prime Minister were to deliver a State of the Union address, it would be called “Matzav ha-umi – the nation’s situation.” But today, the word “matzav” refers to only one situation … and that is Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. According to Ruvik Rosenthal, a language columnist for one of Israel’s newspapers, “The word “matzav” is a word with a negative connotation … according to the dictionary definition it is a neutral word, but in daily usage it has a connotation of tension, sadness, problems.” READ MORE
It was the Gentile prophet Bilaam who proclaimed those immortal and, unfortunately, true words regarding the Jews: “Hein am levaded yishkon – behold they are a nation destined to dwell alone.” In many ways the state of Israel is the most isolated one on earth. It is surrounded by neighbors, many of whom do not recognize its right to exist, and who have no economic or diplomatic relations with it. And even with the two neighbors with which Israel does have a peace treaty, very few of their people visit Israel. On the international scene there is a movement to boycott Israel. Well known entertainers like Dustin Hoffman, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Stevie Wonder, Carlos Santana and, of course, Jane Fonda refuse to step foot in Israel. No member of Britain’s royal family has ever paid a state visit to Israel. So when popular international icons do visit, that is big news in Israel! In recent weeks, Israel has had three such visitors … there was Justin Timberlake, who immediately won over the hearts of all Israel when he paid a moving visit to the Western Wall and began his jam-packed Tel Aviv concert with the words, “Yalla balagan” – slang words known to all Israelis as meaning, “Let’s go for it … let’s get the show on the road!” And you don’t get much bigger than the Rolling Stones, and they won over the hearts of all Israelis when they delayed the start of their show, which took place on the first night of Shavuot … they delayed it so that their Orthodox fans would have time to drive to the concert when Yom Tov was over, and they introduced themselves by saying: “Anachanu ha-avanim hamitgalgalot – we are the Rolling Stones!” READ MORE
There are some things you just don’t say! It’s as simple as that! Donald Sterling is learning exactly what I mean. Donald Sterling, born to Jewish parents named Tokowitz, is the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. He was caught on tape telling his girlfriend not to come to basketball games with black people. This is not the first time that Sterling has gotten into trouble for what he said, but this may very well be the last time. Barack Obama – from Malaysia – issued a condemnation of what Sterling said! And Sterling is to be condemned for what he said! It matters not that next month he was supposed to be honored by the National Association of Colored People. It matters not that what he said was said “off the record” in a private conversation and his words were taped without his knowledge, perhaps violating his privacy. It doesn’t matter! Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion but when your opinion is ugly there are certain things you just don’t say! READ MORE
Question: Who is the most criticized person in the whole world? Who has been called “a disgrace to humanity,” “a murderer,” “a coward?” Let me help you: what captain abandoned his sinking ship? You may not know his name but now you know who I am talking about! Lee Jun-Seok was the captain of the South Korean ferry Sewol, which sank last Wednesday with Captain Jun-Seok walking to safety while close to 300 of his passengers went to their deaths. The abandoning of the ship by the captain was labeled by the President of South Korea “a murderous act that can never be understood or forgiven.” Now I ask you a more serious question: What would you have done if you were the captain of that sinking ship? READ MORE
It took place in a courtroom in New Jersey on Tuesday, March 4 of this year and it immediately became a topic of discussion on the Internet when Rachel Canning, of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, filed a lawsuit against her parents. As one writer described the story:
Rachel Canning is an 18-year-old who is suing her parents. She brought a lawsuit to force her parents to pay for her private school education and her personal expenses. It seems that while living at home her parents set rules she was expected to follow. She had to abide by a curfew, commit to doing assigned chores performed by her siblings, and be respectful to her elders. She chose instead to leave home and live with the family of a friend – a home in which she was free to get drunk and to party as she pleased. It seems she valued independence above all. But unfortunately she wasn’t independent enough to be able to support herself – and so she demanded that the parents who had previously bought her a car, paid for her tuition, and set aside money for her college education be legally required to continue to take care of her in the style to which she had become accustomed. The contract she assumed guided their relationship was “You owe me everything – I owe you nothing” – because after all that’s the way I and so many members of my generation define your job as parent. In a Morristown court, after Rachel filed for an emergency order to get $600 a week from her parents, Judge Peter Bogaard blasted the young woman, referring to an obscene voicemail she left for her mother. “Have you ever seen a young adult show such gross disrespect to a parent in a voicemail?” he asked. “The child thumbs her nose at her parents, leaves the house and turns around asking, ‘Now you have to pay me money every week.’ ” READ MORE
Preparing my sermon for Pesach, I felt like the Chassidic master Reb Shimon of Yareslov. It seems that Reb Shimon used to complete a tractate of the Talmud on erev Tisha B’av, turning that day into a festive occasion. The fact is, that even though Halacha may permit this, no one does it! But Reb Shimon used to do it every year; singing with joy and anticipation until the last minute before Tisha B’av of the coming of the Moshiach – “Adir Hu, yivneh, beito, b’karov – Mighty is God, may He rebuild His house soon.” Reb Shimon would finish the song, say the Birkat Hamazon, put on his soft shoes and cry out, “Eicha!” and he would pass out! The Sanzer Rebbe would say that the only one who really understands the loss of the Temple is Reb Shimon … he holds out until the last minute waiting and only then he cries “Eicha!” realizing the Moshiach and Temple have not come! READ MORE
This morning I want to talk to you about two men; one of whom I suspect none of you have ever heard of and the other I suspect all of you have heard of. Both of them have one thing in common. Let’s see if you can guess what it is.
The first man is named Julius Meini. You never heard of him, and neither did I or many others until he was recently elected as the new President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, a constituent group of the World Jewish Congress. The Euro-Asian Jewish Congress represents the Jews living in Russia, Ukraine, India, Singapore, New Zealand and others. If you have never heard of him, don’t feel bad … most of the people he now represents have never heard of him as well! First of all, Mr. Meini is not a citizen of any of the countries he represents. He holds dual Austrian and British citizenship. Second, Mr. Meini has never before held a leadership role in any Jewish organization. Now, he is elected as the President of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress? Third of all, Mr. Meini is currently under investigation for bank fraud. Strange choice to lead a Jewish organization and even stranger is the fact that Mr. Meini’s mother was baptized and some question whether he is, in fact, Jewish. So what is it that Mr. Meini has that elevated him to such an important position in the Jewish world? You tell me: what’s he got? READ MORE
There are literally hundreds of Hagaddahs out there. It’s time to look for the one that is right for your family. My sermon this Shabbat is: What Hagaddah Not to Use.
Attached is a Hagaddah put out by the Federations … it doesn’t have everything, but it has a lot. You can download it for free!
It is hard to believe but there are only 14 shopping days left until Pesach. Pesach has a way of sneaking up on us and so to make sure we know it is coming and to give ourselves time to properly prepare, we have this special Shabbat – Shabbat Parshat Ha-Chodesh – which tells us that the month of Nisan is about to begin and the festival of Pesach is on the horizon. But first, what does Pesach mean? You should know that there are a variety of answers to this seemingly simple question. On a simple level, Pesach is the name of the lamb sacrifice that was brought to form the basis of the Seder. But, The Jewish Study Bible translates Pesach as “protected,” and the first century Aramaic translator, Onkelos, says the word means “compassionate.” The most common translation we have for the word “Pesach” is “Passover.” How did “Pesach” get that name? It got that name in the 1500’s from a Protestant Biblical translator named William Tyndale. Tyndale translated the Bible and had to come up with appropriate translations for our Biblical holidays, and so for Shavuot he came up with “the feast of weeks,” referring to the seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot. For Sukkot he came up with the name “Tabernacles,” referring to the booths we used in the desert. And for Pesach he looked at the special Torah portion we read today which told us of God’s intention to destroy the firstborn of the Egyptians, but the Jews first had to slaughter a lamb, place its blood on their doorposts, “u’fasachta alechem – and I will pass over you … when I strike in the land of Egypt.” William Tyndale put these two words together and gave us “Passover.” But there is one other translation – a Kabbalistic one – of the meaning of the word “Pesach” that I wish to refer to this morning. READ MORE
Tomorrow I will discuss “Boogie Yaalon, Sha-Shtill and the Meaning of Pesach.” Until then, read this: