Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

But it Wasn't My Fault

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, July 20, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

Moses said to them, "You have spared every female! Yet they are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so that the  Lord's community was struck by the plague.(Numbers 31:15-16)

When parents say, "This hurts me more than it hurts you," they mean, "You made a bad decision and now I am forced to punish you." To which, children often respond, "Than you don't have to do it."  Or, sometimes they will counter, "But it wasn't my fault."  It is this shifting of blame that usually goes nowhere and regrettably prompts a roll of the eyesfrom the parents.    

This is exactly how Moses responded.  Why didn't you kill the women?  It was their fault that our people strayed. To which we ought to respond, "No, we must take responsibility for our own actions. We had a choice; no one forced us."

It is natural to want to blame others for our own mistakes.  Avoiding doing so is the mark of a truely responsible adult.   


Why They Hate Us

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

At first, the nations of the world resented and hated the Israelites because their ways of worship were different from the nations and at a higher level.  Even when the people Israel tried to imitate gentile practices, though their enemies continued to resent them.  (Etz Hayim p. 919)

In what is surely going to be one of the most important books on Judaism in the next decade, Bernard Henri Levi describes the rise of a new form of anti-Semitism.  In The Genius of Judaism, Levi maintains that the only way to be efficiently anti-Semitic is to be anti-Zionist, to disguise the hate of the Jews under the umbrella of hate for Israel.  In this latest attempt to explain anti-semitism, he simply says it has a new form but the same hatred continues.   

The context of the above quote is a moment in the Torah when the Hebrews were beginning to assimilate into the world around them.  Then, a nation on their own, not yet inhabiting their own land, the Hebrews began to practice religion as their neighbors did.  This prompts the age old discussion of why do they hate us so?  When we are different, they hate us.  When we are like them, they hate us.

Hatred is about "the other."  When we see people who are different from ourselves, "the other,"often, threatening fear grips us.  That fear then turns into hate. The only thing that can transform fear into friendship is conversation, curiosity and discovery.   Until we all find the courage to understand “the other”, we will all be locked in this maelstrom of hate..  Assimilation is not the answer.


Identity and Creativity

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, July 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

And who wrote the books of the Bible? Moses wrote his own book, i.e., the Torah, and the portion of Balaam  in the Torah. (Bava Batra 14b)

The Ritva writes that Moses wrote an entire book about Balaam, but it has been lost. The Maharal suggests that this statement is necessary because one might have thought that Balaam’s words were his own prophecy and therefore lacked  the sanctity of Torah. The Baraita teaches that Moses wrote these words as well, and so the passage of Balaam has a status equal in sanctity to that of every other passage in the Torah. (Rabbi Adin Shteinsalz)

One deeply significant conversation currently happening in the Jewish community is about intermarriage and whether or not rabbis should participate in such ceremonies.  This discussion is profound in both its personal implications and its national impact.  The dialogue about who is in and who is out takes us all the way back to when we were children on the playground and being picked for a team.  We balk at clubs that are exclusivebecause we were for so many years excluded. We shutter to think of segregation in any form so we were key participants in the civil rights movement.  Yet we stand squarely opposed to intermarriage which sounds similar and, to some, identical to exclusion.

In the Talmud and the subsequent commentaries, the discomfort existed.  Trying to understand the restrictions against intermarriage in light of national survival while balancing an understanding that all people have a contribution to make and each human being has unique value is one of our eternal struggles.  

The above comment by the Talmud and that of Rabbbi Shteinsalz shows us that we must continue to struggle to create that equilibrium.  As a people we have a unique contribution to the world; other nations do as well. Identity is critical to creativity and motivation. Therefore, we must never become “ a melting pot”.  We must maintain our national distinctiveness while we appreciate what others bring to the evolution of our world.