Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Lives Matter

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, September 7, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribe, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. (Deuteronomy 16:18)

Rabbi Eliezer ben Shamua said: “Only if there are officials (who can enforce the judgment) can judges function.” (Sifre Deuteronomy 144)

 "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  Martin Luther King, Jr.

There are a disproportionate number of minorities incarcerated; our prisons are overflowing.  Our drug enforcement policy is deeply flawed.  Inadequate defense, improper forensic evidence, government misconduct, false confessions all lead to the fact that we need to do more to exonerate those who are not guilty, improve our current legal practices and reform aspects of our judicial system. No matter! I still prefer our system to almost any other in the world.

We are acutely aware there are prejudices in our society and that those prejudices sometimes lead to an abuse of power. When that happens lives are at stake and the very fabric of society is jeopardized.  Riots ensue, more people are hurt and polarization occurs. Our flawed judicial system perpetuates anger and serious fallout. 

We believe in the rule of law.  We need a society comprised of people who govern.  We expect our democracy to be a self correcting organism and we recognize how painful a process that is. However, simply because it is difficult doesn't mean we can opt out.  "You are not expected to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it.” (Rabbi Tarfon, Pirkei Avot 2:21)  



Literally Means Literally, Not Figuratively

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, September 1, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

If you shall hear say in one of your cities, which the Lord your God has given you to live there, saying, certain men, wicked persons, have gone out from among you, and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known; Then shall you inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it is true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is done among you; you shall surely strike the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it completely, and all that is in it, and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. (Deuteronomy 13:13ff)

The destruction of the whole community because of idolatry never occurred and will never occur. The sole purpose of the warning is that it might be studied and that one should receive reward for such study.  (Tosefta Sanhedrin 14:1)  

I have often said, "This is killing me!"  Others actually say, "This is literally killing me!" We know that is literally not true. People throw in the word literally for emphasis, never meaning that they are actually dying. They are just trying to emphasize the point. We all say things we don't literally mean; we all exaggerate.  The problem is, when we are always overstating, then what we say can never be taken seriously. A lesson we all can learn.    

There are only a few instances in which the Torah speaks of complete, total, absolute destruction.  In many of these occurrences the rabbis quickly respond, "Lo haya v'lo kayan -  it never happened and it never will happen."  This seems to be the way the rabbis suggest that the Torah is speaking in hyperbole.


You Call it Stubborn; I Call it Persistence

Rabbi Stein

Wednesday, August 31, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

Give thought to your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and pay no heed to the stubbornness of this people...(Deuteronomy  9:27)

Why are the Patriarchs mentioned in connection with Israel's stubbornness? Because they too possessed a measure of it.  Without it neither they nor their descendents could have stood up to the whole world. (Isaac Elijah Landau)

I watched the Olympics, in awe of the many athletes and their physical capabilities.  I saw people move faster than ever before, smashing records in the water and on land. I was amazed at how they worked individually and in teams to accomplish great things.  I was even more surprised by the number of Jews who could be identified, not just from Israel but other places as well.  I was amazed because we don't generally think of ourselves as a people with great physical prowess.  Remember the jokes about how short the book is about Jewish athletes.      

In general terms we have always been more interested in the intellect rather than the body.  Yet stubbornness seems to fall somewhere in between.  Stubbornness, perseverance, persistence are qualities that have helped us stand the test of time. Maybe it is in our DNA; maybe it is how we are raised.  Either way, slow and steady wins the race.