Archive — Holidays


“The Silent Shofar” (2002)

…Why is the Shofar silent? Is it because we can’t blow the Shofar on Shabbos? Yes and no. Technically, it is permitted to sound the Shofar on Shabbos. The Sages banned Shofar blowing on Shabbos because of a fear that someone might accidentally carry a Shofar in the street on Shabbos.

Amazing. Rosh Hashanah is the Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment. G-d is deciding our fates for the coming year. Everything… who will live, and who will die; who will be healthy, who will be successful. We want to awaken G-d’s compassion toward us; we want to be inspired, we want to be protected by our Father in Heaven. There is so much to be gained by each and every one of us fulfilling the Biblical Mitzvah of hearing the blasts of the Shofar, and yet, we give it all up because maybe someone will do something careless?! …

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“You Idiot!!  You Forgot to Buy Enough Honey!!” (2009)

“’Tis the season to eat honey!”   We dip apples and our Challah into it. It’s in our cakes and in our Teglach (false tooth and crown remover).  Why?

This is, to say the least, a little difficult to understand.  I don’t know about you, but a couple slices of honey cake (no, it’s never just one!) are all I need to knock my low-carb diet out of whack for days.  And there’s nothing sweet about that!

WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT??!  Why are we playing word-and-symbol games?  Rosh Hashanah is one of the most serious days of the year.  Our very lives lie in the balance.  Doesn’t it seem a bit superficial to try to stack the deck by eating positive sounding foods?  …

So what’s going on here?  Do these foods possess mystical powers, based upon their names or their physical attributes?  What’s this all about?…

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“Feast or Fast?” (2010)

… there is a Mitzvah to EAT on the ninth, and the Torah refers to this eating as afflicting/fasting in order to consider it as if we fasted both days.

Now what is that supposed to mean?  Are we eating or are we fasting?  If we’re eating, call it eating, and if we’re fasting, call it fasting!

… Is this a game?  Is G-d pretending, with a Divine wink and a nod, that we are more devoted than we really are??  “Here, just get to first base somehow, and we’ll score it as if it’s a home run!”

What is this, frequent flyer miles?  Get credit for something you didn’t do by doing something else??

Are we getting something for next-to-nothing?…

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Pre Yom Kippur Confessions of a Drug Addict (2005)

Okay! I admit it!  I have at least one vice!  I am addicted to a drug.  I have beaten the habit in the past.  I have, on occasion been “on the wagon” and off drugs for months at a time.  But eventually, I have repeatedly succumbed to my body’s desire for that wonder drug…

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“Our Man in the Holy-of-Holies” (2009)

The High Priest had a daunting task.

Once a year, on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, the High Priest was required to enter the Holy-of-Holies…. According to Tradition, if his thoughts were not totally pure during his visit to the Holy of Holies, he would be struck down on the spot, and would have to be removed via a rope that was attached to his leg…It must have been a very lonely time for the High Priest…

One day, each one of us will have to take our leave from this world…

We will be ushered into the Holy-of-Holies.  We will, after a lifetime of hopefully doing the right thing, be called upon to meet our Maker. On that final Day of Judgment, we will enter G-d’s Presence, and we will be very much alone…There will be no Kohain to bring incense and sin offerings on our behalf.  It will just be us, G-d, and our deeds.

…  When we go before G-d to stand in judgment, each one of us goes, all alone, as his own High Priest.  AND THERE IS NO ROPE!…

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“From the Summit to the Gutter” (2003)

… Does the Torah really have to address such behavior on Yom Kippur? We are fasting. We are depriving ourselves of creature comforts and spending the day immersed in thoughts of holiness and devotion. We have confessed our transgressions of the past year and promised to avoid the pitfalls of sin in the coming year. We have witnessed the purity of the High Priest coming out of the Holy of Holies. We are on a spiritual high. Is this the time to talk about resisting X-rated temptations??!!…

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“Cardiac Judaism” (2002)

… The Torah describes in great detail the very busy schedule of the Kohain Gadol, the High Priest, on Yom Kippur… By the end of the day, the High Priest succeeded in achieving forgiveness for the sins of his People.

What a system!  You can sin with impunity!  Do whatever your heart desires!  The Torah is telling us that once the Kohain performs the requisite ceremonies on Yom Kippur, all is forgiven!  … Is this what Judaism is all about?!  Do whatever you want, just make sure the High Priest gets you forgiven for it on Yom Kippur?! …

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“Sukkah-rella” (2009)

…Sukkos is the Cinderella, the forgotten stepsister, in the Tishrei family of holidays.

Most American calendars list Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur among the holidays of the year.  Most Gentiles and almost all Jews are aware of the existence of these “High Holidays.”  Simchas Torah, which comes two days after the end of Sukkos, also gets quite a bit of notice… Somehow, Sukkos seems to have fallen through the cracks.

And that is a shame…

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“The Loch Ness Succah” (2003)

… A nice, upbeat prayer — a request that in the coming year, G-d will finally send the Messiah, ushering in a utopian era of world peace and mutual understanding.  A time when, as Isaiah says, swords will be made into plowshares, and war will be a defunct concept found only in history books.

But what if the Messiah doesn’t come?  What if next year isn’t perfect?  Would it not be appropriate to add a caveat to the above prayer?  How about something like, “Okay, G-d, I hope you send the Messiah.  But, if You decide not to, may it be Your will that my family all be together in good health to celebrate Sukkos together.”

Might it not make sense to have a “back-up plan”?  Why should we go for broke? …

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“Ahead to the Past, and Back to the Future”

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“The ‘December Dilemma’ — Bah! Humbug!!” (2009)

[This message ran as an op-ed piece in the Jewish Press — Another well-known Jewish weekly paper rejected the article. — I wonder why. :-)]

… Once again, we are confronted by the so-called “December Dilemma.” How do we as Jews respond to the “Holiday Spirit” that surrounds us wherever we go?  How should we as American Jews deal with a December holiday that occupies the hearts and minds of all around us?

In one respect, it seems that the Christmas-Chanukah clash is no longer the problem that it used to be.  Most communities have found it politically correct to substitute “Merry Christmas” with a much more inclusive “Happy Holidays.”

They have theirs and we have ours. We too, have the ability to ornament our homes with Chanukah decorations. Stores offer us the same abundance of toys for children of all ages, complete with appropriate Chanukah wrapping paper.  We can now celebrate with pride!  OUR holiday is no different than THEIRS! They are two sides of the same coin.  The dilemma is solved!

Isn’t that sad? Why does Chanukah’s chronological proximity to Christmas have to force us to try to duplicate it?…

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Vinegar Latkes??!” (2009)

…The Chanukah story is not the only record of a candle lighting miracle.…Rabbi Chanina’s daughter who was setting up her Shabbos candles.  She inserted a wick into the lamp and poured in the oil.  She lit the wick, recited the blessing, and welcomed the Sabbath.  Suddenly, to her shock, she realized that she had accidentally filled her lamp with VINEGAR!

She was devastated…

Her father was unfazed.  “What are you worried about?” he asked…

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“Chanukah Leftovers” (2001)

… are we supposed to spend every waking moment in the service of G-d?  Are we supposed to wear our religion on our sleeves?  Are we “All Jewish-All the Time?”  Can’t we have some time for ourselves?  Can’t we take a break from Torah study and just chill out?!! …

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“Any Maccabees Around Here?”


“Father Knows Best” (2007)

We recently completed our celebration of Chanukah. The heroes of the Chanukah story are the Maccabees.  Have you ever met a Maccabee? Actually, a more accurate question is, have you ever met a Hasmonean? …

The Hasmoneans were a family of Kohanim – Priests who overthrew the Syrian Greeks who had defiled the Temple and tried to destroy Torah Judaism.  Nachmanides writes that the Hasmoneans were “pious and lofty men, without whom the Torah and Commandments would have been forgotten from Israel.” (Nachmanides’ Commentary to Genesis 49:10)

No, you have never met a Hasmonean.  And you never will.  The family is extinct…

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“Happy Passover . . . er . . .Chanukah!” (2003)

Aaron was distraught.

…For twelve days, leaders of the respective tribes of Israel presented their gifts for the dedication of the Altar.  …Each day, a representative of a different tribe tendered his generous gift.  Every tribe was represented.   Every tribe but one.

Aaron and his fellow Levites were on the outside looking in.  They had not been included in the ceremony. …  Aaron feared that he and his tribe had been found unworthy of being part of the dedication of the Tabernacle …

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“Four-tenths of an Ounce of Prevention…” (2008)

…Haman hated Jews.  He wanted, more than anything, to destroy them.  Being a superstitious man, he decided to draw lots (“Purim” in Hebrew) to see when would be a good time to wipe out his enemies.  He drew the month of Adar.  Haman was thrilled.  Well-versed in Jewish history as he was, he knew that Adar was the month during which Moses died.  Obviously, Adar must be a bad month for Jews.  His mistake was that Moses was also BORN during Adar, a particularly auspicious event for the People of Israel.…Haman hated us so much that he was even willing to pay the bill for our slaughter.  And the king, no lover of Jews himself, told Haman he could keep the money.  The extermination would be “on the house.”

Miscalculating the significance of the month of Adar was not Haman’s only mistake…

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“Hide and Seek”  (2010)

… when a righteous man like Moses says something, G-d listens.  Moses “cursed” himself, albeit conditionally … Even that request could not go totally unanswered …

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On the surface, they couldn’t be more different.  Yom Kippur is a somber day of fasting, contemplation, and prayer.  Purim is a day of feasting, celebration, and, ok, prayer.  On Yom Kippur, we focus on the spiritual.  On Purim, it seems, we focus on the material.

I must confess that my choice of a title to this article was inaccurate.  Purim is not like Yom Kippur; on the contrary, Yom Kippur is a day that attempts to be like Purim!…

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The lamb was an animal that was considered by the Egyptians to be sacred. What the Israelites were planning was an abomination!  What greater sacrilege could there be in the eyes of the Egyptians than the mass ritual slaughter of their deity?  (To get a little idea of how “politically incorrect” this was, imagine what the reaction would be today if Jews went around town collecting Christmas trees for a bonfire!)  What an outrage!…

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“Payback from the King” (2008)

The king treated us badly. He ordered that we be persecuted. He ordered that we be enslaved. He ordered that we be killed.

However, on that first Passover night, the king finally saw the light. After centuries of enslavement and persecution by his nation to ours, the king saw the error of his ways. He wanted to make it up to us. He wanted to pay us back for all the work we had done. He wanted our good will and our blessing…And so it was, that on Seder night, the king came to visit and wish us well.

This year, in a sense, that scene was repeated. The king of 800 million Catholics, the leader of the “Roman Empire”, Pope Benedict XVI, paid a call on a synagogue with a message of peace and friendship, wishing the Jews of the world a happy Passover. And he brought a gift…

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“Passover Wine; Iraqi Whine” (2003)

Question # 1

Our mothers always told us that it’s a sin to waste food.

Yet, at every Passover Seder, we take perfectly good wine and spill it out of our cups.  What is the reason for this custom?

Question #2

Every major holiday is accompanied by the recitation of Hallel, a collection of songs of praise to G-d from the Book of Psalms.  On the first two days of Passover, we recite the complete Hallel.  After the beginning of the holiday, we recite a shorter version of the Hallel.  This “Short Form” of Hallel seems to imply that the middle and final days of Passover are, compared to the first days, a relatively “minor” holiday.  Why?…

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The Counting of the Omer

“Silence Is Golden” (2010)

The Passover dishes have been packed up and the last crumbs of Matzah have been swept away.  We can safely say that our Passover is completed and we can rest up until the next holiday.

Or can we?  …

The interesting thing about Shavuos is that it is the only holiday that the Torah mentions without telling us the date … Why is THIS holiday different from all other holidays?

… It happens every year.  “Hey, Rabbi, something wrong with your shaver?”  “Growing a beard?”  “Did your lawn mower break?”  “When’s that coming off?”

The teasing ends very quickly when I explain to them that I am in mourning.  The smiles instantly disappear and are replaced by looks of compassion and concern.  “Oh, I’m so sorry.  Who passed away?” …

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Pesach Sheini

“Second Chance” (2005)

One month to the day after the Eve of Passover is known as “Pesach Sheini”.  In Temple times, this “Second Passover” provided an opportunity to those who had been unable to bring the Passover offering.  Even today, when there is no opportunity to bring that offering, Pesach Sheini teaches us an important lesson…

“It’s now or never.” So goes the saying.  A missed opportunity can’t be made up.  … when the time for performing a Mitzvah passes, it is too late; nothing can be done to right the wrong … There is a Mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur.  You can’t say, on the day after Yom Kippur, “Oh, I was hungry yesterday, so I ate.  I guess I’ll fast today instead.”  Or, “Oh, last week was Rosh Hashanah, and I missed the sounding of the Shofar!  I’ll just do it now!”

Sorry.  It doesn’t work… Some people in the desert were unhappy with this concept…

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“Waking Up Jewish” or, “Let ’em Eat Cheesecake!”

…Imagine the scene: You left Egypt seven weeks ago. Moses has led you to the base of Mt. Sinai where you set up camp. You have been camped here since the first of the month; today is the sixth. You have been awakened by G-d Himself. The earth is quaking and the mountain is shaking. There is lightning and thunder and a cloud hovering over the mountain. You undergo the most frightening experience of your life — G-d is speaking to you!

… Along with the Ten Commandments, you have been taught the other 603. Now you know that Jews are not permitted to gossip or overcharge. Now you know that when you enter the Land of Israel, you will have to separate tithes your produce as gifts for the Priest, the Levite, and the poor. Now you’ve learned the laws of marriage and divorce.

Now you’ve learned that you have a big problem — WHAT ARE WE GOING TO EAT?! You go back to your tent and discover that nothing is Kosher! Until today, you never needed to follow the Kosher laws. Your dishes are all “Treif!!” …

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“Break Two Tablets, and Fuggedaboutit!!”

The Talmud tells us that there were five tragic events that took place on the Seventeenth of Tammuz:

  1. Moses broke the Tablets with the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai…

I have always wondered about the first reason stated by our Sages, that we mourn due to the breaking of the Tablets.  I would think they should emphasize the CAUSE of the breakage…

Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai, carrying two stone Tablets, miraculously engraved by the Almighty with the words of the Ten Commandments.  Obviously, thought Moses, the people weren’t ready to possess such a sacred gift:

When He approached the camp, and saw the Calf and the celebrations, Moses burned with anger, and he cast the Tablets out of his hands, and smashed them at the base of the mountain.”  (Verse 19)

This sin of idol worship is probably the greatest communal sin ever committed by the Nation of Israel.

In view of this major stain on our historical record, why is it not listed as the real reason that we mourn on the Seventeenth of Tammuz?  Why do our Sages not state that on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, a mere 40 days after hearing the Ten Commandments, the People of Israel sunk to the depraved level of singing and dancing around and golden trinket and calling it a god???!  The broken Tablets were merely the result of this sin; but it’s the sin itself that should be considered the reason to mourn and to fast.

Published on February 11, 2010 at 7:20 pm  Comments Off on Archive — Holidays  
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