Monday, May 30, 2016

At Touro Synagogue May 29, 2016

So many people were at shul when I arrived at 9:15 AM that I felt I was late, not early. Rabbi Mandel  mentioned how much Chicky Friedman will be missed when she moves to Florida. Chicky has been a regular at Touro since her marriage to Sam, z.l., in 1949. I don't know if Chicky likes herring, but if she ate three pieces of herring every Shabbat that she attended, that would be a large kettle of fish!

Today's parsha, Behar, spoke of our obligations during the Jubilee (50th) year. Rabbi Mandel called attention to a famous phrase in parsha Behar, "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof," which is on the Liberty Bell. The Pennsylvania legislature commissioned the Liberty Bell in 1751 to mark the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges for Pennsylvania. The charter included a paean to religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The Abolitionist movement adopted the Liberty Bell as a symbol of freedom, creating the lasting association between the Liberty Bell and freedom.

The Rabbi based his sermon on another verse from the parsha, Leviticus 25:36 "... that thy brother may live with thee." He reviewed a famous Talmudic quandry. Two men are in the desert. One has a jug of water, enough to keep him alive. If he shares it both will die. Is he obligated to share it? One opinion by Ben Putra was to share. Is it up to us to chose who should live and who should die? Rabbi Akivah's dissenting opinion was accepted by the majority. He felt that we are obligated to save our own lives first, quoting "...that thy brother may live with thee" as a proof text. Rabbi Mandel noted that in life, as in the Talmud, we are compelled to prioritize.

Some thought that the command from Leviticus, "Love thy neighbor as thyself," is impossible to observe. Hillel restated it to be more achievable, "Do not do unto others what is hateful unto you." Although we may not be obligated to sacrifice our lives for others, there are  instances  of this being done in the bible and during Talmudic times that the Rabbis praised, so apparently it is not forbidden. In a famous essay Ahad Haam used the story of the jug of water to contrast Judaism and Christianity.  In two of the Gospels Jesus referred to the commandment to "Love thy neighbor." Ahad Haam claimed that Christianity emphasized loving one's neighbor including sacrificing one's life, while Judaism did not.

Rita Slom sponsored kiddish in honor of  her husband Aaron's yahrzeit. Their son Peter spoke about  his experiences at the Rhode Island State Training School, where he is now Deputy Superintendent. Peter is doing important and difficult work trying help young people reintegrate into society. This involves helping them complete their educations, arranging for medical and dental care, vocational training, and counseling. The Juvenile Program Workers (guards) must be able to stop a fight, but they also need to counsel and be role models.  Peter said that most of juveniles did not use hard drugs. The percentage of  child inmates  suffering  from mental illness has increased, often caused by difficult conditions at home. He also spoke about campaigning to enable parolees to vote as part of reintegrating into society.  Yashar koach to Peter Slom for his service to some of the most needy people in the community.

Near the end of kiddish we were joined by regular Memorial Day weekend visitors, the Arons family, David, Lynn, and Josh, of Sharon, Ma. I've known them for years and had just seen David and his son Josh at a regional men's club dinner at Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham.

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