At Touro Synagogue, February 25, 2017
The big and the small of it; the Rabbi and Dr. J
Rabbi Marc and Jackie Mandel were back in Newport after their brief sojourn in Detroit. They had the special glow that new grandparents have.
Rabbi Mandel spoke with his customary brevity and flare, starting with an incident from the trip to Detroit. He segued to a short but tantalizing discussion about a big subject, the nature of the laws we live by.
"Jackie and I are glad to be back in Newport and we thank the Congregation for all the wishes of mazel tov on our new grandson. Last week Jackie and I drove to our grandson’s bris in Detroit; our GPS took us through Canada. We didn't realize this in advance, and we didn’t have our passports. So we were stuck in the immigration office at the border for about an hour.
"We were in the hands of gun-toting officials who went about their routine. Jackie produced a key piece of evidence-a picture of our grandson, Abie, on her cell phone. Tired after a full day on the road, we anxiously awaited their decision. Finally, we received permission to enter Canada.
"Of course every country has laws about entering their territory. These are very common laws similar to the type of laws we read about in this week’s Parsha, Parashat Mishpatim. Mishpatim means laws. Every society and every country has laws. Not all laws are good. The Nazis had the Nuremberg Laws, which excluded the Jews from all German life; these were horrible laws for the Jewish people.
"What is the most famous law in this week's Parsha?
"I believe it would be, ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’ (עַיִן בְּעַיִן שֵׁן בְּשֵׁן) This passage in the Torah has often been misunderstood."
I thought that the Rabbi might mention Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice. Sure enough, he did. In the play, the Jew, Shylock, demands that a pound of flesh secure a loan to a Christian.
Rabbi Mandel continued, "The Talmud explains that the Torah never meant to take a person’s limbs if they harmed someone. The law is that you are compensated financially if you are injured."
Was Shakespeare being Talmudic in The Merchant of Venice? Shakespeare was a master a punning and double entendres. On the one hand, Shylock is a stock figure, a stereotype, but on the other hand, he rises above the stereotype. Although he is bitter, he is also noble and proud.
[From The Merchant of Venice:
Why, I am sure, if he forfeit, thou wilt not take
his flesh: what's that good for?
To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge.
He hath disgraced me, and hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine
enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.]
Rabbi Mandel continued, ”The Rabbis in the Talmud explained that you can’t interpret this passage according to its literal meaning. They had license to reinterpret the meaning of the passage. The Talmud explains that the Torah mandates a sophisticated, five part monetary form of compensation consisting of payment for damages, pain, medical expenses, incapacitation, and mental anguish.
"Laws, to be respected, need to respect all people.
Visiting from Manhattan were Jamie and Dena Small. Dena grew up in Detroit. She was very familiar with the Detroit scene and the places the Mandels saw during their visit. Jamie's parents are David B. and Sandy Kline Small, so Kline married Small-and their son, Jamie, is not tall!
|David Small shaking the hand of Dr J, |
Marc Mandel is standing behind David,
It's a small Jewish world. Rabbi Mandel realized that he knew Jamie's father, David B. Small. Marc Mandel and David B. Small both grew up in Far Rockaway, NY, and went to Camp Hocus Pocus together… no, make that Camp Tagola.
Pictured is David Small shaking the hand of Julius Erving, commonly referred to as Dr. J. Marc Mandel is standing behind his friend, David.
Dr. J is one of basketball's greats. He is well known for the slam dunk, which he combined with other moves into an art form. He dropped out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1971 to join the American Basketball Association, but made a point of completing his education in 1986 to fulfill a promise to his mother through the UMASS University Without Walls program.
In 2008, Dr J. visited Israel with fellow star Rick Barry in support of the Migdal Or youth village for underprivileged children. He told Israel's president, Shimon Peres, "I am truly inspired to be an ambassador for the country and for the village."
Dena Small, a student of literature, is a lover of books. When Rabbi Mandel mentioned that the name of the protagonist, David Small, in the book by Harry Kemelman, z.l., Friday The Rabbi Slept Late, had the same as her father-in-law, she was delighted. We then learned what rabbis like to collect: rabbinical books. Rabbi Mandel pulled five books of the When the Rabbi Slept series from his bookshelf.
Author Harry Kemelman lived in an old New England port not dissimilar to Newport, Marblehead, MA, and was friendly with his rabbi. Every rabbi should have his Kemelman. Rabbi Mandel, you are on notice!