Friday, June 29, 2018

The Test

At Touro Synagogue 
June 23, 2018
The Test

It was nice to return home after a long hiatus. During my last visit, on April 28, Rabbi Marc Mandel mentioned a newspaper story. “A Jew in Germany told a gentile friend that it was dangerous to wear a kippah in Germany. The friend, an Israeli-Arab tried to prove that this was not true. The test ended badly and the friend was beaten up.” 

I was about to leave for a trip to Europe including Greece, Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. “I asked the Rabbi, ‘Are you suggesting I should wear a kippa during my trip.’ He demurred, ‘That’s not necessary. The test has already been performed.’ “ 

Being contrary, I decided to wear a kippa during the entire trip.  As I previously related, the first person to approach me was an Israeli visitor to Thessaloniki (Salonica), Greece. He told me when services would take place at the local synagogue. We stumbled along in Hebrew until I ran out of breath, and blurted out that I was an American. Subsequently a Jew who lived in Salonica also said hello.  

Every so often someone would say Shalom to me.

In Warsaw, I walked into the Old Town neighborhood with my friend Alan Kaul of Sharon, Massachusetts. Warsaw was almost entirely destroyed during World War Two and most buildings are recreations. As we entered the neighborhood, a short street was lined with six police cars full of police. 

Around the corner we walked into a plaza with 500-1000 boisterous people. On the horizon  was a large stadium with a soccer match. A young man yelled at me, “Juden Raus!”  (Jews Out!) “Really?”, I asked.  The response came quickly, in English, “Yes!”

Alan and I walked in the opposite direction. As we sat down in a nearby restaurant, visiting Israelis at the next table hastened to unburden themselves. They told us about the incident, unaware that I was the protagonist. 

In today’s parsha, Moses was the protagonist. He was tested at the Hard Rock Cafe. The test did not go well. Our Rabbonim have had a difficult time explaining Moses's error. Following their reasoning is a test in itself. This week, Rabbi Marc Mandel gave it a try. 

“This week’s Torah reading, Parshat Hukat, is one of the saddest Torah readings of the year. In today’s Torah reading, Miriam dies, Aharon dies, and Moses is told that he would never enter Israel, because of his sin with the rock, when he struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock for water: Moshe’s whole family-wiped out in today’s reading. What exactly did Moshe do wrong? No one speaks to a rock? And in the book of Exodus, Moshe was told to strike the rock?

“There a sin of commission and there a sin of omission. According to Rabbi Ari Kahn from Bar Ilan University, Moshe committed a sin of omission. Rabbi Kahn quotes the Netziv [Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin was born in Mir and died in Warsaw. Leading the Volozhin Yeshiva, he shut down the school after onerous pressure from the Russian government in the 1890s.], who says Moshe never taught the people how to pray. He never taught them how to daven. This is a problem that still exists today. 

One of the biggest challenges that day schools face today is davening. The students don’t like to daven. They tune out during davening. It’s a big challenge that day schools face. But davening is a challenge for adults too.

“Years ago, I lived in Manhattan on the West Side, and I attended The Lincoln Square Synagogue. Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald led a service called the “learning minyan” or the beginners minyan. People learned how to daven. I used to attend this service because I wanted to see how to talk teach davening. Several years later I was hired by shul in Manhattan on the East Side, KJ, Kehilath Jeshurun, to conduct the learning minyan. It was a learning experience because I was tasked with the challenge of teaching people how to daven. 

“Hopefully here at Touro, we can all learn how to daven better, with more kavanah, more concentration, and more understanding of our tefilot. This way we will be able to learn to mysterious lesson of this week’s parsha. 

“Shabbat Shalom!”

Hukat was a short parsha. There was plenty of time for davening and for understanding, and for thinking about the next post for Jewish Newport!