Larchmont Temple Chevra Torah

Questioning faith in the parsha

Breishit

Larchmont Temple—Har Chayim

The 19th-20th Century American Jewish Adventure: History Lessons for 21st Century Jewish Life

 

CHEVRAH TORAH 5773

Shabbat B’REISHIT…Genesis 2:4-7;15-24

 

“It is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to separate American from Judaism in the words American Judaism.  American Jews are products of American culture and society to the extent that their Judaism is inseparable from American values.  As a consequence, the Judaism that American Jews create and observe is shaped and reshaped by their distinctive conceptions as Americans.”

[from Contemporary American Judaism, Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan, 2009]

 

…KEY KOSHI?…

WHAT is the role of “ezer-knegdo” and HOW does she complete “Adam’s” creation?

P’SHAT…

REMEZ…“Casting aside old paradigms, they transformed their faith, reinventing [American] Judaism in an attempt to make it…more meaningful, more sensitive to the concerns of the day.” [J. SARNA]

v.7       the Lord God formed ‘adam’ from the dust of the earth; He blew into his nostrils the breath of life and [the] man became a living being

RASHI… “and God formed–VaYetzer”  The double “yud” indicates two formings—a forming for this world and a forming for the next—when “techiyat ha-meytim—resurrection of the dead” will happen.  Regarding the animals, however, [2:19] there is but a single “yud.”

MIDRASH HaGADOL… the word “Adam” is derived from “Adamah—earth” from which he was taken….Or it could be connected to “Dam—blood,” since we are creatures of flesh and blood.

MUNK…The double yud is an exceptiuonal grammatical construction and, according to our Sages, denotes a double forming…In “adam,” the spiritual and the temporal, the good and the evil inclinations are united…Man contains within him both heaven and earth.  In VaYetser only one yud is sounded, indicating man’s two-sided personality. One side is always dominant while the other is only glimpsed.

…In Judaism, both tendencies, the physical and the spiritual, are the work of the Creator—heaven and earth, the mortal and immortal, intimately united in man…

TALMUD…R’ Nachman ben Chisdah expounded: What is meant by these two “yuds”?

It is to show us that God created two inclinations…According to this, since the animals are created with but one “yud,” they should have no “yester harah,” yet they bite and kick and injure?…Perhaps it is as R’ Jeremiah ben Eleazar taught: God created one being, Adam, with two countenances, as it says, “achor va-kedem tsar’tani” [Psalms 139:5]

S’FORNO“nishmat chayim”—God breathed into him a ‘vivifying soul’ which was ready to receive the “Image of God”…

SEFER HaCHINUCH… “Nefesh Chayah”  According to ONKELOS, what distinguishes man is that he becomes a “Ru’ach Memalela—a speaking spirit.”  …The word is the divine seed through which creation came into being…Now it6 is this same property, here on earth, which gives man creative power, the repercussions of which can reach into the spheres of the cosmos.

v.18                 The Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him…

SARNA… “lo Tov”—The emphatic negative contrasts with the verdict of 1:31, that everything was “Tov me’od—very good,” this after the creation of male and female…So God creates an “ezer k’negdo—a helper corresponding to him.”  This term is not meant to be demeaning because the Hebrew “ezer,” used to describe the intended role of women, is often used of God in His relation to man.

HERTZ… The Rabbis deduce, from this verse, that marriage is a divine institution, a holy etstate in which man lives a complete life.  Celibacy is contrary to nature… So He created an “Ezer”—a help, a wife is not a man’s shadow or subordinate, but his other self, in a sense, which no other creature can be on earth.  “K’negdo”—to meet him.  The Hebrew may either mean “at his side” or “as over and against.”

RASHI…If he is fortunate, she is “a helper—ezer;”  if he’s not fortunate, she is “k’negdo—in opposition.”

COHN-ESKENAZI…Literally “a helper, as if opposite,” [in front of him] that is, a helpful counterpart….Negdo  suggests a spatial and metaphorical otherness, someone whom one confronts.

R. ALTER… The Hebrew “ezer k’negdo” is notoriously difficult to translate.  The second term means alongside him, opposite him“Help” is too weak for the first term because it suggests an auxiliary function, whereas “ezer” connotes active intervention, thus “I shall make him a sustainer beside him.”  

v.21/22   So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, while he slept, He took one of his ribs…And God fashioned the rib He’d taken from the man into a woman

ARTSCROLL… “mi-Tsalotav”—The word commonly rendered as “rib” is understood by the commentators as “one of his sides,” as “and for the second side of the Tabernacle” [Exod 26:20]

NORMAN…In creating the first human being, God created a person with two sides that had to be separated…With a bit of imagination, we can picture the unity called “Adam”—two sides back to back which could never see each other.  The irony, of course, is that the only way for the two sides to come to know each other was to be split in two.  Only by standing over-against could they ever become one.

D’RASH…“ In a creative process of collective self-fashioning, Jews reinterpreted their own culture and history to fit the circumstances of American Jewish life.” [B. WENGER]

 

What a Jewish Girl Would Not Do if She Were a Rabbi”

By Ray Frank, May 23, 1880

To the Editor:

Living in the “far West,” your paper asking for replies to –“What would you do if you were a rabbi?” did not reach me in time to answer that interesting question, had I chosen to do so.

But I trust you will not think it too late to answer the question in a slightly different form, and one which is, I think, familiar to most minds. What I would not do if I were a rabbi.

 

First, if I were one of the elect, one who deemed myself worthy to expound the law to men created like myself, with understanding, and a small but mighty organ termed by physiologists the heart, why, then I would not, if I were a rabbi, endeavor to impress the nature of my calling by loud and shallow words, nor by a pompous bearing unbecoming the man of God….

I would try and remember that example is better than precept. I would not imagine myself a fixed star around which lesser lights must move.

 

I would try the effect of a gentle demeanor, quiet voice, an earnest will, and a helping hand. I would learn if an unfailing courtesy and a positive sincerity were not sufficient to announce and impress my high vocation to the stranger and to the sinner…

I would not, if I were a rabbi, consider a stylish residence, fine garments, including a silk hat, not any of the jewels representing the original twelve tribes, as absolutely essential to keeping up my position as a “priest of the temple.” I would not make a business matter of my calling otherwise than for the good of my congregation or for humanity in general.

 

I would not say my services are worthy a salary of so much per annum because I do this or that, or because I preach oftener or more learnedly than Mr. A. or Rev. B.; but, after satisfying my own wants in a modest way, I would use amounts expended on “high living,” on cigars, cards, and other pleasantries toward enlightening the ignorant of my people—if not in my own town, where perhaps they are blessed with both intelligence and wealth, then I would use it for the poor and oppressed abroad….

 

I would not, if I were a rabbi, attempt to be a politician, for religion and politics do not and cannot under existing circumstances walk hand-in-hand. I would not degrade my holy office by assuring any ward political “boss” that for a consideration I could capture the votes of my co-religionists, “because being the rabbi, they will do as I tell them,” as one rabbi of my acquaintance is said to have remarked…If I were a rabbi and the holidays were at hand, I would not make “stock “ of my seats in schul [synagogue]; or in other words, I would not sell religion in the form of pews and benches to the highest bidder. I would not treat disdainfully the moneyless fellow who comes on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Pesach to drink at the fountain of our faith, but alas, finds that unless he can pay for his drink of religion he must either go thirsty or beg it.

 

During the last holiday season a poor but faithful son of Israel traveled many miles afoot (he was a peddler) that he might reach a certain city before the morning services for Rosh Hashanah began. Weary and dusty he hastened to the synagogue, drawn thither by the teaching of childhood and an undoubted sincerity to be in God’s holy temple.

 

When our shabby countryman entered, the schul was crowded almost to the doors by those who had bought religion at so much a seat; with difficulty the fellow found a resting place; but no sooner was he in it than the rabbi’s aid-de-camp, the shamus, requested him to pay two dollars and a half for the privilege of saying his own prayers in the place dedicated to God. Now it so happened this poor peddler had not the amount; so after having the attention of scores of more fortunate brethren called to his case, he was finally refused a seat—no, not in Heaven, but in a fashionable schul.  I’m glad, very glad, that schuls are but depots in one of the big way stations on the road to Paradise. Yet one cannot but regret that the ticket agents are not more thoughtful.

…If I were a rabbi, I would not refuse any man a ticket for Heaven.

 

If I were a rabbi of what is termed the Reform type, I would not be funny or sarcastic at the expense of my orthodox brother, if I were orthodox in my ideas, I would not apply harsh names nor deny a state of future bliss to my brother of modern opinions.

 

If I were a rabbi, I would not direct my sermon to the costliest sealskin, handsomest bonnet, and smallest brain, but I’d divide my attention, as well as my remarks, among my audience.

…I would not correct evil-doers among children by physical pain, inflicted because “they do so in the old country.” I would not, while an incumbent of one position, be on the “lookout” for another with a bigger salary, unless I felt I could do more good in the one than in the other.

 

I would not, at a wedding, be the first at the feast and the last to leave the wine; it looks too carnal for a rabbi….There are many other things, too numerous to mention, which I would not do.  One more thing, and I have done. Were I a rabbi, none should insult my manhood by offering to pay me for praying at a funeral; nor would I dare accept money, unless for charity’s cause, for any service I might do the living in memory of the dead.

 

Were I worthy to offer up a prayer for the departed, that worthiness and the honor of petitioning the King of Kings, the consciousness that I was an ambassador to the Court of Courts, the thought of pleasing the afflicted, would all be ample pay.

…Would that the spiritual mantle of [the biblical prophet] Elijah was more often donned, or at least thrown over the very material broadcloth of our modern rabbis.

Women are precluded from entering the Holy of Holies; but it is a great satisfaction to contemplate what we would not do were the high office not denied us.      Ray FrankOakland, Cal., May, 1890

 

Isaac Mayer Wise Announces His Second Marriage, April/May, 1876

The editor of the American Israelite has entered upon a life co-partnership with Miss Selma Bondi of New York, the daughter of the late Rev. Jonas Bondi, editor of the Jewish Leader.  The article of agreement were signed, sealed and delivered, Monday, April 24, in presence of Dr. Joseph Lewi and lady of Albany, N.Y., and the new firm.  The Rev. Dr. A[dolph], Hubsch of New York performed the ceremonies, and the Doctor’s excellent lady said the necessary responses. [Dr. Wise’s bride said yes!] The capital invested in the said firm, to be known hereafter as Isaac M. Wise & Lady, consists of all the editorials and directing abilities of the first party, and the executive and corrective abilities of the second party. The firm to be dissolved three days after death. It is understood that Dr. Wise will attend to editorial and outside business as heretofore, and Mrs. Selma Wise will direct the home affairs at 126 Dayton Street. In regard to sermons, it has been agreed that Dr. Wise continues to preach the sermons and deliver the lectures in the temple, and Mrs. Selma retains the privilege of delivering occasional curtain lectures [scolding the rabbi]; profits or losses to be shared equally, and no papers to be accepted or endorsed, especially no love letters, except by mutual knowledge and express consent. Friends are politely invited to call and inspect the new partnership establishment.

 

SOD…

R’ Sh’lomo RISKIN …

…The first problem in the biblical text is the strange Hebrew term, ezer k’negdo…The literal translation is “help-opposite.” RASHI in explaining the phrase, writes: “If the man is worthy, then his wife will be an ezer, a helper, and if he is unworthy then she will be k’negdo, against him, an opposite force.” This interpretation does take into account the oxymoron, or antithetical nature of the phrase—indeed one of my college professors once introduced his wife to the class as “Mrs. K’negdo”…If it’s not good for Adam to be alone, why doesn’t God simply create a “helper” for him? Why an “opposite”?

 

I believe that the key to understanding the difficult term “help-opposite” lies in the introductory verse: “It is not good for the human being to be levado—alone.” Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik discusses the tragedy of aloneness most poignantly in his classical novella, “The Lonely Man of Faith.” Aloneness has two aspects: First there is social loneliness, the lack of someone with whom to share one’s innermost thoughts and emotions.  Aristotle defines the human being as a social animal. Clearly, the act of communication is built into the very psyche of our being. One of the worst punishments imaginable is that of solitary confinement…

 

The second type of aloneness cuts close to the very bone of life and death. We could call it existential aloneness, a concept already alluded to in the Torah with the odd form of the verb heyot in our key verse, which connotes existence, literally: “it is not good…existing (heyot)…human alone”.  In this form the word heyot suggests an aloneness that penetrates to the depths of one’s very existence.

 

How does the ezer k’negdo help overcome social loneliness? A marriage partner is not a geisha girl or boy, an automatic amen-sayer…A genuine life partner must be able to say ‘no’ if that is what is necessary Only if there is a willingness to limit oneself and allow the other person not to necessarily agree, sometimes to stand opposite and think opposite.—the k’negdo part…

 

In the end, a help-opposite on both sides creates its own synthesis, and only with this formula can a new oneness emerge. The couple must drink together, but not always from the same cup, so that one can correct the other, complement the other, cheer and comfort the other…Hence, the greatest help is provided specifically by a loving partner who at times stands in opposition for the good of the other as well as for the good of the relationship.  Thus, clearly, the individual is enabled to reach his/her greatest potential precisely because he/she is not isolated and lonely, but is also a part of another…Why is the ‘birth’ of Eve seemingly surrounded with a mythical quality? Why is she created from Adam rather than as a separate creature in her own right? In the question lies the answer. Eve’s unique ‘birth’ marks her unique role, as an inextricable part of her male counterpart, as a being with whom he must share, and not a creature he must control. After all, if she is part of him, then he is part of her!                                     [from Torah Lights—GENESIS, pages 35-40]

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