Reflections from Rabbi Waxman
A Somber Bar Mitzvah Commemoration: 9/11 13 Years Later
We all know where we were on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was a on a train going up the Jersey Coast, hoping to do some last minute research for my High Holy Day sermons at the Jewish Theological Seminary, As we traveled north, we could see the Towers on fire. Without internet access and poor cell phone service, those of us on the train were in the dark about what had happened. A few bits and pieces of information—some true, some false--, circulated. The train never made it to New York. And so by the time we were boarded on a train to take us back home and passed the observation point in the Amboys where we could see Lower Manhattan, the Towers were gone. When I got home I had to watch the video repeatedly because the events seemed so unreal.
Our lives have been unalterably transformed by the events of 13 years ago. Our sense of security was shattered. We endure body scans and the stripping of our outer garments and the removal of our shoes as well as the inconvenience of not packing liquids bigger than 3 ounces in our carry-on luggage, along with long-lines at security points, all as a result of the events of 13 years ago. Many buildings that had no security now have sophisticated security systems. On some levels we think that all of these precautions are excessive—a body scan and being frisked—on the other hand, these arrangements seem to have done the job and prevented massive terror attacks here at home and in the air.
And once again this Thursday morning we watched as family members participated in what is now the annual ritual of reading the names of those who perished that fateful day. Many of us know someone who lost a family member 13 years ago. The events of 9/11 remain quite personal and imbedded in our minds.
It is sobering to think that on this Bar Mitzvah of that dreadful day we find ourselves still confronting ruthless foes. The words of the Tochechah, of the series of curses found in Deuteronomy, though formulated centuries ago, echo today:
“The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth, which will swoop down like the eagle—a nation whose language you do not understand, a ruthless nation, that will show the old no regard and the young no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 28:49-50)
We may have crushed most of the heads of the hydra Al Qaeda, but now we find ourselves and the Mideast threatened by a new monster: ISIS/ISIL We hope and pray that another verse from the same chapter will yet find fulfillment as we confront this enemy with force: “The Lord will put to rout before you the enemies who attack you; they will march out against you by a single road, but flee from you by many roads.” (28:7)
Chadashot MeYisrael: News From Israel
Treating the Wounded of Syria: The Latest Tale
For the past three years, Syrian casualties from the on-going civil war have been brought to Israel for treatment. (Israel also has been a safe haven for expectant mothers: recently, Safed’s Rebecca Sieff Hospital delivered its seventh Syrian baby.) This time the victim was a 12 year old who had journeyed part of the way on a donkey.
The young man had been wounded when a mortar shell landed near his home on the outskirts of Damascus. He had sustained serious injuries to his arms, one of his legs and to his eyes. His family took him to a hospital outside of Syria, in the Lebanese Beqaa Valley where doctors amputated his right hand. He was discharged after being treated for his other wounds. His return home was blocked by the civil war and so his brother had the idea of placing him on the back of a donkey and crossing into Israel near Mount Hermon.
He was transferred to Ziv Medical Center in Safed where he is currently undergoing treatment. The doctors there report that though he is conscious, he is still suffering from shock. Nonetheless, they have been able to communicate with him.
Professor Alexander Lerner, the head of orthopedics noted that the boy will need to undergo a series of operations and the Israeli team will try to rehabilitate the young man. “The ultimate goal is to get him walking on his legs again and using his wounded arm. From the few stories we’ve heard so far, it seems we’re talking about a very brave boy who has been through a difficult ordeal and has survived. As such I’m optimistic and believe that he will once again stand and walk on his own two feet.”
A postscript to last week’s posting: Last week, Sarrae was invited—and I got to tag along—to a wine tasting at the apartment of the Israeli consul general in New York, Ido Aharoni. The event was to serve as a reminder that Israel was not only a battle zone, but is a center for culture, including viticulture. Though the grapes may have their origins outside of the land of Israel, the wines produced from them represented outstanding quality, showcasing what some of Israeli vintners have been able to achieve in recent years. With Rosh HaShanah approaching, this is a good time as any to purchase some of these wines and welcome in the Jewish new year. Both Sarrae and I would be delighted to share some recommendations for both those who and aren’t oenophiles.
A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion
The portion of Kee Tavoh (Deuteronomy 26:1-27:10) is read this Saturday, September 13th.
26:1 When you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, and you occupy it and settle in it, (2) you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land the Lord your God is giving you, put it in basket and go to the place where the Lord your God will choose to establish his name. (3) You shall go to the priest in charge at that time and say to him, “I acknowledge this day before the Lord your God that I have entered the land which the Lord swore to our father to give us.”
The essence of acknowledging Divine sovereignty lies in man’s gratitude to the Creator as the source of all the good, and his appreciation that man himself is, in no way, responsible for all the might of his own hand has accomplished. Failure to realize this implies repudiation of the yoke and fear of heaven and all the evil consequences that flow therefrom. This is indeed the subject of the warnings contained in Moses’ address to the people in Deuteronomy (4, 25ff.). They would forget God’s bounty and imagine that they were the authors of all the benefits they were enjoying in the Promised Land. They were therefore bidden to perform a rite that would act as a constant reminder that the “earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,’ that everything was a gift bestowed by him and He was responsible for all their prosperity, the brining of the first-fruits. Indeed all such offerings constituted acknowledgment of Divine overlordship. (Akedat Yitzak in Nehama Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim, Deuteronomy, translated by Aryeh Newman, p. 259. Akedat Yizhak was the commentary on the Torah of Rabbi Isaac Arama. Rabbi Arama was born in 1420, probably in Zamora, Spain, where in time he would serve as head of its yeshiva. Subsequently he served as communal rabbi and preacher in Tarragona. He moved to Fraga in Aragon, where he performed the same duties and finally to Calatayud where he served as rabbi and head of the yeshivah. Upon the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Arama settled in Naples, where he died in 1494. His commentary is homiletical in nature, but philosophical in content. His style of preaching became a dominant form of preaching for later generations. Beginning with a Biblical text, Arama constructed his sermon along the lines of some saying of the Aggadah, and the midrashic, connection with the text was expounded through a philosophic disquisition, albeit popularly told, and interspersed with specifically rabbinical interpretations. The sermons were originally composed as antidotes for the conversionary sermons the Jews of Aragon were compelled to hear. Rabbi Arama also penned a commentary on The Five Scrolls, as well as many poems, some liturgical in nature. His Torah commentary was esteemed not only in Jewish circles, but by later Christian scholars. In the early 18th century, professor of theology at Hemstedt, Anthon Julius van Der Hardt, wrote a desertion on and translated into Latin a portion of Arama’s work.)