Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Darkness in the Land


“...and thick darkness descended upon all the land of Egypt for three days.´(Exodus 10:22)


On this coming Monday, August 21st, we will have a rare opportunity: to watch a solar eclipse here on Long Island. While we won’t see a total eclipse—it will be about 70% in our area--, the effect will be amazing and it will get dark in the early afternoon as the moon crosses the path of the sun, (If you miss out, know that in 2024, there will be another eclipse that moves up the East Coast and our area should be 80% occluded. I doubt, however, that many of us will be around in 2079 when Long Island will be in the center of the eclipse zone.) We are being warned to take care with viewing this sight; to wear special protective glasses while observing this celestial phenomenon.


If the solar eclipse is one form of darkness, we were sadly witness to another form of darkness last weekend in Charlottesville. A mélange of haters—and yes, that is who they were—joined together to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee in that Virginia community: white supremacists, KKK members, Neo-Nazis, and others joined together for a rally and march. Torches, echoing Nazi gatherings of the 1930’s, banners and placards with swastikas and anti-Semitic statements were all part of this descent into darkness: signs proclaiming “Blood and soil”—a translation of a Nazi sentiment—and “Jews will not replace us” were to be seen at the Friday night rally, along with a banner asserting  “Jews are Satan’s children.” In the morning David Duke, taking a page out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, declared, “the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause.” And Richard Spenser, one of the founders of the “alt-right” mocked the city’s Jewish mayor and his listeners responded with anti-Semitic shouts.


What is scary is the amount of publicity these denizens of the so-called “alt-right” received, way out of proportion to their numbers. But most disheartening is the effort to equate their opponents with these propagators of hatred. That there were some opponents who engaged in violence is unfortunately undeniable. But to offer a moral equivalency is perverse. Clearly some of the leaders of that universe, such as David Duke believe they have been given an unofficial blessing for their execrable activities and beliefs.


 President Trump’s statement on Monday was on point: “Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”


That should have been the end of the discussion. There should have been no further equivocation about who should have been sharply condemned both for the violence in Virginia and for their heinous beliefs.


In the time of Moses, Egypt endured physical darkness. In our age we will be witness to physical darkness, albeit of a shorter duration. Sadly, we must also deal with the effects of the darkness of the soul espousing hatred. The work of the ADL, the SPLC, and other organizations that fight discrimination, anti-Semitism and racism remains unfinished. The sun on Monday will reappear within a couple of hours; but will the darkness of last Saturday ever fully be dispelled?


Shabbat shalom.






Chadashot MeYisrael:  News From Israel


An Ancient Stoneware Factory in the Galilee


Stone vessels, such as cups and plates, have frequently been found in Jerusalem area excavations. This was not unexpected as stone vessels cannot become ritually pure and Jerusalem was the locus of the Temple where ritual purity was required. Nor was it unexpected that two production centers would have been uncovered, not far from Jerusalem. It was assumed that Jerusalemites and those in the area, with frequent access to the Temple, would be concerned about using and producing stone items to maintain a state of ritual purity.


Now comes news of the discovery of a Second Temple period chalkstone quarry and workshop at Rena in the lower Galilee, some distance from the Jerusalemtoneware Factory. Uncovered in the course of construction of a municipal sports center, archaeologists have unearthed thousands of pieces of chalkstone that were scooped out from the inside of cups and bowls as well as fragments of mugs and bowls along with unfinished or damaged vessels.


According to Dr. Yonatan Adler, the team leader, and senior lecturer at Ariel University, “The production waste indicates that this workshop produced mainly handled mugs and bowls of various sizes. The finished products were marketed throughout the region here in Galilee and our finds providence striking evidence that Jews here were scrupulous regarding the purity laws.”


He added: “The observance of these purity laws was widespread not only in Jerusalem but also throughout Judea as well as Galilee at least until the Bar Kokhba rebellion which ended in 135 C.E. The current excavations will hopefully help us answer the question of how long these laws continued to be observed among the Jews of Galilee during the course of the Roman period.”







Payrush LaParshahah:

 A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of R’ay (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:16) is read this Saturday, August 19th.


11:26 See, this day, I set before you blessing and curse; (27) blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you this day; (28) and curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other gods, whom you have not experienced.


11:26 Behold I set before you this day, a blessing and a curse…a blessing, when you obey…and a curse, if you will not obey…Wealth and good fortune are not always a blessing, because these are sometimes bad for a person. “A blessing, when you obey”—when you obey the commandments and do good deeds with your money, that will be a true blessing. However, if your wealth causes you to be conceited and brings about jealousy and competition, the blessing itself will really be a curse. The same applies to Eretz Israel [the land of Israel]. It will be a blessing if one observes the commandments in it, but a danger if one diverges from the true path. In general, any blessing that is not based on an appreciation of God’s role is not considered a blessing (Berakhot 40). If a person believes that (Deut. 8:17) “My power and the power of my hand gotten me this wealth,” it will eventually be a curse. (Vayedaber Mosheh in Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Torah Gems, Volume III¸ translated by Shmuel Himelstein. The author of the cited text was Rabbi Moshe HaLevi Pollak who was born in 1845 in Szerdahely, Hungary. He was a student of Rabbi Abraham Samuel Sofer, the son of the Chasam Sofer, the leading advocate of ultra-Orthodoxy in the first half of the 19th century. He was married at the age of 19 to Yittel Loewinger, with whom he had 6 children. She died relatively young and he remarried in 1880 to Esther Chaya Fenat Tannenhauz. In 1872, Rabbi Pollak assumed the mantle of the Orthodox rabbinate of Bonyhad, in the southwest of Hungary. [In 1868, the community split into Orthodox and Neolog congregations. The latter was the Hungarian counterpart of “Conservative.”] He served as the head of the rabbinic court as well as the head of the yeshiva he founded there. His 5 volume commentary on the Torah Vayedaber Moshe was published posthumously at the end of the 19th century. It was reprinted in New York in 1943, appearing in 2 volumes. He also was the author of Tikkun Moshe, a collection of his sermons and Talmudic comments, which appeared in 5 volumes from 1894-99. A commentary on the tractate of Hullin, Birkat Moshe, appeared in 1911. Rabbi Pollak died in 1889.)


Sat, August 19 2017 27 Av 5777