Jerusalem Journal #8

Pesach Edition

My Dear Young Israel Family,

I was indeed happy to hear about the selection of Rabbi Moshe Shulman as your new rav. I hope and pray the shidduch will be successful with Young Israel going "from strength to strength" as it continues to grow "l'hagdil Torah oo'leha'adira." Stuart, the Search Committee, the Executive Board, along with the entire Shul are to be commended for what no doubt was a challenging process. Needless to say, if there is anything I can do to help in the transition, I will be more than happy to comply.


The Bienenfeld's are getting ready for Pesach with only one Seder this year. As I contemplate trying to fit all the divrei Torah into one evening, I reminisce about the obvious pluses of a Yom Tov Sheini when a second Seder provided another opportunity to delve into the profound lessons of "sippur yetzias mitzrayim." We will certainly miss having Hudi and Shami and their families with us, but Saralea and Bracha and their families will be joining us. It will be a bit crowded in our apartment, but we are quite excited about their coming.

Of course, we will be thinking about St. Louis and the Shul, and we very much wish everyone a healthy chag kasher v'sameach.

Over these past weeks, I've been asked to give shiurim on Pesach in a variety of locations. On Shabbos HaGadol, I will be giving the d'rasha at the minyan I regularly attend. It will be a bit challenging as I must deliver the d'rasha in Hebrew. But, with some preparation, I find I'm able to get by.

And speaking about getting by in Hebrew, I was invited to give a number of lectures to aspiring rabbanim at the Sefardic Heritage Center in the Old City. The topic was "The Functioning Community Rav." Here too, it was all in Hebrew. There were some 30 young rabbis, many with different cultural backgrounds, and all planning to serve in Jewish communities in the Diaspora. Fortunately, they were very kind to me and we "hit it off" quite well. I look forward to continuing the lecture series after Pesach.

It was wonderful spending some time with your new president and first lady, Bobby and Chelle while they were in Jerusalem. Your new rav is indeed fortunate in having someone with the dedication and wisdom of Bobby to assist him in leading the Shul forward. I'm sure, with G-d's help, it will be a mutually beneficial and winning partnership.

Of course, I must recognize the extraordinary tenure of Barry Needle as president of the Shul during this transition period. The Kiddush in his honor was surely only a small token of the gratitude no doubt owed this man for his exceptional leadership, tireless effort, and steadfast commitment. Yeyasher kochacha!

I also took notice of Mitch Wolf's completion of the Book of Yechezkeil. Some 26 years ago, we began the study of Tanach on Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish the entire enterprise prior to my aliyah. Happily though, Mitch volunteered to complete the project. With G-d's help, we all look forward to the grand siyum. It will certainly mark a remarkable Talmud Torah achievement for all those loyal students whose regular attendance made the shiur such an enjoyable teaching experience. Yeyasher kochachem!

We were thrilled to hear of the many simchas and forthcoming weddings in the Shul family. May we all continue to enjoy such happy moments. Here in Israel, we celebrated the bris of Jerry & Sandy Bender's grandson (Carl's son), the wedding of Binyamin, son of Murray & Lisa Goldenhersh, and grandson of Tami & Marvin Goldenhersh , and the wedding of Yechiel, son of Beth & Yisroel Gelman and grandson of Rita & Red Bresler. It's always enjoyable to see so many former St. Louisans gather to rejoice at these wonderful occasions. Kein yirbu!

Israel Observations & My D'var Torah:

The more you read the local, national news along with the regional and international events that continually impinge upon the fate and fortune of our beloved Israel, the more you marvel at the resiliency of the average Israeli citizen. Embarrassing scandals abound on many levels of government and yet, there are few protests; life goes on. International pressures on Israel to cede more land, allow for the return of Arab refugees as well as a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem are more than enough to plunge the country into a national collective depression. And yet, people—at least those with whom I am in contact—appear generally upbeat, happily looking forward to celebrating "z'man cheirusainu."

One can only speculate as to why this is so. Could it be a collective naivete as to what the future holds; could it be a worrisome combination of resignation and obliviousness to these disturbing realities? Or, might it be an indomitable faith and an unspoiled bitachon in HaShem that quite simply avers, "This too is G-d's Will?" It's hard to say. I imagine it depends upon who you ask.

My take, for whatever it might be worth, goes something like this: True, political Zionism's promise that a Jewish State would provide a lasting security for Jews has obviously failed. The normalization of the State of Israel into the entire family of nations is no more a factual certainty than it was after 1948. And yet, I'd like to think that for most, what buoys the spirit is a profound conviction, embedded deep within the Israeli psyche, that the justice of our historic and religious destiny will ultimately be vindicated.

Even as we are continually being falsely accused of all sorts of delinquencies, I believe we are strengthened by the knowledge of our singular and rich heritage, in particular, our unique moral legacy, one which has nourished civilization since its declaration on Mt. Sinai. It is a legacy whose ethical dimension finds sublime expression in Pesach's pointed message, appended to so many mitzvos, reminding us to behave ethically because "you were strangers in the land of Egypt (see Shemos 22:20, 23:9, Vayikra 19:34, Devorim 10:19).

Here's how Rav Soloveitchik put it:

What, therefore, has the Egyptian experience signified for the Jew? In a word, it is the fountainhead and the moral inspiration of the compassionate emphasis so pervasive in the Halacha. It taught the Jew ethical sensitivity and moral tendernes. Ours is a singularly ethical culture; it expresses itself in a heightened sense of "kavod habriyos"—human dignity, which is basically derived from our "tzelem Elokim" concept, - that man possesses aspects of divinity. This empathy for "bein adam l'chavero" was derived from the Egyptian experience...

And indeed, our collective history has borne ample evidence that such pronouncements were more than empty platitudes. Our concern for the orphan and widow, the poor and stranger translated into living ethical norms that defined our relationships not only amongst ourselves but with those of other nations and faiths as well. And what is stunningly remarkable about this elevated moral posture vis-á-vis others is its ability to comfortably coexist with our unalterable belief in the exclusive truth of our faith commitment. (For more on this important theme, I highly recommend Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik's excellent and trenchant essay in Commentary, March 2007).

Of course, to share in this proud awareness requires some acquaintance with the wealth of our tradition. A totally dejudaized Jew will not necessarily reflect these sensitivities. We are an ancient people with a charismatic message that is no less relevant today than it was 3,000 years ago. It is a story than needs to be told and transmitted to each generation anew. And when at the Seder, that story is restaged and reenacted; when the tale of this downtrodden people is re-experienced, something sacred and deeply meaningful emerges. That a nation "suffering the privations of the helpless underdog, subject to the whim and caprice of cruel masters," can rise and transform into a people of exquisite ethical nobility is a feat worthy of celebration and pride.

I'd like to think such sacred pride emboldens every Israeli, every Jew, which is why I am somewhat sanguine and hopeful in the face of incessant Arab deligitimization and Iranian bellicosity. We never have and certainly never will be worn down by such mendacity and plain hatred.

The Seder experience ought to inspire confidence in our national and historic claims, and, unapologetically, strengthen our religious awareness and allegiance to HaShem's Word. How events will ultimately play out here and elsewhere will, of course, be a function of G-d's inscrutable Will. And yet, we ought never to underestimate how our small deeds can effect the ultimate outcome. Our worthiness, as measured by such confidence and loyalty, can and does influence how G-d's plan unfolds. May we then all strive for that worthiness and truly merit the fulfillment of that prayer that concludes our Seder: "L'shana haba'ah b'Yerushalayim ha'binuya."