Friday, July 15, 2011

Sheva Brachot Speech

The following is the d'var torah portion of the speech, that I gave at my nephew's Sheva Brachot last night. It's based on one of Rabbi Yochanan Zweig's divrei torah for Parshat Balak, but I adapted it for this speech:

In the last bracha of the Sheva Brachot, we find a curious expression: “…Ahava v’achva v’shalom v’rei’ut.” – “Love and brotherhood and peace/harmony and friendship.” That’s what we’re wishing the chatan and kallah. Now it seems logical that there is a reason for the order in which this was phrased, and it seems further logical to presume that the order would be ascending.

But in Parshat Kedoshim, we find the commandment, “v’ahavta l’rei’acha ka’mocha” – “Love your friend as you love yourself.” Well, if you’re commanded to Love your Friend, then he/she had to have been a Friend already. And that implies that Love is greater than Friendship.

Well which is it? Is Friendship higher than Love, or vice-versa?

In his commentary to Pirkei Avot, the Rambam cites Aristotle who defines various levels of friendship: The most common are simple friends; friends with whom one shares experiences, and enjoys spending time. But even though we enjoy their company, we still maintain a façade with them. We are not willing to present our vulnerabilities to them, because we’re afraid that the information might somehow come back to bite us. Much rarer, and much more significant, are the friends with whom we place our complete trust, and for whom we are willing to let down our façade; to share our insecurities. This can only happen when we know that this friend is completely dedicated to our growth and success; that his/her motivations are guided only by his/her concern for our best interests.

Taking that into account, perhaps there is no contradiction between the verse in Kedoshim and the phrase in Sheva Brachot. They’re just talking about different types of “ray’im”. In Kedoshim, we’re commanded to love our simple friends as we love ourselves. But that’s axiomatic for a married couple. They’re already in love. In the Sheva Brachot, Chazal have us blessing them that their relationship should, BE”H, transcend Love and move right up the chain to Reyut – the second kind; the kind that involves complete trust in one another.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Thought on Parshat Balak

At the end of the parsha is the story of Zimri, Kozbi (not to be confused with Bill). Rashi describes the situation as follows (paraphrased): Zimri was... doing the deed with Kozbi... right in front of the Ohel Mo'ed, and asked Moshe, "Is this allowed, because if you say no, then who gave you permission to marry your wife? (She was a Midianite.)

In other words, this wasn't so much an act of inappropriate sexual congress (which it was as well), as an act of sedition against Moshe. It was an attempt to bring Moshe down a peg. A "What makes YOU so high-and-mighty?"

Now I find this to be curious, because according to Rashi in the story of Korach's rebellion, there was a similar attack. Rashi there says that Korach also attacked Moshe "intellectually". I'm not going to go into that attack - too complicated. (In fact, my personal thought has always been that his attack there was a bit silly, but be that as it may...)

So here's my question, and I don't yet have an adequate answer for it: Korach had a motive. He felt that Moshe was a nepotist, dealing out choice positions to his own family-line, because he could. Korach, who was Moshe's first-cousin, felt that he had just as much a claim as anyone else to positions of power and honor, and that he had seniority to boot. So right or wrong, Korach had a motive.

But what was Zimri's motive?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Being Noticed

Last Shabbat, we held a Seudat Hoda'a - a "Meal of Thanksgiving" (not to be confused with the American tradition held in November, but of similar original intent) - for the bad car accident that happened last year. I could have sworn I wrote a piece on it here, but I can't seem to find it...

Alright - the brief version. Many of the boys of our Boy Scout troop (Troop 1299) went to Camp Broadcreek for a week of Summer Camp last year (as every year.) On the way back, at around 5:30 PM on Friday, July 2, they were in a bad accident. Thank God, everyone survived, and came away with no majorly persistent health issues (although the driver had to be flown to Shock Trauma).

So this year, our son asked us to make the Kiddush, in commemoration, and I had to find something to say. This is the main point of what I said:

In Parshat Chukat, we are told, (Numbers 20:1) "וַיָּבֹאוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל הָעֵדָה מִדְבַּר צִן בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם בְּקָדֵשׁ וַתָּמָת שָׁם מִרְיָם וַתִּקָּבֵר שָׁם" - "And the entire congregation of the children of Israel arrived at the desert of Zin in the first month, and the people settled in Kadesh. And Miriam died there and was buried there." And then the very next verse says, "וְלֹא הָיָה מַיִם לָעֵדָה וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל מֹשֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן" - "And the congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron."

So Miriam, Moshe's sister; the one who put him into the river in a basket, and watched over him; one of the leaders of K'lal Yisrael, died. And apparently, no one noticed. No one cared. We don't see any outpouring of grief for her passing, like we do see for Aaron and Moshe. Nothing. What do we see? We see that they were concerned they had no water. Rashi explains that the juxtaposition of the two verses is due to the causal nature of the first to the second. He says that the reason they had water for all those years in the desert was that there was a well that traveled with them, in Miriam's merit, that always provided water for the people. For 40 years in the desert, they had water - which is life - due to Miriam. Now she died, and the only concern of the people was that the well was gone. In fact there is at least one opinion that says that the reason the well dried up after her death is precisely because no one seemed to care that she died.

And so this is one of the messages of the parsha: Show Gratitude. Be grateful for the people in your life, who have helped you. Be grateful to God. Be grateful for the things that make your life more enjoyable - just turn off your A/C for a few hours, in the Summer, and see how grateful you can be for a "thing."

That's the gist of what I said. This morning, I found the following article, which just seemed to resonate with this whole idea: Woman Dies, No One Notices for 8 YEARS. Can you imagine dying, and no one even noticing?