Sign In Forgot Password

Parshas Eikev - Identity Religion         22 Av 5782

08/19/2022 08:46:05 AM


There are certain things we experience in life which convey one kind of meaning and then later take on a new dimension and purpose. There is a tradition at Jewish weddings, bar, and bat Mitzvos for the hosts to provide a kippa/yarmulka that would have information such as the name of the boy/girl/couple and date of the celebration. I would guess this practice originated more commonly among non-observant Jews who provided a kippah for the men upon entering and participating in a ritual life cycle event. This tradition, as many others, seeped into the orthodox venues. Today, it’s common to provide a kippah  commemorating the event even though most of the participants and guests arrive wearing their own kippah. It is still a welcome gift, especially to those who arrive without a kippah.

At a recent bar mitzvah which took place here at my shul beautiful kippot were attractively presented, available to anyone who needed or wanted one. As I gazed out and saw so many  men dotted with this kippah on their heads, it struck me that there is another dimension to this tradition: a sense of unity. Many of the attendees demonstrated a beautiful uniformity that conveyed a unifying message to the event. It was as though everyone, participating together, visually displayed that they were all on the same team rooting for the bar mitzva boy to hit a grand slam – which, by the way, he did!

 I once heard Rabbi Wein explain the phenomena of sports caps, jerseys, etc. Billions of dollars are spent worldwide by men, women and children of all ages who purchase sports paraphernalia and proudly wear the emblem of their teams. It is an identity with the athlete or the team and a sense of pride and joy whether the team or individual is successful or not. There are many kinds of teams - sports, management, business, but often in religion this does not occur. In religion we find most people gather together from similar backgrounds and are familiar with the people around them. Most religious scenarios reflect this kind of ‘sameness’, including Judaism. This is an unfortunate reality, but the following story is so beautiful because it gives the true and meaningful definition of a team.  

A little over twenty years ago Rabbi Yonah Weinrib, a remarkable artist who specializes in elaborate manuscript illumination which combines a wide array of art techniques and media to enhance his exacting calligraphy, was a scholar in residence in San Diego. He is an accomplished author as well as an artist. One of his pieces is called “Min HaMinyan” which is a picture of exactly ten Jews from all different backgrounds davening at the Kotel to make up a quorum to daven. I know that my shul, Beth Jacob, shares this beauty. Throughout the year we welcome tourists, businesspeople, individuals who have dome for medical needs, conference attendees, and so forth, who visit our shul. These visitors typically come from many different religious, economic and social levels. Throughout every summer, we have the pleasure of welcoming all the different brands of Jews - from the right to the left and everyone in between. Lo and behold, as soon as we all come together under one roof to daven, we become teammates all working towards the same goal, serving Hashem.

In this week’s Parshas Eikev the Torah in Devarim 9:10 states "ויתן ה' אלי את שני לוחת האבנים כתבים באצבע אלוקים ועליהם ככל הדברים אשר דבר ה' עמכם בהר מתוך האש ביום הקהל"  “God gave me the two stone tablets written with God’s finger. Upon them were written all the words that God declared to you on the mountain out of the fire, on the Day of Assembly”. Rav Yakov Kattina mentions that the last word of the passuk should be either the sixth of Sivan or Shavuos, which was the day the Torah was given. Why is the term “Kahal” or Assembly used in this case? In his Sefer Korban Ani, Rav Kattina addresses this, explaining that the day the Torah was given is called “Yom HaKahal”- the day of the gathering! On that day there was Achdus/Unity among the Jewish people that has never been before been seen or  witnessed again. Rav Kattina brings forward a Zohar that says there have been many times when the Jewish people have come and gathered together, but never has there been such an incredible degree of unity as that time around Har Sinai when we received the Torah. Let us keep in mind that there were twelve tribes plus the Leviim and Kohanim. Rare is the time when the entire Jewish people get together and are on “the same page”.

The ultimate goal is for all of us to come together at all times and places, to have one unified voice. In actuality, we do, but we don’t realize it. There is one and only one thing that unifies the Jewish people, our Torah. That last official unity took place back at Har Sinai; such total, complete unity is one of the things that holds us back from complete redemption. The sad part is that when Jews of different backgrounds get together under circumstances outside their regular environment, they thrive on meeting and being together. At least in my opinion - or perception- Jews enjoy being with other Jews despite their differences.  When Jews get together outside of their usual routine and away from their community, they tend to connect to other Jews with whom they’d otherwise never have opportunity or even desire to meet. When the tourists and visitors come to Beth Jacob, the identity crisis is left at the door. We all daven to Hashem, we all enjoy opportunities to learn together, we all share the same identity under the banner of Torah just as we did at Har Sinai!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rav Yakov Kattina, was an author of two major works. He served as dayyan in Chust, Carpathian Russia, in the bet din of Moses Schick (1849–79). His two works were published anonymously. The first, Racḥamei ha-Av, was first published in Czernowitz in 1865 and has been frequently reprinted. The work has 58 chapters on moral improvement. In the introduction, the author says: "I called this booklet Racḥamei ha-Av ["Mercy of the Father"] for it is true mercy for a man to chasten his child to lead him in the ways of God, this being the sole purpose of man." The second work, Korban he-Ani, homilies on the Chumash in a kabbalistic and cḥasidic vein, was published in Lemberg in 1872 and 1882.

Fri, December 8 2023 25 Kislev 5784