Regarding those who claim an exclusive possession of the truth 

"Aren't there people today who claim an exclusive possession of the truth, who insist that their monopoly on morality, or compassion, or divine will, allows them to slander, to slight, to distort, or to oppress? From the liberal chic to the conservative smug, all over the world self-appointed spokespeople of the "correct" view trumpet their own infallibility and moral superiority.
If anyone ever had a right to take that position, Abraham was that person. And yet...Abraham still made a point of respecting the humanity of his pagan hosts, still insisted on taking seriously the perspective of the Hittites, their customs, and their proprieties.
We who would claim to be the descendants of Abraham and Sarah would do well to hearken to the wisdom of the Talmudic volume, Avot De Rebbe Natan":   "One who possesses these three traits is one of the disciples of our father, Abraham: a generous eye, a meek spirit, and a humble soul."  
Abraham didn't doubt God's word, or his accurate awareness of the divine will. But he also knew that no one possesses an exclusive hold on truth, that other well-meaning people also pursue the truth to the best of their ability. Without relinquishing his own convictions, Abraham never abandoned the religious humility that accepts the possibility of being wrong. 
A generous eye, a meek spirit, and a humble soul. Who would have guessed that these traits would provide the strength for Abraham's people to thrive...    

The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley shavit Artson p. 34-35

​Regarding Prayer

Abraham's nameless servant is assigned the task of traveling to a distant land to find a bride for the patriarch's son. Overwhelmed by the gravity and seriousness of his mission, ...the servant sits and speaks. "O, Lord, God of my master Abraham," he prays with neither formula nor poetry, "grant me good fortune this day, and deal graciously with master Abraham" (24:12). 
The servant speaks to God with a directness borne of necessity. Filled with a sense of the uncertainty of his task, aware of his own limitations, he turns to the Source of Life and shares his fear.
Note also that the servant establishes criteria for judging the successful accomplishment of his mission, and then prays that his standards should be God's as well (13-14). Those standards are themselves an insight into the human heart__he asks for a woman who is generous, compassionate, and willing to act on behalf of others. Such a person is indeed a fitting mate.

As a Kohain and a yoga teacher, I sincerely try to walk in the footsteps of Mose's brother, Aaron by spreading a message of peace: G-d loves all His children and we all serve One Creator even though across this planet we call him by many different names. In truth the whole world is one family.”  In 2000, while serving as an athletic supervisor at the JCC on the Palisades in N.J., I initiated a project to hang 10 banners in the new gymnasium. The project was a success and the banners are lettered "alef" through "yud" and include important principles and qualities I try and reinforce and develop within myself and in all of my students.
-Andrew Kahn

"Respecting others is like respecting God."

Hard Work
"The day is short and the task is great."
Sayings of the Fathers

"Know where you have come from and where you are going."
Sayings of the Fathers

"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?"
Sayings of the Fathers

"You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."
Sayings of the Fathers

"A team is like a pile of stones--remove one, the pile falls."

"Teach your children to swim, as their lives may depend on it."

"Real strength is turning an opponent into a friend."
Avot of Rabbi Nathan

"Striking others is like striking God."

"What is hateful to you do not do to others."

​From a Jewish Faith
(Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad)  "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One"

Who is the strongest of the strong? He who turns an enemy into a friend.  Hillel

by Barbara R. Kahn

A hallowed nation holds her breath

Affirming life, prepared for death

Heads bowed to the vast HaShem

Peace in Jerusalem

Currents of fear, a darkening cloud

Voices raised in tension, loud

Protecting leaders from disparate crowd

Peace in Jerusalem

Fear of a routine like riding a bus

Suspicious glances,   anxious hush

Recalling explosions, metallic rush

Peace in Jerusalem

Tears for loss of chief command

Have dried upon the Holy Land

Dare Children of Israel yield border-land?

Peace in Jerusalem

The voice of Rabin calls from his rest

Echoing ripples from East to West

Envisioning Earth as Ever Blessed

Peace in Jerusalem

This land that delivers the wanderer Home

Voices of ancestors singing 'Shalom'

Shower white doves on a golden dome

Peace in Jerusalem

We beckon Masters, luminous, bright

Praying with them by day and night

For this Sacred City to hold the light

Peace in Jerusalem

​More Jewish perspectives-

We are all responsible for one another.

Ideas of interest in this weeks readings. (Please excuse the lack of editing partly due to lack of more time or help.)

(It is possible that some of these themes will show up in this weeks classes)

The words below have been taken directly (with one or more minor edits) from The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley shavit*:

​(Note: Rabbi Bradley Shavit's beliefs do not necessarily represent the beliefs of the editor of this blog. If this and other entries are thought provoking and lead to communication, the posting will have served a good purpose. The blog editor believes in the importance of dialogue. If Jews can not talk to one another and find a way to work together then what hope is there that we will be able to make peace across the greater religious divides? Perhaps if we want the full measure of Divine protection (like Joseph who God was with)we will need to learn about listening, being open to others who see a bit differently, finding common ground in our own extended family.) Benjamin Franklin's statement, "We must all hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately" was made at the signing of the Declaration of Independence and meant that if they did not band together in the fight against the British, they would all be hanged separately.

The fundamental principle for Jewish living:
Kol Yisrael areivim, zeh ba’zeh: We are all responsible for one another.

Kol Yisrael areivim, zeh ba’zeh: We are all responsible for one another. By living in community, we can support one another to be the best that we can be. That is one of the ways, this Torah portion teaches us, that we can all hasten holiness on earth.

We were called—and are enjoined still-to be a people of priests, and a holy nation. Our mission to the world is to embody a communal life of holiness, sensitivity, learning, and justice, and in this way to testify to the One god who made the heavens and the earth. In the words of the Shabbat morning prayer, we are summoned to be “servants of the Holy [One-Blessed be He].” Who are the Jews? What is our role in the world? What are our ultimate values? Modern Jews rarely discuss these questions, so essential to a meaningful identity as bearers of God’s covenant. Consequently, many of our people look elsewhere. They associate Jewishness with history and heritage, and Eastern religions or cults with ultimate questions and a relationship with divine reality.

Midrash B’raisheet Rabbah- According to Rabbi Huna, the phrase means that “Joseph whispered God’s name whenever he came in and whenever he went out.” It is not that Joseph received the special attention of God, but that Joseph cultivated his own consciousness of God’s presence. By continually repeating God’s name to himself and regularly invoking God’s love and involvement, Joseph trained himself to perceive the miraculous in the ordinary, to experience wonder in the mundane. 
Significantly, according to Rabbi Huna, Joseph whispered God’s name. He kept quiet about his own religious experience, and taught the love and power of God not through words but through deeds. By performing mitzvoth and acts of love, Joseph testified to God’s love with his own example.

Rashi provides an alternate way to read our phrase. According to that medieval commentator, “the name of God was often in his mouth.” For Rashi, Joseph spoke often about God, not merely to God. A willingness to share his ardent love of God, and eagerness to serve God and let others know that he was serving God, forced those around him to consider their own relationship with God, to morality, and to the mitzvoth. By speaking about God without discomfort or insensitivity, Joseph challenged the conventions of those around him, provoking others into rethinking their own assumptions.

Both interpretations, one of quiet piety and another of a willingness to speak of God openly, have their place in Jewish religion. Sometimes we best testify to God’s loving care simply by embodying that love and involvement.

Ana avda de-Kud’sha b’rikh hu: We are the servants of the Holy One [Blessed be He].

*Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and Vice President at University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

Korach (Numbers 16-18)
Pursuit of Peace

A Jewish man is shipwrecked on a desert island. After 10 years he's finally rescued by a passing ship. When the rescuers disembark on the island, they are surprised to find the man has built himself an entire civilization: golf course, restaurant, and two synagogues.

"But since you're here all alone on the island," they asked, "why do you have TWO synagogues?"

"Because," replied the man, pointing to the buildings, "that's the one I go to, and that's the one I don't!"

* * *


In this week's Parsha, a terrible dispute erupts amongst the Jewish people. A man named Korach accuses Moses of corruption. Korach then recruits 250 men and stages a full-fledged rebellion. In the end, the earth opens up and swallows Korach and his cohorts alive.

Why such a terrible punishment? Judaism regards quarrelling as one of the gravest sins. Why? Because divisiveness contradicts the essential unity of God. A flower has perfect form and symmetry, the ecosystem functions harmoniously, the colors of a sunset blend perfectly. Quarreling -- with its tension, allegations and incriminations -- undermines the harmony of creation. (Midrash Bamidbar Rabba 11:7)

In Hebrew, the word for peace, shalom, is derived from the root shalem, which means whole or complete. Peace is not merely the absence of war. Peace is a cooperative, symbiotic relationship, where both parties care for each other, assist each other, and ultimately complete each other.

* * *


We've all been faced with confrontation. It may be a business dispute, or simply jockeying for position at a red light.

So what should we do? The surest way to immediately defuse any conflict is to refuse to participate. Remember: It takes two to argue.

In our Parsha, Moses asks to meet with the provocateurs Datan and Aviram. Moses eagerly pursues peace even though it means the risk of personal humiliation (see Numbers 16:8,12).

The Talmud (Avot 1:12) describes Aaron as the master of pursuing peace. If Aaron saw two people arguing, he would tell each of them that the other admitted his mistake and wants to make up. That way, each party saves face, allowing the dispute to end. How much family dysfunction could be spared with this advice!

* * *


The topic of "peace" is a popular one these days. We hear everyone talk about peace in the home, peace with the Arabs, peace in the inner city.

Peace is perhaps the most central theme in Judaism. The words of King David (Psalms 133:1), "How good and pleasant is it for brothers to sit peacefully together," are perhaps the most popular Hebrew song. The Amidah prayer, said three times daily, ends with the word "Shalom." The Grace After Meals ends with the word "Shalom." The Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing) ends with the word "Shalom." The entire Talmud ends with the word "Shalom." As well, the Talmud declares, "Shalom" is one of the Names of God!

But if peace is such an essential Jewish value, then why are Jews always arguing?!

Quarreling should not be confused with well-intentioned controversy. Any student of the Talmud knows that the schools of Hillel and Shammai were always arguing. Yet their respect for one another grew because they knew the disputes were for the purpose of reaching a common understanding. In fact, the Talmud (Yevamot 14b) reports that the children of Hillel and Shammai intentionally married each other to show they were at peace.

The Talmud states: "Just as no two faces are exactly alike, likewise no two opinions are exactly alike." Rabbi Shlomo Eiger explains this in terms of peaceful human relations: The fact that other people have different facial features does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I am actually glad this is so, because it preserves my uniqueness! So too, I should appreciate the unique perspective that others bring to my life.

The Talmud (Avot 5:20) describes a well-intentioned controversy as that between Hillel and Shammai. A poor-intentioned controversy is that of Korach and his followers, who tried to manipulate others for their own selfish power struggle.

* * *


Judaism does not object to argument, if it is for the sake of truth. In fact, sincere disputants will ultimately feel love for one another. What's most striking about a yeshiva is that the study partners are always yelling at each other. The forcefulness of their positions engenders not animosity, but rather increased respect!

The Talmud relates a story about the great scholar Rebbe Yochanan and his study partner Reish Lakish. The two learned together for many years, until one day Reish Lakish got sick and died. Rebbe Yochanan was totally distraught over the loss. His students tried to comfort him, saying, "Don't worry, Rebbe. We'll find you a new study partner -- the most brilliant man in town."

A few weeks later, Rebbe Yochanan was seen walking down the street, totally depressed. "Rebbe," his students asked. "What's the problem? We sent you a brilliant study partner. Why are you so sad?"

Rebbe Yochanan told them: "This man is indeed a scholar. In fact, he's so brilliant that he can come up with 24 ways to prove that what I'm saying is correct. But when I studied with Reish Lakish, he brought me 24 proofs that what I was saying was wrong. And that's what I miss! The goal of study is not to just have someone agree with me. I want him to criticize, question, and prove to me that I'm wrong. That's what Torah study's about."

* * *


This week's Parsha states clearly: "Don't be like Korach" (Numbers 17:5) -- which the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) explains is the prohibition against quarreling.

Hatred, jealousy and infighting are unfortunately not new terms to our people. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) says that it was baseless hatred amongst Jews which brought about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple has lain in ruins for 2,000 years.

Only through unconditional love will it be rebuilt.

Much has been said recently about internal disputes between Jews in Israel. Can we stop these disputes? Perhaps not. But we can live with these disputes providing we remember one essential rule: "Every person is worthy of profound respect, regardless of his beliefs and level of observance."

I may have differences and disagree with other Jews on various issues. I may have differences and disagree with my wife on various issues as well. But just as I would never consider distancing from my wife based on our disagreements, so too I would never consider distancing myself from other Jews based on our differences.

In Israel -- where the issue of Jewish unity is most critical -- much is being done to address the problem. Organizations like Gesher and Common Denominator run programs to bring together divergent groups -- Kibbutzniks with settlers, or secular with religious -- to help them discover that what unites us is ultimately greater than that which divides us.

How appropriate that the city of Jerusalem is actually a contraction of two words -- Yeru-Shalem -- "peace will be seen." May the Almighty bless us with the patience and sensitivity to avoid destructive arguments and to accord proper respect all.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons

The Jewish Tradition

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