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The Three Ts
The Three Ts

On Rosh Hashana we declare: “Repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!” In Hebrew, these constitute the 3 Ts: Teshuva, Tefila and Tzedaka.

The Incomplete Repentance
The Incomplete Repentance

“Repentance” sounds like a grand and powerful word. In truth, the most important adjective that must be attached to the act of repentance is the word “sincere.”

A Song For The Dove
A Song For The Dove

Most songs written for Shabbat (zmirot) focus on either God’s resting from creating the world on the seventh day or on the relationship of the Jewish people to Shabbat. The Sabbath song Yom Shabbaton certainly incorporates these two elements, but its chorus presents a unique association attributed to the Sabbath day. This zemer’s chorus describes an event that occurred in the times of Noah–far after creation and many centuries before there was a Jewish nation: “On it [the Sabbath] the dove found rest, there shall rest the exhausted ones.”

I Am To My Beloved
I Am To My Beloved

The Torah verse that epitomizes the emotions of love is: “Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee” – I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me (Song of Songs 6:3). The ideal love relationship according to the Torah is one in which both parties are willing to give themselves to their chosen partner (in a healthy way, of course). The Hebrew acronym for the verse Anee l’dodi v’dodi lee is “Elul,” the name of the Hebrew month that precedes Rosh Hashana.

When speaking of Rosh Hashana, the sages discuss the great sense of awe that one must feel. They do not, however, mean awe as in fear. Rather, they mean awe as in a sense of being overwhelmed by the greatness of God. The purpose of Rosh Hashana is not simply to make people feel guilty for their mistakes or promise to do better (although that too is important), but, as with much of Jewish life, it is to help develop each individual’s relationship with God.

To have a relationship with God, a person must recognize all of God’s roles–including King and Judge, as is the focus of Rosh Hashana. During Elul, however, we focus on God as the Beloved of the Jewish people.

In many rabbinic allegories, the Jewish people are likened to a bride while God is portrayed as the waiting groom. The Jewish people (both as individuals and as a nation) can gain the most by recognizing that God loves His people and wishes to bring blessing upon their home.

I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me. When “I” (meaning the Jewish people) can truly give to “my beloved” (meaning God), then God will become ours in a beautiful and divine partnership.

This Treat was originally published on August 21, 2009.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Whose First Fruits?
Whose First Fruits?

When the Oral Law was first codified, most Jews lived in agrarian settings. Today, being less familiar with agrarian culture, some people find it difficult to relate to some of the discussions in the Mishna (Oral Law) regarding planting or livestock. Although we may no longer farm or herd flocks, the importance of responsible land ownership and use is a value that has remained throughout time.

For Jewish farmers in the land of Israel, one of the mitzvot that is part of the cycle of crop production is that of bikkurim, the first fruit offering. The first fruit to blossom on each plant of the seven species of the land of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates) is marked (with a string) to be set aside for an offering at the Temple. One might assume that this mitzvah would apply to all farmers, but, in fact, the rabbis understood the pronouns in this commandment to be very specific: “You shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land” (Deuteronomy 26:2).

The Mishna (Bikkurim 1:2) states that “tenants, lessees, or occupiers of confiscated property–or a robber–may not bring them…because it says, ‘the first-fruits of your land.’” As significant as the first fruits are, the relationship of the farmer to the land upon which the plant grows is also important.

But ownership of the land is not the only criteria. “These may not bring them [bikkurim]: He who plants on his own soil, but sinks [a shoot] so that [it] nourishes from the territory belonging to an individual or to the public…[or similarly]…so that it grows on his own property”(Bikkurim 1:1). In other words, this mitzvah can only be performed by one who makes certain not to infringe of the property rights of others or the public.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

It’s The Interpretation
It’s The Interpretation

From a distance, halacha, Jewish law, appears to be black and white. In reality, however, much of Jewish law is left to the subjective interpretation of experts. A person with a legal question (such as how to attend a business lunch in a non-kosher establishment) asks his/her rabbi who either paskens (renders a legal decision) or refers the question to someone of greater learning and authority.

Benjamin, The Son of Jacob
Benjamin, The Son of Jacob

The youngest of twelve brothers and one sister, Benjamin, the son of Jacob, appears in the Biblical narrative to be a passive personality whose life is seemingly dictated by the fate of those around him. His mother, Rachel, died while giving birth to him. Knowing that she would not survive, with her last breath she called him Ben-Onee, the son of my mourning. His father, however, called him Binyamin (Benjamin), which means son of my right hand.

Eight years younger than his charismatic brother Joseph, Benjamin was only nine when their father was informed that Joseph had been killed. The sole surviving son of Rachel, Benjamin took Joseph’s place as his father’s beloved child.

After their first trip to Egypt to buy grain because of the famine in Canaan, Jacob’s 10 eldest sons were afraid to return to Egypt for more food, since the Viceroy (really Joseph incognito) had commanded that they not appear before him again without their brother Benjamin. But when the grain ran out, and with great reluctance–only after Judah vowed to protect Benjamin–Jacob allowed his youngest to leave.

When the brothers arrived in Egypt with Benjamin, they were greeted with a feast at which “Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of them” (Genesis 43:34). Afterward, however, Joseph planted a cup in Benjamin’s sack and had Benjamin arrested for theft. Horrified, the brothers returned to Joseph, pleading Benjamin’s innocence. Judah even offered serve as a slave for life in Benjamin’s stead. Seeing the brothers’ strong commitment to protect Benjamin spurred Joseph to reveal himself.

Oddly, throughout all this action, nothing is actually heard from Benjamin himself. Benjamin is an enigmatic character. According to one Midrash, he knew all along that Joseph was alive but did not tell Jacob. Passive as he may seem, the Midrash reveals that Benjamin was one of the few completely righteous individuals to ever live.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

The Mother Bird
The Mother Bird

There are many mitzvot in the Torah for which there are no given explanations. These mitzvot are known as chukim. For instance, there is a prohibition against wearing wool and linen together in the same garment. Among these chukim is one known as shiluach ha’kayn, sending away the mother bird: If one comes upon a roosting mother bird, one must send the mother bird away before gathering the eggs or the young chicks.

The Jews of Brazil The Jews of Brazil

The Jewish community of 21st century Brazil is much like that of other South American Jewish communities. The Brazilian Jewish community is diverse, consisting of Ashkenazim and Sephardim, traditional and assimilated Jews, the wealthy and the poor. Jews are generally accepted within the larger Brazilian population.

Golda
Golda

Stories of the Zionist leaders of the early twentieth century usually begin: “He came from Poland (or Russia) and…” Golda Meir’s account, however, begins quite differently: She came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin (although she was born in Kiev).

Golda Malovitch Meyerson (1898-1978), who would, in 1956, change her name to Meir, began life in Palestine together with her husband, Morris, at Kibbutz Merchavya in 1921. Three years later, they left the Kibbutz and moved first to Tel Aviv and then to Jerusalem. Golda and Morris had two children, Menachem and Sarah.

With each move that they made, Golda was recognized for her natural leadership skills and fiery passion for the labor Zionist movement. In 1932, she returned to the United States for two years with her children (Morris remained in Palestine) to work as an emissary of the Hechalutz women’s organization.

Golda was appointed to head the Jewish Agency’s Political Department in 1946, after the British arrested the department’s senior leadership. Early in 1948, as politicians prepared for the end of the mandate, Golda returned to the U.S. to raise funds. She was expected to raise no more than $10 million, but she returned with $50 million. That May, Golda was one of 24 signatories on Israel’s Declaration of Independence and was brought into the government by David Ben-Gurion.

Ambassador (to the Soviet Union), Member of Knesset, Minister of Labor, Minister of Foreign Affairs…Golda Meir assumed the office of Prime Minister in 1969 upon the death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.

Golda’s time in office was tumultuous. She had to contend with constant fighting along the Suez (1969-1970), the murder of Israel’s athletes at the Munich Olympics (1972), and the Yom Kippur War (1973). Golda resigned and retired after that war. She passed away, at age 80, in 1978.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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