Friday, August 29, 2008

Parshah Questions for Kids - Re'eh

This week I've changed the format a bit, and the parshah questions are all on the first aliyah of the Parshah, and also on the Rashis on that piece, so you can do the questions out of the chumash.

Click here for Parshah Questions for Kids
Click here for Parshah Questions for Kids with Answers

Table Talk - Re'eh 5768: God's Place

In no less than five places in Chapter 12, Moshe refers to the“place which the Lord your God shall choose.” (see verses 5, 11, 14, 18 and 21):
כִּי אִם-אֶל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, מִכָּל-שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, לָשׂוּם אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, שָׁם--לְשִׁכְנוֹ תִדְרְשׁוּ, וּבָאתָ שָּׁמָּה.

וְהָיָה הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בּוֹ לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם--שָׁמָּה

כִּי אִם-בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יִבְחַר ה', בְּאַחַד שְׁבָטֶיךָ--שָׁם, תַּעֲלֶה עֹלֹתֶיךָ

כִּי אִם-לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקיךָ תֹּאכְלֶנּוּ, בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ

כִּי-יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם
The appearance of such similar language in such close proximity is striking. Clearly Moshe places great emphasis on "the place", so much so that if forms a central them in Parshat Re'eh.
What is this unnamed place that Moshe repeatedly refers to in the Torah? Midrash Sifrei (on Devarim 72:5) answers based on the rest of the verse: לשכנו תדרשו ובאת שמה -- “unto His habitation shall you seek.” You seek and find, and then the prophet will tell you. This is what we find with King David [who sought out the Temple Mount in Jerusalem]. And how do we know that he followed the instructions of the prophet? As it is written, '[The prophet] Gad came to David on that day and said to him, Go up, build an altar unto the LORD in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite,' the location of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today.,
It's fascinating to me that in the tradition of the Midrash, Yerushalayim is not something that God chooses unilaterally and we accept. If He had done so, it would have been fine with us. But that's not the case. It must be a place "that we seek" together with God. It's not a one-way street. It's a partnership between God and the Jewish people. Sure, he shows us the place, but we must seek it, build it and establish it as His holy city.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Parshah Questions for Kids - Eikev

Here's this week's installment of Parshah Questions for Kids. Just as an aside, I started asking my kids parshah questions about a year ago, giving them jelly beans (my personal favorites are Jelly Bellies) when they'd get a question right. It turned into an immediate ritual, with Jelly Bellies flying all over the dining room, but with the parshah as an integral part of our Shabbat table. Right after we finish the challah, my kids are already shouting, "Questions! Questions!" Even if you don't give the kids the sheets to fill out before Shabbat, feel free to use the questions (with or without answers) as a great tool at the Shabbat table.

The parshah questions are based on the Mibreishit Sheet for Kids from last year. The sheets are available here.
Download the parshah question sheet here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Table Talk for Eikev - And Some "Last Minute" Aliyah Stories

As many of you already know, we did not sell our home before we moved to Israel. Sure, we tried to sell our home. And someone even made an offer on the home, and went through the process of having the house inspected. So when he called me to tell me that based on the inspection they decided that they didn't want to buy the house, I was, to say the least, upset. It really sent us right back to the drawing board. As the time for us to depart Michigan approached, I started making arrangements to have someone show the house to potential renters; someone else gracefully agreed to make sure that the rental went through - all in all, everyone in Oak Park was truly generous with their time and energy to try and help. Yet, it's somewhat disconcerting to leave town without having taken care of our single biggest expense - our home.
On Wednesday evening, I decided to try again on Craigstlist and see if someone might want to rent the house. It was a last-ditch effort, as Friday was July 4th, and we were scheduled to leave on Sunday, which we did. Thursday morning I got two calls about the house, and showed them both Thursday afternoon. Both actually filled out applications. When we called the family that we preferred to ask them if they still wanted the house and they answered in the affirmative, we asked them, "When would you like to take possession of the house." They said, "Would Monday be too soon?" Actually, it would not. While we were packing on Sunday they came and got the keys, and they took the house on Monday.
If that sounds like last minute, wait until you hear about our minivan: because we were making aliyah from Edison, where my inlaws live, we needed to keep our minivan until the last week. Then I figured that I would sell the car in New Jersey. After all, I had sold my other car on Craigslist in less than twenty-four hours. So how hard could it be to sell a Honda Odyssey minivan - a really great car. As it turns out, harder than I thought.
I looked on (Kelly Blue Book) to estimate the value of the car, underpriced it a little, and posted the car for sale. No bites. Nothing. So I waited a bit. Towards the end of the week, I was getting a little nervous, so I took it to a local used car dealer who looked at the car and called me on Thursday afternoon to let me know that he could only offer half of what I thought I would get. Half. (That's a lot of money.) It turns out the car wasn't worth as much as said it was, and he would also have to have work done to make the car new enough for him to sell off his lot. So, he advised me to try and sell it myself (with two days to go), where I'd do much better. So I posted to Craigslist again, with a much lower asking price. I got a couple of calls - and one email from someone who might be interested, but he wasn't sure.
One family came Friday, said that they loved the car, and would most definitely buy it on Sunday, but that their father had to come look at it and bring the money. Great. They call me Sunday morning (Shiva Asar B'tamuz), tell me that they're coming in the evening, and that they're really buying the car. Again, great.
They show up around 6pm, get in the car, take it for a spin to show the father, and get out of the car with long looks on their faces: "Sorry." What do you mean sorry? "It has stains that won't come out, so we don't want the car." What do you mean? Your wife and son saw the car last Friday, and didn't say a word? "Sorry." (To this day, I still don't know if he was trying to bairgain for a lower price or not.) So they walked away, the night before we're supposed to go to the airport and fly off to Israel. That's that.
But it wasn't. On a lark, I called the guy who had emailed me. Do you want the car? Perhaps. OK, I told him, but you have to come see the car tonight - or I can't sell it to you. Can you come? He could. You understand that it's a family car - it has some stains in it? He did.
He came, liked the car, and said that he would bring his mechanic the next morning. OK, we told him, but we need to have the car back by 9:30am so that we can load it up to get to the airport.
8:00am - my cellphone rings: "Reuben, my mechanic won't come to the house. He's kind of old, and wants to bring the car to his garage. Can you do it?" Sure, why not. After all, we're only moving 5,000 miles away today.
His mechanic looks at the car, tells him that it's fine, and we drive back to my inlaws. Now I'm out of time. We have to load up, no easy feat with nine of us going (including three inlaws coming with), and twelve bags that had to fit in a minivan and a small car. My buyer tells me: I need to go to the bank to get the money for the downpayment - he would give my father-in-law the rest later on in the day. Fine. Whatever. To be honest, I wasn't really sure whether he'd also decided to change his mind, and in the back of my head something told me that I wasn't going to see him again.
We stuffed ourlseves in the cars. We're about to leave. The kids are getting antsy. And finally, as I'm getting into the driver's seat, the buyer of the minivan pulls up, gets out of his car, and hands me the cash for the downpayment.
How's that for last minute? I really can't think of any way that it could get any closer.
Why do I tell you all this? First of all, because I think that they're really great stories. But also because I couldn't help but think of both of these "last-minute" stories when I read a great d'var Torah from the Ohr Hachayim on Eikev in a book called "Ma'ayan Hashavua."
Ohr Hachayim notes the strange language found at the beginning of the Parshah:
והיה עקב תשמעון את המשפטים האלה -- "and it will be because you listen to these commandments" (Devarim 7:12). What is the meaning of the word והיה - "and it will be"? He explains that the word והיה always connotes joy, as it says in the Midrash, אין והיה אלא לשון שמחה -- "the word והיה always refers to a state of joy." What does this have to do with listening to the commandments? In his second answer he says, שאין שמחה לאיש אלא בסוף השמיעה -- "a person only experiences joy at the end of [his] hearing."
Sometimes, in the middle of a process, it can be difficult to see the joy during the middle. But then, oftentimes later on at the "end" - בסוף השמיעה -- it becomes easier to see the larger process from hindsight, to understand that God's hand had been behind life's events all along.

Friday, August 15, 2008

New Chopping Wood Feature - Parshah Questions for Kids

During these slow summer months, I find it very hard to review the parshah with my children, and when we come to the table, because they don't have school, they don't know what's in the parshah. So, I made up a parshah sheet for them, which, if all goes well, will be an ongoing feature here on the blog. Feel free to tell your friends!

The parshah questions are based on the Mibreishit Sheet for Kids from last year. The sheets are available here.
Download the parshah question sheet here.
Download the parshah question sheet with answers here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tisha B’av and Ganei Tal

I started noticing the small signs just a few days after I arrived. In truth, they were unmistakable. A note in a car here; a comment there. But only over the last few weeks has it begun to sink in to me. Today, on Tisha b’Av, the day we set aside to commemorate and mourn Jewish tragedy and loss, I find myself focused on the evacuees from Gush Katif, specifically the citizens of Ganei Tal. Three years ago, almost to the day, the government of Israel evicted the citizens of the twenty-one communities that comprised the Jewish towns throughout the Gaza strip. Then it destroyed their homes, one by one, until the lives that they had spent the last three decades building were nothing but piles of rubble.
In truth, my new life rests firmly on their tragedy, giving me a small, vague sense of guilt. Personally, I had nothing to do with the expulsion from Gush Katif. Politically, I opposed the plan. So then why do I feel guilty? I’ll explain.
Because the residents of Gush Katif refused, under any circumstances to believe and accept that their government would actually carry out the eviction plan, they made almost no plans for the day after. Following the disengagement, they found themselves dazed, homeless, and bereft of their possessions and livelihoods. After spending three months in temporary lodging, the government sent the people of Ganei Tal, en masse, to a small caravilla-city on the outskirts of a small yishuv called Yad Binyamin, found in the Sorek region about twenty miles west of Jerusalem. In addition, the Torat Chaim Yeshiva, formerly located in Neve Dekalim, the largest settlement in Gaza, relocated to a new home in a formerly closed school in Yad Binyamin. Almost instantly, a small, lazy town of thirty families found itself host to a community several times its size with a yeshiva to boot. The residents of Ganei Tal settled into their new, albeit tiny homes, tried to find jobs, and rebuild their lives following their eviction from the only home that they had known.
This being Israel, someone realized that there might be money to make in Yad Binyamin. And he – actually they -- were right. Yad Binyamin presented a wonderful real estate opportunity. Just a forty-minute drive from Jerusalem, thirty from Tel Aviv and sitting right on the brand new Highway 6, Yad Binyamin could offer large, spacious homes within reasonable commuting distance of good jobs. Moreover, with the yeshiva anchoring the community and the Israeli residents of Ganei Tal serving as a base, the community would attract Torah oriented religious Zionists looking to buy new homes outside of the regular overpopulated areas. Two years ago the building began, and Yad Binyamin has experienced a tremendous period of growth and expansion – as well as skyrocketing home values for those lucky enough to have bought their homes on paper at the beginning.
Today, Yad Binyamin continues to expand at a breathtaking pace. New families move into their homes weekly. I watch from my back porch as the construction on our new shul continues apace, hopefully to be completed in time for Rosh Hashanah. Today, the residents of Ganei Tal find themselves not on the outskirts of Yad Binyamin, but in the heart of town. Their arrival marked the beginning of the explosive growth of Yad Binyamin. Without their presence, I have no doubt that I would not be living here either.
Having just moved into my new home – large by Israeli standards, I walked to shul one morning through the caravilla-town of the residents of Ganei Tal, and realized that these residents lived not in nice homes, of brick and concrete like mine, but temporary small homes made from converted trailers. This past Shabbat my son said to me, again while walking to shul, that it was a good thing that we didn’t live in one of those houses. “Why?” I asked him. “Because our lift container was almost as big as those houses. There’s no way that we would have been able to fit our stuff into one.” Of course he was right. Our lift (a forty-footer, holding way too much stuff) was indeed almost as big as a trailer. And these people have lived in these trailers, every day of the year for the past three years, still waiting for their government to approve the construction of their new homes.
Last night, after reading Eichah, I visited the exhibit just put on display by the residents of Ganei Tal about their yishuv. I found myself unexpectedly, but profoundly moved. The exhibit graphically describes the birth of their yishuv in 1970, literally out of the sands of Gaza. They displaced no one. They took no unclaimed land. The Arabs of the area, they told me, informed them that the last people to plant successfully in the sands of Gaza were Abraham and Isaac. And yet they planted – and the earth, at least in their hothouses – sprouted forth. Every progressive photo documents the growth of the yishuv, the construction of even more and larger hothouses, to accommodate their ever-expanding agricultural industry.
Of course, on tables lie burnt shells and rockets; mortars that landed within the yishuv, fired at the residents for the crime of living in Gaza. And finally, the wall of the fallen; men and women who died in terrorist attacks, living their daily lives, traveling to work or walking near their homes. There aren’t many – five or six. But that’s five or six too many.
I learned about some of daily life in Ganei Tal; the community center, the makolet (small store); the municipal building and the shul. Another wall simply presents pictures of houses – beautiful homes, large even by American standards. The homes were surrounded by green grass, plants, trees – an oasis in the desert.
And as I looked at those pictures – those magnificent, gorgeous homes, I thougt of the homes the very same residents occupy today, a fraction of the size, stuck in the center of a town, as nice as it is, that they did not choose. And I turned to the next wall – a wall of Ganei Tal today – to find pictures of piles of rubble where homes once stood, and the shul – the only building left standing by the Israelis - now a shell of concrete, looted of any material that might be of any value.
Today, on Tisha B’av, I find my mind filled with thought of the people of Ganei Tal. My feelings are not really political. While I realize that many Israelis seethe with anger over the disengagement and even dream of returning to Gaza when the army inevitably reenters Gaza, I’m not so sure. In some ways, we’re far better off without the responsibility and demographic obligations of a million and a half Arabs who hate us. But Tisha B’av isn’t about politics. It’s about national and personal suffering. And as a nation – as a people, we suffered for two reasons: we suffered because the government of Israel felt that we needed to destroy Jewish communities, for whatever reason; and we suffered because we caused wonderful people, our Jewish brothers and sisters – immeasurable pain, pain that they still feel to this day, and probably will feel for the rest of their lives.
In America, I never gave them a second thought. Tsk, tsk – a terrible thing, the evacuation from Gaza. But these are real people, with real challenges and problems, struggling to make a life for themselves each and every day. And on Tisha B’av we need to ask the important questions: what did we do to cause their suffering? How did our behavior fail to save them, and us, from their fate? And, perhaps most importantly of all, what will we change to ensure that what happened to the people - the mothers and fathers and children of Ganei Tal, never happens again?