Tuesday, October 19th 2021   |

Say Little, Do Much

Chosen

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

My Columbia University Professor, Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg (author of “The Zionist Idea”), wrote: “The essence of Judaism is the affirmation that the Jews are the chosen people; all else is commentary.”

Jewish chosenness is highly controversial, and bitterly contested. British journalist William Norman Ewer (1885-1977) famously quipped: “How odd/Of God/To choose/The Jews.”

Cecil Browne (almost as famously) responded to this slur: “But not so odd/As...

Priestliness

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Maimonides stipulates six requirements for the ritual of Birkat Kohanim (the Priestly Blessing: “May God bless you and keep you…”).

The Blessing must be said…

…standing up. We must stand up for what is right… taking even unpopular positions when that is the right thing to do.

…with raised hands. We must not just say the right thing… we act on our principles. We take...

Brothers

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

As we begin the annual Torah reading cycle anew this Shabbat, we are confronted with the first murder in human history. In the first of many incidents of sibling rivalry (constituting a major Biblical motif), Cain and Abel each bring a sacrificial offering to God. Cain, a farmer, brings his offering “from the fruit of the soil” (Genesis 4:3). Abel, a shepherd, makes an offering...

Kohelet

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

We customarily read the Book of Ecclesiastes (“Kohelet”) in conjunction with Succot: commonly, on the intermediate Sabbath of the Festival or on Shemini Atzeret… though there is no mention of this practice in the Talmud.

Rashi explains the Hebrew name of this Biblical work: “Kohelet” (from the root k.h.l., meaning “to gather”) is so called, he says, because its author “gathered together many different forms...

Responsa

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The Responsa literature (She’eilot u-Teshuvot) is the accumulated record of correspondence between rabbinic authorities and those – rabbinic colleagues, laypeople, Jewish communities – who have turned to them over the millennia for guidance in matters of Jewish law, practice, and belief. Every “denomination” of Judaism has contributed to this vast body of Rabbinic pronouncements.

Responsa (singular, responsum) represent the cutting edge of Rabbinic leadership, as...

Brevity

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

When Miriam was stricken with leprosy, Moses interceded briefly with God, offering only five words on his sister’s behalf: “El Na Refa Na Lah – Please God, please heal her” (Numbers 12:13).

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius asserts (during an ironically protracted oration!) that “Brevity is the soul of wit.” At this season of long sermons and lengthy liturgy, we should consider that brevity can also...

Nameless

By RABBI JOSEPH PROUSER

Rosh Hashanah, a major communal and religious event, filled with pageantry for contemporary Jews, is given precious little attention in the Torah. Unlike Yom Kippur, Succot, Pesach, and Shavuot, the Holiday is not even given a name! The Torah simply prescribes a “sacred occasion” on the first day of the seventh month (Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1).

That “sacred occasion” is described by the Torah as Yom...

Might

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Eizehu Gibor? “Who is mighty?” (Or, perhaps: “Who is truly heroic?”), asks the Mishnah. “One who conquers his (or her) own passions” (Avot 4:1). Surely, the Rabbinic Sages who contemplated the meaning of power were familiar with (and likely responding to) their Roman contemporaries.

Rome deeply esteemed physical strength and military prowess, as demonstrated through the gladiatorial competitions. Perhaps it was the intellectual interplay between...

Flowers

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The “work” banned on the Sabbath is not defined by the level of difficulty or effort required for the task. In this context, the very term “work” is misleading and counter-productive. Thus, it is perfectly permissible (if a bit unconventional) to lift barbells in the privacy of one’s home, or to walk (or even run) a significant distance… while it is forbidden to doodle, to...

Coveted

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

At age 14, I underwent an Eagle Scout “Board of Review” – the final required hurdle to achieving the highest rank in Scouting. I vividly recall questions about my Scouting experience, survival skills, family relationships, moral values, devotion to God, and my personal definition of “reverence.” As the lengthy and (it seemed) grueling interview drew to a close, the presiding officer asked a series of...