Sunday, May 9th 2021   |

Say Little, Do Much

Naomi

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The first time Naomi speaks (indeed, the first words spoken by anyone in the Book of Ruth), she addresses her devoted daughters-in-law (and fellow widows), Ruth and Orpah: “Turn back, each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me” (Ruth 1:8). In their commentary on the Biblical Book, Professors Tamara...

Lag

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Lag B’Omer (that is, the 33rd day of the Omer), observed today, is a minor festival… and a cheerful break from the mournful, 49-day “Sefirah” period between Passover and Shavuot.

Some identify the holiday’s origins in the Biblical miracle of Manna – said to have first appeared on this date… sustaining our ancestors of the Wilderness Period.

Lag B’ Omer is also observed as the...

Disclaimer

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

On Shavuot, we celebrate the anniversary of the Revelation at Mount Sinai with the dramatic reading of the Ten Commandments from the Torah. This Biblical passage recalls humanity’s most explicit and transformative experience of the Divine.

It is telling, therefore, that the Shavuot Reading is preceded by “Akdamut” (“To Begin…”) – a lengthy 11th century liturgical poem offering a disclaimer. Akdamut insists that – despite...

Unloading

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The Torah demands we provide personal assistance to those contending with onerous tasks. If one sees a beast of burden, even one belonging to a personal enemy, struggling or fallen under its load, “you are duty-bound to lift it with him” (Exodus 23:5), by joining the owner in unloading the cargo. We are obligated to assist a neighbor (or a stranger!) confronted with a weighty...

Purple

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, expressions of outrage and patriotism abounded. One memorable such response was the depiction of the American flag on billboards, T-shirts, and bumper stickers, accompanied by a defiant slogan: “These colors don’t run.”

That pun may help explain the significance of the Biblical “argaman” – the regal purple associated with the Sanctuary and its Altar (Exodus 26:1, Numbers...

Yizkor

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

We memorialize our departed with Yizkor Services four times each year, at conspicuously irregular intervals. The most widely observed among these is Yom Kippur. Not two weeks following Yom Kippur, Yizkor is repeated on Shemini Atzeret. Six (in a leap year, seven) months later, we recite Yizkor on the last day of Passover. Six weeks after that is the year’s final Yizkor, on the second...

Monarchs

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

In her collection of essays on the beauty and lessons of nature, “World of Wonders,” poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil reflects on the Monarch Butterfly. She notes that “there’s a spot over Lake Superior where migrating butterflies veer sharply.” A geologist explained this mystery, she writes, by concluding that, thousands of years ago, a mountain stood on that very spot. The consequent navigational necessities were somehow encoded:...

Elijah

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

A special, often decorative wine cup is placed on the Seder table, designated for the Prophet Elijah, who will herald the coming of the Messiah (and therewith the final Redemption of Israel and the rest of humanity).

Elijah is said to make an appearance at every Seder (and, incidentally, every Bris!). Elijah’s cup apparently finds its origin in the Rabbinic debate as to whether four...

Opioids

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The second century sage, Chiyya, counseled his son: “Don’t do drugs” (Pesachim 113A). Rashi (1040-1105) explained this fatherly advice: (“Do not accustom yourself to taking drugs, for the practice will become habitual; you will develop a dependency; and you will meet financial ruin” (ad loc.). Rashi’s grandson, the Tosafist, Rashbam, went still further, adding to his revered grandfather’s commentary: “…and avoid the use of drugs...

Sandek

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

During the Bris (Brit Milah) ceremony, the Sandek is the individual (often a grandfather or great-grandfather) honored with holding the infant on his lap (or firmly securing the infant, who has been placed gently on a table) during the actual circumcision procedure.

The Sandek is also referred to as “Baal Ha-Berit” – “Master of the Covenant.” The Sandek has been compared to the Temple Altar...