Thursday, August 11th 2022   |

Say Little, Do Much

Pinkas

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Many congregations maintain a “Pinkas” – a ledger or notebook in which all significant communal events and personal life-cycle observances are carefully recorded: births and deaths, marriages and divorces, Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations, etc.

Such records are jealously guarded and transmitted from one generation to the next. So prized is the Pinkas that many communities reverently place the volumes in the Holy Ark, together...

Oy!

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

English dictionaries all but unanimously identify the familiar interjection “Oy!” as of Yiddish origin, used “to express dismay, grief, etc.” (Oxford English Dictionary); “when someone is upset, shocked, disappointed, worried” (Cambridge); signifying “oh! woe! alas!” (Laurel Dictionary of Foreign Terms); invoked “especially to express exasperation” (Webster). Leo Rosten, in his celebrated “Joys of Yiddish,” identifies 29 discrete emotional states expressed by this versatile exclamation!

The...

Ibn Ezra

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Today, on his 858th yahrzeit, we remember Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089-1164). Ibn Ezra distinguished himself in Biblical philology and was a pioneering scholar of Hebrew grammar. He authored important commentaries on the Torah and most other books of the Hebrew Bible. He wrote poetry both romantic and religious. Among the latter are two still very popular Sabbath table hymns (zemirot): Ki Eshmerah Shabbat and...

Barbarians

By RABBI JOSEPH H.PROUSER

The term “barbarian” originated as a pejorative (and onomatopoetic) term applied by ancient Greeks to anyone who did not speak their language – initially Medes and Persians in particular. The Greeks (who took profound pride in the beauty of their national idiom) heard foreign tongues as an unintelligible and unattractive “bar-bar-bar….” (We might say, “Blah-blah-blah”)!

The Sages seemed to concede that Greek was an extraordinarily beautiful...

Yom Tov

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller (1579-1654) headed both the Rabbinic Court and the Yeshivah in Cracow. Before arriving in Poland, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death in Prague. His sentence was commuted, though he spent years paying an exorbitant fine. To celebrate his escape, he instituted a special, private “Purim” – to be observed annually by all his descendants. Among my own congregants have been...

Sinai

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

We are enjoined by the Torah to remember “the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10ff). It was at Sinai (Horeb) that the People Israel had our most direct experience of God’s Presence. At Sinai the Divine will was revealed. At Sinai the Jewish People reaffirmed our covenantal bond with God and determined, for all time, to express our national...

Lions

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

The Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Yosef Karo’s sixteenth century codification of Jewish Law still guiding our practice today, opens by proclaiming, “We should arise each morning with the strength of a lion in order to serve our Creator” (OH 1:1).

The lion is “king of the jungle.” The Rabbis teach, “All Israel are the children of kings” (Shabbat 67A). We serve God by maintaining a regal...

Wounds

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

First-born livestock, the Torah commands (Exodus 13), is to sacrificed at the Temple Altar, with remnants eaten by a Kohen. A first-born animal with a blemish or disfigurement is disqualified from sacrifice, and is given to the Kohen as an outright gift, to be used for whatever non-sacral purposes he may wish (plowing, breeding, as a beast of burden, etc.).

If, however, an unscrupulous...

Reach!

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

An entire tractate of the Mishnah – Yadayim (“Hands”) – is devoted to the manner in which our hands contract ritual impurity… and how that impurity can be remedied through ritual washing. Netilat Yadayim, the ceremonial handwashing we still practice before reciting Ha-Motzi over bread, is a vestige of that ancient system of ritual purity. Two verses of Psalms are customarily recited during Netilat Yadayim,...

Nachshon

By RABBI JOSEPH H. PROUSER

Nachshon was the princely leader of the Tribe of Judah during the Wilderness Period. The Torah records that (as the brother of Elisheva) Nachshon was Aaron’s brother-in-law. He was also the direct ancestor of King David (and therefore of all subsequent Israelite kings). From this it follows that the Messiah will also be among Nachshon’s descendants.

Nachshon is perhaps best remembered, however, for a role...