Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Quote for the Day: Cruel to be Merciful?

In mercy, obectification of the other, racism, Roger Cohen on March 31, 2009 at 2:08 pm

One who is merciful to those who are heartless will end up being heartless to those who are merciful.(Midrash Zuta, Midrash Tanchuma, Yalkut Shimoni)

This quotation ia attributed to Resh Lakish, R. Elazar, R. Shimon Ben Levi, R. Yehoshua Ben Levi. It is apparent that this belief was widely held.

The proof brought is from Shaul who against Divine decree, spared Agag, the Amalekite leader, and then seven chapters later Shaul slaughters a town of Kohanim blinded by his jealous rage for David. The Rabbis read I Samuel Chapter 22 in light of what Shaul had done in I Samuel Chapter 15 where Agag is temporarily spared only to be killed by Shmuel.

It is difficult to understand how one’s sympathy even for a heartless monster could cause one to be heartless toward an innocent. Maybe the Sages felt that when one loses a moral compass for right and wrong, cruelty and kind, all things are possible. A moral order requires judgment, and without that, the wrong people will be on the receiving end of ones wrath.

We live in a world where phrases like “objectification of the other” indicate a sin akin to racism. We hardly ever ask the question, “When does “the other” deserve to be “objectified” as cruel.

The Sages knew that we have never been, nor ever will be always “the same”.

This is the flaw of proportional response in certain conflicts. If the expressed goal is to wipe one off the map, should the fact that the enemy is not successful at it be a mitigating factor? Or, like Roger Cohen, do we choose not to believe them because he knows that this is merely overblown rhetoric contradicted by the kindness that he has been afforded by some of the local citizenry.

Whatever political strategy one adopts, it would behoove one to heed the notion that to enter the brotherhood of man there needs to be an entrance exam.

There is a heartless nihilism that in the name of human decency should not be “understood” and doing so, will ultimately cause one to be cruel to the merciful. Words are powerful and they often reflect the deepest held passions and beliefs of individuals.

In the new age of dirty bombs one can’t afford to dismiss them.


In Case You Think the Previous Post is Some Fluffy Pop Kabbalah, Look at this source from The Zohar

In Heavenly and Earthly worlds, Tikkun, Zohar on March 29, 2009 at 11:02 pm

The lower world is completely attached to the upper world, and until the lower world is complete, the upper world cannot be complete, as we have said.

“For the LORD God had yet to make it rain on the earth [and there was no man to till the soil].” (Genesis 2:5)
For one is dependent on the other.

(i.e. until there is someone to till the soil, there is no reason to make it rain. It is the act of preparing the earth that brings the rain.)

The lower world once repaired returns face to face [with the upper world] so that it too will be repaired thus finding the heavenly now attached to the earthly.

For before this happened, the world did not have its Tikkun (repair). Because “The Lord God had yet to make it rain on the earth.” So, you see, one is dependant on the other.

What is written after this verse? “And vapor ascended from the earth.” (Ibid 2:6) This is the earthly Tikkun which occurs after “the face of the earth was watered.” (ibid)

“And vapor ascended from the earth.” This is the desire of the feminine for the masculine. Zohar Vol. I:35a (My Translation)

(At this stage, the heavens are totally dependant on the earthly vapors for rain. First, the lower earthly world is repaired which in turn repairs the heavens.)

In other words, according to the Zohar, we control the flow, once the original waters poured down from the heavens, from then on the vapor ascended from the earth.

This source was previously quoted in the Tikkun Olam: The Massive Malapropism File.

Ten Emanations and Human Encounters

In everflow, innocence, Kabbalah, love, relationships, shefa on March 29, 2009 at 5:41 am

Today while pondering a very human problem in a wondrous meditative state, my four years spent translating a Kabbalistic work came to the rescue and eased a concern that had been rattling my psychic cage for many months.

Shefa is a Hebrew term that describes how God’s energy sustains the world. I translated it with the neologism “everflow“. To my knowledge, it is a unique translation, but I feel it is the most accurate. The “Shefa” flows through the ten emanations of God, through channels. If the channels are in repair, than the Shefa pours bountifully through these ten emanations, the Sephirot until they reach the lowest emanation, then all that energy is concentrated and pours out to the world.

It is we, by our deeds, who keep the heavenly channels in tact so that the everflow will pour freely through all the emanations, and if we fall short, then the channels are ruptured and the everflow spills out to the darkness and destructive, empowering all that is negative.

Relationships born out of innocence, and ostensible purity of purpose feel this everflow so profoundly that at the moment it feels that it will be forever, untainted. The channels are secure, and the emotional bounty will be never ending. During these moments who wouldn’t sacrifice all else to preserve these feelings.

Invariably, because of human frailty, and the challenges of everyday living, something goes awry. The channels are breached, and the spectre of suspicion hovers, growing stronger until all those feelings from before feel like a tragic misdirection, except it wasn’t, it was real, but we are not focused or conscious enough to maintain that spirit, the way we have come to expect it.

Some everflow, however, still flows through the channels and drips down, but now it has to compete with all the darkness, the anger, the jealousy, the disappointment, the suspicion, and overwhelmingly, the guilt.

The everflow does, however, have the edge, for it is eternal, and cannot stop. The water always seeps through the thickest walls of despair. We created the walls and we can knock them down. We make them big, but with the help of the everflow from our Creator, we can make them small until they disappear.

The purpose of prayer is to affirm that we believe in the goodness of that which sustains life, love, justice and peace and we believe that we are sustained from a Divine energy beyond ourselves and it is that energy which is eternal. Everything else is temporal. When this belief transforms behavior, the channels are repaired, the darkness recedes, and the world is sustained. If they aren’t repaired, then we limp along gathering glimmers of the eternal now and then, once in awhile.

As long as there is life, there is the everflow sometimes weak, sometimes strong, but constant and never ending.

Get your plagues on! Blood is ickier than Water

In Blood, Passover, Pesach, Plagues, Seder on March 27, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Moses water and the plague of blood: A tragic love story.

Charoset–so women are already on the Seder plate, who knew?

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2009 at 4:28 pm

What’s the connection between apples and charoses? The Talmud teaches that:

If it wasn’t for the women of Israel we would have never been redeemed.

Take that Dr. Heschel, they already have a place on the Seder plate, we just have to remember to acknowledge it. Click here for the whole story!

A Heroine of The Exodus: Serach Bat Asher

In Uncategorized on March 27, 2009 at 3:22 pm

In the Passover Haggadah we say “the more one talks about the Exodus, the more praise one deserves.” With this in mind, the following texts will examine a little known figure from the Exodus story, Serach the daughter of Asher. As you will see, Midrashic literature links Serach to the Exodus story and the rest of Jewish history. Serach offers a wonderful female character to incorporate into the Passover story. As her character is developed in the midrashic sources, she also raises important questions about Jewish memory.

Serach, in Rabbinic literature is the female Elijah, helping out at critical times throughout the generations, for it is written in the midrash–

Her mouth is full of wisdom (Proverbs 31:26) — This refers to Serach the daughter of Asher who did not taste the taste of death.

For more midrashim on the wonders of an Eishet Chayil: Clck here.

All the Files are in One Place

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2009 at 9:55 am

If you click on the Scribd badge found on the bottom right hand side of this page, you have access to all the files that have been posted on this scorchin site. Happy hunting!

Birchas Hachama Riot in 1897–A Clash of Civilizations

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2009 at 8:55 am

In honor of the fact that Birchas Hachama will be said this year, I bring you the following tidbit:

Here’s a New York Times article from 1897 describing the arrest of a certain Rabbi Wechsler for illegal assembly for blessing the sun. His colleague Rabbi Klein fled the scene.

Every twenty eight years from the beginning of creation, so the story goes, the sun is in its original place which is marked by a simple blessing on that day. It is always on Yom Revi’i (Wednesday) which is the day that the lights were created. Here’s the money quote:

The celebration is rather a complicated matter to explain to anybody. Rabbi Klein’s knowledge of English is slight, while Foley’s faculties of comprehension of matters outside of police and park regulations and local events are not acute. The attempt of a foreign citizen to explain to an American Irishman an astronomical situation and a tradition of the Talmud was a dismal failure.

You can just imagine!

Hat tip to Raysh Weiss

The Third Book: Vayikra, and He Called

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2009 at 10:59 am

When God calls to Moshe, it seems that it is rarely good news. Rashi tries to understand what the word Vayikra really means.

Every time God spoke to Moshe, he was welcomed by this calling which was a term of endearment. It was the same language used by the ministering angels for they too, ‘called one to the other…’ (Isaiah)…And the voice went to Moshe alone for Israel was unable to hear the sound… Yet, everything God said to Moshe for thirty-eight years, was for the sake of Israel. It was only after the generation of the spies–those who were afraid to conquer the land of Israel– had died that God spoke to Moshe for his sake alone. As it is written, “After all the people from the generation of the war had passed, God spoke to me.

What does Rashi mean when he says that “everything God said to Moshe for thirty-eight years, was for the sake of Israel.”? Click here

A Searing Pesach of Pressburg 1943

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2009 at 10:41 am

Rabbi Shlomo Unsdorfer wrote down his sermons in a notebook that was recovered after the war, and after he had perished in Auschwitz. His brother published Reb Unsdorfer’s essays in a work entitled Siftei Shlomo (The Lips of Shlomo). It is the only document I know of that “darshens” the holocaust through the lens of Torah. His Shabbat Hagadol drasha, that I have translated may give us some perspective, and even in these times, appreciation for our bounty and blessings.

“For all who are hungry, come and eat…us.” (Siftei Shlmo)