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  • Rabbi Max Davis

Shavuot 5780 Perseverance B'Tzelem E-lohim

Chag Same'ach & Shabbat Shalom! Perseverance B'Tzelem E-lohim

Good Yuntif! Since 1997, NASA has held competitions for children to name its most sophisticated hardware.   For example, the Spirit and Opportunity Martian rovers were named by Sofi Collis, a plucky nine-year old born in Siberia.  Prior to emigrating to America, she had lived in an orphanage and would gaze up at the night sky imagining she could fly there.  “In America,” Sofi wrote, “I can make all my dreams come true. Thank you for the Spirit and the Opportunity.”[1] In a subsequent contest, seventh grader Alexander Mather noted NASA’s penchant for naming vessels after human characteristics.  He argued that the most important one is perseverance!  Alexander’s submission was chosen from 28,000 entries for NASA’s next rover.  NASA was also gracious enough to permit our usage of the term for the theme of this dvar. Perseverance! With all of the challenging news as of late, I hope to present a relatively positive and uplifting theme that also reflects the nature of Shavuot.  Torah study, of course, demands lifelong perseverance.  The Midrash Shemuel observes that the greatest Jewish scholars are called “talmidei chachamim”, literally wise students.  However much wisdom we acquire, we Jews remain lifelong talmidim, students ‘til the end, persevering in our studies for the sake of learning another page, another volume, another topic.[2] Shavuot is a celebration of perseverance in Torah study. Shavuot is also a celebration of our relationship with the Almighty and our mutual perseverance within that relationship.  Rabbi Dr. Elie Munk notes that the Zohar attributes nuptial significance to Shavuot night.   It is through the Tikun Leyl Shavuot that “a spiritual fusion or union takes place between G-d and Israel, after Israel has purified herself for a period of seven full weeks in order to be ready for such intimate communion with her G-d.”[3]  So much for the notion that the tikun is merely a Torah study marathon!  Rabbi Munk notes further the origins of the Tikun as a specific roster of texts to be studied, punctuated by thirteen Kaddishes if a minyan is present.  (Think thirteen attributes of Hashem.  Thirteen is also the gematriya of Echad expressing Hashem's supreme unity.) The Tikun includes excerpts from every parshah, the beginnings and endings of each section of Tanach and Mishnah, as well as piyutim (medieval liturgical poetry) Kabbalistic passages, and a list of the 613 mitzvot.  It represents the totality of Torah and a taste of the infinite.  Therefore tonight, the anniversary of our wedding night with Hashem, the Tikun affords us an intimate infusion of divinity. Sadly, our relationship with Hashem has been fraught, foundering after the wedding night as we propositioned a golden calf.  The fact that Hashem keeps us around is a testament to Hashem’s infinite perseverance.  Conversely, considering the myriad blood soaked chapters of Jewish history, one might say that the ‘bride’ also demonstrates a remarkable measure of perseverance.  Shavuot then affords all parties an opportunity to celebrate mutual perseverance and recommit to the union. Perseverance  is also an essential weapon in the fight against corona virus.  As the experts have warned from the outset, victory is a long-term prospect.  We persevere as best we can in this strange new world of PPE, isolation, economic and emotional turmoil.  These days, I derive inspiration thinking of great past ‘perseverers’ – my forbearers who, as youths, left Russia to give me a crack at American Spirit and Opportunity.  I also marvel at historical giants of perseverance; Szenes, King, Churchill.   (Oh for a chance to hear Churchill deliver his rousing We shall fight them on the beaches speech, revised to confront an enemy microbe.) Although these giants have long since passed, we are blessed in 5780 with other remarkable pillars of perseverance, at least one of whom is speaking out.  In a stirring youtube video released about a month ago, Natan Sharansky shared with Israelis five tips on how to survive the pandemic lock-down.[4]  He began by stating that he has some familiarity with isolation, having endured a decade as a Soviet political prisoner.   Sharansky noted he had spent half of his sentence in solitary confinement and 405 days in a punishment cell, so he was rather qualified to offer thoughtful guidance to the rest of us. If you have not yet seen the 3-minute film, please do so as it is a testament to the convictions and strength of a Jewish living legend.  To summarize Sharansky’s five tips: 1.  We are all in this together.  We are fighting a heinous unseen enemy, but humanity is united in the fight and we will be victorious. 2.  None of us has any control over the pandemic, but we can control our lives on a more modest scale.  We should therefore set realistic, achievable personal goals.  Learning a language, reading a book, acquiring a new skill, for example. 3.  Maintain a sense of humor.  Sharansky derived much pleasure from sharing anti-Soviet jokes with his captors. 4.  Pursue your hobbies.  Sharansky had been a chess prodigy at fifteen, and spoke of playing “thousands and thousands” of mental chess games in prison. 5.  “Feel your connection.”  Specifically for members of Am Yisrael, remember that we are together, united as a people the world over, even in our isolated dwellings. That is Torat Sharansky. In honor of Sharansky and the middah of perseverance, one might spend time on Shavuot exploring each point as it is found in written and oral Torah.  Point five is expressed by the Talmudic idiom: Kol Yisrael areivim zeh bazeh – All Israel are responsible for one another – and has at least a dozen shiurim on this topic available for printing prior to Shavuot. Point four regarding hobbies is an invitation to study numerous hobby related Shabbat melachot, for example questions of binyan, ketivah, and makeh b’patish (building, writing, completing) with regards to puzzles ( or issues of borer in philately.   Point three - maintain your sense of humor - is fertile ground for study.  Some texts discourage levity whereas others, like Mishneh Avot 6:6, suggest laughter as a means of acquiring Torah.  Those in need of a good chuckle should check out Talmud tractate Nidah 23b in which, according to Rashi, the venerable Rav Yirmiyah made sport of trying to get the austere Rabbi Zeira to laugh. Point two regarding achievable goals underscores the famous adage of Rabbi Tarfon:לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה. It is not upon you to complete the labor, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.  Avot 2:2 Also relevant are the sugiyot regarding tafasta merubeh lo tafasta, osek b’mitzvah patur mimitzvah, and the musar of Rabbi Yisrael Salant who desired at a young age to change the world and discovered at an advanced age that one must begin with oneself.   ( Delving into all of the above is beyond the scope of these remarks.  However, through sources included below, let us highlight Sharansky’s first point: We’re all in this together. During the past 48-hours in Minneapolis, Sharansky’s wisdom has tragically taken on new meaning and greater urgency.  With the killing George Floyd, a resident of our own St. Louis Park, caught on camera in heartbreaking detail reminiscent of the Eric Garner tragedy, we are compelled to acknowledge our common humanity and express revulsion at what appears to be a grave abuse of power and the needless loss of life.  As news of the tragedy spread, the first message I received yesterday morning was an inquiry as to what we in the Jewish community can do.  Later in the day, a mother and young son called from New York, asking for the address of Mr. Floyd’s family, or church, or workplace.  They wanted to do something.  They hoped to reach out in some way, even if only to send a card.  Sharansky’s first tip for pandemic perseverance is easily expanded to other crises, including the present moral crisis.  Indeed, we are all in this together, and now is the time to share this with our neighbors.   As our Somali neighbors came to our support following the JCC bomb scare two years ago, and our African American neighbors and Police Chief Arradondo came to our support at last winter’s anti-hate rally in Temple Israel, now is the time for us to let our neighbors know that they are not alone. Of course, strong statements were released by Jewish institutions such as the Jewish Family and Children’s Service and a well-crafted piece by Steve Hunegs of the Jewish Community Relations Council in which he decried the killing while commending Chief Arradondo and Mayor Frey for their proactive stance.  Additionally, an interfaith vigil is planned for 5pm this evening and I hope to attend along with colleagues from the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, (a most unorthodox way to spend the hours before Shavuot.)  These are some positive measures, but there is additional work to be done, perhaps even some self-work – a little personal tikun during tonight’s Tikun. Below these remarks are some sources to consider this Shavuot, beginning with what may be the most important lesson of the Torah’s opening chapter:  וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱ-לֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱ-לֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ... And Hashem created Adam in His image, in the image of Hashem He created him... Just as the original Tikun begins with Bereishit and journeys through Tanach, Mishna, and other sacred texts, so too the texts below present a smorgasbord of sources arranged in roughly chronological order.  This is by no means an exhaustive compendium of B’tzelem E-lohim sources, nor are these sources intended as validation of the concept.  The Torah’s statement requires no validation.   Rather, I share these sources in hopes that they might serve double-duty tonight, in service of our traditional Torah vigil as well as an additional form of vigil for human rights, dignity, and respect.  We are all in this together. Even for those among us who are well versed in these texts, or who already champion the aforementioned values, it is worthwhile to devote some time to revisiting the sources and reaffirming our convictions.  Call it good religio-socio hygiene, but hopefully we will each uncover something new and inspiring.   May our efforts to unite with Torah and our fellow tzalmei E-lohim give us the strength to persevere through the present crises, emerging from these trying days in wisdom, strength and fellowship.[1] Rabbi Benjamin Blech: Perseverance: NASA’s Mars Project and Preparing for Shavuot, [2] Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb:  48 Kinyanei Torah, [3] R. Dr. Elie Munk, World of Prayer p. 162. [4] A.  Bereishit 1:26-27 And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱ-לֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱ-לֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃B.  Bereishit 9:5-6 But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man! Whoever sheds the blood of man, By man shall his blood be shed; For in His image Did God make man.וְאַ֨ךְ אֶת־דִּמְכֶ֤ם לְנַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם֙ אֶדְרֹ֔שׁ מִיַּ֥ד כָּל־חַיָּ֖ה אֶדְרְשֶׁ֑נּוּ וּמִיַּ֣ד הָֽאָדָ֗ם מִיַּד֙ אִ֣ישׁ אָחִ֔יו אֶדְרֹ֖שׁ אֶת־נֶ֥פֶשׁ הָֽאָדָֽם׃ שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱ-לֹהִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃C.   Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, The Trace of God The difference here is fundamental. Genesis 1 tells me that I am in the image of God. Genesis 9 tells me that the other person is in the image of God. Genesis 1 speaks about the dominance of Homo sapiens over the rest of creation. Genesis 9 speaks about the sanctity of life and the prohibition of murder. The first chapter tells us about the potential power of human beings, while the ninth chapter tells us about the moral limits of that power. We may not use it to deprive another person of life. This also explains why the keyword, repeated seven times, changes from “good” to “covenant.” When we call something good, we are speaking about how it is in itself. But when we speak of covenant, we are talking about relationships. A covenant is a moral bond between persons. What differentiates the world after the Flood from the world before is that the terms of the human condition have changed. God no longer expects people to be good because it is in their nature to be so. To the contrary, God now knows that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8: 21) – and this despite the fact that we were created in God’s image. The difference is that there is only one God. If there were only one human being, he or she might live at peace with the world. But we know that this could not be the case because “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are social animals. And when one human being thinks he or she has godlike powers vis-à-vis another human being, the result is violence. Therefore, thinking yourself godlike, if you are human, all-too-human, is very dangerous indeed. That is why, with one simple move, God transformed the terms of the equation. After the Flood, He taught Noach and through him all humanity, that we should think, not of ourselves but of the human other as in the image of God. That is the only way to save ourselves from violence and self-destruction. This really is a life-changing idea. It means that the greatest religious challenge is: Can I see God’s image in one who is not in my image – whose colour, class, culture or creed is different from mine?D.     Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:14 [Rabbi Akiva] would say: Beloved is man, since he is created in the image [of God]. A deeper love - it is revealed to him that he is created in the image, as it says (Genesis 9:6): "for in God's image He made man." * * * What does “a deeper love” mean? Why is such a revelation considered “a deeper love”? What are the implications for humanity?הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, חָבִיב אָדָם שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם. חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ שֶׁנִּבְרָא בְצֶלֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (בראשית ט) כִּי בְּצֶלֶם אֱ-לֹהִים עָשָׂה אֶת הָאָדָם.E.   R. Ovadia MiBartenura commentary on Avot 3:14 "A deeper love - it is revealed to him": Rambam explained: A deeper love did the Holy One, blessed be He, show to man, as he informed and said to him, "See, I have made you in the Divine image." Because one who benefits his friend and informs him of the good that he has done for him, shows a deeper love than if he had benefited him but it is not important [enough] in his eyes to inform him of the good that he has done for him. And it can be explained, "A deeper love - it is revealed to him;" a revealed and publicized love. As not only did the Omnipresent have a secret love for man but rather even a love that was revealed and known to all.חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ. רַמְבַּ"ם פֵּרֵשׁ, חִבָּה יְתֵרָה הֶרְאָה הקב"ה לָאָדָם שֶׁהוֹדִיעוֹ וְאָמַר לוֹ רְאֵה שֶׁבְּרָאתִיךָ בְּצֶלֶם, שֶׁהַמֵּטִיב לַחֲבֵרוֹ וּמוֹדִיעוֹ הַטּוֹבָה שֶׁעָשָׂה עִמּוֹ, מַרְאֶה חִבָּה יְתֵרָה יוֹתֵר מִשֶּׁאִלּוּ הֵטִיב עִמּוֹ וְאֵינוֹ חָשׁוּב בְּעֵינָיו לְהוֹדִיעוֹ הַטּוֹבָה שֶׁעָשָׂה עִמּוֹ. וְיֵשׁ לְפָרֵשׁ, חִבָּה יְתֵרָה נוֹדַעַת לוֹ, חִבָּה גְּלוּיָה וּמְפֻרְסֶמֶת, שֶׁלֹּא בִּלְבַד אַהֲבָה מְסֻתֶּרֶת הָיָה לוֹ ל-ה" בָּרוּךְ הוּא עִם הָאָדָם אֶלָּא אַף חִבָּה גְּלוּיָה וִידוּעָה לַכֹּל:F.   Talmud Yerushalmi, Nedarim 9:4 Rabbi Akiva taught: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19). This is the major principle of the Torah. Ben Azzai says “This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made He him” (Bereishit 5:1). This is an even greater principle.ר' עקיבה או' ואהבת לרעך כמוך זהו כלל גדול בתורה. בן עזאי או' 'זה ספר תולדות אדם' זה כלל גדול מזה .G.   Talmud Bavli, Sanhedrin 37a "Therefore the first human being, Adam, was created alone, to teach us that whoever destroys a single life, the Torah considers it as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a single life, the Torah considers it as if he saved an entire world. Furthermore, only one person, Adam, was created for the sake of peace among men, so that no one should say to his fellow, 'My father was greater than yours.... Also, man [was created singly] to show the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for if a man strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, made each man in the image of Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow.לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי ללמדך שכל המאבד נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא ומפני שלום הבריות שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו אבא גדול מאביך ... ולהגיד גדולתו של הקב"ה שאדם טובע כמה מטבעות בחותם אחד כולן דומין זה לזה ומלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה טבע כל אדם בחותמו של אדם הראשון ואין אחד מהן דומה לחבירו לפיכך כל אחד ואחד חייב לומר בשבילי נברא העולם...H.   Midrash Avot D'Rabbi Natan, 2:30 And all your actions should be for the sake of Heaven, like Hillel. When Hillel left for a place, they would ask him, “where are you going?” - “I am going to do a mitzvah.” - “What is the mitzvah?” - “I am going to the bathroom.” - “And is this a mitzvah?” - “Yes, so that the body is not damaged.” Or: - “I am going to the bathhouse.” - “And is this a mitzvah?” - “Yes, in order to clean the body. Know that if someone is appointed to polish and clean the statues of kings they are paid every year, and also respected among the great kings. So we, who are created in the image of God, how much more so?״וכל מעשיך יהיו לשם שמים כהלל. כשהיה הלל יוצא למקום היו אומרים לו להיכן אתה הולך. לעשות מצוה אני הולך. מה מצוה הלל. לבית הכסא אני הולך. וכי מצוה היא זו. אמר להן הן. בשביל שלא יתקלקל הגוף. איכן אתה הולך הלל. לעשות מצוה אני הולך מה מצוה הלל. לבית המרחץ אני הולך. וכי מצוה היא זו. אמר להן הן. בשביל לנקות את הגוף. תדע לך שהוא כן מה אם אוקיינות העומדות בפלטיות של מלכים הממונה עליהם להיות שפן וממרקן המלכות מעלה לו סלירא בכל שנה ושנה ולא עוד אלא שהוא מתגדל עם גדולי המלכות. אנו שנבראנו בצלם ודמות שנאמר כי בצלם א-להים עשה את האדם (בראשית ט' ו') על אחת כמה וכמהI.   Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars 10:12 And that that our Sages have commanded us to visit their sick and bury their dead along with Jewish dead, and sustain their poor along [but not alongside] with the poor of Israel is for the “sake of peace”, since it says, “G-d is good to all, and His mercies extend upon all his works” (Ps. 145:9) and it says, “her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Pvb. 3:17).אֲפִלּוּ הָעַכּוּ''ם צִוּוּ חֲכָמִים לְבַקֵּר חוֹלֵיהֶם וְלִקְבֹּר מֵתֵיהֶם עִם מֵתֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְפַרְנֵס עֲנִיֵּיהֶם בִּכְלַל עֲנִיֵּי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִפְּנֵי דַּרְכֵי שָׁלוֹם. הֲרֵי נֶאֱמַר (תהילים קמה:ט) "טוֹב ה' לַכּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל כָּל מַעֲשָׂיו". וְנֶאֱמַר (משלי ג:יז) "דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵי נֹעַם וְכָל נְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם":J.   Natan Sharansky with Shira Wolosky Weiss, Defending Identity: Its Indispensable Role in Protecting Democracy, pp.24-25. A few days before my arrest, an American tourist gave me a small book of Psalms from my wife, along with a letter she had written. In it Avital explained that she had carried the Psalms with her all year, during her travels around the world to fight for my freedom and for the freedom of Soviet Jewry. Now, she wrote, I feel that you should have it so I am sending it to you. Back then, my Hebrew was in no way adequate to read that book. After I was arrested, the book, along with all my other belongings, was confiscated. Then I began to think about the Psalms and about the note from Avital. The book soon took on an almost mythical meaning for me. I started to fight to have it returned, a battle that continued for three years. I finally received the book along with the news that my father had passed away. I tried to read it, but I still understood little. I had to work my way through it slowly, page by page, comparing different lines, trying to recognize patterns and connect words to each other. The first lines I understood were those of Psalm 23: “Although I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” I noticed that in the Psalms, the word fear kept appearing. On the one hand, fear was something to be overcome, such as not fearing evil. But as yirat hashem, or the fear of God, it had a positive connotation. It took me time to understand what this fear of God meant. My understanding was at first very vague and uncertain. But at some moment it occurred to me, seeing it many times, that this fear was connected not simply to God the Creator but to the image of God in which man was created. Mankind was created to be worthy of that image and to be true to it. This required me to go forward in an honest and direct way, without compromising principles. This fear, the fear of not being worthy of the divine image, not the fear of death, was what I was most afraid of in my interrogations with the KGB. I was afraid to lose the world of inner freedom I had found, to fail to stay true to my inner self, to no longer conduct myself in a way that was worthy of the divine image.K.   Rabbi Joseph Telushkin My father Shlomo Telushkin a”h (of blessed memory) worked in the 1930s for Rabbi Meir Berlin who headed the Religious Zionists, Mizrachi. Berlin learned English as an adult, and many times when someone learns a language as a second language they have a hard time learning the idioms. . . . So Rabbi Berlin was puzzled by an idiom that he heard Americans use, and it eventually came to infuriate him. And that was the expression “so and so is worth”. When he heard it said of a certain man, and this was during the Depression when people were far poorer, “So and so is worth $300,000” he didn’t think much of the man, so he said “Yes, that’s what he is worth and not one penny more.” The real question of worth though is: what are we worth to the people around us? What is our value as a human being? if we continue to associate worth only with money, we are setting ourselves up for misery. If you hear somebody say I am worth $10 million, what happens to that person when his investments collapse, and he’s then worth 2 million dollars, and then if he loses everything, what is he worth — nothing?L.   Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement” Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996) The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings. It also became clear to me that in regard to cruelties committed in the name of a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.M.   Joseph Dov Soloveitchik  Abraham’s Journey: Reflections on the Life of the Founding Patriarch, p. 203. Since we live among Gentiles, we share in the universal historical experience. The universal problems faced by humanity are also faced by the Jews. Famine, disease, war, oppression, materialism, atheism, permissiveness, pollution of the environment—all these are great problems which history has imposed not only on the general community but also on the covenantal community. We have no rights to tell mankind that these problems are exclusively theirs… the Jew is a member of humanity.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהַכֹּל נִהְיָה בִּדְבָרוֹ Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the universe, by Whose word all things came to be.

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