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Shabbat Bulletin - November 19, 2016

Highlights of this week's bulletin, “The Jolly Lodzer.”

  • Leonard Cohen remembered.

  • Susan Yellin interviews Freda Kon.

  • Prayer alone is not enough by Rabbi Jack Reimer

  • The Lodzer Brotherhood

HELP! - A former Lodzer Rabbi Needs Our Help

Rabbi Cahana_w275.jpg


On July 15, 2011, Rabbi Ronnie Cahana suffered a severe brain stem stroke that left him in an incomplete locked-in state.

Through a combination of blinking and mouthing Rabbi Cahana began to communicate weekly divrei torah and other messages, letter by letter, blink by blink. He has since regained his ability to speak and breathe on his own and makes slow but steady progress.

However, he has exhausted his insurance benefits and needs help to pay for his much needed therapy. To contribute to this very important mitzvah, please go to

D’VAR TORAH - The tale of the two Abrahms

When playing a card game, good players will try to analyze the cards that have been played in order to discover the cards that have not been played, the unplayed ones, in order to know their next moves.

Similarly in the U.S. Presidential elections, all the pollsters looked at the facts before them to conclude that Clinton would win. She didn’t win. What facts didn’t they see, facts that swung the election decisively to Trump?

Abraham Wald's Work on Aircraft Survivability - Seeing is Disbelieving


The Rabbi spoke of Abraham Wald who worked on determining the amount of armour required to protect planes during the second world war. His assistants examined the incoming fighter planes to see where the flack had hit the planes, and how much damage it had caused, in order to determine where greater protection was needed. One of the problems was that too much armour would make the planes too heavy/cumbersome and too little armour would not provide enough protection.

His job was to determine the required thickness and positioning of the protective metal coverings. In examining the planes that landed his assistants determined that most of the damage was done to the centre and rear of the planes, with little damage to the front engine area. The best solution was to beef up the protection in the damages areas, that is the center and rear of the planes - or was it? What is wrong with the solution?

The problem with the solution in all cases is that people tend to look at what is before them to solve a problem, not to look for what is missing. This is a problem in interpreting Torah, as well as life’s problems. We must look for the hidden factors, those missing, unspoken or unseen elements that enable us to understand the real cause of a problem.

Now back to our planes. The missing factor was that the planes that returned safely were damaged in the centre and rear areas. The planes that were hit in the front engine area didn’t return. Therefore it was the engine area, not the areas where there was the most damage to the returning planes, that needed the most protective coverings.


In Torah and in life we must look for the missing pieces or factors as well as analyzing the facts presented to us./ju


Blame and Shame - Abraham leaves the comfort of his home

Why did Abraham risk leaving the holy land, (where god told him to dwell,) for Egypt?  Abraham risked being blamed for anything and everything that could go wrong. Why risk change, when the possibility of reward was so tenuous?

When things go badly, people want to assign blame

The right will tap into the fear of the masses, feed their anxiety, then ride along with the momentum, until they can assign blame to anyone other than themselves. The masses then follow like sheep to their slaughter.

The masses tend to believe that they didn’t fail because of any fault or shortcoming of their own -- the party to blame is right in front of their noses, and until they throw those doppelgangers out, their unstoppable evil will permeate their illusion/delusion of heaven on earth.

The left, rather than blame, will shame

Sarah wants to get rid of her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, for she bears Abraham’s child. Sarah doesn’t blame herself for gifting Hagar to Abraham as his concubine. Instead, the jealous Sarah turns to her husband, “Shame on you. It’s all your fault. You allowed her to behave as she did and disgrace me in the process. Do the right thing and get rid of her!”

(Reader’s Digest version)

“No dear.”

Sarah dies. Abraham takes Hagar as his wife and changes her name to Keturah.

Meanwhile back to hell on earth

If you are in the Hillary camp, you should now realize that all the problems in the country are your own fault.


A recipe for disaster

in a polarized country.

When one party, (doesn’t matter which one,) tries to redefine, “We the people.” The ideas of the ruling class comes to be seen as the norm. The ideas are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only benefiting the ruling class. Being part of the ruling class becomes the prize, to be won at all cost. The simmering pot eventually boils over.

Welcome to America 2016

The country scratches their heads

What happened?

Did we miss something?

Whether it’s plane survival rates or the upset win of an underdog, now President Elect Trump.

We see what’s in front of us. We don’t see the missing bullet holes.

When we consider a probability to be small enough, we disregard it all together. The pundits for the most part called the election wrong. Some things they didn’t want to see and some things were hiding in plain sight.

Moving Forward - a lesson in perception

Try to see a little bit beyond the nose on your face and try not to jump to conclusions.

Don’t blame the easiest target just because they are there. Don’t ignore those inconvenient truths.

Don’t shame people just because they are willing and open to listen to what we have to say.

Do listen to the people that we neither agree with, nor accept. Do listen to those that are not saying.


Shavua Tov  (RE inspired)

The Lodzer Music Festival.

Hope to see you all this week on Sunday, November 20 at 7 PM.

Jewish Music of The Middle East (part one) presented by Cantor Aaron Bensoussan


The Jewish people and their music have their roots in the Middle East, specifically in the land of Israel, and their branches everywhere. They have lived, for over 2000 years, amongst many cultures, both Eastern and Western - from Iran to Israel, to the Western Mediterranean and North Africa, to Europe, and most recently, the Americas.

Thus, there is a unique property of Jewish music that defies geographical location. This property can be called inter-cultural synthesis.

For millennia, Jews have been global wanderers; from the beginning of the common era, about 2000 years ago, until quite recently, they have lived amidst many cultures not their own. To preserve their identity, in a sea of foreign culture, Jewish people have always deemed it wiser to incorporate foreign cultural elements into the Jewish mainstream than to resist all outer influence absolutely.

Thus, to a large degree, Jewish Music is a cross-cultural phenomenon, the music of the wanderer. Undoubtedly, certain Jewish ritual musical forms have their sources in antiquity, but the idea of creative adaptation has been a hallmark of Jewish musical life for a very long time; thus, Jewish Music has many faces. (source)

Check out the videos from our “Sundays at 7” series on YouTube

  1. The History of Klezmer Music - Raisa Orshansky and Viktor Kotov

  1. Where Does that Tune Come From? - Charles Heller

  1. The Songs of the Yiddish Theatre - Faye Kellerstein

  1. Jewish Music of North Africa - Cantor Aaron Bensoussan

  1. Jewish Role in Jazz/Israeli Jazz Scene - Reuven Grajner

  • (When it becomes available.)

  1. The Golden Age of Cantorial Music - Cantor David Nemtzov

  • (When it becomes available.)

Leonard Cohen - Hineni


Leonard Cohen was very good friends with my brother, Dan.
They both went to the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Montreal, and to Westmount Junior and Senior high schools. As they were approximately the same age, they had the same classes. They were both on the junior high school student executive, and both were cub scout leaders for the younger kids, including me, at the synagogue.
As I result, Leonard, or Lenny as he then was, spent a considerable amount
of time at our home and I got to know him reasonably well, although he was 4 years older than me.

The best story that I remember is that my brother Dan and Leonard, in their teens at the time, were both councillors at Sunshine Camp, a Jewish-Communist summer camp in the Laurentians. In the evenings they would sit around the campfire singing communist songs. As a result of their campfire experience Leonard became a singer and my brother became an economist - or so the story goes.

I came across this picture when I was cleaning house a few years ago. Obviously they were both also in the McGill-Hillel debating club.
Dan Usher and Leonard Cohen - debating_w600.jpg
Dan obviously never achieved Leonard’s fame. His career included teaching economics at Queen’s University for 40 years and publishing about 10 books on economics.

I’m truly saddened by his passing, Jonathan…


It goes like this: the fourth, the fifth / the minor fall, the major lift.

But you don't really care for music, do you?


Happy Birthdays to:

Nov. 12  Eytan Broder
Nov. 12  Jim Rubin
Nov. 13  Ryan Rotstein
Nov. 14  Esther Kaufman
Nov. 16  Reisa Grunberg
Nov. 16  Lorraine Landis
Nov. 16  Elaine Taran
Nov. 17  Herman Auslander
Nov. 17  Esther Steiman
Nov. 18  Cathy Zeldin

Nov. 21  David Peters
Nov. 23  Nicole Anidjar
Nov. 24  Howard Iseman


Nov. 13  Mark & Anita Johnson
Nov. 17  Victor & Malka Arluk


Nov. 13  Morris Super, father of Dora Usher
Nov. 16  Rose Spitzen, mother of Irving

Nov. 19  Jack Shievitz, father of Alan
Nov. 20  Abraham Ikka, father of Leon
Nov. 22  Genia Giskina, mother of Mary Gelman
Nov. 24  Chaya Gula, grandmother of Morry Nosak
Nov. 25  Chaim Senior, husband of Sarah

Rabbi Jack Reimer - Prayer alone is not enough

We cannot merely pray to you, O G-d, to end war;
For we know that You have made the world in a way
That one must find one's own path to peace.
Within himself and with his neighbor.

We cannot merely pray to You, O G-d, to end starvation;
For You have already given us the resources
With which to feed the entire world,
If we would only use them wisely.

We cannot merely pray to You, O G-d, to root out prejudice;
For You have already given us eyes
With which to see the good in all people,
If we would only use them rightly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O G-d, to end despair,
For You have already given us the power
To clear away slums and to give hope,
If we would only use our power justly.

We cannot merely pray to You, O G-d, to end disease;
For You have already given us great minds
With which to search out cures and healing,
If we would only use them constructively.

Therefore we pray to You instead, O G-d,
For strength, determination and willpower,
To do instead of just pray,
To become instead of merely to wish.

For Your sake and for ours, speedily and soon,
That our land and world may be safe,
And that our lives may be blessed.

May the words that we pray, and the deeds that we do.
Be acceptable before You, O Lord,
Our Rock and Our Redeemer.


The new Lodzer tradition moving forward, replaces pg. 374 of the Amida, (written by the sages after the destruction of the temple, which deals with the sacrificial offering,) with the reading of “Prayer alone is not enough,” by Rabbi Jack Reimer.



November 16

7:30-8:30 pm



Parsha of The Week

with Judy Hazan

Join this lively group every Wednesday night at 7:30 PM at The Lodzer where we study the week’s sedra together.

Classes are informal and no prior knowledge or preparation is required.

The purpose of the class is to learn the story of the parsha, determine its most important elements and tie its morals and lessons into our daily lives.

This is open to the public and there is no cost.

For more information contact:

Judy Hazan 416-704-1693


November 19

18 Heshvan



9:12 AM

Led by

Frank Steiman

Please help us out by coming early…

We need a minyan to start!


9:30 AM


This week’s kiddush

is sponsored by

Betty Siegel-Snyder

for her 89th Birthday

Please welcome

our newest members

from Shaar Shalom

Torah Times

Torah Reading: Triennial Year 1

Parashat: Vayera:

          Genesis 18:1 - 22:24

1: 18:1-5 (pg. 63)
2: 18:6-8
3: 18:9-14
4: 18:15-21
5: 18:22-26
6: 18:27-30
7: 18:31-33
maftir: 18:31-33

Haftarah for Ashkenazim:

II Kings 4:1 - 4:37 (Pg. 76)

Candle Lighting: 4:30 p.m. – Friday

Havdalah: 5:37 p.m. – Saturday



November 20

7 PM




12 Heaton St.




Jewish Music of The Middle East:

Part One.

Presentation by:

Cantor Aaron Bensoussan


November 21

7:30 PM

4700 Bathurst St

National Council of Jewish Women Toronto



The National Council of Jewish Women Toronto and Project Abraham of the Mozuud Freedom Foundation present 'A Call to Action' featuring Geoffrey Clarifield, executive director of Mozuud, and Mirza Ismail, the founder and chair of the Yazidi Human Rights Org. Int. They will speak about the Yazidi genocide and how people can make a difference.  All are welcome to attend.
(Flyers are available outside the Lodzer Sanctuary)


November 26

25 Heshvan



9:12 AM

Led by

Frank Steiman

Please help us out by coming early…

We need a minyan to start!


9:30 AM


Prayer is meant to be a powerful, relevant and meaningful experience.

Five minutes of prayer said with understanding, feeling, and a personal connection to the words and their significance means far more than five hours of lip service.

“Unfulfilled expectations lead to self-imposed frustrations.” Therefore, don’t expect to be “moved” by every prayer or to follow along with the entire service.


November 27

7 PM




12 Heaton St.


All classes are on Sunday at 7 pm:

Free of charge.

Donations are welcome.

Refreshments will be served following

each presentation.

This project is funded

in part by the

Government of Canada


Jewish Music of Eastern Europe.

Presentation by:

Raisa Orshansky & Viktor Kotov



December 4

7 PM




12 Heaton St.




Jewish Music of The Middle East:

Part Two.

Presentation by:

Cantor Aaron Bensoussan


December 7

Early bird




the Baltic States

With Rabbi Eli

August 7-16, 2017

Full details at


Seize the opportunity!

Early bird discount

ends today.



December 8

7:30 PM


Book Chat

with Cathy Zeldin

Black Widow-Daniel Silva_w200.jpg

A network of terror.
A web of deceit.
A deadly game of vengeance.

Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon is poised to become the chief of Israel’s secret intelligence service. But on the eve of his promotion, events conspire to lure him into the field for one final operation. ISIS has detonated a massive bomb in the Marais district of Paris, and a desperate French government wants Gabriel to eliminate the man responsible before he can strike again.


December 16

6:15 PM






Members $35

Member’s Children $15

(Under 5 $5)

Non-Members $45

Non-Member’s Children $20

(under 5 $5)

Bring Your Own Kosher Wine (unopened bottles only)


December 18

7 PM




12 Heaton St.




Israeli Music.

Presentation by:

Cantor David Edwards


January 19

7:30 PM


Book Chat

with Cathy Zeldin

Telling the tale

of a gay,




This book was shortlisted for the recently awarded Giller Prize, so you may want to put it on hold at the library now as it is very popular.


April 11

Time TBA



Passover Seder
2nd Seder

Full Kosher Dinner
Full Seder Service
$75 per person

Limited Seats Available.

Reserve NOW. 416-636-6665

Memories of our survivors - Freda Kon - As told to Susan Yellin

As Holocaust Education Week ends, it’s important to remember that the Lodzer was built by survivors of the Shoah. Many are no longer with us. But here is the story of one of them, Freda Kon, who is alive and well and living in Toronto.20161104_121440_Lodzer_FredaKon_600.jpg

In 1944, Freda Kon made a promise: a vow she has steadfastly kept all these years.

At the time, Freda (Franka) Szpigiel was 22, surviving in the hell that was the Auschwitz concentration camp after first being rounded up with her family in Lodz and then sent to a number of other detention camps.

At Auschwitz an unknown woman approached her, showed the numbers on her arm to Freda and told her: “Maybe you are going to live through the war. Maybe. Our number indicates that we are going to the crematorium soon. But you, you should tell the world what happened here because otherwise nobody will know about it.”

Since that day, Freda has told her story a number of times, including as part of noted director Steven Spielberg’s Film and Video Archive of the Shoah.  But her account bears repeating because it speaks to the inner strength of many Jews during the Second World War who endured incessant beatings, slave labour, starvation and the loss of dozens of friends and family.

Freda tells of how she, her mother and sister managed to survive after German troops rolled into Lodz in 1940 when it was closed off as a ghetto for Jews. Even walking around the ghetto was difficult, like the time a German guard stopped her suddenly and forced her to wash toilets and floors in a nearby theatre, not knowing what would happen to her afterwards.

Before they closed the ghetto, German troops rounded up Jewish men, including Freda’s father, and took them to a field where horses were running free. The soldiers put the men on the horses then whipped both man and animal. Many fell off and were trampled under horses’ hooves. But Freda’s father, Yechiel, had come from a small town and was used to riding horses. He survived -- this time.  

Starvation was constant. “One night we heard there was a bakery that was selling bread,” she says. “Everybody in the family stayed for two hours each in the middle of the night to be there when the bakery opened. When it did open, the owners and others pointed to the Jews, who were then pulled out of the line. A boy came to me and pointing at me he said in Polish: you are a Jew. I swore at him so he let me go and I got the bread.”

When the ghetto was created, people started organizing the area into a mini-city – with a hospital, stores and workplaces.

Freda got a job in a kitchen set up for professionals, like doctors and lawyers. It was there at the age of 17 that she met Lolek Kon, the love of her life and the man who would one day be her husband.

Lolek eventually went to Freda’s father and told him that he wanted to marry his daughter, but her father told him war was not a good time to get married.

They left Lodz suddenly in 1944, when German soldiers packed the residents of the ghetto 80 people to a train car, gave them no food or water and sent them on to Auschwitz.

When they arrived, the men and women were separated.  Some were immediately led away to the camp’s notorious gas chambers, where about 1.1 million people died during the war. “Lolek’s mother put her arm around my shoulder and said: ‘Don’t cry. You will be with Lolek again.’  And that was the last word we heard her speak.”

Others were told they were going to get a shower and were told to strip, shaved and forced to sit naked on the floor for hours. Some, like Freda, her mother and her sister, were then told to get up and leave and were given clothes.

Every day the only nourishment was a bowl of thin soup and a piece of bread no bigger than a fist, says Freda. Her family survived because her mother, Bluma, hid all the bread and allotted a certain amount to the three of them every day.  

From Auschwitz the three women were sent to Stuffhof and forced on a death march, unbeknownst to them that the war was coming to an end.

They walked for eight days in ankle-deep snow, sleeping at night in barns where the horses, cows and pigs let them use their bodies to warm up the prisoners’ hands and feet. “Til today I remember those animals and I love them for it.”

At one point, Freda’s mother suddenly stopped and said she was not going another step, even while a soldier threatened to shoot them.  Oddly enough, when they refused to budge, the soldier left.

The next morning, they made their way to city hall and stayed in the area until they were liberated by the Russians.

One day, a Russian soldier came up to them and asked them who they were. “We’re Jews,” Freda said. “Impossible,” said the soldier. “All the Jews are dead.” Then he made her write down something in Yiddish and told them he was sending the note to his parents to prove to them amidst all the death, some Jews still remained alive. The soldier, of course, was Jewish.   

Freda, her mother and sister slowly travelled back to Lodz, honouring a pact they had all made before the war to go back to their hometown if they survived.

When they arrived, they discovered their home had been taken over by someone else who wasn’t about to let Freda and her family back in – a situation that befell many survivors.

The trio went to a registration centre where the Jews entered their names to let other surviving family members know they had made it through the war. Freda, who was hired on at the centre, would come home to her waiting mother every day with the sombre news that no one they knew had made it back. She said to her mother, “we have to forget it.”

A week later, May 24, she had just come home from work when she heard someone banging on the door. “I ran to the door and I opened it and standing there was my fiancé,” she says, still smiling at the memory. “He came in and told us that my brother was alive, that his father was alive, but that my father perished. Lolek knew he had to come back that day because it was my birthday because if there was any day that I would be back, it would be then.”


The two married on October 6, 1945. They spent three more years in Poland, where they had their daughter Lily. Two years, later the family all went to Israel where they spent two more years, stopped in France to visit relatives and finally to Canada.

When in Toronto, word spread that Lodz survivors often congregated at Blady’s butcher shop on College Street, where Freda says a bowl of hot soup was ready for every newcomer.

It was here that the first seeds of the Lodzer Mutual Society were planted, a group that later bought the property on Heaton Street in North York where the Lodzer Centre Congregation still stands.

And it is at the shul where you will occasionally find Freda Kon, a vibrant 94 years old, still holding fast to her 72-year-old promise.

Siman Tov U'Mazal Tov - The Lodzer Brotherhood

Jonathan Usher and Arthur Zins have resurrected the Lodzer brotherhood.

- Our mission is to make walking and Judaism an important part of our healthy lifestyle.
- Come join us, most days, Monday to Friday, during the cold season, on the walking track at Edithvale Community Centre at 7 AM.
- Then it's over to the Lodzer for tea and CP24 before morning minyan at 9 AM, led by Arthur Zins. An always good kiddush breakfast follows.
- Wednesdays, we'll brave the elements as long as we're able and walk in Earl Bales park following the Kiddush breakfast.  (bring your camera)

- Reminder: The Betel Centre conducts free, public walks in their area on Tuesday and Thursdays at 10 AM until the weather turns.

Show up for morning minyan and we'll be happy to answer any questions you may have. (Arthur)


Forget the US Election!

2016 is on Course to Be Hottest Year Ever Recorded


Pirke Avoth Perek 3
This week we have notes on three different tannas whose sayings  are quoted in Perke Avoth

Rabbi Halafta ben Dosa of K’lar Hannah was a tanna of the 5th generation, who lived in the latter half of the second century CE. Very little is known about him. In our versions of Avoth he is called ben Dosa (the son of Dosa), but in the commentary of Mahzor Vitry (ascribed to a pupil of Rashi) these words do not appear, so that even his father’s name is not altogether certain. He was apparently a pupil of Rabbi Meir, for the Talmud record an important law about the validity of conditions affecting obligations, which he gave in Rabbi Meir’s name. Otherwise, he is  mentioned only once more in Talmudic literature: in Tosefta he reports two differing views on a point of law by the son and daughter of Rabbi Hananya ben T’radyon.  (see under the vignette of Rabbi Hananya ben T’rayyon that his daughter B’rur’yah was learned and became the wife of Rabbi Meir.  

Rabbi Elazar ben Judah of Betrotha was a tanna of the third generation, in the first half of the second century CE. He was a disciple of Rabbi Joshua ben Hannah, in whose name he transmits four rulings, and a contemporary of Rabbi Akiba, with whom he differed. Apparently he studied and flourished in Yavneh.

As recounted in this perek, he was known to be extremely charitable, often giving so whole-heartedly and extravagantly as to leave himself penniless. For this reason the charity collectors would try to avoid him.

One biographer of the Sages surmises that Rabbi Simeon ben Elazar, a noted tanna of the 2nd-3rd centuries who was an important pupil of Rabbi Meir, was this Sages’s son.

Rabbi Jacob ben Korsah , or Korshai (both of which most likely mean ‘of Korsha’) was a mid-second century tanna of the fourth generation,  a contemporary of Rabbai Gamaliel 2 , whom he once befriended against opposing colleagues. On his mother’s side he was a grandson of Elisa ben Abuyah (Aher) . Like his maternal grandfather, this sage once noticed that a dutiful son obeying his father climbed a tree to acquire some your birds, fledglings. In accordance with Scripture’s command, he first sent the mother bird away. Thus he fulfilled the two mizvoth for which the Torah explicitly promises ‘long life’:  respect for parents, and sending off the mother bird. And yet  as the son began to climb down, he fell to his death. Rabbi Jacob’s faith was undisturbed: “In this world” he said, ; there is no reward for good deeds; the promised reward are given in the world which is all good and immeasurably long’. Many decades later, a babylonian Zamora commented: ‘had Aher interpreted those promises of [of scripture] as his daughter’s son did, he would not have become a sinner. In a later chapter of Avoth, Rabbi Jacob has more to say about the supreme importance of the hereafter, the world-to-come.

At Usha, where rabbi Jacob was a member of the Sanhedrin (great court) , Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel chose him as tutor for his son, the future Rabbi Judah haNasi, From what we know of Rabbi Judah haNasi, this would be a clear indication of Rabbi Jacob’s mastery of Oral Torah, for he must have laid the groundwork on which Rabbi Judah later relied in redacting the Mishnah.

Another striking maxim of the Sage is: ‘Whoever has no wife, lives without goodness, without help, without joy, blessing, or atonement.’

Quotes of the Week

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
Oscar Wilde

Some people’s idea of free speech

is that they are free to say whatever they like,

but if anyone says anything back,

that is an outrage.

Winston Churchill

Haimishe Humour - “We always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.”

Creation:  On the sixth day G-d turned to the angel Gabriel and said, "Today I am going to create a land called Israel. It will be a land of outstanding natural beauty. It will have rolling hills and mountains full of goats and eagles, a beautiful, sparkling, clear ocean full of sea life and high cliffs overlooking white sandy beaches." G-d continued, "And I shall make the land rich in oil to allow the inhabitants to prosper. I shall call these inhabitants "Jews" and they shall be known as the most friendly people on the earth." "But," asked Gabriel, "Don't you think you're being too generous to these Jews?" "Not really," replied G-d, "just wait and see the neighbours I am going to give them."

Jewish Engagement:  Ruth and Golda were walking along Hendon High Street. Ruth says, "My son Irving is getting married. He tells me he is engaged to a wonderful girl, but... he thinks she may have a disease called herpes. Golda says, "Do you have any idea what this herpes is, and can he catch it?" Ruth replies, "No, but I am just so thrilled to hear about Irving's engagement - it's time he settled down. As far as the herpes goes...who knows?" "Well," says Golda, "I have a very good medical dictionary at home. I'll look it up and call you." So Golda goes home, looks it up, and calls Ruth. "Ruth, I found it. Not to worry. It says herpes is a disease of the gentiles."

Right To Life: There is a big controversy on the Jewish view of when life begins. In Jewish tradition, the fetus is not considered viable until it graduates from medical school.


Ultimate Values and the Akedah Story


Can there be anything left to say about the Akedah, perhaps the most discussed and analyzed story in the Torah? Clearly if this were simply the story of an old man who hears voices and travels to a nearby mountain with his son in order to kill him there, and who, at the last moment, sees a ram and kills it instead, we would not still be fascinated talking about the story more than two millennia later. No, this is an allegory. . . and therein lies it survival and its power, and our task is to find meaning in the story for ourselves and for our lives.
My initial reaction after hearing the story was, “So what else is new?” Parents often sacrifice their children in all kinds of ways. Many in the class that entered medical school with me were people whose talents and desires drew them in different directions and who were there at their parents’ insistence. It was not so long ago that children were required to take over family businesses or enter loveless marriages. What about war? Wars are fought by the young and when countries go to war, they are saying, “There are values we hold strongly enough to let our children die for.” When the “The Greatest Generation” went off to fight World War II, their parents sent them with anxiety but also with pride and the conviction that they were doing the right, the moral, the correct thing. Think of our brothers and sisters in Israel whose children are regularly put in harm’s way to preserve values that provide a life of meaning. Of course no one wants their children to die, but the ideal of preserving a secure Jewish state is just that important.
For all the difficulty we, in this day and age, have with Abraham—why did he not simply refuse? Why did he not at least argue with G-d?—for our ancestors, the issue was not that G-d asked too much, but that Abraham did not do enough. The Talmud (BT Gittin 57b) relates the story of a woman whose seven sons were all martyred, tortured to death in front of her. It isa paradigm of loving acceptance and suffering, a story of mourning and rejoicing, mourning because it was decreed that her sons be slain and rejoicing because through their deaths Heaven’s glory was sanctified. A heroine and paragon of virtue, she says: “Go and tell Father Abram: Let not your heart swell with pride! You built one altar but I have built seven altars and on them have offered up my seven sons. What is more: Yours was a trial; mine is accomplished fact.” (Shalom Spiegel, The Last Trial, 15)
In some midrashim, Abraham’s failure to carry out G-d’s demand was not for lack of trying. In one, when the angel’s tears dissolve his dagger, he asks if instead he can strangle him, or burn him, or cut him to pieces—that is why the Torah says, “Do not put forth your hand to him or do anything [else] to him.” In another, Abraham actually does stab and kill Isaac, who is revived, whereupon Abraham stabs him again—that is why the angel has to call out to him twice.
During the crusades, there were numerous stories of men slaughtering their wives and children before killing themselves, and of mothers telling their children to hold still so the knife wouldn’t slip. For Jews in the rabbinic period and the Middle Ages, “their sufferings and sacrifices exceeded by far everything endured by the original Akedah’s father and son.” (Spiegel, 21) They were sympathetic mainly to Abraham’s being thwarted from demonstrating his devotion to G-d.
Most modern commentaries tend to be critical of Abraham, but a recent popular film that I believe is a midrash on the Akedah story takes a different view. Footnote, an Israeli film that won Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2011 and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Foreign film, is about an Israeli family—the father and son both Talmud scholars at Hebrew University. The father does esoteric philological research, very much out of fashion in contemporary academia. The son’s research is much more modern and he is the more well-known of the two. The father does not have much regard for the kind of scholarly work the son does. One day, the father receives a call informing him that he has won the prestigious Israel Prize. He and his family feel he should have received it years ago and the only reason he has not is the personal animus of the head of the Israel Prize committee. Once it is announced, he becomes a minor celebrity. In a television interview, he ridicules the type of research his son does and in effect, throws his son under the academic bus. Ironically, the call he received was an error.
The committee had actually awarded the Prize to the son. They inform the son, but he says that since his father has been told he won the Prize, and it has been announced publicly, it must not be retracted. It would be too devastating to the father who feels that his life’s work has at last been vindicated. The committee agrees to let the award stand with two provisos. The son must write the citation given with the prize and must agree never to allow himself to be considered for the Israel Prize. The son agrees, a great personal sacrifice. In preparing the citation, the son reluctantly comes to the conclusion that his father’s work, of which he had been so proud, was really not so great or important, and that the prize had not been withheld because of any personal vendetta on anyone’s part. Soon after preparing the citation, he tells his mother what happened, and she silently acquiesces, just as we may presume that Sarah does in the Akedah story. Meanwhile the father, the great philologist, reading the citation that will accompany the presentation of the prize, figures out that it was written by his son and realizes what happened. He knows but does not say anything to anyone and participates in the ceremony where he receives the Prize. It is never discussed, but all three, the father, the mother, and the son, know what happened, and are all complicit in the sacrifice of the son.
I suggest the same is true of all three protagonists in the Akedah story. Abraham acquiesces to G-d without protest, Isaac goes along with his father with full knowledge of what is about to happen, and Sarah gives her silent assent. Sarah and Abraham have been on this journey together since Lekh Lekha, since they were told to leave their homeland to establish a new world order. And they have inculcated this value in their son. Sacrifices are made along the way, of which theAkedah is the ultimate. Clearly the story rejects the notion of actual human sacrifice, which distinguished Israelite religion from its pagan contemporaries, and this rejection continues to be a major trope in Jewish thought. Nevertheless, the actions of Abraham and the others in the story were less hard to understand and relate to for Jews in former times.
For those of us in the so-called “Me Generation,” the idea of ultimate values that demand and justify ultimate sacrifice are much harder to accept. This theme plays out prominently during theyamim nora’im when we retell not only the story of the Akedah, but of Hagar and Ishmael being banished to the wilderness and their probable deaths, of Hannah giving up the child she was so desperate for, and of Jewish martyrs through the ages.
The Akedah story demands we grapple with the question: What values do we hold dear enough that we would be willing to sacrifice everything? It forces us to live with the tension between our certainty of the answer and our awareness of our own fallibility.


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