“Parsha and Purpose” – Shemini 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Lonely Man of Faith: Comfort and Guidance from Rav Soloveitchik in the Age of Corona”

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The Lonely Man of Faith: Comfort and Guidance from Rav Soloveitchik in the Age of Corona

Twenty-seven years ago, one of the towering figures of modern Jewish history was taken from us: Rabbi Yosef Dov haLevi Soloveitchik – “the Rav”.

In the early 1960’s, Rabbi Soloveitchik composed an important article, The Lonely Man of Faith, which is so relevant to us in our time.

Rabbi Soloveitchik composed this article against the following backdrop: he was feeling the fragility of life – he was suffering from cancer. As he said, “I suddenly ceased to be immortal; I became a mortal being.”

It was also at a time in which he was privileged to be asked, after the passing of Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, to consider being the next Israeli Chief Rabbi; the only person living outside of the State of Israel who was asked to think about being a candidate for the Chief Rabbi of Medinat Yisrael.

It was on the backdrop of the Cold War, where President Kennedy announced, in May of 1961,that he would put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.

During that time, during all of these events, the Rav developed and published the ideas that are found in The Lonely Man of Faith.

He elaborates in The Lonely Man of Faith on the first two chapters of Bereshit (Genesis), focusing on the alleged contradiction between the two stories of creation: 

In Chapter One, Adam and Chava are created at the same time: Zachar u’Nekeva Bara Otam. They are given the mandate, mil’u et ha’aretz, to fill the land, ve’chivshu’ha, to have dominion over it. And in that chapter, God the Creator, haKadosh Baruch Hu, is called Elokim – the God of Strength.

In Chapter Two, Adam and Chava are not created simultaneously, but rather as an extension of one another. And the creation of Adam and Chava in the second chapter, in Perek Bet, is much more intimate. Vayitzar Ado’shem Elokim et haAdam: God crafts Adam from the earth of the ground, Vayipach be’apav nishmat chayyim – and He breathes life into him.  Chava is created as an extension of Adam in this chapter, and the name of God that is used is Yud-K-Vav-K: the God of Intimacy. 

Adam and Chava are not co-workers, but rather, they are an extension of one another. They are soulmates,  part of a covenantal community.

And the responsibility of Adam and Chava in Chapter Two is le’avda u’le’shamra: they are to watch over the world, not conquer it; they are to reflect on the world, get to know it, and because they get to know the world, they have the privilege of naming the world’s creatures.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained that there is not actually a conflict between these two chapters, but rather they represent two paradigms of human existence. Our existence oscillates between these two paradigms, and together they comprise the human experience.

So relevant in our day and age. Adam One is responsible for conquering the world, and today we call on that Adam One to harness all of our intellect, all of our compassion as majestic men and women, to find a cure, heal the sick, feed the unemployed. 

We’re so privileged to be able to say thank you to all the healthcare workers who are indeed acting as Adam One, making a difference to defeat COVID-19, and we cannot shrink from that responsibility.

But at the same time that we’re Adam One, we’re also feeling very fragile, very uncertain and very alone.

Nonetheless, that loneliness should not allow us to feel depressed. In that loneliness, yes, we find fragility, but in that fragility we can also find God. We can search for that relationship. As accomplished as Adam One is, it’s not the whole story.  Kevodo Malei Olam: God’s presence is all over the world; but sometimes, in times like this, Ayei Makom Kevodo: we search for Him. 

And in those moments of being fragile – hard to explain from an intellectual perspective, but I think we’ve all felt it – in those moments of feeling alone, we can feel God’s hand on our frail shoulder.

The paradigm of Adam Two is a relationship that helps us build the spiritual antibodies we need to defeat this disease at a time when we feel so fragile. 

This essay of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s, The Lonely Man of Faith, serves as a deeply-needed road map to help give us guidance at a time in which we feel that the world is spinning beyond our control and comprehension.

It is a message that is as clear today as it was over 50 years ago, when the words were first written. 

May Rabbi Soloveitchik, and may all of our efforts, be a Melitz Yosher, as we pray for the speedily-to-be-returned days of happiness and health, for all humanity.

Shabbat Shalom.

Judaism through Zoom: Emissaries in the Diaspora Prepare for Pesach Straus-Amiel emissaries to Jewish congregations throughout the world cope with current challenges and struggle to continue Jewish life even during the Corona epidemic Orly Harrari | April 8, 2020 Candle-lighting through Zoom, distributing mezuzot to homes of community members, and online lessons in preparation for …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Pesach 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Our Challenging Pesach:
The Circuitous Route to Redemption”

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Our Challenging Pesach: The Circuitous Route to Redemption

The Jerusalem Talmud asks a question that we all are familiar with: Minayin l’Arba Kosot?  How do we know that there are four cups of wine on the Seder night? 

The Jerusalem Talmud gives the following answer: “ke’neged arba Geulot,”  to mark the ‘four redemptions’ that happen to the Jewish people in Egypt: v’hotzeiti, ve’hitzalti, ve’ga’alti, ve’lakachti (I will take you out, save you, redeem you, take you). That God slowly takes us out of Egypt in four linear, progressive steps.

But the Jerusalem Talmud gives three other answers as well. Rabbi Levi says, ke’neged arba malchuyot – because of the four diaspora experiences that we’ll have, and the fact that God will redeem us from those diaspora experiences.

“VeRabbanan amri” – and the Rabbis say – “ke’neged dalet kosot shel poraniyot,” because of the four types of punishments that God will visit on the nations of the world, because they abused us during the diaspora experience.

But in addition to these explanations there’s one more which seems somewhat challenging. And that’s the answer of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, Do you know why we have four cups of wine on Pesach night? “Ke’neged arba kosot shel Par’o,” because of the four cups of wine that are discussed in the dialogue and in the experience between Pharaoh and Joseph. 

Now, I understand all the other reasons given by the Jerusalem Talmud. Four redemptions that happened in Egypt, or, a larger narrative, of the redemptions of the Jewish people from the entire diaspora experience. After all, the Haggada doesn’t just focus on the Egyptian experience; the second half of the Haggada, the post-meal Haggada, focuses on the final redemption of the Jewish people. 

I also understand the comment that suggests that it’s focusing on the four statements of punishment that God says he will visit on all of those who abused us.

But what exactly is the connection between the redemptive experiences and the whole saga of Joseph and Pharaoh, and their four cups of wine? 

Indeed, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi is trying to teach us another paradigm of redemption, one that is so relevant to us in this time. And that is that there’s another story of redemption, a story of redemption in which the path of redemption is not linear but rather circuitous. A story that has its ups and downs; a story of the Joseph saga. Where he’s given a garment by his father to show his stature. But the minute that he gets that garment, then there’s trouble. He is sold into slavery and he begins to live a life of anonymity. Until then, he is chosen by the Egyptian minister Potiphar, to be in charge of his home, only to be in trouble with Potiphar’s wife, and then to sit in jail – again in anonymity – until he answers dreams of those in the jail with him. He’s promised that he’ll be remembered, only to be forgotten. But eventually he is chosen to answer the dreams of Pharaoh, which leads to his becoming the viceroy to the king.

A circuitous journey, one with ups and downs. 

And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, you know why we have four cups of wine on Pesach night? Because life sometimes has its ups and downs! That even when we are talking about redemption, sometimes we go through challenging times. Even on an upward trajectory there can be ups and downs, there can be challenges. 

And so therefore, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says, these four cups of wine don’t just focus on miraculous redemptions; they focus on redemptions that sometimes happen with ups and downs – much like the challenges that we’re facing now. 

Thank God, even though we’re facing so many challenges, and so many of us have lost loved ones, we have to remember that the message of Pesach is that we move towards a redemptive experience. That even though this is a Pesach in my lifetime and so many of my friends’ lifetimes, in my siblings’ lifetimes, that has been unprecedented with challenges, that, please God, we will be committed to the four cups of wine and realize that we can find redemptive moments even in the time of challenge. 

Says Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, look at the Joseph saga. It has its ups and downs, it has its dire death moments, but it also has redemptive moments. It’s all in our outlook, it’s all in our perspective. 

Please God, as we sing about the [Cup] of Elijah, the Kos of Eliyahu, we will be reminded that Eliyahu is there to teach us that even in the most challenging of times, he is there to escort us, and to remind us that “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yishaker”, the eternality of the Jewish people is guaranteed, and so is the future of humankind.

Chag Kasher veSameach, may it be a healthy holiday for all of us.

“Then”, Moshe and the Children of Israel shall sing By Rabbanit Rachel Reinfeld-Wachtfogel, Rabbanit of OTS Jennie Sapirstein Junior High and High School for Girls in Ramot, Jerusalem On the seventh day of Passover, we will read (individually this year, in our homes) a passage of the Torah describing one of the greatest and most …

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Shabbat Shalom: Pesach 5780 By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – That Moses’ name is not mentioned even once in the Haggadah is one of the fascinating paradoxes in our tradition – the person who dedicated his entire life towards redeeming people is removed from the limelight on the one night when we focus all …

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Rabbi Chaim Kanterovich

“Under the Looming Shadow of Coronavirus” Several months ago, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, famed as a child survivor of Buchenwald, spoke before world leaders at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  Hailed by the New York Times as a …

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How was this Pesach Different? For generations of Jewish children, one of the highlights of the Pesach Seder has been standing on a chair and reciting the Four Questions. And yet – in the Jewish state of Israel – the concept of the Ma Nishtana does not ring a bell with many young children from …

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Rabbi Reuven Spolter

Celebrating the Jewish Nation on the Last Day of Pesach by Rabbi Reuven Spolter, Director of OTS Amiel BaKehila  After our youngest son was born in the United States, the nurses brought a number of forms for my wife to fill out, including a social security form. They asked her to fill out some demographic …

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Shabbat Shalom: Last Day(s) of Pesach By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “The Lord will do battle for you and you shall be silent” (Exodus 14:14) The last day of the festival of Passover is dedicated to the splitting of the Reed’s Sea, one of the most dramatic and cataclysmic events in Biblical history.  …

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