Tag: Torah

Abraham Failed God’s Test, but God Loved him Anyway!

Each Rosh Hashanah, we read the horrid tale of the Akedah (Genesis 22), the almost sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Commentators throughout the ages characterize this story as an example of the heights of faith. Abraham loved God so much he was willing to give up the child he waited so long to bear.

But in as much as this might have been a test of Abraham, I read the story as a clear indication that Abraham failed the test.

Consider this: Did God really command Abraham to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering? Read closely. According to one commentary, Midrash Tanhuma, it all hinges on one word – olah. In the Torah, God said to Abraham v’haaleihu sham l’olah, bring up Isaac as an olah. The Hebrew word olah, comes from the root Ayin-Lamed-Hey, meaning, “to rise up.”

Must olah here mean, “sacrifice,” as in the smoke of the sacrifice rises up? Or might it be connected rather to a more familiar word aliyah, also from the Hebrew root Ayin-Lamed-Hey, meaning “spiritual uplift?” In this reading, God only said, “raise up your son with an appreciation of your devotion to Me.” Perhaps Abraham was so dazzled to be speaking to God that he became confused. What if he misunderstood God’s intended purpose?

Rashi, the greatest Biblical commentator of all time, also hangs his interpretation on the same word. He explains (on Genesis 22:2), perhaps God was saying, “When I said to you ‘Take your son’… I did not say to you, sh’chateihu, ‘slaughter him,’ but only ha’aleihu, ‘bring him up.’ Now that you have brought him up, introduce him to Me, and then take him back down.” Instead of wanting Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God really only wanted him to spend some spiritual “quality time” with his son. Had Abraham only paid close attention, he might have spared himself, Isaac, and Sarah a significant amount of stress and pain.

But in a strange twist, the angel of God who stopped Abraham from killing his son responds with love, not rebuke. God praised Abraham. Why would God praise him if Abraham misunderstood the command? Perhaps God, through the angel, reaffirms to Abraham how much God loves him, but also signals that Abraham and his followers should no longer employ cruel or intimidating means to show their love for God.

This need not, however, be understood as condoning Abraham’s actions. Rather, the angel’s words remind me of that parent who walked into his freshly painted house. Dad is greeted at the door by his young son who, with a big smile on his face, says, “Daddy, come see how much I love you.” The boy brings his father into the next room and proceeds to proudly show him a picture drawn in magic marker on the living room wall. It was a red heart, inside of which were the words, “Daddy, I love you.” How does a parent respond to such a display of love, especially after spending thousands of dollars to paint the house just right? Most of us would yell, and yell loudly. But if we stopped first to think about it, we might say, with tears in our eyes, “I love you too, my son. Try to use paper next time. And you may not write on the walls. But, I love you too!” Similarly, through the words of the angel, God, the patient One, who cherishes Abraham, teaches love and forgiveness as an example for future generations.

Now consider this… Prior to the Akedah, each encounter between God and Abraham occurs in direct one-on-one conversations. But from this point on, God never again speaks to Abraham directly. All further communication is passed through an angel. Why? Because Abraham simultaneously passed and failed the test. He showed his love of God, yes, but he employed violent means to pursue that love. The use of an intermediary – the angel – proclaims a message for future generations: Abraham really didn’t listen to God’s teachings of compassion, did he?

Originally posted in 2007

Shavuot: Celebrating the Gift We Keep Receiving

We parents love to shower our children with gifts.

The appearance of a wrapped presents can stop even the most rambunctious children in their tracks. After a quick intake of breath, eyes go wide and squeals of excitement quickly follow. Some children then engage in frenzied activity, tearing off the wrapping paper, while others slowly and methodically remove every piece of tape, savoring the splendor of anticipation. When the contents beneath the wrapping paper are revealed, delight and happiness soon follow.

And then come the thanks. Nothing quite compares to the hug of a kid who just received an unexpected gift. All of it – a kiss, words of thanks, that smile from ear to ear – can melt even the most hard hearted of us.

Gifts Represent of Underlying Emotions of Love 
The giving of a gift testifies to the love we feel for someone. A present can convey materially that which we sometimes have difficulty expressing verbally. That I value you. That I love you. That making you happy makes me happy.

In most American Jewish homes, presents are shared on Chanukah, a practice that evolved from the tradition of giving gelt (coins) and from this holiday’s proximity to Christmas. In Jewish homes in Israel and elsewhere, presents are given on Rosh Hashana to celebrate the New Year, and on Pesach to celebrate our people’s return to freedom.

Shavuot as a Festival of Gift Giving and Receiving
Perhaps the most traditional, yet under-celebrated, opportunity for gift giving occurs on Shavuot. Originally an agricultural festival marking the conclusion of the grain harvest, Shavuot is also known as Chag ha-Katsir (Festival of Reaping in Exodus 23:16) and was celebrated in Biblical times by bringing the bikkurim (first fruits) to the Temple in Jerusalem. These gifts to God were brought from among the Seven Species for which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates (Deut. 8:8).

Over time, Shavuot morphed through rabbinic creativity into a festival celebrating the ultimate gift from God. Wrapped up in the multi-sensory story of our people’s experience at Mt Sinai (Exodus 18:18ff) – ground-shaking, light-flashing, thunder-booming, Shavuot relives Matan Torah (the gift of Torah), the moment that God gave Torah to the Jewish people.

We teach that Holy One loves our people so much that God gave us the most precious gift – next to our children, of course – and that is the Torah.

Anticipating Shavuot, parents can connect children spiritually to our Jewish people through the joy of receiving a gift.

Celebrate Gift Giving
Read the story of the giving of Torah in Exodus 18:1-19:15. Flash the lights in the bedroom to simulate lighting, bang on walls or pots and pans to recall the thunder. Shake your body all over for earth shaking fun.

Tell Your Children (of all ages) This:

You are the recipient of one of the greatest gifts ever. It is our Torah. Written in a scroll, our Torah represents a collection of stories, teachings, morals, values, rules of how to live, ideas about God and so much more. It is a gift from God, a sign that you are lovable and loved. Torah is your inheritance, that which you receive from me (and if appropriate, from your other parent), from your grandparents and others before us. You are part of shalshelet hakabbalah (the unbroken chain of receiving Torah), passed down midor lador (from generation to generation).  

Torah is a gift to be preciously cared for and repeatedly unwrapped. Torah is filled with stories and ideas that are gifts to the whole world.

Torah is yours. So don’t wait to long. Claim you place among our people.



Then find a way to help your child receive the gift of Torah.

  • Give your child a nice gift that reflects Torah and/or Judaism. Tell him or her that since today we celebrate the other wonderful gift today, the gift of Torah, today you want him or her to enjoy this Torah related gift.
  • Discover a new book and read it together. Torah, and the study of it, made the Jewish people Am Hasefer (people of the book). Dedicate yourselves to reading the wonderful books from PJ Library or seek out other Jewish books to enhance Jewish connections.
  • Watch the Torah portion cartoons on G-dcast.com, which take complex ideas and make them accessible to all ages. Commit to watching them regularly.
  • Eat cheesecake. Once Torah was given, it became clear that our ancestors had no kosher meat. So the people ate dairy for a few days. Traditionally Jews ate blintzes. But, in our family, we prefer cheesecake, in as many flavored as possible, symbolizing the 70 difference languages in which Torah was given.
  • Make a dairy dinner together creating as many dishes as you can. Consider the many ways grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese can be prepared.
  • Go visit a temple and ask if you and your family can hold the Torah. A gift given not just to the rabbis and teachers, Torah is an inheritance for us all. So go claim your birthright (you may need to schedule an appointment first).

A Mathematician’s Dream Blessing

Two, 4, 6, 8 … What comes next? 
Once you recognize this as a sequence of even numbers, counted by twos, then you know that the numbers 10 and 12 come next.

Two, 3, 5, 7, 11 … What comes next?
This sequence of prime numbers (numbers divisible only by themselves and 1) continues with 13 and 17.

There is elegance in number sequences. Patterns discovered reveal a logical underpinning to the world in which we live. As a former physics major (who spent two-thirds of my college years deeply ensconced in the intricacies of the laws of our universe), I am energized by the patterns that define our world.

British philosopher-mathematician Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) expressed it this way:

“Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere … yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”

Even Torah contains mathematics that illumine the beauty of the existence in which we live. While the numbers within Torah may not unlock hidden biblical codes that prophesy the future, they do reveal the elegance that is God’s Creation.

So when a discerning bar mitzvah student pointed out that his Torah portion, Naso, contained two amazing numerical sequences, I was fascinated.

Parashat Naso contains Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Benediction, a blessing first recited by the Israelite priests on God’s instruction as they blessed the people. It has maintained a central place in Jewish prayer, being recited in the ancient Jerusalem Temples, during Shabbat morning services, in Jewish homes on Friday night and at almost every Jewish life-cycle ceremony.

Birkat Kohanim is a simple yet complex three-line prayer:

Yivarechecha Adonai v’yishm’recha.

Ya’er Adonai panav elecha veechuneka.

Yeesa Adonai panav elecha v’yasem l’cha shalom.



May Adonai bless you and watch over you. May God’s countenance shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May God’s countenance be lifted up to you, and grant you peace.

Three lines of Hebrew, 15 words and 60 letters in total. Look closely and beautiful patterns emerge.

Count the Hebrew words in each line: 3, 5 … What comes next?

The number 7, completing two patterns — odd numbers counted by twos, and the next prime number. Both answers capture sophisticated arithmetic construction.

Different rabbis tried to assign meaning to this pattern. The Spanish rabbi Bachya taught that this pattern reminds us of the foundation for all blessings: the three patriarchs, the five books of the Torah and the seven heavens of mystical meaning. To him, our ancestry, our sacred book and our spiritual universe are all aligned in each moment of blessing.

Count the letters in each line: 15, 20… What comes next?

The number 25, the next when counting by fives. What a wonderful progression in our modern decimal system — 15, 20, 25. Or, if you add the number of letters together, you get 60, recognized by Italian biblical scholar Moshe David Cassuto (1883-1951) as the basis of the ancient Babylonian sexagesimal (base 60) system.

And it gets better.

Next week, at the inauguration of the mishkan (the movable wilderness sanctuary), each tribal head brings identical sets of sacrifices. The greatest offerings, in quantity and, apparently, in prominence, were the korbanot shelamim (peace offerings). Each leader brings 15 animals: five each of rams, goats and sheep. Together, 12 tribes brought 60 of each animal.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba 14:18) connects these offerings with Birkat Kohanim. Birkat Kohanim — containing 60 letters — concludes with the hope for peace (shalom), while the peace offerings (shelamim) contains 60 gifts to the Divine. Montreal scholar Shai Peretz notes:

“Given the strong correspondence between the two adjacent Torah sections, the question is of the chicken and the egg. Which element impacts on the other? Do our offerings to God yield blessings, or do God’s blessings lead us to make offerings to God?”

These fascinating questions hint at a deeper reality. As my bar mitzvah student Quinn Chambers suggested,

“It is interesting to find these patterns in the Torah, since Torah is filled with so many laws and religious ideas. Perhaps these mathematical patterns show that the Torah is not just a bunch of pretty ideas, but rather that it is also connected to the laws like mathematics and logic that govern life.” 

Once you recognize these patterns in the text, it becomes more difficult to consider math/science and religion to be completely separate arenas of existence.

May the mathematical beauty of Birkat Kohanim open your eyes to the religious elegance in our world.

Be a Sanctuary (as God Intended)

[Cross posted at the Jewish Journal]

Where is God, and what does the Holy One want from us? These timeless questions animate so many of us spiritual seekers.

Of course, there are better places to look for an answer than in this week’s Torah portion, Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36), unless you consider barbecuing as divine service. If you read Tzav literally, you come away with a clear sense that the Holy One has a soft spot for a good steak and some grain (perhaps baked into a delicious loaf of bread) to dip in some warm olive oil.

I’m all for a good steak now and then, but few believe that God was ever a red-meat eater … or a vegetarian or vegan. Torah, perhaps updating the sacrificial practices of the Israelites’ biblical contemporaries, organized a hierarchy of sacrificial offerings to quench what was once understood as the religio-gastronomical desires of the Highest Power.

Yet, when later rabbinic commentators studied the sacrifices, they quickly rejected the notion that God actually wanted meat, fowl or grains. They argued that God instead sought out the intention with which the Israelites brought their offerings. For our rabbinic teachers, the sacrifices were merely the means through which the Israelites transformed themselves into servants of God.

It seems, though, that the Holy One might not really want the kavanah (intentions) with which we bring the offerings, either. No, the Holy One, Source of all holiness, just wants us to discover the holiness within.

We hear it in the words of that folk spiritual that inspires thousands in synagogues and summer camps. Combining “Sanctuary” (written by John Thompson and Randy Scruggs) with “Pitchu Li” (Psalm 118:19, arranged by Rabbi Shefa Gold), “Sanctuary/Pitchu Li” lays it all out for us:

Lord, prepare me, to be a sanctuary,

Pure and holy, tried and true. 
With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you. Pitchu li sha’arei tzedek avo vam odeh Ya.

At Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA and at Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, CA, we are learning to redirect our hearts. We are slowly learning to unlearn certain lessons from our past — that God wants a side of beef or is focused primarily on how we prepare our own side of beef — to discover that God wants us to open ourselves to the holiness within.

Too often, we look for holiness, and the Holy One, in places outside ourselves. A few Torah portions ago, when Moses climbed the mountain and seemingly disappeared for 39 or 40 days, the Israelites felt bereft and alone. Without someone to remind them that God is HaMakom (literally, “The Place,” meaning God is everywhere and everyplace), they felt abandoned. So they built for themselves an egel hazahav (a golden calf) to worship and embrace. Unable to recognize that the spiritual reservoir was found within, they created a false sense of security outside themselves.

When the smoke cleared, when the frenzy finally subsided, those who remained true to the spiritual journey heard a new call. It was couched in the form of a command to build a sanctuary where the Israelites could turn to be assured that God was always with them. The mishkan(the Tabernacle, a movable sanctuary in space), then, was really a compromise, the result of a failure of the wilderness generation to find what they needed within.

Today’s soul searchers — especially the Jewish ones — find spiritual strength in the one place that the wilderness-wandering Israelites failed to search. Today’s spiritual seekers learn anew that holiness and wholeness are no farther away than the depth of our own beings. Using theological language, the Holy One resides within us already.

Thus the prayer song “Sanctuary/Pitchi Li” redirects us from God outside and beyond, but rather to the Immanent Essence within. It reminds us that with regard to the Ein Sof (the mystical Presence that has no end), even our very bodies contain, and channel, the spiritual energy. We, who are created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), encompass within ourselves the holiness that exists everywhere. So wherever we go, we take our mishkan with us.

We need not focus on an external sanctuary because we are — or at least we can become — the sanctuary itself. It is our rediscovering of the holiness within, not bringing animal sacrifices to altars outside, that piques the interest of the Holy One.
Then we will discover some answers: That immanence, not altars and animal sacrifices, may just be the essence of the Holy One.

Get Naked

Cross posted on the Jewish Journal

You step out of the shower, towel off and stand before the mirror. It’s just you and your reflection … the naked truth. Your eye appraises without mercy. Under the bright lights, no imperfection can be concealed; no blemish disguised. Or …

It’s the morning after. Lights once dimmed now illuminate the room. In the light, there are no secrets. You bare yourself before your lover. Masks removed, the “physical you” awaits your lover’s judgment.

In these moments, we tremble. This is as vulnerable as it gets. Standing naked before the unforgiving eye, we worry about the verdict we know is coming. Anxiously we wonder: Am I enough or am I too much? Will he/she/I accept the unclothed me, or will I be rejected? Do I have a future with him/her/myself, or will I face the future hiding who I really am?

Clothing dresses us up but hides the naked truth beneath

In this week’s parasha, Tetzaveh, Aaron, the Israelite Kohen Gadol (high priest), gets a stylish new set of clothing. Using only the best materials and colors available to the wilderness-dwelling Israelite community, the new priestly clothes ensure that Aaron appears strikingly handsome and powerful as he stands before the gathered Israelites. Having recently escaped from the drab drudgery of Egyptian servitude, the Israelite seamstresses now create a set of garments that arouse yirah and kavod (awe and respect). From this point forward, Israelite religion and its religious leadership present an image eliciting pride, pageantry and a sense of perfection.

Compared to the intricate design of Aaron’s Kohen costume, the regular Israelites are relatively naked. Sure, they have their own frocks, and some might even wear ones with some color and style, but in stark contrast to the Kohen Gadol, most Israelites are plain. Where Aaron dresses up for the Most High, the Israelites stand exposed before the Most Intimate One.

This is as it should be, because while clothing dresses us up, it only covers up the reality beneath.

Why detail Aaron’s divine duds?

Perhaps the detailed specifications and intricate design in Torah about Aaron’s clothing are designed with an ironic aspiration. Perhaps Torah wants to expose regular people — you and me — to reality: that even the fanciest clothing and impeccably matched accessories fail to dress up the most important part of ourselves.
Every day, as we stand naked, exposed, we are forced to face reality. We need to figure out how to love our bodies, our souls and ourselves.

After the morning after

Some of us start the day worrying about which outfit to wear. Our time is better spent wondering how we will be received when we strip off our outer garments and stand before others. Without the clothing to conceal our faults and blemishes, we await our lover’s response and our own self-assessment. Am I enough or too much? Am I worthy? How must I change? Is there a future or …

We would do well to consider: Am I anxious about the verdict? Not happy with what I see? Plastic surgery cannot help here. Rather than cutting the skin, we need to reshape our soul. Instead of altering our physical shape, we do well to adjust aspects of our behavior and repair our relationships.

After the showers and the mornings after — in fact, at each moment of every day — we face a judging yet forgiving eye. We stand before the Holy One, who sees all and knows all.

It is time to clothe ourselves in holy living.

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman of Baltimore, taught me recently the words of Malbim (Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, 1809-1879). Malbim reflects upon the detailed instructions given for building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle in the wilderness) and uses them to guide us toward the inner work we each need to do.

Sensing Torah’s desire to paint the Mishkan as more than a repository for sacrifices, Malbim understands Parshat Terumah to teach us to build a Mishkan within: “Each one of us needs to build a Tabernacle for God in the recesses of our hearts, by preparing oneself to become a Sanctuary for God and a place for the dwelling of God’s glory.”

So Get Naked and Discover

Clothes cover up the blemishes but holy living removes the anxiety of the nakedness we all bear. So even as you keep your clothes on, take a good look at your naked inner self. It is time to bare your soul and discover (recover?) the holiness and beauty within.

What Does It Mean to be a Jew?

What does it mean to be a Jew? A curious verse in this week’s Torah portion Terumah provides insight.

We read that the Israelites were to place cherubim before the sanctuary, a moveable tabernacle built by a wandering people in the wilderness. “The cherubim will stretch forth their wings on high…and their faces will look to one another” (Ex. 25:20).

What are the Cherubim
No one is exactly sure. In a Midrashic source, the folk etymology is given according to which the singular form keruv means ke-ravya, “like a young child,” hence the depiction in art and literature of the cherubim as baby angels (quoting My Jewish Learning).

These winged angels appear throughout the Torah. In Genesis, God sets the cherubim at the entrance of the Garden of Eden after the expulsion of Adam and Eve, to guard the way to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24). Two cherubim overlaid with gold with outstretched wings were placed facing one another on the cover of the Ark in the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:18-20) and figures of cherubim were embroidered on the veil and the curtains of the Tabernacle (Exodus 26:1, 31). Later in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), the two gilded cherubim in King Solomon’s Temple were not attached to the Ark, as in the Tabernacle, but were placed as figures each 10 cubits high in front of the Ark (I Kings 6:27-8).

The Secret to Being Jewish is…
These child-like angelic figures, guarding the holiest spaces in ancient Judaism, position themselves in ways that speak volumes about the posture and perspective of being a Jew.

The secret to being Jewish, it may be, resides in the answer to the question: why are the cherubim facing each other, stretching their wings upward?

Rabbi Nina Mizrahi, in a drash called Birthing Holiness, points us in the right direction. She quotes Sadeh Margalit on this verse:

“A Jew must have two qualities- ‘Stretching forth their wings on high’ – S/he should always strive to move upward, to higher and higher levels, while at the same time ‘their faces will look to one another’ -S/he must notice her/his fellow’s distress and always be willing to help him/her. These two qualities are linked to one another” (cited in Torah Gems by Aharon Greenberg).

To be a Jew one must reach out and reach up.

Reach out to those in need, looking at their faces, seeing their pain, lifting them up.

And reach up, raising ourselves up to more spirituality, to higher forms of enlightened thinking, and to advancing the ideas that make our lives and our world holier.

This Shabbat, be a Jew: seek spiritual uplift, create communal healing.

What do YOU believe it means to be a Jew?

Repost: Akedah: Abraham Failed God’s Test, but God Loved him Anyway!

Each Rosh Hashanah, we read the horrid tale of the Akedah (Genesis 22), the almost sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Commentators throughout the ages characterize this story as an example of the heights of faith. Abraham loved God so much he was willing to give up the child he waited so long to bear.

But in as much as this might have been a test of Abraham, I read the story as a clear indication that Abraham failed the test.

Consider this: Did God really command Abraham to sacrifice his son as a burnt offering? Read closely. According to one commentary, Midrash Tanhuma, it all hinges on one word – olah. In the Torah, God said to Abraham v’haaleihu sham l’olah, bring up Isaac as an olah. The Hebrew word olah, comes from the root Ayin-Lamed-Hey, meaning, “to rise up.”

Must olah here mean, “sacrifice,” as in the smoke of the sacrifice rises up? Or might it be connected rather to a more familiar word aliyah, also from the Hebrew root Ayin-Lamed-Hey, meaning “spiritual uplift?” In this reading, God only said, “raise up your son with an appreciation of your devotion to Me.” Perhaps Abraham was so dazzled to be speaking to God that he became confused. What if he misunderstood God’s intended purpose?

Rashi, the greatest Biblical commentator of all time, also hangs his interpretation on the same word. He explains (on Genesis 22:2), perhaps God was saying, “When I said to you ‘Take your son’… I did not say to you, sh’chateihu, ‘slaughter him,’ but only ha’aleihu, ‘bring him up.’ Now that you have brought him up, introduce him to Me, and then take him back down.” Instead of wanting Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God really only wanted him to spend some spiritual “quality time” with his son. Had Abraham only paid close attention, he might have spared himself, Isaac, and Sarah a significant amount of stress and pain.

But in a strange twist, the angel of God who stopped Abraham from killing his son responds with love, not rebuke. God praised Abraham. Why would God praise him if Abraham misunderstood the command? Perhaps God, through the angel, reaffirms to Abraham how much God loves him, but also signals that Abraham and his followers should no longer employ cruel or intimidating means to show their love for God.

This need not, however, be understood as condoning Abraham’s actions. Rather, the angel’s words remind me of that parent who walked into his freshly painted house. Dad is greeted at the door by his young son who, with a big smile on his face, says, “Daddy, come see how much I love you.” The boy brings his father into the next room and proceeds to proudly show him a picture drawn in magic marker on the living room wall. It was a red heart, inside of which were the words, “Daddy, I love you.” How does a parent respond to such a display of love, especially after spending thousands of dollars to paint the house just right? Most of us would yell, and yell loudly. But if we stopped first to think about it, we might say, with tears in our eyes, “I love you too, my son. Try to use paper next time. And you may not write on the walls. But, I love you too!” Similarly, through the words of the angel, God, the patient One, who cherishes Abraham, teaches love and forgiveness as an example for future generations.

Now consider this… Prior to the Akedah, each encounter between God and Abraham occurs in direct one-on-one conversations. But from this point on, God never again speaks to Abraham directly. All further communication is passed through an angel. Why? Because Abraham simultaneously passed and failed the test. He showed his love of God, yes, but he employed violent means to pursue that love. The use of an intermediary – the angel – proclaims a message for future generations: Abraham really didn’t listen to God’s teachings of compassion, did he?

When ‘just be good’ isn’t enough



Cross Posted at the Jewish Journal

“Why all these values, rabbi?” preteen Josh asked. “Can’t you just say we should be good people?” Often it is the most basic questions that set me thinking, and Josh’s query sure did.

My wife, Michelle November, and I are at Camp Newman, a Reform Jewish summer camp in Santa Rosa, where we are chaperoning Congregation Or Ami’s 45-person delegation. While Michelle serves as camp mom, answering questions by phone for the next session’s camper-parents, I work as dean of faculty, guiding young people with the camp’s daily middah (or Jewish value/virtue).

Jewish Values Guide Our Interactions
Over the course of a session, we explore b’tzelem Elohim (recognizing that each person was created “in the image of God”), kehillah kedushah (that as part of a “holy community,” we have responsibilities to each other) and kavod (that “respect” necessarily guides every interaction we have with other people and creations).

We embrace ometz lev (being “courageous”), insist on ahavah (the “love” that binds us together) and turn our hearts toward Yisrael (the land, modern state, people and children of Israel). These middot and others permeate the camp, invigorating every moment of the day from mifkad (morning assembly) to sports to hashkavah (bedtime activities).

When ‘Just Be Good’ Isn’t Enough

Josh’s question penetrates these moments of meaning by asking, “Why do we name and number so many middot, when one simple instruction — Just be good — or one simple Torah verse — v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha (love your neighbor as yourself) — might suffice?

We find our answer back in the mid-19th century, in a commentary by Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner on this week’s parasha, Shofetim. The Ishbitzer (Polish) Chasidic rebbe (d. 1854), whose teachings were compiled as “Mei HaShiloach,” believed that the more clarity we have about how we should live, the purer, more righteous lives will we lead.

Guarding the Gateways Into Our Bodies
Our parasha opens with what appears to be basic instructions for the creation and implementation of a new justice system for the tribes. “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the gates [she’arecha] that YHVH your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice” (Deuteronomy 16:18). For Rabbi Mordechai, this opening verse points also to the way we guard our lives from sin. He teaches, “She’arecha (gates/settlements): we are to establish magistrates (judges) for each and every detail of life, in every state and in every city. This applies, as well, in our individual lives. These ‘gates’ are the seven sense-gates by which we receive God’s goodness: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. We have to exercise great care over each of these gates by which we derive good.”

Rabbi Jonathan Slater of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality drashes (explains) that “the Ishbitzer is concerned with guarding what enters us from the outside, how we are affected by what we see, hear, say and smell. All of these sense-events/acts are powerful, affecting our inner awareness and our capacity to respond in a balanced, loving manner. Without awareness of the forces at work on our consciousness we are unable to align ourselves with the Divine.”

A Complex World Requires a Multiplicity of Tools
So why do we name and number so many middot? Because we live in a complex world with widespread influences that pull us in all sorts of opposing directions. Because our yetzer harah (inclination for evil) can easily overpower our yetzer hatov (inclination for good). Because we need multiple tools to filter everything we experience. The middot stand as shofetim (judges) at our seven sense-gates, ensuring that everything we see, hear, say and smell can and will be interpreted and moderated for goodness and godliness.

Sending Kids Off With Toolboxes Filled With Torah
When we say goodbye to Josh — and to the 1,400 young people who enter Camp Newman’s gates every summer — we know we are sending him home with a toolbox filled with Jewish virtues to keep him on a morally straight path. As the 19th century Rabbi Mordechai Yosef teaches and the 21st century Rabbi Jonathan Slater reinforces, the overall message is this: We need to establish practices that guard us from passively being affected in negative ways, just as we need to prevent ourselves from affecting the world negatively through our deeds.

For this is our highest hope: that Josh and all the children who attend Jewish summer camps around the country find direction and guidance from the Jewish values we impart to them. And we pray: May all they have learned transform them, so that they come home kinder, more compassionate and more Jewishly self-identified than ever before.

“He Stood between the Dead and the Living”

Insights on Korach (Numbers 16:1−18:32)
By Rabbi Lisa Edwards
cross posted at ReformJudaism.org

In the middle of Parashat Korach comes a short story that I find to be one of the most moving in all of Torah. It arrives unexpectedly in the midst of yet another chilling story of rebellion. The parashah begins with more than 250 “Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute,” who, under the leadership of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and On turn against Moses and Aaron, saying: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:1-3).

In their accusation, the leaders of the rebellion might seem to echo God’s own language at Mount Sinai, calling the Israelites “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (goy kadosh)” (Exodus 19:6). Their logic, that when all are holy, none is above another, sounds right. But if the “rebels” merely echo God’s earlier sentiment, why does their rebellion anger God so much that the earth opens up and swallows them?

Twentieth-century Jewish theologian Martin Buber1 explains God’s remarks at Mount Sinai by calling our attention to the “if” clause: ” If you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession . . . you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Exodus 19:5-6). Korah’s error, teaches Buber, is in thinking that holiness is a given rather than a state that each of us must strive toward, working in partnership with God.

Buber’s teaching shines a light on the actions of Aaron, who, in the terrifying consequences of the rebellion, risks his life to try to save the rebels. God said to Moses and Aaron, “Stand back from this community that I may annihilate them in an instant!” (Numbers 16:21). Moses and Aaron bravely convince God to do otherwise, falling on their faces and saying together, “O God, Source of the breath of all flesh! When one person sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?” (16:22). In response, instead of annihilating the whole community, God takes the lives of “only” the rebel leaders, their families, and their followers. First “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed” Dathan, Abiram, and Korah along with their households (16:32), then a fire came forth from God and consumed the 250 other leaders (16:35), and then a plague fell suddenly on the people, killing an additional 14,700 (17:11,14).

More than these numbered dead, it is how the plague is stopped that brings my tears. At the instruction of Moses, Aaron made an offering of expiation for the people. Then Aaron did something he was not instructed to do-he “ran to the midst of the congregation, where the plague had begun among the people . . . and he stood between the dead and the living, until the plague was checked,” (17:12-13).

What makes me cry? This month, June 2013, marks a sad occasion-the thirty-second anniversary of the first-reported cases of AIDS in the United States. As a rabbi in a community devastated by illness and loss in the early years of this modern-day plague, I am blessed to know many people who, like Aaron, “ran to the midst of the congregation, where the plague had begun among the people” and “stood between the dead and the living until the plague was checked.” They are those who were lovers, partners, spouses, parents, children, health care workers, researchers, friends, family, neighbors, grief counselors, clergy, therapists, teachers, activists, legislators, journalists, writers, filmmakers, archivists; those who were infected, and those who were never or not-yet infected but fearing it; those who, despite their fears, despite the uncertainties and unknowns, “ran to the midst of the congregation,” and did what they could to try to stop the plague and ease the suffering, to soothe the ones still living who had lost the ones they loved; those who took a stand between the dead and the living in all sorts of ways including bearing witness and telling the stories. When I read of Aaron’s brave gesture, I think of those whose love or sense of decency activated them, those who continue to inspire us in a myriad of ways.

When the first-century sage Hillel told us: “Be one of Aaron’s students, loving peace and pursuing it, loving people and bringing them to the Torah” ( Pirkei Avot 1:12)2, surely he was thinking, in part, of the actions of Aaron at this moment in the wilderness. It is Aaron, who risked his life by choosing to stand up for the living-even though those living were challenging him and his brother Moses, threatening them, making their life difficult. It is Aaron, who, despite the anger raging between the people and God, understood that these people were God’s people.

It is Aaron, lover and pursuer of peace, whose actions bring an end to the enmity and the violence. In the next scene, God brings a different amazement-not the earth swallowing whole families, not a plague killing thousands, but a much subtler, far gentler miracle: God causes Aaron’s staff-a symbol of his leadership-to sprout, bringing forth flowers and almonds. God then instructs Moses, as a reminder to the people, to place Aaron’s blossoming staff in front of the stone tablets of the Pact-the second set of stone tablets, Judaism’s enduring symbol of second chances.

The frightened, angry Israelites, still stinging from the punishments doled out by God, don’t yet understand the message, but we, who look from a greater distance, can. Still today, no matter what challenges we face, these images of bloom and stone remind us of Judaism’s rock-solid foundation and perpetual growth, making us grateful to Aaron and God for their abiding invitation to embrace the Covenant and choose life.

NOTES:
 Moses: The Revelation and the Covenant, Martin Buber (New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), p. 190
Pirke Avot: A Modern Commentary on Jewish Ethics, ed. and trans., Leonard Kravitz and Kerry M. Olitzky (New York, NY: UAHC Press, 1993), p. 8

Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Ph.D. is the leader of Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles. Founded in 1972 as the world’s first lesbian and gay synagogue, today BCC is an inclusive community of progressive lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and heterosexual Jews, and their families and friends. Rabbi Edwards’ writing appears in books including Kulanu: All of Us (a URJ handbook for congregational inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews) and The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, published by URJ Press and Women of Reform Judaism.

At 103 Year Old, Lil is Still Learning (and Teaching)

I’ve known Lil for almost 14 years, a minuscule portion of her quite long life. Still, I have grown quite fond of her as our paths crossed and recrossed through vicissitudes of life: celebrations of B’nai Mitzvah, visits to her during a near death hospital stay, holy day services and the more mundane moments in between.

I remember being touched that she was the inspiration that led three of her great grandchildren (and her adult daughter) to become B’nai Mitzvah, and being inspired by her finesse at helping them craft each d’var Torah (speech). I am prepared each High Holy Day morning to find “Nana”, right after services, to give her a kiss and a few words of blessing.

Who Knew?
So when I was asked if I had time to visit Nana at the Convalescent Home, I just tossed a date out and recorded it in my iPhone. Who knew that the request to visit a congregant’s 103 year old mother would turn out to be one of the most meaningful, spiritual moments of the week?

Sightless but Insightful
Lil was waiting for me in the Sun Room at the end of the hallway. I approached; she offered me a seat. We held hands; I gave her a kiss. 
Lil may not be able to see, but she is very insightful. We talked about her grandkids (who call almost every day) and her family, about the convalescent home and her upcoming 104th birthday (not a big deal to her). Our conversations delved into the joys of family and the sometimes incomprehensible depression that temporarily descends (perhaps the result of being old?). 
Well Before its Time, A Girl Advocates for the Chance to Study Torah
Lil reminisced about her own Jewish upbringing. Hers was a very religious family; two older brothers were taught by a tutor – Mr. Yunefsky? – who came by every day. Although girls generally were not taught Torah and Hebrew back then, Lil very much wanted to learn. With the help of her brother, she convinced her father to let her learn.  “Why don’t you have a teacher for me? Because I’m a girl?” Her dad responded, “Is that what you’d like?” She responded “Yes, because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn.” So she started to absorb everything that the teacher would teach: Hebrew, Torah, and Bible.
Time and again Lil explained about how important it was that the next generations (her grandchildren) love being Jewish and are involved in the synagogue. Hers are! Her youngest is a Madricha (teaching assistant) in our schools and a leader on our LoMPTY youth group board; the two boys regularly stop by to visit me (their rabbi) when they are in town from school. Lil takes great pride in the fact that they are members of Congregation Or Ami and are bonded with Judaism. 
Learning Torah Together

During a lull in the conversation, I asked her if I could read her this week’s parasha (Torah portion).  She lit up. Opening the Tanach for All (Bible) app on my iPhone, I proceeded to read the portion in Hebrew; Lil surprised me by translating the words. Back and forth we went. Hebrew then English; me then she. I was moved in this moment. Separated by three generations, we nevertheless shared Torah, something that transcended the generations.
I needed to drash (interpret) the parasha for that Shabbat. So I asked her how to best interpret these words for our congregation. 103-year-old Nana was full of suggestions. I wondered just what was really happening here. To the casual observer, it might appear that I – the Rabbi – was teaching Torah to this older woman; in truth, Lil was passing the wisdom onto me.
A Moment when Blessings Overflowed 
Today I learned Torah from a 103-year-old woman. Her wisdom filled my soul; her love overflowed into my heart. On reflection, I keep coming back to the blessing one says upon seeing a Torah scholar (found in my iPhone CCAR Daily Blessings app):

Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu melech haolam, shchalak meichochmato lirei’av.Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe: You share Your wisdom with those who revere You. 

Yes, 103-year-old Lil was my Torah teacher.  Thank you God, for this moment of wisdom in the midst of everyday life.

Happiness is Good, But Torah Tells Us to Strive to be Holy

Passing Torah Midor Lador at Ethan’s Bar Mitzvah

When passing down Torah midor lador (from generation to generation), especially at a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service, we illuminate the unique contributions Torah brings to the way we look at and live out our lives. I often say,

  • In a world that teaches us its all about being happy, Torah says that we should strive to be holy.
  • In a world that teaches us that its all about making a buck, about getting rich, Torah says that money is okay, but we have been given what we have in order to help enrich the lives of others.
  • And in a world that teaches us that its all about me, that I can do what I want, Torah comes to teach us that we were put on this earth for a higher purpose, to transform it, into a place filled with emet (truth) and tzedek (justice), to fill it with ahava (love), so that it will become a place of shalom (peace).

Self interest, making money, seeking happiness – these are all positives within the Jewish mindset.  But they are not enough.  As partners with God, we seek higher purpose. We call that “holiness” or “kedusha“.  Some call it “finding meaning”.

There’s More to Life than Being Happy
Thus comes an essay, entitled There’s More to Life than Being Happy (The Atlantic, Jan. 9, 2013), which argues that seeking happiness is overrated and in many ways selfish. Rather, we should strive to find meaning, which most often is found when we turn outward, engaging and being in relationship with others.  Quoting Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl and new studies on happiness and meaning among others, the well-argued essay suggests that Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”

In a new study, which will be published this year in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology, psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans aged 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy. Examining their self-reported attitudes toward meaning, happiness, and many other variables — like stress levels, spending patterns, and having children — over a month-long period, the researchers found that a meaningful life and happy life overlap in certain ways, but are ultimately very different. Leading a happy life, the psychologists found, is associated with being a “taker” while leading a meaningful life corresponds with being a “giver.”  

“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors write [emphasis mine]. How do the happy life and the meaningful life differ? Happiness, they found, is about feeling good. Specifically, the researchers found that people who are happy tend to think that life is easy, they are in good physical health, and they are able to buy the things that they need and want.

Its about Finding Meaning
The Atlantic essay moves us toward finding meaning, continuing:

“Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy,” Baumeister told me in an interview. 

Meaning is not only about transcending the self, but also about transcending the present moment — which is perhaps the most important finding of the study, according to the researchers. While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting. The amount of time people report feeling good or bad correlates with happiness but not at all with meaning. 

Meaning, on the other hand, is enduring. It connects the past to the present to the future. “Thinking beyond the present moment, into the past or future, was a sign of the relatively meaningful but unhappy life,” the researchers write. “Happiness is not generally found in contemplating the past or future.” That is, people who thought more about the present were happier, but people who spent more time thinking about the future or about past struggles and sufferings felt more meaning in their lives, though they were less happy.

Moving from Inward-Focused to Other-Focused
Torah, with its focus on helping others, reaching out to the vulnerable and the stranger, moves us from being inward focused to being other focused. We assume responsibility for transforming the world and thereby transform ourselves (thus tikkun olam encompasses and leads to tikkun atzmi).

May our work on this earth, in this life, lead us toward meaning and purpose, so that in relationship with others and our world, we can deepen our lives and ennoble our souls.

Where do you find meaning? 

Planting Seeds of Hope (Even Though Its Easier Not to Have Hope)

By Rabbi Amy Scheinerman (originally published as Planting Seeds of Hope: Let Them Bloom, by Mekor Chaim, JFNA)

Lying on his back atop his doghouse, Snoopy gazes at the sky and bemoans, “Yesterday I was a dog. Today I’m a dog. Tomorrow I’ll probably still be a dog. Sigh! There’s so little hope for advancement.” Curiously, Snoopy doesn’t shut out all possibility of hope: “so little hope” suggests there is some.

Overwhelming change and events can generate gratitude and hope, or despair and hopelessness. The Israelites, despite a spectacular and public redemption, go the latter route.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord.

they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness! What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” (Exodus 14:10-12)

The Israelites are gripped by fear (“greatly frightened”), certain that they are doomed (“it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness”), and looking for someone to blame for their predicament (“What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?”).

Where is their hope for the future? We might expect that redemption at the Reed Sea was an enormous mikveh that transforms them from slaves to free people and would thus attune them to mikveh-Yisrael. Yet the midrash[1] describes: Reuven then said to Shimon: “In Egypt we had clay, and now in the sea again clay. In Egypt we had mortar and bricks, and now in the sea again mortar and bricks.” Perhaps their inability to appreciate the miracles God wrought in Egypt precludes their ability to feel hopeful about the future.

Gratitude is a powerful drug. When it courses through our souls it ignites hope for the future. I write this in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation is horrifying. Yet many victims appear before TV cameras to their gratitude to be alive, coupled with their hopes to rebuild.

Gratitude fuels hope, but it is not always sufficient. Many of us need to ground hope in empirical evidence: we need to know that what we would hope for is possible. Tradition comes to the rescue. Pesach reminds us to hope for redemption: if it happened once, it can happen again.

But what if you regard the Exodus as religious legend, and not history? It is said that King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal to provide proof of God’s existence. Pascal responded, “Why the Jews, your Majesty, the Jews!” On countless occasions, we have been redeemed from degradation and deprivation. Our amazing survival over the centuries supplies reason to hope. So, too, in our personal lives, we have seen people brought from the depth of addiction, depression, disability, calamity and illness, and go on to lead meaningful lives. This reality is reflected in our sacred stories: As R. Yehudah ha-Nasi approached death, his maid hoped for his peaceful passing. Amidst devastation, Job hoped for wisdom.

I work with hospice patients. You would think someone close to death would have no reason to hope, but they all do. They hope their children and grandchildren will remember them and grow up to be successful, contributing members of society. They hope their loved ones will forge and maintain close and loving relationships with one another. They hope to be remembered for blessing.

The nasty irony of hope is that the worse things are and the more you need it but the harder it is to hold on to. Viktor Frankl wrote: “In a last violent protest against the hopelessness of imminent death, I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard a victorious ‘Yes’ in answer to my question of the existence of an ultimate purpose.”[2]

So it is hope that makes it possible for all of us to actually face everything. As Rabbis we can help people find seeds of hope to plant. With caring and compassion, we can tenderly nurture the emergent sapling of hope. After all, are we not here to heal one another? What better healing balm than hope.

[1] Shemot Rabbah 24:1.
[2] Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.

When Sarah Laughs, God Rejoices

Adults study Torah commentaries in Mishpacha Family Learning

While studying about Sarah’s laughter in response to God’s announcement of her imminent pregnancy, I came across this gem from Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker. The adults in our Mishpacha Family Alternative Learning program, who explored commentaries from Rashi, Onkelos, and The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, agreed that this was by far the best interpretation. Rabbi Dunsker, a 21st Century Rabbi in Washington State, wrote this first for the URJ Ten Minutes of Torah commentary on Vayeira. Rabbi Dunsker teaches:

As I read this though, Sarah’s laughter seems just as joyful and faithful as Abraham’s. What I see in these two moments is that God gave each of them the news in a way that they could each enjoy it alone. This child will be a gift to both Abraham and Sarah, they will conceive and raise him together, yet they still each must process this information personally and privately.

Abraham was alone with God and had the freedom to fall down and laugh out loud, but Sarah’s experience was different. She overheard a conversation (that it seems she was meant to overhear) in which this information was revealed, and so she laughed in her own way. Inwardly, quietly, to herself, or at herself—it doesn’t much matter to me which of these ways she laughed, just that she laughed. She laughed for the joy of receiving the blessing of a child after being denied for so long. She laughed at the miracle this birth would be. She laughed at the idea of the sexual experience she would enjoy with her husband conceiving this child. And she laughed at her poor old body experiencing pregnancy so late in the game. 

As many people do when they are caught doing something, Sarah denies it. I imagine Sarah denying her laughter while at the same time struggling to wipe the smile off her face, perhaps even snorting a little from the effort. But that lie brings her a reward. It brings her a direct communication from God. I imagine God trying to hide a smile as well when calling her on the lie, the way a parent does when he or she catches a young child in a small lie or a moment of absurdity. If God were truly angry with Sarah, this prophecy may have been rescinded or she would have been punished in some way. It seems to me that God rejoices at her laughter and rewards her with more as we read in Genesis 21:6 – Sarah says, “God has brought me laughter; all who hear will laugh with me.” Of course Isaac (Yitzchak) is named for all this joy that he brings.

I just love it when new perspectives bring forth poignant lessons from Torah. As Ben Bag Bag said (I paraphrase), when we keep looking at Torah from different angles and different perspectives, we discover even greater depths of wisdom than we ever imagined.

Introducing Torah Surfing (TM)

Challenge: Over 1,000 congregants gathered for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. All 1,000+ worshippers want to be able to touch or kiss the Torah during the Hakafah. We have only two aisles in the Fred Kavli theater in Thousand Oaks where we worship, and those aisles go up the sides of the theater. Too much of a balagan (craziness) when Torah scrolls are carried up the aisles because of the lack of space in those side aisles.

Idea: Have you ever seen a concert when the musician on the stage turns around, leans back, falls into the up-stretched arms of the crowd?  It is called “crowd surfing“.  Sometimes it looks like this.

Solution:  What if the Torah went crowd surfing? 

This year, after removing the Torah scrolls from the ark, we had congregant honorees carry two scrolls, one up each of the aisles.  Then…

Introducing Torah Surfing (TM): Before the Torah service we explained the following:

Since we have so many congregants who want to honor Torah by touching it or kissing it, and since we only have two aisles down the sides, we want to introduce Torah surfing.  After we remove Torah scrolls from the Ark and sing the appropriate prayers, we will send two scrolls up the side aisles, and two scrolls up the center of the crowd.  If Torah comes to you, hold it like you would a baby.  Use clean hands (and a pure heart); adults only hold it. Using all necessary means, do NOT drop the Torah (which results in a 40 day daytime fast for this whole community; or instead, expect to quadruple your High Holy Day pledge).  Go slowly so that everyone has a chance to kiss Torah, using either their tzitzit, their machzor (prayerbook) or their CLEAN hand.  Ushers will be at the back of the sanctuary space to receive the Torah scrolls and bring them back to the bimah.

The Result? Check out this video by Michael Kaplan (Torah Surfing (TM) may be seen midway through are pictures/video).  Worshippers lovingly carried Torah, held it alot, and stretched out so others could get to touch/kiss the Torah.  It was freilich (happy, joyous) and meshugenah (crazy).  And it increased Ahavat Torah (the love of Torah).