Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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There are several times in the story of our ancestors’ wilderness wanderings in which “kvetching” (complaining) rises to a crescendo.  In parashat Chukat, the complaint is about being tired of the miraculous manna that served as food through the 40 wilderness years.  God punishes the Israelites with snake bites.  Then, curiously, the cure for the snake bites is the mounting of a copper snake figure on a standard.  Those who looked at the snake statue were healed. (Num. 21: 4- 9).  As strange as this story may seem, it is interesting that the snake is a symbol for healing in other contexts and cultures as well.  For example, Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, took the form of a serpent.  Thus a symbol of medicine to this day is the serpent and the staff. 

Korach contains the story of the rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s leadership.  The rebels are punished by being swallowed up by the earth, burned, or struck by a plague.  Those who choose loyalty to God are rewarded.  Just after this incident, God instructs Moses to perform a strange rite.  Moses is to gather all of the staffs of the leaders of the 12 tribes, including Aaron’s, and place them in the Tent of Meeting.  God promises that the staff that sprouts will be God’s chosen leader.  Aaron’s staff not only sprouts, but has flowers and almonds.  Thus, the primacy of Aaron’s leadership was confirmed, and Moses was instructed to display Aaron’s rod in front of the Ark as a warning to future rebels.  (Num. 17: 16-26.)  Although we do not have a blooming almond branch in front of the ark today, one mosaic found on an ancient synagogue floor in Israel (Beit Alpha- 6th century) does show such a symbol before the ark.   Look to the right of the menorah on the right below.

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In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Simon Federbush explained the Torah’s limitation taking vows of abstinence as described in the Nazirite vow. (Num. 6:1-8)  One could take such vows, but only for a limited time and separating oneself from society in very limited ways.  Federbush wrote: “…they rejected those who afflict themselves with asceticism because they were convinced that he who is occupied with ascetic indulgence will have no mind for the needs of his neighbor.”  Our forebears, said Federbush, realized that antisocial behavior is alien to the spirit of Judaism.  (URJ Plaut Torah Commentary, p. 943) In the wake of this week’s tragedy in Orlando, it is difficult to discern what might have been in the mind of the shooter.  But, one thing is clear, which is often true in the case of mass murders:   The perpetrator kept to himself.  Even at his mosque during Ramadan, a time of much communal support, he sat alone in a corner, to the consternation of his fellow Muslims.  Our wise forebears sensed the danger of cutting oneself off from society.  They may not have imagined a result such as the tragedy of Orlando, but they knew asceticism was unhealthy for the individual and society.

MAY FOOD OF THE MONTH:Canned or Dried Beans

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Thursday, May 25, CUSH Annual Celebration Banquet

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