Judaism that is based primarily on the “conservative” tendency becomes dry and over-ritualized. Judaism that is based primarily on the “restorative” element becomes quixotic and irrelevant. Judaism that is based primarily on the “utopian” element becomes deracinated, flailing out in various directions while disconnecting itself from the wellsprings of Jewish tradition.
Angel for Shabbat
If Shemini Hag Atsereth is God's challenge to the Jewish people, Simhat Torah is the Jewish people's answer to God. It is a very good answer, an inspiring answer; it is the only answer that can give us genuine strength and happiness as we face the complexities of the real world in which we live.
Quiet piety and self-effacing righteousness are great virtues. Yet, when we need to make a public stand on behalf of our people--then we should set aside our humility and step forward with self-confidence. When the honor and well-being of our people are at stake, we dare not shy away from responsibility. When evil persists in the world, we may not let humility get in the way of forceful resistance to evil.
It is easy to fall into line with the crowd, and suspend our own clear judgment. The Torah warns us: do not be an idolater, do not veer from truth, do not falsely evaluate things or people.
The Torah portion opens with a discussion about going to war. Many of our rabbinic commentators have expanded the meaning of the text to refer not to wars against external enemies, but to wars against our own evil inclinations. These internal wars are battles for self-definition. Either we can win and live meaningfully and happily; or we can lose by succumbing to pressures that lead us to abandon our own values and ideals.
Some Jews are “Jewish” only (or mainly) in response to anti-Semitism or anti-Israel attacks. They are “camp” Jews. Some Jews are “Jewish” only (or mainly) in their fulfillment of the rituals of our religious tradition. They are “congregation” Jews. In fact, though, we each need to play our role in both domains.
Is it really fair to blame ourselves and our sins for all the sufferings we have undergone? How about those wicked nations and people who have tortured, murdered, exiled and humiliated us? Whatever sins were committed by the Jews of Temple days, weren't the sins of the Babylonians and Romans far worse? Instead of blaming ourselves, shouldn't we be blaming the vicious enemies who perpetrated such evil against us?
Angel for Shabbat, Matot-Masei
by Rabbi Marc D. Angel
It is said that when Alexander the Great reached the peak of his career by conquering the entire known world—he broke down and cried.
One explanation for his crying is that he realized that there were no more battles for him to undertake. His best achievements were in the past. He had climbed to the top and had nowhere else to go. He cried in frustration.
Moses is seeking a leader who will be genuine, reliable and trustworthy. He asks for a leader who takes personal responsibility for each member of the community. He wants a real leader, not a false image of a leader. He wants a leader with an honest countenance, not one with a fake smile. He wants someone who actually believes in his mission, not someone who pretends to be a leader and goes through the charades of leadership for p.r. purposes.
When making important decisions, one must make pragmatic judgments based on as much fact as possible. To base decisions on wishful thinking and the aid of glib soothsayers is to follow the leadership style of Balak. Failure is an inevitable result.