We had a neighbor--an elderly widow--who was vibrant, intelligent and active. As she grew older, she became increasingly forgetful. Her condition gradually worsened, to the point where she needed full time help at home.
Angel for Shabbat
“A constant fire shall be kept burning on the altar; it shall not go out” (Vayikra 6:6). This week, our family is observing the eleventh anniversary of the passing of my father-in-law, Rabbi Paul E. Schuchalter, of blessed memory. He had served for many years as rabbi of Congregation Sons of Israel in Suffern, New York. He also served as Jewish Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Hospital. Upon his retirement, he remained active in his rabbinic work, teaching and counseling.
As a rabbi active in the community, I've attended many dinners and events in support of worthy causes. I well remember attending dinners on behalf of Yeshiva University, Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, Manhattan Day School etc.--and I was impressed by the fact that I would meet a particular man at each of these dinners. He was always very gracious to me, and would come to greet me at the smorgasbord as though we were old friends. I assumed he was a great philanthropist, who was a generous supporter of all these worthy institutions who were sponsoring the fundraising dinners.
What role does the synagogue play in people's lives? Here are several models.
THE "HOSPITAL" SYNAGOGUE: This refers to people who come to the synagogue in emergencies--at a time of crisis, illness, death of a loved one. Normally, they avoid the synagogue; but they turn to it in moments of need. The synagogue is akin to a hospital--a place they generally avoid, and only attend in dire situations.
From the days of the golden calf to our own times, bullies have attempted to assert their leadership by means of violence and the instilling of fear. They have depended on the weakness of the victims to resist. Even more, they have depended on the “silent majority” that lacks the courage to stand tall.
A prevalent custom in Ashkenazic synagogues is for the congregation to stand when the Ten Commandments are read from the Torah. Among Sephardim, the widespread custom is to remain seated during the reading of the Torah, including during the recitation of the Ten Commandments. One should follow the custom of the synagogue which he/she attends.
The oppression of proselytes is a sin of the greatest magnitude. Those who foster this oppression are violating the very halakha they purport to defend. The current wave of extremism brings shame on Torah, brings shame on halakha, brings shame on the high ideals of our religious tradition.
A story is told of a man who stopped attending his usual synagogue and was now frequenting another minyan. One day he happened to meet the rabbi of his previous synagogue, and the rabbi asked him where he was praying these days. The man answered: “I am praying at a small minyan led by Rabbi Cohen.”
This week's maftir portion includes verses commanding us to obliterate the memory of Amalek, the classic arch-enemy of the people of Israel. Yet, the Torah also lists other peoples who oppressed the Israelites. The Egyptians enslaved us for centuries; the Edomites and Moabites harmed us--yet only Amalek is singled out for our eternal enmity.
This week's Torah portion begins with God commanding Moses : "And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them." Rashi comments that God instructed Moses not to teach the Israelites by rote, but to explain the reasons for the laws. If the people had the opportunity to study the reasons behind the laws, they would more likely internalize and fulfill them.