Parashat Beshalach – January 19, 2019 – 13 Shevat 5779

This week, in Parashat Beshalach, the Jewish people face hunger and thirst in the Sinai wilderness. In their distress they cry out in prayer and God answers them by saying, “In the afternoon you shall eat meat and in the morning you shall be sated with bread, and you shall know that I am HaShem, your God.” Rabbi Naftali of Ropczyce (1760-1827) asked, “What does this episode add to our understanding of prayer? After all, it is commonplace for people who are hungry and thirsty to appeal to God in prayer.” “The answer,” he said, “is to be found in the juxtaposition of their being fed with the conclusion that they will then know God. It is typical that a person in distress cries out in prayer, but it is a blessing when even a person who ‘eats meat’ and is ‘sated with bread’ finds the motivation to turn to God.”

This interpretation characterizes the Shabbat morning experience at Agudas Achim. First, we pray and afterwards we sit down to a lovely Kiddush luncheon. It is no great surprise that we pray at the time appointed for prayer (and while still hungry for lunch). However, when we also find spiritual renewal in the conversation among friends at the Kiddush following the service; this is truly a blessing.  We thank Jeri Block & Robert H. Schottenstein for the kiddush this week and offer a hearty mazel tov to Jia Jia on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Bo – January 12, 2019 – 6 Shevat 5779

We value having a sense of control in life and we use planning and preparation in order to maintain it. On the other hand, spontaneity is a critical component of the awe and wonderment we call spiritual experience. Spontaneity is the antithesis of planning and preparing.

Moses knew that encounters with God are not generally planned (recall the burning bush), but that does not necessitate being caught unprepared. In this week’s Torah portion, pharoah tries to persuade Moses to take only what will be required for worship when he leaves Egypt to serve God in the desert. Moses replies that the Israelites must depart with all of their belongings, for “we will not know with what we will serve God until we get there.” The unknowable deprives us of the opportunity to plan, but marshalling all of our resources allows us to compensate somewhat by being prepared.

The sage Hillel went a step further. He and his colleague, Shammai, shared the goal of honoring the Sabbath with the best possible meal. Both made daily visits to the market. Shammai had a plan. He would purchase the best food he could afford for Shabbat each day of the week. If he found something even better the following day, he would consume the first purchase and set aside the second for Shabbat. By week’s end, Shammai could not have been better prepared for the shabbat meal. Hillel embraced a different virtue. He would wait to do his Shabbat shopping until the last minute and arrive in the marketplace on Friday, confident that among its offerings he would find whatever meal would be the best. Having substituted faith for an actual plan, Hillel risked entering shabbat less prepared than Shammai. Nonetheless, his Shabbat meals seem to have been no less delicious. The Talmud comments that every day Shammai merited to eat “for Shabbat,” but Hillel’s carpe diem attitude enabled him to live the blessing of each and every day.

It is human nature to plan and to prepare. Our survival may depend upon it. But following a script is not the path to awe and wonderment. There can be no spontaneity on our journey without a measure of risk. We just can’t know how we’ll serve God until we are there.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Brotherhood Bowling

The Brotherhood invites all to attend a fun-filled Sunday “Bowling” event, January 27, 1-4 p.m. at Gahanna Lanes, 215 W. Johnstown Road.
The cost is $5/person or $10/family. Checks, cash or credit card info must be in by January 22. For more information, call Bobbie at 614-237-2747, ext. 22 or email  (  .

Friday night Shabbat dinner

January 25 at 5:45 pm – OPEN TO EVERYONE!
On the menu: challah, chicken, rice, kugel, salad, and dessert
An interactive Tu b’Shevat seder will be held throughout the meal.
Members: $10/adult; $5/child (10 & under); $25/family cap
Non-members: $15/adult; $7.50/child (10 & under); no family cap
Your payment is your RSVP! Please respond by January 18th to Naomi  (   and specify if a vegetarian meal is needed.

Information Session about Agudas Achim Israel Trip

Wednesday, January 16 at 7 pm at the shul

Next year in Jerusalem isn’t just what we sing at the end of the Passover Seder. Make plans to join Agudas Achim’s congregational trip to Israel one-year from now, November 3 – 12, 2019!!

8-days of touring in a luxury, air-conditioned bus with a licensed, English speaking tour educator. Cities to be visited include: Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Kfar Saba, Caesarea, Akko, Rosh Hanikra, Safed, Jerusalem.
This trip is being planned in partnership with Da’at Educational Expeditions. Da’at Educational Expeditions has provided top level educational tours to Israel since 1991.  We are guided by a simple concept: that educational content and a meaningful personal experience should be at the core of an Israel trip experience.

Speak with Julie Saar (  (  ) or Rabbi Levine  (   for more information.

Participants can register in the following ways:
  1. Over the phone by calling the Customer Service Center at 888-811-2812 x 1, open Monday – Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
  2. Online by visiting On the top right hand side of our homepage there is a search box to find the trip.   People can go directly to the trips website at Once on the trip’s website, click the “Register Now” button to finalize the booking online.
In order to finalize registration participants will be asked to pay a $500 per person, non-refundable, deposit.  Final payment for all participants is due 90 days prior to departure.
Final travel documents with e-ticket information (if applicable), contact information for hotels, tour educator, and account manager, will be sent to all participants via email approximately 3 weeks prior to departure.

Have Agudas Shabbas!

Have Agudas Shabbas is back! What month or months will YOU host or be a guest?
Have Agudas Shabbas is one of the ways that we bring our Agudas families closer together by inviting each other to our homes for a Shabbat dinner. This year, Have Agudas Shabbas will take place January 11, February 8 and March 8. Invite your friends as well as a couple of people or a family that you might not know so well. The Agudas Achim office can help with the extra guests!
Everyone “does” Shabbat in their own way, so whether you recite all the blessings before dinner or just sit down for the festive meal, it’s your way of bringing in Shabbat. You need not have a kosher kitchen and the time you begin is up to you, prior to the official Shabbat candle-lighting time (if you have small children) or well after.
Host families will receive a lovely Have Agudas Shabbas challah cover as a special gift and a handy reference sheet for key Friday night rituals.
Please email or call Bobbie at, 614-237-2747, ext. 22 to let her know which month(s) you can Host and/or which month(s) you would like to be a Guest.
Shabbat is our “beating heart,” when you will experience us at our best!

Parashat Vaera – January 5, 2019 – 28 Tevet 5779

In politics, standing for truth & justice and being pragmatic are not the same, and may even be in conflict. Moses, an adept political leader, seeks to resolve this conflict by tempering idealism with some strategic thinking. Consider this example:

In the midst of the plagues devastating Egypt, Moses tells pharaoh that he must let the people go to worship God in the wilderness. Pharaoh suggests that the people worship God right where they are; in Egypt. Moses replies that it would be improper to do so, for Israelite worship involves the sacrifice of animals viewed as sacred by the Egyptians, and it would be counterproductive to cause the Egyptians blatant offense by slaughtering their gods right in front of them.

One would not expect Moses, the zealous prophet of ethical monotheism, to politely speak up to protect the sensibilities of idol worshippers, yet here we have it. Moses’s aim is to liberate his people and, to succeed, pharaoh must be thwarted. There seems to have been no upside to deliberately offending the Egyptians.Trying to separate pharoah from his base by allowing plagues to be blamed on his obstinacy makes strategic sense, whereas insulting the Egyptians’ values might only reinforce blind loyalty to their leader.

God, it seems, adopts a different perspective. God insists on a four day long interval during which the Israelites tie up and slaughter their paschal lambs in the presence of the Egyptians. The religion of Egypt was false. The risk that a demonstration of this might provoke the Egyptians does not seem to have been a factor; but then again, God is not a politician.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayechi – December 22, 2018 – 14 Tevet 5779

An unusual feature of Parashat Vayechi is that it is “stumah,” or “blocked.” This means that there is no line break between the end of last week’s parasha and the beginning of this week’s in the Torah scroll. Rashi offers a number of explanations. One of them is that the “blocked” stylistic arrangement is meant to symbolize that upon Jacob’s death, his children’s eyes became “blocked” from seeing that the enslavement in Egypt had begun. Elsewhere, Rashi posits that the enslavement in Egypt began later, with the death of Levi, the last of Jacob’s sons. How can this apparent contradiction be reconciled?

According to the Gerer Rebbe, Yehudah Aryeh Lev Alter (1847-1905), Rashi is speaking of two different “enslavements” – enslavement of the body and enslavement of the spirit. Our physical enslavement did not begin until after the generation of Jacob’s sons had passed. But our spiritual enslavement began the moment we buried Jacob, and with him our commitment to a distinct Jewish way of life and values.

This is the way it is with human nature. We imagine that we are completely free in the absence of physical threat or confinement. Rarely do we reflect upon the cultural and subconscious influences that powerfully yet more subtly influence our choices.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayigash – December 15, 2018 – 7 Tevet 5779

Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and is reunited with his father. Although the Torah describes Jacob’s reaction to the news that his son, Joseph, still lives, and their emotional reunion in Egypt, the Torah is silent on the issue of how Jacob reacted to the unpleasant details of the brothers’ complicity in Joseph having ended up a slave in Egypt in the first place. Our commentators suggest that, in fact, Jacob never asked Joseph about what had happened to him, and Joseph never told him. Why not?

Perhaps some things are just better left unsaid. Some things we just don’t need to know. If Jacob were to ask, Joseph would have to tell him. If Joseph wanted a family life tainted by resentment and recrimination he could have spilled the beans, but he seems to have been more interested in going along and getting along, counting on lessons learned and better relations going forward.

The haftarah is taken from prophetic books written centuries after the events depicted in our Torah Reading. Typically the haftarah connects to the Torah reading by evoking some theme common to both texts. In the case of this week’s Torah reading, the haftarah refers to an enduring conflict between Ephraim, a tribe descended from Joseph, and the tribe of Joseph’s brother, Judah. Although the eventual reconciliation of these tribes is presented as a prophetic dream, the sad reality seems to be that conflict and disunity amongst them had persisted for many centuries, and the northern tribes were “lost” before unity could be restored.

Relationships can be complicated and tough. Mistakes may be made and regrets deeply felt. There is great risk taking an honest and unvarnished look at who did what to whom. But there is also a risk inherent in avoiding full disclosure – perhaps hurts will fester and the repercussions will leave even deeper scars. Ancient Israel eventually split apart. I wonder if reconciliation may sometimes depend upon the courage to face every truth, no matter how unpleasant.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine