Author Archives: agudasachim

Shabbat Chanukah – December 16, 2017 – 28 Kislev 5778

There is a Hanukah story told towards the end of the Talmudic tractate Sukkah:

There is a story about Miriam bat Bilgah, that she denied her Jewish identity. She went and married a Greek officer. When the Greeks entered the Bet HaMikdash, she kicked the altar with her sandal saying, “Wolf, wolf, how long will you continue to devour the money of Israel [she is referring to the expensive sacrifices offered] and not be there for the people in their hour of need [that is, save them from the Greeks]!?!

Miriam bat Bilgah may not have been a great theologian, but she did know how to make a point with theatrical flourish. Her point, of course, was that religion sometimes seems to take away without always giving back. Why contribute time and money, if our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears? The answer to Miriam’s complaint is the central message of Hanukah. Not every crisis in our lives will be resolved through miraculous interventions on the scale of plagues in Egypt or the splitting of a sea. But if we emulate the Maccabees by taking courage and demonstrating initiative, we may be able to find a miraculous spark in our lives that burns quite a bit longer than anyone might have thought likely. By coming together as a community for study and worship, we coax that spark into a flame that illuminates and generates warmth. Have an illuminating (and happy) Hanukah!

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

December 9, 2017 – 21 Kislev 5778

This week’s parasha is about Joseph, a stunning success story of a young immigrant who rises from lowly servitude and imprisonment to become the leader in charge of economic policy and second in command of a great empire. How did he do it?

A partial answer is imbedded in a curious juxtaposition that occurs early on in the story. Joseph, we are told, is a “youth” with his brothers and a “son of old age” to his father. These two descriptions taken together reveal that Joseph was able to be a “youth” with the young and a “a son of old age” with the elderly. The Torah is telling us that Joseph possessed the right instincts to relate to people of different generations. Today, we refer to someone  with this trait as having a high social or emotional intelligence, and the research indicates that being adept at handling encounters and relationships in a broad range of social situations can be a key to overall success in life.

Being in a community does not necessarily mean being “best friends” with everyone in that community. But fruitful and effective community participation does require a penchant for relating to a variety of needs in the group, and being willing to embrace diversity helps a lively bunch of people retain its cohesiveness. Joseph drew on these personal strengths in his rise to leadership in ancient Egypt. Striving to emulate Joseph is a step towards being a leader in the modern community of today.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayishlach – December 2, 2017 – 14 Kislev 5778

“Jacob came to Luz in the land of Canaan; that is Bet El, he and all the people who were with him. He built there an altar and called the place El Bet El.” With these words, the Bible informs us that Jacob is the first to have made a promise (in this case 20 years earlier; cf. Gen. 28:20-22) and to have kept it. The fulfillment of the first promise was to honor a commitment to return to a place designated for prayer. Why?

The ability to make promises is a feature of humanity which distinguishes us from the rest of the natural world. Other animals do amazing things but, as far as one can tell, making and keeping commitments is beyond their reach. Commitment depends upon at least three prerequisites. In order to make a promise, one must be able to anticipate what lies ahead. To avoid breaking a promise, one must be able to remember what has transpired. To fulfill a promise one must see oneself as having accountability. In Pirke Avot it is said, “Watch out for three things and you won’t come into sin: Know from where you came, to where you are going, and before whom you will give justification and an accounting.” These three traits are the hallmark of the covenantal personality. To reflect, to aspire, and to face the verdict are the very essence of prayer.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Family Chanukah Party Featuring Art w/Anna

Sunday, December 17

Time: 5:00 pm for Art w/Anna! Parents & kids will be making a Chanukah luminary together! (Bring your own menorah & candles from home for candle lighting that night.)

Menu: Mac & cheese, latkes, Greek salad & dessert!

Member Cost: $5.50/adult; $3/child (ages 2-10), $20/family cap
Non-members: $7.50/adult; $5/child (ages 2-10); No family cap

Your payment is your reservation! RSVP by December 11 to rsvp@agudasachim.org or call the shul at 614-237-2747.

JoLT Shabbat dinner & Kid-Friendly Kabbalat Shabbat service

Friday, December 8 – Open to the congregation!

Time: 5:15 pm, followed by dinner

Menu: Chicken soup, gefilte fish, kishke, rice or spaghetti, chicken, and assorted sorbets for dessert! (everything is vegetarian except the chicken)

Member Cost: $10/adult; $5/child (10 & under); $25/family cap
Non-members: $15/adult; $8/child (10 & under); no family cap

Your payment is your reservation! RSVP by December 1 to rsvp@agudasachim.org or call the shul at 614-237-2747.

Parashat Vayetze – November 25, 2017 – 7 Kislev 5778

This week’s parasha opens with the famous incident of Yacov’s dream of the angels and the ladder to heaven. Upon awakening, Yacov declares, “This awesome place must be a house of God yet I did not realize it.” The label, “house of God” would seem to imply that Yacov has identified this place as being the very first synagogue. Why does Yacov describe his shul as “awesome,” rather than as being “elegant” or “stately”?

In his choice of words, Yacov reveals to us that it is not the extravagance of the place that reflects its holiness. After all, this initial synagogue lacks even a pew to sit on – Yacov must gather a few stones to arrange a place to rest. In calling the place “awesome,” Yacov must not be referring to its physical state, but rather to the experience of his encounter there. From here we may learn that it is not the physical state of a place that makes it spiritually “awesome.” Clearly, what counts is the quality of the experience. At Agudas Achim, we are blessed with a comfortable, well-appointed building in which to study and worship. However, as our name implies, we are not about a pretty building. We are an “Agudas Achim;” a fellowship of brothers and sisters. For our religious community, the warmth of the physical space is secondary to the warmth and enthusiasm of those gathered together for the Shabbat services and wholesome Kiddush. We look forward to you joining us. Shabbat Shalom!

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Toldot – November 18, 2017 – 29 Cheshvan 5778

It is perplexing that Esau would so blithely give up his birthright for something as trivial as a bowl of lentils. What caused him to so readily part with his patrimony?

Upon coming in from the field, Esau noted that his brother Jacob was cooking lentils; a dish Jewish tradition has long associated with mourning. According to the Midrash, Esau asked, “Who died”? Jacob answered, “Grandpa Abraham.” Immediately, Esau concluded that his birthright was worthless if a man as close to God as Abraham wasn’t holy enough to regain the immortality of the Garden of Eden.

Esau suffered the loss of a grandfather he evidently held in awe. It was an experience which shattered his faith. But even worse, he gave up. Loss of faith doesn’t have to mean giving up. Sometimes loss of faith can be a step in the right direction.

The Hasidic leader, R. Moshe Leib of Sassov, believed that virtually any human trait could be good, depending upon the circumstances. His disciples challenged him to come up with a situation that would vindicate loss of faith. He answered, “When we see pain and suffering, and we have the tendency to think that God will act so that we are absolved from taking action, that is when it would be better not to have faith in God at all.”

Loss and suffering are part of the human experience. Some lose faith in self-pity, others offer “thoughts and prayers,” while a few suspend faith in favor of action.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Chaye Sarah – November 11, 2017 – 22 Cheshvan 5778

Why do we delay Kiddush in shul with singing and blessings? Kiddush is very popular. Why not dig right in and save the blessings for afterwards?

In this week’s parasha, Avraham’s servant is sent on a crucially important mission: To bring back a suitable wife for Isaac from Aram, the place of Avraham’s kin. After having arrived and having met Rebecca, the bride to be, the servant is invited to her family’s home and a delicious meal is placed before him. Then a curious thing happens. Instead of starting to eat, the servant says, “I will not eat until I have spoken my piece.” (24:33) Why doesn’t the servant eat what he has been served and afterwards speak? Why does he insist on speaking first?

The commentators explain that diving into the food would have had the unintended consequence of diminishing the importance of the servant’s message. By insisting that he speak before beginning to eat, he knew he would have everyone’s full attention and respect. A wise rabbi realizes that he/she stands between the Jews and their Kiddush, and services that seem to drag on too long will not be appreciated. None the less, we also realize that if we want our services to get the attention they deserve, davening and blessings need to happen before the Kiddush buffet line gets underway!

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayera – November 4, 2017 – 15 Cheshvan 5778

One of the reasons that I look forward to this week’s parasha is because it features the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim (hospitality). Avraham, the founder of our faith, is the model in our tradition for the pursuit of this mitzvah. He is depicted as stationing himself at the entrance to his tent diligently awaiting the appearance of any wayfarer who he might persuade to partake of his hospitality.

The Torah emphasizes that Avraham sought guests in the “heat of the day.” The commentaries make much of the significance of this detail. One interpretation in particular notes that just as the sun shines on everyone, rich and poor, good and not so good, likewise did Avraham happily offer his hospitality to anyone he could.

The Midrash links Avraham’s hospitality with his success in bringing converts to his newfound faith in God. Although today we are less focused on proselytizing others than on in reach to fellow Jews, the lesson remains the same; hospitality builds community.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine