Author Archives: agudasachim

Shabbat Chanukah – December 8, 2018 – 30 Kislev 5779

Lighting the Hanukiah (“menorah” or Hanukkah lamp) is the central aspect of Hanukkah observance, but in antiquity lighting lamps at home would have been a regular evening occurrence, not restricted to Hanukkah. The Talmud promises that anyone who is steadfast in lighting a “light” will merit children dedicated to Jewish learning. The question is what act of providing light is being referred to here? Some commentators, noting the context of the Talmudic passage, explain that the text refers to the Hanukkah light. Others, noting that Hanukkah is not actually specified in the promise, comment that the reference is to ordinary lights that are lit upon dark.

According to the view that ordinary lights are meant, the promise of the Talmud may mean that going to the trouble of providing light in the home (a bit of a luxury before electricity) in order to read is educational. Children who see that their parents love reading may (eventually) value it themselves. After a stressful day, parents are tired and understandably feel that they deserve a break. It often takes extra effort to “turn on the lights,” but doing so to study justifies the expectation that one’s children will internalize similar patterns of discipline and dedication.

According to the view that the promise of studious children depends upon lighting the Hanukiah, the above reasoning cannot apply. The Hanukkah lights are wholly dedicated to publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah; it is forbidden to use their illumination for any other purpose, including to read by! Perhaps the answer is hinted at in the blessing recited over the ritual lighting.

According to the text of the blessing, God “commanded” us to light the Hanukkah lights. The rabbis ask how this is possible. There is no such command in the Torah (the events commemorated by the holiday happened centuries after the Torah was written). The rabbis answer that the Torah grants permission to innovate, and so Hanukkah lighting becomes a subsequent commandment. In lighting for Hanukkah, we affirm the richness and elasticity of our tradition that allows for adaptation and growth. It is through this mechanism that Judaism finds expression and even flourishes despite ever changing cultural contexts and challenges. When our children see that we embrace the capacity of our tradition to innovate, they will begin to understand its enduring relevance. This will inspire a life of learning.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Chanukah – December 1, 2018 – 23 Kislev 5779

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

Shul Chanukah Party & Kids Movie Night

Saturday, December 8 at 6 pm

Havdalah, dinner, candle lighting, and a movie (TBA)!

Kids can come in their PJs! Chanukah giveaways!

On the menu: latkes, mac & cheese, salad and
Chanukah cookies.

Only $10/family! RSVP to the shul office by
December 3rd at 614-237-2747 or rsvp@agudasachim.org.

Parashat Vayishlach – November 24, 2018 – 16 Kislev 5779

The Torah tells us that Jacob grew very frightened at the prospect of a homecoming confrontation with his brother, Esau. The rabbis express puzzlement over Jacob’s anxiety. “Why,” they ask, “should Jacob have been frightened? After all, his return home has been commanded by God. Doesn’t Jacob trust God’s command enough not to be scared to fulfill it?”

The rabbis answer to Jacob reasoned that although he was following God’s commands, his brother Esau was not without merit. Indeed, Esau may have earned God’s favor by having lived in the land of Israel while Jacob had been living outside the land. Esau had been fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring their parents, while Jacob had long been absent from home. Jacob grew anxious that perhaps his own good deeds were insufficient and in a confrontation with his brother, he may find that he lacks the merit to prevail.

From this episode the Midrash concludes that there are “no guarantees for the righteous.” A person must not think, “I’ve done well, I’ve earned God’s grace, all will be fine with me.” Rather, a person must consider that life comes without such assurances and despite the anxiety of carrying on in uncertainty, we must resist wavering from the goals we believe to be right.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayetze – November 17, 2018 – 9 Kislev 5779

Our parasha opens with Jacob stopping to sleep in the place where he has his dream of the angels and the ladder to heaven. The text says that he collected stones (in the plural) as a pillow for his head, but when he wakes up it turns out he had been sleeping upon a single stone. Rashi famously explains that the stones bickered amongst themselves, each one insisting that it deserved the honor of being Jacob’s pillow, so God appeased them by miraculously combining them into a single large stone.

Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipa (d. 1904), Grand Rebbe of Siget, had many opponents in his city. Once, while at the table with his disciples, a large stone was thrown through the window. The rebbe ducked, and by a miracle the stone did not injure him. One of the disciples picked it up and said, “How awful. What a terrible person to throw such a stone, which is large enough to seriously injure someone!” “No,” said the rebbe, “We must not suspect people of throwing such stones. It must be that they threw a bunch of small stones; and, in the midst of arguing amongst themselves – each stone saying, ‘Let me be the one to come up against the head of this rabbi’ – they were made all into a single stone.”

The capacity to de-escalate a fraught situation when one is the intended victim takes incredible courage and discipline. To do so with a humorous play on the Rashi commentary requires knowledge and intellectual agility. Torah at its best.

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Toldot – November 10, 2018 – 2 Kislev 5779

Jacob and Esau were twins. According to a fanciful interpretation of the rabbis, even when they were still in Rebecca’s womb they revealed their core values. When their mother would walk by a disreputable place, Esau would push to be born. Whenever she would walk by a reputable place, Jacob would push to be born. The commentators note that Esau, being the first born, must have been ahead of his brother in the womb. Therefore, Jacob could not push himself out because Esau was in the way. However, they ask, given that Esau was in the advantaged position, why didn’t Esau follow through and push himself out if being in a disreputable place was so important to him?

The answer, it seems, is that Esau was not primarily interested in pursuing bad for himself. Rather, he was committed to preventing his brother Jacob from pursuing good. We often suppose that our moral choices are between pursuing the good vs. pursuing the bad. Our tradition points out that sometimes a situation is more complicated. There are instances in which even if a person refrains from doing wrong himself, he may prevent another from doing right. This too is morally problematic behavior.

Judaism is practiced not by mere individuals but by individuals who are members of a community. Part of what it means to be a community is that members are not satisfied to only do the right thing themselves; we also work hard to support others in achieving their goals.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Chaye Sarah – November 3, 2018 – 25 Cheshvan 5779

Ha-Makom Yinachem…

Our Parasha begins with reporting the death of Sarah. “And Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to weep for her.” It has been pointed out that the wording here is counter-intuitive. It would be expected from one suffering the death of his beloved that he would cry first and afterwards eulogize. Why the reverse order?

The Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy which says, “Behold, I take from you the delight of your eyes at a stroke… Groan silently; do not mourn.” The Talmud cites this passage and posits that it refers to the tragic situation of a sudden, unexpected death. A case in which the deceased was “snatched” away.

Death can be shocking and disorientating. Sometimes tears of mourning cannot come right away. A person may need the framing and modest emotional distance of a few words, or a eulogy, to regain a sense of equilibrium. Whereas some may find it “too early” for words, another may “groan silently” until the right words, carefully chosen, allow the more raw expressions of profound loss, wailing and tears, to well up. Perhaps Abraham found at first he could not cry for Sarah. He eulogized her, and then his tears flowed.

Terrible sadness, anger, and a range of unhappy emotions hammer us as we reel from the blow of the anti-Semitic atrocity perpetrated at the Tree of life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Some of us were immediately moved to tears on the behalf of the victims, fellow Jews at prayer, and for the courageous police officers wounded while trying to save them. Some of us may need the acknowledgment of words to begin to fully absorb the tragedy. Whether it moves from tears to words, or from words to tears, mourning is a process. “May God console the mourners in the midst of all mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Message from Rabbi Levine

Our sages tell us us that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had two gates; one for those suffering loss and anguish. The people of Jerusalem would gather by that gate and offer words of kindness saying, “May the One who dwells in this house comfort you.” Today, we have our synagogues; places of holiness, that in times of hardship we may gather to bear our grief and console ourselves in mutual solidarity.

On this coming Shabbat morning, November 3, the Agudas Achim community will be gathering as we do each and every Shabbat. Some of us attend Shabbat services regularly and this Shabbat, in addition to our regular service, we will acknowledge the atrocity which occurred at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. While I know that some of us are not regular shul-goers, or may have made other plans for this Saturday, I’m asking that you change those plans. This Shabbat we should come together in solidarity as an Agudas Achim community. This is in line with the international #ShowUpForShabbat initiative.

In the wake of the tragedy, our leadership team led by Ari Goldberg, Executive Director, and Julie Saar, President, immediately set out to convene a task force consisting of the Executive Committee and staff to meet with the Columbus Jewish Community’s security consultant, Fred Bowditch, to re-examine our security protocols. This Shabbat, we will be joined by Bexley’s Chief of Police, Larry Rinehart, who will speak to us at the conclusion of services about what we are doing now and what we will be considering going forward to make sure we and our families are safe in our building. Chief Rinehart will also join us for Kiddush lunch to answer any questions or address any concerns individuals may have.

This Shabbat we will have two armed, uniformed police officers guarding the building, grounds, and atrium entrance. The doors will be locked from the outside, with access to the building using your key fobs at the parking lot door. If you do not yet have a fob, we will be able to greet you at the door and arrange for you to have a fob for future access. If you prefer not to use electronic devices on Shabbat, please notify me or Ari by Friday morning so that we may appropriately accommodate you. Locking our doors is important for our security. If you have questions or concerns about this policy, please do not hesitate to contact Ari or me. Further adjustments to our security protocols are still under discussion and we will provide those details as they are finalized.

A number of the rabbis who are part of our Agudas community have graciously agreed to contribute their presence and lend a voice to helping us acknowledge and navigate these challenging times during services this Shabbat. They will be joining me on the bima to share passages from our tradition to help us regain our orientation and face this awful tragedy. Please join us.

As your spiritual leader I know this is a period of emotional turmoil for our community. Our Jewish tradition and our basic humanity tell us that coming together will always be part of the solution. Let that which binds us together continue to strengthen us, and may life and goodness prevail.

B’Yedidut (with friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine

Parashat Vayera – October 27, 2018 – 18 Cheshvan 5779

After the destruction of Sodom, we are informed, “And Avraham journeyed from there.” (Gen. 20:1) Avraham, as we learn at the beginning of the parasha, had a passion for the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim; providing hospitality to wayfarers. According to the Midrash, the destruction of the major city in the region resulted in a sharp decline in the number of available wayfarers. Upon realizing that his opportunities for this mitzvah had been considerably diminished, Avraham decided to pitch his tent somewhere more promising. What might we learn from this?

Rabbi Abun cited a verse from the Book of Job, “Mountains collapse and crumble; Rocks are moved from their place.’ ‘Mountains collapse and crumble’ – this is Lot. ‘Rocks are moved from their place’ – this is Avraham, for he turned from place to place.

This seems paradoxical. A mountain is just a really big rock; a rock is just a chunk of collapsed mountain. What’s the difference?

Lot was like a mountain. Fixed to his spot, he could not extract himself from a negative situation until it literally collapsed around him. By contrast, Avraham was a restless seeker, a rolling stone constantly on the prowl for a spiritual frontier; for an opportunity to strike sparks in some new place that had not yet seen the light. In the case of Sodom, it proved better to be an independent “rock” than a settled “mountain.” Nonetheless, there are situations where the sacred is to found in the well-established, and where being an entrenched mountain is better than floundering amidst the flux. Ultimately, we must have the capacity to be both – at times dwelling undisturbed like a mountain; at times breaking loose like a rock.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vorki was asked what constitutes a true Jew. He said: “Three things are fitting for us: upright kneeling, silent screaming, motionless dance.” We may add: To be spiritually seeking while dwelling.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine