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Posted June 12, 2018 - 6:08am

The other night I was driving my family home from somewhere we had gone and my youngest son, who is obsessed with football, brought up the topic of the various ways a touchdown is considered valid or invalid. For instance, a play is considered a touchdown if the football crosses the plane of the goal line. However, he began explaining the difference between what is considered a touchdown in the NFL versus college football. Do both feet have to cross the goal line or just one? What if a player was in the end zone, but leaned across the goal line to catch the ball and immediately fell forward and the ball technically never crossed the goal line? What if a player was tackled a few inches in front of the end zone and slid, ball first, over the goal line? What if … As you can see, the scenarios are endless. But someone has to define what a touchdown is or isn’t in specific enough terms to allow the players to know if they have succeeded or not in scoring a touchdown.

But the details don’t stop there. For every play of the game there are specific rules that govern what happens next. What happens if a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the ball is snapped? What about if that happens to an offensive player? When an offensive player is carrying the ball, what criteria has to be met for the runner to be considered stopped? How much forward movement must he have to continue and what about the whole thing with his knee touching the ground? When is a fumble really a fumble and when can a ball continue in play? You get the point. The rules are endless.

Towards the end of my discussion with my son, I told him he was a legalist. At first he didn’t understand. And then I said, “You’re so caught up with the rules, that you’ve lost track of the game.” But my comment was in jest. For him, and so many other men like him who have a passion for sports, knowing the intricacy of the rules is one of the things that make the game 

Posted June 1, 2018 - 8:59am

Finding A Needle In A Haystack

Our portion begins by describing several events regarding the inauguration of the Levites, the laws of Pesach Sheini (the Second Passover), how the physical manifestation of the cloud by day and fire by night guided the Israelites in their journeys, the instructions regarding the silver trumpets, and the departure of Jethro. From there we hear how the Children of Israel begin to complain to the point of even looking back at Egypt with nostalgia. Their grumblings and ungrateful attitudes invoke anger from their Redeemer, causing the death of many through a plague that struck while they gorged themselves on the meat of quails.

Amid the harsh judgments measured out to the Children of Israel for their complaining and bickering, there is a sub-theme running through this week’s Torah portion like a golden thread woven into a garment. It begins when the LORD tells Moses that He will take a portion of the Spirit given to him and distribute it among a select group of Israelite elders:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.” (Numbers 11:16–17)

First, rather than the LORD simply placing the Holy Spirit upon these men, some of the portion of what Moses was to be given was withheld for them. Moses could have easily baulked at this idea. However, he doesn’t complain. He is content with God’s plan, even if it means reducing the portion of what was given to him. He is thankful that God is going to give to others what was, until this time, exclusively his.

Posted May 28, 2018 - 6:21am

Yesterday, rather than going to my normal gym, I went with a friend to his gym and exercised with him on his exercise routine. Today, I am reaping what I have sown: pain, tenderness, soreness, stiffness, and wonderful feelings of growth, strength, and accomplishment.

For years and years I avoided the gym, simply because the thought of it was just too painful. Why would anyone in their right mind take time out of their busy schedule to put themselves through hell and back day after day? Just thinking about exercising nearly made me reach for the ibuprofen and an ice pack.

One of the side effects of Western culture in a post-modern society is that we don’t have a concept of anything beyond the current moment. Why should I take an hour or more to prepare a healthy meal when I can drive through McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A and eat it now? Why set back a portion of my income each week for the future, when I could use that money now? Why invest in a skill that takes years to develop, when I can settle for a decent-paying job now (that will probably lay me off in a year)?

Many times we choose to forego the investment into tomorrow to satisfy the demands of today. We rob Peter to pay Paul and continue to slide away from a life of fulfillment and stability into a constant scouring for how we can be fulfilled in our current moment. Or how we can be entertained when we are unsatisfied with the choices we have made that have lead us to this point.

Yes, growth is painful. But there is a reward, a beauty, and a sense of confidence that come as a result of the pain of growth. Sure, we can avoid pain, but only at the expense of atrophy. Growth, however, brings with it a cost. And if you’re willing to pay that cost, little by little, then you will grow and become something better, stronger, and more confident than what you were yesterday, a week, or a year from today.

Posted May 25, 2018 - 10:47am

The Power of Blessing

In this week’s parashah, we continue learning about the responsibilities of the Levitical tribes to transport the Tabernacle and its components. In the previous portion we learned about the responsibilities of the Kohathite family, and in our current portion we learn about the responsibilities of the tribes of Gershon and Merari. However, the Torah then transitions into the test for the sotah, the wayward wife, and the laws of the Nazarite. Our parashah concludes by recounting the various offerings brought by the tribal heads for the inauguration service of the Tabernacle. The topic we are going to explore now, however, is six short verses wedged in between the laws of the Nazarite and the dedication offerings. Numbers 6:22–27 records for us what is commonly called the Birchat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, also known as the Aaronic Benediction:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

The LORD instructed Aaron and his sons, the Kohanim (the priests), to bless the Children of Israel with this liturgical formulation. Every day across the world, this tripartite blessing is bestowed upon the Jewish people. When it is recited in the synagogue, the congregation turns their eyes away from the Kohen or the one reciting it in the absence of a Kohen. This is to remind us that blessings, particularly this blessing, do not come from the Kohen, but they are something that comes directly from Hashem, as we read, “and I will bless them.” The Kohen is merely the conduit through which this blessing is imparted.

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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