In Memoriam: Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (1937-2020)

This week on the show we discuss the life and work of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, whom we lost earlier this month.

Image: Zakhor Online

Rabbi Steinsaltz was best known for his exhaustive work on the Talmud, bringing forth a new translation and commentary that sought to make the study of this essential Jewish text open to everyone. He also lived an incredible life, with many more accomplishments to his name. Tune in this week as we remember one of the great scholars of all time, or catch the episode on YouTube if you cannot hear it live.

If you don’t have access to any of his Talmudic work, you can also purchase his commentary on Tanakh or some of his other great books.

The Serpent in the Garden

Image: joanna-draws.com

For the next two weeks we will be covering the identity and motivation of the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. Almost everyone has heard the story, but you may not have heard the whole story. Tune in to KEOS 89.1 FM or keos.org Thursday at 4:30 p.m. (CST) to hear it. And if you miss the episodes, just check the show’s YouTube page to get caught up.

Jewish Refugee Aid Groups and COVID-19

This week on the show we speak briefly about what some Jewish groups, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and IsraAID, are doing for refugees in light of the global pandemic. If you are interested in helping out, have a look at their websites for ways to get involved, or check out these other refugee relief organizations:

World Jewish Relief
Church World Service
UNICEF USA
Alight
Refugees International

Birthright Stew

This week on the show we’re discussing Esau, including the time when he traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. The Talmud tells us that Jacob had prepared the stew for his father, Isaac, because his father, Abraham, had just died that day, and it was customary to serve lentils to mourners. Why serve lentils on such an occasion? The Talmud explains:

And what is different about lentils that they in particular are the fare customarily offered to mourners? They say in the West, Eretz Yisrael, in the name of Rabba bar Mari: Just as this lentil has no mouth (i.e., it does not have a crack like other legumes), so too a mourner has no mouth (that is, his anguish prevents him from speaking). Alternatively, just as this lentil is completely round, so too mourning comes around to the inhabitants of the world.

Bava Batra 16b

Speaking of this story, if you’re not familiar with Tori Avey, then today you’re in luck. She has a ton of great recipes covering a variety of traditional Jewish dishes, and one she has done herself is an attempted recreation of the stew for which Esau traded his birthright to Jacob. I have no idea how accurate it is, but this stew is wonderful.

Image: toriavey.com.

Check out the recipe and the story of how Tori came up with it here.

Tehora He: An Exercise in Purity

The following is a meditative exercise designed to enhance one’s sense of purity. It can also be used to better relate to those around us, and to understand our interconnectedness as children of Hashem.

Image: Velveteen Rabbi
  1. Sit with your eyes closed, imagining that you have X-ray vision and can see inside yourself as if you were composed of transparent material. You may notice many small parts interconnected in your body.
  2. Look very closely, imagining that a subtle being is illuminated within. The light that allows you to see comes from somewhere deep inside and fills the body with a glow.
  3. Imagine your body many years younger than you are now. Notice that although the image of your body may change, the light that illuminates it stays the same. It is simply light; it does not change.
  4. Try to imagine yourself many years from now. Again, the body changes, but the light remains the same.
  5. Now imagine someone you love. Notice that their body is completely different from yours, but the light illuminating it is of the same quality as yours. Light is light.
  6. Practice this exercise with people you know and love, and with people you may not get along with so well. Again, the light will be the same as yours. You may find that the reality of sharing the same light affects the way you feel about these people.
  7. Complete this exercise a number of times until you have the image clearly within. Then, when you are on a public street, imagine that each person is illuminated from within by this light. You can say to yourself quietly, “Tehora he” (She – the soul within – is pure).  You will eventually find yourself feeling an affinity for strangers. This is the purpose of the exercise: remember that we are all connected to the same source and therefore to one another.

This exercise can be found in Rabbi David Cooper‘s book, G-d Is a Verb: Kabbalah and the Practice of Mystical Judaism. Let me know if you found it helpful.

To Merge or Not to Merge?

Image: stuffjewsshouldknow.com

There has been much talk lately about how the current pandemic is going to affect the Jewish denominational system in both the U.S. and abroad. Most of us have been unable to visit with our communities for months, unions have had to lay off workers, and synagogues have had to make concessions on longstanding issues such as technology on Shabbat. With these concessions being made, many have been led to ask, “just how different are we?”

These challenges are now creating talk of mergers. Perhaps most interesting of these ideas is the merger of the Reform and Conservative traditions, either in whole or in terms of religious education.

What do you think? Would such a merger be a good idea? Would the benefits be worth it, or the challenges too difficult to overcome? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Chag Pesach Sameach

It’s going to be a different Passover for all of us this year… truly unique, and with Hashem’s providence, under circumstances that do not return any time soon. Hopefully everyone will find some way to connect with others during this season, even if it is only virtually. However, if you are not able to connect with friends and family, the Rabbinical Assembly has put together A Seder Made to Order, a full-length virtual Seder featuring 25 rabbis that you can watch anytime.

Whichever route you choose, be sure to have a happy, healthy, and safe Passover.

Staying Busy in a Time of Isolation

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, many of us throughout the world are under quarantine or self-imposed isolation. Most shuls have been closed, and even private minyans have become inadvisable. Needless to say, we’re all going to be spending a lot more time alone.

This can be a difficult thing for those who thrive on community. Nevertheless, Hashem is always with us, and in the lonely days ahead we can find comfort in Him and His Torah. Here are some resources to help make the most of our time apart (or together, as the case may be):

Image: Rami Neimi

Chabad has been compiling a variety of articles about faith and peace during the outbreak, and are even an offering an online class on how to deal with stress and anxiety. Both the USCJ and the URJ have posted articles related to communication and synagogue life when meeting is not possible, even offering some creative ideas for getting together using the Internet. Aish has reading material about how to stay positive during this pandemic, and even how to talk to your kids about what is happening. The Orthodox Union has some similar materials on their website, and now has a nightly show premiering online at 8 p.m ET.

If entertainment is your thing, the URJ and Chabad have a variety of podcasts available. YouTube is, of course, a source of much Jewish entertainment and wisdom. J-TV, Hidabroot, YIBONEH, JINSIDER, and Chabad are some of the Jewish channels with hours of information and entertainment available. Rabbis Manis Friedman and Jonathan Sacks have some good messages with which to start.

Last, but most certainly not least: don’t hesitate to turn to prayer or Tanakh for comfort. Shiva.com has a nice list of Psalms to get you started.

What are you and your family doing to stay busy during this time? What methods are you using to stay in touch with your loved ones and your community? Are there any Jewish podcasts, online services, or YouTube channels you would recommend? Feel free to comment and share.