Pacific Jewish Center | Rabbi

The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

A Jewish Black Woman’s “Henry Gates” Situation

As a Law Student, there are things I find interesting that may not interest “clients” (non-Lawyers, hehe). The following article interests me and will probably interest any lawyer or law student, anyone Jewish, or anyone that has been following the Gates Saga.

I invite you to contribute your opinion in the comments.

The article originally appeared in this week’s Jewish Press as an OP-ED. The writer is Nathan Lewin (read more about him here).

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Shame on Gizmodo | Shame on Us Too

One of my favorite gadget blogs ran a discpicable headline for a post yesterday. Gizmodo is a great blog when it comes to getting information, reviews and opinions on the latest technology and gadgets. Unfortunately, yesterday they disgraced their reputation with a pretty offensive headline.

The headline garnered enough attention that they ultimately changed it to something less offensive.

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Great Shavuos Turnout Renders Previous Post Moot

Last week I blogged about my bond of kinship with a pastor in Ocean City Maryland.

We both are clergy working on beaches with fickle crowds. Sometimes we are packed and sometimes we are not…

The post generated a bit of a response from some of our Community Members as well as some other blog readers. We had one commenter wonder if anyone reads this blog. (Yes, a lot of people do read this blog.)

We had another commenter offer to walk from Youngstown PA. (It takes 33 days by foot according to Google, click if you need directions.)

So, how did our Shavuos go?

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A Piece of Peace

We had a spectacular Shabbos on the beach this week.

Friday Night Dinner was punctuated by a bang. An earthquake struck the area and sent many of us under the table for cover! The earthquake however was no match for the Shabbos Lunch meal the next day…

For the first time anyone can remember all 3 observant Shuls in the Venice / Santa Monica area shared a community meal together. The turnout was incredible, the atmosphere was electric and every participant truly enjoyed themselves.

Leslie Friedman (PJC Office), Mildred Wilson and my wife Tova planned and set up the whole thing and we appreciate their efforts.

It was truly a special moment in time and we are so happy with how the event turned out.

Pacific Jewish Center has an open door policy and this week we backed up our promises and ideas of an open door policy with actions. There will be more such events in the future and we look forward to more unity, harmony, peace and love across the Venice / Santa Monica Community. We share more than just a neighborhood, we share common values, goals and ideas. We can all be so much more effective if we work together.

In a couple of months PJC will also be hosting a Shabbat Across America. This is an opportunity for anyone who has not experienced a Shabbos with us in Venice to join us. There will be group meals and home hosted meals in the neighborhood and now is the time to begin inviting your friends and neighbors. The week will begin with a special Shabbos themedConnections” exploring the beauty and significance of Shabbos. So mark your calendars! March 16 will be the special Connections and March 20 -21 will be the Shabbat Across America Shabbos.

See you then!

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Truth or Consequences – Drasha Vayigash

Thank you to community member Milton Simon for editing these Shabbos speeches given at the Pacific Jewish Center from my notes into these essays.

Today we are going to talk about truth. We will also discuss the opposite of truth. What is the opposite of truth? Something is true when it is in accordance with the facts and reality. The opposite of truth is when something is not in accordance with the facts and reality. Let us keep these definitions in mind as we progress.

As we jump back into the Parsha story we head to end of the Parsha. We have just experienced the most dramatic and moving section of all of Torah and perhaps in all of history. Yosef has revealed himself to his brothers. Yosef forgives his brothers. Yosef tells his brothers it was all part of a master plan and it is water under the bridge. The brothers are then invited to join Yosef and his family in Egypt to avoid the famine (and bring the fulfillment of the prophecy that the Jewish people would be slaves in Egypt.)

We can imagine the good spirits the brothers were in as they returned to their father in Israel. When they left him last they were on the verge of tragedy. One brother was in jail, the entire family was threatened and all this was aside from the gnawing guilt the brothers most certainly felt every day of their lives, imagining their lying to their father caused him massive suffering. They saw their father wither away and lose his spark due to their actions and lies. Now the brothers have their chance at redemption. They see that it was all part of a plan! They are forgiven! Yosef wants them to move to Egypt! We can only imagine their elation as they journeyed back to Yaakov their father.

The psukim tell us what happened when the brothers reached Yaakov. This should be another climactic scene. If we could imagine a movie about when the brothers tell Yaakov the news, the music would swell while the camera goes in real close to capture Yaakov’s unbridled joy. As Yaakov would hear the news the room would brighten, years of sadness would melt off Yaakov’s face as he would stand up from his seat and the scene would slowly fade to black. Well let’s see how it really happened. In fact, Yaakov didn’t believe them!!

What? Yaakov did not believe his sons. Did he think they playing a practical joke on him? Couldn’t he see their genuine joy? How are we to understand this?

Let us continue in the Chumash. Amazingly we see that eventually Yaakov believed that Yosef was alive. What convinced him? How did the truth become evident?

R’ Schwab mentions the saying in Avos of R’ Shimon. “The punishment of the liar is that even when he tells the truth no one listens to him” and we see from the brothers of Yosef that when they lied to their father by telling him that Yosef was dead they were not believed when they tried to tell their father that Yosef was alive.

At this point the Shevatim understood that by covering their misdeeds they would NEVER succeed, even with the truth. Therefore they realized their only option is to now tell Yaakov the entire story. They decided to tell their father all about their jealousy and plots to kill Yosef. The eventual sale of Yosef was discussed and they asked for forgiveness from Yaakov. That is what is meant by they told Yaakov ALL about Yosef – es Kol divrei Yosef. The full truth was finally revealed. At that point Yaakov was able to believe his sons and see the truth.

The truth is not only that the words are true. Truth is consistent with all the facts and reality. Truth does not exist in a vacuum – it is part of a greater whole. It must fit in with the song of the universe and be in perfect harmony with all the other parts. Yaakov was on too great a spiritual level to be a piece of the truth. He needed all of it to complete the circle of truth of reality.

The Talmud teaches us that Emes – truth stand on its own. And sheker – the opposite of truth always falls. We can visualize this by looking at the letters that form the word Emes and the letters that form the word Sheker. Emes is Aleph, Mem, Taf. These are the first, last and middle letters of the Aleph Beis. Truth is from start to finish with a solid middle. This is consistent with what we are saying that truth is part of a greater whole of reality and not independent. Perhaps even more interesting is the formation of each letter. The Aleph has two legs to stand on, the mem has a base on its bottom and the taf has a base as well as two legs. If we would stand these letters up they would not fall. Let’s look at Sheker. Shin, kuf and reish. Those letters all have but one leg and when stood up will topple. Further these letters are “out of alphabetical order” and are all right next to each other in the aleph beis. This indicates that sheker can work for a time because it is kept close and private but once the sheker gets out it cannot stand on its own.

Our Torah world is predicated on Emes. The Torah is emes and stands on its own. We don’t need to make excuses for Torah and it stands the test of time.

The lesson of Yaakov in this week’s parsha is that sheker is hard to undo – we can’t just press control z and magically the sheker disappears. Sheker can stand for a little while but eventually it gets toppled. This is why we need to be so careful to always begin with the absolute emes. It can be very difficult to undo sheker as we saw with Yaakov.

What was are witnessing in the world right now as Israel rains attacks upon its enemies is frightening. When the world is so immersed in sheker the truth is very hard to find. But the truth stands on its own and will eventually be seen. We need to do our part as advocates for Israel and prevent lies from spreading. I say this not because I am concerned with international opinion and political clout – rather I say this because when Jews look bad it reflects upon GD and it is very important to me to help prevent further Chillul Hashem. We can do our part as advocates for Israel.

But why are these lies so easy to spread? Shouldn’t the truth be obvious?

The last point I want to make is that while we do 100% back our brothers and sisters in Israel we also recognize there is a flaw in their reality. The official line of the Government of Israel is not that Hashem put the land of Israel in our hands, they say WE DID IT OURSELVES. Is it any wonder the world disbelieves our stories about the war, or anything? The world KNOWS the truth, and disbelieves us when we hold sheker. Amazing!

Is our leadership in the land of Israel taking all of reality into the equation? Do they recognize the role that GD plays in their lives? So long as they do not have the complete truth, with all its realities and all its beauty – the world will not see that the truth is with us. As we saw with Yaakov – only the whole truth is recognized as the truth. The only time a truth is recognizable to all and stands on it own is when the truth is consistent and the truth is in sync with the realities of the universe. When the truth is part of the harmony of the world then everyone will see it. When our leadership in the land of Israel embraces the spiritual component to the land of Israel the tremendous amount of Torah that spouts from the land of Israel, when the message of truth is consistent with all the facts and realities – that GD gave us this land – he should have a say as to how we use it, when that message is clear – the truth will be unequivocal and unchallenged.

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A Good Man Never Rests – Drasha Vayeshev

Thank you to community member Milton Simon for editing these Shabbos speeches given at the Pacific Jewish Center from my notes into these articles.

The Torah tells us in this week’s parsha, “Vayeshev Yaakov b’eretz megurei aviv b’eretz Canaan” Yaakov and his entire family returned to the land of his parents – the land of Canaan. Yaakov has successfully survived the life-threatening conflict with Eisav after preserving his integrity after his father-in-law Lavan has tried to cheat and swindle him during his 20 years of labor. Amazingly, Yaakov developed tremendous wealth despite all of Lavan’s best efforts.

One can imagine a very successful retiree going back to his roots to ride off into the sunset. Yaakov raised 13 children, he had 2 wives plus 2 quasi wives to keep happy. Yaakov has worked very hard to be able to now enjoy his last days basking in the glory of his life’s work. If it were us that is what we would do.

In fact Rashi brings the Medrash Rabba which states that when a Tzaddik has earned a lion’s share of riches in the “world to come” and they ALSO desire to live out their wealthy retirement days in peace and quiet before they die, the Satan (he is the prosecuting angel) complains. He says – “Is it not enough that the Tzaddik will live out his eternal life in Olam haba (afterlife) but he also wants to enjoy a tranquil existence in this world?” The Satan’s complaint “forced” G-d to prove Satan’s complaint unfounded, and this is what happened with Yaakov – just as he is ready to relax the entire incident of Yosef’s kidnapping and sale into slavery occurs. Now Yaakov sits for many years in pain and anguish over his lost son.

Rav Schwab asks the obvious question on this Midrash. What power (why should G-d listen to him?) does the Satan have to stop a Tzaddik from living out his days in peace and tranquility? Leave the poor man alone! Especially when the man is a Yaakov Avinu and his plan is learn Torah day and night!

Avraham, Yaakov’s grandfather took it upon himself to spread the goodness of the Creator to the masses. Avraham made it his life’s mission to inform anyone and everyone that the world has a Master and He has an opinion about how we are to live our lives. Everything Avraham did reflected this mission. His “guest service” was a tool to introduce people to the idea of a single living and loving G-d, and he was rather successful in this endeavor.

As the possuk in Lech Lecha says: Avraham built a mizbeyach (alter) and called out to G-d. Onkelos translates this calling out to G-d as prayer. Ramban disagrees. Ramban learns that the words mean what they say. Avraham literally called out the name G-d to the world. When he was in Ur Kasdim, Avraham was unable to influence anyone due to the prevailing idol worship culture and a dictator in Nimrod who killed all non-idol worshipers. But now Avraham was blessed with “V’avarech Avarechecha” he proclaimed G-d’s existence to the masses and his voice was heard. Ramban continues and says that G-d promised Avroham’s son, Yitzchak that He would be with him and Yitzchak also built a mizbeyach and called out to G-d. Yitzchak was keeping the family tradition alive by proclaiming G-d’s glory to all. Ramban says that we don’t find this anywhere for Yaakov.

Yaakov took a subtler route. Yaakov had children. Yaakov produced a large family which he trained in the ways of G-d. By default they transmitted the message of their grandfather Yitzchak and their great grandfather Avraham to the world. And we continue this mission to this very day.

Rav Schwab adds that Yaakov did actually build mizbeyach but his calling out was personal. He named places with names that reflected a recognition of G-d but (what are you trying to say here?) his influence was certainly palpable. Yaakov wanted to influence the world through his family and this is what is meant by Yaakov seeking peace and tranquility at the end of his days.

On this there is a legitimate complaint the Satan could make. Yaakov should be spreading the word to everyone not just his family. He has limited his exposure to the masses and thereby limited the influence that he could have. This was unacceptable. Yaakov had the responsibility to carry on the tradition of his father and grandfather and bring the masses of people closer to G-d. This was the flaw in Yaakov’s plan.

And it is for this that Yaakov suffered at the hand of the sale of Yosef to Egypt. Yosef goes down to Mitzrayim (Egypt) and affects the masses of mankind, and the “old” Yaakov eventually follows and with 70 family members in tow. They as a group are could have carried out a tremendous influence on the masses, but it was Yosef alone who took the lead.

Yaakov would no longer be able to sit back and raise his family in isolation and avoid the outside world. It fell to Yosef (and eventually his brothers) to influence the world around them. The message of the “fathers” was very clear, be a light to the world, do good and spread Torah and the ways of G-d.

When my great-grandfather Reb Elyah Lopian retired from his post in England as a Torah leader where he served as the Rosh Yeshiva in Etz Chaim he wished to emigrate to the land of Israel. He was 76 years old at the time. He was an accomplished Torah scholar. He had been Rosh Yeshiva at a number of yeshivas already. He had a very large family and desired to live out his days in Eretz Yisrael. He wanted to learn from the Torah of the great scholars of Israel and he looked forward to taking a secondary, less public role to focus on personal growth and Torah study. Reb Elyah was very reluctant to take public speaking roles as his goal was to remain out of the public eye while in the land of Israel.

Reb Elyah had an audience with the Chazon Ish who was the Gadol Hador (the leader of the Jewish religious world, d. 1954). The Chazon Ish asked him what he planned on doing in Israel, Reb Elyah explained that his desire was to learn and imbibe of the Torah of the gedolim (great sages) who were living there. He was convinced that at his age it would not be realistic to seek a position such as a mashgiach or spiritual mentor for teenagers. The Chazon Ish responded with a blessing from Tehillim in our Shir Shel Yom for Shabbos. Od yenuvun bseiva dsheinim veraananim yihyu, which means “they shall yield fruit in a ripe old age.

The mishna in Avos explains that seiva refers to the stage of life where man is in his seventies. The Chazon Ish then added, lehagid ki yashar Hashem, “to proclaim the righteousness of G-d” – yes, he said, at your age you are to be a teacher. Reb Elyah heeded the advice of the Chazon Ish and became the mashgiach in Kfar Chassidim for the next 22 years! His hundreds of Talmidim are ever grateful to the Chazon Ish.

The story echoes of our parsha’s story. There is no rest for the Tzaddik. We can always make a difference.

I know that our community has already accomplished great things in outreach. I know of the many religious families that exist today only due to our influence. You can say confidently – “I did my fair share, it is time for me to take it easy.” To that I say no! You are too great to take it easy. There are people in your neighborhood who are waiting to be invited by you, waiting for you to reach out to them. Bring them to our events. Bring them Monday night to the Chanuka party, bring them every Monday night, bring them to shul on Friday night, bring them to shul on Shabbos morning. Bring them over to me. Let me make a connection with them and give them another reason to come back in all senses of the word.

Together we can do it. We have done it in the past and it is time to get back in the game. We have a variety of opportunities for our neighbors to learn more – let’s reach out to them and give them those opportunities. There is so much energy here ready to be unleashed. We have the infrastructure in place what we need now is the raw material. Don’t ride off into the sunset. Bring Torah to your community by bringing them to the Torah and love for Torah and love for our fellow Jews that we offer at the Pacific Jewish Center.

We can make lay claim to the title Pacific Jewish CENTER – the center for Jewish life in Venice. But only if we make it into a “center” by doing the outreach we are capable of doing.

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Happy Hanukah Too: Kosher Machine Only Serves 24/6 Because It’s Shomer Shabbos

Happy Hanukah Too: Kosher Machine Only Serves 24/6 Because It’s Shomer Shabbos.

On a gadget blog commentors get a full on education about Shabbos!

It is incredible how many people know about Shabbos and now have a grasp of some of the concepts. Eventually we are going to do a Shabbos Connections with community wide Shabbos participation and invitations. Until then I guarantee if you want a Shabbos meal just stop in the Shul on the Beach during services. You will be invited by someone!

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This Is My Blog

You have arrived at a place in cyberspace featuring the thoughts, ramblings, musings and Torah of Eliyahu Fink.

If you like what you have found come join us at the The Shul on the Beach. You know the Shul on the Venice boardwalk - you've seen it, right?

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