Blog: June 2006

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Improvisation

Tonight, as my synagogue's service was due to start, my rabbi popped in and asked me to lead it because he was having the being-in-two-places-at-once problem. So I proceeded to do so. (I'd had to bow out of leading the morning service because of some temporary vision problems, but the factors were better tonight. Actually, I'm pretty sure I could lead our service from memory if I had to -- especially as it was mincha, which has less stuff than ma'ariv.)

Tonight there was a board meeting, so there was a large crowd at the service (25-30). It was also the first meeting for one-third of the board. My rabbi always gives a short talk at the evening service, and it's generally longer and a little more formal on board-meeting nights because learning is specifically built into the board job. I of course hadn't had any time to prepare anything, but these people deserved to hear some words of torah.

So I improvised, with my brain running about 30 seconds ahead of my mouth. (I can't usually do that! I can mentally outline and then talk, but I generally can't do that kind of parallel processing.) I got lots of compliments on it; one person told me if that's what I do when I'm not prepared, she wants to hear me when I am. :-) I did point out that some parshiyot are better than others for on-the-fly talks.

I started by giving a quick summary of the Korach story, mentioning his compatriots in passing and saying I'd get back to that. (So I got to use my parsha bit today after all. :-) ) I then said that while we could take from this story the lesson "just do what you're told and don't challenge your leaders", that's not the lesson of this parsha. People challenge leaders -- and God! -- in many places in torah, and Yaakov receives his charter only after wrestling with God's angel directly. Challenging is fine.

No, the problem with Korach is the way he went about it. He had a grievance, but not only did he not bring it to Moshe directly, but he refused to discuss it when Moshe came to him. He'd already decided to have a rebellion rather than a peaceful solution. As leaders of this community (I said to the crowd of mostly board members), we are sometimes in Korach's position and sometimes in Moshe's. There will be things we get upset about and things we want to do differently, and we will be on the receiving end of other people who are upset and want things to be different. Our lesson is to be like Moshe, looking for a solution rather than victory, and not like Korach.

I mentioned earlier that three consipirators were named along with Korach. The torah goes on to talk about two of them; what of the third? The talmud tells us that he was prevented from participating by his wife, who saw the danger and acted to prevent it. While it's easy to be too meddlesome, we have to be mindful of the dangers that await our fellow leaders, and fellow Jews; it's much easier to prevent a problem than to clean up after it most of the time.


The parsha bit (which I had posted separately):

This week's parsha begins by telling us that Korach led a rebellion, together with Datan, Aviram, and On ben Pelet. As the story unfolds, however, On drops out, while we know explicitly that Korach, Datan, and Aviram are punished. What happened to On? In the talmud Rav said that On was saved by his wife: knowing what he planned, she fed him wine until he passed out and then sh sat at the entrance to their tent to prevent Korach from entering. (Sanhedrin 109b)

Trip to Toronto

We went to Toronto this weekend to visit family. It was a fun trip. Read moreā€¦

Shabbat in Toronto

Excerpted from the general post about this trip for easier linking.

I had a great time on Shabbat morning (and afternoon). When I sent email to Beit HaMinyan to ask about service times, I got a friendly note back offering me a lunch invitation. After confirming that Dani et al really wanted to go out for lunch together anyway (which I obviously wouldn't join them for), I accepted.

Beit HaMinyan calls itself "traditional" (and at least one member I spoke with dislikes the label "Conservadox"). The person who answered my email said they have a mix of observance levels and strive to be welcoming to all; I saw that on Saturday. I was not the only bare-headed married woman, and there seemed to be no shyness about women singing during the service. Men routinely offered me handshakes. The service was recognizable as a complete Orthodox service, led only by men, but a woman gave the d'var torah.

I was a few minutes late to morning services, between slightly misremembering the distance and stopping to help someone into the building (walker + stairs = difficulty). Ten minutes after the official start time they were in the middle of p'sukei d'zimra already. The davening continued at a fast but not uncomfortable pace; I'm not sure what they did because it never felt rushed, but I guess they just never did anything to draw things out. (I am not complaining. :-) ) Service anthropology (because I tend to notice and remember these things for comparison): 9:30 start, barchu at 9:50, kri'at torah beginning 10:20 and finishing 11:15, short d'var torah (done before 11:30), then musaf and concluding prayers and over at 11:55.

I accidentally picked up a weekday siddur (prayer book) on my way in. When I went back to correct that I picked up the first obviously-Shabbat book I saw (already felt awkward so wanted to hurry), which was Artscroll. It appeared that most people were using something else, and at one point the leader gave a page cue that wasn't Artscroll. (Gee, I hope my use of Artscroll didn't send an unintended signal to anyone who noticed.) They must have been pretty similar, though, because I never had problems knowing where we were (once I got oriented when I arrived).

This congregation is lay-led, and the leaders I saw (a couple people switched off, and then there was the torah reader) were all quite good. (I felt sorry for the torah reader. Is Naso the longest of all the portions?) One of the leaders, it turned out, was my host for lunch; the person who set that up did that on purpose (picking up on a shared interest in music). I would estimate that there were about 60-70 people there. The only time I saw young children was at the very end, when they gathered at the reading desk (in the center and facing the ark, by the way) for the singing of Adon Olam. There was certainly not the problem I've had in some shuls where lots of small kids do rowdy kid things in the women's section, making it harder for women to daven.

The kiddush was quite substantial. I'm used to grape juice, challah, and cookies; they had the grape juice and cookies (no challah for reasons I understand), but also salads (several kinds), herring, raw veggies and dip, crackers, fresh fruit, cake, and more. I was surprised by the variety and quantity. The people I talked with were friendly, and there was a lot of "Jewish geography", either trying to find connections to the Toronto relatives or them asking me if I know so-and-so in Pittsburgh. (No hits on the latter, alas.) Someone asked me if I know a particular person who shares Dani's last name and I said that wasn't a familiar name; later when I asked Dani I learned that, just recently, he found out about a lost branch of the family and this person is one of them. Dani last knew him to be in Israel.

Lunch was four of us, my hosts and one other woman. They asked me about the community in Pittsburgh and about my own background; I guess it's pretty unusual, in the traditional community, to have an "intermarriage" of a religious Jew and a secular Jew, so the fact that I have a husband but he didn't join us raised eyebrows. I learned some of the history of their congregation, which originally split from another I've visited. (The mechitzah, or in their case the lack of it, was a major negotiating point. Not surprising.) They were heavily influenced by the Chavurah movement (movement? style? not sure what to call it), and have never had a rabbi. We talked about the lay-led aspects in my congregation, which they seemed interested in hearing about.

They knew that I'm a convert (it came out in the earlier conversation) and that I belong to a Reform congregation, so I was taken by surprise when the man asked me to lead bentching after the meal. (So he had no problems with my status, which many Orthodox Jews would. But I don't think too many Conservative Jews would, at least after learning that I'm accepted as a service leader in a Conservative congregation. Err, maybe. Whatever.) I was doing a good job until the font size in the bentcher dropped after the opening few parts, and then I was having trouble seeing and he had to help me out. I wasn't going to interrupt to explain, so I just apologized afterwards and explained then. He complimented me on my voice and said something like "next time you'll lead the minyan", which I take as a compliment but not a prediction of future activity unless I happen to visit on a week when they're having their (occasional) egalitarian service. But still, high praise coming from one of their leaders.

Lunch was very nice and I enjoyed talking with all three of the other people. I'll need to ask my email correspondent for a mailing address so I can send a thank-you note to my hosts.