Friday, May 17, 2013

SHABU'OT: the most powerful segula

והייתם לי סגולה מכל העמים

As we have explained last week, when HaShem offered the People of Israel to enter into a covenant (berit) He described our role as  mamlekhet kohanim (a nation of priests, see here). 

The Tora (Ex. 19:5) also explains that upon accepting the covenant we will become God's  "segula".   What does "segula" mean? Indibre hayamim (I, 29:3) the word segula  indicates a treasure.  Addressing the people of Israel King David said that he had allocated the Royal reserves of gold and silver to build the Bet haMiqdash, and then he adds: "Besides [the allocated royal reserves], in my desire [to build] the Temple to my God I now give my personal treasure of gold and silver for the Temple of my God...". David donated also his private fortune to the Bet haMiqdash. That personal treasure is called in Hebrew: segula

'am segula means that we are God's treasure. His "private" possession. In other words, the first thing that God commits Himself in the covenant is to supervise us directly, and to protect us as a Nation in the same way a man protects his most valuable treasure.  The Jewish people, as a nation, will never disappear. Why? Because Israel is treasured directly by God
Unlike other rights or rewards being HaShem's segula is not conditional to Israel's behavior. Illustration: HaShem gave us the land of Israel. The land of Israel, however, is a conditional gift. The Tora repeatedly tells us that as long as we keep His commandments we will live in the land of Israel peacefully. However, the Tora repeatedly warns us, if we disobey the terms of the covenant, the land will expel us, we will go into exile, and God will not avoid it...  
But as a nation, we will never disappear.   The existence of the Jewish Nation is guaranteed by Him. We areHaShem's segula. Unconditionally. 


Candle lighting today in NYC:        7:49 pm
Shabbat ends in NYC:                        8:50 pm

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

SHABU'OT: Five customs in one word (literally!)

 Tonight we will celebrate Shab'uot, when we stood at the foot 
of Mt. Sinai to be appointed as God's chosen people and receive the Tora.
There are 5 Minhaguim (customs) that most Jews follow on Shabu'ot. To remember them, keep in mind the Hebrew word 
A /HA/ R/ I/ T .  אחרית

A:Azharot or Aqdamot. During Shabu'ot we read these liturgical poems which contain the 248 positive commandments and the 365 Biblical prohibitions. The word azharot means warnings, i.e., rules, precepts. (also 613= אזהרת). Read more on the azharothere
HAHalab (milk), Like any other Yom Tob during Shabu'ot we should have a meal with meat and wine to fulfill the Biblical Mitzva of simha (material happiness). Still, the custom is that some of the meals are dairy, which is tradition particular to Shabu'ot and it is not followed in any other Holiday. (click HERE to read: Why dairy in Shabu'ot?). 
RRuth. During Shabu'ot we study Megilat Ruth. Among the many reasons for reading the story of Ruth is that Ruth converted to Judaism. And in a sense, when receiving the Tora we also converted to Judaism. Another given reason is that from Ruth we learn the dependency of the written Tora on the Oral Tora, because by the letter of the Tora, Ruth, a Moabite, could not have been accepted as a convert.  Read more about Rut HERE
IYereq (Greens). Many communities have the custom to decorate their Synagogues with plants, flowers or tree branches to remember Mt. Sinai. We still treasure in our collective memory that when the Tora was given to us, Mt. Sinai was green and blossoming with flowers.  Interestingly, in the Persian tradition Shabu'ot is known as mo'eed gol (the festival of flowers).
TTiqun (Reparation). The custom is to stay awake during the night of Shabu'ot (Tuesday night until Wednesday morning) studying Tora, to repair for our ancestors who went to sleep the night of the sixth of Sivan instead of waiting eagerly for the giving of the Tora, which was taking place the following morning.

חג מתן תורה שמח 
Click HERE 
to read the LAWS OF YOM TOB 
from Rabbi Obadia Yosef 


Monday, May 13, 2013

SHABU'OT: WE are all Kohanim

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, May 14th, we will celebrate Shabu'ot, one of the major Holidays of the Jewish calendar. Shabu'ot is also known as Matan Tora, the day in which we, the Jewish people, received the Tora. The giving of the Tora was actually the conclusion of a larger process: the choosing of the Jewish People as the Nation of God. 

What does it mean to become God's people?  The Tora (Ex. 19:5-6) describes this special status with three terms. segula, mamlekhet kohanim, goy qadosh

 I will start by exploring the second term, mamlekhet kohanim

Mamlekhet Kohanim  means a Kingdom (a Nation) of Priests. The Kohanim/Priests are those Jews who dedicated exclusively to the service of God. In the times of the Bet haMiqdash the Kohanim were the teachers of the Jewish people. (After the Bet haMiqdash was destroyed this function was performed by "Rabbis").  The Kohanim were also in charge of the main operations of the Bet haMiqdash.  In a sense, the Kohanim were God's closets servants in the fields of education and God's worship. The Kohanim still retain some of these privileges. For example, everyday (or in the Ashkenazi tradition: every Yom Tob) they pronounce the ברכת כהנים or priestly blessing.  But being closer to God's service implies also more responsibilities and limitations. The Kohanim have many restrictions (marriage laws, mourning laws, etc.) which do not apply for a non-Kohen,  The privilege to serve God implies a higher standard of duties (noblesse oblige).  

HaShem's designation of the people of Israel as "a Nation of priests" means that, what the Kohanim are to the Jewish People, the Jewish people is to the rest of humankind.  Like the Kohanim every Jew (should) dedicate his or her life to serving God. Like the Kohanim, we worship HaShem directly (no intermediaries!).  And like the Kohanim our global mission is to become or lagoyim, "educators", a role model of enlightenment and inspiration for the rest of humankind.  In the same way that the Kohanim have more Mitzvot (God's commandments) than the rest of the Jewish people, in Shabu'ot, we accepted upon ourselves 613 Mitzvot, 606 more than the rest of the world.

Dedicated to my daughter Mijal and her fiancé Rabbi Sion Setton (haKohen!)      Mabrouk!


By Alan Dershowitz.