Wednesday, June 12, 2013

SEPHARDIC RABBIS. Rabbi Ben-Zion Abraham Cuenca (1867-1937)

Rabbi Ben-Zion Cuenca was born in the old city of Jerusalem in 1867.  His last name, Cuenca, corresponds to a city in Spain. His family was among the "Expulsadaos de Castilla", the Jewish families expelled from Castilla and Aragon in 1492. The Cuenca family settled in Salonika (Greece) and lived there for centuries. Rabbi Cuenca's father, Abraham Cuenca, made aliya to Eretz Israel around 1850. 

Before the age of ten, rabbi Cuenca was regarded as an 'iluy (a child prodigy) by the Rabbis of Jerusalem.  Knowing this, his father devoted all his resources to hire for him the best Rabbis and mentors. He also provided for rabbi Cuenca with a vast secular education, especially in the fields of History and languages.   

At the age of 30 Rabbi Cuenca established a Yeshiba "Tiferet Yerushalaim". In this Yeshiba, which also included general studies, were educated among others the Chief rabbi of Israel  Ben-Zion Meir Hay Uziel (see this ), the famous Sephardic Hebrew writer Yehuda Burla, and rabbi Moshe Nissim, the father of Chief rabbi of Israel Isaac Nissim  (see here)

One of the most important contributions of Rabbi Cuenca was the creation of the Halakhic Journal  "hame-asef".   Hame-asef is a collection of Halakhic studies done by hundreds of Rabbis: Sephardim, Ashkenazim, from Israel and from the Diaspora. Bringing together so many rabbis from all different backgrounds was at that time by itself a virtual a dramatic positive innovation. Rabbi Cuenca operated singlehandedly all the stages of this publication for 19 years. The first journal appeared in 1897. Rabbi Cuenca was of course one of the main contributors. He was particularly interested in reexamining the Laws of Eretz Israel (terumot, ma'aserot, shemita, etc)  a subject that remained virtually dormant for centuries. Now, as the Yeshub of Eretz Israel was growing, these Laws needed to be reviewed, especially in light of modernity and its new challenges. In rabbi Cuenca's own words  אחד מעיקרי מטרתנו יהיה לישא וליתן בהלכה בכל העניינים והדינים אשר ביישוב הארץ יסודן, בכל דיני קדושת הארץ בזמננו. 

In the hame-asef rabbi Cuenca introduced a short biography of the writers, which given the tremendous lack of information especially about Sephardic rabbis of the 19th century, constitutes an invaluable contribution to modern Jewish History. 

                          Picture of Rabbi BenZion Cuenca


Thanks to you can read the first volume of the המאסף here .

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tehilim and the most important Business Partner

  פותח את ידך ומשביע לכל חי רצון

Last week we explained that in order to get the most from reading Tehilim we need to understand what we are saying (see here).  The ideas of Tehilim will increase our awareness of HaShem's Presence in our lives. 
One example:  The rabbis established to recite Psalm 145, Tehila le David (aka ashre yoshebe betekha) three times a day.  Why? Mainly for the idea contained in the verse poteah et yadekha:  145:16 "When You open Your hand, you satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living creature".
God is the ultimate provider. His intervention is not limited to the jungle's food-chain or the marine ecological system. This verse teaches us that HaShem also intervenes in human society. Besides (or despite) our best efforts, our livelihood depends on His will. It is up to Him to grant us health and wisdom. And even business opportunities. He closes doors and opens new doors. He is our Senior Business Partner. Realizing that our Parnasa isultimately in His hands brings us hope and tranquility (bitahon). And helps us to surf peacefully the turbulent waters of our modern economy. 
This is why according to the shulhan arukh (OH 51:7) if we just read this verse ("When You open Your hands...") and we did not have the proper understanding its meaning (kavana), we need to recite it again. 
Incorporating the idea that HaShem is our business partner gives a whole new meaning to our business and to our lives. For example: I will surely behave with total honesty, integrity and with an unstoppable optimism with HaShem Present in my business. It will be easier (and absolutely logical!) for me to give Tzedaqa, i.e., to open MY hands as a payback to HaShem's opening HIS hands to me. 

(Once you understand the meaning of this verse, repeat it to yourself every day as many times as needed).

Monday, June 10, 2013

MAIMONIDES on 'aboda zara. The evolution of an honest mistake

Of its 613 Mitzvot (commandments) the Tora dedicates 51 to the banning of idol worshiping or 'aboda zara. In His book Mishne Tora Maimonides devotes twelve chapters to the Laws of idolatry. 

He begins by explaining (Hilkhot 'abodat kokhabim 1:1) that idol worshiping owes its origins to a collective human error. A tragic misunderstanding.  In the times of Enoch  , the grandson of Adam, people thought that since God created so many servants for the sake of humanity, worshiping those servants would please the Creator, in the same way that a King would be pleased if his ministers are respected and praised. 

Take for example the most important and visible of God's "servants" in this world, which by the way, it was adored by virtually every ancient civilization: the sun.  Without the sun life could not exist in our planet. In the Intelligently Designed food chain sunlight is the first link, allowing plants to make their own food and replenishing free oxygen in the world (photosynthesis). Sunlight triggers the process of rain.  The sun "naturally" desalinates the ocean water transforming it into freshwater. Life in our planet depends on the sun. Now, the people at the time of Enoch probably did not know all the amazing properties of the sun. What they saw is that the sun is the source of light and heat. And that was enough for them to consider that the sun was worthy of being worshipped as one of God's servants.   

Evolution did the rest. Maimonides says that:  "Once this idea came to their hearts, they began to build sanctuaries to the stars and offer sacrifices to them...". Again, not as a rebellion against the Creator but "...thinking that by doing so, they were fulfilling the will of the Creator. This was the root (origins) of idol worshipping". 

(to be continued)