Suffering’s Reward

Ibn Ezra Numbers: Naso

Suffering’s Reward

Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.” – Helen Keller

The Torah makes a straightforward connection between doing good and receiving God’s reward and blessing, and doing bad and receiving divine punishment and suffering. Only a few thousand years later do we see rabbinic literature deal with more theologically challenging concepts of sinners who receive reward and righteous who are punished.

Ibn Ezra jumps into this discussion with yet another possibility in the divine ledger-keeping and that is reward as compensation for suffering.

Amongst the strangest rituals described in the Bible is that of the Sotah. It is the process whereby a woman suspected of adultery, who denies any wrongdoing, is publicly degraded and forced to drink a unique concoction called the “bitter waters”. During the times of the Sanctuary and the Temple these bitter waters apparently had the power to determine a woman’s infidelity. If the woman had been untrue, the waters would cause her to die a gruesome death including the rapid swelling of her stomach and the falling off of body parts. However, if she was innocent, the result would be the birth of a healthy baby boy.

Ibn Ezra on Numbers 5:28 suggests that the resultant birth of a child is a gift, a reward from God to the mother for the blameless suffering she was subjected to. Her being accused by her husband of adultery and the subsequent public degradation despite her repeated, vehement and true affirmations of innocence need to be compensated.

This is when God steps in and rewards the mother with one of the most precious gifts possible: a healthy child.

May all our sufferings lead to sweet rewards.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Rabbi Menachem Burstein (originally from Uruguay) and Machon Puah who helps so many families achieve the special gift of a child.

And Mazal Tov to my colleagues in Montevideo, Rabbi Eliyahu and Natalie Galil on the birth of their fourth child!

¡Viva la Constitución!

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomio: Vezot Habraja

united states constitution 

¡Viva la Constitución!

“Hay algo detrás del trono más grande que el propio rey.”-William Pitt

Desde el comienzo de la civilización, los reyes y gobernantes han sido una parte necesaria de la cadena alimentaria de organización jerárquica. Una vez que la comunidad, la sociedad o el país alcanza un cierto tamaño y sofisticación, es necesario que haya una persona para hacerse cargo del grupo. Para la mayoría de la historia, esa persona era un rey.

Sin embargo, ser nacido en Estados Unidos y en su mayoría educado en Estados Unidos tengo una afinidad especial e incluso el amor a la constitución de los EE.UU. La constitución consagra y codifica la supremacía de los principios más de personalidades y se ha evitado la mayoría de los excesos que son la norma de los déspotas. Hay algo más grande que el gobernante designado.

Ibn Ezra en Deuteronomio 33:5 establece una conexión relacionada. La Torá en el versículo habla de un rey, pero Ibn Ezra explica que en realidad está aludiendo a la Torá misma. No sólo la majestad, la nobleza, la grandeza, la necesidad y el requisito de tener, respetar y honrar la Torá, sino también la supremacía que la Torá debe tener en nuestras vidas. La Torá es el jefe, la Torá es la que toma las decisiones. La Torá, sus principios y las instrucciones son las que tenemos que seguir, más que cualquier burócrata designado o de la personalidad real.

Que podamos encontrar los principios regios de la Torá que se aplican a nosotros y les rinden homenaje adecuado.

Dedicacion

Para la Torá. Que podamos bailar con ella con felicidad y alegría (y no embriaguez …)

Long Live the Constitution

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/vezot-habrachah-long-live-the-constitution/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Vezot Habrachah

Long Live the Constitution

“There is something behind the throne greater than the King himself.” -William Pitt The Elder Chatham

Since the beginning of civilization, kings and rulers have been a necessary part of the hierarchical and organizational food chain. Once the community, society or country reaches a certain size and sophistication, there needs to be one person taking charge of the group. For the majority of history, such a person was a King.

However, being American-born and mostly American-educated I have a special affinity and even love for the U.S. constitution. It enshrines and codifies the supremacy of principles over personalities and has mostly averted the excesses that are the norm of despots. There is something greater than the appointed ruler.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 33:5 makes a related connection. The Torah in the verse speaks of a King, but Ibn Ezra explains that it is really alluding to the Torah itself. Not only the majesty, the nobility, the grandeur, the necessity and the requirement of having, respecting and honoring the Torah, but also the supremacy that Torah should have in our lives. The Torah is the boss, the Torah is the one calling the shots. The Torah, its principles and instructions are the ones we need to follow, more so than any appointed bureaucrat or royal personality.

May we find the kingly principles of the Torah that apply to us and pay them proper homage.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the Torah. May we dance with it in joy (and not drunkenness…)

Beware the Four Horsemen

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/haazinu-beware-the-four-horsemen/ ]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Haazinu

Beware the Four Horsemen

“I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” -Woody Allen

Death chases us all down like an implacable horseman; it is merely the time and the manner of the dying that is a variable. The famed Four Horsemen of Apocalypse or of Death are drawn from the verses of The New Testament, but there are earlier echoes of the concept in our Torah.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 32:24 draws our attention to what he calls the four agents of death: Famine, Plague, Wild Beasts and the Sword.

God sends these as a direct consequence for our wrongdoings, not to destroy the world, but as both personal and communal punishments for choosing the wrong path.

To be spared from these terrible endings the Torah suggests a very simple solution: Follow God’s commandments. Let’s take the opportunity of this Rosh Hashana to review the commandments we should be working on and reestablish that God is the boss.

Shabbat Shalom and Ktiva Ve’chatima Tova,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the end of the year 5773 and to the beginning of 5774. May the new year be filled with all the wonderful blessings we hope for.

 

“That could never happen to me”

[First posted on The Times of Israel at:  http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/nitzavim-that-could-never-happen-to-me/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Nitzavim

“That could never happen to me”

“A man is his own easiest dupe, for what he wishes to be true he generally believes to be true.” –Demosthenes

There is a macabre curiosity in the suffering of others. The most vivid example is the traffic jams that occur on the opposite lane of a car accident. People slow down, not necessarily to see if they could help, but out of a deep desire to witness the misfortune of the other guy.

We feel a brief pang of empathy for the victims of the tragedy, remind ourselves to perhaps fasten our seatbelt or drive slower or more carefully, and then cruise on at the same speed, saying to ourselves that we would never be so careless or so unfortunate as the person being wheeled into the ambulance.

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 29:18 says that man does the same mental calculation upon hearing the curses and punishments that God will bring upon those that don’t follow His commandments. The foolhardy man will bless himself saying “that curse, that punishment, won’t fall upon me.” And he will believe his self-blessing to be true and effective though he may be obliviously careening into the approaching misfortune with his name written all over it.

May we wake up to reality from our self-delusions and get back onto safer and more honest roads.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ana Duschitz on her incredible hosting of the Women’s Weekly shiur of Montevideo. May it continue strongly in the coming year and grow.

 

 

Secret Sins

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tavo-secret-sins/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Ki Tavo

Secret Sins

“The secret thoughts of a man run over all things, holy, profane, clean, obscene, grave, and light, without shame or blame.” -Thomas Hobbes

There is a special place in Jewish theology for the secret sinner. He is cursed like few others are cursed. Moses commands the people of Israel to perform an unusual ceremony once they cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

Half the tribes of Israel are to stand on one mountain and half on the opposite mountain as they scream at each other curses into the air. The selection and content of the curses is unusual. For example: Cursed is the one who makes a secret idol. Cursed is the one who hits his parents. Cursed is the one who is intimate with a relative. Cursed is the one who confuses the blind on the road. (See the full list in Deuteronomy 27:15-26).

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 27:14 explains that the common denominator between all the curses is that they are cursing those who perform sins in secret. One may be a respected, righteous figure on the outside and none know of the secret sin, (not that it’s better to start sinning publicly!) – but this saintly figure starts living a dual existence. A monstrous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the secret sin eroding and poisoning the persona from the inside.

Only by breaking free of the secret sin can a person hope to be whole again.

Good luck to all of us.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all of us contemplating repentance of our sins, whether secret or less so. We are all invited to synagogue for the High Holidays.

Foundations for Life

[First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/ki-tetzeh-foundations-for-life/]

Ibn Ezra Deuteronomy: Ki Tetze

Foundations for Life

“If we do not maintain Justice, Justice will not maintain us.” -Francis Bacon

In the period approaching the New Year and Yom Kippur, one may wonder as to the preponderance of concern with Divine Justice. If as we believe, God is also merciful, then why the excessive concern with the aspect of justice? Can’t He just go easy with us and understand that man (whom He created) inevitably sins? How can He demand that everyone behave with integrity, how can He expect everyone to uphold justice in a world filled with deceit and injustice?

Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy 25:15 explains that justice is not only a Divine attribute but that it is also a requirement of the human condition. Man cannot live long or well without the aspect of justice, of fairness, of evenhandedness as a basic element of his existence.

Ibn Ezra compares justice in man to the foundations of a building. If we chip away at the foundations, the building will eventually collapse. If man erodes his sense of justice, of integrity, of honesty, Ibn Ezra alludes that eventually such a person will also collapse and perhaps that his existence will even end earlier than it might have.

May we stand on guard for the erosion of our principles, may we reinforce the elements of integrity and fairness in our lives and may we prepare ourselves for the upcoming High Holidays so that the structure of our lives may endure and prosper.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the communications team of the Kehila for their heroic and ongoing efforts in preparation of the High Holidays.

In memory of Ivan Porzecanski (Natan ben Rachel ve Rafael), a boy of three, for whom I had the heartbreaking duty of burying. May his family be consoled amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.