5 RABBINIC INSIGHTS

                                   BESIDE ADAM’S RIB      Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Everyone knows that God created woman from Adam’s rib. Since humans have many ribs it seems to be no big loss. But the word mistranslated as rib in the Septuagint actually means side (for example Ezekiel 41:5,11 or Exodus 26:26,27,35).

God took the right side, or the left side, from Adam and built woman (who is well built to this day). Built seems to be a strange term to use, but the Hebrew word for side appears mostly in the context of building. A wall with only one side cannot stand. A one sided building is not a building.

Adam without one side was only half a man. Thus the Torah concludes, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Two sides become one whole. Two sides can stand together.

Which side did God take? Probably the right side because Psalm 45:10 says, “A royal consort stands at your right side” This is why the bride stands at the grooms right side under the Hupah.

The woman God built is described as an “ezer kenegdo”- a helper corresponding to or equal to him i.e. a partner or a teammate. The right side does not differ greatly from the left side in bilateral creatures but psychologically perhaps she is the ‘inside’ and he is the ‘outside’.

This would symbolize a greater difference. Good partners bring different abilities and talents together. Thus, as partners, one plus one is greater than two. Even a skeptic like Kohellet declares, “If two lie side by side, they keep each other warm; but how can one keep warm alone? ” (Ecclesiastes 4:11)

This is why God says, “ It is not good for a male to dwell alone. I will provide a partner for him.” (Genesis 2:18) 


                      A HELP MATE BY YOUR SIDE               RABBI ALLEN S MALLER

Adam was all alone. He didn't have parents and he didn't have children. He did not even have a brother or a sister to talk to. Adam was all alone. He didn't even have a friend to play games with. Adam was lonely, and he was unhappy.

God said to Adam, “It is not good for you to be alone. But now you are free to do whatever you want to do. When you are alone you don't have to share things with others. You don't have to stop talking and just listen when someone else needs to talk to you.

You don't have to help when others need help. You don't have to care about how someone else feels. If you had a sister or a brother or a good friend, you would have to do all these things and many more.”

"I don't like being lonely” said Adam, “ I have lots of things for fun and games but I get bored with them after a while. I have several pet animals, but even having animals is not good enough for me. I still feel lonely and all alone.

I need someone who is like me but at the same time is different. I need a partner. Someone to stand by my side and be my best friend. I need someone I can take care of, and who will care for me.”

"I know just what you need.” said God, “What you need is a help mate. A person with a different personality, who can grow together with you in love, and help you become a mensch. I am going to form her right out of your side, so she will stand side by side with you as your equal partner, your help mate.

The two of you will be like one pair of hands. You know, one hand cannot wash itself. But two hands can always wash each other. You will have to be responsible for and to each other. You will no longer be independent. You will not be free to do whatever you want anymore.

You will have to think about another person's feelings. You will have to think less about your self and more about another. I will give you a blessing to help you become a couple.”

God looked down and saw that Adam had fallen into a deep sleep. God hoped that when Adam awoke he would remember all that God had told him. Even if Adam and all his descendants didn't always become the loving responsible help mates that God wanted them to be, God thought they would be become better by trying.

And those who were fully responsible partners and help mates would become God's blessing for each other. 


      Our Torah And Our Grandchildren Change; Yet They Are Ours    Rabbi Allen S. Maller


Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav (his teacher): When Moses went up (Mount Sinai and then higher into the heavens) he found the Holy One engaged in making crowns (embellishments) on some of the (Torah) letters.

Moses asked, ”Who restrains your hand” (what keeps you from explicitly writing out these embellishments)? God replied, “Generations from now a man by the name of Akiba ben Joseph will arise and expound each embellishment- detail into heaps of laws.”

Moses wanted to see him, and God said; turn around.

Moses walked (to the lecture) and sat in the eighth (back) row. Moses could not understand the legal discussion and his confidence sank. But when they discussed one issue and Akiba's students questioned a ruling, Akiba answered, “It is a rule given to Moses at Sinai.” and Moses' confidence was buoyed.

So Moses returned to God and said, “You have a man like that, and you gave the Torah to me?” God replied, “Be silent, so it occurred to me.”

Then Moses said, “You showed me his Torah, now show me his reward.” and God told Moses; turn around. Moses saw the flesh of the executed (for supporting the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome in 132-35 CE) Akiba being sold in a market-stall. Moses cried out, “Lord of the Universe, this is the reward for this (great) Torah?”

And God replied, “Be silent, so it occurred to me.” (Talmud Menachot 29b)

This Talmudic Aggadah (narrative) teaches many different lessons with similar themes.

1- Future developments are unforeseen and unforeseeable. Do not expect to foresee, understand or approve of all future developments. Do not criticize your grandchildren's lifestyle.

2- If James Madison returned and sat in on a session of a Supreme Court case about limits to file sharing of photos on the internet, and the (unwritten) Constitutional right to privacy, would he recognize his constitution? A developing Torah lives. The end is not the goal; life's journey is the goal.

3- God gave humans free will. God does not control the future. What occurs will be shaped by our reaction to it. Often silence should be our first response. In time we may understand more.

4- We often question God's judgement when bad things happen to good people. Why do we not question why good things happen to good people, when someone else seems even more deserving. God's answer to Moses in both cases is; what happens, happens. Deal with it.



                                   A DIVINE PROPOSAL    by
Rabbi Allen S. Maller

In the beginning of evolution life was lived without love, without friendship, without sex, and without self- consciousness. Of the four, sex was the first to appear.

It took more than one and a half billion years for single cell life forms on earth to reach the level of multicellular organisms and another 300-400 million years after that, for sexual reproduction to evolve.

Only with the evolution of birds and mammals more than three billion years after the beginnings of life, did parental love, mate paring, and friendship appear. It took more than three billion years from the beginning, for consciousness to develop, and self-consciousness has only blossomed in the last few seconds geologically speaking.

While millions of species can live their entire lives without experiencing love, friendship, personal conscious trust and other forms of relationships, humans cannot. And we know it.

Relationships make up the core of our thoughts and activities. Family, friends, community and the love of God, nature and community, all provide us with our most important and meaningful human experiences.

Judaism is a religion based on the covenant relationship between the People of Israel and the God of Israel. Parents can have many children that they love equally, but each relationship is unique to that child.

God relates to humanity in many different religious ways, and only one of them is the Jewish way. Our relationship to God is not based on our own personal experience, although many Jews do have personal experiences of the Divine.

The relationship of God and the Jewish People is based on the covenant (partnership agreement) formed at Mount Sinai, when God choose Israel to be his people, and Israel choose God to be their God.

This relationship is not based on beliefs or even on faith, it is based on trust and faithfulness. Jews who are committed to the Jewish tradition and loyal the Jewish People are faithful Jews. 'Good' Jews are Jews who are trying to become better Jews by living lives filled with Torah and Mitsvot.

This is why studying Torah and asking questions is so important for most Jews. This is why engaging in Mitsvot and doing good is more important than specific beliefs and prayers for most Jews.

Jewish religious thought is expressed clearly in a verse that is part of the introduction to the declaring of the Ten Commandments and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. “NOW IF YOU REALLY LISTEN TO MY VOICE AND OBSERVE MY COVENANT, THEN OUT OF ALL PEOPLES YOU WILL BECOME MY SPECIAL POSSESSION, FOR THE WHOLE WORLD IS MINE. YOU WILL BE TO ME A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION.”( Exodus 19:5-6)

I will explicate each part of this crucial verse.

NOW IF YOU REALY LISTEN TO MY VOICE AND OBSERVE MY COVENANT: Listening to my voice means studying Torah. Observing my covenant means doing Mitsvot. In marriage feelings and actions are more important than words, yet words count. In Judaism learning and doing are more important than prayers, yet prayers count.

Beliefs are important but not as important as behavior. Most important of all is belonging to the covenantal Jewish community and participating in its ritual and moral life through both feeling and doing; a holy covenant of marriage. “THE PEOPLE ALL ANSWERED TOGETHER SAYING: WE DO! WE WILL LISTEN.” AND MOSES BROUGHT THIS ANSWER BACK TO THE LORD” (Exodus 19:8)

OUT OF ALL PEOPLES YOU: Other peoples will receive prophets and holy men but only Israel entered into a covenant with God as a whole nation “chiefs, elders, officers, wives, children, converts, from wood choppers to water carriers” (Deuteronomy 29:10-11) Is being chosen and special make you superior? No.

A committed loving relationship results in more giving (Mitsvot), more receiving (Torah, Prophets and sages) greater expectations and thus more grief (because each cares very mush for the other). “For you alone have I cared among all the nations of the world, therefore I will castigate you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

Jews are not THE chosen people; they are A chosen people, the first of several monotheistic religions. “Tell Pharaoh that these are the words of the Lord: Israel is my first born son.” (Exodus 4:22)

In future centuries other nations may attach themselves to the One God of Moses and Israel, but not all nations are required to worship the same One God. “Each nation will walk in the name of its God, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” (Micah 4:5)

Even in the Messianic Age other nations will be free to faithfully follow their own God, and the One God will bless all nations and peoples including Israel's old enemies Assyria and Egypt, referring to Egypt as ‘my people’ (Isaiah 19:24-5)

WILL BECOME MY SPECIAL POSSESSION: To become a special possession like a bride or a groom. A marriage is special because it is a mutual choice. We do not choose our parents, our siblings or our children, but we do choose a spouse. We choose and we are chosen.

All the world’s religions can lead people to God but Judaism is special because it claims that God’s covenant with Israel includes sinners and unbelievers as well as believers and the pious. Unlike God’s covenant with Noah or with Abraham, the covenant at Sinai is with a whole people, even including those non-Jews who will someday enter the Jewish people as converts.

All Jews stood at Sinai. All Jews choose, or couldn't resist, being chosen. “The Lord has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth (at that time) to be his special possession.” (Deuteronomy12: 2)

The prophet Amos adds, “You alone have I cared for among all the nations of the world.” (3:2) Therefor God holds Israel extra accountable, even though God does other things for other peoples “Did I not bring Israel out of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Aramaeans from Kir?” (9:7)

The special part of the relationship is not due to excluding other future nations from any relationship with the God of Israel. What is special is God’s promise; “The Lord your God is a merciful god who will never fail you or destroy you, nor will God ever forget the covenant guaranteed by oath with your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 4:31)

Since the Jewish people is still here, surviving all attempts to destroy it, God remains faithful to the Divine promise. No other nation or people in the western world still worships any of the gods that were worshiped in the days of Moses.

KINGDOM OF PRIESTS: This is why Jews have more religious duties than Christians, Muslims, Mormons or Baha'i. This is also why we struggle with God more. Doctors make the most difficult patients! They ask hard questions and as insiders they worry more and make greater demands.

So too, with the Jewish people. We are stiff-necked; stubborn, proud and independent. But having made our choice to be chosen we become partners for life, and nothing can destroy our Divine relationship.

Indeed, the more we are oppressed from outside because we are Jewish, the stronger we become inside our Jewishness and the greater becomes our commitment. Our Rabbis pointed out that (Psalm 135:4) which says, “For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel as his special treasure.”

This could also be read as “For Jacob has chosen the Lord to be his own, Israel as His special treasure.” The Hebrew can be read both ways and thus represents the interactive mutuality of a covenantal living relationship. Without a husband there is no wife but without a wife there is no husband.

A HOLY NATION: The marriage covenant is a holy relationship. “You shall be holy because I, the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1) God makes us holy by giving us mitsvot.

Thus the blessing Jews say when they are about to do a Mitsvah includes the phrase “asher kidshanu b’mitsvotav- who has made us holy through mitsvot”. Mitsvot we do with love, especially the ritual ones, make us holy to God; mitsvot we do with responsibility, especially the ethical ones, make God holy to us, “The holy God is made holy by righteousness.” (Isaiah 5:16 )


                              Not Faith but Trust         by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

At a ripe old age, Abram receives a message from God, telling him that he will yet produce an heir, and that the child will inherit not only Abram's property, but also his father's covenant with God. Surely God's promise would strain the credulity of even the most devoted follower.

Sarah had been barren throughout her life. Now, her body no longer surged with the monthly cycle of women--childbearing wasn't even a possibility. And she herself testified that her husband was far too old to father children.

Yet, despite biological reality, God tells Abram that he will have a child, and that his descendants will outnumber the stars in the sky!

In response to God's astounding promise, the Torah states simply that "because he put his trust in the Lord, he reckoned it to his credit." In that one ambiguous sentence, the Torah contrasts the rich complexity of biblical faith and the superficiality of the contemporary notion of faith.

.For most religious Americans, "faith" means belief in certain claims about the metaphysics of reality. Faith is perceived as a mental acceptance, a lack of doubt. Accordingly, true faith requires a willingness to refrain from too much thought, to ignore the difficult questions which life inevitably raises.

And, as a result, when those questions do arise--as indeed they must--this faulty "faith" is often destroyed in its wake.

How different is the biblical-rabbinic understanding of faith! Abram is portrayed as a man filled with tensions and doubt. In no way can he be said to enjoy peace of mind.

Instead, our Torah reveals Abraham worrying about his lack of heirs, about the state of his covenant with God, and his relations with his neighbors. In the midst of all those struggles, Abram has a discussion with God.

And what emerges is a radically different kind of faith experience. Abram comes to understand that faith is not the passive acquiescence to an idea, or obediently stifling doubt.

Faith is a willingness to trust, despite one's doubts and through one's tensions. Faith is trust. The most simple reading of our biblical verse is that God reckoned Abram's trust to his merit.

The medieval commentator, Rashi (11th Century France) notes that God credited Abram's trust to his tzedakah (righteousness) because Abram "did not ask God for a sign."

A more recent biblical work, the Torah Temimah (by Rabbi Barukh Epstein, 19th-20th Century, Russia), understands our ambiguous sentence differently---that Abram trusted God and considered God's promise as evidence of God's righteousness.

We often take for granted that we live in a habitable universe--the sun rises and sets with predictable regularity, the earth produces material which in turn nourishes other living things,

While the world may be far from perfect, it is--nonetheless--regular, reliable and vital. Evidence of God's promise is not hard to find. One way of understanding our verse, then, is to see in it God's willingness totrust Abraham.

Another way to read the verse is to recognize Abraham's willingness to trust God. Both are far from predictable. Both represent little miracles. There is insight in both readings. Abram and God present faith as a willingness to trust, despite the reality of setbacks and suffering.

Rather than some pale recital of a creed, Judaism insists on a rich trust, demonstrated not by spreading the word, but by living the deeds.