On Shabbat Chayye Sarah, Nov. 7, 2015, Rabbi Finkelman discussed the current controversy surrounding the International Beit Din for Freeing Agunot. This is the outline distributed at that talk.
This is the outline distributed at Rabbi Finkelman's talk on the issue of female Orthodox clergy, Shabbat Miketz, Dec. 12, 2015.
The beginning of this week’s parashah, when God tells Abram “go from your land . . . “ (Genesis 12:1) seems a major turning point in the book of Genesis. God establishes a new kind of relationship with a human being, and promises to extend the relationship in some way to his descendants.
Why was Abram chosen? Why does this command or request go to Abraham? What was special about him, that warranted this conversation?
The rabbis of the Talmud wonder why the tradition teaches us that we refrain from eating and drinking on Yom Kippur. After all, the Torah demands only that we “afflict ourselves” (Lev. 16:31). Why this form of affliction, and not, say, lying outside in the sunlight and getting a painful sunburn (Yoma 74b)?
Rosh HaShanah 5776
Uveken ten pahdekha al kol maasekha, v’amatekha al kol ma shebarata, veyerukha kol hamaasim . . .
At every Amidah, at every recitation of the statutory prayer on Rosh HaShanah and on Yom Kippur, we add a paragraph asking for all God’s creatures to experience “yirat haShem,” fear or awe of God.
This paragraph does not refer to only to Jews. We appear in the next paragraph. This refers to all God’s creatures, maybe even including non-humans.
What is yirat haShem? [We usually refer to this as Yirat Shamayim, to avoid unnecessary mention of God.] What would serve as the operative definition of fear of Heaven? How would fear of Heaven manifest itself in a person’s life?
I found four examples of this quality in Humash, three of which should help us in determining an operative definition of fear of Heaven.
A few years ago, the Moot Beit Din problem concerned a “ticking time bomb” situation. High school students from around the continent wrote their decisions about whether Halakhah should permit torturing a terrorist suspect to get information to defuse an attack on civilians. I was coach of the team from Frankel Jewish Academy, and my students had to research precedents in Halakhah for using torture.
Sometimes an entry in one of the classical commentators illuminates the person who wrote the commentary, not just the comment. We have a remarkable example of that right in the beginning of parshat Vayeshev.
My grandmother came to America from Russia about 107 years ago. She said she came from Russia. If someone asked for whom she had voted, she said “When I lived in Russia, the Tzar did not let me vote for someone and then not tell anyone who I voted for. Then I came to America, learned the language, became a citizen, so I could vote and not tell anyone who I voted for.”
The man cuts down a tree. With half the wood, he lights a fire, bakes bread and makes a roast, and he warms himself by the fire. It feels good. He says, “Ah.” With the other half, he carves an idol, and worships it, “rescue me, for you are my god.”
1. Apparently the impulse to donate in order to effect a health result existed in Talmudic times, and the rabbis of the Talmud did not condemn this impulse.