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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Bereishit

Parshat Bereishit

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Bereishit                                                                           Print Version
27 Tishrei, 5783 | October 22, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt”l
The World of Shabbos

Let’s travel into the world of Shabbos and examine it for ourselves …

The New York Times was very interested in this Jewish observance called Shabbos. Looking to inform their readers and the general public about the nature and nuances of this day, they decided to send a reporter named Steve to a religious home, who would participate in all aspects of Shabbos observance and report back about his inside experience.

Steve began making phone calls, searching for the most suitable Jewish, Orthodox family he could stay with over Shabbos and be exposed to what Shabbos is all about. He eventually got on the phone with someone who seemed open to the idea. “I’d like to spend a Sabbath with you and write up a report to be published in the New York Times. Would you be open to me staying with you and your family?” The family acquiesced, informing Steve that sunset was at 4:18 and he should arrive at 4:00.

Steve arrived promptly at 4:00 at the Rosenthal address and knocked on the door. Within moments, the door opened and Steve was met with a smile. It was Mr. Rosenthal. “Please, come on in,” motioned Mr. Rosenthal, shaking Steve’s hand and walking him in. Instantly, Steve felt overwhelmed. Not by his host, but by the home which smelled other-worldly, between the freshly baked challah, spiced cholent and delicious chicken soup. It brought Steve vaguely back to Thanksgiving, the time when all his family gathered around and cooked and baked together. But today was just another Friday afternoon like any other. It seemed like a big party was about to begin.

The family, with the children dressed in their finest suits and dresses, quickly made their way to Steve and warmly invited him in. “It’s so nice to have you join us for the Sabbath,” remarked Mr. Rosenthal, a welcoming tone in his voice. “Is there a wedding tonight?” Steve asked, rather curiously. Mr. Rosenthal shook his head. “It sure seems that way,” giving way to another smile. “We do this every week for Shabbos.” Steve knew that this wasn’t how his family walked around his house Friday night. That was for sure.

A few minutes later, as Steve made himself comfortable on the sofa, he noticed Mrs. Rosenthal and her three daughters make their way to a beautiful candelabra. It was silver and sparkling. It seemed to Steve as if he was watching angels. Placing their hands over their eyes, they began softly murmuring some prayer, as they slightly swayed with mesmerizing grace. About a minute later, Mrs. Rosenthal turned around, hugged and kissed her daughters, greeted her husband again with a smile and began walking him to the door. Steve, following Mr. Rosenthal’s gesture, got up too, as Mrs. Rosenthal and her daughters wished Steve a good Shabbos and expressed how excited they all were to have him join them.

Mr. Rosenthal, now standing near the door, turned to Steve. “Steve, I’m heading to the synagogue now. You’re welcome to come along.” “I’d love to,” Steve replied, fixing his collar and giving a quick pat to his button-down shirt. Turning around, he saw that Mrs. Rosenthal and her daughters were putting the finishing touches to what he expected was dinner, after which they made their way to the living room and relaxedly sat on the couch and opened books. It seemed that they were praying some more. There wasn’t another distracting sound. No phones ringing or music blaring. Just the whispering hum of Mrs. Rosenthal and her daughters quietly reciting their prayers. It was like heaven. He couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that this was done every single week. Steve was so captivated by everything that had already happened, though he knew that more surprises were certainly around the corner.

Quite literally.

Making his way down the block, he caught up with Mr. Rosenthal who had reserved a seat right next to him at the synagogue. Everyone around looked immaculate in their neatly pressed suits and shined shoes. Steve was taking it all in. The children too, in their cute suits and dresses, were congregating around one man who sat in the corner. He, as Steve came to realize, was the candy man.

And then came the hymn of Lecha Dodi, and the entire synagogue erupted in melodious song. Steve couldn’t get enough of it. Energy, harmony, life and love was palpably felt in the air, as if you could grab it with your hands. Steve remained, quietly to himself and alongside Mr. Rosenthal, towards the back of the shul.

All of a sudden, everyone stood up and turned around, reciting the concluding lines of Bo’i b’shalom. Steve, unaware of what was going on, had stood up, but didn’t turn around. So there he was, opposite the entire congregation who swayed and chanted, facing him. Now Steve knew he had done it. He’d blown his cover. Everyone had turned around to look at him, realizing that he wasn’t Jewish. A few moments, later, all the men turned back around to face the Ark.

Steve, confused, quietly approached the man seated right in front of him. “Excuse me, but I’m new here. What was that all about? Why was everyone looking at me? What were they saying? “We were welcoming the Shabbos and saying, ’Bo’i b’shalom,’ Come in peace.” Steve’s eyes widened in intrigue. “I never would’ve thought that a room full of people would turn to face the Sabbath and greet it as if it were a real person and actual entity. That’s so beautiful. I need to write about this in the paper.”

The prayers came to end, after which Steve and Mr. Rosenthal headed back home, as they greeted several people on their way and wished them a ‘Good Shabbos.’

There sat Mrs. Rosenthal and her daughters on the sofa, now reading, smiling and laughing together. Within a few minutes, everyone was seated around the table and again, singing began. Mr. Rosenthal’s voice echoed throughout the home, a vibrant resonance felt throughout. The children then, one by one, walked up to their father, who placed his hands on their heads and recited the Friday night blessing that they grow up to become like the Matriarchs. He then gave each one a hug and kiss. Steve watched every unfolding move with wonder.

Kiddush over wine was next, after which the family gathered around to wash their hands. And then the challah was uncovered and taken a bite of. Heaven on earth, thought Steve to himself. The next courses of fish and matzah ball soup only dazzled Steve doubly so. The kids, in between and during courses, each brought out papers from school that stimulated questions and lively conversation. And then there was singing with all different tunes. Slow, emotional tunes and fast, lively tunes. It all was there.

What got to Steve more than anything was that everyone remained at the table. He couldn’t remember the last time that was true of his family. And there still was no phone ringing or anyone running to catch the last minutes of the game. “Amazing!” Steve told himself over and over. For over two hours, the family sat together, talking about their week, life on the whole and Judaism.

And then came dessert. Steve recalled having dessert in restaurants or on special occasions. But a regular Friday night? He was having a four-course meal, from fish to soup to the main dish to dessert. Incredible! Steve didn’t know, at this point, that he would be having many more courses over the span of a full Shabbos.

After the meal concluded and the family sat around, talking to another for some time longer, they bid each other a ‘Good Shabbos’ and began heading up the stairs. “Where is everyone going?” Steve asked. “Talk to friends, watch something?” Mr. Rosenthal smiled. “We don’t do that. We’re heading upstairs to read or learn a little and then go to sleep. In the morning, we head back to synagogue.” “So no phones?” Steve wondered again. “That’s right,” responded Mr. Rosenthal.

The next morning, there was Steve again with Mr. Rosenthal. The Torah scroll was removed from the Ark, men were called up, and then back the Torah went, into the Ark. Afterwards, an assortment of various foods – from cholent to kugel and more in between – was put out for everyone to grab a bite, as the rabbi shared some words of Torah insight and inspiration.

Mr. Rosenthal and Steve made their way back home after some more time in shul. “Now, what are we going to do? Play some ball?” “We’re going to eat again!” said Mr. Rosenthal. And there it was. Fish, chop liver, cholent, kugel, kishke. Steve had never seen anything like this in his life.

After lunch finished, everyone again sat down together and talked to each other. At this point, Steve asked the question. “Are you all together like this for over twenty-four hours?” Everyone nodded their heads, looking at each other with smiles. “And all you do is pray, learn, talk, eat and sleep?” They nodded their heads again. “Now I understand why Jews have energy throughout the whole week!”

At 4:00, Steve awoke, only to see the three Rosenthal girls about to walk out the door. “Are you going somewhere?” he asked. “We’re going to an afternoon Shabbos program.” “What do you do there?” Steve pressed on, wiping the sleepiness away from his eyes. “We listen to Jewish stories and insights, talk to our friends and have some special Shabbos treats.” Steve couldn’t help but think about his own children and how they would love to have such an opportunity with their own friends every Saturday afternoon. Praying, stories, food, sleep, studying, love, togetherness, family – it all came together in one day called Shabbos.

And then came Havdalah with its candle, spices and all the symbolism that Steve inquired about and came to appreciate.

As the candle was snuffed out, Steve turned to the family. “I have one question for you all. Why would anyone not want to do this?”

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
The Hum of the Universe

Take an MP4, or better yet, a tube amplifier and do the following. Turn up the volume until it won't go any farther. Now nothing's playing on your MP4 for right now. So what you're hearing is nothing. But I doubt you'll hear nothing. You'll hear noise. A lot of noise. Noise, however, is a subjective term. One man's noise is indeed another man's music. You could say that you're listening to electrons singing. Every transistor, every resistor, every IC has its own song when you apply an electric current to it. In other words, it sings.

The mystical work, Perek Shira, Chapter of Song, lists the quintessential aspects of animal, vegetable and astronomical life in this world. All these elements are referred to as elements of song. Back in the 1960s, there was a famous film in which a photographer unwittingly photographs a murder. He's photographing in a park, and he comes home and he develops the film and he starts to analyze the contact strips, the photographic proofs. But he sees something under a tree that he can't quite make out. So he takes the negative and he blows it up as much as possible, enlarging it larger and larger and larger. And in the end, his trained eye detects a gunman hiding behind a tree. But to the audience, the enlargement of the picture looks no more than a bunch of dots, like a pointillist abstraction.

Film is made up of silver crystals. If you blow up a negative enough, the image will yield to the background fabric of the film itself. It's noise, so to speak. Or is it its song?

When Bell Labs built a giant antenna in Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1960, it was part of a very early satellite transmission system called Echo. However, two employees of Bell Labs, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson had their eye on the Holmdel antenna for quite a different purpose. They realized it would make a superb radio telescope. At first they were disappointed. When they started their research, they couldn't get rid of a background noise. It was like trying to tune into your favorite radio program when it's obscured with noise and static. Everyone assumed it came from the telescope itself, so they checked everything, trying to find the source. They even pointed to the antenna right at New York City because there's no bigger urban radio noise than the Big Apple. It wasn't urban interference. It wasn't radiation from our galaxy or extra-terrestrial radio sources. It wasn't even the pigeons in the horn of the antenna because Penzias and Wilson had kicked them out. What was it then that they were hearing?

Eventually they came to the staggering conclusion that what they were hearing were the very first moments of the creation of the universe. The discovery in 1963 of the cosmic microwave background noise of the Big Bang was the first compelling evidence that the universe was born at a definite moment.

A sound amplifier playing nothing; electrons singing; a giant blowup of a photograph; silver crystals singing. And the most distant and cold whisper, the song of the world's creation. Go beneath the superficial, descriptive level of any medium, be it sound or sight, or listen to the center of the universe itself, and you won't find silence. You'll find song. That song is the sound of every rock and every bird, of every electron and star doing the bidding of its Creator. There is no silence in the heart of silence.

Rabbi Label Lam
The World is Waiting

When Shakespeare penned these words, “All the world is a stage,” I don't know if he understood at the time how truly profound that statement is. We are in the midst of a giant drama, a great play. And who was the protagonist of that play? Me and you and each and every one of us. The Mishna in Sanhedrin says, “Each person has an obligation to say that the whole world was created for me.” The Alter of Slabodka says that even if that person is not doing what he should be doing, it’s worthwhile that the world was created for him just because of the possibility that he might someday do what he needs to do. He'll wake up to the realization that the world is waiting for him.

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