D’var Torah: Rabbi Joshua Elkin (Acharei Mot/Kedoshim)

This Shabbat, we read a double parsha – Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. My focus is on Kedoshim because it is one of the parshiyot which is richest in specific mitzvot dealing with our relationships with other people. A quick examination of Chapter 19 of the Book of Vayikra reveals the details of a powerful system of ethical behavior which helps to create a humane society. Rather than delve into the specific mitzvot enumerated, I want to focus on the meaning of the word Kedoshim and the opening verse of the chapter – “You shall be holy because I the Lord thy God am holy.” What is the most authentic translation of kadosh?

The usual meaning ascribed to it is “separate” or “setting aside.” However, some years ago, a Schechter parent, Dr. Shim Berkovits, taught me a different meaning for kadosh which he learned from his father, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits z”l, a distinguished modern Orthodox philosopher. That meaning is “to draw near” – ostensibly meaning that by being holy and doing these mitzvot, we bring ourselves nearer to God and to the transcendent realms of the universe. This meaning is unusual and quite original, and sheds new light on the meaning of kadosh and of the opening verse quoted above.

In addition to this perspective, I would like to probe our precious Hebrew language for words whose root is kadosh and to see what added light can be shed on this important concept. Here is a partial list:

  1. Kiddush – blessing the wine on Shabbat and festivals
  2. Kaddish – prayer said by mourners
  3. Kedushah – the part of the Amidah where we stand and repeat phrases of holiness and praise, after the hazzan
  4. Kiddushin – Hebrew word for betrothal
  5. Harey at MeKudeshet lee – (you are betrothed unto me), said by groom under the huppah as the ring is placed on the bride’s finger
  6.  Beit HaMikdash – the Temple in Jerusalem
  7. Ir HaKodesh – the traditional way to refer to Jerusalem 
This is an example of the beauty and richness of the Hebrew language. We have numerous words which share the same root and which shed light on each other. The meaning of to draw near is enriched and expanded through these seven Kadosh perspectives. By uncovering and sharing all of these various words and meanings associated with Kadosh, we are also recognizing that translating Kadosh as Holy misses the richness and multi-layered quality of this ancient word. May we continue to draw near to the transcendent through the saying of Kadosh, singing it and mining it for the different meanings which emerge.​
Rabbi Joshua Elkin, Executive and Leadership Coach at Joshua Elkin Consulting, Former Head of School, Schechter alumni parent
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Poet Visits Fourth Grade Students

Thanks to the Parent Association’s Creative Arts and Sciences Program, Andrew Green returned to our fourth grade again this year as our poet-in-residence. Fourth Grade General Studies Teacher Evie Weinstein-Park shared,”Following an interactive poetry reading of his own poems and those of some other published poets, Mr. Green taught each of the fourth grade classes for a one hour writing workshop, where he focused on word choice and how to create vivid imagery and use our imaginations. He also gave us some revising strategies. Everyone reconvened at the end of the day, when our students proudly shared the poems they had written (and which were quite impressive).”
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D’var Torah: Rabbi Ravid Tilles (Tazria/Metora)

This week we read the double portion of Tazria and Metzora, both of which further the themes of the preceding chapters of Leviticus: purity and impurity. We learn about the ways that a person can become impure (ta’may), and therefore unfit to bring sacrifices to the Tabernacle. We also learn the process by which a person can be purified (tahor) and reintroduced into the ritual society. These two portions deal primarily with anatomical issues such as skin disease or bodily fluids and how these medical conditions can cause impurity (WARNING: These portions are rated PG-13 – though parental guidance is ALWAYS encouraged).

On the surface, the words ta’may and tahor (impure and pure) seem charged with judgment.  It is good to be tahor and it is bad to be ta’may. After all, one who is in a state of ritual impurity must not service God in the Tabernacle. Someone who is impure longs for purity, so impurity must be bad. The question arises, however, about the issue of childbirth, which is discussed at the beginning of Parshat Tazria. A woman who has just given birth is given the classification of “impure.” How can that be? How can such a beautiful, joyous, positive moment, such as childbirth, be associated with impurity or negativity?

From this we learn that ritual impurity is not a negative classification, rather it is a state of reality. Ta’may is not good or bad it just is. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England, expounds, “Though we have immortal longings, mortality is the condition of human existence, as it is of all embodied life.” Meaning, even though we wish we were always perfect and even strive for perfection, the reality is that we will never be perfect. There will always be times that we are ta’may, and we should give ourselves permission to live with our challenges and accept them as a part of our whole being. Our goal should not be perfection, since that is impossible. Instead our goal should be to accept ourselves, 100% fully and purely, as we are.

Rabbi Ravid Tilles is the Associate Rabbi at the Merrick Jewish Centre and Incoming Director of Jewish Life and Learning at Schechter

D’var Torah: Dr. Joseph Reimer (Sh’mini)

The Strange Case of the Strange Fire: Parshat Sh’mini

Leviticus, the third book of the Torah, is well-known as the priestly code. In its early chapter we read about the animal sacrifices that the priests- Aaron and sons- were to bring before the Lord in the sanctuary built by the people to serve their God. These sacrifices were the main avenue of Israelite approach to God and the priests played the crucial role as mediators between the people and God. So it is shocking in chapter 10 to read what happened to Aaron’s two oldest sons.

Now Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his fire pan, put fire in it and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined them. And  fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord (verses 1-2.).

Much is not clear in this terse narrative. Were Nadab and Abihu asked to take their fire pans and bring in fire? If so, what is an alien fire? How did this alien or strange fire defy God’s orders? And why was this offense so grievous that God consumed them on the spot?

As happens often in Jewish tradition, when the Torah fails to supply the many details we need to understand what happened, the commentators jump in with many differing interpretations. To them there is an absolute need to know what happened and why. This is a potentially highly destabilizing story. We are, after all, reading about Aaron, Moses’ older brother who co-lead the Exodus from Egypt and was subsequently honored with becoming the first High Priest. Aaron has been told that the priesthood was to be hereditary and that his sons would succeed him in this role. And here, two of his four sons are struck dead, the two oldest who might well have been his immediate successors. Were these sons evil? Or had they made a terrible error of judgment for which they paid with their lives? And is this God so fraught that He can, without explaining, strike dead two of the highest priests?

I leave you to explore the many possible responses to these questions. What strikes me, writing during Passover week, is that ours is a tradition that honors questions more than responses. We know that the commentators will work their way out of this terrible dilemma, but that the ways out are less lasting than the dilemma itself. Answers fade with time. Questions last a life time, indeed many life times. In my view the very beauty of a Jewish education is not that our developing children are armed with responses, but that they realize they come from a people who pursue lasting questions and expect of them the same: a life time of studying and posing questions.


Music – Dance – Theatre: Ready, Set, Go!

The performing arts are very important to the Skolnick family. At an age when many parents would engage a babysitter to entertain a young child while they went to the theatre, Schechter parents Jennifer and Jason Skolnick began to introduce their children to live theatre experiences. They took each of their daughters, Sarah Rose (grade 8), Ariel (grade 5) and Liat (grade 2), to see a live performance by the time they were 2 ½ years old. Once their daughter showed that she was capable of sitting and enjoying a show, she received a subscription to 6 shows a year, ranging from theatre to ballet to the children’s symphony.

IMG_4194As they began school at Schechter, each Skolnick child was encouraged to take advantage of the many performing arts opportunities, both during the school day and in afterschool. They participated in Rainbow Choir, Do Re Mi Choir, Shir Chai Honors musical and theatre productions, band and music lessons. Sarah Rose recently described her experience in the 8th grade Hebrew musical as the highlight of her time at Schechter (see photo from this year’s production of The Little Mermaid).

The Skolnicks – Jennifer and Jason, and their parents, Doreen and Matthew Skolnick – believe that performing arts are an incredibly important part of a child’s education. Childhood experiences in the arts provide an outlet for self-expression, enhancing and enriching their education, and set the tone for a lifelong appreciation of the performing arts.

With this in mind, the Skolnick family decided to participate in the Generations Campaign by endowing a fund to support the performing arts at Schechter in perpetuity. They have set up a fund called “The Fund for Excellence in Performing Arts.” In this way, they can ensure that future generations of children at Schechter will have similar opportunities as their own children and grandchildren to enrich their lives through the performing arts.

The Skolnicks invite others in the Schechter community who value and love the arts to join them by adding to this fund. They hope others will help them to perpetuate the importance of the arts at Schechter and ensure the future excellence of these programs. For more information on how to make a gift to Schechter for this purpose, please contact Natalie Matus, Associate Head of School for Institutional Advancement, at 617 630-4617 or natalie.matus @ssdsboston.org.

The Generations Campaign supports our commitment to providing our students with a dynamic 21st century education, infused and enhanced by Jewish learning and values, to prepare our students for informed and active engagement in the Jewish community and the broader world. As of November 2016, Schechter’s Generations Endowment Campaign has raised $9,581,166 toward our $12.5 million goal.

Students use Scratch to bring the Purim story to life

Using Scratch, a block-based programming language developed at MIT, Grade 6 students brought the Purim story to life in their Tanakh class with their teacher, Lianne Gross. Some students chose to update the characters to reflect present day sensibilities, imagining, for example, Vashti having Instagram followers. As part of our Purim festivities, the entire Upper School watched a video production of the Scratch projects, with voice-over by the Grade 6 students.