Dr. Ari Ackerman, Outgoing Dean and Senior Lecturer in Jewish Thought at the Schechter Institute, takes us on the path of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Rabbi Kook was known for his optimistic, positive attitude towards life. How did he relate to a difficult passage about Amalek in Parashat Beshalach?
Question: If a Jew causes the accidental death of another person, what can he or she do in order to repent for that action?
Responsum: In Genesis, Chapter 4, Cain kills Abel in a fit of jealousy. God punishes him by sending him into exile (v. 12 ff). The punishment of exile was later used by the bible to punish accidental homicide. If Reuven killed Shimon by accident, Reuven had to flee to a city of refuge and stay there until the High Priest died. (1) The main purpose of this exile was not teshuvah or repentance, but to prevent the relatives of Shimon from killing Reuven (Numbers 35: 11-12; Deut. 4:42; Joshua 20:3 ff.).
This Thursday I will be marching in the gay parade in Jerusalem, after marking Tisha B’av (the Ninth of Av) earlier in the week, with the reading of Lamentations and other customs associated with mourning.
What motivated Righteous Gentiles to risk their lives to save Jews from the Nazis? What drives people today to risk their own lives to save others?
Purim is a holiday whose meaning is shrouded in mystery. The only clear element is what we are commanded to do on Purim as set forth at the end of the Scroll of Esther: read the Megilla, hold a festive meal, and give gifts to the poor. This last mitzvah is not an administrative detail of a system of social justice. Yes, the Jewish people are commanded to pay a tax of half a shekel, as we read onShabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar. But gifts to the poor are another matter; giving charity is an expression of the direct, mutual economic responsibility between people.
The problem of parents who have deteriorated mentally is mentioned in Jewish sources as early as the second century BCE, and the specific question raised above has been hotly debated by halakhic authorities for over 800 years.
I wish to first of all thank the Schechter Institute and the Award Committee who chose to award me, along with Eti Ankri, the honor of receiving the Liebhaber Prize, named for Rabbi Marc and Henia Liebhaber z”l, leaders in the North American Jewish community. There are two aspects to a prize – recognition for the past, and expectation of the future. Looking back over the many junctures of my past, I recall an abundance of tolerance as a way of life. Of these, I wish to mention three central influences.
When recalling my Jewish childhood, the first memory that comes to mind is from Seder night – the immaculate house, the set table covered with a white tablecloth, the taste of the holiday foods, and primarily the feeling of contentment after long days of hard work and preparation. The stars of the evening were the children, for whom the Seder was fashioned as a unique and fascinating experience, engaging all of the senses in order to allow us to absorb both the explicit and hidden messages of the Haggadah. The telling of the story was led by my grandfather, who would stand and hold the full Seder plate over the heads of the participants, as a symbol of abundance, blessings and success, while those seated would sing with great fervor, “This is the bread of our affliction… all who are hungry may come and eat…next year we shall be free.”
At the Schechter MA graduation ceremony in Jerusalem a few months ago, the master of ceremonies, Jacky Levy, a well-known Israeli media personality, asked a poignant question in the context of the awarding of the Rabbi Marc and Dr. Henia Leibhaber Prize for Religious Tolerance in Israel, of which he himself is a recipient. The Liebhaber Prize was established 18 years ago in the wake of the political/religiously motivated assassination of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.