B&H Photo Lays Off 400 Employees, ‘Waited as Long as Possible’ By David Israel and With Synagogues Shuttered, ‘Porch Minyans’ Grow in Brooklyn By David Zaklikowski, but the synagogues are now open in Israel and What does Shmitah, the Sabbatical year, have to do with Mt Sinai?
Yehuda Lave is an author, journalist, psychologist, rabbi, spiritual teacher, and coach, with degrees in business, psychology and Jewish Law. He works with people from all walks of life and helps them in their search for greater happiness, meaning, business advice on saving money, and spiritual engagement. Now also a Blogger on the Times of Israel. Look for my column
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The synagogues in Israel opened on Wednesday night and we had our first indoor services this Shabbat. No one talked to each other (since we aren't next to each other anymore) and there were about half the amount of people as before the plague. Of course there is no kiddush yet either, maybe why there is half as many people!
What does Shmitah, the Sabbatical year, have to do with Mt Sinai?
What does Shmitah, the Sabbatical year, have to do with Mt Sinai?
Leviticus opens with "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying … " (Leviticus 1:1). From this point onward, Leviticus conveys God's words to Moses' ear in the tent of meeting, whose construction was completed in the final section of the Book of Exodus.
Last week's Torah portion, Behar (Lev. 25:1 – 26:2), the penultimate portion in Leviticus, states: "And the Lord spoke unto Moses in Mount Sinai, saying …" (Lev. 25:1), as if the Torah was returning to what was said to Moses on Mount Sinai – that is, to the middle of the previous book in the Pentateuch. The Torah then continues with details of the mitzvah of observing shemitah, in which the land is allowed to lay fallow every seven years, and of the various laws connected with it.
In the Sifra, the Tannaitic midrashic work on the Book of Leviticus, the sages ask, "What connection is there between shemitah and Mount Sinai? Were not all the commandments conveyed on Mount Sinai?" (Sifra, Behar:1). The midrash's question is cited by Rashi in his commentary and has entered modern Hebrew, where it is used to query the link between two items that have been stated in the same breath but seem completely unconnected.
This question was famously asked by one of the oldest midrashim, Sifra (Behar 1), and it has been pondered over for centuries. The question arises from the way the portion about the Sabbatical year is introduced in the Torah (last week's Torah portion Behar): G-d spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai saying: Speak to Israel's children and say unto them:When you come to the land which I give you, the land will rest,a shabbat for G-d…In the seventh year, it will be the Sabbath of sabbaths for the land, a Sabbath for G-d." (Lev. 25:2-4)
If all the commandments were given at Mt. Sinai, the midrash wonders, why is Mt. Sinai only mentioned here? And the answer that we can give today is deceptively simple: the whole purpose of the covenant at Sinai is to create a society that observed Shmitah. It is in a land where Shmitah is observed that human beings will learn to respect the Earth herself, by remembering that none of us can own the land. "For the land is mine," G-d declares, "and you are strangers and settlers with me." (Lev. 25:23) And if none of us can own the land, cannot sell it and buy it, then what we do own is ultimately not ours, then the difference between rich and poor is not "just the way things are," then a person cannot be owned and the difference between slave and master is not real and the slave is loved by God.
In the Sabbatical year debts are canceled, and the land is ownerless. In the seventh sabbatical year, the Jubilee, all slaves are freed (including those who did not exercise their right to go free after the sixth year of their own service) and every family returns to its original landholding, becoming equal to every other family.
Only in such a society, where "property" does not designate the right to use up what one owns, but rather a kind of fleeting relationship to what one cares for, can people learn the true meaning of justice. Only in such a society can people learn to share their wealth, nurture the poor alongside everyone else,relieve debts, end hunger, and respect the fundamental human right to be free.
Another answer is provided in another homily found in the Sifra. Toward the end of Parshat Bechukotai, the next – and final – weekly Torah reading in Leviticus, it is stated, "These are the statutes and ordinances and laws, which the Lord made between Him and the children of Israel in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses" (Lev. 26:46). The Sifra explains: "The statutes are the midrashic interpretations, the ordinances are the laws, and the word 'laws' [torot] alludes to the fact that two Torot – that is, two Torahs – were given to Israel [at Sinai]: the Written Torah [the Written Law, that is, the Pentateuch] and the Oral Torah [the Oral Law, that is, the Talmud] … The phrase 'in Mount Sinai by the hand of Moses,' teaches us that the Torah – including its laws, and the details and interpretations of those laws – was given to Moses at Sinai" (Sifra, Bechukotai, end of section B).
Rabbi Akiva's many homilies can be found throughout the Talmud, many of them are radical interpretations that are incongruent with a reading of the Torah's verses in their actual context. He extracts from those verses new "literal" readings that are actually very far from literal in their understanding.
The only way in which Rabbi Akiva could anchor his radical, innovative interpretations in the biblical text from a theological standpoint was by using the ideological argument that the entire Torah – as well as its extensions, its laws, its midrashic and non-midrashic interpretations, including, of course, the rabbi's own interpretations – was given at Sinai. All that Rabbi Akiva does is "simply" to reveal what was previously concealed.
Rabbi Akiva sees the details of the mitzvahs presented in the tent of meeting as a reflection of his own method of interpreting the Torah: The details of the commandments were given at Sinai and were written down only later in Leviticus, and the same applies to the interpretation of the Torah.
In order to continue interpreting the Torah, Rabbi Akiva creates an absolute picture of its granting at Sinai; in that picture, the entire Torah was given as well as all its layers and interpretations. Theoretically, Rabbi Akiva eliminates any possibility of introducing anything new in the Torah; however, this theoretical elimination actually enables infinite innovations because, according to this approach, all of the Torah's interpretations – not just Rabbi Akiva's – were given at Sinai: "Even what an experienced scholar will one day say before the teacher. Everything was given at Sinai, as it is written, 'Is there a thing whereof it is said: "See, this is new"?' And, as the next part of that verse replies, 'it hath been already, in the ages which were before us' (Ecclesiastes 1:10)" (Vayikra Rabbah 22:1).
According to Rabbi Akiva, everything was given at Mount Sinai, including what is discussed today in every beit midrash (study hall) where the Torah's words are renewed.
The Sabbatical year was the guarantor and the ultimate fulfillment of the justice that Torah teaches us to practice in everyday life, and it was a justice that embraced not just fellow human beings, but the land and all life.
The Sabbatical year was the ultimate meaning of rest, which we practice every week in the observance of shabbat. It was the Sabbath of sabbaths, Shabbat shabbaton.
After telling us outright that Sinai is about Shmitah, the Torah also gives us other pointers to Shmitah's ultimate significance. Failure to let the land rest is one of only two mitzvot that are described as being the cause of exile from the land (the other being idolatry), while the purpose of exile itself is described as a way to force human beings to let the Earth rest. If we do not observe Shmita, still "the land will enjoy her Sabbaths…All the days of her being emptied she will rest what she didn't rest during your Sabbaths, when you were dwelling on her." (Lev. 26:34) The Torah is clear: It is possible for us to have shabbat without giving the land rest, but doing shabbat just for ourselves, even just for God, is not enough. Exile happens because the land's right to rest comes before our rest. There's another clue to the importance of Shmitah, a more subtle one. During the Shmitah year, we are commanded to let the wild animals eat freely from our fields. "The shabbat of the land (what the land grows while it is resting) will be for you for eating: for you and for your servants and hired-workers and for your settler living as a stranger with you, and for your beast, and for the wild animal which is in your land, all of her produce will be for eating." (Lev. 25:6-7) The rabbis further expanded the meaning of this law, , so that everyone was required to leave any gates to their fields open, so that one could not even eat in one's house food that was not also growing in the fields—so that human beings and wild (and domestic) animals were eating the same food.
Think about the two other times when humans and all the animals ate alongside each other in peace according to the Torah. When, and where, did it happen? First It was in the Garden of Eden, before so many tragedies befell humanity. Before the flood. Before the relationship between humans and animals was torn asunder; before humans exiled themselves from the Earth. Second during the one year on the ark, the animals and Man existed together.
After the flood, the animals live in mortal terror of human beings.After the flood, God makes a covenant—not with the human beings, but with all the animals—a covenant to not destroy the Earth because of humanity. It is the Sinai covenant which is meant to bring back into harmony a world twisted by human greed and violence. It is the Sinai covenant that is meant to restore the fellowship of human and animal, and to reorder our values, so that the well-being of the land and the community of life takes precedence over our own perceived needs. This is what it means to "choose life so you may live, you and your seed after you." (Deut. 30:19)
This is what it means to"increase your days and your children's days on the ground for as long as the skies are over the land." (Deut. 11:21) In modern parlance we call it "sustainability," but that's just today's buzzword. It's called Shmitah in the holy tongue, "release"—releasing each other from debts, releasing the land from work, releasing ourselves from our illusions of selfhood into the freedom of living with others and living for the sake of all life. How is it, then, that our generation is the one that can answer the question, "Mah inyan Shmita etzel Har Sinai?How does Shmita emanate from Mt. Sinai?"It is because it is only now, when we see that human beings can really "ruin My world" and that there may be "no one who will come after you to repair it,"(Kohelet Rabbah 7:13) only now can we understand what Shmita means. Only now can we see that the meaning of Mt. Sinai is Shmita. May it beHashem's will that we are seeing this in time to fulfill the vision, to "proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all her inhabitants,"(Lev.25:10) to all those souls traveling together with us on this planet.
A Meeting with Destiny
Shmulik Hadari was suffering from a bad case of the Coronavirus, so he called his doctor in Tel Aviv to get an appointment.
When he was told the scheduled date of the appointment, he became outraged and bellowed, "Three weeks? The doctor can't see me for three weeks? I could well be dead by then!"
Calmly, the receptionist replied, "If so, would you have your wife call to cancel the appointment?"
Follow the instructions or no Guarantees
Last week we completed the Book of Vayikra, which is also called "Leviticus."
The last Portion (parsha or section) in Vayikra is Bechukosai, which contains the first "Tochecha" in the Torah, a very frightening prophetic passage that describes in detail what will befall the Children of Israel if we, G-d forbid, stray from Hashem's commandments.
The Tokhahah, or admonition, refers to the passages of curses that Moses uttered by way of moral instruction and warning to the children of Israel. These passages occur twice in the Torah, in Parashat Behukosai (Lev. 16:14-46), and in Parashat Ki Tavo (Deut. 28:15-69).
It is important to remember that the Tochecha is preceded by a passage of tremendous blessings. We should always keep in mind that we have a choice between blessing and curse. The blessings are endless and without boundary, shining as brilliantly as the morning sun.
G-d created mankind in the Garden of Eden, and we would still be there if our first parents had not strayed from G-d's laws. They gave away their blessings. there was one rule in the garden, and that was not to eat the fruit from a certain tree.
They violated that one rule, and the result has been death, destruction, pain, and constant suffering for mankind.
This is such a clear example for us to follow.
We read in Psalm 81, "If only My people would heed Me, If Israel would walk in My ways, in an instant I would subdue their foes and turn My hand against their tormentors… But My people did not heed My voice …"
And so, today, we live in a dark world.
The Tochecha is frightening because it is so real. IT HAS ACTUALLY HAPPENED! These frightful prophecies came to pass during the destruction of the Holy Temples in Yerushalayim and they came to pass during our long Exile to the "four corners of the earth," which culminated in the Holocaust. We have indeed gone through the fire.
But the blessings are still here. They have not gone away. They are accessible today.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about us, the Children of Israel, is that we have passed through the fire and we are still here. We have been terribly burned, and not all of us who were here are still here, but we as a nation are still here!
Our Rabbis teach us that Hashem said about the destruction of the Holy Temple: "The Holy One, Blessed is He, said 'I lit the fire in Tzion … and I will [in the future] build it [again] with fire…"
We learn from the Tochecha that it is possible for an entire world to go up in flames, but that people of faith and trust in G-d can survive the flames, a remnant can survive.
He has sent a plague into our midst, the way He sent plagues into Ancient Egypt, and they uprooted the culture of Egypt. From there, we marched to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.
This is what we are re-enacting during Sefira and it is happening again in our world.
We have to be very strong to hold onto Torah values, to try to strengthen our bond with Hashem by keeping His Torah, because this is our lifeline, our link to Him, and THIS IS HOW WE WILL SURVIVE THE CONVULSIONS AROUND US.
What are we holding onto? The Chofetz Chaim says that, before Moshiach comes, Hashem will stretch a rope across the world and shake it violently. Our job is to "Hold On" to that rope.
"Please be revealed, and spread upon me, my Beloved, the shelter of Your peace. Illuminate the world with Your glory that we may rejoice and be glad for You.
Hasten, show love, for the time has come, and show us grace as in days of old."
In this Parsha, G-d, the designer and manufacturer of life, world, and everything, provides us with a guarantee: live life according to my instructions and the complex machinery of life will operate optimally. If not, you take life into your hands.
Life is infinitely complex. We haven't begun to understand even a thumbnail of its mechanics, let alone purpose. Even the great Einstein was heard to say: I feel like a small child playing with shells on the edge of a huge and vast sea
Therefore, ask yourself the following question: in my pithy 80 or 90 years of life, will I discover its secrets, its moving parts, its energy source, its original design, and purpose. Highly unlikely. So be humble. Follow the instructions.
Do you want to get to your destination? Follow the instructions. Otherwise the warranty lapses.
A Maternal Misunderstanding
Arieh and Devora, a young religious couple, were expecting their first baby. Devora went into labor on Shabbos so they had no choice but to call for a taxi to take them to the hospital. Because Arieh wanted to minimize the Shabbos violation, he told the controller that he cannot have a Jewish driver.
The taxi quickly arrived, but when Arieh and Devora were getting in, they overheard the controller on the two way radio ask the driver, "Have you picked up the anti-Semites yet?"
Now this was a joke, but actually Arieh was wrong. When there is a danger to life, we do accept a Jewish driver, because he also knows the Halacha that it is permitted to break Shabbat for Protection of life.
Ideas, that help explain how the world works
The Portion of Bamidbar
The portion of Bamidbar opens the 4th book of the Torah, known in Hebrew as Bamidbar (in the desert) and in English as Numbers because of the two censuses which took place- the first in our portion.
"And the children of Reuben, Israel's first-born, their generations, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, by their polls" (Numbers 1;20)
"Of the children of Simeon, their generations, by their families, by their fathers' houses, those that were numbered thereof, according to the number of names, by their polls" (Numbers 1;22)
The letters "lamed" in the word "legulgelotam" (לגולגלותם ) are written in a very unique way in certain Sifrei Torah. Even though this is found in both the the children of Reuben and the children of Shimon, the Baal Haturim relates to it in the children of Shimon. He writes that this is an allusion to the sin of Zimri ben Salu, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, with the Midianite woman (Numbers 25;6).
The second "lamed" of the word "legulgelotam" is written like a drawer and is upright without the hat on its head as the head of the tribe of Shimon who engaged in sexual immorality upright and with an uncovered head, without embarrassment.
And as a result the tribe of Shimon did not merit having a king or judge emerge from its ranks.
B&H Photo Lays Off 400 Employees, 'Waited as Long as Possible' By David Israel
B&H Photo, which has been a Mecca in Manhattan to tech fans since 1973, told its mostly Orthodox employees in a memo last Wednesday that it is laying off about 400 of them.
B&H closed its store at Ninth Ave. and West 34th Street on March 16. Menashe Horowitz, the store CEO, issued a statement back then, saying: "With the spread of this pandemic, we want you to know that there is no higher priority for us than the safety of our team and community. As a result, we've decided to temporarily close the B&H New York City SuperStore until further notice. Our main focus is to keep you and every member of our team feeling safe, healthy, and supported during these difficult times."
Horowitz continued: "Our online and telephone channels as well as store pickup of online orders remain open for business as usual, which will continue as long as we can do so safely. Our sales and customer service teams are available to answer your questions via phone, email or chat."
One B&H employee told the New York Post he was surprised by the company's decision to lay off so many staffers, because the company's call center is "busy as hell" taking orders for "computers, movie cameras and accessories for setting up a home office." It should be noted that many tech retailers in the US, Europe, and Israel are reporting booming business, since millions of middle class families are forced to stay at home.
The store's HR Director Izzy Friedman told staff last Wednesday the store had "waited as long as possible" before deciding to let them go, and had been paying workers "through the Passover holiday break, and beyond to make this easier."
B&H owner, Herman Schreiber, and most store employees are Satmar Chassidim. The store is closed on Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and Christmas. This includes online orders.
Last November, B&H Foto & Electronics Corp. was sued by the NY State Attorney General Letitia James for knowingly failing to pay taxes on the discounted portions of its merchandise, a discrepancy which, over 13 years, allegedly amounted to at least $67 million, for which B&H did not pay at least $7 million in taxes. B&H offered "instant rebate" deals to its customers, and the manufacturers reimbursed the company, but the company still had to pay taxes on the total price of the item, including the discounted part.
With Synagogues Shuttered, 'Porch Minyans' Grow in Brooklyn By David Zaklikowski
NS) The streets of Crown Heights in Brooklyn, N.Y., were eerily empty at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Normally, children are out playing and parents rushing home from work or errands, with crowds of people out now that the days are getting longer. But since mid-March, when local doctors advised the community to shut down because of the spread of the deadly coronavirus, this is the way it has been in the neighborhood, which has been inundated with cases of COVID-19.
With few cars on the road, other sounds can be heard during the day, such the murmur of prayer services. For the Orthodox, communal prayer services are like praying in synagogue. Theoretically, they can be held anywhere (think El Al flights to Israel), as long as it has a minyan—a quorum of 10 Jewish males over the age of 13.
With synagogues shuttered in communities worldwide, praying on the porch—or "porch minyan," as it's been dubbed—has become the new norm in many Orthodox communities across the globe. The one leading the prayers, known as the chazzan, says them in a booming voice so the words can be heard in other places farther away.
For the most part, such services have been received by non-Jewish neighbors with appreciation. "Our neighbors just delivered this lovely gift to all homes on our street," Jennifer Dorner posted on Facebook, about those who were praying on the porches on her Montreal, Quebec, block, "as a token of appreciation since they've been coming out onto their porches to pray. But the singing and prayers have already been such a gift!"
Using only his first name so as not to draw attention, Michel, 71, an administrator at a local boys' day school in Crown Heights, prays all three daily prayer services with a minyan. "This is davening for me," he said, using the Yiddish word for praying, saying that without a minyan, his prayers don't feel real. "That is the way I was trained from childhood, and that is the way I feel most comfortable doing it."
From his porch, there is no minyan that he could pray with, so he goes to nearby ones mostly on other blocks. Michel rattles off the times and locations of several places where an afternoon prayer service can be found these days. He notes that for his own safety, some locations will not let him join since he is over the age of 65, and others say that only those who are their own porch can join.
'It's more about cabin fever'
Rabbis across the globe have banned the porch minyan on various grounds. In March the beit din, or rabbinical court, of Crown Heights made it clear that even an outdoor minyan is prohibited, saying "it is our opinion that individuals should daven alone in their houses at this time." (One of the three rabbis who signed the letter succumbed to COVID-19.)
Despite this, as week upon week of staying home has started to wear people down, the "porch minyan" phenomenon has increased in the neighborhood.
"I can't wrap my head around it," says Eli Uminer, who himself has been sick with the coronavirus. "If it is a question of life or death, one is allowed to even desecrate Shabbos [the Sabbath]. In Jewish law, it states that you do this even if there is less than a one out of a thousand percent chance of dying."
He says that while many remain on porches, some come from other streets and stand close to the home of the prayer leader. "I think that in terms of the virus, if done right it could be OK. But in reality, it never ends up that way; therefore, they should be banned."
Uminer says that even without those conditions, for many, especially those in homes that are small and crowded with family members, "it's more about cabin fever."
The issue of crowding came to the forefront this week after a funeral for a revered rabbi in the nearby neighborhood of Williamsburg drew hundreds of Orthodox Jews from the Satmar community, leading to a stern rebuke from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Twitter. De Blasio later apologized for his remarks, which were widely condemned as anti-Semitic for singling out the Jewish community.
Under orders signed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March, public gatherings of any size or any reason are strictly forbidden.
Rabbi Yosef Braun, one of the three rabbis in Crown Heights who signed the original letter prohibiting the minyans, spoke about the topic in a Zoom class in April, saying that nothing changed from the ruling in March. He notes that it is too complicated and too difficult to keep social distancing, even on the porch. This is especially true during morning prayers, and on the Sabbath and holidays, when prayers are longer. During those times, he explains, it's hard to keep a face mask on, people naturally begin to gather around each other, and he has even seen worshippers bring children—meaning a father could have to chase after them and mistakenly come dangerously close to others.
Braun says his home has a porch, and he could easily join a minyan. Nevertheless, he won't do it because "besides the health concerns, there's a host of halachic [Jewish law] concerns."
Other rabbis have permitted these prayer sessions, including one of the local rabbis on the Crown Heights rabbinical board (who did not sign the original letter). Rabbi Berel Bell, a member of the rabbinical court in Montreal, initially wrote to his community in March, advising that they not hold outdoor minyans. More recently, however, he has joined one himself, and under certain conditions has permitted others to do the same.
'A lot of things are weird'
In Crown Heights, which runs along Eastern Parkway—where on a spring day thousands might be walking—Michel says about health concerns, "I am not near people, there is social distancing, you are standing six feet away from people, and you cannot even have a conversation."
Just before the afternoon prayer services on one street, Dr. Reuben Ingber notes that it was wonderful to have the possibility to pray from his porch with a minyan. "I don't see anything wrong with it," he says. "Do you want to join?"
Detective Vincent Martinos of the Crown Heights Police Department, agrees. He says the porch minyans have been fine according to the city's ordinances. From what he has seen, people have been staying on their private property, wearing masks and keeping to social-distancing rules.
While he acknowledges some issues have occurred in the past six weeks at Chabad World Headquarters on Eastern Parkway, they were taken care of quickly. "Our community has done exceptionally well with social distancing," he reports.
Michel says that even with the porch minyans, he is craving for more normal times, when everyone can go back to normal prayer services. He is especially looking forward to being called to the Torah, to look inside and kiss it, as is customary.
"It is weird," offers. "A lot of things are weird today. But you have to live with the current situation."
Trump says he's taking hydroxychloroquine in case he gets virus, alludes to Dr. Zelenko. President Donald Trump said Monday that he is taking a malaria drug to lessen symptoms should he get the new coronavirus, even though the drug is unproven for fighting COVID-19.
Trump told reporters he has been taking the drug, hydroxychloroquine, and a zinc supplement daily "for about a week and a half now." Trump spent weeks pushing the drug as a potential cure for COVID-19 against the cautionary advice of many of his administration's top medical professionals. The drug has the potential to cause significant side effects in some patients and has not been shown to combat the new coronavirus.
Trump said his doctor did not recommend the drug to him, but he requested it from the White House physician. "I started taking it, because I think it's good," Trump said. "I've heard a lot of good stories."
The Food and Drug Administration warned health professionals last month that the drug should not be used outside of hospital or research settings, due to sometimes fatal side effects. Regulators issued the alert after receiving reports of heart-rhythm problems, including deaths, from poison control centers and other health providers. Trump dismissed reports of side effects, saying, "All I can tell you is, so far I seem to be OK."
Trump ended the Q&A after speaking about taking the anti-Malaria drug in addition to zinc, citing a letter he received from a doctor in Westchester, New York as evidence for its efficacy.