Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Stone or Window?

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

The story of Noah is one of children's favourites as it is a story full of animals, birds, colours and a rainbow.

We tend to picture Noah sunbathing on the deck of the ark with the elephant, the giraffe and the monkeys, but when we read the description of the ark in the Torah, we see that it is not at all the way we draw or imagine it.

There was no place to sunbathe because the ark had no deck. Actually, the ark was more like a submarine than a boat. There was one window in the ark and only through that could those inside see what was happening outside.

However, this too is a controversial point. The word Chalon (window) does not appear in the Torah portion which uses the word Tsohar which has more than one meaning. Some interpret it as an aperture, or skylight, which is a kind of window, while others interpret it as a precious stone (Rashi).

Rabbi Shlomo Kluger makes an interesting comment: What is the difference between a precious stone and a window? A window lets light in and through it we see what is happening outside. A precious stone has light within but we cannot see through it.

This difference is that between those who say that Noah the righteous man sat in the ark but his heart was with what was happening outside, and those who say that Noah cared only about himself and didn't care about what was happening outside the ark.

The ark, in the story of Noah, symbolizes security, the bubble or the ivory tower.

Everyone in his life sits in his own ivory tower. There are those who are financially secure and forget that there is poverty and hunger in the world, maybe even in their neighbor's house. There are those who have the support of family and friends who forget that there are many people in the world who suffer from unbearable loneliness.

There are many bubbles that may enclose us.

There is a famous dispute in the Gemarah (Megilah 24b) between Rabbi Yehuda and the Sages as to whether a blind person is obliged to recite the blessing on the lights. How can a blind person say "forms the light and creates darkness" (Yotser Or Uvore Hoshekh) if he has never seen daylight?

Rabbi Yossi in the Talmud states that he was always puzzled by the verse "You will grope at noontime as a blind person gropes in the darkness" (Deuteronomy 28:29).

What difference does it make to a blind person whether it is day or night? He cannot see in either case! Then Rabbi Yossi himself answers through the following tale:

It happened that he himself was walking in the dark of night and came across a blind man carrying a torch.

He said to the blind man, "My son, why are you carrying a torch?".

The blind man answered: "As long as I carry the torch, people can see me coming and come to my aid so that I do not trip and fall".

The purpose of light is not only to light the way for ourselves but also to enable us to see others and their world.

The controversy regarding the word “Tsohar” is not marginal. It is about the essence of a well-ordered society.

"Go out of the ark", says G-d to Noah when the waters subside, for there is a world outside your bubble.

Only Noah will decide whether he will turn the Tsohar into Zohar (brightness, radiance) and bring light to the world, or whether he will turn the Tsohar into Sohar (a prison) and enclose himself as he was in the ark and keep the light to himself.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Cardiological Judaism

Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

According to our Sages (Leviticus Rabbah 30, 14), the Four Species used on Sukkot symbolize four different parts of the human body. The Etrog symbolizes the heart, the Lulav symbolizes the spine, the Hadas our eyes and the Arava our mouth.

In the light of this Midrash, I would like to comment on the holding of the Four Species together while saying the blessing over them.

There is a widespread phenomenon in our time I like to call "Cardiological Judaism". A Jew that says "I'm a Jew with all my heart, and I don't need anything else" falls under the category of a "Cardiological Jew".

The "Cardiological Judaism" dispute is not new; it has been going on for thousands of years within our nation. Paul of Tarsus (a Jew originally known as Shaul), and most commonly called the founder of Christianity, was the first to cancel the Mitzvah of the Brit Milah amongst the Jews that in time became Christians. He did so by saying that the circumcision should be performed in the heart rather than in the flesh.

The canceling of the Brit Milah and the emphasis put on the circumcision of the heart, is believed to be the turning point in the History of Christianity.

"Cardiological Judaism" (and with all due respect to other religions) was born when a charismatic Jew said out loud that the Jewish nation doesn't need any external sign or Mitzvah but only the belief in his heart, as all other body organs are secondary to it.

Today two thousand years later, scientific research shows that, statistically, the Jewish people are one of the ethnic and national groups with the highest percentage of heart disease. Is it possible that this is because "Cardiological Judaism" has "overloaded" the heart? Maybe because "Cardiological Judaism" is a synonym to the word "Assimilation".

In previous generations, the heart was used to work part-time. Jews expressed their Judaism with their entire body. With their eyes they learned Torah. With their spine they stood tall in synagogue. With their mouth they refrained from eating forbidden foods, etc...
The assimilation process concludes with the heart. The last thing an assimilated Jew loses is the feeling that he is his heart.

And so, in the light of the Midrash, the holding of the Four Species together during the blessing in Sukkot is directed to the heart (the Etrog). To teach us that we cannot separate from the other organs symbolized by the other three species we hold in our right hand. And, moreover, to teach us that the "Cardiological Judaism" causes us harm. And that there are other organs whose purpose is to serve us, to help us show our emotions and let us know that not all relies upon the heart.