Rabbi's Blog

The Fourth of July & the Seventeenth of Tammuz Connection. Pinchas

As we left the Marlins game on Monday night, Marla Birman turned to me and said: “so how are you going to connect the Marlins game to this week’s Torah portion for your weekly article?” Hmm. Game on. Chaim Gross, another member of the community, pointed out this week, that July 4th 1776,coincided that year with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. Though he didn’t challenge me for some interpretation on the significance of that, I felt the pressure anyway…

Hey, Divine Providence is Divine Providence, and interpretation of life’s events and awarenesses beckon…

As it turned out, the Marlins Vs. Cardinals game was a great game, with the Marlins winning by a run. A great game notwithstanding, a number of people who attended, shared that the highlight of the game, was davening (praying) Mincha/Mariv at the stadium. I didn’t actually ask for them to break down why it was a highlight, but I suspect that it might be for some of these reasons. 

It was a reminder that G-d is accessible anywhere, even at the Ball Park.
It felt good to proudly express our Jewishness at the Ball Park, surrounded by tens of thousands of non-Jewish fans. 
As people noticed us praying, not a jeer or comment was hurled our way. Those who noticed, either didn’t give it much thought, or were quietly respectful. 

The Torah portion of this week- Pinchas, contains a section about the twice daily sacrifices that were brought in the Temple, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In the absence of the Temple, we have the daily morning and afternoon prayers in their stead. While we don’t sacrifice lambs today, to pray twice a day does call for a sacrifice of time. When I could be working out, watching netflix, catching up on news, shopping, or just relaxing, and instead take some time to pray each morning and night, that to G-d, is a “pleasing aroma”. It says to G-d that your relationship with Him matters to you, because you know how much it matters to Him. You realize how special it is for G-d, when you “check in” with Him twice a day, even if just for a few minutes.And it’s all the  more special when you “check in” at a Ball Park…. Even in a place so distracting, you didn’t forget. Ah Amazing! “A pleasing aroma to G-d”.

Which leads me to the 4th of July/Seventeenth of Tammuz connection, which for the record, according to AI, has no connection…  Here’s what chatGPT had to say , when I asked for one: “While the dates of July 4th and the Seventeenth of Tammuz may coincide on occasion due to differences between the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar, there is no inherent connection or shared historical significance between these two events. They belong to different cultural and historical contexts and are observed by different communities for separate reasons.”

Apparently AI, has yet to realize that at some level, everything is connected! Especially dates…  So here's my non-AI, take.  The Seventeenth of Tammuz represents the beginning of the Jewish exile into the Diaspora. Initially the Diaspora was Babylon then Rome and Egypt and other countries in the Middle East. The migration of Jews eventually brought us to America - the land of the free, and a beacon of light of the freedom to the rest of the world. 

Although the exile which began on the Seventeenth of Tammuz was a result of the sins that brough the Temple down, our exile to foreign lands, is not merely a displacement of Jews. The exile is all part of G-d’s plan to plant Jews all over the world, to gather sparks of holy energy and transform the whole world into a “holy land”. 

Most of our exile tested our commitment to G-d amid persecution. America, was the new frontier. How well will we fare as Jews when we aren't being persecuted, living in a land of freedom and prosperity….. And how does the average American view the Jew who is openly proud of their Jewish identity?

Not only is davening at the ballpark a way of demonstrating to G-d that we are mindful of Him even there, it is part of our mission to gather sparks of holiness in every environment, including right there in the stadium. And when we do our job well, the average American is totally cool with it. It looks right, feels right, ‘cause it is right.

The prophets say that the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, as well as all the fasts associated with the destruction of the Temple, will all be transformed into days of rejoicing in the Messianic era. And that’s in part, because the  exile that the fast days commemorate, paved the way for Jews to be global spark gatherers, in turn paving the way toward global redemption. 

One “small” Mincha for man at the ballpark, one giant step for mankind, toward redemption,


WASHINGTON (AP) — “The Supreme Court on Thursday used the case of a Christian mailman who didn’t want to work Sundays to solidify protections for workers who ask for religious accommodations.

In a unanimous decision the justices made clear that workers who ask for accommodations, such as taking the Sabbath off, should get them unless their employers show doing so would result in “substantial increased costs” to the business.

The court made clear that businesses must cite more than minor costs — so-called “de minimis” costs — to reject requests for religious accommodations at work. Unlike most cases before the court, both sides in the case had agreed businesses needed to show more.”

One of the family legacy stories I grew up on, was how my paternal grandparents, Reb Yisroel and Rivkah New (OBM) emigrated to Australia from Poland in the 1920’s, during the great depression. 

Employment was difficult to find. My grandfather landed a job in a knitting factory. When he bid farewell to his boss on the first Friday at the end of his first week of employment, saying’”see you on Monday”, his employer said:”Monday? Tomorrow”! 

“Tomorrow is Shabbos” my grandfather explained,”It’s the holy day of rest and it is forbidden for me to work”. “Mr. New, if you don’t come tomorrow, don’t bother showing up on Monday..”

Unfazed, my grandfather did not show up on Shabbos, and returned on Monday. The employer gave him another “chance”, but the same scenario repeated itself the next week. My grandfather then came up with a solution to be allowed to knit garments at home on Sunday making up for whatever was not done on Shabbos. To this the employer agreed. 

After a while he had saved up a little money, and was offered a partnership in a hosiery company. He invested as a partner until he became aware that the machine operated on Shabbos, whereupon he pulled out of the partnership, even after the partner assured him that he wouldn’t have to come in on Shabbos, and certainly not have to operate the machine on Shabbos. He wanted no part of a business that was operating on Shabbos. The hosiery company went on to become the largest in Australia, but he never looked back. 

Hearing these stories from my father as well as stories of his own Shabbos and Jewish holiday observance as a career businessman, seared the sanctity of Shabbos deeply into the consciousness of all his children and family. Shabbos was sacrosanct, inviolable, not negotiable, no matter what the price. 

This level of commitment is alluded to in the name of this week’s Torah portion: “Chukas”. It begins with the words: “Zos Chukas HaTorah” - these are the statutes of the Toarh.  The word “chukas’ also means “etched” or “engraved” -meaning, the words, values and laws of Torah should not just be something we relate to  superficially, but in a way that they are “engraved” in our psyche and soul. When you are facing unemployment during a depression over Shabbos observance and you hold to your values, you know that Torah is “etched” into your soul. 

The Supreme Court ruling today affirms the rights of employees to maintain their religious observances and the obligation of companies to respect them. It is a great victory for Jewish Shabbos and Holiday observers. 

On this eve of July 4th, the ruling is also a great victory for America, a country that was founded on protecting religious freedoms. 

As we march toward the time of redemption when “truth will sprout from the ground” - meaning that the universe will organically affirm the truth of Torah, today’s ruling, takes one step closer to our destination.







                                       Mariv in FLL


As I drove from JFK to New Jersey and back this past week to attend a family wedding, I wondered how I ever did this before Waze. With all the bridges, thruways, highways and routes, and each one with seemingly multiple names and numbers just to keep it interesting, it’s a challenge even with Waze!

I recalled the big “mapquest” breakthrough, when you could print the directions in advance, as the big technological revolution in driving directions.  And then I remembered how many stops I had to make at gas stations, when I missed an exit or a turn off……

Thank G-d for Waze, but there’s still one thing waze cannot do for you - it cannot provide you with a destination, that you have to do. Once you have that it, it can help you get there, but you gotta know where you're goin’…..

This week we conclude the third book of the Torah - Vayikra. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks OBM, makes a fascinating observation about the opening of the book and it’s closing. Both feature a very similar Hebrew word. “Vayikra” means “and He called” - a reference to G-d calling Moishe, and by extension calling out to all of us. To hear the calling of G-d, is to have direction and purpose in life and to know that there is a destination for life and for the universe.  

We are all ambassadors of redemption - to bring redemptive consciousness to ourselves, and to the world. Redemption is the destination, and it is the cumulative result of all our individual pockets redemption and how we bring redemption to our spheres of influence. Redemption means as we studied in the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah this week : ‘For in those days ( of redemption), knowledge and wisdom and truth will multiply- as it states:”For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d” …..and “ I (G-d), will remove the heart of stone from your flesh”. 

Redemption and redemptive consciousness then, is to live in a space of knowledge, wisdom and truth. Our knowledge, wisdom and truth come from the Torah. Redemptive consciousness, also means being emotionally engaged, present and alive - to be passionate, connected, aware, and not live with a “heart of stone”. 

The counterforce to redemptive consciousness, is the word repeated seven times at the end of the Parsha ( book of Vayikra)  “mikrah”. Sharing the same etymology as the Hebrew word “VaYikra” - to be called, “Mikreh” means “by chance”, or “whatever”. It is to see life as “whatever”. There’s no grand calling or destination, it is whatever I decide I want my life to be on any given day. It is to ascribe no meaning to events as part of some larger narrative, it’s all the luck of the draw and you just gotta go with the flow of whatever’s flowin out there. It is  to live in a state of “random consciousness”.

Life is essentially a choice between two mindsets , two states of consciousness, redemptive or random. 

Here’s the good news. Back in the days (of mapquest), when you were hearing the calling - on the road to redemption, and you got side tracked, took a “wrong turn”, you had to disrupt your journey, find a gas station ( that was open…), and hope that the guy behind the counter could be helpful.  Then, with the breakthrough GPS technology, if we deviated from the path, our GPS advice, assured us that we could “recalculate” and find another route to our destination. 

Now, it’s completely seamless. You miss an exit, you get “farblonghet”, and Waze doesn’t even break a sweat. No “recalculate” announcement necessary, as it quietly and organically reroutes you. 

In the framework of redemptive vs. random consciousness, the advance in GPS technology, can be understood thusly. Deviations from the road to redemption (into “random  consciousness) were previously viewed as aberrations - not meant to happen, should not have happened, mistake etc. And thus the need to either get out of your vehicle and start again, or at least be aware that I need to “recalculate”.  

Now, the seamless transition in Waze from a wrong turn to a reroute, suggests that “wrong turn”, was not such a big diversion or aberration after all. In fact it is part of the journey you had to take! For whatever reason your journey needed to include the “scenery” of a road you did not expect to travel on. 

You thought it was random  “Mikreh”, but discovered that it was ‘Vayikrah”, part of your calling, your road, your destination, your redemption.

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