Men's Club Shabbat a big success

It was a great day for the Men's Club. The annual Men's Club Shabbat was a chance for the entire organization to really shine as members from 93 to 11 came up to the Bimah to represent us and contribute to the service.

We want to thank everyone who helped us:

Dr. Ted Phillips for getting us started with the Pesukei D’Zimra.
The amazing and multi-talented Arthur Levy for Shaharit
That force of nature Dr. Irving Ladimer for opening the Ark
Dr Sam Feinberg for his skillful carrying of the Torah
Bob Stein for his well spoken HaTorah Meditation
The Shul President Stuart Newman for introducing the Torah Reading
Our great Shomers on Shabbos: Jack Finkelstein and Ron Wegsman

Our mighty Torah Readers: Sahi Katz, Lester Lenoff, (Men’s Club Co-President) Joel Chaiken, Ephraim Edelman, Matt Fenster, Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky, Ian Hollenberg, and Alex Perkal.

Our Haftarah reader: Gus Scheer
Haftarah Scroll Holders: Murray Milgrim and Benny LaDue

Prayer for the community: Arnold Hyman
Prayer for our country: Mike Lieman
Prayer for the State of Israel: Charles Schulberg
Ashrei: Mitchell LaDue

P’tiha-open Ark: Ralph Strauss
Meditation Hakhnasat HaTorah: Allen Frazer

D’var Torah: David LaDue
Announcements: Joel Chaiken
Musaf: Yoni Schwab
Kiddush: David Maranoff

And we want to thank Rabbi Katz for all his help and assistance.

Several people have requested a copy of David LaDue's D'var Torah. We will attach it below:

Good Shabbos everyone. The Men's Club is surely in the house today and I am proud of each and every one of them. Haven't they done a great job?

You know - dating back to my great grandmother - who attended Adath Israel in the 1930s - five generations of my family have been coming to services here at CSAIR – all of us eating that same herring at Kiddush - but this – other than my son Benny’s speech at his bar mitzvah – is our family’s first D’var Torah. To have this opportunity to be with all of you today – I am deeply honored – and more than a little astounded.

Our parsha this week – is Vayikra. Not an easy one to start with. We are of course not supposed to dislike any of the Parshiyot – but let’s just say Vayikra is not my favorite – probably not your favorite – and may not be anyone’s favorite Parsha. Certainly if you happen to be a turtle dove or a bull – this reading is not for you.

But why is this one of our least favorite Parshiyot? The reasons, I think - are interesting.

Reason One – Where’s the Story?

Everyone likes a good story. And most the story of Moses is a really good story. But not this particular part. There’s just not much action. In Hollywood terms – Vayikra is not peppy. There’s no peppiness.

The Parsha starts off well enough. Let me put this in modern terms - Moses is sitting in his office. He’s just finished up a pretty big project – he’s relocated a nation – delivered the Torah – and now he’s thinking he’ll have an easy week. But his blackberry goes off - he checks it and discovers he has an invite to a meeting.

The time – right now. His presence – mandatory. The location? The Tent of Meeting - in other words – the big conference room. And the Meeting Organizer? Hashem himself will be dialing in to lead this conference call.

Okay - So far - we've got ourselves a real story. What will Hashem say? What will Moses do? Will he remember the conference call pass code? Where will the story go from here?

Well, I hope Moses had a pencil and pad of paper - because what follows - for the rest of the Parsha - is a very long set of instructions. Not exactly the dramatic story we were hoping for.

So – Problem One – there’s no story.

And that brings us to Problem 2: The text is much too specific.

Thousands of years ago, when some people were still running around in the park worshiping idols - throwing people into volcanoes - and beheading each other – I am proud to say that our Jewish ancestors were already modern in two important ways. We were already suing each other in court - and yes – we were already praying in the Tabernacle.

But back then the Torah was much newer – and so – in shul there was a lot more time spent going over the rules. No coveting! No cheeseburgers on Pesach! Don’t marry your camel! Stuff like that.

But today – in general – I think there is a movement in all sectors of Judaism to focus more on the positive instead of the negative. And I think today’s Jewish population is responding to upbeat messages that emphasize spirituality – community – and connection. Because let’s face it – many people get enough rules and regulations from their boss and their spouse these days – we’re not looking forward to getting more rules on Shabbat.

But Vayikra is loaded with rules. It is about as long a list of rules as you are likely to find in the Torah. And they’re not just rules - they are very very specific rules

A lot of us don’t like specifics. We like vagueness. And why? Because vagueness opens the door for us to inject our own opinions into the story - and people - particularly us Jewish people – we love to butt in to everything with our own opinions. We call it commentary – and it is everywhere. And – by the way - if we as a people are butting in with our opinions to the word of Hashem – what chance do I have at Kiddush to state my opinion without getting stampeded by opposing points of view?

The problem is Vayikra is not vague. There are 16 specific commandments in Vayikra. Do I need salt? (Yes). Can I burn the honey? (no) What do I do with the Frankincense? (keep it out of the food) Can I cut off a bird’s head? (not always – but only from the back) And so on.

So there's not a lot of room to get an opinion in edgewise here. Oh - The scholars manage – but they are forced to argue minutia like - how much is a handful.

And - There is an irony here. People spend their lives thinking about Hashem. Who is he? Is He alive and well? Does he know us? Did he really write every word of the Torah? And after producing such a blockbuster best seller - why did he just stop writing at the height of his fame – just like Salinger?

So many of us wonder what exactly Hashem wants us to do. And here - in Vayikra – Hashem is very very specific. And he speaks directly to us at great length.

But – do we listen? Do we hang on every word? For many of us – with this parsha – we don’t. Since we can’t finagle the parsha around to mean something we agree with – we choose to completely ignore it. We dismiss it. We say it applied long ago – but we are much too modern to pay attention to this list of instructions in modern day.

But Some of these instructions are amazing:

Listen to this part – what does it sound like to you:

· If your offering is a meal offering on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour with oil mixed in, unleavened. Break it into bits and pour oil on it.

That, friends, is a recipe. So Vayikra is part Cookbook. You want to know where the cookbook craze got started? Vayikra - that's where. So is this the world's oldest cookbook? It's certainly the Worlds most famous chef.

And get this:

In computer programming we have something called the Nested IF Statement. At this very moment around the world computer programmers – with jobs outsourced from the US - are typing these IF statements into computer code. These IF statements are one of the basic building blocks of all the software that runs everything from your Ipod to a Google Search.

Here’s an example of an IF statement:

· If X=7, then go to row 15. In other words –if this happens, then do that.

That’s an IF statement. Now listen to these sections of Vayikra:

· If he offers of the herd, he shall bring before the Lord one without blemish

· If your offering is a meal offering, it shall be of choice flour

· If his offering is a burnt offering of birds, he shall choose turtledoves or pigeons.

These are IF Statements. In fact, there are Nested If Statements in Vayikra – that is If statements inside other If statements – like at the start of Chapter 3. In all the word IF appears 19 times in the parsha.

So – here in Vayikra - You’ve got the roots of programming code. And these nested IF Statements have been just sitting in the scrolls waiting thousands of years for someone to discover what they are. It’s very cool – and to be honest - It kind of freaks me out.

And now - I want to get to the part of Vayikra that bothers people the most.

Animal Sacrifice.

I just mentioned that the word “If” appears 19 times - well the word “blood” appears 25 times in Vayikra. Imagine if we carried out this Parsha today. Imagine if Rabbi Katz walked in here next Shabbat leading a full grown Bull and proceeded to sacrifice it up here on the Bimah. There would be pandemonium - screaming - fainting - and a mess on the carpet that Ivan would never forgive us for. Rabbi Katz would probably be carted off and would end up in a padded room somewhere - and for what? For doing what the Parsha describes.

This is a key issue with Vayikra. We don't like animal sacrifice. And if we don’t like it – imagine how the animals feel. Of course – if you eat meat – like I do – then you’re not sacrificing animals to please Hashem – you’re sacrificing animals because you’re not in the mood for pizza.

I’m not saying we should all become vegetarian. The way I look at it – it’s not fair the way that those vegetarians pick on poor defenseless broccoli either. At least a chicken can make a run for it – what chance does a Brussels Sprout have of escaping?

In the time of the Torah – if you were going to eat meat – you saw the living animal first – and usually saw – or caused – it’s demise. So you knew exactly how the chicken got in your chicken Nuggets. Today – the way animals end up in our food is hidden from us. We eat them – but we don’t like to think about how they got on our plate. So today - Animal Sacrifice seems barbaric to us – even though today, animals are sacrificed for every hot dog and burger we eat. So, maybe we’re not as sophisticated and removed from the days of Animal Sacrifice as we like to think we are.

If I just made anyone feel guilty about eating meat – sorry – but that’s a good segue to the last topic I want to mention. We said that the word “If” appears 19 times in the parsha. We mentioned that Blood appears 25 times. How about the word Guilt?

“Guilt” or “guilty” appears in this Parsha – 32 times.

32 times. And that is why – in my opinion – Vayikra is the origin of the concept of The Guilty Conscience. It’s right here.

The key section – 5:17 – “when a person, without knowing it, sins”

The concept here is - after the fact - you get the idea that you probably did something wrong in the past – even though at the time you weren’t aware of it. This is the guilty conscience. This is that vague uneasy feeling – that you’ve done something wrong – but you don’t know exactly what it is. A lot of us get that feeling all the time. To be honest – I think I'm feeling it right now.

Now, I’m not supporting the stereotype of guilt and the Jewish Mother. There are plenty of mothers and fathers and other role models of all religions who make their kids feel guilty around the world. My point is that Vayikra is one of the earliest mountain streams that this great river of guilt flows down from.

Sigmund Freud, who founded an entire profession based on guilt - described guilt as the result of a struggle between the Id and the Superego. These are two very powerful forces – sort of like Cablevision fighting against ABC inside your head. It is a clash between what you want to do and what you feel inside you should do.

That feeling inside is first put there at a young age by our parents – and other role models. And so – long after our mothers and fathers and mentors are gone – their criticisms will torment us from beyond the grave – through their imprints on our super-ego – through guilt.

Are we all doomed to feel guilty forever? Maybe not. There are people in this world who do not experience guilt. They live a life free of remorse. Whatever their Mom’s told them is gone – forgotten – and unable to assail them. Who are these lucky people? According to the experts - the clinical term for someone who feels no guilt is: a Psychopath. Yes – according to the psychiatric community – Psychopathic criminals are the way they are because they lack the ability to feel guilt and remorse.

This means – of course – that guilt is not only necessary – it is part of what makes us human. Our moral framework – our emotional bonds with others – many of the best parts of the human experience – all comes from – yes – guilt. So think about it – your mother wasn’t driving you crazy – she was driving you Sane. So the next time your mother nags you – remember to say thank you.

Okay – to sum up - that is what Vayikra means to me. It may lack a peppy story – it may be too specific – it may have too much Blood. But it also has some amazing stuff in there. The Cook book – The nested IF statements – and the sacred origins of Guilt!

So – with all this new information – is Vayikra now still one of your least favorite Parshiyot? Is it now in fact your favorite portion of the Torah?

No? Well, I can’t blame you – but please – don’t feel guilty about it.

Thank you all for listening – and Shabbat Shalom