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Good Shabbos Sydenham

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My Kind of Hero

By Rabbi Yossy Goldman

The world loves a hero. Every season, Hollywood must invent new heroes and superheroes to fill the box office coffers. Today we even have a Jewish girl as the latest pop star superhero. And it works. Why? Well, that’s for another sermon. Today, I choose to talk about who is a hero and, more specifically, who is my kind of hero.

 Superheroes are fantastic. But you’ve got to admit, they’re over the top, rather otherworldly and, realistically speaking, out of touch and out of reach. We can fantasize about flying through the skies in our capes, climbing skyscrapers with our webs, saving the world, or rescuing damsels in distress; but at the end of the day, it is nothing more than wistful daydreaming. What bearing does it have on me and my life, me and my problems? The answer is, not much.

That’s why Noah always appealed to me. He comes across as a real live hero, real in the sense of being human rather than superhuman and, therefore, realistically possible to emulate.

Rashi describes Noah as a man of small faith who had doubts whether the flood would actually happen. In fact, according to the great commentator’s understanding, he didn’t enter the Ark until the rains started and the floodwaters pushed him in. That explains why many people look down on Noah, especially when they compare him to other Biblical superheroes, people of the stature of Abraham or Moses.

Personally, this is precisely what makes Noah my kind of hero. He’s real. He’s human. He has doubts, just like you and me. I know we are supposed to say, “When will my actions match those of the great patriarchs of old?” but I confess, for me that is a very tall order. Noah, on the other hand, is a regular guy. He is plagued by doubts and struggles with his faith. Which is precisely what makes him a hero. Because the fact is that, at the end of the day, his personal uncertainties notwithstanding, Noah does the job. He has faults and foibles, but he builds the Ark, shleps in all the animals, saves civilisation and goes on to rebuild a shattered world. Doubts, shmouts, he did what had to be done.

There is an old Yiddish proverb that fun a kasha shtarbt men nit. Nobody died from a question. It’s not the end of the world if you didn’t get an answer to all your questions. We can live with unanswered questions. The main thing is not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by our doubts. We can still do what must be done, despite our doubts.

Of course, I’d love to be able to answer every question every single one of my congregants ever has. But the chances are that I will not be able to solve every single person’s doubts or dilemmas. And, frankly speaking, I am less concerned about their doubts than about their deeds. From a question nobody ever died. It’s how we behave that matters most.

Noah, the ordinary hero, could easily be the guy next door. He is one of us. His greatness is, therefore, achievable. It’s not ‘pie in the sky.’ His heroism can be emulated. If Abraham and Moses seem the superhero types too far-fetched for us ordinary mortals to see as practical role models, then Noah resonates with realism.  After all, he had his doubts too, just like you and me.

So, Noah, the reluctant hero, reminds us that you don’t have to be fearless to get involved. You don’t have to be a tzaddik to do a mitzvah. You don’t have to be holy to keep kosher, nor do you have to be a professor to come to a shiur.

His faith may have been shaky. Perhaps he was a bit wobbly in the knees. But the bottom line is, he got the job done. My hero.

Noach Haftorah in a Nutshell

Isaiah 54:1-10.

Forsaken Jerusalem is likened to a barren woman devoid of children. G‑d enjoins her to rejoice, for the time will soon come when the Jewish nation will return and proliferate, repopulating Israel's once desolate cities. The prophet assures the Jewish people that G‑d has not forsaken them. Although He has momentarily hid His countenance from them, He will gather them from their exiles with great mercy. The haftorah compares the final Redemption to the pact G‑d made with Noah in this week's Torah reading. Just as G‑d promised to never bring a flood over the entire earth, so too He will never again be angry at the Jewish people.

"For the mountains may move and the hills might collapse, but My kindness shall not depart from you, neither shall the covenant of My peace collapse."

Life in a Box

By Rabbi Yanki Tauber

On September 26, 1991, a crew of four men and four women entered Biosphere II, a hermetically sealed environment constructed by scientists as a functioning model of the biosphere (the life-sustaining envelope that surrounds the earth). Biosphere II—which has since been converted into a resort and conference center—enclosed an area of 3.15 acres and included a desert, a marsh, a savanna, a rain forest and a million-gallon ocean. It was home to more than 3,000 species, mostly plants and insects but also fish, reptiles, birds and mammals. It was sealed off from the earth by a 500-ton stainless steel liner and from the atmosphere by 6,000 glass panels. Construction costs exceeded $150 million.

The eight "biospherians" spent two years sealed within the structure, deriving their food, water and oxygen from their enclosed eco-system. They emerged on September 26, 1993. The experiment yielded two marriages and reams of scientific data which, we presume, has aided our understanding of how our own macro-biosphere works.

Had the scientists running the project been more biblically inclined, they might have labeled their structure "Teivah II." The Teivah (Hebrew for "box") was a three-story, 125,000 sq. foot ark, built of timber and "sealed within and without with pitch," which Noah constructed by command of G‑d. We don't know how much the Teivah cost to built, but our sages tell us that Noah labored 120 years on its construction. On the 17th of Cheshvan of the year 1656 from creation (2105 BCE), four men and four women (already married) entered the Teivah. They brought with them a male and female member of each species of mammal and bird, seeds and cuttings of various plant species, and a year's supply of food and feed. The purpose was not to study life on earth but to preserve it from the Flood brought on by a corrupt world.

For many months, the Teivah floated on the water that engulfed the earth; when the Flood began to subside, it came to rest on the summit of Mount Ararat. On Cheshvan 27, 1657, after 365 days within their boxed biosphere, the eight Teivians and their animal and plant companions emerged from the ark to build a new, better world upon the foundations of the old.


Noah was faced with an extreme situation—the impending destruction of all living things—and took extreme action, building a huge box that would hold and preserve samplings of the entire spectrum of life on earth. On a lesser but no less meaningful scale, we do the same every day of our lives.

We, too, are faced with "floods" that threaten to destroy all that is vital and alive in our personal universe. And we, too, respond by constructing "boxes" to hold and preserve precious specimens of our internal world.

Daily we are swamped by the cares and demands of material life. If we're not slaving at our jobs or worrying over our bills, there's always an electronic gadget to repair, the cleaning to take in or the garbage to take out. A torrent of materiality floods the life of modern man, filling our hours and minutes, consuming our talents, subverting our emotions, and all but drowning the spark of spirituality in our lives.

So we build boxes. A box of time dedicated for prayer each morning; a percentage of our earnings dedicated to charity; a modicum of energy reserved for some volunteer work in the community. We seal these boxes, jealously preserving these pinpoints of higher purpose in our lives from the floodwaters that seek to engulf them and claim them for themselves.

At times, the effort seems almost futile. Of a mind consumed by one's business, only a small amount of brain power is diverted by a few daily minutes of Torah. Of a heart agitated by financial worries, only a small corner is reserved for pure feelings towards a loved one. And how much remains for charity after the bills are paid? At best, only miniscule "samplings" of our resources are dedicated to a higher purpose.

Therein lies the eternal lesson of Noah's ark. Noah couldn't save the whole world—he had neither the capacity nor the mandate to build a haven of such proportions. So he constructed a sanctum for a sampling of the various life forms in Creation. These, however, were more than token representations: for twelve months, all of humanity was concentrated within the eight human beings inside the Teivah; every species of animal and plant resided in the individual representatives brought within its walls. And when the sealed box was opened, its occupants became the seeds of a new, revitalized world.

The Divine command "Come into the ark!" was followed, twelve months later, by the Divine command, "Go out of the ark!" Such is our challenge: to nurture seeds of spirituality in the midst of a material world, and then unleash them to work their influence in every area of our lives.

The Tower of Technology

By Rabbi Menachem Feldman

In this week’s Parsha we read about the descendants of the survivors of the great flood who sought to unite by building a city with a great tower. The Torah relates:

Now the entire earth was of one language and uniform words. And it came to pass when they traveled from the east, that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly"; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar. And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth." (Genesis 11:1-3)

G‑d is alarmed by their actions and steps in to foil their plan. He disrupts their unity and the project collapses. As G‑d tells the angels:

“Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion." And the L‑rd scattered them from there upon the face of the entire earth, and they ceased building the city. (Genesis 11:7-8)

Why is building a city a terrible sin? What is wrong with building a tower?

The story of the tower is relevant today, perhaps more than ever, for it is not a story about an ancient construction site, but about the development of cutting-edge technology.

The building of the Tower of Babel represents a dramatic leap in the development of industry. Up to that point, people had built homes out of stone. Stone is a divine creation. Places like Babylonia, where there were no mountains and thus no stones, were considered inhospitable to the building of cities. Human ingenuity, however, created a new technology—the brick.

The people said to each other:

"Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly"; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar. (Genesis 11:3)

Fascinated by their ability to create a man-made stone, they sought to demonstrate that the brick was far superior to the stone created by G‑d. They wanted to show that the brick, not the stone, was the material of choice in building the tallest tower in the world, within the greatest city in the world.

The Torah does not state clearly that they rebelled against G‑d, lest we mistakenly think that developing technology is a sin.

What then was the problem?

The Midrash relates that during construction of the tower, when a person fell off the tower and died nobody cared. However, if a brick fell and cracked, they all stopped to mourn the lost brick.1 This is a powerful Midrash. It teaches us that a single-minded drive to achieve power and independence, with no higher purpose, can lead to totalitarianism where human life is devalued.

The message of the story is relevant, now more than ever. The past century has witnessed the “floods” of the most devastating wars in the history of humankind, as well as the explosion of human scientific knowledge and technological advances.

The message of the Tower of Babel is that the towers and cities we create must have a higher purpose. Advancements in technology do not necessarily mean advances in human rights, and certainly do not automatically lead to us being better people with a closer relationship with G‑d.

Each and every one of us can choose how to approach the ever-increasing technologies introduced into our lives. We can become the builders of the Tower of Babel, or we can emulate Abraham.

The Midrash tells us that Abraham watched the building of the tower, and he saw the lack of deeper meaning. He understood that a building with no higher purpose is dangerous. He realized that humanity’s purpose cannot merely be to make a name for itself, to achieve material success.

In next week’s Torah portion we read how in contrast to the builders of the tower, whose only purpose was to make a name for themselves, Abraham made it his life’s mission to proclaim the name of G‑d. He made it his goal and purpose to teach anyone who would listen, that all human achievement should just be a tool for a higher, more spiritual, purpose.

I Ate Non-Kosher Food, Now What?

By Rabbi Aron Moss

Dear Rabbi,

I am so embarrassed; I don’t know what to say.

Last week, I bought a tomato sauce that I thought was kosher. I always buy this brand, but this time it seems I chose a different flavor than usual. After cooking with it and feeding my family, I read the ingredients, and to my horror, the sauce wasn’t kosher!

I will do whatever I need to make my kitchen kosher again. I know that can be fixed.

But what devastates me is that I ate it and fed it to my family. Is there anything I can do about it now?

Answer:

You have a rare opportunity before you, one that even the holiest people never have. You can transform that non-kosher food into something positive. Here’s how.

While every food has its nutritional value, certain foods have the capacity to provide us with spiritual nutrition too. This is kosher eating. The Torah allows us to eat certain foods, not because they are healthy for our body, but because they are healthy for our soul.

On the other hand, non-kosher foods block the connection between body and soul, deaden our perception of holiness and desensitize us from the world of spirit.

But there is a way that non-kosher food can elevate you. This can happen when the eating of non-kosher food itself stirs you toward spiritual growth. When you regret what you have done and resolve to be extra-cautious in the future, and when you commit to being more careful in your general observance of the dietary laws, reviewing the relevant laws, then you have made the non-kosher food a means for growth.

Since returning to G‑d needs some action, resolve also to place some coins in a charity box (preferably affixed to the wall of the kitchen) before cooking, and refrain from some of your favorite foods for a few days—an exercise that helps one gain mastery over one’s desire for physical pleasures. These actions and intentions will serve to transform what was a fall in spiritual observance—even an unintentional one—into a step towards a higher spiritual plane.

This creates an amazing turnaround. The item you ate actually made you more spiritual. The sin had the same impact usually reserved for the observance of a positive commandment: it made you closer to G‑d.

This is the law of transformation. A dispute, when resolved, makes friends closer. An argument, when handled correctly, makes a marriage deeper. A mistake, when seen as a learning tool, makes you smarter. And a piece of ham, when you regret eating it, makes you more kosher.

You should never deliberately start an argument, and you should never choose to eat non-kosher food. But if it already happened, don’t spend too much time feeling down. Make the turnaround and elevate it.

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I've sure gotten old!

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Have bouts with dementia. Have poor circulation; hardly feel my hands and feet anymore. Can't remember if I'm 85 or 92.

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You can download any of the Good Shabbos Sydenham by clicking on the link below:

Parshas Chukas-Balak 4 July 2020 / 12 Tammuz 5780

Parshas Korach 27 June 2020 / 5 Tammuz 5780

Parshas Shelach 20 June 2020 / 28 Sivan 5780

Parshas Beha'Alosecha 13 June 2020 / 21 Sivan 5780

Parshas Naso 6 June 2020 / 12 Sivan 5780

Good Yom Tov Shavuot 29 May 2020 / 6 Sivan 5780

Parshas Bamidbar 23 May 2020 / 29 Iyar 5780

Parshas Behat-Bechukosai 16 May 2020 / 22 Iyar 5780

Parshas Emor 9 May 2020 / 15 Iyar 5780

Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim  2 May 2020 / 8 Iyar 5780

Parshas Tazria-Metzora  25 April 2020 / 1 Iyar 5780

Parshas Shemini  18 April 2020 / 24 Nissan 5780

Parshas 2nd Days Pesach  15/16 April 2020 / 21/22 Nissan 5780

Parshas 1st Days Pesach  9/10 April 2020 / 15/16 Nissan 5780

Parshas Tzav  4 April 2020 / 10 Nissan 5780

Parshas Vayikra  28 March 2020 / 3 Nissan 5780

Parshas Vayakhel-Pikudei  21 March 2020 / 25 Adar 5780

Parshas Ki Sasa/Parah  14 March 2020 / 18 Adar 5780

Parshas Yeyzaveh/Zachor  7 March 2020 / 11 Adar 5780

Parshas Terumah  29 February 2020 / 4 Adar 5780

Parshas Mishpatim  22 February 2020 / 27 Shevat 5780

Parshas Yisro  15 February 2020 / 20 Shevat 5780

Parshas Beshalach  7 February 2020 / 13 Shevat 5780

Parshas Bo  1 February 2020 / 6 Shevat 5780

Parshas Vaeira 25 January 2020 / 28 Teves 5780

Parshas Shemos 18 January 2020 / 21 Teves 5780

Parshas Vayechi 11 January 2020 / 14 Teves 5780

Parshas Vayigash 4 January 2020 / 7 Teves 5780

Parshas Mikeitz 28 December 2019 / 30 Kislev 5780

Parshas Vayeishev 21 December 2019 / 23 Kislev 5780

Parshas Vayishlach 14 December 2019 / 16 Kislev 5780

Parshas Veyetzei 7 December 2019 / 9 Kislev 5780

Parshas Toldos 30 November 2019 / 2 Kislev 5780

Parshas Chayei Sara 23 November 2019 / 25 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Vayera 16 November 2019 / 18 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Lech Lecha 9 November 2019 / 11 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Noach 2 November 2019 / 4 Mar Cheshvan 5780

Parshas Bereishit 26 October 2019 / 27 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Chol Hamoed Succos 19 October 2019 / 20 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Haázinu 12 October 2019 / 13 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Vayeilach 5 October 2019 / 6 Tishrei 5780

Parshas Nitzavim 28 September 2019 / 28 Elul 5779

Parshas Ki Tavo 21 September 2019 / 21 Elul 5779

Parshas Ki Teitzei 14 September 2019 / 14 Elul 5779

Parshas Shoftim 7 September 2019 / 7 Elul 5779

Parshas Reéh 31 August 2019 / 30 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Eikev 24 August 2019 / 23 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Va'eschanan17 August 2019 / 16 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Devarim 10 August 2019 / 9 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Matos - Massai 3 August 2019 / 2 Menachem Av 5779

Parshas Pinchas 27 July 2019 / 24 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Balak 20 July 2019 / 17 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Chukas 13 July 2019 / 10 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Korach 6 July 2019 / 3 Tamuz 5779

Parshas Sh'lach 29 June 2019 / 26 Sivan 5779

Parshas Beha'aloscha 22 June 2019 / 19 Sivan 5779

Parshas Nasso 15 June 2019 / 12 Sivan 5779

Parshas Bamidbar / Good Yom Tov Shavous 8 June 2019 / 5 Sivan 5779

Parshas Bechukosai 1 June 2019 / 27 Iyar 5779

Parshas Behar 25 May 2019 / 20 Iyar 5779

Parshas Emor 18 May 2019 / 13 Iyar 5779

Parshas Kedoshim 11 May 2019 / 6 Iyar 5779

Parshas Acharei  4 May 2019 / 29 Nissan 5779

Good Yom Tov Pesach 26 April 2019 / 21 Nissan 5779

Good Yom Tov Pesach 20 April 2019 / 15 Nissan 5779

Parshas Metzorah 13 April 2019 / 8 Nissan 5779

Parshas Tazria 6 April 2019 / 1 Nissan 5779

Parshas Shmini 30 March 2019 / 23 Adar2 5779

Parshas Tzav 23 March 2019 / 11 Adar2 5779

Parshas Vayikra 16 March 2019 / 9 Adar2 5779

Parshas Pikudei 9 March 2019 / 2 Adar2 5779

Parshas Vayakel 2 March 2019 / 25 Adar1 5779

Parshas Ki Sisa 23 February 2019 / 18 Adar1 5779

Parshas Tetzaveh 16 February 2019 / 11 Adar1 5779

Parshas Terumah 9 February 2019 / 4 Adar1 5779

Parshas Mishpatim 2 February 2019 / 27 Shevat 5779

Parshas Yisro 26 January 2019 / 20 Shevat 5779

Parshas Beshalach 19 January 2019 / 13 Shevat 5779

Parshas Bo 12 January 2019 / 6 Shevat 5779

Parshas Shemos 5 January 2019 / 28 Teves 5779

Parshas Vayechi 22 December 2018 / 14 Teves 5779

Parshas Vayigash 15 December 2018 / 7 Teves 5779

Parshas Miketz 8 December 2018 / 30 Kislev 5779

Parshas Vayeishev 1 December 2018 / 23 Kislev 5779

Parshas Vayishlach 24 November 2018 / 16 Kislev 5779

Parshas Vayeitzei 17 November 2018 / 9 Kislev 5779

Parshas Todos 10 November 2018 / 2 Kislev 5779

Parshas Chayei Sarah 3 November 2018 / 25 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Vayeira 27 October 2018 / 18 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Lech Lecha 20 October 2018 / 11 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Noah 13 October 2018 / 4 Mar Chesvan 5779

Parshas Bereishis 6 October 2018 / 27 Tishrei 5779

Good Yom Tov Sydenham Shmini Atzeret 1 October 2018  22 Tishrei 5779

Chol Hamoed Succost 29 September 2018  20 Tishrei 5779

Good Yom Tov Sydenham Succos 24/25 September 2018  15/16 Tishrei 5779

Parshas Ha'azinu 22 September 2018 / 13 Tishrei 5779

Parshas Vayelech 15 September 2018 / 6 Tishrei 5779

Good YomTov Sydenham Rosh Hashana10 September 2018 / 1 Tishrei 5779

Parshas Nitzavim 8 September 2018 / 28 Elul 5778

Parshas Ki Teitzei 25 August 2018 / 14 Elul 5778

Parshas Shoftim 18 August 2018 / 7 Elul 5778

Parshas Re'eh 11August 2018 / 30 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Eikev 4 August 2018 / 23 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Va'eschanan 28 July 2018 / 16 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Davrim 21 July 2018 / 9 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Matos / Masei  13 July 2018 / 2 Menachem Av 5778

Parshas Pinchas  7 July 2018 / 24 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Balak  30 June 2018 / 17 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Chukas  23June 2018 / 10 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Korach  16 June 2018 / 3 Tamuz 5778

Parshas Sh'lach  09 June 2018 / 26 Sivan 5778

Parshas Beha'alosecha 02 June 2018 / 19 Sivan 5778

Parshas Naso 26 May 2018 / 12 Sivan 5778

Shavuos 20 May 2018 / 6 Sivan 5778

Parshas Bamidbar 19 May 2018 / 5 Sivan 5778

Parshas Behar-Bechukosai 12 May 2018 / 27 Iyar 5778

Parshas Emor 5 May 2018 / 20 Iyar 5778

Parshas Acharei-Kedoshim 28 April 2018 / 13 Iyar 5778

Sun, 1 November 2020 14 Cheshvan 5781