Selected Sermon/Article
2009-05-27 Beyond Twelve Gates by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Welcome to our weekly newsletter 'Beyond Twelve Gates'. Our initial edition last week was received warmly. My mother did tell me, however, that the joke I shared with you last week could be improved upon. Hope springs eternal! Another reader wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

I am so excited about the weekly(e-mail). It is perfect for those of us who cannot come to shul for Shabbos, but want to learn and think about the message of the day. That's me!

Speaking then, of the message of the day -- let's get to it.


The order of the weekly Shabbos Torah Reading pauses for the major festival of Shevous. Shevous begins on Thursday evening May 28, and concludes following Shabbos, May 30. Many of you may remember Cecil B. Demille's film 'The Ten Commandments', starring Charlton Heston. Good film; however -- the book was better than the movie. On Friday morning the Torah reading (Exodus 19:1 - 20:23) contains the description of giving of the Torah and the Aseres HaDibros -- inaccurately translated as 'The Ten Commandments' (see 'Question of the Week' below). On the second day of Shevous the Torah reading (Deut.14:22 - 16:17) contains a brief description of the Shalosh Regalim - Passover, Shevous and Succos.

Here's a question you may not have considered; Since Israel observes only one day of Shevous, Jews in Israel will read parshas Naso this Shabbos. They will thus be one parsha 'ahead' of us outside of Israel. How do we 'catch up'? Answer: We 'double up' by reading two Torah portions on one Shabbos later this summer.

Beyond Cheesecake

Contrary to popular opinion, the essence of Shevous is not cheesecake and blintzes. Speaking of dairy products, did you hear about the new cheese being processed in Scotland? They're calling it 'Loch Ness Muenster'. The custom of eating dairy products on Shevous takes a back seat to 'the main course' -- celebration and observance of the giving of the Torah. An argument can be made that Shevous is THE most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. After all, without the Torah what is Judaism and why be Jewish?

The Torah was given to all of the Jewish people. Unlike Cecil B. Demille's version where only Charlton ..... I mean, Moses heard G-d speak, the uniqueness of matan Torah (revelation) is that every man, woman and child heard G-d speak at Sinai (the mountain, not the hospital). This aspect alone distinguishes Judaism from all other religions and faiths. When the Torah was given, it was to the entirety of the Jewish people.

Shevous Tidbit

Various reasons are given for the custom of eating dairy on Shevous. They include:

1) Upon receiving the Torah on Shevous, the Jewish people were unable to immediately eat meat. Pots and pans previously used needed to be made kosher!

2) Moses was taken from the Nile on Shevous, and when brought to be nursed refused to drink milk from non-Jewish women.

3) The gematria (numerical value) of the word 'chalav' (milk) is 40, corresponding to the 40 days Moses was on Mt. Sinai.

Rabbinical Rumination

The Jewish people merited to receive the Torah because of the unprecendented love and unity that existed amongst Jews at that time. We were k'ish echad b'lev echad -- as one person with one heart -- as we stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai prepared to receive the Torah. What can we do to restore that spirit of unity once again? We as a people have become accustomed to the use of multiple labels: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Secular, Hassidic, Modern Orthodox, Egalitarian, etc. An approach to the restoration of Jewish unity is to look at our fellow Jews without prefixes and suffixes. Labels are for food products, not Jews!

Question of the Week

Why is the phrase 'The Ten Commandments' an innacurate translation of the Aseres HaDibros? Bonus question: How many 'commandments' are there in the Aseres HaDibros? And no, this is not a 'Who is buried in Grant's tomb' question. Would I do that to you?

Last Week's Question

Congratulations to Bruce Waxman for his thoughtful explanation of the significance of our newsletter title 'Beyond Twelve Gates' (Honorable mention to Trudy Sudin). The Midrash teaches that each of the 12 tribes had a gate through which their prayers were heard by G-d. Yet there was a '13th Gate' by which the prayers of anybody could be heard by the Almighty. That 'gate' or format of prayer (the Maggid of Meziritch suggested) was .... Nusach Hari. It's my sincere desire that our newsletter and our synagogue be a gate for all who desire to enter. Welcome to 'Beyond Twelve Gates'!

Joke of the Week

Jewish Personals Ad: "Sincere rabbinical student, 27, Enjoys Yom Kippur, Tisha B'av, Taanis Esther, Tzom Gedaliah, Asarah B'Teves, Shiva Asar B'Tammuz. Seeks companion for living life in the "fast" lane. POB 90.

Was that one any better, Mom?

Nusach News for Jews You Can Use

1) Shevous Evening Learning Please join us Thursday evening, May 28 at 10:00 pm for one of the three following classes:

Rabbi Ze'ev Smason "Can You Argue with a Heavenly Voice?"

Rebbitzen Chani Smason "The Book of Ruth: Lessons for Women wth the Challenges of today"

Menachem Szus "Korbanos (Sacrifices): How do they Apply Today?"

2) Lion's Den Pizza Night The milcheg magic continues! Yummy pizza for the entire family at NHBZ. Sunday, May 31, 2009 from 5:00pm to 7:00 pm Call 314-991-2100 ext 2 for more details.

_____________________________ Thanks for reading our holiday edition of 'Beyond Twelve Gates'. Comments, questions, requests to be added to our email list or better jokes can be sent to or Care to know more about Nusach Hari Bnai Zion Congregation? Check us out at If you enjoyed Beyond Twelve Gates, please share with a friend. Thanks to Alan Haber for his assistance in distributing BTG.

Chag sameach (Happy Holiday) -- and don't eat too much cheesecake!

Rabbi Smason