Selected Sermon/Article
2010-08-13 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Shoftim


Beyond Twelve Gates  -  Rabbi Ze'ev Smason
Parshas  Shoftim   August 13, 2010



Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.  By now you've certainly heard of America's latest folk hero, Steven Slater.  Slater, a JetBlue flight attendant, activated an exit chute on a just-landed plane at Kennedy International Airport after a dispute with a passenger.  Taking to new heights (pun intended)  the meaning of having a bad day at the office, Slater allegedly quit his job by cursing out his passengers, grabbing a beer from the beverage cart, and fleeing the plane by deploying the emergency slide.  Slater, who was arrested and later released on bail, faces charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, criminal trespass, and absconding with a flight crew's last beer (well, maybe he wasn't really charged concerning the beer).
Most objective observers would term Slater's behavior as boorish, anger-fueled and dangerous.  However, the mother of the feisty flight attendant thinks her son deserves a break.  In a television news interview, Diane Slater said, 'He just had a very small meltdown. And I think he deserves to be able to have that meltdown."  What a Mom!
The Torah defines love as the emotion produced within us when we focus on a person's good qualities.  Our parents, though at times subjective and biased, are the world's greatest experts at seeing our virtues.  For most of us, Mom and Dad are co-presidents of our Fan Club.  May G-d bless our mothers and fathers.

Parshas Shoftim Deuteronomy 16:18 - 21:9
Moses proceeds to review the regulations necessary for a civilized society.  Local judges and officers were to be appointed in every city, and justice was to be administered righteously and impartially. A bribe of even an insignificant sum is forbidden. The Sanhedrin -- the Jewish High Court of seventy one judges -- is to make Torah-based binding decisions on new situations to prevent the fragmentation of the Jewish people. 
When the Jewish people request a king, the king was not to misuse his power to amass many horses, maintain a harem or accumulate great wealth.  To order his priorities and not become haughty, he should write a copy of the Torah and carry it with him.  When the Jewish people had righteous kings such as David and Solomon, it was a blessing.  When we had wicked kings such as Jereboam and Ahav, it was a curse. 
The nation's conduct in war is mentioned.  The Jewish people are told not to be afraid of the enemy, not to destroy any fruit trees in battle, and that they should first give the enemy a chance to make peace.  The portion also forbids all forms of superstition and 'magic' practiced by the soothsayer (Did you hear about the midget psychic who escaped from prison?  The headlines read, 'Small Medium at Large').  We have no need for such tricks because of our true prophets and faith in G-d.  The Jewish people are promised by G-d that He will send prophets to guide them, and Moses explains how a genuine prophet may be distinguished from a false one. 



Rabbinic Ruminations
Her parents were Baptist and Catholic and she was born in Georgia, part of the Bible Belt. But Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts says she is now a practicing Hindu.  The 42-year-old Oscar-winning actress recently took to Hinduism during the shooting of a film in India.  Roberts announced that she and her family now worship as Hindus, and go together to a temple to "chant and pray and celebrate."  Her children already have Hindu names.  Hindu priest Swami Dharam Dev said, "I have named her twins Hazel and Phinnaeus as Laxmi and Ganesh, while Henry will be called Krishna Balram."  Is Julia Roberts another confused celebrity trying on the religion "flavor" of the month? 

The trend toward flip-flopping one's religious affiliation has been gaining momentum for half a century. Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll.  By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether.  Americans now sample, dabble and move on from the religious faith they were born into in eye-catching numbers.  What does this mean for the Jewish community?
The Torah states, "Remember the days of old, understand the years of generation and generation. Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your elders and they will tell you." (Deuteronomy 32:7).  Speaking to the Jewish people, Moses issues a call meant to reverberate in the hearts of Jewish parents and children throughout the millennia; for your spiritual sustenance and an understanding of your place in this world, you need look no further than the Torah.  Our greatest challenge today is not 'Jews for Jesus' or 'Jews for Krishna', but rather, 'Jews for Nothing'.   If we find ourselves unable to answer the question "Why should I be Jewish?", we have an obligation to discover and connect with our 3,500-year Jewish heritage.  
Quote of the Week
If you would ask me: if I could have one of my senses back, either sight or hearing, which would I choose?  I would choose hearing.  Being blind cuts you off from the world but being deaf cuts you off from and relating and communicating with people.  I choose people over the world.  -- Helen Keller
Joke of the Week

A Jewish couple won eighty million dollars in the lottery. They immediately set out to begin a life of luxury. They bought a magnificent mansion in Beverly Hills and surrounded themselves with all the material wealth imaginable. Then they decided to hire a butler.  And of course, only a very proper and very British butler would do.
They found the perfect butler through an agency, flew him in from London, and brought him back to their home.  Unfortunately, their new butler Alfred (who bore a striking resemblance to Michael Caine) was totally unfamiliar with anything Jewish.  The day after his arrival they instructed Alfred to set up the dining room table for four, as they were inviting the Cohens to lunch. The couple then left the house to do some shopping.  When they returned, they found the table set for eight. They asked the butler why eight, when they had specifically instructed him to set the table for four.
Alfred replied, "The Cohens telephoned and said they were bringing the Blintzes and the Knishes."



Everything Jewish in St. Louis - including Rabbi Smason's column, community events, news, commentary and features for Jews of all
ages - can be found on our community website,    This website is a service of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis and features columns from St. Louis Rabbis and community members.



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