Selected Sermon/Article
2010-12-31 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Vaeira

Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates. 

In a recent NFL game Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped an easy, game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.  After the game, Johnson tweeted:  I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!  AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME !!!!!  YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS???   HOW???!!!   ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!!  THX THO.  Many in the sporting world and beyond were stunned by Johnson's passive-aggressive challenge to G-d.
My hotline to Heaven is currently in the shop.  But if it was working, I'm certain the conversation would go something like this: 
Me: "Master of the Universe, Steve Johnson said that the dropped pass was Your fault, and he doesn't know what to learn from the experience.   What shall I tell him?"
G-d: "Tell Steve -- next time, keep your eye on the ball."

Parshas Vaeira   Exodus 6:2 -- 9:35
G-d assures Moses that He will indeed redeem the Jewish people from slavery and bring them into the land of Israel.  After the Torah presents a detailed genealogy of the tribe of Levi (Moses' family), Moses and Aaron go before Pharaoh to request a three-day hiatus from work so that the Jewish people can worship G-d in the desert.  Moses' staff is miraculously turned into a snake as a sign of their Divine mission.  When the Egyptian sorcerers counter by transforming their staffs into snakes as well, Moses' staff swallows up theirs.  Even so, Pharaoh adamantly refuses to free the Jewish people, and the series of ten gruesome plagues begins.
The first seven plagues are described in this week's Torah portion; blood, frogs, lice, a swarm of wild beasts, pestilence, boils and hail.  Moses goes down to the river to speak to the Egyptian king -- however, Pharaoh remains in denial ('in d'Nile -- get it?') continuing to refuse to free the Jewish people as his heart is hardened.  The portion comes to a close in the middle of these momentous events.

Rabbinic Ruminations

Mark McKee is lucky a Michigan library isn't charging him a late fee for returning a book 76 years late.  In 1934, the 13-year-old Mark McKee checked out "A Dog of Flanders" from a public library.  Recently, McKee, now 89, said he discovered the book and returned it by mail.  In a letter accompanying the book, McKee estimated that overdue charges would amount to thousands of dollars -- but that when he found the book, he finally decided to do the right thing.  Library Director Donald Worrell Jr. said he was thrilled to get the package, and that McKee doesn't have to worry about a fine. "We figure the story is better than the money," Worrell said.  Instead, the library plans to put the book and letter on display and to send a fresh copy of the book to McKee.
Why did Mark McKee, who is now a winter resident in Arizona, decide to return the book?  In his letter to the library he wrote, "My conscience took over."
Our moral conscience, known in Hebrew as the yetzer tov, is our spiritual compass that always points north -- to the Almighty.  All people were created with an intuitive recognition of right and wrong.  The heart of the Jewish understanding of free will is that we have the ability to choose to follow our yetzer tov, and we will all be held responsible for the choices we make.  Mark McKee is now sleeping better at night -- because there is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.

Quote of the Week

When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it.  Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before  -- Jacob Riis
(Danish social reformer and journalist, 1849 - 1914)

Joke of the Week

The Cohen family was on good terms with their Christian neighbors, the O'Briens.  In fact, little Yaakov Cohen and Christopher O'Brian from next door would play together from time to time. Or at least they used to.
One late December day, Duncan O'Brien, the non-Jewish father, came storming into the Cohen house holding poor Yaakov by the ear. "Your son is not going near my Chris again; he just has no respect for us and our religion!"
"What's the matter; what did he do?" inquired Mr. Cohen. "I'll tell you," said Duncan in a rage. "He saw our Christmas tree and started making fun." "Really, what did he say?" continued Mr. Cohen.
Duncan said, "He saw our tree and started asking all sorts of ridiculous questions - what kind of pine trees can be used for a Christmas tree? What's the minimum required height?  How close to the window does it need to be?   Do too many decorations render it unfit?  What if it's under a neighbor's balcony?!" (thanks to Menachem Szus for the joke)

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