Category: Torah Insights

Nicholas Midrashim: Ishmael

Posted by – November 22, 2006

Nicholas Midrashim: Ishmael

Ishmael means “G-d hears,” because Hashem heard the pleas of Hagar, his mother.

“And G-d was with the lad, and he grew, and he dwelt in the desert, and he became an archer.” (Gen 21:20)

Notice I’ve shown (or tried to show) Ishmael drawing the bow with his thumb, the method of the Medieval Islamic armies, not the European method of the three-fingered draw. I saw a historian on the History Channel saying it was due to this slightly more-powerful thumb draw that gave Muslim armies the slight edge in close battles that led to them defeating the Crusaders and taking back control of the Middle East.

Islam claims (and Jews agree) that Ishmael is the father of the Arab nation, and thus all Muslims.

I’m highlighting when he first left Abraham’s house, and became an archer, surviving in the wild. This stuff is so fascinating to me.

Here’s the passage in context:

Genesis 21

10. And Sarah said to Abraham,”Drive out this handmaid and her son, for the son of this handmaid shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac.”
11. But the matter greatly displeased Abraham, concerning his son.
12. And G-d said to Abraham, “Be not displeased concerning the lad and concerning your handmaid; whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice, for in Isaac will be called your seed.
13. But also the son of the handmaid I will make into a nation, because he is your seed.”
14. And Abraham arose early in the morning, and he took bread and a leather pouch of water, and he gave [them] to Hagar, he placed [them] on her shoulder, and the child, and he sent her away; and she went and wandered in the desert of Beer sheba.
15. And the water was depleted from the leather pouch, and she cast the child under one of the bushes.
16. And she went and sat down from afar, at about the distance of two bowshots, for she said, “Let me not see the child’s death.” And she sat from afar, and she raised her voice and wept.
17. And G-d heard the lad’s voice, and an angel of G-d called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What is troubling you, Hagar? Fear not, for G-d has heard the lad’s voice in the place where he is.
18. Rise, pick up the lad and grasp your hand upon him, for I shall make him into a great nation.”
19. And G-d opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water, and she went and filled the pouch with water and gave the lad to drink.
20. And G-d was with the lad, and he grew, and he dwelt in the desert, and he became an archer.

Yaniv over at the Jew Is Beautiful blog has an excellent post on the subject of Ishmael, and the “Ishmaelites.”
The Ishmaelite Prophecies of Lech Lecha.

He focuses on the prophecy, “the angel of the Lord said to her, ‘Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your affliction. And he will be a wild chamor (donkey, stubborn) of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone’s hand upon him, and before all his brothers he will dwell.'” (Genesis 16:11-12)

Yaniv tilts anti-Islam somewhat, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more detailed, intelligent analysis of Ishmael and his unique imprint on Islam. It’s a must-read.

He’s right that like Ishmael, Ishmaelites are aggressive, holy, monotheists.

And I think they have plenty to be proud of.


Nicholas Midrashim: How Abraham Came To (And Left) The Land of Israel

Posted by – November 6, 2006

Lech Lecha

Cartoons by Nick, drawn in Paint Shop Pro 6.

Much to the surprise of Abram and his camel, the booming voice of the Almighty commanded him:

Genesis chapter 12

1 “Now Hashem said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.

2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing..

3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’

4 So Abram went, as Hashem had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.

5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.

7 And Hashem appeared unto Abram, and said: ‘Unto thy seed will I give this land’; and he built there an altar unto Hashem, who appeared unto him.

8 And he removed from thence unto the mountain on the east of Beth-el, and pitched his tent, having Beth-el on the west, and Ai on the east; and he built there an altar unto Hashem, and called upon the name of Hashem.

9 And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.

10 And there was a famine in the land; and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was sore in the land.

11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife: ‘Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon.

12 And it will come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they will say: This is his wife; and they will kill me, but thee they will keep alive.

13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister; that it may be well with me for thy sake, and that my soul may live because of thee.’

14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair.

15 And the princes of Pharaoh saw her, and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.

16 And he dealt well with Abram for her sake; and he had sheep, and oxen, and he-asses, and men-servants, and maid-servants, and she-asses, and camels.

17 And Hashem plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram’s wife.

18 And Pharaoh called Abram, and said: ‘What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife?

19 Why saidst thou: She is my sister? so that I took her to be my wife; now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way.’

20 And Pharaoh gave men charge concerning him; and they brought him on the way, and his wife, and all that he had.

Commentary on this parsha

Nicholas Midrashim: Noach

Posted by – November 5, 2006

Nicholas Midrashim: Noach

Noah Fails To Save Most Humans

Cartoons by Nick, drawn in Paint Shop Pro 6.

All sources from Parshat Noach

Rashi teaches us:
“Many ways to bring relief and rescue are available to Him; why, then, did He burden him with this construction [of the ark]?
In order that the people of the Generation of the Flood should see him occupying himself with it for one hundred twenty years and ask him, “For what do you need this?” And he would say to them,“The Holy One, blessed be He, is destined to bring a flood upon the world.” Perhaps they would repent. – [Aggadath Bereishith 1:2, Tan. Noach 5, Tan. Buber Bereishith 37, Gen. Rabbah 30:7]”

“For what do you need this?”

“HaKodesh Baruch Hu is destined to bring a flood upon the world.”

“What? Why?”

“The earth has become corrupt before G-d! The earth is full of robbery!” (Gen. 6:11)
“Everything is corrupted! There is no order or respect, people loot and do whatever they want! There are no boundaries at all; there is even mating between different species! dogs and cats living in peace! it’s madness!” (Tan. Noach 12)

“What? Hashem didn’t destroy everything when people built the Tower of Babel!”

“Why would the generation of the Flood be utterly destroyed, but not the generation of the Tower? Because the generation of the Flood is consumed by robbery and violence, while amongst the generation of the Tower love prevailed.” (Midrash Rabbah)
“Behold! Fowl and beast and man alike shall be destroyed from the earth!” (Gen. 6:13)
“So said the Lord of Hosts, Return to Me, said the Lord of Hosts, and I will return to you, said the Lord of Hosts.
So said the Lord of Hosts: Return now from your evil ways and your evil deeds!” (Zechariah 1:3-4)

“Meh. Whatever, you crazy old geezer. You can keep your religious fanaticism. I just bought gilded pottery and 72 virgins.”

“Renounce your money! Give it to the poor!” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

“Right. ByeBye.”

“The wicked boasts of his heart’s desire; he blesses the greedy and renounces Hashem!” (Psalms 10:3)

For my Christian readership, Matthew 19:21-22 is a good mirror of this scenario:
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

“Now the Flood was forty days upon the earth, and the waters increased, and they lifted the ark, and it rose off the earth.” (Gen. 7:17)

“Everything that had the breath of the spirit of life in its nostrils, of all that were on the dry land, died.” (Gen. 7:22)

“Noach was a righteous man in his generation.” (Gen. 6:9)

“There are those amongst our sages who interpret this as praise: How much more so would he have been in a generation of righteous people. And there are those who interpret it as a condemnation: In accordance to his generation he was righteous; but if he would have been in Abraham’s generation, he would not be regarded as anything. (Rashi)
“When G-d said to Noach, ‘The end of all flesh is come before Me,’ Noach said: ‘What will You do with me?’ But he did not pray for the world, as Abraham would pray for the city of Sodom.. This is why the Flood is called ‘the waters of Noach’ (Isaiah 54:9) — he is culpable for them, because he did not appeal for mercy on the world’s behalf.” (Zohar)

Noach tried to save his generation by calling on them to repent. But the fact that he did not pray for them implies that, ultimately, it did not matter to him what became of them. Had he truly cared, he would not have sufficed with “doing his best” but would have implored the Almighty to repeal His decree of destruction — just as a person who’s own life is in danger would never say, Well, I did my best to save myself, and leave it at that, but would beseech G-d to help him.

In other words, Noach’s involvement with others was limited to his sense of what he ought to do for them, as opposed to a true concern for their well-being. He understood the necessity to act for the sake of another, recognizing that to fail to do so is a defect in ones own character; but he fell short of transcending the self to care for others beyond the consideration of his own righteousness.

This also explains a curious aspect of Noach’s efforts to reach out to his generation. When the Flood came, Noach and his family entered the ark — alone. His 120-year campaign yielded not a single baal teshuvah (repentant)! Perhaps public relations was never Noach’s strong point, but how are we to explain the fact that, in all this time, he failed to win over a single individual?

But in order to influence others, one’s motives must be pure; in the words of our sages, “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” Deep down, a person will always sense whether you truly have his interests at heart, or you are filling a need of your own by seeking to change him. If your work to enlighten your fellow stems from a desire to “do the right thing” but without really caring about the result, your call will be met with scant response. The echo of personal motive, be it the most laudable of personal motives, will be sensed, if only subconsciously, by the object of your efforts, and will ultimately put him off.

(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

Genocide can only be seen as a failure of mankind. Noach’s success, like ours today, has been limited. In every chapter of Torah the message is loud and clear: we have to do more.

We have to do more. BS”D this will be a year of doing more: more mitzvos, fewer sins of violence, robbery and economic disenfranchisement, which have gone so far they’ve now been legislated.

Fewer avieros (transgressions), more mitzvos.
We have to do more.



Glossary of Jewish Terms and Phrases (L – Z)

Posted by – November 2, 2006

Glossary of Jewish Terms and Phrases (L – Z)

For Future Reference

After adding heavily to the glossary A – K, I bring you L – Z. Let me know if I mangled any or missed any big ones!

Lashon HaRa lit. “the evil tongue”: gossip and slander prohibited by halacha, even if true.

Lashon HaKodesh lit. “the holy tongue”: the Hebrew language.

Layn: read or sing from the Torah.

L’chaim: “To Life!”

Lechem: bread

(lechem in open air market in Jerusalem, thanks malka!)

Lev: heart

Licht lit. light: Shabbas or yom tov candles

Litvak or Litvish: of or from Lithuanian Jewry.

Lox: smoked salmon.

Ma’ariv: evening prayer

Machmir: strictly adherent. “they’re not machmir on Shabbas.”

Maccabees: follower of Judah the Maccabee, who led the defeat of the Hellenists celebrated on Hannukah.

Magen David lit. Shield of David: Jewish star.

Mamzer: child of a forbidden union.

Marit Ayin: the appearance of impropiety, or refraining from such. “A shande far di goyim,” “A shame in front of the goyim.”

Matzah (pl. matzot): unleavened bread, esp. eaten on Pesach

Mazel l
it. constellation: luck; Mazel Tov lit. (a) good star: “Congratulations!”

Mechitza: partition between men and women in synagouge or other events.

Megillah: Scroll. Used to refer to the books Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Lamentations. Also, any long, drawn-out story. “Tell me the whole megillah!

Melochos: work, esp. the 39 categories of work prohibitted on Shabbas.

Melech/melech: King. Capitalize in reference to G-d, “Melech HaOlam” (king of the world). David Ha melech (David the king).

Menorah: candelabra, esp. for Hannukah.

Mensch (pl. menschen): upstanding person. “What a mensch!”

Meshuggah: crazy. “This is meshuggah!!”

Meshegas: craziness.

Mezuzah: Torah passage on a parchment scroll, placed in an ornamental case and affixed to a doorpost as commanded by Deut 6:9.

Middos: attributes. “He has the neccesary middos for conversion.”

Midrash (pl. midrashim) lit. “retelling”: a story or collection of (often ancient) extra-scriptural Torah stories. A Beis Midrash is a house of learning.

Mikvah: ritual bath. people immerse in a mikvah to convert to Judaism. Women immerse after menstruation, men sometimes immerse prior to Yom Kippur.

Mincha: afternoon prayer.

Minyan: quorum of 10 required for certain prayers.

Mishnah: oral law that (along with its commentary, the Gemara) makes up the Talmud.

Mitzvah: commandment or religious act / good deed. “Bikkur Cholim is a huge mitzvah!”

Mohel: guy who performs circumcisions.

Moshiach lit. “Anointed”: a king or one anointed by G-d for a purpose; or the expected Jewish Messiah, who will rebuild the Beis HaMikdash (Ezekiel 37:24-28, Isaiah 33:20, Micah 4:1, Ezekiel 40-48) gather all Jews to Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6, Isaiah 11:12, Isaiah 27:12-13, Jeremiah 23:3, 30:3, Zechariah 10:6, Ezekiel 37:21-22) and bring world Peace (Isaiah 11:6, 33:20, Micah 4:3, Ezekiel 39:9, Isaiah 2:4) as well as Universal Knowledge of one G-d (Jeremiah 31:33, Zechariah 8:23, 14:9, 14:16, Isaiah 11:9, 40:5, Ezekiel 37:24 Zephaniah 3:9.)

Mussar: traditional moral tale. See Mussar Movement.

Muttar: Halachically permissible.

Nachas: pleasurable pride, esp. parental pride for children. “She gets such nachas from her children.”

Nevi: prophet.

Niggun: tune to which liturgy is sung; wordless melody sung by hasidim.

Nosh: snack [noun and verb].

Nu (Yid.): “So?” “Well?”

Olam: world; universe; everything; forever. Olam HaBah is The World to Come.

Oleh (pl. olim) lit. ascender: immigrant to Israel.

Oy, gevalt:“Oh, drat!”; “Oy, help!”

Oy, vey: lit. (it) hurts: “Oh, no!”

Parsha: portion, esp. weekly reading of Torah.

Parve lit. neutral: neither meat or dairy. For example, fish.

Perek: verse.

Poskin: rule on a halachic matter.

Posek: rabbi qualified to poskin halacha.

Pesach: Passover, the spring holiday commemorating Hashem redeeming the Jews from Mitzrayim (slavery / Egypt) characterized by the Seder, and destroying all chametz (leavened bread) to only eat matzah (unleavened bread), as the bread didn’t have time to rise when fleeing Egypt.

Peyot: the sidelocks worn by Charedi men.

Pirkei Avos: “Ethics of the Fathers,” the Mishnah’s book of sages’ ethical maxims.

Plotz: (Yid.) explode, esp. with intense emotion. “when your mom finds out, she’s gonna plotz!”

Pogrom: violent, anti-Semitic raid of a Jewish village or area, esp. in Europe.

Purim: spring holiday commemorating the events of the Book of Esther, when after the first destruction of the Temple and the Babylonian exile, the Jews, led by Esther, did tschuva, fasted and prayed and merited the land again.

Pushka: box or canister for collecting tzedekah. Parents give decorative pushkas to their children as gifts to instill the values of tzedekah in them.

Ra: evil or bad.

Rasha: wicked person.

Rav/Rebbe: big status titles for rabbis.

Rebbetzin: wife of a rabbi.

Rishonim: post-Gemara-era commentators, like Rashi, Maimonides and Nachmanides.

Rosh Chodesh: first day of the new month

Rosh HaShanah lit. head of the year: Jewish New Year.

Rosh Yeshiva
: head of a yeshiva.

Ruach HaKodesh: holy spirit.

Sabra: cactus fruit. Also, native Israeli.

Sanhedrin: rabbinical supreme court of 70 sages.

Schlemazel: luckless person.

bumbler, one who “can’t do anything right.” They say a schlemiel is the one who spills soup and the schlemazel is the one who gets soup spilled on him.

Schlep: verb — carry; drag, lug; drag one’s feet; travel a great distance; noun — lazy one; unkempt person.

Schlump: verb, slump, flop. noun, stoop-shouldered person.

Schmaltz: chicken grease, oil; maudlin sentimentality. “That movie was too schmaltzy!”

Schmeer: as a verb, to spread, e.g. the cream cheese on your bagel; also, as a noun, that which you spread on something, e.g. “I’ll have a piece of challah with schmeer.”

Schmooze: cruising to small talk or chat.

Schmuck , schmo, schlong, putz: one of the many Yiddish insult words meaning penis. as Elijah Wood’s character says in the recent movie Everything Is Illuminated, Eskimos see snow all the time, so they’ve developed hundreds of words for types of snow, and Yiddish has hundreds of words for penis for a similar reason, LOL!

Schmeggege: a doofus.

Schmutz: filth, scum.

Schnorrer: beggar.

Schnook: unscrupulous one; cheater, crook. “He schnookered me!”

Schpiel: drawn-out story; sales pitch.

Schtick: bit, piece; comic act.

Schtreiml: round, big fur hat worn by hasidim.

Sefer: book, esp. religious book. Sefer HaTorah.

Sephardi: Jews from the Iberian diaspora and their North African and Middle Eastern descendants.

Shabbas: the Sabbath, the central observance of Judaism, which overrides even high holy days.

Shacharit: morning prayer

Shadchan: matchmaker

halom: peace; “Hello/Goodbye”

Shalom Aleichem lit. peace to you: a warm greeting (response is “aleichem, shalom”)

Shalom bayit lit. peace of the house: domestic harmony.

Shanda: shame, disgrace.

Shekhina: G-d’s presence. A key purpose of Judaism is to do mitzvos to cause the shekhina to dwell among us, and avoid sins that push the shekhina away.

Shechita: kosher slaughtering; shecht, slaughter in a kosher manner.

Shema lit. Hear (O, Israel): the central Jewish prayer

Sheitel: wig, esp. for married women to cover their hair.

Shidduch: match for dating or marriage (see shadchan). “I need a shidduch” or “he brought a shidduch with him to the show.”

Shiur: a lecture or class. verb, as in “he was born to shuir!” or noun, as in, “great shiur!” or “he (classmate) was in my shiur.”

Shiva: period of mourning observed for seven days after a family member’s funeral. “Sitting shiva”.

hoah lit. destruction: The Holocaust.

Shochet: kosher butcher.

Schuckle: to bob back and forth with intensity during prayer.

Shtetl: Eastern European Jewish ghetto village created by bans on Jews anywhere else.

Shul: synagogue

Shulchan Aruch lit. set table: Code of Jewish Law

Siddur: daily prayerbook

Simcha: happiness; special happy occasion, esp. wedding, bar mitzva, etc.

Simchat Torah: holiday celebrating the beginning of the annual Torah reading, in autumn

Slichot: prayers of repentance said around High Holidays

Smicha: rabbinic ordination

Sichos: rabbinic discourses

Succah (pl. succot): outdoor booth lived in on Succot; Succot, harvest festival, in autumn.

Tallit: prayer shawl.

Tashlich: Rosh HaShanah practice of throwing bread, etc. into water, symbolically casting away sins

Tefillah: prayer. the origin of the word tefillah is “to judge oneself.”

Tefillin: Torah passages on parchment scrolls, placed in small boxes and affixed with leather straps to the head and arm during prayer, as commanded in Deut 6:8.

Tehillim: Psalms

Tikkun Olam: the spiritual / physical repair and completion of the world, a key goal of Judaism.

Todah (rabbah): “Thank you (very much)”

Trief: lit. torn, like carrion: not kosher

Tzaddik: righteous person.

Tzedekah lit. justice: charity, but the English word charity, with its connotations of an act of generousity, is not tzedekah. The word and the concept tzedekah means justice, doing the right thing because you are commanded to (Deut. 15:7-8) and it’s not your money, it’s G-d’s.

Tzitzis: fringes representing the 613 mitzvos worn on the corners of Jews’ four-cornered garments; the garment and fringes together

Tzniut: modesty, esp. of dress

Viduy: confession to G-d of a sin

Yartzeit: anniversary of a death

Yasher Ko’ach lit.= (go) straight, (as) strong: “Good job! Keep up the good work!”

Yenta: gossipy woman.

Yerushalayim: Jerusalem

Yetzer tov / yetzer hara: good/evil inclination.

Yid (pl. Yidden): Jew.

Yiddishkeit: Jewishness

Yom Tov lit. good day: holiday

Zecher: in remembrance of

Zecher tzadik livracha (abbr. ZT”L): “(May) the memory of the righteous (be) for a blessing.” Said of deceased tzaddikim.

Zechus: merit. this blog written as a zechus for a refuah shleima (speedy recovery) of my mother, Rut Leah bas Shema Bera.

Zeide: grandfather

Glossary of Jewish Terms and Phrases (A – K)

Posted by – October 30, 2006

Glossary of Jewish Terms and Phrases (A – K)

For Future Reference

HaShem lit. “the Name”: used in lieu of The Ineffable Name to refer to G-d

Baruch Hashem: Bless The Name! used like, “thank G-d!” abbrev. B”H!

B’Ezrat Hashem: “G-d willing!” or “with the help of G-d.”

BS”D: abbr. for “BSiyata D‘Shmaya,” an oft-used Aramaic term meaning “with the help of Heaven”

Abba: father.

Ahava: love; Ahavas Yisrael, “love of fellow Jew.”

: to go up. immigration to Israel, “make aliyah”; to go up to the Torah in front of a congregation.

Assur: forbidden.

: Eastern European Jew

Avodah: Service of G-d, like works and prayer.
On three things the world stands – On the Torah, on Avodah, and on Deeds of Chesed (Lovingkindess) Perkei Avos 1:2.

Avodah Zora lit. “strange service”: idol worship.

Ayin Hora: the evil eye!

B’: in.

Ba’al tshuva lit. “one who returns”: a newly observant Jew. abbr. BT.

Bentch, bentching:
(Yiddish) Grace After Meals

Bochur, pl. bochurim: young man, esp. unmarried student, “yeshiva bochur”

Bar mitzvah: 13-year-old boy now responsible for fulfilling the commandments; the ceremony at which this rite of passage occurs. bat mitzvah for girls. comparable to confirmation for Catholics.

B’emet lit. in truth: “Really?”; “Really!”

Beis HaMikdash: the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Built twice but destroyed by invaders. Rebuilding of the third Temple in a Messianic Age is central in Jewish liturgy and theology.

Bikkur cholim: visiting the sick

B’nei: children; i.e. B’nei Yisrael (“children of Yisrael”), B’nei Noach (“children of Noah”) and B’nei Brith (lit. “children of the covenant”).

Brit (mila)
lit. “covenant”: circumcision.

B’shert: destined; one’s soulmate/spouse.

Bubbe: grandmother

B’vakasha: “Please”; “You’re welcome.”

Chag Sameach: “happy holiday!”

braided egg bread for Shabbas and holidays

Chas v’shalom lit. mercy and peace: “G-d forbid!” abbr. c”v”s. Also, chas v’chalila.

Chavrusa: study partner or group.

Charedi: ultra-observant or “ultra-Orthodox.” black hat-wearing Jews.

Charem: state of excommunication, shunning

Chassan: groom

(abbr. of Chachomim, Zichronom L‘Vracha): our Sages, may their Memories (be) for a Blessing.

cantor, i.e. singer of Hebrew liturgy.

Chazer: pig.

Chilul HaShem lit. “defamation of the Name”: a scandalous act or statement.

Chumash lit. “five”: The Five Books of Moses.

Chumra: stringency.

: wedding canopy.

Chutzpah: sass, moxy; nerve, gall.

Chiloni: Israeli non-affiliated (secular) Jew.

Dayeinu “Enough,” “It Would Have Sufficed,” a Seder song; “Enough already!”

Daven: pray.

Derech lit. “the path”: Jewish observance. often used as on/off the derech. “his mom is terrified he’ll go off the derech.”

Diaspora: those Jews not living in Israel.

Din: judgement

Drasha: sermon

Dreidel: toy top used on Hannukah

D’var Torah lit. “word of Torah”: speech of Torah insights.

Emet: Truth.

Emunah: trust in Hashem

Eretz Yisrael: The Land of Israel

Farbrengen (Yiddish): gathering, party, esp. religious or family party

Frum: religious, Orthodox. “he’s so frum.”

Galus lit. “exile”: where the Diaspora lives

Gan Aden: The Garden of Eden

money, esp. as Hannukah gift.

Ger lit. “sojourner”: convert to Judaism.

divorce document.

Golem: legendary automaton brought to life from clay by Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah).

Gevalt: interjection of shock, dismay, or alarm (from Yiddish gvald “emergency”)

Goyim lit. nations: gentiles.

Ha: The

HaEretz: lit. “the land.”

HaLacha lit. “the way”: Jewish law.

Halachic, halachically: by Jewish law.

HaKodesh Baruch Hu: The Holy One, Blessed He; a name for G-d.

Hasid (pl. Hasidim) lit. “pious” or going beyond: a member of a Hasidic sect, or compliment, “he’s such a hasid.”

Hasidism: an Orthodox movement focusing on chesed and going beyond the letter of the law in observance.

Chesed: loving-

Hashkafa: Jewish philosophy.

Heter: halachic loophole. “his rabbi gave him a heter for fasting on Yom Kippur.”

the blessing over bread

winter holiday memorializing the victory over the Hellenists and the miracle of the lamp that burned for 8 nights.

Ima: mother

Im Yirtzeh Hashem: if Hashem wills it… abbr. IY”H, IYH

Kabbalas HaTorah: “receiving the Torah”

Kabbalah lit. “receive”: Jewish physics and mystical interpretations

Kaddish: mourner’s prayer

Kallah: bride

Kashrus: the laws of kosher-ness

Kefira: doubt or denial of G-d, sometimes considered mildly heretical, sometimes permitted. See here. LOL!!

Kedushin: the marriage ceremony

Kelev lit. “like heart”: a dog.

Kehilla: congregation; community

Ketubah lit. “writ”: marriage contract.

Kibbutz (pl. kibbutzim): Israeli collective farm

Kiddush: prayer/blessing for wine

Kiddush HaShem lit. sanctification of the Name: selfless act, glorious deed. opposite of chillul Hashem

Kinderlach: (small) children.

Kippah (pl. kippot): skullcap, yarmulke.

Kiruv lit. “to bring close”: religious outreach.

Klal Yisrael: The Jewish People

Klezmer: Yiddish music.

Kodesh: holy.

Kohen (pl. kohanim): descendant of Moses, Aaron; thus, a member of the priest class, which is still functioning.

Kol Ha’Kavod lit. “All of the respect”: all right, way to go, or a job well done. Can be used sarcastically.

Kosher: acceptable under Jewish law

Kotel: the Western Wall.

Kvell: derive deep pride or intense satisfaction. “she kvelled over her children.”

Kvetch: whine(r), complain(er)

The Image of G-d

Posted by – October 15, 2006

The Image of G-d

Different Religions Have Different Views Of The Creator




Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Judaism and Islam



This is especially relevent as we just marked Simchat Torah and began our annual Torah reading again with Genesis.

And G-d created man in His image; in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them.
(Genesis 1:27)

Judaism has always interpreted “His Image” as the immortal soul given to mankind, the intangible, animating divine spark within us that is inseparable from the Creator. This is how we explain the diversity of human visages despite our intrinsic unity with each other and the divine, and mesh this profound truth with the Torah’s insistence on an incorporeal, limitless One G-d (Deut. 4:15).


Filed Under:
Torah Insights and Religion

Simchat Torah!

Posted by – October 15, 2006

Simchat Torah!

Celebrating The Gift Of Torah

We just passed the holiday of Simchat Torah (“Torah‘s rejoicing”), the celebration of receiving G-d’s Torah as we finish Deuteronomy and begin our annual cycle of Torah reading anew with Genesis.

Here’s a tour of Simchat Torah celebrations I gleaned from Google images….

A Torah scroll is unfurled, and the first part of Genesis read.

Jews take out the big Torah scrolls that are usually locked up.

And dance and sing with joy that we have Torah.



Filed Under:
Torah Insights and Religion

The Best Of Nick’s Blog 2006

Posted by – October 10, 2006

The Best Of Nick’s Blog 2006

Some favorites from my blogging for 2006…

Governor Riley Refuses Federal Funding For Home Care
My editorial on Alabama Medicaid’s institutional bias, and their resistance to do the right thing, even refusing federal help.

Nick Gets Religion
I explain what I’ve come to believe, and break down the Jewish idea of monotheism, its history and why it makes sense to me.

Religion Exists To Save The World
I lay out my views on the purpose of religion, which is the total transformation and elevation of the physical world into a perfect spiritual state, and how this must change our politics and our world, as the Jesuits put it “create G-d’s Kingdom on Earth.” And scripture does rule out right-wing individualist ideologies, which I explain here.

HaShem, Torah and The 613 Mitzvos
I delve into the significance of the Torah’s 613 commandments.

A Divided Nation, But Not Like You Think
Here I tackle the issue of Right vs. Left. It’s hard to boil it down, but I assert here that the divide isn’t right vs. left, Torah holds to no such spectrum, but the divide is humane vs. inhumane, and too often this country is far off into savage territory.

Nick’s Torah Commentary: The Death of Aaron
My commentary on the portion of the book of Numbers dealing with the Death of Aaron.

The Religion Century
The 21st century will be defined by a religious fervor gripping the globe, in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. I tell you why.

Just Gimme Some Truth
I explain why Rick Santorum and our Iraq policy is dishonest and wrong, and lay out Galbraith’s plan for success in Iraq.

Compromise On Torture
I explain why it’s wrong America has discarded the separation of powers to torture, why torture is wrong and how wrong it is we’ve reached the moral abyss where we actually have to explain to people why torture is wrong.

If you’ve not yet read my best work, check it out. 🙂


Filed Under: My Life


Posted by – October 10, 2006


Festival of Ingathering!

It’s Sukkot everybody! HaShem lays it out in Leviticus: “On the fifteenth day of this seventh month is the Festival of Sukkot, seven days for the L-RD.” (Lev. 23:34) and we know what that means! “You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.” (Lev. 23:42) Today is the 5th day of the week-long festival.

Jews have built booths (a sukkah) to remind us we once dwelled in temporary desert booths when Hashem brought us out of Egypt, and to remind us not to get caught up in material things and reinforce that this life is transient and dependent on G-d.

Jews go all out building and decorating their sukkot for the festival and at least have their meals in them.

Check out this awesome footage from Malka. Jerusalem is decked out in beautiful, colorful decorations and there are sukkot everywhere, one as big as a house! It’s so wonderful. Malka says “Chag Sameach” (happy holiday!) and points out sukkot, then her friend explains the scene en Espanol.

Here are some great resources to learn about Sukkot.

Wikipedia: Sukkot

Judaism 101: Sukkot
It mentions here that the American Pilgrims based Thanksgiving on Sukkot!

And from Rafi’s Blog, some great news: 80,000 Sukkot-observers showed up to be blessed by the Kohanim at the Western Wall, a new record! It had to be closed off to prevent a stampede. We’re talking about more Jews in one place observing a festival than any time in Jerusalem since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.!!!! That’s something very special.

Chag Sameach!!


Filed Under: Torah Insights and Religion

The Oral Torah

Posted by – October 9, 2006

The Oral Torah

What It Is And Why It Is Valid

The Oral Torah is the oral tradition of the Jews spanning from the exodus to the present day. When the Jewish people were traumatically dispersed and the Temple destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 C.E., interpretations of Jewish law, which had always been stated and debated orally, had to be written down to save them from being lost forever. The Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud became the massive repositories of Jewish law we study today, huge written collections that make concrete the oral traditions that spanned back to Moses. When people refer to Oral Torah, they usually mean the components of the Talmud, the Mishna (retellings of Torah and its elaborate system of law) and Gemara (a compendium of commentaries on the Mishna), but Oral Torah also refers to the influential works of the post-Talmudic sages, like Rashi and his comprehensive commentaries on the Torah and the entire “OT,” Rambam and his code of the 613 Torah mitzvos, Ramchal and his Derech HaShem, Yosef Karo and the Shulkhan Arukh, and on and on and on.

Am Israel has improbably survived as a united people despite being cut off from their land, cut off from each other, under unbelievably difficult circumstances, for roughly two millenia, because of the sincere belief in the authority of the Oral Torah and our sages because of Deut. 17:11, which tells us not to deviate from the rulings of our judges (the Sanhedrin and its predecessors). And think about it, the Torah cannot work as a Constitution for Am Israel, simply cannot function as a daily, working system of law, without a canon of law explaining in detail what the Torah means and what precisely is permitted or not permitted. Someone has to decide how the Sabbath is to be observed, for example, and then, in order to keep a cohesive community, they have to follow that ruling.

Without Talmudic elaboration, we know what happens to Judaism. You get perversions like those of the Sadducees, who, because they denied Talmud, were stupidly strict on some things (no healing of dying people on the Sabbath–WTF?) and were stupidly lenient on other things (they would sacrifice whatever to Hashem, not their best stuff, like He wouldn’t notice, would eat the offerings you aren’t supposed to eat, and were also incredibly corrupt and beholden to the Romans). The Sadducees were who Jesus bashed the hardest, as they also denied the soul is immortal, etc. “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three” (Acts 23:8). The Sadducees went extinct, and the Pharisees (often unjustly bashed by the NT) are the ones whose teachings (Hillel, Akiva, etc., often running parallel to most of Jesus’ teachings) became the Talmud. Against all odds, the Pharisaic heroes of the Oral Torah brought us the Judaism we know and love today. No anti-Talmud Judaism has survived to the present-day (save a few stray Karaites) because without a canon, isolated diaspora communities would’ve simply fractured and dissolved.

I’ve read several people lately bashing Jewish practices (due to the oral Torah), denouncing Judaism as “manmade traditions,” which is what motivated me to write this. If they would study up on Judaism, they’d see that nearly ALL Jewish practices come directly from Biblical mandates. All of the Rambam’s list of 613 commandments are directly cited from Torah. The long beard thing that was later adopted by Islam? The sidelocks? They’re both derived from Lev. 19:27. The Jewish custom of not mixing milk and meat is a fair reading of Exodus 23:19 and Exodus 34:26 and is listed among the 613. It’s not from thin air, and we even have Roman writings pre-Jesus that talk about this “strange dietary habit of the Jews.”

However, not all Jewish practices are direct from the Torah. The yamulkes (skullcaps) AKA “kippot” many Orthodox Jews wear, while referenced in 1 Kings 20:31, are not in the Torah, so its mandate is purely Talmudic. The Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, which I’m currently studying, enumerates all 613 Torah commandments (mitzvos) and kippot aren’t one of them. And if you study Judaism, in Rambam’s work and throughout the canon of Jewish law, the sages themselves maticulously delineate what is D’Oraisa (direct Torah command) and what is D’Rabban (Rabbinic decree) because, obviously, breaking a rabbinic decree is very different compared to transgressing the Torah.

But my main point is, no religion can survive without an oral tradition to provide continuity and stability in practices and interpretation. With no traditional interpretation of Torah you could say “eye for an eye” means seek revenge (as I’ve heard some rednecks say), or you could even endorse cannibalism (not specifically legislated against in Torah) as kosher as long as you slaughter people properly.

Catholic and Greek Orthodox have 2000 years of unbroken canon law (similar to Judaism), and priests working with people in the Jewish mold to align their daily practices with the yoke of heaven. Protestant churches are much more free form because of Luther’s idea of “the priesthood of all believers,” i.e. you interpret the Bible for yourself, you are your own priest (can be problematic) but they do have an oral tradition, heavily influenced by Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and the evangelical movements that followed them. Everyone, unavoidably, has certain traditions of practice and interpretation passed down by their priest or reverend or rabbi. The Karaites, who reject the oral Torah, have their own interpretations, which actually fall in line with normative Judaism most of the time.

I hope this gives all my readers some background and insight, and you’ll see oral Torah as a necessity, not dismiss it out of hand. I see oral Torah as a miracle that’s held the tiny branch of Jacob together as a cohesive people against all odds, and I think it’s fantastic we have such a deep wealth of sacred texts to delve into that you could study for a century and barely master them. Non-Jews could also gain a treasury of wisdom from Judaism, as, for example, they could learn what the people who received the Ten Commandments say the Ten Commandments mean before they plaster them everywhere. 🙂

Study on!



Filed Under: Torah Insights and Religion