Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Enemy Within

In the wake of the new Star Trek movie, I've been watching some of the old series episodes, available through CBS' website. Yesterday I saw "The Enemy Within", where a transporter accident causes Kirk to split into a "good Kirk" and "bad Kirk".

Well, they start out talking about the good Kirk and bad Kirk, but further qualify it as the intellect vs. the emotions, or perhaps the superego vs. the id. Neither side can exist long-term without the other. The intellectual, compassionate side cannot command a starship without the drive, the ambition, the will to do what must be done even if it will cause pain or difficulty. Much of the show is devoted to showing the two sides, and trying to find a way to reintegrate them before the two split halves die.

Debbie sees it as the Yetzer haTov (will to do good for others) and the Yetzer ha-Ra, (will to do evil by gratifying selfish urges) both of which are necessary for a person to live. She further believes that all have an exact balance of Yetzer haTov and Yetzer ha-Ra. We talk of one yetzer or another being stronger, but if you look at the totality of Jewish literature, it seems that the two are in exact balance. Those who are great personalities, such as Yaakov or David or Shlomo, certainly have great Yetzer haTov, given how they live their lives devoted to greatness in God's name. However, they all are tested by an equally huge Yetzer ha-Ra.

David, with Batsheva, Shlomo with his wives and idolatry, Yaakov with Lavan and Esav, and all are found wanting in Rabbinic literature in the way they meet these challenges. While we are to say that "they did not sin", still, as David told his prophet Nathan, their actions are not uncensured or uncensurable. David did not technically sin, but he was greatly tempted and gave in to temptation.

Yaakov in dealing with Esav has to descend to trickery to ensure he gets the proper blessing, but is in turn tricked by Lavan repeatedly, and his life is made miserable as he is tricked by Lavan, tricked by his children, etc. He was blessed in that all his children, unlike his father and grandfather before him, went in the way of Torah - he was the only sole father of our nation. But he was also punished for his negative acts.

If one is granted a great Yetzer ha-Tov, internal drive to do good, one is also tested by a massive Yetzer-haRa, internal drive to slip up, do the wrong thing. In this, as in many things, there is and must be a perfect balance for the person to be a true servant of God, to have the power to choose rightly, and be rewarded by greatness, even if that is accompanied by the power to choose wrongly.

(updated: changed translation of YhT and YhR)

Friday, May 15, 2009

One for the Diqduq Geeqs

by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

Kamatz Katan in
Reading the Siddur and Chumash

For those of us who pronounce our Hebrew with the Sephardic pronunciation, that is : "..NoTain Hatorah," rather than the Ashkenazic "..NoSain Hatoraw," we have to be very careful to correctly read the kamatz katan. This is especially true when serving as the Shaliach Tzibbur or when reading the Torah in public. If it is read incorrectly, your reading may be invalid! This rule of grammar changes the kamatz (T-shaped vowel) from the sephardic "Ah" to "aw." The most obvious example is the word "Kol," that if read carefully might seem to be "Kawl." This word, however, most people know intuitively: "Asher bachar banu miKAWL..."even though it looks like it should be pronouced "Kal." The rule for Kamatz Katan is complicated and I will not therefore burden you with most of the rules, but there are three rules that are easier to identify:

1) When two kamatzes are together, and the second has a chataf (:), the second one is pronounced as an "aw," as in "tsahoraim".(Some do this for both).

2) When a word originally had a cholam ("oh") such as Kodesh, and is now written with a kamatz ("ah"), it is pronounced "kawdshecha," even though it looks like "Kadshecha."

3) Kamatz katan never appears on an accented syllable.

Other examples are: "Ug'dol" in Ashrei, "Ozi" in Az Yashir, "Uv'shochb'cha" in Sh'ma, "Choneinu" and "V'Onyeinu" in the Shmoneh Esray, and many, many others. The only cure (besides learning all the rules) is to get a Rinat Yisrael Siddur, where all the kamatz katans are highlighted in bold. A reader in Sephardit who doesn't know the rules MUST daven from this siddur - minimally when serving as Shaliach Tsibbur (Chazzan). The same is true, of course for Torah Readers who should refer to the "Simanim" tikkun or the new "Kestenbaum" tikkun by Artscroll when preparing a reading. It's not easy, but you show respect for Davening and Laining when you are careful about this rule. It is clearly wrong to do otherwise.


© 2009 Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue

Sunday, May 03, 2009

3M of Chazanuth

by Cantor Sherwood Goffin

My “Three M” Guideline System of using Niggunim for Tefillah

Whenever we hear a beautiful melody being sung in shul, it inspires us and gives us an incredible sense of unity as the entire shul erupts in song and harmony. The question begs whether or not we can use ANY melody ANYWHERE we wish. My guideline is MODE, MOOD, & MIN HAKODESH.

The Sefer HaChassidim of Rabbi Yehuda HaChassid (1150-1217) states (paraphrase): “Choose the melody that attracts you and comes from your heart and use it as you sing your prayers.” This was the guideline BEFORE the Maharil (1365-1425) declared his psak accepted by the Shulchan Aruch as Halacha, that one may not “change the minhag of a community even as to its melodies that are traditional there.” The Maharil, Chief Rabbi of the Rhineland, standardized the corpus of sacred melodies that cannot be changed. This also applies to the musical format for each paragraph of tefillah that has no set tune!

I do realize that it is difficult for laymen to know what melody is “Major, Minor, Phreigish,” etc., but this is one of the halachic guidelines that the Maharil insisted must be observed.

For example, we all know that there is set musical “form” for the Amidah, or for Birchot Kriat Shma. Each one is in a specific musical mode. If we use a melody there (or in Kedusha), the melody must conform to the mode that is given for that paragraph. If you cannot determine what the correct mode is, ask your musical neighbor or your local musically-trained chazzan to tell you if the modes match for the melody you wish to sing. Again, my guideline is MODE, MOOD, & MIN HAKODESH (self-explanatory).

I am, of course, always happily available for consultation whenever you choose to ask me. Don’t be bashful! The Maharil will be proud of you!


© 2009 Sherwood Goffin and Lincoln Square Synagogue

Saturday, May 02, 2009

On Ezra, whom I didn't know that well...

...having moved away from Da Slope just after 9/11, when he was still just a bright, sweet, but quiet 8-year-old, but I was reading a commentary on the parsha, and trying to come up with a connection. So here's a strained connection, which I hope will provide some comfort, if you're not turned off by my fake-o gematria.

So at the beginning of the parsha, Aharon the High Priest is given instructions on how to enter the Holy of Holies, after two of his sons died in an excess of religious zeal. And he is told to enter "with this", ba-zot. The whole verse being, "With this shall Aaron enter the Holy: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering." Why the extra "with this"? It would have sufficed to say that Aaron shall enter the Holy [Area] with this offering and that offering. With "this" must signify something else, something extra.

Menachem Recanati, the 13th-century Italian Kabbalist, suggests that it's a question of allusion, in the midrashic style, quoting Vayikra Rabbah. He looks for other verses, other contexts, in which "Bazot" seems extraneous, and he finds that it seems to indicate a whole series of merits that a Kohen Gadol, a high priest, would have upon assuming the office.

He would have merit from learning the Torah "This is the Torah...", indicating the Oral Torah; he would have merit from his circumcision (the first mitzva any Jewish boy is involved in), "This is My Covenant", indicating he can rely on the covenant of circumcision; from the Sabbath, as "Happy is the man who does This Shabbat", because the Sabbath Queen is all-welcoming, all-including; in the merit of the Jerusalem of Heaven, "This is Jerusalem"; in the merit of the Sons of Jacob, because Jacob had told them "this is your merit, that you live together;" in the merit of Judah, who fights for all of us; in the merit of all of Israel, "for your height is compared to the date palm," because the date palm includes both male and female gendered flowers;

Further, his merits for acts as a priest: for tithes, for wave-offerings, for daily offerings -- with all of these, he holds them together in his mind as one solid edifice on which he can rely, so that he need not enter the Holy Area alone. As the Song of Songs says, "where does your beloved turn? she turns to seek you." So too the High Priest enters the Holy on Yom Kippur with his merits supporting him, consciously bringing them together in his mind to strengthen himself for his encounter with Chapel Perilous.

The gematria of "bazot" is 408. Factorize that, you have 24 x 17. (I don't know to what extent traditional gematralators used factorization, but I do - that's what makes it fake-o) Ezra was in his 17th year, and he left us in the 2nd month (Iyar) on the 4th day of the month. But he did not go alone, quiet, into that good night.

From everything I've seen on the blogs of his friends (see links in previous post), he was that good person, sensitive, talented, loving of his family and friends, striving in Torah and art and music and life. He brought the edifice of his merits along to support him. I only wish he could have seen the edifice, perhaps it might have brought him comfort - but most of us never perceive our own merits, only our own faults.