Friday, February 25, 2022

Stop Playing With Fire


The Cairo Genizah includes a fascinating Ketubah from 1082, which was published by Solomon Schechter in 1901. The husband and wife in this marriage came from two prominent families. The groom was David, the son of Daniel, a candidate for rais al yahud, the leader of the Jewish community, and the son of the Gaon of the Jerusalem yeshiva; and the bride, Nasia, the daughter of Moses, came from a leading Karaite family. While it may seem remarkable to us now, there were many marriages between Karaites and Rabbanites; Marina Rustow, in her book Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate lists a dozen ketubot in the Cairo Geniza from these sort of “mixed marriages.” Nasia’s and David’s Ketubah outlines how the couple was to negotiate their religious differences, as Karaites and Rabbanites have different calendars for the holidays, and divergent religious practices. Among the clauses mentioned in the Ketubah is that the groom agrees that he "would not force the bride to sit with him in front of the Shabbat candles," to ensure that David, the Rabbanite husband, would not force Nasia, his Karaite bride, to violate the dictates of her own tradition.
A Moishe House Havdalah
The Karaites ruled that it is forbidden to have a fire burn in one’s home on Shabbat. (Most Karaites still adhere to this ruling.) This ruling is based on an alternate reading of the verse “Do not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day.” In the rabbinic tradition, the Hebrew word tiva’aru is understood as referring to the act of lighting a fire; however, the Karaites read the word tiva’aru as a reference to the burning, and it is prohibited to allow a fire to burn in one's home on Shabbat. Karaites would eat cold Shabbat meals and spend their Shabbat evenings in darkness.
The Karaite practice brought about a sharp response from Rabbinites. Ibn Ezra says that Rav Saadia Gaon wrote an entire essay about this verse in response to the Karaite interpretation. And several practices were adopted to highlight the permissibility, even the obligation, of using a pre-existing flame on Shabbat. The Talmud required candles to be lit before Shabbat, to honor the Shabbat. Many theorize that two additional elements were added to candle lighting in response to the Karaites. First, the second chapter of Mishnah Shabbat, which talks about the lighting of Shabbat candles, was added to the Friday night service; and second, a blessing over lighting the candles, which is not mentioned in the Talmud, was instituted for the Shabbat candles, enshrining them as a full-fledged rabbinic commandment.
Another custom associated with anti-Karaite polemic is eating a slow cooked stew, like cholent or chamin, at Shabbat lunch, because these foods require an ongoing fire to keep them hot. Rabbi Zerachiah Halevi, in his 12th century Sefer HaMaor, writes that if someone in the community refuses to make cholent, one “must check if they are a heretic.” In other words, the custom of having cholent is a way of asserting loyalty to the Rabbanite community.
The extraordinary focus on the prohibition of lighting a fire on Shabbat is to be expected, because it is the only category of prohibited labor mentioned explicitly in the Torah. The Talmud explores why kindling a fire was singled out. Rabbi Yose says that it is because fire is a lesser prohibition, while Rabbi Natan says that it is actually an exemplary act of labor, one which best represents what is forbidden on Shabbat.
It is fascinating when two opinions diverge this much, with one opinion considering fire the lowest form of labor, and the other opinion recognizing fire as an exemplary form of labor. This divergence is because fire has two aspects to it; it is fundamentally a destructive force which consumes everything in its path, yet at the same time, essential to all constructive activity. (Amos Chacham notes that virtually every element of the Mishkan’s construction required fire to work the metal and cook the dyes). Fire is both a force of destruction and the foundation of construction.
When you bring both of these aspects together, you get a fuller picture of why fire is a unique category of work. Rabbi Mordechai Breuer explains that the entire animal kingdom flees from fire, while only humans are capable of subduing it; this ability to tame fire is representative of the overall human mastery of nature. With fire, humanity has performed the ultimate act of creativity, transforming an otherwise destructive force into a constructive tool.
But more than man has transformed fire, fire has transformed man. At Havdalah, a blessing is made over an intertwined candle: “Blessed are You, God, our Lord, King of the universe, Creator of the fire’s lights”. The Talmud says the reason for this blessing is because fire was first given to mankind on Motzei Shabbat. It explains that “at the conclusion of (the first) Shabbat, the Holy One, Blessed be He, granted Adam, the first man, knowledge similar to divine creative knowledge, and Adam brought two rocks and rubbed them against each other.” (Some Midrashim go further, and say that God actually handed Adam a flame). Fire is a gift from God, and civilization could not have developed without fire. The ability to cook food is the first revolution brought by fire; it allowed humans to eat and digest the requisite calories in a far shorter period of time, allowing for other pursuits. Fire brought about a revolution in toolmaking with the introduction of bronze and iron, and brought about another revolution with the steam engine and the use of electricity. Without fire, civilization would never have developed.
At Havdalah we recognize fire as a gift from God. Rabbi Saul Lieberman points out how this Talmudic tradition contrasts sharply with Greek mythology, where Prometheus steals fire from the gods and gives it to man. Unlike the Promethean myth, which sees the discovery of fire as a rebellion against the gods, Judaism sees fire, and by extension human creativity, as a divine gift bestowed on humanity. God wants man to achieve greatness.
But greatness has its limits. Since the Garden of Eden, humanity has aspired to be godlike; the exceptional gift of fire, and the technologies it enables, opens the door to hubris. It is easy for someone who is supremely creative to imagine they are the creator; and this creativity can become demonic, unmoored from morality and unbounded by limits. The prohibition of kindling a fire on Shabbat is the Torah's way of setting limits, of reminding mankind that the gift of creativity must not become a tool of destruction.
In the course of human history, new technologies have frequently been used first in the service of warfare; swords are the priority while plowshares are an afterthought. The earliest breakthroughs of nuclear technology were immediately used for nuclear weaponry. And in the last century, a chilling new word has been added to the dictionary: omnicide, the obliteration of all living beings. Exceptional breakthroughs in physics have left the world forever on the brink of destruction, one madman away from a cataclysm.
The invention of fire represents a watershed moment in history, when a destructive force was conscripted in the service of creativity. The irony now is that we have conscripted our creativity in the service of destruction. But this is not a failure of human creativity; it is a failure of humans. If we ignore God and insert ourselves in His place, what is best about humanity will quickly become what is worst about humanity.
Today, as Europe stands at the brink of war, the lesson of “do not kindle a fire” is particularly relevant. God has given humanity exceptional gifts, but instead of treasuring them, we have pursued multiple schemes. The lesson of Shabbat is to recognize that creativity is a God-given gift, and not ours to abuse.
We must stop playing with fire.

Friday, February 18, 2022

No One is Just a Number


Do we have a minyan yet? As a small group gathers in the synagogue for services, people look around the room to see if the requisite ten people have arrived. And then someone begins to call out: “Not one, not two, not three,” counting without counting, to see if there is a minyan. A calculation is done discreetly, without assigning anyone an actual numerical value. An alternate method of “uncounting” for a minyan is to use a verse from the Tanakh that has ten words, and assign a word to each person in the room. This tradition goes back to 11th century Babylonia, where Rav Hai Gaon reports using the ten-word verse from Tehillim that begins with the Hebrew words v'ani b'rov chasdecha. Others use another verse from Tehillim that begins with the words hoshiya et amecha. We don’t count people.

JUDAEA. First Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Half Shekel (18mm, 6.69 gm). Dated year 2 (67/8 CE). "Half Shekel" in Hebrew, chalice with beaded rim, date above / “Holy Jerusalem” in Hebrew, sprig of three pomegranates. Meshorer 195; Hendin 660. Near EF.
Our Torah reading is the source for this unusual practice. Moshe is commanded that “when you take the census of the children of Israel…then every man shall give a ransom payment for himself to the Lord, when you count them, that there may be no plague among them when you count them.” By implication the Torah forbids counting; one is only allowed to conduct a census indirectly, and only with a payment to charity. Otherwise, the census might cause a plague, as it did in the times of King David. The Talmud explains that when they needed to count kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash, the leader would have the kohanim extend their fingers, and then he would count the fingers. The Rambam codifies this rule, and says that “ is forbidden to count Israelites except by means of some other object.” One can count an object, such as a broken shard or coin, which is given by each person, but not the person themselves.
In the modern state of Israel, this prohibition became a matter of public debate. Even before the state was established, the Histadrut labor union conducted several censuses, to gauge the size of the Jewish population. In 1937, at the third Histadrut census, the question whether one may participate was posed to the Sephardic Chief Rabbi, Rav Ben Zion Uziel. He allowed it, because the count is done indirectly, by writing the names down and then counting the names. Rav Menachem Kasher offered a different rationale to permit this; he argued that a modern census has a great deal of imprecision and estimation, and should be allowed because it is not a perfectly accurate count. However, others opposed the census on halakhic grounds. During the 1971 Israeli census, the Beit Din of the Edah ha-Haredit, and the Steipler Gaon, R. Ya'akov Kanievsky of Bnei Brak, issued rulings prohibiting participation in the census. In 1983, the outgoing Chief Rabbi, Rav Shlomo Goren, also ruled that participation in the census is prohibited.
What could be wrong with counting people? Rashi explains that the act of counting provokes the evil eye. This was a very common belief in the ancient world; and even today, there are many who will end any proud discussion of their children’s accomplishments with fake spitting, such as saying “ptu, ptu, ptu,” to ward off the evil eye. According to Rabbeinu Bachya, the census attracts the evil eye because each person is brought forward individually to be counted, and becomes the center of attention at that moment. Continuing this thesis, the Malbim explains that when the individual is separated from others in the count, they are subject to divine judgment on their own, without being insulated by the merit of the community. The problem with counting is while in the spotlight, the person being counted attracts the undesirable attention of the evil eye.
But there is a different way of understanding this prohibition, which is the very opposite of the prior view. The problem with counting is not that it highlights the individual; on the contrary, the problem with counting is that it reduces the individual to a number. The census, as Moshe Garsiel notes, began when tribal societies developed into states, and the new royal administrations needed to track their populations. The citizenry resisted counting, and resented the loss of autonomy it represented. And the census opened the door for autocratic leaders to misuse the newfound statistics. For this reason, Shmuel David Luzzatto (Shadal) associates the prohibition of counting with royal arrogance. When a king can count the size of their army, they begin to trust in their own might, and abuse their power. Shadal further explains that the evil eye associated with counting is a metaphor for how God humbles the arrogant. (He offers Napoleon's defeat in the winter of 1812 as an example of the haughty being given their due.) Counting people is a tool of the powerful, and one that is often misused. Reducing people to a ledger entry is fundamentally dehumanizing. We are individuals, not numbers.
Jewish ethics is shaped by the appreciation of the infinite value of the individual. The Mishnah declares that if one destroys one life it is as if they have destroyed an entire world, and one who saves one life, it is as if they have saved the entire world. Every life is an entire world.
The Rambam takes this idea a step further. He adopts the absolutist position that one cannot murder an innocent person, even if that murder will save many other lives. Instead of following the utilitarian path and calculating how many lives will be saved versus how many will be lost, the Rambam demands that we must never lose sight of the individual. Thomas Nagel offers a fascinating insight into the difference between the absolutist position (like that of the Rambam), and utilitarian positions. Absolutism is focused on the interpersonal, the relationship between two people, while “utilitarianism is associated with a view of oneself as a benevolent bureaucrat distributing such benefits as one can control to countless other beings…The justifications it requires are primarily administrative.” Utilitarians look at the numbers; absolutists look into people’s eyes. And the Rambam maintains that even under duress, one cannot reduce the value of life to a math equation.
The prohibition against counting is the foundation of this moral view. It reminds us that each individual is a world unto themselves, a life of infinite value. The census enables the administrative attitude that people are just numbers. And they are not.
The last century offers a powerful example of this lesson. The Nazis treated the Jews as a math problem to be solved by murder; a demonic hatred of the Jews was blended with the heartlessness of a large bureaucracy. Lily Ebert, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor who is now a major presence on TikTok, has used that platform to take questions from people around the world. In one video, she answers the question, “How did it feel to get your number in Auschwitz?” Lily offered this answer: “My number is A-10572. That is what I was, they did not call us by our name. We were no longer humans. We were only a number and we were treated like numbers.” Counting begins a process of reducing people to numbers, turning a warm soul into cold data. In the hands of a wicked regime, these very same numbers were used to enable a monstrous genocide.
The Torah’s insights regarding the census is particularly relevant to the 21st century. Data analytics has become a growing field of employment, and an army of statisticians help governments and corporations shape public opinion, based on “the numbers.” There is an inherent callousness to this process. It feeds the arrogance of the powerful and loses sight of the individual. The Torah asks us to look past the numbers; to step away from our computers, and remember that every person has a name, and every soul is a divine gift.
And no one is just a number.

Friday, February 11, 2022

The Kohen's Dilemma: Should Judaism Pander to the Crowd?


"We were greatly astonished, when we saw Eleazar engaged in the service of the Temple, at the mode of his dress, and the majesty of his appearance… (which) created such awe and confusion of mind as to make one feel that one had come into the presence of a man who belonged to a different world.” So writes the author of the Letter of Aristeas, about meeting the High Priest Eleazar, who lived from 260–245 BCE. The multi-colored garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) were of such “conspicuous beauty” that they left all observers “amazed” at the spectacle they had seen.

The Jewish Tabernacle & Priesthood, Needham, George C. (from old catalog), 1874
Making an impression was the very purpose of the uniform of all the kohanim. The Rambam says that for the kohanim, the clothes make the man. (A kohen without his uniform was prohibited from participating in the service). The Rambam writes in the Guide for the Perplexed that the average person who visited the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) would judge the kohanim by their clothes, “…because the multitude does not estimate man by his true form but by the perfection of his bodily limbs and the beauty of his garments…” Image is critical for the kohanim; they must strike an aristocratic pose, be well groomed, (kohanim were required to take regular haircuts), and wear beautiful, well-maintained garments. Kohanim must court public opinion, and inspire the multitude.
The regal bearing of the kohen stands in sharp contrast with another biblical leader, the navi (prophet). Amos describes himself “a cattle herder and a tender of sycamore figs.” Eliyahu is described as “a hairy man…. with a leather belt tied around his waist”; this great navi has long hair and wears a working man’s clothes. The neviim had a very different aesthetic than the kohanim, and their attire reflects a fundamental difference between them.
Ahad Ha'am wrote an influential essay contrasting the kohen and the navi. He explains that they represent “two ways of doing service in the cause of an idea,” and that “the navi is a one-sided figure, who wants to make dramatic change. The kohen is essentially the follower of the navi, who attempts to preserve the navi’s vision within the realities of society.”
A navi focuses single mindedly on his idea. “A certain moral idea fills his whole being… He can only see the world through the mirror of his idea…His whole life is spent in fighting for this ideal with all his strength.” The navi is not interested in popularity contests, and many neviim had their lives threatened by the powers that be. Not so the kohen; his job is to ensure that these ideals are broadly accepted. Ahad Ha’am explains that “instead of clinging to the narrowness of the navi, and demanding of reality what it cannot give, (the kohen) broadens his outlook, and takes a wider view … Not what ought to be, but what can be, is what he seeks.” The navi is fixated on a divine vision, and little else matters to him; the kohen is a teacher, trying to coax everyone a bit closer to the ideal. The kohen must be a master of persuasion and public relations; and for that reason, he needs to tend carefully to his image, and ensure that his garments and grooming are presentable. 
The kohen has a complex mission. He is the middleman who connects man to God, the one who brings sacrifices to God and atonement to man. And like any intermediary, there is a question of where the kohen’s primary loyalties and responsibilities lie. The Talmud ponders this question and wants to know if the kohanim are “our emissaries, or the emissaries of God?” Being a middleman means that the kohen is pulled in two opposite directions.
In Rabbinic literature, the human-centered mission of the kohen is emphasized. Aharon, the first kohen, is one who “loves peace and pursues peace, loves mankind and draws them close to the Torah.” The kohen offers the birkat kohanim (the priestly blessing) to the community, and must do so with love. For this reason, a kohen who has taken a life is disqualified from bestowing birkat kohanim.
Hillel, the great rabbi of the mishnah, saw the kohen as a role model for the rabbinic community. Hillel advocated that one ought to “be a student of Aharon,” and like Aharon and the kohanim, focus on personal connections. Hillel himself was a transformative leader because like Aharon, he was humble, open and embracing. Unlike the navi, Hillel did not rebuke and reject.
However, being a people-centered man of God can lead to serious failures. Being constantly focused on public opinion can cause the kohen to lose sight of his ultimate responsibilities; love of the community can cross the line to pandering. Aharon may be a master of personal connections, but that personality trait causes his greatest failure. When the people ask for a Golden Calf, Aharon obliges them; he doesn’t challenge their request, and avoids confrontation and controversy. In this critical moment, Aharon is too responsive to the desires of the community.
This is the kohen’s dilemma: how to connect to the crowd without losing sight of your unique vision.
Contemporary rabbis are more or less made in the image of the kohen. Yes, there are some rabbis who stand high in the pulpit to issue fire and brimstone speeches that rebuke their wayward flocks. There are communities where words of mussar, of serious self-criticism, are welcome. But for the most part, in order to succeed, contemporary rabbis must be diplomatic and discerning, and relate to the community in which they live. As Solomon Schechter put it in the 1920’s, “You can’t be a rabbi in America without understanding baseball.” Today’s rabbi may not have the kohen’s wardrobe, but he shares the same mission: to make a positive impression, and in doing so, bring people closer to Torah.
Today, American rabbis are very much a part of their community. As American Jewry diminishes in commitment and observance, the question is how rabbis will respond. When the flock keeps wandering, will the rabbi follow them?
In 2018, Jack Wertheimer published The New American Judaism, a book about how contemporary Jews practice Judaism. Wertheimer conducted 160 in-depth interviews with rabbis of every denomination, and this forms the foundation of the book. In it, you can hear the frustrations of rabbis who don’t know what they should do next; one laments they cannot get children to attend synagogue programs because “the God of soccer is a jealous God.” When Wertheimer summarizes some of the assumptions that his interviewees held, you can see how their context shapes their thinking. There is an expectation that synagogues must model themselves after successful businesses; they must be innovative, and expert in marketing and customer service. Time-honored traditions are modified to cater to a congregation that is increasingly strapped for time.
Marketing has significant religious value; the Talmud stresses making sure that ritual objects are pleasing to the eye, and make a “beautiful sukkah, a beautiful lulav, a beautiful shofar, beautiful ritual fringes, beautiful…Torah scroll, and… wrap the scroll in beautiful silk fabric.” But when there is a lack of religious commitment, the kohen’s dilemma becomes a serious challenge. One can survey the congregation to find what is popular. But that can lead to an unchallenging Judaism, one that is innocuous and banal, an amalgam of nostalgia and good feelings. Wertheimer calls this “an ersatz form of Judaism,” which re-brands popular tastes and popular political stances as a form of religious expression. It is imperative for a religious leader to meet people where they are; but the belief that “the customer is always right” is a poor fit for Judaism, which is about challenging man to achieve his best. In a market-driven culture, the rabbi is pulled between public relations and pandering.
The kohen is a man of the people. But what happens when the people are no longer interested? This is the kohen’s dilemma, and one that every American Jew needs to ponder.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Nothing is Sacred Anymore


The erection of the tabernacle and the Sacred vessels, as in Exodus 40:17–19;
from the 1728 Figures de la Bible
Holiness is found when the divine interrupts the mundane. In the Tanakh, God Himself will sanctify a place or a time. Shabbat is sanctified by God and made holy. At the burning bush, God tells Moshe to remove his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. When the Torah is given at Sinai, God declares the entire mountain as sacred space. Holiness is what occurs when God’s presence alters ordinary reality. Many rabbis take this idea a step further and see holy places and times as having supernatural qualities. The Shabbat gives its adherents an additional soul, and the land of Israel influences prophets and wise men to hear the word of God. To encounter something holy is to leave the ordinary and enter a portal into a divine realm.

Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik offers a very different understanding of holiness. He explains, “Holiness is created by man, by flesh and blood,” and sharply criticizes those who see holiness as supernatural, saying that view smacks of “fetishism.” He explained in a lecture that “Holiness is not a supernatural designation that descends from heaven to earth, becoming attached to a certain object. Things do not become sanctified of their own accord. … Holiness is a human creation.” Rav ​Soloveitchik notes that the land of Israel needed to be sanctified by conquest and settlement. The Temple was only declared holy after an elaborate ritual. Sacrifices are made holy by a verbal declaration. The Jewish calendar is fixed by the declarations of the court; even the High Holy Days depend on the court’s declaration of the New Moon. Holiness is not when God intrudes into our lives; instead, it is created by man, who seeks to draw God down to earth. The Rav’s definition of holiness is ​human centered.

This human-centered view of holiness became more significant after the destruction of the Second Temple. The Temple was the national center of worship, a place of awe and trembling; the Mishnah relates that ten miracles occurred in the Temple every day. After the destruction of the Temple, the challenge the rabbis faced was how to fill the spiritual vacuum.

One replacement for the Temple was the synagogue. Prayers replaced the Temple service, and the timing of our morning and afternoon prayers correspond to when the daily Korban Tamid sacrifices were offered. The synagogue is a “mikdash me’at” (Ezekiel 11:16), a miniature Temple, a local sanctuary created to fill the void left by the Temple.

Synagogues are a dramatic act of reimagination, and the inspiration for the institution of synagogue derives from our parsha. The Mishkan was a traveling sanctuary, taken from place to place; and in exile the Temple would be replaced by miniature sanctuaries, which the Jews would create as they traveled from country to country. Even without the Temple, the Jews would commune with God; they would invite Him to join them in synagogues small and large, in every corner of the world.

More remarkable is how the Jewish home became a replacement for the Temple. This process had actually begun before the destruction, with the Chanukah Menorah, which introduced an aspect of the Temple service into every home. And after the destruction, every home became a house of God. One brings God into the home when inviting guests to their table; as the Talmud says, “When the Temple still stood, the altar atoned for Israel. Now that it is destroyed, a person’s table atones for him.” One brings God into the home when sharing words of Torah at a meal; the Mishnah says: “Three who have eaten together and shared words of Torah, it is as if they had eaten at God’s table.” Multiple rituals related to our daily and Shabbat meals are reminders of the Temple service: washing hands for bread, adding salt, and leaving candlesticks on the table. Some are even meticulous to have 12 miniature loaves for the Shabbat meal, just like the 12 loaves placed on the table in the Temple.

After the destruction, the Jews made their homes and their synagogues enclaves of holiness; wherever they wandered, they never left God behind. At least until now.

I find it difficult to preach about holiness because the concept is increasingly foreign. ​First, we live in a secular age which doesn’t understand holiness. But even for those who still live religious lives, the commitment necessary for holiness is lacking. Rav Solovetichik is correct that holiness is created by man; and that is ​a challenge. Holiness cannot be a hobby, the domain of dilettantes; it requires dedication.

Today, the great concern of synagogues is that their congregants won’t return; perhaps the disruptions caused by the coronavirus will lead to a great synagogue resignation. The question on everyone’s mind is: After lounging on the couch Shabbat after Shabbat, will people once again get up, get dressed, and go to synagogue? Behind these worries is the unspoken assumption that people’s commitment was already lacking before the coronavirus struck. The call of our Parsha is: “And they shall make a Sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” Unfortunately, no one has the time for sanctuaries anymore. What’s there left to preach?

Last October, I had the opportunity to view a truly holy object. I was invited by Nishmat to a viewing of the Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor at Sotheby’s; we were guided by Sharon Liberman Mintz, Sotheby’s Senior Consultant for Judaica, who gave a presentation on its production, ​text, and history. This Mahzor is unique, an imposing codex that dates to the late 13th century, that is in excellent condition and almost completely intact. At auction, it far exceeded the asking price, and sold for $8.3 million. Writing and illuminating this beautiful Mahzor was clearly a great effort, with a talented scribe painstakingly writing and illustrating the text on parchment, and other artisans adding in special illustrations, including some in gold and silver leaf.

What moved me most were the Mahzor's travels. It was taken from Bavaria not long after being commissioned, as the Jewish community fled in wake of the Rintfleisch​ massacres and brought to Alsace. It was taken from Alsace after the community fled in wake of Black Death massacres and brought to Lake Constance. It was taken from Lake Constance after a blood libel and brought to Northern Italy. (It was later bought by the great scholar Samuel David Luzzatto for his library, whose estate sold it to the library of the Alliance IsraĆ©lite Universelle; the Alliance was the seller at auction.) In the darkest moments of persecution, the Jews still held tight to this Mahzor.I

Being able to spend time with this remarkable Mahzor was a transformative experience. It is not just an artifact; it tells the story of a people often uprooted and homeless, who still were able to make room for God. The dedication the Mahzor represents is the very definition of what holiness means.

And that dedication is only possible if people can get ​off their couch.