Archive for the 'Tisha B’Av' Category

18
May
11

Hillula d’Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness


Last evening, SYR and I had the privilege to be at Sidney and Tammy Cohen‘s (partners at 18 Restaurant) apartment in Manhattan. We were there to commemorate the Hilula (yohrtzeit, as we ashkenazim call it) of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness. I had never heard of this custom until I got Tammy’s email last week… How I wish I had known of it earlier in my life!

Among walls covered with portraits of a very young Baba Sali (whose haunting eyes seemed to pierce right through me) and Chagall like paintings, the crowd, the tfilot, the candles, the food, made it all very special…

Dips galore, mashed potatoes, fish, couscous, chicken, beef and more...

Who was Rabbi Meir Ba’al Haness? The Babylonian Talmud, in Tractate Gittin 56a relates:

As he [Nero] came close, he shot an arrow towards the east and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot an arrow to the west and it fell in Jerusalem. [He shot] towards the four points of the compass and it fell in Jerusalem. He then asked a [passing] boy, “Tell me the verse [from Scripture] you learned [today].” He [the boy] said, “I will place my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel [Ezekiel 25:14].” He [Nero] said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, wishes to destroy His House and lay the blame on me.” He [Nero] ran away and became a proselyte. From him came Rabbi Meir.”

Rabbi Meir, the descendant of a former Roman emperor, eventually became a staunch supporter of Bar Kochba‘s rebellion against the Romans. Why was he called Meir, when tradition says that his name was either Nahori or Misha? “Meir” means “Illuminator,” as someone who illuminated the mind’s eye of students and scholars alike to give them an understanding of both the Written and the Oral Laws, he came to be known as Meir.

“Ba’al Haness” means “Master of Miracles,” why was that name added to him? It is related that on a certain occasion when a pack of wild dogs ran over to tear him apart, Rabbi Meir cried out: “Eloka d’Meir aneini – God of Meir answer me,” the dogs retreated. The Roman guard of a brothel was about to be hanged for having taken a bribe. He was bribed so as to allow Rabbi Meir‘s wife (Bruriah‘s) sister to escape (while still untouched) from the brothel where the Romans had condemned her to live her life in shame (after they killed her parents, the saintly R. Chananya ben Teradyon - one of the 10 martyrs we mention in the kinot of Tisha B’Av – and his wife). As the noose was tightened around the guard’s neck he cried out, “God of Meir answer me,” the rope tore – to everyone’s amazement – and the guard was saved!

Harav Raphael Benchimol, rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, very eloquently told the evening’s participants that the specific date 14th of Nissan (Pessach Sheini). was a very propitious time for asking Rabbi Meir Baal Haness to intercede in one’s behalf. As I walked around the room, I heard touching, gripping stories of people’s prayers being answered. Even over this last weekend in Providence, RI, I heard one such story…

Rabbi Benchimol: "If you need anything, or if you have lost your way, Rabbi Meir Ba'al Haness will help you find it..."

After Ma’ariv, people lit candles – on a specially set up table – while saying twice, “Eloka d’Meir aneini,” as each silently concentrated on his/her requests…

The emotions, the fervor, were contagious...

Meeting friends and friendly strangers, praying with them mincha and later ma’ariv, listening to the Rabbi’s divrey Torah, pouring out my heart as I concentrated on my personal requests – while lighting my candle – the delicious food, the drinks, made this a very inspiring and enchanted evening. Thank you Sidney, thank you Tammy.

Eloka d’Meir aneinU! God of Meir, answer US all!

CS

18
Jul
10

Survival of the nicest? – The strange case of George R. Price.


As we abjure from physical pleasures for 25 hours this Tisha B’Av, fasting, mourning, deep in contemplative prayer, reading the Kinot and the Book of Lamentations (Eicha), commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other calamities that befell the Jews, I give you the strange case of George R. Price.

Several weeks ago, I caught the tail end of an NPR (820 am on the radio dial) segment. The piece described George R. Price- physical chemist, population geneticist, science journalist, mathematical and theoretical biologist, a quirky eccentric genius.  He worked on the Manhattan Project, acted as consultant on graphic data processing for IBM, and even worked as a cancer research assistant.

George R. Price

George Price was also a man obsessed with the apparent altruism found in nature (a term coined by August Comte) and its negation drawn from the Darwinian Theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. (Don’t leave just yet, there is a point drawn from the reference.) Unlike reciprocal symbiotic relationships typified by the primate behavior of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’, biological altruism refers to cases in nature where life forms as divergent as bacteria and dolphins exhibit behaviors analogous to kindness and sacrifice for the greater good. The honey bee, for example, may perform 100 times or more a ‘waggle dance’ -a pin-pointing signal for beehive members to spot food and new nesting sites. Essential for the colony’s survival, it does not directly benefit the waggle dancer worker bee. There are cooperative behaviors found in social insects like bees, wasps and ants; for example, sterile females in the colonies assist reproducing females with their offspring.  The loud squawk of the ‘watchman’ bird alerts other birds to the approach of predators like hawks, giving the flock time to fly off, while drawing the attention of the prey to itself. Wolves, lions and other animals risk their lives hunting prey, bringing back food for other members of their pack. The pelican will provide fish for blind pelicans within their flock. “The Arabian babblers (small birds) dance and take baths together, offer themselves gifts, clean themselves, and sometimes enter into conflict with each other for the privilege of helping another babbler. They may also feed their counterparts” (wiki) Dogs and other ‘sympathetic’ creatures often adopt strays or orphaned animals outside their species. Dolphins support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time, pushing them to the surface so they can breathe. Darwin knew of these altruistic behaviors and it is said to have vexed him. Others came up with game theories (see John von Neumann, Oskar Morgenstern, John Maynard Smith) that mathematically tried to quantify, rationalize and find equilibrium (see Nash equilibrium) to behaviors in humans and in animals in which one individual benefits at another’s expense.

George Price, expanded on game theory, and spent years trying to come up with a mathematical equation to express altruistic behavior in nature and how such traits are genetically passed on. Eventually he did, and it became known as the Price Equation. The ability to quantify such an equation actually depressed George Price, for it meant that altruism was now a quantifiable, pre-determined, not chance or willed action, but rather inevitable. He abandoned his deep-seated atheism, coming to believe that it was beyond coincidence, but rather an act of Divine intervention, that led him to such a highly improbable equation.  He obsessively spent his remaining days trying to prove that the human spirit was greater than any random probability or equation; helping the poor, giving all his possessions to street beggars and drunks.  The depletion of his funds to aid the needy, the cruel actions of others, along with his physical/emotional deterioration, resulted in the tragic taking of his own life in 1975.

What struck me so strongly in all of this, was how a heretofore atheist came to see the ‘spirit’ of man to have the powers to dominate above all scientific reason or postulate. That in spite of the pre-programmed altruism in nature, such a brilliant mind could come to cherish the notion of a human spirit capable of willful good and selfless kindness toward others as such a strong driver that man can free himself from his animalistic, limited, determined nature and spirit the cause of something higher than himself.

The Jewish concept of sympathetic altruism whether reciprocal in nature or not is one of the cornerstones of the Jewish people.  The reward system and reciprocal benefits of the world to come is secondary to the obligation of each Jew to act for the well-being of his fellow Jew.  “Kol Yisroel arevim ze laze”.  We are intertwined, arms and legs of the same tree trunk rooted to His will and divine Torah. What affects one affects us all. We are responsible for one another and are obligated in demonstrating kindness and sympathy toward our fellow man, even at the expense of ourselves or possessions.  If altruism is evident in animal behaviors, what can the collective conscious collaboration of man accomplish if his actions and goals are acclimatized for the greater good?

Absorbed in the minutia of our lives and practices, we may become misdirected; missing emotional, physical, spiritual cues of others in our midst or beyond our normal perimeters. The jig of quantifiable causes, ‘meaningful’ actions, or pursuit of golden idols and placards often distracts us. Our ‘on loan’ possessions, tools and talents are by our choosing capable of manifesting sweet harmonics of creation of the highest human endeavors. May we never lose sight of our altruistic capabilities and may we collectively rebuild a binyan adei ad bimhera biyamenu.

SYR

12
Jul
10

Nine Days’ Specials – Part 1


Considering we do not eat meat during the Nine Day (which started last evening and runs through the 20th, the day of Tisha B’Av  – 9th of Av, when the Romans burned down the Second Temple. It continued smoldering until noon the next day.) meat restaurants either close down during this period or readjust to a special menu.

Though at very opposite ends of the price spectrum, these two restaurants – among others – offer special menus for the Nine Days. While one is a high end eatery, outstanding in its delicious and very imaginative gourmet dishes, Mike’s Bistro, the other is a more down to earth establishment with superb sushi, great appetizers and tasty, wholesome, fish dishes 18 Restaurant, very moderately priced.

Mike’s Bistro: Nine Days’ Menu

Cold Appetizers

  • Baby Spinach Salad red wine vinaigrette, boiled egg, tomatoes, red onions, chives
  • Garden Vegetable Salad tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, peppers, avocado, snow pea shoots, parsley & lemon vinaigrette
  • Portobello Mushroom and Arugula Salad balsamic reduction, red onions, enoki mushroom, crushed croutons, caesars style mushroom dressing
  • Fresh Legume Salad mixed legumes, marinated tomato, sprouts, white wine vinaigrette
  • *Roasted & Marinated Beet Salad candied walnuts, fresh citrus segments, orange beet vinaigrette, shaved endive, haricot vert

Roasted and Marinated Beet Salad

Hot Appetizers

  • Hand Shucked Corn Chowder cajun mirepoix, diced fish, chili oil, fresh herbs
  • Chipotle Spiced Bean Soup black rice, avocado, crispy corn tortilla, cilantro
  • *Porcini & Wild Mushroom Consomme acini di pepe, shitake mushrooms, sliced portobello, fresh herbs
  • Braised Royal Trumpet Mushrooms english pea puree, white asparagus, marinated tomato, mushroom glace, fresh herbs
  • Fresh Cod Fritters frisee, house-made remoulade sauce

Main Courses

  • Wild Striped Bass acini di pepe, fresh summer succotash, smoked vidalia onion vinaigrette
  • Mushroom Scented Rice Noodles edamame, sprouts, carrot puree, exotic mushrooms, toasted sunflower seeds
  • *Handmade Gnocchi “Ala Vodka” smoked salmon, fresh peas, fresh herbs
  • Chinese Style Steamed Market Fish pan charred napa cabbage,  ginger, scallions, garlic, sesame oil
  • Summer Squash Cannelloni spicy marinara sauce, breaded zucchini, fresh mint, extra virgin olive oil
  • Grilled Hawaiian “Walu” Fish marinated artichokes, peppers, beans, capers, lemon vinaigrette, olive tapenade

*denotes signature item

18 restaurant: Nine Days’ Menu

Sushi

Eighteen Fresh Crisp Salads

  • Eighteen Salad cucumbers, carrots, avocado, cherry tomatoes on top of mesclun, romaine lettuce
  • Salad Nicoise white tuna salad, capers, olives, avocado, egg, cherry tomatoes on top of mesclun, romaine lettuce
  • Grilled Fresh Salmon Salad grilled salmon steak on top of mesclun, romaine lettuce with assorted vegetables
  • Tuna Salad Platter

All salads come dressed with a choice of balsamic vinaigrette, red wine vinaigrette, Thousand Island dressing or dill dressing

  • Eighteen Tricolor Pasta Primavera

Eighteen Fresh Fish Selection

  • Fish N Chips
  • Pan Fried Filet of Sole
  • Broiled Filet of Sole
  • Salmon
  • Chilean Sea Bass

All fish served with grilled vegetables and choice of French Fries, mashed potatoes or basmati rice

Eighteen Tasty Side Dishes

  • Grilled Vegetables
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Basmati Rice
  • Homemade French Fries
  • Potato Salad
  • Coleslaw
  • Sweet Red Pepper

Just because we can’t eat meat doesn’t we can’t eat well!

CS

29
Jun
10

The Three Weeks


Today is the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, in the Hebrew calendar. Today marks the start of the three weeks, which commemorate a slew of calamities in the history of the Jewish people starting with the Romans breaching the walls surrounding Jerusalem. These three weeks end on the 9th day of Av - Tisha b’Av – with the last nine days representing the final assault on the Kingdom of Judea’s capital and the burning down of the Temple. On the 9th, both the First and the Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed. Many other calamities throughout the lands of Europe befell the Jews during these the weeks, as well… Today, when the Jewish people are once again living in their own independent, sovereign country the lessons of Tisha b’Av still need to be learned, perhaps more so than ever before!

As long as the Jews were one – one people of one heart (am echad, belev echad) – they were invincible! When divisions, polemics and unwarranted hatred arose, when they splintered into factions, when the nation’s common goal suddenly stopped being common or even a goal… the Jews faltered. They no longer were invincible, the mightiest empires easily took them over and eventually dispersed them throughout the world. Even so, once those empires sunk in the quicksands of history, the Jews – against all odds, against all logic, against all historic precedent – did not disappear. Yes, the world repeatedly made sure their numbers were violently kept down. Many, unwilling to fight on, many tempted by the offers of the non-Jewish world, converted and became part and parcel of those who could potentially destroy or at least harass them… But…  these no-longer-Jews were  destroyed spiritually, if not yet physically.

Excavated steps on the South side of the Temple Mount

Yet a core of Jews refused to give up their values, their national aspirations, their dreams, their history. Twice the stones (of the Temples) paid the price, when there were no stones left to destroy, when there was no kingdom of Jews to capture, the world just came up with reason after reason to kill them anyway… and yet… yet… they are still here.

In this the 21st century, the challenges are still many; the battle is still an uphill one… the odds, however, are slowly turning the Jews favor… if only… if only they manage to remember, their heritage, their history, their past and future glory…

CS




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