Monday, April 28, 2014

Comments for Yom Hashoah 2014

Never Forget 

Comments for Yom Hashoah Service  April 26 2014

Commemorated jointly between Hollywood Temple beth El and the Iranian American Jewish Federation

            Seventy Five Years ago, my father sat behind iron bars in a fortress in Brno in what had formerly been the independent country of Czechoslovakia.  Because the great nations of Europe, especially the British and the French were afraid to stand up to Hitler, the tiny nation of Czechoslovakia was swallowed up, after the pretext of the Germans that they were merely seeking to protect the rights of their fellow Germans on the borderline with Germany. Czechoslovakia was dismembered completely, my father was caught up in a round-up of anyone the Nazis had doubts about and they took first step towards the Holocaust and towards the  war that engulfed the world in flames.
            My father, Rabbi William Weinberg, was fortunate to survive. We have heard from our dear friend, Joe Alexander, on his struggle to survive. We know, however, that those who can testify and remind the world of what has happened are dwindling in number.
            Is it time to move on? Is it time to put the past aside? Already in the aftermath of the Shoah, there were those who said it was time to “ forgive and forget.”
            What is the danger?
            Rhonda Fink Whitman, a journalist, went to the campus of a major university and asks students at random what they knew about the Holocaust. These students were perfectly bright and articulate, and completely ignorant. Not only did they not know of the Holocaust, they did not know what country was involved, did not know that Jews were killed, did not even know what World War II or who President Roosevelt was.
             I am sure you have heard the quote by George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". If there is reason to worry for the future, these students who have no concept of the past, are reason enough.
            My dear friends, it is especially meaningful to me, that we are holding a joint program this morning and evening. The Shoah was not a German or Polish Jewish issue; it was not a European Jewish affair. Every Jew, whether in the safety of America, or across the Mediterranean or in the Middle East, was threatened by it. Hitler's henchmen were beginning the round up of Jews in North Africa, Tel Aviv was on the Luftwaffes hit list, and the Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini of Jerusalem was advising  Hitler and organizing troops to round up Jews in Yugoslavia. 
            Furthermore, for so many of you who are yourselves refugees, you were oppressed as Jews by atheist communists in the Soviet Union, you were oppressed as Jews by Islamic or nationalist fanatics in the Middle East. You experienced in your selves fleeing, scrambling for a safe refuge, finding a place , a haven on strange shores. You know it.
            Now, the clock is moving on. It is now, for us, the second, third and fourth generation , the children and grandchildren of the surviving remnant, to keep alive the memory of what has happened.  I am going to conclude with my own take on Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address:

“It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here, gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the world shall have a new birth of freedom, and all peoples will be privileged to a great day of  government of the people, by the people, for the people, a world in which Jew, Christian and Moslem, Israeli and Arab and Iranian, and all peoples, will live in peace . Amen.

On a once—and Future?—Golden Age

Yom Ha Shoah Memorial  evening of the Iranian American Jewish Federation  April 26—

            (This is an extended discussion of my comments from the proscenium that evening.)
            Tonight, the core theme of this event is the great work of the Iranian people in saving Jews during World war II, in sharp contrast with the vitriol we see emanating from Iran today. It reminds us that there was, and could have been, and we pray, will again be, a different Islamic civilization.      
            How many of us are aware that the founder of Islamic studies in Europe in the 19th century was a devout Jew, the Secretary of the Budapest Jewish community, by the name of Ignaz Goldziher, who studied with the scholars of Al-Azhar University in Cairo.  Yes, over a century ago, a Jew could be the leading exponent of Islam to Christian Europe.
            How many are aware that the Sharif of Mecca, a century ago, could publish openly in the official newspaper, called “ Al Qibla”( the direction of prayer, to Mecca), a statement that Palestine was “ a sacred and beloved homeland of its original sons, “ and called on the Arabs to welcome the Jews as brethren.
             How many of us are aware that there once was a different Moslem world than that which we see today.
            One of my professors in Rabbinical school was Rabbi Moshe Zucker. He was one of the world’s most renowned scholars on the Golden Age of interaction between Jewish and Moslem philosophers. He showed us the works of great rabbis who spoke of the writings of their contemporary Moslem thinkers using phrases like “ we say” ,”we think”, not “they say”, “they think”. None other than Maimonides, the Rambam, would dedicate major sections of his “ Moreh Nevuchim”, the guide to the Perplexed, explaining the influence of Mutakalimim and Mutazila ( the rational logicians) on the great Jewish philosophers who preceded him.
            What was his greatest heartbreak?
            I was a student in Jerusalem the same year he came to spend a Sabbatical year. It was three years after the Six-Day War. Old Jerusalem was finally accessible to Jews and he was hoping to meet with some of the respected Moslem scholars of the city. Here, after years of studying Islamic philosophy in the abstract, he would, he believed , have someone scholarly with whom he could interact.
            He was greatly disappointed. Not one, not one Kadi or Imam would meet with him. They had cut off all possibility of communication and of understanding. The political animosity had overwhelmed the potential bridge of religious understanding.
            We have gathered to commemorate the victims of the Shoah. We recall an Islamic world that, not so long ago, was very different. We are concerned now  to see a civilization torn between modernity and antiquity, between  warring factions that threaten not only Israel but themselves even more.
Our theme this evening is “ Holocaust-Past, Present, Never Again”. We, Jews, Moslems, Christians, Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu- we ultimately pray to the same God, so we pray to God –“Please, Open our hearts to serve you, to help us work for a day  which will be, for all of us,  a Golden Age of humanity. As the Prophet Isaiah preached: “They not do evil nor wreak destruction upon my Holy mountain, for the world will be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal as the waters cover the oceans.”   Amen.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Meaning of the Kaddish

The Meaning of the Kaddish
Yizkor-Pesah  2014 
. What is the one thing that every Jew comes to learn--too well, in the course of life--the one prayer--perhaps even more than Shma Yisrael, which a Jew must say morning and evening?
            What else if not the Kaddish--this one statement, which we associate with life's most tragic moments. How many recall that , even today, a husband would be concerned that his wife gave birth to a boy, no matter how many girls, just to be sure that he had a kadishel--some one to say Kaddish for him.
             But we know this prayer so well--do we understand it--do we know what ot means- what it comes to teach us.
            Today, Yizkor, we all say Kaddish, we will examine what the Kaddish has to offer us.
             The most important thing I can say--is the Kaddish is not, never was, and never will be a prayer for the dead, but a statement of faith for the living.  
             Some of you know, I worked in Israel in Jewish education, and one of my areas was teaching Jewish concepts to secular teachers who had little feeling for the subject.  
            One of the most moving and powerful days on the Israeli calendar is Yom Hazikaron, the day preceding Israel independence day, which will be observed in just two weeks.
            It is amazing--on this day, the country comes to a stand-absolute stand. Siren calls, every one stands absolutely still. Cars halt on highway, drivers get out and stand silently.
             At every ceremony, standard declaration--the poem found in book of Samuel, King David's elegy for Saul and Jonathan--Aich Naflu Giborim--How the mighty have fallen. Then, followed by Kaddish, with a very special introduction by the great Jewish writer, Shai Agnon.
            Main point I made to the teachers--if we must send young men and women out to the battlefield, they must have a sense of purpose, a faith in the need and value their cause. The Kaddish is a declaration of the faith that a Jew has that his actions in life are for a nobler cause.
            What then is the Kaddish--it never was a prayer for the dead.
            One sentence became a popular refrain among the Jewish people, comparable to Amen, and it is recorded in various versions already in parts of the Bible--it has come down to us in Aramaic, the language of the Jewish people of the time after the close of the Bible, some 2500 years ago--It is
            Yehey Shmeh Rabba mevorach leolam ulolmei olmaya--May  His Great Name be Blessed for all eternity. This sentence was considered to be the great declaration of faith of Jews of the day. Note as I said, it’s in Aramaic, not in Hebrew--Aramaic is to Hebrew, as English is to German, kissing cousins , but different sounds and rules. By the way, there is a legend, that it is in Aramaic because angels, who are jealous of the Jewish people, know Hebrew , but never studied Aramaic, and so they can't interfere with the prayer when it is recited.
            In the course of time, it became the practice , at the end of a days lesson in the yeshivah, for the teacher to declare a statement of consolation and faith in a messianic day, to which the students would respond: Yehey Shmay.
             In time, we have the formula, as we know it, created before the destruction of the second temple:
Yitgadal veyitkadash--Magnified and ssanctified be his name, in the world he created by his will, may his kingdom reign, in our lives and in our days, speedily and soon, Amen.
             Anyone who has examined the Lord's Prayer of the Christian scriptures recognizes where the phrases" Hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come" originated, in the Aramaic of the Jews of Israel of 2000 years ago.
             By the year 600, the Kaddish was added, not just to the end of the lecture of the academy, but also to the end of the Torah reading, before Barchu, and at the end of the worship service. By the 9th century, it achieved the format and usage that we have today.
            . But what about the deceased, what about mourning. From the time the very first phrases were formulated, till we see the Kaddish as we know it, it was  used only for the academy and only as a prayer in the service. No one used it for a reference to death.
            What happened?
                         In the course of time, when a great scholar would die, at the end of the shivah, another great scholar would get up and deliver a lesson in his memory, and then conclude the lecture with the Kaddish, Kaddish derabanan, the scholar's Kaddish.
            What started with great scholars soon spread to lesser scholars. What continue with lesser scholars soon spread to every man--why should he get the honor--don't I deserve it too!
             Finally, what was said at the end of shivah, and then said by the mourner in memory of the deceased, soon spread , not only to the end of a lesson in the academy, but to the  end of every service.
            What, finally gave Kaddish its connection with the dead?
            There is a legend, in which a man was so evil and wicked, that it is said that he was condemned to everlasting torment.
            Rabbi Akiba learned of this, sought out the man's son, taught him a prayer, and the man's soul was released from its torment. There are 17 different versions as to what it is that the child learned to say, but not the Kaddish!
             Nevertheless, out of that legend, arose the belief that when a man's son is engaged in some prayer, this serves as a testimony of merit for the deceased.
            By time, the Kaddish became associated with that prayer, until it became, by the end of the middle ages, the prayer of obligation for a mourner, even though it is not found in a single book of Jewish law, not even the shulkhan arukh! Only in the Polish commentary, the Mapah, of Issereles, do we find the explicit instruction to recite Kaddish over the course of the year--that is not until  400 years ago-- what we call the beginnings of the modern era.
            The custom of saying Kaddish took on one more flourish---by ancient Talmudic tradition, the souls of even the most wicked are condemned to hell for only twelve months. There is no such thing as eternal damnation--but who ever could imagine a Jew who was so wicked as to deserve all twelve months in gehena! Therefore ,the custom arose of the son saying Kaddish only for eleven months—after all--how wicked could a father be if the son thought enough of him to say Kaddish.
             So, as you see, Kaddish became a prayer said for the dead, by accident--it never was intended, and never is intended as a prayer for the dead
             Now , what is its significance--
                         It is most appropriate for recitation at the funeral, or in the house of mourning, or at the conclusion of study, or the conclusion of worship precisely because it is a prayer of faith and hope--never a prayer centered around death--Jews believe that Lo hametim yehallula--the dead can not praise God, nor those who go down in silence  but we, the living, praise god.
             What does make it appropriate-- it describes faith in God's sanctity, and in God' rule, faith in the kingdom of God. In the version which is used by Yemenite Jews, and also for us, only at the funeral service itself,  it speaks of Balma dehu atid leithadta--The world in the future which will be renewed, life will be given to the dead, to everlasting life, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the end of idolatry form the earth. The theme is that of the Jews faith in the triumph of God over idols, of good over evil, of life over death.
            Central to the Kaddish is that word "kadosh"-Kaddish"-it ties in with the theme of Kiddush hashem--sanctifying God;s name. Kaddish is a public declaration--always in a minyan, a public of ten, never less, because it is a universal declaration of faith.
             A Jew is asked , in every act in life to be engaged in Kiddush hashem--making God' name holy. That is the function of public worship, since anyone could just as well pray in private. Public worship enables us to share our faith and our hopes with the world around us. Hence, Kaddish must be in minyan to be of purpose since it is a public pronouncement.
             Its function is to teach us always to be willing to speak out in public for our causes, for our beliefs, for that which we value. It also enforces on us the recognition that we are part and parcel of a community--we pray not by and for ourselves alone, but by and for our fellow human beings.
            Now, there is one other legend, which gives us an insight in the meaning of the Kaddish for us.
            In the Talmud, there is a description of God sitting in heaven, and groaning: Every moment that the children of Israel enter the academy and declare Yehy shey rabba--the Holy One shakes his head and says:Happy the king who is praised in his house--but now that the palace , the ancient temple has been destroyed. He cries:
Woe to the father who had exiled his sons and woe to the sons who were exiled from the father's presence."(Ber3a).
            There is a peculiar commentary to this sentence on that page in the Talmud, referred to by the grandsons of Rashi, the Tosafot.
            The phrase Yehy Shamy Rabba should be translated: In the future , God's name shall be made great---today, Amalek, hatred, maliciousness and will ful hatred, prevent God's name from being great, from being complete. God himself, in the struggle against the evil that mankind is capable of, mourns, and he is in need, of what we say in the Kaddish "Tushbechata venehamata"-even God is in need of our encouragement and consolation--that evil will be eliminated from the human heart.
            This very thought brings us right to the very first time that the idea of Kaddish appears, the prophet Ezekiel speaks of a final cataclysm, in which the forces of evil among the nations of the world, Gog of Magog, will be finally destroyed, and then, only then, Hitgadalti ve hitkadashti v nodaati leeynei goyim rabim--then shall I be magnified and sanctified, and and be known to all the nations."(Ez 38:23).
            Our Kaddish then is the descendant of this declaration of faith in the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of God by the prophet Ezekiel. We have many variations on a theme, from a short, hatzi, Kaddish. To full length Kaddish shalem, , to Kaddish yatom, mourners Kaddish, to Kaddish derabanan, to the Kaddish deithadta. But all carry this theme for us, and teach us what is expected of us as Jews, both ion our prayers and in our lives--not to look back to the dead, but to look forward, and strive to the future.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Food for Thought on Chametz and Matzah

Food for Thought on Chametz and Matzah  

            You know that on every one of our 3 festivals, we are to rejoice, so I will begin 
my comments with a few words of humor before I actually get to my theme of this
            You know we Jews love to play on words, especially when we can do so in two
or three languages.
For example, Do you know why we have an Haggadah at Passover?
A: So we can Seder right words.
Of course, all Jews are born psychologists, and Freud was merely verbalizing
what we all know instinctively.  What do you call someone who derives pleasure from the
bread of affliction?

 A matzochist.
Then, of course, all Jews are either doctors, have doctors in the family, and
believe we know more than the doctor . Did you hear that  a group of leading medical
people have published  data  that indicates that Seder participants should NOT partake
of both chopped liver and  charoses.  It is indicated that this combination can lead to
Charoses of the Liver.
There 's a story about a very wealthy, yet very modest, Jewish chap named
Hyman  Goldfarb. Because of his large donations to charities through the years, the
queen wanted to knight him, but he was going to turn it down.
"That's a great honor," a friend asked. "Why would you turn it down?"
"Because during the ceremony you have to say something in Latin," he said. "And I don't
wish to bother studying Latin just for that."
"So say something in Hebrew. The queen wouldn't know the difference."
"Brilliant," Hy complimented his friend, "but what should I say?"
"Remember that question the son asks the father on the first night of Passover? ... Can
you say that in Hebrew?"
"Of course," he said. " Thank you, old sport, I shall become a knight."
At the ceremony Hy waited his turn while several of the other honorees went before the
Finally they called his name. He knelt before Her Majesty, she placed her sword on one
shoulder and then on the other, and motioned for Hy to speak. Out came "Ma nishtana
ha leila hazeh."
The queen turned to her husband and said, "Why is this knight different from all other
            Enough, enough, now is  time for some wisdom for Pesah, about matzah- mah nishtanah- not just haleila hazeh- the one night, but "sheva yamim"= seven days you shall eat matzah.! Why matzah- Why not, in the words of Marie Antoinette- let them eat cake.!
            In this zman herutenu, Season of Liberation, Pesah, Passover, no element so dominates the festival as the contrast between "Chametz" and "Matzah", leavened and unleavened bread.
            Our official explanation is that our ancestors left Egypt in haste on the night of liberation and had only enough time to prepare the simple matzah for the journey into the desert. That simple fare has remained for us Jews as the symbols par excellence of our freedom as human beings, subject to no other human being, bound only by the moral and spiritual responsibilities emanating from the Eternal One. Because of that event, the Jew, even in exile, under oppression and persecution, remained free in the heart.
            But mazah is even older than pesah! Lot, Abraham's nephew served it to his angelic visitors 400 years before. Matzah was not only for Pesah-- The Kohanim, the priests, ate matzah through the year with their sacrifical meals.
            The choice of Maztah over Chametz is ironic. After all, the similarities greatly outweigh the difference at first sight.
            Eve the Hebrew spelling is close.  Chametz and Matzah,  share two root letters, Mem   and Tsadi .  The third letter is similar .
חמץ  מצה    מ  צ ה  ח
The only difference between the letter Het  ח of Hamezt  and Heh ה of Matzah is only a tiny space that closes the gap. In pronunciation, the two are similar; again, the difference is a little friction in the throat for the sound of Het .
.           The real difference between the two  is a result of bio-chemistry.
            What can be Chametz?  Only five grains, which by common tyranslation in Europe are-- barley, rye, oats, wheat, and spelt and only when immersed  in  cold  water  for  at  least  eighteen  minutes,  or immediately in hot water or salt water.
 (Modern scholars , however, suggest this translation:
 שיפון Shippon (shifon) – einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum),
כוסמין Kusmin – 
emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon),
חיטים Ḥittim – 
durum wheat (Triticum durum) and bread wheat (Triticum aestivum),
שעורים Se’orim – six row 
barley (Hordeum vulgare), and
שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual – two row barley (Hordeum vulgare).)
Rice and legumes, which Ashkenazic Jews avoid during Pesah, are treated as Chametz only by custom, as there was a concern that flour substitutes made from these foods might be mistaken with real flour. These plants  can never leaven, only ferment. That is why Sefardic Jew use rice and beans in their cooking and why an Ashkenazic Jew may eat at a Sefardic meal at which rice is served, even though by tradition, he doesn't eat the rice, unless- unless the cook is his wife as she is sefardic.)
            These grains share a scientific peculiarity. Only these five grains of all plants have a combination of four enzymes- B Amylase, A Amylase Oxydase,  and Proteinase. This is the chemistry lesson : it is just that combination of enzymes, in the presence of water, that causes the release of  carbon dioxide which causes the dough to  rise.
            So now, what is matzah?
            It's the same thing as Chametz. A matzah can only be made of those five grains,  never from corn flour, nor rice nor potato flour. Only that which  can become Chametz may be used for matzah.
            What makes the difference? Only  eighteen minutes separate the one from the other, the time between the mixing of the dough and the putting into the oven.
            How so?.
            The dough is baked in an extremely hot oven. This instantly dries up the water, before the leavening can take place, and destroys the key enzyme B Amylase. There is no leavening and  no release of carbon dioxide, the bread stays flat, and you have matzah.
            So why this oddity, this peculiarity that so much effort is made because of eighteen minutes of baking--that which is kosher throughout the year is suddenly forbidden, yet it is replaced by something made from the same source, which is now commanded. This peculiarity becomes the symbol of our liberation from bondage.
The moral lessons are plentiful.
1)     Matzah must be made new, while  Chametz can be old. Matzah must be made fresh and quickly. This is the rule for life--­we have to start each time, in life, renewed, fresh. We can not rely on last years efforts, nor allow ourselves to go stale.
2)     Matzah is simple, while  Chametz is fancy. Matzah reminds us of our ancestral simplicity in life . Chametz symbolizes  all the trappings of  human civilization. Once a year, we put some of it aside, to remember us to return to the basics of our ancestors in a simpler time.
3)      Matzah is flat, while Chametz is puffed up. A Matzah is humble and modest,  true and straight--what you see is what you get. A loaf of bread is all fluff , a lot of air, and less substance. An ounce of Matzah and an ounce of Chametz must  weigh the same, but the Chametz seems greater only because it is filled with hot air. So too, with people-- we are to be straight and honest, filled with human substance,  and not inflated for show  with vain ego.
4)      A Matzah is pure, while the Chametz has impurity in it, a souring of the dough. Matzah is our basic nature, created clean and pure. Chametz is the souring and the gas that is produced in our lives by giving in to our passions and instincts  and the choosing evil instead of good.
5)     A Matzah is fast food, while Chametz is slow.  The Torah describes the matzah as being made in haste, and that the children of Israel could not linger . Legal  contracts always say 'Time is of the essence' and that is true here. The Chametz is puffed up because we waited  too long, we missed opportunities to do good in our lives and with ourselves. The Matzah is permitted to us because we have acted speedily and resolutely.
6)      A  Matzah is poor, while Chametz is rich."Ha lahma anya  - This is the bread of poverty that our ancestors ate in Egypt." Better the poor Matzah made with hard work, than the rich Chametz,  gained by letting things spoil or earned without effort.
            That is why Chametz and matzah are so near, yet so far apart. Hence, the matzah, so poor in texture and appearance, is so rich in meaning for us as we celebrate with our families and friends through the rest of the holiday.

            Hag Kasher v'Sameach--May you have a truly Kosher for Passover holiday and a joyous celebration with all those you love. 

Words as Weapons of Murder Metzora

Words as Weapons of Murder  Metzora 
            We all should know the old Rabbinic word game of “ gematria”. That is where we pull apart a word, letter by letter, assign each letter  a number value. The next step is to find another  word whose letters have the same value, and then say “Ahah”! There’ s a connection. The best example you know is 18, because when you take the number and transpose it to its alphabetical equivalent, you get Yod for Ten, Chet for 8, reverse them , and you have “Chai” for “ Life”.
            The are many other letter games and number games. There is “ atbash” , in which the letters of the alphabet are read as if they were in revese order, so that an alef stands for a shin, a bet stands for a Taf, or “av-gad”, where the letter stands for the letter following it in the alphabet, alef for Bet, gimmel for daled. It’s a Kosher kind of Pig Latin.
            So we have another one, which comes very handy for the sages when they are stumped for an explanation,” notarikon”, where the word is taken apart and reread as if each letter were an an abbreviation. You can see that this leads to a lot of creativity.
            This is exactly what is done, in rabbinic lore, to explain the phenomenon that is described in the readings of last week and this week, Metzora. Metzora, as we understand from the reading, which translated as “ leprosy” is  not leprosy, and it is not anything that medical scientists can clearly identify—neither could the Rabbis!. It is a disease that manifests itself on the skin but also on stone buildings. The treatment is not a medical treatment but one of isolation. Therefore, the one way our sages could determine the intention of the word was to pull it apart- notarikon.
            We have in it Mem-Tzadik-Resh-Eyin. Mem-Tzadik is short for “ Motzi”- to spread out, and Resh-Ayin is the word “Ra” evil. What kind of evil can be easily spread out and only stopped by quarantine—why “ Motzi Shem Ra”- Spreading out  of an  evil and maliscious slander . That is the dangerous “skin disease” that the Torah is dealing with.

            Why would this “ condition” require treatment by isolation?
            It is because, as our sages taught, that the sin, the act of slander, is as criminal as the act of murder. Thus, number six of the Ten Commandments, which states, “ Lo Tirzach”, ” Thou shalt not Murder,” was interpreted as “Thou shalt Not Shame or Embarrass ", for insult and slander have the power of killing. They called it "Malbin pney havero" --making one's fellow's face grow pale, bloodless from shame. When one is shamed, the blood leaves the face as if one had been stabbed.
            Add to that, the commandment “ Lo Tisa” You shall not take God’s name in vain” and “ “Lo Taane ed Sheker”.You shall not bear false witness.” and we have a very tight case to be made against someone bad mouthing another.
            Words , our sages taught, was deadlier than weapons. A knife or sword, or even gun, could kill the victim, but a malicious word of slander or gossip could kill three--the victim, the slanderer, and the people who listened to slander. Think of the power of words unleashed by skillful propagandists like Hitler , think of the millions who died as a result, and you see my point.
            Why do I mention this in particular?  
            Because I believe that our words--our language, our tone of voice, in our every day usage, has grown to become a monster.
            Here is my point from a noted journalist, Nina Easton, back in the 90’s ( which seems so last century):
            Cutting insults, crude put-downs, and vulgar viscious personal lampoons are dominating mainstream entertainment.  . .
            She continues:
            " American pop culture is rich with examples of misogyny, racism and homophobia,Need some Anti-semitism? The syndicated TV series" Uptown Comedy Club recently featured a skit about the law firm of "Judacy", where Hasidic lawyers sing, "I really want to sue you, I really want to overcharge you."
            Perhaps, though, the media, print, television, radio, cinema, perhaps they have no impact. Perhaps they neither impact our society, nor reflect our society. What about our innocent children--surely they are different. So grade school children , reflecting their parents thoughts, have a popular song. Forget " Mary had a little lamb."Try this one:
I shot my teacher with a .44 gun//I didn't miss her, her class was no fun//... I took a bazooka and blew off her head."
             Let no one say that these are mere words, that words have no impact, that people are merely spouting off, to vent themselves.
            Ask any dictator if he believes that words have no impact. Dictators are often put in power by their creative abuse of the word, and dictators stay in power, by controlling what anyone else may say.
            If words can have the power to keep our democracy alive and vital, they can also serve to undermine our society.
            Increasingly, researchers speak of the meanness " of our society, of the" psychological violence" that pervades everyday language.  It pervades our politics. Look at our language of public discourse. Democrats and Republicans, Reds and Blues, especially over the course of the tenures of the past and current Presidents, use exceedingly strident language against each other.
            It pervades our children, who go on line, and take the Metzora and spred it virally on facebook, twitter, and other apps.
            I had mentioned Hitler. You know that Hitler’s mentor was a journalist and a socialist leader. This journalist who understood the power of the printed and spoken word. he understood how language could be used to galvanize a people to evil, and how , through language, violence could be made a sacred goal in itself, how, through language, one people could be pitted against another people. Benito Mussolini's fascism, which is still echoed today, begins in the house, nursery, in the schools.
            Fascism and Nazism saw in Judaism there direct enemy, for Judaism believes and teaches the opposite.
            Six hundred years ago, a simple Jew of the town of Mayence, in the Rhineland, left his children with this message, it is a classical Jewish message, to the nature of language and our words:
            I earnestly beg my children to be tolerant and humble to all, as I was throughout my life. Should cause for dissension present itself, be slow to accept the quarrel; seek peace and pursue it with all the vigor at your command. Even if you suffer loss thereby, forbear and forgive, for God has many ways of feeding and sustaining his creatures. To the slanderer, do not retaliate with counterattack; and though it be proper to rebut false accusations, yet it is most desirable to set an example of reticence. You yourselves must avoid uttering any slander, for so will you win affection. In trade be true, never grasping at what belongs to another. For by avoiding these wrongs, -scandal, falsehood, money-grubbing---men will surely find tranquility and affection. And against all evils, silence is the best safeguard."
            A lot of radio talk show hosts, politicians and gossip columnists may go bankrupt if they follow this advice but life would be so much nicer for us all, wouldn’t it..
            At the end of the Amidah, there is a personal prayer, Alohai neztor leshoni--My God, guard my tongue from evil, a nd my lips from uttering deceit. One of the great Jewish teachers of the past century, Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen, was known by the title of his book, Hafetz Chayim--Seek life. It reflects on the theme of that prayer, and the verse of the psalms, which says: Who is the man who seeks life, and length of days to see good? Just hold your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile." Language, he taught, was the basis of all the evils in our lives, and also the basis for building and creating the good life.

            How do we cure the plague of Metzora—our verbal contagion? We do so by starting with ourselves. We refuse to participate in maligning any one, we teach that to our children and grandchildren. We counter it with acts of " Gemilut Hasadim", acts of lovingkindness' .'These acts begin with our words. This is our medicine, this is our surgical procedure, this is our “occupational therapy.” We remove formour mouths “ Sinat Hinam”—Groundless hatred of our fellow, and replace it with Ahavat Hinam- Groudless love of our fellow.” May our words always be words of truth-not of deceit, words of healing-not of harming, words of shalom, peace, never of violence, words of ahavat hinam, causeless love, never of sinat hinam, useless hate. Amen