November 18, 2018

I Need a Camel Like I Need an Umbrella – A Poem for Haftarah Ki Tavo by Rick Lupert

These are the benefits entitled to us, according to
the prophet who speaks on behalf of the Benefit Giver

A gross darkness [shall cover] the kingdoms

Eww. The implication here is we are not part of the kingdoms
and a whole special light will, hopefully, light that grossness
right out of the realm of our perceptibility.

your heart shall be startled and become enlarged

I’m no heart-ologist, but is this medically sound?
I realize You’re the One who invented all this biology
but I had a cat die once and the veterinarian told me
his heart was too big. So as long as you know
what you’re doing.

A multitude of camels shall cover you.

A couple things here: Would it be alright if I
stick with an umbrella, or a blanket, or even just
the clothes I’ve got on. Living in the shadows of
camels feels weird to me. Also, if you have to go
in that direction, I’m not that big and think only
one camel will suffice.

All the sheep of Kedar shall be gathered to you.

Okay. You make it sound like that’s going to be
a lot of sheep. I’m not allowed to feed the outside cats
anymore as that’s how it started with the five we have
inside now. Can I just pay a fee to make sure the
sheep are taken care of, or go to someone who
has unlimited room for sheep?

to bring to you the wealth of the nations

This sounds great! I’ve got a lot of funds I’ve been
meaning to get going. There’s already the meager
college fund for our nine year old. But then there’s the
move to a nicer neighborhood fund, and the buy a
hybrid car fund (I’m only thinking of the planet).
All the wealth of the nations could really help out here.

And you shall suck the milk of the nations.

OK, is this mandatory to get the wealth? I feel most
humans are lactose intolerant after we’re weaned
from our mothers. The whole Got Milk campaign feels
like a bit of a sham. Oh Creator of biology, is this
the phlegm you had in mind?

I shall make your rulers righteousness

This sounds great right about now. The news keeps
reminding me, our rulers don’t even know how to
spell the word righteous, let alone act in a manner
that lives up to that word.

Your sun shall no longer set, neither shall your moon
God will be an everlasting light.

Is this what it’s like in Alaska? I hear black-out curtains
is doing a killer business up there. I’m going to visit
just to get a taste of what You’re offering. I’ll think of you
when I see the Aurora Borealis.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Ki Tavo (in which God and the Jewish people ‘make it official’) by Rick Lupert

I
Wheat, barley, dates, figs
grapes, pomegranates, olives –
The first ones are God’s

II
Tithes is a word that
makes me feel like I should go
and see a dentist

III
God and the Jewish
people make it official
like sweet Valentines

IV
All that we have done
and all we’ll do – carved on stones
pulled from a river

V
We shout blessings and
curses to two mountains – What
did they ever do?

VI
For the love of God
please don’t curse my kneading bowl
I’ll follow the rules

VII
Gifts – A heart to know,
eyes to see, and ears to hear
Creation goes on


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Torah portion: The secret to happiness

We all want to be happy. Yet, happiness is elusive, and even defining happiness is a challenge. 

Throughout our history, we have turned to the Torah for wisdom and guidance. Does the Torah have anything to say about happiness? A line in this week’s Torah portion may provide the key to unlocking its secret.

Ancient Israel was an agrarian society. The rhythm of their lives was set to the cycle of planting and harvesting. The uncertainty of life was most exaggerated from spring to summer as the nation anxiously awaited the fruits of its labor. Accordingly, the first fruits of the harvest season were especially treasured and appreciated. 

The Torah commands the farmers of Israel to make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem with the first fruits of their bounty. This produce was delivered to the priest as a gift called Bikkurim. The farmer would then make a proclamation that chronicles a condensed version of the history of the Jewish people, recounting the story of our forefathers traveling to Egypt, the bitter years of slavery, the sweet experience of salvation, the entry to the land of Israel — a land flowing with milk and honey — and how it has all led up to this very moment in which every farmer is bringing gifts to the Temple.

When the farmer concludes his proclamation, the verse says: “And you shall rejoice in all the good which the Lord, your God has given to you.” (Deuteronomy 26:11) Now the farmer is happy.

I always find this verse surprising. I think that I would be happy when the first fruits appeared. I would be happy when I knew that the crops would yield produce. Why would I be happy now, after a pro-forma proclamation?

We are accustomed to the idea that it feels good when we are validated and acknowledged by others. When another person validates my feelings or experience, I feel good. I think some people might even say that being validated could make a person happy. What we see in this verse is that validation actually makes the validator happy!

When the farmer sees the crops are growing, the farmer feels validated. All the hard work and all the fears of uncertainty were not in vain. The farmer feels validated by God. That feels great — but that’s not happiness.

Real happiness comes when the farmer validates and acknowledges God. The farmer verbalizes the internal feelings of appreciation and this makes the farmer happy. Now the farmer is happy. 

This is the secret of Bikkurim. In order to maximize the farmer’s harvest experience and to feel the greatest elation possible, the Torah commands the farmer to acknowledge the Source of the harvest. That is what will give the farmer the greatest joy.

It is so important that we feel validated in our lives. We definitely feel good when we are acknowledged by others, but it is not the key to happiness. True happiness is when we give that validation to others.

The message here is not that God is the Giver of all things. That’s a given in the context of the Torah. The message here is that whenever we are the beneficiary of kindness or generosity, we have an opportunity to create happiness. If we acknowledge the giver, we make the giver feel good, but we also make ourselves happy.

It’s important to consider the inverse as well. With so many people stuck in the doldrums or simply seeking more happiness in their lives, it is possible that they don’t feel enough joy because they are looking in all the wrong places. Neglecting to validate others might be what is making so many of us unhappy. When we are the beneficiaries of a kindness and we do not acknowledge the giver, we can even begin to feel resentment toward the giver. 

The cumulative effect of this discomfort gnaws at our consciousness. It’s so counterintuitive to think that the kindness of others is making us unhappy, so we don’t even realize that it could be the answer to our sorrow. If we do not properly acknowledge kindness toward us, we are bound to feel a sort of sadness because we have failed to acknowledge others. I think this is one of the biggest causes of unhappiness. 

It’s in our hands to create happiness. Remember the lesson of Bikkurim. Say thank you. Acknowledge the goodness done toward you. It’s good for that person, and it’s even better for you.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink is an Orthodox rabbi, writer and teacher in Beverly Hills. He blogs at finkorswim.com.

The Well-Blessed Person

This week’s portion, Ki Tavo, is best known for its bikkurim (first fruits) passages, the verses we are commanded to recite when bringing our first fruits to the Kohen at the Temple in Jerusalem (Devarim 26:5-10). You will recognize the text as one of the most frequently quoted passages in the Torah because it comprises the core of the Passover seder service, as it concisely recounts the story of travel to and enslavement in Egypt and ultimate liberation.

Ki Tavo also is the source for the blessings the nation will recite at Mount Gerizim and the curses at Mount Eyval, when they will enter the Promised Land. And, indeed, when the Jews enter the land, they proceed to the Mountains of Blessing and Curse as they have been commanded (Joshua 8:30-35).

Less frequently discussed, our portion also shares a fascinating insight into human nature, as well as the distinction between grumbling and satisfaction. Our teacher, Moshe Rabbeinu, looks at the nation, as his time on earth almost is done, and essentially asks them: “Uh, has anyone here ever noticed that, through 40 years’ peregrinating through the desert and trekking to a land that unexpectedly proved to be a generation away, no one’s garments ever wore out? Or that no one’s sandals ever wore out? Like, has anyone among the millions of us ever noticed that?”

OK, Moshe does not literally ask it as a question; rather, he states an observation. But, to me, it sure sounds like a question: “You have seen all that [Hashem] has done before your eyes in Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land – the great miracles that your eyes have seen, the great signs and wonders. [Yet, Hashem] has not given you a [discerning] heart to understand and eyes to see and ears to hear until today. I led you on this 40-year wilderness trek, and your garments never wore out on your bodies, and your shoes never wore out on your feet” (Deuteronomy 29:1-4).

The reference hearkens back to Devarim (8:2-4): “And you should remember the entirety of this journey that [He] has walked you through the desert these 40 years…. And He fed you the manna – [a food] that you did not know, and that your ancestors did not know, [all] in order to educate you that man does not live by bread alone but, rather, man lives by all that comes from God’s mouth. Your garment never wore out, nor did your foot swell these 40 years.”

This is quite a thing. It is dramatic. Indeed, in the Book of Joshua, we encounter a terrified people, the inhabitants of Giv’on, desperately trying to fool the Jews into entering a promise that Joshua and Israel will not make war on them. Joshua’s armies have been unstoppable since entering the land, as one nation after another has fallen to Hashem’s promise to give the land to our people as an eternal inheritance, and the proximate Giv’onites reel from the fear of their own destruction. So the Giv’onites dress themselves in profoundly worn-out, patched shoes and worn-out garments (Joshua 9:5), correctly relying on that appearance to convince Joshua they are not locals. Joshua sees them, and he infers they truly must have come from a far distant land. Why else would they wear such worn-out shoes and garments?

So, if the physical deterioration of clothing and footwear is so obvious a sign of distant travel, and if the Jews have not sustained any such wear through 40 years of wandering in the desert, why does Moshe need to point it out to them? Isn’t it obvious?

Apparently, it’s not obvious to every person how good things are when things are good. Feed a person manna from heaven, and he wants quail. Give him the Torah, give him a Promised Land, lead him through battle without a defeat – and he wants to turn back at the first intimation of challenge and risk.

And it is not only a biblical-era phenomenon. Famous actors and actresses have all the fame and money they could ask for. But, for them, yesterday’s fun – literally, the fun of just a few hours ago – is forgotten. In their relentless pursuit of new thrills, they seem unable to pause and just say, “I am satisfied.”

Are we all that different? When we are sick, we are miserable – sneezing, coughing, sore throat. But when we go months consecutively in good health, do we pause to think: “Thank you God for blessing me with such remarkably good health, despite all my moving parts”? When life is good – we have employment while others face worse, we have friends who stand by us, and our significant others care about us – do we realize how blessed we are? Frankly, we have it so good that, even if a pair of shoes wears well and garments remain intact, we comfortably buy new wardrobes to remain fashionable. Do we thank God with a blessing – “Shehecheyanu” – for bringing us to this day?

So why do some of us always kvetch and complain, constantly needing reminders of the miracles of God’s daily blessings?

I don’t know. But in the face of the kvetchers, all we need do to remain happy is remember the blessings we receive every day – not only the miracles and the wonders, but also just the good stuff. The simple stuff. The garments that do not wear out and the shoes that last.

Rabbi Dov Fischer is adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School and rav of Beth Jacob Congregation of Irvine.

Kids Page

A Reason to Obey

This Shabbat we read the portion of Ki Tavo. In it, Moses tells the Israelites that if they obey all the commandments, they will be blessed with good food, good weather and a good life. But if they disobey the commandments, they will be cursed with misfortune.

I do not believe that God punishes people for not obeying him. Rather, people often cause their own misfortune by not learning from their mistakes, and I think that is what the Torah is telling us. The victims of Hurricane Katrina did not, by any means, bring this natural disaster upon themselves. We know that no one deserves to go through such horrors — and we need to reach out as much as possible to help.

Kids Can Help Katrina Victims

A Call to Jewish Schools

Please send us details and photos of the hurricane relief

efforts happening

in your schools.

We will publish them on the Kids Page.

Send all information to abbygilad@yahoo.com.

Here is a list of things you can donate to hurricane victms.

Put the vowels in the right places to fill in the blanks:

P __ L L __ W S

B L __ N K __ T S

C __ N S __ F F __ __ D

B R __ S H __ S

T __ __ T H B R __S H __ S

S H __ __ T S

Vowels: AAEEEEEIOOOOOOUU

Bring new items to

Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave, Tarzana.

It is the regional collection site for disaster relief supplies. For more information, call (818) 758-3800, ext. 213.

Helping Hand

Here are three ways you can raise money for the hurricane victims.

Unscramble the words:

K A E B A S L E

R A G E G A S E A L

E O M D E A L N L E S A

Once you’ve collected money.,visit www.jewishjournal.com/local/HurricaneRelief.php to choose how you want to help.

How much money has the Los Angeles Jewish community already raised?

a. $100,000

b. $250,000

c. $500,000

d. More than $1 million!