Wisdom from the Septuagint: Do Not Blaspheme Gods

Translations of the Bible often reveal more about a translator’s world view than they do about the actual text. Once we decipher the context, a translation reveals something that is hidden to the reader.

This is especially the case with respect to one of the more straightforward passages pertaining to the laws of blasphemy found in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Mishpatim. The verse that is relevant to this passage reads, “You shall not revile God… (Exod. 22:28).

Blasphemy, you say? Blasphemy laws have been out of vogue for centuries. The U.S. Constitution as defined by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .”

Just imagine what our country would be like if critics of religion like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Cristopher Hitchens had not offered their sharply worded barbs against religious and iconic people and the institutions they represent.

Arguably, blasphemers may actually provide a necessary public service in helping us correct the excesses of religion. If nothing else, the critics of religion keep us honest and accountable. Lampooning religious beliefs whether in the press or at gatherings is considered fair game. Anyone attempting to limit free speech is guilty of censorship. Moreover, this applies to all faiths. The government has no right to get involved in cases involving real or imagined attacks upon any given religious doctrine.

Yet, as straightforward as this position might be, Jewish history has sometimes taken a different perspective. Toward the beginning of the Common Era, Jews found themselves living in a world that was full of graven images; their neighbors believed in a pantheon of deities. The scholars who translated the Septuagint deliberately subverted the biblical law.

Their textual reading reflected a very different understanding about the nature of blasphemy—one predicated upon a philosophy of expedience and Jewish survival “You shall not revile gods…”

Not only is blaspheming God a sign of extreme disrespect, so is blaspheming the gods of other peoples. Anyone reading this might wonder: Wait a minute, the Bible is famous for its polemics against paganism and idolatry. How can the translators of the Greek Bible ignore this fact?

Philo offers an important explanation, “Since the entire inhabited world is full of statues and images, and similar constructions, it is most prudent for us to refrain from speaking insultingly of these national deities, lest any of Moses’ disciples fall into the habit of treating lightly the name “god” in general, for it is a title worthy of the highest respect and love. Philo was not the only one who felt this way. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus echoes Philo’s words, “Let no one blaspheme gods whom other cities believe in, nor rob foreign temples, nor take a treasure that has been consecrated to some god.”

Why did these thinkers take a view that almost inverts the meaning of the biblical verse? We know from the story of Purim how dangerous anti-Semites can be to a Jewish community struggling to survive in the Diaspora.

Any Jew disrespecting a pagan belief not only endangered himself, he also endangered other members of the Jewish community. In Alexandria, during the first century, over 50,000 Jews were murdered by anti-Semites. Jewish life in one of the most dynamic and ethnically rich ancient cities proved dangerous at times.

Jewish history bears witness to this sad historical reality—even as we see it today unfold in our communities.

When we think about the recent vandalism that we have witnessed in Jewish cemeteries, threats to blow up JCC’s in our country, Jews in the United States have been complacent for a very long time. We have enemies on the far right, as well as enemies who are on the far left. Hating Jews has become fashionable in some circles.

Whether from the right, or from the left, Jews still have plenty of enemies who seem to be coming out of their hiding places. Hating Jews, Zionists, and Israelis seem fashionable in certain places—especially on the university campuses.
As the vanguard of Western democracies, Jews often meet stiff resistance from those on the political right. In hard times, everyone loves a scapegoat—enter the Jew.

A week ago, the Forward featured an article about the comedian Sarah Silverman who on more than one occasion said, “I hope the Jews did kill Christ…I’d F_cking do it again in a second.” Granted Silverman is a comic, and a mediocre one at best (in my opinion), but her thoughtless comments can infuriate certain Christians who may have a latent hatred toward the Jew.

As a minority people, we have had more than our fair share of enemies threatening to kill us and complete the job started by Hitler in the early 20th century.

As Jews, we have often been our own worst enemies. Pogo famously said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

Anti-Semitism is a lot like a virus; it may remain dormant, but sooner or later it will awaken and explode. The words of the ancient Jewish thinkers of the first century offer us some practical advice. Don’t exacerbate hatred by making thoughtless insults about another person’s religion. In addition, the laws against blasphemy remind religious people not to behave in a manner that inspires hate, ridicule, and revulsion.

Judaic wisdom from the Hellenistic era offers a sober prescription for the modern world.

*
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  He may be contacted via michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Symbolism of the Breastplate Stones

 

Note: I wrote this back in 1988 and it probably needs a new revision. But for those who find such topics interesting, here it is for your enjoyment.

Q.  What were the types of stones used in Aaron’s breastplate? What were the reasons a particular stone represented a particular tribe?

A. Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Exodus 28, noted that we really have no way to positively identifying the stones that were set in the breastplate and that when Saadia translated these stones as he saw fit, and had no tradition to rely upon. Ibn Ezra’s point is very important, for anything we say about this subject is nothing more than conjecture. The problem is especially compounded when we consider that there is no agreement as to what tribe corresponded to the correct stone. In light of this, let’s wade our way through these murky waters and see how these stones have been identified. Some scholars have attempted to establish a relationship between the 12 stones in Aaron’s breastplate, the 12 months of the year, and the 12 signs in the zodiac; however, there is no evidence of this in Scripture. Precious stones are used in Scripture in a figurative sense, to signify value, beauty, durability. Philo of Alexandria felt that each stone correspond exactly to the temperament of each given tribe.

 The First Row of Stones:

Odem ‑‑sardius, or, ruby. Ex 39:10. The Hebrew odem, from adam, to be red, ruddy, seems to denote the ruby; as adam does in Persian a beautiful gem, of a fine deep red color, with a mixture of purple. Jb 28:18. Pr 3:15. 8:11. 20:15. 31:10. La 4:7. The Targum of Yonatan identifies this stone with the tribe of Rueben; some identify this stone with the tribe of Judah. [Note that Judah was known for his passionate nature, as was Rueben]

Pitdah ‑‑ is constantly rendered by the LXX. topadzion, and Vulgate, topazius, with which agrees Josephus. The topaz is a precious stone, of a pale, dead green, with a mixture of yellow, sometimes of a fine yellow; and hence called chrysolyte by the moderns, from its gold color. Job 28:19. According to Saadia Gaon, Kimchi, and Chizkuni this stone is most likely the emerald.  According to the Septuagint, pitdah is identified with the sardian ‑‑  a deep orange‑red chalcedony considered by some to be a variety of carnelian. The Midrash in Bamidbar Rabba 2:7 identify the Pitda with Simon, while some say it was the stone of Issachar.

Bareket ‑‑ is possibly a carbuncle, from the Hebrew word Bareketh, from barak, (lightning) to lighten, glitter, a very elegant gem, of a deep red color, with a mixture of scarlet. It has been suggested that possibly the breastplate stone was not green but of bluish‑ red color, in which case it may have been an almandine (garnet). Is 54:11, 12.. Saadia notes that this stone may well have been the yellow topaz, possibly a citrine. The Midrash identifies this stone with Gad, while others identify Bareket with Benjamin

The Second Row of Stones

Nofech ‑‑ Ex 28:18. The Targum, KJV, and Bahya identify this as the emerald, others would argue that the emerald was unknown in Mosaic times. This last opinion is debatable for emeralds were recently  rediscovered in Upper Egypt, at Mt. Zabarah. and in Cyprus, and Ethiopia.

Another alternative might be turquoise which was certainly mined in Egypt during Mosaic times. Chizkuni identifies this stone with the carbuncle, whereas the Septuagint renders nofech as coal. Some identify this stone with the tribe of Judah while others identify it with the tribe of Rueben.

Sapir ‑‑  Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390‑ 405 C.E..) translates this stone as sapphirus; Pliny describes sapphirus as “refulgent with spots like gold. It is also of an azure color, though sometimes, but rarely, it is purple; the best kind being that which comes from Media. In no case, however, is this stone transparent.”  However, there is ample reason to believe that the sapphire stone of today which is really the corundum, a stone that was not known in ancient times. Pliny 37:39 and Theophrastos, a Greek scholar were of the view that the sapphire of ancient times was really the lapis lazuli.  The Midrash identifies this stone with the tribe of Issachar, while other identify this stone with the tribe of Dan.

 Yahalom ‑‑  This stone has been identified as a rock crystal; clear and colorless gem,  a pearl,  or a bluish glass (considered valuable in very early times), or blue chalcedony, or perhaps even beryl. Ibn Ezra in his commentary notes that Yahalom is most likely a diamond because it has the ability to break up all other stones.  Its root word is according to Ibn Ezra derived from the Hebrew word holem which means “to smite” (Cf. Isa 41:7). Some translations of the Bible translate Yahalom as “diamond” which is incorrect for the diamond was not known before the Middle Ages. Moreover,  for the Biblical stone had a name engraved on it and the method of engraving a diamond was not invented till 2,000 or 3,000 years after the breastplate was made; nor were diamonds, if known at that time and place in history. The Midrash identifies this stone with the tribe of Zevulun, while others say it was Naphtali’s stone.

The Third Row of Stones:

Leshem‑‑ This stone might be jacinth, zircon; amber yellow or orange  The Septuagint renders it  as liguron . Other scholars identify it with aventurine, a quartz containing very fine crystals of hematite, limonite or mica, which sparkle when the light catches them. It has also been identified as  turquoise which is used in jewelry. This stone may have been a  tourmaline, or more definitely the red variety known as rubellite.  Rubellite is a hard stone, and used as a gem, and is sometimes sold for red sapphire. The Midrash associates this stone with the tribe of Dan because the city of Leshem was located in his tribe [Cf. Joshua 19:47].

She’voh‑‑‑  Variegated black and white agate; The Septuagint identifies this stone as  achatis. This  identification with agate is accepted by all scholars.  White‑gray agates were found in Egypt. This is a stone that assumes such a variety of hues and appearances it may  derive its name from the root shuv  (heb 7725), “to turn, to change”; and are capable of changing its appearance without end. Some identify Midrashic sources identify this stone with the tribe of Naphtali, while others suggest it was the stone of Asher or Menashe.

Achlamah  ‑‑‑ which the Septuagint renders as  ‘amethustos  the Greek word for without being drunk’ the Greeks believed that this stone was supposed to  prevent inebriation. This a gem generally is purple or violet in color. Pliny says that it was crimson, that there were four shades of that color and that it was translucent. Ibn Ezra writes that the amethyst was sometimes identified as the dream stone, for it was could induce dreams in anyone who wears it. [note that the word achlamah is related to the Hebrew word  for dream “cholem.” The Targum identifies this stone with the tribe of Gad or Issachar. If this is indeed the dream stone, then it seem logical to identify this stone with Joseph.

The Fourth Row of  Stones

Tarshish ‑‑beryl, a precious stone of a sea‑ green color. Emerald and aquamarine are two types of beryl. It may also be citrine quartz or green jasper; The Septuagint calls this  chrisolythos or  berullion; . In the Hellenistic period this name was applied to the topaz, a stone not known in the earlier periods. Now believed to have been identical with mother‑of‑ pearl. Jerome’s  Vulgate translates it as the hyacinthus. Beryl  is a transparent gem of a bluish‑green colour, found in the East Indies [Saadia, Kimchi and the KJV].  Only the green beryl was known and used in Egypt in Moses’ time, the aquamarine and the yellow and white beryls not being known. The name Tarshish is also the ancient Biblical name for Spain, and if this applies here, then we may assume that it is the yellow rock crystal or citrine quartz. known as “chrysolith” according to Pliny (Natural History, xxxvii. 43). This stone is identified with the tribe of Zebulon who dwelled by the sea (Bahya).

Shoham ‑‑ Onyx sardonyx; variegated red and white Onyx is a member of the agate family and is characterized by its non‑transparency and its parallel layers of alternating colors, as red and white, brown and white, black and white. The Vulgate translates it as the sardonyx, a red and white variegated gem. New English Bible renders shoham as “(red) carnelian.” which is frequently found in the desert. In the Book of Job, Job regarded God’s wisdom as a greater possession than even  costly onyx  (Job 28:16). The Targum identifies this stone with the tribe of Asher.

Yashfeh ‑‑  Jasper jasper; green ; the jasper stone was originally  carved by the Babylonians and was usually green and sometimes even transparent. The Greek and Latin jaspis, and has been found in excavations in ancient Judea and in the neighboring countries. This stone may possibly be the opal or jade or green quartz. The Midrash identifies this stone with the tribe of Naphtali or Benjamin.

According to Philo, Josephus, Maimonides, Rashi, the four rows was arranged according to the order of their birth, others suggest that the rows corresponded to they encamped in the wilderness (T.B. Yoma 73b, Saadia, and the Abravanel). According to the Minchat Chinuch, the rows were arranged vertically by the order of birth (cf. Kaplan’s Living Torah for more details). The purpose of the choshen (breastplate) was to remind the High Priest that he had to represent the Jewish people wherever he would go, and that he was their servant at all times.

I would like to make a few concluding comments about the purpose of these stones and why they were so important .Stones had a wide range of  meanings in the ancient world. They represented   indestructibility, constancy, the unyielding, and dominance. Many of the transparent shiny stones symbolically represented the synthesis of earthly matter bound up with the brilliance of spiritual.  These gems represented clarity and light, and were used by the High Priest when he meditated on the Urim ve Tumim.

At the beginning of this article, I pointed out that the twelve stones corresponded to the twelve signs of the Zodiac. There is also a stone for every month, and these are often featured in brooches inscribed with zodiacal signs portraying a person’s horoscope. According to Eliade, stones were adored by the ancients because they were believed to be instruments of spiritual action and vitality. These stones were believed by many peoples throughout history as carrying the charisma of the sun, the moon and the seven planets. Yellow and white stones bore the influence of the sun, blue stones were associated with the heavenly realm [Cf. the color of techeylet found in the Tzitzit symbolizing the heavens and the waters], red stones bore the influence of Mars and passion, Venus was associated with green stones such as the emerald, Saturn was characterized by black stones such as onyx and so on. These stones were used also as a weapon warding off the baneful influence of the evil eye.

Precious stones were believed to have certain curative powers. Abraham wore a precious stone, hanging from his neck, any sick person who gazed upon it was instantly healed (Bava Bathra 16b); cf. the pearl-bag worn by animals that contained a pearl for medicinal purposes. (Cf.Sanh. 68a and Rashi ad loc.). They were also believed to promote human passions and affections. According to Josephus mentions that the Essenes used precious stones for healing purposes (Wars 2:136) Beryl gives hope; emeralds brought wealth, carbuncle, energy and assurance; rubies and red agates were associated with love.

With regard to the tribes and their respective stones, we find in the Midrash

There were distinguishing signs for each prince; each had a flag and a different color for every flag, corresponding to the precious stones on the breast of Aaron… Reuben’s stone was odem and the color of his flag was red; and embroidered thereon were mandrakes. Simeon’s was pitdah and his flag was of a yellow (or green) color… Levi’s was bareqet and the color of his flag was a third white, a third black, and a third red… Judah’s was nofekh and the color of his flag was like that of the sky… Issachar’s was sappir and the color of his flag was black like stibium… Zebulun’s was yahalom and the color of his flag was white… Dan’s was leshem and the color of his flag was similar to sappir… Gad’s ahlamah and the color of his flag was neither white nor black but a blend of black and white… Asher’s was tarshish and the color of his flag was like the precious stone with which women adorn themselves… Joseph’s was shoham and the color of his flag was jet black… Benjamin’s was yashfeh and the color of his flag was a combination of all the 12 colors.[This Midrash was adapted from the Encyclopedia Judaica]

 

Shirley MacLaine: Aging Without Saging

 Shirley MacLaine is a better actress than she is a philosopher or theologian. Jewish groups are justifiably upset with some comments she penned in her new memoir, “What If… A Lifetime of Questions, Speculations, Reasonable Guesses, and a Few Things I Know For Sure.”

The quote that is generating a lot of criticism suggest, the six million Jews and others who died in the Holocaust were “balancing their karma” by paying for sins in a previous life.  But MacLaine did not stop with just the six-million Jews, or for that matter the other eighteen million people killed by one man’s hatred, she also compared  Stephen Hawking to Jesus, writing that just as Jesus chose martyrdom, Hawking “chose to live” with a debilitating disease.

Gee, that must make the Holocaust survivors along with their children really great knowing that somehow, they “karmically” managed to survive. As  a child of an Auschwitz survivor and as a parent of an ALS child, I take great offense to her words.

Let us briefly examine MacLaine’s comments:

  • What if most Holocaust victims were balancing their karma from ages before, when they were Roman soldiers putting Christians to death, the Crusaders who murdered millions in the name of Christianity, soldiers with Hannibal, or those who stormed across the Near East with Alexander? The energy of killing is endless and will be experienced by the killer and the killee.” (pp. 240-241)

Over twenty-years ago, I encountered this kind of muddled thinking once before.  On one occasion I debated a Religious Science minister who said  something almost identical to MacLaine. The minister claimed that if a young child is raped or mutilated, it is I order to clear the child’s soul of his/her “karmic debt.” The Church of Religious Science is an example of a New Age religion sometime ago in the 1980s—based on the metaphysical theosophical thought of Ernst Holmes. Although Holmes never advocated anything that was even remotely similar to what this minister asserted, many of his disciples seemed to developed this idea on their own.

The popular New Age self-help writer, Louise Hay, author of  the NY Times best-seller “You Can Heal Your Life” maintains that every human being is responsible for creating every circumstance that occurs in one’s life. According to her, all disease comes from a lack of self-love and unwillingness to forgive others. This is true regardless whether you have headaches or hemorrhoids—all disease comes from a failure to “love yourself.”

A Pulitzer prize journalist named Michael D’Antonio wrote about a conversation he had with Hay. Her views on Third World nations and AIDS victims prove to be revealing:

  • People starve amid the “abundance of the universe” because of low self-esteem,” said Hay. “A poor self-image is more damaging than one might expect and attracts the kind of experience that seems appropriate. That’s why, she said, women who are raped are responsible for what happens to them. They attract the rapist because they expect and fear an attack. Similarly, the poor of the world are responsible for their plight, as are those afflicted with AIDS…[1]

In another conversation, D’Antonio commented about Hay’s remarks regarding the Holocaust. She mused that the AIDS victims were the reincarnated souls of the Nazis, who were being paid back for “their crimes against the Jews!”

And the Jews? Well, they too deserved their “karmic fate.” [2]

For Jews, this is nothing new. We have been accused of karmic crimes for a long time. Unfortunately, many of the Christian world’s greatest theological minds—ancient and modern—expressed  ideas that also resonated with MacLaine’s view of karma. After the night of  Dietrich Bonhoeffer became famous for saying on the night of Kristallnacht, ““If the synagogues are set on fire today, it will be the churches that will be burned tomorrow.” But who would imagine him, saying only minutes later to one of his colleagues, “that the Nazis were merely giving what was owed to the Jews. After all, “they nailed the Redeemer of the world to the cross,” they had been forced to bear an eternal curse through a long history of suffering, one that would end only “in the conversion of Israel to Christ”?[3]

Here is one more example of Bonhoeffer’s animus against the Jews:

  • The Church of Christ has never lost sight of the thought that the “chosen people” who nailed the redeemer of the world to the cross must bear the curse for its action through a long history of suffering…. But the history of the suffering of this people, loved and punished by God, stands under the sign of the final homecoming of Israel [the Jews] to its God. And this homecoming happens in the conversion of Israel to Christ…. The conversion of Israel, that is to be the end of the people’s period of suffering. From here the Christian Church sees the history of the people of Israel with trembling, as God’s own, free, fearful way with his people, because God is not yet finished with it. Each new attempt to solve “the Jewish question” comes to naught…[4]

Deicide is not a new accusation, it goes back to the earlier period of Christian history.[5] All of these attempts to explain the suffering of the Jews ignores what I believe to be the only truth worth discussing: Karmic reasons play no role whatsoever in why one people  suffers and not another. When looking at the real causes of human suffering, one thing is clear. Human beings are responsible for the moral evil they perpetuate against other people. Continue reading “Shirley MacLaine: Aging Without Saging”

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi — A Rebbe to Remember

Reb Zalman 2005.jpg

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1924-2014) died on July 3rd this past week. The world has lost of one its greatest and most imaginative modern Rebbes of modern times. In the early sixties, he and Shlomo Carlbach were among the earliest followers of Rabbi Schneersohn and their success set the standard for generations of Chabad shiluchim (emissaries).

My experience with Reb Zalman goes back almost four decades to when I was about nineteen years old.  Reb Zalman often used to travel to the Bay Area where he would do a variety of workshops.

In the summer of 1973,  I vividly remember him wearing a rainbow colored Tallit on Shabbat. When I asked him about the significance of his tallit, I remember him explaining to me how each color corresponded to a color of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.

I knew right away that Reb Zalman thought outside the box! Reb Zalman gave me a glimpse of what life might look like outside of Lubavitch.

After returning from vacation, I asked my teachers about him. Chabadniks often describe him as brilliant but somewhat wayward, a maverick of sorts. According to one narrative, young Zalman Schachter asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe if he could succeed him as the next Rebbe of Lubavitch. The Rebbe smiled and politely declined his offer, and said, “I hope that the Moshiach (Messiah) will replace me.”

Over the decades, Reb Zalman outgrew Lubavitch, and he subsequently became his own kind of Rebbe. As a modern Jewish visionary, he was one of the early exponents of interfaith dialogue that went far beyond the stodgy world of Jewish-Christian dialogue. Reb Zalman created bridges of mutual understanding with the Buddhist, Sufi, Hindu, and other religious traditions. He incorporated many of their techniques (e.g., Dervish-dancing) and meditation into Judaism.

He was also the first American Rabbi to be invited by the Dali Lama, who wanted to understand the mystery and lessons of Jewish survival for his own Tibetan community.  Reb Zalman was a pioneer and a visionary who sought to create a new kind of Jewish spirituality that would attract many young Jews who became disillusioned by the vapid and rote forms of Judaism that remain endemic of modern Jewish life.  He often had workshops designed to teach rabbis about the importance of silence—not an easy task indeed!

In my lifetime, I have known some outstanding spiritual teachers. I will remember Reb Zalman and R. Akiba Greenberg as two great giants of spirit who left a lasting influence on me. They were both in many ways, kindred spirits who also personally knew each other.

In retrospect, I would have to say that Reb Zalman had a much greater impact on me than Rabbi Schneersohn. Reb Zalman’s smile was contagious; he was always approachable.  Reb Zalman always took a sincere and personal concern all of his students and followers spirituality. He often recommended interesting meditative exercises to open my spirit to new possibilities. At times, he could be at times painfully honest—but always in a gentle sort of way. Often times, he offered advice to me that I did not solicit. Every year, I would always call him and see how he was doing and his memory was always sharp even to the end. A few months ago, he gave me a lovely recommendation on the cover of my new book, A Shepherd’s Song: The Shepherd Metaphor in Psalm 23 and in Jewish Thought.

As we grew older, Reb Zalman always used to say that we must go “from aging to saging,” a theme that later became of his most important books. For baby-boomers, this is wonder advice for all of us to remember.

Another one of the most important lessons he bequeathed unto a new generation of Jewish spiritual teachers is the importance of learning how to find their own spiritual voice. He also understood the power of the synagogue as a spiritual crucible for renewal and new possibilities.

His love for Jews of all backgrounds made him one of our most endeared rabbinical figures of modern times.

A great man has passed away and all who knew him will miss him.

Creating an Inner Space for God to Dwell

 

 As Creator, and the Source of our being, God continuously brings our existence out of the abyss of nothingness, and is renewed with the possibility of new life.  God’s love and compassion is bio-centric and embraces the universe in its totality.  God’s power is not all-powerful (in the simplistic sense); nor is it coercive in achieving this end, but is all-relational in His capacity to relate to the world—even suffer with it as well. God’s love initiates new beginnings and endless possibilities ex nihilo to a suffering people. In the Exodus narrative, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה   (´e|hyè ´ášer ´e|hyè) “I will always be present as I will always be present.”

The early rabbis referred to God’s indwelling among mortals by the designation of שְׁכִינָה (“Shekhinah”), which signifies, “that which dwells.” The root word שָׁכֵן, (shakhen), or שָׁכַן, (shakhan) “to dwell,” “reside,” cf. Isaiah 60:2). Rabbinical wisdom traces this epithet of God to the well-known biblical verse,  וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם   “They shall make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst” (Exod. 25:8). Most biblical translations overlook a more literal meaning that conveys a mystical meaning, “They shall make a sanctuary for me, that  I shall dwell in them.” God dwells not outside the human heart, but within the human heart. Hence, the idea of the Shekhinah best means “Divine Indwelling.”

Throughout much of the Jewish midrashic and mystical literature, the rabbis depict the Shekhinah in feminine terms; this aspect of the Divine personifies God’s maternal love. Although the Shekhinah freely embraces suffering, She is not overwhelmed or defeated by human evil and stubbornness. Whenever the Shekhinah sees suffering, She identifies with the pain of her errant children, “My head is heavy; My arm is heavy.  And If God grieves  over the blood of the wicked whose blood is justifiably shed,  how much more so is the Shekhinah grieved over the blood of the just!”[1] The Shekhinah represents the part of God that each human being possesses. In William Blake’s famous depictions of Job, the observant reader will note that the face of God and the face of Job are the same. This aspect of God corresponds in biblical terms to the “image of God” that each of us bears inside us.

One Midrashic text connects the Shekhinah with the opening passage of Song of Songs 1:1, which speaks about the Lover (God) entering into the Garden (symbolizing Eden), to be alone with His beloved (symbolized by Israel):

I come to my garden, my sister, my bride; I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love.

According to the Midrash, all of Song of Songs is an extended metaphor about God’s love for Israel. The word “my garden” has Edenic overtones and significance. The term “gani” (“My garden,”) implies not just any “garden,” but specifically to “My garden,” i.e., the bridal chamber where a bride and groom consummate their love for one another. By saying “My bridal chamber,” the text mystically suggests a return to a time when God’s Being was originally present and revealed.

The Midrash teaches that when Moses built the Tabernacle, the Shekhinah returned to co-inhabit the earth just as She did in the days of Eden before the primal couple’s great fall. In Eden, God “walked” alongside mortals (Gen 3:8). However, after the primal couple sinned, the Shekhinah began retreating Her Presence from the earthly realm. Bereft of Her divine intimacy, Adam and his wife hid themselves because they felt alienated from the deepest dimension of their souls.  Adam’s spiritual stature underwent a radical reduction.

However, the Shekhinah’s mystical ascent was far from finished, for when Cain murdered his brother Abel, the Feminine Presence felt disgusted with human violence and retreated unto the second level of Heaven in a panic. Alas, Her ascent away from the earth still continued;  Enosh forgot his Creator when he worshiped idols, so the Shekhinah retreated to the third level; after watching more of man’s inhumanity to man, a flood occurs, and the saddened Shekhinah retreats because She could not watch Her children perish. With the passage of time, the Shekhinah develops revulsion for violence. Once again, human cruelty chased Her, one more degree away from the earth.

After the Tower Builders announced their designs to conquer the heavens, the Shekhinah retreated yet another degree because she found human arrogance repugnant. The violence of the Sodomites upset Her even more, as she wanted nothing to do with men because of their barbarism and sadism. The Shekhinah’s withdrawal from the world reached Her zenith after the Egyptians mistreated their fellow earthly brothers and sisters, by enslaving the Israelites to a life of suffering and pain. She could not bear to watch. She wondered, “Could the rift with humanity get any worse than this?”

However, the Shekhinah could not remain in a permanent state of estrangement from humanity—despite its errant ways. Abraham was the first to recognize the Shekhinah’s reality and he sought to make her more intimate with mortals once more. Isaac’s willingness to die for Her, as a show of his love and devotion, made the Shekhinah yearn yet more for intimacy with mortals. Through his many struggles within himself, Jacob comes to discover the Shekhinah’s luminosity and beauty and finally understands the true meaning of blessing.

In an effort to purge himself from the violence that defiled his life after he and his brother Simeon massacred the inhabitants of Shechem (Gen. 34-31), Levi sought to renew his relationship with Her. The Shekhinah pitied this pathetic excuse for a human being and granted him a peacefulness of mind. She was determined to make Levi’s descendants do penance for their forefather’s crimes against humanity  by making them serve as priests to their Maker. She mused, “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future–this applies even to Levi!”

The Shekhinah brought Yochebed and Amram together, and they became the parents of Moses—the liberator of Israel.  Mysteriously, She finds herself drawn back to the earth. With Moses, the Shekhinah found a lover who decided to build a new home for the Divine—The Tabernacle–a place that would permanently restore Her Presence to our world, where She would walk once more with humankind. [2] From the various rabbinical texts written about the Shekhinah, She appears in a world that suffers from the ruptures of history. She is vaguely Present when the fullness of God’s reality seems absence of God in human history because of radical evil and senseless suffering. Yet, the Shekhinah is the often associated with the Spirit of God that gives shape to the chaos of Creation, forming it into a cosmos. In the Midrashic imagination, the purpose of the Creation is to serve as a dwelling place for the Divine Presence. Creation. However, only human beings can create the space for the Shekhinah to dwell.

[1] Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5.

[2] Numbers Rabbah 12:13.

Within the Stillness of Being, God Speaks

The Hebrew word for “wilderness” (מִדְבַּר = midbar) coincidentally shares the same consonants word for the term מְדַבֵּר (mĕdĕbēr =  “speaker”). Philo of Alexandria and some of the Hassidic mystics suggest that the wilderness is precisely where God reveals Himself to His people—and not in the cacophonous uproar of the city, where human beings ignore the Voice of God speaking.[1]

Mother Theresa once said, “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” The silence of nature speaks volumes, but without words—simply by being present to the power of the Divine that infuses its being with life and purpose. [2]

It is no accident that spiritual people throughout history discovered how the דְּמָמָה דַקָּה “still small voice” (1 Kgs. 19:12–13) is the vehicle through which God makes His Presence known, even though this “small voice” more often than not is drowned out by the cacophonous world we live in. According to Michael Fishbane, “The phrase may be a deliberate paradox—an attempt to articulate the voiced silence of God’s presence, through reference to a sound (kol) that is both silently still דְּמָמָה (demāmāh) and audibly thin דַקָּה (dāqǎ).” Fishbane’s Zen-like observation succinctly captures the subtlety of how God communicates, within the stillness of our being—that is where He is heard. This mystery flows from the depths of eternity; pointing to great immensity of the Divine; yet, God’s immensity is never so far removed from the human heart that seeks truth and comfort.

Israel discovers her faith in the wilderness and later constructs a Tabernacle (Mishkan) to symbolize God’s abiding Presence among them. In its precincts, God does not speak “to Moses” rather, Moses hears the Divine Word resonate from within his innermost being and conscience. Throughout Jewish tradition, the Mishkan represents God’s triumph over the forces of chaos. Creating a sacred place within the hostile precincts of the wilderness is a spiritually suggestive metaphor for moderns—for even as we enter our own personal wilderness, God beckons us to make a holy space for God to dwell with us as we traverse the מִדְבַּר.

Book Review: Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership,

 

Rabbi Menachem Genack, In Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership  Sterling Ethos/OU Press, New York, 2013. 288 pages, ISBN 978-1-4549-0791-6. Price: $24.95

President Bill Clinton is in many ways one of the most iconic and beloved presidents of recent history. His congenial manner combined with his ability to speak directly to the people without the help of a teleprompter (unlike some presidents), illustrates how he loved to communicate with people.

Yet, for all of Bill Clinton’s great talents, his life in the White House revealed a man who had human flaws that were reminiscent of King David, or perhaps even King Solomon of the Bible. Combined with his legion of critics, Bill Clinton’s presidency was severely marred by scandal during his second term in office. The rest of the kings of Israel made Kings David and Solomon seem like paragons of virtue in comparison.

Great people frequently have feet of clay. This is, of course, a perennial theme of the Bible. Even the greatest people of the Tanakh suffered from moral defects of varying degrees. Moses loses his temper on a regular basis. By today’s standards—he might have been a candidate for anger management, along with YHWH, whose outbursts of anger results in the destruction of cities and continents.

In the Bible, even God makes mistakes (Gen. 8:21).

Rabbi Menachem Genack is an impressive writer. His newest book,  In Letters to President Clinton: Biblical Lessons on Faith and Leadership, reveals much about the ethical passions of Rabbi Genak. His book will greatly enhance any rabbi’s sermons on the weekly parsha or High Holidays.

A number of prominent rabbis and Jewish leaders added their voices and ensured that the President would be find the words of Jewish wisdom inspirational and relevant to the days he spent in solitude during his term as President. Essays from Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and others—makes this book intriguing to see; think of it as a record to future generations to read.

The chapter headings in the book underscore the overall arching theme of the book. For example, “Leadership,” “Sin and Repentance,” “Creation,” “Community,” “Faith,” “Dreams and Vision,” and “Holidays.”  Christians in particular will probably enjoy how the rabbis expound many of the most familiar biblical stories from a Jewish perspective.

Here are a few choice examples that caught my attention. Judah in the Bible personifies strength and moral leadership. Yet, he did not always possess these traits. Like Jacob, his father, Judah is a hybrid of darkness and light. “There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection” and this adage certainly applies to all of various biblical personalities from Adam to Solomon, and countless others. The spiritual process of individuation (becoming a whole and integrated human being) requires that we face our shadowy self that hides beneath a veneer of piety and self-righteousness.

Even early on in the biblical story, Judah emerges as a born leader; his brothers look up to him; they listen to his advice; he commands their attention. Although he was not the firstborn son like Reuben, he might just as well could have been—judging by his demeanor and etiquette.  Yet, despite his natural gifts of leadership, he also has a dark side that is almost as cynical as his father’s. When the brother’s turn against Joseph, plotting to kill him, it is Judah who says:

  • So Judah said, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his body?
    Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him. After all, he is our brother.” And the others agreed. When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph’s brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt. (Genesis 37:26-28)

In a section entitled, “The Ascent of Judah,” Norman Lamm points out a priceless insight  when Jacob blesses Judah on his deathbed. He notes that Judah’s greatness derives from the fact that he “rises from his failures. He atones for his sins and goes on to greatness. He redeems himself. The same Judah who counseled his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery now offers his own freedom and his very life to save Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother . . .Judah has now overcome his deficiencies. He has learned from his  mistakes. Judah is a study in growth, in development, a case study how to overcome moral vulnerability and emerge all the stronger” (p. 79-80).

Every time I read this book, I always learn something new and inspiring. I am certain that you will too.

I rate this book 5*out of 5*.

Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom, is the author of The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Theology of the Caring God (Jason Aronson, 1996) and Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation (Createspace, 2010) and four other books on Jewish theological, biblical and Talmudic subjects.  He may be contacted at michael.samuel@sdjewishworld.com

Why Do We Celebrate Hanukah?– A Potpourri of Judaic Perspectives

One of the famous and most important questions asked about Hanukkah reads: What is Hanukkah? [i.e., “Why do we celebrate Hanukkah?”]. The question strikes a modern reader as odd. Surely, the Jews must have known about the holiday’s significance for several centuries! On the surface, one could argue that the question is purely rhetorical in nature. It serves to help provide the rabbinical teachers with a new interpretation of the famous Maccabean triumph over the Syrian-Greeks: The Talmud replies:

  • On the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the days of Hanukkah are eight. One may not eulogize on them and one may not fast on them. What is the reason? When the Greeks entered the Sanctuary; they defiled all the oils that were in the Sanctuary by touching them. When the Hasmonean monarchy emerged victorious over them, they searched and found only one cruse of oil that was placed with the seal of the High Priest, undisturbed by the Greeks. There was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day. A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days. The following year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays with recitation of hallel and special thanksgiving in prayer and blessings.

One 9th century Midrashic work, Pesikta Rabbati, records a legend: Why did the rabbis make Hanukkah eight days? Because … the Hasmoneans  entered the Temple and erected the altar and whitewashed it and repaired all of the ritual utensils. They were kept busy for eight days. And why do we light candles? When the Hasmoneans entered the Temple, there were eight iron spears in their hands, which they covered with wood and drove into the ground, lighting oil in each and using them as lamps.[1] This reinterpretation of the Hanukkah story has no support in none of the 2nd century B.C.E. literature, or for that matter in the  1stcentury stories concerning Hanukkah, which we will soon examine in detail. The miracle of the Hanukkah has a different narrative in the Book of Maccabees 1 Maccabees 4:36-59 —the oldest record of the Hanukkah story that differs considerably from the Talmudic version found in BT Shabbat 21b that was recorded several centuries after the holiday had become a commonplace Jewish observance.

  • 36Then Judas and his brothers said, “Now that our enemies have been crushed, let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”37So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion.38They found the sanctuary desolate, the altar desecrated, the gates burnt, weeds growing in the courts as in a forest or on some mountain, and the priests’ chambers demolished. 39Then they tore their clothes and made great lamentation; they sprinkled their heads with ashes 40and fell with their faces to the ground. And when the signal was given with trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.
  • 41Judas appointed men to attack those in the citadel, while he purified the sanctuary.42He chose blameless priests, devoted to the law; 43these purified the sanctuary and carried away the stones of the Abomination to an unclean place. 44They deliberated what ought to be done with the altar of holocausts that had been desecrated. 45The happy thought came to them to tear it down, lest it be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it; so they tore down the altar. 46They stored the stones in a suitable place on the temple hill, until a prophet should come and decide what to do with them. 47Then they took uncut stones, according to the law, and built a new altar like the former one.
  • 48They also repaired the sanctuary and the interior of the temple and purified the courts. 49They made new sacred vessels and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. 50Then they burned incense on the altar and lighted the lamps on the lampstand, and these illuminated the temple. 51They also put loaves on the table and hung up curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.
  • 52Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, that is, the month of Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-eight, 53they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law on the new altar of holocausts that they had made.54On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it, on that very day it was reconsecrated with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals. 55All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven, who had given them success.  56For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar and joyfully offered holocausts and sacrifices of deliverance and praise. 57They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields; they repaired the gates and the priests’ chambers and furnished them with doors. 58There was great joy among the people now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.  59Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness on the anniversary every year for eight days, from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev.

Note that the original date of the Hanukkah celebration occurred on December 14th, 164 B.C.E. Hanukkah was thus called, “The Feast of Dedication” and this name also appears in the Book of John 10:22 of the NT. Josephus refers to the celebration as the “Feast of Lights.” Josephus adds an altogether different spin on the story of Hanukkah.

  • (321) This desolation happened to the temple in the hundred forty and fifth year, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Apelleus, and on the hundred and fifty-third olympiad: but it was dedicated anew, on the same day, the twenty-fifth of the month Apelleus, in the hundred and forty-eighth year, and on the hundred and fifty-fourth olympiad. (322) And this desolation came to pass according to the prophecy of Daniel, which was given four hundred and eight years before; for he declared that the Macedonians would dissolve that worship [for some time]. 7. (323) Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days; and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon: but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them, by hymns and psalms. (324) Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. (325) And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival. (326) Judas also rebuilt the walls round about the city, and reared towers of great height against the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses that might come from our enemies.

One might wonder why did Josephus refer to Hanukkah as “The Festival of Lights”? Curiously, he does not mention anything about the custom of lighting the menorah, as we commonly do today. One would think he would have gone to greater lengths explaining the tradition, since he wrote The Antiquities of the Jews as guide to curious gentiles who wanted to learn more about the Jewish people. Josephus stresses that the holiday of “Lights” represents the light of religious freedom—the ability to worship God in a manner that is free from foreign interference.

It would seem that the last thing Josephus wanted to do was the extoll the military victories of the Maccabees over their enemies—especially since Titus captured the menorah as the Romans displayed it in the streets of Rome after defeating Judea and destroying her Temple. From this perspective, one may conclude that both the Rabbis and Josephus wished to stress the spiritual victory of the Maccabean revolt—one which would not appear threatening to an anxious Roman government. Continue reading “Why Do We Celebrate Hanukah?– A Potpourri of Judaic Perspectives”

The Metaphysics of the Dreidel

I often get asked the questions, “What is the symbolism of the dreidel? What exactly is its origin?” The dreidel is a four cornered top that was popular in the medieval era and originally used for gambling. Jewish folklore purports that when the Syrians prohibited the study of Torah, the Jews insurrectionists would take a top to gamble with, so that the soldiers would let them play their game in peace. The name, “dreidel,” is a Yiddish word that derives from the German verb, “drehen,” (“to turn”).

Historically, the origin of the dreidel is not quite so apocryphal. During the medieval era, gambling dice often had four letters inscribed, N,G, H, and S, representing “nichts,” (nothing), “ganz” (i.e., winner takes “all”), and “shtell arein” (“put in”).  Jews subsequently transformed the dice into a top and added four Hebrew letters, נ (N), ג (G), ה (H), and שׁ (S)—signifying, נֵס גָדוֹל הָיָה שָם  “nes gadol hayah sham” (“A great miracle happened there”).

The symbolism gets more interesting when we take into consideration the numerological patterns the Kabbalists cleverly add when redesigning the dreidel during the medieval era.  The value of the four letters equals 358, the same numerology (gematria) as Moshiach (Messiah)! This could suggest several things:

(1)   The wandering of the Jews (drehen) is not purposeless, though it may seem that way at times. Israel’s wandering serves to bring the world that much closer to its final redemptive stage of human history—the Messianic era.

(2)  As the dreidel spins, it represents the pulsating movement of the Divine; we who observe it, cannot see how its final stage will unfold until it actually occurs. Such a concept has its antecedents in the Talmud’s famous statement, “Three come unawares: Messiah, a found article and a scorpion” (T.B. Sanhedrin 97a). I have always liked this passage, for in its simplicity, the Sages teach us that it is not for mortal men–or women–regardless how pious or learned they happen to be, to engage in the mindless pursuit of messianic prognostications. The Messiah will appear when we least expect him to arrive.

(3)  Our fortunes in life are much like the chaotic turnings of the dreidel; those of us who lost our fortunes with the crash of the Stock Market crash, know the wisdom of this teaching only all too well …

In short, although our existence is unpredictable, faith is the compass that provides us with the wisdom and radar to navigate through even the most difficult of times, like today.

Remembering Rabbi Akiba Greenberg: A True Rebbe of Our Generation

Photo: Baruch Dayan Ha'Emet... Our Rebbe, Our ZAYDI, our teacher and Maggid, Rabbi AKIVA GREENBERG has passed away. He was a Baal Niggun and brought the Kossov niggun back to Kossov; planted it, where it took root and nourished our community for 2 decades.<br /><br />Our hearts are broken.

One of the most remarkable people I met in Brooklyn of 1969 was a man named Rabbi Akiva Greenberg. He was not your typical Hassidic Jew. He came from a non-observant home and became a follower of the Viznitz Rebbe, who taught Akiva how to worship God in the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov.

He went on to teach anthropology at the Touro College in Brooklyn. Akiva had a personality that was incredibly serene. His love and capacity to show his love knew no bounds. When I was 16, Rabbi Shlomo Cunin sent me to study at the Hadar Hatorah yeshiva in Brooklyn. The administration had me attend the Ocean Parkway Yeshiva for the morning studies, while I attended the yeshiva in the afternoons.

All in all, it was a terrible experience. The teachers at the Ocean Parkway High School did not know how to teach; the students had the moral qualities of a barbarian. I thought I was being raised by wolves. The craziness of the Chabad Yeshiva left a nasty impression on me. Little did I realize at the time why 770 seemed so distasteful. On one occasion, I remember meeting a lovely 16 year old girl from An Harbor, Michigan; I was also 16 at the time. Some smug young rabbinical student spoke harshly to me, “Samuel, you’re not to speak to the girls!!” I remember telling him one of the few Yiddish sayings I learned from my Mother; I told him, ” You can drey your own kop!” (translated: You can mind your own business!”

I told the incident to Rabbi Akiba, and he said, “I am so proud you told that arrogant young man off! You show much promise! … Besides, there is nothing wrong for a young man to flirt with a pretty young girl!” He sat and taught me the Mishnah in Kiddushin–and to this day, I never forgot the loving way he taught the Mishnah. With his help and the help of my Aunt Ceil, I managed to escape Brooklyn and returned to Alameda, where I finished my schooling before going to Israel to study for the rabbinate

Akiba had the most beautiful voice and his Shabbat table was packed every week with new guests. One person I once knew, wrote this about Akiba:

  • In 1972 while living in Crown heights as a young man on Eastern Parkway, I had the great fortune of meeting with my teacher and friend, Akiva. We would getup early in the morning, proceed to the Mikva and study Mishna. Later on Akiva would come to my home and bring great joy to my wife Tovah and me leading shabbat dinners. His beautiful voice singing the beautiful songs of his Vishnutz, and Chabad and his kind and happy approach was sweet nectar to the young group of new students that would gather in my home. Really, I could go on and on and write a book about this beautiful teacher. May you lie in complete peace my brother.

Another admirer of Akiba recalls:

  •  . . . [S]uch a reality happened to Reb Akiva, as a young man in search of a yeshivah to learn and a niggun to sing. Leaving the United States, he enrolled in Ponevezer Yeshivah, a misnaged yeshivah in Benei Brak, Israel, in the early 1950s. Quickly attracted to the Vizhnitzer Rebbe who held his court for chasidim in Tel Aviv, every Shabbos afternoon the young Akiva would sneak out of the misnaged yeshivah and walk 3-1/3 hours to Tel Aviv, where he’d spend the rest of Shabbos among the Vizhnitzer chasidim, deep into the night and early morning partaking of delicious foods, listening to stories of the Baal Shem Tov and, of course, singing niggunim. At such times, deep in song and prayer, it seemed to Reb Akiva that he did not belong to this world at all. Reb Akiva found what he was searching for, in a place where lay rich treasures and still fairer hopes. Understandably, each Motzoei Shabbos it was difficult to leave Tel Aviv and bus back to his yeshivah, but Reb Akiva knew he’d be back the following weekend, as it is written, “Man is not taken away before he has heard what he has come to hear and before he has said what he has come to say.” [1]

I will always regard him as a spiritual mentor; he personified the best of Yiddishkeit and Arlichkeit–He was a mentsch in the truest sense of the word. Akiba had over a hundred grandchildren–he definitely loved his wife. He was someone I always stayed in contact with for many years. Even decades later, he still remembered me  when I spoke to him a few years ago.

He will be surely missed by the thousands of people, whose lives he lovingly touched like a good shepherd.

Notes:

https://www.facebook.com/RabbiAkivaGreenberg