145 Broadway, Newark, New Jersey 07104
President: Eric Freedman, 201-988-3799
Rabbi: Simon Rosenbach 908-591-4037, firstname.lastname@example.org
SHABBAT SERVICES STARTING TIME
Please note: services this Saturday morning, February 23, 2019, will start at nine o’clock in the morning. We are going to be short some regulars this week. If you have nothing to do on Saturday morning, consider coming to Ahavas Sholom and help to make our minyan. Your presence will be appreciated by anybody who needs to say Kaddish and you will enable us to read the Torah. Thank you in advance.
It is not too early to start thinking of Purim. We will read the Megillah on Wednesday night, March 20, 2019. We presently have four Megillah readers: Dubra, Hooshmand, and I, and Fred Grabiner will join us for Purim. Fred will do his interpretation of Chapters Five and Seven. If you have never seen it, you are missing something. Do you want to learn to read the Megillah? We will be happy to teach you. You don’t need to read an entire chapter.
ADULT BAR AND BAT MITZVAH
We are have settled on March 16, 2019, for the adult bar and bat mitzvah. On that Shabbat, we will start the Book of Vayikra, and it is also the Shabbat before Purim, Shabbat Zachor, where we have a special maftir remembering what Amalek did to the Israelites on their way to Eretz Canaan. Our goal is to have everybody chant at least three verses of Torah and a portion of the haftarah, which is among the saddest stories in the Tanakh. It recounts how God took the kingship from Saul, because he didn’t follow the Prophet Samuel’s exact directions. Our goal is also to have everybody lead a portion of the service, whether it be the preliminary service (I’m all by myself during the preliminary service, excepting Harold and Fred and Linda and Flora, and maybe a couple of people who got lost on their way to Newark and the ride didn’t take them as long as they thought), Shacharit, the Torah service, or Musaf. Don’t feel as though as you are obligated to meet the goals; you are not 13 anymore and doing it to please your parents. So come sign up, and we will teach you what you want to learn. Other people have done it before you, and you are as smart and disciplined as any of them. Don’t be scared.
We will be meeting next on Sunday, February 24, 2019, at 10 a.m. at Ahavas Sholom.
The cost of sponsoring Kiddush is $150, and that barely covers the cost of the lunch. Our goal is to have every Kiddush sponsored, so if you want to mark an event of honor a loved one, sponsor a Kiddush at Ahavas Sholom. If you want to sponsor a Kiddush, e-mail me, call me, call the synagogue, or fax the synagogue. Or e-mail Alla Eicheldinger at Alla7815@yahoo.com. Another thing you can do, which doesn’t cost any money, is shop. We have a list, we’ll tell what to buy. You get reimbursed. You can contact me or Alla. We welcome all volunteers.
The Torah says in this Parashah, Ex. 33:11, God speaks to Moses face to face (“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another”). The Torah says in the Book of Numbers, when Aaron and Miriam complain that Moses gets favored treatment, Num. 12:8, God speaks to Moses “mouth to mouth,” unlike God’s treatment of the prophets, with whom God speaks in a dream. The commentators equate “mouth to mouth” with “face to face,” but they don’t tell us what “face to face” actually means.
The meaning of that phrase is actually important, because this week’s Parashah contains a famous episode. In Ex. 33, Moses confronts God with a request: “Oh, let me behold Your Presence.” God agrees, but says (Ex. 33:20), “You cannot see My face [using the same word as is used in Ex. 33:11], for a man may not see Me and live.” God’s explanation concludes (Ex. 33:23), “You will see My back, but my face [using the same word as is used in Ex. 33:11] must not be seen.”
I’m confused. Presumably, this entire conversation is “face to face.” So God speaks to Moses “face to face” but says God’s face (using the same Hebrew word) must not be seen, because, presumably again, God’s face shines so brilliantly that the brilliance will kill any man who looks upon it. “Face to face” must have a different meaning than “face,” even though the same Hebrew word is used.
In Life Probe, a science fiction novel by Michael McCollum published in 1983, an advanced civilization calls the Makers sends a probe to search for civilizations that have faster-than-light space travel, which the Makers, despite their advanced civilization, do not have. The probe stops at Earth, and the artificial intelligence that is the brain of the probe tries to determine how best to communicate with Earthlings. The A.I., after much research and thought, concludes that it must create an avatar that be perceived as harmless. So the A.I. creates an image of a kindly old man with the white beard. You know, the image of God painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo.
Did God create an avatar for Moses? How else could God talk face to face with Moses but does not reveal God’s true essence? What does God’s true essence mean, anyway?
A God who can create the universe out of nothing is so far beyond our comprehension that we can only imagine God. We have experienced nothing upon which to base our conception of God. But does that incomprehensibility necessarily lead to death by awe? Is God so far above us that God’s natural presence is fatal to man?
There is a play called “Steambath,” by Bruce Jay Friedman, which depicts the afterlife as a steam bath, where God is the steam bath’s Puerto Rican attendant. I would assume the Puerto Rican attendant is an avatar; I can’t imagine that God actually is an attendant in a steam bath. (But mere mortals can only guess at the nature of God. God could actually a steam bath attendant.)
There is a short story by Isaac Asimov called the “The Last Question,” published in 1956. A computer and its descendants are repeatedly asked the same question (can we prevent the death of the universe?), and the computer (or its descendants) always answers the question with the same answer: “there is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer.” Billions of years pass, the universe dies, but the computer’s ultimate descendant exists beyond space and time, and it continues to contemplate the question. Eventually, the computer decides that it has sufficient data to answer the question, but all humans are long past dead. The computer decides not to answer the question with words, but with action. The last line of the story is the computer’s answer: “Let there be light.”
Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And God is the ultimate, advanced technology. But that doesn’t mean to be face to face with God is necessarily fatal.
Obviously, if humans were dropped into the middle of the sun, they would die. The true essence of God could be as deadly to humans as the middle of the sun, but I choose not to believe that. God is beyond my wildest imagination, but I cannot believe that God is dangerous. God can be dangerous, as the Torah shows, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that God is intrinsically dangerous.
I don’t know why the Torah describes God as talking to Moses face to face and simultaneously describes God’s face as fatal to behold. I can imagine that the Torah wanted to put, literally, the fear of God into the Israelites, but unless God’s true essence is brilliance of the burning sun, or, conversely, the hideousness of the Medusa, I choose to believe that I, like Moses, could talk with God face to face.