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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Citizens of the World

The Torah instructs the Metzora to end his or her period of isolation and repentance by bringing an offering that includes (among other things) a branch of a cedar tree and two birds.

How is it that the Metzora, who is afflicted with a form of leprosy because of his habits of haughtiness and chatter, would bring an atonement sacrifice that includes Cedar and Fowl? Don’t the tall cedar tree and the chirping birds recall the very traits of haughtiness and chatter that got him or her into trouble to begin with?

At my sister’s Sheva Berachos in Ramat Beit Shemesh I attempted to answer this question by sharing my experiences as a jurist for the Norfolk circuit court.

The defendant was a young man who was accused of kicking a policeman while intoxicated. My fellow jurors and I listened closely to the testimony and unanimously voted to declare the defendant Guilty. The young man was sentenced to between one and five years in prison - at our discretion.

As an American Citizen I was proud that I would serve on this man’s jury and, along with my fellow citizens, ensure that the Kicker received no more and no less than the consequence that he rightly deserved.

As we entered the Jury Chamber, one woman set the tone for the discussion:

“I don’t know about y ‘all”, she said. “but I don’t want to be meeting this man in the K-mart Parking Lot. I vote to put him behind bars for as long as possible”. As I watched with shock and disappointment, each one of the jurors around the table slowly nodded in confirmation. They were voting to keep a man who had done very little wrong behind bars for as long as possible, just so that they would not have to deal with him.

I was the proverbial Twelfth Juror and, sitting as I was between the jurists and the door to the courtroom, the defendant’s fate was in my hands. I made an impassioned plea for sanity and, after much argument, managed to exact a compromise of three years.

We handed our decision to the judge, and the verdict was handed down.

As we watched the poor young man leave the courtroom in chains, I couldn’t help but wonder what the world would lose by putting this man behind bars for three years. I was shocked by the insensitivity of a group of people who could say, “we don’t need him, he’s not important, just put him somewhere where we can’t see him.”

The phrase “I don’t need him” articulates precisely the haughtiness and talk that gets the Metzorah into trouble. Haughtiness can be the most destructive element in even an exemplary and fair society like the one that we live in.

Yet, we don’t ask the Metzorah to give up his haughtiness. We allow him to keep it and even celebrate it by marking the end of his purification process with a piece of Cedar. This is because haughtiness is not really bad. Cedar is used to described wise people and the Torah teaches us that a person who is haughty in the ways of Hashem will go further than any other.

Good haughtiness causes a person to realize that with the help of others they can become great. Good haughtiness causes a person to say: “I need him”, “he is important”, and “I have great goals that can’t be accomplished without him”.

My sister and her new husband, for example, exemplify the type of Haughtiness that King David prayed for. They know that G-d expects great things from them and, rather than exclude others, they understand the value and importance of including and learning from every person. They have circled the globe and found that everyone in this world has something unique that can help them grow. They respect people and are respected in return. They help people and really believe that they are receiving more than they can ever give. Nobody is dispensable. Like the imposing Cedar, they spread their roots and know to appreciate and draw upon the unique qualities of everyone around them.

The Chosson and Kallah employ the ultimate strategy in growth, and it works.

May we merit to watch my sister, her husband, and many more young couples like them grow to build Jerusalem into the center of the Universe, an all-inclusive and beautiful home for the Jewish people.

This week, I merited to visit Eretz Yisroel for the first time in over five years. I reunited with many people who I love dearly, as well as scores of new friends. Among those who I met were many readers of this blog. I appreciate their kind words and I will endeavor to deliver the quality that they deserve.

I am including links to several Pesach related materials that I have worked to create for my students. Some are new and others have been updated from previous years. Please contact me with any questions.

Uploads on the Hagada (prepared for my students).

Hagada Companion (56 pages)

Hilchos Haseder (43 pages)

Sugyos Haseder (Part I, 22 pages)

More posts on Pesach:

The Double Dip

The Call of the Turtledove

Bongo Without a Cause (on Unity)

Bottle It

Making Kadesh Last

Our National Bar Mitzvah (Shabbos Hagadol)

The Hardest Chametz to Remove

Chag Kasher Vesame’ach!

Posted on 04/07 at 06:25 PM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Sender Haber

Rabbi Sender Haber is the Rabbi of the B'nai Israel Congregation in Norfolk, VA. He is well known throughout Hampton Roads, having arrived over twelve years ago as one of the original four members of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel. In that capacity, Rabbi Haber was involved in community wide programming, teaching, and outreach. He has inspired many Jews to expand their Jewish identity and increase their love of Torah and commitment to its observance. Everyone who knows Rabbi Haber is touched by his breadth of Torah knowledge and his ability to convey the wisdom of the ages in such a way as to make those esoteric writings accessible to persons of all levels of experience and a variety of backgrounds.

Rabbi Haber has served in a number of capacities during his years in Norfolk. Since 2003 Rabbi Haber has been a teacher of Jewish Studies at Toras Chaim Day School in Portsmouth, teaching boys and girls of all ages, with a focus on Gemara, Halacha, and Chumash. He has also taught at Yeshivas Aish Kodesh and Bina High School in Norfolk, and served as Assistant Rabbi of B’nai Israel for 6 years. He also serves as the Rabbi of the “Lost Tribe,” Tidewater’s Jewish Motorcycle group! While handling all of these responsibilities, he has continued to participate in numerous Chavrusos (one-on-one learning partnerships) covering a wide range of topics and writings.

Rabbi Haber and his wife Chamie have been married for thirteen years. They have four children, Minna (9), Moshe (6), Ely (4), and Akiva Meir, born in August of 2012. They both come from rabbinic families steeped in Torah, Kiruv and Chesed. Rabbi Haber received his Rabbinic Ordination (Yoreh Yoreh) from Rabbi Sender Rosenbloom and Rabbi Mordechai Freidlander of the Jerusalem Beth Din. He was awarded a Teaching Certificate by Torah Umesorah Association for Jewish Day Schools in 2004 and again in 2009. In addition, Rabbi Haber has spent over a decade studying Talmud, Jewish Law, and ethics in some of the world’s most prestigious Yeshivos including Beth Medrash Gavoha in Lakewood, NJ and Yeshivas Mir in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted through the Synagogue office at 757-627-7358, or through e-mail at