Carnegie Shul Chatter – January 11, 2013


Candle lighting time is 4:30 pm


This week’s parshah is Va-Ayra which is a continuation of the story that we know so well from our Passover Seders, as Moses tells Pharoah to, “Let My People Go” and, when Pharoah refuses, God unleashes the plagues upon Pharoah and the people of Egypt.

One of the things that used to trouble me was that many Haggadahs and the epic film The Ten Commandments state that after each plague God hardened Pharoah’s heart and Pharoah would not let the people go.  Why would God do this?  Why would God inflict plagues upon the Egyptians in order to convince Pharoah to free the Jews, then harden Pharoah’s heart so that he would do just the opposite?  And what of Pharoah’s free will?  Did hardening Pharoah’s heart not conflict with Pharoah’s free will?

The Chumash actually says, “And Pharoah hardened his heart,” after several of the plagues, but says that God hardened Pharoah’s heart after others of the plagues.  Still, I  questioned why  God should have hardened Pharoah’s heart, and so I looked for an explanation.

A good one that I found came right out of our own Jewish Chronicle.  Last year, Rabbi Martin William Shorr of Temple Hadar Israel in New Castle, wrote, “Every time Pharaoh refused the command of G-d to let the Jewish people go and serve him, Pharaoh’s heart hardened to the point making it less possible for Pharaoh to agree. All together, Pharaoh’s heart being hardened is mentioned 19 times here.

But Pharaoh would not allow himself to be swayed; each time his stance would be stronger and more stubborn. Even the idea of G-d in Pharaoh’s thinking would harden his heart. Pharaoh could not conceive that there was any force more powerful than himself. In that respect, G-d hardened Pharaoh’s heart — or rather the idea of G-d.”

Rabbi Shorr also explained, “Moses always asked Pharaoh before each plague, ‘Let my people go, so that they may serve their G-d in the wilderness.’ but conveyed to Pharaoh they would return to serve him as slaves. Of course Moses never intended for the people to return, and in this particular case Pharaoh lets him know that he is certainly aware of this and declines Moses’ request.

This demonstrates how lost and sick Pharaoh was. Moses’ request was very simple, and yet Pharaoh became enamored with all kinds of concepts and imaginings.

Both of these points together really explain what is meant by the passages “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,” and G-d mentioning, “I have hardened his heart.” When someone is so caught up with notions beyond even their own control, there is no room or open space for negotiation or reasoning of any kind. All Moses asked for was the exit of the people — nothing more, nothing less. It was Pharaoh who took the concept to wild extremes.”

There are many other possible explanations, but this one works for me.  What do you think?
B’Nai Mitzvahs – To Change or Not to Change?
Last week I mentioned that I was attending the Bas Mitzvah of my cousin Meredith, and I reminisced about my own Bar Mitzvah since Meredith and I shared the same parshah.
Many youngsters of my generation spent most of our days in Hebrew school learning to read Hebrew so that we could read our Maftir or Haftorah, but, unfortunately, we were taught very little about the fundamentals of Judaism, and, all to often, we stopped attending services and practicing Jewish rituals as soon as we had pocketed those wonderful Bar Mitzvah checks.
Now, the Reform Movement, is radically rethinking its approach to the preparation for, and celebration of, b’nai mitzvah in what the movement is calling the B’nai Mitzvah Revolution (For more information go to
A blog this week on by Patrick Aleph (Is that his real name, I wonder?), suggests that we, “Ban the Bar Mitzvah.”  Aleph’s premise, in short, is that b’nai mitzvah don’t accomplish much;  they aren’t part of Jewish continuity, but Jewish evolution; the money spent on b’nai mitzvah is a synagogue welfare check; and b’nai mitzvah make adults look like hypocrites because parents are, “holding pre-teens to an educational standard we do not hold adults to? Very few people can chant a Torah portion. Many (if not most) Jews don’t know the fundamentals of Jewish prayer, other than what they were forced to hear as kids and managed to block out of their minds. And yet, we make a child who cares more about One Direction than the Yigdal uphold some level of Judaism that we as adults could care less about. It’s hypocritical of us as adults to do that.”
Aleph also points out that, “What helps kids connect Jewishly, and remain passionate about Judaism, is not the bar mitzvah. It’s Jewish camping and Israel trips (the Foundation for Jewish Camp  and Birthright Israel have cool statistics on this).”
What is Aleph’s alternative to B’nai Mitzvah?  “”My solution for a progressive, Jewish rite of passage that does not lie to itself is the Family Bnei Mitzvah: a new type of bnei mitzvah system where the entire family learns the curricula for the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, and passes it on to the child through in-home learning, as opposed to outside religious school.I imagine it something like this (although I am completely open on how it would work): Rabbis and Jewish educators would educate the parents in derekh Torah (the path of Torah) classes on every aspect of adult Jewish life and the bar/bat mitzvah ritual. Parents would also be taught the basics of education: how to teach and make curricula more inspiring. With resources in hand, and a passion for Judaism, the parents will be able to direct a child’s Jewish education in a way that is meaningful to the entire family. And in the end (as is the custom of many or most synagogues) the entire family would receive aliyot, or chant the portion with the child.

Hold on, you’re thinking. I don’t have time to do this. Well, make time! If your child has time, then you can make time. Think of the Jewish experiences that were most meaningful to you, that inspired you the most Jewishly, and give you the “warm fuzzies” about Judaism. For most people, it’s experiences like watching grandmother cook, hearing the haggadah being read, or lighting the Shabbat candles. Judaism is a religion of the home, the family, and the community, not of the school and the educator. Children learn Judaism and Jewish identity at home: and whether you like it or not, you as parent are responsible.

What is the potential downside to this? Obviously, parents won’t want to spend all their time learning about Judaism, teaching their kids Hebrew, and having to play rabbi. But then again, do we as the synagogue system want people who don’t care about Judaism and Jewish learning being members? Do we want to promote the idea that Judaism is something you do in a classroom for a few hours, then leave behind like a macaroni picture of a menorah? And if we do, what does it say about us, and our values as the wanna-be epicenter of Jewish communal life?”

Very interesting.  Again, what do you think?


Volunteer Now!

Sunday, January 27, 2013
9:30 am – Noon
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm (Young Adult Division Night)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013
9:30 am – Noon
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm (Women’s Philanthropy Night)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Thursday, January 31, 2013
5:30 pm – 8:30 pm


Fundfest is the Jewish Federation’s largest fundraising event of the year, bringing together hundreds of volunteers who reach out by phone to thousands of Pittsburghers. This year, help us raise funds for the 2013 Annual Campaign; funds that support vital human services in Pittsburgh, Israel and around the world.

All sessions are open to the entire community and held at the Federation Building.
Light kosher meals served at each phoning.

234 McKee Place, 15213 (map)

RSVP. Questions? Please contact Becca Ackner at or 412.992.5253
Light kosher meals served at each phoning.







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2 Responses to Carnegie Shul Chatter – January 11, 2013

  1. Hi. Thanks for reposting. And to answer your question, yes, Aleph is my name 🙂

  2. michael

    how did you see my post?

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