7/31/20

Talmudic Advice from a Swim Addict: Swim 100 laps every day

The Tosefta quotes Rabbi Meir (2nd century CE) saying that everyone should strive to recite 100 blessings each day. It then goes on to explain how one can do this.

Blessings are berakhot ברכות in Hebrew. In modern Hebrew the laps that one swims in a pool are called berechot בריכות.

I playfully and read the Talmud this way: Don't say 100 berakhot, say 100 berechot.
More about Meir from Wikipedia: Meir was buried in a standing position near the Kinneret. Pictured here. It is said that he asked to be buried this way so when the Final Redemption occurs, Rabbi Meir would be spared the trouble of arising from his grave and could just walk out to greet the Jewish Messiah. He requested that he be buried in Israel by the seashore so that the water that washes the shores should also lap his grave (Jerusalem Talmud, Kelaim 9:4).
And so I have my Talmudic encouragement to swim 100 laps a day. On many days each year, I get to that goal.

Here are a few of my past reflections on swimming...

7/29/20

Jerusalem and Tisha B'Av - 1986 v. 2020 - How times change!

Today I published my thoughts for Tisha B'Av 2020 - see it as an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post. I say Jerusalem's destruction symbolizes the sufferings of our pandemic world today.

Tisha B'Av has serious meaning for us this year. For many years I did not think that was true.

Thirty-two years ago, on August 13, 1986, I wrote an op-ed that was published in the Jerusalem Post saying that Jerusalem is not desolate. My underlying point was that when we pray, it’s false to say that Jerusalem today is in ruins.

The title that the editors assigned to the op ed was, “Some prefer to give it a new meaning,” although that’s not exactly what I said. Here is the editorial:

“I shall be fasting this week [for Tisha B’Av]. But this year, more than ever before, I feel silly mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem. I really do not know what to do when it comes time to listen to and recite for myself the classical laments for the fast of Tisha B’Av. Much of what we say about Jerusalem in the synagogue is just not true anymore.

“It is obvious to anyone and everyone that Jerusalem does not lie in ruins. On the contrary, this is my fourth extended visit to Jerusalem in the last seven years. Over the last seven years I have watched as buildings spread out from the center of town to the new neighborhoods. Now Jerusalem sprawls across the hills of Judea, south and north from Gilo to Ramot and beyond.

“On the ninth day of Av this year the observant Jews of Jerusalem will congregate in synagogues throughout the city to mourn and lament. What they say inside these halls will not reflect the reality immediately outside them.

“And so this year I have resolved to add a few silent paragraphs to my prayers. Then when I leave the synagogue and step out into the rebuilt city of our people, I will feel that I have been candid in my meditations and forthright in my worship. I shall say something like this:

“‘Jerusalem is not desolate. It stands glorious above our Land. Our capital looks down on the miracle of the modern state of our people, rebuilt by the sweat and labor of our brethren and sisters. A thousand settlements testify to our return and we are homeless no more.’

“‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem are not homeless. Beautiful buildings abound, apartments, condominiums, villas, large and small. Hotels and hostels, old and new. Whosoever wishes may come and live here. Whosoever is hungry shall find sustenance here.’

“‘Enemies do not govern our land. The Knesset, the site of our self-government, stands at the center of our new metropolis, a vibrant testimony to our freedom. Independent and sovereign, we struggle with each other and with the states of the world, and somehow, we manage to live in harmony among ourselves, and to survive in the swirling community of nations.’

“‘Yes, the Temple was destroyed. But we have built other edifices in its stead. Long ago, in another age, our national center was taken from us by forces we could not resist. But now we have built new structures where we symbolize and express our spirit, our minds and our creative energies, and most of all, our freedom.’

“‘A great synagogue and many more stand in our capital. They serve as the many beating hearts of our spiritual organs. In dozens of yeshivot, teachers build the religious minds of our youth. Schools abound. When school is in session, wherever you turn there are children on their way to classes from kindergartens to high schools, soaking up the knowledge of our world.’

“‘A great Hebrew University answers to the essence of our wider educational appetites, in the capital of our nation. In its laboratories, classrooms and libraries, students try to unravel the mysteries of nature and society and strive to construct a new and better order.’

“‘The Israel Museum, the Bezalel School, the Jerusalem Theatre and other institutions small and large. cater to our cultural needs. In Jerusalem we display our past and our present. We sing and dance and we mourn no more. We paint and draw and sculpt and adorn the urban hub of our people, the crown of our land.’

“‘As we watch, day-by-day, luxury hotels go up and up. Lush green gardens bloom before us. We repose in parks and swimming pools. We find our needs in supermarkets, bakeries and department stores. And we indulge our extravagances in shops and markets, elegant restaurants and offbeat cafes.’

“‘The city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt. Still, the work is never done. And the struggle will not end. But: our city is not desolate. How can we mourn? We must, yes, we are obliged, indeed, it is the highest duty, for us to celebrate. For with God’s help, but in accordance with our own will and with our own hands, we have raised Jerusalem beyond its highest heights. Never before in all of our history has this city attained such glory.’

“And so that is what I shall add as I conclude my lamentations on Tisha B’Av this year. I shall be cheerful this year, and I will not mourn. But I shall do so silently, because this is my own private devotion. Will others join me?”

7/23/20

Pandemic Lamentations: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Zahavy Column for July 2020

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

These past few months in 2020 have been such a sad time of worldwide suffering, specifically due to the impact of the covid-19 virus. On the upcoming Tisha B’Av fast day (the ninth day of Av, which this year begins on the evening of July 29 and ends at sundown on July 30), would it be appropriate to make note of what is going on around us and perhaps to recite prayers to lament and to seek consolation for our present sufferings? How would that work for us?

Lamenting in Leonia


Dear Lamenting,

Yes, that surely is appropriate to do. Though our world of 2020 seems distant from the ancient times of Tisha B’Av, in 70 C. E., when Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, the underlying human conditions of life have not changed. Sadly, this year we have come to the point where right now we face extraordinary suffering, trauma, and destruction, on the personal, communal, and global level.

To make for yourself a meaningful Tisha B’Av 2020, you will need to creatively repurpose our old and established rituals, which were instituted after the destructions of 70 C.E. Under the circumstances, you should go for it, and create a new set of lamentations for yourself.