A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 10.22.21

October 22, 2021

In this message:

  1. Message from the rabbi


  3. Thursday morning parasha class

  4. Steven Drachman’s book talk and recommendations

I stumbled upon a story this week (from a dubious source, admittedly) about a photo that went viral of an Israeli soldier who was sworn in last week on a Hebrew version of the Christian Bible. There is a small pin affixed to the Bible, discernable in the photo, that indicates affiliation with an organization called Natzor. Natzor (it seems) is a “ten-day intensive army preparation program for Messianic 18-year-olds who have graduated high school and await their enlistment to the IDF.” “Messianic,” for those who aren’t aware, refers to a sect of Christianity that identifies strongly with Jewish custom and tradition and proselytizes to Jews (it’s sometimes called “Jews for Jesus”).

The article (from an Israel-based online Christian news site) suggests that the photo went viral and caused some consternation among the ranks in the IDF as well as in some sectors of Israeli society. I’m guessing that, in reality, the whole thing had little impact and was more of a public interest story for a Christian audience. But it does speak to the issue of pluralism in Israeli society and the presence of different religious viewpoints in an environment that is largely religiously monolithic (i.e. the IDF).

It reminded me of a folk-story (it may come from midrash) that connects to our parasha this week. Our tradition learns the cornerstone value of hachnasat orchim/welcoming guests from the Patriarch Abraham. At the beginning of this week’s parasha, three men (or angels) come to visit Avraham. The patriarch, despite his pain (the sages say he was recovering from his circumcision, the passage that ended last week’s parasha), rushes to greet them and invites them to wash, eat, and rest. In the folk-tale, Avraham similarly rushes to greet an elderly traveler, begging him to come rest and eat. After the meal, Avraham says, “Now praise the Lord, the God of heaven and earth, Who gives bread to all creatures.” The stranger demurs, saying, “I do not know your God. I will praise only the gods that my own hands have fashioned.” Avraham tells him of God’s greatness and kindness, explaining to him that idols, the work of human hands, cannot possibly have power over us. The old man becomes indignant: “how dare you talk to me in this way, trying to turn me away from my own gods! You and I have nothing in common so do not impose on me any further with your words, because I will not heed them!” Incensed, Avraham kicks him out of the tent and sends him back on his road.

When God sees what has happened, God comes to Avraham: “where is the man who came to you this night?” God asks. Avraham tells God what transpired, believing himself to be in the right, the great supporter and defender of the One True God. God then speaks to Avraham: “Have you considered what a terrible thing you have done? Consider this for one moment: here am I, the God of all creation – and yet I have endured the unbelief of this old man for many years. I clothed, fed, and supplied him with all his needs. But when he came to you for just one night, you cast aside all the duties of hospitality and compassion and drove him into the wilderness!” Realizing the error of his ways, Avraham begs God for forgiveness. Knowing Jewish law, God replies, “I will not forgive you unless you first ask forgiveness from the old man whom you have wronged.” Avraham chases down the man, finds him at last, and, weeping, begs for his forgiveness. “I have done wrong,” he tells the man. “The God I serve has shown me the way to kindness. Now show me your kindness by forgiving me and I shall honor you all my days.” Moved by Avraham’s sincerity, the man accepts his apology and returns with him to be his guest again.

This story may serve as an etiology – a back story – to why God “singles him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is just and right…” (Gen. 18:19). But it also teaches the value of respect for other people’s religious views, however foreign we may find them. Those communities who had a hard time with the IDF soldier and his Messianic path would do well to familiarize themselves with this story, for it puts in context the legacy of Avraham as the paragon of hospitality, openness, and generosity of spirit. We, too, would do well to remember that not everyone thinks like us and that we should have toleration and respect for different religious viewpoints. It’s not an easy lesson to absorb – most of us are convinced of the rightness of our own views, and so it doesn’t hurt to temper that with occasional reminders that, in fact, we live in a world where there is a broad diversity of paths to God.

Wishing you all a Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,

Rabbi Sam Levine



Friday Night Services

Friday night services are getting earlier as the days get shorter. Please consult the weekly blast for times. SERVICES TONIGHT AT 5:45!

Thursday Morning Weekly Parasha Study

We’ve had a few wonderful sessions so far this year, digging in to the ever-gripping and challenging stories of Genesis. Join us in you’re able. Thursday mornings from 10:30 to 11:30. No prior knowledge necessary.


Steven Drachman’s Book Talks

EMJC member Steven Drachman gave a wonderful talk in synagogue last Shabbat and the following day moderated a panel of authors associated with his publishing house (Chickadee Prince) for the Institute for Living Judaism in Brooklyn. In both venues, he mentioned various books and authors. Below, he makes good on his promise to send us a list of titles and authors with some terrific recommendations:

Hi everyone –

Thanks to everyone who joined us for the literary panel, “Writing Wrongs” on Sunday. A number of people have asked for information about the books discussed, and so we thought we would pass this along.

You can buy signed copies of books by the authors who spoke on Sunday, some specially discounted, delivered to your door; proceeds will benefit East Midwood Jewish Center.

Email Orders@ChickadeePrince.com.

  • On Sunday, Joanna Hershon read from her great novel, The German Bridewhich tells the story of a Jewish woman in Germany in the 1860s, who immigrates to America. Autographed copies available of her latest novel, St. Ivo, which the New York Times called “satisfying … fiction full of complexity, devoted to reality.” Available for $15.99.

  • The late Alan N. Levy’s geopolitical thriller, The Tenth Plague, tells of a future world in which Iran has nuclear weapons, and Israel’s desperate, morally questionable attempt to avoid catastrophe. The Jerusalem Post called The Tenth Plague “one scary, wild ride …Ultra-suspenseful!” and The Times of Israel called the novel “an excellent, chilling new geopolitical thriller!” Available for $12.99.

  • The Los Angeles Times calls Donna Levin, who appeared on Sunday, “a novelist to keep high on your reading list.” Signed copies of her mystery California Street, and her Jewish family novels He Could be Another Bill Gates, and There’s More Than One Way Home are available, discounted for EMJC and ILJB, for $4.99 each.

  • Mark Laporta appeared on Sunday; his humorous and exciting young adult science fiction trilogy, The Changing Hearts of Ixdahan Daherek, about an alien teenager, banished to Earth, who falls in love with a Jewish girl, was acclaimed as “a fabulous read” by Kirkus Reviews. Signed copies of each novel in the series available, discounted for EMJC and ILJB, for $4.99.

  • Steven S. Drachman’s historical fantasy trilogy, The Strange And Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh the Third, is filled with Jewish mysticism (among many other things). Library Journal writes, “Genre mashup devotees should get some good laughs and thrills from this Western/adventure/sf/fantasy blend.” Each book in the trilogy is available, signed, discounted for EMJC and ILJB, for $4.99.

  • Book critic Aaron Leibel’s memoir of Israel, Figs and Alligators, was acclaimed by Times of Israel editor in chief David Horovitz as “a warm and candid memoir.” Signed copies available for $12.99.

  • Max’s Diamonds, Jay Greenfield’s gripping novel about the Holocaust’s dark legacy for one Rockaway family, was acclaimed by Foreword Reviews as “incredibly engaging and thought-provoking.” Signed copies available, discounted for EMJC and ILJB, for $4.99.

Other books and stories discussed at Sunday’s event, or in Steven Drachman’s Saturday presentation (not for sale, but you should read them): Sell Out, by Simon Rich; Yente by Olga Tokarczuk; Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon; The Rabbi’s Cat, by Joann Sfar; The Jinni and the Golem by Helene Wecker; And This is the Light, by Lea Goldberg; The Young Dark Man by Jacob Dinezon; Reuben Sachs, by Amy Levy; A Flash of Blue Sky, by Alon Preiss.