Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Matthew Eisenfeld wrote the following essay and submitted it to his practical rabbinics seminar leader Rabbi Shlomo Tucker of the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem on October 21, 1995 (29 Tishri 5756). This essay does not appear in Love Finer Than Wine and is published here for the first time. ECB

Ani Maamin (I Believe)

I like to think about Israel as our people's collective effort to build a homeland in hope of better achieving our goals, however divers our conception of those goals may be. The Jewish people need a homeland in order to further our national existence, both within and beyond the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. Within the nation, we are enabled to build our own institutions which cater to our peculiar needs, and in the diaspora, the existence of the Jewish state is a rallying force which makes Jews proud of themselves. Israel's existence makes religious Jews look less silly in their observance, and provides the non-religious with Jewish role models other than the traditional pictures of dancing Hasidim which many both admire and fear. 

I consider myself a Zionist because I believe it is important for Jews to work together in such a constructive fashion. Having been involved with community building and maintenance in college, I feel that I have tasted in a small degree the difficulty of bringing people together to act for a cause. Often, people are unwilling to give much of themselves unless a cause is somehow of critical importance to them, but building Eretz Yisrael seems to be a cause critical to the sensibilities of most Jews. Eretz Yisrael is, after all, the land of the Tanakh and the land of our ancestors. We feel an attachment to this land, and as such, Israel is probably the only location on the planet upon which Jews could agree as the appropriate place to build a state. 

I do not believe, however, that because we Jews work together to build the State of Israel that all Jews are therefore obligated to live in the state. Jews are not committed to other Jews only, but play a role in the destiny of all humankind. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, z"l, said that wherever one is guided to live, the place was set aside for the coming of the Moshiah because our commitments extend beyond ourselves, our families, and our immediate group. We have obligations to the place in which we live and the people who live in our communities. The nature of these obligations only become clearly defined through our continued association with those around us. 

The obligation to associate with other, be they Jewish or not, would lead me to support the Rabin government and vote Avodah were I a citizen of Israel. I find myself amazed by what seems to be progress in the peace process. I have heard it said that one should not judge Israel by its bleak future prospects but by its remarkable accomplishments of the past. Five years ago, how unthinkable would it have been to suggest that a Prime Minister of Israel and Yasser Arafat would actually work together order to create a lasting peace? Israel should take inspiration from history and proceed with confidence. Though problems continue to exist, Israel is engaged in the difficult work of building confidence among its inhabitants and neighbors. Mo success will come without mutual sacrifice. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Beautiful words by Rabbi Michael Bernstein, Gesher L'Torah Congregation, Alpharetta, GA:

A Labor of Love
Each year, in mid to late February as we enter the Hebrew month of Adar, I write with a lingering bitter sweetness in honor of Tracie's and my dear friends, Matt Eisenfeld and Sara Duker, z"l (may their memories be for blessings). Matt and Sara were among those murdered in the bombing of the #18 bus in Jerusalem in February of 1996, when Tracie and I were living and studying with them in Israel. This Saturday night marks the 20th anniversary of the day when their remarkable lives were cut short, but most extraordinarily, the Torah of Matt and Sara still thrives.
This week's Torah portion describes the building of the mishkan, the holy Tabernacle in which G*d would dwell, the creation of which drew from the treasures and skills of the whole community. The gifts for the mishkan were to come from those whose hearts were moved to contribute. "Let them make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell in them." In them, the people, not it, the sanctuary. G*d would dwell in those whose hearts not only moved them to give gifts, but those who gave their hearts, who gave themselves fully.
On the occasion of their twentieth yahrzeit, my dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Eddie Bernstein, has published a compendium of Matt and Sara's writings entitled Love Finer than Wine. The book's title comes from the Song of Songs. Between the two of them, so much of the landscape of Torah was covered - Biblical studies, Rabbinic stories, acts of loving kindness, science, and ethics. Theirs is Torah from the heart, always striving to move both inward into the profound mysteries of the text and outward into yet unrealized opportunities to transform the world.
In the beautiful poetry of the Song of Songs (7:10) we read, "like the best wine for my love, that goes down sweetly, causing the lips of those who are asleep to speak". Our sages say that these sleeping lips that are caused to speak refer to those whose Torah continues to be taught even after their death.
What does it mean for someone's lips to move while their bodies lie at rest? Perhaps the essence of the meaning can be found in prayer. When we pray deeply, our lips are supposed to move, because it's not enough for prayer to rest in our heart. To bring prayer to life, it has to be articulated, made active by passing over our lips, after which it more deeply penetrates the heart.
As the words and wisdom of Matt and Sara are read and heard anew, their words will move hearts. And as we, a full generation since their deaths, learn their Torah, their sleeping lips will speak once more.
May the memory of Matt and Sara continue to be a blessing and an inspiration for all they knew, all they touched and the entire world.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Here's my sermon from 2/6/16 in which I draw upon Matt's essay "God As Defender of Widows and Orphans" to shed light on the water crisis in Flint, MI. ~Rabbi Ed Bernstein

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker is now available on
Among the essays included in Love Finer Than Wine are two essays that Matt wrote for the eminent Bible scholar Professor Moshe Greenberg in a course on the book of Exodus. In time for Parashat Mishpatim, here is an excerpt from LFTW containing Matt's essays "Catching a Thief: Exodus 22:1-2a and "God as Defender of Widows and Orphans."

It's published!

I'm pleased to announce the publication of Love Finer Than Wine: The Writings of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker.