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26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck, NY 11023 (516) 487-6100                                                              Shabbat Announcements Ki Tisa 5780
         think that this is a negative attribute, but in fact it is   It was recorded by the Jewish historian Shlomo ibn Verga
         praiseworthy, for it means: “Either be a Jew or prepare to be   (fifteenth to sixteenth centuries) and concerns the Spanish
         hanged.” Jews were stiff-necked, says Rabbi Ami, in the sense   expulsion: One of the boats was infested with the plague, and
         that they were ready to die for their faith. As Gersonides   the captain of the boat put the passengers ashore at some
         (Ralbag) explained in the fourteenth century, a stubborn people  uninhabited place…There was one Jew among them who
         may be slow to acquire a faith, but once they have done so   struggled on afoot together with his wife and two children. The
         they never relinquish it.                            wife grew faint and died… The husband carried his children
                                                              along until both he and they fainted from hunger. When he
         We catch a glimpse of this extraordinary obstinacy in an   regained consciousness, he found that his two children had
         episode narrated by Josephus, one of the first recorded   died. In great grief he rose to his feet and said: “O Lord of all
         incidents of mass non-violent civil disobedience. It took place   the universe, You are doing a great deal that I might even
         during the reign of the Roman emperor Caligula (37–41 CE). He   desert my faith. But know You of a certainty that – even
         had proposed placing a statue of himself in the precincts of the   against the will of heaven – a Jew I am and a Jew I shall
         Temple in Jerusalem and had sent the military leader Petronius   remain. And neither that which You have brought upon me nor
         to carry out the task, if necessary, by force. This is how   that which You may yet bring upon me will be of any avail.”
         Josephus describes the encounter between Petronius and the
         Jewish population at Ptolemais (Acre): There came ten   One is awestruck by such faith – such obstinate faith. Almost
         thousand Jews to Petronius at Ptolemais to offer their petitions   certainly it was this idea that lies behind a famous Talmudic
         to him that he would not compel them to violate the law of   passage about the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai: And
         their forefathers. “But if,” they said, “you are wholly resolved to  they stood under the mountain: R. Avdimi b. Chama b. Chasa
         bring the statue and install it, then you must first kill us, and   said: This teaches that the Holy One blessed be He, overturned
         then do what you have resolved on. For while we are alive, we   the mountain above them like a barrel and said, “If you accept
         cannot permit such things as are forbidden by our law…”   the Torah, it will be well. If not, this will be your burial place.”
                                                              Said Rava, Even so, they re-accepted the Torah in the days of
         Then Petronius came to them (at Tiberius): “Will you then   Ahasuerus, for it is written, “the Jews confirmed and took upon
         make war with Caesar, regardless of his great preparations for   them”, meaning, “they confirmed what they had accepted
         war and your own weakness?” They replied, “We will not by any   before.”
         means make war with Caesar, but we will die before we see our
         laws transgressed.” Then they threw themselves down on their  The meaning of this strange text seems to be this: at Sinai the
         faces and stretched out their throats and said that they were   Jewish people had no choice but to accept the covenant. They
         ready to be slain…Thus they continued firm in their resolution   had just been rescued from Egypt. God had divided the sea for
         and proposed themselves to die willingly rather than see the   them; He had sent them manna from heaven and water from
         statue dedicated.” Faced with such heroic defiance on so large   the rock. Acceptance of a covenant under such conditions
         a scale, Petronius gave way and wrote to Caligula urging him,   cannot be called free. The real test of faith came when God
         in Josephus’ words, “not to drive so many ten thousand of   was hidden. Rava’s quotation from the Book of Esther is
         these men to distraction; that if he were to slay these men, he   pointed and precise. Megillat Esther does not contain the name
         would be publicly cursed for all future ages.”       of God. The rabbis suggested that the name Esther is an
                                                              allusion to the phrase haster astir et panai, “I will surely hide
         Nor was this a unique episode. The rabbinic literature, together   My face.” The book relates the first warrant for genocide
         with the chronicles of the Middle Ages, are full of stories of   against the Jewish people. That Jews remained Jews under
         martyrdom, of Jews willing to die rather than convert. Indeed,   such conditions was proof positive that they did indeed
         the very concept of Kiddush Hashem, sanctification of God’s   reaffirm the covenant. Obstinate in their disbelief during much
         name, came to be associated in the halachic literature with the   of the biblical era, they became obstinate in their belief ever
         willingness “to die rather than transgress.” The rabbinic   afterwards. Faced with God’s presence, they disobeyed Him.
         conclave at Lod (Lydda) in the second century CE, which laid   Confronted with His absence, they stayed faithful to Him. That
         down the laws of martyrdom (including the three sins about   is the paradox of the stiff-necked people.
         which it was said that “one must die rather than transgress”)
         may have been an attempt to limit, rather than encourage, the  Not by accident does the main narrative of the Book of Esther
         phenomenon. Of these many episodes, one stands out for its   begin with the words “And Mordechai would not bow down”
         theological audacity.                                (Esther 3:1). His refusal to make obeisance to Haman sets the
                                                              story in motion. Mordechai too is obstinate – for there is one
                                                              thing that is hard to do if you have a stiff neck, namely, bow
                              Great Neck Synagogue            down. At times, Jews found it hard to bow down to God – but
                     26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck , NY 11023   they were certainly never willing to bow down to anything less.
                                  516-487-6100                That is why, alone of all the many peoples who have entered
                                                              the arena of history, Jews – even in exile, dispersed, and
                         Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Rabbi           everywhere a minority – neither assimilated to the dominant
                      Rabbi Ian Lichter, Assistant Rabbi      culture nor converted to the majority faith. “Forgive them
                       Rabbi Aron White, Intern Rabbi         because they are a stiff-necked people,” said Moses, because
                    Dr. Ephraim Wolf, z”l, Rabbi Emeritus     the time will come when that stubbornness will be not a tragic
                           Yitzy Spinner, Cantor              failing but a noble and defiant loyalty. And so it came to be.
                    Eleazer Schulman, z”l, Cantor Emeritus
                     Rabbi Sholom Jensen, Youth Director
                  Zehava & Dr. Michael Atlas, Youth Directors
                      Mark Twersky, Executive Director
                     Dr. James Frisch, Assistant Director
                          Erran Kagan, President
                   Harold Domnitch, Chairman of the Board
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