Lot’s Wife as a case of Universal Justice

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” —Proverbs 24:17

The book of Genesis describes the wickedness of five cities, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar. Despite Abraham’s pleading and God’s willingness to spare the cities if at least two righteous people are found in each one, even such a tiny number cannot be met. The cities are doomed to utter destruction from a rain of fire and brimstone.

As it happens, Abraham’s nephew Lot, his wife, and two daughters are living in Sodom at the time. They are rescued by angels who warn them of the impending disaster and set them outside the city walls so that they can escape the impending destruction of the wicked city. The angels warn them as they flee, that under no circumstances are they to turn back to look at the cities as they are experiencing their doom. (Gen. 19:17)

Overcome by her curiosity, Lot’s wife turns around to gain a glimpse of the destruction taking place. According to the narrative in the TaNaCH she is turned into a pillar of salt on the spot. (Gen.19:26)

Of course it stretches our credulity to conceive of a human being experiencing such a moment. One thing for sure, though, it’s dramatic!

Regardless, what’s the point? After all, what was so terrible about her turning back to take a look? (Don’t we all react in the same way when we see an accident or some other minor – perhaps even major – disaster)?

I believe a clue to the answer can be found in the Sabbath Psalm (92:11,12)),

(יא) ותרם כראים קרני בלתי בשמן רענן:

(יב) ותבט עיני בשורי בקמים עלי מרעים

תשמענה אזני.

11. You have given me extraordinary power; (lit. “You lifted my horn like a wild ox.”)

I am like one who is anointed. (lit. “I am saturated with fresh oil.”)

12. I see the defeat of my foes, (lit. “My eyes behold those who rise against me.”)

I hear the doom of my enemies. (lit. “My ears have heard when those who devise evil rise up against me.”)

In connecting verse 11 to verse 12 we can deduce that the author of this Psalm feels extremely privileged to observe or to hear about the fate of his enemies. The implied message is that it is one thing for Divine Justice to be executed, it is quite another for us to be worthy of witnessing such acts.

Another example of this point involves a similar puzzling passage. Exodus 4:24, “The Night Encampment…” Even before the first Nine of the Ten Plagues, Moses is commanded by God to go to Pharaoh and demand, in the Divine Name, the release of the Israelite slaves.

In the verse that precedes this episode, Moses is to warn Pharaoh with the following words, “Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son. I have said to you, ‘Let My son go that he may worship Me,’ yet you refuse to let him go. Now I will slay your first-born son.” (22, 23)

Yet in the following verse, on Moses’ way back to Egypt from Midian to perform this mission, the Torah states, “the Lord encountered him and sought to kill him.” (24) (Italics, mine). From the verse that follows, it appears that the reason that Moses’ life was put in jeopardy was that he had failed to circumcise his own (first-born?) son!

It’s so tempting to seek, if not desire, to see the “bad guys get it,” that we easily lose sight of our own imperfections. Yet if the Creator is “Sovereign of the Universe,” and not just a part of it, then Divine justice demands impartiality. Anything short of this isn’t justice at all. As humans our perspective is extremely limited. How much of any given situation are we really capable of knowing, understanding, or controlling?

In our eagerness to see the “wicked” destroyed we can’t afford to ignore any “wickedness” within ourselves. From a Divine perspective there may be far more shading than we are capable of discerning among the world’s inhabitants. Only our Creator is capable of true Justice. At the very least that demands that our own houses are in order before we might find ourselves worthy to observe Divine Justice executed on others.

The tale of Lot’s wife is a powerful reminder of this basic truth. She was warned not to turn around to view the destruction of the city; to derive some kind of pleasure at the sight of Divine Justice in full force. The description of her “being turned into a pillar of salt” may symbolize the fundamental truth of this principle: never to forget our own imperfections even as we seek the “defeat of our foes,” or the “downfall of our enemies.”

And if we are granted the ability to see the downfall of the wicked, we should realize what a privilege it is: that we have been granted “extraordinary power,” or are “as one anointed!”

—Rabbi Mordecai Miller

Voices of Israel Speakers for November and December

Voices of Israel:
Our People & Our Homeland
Series’ First Two Speakers

Monthly on Sundays at 10 am through May
Signup at https://signup.com/go/LFJUpEX

November 8 Mr. “Dry Bones” Yaakov Kirschen

Antisemitism and the Power of Cartoons:
50 Years of Zionist Cartooning

Back in 1970 he was a successful cartoonist in Manhattan who caught the Zionist bug, moved from “the Big Apple” to Jerusalem and morphed into Israel’s famous Dry Bones cartoonist. Now, 50 years later, he returns to share his thoughts on cartoons, life in Israel, American Jewry, the future of Zionism, and the current wave of antisemitism.

December 13 Charlotte Korchak  Director, International Student Programs, StandWithUs Israel

Concepts and Misconceptions about  Israel, Zionism, and Jews

Charlotte educates and trains students from around the world in Israeli history and activism. In her current role as Senior Educator, Charlotte works with over 10,000 students a year from nearly every continent educating them about Israel and training them to be effective activists in their high schools, universities, and communities worldwide. She has quickly become one of the foremost public speakers in her field.

Download the poster Speakers for 2020

Speakers for 2020






Racism and Social Justice

The committee on Racism and Social Justice has created a resource list for our membership. This list includes articles, videos, podcasts, books, etc. We hope it provides our congregants further enrichment and education on important social issues. We encourage congregants to contribute to the list. We would like this to be a list that grows as each of us share what we are learning. Please send your additions to Carol Swanson at swangirl@comcast.net.

Resource List About Race and Social Justice

Big Names Coming to Santa Rosa


Big Names Coming to Santa Rosa
to Celebrate 5781

Voices of Israel:
Our People and Our Homeland Webinar Series
Sponsored by the Israel Committee

Mr. Dry Bones, Yaakov Kirschen

Our Webinar Series kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 10 am with the cartoonist of Dry Bones, Yaakov Kirschen. He will share with us how he builds our Jewish identity and knowledge through his cartoons.



Charlotte KorshakOn Sunday, December 13 at 10 am, Stand With Us Israel’s dynamic educator Charlotte Korshak teaches us about Conceptions and Misconceptions about Israel, Zionism, and the Jews.





The next confirmed speaker takes the Zoom stage on Sunday, March 14 at 10 am. Dynamic speaker, former South African Olga Mesho Washington, regional director of Club Z, on why a “Black South African stands with Jews against antisemitism”.Olga Meshoe Washington

Additional talks are being scheduled for January 10, February 14, April 11, and May 16.

Dancing on Zoom

Hi dancers, A good new year. I scheduled a zoom dance for Wednesday 9/23 at 7 to 9.
I intend to do dances to songs that are holiday-ish, they may be biblical or religious, or about appreciating nature, or about getting through hard times. Here is a list dances good for Rosh haShana
We will meet every 2 weeks barring smoke, heat, evacuation, etc.

Hope to see you,
Shana Tova

Topic: Leanne’s dance reunion

Time: Sept 23, 2020 07:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting


Meeting ID: 272 125 6668

I have finally solved enough technical issues to host an informal zoom reunion, which can be repeated every two weeks on Wednesday evenings, open at 7 pm and getting going around 7:15. Email me at Leanne@sonic.net if you have not been getting my dance emails and want to.

If there are dances you want me to play or review, you can email me, the meeting will be informal, not a set playlist. I think it’s easier to just look at youtube videos to learn dances than to teach during the zoom, though I will offer reminders for some dances.

I introduced
Jaimale (Carol is teaching this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nxDNmFxqu8   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZvYtp14Ghs
Jerusalama (the new Pata Pata) (because it’s also from South Africa and done all over the world) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJgwF_9cl1M
Carol and others have been doing the new dance Libi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZCFQ03o3nk&t=331s
I also went over the last dance we were working on before the shutdown, Aneni https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foMMFBW-osE

Hope to see you! Be well!

Honey Cake: stories and recipes

The best Honey Cake in my parent’s family was from my father’s side of the family; his Aunt Ann’s Honey cake. Below is the recipe from my mother’s recipe file. Of course, if you look carefully, you’ll see her comments for improving it to her taste. Caution: if you choose to follow it; it took Jeffrey 3 times to try and get the flavor and texture correct. We have the notes..

On my mother’s side of the family we don’t have any family recipes of Honey Cake. The reason is simple, they didn’t enjoy baking as much as dad’s side. My recipe for Honey Cake ended up being an potschked version of…

using coffee and applesauces to replace some of the liquids… No booze, no orange juice, simple….

~janet Stein-Larson

I just read the Kitchen committee Minutes and thought I would contribute too.
Here are two Honey Cake recipes. I have made the one with Whiskey (substitute Korbel Brandy) for the Receptions Erev RH-1. The Dairy with Almonds version, I have not baked, but may this year, to eat at home.

Nana’s Honey Cake

Servings: 12 Preparation Time: 2 hours

Pre-heat oven to 300

  • 6 eggs

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups honey

  • 1 1/3 cups oil

  • 1 1/4 cups hot water mixed with 6 teaspoons instant coffee (try my tea)

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda

  • 3 1/2 cups flour

  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice

  • 2 teaspoons ginger

  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon

  • 3/4 teaspoon cloves

  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

  • 1/2 cup whiskey or Korbel Brandy

Beat eggs and sugar. Add all liquids and mix. Then add dry ingredients. Line 2 8×8 pans with wax paper or parchment and spray with cookong oil. Bake at 300 for approximately 1 hour, until an inserted knife comes out clean. You can also pour the batter in 1 9×13 pan.

Note: reader suggests bake time more like 1 ½ hours.

9-11-2019 8×8 pans baked in 1 hour but gave extra 10 min and are OK.


Recipe 2


  • 1 cup (113g) sliced almonds
  • 1 1/4 cups (142g) King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour, white or traditional
  • 3/4 cup (99g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, at least 65°F
  • 1 cup (340g) honey
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (57g) sour cream or yogurt, at room temperature


  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the sliced almonds in the bottom of the pan, reserving 1/4 cup for the batter.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the butter, honey, and eggs. Stir in the reserved flour mixture, then the sour cream or yogurt and reserved almonds.
  3. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to be sure everything is evenly moistened, then mix for one minute more.
  4. Gently pour the batter over the almonds in the prepared pan.
  5. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the edge of the cake pulls back from the edge of the pan. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, invert the cake onto a serving plate and allow it to cool before serving.
  6. Decorate the top with powdered sugar if desired.

Coping with Covid

It’s hard to believe that the Corona Virus Pandemic has become a daily reality for close to five months. Who ever could have imagined how profoundly it would affect our lives? Routine activities like dining out, getting a haircut, going to a school, attending a favorite public event have come and gone. Our lives – in many cases our very livelihood – have been turned upside down. As I write, Covid cases in the United States are spiking out of proportion with no apparent signs of abatement. Our lack of firm knowledge about the virus, and consequently on how to combat this scourge continues to challenge us. Most of us feel that any hope of significant improvement by 2021 is optimistic.

The word “synagogue” comes from the Greek and is a translation of the Hebrew “Beit Knesset.” (בית כנסת), “a place where people gather.” To date, we’ve been informed that the chances of becoming infected is increased exponentially in such an environment. Thank the Lord, we currently have the ability to create virtual gathering places, essentially by means of Zoom technology. I readily admit that before this all began, I never imagined how effective such technology might be in maintaining a community – especially for those who are forced to remain isolated in their homes.

At the same time, I recognize that there are serious challenges regarding this solution for many of our members. There are those of us who are challenged by this whole new world of communication. We are disturbed by various elements of it, such as the invasion of our privacy and the various abuses that are brought to our attention. We aren’t comfortable with the challenges presented by computer language, (“Googling, email, links, downloading, menus, wifi, world-wide web”) or keyboard techniques, or even just getting onto the internet. For the novice, such concepts and processes feel overwhelming and create an inordinate amount of stress.


While it’s true that everything we do involves a certain amount of risk, it’s vital to use our intelligence to ascertain the degree of risk. Facing the threat of being infected by the virus is no different. Here’s what the CDC has to say about the matter. Please read this carefully.

Guiding Principles

  • A gathering refers to a planned or spontaneous event, indoors or outdoors, with a small number of people participating or a large number of people in attendance such as a community event or gathering, concert, festival, conference, parade, wedding, or sporting event.
  • The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading.
  • The higher the level of community transmission in the area that the gathering is being held, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during a gathering.
  • The size of an event or gathering should be determined based on state, local, territorial or tribal safety laws and regulations.

The risk of COVID-19 spreading at events and gatherings increases as follows:

  • Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.
  • More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
  • Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.

In my position as Rabbi, the thought of any individual contracting COVID-19 by attending any event sponsored by Beth Ami is a non-starter. Please know, that regardless of any legal consequences, I would be unable to live with myself if this happened under my watch.

We’ve already started working on a two-pronged strategy. The first part involves assisting any member who at this point is unable to use Zoom comfortably.

Essentially this involves:

(Most important) The willingness to attempt to learn something unfamiliar.

Providing the equipment such as a computer or a tablet.

Making it possible to connect to the internet.

We want everyone to be able to connect with their friends in a way that doesn’t compromise their safety.

We are also in the process of planning a “New Year package” in anticipation of the Holidays, which will include :

Machzor (High Holiday Prayer Book),

Yizkor book

Jewish Calendar

Service for Tashlich


Honey stick


Memorial candle

Tea candles

Information about the holiday season

Face Masks

We are arranging for distribution the week preceding Rosh HaShanah. We are looking for volunteers and sponsors to assist in this project. If you think you would like to help and are in a position to do so, please contact the chair of our Religious Practices Committee, Lee Feinstein (707) 827-3007 (email leefeinstein5@gmail.com).

If you have yet to take advantage of our on-line services, I want to invite you to join us. True, there’s no substitute for getting together physically and breaking bread together, but it still succeeds in creating a wonderful community. With the help of Lisa Iskin’s talented singing and guitar playing, our Friday evening Shabbat services make it possible to participate without a prayer book. We start with a children’s corner at 5:50, light candles together at 6:00 p.m., and conclude with Kiddush over wine at about 6:30.

On Saturday morning, we’ve created a virtual replica of the traditional service we enjoyed in pre-Covid days, starting at 9:30 and proceeding through the Shabbat prayers, Torah and Haftarah readings, (which include calling participants to chant or say blessings over the Torah) and a d’var Torah. We even have friends join us from locations such as St. Louis, St. Paul and Boston!

In this way, I hope we can continue to provide you with a stimulating spiritual environment and the warmth of our Beth Ami community.


Mordecai Miller

Looking at Civil Rights and Social Justice

We hope everyone has a chance to attend the Social Action and Adult Education series by Benjamin Mertz, on Civil Rights and Social Justice. It takes place Thursdays, July 16, 23 and 30 at 7:00 p.m. The first session was very eye-opening, and I would like to share this article from The Atlantic. Innocence Is Irrelevant in the Age of the Plea Bargain – from The Atlantic

We hope to see you for the coming two sessions.

Intentional neglect and national outrage

Without doubt, the United States of America has much to be proud of. The great experiment in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” which the founders of this country began almost two hundred and fifty years ago, has brought the blessings of opportunity, freedom and happiness to a vast number of its citizens.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that these blessings have been denied to many Americans, simply by reason of race. This list doesn’t pretend to be exhaustive. Most of us would be shocked at the living conditions both squalid and life-threatening which so many of our people endure, especially those who occupy our inner cities; the sense of hopelessness, and in contrast, the perception of white privilege which guarantee the growing disparity between the empowered and the under-privileged. However, the fact that at this time, when those who are commissioned to protect all citizens are shown to have a long-standing and consistent pattern of abuse and brutality against the Black American population, we cannot be surprised when that segment of our society expresses their fury and has risen in revolt against such treatment.

On the one hand, the number of those in support of the “Black lives matter” movement is a source of encouragement and hope. In establishing the Constitution, the framers clearly sensed the importance of being able to express outrage on the part of the governed through “peaceful assembly.” I believe they were wise enough to realize that it might take such expression to bring about needed change on the part of those who occupied the positions of power. Even today, the vast majority of the people taking part in the current demonstrations are (almost surprisingly) seeking a peaceful way to express their systemic anger at the long history of abuse, both physical and economical, stretching in an unending chain all the way back to the days of slavery.

Tragically, at the same time, there are those individuals who see, in all this, an opportunity to undermine through violence, destruction of property, and pillage, the foundations of our society. Here we depend on our institutions of law-enforcement, local, State and, if necessary, Federal, to assist law-abiding citizens to bring such criminal behavior under control and restore order.

A greater tragedy would befall our society, if we were to mix up these two groups. We should not use the latter civil disobedience as an excuse to attack all those other people for using their right to peacefully assemble and bring their legitimate issues to the public forum.

It’s been about 170 years since this country was almost cast asunder by the American Civil War. It’s fortunate outcome was the official end to slavery. While emancipation was a major milestone, it could never be considered the end of the road. True, there have been important steps taken towards bringing the black community into line with the majority of its citizens, but the truth is, the expressions of outright racism and, in this case, brutality, the clear inequality of opportunity in the economic and educational areas, continue to pervade our society. This is truly a blight on all of us.

The response of “All lives matter,” to “Black lives matter,” misses the point entirely! True, the black community is hardly the only community that experiences bigotry or racism in our country. However, the fact that their predecessors were forcibly brought to this country under inhumane conditions, the length of time they have had to endure racial discrimination, economic abuse and brutality, makes a compelling argument for the need to address this outrage in an immediate and determined way.

At this point in history, it becomes imperative to devote significant resources to work with the black community to address the wrongs of history: to do our best to re-educate and hold accountable those who suffer from the social disease of racism. By working to grant the opportunities of full citizenship to that segment of the population that has suffered the most, we can begin a process of securing the blessings of this nation and its Constitution to all who come under its banner.

Rabbi Mordecai Miller

Congregation Beth Ami

Santa Rosa, CA

Social Action Committee Yearly Review

The SAC has a very active membership committed to Tikun Olam ( repairing our world)
The members include: Judy Gunnar,Lenore Holloway , Judi Hyman, Rita Kagan, karen Herskovic  ,Tish Levee, Cheryle Stern Miller, Susan Miller, lyla Nathan ( co chair), Ellen Mundell, Bobbie Rosenthal ( co chair), Carol Swanson, Michelle Zygielbaum .  I thank them for their amazing
We are committed to projects throughout the year.  We , along with the generous help of the congregation ,collect healthy  non- perishable food for the Redwook Empire Food Bank.
We also have a yearly winter  clothing drive to which the congregation gives to generously.This year we delivered  warm clothes and blankets  to Catholic Charities.  They do a wonderful job of distribution to those in need.
*Dinner at the Palms*
The Palms is an converted motel on Santa Rosa Ave. that is run by the veteran’s administration and Catholic Charities providing housing and services for previously un- sheltered individuals.  Every 2 months we prepare a hot meal for 75-80 residents .We often serve chili, meatballs, salad, and dessert.  This year Bernard and Maria Soltes ( pasta etc.) have provided their delicious pasta dishes.  Also Jerry Newman prepared smoked Brisket.  Both meals were so appreciated.  Thanks to you all the Mitzvah!
Last month ,because of Covid  19 ,we delivered 80 individually packed meals. We are planning  to deliver a chili dinner on Wednesday, August 26.
*Redwood Empire Food Bank:*
For most of the year we went every 2 months to help at the food bank. We would also go out for a simple meal following the work. We had many people join us over the years .We look forward to starting this activity as soon as we can and hope that many of you can join us.    I am sure everyone knows how important the food bank is at this time. The numbers of families in need has risen dramatically.*Toiletries  collection and distribution with nursery school *
We collected toiletries with the nursery school. The children packed them and delivered items to those in need. We hope to have more inter generational activities with them.Shabbaton with Beth Haman
In November we helped the adult education committee with Shabbat dinner  and the cabaret. It was a lovely weekend and well attended.Of course our activities have been limited during the last months.  We have zoomed and kept  in contact as a group. Any one interested in participating in any way please call or email the office or Lyla Nathan.@ 5267438.  Lylanathan5@gmail.com   We have will continue to do what we can to support those in need.
Thanks for everyone’s continued support of our committee and our mission of Tikun Olam,
Shalom, lyla