Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Parent’s Blessing- Lech Lecha

Lech Lecha

“Go Forth from your native land and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you…” Lech Lecha

These are the words of this weeks Torah portion, “Lech Lecha” “go Forth.”

Lech Lecha- These are the Words of God, spoken to Abram. Abram has grown from child to adult In fact an old adult. For those of us who struggle, if you read just a bit further down the page, something very scary appears. As it is written and I quote, “Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran.” So for those of you wondering about your 20-something moving out of the house, be very careful. It could be worse.

But kidding aside, the story we learn about Abraham and his conversation with God are also a story is about Terach, Abraham’s father. Every parent is familiar with these words as well. For it is indeed the conversation we parents eventually have with our children. It is the understanding that the time has come for our child to venture out on his or her own.

The rabbis struggled with this text asking how could Abraham leave his father and family behind, never to see them again? One Midrash posits that maybe Terach was evil and thus Abraham leaving Terach behind might be justified. Another Midrash explains that it was God directly intervening, calling on Abraham to leave and thus exempting Abraham from the filial duties that the eldest son would normally have been required to perform.

But maybe, this issue is better explained if the words are those of Terach, the father who recognized his son’s need to strike out on his own. Might God’s words be spoken through Terach?

We constantly take lessons learned from the words of God and our relationship with the Almighty and find amazing parallels in our relationships with others, particularly parent/child relationships.  Who is responsible to whom, and for what? How does each person change as a result of the encounters and experiences with the other?

In some respects the Torah can be viewed as Process Theology overlaid on humankind. We look at this story and we can imagine these words coming from a father as he realizes it is time for his son to venture forth into the world to find a new path taking him from his father’s home to someplace far away.

Now for those of us who live in Philly, it is hard to imagine that people actually leave, but suffice it to say even if your child only moves from the Main Line to Center City that too is leaving the house of your birth.

Such a parting comes after a long and arduous journey starting at, if not before, conception. There are stages in the process.  First there is the shock, that moment when you realize you are to become a parent, and you are on the verge of leaving behind forever the life that you have known. Then there is ecstasy, that overwhelming joy that you will be having a child. Then you are overwhelmed by another emotion, fear, “How am I going to pull this off?” This is followed by somber reflection.  Then we begin in earnest, we start painting the babies room, stop drinking, start eating right, read baby books. We dream of what might be for this new life- sometimes a projection of the wishes and dreams unfulfilled in our lives that road not taken by us; what we might have been. We pray that their lives will be filled with joy that we will be good parents. We hope they will become something wonderful, and most of all we pray for their good health.

And then, there they are and the real deal begins. They are small, helpless and overwhelming. Late at night, bleary eyed after too much sleep deprivation, you find yourself looking to the heavens thinking, “Why didn’t You include an instruction manual?”

Parenting is hard. We spend our parental lives preparing, teaching, nurturing, strengthening and protecting. However, the protecting needs to withdraw we need to practice a kind of tzimtzum– so that the other things we have taught can find space to flourish and they can discover on his or her own.

We watch as our creation spreads his or her wings and learns to fly.  If we tether them– flight will falter and fail. They need to learn sometimes the hard way and we need to be able to give them that.

I remember teaching my son Derek to ride his bike, the two-wheeler bicycle without the training wheels. Holding the bike upright, walking then quickly breaking to a run, holding on to the seat until that moment when I had to let go. Somehow we know the first time would not end well. But we do it none-the-less. Derek caught on to the idea of riding, it was the stopping part that he found confounding. Pedaling forward he understood. Backpedaling to brake was not a concept he embraced initially, so hedges, lawns, cars and even the street became ways to stop. It took a couple of skinned knees on him and frayed nerves in me before biking started working for him.

And then it continues.  School, friends, relationships, achievements and love, disappointments and hurts, our children continue to develop. We spend so many years of our lives devoted to the nurturing, the teaching, investing in them, exposing them and protecting them. And once we have given them all that we reasonably can, we are to let them go, to let them be the people they are becoming.

“Go out with the tools that I have given you

with the life that I have nurtured,

go out and make a place for yourself in the world

that is yet to reveal itself to you.

Make your place in it, make it yours,

full of all the good things that might be.”

The words of God and Terach to Abraham are the blessings every parent hopes to bestow upon every child.

What does the world have in store? What lies ahead through that open door to the future that leads out of the relative safety and security of our home into the world of the unknown, a world filled with potential yet fraught with danger?

Filled with ambivalence we prepare to say “Lech Lecha” but hope maybe they might stay a bit longer. Possibly the struggle with adolescence is part of the process that helps our children cleave from us after so long cleaving to us. And our prayer, the V’ahavta takes on new meaning, may I suggest, something like this:

“I hope I have taught you well.

I hope the lessons and values I shared you have embraced,

and you will carry them and me in your heart

down whatever path you choose for your life.

May these principles guide you

in the choices you make and the actions you take

from the moment you wake in the morning

until it is time to rest at night.

Wear them proudly in your deeds and in your thoughts

so that everyone you meet will know

they have entered the presence of someone who tries to live life

virtuously and with integrity.”

So I say Lech Lecha- go forth my child. Take what we have given you and make a life for yourself. You need to go and I cannot go with you. Know that our lives have been forever changed by you; sometimes it was hard, but oh so deeply rewarding. But now it is time. But just one thing, every once in a while, especially when the time comes for you to have a child of your own, remember to call home; I miss you already.

Shabbat Shalom

 

 

Betrayal

Betrayal is an extremely powerful emotion. It overwhelms and upsets, calling into question not just the betrayer but everything about them and in turn, everything about ourselves. It takes everything that you thought you knew to be true and tests it in agonizing and uncomfortable ways and it can irrevocable change the way we see things. We ask ourselves many questions. Why did you place yourself in a position to be betrayed? Were you too trusting? Where do I go from here?   Can I ever risk placing myself in this place again? We turn inward and begin to victimize the victim.

This is all the more so when the betrayer is a rabbi, someone who holds a sacred trust and a position of esteem and authority. It is hard to separate person from title. It is almost impossible. So when an individual crosses the line, he or she takes with him the title they carry. That trust once violated shatters the vessel and we can spend our lifetime trying to piece it back together. The case of Barry Freundel is sadly only an example.

The pain of betrayal takes time to heal and often cannot be done without help. This is paradoxical, as the process requires placing trust in someone on the heels of that very experience going badly astray. But we are all responsible as rabbis and congregants for addressing this wrong. Betrayal is not the province of a particular denomination. It is a problem for all of us attempting to serve our people and maintaining the kavod haRav that the title Rabbi merits. We can take steps to help ensure that abuses of power are minimized. We must also be willing to admit that trust and respect are earned over time and every day, not entitlements based on a title. Our people must be sensitive to this as well and maintain proper boundaries. Encounters and conversations between an individual and his/her rabbi need to be sacred and private, but not secretive; Office doors need to have windows.

It takes painstaking effort to repair what has been shattered. This act of Tikkun will take much time and honest reflection. We can hope that the pain of the betrayal does not lead to permanent bitterness and cynicism. Both the community and the rabbis must do all we can to demonstrate that the despicable actions of an individual do not condemn all that is valuable and precious in the venerated position of rabbi serving the Jewish people.

Klinghoffer Continued

In response to my teacher and friend who posted a comment on my last submission on “The Death of Klinghoffer”

 My quarrel is with the Met not the writer of Klinghoffer.

I am a defender of free speech even when that includes writing something reprehensible. I recall the Nazis marching in Skokie and the right of these evil hate-mongers to spout their bile. My commitment this core constitutional and human value required I defend the right to march in the public space of the town even though the march was designed to promote hate and incite anger due to the venue. But the Met is different.

The Met has selectively and deliberately decided to produce Klinghoffer. This season there are 24 productions, six (6) new and 18 revivals. The names include: Mozart, Bizet, Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, Tchaikovsky, Bartok, Shostakovich, Donizetti, Wagner, Lehar and Offenbach. Englebert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is also on the schedule for a bit of fun and amusing fare. And then there is John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer.” It is outrageously conspicuous. For an institution of the Met’s esteem, the choices it makes for its productions are important sending a message to the world. The Met sullies her reputation and gives an imprimatur of respectability to this work by producing it without regard to the repercussions.

 I do not usually stand on the side of censorship. And in fact, I am not. I would be deeply offended if some lesser institution, the off-Broadway equivalent of the Met, were to produce Klinghoffer. But I probably would not be adamantly opposed. I am struggling with the fact that I have not actually seen Klinghoffer and yet I have taken a stand against its’ production. I accept the inherent problem with my situation.

 I guess the immediate contrast would be to argue that I would see Richard Strauss’ Salome at the Met. It too has outrageous and highly provocative material. For a substantial amount of time, it was banned- sometimes due to the sexuality involved sometimes due to the depravity involved, sometimes due to a combination of both. Ultimately, Straus’ gravitas forced people to give it the benefit of the doubt. Adams has a few noted pieces in his repertoire and has earned critical acclaim. However, at this stage, I am not prepared to put John Adams and Richard Strauss in the same category.

So I conclude that this is a very bad misstep for the Met. It is inappropriate and unworthy. The subject is vile and contemptible. The production almost seems like a gratuitous attempt to be controversial and relevant. But it is not. It is merely offensive, inappropriate and wrong. I understand that Peter Gelb (the Met) and Abe Foxman (ADL) have been working together to lessen the impact of this production. I probably will need to experience this opera to better understand it, which may alter my opinion. But for now, the Met would have served all of us including itself better were Klinghoffer not part of this season’s lineup.

Shame on you Metropolitan Opera

Sometimes you need to dispense with the pleasantries and cut to the chase. Although we should always remain civil, the fineries of such conversation can sometimes obfuscate or dilute an important message. Such is the case of the Metropolitan Opera and its production of “The Death of Klinghoffer.”

This production of “Klinghoffer” is nothing more than an affront to us all. It is not art; it is a loathsome expression of the worst of humanity masquerading as art. It glorifies murder, terrorism, Anti-Semitism, all set to music. The Met should know better and we must demand more of this institution that has permitted its reputation to be compromised by staging this contemptible crap.

I have expressed this opinion directly to the Met.  Despite my love of this venerated institution and the extraordinary productions I have been privileged to attend in the past, I will not patronize the Met if “Klinghoffer” is performed. In good conscience, I cannot do otherwise.

In an open letter to Peter Gelb, the General Manager of the Met, rabbinic colleagues expressed their disappointment and dismay at the decision to perform “Klinghoffer.”  However I am neither disappointed or dismayed; I am outraged and flabbergasted by the betrayal of one of the great world institutions of art. I do not understand how the Met could be persuaded by any argument on the merits of “Klinghoffer”, for the production of “Klinghoffer” or how “Klinghoffer” could have any social value whatsoever.

I may not sound as polite or circumspect as my esteemed rabbinic colleagues, but sometimes such a response is inadequate. Sometimes a stern voice is needed to express outrage at the outrageous.