Monthly Archives: August 2015

Shabbat Shalom

I lead Shabbat services for a couple of elder communities in our area.  As we welcome Shabbat, I ask the group for what are you grateful this week?  For some, the question is more difficult.  But finding at least one thing that may have happened, for which we can express gratitude is an expression of hope and joy.  Something always wonderful for sure, but even more so during Elul.

What is that thing that happened for you this week for which you can express gratitude?

Shabbat Shalom~

More than the Iran Agreement

We continue to debate the pros and cons of the Iran deal during the 60-day review period preceding the vote in Congress. I read the article about the rabbis signing a letter opposing the Nuclear Agreement and the interesting points made by my colleagues. I am among those rabbis who signed the other public letter in support of the Nuclear Agreement, based on what I believe was a thoughtful deliberative process. But beyond pro and cons, there are three very important Jewish issues that spring from this situation and they not include who has more signers and join my voice to the growing number who share these concerns.

 First, we have close to two thousand rabbis now, who care deeply enough about the issue to place their names publicly identifying how they feel.   Secondly we have the opportunity to raise the quality of the debate. Third, we need to discuss how we constructively move forward in the aftermath of this process.

 I am pleased that we live in a place where we feel comfortable enough with our station to engage in a political conversation that affects us as Americans and Jews and supporters of Israel. This ability to actively and vocally participate in the public square is one of the great blessings of living in the United States.

 Second, I have been deeply concerned that the discussions about the deal have devolved into a nasty shouting match filled with vitriol. Therefore the shouting detracts from us as Klal Yisrael. As President Lincoln declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” and so too it is with us. As a people we have always wrestled with issues. Our holiest texts engage us in these contests with other people and often with the Divine. It is a proud tradition that compels us to grow because we are required to listen to the counter argument or alternative interpretation. Our Talmud preserves the minority view for a distinct purpose, namely for us to learn from the disputation process, that even the ultimately rejected view carries weight and is deserving of respect. We are elevated when our conversations are “for the sake of heaven, Makhloket l’Shem Shamyim,” and we are debased when they are not.

 Third and finally, regardless of our individual positions, the United States will move forward in one way or the other. We need to start reaching out to each other now to rebuild the bonds of fellowship that have been deeply shaken. We also must be practical and pragmatic working on behalf of the things we care about, namely the United States and Israel, ensuring this alliance remains unshakable and both are fully capable of defending itself from all threats, including from Iran.

 Despite the passion that so many have on this issue, at the end of the day, we are one people. Now is a very good time for us to remind ourselves of this. We must not let the differences of opinions detract from our responsibility to respect each other. This is a pledge we all can sign.

Pope-e-que

Like so many, I am taken by Pope Francis. However, such popularity comes at a cost.

 The Pope is planning to visit Philadelphia to help celebrate the World Meeting of Families. This amazing conclave is expected to bring in millions and the city is bracing itself. We even have a countdown clock! The preparations however make getting around Philadelphia impossible while Pope Francis is in town. Local reporters warn us to prepare as though we are going to encounter a blizzard; have enough food and water on hand to last for at least a couple of days.

 I would love to see the Pope, but security corridors and fences, re-routed and limited trains and buses and the throngs of the faithful will make getting out of our immediate area unrealistic. So we are going to have a barbeque at our home for our local friends who will likewise be unable to go anywhere beyond walking distance from home. Hence, the Pope-e-que. Of course we would be deeply honored if His Holiness would join us, after all he will be staying just down the road. But we understand if he cannot. We are looking forward to making his time here good for all.

 It will be fun, it will be in his honor and it will be kosher.

What does forgiveness look like for me?

What does forgiveness look like for me?

 Many Jews were amazed by the forgiveness offered by the survivors of the Charleston Church massacre. This Christian understanding of forgiveness is an extraordinarily powerful display of love but alien to many Jews. So what does it look like to offer forgiveness to another?

 How many of us carry a hurt and cannot let it go. How many of us feel that someone’s poor treatment of us gives us license to treat them similarly? Or perhaps many of us want to extract a retribution or punishment before we will entertain forgiving another?

 What might we look like if we could find a way to get past the hurt and find a way to repair a broken relationship? Can we set our egos aside or do we need to carry the hurt as a validation?

 I wonder about these questions this Elul due to my particular perspective as a rabbi. As a rabbi, I am someone who has the sacred privilege of serving at funerals. I find it very sad that many people leave things unresolved until it is too late. The pain and the guilt that survives death becomes an even greater burden than the hurt that caused the rift between the two.

 As we prepare for the High Holidays, let us examine our own motives and realize that even when the hurts are real, when we cannot forgive, these hurts become walls separating us from people we care about.

 As we come to the end of the 6th day of Elul,

 Shabbat Shalom

Forgiveness

Forgiveness

 What does forgiveness look like?  We speak of forgiveness during the High Holidays. We are told to ask for forgiveness from others. Our tradition says we cannot approach God to ask for forgiveness until we have done so with the people in our lives.

 This is the time to consider what it means to be forgiven. What must we do to make our request for forgiveness one that is full, with merit and true? How do we convey the sincerity of our Teshuva that makes the request of another we have wronged compelling?

 Are we willing to do all those things that transform us from someone who wronged another to someone who is sorry and has become someone who will not inflict that kind of hurt again? Even if our apologies are not accepted, think of what better people we have become.

 A thought to ponder this 5th day of Elul~connection

More on Elul

Welcome to Elul- continued

For those using Elul as a time for reflection and preparation leading to the High Holidays, let me suggest Jewels of Elul.

Craig Taubman, an extraordinary artist and musician started JewelsofElul.com. This website shares a daily thought written by another leader/thinker from our community. These are aptly named as the daily thought is usually a gem. Something to think about, ruminate on and uplift your day.

www.JewelsofElul.com it is a few minutes well spent.

And if you like the poetry of the Psalms, take a look at:

Psalms 7,8,9

Welcome to Elul

 The month of Elul precedes the High Holidays.  We use it to prepare for these Days of Awe. It can be a magical time.

 The preparation is the mental and spiritual “getting ready” so that the holidays take on deeper significance. Almost anything we do is done better if we are prepared for it. So how do we prepare?

 Traditionally each day starts with the blowing of the Shofar at the conclusion of morning prayers. The awesome penetrating sound is called a “wake up call” by one of our great sages Maimonides. For those of us without ram’s horns, each day still can have moments where we weave emotions and thoughts, heart and mind, and contemplate who we are. It could be formal learning like reading a Psalm, I will share some ideas going forward. Try Psalm 27 (read it at the end of this essay) or maybe Psalms 4, 5 and 6 if you would like to follow our Hasidic friends tradition. For others a moment in front of the mirror might work.

 A quiet conversation with ourselves might work better for many. Where are we in our life? Is it where we expected? What is our unfinished business and what do we need to do to complete the task? What about our personal relationships? Who do we need to forgive and, at least as important, who needs to forgive us? This introspective process during Elul leads to the “Day of Judgment.”

 The Day of Judgment we know from our childhood stories is a time when the ledger book is opened up in Heaven and the Almighty determines who will live and who will die. But let me offer another interpretation:

 If we are given the gift of life for another year, how will we use it? If life is truly a precious gift, how will we cherish it and make the most out of it? What can we do this year that will permit us to look back upon it and say it was time well spent?

 Let’s spend the time now preparing for an awesome year to come.

Psalm 27 (JPS Translation)

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell.

Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.

For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.

And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the LORD.

Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me.

When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

Hide not thy face far from me; put not thy servant away in anger: thou hast been my help; leave me not, neither forsake me, O God of my salvation.

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.

Teach me thy way, O LORD, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies.

Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty.

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.