Today is a celebration. Barbecues, Beaches (even in NJ) and Booms (I mean fireworks, but I was going for alliteration). Enjoy this day. It is more than a tribute to our independence, it is a proclamation of values that have made this country the envy of people throughout the world.
So as you consume the food and participate in the festivities of the day, remember that we are a nation founded upon extraordinary principles. We have so much more work to do both here and in the world to extend those principles to everyone yearning to breathe free. So today let us rededicate ourselves to the amazing idea this nation represents.
I invite us all to take a moment to express gratitude this Thanksgiving Day for the blessings we share.
Eat a lot, watch the parades, watch football, and be with family and friends.
Our country remains among the greatest on earth. We still have much work to do to bring the full blessings of America to all Americans. Now is the time for each of us to figure out what we need to do to make this a reality, to roll up our sleeves and rededicate ourselves to the values that make America great. Perhaps, Black Friday is the day for us to do that. But on Thursday, take the time to enjoy and share with others.
We turn back the clock this weekend. The extra one hour of sleep isn’t such a big deal, I thought I would be much more excited if we were turning it back by about 20 years. But that is not the case. In fact, trading the past twenty years for the experiences during that time is not something I would do. I like who I have been becoming (I am still a work in progress) and the past twenty years have been an integral part of getting here.
Without those twenty, I likely would not be a rabbi nor would I be married to my wife Naomi, to name just two wonderful things that help define me now. The period was not without struggle and real challenges in all aspects of life, but these challenges also helped to shape me into the person that I am today. Today, I wish perhaps that the ground was not so far away when I drop things, or my arms did not have to be so much longer to read things, or that there was more hair to comb. But the blessings I enjoy I wouldn’t trade for any of those (although the hair makes me briefly pause).
So I come to this Shabbat with a sense of gratitude for what I have and I will use that extra hour to catch up on some sleep after a long workweek and a Saturday night spent with my wife.
Like so many other of his students, I mourn the loss of our teacher Rabbi Dr. Eugene Borowitz. An extraordinary thinker, he pressed all of us to critically examine modern Judaism. His moving eulogy by Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph.D., http://huc.edu/news/2016/01/25/eulogy-rabbi-professor-eugene-b-borowitz-delivered-rabbi-rachel-sabath-beit-halachmi is an eloquent tribute.
We all have stories about our interactions with Dr. Borowitz and his influence upon us. I am no exception. One of the great gifts he has left me was the moment when he stood up among us a few short years ago and reversed his position on gays in the rabbinate. He had long-held fast to his considered and principled position, but after continued reflection, that day he rose from his chair and said simply, “I was wrong.”
The ability of a man of such stature to publicly recant his position was a testament to him and an extraordinary lesson for us. I was deeply moved by his change of heart. I also learned profound lessons that day on humility and our ability to continue to grow and push boundaries and not rest on laurels or reputation.
We will all miss Dr. Borowitz greatly.
Zichrono Livrachah, May his memory be for a blessing.
With all the troubling things out there, let us all take a moment to recognize the many blessings we have. On this wonderful day that celebrates our bounty let’s find room to be thankful for what we have and resolve to share with those less fortunate in the year ahead.
The gift of our presence to another person is among the greatest presents we can share. Give to the cause that supports others and makes your heart feel gladness and deepen relationships with those around you.
The Jewish mystic tradition, through the Zohar, speaks of the Ushpizin, the greats of Jewish history as welcome guests to our Sukkah.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David, along with Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail and Esther are our honored visitors. They bring with them the ideals and values central to Judaism and are sacred honored guests at our table, if only metaphorically.
Here in Philadelphia we had the opportunity to add another name to the honored guests. This one is Pope Francis. His Holiness speaks of values that we hold sacred. He speaks truth to power, even when that truth is uncomfortable. He illumines a path of joy and happiness, purpose and service, a meaningful life that extends beyond ourselves, in service to others. He is the Pope of the Catholics, but he is also a Pope for the World. Pope Francis has stretched out his arms to embrace Jews as brothers and sisters. He does this through his long-standing friendship and collaboration with Rabbi Skorka of Argentina. He also reaches out to the Jewish people through his support of Israel and his blessing of “Sinagoga and Ecclesia, In our Time,” a magnificent statue dedicated to the profound understanding of brotherhood between our two religious traditions commemorated on the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate.
We are blessed to have Pope Francis in our midst. May his vision and teachings empower all of us to work to build a better world together.
Our Sukkah is underway. This Sunday, erev Sukkot, we will celebrate. In honor of the Pope’s arrival to Philadelphia we will have a combined Sukkah Decorating and barbecue, that we have affectionately dubbed the Pope-e-que.
The Pope’s presence is bringing havoc to the area with the faithful throngs coming to see and hear him while the roads are shut down for security purposes. Rather than be cynical, I am thrilled by his message of hope, love, joy and action to make a better world. He is a disruptor in the best of ways.
Although your schedule is full Your Holiness, you are most welcome to Lashev baSukkah, grace us with your presence and enjoy some of the best kosher beef ribs around!