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.
I was saddened to learn of Glenn Frey’s passing. His music and artistry were amazing gifts he shared with us all as a solo artist and through the Eagles. I watched the documentary and thought we will never see him perform again or share new poetry with us. But his legacy of music will endure. I could not help but turn inward and wonder what is my legacy?
This accounting is often referred to as Cheshbon HaNefesh in the Jewish Tradition. But it is more than looking back and making a list; the Cheshbon is more than a list, it is an assessment by us of ourselves. Such a perspective is much more than a posthumous accounting or someone else’s reflection; it means that we can be proactive managing this list and our lives for whatever time we have. We are active, not passive in the process of this accounting. Since it “ain’t over ‘till it’s over,” as the American Philosopher Yogi Berra said, we could change the course of our lives if we are willing to do so.
Often we leave important conversations unspoken. The discomforts we believe these conversations will cause make us shy away from them. But then we miss an extraordinary opportunity. It is never too late to tell those we love that indeed we do love them, until they are gone. We can talk about our lives, the triumphs and the tribulations, the things in which we had success and the times when we missed the mark. We can give them an understanding of their meaning to us; for too often those thoughts are not expressed. By sharing our aspirations and our vulnerabilities we can elevate our relationships by bringing those we care about close to us.
Not all of us possess the gifts of a Glenn Frey and not all of us will have the ability or opportunity to change the whole world. But we do have the capacity to change our piece of the world. We can decide what kind of relationships we create or nurture with those we care about. We choose to add our voice and our support to the people and causes we care about. Through these we change our piece of the world and our legacy is written by us.
As a co-editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, I reviewed this wonderful and fascinating story that we posted today to commemorate Veteran’s Day. It is a moving story about a certain Jewish chaplain who transcended boundaries to honor the memory of all the fallen.
The mass shootings and murders at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon has made this yet another difficult and tragic week in the United States.
Again, another individual wrecked havoc on a community slaughtering unsuspecting innocents and destroying the lives of the families left behind. This murderer did this with weaponry that was too easily accessible.
We need to commit ourselves to keep guns out of the hands of people seeking to harm others as evidenced by a violent criminal history or by a struggle with mental illness. People who are inherently irresponsible cannot handle guns responsibly. It is reasonable to keep guns from them.
We cannot accept that mass murder and domestic terror are acceptable costs of living in the United States. Yet every time we allow no constructive action to reign in gun violence in this country we become part of the problem. These deaths are no longer just the responsibility of individual actors, be they angry or crazy. The blood is now on our hands. The responsibility is ours. As President Obama said in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Indeed it is time to turn our revulsion into action. Write or Email your congressman as soon as you finish reading this and give the necessary support to overcome the politics of the gun lobby and demand an end to gun violence. Support responsible legislation that requires background checks of individuals for criminal and psychological issues; that requires documentation registration of all guns and all transfers of ownership, public and private; perform background checks on sale of ammunition; that requires training and licensing of gun owners. This cycle of horror will cease only when we demand a change.
Our condolences extend to the families that have been ripped apart by senseless violence. May we honor the memories of the slain through action to prevent this from happening again.
Moses continues his review of the journey through the wilderness in this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan. He recalls the trials and tribulations and what it means to be in relationship to God. Moses tells the people that he will remain behind; Moses will die here in the desert and they will move forward to the Promised Land. Moses reviews the Law and we encounter a core Jewish teaching, the Shema followed by the V’ahavta.
We all know the words to the V’ahavta. It has been committed to our memory due to the recitation more times than we are able to count. In it we learn that loving God requires the active practice of the laws we have been given and that active practice requires that we teach these laws to the next generation, our children. We hear Moses recite this prayer to the people, but how might it sound if Moses internalized the V’ahavta as he accepts his fate preparing B’nei Israel to leave him?
If Moses was speaking personally, the language of the V’ahavta prayer might change. He might wonder if his children, the fledgling nation of Israel, have learned the lessons he spent his life living and teaching. In that, Moses resembles us, or rather, we who are parents resemble him. We invest our lives nurturing and teaching our children, hoping we instill good values so they may find a meaningful life based on a solid foundation. Are they ready to “fly on their own from the nest” is a question we all ask. We look back on our lives as parents and wonder; “Did I do it well enough? Were these lessons embraced?” I imagine Moses’ personal V’ahavta entreaty, and ours as well, might go something like this:
“I pray 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.”
Devarim is the great repetition that isn’t. Moses’ speeches in Devarim are a wonderful retelling of a story, but so much of it is not true; at least much of is does not comport with the stories of the previous books of Torah. So what is going on with Moses?
Viewing Moses as a person and not the mythic Prophet, Teacher and leader, Moses is doing what so many of us do. He is trying to understand his place in history, trying to figure out whether his teachings and leadership from slavery to peoplehood was really worth it. In simple language, Moses asks himself what we ask ourselves in the sunset of our lives: “Did I do good, did I make a difference?” Even the great Moshe Rabbeinu seems to question if he did the right thing and if ultimately he will make a difference in the world. For us, the answer is an unequivocal yes, but for him in that place, he was unsure.
Moses’ stories are retold with a tweak here and an embellishment there. In these Deuteronomy versions, Moses recalls himself prominently and his actions are above reproach. Here at this place in his life, Moses knows he is at the end of his journey and what he has done is all that he can do. There is a sense of authority in his voice, as he needs to reassure the people who will continue forward without his leadership, and there is a sense of desperation as well as he needs to reassure himself. It is here that we can relate to Moses the man, as we sometimes find our loved ones doing as he did.
For those of us with older parents or grandparents we too see similar behavior in their retelling of their exploits during the journey of their lives. And the subtext of their stories echoes the issues and fears of Moses. We are our most compassionate when we lovingly hold them and respect their stories as recounted. It is our way of saying to them yes my dear one, you do matter, you did make a difference to me. I will love you and remember you for these and all the other gifts you have shared.