Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech "Taking The Right Path"

So, here we are at the end of the summer. It’s back to reality. So many are packing up and heading back to school, and the stores are stocking their shelves with various school supplies. Where does the time go? It feels as though we were just boarding the buses for our departure for our 2013 summer at Camp.  And suddenly, we woke up, and the chill of autumn was in the air, and we knew that summer was coming to an end.
Life is like that.
Now, as the year draws to a close, we’re up to the last Parashat of the year, the double portion Nitzavim-Vayelech. As we leave one experience and begin a new one, we know that we will be faced with new challenges.  We’ll make mistakes along the way. Will we see that? Hopefully, we will try to do what is right, follow a path that is good, toward blessing and peace.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Parashat Shoftim - Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue

This week we are reading Parashat Shoftim, Judges. The Israelites have finally entered the Promised Land after the death of Moses. God predicted that once they settled and were comfortable in their surroundings, they would see that the other nations around them had Kings as rulers. God knew that the Israelites would also want to choose a Leader as their authority.

"You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice." (16:18)

"You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just" (16:19)

"Justice, Justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you." (16:20)

After making these rules for the one that was chosen, God emphasized that the king must be "one of your own people".

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "can project the daunting stillness of a seated monarch."1

                                                         Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as Camp Rabbi
                                                               Camp Che-Na-Wah Minerva, NY

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has the words from this Parashat adorning the walls of her chambers: "Justice, Justice, shall thou pursue." (16:18) In an essay titled "What Being Jewish Means To Me", Justice Ginsburg described her Jewish predecessors on the Supreme Court as using "law as protector of the oppressed, the poor, the minority, the loner." 

"I am a judge born, raised and proud of being a Jew.  The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition.  I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and the courage to remain constant in the service of that demand." Justice Ginsburg has said that Jews in the United States today face few closed doors, and thankfully do not fear letting the world know who we are.  The security she feels is shown by the artwork that she displays...."Zedek, Zedek tirdof--Justice, Justice shall you purse." They are constant reminders of what judges are expected to do.

1Toobin, Jeffrey.:"How Ruth Bader Ginsburg Moved The Supreme Court."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Parashat Eikev - "Bringing You Into A Good Land"

This week we are reading Parashat Eikev.  Moses reminds the Israelites of all of the gifts that God has given them, that they will continue to be blessed and they will be able to enter the Promised Land, a few enemies defeated along the way…of course, with the help of God. Moses recalls the years of hardships that they had  endured, but despite it all, they survived. God watched over them, and will continue to do so, but they must promise to keep the commandments. 

Moses reminds them that they must always remember to give thanks for the land and the gifts that God gives them, and be grateful for the forgiveness that was given to them and to their ancestors.
We can’t forget that this group of Israelites that Moses was addressing did not have THE experience of Sinai. The experience is what their parents had told them. And Moses is aware of that:

“Take thought this day that it was not your children who neither experienced nor witnessed the lessons of the Lord your God” (11:2)

Moses wants the history from the Red Sea to the border of the Promised Land to be told and re-told to this new generation who will travel the long road to the Promised Land. He needs them to be motivated, and to understand that they are a part of the covenant that goes beyond those that left Egypt and reached Sinai.
How do we fit into that long chain of tradition today? We weren’t at Sinai, but our ancestors were. We no longer use stone tablets, but we are still a part of the story. We must continue to empower and inspire future generations to know the story, to tell and re-tell it, so that they understand that each one of us are here because they paved the way for us, as we must do for future generations.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Parashat Vaetchanan - How Will We Learn From Our Mistakes?

This week we read Parashat Vaetchanan, and the Israelites are ready to enter Canaan.  Moses speaks at length with his people, instructing them on his legacy.
Moses asks God to reconsider his decision. God has forbidden Moses’ entry into the Promised Land because of his prior acts of impatience and disobedience. Moses pleads with God, but God does not listen. The law is the law. The punishment will stand.
Moses can see the Promised Land from afar, but he shall never enter it. Moses has an opportunity to speak to the Children of Israel and offer them advice, and tell them to follow God’s laws faithfully. He tells them not to repeat his mistakes, so that they may live a full life, and thrive in the Promised Land.
How will we, as a society, learn from our mistakes?
Many of us heard the verdict of the George Zimmerman Trial this past weekend. We cannot change the verdict. But, there is more that we can do as a society so that future generations have a better chance of living a full life. President Obama said:
“And as we do, we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities. We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis. We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this. As citizens, that’s a job for all of us. That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin”. In addition to Gun Control, will Florida finally review the Stand Your Ground Laws, so lawlessness can be prevented, rather than encouraged?
Vaetchanan….I implore you. We must join together, so that the mistakes are NOT repeated.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Parashat Devarim - Moses Begins His Farewell


This week we begin the final book of the Torah…Devarim.
In Parashat Devarim, Moses begins his final sermon to the Israelite people. He is pouring out his heart to the people that he has been leading, and it is his final opportunity to speak to them. They will soon cross over into the Promised Land without him, and he has chosen a new leader to guide them.  This Parashat sounds different than the ones that we just left in Bemidbar.  None of that: “The Lord spoke to Moses and said:” There’s more patience here, more guidance, more listening. Moses’s sermon recounts those days when the Israelites left Egypt to freedom, and the conquests that they made against enemies throughout the years. These Israelites are the first generation that was raised by former slaves. Moses warned them not to abuse their power and how they treated those that were weak. "For you were strangers in the Land of Egypt." Since we ourselves were slaves, Moses was afraid that we might abuse our power.
In fact, Moses was very concerned that the Israelites would be consumed with the idea of power. To combat these influences Moses gives laws to the Israelites to limit their use of power.
Devarim is about listening, and recalling, and being socially conscious

It’s about remembering our past, so that we can move forward into our future.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Parashat Mattot-Oaths, Vows, and Never Remaining Silent

This week we approach the conclusion of the Book of Numbers, and we read Parashat Mattot. The portion talks about the subject of "vows" and "oaths" that we make. We know that words are powerful, and we should always think carefully before we use the gift of words. The focus is really about the vows that women make.

"If a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has crossed his lips.  If a woman makes a vow to the Lord or assumes an obligation while still in her father's household by reason of her youth, and her father learns of her vow or her self-imposed obligation and offers no objection, all her vows shall stand and every self-imposed obligation shall stand. But if her father restrains her on the day he finds out, none of her vows or self-imposed obligations shall stand; and the Lord will forgive her, since her father restrained her." (Numbers 30:4-9)

Most of us today find this a bit shocking....all those feelings that stir within us about the nature of relationships and social status. But, it's true. When a man made a vow or took an oath, he was required to "carry out all that has crossed his lips". While women were allowed to make vows, these could actually be cancelled out by the male authority in her life if he renounced the vow when he heard it. So, providing that he does so quickly, and not keep silent, the women's father or husband can cancel out the vows made by a woman. There was no option to keep silent. Silence was giving it an OK.  Once you knew what the vow was, and you didn't speak up, you were now responsible for it. The motivation was to become accountable for what was going on around you.

So, if vows were so important, why could a woman's word be virtually wiped out by her husband or her father? That doesn't say much about the value of a woman's word in Biblical times. We HAVE come a long way. All people ARE created equal. (That means race, gender, class, religion sexual orientation, disability, what we look like, or where we come from) A person's gender shouldn't affect their ability to achieve great things. Equal Opportunity means Equal Opportunity.

We can never remain silent. Once we do, we are saying that everything is OK. If we disagree with something, we must speak up right away. It's our obligation to do so.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Parashat Pinchas - The Daughters of Zelophehad

This week we read the story of the daughters of Zelophehad. The portion begins as God instructs Moses and Eliazar to conduct a census of the people. God then instructs Moses to distribute portions of land to the descendents of each of the clans. Larger clans would acquire larger portions of land than smaller clans. But, the women were not included in this process. A man named Zelophehad had just died, and was survived only by daughters. Therefore, Zelophehad’s daughters, were not entitled to any land at all.
The 5 daughters come forth and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the chieftains and the whole assembly at the entrance of the tent of meeting.  They proclaimed that their father has died. The daughters tell the assembly that their father had no sons.
They plead to everyone present:

“Let not our father's name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (27:4).

After the women make their plea, Moses takes the case in front of God. God tells Moses:

“the plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: that Moses should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen and transfer their father’s share to them. (27:7)

Miraculously, God changes the law for all times and for all daughters. Zelophehad’s daughters make it possible for daughters to inherit land when there are no sons or brothers. This was a momentous achievement for women of this time.

And what a powerful lesson for us today. The daughters of Zelophehad should inspire us that we can shape our destiny, and we do have the ability to move mountains, and change laws...even ones that were handed down at Sinai.
May we all have the courage to take action when necessary in order to make change for the better.