Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Crown of a Good Name

 Parashat Chukkat tells us of the passings of Miriam and Aaron. Miriam, the sister of Moses, was a great prophetess and leader in her own right. It was due to her greatness that miraculously, the Jews were given a well of water that traveled along with them during their days in the desert. When she died, the well disappeared, and the Jews began to fully appreciate Miriam’s presence.
The Israelites were naturally very despondent when they did not have water. God instructed Moses to speak patiently to a rock, to draw out the water. Instead, he strikes it. Consequently, Moses is informed by God that he will never enter the Promised Land, as punishment for disobeying instructions.
The loss of Aaron was also deeply mourned by the people. The Torah makes a point of telling us that when Aaron died, the entire community wept for 30 days. This was because he considered it his personal mission to settle all quarrels within the congregation, and promote peace among all. He went out of his way to see that husbands and wives were reunited after they had a quarrel. When he heard that two people were involved in a misunderstanding, he would go to one of them and tell him that he had recently met his friend and had heard him say, “The quarrel was my fault, and I bitterly regret it.” Then, he would go to the second person, and tell him the same fabricated story. When the two met again, they would hug each other, and be friends once more. Thus, the entire nation wept when Aaron died, for they remembered the compassion and boundless love he had had for them.
So, what relevance does this have for us today? When we are blessed with the presence of a great personality, we should take advantage of it, not take it for granted while they are alive, and only appreciate them after his death. Unfortunately, the latter is all too often the case.
There is a famous Midrash known as the Two Ships.
Two ships were once seen near land. One of them was leaving the harbor, and the other was coming into it. Everyone was cheering the outgoing ship, giving it a hearty send-off. But the incoming ship was scarcely noticed.
A wise man standing nearby explained the people’s reaction. “Rejoice not”, he said, “over the ship that is setting out to sea, for you know not what destiny await it, what storms it may encounter, what dangers lurk before it. Rejoice rather over the ship that has reached port safely and brought back all its passengers in peace.”
It is the way of the world, that when a human being is born, all rejoice; but when one dies, all grieve. No one can tell what troubles await the developing child on its journey through life. But when a person has lived well and dies in peace, all should breathe with some sense of relief, for they have completed their journey successfully and departing from this world with the imperishable crown of a good name.

In the wake of a good person’s death, we are usually moved to re-examine our own lives.
Let’s think about Miriam. She was a loving sister. She was the one who followed her brother, Moses down the Nile River to make sure he’d be safe. She was brave, taking up her tambourine and leading the women across the sea. She also stood up for what she believed in, challenging Moses’s leadership of the people.
The community refused to move on without her when she was stricken with leprosy and welcomed her back into the camp.
When Miriam died, the well ceased to exist and all felt her loss. The well made her death known. When Aaron died, and the clouds of glory departed, all felt his loss. When Moses died, all felt it, for the manna made his death known by ceasing to fall
 “Similarly, when a person dies all should rejoice and offer thanks that he departed from the world with a good name and in peace. Solomon taught in the Book of Ecclesiastes: A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”
It’s natural, as human beings, to want to celebrate births and birthdays a lot more than we want to mourn a loss. But as Jews, we know that King Solomon was right. And when we remember somebody on the anniversary of death, it’s not really to mark what we have lost, but how much we gained by having them in our lives.
Unlike her brothers, Miriam had no successor to her position in the community. Moses passed his leadership onto Joshua; Aaron left to his sons the hereditary priesthood. Maybe what we learn from Miriam’s passing is that we're all expected to be her successors...and, hopefully find the strength to show some of the same compassion, courage and love that Miriam did.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Can We All Get Along?

His beating shocked the nation, and left the City of Los Angeles burning. As the city was in flames, Rodney King asked for peace.
But peace didn’t ever seem to come for him — even after the fires were out, and after he recovered from the severe injuries he sustained from the beating from the police. Rodney King died yesterday, his life a constant struggle through the years, even though the city he lived in tried to move forward, and progress had been made regarding police brutality.
We can't forget, those images of a driver curled up on the ground while four white officers clubbed him more than 50 times with batons —they became a national symbol of police brutality in 1991. More than a year later, now 20 years ago, the officers' acquittals shocked the nation and touched off one of the most destructive race riots in history. And then the image of his scarred face and THE question — "Can we all get along?" — moved so many of us and the nation started to confront more and more issues of racial tension.
"Rodney King was a symbol of civil rights and he represented the anti-police brutality and anti-racial profiling movement of our time," Reverend Al Sharpton said. "Through all that he had gone through with his beating and his personal demons, he was never one to not call for reconciliation and for people to overcome and forgive."
“Can we all get along?”


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Maybe Its All In The Delivery

This week’s Torah portion is about Korach, a pretty important person among the people of Israel. He was a Levite, which meant that he was already a person in a high position. He, and Dathan and Abiram gathered a group together against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:2-3) Now, Korach was no ordinary citizen. He was a very successful and wealthy man in his own right. He had a reputation of being honorable and intelligent. Korach was one of the carriers of the Holy Ark so why would such a reputable leader do such a foolish thing? How did Korach arrive at such a lowly level? How did this happen?

Envy, Jealousy, Overachievement. In the end, Korach and his family were severely punished for causing so much divisiveness and aggravation to the Jewish nation. Korach knew the importance of being a "team player" and the benefits of unity, especially so soon after receiving the Torah. His selfishness destroyed the communal environment. Korach, and his followers, fell into the trap of greed and vanity.  Actually, they literally fell into the trap. God opened up the mouth of the Earth, caused an earthquake and consumed Korach, his family, his riches and those of his followers.
Within a day, in quite a dramatic performance by God, the ground suddenly cracked open under Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, swallowing them whole, they and their families, and then just as suddenly the ground closed up again. No sooner had everybody else fled from the spot, than fire went out from God and consumed the 250 rebels.
Wow! God really put them in their place! Quite a character, this Korach!
Maybe his sin wasn’t in his words to Moses, but in the motive behind the words.! Korach rebelled because he was jealous, he wanted more power, he wanted more honor. Korach might have felt misunderstood. He felt that he needed to promote himself, and in doing so, he put others down.
You know, the truth of the matter is, that Korach was not all bad. Sometimes it’s good to get angry.  We shouldn’t let anger distort the way we see things, but if our anger is a positive force, that’s actually a good thing.  When we see injustice, it’s good to get angry. In fact, we should be outraged. But, we should never allow ourselves to be blinded by anger.
The Rabbis of ancient days saw a hint of the redemption of the story of Korach in Psalms 92:13, where the name Korach is spelled out.    צַדִּיק, כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח
Yes, Korach was blinded by anger, but the intention was righteousness.
 The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

Even though the DREAM Act is stalled in Congress, President Obama has just announced a new decision that will provide relief to an estimated 800,000 kids living in risk of deportation. Watch this, as he makes this exciting announcement, and also quiets down a heckler.'s all in the delivery.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Keep Blogging & Tweeting! The American Spring has Sprung!

Arizona Republican Spokesman Calls Criticism From Women A ‘Bitch Session’

Arizona Republican Party Spokesman Shane WikforsArizona Republican Party Spokesman Shane Wikfors

The head spokesman for the Arizona Republican Party wasn’t too happy that two women criticized the extreme politics of the state GOP in a newspaper column this week. So he took to his blog to dismiss it as a “bitch session.”As first reported by Phoenix television station KTVK, what set spokesman Shane Wikfors off was a piece by longtime Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts.
The column was based on an interview she did with local GOP donor Kathy Petsas, whose uncle used to be the director of the state party. It was titled “To dekook Arizona, start with the state Republican Party.”
In it, the two women lambasted the state GOP’s bent toward conspiracy theories and social ideologues rather than the calmer, pragmatic ways of the past. Petsas was quoted as saying the state party had been “hijacked” at the highest levels.
This did not sit well with Wikfors, who was hired as the chief spokesman for the party in August.
“Ms. Petsas ran off to Laurie Roberts and engaged her in a ‘bitch session,’” Wikfors wrote on his blog, Sonoran Alliance. “Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of people like Kathy Petsas and even some of the political consultants who don’t do a damn thing for their Republican Party.”
Wikfors defended his use of the phrase in an interview Wednesday with Phoenix television station KTVK. “It’s a colloquialism,” he said. “It’s universally used. Go to any corporate boardroom and you’ll hear that reference.”
Petsas, meanwhile, was outraged someone would use such the phrase to talk about her.
“It’s reprehensible, that kind of comment,” she told the television station. “It’s inappropriate and unprofessional for someone whose job it is to be a spokesman.”

Monday, June 11, 2012

Don't Forget

In this weeks Torah portion, Shelach, is the commandment to wear the fringes,the tzitzit, the threads attached to the corner of our garments-- symbolic reminders of our obligation to observe the commandments. Each thread, each knot, each twist and turn of the threads have become reminders of the 613 commandments in the Torah.
The portion describes that there is a blue thread in the middle of the tzitzit. Tradition teaches this blue thread came from the dye made of a sea animal. But the actual source is unknown to us, although there are some who claim they know and some archaeological digs that have discovered heaps of shells of a certain sea creature. 
 Why do we wear tzitzit? Is the answer found in the unique, blue color, Techelet?  The color “is like the sea, the sea is like the sky and the sky like the throne of glory.” (Menahot 43b).  So, wearing tzitzit reminds us of God’s presence. Techelet-dyed cloth was a valued item throughout the Ancient World. In many places it was a symbol of status and power.
 Today you will see individuals with a blue thread and also traditionally for centuries, the threads have been white. 
Many traditions have their symbols of connections. The Tallit and Tzizit remind us of the embrace of God and the covenant of our people.
A baraita taught: “That you may look upon [the fringe] and remember all the commandments of Adonai”: this commandment is of equal weight to all the other commandments combined.--(Babylonian Talmud, Menahot, 43b)

This passage about the Tzitzit, the fringes, teaches us to love God and study God’s teachings. We’re given a way to ensure that those teachings become a part of our life. “Look at the fringes and remember...”

So, the tzitzit becomes like a string tied around one’s finger, in that it is a cue to remember and achieve certain goals, and things that are too important to forget.

I read that when an astronaut travels into space, techelet is the last color they see before the blackness of space…a thread of blue, because it represents God’s color, God’s presence.

During the First Zionist Congress, it was unanimously decided that the Israeli Flag be blue and white, the same colors as Tzitzit. The Flag is the Tallit of the State of Israel. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Do Good Fences Make Good Neighbors?

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

25 years ago, on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan spoke to the people of West Berlin at the base of the Brandenburg Gate, near the Berlin wall. Due to the amplification system being used, the President's words could also be heard on the Eastern (Communist-controlled) side of the wall. The address that Reagan delivered that day is considered by many to have affirmed the beginning of the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism.
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.”

On Nov. 9-11, 1989, the people of a free Berlin tore down that wall.
Of all his speeches, Ronald Reagan's "tear down that wall," address may well become the "Great Communicator's" best remembered.

 On the night of Nov. 9, 1989, an East German official held a press conference to announce new government travel policies but inadvertently announced that crossings to the West would be opened "without delay." Within hours, thousands of East Berliners began lining up at checkpoints near the Wall. At first the border guards tried to check passports, but they quickly realized it was futile. The masses surged through. Many of them ran. Crowds of West Berliners waited on the other side, hugging strangers and popping champagne. The scenes were stunning. By the fall of 1989 cracks in the communist bloc had started to emerge. When the Wall came down, however, Reagan's speech entered American lore. "You look for one line you remember a President by," says Ken Duberstein, a former White House chief of staff who accompanied Reagan on the day of his Berlin speech. "FDR is easy. What is Ronald Reagan going to be remembered by? One line: 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.'

Reagan loathed the Berlin Wall. "It's a wall that never should have been built," he often said. As early as 1967, while still governor of California, he said the U.S. should have knocked down the barbed wire separating East and West Berlin the moment the communists put it up. On a trip to West Berlin in 1978, he was told the story of Peter Fechter, an East German youth who had been killed trying to crawl over the Wall in 1962. The authorities left Fechter unattended for nearly an hour while he bled to death. "Reagan just gritted his teeth," says Peter Hannaford, a longtime aide who was with him in Berlin. "You could tell from the set of his jaw and his look that ... he was very, very determined that this was something that had to go."

Is the United States going to become a nation that doesn’t necessarily build walls, but barriers?..keeping out the unwanted, and keeping in the unwilling. In his poem, Robert Frost sees the wall as a barrier that keeps neighbors as strangers. Are we,  now, going to live keeping our neighbors at arm’s length, or can we keep the door open for a visit?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Democracy in Action- Remember Tiananmen Square


Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Is a strong seed
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

Langston Hughes

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Six Day War

45 years ago, the event in Jewish history called “The Six Day War”
People around the world were glued to their television sets, a moment that was beyond time.
It felt as if all of the struggles of our people welled up, and on the 7th day everyone celebrated.
Have the 45 years been used wisely?  This land of milk and honey.  This miracle in the desert. Hopefully, the 45 years has taught us that there are others also longing to breathe free. We look forward to the day when we can live together in peace.

When You Rise Up

Parashat Beha’alotecha is a special one for me to read every Spring, as I get ready to travel upstate for the summer. It gives the feeling of "setting forth" as we continue to move through the wilderness…of going on a journey.
As you can see from the title of my blog, I’m very much about journeys.
 Our journeys are in some sense always just beginning. The name "Beha’alotecha" refers to the "lighting" of the Menorah. The Torah portion begins with the command to Aaron, the High Priest, to light the seven-candle Candelabra in the Tabernacle.

 The word “Beha’alotecha” literally means “when you cause to rise”, and Aaron’s lighting of the lights was described in terms of rising because he was required to light them until they could burn on their own. A true leader does not just light the flame, but they also cause the flame to rise.

During the summer at camp, we have the warmth of the campfire, underneath the moonlit night. And, the firelighters, the keepers of the flame, kindle the fire.  We have made a journey together.
 Our journeys are in some sense always a beginning. Wherever we stand in our lives can be perceived as the place of infinite potential. The more we expand and grow, the more God is revealed in every place.
We have a challenge, to rise up using our highest self–constantly shining our light in search of our destiny and constantly on guard for anything that could stand in the way of our performing it.  Good luck on the journey!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Looking Good At 40

The number 40 has significance throughout the Torah, and the Talmud.
For example, when a person becomes ritually impure, he must go to a ritual bath, a Mikveh. The Talmud tells us that a Mikveh must be filled with 40 measures of water, and a person, must completely submerse himself in it. After being submersed, he leaves the Mikveh ritually pure. It is no accident, that in the story of Noah, the rain poured for 40 days, and surrounded the world with water. And just as a person leaves a Mikveh pure, so too when the waters of the flood subsided, the world was pure. 

According to the Maharal (16th century, Prague), the number 40 has the power to raise up something's spiritual state. Just as 40 measures of water purifies a person, and 40 days of rain purified the world, so too Moses being on Mt. Sinai for 40 days also had a purifying effect, in that the Jews arrived at Mt. Sinai as a nation of Egyptian slaves, but after 40 days they were God's nation.
In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Jewish people that he had "led them 40 years in the wilderness," after he told them that "God has not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day." So we see, it took the Jewish people 40 years in the desert before they could understand the things that took place.
And that’s not it. June 3rd will mark the 40th anniversary of Rabbi Sally Priesand’s Ordination from Hebrew Union College as the 1st Woman Rabbi ordained by a Seminary. She has helped open the doors for hundreds of women.