Sunday, July 29, 2012

Are You Listening?




This week we read Parashat Va’etchanan.
The Ten Commandments and the Shema are both read in it, commanding us to listen, listen to the bigger picture in life, listen to what really matters. “Listen Israel, give heed to the laws and rules that I am instructing you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Eternal, the God of your fathers, is giving you.” (Deut 4:1). 
The Shema teaches us about listening….listening to ourselves, listening to our hearts, to our souls, and to each other. By listening, we can stay more connected to the deeper meaning of life. Listening actually makes us see with better clarity, and that makes us engage more with those around us. It makes us more atuned to things. It sharpens our vision.


Parashat Va’etchanan recalls the details of the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai, a model for the deep, committed relationship that is ideal for connecting to our fellow human beings.
As part of the declaration of Israel’s unique relationship with God alone, we are reminded that we must love God with “all of our hearts and all of our souls and all of our might.”

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal Alone.


In the image above, just as in the text of the Torah, the last letter of the word 'shema' and the last letter of the word 'echad' are written larger than the other letters. These two letters, ayin and dalet, spell the word eid, meaning witness

There is a midrash that says God wants us to listen more than we talk, for that's why we have two ears and only one mouth. Life is about hearing the calls of God in our life, dedicating ourselves not only to bettering ourselves, but also to helping our neighbors— through generosity, tzedakah and kindness. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tisha B'Av and the Munich 11

Tisha B'Av is probably one of the most least known observances on the Jewish calendar, but yet, still one of great historical importance.  The Holy Temples in Jerusalem were said to have been destroyed on this date. And then, there were other tragic events that were connected to this date as well, including the Jews being expelled from Spain. Tisha B'Av is considered to be a day of communal mourning and commemoration which includes the recitation of the Book of Lamentations.

This year, coincidentally, Tisha B'Av not only marks these tragic events, but also the opening of the London Olympics and the 40th Anniversary of the Munich Massacre.
On this day of mourning and fasting, we will also remember the tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympics when 11 Israeli athletes and their coaches were brutally murdered.

I am baffled why the International Olympic Committee continuously rejects multiple requests for a Moment of Silence at the opening ceremony in memory of those killed.
I know that many people around the world that will be watching the Opening Ceremony, will be waiting to see the Israeli Flag, and they will be giving their own moment of silence for the Munich 11.

We remember....

Moshe Weinberg, Wrestling Coach
Yossef Romano, Weightlifter
Ze'ev Friedman, Weightlifter
David Berger, Weightlifter
Yaakov Springer, Weightlifer
Eliezer Halfin, Wrestler
Mark Slavin, Wrestler
Kehat Shor, Shooting Coach
Andre Spitzer, Shooting Coach
Amitzur Shapira, Shooting Coach

It must never happen again.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The 40 Year Challenge



Parashat Devarim in the Book of Deuteronomy places us at the border of the Land of Promise after a lifetime of journeying.  We stop and pause now, and look at the path that we have traveled, to understand just how far we have come. We embrace the wisdom and love that we have received through hard work and diligent practice. What a blessing it is to have reached this place.
40 years of challenges.
40 years of defeats, as well as victories.
The challenge of Parashat Devarim is to remember these times, learn from these experiences, and turn them into life-long-learning lessons.
Parashat Devarim, the Book of Words, is also known as Moses’ Farewell Address to the Jewish people. 

There he was, standing on the border of the Promised Land, and also, standing on the border between life and death.  Now, at the end of this incredible life, he recounts the significance of his leadership, and he challenges the Jewish people with their continued dedication to Torah and to God.
Moses’ review of the Israelites’ experience – the nation’s lifetime thus far! – is a combination life review and ethical will. Moses doesn’t merely recount the past; he reflects upon it and offers both wisdom and warning for the future. His experience--guiding Israel out of Egypt and through the Wilderness-- lays the groundwork for his ethical will to the Jewish people.
Moses taught us that commitment to each other is paramount. He worked against the injustices that he saw, and he made sure to create a framework in which his descendants could continue to work.

  Journeys through the wilderness don’t necessarily take us in a straight line.  It might take longer than expected to get us to the destination. But, once we arrive, survey the path you’ve taken and remember the path, so that you can look within and see how you’ve been shaped by the experience. Those experiences affect us and also motivate us to enter the Promised Land that is before us.

Parashat Devarim in the Book of Deuteronomy places us at the border of the Land of Promise after a lifetime of journeying.  We stop and pause now, and look at the path that we have traveled, to understand just how far we have come. We embrace the wisdom and love that we have received through hard work and diligent practice. What a blessing it is to have reached this place.
40 years of challenges.
40 years of defeats, as well as victories.
The challenge of Parashat Devarim is to remember these times, learn from these experiences, and turn them into life-long-learning lessons.
Parashat Devarim, the Book of Words, is also known as Moses’ Farewell Address to the Jewish people.
There he was, standing on the border of the Promised Land, and also, standing on the border between life and death.  Now, at the end of this incredible life, he recounts the significance of his leadership, and he challenges the Jewish people with their continued dedication to Torah and to God.
Moses’ review of the Israelites’ experience – the nation’s lifetime thus far! – is a combination life review and ethical will. Moses doesn’t merely recount the past; he reflects upon it and offers both wisdom and warning for the future. His experience--guiding Israel out of Egypt and through the Wilderness-- lays the groundwork for his ethical will to the Jewish people.
Moses taught us that commitment to each other is paramount. He worked against the injustices that he saw, and he made sure to create a framework in which his descendants could continue to work. Journeys through the wilderness don't necessarily take us in a straight line.  It might take longer than expected to get us to our destination, but once we arrive, we should survey the path we've taken so that we can look within and see how we've been shaped by the experience.  Those experiences affect us, and hopefully will motivate us to embrace the Promised Land that is before us.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Today's Tragedy in Bulgaria

Today's tragedy in Bulgaria is a powerful reminder of the reality that Israel faces everyday. We mourn the loss of our brothers and sisters that were cut down today in such a despicable act. May their memories be a blessing.  Give us hope that one day, terrorism will cease and we can live in peace.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Promises, Promises


As we approach the end of the Book of Numbers, Parashat Mattot-Massai opens up by emphasizing the importance of the vows and promises that we make.  We learn that the power of the word is “All Powerful”, and we must think carefully about how we use those words.  In the first verses of the Parashat, we read that any pledge that a man makes in the presence of God can be fulfilled.  However, a pledge or oath made by a woman can be overruled by her father if she lives in his house, or by her husband if she is married.  Why is it that a husband or father be allowed to actually cancel a woman’s vow? While a young woman still lived at home, her father was responsible for her. If she failed to keep her vow, her father was punished.  When a woman married, her husband became responsible.  He was punished if she failed to keep her vow. For that reason, a husband or father had the right to cancel a woman’s vow as soon as he heard it.  On the other hand, if he heard the vow and did not cancel it, the vow stood, and had to be kept by the woman.
These rules reflect another age, but the lessons are timeless. When you’re told someone is as good as their word or that they’re word is his bond, what’s being expressed is not only a belief in their trustworthiness and reliability, but his living up to the ideal set forth at the start of Mattot-Massei. “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.” (Numbers 30:3) Words have consequences.  Words can harm, but words can also heal.  And, the right words can teach, and comfort, and cheer someone. Our words, promises, and oaths are only as great as our intentions if we follow through with them.  When we do not fulfill a vow, we have the potential to bring about neglect, discomfort and distrust. 

We must be very careful with the promises that we make, and try not to make one, unless you intend to keep it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Passing The Torch



There’s a lot going on in Parashat Pinchas. One of the most important jobs that Moses has been given was to pick a successor…pass the torch to a new generation. For some people, this seems to be one of the most difficult things to do in life. They just don’t want to give up power by preparing a younger generation to take over.
But, in this Parashat, God told Moses that it was time. He was not permitted to enter the Promised Land, so he must choose someone that would be able to continue his work. It wasn’t an easy task, but it had to be done. He did exactly what God had told him to do. Moses chose Joshua to continue his work, to continue God’s work.
As we grow older, each one of us must prepare ourselves to pass the torch to a new generation. Our work and dreams can continue through them, as another link is added to the chain of tradition.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Champions of Women's Rights



In Parashat Pinchas we read about 5 brave women of ancient days. They are known as the Daughters of Zelophachad. The Daughters of Zelophachad have come to stand for women throughout the generations who have fought for women's rights; as they dramatically succeeded in transforming the laws of inheritance, to enable daughters to inherit in the absence of male heirs. But the sages of the Talmud do not refer to them as champions of equality; they are rather called "wise women, expounding women, righteous women" These women recognized an injustice in their community, and brought it to the attention of the leadership. They argued about the laws of inheritance. 
When land was allocated and divided up, it was given to each man for his family, and then, the land could only be inherited by his sons. But, Zelophachad, a son of Joseph, had no sons.  His 5 daughters wanted to ensure that they received a share of the land in their father’s name. What courage! They say: “Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no sons!” They weren’t necessarily focusing on an injustice being perpetrated against them, but rather on an injustice being done to their dead father.
 We all want to live our legacy through the children we leave behind, or the students we have influenced. In the words of our sages: "'And you shall teach Torah to your children,' which refers to your students, who are considered like your children." Those whom we have taught or touched, who carry forward the values and lifestyle by which we lived, are our continuation into the future. The Daughters of Zelophachad made a great stride forward on behalf of women's rights by receiving their father's patrimony. But their motivation was to secure their father's eternity, to see to it that his name not be blotted out in the building of Jewish eternity, or in his ability to give over both his traditions and his portion to his daughters. This is how the Rabbis of the Talmud understood it when they praised the Daughters of Zelophachad for being wise, learned and righteous.
So we can gain important insight from these 5 strong women who had the courage to voice their concerns and bring light to an inherent injustice in the law and in their lives. May they be a shining example to us all to challenge injustice wherever we see. They created legal change, which affected future generations of women.  They wanted each Israelite to be seen as an individual and have their ideas respected.  Moses wanted to be sure that the next leader of the Israelite Community would listen to the voices of the people, so before entering the Promised Land, the People were given a leader who was a guide, a source of support, and a good listener.

 Think of the people in your lives, who meet you where you are and see you as an individual. Think of all the countless Men and Women that have the courage to speak out, stand strong, and find listening ears.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

68th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act




It was July 2, 1964.  After decades of racial turmoil, and a year of anguished debate, including a record 83-day filibuster in the Senate, Congress—in the face of still solid southern resistance—had passed the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the post-Civil War period.  President Lyndon Johnson was about to sign it, and the White House spared no effort to dramatize the moment.  The Civil Rights Act was rushed to the president within hours of final congressional approval.  In the East Room the stage had been set for a full production signing ceremony at which the president’s message would be loud and clear.  The media had been alerted so that the word would go forth during prime time.  All the leaders of the civil rights movement, the most powerful members of Congress, and the key figures of the Justice Department had been invited to share the moment that would crown their labors and establish the law.  Heralded as one of the legislative milestones in modern American history and as the most far reaching civil rights measure ever enacted in the United States, the 1964 Civil Rights Act was a historical event in American law and politics.  Its passage was in many ways a culmination of the struggle civil rights movement to achieve equality.  In many ways, it was just the beginning.

The Tents of Our Lives


This week we read Parshat Balak, and read the story of King Balak and Baalam. We’re reminded of this story every time we enter the sanctuary when we sing "Ma Tovu." The parshat is a story of curses turned into blessings.
In it, King Balak sent Baalam, the greatest magician in the world, to curse the children of Israel so they would die.  But God intervenes and tells Balaam he must say only what God commands. On three occasions, King Balak asks Balaam to curse the Israelites, but each time the seer blesses them instead.

The blessings of Balaam contain some beautiful poetry. His third poem of praise for the Israelites includes the following phrases: "Ma tovu ohalecha Ya'akov, mishkenotecha Yisrael — How good are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwelling places, O Israel. Like palm groves that stretch out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted by God, like cedars beside the water" (Num. 24:5-6).
In addition to being an entrance prayer to the synagogue, His words became the opening prayer of every morning service. Balaam's words capture the magnitude of blessing that one feels as they enter a holy place. “Ma Tovu” tells us to take notice of our sacred surroundings.

                                              Ma tovu ohalekha Ya’akov,
                                                   Mishk’notekha Yisrael.
 
                                            How good are your tents, Jacob,
                                          How good are your mishkans, Israel.

Jacob is the tent, that temporary shelter that we build, and is necessary in order to house and protect us as we travel through the wildernesses of our lives;
Israel is the mishkan, the site of connection to the eternal, to holiness and the presence of God.
As we approach the summer months, may we all be blessed with the gift of warm sunshine and light.  May our sanctuaries connect us more deeply, and enlighten us with the lessons of Torah.