Monday, January 28, 2013

"Sharing The Load" Parashat Yitro

This week’s portion, Yitro, was named after Moses’ father-in-law. It’s the portion of the "Giving of the Torah". That’s THE most defining moment in the life of the Children of Israel. Why then, would it be named after Moses’ father-in-law, who wasn’t even Jewish? As the Israelites made it to freedom out of Egypt, Yitro had been keeping a close watch on Moses’ wife and children, so that Moses was about to do his job. When Yitro finally arrived at Moses’ tent, Moses greeted him and filled him in on what had been going on with the Israelite community. Yitro was in awe of Moses’ stamina and the heroism of the Israelite people. He proclaimed: “Baruch Hu”..”Blessed be God”. Yitro was pretty impressed with the work that Moses had done within the community. He watched him act as Judge among the people and settle their disputes, but he grew concerned. He was working day and night.  Yitro asked him why he was doing this alone. He was concerned that he would wear himself out, and also the patience of the people. Yitro told to Moses: “The task is too heavy, you cannot do this alone” and he advised and helped him set up a system of lower courts to hear the smaller disputes. What a great idea!
“You shall seek of the entire nation exceptional people, who fear God, people of truth, who despise greed.” (Exodus 18:21) 
 Sometimes it’s hard to delegate. It didn’t seem to occur to Moses that he could share the burden and the decision making with others in the community, and they'd be happy to help. But, Yitro’s advice allowed Moses to grow as a leader. Perhaps, we read about Yitro’s great insight right before we read about the giving of the Torah because its important for us to realize that not only do we learn from the Torah, but we learn from each other, and that's pretty important.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Tree Is Only As Strong As Its Roots- Its Tu B'Shevat

Tu b'Shevat, the New Year of the Trees, is this weekend. It's when the earliest blooming trees in Israel wake up and begin a new cycle of bearing fruit. The roots are ready to do their job, to hold the tree in place, and draw their strength from the soil, so it can blossom. A tree is only as strong as its roots. Without trees we would never survive. It's no wonder that we have a holiday that celebrates trees! And I guess, then, it's no surprise, that the Torah is referred to as the Tree of Life. "It is a tree of life to those that hold fast to it, and all of its supporters are happy." (Proverbs 3:18). In a way, the Torah sustains us too...with spiritual support, and strong roots.

Plant a tree for Tu b'Shevat

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Roe v Wade

Roe V. Wade, the landmark decision that gave women the right to control our reproductive system, use contraception, and control our privacy, our dignity and our health…is 40 years old. Roe V. Wade promised that we would be able to make our own decisions about our bodies without any interference. But, 2011 and 2012 have brought an onslaught of political groups that have tried to chip away at the accomplishments that Roe made. 
There is plenty of work to do. Our health, financial security, and personal safety are constantly challenged, compromised, and limited. So while we reflect on these past 40 years, we should also celebrate the incredible steps we have taken to move forward.
But, hard work is needed now, more than ever, in the fight for women’s equality and justice. The goal of Roe V. Wade has not been realized for everyone, and on this anniversary it is essential that the dream of the fight not be forgotten. It’s about freedom, and the spiritual strength that is needed in our quest for freedom of choice. We must continue the fight.

Monday, January 21, 2013

I've Seen The Promised Land - Shabbat Shira

Is it just a coincidence that we are observing the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the inauguration of Barack Obama, and Shabbat Shira, where we celebrate the Israelite's redemption from Egypt.
So, why do we, as Jews honor the legacy of Dr. King?
Abraham Joshua Heschel shared these words: "At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharoah and Moses. Moses' words were: "Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me". While Pharoah retored: "Who is the Lord, that I should heed their voice and let Israel go?  I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go." 

"The outcome of that meeting has not come to an end.  Pharoah is not ready to capitulate.  The exodus began, but is far from being completed.  In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses."

Every week, when we read the Torah, we honor Moses. This week, we honor one of the most important leaders of our time. And today, President Barack Obama will take the oath of office for a 2nd time holding a bible that belonged to Dr. Martin Luther King. 

The Shabbat on which the parasha of Beshalach is read is called Shabbat Shira because it contains the song sung by Israel after the splitting of the Red Sea. This week in our Parashat we reached the Red Sea, and crossed it, then we sang our songs of praise. We couldn't turn back. We had our dreams, and Moses was leading us to new opportunities, to our Promised Land. We were free at last. And this week, as we remember Dr. King's vision of a world where all of God's children would be able to join hands in peace, may we all be able to say, "Free at last."  

Many compare Dr. King to Moses.
Dr. King concluded a speech the night before he was murdered. "I've been to the mountaintop," he said in a deliberate comparison to Mount Nebo. "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life....But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land."  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Remember The Days Of Old, Consider The Years Of Many Generations - Parashat Bo

In this week's Torah portion, Parashat Bo, we are instructed to observe the festival of Passover, and to tell our children: 'God did this for me when I went out of Egypt on account of this .' (Exodus 13:8) In fact, children are mentioned 3 times in connection with the Exodus from Egypt: In Exodus 12:26-27; 13:8; 13:14.  The special connection with children in this parashah emphasizes the things that we do on the night of Passover in order to arouse the inquisitiveness of children. Curiously, the questions asked by the children are set in the future tense, even though the answers refer to the past.

Maybe the secret lies in remembering our past in order to secure our future. The continuity of the Jewish people depends upon the passing of its traditions from one generation to the next. It is every parent's responsibility to educate, because our heritage must be one of action, not just memory, so in each and every generation we are to see ourselves as though we came out of Egypt. When we tell and re-tell the story of the Exodus, we commemorate the moments of slavery and oppression, and we celebrate, with gratitude the achievements that we have made.  We must always commit ourselves to moving forward, while honoring our past, so that we can pave the path to our future.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Gonna Harden My Heart - Parashat Va-Era

This week we read one of the most dramatic portions in the Torah...Parashat Va-era. Its the story of the 10 Plagues. In the Torah they're actually referred to as "signs". When I explain them to kids, I usually call them "messages". Signs, Messages, Whatever....they're certainly indications of power!

Moses and his brother, Aaron ask for the Israelites to be released, but Pharoah's heart hardens and he says "NO". It seemed that Pharoah just didn't care about the suffering of the Jewish slaves. The Nile turns to blood, the frogs die, the cattle die, the hail rains down, and Pharoah's heart continues to harden. He refuses to give in, and he also refuses to see the suffering of his own people. But, is it really possible that God is hardening Pharoah's heart? (Gen 7:3) If the intention was to free the slaves, why then, would God do that?
Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the giants of Jewish thought (aka Rambam) did not believe that God was involved in the hardening of Pharoah's heart. Maimonides believed in free will, and no one could force a person to act in such a way. Pharoah would have to make his own choice, but as he made each choice, it would be harder to turn back. Psychologist Erich Fromm wrote: "Pharoah's heart hardens because he keeps on doing evil. It hardens to a point where no more change or repentance is possible. The longer he refused to choose the right, the harder his heart becomes, until there is no longer any freedom of choice left in him."

What's scary is that there's nothing keeping us from being like Pharoah, too. We must never get into the habit of hardening our hearts. So, this Parashat is in essence, a warning. We have the choice, the opportunity, to re-open our hearts to see the good parts of life and do what's right.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Does Congress Hate Women That Much


Does Congress hate women THAT much?

You’d think that the Violence Against Women Act was a no-brainer. Right? Forget it. For the 1st time since 1994, the Violence Against Women Act doesn’t exist. Eric Cantor killed the bill, despite a late-stage intervention by Vice-President Joe Biden. Rep. Cantor and his Cronies literally blocked the re-authorization of the bill because the updated bill expands access to help groups that they were not in favor of helping….immigrants, the LGBT community, and Native Americans. So, they decided that they’d rather let the law expire, rather than protect those who need the resources. Makes sense?
It’s hard to believe that some members of our Congress actually want to prioritize who gets help and who doesn’t, especially when it comes to rape and domestic violence. But, these are the same guys that recently blocked funding for the disabled. So, what am I thinking?
This week we have the new 113th Congress. They are actually the most diverse Congress in our nation’s history. I hope that they do better than the 112th. Senator Patty Murray, who championed the Violence Against Women Act in the Senate plans to reintroduce the legislation. Hopefully, the new Congress will begin to see the issues of Domestic Violence and the diversity of our nation a little differently.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Are You Your Name - Parashat Shemot

Each of Us Has A Name by Zelda (transl. by Marcia Falk)
Each of us has a name
given by God
and given by our parents
Each of us has a name
given by our stature and our smile
and given by what we wear
Each of us has a name
given by the mountains
and given by our walls
Each of us has a name
given by the stars
and given by our neighbors
Each of us has a name
given by our sins
and given by our longing
Each of us has a name
given by our enemies
and given by our love
Each of us has a name
given by our celebrations
and given by our work
Each of us has a name
given by the seasons
and given by our blindness
Each of us has a name
given by the sea
and given by our death. 

Two hundred years have passed, and we are now in the Book of Shemot...the Book of Names.
Many of us have names that bind us to the memory and legacy of our ancestors. Our names speak of values, strengths, beauty, scholars, the Matriarchs & Patriarchs. Our names connect us to our past, and also to who we have become. The 'true' name of a person, Martin Buber said, is the essence of the person, distilled from his real being, so that his is present in it once again.

For God's name, we use Elohim, Adonai, El Shaddai, El Elyon, Hamakom, Avinu Malkenu, Shechinah...all reflecting different qualities of the Divine Essence.
 In the Torah, we've already seen that Abram became Abraham, Sarai become Sarah and Jacob became Israel. Think about yourself. How many 'names' do you have? Are you living up to your name?

As we get our houses in order at the beginning of this new year, we should all try to make our names a source of pride for our families and an inspirations for generations to come.