Sunday, May 26, 2013

Parashat Shelach - Lions & Tigers & Bears, Oh, My!

This week's Parashat, Shelach, has a lot to do with fear. Sometimes fear gets the better of us, and we lose our way, and too often we project this fear on others.

The Israelites are finally approaching the Promised Land. It has been such a long time. God tells Moses to send out from each of the check out the Land. The spies were instructed to explore the terrain, the towns and the cities, and the inhabitants.  They were away for 40 days (again, 40 !) and they finally returned, bearing some of the fruits of the land. They went right to Moses with a detailed description of what awaits the Israelites in Canaan, and described the beauty and bounty and called it a land that was flowing with milk and honey.  They also describe the people who dwell in the land, the various tribes: Amalakites, Jebusites, Hittites, Amorites, Anankites, and the Canaanites.

Caleb and Joshua believed that the Children of Israel should move forward toward the Promised Land. But, some of the other spies start to make up stories, and tell wild tales of giants that live in the land. The Israelites start to to panic, and they rebel against Moses and Aaron, and God. Have they forgotten that God has brought them this far? Were they just going to give up without even making the attempt?

God has had enough. Moses still has a lot to do. Moses is actually thinking that the people are not ready. But, Moses calms God's anger., and reminds God of the greatness of the Israelite people. But, God does not forget. God remembers those Israelites that were particularly cruel to the Egyptians in the desert. They, in particular, will not be able to cross for another 40 years.

This is an important lesson about gratitude. I wonder if things would have been different for the Israelites if they had shown some gratitude toward God? Perhaps they all would have crossed into the Promised Land at the same time. Wouldn't it be nice if we could focus on the gifts that we have received, rather than the "what if's"? Perhaps, then, everyday would feel as though we were entering into our own Promised Land.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Parashat Behaalotecha - Building a Cohesive Team

This week we're reading Parashat Behaalotecha. At the end of the parasha, there's an interesting story about Miriam, Moses' sister. She publicly criticizes her brother about his Cushite wife. She is dark-skinned, and not an Israelite. Aaron also criticizes his brother, Moses, with these words: "Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us as well?" These sibling "discussions" were not done privately. No. They were in front of the entire Israelite Community, and Moses must have been pretty embarrassed. What happened to discussions, and family meetings?

But what happens, then, is something remarkable. Only Miriam is punished for criticizing Moses. Miriam was afflicted with leprosy for a week for her harsh words about her brother's wife. Perhaps her mistake was not seeing beyond the color of the person that was in front of her.

As for Aaron, there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with each other. All of those years in the desert together...someone's got to have another opinion. But, listening to those with other opinions is key. It's all in the timing. We all have the ability to share in the responsibility....its about sharing the same vision.

If we can look beyond the color of our skin, the country of our birth, our religion, physical disabilities, hopefully we can empower, guide, encourage and make space for everyone, and create great leaders that will lift us and inspire us to do great things.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Parashat Naso - The Priestly Benediction

This week in Parashat Naso, we read about the Priestly Benediction. Today, the Jewish Priests, the Kohanim, have no "Temple", but there is still a service that is available to them in today's synagogue, and that is blessing the members of the congregation with the Birkat ha-Kohanim (Numbers 6:24-26):

"The Eternal shall bless you and protect you!"
"The Eternal shall deal kindly and graciously with you!"
"The Eternal shall bestow his favor upon you, and grant you peace!"

The blessing is actually 3 separate ones. The first blessing, "The Eternal shall bless you and protect you", refers to material wealth and success. It's not just about gaining, it's also about being protected from loss. The second blessing, "The Eternal shall deal kindly and graciously with you", refers to spiritual development. Hopefully, you'll understand what the right path in life is, and, of course, an excellent Torah student. The third blessing is a blessing for peace. It's a hope that you're 'chosen' by God to live a life filled with peace. To live a blessed life, one that is filled with material growth, intellectual growth, and spiritual development, one would also need the gift of peace.
In the days of Moses and Aaron, the Priests were born.  It was a matter of inheritance. But, one of the most important changes over the years, was to remove rank by birth.  Leadership was attained through learning. 

But this blessing has come a long way. Jewish parents no longer needed Kohanim to bless their children. On Shabbat, especially, parents are now able to become like the Priests, and bestow the blessing on their own children.
Becoming closer to God doesn't require a special place or a special person. You can bless your children yourself, and make the experience an intimate one. Time to take charge of your own Jewish lives. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

We Are A Work In Progress - Parashat Bemidbar

"On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal One spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai , in the Tent of Meeting, saying: Take a census of the whole Israelite company (of fighters) by the clans of its ancestral houses, listing the names, every male, head by head.  You and Aaron shall record them by their groups, from the age of 20 years up, all those in Israel, who are able to bear arms.  Associated with you shall be a representative of each tribe, each one the head of his ancestral house." (Numbers 1:1-4)

This week we begin the fourth of the books of the Torah.  This book, known as "Bemidbar", "in the desert", is a narrative of the wanderings of the Israelites. Instructions are given to take a census of the community, listing the names of every man over 20 who is able to bear arms.  Only the men were allowed to fight in battles, so, only they were counted.

But, things are different today. Who are the people in our Community? What are we concerned with? Today, we would count men and women, children and the elderly. We count those who work, and those who are unable to work, our loved ones who need care, and the ones who care for us. Today we also count those men, women and children who come to this country, that dream of a better future.

Our census is a work in progress. Parashat Bemidar shows us how our community once counted. We have come a long way. Today, we have the opportunity to dream, and we have the opportunity to count all people.

We are all the children and grandchildren of immigrants, and as a people that stands for compassion, we need to stand for immigration reform that is also compassionate and understanding. Let's never forget taking into account who we are, and who we can become.