A community of communities

June 2016

Fri, 06/24/2016 - 12:41pm -- Rabbi

This week we read in the Torah about the journeys of the Israelites in the wilderness, which have become a metaphor for the wanderings of the Jewish people throughout history. In the Torah, the Israelites find that their journeys encompass triumphs and challenges, high points and low, moments of celebration and moments of pain.  In our lives, we often find that our journeys combine success and difficulty, sometimes even at the same instant.  In the world around us, we are seeing upheaval and pain, from the anti-immigrant sentiment gripping Europe to the deep frustration we feel here in the U.S. at our seeming inability to come to grips with the scourge of gun violence in our communities, including right here in Philadelphia.  At the same time, the beginning of summer brings us celebrations of graduations, moments of transition, bright new paths opening up to us and those we love.  May we be able to hold both the joy and the challenge of these moments together.  May our pain never blind us to chances to celebrate, and may our happiness never shake our resolve to work for change.  And may we always feel the presence of those around us, supporting us in good times and bad, and helping us take the next step on our journeys.

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Mon, 06/20/2016 - 2:02pm -- Rabbi

 

GunsSadly, I have written to you too many times in reaction to horrible incidents of violence in our country, carried out with awful efficiency through the use of powerful guns. I have written about the obligation the Torah places upon us not to "stand idly by" as the blood of our neighbors is spilled (Leviticus 19:16).  I have urged us all to action.  And yet nothing has changed.  The blood of children, the blood of gay and lesbian young adults, the blood of the elderly has been spilled in our streets, and nothing has been done to stop it.

 

Although it is tempting to give in to despair, we need to keep in mind that despair is the voice of the "evil inclination," the voice that says there is nothing we can do.  We have to maintain our faith that our actions matter.  Calling our elected representatives in Harrisburg and in Washington matters.  Raising our voices matters.  And hearing the blood of our neighbors cry out from the ground matters.  Whatever measures you favor to stop the bloodshed, now is the time to advocate for them.  We cannot afford, once again, to stand idly by.

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Fri, 06/10/2016 - 11:00am -- Rabbi

 

InterfaithWe are hosting an unusual program this Saturday night for erev Shavuot, a multi-faith exploration of revelation with the participation of clergy and teachers from Christian and Muslim communities who are our neighbors in Northwest Philadelphia.  Although this program may be surprising and even challenging to us, there are two main reasons that I thought it important to hold such a program on Shavuot this year:

 

Revelation belongs to everyone

The ancient rabbis teach that when the voice of God rang out at Sinai, all of creation was silent in order to allow the Divine words to reverberate throughout the world.  The words of Torah were directed not only to the Israelites, and not only to the "mixed multitude" of non-Israelites who camped with them at Mt. Sinai, but also to the non-Israelite world at large.  Similarly, the ancients teach that the words of Torah miraculously resounded in all 70 languages of the world simultaneously, not just in the Hebrew of the Israelites.  Both of these teachings emphasize that the revelation at Sinai, although recorded by and brought to others by the Jewish people, was intended for the whole world.  In our time, Christians and Muslims both look to the moment at Sinai as a significant source of revelation for them, although they differ in how they interpret and understand it.  By studying alongside them, we can come to better understand the universal significance of revelation that the ancient rabbis taught, as well as the particular significance that it has for the Jewish people and the covenant of Torah to which we are committed.

 

Religious minorities are under attack

During this past year we have seen and heard horrible expressions of prejudice against religious minorities, including proposals to actively discriminate against Muslims in immigration and law enforcement.  People in the public sphere have called into question the legitimacy and loyalty of American Muslims and other religious minority groups, and we have seen opposition to the building of mosques and other houses of worship in some areas.  All of this has taken place against a backdrop of widespread ignorance about the religions in question and a lack of understanding between people of faith in general.  As a religious community dedicated to diversity within ourselves, we have an obligation to stand up to counter these very disturbing trends.  We must reach out to our neighbors of other faiths in a spirit of mutual respect and genuine curiosity.  Our community and traditions are strong; we need not be afraid of encountering other faith traditions and seeing their similarities to us as well as the ways in which we diverge from each other.  Such encounters can only make all of us stronger, more learned, more dedicated to the integrity of each tradition, and more inclined to stand shoulder to shoulder against hatred and bigotry wherever they may arise.

 

Please join us as we explore, learn, challenge, and grow together in the finest tradition of Torah study this Shavuot.

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Fri, 06/03/2016 - 3:00pm -- Rabbi

 

 

This Shabbat, we will complete the Book of Vayikra. At the moment in our service when we conclude one of the five books of Torah, we have a custom of reciting, "Hazak, Hazak, v'Nithazek - Be strong, be strong, and may we strengthen one another." While this custom has taken many forms in Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities over the generations, there is a shared understanding of Torah as a source of strength. 

 

A number of commentators link this custom to a midrash given in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He teaches that when Joshua received revelation from the Holy One of blessing, God found Joshua sitting and holding the Book of Deuteronomy in his hand. God said to Joshua, "Hazak v'Ematz - Be strong, and be of good courage, Joshua; This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth." (Genesis Rabbah 6:18).

 

The Torah is a source of strength, and it takes courage to hold onto the wisdom of the Torah in each generation as the world changes around us. In order to both transmit the ancient teachings of our Torah and open ourselves up to new understandings, we need great strength. Soon we will celebrate Shavuot and the giving of Torah on Mt. Sinai. As we prepare for revelation, as we root ourselves on this earth and stretch our hearts toward the heavens, we may we be strong and may we strengthen one another.

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