A community of communities

July 2016

Fri, 07/29/2016 - 8:36am -- Rabbi

 

Moses - Michelangelo headWhatever our political persuasions and whichever candidates we may favor, it has been hard not to be impressed this summer hearing from many talented leaders who have devoted their lives to public service at the local, state, and national levels.  The adulation of political conventions notwithstanding, we know that being a leader is mostly a thankless task.  History teaches us that no matter the margin of victory, presidential popularity ratings quickly dive below 50% as citizens project all of the failings of our country, which are many, onto its most visible leader, while at the same time failing to give them any credit for the good that they do.  And as we see in the Torah, particularly in the Book of Numbers that we have been reading this summer, blaming leaders for all that is bad and forgetting their role in all that is good is an ancient pattern.  Moses mostly endures these trials of leadership with humility and grace, though even he has moments of anger, frustration, and despair.  The Torah goes out of its way to remind us that leaders are human beings, with all of their strengths and all of their flaws.  When we judge them, we must balance our disappointment in their weaknesses with our appreciation of their strengths and their willingness to serve us.  Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachya teaches, "Judge each person favorably" (Pirkei Avot 1:6), and this applies all the more so to those who find the courage and energy to enter the bruising field of political leadership.  Amid all the rancor and criticism of a political campaign, may we remember the respect that we owe to those in public service and the hope that we can all be partners in moving our country forward.

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Fri, 07/22/2016 - 8:41am -- Rabbi

 

The story of Balak and Balaam that we read this week is a unique moment in Torah.  Rather than focusing on the story of the Israelites, the Torah switches perspectives to show us the reactions of people with whom the Israelites interact and gives us some insight into their motivations and character.  Why?  These people are not going to become Israelites or ally themselves with them.  By drawing a picture of this very different group that opposes the Israelite project, the Torah is teaching us that understanding those who oppose us--rather than seeing them as caricatures or monsters--is a necessary part of managing and dealing with conflict.

In the political life of this country--as we have seen this week and will see next week right here in Philadelphia--we too often hear the opposition described as just such a caricature or a monster.  Speakers insist that those who support a different party or candidate do not simply disagree; they are "crazy," "idiots," or both.  Candidates do not simply hold different positions on issues; they are "evil" or "liars."  Such an approach provides much heat but little light.  It is the opposite of the approach of Torah, which asks us to seek to understand those different from us, to see them as human beings whose views have real motivations and explanations, even while we may still disagree and oppose each other.  Reaching for understanding does not mean we have to agree with each other, as even a cursory look at traditional Jewish texts will make clear.  But gaining insight into the thoughts of those with whom we disagree is crucial if we are to ever make progress in dealing with the difficult issues that our lives together continue to throw in our path.  May we all make the effort to see the "enemy" as human and to disagree with respect.  That is the true path to a better America. 

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Fri, 07/15/2016 - 12:45pm -- Rabbi

 

We are awash in news of terrible violence.  The tragic human capacity for taking the lives of others is on awful display in these days, from the scores killed by terror in France this week to the police officers murdered in Dallas to the black lives ended at the hands of police.  It is easy to become numb, to retreat from a world that seems to have gone crazy, from humanity that seems determined to showcase its inhumanity.  But there is something very important about our responses, whether they manifest in tears, in anger, in words, in protests, or in the confusion of our own thoughts.  When we react with horror, yes, even to the most recent awful event in a string of awful events, we testify to the firmness of our convictions and the strength of our ideals even in the face of those who would destroy them.  We hold up the values of Torah:  the sanctity of life, the prohibition of violence, and the command not to stand idly by the blood of our fellow human beings.  Our responses can feel futile, like reeds held against a hurricane, but in fact they are crucial parts of upholding divine values in a world of human action that is far from divine.  So please don't stop.  Keep responding, keep holding tight to the precious ideals that we hold dear, and keep demanding more of the world and the human beings in it.  Together, we will find a way forward.

 

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Fri, 07/01/2016 - 4:27pm -- Rabbi

 

Over the past few weeks, while reading the news, blogs and my social media feeds, I have felt as if I have been on an emotional and intellectual roller coaster. It's all so much to process. From the deadly and devastating shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, to the Brexit vote and the global market response, to the bombing at Ataturk Airport in Isanbul, it seems that every few days there is something new that threatens to alter the very core of our understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world. I have cried. I have yelled. I have given tzedakah. I have signed petitions - and I have also caught myself disengaging, distancing, and distracting.

 

I share with you this experience, my experience, because I do not think that I am alone. In these moments there is the danger that we can become numb, that we can stop feeling the pain, the sadness, the confusion, the anger, all of the many emotions, and disengage. But, as we do so, we disengage as well from the mechanisms we have at our disposal to process these events and allow them to move us to action, to empathy, and to reaching out in solidarity, partnership and support. 

 

So, where do we go from here? How do we find the balance between burning out and becoming numb? This answer may well be different for each of us. Go running, read a novel, spend time playing with a child or grandchild, go for a walk in the Wissahickon, come to service on Shabbat or to Morning minyan, write poetry or prose - search for something that feeds and restores your neshama (soul), and once you do, harness its power to keep you in balance so that together, we can work to make this world and this planet a place that we can be proud to call home.

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