A community of communities
Fri, 02/16/2018 - 9:05am -- Rabbi

What if the opposite happened, not just in the Purim story, but also in our lives?  What if the state of the world brought us not to despair but to resolve?  What if horrific gun violence did not dissolve us in a sea of tears and "thoughts and prayers" but strengthened our courage to stand up and end it?  What if awareness of our vulnerability prompted us not to withdraw from the world but to engage more deeply?  What if the opposite happened?  The teaching of the Book of Esther is that this is possible, that the horror and pain we see in the world can propel us to reach out in love and to work with hope.  Ken y'hi ratzon - may this be God's will for us.

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Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:55am -- Rabbi

On Wednesday night we will enter the month of Adar, the month of the holiday of Purim.  On Purim we will read the crazy, upside-down story of Queen Esther, where despite evil counselors and foolish kings, all turns out well, and we are commanded to shout and sing and drink and eat in celebration.  But what if we don't feel like celebrating?  What if we're not feeling the joy?  In the world around us, injustice and threats to liberty and well-being abound; it would not be surprising if our hearts were full of grief more than happiness at this moment.  So what are we to do with the Talmud's declaration that the month of Adar must herald joy, that we are required to celebrate and be happy at this time of year?  Perhaps the answer comes from the megilah itself, the Book of Esther that we read with such ceremony on Purim.  "That month" - this very month of Adar we are about to enter - "was reversed for them from grief to joy" (Esther 9:22).  In other words, the month of Adar was declared a month of happiness, not because the people were already joyful but because they were full of grief.  The month of Adar asks us to reach down into ourselves, despite the bad feeling and sadness that might surround us, and to pull joy out of ourselves, to reverse our grief, even if only for a short time.  Despite all the signs that the world is dark, we have to reaffirm for ourselves the possibility of light, the potential for joy that always lies just below the surface.  So even as we struggle for justice in this world, let the month of Adar open us to joy.  Hodesh tov - a good and happy month to us all!

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Fri, 01/12/2018 - 2:46pm -- Rabbi

On Monday we will celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his fight for racial and economic justice in the U.S., and it is amazing and wonderful that we have such a day built into the calendar of this country.  However, it would be a mistake to surround Dr. King's story with a golden glow, seeing a universally-acclaimed hero who succeeded in ridding the U.S. of its racist heritage.  In remembering Dr. King, we must remember two hard truths.  First, like many prophetic voices, what Dr. King had to say was widely unpopular in his time; calling out racial injustice in this country and holding out a radically different vision of what America could and should be was not what the government or leaders of this country wanted to hear.  Second, as we know too well, Dr. King achieved much, but despite his work and his sacrifice, racism and its attendant injustices are alive and well in America today.  So we should not be discouraged if it sometimes seems that we are working against the tide in trying to attack racism, and we should not be surprised that it is not easily abolished.  Dr. King, in his preaching, drew on the very texts that we are reading in the Torah right now, the stories of Moses and the Children of Israel enslaved in Egypt.  He saw how the ancient struggle for freedom from oppression must be re-enacted in every generation, and he believed, as we do, in the promise that with God's help we can, each time, move from slavery to freedom.  As we remember and work and reflect on this MLK Day, may we gather our courage to rededicate ourselves to this sacred task in our time. 

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Mon, 10/23/2017 - 1:55pm -- Rabbi

In this week's Torah reading, when Abraham despairs, God directs him to look to two places to find comfort:  to the dust of the earth and to the stars in the heavens.  Why?  When Abraham looks to the dust of the earth, he is reminded of the human community that surrounds him and provides his life on earth with meaning and connection.  When he looks up to the stars, Abraham is reminded that he is also connected to something far beyond the short span of his own life, to the divine spirit that animates the cosmos and links past, present, and future.  So Abraham is able to step back from despair and to go on with his life and his journey.  May we, in our moments of pain and despair, also learn to look to the community on earth that surrounds us and to look up to the heights of the heavens that inspire us with a purpose larger than ourselves.  And may we, too, find comfort and the ability to continue our journeys together.

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Tue, 06/20/2017 - 4:47pm -- Rabbi

The horrible gun violence in Virginia directed at Republican members of Congress this week shocks us, and of course we condemn it and pray for the recovery of its victims.  At the same time, we must think about why this particular incident has received so much attention, when the unfortunate truth is that gun violence on a much larger scale happen every day in this country with little notice. In this, the great contrast between how Israelis and Americans react to incidents of gun violence and how they view the idea of safety is instructive. Sadly, Israelis have become accustomed to gun violence that has a political motive, but such violence that has a personal or criminal motive, which is extremely rare in Israel, shocks and appalls them.  By contrast, Americans have become so accustomed to the extremely high level of gun violence in America that has a personal or criminal motive that it barely registers, but such violence that has a political motive, which is extremely rare in the U.S., shocks and appalls us. For this reason, Israelis and Americans have the tendency to look at each other's countries and ask, "Is it really safe to live there?!"  The hard truth is that no motive for perpetrating violence on others is acceptable, and both categories of gun violence should shock, horrify, and enrage us.  Our brothers' and sisters' blood is being shed in the streets every day, and we are, for the most part, standing idly by.  May this incident, along with so many others, finally break us out of our complacency and impel us to raise our voices against all gun violence and the deadly weapons that perpetrate it. The blood in our streets cannot allow us to remain silent.

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Mon, 06/12/2017 - 11:03am -- Rabbi

The words "truth" and "true" pervade Jewish prayer, and we even explicitly identify God with truth at the end of the Sh'ma.  This speaks to the high place that Jewish tradition assigns to truth as a divine value, a bright light that shines into our sometimes murky human world.  Even if we cannot always agree about what that light of truth reveals, the idea that we are searching together for the truth at the center of our lives is core to Jewish community.  At this very fraught moment in our national political life, there has been a lot of talk about truth and lies, but mostly the conversation has focused on the personalities involved, as if determining the truth is a popularity contest or something decided by elections.  At such a time, we need to hold fast to the idea of truth as a divine value, something independent of personality or circumstance, and we have to refocus ourselves on the search for truth as the bedrock of human society.  Words have meaning, actions speak loudly, and the truth is not subject to a vote.  We must hold each other and the political figures who represent us to this strict standard of truth, and we must fight against any attempt to elide or erase the distinction between truth and falsehood.  Only then can we hope that the divine light of truth will reveal to us the right path to follow in this very complicated world.

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Fri, 06/09/2017 - 3:58pm -- Rabbi

When the Holy Blessed One created the first human beings, God took them and showed them all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to them, "See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are! And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world, for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it." (Midrash Kohelet Raba 7:19) 

As this story from the ancient rabbis teaches us, the responsibility to care for the earth that sustains us and gives us life falls directly on each human being.  It is not something that can be shrugged off, outsourced to someone else, or passed on to a committee or group.  Each of us is individually responsible for protecting the earth and preserving it for future generations.  In that context, the president's decision to withdraw from the always voluntary Paris Climate Accords, while disappointing, is not an end or a defeat but a wake-up call.  Driven by the teachings of Torah, we must raise our voices even louder - joining with the voices of people around the world and with the majority of Americans - to demand that the policies that are already starting to drag us back from the brink of destruction are continued and strengthened.  If we do, we may still be able to bequeath a thriving world to the next generation.  If we do not, there may truly be nobody after us who can repair what we failed to protect.

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Fri, 05/26/2017 - 4:23pm -- Rabbi

This Tuesday night, we will begin the festival of Shavuot, a holiday that celebrates the giving and receiving of Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that, in each generation, we
re-receive Torah. So, how might we ready ourselves to receive such a holy gift this week? Among the Jewish rituals for readying ourselves intellectually and emotionally is the custom of studying Pirkei Avot (Teachings of the Sages), a section of Mishnah, each Shabbat between Passover and Shavuot. This Shabbat, the final Shabbat between Passover and Shavuot, Rabbinic Intern Becca Richman will share highlights from the end of Pirkei Avot. Weaving together insights from Pirkei Avot and from this week's Torah reading (parshat B'midbar), we will explore what it might mean to be "ready" to re-receive Torah in this generation, this week.  The service begins as usual at 10:00 AM in the Charry Sanctuary.  Please join us!

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Fri, 05/19/2017 - 4:55pm -- Rabbi

In the mystical Kabbalistic way of counting the Omer (the days between Pesach & Shavuot), we are in week 6, the week marked by the quality of y'sod.  The word y'sod literally means "foundation," but to the mystics, it also suggests the idea of "connection" and is associated with the Biblical figure of Joseph.  Sold into slavery in Egypt by his brother's, Joseph manages to connect to those around him and to God, allowing him to leave behind both slavery and prison and rise to a high position in Pharaoh's court.  At the same time, Joseph never lets go of his connection to the traditions of his family and his people.  The ancient rabbis teach that Joseph fully follows both the ritual and ethical laws of Torah even through he is the lone Israelite in a society whose values and laws are very different from his.  This ability to retain a deep connection to our highest values while at the same time connecting to those around us who are different from us is at the heart of the quality of y'sod.  May we aspire to follow the example of Joseph in holding tight to the transcendent teachings of Torah while holding out our hands to those in our diverse society.  Only through connection to both can our foundation stand firm.

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Mon, 05/15/2017 - 10:37am -- Rabbi

This week's Torah portion, Emor, begins by addressing the Israelite priests, the sons of Aaron, and giving them a long list of restrictions they must follow in their service of God and the people.  This emphasizes a theme in the Torah: leadership is about service, sacrifice, and humility, not power, privilege, or pride.  In the Kabbalistic counting of the Omer, we are contemplating the quality of Hod (literally, "splendor") this week that is associated with Aaron.  In the mystical tradition, Hod is the quality of yielding and flexibility.  Like the palm tree bending nearly to the ground in the face of a strong wind, Aaron is willing and able to bow down before the people and before God, yielding to a force far greater than his human strength, however exalted his position.  Jewish texts emphasize again and again that such an ability to yield and to humble oneself is the true measure of of a leader.

Unfortunately, we see little of that attitude toward leadership in our contemporary world, as politicians, business leaders, and others act in ways that are a far cry from the humility of Aaron.  We must hold them to account, but we must not stop there.  Instead, we must watch out for the same tendencies to valorize power, privilege, and pride over service in ourselves, whether in communal leadership, in our work, or in our families. May we all see the splendor and strength that come from yielding, from bending to forces and values that soar far beyond us and lead us toward something divine.

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