25 Elul, 5773

A favorite Midrash: “The light of God shone throughout the entire first Shabbat. As Shabbat came to an end and darkness grew, Adam and Eve became fearful, for they had never known darkness. Huddled close together as the day drew to a close, God gave Adam and Eve a spark of Divine creative insight. They reached down, grabbed two stones, and banged them together to create fire. Staring at the flames created with their own hands, they exclaimed ‘Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha’olam, Borei M’orei Ha’eish- Blessed are You, Adonai, Ruler of the Universe, who Creates the light of the fire (the blessing for the candle at Havdalah.)’” (based upon Pirke deRebbi Eliezer and B.Talmud Pesachim 54a) Jewish tradition teaches that we are partners with God in the creative process of the universe. We have the power within us to create incredible things. Are we aware of these powers? For what might we use them?

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Published in: on August 31, 2013 at 2:44 pm  Comments (1)  

24 Elul, 5773

Tunneling Through
One of my favorite places in Jerusalem is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. It is a tunnel that was dug underneath the City of David just outside the Old City walls. Its name comes from the story of its origin, namely that it dates from the reign of Hezekiah of Judah (late 8th and early 7th century BCE). According to 2 Chronicles 32, by closing off the sources of water outside of the city and diverting the spring water through the tunnel into the city, King Hezekiah assured that Jerusalem would have water during a siege by the Assyrians.
According to an inscription found in the tunnel, the 533 meter tunnel was excavated by two teams, one starting at each end and then meeting in the middle. “And this is the way that the tunnel was cut through: Each man toward his fellow, and while there were still three cubits to be cut through, there was heard the sound of a man calling to his fellow, and there was an overlap in the rock on the right and on the left. And when the tunnel was driven through, the quarrymen hewed the rock, each man toward his fellow, axe against axe, and the water flowed from the spring toward the reservoir for 1200 cubits…”
Along with the amazing technological accomplishment of creating such a tunnel, I think there is a wonderful message for us during Elul. Sometimes we need to cut through a lot of hard stuff to get to a point when and where two sides can come together. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is dark, cold, and wet, with some twists and turns. But, when two sides are committed to the effort, it can be life saving.
What relationship of yours needs to be cut through and are you willing to pick up a hammer?

Published in: on August 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm  Comments (1)  

23 Elul, 5773

A congregant told me that he was asked about T’shuvah (repentance) by his granddaughter. He was thinking about how to explain it to her when he cut himself shaving. He got a little blood on his shirt, and though his wife told him about it, he decided to leave it for later. Sure enough, by the end of the day he had let the stain slip his mind, and try as he might to remove the stain, it faded but left a permanent mark on his collar. It was then that he realized how he could explain it to her.
Just like the stain on his collar, if we make a mistake in life we should take care of it right away, lest it leave a stain that will be with us forever. Yet like the words of Isaiah that we read on Yom Kippur:
Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like [new] wool.
(Isa. 1:18)
We are reminded that we can cleanse ourselves, no matter how stain-soaked we have become. At the same time, the sooner we deal with our “stains,” the easier it is to get out the scarlet and crimson on our souls.

Published in: on August 29, 2013 at 2:43 pm  Comments (1)  

22 Elul, 5773

Often, t’shuvah is thought of as repentance – making apologies. We think about people we’ve wronged in the past year, and many of us contact friends and family members during the High Holidays in order to express regret and sorrow for how we’ve acted. This is incredibly important.
The word t’shuvah means turning. Yes, we turn toward each other to make amends, but there is another way we can think about this important concept.
We should turn to correct our mistakes, but we should think of Elul as a time when we turn to our future selves.
Sometimes, the past parts of ourselves are undiscovered, waiting for an experience or a relationship to help us discover new parts of ourselves. This month of Elul can be a catalyst for these future discoveries.
As our present selves continue to turn toward the future, let us remember this larger meaning of t’shuvah.

Published in: on August 28, 2013 at 2:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

21 Elul, 5773

Psalm 92 is a part of the Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy, used to welcome the Sabbath into our homes and our lives. According to the Mishnah, this Psalm was sung by the Levites in the ancient Temple each week before Shabbat began, and is a foretaste of the time when every day will be like Shabbat. Verse 6 proclaims “Mah rabu ma’asecha Adonai! Me’od amku machsh’votecha – How great are Your works, Adonai, how very subtle Your designs!” I tried to take some time this summer to find moments to proclaim this phrase: Looking out on a gorgeous valley, sitting on the shore watching the waves lapping the sand, listening to the voices of children playing and singing in friendship. Where else might we discover an awareness of God’s creative process in our world? How do we respond?

Published in: on August 27, 2013 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

20 Elul, 5773

From Rabbi David Wolpe
Why does Lot’s wife look back to Sodom? Is it nostalgia, regret, curiosity? Rereading the story I wondered if she simply lacked the strength to begin anew. To survive pain and loss and begin again is both a burden and a blessing. May God grant us the strength and stamina to look forward, to ever begin again.

Published in: on August 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

19 Elul, 5773

Sticking his head into my office for the first time, a 6-year-old saw the various superhero pictures and trinkets that dominate my decor. He laughed and asked, “Is Superman Jewish?” I told him that someday he and I could sit and talk about all the ways Superman shows us how to be better Jews. (And yes, it was difficult for me not to deliver a 6-year-old version of my thesis, but that’s another story for another time.) Many authors have written lately on Superman’s Jewish roots, intentional or perceived, and many of us have heard the comparisons between Superman and Moses. But Superman isn’t the only hero with Jewish roots. The superhero motif (an estranged or orphaned young person getting the call to be something greater who eventually goes on to save their world) is all over the Bible. From Moses to Samson to King David to Captain America, fictional heroes achieving impossible goals are a constant source of awe and inspiration. They show us that they can overcome the most adversarial conditions, and they do it in a way that promotes justice while not infringing on the rights of others. Is there anything more Jewish than that?

Published in: on August 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

18 Elul, 5773

The Power We Have
The great 20th century thinker, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, taught: “If a person were able to survey at a glance all he has done in the course of his life, what would he feel? He would be terrified at the extent of his own power.”
Do we have the power . . .
To change the world? Not likely.
To change our community? It’s possible.
To change ourselves? This is completely within our reach.
To change someone else? You can count on it! We must learn to be careful with how we use our individual power. We should see our relationship with every person as if it was fragile and you could hurt them or help them. It is. And you can.

Published in: on August 24, 2013 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

17 Elul, 5773

URJ Camp Coleman is the Jewish summer home for nearly 1000 young Jews from the Southeastern U.S. The camp is guided by four values: “Kavod- Respect” “Kehilah – Community” “Shalom- Peace” and “Chesed- Kindness.” These values are found throughout the camp. Literally, they’re on giant arches near the oldest campers’ bunks, and they make up the sign for every cabin. But they’re also found in every discussion and interaction that takes place. Every counselor and most campers can recite them aloud. When someone does something disrespectful, his or her peers often say “You’re not showing kavod.” The campers learn what it means to be guided by the values of our tradition, and how they can permeate all different aspects of their lives. What are the values that guide your daily interactions? Are you aware of them?

Published in: on August 23, 2013 at 2:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

16 Elul, 5773

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare?
The tortoise wins the race because of his slow, deliberate movement. The hare takes off at the beginning, but loses steam quickly.
During Elul, we are like the tortoise, as we also make slow, deliberate steps toward our goals.
Real change comes slowly. It comes as a result of real, determined work. The hare does not do t’shuvah, the tortoise does.
Each day of these 30 of Elul, let us take a tortoise-like step toward our goal. In our case, however, the goal is not a finish line. It is ourselves.

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm  Comments (1)