Parshat Haazinu Sermon Saturday Morning Shabbat Shuva 2011

  1. Shabbat Shalom

  1. I try to keep my Shabbat sermons to just one topic. After all, I have 52 Shabbatot a year to cover most of what is going on in the world. It is enough to focus on one topic a week. But this week, partly because it is Shabbat Shuva, the Shabbat of repentance, and partly because of a discussion I was a part of, I have two related topics I would like to cover.

  1. A week ago Friday, I had the privilege, and it was a privilege, to be part of a Rabbinic delegation meeting with Vice President Biden when he was in Boca Raton for a fundraiser. He talked to us about the Obama administration and Israel and we had a chance to ask him some questions. He said something in reply to a question that has troubled me all week. The Vice President made a statement that, in his opinion, convicted spy Johnathan Pollard had committed an act of treason and should never be freed from prison. He added that he would never be in favor of letting him go because of the nature of his crime against his country. Only if something as big as Arab/Jewish peace were on the line would he even consider a pardon for Pollard.

  1. He left no room for reply so we went on to other topics but I was unhappy with his statement. I can think of a half dozen reasons that Pollard has served enough time in jail for his crime. I fully understand the nature of Pollard’s crime and why he was given such a hard sentence. Johnathan Pollard endangered not only national security, but he revealed the names of others and placed their lives in jeopardy as well. I have no quarrel with the trial and the sentencing. I just feel that after all these years, what is the point of keeping him in jail?

  1. It seems to me that the only reason left is the anger that those in government still have for him. And that anger serves our country no further purpose. There can be no national security issue that could be endangered since he has been in prison over 25 years. It is time to let the anger go and allow Pollard his teshuva. The government could still revoke his citizenship. They could still deport him; they could declare that he is not welcome in this country anymore. But keeping him in prison is just a waste of time and money. It hurt me to see the Vice President still angry over what was done so long ago, and still so vindictive. There has to be a better way to punish this man than to leave him to rot in jail. Other spies long ago were pardoned. Even if Pollard did twice the damage they did, there is no further purpose to keeping him in prison. I disagree with the Vice President. Let Johnathan Pollard go.

  1. I also think that there is a larger issue here than just an American spy and the punishment for his treason. There is a great deal of anger these days in this country. People are either right or wrong, on my side or on the OTHER side, perfectly good or completely evil. This is a way of looking at the world that is very easy, very common and very wrong.

  1. How did we get to this situation? First of all, we are now living in world that never forgets. There was a time when people no longer remembered things that people did wrong. It could take three to five years, but eventually we no longer cared what was in someone’s past. We felt that what he or she was doing now was more important than what they had done years before, during the time they were novices in their professions. There was a time we agreed that criminals who had served their time deserved a second chance at life; that politicians, who had lost their office over a scandal, were entitled to reform their lives and move on. Even if a businessman had a bankruptcy in his past, he could still start over and make something of himself. Today, who we are and what we have done seems to have eternal life on the internet. Even the foolish things that teenagers do and say can haunt them ten, twenty even thirty years into the future. So if anyone asks, yes, things were easier in the past when we were all young. There was no “permanent record” that could someday come back and bite us. Today there is such a record and everyone in the world has access to it.

  1. We are also living in a world that never forgives. It might not be so bad that our deeds are inscribed forever if we could still count on forgiveness. In the movie “Sweet Charity” one of the last lines spoken is “I can change the way I dress and I can change the way I talk but don’t ask me to change my past because that cannot be changed.” Today, our unchangeable past is more indelible then ever. Candidates during debates, bring up decisions made by their opponents that are 20 years old. These decisions are held up as if this is what a candidate might do today. Employers look at the internet presence of prospective employees and see if there are any reasons in the past why they might not want this person to work for them, even if that incident was long ago resolved. Any blemish on our record is never forgotten and never forgiven. It is a terrible way to have to go through life, having always to be perfect.

  1. Some of the greatest inventors and innovators in this country’s history have long records of failure. Abraham Lincoln, if he ran today, would be unelectable with his long record of failure. Thomas Edison was a genius but his failures far exceeded his successes. The famous writer JK Rowlings once had to live out of her car and in a homeless shelter because she could not take care of her family. The greatest thinkers in our country are those who are not afraid to take a chance. In the book, “Start Up Nation”, Israel’s economic miracle is said to be based on a culture where failure is not considered a fault, as long as we learn from our failures. A failure gives us important information we can use to work for even greater success.

  1. The essence of this season in Judaism is that everyone is entitled to a chance to start over. These Days of Awe are designed with the idea that God does not hold us accountable for every sin. Only God is perfect. The rest of us are all flawed. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner has written that we are all put in this life with some blessings and some disabilities. The main point of life and the main point of this season of the year is to be grateful for what we have and to work hard to turn our disabilities into blessings.

  1. Football legend Mercury Morris was arrested and convicted of cocaine use and dealing drugs. He was sentenced to prison and by the time he got out, there was no longer a possibility of playing football anymore. But Mercury Morris was no longer interested in football. He was interested in programs that would keep young people out of trouble and away from drugs. He became a well respected advocate for teaching teens about the dangers of drug use and counseled them on how to beat their addictions. Eventually he won a pardon from the Governor of Florida so that he could get the certification he needed to establish a program of his own. He literally worked his way back to acceptance because he learned from his mistake and showed that he could be better.

  1. I am not saying that every criminal should have the benefit of “forgive and forget”. This should be reserved for those who admit their errors and work their way back into honest society. I do believe, however, that everyone deserves the chance to start over. I am also not implying that we should make it easy, but we do have an obligation to treat others as we would want to be treated if we were in the same situation. If we want God to forgive us as the New Year begins, we must be prepared to forgive others. No matter how angry they may make us, we must forgive even if we can’t forget. There but for the grace of God go I.

  1. I believe that Vice President Biden is entitled to his opinion of Johnathan Pollard. He has every right to be appalled and angry. But the Vice President should be forgiving anyway. Pollard should have a chance to get on with his life and perhaps show some repentance for what he has done. I doubt that anyone will accept him as a conquering hero. That is the way it is with spies; the country you commit treason against, never accepts you back and the one you gave the secrets to, they also feel you can’t be trusted. Once we damage our reputation, it remains very hard to rebuild it.

  1. On this Shabbat Shuva, we understand that we are not like Pollard; there is still hope that we can return to a happy, healthy and prosperous life. But we will need to make the changes necessary for that to happen. Nobody will do it for us. We have to seek out those who we have offended and get forgiveness from them and from ourselves. I would not set up the Vice President as a role model in this area. We need to let go of our anger and find our way back to trust in those we have betrayed. We can work to free Johnathan Pollard from the Federal Penitentiary, but from the prison he created for himself with his treason, he will have to liberate himself. Keeping Pollard in jail and keeping ourselves imprisoned in our guilt will not help us grow and change for the better. Now is the time for us to make our apologies. We need to find the freedom that comes with repentance and return.

May God help us return to our family, our friends and our faith at this important time of the year as we say … Amen and Shabbat Shalom

First Day Rosh Hashana 2011

  1. L’shana Tova – May you be inscribed for a good year.

  1. Turn to Page 125 in Machzor – Middle of the page, the prayer before we begin our Musaf Amidah.. Adonai S’fatai Tiftach U’fee Yagid T’hilatecha “God Open My Lips and My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise.” Before we pray, we pray that God will give us the right words. There is a melody for this line. (teach melody from Craig Taubman)

  1. There was a man who came to visit a beautiful garden. Overcome with emotion he cried out, “Take a look at all of God’s creation!” The gardener heard him and shook his head, “You should have seen what this place looked like when God cared for it by himself.” I don’t think that I would take away from God the beauty of a garden but I also know that without human help, the best garden can quickly go to weeds. I am thankful for the partnership between God and humanity that leads to beautiful gardens and a more beautiful world.

  1. As I stand here I also want to call out, “Take a Look at this wonderful congregation.” But if I do then I am sure I will hear a voice from the back in reply, “You should have seen this place at 8:30”. In case you came late to service today, at 8:30 this place looked like the last inning of a Marlins home game when they are behind 17-1.

  1. Why do we all come to services so late? When I had a congregation that had a Bar Mitzvah every week, I could rely on the fact that at the beginning of the service, the only people who were present when the service began was the non-Jewish guests of the Bar Mitzvah. They were never told that you are supposed to come to services about an hour or so after the posted start time. Only those most dedicated to prayer or those who are feeling really guilty about something they have done make it to services on time. Why is this? Why do we arrive late? Would we have to do a drawing for cash prizes between 8:30 and 9 in order to get people to arrive on time? Some of the most meaningful prayers are found at the beginning of our service and most of us have never heard them.

  1. And don’t think this is a modern problem. The Talmud records that the proper order of blessings during the Torah service SHOULD be the blessing before the reading is recited by the persn called for the first Aliyah, and the blessing after the Torah reading should be recited after the reading by the one called up for the last Aliyah. That is all that is necessary. But the Sages worried that those who arrived late would never know that there was a blessing before the Torah was read, and those leaving early might never know that there also was a blessing at the end. So they ruled that each person should recite the blessings both before and after each Aliyah, a repetition made necessary because people came late to shul.

  1. If you are laughing nervously about the answer to the question, don’t worry, I already know why Jews come late to services, on the High Holy Days and on Shabbat as well. There is no great secret here that anyone is keeping from the Rabbi. There are three reasons why we don’t arrive on time. First of all, we find the service boring. One of my colleagues, much senior to me, used to visit other synagogues and usually described them as “a beautiful sanctuary that sleeps 500.” There is a chance that the Rabbi could say something interesting, and there is a chance we could get an honor on the Bima, but you don’t have to arrive early to meet those goals. The rest of the service is just “stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down”.

  1. The second reason we arrive late for services is that services are way too long. The people on the TV show, CSI can solve an entire case in 60 minutes. Why does praying take so long? My favorite movie is only two and a half hours, or maybe three. But a three and a half hour Shabbat service and a service over five hours long on the High Holy Days? Nobody should have to sit that long? There is nothing in the world that is interesting for so long except maybe a football game that goes into overtime. This is not even nearly as exciting.

  1. The third reason we arrive late is because prayer is so hard. When we look at a page of the Machzor like Page 164-5, we have to wonder what this book is all about. Who can make any sense over a pages like these? Trying to understand a prayer book is like trying to read War and Peace in Russian. Even the English in this Machzor may as well be from Moscow. After a few minutes of trying to decipher the prayers in either English or Hebrew, we just get a headache and quit. Maybe we should pass out in the synagogue a book like “The Idiot’s Guide to Praying” In a multi-media world, we need a multi-media service, otherwise, we can’t wait to get out the door.

  1. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Gail Labovitz, sums up the entire problem when she writes, “One particularly memorable personal insight came several years ago, during a ‘debriefing’ session after a Protestant prayer service. Someone asked about the difference between “high church’ and ‘low church’ forms of worship in Protestant denominations. The student who fielded the question answered roughly as follows: ‘Imagine walking into a church. If there are high, soaring ceilings, fixed pews, stained-glass windows – the message is that God is transcendent and awesome, and that is high church. On the other hand, if the ceiling is low, the chairs aren’t fixed in place, perhaps the space isn’t even regularly or exclusively used as a prayer space – God is immanent, and your in a low church environment.’ A little light bulb went off in my head – bing! -I’m a ‘low church’ Jew.”

  1. Rabbi Labovitz understands that the same issues that our Christian colleagues face is the same one we face. We have ‘high church’ services for ‘low church’ Jews. When we come to shul we have all kinds of expectations that we have accumulated over the years and sure enough, we find them all in shul and it gives us another reason to be late next week, or to skip the program altogether. Somehow we never really get the chance to think about what could make our prayers more inviting and meaningful. We just put in our time and remember why we stopped coming in the first place. We are all ‘low church’ Jews attending a ‘high church’ service. We want our God to be close and personal and we find in our service that God is far away and unapproachable. We have become indifferent to what should be of crucial importance.

  1. So how am I doing? Did I describe what is happening out there? I am not angry that anyone came late, I certainly don’t keep track of who comes to shul at what time. It is a free country and we are free to spend as much time in prayer as we want. I only see a problem where people come to synagogue and want to pray, they want to have a close, personal and meaningful encounter with God and faith and we are not providing what they need. We are leading a service that was constructed for past generations and bygone days.

  1. I come to shul for the very beginning of the service. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Those of us who do come for the beginning are all friends and we share an understanding of what prayer means to us and why it is important in our lives. Just like you, we could be spending the extra time in bed, over breakfast or watching TV but we choose to attend early because of the spiritual fulfillment we get here. Everyone can feel that spiritual connection but we will have to work on our expectations.

  1. As you can imagine, Rabbis have been working on boring services for thousands of years. The reason that services have not improved over the centuries is because of one important factor. Rabbi Mike Comins, in his book “Making Prayer Real, Why Prayer is Difficult and What You Can Do About It.” writes in the introduction, “My prayer life changed when I took ownership of it and no longer left my heart’s expression in the hands of rabbis, cantors, the Siddur, the building architect, the community or whether a baby happens to be crying in the sanctuary today. … If I go to services expecting the rabbi to impress me with her words, and the cantor to move me with his musicianship, I am like a critic at a movie. When a good film touches me, I am spiritually enriched, if not, not. It mostly depends on the film. But if I pray like a painter about the draw on her canvas, I am responsible for finding my inspiration and engaging the practice. … the critical point: it depends mostly on me – my longing , my desire, my creativity, my talent, my sincerity, my devotion to the art. We have a choice: to consume art or to become an artist; to consume the synagogue product or to become a prayer-person, an artist of the soul whose sincere prayer serves the community as much as the community supports our prayer.”

  1. There is no reason for us to abdicate our role in prayer the minute we walk in the door. We can pick up this Machzor, or we can find a different one that we like and bring it with us, and pray however we feel like praying. We don’t all have to be on the same page. We don’t all have to rise and sit on command. If we find something that speaks to us we can linger on the page and let the rest of the congregation go on without us until we are good and ready to catch up. Mary J. Blige, the Grammy award winning singer has written, “The seeking of spiritual light is gained through having faith and trust in God. Prayer provides the path, leading to inner strength and pushing us toward greater honesty with ourselves. With honesty come clarity, as we come to see the truth of our condition. We can then change what we can and accept what we can’t. Whatever it is that you have, you must make it work for you. In this way, we keep moving toward the light. When we minimize our own talents, when we envy what other have, when we give in to despair, we choose darkness. When we do so, we should always remember this is a choice, it is not a destiny. The light is always there if we have the courage to seek it. And, with faith and trust in God, we need never seek it alone.”

  1. The length of services is another issue that Rabbis and congregations have struggled with for hundreds of years. The problem is that the term, “too long” is as subjective as you can get. Waiting five minutes in a grocery store line seems very long. The same time hugging our spouse or grandchildren is way too short. The issue is not the time we spend praying but how engaged we are when we take the time to pray.

  1. There are lots of ways that we can make prayer more engaging. We could do what most churches do and hire a band, something with an electric guitar, drums and maybe a bass, an electric organ is very versatile here. We could play modern pop music, klezmer music, there are also Jewish gospel songs that can really get a shul up and dancing. We could go the other way and have more time for spiritual reflection, silent personal prayer or meditation. We could add modern poetry and prayers, or create a learning environment where we explain what the prayers are about. Rabbi Jack Reimer told the local Rabbinical Association that anyone that does not explain the prayers as we go seriously is derelict in his or her duty as a rabbi.

  1. The reality of our service is that this is what Jews have been doing since the time of the Talmud. Most of what is in our Machzor are prayers and poetry that have stood the test of time. Maybe some of the metaphors don’t speak to us as they once did to our ancestors, but the needs and desires of human beings as one year closes and another begins have not changed that much over the years. We still worry about what the new year will bring. We do sincerely want to improve our lives, leaving our deficiencies in the past and we want to strengthen our resolve to do better in the future. We want to know that mistakes have been forgiven and we have a chance to start over in the new year. It is not easy to write the prayer and poetry that will speak to Jews in every age and time. So we put them all together in a Machzor and ask each of us to find something that we can relate to. One rabbi I know says he never reads all the sins in the confessional anymore. He picks one or two he wants to work on and stays with them. I try to translate our Machzor to recognize more gender neutral language. How would you rewrite the prayers? How could you translate them into more relevant language? This is certainly easier than spending $32,000 for the new Machzor that does all that work for us.

  1. Finally, Prayer is hard. Like going to the opera or the symphony, we have to do a bit of homework if we are to get the most out of our experience. If we can understand the structure of the service; where it gets personal and where it demands international actions. Where we turn to God and where we turn inward, then we discover that the Machzor is designed to get us not just to read a prayer, but to react to the prayer as well.

  1. Take the central prayer of this day, the one we will soon recite “Unetane Tokef” is there something in this prayer that bothers us? Do we believe in destiny? Do all our actions find their way into God’s book? We can sing and we can interpret the prayer but do we really mean what we say? Will our answers to these questions satisfy the questions of our children or grandchildren? How might they look at Unetane Tokef”? If refusing to say it is not an option, how should we reinterpret it for a modern congregation?

  1. If we don’t like “Avinu Malkaynu” would we like it better if it was “Imenu Achotaynu – our Mother our Sister”? What would this list of prayers look like if God were called a mother rather than a father? Would God be more merciful, more understanding of our faults if God were our mother and not our father and king?

  1. My friend, Dr. Lewis Newman, in his book “Repentance: The Meaning and Practice of Teshuva” writes, “And so we find so many prayers asking that we be freed from shame, which is the feeling that we are unworthy of redemption. We need some divine assurance that there is, indeed, a way forward, for we ourselves have lost touch with that reality. If we can come to believe that forgiveness is a possibility, that God will take us back despite our moral failings, the all is not lost after all. Therefore, we pray to have our hearts opened tho that message of hope that can come to us only from somewhere beyond our own experience. The psalmist cries out, ‘I said, Lord be gracious to me, heal me, for I have sinned against you.’ (Psalm 41). The individual journey of repentance recapitulates the national experience of liberation from slavery, for in fact, it is a version of the same struggle. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we need to be able to break free from complacency and awaken to the fact that we are in need of liberation. First, we have to believe that such liberation is more than an idealized goal; it is a genuine possibility. Then we need the courage to pursue that goal even when we revert to our former slave mentality.” This is not kid stuff. This is hard work.

  1. Now perhaps we can see why some of us come early and stay to the end. Why some of us prepare for Rosh Hashana not just for a day or two, or a week or two, but at least for a month and maybe, we are thinking about sin, forgiveness and liberation all year long and these days only guide us on our way. We who come early see this service as a ladder upon which we can climb our way to the level we wish to attain in the new year. But coming early and staying late is not the key to a meaningful prayer experience. It is only the result of a change of perspective and a change of heart. We need to open ourselves up to the possibility of prayer. We need to open our hearts to the spiritual needs we hide there. We need to open our souls to the healing that prayer can bring. But most of all, we need to open our mouths and find the words that God has placed there.

  1. Sing Adonai S’fatai Tiftach U’fee Yagid T’hilatecha “God Open My Lips and My Mouth Will Declare Your Praise.”

Parshat Nitzavim Saturday Morning 2011

Parshat Nitzavim

Saturday Morning

2011

  1. There is a story, of a man who lived in South Africa; he owned a farm there but the land was poor and filled with rocks and he had to work very hard to earn a living. He wanted to be rich and to seek his fortune in the world so he sold his farm and with the money traveled to many places to seek his fortune. He tried his hand at many kinds of work and investments but slowly his money disappeared and he was left penniless and begging in the streets. The man who bought his farm however took a closer look at the rocks on the farm and discovered that they were all diamonds and the land was a large diamond mine. He was the one who became wealthy and powerful.

  1. How often do we go out looking for our fortune and miss the treasures we already have? This is not about wanting more and more, never being happy with what we have. This is about those who think that their fortune must lie far away and they will have to go to great lengths to acquire it. There certainly are people who have sold off what they thought were old collections of comic books and baseball cards only to discover that they had given away the one comic or the one baseball card that was worth thousands of dollars. Remember the man who was browsing a garage sale and found a painting that he liked selling for ten dollars? He bought it and cleaned it up only to discover it was a lost painting of a famous artist and was worth ten thousand dollars! Imagine how the family holding the garage sale felt that what they valued the least was, in fact, the most valuable possession they owned?

  1. The stock market is another place we can kick ourselves for wishing we knew then, what we know now. It is so easy to invest in something, tire of it and sell it just before it takes off. We keep our eyes on the blue chip investments but, once upon a time Microsoft, Apple and even Home Depot stock could be bought cheap. Today they are all exceedingly valuable. Sometimes we have to hang on to what we believe in longer in order to see a great return on our investment. Sometimes we have to take a longer view to discover the ultimate worth of our investments.

  1. We don’t need to only talk about money either. Some things are just more valuable than money. Yes it is good to have enough to live on. Enough to feed the family keep a roof over our heads and provide for some comforts in life. But sometimes we overlook things that are more valuable than money. I know of people in their quest for fortune who abandoned the love of a spouse. The real meaning of the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge is not that he will die, but that he will die unloved and forgotten. It is not what you get that is often important, it is also what you give. If we take the time to love, our spouse and our children, then we have real wealth. My daughter’s name is Ashira. Most Israelis assume that it is spelled, in Hebrew, with an Aleph, and it means happy. She certainly is a happy person. But we spelled her name with an “Ayin” and her name means, “wealth”. She is our living reminder that Michelle and I are very wealthy where it is most important, in the love of our children.

  1. So what if I told you that everyone here has an inheritance coming to them and all they have to do is claim it? No, this is not a takeoff of the Oprah Winfry show where she gave away cars to everyone in the audience. And I am not talking about going on the internet to put your name into a website to see if you have any money or accounts that have been forgotten over time. I am talking about an inheritance from your parents and grandparents that is waiting for you to claim it.

  1. If this inheritance were money, what would you do with the money you are inheriting? Would you go out and spend it on stuff that would make you feel happy? Would you eat at more expensive restaurants? Buy a fancier car? Go shopping for expensive clothing or jewelry? Perhaps you would save it for a rainy day in the future when you might need the cash, sometime when you may be ill, or when your income no longer is enough to pay the bills. Maybe you might invest the money from your inheritance, letting it grow so that later you might live off the investment income or have it as a gift for your children or grandchildren. What would you do with money you suddenly discovered you had inherited?

  1. In this week’s parsha we read, “Surely this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in the heavens, that you should say ‘who among us can go up to the heaven and get it for us and impart it to us, so that we may observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?’ No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart to observe it.”

  1. The inheritance we are talking about is not money, it is our religion, our faith, our way of looking at the world. Our parents or grandparents were steeped in this tradition and they hoped to teach us the ways of Judaism and the treasures that are in our way of living. We often become so distracted by the outside world that we forget that we have this inheritance, one that other people wish that they could inherit. We are often like the man from South Africa, we don’t really understand the treasure that we already own.

  1. For some of us Judaism is not a treasure, it is a jail. Judaism has bars on its windows and a bolted door. It is filled with restrictions that seem to limit our every move. Don’t do this, Don’t do that. You must perform this ritual in exactly this way or else it doesn’t count. The modern world is evil and only Jews and Judaism can be trusted. This is the kind of faith that people run away from as soon as they are able to leave their home. When Jews came to this country at the beginning of the twentieth century, when they saw the Statue of Liberty, they not only rejoiced that they had left their lands of persecution, but I am told that the bottom of New York harbor was covered with tallesim and tephillin that were thrown overboard by Jews ready to start life anew without the burden of living as Jews. They were literally throwing their inheritance into the sea.

  1. But that is not the real inheritance that we receive from our ancestors. Judaism is not a dark force that drains the life and love from our world. Judaism is what helps us see the world as it really is, and it gives us the tools to help make it even better. Generations of Jews have found joy and peace in their Jewish practice. They see Judaism as a way of making sense of a chaotic universe. They see Jewish ritual as a way to keep life organized, with the most important parts of life placed well ahead of everything else.

  1. How can we inherit this living Judaism? This is a good question as the beginning of a new year will be next week. If we want to claim this inheritance, there are some things we should resolve to do. First of all we will need to know more about what we have been given. This means that in the new year we should resolve to read more Jewish books, not just novels, but books that will help us explore our Judaism in a deeper way. We use Jewish texts to sharpen our understanding of what it means to be a Jew.

  1. Second, we should set time aside for conversations about our faith. Jewish learning is not done in a vacuum; it is done in conversation with others who share our desire to learn. Temple Emeth offers many opportunities to study and learn together and the conversations are always meaningful and stimulating. Think about joining us for an hour or so of give and take on Jewish topics in our Adult Studies program. If your previous Jewish education is missing something, we can help you fill in the gaps.

  1. Once we take hold of our Jewish inheritance and learn how it can be important in our lives, we should then decide how we should use or how we should invest in what we have inherited. Temple Emeth is, at its core, a place where Judaism can not only be studied, but practiced. Find a day to join us for daily minyan. Extend your observance of Shabbat to include Mincha/Maariv and Havdala. Join us for a Shabbat Dinner, breakfast in the sukkah, or any other holiday celebration. We can learn here to read Hebrew, chant a haftara, lead a service, read from the Torah or many others ritual skills that will enhance our Jewish life. Certainly there are rituals that can be done at home and we can help you bring your Judaism into your own personal space.

  1. Let this new year 5772 be the year that we all learn to appreciate what we have inherited from our families and received from God. Let us learn to be knowledgeable and committed Jews, comfortable at all times with the faith of our ancestors as a faith of our own. Let us discover for ourselves that one of the most precious things in our life is what we already have, our Judaism.

May God guide us as we seek to come closer to our faith and to our people as we say … Amen and Shabbat Shalom

Parshat Ki Tavo

Parshat Ki Tavo

Saturday Morning

2011

  1. Shabbat Shalom

  1. In the ancient world, all contracts and treaties would have a similar conclusion. After stating the terms of the agreement between both parties, there is a long list of curses called down upon anyone who would violate the terms of the agreement. As we are now approaching the end of the Torah, following ancient custom, there is a long list of curses and dooms called down upon the Jewish people if they should ever violate this covenant they have made with God. It is not the most beautiful part of the Torah, in fact, as you have seen, we read it quickly and quietly; but if you take the time to read it, it is quite effective in listing the awful things that come when we do not follow what God wants us to do.

  1. Maybe, as we read this list of curses, we shake our heads and mutter that we don’t believe in that kind of a God anymore. We don’t believe in a God that punishes us for every sin, for every mistake that we make. We don’t want a God who punishes, we prefer a God who supports us in our moments of weakness and who forgives and pardons our transgressions. What kind of a God would bring these disasters down on humanity, punishing the good along side of the bad? There is no escaping the curses that are pronounced. When war and famine come, it not only consumes the saints with the sinners, it also consumes the innocent children and animals as well. What kind of a God punishes the innocent along with the guilty?

  1. God might not punish the innocent with the guilty but that certainly is the history of humanity. When just a few of us sin, it is all of society that suffers. Only one company dumped toxic waste into the Love Canal 50 years ago, but the entire community that lived on its banks had to be uprooted and houses built there had to be destroyed. One country, China, still burns fossil fuel without cleaning the sulfur from the smoke, but that sulfur drifts on the winds of the upper atmosphere and falls as acid rain on the forests and trees here in the United States. An obscure agreement between the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan and the terrorist organization Al Queda, was of no concern to anyone in the world until the terrorists hijacked and flew passenger jets into the World Trade Center.

  1. Newsweek reported that the wildfires in Texas burning since December of 2010, have now consumed 3.6 million acres. That is an area that is close to the size of the state of Connecticut. Over 700 homes have been burned and four people have lost their lives. Newsweek goes on to say that six of the largest fires in Texas history have occurred this year. Why has this national tragedy occurred? Maybe it is because the Governor of Texas has cut funding for the volunteer firefighters, who are the first responders to these fires, by a whopping 75%. When we don’t have enough firefighters, why are we surprised when we have towering wildfires?

  1. Newsweek also reported that the Governor of New Jersey is complaining that retired teachers in his state are getting pensions of $35,000 a year that the state has to pay. I don’t know why he is so unhappy that they are receiving those pensions. After all, not only did they earn the pension but they are responsible for the high school students in New Jersey having the highest Advanced Placement test scores in the nation. Would good teachers teach in New Jersey if they don’t have decent benefits to cover their retirement?

  1. What really got me angry this week, was Sen. Ron Paul at the debate in Tampa on Monday. He was asked if a 30 year old who did not have health insurance and who became seriously ill, if society had any responsibility to that person. Ron Paul replied that the man made his decision and the country has no responsibility to heal him at all. It is not the government’s job to take care of the uninsured.

  1. We can have a great discussion about whether or not government in this country is too big or too small. That would be a fantastic discussion. But to say that government has NO role to play in society is not just foolish, it is dangerous. It is dangerous to people who make poor choices and it is dangerous to those of us who try to follow all the rules. We all suffer when our government does not do its job. Judaism rightly points out that we need to pray on behalf of the government because without it, people would devour each other alive.

  1. I want to be very clear; Judaism teaches us that government has responsibilities for the people and we have responsibilities for government. Rabbi Elliot Dorff, philosopher, author and bio-ethicist, lists, in order of importance, how Judaism sees the role that government is supposed to play. The first role of government is to redeem captives, especially women who are in danger of physical violation and those at risk of death. Second, government is responsible for medical care for people who need it, and this cost is more important than raising money to build a synagogue. Life and health take precedence over all other communal priorities. Third comes food for the poor. Fourth is clothing and housing for the poor. In the Middle East where the weather is moderate, clothing and housing are not as important as food. In North America, where there are very cold winters, this need is more urgent. Fifth comes money for the dowry for indigent brides and last is whatever is necessary to sustain a person’s dignity.

  1. In addition, the Jewish community, when it governed itself, provided ways to prevent poverty. There were strict commercial rules that regulated how much profit a person could make on food and essential items being sold. There were also rules on how quickly laborers should be paid. They preferred that people work for their living and not live off the public till. Rather than give charity, often loans and or aid to help keep someone employed were better ways to preserve the dignity of those in distress.

  1. Since everyone has these responsibilities to the poor, it becomes the duty of the community to gather the resources and provide for the poor on behalf of everyone. In effect, the Jewish community taxed its residents to provide a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter and a tzedaka collective to support those who need money or other supplies. The responsibility of how much to contribute was dependent on income. The more you earned, the more you owed. Even those who received charity were required to give charity. Those who could give more, were required to give more. Those who refused to give could be forced by the courts to give or their property could be confiscated.

  1. These responsibilities are, first of all, a moral requirement. What separates us from animals is that we don’t leave our wounded, sick or elderly behind. It may be OK for a heard of antelope or wolves to weed out the sick and injured. It is not OK for human beings. We believe that we are all created in the image of God and that nobody is more deserving than anyone else. We don’t ration food or health care so that those who can’t afford it are left out. All Jews are responsible for each other. That is a fundamental part of our faith.

  1. There is also a practical reason to provide for the poor. The poor are more likely to contract serious diseases that could affect all of public health. Do you remember the SARS scare in the 1990’s? It was so communicable that many people caught it from those who were waiting with them in hospital waiting rooms. When we make sure that everyone has proper health care we are preventing the uncontrolled spread of disease.

  1. The same applies to doctors, firefighters and police officers. If we no longer provide an adequate number of professionals in our community, we should not be surprised by increases in disease, wildfires and crime. These also are the duties of government; we certainly don’t want private security or local vigilantes in charge of crime prevention. According to the Torah, the communal leaders had to offer a sacrifice if there was an unsolved murder in their jurisdiction. It was a penalty for not providing enough security for strangers and residents.

  1. Let us never forget that there is a purpose for government. Our constitution teaches us that we have formed this union to establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. For both Jewish and American law, we rely on our government to provide justice, fairness, a social safety net, security and freedom. I know that there are some today that say that the best government is one that stays out of the way. But that is not how Judaism sees the world. Judaism teaches us that government is the one resource that makes freedom and liberty possible. Nobody likes taxes and rules about how to live our lives. And maybe our government has gotten carried away in both areas. That is also a good debate to have from time to time. But when we pray for the government, we are praying that it does its job with justice and that it acts with rightful authority. Without government humanity has known only chaos.

  1. As a rabbi, I must teach the important role that government plays in our lives. Ron Paul is entitled to his opinion, but as Jews, we must and should support the government in its duty to give aid to the poor, the homeless, the sick and the aged. That is our duty as Jews, as Americans and as human beings. Let us not get lost in campaign rhetoric and forget our responsibilities to others. That would be a crime against our humanity and a sin against God.

May God bless us with a good government that supports those in need of support and gives opportunity for all. May God bless us and our country as we say …

AMEN AND SHABBAT SHALOM

PARSHAT KI TETZE

PARSHAT KI TETZE

Text :

ז שַׁלֵּחַ תְּשַׁלַּח אֶת-הָאֵם וְאֶת-הַבָּנִים תִּקַּח-לָךְ לְמַעַן יִיטַב לָךְ וְהַאֲרַכְתָּ יָמִים.

Let the mother go and take only the young, in order that you may fare well and have a long life. [Deut. 22:7]


Commentary:

(One evening as my wife and I were shopping for clothing for our children) I caught a glimpse of a tall, carefully made up, attractive woman out of the corner of my eye, she seemed, even at first glance, to be distraught. Pretending not to notice her as she moved into the aisle where I stood, I saw that she was very pregnant and accompanied by a man. They were discreetly moving toward me and she was trying to catch my eye. But even if she did, I would have feigned ignorance. Yes I know, I’m a rabbi, a public person, but gimme a break, this public person happens to be shopping for clothes.

It didn’t work. She was closing in and moving through the bright florescent lights like a guided missile. “Aren’t you Rabbi Kushner?” “Yes, I am; have we met?” “Not exactly; we attended a service that you did. My husband and I thought you were very nice.” She moved in for the kill. “Oh Rabbi, we were at the doctor’s this afternoon. The third opinion. He says I have an inoperable tumor. I’m going to die. He says the baby will be fine.”

They introduced themselves to me, gave me the details. They’d been thinking about joining my congregation. Their world had collapsed. Why has this happening? Would I do the funeral? They joined. She bore a daughter, she died. I did the funeral.

There are two ways to understand our relationship with God: God can be above us or we can be within God. In the first, it is possible for us to have a relationship with God. There are two discrete parties who can each behave freely and independently. And since God is other than the world, there must be some things which are not God; a devil, and evil instinct. . . .Evil has its own independent existence. It is in business for itself. In the second model, we are within God; we are one with God. God is everywhere and everything. All being derives its reality from God. According to this paradigm, if God is within all creation, then what appears as evil can only be a distant, albeit distorted, expression of the Divine. This doesn’t make it “good.” But nothing can be entirely separate from or independent of God. Everything, therefore, is the way it is “supposed” to be.

The stories with happy endings distract our attention from all the other painful stories. They say to us that somehow things work out, even though it often seems like they don’t.. For a moment, it seems possible that our grief may be due only to our own myopia. The seeds of giant redwoods, after all, are capable of germinating only once they have been through the intense heat of a forest fire.

Not long ago I was sitting with the other members of my synagogue’s high school faculty… My glance settled on a short vivacious, red haired girl of seventeen. She had just finished telling a joke or playing some kind of a prank. Everyone laughed with her. She is popular. I love that girl. I am honored that she looks up to me. That girl’s father never did remarry. Last week the father told me that his daughter was thinking of becoming a rabbi.

Look, I don’t think that God made a tumor grow in that girl’s mother’s brain. Or that God has anything to do with the choice of careers or where I used to shop for bargain basement clothing. But I can’t get it out of my head that somehow God is mixed up in the whole horrible, holy and joyous thing. [Lawrence Kushner; Invisible Lines of Connection, Jewish Lights Press, p. 136]

Questions:

A) How can the Torah promise long life for sending away the mother bird when we know that long life has nothing to do with sending birds away?

B) Can we explain evil in the world without denying God’s power or God’s knowledge of all things? Why must religion, in general and Judaism, in particular answer this question? What does this say about our faith in God?

C) Do you see God as above us or within us? What difference does our choice make in the way we act in the world?

Parshat Shoftim

Parshat Shoftim

Sermon Saturday Morning

2011

  1. Shabbat Shalom

  1. The Memphis Three were set free from jail this week. Three men, convicted almost 20 years ago for the killing of three children in an occult ritual, one of whom was given the death penalty; they walked out of jail as free men. After more than 19 years in prison, DNA evidence that was not available 20 years ago, convinced a judge that there was no way that these three men could have committed this terrible crime. Anyone who is not a part of this case, looking at the documents that convicted these three, is appalled that they could be convicted on such flimsy evidence. The man was convicted of capital murder by a jury of his “peers” based on a confession that was gained illegally. It was coerced from one of the defendants who was threatened by the police, without access to a lawyer and who recanted this so called confession the next day.

  1. This miscarriage of justice was the result of police eager for a quick resolution of a terrible crime. It was the result of a prosecutor who wanted the publicity of a conviction. It was the result of judges who did not want to admit that they may have made a mistake. It took thousands of people, including some very famous people, who paid the lawyers who worked for years to get these three innocent men freed from prison. It is hard to imagine that in the country of justice and freedom, the land of law and order, the nation that is famous for its crime scene investigations, that this kind of railroad justice could even exist, let alone leave three innocent men in prison for nearly 20 years.

  1. This is the kind of case that lies at the foundation of our Torah reading today. Judges and officials are to be appointed who will show no partiality to the rich or the poor; magistrates who will not accept bribes to find for one side of the case or the other. A conviction in Jewish courts requires two or three witnesses; one can’t be convicted on the testimony of just one person. Courts did not have juries, but they had a panel of three judges, who were supervised by a regional court of 23 judges, who were supervised by a national court of 71 judges.

  1. Furthermore, witnesses that testified in a murder case would be required to throw the first stones when the time for execution arrived. Witnesses who conspired against someone were punished with the same punishment they intended for their victim. Witnesses were questioned separately and had to agree to what they saw. They could not be relatives of anyone involved in the case. And once acquitted, there could be no double jeopardy.

  1. But even with all these safeguards, there were miscarriages of justice in the ancient world as well. Israelite royalty, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had their neighbor executed for treason on the testimony of two bribed witnesses so that the King could seize the land and vineyard of the neighbor. Nobody said a word to the King until the prophet Elijah confronted them. King David was also punished for killing a man to avoid an embarrassing indiscretion. We see why our Parsha requires a Jewish king to write a copy of a Torah for his own use; to impress upon him the details of the law.

  1. We like to think that we take our sense of justice seriously; that if we are called upon to serve on a jury, we would work extra hard to make sure that we made the just and right decision. Maybe some of us have served on a jury and actually had to decide a case. It is not as easy as it looks on TV. When we are the ones who have someone’s life in our hands, to send them to jail, to send them home or to put them on probation is not an easy decision. We hope we make the right choice, but often, even at the end of a case, we are unsure of what was the right thing to do.

  1. Would we have convicted Casey Anthony if we had been on her jury? What about OJ Simpson? Would we have wanted to sit on the jury of the rape case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Could we have done a better job? Before you answer, it is important to remember that we do not have all the evidence in our hands that was presented in court. Even if we wanted to watch the proceedings of these sensational trials, we could not have seen all the information. Television only covers the “interesting” parts trials. The media only records what their experts say are important and relevant, but seeing the accused and hearing the tone of voice of the witnesses is also an important part of a trial. How can we possibly say what we might have done if we were not there?

  1. I actually think that we often rush to judgment on the testimony of just one witness. We all too often allow the trial of someone in the court of public opinion. We convict those arrested without even seeing the evidence that needs to be presented. There was a crime, we have a suspect, if the police say he did it, than it must be true. Unless it is almost 20 years later and we can see that the police did it very wrong. I don’t even want to limit this to the sensational crimes in the news each week. We make far too many decisions based on just one opinion and we then cite that testimony as if it has to be true.

  1. I get, almost every week, a story in my email about some sensational item in the news. The more fantastic the information the more likely that someone will forward it to me. Just about every one of these emails is filled with inaccuracy and falsehood. Just because we read it on the internet does not make it true. I have read terrible things about the government of Israel that never happened. I have seen horrific quotations attributed to the Koran that are completely imaginary. Did you get the email that said that Saudi Arabia Air is now part of the Star Alliance of airlines and it claimed that Delta Airlines would start refusing to take Jewish passengers? It was completely false. It never happened. It can never happen. This is a terrible example of bigotry against Muslims. We just can’t believe everything that we learn on the internet. There is in fact a site on the internet that is dedicated to debunking all these lies that are out there posing as facts for us to repeat.

  1. So if you can’t trust what you read or see on Television, who can you trust? I have always been a believer in reading more than one source and then, comparing the information and making my own decision. I get my news from many sources. I watch the 11 pm news on TV most evenings. I read the news from many different sources. I read the headlines from the Miami Herald, the Sun Sentinel, ABC news, MSNBC news, CNN, and even the BBC. I have any news about Delray Beach, about Conservative Judaism and Rabbis automatically sent to my email. I read the Israeli paper Haaretz every day and I have national and international headlines from around the world sent to me for evaluation. I get the latest news about technology from a computer magazine. Of course I daily check the headlines for important stories in the New York Times and not just because my son works there.

  1. I often check out local news in at least three of these sources before I feel ready to make a comment on it. I usually check out national news also in at least three sources, one of which is a foreign source to see how others look at the same information. The facts may be the same but the interpretations are widely different. It is a lot of work to be able to comment on politics, international news, and even local stories. I never judge a story in the news from just one source. Only if I have read the story in a number of places do I feel I understand what the story is about. I was annoyed this week because all the news stations were complaining that 1.5 million people who were in hurricane Irene are still without power. That may be true, but the number on Sunday was 5.5 million people without power, that is almost an 80% improvement in just a few short days. I agree that 1.5 million people is still a large number but I can’t fault the power companies and the politicians for not doing a good job.

  1. And that applies all the more so to gossip. I don’t know why people want to share gossip with the Rabbi; I never comment on it or share it with others and more often than not I challenge the person telling the story to reveal his or her sources. If I do hear something troubling about someone I know, I call them right away and find out for myself if the information is true and if there is anything I can do to help them in their troubles. I don’t judge anyone on the testimony of one witness.

  1. One of the things we need to be examining at this season of the year is if we are too quick to judge others based on flimsy testimony. Do we rush to judgment of those who show up in the evening news? Do we form opinions only because our “favorite” commentator endorses it? Do we look askance at our neighbors because of the latest rumors going around about them by the pool? If so, we will have much to atone for on Yom Kippur. Our Parsha challenges us all to be skeptical of what we read and what we hear. It asks us to consider other possibilities for the fantastic stories that we hear; and not let someone else “bribe” our minds with assorted half truths that will cloud our judgment when it comes to the bigger issues.

  1. When you hear a talk show and there are people around the table who disagree and are given a chance to explain why they disagree, you have a reason to perk up your ears. If you hear a news personality apologize for getting a story wrong, it is OK to pay attention. But if you find a commentator who shouts down anyone who disagrees with him, it is best just to turn off the noise. There are way too many people in the media who seem to think that the louder they shout, the more people will believe them. That is why I never accept an opinion based on the testimony of one pundit.

  1. It does not matter if you read a story in the Jewish Journal or the New York Times. It makes no difference if the news is in the Palm Beach Post or National Enquirer. If you can find the story only in one place, then there is good reason to ignore it and just turn the page. Our parsha says “Justice, Justice shall you pursue”; it says “justice” twice to tell us that it is hard work to know what the real answer is and you have to pursue it because the truth will not always be what it first appears to be. If we can make this our habit when reading the news or when we are “chit chatting” with our friends, then we will be doing our part in fulfilling the commandments of parshat Shoftim.

May God help us to use our minds to uncover the truth when all is false and to find what is real when everything seems too good to be true. May we judge all of life fairly as we say…

AMEN AND SHABBAT SHALOM

Parshat Re’eh Saturday Morning 2011

  1. Shabbat Shalom

  1. Parshat Re’eh begins by offering us a choice, blessing or curse; a blessing if we observe the Mitzvot and a curse if we do not. This is one of the verses upon which the sages declared the principle of free will. We always have the choice to do the will of God or not, and if we choose not, then we will have to suffer the consequences of our decision.

  1. Of course, if we pause to think about this choice, it really is not much of a choice at all. It is more like “Do what I say …or else…! One would have to be either very foolish or very wicked to choose to disobey God and risk facing the curses, curses that will be described in very gory detail in Parshat Ki Tavo in just a few more weeks. Clearly the Torah is telling us that the wise choice, the only real choice, is to choose to obey the commandments of God.

  1. In the Mishna, in Pirke Avot, the collection of wisdom from the Sages of the Talmud, Ben Zoma, asks a series of very strange questions. He asks “Who is Wise? Who is Strong? Who is Rich? and Who is Honored? The questions are strange because we already know the answers to his questions. The answers are obvious. We all know the definitions of wealth, strength, wisdom and honor. Wise people are those who have many degrees from prestigious universities. They are the people we turn to when we don’t know what we are supposed to do. The strong person is the one who can lift the most weights and has the largest muscles. The rich man is the one who invests with Berkshire Hathaway, and who makes money even in a down market. The one who is honored is the one who gives up his or her life on behalf of others.

  1. What makes the teaching of Ben Zoma so interesting is that he does not answer the questions the way we expect. His definitions of Wisdom, Strength, Wealth and Honor are not at all what we expect, in fact they are virtually the opposite of the definitions we are so sure of. According to Ben Zoma, the wise person is not the one who knows the most; wisdom comes when we are prepared to learn from everyone else. Strength does not come from lifting weights; but real strength comes when we are able to overcome our evil impulses. Wealth is measured not by how much money we control, but how happy we are with what we already have. Honor does not come from others; it comes when we honor others.

  1. When we think about what Ben Zoma is teaching, we realize, of course, that what he says is true in a deeper way than the definitions that we first contemplated. We don’t have to think too hard to find people with many degrees who still act foolishly. How many athletes can we think of who are strong physically but underdeveloped morally. Rich people seem to only want to get more wealth but a poor person, who is happy is wealthier in the ways that really matter. Real honor comes from humility in our public service, not from a sense of getting what we deserve.

  1. What Ben Zoma is really saying is that in each of these four areas, what we first thought of as a blessing, can really be, if we are not careful a curse. If we are too full of ourselves, too enamored of our abilities and believe that we are better than anyone else, then no matter how smart we may be, how strong we may be or how rich we may be, we are, in the end without any resources at all. All that we own is not enough, and it will never be enough if we don’t learn how to control ourselves and our impulses.

  1. We like to think of Wisdom, Strength, Wealth and Honor as the blessings of life, but for all too many people, they are not blessings but a curse. Many smart people were duped by Bernie Madoff. Baseball, football, basketball and even golf have seen star performers fall to sex and drugs. Martha Stewart went to jail because she lied about a stock trade that involved an amount of money that, compared to her vast wealth, was pocket change. She just couldn’t let it go, no matter how insignificant the amount was. We may honor those politicians who have served this country as President of the United States, but that is an insignificant honor compared to the honor we show to people like Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. They earned their honors by giving honor freely to others.

  1. Clearly, when our Parsha is talking about blessings and curses, it is not giving us the choice of following God or not, it is telling us that everything that we do can be a blessing or a curse, and the final determination is made not by others but through our own actions.

  1. Take the Mitzvot, for example; we can do Mitzvot because we want to feel honored. We like the way our observance makes us feel pious and righteous. We like it when we are honored for our commitment to Judaism and Jewish traditions. Ben Zoma would tell us, however, that this is not the path to true piety. This kind of piety is a kind of curse, and it is why so many people who seem so pious are discovered to be not so pious in the privacy of their own homes. True piety, Ben Zoma would say, comes from a love of God. If we do what God commands because we love what God stands for and want to bring the understanding of God out into the rest of the world; if we act at every moment to bring honor, not to ourselves, but to God, then we won’t need to worry if our public life and our private life are the same. Both are the result of a mind set that makes it impossible to act in a hypocritical manner.

  1. We may be proud that, over the course of our lives, we have never received a traffic citation. not one speeding ticket, not one accident; we never ran a red light. It is not that we never speed or cut corners in traffic, it is just that we are too smart to get caught. We may even be proud that we got a reduction in our car insurance because of our “spotless” record. But the fact that we may have never been caught does not mean that we are a safe driver. In fact, we may be responsible for creating dangers for other drivers who have the misfortune to be in the same intersection with us. Our daredevil driving may be unknown to Law Enforcement but it is still a curse in our lives and in the lives of others. Why should we drive safely? Because it is the right thing to do. It is better for preserving our life and the lives of others.

  1. We may even be proud of our thriftiness. We make very dollar go the full distance for us. We bargain with every sales person, and get reductions even when the sign says that there are no discounts; that we have returned items we don’t need even when it says that there are no returns. We like to brag around the pool that we got a better bargain on the TV, the car, on our eggs and on our produce. But if we are leaving in our wake, angry, frustrated and hurt sales clerks, what have we really accomplished? We may be proud of our savings but we are reviled when we return to the store for all the trouble we have caused. Our actions may be our curse if we leave in our wake people we have bullied into submission. Is saving a few cents worth the anger and resentment we leave behind? True blessings come when everyone leaves a deal happy, not just the buyer.

  1. The sign may say, “The person who dies with the most toys, wins” but it is a false winning. The people who are long remembered are those who are the kindest and most compassionate. I have done thousands of funerals but at the top of my memory is the funeral of the father who left this memory to his children. They told me that one day the father saw a homeless man who had no shoes. He stopped his car, and asked the man to tell him his shoe size. The man told him he was a size nine. The father turned to the children in the car and said, “Who here wears a size nine?” and he then took the shoes off the feet of his son to give them to the homeless man. The boy had other sneakers at home. But he never forgot that one act of kindness of his father. And to this day I have never forgotten it either.

  1. If our lives can be a blessing or a curse, it will only be because of the way we act every minute of every day. If we bring blessings into the world, our life will be a blessing. If we work for our own gain at the expense of everyone else, then our lives will be a curse, not just for others but for ourselves too. We will know, deep in our hearts, that we are not anywhere near the kind of person we want to be. Every decision we make will add to the total, whether our life will be a blessing or a curse.

  1. That is not to say that we have to be perfect. Nobody is perfect. Every one of us has slipped from time to time and been a bit selfish, careless and maybe a bit cruel from time to time. We don’t really mean to be that way but there are so many reasons that spoil our best intentions. A momentary bit of greed, an unintentional slight, or a morally questionable decision. Some of these sins may be accidental. Some, we are ashamed to admit, were done with intention. This week, as we begin the month of Elul, the final month of the Jewish year, we get our chance to repair these sins. Each day of Elul we blow the shofar to remind us that the end of the year is coming and we need to apologize, repent and resolve to do better in the year ahead. This season tells us that we don’t have to be perfect, we only need to try harder to do the right thing and to leave our bad intentions behind.

  1. The blessings and curses in life are of our own making. The choice we have is to do the right things for the right reasons. The Torah gives us the reinforcement we need to overcome our evil inclination and stay on the path that will bring us true wisdom, strength, wealth and honor. We don’t need anything more than Ben Zoma to remind us that all we value can be either a blessing or a curse and it all depends on how we feel about what we are doing and the memories that we are leaving behind.

As we said just a few minutes ago during the prayer for the new month, “May God bless us in this new month with life and peace, joy and gladness, deliverance and consolation and may we have these blessing every day of every month of the year as we say… Amen and Shabbat Shalom

Ekev 2011s

Parshat Ekev Saturday Morning 2011

  1. Shabbat Shalom

  1. In this week’s Parsha, Moses reminds the people of Israel that, no matter what they may think about their enemies and the military that is arrayed against them, no matter how many people the Canaanites may put in the field to oppose them, even if their opponents are the eight foot tall giant Anakites, no matter what the Israelites might see in battle, they should never forget that God fights with them and that, as long as they are faithful to God, God will be faithful to them and they will achieve victory.

  1. This is the core promise behind the idea of a “promised land”. It is the promise on which the modern state of Israel was founded. Israel was the land and the Jews were returning home. As the theme song from the movie “Exodus” reminded Americans, “This land is mine; God gave this land to me.” For two thousand years the few Jews who remained in the Promised Land were despised and persecuted. They suffered bigotry and attack as well as famine and disease. No matter who conquered that land, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Arabs, Turks or the British, the land promised to the Jews remained a difficult place to live, and to earn a living. Over the centuries the other nations used up the soil and denuded the mountains of their trees. They took all the resources and left precious little for anyone who remained behind to use to earn a living.

  1. But from the beginning of the twentieth century, when the Jews began to return to the land, suddenly it was possible to drain swamps and plant forests. Suddenly new cities could be founded and farms could produce food not only for the country but to export to Europe. The Jews who returned to their Promised Land found that the land was not a desert and a swamp; it was fertile land waiting for those with vision to restore her to her beauty and glory. When the State of Israel was founded, the land was already well on its way to be the miracle that it is today.

  1. But in 1948, and even as early as 1929, there were those who wished to derail the miracle. There were people in Europe and in the Middle East who wanted to see the Jews fail. They attacked Jewish settlements forcing the Jews to fight back. There were civilians killed, doctors and nurses ambushed and a university under siege. But the Jews in Israel understood that if they failed in their determination to settle the land, there was no place else for them to go. World War II made it very clear that Jews were not welcome anymore in Europe. Israel was the nation that just had to be a success, where every other nation who tried to settle there, was not.

  1. In 1947, the British were in charge of the “holy land”. But the fighting between Jews and Arabs continued to get worse. The British took the side of the Arabs so the Jews began to fight against the British. Many soldiers and even civilian administrators died in that conflict. Great Britain finally had enough of the fighting and told the United Nations to sort out what they should do with this land of conflict. The UN came and held public meetings. They interviewed British, Jewish and Arab leadership. They created a partition plan; they would divide the land between the Arabs and the Jews who wanted to live there; a two state solution that was adopted on November 29, 1947 and was set to take effect on May 15, 1948. The Arabs and the British tried many tactics to undermine the Jewish side of the state. Both of them were resentful of the Jewish success in the land and their inability to push them out like others had been pushed out before.

  1. In 1948 the Jewish part of the state came into existence. The Arab state never came to be. The Arabs were so intent on stopping a Jewish state that they never prepared at all to create the Arab state mandated by the UN declaration. Arab refugees found themselves in refugee camps unable to win control of the land from the Jews and no other nation would take these Arabs in. Many of these refugee camps from 1948 are still in operation today. In 1946 and 1947, it was the Jews who were in refugee camps in Europe. None of the nations there wanted them so they founded their own state and left Europe behind. Could you imagine what Europe would look like today if there were still Jewish refugee camps from World War II?

  1. I remind everyone of this history because in the next few weeks, sometime in mid September, the refugees from the war of 1948 who have lived in refugee camps these past 63 years finally will go back to the United Nations and ask for a state of their own. Why the long delay? Why did they wait so long to take their case to the United Nations? Why ask for a new nation, why now demand what they once refused? The answer to that question is very important.

  1. To this day, the Arab refugees, who have become known as Palestinians, have never accepted the State of Israel. They have worked for over 50 years to destroy Israel by war, by terror and by increasingly audacious demands. Israel has survived every attempt to undermine the country and undermine the government. In spite of all of this, of all the nations in the Middle East, Israel is clearly the most prosperous and democratic. Through it all, Israel has demanded that if there is to be a two state solution, it has to be a Palestinian state that is not a threat to Israel and the Palestinian leadership have to negotiate the details of the peace with the Israeli government. Other countries can help, support and push along the process, but in the end, the issues are between Israel and the Palestinians and these two parties must resolve their differences in order that the two states will be able to live together in peace.

  1. This is why the unilateral declaration of independence is opposed by almost every western government, including the United States. In order for there to be a credible country, it has to be born of credible negotiations, not unilateral declarations. The Palestinian leadership, unable to bring themselves to accept the State of Israel wants the world to recognize their own state while they still refuse to recognize the right of Israel to exist. The declaration is a ploy to further evade meaningful negotiations. The fear in Israel and the United States is that this declaration will become like many of the other resolutions of the United Nations, another one sided document that will have to be pushed aside when the two parties finally gather to negotiate. It is an artificial negotiation strategy that takes fictions and makes them into facts that will make future negotiations more complicated. It does not resolve any of the important issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements. In fact, this UN resolution may actually undermine previous peace agreements between the Palestinian leadership and Israel.

  1. For this reason there is a petition going around that asks Americans to oppose this unilateral declaration of the Palestinians and to support the position of Israel and the position of the United States (affirmed unanimously in both houses of Congress and by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton) that the UN is not the place anymore for the Palestinians to demand a state. The petition affirms that the Palestinians should sit down to negotiate a peace plan with Israel in good faith. We do not seek to deny the Palestinians their right to their own state, only that the path to that state begins in the Middle East and not in New York. The petition has been created by the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York and is being presented to all the counsel generals who have embassies in this country, asking them to affirm that the Palestinian dream of homeland depends on their willingness to open meaningful negotiations with Israel.

  1. Please go to the petition online, either at home or at the public library, or come into our office this week and put your name on the petition. It is not often we are called upon to do something this easy and this important to help our Jewish state. Since 1948 everyone has known that there will eventually be a Palestinian state in the Middle East. But it will be born of direct negotiations and not through unilateral declarations. Our goal is peace in the Middle East and this declaration will take us further from that goal. Sign the petition and put your name on the line demanding not a unilateral declaration but meaningful negotiations in order to bring peace and prosperity to all. Arab and Jews living in peace; that is a dream worth becoming a reality. This declaration, coming to the United Nations in September, will not bring us closer to realizing our dream.

  1. May God help us make peace with our neighbors the old fashioned way, through building trust, negotiating the issues and making the difficult decisions with our enemies. The blessings come from conversations and compromise. May these be the blessings that bring us to peace as we say…. Amen and Shabbat Shalom

devarim 2011s

Parshat Devarim

Sermon Saturday Morning

2011

  1. Shabbat Shalom

  1. What do you say at a retirement party? You are presented with a gold watch; the boss says lots of nice things about you and your work. Your colleagues and co-workers share wonderful anecdotes about how they enjoyed working with you and then you have a chance to say a few words of your own.

  1. That must be how Moses felt as he stands, one last time, in front of the people of Israel before he leaves them to enter the Promised Land and he prepares to travel to a different Promised Land. Moses will soon die. His leadership will be transferred to others; his place in history is secure and he will ride off into the mountains, into the sunset. What should he say? How should he say it? What should be the last words that his followers will remember when they think of Moses and his legacy? The answer is the book of Devarim, this final book of the Bible, the last word and testament of Moses at the end of his long and extraordinary career.

  1. There is another ending this week. In just a couple of days we will observe the great black fast of Tisha B’Av. The date that we mark the end of Israelite history and the beginning of the Judaism we know today. Israelites were led by a hereditary priesthood that officiated over animal sacrifices in the Temple of Jerusalem. Judaism is led by rabbis in synagogues and they officiate over prayer and life cycle rituals. What did the people of Israel say when the only religion they knew was destroyed and their Temple burned to the ground? They wrote the book of, Eicha, Lamentations, a collection of eulogies for Judea and the Temple. What is remarkable about their laments is that along with their cries of agony and pain, they included at the end, a verse of hope for the future. The ending of the Temple and the sacrificial service was a trauma that we today can only guess at, but through their trauma, they still held out hope for tomorrow. That is not too bad a lesson for us to take away from our observance of the Ninth of Av, this dark day on Judaism’s calendar. What would we have said if we were the survivors of such a great catastrophe? Israel speaks words as the Temple burns and they conclude their eulogy with words of hope. Moses speaks words at the end of his life and he ends with words of hope. What would we say as the end of life as we know it is at hand? Could we speak words of hope as our last words?

  1. Don’t think that this is a rhetorical question. Moses is not just speaking to the people he once led, he is speaking to us. What he says is not just important for Jewish Law, what he says is important for our lives as well. His words are important for two reasons. First of all, there is good reason to believe that Moses did not write these last words. That the book was composed later, much later, as someone’s idea of what Moses would have said had his words been recorded. Almost like a modern historical novel, the book of Devarim is a mythological account of what the people of Israel thought about when they thought about Moses. This is why the whole series of speeches seem so larger than life. Hundreds of years after his death, Moses had indeed become larger than life and this is how later Israelites viewed Moses from the vantage point of history. It is an amazing book and I think that is why it had to be included in the selections that would eventually become the Torah that we study and teach from today.

  1. But I believe, as I have said many times, that the questions of the Torah are questions for us. If the Book of Devarim asks what we would say if we were Moses; if Devarim is about how our ancestors saw Moses at the end of his career; then this is also a chance for us to comment on the endings that we encounter in our lives. The Torah here is calling to all of us to contemplate the end of our own lives. Not to be sad that we will be gone, but to help us focus, like Moses, on what kind of a legacy we will leave behind.

  1. There is a famous poem by Linda Ellison about how we should contemplate our lives. She calls her poem, “The Dash”

The Dash Poem

by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak

At the funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

From the beginning to the end

He noted that first came the date of her birth

And spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth.

And now only those who loved her

Know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not how much we own;

The cars, the house, the cash,

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard.

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left,

That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough

To consider what’s true and real

And always try to understand

The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger,

And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives

Like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect,

And more often wear a smile

Remembering that this special dash

Might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read

With your life’s actions to rehash

Would you be proud of the things they say

About how you spent your dash?

  1. Devarim however, does not just call upon us to think about what wisdom we might share at the end of our lives, Devarim implies that there are other endings we can contemplate as well.

When I talk to a family about a loved one who has died and I want information about their life for a eulogy, I often ask about their career. Some people work in several different careers over the span of their lives. Some work in the same place for over 40 years. Some children can define a father or mother by the career that they chose, and others say that the career was just an interruption in their real love of being a parent, friend or community activist. It can be telling how the skills used in a career can also be transferred to other aspects of life as well. It is also telling if we are defined only by the way we earned a living. What would we want our children to say to the Rabbi about how we managed the boundaries between our personal and professional lives?

  1. Are there other times in our lives when we realize that a door has closed and that part of our life is over? What about when we sent our last child off to college? What about when others danced a Mazinka for us as we married off our last child? What did we say to ourselves, our spouse or our friends as we sat shiva for our last parent and realized that we were now orphans in the world? What did we say at these turns of life? Did we slip away in our pain or did we find words to give us hope?

  1. Not all endings are sad, however. Do we remember the day we quit a job to go out on our own in a new business? There was the anxiety of not knowing the future and leaving behind a secure and reliable past. Do we remember the time when we realized that our bodies, once so young and vibrant, bodies that we believed, in the innocence of youth, were indestructible and eternal, that our body would now need medications and support to get us through the rest of our lives? What about the day we went in for important surgery, and we stood between illness and health and wondered what the future had in store? What did we say when we went in for that important test that would tell us once and for all what we had and what we would be able to do about it? What about the day we were told we would need a cane in order to walk, or a hearing aide in order to hear? Did we speak words of worry and concern or did we speak words of hope?

  1. In less than 60 days, just eight weeks from today, we will, God willing, stand at the entrance to another new year. In just three weeks we will hear the first calls of the Shofar reminding us that we need to examine our souls as we prepare to transition from 5771 to 5772. What do we plan to bring with us into the new year and what baggage do we intend to leave behind? The time we have to contemplate the passage of time is growing short. I know rabbis who use this time to consider how our lives have changed over the course of this year. What new inventions and new ideas challenged us and what tragedies and disasters plagued us? Some rabbis bring out a list of obituaries of those famous people who did not make it to the Jewish New Year. It is all an attempt to get us to focus on how quickly time passes and why it is so important not to waste even a moment in time.

  1. Soon we will be having the retirement party for 5771. Each of us has lived this year in different ways. What are we prepared to say about it as it comes to its end? Was the past year kind to you? Were you kind to others in the past year? Was the past year full of joyful moments? Were you a joyful person to your friends and to strangers in the past year? Was the past year filled with tragedies? Did you, in the past year, comfort those who suffered tragedies? What do you have to say about the past year and what does the past year have to say about you?

  1. As Devarim unfolds we see all the facets of Moses’ life. The good moments, the moments of anger, the times of frustrations and the stunning moments of success. We don’t see Moses as a superhuman hero, we see him in all his beauty and flaws. And yet Moses ends with words of hope. Tisha B’Av has unfolded as a day of many tragic moments in Jewish history. Each time tragedy struck, who could blame us if we wrote verses of pain and sorrow? And yet Eicha ends with words of hope. Another year is coming to an end. It was a year of remarkable success and of indescribable disasters. What does this year mean to us and will we do all we can to have it end with words of hope? Moses and our ancestors never let a story end on a sad note. We should learn from their example and always find the words of hope when a door closes, a life closes and when a year closes.

May we learn and grow from all our experiences in the year that is ending and may God help us as we assess this year, to find not just good times and bad times, but always a reason to look to the future with hope as we say….

AMEN AND SHABBAT SHALOM

Parshat Maasai

Parshat Maasai
Saturday Morning
2011
  1. Shabbat Shalom
  1. As the Torah winds down to its end, as the Book of Bamidbar lists the many stops along the way for the People of Israel, we begin to see that there is a transition taking place. The leadership of Moses is ending. This Parsha is a review of all that Moses has accomplished with the understanding that there will be no new accomplishments for Moses. It will now be Joshua’s turn to lead the people. The future of Israel and all the history that is yet to be written, will be about Joshua and not Moses.
  1. While the Torah seems to indicate that Moses makes a gracious and elegant exit, appointing Joshua and giving him a charge on how to lead in the future, there are some signs that Moses will not “go quietly into that dark night”. In the Book of Devarim, Moses recounts how he begged God to change the divine mind and let him enter the promised land. It is recorded there that God replies “My mind is made up. Don’t even bring up this topic again.” This exchange between God and Moses opens the door for the Rabbis to speculate on Moses’s attitude as the end came near.
  1. The Midrash has an extensive account of the last days of Moses. It has Moses drawing a circle in the sand and refusing to move until God annuls the decree of death for Moses. God then shuts all the entrances to Heaven so the prayer of Moses cannot enter. Moses pleads with all of nature to speak out on behalf of the prophet, but each one cites a verse from the Bible as to why their plea will not be heard by God. God tells Moses that God wanted to destroy both Moses and the People of Israel but Moses convinced God to save the people of Israel and now he can’t have it both ways. He saved Israel but he will not be able to save himself.
  1. Then there is a fascinating exchange where Moses asserts that if Joshua is to be the leader, that God should let Moses go into the Promised Land as the servant of Joshua. As I read this section I almost felt as if God was humoring Moses. God allows Moses to be the servant of Joshua. The next day Moses gets up early to serve Joshua. The people come to learn from Moses but he is gone. They find him with Joshua and want Moses to teach them but he tells them that it is forbidden and they have to learn from Joshua. The people refuse until God comes and tells them to learn from Joshua. Moses sits at Joshua’s right hand as he teaches.  When the lesson is done, Moses follows behind Joshua as he goes toward the Mishkan. The cloud of God descends and Joshua has a conversation with God. When it is over, Moses asks, “What did God say to you?” Joshua tells him, “When I served you, did you tell me everything that God said to you?” At that moment Moses says, “I would prefer to die 100 times rather than have one moment of envy. Rebono Shel Olam, until now I sought life, but now my soul is surrendered to You.”
  1. God teaches Moses a valuable lesson about letting go. There are things that are worse than death. The legacy of Moses is eternal. There is no more that Moses could ask from life. It is time to let go and leave the leadership to Joshua and Aaron’s son, the High priest Eliezer. It does no good to envy their new positions. Moses has done it all and now is the time to let others lead.
  1. There is a lot of discussion among the commentators of the Torah about why Moses had to die before entering the Promised Land. Why was it so important that he die in the wilderness? God clearly states that the reason is because of the way he acted at the rock in the wilderness where he was supposed to talk to the rock but he struck the rock with his rod instead. Some say that Moses’s sin was disobeying the instruction of God. Some say it is because he belittled a miracle. Some say it is because he lost his temper. Some say that the sin of Moses was that he insulted Israel, God’s chosen people. Modern commentators take a different approach. They see the incident at the rock showing how Moses was so impatient with the people. We have seen this kind of an attitude from Moses before and we will see more of it as we read in the coming weeks from the book of Devarim. Moses does have a temper. Moses does get impatient. Moses has a long history of pointing out the flaws of the people. Moses may be a humble man but he has a short fuse and the people often take the brunt of his anger.
  1. So what makes this rock different from all the other times Moses gets angry? The problem here is that he is not talking to the same people he is used to reprimanding. Those former slaves in Egypt are now all dead. Except for Caleb and Joshua, and Moses, that entire generation has died in the desert. Moses keeps seeing them as if they were their parents. Look at last week’s parsha. He gets angry that the people bring the women back from the battle against the command of God and refuses to even hear the explanation from the soldiers as to why they spared their lives. Moses gets angry again when the tribes of Reuvan, Menashe and Gad explain that they want to stay on the east bank of the Jordan River in the newly conquered territory. They have to calm him down before they can suggest a compromise. According to the modern commentators, the reason Moses has to die in the wilderness is because he is a wilderness leader. When the people will enter the Promised Land, they will need a new leader who will lead them as a general, who will lead them in battle and not an old leader who does not have the skills needed for the battles ahead.
  1. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Howard Siegel of Santa Clara, California recently wrote, “Among the most difficult tasks in life is “letting go” Whether it is sending children into the world as young adults or retiring from a job that defined one’s existence for so many years, we all have to eventually “let go”. Everyone says how wonderful it will be to move on in life, begin anew, face new challenges, set out for new horizons. Unfortunately, these are only words. Too often our actions, like those of the biblical giant, Moses …. betray our words.
  1. If there were a modern example of this fear of letting go, we need only think of the Green Bay Packer football team and their famous quarterback, Brett Favre. He was one of the most successful quarterbacks in team history. Several seasons ago he announced his intention to retire from football. It was time to let younger quarterbacks take the field. Then, suddenly, Brett Favre changed his mind; he did not want to retire. But the team did not want him back. They had decided to move on without him. Brett had such a hard time letting go that he went on to play for Green Bay’s rivals and he would retire twice more before he “really meant it”. Bret Favre had real problems letting go.
  1. I am told that the hardest transition in the world is going from President of the United States to being the Past President. It is the custom that past presidents of this country do not comment on the politics or the policies of their successor, no matter which party may win the White House. It is not that George Bush does not care about what is happening today, nor that he is unconcerned about his legacy. George Bush understands that he needs to let go of his former job, as commander in chief of the greatest army in the world, as leader of the free world and the man with his finger on the nuclear button, in whose hand is the fate of the entire world. It is not that George Bush was a failure nor has his political skills faded. He has accepted his place in the world, and someday they may even ask him to serve this country again, as his father and Bill Clinton have done. But all three of these past presidents understand that the world has now moved on and that they need to move on as well.
  1. Yes, it is hard to step out of the lives of our children. It is hard to let them make the mistakes and suffer the consequences of their choices. I cried all day after I left my daughter on her college campus. She asked me, “Why are you sad? Did you not prepare me to live my own life?” I answered her, “Of course I know that you are not only capable of living your own life; I know that you are more prepared than many other young adults to make the difficult decisions about life. I am just sad that you will no longer have the same presence in my life.”
  1. It is hard to let go of our parents as well. No matter how sick or feeble they may become, we always want just one more day with them. We want them to be present in our lives. But we all have to let go of our parents as well. We have to internalize their lessons and continue to grow without them.
  1. It is hard to retire and let others take on the responsibilities of our work. We know all the tricks of the trade. We know all the quirks of the customers and how to get them what they want. How could someone else ever fill in for all the experience we have in our work? But now we have computers and smart phones. Now we market on social media and on websites. Customers are not just in town but all over the globe. We need to let go and let others tackle this new world in which we live.
  1. If our congregation wishes to have a place in the Jewish world of tomorrow, we also will need to tackle the realities of the Jewish world. A world in which a young retiree is in his mid 70’s and not his mid 60’s. A world where retirement is extreme sports and exotic travel destinations. A world in which families stay in touch on Skype and Google chat. Who are the leaders who will see this congregation into the years ahead? The answer depends on our ability to let go and let new leaders take us into the future. This does not mean that our past presidents are no longer useful. It only means that their role in synagogue life will change. Everyone needs the wisdom of experience. But, like Moses, we have to admit that a new world needs a new generation of leadership. If we don’t let go, the young leaders will go elsewhere, to a place where others have made room for them, and we will be forever stuck in the past.
  1. I understand very well the difficulties of moving on. For Moses, it was the green monster of envy that convinced him to let go. For Brett Favre, he had to tarnish his extraordinarily reputation with several losing seasons before he understood it was time to retire. It is not easy for the man who was once President of the United States to go back to being just another citizen, but if they love this country, they learn to step aside. We can only teach our children so much before they have to learn to walk for themselves, and we have to bite our lips and say nothing as they learn the hard lessons of experience. It is very hard to give up a seat on the bima, our name on the stationary, and our seat on the board. Who else could lead this congregation into the future? But just as Joshua followed Moses, so too will we find new leadership to guide us into the future.
  1. Letting go is one of the great gifts that we can give to the future. Not because we are useless, but we need to continue to grow with new challenges and learn to leave the old ones to the generation just behind us. I have often said that it is better to leave and have people wish we would stay than to stay and have people wish we would leave. How else will future leaders know of our extensive wisdom in life, if we can’t show them we are wise enough to move on?
May God help us serve our community wisely and may God give us the wisdom to graciously make way for others to serve when our time to let go arrives. As we say, Amen and Shabbat Shalom.