The Shofar; A Clarion Call To Remember

September 20, 2017
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The Shofar; A Clarion Call To Remember

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If you look in Torah you will not see a Holy Day called Rosh Hashanah. It is referenced as Yom Teruah, or the day of the blasting of the shofar. This is altogether appropriate since the blowing of the shofar is the liturgical highlight of the holiday. In fact at Shuvah Yisrael we will hear sixty blasts of the shofar over this day. In some synagogues in the Diaspora where two days are commemorated for Rosh Hashanah the shofar blasts might be heard over one hundred times.

But tradition has given this day several other names that express other aspects of its important meaning. One of those names is Yom HaZichoron, or the Day of Remembrance. As the shofar blows, we are asked to recall several things of which the blasts are evocative, for the three major sounds of the shofar recall three big ideas that we are well served to remember. Read more »

Vayelech – Re-Righting Our Stories

September 13, 2017
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Vayelech – Re-Righting Our Stories

  “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active.” (Devarim 31:1) With that surprising realization, Moses begins his final address to the children of Israel. When Moses completes this address, he will have accomplished what few others take the opportunity to do. With the completion of Devarim Moses gave Israel its code of law, ethics and ritual practice, but also, he successfully managed to record for posterity his own story. But not only did he write his story, Moses managed to right his story.

 

It has been observed that the life of Moses played out like a three act play in which each act had a forty year duration. In the first act Moses thought he was somebody, having found himself through providence a prince in Egypt, removed from the lowly plight of his brethren. In the second act Moses found out he was nobody having been sent into exile in the wilderness of Midian and encountering the inscrutable God in a fire-retardant bush. Finally in the last act Moses learns what God can do with somebody who thinks they are nobody. Though Moses could not control the events of his life, he nonetheless took the opportunity through obedience to write and re- right the conclusion of his own story. Read more »

Ki Tavo – Lessons From The Storm

September 7, 2017
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Ki Tavo – Lessons From The Storm

The events of the past years have caused me to think a lot about the fragility of our world. It has only become more intensified over the past several months with the threat of nuclear war. The events of the past several weeks have caused me to feel even more distressed about the fragility of life itself. With friends and family taking shelter from the many natural disasters it is difficult to stay calm, in the midst of both literal and figurative storms.

The recent hurricanes have caused me to recall my only first had experience of a hurricane. In the fall of 1985 Hurricane Gloria worked its way up the eastern coast of the United States, eventually crossing the Long Island Sound and passing over Milford, Connecticut where I resided with my family. To the best of my knowledge I had never before seen a category 4 hurricane or anything close to it.  So as the storm was developing over the small beach community, I drove to a public beach and parked in the empty municipal lot. As I trudged toward the beach I fought through my way through the torrid winds and driving rain. I was able to get within about 100 yards of where low tide should have been before being hit with the spray of the crashing waves. This was the end of my misplaced bravado, and I ran back to my car and drove toward home and high ground. Read more »

Shelach Lecha – Monsters, Giants and Other Formidable Obstacles

June 14, 2017
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Shelach Lecha – Monsters, Giants and Other Formidable Obstacles

 In the spring of 2002 I went to an art exhibit that was featuring a grouping of pictures painted by a good friend who was beginning the process of leaving the safety of a career as a commercial artist and pursuing an art form that was uniquely his own.  The collection was entitled quite simply, “Monsters”. I was not prepared for the transition in his work. My friend’s commercial work had always been clean, crisp and professional and uncluttered. His new art was dark, convoluted, layered and primitive, obscuring warm colors with dark shadows.

What my friend had done was to take his seven-year-old son’s crayon drawing of monsters and reinterpret them in a more adult, almost surrealist genre. The oil re-creations hung next to the crayon originals in this sophisticated Massachusetts gallery. Though there was no written explanation of the work, it communicated to me an honest, yet often ignored reality of life.  The fears, horrors, and insecurities of our childhoods do not disappear with time as we might imagine, but rather remain buried deep in our psyche only to reemerge in more sophisticated genres and expressions. Unless we deal with, slay., shrink or unmask the monsters and giants of our past, they make a subconscious home next to our “child within.” Read more »

B’halot’kha – Salvation On Trial

June 8, 2017
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B’halot’kha – Salvation On Trial

This week parsha will introduce a theme that will characterize much of the remaining narrative of Bamidbar. Chapters 11-25 contain a series of refusals on the part of Israel to accept authority. In chapter 12 even Miriam challenges Moses’ authority. In chapter 11 the people grumble about the unpleasantness of their journey contrasting it with all of the nostalgic pleasantries of slavery in Egypt, exasperating both God and Moses. Moses’ increasing frustration will later culminate with the incident of his striking the rock in chapter 20.

From a slightly different perspective though it is not the authority of God that is on trial in the wilderness, rather it is His salvation. While still in Egypt Jacob’s progeny were concerned as to whether, Israel’s God could and even more importantly would deliver them. Even after the miracles wrought by Moses humbled Pharaoh and his court, our people still doubted by the banks of the Reed Sea, and despite the parting of the sea, the drowning of their pursuers and their own preservation they continued to have doubts. Could they really have continued to question the power of God to deliver? Perhaps, but more likely they were uncertain of His desire to sustain and protect them, after all the pantheons of the ancient world were capricious and the perils of life were uncertain. Read more »

Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

May 26, 2017
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Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

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This week we embarked upon our annual reading of Bamidbar.  The fourth book of the Torah is so named since it begins “Vay’daber Adonai el-Mosheh b’midbar Sinai (And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai).” Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar both asks and answers, “Why does Hashem gift the Torah in the Wilderness?”  It goes on to explain that Torah is given in fire, water and wilderness. This is to teach us that just as each of these are free, so the learning of Torah is given freely.

Another approach to the Midrash is to understand fire, water and the wilderness as forces within man. Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, for example, in his Shem MiShmuel, writes that fire refers to man’s heart, the inner fire that aspires to reach God, water refers to his mind, which adds an element of patience and reason in approaching the divine, and the wilderness refers to the renunciation of worldly pleasures which interfere with one’s spiritual pursuits. All three elements, he writes, are necessary for the study of Torah. I would like to extend this metaphor to both examine the potential hindrances to our growth and more importantly our capacity to endure and overcome these obstacles. Read more »