Behar-Bechukotai 5-19-17

In this week’s Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, we read a most interesting passage in which God tells the people thus: “And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you].”

Rashi, the great medieval commentator taught, “And I will grant peace: You might say, ‘Here is food, and here is drink, but if there is no peace, there is nothing!’ Scripture, therefore, states, after all this [blessing], ‘I will grant peace in the Land.’ From here, [we learn] that peace is equal to everything else.”

One might have all the riches in the world and yet not have peace.  One might have little and yet have an easy countenance.  Being peaceful is conscious act each person must make each moment of the day.  We get to choose our attitude in any given situation.  As the great psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

On this Shabbat let’s find an inner peace no matter what comes our way.  It is not easy to find, but with practice and consciousness, we can discover new insights by being peaceful.

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Emor 5-12-17

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, is one that gives us pause.  In the middle of the Book of Leviticus it details the many handicaps a person could have that would exclude him from holy spaces and forbid him from offering certain sacrifices to God.  There is no way to explain this away other than to say it was written in a certain context and time.  Now, some 3500 years later our understanding of people with disabilities is the exact opposite of what the authors of the Torah portion suggest.

Those with disabilities allow us to see that holiness comes in all shapes and sizes, all levels of ability – all people, God’s children have something to offer this world that is unique, meaningful and powerful.  While we have witnessed so many of those experiences at our Temple, one was capture in the new in 2006 and I list the link here.  It is the story of my friend Arye Kramsky and his Bar Mitzvah.  In fact, I saw Arye at services just last week and he repeated his Torah portion to me – holiness still resounds 11 years after his Bar Mitzvah (http://www.ocregister.com/2006/11/06/rising-to-the-occasion/ ).

Our Congregation strives to be a leader in the special needs world as I believe Torah is for everyone, not just those who can read it.  In fact, our support group for parents whose children have special needs developed a resource guide for venders who specialize in kids with special needs (eg…dentists, barbers, tutors, etc…).  Feel free to download it and use it http://disabilitiesinclusion.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CSHMBritTikvahResourceGuide915.pdf.

Judaism is a dynamic religion, always reforming and developing.  Our Torah portion this week got it wrong – the essence of Judaism is to grow to get it right.  Let’s all move in that forward direction.

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Tazria-Metzora 4-28-17

This week we read the double portion from the Torah, Tazria-Metzora, describing in excruciating detail of how to address leprosy, the leper, the caretaker and what rituals must be preformed to cleanse all from this disease.

This portion speaks of the priest who must attend to the leper.  There were no doctors or medical professionals in Biblical times and all illnesses were seen from a spiritual perspective.

In my work as a rabbi, I visit people many times a week in hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers, and psychiatric wards and many other venues.  I see the difference a good bedside manner can make in the healing process for the patient.  And I have seen, too often sadly, the rushed doctor who cannot even look the patient in the eye when talking because she or he are taking notes on the ipad or computer.

Six months ago, I needed a cortisone injection in my back to relieve some constant pain.  I checked in at the front desk.  The receptionist brought me to the procedure room and gave me a gown.  The nurse came in and did not introduce himself to me.  He told me to lie on my stomach and wait for the doctor.  Ten minutes later, the doctor walks in and I hear him preparing.  The first thing he said to me was, “This is going to sting.”

I replied, while immediately sitting up before he injected me, “It may sting, but not until you introduce yourself to me, will I allow you to inject me.  I would like to see the face of the man who is going to put a needle near my spinal chord.”  Needless to say, my healing process was not helped by the lack of “spirituality” in that procedure room.  A simple “Hello, I am Dr. So and So, how are you feeling today Rabbi?” would have been all it took to put me in the right frame of mind to heal well.

Health care is not just about the procedure; it is about the whole person.  We must demand a more holistic approach of our health care providers and we must be full participants in that approach as well.

We are truly blessed with so many amazing health care professionals in our world whose talents for making people healthy are remarkable and I am grateful for their presence in my life.  And I thank them.  I understand their pressures are immense and overwhelming from insurance hassles to seeing pain every day – it can take its toll.  Health care professionals and patients will all benefit from the Biblical approach of a healing with science, spirituality and kindness.  May it be so.

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Shmini 4-21-17

In this week’s Torah portion, Shmini, the text recalls that “Aaron was silent.”  The great Chasidic rabbi, Nachman of Breslov, commented, “In youth, one learns to talk; in maturity, one learns to be silent. This is man’s problem: that he learns to talk before he learns to be silent.”

We are all familiar with the phrases, “Bite your tongue,” and “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  This is all to suggest that sometimes the best response is no response at all. Keeping quiet helps us evaluate a situation before we take action.  Silence enables us think through our next steps.  Silence is golden in that it keeps us from trouble.

We would all do well to take a step back in intense communications and use our ability to keep soundless as a tool in making peace and finding resolution.

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Passover 3-14-17

This week we celebrate the holiday of Passover.  It is the most celebrated of Jewish holidays.  I believe this is so because the spark of freedom is core to our very essence.  There are so many kinds of freedom though – freedom of thought and expression, freedom from economic worries, freedom of liberty – to live as one so chooses…I could go on and on.  What is important for us to consider is that with freedom, no matter what kind of freedom, comes responsibility.  Freedom unchecked by responsibility can lead to chaos and pandemonium.  But freedom handled with care and thoughtfulness can change the world for the better.

Passover reminds us to celebrate our freedom and to use its blessings responsibly.  As the former President of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Rabbi David Teutsch once wrote, “Pesach is not only about ‘freedom from.’  It is about our having the freedom to make the world a more sacred place by expanding God’s presence in it.”  Let’s do just that this Passover season.

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Vayikra 3-31-17

We begin, this week, reading the Book of Leviticus, which is replete with hundreds of ritual laws.  There are two basic approaches to Jewish law:  1. Obey the Mitzvot because God gave them and they are commanded to you…or 2. Learn the Mitzvot, apply them meaningfully to your life and enjoin them upon yourself when you have plumbed the deeper meaning.

For example, the Torah portion (as we prepare for Passover) states, “No leaven . . . [shall be present] in any offering of God (2:11)”

The Chassidic rabbis of the 17th Century taught us the deeper meaning, “Leaven, which is dough that has fermented and risen, represents self-inflation and pride, and there is nothing more abhorrent to God. In the words of the Talmud, God says of the prideful one, ‘He and I cannot dwell together in the world.'”

As we celebrate our freedom in the coming weeks, let us remember this lesson about why to eat Matzah – such a ritual keeps our ego in check and is a good reminder to be humble, kind and thoughtful and then God will dwell among that goodness.

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