Thought for Passover
The Haggadah tells us “Let all who are hungry, come and eat.” Given our construction this year, we are unable to fulfill this mitzvah at the Temple, but each of us can open our homes to those who wish to celebrate. If you have extra space at your seder table this year, please rsvp to Temple and we will gladly match someone with you and your family. If you would like to join a seder, please let us know as well so we can place you in a home filled with love, celebration and joy.
This is truly what community is all about. Thank you in advance.
In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, Moses’ name is not mentioned. This is extraordinary in that Moses is the central figure of the Torah since the time of his birth. As we know, Moses struggled with his temper and wrestled with his inner demons and perhaps the lack of his name in this portion was a message to him to try harder to match his best self with his actions.
Have you ever acted in a way that was inconsistent with who you perceive your truest self to be?
Life is about trying to reconcile and connect our inner desires with our outward actions. We strive for consistency. But being a human means that often we are inconsistent. Our essence is good and yet we behave badly. Our intentions are excellent and yet the results of our actions can be questionable. Religion provides a wonderful path for reconciliation between our souls and our conduct. We are not perfect, but as long as we strive to be better each day, we will be written into the Book of Books.
In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we hear God ask Moses for the people to bring God gifts (to build the Tabernacle); but only from those whose hearts move them to do so.
In the best sense, this is a trick or a set up to get us to be better. God knows we all have gifts and is giving us the opportunity to access them in the best way possible. If we want to build a life of depth and meaning, then we must use the gifts that God has given. We can all be more kind, thoughtful, even-tempered and joyous. We can access the Divine Image in which we were created to bring more beauty to the world through acts of justice and righteousness. We all possess untold possibilities for living at a higher place. If only we would pause to realize the great wealth of virtue inside of us, we could transform our lives and the lives of those around us. May our hearts be moved so as to bring God the gift of reaching our fullest potential as human beings.
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, is one with which I am very familiar. For it was 36 years ago, I stood on the bimah of Peninsula Temple Sholom and became a Bar Mitzvah. It was a seminal moment in my life and solidified my Jewish identity. But the truth is that continuing my Jewish education through Confirmation and beyond was what made me a Jew. To be a Jew is to wrestle with ideas, be open to new information, to struggle with sacred texts, to speak truth to power, to fight for the core values of Judaism and to make a difference in the world in which we live. Becoming Bar Mitzvah gave me the tools to be Jewish, but Confirmation and my studies thereafter taught me to think Jewish.
It is important to note that a person does not become Bar/Bat MitzvahED. Once a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, always a Bar/Bat Mitzvah…it never runs out, it is never past tense. And hence, being Bar Mitzvah, on this thirty-sixth anniversary of leading the congregation in worship and offering a “sermon” on January 31, 1981, propelled me to be who I am. I hope such events are not one day experiences for students and their families, but markers of an incredible gift that has been bequeathed to us – Judaism. If we never utilize the gift, if we don’t push our teenagers to engage, Judaism lies dormant and the values do not get forwarded to the next generation. But imagine if we used our value system as a vehicle to help us live more meaningfully? Imagine if our teenagers used their religion to help them make decisions? Through religious education will come spiritually educated decisions. May becoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah be a celebration every day of a person’s life.
This week we read of the Ten Commandments in the Torah portion known as Yitro. The Ten Commandments and the whole Hebrew Bible are essentially a constitution for entrance into the Promised Land – “Oh that you would hearken to My commandments! Then would thy peace be as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea (Isaiah 48:18).” Our text is a path way for creating a righteous and just nation for people to live in peace and prosperity. The Bible’s description of such a society is as relevant today as it was 3000 years ago.
These values must prevail as we deal with reality on the ground in Israel. There is only one way to peace and prosperity and it is a two-state solution. Such a solution requires the following:
- For the Palestinians to have their own state, they must unequivocally and unabashedly renounce all forms of terrorism. They indeed must STOP all acts of terrorism. “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it (Psalm 34:15).”
- The Palestinian people must unreservedly recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish sovereign nation. “…a time for war, and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:8).”
- Israel must lead the way back to the negotiation table. Despite all the evidence that such a deal is impossible, Israel and her leaders must persist and stay at the table until a deal is reached. If, in the late 70s, Israel could make peace with Egypt, Israel’s and the Jewish people’s arch enemy, Israel can make peace with the Palestinians. Don’t let the failure of peace be on Israelis’ shoulders. . “Before you make war, you must offer peace (Deuteronomy 20:10).”
- Both parties must not insist on getting 100% of what they want. Both parties must deal with reality and that reality is complicated. But that complicated situation is a solvable one. “I shall have peace, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart… (Deut. 28:18).”
- Both parties must understand that the risks are enormous, but the risk of doing nothing will result in a much worse outcome than whatever risks present themselves in fostering a deal. “Who is as the wise man? He who knows how to find a solution to a matter (Ecclesiastes 8:1)?”
I love Israel with all my heart and soul. I am a Zionist to my core. And I worry, if immediate action is not taken by our leaders in Israel, the Israel I know will cease to exist. Israel is my spiritual homeland and the commandments of my tradition yearn for a solution to this festering and difficult stalemate. Psalm 122 expresses my hopes perfectly:
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.’
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.”
This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, is also known as Shirat Hayam, “The Song of the Sea.” For when the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds and made it to the other side, they sang to God with joy.
We tend to do the same thing. After a near hit in our car, or after a harrowing event, we often utter the words, “Thank God everything was ok.” In fact, in our Jewish tradition there is the “Gomel” prayer that expresses gratitude for having made it through a tough challenge.
We would also do well to recognize gratitude not only after difficulty, but in the ease of our life as well. Too often we only focus on giving thanks in such a spiritual way when we are pushed to do so. But in the everyday nature of our lives, which is filled with much goodness, grace and joy, we sometimes forget also to sing out with praise. Shabbat, of course, is a great time to pause and reflect on the goodness that is ours, but so is every day. There is a beautiful prayer upon waking up that our tradition offers, “Modeh Ani.”
I offer thanks to You, living and eternal Sovereign, for You have mercifully restored my soul within me; Your faithfulness is great.
Let us upon rising every morning offer these words and let them inspire us to have an attitude of gratitude.