Tzedakah 9-1-17

This week has brought sadness and destruction to our brothers and sisters in Texas and Louisiana.  Our hearts break and our souls hurt as we watch the struggles of people trying to reclaim their lives after devastation.  I am recommending two ways to give.

  1. The Jewish Federations of America have put together a fund.  It can be found here: https://www.jewishorangecounty.org or on our web page at www.shmtemple.org.
  2. One of the Reform congregations in Houston is asking for gift cards.  Rabbi David Lyon posts:  OUT-OF-TOWN friends, Congregation Beth Israel will be assisting hundreds and hundreds of families in coming days and weeks. They’ll need gift cards to assist in meeting immediate needs and expenses for replenishing clothing, toiletries, household items, school supplies for children, etc. You can send them safely to Congregation Beth Israel (5600 N. Braeswood Blvd, Houston, 77096). We will be distributing them at once to area residents and congregants. Hurt has no shame and no label; we just need to heal one another.

Today’s Torah lesson is tzedakah.  Whether it is $5 or $500, as Rabbi Lyon says, “Hurt has no shame and no label; we just need to heal one another.”  You can help heal by giving just a little.

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Shoftim 8-25-17

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read the famous words “Justice, Justice, shall you pursue.”

Justice is a core tenet of our faith.  It is about making the world right, about correcting that which is wrong, making whole the broken, and straightening the bent.  Sometimes we make these justice course corrections with megaphones and other times we make them with quiet telephone calls.  Achieving global justice requires personal touches, one person to another, to strive for goodness and righteousness.  It is in our spiritual DNA to be a light for justice.  But figuring out how to do just that is the challenge of our time.  Whether individually or together as a community, we will continue to dedicate ourselves to the improvement of the world. This Shabbat, imagine the world as you would like it to be and then on Sunday morning, make it happen.

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Charlottesville 8-18-17

President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, summarized my feelings this week best when he said, “The very idea that in our time we would see a Nazi flag – perhaps the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism – paraded in the streets of the world’s greatest democracy and Israel’s most cherished and greatest ally, is almost beyond belief.”

While it is beyond belief, it is the reality of those who celebrated Shabbat last week in Charlottesville (see http://reformjudaism.org/blog/2017/08/14/charlottesville-local-jewish-community-presses). Not only does our faith command it, but our history demands we stand firmly and unequivocally against hate in all its forms. Time and again, the Torah forbids hate.  The Talmud tells us “What is hateful to you, do not do to another.” But as Jews, we have been well acquainted with the hatred that pervades our world.  Now particularly, our voices must be clearly heard and articulated to drown out the voices of hate and intolerance.

In Orange County, we are working hard to make this County an example of tolerance and acceptance.  Last year, Orange County Human Relations started a campaign – #hatefreeoc – have your voice heard too and be part of the movement.  http://www.ochumanrelations.org/hatefreeoc/.

Friends, this is a time for our community to come together to allow the forces of good to shine forth.  The Torah portion this week, Re’eh, states, “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.  The blessing, that you will heed the commandments….and the curse, if you will not heed the commandment of the Lord your God, but turn away from the way I command you this day, to follow other gods.”  Every day we awaken we have a choice between blessing and curse, good and evil.  Let us choose blessing and goodness always.

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Eikev 8-11-17

In this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we read the commandment one should “love the Lord your God and to serve God with all your heart.” In the Talmud the Rabbis ask, “What is the service of the heart?”  The answer, “This is prayer.”

Religious life is based in prayer.  Many seem to eschew prayer for it seems primitive or too literal.  Prayer, however, is an open ended, soul searching endeavor to enhance the human experience and forward a connection to something deeper than one’s self. The words found in the prayer book are simply instruments and a means to this end.  After a hard work week, what better for the soul than an opportunity to review and to contemplate the meaning of it all?

Even if prayer seems foreign, travel to that space and tour the glory that prayer can provide. If you try it, you may just like it.

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Va’etchanan 8-4-17

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, we hear the Ten Commandments repeated.  About the Fifth Commandment, Honor your father and your mother, the Talmud comments, “There are three partners in the human: God, the father and the mother. When a person honors their father and mother, God says: “I consider it as though I had dwelt among them and they had honored Me.”

This is a profound statement.  When a baby is conceived, that intimacy duplicates God’s ability to create – just as God made humanity, a couple creates another human.  This is worthy of praise for our parents and our Parent.

But this passage is saying something more; for a mother and father are not always the ones who conceived us, but rather the ones who raised us.  God dwells in them too – for when kindness, love and goodness are taught from parents to children, then God lives in them as well.  And when children emulate their parents’ righteousness, it is as if they are honoring God.  I give thanks and honor to my parents who created and raised me and I give thanks to God who made them.

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Devarim 7-28-17

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, we begin reading the last book of the Torah.  In English is it known as Deuteronomy, which translates as the “second law” or the “repetition of the law.”  Deuteronomy outlines the constitution for the Israelite people as they get ready to create their own society in the Promised Land.

The Torah (and this portion in particular) goes into great detail to write a constitution in which the justice system is fair and equitable.  The Torah creates structures and devices so that righteousness and goodness will prevail.

But these structures are only as good as the people who participate in them.  The Israelites are free, but what each Israelite does with that freedom is the key to whether or not justice and righteousness will actually prevail.  From the leaders of the people to each individual citizen – freedom is wonderful, but it takes responsibility to use our freedom wisely for us to see its true result.  Furthermore, when in doubt about how to use our freedom, our faith gives us a direction book – filled with mitzvahs – in order to achieve these higher purposes.  Great societies are possible – they just require g

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