Why I Did Havdalah Alone

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Above: The symbols of the Havdalah service: wine, spice box, twisted candle. Havdalah means, separation. The Havdalah service is a brief ritual to bid good-bye to Shabbat and enter the new week.

(This essay originally appeared on the blog site of http://www.ReformJudaism.org)

 

Havdalah is not much fun when I am by myself, but I do it anyway.

Vickie was in San Francisco for Thanksgiving Weekend visiting her 97-year old mother, our children and four grandchildren who live there.

My duties as Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands kept me in Sanibel. We don’t like to be apart on holidays, but given the realistic possibilities, we made the best choice. It is vital for Vickie to spend as much time with her mother as possible. And every time either of us sees our children and grandchildren it is a great joy.

I often say, “We have all been expelled from The Garden of Eden. None of us has it perfect in life. There is no perfect, marriage, position or friendship. But our tradition urges us to make the best choices of those available to us that we can.

God in the Torah is an example. As Rabbi Samuel Karff taught, God had to choose between Esau on the one hand who cared so little for his birthright that he sold it for a bowl of stew, and Jacob on the other who wanted it so badly that he would cheat and lie to get it. Some choice! But if even God had to choose between imperfect alternatives, it should not surprise us that so must we.

I am frequently asked why do we study Genesis’ stories year after year because they are all about highly dysfunctional families.

No argument! But their very flaws make them valuable object lessons for us. We are all flawed too. Jacob and Joseph were obnoxious punks in their youth. Neither becomes perfect, but each grows into a responsible adult to fulfill vital roles in keeping our people’s Covenant with God- a Covenant made for the purpose of creating a just, caring and compassionate society— vibrant and alive.

That brings me back to Havdalah.

In the flames’ reflection I see the days when our three children were young, and we all said goodbye to Shabbat together. Now they are busy adults, scattered from Jerusalem to San Francisco to Connecticut, each pursuing worthy careers that help further the Covenant’s original goal.

If we can’t all be together, at least let there be Vickie and I. but this week she too is in pursuit of important Covenantal ideals by visiting her aging mother.

So I am alone, and frankly it would be easier to skip the ritual. But I don’t because even an imperfect Shabbat ritual holds meaning for me.

I laugh as I light the Havdalah candle because Vickie rarely lets me do it when we are together. Our Havdalah candle throws off a big, almost scary flame, and Vickie fears I will burn the house down. I thought of her and was extra careful

The bottom line reason I chose to do Havdalah this evening is because I still got to celebrate Shabbat.

I had the privilege of co-leading worship with our wonderful Cantor, Murray Simon. I was blessed to read and teach Torah to a smaller than usual, but still interested and attentive day after Thanksgiving congregation. So imperfect as it was, Shabbat was still different from the rest of my week in a sacred way.

And so I marked its end and the beginning of a new week. The new week, I pray will lead to a Shabbat that is better for me, better for my family, better for our nation and better for the world than the last.

And as I extinguished (without burning the house down) our Havdalah candle I contemplated the small steps I might take to draw closer the ever-living hope of our people that like our flawed biblical forbears I too can become a better person, who can help in some small way to make the world a better place.

 

 

For Love of the Game

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John Collins dances off first base after rapping a sharp single to right center field for the Cardinals.

 

It has been a quarter of a century since I saw my friend John Collins at our 25thHamilton College reunion. John and I were Fraternity brothers at Delta Upsilon and talked often on the Hill. He was one of the classmates I respected most of all in those days, so when he wrote me in the spring that he would be in southwest Florida in November, I cleared ample time on my schedule so we could get together.

John played varsity baseball at Hamilton and was an under-utilized and sometimes frustrated infielder on the Continental Nine.

Today he gets plenty of playing time as a member of the 70 and older New Jersey Wonder Boys.  He came to this area for the annual Roy Hobbs baseball classic.

According to the rules the 75 and older squads can have two players under 75 so John was recruited to play on a second team during the tournament, the Cardinals.

For two glorious fall weeks these superannuated superstars of the diamond get to extend their summer leagues season in the Roy Hobbs Baseball classic.  They play some of their games at the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins spring training facilities in the area.

As one player put it, at 73, I get to play games that count in beautiful weather in Major League stadiums. How can life get better than that?”

Indeed I asked some of the players why at our advanced age do they drag their weary and often banged up bodies out into the hot Florida sun to play nine (or seven in the case of the 75 and older teams) innings of baseball every day for two weeks.

Clearly, baseball is in their blood, and while their skills have certainly and understandably diminished as John wrote me when he let me know he was coming down, “These guys can still play.”

Indeed you see flashes of what was in the way they track fly balls and the way they swing the bats. Most of their arms have lost their zip, and their legs are not what they were, but the desire to compete is keen and the games are fun to watch.

As I watched the Cardinals in action one week and then the Wonder Boys take the field the next, I almost wanted to be out there myself. I was certainly worried when I saw the catcher of the Cardinals feeling woozy after five innings of getting up and down on each pitch as his position requires in 90-degree heat. Fortunately he took himself out of the game in time, and by the time I had lunch with him and some of his teammates later, he was feeling fine and eager to do it again.

What motivates them is what motivates me to persevere with my three times a week of physical therapy and hit the gym on the in between days in hopes of getting back out on the tennis court after my massive rotator cuff surgery.

What motivates these guys in their 70’s to spend the time energy and money continuing to play competitive baseball in their seventies? When you get down to it, it is no mystery. The answer was the same from each player I asked: “Love of the game.”

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Here I am with John after the Wonder Boys game. I am wearing an official New Jersey Wonder Boys cap that I cherish as a wonderful memento of John’s visit

Bridging the Gap

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(Above) Rabbi Fuchs delivering:

                                  Bridging the Gap

                              Between Deuteronomy 15:4 and 15:11

A Prayer offered at Sanibel – Captiva Community Thanksgiving Celebration

November 18, 2018

 

Thanksgiving soon will be here,

A grand and special day,

So I opened up the Good Book

To see what it has to say.

 

I find in Deuteronomy

A glorious proclamation:

“There shall be no needy among you

In any land or nation!” (15:4)

 

What a wonderful vision that is!

If only it were true,

But I note a few lines further

That we have much work to do

 

“The poor will never cease to be,” (15:11)

The very next paragraph reads.

How can two such opposite views

Be almost rubbing knees?

 

The answer lies between

The conflicting thoughts we heard,

But we must follow closely

And take to heart God’s words!

 

There will be no poor about!

That will only happen when,

All of us work together

To make that time “Now,” not “Then!”

 

But we all know the time’s not near

When all will heed God’s wish

So those of us who really care 

Must step up to the dish.

 

Those of us who’re here today

Are comfortable no doubt.

But all too many on God’s earth 

Surely do

without!

 

Without 

a home to keep them dry

Without

clothes to keep them warm,

From snow and sleet and wind and rain,

And every passing storm.

 

Others strive just to exist

Without

enough to eat.

Try feeding five on minimum wage;

That’s surely no mean feat.

 

And don’t forget those in our midst

Who have much that they own,

But suffer sadness deep inside

And feel so all alone.

 

Can our hearts make room for them?

Our bounty share at least?

And perhaps invite one to our home

To share Thanksgiving’s feast!

 

Scripture’s charge to us is clear:

There is much still to be done,

Before our world and God’s will

Truly become one!

 

May we give thanks for all our blessings

With hearts and hands unfurled

To embrace God’s challenge to us

To repair our broken world!

 

 

 

 

 

Sanibel Veterans Day Commemoration 2018

Eternal God,

Today, one hundred years to the day after the end of the War to end all wars—

We still send the bravest of our youth

To fight and die on fields of battle.

And, 80 years after the Nazis perpetrated the horrible Kristallnacht pogrom

That saw 250 synagogues set aflame

7000 Jewish shop windows smashed

And 30,00 Jewish men in Germany placed in concentration camps

Anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hatred continue to run rampant in our world.

Indeed they are on the rise!

Today,

2800 years after the prophets dreamed of day

When we,  “shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2:4) —

2800 years after they dreamed that one day, “No one will ever again train for war.” (Ibid.)

We still must fight the forces of evil in our world.

And we ask as the sweet singer of Psalms asked:

“How long, O Eternal One?” (Psalm 74:10)

How long will we pursue the folly of violence, greed, corruption and war?

Instead of kindness, caring gentleness and compassion

How long?

Help us O God to realize that the best way to honor the valor and the courage with which soldiers have fought for the values America holds dear

Is to find a way that our children and grandchildren will never have to fight!

Help us, Eternal One, to find a way to end bloodshed and violence

And, help us, please, to find away to finally create the world in which

As the prophet Micah dreamed:

Where all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees

With none to make them afraid! (Micah 4:4)

Amen

 

A Day that Will Live in Infamy

Today in the Jewish world it is the twelfth of Heshvan, the anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of the Jewish terrorist, Yigal Amir.
I use the word, “terrorist,” purposely. He ranks with the worst of the Palestinian terrorists who have attacked Israel over the years.

Amir’s savage act of barbarism scuttled the hope for peace that burned so brightly in 1995.

Since those days of hope, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has flung the hopes for peace so far back into the shadows that they are almost out of sight.

Make no mistake, Netanyahu has done wonders for Israel’s economy. He has opened markets around the world, cut taxes drastically and made Israel into a far more prosperous nation than it was before. He has held the office of Prime Minister longer than anyone in Israel’s history.

He is also under investigation on serious charges of corruption.

Worse than that, he has hurled Israel from the brink of cooperation with the Palestinians–who also lay claim to our land–to the shoals of terror, mistrust and confrontation. Thus, staining the conscience of the only Democracy in the Middle East, and of the Jews like me and others around the world who support her.

We support her because we believe there should be a tiny Jewish State in a vast sea of Arab/Islamic hegemony. We have known what it is like to live or die for 2000 years at the “by-your-leave” of rulers.  These rulers whom, with every turn of the economy, transformed their Jews into pariahs who faced persecution, isolation, forced conversion, expulsion or extermination. Forgive us that we will never willingly give up sovereignty over the one tiny sliver of real estate where Jews control their own destiny.

The greatness of Yitzhak Rabin is that he recognized, after years as a hardliner, that living in peace was better than living under a state of siege.

For that, his political future was in dire jeopardy while Benjamin Netanyahu fanned the flames of violent protestations of the concessions for peace Rabin’s government had agreed to make. Netanyahu exacerbated the distrust of many Israelis who — from bitter experience — were unwilling to trust that our enemies could become allies.

Indeed Rabin’s widow, Leah Rabin went on record as pointing the finger at Netanyahu for encouraging the atmosphere of anger that led to Yigal Amir’s barbarous act.

Amir will spend the rest of his life in prison, but in the words of Brenda Lee, “That don’t right the wrong that’s been done!”

On this sorrowful anniversary I cry for what might have been.

I will never abandon the hope that peace will come, and I pray that leaders on both sides will soon realize as Yitzhak Rabin realized: It is our destiny as Jews and Palestinians to share this land and to proclaim as Rabin did:

Enough of war…Enough of bloodshed, Enough.”

And I pray that these leaders create two independent states that live in peace, harmony and mutual cooperation with one another.

 

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

ameinu.net

 

 

Joy in Jerusalem

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

Leo Fuchs and Rabbi Stephen Fuchs. Jerusalem 10/21/2018

Jerusalem, October 2018

How blessed I am to be on this trip. It is far from my first, but in several ways, it has been my most gratifying.  

I have not gone to the Dead Sea, Masada, Tsevat, Tel Aviv and all the other places Pastor Dr. John Danner and I look forward to seeing with our group from Bat Yam Temple of the Islands and Sanibel Congregational UCC at the end of April and the beginning of May.

No, on this trip I remained exclusively in Jerusalem.  I have had the joy of witnessing the Bat Mitzvah of Zahra Levy, a young girl I have known for four years now from the work Vickie and I have done in Germany where she and her family live.  Zahra’s mother, Yancy Sol Velasquez Levy translated my first book, ״What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives,” into Spanish, and I am so grateful to her.

When, over a year ago, Yancy invited me to come to Zahra’s Bat Mitzvah ceremony at Robinson׳s Arch at the Western Wall, I knew I wanted to be here.  I have also had the joy of delivering Divrei Torah, in Hebrew and English respectively, at Kehilat Har El, Israel’s oldest Reform Congregation, and to first-year Rabbinical and Cantorial students at Hebrew Union College in this city.

By far, though the biggest pull that brings me to Israel this time is the presence of our older son, Leo.

At the age of 42, Leo decided to step away from his successful career as Principal of Learning Without Limits in Oakland, CA.  LWL is the academic elementary school Leo and a group of others founded to give inner city kids a better shot at life.  By all measures it has been a great success.  In his role as Principal, Leo stressed to his overwhelmingly Latino and Afro-American student body the importance of knowing their roots and on whose shoulders they stand.  Increasingly, in recent years, while encouraging his students to be in touch with their roots, he was feeling the pull of his own.  So, “b’kitzur” (“in brief”) as we say in Hebrew, that is why he decided to study to become a rabbi. The HUC program mandates that all first-year candidates to be Rabbis and cantors spend their first year of study in Israel, and that is why Leo is here.

My great joy is sharing a small slice of his experience. We get to hang out together after classes, to stroll the streets of Jerusalem and just talk.  How often does a father get to spend with an adult child the amount of quality one on one time we are sharing? I thank the Eternal One continually for these shared hours.  As objective as I can be, I was amazed at Leo׳s sensitivity, skill and poise in co-leading with an Israeli Rabbinical student, the first shared worship service between the American students in Leo׳s program and the Israeli rabbinical students.

I have also gotten to see and observe many of his future colleagues. This purpose-driven group is well-aware of the issues of assimilation and declining synagogue involvement that has Rabbis, Cantors, Educators and lay volunteers wringing our hands with concern.

I admit that the Jewish leaders of my generation have not found effective solutions to these realities. But the qualities of intellect, spiritual depth and compassion I observe in the current crop of HUC students gives me real hope for the Jewish future.

 

 

Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

Leo Fuchs and Rabbi Stephen Fuchs. Jerusalem 10/21/2018

Let’s Save Our Home

IMG_3225 Bat Yam, Temple of the Islands: Our Sukkah and those who built it.

On Sunday, September 23, 2018, as the Jewish Festival of Sukkot was about to begin, our congregation, Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, joined our host congregation, Sanibel Congregational UCC, so ably pastored by Dr. John Danner, for an extraordinary morning of sharing and solidarity.

Sukkot is the Jewish Harvest festival. In its celebration lie the roots of our American Thanksgiving.

On Sukkot we celebrate that the earth has yielded food for us to eat in the Jewish year just begun. But this year we descry how we have abused the earth God has entrusted to our care.

When Vickie and I came to Sanibel for the first time in the spring of 2017, the waters were beautiful. Fish jumped, dolphins swam, and the docile manatees plodded along beneath the surface. Birds of every size and color decorated the air.

When we arrived this year in late August, there were no dolphins, fish or manatees to be seen. No pelicans dive-bombed into the Gulf for their daily sustenance.

We are shocked the by devastation pollution, red tide and green algae have wrought on Sanibel and the surrounding area. We want the earth to continue to yield food. We want our SW Florida home to be a place of beauty and abundant land and sea creatures once again. We want those who depend on tourism to earn their livelihoods.

When, a Midrash teaches, God finished creating the world, the Eternal One addressed humanity, saying, “You are in charge of and responsible for this earth. But it is the only one you will get. So preserve and enhance it. Do not pollute or destroy it” (Kohelet Rabbah, 7:13).

A Hasidic story tells that once there was a goat with horns so long and beautiful that when he lifted his head, he could touch the stars, and they would sing the most beautiful melody that anyone had ever heard.

One day, a man encountered the goat, and thought. “I could make my wife a gorgeous jewelry box for my wife’s birthday from a piece of the goat’s horns.”

The man approached the tame and friendly goat, and asked, “May I cut just a small piece of one of your horns. It won’t hurt, and I’ll just take a small piece.” The goat lowered his head.

Hi wife adored the beautiful jewelry box. When she showed it to her friends, they wanted one just like it, and many others cut off a small piece of one of the goat’s horns. Soon, of course, goat could no longer reach the stars, and that most beautiful melody was forever silenced.

Do we hope to pass on a beautiful and healthful environment to our children and grandchildren? Then we must find a way to restore the horns of the goat. We must do a much better job than we are now of taking care of our planet.

I am not a scientist, so I don’t have the formula to clean up the mess we have made. But I know restoring the beauty of our SW Florida home requires the effort of all of us. We must join forces to demand that our government pass the laws and spend the money to do what must be done to save this once beautiful corner of the world we have made our home.  We must do it now, before it is too late.

 

What If I Don’t Believe in God?

 (In loving memory of Jampa Williams)

The Torah assumes that God exists, and the concept of a single, good caring God who wants us to use our talents to make the world a better place.

But what of those who don’t believe?

In Noah Gordon’s novel, The Rabbi, young Michael Kind intervenes to rescue Rabbi Max Gross from a New York City mugging.  The encounter with the Rabbi stimulates in Michael questions about his own beliefs.  He returns to the Rabbi’s apartment and says:

“‘Tell me about God.’

‘What is it you want to know?’

‘How can you be sure that man didn’t imagine God, because he was afraid of the dark and the lousy cold, because he needed the protection of anything, even his own stupid imagination…. I think I’ve become an agnostic.”

‘No, no, no,’ Rabbi Gross responded.  ‘Then call yourself an atheist.  Because how can anyone be certain that God exists …. Do you think I have knowledge of God?  Can I go back in time and be there when God speaks to Isaac or delivers the Commandments?  If this could be done there would only be one religion in the world; we would all know which group is right. Now it happens to be the way of all men to take sides. A person has to make a decision. About God, you don’t know, and I don’t know.  But I have made a decision in favor of God.  You have made a decision against Him.’

‘I’ve made no decisions,’ Michael said a bit sullenly. ‘That’s why I’m here. I’m full of questions.  I want to study with you.’

Rabbi Gross touched the books piled on his table.  ‘A lot of great thoughts are contained here,’ he said.  ‘But they don’t hold the answer to your question.  They can’t help you decide.  First you make a decision.  Then we will study.’

‘No matter what I decide?  Suppose I think God is a fable, a bubbeh-meisir.’

‘No matter.’

Outside in the dark hallway, Michael looked back at the closed door of the shul.  Goddamn you, he thought.  And then, in spite of everything, he smiled at his choice of words.”

 

Like young Michael, many of us do not believe in God. Many of us do not believe in a God who judges us.

Our Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are ten days apart on the Jewish calendar.  The holy days, and the days between them, are a time for introspection and contemplation of one’s life and actions during the past year – a time for reflection, and repentance.

The most stark – and, for many – most difficult prayer of the High Holy Day season is the Unetaneh Tokef, which we pray at the morning service on the Holy Days:  The words “Unetaneh Tokef”mean, “Let us acknowledge the enormity (of this sacred day.)”

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written and Yom Kippur it is sealed

How many shall pass on and how many shall come to be;

Who shall live and who shall die;

Who shall see ripe old age and who shall not;

Who shall perish by fire and who by water;

Who by sword and who by beast;

Who by hunger and who by thirst;”

But, the prayer concludes,

“Repentance, Prayer and Charity temper judgment’s severe decree.”

I certainly do not believe, and no one I know believes, that those who died in the past year died because they were deficient in repentance, prayer and charity.

None of us knows who shall live and who shall die in the coming year.  To a great degree, how long we live is beyond our control, but how we live is up to us.

We can unlock the door of unbelief that stands between many of us and the prayers of this day with a single Hebrew word: כאלו K’eeloo, and it means, “as if”.

It is a simple concept.  Whatever our beliefs, if we can act – K’eeloo– “as if” we stand this day under God’s scrutiny, we shall make a giant leap forward.

The word Israel – in Hebrew, Yisrael– means, “One who struggles with God.”  It does not mean, “One who believes in God”, and it does not mean “One who is always comfortable with God.”  The High Holy Days invite us to serious struggle and effort.

The Unetaneh Tokefprayer is one of the best “struggling tools” ever.  It has the power to change our lives.

Once, during the Russo-Japanese War at the beginning of the 20thcentury, wrote S.Y. Agnon in Days of Awe,

“A committee of Jewish soldiers passed through all the hospitals, and announced there would be public prayer” for the Holy Days.

It was an awful sight.  Many of those who came were incapacitated, gloomy, and lean as corpses; many…were armless, lame, leaned on crutches, were armless, lame, leaned on crutches, were blind, and bore wounds of every description….

During the Unetaneh Tokef prayer no words were heard in the House of Prayer; only tear-choked voices filled the atmosphere of the little house.  The cantor’s voice became stronger and stronger and struck sparks in the air:  ‘Who will live and who will die, who in his time, and who before his time.’  Those were terrible and awful moments.”

How many of these men were believers?  I do not know, but the real possibility of imminent death gave urgency and meaning to their prayers.

The purpose of this day of Yom Kippur is to imagine our imminent death.   On this day we separate ourselves from bodily pleasures.  We imagine that we have died, and we envision ourselves trembling before the throne of a God who calls us to account for our actions.

Even if we do not believe in God, is not well for us to try to answer the questions our tradition ascribes to God?

How did we use the time we had?

Did we use our abilities simply to provide for ourselves, or did we work to make the world a better place?  What did we do last year that we wish we could change?

Actions in the Jewish religion are more important than beliefs.

The Jerusalem Talmud ascribes the following quotation to God:

“Would that My people forsake Me, but keep My commandments!”

Elie Wiesel was a young journalist living in Israel when he published his first book, Night, in 1958.  Once, he had been a budding Talmud scholar, an ilui, a gifted one, a genius.

He was, in the words of Francois Mauriac, “One of God’s elect.  From the time when his conscience first awoke, he had lived only for God and had been reared on the Talmud…dedicated to the Eternal.”

But then, during the Holocaust, he watched “his mother, a beloved little sister, and all his family except his father disappear into an oven fed with living creatures.”  He watched the slow agony of his father’s tortured death from exposure, exhaustion and dysentery after a merciless midwinter march from Gleiwitz to Buchenwald.

Never…” Wiesel wrote, “Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and turned my dreams to dust.”

No one who has read Nightcan ever forget Wiesel’s description of the scene where the Gestapo hanged a small child.

‘For more than half an hour he stayed there, struggling between life and death, dying in slow agony under our eyes.  And we had to look him full in the face.  He was still alive when I passed in front of him.  His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet glazed.

Behind me I heard a man asking:

‘Where is God now?’

And I heard a voice within me answer him:

‘Where is He?  Here He is – He is hanging there on the gallows.’

Out of the broken pieces of his life and his faith, Elie Wiesel forged a remarkable career that ranks him among the greats of Jewish history and earned him – among many honors – the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1986. He may have stopped believing in God, but he acted as if a God of love, mercy and justice watched and judged his every action.

The Talmud teaches us (B.Kiddushin 40Bthat we should approach Yom Kippur thinking our good deeds and our bad deeds balance each other on the scales.  Therefore we should go through life alert to any opportunity to do good that will tip the scales in our favor.  Who knows what the impact of that next mitzvah will be?

Once, a rabbi was missing from his synagogue on the holiest night of the year.  The worried elders searched for him all over town.  Eventually they found him in a small house close to the synagogue holding a small baby in his arms.

“What are you doing here?” the dumbfounded elders asked the rabbi.

“On my way to Kol Nidre services, I heard a baby crying. Seeing no one in the house, I stopped to comfort him.
For Jews, what we do is more important than what we believe or how we pray.  Comforting a crying child is a more sacred act than the holiest of prayers.

As Rabbi Max Gross told Michael Kind, “About God you don’t know and I don’t know, but it is in the nature of human beings to make a choice.

Personally, my choice is for God.  My faith strengthens me in times of trouble; my faith enhances life’s joys.  For me faith in God is a precious gift.

That gift, though, is not one that everyone has or wants. But even for those who do not believe, the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur holds hope and promise.

Even if we do not believe in God, we can choose to act – K ‘eeloo– as if we do.

Even if we do not believe in God, we can act as if our fate rested on the merit of our actions.

And even if we do not believe in God, we can choose life and blessing – for ourselves and for others.

 Is not that the choice that really matters?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fragile … and Frightened

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The New Year creeps ever closer. On this last Shabbat of 5778 I feel fragile and frightened. 

Since our return from Germany in June, my summer has been dedicated to deciding to have shoulder surgery, anticipating surgery, having the surgery and recovering from it.

Six weeks post op, I still deal with pain and the inability to use my right arm at all.

The good news — and it is VERY good news — is both my surgeon and my physical therapist say this is normal. The operation was “massive” but successful. With time, patience and lots of physical therapy I can look forward to a full recovery.

I am working hard on that in therapy and at the gym.

But in the meantime …

  • Tonight I shall conduct Shabbat services for the first time since my surgery.
  • I feel fragile and frightened.
  • My strength and energy are not nearly 100%.
  • I cannot even think about holding or carrying the Torah, let alone lifting it high above my head after the reading as I so love to do.

The congregation will surely understand my limitations. But will I?

At my very best, the Days of Awe require an enormous outpouring of emotional, spiritual and physical strength.

And so I turn to you O God!

Be gracious to me, for I need Your help.

Although months from now, I can hope for a complete physical recovery, I must stand and deliver meaningful spiritual guidance TONIGHT and during the holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur just ahead.

Although I feel fragile and frightened, let me act as if I am not.

Help me, Eternal One, to serve You and the people who are counting on me in ways that will find favor in Your sight.

Amen

More Thoughts for the Month of Elul

One of my most precious possessions is a copy of the Talmudic tractate Kiddushin printed in Munich in 1946 on presses once used for Nazi propaganda.

A Talmud printed on an erstwhile Nazi printing press is a powerful symbol of our privilege to use our time, our talent and our material resources to help replant vibrant, progressive Jewish learning and living in the places where the Nazis tried to destroy them.

In this volume (page 40B) we find one of the most uplifting of rabbinic teachings whose message is particularly appropriate during the last month of the year, the month of Elul: Each of us should see ourselves as half innocent and half guilty, as though our good deeds and our bad deeds completely balance one another.  If we then commit one good deed, we tip the scales in our favor!

What a marvelous metaphor! How wonderful a place would our world become if each of us went through life committed to making our next deed a good one.

My late and beloved Ulpan teacher in Israel, Sarah Rothbard, used to say, “It is not just a gift for Jews that we created a Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the forty-day period (starting at the beginning of the month of Elul) leading up to it. It is a gift for all humanity.

Most of us were not given the talent to cure cancer or bring about peace in the world. But we each have talents and abilities

Our goal—particularly during the days of Elul—is to ask ourselves, “What particular talents and abilities do we possess? Are we using them only for our own enrichment and enjoyment? Or do we—and if not can we—find ways to use these gifts for the benefit of others?”

Without doubt these are hard questions.But if each of us grapples with them seriously, we will leave future generations with a better world.