In memory of Gilbert Flagler Adams, (December 23, 1923 – April 15, 2018)
The first chapter of Genesis teaches that God creates human beings, “in the image of God” (verse 26). People often ask, “What does that mean”
It certainly does not mean that we look like God. It means that of all the creatures on earth we have the most God-like powers. It means that we human beings are in charge of and responsible for life on this planet. It is an awesome responsibility with which God has entrusted us.
God charges us: (Genesis 1:28):
“Be fruitful and multiply fill up the earth and take responsibility for it. And rule compassionately over the fish of the sea the birds of the air and all the living things that creep on the earth.”
Jewish tradition teaches that we human beings stand midway between God and all the other animals on earth. Like the animals we eat, drink, sleep, eliminate our waster, procreate and die. But in a God-like way, we have the power to think, analyze, communicate and shape our environment in a manner far beyond other creatures.
In our Holy Day prayerbook, Gates of Repentance (p. 415) we find a magnificent liturgical expression of what it means to be created in the “Divine image:”
We were unlike other creatures–
Not for us the tiger’s claws,
The elephant’s thick hide,
Or the crocodile’s scaly armor.
To the gazelle we were slow of foot,
To the lioness a weakling,
And the eagle thought us bound to earth.
But You gave us powers they could not comprehend:
A skillful hand,
A probing mind…
A soul aspiring to know and fulfill its destiny
Being created in the Divine image means that we humans are the only creatures on earth who can mine ore from the side of a mountain, turn the ore into iron and the iron into steel and from that steel forge the most delicate of instruments with which to operate on a human brain or an open heart. But we are also the only creatures on earth that can go to that same mountain, mine the same ore turn it into iron and steel to make bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill or maim.
Being created in God’s image means we have awesome, earth enhancing or earth shattering power.
God’s hope is that we use our power to help create on this planet a more just, caring and compassionate society than exists today. But we – not God – will decide if we choose to do so or not.
Israel is not perfect! Israel is not Utopia! Israel is not the Garden of Eden.
Israel has a Prime Minister under investigation, a government that treats religious but non-orthodox Jews with disdain, a black eye over African refuges seeking asylum, and of course issues with the Palestinian population, which from ten thousand miles away, it seems to me Israel could do a better job of handling.
Why then, do I get goose bumps when I attend an Israel@70 celebration, and we sing Ha-Tikvah, (“The Hope”), Israel’s national anthem?
I get goose bumps because Israel –its very real flaws not withstanding—represents the end of 2000 years of Jewish exile and homelessness.
Israel represents the destroyed Jewish communities of Germany, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Iraq, Iran, France, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and Spain. Israel represents the hope rising from the despair of two thousand years of exiles from these and other places around the globe.
When the Ottoman Empire dissolved after World War I, some twenty Arab/Islamic nation states forged identities on land that had been controlled by Turkey. No one questions their legitimacy. Jews also lived in the Ottoman Empire. Jews also had national aspirations. Israel represents a tiny sliver of Jewish real estate on the immense landmass on which those Arab-Islamic nations appeared.
Yet from the time Jews – many years before Israel became a state—began to return to their ancestral home, the Arab world swore they would not permit it.
They tried to drive Israel into the sea when the United Nations proclaimed it a sovereign state on November 29, 1947, but somehow, though surrounded by hostile enemies, the fledgling country survived. The Arab world again mobilized to destroy Israel in 1967, but somehow the tiny country thwarted and repulsed the threat.
Now Israel is, thank God, strong militarily, and, lo and behold, all those people who never wanted Israel to exist in the first place, call her the oppressor.
They—inexplicably–lay at Israel’s doorstep the blame for defending herself against those who try to infiltrate her borders. They blame Israel because the Arab world keeps its refugees in squalid refugee camps instead of following Israel’s example of teaching the many Jewish refugees whom it welcomed a language, job skills and providing housing for them.
They blame Israel for the fact that from the cradle through nursery school and into adolescence Palestinian children are taught to glorify “martyrs.” They lionize those who die in the act of killing Israelis or Jews. They name roads and schools after terrorists, and they build monuments to them.
How does one make peace with people like that?
Then they blame Israel for building a security barrier to protect its citizens from vicious acts of infiltration and terror. Hardly a week goes by that Israeli intelligence does not discover another series of tunnels under construction so that terrorists can cross Israel’s border in order to take Israeli lives.
No, Israel is far from perfect, but Palestinians who live there agree that life is better for them there than in any of the Arab countries.
It gives me pride that Israel has a vigorous free press where citizens are welcome to attack the government and its officials at will. I am glad that Israel does not suppress the voices of even its harshest critics. It gives me pride that in Israel Arabs serve on the supreme court and as heads of universities, as members of Parliament and in other high positions.
In what Arab country do Jews serve in similar positions?
So, in spite of Israel’s flaws, I still get goose bumps at “The Hope” Ha-Tikvah expresses: “To be a free people in our own land.”
Happy 70thbirthday, Israel!
In spite of everything, I pray that 71 will find you and your neighbors living in peace and harmony.
Yes, like everyone I wish there would be peace. But until there is peace, I am glad that Israel is strong enough to defend itself against those who wish to destroy her.
Like so many I ask, when will there be peace? The words attributed to Golda Meir say it best:
“We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us!
Those words are still true today.
My fifth book, Who Created God? And Other Essays, compiled and edited by Susan Marie Shuman, is just off the press and available at AMAZON.comhttps://tinyurl.com/y9tawrln.
The subject is one I have pondered my entire life.
The title emanates from an incident that occurred back in 1968 at the very beginning of my rabbinical studies. As the years have gone by, I have questioned what God is and what God is not with increasing intensity.
As a first-year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles campus, I conducted Friday night worship at the Flora Terrace Convalescent Home on Pico Boulevard. I led Shabbat Eve worship and then visited patients in their rooms. I earned $10.00 for each visit.
Considering my preparation and the time I spent at Flora Terrace each week, I might have earned $2.00 and hour. I did not care. I would have paid them for the experience
One Friday night, not long after I began leading worship there, the attendant greeted me with, “Rabbi, you have a new congregant. Rabbi Rosenfeld, an 85- year-old Orthodox rabbi is with us, and he will a end your service.”
“What?!” I thought to myself. “An Orthodox rabbi is coming to my service! Many Orthodox rabbis hold Reform Judaism in disdain. What will he think? How will he react?”
These thoughts played on my mind during the service. Rabbi Rosenfeld sat there, alert but impassive. There was a large black kipah on his head and the Union Prayer Bookfrom which we prayed sat tightly shut in his hands the whole time.
After the service I made my rounds and approached his room with trepidation.
He was most gracious. He said the service was nice (I breathed a deep sigh of relief), and he suggested that when I make a blessing like the Kiddushover the wine or the motzi over the challah, I should have everyone join me.
The he told me a story.
“I am 85-years-old,” he said, “and I have been studying Torah my whole life. And yet I still feel like I am at the beginning of my studies.”
“How is that?” I asked.
“When I was six-years-old, my teacher handed me a Chumash (text of the Five books of the Torah in book form) and said, ‘Read!’
So I read (in Hebrew) the first words of the Torah, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’
Then, I looked up and asked, ‘If in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, so who created God?’
And WHAM! I got such a slap across the face that I still feel it, so I always feel I am at the beginning of my studies.”
In studying Torah, “Who created God?” is as appropriate a question as, “What was the (unnamed, and nowhere does it say ‘apple’) fruit that led to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden?”
In traditional Jewish life, one who has strayed from religious observance but returns to the fold is considered one who, “hozer b’tshuvah, one who returns in repentance.” Literally translated the phrase means, “one who returns with answers.”
The late renowned Rabbi Harold Schulweis taught he felt greater admiration for one “sheh hozer b’she’elah, one who returns with questions.”
Questions are the lifeblood of learning.
In the study of Torah, no questions should be out of bounds, so, “Who created God?”
I pray I never stop asking the question.
I would love to see you at the book launch for Who Created God? And Other Essays. It will take place at the pot luck supper ($10.00) of Sanibel Congregational UCC, 2050 Periwinkle Way on Thursday, April 12 at 5:30 PM. Please call the church office at (239) 472-0497 to make reservations.
Above: 19 staples in my left thigh
Two years ago I described this sacred Jewish season as “The Lost Passover!”
It was the first time in my entire life that did not attend a Passover Seder. Instead I was fighting for my life at the Hospital of Central Connecticut. A strep infection of unknown origin centered itself in my left rear thigh and was poisoning my body.
“Come home today!”
My doctor called Vickie who was tending to her mother in San Francisco at the time and said, “You had better come home today.”
It required surgery to drain, nineteen steel staples to close the wound and massive doses of antibiotics administered intravenously for six weeks after my surgery.
The only acknowledgment I was able to give Passover was to attend Yizkor services at the Hebrew Home and Hospital Rehab Center of Greater Hartford, where I spent a week after my release from the hospital. At Passover’s close, my son Ben smuggled in a pizza, so I could end the festival-long period of not eating leavened products in style.
Then I endured months of physical therapy to learn how to walk again and gradually return to normal activities.
By the end of summer, thankfully, I felt fine.
The following Passover I signed on to be the Rabbi on a cruise from the Port of Bayonne, NJ to the Bahamas and back. The sea did not part as it did for our ancestors, but as I conducted the Seder, our ship sailed comfortably atop its waves.
Now, another year later, I only remember this life-threatening incident when something or someone reminds me of it. Those days in the hospital and in the rehab center, the weeks being tethered to an IV antibiotics dispenser, and the sometimes-arduous PT routine are a blur.
This year, we are blessed to be in Sanibel where I am rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands. My health is restored to the point where I just completed a 13-1 season as part of the number one duo on the Beachview Tennis Club Blue tennis team.
More importantly it was my privilege to conduct a Seder for 176 people on the first night of the Passover Festival.
My two-year journey from “The Lost Passover” to the one I found awaiting me in Sanibel now seems like a dream. But the photo at the top of this essay will always remind me that it was not. That photo reminds me that every day is special. Every day is a sacred opportunity to try to make some small difference in some small way in somebody’s life.
Turning a communal dinner into a journey participants make from slavery to freedom, from degradation to dignity is a privilege I no longer take for granted.
The privilege is not just in leading the rituals. The privilege is helping people understand that during the Seder we re-experience slavery and our journey to redemption in order to help–in whatever way we can—others make the same journey.
Slavery abounds in our world:
Human trafficking, addiction, thoughtless greed, sweatshop conditions in many countries, homelessness, disease, lack of affordable health care, gun violence and abject poverty, are just some of the forms of bondage that afflict so many even today.
We shall not all cure cancer or make peace between warring nations, but if we put our mind to it, each of us will find something we can do.
To that let me add: If there is something you are thinking of doing to help another person in any way, do it today. My lost Passover taught me that tomorrow may be too late.