Tonight Could Be the Night

If you are a fan of early rock ‘n’ roll (or a rock fan of any era) and you hear, Lubbock, Texas, you immediately think of Buddy Holley, who died young and whose enduring influence on the genre has been well-reorded by rock historians.

For me, though, Lubbock and rock ‘n’ roll bring to my mind the memory of the late Virgil Johnson. Mr. Johnson was a school teacher who recruited four of his students to form a doo wop group in the late 50’s. There were no other doo wop groups in west Texas, and there certainly were no other black doo wop groups.

Also working against them, in Mr Johnson’s words, was the fact that they sounded white. There were two distinct music audiences back then,” he continued, “black and white. We didn’t fit the black mold, so we never had a chance to tour.”

Virgil Johnson and his group, the Velvets, were discovered by the late (and very great) Roy Orbison and invited to Nashville to record. I love their record, “Beautiful Lana,” but their one memorable hit, still played on oldies stations is, “Tonight Could Be the Night.”

Mr. Johnson had a long, distinguished career in education. He was an English teacher, and when his doo wop group rehearsed, he insisted, “We enunciated, and we ‘pronunciated!'” He also served for many years as a Jr. High School and high school Principal in Lubbock and, after his retirement, he was a radio DJ. He undoubtedly was an important positive influence on many young lives over the years.

You have to be hardcore doo wop fan to recall Virgil Johnson, but one very memorable shining public moment, came for him a few years ago when–with every act on the bill on stage in tribute–he and the Velvets opened one of PBS’ very popular doo wop specials with a wonderful performance of “Tonight Could Be the Night.”

Yes, Buddy Holley is probably Lubbock’s most famous citizen, but when I think of that city my mind always turns to a warm-hearted educator with a great voice, Mr. Virgil Johnson. May he rest in peace!

The Church of the Broken Cross

“You must be joking,” I said to myself, when, shortly after we arrived in Germany, Pastorin Ursula Sieg informed me that she arranged for me to preach in a church whose Pastor in those days was a Nazi murderer. She was not joking, but I have come to trust Pastor Sieg implicitly, and so I agreed.

 Kaltenkirchen is such a beautiful picturesque village, but it is also the site of a former concentration camp where prisoners endured brutal, near starvation conditions. Wealthy neighbors nearby lived their lives in comfort.

Since my visit to the camp, whenever I drove through the region the image of Nazi soldiers with snarling Rottweilers hunting for me flooded my brain and marred the woods’ beauty.

 The Michaelis-Kirche in Kaltenkirchen, just a few kilometers from the camp is a magnificent 16th century structure that was once the pulpit of Ernst Szymanowski (who Germanized his Polish name to Biberstein). Biberstein was an ardent Hitler supporter who left the church to become a Lt. Colonel in the SS who supervised at least two mass murders that claimed at least 2000 lives. He was tried at Nuremberg for his crimes and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was commuted to life in prison, and through pressure exerted by the Lutheran Church, Biberstein was released from prison in 1958 and lived out his life in comfort until he died at 85.

 Yesterday I accepted the gracious invitation of Pastorin Martina Dittkrist and became the first rabbi ever to preach in that church. My text was the Exodus passage in which God commanded Moses to carve out two tablets of stone to replace those he smashed, and assured of God’s forgiveness, lead the people forward.

 I referenced the Midrashic teachings that our ancestors not only carried the new tablets of the Covenant in the ark, but the smashed broken ones as well. The lesson is that we learn as much or even more from our failures in life as we do from our success.

 I also emphasized the difference between the anger of God, which might endure up to four generations, and the love and mercy of God that extends to the thousandth. This was my message. Yes, you must always carry the broken stones that Biberstein represents with you, but you can go forward confident that your atonement is accepted and that your generation does not bear direct responsibility for the sins of the past.

 And then I addressed the ghost of Biberstein and said, “Despite your sins, we Jews are still here! Where are you?! Your evil has died and burns in hell, but Wir sind hier zusammen! We are here together? We cannot undo the past, and we must always carry its lessons with us. But we do so not to wallow in pity but to shape a better a future.”

 The symbol of Michaelis-Kirchen in Kaltenkirchen will always be the haunting painting of “The Broken Cross” by Hannelore Golberg that hangs in its reception room as an acknowledgment of the sad chapter in the church’s history. As I sat beneath that painting answering questions of a standing-room crowd about our visit and my sermon, the soldiers and Rottweilers were no longer looking for me, and I imagined another cross in the painting standing upright next to the broken one. With Pastorin Dittkrist’s, loving guidance may the lessons of both crosses lead the congregation forward on its journey of atonement, reconciliation and faithful service to God.

Broken CrossPastorin Martina Dittkrist, Hannelore Golberg, me and Vickie with the painting of “The Broken Cross.”

As I Travel to Germany: Elul Thoughts (III)

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.

We each have talents and abilities, and our goal—particularly during the days of Elul–is to ask ourselves, “What particular talents and abilities do I posses? Am I using them only for my own enrichment or enjoyment? Or do I—and if not can I—find ways to use these gifts for the benefit of others.

As I head to Germany to spend time preceding and during the Days of Awe (the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and for several weeks thereafter speaking and teaching in synagogues and churches as well as the University of Potsdam School of Theology, it is with the hope that I may use my modest talents to spread knowledge, understanding and appreciation of Jewish ideals and thought in a place that once tried to extirpate the gene pool and practices of our people.

Like my prized Talmud tractate I was born in 1946. My late father, Leo Fuchs, was arrested on Kristallnacht in the city of Leipzig where he was born and grew up. I look forward with both trepidation and joyful anticipation to delivering the sermon at Leipzig’s annual Holocaust commemoration this year.

My presence there I hope will represent the message that the Munich Talmud conveys. In a place which once was ravaged by hatred and destruction, the reaffirmation of the vitality and goodness of Jewish thought are once again encouraged to flourish.

 

 

 

At Last

Today I got word that What’s in It for Me! Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives was available for sale on KINDLE and NOOK. What a thrill it was for me to see my book’s link!

It will still be some time before it is available in hard copy other than through my web page, http://www.rabbifuchs.com, but no matter!

Now the ideas I have been studying, teaching and developing for more than 40 years have a chance to reach and influence a significant number of people. It is welcome news as Shabbat approaches.

It is especially meaningful that this milestone occurred while I am in Columbia, MD where I will teach some of these ideas at Temple Isaiah. TI is the congregation that welcomed me as it’s first rabbinic intern 41 years ago, and TI is the congregation which installed me as it’s first full-time rabbi a year later.

Temple Isaiah is the congregation that celebrated my marriage to Vickie and rejoiced with us in the birth of our three children, gifting each with a beautifully engraved Sterling Kiddush Cup. Now that my children are adults, those beautiful symbols of Shabbat joy mean so much to them and to Vickie and me!

I served Temple Isaiah for thirteen years in all. The congregation is my first professional love, and the bonds are enduring. So I am back to teach Torah with the same enthusiasm and joy as I had when I arrived 41 years ago. I come with the same hope I cherished then: that my message will have meaning for those who hear it and inspire at least one person to use his or her talents to make on this earth a more just, caring and compassionate society!

I feel very blessed!

A Laboratory for Diversity

“Hail to our Alma Mater, Old East Orange High!” These words of our school song brought Goosebumps to my arms when those of us attending spontaneously sang them in unison at our 50th class reunion

What a joyous experience the reunion was! It was good to see people I had not seen in half a century, and I was proud to introduce my wife Vickie, who grew up in San Francisco, to the people I knew back then.

I feel very blessed that I grew up in East Orange, New Jersey. My class was–give or take–half black and half white. We learned in a laboratory for diversity. Our reunion attendees reflected that ratio, and I can say with pride that it was 100% color blind!

I believe the reason is that respect for racial and religious differences was an unspoken agenda of our high school curriculum in those days.

During my formative years I was one of the few Jews in my school environment. Among my classmates all I encountered was interest in and respect for my beliefs. I was the only Jew in my small (seven-member) high school fraternity, and it was not a problem for the others when I asked that we not hold all of our meetings on Friday nights because I wanted to attend services at my synagogue.

I am a rabbi and a proud Reform Jew, but that does not mean for a second that I think everyone should believe as I do.

Diversity is not just something to tolerate; it is something to respect and affirm as a positive good. We are enriched as a society by the different cultures and religious beliefs in our world.

And yet, I cannot count how many times people have asked me, “Why do we have to have so many religions? Why not just one?”

I answer, “Whose religion should it be? Will it be yours in which the belief in Jesus’ life, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension to heaven are essential for salvation? Or will it be mine where Jesus plays no theological role at all? The bottom line is we will never have just one religion unless people are forced to abandon beliefs they hold precious.”

Also, I often hear of the problems caused by religion as a reason for abandoning it. My response is, “Religion does not cause problems. It is the inability or unwillingness of some to recognize the validity of beliefs different from their own that causes problems.”

There is biblical warrant for diversity in the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). When people ask me why we have to have all of these different religions, why not just one, I point to that story and say, “Once upon a time it was that way. People talked the same, believed the same and acted the same. God thought so little of all that unity that the Almighty scattered the peoples and confounded their language In short God created diversity.”

When I was about five, my mother gave me one of the greatest presents I ever received. It was a phonograph record called “Little Songs on Big Subjects.” One of my favorites went like this: “I’m proud to be me but I also see you’re just as proud to be you. Its just human nature so why should I hate for being as human as I. We’ll get as we give if we live and let live, and we’ll both get along if we try!”

It was good advice when I was five-years-old, and it is good advice to day for all of us today. The “Laboratory of Diversity” that was East Orange High School 50 years ago is a worthy model for humanity today as we share space and strive to coexist in harmony on this ever-shrinking planet!EOHS

 

Another Thought About Balaam

Shabbat Balak has passed, but the beauty of studying the same portions of the Torah each year is that I always discover new insights. Today while leading Torah study at my synagogue (Congregation Beth Israel, West Hartford, Connecticut, where I am Rabbi Emeritus), I learned the following:

Balaam’s animal that speaks to him is a female. How consistent this is with the theme that it is often the female in the Bible who guides, instructs (or shapes the events surrounding) the clueless male. Beginning with Eve women like Rebecca, Tamar, the six women of the Exodus (discussed in an earlier web site essay), Samson’s un-named mother, Hannah, Ruth, Vashti and Esther are much more savvy than their male counterparts.

Bur there is more. Balaam was a world class sorcerer. The Sages claim that Balaam communicated directly with the Almighty (B. Zevahim 116A) and that he was the gentile equivalent for brilliance of Moses’ himself. (Bamidbar Rabbah 14:20) And yet in the story, Balaam is totally oblivious to the presence of God’s messenger while his animal sees the angel clearly. Wow!

When we think of dumb animals, asses are the metaphor! They don’t come dumber than that. And yet the ass gets it and Balaam, the smartest man alive, is clueless!

What does that teach us? There is something we can learn from everyone! Never look down on anyone!

I first learned this lesson–very painfully–in the sixth grade. Back then I was pretty OK in school. Reading, English and history were strong subjects. I was even OK at math, and I say proudly, I was the best speller in the class. And if I am honest, I looked down on those students who had trouble grasping these subjects.

Then I had shop.

I was the worst. It took me forever to finish my first project and before I painted my “magnificent” dog door stop, I went to the teacher Mr. L. A. Molinari for instructions on the final steps. He told me what to do, but I wanted to be sure, so I asked him to please go over it again. Mr. Molinari snapped at me in anger, saying, “You weren’t listening! You’re through for the day!” And I had to sit–fighting back tears–doing nothing for the rest of the period at my work bench while the rest of the guys continued their work.

I get it now. In shop I was the dummy. Mr. Molinari pegged me as a slacker even though all I wanted was to be sure to do the right thing. In the meantime all of those guys (only boys took shop back then) who were not as good in English and spelling as I was were way more proficient than I was at shop.

What a vital lesson that has been for me in my career as a rabbi! We all learn in different ways. We all have strengths and weaknesses. In the story of Balaam the ass, dumbest of animals was able to help the smartest person in the world see the light.

What’s in It for Me? What does this story teach you and me? Rabbi Simeon ben Zoma said it best: “Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone!” (Pirke Avot 4:1)

To that I would humbly add: And the one who does not look down on anyone!

What Happens After I Die?

Of the 150 chapters that comprise our people’s first and greatest prayer book, the biblical book of Psalms, only one of those chapters is attributed to the greatest Jew of all—Moses. That is Psalm 90, which contains humanity’s fervent appeal to God: “Establish for us the work of our hands!”

Moses’s appeal is not just for temporal prosperity, as some might interpret it. It is much grander than that. He is saying, “Let me know that my life has meaning beyond the days I have spent on earth. Let me be sure, O God, that the years of my earthly journey were not in vain. Let me know that in some way I live on.”

We express that same hope every time we visit a cemetery and every time we place a monument marker at the grave of a loved one.

One of the questions people ask me most frequently is, “Rabbi, what really happens to me after I die? Do we Jews believe in life after death? Do we believe in heaven or hell?”

The simple answer to the question is, “Yes! We do!” Rabbinic literature speaks of olam ha-ba, “the world to come,” as a place where the righteous receive reward and the wicked are appropriately punished.

“Why then,” the questioner retorts, “do we hear so little of this in Jewish life while it is at the center of every Christian service or funeral that I attend?”

The answer points to a significant and honest difference between Christianity and Judaism as they developed. Our daughter religion was very much centered on the afterlife. Achieving salvation after death was the primary goal of living as classical Christianity understood it. If one believed in the saving power of the life, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension to heaven of Jesus as the Christ (which is simply a Greek word for “Messiah”), then one’s eternal salvation and reward were assured.

For Jews, questions of afterlife have always been much less central. Our primary focus has always been on this life. Our primary goal in living is not to attain salvation in the world beyond, but to make the world in which we live as good a place as we possibly can.

In recent decades, we Jews—Reform Jews in particular—have so submerged mention of the afterlife that many Jews frame their question to me as an assumption. They say, “We don’t believe in life after death. Do we, Rabbi?”

Again, I would assert, “Yes, we do!” For Jews, attaining the reward in olam ha-ba (“the world to come”) does not depend on what we believe. It depends on how we act. It does not matter what we believe or do not believe about God. It is a matter of how we live our lives.

We are also very fuzzy on the details. Our focus has primarily been “Live your life here on earth as well as you can. And the afterlife, whatever it will be, will take care of itself.”

Still, our hearts yearn for a more specific answer to the question “What happens after I die?” I shall share mine with you. I divide my response into two parts: what I hope and what I know.

I hope, and in my heart I believe, that good people receive, in some way, rewards from God in a realm beyond the grave. I hope that they are reunited with loved ones and live on with them in a realm free of the pain and debilitation that might have marked the latter stages of their earthly life.

Speaking personally, my father died at age fifty-seven; and my mother, who never remarried, died at age eighty-eight. She was a widow for more years than she was married. My fondest hope since her death is that they are together again, enjoying the things they enjoyed on earth and as much in love with each other as the day they stood beneath the chuppah to unite their lives.

I hope, pray, and even trust that they are young, strong, and vigorous—not weak and frail as they each were before they died. I hope and pray also that, in some indescribable way, they are able to feel and share the joy of the happy events that our family has shared since they left us.

I cannot of course prove that any of this is true. Yet there is warrant for these hopes in the annals of Jewish tradition. There are enough wonderful stories attesting to an eternal reward for goodness in the world beyond to allow me to cling tenaciously to my hope and belief.

Beyond what I merely hope, though, there is an aspect of afterlife of which I am absolutely sure. Our loved ones live on in our memories, and those memories can surely inspire us to lead better lives.

At the beginning of Noah Gordon’s marvelous novel The Rabbi, the protagonist, Rabbi Michael Kind, thinks of his beloved grandfather who died when he was a teenager and recalls a Jewish legend that teaches, “When the living think of the dead, the dead who are in paradise know they are loved, and they rejoice.” As I said, I hope but certainly cannot prove that it is true. But I can reformulate that legend into a statement that is unimpeachable: When I think of my dear ones, I know that I have been loved, and I rejoice. I rejoice in and try to live up to the life lessons they taught me. I rejoice in the memories of happy times I shared with them. I rejoice in the knowledge that I am a better person because of them.

Not long ago, I decided to dedicate two seats in the rear of our sanctuary at Congregation Beth Israel in memory of my parents. I chose those seats because they mark the exact spot in my boyhood synagogue where my parents’ reserved High Holy Day seats were located in the sanctuary of Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, NJ, where I grew up.

Every time I look at them, it is easy to imagine them sitting there. During silent prayers and when the cantor sings, my heart overflows with wonderfully inspiring memories.

On Yom Kippur and  on the last day of our Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot festivals, we say Yizkor prayers for the same purpose: to draw inspiration from the wonderful memories that fill our hearts and minds when we think of those whom we have loved. We long for them, and we want to be worthy of them. The acute presence of their absence reminds us that life is finite and calls to us to make each day count in living up to their ideals and doing what we can to make the world a better place.

I believe we can—if we listen—hear them call to us as God called to Abraham in establishing the sacred covenant of our faith: Be a blessing! Study and follow God’s instruction! Practice and teach those you love to practice righteousness and justice!

And then when we turn their words into our actions, we know—we absolutely know—that our loved ones are immortal and that they live on in a very real and special way.

“A Sneak Peek: Chapter Summaries of What’s in it for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives”

Below you will find descriptions of the chapters in my forthcoming book. Of course I hope these description will make you eager to read the entire work   As I am finishing up my writing, I want to also ask my readers:  Is there anything missing; anything you think should be included in this book that I may have left out. I consider your feedback very important and will carefully consider any suggestions.
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Creation – Neither science nor fairy tale, the Story of Creation in Genesis reveals the overarching hope of biblical thought:  That life has purpose and meaning, and for better or worse, we human beings are in charge of, and responsible for, this earth.  Each of us participates in creation when we use our talents to help in some way create a more just, caring and compassionate society.

Eden – Many think of the Story of Eden as “The Fall of Man.”  We might better think of it as the “Elevation of Humanity.”  Eve, rather than being the villain that much of religious history has made of her, is the true hero of the story because she chooses a limited life of purpose and meaning in the real world over an endless existence of indolence in the Garden.

Cain and Abel — Nobel laureate John Steinbeck considers Cain and Abel, “the symbol story of the human soul” because it is the story of every one of us. It is about rejection – which all of us have faced – and how we deal with it.  And Yes!  If this world is ever going to work, we must be our brothers and sisters’ keeper.

Noah and The Flood — Many accounts of a deluge emerge from various cultures of the ancient near east.  The biblical flood story is unique in two important ways:  Only in the Bible does the flood occur because of humanity’s moral failure. Only in the Bible is the hero chosen not for capriciousness, but for his righteousness.

Babel – The brief account of the Tower of Babel is analogous to “the last straw” in God’s attempt to persuade humanity as a whole, to create a just, caring and compassionate society. Also, I am often asked: “Wouldn’t it be great if there were just one religious outlook?”  No!  The Tower of Babel teaches us that God created diversity, and the world is better off because of it.

Abraham – After three attempts at persuading humanity to create a just, caring and compassionate society (in Eden; pre- and post-flood Eden), the Eternal One chooses Abram as a Covenantal Partner. He then launches a new vehicle for humanity to understand God’s desires.  Now, one family and its descendants will become an instrument to teach the world the ideals and values we all hold dear.

Jacob – A punk kid who extorts the precious birthright from his brother and misrepresents himself before his blind father grows through many trials to emerge as a responsible partner in God’s Covenant. If we understand the relationship between the crimes of Jacob’s youth and the tribulations he endured because of them, his journey can transform our lives, as well.

Joseph – Like his father, Joseph transforms from a spoiled, selfish brat into a leader whose bold policies saved the biblical world from famine.  His story and the parallel story of his brother Judah, are stories of suffering, growth and forgiveness.  The lessons they learn through bitter experience can inspire us as we seek meaning and purpose in our lives.

Slavery – “A new king arose who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).  In this verse, we have the paradigm of all Jewish history.  A pattern has repeated itself in almost every country where Jews have lived.  It is a fitting starting point for our people’s journey from the degradation of bondage to the dignity of a free people, and it has a universal message.

Six Women Heroes – Moses is the hero of the Exodus and hands-down the most important figure in the Bible and all Jewish thought.  Nevertheless, Moses would not have gotten as far as uttering, “Let my people go…” (Exodus 7:16) before Pharaoh were it not for six women.  If we look closely, we find many biblical examples in which women play pivotal roles in biblical narratives, while the male protagonist is often clueless by comparison. The recurring biblical theme of the woman who “gets it,” while the man does not, was initiated by Adam and Eve.  This theme offers strong testimony that the Bible affirms and exalts the power and role of women.

Moses and the Call to Leadership – Why God Chose Moses.  The Bible gives us hints, but for the rabbis, the partnership was based on a careful examination by God of Moses’ character.  This chapter explores the rabbinic view of why God chose Moses, and the implications of that choice for our lives today.  Like Moses, we each have a destiny, if we choose, as Moses eventually did, to embrace it.

God’s Role in the Exodus — If God represents goodness and kindness, why does God “harden Pharaoh’s heart?”   To understand the story of the Exodus, we must see it as a war between God and the pagan deity, Pharaoh.  Pharaoh, on the one hand, represented the prevailing pagan value system. One worshipped him by building bigger and bigger monuments to his glory in the hope that he would use his perceived powers to protect his followers.  God represented the values of the Covenant made with Abraham: the values of justice caring and compassion.  These divergent value systems cannot coexist, and the Exodus represents a struggle to the finish between them.  The story and the Passover celebrations based on that, bid us to ask which set of values we choose for ourselves: a life of self-centered greed, or a life of caring, concern and service to others.

Crossing the Sea – In the Hebrew Bible’s most dramatic miracle, God splits the Red Sea allowing the children of Israel to cross on dry ground.  The Egyptians follow and are drowned when the Almighty orders the seawaters to cover them.  The Children of Israel are now free, but not free to be like everyone else.  The ancient Hebrews were set free in order to march on to Sinai to renew the Covenant God made with Abraham. It is a Covenant whose basic values are accessible to everyone, whether he or she is Jewish, or not. One of the issues the drowning of the Egyptians addresses is how we should react to the downfall of our enemy.

A Visit from Jethro –Jethro’s visit to Moses and the Israelites marks, perhaps, the first management tutorial in recorded literature.  Moses, Jethro warns, risks burnout unless he develops a plan to delegate authority.  Moses heeds Jethro’s advice, and we can benefit from it at well.

Standing at Sinai – This chapter examines different perspectives of God’s revelation at Sinai.  What might have happened during the encounter that transformed God’s people from a band of refugees from slavery into a people covenanted for all time to the service of the Almighty?  We shall look at a number of Midrashim that offer contradictory viewpoints on what might have occurred at Sinai and ask the more important question: what do these different points of view teach us today?

The Golden Calf – Almost as soon as Israel agrees to the Covenant with God, they break faith in the worst way imaginable by worshipping a golden calf.  Certainly, we do not build idols and bow down to them today, yet the story of the golden calf still speaks to our human condition.  Do we choose the path of generosity, kindness and the quest to make a better world, or to find our own security and satisfaction at the expense of others?

The Spies — In the second year of the Israelites desert journey Moses sends out twelve spies to report on the land God has promised them.  Ten of the spies come back and say the land is unconquerable.  Two, though, Joshua and Caleb demur and say we need to have faith and confidence in God’s promise.  The chapter explores what we can learn from this story.

The Waters’ of Meribah — For nearly forty years Moses has been God’s faithful servant.  He slips up once – in what seems like a minor way—by hitting a rock to give drink to the thirsty people instead of asking the rock to brings forth water in God’s name.  God punishes Moses by not allowing him to enter the Promised Land.  Is this fair?  Perhaps not, but the lesson of the story is vital to each one of us.

What If I Don’t Believe in God? — As discussed throughout the book, the Hebrew Bible assumes the existence of God, who wants human beings to establish a just, caring and compassionate society.  The simple fact is not everyone believes in such a God.  This chapter discusses how the ideals and values of the Journey can speak effectively and meaningfully even to those who do not believe in God.

Conclusion— This summary of the journey and its meanings reviews and elaborate on the vital lessons we learn from the Genesis’ story of creation to the edge of the Promised Land where Moses’ dies on Mount Nebo.  Moses is the Hebrew Bible’s pre-eminent figure, but he dies with his dreams unfulfilled.  Like Moses, most of us leave this earth with –despite our accomplishments – dreams unfulfilled.  The lesson we learn is that each of us should do the best we can for as long as we can, to make the world in some way, better.  Part of our task is to inspire and mentor others to continue the work.

 
 

The Premise of My Book in Brief

Rabbi Stephen FuchsWHAT’S IN IT FOR ME walks an important line between fundamentalism and fairy tale and fills an important niche in Torah commentary.  Fundamentalist perspectives on Scripture abound and so do commentaries denigrating Scripture as unscientific and unhistorical.

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME cares nothing about science because the Bible is not a science book.  It cares little about history as well. The premise of the book is that its stories were carefully selected for what they can teach us about living more meaningful lives and becoming better people.

Torah presents to the world a deity unlike any others that people worshipped.  In the pagan world into which Torah emerged gods and goddesses were force that people worshipped because they presumed these deities had power.  The only purpose of worship was to bribe these gods with offerings so that they would not use that power to hurt or to induce the deity to use their power to help those who worshipped them.  Ethics, morals and human interaction were of no concern to these gods.

God in the Torah is entirely different.   Of course we only worship one God and our God is invisible.  But as crucial as these differences are they are NOT the most important.

The most important difference is the agenda of Torah’s God.  From the story of Creation on God’s desire is that human beings – we creatures who are in charge of and responsible for the quality of life on earth – use our power to create a just, caring ad compassionate society.  All of our religious behavior as Jews – Holy Days, festivals, and life cycle celebrations – is designed to inspire us to work toward God’s ultimate goal.

There is no overstating the importance of this difference.  Yes, there are sacrifices in the Bible, but their purpose is to inspire ethical and moral behavior not assuage God’s anger.  Over and over again the prophets particularly those of the eighth pre-Christian century, Amos Hosea Isaiah and Micah, instruct the people of Judah and Israel that sacrificial observance unaccompanied by ethical and moral behavior is an abomination.

How desperately we need that message today!  Our religious observances only have meaning in so far as they inspire us to care for those less fortunate than we are, to seek housing for the homeless and food for the hungry.  In Jewish thought there is no place for an innocent bystander in the face of poverty and injustice. This is the Torah’s timeless message .  That is the message I hope my book will help its readers make their own.