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Archive for Octubre de 2011

A few weeks ago I found a clip of an article published in the Chicago Tribune about “Eat, Pray, Love Tours.” Named after the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, they offer participants the chance to get away from their lives and routine and discover deep truths about themselves, their direction, priorities and passions and then leave the experience changed and transformed. Many of the people who have been on these tours return with renewed energy and motivation to make positive changes in their lives and much of the power and success of these tours is that they provide the opportunity away from the daily stresses of life to think about the deeper questions.

The notion that sometimes we have to leave the familiar in order to find clarity and the courage to take a different path is not new. In fact in our parasha this week Abraham, still Avram, goes on his own “Eat Pray Love” tour. Abraham receives a call from God: “lech lecha,” go, leave your homeland, your birthplace, your father’s house and go to a place I will show you. Now, if God were my travel agent I would be none too pleased, “leave, go, and I will let you know where later, just start walking.” And it is true that if the journey was all about the physical travelling then that would be less than satisfying. But I wonder if we read the command “to go” slightly differently we can find the reason why it does not say where Abraham is going. There is definitely a physical component to Abraham’s journey, he is, in actuality, leaving his home but there is a spiritual element as well and that is where the uncertainty lies. “Lech lecha” can be translated as “go to yourself” so maybe God is suggesting that Abraham leave in order to find himself.

 

The physical leaving could lead to a spiritual transformation, but the nature of that change cannot be known at the start of the journey, it unfolds along with the trip. If we look at the major characters in the Torah almost all of them go on a physical journey away from their homes and it is then that they make a significant change in their lives. It is a turning point for each of them and as a result their future is changed, their destiny altered. Abraham leaves his home and forges a new path for the people he will father. Jacob leaves his home and it is on the road that he encounters the angels, he meets his wife, he changes his life. Joseph journeyed to the land of Egypt, albeit not of his own choice, but his life path was completely transformed. So too Moses, it is in the land of Midian that he encounters God and is given his mission for the future. Each one of these great one found a destiny when they were away from their homelands, their nation and their familial home. And perhaps they were able to take that spiritual journey only when they were away from the confines, routine and strictures of their daily lives. It was necessary for them to be challenged, to be away from the safety and security of home for them to find what was truly important. And distance can also provide perspective and clarity which is sometimes lost in the daily grind and the noise and business of life.

 

Very few of us will have the ability to take journeys like Abraham or Elizabeth Gilbert but we may be able to experience some of the transformative elements of their travels. It can take seconds to get connected and get clarity about the things we want to be, do  and have but often we don’t take the time to get connected. Most of our lives are busy, busy, busy. And perhaps that is the key and the wisdom. For many of us just getting by day after day fills our lives. There is little time or room to consider the bigger picture, to re-evaluate, re-asses, think about what we want from life and whether or not we are doing it. But if we made some time it could lead us in incredible new directions.

 

So as God calls Abraham this week to take some time away to think about what is important and what he wants from his life, God calls to us too, “lech lecha,” go to yourself, take a little time to answer some of the big questions.

Shavua tov

Anuncis

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Al final de la secció de la setmana passada, Bereixit, llegiem que el mal havia corromput tota la humanitat i l’havia col·locada en una situació difícil (vegeu Gen 6,5-7). Del pecat d’Adam a l’assassinat de d’Abel, de la mort a la joia de la batalla i a la glorificació de les armes cantada per Lamek (Gen 4, 19-24) a als homes prenent totes les dones que els plaia – passatge interpretat per rabí Kimhi com una referència al pillatge i la violació. El mal va in crescendo, fent que Déu es penedís (vayinahem) d’haver creat l’univers. (Gen 6, 6-7)

Per tot això el Talmud (tractat Sanhedrin 108a) afirma: «a l’escola de rabí Ismael ensenyaven que fins i tot Noé estava condemnat, però va trobar gràcia als ulls de Déu ja que el text diu “Exterminaré de la terra els homes que vaig crear, … Però Noè obtingué el favor de L’Etern”.» (Gen 6,7-8) Estrictament des del punt de vista de la justícia Noè no tenia cap mèrit per a ser salvat de la destrucció. Era similar als homes de la seva generació, però va trobar la gràcia divina.

Per a altres, això ja estava inscrit en el seu nom perquè en hebreu Noakh/Noè és també paraula khen / gràcia llegida al revés. Això ens ho confirma el midraix Gènesis Rabbà (29,1) dient que Noè no tenia cap mèrit. Llavors per què va rebre aquesta gràcia? Per bona conducta? Per què va obeir l’ordre de Déu de construir una arca? Altres no li donen ni el benefici del dubte, com Raší, “Noè havia estat un creient de poca fe. Creia però no gaire que el diluvi vingués. No va entrar dins l’arca fins que les aigües el varen obligar.” (Raší a Gen 6,7) Podem entendre que una persona incrèdula no tingui cap mèrit per a ser salvada, a no ser per un acte de misericòrdia completament gratuït.

Rabí Abraham Sabba’ (Castella 1440? – Fez 1508) en el seu llibre Tseror ha-mor (El ram de mirra) no emfasitza tant la incredulitat de Noè com la seva indiferència. És això el que el va perdre. Segons rabí Sabba’ a mesura que Déu du a terme el seu projecte, vol crear una reacció per part de Noè i per això li diu explícitament “Asé lekhà / Fes-te una arca,” (Gen 6,14) per a la teva protecció.

Noè va construir l’arca sense pensar en cap moment en els altres. Sense intercedir pels seus contemporanis pregant o invocant la misericòrdia divina. Certament va obeir la ordre divina però per a salvar-se sol o amb la família. Només pensava en ell mateix, no es preocupava de ningú més. Noè va romandre indiferent a la sort dels altres. No s’arriscà a intervenir, a defensar la seva causa, tot i ser potser una causa perduda. Simplement va renunciar a la seva responsabilitat envers els seus semblants. La responsabilitat vol dir tenir cura i fer-se càrrec de l’altra persona i la seva vulnerabilitat. És per això, diu rabí Sabba’, que el profeta Isaïes anomena el diluvi com “les aigües de Noè” (Is 54,9) “Perquè Noè va ser la causa de la destrucció del món perquè no va pregar, no va oferir cap sacrifici, ni va invocar la misericòrdia divina pels seus semblants.”

Però llavors, com podem comprendre que la nova humanitat comenci amb Noè, si aquest estava més preocupat per la seva pròpia sort que per la dels seus contemporanis? És perquè Noè, durant el diluvi, un cop a l’arca va descobrir el sentit de l’Altre, en ocupar-se dels animals, en donar-los de menjar i netejar-los. Durant aquest procés va aprendre el significat de la paraula “responsabilitat.” Cal donar preferència als altres abans que a un mateix. A això es refereix Raší reprenent un ensenyament que es troba al midraix Tanhuma (Noah 9) “Noè tossia sang degut als problemes que va tenir amb el bestiar. Un dia va fer tard en donar de menjar al lleó i aquest el va ferir.” (Raší a Gen 7,23) En fer-se càrrec de les bèsties Noè va descobrir que el significat de ser humà rau en la responsabilitat. Dins de l’arca va comprendre que la responsabilitat és la essència de la persona i per això, en sortir de l’arca, va oferir un sacrifici (Gen 8,20): un sacrifici expiatori (en hebreu ‘olà) per a expiar per la falta: la indiferència, la falta més terrible.

És només per això que Noè mereix ser el nou Adam d’una nova humanitat, gràcies a que va saber transformar el seu egoisme en altruisme. Aquesta és una lliçó que no hauríem d’oblidar.

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Noach

Each time I smack a mosquito or flee from a cockroach, I wonder what God was thinking when commanding Noach to take these animals on the ark. Following from the passage that “God teaches us through the beasts of the earth and makes us wise through the fowls of heaven,” a midrash teaches that if the Torah had not been revealed to us, we might have “learnt regard for the decencies of life from the cat, who covers her excrement with earth; regard for the property of others from the ants, who never encroach upon one another’s stores; and the stork who guards the well being of his family.” For the most part, this respect from animal life has not followed on from either teachings of Torah and Midrash.

The relationship of humans and animals is one of the core themes in the opening of the Torah. The opening story in Genesis presents the human as being the pinnacle of the animal world: “Be fertile and increase, fill the world and master it, and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on the earth.” But this mastery over animal life does not include the right to eat it: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.” Moreover, the relationship of the human with the earth is one to worshipfully work it and preserve it.”

This equilibrium of mastery and duty of care begins to crumble rapidly as the human is exiled from the Garden and God regrets that human has been created, leading to a fresh start with a second model, Noach and his family in this week’s parashah. Coming off the ark, Noach and his family are told by God, “Be fertile and increase, and fill the earth. The fear and the dread of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the sky – everything with which the earth is astir – and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hand. Every creature that lives shall be yours to eat; as with the green grasses, I give you all these.” The question that we must ask is whether this new relationship between human and animal displays progress or presents an attempt to curb the wanton human violence described in these early stories of Torah.

Two passages in this week’s parashah suggest that the new relationship between human and animal was not an ideal but rather an attempt to channel human’s violent urge. The parashah opens with the statement, “The earth become corrupt before God; the earth was filled with violent lawlessness.” The permission to eat meat comes with the stricture, “you must not, however, eat flesh with its life-blood in it.” Accordingly, rabbinic tradition has for the most part understood this shift in relationship as descriptive and not prescriptive. Unfortunately, this attempt to mitigate violent human nature by allowing humans to eat animals has not succeeded. Even though Judaism teaches that one of the seven laws given to all humanity through Noah was to prohibit cruelty to animals, we humans have developed the industrialized production of animals for consumption in barbaric circumstances and our appetite for meat has not curbed our violent nature.

It is time for us to reflect back on these early legends of humanity and reassess the balance that must be struck between humans and other animals. All animals are part of God’s creation. The more we learn about life itself, the more we understand how close we are to the animal kingdom, and how aware animals are. Avoiding cruelty to animals not just “one of the mitzvot”, but one that reveals how we understand our relationship to animal life. Whenever we eat, shop for clothes or buy products we must be fully aware whether animals have been used by us to satisfy our needs. While a broad religious discussion should be had to what extent that is permissible, we must work for the fulfillment of avoiding cruelty to animals in all circumstances. Although for the life of me, I still believe the mosquito and cockroach must have been stowaways on Noah’s Ark.

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Al principi Déu va crear el cel i la terra” (Gènesis 1,1) Quants de comentaris que s’han escrit sobre aquest primer verset de la Bíblia! Sembla com ensenya Raba bar Mehasia en nom de rabí Hamma bar Guria en nom de Rav, que “si tot el mar hagués estat de tinta, si tots els estanys estiguin plens de càlams, si tots els cels fossin de pergamí i si tots els humans exercissin l’art d’escriure” (Talmud de Babilònia Šabat 11a) no haurien exhaurit tot el sentit contingut en aquest primer verset. És a dir, és una invitació a fer-se preguntes i a continuar la reflexió.

I tot comença amb l’acte de crear. Crear és separar, establir una “partició” entre Creador i criatura. Per a Déu “crear” no és desenvolupar la totalitat de tot allò que és possible, al contrari, és limitar la potència infinita de la seva extensió, posar una fita, un començament, inaugurar la història. La creació inaugura una història a la que la persona ha estat convidada a tenir un paper actiu. És veritat que la creació és bona, però la persona, en tant que sòcia amb Déu en la obra de la creació, ha de perfeccionar-la, l’ha de millorar: “axer bara Elohim la’asot – que Déu va crear per a fer” (Gènesis 2,3) És precisament en el curs de la història que la persona ha dur la obra de la creació a la seva conclusió. Per això, la creació és la creació del temps: bereixit – Al començament.

És precisament això el que el famós comentarista francès del segle XI Raší assenyala en la seva introducció al comentari de la Torà. “Rabí Isaac va dir: la Torà hauria pogut començar per un altre lloc que tingués més sentit com “Aquest mes serà per a vosaltres el primer dels mesos de l’any” (Èxode 12,2) perquè és el primer manament donat a Israel. Llavors, per què començar per Bereixit? Pel que està escrit en el verset 6 del Salm 111 “Demostrà al poble la força del seu braç, repartint-los la terra dels nadius.” Si les nacions del món diuen diuen a Israel: “Sous uns lladres perquè heu conquerit la terra dels set pobles,” Israel respondrà: “Tota la terra pertany a Déu, beneït sigui. És Déu qui l’ha creada i qui l’ha donada com a cregut convenient. Segons la Seva voluntat els la va donar i segons la Seva els la va prendre i ens l’ha donada.”

Les paraules d’aquest comentari escrit el segle XI són encara de profunda actualitat que situa immediatament la Torà sota el prisma del conflicte Israel /Canaan amb les nacions del món com mediadors parcials, sembla que allò que Raší enfasitza la idea que la terra és un regal. Segons el seu argument, si no reconeguéssim que Déu ha estat qui ha creat el cel i la terra, tota possessió seria una usurpació. Però la terra pertany al seu Creador, l’únic propietari. És Déu qui la dona en “dipòsit” a aquell qui practica la justícia, a “aquell qui fa el que és just als Seus ulls.”

Posseir és sempre rebre. Contràriament a altres conceptes del moment segons els quals la persona habita en la “madre patria,” la cultiva i hi construeix els seus edificis, indiferent a tota responsabilitat respecte a l’altra, en el judaisme la relació amb la terra està regida per la justícia i la ètica. No és una relació de propietat com en el dret romà, sinó una relació de fidelitat. Fidelitat a Déu, fidelitat a una concepció, a una ètica. És gràcies a aquesta fidelitat que la persona es guanya el mèrit de viure en una terra.

En aquest sentit llavors és més fàcil entendre la terra com a promesa. La terra és una promesa per aquelles persones que saben estimar-la, que saben treballar-la amb paciència i que hi estableixen un règim de justícia, una societat igualitària que desterra la opressió en totes les seves formes. La relació d’aquesta gent a la terra, i que en la Bíblia es traduirà en múltiples lleis de caràcter redemptor, com l’any sabàtic, les primícies o el jubileu, està presenta en la interpreta de Raší.

També s’hi apunta l’amenaça de l’exili i el deure de sentir-se estrangers a la terra. L’exili és un aspecte de la possessió de la terra com si la possessió i l’arrelament per sí mateixos no poguessin explicar la relació de la persona amb el món. És com si allò que realment comptés no fos l’espai amb el perill de sacralització que conté, sinó el comportament en aquest espai. Dit d’altra manera, la ètica, la socialització, la història, el temps.

No és doncs casualitat que la primera “cosa” beneïda i santificada sigui el dia “Déu va beneir el dia setè i en va fer un dia sagrat.” (Gènesis 2,3) És al temps, el Šabat, aquesta illa de justícia de social i igualtat setmanal, que atribuïm aquest concepte de benedicció i santedat. El temps, doncs, és més sant que l’espai.

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Having concluded our festive celebrations of Simchat Torah, this Shabbat we will return to the beginning of the Torah and read the very first portion – Parashat Bereshit. Bereshit presents ancient Judaism’s version of a creation myth, depicting an all-powerful God who creates the world in six magnificent days, and rests on the seventh day. In the second chapter of Bereshit we read words familiar to each and every Bar and Bat Mitzvah student in our community, for these words are the very words of Kiddush that they learn to recite: The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that God had been doing and God ceased on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that God had done (Genesis 2:1-3).

These words form one of the foundational concepts in all of Jewish life – the holiness of Shabbat, the setting aside of a day for rest, reflection, and spiritual rejuvenation. They are words that easily roll off our tongues, words that are easily sung in the synagogue (like V’shamru)  or at home when we recite Kiddush, and words which remind us of how to live as Jews.  

What is most remarkable about this small passage is the lack of description contained therein. We have no conception of how God spent that very first Shabbat in the heavens! We cannot know if God merely admired the handiwork of creation – man and woman, the animals of the land, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the sky from a distance, or if God engaged in some other kind of peaceful, restful activity. We know only that the day itself was holy, was set aside as a day for blessing.

These days, we do many things on Shabbat, we have many responsibilities, many errands to complete. But are such behaviors, no matter how restful, no matter how necessary – holy acts? How do we set Shabbat aside as a time for holiness, as a time for blessing? Do we enjoy festive meals with our family and other guests around the table? Do we participate in services or activities at the synagogue, using Shabbat as a time to separate ourselves from our technologically-inundated lives, reconnecting with sacred literature, setting aside quiet time and space for learning and reflection? Do we pause to appreciate the world around us, to recognize the blessings present in our lives, to strengthen ourselves for the week ahead, a week in which we will strive to make the world a better place? 

Shabbat is not a time for responsibility; it is not a time for errands. Shabbat is a time to reconnect with family and friends and community, to reconnect with the deep, spiritual elements present within each of us, and most especially, to reconnect with God. On Shabbat we are given an incredible opportunity to recognize the holiness of this very special day, and to pause and appreciate each and every blessing that is part and parcel of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom


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This week we are in the midst of the festival of Sukkot and no matter what time of the year Sukkot falls, whether it is early or late, it always seems to rain. Even if it has been sunny for weeks before and will be sunny for weeks afterwards, Sukkot always heralds rain and often also a wind storm. The rabbis of our tradition mandated that we should not begin inserting the prayers for rain in our service until after Sukkot to allow us to dwell pleasantly in our sukkot and to give time for the pilgrims to return home from their journey to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, despite all our best efforts, Sukkot manages to bring with it rain and storms. Even though it makes our time in our Sukkot somewhat unpleasant and the rabbis remind us that being in the sukkah is to be a good experience and anyone who stays in the sukkah when it is raining and unpleasant is an “ignoramus,” I believe it is actually a good thing for it to rain on Sukkot. This festival, although described as “Z’man Simchatenu,” a festival of joy, has a serious message at its core. Our sukkot are temporary structures, open to the elements, exposed to the changes in weather, to remind us of the blessings of a roof over our head and a place to shelter and call home. So often during this festival I am reminded of just how privileged I am to have a place to live and to be in a country which is free from war, conflict and extreme poverty. Although there are too many in United States who live below the poverty line and as we are reminded periodically, homelessness is a major issue here, especially for families, young people and the elderly, we do not have to confront the conflict, poverty and suffering of many other nations in the world.

Every year 8.8 million children die before they reach their fifth birthday. Every minute 20 children die from preventable diseases. In the time it will take you to read this piece, perhaps 40 children will have died. That is 40 children too many. Global poverty is a crisis which should not happen. Aid programs are proven to work if the funds are channeled in the correct way and as a result of such work there have been advances in reducing global poverty. But despite these efforts, people are still dying from lack of food and diseases for which we have cures.

Sukkot is the time in our calendar where we are called to remember our good fortune, to be grateful for it, but also to take action. To think about all those people who cannot come in from their sukkot when it rains, who have nowhere to take shelter, have no food, no clean water, who are vulnerable to disease and illness. This year I call upon you all to do two things. The first is to go to the “make poverty history” website http://www.makehungerhistory.org/ and learn how you can support their campaign for United States to meet its obligations under the Millenium Development Goals. Nations met in 2000 and agreed to increase aid so that extreme poverty would be halved by 2015.

The second thing I would like you to do is save a life this sukkot. Contact the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relieve https://www.jdc.org/jcdr_main.html. The most severe drought in 60 years has hit the Horn of Africa, causing food shortages, rising food prices, and widespread malnutrition. Over 10 million people are suffering across the region. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relieve will use your donations to distribute food to household in charge on single women and bring medical help and provide vaccinations and clear water

But if your budget is tight you can also help visiting www.thehungersite.com. Every time you go to this site and click on the icon, a cup of food is donated to a country where it is needed. It costs nothing, takes a few seconds every day, and you can help save lives.

Judaism teaches that if we save a life, we save the world, so this Sukkot, let’s save lives and then, rain or shine, it will truly be a z’man simchateinu, a time of joy.

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The high attendance for Yom Kippur still perplexes me. It is a paradox. Objectively, all the elements of this holiday should keep away those who do not come frequently to shul. These are the longest services, and the most difficult to grasp because all of the texts call for repentance, something very difficult to achieve. Moreover, they talk about God and our relationship with the Divinity. Contrary to the other holidays like Shabbat or Shalosh regalimYom Kippur does not commemorate any particular historical period or event, it has no social or agricultural reason, or humanitarian principle, and above all, Yom Kippur is absent from every culinary book, because there is no special food involved on that day. Everything is pure spirituality. Contrition is accomplished by fasting in order to obtain God’s atonement.

It is on this day that all sorts of Jews, religious persons, agnostics, atheists, and all who are attached to a national identity decide to come to the synagogue and join other Jews. And they do so in such great numbers that synagogues are sometimes forced to move out of their buildings to welcome them all! This paradox has its roots in a well–known spirit of contradiction already summarized by Moses: «a stiff-necked people» (Exodus 33:5).  Or maybe the reason for this phenomenon can be found in some sort of «clearance:» the sacrifices required by Yom Kippur are so monumental that they are equal to an annual subscription to all the services together!

But instead of blaming these so-called Yom Kippur Jews, as rabbis normally do (add the sermon to the list of grievances of the festival), on this evening of Kol Nidreh, I would like to indulge in a חשבון הנפש cheshvon ha-nefesh, the reckoning of the soul, for our religious institutions, our synagogues. If attendance on such a day is so remarkably high, maybe this is not the fault of those Yom Kippur Jews. Maybe it is our fault. I think I just heard a sigh of relief: «Finally someone is trying to understand us…» Maybe religious institutions are responsible for not being able to attract you at other times of the year by not knowing how to fulfill your needs. Do we always meet your expectations?

Let’s do a quick review of the main reproaches made against religious organizations. In the first place, in a consumer society, where everything has to be done for a reason, religion is accused of being useless. We can frequently hear someone saying «I can be good to other people without being religious.» Or: «I want to improve the world, but sustaining churches, synagogues or mosques that are always in need of money is pointless; these professional clergy people, organized religion, all these rules and rituals that nobody understands….» Does being engaged in religion make a difference in life? If religious belief and regular attendance do not make congregants better people, and if rejecting religion or being unaffiliated does not make people villains, why, then, be religious?

For some, religion is for the «weak». They say synagogues are like hospitals. They are happy to be in such good spiritual health that they have no need for them normally, but when they feel the need, they are happy to have synagogues available.

For others, religion goes against rationality. The 19th and 20th  centuries have been the centuries of science –– objective research of a truth that can be experimented with and tested, substituting religion for belief in science. These people think that being modern means rejecting religion, which they perceive to be an enemy of honesty, progress and reason.

Finally, considering all the injustices in the world … wars and deportations … raises many questions: Where was God? How could God allow something like this to happen? But for some people raising the questions is not enough, and they come to the conclusion that they have to reject God and religion.

All these reproaches –– uselessness of religion, religion of the weak, science against religion or the inhumanity of the world –– should not be easily dismissed. I do not pretend to have the final answers but like Tom Thumb, I can place little white pebbles on our path that will be –– I hope –– little references for everyone regardless of whether you attend services regularly or not, or if you like or dislike communal institutions.

Firstly, a certain number of prejudices have their sources in a misconception of Judaism. Judaism is not simply a set of beliefs, a collection of prayers or a series of rituals. It is above all a peoplehood, a way of looking at the world. Judaism cannot change the world around us, but it has the power to change the way we look at the world, and this can make the difference. Let’s take as an example Genesis 21, where Hagar, Abraham’s concubine,  has a child while Sarah is sterile; later on, due to inheritance issues, Hagar is banished to the desert with her child. All too soon, their water is used up and they are thirsty. She abandons the child under a bush and she cries. The text says, »Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went and she filled the skin with water and let the boy drink.» (Gn 21:19) God did not create the well of water. God just opened her eyes, and only then did she simply see what she did not notice before. However, before God opened her eyes she only saw suffering and inconsistency. Suddenly the world that she perceived as cruel became generous and nurturing. The ability to perceive and acknowledge holiness in each human life is one of the elements that makes life a little easier. This is why the birth of a baby or any other milestone event in life has a dimension of wonder that deserves a religious celebration, to single it out, an unjustified sanctification in the eyes of science. Similarly, Judaism demands from us that we do everything possible to save a life, even if it requires us to transgress the very same Yom Kippur. There is nothing more important than visiting a friend who is sick, or comforting the mourners because life has an infinite value.

Once upon a time we believed that prayers had the ability to affect the seasons. To bring rain or increase the crops in the fields. Today we know that the seasons are ruled by the laws of physics and astronomy, not our prayers. Our prayers and rituals do not have any effect on the rain, but prayer and ritual do affect the way we perceive the rain. We cannot measure the success of prayer based on achieving the result we were praying for, or the healing of the person we were praying for. Prayer will help us to see rain or food as a gift. Prayer will remind us of those who suffer from hunger and of the miracle of the wheat that flourishes with the help of sun and rain. It will remind us of all of the people involved in the chain of production and who make it possible for us to have food every single day.

For a religious person, a mountain will not be the outcome of an earthquake. A religious person will not see  a mountain as a potential skiing site , but as the meeting point between humans and the divinity, the place of dialogue between the We and the Other. A Torah scroll will not be a roll of dried skin of dead cows, but the symbol of an ancestral covenant, the trace of  millenia of teaching. In this way, something apparently banal can become a source of awe and reflection through prayer.

The vision of the world that Judaism presents us with is that of a world that has meaning, purpose and direction. As philosopher Suzanne Langer said once, «We can adapt ourselves to anything but chaos.» The narrative of the Book of Genesis, which has no scientific pretensions, talks about a precise process of creation. Our existence, as well as the world’s existence, is not a random event, but it has a goal. We can get on with our lives without this sense of order and purpose.

Beyond the search for meaning, religion has the role of being a meeting point.  It is a בת כנסת Bet Kenesset, or «House of Meeting», a «Synagogue», which in Greek means «walking together.» There are some moments in our lives when we look for other people’s company or other people’s support. Judaism teaches us to live those moments in the presence of those who are close to us and to invoke those who preceded us to be present in the rituals Jews have performed through centuries. Their presence comforts us and gives us a sense of belonging to a people and history.

The Community gives us this sweet taste of eternity. The 20th century has been the century of individuals who are no longer defined by belonging to a family, group or kin, but only defined by themselves. In contrast, remember those long biblical genealogies that the Bible used to define the individual. Thanks to this notion of community, Judaism commands us to be sensitive to our fellows. The input of the community takes place in reciprocity. I relieve my solitude and at the same time I help others. The others, then, are my sister and brother, created in God’s image, but they are never my competitors. The sense of the religious community is the sharing of the resources that turn complete strangers into friends, when they share important moments together, solemn moments like tonight. This is also the Shabbat dinner, where the worries of the week are left aside, when one invites into their home those who have nowhere to go. All this gives meaning to life.

When we eliminate organized religion, we eliminate community, and we open the door to egotism, to a celebration of all that is made by the individual, to an idolatry of the self. Tomorrow during Yizkor, we will read the verse from Psalm 8: «Almighty One, what are human beings that you take note of them?» We have lost the sense of awe in our lives. We have given so much room to the individual that there is no more room for God.

Elie Wiesel illustrates this concept it with this story.

Once a man went to see God on the celestial throne and said «Tell me, God, what’s more difficult, being God or being Human?» God answered: «Being God is certainly more difficult. I have to take care of all the universe, the planets and the galaxies. While your only worries are your job and your family.» «It is true –– said the man –– but you have infinite time and you are all-powerful. What’s difficult it is not accomplishing my task but doing it within the limits of human capabilities and the span of life.» God said: «You do not know what you are talking about!  There is no question that being God is more difficult.» The man responded: «I do not see how you can say this with this assertive tone because you have never been human, and I have never been God. What do you think about interchanging our roles so that I can know what’s implied in being God and you in being Human? Let’s do it just for a moment!» God resisted the idea but the man was insistent until God agreed. They interchanged their roles. God became human and the man became God, but once the man was sitting the celestial throne he refused to let it go. He ruled the world and sent God into exile.

We need to learn to let it go and let God be God. Praying is above all recognizing that we are not all-powerful. In order to avoid idolatry it is necessary to think beyond oneself.

Yes, religious institutions built by human beings present the same limitations as humans. Synagogues, like the world in which we live, are a far cry from being perfect communities, but they are closer than any one of us can achieve individually! Maybe we don’t get close to a synagogue because we would not like the image we would see in the mirror.  As Maurice Samuel wrote, «Nobody likes what they see in the mirror after waking up.» and I add to this: but how can we do without it?

Always surprised by the paradox of Yom Kippur, the most difficult day of the year but the day with the best attendance, I raise the question of whether communal institutions live up to  your higher expectations. The examination of conscience about religious organizations has led us into a redefinition of religion, and that brings us to 21st century American Jews. Therefore, we need to change the possessive: it is no longer about your expectations but rather about our expectations, because Community is all of us. It is up to us together to make it possible that communities will nourish us. Do not let Judaism be a matter left only in the hands of professionals or institutions. Let all of us make the effort to commit ourselves to sustaining our community through frequent participation, through learning how to cooperate together, and how to build together. And then nobody will again raise the question: «Who needs God?»

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