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Archive for Març de 2012

This week’s shooting at Ozar Hatorah School in Toulouse, France, has brought about global condemnation, concern and dismay. Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his two sons Gabriel, 4, and Arieh, 5, and pupil Miriam Monsonego, 7, were killed in the senseless attack. As of Tuesday night, the suspected killer had not been apprehended. There is an expression in Hebrew “kol Yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh” that means, “All of Israel are responsible for one another.” Living in the States, far away from the Jewish community of Toulouse, we still recognize that we are part of one, worldwide Jewish community. We mourn for this tragic, unnecessary loss of life and pray that the person responsible will be brought to justice speedily.

It is with heavy hearts that we enter into what is supposed to be one of the most beautiful and celebratory months of the Jewish calendar. This week, we begin reading not only the book of Leviticus (Sefer Vayikra) but also read an additional passage known as Ha-Chodesh, acknowledging the beginning of the Hebrew month of Nisan, when we celebrate the festival of Pesach, and recall our the redemption of our biblical ancestors from slavery in Egypt, thousands of years ago. The term ha-chodesh comes from chapter 12 of Exodus where we read, “This month (ha-chodesh hazeh) shall be to you the beginning of the months; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you” (Exodus 12:1).

In its most ancient form, Pesach was observed, both by the Israelites who fled Egypt, and later in the Temple, by making a special sacrifice to God. Today, while we read of the ancient practices of sacrifice (beautifully and conveniently detailed in the first five chapters of Leviticus) we continue to consider other ways of approaching our festival observance. Beyond two lengthy nights of storytelling at our sedarim, we need to remember the sentiment of Exodus 12, where we are taught that the month of Nisan represents a new beginning, and brings us an opportunity for renewal, rebirth and rededication.

In the wake of a cruel and meaningless attack on innocent children and their schoolteacher, we need every opportunity we can get to refocus our energy and attention in positive ways. I fear that there will always be senseless, inexplicable violence in the world, though I hope for the day when this will not be the case. What I do know is that it is nearly impossible to help a person who shows no respect – for others, for himself, or for the preciousness of life itself – to recognize the error of his ways. Justice will tend to him.

Meanwhile, we must tend to our grieving brothers and sisters; we must tend to our community. Twentieth century theologian and scholar, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote, “There are three ways to mourn. The first is to weep, the second is to keep silent, and the third is to turn sorrow into song.” The beginning of the month of Nisan, and our subsequent festival of Pesach is about turning sorrow into song, about rediscovering our very human need for freedom, about reminding ourselves that redemption is possible, and that we have every opportunity – with every word and every deed – to help in perfecting the world.

Healing from the wounds of this latest attack will take time. We know that there are plenty of cases where people choose poorly, and their decisions can have a dramatically negative impact upon our world. But as long as we continue to choose to live a life of blessing, goodness, compassion and love, we will bring light and hope into the world. We cannot forget that the possibility of redemption rests within each of us. May our dedication as a community and God’s eternal presence enable us to move from sadness to joy, from mourning to festivity, and from darkness to light.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov

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Vayakhel-Pekudei

Our parasha this week opens with Moses gathering together all the people and commanding them to observe the Shabbat. This is followed by the instructions for building the tabernacle. So first Moses tells his community to rest and only then does he tell them about the work in which they are to be engaged. The Shabbat, the day of rest, was to be observed even when the work which the community was doing was the holy task of building a sanctuary for God.

 

Not even that onerous job was to override the sanctity of Shabbat. This past week, I have been in San Diego and saw a couple of big cruise ships, and I began day dreaming about setting sail on one of the ships, resting, relaxing and feeling my cares melt away with every mile further away from home. I travelled. I imagined the vast ocean around me, the stillness and the quiet, the solitude and most of all, the rest. And then I was reminded of something I had read recently in Bradley Artson’s book, “The Bedside Torah” where he describes the Shabbat as a cruise. He says: “Every Jew is invited to a weekly cruise. All embark on Friday night. Once on the ship there is no need to work, since all the preparations are already complete. Instead, the voyagers can finally focus on refreshing their  tired spirits, their strained hearts and their distracted minds. An opening service involves poetry and song and discussion aimed at thanking the captain and crew for preparing such a restful, pleasant voyage. A lavish dinner follows complete with candlelight, sparkling wine and bread so rich it tastes like cake. People retire early for private time and for restful slumber. The next morning the voyagers gather for a light breakfast and then spend the morning together, reading and thinking about their goals in life, where they have come so far, what  their history has taught them and what kind of people they want to be. At noon another festival meal, no less wonderful than last night’s dinner, is served. In the afternoon, some walk the deck, some play ball, some read whilst others sleep. At the end of the day the cruise returns to shore, all gather for a candle lighting ceremony and farewell. Renewed and energized the participants are able to face the new week with anticipation and zeal.” (pg 125)

 

What an amazing way to imagine and envisage Shabbat. If someone approached me and said, “you know Jordi, every week you can go on a one night cruise, where you just relax and enjoy, contemplate, pray and be together with  those you love” I would ask straight away; “where do I sign up?”  We all have the opportunity to sign up every week, the chance to make Shabbat, what Abraham Joshua Heschel described as, an island in time. All too often we focus on the negatives about Shabbat, the things we cannot do, the restrictions and then it can seem like a burden. But I don’t believe that the Shabbat is about what we cannot do, rather it is about allowing ourselves to carve out a pace where we can think, reflect and just be. And more than ever we need the Shabbat. Studies are telling us that we are working longer hours than ever before. We are rarely away from our work, our offices travel everywhere with us and there has been a parallel rise in anxiety and stress related illnesses.

 

We need that weekly cruise, we need a break from the pressures and stresses of our lives and we need moments of stillness.  But it is not enough just to rest, we need more. A recent study found that people who avoided mid-life crises were those who found meaning in life beyond themselves. They found a purpose beyond themselves and they did not have to be big, lofty things, but simple ones like celebrating the creation, life, its gifts and seeing the godliness in ourselves and others. The Shabbat is about more than just rest, it is the time to give ourselves the gift of caring for our souls as well as our bodies and nurturing our spirits. It is about carving out a space where we can voyage together with our community and touch what is really important and significant, to see that we have a place and purpose in this world, to acknowledge the creation and to feed our souls and spirits by giving us a sense of  something beyond ourselves. We have that opportunity every single week. So this week, let’s pack our bags and go on a cruise!

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