Archive for Mai de 2016

One of the key verses in our Torah reading this week is “You shall not wrong one another.” Leviticus 25:17. This is a fundamental principle of Judaism and underpins the whole of our tradition. It is connected to the concept of tikun olam – repairing the world and tikun ha-nefesh – repairing the soul.

When we let our moral compass be guided by the principle “You shall not wrong one another,” we can’t help but do the work of tikun, repair. It’s interesting that some people are drawn more to tikun olam, repairing the world, or social justice work. And others are drawn to self-improvement, tikun ha-nefesh. Both are just as important as the other, for if we spend our time helping fix the world ‘out there’ and don’t look inside, we are sure to have an imbalance in our lives.

And if we put energy into self-improvement without also taking on projects to help those in need, we are also sure to have an imbalance in our life.

Repairing the world and repairing our own soul are both important and need to have a place in our lives. We need to give some time and energy to projects that will help improve the world, whether it be donating money to a good cause, or spending time on a social justice cause. And we also need to make time for self-reflection and improvement.

The two phrases – tikun olam and tikun ha-nefesh were first coined in the sixteenth century by Rabbi Isaac Luria of Tsfat, Israel. Another tradition that started in Tsfat at that time is using the counting of the omer as a process of tikun – improvement.

The omer is a 7 week period between the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot, during which there is a biblical obligation to count the days. The period is called the omer because it was connected to the bringing of an omer (a certain measurement) of barley to the Temple. Even after the Temple was destroyed, the counting of the omer continued and was seen as a period of inner purification by the mystics of Tsfat. Each week was dedicated to the exploration of a different quality: compassion, strength, leadership are but a few. This week, the inner quality of Humility is the focus of our Omer practice. We think about our talents and good fortunes and recognize how lucky we are. We recognize that our talents are partly due to our own efforts and partly a product of external forces such as people giving us help, advice or teaching us. It is a week to give thanks for the help we have received to bring us to where we are. It is also a good time to reflect on how our humility might open us to learning from others and taking on this week’s Torah verse: “You shall not wrong one another” Leviticus 25:17 to a new level.

May each of us be blessed with a heart of compassion and the fortune to be surrounded by the kindness of others.

Read Full Post »

Parashat Emor

Toward the end of this week’s parasha, we learn of an unnamed man who blasphemes God. The Israelites have set up camp, and he and his mother, want to join with the tribe of Dan. The mother, who has a familial connection with the tribe of Dan, is named as Shlomit bat Divri.

Shlomit is described as a babbling flirt, smiling and socializing with many people. She fraternizes with an Egyptian and gives birth to the unnamed son who is described as having a high regard for Moses, owing to his leadership and example.

When Moses orders everyone to set up camp according to their tribe, the young man and his mother attempt to pitch their tent among the Danites. Mother and son are angry and frustrated when the Danites object the their presence and take them to Moses. Moses listens to the arguments, and then agrees with the Danites. Seen from the unnamed man’s perspective, Moses has betrayed him, and has taken the side of those who refuse to recognize him as one of their own. Angered even further, the young man publicly rejects God, blaspheming and cursing God’s name and rejecting his mother’s heritage. His punishment for doing so was to be taken outside the camp and be stoned to death.

While the story focuses on the lesson not to curse God’s name or treat God in a shameful or lowly manner, there is perhaps a more comprehensive lesson. Some commentators blame the mother, Shlomit Bat Divri, for her son’s unacceptable behavior. If it weren’t for her promiscuity, such a rebellious child would not have entered the world and disgraced his people or God. Although parents and guardians are responsible for educating their children and ensuring that they treat others with respect, if that applied to Shlomit Bat Divri, it surely also applied to the Danites, who rejected this individual, based on his family’s background?

Confirmation and acceptance of an individual is the responsibility of the community. Isolating individuals and families based on unreasonable logic (or lack thereof) does not show the strength of a community, it shows weakness and desperation.

The Torah gives us the full name of the woman whose son committed this atrocity – Shlomit Bat Divri L’Matei Dan, Shlomit the daughter of Divri, of the tribe of Dan. We are told that the Torah gives us her full name and association because the responsibility of proper education, upbringing and respect are the responsibility of the parent(s) AND the community.

There are so many stories of people feeling rejected by their community because they married a non-Jewish partner, or because they are gay, or because of their race, or for many other reasons. While we are an inclusive community, we are unfortunately not immune to this. We have a responsibility to set an example and welcome everyone imtoto our community. The Torah teaches us that it is our obligation as a society to teach our children that to isolate or marginalize people because of their differences is unacceptable.

Read Full Post »

This week at a communal commemoration of Yom Hazikaron, the day of memorial for all the people who have been killed in war or terror attacks in Israel, one of the speakers, a young man who survived an attack which killed three of his friends, remembered them. He then spoke about the sometimes difficult juxtaposition of Yom Hazikaron, the day of memorial and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day of celebration for the creation of the state of Israel which follow immediately one after the other. Israelis spend a day remembering, they tell the stories, they think of all the lives, many of them young, cut short, dreams unrealized, hopes unfulfilled and no Israeli is untouched, each one has someone they remember. Then after the memorial they are called upon to celebrate, to dance and sing and rejoice in the land and state of Israel. The young man acknowledged how difficult this is and then he quoted an Israeli phrase: Bemotam tzivu lanu et hachayim—with their deaths they command us to live. He said that each lost life reminds us to count our blessings, to take moments not only to mourn but to also to live. In context, he was encouraging us to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut, as we mourn, so too we should live. But the command, the imperative is broader than that. At the end of a funeral service we traditionally recite the words “Now go forth to life.” From death we return to life and we are commanded to live each of our days the best we can.

But how do we live? This week’s parasha contains the answer. In the opening words we are commanded: Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh Ani Adonai eloheicha—You shall be holy for I, Adonai your God am holy. This seems like an unusual commandment to fulfill. How do we become holy? The answer lies in the following passages of the parashah which list a great number of commandments dealing with the minutia of daily life. In some religious traditions becoming holy means separating from community, in Judaism it is exactly the opposite. To be holy we turn towards life, towards one another and we treat each other with kindness, compassion and goodness. With our daily actions we create holiness, we turn the mundane into the sacred by the way we live our lives. Every day we are presented with numerous opportunities to embrace life, to live ethically, to make choices which honor each other and God. In Judaism, a holy life is one in which we encounter one another, see the godliness within every soul and we honor that soul as a reflection of the Divine. Holiness is not other worldly, it is here and now.

So as we remember the tragic losses of our people we are encouraged to turn to life, to channel our energies into becoming holy, sacred vessels of the Divine, by embracing one another in the fullness of life and holy being.

Read Full Post »

Acharei Mot, “after the deaths” is the name of this week’s parasha and poignantly, we read it during the week we commemorate Yom Hashoah, when we are “after the deaths” of so many millions of our people. In our parasha, Aaron is mourning the deaths of his sons Nadav and Avihu who were consumed by fire. In the aftermath of their deaths Aaron is silent, he has no words, no ability to contain his pain, shock and suffering in the vessels of letters, so he is silent, mute in the face of the unthinkable loss of his two sons. During the Shoah, the Aarons of our people lost more than two sons, whole families were decimated, murdered in the darkest moments of our people’s history.

Yesterday BBYO led the commemoration of Yom ha Shoah. As part of the ceremony they read some of he names of those who were murdered in the Shoah. Some have family to remember them, others have nobody left, and so we recite their names, acknowledging each individual, not a number or a statistic but a person. And survivors and their families speak the names of their loved ones: a name, my mother, a name, my father, a name, my sister, a name, my grandmother, a name, my aunt, and then “130 cousins and other members of my family.” Even at this ceremony the names are too many to recite, just of those lost to the small gathering of people. Our people’s loss is so great it is almost incomprehensible and for a time we, like Aaron, were silent. It was too hard to speak. There were no words which could describe what happened, the darkness of the endless night of horror, suffering and pain. The Shoah has been called an uncreation, where the world began to fall apart, the rules and understandings of humanity were reversed, nothing made sense, we returned to the primordeal state of tohu vavohu. But then we slowly returned to life. Like Aaron in our Torah portion this week, the survivors took up the reigns of life again and began to create, to put the pieces back together, to exist in a world forever changed. Aaron is not the same man he was before his loss, the shadow of his suffering will always be with him, but he returns to life. He receives the instructions for Yom Kippur, his duties, his responsibilities continue and he begins to carve a future for himself and his remaining family.

So too the survivors. They emerged from the horror and they built and created, they forged ahead with life. The courage, strength, determination they showed to make a future for themselves, to go on, to live is astounding. They built the foundations upon which we now flourish and grow. And then there was need for a new response, no longer silence but now words, trying to understand, to shape and mold language to contain the emotions, the memories, the experiences, to tell the stories so that we will never forget. And so we say the names, millions of names. But like Nadav and Avihu whose names we know, we know about their deaths but now we need to also know about their lives. We must tell the stories of those who died in the Shoah, not just the story of their deaths but also the story of their lives. To know who they were, their loves, their passions, their joys, their dreams.

Yesterday our BBYO group called upon us to remember the stories, the lives of those who were murdered. And that is our sacred task now, to speak, to write, to record and to remember the richness of each life taken, the fullness of their being.

Zichronam Livrecha may their memories be a blessing.

Read Full Post »