Sunday, December 4, 2016

"I Am The Earth" - Original Meditation for Las Cruces Vigil for Standing Rock - December 4, 2016

I am the earth.
I have felt you tread upon me.
With whatever eyes I have in nature,
I have seen you struggle, survive, move, tear down, and build up.
I have felt you take from me, and I have sensed ways in which you have given back as well, although sometimes the taking seems more than the giving.
I have rejoiced in your moments of harmony and cooperation.
I have shuddered in times of war and conflict.
I have noted and appreciated peoples who have sought to respect and protect me.
I have felt inside me the passageways created by human tools and human hands to take the gifts of the earth from their original locations to distant places.  
Some of what I know you call resources remain within me in abundant supply.  
Others feel, to me, to be diminished, making me wonder when there will be no more to take.
I do understand your language, and I hear in your voices, as you stand upon me and plan and construct, whether or not a sincere desire to preserve me is there in how you speak, in the tone of your speech and the flow of your words.
My waters in the streams and rivers have told me that they do not feel as pure as they once felt.  
They are afraid that what you have made may not protect them from the disasters that have befallen the salty waters of seas and oceans.  
And that is why people who truly love me might even think of taking a stand for me, and for you as well, because they want to be sure that we will be together for a long, long time.
And so, I say to you, humanity,
Be careful.   Be wise.   Be humble.  
Don’t believe that the structures which you believe will not cause harm now
Will never cause harm. 
And believe in yourselves as partners with me
And with all that we share. 
You are precious humanity, and entrusted to you and all other creatures is the care of….me.

And I….I am…and will always be…the earth. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Humility" - Column in the Las Cruces Bulletin on Friday, December 2, 2016

   I have discovered, over my many years as a rabbi, that there is one aspect of our lives that has the potential to bring us together: our values. While there are some tenets that people and different faith groups may interpret differently, there are other principles that lay at the foundation of creating community that may offer a common language. 
    We tested this notion at a program at Temple Beth-El on Sunday, Nov. 20. Entitled"Humble Enough? An Interfaith Conversation," the event featured presentations by speakers from a number of faith traditions (Methodist, United Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ, Society of Friends, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Unitarian Universalist and Jewish). Each speaker offered his or her perspective on humility, sharing teachings from past and present, parables and personal stories. 
    When it was my turn to speak about humility, I focused on specific insights that have emerged from my tradition over the last 3000 years. I noted that Abraham and Moses were both considered humble.
     The prophet Micah’s call for people to "walk humbly/ modestly with God" is more than a religious principle. 
      Author and Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has explained that not to walk humbly means to go to the other extreme, arrogance, which might lead a person to think that ONLY his or her views, beliefs and positions must be right and true. The 12th Century Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, taught that, for most character traits, it was best to try to stay in the middle, keeping an even disposition, except when it came to humility. Maimonides insisted that extreme humility was the best approach to lead us to gain self-respect and the respect of others, and to enable us to appreciate the gifts life has given us. 
     Following the statements by the panel members, participants engaged in small-group discussions on several questions presented to them about what it means to be humble. These insightful responses might help us understand what it means to give and to receive in the coming weeks and throughout the year:
 • Be willing to be vulnerable. 
• Recognize that we are interdependent with all that is 
• Listen intently to others. 
• Approach life and the world with a sense of awe and wonder. 
• Accept your limitations and be sensitive to the limitations of others. 
• Choose to learn from adversity and grow from it 
• Look at people as human beings, past differences 
• Each of us is not better or worse than anyone else. 
• Recognize the blessings we all have and, in turn, help bring blessing to others. 
• Say little and do much. 
• Start everything in the name of God. When an opportunity comes your way, say to yourself, "God let me do this." 
• No person should put himself/ herself above anyone else. 
• Find and respect the divine in every person. 
• Don’t presume that we know all there is to know. 
• Open your heart. 
• Serve others. 
• Accept yourself as you are. 
    Many of these statements remind us to "keep ourselves in our place" with a feeling of pride and confidence. There are, however, times when we need "a lift" when we find ourselves in a place of despair. Over 200 years ago, Rabbi Simcha Bunem said, "Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and discouraged, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: ‘For my sake was the world created.’ But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: ‘I am but dust and ashes.’" 
If we are able to strike that balance, we may well be able to intently listen to each other, to understand the respective truths by which we live and to realize that our humility has the power to keep us together in ways we cannot yet imagine. May we be open to that possibility. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thoughts on leadership - well beyond the moment.....November 29, 2016

Leadership in a public position (that includes a public position in your occupation/profession) that requires your full attention and full-time commitment should be just that.  
That means: 
1) Set your sights on the tasks at hand.
2) Fully understand the laws, rules and constitution/by-laws which provide the foundations of your leadership 
3) Do what is necessary to assure that you have no conflict of interest possibilities because of your past or current work (this applies to many organizations). 
4) Remember that when you speak or release a statement, whether short or long, you are speaking for more than yourself, and acknowledge that when you speak/write, your words will take on a life of their own.  So be careful. 
5) Remember that you are serving everyone, both allies and what we can still, hopefully, call "loyal opponents."  Build bridges to everyone and anyone and do what you can to be sure that everyone and anyone builds bridges to each other. 
6) Approach what you do with a sense of humility at what you have been charged to accomplish.  It is about responsibility, not power.  
7)  Jettison grudges if you can - it will make your leadership more vibrant and much more positive.  

Just a few thoughts for the moment that any leader should consider..

Friday, November 25, 2016

Prayer for Parashat Chayei Sarah - November 25, 2016

Eternal God,
Source of Wisdom,  Teacher of Kindness,
We read in the Torah of Rebekah's compassion and support
In tending to the needs of Abraham's servant Eliezer. 
He prayed that a woman would provide water for him and for his camels
Without him having to ask
When he reached his destination. 
Rebekah gave him water without being prompted, and, by her own volition, drew water for all of his camels, 
Demonstrating the type of kindness
That Eliezer knew would make her a good wife for Isaac. 
Guide us, God of all generations,
To recognize the needs of people around us without them having to ask. 
Remind us of the help and assistance that we need to give 
To fellow community members whom we know
And those in need whom we don't know
To whom we can give direct or indirect support. 
Enable our leaders, our legislators, and our citizens 
To see beyond themselves enough
so that they will extend a hand when necessary
Knowing that when they do so
Their kindness may find its way back to them 
Through unimagined opportunities to come
And the gift of hope that will emerge 
when it seems only despair surrounds them.  
Make us partners with one another
Across any gulfs that may separate us 
So that we may extinguish the flames of hatred and disrespect
Whatever form they take.  
May our generosity towards one another 
Be like water that will ultimately sustain our lives and our world.  

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Visitors' Journey? A Midrash for Vayeira - November 18, 2016

Abraham brought the three visitors who had come to his tent all the food that had been prepared.  He  stood over them under the tree, and they ate.           
One of them began to speak. 
“Abraham, I am R’fael, and these are my companions Michael and Gavriel.  We have something very special to share with you.  But before we do, we need to tell you about our journey.” 
Abraham was intrigued.  He said, “Please tell me your story.   I am so glad that you have come our way.” 
       R’fael continued, “We have traveled many days and miles to get here.   But this is not our first visit throughout our travels.  
      We first stopped at a tent that was three times the size of your humble abode.   We were ready to tell the head of the household that he would be blessed with abundant flocks over the next year.  We approached his tent as we did yours.  He came out from his place and said, ‘Stop!  Who are you?’   I said, ‘We are visitors from far off with a message for you!’   The man said, ‘You cannot come near my tent unless you first pray to my gods! Otherwise, you must leave at once!’   
    We were startled at his hostile response. I said, ‘My lord, we have our own God to whom we pray. We cannot do what you ask.’  He lifted his arm, pointed away from his tent, and said, ‘Leave us!   I do not need to hear your message!  Please, go, you are not one of us!’ 
    And so we continued on our journey.  We were commanded to tell a man who had many olive trees that his harvest in the coming season would bring him great wealth.   We approached his home next to his large grove, but he stopped us as we entered his property.  ‘Who comes to my home!  I have not seen you before!’   I introduced myself and my companions, and assured him, ‘We have a special message to give you about your future. It is good news!’   The man replied harshly, shouting, ‘I don’t know you!  You don’t look like me and the people I know!  How would I know you are telling the truth?  I only listen to my family and my friends, not to strangers!  Leave me!’ 
      I persisted this time, ‘But sir, the message! You will want to hear it, and if you don’t, what is laid out for you will not happen.’   The man was insistent: ‘I would not believe you, no matter what you say.  Go!’    And so we left. 
     We went to another man, whose wheat fields had suffered in the previous season.  We were commanded to tell him that his crops would recover in this new year and he would prosper once again.   We approached his farm with confidence that he would listen to our promise.  But he, too, stopped us.  ‘Come no closer!  You are not welcome here!’    I said to him calmly, ‘My lord, we have a message for you. It is about the year to come.’  He stopped me as I spoke, “I don’t want to hear from you!  You look suspicious to me.  I see three men before me with no animals on which they are riding, no servants, no possessions.   You cannot possibly have anything that you could give me that would bring me good news!'
     I thought for a moment, and said,  ‘My lord, perhaps you shouldn’t judge us by what we look like, or what we have, or what we don’t have.  We have something to tell you that will bring you joy.’    The man lifted his hand and pointed away from his home, ‘Leave me!   You cannot possibly have anything to give me or tell me!’   We went on our way, without giving him his message.  And he will not receive those blessings.  The One who commanded us was clear in our instructions: Only those who accept your presence, those who show you hospitality and consideration, are worthy of receiving any blessing I could bestow.’”
“And so, now, we are here, Abraham, and we have good news to bring you.  Do you want to hear it?”
Abraham replied, “I have welcomed you into my home. I have fed you, I have waited on you as if you were members of my household!   I am ready to hear what you have to say!”
R’fael was eager to share the special news.  “Abraham, this is about you and Sarah. And this comes straight from the   God that you call One.  You may not believe it, but do, please do.  By this time next year, you and Sarah will be blessed with a son!” 
Abraham, for his part, was happy, of course, and astonished because of their advanced age.  And Sarah? She just laughed. 

Turning our Values into Action (and being like God) - Invocation - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting - November 17, 2016

Invocation – Board Meeting – November 17, 2016

God of our days and years,
We look at the times in which we live and consider
How the gift of our heritage can guide us in our lives.
We call You our Creator.   What can we do to help preserve the natural world around us?
We call You our Teacher, the One who has revealed to us knowledge and wisdom through the Torah and other values that have come down to us.  How can we gain enlightenment from that learning, and how can we teach others what we have learned in a way that will resonate with them?
We see You as our companion throughout the course of history.  How can we hear Your voice and recognize Your presence in ourselves, in the wisdom that others share, and in the events that shape our times?
We call You Compassionate One.  How can we apply our own approach to compassion and mercy in a way that will touch all of humanity and offer them help and hope?
We call You the Author of Freedom and the True Judge.  How can we work with others to find the middle road that will sustain freedom and justice for all people? 
We believe in You as One who remembers what all people say and do.  How can we write upon the scrolls of our lives thoughts and deeds that will deserve to be remembered in centuries to come?
We see You as our partner in celebration. How can we better find the joys that have been given to us, and how can we create moments of contentment for ourselves and our community?
Be with us, Eternal One, every single moment, and take us forward to where we need to go to make a better life for ourselves and for all humanity.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Going Forth - Abram, Sarai and the American community in a week like this - November 11, 2016

Eternal God,
Beacon of light, love, truth, and hope,
You set us on our paths from day to day,
From year to year
To live in this world
Giving our highest selves to humanity,
Seeking ways in which to apply our values to
our community and our nation.
As we and our fellow citizens chart a path for our future
Every four years
through our voices and our votes,
We sometimes witness discussions on ideology and policy
Taking a secondary place to visions of power and control.
The language of responsibility may get lost in the heat of the moment
In the rhetoric of disagreement and partisanship.
The aftermath of every national day of decision
may not be a time of coming together as it should.
There may be wounds left unhealed from turbulent conversations, passionate public pronouncements, and disrespectful discourse.
We know, from witnessing the history of such days in the past,
that  a measure of listening and healing
could offer us some recovery of mutual respect. 
So many of us have seen these transitions and changes
From one administration to another that have been accomplished smoothly
Without violence. 
And we can remember flashes of greatness on the part of some leaders,
the successes and the failures, and the times when cooperation across ideological lines actually led us forward as a nation.
So, at this juncture in our national story.
we are like Abram and Sarai at this moment,
who went forth from their home so that they could become a great nation, and a blessing to all the families of the earth.  
As their descendants, may we look to our tradition for the values we are committed to uphold about which we pray in every worship service:  love, freedom, justice, recognizing from whence we have come, compassion, extending our hand to those in need of help, a sense of the holy in life, equality, reverence for creation, gratitude, and creating and preserving peace.  
If this is who we are, may we share that essence of being and action with the world
With conviction and with care for where we will go in the days to come.