Friday, December 31, 2010

Don't ONLY Look Back - December 31, 2010

Time and life
require us
to move forward.
We may find
looking at
past choices and
crucial decisions
with, in some cases, pride,
and in others, regret.
We may believe
that we can fix
and redeem
mistakes and
errors in judgment
by using the same strategy
with minor modifications.
Sometimes, the lesson
we must learn
is that we must adopt
a totally new approach,
using newly-found wisdom
to fashion a different
foundation in our thinking.
To do so, we may need
to listen more intently
to the many voices
inside of ourselves
in order to find
a healthy combination
of head and heart,
rather than just one or the other.
Like Moses, we need to be brave and persistent.
Like Aaron, we must have words at our command that tell our story and clearly reveal our desires, even our demands
of ourselves and others.
Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,
whom we remember this month,
we need to find our dream,
our goal, and try to reach it
in a way that is peaceful
and hopeful
with words and actions
that can bring about change
because the ultimate aim itself
speaks to the core of
human decency and goodness.
As Moses and Aaron continued to cry to Pharaoh and all of Egypt,
“Let my people go!”
the people themselves
had to let go of the mindset
of a slave
one step at a time
So that when their day of liberty came, they would be ready
to focus on a future of freedom
rather than
harboring bitterness and hatred
at those who had so ruthlessly
oppressed them.
Every community
has an opportunity
to choose to move forward
with determination and hope,
looking at the new reality
of the present
recognize how it can lead
to the creation of a bright future
founded on generosity of spirit,
understanding and hope.
May we face the coming days
as one community
and along with all humanity
moving forward

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Reaching Higher - December 23, 2010

The sun was hot.
As taskmasters stood over them, the people attended to the work that had been forced upon them.
They could hear cries of agony around them,
And the calls of the foremen, chastising them for lack of energy
and for their supposedly slow progress.
Was this the life their recent ancestors had expected when they came to Egypt?
Was this the hallmark of this great civilization, building monuments
on the backs of slaves who were accorded no human dignity?
Still, when the day was over, the workers would return to their homes.
While they could not totally forget the toil of the past hours,
They took comfort in being one community.
From almost forgotten memories of preceding generations, they knew
That someone might arise again, like Joseph, to save them,
Or that someone like Jacob, who received his name Israel,
Meaning “one who struggles with God,”
Might help them find strength to face their own challenges
as their bondage grew more intense with each passing day.
One day, they caught a glimpse of a man who was one from among their people
Who, they heard, had grown up in among Egyptian royalty
And was now making his case to Pharaoh to end their servitude.
His protestations made their work even more difficult.
They didn’t know if they should hate him for the proclamation
Which he said came from their God, “Let My people go!”
Or, if they should be thankful that someone was trying to bring them hope
And strength and faith that a time of suffering and pain could end
And that they could once again live in dignity and freedom.
As they attended to their work day after day, some of them began to sense
A spark of optimism welling up inside of them,
A feeling that slavery was not the ultimate destiny of their people.
Some began to be grateful for this new leader and put all of their faith in him
And in the God for whom he said he spoke
But others realized that liberation would only begin
When they themselves, within their souls, began to imagine the freedom they deserved.
That was truly the beginning of their own liberty
When, even in a sea of cruelty,
They still could ascend, within themselves and, perhaps, along with others around them,
To a place that was higher and holy.

Rabbi Larry

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sacred Sites - December 17, 2010

Shabbat Shalom!

During our trip to Kansas City/Topeka last weekend (where we took part in a Father/Daughter B’nei Mitzvah in Topeka), Rhonda and I had the chance to make one of our periodic drives through my hometown to briefly revisit my past. The path took us by my elementary school, the house I grew up (right by the school), my high school, and, finally, to visit the graves of my parents, Joseph and Ruth Karol. That cemetery was originally adjacent to Congregation B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City, which moved to a new location in Overland Park, Kansas in 2002. This is one way we have to “see my parents,” so to speak, other than through photographs and memories. We stood by their graves for a few moments, perhaps waiting to hear some sage advice, but mainly, we felt the cold breeze moving through Rose Hill Cemetery. We hold that place as sacred, and we hope to return their whenever we have the opportunity. It is meaningful to me that my parents are buried in the shadow of the former Temple site where they were so involved in building community within the congregation which offered me important beginnings in my lifelong path of developing my personal and Jewish identity.

In the Torah reading for this week, Joseph and his entire extended family, having settled in Egypt, at least temporarily, made a return visit to their family’s roots. Their father Jacob died, and they knew what they had to do to give him a proper burial. The entire family, plus a very large entourage of Egyptian officials, traveled to Hebron, to the Cave of the Machpelah, the burial plot that would become known, eventually, as the “Tomb of the Patriarchs.” We could imagine that this experience of revisiting their origins had a great impact on Jacob’s children and grandchildren, as well as on the Egyptian leadership who had joined them. It was not only the site that had significance for them, but also the stories and memories of past generations that formed the beginnings of their family history, as well as the relationships that drew the family together. It is likely that Jacob’s burial strengthened the ties of his entire family to the land to which Abraham had journey three (and four) generations before, a land to which they would return only after emerging with rediscovered freedom from a long and difficult experience as slaves in Egypt.

It is likely that all of us have places that are sacred and special in our lives which reflect our personal and family history, the story of the web of our relationships, and moments when we took significant steps towards who we are now. Whatever those places may be, may they offer us strength, hope and inspiration as we revisit them in person or in our mind’s eye.

Rabbi Larry

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A View from the Heights - December 6, 2010

However we tell the story of Chanukah, one of the central aspects of the Maccabean victory for religious freedom was the nature of their cause. Part of their struggle was focused on the tyranny of the Syrian-Greek rulers who sought to eliminate the Judaism from their realm in order to unite the entire population of the Seleucid Empire under a banner of Greek thought, faith and culture. The other component of this conflict was that Jews who had totally adopt Greek customs had sided with the Seleucid rulers against the Maccabees and the many Jews of Judea who believed that they should have the right to be different, to retain their identity and heritage. The original tale, as recounted in the books of the Maccabees, and the “miracle story” we know so well from the Talmud (one day’s supply of oil burned for eight days), asserts that it was dedication to a higher purpose – acknowledging and celebrating God’s presence in their lives - that led the Jews of Judea to triumph in their struggle for freedom.
The Torah readings for last week and this week feature the touching narrative of the reunion of Joseph and his brothers and their subsequent reconciliation. In his conversations with his brothers as they again became a family, Joseph reiterated time and again that everything had happened for a reason: that it was God who had put him where he needed (as second to Pharaoh in Egypt) to be able to save his family from the throes of the famine in their land. However, he did not see himself as the hero of the situation. He was merely a conduit, enabling the divine plan for his family’s survival to unfold. Where it seemed, at the beginning of his story, that Joseph was full of himself and his ego, he was, as he reconciled with his brothers, filled with a sense of the higher purpose to which his dreams had led him and his family.
There are always higher purposes and causes to which we can dedicate ourselves: freedom, hospitality, friendship, strength of community, and local and global peace. In his book, I’M GOD, YOU’RE NOT, which I just began reading, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner makes the point time and again that we are at our best when we realize that life isn’t always about us individually, but, rather, about seeing ourselves as one member of a team, whether that team is a family, a congregation, a city, a nation or all humanity. This relates to what we might call the “altruistic impulse,” and it is also connected to the times when we say the Shema. When we declare that God is one, whether we are alone or at Temple, we become a part of Oneness of the universe, in which our uniqueness takes its rightful place in the greater whole. As we move forward in the coming months to find new ways to sustain our community and congregation, let us remember the higher purposes that can guide us on a sacred path.
Rabbi Larry

In the Lights - December 1, 2010

What do you see when you look into the Chanukah lights?
The first light is a beginning, an act of faith that this initial step of dedication to fulfilling this mitzvah will inspire us to complete tasks we begin.
The second light reflects companionship, as two candles stand side by side with the shamash looking on (almost as if the shamash represents the light of God shining upon us).
The third light signifies the beginning of community. Ecclesiastes tells us that two are better than one and that three are better than two (in sustaining a business or a community)! Three can often generate what two might not be able to accomplish.
The fourth light represents progress towards a goal, the halfway point from which we can look back upon how far we have come and from which we look forward to the experiences that await us.
The fifth light illustrates our persistence and focus on goals we have set for ourselves or for an entire community, as we recall the persistence required of the Maccabees in their fight for religious and political freedom.
The sixth light offers a hint of the warmth to come from the care that we have shown in lighting the Chanukiah, the same care, concern and warmth that can sustain a family, community or congregation.
The seventh light is a harbinger of hope that we have “made it this far” in our Chanukah journey and can see the culmination of our dedication in sight. Such hope can sustain us in all aspects of our lives.
The eighth light brings together joy, wonder, amazement and a feeling of accomplishment. Every night, besides reciting the blessings, we might read the prayer Haneirot Halalu, “these lights are holy.” May we find during Chanukah and throughout the year sacred moments that bring to mind and heart all of these values.
Happy Chanukah to all, from our home to yours!
Rabbi Larry

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chains of Events - November 24, 2010

Joseph dreamed two dreams
which his brothers and his father thought
illustrated Joseph's arrogance in the present
rather than his fortuitous leadership
in the future.
Joseph had no idea
nor did his father
or his brothers
that sharing his dreams
would lead to a chain of events -
slavery, incarceration,
interpreting dreams
to being second only to Pharaoh –
which would ultimately
save the lives of their family.
Any event, decision, conversation or dream
can be a part of such a chain.
That is why every moment of our lives
can be significant, even crucial to our future.
We may only discover the importance of one episode
when looking back to the past,
but such reflection can enable us
to sharpen our vision for the days to come.
May those days see us turn division into unity
and challenge into promise.
Rabbi Larry

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Come Together - November 18, 2010

Shabbat Shalom!
“Seeing your face is like seeing the face of God,”
said Jacob as he met his long-estranged brother Esau
for the first time in years.
Jacob felt that he knew what it was like to see God
from his mysterious wrestling match
with a “man” just before he crossed the Jabok River to face his brother.
Was this struggle all in his mind?
Was it real? Was it an angel? Was it God?
It didn’t matter, because the experience was real to him.
His struggle led to his new difficulty with walking due to a hip strain he had received
when he was alone, or, perhaps, not alone.
He had feared this reunion with his brother
because of the deceit to which he was a partner
that led to Jacob demanding the birthright of Esau
and taking the first-born son’s blessing with the help of his mother, Rebekah, who believed that Jacob’s destiny required drastic measure.
Jacob knew of Esau’s anger, and feared that he would not emerge
from this meeting alive.
Yet, as he saw Esau approaching, getting closer and closer,
he realized that there was something in Esau’s walk and his eyes
that reflected something other than hatred,
an assessment which was confirmed as the two brothers hugged and kissed.
Once Esau realized that he had all that he needed in life,
he was able to let go of the conflict with his brother
so that they could be in the same place once again
in a spirit of acceptance of each other’s individuality, and
perhaps, on some level, brotherly respect and love.
Jacob was still reluctant to reconcile enough to follow his brother and live alongside him after their meeting, but peace had finally been restored between the sons of Isaac.
As Jacob said, “seeing your face is like seeing the face of God,”
he acknowledged that touch of the divine in each person,
a realization which can, sometimes, lead to balance and equilibrium.
In communities, in families, and between nations,
conflicts may exist which are as serious as the tension between
Jacob and Esau, based in a past of mistrust and deceit, even hatred.
Like Esau and Jacob, when we accept ourselves as we are
and others as they are, we make room for the possibility
of an end to conflict and a beginning to renewed coexistence,
May we find such coexistence, even peace, in our lives and may our attitudes and actions lead to peace all around us.
Rabbi Larry