Saturday, April 30, 2011

Holiness in our hands and hearts - April 29, 2011

Shabbat Shalom!
During his presentation last night, Rabbi Bill Leffler presented ideas from his book,
The Structure of Religion. Among the aspects of Jewish life that he emphasized was the centrality of making moments and life holy through our behavior. The Torah portion for this week, KEDOSHIM, begins with the declaration: “You shall be holy, for I , your Eternal God, am holy.” Leviticus Chapter 19 continues with a list of ways/behaviors which can lead us to holiness. We read this portion from the Torah on Yom Kippur afternoon to remind us how we can infuse the coming year with the sanctity we sense on the High Holy Days.
I once asked Temple leaders to put some of the verses of Leviticus Chapter 19 into modern terms, with suggestions for actions (doing mitzvot) that we are attainable and relevant today. Here is their list, and you can arrive at your own interpretations as well (feel free to email me with your ideas!).
Revere your mother and father: Be respectful of seasoned leadership.
Keep my Sabbaths: attend and study at home or anywhere.
Leave the corners of your fields for the poor and the stranger: Give tzedakah, give donations to local food pantries, support agencies that provide shelter, assistance and hot meals for people in need.
You must not steal: don't take credit for someone else's ideas.
You must not act deceitfully nor lie to one another: Don't go back on your word....Be honest.
Do not oppress your neighbor: Respect differences between people.
The wages of a laborer should not remain with you overnight until morning: Pay bills and employees on time.
Do not curse the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind: make all programs and homes/buildings accessible as much as possible.
Judge your neighbor justly: make fair decisions.
Do not slander others: Don't gossip.
Do not seek vengeance: Don't try to get even with anyone.
Do not bear a grudge: Forgive (but not necessarily forget).
Love your neighbor as yourself: Be considerate....don't do to someone else what is hateful to you.
Treat strangers like citizens: Welcome newcomers to your community.

This “holiness code” is still very much a part of who we are as individuals and as a people/community. Let us continue to strive to make our lives and our actions sacred in the days to come.
Rabbi Larry K.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Assuring Freedom - April 22, 2011

As we watch the changes happening before our eyes in the Middle East,
we witness cries for freedom
from people who have not truly known liberty of their own choosing
or of their own creation.
The objective of working for freedom by trying, first, to end tyranny,
is to prevent the possibility of the formation of another regime
that would use tactics that could be characterized as dictatorial or tyrannical
but would never admit that it was doing so.
Escaping Pharaoh meant leaving his form of leadership behind
and NOT paving the way for the ascension of yet another Pharaoh.
Achieving freedom carries with it the responsibility to preserve liberty
through an attempt to make everyone feel that they are part of the consensus.
At a Pesach seder, everyone should have a place at the table. It should be the same for citizens of a nation – everyone should feel as if he or she has a place at the table, with values of respect, compromise and partnership serving as the foundation of communal life.
Let us pray that more people will live in nations based on such values
in the days and years to come.
Rabbi Larry

A Journey to Integrity - April 15, 2011

Shabbat Shalom!
The Seder ritual awaits us. Many of us will gather around a Seder table in our own home, in someone else's home, at a congregation, or perhaps, even, at Temple Israel Dover! We always seem to find meaning in the practices that have become part of the Seder, perhaps because the theme of moving from slavery to freedom resonates with every generation of humanity. The Torah reading for this week begins with a description of the ancient observance of Yom Kippur, the solemn day that offers us a chance to free ourselves from our past mistakes and move forward with a strong resolve to seek a path of integrity. That quest for integrity is also a theme of Passover. The examples of cruelty contained in the tale demonstrate to us that being human means opening our hearts to the cries and needs of others as much as we are able. On this coming Pesach, may we be responsive to global calls for freedom and may we extend our hands to those in need through our own efforts and through the combined generosity of neighborhoods, organizations, states and nations.
Best wishes for a Chag Samayach - a happy Pesach!
Rabbi Larry

A cure to isolation - April 8, 2011

Shabbat Shalom!
Over the years, I have heard many approaches to this week’s Torah portion, Metzora, which focuses on how to deal with “skin affections,” usually identified as leprosy (Hansen’s disease) on people. There is a section that deals with “growths” that appear in homes as well. The goal of this section was not to promote health as much as it was to ensure ritual and spiritual purity. The Torah specifies how someone who had a particular disease was to be quarantined and how that person could again become part of the community as they became whole again.
All of us may have had experiences, not necessarily illnesses, that have made us feel isolated from a community. There are always paths of healing and return available to us. Sometimes we need time to think about our place in the web of relationships in our lives, and what may be required to return to communal life may be a change in attitude, on our part or someone else’s. Rabbinic commentaries chose to discuss this section of the Torah by “playing” with the word for leprosy, metzora, and turning it into “Motzi sheim ra,” meaning someone who spreads “evil talk” or speaks evil about someone, thus defaming their “sheim,” name. They believed that pure, positive and truthful speech was essential to sustaining a productive and sacred community. They cautioned that only listening to gossip or slander, even without repeating it, could compromise the integrity of a community.
We live in a world where words can spread at the click of a button to thousands of people. May we always strive to seek purity inside ourselves and in the words the emerge from our lips.
Rabbi Larry