Friday, April 26, 2013

May we be consecrated - Shabbat, bread and light - D'var Torah for EMOR - April 26, 2013

Yesterday was the 9th yahrzeit for my mother, Ruth Karol.    As I thought about her 85 years of life, the celebration of Shabbat and holidays in our home came to mind.  My mom would light candles every Friday night by reading from a pamphlet that the Reform movement published around 1960.   After reciting the blessing itself, my Mom read this phrase and I can recall as if it was yesterday: “May our Home be consecrated, O God, by Thy light.  May it shine upon us all in blessing as the light of love and truth, the light of peace and good will. Amen.”
     I also remember one of the places we frequented in Kansas City in my earlier years to buy Challah. It was called Shankman’s, and it was about 2 miles from our house. In addition to our usual challah request was the order for a loaf of “Chicago Rye” that we loved so much.  The challah we usually bought was the squarish type of loaf. We had it sliced, probably for sandwiches during the coming week, including the cheese sandwich my dad took to work every day.
      These are common memories for many of us if we grew up Jewish – watching the candles being lit, the wine blessing – usually over Mogen David concord grape wine in our house – and the motzi over challah.  I learned about making braided challah much later, but even if our challah came from the bakery, it was still the hands of our family that put it on the table. 
     These are important memories to retain – for me, and for any of you who have similar stories to tell about Shabbat in your home, whether now or in the past.     The Torah portion for this week, EMOR, describes the ancient rituals related to light and CHALLAH that created the foundation for what we do today.    Leviticus chapter 24 records the commandment to kindle lamps each day from evening to morning.  It used the words LHA-A-LOT NEIR TAMID for that practice.  This passage directed Aaron the high priest to set up lamps on a pure lampstand – a MENORAH – for lights that would burn regularly.   Finally, on every Shabbat, choice flour was to be baked into 12 loaves – CHALLOT – set in two rows of six to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.  It noted that the loaves were to be accompanied by pure frankincense as an AZKARAH – a memorial offering for the bread.  
    The word for “memorial” – AZKARAH – is translated in our New Jewish Publication Society English text as a “token” offering, but that word in Hebrew leaped out at me after I did a search in my home computer files for the name of the Torah reading for this week – E-M-O-R.  What came up in my search was not only the title of this week’s parashah.  I was also directed to words like….
Commemoration  - Memorial – Memorable - Memory
It was that search that was really my beginning point for considering the verses I am about to read, and the Hebrew word AZKARAH brings them together.   Reciting blessings for Shabbat, including for light and for bread, enable us not only to perform a ritual in the here and now but also to commemorate our past with sights, sounds and tastes that serve as an important foundation of our Jewish experiences.
    But there is more, because light and bread are powerful symbols for us as a congregation and community.    Light often signifies for us hope, inspiration, wisdom, insight, and faith that we have inside ourselves.  If we share our light with someone else, they benefit from what we gave them while our light still burns – just as the lighting candle on the candle table is still lit after the two Shabbat lights are kindled.   Bread is a basic need of life, one that we bless before we eat by giving God all of the credit for making it.  Does God really bring forth bread from the earth?  No, and yes.  God made the raw materials, and we make the bread – it is a perfect partnership – where WE are God’s hands, even if we buy challah from a local bakery.   As the two rows of CHALLOT represented the entire Israelite people bound together, the challah that we share after our service each Shabbat also represents us.  It is our hands that slice it, and when I carry the challah around on the tray for you to take a slice, it demonstrates not only how I can serve you, but how we can serve each other.  
       Reading from this section of the Torah tonight can give us a new perspective on familiar and time-honored Shabbat traditions.  It is a call for us as well to be God’s hands and heart as we sustain our community.  Based on the Shabbat pamphlet my mother used so long ago, we can now apply these words to us right here, right now: “May our homes and our congregation be consecrated, O God, by Your light.  May it shine upon us all in blessing as the light of love and truth, the light of peace and good will, and may we share that light with each other and with all of humanity.”  And let us say Amen.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"42" and the original Golden Rule - April 13, 2013

    My wife Rhonda and I went to see “42” today, an excellent retelling of the important story of Jackie Robinson’s rookie year with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  It is gratifying to know that this film will serve, from now on, to educate people of all ages about the how Jackie Robinson caused a sea-change in American culture.    
    Over 20 years ago, after years of hearing about Jackie Robinson’s story, Rhonda and I felt that it was our responsibility to be sure that our son Adam (now 27), a sports fan from early on, would know this story as well.  Peter Golenbock’s book, Teammates, effectively portrayed for children an incident that offered one of the most poignant moments in “42.”   The Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field early in 1947, Robinson’s rookie year.  As the crowd (which reportedly included some of Reese’s family from Kentucky) yelled hateful epithets at Robinson, Pee Wee Reese ran across the infield to put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder, to show solidarity in a way that silenced the crowd’s hatred.   In November of 2005, a statue of this scene was unveiled outside MCU  Park in Brooklyn, home of the New York Mets’ minor league affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones.
    This image of Reese and Robinson standing together captures the spirit of “42.”   In the film, Branch Rickey, played so well by Harrison Ford, noted that the Bible says that we should “love our neighbors as ourselves” and that it was time for that rule to apply to baseball (and other arenas of life, by extension).    As we saw the movie today, I was mindful of the fact that the Torah reading in synagogues and Temple throughout the world for this coming week includes Leviticus Chapter 19, the source of the commandment cited by Rickey.  The film made its debut in theaters just several days after Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed this past Sunday night/Monday.  One reference to anti-Semitism in the film related to the treatment of Hank Greenberg.  Ben Chapman, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1947, inaccurately claimed that Greenberg took the name-calling in stride in order to justify his verbal abuse of Robinson from the opposing dugout.  In fact, Greenberg approached the prejudice he faced in the same way that Robinson did, having the courage not to react or respond.
     It is ironic that, several days before “42” was released this weekend, it was reported in local news that the first base umpire serving at a high school baseball game between Gadsden High School and Alamogordo High School here in New Mexico threatened to eject any player who spoke Spanish during the game. The players were doing nothing wrong, and the home-plate umpire did tell his colleague that he had no authority to carry out his threat.  However, some of the  comments from readers of an online story about this incident were hateful, disrespectful and narrow-minded, including expressions that bore an uncanny resemblance to the prejudice that Jackie Robinson, Hank Greenberg, and others in other walks of life had to endure by holding their head high and not stooping to the level of the name-calling being thrust upon them. 
     “42” reminds us how far we have come in treating all people with dignity and respect and in acknowledging the strength of our diversity.  It also illustrates that we still have a distance to go when echoes of the racism and hatred portrayed in the movie are all too easy to find in some corners of our society.   The film portrayed Branch Rickey, in several instances, declaring that God would accept no excuses for our prejudice.  The commandments in Leviticus 19 that direct us to love our all people as ourselves can still guide us today as we seek to strengthen the moral foundation of our nation and as we continue to engender mutual understanding – and peace - throughout the world.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Prayer for Difficult Days - Tazria/Meztora 5773 - April 12, 2013

Eternal One, our sustainer, our light, our source of comfort
We read in the Torah this week about the how the priests were called upon
To diagnose maladies that appeared on the skin of their community members
Or in the plaster of their homes.
Their prescription for healing, we learn, was not intended to be medical, but spiritual, with the intention of  ultimately restoring purity and holiness to the people and to their surroundings.
So it is with us.
We may be experiencing physical pain which leads to emotional distress.
We may be dealing with seemingly insurmountable challenges in our own lives.
We may be assisting family members and friends who find themselves in dire straits.
Whether our own affliction is visible or not, it is real, it is difficult, and it may persist all too much in casting a dark shadow upon our waking hours
or remain with us as an obstacle to rest and quiet as we lie down at night.
You, Eternal One, are our hope, our strength, our wellspring of knowledge and our path towards emotional maturity. 
You calm our spirits and enrich our souls.
Enable us to be a dominion of priests to one another
as we reach out in love and concern to offer much needed help and understanding.
Empower us to gradually and effectively turn signs of sadness, dejection, anger and bitterness into banners of joy, satisfaction, acceptance and kindness.
As we pray to You for wholeness and completeness,
Renew in us a sense of your Oneness that binds all existence together
so that we can bring into the world and into our lives
Healing, unity, compassion and peace.