Saturday, July 15, 2017

Lessons from Shabbat - Living, learning and caring

  I have been reading about people of other faiths claiming that there are threats to their religious life, even though their faith comprises a clear majority in our country. 
   As for me, I find that there are many programs and events that comport with my views that I would like to attend, but I am, at the time, observing my Shabbat, as a member of a faith that is in an extreme minority.   I, as a leader of my congregation, have only one choice on Shabbat, which is to be in front of my congregation leading worship. 
   So what do I do at that time? 
   I focus on the value of rest after the labors of the week.  Some people will say to me, "You are a rabbi, and you are working on Shabbat. How is that rest?"   Actually, it is, because it is my duty and privilege to create a space for my congregants that enables them to step out of life for a little while,  to join their voices together in prayers that are ancient and always new, and to develop insights through offering my own words or by engaging those present in discussion.  And...the music of our worship is, for me, relaxing, restful, and nourishing, and the voices that I hear back from the congregation nourish and nurture me in return. 
    There is great meaning in the prayers and rituals of every single worship service.   The light of the Shabbat candles, the Eternal light and the lights of the menorah in the sanctuary are an expression of the enduring faith of our community and the persistent presence of God's Oneness among us. 
    The Psalms that welcome Shabbat declare not only the majesty of the divine but essential role of justice in the world and the need for people to be "upright in heart," because that approach brings more light to the world.
    Jewish liturgy leads worshippers on a journey from honoring creation and the daily re-creation happening around us to feeling the love of the divine when we study on our own and with each other. We express the ways in which we can return that love and we recall past moments of redemption so that God can redeem the world through our actions. 
     The central section of the service, The Prayer (T'filah), offers praise for God and as having been with us throughout our history.  We are directed to perform acts in the world as a reflection of godly values and divine character:  lifting up the fallen, healing those who are ill, freeing the captive, and infusing the world with our own life-giving powers.  
      We are called upon to seek ways in which we can be holy (like God is holy) and to make Shabbat holy be regenerating ourselves for our work in the world.  We ask for a special spirit to envelop us every day, and we give thanks for all of the gifts we enjoy in our lives.   Our prayer for peace has endured for centuries, and we recite it over and over, week after week, hoping that we will be alive at a time when nations and people will discover a way to truly make peace a reality.    We pray for a time when the Oneness that we ascribe to God will overcome us and lead us to find the oneness that could be our destiny.   We remember people who have died, whose lives and spirits could move us to act in such a way that expresses the best they had to give while they were among us. 
     I am privileged to live in a nation where I can go to my Temple and practice my faith.   Freedom of religion allows me that right.   
     So, if I can do that, does that make me a threat to those who seek to express their faith, and possibly impose it on others who do not share their perspective, thinking we have "lost our way"? 
     Am I a threat because I insist on living my faith, and writing about it, and singing about it? 
     Am I a threat because I believe in a set of holy books that I consider complete and that continue to teach me many truths? 
     Am I a threat because recurring verses from the Bible about helping people in need resonate more with me than statements that some would construe as blaming people in need for their plight? 
      Am I a threat because I see welcoming the stranger as axiomatic in my faith, and because I would apply that to issues such as immigration, seeing in aspiring citizens from any background the image of my grandparents?   
      Am I a threat because my belief that every person is created the divine image means that what matters most is what is on the inside of a person, so that there is an intrinsic equality that should guide how we treat each other? 
      Am I a threat because I believe both men and women should study, learn, discuss, and serve the community as equal partners? 
      Am I a threat because I affirm the Jewish view that the righteous among all nations can bring about hopeful future by working together?   
       I don't think I am a threat at all, nor are others like me. There is so much work to be done that could improve the world and move humanity in a positive direction.  
        I need the values that emanate from my worship to do my work in the world.   I know that there are people who are my partners int he community who do respect my time, and I would hope they would give me chances to stand together with them at times when I am not in worship.   
        And for those who may not grant me a position among the faithful, perhaps it is time to sit, talk and find a direction that will put us on a path that will make real this verse from Psalms: "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart."   
       We need more light.  Let's make it happen. 


  1. Thank you for your response. I do my best to keep living these values in the best way I know how.

  2. Larry, you are not working on Shabbat as you lead services because you completed your work in anticipation of the honor bestowed upon you by your congregation to lead them, as a member of the congregation, in prayer and worship! Explains it?