Monday, December 31, 2018

Listen...for the Oneness - A Poem/Prayer - for the Temple Beth-El Las Cruces January 19 Adelante Newsletter

Eternal God,
I declared again that you are One    
as I prepared for worship with my  
congregation on this coming Shabbat.
The Torah asks several times,
in the book of Deuteronomy,
for “Israel” to listen. 
I am Israel.  I am one among many who are Israel. 
I am Israel because my ancestry
is filled with generations
of members of the Jewish people. 
I am Israel because I am a struggler with You
as I look upon a world that does not always reflect
the relationships You want us to develop,
and the love You want us to extend to one another.
And I am listening.
I hear words that direct me to love You
and to love my fellow human beings.
I hear voices that cry for help and support.
I hear cries for freedom and
desperate prayers that call for an end
to oppression and hatred. 
I hear the sounds of my own community in prayer
singing together
Shema Yisrael: Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
No matter what the melody may be,
this declaration guides me. 
I call You our God, our YUD-HAY-VAV-HAY
because I believe that the letters in Your name
speak to the very essence of our existence:
The root word of Your name
means “is, was, will be”: EXISTENCE.
The letters themselves
can all be vowels that are quiet, even silent.
When spoken, they are like breathing,
expressing the self-contained rhythm
of our individual lives,
a rhythm which sustains all of us,
connecting us within a Oneness
that encompasses us all.
That Oneness is You. 
Some say that only You are real
and that we are actually inside of You.
Others say that You are an Intrinsic Presence
inside and outside each of us,
binding everything together
in ways which we recognize best
only when we close our eyes,
because we see only difference and division
when our eyes are open.
We often forget that,
when we say You are One,
we are professing connectedness
between one human being and another
and affirming our collective presence
in this world where we find ourselves,
trying to coexist in ways
that will prevent hurt and destruction.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
is an admission that we have a responsibility to         
reflect and practice, in all that we do,
Your love, Your care, and Your compassion
as we walk through our daily journey.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
demands of us not to shut each other out.
It challenges us to find paths to understanding,
to turn conflict into cooperation,
and to discover new ways to forge partnerships
that will truly make us one as You are One.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad
is a phrase that I have been saying and singing,
Eternal One, from my youngest days until now.
The sounds of many voices singing these words
as if they were one voice
stirs my soul
and reminds me that we have it within ourselves          
to truly connect with one another,                                 
to know one another,
and to accept one another
once and for all.
Be with us, Eternal, our God,
in whom we are One,
as we strive to create among us
some measure of the Unity
that is You.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Unconsumed - D'var Torah (An Original Midrash) for Parashat Sh'mot - December 28, 2018

     It was a hot day in the desert.   I did feel a trace of breeze blowing through my branches, but the air was still warm as it touched my leaves.
   There was very little movement around me.   I was mostly hidden from the shepherds passing by with their flocks.   The sounds of the sheep as they made their way forward always made me happy, reassuring me that there was growth and life all around me.
  One day, I felt a different wind engulf me. 
  It spoke to me.
  “Can you hear me?  Do you feel my presence?”
 I shook my leaves, as if to nod in acknowledgement.
  “You are a beautiful S’NEH (bush). You offer unique color to the terrain around you, here in this corner of the desert.”
   I had no idea why, all of a sudden, a voice addressed me.   I was speechless, as if I could talk at all, but I was overwhelmed.   Who was speaking to me?
   “Who are you?  It has been a hot but quiet day.  Why have you made your presence known to me?”
   “You don’t know?” Asked the voice.  “Certainly even a S’NEH such as you can recognize the One who created you.” 
    “My Creator?  You mean, you are.....the Eternal - the One who is always here?  The One has put life into my roots and branches and leaves?”
   “Yes, it is I who gives you existence now and who made your ancestors come to be.     I need something from you.”   The Eternal’s voice had a sense of urgency.
    “I know that you have heard the shepherds coming by with their flocks.  They rarely stop to see you.  I need one shepherd to see you.”  
     I was puzzled. “Eternal One, why would this particular shepherd need to see me?  And how will I get his attention?   I can’t cry out or shake my branches so that the sound will be heard all around.”  
     My Creator answered me, “I have a way to make you seem to be on fire.  You will have a brilliant appearance that will beckon this one man to come to see why you look like you are burning AND why the fire is not destroying you.”  
      “I will need him to see you because of the spectacle of your ability to defy being consumed by the fire.  You see, this man, Moses, was raised not too far away in Egypt by the rulers of the country.  He is not one of them.   He is a Hebrew. You have sensed the passing of Hebrews moving in the desert not too far from you from time to time.  Some of them are now slaves in Egypt.  They are made to do hard work, and if they don’t complete their daily tasks, they may be cruelly beaten, even killed.   Moses has fled because he was so angered when he saw a taskmaster beating a slave that he murdered the Egyptian to end the heartless treatment of one of his brethren.”
  “I need you need to teach Moses this lesson:  that even though it may seem that his people will be vanquished under the harsh labor of the Egyptians, they will not be.  Nothing, not even this level of cruelty, can consume them, just like the apparent fire will not consume you.  I will speak to him from your leaves and branches, and he will hear my voice, and he will know that I will be with him as I direct him to free his people from bondage.”
   I couldn’t believe this honor that my Creator would think to bestow upon me. 
“Eternal One, I am humbled by your request.   Please, do what you need to do, make Your presence known to Moses through me.  I will help you and Moses bring freedom to his people.”
   Moses came, and his people were freed with God’s help.
    And as for me...that glow from my Creator still remained.  And I realized how my life had changed.   I knew that, when people would tell this story, I would always be a symbol of the possibility of endurance and perseverance against seemingly insurmountable odds - but only if people would turn aside, open their eyes, and see that God always stands ready to carry them to a new place of promise and hope.  
     I pray from the depth of my roots that they will, in their time of need, turn aside, open their eyes, and see.

The Almond Tree - A new original midrash for the January 2019 El Paso Jewish Voice

    The Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was wondering what had happened.  

    Everything was quiet.   There had been people there.  Two of them.  They were gone. She asked the Tree of Knowledge if he knew why there had been a change.   He told her to speak to the Eternal One.  

    “Eternal One!” 

    There was silence.  Then there was a voice. 

    “Yes, my Eitz Chayim, did you call?” 

    “Why is it so quiet?  Where did the people go? Did I do something to make them leave?”  The Tree of Life was extremely concerned. 

     The Eternal One reassured her, “No, Tree of Life.  You did nothing wrong.  They did, though.  I had told them not to eat of your fruit or the fruit of your companion, the Tree of Knowledge.  They did eat his fruit, and it opened their eyes in a way that made it impossible for them to stay here.”  

      Eitz Chayim replied, “My Creator, I am sad.   I was actually getting to like having them around.  Where did they go?  Will they be safe?”  

     The Eternal One was reassuring, “Yes, they will be secure.  They will have to work hard to survive.  I will be watching them and inspire them to grow when necessary.  Don’t worry about them.” 

      Eitz Chayim was not convinced. “Source of all life, I AM worried.   Will they always realize You won’t be far away from them while they are living in their new home?  Will they be able to overcome their fears and to live and thrive?  Will they make the right decisions for their future?   They might need a lot of assistance. I want to help!” 

      The Eternal One thought for a moment.  “Eitz Chayim, would you like to be closer to them?” 

      “Yes, my Creator, Yes!”   

     The Omnipresent One looked intently at the Tree of Life, causing a soft wind to move her leaves on her branches.  “I have a proposal for you.  I will send you out into the world.  There will be many other trees out there.  You will make friends with them.  You will guide them.  You will be My eyes and ears to make sure that the people - and there will be many of them - will treat my plants and creatures with great care.   They will tend to you, help you grow, and make more trees grow like you.   You will be called an almond tree - SHAKED, or, in your case, SH’KEYDIAH - and they will make many of you in all of the places where you can grow.”   

      “And I will give you a special gift.   Some of the people will follow a man named Moses, who will lead them to freedom after hundreds of years of enduring cruel slavery.   I will instruct Moses, their leader, to have them make a seven-branched symbol of light that will look like you.   It will feature shapes of almond blossoms on top.  And you, my Eitz Chayim, will be able to watch them (SHAKAD) day and night not only through all your tree children, but in any place where their light symbol - the Menorah - will stand in the special houses where they will worship Me and pray about taking care of the world - including you - and each other.”   

      “Really, Eternal One?  That is so kind of you.  I will do what you ask!”  The Tree of Life was excited about her new existence among the people.  

      “ more thing.  When it gets cold in the places where you grow, you will be the first tree to show your blossoms.  That will so amaze the descendants of Moses and his people that they will celebrate a New Year of Trees.   It will be called Tu Bish’vat.  It will be a day to remind them to care for the world, including you and your fellow trees, because this is the only world they will have.” 

      The Eitz Chayim was ready.  “My Creator, I will watch them and guide them. I promise!  Lead me to my new home!”  


Friday, December 21, 2018

A Patriarch's Legacy - A Midrash - D'var Torah - Parashat Vay'chi - December 21, 2018

Jacob had just finished blessing his grandchildren 

And was preparing to speak to his children to tell them of their future. 

He was alone, in the comfort of his quarters in Egypt

Provided by his son Joseph
Not only for him
But for his entire family
That had come down from Canaan
In the second year of a famine.
They would live.  They would survive.
Jacob was relieved.  
Yet, he still remembered the message
Passed down to him from his parents and grandparents.
God had told his grandfather,
"Know now that your descendants shall be strangers in a land not theirs;
they shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years.
But then I will bring judgment upon the nation they are serving;
after that they shall go out with many possessions.”
But, for the moment, Jacob felt safe where he was, as he knew his death neared.
He was weary as the night came.
And he fell asleep.
He had a dream.
He was on a ladder.  
He remembered, “I have seen this ladder before.
But I was standing below.   Now I am high above the ground.
I have ascended.  But why?  How did I get here?”
He didn’t realize that another presence was with him.
“You climbed the ladder, Jacob.  I wasn’t sure you would.”
It was God. 
Jacob couldn’t see the Eternal, but he could sense
That God was speaking from above.
“What was I supposed to do, my Creator? 
You showed me this ladder when I was young,
Just after I had left my home to escape the wrath
Of my brother Esau.   I realized that stepping onto the ladder
Meant that I needed to live.  I couldn’t be immobilized and stuck
In my fear and trepidation.”
God was impressed.  “Jacob, or should I say, Israel, you have done well.”
Jacob was doubtful at this evaluation, even from the Eternal One.
“My God, I deceived my brother Esau, and when he sincerely asked me
To come with him, I declined.  I favored one wife over another.
I then favored the children of Rachel over the others. 
And I realize now that the rivalry of my life, with my brother,
was passed down to my children.  The consequences
could have been disastrous.”
God was silent, and then spoke.
“Jacob - Israel - you have a new name because you were willing to struggle
To reunite with your brother.   It wasn’t about following him.
It was about facing him, even once, where you could be yourself,
Confident, courageous, comfortable in your own skin.
And you now know that what appeared to be a tragic end for Joseph
Was part of a plan to bring your family to safety in Egypt.
How do you think Joseph was able to succeed without you
as an exemplar?   No, you weren’t perfect. 
But your relationships that could have been forever tinged with deceit
Found a resolution.
Even with the favoritism you extended to one wife and her children,
You were a dedicated father who supported and preserved your entire
Household.    You struggled with my angel and prevailed.
You struggled with life, even with moments of mourning and sadness,
Even when your some of your children did not do what you wished.
You are still here.  You and the generations of your family are all together.   What more could you want?”
Jacob was not yet convinced.  “Eternal One, how will my descendants think of me?   Will they only see the deception that began in my childhood?  Or will there be something more that they will remember?”
God was reassuring.
“Jacob, Israel, my child,
You have ascended this ladder because of all the good you have done.
You have loved.
You have pursued your goals with passion.
You have met challenges in your life with perseverance.
You have looked upon your grandchildren, held them and blessed them.
That blessing was not only a passing on of your faith, but an expression of gratitude.   
Remember, a long time ago, you declared,‘If God is with me and watches over me on this path that I am taking and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father's house, then will the Eternal be my God.’ 
Jacob, I never heard that as a lack of faith or trust in me. 
You didn’t know how your life would unfold, but here you are.
You are still dreaming of Me and how I have been with you
And I am with you now.
Look down.”
Jacob looked below and saw his whole life laid out as if it was a landscape.
God told him,
“This is who you have been, and who you have become.
Do you know what your children’s children and their descendants
will call themselves?
B’nai Yisrael - the children of Israel - Your children.
They will remember you as family, as an ancestor – a patriarch - who had a vision that, in many ways, he was able to realize.  
Don’t get off this ladder, Jacob.  History needs you to keep climbing.”
“I won’t get off, Eternal One. 
I will hold on tight and move up, rung by rung.”
Suddenly, Jacob awoke in his bed.  He was in Egypt, with his family.
Night had become morning. 
The promise of his dream earlier in life
Had become a legacy he had passed to his children and grandchildren.
He knew that they would thrive.  They would face challenges to their very well-being.
But they would live and climb up their own ladder
Rung by rung. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reveal our Lights - D’var Torah - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board meeting - December 13, 2018

Eternal God,

Our Creator

Who rolls darkness away from light,

Uncover and reveal the lights inside of us that You have nurtured throughout our lives

The light of kindness, which guides us to offer support and concern to our fellow human beings and to overcome heartlessness and cruelty; 

The light of truth, which leads us to discover, speak and share what is true and real and to gives us the strength to prevent deception from allowing justice and fairness to flourish;

The light of wisdom, which enables us to develop our most creative ideas and to share them in ways that engender cooperation;

The light of patience, which makes it possible for us to be accepting of others when we might not otherwise not be;

The light of leadership, which gives us the opportunity to find new abilities within ourselves and to inspire others;

The light of healing, through which we are able to let go of past hurts that can cause us pain and hold us back, and to overcome the challenges to our well-being that are a part of our present; 

The light of dedication, which binds us together in vision, friendship, and community as we walk our common path side-by-side. 

Be with us, Eternal One, and may Your light always make our lights shine.  

Friday, December 7, 2018

Faiths United in Humility, Patience, Service to Others - Column for Las Cruces Bulletin on December 7, 2018

     Several days before Thanksgiving, beginning in 2015, Temple Beth-El’s Social Action and Adult Education committees have sponsored a program of interfaith dialogue on a chosen theme.  Several local clergy and faith leaders offer their perspectives on the topics, and then they lead program participants in small group discussions reflecting on the presentations. 

     This year, at the program on November 18, the theme was “With Liberty and Justice for All - Leadership, Justice and Unity: What Can We Achieve Together?”  

       To begin, I shared two prayers for our country from Jewish prayerbooks. Both prayers spoke about liberty, justice, unity, and respect. 

      Father Ron Catherson (St. John’s Catholic Church of Antioch) defined liberty as “the power to act,” and explained that the freedoms we are granted in our country (religion, speech, peaceful assembly, etc.) carry with them responsibility and consequences.  We can use our freedom to treat others with respect and love. 

      Pastor Donna Cavedon (First Christian Church) declared that people of faith respond to the injustices they witness based on their sacred texts.   Religious teachings, rather than politics, form the foundation of a belief that justice is only justice when it is justice for all. 

      Sureyya Husain (Islamic Center of Las Cruces) said that “it is the foundation of faith to hold fast to humility that teaches us to honor the differences among us.  We are admonished to stand firm for liberty, and for justice, and to not let the hatred of any people prevent us from being just.”  

      The Rev. Carol Tuck (United Methodist), in her remarks on leadership, focused on biblical examples of leaders who served the people.   Public service is a privilege that citizens need to honor and support, because so many public servants do their work without appreciation.   Competent servant leadership is necessary for accomplishing justice and liberty for all. 

      Gordon Butler, from the Baha’i community, addressed the topic of unity.  Religion, he said, has the true purpose of bringing unity to humankind.  Even when some human communities have been at war with each other, there has always been a persistent pursuit of peace, stability, and dignity for our fellow human beings.  

       The Rev. Dr. Harvey Daiho Hilbert (Founding Abbot and Senior Teacher of the Order of Clear Mind Zen) explained that “the path of unity of spirit is a path of getting out of our own way.  When we can do that, all faith traditions can come together.  It is rather like setting ourselves aside for the sake of the higher good.” 

       Pastor Jared Carson (Peace Lutheran Church) spoke about collaboration, which he characterized as “hard, complex and messy,” but it begins when we are willing to put ourselves in the same place with people from other faith traditions. 

      Insightful comments emerged from the small group discussions following the presentations: 

  • People recognized how their respective faith traditions help them handle change in their lives.
  • Caring for others and being present with them can give us a clear perspective about their realities.
  • Collaboration and cooperation are not about being in agreement, but, rather, about the desire to be together. We, as human beings, don’t want to be alone. 

    This time of year features celebrations that are characterized by symbols of light.   May we be guided in our own lives and in our connections to the greater community by the lights of understanding and respect that can lead us all to freedom, justice and unity.  

Saturday, December 1, 2018

The Angel Who Sent Joseph on his Way - Parashat Vayeishev - D’var Torah - November 30, 2018

I didn’t want to go. 

But I was told I had to go. 

I knew about Joseph’s dreams

And his conflicts with his brothers

Because Joseph seemed to be expressing delusions of grandeur.

That view was only the understanding

Of the rest of his family.  

He was only telling them

Of the visions that had come to him as he slept. 

He was a dreamer then

But not yet an interpreter of dreams. 

That would come later.   

God told me,

“Go meet Joseph when he is searching for his brothers 

At the behest of his father.  Show him the way.”

I didn’t want to go. 

I told God, “Eternal One, you know what will happen if I tell Joseph

The location of his brothers. 

They are conspiring, even now,  

to exile him from the family one way or another. 

And we know, God, what will happen. 

They will sell him and he will end up in Egypt

Where he will meet his destiny.

His dreams will come true. 

His father and his brothers will bow down to him. 

He will be in control of the situation

Because he will learn to explain the dreams of others. 

But why, God, must he spend so much time in prison? 

Why must he suffer to make his dreams come to pass? 

God reassured me, “I will make the time pass quickly. 

People never know how one moment 

Can be so important, so pivotal, to their future. 

You have to be there to point him in the right direction.

His brothers will not appreciate his presence when he finds them. 

But they will remember after he is gone

After they have lied to their father about the death of his favored son

That Joseph had come to them 

In peace and in service to them and to the family. 

You, of all angels, know about brothers who will eventually

Find their common bonds

Find their connection

And find, on some level, the love between them. 

I sent you to be with Jacob before he met with Esau after so many years, 

And they reconciled, but only because you did so well

In wrestling with Jacob, helping him to find his true self, 

giving him his new name, Israel.

If you send Joseph to greet his brothers, 

Even knowing what they will do to him in the moments to follow,

You will set in motion the survival of Joseph and his whole family. 

So go, send him on his way.  

He will find himself, and his place in the world.

And he will be reunited with his brothers and save them.” 

I thought for a moment, and said, 

“Eternal God, my teacher, my guide, I will go 

Only if you promise to grant Joseph and every human being

An extra measure of compassion 

So that when they feel they are conflict with each other

To the point of no return,

They will be able to deeply sense each other’s feelings

To understand one another

And they will remember that they are brothers and sisters, 

Part of the same family.” 

God told me, “If you go send Joseph on his way,

I will grant your request.  People will be so inspired

By the story of the eventual reunion of Joseph and his brothers

That they will find a way to do the same with each other.  

Even when people feel they are far apart,

They will still find a way to come together.”

So I went, and I prayed for the reconciliation of humanity 

Throughout their generations 

So that they would know

Harmony and peace.  

So may there be among us.