Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A doorway to blessing - July 31, 2012 (for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Adelante newsletter)

On August 8, Rhonda and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.   During our marriage, we have lived in four different cities and participated as members (and leaders) within four different Jewish communities.  What we believe for the community in which we live begins at home:  respect, patience, caring, love, communication, blessing, warmth and hope.   In each of our homes, the mezuzah in our doorway reflects these and other values, embodied in passages from book of Deuteronomy that we will read in early August. The command “inscribe these words on the doorposts of your house and on your gates!”  directs each of us to make our home a Mikdash M’at, a “small sanctuary. ”   A Temple/synagogue building, which also bears a mezuzah, is a “larger sanctuary,”  a holy place characterized by our tradition as a Beit K’nesset, house of meeting, a Beit T’filah (house of prayer) and Beit Midrash (house of study). 
    The mezuzah and its contents, with quotes on the parchment from Deuteronomy Chapters 6 and 11, offer us lessons that relate to who we are and what we do as members of a Jewish community and the human
· The command to love God means that we should also find a way to love and respect our fellow community members, who were also created in the image of God.  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the commandment from Leviticus 19, is preceded by verses that direct us to be forthright and thoughtful in what we say and do in order to assure that love and concern are at the basis of our lives together.
· When you relate to people and ideas, be sure to engage your whole being—the fullness of your heart, mind and soul.
· Ceremonies such as Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a graduation do not signify an end to learning.   Each milestone marks the beginning of a new phase in expanding our knowledge and wisdom.   Opportunities to study the texts of our tradition are intended not only to make us more familiar with our heritage but also to see how Jewish teachings offer us a unique perspective on current events. 
· We should not keep our keenest insights about life to ourselves.  We should speak about and share our unique perspective with family members, friends, colleagues and all people, who can also teach us what they have come to know from their experiences. 
· Every moment of our lives offers us an opportunity to learn something new:  when we are at home or on the road, at the end of a long day or in the morning when we wake up, ready to face the new day.
· What we do should accurately and genuinely reflect the best of who we are.  Our actions are a sign of our core beliefs and values.  They have the potential to define us as people who are dedicated, generous, caring and kind.
· The mezuzah is placed in the entrance of a home or Temple/Synagogue built by people.  It can signify our gratitude for the good work of human hands and remind us to “build” in a positive way with our words and our deeds. 
· Physical symbols like the mezuzah remind us to live up to a particular standard set by those who came before us.  Organizations, sports teams, businesses and nations gain reputations based on how their members or citizens act in the name of the group or country.   The mezuzot in the doorways of our homes or at Temple represent a sign from the past that challenges us to be the best community we can be, one that seeks to reach into the hearts of all who walk through our doors with concern, support and guidance that can sustain us at all times.
        The mezuzah is more than a small container affixed to a doorway.  It can inspire us to create small worlds of blessing and peace within the walls of our homes and our congregation so that we can, in turn, bring greater blessing and peace to the entire world. 

Friday, July 27, 2012

True Remembrance - July 27, 2012

     Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on the news of the attacks of last week, one an act of terrorism in Bulgaria, the other, in Aurora, Colorado, an apparent expression of the inner turmoil of one young man who now claims that he has no memory of his violent and murderous rampage. 
    I have also been listening intently to all statements leading up to the opening of the Olympics regarding the request for a moment of silence in memory of the Israeli athletes who were murdered by members of the Palestinian Arab Black September movement 40 years ago.  
    And, I went to see the movie, “The Dark Knight Rises” this week in order to gain the perspective of director Christopher Nolan on how we can make order out of chaos.   Nolan’s Batman/Bruce Wayne began the movie devastated at past events that left his Batman persona in disgrace. He had taken responsibility for murders committed by the late district Attorney Harvey Dent.  Dent had almost succeeded in his plan to take vengeance on everyone who had a hand in the death of his fiancĂ©e Rachel Dawes, until Batman stopped him.   Rather than subject Gotham City to the truth of a good man gone bad,  Police Commissioner Gordon went along with Batman’s plan to sustain a lie. He supported for 8 years the observance of an annual memorial to Dent’s supposed legacy of tough justice and courage.    New laws that put more criminals behind bars restored order to the city, but the chaos of Harvey Dent’s turn from goodness to evil was lurking under the surface.  Lawlessness eventually emerged with full force, and only the return of Batman would give Gotham City even a slight chance to overcome new threats to its very existence.
    The occurrence of an annual memorial event based on false premises in “The Dark Knight Rises” made me realize that the Jewish community has a great deal to teach the world about mourning and memory.   Tomorrow night begins Tish’ah B’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem.  Actually, the ninth of Av begins at sunset tonight, but we don’t observe a day of fasting and mourning on Shabbat.   Why is it that we have marked this somber anniversary for so many centuries?   Jerusalem became, as one passage in a Reform prayerbook declared, “the capital city of our souls.”   The rabbis saw the Holy of Holies in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem as the spiritual center of the universe.  Our daily, Shabbat and holiday prayers highlight the central place of that city in our heritage.    Jewish sources state that the Second Temple was destroyed by “baseless hatred.”  This is the type of hatred that persists even when the reason for one person’s animosity towards another person is removed, when acts toward rectification and apologies have been offered but have no effect.   At that point,   when one person continues to hate with no reason, because he or she feels that only his or her feelings are what count, mutual respect and compassion disappear.  What may endure is at least a small measure of societal chaos, because what could be set right will never reach a satisfactory resolution.    When we observe Tish’ah B’av, we mention the claim that baseless hatred was rampant among the Jews at that time in order to lead us now from chaos to order, from undirected grief to shared memory.  The hope is that, in our common recollection of a tragedy, we will, in OUR time, find unity.   
     Family members of the Israeli athletes have been calling for years for a moment of silence to recall their loved ones who were murdered in the Olympic village in Munich in 1972.  One reported recently that an Olympic official told her 16 years ago that any moment of silence also needed to mention the Palestinians members of Black September who died in Munich.   What we have heard this year is that a moment of silence would “politicize” the games.   Yet, the Israeli athletes went in peace to Munich in 1972 to compete with their colleagues from around the world.    The members of Black September are said to have not cared about their own lives, only about the release of their comrades from Israeli prison, marring the spirit of peaceful competition that should always pervade the Olympics.    They may have had a political point based on their own views, but their choice of when and how to make it has reverberated through the decades since as a shattering of the hope that the international games can truly reflect peace. 
   So it has been reported that Palestinian Olympic Committee chair Jibril Rajoub has written to the International Olympic committee thanking the members for refusing to allow a moment of silence.  He said that the request for such a moment was “racist,” and added: “Sports are a bridge for love, communication and the spreading of peace between nations and should not be used for divisiveness and the spread of racism.”  The Palestinian authority, in 2010, honored, with a military funeral, Amin Al-Hindi, one of the planners of the Munich Olympics attack on the Israeli athletes.  
     Perhaps we have come a long way since 1972, but perhaps the steps toward “peaceful competition” have gone backwards to the point where politics can never totally be removed from the Olympics.   It is more than ironic that the very group that perpetrated the act is now declaring a moral high ground, stating as their view the very reason - “sports are a bridge for love and peace” -  why the 1972 massacre should never have happened.   It feels like justice is topsy-turvy and that chaos is gaining a greater foothold in a world that needs justice and peace. 
    It was reported this morning that the Lebanese Judo Olympic team, which was practicing right next to the Israeli team, said that they would not continue until a barrier was erected so they wouldn’t have to look at the Israelis.   Their request was granted and a temporary wall was put in place.    
   This is not the world that we want, I am sure.  The familiar words of Hinei Mah Tov from Psalm 133 are still with us as a goal and as a beacon of unity.  But even with those words, Martin Samuel Cohen explained, in his commentary on the Psalm, that it probably should be translated, “How good and how pleasant it would be” when people dwell together in unity.  How good indeed it would be to know that the athletes marching into the stadium for the opening ceremonies at each Olympiad could truly see each other as brother and sister.   So many people in the world have focused on one word in the phrase “Israeli athlete” rather than the other.  It is the word ATHELTE that should be considered first, because it refers to a human being who has developed a skill in a particular sport and is willing to put his or her ability on the line alongside other similarly skilled athletes from all over the world.   We do have a certain sense of wanting OUR nation to win as many medals as possible, but we like to hear stories of the people of all nations who have made the Olympic Games a sports spectacle to behold.    The remembrance should be in the statistics and not in the incidents of disrespect, disruption, or political hatred that, sadly, find their way onto the field of competition.  
    So let us take a moment of silence of our own tonight to remember the Israeli athletes who died without their hopes of competition realized.  Let us pray that peace will find its way to win over hatred and chaos not only on the field but throughout the world in the times between the many Olympiads to come.   

Friday, July 20, 2012

Refuge...and safety - July 20, 2012

We read in this week’s Torah portion of the command
to create cities of refuge,
places to where one who caused a death
unintentionally or accidentally
could flee to escape the relative of the victim
who was coming to take vengeance, to settle the score
in order to restore a balance between the two families.
One who committed manslaughter 
was still responsible for taking a life,
enough that he or she would need to stay in the city of refuge
until the death of the high priest there 
would reestablish a communal equilibrium 
that took justice and mercy into account.
In the here and now,
we know that there are times when our actions
may cause unintentional hurt
sometimes based on misunderstanding
or a lack of full awareness of all circumstances 
related to a given situation.
We ask for forgiveness during the High Holy Days
for those actions that we committed inadvertently
and we hope that we can depend on 
the compassion and patience of others 
to give us space when we err
to offer us the possibility to make things right
and to restore a balance of respect, cooperation 
and fellowship within a community.
We hope that our congregation, our city, and our nation
can offer a sense of refuge
where we can find support at difficult and challenging times,
knowing that we can return to a right path 
with the help and guidance of friends, neighbors and family.
In order to continue to face life with strength and hope,
we occasionally try to take a break from our routines
to renew and refresh our spirits.  
Those are not the times when we would expect 
that tragedy would intervene
to remind us of the precious nature of every moment.
The terrorist attack on the Israeli travelers 
on a tour bus in Bulgaria
two days ago
and the shooting of moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado 
early this morning
may make us wonder if we can truly find refuge and safety
in our daily lives at those very times
when we hoped to find escape 
from routine worries and stresses. 
At a time like this, we realize, again,
that minor disagreements, ongoing arguments and
our struggle between focusing on personal needs, 
on the one hand,
communal concerns, on the other,
matter little in the face of threats to our very lives
or the well-being of other members of the human family.
And so we pray…
Eternal One,
be with the families of the victims of those
who died in these tragedies this week,
acts of violence perpetrated by individuals
who saw no value whatsoever in the lives
of the people that they murdered or injured.
Help family members and friends of the victims
to deal with their pain,
to move through this time of shock, sadness and grief
with a sense that many people are with them
and that You are with them
Enable them to sustain the memory of the victims 
in order to continue to give meaning 
to their years among us.
Teach us to value every moment,
Guide us to create a community and a nation
based on mutual support, compassion and respect,
where we use our words and our energies
to heal and not to hurt, 
to build up and not to break down.
Remind us that all human beings are connected
not only when tragic events occur
but at all times.
God our shelter, be with us on all of our journeys,
and help us see every departure and safe arrival and return
as a privilege and a new opportunity
to appreciate the very gift of our lives.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Compassionate Commitment - July 13, 2012

The Israelites, in their journeys, carried with them
the Ten Utterances of God at Mount Sinai,
which were cast in two tablets of stone.
All of the other rules of the community, it seemed,
were engraved in stone as well.
While many of the Israelites held fast to the divine commandments,
there had been rebellions based in lack of faith
or a misplaced sense of personal importance,
that already caused some of their  people
to meet an untimely and unfortunate demise.
There was the lack of trust in a positive report about
the land of Canaan
that called for only a new generation to eventually cross the Jordan River.
At the beginning of this week’s parashah,
Pinchas, son of Eleazar the priest, and grandson of Aaron,
had received a covenant of peace with the Eternal
after executing an Israelite man and a Midianite woman
who had worshipped a foreign god.
Commitment to the covenant seemed to be based in passion,
even zealotry, in this and other cases.
Still, the people likely heard the echoes
of Moses’ past pleadings to God
to be patient with this people that could not always see
the miracle of their survival
the redemption that was theirs
and the future that would enable them
to create a sacred community. 
A calm descended over the people
as Moses and Eleazar fulfilled a command
to take a census of this new generation of Israelites
counting the Israelite men who could take part in battle
and enumerating the clans that would create the Israelite nation
on the land of their ancestors.
It was a time still touched with the stress of life in the wilderness.
At such a moment, it must have taken great courage
for the daughters of Zelophehad - Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah -
to come forward.
They asked Moses that they be able to receive their father’s inheritance
within the clan of their tribe since they had no brothers.
This challenge to the existing law, which dictated
that only sons could inherit their father’s possessions, 
did not intend to put Zelophehad’s daughters
 above all other Israelites or outside the people.
It was a request to allow their family to be
an equal  part of the community.
It was a suggestion based on fairness
that could appropriately preserve
Zelophehad’s legacy for his children.
Moses brought their case before God without hesitation,
perhaps sensing that this was a time
to show compassion and flexibility.
The divine command in response offered a resounding affirmation:
“The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them.”
The word for just in this verse is “Kein” –
the word for “so it is” or even “Yes.”
This biblical tale establishes the possibility
to say “kein” with a sense of compassion and equality
When the answer that would take no deliberation
might be “Lo”- No.
In recent months,
we have seen legislators and judges 
in our own country
Offer answers to critical issues – 
sometimes Yes, sometimes No,
sometimes based on a balanced perspective,
sometimes grounded in a firm and narrow political party line,
and sometimes with no sense that compromise 
could even be attempted, much less achieved.  
In the State of Israel, as we know,
There are times when it might be better
To say KEIN than LO
To engender a spirit of equality and fairness. 
Women, who are not actually prohibited
from wearing a tallit by halachah, Jewish law,
are detained for questioning
when they do wear a tallit during prayer
by the Western Wall. 
Women are forced to sit at the back of the bus
even when rules are posted
That prohibit a driver or a passenger from making such a demand.
In Israel, the legal system has declared that
Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Rabbis
serving communities there
should receive salaries from the government for their work
and also be allowed to serve on local religious councils.
The response from Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar
was to ask his colleagues to pray
in order to stop liberal rabbis,
whom he called  “destroyers and saboteurs
who are trying to uproot the foundation of Judaism.”
Knesset member Moshe Gafni
called non-Orthodox rabbis
“clowns that see Judaism as a joke.”
How far that is from the truth!
We know that we, in our congregation, try to be committed
to being Yisrael, strugglers with God and with our heritage.
Members of Temple Beth-El met on Wednesday night this week
To develop a list of values
central to our congregation and our tradition
which we ultimately share
with the greater New Mexico community.
We listed a variety of core principles:
fairness, education, questioning, tzedakah, equality, wisdom, humility, 
a tribal sense that we are in this together, survival, and interdependence.
The basic premise of our discussion was that
no one of us and no community is an island.
We know from experience
that there are times when devotion and commitment
must be guided by
fairness and compassion
in order for a community to survive.
We do need a measure of passion
for who we are and what we do.
But we also need the wisdom to say “Yes” – “Kein”
to anyone who desires
to enhance and contribute to
the betterment of the community
while sustaining the core of faith and tradition
that we have preserved for so many generations.
When we encounter the spirit
of the daughters of Zelophehad
within our community and our nation,
may we realize that there is a time
to say KEIN, yes,
and that our affirmation will offer all of us
strength and hope.
So may we do – and let us say amen.