Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wisdom, Discernment, Consolation, Community - D'var Torah for Va-etchanan 5773 - July 19, 2013

   The Torah portion for this week includes the Shema/V’ahavta paragraph from Deuternomy Chapter 6 and the Ten Commandments in Chapter 5.  It is no wonder that those passages command the greatest attention from this parashah.
   As I read through this portion again this week, I found a section that I have often glossed over.
    Deuteronomy Chapter 4, verses 5 and 6 make a statement about the Israelites that I believe still applies to the Jewish community today.
    Moses said to the people, “See, I have imparted to you laws and rules, as the Eternal my God has commanded me, for you to abide by in the land that you are about to enter and occupy.  Observe them faithfully, for that will be proof of your wisdom and discernment to other peoples, who on hearing of all these laws will say, “Surely, that great nation is a wise and discerning people.”
   Members of every movement of Judaism have the potential to be wise and discerning.  When we sit with each other and discuss the meaning of a particular text, we strive to be wise and discerning.  When we decide what Jewish practices are meaningful for each of us to follow, we bring to life those words that Moses spoke so long ago. 
   And when it comes to developing positions on the burning issues of the day, Judaism always has wisdom to impart.   We don’t expect American law to codify Jewish teachings. Yet, I have always found that Judaism enriches public discussions about abortion, the death penalty, immigration reform, marriage and divorce, the role of women, and extending a hand to people in need.   Judaism doesn’t teach in sound bites, but in thoughtful consideration of the matter at hand, and in reasoned conversation based on the principle that every person is created in the image of God.  And whatever we discuss and conclude must necessarily lead us to positive action.
   This Shabbat features a Haftarah reading from the book of Isaiah that offers words of comfort following the observance of Tish’ah B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.   Our wise and discerning heritage has always been able to find a message of consolation even in the face of darkness and tragedy.    We gain comfort from healing words of prayer and from the concern of our fellow community members.   We feel consoled knowing that faith and hope can lead us to make tomorrow a better day.   Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav said, “All the world is a narrow bridge. What is most important is not to be afraid.”   It is through mutual support and by walking across that bridge together that we overcome fear and allow our wisdom to guide us to light and goodness, 
    So may we be wise, discerning and caring within ourselves and towards each other so that the trust we develop will move us forward to whatever promised land we seek.  

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beyond hatred - July 14, 2013

In this time before Tish'ah B'Av, the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the teaching that "the Second Temple was destroyed due to Sinat Chinam/baseless hatred" reverberates through history until now. Polarization will not bring progress in the political process or engender positive relationships through which productive compromise can emerge from disagreement. Engaging in dialogue - and listening - is a choice. And it is a choice that will prevent us from drifting so far apart that we will never be able to come back together. We need not give up our values to be able to speak with one another. Let's do our best to converse with respect and without hatred.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A home once ours - July 13, 2013

 A home once new
Husband, wife and son
welcoming another son
Creating memories
First steps
A lively meal table
Family gatherings
Table Tennis
Maintenance and enhancment projects outside and inside
Baseball in the back yard
Football in the front yard
"No ghost at midnight" 
Shabbat every Friday night - candles, wine and challah
Mowing the lawn 
Tricycles to Bicycles
Beginning a growing album/CD collection
A downstairs darkroom and workbench
The fans in the hallway, later replaced by central air
Black and white TV and on to color
Watching coverage of political conventions, space missions (even past Apollo 11),
national tragedies (assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK)
Taking in our favorite shows: The Fugitive, The FBI, Batman, a little Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, many cartoons, Mod Squad, Dark name a few...
Preparing for Religious School teaching 
Stuffing envelopes for Hadassah, Sisterhood, and other organizations
Practicing cornet and guitar
One Chevrolet after another
A short walk to the Elementary School behind our house
Discussions about future careers that led to the ordination of two rabbis
A decision to move after 23 years

PS - 
A list from the "first son" mentioned above, (Rabbi) Steve Karol: 

*Getting dressed up for Halloween and taking pictures
*Lighting the Chanukiah and taking pictures
*Climbing the tree in the back yard
*Catching lightning bugs in a jar
*Building snow forts
*Jumping off the swings
*Getting 16 ounce soda pop bottles at the gas station at 89th and Wornall for 10 cents each when gas was 19.9.
*Hitting baseballs on the playground facing Wornall until the covers came off
*Bowling in the basement
*The desks dad made in the basement
*The "playroom"
*Watching Ed Sullivan
*Allan Sherman records
*Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass records
* Wadding up napkins and shooting hoops from the dining room to the waste basket in the kitchen
*Plastic on the living room and dining room carpet marking a path to follow
*Watching TV during dinner--with the TV on the cart--except on Friday night
*Sampling Mom's cake batter
*The meat slicer
*The Recreation Program during the summer at Boone School

Friday, July 12, 2013

Our very own "bistro" - July 12, 2013

Earlier this week, I took our car to a Toyota dealer near where we are staying because the maintenance light (the reminder to take the car in for its periodic service) came on. After I checked in, I was led into the "Bistro" complete with comfortable chairs, large screen televisions, or high chairs/tables (where I sat off to the side), and a family room. The concierge at the food bar directed me to the coffee machine and toasted a bagel for me, all complimentary. I sat at my table where I could go online via wifi to catch up on emails. When my car was done (all was well), the service agent who checked me in came to tell me my car was ready. It was an experience in "complete welcoming." I witnessed the fulfillment of the mitzvah/commandment of "Hachnasat orchim," hospitality, at a Toyota dealer!
       This is experience is one that we do offer guests in our homes.  As the rabbi of a small congregation, it would be great to have a concierge, a coffee/pastry/bagel bar, wifi, and a variety of comfortable seating options.  Yet, we all do our best with whatever we have, creating opportunities for people to be comfortable in the physical space which we provide for them.   When I became Bar Mitzvah, I read the section from the Torah about Abraham, Sarah and their servants welcoming three mysterious guests who had come their way (bringing a special message: that Sarah and Abraham were going to have a child).    So, it is important to create our own "bistro" atmosphere when offering our hospitalty, because we never know who may walk through our door!  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Power of Ruach - July 7, 2013

We passed by extensive arrays of wind turbines in New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma in our travels.  It was impressive to see these human creations working in concert with nature to provide some measure of power to nearby communities.  
     What was also amazing was how the turbines worked together, almost giving the appearance of achoreographed dance.  
     Wind in Hebrew is Ruach, which means spirit.   In every community,  there is always a possibility of drawing power from the Ruach, the spirit, of every person. The resulting communal character is enhanced when all members act in concert with each other, as if in a dance.  That is how we can generate, among and between ourselves, the greatest power of the spirit.