Friday, October 13, 2017
Fill the earth and Tame it - Creation and Leadership- D'var Torah - Pasrashat B'raysheet - October 13, 2017 (Installation Shabbat)
Friday, October 6, 2017
At this writing, I am about to lead my congregation in the observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This day of fasting and introspection includes congregational prayers of confession that have a long history in Jewish worship.
The most important application of these prayers to daily life is their guidance in how we present our apologies when we have erred in our words and actions.
In my own exploration about apologies, I learned that some people believe that they are more powerful when they refrain from saying they are sorry. Psalm 32 counters that notion, indicating that a person who did not confess his or her sins would be overcome with anguish as if he or she was in the midst of a “summer drought.” The famous Scottish proverb about confession with which many of us are familiar actually says this: “OPEN confession is good for the soul.”
A facet of confessional prayers in a synagogue on Yom Kippur is that they are recited by the worshippers all together and aloud (mostly) with “we” language that offers direct admission of sins that human beings, as a whole, commit: “We betray…we are cruel…we lie…we disobey…we corrupt…we go astray…we lead others astray.”
This year, I asked members of my congregation to suggest what makes for a good and sincere apology and what might keep someone from apologizing.
Their comments were comprehensive and insightful. They explained that apologies should come from the heart and include specific language, leaving out the words “but” and “if,” which serve to negate the apologizer’s message. An apology needs to demonstrate that the person has taken responsibility for his or her actions, that he/she understands the hurt caused, that restitution will be made, and that the person will not repeat the words or actions that caused the hurt.
They surmised that people may refrain from apologizing because of pride, a lack of courage, fear of rejection, anger, stubbornness, arrogance, a lack of self-awareness, and being uncertain of just what to say.
The impetus for my focus on apologies this year came from the book Why Won’t You Apologize? by Dr. Harriett Lerner. Dr. Lerner, who was a congregant of mine when I served in Topeka, Kansas, presented a wide range of situations in her work from which she derived important guidelines for how to say we are sorry and how we can overcome our reluctance to do so. Dr. Lerner gave guidance on how, within our complex relationships, apologies can heal hurts that may have lasted for decades.
In an interview about her book, Dr. Lerner explained that being able to apologize is so important for people in all walks of life: “The level of respect we earn from others, as well as our own level of maturity, rest squarely on our ability to see ourselves objectively, to take a clear-eyed look at the ways that our behavior affects others, and to be fully accountable for our mistakes without blaming others. The courage to apologize and the wisdom to do it wisely and well is at the heart of friendship, leadership, marriage, parenting and being grounded in maturity, integrity and self-worth. It’s hard to imagine what’s more important than that.”
“I’m sorry” is a statement that has the potential to bring people closer together and restore relationships. These might be the most important and pivotal words we will ever say.
When Rhonda and I visited Las Cruces in late March of 2011 (to interview for the position at Temple Beth-El) for the first time, I realized that I hadn’t ever really been anywhere with similar scenery, except, perhaps, Israel. I told one of my congregants-to-be who had lived in Israel that Las Cruces reminded me of Beersheva. Never mind that I haven’t been in Beersheva since 1977. The memory was still there, and something resonated from the appearance of the terrain, especially with desert all around us in this area that we began to explore on that trip.
I have vague memories of a 1963 trip with my family through New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Carlsbad) that led to a stay in El Paso and walking across to Juarez. My midwestern “perch” in Kansas City, marked with rolling hills and tree-lined streets, hadn’t included the vistas that we enjoy here in our shared region along the border.
I look out our window every morning towards the northwest, seeing not the sunrise but the effects of the beginning of a new day on the area around us. In the evening, if there are clouds in the sky, I am prepared to take at least one sunset photo with the mountains across town dotting the horizon.
We are amazed at the brief periodic flourishing of Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens, so they say) and the surprising blossoms that appear on various cacti. The infrequency of rain in our area makes it seems all the more precious to us when it comes.
During our autumn, there are not many trees that lose their leaves, like our experiences with a burgeoning collection of large sycamore leaves in our yard when we lived in Kansas. There are no changing colors as we witnessed in September/October in New Hampshire. There are, enough leafless trees, though, to remind us that winter, with it own unique character here, will ultimately arrive.
Every year, a major reminder of the change of seasons for us is the Jewish calendar, and when it comes to nature, Chag HaSukkot connects us, wherever we are, to the cycles happening around us. If we didn’t notice it before, building the Sukkah and praying and eating and spending time in it, waving the Lulav/Etrog, reciting blessings of the season and beholding our harvest symbol for a week highlights for us that we live in nature’s time and God’s time.
Even the celebration of Simchat Torah, which provides with an opportunity to rejoice in the opportunity to hear God’s voice through the the text and to study with each other, touches upon creation. It ends with the passing of Moses, a treasured teacher and leader who guided the Israelites through many years living in a challenging natural setting while learning to become a community. And then, the Torah begins again with the creation of the world. After commemorating creation on Rosh Hashanah, the Birthday of the World, we have a second chance to marvel at the process of creation that has resulted in our existence and our presence together in the world.
So may we praise the Eternal One, Ruler of the Universe, who makes the works of creation and renews them every day. May that renewal inspire and lead us to grow our own character towards goodness, godliness and gratitude for the gift of life.
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Here are a few to consider!