Friday, November 24, 2017

Our Vision, Our House of God - D'var Torah - Parashat Vayeitzei - November 24, 2017

House of God.
This is where we are
Every week
Or maybe a few times a week
For some of us....every day.
What happens here can be inspirational
Or regular and ordinary, anything from maintenance and administration
To turning lights on and off. 
But it’s still the house of God.
So Jacob left his home after receiving the first born son’s blessing
Though he was a second-born
Incurring the wrath of his twin brother Esau
But fulfilling the desires and design of his mother Rebekah, who believed she was making God’s will come to pass.
She was probably right that it would be Jacob to carry on the spiritual legacy of the family.
Part of that legacy would be shaped as he set out on his own,
And laid down in a particular place for a night.
He set stones as a headrest
And dreamed.
There was a ladder reaching to the sky with angels going up and down on it.
And God stood with him, right next to him,
Telling him,
“I will give this land to your descendants, who shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread out to the west and the east and the north and the south. Through you and your descendants all the families of the earth shall find blessing. And here I am, with you: I will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this soil. I will not let go of you as long as I have yet to do what I have promised you.״
Jacob awoke from this night-vision. 
He was scared, excited, inspired and hopeful all at once.
He realized.....the place was a BEIT EIL, a house of God, and this house of God was a gateway or stairway to heaven....or to the divine.
How did Jacob know that God hadn’t been with him all along?
What was important was that, as he was alone, away from home, just when Jacob was feeling the most vulnerable, 
God’s presence in his life came clear to him. 
The floodgates of truth and spirit had been opened for him. 
Even without a name change - that would come later- Jacob was different. 
“Surely God was in this place and I, I did not know,” he said.
At this point, he knew, and would count on God’s support
For the rest of his life.
How do we know that a divine presence doesn’t accompany us along our life’s journey? 
How do we know that our BEIT EIL - our congregation, Beth El, isn’t, for us, a gateway to heaven
A connection to the divine
Through our prayers
Through our study
Through our building of community
Through the ways in which we try to engender in one another
The values of respect, justice, compassion, kindness, and peace?
How do we know that every word we say, inside and outside this building, doesn’t count in God’s eyes and in the eyes of others?
God is in this place and sometimes, we, we do not know.
But if we remembered, and recognized God’s presence every minute, every day,
we, like Jacob, might be changed.

In our own personal and communal vision, may the angels above us lead us to new heights, lofty goals, and high standards for who we are, what we do, and who we can become. 

Above - Genesis Window with the Ladder in Jacob's dream theme at Temple Beth Sholom, Topeka, KS
Below - Neir Tamid/Eternal Light with Ladder in Jacob's dream theme at Temple Beth-El, Las Cruces, NM


Friday, November 17, 2017

Invocation for Temple Beth-El Las Cruces Board Meeting on November 16, 2017 - based on the “Hashkiveinu” prayer

This was created for a writing session led by Stacey Zisook Robinson at Shabbat Shira at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on Friday, November 3.

It’s night time.
It has been a long day, Eternal One.
Sometimes we can find shelter and hope in the people around us.
Sometimes that may not be possible.
We may find some light, but, even in a familiar place, there may be too much darkness.
At those times, open our eyes and minds and hearts.
Help us.
Protect us.
Assure us that the darkness of the world will be flooded with light as morning comes,
So that we will have faith that any darkness in the human soul
will be touched and brightened by the light of your face and presence.
May Your loving spirit, Your peace, Your strength
be with us here, in Y’rushalayim, a city that needs peace,
and throughout the world.
Image may contain: sky, cloud, twilight and outdoor

Image may contain: sky, cloud, twilight and outdoor

Body and Soul - A Twins Tale Begins - D'var Torah for Parashat Tol'dot - November 17, 2017

Two children.
Two boys.
Each with a body.
Each with a soul.
The body houses the soul.
The soul enlivens the body.
And we all strive, in our lives, to strike a balance,
And to integrate the two together.
Two children, two boys:
One, from the start, seems to focus on the body:
Strength, grit, power, physical stature.
The other is a tent-sitter, staying close to home
Contemplating the significance of his life, his soul,
Grabbing onto the heel of his brother as they emerged from the womb.
Was that a sign of dependence, or an indication
Of a wrestling match and rivalry to come?
Each was to become a great nation,
Full of body and soul,
But each had to find that balance.
Two children, two boys.
The one loved by the father came home from a hard day
And the one loved by the mother, preparing a stew,
Demanded to be sold his brother’s birthright.
Is this transaction one that shows that one is all body
And the other all soul…or is there more to it?
As their mother arranged for her tent-sitter son
To receive a blessing that would bestow on him the soul
Of their people-to-be,
She acted based on her belief of what she heard God say
Before the birth of the boys:  “The older will serve the younger.”
Yet, life has a way of seeking equilibrium, as the same statement from God
Could mean “The older, the younger will serve.’
It could be that both were true,
In the same way that both children had in them a balance of body and soul
That each would eventually achieve and maintain at a later time.
The younger son. whom the mother loved donned skins to simulate his brother’s ruddy arms
To receive the first-born blessing.
The older son, who approached his father for blessing, discovered, much to his surprise, that the first born blessing had been bestowed on his brother.
And he let out a cry.  He pleaded for a blessing.   
Yes, he, too, had a soul,
He, too, desired to take his father’s words into the future as a guarantee of his well-being.
But he was angry.
Two children.  Two boys.
One who had taken a birthright and blessing for the first-born who would find that there were consequences that would require him to find a balance between body and soul, between sheer strength and deep faith, between power and trust.  
The other who had focused on one aspect of life at the expense of another, now resolved to amass power for himself, but also to seek the independence noted in the words his father said to him, in such a way that he would find his soul.
How do we know what will happen?
In the Torah, there is always more to come.

Stay tuned!

Monday, November 13, 2017

God of My Life - Online “Hidden Track” based on life and Psalm 71

This is about....
And more.  
Feel free to eavesdrop on my thoughts and feelings.

Larry Karol sings “God of My Life”

God of My Life (Larry Karol- Copyright 2017) 
She told me once I paid my dues
I’d be up on that stage
Now years have passed and I’m down here
Getting better still with age
I may be a guarded secret 
Not a legend in my mind
It’s the reason for this journey 
That I’m hoping yet to find

God of my life Stand with me as I walk along my way
No matter what lies ahead - Sustain my soul today (2x) 

Sometimes my words escape me
And I fear they won’t return
So I play all my old favorites 
While the embers slowly burn
I don’t want to be a rock star
In a music Hall of fame 
There’s no treasure more important
Than to keep my own good name 

God of my life Stand with me. as I walk along my way
No matter what lies ahead   Sustain my soul today  (2x)

You may say I’m past my prime 
I started all too late
And that good things almost never come 
to those of us who wait 
You won’t believe it when I tell you 
that I’m younger than I seem
As long as I am breathing
 I’ll be reaching for my dream

God of my life Stand with me. as I walk along my way
No matter what lies ahead - Sustain my soul today (2x)

Don’t You let my footsteps falter - Open my eyes wide to see
The wonders all around this world, the miracles in me 

God of my life Stand with me. as I walk along my way
No matter what lies ahead - Sustain my soul today (2x)

Monday, November 6, 2017

A "mensch meditation" - invocation for Board meeting at Temple Beth-El Las Cruces on October 19, 2017

Eternal God, You have shown us what is good and
what it is to do good.
   Be our strength when we commit ourselves to honesty in a world that may not always appreciate the truth.
  Be our beacon when we try to pursue an ethical standard of behavior that is based on integrity and decency when some people in our world may have lost their way.
  Be our inspiration when we seek to be considerate and kind towards others and may our kindness spread throughout our community and beyond.
  Be our guide when we apply all that we have learned about living with people to approach everyone in a spirit of fairness and justice.
   Be our support when we seek forgiveness and when we forgive others so that all may know inner peace and wholeness.
   Be our mentor when we seek to share what we have, so that we will give unselfishly, with consistency, and without hesitation, no matter where we may be or what we are doing.
   Be our teacher when we discover that there are rewards that will come our way when we act with humility and when our words and actions are the result of thoughtful deliberation.
   Be our hope, encouraging us to always live up to our own aspirations for the many ways in which we can improve ourselves and the world.

The gift of song may unite us as one - Column for Las Cruces Bulletin - November 3, 2017

   There is a place in the world of Facebook that was created as a refuge where people could come together to share, and benefit from, the gift of song.
     Last fall, Jewish singer/songwriters Beth Schafer and Stacy Beyer laid the groundwork for “Harmony in Unison,” a “virtual stage” on Facebook, where musicians have been performing original music since January on Sunday-Thursday each week.   
    In her book Einstein and the Rabbi, Rabbi Naomi Levy quoted a teaching of the rabbis that noted that “there are ten levels of prayer, and above them is song.” Music has the potential to enable our spirits to soar.
    On Monday, October 23, I offered my third performance on the Harmony in Unison Virtual Stage.   I titled my set “Conversations with God,” which gave me an opportunity to perform some of my original songs based on texts from the book of Psalms.
     The biblical book of Psalms brings together ancient songs and prayers that have had a lasting appeal because they speak to our joys, our love, our grief, and the challenges which we face every day.   Psalms declare that, even when everything may seem hopeless, there are still reasons to be optimistic and to trust that good things will come our way. 
    The first song I chose for my set, based on Psalm 139, begins, “You know me, inside and out, through and through.”   When a friend of mine, who wasn’t sure about her belief in God, once asked me about how to approach the book of Psalms, I cited this song (called “Where Can I Run?”) and Psalm.  I explained that it is the people who know us “inside and out, through and through” who have an uncanny ability to point us in right direction just when we need crucial counsel and guidance. I believe that there is a depth of spirit in our closest relationships, in which some people might see a touch of a divine presence.
    Psalm 34 includes a declaration, “Taste and see that God is good.”  That line suggests a way that we might approach life in general.  We try to strike a balance between our best times and our difficult days, hoping that it is the good that will endure. The chorus for the song I created based on that Psalm asks and proclaims: “Is there love enough for giving?  Is there goodness enough to fill our days?  When I taste and see that life’s worth living, I will sing this song of praise.”  The praise is an expression of the trust we have that our own lives do have inherent value because of all that we do and because of the people who are our companions along our journey. 
     Psalm 97 proclaims, “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.”   What struck me about that statement is that it suggests that light -- perhaps in the form of understanding, wisdom, and mutual respect--is a response to our acts of righteousness and justice.  Creating a society based on justice and righteousness could lead us to the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that we so deeply desire in American society. 

    Across many musical genres, singer/songwriters give voice to feelings, concerns and hopes that many people share.  May we be open to those harmonious expressions that can touch our souls and could, ultimately, unite us as one. 

Opening doors, emanating light - reflections on Shabbat Shira on November 2-5, 2017 at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute

     I frequently have the opportunity to be the person to open the front door of the Temple.   It is an act of kindness, welcoming and connection. When people thank me, I tell that them that being the “Temple door man” is what I want to do when I retire. 
   The Torah reading on the day that I become Bar Mitzvah, November 18, 1967, at Temple B’nai Jehudah in Kansas City, Missouri (it’s since moved to Overland Park, Kansas), was VAYERA, beginning with Genesis, Chapter 18.  I read the first 15 verses of the chapter at that service. I have since learned the chant for some of those verses since my milestone day.    
    I just attended, on November 2-5, Shabbat Shira (Sabbath of Song), the fall worship/music workshop presented by Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.   The program was created especially for veterans of the late spring gathering for songleaders, Hava Nashira (come, let us sing).         It didn’t take me long to realize that I would be at Shabbat Shira on Shabbat VAYERA, exactly 50 years after becoming Bar Mitzvah. 

     It is also 50 years since I attended the inaugural session of Tzofim (Scouts), a new program  created at the camp, then called Olin-Sang Union Institute, which featured living in tents and engaging in activities similar to those campers who resided in the cabins “up the hill” for their session 
      I can still remember the welcome I received when I arrived for Tzofim, and how, when I returned the next year, I darted from the car to run down to the campsite.   The initial sense of an “open door” at the camp extended, for me and many others, into the immediate and distant future.
     In Genesis Chapter 18, Abraham’s tent did not have a door, of course, nor did it have an entrance flap that closed with a zipper, like the Tzofim tents in which I spent 22 days of my life. 
     Abraham’s tent was open on all sides. He, his wife Sarah, and other members of their household knew what to do when visitors came.   The went into “extreme emergency welcoming and ‘open door’ mode.”  They dropped everything and made sure that their guests received the care and respite they deserved.  
     In the case of Abraham and Sarah, because of their “open door” approach, they received a special message...and, later, a gift.   The message was that Sarah would bear a son, and the gift was their son Isaac - Yitzchak - “he will laugh.”  
     In this biblical story, the “open door,” or, better put, “open tent,” seems to have made something special happen, because it may be that the delivering the message was contingent on receiving a warm welcome. 
     It was an honor for me to chant the beginning of my Bar Mitzvah portion at the Shabbat Morning Service at Shabbat Shira on November 4, 2017.          
 After the service, I called my wife, Rhonda, to tell her about the experience and shared my thoughts about the importance of openness and open doors.   During our conversation, one of the other Shabbat Shira participants, whose hands were full, asked me if I could open the door of a nearby building for her.  And so I did!

    Opening a door inside our hearts, minds and souls allows us to receive new ideas, innovative approaches, and deep expressions of emotion and thoughts from peers, colleagues and friends.     That happens constantly at Shabbat Shira, both in sessions with our very talented faculty members and peer leaders, and in individual conversations about what we do in our respective settings to find inspiration and to engender a sense of community.   In the sessions I attended, we focused on which modes of worship and music are suitable for our own congregations and explored the enduring value of songs about justice.   
   Opening a door allows us to fashion and sustain connections with people from various locales who can provide support and sustenance throughout the year.  Some of us have closely followed our respective careers (and families) over the course of years after meeting at past conferences. For me, one conversation in particular led to the realization that several of us were all at the same regional youth convention program (they were youth group members, I was a rabbinic student who led a break-out discussion group).   Other discussions made us realize how much we have in common, both inside and outside the realm of music.      
    Opening a door enables us to hear the significance of every note, every chord, every word in a song that we know well or that we are hearing for the first time. At Shabbat Shira, that approach is a prerequisite to appreciating the creative gifts of colleagues and fellow community members, enabling us to “cheer each other on” as we sculpt songs of faith and voice the overflow of our souls in melody and lyrics.  
  The themes of being “part of a circle” and sharing light pervaded the Shabbat Shira program designed by the faculty this year.  They guided us to create a circle among us that emanated light, and encouraged us to enlarge our circle and to share the light we discovered and created together when we return home.       So...opening a door is what all of us who attended Shabbat Shira hope to do when we return to our respective settings of musical leadership.   We trust that our community members will, like the guests who visited Abraham and Sarah with unexpected news, accept our invitation to refresh their souls in our communal holy spaces,  nurtured by the light of the divine presence that can open our eyes to recognize the circles of faith and song that bind us together as one family.