Friday, January 26, 2018
Is it the liberty that enables us to pursue our goals and dreams with no one to tell us, “never would you be able to do this” but, instead, “consider this path”?
Is it the freedom that allows us to practice our faith without discimination and prejudice?
Is it the opportunity to select our leaders in a voting booth, acting on our own conscience, with no one to prevent us from fulfilling our duty as citizens because of who we are?
Is it the possibility of vigorous discussion that can lead to compromise, where conversation does not turn into denigration and dehumanization?
Is it the chance to welcome newcomers to our community and country with open arms, seeing in their eyes the wonder and optimism that our immigrant forbears must have felt?
Is it the generosity of spirit that leads us to help people in need, viewing everyone as a source of vitality, wisdom, and partnership in preserving the freedom we enjoy?
Is it the understanding that leads to equality for all people, on all levels, which refrains from singling out any particular group as “the source of all of our problems”?
Is it the commitment to building strong ties with everyone around us, with one encouraging another to give their best for the growth and betterment of humankind?
What is the freedom we want? We are at liberty to choose what that might be.
May we choose wisely and in a way that will bring more freedom, love and hope.
Friday, January 19, 2018
the wise, the wicked, the simple, and the one who does not know how to ask.
When we go to the Torah, though, it does no such thing.
What is does is to declare that the children of future generations will be curious, or even interested,
about what happened in the past, especially, when they see roasted meat, bitter herbs, and matzah
laid out before them for a certain spring celebration in remembrance of the Exodus.
In thinking about this section of the Torah, the phrase “don’t look back” came to mind for me this year. I am not sure why...
But I do believe that we frequently need to look back, because the foundations of
our culture and our beliefs can be found in what came before us.
What impresses me about this passage is that the Torah, in this passage set as they were first leaving Egypt, was already looking ahead to a scene in the future.
There was, at this early stage of their liberation, a clear vision of the former slaves' children and their children’s children asking questions about this tale of leaving Egypt from the safety of their new homes.
Three of the four passages about the “four children” are in this week’s parashah, Bo.
Here are all four:
And when your child says, “What does this observance mean to you?” you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice to ADONAI because God passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when he smote the Egyptians but saved our houses.” (Exodus 12:26-27)
“You shall tell your child on that day, saying, ‘This is because of what God did for me when I went free out of Egypt.’” (Exodus 13:8)
And it shall be when your child asks you in time to come, saying: “What is this?” that you shall say to him: By strength of hand ADONAI brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Exodus 13:14)
When your child asks you in time to come, saying: 'What are the precepts, laws and observances which ADONAI our God has commanded you? Then you will say to your child: 'We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt; and ADONAI brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)
Bible commentator Nehama Leibowitz offered a possible explanation for why the rabbis, in a Midrash collection called “Mekhilta” and in the Palestinian Talmud, recast these verses into the “four children” passage that we know so well: “In three cases, the child approaches the parent, but in Exodus 13:8, the child does not initiate the conversation. The midrash, therefore, deduces that this is a child that does not know how to ask the question. In the three remaining verses, where the child initiates the conversation, two ask a question, but one (in Exodus 12:26) makes a statement. This child, the midrash concludes, is the wicked child who is not questioning, but challenging.” (Taken from maqom.com on this passage).
The rabbis took “What does this service mean to YOU” as an exclamatory remark, rather than a soft inquiry. Each of us likely has at least a glimmer of a similar impulse inside of us, wondering if traditions from the past are still worth keeping, silently but pointedly asking if they still hold meaning for us.
In the verses I will read tonight, there is one mode of remembrance not contained in the other passages: "And this day shall serve you as a sign upon your hand and as a reminder on your forehead - in order that the Teaching of ADONAI may be in your mouth - that with a mighty hand ADONAI freed you from Egypt."
This verse seems to refer to the Tefillin worn the arm and head, just as we read in the V’ahavta early in our service.
I would suggest another interpretation of these "signs" (as others have), that relates to looking back and looking forward at the same time - here in a paraphrase of the verse in Exodus.
Let the remembrance of your slavery be a sign upon your hand, so that, in whatever you do, you will act with compassion, commitment, and dedication to the ideal of freedom.
Let the experience of liberation be a reminder on your forehead, above your eyes, so that when you see new instances of oppression before you, you will act with courage and without hesitation to stop the offenses that could lead to a return to tyranny and bondage.
Let the lessons of the ancient experience of moving from slavery to freedom guide you to value liberty and to defend it with your words, with your wisdom, and with your very lives. It is that important.
And so may we do.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
Fashioning our circle of acceptance - Invocation - Temple Beth-El Las Cruces -Board Meeting - January 18, 2018
Who has created every person
In the divine image,
Open our eyes to see and sense Your presence
In our fellow human beings.
Preserve in us memory of slavery in Egypt
From stories that we still study and read and consider
Central to who we are
So that we will, in our own time,
Follow the example of Moses
Who challenged an autocratic ruler who believed himself to be a god
Whose realization that his people should no longer be slaves
Led him to see You in a bush that burned but was not consumed
And guided him on a mission of winning a struggle for freedom.
Help us to advocate for a freedom
That balances between necessary standards
And acknowledging and valuing the humanity of every person
May the circle of acceptance that we draw in our minds and hearts
Be large and affirming
Inclusive and thoughtful
Supportive and hopeful
With our hands outstretched
In generosity and love.
Give us the strength and wisdom
To make this approach to community
Friday, January 12, 2018
Thursday, January 4, 2018
December celebrations that have symbols of light associated with them (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and others) reflect the need for brightness to counter the increase in daily hours of darkness as the winter begins. These observances bear other meanings as well, with light as the foundation of their message.
During the celebration of Hanukkah, which commemorates a victory for religious freedom won by Jews in Judea in 165 BC, I asked my congregants at Temple Beth-El to share one word about what the festival meant to them this year.
Their responses encompassed a wide range of aspects of the holiday and its relation to our lives today. The “one-word” descriptions I received included:
• Gratitude and pride.
• Triumph and hope.
• Family and Continuity.
• Endurance and perseverance.
• Remembrance and tradition.
• Freedom and survival.
• Empowerment and enlightenment.
• Dedication and responsibility.
• Commitment and focus.
Some of these values naturally flowed from a story about a people seeking to hold on to their house of worship, their faith, and their right to be different in the face of a ruler who sought to change them and insist that they be like “everyone else.”
Other principles expressed how we can find ways, today, to be heroic on our own terms and to offer our help to people in need whose circumstances have led them to a place where hope is ours to give them.
That is how I view the annual effort of my congregation to serve breakfast at Camp Hope on Christmas morning. Many Temples and synagogues around the country try to find ways to serve their communities on a day when regular volunteers at hospitals and helping programs may be at home celebrating the holiday that they observe with family or friends.
In 2012, members of Temple Beth-El sought to identify a way in which we could make a small impact on people who needed some warmth and cheer on a holiday known for those qualities.
We called on congregants to provide donations of food, funds, time and energy so that we would be able to serve a hot breakfast at Camp Hope.
As it has turned out over the six years of this effort, we have not only served a meal, but we also have had a chance to speak with the people who came. We have listened to their stories, and we have tried to provide them with a sense that there are people who care about them.
In recent years, our Religious School children have created “goodie bags” that residents could take with them. This year, they also made greeting cards that, they hoped, would lift the spirits of the recipients. Several of our students were present to directly deliver these gifts of their hands and hearts.
I know that there are other organizations and congregations engaging in this type of activity in order to dispel darkness with light, to replace hopelessness with a spark of hope, and to offer warmth to counter the chill in the air.
These acts bring a brightness that can be sensed inside the one who gives and the one who receives. They reflect every value that my congregants cited in relation to Hanukkah, because it is, through our giving and our dedication, that more people will be able to live well and thrive every day. May that be a goal for which we continue to strive individually and as a community.