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Showing posts from April, 2013

For Our Teachers and their Students

Tom Friedman writes : And that’s why the faster, more accessible and ultramodern the Internet becomes, the more all the old-fashioned stuff matters: good judgment, respect for others who are different and basic values of right and wrong. Those you can’t download. They have to be uploaded, the old-fashioned way, by parents around the dinner table, by caring but demanding teachers at school and by responsible spiritual leaders in a church, synagogue, temple or mosque.  And our prayerbook reminds us: When Torah entered the world, freedom entered it. The whole Torah exists only to establish peace. Its highest teaching is love and kindness. What is hateful to you, do not do to any person. That is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it. Those who study Torah are the true guardians of civilization. Honoring one another, doing acts of kindness, and making peace: these are our highest duties. But the study of Torah is equal to them all, because it leads to the

Leon Wieseltier on the Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre and Our Emotional Efficiency | The New Republic Leon Wieseltier observes that we might be better served by some righteous indignation and anger rather than by the suggestion of far too many that we move on, rebuild and even put the Boston Marathon attack behind us.  He writes: Vigilance, increased and intense, is not a victory for the terrorists. Mourning, and the time it takes, is not a victory for the terrorists. Reflection on all the meanings and the implications—on the fragility of our lives—on terrorism and theodicy—is not a victory for the terrorists. A less than wholly sunny and pragmatic view of the world is not a victory for the terrorists. What happened on Boylston Street was not a common event, but it was not a singular event. There is a scar. Taking terrorism seriously is not a victory for terrorism. The cliches about rebuilding and standing taller are not always the best responses.  They are unhelpful when mourning the loss of a loved one.  Time d


I just started reading Jack Kornfield’s After the Ecstasy, the Laundry .  Here is the observation that informs his book: “We all know that after the honeymoon comes the marriage, after the election comes the hard task of governance.  In spiritual life it is the same: after the ecstasy comes the laundry.  Most spiritual accounts end with illumination or enlightenment.  But what if we ask what happens after that?” It occurs to me that the Book of Leviticus is all about the laundry.  After the ecstasy detailed in Exodus, the liberation from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai, we confront the details of how to lead a Jewish life.  “These are the set times of the Lord, the sacred occasions, which you shall celebrate each at its appointed time…” (Leviticus 23:4)  What follows is a list of our major holidays.  It is an exhausting list of chores. People often think that religion is about ecstasy.  It is about returning to Sinai.  It is instead about the laundry.  It is about order.  The

Achrei Mot-Kedoshim

The Israeli author David Grossman writes in his recent collection of essays, Writing in the Dark , of his worries that Israel is letting go of its dream for peace, that decades of war have eroded its most cherished vision.  He writes: If we ever achieve a state in which we have no enemies, perhaps we will be able to break free from the all-too-familiar Israeli tendency to approach reality with the mind-set of a sworn survivor, who is practically programmed—condemned—to define the situations he encounters primarily in terms of threat, danger, and entrapment, or daring rescue from all these….  The survivor thereby all but dooms himself to exist forever within this partial, distorted, suspicious, and frightened picture of reality, and is therefore tragically fated to make his anxieties and nightmares come true time and time again. The most insidious danger of terrorism is that it erodes our dreams.  In its randomness it can never kill millions of people, but it can destroy a million

Boston Marathon

Our hearts our joined in sorrow and outrage with our neighbors and friends of Boston .  Again an American city has been struck by terror.  We pray that those injured may find healing and the families of those murdered will find a measure of consolation. As in Israel, the joy and celebration of today’s Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, is tempered by yesterday’s Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day.  My rejoicing is diminished.  And so I turn to Israel’s poetry.  I find myself once again pulled toward Yehuda Amichai’s poems.  What follows is the poem Amichai read at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony when Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat were awarded the 1994 prize and although that peace agreement is fractured I continue to cling to its dream. The poem seemed fitting for the hope of that occasion.  It gains poignancy with each passing year.  The urgent dream of peace is renewed with even greater force after yesterday.  Not the peace of a cease-fire not even the vision

Yom Haatzmaut & Tazria-Metzora

Today, five women were arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall.  Why?  They were praying at their monthly Rosh Hodesh service and were arrested for wearing tallism and singing out loud.  In a ground breaking decision the judge dismissed the charges and the request of the ultra Orthodox rabbis who control the Kotel that the women be barred from praying at the Wall for the next three monthly services.  The judge stated that the women are not in fact disturbing the public order with their praying.  Instead she argued that the disturbance is created by those publicly opposing the women’s prayers. In Israel today there is a struggle over the control of Judaism’s holiest site.  At the Wall the prayer area is divided between a men’s section and a women’s.  Over the years the women’s section has grown increasingly smaller.  For the past twenty five years  Women of theWall has gathered on the first of the Hebrew month to offer prayers at the Kotel.  They are often arrested and frequently

The Synagogue

What follows are my remarks from our congregation's annual fundraiser and some tentative thoughts about the meaning of the synagogue for our new age. ...Many of us attend countless charity events throughout the year, especially during these Spring months.  We are often beseeched to support these worthy charities with dire warnings.  Our gifts are equated with saving lives.  Our monies go to important research that could in fact save someone from cancer or protect an Israeli city from Hamas rockets.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I am not at all suggesting that these charities are unimportant.  They do extraordinarily important work.  For those of us privileged enough to have attended the recent AIPAC conference we came to understand this significant work. Yet more often than not these charities appeal to our fears and worries.  They ask for our donations in terms of life and death.  The synagogue cannot appeal to such sentiments.  It was once, in the not too distant past tha

Yom HaShoah & Shemini

Decades ago the olah, the burnt offering sacrifice, described in this week’s portion, was translated as the holocaust offering. For obvious reasons this translation is no longer used.   The olah offering was entirely consumed by fire on the sacrificial altar.  The Hebrew is derived from the word “to go up” because the sacrifice’s smoke ascended to heaven.  The ancients believed that such sacrifices kept the world finely balanced.   The Holocaust is referred to by the Hebrew term Shoah.   This is usually translated as “catastrophe or ruin.”  Unlike the biblical reference that refers to a sacrifice we offer, the term Shoah suggests the destruction it indeed was.  It is a term however that appears infrequently in the Bible, but fittingly is found in the Book of Job.  There, the word appears in one of Job’s laments.  “Of what use to me is the strength of their hands?  All their vigor is gone. Wasted from and want and starvation, they flee to a parched land, to the gloom of desolate