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Showing posts from August, 2021

My Father Was Lost

Once settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites are instructed to give thanks for their harvest. In what is perhaps the first recorded Thanksgiving celebration, the Torah commands them to make an offering. “You shall leave the first fruits before the Lord your God and bow low before the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 26). Prior to bringing these offerings, the Israelites recite an encapsulation of their history proclaiming that it was God who brought them out of slavery to the land of Israel.  This recitation begins with the words: “My father was a fugitive Aramean—Arami oved avi.” The English lacks the Hebrew’s alliteration. It also disguises the power contained in these three words. The first word uttered is: Aramean. My father was not an Israelite. He was a foreigner. The implication is clear. The land is borrowed. It belongs to God. It is not owned or possessed. This is why the land’s harvest is shared first with God and then the stranger. “And you shall enjoy, together with the

Lost Together

The Hebrew month of Elul began on Sunday, August 8th. According to Jewish tradition this day begins a forty-day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with the beautiful Yom Kippur Neilah service. We belong to a remarkable tradition. We believe that human beings are capable of change. We believe that we have the capacity to mend our ways. No one is perfect. All have erred. Let us take these precious days to mend our failures. This is the grand purpose of the upcoming High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 6th. (Yes, this is early and very soon.) A Hasidic story that I learned from Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Reb Chaim Halberstam of Zanz once helped his disciples prepare for Elul and its goals of teshuvah (repentance) and tikkun (repair) by sharing the following tale. Once a woman became lost in a dense forest. (Obviously this was before the advent of Google Maps.). She wandered this way and that in the hope of stumbling on a way out, but she only got mor

Gates of Justice

In ancient times, the court room was the city’s gates. In fact, archeologists have uncovered stone benches attached to gates of biblical cities where judged sat, heard cases, and issued rulings. It is unfortunate that most contemporary translations render the Hebrew “shaarecha” as your settlements rather than the more literal “your gates.” The Torah proclaims: “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements (shaarecha) that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.” (Deuteronomy 16) The Bible’s intent is clear. Your gates are where justice is established. Why else would the Torah also instruct us “To write these words on the doorpost of your house and on your gates?” It is because justice begins, and ends, at the threshold of a house or a city. This is why justices sat and ruled at the city’s entrances. When people debated matters of law, or had difficulties they could not resolve, they are supposed to g

Get Vaccinated! It's the Jewish Thing to Do

Can we talk about vaccines? Not the science part, but instead the Jewish piece. Judaism believes that our primary responsibility is towards others. We are taught to think about the community’s needs first and foremost. A few illustrations. Attending services is about the fact that others need us to be there. We do not say, for example, the mourner’s kaddish except in the presence of a minyan of ten people. Being there is so that others can stand and mourn. While services are most certainly meaningful and uplifting to the individual, the tradition sees their import in the “we” rather than the “I.” Our prayers are in the plural because we are only one when praying with others. Even dancing at a wedding is not so much about how the spirit (spirits?) move us but instead about making sure the couple dance and celebrate on their wedding day. It is a religious obligation to make sure that the wedding couple rejoice. I dance in large part to lift others on to the dance floor. No one can be h