Rabbi Message

A Message from Rabbi in The Messenger Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Humility (in Hebrew: anavah) is a gateway to growth.

As our new Temple building takes shape, we are gearing up to enter a new space, a new era, and… a new adventure! We look forward to getting to know our new physical space better. We look forward to getting to know one another better. And we look forward to greeting new faces in our new Temple. In short, we look forward to growth, in more ways than one….

What spiritual tools will we take with us?

I share with you here some thoughts on the importance of humility as a spiritual tool and, particularly, as a gateway to growth.

In truth, humility is one of the most illusive human characteristics. It is as hard to define as it is to develop and to maintain.

The Torah tells us that Moses, at the height of his “career,” was the most humble (in Hebrew: anav) of all people. Some Biblical translations use the word “meek” as a translation of the Hebrew word anav. Certainly, Moses was not meek. He was strong – stronger than most of us. Other Biblical translations use the word “humble.” Perhaps they chose this translation, rather than “meek,” because we know that Moses’ brand of anavah was a combination of humility along with strength, along with resolve, along with dedication and along with love.

As I see it, humility is a gateway to growth, because in order for us to grow as individuals and as a community, we must be open to absorbing the significance of new information and of new ideas. We need to be humble enough to know that despite our strengths and abilities, we don’t have all the answers ourselves. That is the nature of humility – the kind of humility that opens a gateway to growth.

A story is told about a king who wanted to demonstrate his humility. So, in a royal procession, the king took care to walk on foot behind his empty royal carriage. This king missed the point that our tradition teaches. He missed the point that humility, as exhibited by Moses in the Bible, is not what shows on the outside. Humility is what is felt in our hearts.

As Moses led our people on a journey toward The Promised Land, Moses never lost sight of the goals of our people. He never lost sight of his quest to “know God.” Yet he accepted that, despite the fact that he was chosen by God to lead our
people from Egypt and from slavery to The Promised Land and to freedom, even he could not know everything about God. Moses accepted the fact that neither he nor any other human being could have all the answers. That is the kind of humility that leads to growth – to the appreciation of new opportunities both physical and spiritual, and to greater connection and love in our relationships with God and with our fellow human beings!

Which spiritual tools would you have us take with us as we look forward toward our future? I welcome your thoughts and comments on this question.

I take this opportunity to with us all a wonderful winter and a very happy Purim!!!! May our joy and our humility move us forward and connect us better to one another, day in and day out.

Rabbi’s Column in Bi-Monthly “Messenger”

Relocation is a blessing!
Dear Friends,
There is a popular modern Hebrew phrase: “Meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal.”  Freely translated, this phrase means: “Relocation is a blessing!”  More literally, the phrase means:  “When a person moves to a new place, their luck changes (for the good).”  And so, even as we feel the stress of moving to a new location, folk wisdom reassures us that ultimately change will be for the good.
The tradition upon which this modern folk wisdom is based is found in the following passage of the Babylonian Talmud (Rosh HaShana 16b):  “Rabbi Yitzhak taught: Four things cancel one’s doom, namely; charity, heartfelt prayer, changing one’s name and changing one’s actions….Some say that change of place [also avails].”
Various explanations of this Talmudic passage have been offered.  Some say that our Sages were keenly aware of the role that environment plays in our lives.  Their way of describing this environmental affect on our lives was to say that each land, or territory, was ruled by the edicts of its own particular angel.  When a person moves from one land to another, from one city to another, from one territory to another, that person is moving out of the realm of one angel and into the realm of an entirely different angel. What a wonderful way to describe the adjustments that become necessary when one relocates!  Our Sages understood that each place has a unique “physical climate” which in turn affects its “spiritual climate.”  And when we move, we must adjust accordingly.   The same is true of a congregation that moves….
There is a more mystical explanation of the idea that change of makom [place] helps change our destiny for the good.  In Hebrew, traditionally, one of God’s names is haMakom.  God is “the place” that “contains” us all.   God is everywhere.  In a mystical sense, Meshaneh Makom, meshaneh mazal means: “One who changes God, changes one’s destiny [for the good].”  Now, how do we, mere humans, “change God?”  By performing mitzvoth!   In other words, according to the mystics: When we perform mitzvoth, God is pleased, and as a result we succeed in affecting our destiny for the good!
With the High Holy Days right around the corner, relocation takes on an added dimension.  When we move, we realize that we know ourselves in our former environment.  But, what hidden potential might be unearthed in our new environment?  Will we be able to see ourselves in a new light?  Will we discover new avenues in which we may shine?   Will we be renewed?  Folk wisdom, based on the Talmudic teaching of Rosh HaShana from ancient times, assures us that there is a silver lining to relocation.  In fact, the theme of the High Holy Days, teshuva, is a spiritual form of relocation!
Each year, we change.  As the High Holy Days approach we try to discern the import of the changes we have undergone and to realign ourselves with an eye toward the future.  But, this year, the physical change we have made as a congregation will make the process of discerning who we are and who we want to be going forward that much more tangible.
May our relocation be for a blessing!  May we embrace the New Year of 5777 with open hearts and minds,  and with love and appreciation of our rich and powerful tradition.
I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a Shana Tova u’metukah – a good year and a sweet year filled with blessing and with joy!

Rabbi’s Column in Bi-Monthly “Messenger”

Dear Friends,
In visiting my granddaughters recently, I came across a children’s book named Waiting Is Not Easy.  It is one of the “Elephant and Piggie” series of books by Mo Willens.  And, yes, I recommend this book to anyone who wants to engage a pre-school child in the art of reading and/or listening to storytelling.  However, I mention this book now because it got me thinking about the phenomenon of “waiting” in a Jewish context.

As I write these words, we are in the midst of the Jewish month of Tevet.  As you may know, this Jewish month is associated with one of the stages of the flood story that affected Noah and his family.  According to our tradition, it was in the month of Tevet that Noah first saw mountaintops appear from beneath the gradually receding floodwaters.  This sighting lifted Noah’s spirits and signaled the beginning of the eventual return of the ark to dry land!

Then and there, according to our tradition, Noah and his family praised God.  They expressed their gratitude immediately even though they understood full well that they would have to wait quite a while before they could actually leave the ark and begin a new chapter of life on dry land.

Since that time, the month of Tevet has been associated, in our tradition, with a sense of “hopeful waiting.”
More commonly known is the fact that we Jews are not strangers to “hopeful waiting” year-round.  We have a time-honored tradition of waiting for the Messiah!  True, we do not sit around and wait, twiddling our thumbs.  We actively seek to make the world a better place; a place that reflects the vision of our prophets for the Messianic era; a place in which justice, peace and mutual responsibility reign along with a deep understanding that all human beings are created in the image of God.

But, we wait, nevertheless….

And, although we often associate mitzvoth [commandments] with “good deeds,” and therefore with actions, rather than with waiting, many of our mitzvoth incorporate much of Jewish wisdom with the express purpose of helping us to craft meaningful waiting as part of our lives.
Take for instance, the mitzvoth associated with keeping kosher.  If we observe these mitzvoth, we wait between meat and dairy meals!  In doing so, we hone our capacity to eat “mindfully.”  We acknowledge the fact that our food comes to us thanks to God and thanks to many other people who have toiled so that we may provide food to our family, to our friends, to our community, and so that we ourselves may eat.  We remind ourselves that we are not entirely self-sufficient; that we are part of a tapestry of life that stems from God and includes the community of individuals who inhabit and who share this world with us.

Waiting is the backdrop of our lives in which mitzvoth, good deeds, are nourished and sustained; an essential part of that backdrop that allows us to thrive in “hopeful waiting” mode.Sometimes, waiting is not easy.  It is, in Jewish tradition, a deeply embedded spiritual exercise that grounds us in reality.  If we learn to incorporate it in our lives, waiting centers us; lifts our spirits; and keeps us hopeful, humble, and grateful!

As we wait with hopeful anticipation to see what blessings the new secular year will bring us…I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy 2016!