Tidbits of Torah

 

Tidbits of Torah

2017-08-18 15:47:28 RST Web Admin

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Shabbat Parashat Re’eh

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh

August 19, 2017- 27 Av 5777

Dear Friends,
How can we respond to the horrific events in Charlottesville? Watching the videos of hundereds of neo-Nazis, KKK, white supremecists, and other hate groups walking through UVA carrying torches and chanting anti-semitic slogans was difficult enough. Reading the letter written by the President of the Reform synagogue in Charlotesville about their experience of holding services on Shabbat morning as the neo-Nazis circled nearby was bone-chilling. What can we say? What can we do? Many of us have been asking ourselves these questions…. No matter what our political affiliation might be, no matter how we judge the responses of our leaders, there are certain things that unite us. I shared my feelings as to the things that must inform and unite us in a Facebook post this week.

I share that same Facebook post with you now:

“No, to racism. No, to anti-semitism. No, to those who would deny basic human dignity and respect to anyone different than themselves. No, to silence. No, to evil. No, to equating those who would deny the humanity of others to those who protest against it. No, to the rise in hate crimes. No!….Yes, to healing. Yes, to love. Yes, to moving forward toward a better future!”
In Ecclesiastes (3:1;7) we read: “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven:…A time for silence and a time for speaking…” Difficult as it may be, this is not the time for silence. This is the time to speak out. This is not the time to lose hope. It is the time for each one of us to re-double our efforts to bring greater blessing into the world.

And, in our morning services we read Psalm 146. I share with you excerpts of this amazing and uplifting Psalm:
“Hallelujah.
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord all my life,
sing hymns to my God while I exist.
Put not your trust in the great,
in mortal man who cannot save.
His breath departs;
he returns to the dust;
on that day his plans come to nothing.
Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in the Lord his God…
who secures justice for those who are wronged,
given food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free;
The Lord restores sight to the blind;
the Lord makes those who are bent stand straight;
the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord watches over the stranger;
He gives courage to the orphan and widow…”
Psalm 146 reminds us of the attributes of God that are our guiding light in the world. God seeks to make the world safer. God cares for those who are in need. That is the model for us as well.

Our weekly Torah portion of Re’eh begins with Moses’ reminder to us: God has set before us this day the blessing and the curse. It is up to us to follow God’s lead and to do all that is in our power to bring more blessing into the world.
The United Synagogue and the Rabbinical Assembly have joined with many other Jewish organizations this weekend to take part in “Shabbat Celebrating Unity and Diversity.” We are all encouraged to find those values that unite us even as we celebrate the wonders of our diversity. We are all encouraged to speak with one another and to strengthen our resolve to make our world a better place.
This week, at RST, we have the opportunity to come together on Friday night at 6:30 pm for Barbecue and Barchu, followed by our Friday night service which will be at 7:30 pm. And, on Shabbat morning, we will have the opportunity to celebrate a baby naming! Two wonderful opportunities to celebrate our unity and our diversity, our dedication, and our freedom. I look forward to seeing you soon!

This Shabbat we will also recite the blessing for the upcoming new Jewish month of Elul. Rosh Chodesh Elul will be on Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday of this coming week. May this month bring us healing, peace, and joy.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-08-11 13:04:49 RST Web Admin

   Shema Revisited!  

  Shabbat Parashat Ekev

August 12, 2017- 20 Av 5777
Dear Friends,headshot white 2015cropped

We all know the Shema in the context of the verse: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad [Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One].  But, the Hebrew word Shema means so much more than “Hear.”

In his book: Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible, Jonathan Sacks points out that, in its various uses in the Bible, Shema may mean: hear; hearken; completely obey; pay attention; heed; and even, understand!  So, for instance, in the story of the Tower of Babel, God intervenes in the project of building the tower by coming down and confusing the language of the people so that they will not understand one another – so that there will be a breakdown of communication.  In the Tower of Babel story, the Bible tells us that God says: lo yishme’u ish sefat ray’eyhu  [that they may not understand one another’s speech] (Genesis 11:7).  Clearly, there is so much more to the verb Shema than appears on the surface!

What we might not know is that the word Shema appears over ninety times (in its various grammatical forms) in the Book of Deuteronomy.    And, in our weekly Torah portion of Ekev, the word Shema appears more than once (see for example: Deuteronomy 7:12; 9:1; 9:23; and 11:13).

Taking into account the fact that Shema is so central to our Bible and that it means so much more than a command to hear, to listen, or to simply obey – one might wonder:

Is Judaism, as represented by the Shema, best served by rote obedience to commandments?

From the differing nuances attached to the word Shema, it would seem that, although we are supposed to hear and obey our tradition’s teachings, we are also supposed to listen deeply.  We are supposed to give ourselves time to absorb and to understand the value of the teachings of Jewish tradition.

How much time do we devote to deep listening to the teachings of our tradition?  How much time do we devote to deep listening to one another?

The busy lives we lead do not lend themselves to deep listening of any kind.  But, then our tradition gives us the gift of Shabbat!  On Shabbat, the day of rest, we have the opportunity to do some deep listening both to the teachings of our tradition and to one another.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

 

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-08-04 15:32:07 RST Web Admin

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Shabbat Parashat VaEtchanan

Shabbat Nachamu

August 5, 2017- 13 Av 5777

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat we read the Torah portion of VaEtchanan which includes both the Ten Commandments and the Torah phrase that has become the watchword of our people: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad [Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One] (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Traditionally, we recite the Shema in our prayers, twice a day – morning and evening. The Shema is often the first prayer that our children learn. It is the verse we chant when we take the Torah scroll out of the ark. And, it is often the last verse that Jews recite as we prepare to take leave of life on this earth. The Shema encompasses our lives and encapsulates our religion.

So, what does it mean? The Shema signifies that most basic truth of our faith. It points to the unity of God which, in turn, underpins our basic sense of the importance of equality, of justice and of respect for all people. Despite all of our disagreements and varied points of view, we agree that all human beings are created in the image of God.

An ancient midrash re-interprets the Shema as a response that Jacob’s sons gave their father Jacob on his deathbed. Sensing the approaching end of his life, Jacob was suddenly consumed with worry. He asked his sons a crucial question: Is your faith firm? Do you believe in the unity of God?

Jacob knew that his sons were strong individuals with strong points of view. He knew that they had often disagreed and been at odds with one another during their lives. At the end of his life, Jacob wanted to know whether his spiritual legacy – the legacy of the Shema, of the unity of God – had penetrated their souls.

At the end of his life, Jacob wanted to know if he had succeeded in passing on the tradition that he himself had received from his parents, Isaac and Rebeca, and from his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah.

According to the midrash, Jacob’s sons, diverse as they were, responded to him by saying: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad.

In the course of his life, Jacob’s name was changed to Yisrael. According to the midrash, when Jacob’s sons said: Shema Yisrael – they were speaking to their father, Jacob! They were reassuring their father, that despite their disagreements, they had all internalized the belief in the unity of God. Now, hearing that, Jacob could rest easy. His legacy would be passed on to the coming generations.

Today, the Shema reminds us not only of the unity of God. It reminds us also of the importance of communicating our most sacred values to our children. It reminds us of the importance of passing on our spiritual heritage from generation to generation so that we, too, may one day rest easy.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-07-28 13:08:06 RST Web Admin

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Shabbat Parashat Devarim

Shabbat Chazon

July 29, 2017- 6 Av 5777

Dear Friends,

This Shabbat has a special name: Shabbat Chazon [Vision Sabbath]. It gets its name from the first word of the Haftarah which opens with the words: Chazon Yeshayahu [The vision of Isaiah]. This Haftarah is read each year on the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av [the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av] – the fast day on which we recall with great sadness a series of extremely difficult events in the history of our people. To name just a few of these sad events: on Tisha B’Av we recall the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians and the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in ancient times. We also recall that in the year 1290, King Edward I signed the edict compelling his Jewish subjects to leave England on Tisha B’Av. And, in the year 1492, Tisha B’Av was the day of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.

Midrash tells us that Tisha B’Av was the day on which our people, heeding the words of the ten nay-saying spies and fearing to go forward into the Promised Land, cried and rebelled against Moses and against God. A version of what transpired on that day in the desert is recounted by Moses in our weekly Torah portion of Devarim [Deuteronomy]. The Sages tied the tears shed by our ancestors in the desert with the tears shed by Jewish people in later generations when great calamities were visited on our people on Tisha B’Av.

Our Sages also tell us that the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, at least in part, because of the baseless hatred our people exhibited toward one another. As our Sages saw it, we were so busy baring our fists toward one another that we failed to notice the approaching danger. We failed to work together to take on the very real internal challenges of ethical living, as well as the very real external challenges that we were facing as a people. The result was destruction, pain and loss.

Fasting and remembering on Tisha B’Av might be viewed as a retrospective spiritual exercise.

If so, we might say to ourselves: Perhaps, if there had been fewer fists bared toward our brothers and sisters, we would have done better…Or, perhaps we might say to ourselves: I wonder how God could have let it happen. Perhaps we might take some time to study the teachings of our Sages to try to understand how they grappled with the aftermath of the sad events of the past. We look back. We are saddened. That is the nature of a retrospective spiritual exercise.

However, Tisha B’Av might also be viewed as a prospective (rather than as a retrospective) spiritual exercise! If so, fasting on Tisha B’Av might be seen as forward thinking! How so?

As we fast on Tisha B’Av, we might ask ourselves: Are we any better today at treating one another with respect? Are we still so absorbed with our own “in-fighting” that we ignore external challenges to Israel and/or to Jewish life in our diaspora communities? Most importantly, what can we do to come together in greater understanding and peace?

Our Sages saw Tisha B’Av as a day of great sadness, but they also saw it as a day with tremendous redemptive possibility for the future.

Perhaps the slogan of Tisha B’Av this year (Monday night through Tuesday after nightfall) might be: Fast Forward: Fewer Fists.

Let us remember that fervor and faith can combine beneficially with respect and with resolve. Together, fervor and faith, respect and resolve can help us come closer to true tikkun olam – the vision of our prophets in which internal and external cooperation and peace guide and inspire our lives individually and communally!

May this Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon [Vision Shabbat], and the days to come, bring us closer to the fulfillment of the the vision of our prophets for ourselves, for Israel and for all good people everywhere.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Tidbits of Torah

2017-07-21 13:10:05 RST Web Admin

A Pioneering Spiritheadshot white 2015cropped

Shabbat Parashat Mattot-Mas’ey

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh

July 22, 2017- 28 Tammuz 5777

Dear Friends,

You may be familiar with the Hebrew word for pioneer: chalutz, or in the plural form, pioneers: chalutzim. This ancient Hebrew word holds a great message in it….As a way of beginning to explore the depth of this special message, I invite us to do the following:

Think of someone who is a pioneer. What image comes to mind? Do you see an American pioneer in your mind’s eye? Or, do you think of an Israeli pioneer? Do you imagine someone who lived on a kibbutz in the early years of Israel’s founding? Or, perhaps you imagine someone who invented a cure for a disease. Whatever image comes to mind, it is interesting that a pioneering spirit is something our Torah envisioned even in ancient times.

In our weekly Torah reading, Moses is told by God to prepare our people for a battle against the Midianites. Moses chooses his words carefully as he addresses the people. He says: “Hey-chaltzu mey-itchem anashim la-tzava…” The JPS translation of Moses’ words is as follows: “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign….” Note that the Hebrew word hey-chaltzu (which is related to the Hebrew word chalutz or pioneer) is translated here as “picked out.” The sense is that a pioneer somehow stands out of the crowd. A pioneer is chosen to do something special. And Moses called upon these special people to be pioneers as our people prepare to battle the Midianites.

Based on the use of the Hebrew word chalutz in various Biblical verses, the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah, Parashat Behar, 34:15) explains that being a chalutz (pioneer)involves four distinct levels of action. It involves: removing oneself from one’s day to day framework; preparing oneself for the challenge ahead; acknowledging God’s protection; and finally – resting! All those levels of meaning and the anticipation of all those levels of action are embedded in Moses’ words: “hey-chaltzu mey-itchem anashim”. I would translate Moses’ words to the people this way: “Gather people from among you who have a pioneering spirit!”

Who is a pioneer? That is a question you might want to discuss. But, keep in mind that pioneers might not necessarily be people who are far away in time or in place.

Perhaps those people who have gathered together around our tables, or who have joined us at synagogue, on this Shabbat are truly pioneers!

Perhaps we ourselves have stepped forward to be counted among the pioneers of our people… stepping away from our daily comfort zone, preparing for the challenges of growing Jewishly; acknowledging God’s presence; and finally, enjoying Shabbat, our holy day of rest, together!

Who is a pioneer? I welcome your thoughts….

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gilah Dror
P.S. Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av will be on Sunday night and on Monday. May it be of month of peace, of comfort and of healing!

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