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Shabbat: A Jewish Gateway to Conquering Fear Shabbat Parashat Shelach Lecha

Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh

June 1, 2013 – 23 Sivan 5773

Shabbat: A Jewish Gateway to Conquering Fear

Just listen to the news, or don’t listen to the news, but turn on a television program, and pay attention to the advertisements for various products…Just look at the list of movies playing right now in movie theaters.  If you do, you may notice how many of the messages and themes that surround us daily are “fear inducing” – how many of them reference “end of the world” scenarios.  We are bombarded daily with “fear-inducing” messages.

While some measure of fear is necessary in order for us to survive and might even motivate us to strive for excellence, excessive fear can immobilize us, depriving us of the healthy sense that we can innovate, participate, and succeed in the world.

What can we do to strike a healthy balance between helpful fear and excessive fear?

A close reading of our weekly Parsha offers us an amazing insight into fear management…

Parshat Shelach Lecha opens with the story of the 12 scouts, sent by Moses, to report back to our people on the Promised Land.  It is a well known story.  Ten of the scouts brought back stories that frightened our people and ultimately led to their continued wandering in the desert for forty years.  The sad truth is that the generation of Israelites that allowed themselves to be swayed by the fear inducing message of the ten scouts never made it into the Promised Land.  Although, according to the Biblical story, God decreed that they would remain in the desert, it was the people’s own fear that held them back.

Interestingly, the end of the Parashat Shelach Lecha reminds us of the importance of observing the Shabbat and closes with a reference to the mitzvah of tzitzit.

Of this mitzvah we are told:

“Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.  I the Lord am your God, who bought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:40-41).

Each week we are given the opportunity to observe Shabbat anew.

Each week this opportunity is a sacred gateway to conquering excessive fear.  It is a gateway to remembering that God is with us, leading us to the Promised Land.

If we fear that we have not done enough during the week – that we cannot rely on God to be our partner in managing the world – then we will never allow ourselves to rest on the Sabbath.

If we observe the Sabbath, we teach ourselves that it is okay to relax and to let go of excessive fear – once a week, every week!

I believe that it is no coincidence that our Parsha begins with the story of the scouts who planted excessive fear in the hearts of our people, and ends with a story reminding us of the importance of Shabbat.

Observing Shabbat is a marvelous way to help us strike a healthy balance between healthy fear and excessive fear.

Jewish practice of mitzvoth, in its wisdom, offers us the Shabbat – the spiritual practice of setting aside one day each week – one day in which we exercise our healthy sense of faith in the face of whatever is going on in the world around us; one day in which we allow ourselves to rest our fears and to heal our souls.

It is a gift too precious to ignore!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror

P.S. Rosh Chodesh Tammuz will be a week from now, on next Friday night, Saturday and Sunday!  May it be a month of joy, of health and of peace, for us, for all the people Israel, and for all people everywhere!

Torah Tidbits

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Lighting the Darkness in Oklahoma

Shabbat Parashat B’ha’a’lot’kha

May 25, 2013 – 16 Sivan 5773

Lighting the Darkness in Oklahoma

Memorial Day weekend can be a sobering time for us as we pay tribute to those service men and women who gave their lives for the sake of our country and of our freedom.  May their memories be for a blessing.

Even as we prepared for Memorial Day, another sobering event took center stage in our awareness.  I refer to the Oklahoma tornado.

This morning I was asked if there was a “Jewish presence” in Moore, Oklahoma – that most unfortunate place, stricken by the deadliest of tornadoes.  I didn’t know the answer to that question.  Later in the day, I heard that there was a synagogue near the area that was destroyed, but the synagogue was spared.  But, the extent of the destruction in Oklahoma, the magnitude of the suffering, the enormity of the loss of human life and of limb, to say nothing of the loss of material possessions, is staggering.

In the midst of the chaos, Rabbi Abby Jacobson, of Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, wrote the following prayer which was posted on the Rabbinical Assembly website:

A Prayer for Oklahoma

Posted on May 20, 2013

By Abby Jacobson, Emanuel Synagogue, Oklahoma City, OK

Lord our God, we stood before You just a week ago to receive the Ten Statements of Your Torah. We stood, as though with our ancestors, and listened to the Torah reader chant descriptions of the smoking mountain, the thunderous rumbling, and the long-awaited voice of God.

 This afternoon, the people of central Oklahoma did not stand to hear the voice of God. We sat, we paced, and we huddled. We listened to the voice of the meteorologists and watched as dark clouds swirled together over a cone of destruction. The rain fell upward, not down, and the thunderous roar of the swirling winds carried, and we saw the awesome power of God. This was not Shavuot-the Feast of Weeks that marked our days of freedom. This was minutes that seemed like years and trapped us into watching the same images of destruction.

 Merciful God, a great and powerful windstorm has passed, and it has torn apart the buildings and shattered the rocks before You. You told Elijah, the prophet, that You were not in the windstorm. Please, then, be in the still, small voices of the children crying out to be found. Be in the voices of the rescuers calling out for survivors. Be in the cries of those who are lost and of those who have lost.

 May it be Your will that those who are missing be found alive and be cared for well, and may the people of central Oklahoma find strength in You and in one another as we rebuild what we can.

The people of Oklahoma need our help.  As Jews, we are commanded to be there for one another, but also to be there for the community at large.

Our Torah portion, B’ha’a’lot’kha, mentions the lighting of the Menorah in the Tabernacle.  That light was to burn unceasingly, day in and day out.  That same light inspires us to have an “eternal light” burning in our synagogues in front of the aron kodesh – the ark that houses our Torah scrolls.

It reminds us of the holiness of God and of Jewish community.  It also reminds us of the holiness of life.  The flickering flame – a tangible reminder of the precious soul within each of us – reminds us that all human beings, regardless of race, religion, or creed, are created in God’s image.

Today, more than ever, that flickering flame reminds us that we can create some light even when darkness threatens to envelope us; that we can be there as a source of light and of hope for the people of Oklahoma.  And if we reach out to help those in need, we will be rewarded for our efforts as we feel ourselves to be a part of the healing process that is just beginning.

If you are moved to help the people of Oklahoma through Jewish organizations, please consider helping through Nechama at www.nechama.org or through The Jewish Federations of North America at www.jewishfederations.org

May the light of Torah light up our lives, and the lives of those in Oklahoma who are struggling to rebuild their lives and to find avenues of hope and of renewal for the future.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror

Torah Tidbits

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Less Resentment…More Sharing, More Love, More Progress!

Shabbat Parashat Naso

May 18, 2013 – 9 Sivan 5773

Less Resentment…More Sharing, More Love, More Progress!

Getting beyond resentment is not always easy….But, if we do, we reap many rewards.

Remember the famous biblical story of  Korach?  We will read it in the coming weeks.  To recap the story: Korach deeply resented Moses’ leadership and convinced others to join him in a rebellion which ended in disaster for our people.

But, the Korach story is not so unique.

Rivers of resentment are all around us!

For example, when we see people around us being recognized for their contributions, while our contributions go unnoticed, or when we are not chosen to play a part in a play, we can easily develop resentment toward others.  Or, when we notice that not everyone contributes equally to an endeavor we care about, we can easily jump to the conclusion that our resources are taken for granted.

It is so easy to be inundated by rivers of resentment and, as a consequence, to become dis-spirited – to forget our shared goals, our underlying connections, our vision and our hopes!

Parashat Naso, teaches us some practical wisdom for keeping us on track!

In our Parsha, we learn that each one of the chieftains of the 12 tribes of Israel brought an identical gift, on an appointed day of the 12 day dedication of the Tabernacle in the desert.  And, each of the families of the Levites was given a specific job in the maintenance and carrying of the Tabernacle during the desert trek.

In relating this to us, Torah is suggesting that communal organization and vision must go hand in hand in order to create inclusive, caring and committed communities.

If we plan to involve everyone in our goals, if we seek to maximize the value of each of us and to shine a light on the gifts that each of us brings to community – then we will succeed.

If we create a framework that enables each of us to see ourselves as responsible for a particular task, for a particular time slot, for a specific part of the process, then we will all find a way to pull together – to minimize our feelings of resentment, and to increase our sharing, our love, and our progress…That is the work of kehilla kedoshah – of sacred community – and those are our rewards!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror