Tidbits of Torah


Shabbat Parashat Ha'azinu Shabbat Shuvah The Poetry of Life

2020-09-25 12:58:48 RST Web Admin

Dear Friends,

It is never too late to change. And, if you ever doubted that….The proof is in this week’s Torah portion!

In this week’s Torah portion of Ha’azinu, Moses, who once considered himself incapable of speaking persuasively, suddenly changes his mode of communication. Instead of continuing to recount the history of the Exodus, the miracles of redemption, the story of our people’s wandering in the desert and of the ups and downs of our relationship with God – Moses suddenly changes his communication strategy completely! Moses begins to frame his message to our people in words of poetry!

Who would have thought that the man who described himself as “tongue-tied”, would grow into an impressive leader, a great orator, and finally, in the last year of his long life, into a genuine poet! Who would have thought that Moses would be up to changing in the 120th year of his life? Yet, we see that this was so. The message is: It is never too late to change!

This Shabbat, Shabbat Shuvah,the Shabbat between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, is the first Shabbat in the new Jewish year of 5781! We are in the midst of the ten days of repentence – ten days of soul searching for ways to increase blessing in our lives and in the world.

Can we find new ways to be creative? Can we adapt new modes of expression? Will we find a way to flourish in the New Jewish year of 5781?

Or, to put it another way….What will the poetry of our lives look like in the coming year?

I look forward to seeing you at services this Friday evening for our Shabbat Shuvah service, and then again on Sunday evening for our Kol Nidre service and on Monday for our Yom Kippur services.

And, may all our prayers be answered for the good.

Shabbat Shalom and G’mar Chatimah Tova [May we be inscribed for a good life]!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tavo Humble Origins

2020-09-04 12:13:20 RST Web Admin

Dear Friends,

It is so easy to take our lives for granted. It is so easy to forget our humble origins. But, the Torah reminds us again and again that we are all descendants of slaves – that our ancestors experienced the bondage of Egypt and the bitter reality of oppression.

Our Torah portion includes a piece that is to be recited, word for word, upon bringing the first fruits of the Land to the Temple. That piece includes the declaration that our ancestors were slaves.

Remembering our humble origins, especially when we are no longer enslaved, is not optional. It is required. It is a prerequisite to maintaining a sensitivity for the weak elements in our society. Lest we forget….It is the basis upon which we can hope and expect to build a society which is just – a society in which kindness to the stranger, to the outsider, and to the oppressed is the norm, rather than the exception.

May we be blessed with memory of our humble origins, and with the gratitude that is generated by the wise use of our acquired freedom.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Shabbat Parashat Ki Tetze Justice, Peace and Love

2020-08-28 12:17:26 RST Web Admin

Dear Friends,

Justice, peace and love are the foundational values of Jewish living.

We are supposed to love God with all our soul, with all our might, with all our being. It is not clear exactly how we do that, but, if you ask me…..it is even harder to imagine how we are supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves….

Love is basic. Love is emotional. Love simply, is. And yet, for all that we understand the value of love on so many levels…love is also complicated.

Our Parsha touches on the subject of human relationships. Sometimes our relationships are loving. Sometimes they are adversarial. Sometimes they are respectful. Sometimes they are tinged with jealousy or with anger.

Torah reminds us that love, important as it is, must always be tempered with justice and with peace.

In our Parsha, the Torah helps us to unravel the secrets of love, by touching on various scenarios that begin with love within a family setting: the love of a captive woman, the love of parents for one another, the love of parents for their children. Then, our Parsha subtly reminds us of the pitfalls of love. Love can lead to jealousy, to favoritism, and even to hate. Love is complicated.

Our Parsha also touches on our relationship with others, beyond our family circles. Here too, as we learned of familial relationships, we are taught to show love, concern, respect, and above all, we are to remember that love can lead us to be blind to the needs and to the feelings of others. When we pay attention to our close friends and neighbors, but neglect the strangers in our midst, what happens then? How is our society affected?

And so, Torah teaches us how to treat our family members and also how to treat the stranger. So that our love, or lack of love, does not reflect the totality of the nature of our connections with others.

Love is good. Love is one of our foundational values. We are supposed to love God, completely. And, we are supposed to do our best to love others as well…..

But, Torah teaches us to do our best to make sure that the love we do feel for one another, on the human plane, does not lead us to strife!

Love must always be tempered with justice, to help us to ensure peace in our homes, in our cities, and in our world. And, peace is valued so highly in our tradition that the concluding blessing of the Amidah prayer is always the blessing of Shalom [Peace]. And, no less importantly, we are taught in the Talmud that one of God’s names is: Shalom [Peace]!

May we be blessed with the joys of love, and may our love always be tempered with a sense of justice, enhanced by the blessings of peace.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Shabbat Parashat Re'eh Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh Sights and Sounds

2020-08-14 12:39:56 RST Web Admin

Dear Friends,

Undoubtedly, both our sense of self and our “vision” are molded by the sights and sounds that we absorb from our surroundings.

Our Torah portion, Re’eh [which in Hebrew means: See…], acknowledges the power of what we see and what we hear to shape our lives, as it is written: “See, I have set before you the blessing and the curse. The blessing, if you listen to God’s commandments; the curse, if you don’t listen….” Our Torah portion is signaling to us that seeing and hearing are integral to the process of figuring out who we are as we go through the various stages of our lives and what makes our lives meaningful.

But, sometimes, as we grow and develop and learn to deal with our everyday lives, our “vision” tends to narrow. And, when all that we see and hear are the things that happen to us, individually, we lose touch with so much more that would help us to make greater sense of our existence.

And so, Torah encourages us to broaden our sight and to deepen our understanding to include things that are beyond ourselves.

Through the stories of our ancestors and through the intricate system of mitzvoth, Torah seeks to remind us that we are part of a greater picture and that we can help to fashion our Jewish world and the world beyond into a world of greater love, of greater caring and of greater compassion.

Our tradition teaches us that if we remember that we are connected with one another, as Jews and as a congregation, we will ultimately remember that we are connected not only with ourselves but with the greater world around us as well.

As Jews, we are not alone in the need to remind ourselves to broaden our sight and expand our understanding. I share with you the following prayer, written by Rev. Dr. William J Barber II in the hopes that it speaks to you, as it did to me:

A Prayer for Our Uncertain Times

May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health and making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country, let us choose love.

And during this time when we may not be able to physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors. Amen.

– Written by Rev. Dr. William J Barber II

Coming together with one another in the “minyan” (a beautiful and a particularly Jewish concept), where we gather to pray, to learn, to celebrate, to comfort and simply to see and to hear one another, teaches us to remember that we are not alone in the world. And, it teaches us to remember the value of others as well.

The “minyan” is, in fact, one of the strongest foundations of the sights and sounds that lend meaning to our lives as Jews.

And so, I look forward to seeing you as often as possible, together, in our Monday and Thursday morning minyan services, as well as in our Friday evening minyan services.

Let us come together to see one another and to hear one another. Let us expand the sights and the sounds of our individual worlds and, together, we will increase the blessing in all of our lives.

This Shabbat we recite the prayer for the upcoming new Jewish month of Elul – the month of spiritual preparation for the High Holy Days! Rosh Chodesh Elul will be on Wednesday night, Thursday and Friday of this coming week! May it be a month of expanded sights and sounds – a month of increased connection – a month of healing, of comfort and of blessing!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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Shabbat Parashat Ekev Consequences

2020-08-07 12:31:43 RST Web Admin

Dear Friends,

I hope you will join us for services this weekend, both on Friday night and on Shabbat morning, when we will celebrate Shabbat and the bar mitzvah of Brad Rubenstein! Mazal Tov to Brad and to his entire family!

It is amazing how deeply the weekly Torah portion seems to touch our very existence, even as our circumstances change from year to year!

This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, captures a great truth that we would sometimes rather ignore. Keep in mind that the meaning of the Hebrew word “Ekev” is: “as a consequence…”. Our Torah portion, Ekev, teaches us that, whether we know it or not, all of our actions have consequences.

There is a Jewish mystical teaching that says that in each and every action that we take, we create a world. If our action is good, we create a good world. If our action is not good, we create a world that is not good. And each of these worlds that we create, as a consequence of our actions, is seen and felt by God and by others around us. Some mystics even say that in the afterlife, we inhabit all the worlds that we have created as a consequence of our actions.

No matter what we choose to do, whether it is to opt in or to opt out of participation, our action has meaning.

This weekend we will celebrate Shabbat, and also the choice Brad Rubenstein and his family have made, to opt into the rich tradition of having a bar mitzvah at Rodef Sholom Temple. I hope you will choose to opt into the equally significant tradition of supporting the bar mitzvah and his family by joining us at services on both Friday night and on Shabbat morning!

I look forward to seeing you all this weekend and to celebrating with Brad and with his family! And, I am sure that our presence will be especially appreciated and significant as we navigate the waters of our very first COVID-19 era bar mitzvah.

I take this opportunity to give special thanks to Roy Lasris (who headed our technology efforts), to Steve Meyerson (our Ritual Chair), to Radie Maye (our RST Temple Administrator), and to the Rubensteins, to the RST COVID-19 task force (headed by Steve Shapiro), to our President Allen Fraley and to Sarah Barnett (Brad’s tutor), and all the volunteers who have given of their time and energy to help us make this bar mitzvah a reality!

Yasher koach to all and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Gilah Dror

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