Four hundred and sixty seven school shootings in American History. That is an incomplete list from Wikipedia.
It doesn’t include suicides or when only teachers were killed.
How many happen in other parts of the world?
How many times do we hear thoughts and prayers?
How many times have we seen any actual action to prevent future shootings?
When will enough be enough?
I was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary. The shooting there happened long after I left, but I can picture those hallways. I can see the students and the teachers.
I am grateful to live in the United States of America. We have rights and responsibilities that our friends around the world could only dream about. We have opportunities that are not available everywhere.
What has made this country incredible is how we have welcomed immigrants and ideas from around the world. We have assimilated people from everywhere, welcoming their ideas, their businesses and helping them live their dreams. Sometimes we have been more or less welcoming. Whether we are first or fourteenth generation in this country, we have something to offer and appreciate. I pray that we can look around the world and find solutions to gun violence! We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need a uniquely American idea, we just need a plan that can work here!
My prayer for my beloved country:
Ribono Shel Olam,
May we see a day when no child is threatened at school.
May they go and learn in peace.
May we see teachers and students growing in knowledge and not in fear.
May we never need to explain to our children what violent event happened in another school.
May weapons of mass destruction remain outside of school zones.
May students who need help be assisted and not shunned.
May we see this time of peace speedily in our days.
Today is #GivingTuesday. Support us by offering your two cents, or two dollars, or two hundred, or two thousand!
Follow-up to my video:
To be a Jew is to declare oneself part of a Jewish community. It is to pay your dues. One cannot really be Jewish alone. One must affiliate; one must connect; one must see oneself as part of something bigger. Join us, donate, pray, learn. Be a part of the holiness that is our tradition, our Torah, ourselves.
Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation Agudas Israel
Parshat Lech Lecha 2017
PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) — The Sasebo-based amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) rendered assistance to two distressed mariners, Oct. 25, whose sailboat had strayed well off its original course.
The mariners, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba, both from Honolulu, and their two dogs had set sail from Hawaii to Tahiti this spring. They had an engine casualty May 30 during bad weather but continued on, believing they could make it to land by sail.
Two months into their journey and long past when they originally estimated they would reach Tahiti, they began to issue distress calls. The two continued the calls daily, but they were not close enough to other vessels or shore stations to receive them.
On Oct. 24, they were discovered 900 miles southeast of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. The fishing vessel contacted Coast Guard Sector Guam who then coordinated with Taipei Rescue Coordination Center, the Japan Coordination Center, and the Joint Coordination Center in Honolulu to render assistance.
Operating near the area on a routine deployment, Ashland made best speed to the location of the vessel in the early morning on Oct. 25 and arrived on scene at 10:30 a.m that morning. After assessing the sailboat unseaworthy, Ashland crew members brought the distressed mariners and their two dogs aboard the ship at 1:18 p.m.
“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief,” said Appel.
Appel said they survived the situation by bringing water purifiers and over a year’s worth of food on board, primarily in the form of dry goods such as oatmeal, pasta and rice.
Once on Ashland, the mariners were provided with medical assessments, food and berthing arrangements. The mariners will remain on board until Ashland’s next port of call.
“The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation,” said Cmdr. Steven Wasson, Ashland commanding officer.
Part of U.S. 7th Fleet’s forward deployed naval forces out of Sasebo, Japan, Ashland has been on a routine deployment for the past five months as a ready-response asset for any of contingency.
Can you imagine being lost at sea for weeks? Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba were prepared for a long journey, but not for the one they took! Abraham thought he was prepared, yet his journey had major ups and downs.
The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
2 I will make of you a great nation,
And I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
And you shall be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you
And curse him that curses you;
And all the families of the earth
Shall bless themselves by you.” http://www.jtsa.edu/lekh-lekha-torah
Abraham’s journey begins in the footsteps of his father. Terach leaves his home with his family, with Avram and Sarai. They journey from Ur to Haran, towards Canaan, but they do not make it all the way. Looking at our own histories, I think about the generations of Jews who desired to go to Israel. They wanted to make aliyah, but it was simply not possible. Think about your parents, grandparents, and beyond. What brought them to this country? They began a journey, but did they finish it?
My grandparents were all born in New York, but their lives looked very different than mine. I grew up as the son of a doctor, reminded regularly that while he didn’t choose a lucrative specialty, we always lived comfortably. My paternal great grandfather had a newspaper stand, working in every sort of weather, every day of the week. He might go to an early minyan Saturday morning, but then he had to work on Shabbat, as much as he didn’t want to. My paternal grandfather worked for the NY state Department of Labor. It was not the most interesting job, but he took care of his family. To take care of my aunt, he worked weeknights teaching English as a foreign language, and took many other side jobs to make ends meet. My maternal grandfather worked with his hands. He could see the beauty and potential in many things, fixing, cleaning, and reselling what to others was junk. (Of course, at home, he had no tolerance for junk and regularly cleaned house, to the chagrin of my grandmother.) They did not necessarily love their work, but it enabled their children to make different choices. They strongly encouraged education, pushing their children to succeed in the fields of THEIR choice.
What happened to Abraham? He went to Israel and immediately had to go down to Egypt. He did some pretty embarrassing things in trying to convince people that Sarah was his sister–out of fear that they would kill him to take her as their wife. He and Sarah came out of that experience with great wealth and moved to the Negev with Lot–where there were squabbles amongst their entourages and they had to part ways. He helped out in a war, bringing peace and more success to himself and his family. Yet one big piece was missing–children. He had been promised a covenant through generations, yet did not have another generation to share his connection and love. Taking things into their own hands, Sarai gave him Hagar and Ishmael was born. A new covenant was sealed with Brit Milah and next week we find out what happens next.
Their journey is far from over! Powerful in this narrative is the intergenerational dynamics. We will eventually see how Isaac and Jacob will continue to fulfill the covenant. We will see how this leads directly to Joseph, slavery and the Exodus, which brings us to the Torah and Judaism.
Each of these family members was a step in the chain of tradition. We are also a part of that chain. Our parents were. Our children are. We have the stories of the generations in our blood–both those common to all of us as Jews AND those unique to our families.
Central to this story is resilience. Whether Abraham or ourselves, life has never been easy. We may be privileged. We may be lucky and fortunate to be educated and have enough to eat. Yet no life is without pain. No life is without challenge. The real test is how we deal with it.
According to tradition, Abraham had ten tests. Each was an opportunity to show connection to God or not. It was an opportunity it show strength or not. It was an opportunity to choose life or not. Each time, through every struggle, Abraham found ways of continuing. He even managed to offer thanks to God for all of his challenges and opportunities.
It makes me think about ourselves and our families. What is our reaction to struggle? Is it grit? Is it stick-to-it-ness or do we call it a day when things get hard? More books have been written than I can quote on the subject, but resilience and determination is the answer to almost every question. Our survival has been dependent on that. We can thank God both for the blessings and challenges of our lives, but more importantly we can thank God for the strength to get through, to push on, to live.
Talking to people who have experience loss, meaning everyone, the common thread is the desire to keep going, to put one foot in front of another. This is not to say that grief and loss are ignored, but that we must still find ways to live, to celebrate, to see the blessings of our lives. Like Abraham, we must follow the footsteps of our ancestors, but continue the journey to our own destinations. Like those two sailors, even when they lost their way, they kept plugging along, until they were rescued. (Sometimes we all need a little help!) They may not always be exactly where we thought we were going, but through positive reactions, resilience, grit, and faith in God, we can find the strength to discover our own Promised Lands. Lech lecha!
I’m experimenting with Facebook Live. Love to hear your thoughts on this mini video–I think I’m supposed to turn the camera sideways next time!
Resilience/journeys and Parshat Lech Lecha
Posted by Rabbi Philip Weintraub on Friday, October 27, 2017
RH Day 2 5778 2017 Rosh Hashanah
Sep 22, 2017
Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation Agudas Israel
No matter if you’re born
To play the King or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow
So my fantasy
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow
So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall
In 1966 Simon and Garfunkel released “Flowers never bend with the rainfall”. Many discuss it as a parable for depression, or a treatise on existential philosophy, yet I see it as an argument for hope. Yesterday I spoke of our hope for the future, thinking in the frame of the eclipse about planning ahead and considering our passions. Today I think about the eclipse itself. What do we do when things get darkest?
This year I became a board certified chaplain. In the last few years, I have spent thousands of hours meeting with you and with others in my office, in the hospital, in hospice, and in your homes. I have spoken to you in good times and bad, celebrated joyful moments and cried with you as things got tough. To become board certified, I had to write a spiritual autobiography and an essay demonstrating how I met dozens of competencies. The essays were theological, intellectual, and attempted to think deeply about the emotional and spiritual well being of myself and others. Yet when I sat for my board interview, sitting with a panel of already certified chaplains they asked very little about my essays. Over and over, they asked how I FELT about things. They asked how I dealt with my feelings, what coping methods I used.
I must be what I must be and face tomorrow
I spoke of the miscarriage we suffered, how we shared the loss with you, and were blessed with love and support back. I shared how writing, speaking, very occasional exercise–I know, I know it should be more–and even watching TV were helpful to me. When thinking about Rebecca’s upcoming surgery, I know that we have a powerful community, people who have gone through the same and those that have not, yet all who want to help us get over this brief speedbump in our lives.
Our attitudes toward life are so impactful. How we react to the world around us speaks volumes about us, but also about our history. Do we fight or do we flee? Do we hide and cower and pretend or do we acknowledge and make a plan?
Jeremy Brown, an ER physician and researcher at NIH also keeps a Talmud blog. He shared that in the Talmud,
Succah 29a: תנו רבנן: בשביל ארבעה דברים חמה לוקה: Our Rabbis taught: A solar eclipse occurs on account of four things.
Without going into the details of the sins, the rabbis saw an eclipse as a bad omen. Yet how can it be a bad omen if it is a naturally occurring and predictable event? How do we solve this problem?
The Maharal of Prague (d. 1609) has a lengthy explanation in his work Be’er Hagolah which, for the sake of clarity, we shall summarize. The Maharal acknowledged that an eclipse is a mechanical and predictable event but he further suggested that if there was no sin, there would indeed never be a solar eclipse. G-d would have designed the universe differently, and in this hypothetical sin-free universe our solar system would have been created without the possibility for a solar eclipse.
Another attempt to explain the Talmud was offered by R. Yonason Eibeschutz (d. 1764). In 1751, R. Eibeschutz was elected as Chief Rabbi of the Three Communities (Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek),…[and] gave a drashah in Hamburg in which he addressed the very same problem that Maharal had noted: If a solar eclipse is a predictable event, how can it be in response to human conduct? His answer was quite different. The Talmud in Succah is not actually addressing the phenomenon that we call a solar eclipse. According to R. Eibeschutz, the phrase in Succah “לוקה שהחמה בזמן “actually means “when there are sunspots.”
Yet today, many found the eclipse a cause for celebration. What a blessing to be able to see an amazing natural phenomenon. Looking at more recent rabbis, some were asked if one could say a blessing. Both the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and Hayyim David Halevi, a prominent former Chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv, may both their memories be a blessing, said it was inappropriate to say a blessing–how can we add to the Torah? If the Talmud did not say a bracha, we cannot either.
While I am far less prominent than either of them, I would have to disagree. There is a blessing for seeing natural phenomena–lightning, mountains, oceans, earthquakes, meteors and comets etc.:
ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם עושה מעשה בראשית – Baruch Atta Adonay Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Oseh Maaseh Beresheet. Some might even say Shecheyanu, thanking God that we are alive to see this day. My teacher, Rabbi Josh Heller, wrote in a tshuvah for the Conservative Movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards that we should say
Blessed…Whose strength and Power fill the world
בָּרּוְך אַתָּה יְיָּ אֱֹלהֵינּו מֶלְֶך הָּעֹולָּם, שֶכֹּחֹו ּוגְבּורָּתֹו מָּלֵא עֹולָּם
We can debate about the proper blessing, but my desire to say a blessing on the eclipse speaks to my philosophy of Judaism and of life. Reiterating, how we react, says much about us. Is the Judaism, is the life we want, one where we are afraid of the world around us? Are we looking for terrible omens and signs that the world is coming to an end? Or are we looking for the good, are we looking not just to survive, but to thrive.
There is a story in Talmud Brachot 60b: “Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to saying “Everything Hashem does is for the good”. Once Rabbi Akiva was traveling with a donkey, rooster, and candle and when night came he tried to find lodging in a nearby village only to be turned away. Although Rabbi Akiva was forced to spend the night in the field, he did not lament his fate. Instead his reaction was “Everything Hashem does is for the best”. (It is interesting to note the difference between Rabbi Akiva and us. If for example we were learning for a long time, and we couldn’t find a place to sleep wherever we were, we would have complaints against Hashem that this is the reward we get for learning?! Yet Rabbi Akiva who obviously learned more and better than us had no such feelings). A wind came and blew out his candle, a cat ate his rooster, and a lion came and ate his donkey, and again Rabbi Akiva’s reaction was “Everything that Hashem does is for the best”. That night a regiment came and took the entire town captive, while Rabbi Akiva who was sleeping in the field went unnoticed and thus was spared. When Rabbi Akiva realized what happened he said, “Didn’t I tell you that everything that Hashem does is for the best”?” Rashi explains that if the candle, rooster or donkey would have been around, the regiment would have seen or heard them and would have also captured Rabbi Akiva.
How many of us would react like Rabbi Akiva? Would we thank God that we had survived an attack? Or would we be angry at the loss of our possessions? In recent weeks, we have seen disaster after disaster, floods, fires, storms and more. What is amazing to me is the variety of ways people react. Some are despondent, yet they have lost very little. Others who lost everything, who start with nothing, are filled with gratitude. I spoke recently with Rabbi Hirshel Jaffee, a former rabbi of TBJ. He shared with me some of the tsurris that has been in his life–numerous cancers, the recent loss of his daughter–yet the heart of our conversation was about his deep optimism, his view that hope always remained.
No matter if you’re born
To play the King or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow
Every one of us has faced adversity. Every one of us had great joy and life experiences. Some of us have had far more on our plate, some of us have had less. Too often we hear “God only gives us what we can handle”, which while might sound consoling is rarely positive in the moment. Rather, we might discover that listening to one another’s trials and travails is far more effective. The meaning we find from suffering is far more powerful when discovered individually than imposed by others. Yes, our tradition can offer ideas, yet it is not the exclusive answer. Our tradition brings us both Job and the rabbis of the Talmud with a diverse set of answers!
So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end
And flowers never bend
With the rainfall
Simon and Garfunkel give us an out. Yet their idea is based on our Jewish traditions. We can live “As if” things are better. We can live “AND”, knowing that we are not limited to a single emotional state. We can be Happy and sad. We can celebrate AND grieve. We can recognize that the world is not only what we see, but what we make of it. Our tradition teaches us the importance of greeting one another with a cheerful countenance AND that we can reject suffering as a theological concept.
Over the last few years, I have reminded you again and again that our lives are a series of choices, of decisions great and small. How we react to adversity, how we react to one another, greatly determines how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. This is not just pop psychology, but the wisdom of our tradition.
Using the frame of the eclipse, we know that the darkness of the eclipse is only temporary. It is not permanent. The sun is not disappearing forever. It is a moment of time. As another voice in our tradition says, gam ze ya’avor, this too shall pass. If we remember the moments to come, sometimes they can help us in those difficult moments. We know that some sorrows are so great they need more than platitudes, yet the power of our community can help in matters great and small.
As we continue these High Holy Days, let us find the strength to react well, to react strongly and decisively, and to bring love and kindness to our reactions.
RH Day 1 5778 2017 Rosh Hashanah
Sep 21, 2017
Rabbi Philip Weintraub
Congregation Agudas Israel
A few weeks ago, our nation was seemingly united. All around the country people were making plans for a big event. People drove hundreds of miles to find the perfect spot. They woke up early, with tremendous enthusiasm to get to where they wanted to go–to get into the path of totality–to see a total solar eclipse. While those looking for the eclipse are not exactly the same as Abraham and Isaac, I think there are a few parallels. Over this season, I will use the phases of the eclipse to think about the phases of our lives and the impact we can make on the world and ourselves this holiday season. This morning, I think about our preparations. How do they inspire us? How do they help us find our passions amidst the noise of this world.
I admit, I’m not an astronomer, but like many of you, I dabbled a little bit this year. I learned that there are several phases. The eclipse begins with first contact, when the moon starts blocking the disk of the sun. It continues to totality/maximum eclipse. The eclipse ends followed by the end of the partial eclipse. As I thought about these phases, I thought how it really describes our decision making processes, and our lives. The eclipse is really a microcosm of our world and our lives.
In our Torah reading this morning, God kept a promise with Abraham and Sarah. They were blessed with a new child, Isaac. Tomorrow we read of the Akedah, how God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. Yet today, we find Sarah asks Abraham to sacrifice his son–Ishmael. Both times Abraham takes his son out early in the morning. The rabbinic commentators use this to remind us to be eager to do mitzvot. We should not wait until day’s end. We should pray at the earliest opportunity. We should offer our thanks at the earliest opportunity. We should offer our praise and love to others at the earliest opportunity. Maybe we should have our coffee at the earliest opportunity!
The big preparation for most of us was finding eclipse glasses. We all know that looking at the sun is bad for our eyes, that it can cause permanent damage, but the challenge is that during an eclipse, we might not feel the pain that we feel when we normally look at the bright sun. There is no physical reminder to look away opening up the possibility for real, permanent damage. Yet for some, there was more than just the glasses. They booked special trips–even the Secretary of the Treasury realized it would be a good day to visit Fort Knox–and just happened to have time to check out the eclipse with Senator McConnell.
Towns and cities in the path of the eclipse saw huge spikes in interest and potential revenue. Farmers rented their fields out for tremendous sums as eclipse viewing spot. Even my father’s patients called their appointments that day to ensure that they would be able to see this “once in a lifetime experience.” A couple towns almost made themselves eclipse tourist venues, hoping for a shot at revitalizing lackluster towns but then realized they had no hotels to house guests, no restaurants to feed them and no police to protect their citizens. For other places, it was a frenzy.
It is not just the eclipse though. Last week Apple announced a whole slew of new products. How many of us will be getting them when they are made of available? How about Samsung or Microsoft or Tesla or BMW or Mercedes? We love the newest and greatest. We love to show that we are part of the IN crowd. We all love to be a part of something larger than ourselves. Because at the end of the day, these things really are like religions. They can become are our idols. Think how much we, our children, our friends look up to our teenage musical idols–whether they are the Beatles, Billy Joel, or whatever it is the kids these days listen to!
I have to give a lot of respect to Fiona Apple. At 19, in 1997 she gave a very strange Best New Artist speech at MTV awards. Speaking about her fellow pop idols she said, and pardon my french, “This world is bullshit,” she said. “You shouldn’t model your life on what we think is cool, and what we’re wearing and what we’re saying and everything. Go with yourself.” And then she thanked her mom.
Now I know nineteen year olds are known for calling out the emperors with no clothes, but her words still resonate today. They make me wonder about the difference between the frenzy and real passion, real drive, real motivation. How do we know the difference between the fad that will quickly burn out and that which truly lasts?
As Jews, we have signs that tell us the difference between this year’s’ Beanie Babies or Fidget Spinners and the Torah. One is the Torah itself! We have been given the greatest gift the world has ever known–no, not the iphone X. The Torah, our established Jewish traditions, are a tremendous gift to humankind and to us. Helping create a moral foundation, reminding us of the importance of respect, humility, humanity and treating the stranger and immigrant well.
No less than thirty-six times are we commanded not to ill-treat the stranger. No less than thirty-six times are we required to look after those around us. Is it any surprise that the community that has been kicked out of more countries looks out for refugees? Is it a surprise that the community that has been poorly treated by so many around the world is the first to show up at every disaster? Is it any surprise that rabbis, cantors, Jewish educators and Jews from all across the country are the first to call out hatred, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiments in our beloved United States of America.
Israel has a plane fully loaded with supplies ready for any natural disaster. It can be wheels up before the storm has passed. While now called simply HIAS, the organization began as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, looking out for Jewish refugees from Europe and around the world. Today it uses its expertise to make a difference for anyone in need of help. Why do these organizations exist? Why does Israel help anyone and everyone?
Because these are Jewish values. This is our Torah. We are commanded to keep kosher, to keep Shabbat, to come together today. We are also commanded to love our neighbor, to help the stranger, to protect the widow and the orphan. These commands are not either/or. Simplistically, we live in a world where some Jews are focused on one set of those commands and some are focused on the other. To be a CONSERVATIVE JEW, is to know that BOTH are relevant to us.
We were founded to CONSERVE our traditions but also to modernize them. Our forebears knew that talking about waiting three hours after eating meat before dairy wasn’t going to win them tons of new adherents, but that discussing eating a salad in the diner might! We are Jews who do not desire to live in ghettos or in isolated communities. We want to be among and a part of our broader communities. Yet we cannot forget our stories. We cannot forget what makes us unique.
Here our Torah values our somewhat countercultural. They tell us that it is not enough to fight for justice for all. It is not enough to fight for Israel. We must fight as Jews. It is not enough to eat matzah ball soup. It is not enough to pay Chabad to do Jewish for us. We must play a role ourselves.
Our American society tells us that we are bunch of disparate individuals, but our Jewish roots teach us that we are all connected. We are a nation of peoples, with traditions and customs to share. Right now we live in a time of great division, yet our Torah teaches us the importance of unity. This past week, Rabbi Freedman, Stefanie Kostenblatt and I, worked hard to demonstrate that. Rather than our traditional Selichot service, we invited the entire community to join us. We heard from pastors and ministers, chaplains and teachers. We had an imam share words from the Muslim tradition, a voice from the Bahai, and even a gospel choir on this bimah. Afterwards, barriers were broken over cookies and cake. It was not just a kumbayah moment. It was a powerful lesson of what we can accomplish together–and of our Jewish leadership. We organized this to protest racism and hatred, to acknowledge that we all have a role to play in allowing it to fester. As Jews, we must speak out. We spoke out BECAUSE of our Torah.
קידושין מ׳ ב
היה רבי טרפון וזקנים מסובין בעלית בית נתזה בלוד
נשאלה שאילה זו בפניהם תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול
נענה רבי טרפון ואמר מעשה גדול נענה ר”ע ואמר תלמוד גדול
נענו כולם ואמרו תלמוד גדול שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה
Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were once reclining in the upper story of Nithza’s house, in Lydda,
when this question was raised before them: Is study greater, or practice?
Rabbi Tarfon answered, saying: “Practice is greater.”
Rabbi Akiva answered saying: “Study is great, for it leads to practice.”
Then they all answered and said: “Study is greater, for it leads to action.”
Study is greater because it leads to action. We cannot be ignorant. We must know our texts. We must know our history. We must know and live our Torah. Yet, we cannot just sit inside these walls. We must go out and share the love we learn. We must go out and teach. We must go out and work.
This is the seventh time I stand before you. In the last few years we have accomplished much together. We have found new connections to our tradition. We have learned about Jewish law. We have studied Torah and our ancient traditions. We have discussed what ancient practices can bring meaning to our lives. Most importantly, I have seen a real growth in the connections between members and a great improvement in our prayer lives.
What are our hopes for the next seven years? Membership growth is always important, but I want to see growth of our members. I want you to feel more connected. I want you to know that you have partners in the other members of the community. I want you to have the ritual skills to feel comfortable walking into any synagogue in the world and not to feel out of place. I want you to be voices of peace and love in our local community and on the national stage. I want you to know that you are never alone as a Jew, that from birth to death and beyond you are a part of something greater. I want you to know that whatever your thoughts on the Holy One, God is the Most Moved Mover, ready to hear your voice and to respond–although not always in the ways you expect. I want you to know that no matter what today or tomorrow looks like, we live in a world of miracles, that hope is essential the the Jewish neshama, to our souls and to our lives. I want you to know that passion for our traditions will inspire every aspect of those lives, that Jewish ritual, ethics, ideals are not just some fly-by-night internet guru, but a source of love, hope and meaning, now and always.
This morning I studied Mishnah Rosh Hashanah at my favorite local cafe– 2Alices Coffee shop. I met friends from our community and around the county to discuss Torah and think about the upcoming holidays. Of course, every Tuesday when we meet our conversation expands beyond the texts, but sometimes I am struck by the depth of these primary sources.
The first chapter of Mishnah Rosh Hashanah begins with a discussion of the various New Years on the Jewish calendars, but then digresses into the procedures for recognizing and announcing the new month. While less relevant today with a fixed calendar, the principles are fascinating. Since an accurate calendar determined whether fast days and feast days were at the appropriate time, one could even violate Shabbat to get to Jerusalem and inform the Court that the new moon had been spotted. The last (ninth) mishnah of the chapter opens with a powerful point about equality:
מִי שֶׁרָאָה אֶת הַחֹדֶשׁ וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַלֵּךְ, מוֹלִיכִין אוֹתוֹ עַל הַחֲמוֹר, אֲפִלּוּ בְמִטָּה.
|One who has seen the new moon [on Shabbat], but is unable to walk [to the court to give evidence], must be brought mounted on an ass or even [carried by others] in a bed.
(Text from Sefaria.org)
The permission to travel on Shabbat, to be a witness, is not limited to the able-bodied. ANYONE and EVERYONE who saw the moon MUST go to Jerusalem. Everyone has a voice. Any technology they need to assist them–donkey, carrying by others–is permitted and required to be used. These technologies are not seen as violating Shabbat but assisting the person with the mitzvah.
It does not take a rabbinic genius to see the connection to the modern world. An electric wheelchair, a hearing aid, other mobility implements are all clearly permitted on Shabbat. A sacred priniciple in our tradition is kvod habriot, respect for others.The particulars of each of those cases are even discussed in Orthodox halachic literature.
For example: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=198&ArticleID=409 regarding electric wheelchairs and http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/english/journal/sandler-1.htm regarding hearing aids.
One organization that has worked very hard for inclusion for people with disabilities is the Ruderman Foundation: http://rudermanfoundation.org/programs/disability-inclusion/ Partnering with United Synagogue, they have helped many communities evaluate their physical structures and community attitudes to be more inclusive: http://www.uscj.org/LeadingKehilla/Accessibility/InclusionInitiative/defaulhttps://photos.google.com/photo/AF1QipMlY51hHGuantWrQHvBzIbxGQYetJGDTHl8oQVSt.aspx
At the end of the day, I return to the beginning–what can we do to ensure that every person who enters our doors has access to our community and is truly welcomed? We know we have work to do. I look forward to continuing the process of inclusion with you.
Every day is a winding road, said Sheryl Crow and the Beatles.
Life changes in ways we are never quite prepared for. As a hurricane visits friends and family, making their lives more challenging, it reminds us of the hurricanes we have overcome.
When tragedy strikes what do we do? Do we hide or fight? Do we help or ignore? It is interesting that some senators and representatives who did not want to support Hurricane Sandy relief suddenly want federal help for Harvey. Should we ask our representatives to ignore them or offer our assistance? As much as revenge is a dish best served cold, I think there is only one answer. We must do the right thing. We must offer our hand to our neighbors and friends. Should they be punished for having representatives who make cruel and vicious choices?
In this time of hope, as we march towards Rosh Hashanah, we must try to forgive.
I’d love your thoughts. Please respond in the comments-as long as you aren’t selling viagra!