Rabbi’s Message: Jul.-Sep. 2018

Our Journey Together

Ish noseauh yodeauh harbeh. / A person who travels gains much understanding.
Ben Sira 34:9

K’nei chachmah. K’nei binah. / Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding.
Mishley (Proverbs) 4:5

K’not binah nivchar mikesef. / The acquisition of understanding has more value than the acquisition of wealth.
Mishley 16:16

Tovah chachmah m’gevurah. / Wisdom is superior to might.

Im ayn binah ayn daat, im ayn daat ayn binah. / Without understanding knowledge is impossible, without knowledge understanding is impossible.
Pirkey Avot 3:17

No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and Virtue is preserved. On the contrary, when people are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the aid of foreign invaders.
Samuel Adams in a letter to James Warren


We are on a journey together. We actually can pick a number of points to be the beginning of our journey, but I’ll look at our Jewish calendar and say we begin in the first month on the calendar, Nissan, the month that Pesach falls in. Of course, we have previously discussed at length the reasons why our calendar begins in Nissan and not the first of Tishrei, on Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish New Year. Briefly to recap and summarize, Nissan is the month of newness, the beginning of spring, which correlates with the month of liberation that is portrayed in our story of Pesach, the exodus of the Israelites from oppression and slavery in Egypt to become a new and free people. A half of a year passes and we reach Tishrei, and oy vey have we made mistakes! It’s a time for tshuva, return, fixing, rectification, repair, renewal, that’s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Along the way on our journey, we made numerous wrong turns and errors. Now we have a chance to correct our mistakes and right our wrongs.

We gather every Shabbat to daven and learn the Torah together in our weekly Shabbat services. This is our own journey through the Torah that we embark on together as a congregation every Shabbat morning. As we meet each week, there has been a full week of activity that we have experienced that we bring with us to our Shabbat service. In Yiddish we call it our peckel. All of us encounter life’s trials and tribulations. We inevitably face family issues, health crises, financial stresses, and other trying personal circumstances. As Jews, we observe the happenings in our community that affect us and events in our country that impact the Jewish community and the State of Israel that are of high concern to us. As patriotic Americans, we are concerned about the important issues that face our nation and we formulate opinions as to what the best decisions and course of action our political leaders should take.

At times, being immersed in Shabbat services is a welcome respite from all of these stress-inducing aspects of life. We join together to sing familiar, comforting, and enjoyable religious tunes, which may put smiles on our faces. We can use our intellect to discuss scholarly approaches to understand obscure and difficult material in the Torah or to gain remarkable new insights into Torah stories we have long been familiar with and think we understand. Davening and learning Torah is a great anti-stress recipe. Shabbat is supposed to be an island of spiritual refreshment, different from the experience of the rest of the week.

Our interactions with the Torah and the deep meanings of the prayers we sing and say should bring us closer to G-d and Israel. This precious experience should also be a factor in increasing our wisdom.

The Shabbat service should not only be a great anti-stress therapeutic tool, but should also give us insight into how we can be recharged by that experience and use the wisdom attained to effect positive change, both in our personal and communal spheres of life. As your rabbi, I feel it incumbent upon me to speak the truth that I see in each week’s Torah portion shining upon the issues that we have faced in the week we have just experienced. I would be remiss in my obligation to you as your rabbi if I lacked the courage to speak about the important issues we face as a community and the advice that can be harvested from the abundance of Jewish wisdom in the Torah and commentaries. I attempt to balance having recharging fun in services with attaining wisdom and understanding from that week’s Torah portion.

On the Jewish calendar, as I write this, we are moving toward the month of Av and Tisha B’Av, the day of solemn commemoration of the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem in ancient times. It was that horrific event and the subsequent situation that followed that led to the loss of even compromised Jewish autonomy in the Land of Israel and then to the exile and dispersal of most of the Jewish population. Our rabbinical tradition teaches us that this catastrophe was brought on due to the existence of senat chinam, or baseless hatred, between Jews. During the late Second Temple period, Jews were divided into competing religious parties. The discourse between these factions became increasingly uncivil. This divisiveness caused them to lose sight of the concept of participating in an argument l’shem shamayim, engaging in an argument “for the sake of heaven,” meaning having a debate in order to find the correct path to take for everyone’s mutual benefit. Many in that generation came to be unable to tolerate a difference of opinion. Instead, they would see the other party as the enemy, and hatred developed between factions that led to destruction. In today’s at times intemperate atmosphere of debate in our society, this is surely a lesson to take to heart and be understood.

Subsequent to Tisha B’Av, we travel toward the season of reflection and transforming the knowledge that we have acquired into wisdom. The lessons learned during the month of Av are then transmitted to the month of Elul, the month of introspection and understanding that proceeds the month of Tishrei and the High Holidays. During Elul we reflect on our journey up to that point. We remember the newness and promise we started off with in Nissan, which was reflected in our Pesach Seder. We then recall our ups and downs as our journey went on. Yes, we have made progress and done well, but we also have made mistakes that have led us to various problems and negativities represented by Tisha B’Av. During Elul we use our acquired knowledge, understanding, and wisdom to devise our strategies of repair and then commit ourselves to them and put them into action on Rosh Hashanah, when we renew our relationship with G-d and man, and we then seal that renewal on Yom Kippur. Succot then arrives, and we celebrate the harvest of our good efforts at self-improvement and making our contribution to bettering our community, country, and the Jewish people.

I bless us all with a successful and joyous “journey.” May we all enjoy a L’Shanah Tovah U’Matookah, A Sweet and Wonderful New Year,

[The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Bellerose Jewish Center.]