I would like to continue from David Sadker's comment on last week's commentary. David spoke about how we can grow as an individual if we challenge ourselves with experiences outside of our comfort zone. So, this week I would like to challenge each of us to do just that.
.... who regards not persons nor takes a bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, in giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt(Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
Rashi comments, "How could one possibly associate God with monetary bribes?" Some religiously-minded people believe that doing good works will influence God to overlook wicked deeds. The above verses clearly indicate that this is not true. Good works are to be done for their own sake and not to buy forgiveness for any sins. Providing for the orphan, the widow and the stranger represents the highest form or charity, period!
Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt -- You are to love the stranger because you were a stranger to someone else (who should have loved you, by the way). So, here is the the teaching that will take you out of your comfort zone (and me too). It might be easy to help out a perfect stranger -- giving food to someone who is hungry, donating gently used clothing and furnishings to the First Rate Second Hand Thrift Shop, and providing a monetary donation to the Food Bank or ICS. That is not too hard to do. Now let's try and reach outside of your comfort zone and do something a bit more difficult. How about reaching out in a loving way to someone who is "estranged" form you!
There are many people in your life with whom you were close and they said something or they did something that hurt your feelings and now you do not speak anymore. Perhaps you did something or said something to a friend and they will have nothing to do with you. Or, finally, you just lost touch with someone over the years.
So...as we approach the day of At-One-Ment Day (Atonement - Yom Kippur, get it?) why not become "one" again and reach out to that person. Let's reword the Torah a bit: "Love the estranged, for you were estranged in the Land of Egypt."
"Let me go over, I pray, and see the good land…" (Deut 3:25).
Moses is asking God to let him go into the Promised Land. Is it not obvious that if he will go over into the land, he will be able to see it?
But a man must pray at all times that God may cause him to see the good in everything. Therefore Moses prayed: "Let me go over…and see the good land…cause me to see only the good side of the Promised Land."
What an important message for us. When we are about to do something for the first time, when we are confronted with something that will take us out of our comfort zone, we tend to be critical first!
Let us take a lesson from this teaching to first find the good in a presentation, an opportunity, and an uncomfortable situation.
1. When an employee, a student, a child has presented you with a completed work, why is the first reaction to find something wrong with it?
2. What would happen if you said, "This has so many elements that work and satisfy the requirements.... Would you like some feedback? Have you thought about how changing this element of the project might....?
Categories: Shabbat Table Talk, Rabbi
Behar– The Tender Tongue
“When you sell property to yourneighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another (al tonu ish et achiv).” (Lev. 25:14)
“Do not wrong one another (lo tonu ish et amito), but fear yourGod; for I Adonai am your God.” (Lev 25:17)
Rashi (1040-1105): 1sttime: business transaction; 2nd time is harming someone with yourwords.
Rabbi Eliezer (80-118 C.E.): Wrongingsomeone with speech is more serious. Speech affects the very person. Inbusiness wronging another person only affects money, which is easilyrestored. Restoration is notpossible for a wrong done through speech (SeferAggadah 658:186). A Tanna (Mishnah, 10-220 C.E.) taught before Rav Nahmanbar Isaac that one who publicly makes a neighbor blanch from shame is as one whosheds blood. Whereupon Rav Nahman remarked how he had seen the blood rush froma person’s face upon such a shaming (BabaMetzia 58b). Examples:
1. Ifa person is penitent, one should not say to him, “Remember the way you used toact.”
2. If he is a childof a convert, he should not be taunted with “Remember the way your fathersacted.”
3. If he is aconvert who comes to study Torah, one should not say to him, “Shall the mouththat ate unclean and forbidden food, come to study the Torah, which was utteredby the mouth of the Almighty?”
Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel (10B.C.E. – 70 C.E.) told his servant, Tabbai to go to the marketplace and buygood food. He returned with beef tongue. The rabbi then instructed Tabbai to goto the marketplace and buy bad food. The servant returned with beef tongue.When the rabbi asked Tabbai why he bought tongue both times, he said, “Goodcomes from it and bad comes from it.”
Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel made afeast of tender tongue and hard tongue for his disciples. When his studentsonly took the tender tongue, Rabbi instructed them, “Look what you are doing –Let your tongues be tender to one another.”
Shemitah: A Sabbath for A Year for Your Lives
Saturday, May 10, 2014
32nd Torah portion, 9th in Leviticus
Behar Leviticus 25:1-26:2 (57 verses)
The Adonai spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath of the Adonai . Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a Sabbath of complete rest, a Sabbath of the Adonai ; you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the after growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. But you may eat whatever the land during its Sabbath will produce--you, your male and female slaves, the hired and bound laborers who live with you, and your cattle and the beasts in your land may all eat its yield.
Every seventh year the land is to observe a Sabbath of complete rest. All agricultural activity: plowing, planting, pruning, and harvesting is forbidden. Called the shemitah, from the root meaning, “to let [something] drop,” the year is also marked by a remission of debts. Farmers are permitted to gather the yield for the seventh year – for the common good – as long as the whole community, not just the farmer, benefits.
Just as the weekly Sabbath allows humans the opportunity to renew themselves and reminds humans of their obligations to God, shemitah gives the land a chance to regain its strength. Our ancestors were wise to understand the relationship between this rest and the natural fertilization and regeneration that occurred. The practice of shemitah allows for a greater yield in following years and continued use of the land over the long term.
The practice of shemitah reminds us that regaining the physical strength of the land is similar to the physical renewal our bodies gained through rest. Although we may think and act as though the land belongs to us, we are merely guests on land that God gave us. Similarly, as Shabbat is a celebration of the Exodus and of Creation, we are reminded both that we are free to rest because God redeemed us from slavery and that we are partners with God in maintaining creation. We are reminded that the world exists only because God brought it into being. Each week, as we make holy a special moment in time.
In the same way that Shabbat calls us to take a break and recall our divine link, shemitah calls for a collective break from the race of modern life for a year. During that time we are to focus on community, culture and spirit. In this way, our yield – like the land – will become greater over the many years ahead. Perhaps as you think ahead, you might desire to transcend discord and conflict and take seriously this once-in-seven years opportunity to reconnect and rejuvenate.
Shemitah can be a remarkable source of inspiration, impetus for change, and medium for unprecedented cooperation. We can envision a world in which our material and spiritual needs are met in a deep, reciprocal, sustainable, and satisfy way. This can be a year where we can rehearse, for one year, what it would be like to live a life of “enoughness” for ourselves and our neighbors. And when the year is over, the sustainable practice need not be over. Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, co-founder of the Sova Project in Baltimore suggests in her February 3 blog on this subject that we can “re-enter the other six years taking what we have learned and put it into practice in our everyday lives.”
Shemitah begins on Rosh HaShanah, Wednesday, September 24, Rosh
For your consideration
Though it is months ahead, why not begin thinking about how you and our congregation might focus on the links between social justice, environmental responsibility and Jewish life. Shemitah can be your opportunity for personal reflection, learning, social involvement and environmental responsibility. Shemitah initiatives may also include cultural events like musical evenings on our patio.
Join us for a discussion
Let’s begin discussing your ideas at my last Mondays with the Rabbi class before the summer on May 19 at noon. Bring a lunch and share how we can promote responsibility for our environment and our community leading to restoring individual and communal balance.
In Memory of “Hurricane” Carter
April 21, 2014
Rabbi Thomas Alan Louchheim
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter died yesterday at the age of 76. Carter was an American middleweight boxer best known for having been wrongfully convicted for murder and later exonerated after spending 20 years in prison.
Here, on the last day of Passover we are reminded of the exodus of our people from Egypt—walking away from the shackles of enslavement under Pharaoh to become a free people in our own land— this story has stirred the souls and minds of countless peoples around the globe millennium after millennium. Today, I want you to hear the story of “Hurricane” Carter and how he freed himself of his prison shackles while he was in prison.
In reading excerpts of Carter’s autobiography, The Sixteenth Round, he did not allow prison to imprison him. Prison allowed him to do two things: shed the illusions and anger that spurred his youthful delinquency, and come to the realization that his destiny might lie in fighting for justice. Prison did not define Rubin Carter, nor did his past “shackle” him to some violent destiny.
Rubin Carter refused to behave like other prisoners. This stemmed from his belief that he was not a criminal; therefore, he should not be treated like one. He did not eat the prison's food and wear prison garb. He rarely left his cell and concentrated mostly on reading books and writing.
In 1974, he published The Sixteenth Round, his version of the events that led to his incarceration, as well as a portrait of his life in prison. He gained celebrity from it when Bob Dylan wrote a song entitled "Hurricane" that chronicled Carter's case and his suffering. After reading Carter’s autobiography, Dylan met Carter and co-wrote "Hurricane," which he performed on his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975. The song concludes: "That's the story of the Hurricane/But it won't be over till they clear his name/And give him back the time he's done/Put him in a prison cell but one time he could-a been/The champion of the world."
During those 20 years Carter chose life and humanity over despair and victimhood. He also triumphed over illiteracy. Among the books he reportedly read in prison was one that meant a great deal to him personally. Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, about a Holocaust survivor's philosophy and commitment to not only surviving but prevailing. The book taught him that the meaning of life is found in every moment, even in suffering. Frankl teaches us that a prisoner’s reaction to circumstances depends on his attitude. We too become prisoners to circumstances if we all them to lead us down the path of despair. We are free to choose hope. When we give up hope, then we are doomed.
Carter became an activist for the wrongly convicted after his release in 1985 and was the first executive director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993 to 2004. He also became a motivational speaker, especially in Toronto where he lived up until the time of his death yesterday.
He told a University of Minnesota audience once, “
I am always very excited when I am asked to come and speak at institutions of so-called “higher learning,” because the only degrees I’ve ever received in my lifetime were from institutions of lower learning. And when I say lower, I mean low. I got my Bachelor’s degree from streets of oppression, my Master’s degree from man’s inhumanity to man, and my Ph. D. in prison brutality. 
In his motivational talks he attempted to engage the young people he was speaking to find a new “circle of ideas” which will supplant old ones and which will positively inform their attitudes. In his University of Minnesota talk he created a metaphor of a car to drive his point home. Our physical bodies are vehicles in which we travel through our lives. “But it is our attitude that becomes our steering wheels.”
Dr. Carter (as he like to be called after earning a number of honorary degrees) observed that he always found it interesting that scientists want to make the point that we evolved from the animal kingdom; that we exist just one branch from the chimpanzee. That is “a lie” he said.
If we are from the animal kingdom that means that we are looking up from down below. That it is an excuse of for our bestiality, our inhumanity, and our instincts to harm others. “We came from the sun,” he insisted.
We are seeds; each one of us is a seed of flowers planted in organic life on earth. We have the capacity and the capability to grow taller and stronger and wiser than any old tree has ever grown on this earth. Buddhists do not have to go to Tibet to seek out their spiritual truths. Jews do not have to go to Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall to come close to God. Muslims do not have to go on their Hajj to Mecca to know what Allah wants from them. We don’t have to go anywhere; we already have it -- Right now. Our very souls bear the seed from which we can achieve the greatest miracle on the planet. All we need to do is return from our living death to our very humanity.
So we remember Rubin “Hurricane” Carter this morning because just like the Jews when they were imprisoned unjustly, he never lost his sense of self.
Just like those Jews 3200 years ago, he did not lose his faith.
He understood that there is a prison of bricks and mortars, just as the Jews saw their prison of bricks and mortar. And yet they and he and we know that the more overpowering prison is the one of the mind. It is the mind that contains the prison of hate, the prison of racism, the prison of intolerance, and the prison of isolation. Your attitude, your dreams of a brighter day are truly more powerful than any physical or mental form of prison we find ourselves. If you lose your dreams, you have lost everything.
Rubin Carter’s story, like ours, is a story of liberation. This morning we think of our loved one’s dreams, the substance of their lives that inspired them to achieve what they achieved and, we hope, inspires us as well. Their stories and Carter’s story reminds us to dare to dream. Obstacles are not dead ends. Remember Psalm 118 from the Hallel this morning:
In distress I call upon Adonai; God answered me by setting me free
With Adonai at my side, I am not afraid; what can a mortal do to me?
Though all the nations surround me, in God’s name I will overcome them.
Though they surround me and blockade me, in God’s name I will overcome them.
Obstacles are just that, something to work around. Each obstacle makes you stronger for the next one to come. Perhaps you will remember the words of “the champion of the world,” Rubin Carter, “Do all things with love. Love for yourself, love for all others, and love for the Creator.”
Cain y’hi ratzon.
 New Literacies for a New Millennium, November 19, 2001.
Introduction to Shabbat Table Talk
Pharaoh and Moses
Apologies to Rabbi Lookstein
Ki Yachol Lah - כי יכול לה
Small Role; Big Impact
In Response to the Orlando Shooting
When Tragedy Strikes
HUC-JIR L'DOR VADOR Gala
The Baal Shem Tov and His Sage
Share Your Stories
Appreciating Everyone's Gifts
Women Named and Unnamed, Beginning a New Year
The Journey that Changed Our World
Give Bigotry and Racism No Quarter
Loving the Stranger and the Estranged
Seeing the Good Land
Pinchas Is Not Our Religious Model
The Jewish View on Marriage Equality: The Jewish Response to the Supreme Court Decision
Adaption from Rabbi Karyn Kedar's, Omer: A Counting.
Hod of Malchut, "Humility in Nobility."
Netzach of Malchut, "Endurance in Nobility"
Compassion in Nobility
Behar– The Tender Tongue
Endurance in Bonding
Let Me Be What I Can Be
Rabbi Leonard Beerman - My Rabbi
Shmitah: A Sabbath for A Year Making a Difference for Your Lives
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