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We are all fallible. That seems to be the theme of the last sections of Deuteronomy as we approach our High Holidays. Great blessings and curses have been pronounced in Ki Tavo, which we just studied a few Shabbats back. Moses is about to die and because he sinned, he will not be entering the land. But he has high hopes at this moment, standing in the hills of Moab overlooking the land. The tribes of Reuven, Gad and Menashe have all inherited the lands to the east of the Jordan after the Israelites, with God's help, defeated the kingdoms of Bashan and Emor. Joshua gets an added letter “Heh” in his name from God, and Moses places his hands upon him and confers his prophetic spirit upon him. The people stand rooted with a new covenant of loyalty to God, and God to them.
Imagine his disappointment when God informs Moses that he is to teach them a special song of Haazinu, which they almost surely will need when they sin and go astray toward other gods and foreign practices that they encounter in the lands that they conquer! God tells Moses there is an antidote; a song in our Torah that they must be schooled in, so that when they end up in exile and among other peoples, they will have a modality with which to articulate their repentance, their remorse, and most of all, their rekindled hope and faith. And Moses dutifully does teach this song, which brings witness of Heaven and Earth- of God's loyalty and love to the Hebrews. He deposits it on the side of the Holy Ark to be carried into the land of Israel, which God will give them, and shortly thereafter climbs up Mt Nebo to die.
Moses dies, al Pi HaShem, "according to God's mouth," which Midrash tells us means that he died with a Divine Kiss painlessly. Yet missing is the notion that he died, Zaken ve Saveah be Yamim, "very old and contented of days," which is the description of how the Patriarchs die. And that could be due to his disappointment in his life's project–Not just that he doesn't merit the chance to enter the land where he had been leading the Israelites too, from the time of the exodus from slavery for forty years, but because his life's work during that wandering was devoted to imparting to them a Torah; a regimen for living and belief, that would ensure they would remain ensconced forever in the land of Israel. And Moses' life's work at the end may have seemed so fragile to him, in that God was certain that they would not necessarily adhere to it. Moses dies with this uncertainty weighing upon him which may explain the lack of full contentment.
The Torah message here is not to despair. It's to understand that all of us are fallible. Moses is fallible, which is why he didn't enter the Promised Land in the first place. The new generation, though equipped with grit confidence and new covenant, is fallible, which is why they will, in due time, need a song to sing in exile. And we too are fallible and have much work to do always in the domain of Torah, Jewish practice, and faith.
But help is always on the way! The core value in our religion is that we can interconnect with each other's strong points by being involved and intertwined with one another, and be inspired by one another– the core value in our religion is never to separate oneself from your community; the core value in our religion that prayer and study of Torah draws down the Divine presence, prayer in a minyan and study even with a partner (one sage says if you bat different opinions back and forth that also qualifies); and finally, the core value in our religion that our song is Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur– that season of Selichot and Repentance that sweeps in every autumn. These ten days of repentance ushered in by the trembling thunder of shofar is our moment of "on your mark, get set, go"– reach for something more spiritually, morally, ritually. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur teach our core value that you will never be perfect, so what will you do to refine yourself more this year, to enhance what it is you already have expressed in your Jewish commitments? Surely you can take on more learning! Surely you can commit yourself to more community involvement with your precious synagogue. Surely you can help with our minyan a few times a week from home by jumping on Zoom to make prayer more of constant in your life. Surely you can resolve to support your synagogue and help ensure it's future when so much of Jewish institutional life struggles through the uncertainty of COVID-19.
This pandemic has added a barrier to our spiritual journey– to build ourselves into more of who we maximally are as Jews each year. It's such a challenge when we can’t do things by physically coming together at present. We need not be so frustrated by this that we withdraw and retreat. We should all be thankful for the resourcefulness of our tech team Allan Berman (and his family) and Rick Kessler, and for the generosity of those who have made live streaming a reality for the duration of this pandemic. Get on Zoom with me Thursday nights this year, as we embark on a 13 unit study of "What our sources teach us in the shadow of a Pandemic." I guarantee it will deepen your appreciation in the richness of Jewish wisdom.
Thanks are in order. Thank you to Hazzan Walvick, whose tech creativity has been inspirational and a guide to me over these months, and who, under such tough time restrictions, continues to enhance our prayer. I thank Robin Kain and Ed Isaac and those who have assisted them, for all their excellent work in bringing us Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur as best we can do as a physical community this year. I thank Mary in the office for all of her skills in keeping us linked together, and Sue Kazzaz for her work on the website and e-weekly, and for helping to screen share for Adult Education Zooms. Live stream is an excellent option for those who choose to stay home this year, which is, for many, the right choice. Zoom or live stream into our weekday and Shabbat services (we have easy directions available to make it "Shabbat friendly"). Take part in activities we endeavor to do together outdoors. Consider coming to our Shabbat morning service in the shul, in which we are scrupulously adhering to medical protocol. Make your way toward the intimate circle of relationship envisioned by the Torah between God and the Jewish people. Yes, we are all fallible, and yes, we all surely sin and fall short since we are human. Even Moses did, and even the blessed generation that entered Canaan did. But never let that stop you from singing the “song of Torah” and taking the steps that bring you closer to what you might maximally become in your Jewish life, and to this let us say, AMEN
From Beth and I, Marc and Alan, May we all be written and sealed, and help write ourselves into the Book of Life, Health, Joy and Contentment this coming year 5781. Read More
מי בבית כנסת ומי בזום? Who shall pray in the shul and who via Zoom?
Last Rosh Hashanah we prayed: How many shall leave this world and how many shall be born into it, who shall live who shall die….who shall be at peace and who shall be tormented… Looking back it appears we missed a few: Who shall remain healthy and who shall deal with COVID-19? Who shall keep their jobs and who shall become unemployed? Who shall send their kids into the classroom and who shall remain virtual? Who shall pray in the shul and who via Zoom? Far too many questions, and none of us have enough answers. And even when those answers come, we spend our days and nights agonizing over them–are we doing all we can, or should we be doing more? Is this right for my child? For my elderly relatives? For myself? One question from the Unetaneh Tokef has been definitively answered: in terms of the peace versus torment, many of us have spent far too little of 5780 at peace.
There is one way, I find, to bring a small amount of peace to my days and my weeks, and that is to find a way to connect to my ENJC family through ZOOM and live services. We have had virtual daily services Sunday to Friday evenings, and mornings on Sunday. In fact, the evening minyan has had less trouble getting ten than before the pandemic. That should not surprise you. It requires much less effort to run Zoom on a phone, tablet or computer than to get in a car and drive to the shul for in-person services. And, since no driving is involved, it takes much less time. Why don’t you join us once in a while?
We were also doing Shabbat morning services on a virtual-only basis, but for the last several weeks, we also have had in-person attendance Shabbat morning. And that brings me to my concern. To avoid spreading the virus, we have kept the in-person service as short as possible, while meeting all of the halachic requirements. And, although this has disappointed some (especially me), in accordance with the recommendations of medical authorities and the Cantors Assembly, I have minimized singing, both mine and the congregation’s. The High Holy Days will be an extension of the Shabbat experience.
By now you have heard about the arrangements for in-person High Holy Days and expressed your interest in in-person attendance. (We will also be streaming for those of you at home.) Rabbi Silverman and I are working to considerably shorten the length of services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. While nothing will be the same as usual, we hope to provide a meaningful spiritual experience. I look forward to actually seeing many of you in-person for the first time since last winter. Mostly, I want to encourage all of you to attend as many of our services as you can. I am sure you will find it meaningful, as well as a way to catch up with fellow congregants you may not otherwise see. If you need help getting online, please inform the office and we will help.
An Ark, a Box and a Word
I urge you to watch our YouTube, if you have not done so already, for the full depth of my sermon.
When we say shana tova!
its not only for the year ahead
We also reframe the ‘flawed’ year passed ova
to find blessings in it instead!
How do we do this in such a bad year
Is truly a challenge-- is it not?
We begin by appreciating all we hold dear
And being content with our lot!
With our family and our friends,
we’ve found novel ways to adapt
We’ve indulged and nurtured without end
We’ve zoomed and virtually learned til we’re sapped.
But a metaphor here can be seen
direct from the Torah--she wrote
Noah’s ark is the first quarantine
That has us in the same boat!
We can learn from Noah’s ark
that crisis, can lead to us growing
That even when things are bleak and dark
there’s much we can take worth knowing
The raven flew out without mask
and never used scientific data
The dove fact checked an olive branch
and left saying ‘see ya’ll lata’
At the rainbow Noah stood on the verge
of a whole new horizon---
He needed some idea of how to emerge
and this is what God was advisin’
The word for Ark is a Teva,
which also can mean a box or a chest
Boxed in by despair, your family savor,
let friends and shul do the rest!
Don’t let others put you in a box
until such time as you die!
Resist those who want only black and white thoughts,
and here is the reason why--
You’re a free and moderate thinker
You prefer the middle ground
Don’t let extreme factions call you a stinker
because compromise-- that way’s not found
Don’t get in a box, or a groove, or a rut
with resentment for family or former friend--
Out of that box you surely should strut
and allow slights and grudges to end
In Hebrew "ark" or teva also means “word”
because a word is a vessel of letters--
A single word that’s yearningly heard
can magically heal wounds for the better
Words like “I love you” and words “like forgive me”
can transform and draw souls together,
An encouraging word, a bold ‘I forgive you’, you see,
changes storm clouds to sunny weather.
Lastly, don’t file memories of beloved departed
into the bin of grief you can’t face
Remember the vibrant life they were part of
Don’t, in mourning them, their presence erase
At Yizkor recall their loves and their joys
And in other times their vision and strivin’,
Treasure their wisdom and love unalloyed
In this way, our departed enliven
An ark, a box, a word its seems
means Teva-- so we proceed
to leave behind our quarantine
so’s to grow expand and succeed
Don’t box yourselves in-- like a box of zoom
in politics, grief, or hurt pride hon--
With heart and good words, sweep with a broom
obstacles that keep you inside one
And then when you say shana tova!
its not only for the year ahead
You reframe the ‘flawed’ year you just passed ova
to find blessings in it instead!
Shana tova tichatemu Read More
May you be sealed for a year of growth and wholeness…amen.