שירת שלום

Song of Peace

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  • 01 Mar 2015 4:00 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    My sister and I had quite an adventure the other day! When she woke up in the morning ,my sister discovered an opossum which we later discovered was a female,  fast asleep on a chair in her screened in patio! The opossum had come in through the cat door during the night and decided that one of the cat’s favorite chairs would make a nice place to sleep! Of course the opossum was quite content but the cats wouldn’t come inside and the dogs couldn’t get to the backyard.  My sister opened  the patio door open hoping the opossum would eventually leave. We even sent  thought messages to her during the day that the door was open but eight hours later, the opossum was still there.

    Of all days for Rabbi David to be gone! After googling opossums and finding out that the opossum would probably be more scared of us then we were of her, my sister and I devised a plan! We didn’t want to get too close so we decided to use brooms to push the chair with sleeping opossum on it to the door!  Hopefully she would wake up and leave. But halfway to the door, the opossum woke up and fell off the chair! She immediately played possum and pretended to be dead.

    Now what!!  At that point I said, “is there a neighbor we can ask to help?” And lo and behold a neighbor across the street who just happened to be outside and who just happened to love opossums said of course he would help! Thank you universe! I love it when it all comes together! The neighbor put a towel on top of the opossum’s head, picked her up and carried her to his backyard. Later on his wife told me he wanted to bring the opossum into the house but she put her foot down! In the backyard, yes, in the house no!

    In spiritual teachings when an animal crosses our path in an unusual way, we are being brought a message. So of course, I looked up the messages opossums bring in “Animal Speak” by Ted Andrews and learned that Opossums teach us how to use  appearances for our greatest benefit. For example sometimes the best course of action is to “play dead” and not respond to verbal attacks or rumors. In certain situations we  may need to appear to be fearless when inside we are terrified! The energy of opossums can help us see if others are being deceptive.  Hmmm…interesting and food for thought!

    In further thinking I realized that the holiday of Purim,  only a week and a half away from the opossum adventure is also about appearances. We even dress up in costumes altering our appearances! In the story of Queen Ester much that is hidden is revealed! Okay, G-d, you have caught my attention!! I will definitely be paying attention to appearances for awhile!

    So thank you  Opossum for bringing us your message. Please know I am also so grateful you are happy and safe in your new home in the neighbor’s backyard!! Hope your three babies are doing well! Yes, the neighbor told us they were hidden in your pouch. Seems this is truly a week of revelation!!

  • 27 Feb 2015 3:59 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    Yet  again the month of Adar is upon which  means that  the holiday  of Purim is not far   behind. I will be  reneging  on my duty as your rabbi  if I will not  recite for you this year’s  story of Purim , the greatest intrigue saga  that has ever told  by  humans, especially  the Jewish kind!  It took  place  in the 4th  century BCE, at least that’s  what the historians  say, go trust them…

    Achashverosh,  King of Persia  ruled  over a huge  empire  which  included India  and parts of Africa.  Since  he  enjoyed  the attention he was getting he maintained  a very rigorous  royal obligation of partying  24/7. Of course  members of the media  would park  on his front  royal lawn  documenting  and  reporting  all the details of who was who  showing up for the on going celebrations.

    All state matters  were left for the secretary  of state,  the big Honcho, the big egomaniac fellow  by the name of Haman. Haman  had aspirations! He had dreams, ambition,  hopes,  desires, a  purpose  in life! He was a self made, proud man.  The problem  was  he was a ruthless  evil man.  His agenda  was very clear. Unseat  Achasverosh  the King and become the King of Persia.

    In order to achieve  his goal  he needed  to find a way  to gain  control of the military, both the army  and the navy. (Forget  the Air Force,  that  would not happen  for another 2500 years.)  What  he really needed  was a scapegoat  in order to  unite  the Persians  through common hatred, thus becoming  their leader. (Sound  familiar?)

    One  day  as he was walking  in the streets of Shushan,  the capital of Persia,   to get something to eat at a local pub, he enjoyed watching everyone  bow down  to him. Yes, he was quite pleased with the law he enacted,  “On Your Knees” under the City of  Shushan  statues  and regulations.

    Then it happened! Much  to his dismay,  a man  by the name of  Mordecai,  A Jew of course,  refused to bow down  to him!  While  being upset, a thought came to his evil mind,  “This is exactly what I was looking for” he said to himself. “This is the window of opportunity  I was praying  for to the gods of Persia , may they live a long life and  be blessed!  I will unite my fellow countryman in the hatred of the Jews, kill them all, become the undisputed leader of the people and  grab the kingdom  from this Idiot  Achashverosh!”

    Meantime  King Achashverosh  had banished  his wife, Queen Vashti, out of  Persia!! Don’t ask. It was one of those stupid acts of his while being intoxicated.  Something about asking her to dance in front of his drunken  guests. She refused, he was insulted….. whatever.  Bottom line: He needed  a new queen.

    So  there was a royal competition between  all the eligible  women of the kingdom who competed for the title. The king  was looking first and foremost for an intelligent, bright  well educated  woman (Yea, Sure…)

    As  the story  goes,  Esther  the Jewess,   won  the competition  fair  and square  and became  the queen of Persia. The  irony  was that she was indeed  smart  and pretty(according to the Persian  TV channel one and two,  but  go believe  the media…  )

    At that point  Haman had already  convinced  the king to let him organize  a full pogrom against the Jews and to command the army for this event. The plan was to first hang Mordecai the Jew in downtown Shushan, right  near the central horse station.  This was to get Mordecai back after Haman had to take him around on the King’s horse proclaiming “This is the man the king wishes to honor.!” It seems that Mordecai had uncovered a plot to kill the king and this was his reward. But of course  Mordecai did not really plan to be hanged. He  needed to put a stop  to this “Mishegaas”  being perpetrated  by Haman .

    In a secret conference with Esther the queen,  who also happened to be his niece, he demanded  that due to this urgent matter, she swing into swift action.  The queen was actually afraid  to initiate contact with her husband  since an unsolicited initiative  could cause her own life.  But considering the urgency  of  the matter, after all, the life of many Jews was on the line. plus the  dirty politics of taking charge of the Army illegally  by that evil man,  Haman had to be stopped.

    So  she agreed  to take  the challenge. After not eating  for three days  and going into prayers and seclusion, she was now  nice  and  trim. She could wear that dress which won her the queen competition. The rest is history.  She successfully invited the king and Haman to a party where she revealed to her husband  that she was in fact, Jewish  and that Haman wanted to kill all the Jews  including her.

    Well, that was all the king needed to hear. He got so upset  that he could not bring himself to party  and drink for a week.  He immediately  order the execution of Haman,  ordered his army to not to hurt  the Jews  and promoted  Mordecai  to be his secretary of state, chief negotiator with Iran  on nuclear matters. And that is basically how the Jews were saved by Esther the Queen and Mordecai the secretary of state.

    This is my story  and I am sticking by it.

    The Hidden Stuff: So why even tell this story which we do year after year after year? Of course like everything in Judaism there are many reasons – oy that again!  But it seems that in addition to bringing Joy into our lives which comes with the holiday and actually the Hebrew month of Adar, Purim also has to do with revealing that which has been hidden.  The hidden plot to kill the king is revealed by Mordecai, Queen Ester’s hidden identity as  a Jewess is revealed, Haman’s hidden agenda is revealed with his plan to kill the Jews.

    Purim asks us to look at that which is hidden deep within our own selves. The rabbis say that dressing up in costumes even allows us to experience our alter egos. Once the hidden is revealed we can identify our hidden aspirations and examine our lower natures.  We can then take action if needed  and indeed emerge triumphant!

    So just in case you are wondering which costume I will be wearing this year for Purim….I have to look into my alter ego…

    Happy Purim!

  • 30 Jan 2015 3:34 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    Since I love to be outside working in my garden, Tu B’Shvat,  a holiday when we honor trees and nature is one of my favorite times of the year! In our Hebrew School when our younger children plant seeds or other plants for Tu B’Shvat  I always make sure they leave with the following instructions; “Keep your plant moist and in the sun and don’t forget to talk to it every day -send it Love and Light!”

    I grew up in a house where my mother talked to her plants so for me communicating with plants comes naturally.  And yes, it does help! When I lived up north  people would bring me their sick houseplants and I would nurse them back to health. These days in beautiful Florida, most of my gardening is done outside where  I spend time each day communicating with everything growing in my yard. Even when I take my daily walks I like to talk to the trees along my path and send them energy. “Do they answer me back?’ I can just imagine some people would laughingly ask! And the answer is yes! But not in our third dimensional way of speaking!

    I do feel much more balanced when I commune with nature.  In spiritual circles we are taught to put our bare feet on the earth for at least 15 minutes a day. The Earthing Movement has become quite popular over the past few years which explains that the earth does have energies that help to keep us healthy. http://www.earthinginstitute.net/

    Well, enough time inside. I am off to talk to the trees and tell them Happy Tu B’Shvat!

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    One of the greatest strengths of Judaism is its ability to adapt to the different needs of the Jewish people in different  times in our history. At times rules and traditions were modified in order to adapt to the needs of the people.  What is even more important is the realization that our understanding of some holidays was augmented with the understanding that they serve a more global purpose. Chanukah and Passover are now portrayed not only in the context of a Jewish struggle, but as human beings struggling for freedom from oppression everywhere.

    Tu  B’Shvat is a Jewish holiday which has received  global importance  in the last few decades. Its original purpose was to mark the growth cycles of fruit trees in Israel. The Torah teaches that fruit of a young tree is not allowed to be used for the first three years of the life of the tree. The fruit of the fourth year is to be taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to be used by the priest, the Levites and the poor. Tu B’Shvat, (literally , the 15th day of the Hebrew  early spring month of Sh’vat) was the cutoff day  to calculate of the age of the trees. In the early years as a free nation in the land of Israel, the significance of  the holiday was expanded to include traditions of planting trees everywhere in the country.

    Our ancestors had a keen understanding of the vulnerability of the semi desert land of Israel. They realized that as custodians of the earth we had to preserve it as a fertile land, by planting trees as well as enacting restrictions on cutting trees in particular or abusing nature in any other way. So much so, that the rabbis declared that if a person is planting a tree and the messiah suddenly arrives, he must complete the planting before rushing to greet the messiah.

    There are many biblical laws meant to preserve and protect nature including land, vegetation and animals.  Over many years, as the land of Israel was exposed to many invaders and was constantly bruised by them, these laws became increasingly important to us.

    When the Zionist pioneers returned to the land of Israel  they were shocked at how two thousand years of neglect turned most of the land into a desert. Reclaiming the land back by planting became the most important act of national renewal in our land of Israel.

    In the last few decades the Tu B’Shvat celebration was transformed from a minor Jewish holiday into a Jewish celebration of mother earth. It is now a day of reflection on the less then perfect job we human beings have been doing as custodians of the earth. We reflect on the damage that our modern lifestyle and our callousness have inflicted upon earth. Tu B’Shvat  has become an arbor day with a Jewish context.

    The connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel goes beyond global concern for earth and for nature. Judaism has several main principles which are very much intertwined and co dependent. Judaism is the belief in one G-D, in the Torah and in the Jewish people as a nation spreading the word of G-D from a very specific, sanctified and holy land call the land of Israel. These Jewish “components” work together to create Judaism.  Removing any of these, such as taking away  the land from the mix will severely hurt  Judaism  and will impede its existence.  In the modern state of Israel, therefore, the holiday of Tu B’Shvat is a celebration of a nation reclaiming its holy land which was taken from us years ago ,  so that  the Shechina, the spirit of G-D, will be able to dwell on earth and bring  Peace and Brotherly Love onto earth.

  • 01 Jan 2015 3:54 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    At a recent congregation gathering some of our members were trying to answer a question posed by a guest,  “Tell me, what is Congregation Shirat Shalom all about?” I don’t remember too much of the conversation except for one bit of information that caught my attention.   One member explained, “There isn’t any judgment.”  “Exactly….” the others confirmed and explained further.

    Being nonjudgmental of others which includes myself is a part of my spiritual practice I have been working on for years. I am not saying this is easy,  but practice really does help! It has become more of a natural state of being than in the past.

    Being non-judgmental goes hand in hand with the Jewish spiritual practice of avoiding, “Lashon Harah” which translates as “Evil Tongue or as we know it, “Gossip.” We are asked to not speak about or criticize others.  I like to take it a step further and not even think negative thoughts about others which includes myself. When I do, I try to catch myself and use an imaginary chalkboard eraser to erase the thoughts.  Yes, I grew up with chalkboards in school!

    One assignment I always give our older Hebrew School students  is to spend 24 hours not  saying anything negative about anyone else. I also ask them to just observe t how much time people spend talking about others but not to be judgmental about this. Just observe. The results and discussion are always pretty amazing.

    I always feel that things are brought to my awareness for a reason and the original conversation about non-judgment within our congregation is no exception. For my New Year’s’ resolution, I am going to pay more attention to  being non-judgmental.   This is actually a beautiful gift I am giving myself for  I have discovered that this practice brings with it a sense of Inner Peace.  And I know that the more Peaceful I am, the more Peace I bring to the world. And yes, that includes you!

    May we all be blessed with Peace in this new secular year of 2015.

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    Today is the first  day of the secular new year,  January  1st,  2015. This first day of the year is traditionally a day of resolutions  and promises  to one’s self  and perhaps to others.  Resolutions  are a good thing as they are a way  for us  to improve ourselves to live a better, wholesome life.

    But today is a special day in the Jewish calendar as well, the 10th day of the Jewish month of Tevet, a day of fasting  when we remember the destruction of our Temple. It was  2603 years  ago that  the mighty army of the enormous  Babylon empire led by Nebuchadnezzar arrived  in Jerusalem  and began  laying a siege on its city walls. Despite its massive  size the Babylonian  army  could not break into the city due to the amazing  bravery of the Jewish defenders. It took three years  to finally  break into the city.  Once inside it still  took the Babylonian army   about  three weeks to force  their way into the Temple and  destroy it.  It was a blood  bath for the Jewish population. The Babylonians were  furious because of the huge amount  of their soldiers lost during  the siege.  Some 70 years  later  the Jews did return from exile in Babylon to Jerusalem  to rebuild  the Temple  with the permission of the Persian emperor.  Almost  600 years later it was destroyed again  by the Romans.

    Despite  the forced exile which  the Babylonians and the Romans imposed on the Jews,  Jerusalem  remained Jewish. Over the centuries  many empires conquered  Jerusalem; Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines,  Moslems , Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans  and  British, to name a few.  They all came and went disappearing  from the earth. They ruled for a while  and vanished. On many occasions  over the centuries  the Jews  were  exiled  from the city  and were forbidden  to live in it.  Amazingly we always  returned

    The story of our Holy City is the story of its sons and daughter, we the Jewish people,  who refused to surrender it to  foreign hands  despite  the great effort of so many empires.  We will never cave in to mass killings, forced conversion  and exile as in past centuries  or in these modern days, terrorist  killings, UN threats or European pressure.

    One can not have Jerusalem  without the Jewish people. It has been  proven  time  and time  again over the centuries.  For us  the city itself,  its stones, its walls,  are a living  soul  and as such  these stones will not tolerate  being without their beloved  sons  and daughters.  Ever.

    It is not coincidence,  you see,  that this year the memorial day of the ancient  Babylonian  destruction of Jerusalem  coincides with the first day of the secular year. Our sages explained  that the only reason our  ancestors  were forced out of our eternal city and country only to return back over and over again is because  we did not learn  to live in harmony with each other. “Shalom”, as we all know, is about peace in our hearts and among ourselves.  Our sages  explained that our two Temples were destroyed  because of “Sinaat Chinam,”  senseless hatred among ourselves through hateful  thoughts and hateful words of gossiping,  jealousy, intolerance – you get  the idea.

    Therefore  for the sake  of my beloved  eternal  city of  Jerusalem  and on behalf of our third Holy Temple that is now being built within our hearts,  I  pledge to use Cantor Lee’s chalkboard eraser to erase all negative and derogatory thoughts about anyone from my mind and watch my words extremely closely in case gossip of any kind finds its way there.

    I believe that this practice  will bring  “Ahavat Chinam”  Love for its own sake among us. It will strengthen  the ancient spirit of “Am Yisrael” the Jewish people,  to overcome  all the turmoil and anti-semitism  around us here in the US, in Europe and in Israel.

    May this civil year be a year of peace, health,  prosperity and redemption for all of us.


  • 26 Nov 2014 3:51 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    It has been three weeks since my daughter’s wedding and I am still flying high!   My daughter is happy and I adore my beautiful new daughter in law!For this joy alone, I am beyond grateful!  But there is even more that is taking me into the higher realms!  People are still trying to describe what happened during the wedding weekend. “It was Magical.”  “I was transformed.” “There was the presence of an electrical charge.”  Rabbi David and I can only say that the heavens opened up to allow the in-pouring of the Divine!  And I am still feeling this in-pouring!

    It was as though 170 people were taken to a magical fairy land and each given a spark of  Love Energy to not only further open our hearts but to touch everyone  that we meet. This can certainly make the mother of the bride continue to fly! With Thanksgiving tomorrow here  I can only say, Thank you to my daughter, Rachel. Thank you to my new daughter, Marissa. Thank you G-d!!

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    Another Amen!! I agree with my beautiful wife!

    Now on to my thoughts about Thanksgiving and The Power of Gratitude:

    The American idea of setting aside  a holiday for the sole purpose of showing appreciation for what we have is more  than just noble. The classic  explanation of its origin has to do  with the Pilgrims’ appreciation of their life in the new land and the hope of surviving harsh winters to come.

    This idea is not strange to us, the Jewish People, at all. Setting  time  aside  to rejoice in life and our traditions is a central theme in Jewish life. Moreover, our tradition encourages expression of appreciation on a daily basis. We are given the opportunity to express gratitude  many times  during  the course of the day. We use a special “spiritual instrument” to do exactly that. We call  it, a blessing.

    Jewish  scholars in every generation are instructed us to say at least  100  blessings a day, every day of our life.  Imagine  that… Many of these “expressions”  are in fact pretty routine and are embedded in our prayer book.  There are blessings for almost every aspect of our life from waking up in the morning, washing, taking care of our hygiene needs, blessings over different foods, encountering different natural phenomenon – and these are just for starters.

    To help us  reach  the 100 recommended blessings,   the  great rabbis of the past instituted a series of 91 blessings  to be recited as part of the morning, afternoon and evening services. The other nine are recited at different occasions  during the day as they present  themselves.

    But  why? If I was G-D, I would be a little taken back by this barrage of constant  blessings. (OK, I get it. You appreciate your life and everything in it. You don’t have to constantly thank me … I get it the first time…  ) Maybe part of the reason  for this  constant appreciation for the marvels of life is to benefit us for our own well being.

    Reciting a blessing, or for that matter any expression of appreciation regardless of its religious content, creates a powerful positive energy around us, helping us with our physical  and  psychological health. That is the reason why the Jewish tradition teaches that blessings or any expression of appreciation are like boomerangs; they leave our soul aiming for others and come back to benefit us many times over.

    Never taking any part of our life for granted is not only a way for a healthy life, it is also a foundation to a healthy society which encourages nurturing relationships in all of our social circles, our immediate and extended family circles as well as our co- workers and acquaintance circles.

    I am often  amazed  by the wisdom of the Jewish scholars of the past who instituted  these expressions of constant appreciation as part of our Jewish fabric. The  Jewish narrative regarding the holiday of Thanksgiving is that the Pilgrims  took the  idea from  the Jewish holiday  of  Succot.  The holiday of Succot which is celebrated  at the end of the agricultural year is designated in the Torah specifically as a holiday for thanking G-D for a fruitful  and rainy winter in our land of Israel.  It is a holiday  in which  we are literally commanded to rejoice and appreciate our life  and our environment. This of course is part of the “Jewish Boomerang”  principle:  the more we appreciate  the rain and  the crop of the previous year, the more  rain and richer  crop  we will have next year.

    May we all be blessed with a Happy Thanksgiving!

  • 29 Aug 2014 4:48 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee

    Our daughter is getting married this weekend! Two and a half years ago, when we first shared in a congregation newsletter article (which is below) Rachel’s engagement to her partner, Marissa,  we were amazed by the feedback we received. People seemed to come out of the woodwork, mostly thanking us for being so open about gay marriage which helped them deal with their own family issues in this area.  As we explained in the article even Rabbi David and I had some conditioned beliefs  which we needed to recognize so we could clear them.  In spiritual teachings  the more we as individuals clear our own issues, the more we help the collective.  There must have been a lot of clearing over the past  two and a half  years as it is amazing at how many strides have been made in the acceptance and legalization of gay marriage.  Of course Florida isn’t quite there yet.  As Rachel said to me recently, “Mom, even Utah is ahead of Florida!”

    Here is the article from two and a half years ago:

    We have exciting news! Our daughter, Rachel is engaged!! In Judaism, when G-d, the ultimate matchmaker, brings two souls together in love, their happiness and joy spill out into the world, affecting everyone around them. Thus, the couple is essentially performing Tikun Olam, the repairing of the world.

    No, we do not have a wedding date yet and Yes, we are calling the ceremony a wedding, even though if performed today, Rachel’s marriage to Marissa would not be recognized by the state of Florida. It is much easier to be a gay couple these days, but we still have a long way to go. Rachel and Marissa are aware that they may encounter some prejudice, perhaps even from people close to us. And there may be others who wish to be accepting but are struggling with their true inner feelings. It takes work and often courage to transform beliefs that have been instilled in us since childhood. But this is part of the work of Tikun Olam, repairing of the world,  that we Jews have agreed to do. For as we transform ourselves and climb “Jacob’s Ladder” to the next level of consciousness, we affect the whole.

    For both of us during our growing up years, we were programmed with the belief that being gay was something to be kept in the shadows and especially secret from the older generation! When Rachel shared her news, we looked deep within ourselves to root out any part of this belief that was still lingering. There is a beautiful saying in Judaism; “Who is Wise? He who learns from every man.” We are grateful that Rachel has been the catalyst for our own learning and spiritual growth,  perhaps even helping us get to the next rung of the ladder!

    We are looking forward to this next step of having a married child and to officially welcoming Marissa into our family.

    May we all be blessed with the opportunity to learn from each other and may we  all be blessed with Love!!


    (The picture above is from their engagement party Dec. 2012. Yes, it was cold in Florida that day! Rachel is on the left and Marissa on the right.)

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    And my words of wisdom are: AMEN TO THAT! This father of the bride will be doing a lot of dancing this weekend!

  • 18 Aug 2014 5:44 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee

    An article was recently forwarded to me about a woman who joined a prayer group to pray for a child with cancer. Each night the woman participated in a conference call that included a leader reciting psalms. Although the woman felt quite transformed by this experience, in the end the child died leaving the prayers of the group unanswered.

    This is a difficult topic to understand. Why pray if our prayers are not answered? In our Hebrew School we have a ritual each week where the children pray for people and animals they choose which sometimes includes an ill grandparent or other loved one. And yes, sometimes that loved one dies. Our children have learned that we might not always receive the answer to the prayer that we personally want but that prayer always helps.

    Thirteen years ago, Rabbi David and I began praying for one of our neighbors, a sixteen year old named Sean who had been battling cancer for three years. I kept getting the spiritual message that I was to form a healing circle for Sean with our neighbors. This was quite out of my comfort zone at the time as I wasn’t sure how my neighbors, of all different religions, would react to such a request. However, my spiritual guides would not leave me alone so I finally approached one of my neighbors, a devout Christian. She loved the idea and offered to have the circle at her home. We began with five of us but word spread and at the peak of the healing circle we had over 100 people!

    We were all very excited when after a few days of our healing circle Sean began to improve! In the end however, he too passed away. Sean’s mother and I often spoke afterwards of how the love and support of the circle helped Sean and the family with his transition. Those of us in the circle also understood that Sean’s soul had decided it was his time.

    Rabbi David and I have a saying, “Not Everything is as it Seems,” for what often doesn’t make sense in the physical world makes sense in the spiritual world. To cover all bases we always pray for the “Highest Good.” As an evolved soul, Sean touched everyone he met and helped me in my own spiritual understanding. His mother and I both felt that Sean left when he did to help many souls cross over who died on 9-11, the day he was buried.

    We know that evolved souls may take on extremely difficult assignments to help our world. Perhaps this is the case with Robin Williams who despite his illness brought such Joy to us all! Did he on a soul level choose to leave the planet through suicide to save many others from doing the same? His death has certainly raised awareness of mental illness, depression and suicide. Just the outpouring of compassion and love has to have helped raise the vibration of our planet.

    In the end, we really don’t have the answers and no matter the Higher Plan, still we mourn when we lose our loved ones. For me it is a little easier knowing that not everything is as it seems, what often doesn’t make sense in the physical world makes sense in the spiritual world.

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb
    Most of us are familiar with the classic love triangle story with King David, Bat Sheva and her husband Uriah. The king and Bat Sheva have an affair, she becomes pregnant and King David has Uriah killed by sending him to the battlefront. After the baby is born, the king is told by Prophet Nathan that the baby will not live due to this transgression.

    As the baby becomes sick, King David goes into seclusion and fasts for seven day begging G-D for forgiveness. “Why punish an innocent baby for his father’s sin?” he argues while intensely praying. After crying and pleading throughout the week, the baby still dies. To the astonishment of his servants, King David gets off the floor, washes his face and sits down to eat breakfast.

    The death of the baby made no sense to the king. G-D was upset with him as he should be, but punishing the child went against G-D’s own words in the Torah, as it specifically and very clearly decreed that children should never die for the sins of their fathers (and vice versa).

    Yet, while mourning the death of his innocent baby, he immediately accepts the divine verdict despite the obvious contradiction to G-D’s own pledge. What is it that King David knew that was unknown to his servants?

    If we lived in a physical reality only, with nothing else but the here and now, then we would simply say that prayers are a way for us to manifest all of our wishes here on earth. But this is not the Jewish reality. In its basis, Jewish theology recognizes that the here and now is but a minute component of that which is around us. Our physical life on earth is a very small part of the spectrum of all that there is.

    So where is the rest of this giant spectrum? The Hebrew term for it is “Nistar,” Hidden. We know for example that there is a designer, a maker of the universe with its laws and nature. We just don’t know who and what it is.

    And of course on the human level we justify the idea of G-D and other spiritual matters by explaining that nature is too complex to randomly work in such perfect harmony. We also say that for every cause there is an effect, so that even the “big bang,” is still an effect, not a cause. The original “Cause,” (G-D?) is a concept which the human mind cannot truly understand.

    When praying, we enter into a world which is not understood by the physical tools we possess in this physical world. It also is not necessarily a linear process where we have an issue, we pray, the issue is solved. It would be wonderful if prayers worked that way all the time but they don’t.

    The world of prayer is a two way street. When we petition the Higher Power (AKA ” praying”) we are changed inside. It draws us closer to the “Nistar” the unknown. While King David prayers were not answered despite a night of intense prayer and fasting, this episode did draw him closer to that spiritual unknown. One can sense that the king went through a paradigm shift, a spiritual enhancement which changed him forever.

    I believe that the world of the unknown is vast and complex and that when a human soul lives on earth it may be for reasons far greater than we in the physical world can comprehend. Yet, it is this understanding which helps us become the spiritual beings we all strive to be.

    Prayer may not always achieve our intended desires in our physical world but they do open the gates of heaven deep within our hearts and minds.

  • 30 Jul 2014 3:34 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    This is a story I  have told to many and also share with my seventh graders each year. 

    About eight years ago, a new couple moved into the house  across the street from us and much to our shock had animosity towards us. This was also surprising to the rest of our neighbors as we live in a multicultural neighborhood and honor each other's beliefs, traditions and religions. 

     After the couple's baby was born, they began going to neighborhood meetings to complain about us, that we had too many visitors. What is so funny that people with teenagers had more visitors than we did! Although the  neighborhood board stood behind us and suggested that we have people park in our driveway this whole situation got under my skin. In spiritual terms it means that this couple hooked into my energy field.  I became nervous each time someone came to visit and uncomfortable when the couple was outside.

     Rabbi David and I decided we would pray that they would move and had a special prayer/ceremony one evening in our front yard.  They actually put up a for sale sign the next week!! But within two weeks the sign was gone.  I then decided I would just change the energy by sending them blessings each time I would go outside. This wasn't easy especially in the beginning but I kept at it.  Although my anger and discomfort lessened it kept getting triggered as the couple continued to display animosity towards us.

     As my daily ritual progressed, I finally reached the place that no matter what they were sending me, my heart was truly full of blessings for them. Within a month of reaching this point,  the family moved!  The other strange thing is that two other families down the street that that were not so kind to their neighbors moved at the same time!

     Today, four years since the family moved,  I look back on this experience with much gratitude for it helped expand my spiritual understanding on many levels.  I have continued the daily ritual of sending blessings to those who show animosity and hatred  and right now that includes Hamas and ISIS. I honestly can't say that my heart is always totally open in doing this but I know that working on the energetic level as a partner with G-d is part of the plan.  And so I will continue. Who knows,  perhaps all those who decide not to align with love and peace will  move to a different  planet!! 

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    As if we needed a reminder  how awful, cruel and  vicious war is, we have had  a full dose of it  in the last  couple of weeks. The intention was to put  a stop to  several  thousand rockets which  have been  falling on every corner of Israel threatening  the life of every Israeli citizen, man woman and child.

    We now  know  that  the  long and elaborate network of tunnels dug under many Israeli villages was in preparation for a monster terror operation which was to take place during the High Holy Days this year.  Thousands of terrorists (yes, thousands!) were to emerge at the same time from  these tunnels in the middle of many Israeli villages, shooting  at anything and  everyone. This  would have been an extremely  well coordinated operation  which would have easily massacred at least 5,000  Israelis.

    Israel estimates there would have been a 90% chance of success. Hamas has been practicing this operation for a year and a half now. So yes, this was a real plan!

    In  the last two weeks approximately  2500 rockets have fallen over Israel. To compare the percentage to the United States, multiply  2500 rockets by 450  (the USA is approximately 450 times the size of Israel.)

    The answer is 1,125,000 rockets. Imagine if Mexico sent more than a million rockets all over the USA. How long  would it take for the USA military  to take action?...Get the picture?

    But this is not  to excuse the Israeli operation in Gaza. Israel does not need an excuse to do everything possible to survive a barbaric enemy which does not  recognize any Jewish person's right to live and breathe anywhere in the world. Period. Speaking of a war of survival....

    So what is  the answer? Will we  forever live under  the shadow of complete annihilation?

    The bible, a 3000 year old  book, describes  numerous incidents  in which nations  who  intended to  destroy Israel were completely destroyed. No doubt three millennium ago  we had a very violent beginning. Yet  one  can easily understand  that in these ancient times the  rules of war  were simple. Only one side survived, either Israel or their enemies. Nothing in between. (sound familiar?...) 

    But  the difference was that we were never  violent  people. We simply faced violent circumstances. In fact, from the first day of our exodus from Egypt we were taught to love freedom and protect it with all our might. Freedom for all nations. Freedom  also means peace for all.

    What is amazing in our evolvement  as a nation and as human beings is  that  despite all the violence  perpetrated upon us over the years, we never developed violent tendencies. This is true  throughout our history. Israel  is fighting to survive, not to destroy anyone.

    As our terrorist enemies admit, "The  Jews love life ( L'chaim...)"

    We also love Freedom and Justice - we always did.  

    But how is it that our spiritual  development  took such a different course than most of the ancient world? There are spiritual clues in the bible that provide the answer. On the surface the biblical "rules of engagement" are very clear, pragmatic and moral including do not rush to war, try to negotiate peace, fight only until your enemy surrenders, never engage non combatants in war activities.

    Over the centuries these basic humanitarian  rules have led to an  amazing leap in Jewish consciousness. You see, we recognize the Power of the Light of G-D within us, the Light of Peace and Love which is desperately yearning to eliminate evil and war  from the human mind and soul, to shift our  spiritual DNA  so no human being will ever worship  wickedness and  brutality.         

    Yes, Israel right now has to physically defend herself.  But by us also spiritually sending the Light of Love  and holding a vision of peace in our daily prayers we will trump evil! May the Light of our collective consciousness eliminate all darkness and suffering around the world!   

  • 18 Jul 2014 5:40 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    Last year after my fourth graders learned through the story of Jacob and Esau that the Hebrew word, “Israel” means “to struggle with G-d” and that the Jewish people are called the “Children of Israel,” one of my students was quite perplexed. “Why would we want to have a name like that if it means we have to struggle?  And why would G-d want us to struggle anyway?!” The brilliance of a fourth grader! This question is one that many adults have also asked me or Rabbi David over the years. With the fourth graders we had a lively discussion of what their daily struggles are such as bullies in school, sibling rivalry,  too much homework etc. and they came to the conclusion that G-d doesn’t want us to struggle but actually helps us with our struggles.

    When an adult asks this question or a related one such as “Why does G-d allow children or animals to suffer? ” I reply that the original plan did not include  evil or suffering or struggles.  However, the plan did include free will and that is where things went awry. G-d actually needs us to be co-creators with G-d and bring the world back to the original plan, a world of love and peace. Especially now with our beloved Israel having to defend herself,  such a world seems to be a distant dream.

    But the Jewish people are eternal optimists. As Rabbi David likes to say, we have been praying for peace for over two thousand years, three times a day. And in doing so, no matter what we have had to face, we  have kept this notion of peace alive in our consciousness. This is actually where co-creation with G-d begins, in our consciousness. Each  day I spend time in meditation and prayer  sending waves of Love and Peace to the entire Middle East.  There are many throughout the world doing the same, of all religions and cultures. There is much power with group prayer so I always set the intention that all our prayers will join together.  Perhaps you will add your daily prayer as well.  I hope so!

    From Rabbi David aka The Reb

    ..so Jacob is  about to meet  his  brother Esau  who, he thinks, is  about  to act on some 20  years of harboring hatred  and  feelings of revenge. He is  extremely worried  about the safety of his large family, especially when he is told that his brother is coming to meet  him with 400 soldiers. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a man comes and starts wrestling with him. Since Jacob is not one  to shy away from a fight, especially since he did not draw first blood, he  fights  with the stranger for hours.

    After a whole night of wrestling with Jacob and seeing that he is unable to overcome him, the stranger uses a divine power to severely injure Jacob’s thigh. Any other WWF wrestler would have quit. Not  Jacob!  He pins the man to the ground  and  refuses  to let go. The man is pleading:  “Let me go the sun is up!” Jacob  says, “I will not let you go until you bless me!”  The  strange man  change  Jacob’s name to “Israel” because,  he  tells  Jacob,  “You have  fought  with  G-D and man and you prevailed.” We  the Jews are the sons and  daughters of Israel, or simply, “Israel”.

    What a bizarre story! Why would  G-D  send an angle to wrestle  with  Jacob? Why wrestling at night, in the dark? Why  was  the angel afraid  to continue wrestling  with Jacob  in broad  daylight?  Why did  he  use his divine power  to try to win the fight –   an unfair use of his powers? And what kind of blessing is changing one’s name because he is a good wrestler?

    No doubt this story can only be understood as a symbolic occurrence.  Jacob’s story is our story. The Torah chose to show Jacob’s spiritual turbulence and  frustrations with his constant life struggles through a wrestling allegory. It is  a straight  forward message to Jacob and  to us. Our spiritual greatness will be achieved through struggle.  But why? Changing  our  imperfect  world into a peaceful world for all its inhabitants  means wrestling  and overcoming  our lower nature (testosterone, I suppose)

    It is G-D’s world  and man’s  nature. It is a Jewish task which has been going on for millennia here on  earth. It is  a destiny which was thrust upon our Father Jacob and upon us. Jacob and we did not choose to wrestle (he with an angel – we with violence and hatred)  We hate wars and killing but if war is what it takes to overcome evil then so be it.

    Jacob’s wrestling in the dark of night is a symbol of  us, the Jewish people, carrying the Light of Justice, Compassion and Peace into our imperfect world of   darkness. The angel asking Jacob  to release him  since it was almost daylight is a clear message to us to hold onto our Light of Peace through the long night of turmoil around the world which is gaining strength but  will be defeated. It cannot survive in the bright daylight of our hearts.

    I pray that that Israel’s endless struggle for peace in the Middle East will overcome  the sea of hatred around it . May this  war in Gaza  brings Jacob’s Morning Light to Israel and it’s neighbors. May all realize  the futility of hatred and  the pointlessness  of killing.  May all nations join us, the Jewish people,  in our wrestling match to truly make our world  heaven on earth for all mankind.

  • 11 Jul 2014 4:18 PM | Shirat Shalom (Administrator)

    From Cantor Lee 

    While waiting at Barnes and Noble for a meeting , I had chance to peruse through the  spirituality section. Wow, there were quite a number of books!! Leafing through several brought up the topic of gratitude including tips on how to develop a gratitude practice.

    I  follow the Jewish tradition of reciting the Hebrew prayer, Modah Ani (Modeh Ani for a male) first thing in the morning.  It is actually a prayer that gives thanks for having our soul returned to us. I love the way the Hebrew words sound and go throughout the day just singing the three words Modah Ani L’fanecha  – “I give thanks before You,” as part of my personal gratitude practice. At night before I go to sleep I think of all the things that happened during the day for which I can say thank you. When I am in my journaling mood which is on and off, I write them down.

    Of course it is much easier to be grateful when things are going well! But that is the whole point of a “practice.”  We practice when things are going well so we when we really need it, it actually works! And yes, throughout the years, I have discovered that being grateful does make a difference especially when life seems to be throwing some curve balls. 

    For me a gratitude practice  brings me to a Higher Place, the place of connection to the Divine, to G-d. In this place, I am uplifted and filled with Peace which then radiates out to world.

    From Rabbi David aka “The Reb”  

    One  of  the most powerful Jewish  paradigms is the ability to deeply appreciate the  world around us. It is  the understanding  that  nothing  should be taken for granted, the  simplest natural occurrence, the most basic bodily function, the smallest of creatures, the  grass in the field,  the trees,  the flowers, anything we can  think of is a marvel which  deserves our appreciation and admiration.  This kind of understanding is a gate to  the highest spiritual discourse a human being can achieve. The first thought that should enter our mind when we first open  our eyes in the morning  is a prelude to a day blessed with expressions of appreciation.

    Upon  opening our eye we recite:  Modeh Ani L’fanecha…”I thank you, Master of life and subsistence  for returning my soul to me with much compassion”.  One  immediately washes the hands. This is  a symbolic  spiritual  cleansing of the body so that it can receive back the soul which is being lent to us every morning for the day. What  a powerful notion: Our soul is a gift  which we receive every morning with much  joy and appreciation to watch over, to love and cherish.

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