Song of Peace
First From Cantor Lee:
During a seminar I recently attended I learned about the work of a classmate who volunteers for an organization that helps families from being deported. In her most recent case, a mother and two young children were saved from returning to their homeland where they would have had to live in fear for their safety. I told the woman that Judaism teaches that saving one life is seen as saving the entire world! My classmate answered "I haven't saved the world! This is just one. There are so many!!"
She further explained that she was familiar with the teaching but felt it could only be true from the mystic's view point. She couldn't understand this teaching from her viewpoint. I replied that I understood the teaching in the same way she did. It depends on the "world" we are currently living in to determine how we understand this teaching.
I asked Rabbi David to give his understanding from his world...
From Rabbi David aka The Reb
There is a saying in Hebrew which roughly translates as "For he who saves one soul, it is as if he saves an entire world". No other expression has more profound meaning in our tumultuous times than this one. It is the essence of the Jewish people who brought to a barbaric world the idea of sanctity of life and with it the ideals of compassion, kindness and decency. We the Jewish people, miniscule in number compared to the world population, are leading the ideological fight against an ever growing monstrous number of fanatics who worship death and are inflicting suffering and destruction all over the world.
In our modern times this saying has transformed itself from theoretical moral guidance of the Jewish people to a ray of hope for all people in a world which appears to be growing darker. This light is a strong one. It gives us the strength to repair the world, making it a better place for our children despite our modern horrifying adversaries. By now, the sanctity of life is well implanted in our hearts and in the hearts of light workers around the world.
The idea of saving a life of even one person is an important part of the war against modern dark forces coming from the Middle East and beyond. It has become our main weapon in the challenge of the Sons of Light to overcome the Sons of Darkness as was accurately predicted by our ancestors. In fact, there is a book "War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness" written around 2,000 years ago by the Essenes, a Jewish sect of highly spiritual desert dwellers, which accurately predicts our modern time struggles.
As with many Hebrew sayings, the specific content reflects a much broader line of thoughts. While the phrase "an entire world" in the Hebrew is understood as Earth, our physical world, it also reflects the saving of the physical and spiritual world of the individual. That means that physically saving an individual has far reaching results. It also means helping the individual's private world of family and friends as well as the individual's inner spiritual world.
But how can saving an individual help to ease the suffering of millions around the world? Any act of kindness such saving a person's life or even a loving thought has an accumulative effect. It contributes in a not so small way to our light of hope for a better world by injecting a small dosage of kindness into the fabric of the our world . As we all know, many points of light eventually illuminates as a powerful ray.
Saving even one person's life is indeed a powerful answer to a world growing brutal. It is a true celebration of the appreciation of life and that indeed will be the light that will overcome any dark clouds threatening humanity's survival.
Our beloved Oreo Cookie let us know that after 17 years he was ready to go across the rainbow bridge and so we helped him with his decision.We used "Lap of Love," a veterinary hospice practice that provides in home euthanasia. It was such a beautiful, peaceful, loving experience! Our other two dogs, Cinnamon and Candy were also present and had the chance to say goodbye as well. What a gift for all of us!
For the rest of the day, I took some quiet time to honor Oreo and reflect on how he has enriched all of our lives. He has certainly been an integral part of Shirat Shalom since the very beginning! As a six month old puppy he participated in our very first Friday evening service which met in our home. I don't remember how he behaved that night but I do remember that he was always the star attraction when anyone came to the house! He especially loved "assisting" during lessons for the B'nai Mitzvah students. He would sit right next to each student on the couch and would guard their notebooks! And yes, if some papers were left out they might get eaten! Oreo was teaching the students to be organized and put things away! B'nai Mitzvah rehearsals meant legs would be licked! I would of course stop him but most families would tell me, "He is fine!" I guess Oreo was preparing the students for all the "people" kisses they would receive at their ceremonies!
Oreo had many ways of teaching our students! When he was almost two years old we figured in dog years he was close to 13 and had a "Bark Mitzvah" for him on the last day of Hebrew School. All of the students brought gifts and his best dog friends were invited as well! We put him on a pillow, lifted him in the air and sang "Siman Tov and Mazel Tov!" Some of those students still remember Oreo's Bark Mitzvah! Recognize anyone?
Oreo Cookie also taught many students the aleph bet! In the beginning years when the K-2nd graders would meet at Miss Susan's house, Oreo would point to the letters with his paw during the aleph-bet song. After class his favorite trick was to run out the door when parents would come to pick up the children. I guess he thought this all added to the fun of Hebrew School! After the younger grades were also moved to Loggers' Run Middle School, Oreo missed his students but he never forgot them! He would always be overjoyed when he would have the opportunity to meet a former student!
Five years ago when Oreo had emergency surgery and ended up having a kidney taken out it seemed his teaching career was over. We had taken him home hoping he would improve but after a week he still wasn't responding to us or eating. We began preparing ourselves to say goodbye. But it seems that Oreo still had more to teach and that included me as well!
Each week during Hebrew school when we practice the prayers for lighting the candles we have a ritual of "sending Light" for people, animals and places in the world in need of healing. This particular night I asked the students to focus on Oreo who was home with Susan. We sent out our group prayer of Light at 7:10 p.m. At 7:20 p.m. he all of a sudden perked up, lifted his head and went over to his food dish to eat! A few weeks later he went to school to personally thank the children!
I truly learned about the power of prayer that night and the power of our amazing Hebrew School children! Each year I re-tell this story to our students. And the ones that heard it before... well, they never get tired of hearing it.
Thank you Oreo Cookie for teaching us so many lessons, for being a master teacher! Know that your legacy lives on for your students are busy changing our world!
And the Love you have given to each one of us, the Love we have for you...that Love is forever....
Oreo with one of his students October 2012
Oreo Cookie 5/17/98 - 7/19/15
Tisha B'Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) is a day dedicated to the mourning of the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians in the year 586 BCE and the second Temple by the Romans in the year 70 AD. This year Tisha B'Av will be commemorated on July 26, 2015.
Jewish people who follow the tradition observe this date with traditional fasting, chanting from the Book of Lamentations which has a uniquely somber melody and following Jewish mourning traditions. It is indeed a solemn day. one can sense it immediately upon entering any synagogue which holds services for the day.
Amazing! We mourn events which happened thousands of years ago! The sadness and the sense of lost lingers and lingers generation after generation. The national and religious pain may be somewhat numb by now but it is still very much a part of our collective memory, our collective psyche.
What is even more amazing is that we mourn the destruction of a place where animal sacrifice was the way to draw us close to G-d. In fact, it was the primary function of the Temple. Today of course, we do not practice animal sacrifice at all and will not even do so if the Temple is to be rebuilt.
As we explore our spirituality, we now believe that while the Temple's physical building was destroyed, its Holiness never disappeared. As the Temple was burning at the hands of the Babylonians and later on by the Romans, the burning building shifted its energy and its holiness from its burning ashes directly into our living HEARTS. Therefore each one of us carries the holiness of the Temple, the extension of G-d's spirit, in our Jewish "Neshama," our soul.
So why mourn the destruction of a building, its main purpose animal sacrifice? If the original two tablets tucked in the Holy of Holies ever survived they would be nothing but sand by now (remember "Raiders of the Lost Ark?")
It is interesting to note that the 9th day of AV also commemorates other major national disasters in our history which amazingly took place at the same date in different times in our history. The following are a few of them:
132 A major revolt against Rome by the Jews led by the Bar Kochbah (53 years after the destruction of the Temple) was crushed
1095 First Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II. As a result, 10,000 Jews killed in the first month of the Crusade. Death and destruction totally obliterated many communities in Rhineland and France. By comparison to the number of Jews in Europe at the time, the killing was compatible to the 20th century Holocaust.
1290 Expulsion of Jews from England: Pogroms and confiscation of all Jewish property
1492 Inquisition in Spain and Portugal culminates in the expulsion of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsual. Families separated, many die by drowning, massive loss of property. The royal expulsion decree was publicized on 9 Av 1492.
1942 Deportations fro Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka concentration camp began
When reading all these events which happened on the 9th day of the month of Av, we get a different perspective on the significance of the day, especially with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 which is now considered one of the most advanced democracies in the world and third in the world of technology.
While Tisha B'Av is a day of mourning of some of the many catastrophic events in our history, it has now become a day that symbolizes the triumph of Hope out of repeated disasters, a Phoenix which keeps rising out of the ashes.It reminds us that we are evergreen, indestructible. It re-emphasizes that the Temple is in the heart of every Jew and that the Shechina, the Light of G-d which once hovered over the Holy of Holies in the Temple (the location of the ark of covenant) is still alive and well in us, the Jewish people, the carriers of G-d's Light.
May Tisha B'Av remind us to continue to do the job we came here to do, bring this Light to our families, our communities, Mother Earth, the World!
From Cantor Lee
My community where I live, Boca Winds, is hurting. A couple of days ago a sweet little Yorkie named Lola was snatched by a coyote while she was just a few feet away from her human in her own front yard.
Coyotes in Florida? We don't usually hear about this, but yes, they are here. There have actually been sightings of a coyote in our development over the past two months. The homeowner's association hired a trapper for a short period of time which was unsuccessful and also organized a meeting tonight to give all of us more information.
But it is too late for Lola. As my sister has expressed, she can't even process the grief and horror this family is going though. For many of us whether we have pets or not, we are heartbroken for Lola's family!
It is only natural that this incident brings up fear and anger for there is a sense of vulnerability, of feeling unsafe in our own neighborhoods. Parents are even expressing their fear in letting their children play outside. I have been watching and feeling this fear and anger go throughout the community. As someone who is sensitive to energy it is very real! As I drove into Boca Winds last evening, this fear and anger was so strong it felt as though it was smacking my body and then grabbing hold of my heart and solar plexus! I haven't felt anything like this energy before in our community! Not even during the hurricanes!
My prayer is that my community comes together not from the place of fear and anger but from a place of peace and support for each other, of listening with open minds whether it is the homeowner's association or each other.
Easier said than done, the naysayers all say! But we actually have several tools we can use to help ourselves. When we are fearful or angry the blood drains from our brains and we go into a fight or flight response. One of my favorite tools to dissipate this is to hold my fingers on my forehead right above my eyes and concentrate on breathing. Staying this way for a few minutes brings the blood back to the brain which allows for clear and calm thinking.
I am also holding the vision that my community finds the answers we need to move forward and that we once again feel safe. We may need to change the way we put out our garbage and receive training in a number of methods that "teach" the coyotes that being around humans has negative consequences.
I am also sending Love from my heart to Lola's family. I am so sorry for your loss! And as for Lola, I know on a higher level, you sacrificed your life for all of us. We may not be able to fathom this now but I know for me you have helped my heart become even more open. And for this Lola, I thank you! Please know that we will watch out for your beloved humans!
From Cantor Lee
Once again the issue of anger was coming to my awareness so I knew to pay attention. It seemed as though I was getting a re-education, a reminder, the past few weeks about the various aspects of anger. This morning it came from my neighbor. She was telling me how her autistic teenager was thriving in a yoga class offered at his high school. This amazing program was not only helping the autistic and other special needs teens but the “regular” students as well.
“But I am so ___ angry!” As she began to yell I watched her whole demeanor change. She went on to tell me how a special yoga program was being scheduled on World Autism Awareness Day, April 2nd, but none of the autistic children would be able to attend as it was during the morning when they were all involved in community work programs. “They are going to ____ hear from me! There is no way this program is not going to include the autistic community!” I thought, I am glad I won’t be the person on the phone when she calls! “But they didn’t do this maliciously, did they? They just didn’t realize…” She cut me off and screamed “they just didn’t think! They never think! I am an advocate for my child and this program will be changed!” I replied, “yes, you have come to earth to do just that, advocate for your child.” She answered, “exactly and it might kill me in the meantime!”
I continued on my walk and sent Light to the situation and gratitude that I didn’t absorb any of her anger as I had a couple of weeks beforehand when I had witnessed an exchange between a mother and her child in my classroom . As I watched the energy of the anger go straight from the mother’s eyes into the child’s eyes, the child actually recoiled! I have absolutely no judgment about this, there were plenty of times I became angry with my own children as they were growing up! But I didn’t realize at the time that this anger also affected me. With my next class of students, I lost my temper which is very much out of character for me. Fortunately I caught myself in the middle of it and apologized to the class. I realized later that I had absorbed the earlier energy of anger. As an empath, I have had to learn how to not absorb other people’s emotions but it still sometimes happens.
Over the next few weeks, I had dreams of anger, heard other people’s stories of anger and even noticed that the Torah portions deal with anger. Okay, so what is the meaning, the blessing in all of this, I wondered? And then I understood that this time leading up to Passover is an opportunity for us to let go of anything that is still keeping us angry, and sometimes the issues are buried so deeply within us, we aren’t even aware of them! Passover is a holiday of freedom, but we have to work on staying free!
I meditated and asked to see any people or issues with which I am still carrying anger and asked that they be taken from my energy field. I did this a few times and do feel Lighter! My now lighter energy field will also affect others connected to me and that is definitely a blessing!
May we all be blessed with freedom this Passover!
When Jacob’s family, 75 members strong left for Egypt to the fertile land of Goshen, they went to meet their beloved Joseph, now a powerful leader only second in command to the Pharaoh, in order to ride out the famine in Canaan. They could have returned back to their home land once the famine was over they did not. After all their brother was the ruler of the land.
The members of the family could have returned to Canaan once Joseph died some 40 years or so. There was no reason to stay any more. They still did not. We know the rest of the story of course.
From a bird’s eye view we can conclude that the reason for staying was a Divine Will to create a yearning and struggle for freedom among the Hebrew slaves a few centuries later. But whose struggle was it?
When Moses first returned to Egypt and announced that he will free the slaves the Hebrews ridiculed him as a strange dreamer. Yet they cried out to G-D to save them from their suffering. A great struggle for freedom ensued. But was it really a human struggle for freedom? Was it one nation’s war against tyranny and enslavement? Remember that the Israelites were totally passive in their bid for freedom as if it wasn’t their fight. In fact, as the Torah demonstrates several times later on in the desert, some of them were quite content remaining slaves.
This is in fact a story of a Divine fight for human freedom but not a human struggle.
So let me understand this. The Old Mighty makes the Hebrews stay in Egypt after the death of Joseph with no good reason, then causes them to become slaves and then fights the pharaoh to free them. What a strange sequence of events!
When G-D created humans he got directly involved in the act. He did not command it to happen like he did for all other animals . Rather, he himself physically made a human shape from the dirt of the earth and breathed life into it. The human being is so close to Godliness that G-D felt the need to make Adam with his “Bare hands”
The idea that the Passover freedom struggle is a Divine war against oppression for the sake of mankind is the same as the idea of human creation. When Moses finally yanked the Israelites out of Pharaoh’s grip, the message to mankind through the Hebrews and us, their descendants was profound, that human freedom is our fundamental right. G-d implanted this within us through the ancient struggle with a tyrant Pharaoh. No one can take it away from us. It is basic to our existence just as the Divine physical intervention in our creation is basic to who we are.
Passover is the time when we remember that the Light of Freedom and Decency was put in the Jewish heart and soul some 3,300 years ago to watch over and keep alive in a world that would despise freedom for many centuries to come.
We are still carrying it in our hearts. Our children inherit it from us to keep it safe in their hearts until such time that peace and freedom will no longer be in our prayers but in our world.
May it be so this Passover!
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!!
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…
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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!
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