September 22, 2009
For all of us who have worked hard to reflect on who we’ve been…a lighthearted Rosh Hashannah video. Happy New Year!!!!!!!!
September 17, 2009
The setting for my sermons these High Holy Days is, of course, the world economic crisis. I found so many resources that address the underlying moral issues that produced this meltdown and couldn’t begin to share them all from the pulpit. One resource I found particularly meaningful is the Speaking of Faith website. Krista Tippet is doing a remarkable job of asking the really important questions and has access the wisest people of our time to ask them of. I will be using several of her interviews with people to formulate the basis of my remarks this year but wanted to post this link to a show that started me down the path to the interviews I will use. This show is a talk with Parker Palmer, an amazing Quaker thinker and teacher who has written many books that I have found inspirational. His thoughts on where we are as a society are so helpful as I prepare for the end of Elul and the beginning of Tishrei.
September 14, 2009
I spent some time with Sara and Paula today working on a wonderful song sent to me by a friend that feels so much about these days of preparation. It was written by an Israeli artist and is sung by her and two other Israeli artists. Click here to watch…
September 13, 2009
We left Selichot services hopefully ready to truly engage in the hard work of teshuva. Now we have to make certain we do it right….
A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology
Apologies are not pass/fail. I always told my students: When giving an apology, any performance lower than an A really doesn’t cut it.
Halfhearted or insincere apologies are often worse than not apologizing at all because recipients find them insulting. If you’ve done something wrong in your dealings with another person, it’s as if there’s an infection in your relationship. A good apology is like an antibiotic; a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound. Read the rest of this entry »
September 11, 2009
While we approach Selichot we pause to honor that we live in two civilizations – Jewish and American. We honor both from the fullness of who we are. I found this piece very moving and will be sharing it from the bimah tonight. May their memories be for a blessing and may we honor their memories by making blessings of our lives.
How 9/11 Should Be Remembered by Rebecca Solnit
September 10, 2009
Our Sages say that the most dangerous weapon we have is the tongue. According to them, this is why God provided two gates to keep it in – the teeth and the lips. We are approaching the time when we assess what we have created and what we have destroyed with our words.
The Power of Words
Words, the power of words, is all important. Words can inspire. Words can destroy. There is an insightful Midrash which says, “These are the words.” Read Devarim and also devorim, wasps. Read the rest of this entry »
September 9, 2009
My colleague, Rabbi Andrea London, with Julie Singer and Carol Wagner has created a course for the month of Elul for spiritual preparation for the High Holidays. Below is her teaching for the second week of that program (which includes many other components) which focuses on regret. This is an important step in teshuva and, according to Rabbi London, should not be left as a hurried practice sitting in services….if you’re reading this blog you already understand the great truth of that….
“How does one acknowledge sin? One says: I implore You God…Behold, I regret [what I did] and am embarrassed by my deeds. I promise never to repeat this act again.” [Rambam, Laws of Repentance 1:1, from Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days, Kerry M. Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath]
Maimonides listed regret as the first part step necessary for teshuva.. S.Y. Agnon agrees with the Rambam about the importance of regret, as he wrote in the Days of Awe, “The essential purpose of teshuva is to regret the past and commit oneself not to return to that folly again in the future; for even if a man fasts frequently from Sabbath to Sabbath and performs every known form of chastisement, if he has not taken it upon himself not to return to his sin – behold, he is as one who takes a ritual bath while holding an unclean reptile in his hand.” [Siddur Derekh ha-Hayyim]
The following is a story to help us think about what role we must play during the month of Elul. Read the rest of this entry »
September 8, 2009
Many of us who attend Shabbat morning services here at Temple Israel are familiar with the kavannot/teachings by Rabbi Sheila Weinberg. Sheila, in addition to being a contributor to our prayer book, Kol Haneshamah, is a core part of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality faculty. She is a meditation teacher of amazing depth and one of the most delightful people I know. I read this poem of hers in our IJS newsletter and am posting it as our Elul reflection for today. Enjoy.
The Altar of my Life
You are a plump furry gray cat.
You plop on my lap. I am pinned in place. The old sofa sags, the springs hang
You know I am afraid of you. Read the rest of this entry »
September 7, 2009
This Labor Day weekend we came to chai elul. My colleague has posted interesting readings and reflections for this period following the 18th of Elul known as chai elul. Visit RabbiDebra.com to add to your daily dose of Elul material.
Repairing the World
Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof . . .Do not wrong one another, but revere your God.
I offer you a gift. I hope you will accept it. Linked with the gift is a burden. I hope you can handle it.
My gift is freedom.
It means that each of you can do just about anything – say anything, use, build, or destroy anything within you grasp. Read the rest of this entry »
September 3, 2009
Is There Ever Too Much?
This week’s Torah portion, and a full moon in the sky, have led me to pose our opening question. In a Torah reading where so many promises and threats are woven together one needs to stop and ask, “What, perhaps, is God afraid of in His/Her relationship with people?” or subsequently, “What are human beings, perhaps, afraid of in their relationship with God?”
I’m drawn to this question by virtue of an observation that is made in chapter 28, verse 47:
“Because you would not serve the Lord, your God, with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things / may’rov kol”
It appears that this verse is claiming that it is actually the abundance that we have been blessed with that is what steers us away from God.
Time and again we are asked to answer for ourselves what are the moments in life that bring us close to God. Where is it that we share moments of intimacy with the Almighty? When is it that we find ourselves turning to the presence of God? Does our strife bring us close to God or push us to run in the opposite direction? Does the abundance of our lives bring us one step closer to God, asking, “What is that God is expecting of us to do with the gifts that have been bestowed upon us?” or perhaps, as the pasuk alludes to, it pushes us towards indifference and a sense of comfort in which God’s presence is absent?
The uniqueness of the phrase ‘may’rov kol / for the abundance of all things‘ is striking because of other places where ‘kol / all things‘ appear earlier in the Torah. I will mention two:
“And Avraham was old, advanced in age, and God had blessed Avraham with all things (ba’kol)” (Breisit/Genesis 24:1)
It is here, with the recognition that Avraham has all things, that he sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Yitzchak. Could we say, that the recognition of having ‘all things’ brings to the foreground that which we are truly missing? Avraham has everything, but that everything points to what his life is lacking – a partner for his son Yitzchak, so Yitzchak too can experience ‘joyfulness and gladness of heart’.
Their offspring will also use this phrase to account for all that he has. In Ya’akov’s encounter with Ei’sav, Ya’akov beckons Ei’sav to take all the gifts that he has bestowed him with. He says:
“Take I pray of you, my blessing that is brought to you; because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough / kol” (Breisit/Genesis 33:11)
Here ‘kol‘ is translated as ‘enough’ based on the readings of the medieval commentators. It is translated in such manner to juxtapose it with the arrogance that Ei’sav speaks with only two verses earlier, when his says that he has ‘rav / abundance.
Returning to our verse in our parsha it appears that it is not necessarily having all things that is the culprit in distancing us from a sense of gratitude, but rather the element of abundance that can be dangerous, the element of ‘rav‘, the challenge of having ‘rov kol‘.
The Mei a’Shiloach, the Ishbitzer rebbe (1800-1854), picks up on this tension when he explains what appears to him to be a redundancy in the verse that also appears in our parasha:
“And all these blessings will come to you and overtake you” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 28:2)
Clearly, he questions, if the blessings have come to you, then they also overtake you. Unless, as he poses, ‘will come to you’ and ‘overtake you’ are saying two different things
The Mei Ha’Shiloach suggests that it is human nature that when we experience graciousness and abundance in our lives we inevitably change. There is fear that comes with this change. Will we still be the same people that we were, or will, God forbid, this wealth corrupt us and our earlier values? It is in response to this fear that the Ishbitzer rebbe says, ‘Do not fear, when these blessings come upon you they will overtake the ‘you’ that you always were! Do not be afraid that these blessings will distance you from God or the good that you have done in the world!’
It seems to me that we share with God the fear of “for the abundance of all things / may’rov kol.” From God’s perspective there is fear of an abundance that is too much. There is fear that in God’s will to grant us with ‘the abundance of all things‘ S/He will give us more than we can assimilate into our lives, and will cause us to turn from God. From our perspective there is fear of change. The fear that we will no longer be able to recognize ourselves as servants of God while surrounded with ‘the abundance of all things.‘
As the full moon shifts us this Shabbat towards Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur I find myself thinking of another word that we use in the English language for ‘all things‘ – the word ‘belongings’. There is an element of ownership that comes with the word ‘belongings’ – our belongings are things that belong to us by virtue of our owning them. But it is this time of year that begs us to look at this word differently. As we turn from taking inventory of the year that we are concluding and turning to the world of prayer to usher in the new year we are asked to think about ‘belonging’ not as what we own, but rather what are we longing for!
To ‘belong” is to ‘be-in-longing’. When a person can identify where they belong, to whom they belong, to who they are in longing and also, what belongs to them, then their life has been transformed. We greet the new year with special prayers because praying is being able to stand in the presence of the Master-of-the-World and say, “Ribbono Shel Olam, Master-of-the-World, I belong to you, and I am in-longing for you. I believe that You long for me, and are in-longing for me.”
When ‘belongings’ take upon themselves the voice of ownership, then indeed there can be a reality of ‘too much’. But, when ‘all things’ / ‘belongings’ take upon themselves the relational voice of ‘longing’ then these are moments that can only bring us closer to our Creator.
May we sit in this Shabbat and enter into the year to come with the courage to share our ‘be-longings’ with each other and find our way to serve God with ‘joyfulness and gladness of heart.’
Shabbat shalom and shana tova!
Reb Mimi Feigelson is the Mashpiah Ruchanit (Spiritual Mentor) and Lecturer of Rabbinic Literature at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (formerly the U.J.), Los Angeles. She is an Orthodox – Israeli Rabbi and an international Chassidut teacher and story teller.