Thursday, October 20, 2016

Don't Give It Up You Got An Empty Cup Only Love Can Fill (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Comes A Time")

Among the more interesting experiences that my family and I have enjoyed while living in Toronto, has been experiencing U.S. Presidential campaigns from outside the U.S. First, living outside the U.S. during this time allows for a bit of an escape as opposed to the national obsessing that has been occurring south of the border.  Second, by living outside the U.S, we have wider perspective as part of our “calculus” for voting is now influenced from the perspective of how the rest of the world views the candidate. Third, by being outside of the political storm we can see things a little clearer than those who live in the storm. We have watched the debates. We have spoken frequently to our eldest daughter who has been living in the storm that is a Presidential campaign for nearly 18 months. As we watch the campaign from across the border, there have been numerous times where we have shaken our heads in disgust as this campaign has seemed to be a race to the gutter as Donald Trump has demeaned the process in terms of his language, his behavior, and his lashing out at numerous constituencies including fellow Republicans. However what has been particularly revealing is the insight he has given us into his character. As the campaign has evolved, as incendiary statements have been made, as he didn’t engage in any preparation for the first debate, as tapes were discovered in which he discussed groping women, as he missed an opportunity to apologize and prepare for the second debate, and has polls indicate diminished support for him, Trump began to do something unprecedented. As the futility of campaigning rose, he began planting the seeds of a “rigged election”, that the “fix” was in, and if he anyone but Trump wins, then the new president-elect out to be considered illegitimate. That idea, an idea that he had been sharing at numerous “Trump Rally’s”, now became explicit this week during the third debate. Trump’s stunning closing comment now attempts to spread his sense of futility of his campaign to the futility of the entire voting/electing process.
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot holiday, one of the Five Scrolls is traditionally read.  On this particular Shabbat, we read from Sefer Kohelet, the scroll of Ecclesiastes. According to the tradition, Shlomo HaMelech, King Solomon, towards the end of his life, wrote this Megillah, this scroll. Tradition has this perspective because the language is not one of optimism but rather realism. This is a person who as “seen it all” – Ein Kol Chadash Tachat HaShemeshThere is nothing new under the sun! There is a certain harsh realism and a certain sense of harsh optimism.  V’Saneiti et HaChayim Ki Ra Alai HaMa’aseh SH’Na’aseh Tachat HaShemesh Ki HaKol Chavel So I hated life, for I was depressed by all that goes on under the sun, because everyone is futile. The author provides us with a no holds barred sense of comfort. He does not coddle us. He does not baby us. He doesn’t offer any artificially sweetened philosophy, or anything will dull our pain, diminish our disappointment, or ease the fear of death. Rather the author shoves our faces in “reality”, telling us that our labor seems futile, and if it is futile what is the point of it?
Kohelet, the Preacher, explains that life does indeed seem futile. He shares his frustration that he has toiled and had to give to those who haven’t toiled. He shares his frustration that his work, his business seems futile because when the day ends, he is still worrying about his business at night. Kohelet seems to have no internal peace, no ability to appreciate the moment, nor does he seem to have a mechanism that allows him to find a sense of peace amid his perceived futility. So, Kohelet, the Preacher, begins to search, and begins to experiment with the various lifestyles, hoping that he will be able to find internal peace, that he will be able to develop an ability to appreciate the moment.  Certainly has we read the twelve chapters of a man striving for wisdom; we gain insight into his character. Kohelet shares with us what he has learned. V’Ra’iti Ki Ein Tov Mei’Asher Yismach Ha’Adam B’Maasav Ki Hu ChelkoI observed that there is nothing better for man than to be happy in what he is doing; Tov M’Lo Chaf Nachat Mimlo Hafnayim Amal UrUt Ruach -  Better is one handful of pleasantness than two fistfuls of labor and vexation of the spirit; Al T’Vaheil Al Picha V’Libecha Al Yimaheir- Be not rash with your mouth and let not your heart be hasty to utter a word before God,  Ohev Kesef Lo Yisbah Kesef – a lover of money will never be satisfied with money;  Tov Lishmoah Ga’Arat Chacham M’Ish Shomeah Shir K’silim It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools; and finally Sof Davar Ha’Kol Nishma et Ha’Elohim Y’Rah et Mitzvotav Shmor Ki Zeh  Kol Ha’AdamThe sum of the matter, when all has been considered; Fear God and keep his commandments for that is man’s whole duty.
If there was any one individual who might have thought a system was rigged; it was Kohelet.  His sensed of futility is indeed the modern day version of claiming that the system is rigged. Yet Kohelet is a man of great character, he is honest and comes to a powerful realization. The futility is the struggle to acquire, acquire money, fame and power.  Peace is realized by learning to appreciate the blessing that God had provided. The ability to appreciate is a function of wisdom. Wisdom is function of being able to listen to those have experience. Finally, Kohelet, the Preacher, explains that ultimately, the ability to appreciate the moment, the ability to find peace comes from observing God’s commandments because the commandments are based upon finding holiness, in each moment.   Donald Trump could learn a valuable lesson from Kohelet, and instead of thinking the system is rigged against him, maybe he should be a little more introspective like Kohelet. Maybe, then Trump will realize that his shortcoming are about him rather than everyone around him. Then again, maybe not, Trump doesn’t have character nor the intestinal fortitude that Kohelet does to enter upon such a journey.
Rav Yitz

Thursday, October 6, 2016

There Were Days Between, Summer Flies And August Dies, The World Grows Dark And Mean (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Days Between")

Every morning for the past week, I have been waking up earlier than normal and, along with a few other people, attended Selichot. Selichot are penitential prayers, supplications and poetry invoking God as Judge, God as Merciful, and a God that remembers biblical ancestors. I usually sit in my spot, with a mug of coffee and follow as the Baal Tefillah begins the service. For the first five to ten minutes I am not quite awake, after all the coffee hasn’t quite kicked in. Then I am involved following along, listening to the tune, and reading the words. At some point each morning during Selichot, I have a moment, a moment where I begin asking all the existential questions. Where am I in my life? What exactly have I accomplished in my life? Am I the best possible me that I can be? The answers aren’t so positive nor uplifting and if I ended the process then, I would probably be diagnosed with Depression. But the process doesn’t end there. As I continue working my way through the Selichot liturgy, it concludes with reminders and reassurances. Maybe the existential answers to my existential questions are not particularly uplifting. However I know that I am not alone. The Selichot service concludes with a series of statements including the refrain: Hu Aneinu- He answers. That is re-assuring.  Maybe my supplications and prayers are not answered at that moment. However my moment of clarity leaves me with a stronger faith, a faith that eventually there will be an answer. I just need to stay engaged and involved and maybe the difficult question that leave me troubled will eventually be resolved and leave me comforted.
We are keenly aware that we are in a very special time of year. We are in the midst of a very spiritual time of year. We are in the midst of a ten day period from Rosh HaShanah until Yom Kippur knows as the Aseret Yamei T’shuvah – the Ten Days of Repentance. As the name suggests, this is the time of year in which we seek M’chila or forgiveness for any transgression we have committed. We seek forgiveness from God, and we seek forgiveness from family and friends. Mostly, it seems to me, that during these ten days we honestly look at ourselves and assume that we have hurt others instead of being shocked when we find out that we are capable of hurting another. The ability to engage in this process known as Shuvah, the process of returning to holiest aspect of our being, requires great clarity.   Sometimes clarity comes on a starry night. Sometimes clarity comes sipping coffee at sunrise. Sometimes clarity comes at childbirth. Sometimes clarity comes when you tuck your children into bed and wish them sweet dreams. Sometimes clarity occurs during on a beautiful autumn day. Sometimes, clarity comes amidst a hurricane as Hurricane Matthew batters the Florida Coast, and the south eastern U.S. coast. Sometimes clarity comes at the death of a loved one. Sometimes, clarity comes at one's impending death.
            In this week’s Parsha, Va’Yeileich, Moshe is now experiences for the last time a tremendous moment of clarity. However of all the moments of clarity including: the Burning Bush, the Revelation at Sinai, the Personal Revelation when he saw the back of God while defending B’nai Yisroel following the episode of the Golden Calf; it is the moment of death to which we can all relate. It is at the moment of impending death that Moshe has perfect clarity. He sees and understands the anguish that his children will experience as they drift towards and away from their Covenant with God. He sees all that his life has been and he recognizes that while his life will be no more, there will be closure. Ki Yadati Acharei Motie Ki Hashcheit Tashchitun v’Sartem Min HaDerech Asher Tziviti Etchem V’Karat Etchem Ha’Ra’Ah B’Acharit Hayamim Ki Ta’Asu et Ha’Rah B’Einei Adoshem L’Hachiso B’Ma’Asei Y’deichemFor I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, and you will surely act corruptly, and you will stray from the path that I have commanded you, and evil will befall you at the end of days, if you do what is evil in the eyes of HaShem, to anger Him through your handiwork (Deut.31:29). We should note that closure does not necessarily mean that the content of the closure will be positive, however the process of closure is always positive. Our sages are adamant about the vital importance of closure. If a person engages in Tshuvah, a repentant return to God, and Vidui, confession even if the moment before death it is tantamount to a person who has returned to living a life of Mitzvot. In a moment of clarity, certainly such a moment exists at death, Moshe has the opportunity to make that moment holy, sanctified, an un-wasted moment.
            On this Shabbat Shuvah, this Shabbat of Return, let us be reminded and strengthened to accept moments of clarity. Let us be wise enough to deal with such moments of clarity in the most holy of endeavors. Let us be pro-active enough to take advantage of moments of clarity by moving towards our loved ones. Let us be spiritually aware enough and realize the absolute importance of moving towards God. Let us not wait until we become aware of an impending loss. Instead, during the Aseret Yamei T’shuva, we should be spiritually clear enough to see every moment as an opportunity to return to that which is holy.

Rav Yitz

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Where All The Pages Are My Days, And All My Lights Grow Old (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Attics Of My Life")

          Shimon Peres passed away earlier this week. It was interesting to note that earlier in his political career, there were moments where he was reviled by Israel’s electorate and was beaten on several occasions for the Prime Minister position. Eventually he did serve as Prime Minister. However even as Prime Minister, he never enjoyed resounding political support. Yet Peres managed to persevere and even transcend his lack of Israeli popularity to forge the Oslo Peace accords in the early 1990’s. It was only as he grew older holding his last position as President when he began to truly enjoy a popularity as a statesman, a popularity that was long overdue. Perhaps his lack of popularity was a result of his courage, courage to act and do the unpopular and the difficult.
            This week’s Parsha is the Parsha Nitzavim. According the Aggadah, this the recounting of Moshe Rabeinu’s last day of life. Unafraid of his imminent death, he gathers his family: Rosheichem, Shivteichem, Zikneichem, v’Shotreichem, Kol Ish Yisroel, Topchem N’Sheichem V’Geircha Asher B’Kerev Machanecha Meichotev Eitzecha Ad Sho’eiv MeimechaThe heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Yisroel; your children, your women, and the stranger who is in the midst of our camp, from the wood chopper to the one who draws water (Deut. 29:9-10). Moshe imparts his last vestiges of wisdom to his children, his people. Moshe wants to make sure that everything is in order when he dies and Joshua takes over. Moshe truly has been blessed. He has had the blessing of old age, and here God has granted him the gift of saying goodbye in perhaps the most wonderful fashion. God has commanded Moshe to say his goodbyes and impart the final vestiges of wisdom.   
            We are taught that death is a part of life. Yet many of us are afraid of death. Many of us believe that we should shield our children from death, sadness and loss. However when we read Parsha Nitzavim, we learn that while impending death is sad, death in the manner of Moshe’s can take on an aura of holiness – of Kedusha. It is in holiness that we attain the highest level of life, a life that is directly connected to God. When death comes like this, from God, with an opportunity to say Goodbye- with an opportunity to impart wisdom to one’s children, death is not mundane, death is not ordinary, but rather holy and part of life, the final expression of holiness in a very physical endeavor.
            When we talk of strength, we unfortunately think of the person who lifts a lot of weight. We think of the person who doesn’t cry, who remains stoic if he/she is all torn up inside. At this time of year, from Elul through Succot, when we recite the 27th Psalm and conclude with the words Chazak v’Ya’Ameitz Libecha, v’Kavei El AdoshemStrengthen yourself, and he will give you courage; and hope to HaShem!, we now understand what it means to strengthen oneself.  Moshe had that kind of strength. Shimon Peres had that kind of strength. Both had the spiritual capacity to be aware of the end of life, to prepare for it, to draw loved ones toward them and share that wisdom. Perhaps that is the epitome of courage.Shimon Peres spent his transmitting his love of Israel and the Jewish People. He spent a lifetime teaching and cajoling the Israeli electorate and the world that Israel must be counted among the nations and that she has the strength to make peace even if its not the popular thing to do. Shimon paid the price and earned the praise of the world for those beliefs. As an old year winds down and a new year begins, may we have the strength  of our morals and our character to teach those values to the next generation.
Rav Yitz.