Saturday, August 19, 2017

And If You Go, No One May Follow, That Path Is For Your Steps Alone (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Ripple")

          It has been quite the emotional week. We arrived in Israel. Our son became Bar Mitzvah as he was called to the Torah and read from the Torah standing before the Kotel in Jerusalem. We will be in Efrat for Shabbat as he read Parsha Re'eh as well as chants the Haftarah as well. Besides the joy and pride we all felt for our son, as is typical of everything Jewish, our simcha was mixed with a bit of heart-ache. This also the week of my grandfather's 3rd yartzeit. I never realized until I began writing my speech for my son, that his Hebrew birthday and my grandfather's yartzeit according to the Jewish calendar are both Parsha Re'eh and are a few days apart. 
          This week's Parsha is Re'eh. Moshe continues his discourse. He has already explained the Mitzvot, and he continues to do that. Moshe has alluded to the blessings of life if B'nai Yisroel follows God's commandments. He has and continues to allude to the curses that will befall B'nai Yisroel if they violate the most important commandment-idolatry. "See I present before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut.11:26). V'haklalah Im Lo Tishm'u el Mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem V'sartem Min Ha'Derech Asher Anochi M'taveh Etchem ha'yom La'lechet Acharei Elohim Acheirim Asher Lo Y'Datem-"And the curse: if you do not hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, and you stray from the path that I command you today, to follow gods of others, that you did know." (Deut. 11:28) Moshe presents B'nai Yisroel with two pictures, a world when B'nai Yisroel lives up to it covenant with God and one in which they don't.  He reminds B'nai Yisroel of the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel), the consumption of foods that are consecrated to the Kohanim and he warns B'nai Yisroel to avoid imitating the Rituals and Rites of the Egyptians and the Canaanites. Moshe reminds B'nai Yisroel to be careful of false prophets, avoiding non-kosher foods, not living in wayward cities, forgiving loans after seven years, caring for the less fortunate and celebrating the three pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. Below are my words to my youngest child and only son at the time of becoming  Bar Mitzvah on Thursday morning of Parsha Re'eh.

          "So I wanted to offer you an eitzah that is based on your Parsha, that comes from the Sfas Emet, the Gerrer Rebbe  from about 1870-1905. It was said that when the Sfas Emet died, a great light in that part of the world was extinguished. So for me, when I want to get in touch with my inner jewish hippy, my inner Hasid, I gravitate towards the Sfat Emet.  The Torah tells us: Ki Im El HaMakom Asher Yivchar Adoshem Eloheichem miKol Shivteichem LaSum et Shmo Sham L’Shichno Tidreshu Uvata SHamaRather, only at the place that Hashem, your God, will choose from among all your tribes to place His Name shall you seek out his Presence,his dwelling, and come there. Certainly this is reminiscent of the Kadosh Baruch Hu, at the time of the Akeida, telling Avraham that he will show him where to go with his son Yitzchak. Its reminiscent of Avrham as much younger man, leaving his home and going to a place that God would show him., Certainly we could understand Moshe’s words as  reminding B’nai Yisroel of the sanctity and the importance of Israel, and the centrality of Israel to Torah and Jewish identity. 
           The Torah uses words like seek.  Torah tells us that God will choose a place.  The Sfas Emet reminds us that that HaShem’s choice is not revealed until B’nai Yisroel “seeks”.  Because we are commanded to seek Shechino, his dwelling, we are tasked to seek holiness. Holiness is in Time and Space. Holiness is in your Neshama, Holiness is in your choices and in the way you live your life. That is the constant choice you will make HaYom. Today – and after you make such a choice today; that will lead you to another choice tomorrow. Each and every day requires you to make a choice to seek holiness, to seek Shechino, to seek the goodness that resides in you.  My son, you are a seeker, you seek knowledge, you seek light, you seek goodness,  and you seek to bring goodness to the parts of the world you touch: whether it is your affectionate nature, your inquisitive mind, your  winsome smile and personality;  or the fact that you are the kid that sees a child sitting alone, looking upset, and you check on that child, or include that child in whatever it is you and your friends are doing. You’re the kid that instinctively looks out for those younger, weaker and more vulnerable.  Continue to be a seeker, always be a seeker, seek to improve yourself, seek knowledge, seek goodness, seek  holiness, and as you have come to understand, seek the best possible you that you can be.  When you seek, you will clearly see the choices laid before you and you will always choose wisely.  Today - and and all the "Todays" that will follow."

Rav Yitz

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I Got No Satisfaction, That's Why I Sing The Blues (Bob Weir - "One More Saturday Night")

I was introduced to a new four lettered word about three months ago. Frankly, I thought I had heard them all. The new four lettered word that I learned was “Diet”. Well, I had heard of the word before; but it was in terms of religious ritual, Kashrut. I had heard the word in the context of New Years’ resolutions, and other people’s health issues.  I had even heard it whispered about me as something I should think about. Even my doctor had used the word with me, suggesting that my indigestion and bad back were exacerbated by my weight and “maybe if you lose a few pounds those issues would go away.” Yes I had heard of the word “Diet”, but I didn’t begin listening to what it meant and what it didn’t’ mean until I decided to begin a Diet. So for the past three months I have been on a low fat, no carb diet in which I try to restrict my caloric intake to below 2000 calories. I am allowed 7 oz. of protein, and an assortment of vegetables and only those fruits that are low in sugar such as apple, strawberries, cantaloupe and strawberries. Yes, I have lost weight. Yes there are foods that I missed. At various points during these past few months, I have missed pasta, I have missed a hamburger. Even this week, my son and I went to a baseball game (the New York Yankees were in Toronto playing the Blue Jays), and I stared at my son as he enjoyed his hot dog. What I wouldn’t have done for a “dog and a beer”! Yet as each day and as each week goes by, I don’t feel as if I am starving, I don’t feel hungry, and I don’t feel dissatisfied. Actually, it’s quite the opposite, I have even found some clothes that I forgot that I owned!
            This week’s Parsha is Eikev. Here in his second discourse, Moshe explains to the new generation how the second set of tablets that contain the Aseret Dibrot (Ten Commandments) came into being. He explains how God forgave their parents of their idolatrous behavior in regards to the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf), and all B’nai Yisroel must do essentially refrain from Idolatry, serve God, worship God, and the nation will be rewarded with water, grass and quality lives. Moshe also reminds B’nai Yisroel that they have nothing to fear when they enter into Canaan and conquer the land even though they maybe outnumbered, because God has already demonstrated that he will protect his people. He did so during the Yetziat Mitzrayim (Exodus from Egypt), and as long as B’nai Yisroel keeps its side of the B’rit (covenant), God will continue to protect his people. V’Haya Im Tishma’u El Mitzvotai Asher Anochi M’tzaveh Etchem Hayom L’Ahavah Et Adonai Eloheichem Ul’Avdo B’Chol Levavchem Uv’chol Nafshachem. V’Natati M’tar Artzechem B’Ito Yoreh Umalkosh V’Asaftah D’Ganecha V'Tiroshcha v’YitzharechaIt will be that if you hearken to My commandments that I command you today to love Hashem your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I shall provide rain for your Land in its proper time, the early and the late rains, that you may gather in your grain, your wine and your oil.  V’Natati Esev B’Sadcha Livhemtecha V’Achalta V’Savata – I shall provide grass in your field for your cattle and you will eat and be satisfied (Deut 11:15). Among the rewards is grass for our cattle and we will eat and be satisfied.    
In this second paragraph of the Shema, we are told that there is a reward for our obeying God’s commandments and there will be retribution for disobeying God’s commandments. Among the rewards is a phrase that, at first glance, does not seem like such a reward. The simple meaning of the verse suggests that we will eat the grass and or the cattle, but whatever we eat, we will be satisfied –v’Savatah. Satisfied implies that we will not be wanting for anything. Satisfied means fulfilled content. How can the grass that God will make plentiful satisfy us? Have we ever been too busy to eat? Have we ever been in a place or a situation that cause our adrenaline to pump that we didn’t even feel hunger pangs? Most probably yes, we have all been in situations or places where we were too busy, to wound up, too excited to eat. Yet, we were clearly in a place, both physical and spiritual where we were satisfied.  Rashi, the great 11th century French commentator, explains the verse as follows: “When you are very prosperous, you must be very careful not to rebel against God, because man rejects God only when he is sated.” Our relationship to God is synonymous with our own health. We need to pay attention to this very vital and simple relationship in order for us to appreciate the layers of complexity that life ultimately presence. When we are in poor health, when we violate this very simple and vital relationship, the rest of life seems insurmountable and overwhelming. When we are very comfortable, when we are perhaps too comfortable, when we are full, when we are bored, when we take things for granted; that is the time to worry about our relationship with HaShem.
            So it turns out that “Diet” is not such a dirty four lettered word after all.  Instead the word “Diet” requires those who engage in a “Diet” to understand a much a word three times longer: “Satisfaction”. Like our physical health, when we have our spiritual health, we are able to appreciate the layers of complexity and the beauty of life. When our health, physical or spiritual, is poor, then we are too overwhelmed to see any of life’s beauty. However, when we understand that often times, we can derive satisfaction from less quantity, we began to find the beauty in the world around us, the goodness and the fulfilling nature of the food we eat, and the holiness of the life we are capable of leading.


Rav Yitz

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

When All We Ever Wanted Was To Learn And Love And Grow ( Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Days Between")

Fiftieth anniversaries are usually considered a pretty big deal. It is a time to look back and see how far the journey has been. It is a time to look back and see younger version, perhaps a more innocent, more na├»ve, and more foolish version of oneself. It is a time to look back and see those younger versions of ourselves when the world was full of possibility as opposed to a world full realizations and self awareness. Fiftieth wedding anniversaries are considered amazing accomplishments and the embodiment of commitment, devotion and love between two people. This summer is the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, a name given to the baby boomers that spent 1967 making a pilgrimage out west to California and specifically to my wife’s hometown of San Francisco. I can’t help but notice the irony of that Summer of Love fifty years later during this week.  One of the most influential musicians during the Summer of Love, Jerry Garcia,  would have been 75 this week and the anniversary of his death, his Yartzeit is next week. This was the week the Jewish People commemorated Tisha B’ Av, the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Holy Temples, as well as a myriad of other tragedies including the Spanish Inquisition.  I don’t recall every hearing about anything in Judaism that suggests anything like “The Summer of Love”. Instead, the Talmudic Rabbis remind us that the reason for the destruction of the 2nd Temple was because of Sinat ChinamPure Hatred. Yet within their attempt to make sense of the national tragedy, these same Sages remind us that the Messiah was born on Tisha B’Av. From the pure hate that led to a national tragedy comes the possibility of goodness, holiness, and Pure Love.
This morning we read from Parsha V’Etchanan. V’Etchanan is always the Parsha that immediately follows Tisha B’Av.  The Parsha itself portrays B’nai Yisroel sitting intently and listening to Moshe's first discourse on the Law. Moshe re-iterates the covenant, the punishment of exile and the constant possibility of return. Moshe re-iterates the experience of revelation at Sinai as well as a re-statement of the Aseret Dibrot, the Ten Commandments. Moshe teaches this new generation that they heard the revelation, they witnessed the fire. And the fact that they sit on the Eastern Bank of the Jordan River is a testament to that fact. Moshe reminds this new generation that this Torah is perfect, one can interpret but we cannot add or subtract words. Instead we must struggle and make sense of every aspect of Torah. Moshe then introduces the lone piece of dogma in the entire Torah: Shema Yisroel Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad Hear O Israel the Lord is God the Lord is One. The Parsha concludes with Moshe strongly reminding B’nai Yisroel that as part of the Covenant it must reclaim the land. Once in the land, B’nai Yisroel is obligated to separate themselves from the other indigenous tribes and uphold the obligations of the covenant that God made with their ancestors.
Central to Moshe’s message is the transcendent power of the God’s Covenant at Mt. Horeb. The covenant was made with their ancestors, it is made now with this generation and it will be renewed with each and every generation. How often does Moshe use words like Sham listen; Shamor guard, keep (as in take care of something)? Then Moshe tells this generation V’Ahavta et Adoshem ElokechaLove the Lord your God.  Moshe clarifies that this is accomplished through deed, B’Chol Levavcha U’Vechol Nafshecha U’vechol MeodechaWith all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your possessions. With every fiber of their being; by being completely committed to the relationship will they be able to enjoy the blessing from it.  Moshe understood that Love will be the key for this covenant to survive. When B’nai Yisroel loves God, it will listen cherish and keep all the means of expressing that love towards God. Moshe also reminds them what will happen when love wanes and they cease listening, cherishing, keeping and observing.
For Moshe, love was not just an emotion it was a source of energy. It was a constructive force.  Moshe also understood that Love was something that needed to be acted upon. Love was not for the passive.  The Aggadah that tells of Rabbi Akivah’s death, reciting these words while being tortured and ultimately dying are but the ultimate expression of love. What parent wouldn’t choose his/her own life in exchange for his/her child? Love isn’t a seasonal short term fleeting emotion such as just a summer. Rather, Love is every day, love is hard work, and love is commitment. Because Love is all those things, love transcends time.  So while ChaZaL,the Talmudic Sages, can say that the destruction of the 2nd Temple was due to pure hatred; ChaZaL can also teach that from the fleeting, short term destructive nature of hatred comes love and its transcendent, constructive force of goodness, of holiness and of a future that focuses upon the possible.  Just as Moshe taught that love is transcendent and perhaps the most powerful force that can emanate from the soul; in this fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love, maybe our task as parents should be the same. Maybe Judaism never had a "Summer of Love" because we say "V'Ahavta et Adoshem Elokecha.... " twice a day to remind us that every day one should strive to love.
Rav Yitz