June 2019

Last month I wrote about some Jewish holidays on the calendar in May, and this month I will continue the theme for June.  Once again, we have old and new observances, specifically the festival of Shavuot and Yom Yerushalayim. Jerusalem Day.
 
    Jerusalem Day, observed this year on Sunday, June 2, is the day that commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967.  It is one of four holidays that were added to the Jewish calendar in the middle to latter part of the 20th century, the other three of which I described last month.  On June 2nd there will be celebrations and festivities in Israel, as well as offerings of prayers for peace.  As Psalm 122 says, “sha’alu shalom Yerushalayim...  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem...may there be peace within your walls, serenity within your homes.”
 
    Shavuot, one of the three pilgrimage festivals, comes this year about a week later, and commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  This agricultural celebration is called the Feast of Weeks, coming at the culmination of the counting of the Omer, 49 days from Passover to this holiday.  We eat dairy foods for several reasons, including the fact that the holiday occurs during milking season, when dairy is plentiful, and because before receiving the Torah the Israelites did not follow ritual animal slaughter, so they ate dairy foods instead of meat.  In the Song of Songs (4:11), the Torah is compared to milk: “Like honey and milk, it (Torah) lies under your tongue.”
 
    We renew our commitment and dedication to God on Shavuot, and the perfect story to illustrate this is the
Book of Ruth, which we read on Shavuot.  This book describes Ruth’s embracing Judaism, becoming Naomi’s daughter-in-law, and ultimately creating a family tree for King David.
 
Chag sameach!

   

L’hitra’ot, until next time!

May 2019

This year the Hebrew month of Iyar coincides with the month of May.  There are several special days this month, some new, and one very old.  Chronologically, the first one is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance Day, this year on May 2, when we commemorate the loss of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.  We also remember the heroism of the rescuers and the survivors, many of whom are gone now.  You are probably familiar with the many services of remembrance which are held each year.  In Israel, there is a two-minute silence in which all work stops.  The date was chosen to be one week before Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel’s Independence Day, and that falls this year on May 9.
 
    Independence Day commemorates the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 and is a celebration of joy and festivities in Israel.  The day is always preceded by another special day, Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers.  The two days are linked together since Israeli independence is a result of the sacrifice of soldiers’ lives.  So we go from remembering to celebrating, a natural progression.  In America, observing Yom Ha’atsma’ut is one way to show support for and pride in Israel.  Our marking of this day usually includes singing Hatikvah, The Hope. 
 
    The last special day to mention is Lag B’Omer, and unlike the previous 3 holidays, this one is very old.  It is on May 23 this year, the 33rd day of the Omer, which we begin counting on the second day of Passover.  What is so special about it?  It serves as a break in the semi-mourning period between Passover and Shavuot.  Many misfortunes and disasters in our history occurred during this period.  So, we have a kind of half holiday when there can be weddings, fun games for children, and when little boys may finally have their first haircut if they have turned 3 by this time! 
 
    All of these special days remind us of the hope we continually carry within us. 
Click here for a cute rendition of Hatikvah  which you may enjoy.   L’hitra’ot, until next time!
   
 

April 2019

   As the youngest in the family, I enjoyed a few special privileges at our Passover seders, most notably, reciting the Four Questions and opening the door for Elijah.  When we open the door, we sing Eliyahu Hanavi and announce the coming of the Messiah with the prophet Elijah.  As an adult, I approach this moment differently.
 
 Each year we remind ourselves that Elijah is chosen for this task because he does not die.  We read in the Torah about the prophet’s ascent to heaven in a whirlwind and in a chariot.  If someone can miraculously reach heaven, would he really be foiled by a closed door?  Do we really need to open the door for Elijah to join us?
 
   In the Haftarah that we read just before Passover on Shabbat Hagadol, the prophet Malachi proclaims that in Messianic times “the hearts of parents will be turned to children, and the hearts of children to their parents.”  In other words, a Messianic Age is predicated on harmony within the family.
 
   So we open the door not only to make it possible for Elijah to enter, but to show that we are ready.  Passover is the quintessential family holiday.  Everyone gathers together and we sing, we pray, we eat, and we understand the powerful bonds that have kept us together throughout the generations.  When you (or your children) open the door this year, think of it as letting the prophet Elijah in to see that we are ready, and that we are worthy of his blessing.  Then sing out with full voice and heart!
 
   I invite you to join our BSJC Community Seder on Saturday, April 20 at 6 pm!  Be sure to RSVP to
BethSamuelOffice@comcast.netChag sameach  

March 2019

Here we are, gearing up for Purim already, for the gantze megillah, the whole megillah!  The Hebrew word “megillah” means scroll, and although we think of the megillah as the Book of Esther on Purim, there are actually five scrolls, or megillot : The Book of Ruth, The Song of Songs, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and the Book of Esther.  More on those other megillot another time.  Now is the time to concentrate on the Book of Esther.
 
    The word megillah, also in Yiddish (as it derives from the Hebrew), is anything very long, like a rigamarole, according to Leo Rosten in
The Joys of Yiddish.  Rosten also writes that the Book of Esther is a long and detailed story, and the very devout would sit through this very long reading after a day of fasting, giving rise to the expression “the whole megillah.”  It can also mean anything complicated, possibly boring, and definitely overextended.  In Rosten’s pronunciation guide he says that “megillah rhymes with guerrilla,” and, in fact, back in the 1960's a popular children’s cartoon featured a character called Megillah Gorilla.
 
    So before this article turns into a megillah, let me remind you that we will be celebrating Purim at BSJC on Sunday, March 17, at 10:00am.  We will read the story, shake our noisemakers at the mention of you-know-who, our students will sing and participate, and there will be fun and food, and especially hamentashen!  Our reading and celebration will remind us of another Jewish triumph over those who would destroy us.  Judaism teaches us to remember what we have been through in order to ensure our future.  Come for “the whole megillah!”  Happy Purim!
 

 



February 2019

    It may be in the darkest days of winter that we most keenly feel the need to recharge our batteries spiritually, and there are many ways to accomplish this.  Acts of tzedakah or tikun olam, charity and repairing the world, are ways in which we continually rejuvenate ourselves.  In fact, we often get back more than we put in!  Attending a service is another way.  Some people are renewed by reading the stories in the Torah.  The sages reasoned that, just as our bodies need water to survive, our soul needs Torah to be refreshed spiritually, and that is why we read Torah several times each week.
 
Originally, Torah was read on Mondays and Thursdays, which were market days.  Public reading of Torah is a much more ancient tradition than is congregational prayer, and it was only natural that, with the evolution of congregational worship, Torah reading would be joined to the service and become an integral part of it.  It completed the circle, creating a dialogue.  In prayer, we can talk to God, and through Torah reading God talks to us.
 
We can read the liturgy in the prayer books, we can create our own prayers, we can simply listen for that still, small voice of God, and we can use music to provide the launching pad for communicating with our Creator.  Whatever may be your way of recharging your batteries, may you find light and inspiration through your connection with The Source of Life during these dark winter days. Remember, the Eternal Light, the Ner Tamid, is always on in our sanctuary and we are here for you.

 

L’hitra’ot, until next time!

January 2019

The fall Jewish holidays may seem only a memory now, but as I write this article, the last of these special days, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, just ended.  As I look back, I want to give special thanks to Evan Fuhrer for his amazing accompaniment of our new song, “A New Year,” which was so well received.  And his special knack of adding quiet music to our Yizkor service was equally appreciated.  We are blessed to have such talent in our midst.    
 
   This past Rosh Hashanah, since it was our New Year, I spoke about new year’s resolutions.  Some of you asked if I would share my thoughts in this venue, so I will give you a synopsis of my message here.  I made 6 suggestions:
 
1) Engage with people more than pixels.  This year, make a promise of presence – look into someone’s eyes when you communicate with them.  Pick up the phone instead of texting!
 
2) Take your soul seriously.  Don’t bombard it with negativity.  We are continually shaping our souls and we only have one of them, so let’s not  squander it with things undignified or unworthy of its majesty.
 
3) Increase your kindness.  The world stands on 3 things:  Torah, worship, and deeds of lovingkindness.  If you wish to feel kind, do something good.
 
4) Choose someone to forgive.  Start with the easiest one.  The more you forgive, the less the world can injure you.  Forgiveness is a soft shield for the soul.
 
5) In forgiving, include yourself.  I tell myself, perfectionist that I am, not to be so.  As somebody once said, have expectations but don’t enforce them with a hammer!
 
6) Observe the holiday that we have every week, Shabbat.  Slow down, unwind, and let’s hit the reset button to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  Sometimes we get caught up in the minutiae of daily life and need to remind ourselves of the big picture.  Now we can re-examine and course correct, by listening to that “still, small voice” inside.
 
   The New Year is here and we have not yet wasted a single day of the future.  Here is our chance to live with purpose.  Will we achieve it every day?  Of course not.  The idea is not to succeed ALWAYS, but rather to grow.  May this be a year of hope and blessing for all. 

 
L’hitra’ot, until next time!

December 2018

“Not by might, and not by power, but by spirit alone shall we all live in peace.”
 
This verse, from the prophet Zachariah 4:6, is chanted in the Haftarah  on Chanukah.  It is also now a familiar song, thanks to Debbie Friedman’s popular setting, and I have been teaching it to our Religious School students.
 
Although some people think that Chanukah is celebrated on different days each year, it really comes on the same eight days each year, right on time, according to the Hebrew calendar.  Since the secular calendar is not always in sync with the Hebrew lunar calendar, Chanukah may fall as early as Thanksgiving, and as late as the end of December, or anywhere in between.
 
The calendar may be hard to follow, but the message of these eight days of joy and light is not.  This winter holiday, which often gets lost in seasonal commercialism that threatens to overwhelm us, is not so much about the military victory of the Maccabees, or about the cruse of oil that burned longer than expected.  Ths holiday is about the spirit of God resting on a people and motivating them to do what they never thought possible.  Perhaps the Maccabean spirit will do the same for us.
 
Some miracles just happen, and if we are lucky we can recognize them.  We can also bring on our own miracles, as the Maccabees did, through our own strength of will.  Sometimes the mitzvot  we do are seen as miracles by others.  Think about it.  Then act on your creative impulses to make a difference and to bring some light into the darkness of someone else’s life.  Happy Chanukah!          

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

November 2018

  As I write this article, we are only a few moments away from the first Shabbat after the terrible tragedy at Tree of Life Synagogue.  We are scared, devastated, and numb.  We are trying to reach a place of hope and resilience, and one of the ways we will accomplish this is to come together as a community and support each other this Shabbat and each Shabbat.
 
I have received many messages and calls from our neighbors, sending support and love and willingness to help.  It has been very healing to feel their compassion.  I expect to be meeting some of them in the days and weeks to come and am looking forward to creating new bonds.
 
The shootings in Pittsburgh were meant to shake our identity and to scare us into a surrendering of faith.  But, clearly, the shooter didn’t understand the make-up of a Jew.
 
What is our make-up?   Here’s what we look like and what we do.  We light candles on Shabbat and bless our children.  We go to services to ensure a minyan for those who need to say Kaddish.  We blow the shofar, build a sukkah, light the Chanukah candles, feel a deep connection to Israel, and find ways to heal the brokenness of the world through tikun olam.  We pray for peace and hope for change.
 
Our voices join together.  God sees us singing and praying, and living with resilience, survival, light, and love.  That is who we are.  Chazak chazak, v’nitchazek.  Be strong and we will be strengthened.         
   

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

October 2018

The Hebrew month of Tishrei, with all the holidays from Rosh Hashanah through Simchat Torah, is coming to a close.  The next month on the calendar is Cheshvan, which has no special holidays.  It is traditionally referred to as Mar Cheshvan, meaning “bitter,” because of the lack of any special days.
 
   Cheshvan is a time when darkness comes, and autumn sets in.  As Kohelet says, “There is a time for everything...a time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted.”
 
   Cheshvan begins the extended time span between the last festival, Sukkot, and the next festival, Passover.  The spiritual seeds that were planted during Rosh Hashanah begin to take root and, with nurturing, may appear in the spring, in the month of Nissan.  We pray for rain during this time period, adding a phrase to our liturgy, hoping that the actual seeds we have planted (perhaps also on Tu B’Sh’vat) will bear fruit.
 
   And so, despite the darkness of this month without any special occasions, there is future growth that awaits us, literally and figuratively.  May we soon take delight in bounty that will come and may our lives be enriched by the growing that we will do now in this season. 
 
   On another note, this month I will be leading an Adult Education session entitled “Living and Living,” which will consist of a wrap-up of a discussion we began last year on Jewish views of the afterlife, and an exploration of Gary Ramsey’s recently published book,
Bliss.  The book, which I read in one sitting, is less than 100 pages and is a remarkable account of one man’s journey through illness toward recovery.  I invite you to read the book this month and then join me on Sunday, October 21 at 10am to take a look at these themes together.
 

L’hitra’ot, until next time!

September 2018

    As we get ready to come together and to celebrate the Ten Days of Repentance together, we prepare for time to share with family and friends around the holiday table, for coming to synagogue, and for hearing those familiar melodies which connect us.  It’s a time to reflect on the challenges we faced this past year and those we may face in the coming year, in our own lives and globally.
 
    It’s also a time to dare to envision the limitless hope in knowing that each of us has the power to make a difference, to create positive change in our small corner of the world.  I’ll be introducing a song with this theme on erev Rosh Hashanah, as a blessing to all at this time of the year. 
 
    This song was written a couple of years ago by Michael Hunter Ochs, who has set many pieces of liturgy and prayers to music.  I thank him for his thoughts, which are embedded in this article.  I found this to be a very moving musical prayer and hopefully this preview will enhance your appreciation of the song when you hear it.
 
May this be a year of love and kindness,
May strangers come to be friends,
May truth and compassion always guide us.
May this be a year of hope and healing,
For all of those in need,
May all of our deeds be a blessing.
 
A new year, a good year, a chance to start all over,
A new year, a sweet year, a chance to bring us closer.
 
Closer to the ones we love,
A world that we can be proud of.
Here comes a new year.  Amen.
 

L’hitra’ot, until next time!

August 2018

    In the middle of this month of August we will enter the Hebrew month of Elul, which tells us that the New Year is just a month away.  The daily sound of the shofar this month wakes us up to the fact that it is time to tie up loose ends, right the wrongs, and get ourselves spiritually ready for the Ten Days of Repentance.
 
    There is a verse in the Torah (Lev. 26:10) which says, “You have to clear out the old to make room for the new.”  Is this the Torah’s way of saying we have to let go of the past in order to embrace the future?  For a people who are sustained by memory, this would be an odd lesson from our most sacred text!  Memory and the past form who we are and who we may become.  We do not want to break from it, as much as we might want to grow beyond it.  We remember the suffering and the martyrdom which our people have endured, as this is a part of us.
 
    What the Torah may be trying to teach us is something that transcends any one time period in the Jewish journey, even the Holocaust.  Perhaps the lesson is not in actually letting go of the past but, rather, in clearing out some of the debris from the past which has been inhibiting our growth.  This way we can make a place for the new.   We have the opportunity to take hold of the past and to transform it for the future.
 
    One of the names for Rosh Hashanah is Yom Hazikaron, the day of memory.  Let us open ourselves up to a shift in attitude, to allow this transformation.  As the saying goes, “If not now, when?”     

L’hitra’ot, until next time!

July 2018

    Do you remember the Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence?”  Written by Paul Simon in the 60's, it was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress about 5 years ago for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”  Simon wrote this song 50 years ago about our lack of communication.  What a timeless concept! 
 
    So, what exactly is the sound of silence?  It’s actually quite noisy.  Even silence, we tend to fill up with noise!  How can we navigate through the loudness to find a good, useful silence?   Music organizes the loud sounds so that we can recognize the power of the quiet, which acts as an intermediary between God’s external “persona” and the quiet, holy inner being where truth is found.  Music hangs in the subtle balance between sound and silence.  It allows for an interchange between the soft, inner and the loud, outer world.  Paul Simon knew that, and so do we. 
 
    Communicating is not easy, especially today when we rely on texts and emails instead of speaking with one another.  Wouldn’t it be easy just to send an email to God with gratitude or requests?  What’s missing?  Our heart.  We need some silence to pave the path toward our Creator, so that we can share our truths, and then music may enhance the connection.  Music lifts us up, inspires us, and helps us to link up with others in a unique way.  Many congregants have told me this over the years, and I, of course, believe it wholeheartedly.
 
    Music helps us express what words alone cannot.  Singing is not only about singing, it is also about listening – to each other, and sometimes to the silence.  As you enjoy nature and hopefully some quiet moments this summer, think about the sound of silence, and treasure it.     
  L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

June 2018

   “Ani V’ata, You and I.”  This is the beginning of a beautiful song which translates as: “You and I will change the world, then everyone will join us;  we will start from the beginning, it will be tough but that doesn’t matter;  you and I will change the world.”
 
   This came to mind as I recently read the following quote from Anne Frank’s Diary: “How wonderful it is that no one has to wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world.”   Anne’s birthday is this month, in June, and as we know, in 1942 she received a very special birthday present, a diary in which she chronicled her life in hiding.  No one can know which birthday presents will later become meaningful, or how our lives may be transformed with one such gift.  Neither do we know in what ways we may inspire others, giving meaning to the miracle of life and to the efforts of tikun olam, repairing the world.
 
   Perhaps you attended Prime Stage Theater’s stage adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank last month, at New Hazlett Theater, North Side.  Or, no doubt, you have read the book, and our children are reading it, too.  Through it, we have the ability to study our past and to learn from it, affirming that the greatest gift of all is the gift of remembrance that inspires good deeds. 
 
   What can we do to help heal the world today?  Thinking about this is a wonderful gift to Anne Frank in this season of her birthday.  May we say (and sing) “Ani V’ata, You and I,” and continue to work together toward making a difference.     
  

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

May 2018

   We are now in the period of the Omer, which lasts for seven weeks from the second day of Passover to Shavuot.  This period of time serves to connect the anniversary of the exodus from Egypt with the festival of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  Tradition has is that the Israelites, so eager for the promised day of receiving the gift of the Torah, began to count the days, just as we would anticipating the arrival of something special. 
 
   Psalm 90 tells us, “Teach us to number our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom.”  Let’s take a look at numbers.  The number 7, which has many associations in the Bible and Rabbinic tradition, is primarily associated with the creation of the world.  The week, the basic unit of our lives, is 7 days long and culminates in the perfect rest of Shabbat.  Multiples of 7, similarly, are related to life, as the Psalmist says, “Three score and ten our years may number.” 
 
    We may experience in the Omer’s 7x7 a symbolic movement through life, from our launching at birth (liberation) to spiritual fulfillment (revelation).  The period of the counting of the Omer provides an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the moment when we will stand once again at Sinai to receive the revelation of Torah, on Shavuot.  We have a chance to restore our soul to wholeness and to re-establish our connection with God.
 
   As I have said before, we not only count the days, but we try to make each day count.  Counting our days is a lot like counting our blessings, as we get from our Start to our Finish.  We can make each day count when we appreciate the gift of each day and make it special.  
 
NOTE: We will be saying Yizkor on Saturday, May 19.       

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

April 2018

    As I write this, we have finished celebrating Passover and are now in the period of the Omer, counting the days to the festival of Shavuot.  On Passover we read in Exodus, “The children of Israel sang...” as God brought the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea.  Song has been a part of our tradition at these transformative moments as well as in personal ones, whether they be of joy, grief, or gratitude.
 
    There is a Midrash which recounts the song that everything sings to God -- the seas, the mountains, the flowers, and the animals.  Each part of creation carries its own special melody, joining together to make the harmony of the universe.  When we sing our prayers, we add our voices to that harmony. 
 
    In the ancient temple, the prayers were accompanied by music.  King David, the musician and the precursor of the Messiah, aroused the spirit of the people with song.  Sometimes the song has no words: it is called a nigun and it has the simple magic of melody alone.  It allows us to connect to our past and/or it is the vehicle for us to access a path to God in the present.
 
    I am reminded of the Peter, Paul, and Mary song lyrics: “Music speaks louder than words, it’s the only thing that the whole world listens to; when you sing, people understand.”  Jewish music is as old as Jewish tradition, and singing is as natural as breathing.  Faith and music are intertwined.  Be part of the musical symphony of the world.  Come to our Shabbat services and let your soul soar through song!
 

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

March 2018

   There is a saying in the Talmud, “It is because of the merit of women that God freed us from bondage.”   As soon as Purim was over, we started to panic that Passover is only a month away!  As our mothers and grandmothers did, we start the shopping lists for cooking, we begin the cleaning, and we get ready for the main event, the seder.  The women, and now thankfully some of the men, undertake this task.

   Another saying: “God is in the details.”  At no season is that more apparent than in the spring, especially at Passover, the holiday of spring.  So, God and mothers and grandmothers have a great deal in common at this time of the year.  Their work is often done so reliably and competently that unless we pause to take notice, we may not appreciate the greatness in these details.

   Behind the central liberation story of our people is the bravery of Miriam, the saving of the baby Moses in the basket, the defiance of Pharaoh by the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah, who made sure that the male babies would live, and so on.  Our tradition treasures the value of the work behind the scenes and acknowledges the importance of details in Jewish life and community.  Doesn’t Passover, in particular, invite us to take notice of every crumb?  Such attention makes us mindful of, and grateful for, the great miracles of liberation and the small miracles of every day life.

   I invite you to attend our congregational seder on the second night of Passover, March 31.   We will recount the story of our liberation and joyously sing of the miracles.  Chag sameach!

February 2018

    This year in the Jewish calendar, 5778, is a special year.  The fiscal year 2017-2018 is also notable in terms of Israel’s history.   Let me mention a few of the anniversaries that come to mind. 
 
    First, you probably know that this year, 2018, marks Israel’s 70th anniversary of the creation of the State.  It is also the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War.  The year 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the establishment of Palestine as a home for the Jewish people.  It’s also 100 years since Hadassah realized its dream of providing innovative health care in Israel.
 
    All of these events, and a few more, have come together making this a special year in our history.  There is also much Jewish music which has come out of Israel (and the US) over these last 70 years.  These songs tell our story to us and to generations to come.
 
    On Friday, March 9, 2018, we will celebrate Shabbat Across America at BSJC.  As we have in past years, our families and congregants will come together to enjoy Shabbat together with a delicious meal and a program to mark the event.  This year I will be recounting a bit of our history as above, and I will lead us all in some familiar songs which trace our recent history and that of the State of Israel.  It promises to be a fun and interesting evening and I invite you to mark your calendars and watch for emails and notices.  Happy milestone birthday, Israel!
  

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

January 2018

     We wished each other a happy new year back in September at the time of the high holidays, and we can now wish the same on January 1 for the secular new year.  But we have 2 more opportunities, coming up, to extend this greeting!  The first of these two comes at the end of this month, just six weeks after Chanukah is over, in the Hebrew month of Sh’vat.  It is called Tu B’Sh’vat, the holiday of the trees.  It is a kind of Jewish Arbor Day which marks the first day of spring in Israel. 
 
    Tu B’Sh’vat, or the 15th of the month of Sh’vat, exemplifies the Jewish people’s strong link to the land of Israel.  Many people take this opportunity to do a mitzvah by planting a tree in Israel through a donation in honor of, or in memory of someone special.   In addition to planting trees, we eat foods associated with the land, such as dates, almonds, grapes, figs, and olives, to mention a few.  We also conduct Passover-like seders celebrating the themes of this festival of trees.
 
    In Israel, largely waterless, trees were regarded as special gifts of God.  There are many symbolic illusions to trees in the Torah, and trees are represented as symbols of goodness and nobility.  We are familiar with at least one of the references in the liturgy of our Shabbat service: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”  (Psalm 92)
 
    So, when else could we wish people a happy new year?  The month of Nissan  is considered the first month of the Jewish sacred year, when we observe Passover, and that is another time we could say “happy new year.”  Therefore, we actually have four new years, four chances to start anew and give blessings to others.  Be sure not to miss these opportunities!  
 
L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

December 2017

    Sometimes we think that the way we observe traditional rituals is the only way that such rituals have ever been observed.  We have only to look at the Talmud to discover one of the well-known discussions as to how to light the Chanukah menorah.  Following Hillel, we add one candle each night.  Shammai, however, taught that we should light eight candles the first night and decrease the number each night thereafter.  Perhaps this practice more accurately evokes the experience of the miracle, which is the essence of the Chanukah story.
 
    Although we follow the school of Hillel in most matters, this particular teaching of the school of Shammai offers a special message to us: the quality of our lives can be more important than the quantity of our possessions, our activities, or even our days.  Even the single candle can bring light, purpose, and fulfillment.
 
    In our high-tech world, which grows more complex each day, we continue to receive comfort and inspiration from the simple light of the candles.  It is no coincidence that the festivals of light converge across cultures at this darkest, coldest season.  When the moon is obscured and the winter solstice is close, we celebrate the greatest gift of Chanukah, and that is light.  May our prayers, tzedakah, and deeds of lovingkindness spark hope and strength and illuminate our lives with renewed meaning, perspective, and direction.

 L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

November 2017

    During the month of November, in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, we will be reading the parsha, “Vayera.”  There is an interesting connection between these two things.
 
    In the opening section of this part of the Torah, Abraham and Sarah are visited by three beings, perhaps men, thought to be angels, or prophets from God.  These beings reveal that Sarah, who is getting on in years, will soon bear a child!  After first offering a bit of bread to these modest and unassuming strangers, Abraham and Sarah go to great lengths to serve them a sumptuous meal.  It is said that this act of generosity provided the slogan about the righteous, from Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, that they “say little and do much.”   According to the Talmud, from which this saying is derived, “the righteous promise little and perform much; the wicked promise much but do not perform even a little.”
 
    Jewish tradition has always emphasized “hachnasat orchim,” welcoming guests, as well as generosity to strangers.  Following the example of Abraham and Sarah, we all can do this mitzvah.  Whether helping to serve a Thanksgiving (or other) meal in a local food shelter or donating to community organizations which provide for the food insecure, we have many opportunities to reach out and be hospitable.  This month, in particular, we are aware of our rich fall bounty and the need to share it with others.  Let’s remember our ancestors and continue the chain of tradition, “l’dor vador,” from generation to generation.  We can involve our children and can teach them to make this a part of their lives. 

 L’hitra’ot, until next time!