The Face of A Gardener Yom Kippur 2015

Butchart.gardensA Yom Kippur confession: as many of the readings in our new Machzor demonstrate, I don’t believe life-changing wisdom is limited to Jewish sources.
As the ancient rabbis declared, Torah was given to the Jewish people but wisdom was given to all people. (Midrash Lamentations Rabbah 2:13)
I am not just speaking about Shakespeare or various modern poets.
I am personally enamored with the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, whose writings inspired Tom Wolfe’s novel, A Man in Full.

I also can’t seem to let go of Dante’s the Divine Comedy, even if I have never read the whole thing, and none of it in the original. And I’m not alone.
One might think that a fourteenth-century allegorical poem on sin and redemption, written in a medieval Italian vernacular, would have been turned over, long ago, to the scholars in the back carrels. But no. There have been almost a hundred English-language translations, and not just by scholars but also by prominent poets. Clive James has given us the newest translation:

At the mid-point of the path through life, I found
Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
Ahead was blotted out…it is hard to say
How harsh and bitter that place felt to me—
Merely to think of it renews the fear.

Haven’t we all been there? We have all suffered through dark nights of the soul.
Or what about the feeling of despair when seeing the gates of hell?

From now on, every day feels like your last
Forever. Let that be your greatest fear.
Your future now is to regret the past.
Forget your hopes. They were what brought you here.

On this night of Kol Nidre a little of that despair feels natural. We are here to confront our darkest selves. We all know how large the gap is between who we are and who we should strive to be.

And yet, there is a difference between a gap and an abyss. We are not here to be plunged into terror. As you might know, the ultimate message of The Divine Comedy is one of love. God’s love saves us. But Jewish theology is not so different. We, too, are well aware that it is Divine love and compassion that enables us to live with hope. Our list of sins tonight is long but the overwhelming emotion of tonight should be relief and hope, not despair.

How does this message get conveyed by the machzor? Consider this very Yom Kippur evening service. During the Selichot, or Forgiveness, section we included a refrain showing the gap between our shortcomings and God’s benevolence.

We are insolent –
But You are compassionate and gracious.
We are stubborn and stiff-necked –
But You are slow to anger.
We persist in doing wrong —
But You are the essence of mercy.

We then ponder what might happen if we could see God’s face – not as God actually is (even Moses could not see that) but within our own hearts.

It is here that we feature an original poem, one of many compositions in the machzor by Rabbi Sheldon Marder. This poem introduces a new image, that of a garden and its loving Gardener. Like a garden, we are potentially in a state of growth, but requiring nurture lest we fill with weeds, forget how to blossom, or wither and die.

As the poem progresses, however, its emphasis is not just on God. We need God’s care, but equally, we need to be tender toward each other as well as toward ourselves. Here is the poem:
If I could see God’s face within my heart…
I’d see the face of a Gardener –
Compassionate to weed and flower alike, patiently pruning, graciously planting,
Loving the endless hours of tending and nurturing the earth — seeds, roots, all that grows;
And true to the essence of the gardener’s work:
Forgiving the fallen branches, the withered petals, the cracked stones, the broken stems.

I’d see the human face in a thousand acts of mercy –
The one who gives bread to the hungry and shelters the lost, who hears the voice of grief and makes room for the stranger;
Who brings relief to the blind, the bent, the unjustly imprisoned; and is true to the essence of holy work:
Defying evil, healing brokenness, easing pain; and, in the end, forgiving ourselves as God forgives us.
The movement from petitioning God for kindness to “forgiving ourselves as God forgives us” is intentional. Yes, an honest assessment and recognition of our moral failings must occur; but there should also be compassion and understanding for our imperfections.

Worshipers used to the more traditional Yom Kippur focus on sin alone may find it jarring to find this balance between sin on one hand and forgiveness on the other.
We are not the first, however, to recognize the fullness of human nature and the need to appreciate the redeemable that is in us. As a model for our approach, we can look, in part, to Rav Nachman of Breslov, who wrote:

Always look for the good in yourself.
And remember: Joy is not incidental to your spiritual quest: it is vital.
For so it is written (Isaiah 55:12): “You will go out through joy and be led forth in peace.” Focus on the good in yourself; take joy in what is good, and you will be led forth from inner darkness.

Rav Nachman captures not just a balanced view on our moral frailty and goodness. He actually privileges the compassionate side of God. We are chastened by guilt but vouchsafed by a loving God whose very insistence on divine compassion leads us toward showing our own compassion – to others and to ourselves.

Some of us may recall the old Rav Nachman parable: One year, in some mythical kingdom far away, the entire stock of grain became poisoned. Anyone who ate it would become insane. Grain had been stored from years past, but only a small amount. The king fell into a quandary. Should people eat and become crazy? Or starve to death? Finally the king decided to feed the people the contaminated grain. But he reserved a little of the unpoisoned grain for a trusted advisor, the king said, so someone will know the rest of us are crazy.

That mythical kingdom turns out to be not so far away after all. It could very well be ourselves. With their emphasis on mercy and gentleness, their awareness of human brokenness, their affirmation of vulnerability, and their ethic of forgiveness, our prayers tonight are analogous to that unpoisoned grain.

While everyone else seems to be living insane lives, filled with unhealthy competition, bruised egos, skewed values, and inappropriate feelings of shame, it is surely the task of religion in our time to preserve for our planet a vision of compassion and a visage of what God who personifies it would have us do.

With its deep focus on sin and punishment, the traditional machzor, is akin to the poisoned grain. On the day when we starve for repentance, we do indeed require reminders of our sins and the regrets that such awareness ought to occasion. But too much of that poisons us; we become overly soured on who we, personally, are — as on human nature itself. We grow insane with a jaundiced view of humanity at large and ourselves as part and parcel of it. The antidote to all of this is mercy.

The Days of Awe inevitably leave their mark on how we see the human condition. We celebrate God’s mercy not just for what this says about God, but for what it implies about us, God’s creatures. At our best, we too are compassionate, gentle and good. We should avoid the inevitable madness that too much self-incrimination evokes.
Yes, we remain responsible for our actions; there are consequences for wrongdoing, and even the best of us approaches the High Holy Days knowing we are guilty as much as we are good. Yom Kippur in no way absolves us of responsibility for our actions.

But after centuries of overemphasizing guilt, it is time to balance the picture. Our relationship with God, when healthy, is not about castigation and guilt alone. It is about love and support. It is about holding ourselves responsible, but never giving up on ourselves as being able to reach the moral heights that God intends. It is about the garden reaching for the sun and the Gardener who cares about our doing so.

One of my favorite songs is by the Irish composer, Loreena McKennett; it is called “Dante’s Prayer”. In concert prior to her singing this song, she once related to the listening audience what inspired her to write it. A few years ago she was riding on a trans – Siberian train and reading The Divine Comedy. She recounted that since there was no dining car on the train, it would stop at various towns along the way and the riders were given exactly 20 minutes to leave the train. During that time they could buy food from the locals who lived in the town and would come to the train to greet and sell to the passengers. This would have happened perhaps once or twice throughout the day.

There was an attendant on the train, a woman, who would come around and seem very grumpy and rather miserable in general. At first, Loreena simply dismissed her demeanor as one of culture. One time, after Loreena had re-boarded the train after buying some food from locals, the woman came by. Loreena stopped her and gave her some of the food that she had bought, simply as an act of kindness. The woman responded with a surprised smile and a countenance that reminded Loreena about the story that she was reading in the Divine Comedy.

In that moment, she discovered her muse for the song and thought that she would never forget the look of gratitude on the attendant’s face, being sure that no one else had ever taken the time to consider the woman as she travelled back and forth, day after day, year after year through the dark harshness of Siberia. Loreena hoped that on some of those dark moments, the woman would remember her and perhaps return the smile to her face. And so the song was born.

I would say that that woman on the train was not only responding to Loreena’s face but to the face of a gardener, to the face of God. And the best part is we are all gardeners. We are all the face of God, if we indeed choose this path.

My friends, before us beckons a New Year, a new beginning.
May we greet it with a thousand acts of mercy.
May we be the one who gives bread to the hungry and shelters the lost, who hears the voice of grief and makes room for the stranger;
Who brings relief to the blind, the bent, the unjustly imprisoned; and is true to the essence of holy work: Defying evil, healing brokenness, easing pain; and, in the end, forgiving ourselves as God forgives us.

On this dark night, may our fragile but hopeful hearts know the brightness of inner light and the blessing of never-ending love. Amen.

When the dark wood fell before me
And all the paths were overgrown
When the priests of pride say there is no other way
I tilled the sorrows of stone

I did not believe because I could not see
Though you came to me in the night
When the dawn seemed forever lost
You showed me your love in the light of the stars

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me

Then the mountain rose before me
By the deep well of desire
From the fountain of forgiveness
Beyond the ice and fire

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me

Though we share this humble path, alone
How fragile is the heart
Oh give these clay feet wings to fly
To touch the face of the stars

Breathe life into this feeble heart
Lift this mortal veil of fear
Take these crumbled hopes, etched with tears
We’ll rise above these earthly cares

Cast your eyes on the ocean
Cast your soul to the sea
When the dark night seems endless
Please remember me
Please remember me

Rosh Hashanah Morning 2015 5776 Keep the Conversation Going

 

conversation-image

A story: There once lived a king much beloved by his subjects. He ruled a little kingdom tucked away in a corner of Europe.

One day an army came and overran the castle, making off with half the treasury. The king decided he had to increase taxes to make up for his losses, and called in one of his wise courtiers to ask how to tell the people the news without inciting a revolt.

The wise courtier suggested the king explain the theft as a tragedy for the entire kingdom and appeal to their spirit of sacrifice and support for the kingdom. The king did exactly that, and the people responded. Actually, the king had to do it twice, after a second invasion took more of the treasury. But apart from some grumbling, the people responded in heroic fashion.

But then the neighboring army raided the kingdom a third time, and this time they took all the king’s food and all the queen’s jewels. “What can I do this time?” the king cried.

The wise courtier hesitated and then said, “I think it’s time for your highness to put the water back in the moat.”

This is a prime example of someone speaking truth to power.  Now, “speaking truth to power” has become a popular way to describe taking a stand, even when the people speaking truth to power are powerful themselves.

 

The Torah reading this morning is the epitome of speaking truth to power.  Abraham actually calls out God!  Shall Not the Judge of All the Earth Do Justly?

The usual understanding of this appeal is that Abraham teaches God about social justice.

However, there is another possible way to read the story.  Even now it is God who teaches Abraham: After all, God invites Abraham into the conversation.  God decides to bring Abraham along so he can weigh in on God’s plan.

Think about it: God is comfortable enough to invite honest feedback.  God invites Abraham into the conversation.

Once a few summers ago I was riding my bike outside of Aspen, Colorado and I befriended another rider.  He told me he was in Aspen to teach about Game Theory at the Aspen Ideas Festival.  Short of breath but curious, I asked him for a one sentence description of Game Theory, as in “What’s the point of Game Theory?”  He answered: To Keep the Game Going.

Here is my modification of his answer: When it comes to relationships, the point is to keep the conversation going.  When inviting Abraham into the conversation, God models doing just that.

Keeping the conversation going may sound easy.  It is not.  First of all, one has to realize that any conversation takes partnership.  This summer at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute, our wonderful local Reform Jewish camp, I accompanied a group of middle schoolers on a field trip to Comedy Sportz, an improv competition center in Milwaukee.  One of the rules our coach told us about improv is when someone engages you in the sketch, you can’t say no.  Because then the sketch is over.  You have to keep the conversation going.

Comedy Sportz makes it into a competition.  Because like any “sport,” doing it well is not easy.

When it comes to families, the conversation seems at times impossible to keep open.  My mother used to pull a trick when losing a conversation with my sister.  If things got a bit difficult, she would play the Holocaust card.  “I was in the Holocaust” she would say and boy did that make my sister mad.  I once told my sister that she shouldn’t be mad so much as just understand that this was our mom’s way of saying, “The conversation is over.”  After all, in the realm of rhetoric, how does one trump the Holocaust?

With all due respect to my wonderful mom, I believe that, whenever possible, families should keep the conversation going.  After all, extreme cases of not keeping the conversation going lead to years of silence and regret, and sometimes a total breakdown of relationships.

In his book I Never Forget a Meal, actor Michael Tucker tells of an incident in his family that forever changed the way he looks at cooking and hospitality. When he was young, his extended family gathered for Passover. His mother and sisters, who worked very hard on preparing holiday meals, also tended to be emotional.

At this particular Passover, which took place at his uncle’s house, an argument broke out between his mother and his uncle over whether the Seder liturgy should be read in Hebrew or English. The tensions rose ever higher. Some people sought to defuse it with humor, to no avail. His mother left the table. His uncle, too, left in anger — getting into his car and driving away from his own house.

Tucker’s mother ran outside, into the night. While the men searched for her, the aunts wrapped up the uneaten food. The children sat there in awkward silence: scared for their mother, but also embarrassed by her “crazy” behavior.

From that day on, the family disintegrated. Never again was there a happy holiday meal involving the extended family.

Tucker explains in his book that he now understands why he has a passion for cooking. He is trying to finish that meal, once and for all. It is “to finish that meal with grace and calm and convivial family conversation, with laughter and warmth,” he writes. “Mostly, I think about warmth; so that I can melt away the cold of that uneaten dinner.”

Maybe we too had an uncomfortable seder, or an argument about carving the turkey on Thanksgiving before uncle so-and-so had arrived.  There are always reasons for ending the conversation.  But are they worth the damage that ensues?

In addition to families, Temple families, too, can suffer from a breakdown in conversation.

Now, I know that Temple Sholom wants to be like a family, which means sometimes bad family dynamics is mixed in with the good.  And often the bad behavior leads to a breakdown in relationship and the end of conversation.

Ask yourself: Does this look like congregational behavior sometimes?

  1. People doing spiteful things — giving the silent treatment, doing things to irritate, ignoring someone, and when conversations are initiated, omitting routine courtesies.
  2. Making excuses — playing the pity card, blaming others, claiming their feelings are hurt (any excuse to avoid accepting blame).
  3. Selfishness — disregard [for] others’ feelings and needs, placing desires first.
  4. Twisting the truth — manipulating truths of an argument by leaving facts out (i.e, telling only part of the story to make others look guilty).
  5. Hypersensitive — throwing a temper tantrum, showing anger, insulting, over-reacting to trivial matters.

Such tactics may feel good in the moment but they infantilize others and in the end do the same to ourselves.

They are the opposite of keeping the conversation going. 

I ask all of us who care about this sacred community: Are we doing enough to invite in everyone to our community, into our conversations?  Or, if we are honest, does our behavior betray pushing others away?

A story: During the Second World War a platoon of American soldiers were fighting their way through a French village. When the battle had ended and the GIs began checking to see if everyone had survived the fight, they found one of their comrades had been killed during the battle.

Because of the respect and love these men had for each other, the surviving members of the platoon carried their friend through the village to the local church. They knocked on the door of the church. A priest answered the door and asked them how he could help them. They requested permission to bury their friend in the church cemetery.

The priest asked if their comrade was a Roman Catholic. Their answer was “No.” He was not of that particular church. “I’m sorry,” the priest said, “I cannot give permission for you to bury your friend. The cemetery is for Roman Catholics only.”

The men weren’t sure what to do, so they buried their friend just outside the wall of the cemetery. When they had finished they left the area disappointed but pleased that they were able to care for their friend.

The next day, as they were preparing to move out, the members of that platoon went back to the church cemetery to pay their last respects to their friend. When they reached the church and the cemetery they could not find the grave where they had placed their friend. They noted the landmarks around the church and were certain that they were in the right place. But there was no grave to be found. Finally, in frustration they went back to the church and knocked on the door, hoping to speak with the priest.

When the priest they had spoken to the day before came to the door, they asked him if he remembered them from the previous day. He said that he did. They asked him about what had happened to the grave of their friend. The priest answered, “After you left, having buried your friend, I was so ashamed of how I had treated you that I spent the rest of the day and night moving the wall of the cemetery to let your friend in.”

A question: what walls might we move, what behaviors might we change, to become more welcoming of each other?  To keep the conversation going?

Conversations should also keep continuing in the realm of politics.  I know they say don’t bring up politics and religion but sometimes these matters are too important to ignore.  Take Israel for example.

I don’t believe non-Israelis have the right to criticize the Israeli government in the same way as Israeli citizens, but that doesn’t mean we keep a resentful silence.  Israeli diplomat Tal Becker counsels for us non-Israelis a middle of the road approach: Jewish criticism of Israel is best modeled as Mother in Law to Mother in Law: Out of a great stake in the outcome we still hold our tongues in certain situations.

Then there is the Iran deal.  Talk about keeping the conversation going.  If only there were more conversation and less shouting.  As American Jewish Committee leader David Harris has pointed out recently,

 The Iran deal is perhaps the most consequential foreign policy issue in a generation. Yet the debate over it has too often fallen short of what’s needed.

 Rather than focus on possible strengths and shortcomings, some have resorted to sweeping generalizations, partisan attacks, personal insults, and hysterical hyperbole. None of this advances the discussion.

What a sad summer it has been!  In the name of stopping the deal, there have been calls for violence against American officials; some have accused President Obama of sending Jews “to the ovens”; some have claimed that supporters of the agreement will have the blood of “hundreds of millions” on their hands.

At the same time, we have had the rhetoric of some of the deal’s supporters, who accuse opponents of “warmongering,” “dual loyalty,” using the power of the purse, and willfully repeating the mistake of Iraq.

This toxic, misplaced language on either side certainly doesn’t bode well for engaging in genuine conversation.

 There are people here today on both sides of the issue.  I understand that.  I also believe all of us care about a secure Israel.  I hope and pray that we will all try to be civil and responsible in our conversations over this critical issue.  And that Israel – over all – will be protected.  But let’s allow the conversations to continue.

The same is true when confronting our global refugee crisis.  Writing today in the Forward, J. J. Goldberg (no relation) could have been speaking about my sister and mom’s curtailed arguments when he observes that raising “ images of the Holocaust may help draw attention to the crisis. But it also shuts down reasoned discourse, and thus drowns out urgent questions that need airing….[Furthermore]…in an atmosphere where every dinghy is the St. Louis, where refrigerator trucks smuggling migrants into Austria become boxcars transporting Jews to the gas chambers, where numbers thoughtlessly scrawled on refugees’ forearms in felt-tip pen by Czech police frantically trying to keep track of the human tidal wave are transformed into numbers tattooed on death-camp inmates — in such an atmosphere, there’s nothing left to discuss.”

Simply put: let’s keep the historical allusions at bay, knowing they more often provoke the end of discussion as opposed to enhancing the discussion.

Finally, besides conversations continuing between family, the congregation and those on different sides of the political aisle, we should remember one other vital conversation, as shown in the Torah passage today: our dialogue with God.

It is easy to be resentful of God.  One can even make the argument that at times we are too angry to continue the conversation.  But consider this story:

The chasidic rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk was once asked by a disciple how one should pray for forgiveness.  The teacher told the student to observe the behavior of a certain innkeeper before Yom Kippur.

The disciple took lodging at the inn and observed the proprietor for several days, but could see nothing relevant to his quest.

Then, on the night before Yom Kippur, he saw the innkeeper open two large ledgers.  From the first book he read off a list of all the sins he had committed throughout the past year.  When he was finished, he opened the second book and proceeded to recite all the bad things that had occurred to him during the past year.

When he had finished reading both books, he lifted his eyes to heaven and said “Dear God, it is true I have sinned against You.  But You have done many distressful things to me too.

“However, we are now beginning a new year.  Let us wipe the slate clean.  I will forgive You, and You forgive me.”

Why did the innkeeper initiate this conversation?  I think it is because the innkeeper realized that he needed God more than God needed him.

So what does it mean for us to be God’s sparring partner?

For one thing, it’s a reminder that questioning, pushing back, expressing doubt, and arguing are not out of bounds. We needn’t fear that we’ll offend God. God will have the final word, but we may receive insight, inspiration, understanding, blessing — or if not those things, at least the comfort that comes from having aired our grievances, even if the answer isn’t what we’d hoped for.

You may not know this but Hollywood has another Bible movie planned, this one about King David.  That old king certainly had many conversations with God.  And even though he made some terrible mistakes, and his own prophet Nathan spoke truth to power against him, David never stopped speaking to God.

That’s why we have the psalms.

I am sure you know many of these psalms, or conversations between David and God.

And you know that a common word in these psalms is Hallelujah, “praise God”.  The Canadian Jewish poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen labored over five years to write his version of this conversation.   Cohen’s “Hallelujah” expresses the struggles that many of us go through, perhaps wanting to praise God but feeling honestly that such praise is not easy to feel.

This Hallelujah is not about praise but rather the pain of failure and disappointment. It contains vaguely religious allusions—Hallelujah, King David, various references to brokenness: disappointment, personal failure, the loss of love, the loss of optimism.

As Leonard Cohen expresses so poignantly “love is not a victory march… it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…”

Leonard Cohen ends his “Hallelujah” with a most humble admission:

“I did my best, it wasn’t much.

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.

I’ve told the truth. I haven’t come to fool you.

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

At the end, there may not be much to say, but the conversation does not end.  It continues.

And my prayer for all of us is this: with our friends and family, with our community, our country, with our family in Israel, and even with God, may our words never stop.  May our love never cease!  And may our hope for more understanding and acceptance lead us to a better future of everlasting peace.

 

What Might We Lose from a Failure of Nerve? Iran, Israel and the Bomb

UnknownShabbat is a day of joy, but we are also abutting a sad day in Jewish history, the Ninth of Av.

The Talmud (BT Gittin 55b-56a) records a fascinating but very relevant debate between the Rabbinic leaders and Rabbi Zechaiah b. Abkulas. It occurred in 66 BCE when Judea was under Roman control. Bar Kamza, a Jew, felt slighted by Judea’s Rabbinic and political leadership and was determined to avenge this insult. He thus informed Emperor Nero that the Jews were not loyal subjects and as proof he proposed that Nero send a calf to be sacrificed as a gift offering in the Temple. Bar Kamza delivered the calf but not before he had made a slight cut on its lip that the Jews regarded as a blemish but not the Romans.

The Rabbis immediately understood what had transpired and were faced with a dilemma: whether to refuse the animal thereby spurning the royal gift o to sacrifice it in violation of Jewish practice. They were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government, but Rabbi Zechariah contended that people will now believe that blemished animals can be bought as an offering in the Temple. The Rabbis then considered killing Bar Kamza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Zechariah protested, “Is one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals to be put to death?”

The Rabbis, immobilized by “Zechariah’s dilemma,” neither sacrificed the calf nor executed Bar Kamza who then reported the Rabbis’ rejection of the royal gift. The Emperor’s ire at the perceived slap in the face set into motion a series of events leading to the Jewish revolt that culminated in the destruction of the Temple and countless Jewish casualties. The Talmud’s footnote to this story is the lament, “through the scrupulousness of Rabbi Zechariah our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.”

Was Rabbi Zechariah correct? Did the Rabbis exhibit a failure of nerve in not following the path of least existence? Was it wise to insist upon upholding the highest moral and ritual standards regardless of the cost?

Our world has not changed much since two thousand years ago. We Jews have a modern State of Israel but we still find ourselves between doing the “right” thing and doing the practical thing.

Sometimes when I read of Jews and even Israelis supporting the Palestinians at all cost, as one reads about in the new book, Catch the Jew, I think of Rabbi Zechariah.

These staunch defenders of Jewish morality are latter day successors of Zechariah; it is a counterpart of the lose-lose dilemma in which Bar Kamza placed Judea’s leadership of his day. Do we engage the enemy with force necessary to succeed and to survive? Or should our first concern be avoiding any possibility of collateral damage? Does Hamas’ immoral actions give us the freedom to pursue a war in a manner that compromises our own moral standards?

The Talmud bemoans that two millennia ago the Rabbis and the leadership of Judea paid a dear price by allowing themselves to be swayed by Zechariah’s insistence that our moral and ritual principles must be upheld regardless of the consequences.

The Tradition ultimately rejected Zechariah’s argument. The Rabbis certainly believed that life was sacred and that bloodshed violated God’s will – but there are exceptions. If a rodef ( a pursuer) threatens your life, you must do what is necessary to save yourself. Self-defense is not merely a valid response – it is a required moral response.

Similarly a nation threatened by a neighboring pursuer has a moral right to take needed action to defend its people. Thus in 1967 when Israel was threatened by the alliance of Egypt and Syria, it took pre-emptive action – that assured the successful culmination of the Six Day War

In contrast in 1973 when there were again clear signs that Egypt and Syria were preparing to attack Israel, the government heeded the warnings from Washington to hold fire until attacked. The failure to preempt hostilities led to great losses in the early days of the Yom Kippur War. There was actually a period when it seemed that Israel would be defeated with all the horrible consequences that would have inevitably followed.

We are now at the end of the Nine Days, the period between the beginning of the month of Av and the Fast of Tisha b’Av, the day set aside millennia ago to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the loss of Jewish hegemony over Eretz Yisrael with its enormous loss of lives.

When we gather tomorrow night to observe the Fast we will lament not only past tragedies in our history but also the ongoing tragedy Middle East violence. And although the Palestinian issue has not diminished we find ourselves atremble at the notion of a stronger, more determined Iran.

What shall we make of the recent negotiations with Iran? Should we follow AIPAC’s dire warning and fight against its approval by Congress? Should we follow J-Street’s counsel and celebrate this “victory”. Do we have peace or merely “peace in our time?”

I am no expert on the Middle-East but I know something about Rabbi Zechaiah b. Abkulas. And let me tell you: he was bad news for the Jewish people. You see, he had could not possibly have the right answer because he was addressing the wrong question. He thought the leadership should play by a certain set of rules. But those were not Roman rules.

And now, as Jews who care about the State of Israel, we find ourselves asked to play by a certain set of rules, but whose rules are they? Obama’s rules? Russia’s rules? The U.N.’s rules?

Let me tell you what I think. Israel has to work the real problem it faces, not the one summoned up by over-anxious politicians and other Cassandras. So let’s start with the facts:
Iran is going to get a nuclear bomb sooner or later. It just is. It’s too big and too arrogant and too ornery not to.
(2) Israel is going to have to defend itself from the bomb but a more pressing question will be the proxy wars it has to fight with Hezbollah and Hamas.

(3) Therefore, I respectfully disagree with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has refused to accept US gifts of security materials in order to placate the Israelis. I think this is standing on ceremony and not helpful. “Take the weapons, Mr. Netanyahu. Take the systems. Take anything you can.”

(4) In short, Israel is going to have to tough it out and she needs our support. If I thought we could somehow turn the Obama administration away from its present course I would entertain this possibility.

But I don’t and so my pragmatism kicks in.

Writing this week in Haaretz, Rabbi Eric Yoffie says it better than anyone else: My suggestion is that American Jews proclaim their profound misgivings about this deal, indicate their regret that it will be approved, and then demand a package of political, economic, and military aid to compensate Israel for the tremendous risks that she will face. Perhaps this package will include a new security umbrella for Israel, or membership in NATO, or a protocol for what action the U.S. will take to counter Iranian subversion throughout the Middle East. It should include a long list of weapons systems as well as political understandings about support in the United Nations and elsewhere. It should be ambitious and far-reaching, put forward on behalf of a faithful ally that does not always agree with America, but that stands with America and requires her support, especially now.
As we remember the tragedies of the past and confront the sad realities of the present, may we never lose sight of Isaiah’s great hope that the day will come when swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and none shall wage war any more. It’s an age old dream, but woe unto us if we lose faith in human efforts to help make that dream come true. But also woe unto those who support Israel who forget that the problem before that is containing an malevolent Iran. There are many ways to do so, and this is just getting started.

The Latest Update from Temple Sholom of Chicago’s Israel Trip

The trip is so much fun!  In the last few days we have hiked around the Golan Heights and the Galilee.  We have also celebrated the Torah and our past and future B’nai Mitzvah students on Masada.  We have floated in the Dead Sea and we have enjoyed the delights of Jerusalem, the most beautiful city in the world (arguably).   In the days ahead we will explore ancient Jerusalem, enjoy Shabbat at a sister Reform congregation outside Jerusalem, and visit the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem.  We will also learn from a great expert on Israeli politics, Dr. Reuven Hazan.  Our trip will conclude with a visit to the Jerusalem Holocaust Memorial and a festive closing dinner.

Torah on Masada
Torah on Masada

Message from Israel

Temple Sholom’s 2015 Family Expedition is well underway!  We all arrived safe and sound on Thursday afternoon and made sure to jump in the beautiful roof top pool of the Carlton Hotel, overlooking the gorgeous Mediterranean Sea.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner on Thursday night at the venerable Yemenite restaurant, Magadna.  Friday morning was greeted with an amazing breakfast by the sea and then a trip to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, where the State was formally declared in May 1948.  We also visited Rabin Memorial Square and then enjoyed the frantic noshing and shopping of Nachalat Binyamin and the Carmel Market.  Tonight we will greet Shabbat on the beach and share Shabbat dinner at the hotel.  Tomorrow we leave for the Negev and the incomparable Brasheet Hotel.

 

It is great to be in Israel with wonderful Temple Sholom of Chicago families!
image image image image

Three Days in DC with the American Jewish Committee

I have just returned from spending time in our nation’s capital with 2500 people, many but not all Jews, and quite a number of them diplomats and representatives of more than thirty nations. A number of Temple Sholom members were in attendance. The Chicago contingent from the AJC local chapter numbered more than one hundred!

The annual global forum of the American Jewish Committee is in effect the Jewish People’s summit of ideas, hopes and calls for action. Beneath the specter of the June 30th due date for negotiations with Iran, the tragic renewed rise of antisemitism in Europe, and the flagrantly antisemitic BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement, we heard from top leaders and thinkers concerning these very issues.

One thing I love about the AJC is the nuance. Debates are held, and both sides are given serious attention. The big one this year pitted the arch conservative Israeli Caroline Glick against bestselling author and Haaretz editor Ari Shavit. The topic: Two State Solution or Two State Illusion?

Along with others I lobbied members of congress to work to ensure that only a just agreement with Iran be reached. After all, no agreement is far better than a bad agreement. We also called upon our leaders to oppose the inciting to hate speech of the Palestinian Authority and to speak out against BDS.

At the conference moral heroes were honored, including the brave Druze guard who gave his life defending Jews against a terror attack at a Jerusalem synagogue last November, a French immigrant from Mali who rescued Jews during the terrorist attack at the kosher market in Paris, and the volunteer synagogue guard in Copenhagen who lost his life defending children at a bat mitzvah party.

We also heard from a UCLA student, not Jewish, who was penalized by her fellow students for visiting Israel. The Los Angeles chapter of the AJC helped her defend herself from the anti-Israel allegations of the student government. Who would have thought such help would be needed?

Melanie and I also dined at the home of the Spanish Ambassador and were thrilled to hear of the cooperation between Spain and Israel and the upcoming law that will allow Sephardic Jews to regain their Spanish citizenship. After having seen first hand in March what the expulsion did to the once glorious Spanish Jewish community, this visit provided a needed tonic.

I think that, somewhat sadly, the work of the American Jewish Committee is more relevant now than ever. After all, it started in 1906 as the Jewish defense agency. And let’s be honest: we Jews need to be defended. I hope you will consider joining me and Melanie and others from Temple Sholom and Chicago next year for this vital event.

Intrinsic Time Over Instrumental Time

6a00d83462eb8d69e20162fca0900d970d-800wiA quick survey: How many people in our congregation regularly wear a wristwatch? Apple watch, anyone?  Regardless of what timepiece you carry, it’s clear that we live in a world obsessed with time. Rarely does anyone sidle up to you in the grocery store anymore and ask, “Do you have the time?” because everyone has it attached to their body in some way. We have multiple apps for tracking our calendars, managing our deadlines and even timing our walk to the office. We have time staring at us from the corner of our computer screens, from the dash board of the car and from the digital clock on the bank sign down the street. If you live in a city, you might even look up and see a classic old clock fixed on a historic building which has been marking the time for generations.

In some cities, in fact, telling time is literally a big deal. If you’re in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for example, you can’t help but see the Abraj Al Bait Towers clock just about anywhere you go. Its clock face is 43 meters in diameter, roughly the size of a luxury yacht, built on a tower that’s 601 meters (almost 2,000 feet) tall. By comparison, Big Ben, arguably the most famous clock in the world, is just over 6 meters in diameter on a 96-meter-high tower on the bank of the Thames. Other cities around the world have similar “big time” clocks to help residents and visitors track the time, some even assisting with chimes or bells when the clock strikes the hour.

You’d think that the plethora of clocks in our world would make us better at managing our time, but the truth is that time management is one of the biggest stressors in our culture.

We work too many hours, we have too many distractions, and we’re trying to squeeze in more work in less time. Procrastination is often the result of being so overwhelmed with tasks that we keep putting things off, only to find that we’re now even more squeezed for time.

Item:

The first-grader asked his mother why Daddy brought home a briefcase full of papers every evening.

She explained, “It’s because Daddy has so much to do he can’t finish at the office and has to work nights.”

“Well, then,” said the child, “why don’t they just put him in a slower group?”

ITEM:

 The synagogue wanted to help its congregation cope better with the stresses of modern life, and decided to offer a course in time management.

Soon after the course was announced, a member telephoned the rabbi.

“What time does the course start, Rabbi?”

The rabbi replied, “Oh, I don’t know. Six-ish, seven-ish.”

A few years back, in an issue of Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal, M. Cathleen Kaveny – now at Notre Dame, wondered whether the lives of lawyers are being distorted by what she calls the “billable hours mentality.”

That mentality, she observes, is only an extreme version “of the view of time dominant in American life today.” Kaveny, who also teaches in the university’s theology department, thinks religious traditions have something valuable to teach us about how to view time.

Peter Steinfels of The New York Times reported on her article: “Lawyers did not always bill clients that way, and small firms generally still don’t. But the growth of firms employing over 50 lawyers exploded after the early 1960s, and computers gave managing partners a way to measure the productivity of young associates whom they could scarcely know personally.

“In [Professor Kaveny’s] opinion, the ‘regime of billable hours’ treats time ‘as instrumentally valuable, rather than intrinsically valuable.’ What counts are the extrinsic goals of winning advantages for the client and profits for the firm. Intrinsic satisfactions like doing good work, nurturing younger associates or contributing to the community cannot be translated into billable hours.

“The habit of treating time as a commodity with a price tag can seep into other aspects of lawyers’ lives, Professor Kaveny says, so that non-work activities and even personal relationships are viewed in financial terms.

Time spent with family or friends is calculated in terms of ‘trade-offs’ and lost opportunities. The billable hours framework levels all time, Professor Kaveny warns, flattening out its rhythms into a kind of ‘endless, colorless present.’ Life is experienced as monotonous extension.”

–Peter Steinfels, “A religious alternative to billable hours,” The New York Times, December 29, 2001.

The relentless ticking of the clock (or, in their case, the movement of the shadow around the sundial) is what the ancient Greeks referred to as chronos time, from which we get “chronological” time. If you buy an expensive watch today (either to actually tell time or to make a fashion statement), the jewelry store will likely refer to it as a “chronograph.” It keeps the time that we’re always tracking, managing and running out of.

Chronos time might be the instrumental view of time. Intrinsic time is the spiritual view. We should learn to know the difference.

These days we might have atomic clocks in our homes that are accurate to the second because they synchronize automatically by radio frequency with the National Institute of Standards and Technology atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. The watch on our wrist or the clock in the bell tower might be fast or slow, but the NIST F-2 clock is always right. The same might be said of God’s time, which calibrates us toward being right with God’s time and accurate in our faith and practice.

How we “make the most of the time” is thus a function of how well we use our chronos to focus on the religious.

How does your calendar reflect time spent cultivating your relationship with God? Does your daily rhythm include time dedicated solely to prayer? Are you participating in weekly worship where you can be filled with spirit?

Rather than just letting time tick away, put it to the more intrinsic use.

One of the iconic images of the silent-film era is that of funny-man Harold Lloyd hanging from the hands of a giant clock on the side of a big-city building, many stories above the street. The scene is from the 1923 comedy, Safety Last.

The man in the picture is Lloyd himself. There is no safety net. In those early days of cinema, stunt doubles were only just emerging as a specialty, and CGI effects were completely unheard of.

Perhaps the reason that scene is so memorable is that a man dangling precariously from the hands of a giant clock seems to capture our ambiguous relationship with time.

In this week’s Haftarah Portion, Jeremiah asks a question which is significant in every age: “Shall a person make unto oneself gods, and they are no gods?”

“Shall a person make unto oneself gods, and they are no gods?”

Sadly, the sin of idolatry is not confined to the ancient past.

Throughout the ages, we have made gods of things which are not gods. Idolatries of wealth, possessions, class and caste are still with us. Fascism has been defined as an idolatrous religion, glorifying the state and canonizing a leader. Communism may be defined as an idolatrous religion, glorifying a class, idolizing leaders and reading its class doctrine into the nature of things. People have put their faith in science as a religion, in rationality as a panacea, in blueprints, economic and social, for the reconstruction of society.

Some people have made an idol of time.  If we are guilty then isn’t it time to take time back?

Ann Lamott is quoted on a sermon billboard this week:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you.”  I know all of us here take Shabbat seriously; that’s why we are here. I challenge us to make a list of all the things we do that are instrumental and those that are intrinsic.

And I ask us to find more balance between the two.

By stopping. By studying. By doing less. By living with more gratitude. By remembering that clocks serve us. We don’t serve clocks.

A British father wrote that when he was on an outing with his family, his wife implored their daughter Molly to hurry up because there was no time to stop and blow dandelions. In response, Molly raised what may be for a child — perhaps for all of us — the major philosophical issue of our day. Mummy, she said, what is time for?

Exactly.

 

After Us, the Flood?

 

As of a few months ago, about 30 churches in Prince George’s County, Maryland, have applied for a reduction on a controversial “stormwater remediation fee” the county imposes on property owners — private, commercial and nonprofit, including churches.

The amount of the fee is based on the acreage of each property, and without the discount, some churches are liable for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

More specifically, the fee, which was authorized by the Maryland state legislature in 2013 and applies to all 23 of the state’s counties, is assessed according to the amount of impervious surface on each property — the ground covered by solid material such as blacktop or concrete that blocks stormwater from being absorbed by the soil beneath. With the water not soaked up and filtered bpy the ground, it flows into storm sewers and streams where it eventually is conveyed to the Chesapeake Bay, carrying pollution with it.

The legislation authorized each jurisdiction to determine its own fee structure. The money is intended to fund capital projects in each county to capture more stormwater, curb runoff and improve water quality. For the average homeowner in Prince George’s County, the fee amounts to about $42 annually.

Churches, however, especially those with large lots and sprawling parking lots, would have to pay more — estimated at $744 annually on average. The county’s churches have some of the largest properties in the jurisdiction.

Initially, there were no discounts available, but several of the pastors in Prince George’s challenged the fee and were able to negotiate a reduction for religious organizations and other 501(c) nonprofits if certain “alternative compliance” conditions were met.

According to the document spelling out the agreement those alternatives include:

1) providing temporary easements “for the County to install Best Management Practices on property owned by the organization” with the organization maintaining those practices;
2) outreach and education, where the property owner “agrees to take part in the County’s outreach/education campaign to encourage other property owners to participate in the County’s Rain Check Rebate Program for restoration, and create an environmental green team or ministry”;

3) “Green Care and Good Housekeeping,” where the property owner “agrees to use lawn management companies that are certified in the proper use and application of fertilizers in connection with their green areas and lawns. Property owner also agrees to good housekeeping practices for ensuring clean lots.”

The first alternative gives a 50 percent reduction in the fee. The second and third options each yield a 25 percent fee reduction. Thus, if a church or nonprofit participates fully in all three, that organization can have the entire fee waived.

Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church was the first to apply. That congregation plans to install rain barrels, build rain gardens (a shallow, planted depression that absorbs the water that flows from roofs, patios or yards, allowing it to drain directly into the soil), plant trees and possibly replace its blacktop with a permeable material. And the government will cover most of the cost of these changes.

Some of the congregations have chosen to launch “green” ministries (such as recycling programs), and some pastors have opted to preach sermons on environmental stewardship.

There have been criticisms of the stormwater remediation fee, with some opponents calling it a “rain tax.” There have also been claims from others that the fee-reduction program interferes with church-state separation. At least one critic has treated the “green” sermons as though they are a government requirement to get the reduction, with the government taking over the pulpit.

It’s more likely, however, that these sermons are simply the way some pastors have chosen to educate their congregations on environmental issues in keeping with the “outreach and education” goal of the alternative compliance agreement. There are no government-mandated sermons, though some sort of environment education in the church is called for to receive the full deduction.
For now let’s not dwell on the First Amendment but rather on the question of our own green faith initiative.
Some questions to consider:

1. Why is “creation care” a growing movement in many religious circles today — even where no fee-reduction incentive exists? Discuss both positive and negative aspects of this sort of movement. What kind of environmental activity is appropriate for congregations?

2. Should care for the earth, the stewardship of God’s creation, be one of the marks of our temple? Why or why not?
3. How should our understanding of the future of our planet affect our personal spiritual life?

An important verse to consider:

Genesis 1:26
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (For context, read 1:1-31; 2:15.)

The story of creation in Genesis is actually an amalgam of two accounts, Genesis 1:1–2:4a being an orderly seven-day account while Genesis 2:4b-25 is a more narrative story. Common to both, however, is God’s command to the first humans to have “dominion” over the plants and animals (1:26, 28) and to “till” and “keep” the earth (2:15). While “dominion” has often been a word used to promote a more consumptive approach to the earth’s resources, the context suggests wise stewardship. It also indicates that the creation is to be used for the benefit of humankind, producing the necessities of life. Human beings were created to be God’s representatives in creation and thus were commanded to rule and care for the natural world in the way that God rules, remembering that God repeatedly called creation “good.”

Likewise, in the second creation account, the command to “till,” or cultivate, the earth is instructive. The Hebrew word translated as “till” literally means “to work.” Humans are to see themselves as being in service to the earth because they are fully dependent upon its resources to sustain life and make a living. “Dominion” and dependence are thus parallel, and not opposite, roles that humans play in relationship to the earth. When we care for the earth as stewards of God’s good creation, we are engaging in an act of worship to God.
Questions: How do you define and practice “dominion” over the earth and its resources? Do you believe that environmental issues are really, at base, spiritual issues? Why or why not? Where do environmental groups and congregations have intersecting values? Where do Jewish interests and ecological ones diverge?

 

Another Bible verse to ponder:

2 Kings 20:19
Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” (For context read 2 Kings 20:12-21.)

King Hezekiah showed the wealth, strengths and weaknesses of his kingdom to foreign spies. When he was told that his actions would lead to the ruin of the kingdom, but that it would not happen until after he died, this was his response. Some would liken it to the phrase Après moi, le déluge — “After me, the flood” — supposedly spoken by King Louis XV of France, although it is unlikely he ever said it. Louis XV was a governmentally astute king who worked hard to stave off disasters in his kingdom. Thus, the sense of “I’m doing my best, but when I’m gone: disaster.” However, many in popular writing have taken the phrase to mean “As long as disaster strikes after I die, what does it matter?”

Some people do act as if what happens to the earth after they are gone doesn’t matter. Some may tie this attitude to their own belief that the world may not last beyond their own lives to the lives of their grandchildren.

Questions: Do we feel a responsibility about the quality of creation you leave behind for your children and grandchildren? On what basis (theological, political, scientific or a combination of all or some of these) do we and your fellow members take a fact-based or politically based viewpoint on issues of care for creation, climate change and stewardship of the earth?
We do not have to be hardcore environmentalists to see this link. When basic morality is ignored, not merely the people but the whole land suffers.

 

I am grateful to the Wired Word for help in preparing these remarks.

Logic is the Beginning of Wisdom

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who brought to life the Vulcan-human Mr. Spock on TV’s Star Trek science-fiction series and in subsequent movies and spin-offs, died last week in Los Angeles at age 83 of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  I knew him as a congregant and genuine mensch.

While Nimoy made his mark in poetry, photography, music, movie directing and in other acting roles, it was as Mr. Spock, the pointy-eared, brainy, determinedly logical first officer of the starship Enterprise, that Nimoy became one of the most iconic fictional characters of the last several decades.
Although Nimoy published an autobiography in 1975 titled I Am Not Spock, he says he was not rejecting the role, as some people assumed. He maintained he was only clarifying the difference between himself and Spock, whom he always enjoyed playing. But he admits that he didn’t count on the fact that some people would only read the title and not the book itself. Thus, in 1995, when he published a second volume of his autobiography, he called it I Am Spock. In that book, Nimoy explains that Spock has always been a part of him.

The original Star Trek premiered in 1966 and was canceled after three seasons because of low ratings, but it birthed a cult-like following, with fans calling themselves Trekkies or Trekkers (Nimoy preferred the latter).
Spock — the character, not the actor — always sought to keep his emotions, inherited from his human mother, under the domination of his logic, inherited from his Vulcan father, though occasionally his emotions temporarily broke through.

In Nimoy’s obituary in The New York Times, Virginia Heffernan wrote, “… Spock, the most complex member of the Enterprise crew, who was both one of the gang and a creature apart, engaged at times in a lonely struggle with his warring racial halves.”

Whether or not Nimoy is Spock, he made this comment some years after the TV series ended: “To this day, I sense Vulcan speech patterns, Vulcan social attitudes and even Vulcan patterns of logic and emotional suppression in my behavior.” Apparently he was okay with that, for he added, “Given the choice, if I had to be someone else, I would be Spock.”

Nimoy’s Spock struggled with logic and emotion.  Which begs the question, What actually makes something logical?
We might argue that something is logical if it derives by means of clear and sound reason. The opposite is not “emotional” but “irrational.”

Something logical can be accompanied by an emotion of disgust, of pleasure, of fear, of desire — or by none at all.

However, in the case of the Spock character in the Star Trek series, logic is often presented as being in opposition to emotion.

The logical Spock is contrasted with his friend, the emotional Dr. McCoy. Captain Kirk symbolizes the middle road, synthesizing the logical and the emotional into the whole person.

Kirk’s actions are motivated as much by logic as by emotion — with the added twist that the logic is often subconscious and not fully apparent until after a decision has been made and proven to be effective.

Finally, logical conclusions are always based upon premises that are accepted as true. If a premise turns out to be false (or unknowable), then a logical conclusion may also be false — at the least, it can have no more validity than any conclusion based solely upon emotions.

While Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek was an atheist, several observers have noted religious themes in some of the series episodes and movies, including, in one movie, the resurrection of Mr. Spock from the dead. Websites list the religion elements of the shows and movies.

One particular line of interest to me: In character as Spock in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Nimoy said, “Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end.”

This insight reminds me of the teaching of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Religion begins where philosophy ends.”

Judaism is a religion that respects logic and reason. But it also celebrates trust. The Torah portion this week — with the infamous golden calf episode — demonstrates what happens when there is no trust in God or Moses.
But ultimately God and Moses find themselves trusting the Israelites enough to give them a second chance.

I am inspired by this prevailing of faith over reason.

According to Lucinda Vardey, in Mother Teresa: A Simple Path (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995), page 185, there was “a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children’s home in Calcutta.” This is what the sign said:
ANYWAY
People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered,
LOVE THEM ANYWAY
If you do good, people will accuse you of
selfish, ulterior motives,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
If you are successful,
you win false friends and true enemies,
SUCCEED ANYWAY
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow,
DO GOOD ANYWAY
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable,
BE HONEST AND FRANK ANYWAY
What you spent years building may be
destroyed overnight,
BUILD ANYWAY
People really need help
but may attack you if you help them,
HELP PEOPLE ANYWAY
Give the world the best you have
And you’ll get kicked in the teeth,
GIVE THE WORLD THE BEST YOU’VE GOT ANYWAY.

This may not be a Jewish teaching but I think it reflects the spirit of the marriage of logic and faith.
I have a feeling my old congregant Leonard Nimoy would not disagree.

kirkspockmccoy

Peace in our Time?

Tomorrow night we celebrate the holiday of Purim. It’s underlying message is that there will always be people who want to harm Jews for being Jews. We don’t need the reminder these days, what with Iran, ISIS, European Antisemitism, and Hamas. Spending the early part of this week in DC at the policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, I cannot escape the uneasy feeling that all of this Iran controversy seems familiar. Could it be that we are in 1938 and allowing ourselves to be lulled into the cliche, “Peace in our time”?

Putting aside the political movements on either side of the aisle, it seems the essential issue is this: Iran needs pressure to stop its creation of a nuclear bomb. The current program does not seem up to the task. If a deal is reached with the White House, I hope that the U.S. Congress will be given an opportunity to consider the deal. Even the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, admitted that a bad deal is worse than no deal.

Up until now, Iran has responded to only one inducement timageo curtail its nuclear achievement efforts: tough sanctions. There is no reason to believe that anything has changed. The sanctions relief offered to Iran not only allows them to continue to move toward their nuclear ambitions. The almost 5 billion dollars they save with the relief could be used for terrorism.

As Senator Mark Kirk told us, Iran can become South Africa, a country that poses no nuclear threat, due to its working with the international community in a spirit of complete transparency.
Or, Iran can become the next North Korea.

As you know, Senator Kirk has been through a lot these last couple of years. He calls himself the “king of second chances”. With this is mind he challenged us to make sure that we don’t allow the world to miss this second chance (the first being 1938) to do everything we can to protect the Jewish people from horrific destruction.

Then, as if he were looking directly at me, he said, Who knows? Maybe you were put on this earth for this very reason, to stop a second Holocaust before it is too late.

With that I though of how luck my mom was to escape Hitler and how fortunate I am to enjoy life and the beloved State of Israel. So I will most definitely take it upon myself to make sure America does all it can to protect Israel and the world from a nuclear Iran.

I hope you will join me.

With sholom,

Rabbi Edwin Goldberg