AN ADAM WITH TWO FACES

When Rosh HaShanah arrives in two weeks, we will celebrate the sixth day of God’s creation, the anniversary of the emergence of humankind, a being called “Adam”.

Image result for bible adam

What was that newly-created being like? In Genesis Rabbah, Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman comments on the peculiar wording of the phrase in Genesis 2: “Male and female God created them” and gives us a startling image of that first human we call Adam.

Rabbi Shmuel explains it thus: “When the Holy One created Adam, God made him with two fronts, then he sawed him in half, thus giving him two backs, a back for one part and a back for the other parts.” (Genesis Rabbah)

Traditional commenters have remarked that if Adam was once one-being, split into two-fronts and two -backs, its stands to reason that the original Adam, before the split, had two faces…

An Adam with two faces! A two-faced Adam in English idiom would mean a duplicitous character. It calls to my mind, and perhaps yours, some popular fictional characters that have had two faces.

Image result for two faceComic book aficionados, of the Batman narrative, will remember the character aptly named Two-Face. He began his career as the Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent. Scarred on the left side of his face when a mob boss threw acid chemicals upon him, he then greets the world with a double face, scarred and unscarred. His two-face actuality converts his personality – he becomes a criminal with a personality conflict – as he flips his behavior with the toss of a coin also damaged in that acid accident, and he oscillates between good and evil.

Image result for professor quirinus quirrellWe are also reminded of the Harry Potter series of the character, Professor Quirinus Quirrell, who served Hogwarts School of Magic and Wizardry, as a teacher of Muggles Studies, and then later, as a teacher of the Defence Against the Dark Arts. His body is overtaken by the darkest-of-dark art experts, while he researched the subject of the Dark Arts, prior to the beginning of a school year.  His being is hijacked by Lord Voldemort, and we are witness as the plot unfolds and he is revealed as a wizard with two faces: his own who teaches the classes and mentors the students; and that of Lord Voldemort, hidden in a turban. The Professor is turned into a vessel which struggles between himself as a good Wizard, and the evilest of wizards Lord Voldemort, who seeks and eventually is successful in usurping his body and mind.

With both fiction characters, the two-face image is used as a symbol to convey the conflict between good and evil, that is always in-potential within each one of us. The rabbis call this the Yetzer HaTov (the good inclination) and the Yetzer HaRa (the evil inclination).

However, in Jewish tradition the good inside of us and the evil inside of us are not relegated to comic strip or children fiction black-and-white, either-or terms. The rabbis teach that our good inclination and our evil inclination, are needed in moderation inside each one of us, so that we can function as our best human being selves.

As was famously taught by the rabbis in Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 69b). Even evil is necessary for us and the world to exist. They tell this story:

The ancient sages decided that they were going to capture and imprison evil and banish it from the universe. They ordered a complete fast day and the Yetzer HaRa was vanquished.

The Yetzer HaRa came out of a room in the Temple called the Holy of Holies like a fiery lion. The Yetzer HaRa said to them – “Realize if you kill me the world is finished.”

The rabbis imprisoned the Yetzer HaRa for three days, and then they looked in the whole land of Israel, and not an egg could be found. No chicken had procreated.

One of them asked: “What shall we do now?” Another asked: “How will we survive?”

So, they put out the Yetzer’s eyes, and let him go.

As the eighteenth-century Italian rabbi, Moshe Chaim Luzzato taught: “Each of us is a creature created with the purpose of being drawn close to God. Each of us is placed between perfection and deficiency, with the power to earn perfection. Each of us must earn this perfection, however, through our own free will… Our inclinations are therefore balanced between good (Yetzer HaTov) and evil (Yetzer HaRa), and one is not compelled toward either of them. One has the power of choice and is able to choose either side knowingly and willingly…”

Another means we might understand the two faces of Adam lies in the Hebrew word for faces. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for face “Panim” is the same in both the singular and the plural in Hebrew. Many of us, accustomed to the English, think of a face as the outer layer of a person. But if we were Hebrew speakers we would hear a double entendre in the word “Panim” with  the word “Pnim” meaning “interior”. “Face” and our “inner being” are from the same root word. The message: the outer layer of our countenances are connected to our interior selves.

After Rosh HaShanah we will turn to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, also known as Yom Kippurim. Our rabbis played with this name of Atonement Day in the Hebrew – and read it not as Yom Kippurim, Atonement Day; but rather, as Yom Ki-Purim, a day like Purim. A day like the day we wear masks and are other than ourselves.

Yom Kippur is the exact opposite of Purim. It is the day we strip off our facial masks and seek to become our most authentic selves. For many of us, our face is a mask for our feelings. We have learned to smile when we feel sad, to shed tears as a manipulation of others, to look concerned when we feel no empathy, or say yes when we mean no.

That the Hebrew for “panim” our facial mask, is similar to “pnim” our interior selves, teaches us an important lesson. Our faces should reflect who we really are. Ecclesiastes 8:1 suggests “The wisdom of the person shines in the face.” Our faces and what are inside of us should mimic each other.

We are told that the 16th century Kabbalist, the Ari, had a gift. He could read people’s faces. This was known by so many people that when seeing the rabbi in the street, they would cover their face. They were ashamed about what he could see inside of them.

The task at this season is to work on our interior beings so that our faces shine with beauty that we have created inside of us.  So that unlike those who passed by the Ari on the streets, we are proud of the beauty reflected in our countenance. As the Yiddish speakers among us would say: a sheine punim.

This evening is Elul 14th, means two weeks till Rosh HaShanah. The month is literally a High Holy Day and festival count down, where each day we are reminded by the sound of the Shofar that the month of Tishrei approaches. And that we have work on ourselves to do.

Each day of this month of Elul, we are asked to turn inside ourselves, to reflect on who and what we are. We are urged by this season to wrestle with our balance, our proclivity towards good and bad. We are urged by this season to wrestle with our outward countenance so that it reflects a holier inner being.

It is a startling image – we are descended from the two-faced Adam.  And our task, during Elul, is to take that split and make it harmonious once again. So that when Rosh HaShanah arrives, we are a reflection of the original  Adam, born again, undivided, anew.

 

 

Sacred Disagreement

Image result for disagreementOur tradition has always embraced disagreement.

One might think that the most famous rabbis of disagreement were Hillel and Shammai.

In the first century BCE the Babylonian Hillel migrated to Israel and worked as a woodcutter as he studied. He lived in such poverty that he was unable to pay the fee to study Torah. It is said, because he was known for his kindness, gentleness and concern for humanity, (in other words he was a mentsch), it was decided to abolish the Torah study fee.

His contemporary was Shammai, born-and-bred in the land of Israel. He worked as a builder, was a man of some wealth, and was also a teacher of Torah. His views on everything were strict, usually because he worried about the assimilation of the Jews into the Roman world. He was considered dour, quick-tempered and impatient.

Two more different personalities would be difficult to find. But at the end of the day, they served on the same Sanhedrin and mixed in the same intellectual cohort. Colleagues. They agreed on many basic issues of Jewish law, though they came at the law from different perspectives.

So why might one think that they are the most famous rabbis of disagreement?

Perhaps because their disciples were often in conflict. They followed the philosophies of their founders. Hillel based his rulings on his concern for every individual’s welfare, while Shammai was concerned with the strictures of the law. The Talmud records 300 cases of disagreement between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai.

A disagreement is also the central theme of our Torah portion Korach. Korach, Datan and Abiram stage a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of raising themselves above the community. All of Israel, argues Korach, Datan and Abiram, are holy. Moses responds by suggesting that God will decide who is holy, who is worthy of leadership, by accepting or rejecting incense offerings that they bring.

Our portion does not hide that the Moses and Aaron’s  leadership, did, endure its challengers. The rebellion, the arguments against our esteemed Biblical leaders, are there for us to struggle with, argue over and see. Our tradition has never been one that glosses over disagreements or writes them out of history.

This week at the National Assembly of the United Nations, the United States, represented by Nikki Haley, laid bare a disagreement with the most recent resolution condemning Israel for excessive force at the Gaza Border. The resolution, Nikki Haley articulately pointed out, was biased against Israel, and did not take into account, or condemn, the irresponsibility of Hamas not looking after its own population in Gaza nor did it condemn Hamas’s constant attacking of Israel through rockets and terrorist attacks.

In Haley’s words: “The nature of this resolution clearly demonstrates that politics is driving the day. It is totally one-sided. It makes not one mention of the Hamas terrorists who routinely initiate the violence in Gaza….”Advancing peace is not the goal of this resolution … (It blames everything on Israel.”

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley was arguing for an acknowledgment of dual narratives. That neither side was totally blameless. But to ignore the rockets and attacks on Israel by Hamas was to present a bias towards only one part of the story. As such, the U.S. could not support or vote for this resolution.

Like Nikki Haley’s words this week, our tradition has always embraced duality. And in doings so, it has always acknowledged the counter-argument along with the argument. We know both the positions of Hillel and Shammai. We know Korach’s objections, Moses response and God’s judgement.

I recently finished Yossi Klein HaLevi’s new book, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”, free for download in Arabic. I opted to pay full price for the English version on Amazon!

This book is a follow up to Klein HaLevi’s less-well-known volume he wrote years ago, where he journeyed and documented the narrative and story of Palestinians. In between books, the intifadas, and dashed hope for peace. He has finally reached a psychological place where he can pick up the dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian once again.

The book’s purpose and structure is just as its’ title suggests. It is 9 letters to his Palestinian neighbor who lives across the protective wall that divides Jerusalem and deters terrorists. The wall that he can see out his window from his home.

There are many striking things about this short volume. One of the best books I have read in a long while on the dispute.

First, how beautifully Klein HaLevi details our Jewish history, our physical and spiritual connection to this land. This book is written to create an understanding in the Arab world, to ask them to look beyond their biases, to understand that the Jewish people have a right to Israel that is true and just. In doing so it does not shy away from condemning Arab anti-semitism but also asks for an openness of mind and for a consideration of the truth he has to articulate.

The second beautiful thing that Yossi Klein HaLevi does in this volume, is acknowledge that the Palestinians also have a narrative. And that it is not, an either one narrative is true or another narrative is true. He advocates that two opposing narratives can exist and both be true. And that is a place that Jews and Palestinians need to arrive at for productive peace talks, for a two-state solution to happen, for our peoples to live together, legitimately, in our land.

Our tradition has always embraced disagreement.

One can move forward in disagreement when one has a great purpose in mind. Rather than becoming rooted and stuck in one’s narrative versus another’s narrative – keeping an eye on a higher goal can create a productive dialogue.

For three years there was a dispute between House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, the former asserting, “The law is in agreement with our views,” and the latter contending, “The law is in agreement with our views.” Then a bat kol, a voice from heaven, announced, Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim Chayim, “These and those are the words of the Living God,” adding, “but the law, it is in agreement with the rulings of Beit Hillel.”

At the end of the day, when the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai disagreed, they were both right and they would go home and break bread. A way forward was found that could be lived with. But both had truths.

Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim Chayim. When we finally realize that being right does not necessarily make the other person wrong, we can truly listen to each other and move forward in productive creativity, onto new and beneficial realms, that is somewhat fair and will benefit all.

 

 

 

Let’s Sing the Song of Equal Pay

Prior to Shabbat, we celebrated the last day of Pesach. The seventh day Torah reading is Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, the victory melody the Israelite’s chanted when the sea closed over their Egyptian pursuers on the escape from Egypt. This is a war victory song – singing of God’s triumph over the Egyptian army – part of which you know from the “Mi Chamocha” found in the text which has made its way into our morning and evening prayer services.

Image result for shirat hayam

Following the Shirah, the song, is another very short victory song. Just two lines. The Song of Miriam:

“Sing to the Eternal, for God has triumphed gloriously

Horse and driver God has hurled into the sea.” (Ex 15:21)

While you may not be familiar with those exact words, through Debbie Friedman’s melody which we sang this evening you are familiar with the context.

“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them…” (Ex 15:20-21)

Debbie Friedman’s “Miriam Song” written in 1988 and its popularity, brought to the fore the story of Miriam and how it was written out of so much of our Jewish history. It became popular in the 1980’s just as Chabad women were popularizing Miriam’s Tambourines and with the advent of the Women’s Seder which included the Miriam’s Cup.

As I wrote in the Women’s Seder Haggadah we produced last year, compared to Moses and Aaron, we know little of Miriam’s story:

“Our Torah is sparse. All we really know is that Miriam watches baby Moses hidden in the bulrushes and suggests to the Egyptian princess, that Yocheved should nurse the baby. All we really know is that her victory song at the sea is cut short to two lines. All we really know is that her speaking out against her brother marrying the Cushite woman is punished with leprosy while her brother Aaron goes unchastised. All we really know is that she is mourned by the Israelites when she dies. Nevertheless, the Torah’s dismissal of what was her immense role as a prophetess lives on: “… I brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, and I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4)”

What happened to Miriam, herself, is a leitmotif for how our culture has traditionally treated women. It is too easy to think that because this congregation has a woman rabbi and a female cantor on staff, or because women have run for president and vice president of this country, or because there are some female CEO’s out there, that the time of women and men as equals has arrived. It is too simple to believe because we now read female authors and poets, that some of our most popular musicians and composers are female, or that there are some households where men share in the domestic duties, that  there is no patriarchy.

April 10th is Equal Pay Day. This date symbolizes how far into the working year women need to work for women’s earnings, on average, to catch up to what a man earns for the same job . In other words, if women could add to their working week, a work period from January 1 through April 10, they would then be earning the same amount as men. On average, women are paid 80% less of what men are paid for similar work. And while the gap is narrowing, at the current rate, women will not receive equal pay until 2059.

Recently our own Reform movement led by a collaboration of the movements professional organizations for rabbis, cantors, educators, early childhood educators and administrators, documented the wage gaps between men and women throughout our own congregations. For a movement that is dedicated to egalitarianism and justice, it is shocking to see that Reform Jewish women professionals are routinely paid less than their male counterparts. So recently our Movement formed an association called the Reform Pay Equity Initiative, to address the need to narrow the wage gap, provide the Reform Movements female employees with resources and training, and to educate the employers, professional and lay leaders of our synagogues and organizations about the wage inequity, Jewish ethical employment and the interventions that can be used to counter this injustice.

Equality and equity is not just about pay. Miriam’s prophetic words are rarely recorded into the annals of Torah or traditional rabbinic texts. Studies show that women’s words are often consciously or unconsciously not “heard” or are “dismissed”.

It is a well-known and documented phenomenon in the business world which has analyzed women’s experiences in the work place, that often when a woman suggests an idea, it is not given validity by management (whether they be male or female), until the same idea is expressed by a man. Likewise, it is not uncommon for men to feel the need to mansplain to women their own experiences, or to feel the need to have the “last word” in a conversation, or to “decide” to usurp a role that is not their job description, because they perceive that a male will be more effective. Speak to most women who have been in the workplace with men and they can share such personal experiences.

Feminist commentators have wondered, whether the scant mention and the lack of words of the prophetess Miriam in our text is because of the perception that a woman would not make as an effective prophetic role model. There seems to be a double behavioral standard for women and men in society. Women wrestle with these unconscious biases as they navigate their lives. A woman standing her ground is seen as stubborn, while a male standing his ground is viewed as having integrity. Women showing emotion are understood as weak, while a man showing emotion is seen as sensitive. A woman who brings who changes her child’s diaper is doing her job, while a man doing the same task is lauded as a good father.

“Then Miriam the prophetess, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted for them…”

The inequity that today is still pervasive in our society has reached a tipping point… and we are beginning to see women using their voices and their voices to speak out against this injustice. The Women’s Marches and the #MeToo movement are indicative of female led chants for a more equal world.

In her December Op Ed in The Forward, Rabbi Jody Gerson added her voice by speaking out about her recent experience at the URJ Biennial.

“All attendees wore name tags which gave our congregations and locations. For Rabbis, these tags included our title, but not our positions (i.e.-Assistant Rabbi, Associate Rabbi, Senior Rabbi, Rabbi Educator or Solo Rabbi).

My tag read: Rabbi Jordie Gerson, Greenwich Reform Synagogue, Greenwich, CT. It seemed simple enough, but the conversations that would follow were jarring. Over and over again, my nametag prompted the same discussion.

“So, where are you?” Someone would ask. “I’m the Rabbi in Greenwich, Connecticut,” I’d say, gesturing to my tag. And then, almost immediately, they would ask, “So who’s your senior [Rabbi]?” or “You’re the Associate?” or, in its most frustrating iteration, “So — you must be [your older, male predecessor’s] assistant?”

I am none of these things. I am The Rabbi. The Only Rabbi. The Solo and the Senior Rabbi; The Rabbi, Ha Rabbah, the Big (Kosher) Cheese. But, apparently, I don’t look like it.[i]

There is so much more that we could and should be doing to ensure that the time will come when men and women are regarded as equal in talent, in voice and in leadership in our society. Even amongst ourselves here in the Reform Movement, here in Baltimore, and here at Har Sinai Congregation.

My colleague Rabbi Kari Hoffmeister Tuling made some concrete suggestions about where we might consciously start in that process in synagogue life.

She suggests that we refer to every colleague as Rabbi last name or Cantor last name – no matter how cute/young/approachable/bubbly or fun they are. That we pull out our adult education brochure, and count, how many male experts versus female experts we have. If women are not hitting the 50% mark, notify those in charge of choosing that from now on your expectation is 50%, starting with the 2018/2019 year. Make sure every hiring committee and every personnel evaluation committee has specific training in spotting gender bias. Women routinely get evaluated more negatively than men. Educate ourselves others regarding the latest in feminist thought in your various forms of communication. Never have all-male panels or celebrations. And always consider a woman or women are on the list to be considered for a task in leadership. Point out female credit when credit is due: if a man repeats an idea or point originated from a woman, nicely point out who the true originator of that idea is so that the woman’s voice is heard as her voice. Rabbi Leana Morritt adds to this list: To constructively call out comments that marginalize, objectify or minimize women. They may seem innocuous, unconscious or even well meaning, but shining a light to this dynamic is the only way to begin really tackling this pernicious problem.

Timbrels and chants. Let us examine our ways of operating, seek a new melody of which will create a world that is equal. Where women are acknowledged for the work they do, the ideas they bring and are treated as talented partners in the world we are making. In doing so we will: “Sing a son to the One whom we’ve exulted.” And like Miriam and the women by the shores of the sea, our celebration of equality between genders will be worth dancing the whole night long.”

 

 

[i]  https://forward.com/opinion/391136/i-am-the-rabbi-not-his-assistant-we-must-fight-the-erasure-of-female-clergy/

Va’y’hi – Blessings

Blessings. Va’y’hi is filled with them.

As Jacob lies on his deathbed, Joseph brings him his sons, Ephraim and Menashe. Jacob blesses Joseph through his children, prophesying that both will be the progenitors of great descendants, but as is oft the case in the biblical narrative, the younger will be more eminent than the older.

To this day we mimic his words when we bless sons: “Yismach Elohim K’Ephraim vKi’Menashe – May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.” (48:20) Ephraim and Menashe, the first brothers in the Biblical narrative, who did not quarrel, but lived in Shalom. Joseph merits a double inheritance, extra prosperity, through both his sons.

This becomes our aspiration for our boys, when we bless them with the same words. That they are men of peace and prosperity. “Yismach Elohim K’Ephraim vKi’Menashe – May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe.”

Blessings. Va’y’hi is filled with them.

As Jacob lies on his deathbed he calls forth his other sons. He offers them too a final blessing. “Come together and I will tell you what will befall you in days to come” (49:1). The blessings seem to take on a prophetic tone, some of them are so negative, these blessings are really akin to curses.

The Midrash (Gen R. 98:2) teaches it is at this very moment of Jacob’s blessings, that foresight of God leaves Jacob. What seems like prophecy is not prophecy at all. The commentator, Rashi, alludes to this in his commentary: Jacob is so filled with the “I,” that the blessings are Jacob’s own, and not infallible predictions of God.

From the biblical story’s perspective, Jacob’s blessings of his sons and their future progeny, are predicated on each of his son’s behaviors and traits. Each child’s individual virtues and flaws are illustrated in Jacob’s words, and written as predictions that will speak of their later tribal identity.

These are prophetic blessings (or curses) based on his stereotypical view of each of his sons.

The danger of stereotypes, of any kind, is that they can become self-fulfilling prophesies in themselves. Think of the under-achiever at school, whose teachers and parents expect lack of effort, and who consistently receive it. Think of the musical phenom, whose talent is nurtured, and who grows up to be the great artist that everyone predicted. Stereotyping can thwart free will. It can spoil our ability to change. It stops us in our tracks.

Along that line, the Hasidic commentator Or Ha’Meir on this very passage, suggests that in the absence of free choice,  a complete revelation of what the future holds, would bring about the end of history – our story. Without choice, without awareness, without making our own stories and narratives, there is no point to living. He writes: “What good is it, if a great sage comes along and tells us each our own secret, that which we were supposed to discover of our own free will?”

Rashi writes of Jacob: “He sought to reveal the end to them, but God’s presence departed from him.” If Jacob’s predictions of his son’s behavior had been God-filled words of prophesy, they would have been irrefutable statements of the future. They would not allow for free choice and change of behavior and future narrative.

Our tradition speaks of the power of blessing, the power of our curses, the power of our words. Yes, they can be predictive. But when we offer them, when others offer them to us, they are not God inspired prophecies.

Each of us has free will to shape our own future, to forge our own path, to become who we might be. We can choose how to understand the circumstances of our own lives – as a glass half full or a glass half empty. We can choose how to respond to life itself – with positivity or negativity. We can choose the paths and byways we traverse.

Blessings. Va’y’hi is filled with them.

Blessings. Predictions. Our lives are filled with the words of how other’s see us. But they cannot be prescriptive. For if they are, they are restrictive.

Va’y’hi,  the opening words of our Torah portion mean: “and it was”. Jacob then proceeds to offer blessings that speak of the future – how it will be for his grandchildren Ephraim and Menashe, and his other sons. How it was, does not always tell us how it will be.

We are blessed. Not just with the words people offer us – for how others see us can be both blessing or a curse. Our ultimate blessing is in the path we choose for ourselves.

Culture and Change

You may have caught the news story on NPR this week of the female inmates of an Indiana prison who had been taking a class on public policy. Vanessa Thompson, 17 years incarcerated, was watching a news story about the over 10,000 abandoned and neglected homes in Indianapolis. She brought a proposal to her public policy class:

“It’s a double restoration — not just of the house but of the person…. “What does Indianapolis need? A solution to this housing crisis. What do women in prison need, more than anything? Ownership. Of our minds, of our bodies, and of our physical homes.”[1]

The idea she and her classmates developed is that the inmates would rehabilitate the houses, and when they finally left prison, would be given one of the homes they had restored to live in. The women of the class networked with organizations and individuals that could help them, set up a Go-Fund-Me page, established an Executive Board with a Director by using technology for communication. In early April this year, via video, they put their proposal before the State Legislator. In unanimous approval the Assembly approved their “Constructing the Future” proposal.

Getting the idea off the ground, meant the women had to learn and understand a cultural context different to their lives and living conditions so to advocate for themselves.

Our father Abraham, in the Torah portion tomorrow, is placed into a position where he needs to learn the cultural context of what is happening around him to succeed. God decides to reveal to Abraham God’s reasoning for eradicating the evil cities of Sodom and Gemorah. [2]

“Should I hide from Abraham what I am doing? … For I have selected him, so that he may teach his children and those who come after him what is right and just, so that the Eternal may fulfill for Abraham all that has been promised to him.”[3]

Abraham becomes aware of what was about to occur and why. With a sense of injustice Abraham tested the waters of arguing with God. No-one prior to Abraham had entered into a dispute with the Eternal. Will you save the cities for 50 innocents, 40, 30, 20… 10? Abraham also did not know the boundaries of what he was undertaking in untested waters. Would he be sidelined, would he succeed?

Figuring out the boundaries to cultural context is a necessary step in undertaking change. We can only succeed in changing the status quo if we understand its ethos.

Earlier this week I was on a conference call with Rabbi Andrea Weiss who teaches at Hebrew Union College Institute of Religion. Concerned about the tone of rhetoric in the last election, she approached 100 theologians to write a set of letters for the first 100 days of the new Administration speaking to American values. You can read all the letters online at valuesandvoices.com

The 100th letter was written by Dr. Elsie Stern, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Bible at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. She wrote on the 100th day of this new government:

… Some contemporary Jews use the Omer to focus our attention, one day at a time, on the attributes that we share with God—attributes that enable us, as individuals and communities, to live up to our highest potential and to move toward our highest and holiest aspirations.

In essence, this has been the aim of the 100 letters we have sent you over these past 100 days. We have called you to enact in your leadership the crucial American values that are our greatest strength as a nation. The American Values Religious Voices letter writers provide a snapshot of the America that you have pledged to serve. We are men and women, from red states and blue states. We identify as African-American, Asian, Latinx, Native American, and White. We are Buddhists, Christians of varied denominations, Hindus, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs. Some of our families have been in this country since before it was “America”; others are immigrants ourselves.

Yet, despite this diversity, our letters call attention to the same values: justice, compassion, protection of the vulnerable, hospitality, equal rights, and respect for all people, regardless of gender, race, religion, or status. Our writers have prayed that you will govern with wisdom and humility, putting the common good above individual concerns. In our diversity, we agree that these are the American values that must guide us as a nation.[4]

In their writing, the 100 theologians suggest that there is a consensus among a majority of Americans as to the values that make America great. An aspirational cultural context. For can any cultural context be fully known?

There are times when the cultural norm is clearly unclear. A few chapters after the Sodom and Gemorrah incident, within this parasha, Abraham finds himself in Gerar. He tells the King of Gerar that his wife Sarah is his sister, and the King kidnaps our matriarch, to have relations with her. It is revealed to the King in a dream, that Sarah is in fact Abraham’s wife and calamity will befall if he harms her.[5]  As moderns, this narrative is confusing. Why would Abraham lie? Why would he put Sarah in danger? Or himself and his entourage, should his lie be discovered?

However, if we research the history of political liaisons in the ancient near east, and learn that a wife who was also a sister is revered and given status, or wives were sometimes offered as political gifts, we might have a sense that there is more to this incident than meets the eye of us moderns who read Bible. What is really going on is unclear. The narrative reflects a variety of cultural patterns and the developing new Hebrew ideals. Poor Abraham, trying his best to survive in a changing and developing system!

There are times when the cultural norms are quickly and radically changing. My day off this week was on a mission to visit and speak with some of our elected officials – Democrat and Republican – in Washington DC with a group gathered together by The Associated. The impetus of this mission was to thank our elected officials for the work they are doing on security for the Jewish community here in Baltimore, their work to combat anti-semitism and their advocacy for Israel.

A take away from our conversations was an awareness that here is constant change in the culture of Washington, the culture of the parties, contributing to the challenge of concensus across the aisle.

Reality is that shift happens constantly in culture, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes as undercurrent, sometimes as a tidal waves. Culture is complex and multiple cultures can clash or interact or undermine each other. Even when you think you understand…you learn you do not understand…

The women who were incarcerated in Indianapolis who developed the “Constructing the Future” program, and who learned the political rules to achieve their programmatic goal, are concerned about the execution of their proposal. Post the legislatures unanimous resolution to adopt the program, Correction Commission Robert Carter wrote to the students congratulating them for their “out of the box” idea, but that he could not guarantee he would implement it as they proposed. The women are concerned that this will become a program for the state’s male inmates, and not for them as the vocational programs offered to women in the prisons, are gender divided. The culture of politics butts up against the culture of patriarchy.

Even when one learns the system and operates within it, shift can happen, resistance can occur, other cultural pieces can clash. Just as it is true that figuring out the boundaries to cultural context is a necessary step in undertaking change, it is also true that we can only succeed in changing the status quo if we understand that culture is a changing target and not monolithic but complex.

There is a story that when Harry Truman was speaking at a Grange convention in Kansas City, Mrs. Truman and a friend were in the audience. Truman in his speech said, “I grew up on a farm and one thing I know is that farming means manure, manure, manure, and more manure.”

At this, Mrs. Truman’s friend whispered to her, “Bess, why on earth don’t you get Harry to say fertilizer?”

“Good Lord, Helen,” replied Mrs. Truman, “You have no idea how many years it has been that it took me to coach him to say manure.”

Ah, change is slow. Change is complex.

But we forge ahead, piece by piece, towards our aspirational values in a context that is ever-developing. Sometimes achieving advancement, sometimes retrograding only to advance again. Figuring out the permeable boundaries to cultural context is a necessary step in undertaking evolutionary progress. We can only succeed in changing the status quo if we understand its transient character. It is a challenging ongoing mitzvah, as individuals and communities, so that we can live up to our highest potential and move toward our highest and holiest aspirations.

 

 

 

[1] http://www.npr.org/2017/11/01/559901323/female-inmates-in-indiana-pitch-plan-to-rehab-empty-houses-and-their-lives?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app

[2] Genesis 8

[3] Genesis 18:17-19

[4] http://www.valuesandvoices.com/letter100/

[5] Genesis 20

Open the Door: Towards the Future

Image result for mezuzah

A true story. Sort of.

Grandpa Solomon put up the Mezuzah hanging it straight up-and-down.

“Look Jacob. See how straight I place the Mezuzah.

At Passover, we remember how in Egypt when we painted blood on the doorposts of our house God guarded us from the angel of death. The Mezuzah reminds us of that night.

Have I told you the story about a king who sent a pearl to a rabbi and and asks for a present of equal value in return? The rabbi sent him a mezuzah but the King was angry. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. So, he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

The rabbi wrote back to the King: You sent a pearl. Now I require guards at my house. I sent you a Mezuzah. Surely that is more valuable? The Mezuzah guards your house!”

“This Mezuzah” said Grandpa Solomon, “guards our house!”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said Jacob.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! I dream about you disagreeing with me! We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me? countered Jacob.

“Shush! Jacob. It is tradition!”

Jacob grew up to be a great scholar whose teachings were so beautiful that they touched people’s hearts. He was always looking for meaning and a way to love God.

One day he was putting up the Mezuzah with his daughter Fleur.

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door lying flat.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah up and down! Why do you need to be creative? Why do you lay it down?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions.

When we carried the Ark in the desert we placed the Ten Commandments and the teachings flat on the bottom of the Ark.  That way they could not fall as we carried them around the wilderness.

I love putting up the Mezuzah this way. It makes sense to me. It shows how much we love God and God’s teachings. We give the Mezuzah a kiss each time to remind us how much we love Torah.”

“But Papa, everybody else hangs their Mezuzah up and down. Why do we….”

“Shush, Fleur. We must play with Judaism so it makes sense to us. It should be beautiful.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish because Jacob had taught them creativity beauty. To honor her father, she hung the Mezuzah flat  to remind them of the love of God’s teachings.

Others in their family followed the tradition of Grandfather Solomon. Tradition! They honored the idea that God guarded their door.

Who do you think was right?

What is more important?

Tradition?

Creativity and a a love for Judaism?

The members of Solomon, Jacob and Fleur’s family followed different customs down the generations.

One hundred and fifty years later they took they went to a Rabbi from outside their family and asked: Which practice is better? Should the Mezuzah be up and down – guarding tradition? Should the Mezuzah be flat – displaying creativity and love?

The Rabbi came up with a great solution.

Both ideas were right!

He suggested that we place the Mezuzah slanted, pointing forwards into the room. Rooted in tradition but pointed to creativity and love.

That way the people could choose, Sometimes, they could see the Mezuzah as upright, honoring the tradition. Sometimes they could see the Mezuzah as lying down, reminding them to be creative to find ways to feel their love of God and God’s love for them. Sometimes they could see both as important.

The Mezuzah teaches us that we can choose.

We need both tradition and creativity that expresses our love for being Jewish to be true.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Searching for love.  Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

Note for our adults in the room.

I began by telling you that this is a sorta true story. The people of this story were real people in Jewish history and rabbinic texts. RaSHI, Rabbenu Tam, Fleur de Lis Kolonymos, the Tur. The argument is a real Jewish argument.

If you want to know the emet, the truth, the multiples sources, the midrash, and more behind this tale… feel free to come and study it with me! An open invite through the door of Jewish learning!

 

 

 

 

Let’s open the door with a story.

(open the door)

A true story.

Sort of.

 

Grandpa Shlomo[1] placed the Mezuzah on the door vertically.

“Look Yaakov,[2]  see how straight I place the Mezuzah.

Grandpa put on his rabbi-yalmuke. After all Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak was known for his teachings. Everybody read RASHI. “The Mezuzah, little Yaakov, represents the blood of the lamb smeared by our ancestors on that night when they stood between the doorway of slavery and the doorway of freedom. God guarded us from the Angel of Death as we went forth from Egypt.

The Mezuzah continues to guard all of us who put it on the doorpost. It stands upright. It reminds us that the God up in heaven, protects us here down on earth.

Once king of Parthia once sent a pearl to Rav and asks for something of equal value in return. Rav sent him a mezuzah but the King was not pleased with this strange gift. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. It could not be of equal value.So he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

Rav writes back to the King that the pearl he sent requires him to set up protection at his house at great expense. But the Mezuzah he gifted the King, is actually a more valuable treasure, as it will offer protection to the King when he is at home.”[3]

Shlomo felt especially proud that he could tell a midrashic story his grandson Yaakov would understand and remember…. “The mezuzah, my Yaakov, guards us from harm.”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said little Yaakov.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! In my dreams, I held you as a baby and you touched the Tefillin on my head and I saw that in the future you would disagree with me about the order in which we place passages in the boxes on the Tefillin.[4] We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me or to my generation? Shouldn’t we make them meaningful?” countered Yaakov. “Are we to be guards, standing firm in a tradition that does not mean anything, resistant to change?”

“Shush! Yaakov. It is tradition!”[5]

Yaakov grew up to become a great scholar like his grandfather Shlomo. Like his mother Yocheved, his father Meir[6] and his brother Shmuel[7]. He was called Rabbeinu Tam by those who knew him. Rabbeinu Tam meaning “our straightforward teacher” because his teachings touched the heart of those in his generation. His reputation spread far and wide.

Once, Rabbeinu Tam, also known as Papa Yaakov, was standing outside the door of his house with his daughter Fleur de lis.[8]

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door horizontally.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah vertically! Why do you do we do it differently?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions. Fleur de lis, in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, we showed our love of God, by laying God’s teachings flat in the Ark, the Torah scrolls and the Ten Commandments. Flat to keep them safe, so they were less likely to fall or be harmed. When we affix the Mezuzah horizontally on our doors, we remind ourselves of our love of God’s teachings in the Temple, how much we cared for them, and the preciousness of God’s teachings in our lives. As you enter the door, give it a kiss each time to show your love of God and God’s teaching.”[9]

“Why Papa, why do you always need to be Jewish differently?”

“Not differently, little Fleur, we need to make being Jewish meaningful. The horizontal Mezuzah teaches us about God’s love for us and our love for God. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?”

“Yes Papa, it is beautiful like your poems that everyone recites, but what about tradition? Everybody else says that we are changing Judaism!”

“Shush, little Fleur. It is important for Judaism to make sense and mean something.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish. And they always looked for meaning in their practice. They affixed the Mezuzah horizontal for love, as Fleur’s Papa had taught.

Others in their family felt that the rules of tradition came first. Like their father and grandfather and great grandfather RaSHI, they affixed the Mezuzah vertically to remind that God is the guardian of our door. They’d always done it that way. Without rules, without boundaries, Judaism would not be the same.

Who do you think was right? Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than the tradition?

  • What is more important? (Some examples… if you need to draw them out)
  • Keeping the rules of Shabbat or finding things that feel Shabbastik to you?
  • Eating Kosher or being aware that eating is holy?
  • “MiSinai melodies” that remind us of Jewish history or contemporary tunes that you identify with?
  • Reading Hebrew or praying in a language that you understand?
  • Reading the Haggadah or making the story your own?

 

A hundred and fifty years later, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher also known as The Tur, asked the same question. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot vertically. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot horizontally. Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than tradition?

Which will open the door to our Jewish continuity?

He could not decide… the tradition gave Judaism roots and authenticity. The creativity and touching the heart allowed Judaism to speak emotionally.

So the Tur split the difference. He wrote in his book that we should place the Mezuzah on our doorpost slanted, pointing forwards into the room.[10]

Our Jewish continuity always stands at that place. The Mezuzah hangs on our doorway between tradition and meaning. We incorporate tradition for roots and authenticity. We search for heart-soul connection for Judaism to have a  meaningful future.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

[1] The first name of Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak (RaSHI) who ruled that the Mezuzah should be applied to the doorpost vertically.

[2] The first name of Rashi’s grandson, Rabbenu Tam, son of Rashi’s daughter Yocheved.

[3] Sefer Haagadah (check reference

[4] Traditional legend

[5] This tradition is according to the opinion of Rashi, Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch. It is still the custom among Sephardic Jews to hang the Mezuzah vertically.

[6] Meir ben Shmuel

[7] Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), 15 years his senior.  His other borthes were Isaac (Rivam) and Solomon the Grammarian)

[8] The children of Rabbenu Tam were: Yitzhak TzarfatiShlomo TzarfatiMoshe TzarfatiFleur de lis Klonymos, of Falaise and Yosef Kalonymus-Tzarfati. You know I picked the daughter because of her gender! We need to write women back into history.

[9] The origins of the custom of kissing the Mezuzah are obscure. It may have been introduced much later by the Arizal. It is custom recommended by some rabbis and vilified by others. I have taken the liberty here of attributing it to Rabbeinu Tam.

[10] Arbaah Turim, Yoreh Deah, 289

Open the Door to Justice

A creaky door. EEEEEEE!

Once there was an elderly man who spent his whole life carrying an oil can.

Whenever he heard a door creak, it would aggravate him. So, he would take out his oil can, and pour oil on the hinges of the door, so that it would open and shut without a squeaking noise. Sometimes he would come across doors that were annoyingly difficult to open. The latches did not unlock smoothly as expected. So, he would take his can, and grease the latch, until the door would work without a hitch.

Thus, he passed through life lubricating the hard places, making it easier for those who came after him.[1]

Yom Kippur Eve.  We enter a door this day as we measure our deeds in reflection and prayer.

We look back on 5777, the last year. It has been one where too many doors of injustice seemed to have opened again and again.  Doors of unfairness, prejudices, inequalities, discriminations, seem to open daily in the news.

Pitchu Li Sha’arei Tzedek – Open for me the gates of justice, I will enter them and sing your praises – expresses Psalm 118.[2] The last ten days we have stood, poised, in the hallway of a new year. In the corridor of these ten days, on each side, are doors of injustice, and doors of justice. Can there even be a question which doors we should lubricate? Making it easier for those that come after us?

The Talmud teaches, “If you see wrongdoing by a member of your household, and do not protest – you are held accountable. And so, it is in relation to the members of our city. And so, it is in relation to the world.” As Jews, it is our responsibility to reproach those that transgress in our homes, our countries and our world. The medieval commentator teaches us that we must be chutzpadik, speak out truth to power: “the whole people are punished for the sins of the king, if they do not protest the king’s actions to him.”

This High Holy Days, hundreds of Reform Rabbis across this country have agreed, in one voice, to speak out, as is our sacred obligation. We are not being political, we are honoring the call and imperative of Jewish tradition. Like the prophets before us, we are speaking about opening doors of justice, we are propelling and supporting each other, to deliver a stern warning against complacency, and we are offering a call to action. If our President, Senate, or House of Representatives, will not open doors to justice, if they choose to open doors of injustice, we will speak out.

As proud Jews and Americans, we must say to our President and to our government: “You cannot dehumanize, degrade and stigmatize whole categories of people in this nation. Every Jew, every Muslim, every gay, transgender, disabled, black, brown, white, woman, man and child is beloved of God and precious in the Holy One’s sight. We the people, all the people, are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of the Divine. All the people are worthy of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”[3]

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Against white supremacists carrying Confederate flags, emboldened, to think that they once again can terrorize and intimidate those of color.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: To those who do not understand that black lives matter, and that we have created a system of injustice in this country, where African-Americans are discriminated against.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Against Nazis, open-carrying torches and guns, shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and who reminded us, blatantly, that anti-semitism still lives behind doors that just need to be re-opened.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: When women are cat-called, demeaned and harassed, when they do not receive equal pay for equal work, or are denied opportunities to progress in the workplace because of gender.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: For the Dreamers, who know nothing but the American way of life, and just want an opportunity to give back to the country that has raised them.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Advocating for refugees, who deserve to be welcomed in this country, for we too, have been refugees in Jewish history, even in the most recent of pasts.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: When discrimination and rights are denied our gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, and agender citizens.

We must open the doors to justice by speaking out: When health coverage becomes a matter of debate, when preconditions preclude coverage, or make coverage unaffordable, when legislation will put lives of Americans at risk.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: Advocating for those who need our help and support through natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: When we see corruption, and hear lies.

We must open the doors of justice by speaking out: By calling our elected representatives, writing them letters, texting their offices, attending their open forums, and engaging in conversations with our friends, families, and community.

We are standing in a hallway where too many are pouring oil on squeaky door hinges of injustice. Lubricating them carefully, so that they will open more easily than ever before. Let us work to slam those doors shut, to lock them up.

We must open the doors of justice by, as Abraham Joshua Heschel expressed it: praying with our feet.  The banners provided by the Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, at peaceful protests this year, read a riff on the prophet Micah: “Do Justice, Love Mercy, March Proudly.” Let us walk by the doors of injustice, speaking truth, outside them and through them, and open doors of justice by using our right to protest.

Soon after the last US election, some of us joined a Women’s March upon Washington DC, to advocate, and to make sure that the social causes, close to the hearts of women, their male and agender allies, were high on the radar of the current administration. Signs were colorful to say the least.

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

“The earth will survive climate change. We Won’t”

“Flint Michigan has not had Clean Water in 1001 Days”

“So Bad Even Introverts are Here”

“My arms are tired from holding up this sign since the 1960’s”.

An enormous movement shining the light on open doors of injustice, crossed the United States, and spilled into countries beyond our own borders, concerned for the American soul.

This August, several months later, Cantor Rhoda Harrison and I went to Washington DC, to join the Ministers March for Justice, to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr’s march on Washington 54 years ago. We joined over 3000 Ministers – rabbis, cantors, priests, nuns, reverends, monks, imams, Sikhs – dressed in a multiplicity of ritual garb – speaking out for voting rights, healthcare, criminal justice reform, and economic justice – issues that have been a pox on our society for too many years. Like M.L.K., we have a dream of a better America and, we came out in force to hold Attorney General Sessions accountable, for all people’s civil rights.

Cantor Harrison and I marched in the tradition of Rabbi David Einhorn, founding rabbi of this congregation, who spoke out as an abolitionist. We marched in the tradition of Rabbi Abraham Schusterman, who walked alongside the Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King. They in their time, sought to lubricate and open the doors of justice by their protests. In our time, so must we.

We must open the doors of justice not just nationally but locally.

There are multiple stories in the world how one person can make a difference. The man who picks up starfish by the sea shore. The seamstress who sews notes of encouragement into orphan’s clothes. Why? Because there is indeed truth to this notion that through our individual actions, each one of us, can change this world.

I am inspired by our Bar and Bat Mitzvah children, who live out this idea with their Mitzvah projects. From our own congregation: Carly Sacks who collected canned goods for the Reisterstown Crisis Center.  Julian Hammer, who collected swim gear for under-privileged children, that he was working with at the pool. Nikki Nudelman, who volunteered her time at Future Care Nursing Home assisting the residents. And so many more that share with you their Mitzvah projects in The Connection newsletter.

These kids stepped out of the corridor of their own lives, and opened doors of justice through their actions. Let us ask ourselves, how we as adults can also open the doors of justice, by our deeds, and make a difference in a world that needs us, now, more than ever?

Our Social Action Committee provides amazing opportunities for you to open doors on righteous acts. From participating in the High Holy Day food drive (have you brought your bags back yet?);

O the school supply drive;

To making hundreds of casseroles at Holy Casseroley that feed the hungry at Paul’s Place;

Or feeding children and their families dislocated by illness at Ronald McDonald House.

Our Social Action Committee is always looking for volunteers to clean up roads in their Adopt-a-Highway program.

They raise money for pancreatic cancer by participating in Purple Stride.

Right now, at this season, they are collecting gift cards for those effected by the recent hurricanes.

They partner with the Women of Har Sinai Congregation, to empower the women at Har Sinai, and women from Paul Place and Chanah at the annual Women’s Seder.

Have you read up on the amazing partnership they have with Owings Mills High Schoo,l to tutor and nurture under-served populations such as immigrants? You too could volunteer to become a mentor and make a difference.

Whether within our wonderful synagogue, or with some other worthwhile justice organization, now is  the time to open a door to justice, as our Jewish tradition commands us to do.  Now is the time, to find your passion to repair the world, to make it a better place. If each of us as individuals just picked up one cause, and dedicated ourselves to that, collectively we will all make a difference.

It is overwhelming to listen to the injustices in our news right now.  Too many doors are being pried open, swung open, and are being built into the fabric of our societ,y that create unfairness, disconnect and societal chaos. Elie Wiesel, of blessed memory, sounded the warning: “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.”

Last week, a congregant, about to walk out of the door of this building, in praise of my sermon, told me that it was a success because they did not fall asleep! It reminded me of this story.

A large crowd turned out to hear a rabbi, including one man who was reputed to be a great scholar.

The following morning the rabbi met the man on the street. “How did you like my sermon?” he asked.

“Your sermon made it possible for me to sleep all night,” was the reply.

“Was the subject matter so deep, or was it my delivery?” was the next question. “Neither” was the answer “but when I sleep during the day, I can’t sleep at night.”[4]

This past year, 5777, was a year in which during the day, there was much in the world that has kept too many of us up at night. So many doors of injustice are being oiled and are opening in front of us. The beginning of the year 5778 is already shaping up to be a year of challenge.

What are you going to do to make a difference?

A creaky door. EEEEEEE!

Let those who come after us look back on this time of our history, as not just a time when the doors to injustice were being opened, but when a dor tzedek, a righteous generation arose, and lubricated doors of justice, spoke out, protested, and worked to make a difference, for those that will come after them.

Pitchu Li Sha’arei Tzedek – Open for me the gates of justice, I will enter them and sing your praises – expresses Psalm 118. Pitchu Lanu Sha’arei Tzedek –  Let us open the gates of justice, let us be a Dor Tzedek, so the generations to come  after us will sing our praise.

 

[1] From Stories for Public Speakers compiled and edited by Morris Mandel, p. 171

[2] Vs. 19

 

[3] One Voice for the New Year, 2017 co-authored by Rabbis Elka Abrahamson and Judy Shanks and many members of the CCAR.

[4] From Stories for Public Speakers compiled and edited by Morris Mandel, p. 263