Struggling with the Creation Story

Elohim Creation

Parashat Breisheet–the very first Torah portion–is always a joy to read. The stories of the Creation of the World, the Garden of Eden, and the first generations on the planet are among the most well-known in the world.Despite their popularity, there is a fair amount of discussion/controversy around these early accounts of life in our universe. 

“True believers” take the story literally and accept that the world came into being exactly as described in the Torah.  More progressive readers of the text see Breisheet as a myth created by the ancients to help explain how everything came to exist; those who read it this way find ways to both appreciate the stories and honor their understanding of scientific explanations of the origins of life.

The name Israel (Yisrael in Hebrew) means to struggle with God; we will get to that story in several weeks.  A hallmark of Judaism is that we do strive to understand the nature of God and our universe.  Not everyone agrees on how everything came about; in fact, it is hard to find a topic on which everyone agrees at all!  This is  a tradition that we can fine (literally) “in the beginning.”

Nevertheless, we can all value the accounts in Breisheet.  They are the legends that have been told over and over by generations upon generations in the Jewish and human family.  We may understand that they are not to be taken literally, and at the same time comprehend just how powerful and beautiful the stories are.

Shabbat Shalom!

A Victory in Israel

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What a week it has been in the Jewish world.  Just a few days ago, Israel held its re-take election and although there weren’t any major shifts in the results from the last elections held earlier this year, there was enough of a change to put Kachol v’Lavan ahead of Likud by two Knesset seats (at last count).
For some people, this was a sigh of relief; they have viewed Netanyahu’s tenure as having gone on too long with too little progress made.  Others are distressed, wondering how they will be kept safe given the rough neighborhood (Iran and Saudi Arabia as a case in point).
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum in Israel or in the US, this week was a victory for Israel.  The Torah–and in particular the Book of Deuteronomy–outline what the new society in the Promised Land would like.  We never achieved the ideal.  After the destruction of both Temples and the dispersion, Jews dreamed that a messiah would return us to our homeland.  That did not happen either.
Instead, with hard work, determination, political savvy and too many wars, Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel is a reality.  It has not reached its ideal yet.  The relatively young nation is still finding its way, but Tuesday’s elections show that democracy is alive and well.  Another reason to celebrate this Shabbat!

Love Each Other More than We Hate Our Differences

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Thought for Shabbat

I usually stay away from politics in the Thought for Shabbat, but it seems unavoidable this week.  Israel and the Jewish community appear to have been dragged into a discussion where many feel we have no place.  There have been charges against some Jews of disloyalty to both the United States and Israel.  This is a familiar trope and one that should cause all of us concern—no matter what our political affiliation.

Sadly, the divisions that have deepened in US society seem to have reached the Jewish community as well.  Israel was for many decades a bi-partisan issue; American Jews believed that no matter who controlled Congress or who sat in the White House, it was important for them to have good relations and strong connections with the Jewish State.  Our current situation is a long-simmering departure from that.

What is worse is that this schism can potentially fracture communities, congregations and even families.  Individuals and communities need to engage in serious study/workshops/seminars that help us learn to communicate with those whom we love but with whom we may have deep differences of opinion.

It is my hope that in what promises to be a tumultuous period ahead that we will remember our love for each other.  What we share as a community and congregation is greater than what separates us.  Let our words and actions be guided by the teachings of Aaron to “love peace, pursue peace and bring others closer to Torah.”

The “Fitness” of our Memorial Day

My Great-Uncle’s Grave in the US Military Cemetery in Meuse-Argonne, France

I had a conversation a few days ago with a member of the JCC who is from Israel. She asked me what exactly the story is with our Memorial Day; in particular, she wondered how people could say “Happy Memorial Day.” Isn’t it supposed to be sad?

There is a huge difference between how we observe (or don’t) this day in the USA as opposed to Israel. It is much more solemn in Israel, with a moment of silence when Israel comes to a standstill.

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No matter what you are doing, you stop and stand at attention in memory of the fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism–even if you are in the middle of a supermarket, even if you are driving your car, even if you are studying. Here, there are the occasional memorial services; Jewish War Veterans often arrange these or they are done town by town. Otherwise, it is barbecues, picnics, opening day at the swimming pool, and, of course, lots of sales at the mall!

What makes for the difference? I don’t know for sure, but in a country as small as Israel, every one knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who was killed in the military. Nearly everyone who lives there has served in the military as well. This close connection to war and what it really means plays an important role in the mind of individuals and in the psyche of the country. It is a time for remembering and reflecting–definitely, not a “Happy Yom Hazikaron,” now lets get the grill fired up!

Here in the US, depending on the circles in which we travel (social, socio-economic, political) we may not know anyone who served in the military–especially after the mandatory draft was dismantled. I have a good friend who serves as a Chaplain in the military, but I would imagine it is a rarity to know someone closely who serves. We may know veterans, but we all know how well we (as a nation) have treated them.

Our notion of Memorial Day is not fit at all. It does not fit at all. This should be a day of really remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the ideals that we hold so dear. It should also be a time to reflect upon and work for those who have served and currently serve in our armed forces. How well do we take care of them? They risk their lives for us. What are we doing for them?

I never got to meet my Uncle Harry Miller. All I know of him are a few pictures and the letters he sent to my grandmother when she was a teenager during WWI. Some day soon, I hope to visit his grave and say a prayer for him.

In the meantime, I will think about the best ways to honor him and his sacrifice. Maybe not a barbecue or new fitted sheets….

A Meaningful Memorial Day to all!

A Thought For Shabbat

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Thought for Shabbat

It is that time of the year when we in the Midwest are aware that there may be time when we will either get a notice on our phone, on TV, or hear the siren and we know that we will have to head to a safe area due to severe weather.  It is a part of living in this part of the country, and it seems a small price to pay to avoid volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes.

This week, many Israelis were forced to seek shelter over and over but for a different reason; the threat was not severe weather but rather missiles launched from Gaza.  Although this happened far away, I have many Facebook friends who live in Israel for whom this was a frightening reality.  I do not know how one ever can get used to the mad dash to the shelters on a regular basis—sometimes after a long stretch of quiet.

And then, yesterday (after Israeli Memorial Day on Wednesday), the celebrations began for Yom Ha’atzma’ut.  Having been in Israel on Independence Day several times, I know how much fun it can be.  It is a day to reflect on the many accomplishments of the Jewish State as well as the sacrifices that made it all possible.

How Israelis are able to regulate their emotions from fear of missiles to the elation of the reality of Eretz Yisrael under Jewish sovereignty again after nearly 2000 years?  It takes a certain kind of special to do it, I guess.

This Shabbat let us give thanks for the many blessings that the State of Israel has brought.  Let us also pray and work for the peace and well-being of all of Israel’s inhabitants.  Next year, may there be no reason to fear…only reasons to celebrate!