Thought for Shabbat – Coronavirus Edition

Community Can Be Beautiful

I won’t be at the congregation where I serve as rabbi this Shabbat…and it’s not because I am afraid of the COVID-19.  Under normal circumstances, I would be there in order to ensure that we have a minyan during this difficult time.

The virus has found its way into NE Ohio and into the Jewish community.  Unfortunately, there seems to have been a fair amount of exposure to those who attended the AIPAC Policy Conference recently in Washington, DC.  This includes the clergy at a number of congregations here in Cleveland.  I was asked by our friends at another congregation where I am also a member and attend services on Monday and Thursday mornings if I might be able to deliver the sermon this Shabbat since both of their rabbis are self-quarantined; of course, I said yes.  It gives me satisfaction to know that the members of my congregation will be able to carry on (pun intended) without my presence this Shabbat, and I am grateful to be able to help out others in the community.

None of knows exactly where this pandemic will lead.  Social distancing makes us uncomfortable–especially in the Jewish community.  While we may not be able to be physically close to each other, this is a time to draw close and help each other out.  Make sure to reach out to friends and family who are stuck at home.  If you are healthy and not at risk, find out how you can help.

I pray that this pandemic will not be as serious as the worst predictions.  We cannot know fully what the impact will be.  As Rabbi Harold Kushner suggested, though, what we can do is be there for each. Coronavirus makes this complicated, but the last thing we need right now is to cut ourselves off from each other.

Wishing you all a peaceful and healthful Shabbat!

From a Tree-Hugger

Tree Row

An Improvised Ode to Trees

O Trees, how do I love thee?

I love thy fruits:  apples, pears, coconuts, and oranges.

I love thy leaves:  they provideth us with shade on hot summer days, their rustling sings to us on breezy days, and their color guard in fall is without parallel.

I love thy barks:  Root Beer…enough said.

I love thy roots:  they holdest together the soil and preventeth erosion.

I love thy branches:  they providest homes for the birds and iguanas, children climb them and create memories.

I love your boughs:  they are the stuff from which we build our homes, schools and shules.

I love thy pulp:  there is nothing like holding a paper book in one’s hand, and without thee there would be no toilet paper (only leaves–from you as well!).

I love your photosynthesis:  I do not know how thou dost it, but thank thee for thy oxygen-producing nature.

O Trees, how do I love thee?  Thy manifold beauty and purpose is beyond sufficient praise.  I will show thee my love by vowing to forever safeguard you.

This coming Sunday evening and Monday, we celebrate Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees.  It is a kind of “fiscal year” described in the Mishnah to help us observe the mitzvah of not eating tree produce during the first three years they bear fruit.  More recently, it has become a day to honor trees, plant trees, and work to preserve our environment.
We have messed up our planet.  I am not sure what can save us…but I think trees may have the answer…and they might be the answer.

Following Abram Outside of Our Comfort Zones

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There is an expression in the fitness world that is often found on motivational posters:  “If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Won’t Change You.”  In other words, if we are doing exercises that don’t really push us beyond our comfort zone, we won’t see results; using the same weights and the same number of reps over and over is not only a recipe for boredom, but also for disappointment.  As a trainer, I continually work on progression, moving my clients from one level of challenge to the next.
This philosophy is true not just with regard to fitness, but in other areas of our lives as well.  At work, if we stick to the tasks we know well and never challenge ourselves to learn new skills or new parts of the organization, we will stagnate.  In school, if we only take subjects that interest us or are only on one topic, we will never expand our horizons and perhaps even our points of view.  In our relationships, if we merely ever stick to the tried and true, there is a danger of allowing love or friendship to slowly die.  We must always challenge ourselves.
I am reminded of this especially on this Shabbat when we read Parashat Lech Lecha.  The Lord spoke to Abram and told him to go forth from everything with which he was familiar to a new land where God would make him into a great and mighty nation.  Talk about getting outside of one’s comfort zone!  This was the ultimate challenge and not only did it change Abram (to Abraham!), but it altered the history of humanity.
Change is scary; it is tough to leave behind that with which we are comfortable.  One truth in life, however, is that change is inevitable.  We can be objects and have things happen to us, or we can be like Abram and be the subjects of our lives by challenging ourselves to be more tomorrow than we are today.

We Write Our Own Legacies Daily

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A Thought for Shabbat

Our Torah portion this week, Ha’azinu, is a poem delivered by Moses to the Israelites as his life is coming to an end.  Up until now in the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses has shared a lot of laws and reminded the people of their history.  Now, as death approaches, he shares final thoughts and warnings.

Moses is fortunate to be able to do this; he knew exactly when his life would be over.  We, on the other, do not know when our last day will be.  Moses was able to consider his words, understanding that they would be part of his legacy.  Do we have that opportunity as well?It is not often (despite what we see in the movies) that we have the chance at the end of our lives to share how we want to be remembered, what we want our descendants to uphold, what values we want passed on. 

Many do write ethical wills while they are in good health, but the most effective way for us to ensure a positive legacy is not through words or documents.  Even though Moses was able to share these thoughts, what we know about him and what we esteem comes from the way he lived his life.  It was not just a poem at the end of his life, but years of sacrifice and leadership that made him so memorable and deserving of emulation.

In our own lives, this is true as well.  We write our metaphorical poems and record our legacies every day of our lives.  Any day could be out last, so let us consider how to act to wisely ensure that the values that matter to us, the love we have shared, and the positive deeds we have performed will remain even after we are gone.

Shabbat Shalom!

Be Prepared…for Rosh Hashanah

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As the clock ticks down to Rosh Hashanah, there is a lot on my mind.  Just like any Shabbat, there are all kinds of preparations that need to be completed:  food prepared, Divrei Torah to write, clothes to get ready, etc.  
In the midst of all those preparations, we can sometimes lose sight of why we are doing all this preparation.  If we have a wonderful meal on the table, new clothes, shiny shoes and the house all tidied up, but we have not given serious thought to the hard job of Teshuva–doing atonement–we are not really ready for the holiday.
We are lucky to have this coming Shabbat to take a break in the rush to get ready for the spiritual part of the holiday.  It is a great time to consider:  what have I done well this past year?  What needs improvement?  What goals did I set last year, and did I achieve them?  How will this year be different?
None of this is rocket science, but it is easy to forget the “reason for the season.”
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah from my family to yours!

To Paraphrase: Sometimes It’s Not Just About You

Dr. Phil

The beginning of Parashat Ki Tetze gives instructions for when an Israelite soldier finds a woman attractive among the captives of the conquest and wishes to take her as a wife.
The man is to bring her to his home, trim her nails and cut her hair.  She also removes her captive’s garb.  These seem to be signs of mourning.  The text continues by telling us that she is to mourn her parents for thirty days–presumably because she will never see them again.
At first read, this text might appear to be sensitive.  The man’s emotions are clear:  he is in love and has desire.  The verses tell us that he must first take into her feelings; her mourning for what her life was and might have been is real and must be recognized.  This seems unusual since the Torah does not often deal with feelings.
While we may take some comfort in knowing that the Torah has sensitivity toward the woman’s feelings, we must not forget that it does not change her fate.  Her life was not in her control; she became an object rather than a subject in her destiny.
Even so, it is instructive that the Torah mentions that when it comes to emotions, we must look beyond what we are feeling alone.  There is always another side to the story that deserves validation and respect.
Shabbat Shalom!