Sunday, July 31, 2016

Connecting Torah to Today's World: How Cool Is That?!

I disagree with the assertion made by many people that the stories in the Torah are not relevant to us today. Even tales that at first blush seem to have absolutely no bearing on our 21st-century lives can be unpacked and examined in ways that offer connections, lessons, applicability, or even just wonderful “aha moments.”

Two examples come immediately to mind.

On Saturday, September 11, 2010, the Torah portion was Haazinu. I know that because I remember when, during hagbah (lifting the open scroll so the congregation can see the text), the cantor who was leading the service pointed to the text. I was stunned by how the ancient portion’s two columns reflected the shape of the Twin Towers. How cool is that?!

And then last week this happened: In Philadelphia on Thursday evening, Hillary Rodham Clinton accepted her party's nomination as the candidate for president of the United States – the first time a major party has nominated a woman for the highest office in the land. An historic moment for sure. 

Two days later, we read from Parashah Pinchas about Zelophechad’s five daughters – Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah – who, having no brothers or other male heirs, asked Moses and the community to grant them a share of their father’s land as an inheritance. Unsure about an appropriate response, Moses asked God, who tells him that the women’s request is just, and so they are granted the inheritance they deserve, an historic moment that defies eons of patriarchal dominance. In this election year, these two events converged in precisely the same week. How cool is that?!

When we study these and other stories, often we can associate events in the ancient adventures of our people with the ongoing happenings in our own world – drawing out timely connections, lessons, and messages that bring new meaning, insights, and “aha moments” to our lives each week.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Nine Great Things to Celebrate About Shabbat Sh’lach L’cha

The Jewish calendar traditionally includes four new year celebrations: Rosh HaShanah (1 Tishri),  Tu BiSh’vat (15 Sh’vat), Passover (15 Nisan), and the fiscal new year (1 Elul). 

In Reform congregations, there often is a fifth new year: July 1, the inaugural day for clergy in their new pulpits, otherwise known as Yom Hadash HaRav (and if I didn’t get the order or syntax of these Hebrew words quite right, I’m sure one of my rabbi and/or Hebrew-speaking friends will let me know -- and I'll fix them).

Welcoming the newest member of the clergy team, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, and his wife, Elyssa, last night and this morning, coupled with the long Independence Day holiday weekend, made my own Shabbat feel infused with more than the usual joy and celebration. Here are nine things I enjoyed this Shabbat:
  1. Watching the reenactment of conversations among the 12 spies, which was provided by 12 volunteers from last night’s congregation. 

  2. Hearing the beautiful arrangement of Shehecheyanu, offered by the congregation's cantors at this special moment in the life of the Shaaray Tefila community.

  3. Learning from my newest teacher, Rabbi Mosbacher, that, except for requests for peace, we don’t offer petitionary prayers on Shabbat – for the simple reason that God is resting, and so should we. 

  4. Meeting Elyssa Mosbacher, only to have her say, “Jane Herman – I read your pieces all the time…and I recognize you from your photo.”

  5. Singing “America the Beautiful” – much better than “The Star-Spangled Banner” -- as the service’s closing song.

  6. Meeting Lori Greenberg at the oneg Shabbat and giving her a dollar bill to ensure her safe travel to Israel for her first visit there!

  7. Wondering how some Jews can reconcile this despicable behavior – executed with yarmulke and tzitzit in place? – with the commandment from this week’s portion: to
  8. “look at it [the fringe] and recall all the commandments of the Eternal and observe them, so you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.”
    I didn’t have the chutzpah to ask the question in Torah study, but would like to know...

  9. Basking in the glorious weather – and some rosé on the roof deck of my sister’s apartment building. Yes, sure, it rained last night (OK, it poured), but today dawned sunny, clear, and bright, with wonderfully low humidity and a perfect breeze.

  10. Reading, writing, and resting. (’Rithmatic isn’t my forte, and I generally don’t enjoy it, least of all on Shabbat!) 
What did you enjoy doing this Shabbat?