It is Great to be Here
TBSR DEVARIM 8.6.22
Shabbat Shalom. It is great to be here. TY for coming today.
My first drash to you. What does the new rabbi present? What is the Torah that I should share? What can be both encouraging and supporting and yet challenging and thought provoking?
Rabbi Alan B. Lucas and I have spoken several times. This is a major transition for you. You have also had only great associate rabbis; and I am happy to work with Rabbi Cara Weinstein Rosenthal and Cantor Ofer Barnoy. Does anyone remember Rabbi Sternstein? It is very exciting to be only your 4th senior rabbi in these many years. From personal experience, being a congregant most of my life, our rabbi in Teaneck of over 30 years, Rabbi Kenneth Beger, interim and then our rabbi for ten years. This is a big deal transition.
I am not replacing Rabbi Lucas. No one can. I have spent time with him and he has been generous with his support. I am sure I will speak with him throughout my tenure. My hope is that I can support you in this year of transition, in fact the Rabbinical Assembly is naming my position a transitional rabbi and not an interim. Your choice.
I aim to be transparent. I am who I am. I am here for the year to be your rabbi, to engage, to listen, to learn.
As you might know I spent most of my career, 40 summers, 32 years at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. And now TBS is pulpit #4. Most of my life my wife and I have been members of a shul and not the rabbi of the shul. I have served on the board.
I feel blessed and fortunate that I am creating a great chapter two of my professional life. TY for the opportunity.
So here goes. I want to share with you the different structures I will present in my teachings. We learn חֲנֹ֣ךְ לַ֭נַּעַר עַל־פִּ֣י דַרְכּ֑וֹ One educates a kid according to their needs… Of course it can be translated to adults too.
And so here are the different ways…
- Formal ish and from up here and a bit one way – I am sharing my Torah with you. I want you to think and I want you to learn. I want you to bring yourself to the table so to speak. You might reflect differently than others because none of you are the same person. Lawyer, teacher, stay at home parent. Retired, single, married, divorced, widow/er.
- Hevruta – from the root of haver – I would distribute a text and you would form groups of 3-4… why so everyone can speak and share. I will set it up so that you learn something from me first and then delve deeper into it.
- A wider Q & A – I would share some Torah and then ask for feedback. Of course the challenge with that… And since I do not know any of you. I can say that!
- Ask 1 or 2 questions before and then after the reading of the aliyah, share afterwards.
And I hope that this sounds a bit intriguing to you… I can pivot if need be. I hope that you appreciate that you might love one way and someone else loves a second way. As the year progresses, please let me know what you think.
My second message is more crucial. What should a rabbi, a Conservative rabbi, speak about? I understand that TBS has a diverse membership and that is good. It reflects the diversity of our tribe. Though I am not really sure what diverse means here! I just hope that everyone genuinely respects other opinions.
What should I share? Issues facing us as Jews and as Americans. How does the Torah text make sense thousands of years after it was written? Is it not amazing to you that we read the same parasha once a year? We learn shivim panim laTorah. It is my role as one of your rabbis to make the Torah relevant to life today wherever you might be on the spectrum of knowledge or engagement.
And using Torah and tradition to frame my teaching is what I will strive to do. I would like to share the following overall thought in how I approach teaching Torah.
What is our role on the planet? We are gifted with life, given to us by God, in a miracle of birth. Just 20 days ago, my wife and I were privileged to see another grandson come into this world. It is as close to a miracle that I think I will ever experience in life.
And a statement to those who cannot conceive, and to those who struggle to do so, or have children or grandchildren.. that too will be a teaching this year. But the big picture here is what is our role, daily, weekly, monthly in God’s world.
What can we learn from our reading to inform us on how to view issues of the day through Jewish lenses?
Every issue we face as Americans in 2022 can be viewed through a Jewish lense. It was Professor Goldin who coined that phrase and I love it because it can inform so much of what we do. The weekly readings often provide great fodder to teach and connect to life today. Torah will always frame my teaching.
So here goes.
There are a plethora of issues that we face. Just a few weeks ago, under the guidance of Wende Jager Hyman and Rabbo Rosenthal there was a two part zoom teaching on preventing gun violence. This is #1 for my list. Not in terms of importance necessarily, but #1 because you just learned about this.
The program was informative and very well done. Yes gun reform and gun safety is a Jewish issue.
#2 Today is a hot day. The earth is getting hotter over the passage of time. Psalms 115. Hashamayim la’adonai; V haaretz natan livnei adam, and the earth was given to us – humans. What do we do with it? Global warming, climate change? This is teaching #2 – global warming.
I hope that we can all agree that we can do more to make this world we live in more respectful of it. Listen for how you can help doing that and please let me know if you want to help in that effort here at TBS.
#3 is the crisis over immigration. Now you might say this is a political issue and a rabbi would not speak about political issues from the pulpit and you would be right. I want to posit that it is also a deeply Jewish issue and we are obligated as Jews to treat the other – hager hagar b’tocham, the stranger in our midst properly. More to come.
#4 – we live in a country that has not been so divided in many decades. Not ever, we did have the civil war of course, but if you would watch CNN and then watch Fox, one would think that we live in two different Americas. I, nor we, will bring lasting peace to America, but we can be mindful of how we speak, what words we use, and what is the tone of our conversation.
#4 is Vocabulary is so important in this discussion and in so many discussions. This is an issue for our society at large and once again, is informed by our Jewish tradition.
Rabbi Yael Hammerman, a former Ramahnik, rabbi in NYC, teaches us,
Everyone is born with a powerful weapon, which can be used for both good and evil. This weapon grows over time, but remains small and mostly concealed. It’s bumpy, pink and slippery, but can be pulled out and put away in a blink of an eye. This weapon is your tongue.
Your tongue is used to create thousands of words every day, and each word has the power to harm or to heal, to hurt or to help. We are defined by how we use our tongues and by the words that leave our lips each day.
#5 is B’tzelem Elohim
Each of us is created in God’s image. That is a big deal. Think about it. You, your family and friends but also others in the community with whom you do not have a connection.
People in life who annoy you and folks who just rub you the wrong way. And of course people whom you love. Each of them is also created in God’s image. Perhaps as we move forward we can think about this key Jewish value, B’tzelem Elohim and how commitment to it, and belief in it, can influence our lives. And in my week here I have learned that there is hurt amongst our congregants; there are folks suffering from addictions or feel alone. All of us were born B’tzelem Elohim.
#6 Medinat Yisrael and Ahavat Yisrael.
This is love for the State. My connection to Israel is at the core of who I am as a Jew. My second day of Rosh Hashanah sermon will most likely be just about this. And I want there to be safe space here for folks to be able to express their love for Israel.
Today though, the unabashed support of the state, the waving of the flag no matter what, perhaps where many of you are today in your connection to Israel, does not speak to some, and does not speak to many folks in their 20’s or 30’s or perhaps some of you sitting here today. Perhaps you have had challenging discussions with your children and/or grandchildren.
Support of Israel is one of the most important challenges facing us as a Jewish community. Israel. Gaza, Palestinians. Internal strife. Abraham Accords. The agreement just signed by our president and PM Lapid several weeks ago. There is a lot to unpack, to understand and to learn. I hope that each of us can maintain or create anew, our relationship with Israel.
We learn that Shabbat is both shamor v zachor – we sing every Friday night in L’cha Dodi. These are two different mitzvot, two different approaches to the day. One quote from the Torah is that we are commanded to keep the day and one is to remember it. Why the two words and what do they mean?
Dr. Pichas Peli, in his book, The Jewish Sabbath, A Renewed Encounter, says,
While keep, is the body of the Sabbath, remember, is it soul – yearning and longing for the Sabbath. To honor it means to delight in it. We have festive meals, we sing, we get dressed differently. To remember means
This despite the pressures of work, business or play which engulf us and make it all too simple to forget that another week of life has passed and that it is time to pause before a new beginning.
#8 And finally as Jews we ought to try to always be in perpetual motion with the Kadosh Baruch Hu – God, a separate drash on what you call God! If we believe that we are in a relationship with God, I think that God would want us to always think about it, enhance it, question it. That process can enrich our lives.
And so some of the issues I will share within in the framework of Torah will be:
- What is our role on the planet?
- Gun safety
- Being created in God’s image
- Love for Medinat Yisrael.
- Our relationship with the Kadosh Baruch Hu.
My goal is to both be inspiring and motivating, as well as challenging and provoking. Please join me on this journey to further enhance our own personal connection with Judaism and with the Divine.