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Yom Shlishi, 3 Kislev 5778

Discover the Light Within Yourself

September 27, 2017

"Every human being should know and understand that deep within
there is a lit candle,

and each candle is unique
and there is no one without such candle.
And every human being should know and understand that they have to toil
and discover the candle light in each other,

to kindle it to a huge flame,
and to enlighten with it the whole world."
- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

May we all discover the light in ourselves and each other, make it a huge flame and enlighten with it the whole world.

Gmar chatimah tovah – May you be sealed in the Book of Life.

The Hard Work of Tishuvah

September 13, 2017

We are a week away from the Days of Awe, beginning with Rosh Hashanah. This week, repairing relationships with family, friends, co-workers, and others in your life should be the focus:
Which relationships do you need to repair by asking for forgiveness?
Is there someone in your life who needs your forgiveness?
What would it take for you to forgive them?
What would that person have to do in order for your wounds to heal?

For many of us, it is one thing to ask others for forgiveness and quite another to be forgiving. Psychologists Julie Exline and Roy F. Baumeister. Their research defines forgiveness this way:
To forgive someone means to cease feeling angry or resentful over the transgression…In this sense, it is even meaningful to speak of forgiving someone who is dead or absent, or who, for other reasons would have no way of knowing whether he or she has been forgiven…On the other hand, forgiveness is a social action that happens between people. It is a step toward returning the relationship between them to the condition it had been before the transgression. Forgiveness signifies that the victim will not seek further revenge or demand further reparations.

In Judaism, when someone has sincerely and fully repented, we are obligated to forgive that person, not only for their sake. It is my experience that forgiveness can be therapeutic and benefits the one doing the forgiving as much as the one asking for forgiveness.

Sometimes we forgive people who have hurt us just because we remember the love we once had for them or the good they did in the past. This is often a reason for forgiving family members or friends who may have caused us pain. Forgiving doesn’t mean pretending you weren’t hurt or offended. For the relationship to mend, truthfulness has to be part of this process.

We are at a crucial time, doing difficult internal and communal work. At services this Friday night, we will ask for forgiveness from the Holy One of Blessings during our Selichot services, and our very special speakers, Eric and Beth Killough, will offer skills for teshuvah, a return to our core selves. I hope you will make attendance a priority. If your children can’t stay up late, this is the one service I suggest you consider hiring a babysitter so you can attend!

May you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace. Shana Tova!

Take Time to Refresh Your Soul

September 7,  2017

If you have planned a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding, you know how much time and effort goes into planning a large event. For most milestone events, a family plans for more than a year. It seems that the more important the event, the longer we plan for it.

Yet we are only given 30 days before the High Holy Days to prepare ourselves, plus the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This kind of planning and preparation doesn’t require calling caterers and reserving DJs. It requires taking time each day for introspection. It requires self-scrutiny and self-honesty, asking oneself:

What have I done wrong during the past year?

Can I correct the errors I’ve made?

Do I feel regret or remorse for words I have misspoken, for hurting
feelings or not fulfilling my promises?

Am I ready to make changes in my behavior?

Can I do better?

Ethics of the Fathers teaches us an important lesson for engaging in this process. The Rabbinic Sage Shammai was known for his quick temper and less than pleasant demeanor. Yet it was Shammai who taught, “We should welcome all people with a cheerful countenance.” What a strange teaching to come from this Rabbi! But by teaching us, Shammai was also teaching himself, telling himself it was time to change his own behavior. He recognized his own failure, just as we must begin the process of identifying our own.

Looking at the full moon that in the sky tells us that just passed by, we are halfway into the Hebrew month of Elul, a few short weeks until Rosh Hashanah. Take time during these weeks to refresh your soul, to return to your true self, by making amends and correcting mistakes.

We are now using the greeting Shana Tova – we are that close! So:Shana tova and may you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace

Carrying On in the Face of Devastation

August 30, 2017

I was born in Houston and lived there all of my life, except for a year in Israel – and the last 10 years with you in California. Houston is where my parents and most of my loved ones are buried. Houston is still home to many of my nearest and dearest lifelong friends. And this week, of course, I can’t stop thinking about the devastation that is happening in Houston.

In my life, I lived through many hurricanes and have my share of stories. Hurricanes, while always life threatening, have a certain drama to them, an orchestra of sounds: the howling winds, the drumbeats of rain on the roof, the silence of the eye of the storm. But this hurricane is like no other. This hurricane is destroying homes and property and lives in a way that’s unprecedented.

One of the most difficult aspects of life is dealing with those moments over which we simply can have no control. We couldn’t pray Hurricane Harvey away; we couldn’t wish it away; we couldn’t will it away. But these horrific acts of nature teach us the true story of our humanity. Horrible things happen – how do we respond? Do we turn our backs on those who need our help or do we stretch ourselves to do as much as we can to help others.

While we are safe in our homes in California, there is something every one of us can do. People are homeless and don’t know when they’ll be able to return. Many left their homes with only the clothes they were wearing or could carry. Food and water is needed. This is the time to reach into your pockets and share your good fortune to the best of your own ability. They don’t want stuff right now; they need money to be distributed where it can do the most immediate good.

The best way to see that your donation goes specifically to helping the needy refugees of Hurricane Harvey is a fund established by the mayor of Houston: http://ghcf.org/hurricane-relief/. To make a donation that will benefit the Jewish community and its institutions which have been severely hit go to: www.houstonjewish.org.

May you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace.

And Now It Begins

August 23, 2017

This week most of us were mesmerized by the full solar eclipse, whether we were able to see it with our own (protected) eyes, or photographs taken by others. There was something unifying and mystifying about watching this phenomenon of nature.

And the very next evening, Tuesday, August 22,began is Rosh Chodesh (new Hebrew month) Elul. Elul is the month before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; when Elul ends the new year begins. Going from the moon hiding the sun, to then the next night nearly disappearing as a new moon, has its own mystical element to it. It is as if the moon is being punished for its lack of humility in trying to be greater than the sun.

Rosh Chodesh Elul is the beginning of the High Holy Day season, so this conversation has particular relevance. If I can assign a lack of humility to the moon, metaphorically speaking, what behavior corrections do I need to assign to myself? I have only a month to figure out what traits I will prioritize in my inner spiritual work. What relationships are damaged or in need of attention? What are my areas of teshuvah (commonly translated as repentance)?

As Rabbi Alan Lew titled his wonderful book (which I re-read annually in Elul), This is Real and You Are Totally Unprepared. Rabbi Lew is right of course, we are totally unprepared to confront the sins and errors of the past year and set about making changes. It begins now. As you go through your spiritual journey, I am here to support and assist you. Consider it your annual spiritual checkup.

May you have a week of conscious blessings and a Shabbat of peace.

Seeing Versus Hearing

August 17, 2017

Beloved congregants and friends, our collective heart breaks at intolerable, hateful and horrendous terrorist acts this past Shabbat. We pray for peace to be restored to our streets, for wisdom to guide our nation's leaders, and for justice to be our guiding principle in the days ahead. I urge all of you to attend our Interfaith CommUNITY Peace Walk and Prayer Vigil (details below) on Shabbat afternoon, 4:00 PM. This is truly an example of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s message: Praying with our Feet. This is a non-political, bipartisan rally against hate. The presence of the Jewish community is urgently important because anti-Semitism is at the heart of the supremacists rally this past Shabbat. I will be speaking and will look for your faces. Thank you! And now, some words of Torah:

Seeing versus Hearing

"See, I am placing before you this day a blessing and a curse...." (Deuteronomy 11:26)

While studying this week’s parasha (chapter), I couldn’t move beyond the first word, “re’eh” (which means “see”). I kept thinking of “shema”, which means hear or listen. If I were the author of this line, I think I would have said, “Listen, Israelites, I am placing before you today...” Why did Moses begin with the imperative, see? What is it that they should see?

This discourse takes place just before the Israelites enter the Promise Land. Moses is telling them of the blessings that will come when they fulfill God’s commandments. If they abandon the commandments, he warns them that they will be cursed.

We have all been told that “seeing is believing.” Most of us would prefer to “see with our own eyes.” The Israelites who left Egypt saw God’s miracles, but that generation wandered in the wilderness until most of them died. Moses is speaking to the next generation who didn’t see the plagues or the splitting of the Red Sea. They heard about it from their parents or from Moses’ discourse in Deuteronomy. Moses is telling them now: don’t just listen to the stories. You have the opportunity to see God’s miracles for yourself! You will enter the land and you will see what happens when you follow God’s commandments! You will be blessed.

Granting us the ability to choose between blessing and curse is an ongoing gift from God. This passage teaches us that we decide for ourselves how we will behave, that our behavior is not predetermined. We always have a choice and Re’eh urges us to choose wisely.

Have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace.
(Adapted from a message from 2008.)

May you have a week of conscious blessings and a Shabbat of peace.

A Reciprocal and Enduring Love

August 9, 2017

This week’s Torah parasha (chapter) is a love story. Ekev, the third chapter in the Book of Deuteronomy, describes the loving relationship between God and the people Israel.

The word ekev means “because.” It is because of God’s love that we will be blessed with “a good land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill…a land where you will lack nothing…” And what does God ask of us, to show our love in return? “Only this: to revere your God, to walk in God’s paths, to love God, and to serve God with all of your heart and soul, keeping God’s commandments and laws…” Our love is reciprocal. God provides for us and we express our gratitude for God’s good grace. How do we express our gratitude? Yes, we say the words of thanks, but we also thank God by living upstanding, moral, ethical lives, caring for one another and for this precious world.

We are surrounded by God’s love always, day and night. Our Shabbat in the Redwoods enabled some of us to experience that great love in a dramatic way, sitting among the awesome trees. But even sitting quietly in our homes, with simple food on the table, we can experience God’s benevolence. God provides, and we notice and express our thanks.

May you have a week of conscious blessings and a Shabbat of peace

Teach Your Children Well

August 1, 2017

While traveling in Alaska on vacation, we toured a native village and heard a young woman talking about her culture. She said something that struck me as very important: many people in their communities, as part of their integration and assimilation into the white people’s lifestyle, had forgotten the ancient ways. An interesting thing is happening: as a result of their own education, the children are teaching the elders the native ways and a renewal and expansion of native life is ongoing.

This week’s Torah parasha (chapter) speaks to that very issue. It happens to be one of the most beautiful and important chapters in all of Torah. Moses is delivering words from his heart, knowing that his own death is imminent and he will not cross the River Jordan with the Israelites into the promised land. The chapter includes a repetition of the Ten Commandments, with instructions. Preceding the repetition of the Commandments is this important admonishment: The covenant made at Sinai is binding until this very day.

And to ensure that we and future generations honor the contract, the chapter includes the Shema and V’Ahavta:

Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Because teaching our children is the core value of Judaism, impressing Jewish laws, cultures, norms, and history upon them and modeling these values by our own behavior, we continue our heritage one generation to the next. We place those words in the mezuzah on our doorposts, telling our children by our actions that we are Jews and being Jewish is important. We teach our children what it means to be a Jew, to be in a relationship with the Holy One – a relationship that relies on our doing acts of lovingkindness, providing for those in need (giving tzedakah, loosely translated as charity), and living an ethical life.

When I listened to the native young woman in Alaska talking about how children are teaching their parents, I thought that is true here in our Temple as well. Some of us learned these values and forgot them; some never were taught. But through the education of our children, we continue our heritage “dor l’dor” – one generation to the next – forwards and backwards, linking to our past and our future.

May you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace.

In My Absence ...

July 19, 2017

The Torah readings in July are interesting and worthy of your study. Recommended study sources are http://www.myjewishlearning.com/ and http://reformjudaism.org/learning/ten-minutes-torah.

May you have a week of blessings and a Shabbat of peace.