Rabbi’s Blog July 20th 2018 – Tisha B’Av and Shabbat Hazon “Problematics and Potentialities”

Dear friends,

When faced with difficult situations, past, present, or future, do we see problems or potential? “Old ideas” tend to raise many objections in our modern day hearts, but inherited traditions often have much to teach us if we are willing to take the time to search out the lessons for our day and in our own lives.

Saturday night begins Tisha B’Av, coming right on the heals of Shabbat. A day which is almost always reserved for Oneg (joy) has its energy intruded upon by the somber themes of our people’s national day of mourning. One particular example is that Havdallah is modified on Saturday when Tisha B’Av falls on Sunday, and during Shabbat more melancholy tunes creep into our Friday night and Shabbat morning services including the cantillation of Lamentations itself.

This Shabbat is referred to as Shabbat Hazon, The Shabbat of Vision or prophecy. The day gets its name from the first word of the Haftarah we recite tomorrow; a vision of Isaiah the prophet that is in keeping with the prophetic admonition directed towards our people as a result of our having abandoned God’s Torah.

As I eluded to above, we are challenged quite strongly by the suggested theology of Tisha B’av. Namely, that tragedy and disaster are punishment for sins seems alien to many modern Jews. And yet, as taught by Rabbi David Seidenberg:

“Tisha B’Av could not be more relevant than it is today, when the crisis of war refugees and fear of terrorism have overwhelmed the political process in so many countries. We think of Tisha B’Av as a time of mourning, but it is more importantly a call to identify with the experience of refugees who are forced to risk their lives and even
their children’s lives in order to escape violence, hunger, devastation. That’s what the Jewish people went through when the Temple, and the nation and society it stood for, were destroyed, when they became “like deer, not finding a place to graze, walking without strength before a pursuer.” (1:6)

Tomorrow I will be discussing the right of a guilty person to challenge the severity of his/her punishment, specifically the punishment of Cain due to his actions against his brother Abel. For the sake of this conversation I am taking the stance that while the book of Lamentations seems to accept that Israel was due for some punishment, many times we find in the text the sentiment that the destruction of the Holy City and the exile of the people was too much. Think of people we know who commit crimes but are unfairly treated by our judicial system. Let us all think of standing before God, guilty of at times missing the mark, but perhaps feeling like we have suffered more than our fair share in the past year. Are we allowed to cry out to God, as Cain did, and say, “That is too much for me to bear.”

9:00pm – On Saturday night we will be focusing on all people as Rachel’s children and how our people’s tragedy must lead to empathy for all.

8:30am – Sunday morning’s minyan will keep the somber tone and allow us to continue ruminating on the themes of the day.

2:00pm – Sunday Mincha will move us to a place of discovery. What is out there for us today to help us bear the memory of tragedy and move forward?

8:30pm – An intimate maariv service and light break-fast at the home of Muriel Horowitz for those looking for a place to conclude their observance of the day.

May the word vision remind us that with the prophets’ prognostications of doom, also came promises of new hope. We are all the prophets of today. We must find it within ourselves to keep our hopes alive for a better tomorrow, even as we see tragedy around us today.

I wish everyone a meaningful day that launches a period marked by community, contemplation and action.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Victor

Rabbi’s Blog June 29th 2018 : Undesired Continuity: values which are being abdicated both within and beyond our borders

Dear friends,

We are in troubling times in our country right now: preventable shootings within our borders and breaking up of families on our borders.  In our parsha we have the story of Balak the king and Balaam the sorcerer going back and forth because Balak wants Balaam to cure the Jewish people as they travel through the desert.  Balaam eventually agrees to go, but tells Balak he can only say what God tells him to say.  In somewhat naive fashion Balak agrees to have Balaam come but instead of getting a curse from Balaam he gets a blessing.  Balaam’s blessing has become rather famous, “Ma Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov… – How beautiful are your tents oh Jacob…”

So Balaam is standing up on a mountain looking out over the Israelite camp and blesses the people.  The commentators ask, what did Balaam see that demonstrated the people’s worthiness to receive this blessing?  I would say, what could he see?  Traditionally the rabbis tell us that Balaam saw all the tents open towards one another.  This was a demonstration of openness and the welcoming of guests.  I don’t believe Balaam would have been able to see much more than the arrangement of the tents from where he was standing.  He certainly couldn’t look into the tents from up where he was.  I would like to think that Balaam also saw good things happening amongst people outside the tents.  If Balaam did see cooperation, kindness, and people helping one another outside the home, then his blessing of the tents would be appropriate based on the concept of integrity.  This is the idea that the outside and inside should be reflections of one another.  Would this be a fair assumption to make?  For example, if you were to see up close a group of seemingly stable homes in which members of the household are well provided for and respect one another, could you make assumptions about how the community operates?  Now generally it is not a good idea to make assumptions about that which we can’t see, and in life there are no guarantees (in fact human history has shown that sometimes a group of seemingly stable homes can be surprisingly unkind to each other and especially to the stranger).  However, I still would like to think that offering a blessing with the expectation of integrity is right more often than it is wrong.  We are taught to treat everyone as we would treat ourselves and our families.  A synagogue for example, wants to be seen as equally kind and caring towards those who walk within its walls as it is with those who roam outside in the lager community.

I said at the outset, that our country is in trouble and it is because values are being tossed aside within our country and on and beyond our boards.  Within our country the proliferation of guns is leading to senseless death and the inevitable separation of parents and children.   The man who killed five people at the Capital Gazette simply should not have been allowed to purchase a gun.  Meanwhile our conduct towards those families at our borders seems to reflect the same lack of care about basic human rights.  This is not the kind of continuity I want for our country.  Now immigration and gun legislation are separate issues, and perhaps I am being a but overly-simplistic in an effort to accentuate a point, but in both cases if one were to be looking down on this country from a hill top I think he/she would see a travesty (the abdication of an ethical responsibility to protect people, especially children and families), happening both within and beyond our borders.  Our reality should not reflect this kind of continuity.

To bring about change we must address the issues directly, but we cannot miss the values that are being cast aside every day as our responses to these atrocities are failing to prevent or solve each crisis.  Our community social action committee is always looking for people who want to take action, and those who currently sit on the committee do have resources for individuals who want to do something to address the troubles within, on, and beyond our borders.  This synagogue can be a home base for those who want to take action on causes that serve to better protect the basic human rights of all people everywhere.

“We must believe not only that all people are created equal, but also that all peoples are created equal.” (Natan Sharansky).

Let us come together on Shabbat to gather strength and guidance from one another and go out after Shabbat ready to work even harder to change the world for the better.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Victor