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Fall is fast approaching and it is time for us to get ready.  Break out the hammer, the nails, the fall decoration and start to think about the holiday of Sukkot.

This holiday, once considered to be, “the holiday,” is almost upon us.  According to the Torah, on this holiday we should “live in booths (sukkot) seven days…in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 23:42-43).  These booths are intended to remind us of God’s beneficence in the world around us.  Exodus 23:16 explains this connection further: “…and the feast of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in the results of your work from the field” — it is a holiday of immense joy, when we celebrate the harvest God gave to us.  The centrality of this holiday is present in other biblical texts such as Nehemiah, Ezekiel, and I Kings, where Sukkot is referred to simply as Hehag–“The Holiday.”

Yet, for many of us today the focus is on the High Holidays and not necessarily on the holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah that happen after.  This is a holiday dealing with creating a hut, celebrating agriculture and remembering our journey in the wilderness.

Lets take the time this Sukkot to reach out and build a sukkah of openness and forgiveness. During the high holidays we’ve engaged in one of the hardest tasks, teshuvah.  We not only examined ourselves, we have asked forgiveness from those who we have hurt.  In order to be effective in making amends we’ve had to request forgiveness and look into the sorrow we caused inside of the eyes of someone else.    This is why in Jewish tradition there is a belief that the repentant sinner stands at heights higher than even the greatest tzaddik.

Growth is required in acknowledging one sins, seeking to repair the damage, and changing one’s path. True repentance comes from a deep desire of re-engaging into a right relationship with others and God.  That realignment will bring great joy.  The pain of sin has been transformed and now we celebrate in the sukkah the joy of healing.

Teshuvah is a journey, one of growth, transformation and healing.

The Holiday of Sukkot deals with these theme through rituals, from building a sukkah, to celebrating in local agriculture, to welcoming in the stranger, but mostly celebrating the journey – a journey toward our highest self.

May this be a festival of great warmth, happiness and celebration!

Happy Sukkot!

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We are part of this universe

We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us. – Neil deGrasse Tyson

Such an elegant statement from a well renowned physicist regarding our place in the universe. His statement is not that different from one found in the Bible – that we are created in the image of God. Inside of us all is a piece of the Divine since we are all created according to His/Her likeness.

One deep question, as we enter this high holiday season, are we living up to the fact that inside of us is a piece of the divine? Before his death, Rabbi Zusya said: “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?” In other words, are we living up to the gifts that God has given us? Are we using the talents and passions that ignite our souls?

Zusya offers insight – you can only be you. You cannot be perfect, you cannot be a celebrity, you cannot even be Moses. Perfecting instead of perfection should be our ultimate goal. We love to focus on repairing the world outside of us, but another valuable question is, what about the world inside of us? Are we paying sufficient attention to our own faults and flaws so that we can become a more whole self. Or are we filling our heads with the noise of tweets and Facebook bings? Are we giving ourselves the space and quiet we need to develop the ability to grow into ourselves and thereby become more deeply connected to God. This is one of the major purposes of the high holiday season in our calendar.

There are ample examples in our tradition of people finding their passion at an older age, such as Rabbi Akiva (40) or Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (older). For some of us, we could find our passion and live out our calling earlier in life. But for others to determine what that passion is requires time and reflection. We need to breathe deeply to allow ourselves to see the divine inside of us and ensure that our deeds reflect the intensity that inner spark.

Another way to honor our unique God-given gifts is to engage in the outside world and follow the prophetic call for social justice. When Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Dr. Martin Luther King he famously said, “I felt like my legs were praying.” Engagement with our textual tradition is not relegated to the synagogue on Shabbat or adult education classes. Rather we are taught we must live out this commandment in our lives and in the world around us. To be made in the image of God, is to act that image out. In acting out that Divine image, we will feed the inner spark.

God commanded Abram to go forth from his native land. His native land was a place of deep comfort. To feed that inner spark, Abram had to move into something rather uncomfortable, scary, and unknown. To live out the image of God in our lives requires us to live the words of Zusya. We must be the best that we can be both in our inner lives and amongst each other in the outer world. Our actions must demonstrate the gratitude we have for the Divinely given gifts deep inside of us.

May you be blessed with a sweet, healthy and happy New Year! Shanah Tovah u’Metukah!

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Life is Precious

I am excited to be returning to the Temple following my sabbatical this summer. I have been inspired, renewed, and energized by my time in Israel. I have been exposed to ideas and texts which are new to me and I cannot wait to share them with you. I have sat with colleagues, read several books, and enjoyed my children. More important I have gained perspective. The words of the Psalmist remind us of how precious life is:

Adonai, you have been our refuge through all generations.
Before mountains emerged, before the earth was formed,
From age to age, everlastingly, you are God.
But humans you crumble into dust, and say “Return, mortals!”
For a thousand years in your sight are as a passing day, a watch in the night.
You engulf all human beings in sleep.
They flourish for a day like grass. In the morning it sprouts afresh;
By nightfall it fades and withers… Psalm 90

We live filled with great potential, fears, dreams, hopes, limitations, and abilities. By focusing on what is absent, we fail to see what we have in our hands. We are like the grass described by the psalmist. We sprout up, are full of energy in the morning, and wither and die at night (our birth and death cycle). At times we experience life encircling us like a gentle breeze, other times life is a fierce storm that might uproot us. But just underneath us is the mountain. This mountain connects us to God. This mountain was present before we were created and will be present after we leave. If we allow ourselves to focus our mind’s eye as if we were the mountain and not the grass then perhaps we might allow the small things in life to blow over us. We might not focus our energy on our limitations, fears, and pains but focus instead on our potential, dreams, and hopes. I hope that the lessons the Psalmist offers is something which we can take to heart and allow us to grow as an individual and as part of a community.

Temple B’nai Sholom is an amazing congregation. It is full of beautiful families who join together when faced with tragedy and suffering as well as happiness and joys. It is a community which supports one another, learns together and grows to become a light to others. This coming year, as we near Tisha B’Av, a holiday commemorating the destruction of the Temple and just before Rosh Hashanah, let us think about how we are like the mountain underneath the grass. Let us focus on the joys and gifts warming us and allow those items which trouble us to simply blow over. By focusing on the words of the Psalmist we will recognize that we are part of something greater than ourselves. We will recognize that in supporting the congregation we will support each other and grow both individually and collectively. May you and your family be blessed with a sweet start to the school year. I look forward to praying, studying, and engaging with you soon!

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Will We Have Faith and Will Our Faith Have Children?

“Rachel is weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not.” — Jeremiah 31:14

This excerpt from the book of Jeremiah seeks to highlight the pain and anguish that the Israelites experienced upon their exile to Babylonia. Jeremiah stood in the moment of deep pathos. The poetry of Jeremiah describes Rachel weeping and her fear that there will be no more children – there will be no more future. The anguish of wondering about the future when all appears as barrenness and desolation is the fear of loss encapsulated in her very being.

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Unity Matters Now

On November 8, 2016 this country elected a man to the presidency who has never held public office. He has never served in our military. No major network or news group predicted his win. This historic event has troubled many. Some have expressed anger and rage, while others are confused and fearful. The future is unclear and for this reason my thoughts go to a story in the book of Samuel.

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Yom Kippur Yizkor Thoughts

One of the greatest gifts of Yom Kippur is that we take the time to be contemplative, to be present with one another, to bare our souls to God and to remember our loved ones who have gone before.  This Yizkor service gives us an opportunity to remember that we are simply a link in the chain of tradition stretching back to Moses.  We are individuals woven into the fabric of humanity and the greater world – something that can be easily forgotten as we go about our busy days.
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Getting Ready for Yom Kippur

Every year we read the book of Jonah on Yom Kippur. The reading in the afternoon marks a dramatic conclusion for a day of fasting, praying, and introspection. A time in which we truly reconsider our lives, our deeds, and how to best return to God. Often times we are blind to the things which we really need to repent for. Sometimes we can be blinded by greed, selfishness, insecurities or even our ego. It is an extremely painful thing to realize that a mistake was made. Sometimes that realization can only happen years after that incident occurred when our emotions are finally at ease and our insecurities are at a rest.
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