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04/30/2010 02:57 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

by David Lyon

4-30-2010

At Beth Israel, it’s not our custom to create a theme for Shabbat. Shabbat is the theme! However, this evening, we’re taking the opportunity to highlight Jewish education as a Jewish value. It sounds like an obvious Jewish value, but there is more to it than you might think.

In Torah, parents first learn about their obligations to teach their children. In Deuteronomy 6:4ff, we read, “You shall teach them (mitzvot) to your children.” This marks the beginning of a curriculum that is further developed in Talmud. From an early age, as young as 3, children are involved in Jewish life through basic prayers, a little study, and imitation. Reciting Shema at bedtime, participating in holidays and Shabbat, and following parents’ examples connect them to the rhythm of Jewish life.

Talmud also recognizes that not every parent can be the sole provider of their children’s Jewish education. Nevertheless, they are duty-bound to teach them. Talmud makes it possible for them to hire teachers to stand in for them. At best, it should be a teacher who is knowledgeable and doesn’t make mistakes, and one who gets along well with the children and turns Jewish learning into joyful Jewish lessons.

At Beth Israel, both Torah and Talmud are reflected in the ways Jewish learning is provided to our children. From pre-k to 12th grade, Beth Israel Religious School welcomes children to learn, explore, and participate in every facet of Jewish lessons, holidays, and experiences. From 18 months through 5th grade, Beth Israel’s Shlenker School provides an outstanding Jewish day school education in spectacular facilities and in the presence of award-winning teachers and staff. Beth Israel rabbis and cantor have full roles in both schools and the children have come to know them as teachers and as partners in Jewish life.
Some adults look back on their Jewish education with great pride. They recall their favorite teachers and their favorite lessons. Some adults look back and wonder what it was all about. It’s reminiscent of the Four Children on Passover. We recognize that everyone comes to Jewish life and learning with different attitudes; but, we also recognize that everyone deserves a chance to learn in their own way. Every question deserves an answer; every Jewish child and adult is a Jewish learner; and every day at Beth Israel is dedicated to excellence in Jewish education in religious school and The Shlenker School.

When children graduate from our schools, they are not dispersed never to be heard from again. Unlike public schools, we maintain strong ties with them. An e-newsletter to college students, letters to alumni, and a special Shabbat dedicated to the roots of our Jewish future complete the circle that always begins and ends and begins again at Beth Israel.

I am personally grateful to Barbara Garber, Religious School Director, Ricki Komiss, Head of The Shlenker School, and their faculties and staffs, for their unwavering passion and dedication to excellence in Jewish education. We worship God, we study Torah, and we teach it to our children. We say, “Am Yisrael Chai,” The people of Israel lives through Torah we give to our children. There is no greater duty than that.

 

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

Contact Rabbi Lyon



4
04/23/2010 02:57 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

by David Lyon

4-23-2010

“You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God am holy!” Can you imagine? It isn’t enough to be a good student? It isn’t enough to get a good job and pay the bills? We have to be holy, too? This is the beginning of the Holiness Code, from Leviticus 19, and our Torah portion this week. Just when we thought getting up in the morning was a great achievement, now we have to be holy, too.

Judaism has high standards. We knew it since kindergarten when already our parents were telling us that we wouldn’t get into college unless we colored between the lines or cut a straight edge. Someone recently asked me, “When does life begin from a Jewish perspective?” I couldn’t help myself. I replied, “If you asked a Jewish mother, life begins when her child enters medical school.” All our life we live with high expectations to reach the apex of our cultural and religious standards. So, what do we do about holiness?

Our Sages wondered, too. After all, if holiness is the goal, then maybe we shouldn’t even begin to try. Who would pass and who would fail? So, our Sages explained that we should read the verse differently. They suggested, “You shall be humanly holy.” Humanly holy recognizes how much better we could do if only we applied ourselves. It’s just what our mothers said, “If only you’d apply yourself!” Humanly holy also recognizes the danger of reaching beyond our abilities. Our Sages welcomed God’s faith in man and woman to attain holiness; but also welcomed man and woman’s faith in God, that only God is God. As human beings, we would have to apply ourselves diligently every day to attain human holiness. How could we do it? Mitzvah!

A commandment, however it might be interpreted and practiced, would bring us closer to the sacred, to the holy in the world and within us. For example, everyday we make decisions in our businesses and professional fields. When we have felt challenged about what decision to make, we recalled lessons we learned in school, at home and in Judaism. It isn’t uncommon to hear from Temple members who ask about Judaism’s ethical principles. After careful consideration, our best decision becomes a reflection of everything we stand for and believe to be true and just. That’s holiness. That’s human holiness.

You may be surprised to know that among the many tractates of Jewish law and wisdom, the largest are those that deal with daily practice, business and civil duties. We spend more time in interpersonal and business relationships than we do in religious and ritual ones. And, if every relationship is potentially sacred, then we have a duty to find the sacred within it. So, when your mother said, “Apply yourself,” she might have been quoting a long-held belief that if you did, you would be holy, just like God. And, if you went to medical school, too, well then.

As Shabbat nears, raise your standards high, but don’t overestimate what you can do. You’re a remarkable human being created in God’s image, but you’re not God, no matter what your mother told you. You were created as a blessing with great potential to make a positive difference in the world, and to reveal all that is holy within you. The “Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” says, “May you be like Ruth and like Esther.” May you live up to the high standards of our people; may you be the best you.

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

Contact Rabbi Lyon



2
04/09/2010 02:57 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

by David Lyon

4-9-2010

The Book of Leviticus and the portion, Shemini, pose intriguing challenges. An underlying purpose in the Book of Leviticus is to promote ritual holiness in order to gain God’s blessing. Everything points to the efforts of the priests and the people to maintain a high level of order and cleanliness. Their reward is God’s blessing. It sounds like a fairly simple equation for righteous living, but it is more complicated than it appears.

In this portion we read about Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu. As sons of the high priest, we assume that the boys knew their way around holy matters. But, Nadab and Abihu brought an “eish zarah,” an alien fire as an offering to God, and “fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord.” In commentaries, the rabbis taught that the boys were drunk when they entered the Tent of Meeting; therefore, their punishment fit the crime. They also taught that they brought an offering that was not commanded. Their offering was the result of their personal interpretation of God’s commands, which was an affront to Moses.

After the boys were consumed by fire, Moses says to Aaron, “This is what was meant when God said, ‘Through those near to Me, I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.’” Then Torah records, “Aaron was silent.” Aaron’s silence has astonished readers ever since. Perhaps it’s the finality of God’s decree. Perhaps it’s the utter silence of Aaron whose grief over his sons is not recorded. Perhaps it’s the finality we’ve all felt at times in our life when “we didn’t see it coming” or “we should have known better.”

This week, I can’t think of this Torah story without also thinking about Tiger Woods. He’s a good example of a man who brought an alien offering and faced the consuming fire of public embarrassment and scrutiny that almost destroyed his coveted golf success. The difference is that Tiger wasn’t perfectly silent. Long ago, his worshipers made him into an idol and he accepted the role. His worshipers demanded an explanation, because idols are not supposed to embarrass their worshipers. He spoke up and gave an explanation. But, it will never be enough for Tiger, until he learns that he is human first, and has a superior golf talent for which he is idolized, second. And, his worshipers will never be satisfied because they don’t know what to do with a man they talked themselves into worshiping. Some will unearth the racial bias they buried after he won his first Green jacket. Others will quietly welcome him back, but disappointed that their idol is only human, not much different from themselves.

If there’s a Jewish lesson in this, then it’s that Jews have never worshiped idols of any sort. It’s a commandment not to and it’s part of our worldview. We only worship God. Someone asked me privately what I thought of Tiger. I said, “In a word --- schmuck!” Forgive me for making public what I said in private; but, honestly, the man is a human being who has held nothing more important in his hands than a golf club (!?), and never nurtured anything more than his ego. This is a fragile human being with an enormous talent. Our hope for Tiger is that he will attend to his human fragility and mend his relationship at home and in his heart. God will forgive him, but only after he makes things right with his wife and in his deeds in the future.

The men of the Masters should learn something, too. Worship God, not golf, not idols, and not man. Take your licks, too, and bury racial biases where they belong so that the human ego can better balance God’s gifts found in every person and the enormous responsibilities they represent in all our hands.

I’m sorry Tiger never had the opportunity to hear the story Rabbi Karff used to tell at High Holyday services every year. Generations grew up on it. It was “The Land of No Second Chances.” I have no doubt that boys and girls who heard Rabbi Karff’s story have drawn on its lesson. Saying I’m sorry is possible in Judaism; but, there comes a point when sorry isn’t enough and blessings and privileges are no longer available. Before we take God’s gifts into our own hands, take to heart the Torah verse, “Through those near to Me, I show Myself holy, and gain glory before all the people.”

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

Contact Rabbi Lyon



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