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38
02/25/2011 08:40 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 25, 2011

 

I was visiting someone at the hospital, today. A friend of the patient who didn’t know me was sitting nearby. I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Rabbi Lyon.” “You’re a rabbi?!” he said. “Yes, I am.” He put his hands up as if to block me and remarked, “I don’t believe in God!” Thoughtfully, but correctly I offered, “That’s fine. I’m not here to see you.” The visit with the patient went well and her family whom I know appreciated the time I spent there.

                Funny. When somebody tells me they’re a dentist, I don’t put up my hands and say, “I don’t like floss!” If I’m not sitting in the dentist’s chair there would be no reason for me to protest the dentist’s interest in my teeth and gums. There was also no reason for this person to assume that I wanted to train him for his bar mitzvah under duress. On my way back to Temple, I thought a lot about the incident and decided that it was him, not me.

                In truth, nobody wants a run-in with someone we differ with or with whom we’re uncomfortable. I understand that it’s not always easy to know what to talk about with a rabbi; but, why assume that the conversation should always be about Torah? Likewise, while some of my favorite people are dentists (even if I don’t enjoy being in their chairs), I prefer to ask them about their golf game and their family, rather than their drills and sample toothbrushes.

                The point is that Judaism makes less demands on us about God than we think, and more demands on us about our deeds. I can’t speak for other faiths. If we actually thought more about God in Judaism, we’d have to open the back walls of our congregations and set up the extra chairs. The truth is that we don’t, because deeds, not rituals, have long been the most significant means by which we have fulfilled our covenant. They are the obvious measure of who we are as human beings. I can’t know what’s in you heart; I can only know what’s in your hands to do. That’s why I want to tell you about two important events coming up in the future.

               

Israel Advocacy. March 24th, Thursday, 7:30pm, at Beth Israel, we will hold our first Israel Advocacy meeting. All are welcome. We’ll share our vision and organize our goals. We’ll tell you about current plans and about AIPAC Policy Conference, May 22-24, in Washington D.C. I want you to join me for both our Israel Advocacy meeting and for AIPAC in Washington.

Travel to Savannah, Georgia. June 1-5, 2011, the American Jewish Archives of Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, will lead an excellent trip with outstanding speakers and experiences to this historic Jewish city. The brochure is available at www.americanjewisharchives.org(I will not be attending this trip).

               

                These events are all about deeds that bring us together through the work of our hearts, minds and hands. Did I say anything about God? I didn’t have to; it’s implied that our best efforts come through our meaningful relationship to the divine. It doesn’t diminish us or our scientific understanding of the world; rather, it helps us appreciate more deeply how remarkable we can be when we are guided by a heritage of good works that have come down to us. And, then, it’s often been my observation that good deeds lead us to give thanks for what we accomplished with our hands for the sake of others. And, when we’re done, to whom do we give thanks for our strength and achievements? I thought you’d say that.

                I look forward to seeing you soon, and especially on March 24th, and in Washington, on May 22nd. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


37
02/17/2011 10:33 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 18, 2011

 

It’s Adar. It’s the month when Purim is celebrated. Everything is turned topsy-turvy: the weak prevail over the strong, the men dress up as Queen Esther, and everyone drinks (moderately) to blur the distinction between Mordechai and Haman. From news reports, it seems that parts of the Esther story are coming true this month.

                The Middle East is awash in topsy-turvy events that are transforming the region. It’s obvious from television and the internet that a domino effect is happening in predominantly Arab countries where dictators and autocrats hold power. Mubarak is gone, and it appears that the movement for change isn’t over yet. News commentators are already asking obvious questions, such as, where did all this revolutionary spirit begin and who should be credited with this turn towards democracy? In Purim fun, let’s not be too hasty, lest we crown the wrong king. Surely, George W. isn’t going to be outfitted for royalty because of Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe” campaign!? It didn’t lead to liberty and freedom despite their banner that read “Mission Accomplished”. And, Barak Obama’s controversial speech in Egypt wasn’t the leverage needed to make change, either.

                In true Purim fashion, the news from Egypt reveals the real king in today’s story of right over might. And, the real king isn’t a person at all. In our contemporary version of the story, the royal crown belongs to technology. The power of Twitter, texting (SMS), Facebook, and the Internet all share the crown. Mubarak recognized that it wasn’t tear gas, bullets or police that would be his best defense; so he pulled the plug on the Internet. But, he was no match for what the Internet has become and will be, not only for Egyptians, but for millions of people seeking freedom throughout the region.

                Although some wait for history to vindicate him, Thomas L. Friedman, not George W., is the prophet of our times. Not a seer, but a visionary, Friedman recognized that our familiar global world was flat and becoming flatter with the increasing role of the Internet and technology. And, scientists have confirmed that the rate of technology’s role in the world is increasing exponentially. The thrilling part of it all is that it’s happening for us within our lifetimes. We’re witnessing political and economic changes that in the past would have taken generations to happen. However, the thrilling part can also be the terrifying part.

                Don’t think for a minute that democratic-style victories will lead to instant democratic outcomes founded on democratic institutions. After technology makes change, it still comes down to people. And, don’t think for a minute that Israel, the long-standing exemplar of democracy and technological innovation isn’t wondering what’s going to happen and who’s going to lead in Egypt and elsewhere. We must advocate for Israel in stronger and more vocal ways than ever before. We must use technology for reasons that serve Israel and the U.S.’s democratic interests in the Middle East. This is no time to stop funding for Israel, or to compromise on Israel’s defense. Tweet, Facebook, SMS and call your congressmen and congresswomen and tell them that is important to you and to America.

                The month of Adar and Purim take our minds off the reality of the day and its challenges. For once, the queen is Jewish, and Haman swings from the gallows. But, when it’s over, we might find out that a new Haman has come to town, and the king wants his crown back. Nevertheless, the reverie helped us imagine what is always possible when we remember who we are and what we can do with the power that God has already put in our hands.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


36
02/09/2011 03:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 11, 2011

 

                Take a look at Exodus 28:41, in the portion called T’tzaveh. Here, Moses adorns his brother, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons. He prepares for them tunics, sashes, and turbans, “for dignity and adornment.” Then Moses puts them on Aaron and his sons. Finally, Moses anoints them, ordains them and consecrates them to serve God as priests.

                The Hebrew is very clear here. “Mashachta otam” means anoint them. “Kidashta otam” means consecrate them. It’s the middle term that is more complex than meets the eye. “Umileita et yadam” does not simply mean ordain them. It’s an idiom, and it literally means, “and fill their hands.” This teaches us that whenever a person of authority is set apart for a special task, especially a sacred one, he or she participates in a rite or ritual that distinguishes this person for the task at hand. We do it all the time. When a leader is inducted into a role or society, when an elected official is inaugurated into office, or when a clergy person is ordained or vested for sacred service, rites and rituals demonstrate the authority of their position and validate the process.

                It is likely that when Moses ordained Aaron and his sons, he placed an object into their hands to convey some of his own authority to them. When they grasped it, they demonstrated their total commitment and ability to fulfill their respective roles. Can you imagine if they dropped it? Talk about a bad biblical omen! Likewise, throughout history and down to our own day, a scepter, gavel, or rod, has served as an object of authority when it was transferred to and wielded by a king, judge or presiding officer. These symbols are no small matter and they are never (or rarely) dropped.

                Thankfully, we don’t live in an autocratic state. We don’t depend on a single person to carry the scepter, gavel or rod. All of us grasp responsibilities in significant roles at home, at work and in the community. At home, without physical signs of authority, every parent still bears the duty to provide a home where children can be heard but also guided by a benevolent hand. At work, with more signs of authority like titles and reserved parking, corporate heads and small business owners, alike, grasp their companies’ missions and are held to account. In the community, political leaders represent us in the legislature, and are daily challenged to keep promises to their constituents.

                We are also very powerful people, individually. We can choose to do almost anything we wish. Naturally, there are consequences, but we are still free to choose. The goal isn’t to be a super-hero or a dictator; it’s to be a “mensch” who grasps the responsibility of being a human being, everyday. At home, at work and in the community, we all have some power over ourselves and many others, too. What will we do with the power? How will we use it to make a difference that matters? The covenant God sealed with our ancestors is the same one God seals with us. Today, it’s conveyed by different authorities, but our role in it is not much different. It’s still our duty to accept in our own hands the responsibility to live by it. It’s still our duty to learn it so that we may teach it to our children. It’s not always easy to do, but it begins where you are and grows from there.

                You don’t have to be Moses, Aaron or a Talmud scholar to accept your place in the covenant. Don’t wait to be handed a gavel or a rod. Don’t ever wield a scepter. Wield the power that comes down to you through mitzvot, commandments. In Reform Judaism, we are equally endowed to fulfill commandments, both ritual and ethical. We all have a role to play in the Jewish community.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


35
02/03/2011 12:22 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 4, 2011 
 

                In Torah this week, the Israelites are not facing the threat of snow and ice. They’re in the wilderness where it’s warm and dry. In the portion called Terumah, God spoke to Moses saying, “Tell the Israelite people to bring Me Gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 25:1). The gifts were for the purpose of building a holy place for God’s presence. Then it was called a Tabernacle. Today, we call it a synagogue, a Temple, or a schul (Yiddish for synagogue).

                The power of the verse is found in what it implies about you and me. The rabbis taught in a Midrash, that even one person who is so inclined could accomplish the work of building the Tabernacle. More likely, we come together with our individual skills and talents to accomplish sacred tasks. That’s what the Israelites did. Everybody discovered their own skills and used them to make contributions to the work of the Tabernacle. They were so successful in their efforts that Moses later came before the people and announced that more than enough had been brought for the project. He told them to stop bringing. Ever since, it’s been the envy of every Jewish fundraiser. Having more in the coffers than is needed could only be a biblical event! It remains a high ideal we still strive to reach, today.

                My point isn’t about fundraising. It’s about the work of our hands. You and I are skilled in special and unique ways. The other day, I learned more about the individuals who serve our congregation. Their professional skills and personal interests are vital to our well-being as a synagogue. Did you know that in our sanctuary, we have a special organ that fills the choir loft with its massive pipes and keyboard? And, did you know that 40 year-old pipes overhead were leaking and creating a real threat to the organ and to our sanctuary? With care, passion, and skills, members of our Board and staff organized the effort to repair and replace the pipes and secure the organ and the choir loft. You didn’t know about it, because the work was so carefully done; it never interrupted our worship or events in the sanctuary. Naturally, there were large costs associated with the physical labor of the job, but the time and attention that a few good men and women contributed was priceless.

                Our sanctuary, our modern-day Tabernacle, is secure now. When we enter our sanctuary, look up to the bemah, the Eternal Light, and the Torah, and appreciate the ideals of our faith and heritage that inspire all of us to contribute to its well-being. We should find satisfaction in knowing that we kept the promise of our ancestors; just as God commanded them, “Make me a Tabernacle that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8), so God has commanded us. The good works of our hands have enabled us to maintain our beloved Congregation Beth Israel.

                What is your contribution to your Tabernacle, to your Beth Israel? Click on beth-israel.org, and find out how you would like to spend time with us. We’re eager to spend time with you.

                As the weather is inclement this weekend, we have combined services on Friday evening, at 6:30pm, in the sanctuary. The bar mitzvah boy welcomes your participation, and we promise to turn up the heat.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

 


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