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08/25/2011 12:50 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 26, 2011


In Torah this week, Re’eh (see) is the first word of the portion. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse…” Our Sages teach that the word is written here in the singular form. In subsequent uses, the word is written in the plural form. The reason is that while the “commandments are set before the whole people (plural form), each individual must ‘see’ (singular form) and decide whether to obey or disobey.”

                Long before Reform Judaism was organized, our Sages recognized a reform idea. We are commanded as a people and inheritors of the same Torah. But, we also respond to God and God’s teachings as individuals. Reform Judaism is predicated on educated choices. Nowhere does Reform Judaism liberate Jews from Jewish obligations. On the contrary, Reform Jews are duty-bound to make Jewish choices every day. What kinds of choices do Reform Jews make every day?

                Jewish questions should never lead to an answer as simple as “yes” or “no”. For example, “Do you observe Shabbat?” “Do you keep kosher?” “Do you give tzedakah?” Even if the answer is yes, it demands some qualification. It the answer is no, it requires more attention. Jewish questions should lead to full answers, and a Reform Jewish answer should include a reason thoughtfully formed. For example, “How do you observe Shabbat?” “How do you keep kosher?” “How do you give tzedakah?” These are questions that we are all obligated to answer, collectively and/or individually.

                For Reform Jews, Shabbat is an essential part of our week. Rest from work and anxieties can refresh the heart and mind. Working on Saturday might be necessary to support the household and generations of Jews have done so, but not without also setting aside time for family. Keeping kosher was rejected by early reformers in order not to set themselves apart from full participation in society. Today, many Reform Jews keep kosher by making ethical food choices. Many choose not to eat veal or prefer free-range chickens. Obesity is at crisis levels in America. A Reform Jewish food ethic includes eating to live, not living to eat. Tzedakah is always a personal choice and it’s part of every person’s obligation to participate in repairing the world (Tikkun Olam).

                Seeing God’s blessings is something we are all obligated to do. Some do it more easily than others. But, all of us are uniquely created to contribute to the world of God’s blessings. Personally, I have never been a total conformer or a total individualist. I have never been comfortable on either extreme. Rather, I cherish my individuality and the privilege to choose how I will participate in the world around me.

                How will you observe Shabbat this week? How will you make an ethical food choice? And, how will you build a better world? Here’s a suggestion: at your Shabbat dinner table this week, talk about how you might answer these and other questions individually and as a family. Where is there room for individuality and where is it important to conform? You’re more than welcome to reply to me and share the outcomes of your discussions. It’s my job to ask! It’s all of our jobs to answer.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

08/18/2011 12:54 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 19, 2011


There’s a reason this blog comes to you at the end of the week. It’s meant to be thoughtful and inspirational for Shabbat. It isn’t difficult to write because Torah lends itself to every thought and insight. But, I admit that some weeks are better than others. You can’t do better than the great stories in Genesis and Exodus; even Hollywood made them into motion pictures. But, you also can’t do much worse than a portion on leprosy. This week is special.

                I was reading the news on the internet and came across a story with Senator Joseph Lieberman. Senator Leiberman is the Jewish senator we’ve learned to love or hate, depending on the season and the election year. Either way, he’s a Jewish man and a Jewish role model. Click on this link and watch Senator Lieberman at home with his wife, Hadassah, and tell me he isn’t a mensch:

                Did you watch the video? Senator Lieberman becomes Joe at home on Shabbat. He puts away his senator’s pin, he sets aside his authority unless there is an emergency, and he enters his role as a man at home in the company of his wife and his God. As they set the table with flowers for Shabbat, and light the candles, the sun sets and Shabbat enters their home and their hearts. Without Shabbat, Senator Lieberman and his wife would know no peace.

                You don’t have to be a senator to know how demanding and complex six days of the week can be. But, you might have to be a senator to discover the contrast between six days of work and one day of rest. Biblically commanded, it’s a wonder constitutionalists and tea-partiers aren’t choosing Judaism for themselves to keep the 4th commandment with greater regularity and importance. Leave it to an independent senator to lead the way through the muck of a week’s work in Congress, to find real peace at home with his wife.

                I don’t know anybody who would trade places with a congressman today, but I know plenty of people who work as hard. They are working harder for less and still feeling insecure about the future. Shabbat is for all of us who seek perspective that comes with rest, quiet and peace. No Blackberry or iPad for a few hours turns our attention to larger matters like our spouse, children, and friends. And, time to feel grateful for what we have and what we can do lends perspective to our outlook even when we feel unsettled at the moment.

                Recently, I’ve been trying to identify a statesman worth his salt. Today, I am relieved to know that Senator Lieberman (a Jew!) shot a video that, if it goes viral, is something we can all be proud of and don’t have to hide from view. Thank you, Senator Lieberman, for welcoming us into your home with your wife’s permission; for inviting us to your table which you helped set; and, for speaking and singing the words that remind us every Shabbat that family is a blessing, and that God’s presence can be a source of security and peace, not revolution and strife.

                Ahad Ha’am taught us, “More than the people Israel has kept the Sabbath; the Sabbath has kept the people Israel.” Senator Lieberman brought it to video.

                May God bless you and keep you; May God’s countenance shine upon you; May God grant you and your family peace.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

08/10/2011 11:13 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 12, 2011

Turn on the news on any device you own and you’ll soon learn about strife and misery around the world. In particular, the Horn of Africa (including Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Djibouti) is drowning in the despair of starvation and homelessness. The misery that is pronounced in the eyes of malnourished children is outdone only by the anguish of their parents. The long and tortuous journey they make from their homes brings them to desolate and arid grounds where hunger and death await them. From the comfort of our living rooms we dare to compare their strife to anything else. I was moved by the graphic scenes and reports. What to do?

                We can take a cue from what we read in this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan, in Deuteronomy. In 4:30-31, we read:


When you are in distress because all these things have befallen you and, in the end, return to the Lord your God and obey Him. For the Lord your God is a compassionate God: He will not fail you nor will He let you perish; He will not forget the covenant which He made on oath with your fathers.


                Don’t say that the Africans are not part of this covenant. Say, WE are part of this covenant. We are in distress over the hunger and starvation that is killing them in this unsightly display of inhumanity. “God is a compassionate God” but it is not God who will feed the children. It is you and I whom God will not fail in our efforts to reach across the globe and feed these children. “God will not fail you nor will God let you perish” in attempts to relieve suffering that is no fault of theirs.

                The Torah portion continues with a repetition of the Ten Commandments. It is an assurance that just as God spoke to our ancestors, God speaks to each of us. Moses declared, “It was not with our fathers that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, the living, every one of us here today” (Deut. 5:3). The covenant that was sealed then is a living covenant. It lives in us and the way we bear witness to it.

                So the Torah portion includes the Shema (Deut 6:4ff), the Watchword of our Faith, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” We are witnesses to God’s teachings when we do them. We cannot proclaim faith, alone; it isn’t enough. We are obligated to bear witness; to do God’s teachings. We are not evangelical in our call to others; we are passionate in our effort to fulfill our covenant. Isaiah teaches (58:7ff),


“It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly!


                The Horn of Africa is not the only place where war and famine exist. It is horrifying but also emblematic of world hunger and poverty. We, Americans, are uniquely poised to help. Before we can wish each other Shabbat Shalom, a day of rest for ourselves, let’s bear witness to the covenant. Go to and help today. Give something. Do a mitzvah.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

08/04/2011 11:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 5, 2011

                When we think of August, we think of heat. But, it’s not all about heat. August is also about transitions. For some of us, another school year is around the corner. It begins with a new kindergartner, a middle school child, a high school student, and, if you’re in my position, college students. Oh, the pictures we take and the memories we recall of days gone by so quickly. Someone once told me that the years with young children go by too fast. When I was in the thick of it, I didn’t understand; but, now I do. For others, August means that the Jewish New Year is coming though late in September, this year. It’s a milestone, too. On Rosh Hashanah, to be inscribed in the “Book of Life” is to wonder what the future will be. For others still, August means the coming New Year without loved ones who were once so near. Talk about time moving quickly. The heat is nothing compared to the emotional temperature we sweat through in August.

                If Moses knew anything about August, he would have been sweating, too.           This week’s Torah portion opens with the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy. In Deuteronomy, we hear Moses’ last speeches to the Israelites whose future depended on their ability to maintain the covenant God was making with them. Moses implored them to remember the covenant, to keep the Sabbath, and to be holy as God is holy. In words and poems, he urged them to hold fast to all that they had come to know as a community and as a people singled out for service to God.

                In many respects, Moses was successful. He became a remarkable orator and guide. He overcame many of his younger impulses and mastered the role he was chosen to play. His hope was that as the Israelites made their way to the Promised Land they would regard their experiences as noble and their future as ordained. It required the people to believe that there was meaning in their difficult journey, and purpose in the direction that God was showing them. Moses truly stood on the threshold of a moment in time when the people would, at once, embrace what they were given and make it their very own.

                We have made successful transitions, too. We stood on the threshold of the kindergarten classrooms and with one more hug we told our children to remember everything they learned at home and how to be a star in the classroom. We graduated teenagers from high school who are leaving for college with all the advice and lessons they can hold, and with grand expectations for themselves now on their own. Sweating and nervous, we send them all on their way hoping that they will remember where they have been and what they were taught.

                We could do as Moses did and give speeches about everything they should remember and do. Better yet, we can be like Moses who hoped that his passion for everything that was sacred would sustain the Israelites along the way. The roads we and our children travel cannot be disconnected from the past, either; nor can they be unrelated to the faith that brought us to these times and places. August is a month of transitions and the New Year is both our finish line and our starting point. Grateful, we give thanks for what has already been and prepare to make a difference in the year to come. Like Moses, who faced what could not be changed; we become part of a future that is still unfolding. We pass the baton to those we meet along the way, from strength to strength and from generation to generation.

                From my desk to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


                Mark your calendars for August 26, 2011, and join us at 6:30 p.m. in the sanctuary for Jazz Shabbat, a welcome service for Congregation Beth Israel, our visitors and friends.

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