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69
10/28/2011 08:28 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 28, 2011

 

                The story of Noah is familiar to us. We began reading it as children. It was then that we learned how God saved all the creatures from a destructive flood after concluding that the world was a rotten place. And, later God promised never to destroy the earth again by flood. The sign of that promise was the rainbow. Today, we’re still in awe of the beautiful colors that stretch over the earth on a sunny day after a rain shower.

                A remarkable thing about Torah is how succinctly it said God would not destroy the world by flood waters ever again. That’s a comfort. But, God only made the promise about water. What about the means God gave us to destroy the earth by our own devices? We’re so smart we’ve brought about an age of nuclear weapons, world hunger, and global warming, all by ourselves.

                Like God, in our own way we can promise not to destroy the earth again, too. Torah is rife with teachings on how to tend to the earth and its people with greater compassion. We’ve been taught to “make peace where there is strife,” how to “feed the hungry and clothe the naked,” and how to let the land rest after years of cultivation. In some measure, we are succeeding in making a positive difference that contributes to our well-being on earth. We do participate in peace-building programs. We do contribute food and clothing to those who are in need. And, we do take a vacation to restore ourselves. We’re being “green” in many ways; and, yet, an honest person would admit that there is more to do.

                God’s rainbow that is set over the earth, even if it can be explained scientifically, is a marvelous symbol of God’s promise to us. Now, it’s time to send signs of our own to express our promises to God. Our signs come in the form of our deeds, and they aren’t only symbolic.

                Houston is a model community for interfaith activities. I recommend that you peruse our website (www.beth-israel.org) to participate in Beth Israel’s Tikkun Olam (repair the world) activities, volunteer programs, and eco-friendly events; contribute to the Houston Food Bank; or the Good Works Fund at Beth Israel, which supports Braes Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry, and other community based social service agencies. The amount of hunger and need among us has grown steadily in the last two years, alone. And, everyone has something to give. Even if it’s a little, it’s more than what many have for themselves and their children, today.

                We can be partners with God to achieve sacred ideals. Wouldn’t you agree that we can realize God’s “cosmic design” through active personal participation in “Tikkun Olam”?  Besides being a core Jewish value, it’s a demonstration of our personal power to use our technological and industrial advances to inspire and affect a larger good beyond our selves.

                In our drought conditions, it’s highly unlikely that we’re in danger of a Biblical style flood, but it’s highly likely that we can serve as partners in “Tikkun Olam,” by being good stewards of the earth that has been entrusted to us for the sake of all its inhabitants. Ask yourself, what sign can you send God to demonstrate that you are committed to making a difference in the world around you?

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


68
10/20/2011 09:48 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 21, 2011

 

So much in the news, it’s hard to know where to begin. From my vantage point, we just celebrated Simchat Torah, when we begin reading Torah from the first word, “Bereisheet”, in the beginning when God created. It’s always a poignant time for the Jewish community. This year, it’s also a poignant time for the world as we absorb the enormity of significant world events.

                First, Gilad Shalit, held captive for five years by Hamas, was released this week. The Torah portion, Bereisheet (Genesis 1:1), heralds a new beginning for him and his family. Literally, he and his family are experiencing the creation of a new day and their first Shabbat, together. As he and his family retreat to restore their wholeness, their “shalom,” we wrestle with the conditions Israeli leaders met to win his release. I know that some wonder about the cost of releasing 1000 prisoners for one Israeli. It sounds like an incalculable equation, but a close analysis reveals that it’s founded on a deep-rooted principle to redeem the captive. Gilad’s life is invaluable for its own sake. His life also symbolizes the devotion Jews have for the mitzvah to save a life and to choose it over any other options. Israelis redeemed a real hero; a man who served to defend his country. The prisoners are criminals of every stripe and they deserve to remain behind bars. But, whether or not they are imprisoned doesn’t change the reality on the ground. They always posed a risk for Israelis. To redeem Gilad, the prisoners became chips anted up by Israelis to fulfill their obligation to live by Torah, not die by Torah. The worst criminals remained incarcerated; even Torah teaches not to take certain calculable risks. We wish for Gilad and the entire Shalit family the strength to overcome this ordeal and to contribute to the epic struggle for peace to make a difference in Israel and in all places where people yearn to be free.

                Second, Mohamar Ghadafi was killed. The brutal dictator whose legacy of terror is known to everyone has finally been silenced. Some might raise political questions about the process that led to his demise, but no one will deny the Libyan people their right to pursue their own future founded on greater democratic principles. The aftermath of this week’s events will not bring immediate peace, but in Ghadafi’s absence there exists the possibility that out of the hands of those who invested themselves in the fight there will come real and enduring freedom.

                Finally, let’s take a cue from the power of this week’s events and their juxtaposition with the first chapter of Torah. Big events took place; the world changed in significant ways; not like earthquakes or hurricanes, but tectonic, nonetheless. They move and shake us out of our complacency and force us to see the world differently. Gilad Shalit is free and the Jewish people celebrates! A victory for Israel and Torah! And, in Libya, a country’s people revolt in the streets in the name of freedom and liberty. It’s not a new story, but it’s one we can relate to if we recall the building blocks of America. Is something beginning to happen (no pun intended)? In geology, time and pressure are required to turn raw stuff into gems. I see a parallel here. Not eons but years have passed and enough pressure has been applied to shift our orientation and see not only what the world is but also what the world can be.

                Thankfully, a week of extraordinary events ends with Shabbat. May this Shabbat in the Torah reading cycle be as sweet as the first, and may it be a foretaste of greater rest and peace throughout the world.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


67
10/14/2011 08:29 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 14, 2011

 

                Just a week after Yom Kippur, we’re still feeling the warmth and spirit of our season of repentance. Thank you for your emails, letters, and calls you shared about how much the worship services, sermons and music spoke to you this year. All the rabbis and cantor appreciate your feedback and thoughtfulness.

                 We enjoyed, too.

                From solemn days we turn to a joyous holiday. Sukkot is here and we’ve been spending time in the Sukkah. The lulav and etrog, and the fruit hanging from the roof and walls of the Sukkah tell us about the story of our ancestors and the Torah lessons we still observe, today. The fragile Sukkah is like the fragile nature of our life. We aren’t without inherent strength, like the Sukkah that stands sturdily for seven days. But, we’re also in need of faith, because like the Sukkah, our strength ebbs and flows. Faith is part of our enduring strength. When Sukkot ends we’ll celebrate Simchat Torah. This year, we’ll celebrate on Wednesday evening, October 19th, at 6:30 p.m. in the Gordon Chapel. What is Simchat Torah?

                Following Yom Kippur, when the Gates of Repentance close as the Neilah (concluding) service ends, our rabbis teach that there is still time for repentance. The proverbial gates are not yet locked up tight. The goal is to wait until everyone has had every opportunity to repent and be sealed in the “Book of Life.” I’ve always believed that this is a great symbol of God’s compassion. It reflects God’s unconditional love of our people. Of course, there has to be a boundary, but it serves the covenant we make with God, by giving everyone the time they need to enter the Gates.

                On Simchat Torah, the gates are finally closed. We celebrate the end of the Torah with the last words of Deuteronomy, and the beginning of the Torah with the first few words of Genesis. As we reach the end, take note of the last letter of Torah. It’s a “Lamed.” And, as we open to the Book of Genesis, take note of the first letter of Torah. It’s a “Bet.” When the letters are joined, from end to beginning, we form the word, “L-B”, or Lev (bet becomes vet), which means Heart.

                Torah is at the heart of our people. Like the human heart that beats inside us and gives us life, the Torah beats within the Jewish people and sustains us. The heart is not about love and emotions. The heart is about wisdom and sincerity. To do something “with all our heart,” is the point. We also learn, “Eretz Yisrael b’li Torah, hi k’guf b’li neshama,” The Land of Israel without Torah, is like a body without a soul. The heart and soul of our people is Torah.

                On Simchat Torah, we celebrate the privilege to begin reading our sacred teachings again. Over the years, students have asked me, “Do we have to read them AGAIN?” The answer is that the teachings are the same, but we have changed. In our lifetime, we’ll read the lessons differently, because we’ll bring new experiences to bear and we’ll find new insights. Torah is a living teaching. It inspires us.

                As we mark this time, we will say together, “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik,” Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameiach, a happy holiday.


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