From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
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.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
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.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
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.
201803March4March 2018 (4)
201802February4February 2018 (4)
201801January4January 2018 (4)
201712December4December 2017 (4)
201711November2November 2017 (2)
201710October2October 2017 (2)
201708August3August 2017 (3)
201707July4July 2017 (4)
201706June4June 2017 (4)
201705May2May 2017 (2)
201704April3April 2017 (3)
201703March4March 2017 (4)
201702February3February 2017 (3)
201701January3January 2017 (3)
201612December4December 2016 (4)
201611November3November 2016 (3)
201610October3October 2016 (3)
201609September4September 2016 (4)
201608August2August 2016 (2)
201607July5July 2016 (5)
201606June2June 2016 (2)
201605May3May 2016 (3)
201604April4April 2016 (4)
201603March3March 2016 (3)
201602February2February 2016 (2)
201601January4January 2016 (4)
201512December4December 2015 (4)
201511November3November 2015 (3)
201510October2October 2015 (2)
201509September2September 2015 (2)
201508August4August 2015 (4)
201507July5July 2015 (5)
201506June4June 2015 (4)
201505May2May 2015 (2)
201504April5April 2015 (5)
201503March3March 2015 (3)
201502February4February 2015 (4)
201501January4January 2015 (4)
201412December3December 2014 (3)
201411November3November 2014 (3)
201410October4October 2014 (4)
201409September2September 2014 (2)
201408August3August 2014 (3)
201407July3July 2014 (3)
201406June3June 2014 (3)
201405May3May 2014 (3)
201404April4April 2014 (4)
201403March3March 2014 (3)
201402February4February 2014 (4)
201401January5January 2014 (5)
201312December3December 2013 (3)
201311November3November 2013 (3)
201310October4October 2013 (4)
201309September2September 2013 (2)
201308August5August 2013 (5)
201307July4July 2013 (4)
201306June4June 2013 (4)
201305May5May 2013 (5)
201304April4April 2013 (4)
201303March4March 2013 (4)
201302February4February 2013 (4)
201301January5January 2013 (5)
201212December4December 2012 (4)
201211November5November 2012 (5)
201210October4October 2012 (4)
201209September2September 2012 (2)
201208August5August 2012 (5)
201207July4July 2012 (4)
201206June3June 2012 (3)
201205May5May 2012 (5)
201204April4April 2012 (4)
201203March5March 2012 (5)
201202February4February 2012 (4)
201201January4January 2012 (4)
201112December5December 2011 (5)
201111November3November 2011 (3)
201110October3October 2011 (3)
201109September4September 2011 (4)
201108August4August 2011 (4)
201107July3July 2011 (3)
201106June4June 2011 (4)
201105May4May 2011 (4)
201104April4April 2011 (4)
201103March5March 2011 (5)
201102February4February 2011 (4)
201101January4January 2011 (4)
201012December5December 2010 (5)
201011November4November 2010 (4)
201010October5October 2010 (5)
201009September2September 2010 (2)
201008August2August 2010 (2)
201006June3June 2010 (3)
201005May5May 2010 (5)
201004April3April 2010 (3)