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118
10/25/2012 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 26, 2012

 

                Leave everything behind and go find your destiny! It sounds like the Wild West, but it’s really a bit of Torah. In this week’s Torah portion, Lekh-Lekha, God commands Abram (Abraham) to leave everything behind and go to a place that God will show him. A curious part of the verse is found in the fact that God never told Abraham where he was going, at least not right away. The rabbis were curious about this part of the verse, too. They were quick to erase any suggestion that God was indifferent to Abraham’s feelings. They believed without question in God’s benevolence.

                The rabbis explained God’s silence on Abraham’s destination in two ways. First, the rabbis taught that God wanted the place to be more beloved in Abraham’s eyes. It’s not difficult to understand the motivation. Delayed gratification makes us feel more appreciative of the goal when we reach it, because we earned it. More often, children demonstrate needs for immediate gratification. Abraham, after all, was the first Jew, and was portrayed as a leader and a man in whose name other nations of the world would be blessed. Patience was a sign of his maturity.

                Abraham’s example can lead us to prove our own maturity through greater patience about what the future can hold. When everything is great, it’s hard to believe that anything could change. But, a mature person knows that life cannot always be lived at a peak level; life has a tendency to rise and fall. Thankfully, the cycle continues and with personal effort, patience and maturity, we learn to live with what is and to build what ought to be.

                Second, the rabbis taught that each step Abraham took in the direction God sent him was an opportunity for God to bless him. I love that lesson. It demonstrates that Abraham had a choice with each step. If he chose wisely and continued in the direction God intended him to go, then God would be there to meet him and honor him.

                In our life, too, we have within our power to choose which way to go. Like Abraham, if we take our steps thoughtfully we’re likely to make our way down a good path in our life. Even if we make a wrong turn we usually have the privilege to change direction and start out again. There in those places, where “wisdom” meets the road, we may also find God’s loving presence to reassure us and to honor us.

                We know, “Life is hard!” Abraham knew it. He took the first daring steps into a world of faith in one God. The rest is history. But, it shouldn’t be only history; it should also be an on-going story that you and I continue to write. Our faith in God’s way for us can help us find the patience and the courage to take solid and important steps. Recently, I led a baby naming and included the blessing that God should set the baby on a straight path in life. What does a straight path in life look like? It’s set with wisdom (sechel), knowledge, understanding, blessing, life, and peace. What’s more, it includes the privilege of the parents to raise their child to maturity, to embrace and cherish the heritage of our people, even to accompany their child to the chuppah (the wedding canopy), and to live a life of good deeds. And, how does it happen? Patiently and thoughtfully. One faithful step at a time.

                As Shabbat begins, consider the steps you have taken in your life. Are you patient with yourself and others along the way? Are you heading in the right direction? Is God able to honor you there? And, if not, then what new steps can you take that are worthy of God’s blessing.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


117
10/18/2012 11:44 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 19, 2012

 

                The story of Noah is familiar to us. We began reading it as children. It was the first time 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 by flood again. The sign of that promise was a 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.

                Ask yourself, what sign can you send to God to demonstrate that you are committed to making a difference in the world around you?

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


116
10/10/2012 10:21 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 12, 2012

 

Have you ever heard of a “Kosher Christmas”? Now you’re going to point your finger at me and ask, “What are you thinking? It’s not even Halloween yet!” We don’t observe Halloween or Christmas (not that there’s anything wrong with them). But, the holidays are coming and it’s better to address them head-on rather than avoid them. In year’s past, it was called the “Chanukah-Christmas Dilemma” and numerous classes were held on the topic. This year, we’re going to do better than that.

                On Thursday, October 11, 2012, at 7:15pm, Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut, Ph.D. will be with us at Congregation Beth Israel, to present his new book, A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish. This is the first book to be written on Jews and Christmas in America, and is the product of 20 years of research, comprising a serious, analytical yet fun survey of 150 years of Jewish responses to the holiday season, with an emphasis on the past 30 years. Rabbi Plaut is the full-time executive director of the American Friends of Rabin Medical Center, and serves as the spiritual leader of the Metropolitan Synagogue in Manhattan.

                But, here’s the real seasonal dilemma. Thursday, October 11th is also the Vice-Presidential debate. So, please take me up on my suggestion. Record the debate. Come see and hear Rabbi Plaut first, and then go home and watch the debate. That way you’ll be prepared for the winter holidays and the November election.

                With an introduction by Jonathan Sarna, Rabbi Plaut’s new book is a sensation. In his book, Plaut writes on eating Chinese food, citing humorist Molly Katz, “For no reason that has ever been clear to anyone, Jewish people adore Chinese food; as foreign as caffeine and cream are to our bodies, soy sauce is to our cure. Never mind chicken soup; when Jews need comfort, solace or medicinal nourishment, we dive for moo shu pork.”

                On a serious note, Plaut writes that as early as 1885, the “American Israelite”, Cincinnati’s premier Jewish newspaper, published an article about Jewish participation in mitzvah work on Christmas. The article reported, “It is the custom here (Cincinnati), as in other cities, to provide a hearty meal for all the poor children of the vicinity during the Christmas holiday…Many of our Hebrew families, recognizing that the movement was to make children happy, set aside all question of faith and doctrine and contributed very liberally in money and material.”

                Plaut’s book is a great documentary on the American Jewish experience vis-à-vis the winter holidays. And, rather than call it a “Chanukah-Christmas Dilemma”, American Jews have long sorted out the ways that they can and do participate in meaningful mitzvot to satisfy particular and universal aims.

                Though it’s only mid-October, Congregation Beth Israel is planning its annual mitzvah opportunities to volunteer support at local hospitals, The Beacon, and Ronald McDonald House on Christmas Day. Look at the new Bulletin and future e-news for information about how to participate. For now, load up the DVR to record the debate and come here Rabbi Plaut on Thursday evening. ‘Tis the season to be at Congregation Beth Israel for meaningful adult education in a community of friendship.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


115
10/05/2012 02:27 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 5, 2012

 

                Simchat Torah will be celebrated this Sunday evening. It’s a joyous holiday that finally concludes the whole season of the High Holydays. 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. 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 Atzeret/Simchat Torah, the gates are finally closed. We celebrate the ending of the Torah reading cycle with the last words of Deuteronomy, and the beginning of the Torah reading cycle with the first few words of Genesis. As we reach the end, we take note of the last letter of Torah. It’s a “Lamed.” And, as we open to the Book of Genesis, we 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.

                Our rabbis teach that Torah is at the heart of our people, and like the human heart which 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. To our rabbis, 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.

                By way of a restricted definition, Torah is only the Five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuterononmy). By way of a general definition, Torah is much more. Torah is anything that teaches Judaism. Therefore, Talmud is Torah, Shulchan Oruch is Torah, our mitzvot are Torah, and a good Jewish book might be Torah. It all comes back to sources in Torah, because Torah is not, by definition “law”; rather, Torah is a teaching.

                On Simchat Torah, we celebrate the privilege and honor that it is to begin reading our sacred teachings again. Over the years, students have asked me, “Do we have to read them all over again?” The answer is that the teachings are the same, but we have changed. In the course of our lifetime, we’ll read the great lessons differently as we bring our experiences to them and look for new insights. Torah is a living teaching. It lives with us. It inspires us. Our ancestors’ promise at Mount Sinai, was to teach Torah and to live by it. And, so we do.

                In the Gordon Chapel on Sunday evening, October 7th, at 6:30pm, we’ll celebrate with adults, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to honor Torah and our tradition. There will be music, special prayers, readings from the end and beginning of Torah, and flags and fun for everyone. The heart of our people and our faith is found within the texts of Torah. 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.

 

                Yizkor will be observed on Monday, 10:30am, in the Gordon Chapel


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