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132
01/31/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
February 1, 2013

 

So, the Boy Scouts of America are changing their tune. This is monumental. It wasn’t so long ago that the BSA publicly and resoundingly rejected gay and lesbian scouts and den leaders. Many past Eagle Scouts returned their awards to protest the BSA’s discriminatory policies and to stand with gay and lesbian scouts. Now, the BSA is preparing a decision that would rock their formerly narrow views of who is a scout.

                While I support the BSA’s latest decision, I also hear from those who struggle with it. They’re not as ready as the BSA leadership to accommodate the GLBT community (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender). I would urge us all to see that it isn’t society leaning too far left or being too liberal that makes way for these decisions. The fact is that we can’t deny who we are, straight or gay; it’s not a choice, nor is it a politically motivated decision. Time-worn prohibitions that previously denied and punished human inclinations to be who we are created to be, are coming up for review, so to speak, and new guidelines and laws are finding acceptance in the 21st century.

                In Judaism, we recognize two things at once. First, that being straight or GLBT are not life-style choices; they are part of our DNA that leads us to be who we are meant to be. Second, we sometimes struggle to reconcile nature with standards we inherit through sacred teachings and social norms. Reform and Conservative Judaism have done well to recognize that sacred teachings, if they’re going to remain sacred, must speak to us in our time, too.

                At Beth Israel, The Boy Scouts of Troop 806 have had a home in our congregation for the last 30-plus years. Despite the BSA’s past threat to evict GLBT members from troop participation, Troop 806 pledged to maintain their relationship with BSA and maintain their commitment to Jewish values, too. In good Jewish fashion, they balanced two things at once. Their history as a troop reflected regular commitment to all the values of the Boy Scouts except for the one barring GLBT members. Their history also reflected regular commitment to Jewish values, namely, that every person is “created in God’s image” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Remember that while “love your neighbor” originated in Torah (Leviticus 19:18), it is a golden rule in the Christian Bible, too. I’m sure it doesn’t say there, “…but, not that neighbor.”

                The combination of sacred teachings, changing social norms, and personal inclinations sometimes challenges us to see the wisdom in choices made by the BSA, the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism), the CCAR (Central Conference of America [Reform] Rabbis), the RA (Rabbinic Assembly [Conservative]), and every organization that strives to fulfill the purpose for which it was created and also survive over time. But, socially and religiously, we’ve long observed that evolution is part of human development and survival. Change doesn’t have to be bold, but it is inevitable. Humanity and the human spirit seek new levels wherein everyone has a chance to breathe the air of freedom and be fully human. I have faith that the Boy Scouts of America will be able to honor their convictions without compromise. What’s more, they will see that all boys have the potential to grow up to be men who, by virtue of their oath as scouts, will serve God and country with dignity and honor.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


131
01/24/2013 10:45 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 25, 2013

 

                In this week’s Torah portion, B’shalach, from Exodus 13:17ff, the plot gets more exciting and suspenseful when the Israelites, who just fled Egypt, see the Egyptians charging after them. Quickly, they make their way to the Sea where Moses raises his staff and the waters part. God’s miracles work in their favor again and the Israelites flee on a dry riverbed, while the Egyptian horsemen and warriors drown in the waters that fall around them. As the Israelites emerge on the other side unscathed and dry, they sing a song of exaltation and praise. In Exodus 15, we read the famous Song of the Sea (Shirat Hayam) which extols God and the wondrous acts God performs to save the Israelites.

                Within the Song, we hear the familiar words, “Mi Chamocha,” which is part of our liturgy when we worship together on Shabbat. It asks, “Who is like You, God, among the gods that are worshiped; who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in splendor, working wonders!” Today, many hip melodies have been written to continue the tradition of lending voice and spirit to this victory. But, deep within the Song are other words that merit a closer look.

                In Exodus 15:13 (second part of the verse) we read, “In Your strength You guide them to Your holy abode.” Our Rabbis asked, “What is God’s strength?” That is, if the Torah goes to the effort of mentioning something that is understood, namely, God’s strength, what else does the text want us to know? They taught, “God’s ‘strength’ is nothing but Torah, itself.” Here, “nothing” doesn’t mean nothing. It’s really something. The Rabbis remember that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt for the purpose of bringing them to Sinai, where God would formally seal the covenant with them and introduce Torah to the world. The strength of the world would depend on three things, as we’ve learned: Torah, Worship, and Acts of loving-kindness.

                So we say: Out of God’s love for the people Israel, God gave them Torah, God’s greatest gift. Torah was nothing less than God’s own strength, and the Rabbis didn’t waste time embracing it. To the Jewish people, Torah is the very symbol of God’s covenant with us; and, more, it’s the blueprint with which we can enrich our life and the world we live in. Its teachings are familiar: Love your neighbor as yourself; Honor your father and mother; keep the Sabbath as a holy day; I am the Lord your God, who led you out of Egypt to be your God.

                The Torah and its teachings are not too confusing or baffling; they are within our reach to learn and do them. As I tell Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, you don’t have to prepare the whole Torah, just a small portion. The rest of your life should be devoted to life-long Jewish learning. Step-by-step you learn, you do, and you learn some more. And, when you return to a portion you’ve already studied, it’s time to reflect on it again, only this time from a new perspective. Our Sages taught, “Turn it [Torah], and turn it again, for all is contained within it.”

                As the week ends, ask yourself what have you learned from Torah this week? How will you make Torah your strength, today? Let’s learn together as we remember: “Torah is [also] your life and the length of your days.”

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


130
01/17/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 18, 2013

 

My favorite seat in the family room is open. The leftovers in the refrigerator are still there. There's enough coffee in the pot for a second cup. The lights are off in rooms no one is using. The sink isn't full of dirty dishes. All of this means that our college-age children are back at school after winter vacation. We loved having them all home, really. But there is a new normal we've learned to welcome into our home between semesters or between vacations, depending on one's perspective.

                The new normal is also recognizing that they're on their way to their own homes, too. We still pay their bills, but they have their own apartments, schedules, eating habits, and preferences. Home with their parents is comfortable and convenient, but it's a stepping stone between being bound and being free. When they tell us it's "been a blast" and "thanks", we cherish their gratitude. We recognize that they’re in a hurry to return to the lives they’re building themselves. We still tear up a bit when they pull away in the cars we insure and register for them, on their way down the road toward 610. It's all part of a normal healthy process that means we're all growing up.

                But, don’t let me leave you with the impression that rearing children is a cake-walk. If we don’t struggle a little then we’re not doing it right. And, if we’re not finding humor in it then we’re not doing it right at all. My favorite definition of parenting young children is “putting your hands in things.” It happened once when we were invited to visit friends in their new home. We brought along the boys when they were just toddlers. Upstairs in their beautifully appointed game room, our oldest son turned to Lisa with that “greenish” look in his face she knew too well. Instantly, she put out both hands to catch everything he brought up for her to hold. With horror, she rushed to the sink at the bar to quickly wash away any evidence of his near-miss on the new carpet.

                Jewish humor, especially, captures the angst we feel as our children get bigger. Here’s a story about teenagers you can tell others:

 

                Two women, good friends, leave their teenagers at home for a few days and check into a fancy resort. Just before dinner, one of the women invites the other to join her in the bar for a martini.

                “I never drink,” the woman answers. “Why not?” the other asks.

                “In front of the children, I don’t think it’s right to drink. And when I’m away from the children, who needs to?”

 

And, when they finally become adults it doesn’t mean they’re also grown up. Sometimes, maturity eludes our children.

 

                A mother goes into her son’s room. “You’ve got to get up for school, Bernie.”

                Bernie pulls the blanket over his head. “I don’t wanna go to school.”

                “You have to go,” the mother says.

                “I don’t wanna. The teachers don’t like me and all the kids make fun of me.”

                The mother pulls the blanket down. “Bernie, you don’t have any choice. You have to go to school!”

                “Yeah,” Bernie says, “Give me one good reason!”

                “You’re 52 years old and you’re the principal.”

 

Jewish humor never lies and neither do the true feelings we have for our children. Give thanks for the blessings of your sons and daughters, and for your grandchildren, too. They grow up fast and not without love and affection for your all your efforts to do it right.

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


129
01/11/2013 04:10 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 11, 2013

Two weeks ago, I spoke in the Gordon Chapel at Shabbat services on Newtown, Connecticut. I was moved by the tragedy there and felt that it deserved a Jewish response. I addressed not only our horror, but also our obligations. In effect, I addressed what it is we can do about these senseless tragedies that always come at the end of a gun wielded by an unstable human being. After services, I was urged by more than a few people to distribute my Shabbat message. This week, it was published on the Houston Chronicle’s Op-Ed page. I’d like you to read it, if you haven’t already. I want you to feel what I’m feeling and to join me in keeping this discussion, in addition to other critical ones, before our political leaders.

Please follow the link below to read it. Shabbat Shalom.

Continue reading here...

128
01/03/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

January 4, 2012

 

I have been afraid of heights all my life, so I’m relieved that we’re not going over the fiscal cliff. I’ll take that as a good sign for 2013. As new beginnings go, the one that began with Moses and the burning bush was more extraordinary.

                In Exodus 2:23-25, we learn that “the Israelites were groaning under the bondage [in Egypt]…God heard their moaning, and God remembered [God’s] covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.” In Exodus 3:1-6, Moses is found tending the flock where he came upon Horeb, the mountain of God. Out of a burning bush, God called to him, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.”

                God appeared to Moses in a place no one expected. It wasn’t beautiful or grand or sacred. In fact, it was unexceptional, lowly, and thorny. Our Rabbis asked, “Why would God choose a thorn bush from which to appear before Moses?” In a Midrash (a rabbinic interpretation), they taught: A doubting Jew once asked Rabbi Joshua ben Korchah, “Why did God choose a thorn bush from which to speak to Moses?” He replied, “Were it a carob tree (its pods are a chocolate substitute) or a sycamore tree (known for its beauty and shade), you would have asked the same question; but to dismiss you without any reply is not right, so I will tell you why. To teach you that no place is devoid of God’s presence, not even a thorn bush” (Exodus Rabbah 11:5). That is, if God could appear in a lowly thing, then God could surely appear anywhere.

                Like Moses who happened upon a bush that burned unconsumed and for whom God remembered the covenant God made with our ancestors, God’s presence is found in all the times of our life, whether they are happy or sad and whether they are beautiful or simple places. Joy and sorrow can bring us closer to God when we express gratitude and seek comfort, respectively. Like a good parent, God helps us find within us what we need at the moment. Likewise, both grand and squalid places can know God’s presence. We can contribute to the pleasure and the improvement of the places we encounter by seeing ourselves as God’s partners who make a difference there.

                The non-believer in the midrash was not just a visitor to a wise rabbi. He was the perennial doubter within all of us who returns, even in times of joy, to raise questions about God’s presence. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses stumbled upon the burning bush. He approached it cautiously. He stood in awe of it. He didn’t throw sand on it to extinguish it. He beheld the extraordinary sight. But let’s not overlook the fact that God, manifested in that burning bush, also beheld a marvelous sight. God saw Moses and called out to him, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses replied, “Here I am!” It was a spectacular beginning to an enduring relationship.

                Every day, God seeks us as partners. But, do we seek God? Saved from the fiscal cliff, but not relieved of our duty to “see,” let us begin 2013 with a new commitment to respond to the blessings and needs around us, and say, “Here I am!” What follows may very well be an extraordinary journey in the new year.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

 

Adapted from: God of Me: Imagining God throughout Your Lifetime, by Rabbi David Lyon (Jewish Lights, 2011. Chapter 1)


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