Printed from: Congregation Beth Israel
  http://www.beth-israel.org/

Print Page
Print

Blog

164
09/26/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 27, 2013

 

                This Shabbat, we begin the cycle of Torah reading with the first words of Genesis 1:1. They are among the most familiar words of Torah. You remember them, “In the beginning God created,” and in Hebrew, “Bereisheet bara Elohim.” To rabbinic commentators, every word of Torah held meaning for them. They were so focused on extracting everything they could from these sacred words that they refined their search, in some cases, to single letters. For example, the first letter of the whole Torah is the Hebrew “bet”. Why?

                In the past, I have taught you the Midrash about “bet” which also serves as the first letter of the word “baruch” blessed. The connection makes “bet” a perfect letter to begin the whole Torah. But, my favorite Midrash about “bet” is the one that explains how its written form contributes meaning to its place at the beginning of Torah. You see, the Hebrew letter “bet” is written nearly like a four-sided box, except that three sides are closed and one side is opened. The opened side of the letter is opened towards the interior of Torah. Imagine if you were looking for your way out of a dark place. An opened door that led towards a lighted room would be a welcome discovery. So it is with Torah.

                The three closed sides are darkened pathways that lead to nowhere. It’s just as the Rabbis explained. In their effort to find meaning in a vast universe filled with contradictions and complexities, they advised not to speculate on what was beyond the heavens. Remember they lived in days long before space exploration and air travel; and even presuming their familiarity with telescopes and astrology they were focused only on what they could know, namely, what was written in Torah.

                They also advised not to speculate on what was in the past. Judaism was supposed to learn from the past, but live in the present where mitzvot (commandments) could make a real difference. What was in the past remained there; it was done. But, today was upon them, so again they turned to what was written in Torah.

                Finally, they advised not to look beneath the earth. It was a path to the netherworld, or sheol, which was a place without Torah, and therefore without life. Once more, they turned their attention to what was written in Torah. Thus, the “bet” provided a means to remain turned towards the interior of Torah, without any chance of speculating on what was above, behind, or under them.

                Since then, we have learned a lot about what is above us in the universe, what happened in the past billions of years ago, and also what lies beneath us in the earth. We depend on science in space, history of the past, and archeology in the earth. But, when we need wisdom and insights, truth and ethics for our life and times, to whom do we turn for help? To our Rabbis. And, to what do they turn for lessons for living? To Torah. There is no other body of teachings that has so inspired and led a people like the Torah has led and sustained the Jewish people and other peoples in their faiths. In effect, Torah is beyond the heavens, always in the present, and focused on life on earth.

                The rabbis-of-old could not have known what we would know in our lifetime. We can’t know what our great-grandchildren will know in theirs. We probably agree that we would not want to live in a world cut off from science and discovery; but, I hope we also agree that we would not want to live in a world without Torah. Its timeless and timely wisdom turns us inward towards truth and ethics for all the ages.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


163
09/19/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 20, 2013

 

                Torah records what the Israelites did when they trekked through the wilderness. They lived in Sukkot, in temporary booths. Part of our observance of Sukkot is what Torah tells us to do, “You shall live in booths seven days.” But, the Book of Leviticus wasn’t written along the way as the Israelites made their trek. According to modern scholars, it was inscribed later, about the 5th century BCE, from a place where Jews settled into permanent homes. Why, then, does Torah record not just the story of the past, but also the obligation to relive it? Torah offers only this:

“In order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…”

                The Book of Leviticus is a priestly book. It is no wonder that the purpose of living in a booth is directly connected to serving God. But, centuries later such priestly associations were not enough to substantiate the building of a Sukkah, let alone living in one. In the 12th century, a Torah commentator by the name of Rashbam, and the grandson of the famous Biblical commentator, Rashi, expanded Torah teaching. Though far from a modern scholar, he also went beyond priestly functions and appealed to issues of moral living. He cited Deuteronomy (8:17), “Do not say in your heart, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Then Rashbam comments:

You should remember the Lord your God, as it is God who gives you strength to make progress. Therefore, the people leave their houses, which are full of everything good at the harvest season, and dwell in booths, as a reminder of those who had no possessions in the wilderness and no houses in which to live. It is for this reason, that God established the Festival of Sukkot, that the people should not be proud of their well-furnished houses.

                Rashbam built his lesson on this text from Deuteronomy, because it repeats and reports the lessons the Israelites will need after they have left the wilderness and entered the Promised Land. Presumably, it would be a time for settlement and not for wandering. Therefore, Deuteronomy also anticipated that once the Israelites were settled, they would begin to acquire wealth and creature comforts. They would have a home to return to each night, and safety behind permanent walls and doors. Jews in their new homes would be like kings in their castles who believed they were the source of their own success.

                Reflecting on his life and that of his fellow Jews in 12th century France, Rashbam conceded that a permanent home with a roof overhead and a bolt on the door was safer than a booth with an open roof and no door at all. Therefore, shaking our complacency and not just our lulav, by moving out of our safe houses and into the fragile booth would create instant recognition of our dependence on God.

                Rashbam’s lesson is important to us, but it might not be enough to persuade us out of our comfortable homes to live in a booth in September, in Houston. Nevertheless, we can still learn from Rashbam. When life is hard even after we have settled down, the relative comfort we come to know there can numb us against our faith in God’s overarching presence in our life. Some have said, “Life is good. Who needs God?” Others have said (and Deuteronomy anticipated), “Look what I have built with my own hands and power?” History has demonstrated that such numb faith can lead to disastrous failings due to arrogance and pride.

                Today, the Sukkah stands outside as a reminder of our ancestors’ precarious journey. Surely, it wasn’t the fragile Sukkah that sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. It was God’s presence that accompanied them and helped them believe that their temporary booth would support them over many miles and many years. How much has really changed? Can we really accomplish our own journey by merely locking the door at night and rebuilding the roof after each hurricane season? Faith in God’s presence can still support us. If it were only about locking the door and setting the alarm, we wouldn’t also recite at night the Shema, or find comfort in the words, “Adonai li, v’lo eera,” God is with me; I will not be afraid. The Sukkah serves us as a reminder of the real Source of our relative wealth. Stepping out of our houses and lives of comfort into the Sukkah awakens us to God’s presence.

                This week, let’s shake our lulav and spend time in the Sukkah. Let’s eat a meal there and welcome friends as we have been taught to do. And, later, when we return to our homes on clean streets and wide avenues, let’s give thanks for all that we have done with all that God has given us.

                Chag Sameach (Happy Sukkot) and Shabbat Shalom

 (Republished by request)

 

Simchat Torah service Wednesday September 25th, 6:30pm, Gordon Chapel

Yizkor, Thursday, September 26th, 10:30am, Gordon Chapel


Blog Search

Categories

Archives

201804April3
April 2018 (3)
201803March5
March 2018 (5)
201802February4
February 2018 (4)
201801January4
January 2018 (4)
201712December4
December 2017 (4)
201711November2
November 2017 (2)
201710October2
October 2017 (2)
201708August3
August 2017 (3)
201707July4
July 2017 (4)
201706June4
June 2017 (4)
201705May2
May 2017 (2)
201704April3
April 2017 (3)
201703March4
March 2017 (4)
201702February3
February 2017 (3)
201701January3
January 2017 (3)
201612December4
December 2016 (4)
201611November3
November 2016 (3)
201610October3
October 2016 (3)
201609September4
September 2016 (4)
201608August2
August 2016 (2)
201607July5
July 2016 (5)
201606June2
June 2016 (2)
201605May3
May 2016 (3)
201604April4
April 2016 (4)
201603March3
March 2016 (3)
201602February2
February 2016 (2)
201601January4
January 2016 (4)
201512December4
December 2015 (4)
201511November3
November 2015 (3)
201510October2
October 2015 (2)
201509September2
September 2015 (2)
201508August4
August 2015 (4)
201507July5
July 2015 (5)
201506June4
June 2015 (4)
201505May2
May 2015 (2)
201504April5
April 2015 (5)
201503March3
March 2015 (3)
201502February4
February 2015 (4)
201501January4
January 2015 (4)
201412December3
December 2014 (3)
201411November3
November 2014 (3)
201410October4
October 2014 (4)
201409September2
September 2014 (2)
201408August3
August 2014 (3)
201407July3
July 2014 (3)
201406June3
June 2014 (3)
201405May3
May 2014 (3)
201404April4
April 2014 (4)
201403March3
March 2014 (3)
201402February4
February 2014 (4)
201401January5
January 2014 (5)
201312December3
December 2013 (3)
201311November3
November 2013 (3)
201310October4
October 2013 (4)
201309September2
September 2013 (2)
201308August5
August 2013 (5)
201307July4
July 2013 (4)
201306June4
June 2013 (4)
201305May5
May 2013 (5)
201304April4
April 2013 (4)
201303March4
March 2013 (4)
201302February4
February 2013 (4)
201301January5
January 2013 (5)
201212December4
December 2012 (4)
201211November5
November 2012 (5)
201210October4
October 2012 (4)
201209September2
September 2012 (2)
201208August5
August 2012 (5)
201207July4
July 2012 (4)
201206June3
June 2012 (3)
201205May5
May 2012 (5)
201204April4
April 2012 (4)
201203March5
March 2012 (5)
201202February4
February 2012 (4)
201201January4
January 2012 (4)
201112December5
December 2011 (5)
201111November3
November 2011 (3)
201110October3
October 2011 (3)
201109September4
September 2011 (4)
201108August4
August 2011 (4)
201107July3
July 2011 (3)
201106June4
June 2011 (4)
201105May4
May 2011 (4)
201104April4
April 2011 (4)
201103March5
March 2011 (5)
201102February4
February 2011 (4)
201101January4
January 2011 (4)
201012December5
December 2010 (5)
201011November4
November 2010 (4)
201010October5
October 2010 (5)
201009September2
September 2010 (2)
201008August2
August 2010 (2)
201006June3
June 2010 (3)
201005May5
May 2010 (5)
201004April3
April 2010 (3)

All Content Rights Reserved , Congregation Beth Israel
Captavi QixSuite™ - Hosted Marketing Automation Software ©