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245
08/27/2015 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 28, 2015

 

Israel is on my mind, today. It’s on my mind everyday. As an American, I think of Israel as a critical ally in the Middle East. Israel is the only democratic, western, and modern nation stuck in one of the worst neighborhoods in the world. As a Jew, Israel is the source of my history and inspiration. Its past is my past and its future is my future.

                In recent weeks, Israel has been the subject of many conversations relating to its future vis-a-vis the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the P5+1 deal with Iran. However you feel about the JCPOA, there remains one constant element that no deal or even a bad deal will change. Our affection for and our concern about Israel is paramount. It’s paramount because our times demand of us nothing less than the past demanded of our parents and grandparents. They witnessed the birth of Israel and its subsequent challenges to survive. They supported Israel by every means as her enemies conspired to destroy her. Israel’s prayers were answered as evidenced by the resources and allies she gained. In return, Israel has contributed to the world’s well-being through science and technology and turned a desert into a flourishing nation. Israel doesn’t need to defend its reason for being, but not everyone agrees.

                I am an American and I am a Jew. But, I’m not an Israeli. I don’t vote there and neither do you. The only role you and I have is to advocate for an Israel where we want our Judaism to be celebrated. It’s Judaism that is democratic, western and modern; it’s Judaism that honors the equality of genders, religious tolerance, and Torah ideals, including inclusion of the LGBT community as a demonstration of the unfolding beauty of God’s creative acts. We give to Israel because our values will be cultivated and celebrated there.

                Yet, the best way to be both American and Jews who support Israel and her future is to be there. I want you to come with me next summer, May 29-June 7, 2016, for an amazing experience in the Land of Israel. Whether or not you’ve been, this trip will provide you access to history, politics, medical innovation, technology, food and spirits, tastes and spirituality, and encounters that are simply one-of-a-kind. Rabbi Joshua Herman, my wife, Lisa, and I will lead you. Our guide, Danny Applebaum, will regale us with details and descriptions that make the trip a unique experience of all the senses. We travel very comfortably and enjoy exceptional accommodations. Please visit the links here (www.frosch.com/cbi/) to register and review our itinerary (subject to change).

                I look forward to sharing with you one of my favorite places on earth and the inheritance of our people throughout the ages. The Land and People of Israel live because every lover and supporter of the Jewish people was present for Israel in the best of times and the worst of times. It’s never easy to tell what time it is in Middle East politics, but it’s always a good time to experience Israel first-hand.

                Pray for Israel’s peace. Make a difference for Israel’s future. Join us in Israel next year, May 29-June 7, 2016. If you have questions after you visit www.beth-israel.org or www.frosch.com/cbi/  for the itinerary and registration, please email me at dlyon@beth-israel.org.



You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.

244
08/20/2015 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 21, 2015

 

“Justice, justice shall you pursue!” (Deuteronomy 17:20). These are the words that open our Torah portion. They speak volumes about our Jewish outlook. Justice comes from the word “tzedek”, which is at the root of “tzedakah” or acts of lovingkindness. Tzedek and tzedakah are related, because justice is served by acts of righteousness. I purposely didn’t use the word “charity” because it’s not a Jewish word. Charity comes from the Latin, which means to give out of love. We can’t wait to love before we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. We can’t wait for love before we support equal rights for women, the LGBT community, and those who struggle because they’re in a minority community. Justice must be served. We are obviously not duty-bound to the Christian ideal of love, because it presupposes tenets of faith that, if we were to accept them, would excuse us from our “brit”, our covenant with God. Within our “brit” with God, manifested in mitzvot, we aim to restore justice and also love where it’s lacking.

                Covenant-bound, we bear on our necks the “’ol mitzvah” or the yoke of the commandments. Like the yoke on the neck of an ox, the mitzvot guide us along a straight path in life. It can be a heavy burden of human responsibility, but its reward is found in the ethical deeds we do and the good works they produce.

                In recent weeks, Reform Rabbis have partnered with the NAACP to march arm-in-arm from Selma to Washington, D.C., accompanied by a Torah scroll they’re carrying in a specially made backpack. The march recalls the days when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, and many other advocates for civil rights marched in Selma, too. The plight of African Americans in this country today fills the pages of newspapers and internet blogs with difficult accounts of young black men whose lives are snuffed out at the hands of mostly white policemen. While many allegations are still bound for court proceedings, the verdicts that have come in confirm our fears that this is a concern that our nation must address. One of Reform Judaism’s tenets is heard in the prophets’ exhortations to place ethics over rituals by seeking God’s blessings in acts of human justice, kindness and mercy.

                I can’t attend the march, but I laud my colleagues who can and who represent causes for which we must take some responsibility; not because we’re African Americans, but because we’re American and we’re Jewish. In the past, our people marched in the wilderness, too, and they aimed for a promised land where the land “flowed with milk and honey.” We have been taught that “we know the heart of the stranger for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Rabbis’ partnership with the NAACP teaches us that out of the bounty we’ve come to know must flow deeds that serve others. Rabbi Hillel’s words are familiar and continue to guide us, too. He taught, If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?

                The Hebrew month of Elul is upon us. It marks a month of preparation that leads us to the Jewish New Year. How will tzedek, justice, be demonstrated in your New Year? How will you perform acts of righteousness to make the difference you wish to see in the world around you? This is the time to consider what Judaism calls us to do; and, this is the time to ask, if not now, when?


You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.



243
08/13/2015 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 14, 2015

 

In Torah this week, Re’eh (see) is the first word of the portion. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse…” Our Sages teach that the word is written here in the singular form. In subsequent uses, the word is written in the plural form. The reason is that while the “commandments are set before the whole people (plural form), each individual must ‘see’ (singular form) and decide whether to obey or disobey.”

                Long before Reform Judaism was organized, our Sages recognized a reform idea. Indeed, we are commanded as a people with the same set of texts and teachings. We are inheritors of the same Torah. But, we also respond to God and God’s teachings as individuals. Reform Judaism is predicated on individual educated choices. Nowhere does Reform Judaism liberate Jews from Jewish obligations. On the contrary, Reform Jews are duty-bound to make Jewish choices every day. What kinds of choices do Reform Jews make every day?

                Jewish choices should never lead to an answer as simple as “yes” or “no”. For example, “Do you observe Shabbat?” “Do you keep kosher?” “Do you give tzedakah?” Even if the answer is yes, it demands some qualification. It the answer is no, it requires more attention. Jewish choices should lead to full answers, and a Reform Jewish answer should include a reason thoughtfully formed. For example, “How do you observe Shabbat?” “How do you keep kosher?” “How do you give tzedakah?” These are questions that we are all obligated to answer, and which we have the liberty to answer as individuals.

                For Reform Jews, Shabbat is an essential part of our week. Rest from work and anxieties can refresh the heart and mind. Working on Saturday might be necessary to support one’s household and generations of Jews have done so, but not without also setting aside time for family. Keeping kosher was rejected by very early reformers in order not to set themselves apart from full participation in society; but, today, many Reform Jews keep kosher by making ethical food choices. Many choose not to eat veal or prefer free-range chickens. Obesity is at crisis levels in America. A Reform Jewish food ethic includes eating to live, not living to eat. (“The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” CCARPress, http://tinyurl.com/nldxjkh). Tzedakah is always a personal choice and it’s part of every person’s obligation to participate in repairing the world.

                Seeing God’s blessings is something we are all obligated to do. Some do it more easily than others. But, all of us are uniquely created to contribute to the world of God’s blessings uniquely. Personally, I have never been a total conformer or a total individualist. I have never been comfortable on either extreme. Rather, I cherish my individuality and the privilege to choose how I will participate in the world around me.

                How will you observe Shabbat this week? How will you make an ethical food choice? And, how will you build a better world? Here’s a suggestion: at your Shabbat dinner table this week, talk about how you might answer these and other questions individually and as a family. Where is there room for individuality and where is it important to conform? You’re more than welcome to reply to me and share the outcomes of your discussions at dlyon@beth-israel.org. It’s my job to ask; it’s all of our jobs to answer.



You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

242
08/06/2015 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
August 7, 2015

 

There is infinite energy in the world. You and I have the privilege to be conscious of it for as long as we may live. No matter if our lifespan is short or long, it’s still barely a scratch in time compared to the eons that have passed and have yet to come. Psalm 90 acknowledges, “A thousand years in God’s sight are but as yesterday when it is past…” Judaism teaches us to learn from history and to live in the present, in the here-and-now. It means that we should see the blessings of our life as part of the continuum of time. We aren’t insignificant just because we’re here for a relatively short time; rather, we should see our purpose as part of an eternal covenant that binds us to ethical and sacred living for as long as we’re here.

                There is ample opportunity to achieve all that we can in our lifetime. Success and prosperity are not sins; not when they reflect ethics and mitzvot, and not when they build a strong community. Torah makes it patently clear that the bounty of the earth is for us to enjoy “without stint” (Deut. 8:9). Like our ancestors, we can enjoy “a good land, a land with streams and springs, and fountains issuing from plain and hill, and land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, and a land of olive trees and honey…where you will lack nothing” (Deut. 8:9).

                It sounds positive and guilt-less. Does it also sound too good to be true? In this case, it isn’t too good to be true. But, it does come with two responsibilities. First, we have a responsibility to obey ethical obligations owed to the source of these resources and to use them wisely. However you imagine their source God, natural law, energy force – our orientation towards them can determine what we make of them and of our selves. If we have high regard for their place in nature as something from which we benefit but didn’t create, then we are likely to use them wisely and replenish them.

                Second, with gratitude for all that we have been given, we must also give thanks for what we have taken. In Torah we learn, “When you have eaten and satisfied your appetite, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which God has given you” (Deut. 8:10). Torah makes it clear that we can satisfy our appetites, even to the point of feeling full from a good meal. But, when the meal is completed, a word of thanks is required. In Judaism, our custom is to thank the Source of the foods we purchased and prepared for our benefit. Birkat Hamazon, or the blessing after the meal, acknowledges God as the Source of all that we enjoy. For those who struggle with prayer or faith in God, participation in a blessing can bring you closer to the relationship that is critical to one of humanity’s highest ethical duties, namely, to enjoy the benefits of the earth without stint, to replenish them for the future, and to do so with gratitude for goodness in nature that began with something larger and more infinite than each of us.

                When Torah teaches about the “good land” it imagines the Promised Land, the Land of Canaan. Today, the “good land” is the Land of Israel, but it’s also the whole earth. It’s what one generation called the “big blue marble” and this generation calls the “flat earth”. We have only one. Wherever we are Jewish, wherever we make our homes, let’s enjoy the bounty of these places that nourish us and our families, and when we have taken from what we’ve been given, let us also give thanks. Baruch Atah Adonai, ha-zahn et ha-kol, thank you God for providing us with sustenance.



You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.

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