From the Desk of Rabbi
On August 20, 2014, renowned Holocaust scholar, Deborah Lipstadt, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times. She began with an old Jewish joke. “What’s the definition of a Jewish telegram? Start worrying. STOP. Details to follow.” Lipstadt explained that even though European countries condemn anti-Semitism, today, and Jews are resolute when they say “Never Again!” protests and violence against Jews are mounting. She wrote, “It is not just disgruntled Muslim youth who perpetrate these actions; they are Muslims born in Europe, and many of those who weren’t, are the parents of a new generation of Europeans. And, unlike Muslim instigators, cultural, religious and academic leaders in all the countries where [anti-Semitic protests] have occurred, should be shaken to the core, not just about the safety of their Jewish neighbors, but about the future of the seemingly liberal, enlightened societies they belong to.” Lipstadt pinned her fear on telltale evidence. She explained that “when a Hamas spokesman… stood by his statement that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish children for their matzos --- one of the oldest anti-Semitic [lies] --- European elites were largely silent.” She ended, “The telegram has arrived. Jews are worrying. It is time for those who value a free, democratic, open, multicultural and enlightened society to [worry], too. This is not another Holocaust, but it’s bad enough.”
One week after the terror attacks in Paris, that proverbial telegram arrived again, and this time it’s not just for the Jews. Though ISIS links much of what it does to Jewish businesses, their Jewish linkages are losing strength. Lipstadt correctly revealed that ISIS’s complete threat is posed against all of Europe and beyond. Only now, the world is forming alliances to wage war against ISIS’s evil. But, the future world we wish to share without ISIS must be envisioned now for a time that comes after allied military achievements. That world must be envisioned by Europe’s and the world’s elite, as Lipstadt described them. She wasn’t trying to be elitist, herself; rather, the definition of our enemies needs to be understood and battled by more than our nations’ armies. It needs to be linked to our intellectual understanding of history and culture, and then permanently extinguished by imagining how the modern world carelessly permitted the development of such evil, and then lay the groundwork for a world without it.
Lipstadt warned, “It is time for those who value a free, democratic, open, multicultural and enlightened society to [worry], too.” Memories of Europe’s and America’s elites, who remained silent during last century’s horrors, shouldn’t be resurrected in this century as models of how to be elite or enlightened. The allied forces we need in this century are a combination of the world’s best military forces and the world’s best minds. After defeating a mutual enemy, we have to forge a world-view that surpasses any standards by which we measured our world in the past. The 21st century began with 9/11 as a symbol of what we had to fear. It’s time to reclaim the hopes for the 21st century with deep regard for the global world we share and the highest aspirations of human life no previous generation has ever had the privilege to reach. Technology, medical innovation, economic potential and civil rights have advanced more quickly than at any time in history. Religious and spiritual life should be a force for good and not evil; and a reflection of not only our century’s enlightened elite, but of all people who call themselves good.
As Americans sit down for Thanksgiving dinner, let us see in the faces of our family and our neighbors the potential that exists in all of us to imagine and rebuild a world where bigotry, xenophobia and hate, are replaced with acceptance, open-mindedness, and love.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi
“If a man makes a harness for his beast, how much the more should he fashion a harness for his impulses, which may prompt him to lead a good or evil life” (Y. Sanhedrin 10, 1). The task of harnessing an ox is critical to a farmer’s successful crop. The ox must walk in a straight path to enable the farmer to plant seeds in a consistent and efficient manner. Though an experienced farmer knows how to harness his ox with ease, it’s also experience that enables him to use the reins to drive it forward, successfully.
“How much the more should he fashion a harness for his impulses.” Putting a physical harness on an ox that responds to a skillful farmer might be easier than bearing an internal harness we have to put on our innate impulses. The farmer’s crop, which feeds and nourishes his family, is a tremendous example of how important it is for us to walk a straight path during our lifetime, too.
“[It] may prompt him to lead a good or evil life.” How we manage to harness our impulses may lead us to experience a good or evil life. Talmudists weren’t unaware of the partnership we have with God. They also taught, “All is foreseen and freewill is given” and, “The work is long, day is short, and the Master is waiting” (Mishnah). Though one might pray, the deeds we do depend on how we choose to use the innate resources God has granted us to do good or evil.
By definition, Judaism defines good as all the obvious mitzvot and acts of lovingkindness. But, Judaism defines evil, in addition to the list of obvious sins and transgressions, as building a career, a home and a family. They aren’t inherently evil, but they can be if we build a career to serve only ourselves, or a home that is an eye-sore in the neighborhood or a source of danger to passers-by, or a family that produces children who are menaces to society. The only way to manage good and evil is to harness personal impulses. In our lifetime, we have to sow proverbial rows of seeds in a straight and efficient manner in order to enjoy the fruits of our labors in the future.
It wasn’t always easy for a farmer to harness a stubborn ox, just as it isn’t always easy for us to harness our stubborn impulses. Today, we label our stubborn impulses with medical terms, including addictions of various sorts, plus OCD, ADD, ADHD, etc. Whatever they might be, they can affect the outcomes we desire. If we can’t sow a straight row to reach our goals, then we might be emotionally unsatisfied, spiritually unnourished and economically challenged. No doubt, a wise farmer would have had help in the fields to guide a stubborn ox. We would do well, too, not only to bear all the responsibility for the rows we must sow, but to ask for help and assistance when the way is difficult to manage, alone. Here are places for assistance in our community:
Congregation Beth Israel: 713-771-6221 www.beth-israel.org
Jewish Family Service: 713-667-9336 www.jfshouston.org
United Way Help Line: Dial 211
Braes Interfaith Ministries Food Pantry (supported by Beth Israel): 713-723-2671 www.braesinterfaithministries.com
Thankfully, we don’t have to harness oxen to make a living, but we do have to harness our impulses. To reach greater personal satisfaction, consider how a helping hand and caring heart might make a difference for you or someone you care about. And, let’s plants seeds of well-being, together.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
This past week, the ERJCC Book Fair began in Houston with Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of England, who came to speak on his new book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence”, a must-read for our times. I wasn’t able to hear him until the next day at another program in the city, but no matter where he speaks, and though he has differences with liberal Judaism, he is a man of great knowledge who never fails to share his passionate insights for our world, today. Rabbi Sacks speaks truth to power with wisdom he derives from the depth and breadth of his education in Judaism and secular subjects. What does he have to say about our world, today?
The world we prefer to observe on TV and the internet is but a grainy image of the reality we must embrace, immediately. To Sacks, radical Islam is displacing the world we once knew, and it’s been that way since the Ottoman Empire fell in 1922. Since then, he submits, the patient plans of a resurging Islamic leadership has been preparing for the day when it would rise and shine, again. He adds that more than 40,000 websites dedicated to ISIS and radical Islam are serving their cause and doing it more effectively than any conventional weapon. Even if Facebook and Twitter were to pull down even one or more sites, there are thousands upon thousands more. What, then, can the world do?
Rabbi Sacks cites tragic statistics that puts Christianity at risk and on record. Christians are daily facing death at the hands of radical Muslims. The population of Christians has fallen dramatically in the Middle East, including 800,000 more who have become Syrian refugees; the last church in Afghanistan has burned; and, he told the gruesome story of a Christian merchant in Gaza whose store was burned after he refused to shutter it, and later whose throat was slashed. Christians remain more than 1/3 of the world’s population, and though Jewish numbers are meager by comparison, he believes that Christians and Jews can change the course of our future.
Rabbi Sacks speaks emphatically about Jews, Christians and moderate Muslims coming together for more than talk and displays of mutual friendship. He asserts that if faith’s purpose is political power and not religious influence, highlighting the merit of the separation of church and state, then we will surely lose the profound hope that the founding fathers held out for America, and what we should have learned from the Hebrew Bible and the roots of our Abrahamic faith traditions. In the Hebrew Bible, Sacks points out, we learned about Abraham who encountered God at Sodom. Abraham negotiated with God not to destroy the people of Sodom for the sake of 50 righteous souls. Eventually, Abraham negotiated with God for the sake of 10 righteous souls. This number of souls could sustain the world through acts of lovingkindness. Contrast that with the generation of Noah, who was the only righteous person and could only save his own family (not including the animals). Sacks concludes that we must be willing to use our religious influence and not religious political power to model cherished western values that flow from sacred religious teachings, which are not cherry-picked, and provide the world a standard of ethics, community, monotheism, law, and righteousness. This way forward is ultimately more enduring than the way of religious political power that asserts itself through bloody insurrection and destruction.
Sacks’ conclusion depends on the fortitude of Jews, Christians and Muslims to identify this way forward. Though Houston boasts a tolerant interfaith community, we have more to do. It’s about more than maintaining the progress that previous faith leaders helped us achieve. It’s about deepening our commitment to each other so that the God of Abraham is glorified not for political supremacy, but for the hope that western civilization first realized in the democratic foundations of countries like enlightened France, England and America.
To Sacks, the time is now. Though we claim safety between the oceans, we are only delaying the goals of radical Islamists who seek to master the global world we’ve only managed to dominate economically. Patience, says Sacks, has served them well. What will be our long-term plan at a time when our patience is running thin? The political campaign that’s well underway in America can’t be about a loss of perceived Christian religious liberties; it has to be about preserving America and western culture that provides profound religious freedoms to all faiths under the principles of a great democracy.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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