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288
10/28/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 28, 2016

 

                The Torah reading cycle begins anew this Shabbat, with the first verses of Genesis. You know them well, “In the beginning,” or “When God began creating,” depending on your English translation. But, did you know that the first letter of the entire Torah is the Hebrew letter Bet and not Aleph?

                In their effort to explain why Torah begins with the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet and not the first, the Rabbis taught the following. They said that the letter Bet is closed on three sides and opened on the side facing the interior of the Torah text. Bet is like a box with one side missing and a long base. What’s important about this? The Rabbis explained that the closed sides teach us not to speculate on what is above and what is below the earth; nor should we look before the days of creation. Rather, the way forward is the path that leads us into Torah, because it leads to “our life and the length of our days.”

                The Torah Way is the right path. It’s a path that shows us how to live by Torah today. Wisdom has no expiration date and Torah is no exception. For example, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19). Or, it might be found in rabbinical literature (Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash) which is an extension of Torah because it serves as a living commentary to it. For example, “Do not scold your neighbor with a fault which is also your own.” (Mekhilta 18).

                “What is the Torah Way?” is our question, today. It applies to everything we do. At Beth Israel, the Torah Way explains how we welcome you into the congregation. With warmth and personal attention we meet mutual expectations for what modern, joyful and relevant Judaism can be.

                In the community, the Torah Way describes how we live by Jewish ethics. Acts of tzedakah (charitable giving), mitzvah (positive deeds), and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) all derive from Torah.

                At home, the Torah Way is how we make a Jewish home. Shabbat rituals help us pause to reflect on gifts of love and friendship in our life. Speaking kindly and respectfully to each other brings honor to everyone at home. And, when we combine our work in the synagogue, the community and home, we also bring honor to God.

                Ask yourself, “Is it the Torah Way?” If it is, you’ll know that you’ve measured your deeds against the highest standard available to you. Remember what the Psalmist wrote, “Behold a good doctrine has been given to you, My Torah, do not forsake it. It is a tree of life to those who cling to it. Its ways are ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace.”

                The Torah Way is a Reform way to reconcile our modern circumstances with the ethical standards found in Torah. Those teachings, which speak to us in our time and place, enrich our life by transforming daily tasks into sacred deeds. The Sabbath day is a perfect example. A day of rest can begin with sacred rituals that unite us as a community of families, and continue with commitments to time with family and friends.

                How to begin? Start this Shabbat in Genesis chapter 1, verse 1, and see the Bet that stands at the head of Torah as a guide into your Jewish life and the length of your days.



You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

287
10/14/2016 09:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 14, 2016

 

                Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Also called Zeman Simchatienu, the “Season of our Joy,” Sukkot is purposely joyful to follow Yom Kippur’s solemn mood. In Leviticus 23:40ff, we learn to spend time in a sukkah, take up the four species (etrog, palm, willow, and myrtle) and “rejoice before God.” Today, rejoicing with branches from trees can’t compete with things that light up, buzz, and transform. But, we do it anyway.

                Each of us is instructed to take up the four species and participate in the celebration. In their teaching, the rabbis help us see ourselves in the celebration, too. After all, the holiday isn’t about tree branches. It’s about celebrating our relationship with God. By way of an analogy, the rabbis equate Torah knowledge with edible fruit, namely, palm and etrog; and (mitzvah) good deeds with a sweet aroma, namely, myrtle and etrog. Only the willow branch has neither edible fruit nor sweet aroma. And, they taught, there are four kinds of people: those like the etrog, who have Torah knowledge and no good deeds; the myrtle, with good deeds, but no Torah knowledge; the palm, with Torah knowledge, but no good deeds; and the willow, with no Torah knowledge and no good deeds.

                At our best, we are like the etrog, with Torah knowledge and good deeds. And, yet, in the same way that we hold the four species in a cluster, we also bind ourselves to a community of people. The rabbis teach us that the Jewish people can never be destroyed as long as we’re bound together. The best among us may support those who have not yet found their way to Torah knowledge or even good deeds. Weakness is balanced by strength; transgressions are balanced by good deeds. Together, we overcome and prosper.

                When we live in community and bind ourselves to others we find the strength we need to overcome almost anything. In addition, our rabbis assure us that when we are part of the community we can master our worst inclinations and derive benefit. Therefore, wholeness and goodness are possible. Repentance at this season is complete. Not alone, but in company with others we find our strength and our blessing.

                On Sunday evening, Sukkot begins. On Monday morning, we’ll observe Festival Services at 10:30am in the Gordon Chapel. Our Sukkah are ready. A Sukkah for Shlenker School is standing proudly on the playground where the children will eat their lunches, too; and a beautiful Sukkah awaits us all in the Sukkah Courtyard between the Margolis Gallery and the Schachtel Library. There’s room for everyone. The following week, on Sunday, October 23rd, we’ll celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of Torah) and Consecration for our youngest children at 6:00pm in the sanctuary. It’s the time of year when we end the reading of Torah with the last words of Deuteronomy, and begin again immediately with the first few words of Genesis. We’ll take all the Torahs from the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) and dance with them. Won’t you make this hour part of your family celebration? If you’ve never held or danced with a Torah, this is your time.

                On October 24th, Yizkor memorial services will be observed at 10:30am in the Gordon Chapel. Everyone is welcome.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach, Happy Sukkot!



You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

286
10/06/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
October 7, 2016

 

This Rosh Hashanah, using our new High Holiday prayerbook, Mishkan HaNefesh, I enjoyed listening to the Prayer for the Congregation. In the past, it didn’t stand out to me; but, this year, Bruce Levy, Temple President, and I noticed its inclusive tone and welcome blessing. In Mishkan HaNefesh, the congregation is recognized for exactly what it is and precisely who we are. Here’s a portion of it:

“For our members:

Diverse in age, interest, and background;

Jews by birth, Jews by choice,

and those of other faiths who join with us;

all who offer their time and talent,

their love and commitment

For all who come here, on this Holy Day to share the search for meaning and renewal: Your presence is a blessing, your friendship a gift.”

Congregation Beth Israel is diverse in many ways. We welcome everyone who is part of our families and circles of friends who celebrate faith, moral and righteous deeds, and a strong future for the Jewish people everywhere. What unites us is our commitment to core values that have defined us since we were organized as a congregation in 1854. Our devotion to God, Torah and Israel is central, but so is our commitment to modernity that includes the world where we participate in work and community.

I’m so pleased to open the doors to Beth Israel very wide and to lower the barriers to entry and participation. I’m especially proud to officiate at interfaith weddings where Jewish children will be reared in a Jewish home and where faith and family, both, are respected. Interfaith couples are warmly welcomed, and their role in the congregation, especially as models of Sabbath service attendance, is a real mitzvah. I’m also proud to officiate at same-sex weddings for Jewish men and women who find love a reason to be blessed under the chuppah. None of this would be possible without the unanimous support of our Board of Trustees, whose outlook is informed by Reform Judaism and their belief that diversity and harmony can coexist. Our worship spaces are big and beautiful for a reason; they glorify God’s blessings found in each of you, in God’s creative acts.

On behalf of Cantor Mutlu, Rabbi Scott, and Rabbi Herman, I want to welcome you, again, to a sweet New Year at Congregation Beth Israel, and to participation in your personal faith journey through inspiring worship, engaging education, and joyful congregational gatherings.

May you and your loved ones be sealed in the Book of Lives Well Lived.



You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

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