Psalm 138

“You overwhelm my soul with strength.” (138:3)

Most people are capable of handling whatever set of challenges they receive. It is not so much that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” than it is simply that most of us do what we need to do. We might not have thought that we were capable of handling such a challenge, and in hindsight, we might wonder how we accomplished it. We did it because we had no other choice, and because at any point that we thought we could do no more, we summoned the extra strength to finish the job because we had to.


Psalm 137

“There we sat down and yes, we wept, as we remembered Zion.” (137:1)

When I am not in Jerusalem and I think about the city, I don’t weep. In my lifetime, Zion only grows more magnificent from visit to visit. But I get a sense of the crushing sadness of the Psalmist when I fly into New York past the 1776 foot spire of One World Trade center. It is a beautifully designed building, but I see the ghosts of the two blocky towers that preceded it. I see the planes crashing and the bodies falling and the glass and metal disintegrating and the and paper showering lower Manhattan. And I cry.

Psalm 136

“Who took note of us in our degradation” (136:23)

Many years ago, I experienced the loss of a grandfather to whom I was very close. It was the first time I witnessed a human death. For several weeks afterward, I carried a heavy burden of sadness, but friends whom I thought were close either didn’t notice or chose not to address it. One person finally noticed my sadness and remarked on it, giving me the chance to offload my emotional baggage. It felt good to know that someone cared enough to take note of my demeanor and ask if I was OK. My mental state immediately improved.

Psalm 135

“[A] treasured possession.” (135:4)

The Biblical foundational story of human origins asserts that human beings are designed to partner, rather than spend their life alone. To unite in partnership with another human being is to know that one is treasured by another human being. To partner is to commit oneself to love another as oneself. Every person wants to be treasured at times, to be placed on a pedestal and treated like a king or queen. Everyone has moments in their life when they want and need to nurture and be nurtured, to comfort and be comforted.

Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – December, 2017

Hillel says, “Do not separate from the community – do not be sure of yourself until the day of your death and do not judge your fellow until you are in their place. Pirke Avot 2:5a

Protestants are famous for disagreeing and forming new denominations. Jews are just as disagreeable, but tend merely to form new synagogues rather than new movements. Apparently, this is not a new phenomenon. Hillel, a first century BCE pre-rabbinic figure, cautioned people of his generation not to fracture the community. He then gives two specific warnings against behaviors that would lead people to separate from others in their community.

First, don’t be too sure that you are right and the other person is wrong. Don’t stake your participation in the community or your relationship with that individual on your correctness. Have the humility to open yourself up to the possibility that the opposite is true, that you are wrong and the opposing opinion is correct. It will not be until you have passed away and are called before the Holy Blessed One, the Supreme Judge, that you will know the whole truth of the matter.

Second, you might think the other person is dead wrong and be tempted to withdraw from the relationship. However, because you are not omniscient, you don’t know what led your fellow to make certain decisions and to choose a particular path. Were you in his or her shoes, you might have chosen to make the same set of decisions. Therefore, do not so quick to disconnect either with that person or with a community of people who make decisions that you do not fully understand.

Hillel was a strong proponent of remaining in relationship and learning from people who are different from you. He would be deeply disappointed at the degree to which our society is broken into segments who only read or listen to news that confirms what they already believe, and associate only with people of a like mind.

Don’t separate from the community even when remaining in the community is challenging, because that’s precisely when you have the most to learn and others have the most to learn from you. Be humble and non-judgemental and remain in the community with the goal of enriching yourself. For Hillel and for us, Judaism is not a religion to be practiced alone in one’s home. The concept of minyan urges us to pray in community, not because God hears communal prayers better than solo voices, but because we are more powerfully transformed by prayer when we are not alone.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

Common “first” names of synagogues:

  • Aidah (or Adat) – Congregation, (Congregation of …)
  • Kehillah (or Kehillat) – Congregation (Congregation of …)
  • Kahal (K’hal) – Congregation (Congregation of …)
  • Agudah (Agudat) – Congregation (Congregation of …)
  • Beit (often transliterated Beth) – House of …
  • B’nai – children of …
  • Anshei – People of …
  • Mishkan – Temple