Psalm 81

“For it is a law for Israel.” (81:5)

What makes us Israel is a shared sense of law, of obligation. We are Israel when we clean our homes and celebrate Passover. We are Israel when we are conscious of the contents of the food which we put into our bodies. We are Israel when we rest from creative acts on Shabbat. We are Israel when we join a Jewish community for prayer. We are Israel when we celebrate a boy’s birth with circumcision, celebrate puberty with bar or bat mitzvah, celebrate marriage with a huppah, and commemorate a death with Shiva.

Divre Harav – October, 2016

“Connect with your Jewish neighbors through Ahavas Israel”

The word havurah derives from the Hebrew denoting connection. Hibur means to make a connection; A haver is a friend. A Havurah is a group of people who come together because of shared interests, age, life experience, or geographic proximity. Sometimes a havurah functions as a synagogue, meeting every Shabbat, and sometimes havurot are formed within synagogues as a means to create a variety of small group programs and experiences.

A Havurah group might have a theme, such as:

  • Book discussion
  • Torah Study
  • Hebrew conversation
  • Yiddish conversation
  • Shabbat dinner
  • Havdalah
  • Game Nights
  • Garage sale for tzedaka
  • Sports event watching
  • Movie watching
  • Picnics
  • Other activities

Alternatively, a Havurah might meet as a group of people who live in proximity to each other who want to do a variety of the above activities. Ahavas Israel wants help you connect with your Jewish neighbors. We want you to find two friends with similar interests and let us know about your Havurah. We have a map of synagogue members so if you would like a list of people within a mile or two (or five) to invite, we can provide it. Meet monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly – the schedule is entirely up to you. We’d like to put your event on the calendar so others can see what you are doing and join you (although you may limit the group size, if you wish). We can provide you with study materials, book suggestions, instructions and booklets for Shabbat dinner rituals and Havdalah ceremonies. Just ask me for what you need.

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High Holiday Preview: I typically begin serious work on my messages for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur about a month in advance. Here are some of the topics I’ve been working on:

Repentance – the power of teshuvah. Teshuvah can mean radical transformation, but sometimes the person who needs to do teshuvah is trapped in bad patterns of behavior. What might it mean to extend yourself beyond your comfortable boundaries to consider what it means to give others the chance to do teshuvah?

Sacrifice – What are we willing to sacrifice in order to support our most closely held beliefs?

What is the function of beating ourselves on the chest during the recitation of lists of sins? How might we reconsider the practice and turn it into something that leads to positive growth?

I wish you a happy and healthy new year and look forwarding to greeting you during this holiday season.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Teshuvah – repentance
  • Korban – sacrifice
  • Vidui – confession
  • Yamim Nora’im – Days of Awe

Psalm 126

January 11, 2016

 

When Adonai restores the fortunes of Zion, we are as dreamers. (126:1)

To be a Jew is to be an optimist and a dreamer. We don’t say “if God gives Zion back to us,” we say “when.” For nearly 2000 years of exile during which there was a Jewish presence but no Jewish control over Jerusalem, we introduced Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals, with this Psalm on Shabbat. Our optimism asserts that our loss of sovereignty was only a temporary setback that could be corrected at any time. The Sabbath in Jewish tradition is celebrated as taste of the world to come, a day on which we experience the beauty and peace of messianic era. Shabbat embodied the optimism of the Jew. No matter how much time has gone by, no matter how much evil or hatred we experience in the world, Shabbat takes us back to the perfection of the garden of Eden.

In order to improve yourself to the greatest extent possible, you must have goals that are slightly beyond your reach. If your goal is to lose five pounds and you succeed and stop trying to lose weight, you miss the opportunity to lose ten pounds. If your goal is to increase your strength and endurance by taking a 50 mile bike ride, you might stop at that point and lose the opportunity to ride 60 miles. If your goal is to increase sales by 10%, you might lessen your efforts when you reach that mark and miss the opportunity to increase by 25%.

Optimism teaches us to celebrate our accomplishments even if we haven’t reached our goals. After setting the mark higher than you expect and losing only nine pounds instead of ten pounds; riding only 58 instead of 60 miles; or increasing sales only 20 instead of 25%, you can then notice with pride in accomplishment that you lost nine pounds instead of five pounds; rode 58 instead of 50 miles; and increased by 20% rather than 10%.

To be a Jew means to be an optimist and a dreamer.

Psalm 108

Awake, O harp and lyre! I will wake the dawn. (108:3)

Of course we know that the human being doesn’t wake up the musical instruments or the dawn, but rather the instruments – the alarm clock – or the dawn wakes up the human being. The Psalmist, however, chose to imagine a moment in which reality is holding its breath, waiting for him to turn on the power, as it were. I’m thinking of my summers at camp or time spent on a retreat in a rural location. I’m seeing that precise moment in the morning when consciousness returns, before anyone’s alarm clock rings, before the sun rises, when everything is quiet.

There is a quiet so completely still that it feels like even nature is asleep. At a retreat in a peaceful camp-like setting, I arise and dress and head to minyan early. I’m the only one outside, and as dawn breaks and the birds begin chirping, it is a concert for my enjoyment alone.

At that moment, an early morning blessing comes to life: Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, “who gave the rooster the consciousness to distinguish between day and night.”

Good morning, world! It’s nice to see you again, and thank you for the wonderful show you’re putting on for me this morning.

I am aware that some people are not morning people and might not be enthusiastic about greeting the dawn. Truthfully, while I often awake early, I would sometimes prefer to go back to sleep. But most of the time I shoulder my responsibility and get out of bed to wake up the dawn. After all, aside from the winters in extreme regions, we wouldn’t want the sun sleeping the whole day, would we?

Psalm 95

Forty years I was provoked by that generation; I thought, “They are a senseless people; they would not know My ways.” (95:10)

The next five Psalms (95 – 99) are the first five Psalms in the Kabbalat Shabbat service. Kabbalah Shabbat is a service created in the mid-16th century by the mystics of the Northern Israeli city of Tzvat (Safed). It is structured around a series of seven Psalms from 95 though 99 followed by Psalm 29, leading up to Psalm 92, titled “A song for the sabbath day.” We might imagine that the progression of seven corresponds to the seven mystical sefirot of God’s attributes from Hesed (love) to Malkhut (Sovereignty), also known as Shekhinah, the Divine Presence, the feminine aspect of God who we welcome as the Shabbat Queen. We might also imagine that each Psalm corresponds to a day of the week from Sunday through Shabbat.

The intention set by this Psalm is Sunday, the first day of the week, and the Divine quality of Hesed. The speaker in our verse is God, exhibiting patience in the presence of a rebellious people. Actually, 40 years is not such a long time in the existence of God. If “A thousand years is like a day in your sight,” (Psalm 90), then 40 years in God’s time is the equivalent of 57 minutes and 36 seconds in human time. So imagine suffering the presence of a very annoying person for 57 minutes and 36 seconds. Imagine listening to him whine and complain about this injustice or that ache and pain, droning on and on, but continuing to pay attention for the full time. Having patience. This is the lesson from our verse. If God can endure something for 40 years without walking away, I can endure something for just under an hour with a loving smile on my face.

On a calendar directed by Shabbat (such as in Israel), Sunday is a workday. It is also a long time until the restful peace of Shabbat returns. For the next six days, we face all of our problems at work and other weekday problems. Psalm 95 reminds us to swallow a loving dose of patience on Sunday to successfully manage the next six days until Shabbat arrives.