Psalm 98

“Sing to the LORD a new song.” (98:1)

I like some new music, but the music that really draws me in are the lyrics and melodies that I have heard many times before. I don’t understand why giving God a fresh, newly created, song is better than putting one’s heart and soul into a song that we’ve been singing for millennia. Ironic, isn’t it, that the lyrics of the ‘new song’ that the Psalmist is singing is in the neighborhood of 2500 years old, and we are still greeting the Sabbath with it! So God … I hope you are satisfied with some old songs alongside the new ones.

Psalm 83

“Let us take the meadows of God.” (83:13)

People often say that their most spiritual moments come when they are away from other people, the synagogue or church building, and they are by themselves surrounded only by nature. It is in the meadows, amidst the mountains, the desert, or bodies of water, that they find God. I get this. People can be difficult and distracting. But prayer is not only a time to connect with God for its own sake, it is a spiritual discipline meant to refine the human being. And learning to find God while accepting others for who they are, annoying quirks and all, is the highest level of spiritual achievement.

Psalm 47

“All peoples, clap hands.” (47:2)

There is no better boost to your enjoyment of music than clapping hands to the beat (except if you are at the symphony listening to classical music). Sway, move your arms and legs, and dance. Let your body vibrate in tune with the music. During prayer, as well, let yourself transcend the intellectual experience of reading words on a page. At appropriate moments, sing along with the cantor and encourage your soul to vibrate to the tune of gratitude, thanksgiving, and dedicating yourself to God’s mitzvot (commands). Some prayers intend to move God to action. More often, prayer intends to transform the pray-er.

Psalm 41

“You have wholly transformed his bed of suffering.” (41:4)

There is a difference between emotional or physical pain and suffering. Suffering entails pain, but not all pain needs to be understood as suffering. Pain has a physical or emotional cause. Suffering is a particular interpretation of pain. We suffer when we decide that the pain is unjust. Complaining magnifies pain into suffering, as does blaming and anger. As a rule, negative emotions magnify suffering, and positive emotions, especially laughter, reduce suffering. Quieting one’s breath through prayer or meditation, a form of embracing the pain rather than fighting with it, can also transform and reduce suffering.

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.

***

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