Psalm 59

“They come back each evening howling like dogs.” (59:7)

A dog barks when it feels threatened or it is protecting its pack. Small dogs bark more than large dogs, who need only growl to be taken seriously. Small dogs will bite more often precisely because their bark is not taken seriously enough. We can draw two lessons from this: First, when someone makes threats, take them seriously, no matter how much you believe that the individual is not serious. Second, just as under the right circumstances it is possible to make friends with most barking dogs, never forget that under the right conditions, almost every enemy can become a friend.

Psalm 46

“Nations rage, kingdoms topple.” (46:7)

Anger is not a good emotion for a leader. Anger clouds the mind and perverts judgement. Angry people make poor decisions, leading to poor outcomes. Anger is a volcano – showy, frightening, and generally destructive. Good may come from volcanic anger, but only after a long cooling off period. Hawaii of course was built by a volcano, but the beautiful fertile volcanic soil took eons to form. Volcanic anger can lead to Pompeii, Minoa, and Montserrat, which never recovered, and to Mount St. Helens, which exacted a toll of over $1 billion in damage to industry, massive environmental damage, and 57 human lives. A good leader knows how to calm rage before it reaches destructive proportions.

Psalm 32

“Happy is one whose transgression is forgiven.” (32:1)

It is a great feeling to hear the words “I forgive you” spoken with sincere conviction. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we respond by denying that we did anything wrong and making excuses, instead of putting on our big boy and big girl pants and accepting the consequences of our behavior. It takes a strong and mature person to take responsibility for mistakes by admitting what we did, apologizing to those we’ve hurt, and making restitution, if possible. We do so knowing that forgiveness is not automatic, that sometimes the injured party will take longer to heal than it took for us to realize the mistake.

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 143

 

Do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for before You no creature is in the right. (143:2)

The American political system abhors changing one’s position on issues. They call it “flip-flopping.” Apparently, they believe that from the very first moment that a future politician takes a public stance on an issue, whether that be in an election for high school student council or maybe an op-ed piece published in a college newspaper, that one’s positions should be consistent and unchanging.

Most of us are not so consistent. Over time, we do grow and mature and our positions on issues change. Sometimes they become softer, sometimes they become firmer. Sometimes we learn something new that causes us to reject a position completely and embrace its opposite. Yet at the same time, most of us hang on to and defend whatever it is that we believe at the moment with the strength of a dog with a chew-toy.

It is very frustrating to have a conversation with someone who is so certain of his own set of truths that everything that you say is judged and found wanting. The rest of the Psalm speaks of God’s beneficence, faithfulness, and gracious spirit, but this verse peers into a different Divine facet. It is the experience of being in a relationship in which you can never do anything right, no matter how hard you try.

Reflecting off this verse, I promise not to be stubbornly enslaved to every belief, but rather to take gentler positions and be kind to those who disagree with me. I promise to affirm the inherent value of those in relationship with me and not judge so harshly that they despair of ever meeting my standards. I promise to look to God beneficence, faithfulness and gracious spirit as a model of behavior.