Psalm 143

“Do not enter into judgment.” (143:2)

The temptation to judge other people according to our standards and expectations is high. Despite protestations to the contrary, a religious life invites making such judgements because we have the yardstick of sacred scripture as both a measuring device and a stick with which to beat transgressors. Resist the temptation, unless there is a strong potential that you or someone else will otherwise be hurt. Instead, walk a mile in their shoes and try to understand why they do what they do. Cultivate compassion, rather than judgement.

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Psalm 140

“Keep me from those prone to violence.” (140:5)

I have never felt seriously threatened with physical violence. When I lived in Manhattan, there were a few times that I was walking down a deserted street at night and remember wishing that there were more people around, but that’s the extent of my awareness of the forces of chaos and human evil.There are people who are more attuned to the potential for violent behavior among strangers than I am and who prefer to carry a weapon. I look to law enforcement as my friends and have never felt a desire to own a firearm to protect myself. If that makes me naive, then it is, to borrow a phrase from Paul Ricoeur, a willed naiveté with which I am perfectly content.

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

Psalm 130

“Yours is the power to forgive.” (130:4)

You control one of the greatest superpowers, the power to forgive. Be not stingy nor overly generous with forgiveness. Forgiving too quickly missed the opportunity help the other person appreciate how hurtful his or her actions were, and learn how to repair the damage. Withholding forgiveness is more damaging to you than the other person, because it keeps your hurt alive while the other person has moved on. You have the superpower of forgiveness. When used wisely, you can profoundly change both your life and the other’s.

Psalm 129

“Greatly have they oppressed me since my youth.” (129:1)

Anti-Semitism is a real phenomenon, even in the free and open society of the United States. However, it is important to be able to distinguish degrees of anti-semitism. Seventy years ago (and more), Jews were restricted in where they could live, where they could golf, what country club they could join, and where they could go to school, in addition to common incidents of physical intimidation. Forty years ago, bullying was not uncommon in school, although it was mostly verbal or mildly physical, but Jews were mostly free of other restrictions. Twenty years ago, schools began taking a hard stance against bullying of any form. Be aware and defend yourself, but know that there has never been a better time to be Jew in the world.