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.

Psalm 114

The sea saw [Israel] and fled, Jordan ran backward, mountains skipped like rams, hills like sheep. (114:3-4)

Why would the sea, the Jordan river, and the mountains and hills be frightened by the sight of Israel? The answer is simple. It is not Israel who causes the waters to flee or the landscape to run around like skittish animals. God has Israel’s back. Israel gets respect because everyone and everything knows that if they mess with Israel, God will mess with them.

Every slightly nerdy, non-athletic kid in the schoolyard needs a friend like this to keep the bullies away. These four geographical features are like the bullies on the playground, forming obstacles between Israel and its goal of getting from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. The Reed Sea and the Jordan River are the first and last obstacles to cross; in between, the trek through the Sinai and its hills and mountains, including Mount Sinai, makes for a difficult journey. Generations later, Isaiah declares that God “will make all My mountains a road, and My highways shall be built up” in order to ease Israel’s journey from Babylon back to Israel. We might imagine that the geographical features blocking Israel’s passage through the wilderness are worried that God will pave them over, so they are parting and skipping to get out of the way.

The spiritual challenge is to see underneath the bluster of the bully to find his positive characteristics. Most bullies are motivated by fear and insecurity. They bully others to elevate themselves in their own eyes. Take away the fear and insecurity and you can find a potential friend hiding inside. The sea is a source of food. The river is a source of water. Animals graze on hills. Torah comes from the mountaintop. The skipping of the mountains and hills can be playful and full of joy. God can change the heart of the bully, and he can become your friend.

Psalm 85

Love and truth meet; justice and shalom kiss. (85:11)

Sometimes, love and truth conflict with one another. “I love you and want to say only good things to you and about you. I don’t want to tell you the truth, because the truth will hurt you.”

Justice might demand a disruption in the status quo. Rosa Parks sought justice in being able to choose where to sit. Martin Luther King, Jr., sought a just society in which the color of one’s skin wouldn’t prevent one from exercising the right to vote. Non-Orthodox Jews in Israel want the same right to communal worship at the Kotel, the Western Wall, as Orthodox Jews. Gay and lesbian people want fair and just marriage equality so their partnerships and families have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual partnerships and families. Each of these demands have created tension in society. Sometimes, justice and shalom temporarily contradict each other.

We all look forward to times when everyone is happy and there is no strife. However, an organization or a society does not mature during those times. It is only at times when a problem comes up and the organization has to struggle with questions of self-identity in order to find a solution that the organization can potentially become stronger. On a micro level, that’s how muscles work as well. When we exercise, we are breaking muscle tissue which then repairs itself and grows stronger. On a macro level, if the organization takes the conflict seriously, which means examining the root of the conflict and deciding which potential solution is most in line with its mission, then it will heal the wounds of the conflict and becomes stronger as a result. Organizations which make decisions opposed to their mission for the sake of expediency or making people happy have not wrestled with the difficult issues, and subsequently will be weakened.

When we tell the truth in a loving way we temporarily break society for the sake of justice but find shalom in a new status quo. In a world where two men or two women can go to the courthouse and get a marriage license without anyone raising an eyebrow, we would look back on a past when this was not so and wonder how people could ever have been so narrow minded.