The Shema as a road map for spiritual liberation and happiness-This Sunday morning, 4/29.

The Shema is usually understood primarily as a declaration that there is one God, and that we have an obligation to serve that God. The Shema, though,  is really a brilliant structure that allows us to connect to our deepest spiritual selves and by doing so, liberate our selves to have happier relationships with others, ourselves, and maybe even to God, too.

We will meet this Sunday, 4/29, at 11am at Adat Shalom Synagogue. Everyone is welcome.

How to avoid being consumed by the destructive decisions of others-My words from Shabbat

Shmini 2012

 

One of the most painful and challenging stories in the Torah is that of strange death of the sons of Aaron, the High Priest.

 

Aaron’s role was to bring sacrifices on behalf of the people. He would wear special clothes, and carefully and precisely make the offering. His sons, Nadav and Avihu bring a burnt offering on their own, without being asked.

 

They were literally playing with fire. Their actions do not end well. A fire consumes them.

 

Why they died has been debated. Some blame them for doing something they had no permission to do. Others say it was just the tragic, but accidental result of people trying to do something they were not trained or qualified to do.

 

I want to focus on what happens after. God tells Aaron not to mourn, but to return to his duties. The people would mourn instead.

 

This sounds cruel, but I think it might be kind on God’s part.

 

God is telling Aaron and the people that Aaron was not at fault about his sons, and that he is still qualified to be a leader and fulfill his duties. The people should realize that Aaron is human and in need of comfort from his people. God does not want Aaron to hide in grief or shame.

 

We often blame ourselves for the behavior of others, particularly family, when something bad happens. We go from feeling bad to feeling responsible to blaming ourselves.

 

The Torah is saying that a lot of people, including our loved ones, do destructive things to others and to themselves, but that it is not our fault. We can try to help as much as we can, but ultimately the ones who cause the harm are responsible for their actions.

 

We are entitled to live our own lives. We do not have to sacrifice who we are because of the decisions of others. We do not have to make our selves a victim.

 

It also means we have to let other people help us. Aaron may have sealed himself off from the people. God wanted him among the people because he knew that Aaron’s sorrow could only be healed if he allowed others in, instead of trying to solve all his problems himself.

 

We read this story between Passover and Shavuot, the giving of the Torah. God is telling us that real liberation can only begin when we stop blaming ourselves for the bad decisions of others. We must realize we can try to make things better, but that we cannot fix everything, and that we are entitled to live our own lives. Only then will there be room in our hearts for the wisdom and compassion that God wants for us.

Counting on Yourself-A Kabbalistic approach to integrating our physical and spiritual selves-This Sunday at Adat Shalom

The Jewish mystics developed a wonderful meditative practice for learning how to integrate our physical and spiritual selves. It is based on the counting of the Omer, the period of time between Passover to Shavuot, the Holiday of the giving of the Torah.

We will study the different aspects of Kabbalah that relate to this sacred time, and learn to meditate on them, and develop our own meditative practices that will address the things we want to work on individually.

We will meet this Sunday at 11am at Adat Shalom Synagogue. Everyone is welcome.

The Courage to Compromise-How to bring redemption to the world or at least enjoy the people at your Seder

This past Shabbat was Shabbat HaGadol. Literally “The Great Shabbat” that occurs the week before Passover begins. The question is, what is so great about it?

For many years rabbis would give very long talks about the laws of Passover that morning, sometimes lasting hours. There were of course a couple of problems with this. The people in the synagogue did not think it was so great to sit and listen to the rabbi for several hours. It was also a little late to do anything about it, anyway.

The real reason for this Shabbat to be called Great, is that Passover traditionally is considered to be the time of the coming of redemption, the beginning of the Messianic era. The Shabbat before would be one of preparation.

The way we prepare for this redemption is not obvious, and has to do with Elijah the Prophet. Elijah has a prominent place at the Passover Seder. We fill a cup of wine and leave it on the table. At a certain point in the Seder a young child goes to open the door to allow Elijah in, who then drinks from the cup. This of course opens all sorts of possibilities for adults to try to trick the children, particularly those adults who have already had at least their required amount of wine.

I always thought it was kind of strange that Elijah could make it around the world to everyone’s house, but could not get in the door himself. I eventually learned the real reason for the cup of Elijah.

There is a debate in the Talmud over how many cups of wine we should drink at the Seder. Some say four, others say five, depending on the interpretation of a particular verse in the Torah. The rabbis decided to compromise. We would drink four cups of wine, and leave a fifth on the table. When Elijah comes, meaning during the Messianic period, of which Elijah was the announcer, then we will know the final answer.

This means that the cup of Elijah is a symbol of compromise. Compromise in fact is what will bring redemption.

We live in a time when people think all the world’s problems, or at least their family’s problems will be solved if only people do exactly what they say, without compromise or change. People believe so much in the righteousness of their opinion that they are willing to end relationships and connections over their convictions.

My father taught me that being right does not always help. In fact you can be completely right and still spend the rest of your life on the couch.

Judaism values the process of decision-making as much, if not more than, any conclusion. A process that honors all opinions will build a much more solid family and community than a fight to the bitter end, no matter how right we think we are.

This is a good idea to remember at Passover, when a lot of families get together for the first time maybe since last Passover. Our homes have a daily reminder of the value of compromise. The mezuzah on the door posts of our houses and Jewish institutions are set on an angle. This, too, was a compromise. One group said it should be vertical. Another group said it should be horizontal. They compromised at an angle. It was more important to live in peace than to insist on getting one’s way.

Our tradition teaches us that the greatest thing we can do to bring redemption to the world is put our egos aside and learn to listen to others and find a common ground.

I wish all of us a Passover of joy and peace.

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