Monday, September 24, 2012

Where’s your Source

Parshat Ha’azinu
D’varim 32:1 – 52
13 Tishrei 5773 / Sept. 28 - 29, 2012

Where’s your Source
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

 In this week’s parsha Moshe tells a story about a nation that reaches a state of such high prosperity that they ultimately become corrupt and turn away from the source of their blessing. Enough said for a powerful teaching from the Torah. Don’t you think?
This story can be seen in many different areas of bounty. The immensity of resources that the Earth has provided have been reaped to the point of depletion. Our advanced intellectual concepts of rules and regulations have been used to control and oppress. A rich global market has come to support child and abusive labor practices. Moshe definitely knew what he was talking about. And such disconnection and injustice, according to Moshe, can only breed further dis-integration.   

The nation that Moshe is talking about is named Yeshurun. And it is a lesser known nickname for Israel. They both start with the same three letters – Yud (י), Shin/Sin (ש), and Reish (ר). These are the route letters for the word forward or straight. Also upright, as in upright action, meaning moral or righteous – in line with certain values. Here is my take on the name difference. In Yisrael we are Yashar with El – Straight with G-d, or maybe the Upright of G-d. In Yeshurun we are Yashar with ?? – We have lost connection with the source of our blessing. We hold our heads up high with pride with nothing to counterbalance us towards humbleness.  

One of the main themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is remembering that G-d is king over the universe. I do not really connect with this image. To me G-d as an external ruler simply does not compute. What does speak to me though is a reminder that there is something greater than my personal limited self. This holiday season we can coronate social, global, and spiritual responsibility.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shabbat Vayelech (Shabbat Shuvah)
D’varim  31:1 – 31:30
6 Tishrei 5773 / September 21-22

Passing on the Mantle of Leadership
by Shifra Elman, Moishe House Palo Alto

This week’s parsha see’s Moses, leader of the Jewish people from the time we were slaves in Egypt through the forty years in the desert, pass leadership to Joshua. Joshua was Moses’s student, not his son or any other relation of his, he wasn’t even part of his tribe; Moses was a Levite and Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim (one of the sons of Joseph.) So at the ripe old age of 120 Moses hands over leadership right before they are to enter Israel. Moses, who brought the Jews out of Egypt, gave them the torah on Mount Sinai, built the mishkan(tabernacle,) weathered countless trials with them throughout the forty years in the desert, would not see or enter the promised-land with the Jewish people. He gathers the nation and in front of everyone tells Joshua “Be courageous and bold, for you will come with this people to the land which the Lord promised to their forefathers to give them. And you shall apportion it to them as an inheritance.

With just this small piece of the parsha there are many lessons. The overarching theme is of the importance of passing leadership to the next generation. It is essential to choose the right person for the job and not get caught up in choosing those we don’t want to offend by not choosing, such as our friends or relatives. Had Moses chosen a relation or someone from his tribe he would have opened that person up to questions of competency which may have had the effect of dividing the Jewish people. Since Joshua was neither a relation nor one of his tribe he was starting fresh.

The lesson I take from this is when passing on the mantle of leadership at Moishe House or in any other part of my life is: it important to choose those that will be good for the community and good at the job. It’s the difference between having a really knowledgeable professor who doesn’t know how to give over that information versus one who can do both. Another lesson is that it is also important to publically introduce that person to the community; by publically endorsing this person you are telling the community that has trusted you that you have the utmost faith in the new leadership. While change is inevitable and good; we are giving up the direct control we had in how our community is shaped, by choosing our leaders wisely we have a continuing, if long distance, hand in creating its future.

Shabbat Shalom All! 
Shifra Elman, MoHo Palo Alto

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Work Hard to Play Harder

D’varim  29:9 – 31:30
28 Elul 5772 / September 14-15

Work Hard to Play Harder
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ
ט  אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם, לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:  רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם, זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם, כֹּל, אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל.
9 You are standing this day all of you before the LORD your God: your leaders, your tribes, your elders, and your officers, each individual of Israel,
י  טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם--וְגֵרְךָ, אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ:  מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ, עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ.
10 your little ones, your partners, and your stranger that is in the midst of your camp, from the hewer of your wood unto the drawer of your water;

These words from D’varim Chapter 29 were spoken by Moshe to all the Children of Israel as they were standing at the edge of the Jordan preparing to enter the Promised Land. Each person, no matter where they stood on the social status ladder was equally invited into God’s covenant. As the High Holidays are fast approaching (Rosh Hashana begins September 16th) and after spending this past weekend with 30 Moishe House residents and community members learning about Sukkot, I feel that these words are speaking to our community directly.

Here we all are – leaders at times, followers at other times, keepers of tradition, teachers, children, lovers and partners – all standing on the brink of a new year. We are all equally called to the rituals and themes of the High Holidays. How can I be a better person this coming year? Who have I hurt this past year? What steps do I have to take to reconcile my broken relationships with my family, my community, with God? It is not easy to authentically grapple with these questions. But if we want to be more compassionate people and if we want to experience closer and more nurturing relationships, we have to. I think the reward for our efforts is hinted at in verse 10 above, with the mentioning of the wood hewers and water drawers.

We learned this weekend that wood and water are two important elements to celebrating Sukkot. The wood represents that organic plant material that makes up the s’chach (the roof of the sukkah). We also take four natural species (palm, citron, myrtle, and willow) and wave them together as a way to pray for rain (WATER!) On Sukkot we begin to pray for a bountiful rainy season to water our crops and shower the earth with blessing. In Temple times, a raging party would take place as water would be drawn from a surrounding spring to the temple mount and poured onto the sacred sacrificial alter.

So I think that the above verse is whispering to us that Sukkot itself is the reward for the sometimes difficult process of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur introspection. Practically speaking, if you are going to sit through services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, you have certainly earned some downtime in the Sukkah, simply sitting around with friends and family and enjoying each other’s company.  So this is an invitation to work hard now as you fess up to your faults, and play hard in a few weeks when you sit in a Sukkah and reap the benefits of your efforts.

Wishing you a Shana Tova u’Metukah! 

Monday, September 3, 2012

It’s Mine! Or is It?

Parshat Ki Tavo
D’varim 26:1 – 29:8
21 Elul 5772 / September 7-8, 2012

It’s Mine! Or is It?
by Rebecca Karp, MH East Regional Director

As we are in the thick of the text of Devarim (Deuteronomy), the last book of the Torah, as we push ever closer to the high holidays and begin again, Ki Tavo reminds us of a few key points HaShem made earlier on in our story.

The bulk of the parsha (weekly Torah portion) speaks about our covenant with G~d and how, if we follow the various dictums G~d has laid out for us, we will be supremely blessed. There are details upon details of how those blessings will manifest in our lives, the lives of those closest to us, and so on.

In contrast to this list, albeit in its own right lengthy, there is a far more detailed account of what curses will befall us should we fail to obey and participate in G~d's covenant. The details of the curses that will come upon us outweigh the blessings almost 3:1! Curses that affect mind, body and soul, personal livelihood and community, your family and those under your care.

Now, when I wrote the Dvar Torah I gave at my Bat Mitzvah, on this very parsha, I focused on on those blessings and curses. I spoke about why the curses would be so much more detailed and lengthy than the blessings and I would be happy to debate my thoughts on the matter again.

However, today, I chose to go in a different direction. The first section of this portion reminds us of a commandment that was first mentioned in Shemot (Exodus) 23:19 - the commandment of בכורים/Bikkurim or first fruits. From Ki Tavo, Devarim 26:2 " shall take of the first of every fruit of the ground that you bring in from your Land that HaShem, your G~d, gives you..." and 26:10 "And now, behold! I have brought the first fruit of the ground that You have given me, O HaShem! And you shall lay it before HaShem, your G~d, and you shall prostrate yourself before HaShem, your G~d."

That, to me, is quite remarkable. To think, you have been wandering through the desert for forty years and you have finally reached The Promised Land. The land that G~d has brought us to. The land that we have inherited. And now, you have even spent enough time in that land, working its soil, tilling the earth, watering, waiting, watching, that that earth has born fruit. If that were me, I would be thrilled. Ecstatic, in fact! And when I saw that fruit, say, that delicious cherry tomato or raspberry on the vine, I would pluck it and drop it into my mouth to savor my handiwork. Almost without a second thought. And that, I believe, is exactly the point.

We often work so hard at something, whether it be a professional degree, landing that new, great job, finding a partner and starting a life together, that when we succeed in obtaining that "fruit", we forget to look at our surroundings and offer blessings and thanks for what brought us to that point. That, for me, is the lesson in בכורים/Bikkurim that we can take from this parsha. 

As we wind down the days of Elul, a traditional time for stock-taking and review of your deeds and actions over the past year, I hope you are able to look at your first fruits within their larger context. May we all be blessed to bear many first fruits in our lives, and to have the courage and self-awareness to give thanks and offerings for those fruits.