Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hunger and The Heart©

Hunger and The Heart©
By Rabbi David Baum
Yom Kippur Day, 2013/5774

I want to begin by speaking about something that I probably shouldn’t be talking about today:  food. 

Before we go on, have you ever wondered, why do we fast on this day?  I know that in the past, I have told you that it is to raise us to another level so that we can focus on atoneing for our sins, but it’s mid day, and I’m sure that some of you are more focused on the bagels and locks that you’ll be eating tonight than being angels!

After many years, I’ve realized something – maybe we fast today, so we are forced to think about food. 

I’ll tell you how I got to this idea – it was from an experience I had in Washington DC. 

When I was 21, I led a trip with our Ramah group of 15 year olds from Ramah Darom to our nation’s capital, DC, with a program called Panin al Panim – face to face.  On the first night of the, the organizers brought a homeless woman come to tell them her story.  It was a touching story, the woman was abused by her husband, she was forced out of her home, she had no family to take her in, and nowhere to turn to.  Eventually, she found herself on the streets. 

Our campers were shocked, and the whole room was brought to tears.  Now, it’s one thing to listen to a story, it’s another to truly experience it.  Little did they know about the second part of the program.  The next day we had all the kids made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but we didn’t tell them why, and the next night, we took the children to the streets, to where the woman spent her nights, and we met her community, and we fed them, with our own hands.  Suddenly, the homeless had a face, a name, a story. 

So here was the shocking part – they came up to me, some of them from this Boca Raton, and said, “This was one of the most moving experiences of our lives. We want to help them, we want to continue this holy work!  We only wish there were homeless people in our city so we could continue this work at home!”

I stood there puzzled – have they really not seen a homeless person in their hometowns? Maybe so, but I know that if you drive in Boca Raton, you will see homeless people begging in the intersections.  They have almost become a part of the scenery, like the manicured trees, lawns, and the beautiful fountains. 

It reminded me of a story from the Talmud:

There was once a rabbi during the 3rd century, Yehoshua ben Levi, who traveled to the mighty city of Rome, the greatest city of its time.  There were many amazing sites, as anyone who has been to Rome knows, but he was struck most by the marble pillars.  One day, he noticed that the marble pillars were covered by sheets to guard it from heat and cold.  Then he looked down and saw the poor people, naked, without even a sheet.  When he saw this he said, “a civilization whose statues are treated better than its poor will not last.” 

Rabbi Yehoshua was able to see something that the Romans could not because they were so used to it – he had fresh eyes, and an open heart. 

I thought about the world we live in, a world of 24 hours news stations and a constant flow of breaking news, and a world with the internet at our fingertips, a world where we are constantly bombarded with so many images of suffering.  

I think the issue of is getting worse.

The homeless, the hungry, both here and abroad.  We are bombarded with images of the dead who die by violent means.  Who here wasn’t shocked by the scenes of the men, women, and especially children who were gassed in Syria?!?  I worry about these scenes – because we grow insensitive to suffering.

How do we cope with this reality?!?  We have to distance ourselves from it because the suffering is too much – this is called compassion fatigue. 

I realized that perhaps my campers didn’t see the homeless and the hungry in their own cities because they couldn’t see themselves in those people.  Maybe, just maybe, they grew callous towards them, so callous that they couldn’t see them.  Maybe, something in their very bodies changed. 

During the Al Chet, we confess our sins, and one of the first sins we confess,
together, is,

Al Chet SheChatanu Lefanecha b’Immutz HaLev

We have sinned against You through hardening our hearts.

A hard heart is more than a medical ailment; it’s a spiritual ailment.   

We hear about hard hearts when we read about Pharaoh, but his heart was heavy, kaved.  The word used here is Immutz Halev, which comes from the word, Amatz.  It’s the word that was used by Moses to Joshua, and Moses to the people.  “Hazak V’Emetz” Be strong and resolute.  At the end of Psalm 27, which we recite during this season of repentance, we say, “Hazak V’Yametz Libecha, v’kaveh el adonai” “Be strong take courage, and place your hope in Adonai.

And yet, now, we say that we have sinned against God by being Amatz.  What gives? 

I think that we are missing something in our al chet - hizzuk – strength, without strength, amatz, can become stiffness, and it can be a sin.  We have to make ourselves and our hearts strong first, then and only then can we have true courage. 

So how do we make our hearts strong? 

Deuteronomy 10:16 - 19

“Cut away, therefore, the thickening around your hearts, and stiffen your necks no more. For the Lord your God...shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

To make our hearts strong, we have to do something counterintuitive:  we have to cut away at the thickening of our hearts.  What does it mean to cut away the thickening of our hearts?  I think it means that we have to exercise it, we have to stretch it and strengthen it. 

We can do this by seeing your own story of suffering in others, and at times, sharing in that suffering. 

We need to live with softer hearts, and if we can do this, than they will grow stronger, and we will have courage.  I think that Judaism teaches us how – by living a life of empathy.

Empathy isn’t sympathy.  Sympathy is when we say, I feel bad for that person. 

Empathy is saying, I feel that person’s pain. 

Every Jewish holiday is an experience of empathy.  On Sukkot, we sleep in booths and make them our permanent home to remember what it was like for our ancestors to live in the wilderness on their way to freedom.  On Passover, we don’t eat any bread opting for matzah, lechem oni – the bread of affliction, to remind us of those days when we went from slavery to freedom.

Every ritual we perform gives us a certain way of feeling, and I think that for today, God wants us to experience hunger in order to stretch and strengthen our most important organ. 

Yom Kippur is one of the most widely observed holidays in the Jewish calendar.  Even those Jews who would never fast on any other holiday fast today.  Today, we feel something that we honestly don’t feel that often:  hunger. 

And so this year, I took the words of the prophet Isaiah, from our Haftarah, seriously.

Isaiah begins the Haftarah with hope for the future.  The exile of the Jews from Babylonia is soon coming to an end – the roads are being cleared, and we as a people will have a second chance, but with a second chance, comes a challenge:  to live a different life.  No longer will we only care about only about the ritual alone, but we will also take the ethical in our hands. 

Isaiah says, “3“Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!

5 Is this the fast that I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?

6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.

7It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

Isaiah gave us a new vision for our fast – it’s not just about us who choose to fast for one day, but about those who are forced to fast on other days.

For Slichot, we watched the powerful film, A Place At The Table.  In this movie were stories of real people who struggle with hunger every day.  We heard the story of Barbie, a single mother of two in Philadelphia who works but makes wages below the poverty level, and can’t make enough to buy food.  She cannot qualify for government food assistance programs if she makes above $28,000, she isn’t eligible, but if she made below that amount, she could not live.  There was one thing that she said that really affected me:  “What defines starving.  If you don’t eat for a day are you starving?  In the governments eyes, no, but in your eyes and the way you feel of course.”  When she is eligible, her food stamps only last three weeks out of the month.  She opened her refrigerator for the camera and said, “How can I tell my kids that we don’t have any food left for the week.”

I heard Isaiah’s haunting words – Is this the fast that I desire? 

We learned about the story of a policeman of a small town, once proud, but because of budget cuts, he hasn’t been paid in months, and yet, he continues to work.  Now, he has to go to the local food bank, and he feels ashamed, but what can he do?  He has to feed his family.

Is this the fast that I desire?

After the movie, I asked for reactions from those who watched. A woman raised her hand and said, “My daughter is on food stamps, and it’s not enough.  She is a single mom, and she tries, she really does, but she just can’t make ends meet.  We help her, but we are getting worried because we cannot help enough as we ourselves are on a fixed income.”

Let me ask you, a show of hands, how many people here have known someone, a family member or friend, or even yourself, who has ever been on Food Stamps? 

These stories occur everyday in our own community.  A teacher asks his young student, “Why are you falling asleep in class?”  The boy answers, because I didn’t eat breakfast.  And Why didn’t you eat breakfast and teacher demands!

The answer:  “Because it wasn’t my turn.”

Is this the fast that I desire? 

We have to open our hearts to the hungry, and not just on the holidays.  Today, we have to experience what they experience. 

Last year, I took the Food Stamp Challenge.  I had to spend a total of $31.50 on food and beverages during the Challenge week - this translates to $4.50 per day, or $1.50 per meal.  All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out had to be included in the total spending.  I couldn’t eat food I already owned, and I had to abstain from free food from family, friends, and at work. 

I ate, but wasn’t satisfied, I was tired, I was irritable.  I didn’t make my family take the challenge, and I sat, with envy, watching them eat their dinners.  It was a tough week, but it was only a week for me. 

A friend said to me, why take the challenge – to teach you that it stinks to be poor. 

I replied, why fast on Yom Kippur?  Why eat matzah on Passover?  Why spend time in an outdoor hut for Sukkot?

Because, I told him, there is a part of me that needs exercise – my heart.  If I am going to have a courageous heart, I have to make it strong first, and to make it strong, I have to understand what the poor and the hungry go through. 

I have to cut away at the thickening of my heart. 

Unfortunately, the problems of hunger are only getting worse.  Congress has cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding so that now, a person can only spend $1.41 a meal and a reduction of $29 a month.  There is much that can be done for advocacy.  Please visit Mazon (a Jewish response to hunger) to learn more about how you can help advocate for our most vulnerable, and you can also visit Mazon’s page to write a letter to our Congressmen urging them not to cut SNAP - http://act.mazon.org/save-snap-september13

That all being said, we, as a community, have to pick up where our law makers have left off.

This past year, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh, under the leadership of our social action chair – Judy Richman, has taken hunger on as one of our causes.  We have gone gleaning in the fields, picking up crops that farmers leave because it doesn’t make economic sense for them to pick it up.  We have fed the hungry at Boca Helping Hands on holidays, we have volunteered every month to bag food for the Ruth Rales Jewish Family Services Jacobson Food Pantry which feeds over 500 hungry families in South Palm Beach County, many of them Jews.  We must and will continue this work, but I want each one of you to do some things to help Isaiah’s vision, to share our bread with the hungry.  

Feed the hungry with your hands.

1.     When you walk into our sanctuary on Hampton Drive, you will see an Aron Kodesh, a place for our Torah scrolls, but on our way to our sanctuary, you will a box in front of the entrance to our sanctuary.   When you come to shul to pray, bring a can of food with you and put it in the receptacle.  This is what makes our space holy.  This year, give a morning of your life to bag food during one of our food bagging drives.  Come to Boca Helping Hands and serve the hungry.  Come gleaning with us to feed the food insecure children of South Palm Beach County. 

2.     When you make a PB and J sandwich in the morning for your child’s lunch, make one for you, and one for someone else.  As you are driving along your way, and stopped at a red light.  Give that hungry person with a sign the sandwich.  If it’s a long light, ask them what their name is. 

It’s important to know their names, because then they aren’t, that homeless guy, or that welfare queen – they are our brothers and sisters. 
The least you can do is make him a PB and J sandwich.  You won’t only feed his body with your act of kindness, but his soul, and yours also. 

Live out Simcha this year! 

3.     Who in here is going to have a Simcha this year?  If you are going to have an auf ruf, a bar mitzvah, a baby naming or Brit milah, or a wedding, I want you to consider taking part in Kayla’s Bountiful Arrangements.  Kayla Aronson, one of our teen congregants, started a program where you could donate $118 to her, and she gives almost the entirety of that money to the Jacobson Kosher Food Pantry.  To show this, she makes a food arrangement, which we have here in lieu of flowers.  When our ancestors brought sacrifices to the Temple, they would share a portion of it with the poor – this is the true definition Simcha, happiness.  Be like our ancestors – bring the poor and hungry with you into your simcha.

My prayer for you in the coming year is that you have a courageous heart by making it strong, hazak.  To make it strong, you have to open it up, you have to stretch it out, to cut the thickening around it, you have to live with empathy.

My prayer for you is that you realize that the task of feeding the hungry will never be complete, and despite this realization, you will continue on with a courageous heart.

In the Haftarah, Isaiah says: 

10And you offer your compassion to the hungry
And satisfy the famished creature—
Then shall your light shine in darkness,
And your gloom shall be like noonday.
If we do these things – we will bring light into the world. 


This is the fast that God desires.

The ‘Jewish’ Way To #YOLO (You Only Live Once)©

The ‘Jewish’ Way To #YOLO (You Only Live Once)©
Kol Nidre – 2013/5774
By Rabbi David Baum

There are many acronyms that we have grown accustomed to:  LOL, JK, TTYL, and more.  I once taught our bar/bat mitzvah classes and they had a whole conversation with just acronyms! 

It was like a foreign language; I had to use a dictionary!  OMG! 

But there’s a new one that you might not be aware of that is going viral amongst our young ones:  YOLO, you only live once.

YOLO is a fun way to live – let me read you some tweets with the hashtag YOLO

I just flirt .. all the time .. even when I know I shouldn't #yolo

Sometimes ya gotta just jump out of your friends car and get into a strangers convertible#opportunityknocking #YOLO

(You can try it yourself!  Go to www.twitter.com and type #YOLO in the search box)

YOLO is something you might tweet after you go bungee jumping, sky diving, or when you buy a sports car even though you know you shouldn’t.  We say YOLO when we do something adventurous, dangerous, fun, and at times, let’s face it, irresponsible. 

As Ecclesiastes once said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”  Of course, you and I know that YOLO is just another way of saying, Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, or Live for Today. 

The truth is, I don’t like YOLO.  I know, it’s just not cool to NOT be ok with YOLO.  But before you judge me, here me out, I have some good reasons. 

And yes, I say this today, the one day of the year where we rehearse our own deaths.  We wear our white kittels, the same garments we use to be buried in and we abstain from all earthly pleasures.  Today, we confront our mortality head on, and if any day would be a YOLO day, it would be today!

And yet even today isn’t a YOLO day, and I’ll go a step further:

YOLO isn’t Jewish. 

It’s not because we Jews are not the most adventurous people!  It’s because living only for today just isn’t Jewish.

Unfortunately, there is a price we pay for living only in the present, and not thinking of the past and the future, and it’s more than a nasty hangover, a diminished bank account, or worse. 

If we live like this, we become something truly unimaginable:  orphans in history.

So if YOLO isn’t the answer, if I shouldn’t seize the day, then what should I do? 

Here’s my answer – I want you to live in the present with one foot in the past and the other foot in the future.

I want to share a story told to me by Rabbi Jack Riemer of how living like this actually led to a modern day Jewish miracle:

Back in the thirties, the Labor party in Israel was struggling over whether to be in favor of partitioning the land of Israel or not.  If there was a partition, there would be a Jewish state, but on the other hand, if there was a partition, they would have to give up some of the most precious and sacred parts of the land of Israel. And so many people in the Labor Party were torn. Should they be in favor of partition, because it might lead to peace?  And because it might enable them to save some of the Jews of Europe, who had nowhere else to go? Or should they be against partition, because it meant surrendering part of the land of Israel forever?

Ben Gurion himself was divided on this question.  And so he went to Yosef Tabenkin, who was one of the elder statesmen of the Labor Party, and who had always been his mentor, and he asked him how he should vote.

Tabenkin said: Give me twenty four hours, and I will tell you what I think you should do, because, before I give you my advice, I need to consult with two people.
Tabenkin came back the next day, and said: I think you should vote for partition.
Ben Gurion thanked him for his advice, and then he said: Would you mind telling me who were the two people whom you consulted before you made your decision?
Tebenkin said: I asked my grandfather, who is no longer alive, and I asked my grandchildren who are not yet born. And only after I thought about what they would say, and about what would be best in their eyes, did I make my decision.”

Tebenkin proved that we don’t only live once, we can live forever.  And that’s what today is all about: past, present and future, surround us. 

First, let’s think about the past – how can we make sure that our long lost relatives are proud of us?  We can learn from their mistakes and live a different life. 

Let me ask you – who knows their Hebrew name by heart?  It is your name, son of your parents name.  Ashkenazim, which probably makes us the overwhelming majority of this room, have a custom to name their new born children for a relative who has passed away, who the newborn child will never have the chance to meet.  The logic must be for that person to live again in some way; but do we really go through with this? 

The fact is, our names are made up of the past – a long lost relative, or Tabenkin’s grandfather who is no longer alive, and your parents. 

Who in here knows which relatives they are named after?  
Who in here knows anything about these relatives?

My name is David Zalm Ben Yitzhak Shlomo v’Rachel Esther.  David was my grandmother Eva’s brother who was murdered in the Holocaust, and Zalman was my grandmother Eta’s brother who was also murdered in the Holocaust.  Passed that, I don’t know anything about them.  In fact, I never thought about it much until I had my own children.  I asked my parents about them, but they didn’t know, and both of my grandmothers are long gone. 

It’s a shame – I don’t even know who I’m named after.  

I know, it’s sad, and I wish I knew more.  I wish I knew what they were like, the great things they did in their lives, the families they built, the values they stood for – but I don’t.  But I will tell you, I think of them as almost super human, but I really have no reason to.  

We tend to deify our ancestors.  It is even a rabbinic concept called Zchut Avot, that we benefit from the righteous actions of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But, if you have learned anything from these high holidays, and from the rest of the Torah, you would know that our ancestors made big mistakes.  In fact, that’s what makes the Bible unique – rather than turn its characters into perfect gods, the characters were imperfect humans!  They are relatable! 

My name David, is after King David.  He may have been a great warrior, and killed the mighty Goliath; he might have been anointed by God, and united a kingdom, but he was also a womanizer, a man who was ruthless in his quest for power and a man who disappointed his prophets. 

Zalman is the Yiddish version of Shlomo, David’s son.  Sure, he was wise, he built the Holy Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world, but he also bankrupted the kingdom, had way too many wives, and broke some major rules.  His sins eventually led to the split of the kingdom after his death! 

So if they could make big mistakes, why couldn’t those who you are named after have made similar if not worse mistakes?  What happens if your long past ancestors weren’t the greatest of people? 

Let me spare you the suspense – no one is perfect, and all of us have had days we have regretted. 

I am glad that David and Shlomo were the people they were– because I can learn from their mistakes. 

Every Jew should know their Hebrew name, and if you don’t, I want you to do one thing when Yom Kippur ends – I want you to research it – find out who you are named for and why. 

Our ancestors of the past have a leg up on our grandchildren yet to be born – they have a history, and with that history comes imperfections.  Don’t ignore it or cover it up, embrace it!  It’s what makes us human!  It also teaches us that we too can achieve the great things our long lost relatives achieved. 

I want to tell you the story of a man who passed away just a couple of weeks ago, a man who is now a true ancestor. 

Irwin Weiss was a great man who served our congregation and many others his whole life until his passing this year at the age of 91.  During one of the days of shiva, his son Matt gave a stirring memory of something Irwin once told him.  Irwin worked hard his whole life, and he would work even when he came home.  The time he spent with his children was meaningful and memorable, but it didn’t happen often because he thought that he needed to work harder to provide them with more opportunities. 

So he worked, six days a week, from the early morning until the night, over holidays, etc.  This was not atypical of men of his time; but he had regrets.  When he retired and came down to Florida, he told his son, “I worked hard all my life, I ignored my family, and for what!  It was a mistake!” 

So Irwin created a second life down here in Florida.  He stopped working, he spent time with his family and got to know them.  In this way, he did tesuvah, and he taught me something – you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but you can teach an old man to change.  

Irwin taught me that it’s never to late to turn back and change your focus from work to family and legacy.   Avot D’Rabbi Natan says a famous line, “Do tesuvah one day before your death.” 

Can we learn from the mistakes of our ancestors?  Can we realize that sacrificing memories with our children may not be worth the toys you can buy with them with the extra hours at the office? 

Can we learn that no matter how old we are, we can change because our ancestors did the same? 

If you are still alive, it’s possible for you to turn things around and leave the legacy you want to leave.  That’s how we Jews seize the day. 

Judaism is not just about the past – it’s also about the future. 

What does it mean to live for the future?  To live for the future, you have to be a dreamer. 

We Jews are famous dreamers, and there is a famous midrash that I want to share with you to highlight this attribute: 

One day, a long time ago, a simple Jew, Choni HaMa’agel sought the meaning of one sentence, “A Song of Ascents. When God brings about the return to Zion, we were like dreamers…”

It is a vision of the future that references the past.  Choni could not understand the meaning, it upset him, and he prayed to God to show him the meaning. 

The next day, he happened to be walking along the road and noticed an old man, bending over and panting while planting a sapling of a carob tree. Choni goes up the old man and asks him: “how long does it take for this tree to bear fruit?”

The old man stops working for just a moment and tells Choni:

“This tree will take 70 years to produce fruit, but I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now, I don’t have a lot of time,”

Choni was really confused and asked what anyone else would ask: 
“Do you really think that you will live 70 more years to taste from the fruits of this tree?”

The old man put down his shovel, looks at Choni and says:

“I found this carob tree in this world, just as my grandfather planted the tree for my sake, so I’m planting this tree for my grandchild.”

Choni is really puzzled, and he still doesn’t know what the pasuk means!  He sits down to eat, but After he finishes his meal, a deep sleep overtakes over him and he sleeps for 70 years! 

Finally, Choni wakes up, and starts walking around, looking desperately for someone to ask what day it was.  He then notices a young man picking carobs from sapling of the tree he had seen planted, and Choni is shocked, amazed!
But he cannot find the old man who performed this magic, so he asks the young man, “Do you know who planted the tree? He was much older, but maybe I was wrong, are you him?”

The young man replies - “No, I am not, this tree was planted by my father’s father, 70 years ago.”  And then, he understood what had happened – he became a dreamer, and he realized, dreamers plant Carob trees – plants that will give fruit to our unborn grandchildren, but not for us.

A colleague and friend, Rabbi David Seth Kirschner had an excellent take on this line that puzzled Choni Ha’Ma’agal: 

Dreamers are people that use their past to better shape their future.

Dreamers are influenced by challenge and adversity and know the road ahead is paved by the steps in the road already traveled.

Dreamers hope and aspire for something better but, they learn best from their own encounters.

To be a dreamer means that you have to think about the future, you have to look beyond yourself.  Dreamers live with urgency, just like the old man who planted the carob tree – they actively plant seeds for the future. 

And I would add, dreamers care more about the future than even the present.  They work so hard because they want to leave a better world for their grandchildren – they want their children to taste the fruits that could never have grown in their life times! 

As you age in life, you have to come to the realization – you will not see all the flowers of the seeds that you are planting.  I know, it isn’t fair, but you aren’t alone.  Last week, we read Moses’s last song to his people, Haazinu, a poem he recited on the day of his death.  In this poem, Moses tries to leave his children a legacy – a legacy of Torah, of values, of ethics, of practice, a legacy devoted to God and humanity.  And yet, Moses will never see what will happen.  Moses realized that life was not just about him, it was about his ancestors, and his descendents, and his true wish was that his children would remember this, that they would not become orphans in history.  

In between this Kol Nidre and next, I want you to do 3 things:

1.    Live for the past

Learn about who you are named after and write down their story – what were the positive things that they stood for?  Where did they fall short and how can you learn from the lessons that they learned?  Learn from my mistake:  take the opportunity to ask who you are named after before it is too late!  And if you really want to give your children a gift, tell them the story of who they are named after.  Put pictures of the people they are named after in your children’s rooms so they can see a glimpse of the past to give them the strength to live in the present.  Rav Kook famously said:  Make the old new and the new holy.  You have a chance to make the old holy this year, don’t pass it up. 

2.    Live for the future

Plant a carob tree – do something that you might not see give fruit in your lifetime but you know will in the future.

One way to do this in a very real way is through our Create a Jewish Legacy program, a program run through the South Palm Beach Federation where you can make a charitable bequest for our congregation. 

As the synagogue world changes, we have realized that in order to ensure a future for our congregation, we need your help. 

We often pass down family heirlooms to our children, a kiddish cup, grandmother’s candlesticks, but if we don’t pass down the knowledge, the values, and the sense of community, then these items will be worthless to our descendents. 

We have a chance to pass on more than things, but a legacy, and my hope is that our congregation will continue to teach our Jewish customs, tradition, our faith in God, and our commitment to Israel for future generations.  But we cannot do it without your help – I ask you to think about something – the future, think about what legacy you want to pass down here in Boca Raton Florida for future generations of Jews. 
If you are interested in taking part in Creating a Jewish Legacy for our congregation for years to come, please contact us at office@shaareikodesh.org or by phone, 561-852-6555.    

Remember, we cannot take anything with us to the next world, but we can leave something behind. 

(For more information about Create A Jewish Legacy, please click here). 

3.    AND FINALLY, Don’t forget to live for the present, I mean, YOLO, you only live once after all right?

Don’t forget that you are going to make a tremendous impact in this world if you can hold the past and the present in your hands.  You only have one shot to leave an impact in this world, to live for the past and future – in the present. 

Love life, love each other, and have fun.


YOLO, Seize the Day, because it goes by fast. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Should I Upgrade? © - Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 2

Should I Upgrade? ©
Rosh Hashanah Sermon, Day 2, 5774/2013
By Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

I want to begin by telling you all a story that I’m sure you can empathize with. I had to stay home with my youngest son one day, but I also had some important meetings that I had to take part in, and because of the wonders of technology, I could do both, or at least I thought I could.

I was on a Skype meeting and my son was acting up, he wanted my attention. So I did what anyone else would do – I gave him my phone to play with so he would leave me alone!

I continued on in my important meeting and I hear a familiar sound that filled my heart with dread – PLUNK! And I knew immediately what happened, he dropped my phone in the toilet. I did what I probably should have done before – I ended my Skype call and immediately started Googling, how to fix an I-phone after it’s fallen in the toilet? There I am, standing with my phone in a bag of rice as my 18-month-old son is laughing at me.

If you learn anything from this sermon, now you know how to fix a waterlogged Iphone – put it in a bag of rice!

Unfortunately, the damage was done – the I-phone could not be saved, so I went with my son to the phone store, and I explained the situation to the salesmen. He looked up my records and said, “Mr. Baum, you’ve been eligible for an upgrade for almost a year now. Why would you stick with this old phone, why didn’t you UPGRADE?

Upgrade is a new term that has crept into our daily lives. With technology changing so fast, we are constantly told to UPGRADE to the newest and latest product! The salesman showed me phones that talk to you; phones that make eye contact with you, phones that answer your questions, and more. 

Why wouldn’t I UPGRADE?!? Was I missing the boat? And then, I realized why I don’t rush to upgrade – because constantly UPGRADING can change who we are.

As the salesman was speaking, I couldn’t help but look at my son, still a bit angry over him throwing my phone in the toilet, laughing at me and clapping with joy:

Could I ever UPGRADE my son?!?  

Clearly, the answer is no, but do we think about this regarding all our relationships? It get’s you thinking, doesn’t it?

I’ll tell you why all this talk of UPGRADING bothers me – we live in a disposable world. Every gadget we get becomes obsolete 5 minutes after we buy it. Remember the days when televisions were tubes that were so heavy you needed two people to lift them? Now they are flat screens that keep getting flatter, and now you can watch them in 3-D!

We are always upgrading, and my fear is that this is seeping into other parts of our lives. If we are always upgrading our phones, are we also falling into the trap of upgrading the people in our lives?

I have seen a disturbing trend nowadays, and I don’t like it. I know of a number of people who have worked at a place for over 10 years, and they come in one day, and poof, their job is gone. And whenever I tell someone about it the say the same thing: “there’s no loyalty anymore.”

We used to get married and have children, now we have children and still remain boyfriend and girlfriend because we fear being tied down
We used to marry and stay married, but now, 50% of the time, we get divorced.
We used to stay at the same company for 40 years, now; we change careers every two years.
We used to stay in the same city we were born in, now, we move across the country at a whim.
We used to stay at the same shul our grandparents built, now we don’t join any synagogue.
We have come a long way in a short time, we have righted some wrongs, and become better, but we also have to work on something else – our loyalty.

In this New Year, I would like you to add something very Jewish to your life and to your relationships: loyalty, but its not just loyalty, it’s about shared memory and faith in each other. 

Loyalty in modern Hebrew is translated as – Ne’emanut – Ne’eman means trust, but the room of this word is something that you have all said numerous times today and have said your whole life– Amen which I translate as - I believe.

During the musaf service, we will be reading three sections called the Malchuyot or “kingship”, Zichronot or “memory”, and the Shofarot “Shofar”. All three of these sections have different texts that highlight these different ideas. Malchuyot represents our relationship to God as king and we as his servants, forever loyal to our father.  Zichronot is about memory, that God remembers us and we remember God – we have a history together, and we think about this every time we interact, and the Shofarot service is the future and the belief that one day we will be redeemed.

Each one is vital and none can stand alone, like a tri-pod.

All three of these ideas are vital to our relationship with God and our relationships with our loved ones.

I want to begin by telling you how I have directly benefited from loyalty and continue to do until this very moment.

Who here likes buying gifts? I’m not a big fan because I could only disappoint. This summer was my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary. 40 years together is a great accomplishment, so what should we get them? Alissa, my brother and my sister-in-law, my sister and I got together and we were perplexed – what to get them? So we decided to buy them something that they don’t have, an original piece of art. Luckily, we have a congregant who is an accomplished Jewish artist, so I went to her home, and saw all these amazing pieces. We settled on a choice between two:

1.     Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li – I am my beloved’s and my beloved’s is mine
2.     For Everything There Is A Season, a Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven

Tell me, show of hands, who would pick number 1? Number 2? We went with number 2. Here was my logic – Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li is great for a new couple, but that initial feeling changes. Sure, you are mine and I am yours works when it’s nice and sunny on your wedding day, but what happens in the cold of winter, or during a storm?

As you move on in your journey together, you go through difficult times, different seasons, you realize that your life is a journey – it’s a marathon, not a race; and the award goes to who can stay on the path together through the good seasons and the difficult seasons.

Truthfully, some couples are just not meant to be, there are some pairs that shouldn’t work. It’s interesting; there is an example of divorce in the Bible, but no wedding ceremony! And there are times when separation really is the best option. 

If you had to make that difficult decision, I understand, and I support you. 

But these two were meant to be together. How did they get to 40 years of staying together?

For those pairs who can make it work, there are great benefits. As parents who have been together for 40 years, I grew up in a stable home, but it wasn’t always easy – there were real fights, infertility at the beginning, and probably some financial problems.

And then I thought about the partners in the Bible, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel – they all had conflict in their lives, and there were times when there seemed to be insurmountable obstacles in their way –

All of them had fertility problems
All of them had financial problems
All of them had BIG problems with raising their children
Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Rachel and Leah had problems with romance

They all had difficulties, but there was one forefather and foremother that I think fared the best out of all of them, and yet, they don’t get the credit that they deserve; a couple that loved each other and remained loyal throughout their whole lives: Isaac and Rebecca.

I feel bad for Isaac, I really do. He is gently called the ‘transition’ father of the Big 3 by our rabbis.  Isaac is best known for the Akedah, the section of Torah that we read today, and during that transformative moment, when he lays on the altar about to be sacrificed by his father, and he only utters one brief sentence. 

But there is so much more to Isaac that we can learn from, perhaps even more so than his father Abraham, or his son, Jacob.

Isaac was loyal to others, Isaac remembered others, Isaac believed in others.  Isaac taught us how to truly love. 

Isaac and his wife Rebecca was the first example of love between couples and the Torah actually says that Isaac married Rebecca and then “he loved her” (Genesis 24:67).  His wife Rebecca went through some serious fertility problems, much like his mother Sarah, but Isaac did what his father could not do:  he stuck by his wife, he didn’t find another more fertile woman, and he went further than that, he PLEADED with God, as the Torah tells us, “Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren” – Genesis 25:21.  He was loyal to her, he believed in her, and his loyalty and his belief in Rebecca paid off.  Isaac only had one spouse his entire life, the first true monogamist of our forefathers, a rare find indeed.  He not only had children, but he had a youthful and passionate relationship with Rebecca.  The Torah even tells us, “Isaac fondled his wife Rebecca.”  (Genesis 26:8).  Isaac remembered his life with Rebecca, their good times, and that probably helped him get through the difficult times.  The time when his son Jacob fooled Isaac into blessing him rather than Esau, a plot set up by his own wife! 

The text never tells us if he finds out, but I like to imagine that he does, and because they have such a great history together, and he realizes that she was right, and continues to love her. 

Or, maybe he made himself forget! 
It’s not just about having a GOOD memory, but a KIND memory! 
When we fight, my wife doesn’t get hysterical, she get’s historical.  When we get lost finding some place, she brings up, remember when you made us take the wrong bus in Jerusalem and we got lost for 3 hours!  And of course, I do the same thing; we all do the same thing! 

Isaac also taught us that we can love other things in our lives – like land. 

Isaac taught us how to truly love a land – by being loyal to it, by remembering it, by believing in it.  Isaac is the only forefather never to leave the land of Canaan.  He loved the land so much that he became the first Jewish farmer.  Have you ever grown anything?  There is nothing more humbling than farming! 
It takes time, loyalty, and belief!  Our family used to have an herb and vegetable garden, and one day, after we planted the seeds, my son looked at me and said, “Abbah, where’s the vegetables?  Make them grow!”  I told him, “son, we have to wait, if we water it, and take care of it, I believe that it will grow, but we have to keep at it.”  Isaac became a model to the early settlers of the modern state of Israel.  Settling the land wasn’t easy.  The land was almost uninhabitable, but the Halutzim built kibbutzim, developed new technologies for agriculture, drained swamps, and made the desert bloom. 

It teaches us all that loyalty, memory, and belief in Israel is something we must do in order to say that we truly love Israel. 

Sometimes, it becomes difficult to be head over heals in love with Israel like when we see the controversies regarding pluralism, but whenever I hear this news; I pick up this little coin that is priceless to me but worthless to almost everyone else in the world. 

It’s a gift I received from the counsel general for Florida and PR.  It’s a coin with Hebrew writing dating back to the time of Alexander Yannai, which shows our presence on the land thousands of years ago.  We have history there!  Our commitment to Israel is about the past, it’s about loyalty because there is only one Jewish state, and it’s about belief in her future. 

That’s why it bothers me when Jews are overly critical of Israel, those who say we must boycott Israeli good, divest from Israel, and sanction Israel in order to solve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but it’s like they have amnesia.  It’s almost like they forgot that Israel was once a struggling democracy, and they also choose not to see that Israel is still surrounded on almost all sides by hostile neighbors. 

When I was in a meeting with Michael Oren and a group of rabbis, he begged us; we welcome your criticisms, but please criticize us like your mothers, not your mothers in law.  But even before you open your mouth, you have to believe that Israel knows what she is doing, that you can trust her. 

Belief in the future is so important. 

Tesuvah, the ability to change your ways, is interesting.  Our rabbis teach us that we must forgive people if they do tesuvah, and yet, there is a common saying, “past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.”  Judaism says something different, Judaism tells us to believe in the fact that we can change for the future.  Trust someone, be loyal to someone, believe in someone.

I mentioned earlier that another word for loyalty is Ne’emnut, which contains the word Amen, or I believe. 

We say Amen in prayer a lot, but do we say it to each other.

Why can’t we turn to each other and say this more often – you are having a tough time, and I may not like the way you are acting now, but I believe you can change, because I believe in you, and I want you to believe in me – AMEN!

Can I get an Amen from you all!

Can I get an Amen for the person sitting next to you – say it to your neighbor, Amen!

Can I get an Amen for your partner! 

Can I get an Amen for your community!

Can I get an Amen for the Jewish people!

Can I get an Amen for the state of Israel! 

In the coming year, I want you to believe in your partner, in your community, in your people, in the only Jewish state, even if they do something that upsets you.  If they wrong you, and do tesuvah, don’t hold the sin over their heads, in that case, make sure that you have a KIND memory, not a GOOD memory.  And when you go through a difficult time, with anyone or anything you love, remember why you fell in love in the first place. 

When your relationship seems broken, don’t go to the store to UPGRADE right away, try and fix it first, and try hard because there are some things that shouldn’t be thrown away so easily – try and stay loyal for as long as you can. 

Love like Isaac did, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might.

For Everything There Is A Season, a Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven.  Let us pray that 5774 is the season of love, loyalty, memory and belief, and that you strive toward that purpose with all of your heart.