Friday, June 19, 2015

Rabbi David Baum's Statement about Shooting at AME Church, South Carolina


I have just returned from a professional development conference for Rabbis, and yesterday morning, surrounded by my colleagues, I had the honor of leading Musaf for Rosh Hodesh Tammuz, a month that contains the holiday of the 17th of Tammuz, a day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, eventually leading to the destruction of our Holy Temple. This week, a despicable human being in an act of hate and terrorism violated another faith's holy space.  During our prayer service, my colleagues and I read Tehillim/Psalms (our shared holy text) after Musaf, in solidarity with our brothers and sisters whose lives were taken and who those left who live in fear of their lives because of their skin color.  It was not just their space that was violated, but all of our holy spaces.

There is a debate in Judaism, should prayers be fixed or spontaneous?  Prayer in Judaism occurs three times a day, and there is a set text, giving us words that are often times hard to find to fully express ourselves on a daily basis.  However, there is often times a danger with repeating the same words over and over without thought.  Rabbi Shimon in the Ethics of Our Fathers states, "Be careful, when reciting the Shema and Amidah.  And when you pray, do not make your prayer rigid (Kevah), rather compassionate and pleading before God."  The Shulchan Aruch, a law code from the 1500's, states that 'one who is praying must feel in his heart the meaning of the words on his lips..." 

Every Shabbat at Shaarei Kodesh, a person is given the honor of reading 'A prayer for our Country'.  For thousands of years, Jews around the world have prayed for the welfare of the countries they have lived, mainly based on a quote from the prophet Jeremiah, "Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to Adonai on its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper."  As we think about the lands we have lived in during our time in the Diaspora, in no other country have Jews enjoyed more freedom and prosperity than in the United States of America.   

Most Shabbatot, I find myself saying these words by rote, without kavanah/intention, but kavanah/intention is needed.  Kavanah helps us actualize the words of this prayer:  "Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit.  May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country."  I view our churches, synagogues, and mosques, our country's diverse houses of worship, as among these vital institutions.  This week, a despicable man killed nine innocent people during a Bible study class which violated the sanctity of all of our institutions.  The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, built by the hands of former slaves, has stood as a beacon of hope and justice in South Carolina since the 1800's.  My colleague and friend Rabbi Menachem Creditor notes the following about the church: 

"The Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney spoke to doctoral students just this past February, at the very AME church where he was murdered last night, a church built in 1891, founded in 1818, from an experience of civil disobedience, when a black man was told that he could only pray after the "regular" parishioners did. This church was founded, in Pinckney's words, "upon the universal vision of all people being treated fairly under the law, as God sees us in [God's] sight."  This massacre occurred on the very anniversary of a failed slave revolt, led by Denmark Vesey, a rebellion that played a significant role in the African American liberation movement in South Carolina. Last night, that church that was torn by bullets. God's House and God's Images were torn. Violence is not God's path. (to read the entire article, please click here)

On this Shabbat, following this violation of God's holy name, I will let the words of this prayer for our country sink into my heart, surrounded by my community, and their beating hearts.  Together, we stand with our brothers and sisters in this great nation, and pray to that one day, hatred and bigotry will be banished our ideals and free institutions will be guarded and protected.

Let us all pray for our African American brothers and sisters in South Carolina and throughout our great country, and stand with them in solidarity against hatred, bigotry, and violence.  I urge you all to sign this letter to the mourning families of South Carolina, to let them know that we stand with them against hatred and bigotry:   CLICK HERE TO SIGN THIS IMPORTANT LETTER. 

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods. The liturgical movement must become a revolutionary movement, seeking to overthrow the forces that continue to destroy the promise, the hope, the vision."  

Let us hope our prayers not only reach God, but reach into our hearts so we can help heal a deeply fractured world. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jewish Unity, Not Uniformity

Jewish Unity, Not Uniformity

One of my most vivid memories from my time living in Israel from 2002-2003 was my interview for rabbinical school with the Jewish Theological Seminary.  It is during these interviews when rabbis ask difficult questions to prospective students, and I remember one quite distinctively.  One of the members of the panel asked, very simply, do you believe that the third Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, should be re-built?  Quite honestly, I was taken aback by this question.  If I answer absolutely yes, will they think that I am a religious fanatic?  If I answer no, will they doubt my commitment to our tradition and history?  But I searched deep down and gave them the following answer from my heart:  “I do believe we should build a third Temple, however, it must be under the following circumstances:  that every streamline of Judaism be represented inside the Temple, and they must exist in perfect harmony and peace with each other.  However, in order for this type of unbridled unity, mutual respect and acceptance between our movements seems to be dependent upon a miracle, like the coming of the Messiah, so I suppose we will have to wait.”  Needless to say, I was admitted to rabbinical school shortly after.    

Last week, on June 3, the South Palm Beach Jewish community came together for Unity Day, commemorating the first anniversary of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach, by Hamas terrorists.  Last year, the Jewish world came together to help bring back our boys.  The parents of the boys made a stirring video in preparation for the event (click here to view).  The event in South Palm Beach County, which was put together with only a couple of weeks notice and preparation, was the largest gathering in North America with over 500 people in attendance.  An estimated 1.2 million Jews around the world participated in a Unity Day event on June 3, 2015.  I was honored to give a speech at the event (click here to listen to Rabbi Baum’s address at the Unity Day event). Sharing the stage with my rabbinic colleagues, from all the major Jewish religious movements, from Reform to Orthodox, male and female, and seeing the diversity of those in attendance was truly a night of inspiration that I will never forget.  I left that evening on a spiritual high, forgetting the past incidences of conflict between streams of Judaism.  Unfortunately, I was brought back to earth just days after this event when an incident between the President of Israel, Reuvin Rivlin, mishandled a bar mitzvah for special needs children that was organized by the Masorti movement (the Conservative movement of Judaism in Israel).  To read more about the specifics of this incident, I urge you to read a letter written by the leaders of our movement from around the world including our the Masorti leadership in Israel(click here to read this important statement).  There has been a long standing conflict between the Orthodox establishment in Israel, who are in control of marriage and divorce, conversions, kashruth, among other important aspects of Jewish life in Israel, and the Masorti and Reform movements in Israel who are underfunded and held back from taking a larger role in Israel.  To read more about this ongoing conflict, and more background on this specific incident, I highly recommend Shmuel Rosner’s op-ed in the New York Times, “Don’t Disrespect American Jews.”

Unfortunately, as much as we pray for unity and peace for Judaism in Israel, we seem to be far from it.  One of the enduring quotes I heard at the Unity Day celebration was from one of the mother’s of the three boys, Rachel Fraenkel who said that on this day, “We want unity, not uniformity.”  I interpreted this to say that Jewish unity does not mean that all Jews must worship and believe in exactly the same way.  In order to truly come together, we must respect each other’s views, and give voice to all movements in Israel.  If we want Israel to be the homeland of the Jewish people, it must truly be the homeland for all Jewish people, regardless of movement.  I believe that the diversity of our movements in Israel is not only important, but absolutely necessary for the present and future of the state Israel.  

It is with these thoughts in mind that I want to thank those who voted in the World Zionist Congress elections.  The results of the elections were released this week, and the results were a success for the progressive movements in Israel.  39% of the votes went to the Reform movement (Arza with 56 seats) and 17% went to the Masorti/Conservative platform (Mercaz USA with 25 seats), and the Orthodox movement (Religious Zionists: Vote Torah for the Soul of Israel) with 24 seats.  

I truly believe that in order for Israel to continue to be the homeland of the Jewish people, we must have more unity, but not necessarily uniformity.  It is why I support the Masorti movement in Israel which makes a tremendous difference with very little resources.  To learn more about the Masorti movement, click here.  There is a famous quote from the book of Isaiah:  “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).  My hope is that one day, Israel will truly be the house of prayer for all streamlines in Judaism, and that one day, we can

My hope is that one day, Israel will be the place where we can respect and accept each other as Jews.  Let us pray it happens soon, bimheira b’yamenu. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Jealousy and Humility© Parashat Behukotai - 5775/2015

Jealousy and Humility©
Parashat Behukotai - 5775/2015
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

I want to share a story with you all, honestly, it's kind of personal, and it's not one of my finest moments. I received an email from my brother, an article quoting him in the Sun Sentinel. My brother, a congregant here at CSK, has been the Director of Testing for Broward County Schools, an important but behind the scenes kind of job. It was the first time he had ever been quoted in the paper.

I heard all of this, and I heard my yetzer harah speaking to me, “how many articles in this paper have I been quoted in? Where was that praise from my family then?” That yetzer harah actually has a name – kinah, jealousy.

It was interesting, but at that moment, I became competitive with my brother, whom I consider my best friend.

I know I'm not alone. We all have our stories of sibling rivalries, in fact, it's timeless. We see a great example of this in our parashah this week.

Numbers 12:1 – 2

(א) וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה עַל־אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח כִּי־אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית לָקָח:
(ב) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הֲרַק אַךְ־בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְקֹוָק הֲלֹא גַּם־בָּנוּ דִבֵּר וַיִּשְׁמַע יְקֹוָק:
(ג) וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה ענו עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה: ס

1. And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married: for he had married an Ethiopian woman. 2. They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The Lord heard it. 3 Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.

We see here something interesting: that yetzer harah creeps up on them. Here we see two different issues that their siblings have problems with:
  1. Moses and his choice of spouse
  2. The fact that Moses literally talks FOR God.

The two issues seem to be unrelated, and you wonder, what's going on here?!? Now, think back to your own attacks against a sibling, a relative or close friend. Sometimes, you will begin your attack with something that might be scandalous, but it's not really what you most resent. I think this might be the case here.

In order to fully understand their resentment, we have to look at what just transpired in the previous chapter:

The people start complaining, which is a theme of BaMidbar/Numbers, and Moshe cannot take it anymore. He tells God, “14 I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. 15 If You would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness!””
So God has Moshe gather 70 elders who will help him lead.

17I will come down and speak with you there, and I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone. 

Moshe does as he is commanded:

25 Then the Lord came down in a cloud and spoke to him; He drew upon the spirit that was on him and put it upon the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they spoke in ecstasy, but did not continue.
26 Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them—they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent—and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. 27 A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, “Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!”28 And Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, “My lord Moses, restrain them!” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you wrought up on my account? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” 

(כט) וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל־עַם יְקֹוָק נְבִיאִים כִּי־יִתֵּן יְקֹוָק אֶת־רוּחוֹ עֲלֵיהֶם:
Ramban translates Joshua's words in a very interesting way.
וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה כְּלָאֵם - in the Etz Chaim Chumash, it is translated as 'restrain them', but Ramban, Nachmonides, uses the Talmud's translation - “keep the Holy Spirit away from them!” Moshe's answer is even more powerful with this translation:

I want to read verse 29 in Hebrew:

HaMekaneh Attah Li? הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי Are you jealous for me?

His answer is beautiful! Would it be all that everyone could have God's spirit in them! I don't want to hoard God's spirit, I want to share it! Don't be jealous, celebrate it!
Ramban highlights one of Moshe's great qualities here. He writes, “Moshe, in his great humility, gave this response.

And so we return to the attack from Moses's brother and sister - what is the response to this attack? Actually, Moses doesn't say anything, but the text does state this:

ג) וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה ענו עָנָיו מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל־פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה: ס

In Hebrew, the term for humble is Anavut, and Moshe was an 'Anav'.

3 Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth.

It wasn't that Moshe was just humble, not even very humble, but the most humble person on the face of the earth.

It reminds of a story that Rabbi Jack Riemer told me, when two rabbis were arguing over who was most humble. One rabbi said, I have more humility in my pinky finger than you have in your entire body!

What's interesting here is that no other leader in the Torah is called humble, and Moshe had so many other qualities, but this is what is highlighted.

How is Moshe, the man who stands up to Pharaoh, who breaks the Ten Commandments, who is continually the intermediary between God and the people, called humble?

If we look at the way Moses began his career as leader of Israel, we see that he was in fact, very humble. In Chapter 3 of Exodus, Moses declines leadership several times to God. Think about this – God thought he was a capable leader, but he didn't, what other vote of confidence does one need?

Anavut, the word we translate as humility, doesn't mean that we only look at ourselves as dust and ashes; that we are insignificant. Rather, anavut can help us understand that despite the fact that we are dust and ashes, we have been given tremendous gifts by our Creator in the form of our talents and the light we show to the world. An Anav knows that these gifts were given for the betterment and honor of others.

Ben Zoma, in Pirkei Avot, states,
Who is wise? One who learns from every person.
Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations, yetzer.
Who is rich? One who is happy with his portion.
Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows.

This is the ultimate definition of the Anav – someone who knows that wisdom is not found within, but from others, and therefore, we must seek others out to become better. Who is strong? Someone who can overcome the yetzer – especially jealousy. Who is rich? Well, once you can overcome jealousy, then you can be happy with your share and realize the gifts you've received. And finally, who is honorable? One who bestows honor on others.

I believe Anavut, humility, is the antidote to the yetzer harah of kinah, jealousy.

Everyone has something to be jealous of, but is this how we want to live our lives? Rather, let's be humble enough to learn from every person, because let's face it, we don't know it all. Let's be humble enough to realize that we've got something special when we have it. Let's be humble enough to realize that the way to honor is to honor others and be happy with them.

Let's be humble enough to say, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put His spirit upon them!” 

In the next week, I want you to do one thing: when you see a relative or friend, especially a person who doesn't receive it much, receive praise, fight the yeterz harah in you, and be happy for them. Realize that God has gifts God bestows on us all.

And let's take it a step further: instead of praising yourself this week, praise someone else, especially someone who never does any bragging, who may not think that they are important, but what they do changes the world.