Thursday, October 15, 2015

Shabbat Message - A Shabbat Of Solidarity With Israel

Shabbat Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,Rabbi Baum
This week, our people celebrated the new month of Marcheshvan.  I wrote about the interesting name given to this month in a blog posting that I hope you read (click here to read Why I'm Wearing Blue on MARcheshvan).  The name Marcheshvan is actually one word, but some have separated the name into two:  Mar (bitter) Cheshvan.  Some say that it is bitter because there are no Jewish holidays during the month, but many others disagree.  As Jews, we celebrate each month, regardless of what will happen.  When we announce the new month, as we did last Shabbat at Shaarei Kodesh, we proclaim as a community:  “May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our ancestors, to reawaken in us joy and blessing in the month ahead.”  During this holy time as we take our Torahs out of the ark and the community stands, we pray for peace, goodness, and blessing.  Finally, we pray for a time when all of world Jewry will return to Israel. The literal meaning of this line is that we physically return to the land of Israel, but there might be another way to look at this prayer.  
Perhaps it’s a message to us:  let the entire people of Israel return have a spiritual return to the land of Israel. 
I spoke about Israel twice on the high holidays.  In one sermon, I spoke about the importance of Jewish Unity (click here to read) and in the second sermon I spoke about remembering that Israel always chooses life when faced with evil, death, and terrorism(click here to read).  Little did I know how relevant these words would be so soon after the high holidays. 
As I stated earlier, the term Mar, or bitter, Cheshvan seems much more timely as witness the terror attacks that are happening in Israel at this time.  Innocent civilians are being murdered and wounded in stabbing attacks, amongst other means of violence.  I have heard from friends and family in Israel who are scared to leave their homes. 
We prayed last week for a ‘return’ to Israel, so now we must actualize this prayer.  This Shabbat, I invite each one of you to join us both in celebration of our B’not Mitzvah, but also, in solidarity with Medinat Israel, the State of Israel.  This Shabbat, Shaarei Kodesh will be joining synagogues from all movements across the country in a Shabbat of Solidarity with Israel.  This Shabbat, we will come together to recite a special prayer written by Rabbi David Wolpe for our Israeli cousins living through terror:
El Maleh Rachamim -- Compassionate God,
We pray not to wipe out haters but to banish hatred.
Not to destroy sinners but to lessen sin.
Our prayers are not for a perfect world but a better one
Where parents are not bereaved by the savagery of sudden attacks
Or children orphaned by blades glinting in a noonday sun.
Help us dear God, to have the courage to remain strong, to stand fast.
Spread your light on the dark hearts of the slayers
And your comfort to the bereaved hearts of families of the slain.
Let calm return Your city Jerusalem, and to Israel, Your blessed land.
We grieve with those wounded in body and spirit,
Pray for the fortitude of our sisters and brothers,
And ask you to awaken the world to our struggle and help us bring peace.

Next Thursday, I invite you all to hear from Rabbi Sam Kieffer who will be speaking about living in the REAL land of Israel.  During this evening, we will raise money for two organizations who are helping victims of terror in Israel (CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION) .

Let us pray for a return to peace in Israel, and pray for a world free of war and bloodshed. 
Rabbi David Baum

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Why I’m wearing Blue on Rosh Chodesh MarChesvan

Why I’m wearing Blue on Rosh Chodesh MarChesvan
By Rabbi David Baum

By Rabbi David Baum

Rosh Chodesh is supposed to be a happy time – but this month, is kind of bitter.  Today is Rosh Chodesh Heshvan but the month is commonly called Marcheshvan.  The month is related to an Akadian word which was the 8th month of the Babylonian calendar.[1]  
There is a tradition in Judaism to emphasis the bitterness when we say Marcheshvan, Mar, the bitter, and then Cheshvan – the bitter.
The rabbis say it’s bitter because there are no Jewish holidays in the month.  But to be honest, as rabbi of a busy shul, maybe it’s good to have one month without a Jewish holiday! 

There are other explanations for the name of the month, and I think it’s important to highlight them at this time. 

The Pri Chadash (Even Ha’ezer 126:7) offers the only explanation that I have found for calling this month by the two-word name Mar Cheshvan.  He suggests that the name Mar Cheshvan is based on the fact that it is the beginning of the rainy season.  The Targum Onkelos translated mar as tipah, a drop, in the verse “Hen goyim k’mar midli — Behold, the nations are as a drop of [water from] a bucket” (Isaiah 40:15).  As such, the name means the “rainy Cheshvan,” and far from mar meaning bitter, it connotes a month of blessed rain.

If we take it from this perspective, this is a month that we focus our energies and thoughts on day-to-day living in Israel, a month without holidays, that is seemingly mundane, and yet, there is an underlying struggle of life and death.

So on this Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvan, I am wearing blue, to remember the life and death struggle of water in Israel, and to remember that Israelis are once again in a period of extreme fear with the rampant stabbings of Israelis by terrorists around the country. 

Rosh Chodesh is a happy time, but we see that even within the Hallel that we sing in the morning service, there is still angst, especially in Psalm 118. 

“5 In distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and brought me relief.”

Metzar is a narrow place – it’s not just a physical place, but a spiritual place, or a state of mind.  I can tell you, living first hand through terrorism in Israel from 2002-2003, it can feel like a narrow place.  I lived through bus bombings on a weekly basis.  I will never forget that ‘narrow place’; that narrow place that was far from buses, or restaurants, running away from them lest there be an explosion. 

And no matter what security measures are in place, you never feel quite secure….

“8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in mortals;”  Which is why you ultimately feel, better to depend on God that to trust in mortals. 

And as you live through it, you feel as if you are being ‘surrounded and encircled’ (verse 11).

And so on this Rosh Chodesh, we acknowledge the bitter during a happy time.  We pray for the ending of metzar, the narrow, to Merchav, opening and wideness, in other words, physical, mental, and spiritual freedom. 

As a Jewish community living outside the land, we play a special role.  We are a place where Israel matters – where we educate about Israel, like our License to Chai class, or our 70 Faces of Israel initiative from last year.  It’s a place where we support Israel, through advocacy, like AIPAC, or monetarily, through Israel Bonds. 

Israel is part of the fabric of who we are. 

It’s a bitter time, but we pray for sweetness. 

The Bnei Yissaschar (2:56-57) Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov relates a beautiful midrash about the future of Marcheshvan indicating that the dedication of the Third Temple will occur in Marcheshvan, removing any doubt about it being a bitter month.

The Temple mount is a battle ground today – let’s pray for a future where all people’s come together, as we read in the book of Isaiah:

7 I will bring them to My sacred mount
And let them rejoice in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
Shall be welcome on My altar;
For My House shall be called
A house of prayer for all peoples.”

But before we see the Messianic age, let us pray for a return to normalcy, a return to a time when Israelis no longer live in fear, when they go from narrow straits to wide open freedom.  


Friday, October 2, 2015

Sukkot Chol HaMoed Message

Moadim L'Simcha, 

There was a moment in my life that I will never forget.  It was the 9th of Av 5769 (or 2009), two days after our first son, Avi was born.  As we know, the 9th of Av is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, and yet, I could not help but smile as I walked inside our sanctuary.  Even as everyone was sitting on the floor, and reading megillat Eicha, I could not help but be elated because of the birth of our first child.  There are times in our calendar when we are compelled to feel a certain way.  On Tisha B’Av, it is sadness, but on Sukkot, we are commanded to feel the complete opposite of sadness:  Simcha, or happiness. 
On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, we will be reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, which famously states in chapter 3, “There is a season that is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven - A time for weeping and a time for laughing, A time for wailing and a time for dancing.”  When I stepped into the sanctuary that day, the 9th of Av, it was a time for wailing and weeping and yet, I was smiling and happy.  Our holidays are moments in time when we, as a spiritual community, come together to experience certain emotions.  This week, we are commanded to be happy, and yet, we are surrounded by so much sadness.  This week, we witnessed two horrific events:  the murder of two parents in front of their four children by Palestinian terrorists, Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin; and the senseless murder of 10 people (and 7 injured) in yet another mass shooting at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

The question is, how can we be happy as we enter into our Sukkot?  How can we force ourselves to be happy when we are surrounded by sadness?  Unfortunately, there is no one good answer to this question, but something that I take solace in is how our people have viewed this holiday for thousands of years, dating back to the time of the Holy Temple/Beit HaMikdash.  On Sukkot, we learn see that there were 70 bulls in total that were sacrificed during the holiday of Sukkot.  Our rabbis teach us that these sacrifices represented all of the nations of the world.  In other words, we offered sacrifices, not just for us, but for the whole world; we cared for others, not just ourselves.  This open-heart approach is beautiful and rewarding, but when there is heartbreak in the world, whether to our brothers and sisters, or to others, we are left vulnerable.  It is in this vulnerability, in our Sukkot, a flimsy structure by nature, that we seek happiness and solace.  And so, with a full heart, we enter into our Sukkot this Shabbat, and we force ourselves to look at the beauty that surrounds us.  This Shabbat, we welcome the new souls who have joined our congregation on our journey.  We will welcome them with love and an open heart.  On Sunday, we will celebrate the last day of Sukkot together at our annual Membership barbeque.  Together we will see each other and eat in joy and gladness. During these times, we force ourselves to look at the good in our lives, while also remembering that there is pain in this world, and that healing must occur, but we must be a part of this healing.  May God comfort those who have lost loved ones this week, and may God bring joy and happiness to our broken world.
Moadim L’Simcha and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Baum