Friday, May 27, 2016

Shabbat Message to Congregation Shaarei Kodesh - Behar 2016/5776

Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,
Rabbi Baum sranding
There is a famous teaching in the Jewish tradition (the Ethics of Our Fathers 4:2):  "Mitzvah Gorreret Mitzvah, Aveirah Gorreret Aveirah" "One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah and one transgression generates another." The recently published Siddur Lev Shalem, the Rabbinical Assembly's new siddur for the Conservative movement (please contact me if you would like to purchase a copy at a discount), comments on this very important teaching:  "The Torah's commandments are different gateways into human vitality, which are mapped out and placed at students' disposal so that they might go through them and grow.  Enter each gateway that opens for you.  Flee from sin, because an aveirah pushes a person away from the open gateways toward impassable walls.  Mitzvah and aveirah are two instructors in spiritual and moral topography, teaching one to identify openings and walls.  Choose an open gateway, and distance yourself from the walls.  Pursue and feel, for a student should in constant motion.  Our lives are constant journeys, and sin is when we stop journeying and seek to live within secure walls - Rabbi Tamar Elad-Appelbaum."  

This Shabbat marks the culmination of yet another cohort of Bnai Mitzvah students.  After this weekend, ten young adults are taking or have already taken their first steps into Jewish adulthood as part of our holy community.  I am so proud of the program we have shaped over the last number of years, from our family education bnai mitzvah course, to the hard work of our bnai mitzvah tutor, Cantor Anita Shubert, to the Torah that our bnai mitzvah students share with the community, to the Mitzvah Journey that they take.  The Mitzvah Journey is a special program where our bnai mitzvah students perform 13 mitzvoth in three categories:  mitzvoth between themselves and God, between themselves and the Jewish community, and between them and the rest of the world.  This Shabbat, Emmett and Liora took this concept to the next level:  they asked others to join them along their mitzvah journey to perform 180 mitzvoth!  This initiative, called Cousins Mitzvah, can be found on Facebook.  It's wonderful to see people posting the mitzvoth they have performed and seeing the concept of mitzvah gorreret mitzvah come alive!  I wrote about a similar concept over the  high holidays - looking at your Jewish life as if you had a spiritual Fitbit, counting the mitzvoth you perform on a daily basis.   
We are approaching the summer which is vacation time for most, but there are no vacations from the mitzvoth we can perform in the world.  I urge you all to do the following:  "Choose an open gateway, and distance yourself from the walls.  Pursue and feel, for a student should in constant motion.  Our lives are constant journeys, and sin is when we stop journeying and seek to live within secure walls."  

Let us continue journeying TOGETHER on a path to holiness.  
Shabbat Shalom, 

Rabbi David Baum 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Holiday for Second Chances - Pesach Sheni and Parashat Emor (c)

A Holiday For Second Chances - Pesach Sheni and Parashat Emor (c)
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh 
May 21, 2016/13th of Iyyar 5776

I recently had a conversation with a woman who was lamenting to me about her career.  Her travel schedule is grueling, and her work leaves her unfulfilled.  It turns out we went to the same college, and she was a reporter for the local newscast.  That's what she wanted to be – a reporter, but you know what, life happened, and she got into a profession that paid a lot more, but something's missing.  She doesn't feel like she is the person she is meant to be. 

I said, why not change your career?  Her answer:  “Well, it's too late for me, I'm too old.”  She's 31 years old.  There is something called the window of opportunity that we all know about – a window is open for a short time, and after it's closed, it remains closed.  

Who in here has had a time in their life when they felt that their window of opportunity has closed?  

Today, I want to tell you something – God wants to give you a second chance.

In our parashah this week, Emor, we read a recounting of the Jewish holidays.  The order of the Festivals is in the following order:  Pesah, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret.  One would think Rosh Hashanah would be first, but it isn't.  Rosh Hashanah is a holiday that we associate with tesuvah, repentance.  The word, Tesuvah, has the word Shuv in it, which means to return.  But there is another holiday that also teaches us a lesson of returning, or making up for a lost opportunity – Pesah.

Not only does Pesach happen during a specific time, but one has to be a specific state, ritually pure, in order to celebrate the holiday through the consumption of the Pesach lamb (Leviticus 22:3).  So if you touched a dead body, you would not be able to take part in this sacrifice.  So the people who could not participate in this offering bring the issue to Moshe.  

"Although we are unclean by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?" (Numbers 9:7)

What is happening here is something that we rarely see in the Torah.  We see Bnai Israel rebel at certain times, but this type of rebellion is different – they want to follow the law, but they cannot because the rules prohibit them.  Leviticus is very much about pure and impure – it's like science, but here we see a bit of heart.  In our parashah this week, we read about the priests who cannot serve because of certain malformities, but we don't see anyone speak up to protest.  Here we see that the people protest against exclusion.  And Moses brings this account to God – can these people have a second chance?  The Pesach offering is perhaps the most important offering in the Torah – they want to bring a korban to you – in other words, they want to be Karov to you, they want to be close – will you give them a second chance?  

After God hears about this plea from the people, God tells Moses:  
Numbers 9:10:
דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר אִישׁ אִישׁ כִּי־יִהְיֶה־טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה לָכֶם אוֹ לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם וְעָשָׂה פֶסַח לַיקוָק׃
“10 Speak to the Israelite people, saying: When any of you or of your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a passover sacrifice to the Lord, 11they shall offer it in the second month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, 12and they shall not leave any of it over until morning. They shall not break a bone of it. They shall offer it in strict accord with the law of the passover sacrifice.”

And so a new holiday was born, and it continues until today - tonight we observe Pesach Sheni – the Second Pesach.    
Before I go into how we should observe this holiday, I wonder if any of you notice that God added something to this commandment.  The people came to Moses and complained that they couldn't eat of it because they were in a state of impurity, but God adds something else:  
כִּי־יִהְיֶה־טָמֵא לָנֶפֶשׁ אוֹ בְדֶרֶךְ רְחֹקָה
“those who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey”

Those of you who are on a long journey.  What could this mean?  How can one be on a long journey when they were part of the camp in the wilderness?  Some commentators claim that this is a commandment for the future, when the people will be in Israel, and the sacrifices offered in a central place, Jerusalem – what if you were on a long journey because you live far from Jerusalem and missed Pesach?  But not everyone bought this idea of a person being on a long physical journey.  

Rashi, the famous Medieval commentator, gives us a hint as to how this word might be different – Derech Rechoka, we translate it as long journey– there is a dot over the 'hey' in Rechoka teaches us that this does not literally refer to a long journey, but to a more limited distance – you could have even been in the courtyard when the sacrifice was offered, but for some reason, you missed your chance to give the Korban – to get close to God.  

How many of us wish we could go back in time to change a fork in the road we once took on our journeys?  Now we can look back and see how close we were to a specific path, and yet, we missed our chance.  

As a Rabbi, I see this often.  I will never forget the time a man was filling up his car with gas, and he came to the door of CSK and wanted to talk to me.  He opened his passenger window and told me, “I went to a frum Yeshiva growing up, but I took a different path.  I have a family with a non-Jewish partner, and I have three kids, but I feel like I'm missing, like we are missing something.  My family doesn't even know I'm Jewish.”  And so I told him – the gates are open whenever you want to come back – just come in.  But he didn't believe me – he closed his window and never returned.  I suppose he felt he wasn't worthy of a second chance.  

I guess he didn't believe that he could have a second chance.  

We cannot change the past – there is no such thing as a rewind button in life – but we can change how we look at the past, and with this knowledge in hand, how we take steps into the future.  
There is an argument in the Talmud, is Pesach Sheni a make up holiday, or a holiday of itself?  I like to think it is its own holiday – a day when we are seemingly on our journeys, just like Bnai Israel were so  many years ago at this time of the year, to remind us that we cannot press rewind to change the past, but we can have a second chance with the steps we take into the future, the new journeys we embark upon in our lives.  We cannot take that fork in the road again, but we can look to future forks in the road, and choose a different path that we hope will bring us closer to God and closer to that part of our soul that we know is really us – our unleavened selves.  

How many of us look in the mirror like that young woman who was meant to be a reporter does and say, “This is not who I'm meant to be, but it's too late.”?  
But there was one thing she did change about herself, a different journey she took.  This woman was not born Jewish, but she did find herself at high holiday services at Shaarei Kodesh one year.  She had been divorced for a couple of years at a young age, and she was with a Jewish man who was also divorced for a couple of years, also at a young age.  Both claimed they wouldn't love again, but during that service, they held each others hands, and she made a choice – that she had to take a different journey – one that led her to become a Jew, and they both chose each other to take a second chance on love.  

We cannot change the past, but it's never too late to change the future.  The God of Pesach teaches us that we have to be pure to participate, but the God of Pesach Sheni, the same God by the way, teaches us that human beings are not perfect – we make choices that sometimes lead us to impurity, we take journeys that maybe we shouldn't take, but God, who is compassionate and understanding, teaches us that it's never too late to make another choice, to give us a second chance, to start journeying in a different direction.

So tonight, as you eat a piece of matzah, would you consider doing one more thing?  Would you consider thinking about about a long journey you might be on, that maybe you are ready to rethink and start heading in a different direction – a direction that will bring you closer to God and closer to your true self.  

Today is today, but tomorrow can be a new journey.  Shabbat Shalom and an early חג שמח!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What Do You Mean When You Say “Next Year In Jerusalem”?

What Do You Mean When You Say “Next Year In Jerusalem”?
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh
Parashaht Acharei Mot 2016/5776

On the 8th Day of Passover, we held an interesting conversation after services:  what does L'Shanah Ha'ba'ah BiYerushalayim/Next Year In Jerusalem mean to us as Jewish Americans?

Most people said they said it by rote, not realizing the profound statement of these three words – but rarely do we take the words to heart.

Most of the answers were about a personal ideal – Jerusalem is a place that exists in us, or it is a metaphor for world peace.

One person said – “when I say those words, I feel guilty.”  She elaborated:  “I feel guilty because I know that I made my life here in America, and yet, there's a Jewish state in Israel that I am not a citizen of, and there's a level of guilt I feel about not living there.”

I want to share with you the words of Jeffrey Goldberg regarding these words from the New American Haggadah:

The Haggadah The most demanding hole in the final moments of the seder.  Next year in Jerusalem We declare, sometimes nervously, sometimes self-consciously, often ambivalently.  Think about it: We can achieve in less than a day what it took our ancestors forty years to do- move to and become citizens of the Jewish state.  This call was, for most of the Passovers of Jewish history, a messianic aspiration; Jerusalem was an unachievable goal.  Things have changed.  Zionism, the most successful national liberation movement of the 20th Century, has made it possible for us to do what Moses could not.  And yet:  Does “Next year in Jerusalem” mean that we are actually supposed to make aliyah tomorrow?  The comfortable answer is:  No, obviously not.  The uncomfortable answer is: Yes.  Imagine having the ability to commune with their distant and downtrodden ancestors, in their scattered shtetls and ghettos.You happily inform them that, yes, for the first time since the Romans ethically cleanse Israel, a Jewish state exists.  They are overwhelmed with joy and ask, “What is it like to live there?” And you answer, “Well I wouldn't actually know.”

World Jewry just observed the holiday of Yom HaShoah.  There is a stark difference in the way we see these holidays.  Today, I want to talk about this idea:  how different Jews in America and Israel are, but at the same time, how similar we are.

In Parashat Acharei Mot, we read about the holiday of Yom Kippur.  In our parashah, it's presented on its own, but we know now that Yom Kippur is the end of a process – the 10 days of tesuvah.  It begins with Rosh Hashanah, and ends with Yom Kippur.  10 days of personal introspection.  But the Jewish calendar is filled with holidays that are tied to other holidays.  What is Pesach, the Exodus of Egypt and freedom, without Shavuot, the giving of Torah with the Omer leading up to it.

Avraham Infeld, the former director of International Hillel, takes a similar look at the holiday of Yom HaShoah.  Can it exist alone?  The answer is no, it wasn't meant to be observed like that.  Like the other Jewish holidays, it is intricately connected to the others, and the others are, Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut – Israeli Memorial Day and Israeli Independence Day.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which focus on Tesuvah, are deeply personal, the Ten Days of Me; but these days, starting with Yom HaShoah and ending with Yom Ha'atzmaut, he calls them the Nine Days of We.

(Shay Charka perfectly illustrates the nine-day emotional roller-coaster from Holocaust Day (Yom HaShoah) thru Memorial Day (Yom HaZikaron), to Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut)

Yom HaShoah, he says, a tragedy that did not happen in Israel, and yet, the whole country stands still because it was a tragedy that affected the Jewish people, the destruction of 1/3 of the Jewish people.  I want you to think about it like a roller coaster – then we continue going down – a memorial day where Israelis remember the people, their family members, who helped give them the state – they remember the silver platter that the state was delivered on.  And then, it comes to a high note – Israeli Independence Day.  This day has fundamentally changed what it means to be a Jew in the world.  Infeld says that the word Jew used to be synonymous with refugee, but because of Israel, for the first time in 2,000 years, this is not the case.  When our community was planning for the Maccabbee games, a representative from International JCC came to speak with us.  A young Israeli woman, who put the midot, or values around the room:

Showing respect - Kavod
Inspiring pride - Ge'avah
Sharing joy - Rinah
Repairing the world – Tikkun Olam
Open Heartedness – Lev Tov
Jewish Peoplehood– Amit Yehudit

All of us in the room, Jewish Americans, had to go to the term that most spoke to us.  She was the only one who went to Amit Yehudit/Jewish peoplehood.

Like the 'Next Year In Jerusalem' example, we, Jewish Americans, have to look ourselves in the mirror and wonder – what is missing inside of us the longer we live here in safety?

What could 'Next Year In Jerusalem' mean for us?  Perhaps this means for Jewish Americans what Goldberg says, “At the very least, as a repudiation of the wicked son (who takes himself out of the story with his question – what is this rite to you all, not me):  Jews, no matter our politics, have a special responsibility to tie ourselves to Israel's fate, And to work for the vision of Israel in which we believe.”

Our parashah tells the story of two goats.  Each goat has its own baggage – one goat for Azazel and one goat for God. The goat for Azazel is the scapegoat – the goat sent away with the people's sins.  Two goats, with two different paths, and yet, they are intricately connected and necessary.

This summer, Yossi Klein HaLevi, an Israeli who was born in the U.S. and the author of the famous book, Like Dreamers, looked at us, a group of Jewish American Rabbis and said, “We are products of the societies we live in, we are affected by our neighborhoods –We Israelis are rough because of our neighborhood, perhaps too rough, and I for one am grateful that Jewish Americans help us see the big picture of the need to be more moral at times. You, the Jews of America, are comfortable because you aren’t surrounded by threats, but perhaps you are too comfortable.  Therefore, we Israeli Jews and Jewish Americans must come together and help each other.”

Maybe Jerusalem actually means Jerusalem, a city at the heart of the state of Israel.  And maybe we have to to struggle with this very real idea.  Maybe, it's ok to feel torn in two, because that torn feeling will help us become more whole.

Like in Had Gadya, we, Jewish people, are the one goat – it might seem like there are two goats, but we are really one.  My hope is that we can tag along with Israel as 'we' observe these 9 Days of We.  In the coming weeks, there will be a gathering here in Boca for Jewish Unity (click here to register).  My hope is that you come to FAU and join in this pledge of Jewish Unity – that no matter how different we are, and no matter how different our political beliefs, we ultimately share one heart.