Friday, July 29, 2016

Reflections from my time at Camp Ramah - Summer 2016

It is wonderful to be back home in Boca Raton after two weeks away at Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia.  It was great spending time with our CSK campers during second session (we had 
16 campers from our congregation go to Ramah Darom this summer), but I also had the chance to teach campers and staff from all over the U.S. (and Israel).  

I experience something new every time I serve as Rabbi in Residence at Ramah every summer, but every time I leave camp, I am in awe with how much God’s presence has filled me up.  Usually, when we think of having a ‘God’ experience, we think of standing on a mountain, looking at a beautiful waterfall, or a serene lake.  These are ‘awesome’ experiences, but what truly ‘fills me up’ at camp are my interactions with students and teachers, both kids and adults, at these beautiful places.  I penned the following thoughts during one of my last days at camp: 

“I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students” (Rabbi Hanina - Ta’anit 7a). I had the honor and pleasure of teaching three Yahadut/Judaica classes for the first two weeks of second session. One of the classes I taught, entering 8th graders, was titled, a Jewish Survival Guide to Middle School/High School. During our class, we discussed issues of friendship, cliques, peer pressure, bullying, and more, and the Jewish take 
to it. My students taught me what it is like to be in middle school today - that there are new cliques that didn't exist when I was a kid, like cliques of girls (and boys) who don't eat. They talked about the pressures associated with the choosing of the right High School (not college). During my entering 9th grade class, we studied Food Justice, learning about the benefits of local food and about farm workers and their struggle for justice (through the work of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers), and our entering 10th grade focused on faith. The maturity and wisdom of all of the campers in my classes was astonishing and refreshing. It reminded me of an teaching, and the reason I think our youth should be the cornerstone of our energies: When Israel stood to receive the Torah, the Holy One said to them: "I am prepared to give you My Torah. Present to Me good guarantors that you will observe and study the Torah and I shall give it to you."
They said: "Our ancestors are our guarantors."
The Holy One said: "Your ancestors are not sufficient guarantors. Bring Me good guarantors, and I shall give you the Torah."
They said: "Our prophets are our guarantors."
The Holy One said: "The prophets are not sufficient guarantors. Bring Me good guarantors and I shall give you the Torah."
They said: "Indeed, our children will be our guarantors."
The Holy One said: "Your children are good guarantors. For their 
sake I give the Torah to you." Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:24”

The thought, however, was incomplete.  During these two weeks, I learned lessons from special needs campers, part of the Tikvah program.  These campers were fully integrated into the activities and having them as part of the rest of camp inspired the other children to open their hearts to truly beautiful souls.  I learned lessons from former soldiers of the IDF who spoke with tears in their eyes of their experiences during the Gaza war two years ago.  Last year, I learned how to blow glass, but this year, I learned how to shoot a bow and arrow!  I saw different things in my own children as I let them revel in independence. 

In short, we often think Torah is learned through books, but there is so much Torah to be learned with each interaction and experience, no matter where we are.  Let's continue to search for that Torah in every interaction we have.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum


Friday, July 8, 2016

Living Room Minyan - Spiritual Question for July 8, 2016 - Navigating the Sovereign Self

Join us on Friday evenings at 6:15 pm for a relaxed and upbeat Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv service.  During our intimate service in the round, we will pray together, learn together, and explore a spiritual question posed by Rabbi David Baum.  There's no need to dress up!  Come as you are to connect to community and to God in our  'Living Room' at Congregation Shaarei Kodesh.

Korach, Datan and Abiram, say the following to Moses and Aaron: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”

It seems like they are sticking up for all of us doesn't it! Why are you hoarding all of the power?!? But let's look closer at the sentences that precede this statement:

“Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, TOOK, (along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peletch, descendants of Reuben – Numbers 16:1

Rashi, quating midrash Tanhuma, states:
Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] priesthood. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute.
Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2). Another explanation: He attracted the heads of the Sanhedrin among them with amicable words. Similarly, “Take Aaron [with words]” (20:25); “Take words with you” (Hosea 14:3) (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 1). - [Num. Rabbah 18:2]

What was Korach's real motivation? Was it about the people, or was it really about him? Everyday, we engage in a delicate dance between the self and the community, but it seems that nowadays, the sovereign self is taking precedent

Our spiritual question for tonight: What helps you resist the temptation to act solely for yourself? Share a story when you acted for the sake of others and the for the sake of heaven.

Words before Shabbat on the passing of Elie Wiesel

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." - Elie Wiesel
This week, the Jewish people lost one of our greatest and most influential voices, and one of our most beautiful souls, Elie Wiesel.  Before you continue reading my words, I ask that you read Wiesel's obituary that was published this week in the Forward (click here).  

When Wiesel won the Nobel prize for peace, the citation said, "Wiesel is a messenger to mankind.  His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief."  Wiesel was the Jewish people's gift to the world. Wiesel once said in an interview, "If I survived, it must be for some reason.  I must do something with my life. It is too serious to play games with anymore, because in my place, someone else could have been saved. And so I speak for that person. On the other hand, I know I cannot."  On a personal level, as a grandson of four Holocaust survivors, a descendent of a destroyed civilization, Wiesel was our eloquent spokesperson.  He gave voice not just to the murdered, but also to the survivors who for so many years either would not be heard or could not speak. Whenever my non-Jewish friends asked me to explain the Holocaust, I told them to read Wiesel's first book, Night, a memoir of his experiences in Auschwitz.  They came to me afterward, with tears in their eyes, and told me, now I understand. 
And yet, he was not just our spokesperson, but also spoke for all of humanity.  Through his haunting and powerful words, he stood up for the dignity of all of humankind, taking the teachings of our rabbis, that each person is like an entire world, to the public square.  His message of peace and dignity is something we can all take to heart this week, a week in which more innocent lives were taken in our country.
This Shabbat morning, I hope you can join us as we study Wiesel's words after our Torah service.  Together, we will read some of Wiesel's most famous words, and reflect upon them together.  Together, we will see where we find ourselves in his words and how they resonate for our children and for us. 
This will be my last Shabbat for two weeks at Shaarei Kodesh as I will be joining our campers at Camp Ramah Darom.  A couple of weeks ago, I gave a dvar torah about why I think Jewish camping is so special, because it forces us to take leaps of action.  I encourage you to take 10 minutes to listen to my dvar torah before Shabbat.  

Shabbat Shalom and I look forward to spending this great Shabbat together with you!  

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum