Thursday, November 17, 2016

Destroying the Idols of The 2016 Election©

Destroying the Idols of The 2016 Election©
Post-Election 2016/577
Rabbi David Baum

It’s the end of the campaign, the election is over.  Roughly 50% of the country is upset, and roughly 50% of the country is exuberant.  As far as Jews, the numbers are not so even: in our state of Florida, according to a recent study, 68% of Jews voted for Hillary and 28% for Trump.  Nevertheless, as a rabbi, I have mainly stayed out of the presidential elections, and if you think I haven’t, you should hear from some of my colleagues who did talk about the election…a lot.  I’ve talked about broad issues – I’ve talked about themes, but I’ve been careful not to upset anyone or make them feel excluded.  But the election is over, and it’s time to time deal with the aftermath, and maybe it’s time to stop walking on egg shells, but it’s really not my personality.  Seriously, it’s not part of my personality, and I took the Meyers Briggs personality test which proved it.  In my personality test, it says that I stress harmony over everything.  I am much more of an Aaron, a Rodef Shalom, then I am a Moses, a fiery prophet.  Aaron is called a Rodef Shalom because he would bring people who were upset with each other together by telling one person what they wanted to hear, and then go to the other person and tell them what they wanted to hear, and eventually, they came together.

But there are things that must be said, and we don’t have a lot of time, so I can't give two sermons to two groups – I can't tell the Hillary supporters what the Trump supporters did wrong – and I can't tell the Trump supporters what the Hillary supporters did wrong– and so, rather than giving two sermons to two groups to make you all happy, I’m going to give one sermon to all of you – today, I’m going to be an equal opportunity offender.

I want to tell you about why I’m doing this, and it is because of a character we are introduced to in this week’s parashah, Avram.  

To understand Avram, we have to understand what led up to Avram.  20 generations before Avram, Adam HaRishon and Eve were created - Adam was pure – he was literally made by God – he wasn't chosen by God, he was made by God. But a generation later, it didn't work out, and so after 10 generations, God starts over.  God undoes creation, wipes out all life except for Noah, his family, and a few select animals.  Noah was an Ish Tzadik Tamim Hayah B'dorotav – Noah was a righteous man in his generations, and whole-hearted and pure – and Noah walked with God.  That's why Noah was chosen.  God promises never to wipe humanity out again, but generations later, the people mess things up by building the Tower of Babel – we know what happened to them.  So now, 10 generations later, we see this guy Avram walking around, and God starts creation over in a different way, on a smaller scale.

But the Torah does not introduce him like Noah, he just appears – but the rabbis fill in the blanks as to why Avram was chosen, and it's a message we must take to heart, because he can teach us how to walk lifnei Adonai – to walk before God – to take the first steps out of the chaos of the last two years.

By the time God says those famous words to Avram,
וַיֹּאמֶר יְי אֶל־אַבְרָם לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ׃
Avram is already an older man, in his 90s.  The Torah only tells us his lineage, but what type of young adult was he?  For this answer, I want to tell you the story that is not in the Torah, but in the Midrash.

Avram, left alone with his father’s idols at the young age of 13, breaks the idols with a hammer, which he leaves in the hand of the biggest of the idols. His father Terach comes in, sees the devastation, asks who has caused it, and the young Avram replies, “Can you not see? The hammer is in the hands of the largest idol. It must have been him.” Terach replies, “But an idol is mere of wood and stone.” Avram replies, “Then, father, how can you worship them?”  (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 38:13).  Young Avram, who was just 13 at the time, breaks the images of the time.  He challenged the sacred cows – he wasn't afraid to call out the things we know are right but are afraid to challenge.

What have our idols been?  Whether you are on the left, or the right, we must admit that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are real.  For months, we have been denying it on both sides.  On the left, you said that people who were anti-Israel really weren't anti-Semitic – when academics want to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, it's about Israel, not about Jews.  And sure, when they show a caricature of a Jew killing Palestinian children, it's terrible, but it's not anti-Semitic.  And when people accuse Israel of genocide, it's meant to be a metaphor, not taken literally!

On the right, you said that the people flying swastikas were just on the fringe.  When latinos are bullied, when gays and lesbians are attacked – it's sad, but there aren't so many incidences – the media is probably blowing things out of proportion, yeah, that's it – everything's going to be fine once the election is over, they'll go back into the holes they came out from.

Let me inform you all something, something you may not want to hear – those people who you voted with on both sides, they are still here, and they've been here for years, and they'll continue to be here.
The election is over, there are no more votes to be made – you have no one else to prove yourself to – it's time for us to destroy the idols of political ideologies.

It's time we recommit ourselves, both sides, to our Jewish heroes, like Elie Wiesel who passed this year.  Elie Wiesel who famously said the following words when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize:

“...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. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

And so we must re-commit ourselves to the cause of fighting racism, bigotry, and yes, the anti-Semitism that is very much alive and well in this country on both sides.

It's time to stop making excuses, to the cling to our idols of ideology and political party, and time to start standing up for humanity.  And we must hold our leaders accountable – we must demand that they condemn racism and xenophobia everywhere.

So what else can you do?  We say a prayer for the country every week, and we say it so much that it is often time said by rote – without kavanah.  Here is how we can put these prayers into action:

1. Embrace those who are scared and do not belittle the fear that they have.  People of color, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, and everyone else who feels threatened because of the rhetoric of the election.  Like Sarah and Abraham welcomed guests into their home, welcome them into your home.  They are more than guests, they are our fellow citizens.  Let them become the center of your universe.

2. We must recommit to fighting bigotry and hatred wherever you find it – in your children's schools, when a latino child is told he's being deported, stand up for them; don't give up your fight for justice – get active, become an active citizen – get involved in what's going on here in our city, our county.  Do more acts of loving-kindness because it is what God wants from us.

3. Pray for our country and pray for our president elect, Donald Trump – there's a famous story in the Midrash of a group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself.  His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?"Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!" (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6).  I think that midrash says it all – we are all in the same boat – let us pray for the success of our institutions, our leaders, and our people.

At one point in the last two years, one or both of the people who ran from a major party for president insulted, and now, maybe your rabbi did, and for that, I'm sorry – but let me tell you something that might even be more insulting – I truly am hopeful for the future.  We've reached some really low points – and maybe there is no place else to go but up.  As we look over our country's history, no one can deny that we have made progress – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was right when he famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But I'm hopeful for another reason as well.  Avram began a journey thousands of years ago – a journey that still continues.  Adam and Noah, they didn't make it – but Avram did.  God promised that Avram his name would be great, that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars.  The greatness of Avram, and the moral revolution that he started went from the Ancient Near East, to here, America.  And so it is up to us, the Children of Abraham, to continue his journey here and into the future.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Service of Healing and Unity (post U.S. Elections 2016) - Rabbi David Baum

Unity and Healing Service
November 9, 2016 - Congregation Shaarei Kodesh
Part 1:

Listen and Hear

We are WITNESSES (עד) for each other...

Write down a word or sentence that you want someone to HEAR

Write down a word or sentence that you feel you need to LISTEN

Put them in your pockets...

Chant Together:  Shema

Part 2: 


Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
The free?
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Part 3 
Sing - hinei mah tov u’manaim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad

Post by Senator Corey Booker
"We tell our truth not in what happens to us but in how we react – how we face a setback; how we rise when knocked down; how we work through fatigue and frustration; how we bring grit to our grief and heart to our hurt...
Let us be determined to reach out to our fellow countrywomen and men. Let us encourage others. Let us be gracious.
Let us seek to build bridges where they have been burned.
Let us seek to restore trust where it has been eroded.
Let us stand our ground but still work to find common ground.
Let us be humble and do the difficult work of finding ways to collaborate and cooperate with those whose political affiliations may differ from ours. But let us never, ever, surrender, forfeit, or retreat from our core values, our fundamental commitments to justice over prejudice; economic inclusion over poverty and unmerited privilege; and, always, love over hate.
Let us speak truth to power; fiercely defend those who are bullied, belittled, demeaned or degraded; and tenaciously fight for all people and the ideals we cherish. It is a new day!"

Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Concession Speech, 11/9/2016

I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together, this vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too, and so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful and it will be for a long time, but I want you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election, it was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.
We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.
Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them.
Now — and let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear; making our economy work for everyone not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams….
And — and to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Finally, I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us…
May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.”

Victory Speech - President Elect Donald Trump 11/9/2016

I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton.  She congratulated us — it’s about us — on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. I mean, she — she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.  I mean that very sincerely. Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people. . .
I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
Recite Together:  Prayer for Our Country, with real intention
Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country- for its government, for its leaders and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst. 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. May this land, under Your providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom- helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And let us say, Amen.

Listen - Olam Chesed Yibaneh 

Sing - Oseh shalom

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Building Deluge of Climate Change© Parashat Noah

The Building Deluge of Climate Change©
Parashat Noah

I don’t know why, but we are obsessed with the idea of the world ending.  In the movies, they end in various ways – in some, by alien invasion, in some, it’s disease, worldwide pandemic, in some – earthquakes, super tornados, and of course, floods, in some asteroids have crashed to earth, and of course, who doesn’t love a Zombie apocalypse. 

Our parashah this week deals with the worst-case scenario the – the end of the world, and most human life.  The flood story is perhaps one of the most well-known and popular narratives in the entire Torah, the scenario that started them all – the great flood.

We have become obsessed with catastrophe.  Who didn’t worry about the Ebola virus in the United States two years ago, even though, as a news article stated, More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.  Don’t get me wrong, Ebola is a serious illness that has killed thousands in Africa, but is it the end of the world as we know it? 

We have visions of how we think the world is going to end, perhaps reinforced by this story, as a quick end whether through nuclear war or a worldwide pandemic; but I think we are overlooking one of the largest threats to our lives on earth.  I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, I want to talk a little bit about our parashah and how there is more than meets the eye regarding how fast things ended. 

There is a famous midrash that talks about how God destroyed the world.  Eli was quite upset with God – why would God destroy the world without giving the people time or opportunity to repent?  The truth is, the text is unclear as to how long it took for Noah to build the ark even though it seems to be a short amount of time, and the midrash picks up on this and explains that God did give the people time to repent.  As they saw Noah building the ark, they laughed at him and mocked him.  Rashi, the famous Medieval commentator, comments on the line, “And the rain was upon the earth” saying, “When God caused the rain to descend, God did so with mercy, so that in the event of their repenting, the rain would be one of blessing.  When they did not repent, it turned into a deluge.” 

The Midrash makes the end a lot more realistic than all of our apocalyptic movies. 

There is an old parable of the frog in the pot. If you throw a frog in a boiling pot of water, it will jump out and be saved, but if you put it in a cold pot, and slowly turn up the heat, it will get a boiling level, and by the time it gets to that point, the frog cannot leap out…and the frog dies. 

The end of life on earth, God forbid, can happen, but I don’t think it will be because of an asteroid, a flood, or even Zombies.  I think we are seeing glimpses of it now – in the form of Climate Change, which 97% of the world scientific community believes is brought upon by humans.  We are seeing storms stronger than we’ve ever seen, and lasting longer.  Islands are becoming uninhabitable, the earth is getting hotter, water is drying up.  We are not immune here in South Florida – Miami is in danger of being under water in by the end of the century if not sooner.  

I am scared, not really for me, but for my children who will inherit a much more volatile earth than I did. 

Noah is criticized greatly for being silent when God says that God will destroy the earth – are we guilty of the same sin?  Thankfully, not all of us have been silent

Something happened early this year that gave me a glimmer of hope.  On September 21, 2014, 400,000 people flooded the streets of New York City for the People's Climate March, including my rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary.  They held signs that said "We are all Noah now" and "People of faith call for climate action."  Jews marched with shofars, the rams' horn associated with the High Holidays and their themes of repentance and renewal.  But more than that, the shofar was sounded over and over again as a wake-up call. 

We are all Noah, living in Noah like times. Like Noah, who voices no dissent when God shares the plan to destroy the world, our global civilization failed to act when we first heard the warnings about global warming.  It’s not a new threat – we’ve known about it for years, but we have focused on everything else. 

There are times when I feel utterly powerless when it comes to the issue of climate change – how can we tackle such a huge problem? 

Here is where our tradition can help us:

Our Torah portion describes Noah in the following way:  Genesis 6:9 reads, "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations."

In the mystical Jewish tradition, a tzaddik, a righteous person, has the power to protest a negative divine decree. The Kedushat Levi, another 18th-century Hasidic master, looks closely at Noah being called a tzaddik: "Now even though Noah was a great and blameless tzaddik, he was very small in his own eyes and did not have faith that he was a powerful tzaddik with the ability to annul the decree of the flood."

We must begin the steps needed for this long journey to stem the tide of climate change.  We cannot look at ourselves as small, but have the faith that we can bring about real change. 

The Noam Elimelech, an 18th-century Hasidic master, asks why Genesis 6:9 reads, "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations." Why the plural "generations"? Each generation, he says, is "connected at its root to a specific mitzvah[divine directive] which it needs to establish more than the others.” 

Our mitzvah must be the mitzvah that was given to the first man and woman, when they were given a command by God, to Ovdah and Shomrah, to work for and guard the land.  

The Midrash expands upon this line, saying that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are--how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."

This idea is reinforced in our parashah - After the flood, Noah is called ish ha'adamah, a man of the soil. But the Zohar, Jewish mysticism's core text, interprets ish as husband. In this reading, Noah becomes the husband of the earth, the lover and caretaker of the created world, just like Adam and Eve were. 

We must also look at the earth as our partners, our Ezer K’Negdo, our fitting helpers.  Let’s start by speaking up for our partner! 

How many of us ask our politicians what they think of social security, are they pro-life or pro-choice, what are their stances on guns, and of course Israel – we have to care about all of these things, but how many of us ask our elected officials to act on climate change? 

There’s a new movie that’s about to come out called Interstellar that I can’t wait to see.  The premise is that in the future, we are going to send a space ship to find a new planet because we have ruined this one beyond repair – I would say, a less funny version of Wall-E.  It can’t wait to see the special effects, but I would rather leave it as fiction, a story, rather than our future. 

Our future, the future of the world, is actually in our hands, just as God promised when God showed Noah the rainbow.   

Let us remember the words of the midrash everyday, as if God is actually talking to us saying - "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are--how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."