Being Together is a Good Place to Be

Rabbi's Message - October 12, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Just a couple weeks ago, we restarted our annual cycle of Torah reading.  After Adam and all the animals are created, Adam feels lonely, and we read God’s observation, “It is not good for adam to be alone.”  We can read the Hebrew word adam as Adam’s name, or we can read it more generally, a person, people – it is not good for people to be alone.  From our very creation, we are meant to be in relationship with God and with one another – whether that is in our familial and romantic connections, or friendships, work relationships, and more – it is not good to be alone.

Navigating relationships is easy at times, stormy at others.  It can be easy to think throwing in the towel and walking away is the best option – it’s not.  Jewish tradition wants us to be with others.  We are called to “love your fellow as yourself,” and that “all Jews are responsible/accountable to one another.”  

As religious school has resumed in-person learning this year, I’m shocked by how much our students have grown.  On the one hand, physically, I have to look up to see some of them now!  But in maturity, self-confidence, how they carry themselves, and more.  They are the same people as before, but they are also not the same.  When we see people frequently, it is harder to see that growth.  In our relationships with one another, we cannot just do things the way we always have, because everyone is growing, changing, developing.  

This week at Temple, we have sessions with RAC-Ohio, we might attend the JCC's Cultural Arts & Book Series presentation on Jewish parenting, we might be starting or continuing in one of our learning programs at Temple (shameless plug for Hebrew classes tonight and Talmud on Tuesdays with me, and Thinking about God with Rabbi Bodney-Halasz on Thursdays).  I hope that these opportunities and more give us the perspective to stop and take stock of our own growth and development and that of those around us, as we continue to love and support one another to always be growing in holiness together.

Why doesn’t the Sukkah need a mezuzah?

Rabbi's Message - September 21, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

We are commanded to dwell in Sukkot at this time of year.  But why is it, that unlike all other Jewish dwellings, the sukkah does not have a mezuzah?  On the 15th day of Tishrei, possibly with break the fast dinner feeling like it is still in our bellies from Yom Kippur, we begin the holiday of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths).  Traditionally we erect a sukkah, a shelter that reminds us of the booths in the desert when we left Egypt and in the fields during the harvest.  Sukkot is the time of our rejoicing, of feasting, of giving thanks, particularly for the abundant harvest.  From an agricultural perspective we celebrate that we are “set” after a year of harvest for the winter.

The mezuzah that we put on our homes symbolizes permanence.  This is our home, where we live, where we store our possessions.  Why would a sukkah, which the Bible tells us to dwell in, not also fall in this category?  Precisely because one aspect of Sukkot is to bring us more in tune with the impermanence that exists in life.  The Sukkah is supposed to leave us vulnerable to the elements, unlike the walls of a permanent house.  It can not be left (completely) in tact from year to year.  Its roof cannot provide full coverage, but rather let rays of the sun through, and thus also the rain, or even snow!  It is for this very reason, that although it is our dwelling for the week, it is not a true home.

 Within Jewish law, the definition of permanence for a dwelling is what distinguishes the need for a mezuzah from what qualifies as a sukkah.  We explore our permanence versus transience, rootedness versus wandering.  By drawing our experience closer to nature, we likely will come to appreciate the safety and security of our permanent home.  

One’s level of privilege often translates in our society into one’s perceived sense of security and safety.  Perhaps, this Sukkot, as we spend time in our Sukkahs, whether Temple’s, your own, a friend’s, or even something sukkah-like, take a moment to consider the vulnerability we feel when the sheltering elements of our life are set aside.  When we open up to vulnerability, what do we find?

The Time Is Now

Rabbi's Message - August 31, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

"The time is now. We’ve gathered ’round. So bring all your gifts and bring all your burdens with you.

No need to hide. Arms open wide. We gather as One. To make a Makom Kadosh (a holy place).

We come to tell. We come to hear. We come to teach. We come to learn. We come to grow. And so we say.

The time is now. Sing to the One. God’s presence is here, Shechina. You will dwell among us.

We’ll make this space a Holy Place, so separate, so whole. Rejoice every soul who enters here."

— Debbie Friedman z”l and Tamara R. Cohen 

We will sing these beautiful lyrics for the first time in two years when we gather on Monday night.  They are words of welcome, inviting us to bring our whole selves into our sacred space and embrace the holiness of this time together.  Last year, we excluded this song from our online services.  This year we’ll reinstate the liturgy to what it was before the pandemic.  We pray that coming back together will offer us a renewed sense of normalcy and gratitude.  

I must acknowledge, however, that we welcome 5782 during another period of profound change.  Even as we return to the Great Hall, a sense of normalcy will be hard to find.  Not only will it feel different physically, as we’ll be smaller in number and further apart, but emotionally it will feel different.  So much has changed in the world since we last met, including ourselves.  How will we find grounding when the sea of normalcy is so turbulent?  

Things will change and our goals will change, but our Jewish values will remain steadfast.  We must look to the elements of our holiday that are eternal.  Like the generations who came before us, whether we are at home or together, we must find the space and time to do the work of teshuvah: reflect on the past year, look deep within our souls, engage in repentance, commit to the path forward.  Though we still yearn for the past; we must appreciate what we have now, even if it isn’t the normalcy we crave.  

Our gratitude is what keeps us going.  Can we commit to feeling grateful this year?  Grateful for our loved ones.  Grateful for our health.  Grateful for our congregation.  Traditionally, we are expected to recite 100 blessings a day.  Each blessing is a recognition of God’s goodness and appreciation for our bounty.  It is important to say “thank you,” especially when it would be easy to lose sight of those blessings, especially mixed blessings.  

Rabbi Elyse Goldstein recently composed a new year’s benediction after inquiring of her congregants: “what will you never take for granted again?”  It resonated with me and I share it with you as an invitation to reflect on your blessings and to add your own words of gratitude.   May we enter this new year filled with appreciation, hope, and a commitment to that which we hold sacred.

May we never again take for granted - 
Breathing deeply without a mask
Making plans for the future,
Crossing a boarder,
Ease of travel,
A busy airport
A birthday party with hugs
Having loved ones hold your children,
Hugging
Sharing a sandwich
Human contact
Coffee with a friend
Physical touch
Family
Our belief in science
Fact-based public discourse
The sacredness of connection
Life itself.

This year, may we become the people we
wanted to be last year.
May this coming year be better
than the one which has past.
May we stay strong for each other
because we have experienced weakness.
May we stay bound to each other
because we have experienced isolation.
May we stay close to each other
because we have experienced distance.
May our new normal be better than the one
we think we will return to.

-Rabbi Elyse Goldstein

 

Turning Inward to Find Ourselves

Rabbi's Message - August 24, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

We turn our attention inward during the Hebrew month of Elul.  We begin our journey back to our truest, most pure selves.  The process takes time.  We can’t just show up for Rosh Hashanah (in-person or online) without beginning our soul work and expect to instantly be transformed into who we would like to be.  How far in advance we begin this work differs from one community to the next.  In the Sephardic community, Selichot (“forgiveness,” Jewish penitential poems and prayers) begin on the second day of Elul.  In the Ashkenazic community, we begin selichot on the Saturday night right before Rosh Hashanah, with minor exceptions depending on what day the holiday falls.  Here at Temple, we have recited Selichot at our Elul Shabbat services.  On this Saturday night, we will also participate in an evening Selichot service during which we will change out our Torah mantles to reflect the elevated importance of the High Holidays.

As we approach the holidays, the most common question being asked is about where each of us will be – at Temple or at home.  Ultimately, we will each make the best decision for ourselves and hopefully have a meaningful worship experience wherever we are physically.  Yet, this is the same question we should be asking every year, but not in the physical sense.  It is the question that God called out to Abraham before the akedah (the binding of Isaac). “Where are you?” To which he responded “Hineni,” here I am.  Hineni carries a deeper connotation of emotional presence.  I like to translate it as “Here I am, at the ready.” 

Spiritually, we must be prepared to respond to the same question: “where are you?”  God knows where you physically will be.  God wants to know where you are existentially, spiritually.   To be ready to answer, I suggest we ask ourselves the following questions:  How have I shown up for my loved ones this past year?  How have I shown up for my community?  Am I showing up and being seen in the way that I want to be seen?  Where am I now in relation to where I was last year?  What are the gifts I bring?   Am I living up to my potential? Am I fulfilling my gift as a human being?

None of these are easy questions.  Nevertheless, we need to be ready to answer them.  We want to show up on Rosh Hashanah knowing exactly where we are and, having spent this month of Elul reorienting ourselves, be ready to respond “hineni.”

Finding the Heroes

Rabbi's Message - June 29, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, Rabbi Bodney-Halasz reminded us that during a tragedy and amidst darkness, we can find light by looking to the heroes.  We aren’t ignoring the bad situation around us, but we balance it in our minds with hope and light.  

Last Thursday in the early hours of the morning and in just 11 seconds, 55 condo units were destroyed in the collapse of the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida.  The news stories about this event that have crossed my eyes include videos of the collapse, pictures of destruction, and headlines of hope fading for those who remain missing.  Our hearts are broken by this tragedy, our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and it is easy to remain in a state of shock and despair.  So I wanted to take a minute to shift our perspective and look to some of the heroes – beyond the first responders and other rescue workers that ran toward the rubble.

In one article, Nicholas Balboa was highlighted as someone who was out walking his dog when he felt the ground shake and rushed towards the building. He reported that the first thing that came to mind were the images of the twin towers on 9/11.  With that in mind, he heard a boy crying for help and saw a hand sticking up through the debris.  With the help of another bystander and eventually other rescue workers, Balboa was able to free this little boy and his mother from the rubble.

Balboa was not being paid to run towards the building.  He was walking his dog and could have continued walking.  He chose a different path and because of that choice, he saved a young boy and his mother.  Who knows how long that child would have remained under the rubble if it weren’t for Balboa stopping.  But, he heard a noise, and stepped aside to pay attention, saving lives in the process.

We may not get daily opportunities to be a hero amid a building collapse, but we do have daily opportunities to give one another hope, to look for the light, and reach out a helping hand.  Jewish bravery isn’t about having superpowers.  Jewish bravery comes, as Pirkei Avot (4:1) teaches, when one can conquer their inner impulses and reach past their selfish instincts, to do good in this world.  

Who will you be a hero for this week?

If you would like to donate to help the people affected by the Surfside building collapse, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation has established an emergency assistance fund that will aid with short-term and long-term needs.

Together Again

Rabbi's Message - June 8, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

הנה מה טוב ומה נעים, שבת אחים גם יחד

Hinei Mah Tov u’Mah Naim Shevet Achim Gam Yachad.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for us to be together.

This past Saturday a small group of us gathered in our sanctuary for our first in-person Shabbat together in more than a year.  Appropriately, we began our service with a moment of prayer.  We recited Shehechiyanu together, thanking God for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach that moment.  

I have spoken those words on numerous occasions, but this Shabbat they were sweeter on my lips than usual.  It felt like an authentic expression of gratitude – it felt like a deep breath.   There was something especially meaningful and holy in helping create that sacred community.  And it felt wonderful.  This pandemic year has offered us time – lots of it – to think about the things that matter to us, including faith.  I have enjoyed reflecting with so many of you about what elements of our prayer services are most important to you and why.  Unfortunately, we have had to go beyond our comfort zones. But the conversations that ensued as a result provided insight and appreciation of experiences that we once took for granted.  

Zoom services, though they allow us to be connected and feel a part of an online community, have their limitations.  We enjoy wishing each other a Shabbat Shalom and checking in with one another.    We like that it is an alternative for those who do not drive at night or who travel all the time.  But it did not allow for physical connections, which is the element we most appreciated this past Saturday morning.  

I know many of you have shared that it is hard to connect with the congregation electronically. If this is you, I strongly urge you to take advantage of our summer in-person prayer opportunities.  Being together will fill your heart and bring joy to your soul.  Our next service will be in two weeks on June 19.  We hope to see you and would love to see all 20 spots filled.

I am also looking forward to this Friday when we will gather again for our last Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival celebration.  If you have not had the opportunity to stop by, this is the time!  It will be fun to wish a Shabbat Shalom to one another in person, and who doesn’t look forward to a visit from El Meson's food truck?  I have been touched by the large numbers of people from the non-Jewish community who have made the effort to come to our Taste programs to support us.  Let’s show our appreciation by showing up in strong numbers, as well.  After all, how good it is for us to be together.

Marking the Time with Connection, Engagement, and Support

Rabbi's Annual Meeting Message - June 1, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Good evening and congratulations again to those of you elected to represent our congregation on our Board of Trustees. We are so grateful for your vigilance to our community. 

As we normally begin our Board Meetings with a word of Torah, it’s appropriate to begin this evening by looking to this week’s Torah portion - Parashat Beha’aolotcha.   Most often we look to the narrative driven part of this story, in which Miriam is struck with a skin disease and is put into quarantine.  Moses then prays to God “El Na refa nah lah” - “Please God heal her.”  Certainly, this is a meaty portion.  But, interestingly, people have referenced Beha’alotcha for another reasons this year.  That is the ritual of Pesach Sheni, or a second Passover, which refers to the14 Iyar, exactly one month after 14 Nisan, the day before Passover, which was the day prescribed for bringing the Pesach offering in anticipation of that holiday.  

In our portion we are taught that the Passover sacrifice (Korban Pesach) can only be eaten on a specific date and only by those who are ritually pure.  The people raised a question - do they have to completely miss the opportunity to perform the mitzvah if they, but no fault of their own, became impure through coming in contact with a dead body.  

'We are unclean by the dead body of a man; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of God in its appointed season among the children of Israel?' (Numbers 9:7). 

In our portion, God responds by declaring that anyone who is unable to bring the sacrifice – either due to ritual impurity or an inability to reach Jerusalem to make the offering during Passover – can instead make the sacrifice on the 14th of Iyar, a full month after Passover, and eat the paschal lamb with matzah and maror (bitter herbs).  In essence, we are given an official “make up day” for the Passover offering to ensure its performance and to ensure all will have a chance to fulfill that duty. 

This is the way our past year began.  With the pandemic shutting down our traditional observance structures, our community began to look at alternative ways we might fulfill our religious life outside of the way things have normally been done.  For some, there was a hope that even an extra month might bring families together to join for Passover - which is how this portion became so relevant. Little did we know how many other observances would need to be adapted. But for us, an extra month did not change much in terms of our ability to fully engage in our Jewish life.  We began to consider pushing off life cycle events and other observances, hoping that things would quickly change.  But we quickly realized we would need to find new high-quality ways to bring Jewish life to our community.  Babies still needed names, young adults were ready to become bnai mitzvah, brides and grooms were anxious to move forward as a married couple, mourners yearned for the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones. We could not continue to look for other Pesach Sheni opportunities.  We could not continue to push off Jewish life until it was convenient again, nor could we put any of our members at risk by returning to normal.  And so, like every generation of Jews who have come before us, we learned to adapt and create new ways to honor sacred Jewish time and ancient Jewish rituals. 

Over the last year we have demonstrated that: “The doors of our building may be closed but our synagogue is always open.”  Despite a year of disruption, we have managed to keep ourselves moving forward with even footing.  Our success was not just in maintaining the essential elements of Jewish life, it was about forming new connections - within the congregation, the Jewish community, other congregations around the country, and even our connection to Israel.   

We were able to maintain the sanctity of Jewish time, finding meaningful ways to observe Shabbat, the High Holidays, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot.  We introduced our Thoughts of Elul meditations, Drive Thru events, and an online Purim spiel.  We continued to gather with our greater Jewish community to observe Selichot, Yom HaShoah, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.  We found ways to observe life cycle observances with virtual baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, confirmations, weddings, funerals, shivas, and even conversions.   

We stayed committed to Jewish learning - teaching in the community-led Intro to Judaism course, engaging our children with a top-notch religious school program, meeting virtually with conversion students, offering adult education opportunities in partnership with Beth Abraham and Beth Or, and providing interesting education pieces through the Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival.  We held robust weekly Shabbat Torah studies, introduced a new Tea and Text series, and offered a session on how to run a virtual seder.  

We also found creative ways make connections with other Jewish communities around the United States and Israel, participating in a multi-congregation meditative micography program with Rae Antonoff, a Yom Kippur Social Action Lecture with Eric Ward and members of Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, a Passover Holy Wanderers Retreat with Noah Aronson and other participating North American congregations.  And we were even able to bring Israel close to home, offering meaningful Israel programming with our tour guide, Muki Jankelowitz, who also brought us along for a virtual Tour of Israel.   

We also engaged locally, continuing our pulpit Exchange tradition with Omega Baptist, launching our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival, promoting health with our Oy Vey 5k and Chai Challenge.  We participated with community partners with collection drives and gifts to first responders during the drive thrus and weekly meetings with our mayor, local clergy, and county health officials.  We made casseroles for St. Vincent, helped ensure people could get appointments for vaccines, and held internal discussions of what it means for us to engage in the work of social justice, which resulted in the placement of a sign on our property vowing that we at Temple Israel will not be silent about racism.”   

Social justice was a large part of this past year.  We participated in the YWCA’s 21 day community conversations challenge, Nancy Cohen helped lead our involvement in the Religious Action Center’s Every Voice, Every Vote civic engagement effort, We have congregants currently involved in research for the next RAC OH campaign issue and others being trained in REDI work, Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work, within our congregation.   

Internally, we also looked at ways we could support one another, offering healing services, a session for parents to meet with mental health expert Dr. Betsy Stone, virtual pastoral sessions with the rabbis, QPR suicide prevention training, and a weekly Coffee with the Clergy drop-in time. 

Communications have also been key.  We created a beautiful new High Holiday microsite, developed a robust YouTube presence, reformatted our Tidbits and included a new weekly clergy blog, and formed new connections between congregants, thanks to the more than 2,000 calls made by our caring committee this past year. 

Despite how exceptional this year has been, we have risen to the occasion.  Even during the challenging times of a pandemic, antisemitism, racism, and political polarization, we have continued to fully operate in a way that highlights our values and acts to brings these qualities into the world.  Our success as a congregation could be measured by the numbers.  We have healthy finances, strong fundraising, a dedicated lay leadership, and an exemplary professional team.  But this alone is not enough.  Our success must also be defined by our strength of character, our commitment to Jewish values, and the power of our relationships.   

This year we recognized that many of us are seeking greater intimacy in our relationships with each other and the synagogue.  I believe each of needs to feel remembered and that we matter.  I am excited that our new President, Linda Novak, has chosen to make this a priority during her presidency.    

In the next year, things will, of course, continue to evolve.  And you can be assured that we at Temple will continue to adapt and do so in ways that reenforce our commitment to enhancing Jewish life and learning, cultivating relationships, and engaging in Tikkun Olam, finding ways to piece together the brokenness of our world.  And I am excited.  I feel inspired by the devotion of our congregants who have reached out to each other this year with compassion.   I am grateful to those who have supported this congregation in every way possible. Thank you to all who have kept the synagogue open, even when the doors were closed.  

It has been and continues to be a privilege to serve this sacred community. Thank you. 

This message was originally delivered on May 26, 2021 to the congregation.

Israel’s Fight

Rabbi's Message - May 22, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Today we descend from our high point, still full with delicious rugelach and filled with pride for our newest confirmation class.  Yet, even in our celebration, our spirits are heavy.  Over the past week our hearts have ached over the escalation of violence in Israel.  We mourn the loss of life and are particularly saddened by the recent breakdown of previously amicable Arab/Israeli relations within the country.  While we process our sadness and fear, we find ourselves in the spotlight of a highly complicated and widely misunderstood conflict.  It seems the world around us would rather point fingers and assign blame to Israelis and Jews than learn that none of us bears the full weight of this escalation. 

As one who loves Israel, I struggle with the news reports that portray Israel as the Goliath against the Palestinian’s David.  Though Israel is hardly perfect, it is not the monster it is being made out to be.  I would argue that at times Israel cares more about the welfare of Palestinians than Hamas does.  But so much of what is being shared by the news or online influencers is incomplete or short-sighted.  Too often they fail to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization choosing to fire rockets indiscriminately on innocent civilians, including Palestinians. Or are deaf to understanding that when protesters call out “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” they are calling to eliminate 6.5 million Jews who currently live in their ancestral homeland.  Or it downplays Israel’s moral right as a sovereign nation to protect innocent civilians, such as the elderly woman and caregiver who died last week in Ashkelon trying to get to a bomb shelter. 

By and large, Israel has had little opportunity to provide an even-handed narrative.  While Israel allows for freedom of the press, all pictures and stories that come from Gaza must be approved by Hamas.  Their intent is to paint Israel as the aggressor, and they are winning the optics war.  It is painful to see images of people suffering.  But what we see is not always reality.  Nobody understands that the three Gazan children killed by a rocket last week were murdered by errant Hamas rockets, not Israeli.  Nobody sees how much Israel values life, strategically firing at stockpiles of missiles and rockets, not civilians, and giving advance warning to inhabitants before destroying military strongholds embedded in civilian areas.  Nobody knows the extent to which Hamas has misused valuable community resources in Gaza to invest in building tunnels and accumulating weapons.   

This being said, I understand that none are without blame.  We all have blood on our hands.  Yet, despite her imperfections, at the end of the day Israel still has the absolute right to defend herself and to halt the violence.  I am grateful to those who are willing to recognize this need, especially the United States, who supported the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome, air defense system.  This has played the biggest role in protecting civilian lives, both Israelis (of all faiths) and Gazans.  Without the Iron Dome, Israel likely would have had to enter the Gaza strip to forcibly stop the rocket fire upon Israelis.    

There are other ways that we, overseas, can show support for Israel.  One of the most powerful ways at this time is to stay educated and to help others recognize the complexity of the conflict and that not everything they see is as it appears.    

One great example of this was a powerful written response to Trevor Noah’s monologue composed by David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).  I urge you to take a few minutes to read his open letter, not only for a clearer picture of the conflict, but to help educate those who are also seeking more clarity.  

As always, prayers are appropriate at this time.  Perhaps you will find comfort in the poetic words of Alden Solovy 

~For the Return of Peace~ 

O Peace, you fleeting dream, 

O Justice, you fickle hope, 

Today we do not pray in your name. 

Today we pray in the name of the children 

Who have never met you, 

Who have not been blessed 

With your love or your truth. 

Surely, their cries must someday 

Drive you out of hiding, 

Summoning you to cast your healing 

Upon all the earth. 

One G-d, 

Ancient and merciful, 

Justice and Peace are Yours. 

Halt their retreat from the world 

And send them to us for good. 

Do it for the sake of Your name, 

Do it for the sake of Your right hand, 

Do it for the sake of holiness, 

Do it for the sake of Your children, 

So that all may live in the fullness of Your gifts, 

As one family on earth, 

Under Your canopy of love. 

© 2021 Alden Solovy 

However long this violence continues, take comfort in knowing that we are a strong people.  Jews have overcome oppressive forces time and again throughout history, and it has not diminished our faith, but made it stronger.  May peace descend upon all Israel and all inhabitants of the Earth. 

Appreciating Our Teachers

Rabbi's Message - May 4, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This first week of May is recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week and it is an honor to take some time right now to reflect on how grateful I am for this year’s teaching team in our religious school.  When we switched to virtual learning last year, I never expected to still be primarily on Zoom over a year later.  Our teachers committed to teaching, knowing that this year was going to be a very unique year.  All of them have stepped up to the challenge (and then some) throughout the year, engaging with our students, coming up with new tactics to educate, and planning in ways we haven’t asked previously.  This year, we’ve gathered in little squares on Zoom, we’ve waved through car windows at material pick-ups, we picnicked in the parking lot for Passover, and we’ll do it again for the last day.  You’ll hear more about all of our amazing educators during Friday night’s Shabbat service as we officially recognize them – and I hope you will join us.

One of my favorite statements from Pirkei Avot, teaches that “the one who is wise is one who learns from everyone,” and it is complemented by Rabbi Chanina’s teaching (Taanit 7a), “I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students, I have learned more than from all of them.”  Whether you spend time each week in a classroom or not – we are all teachers and we are all students, and we have all learned something from or in unusual places this year. 

I encourage you this week to take a bit of time to think about who your teachers have been.  How will you show your appreciation for them?

The Motivation to Grow

Rabbi's Message - April 27, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

On Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, we are reminded of the greatness of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi (Rashbi), a sage from 2nd- century ancient Judea who had been a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and is believed to have written the Zohar.  It is said that he passed away on this day.  One of quotes attributed to him is the following:  

 “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow! Grow!'” – Bereishit Rabbah 10:6

Many years ago, when I first came upon this quote, it spoke to me deeply.  I laminated a small placard with these words and it remains next to a plant sitting in our Temple office.  Especially when I was working with younger congregants, I found its message one that we could all stand to be reminded of from time to time.  God has great aspirations for all of us, even the smallest blade of grass, but sometimes each of us needs a little boost to keep us moving toward our own self-fulfillment.  

As children of Israel, we are familiar with these moments.   We are “God-wrestlers”, after all, committed to the holy work of wrestling with God, with Torah, and with a broken world.  It is not always easy.  In fact, it is often challenging, exhausting, and painful.  In our quest for meaning and clarity, we have all faced moments when we lacked motivation or fulfillment and found ourselves “stuck.”  Especially during this pandemic, we have also felt alone.  In a world of more than 7.5 billion human beings, there are times that we doubt the impact of one human, of one voice.  

It is comforting to know that there are those out there, perhaps God’s angels, rooting for us and reminding us that victory is up ahead, that the Promised Land is on the horizon.  I imagine these angels as hardcore gym trainers, motivating athletes when they’ve been pushed to the brink of their strength.  When we find ourselves in those moments, we must not give up, but remember that each of us has a destiny to fulfill.  God is here for us, even in our growing pains, reminding us that we must continue to grow in Torah, even when it hurts.  There will be times when we seek motivational voices, are those inspirational voices, or even provide those encouraging words to others.  We must be those angelic voices supporting one another, not just during the easy moments, but the difficult, as well.  This is part of what makes us a holy community.