“The Creation” – A Poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938)

And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely–
I’ll make me a world.

And far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said: That’s good!

Then God reached out and took the light in his hands,
And God rolled the light around in his hands
Until he made the sun;
And he set that sun a-blazing in the heavens.
And the light that was left from making the sun
God gathered it up in a shining ball
And flung it against the darkness,
Spangling the night with the moon and stars.
Then down between
The darkness and the light
He hurled the world;
And God said: That’s good!

Then God himself stepped down–
And the sun was on his right hand,
And the moon was on his left;
The stars were clustered about his head,
And the earth was under his feet.
And God walked, and where he trod
His footsteps hollowed the valleys out
And bulged the mountains up.

Then he stopped and looked and saw
That the earth was hot and barren.
So God stepped over to the edge of the world
And he spat out the seven seas–
He batted his eyes, and the lightnings flashed–
He clapped his hands, and the thunders rolled–
And the waters above the earth came down,
The cooling waters came down.

Then the green grass sprouted,
And the little red flowers blossomed,
The pine tree pointed his finger to the sky,
And the oak spread out his arms,
The lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground,
And the rivers ran down to the sea;
And God smiled again,
And the rainbow appeared,
And curled itself around his shoulder.

Then God raised his arm and he waved his hand
Over the sea and over the land,
And he said: Bring forth! Bring forth!
And quicker than God could drop his hand,
Fishes and fowls
And beasts and birds
Swam the rivers and the seas,
Roamed the forests and the woods,
And split the air with their wings.
And God said: That’s good!

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Amen. Amen.

An Israeli Reform Rabbi’s Response About Bibi Not Being Interested in a Two-State Solution

The Reform Rabbinate has a private list-serve on which 2500 rabbis world-wide talk with each other about everything from contemporary religious and ethical challenges within Jewish tradition, Israel and our lives as rabbis in Jewish communities around the world.

I read these postings because I want to know what my colleagues are thinking. I often post remarks myself. One such posting was my blog from earlier this week entitled: “Two Veteran Journalists Raise Alarm Bells about the Direction of the Israeli Government.” (Monday, October 13) Ron Ben Yishai (Yidiot Achronot) and J.J. Goldberg (Jewish Forward) concurred that the Israeli government is no longer pursuing a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

I post below a response by a colleague on our list-serve who holds a very different position from mine on the meaning of the journalist’s revelation. I do so not only because his response is so clear, but it is refreshingly civil which, sadly, is not always the standard in the larger Jewish community.

I continue to receive nasty and personal attacks to my postings from people who first question my motives and my heart as a Jew and Zionist, my understanding of the situation, and then seek to slash and burn the messenger (i.e. me or anyone who holds such positions) because they disagree with the message. I never post their comments because they are insulting and degrading and don’t deserve to be posted.

I end this blog with my own reflection about the consequences of assuming the absolute worst about the Palestinians, which my colleague clearly does. I do not believe, according to polls and discussions I have had with Palestinians, that he is correct, but rather that the Palestinians, though guilty of much, also have reasonable and compassionate people (polls indicate that this is the majority of the Palestinian population) who want a state of their own and to live peacefully along-side Israel in an end-of-conflict two-state solution.

“Morei ve-rabotai,

Unusual for me, I thank John Rosove. He has called our attention to two smart observers – Ron Ben Yishai and J.J. Goldberg, who deserved to be listened to. Because they’re right, and it’s way past time the rest of the world – at least our world – woke up to the reality of what’s happening here.

What is happening here is that it is becoming more and more apparent that what was supposed to be the foundation of our policy vis-a-via the Palestinians, the two states for two people, is a dead idea. It never was alive, actually, and there had never been one shred of evidence that one of the sides ever really believed it. Certainly not Arafat and Abu Mazen or anybody else on the Arab side; they have not for one single moment recognized the legitimacy of our existence. But rather glorified murder, honored suicide bombers, killed more than 1000 Israeli citizens, named streets after martyrs, taught 3 generations of hatred to kindergarten kids, etc.

The Israeli side had one great believer, Shimon Peres, (whose track record has been spectacularly wrong for the past 50 years of his post-Ministry of Defense career) followed by a trail of intellectuals, a Prime Minister who got dragged into signing those dreadful, failed Oslo Accords, and a current Prime Minister who is smart enough to make all the right speeches and the right noises about 2 states because that’s what the world out there (the ones who pay a lot of the bills) require. While he knows as well as anybody that two states, if it was ever a live idea (it wasn’t), is a recipe for disaster. Need that spelled out? In shorthand: the PA on the West Bank means Hamas on the West Bank means rockets on the airport. Anybody having trouble understanding that is invited to write in and I will try to help out.

So it seems that John Rosove and I have the same information but two opposite emotional reactions. He sees the death of the Two-State Solution as a disaster; I see it as the best news I have heard in months!

Though the Palestinian Authority has not recognized the “Jewish state of Israel” (I have written about this before), they have for two decades recognized the existence of the state of Israel. Many informed observers believe that after all the other issues are settled (e.g. borders, refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, security, water, etc.) that this last demand of the current Israeli government that the PA recognize the “Jewish state of Israel” (no Israeli Prime Minister ever demanded this before PM Netanyahu) would be agreed to.

I’m reminded in thinking about the views expressed by my colleague and me of what Nelson Mandela once said:

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

Chag Sameach!

Two Veteran Journalists Raise Alarm Bells about the Direction of the Israeli Government

Over the years I have grown to trust certain journalists who cover Israel and the Middle East conflict for their accuracy and insight. Two of them are JJ Goldberg (Jewish Daily Forward) and the veteran defense reporter for Israel’s largest newspaper Ron Ben-Yishai (Yediot Ahronot).

Yesterday in this blog (http://rabbijohnrosove.wordpress.com/), I reviewed the key aspects of Ben-Yishai’s 2400-word report on Israel’s new “conflict management strategy” of Gaza and the West Bank. Among other conclusions, Ben-Yishai said that the Israeli government no longer is working towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that it now is in a “conflict management mode” that includes economic development of the West Bank, PA control over Gaza, the disarmament of Hamas, the refusal to remove Israeli settlements from the West Bank, and  indefinite Israeli control of the West Bank until Middle East instability ceases and the most radical terrorists (Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIL) are eliminated.

In his piece in the Jewish Daily Forward, JJ Goldberg (Is Israel Abandoning Push for Two States?) sites Ben-Yishai’s potentially explosive report (Hebrew)/Ynet (English) and pulls the veil off of the current Israeli government’s greatest deception, that it is serious about achieving through negotiations a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Goldberg cites two incorrect translations from the original Hebrew article of Ben-Yishai that indicates that the United States and the European Union are both deeply concerned that the Israeli government’s current policies will make a two-state resolution of this conflict impossible, and that there is growing tension as a result between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Those who continue to say that Israel’s current government actually believes in a two-state solution are fooling themselves, both JJ Goldberg and Ben-Yishai seem to be saying.

As a friend and passionate supporter of Israel as the democratic nation state of the Jewish people, I worry mightily about this Israeli government’s current direction.

JJ Goldberg – http://blogs.forward.com/jj-goldberg/207259/is-israel-abandoning-push-for-two-states/?#ixzz3G2MrnsQI

Ron Ben-Yishai – http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4579502,00.html

 

 

“Easing Gaza Restrictions is the New Two-State Solution” – by Ron Ben-Yishai, YNET

In an important 2400-word article published Sunday by YNET, journalist Ron Ben-Yishai analyzes the following themes:

  • Current differences between the US and Israel
  • The Israeli government’s new “conflict management” policy vis a vis Gaza and the West Bank
  • Israel’s close security relationship with Egypt
  • Israel’s intent to ease restrictions on the lives of Gaza Palestinians and at the same time gain greater guarantees vis a vis Hamas so that conditions that would ignite a new war can be avoided

Ben-Yishai makes the following points:

  1. Israel has acknowledged that the almost-airtight blockade of Gaza has done more harm than good;
  2. Israel is shifting its focus to ease the lives of Palestinians in Gaza in exchange for greater oversight over Hamas;
  3. There are wide disagreements between PM Netanyahu and President Obama;
  4. Though Israel claims still to be interested in a two-state solution (per US and EU), the US and EU believe that a renewal of peace talks between Israel and the PA will enable the US, EU and moderate Arab nations to fight the ISIL more effectively;
  5. The Israeli government believes that it is in everyone’s interests to join forces against ISIL regardless of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and does not believe that a renewal of negotiations will be productive at this time;
  6. The current Israeli government has no intention during these volatile times of removing large numbers of Jews from West Bank settlements in a two-state solution given the ascendency of Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza after Israeli withdrawal;
  7. In place of a two-state solution, Israel is shifting in the short term (until the Middle East stabilizes and the threats of radical forces subside) to a “conflict management” approach of Gaza and the West Bank;
  8. Israel has waived its objections to Palestinian reconciliation in its unity government (PA and Hamas) and is mostly interested now in preventing an uprising on the West Bank;
  9. Israel supports President Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in its efforts to build institutions and regain control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which means allowing economic benefits to accrue to those areas. Israel will allow more freedom of movement for residents of West Bank and eventually Gaza;
  10. Israel will assist in Gaza reconstruction in order to create the incentive to avoid another war in the near future;
  11. Israel supports all policies to prevent rearmament of Hamas and Islamic Jihad;
  12. Israel and Egypt are experiencing an unprecedented security collaboration as part of Israel’s “conflict management approach” resulting in “full trust” between Egypt’s and Israel’s defense systems;
  13. Hamas has not attempted to renew excavation on its tunnels due to its desperation for money to pay workers and its need for massive financial assistance to rebuild Gaza;
  14. Hamas’ red line is disarmament – it will not do so;
  15. Ben-Yishai spells out in detail what Israel will allow for Gaza reconstruction;
  16. The current Cairo conference is attempting to detail how funding will assist Gaza.

Read the entire 2400 word article here – Ynet

 

When Hearing An Ambulance Siren & Thoughts About Healing

Following Kabbalat Shabbat services this past week a young woman, Hannah, asked me a question that had never been asked of me before. She wanted to know what blessing was appropriate to say when hearing an ambulance siren.

Hannah explained that she worried about the well-being of the individual for whom the ambulance was intended even though she had no idea who it was, and she wanted to be able to call upon whatever powers that be (e.g. physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) that could possibly help the individual survive and cope with his/her ordeal.

The shortest prayer in the Hebrew Bible immediately came to mind – “El na r’fa na la – Please God heal her!” (Numbers 12:13) Moses had offered this five-word blessing on behalf of his sister Miriam after she had become leprous, and the Torah relates that Moses’ blessing was efficacious in Miriam’s healing.

Judaism understands that the human being is an integrated whole including body, mind, heart, and soul, and that all belong to God. As God’s “partner” in creation, Judaism obligates us to help others heal from injury and illness. (see Healing and the Jewish Imagination: Spiritual and Practice Perspectives on Judaism and Health, edited by Rabbi William Cutter, Jewish Lights, 2007)

I have written a Guide called “On Healing and Recovery” as part of a Transitions & Celebrations series of Jewish Life Cycle Guides that is available on the Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles website –

http://www.tioh.org/images/Worship/ClergyStudy/on%20healing%20and%20recovery.pdf 

In this guide I respond to many “Frequently Asked Questions” about recovery and healing and what to do and not do when someone becomes ill. I list relevant Jewish laws and traditions concerning the mitzvah (commandment) of bikur cholim (visiting the sick), as well as a glossary of relevant Hebrew terms and concepts and a list of resources for further inquiry.

I offer here a few reflections drawn from Jewish and world literature on the theme of healing:

Rabbi Chiyya was suffering, and Rabbi Yochanan gave him his hand. Rabbi Chiyya was lifted.” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 5b)

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” (John Burroughs)

In the end, medicine will always be about one patient and one physician [or nurse] together in one room, connecting through the most basic of communication systems: touch. In an age of breathless innovation, this system is almost antediluvian. But medicine simply cannot be automated beyond this point.” (Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD – in Jewish Stories From Heaven and Earth: Inspiring Tales to Nourish the Heart and Soul, Edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, p. 47)

Abayei said, when a person comes out of a privy, that person should say: Blessed is God who has formed us in wisdom and created in us many orifices and many cavities. It is obvious and known before Your throne of glory that if one of them were to be ruptured or one of the blocked, it would be impossible for a person to survive and stand before You. Blessed are You that heals all flesh and does wonders.” (Babylonian Talmud, B’rachot 60b – Also in Asher Yatzar, a prayer in the morning liturgy)

The Torah gives permission to the physician to heal; moreover, this is a mitzvah and it is included in the mitzvah of saving a life; and, the physician withholds such services, that person is considered a shedder of blood.” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 336: 1)

It is a positive rabbinic commandment to visit the sick, comfort mourners and serve in a funeral escort.” (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah)

God’s word is the Source of all true life. Know and understand it. The word can heal your soul and unite it with its Source.” (Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav)

Rabbi Abba son of Rabbi Hanina taught: The one who visits a sick person, takes away 1/60 of that person’s pain.” (Babylonia Talmud, Nedarim 39b)

A man too busy to take care of his health is like a mechanic too busy to take care of his tools.”
(Spanish proverb)

When one helps another, both gain in strength.” (Ecuadorian proverb)

May the One who dwells in this place comfort you.”  (A message inscribed on Kings Gate in Jerusalem)

The soul is healed by being with children.” (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

Be a lamp,
or a lifeboat,
or a ladder.
Help someone’s soul heal.
Walk out of your house like a shepherd
.” (Jalaluddin Rumi)

Sickness is a separation from God – Healing is returning to God.” (Shirley MacLaine, Out on a Leash)

“For with God there is steadfast kindness!” (Psalm 130:7)

Sukkot so often is associated with ‘doing.’ The first thing observant Jews ‘do’ after Yom Kippur, the most ascetic holyday in the Jewish calendar, is get back to work and build sukkot. Beyond the doing, of course, is much meaning that gives the holyday its character, power and appeal.

The Sukkah

There’s a machloket (controversy) in the Talmud about what a sukkah represents. Rabbi Akiva said that it represents the booths our people lived in during the 40 years of wandering, thereby recalling the years of exile and suffering experienced by the Israelites who, despite God’s beneficence (per Rabbi Akiva), wanted to return to the Godless Egypt and attach themselves to the false physical comforts based in brick and mortar, as if there were any.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus disagreed saying the sukkah represents the ananei kavod (Clouds of Glory – i.e. God) that hovered over the people en-wrapping them with God’s self like a tallit, and providing them with food, water, protection, and safe passage in the desert wilds. The Clouds of Glory were a physical reminder of Divine-nearness that enabled the people to develop trust and faith in a redeeming God without fear.

We seduce ourselves into believing (per Rabbi Akiva) that any house, with its thick walls, gates and alarm systems, can guarantee safety. And so, the sukkah becomes our “house” during this season to remind us of our fragility, impermanence and the limits of the material.

Sukkot comes each year to break us of our illusions and to emphasize that real protection lies within God’s arms. This is the spiritual message of the sukkah, and it’s there that we live for seven days under the t’sach, God’s canopy, a sukkat shalom.

Our bodies are like a sukkah as well, a vessel within which the indwelling presence of God (i.e. the soul) abides. We know, especially as we age, that our bodies are not forever. They break down; we get sick and frail; and we die.

Our homes can so easily be knocked down by earthquake, tornado and storm, just as our bodies and the sukkah are subject to time’s vagaries.

Kohelet

The megilah (scroll) we read on the Shabbat of Sukkot is Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and it emphasizes this theme of human impermanence and fragility. Kohelet says: “Havel havelim amar Kohelet – havel havelim hakol havel!” – ‘Utter futility, said Kohelet, Utter futility, all is futile!’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

A better translation of havel is “vapor.” We feel it one moment, and the next it dissipates much like Abel, whose Hebrew name was also “Havel,” for he left no trace when his brother Cain murdered him.

Most often we attach far too much importance to things – our home is important – our job is important – certain possessions are important – we’re important – everything feels important because we’re attached to, identify with and treat our possessions and self-made identities as extensions and reflections of ourselves, but the truth is that over time nothing tangible or created by human beings is ultimately important – “All is vanity,” like vapor dissipating leaving no trace.

That’s the disturbing side of life, and Sukkot reflects ultimate truths about the limits of materiality and the eternal nature of the spirit. The other side of the holyday, thankfully, empowers us because tradition calls us to rejoice in the very things that we know are impermanent which, like us, are the manifestation of divinity too.

The Four Species

The arba minim (the four species), the lulav, etrog, hadas and aravah plants, represent different aspects of the natural world. They symbolize also different kinds of Jews, the Jewish people as a whole, the oneness of humankind, and God’s all-encompassing unity.

And so, in this z’man simchateinu, this “time of our rejoicing,” we leave our homes and return to nature and the earth. We become more aware of what’s around, above and below us, and we become even more aware of who and what we are.

Universalism

Sukkot carries a deeply universal message. It’s not just for Jews – it’s for non-Jews too. We know this because in the Talmud 70 sacrifices were brought to the Temple during Sukkot, representing the 70 known nations of the world at that time (Bavli, Sukkah 55b). This festival is for the entire world, for everyone everywhere on the planet.

Redemption

Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot is a triad of Biblical festivals celebrating three kinds of p’dut, redemption.

Pesach’s p’dut celebrates our people’s liberation from Egyptian bondage.

Shavuot’s p’dut celebrates our receiving Torah.

And Sukkot’s p’dut celebrates our redemption from ourselves, especially from the finitude and impermanence of our lives.

In Psalms (130:7-8) we read:

Yachel Yisrael el Adonai
Ki im Adonai ha-chesed
V’har’beh i-mo p’dut;
V’hu yif’deh et Yisrael mi kol a-vo-no-tav.

O Israel, hope in God
For with God there is steadfast kindness
And great redemption is with the Eternal;
And God will redeem Israel from all its wrongs.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sukkot Sameach.

Beware Pundits Who Make Sweeping Ignorant Statements About Islam

People with microphones and computers who think they are experts as they cherry-pick scriptural verse from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament or Quran, observe evil behavior of those who claim their respective religious text as authority, and then make outrageous claims about the nature of the other’s religion ought to pause before saying or writing anything. We who listen should change the channel immediately or delete such drivel from our computer screens.

The rise of ISIS, Al Qaida, the threats of a nuclear Iran, Hamas’ brutality, and the brutality and extremism in many African and Middle Eastern countries have given rise to pontifications and pronouncements by people who don’t know what they are talking about when it comes to the interplay of history, religion, politics, power, and human avarice. Their generalizations and cherry-picking of facts feed fear of the “other”, do harm to the good name of vast numbers of Muslims, Jews and Christians, destroy civil discourse, polarize people who otherwise would have much in common, and represent an assault on the truth.

“Fox News” is perhaps the most serious offender, but so are other media outlets whose “commentators” obsessively focus on religion as a principle culprit in world violence instead of more complex historical forces and simple greed and avarice.

I am attaching two articles by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Reuven Firestone, Professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles (from the “Forward” and “Jewish Journal”), who I trust as a bona fide scholar of Islam and Judaism. I know enough about Judaism and Christianity (I am not a scholar of the latter) to know that the general points he makes in these two articles are true and important for all of us when thinking about the rise of radical Islamic groups around the world.

http://blogs.forward.com/forward-thinking/206518/no-pamela-geller-the-quran-is-not-anti-semitic/

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/bennett_and_weston_the_politics_of_scapegoating

High Holiday Sermon Themes 5775 — The Meaning of Love – The State of the Jewish World – Soul Hunger – Never Forgetting

I have posted the four sermons I delivered on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this season at Temple Israel of Hollywood. For those interested, they may be accessed by clicking the titles below:

Their titles and themes are:

“Love is the Only Road” – Erev Rosh Hashanah – I consider the many kinds of love and the yearning to belong that animates all. I focus on two powerful true stories that evoke what is core to the human condition.

“For Jews Despair is Not An Option” – Shacharit Rosh Hashanah – I consider four themes – Post-Gaza War – The Rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and Scandinavia – The Rise in Extremism, Racism and Hate within Israel and the American Jewish Community – And our Relationship as American Jews to the State of Israel.

“For What Do Our Souls Really Hunger?” – Kol Nidre – Reflections on Judaism’s understanding of what constitutes wisdom, strength, wealth, and honor in contemporary American western culture and thoughts about what the human soul really craves.

“Why I Don’t Want to Die” – Yizkor Based on a conversation with my 97 year-old mother who is legally blind, nearly deaf and suffering from dementia but at times lucid enough to express her deepest fear in dying.

 

 

 

President Ruvy Rivlin Commits to Fighting Racism, Intolerance and Bullying in Israeli Society

There’s been in Israel an alarming increase of racism over the last few years. Jewish terrorist price tag attacks continue to plague Israeli human rights organizations, Palestinian-Israeli citizens, Palestinians living in the West Bank, their villages and olive groves, and Christian churches in the heart of West Jerusalem. The most horrendous example was the murder by Jewish terrorists of an innocent 16-year old Mohammed abu Khadr in June in revenge following the murder of the three kidnapped Israeli teens by Hamas-related terrorists.

Israeli racism, intolerance of the “other,” and bullying is finally being addressed seriously by Israel’s Ministry of Education in programs to educate children in elementary, junior high and high school about tolerance and human rights. Israel’s new President Reuven Rivlin has devoted himself to this issue and has condemned all expressions of intolerance, racism and bullying including that coming from certain extremist members of the sitting Israeli governing coalition.

I was particularly moved by the following video reported in the Times of Israel that shows the Israeli President sitting in his office with a young boy, George Amire, from Jaffa who has been the victim of bullying in a new campaign in which Ruvy Rivlin has committed himself in promoting tolerance and solidarity.

“For Jews Despair Is Not An Option” – Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5775

On Rosh Hashanah morning I spoke to my congregation about the current state of the Jewish people in the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas War, in light of the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and Scandinavia, the rise in extremism and intolerance in Israel and in the American Jewish community, and how we American Jews are relating to the State of Israel today.

For those interested, the direct link to the sermon

“For Jews Despair is Not An Option” – Shacharit Rosh Hashanah

G’mar chatimah tovah!

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