Tag: Holy Days

#1: A Candle of Hope

#1, one, uno, echad, harishon, un, first night, now
it all starts with one who hopes.

Welcome to the Rabbipaul’s 8 Blogs for 8 Nights of Chanukah, the first of eight awesome blogs to brighten your Chanukah celebration. [All the Chanukah celebration resources you want are here.]

Blog Tzedakah: Leave a comment (below) on this blog to shine the light. For every comment made today, I’ll make a tzedakah donation to help foster kids seeking a brighter future.

Tonight is dedicated to remembering what it is all about. Chanukah, I mean. Sure, you have the story here which you have to retell (Rule #1 of Chanukah: no storytelling, holiday observance not completed). But beyond the oil and Maccabees and the evil King Antiochus and the miracle, was an amazing sense of “yes we can”.

What was going through the mind of that unnamed young kohen (priest) when he realized he only had enough oil to last for one night? Did he think he should save it for a special occasion, perhaps the first Shabbat, hoarding it to celebrate that significant holy day?

No, thinking “yes we can,” he had faith and hope and poured that oil into the menorah, lighting it in the face of all claims it would burn out. Like Nachshon before him, the early Zionists after him, he sensed that im tirtzu ein zo aggadah – if you will it/hope it/if you work for it, then it is no dream.

What would our lives be like if we lived with that as a mantra? That we can move toward new realities even when others discourage us. Realists among us will scoff at the idea. And the flighty will dance about it. But the rest of us will need to work at it – holding onto hope in the face of darkness. We know, for example, that to turn our country’s economic situation around, we will all, at some point, need to believe in it again. Not perhaps at this very moment, but sometime, soon. We know with our children that we have to take educated risks, watching carefully, but allowing them to take risks, drive off with the car, stay out later, climb a bit higher. Even love is about calculated risk, opening your heart for another to love.

  • So if you are tired after a long day, light the candle.
  • If you are concerned about the future, light the candle.
  • If you are worried about your portfolio, light the candle.
  • If you can’t figure out what to do about your challenging children, light the light.
  • If you can’t decide what to do about your aging parents, light that light.
  • If your love has gone sour, shine that light of hope.
  • If you business is going south, shine a beacon of possibility.
  • If your love life is brightening your heart, light a light to shine for others.
  • If your social activism is changing the world for the better, shine that beacon into other’s darkness.
  • If you are lonely or alone, light that light into your darkness.
  • Remember, we are all lighting lights in these days ahead.

It only takes one candle to brighten the darkness. So start today.

This Chanukah, be that unnamed kohen/priest. Take a chance for a better future. Kindle a lamp to shine the way ahead. Be your own hero. Yes you can!

In case you forget how possible it is to really make the lights sing and dance for you, click here. Each Chanukah candle will sing to you its own tune. Click the shamash (central helper candle) and they sing forth together. (Seriously, try it… but then come back and leave a comment, so we can send more tzedakah to the foster kids. Or donate your own to our ACAC/Adopt a Child Abuse Caseworker program at www.orami.org/donate.

The lyrics to the song you will hear are about spiritual and physical victory over the darkness (in case you forgot):

Mi yimalel givurot Yisrael
Otan mi yimne
Hen b’khol dor yakum hagibor
Goel ha-am.

Shma! Ba-yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’zeh.
Macabim moshia u’phodeh
U’vyameinu kol Am Yisrael
Yitakhed yakum lehigael.

Shma! Ba-yamim ha’hem ba’zman ha’zeh.
Macabim moshia u’phodeh
U’vyameinu kol Am Yisrael
Yitakhed yakum lehigael.

Who can retell the things that befell us?
Who can count them?
In every age, a hero or sage
Arose to our aid.

Hark! In days of yore in Israel’s ancient land
Brave Maccabeus led the faithful band
But now all Israel must as one arise
Redeem itself through deed and sacrifice.

Chanukah Resources Available

Need more Chanukah songsheets? Forget the Chanukah story but want to tell it?
Looking for a deeper adult experience of Chanukah learning?
Do the candles go in left to right or right to left?

Chanukah Resources to Light Up Your Celebration

All at


This beautiful flyer (which looks so much better in real life) was designed by Stephanie Goldsmith.

Counting 100 Blessings

As we sat around the Thanksgiving Dinner Table, taking stock of our blessings, sharing sadness at those who were not with us (either because they were at other Thanksgiving Tables or they had passed on from this life), many of us took comfort in these lean times with a bountiful meal. Our ancient rabbis teach us that we should count 100 blessings per day. For some the rabbis offered the standardized “Baruch Ata Adonai” formula. For others, they just expect us to open our eyes, get out of our heads, and open our hearts to the beauty on even the darkest of days. Was this just their way of pushing people to pray more? Or did they recognize an antidote to depression, coveting and anxiety? I am interested in how you count your blessings. I am interested too in the family Thanksgiving rituals you enjoy which help you take stock of your blessings. Please scroll down to the comments box below to be part of the conversation. Don’t forget to give your name (only if you are comfortable).

Thanksgiving: A Very Jewish Non-Jewish Holiday

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It is one of the few holidays that combine three of my favorite things: great food, family and NO responsibilities for me as rabbi. It is also so familiar, so Jewish. Some thought-provoking scholarship suggests that Thanksgiving is actually an interpretation of our Jewish holy day Sukkot, the fall festival designated to thank God for the bountiful harvest. As American Jews, we should revel in celebration of this American holiday, and infuse it with ahavah (love), ruchaniut (spirituality), tzedakah (giving). Thanking God, after all, is a value we all share. So enjoy these blessings, Thanksgiving Haggadot, and ideas for a meaningful Thanksgiving. Click here to read my complete eLearning Newsletter on Thanksgiving.

To Say Before the Meal: A Prayer for Thanksgiving
As we gather around a table, family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of this Thanksgiving meal, we pause to offer thanks for the blessings we have received. (We read together)

For the expanding grandeur of Creation,
worlds known and unknown, galaxies beyond galaxies,
filling us with awe and challenging our imaginations,
we gratefully give thanks to You
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For this fragile planet earth, its times and tides,
its sunsets and seasons,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For the joy of human life, its wonders and surprises,
its hopes and achievements,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For human community, our common past and future hope,
our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work
for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For high hopes and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism,
for understanding of views not shared,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world,
who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

For human liberties and sacred rites:
for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose,
Modim anachnu lach מוֹדִים אֲנַחְנוּ לָךְ

We pray that we may live not by our fears but by our hopes,
Not only by our words but by our deeds.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ייְָ, הַטּוֹב שִׁמְךָ וּלְךָ נָאֶה לְהוֹדוֹת.
Baruch Atah, Adonai, ha’tov shimcha ul’cha na’eh l’hodot
Praised are You, Adonai, Your Name is Goodness, and You are worthy of thanksgiving.

[Click here for other Thanksgiving Table prayer options.]

Beyond Eating: Investing Thanksgiving with Meaning
America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Haggadah. American Jewish Committee writes: In a world too often threatened by differences, Thanksgiving is a day to appreciate how our various backgrounds make America vibrant, while our democratic values unite us and keep America strong. America’s Table: A Thanksgiving Reader tells this story and helps us express gratitude for being part of it. Download AJC’s Thanksgiving Haggadah.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ Making Thanksgiving Spiritually Meaningful: 10 Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Table. Rabbi Kipnes writes: From blessings, to Shehecheyanu moments, to yahrzeit candles to learning, Thanksgiving can be a time of Jewish spiritual inspiration. Download Rabbi Kipnes’ Thanksgiving 10 Thanksgiving Ideas.

Rabbi Phyllis Sommers’ Thanksgiving Seder for Families with Young Children. Much like Passover, this is a holiday whose primary ritual centers on a meal. So here’s a short Haggadah for the Thanksgiving meal. Download Thanksgiving Seder.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ Blessings for Your Thanksgiving Table. Words to say before you dig into dinner. Download Rabbi Kipnes’ Blessings.
Precious Preschool People: Our Union for Reform Judaism offers Thanksgiving ideas for Precious Little People, explaining: For the Jewish community, Thanksgiving offers a special opportunity to be grateful not only for the bounties and comforts of our lives but especially for the religious freedom we have found in the United States of America. Download URJ’s Thanksgiving Holiday Happenings 2008 and URJ’s Thanksgiving Holiday Happenings 2007.

Social Justice Guide for National Holidays: Our Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism a guide which explores Jewish and Socially Just celebrations of Thanksgiving, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It also includes a section on the Super Bowl, for good measure. Download RAC’s Social Justice Guide for National Holidays.

Click here to read the complete eLearning with Rabbi Kipnes on Making Thanksgiving Meaningful.

A Thanksgiving Seder for Families with Small Children

One of my favorite bloggers, Ima On (and off) the Bimah, offers this posting for Thanksgiving:

A few years ago, our family started to do a Thanksgiving Seder, a retake on the Passover Seder. Much like Passover, this is a holiday whose primary ritual centers on a meal. There isn’t, however, a set liturgy for the Thanksgiving meal…and that’s where I come in. I’ve made some changes and additions to the Seder my family has used for a number of years. My own kids are, as you know, pretty young, so I’ve decided to create 2 different documents. The first is here today, for your viewing and downloading pleasure, for families with small children. Hopefully I will have the second soon, with more readings and opportunities for discussion with a more mature crowd.

Take a look at her Thanksgiving Seder (or Haggadah) here.

Check back in later for my eLearning Newsletter on Making Thanksgiving Meaningful.

An Ethical Will for My Children

Some years ago, I wrote this ethical will for my children. With a few adjustments, I shared it with the congregation as a High Holy Day sermon. I still stand by these values.

As Congregation Or Ami’s New Dimensions (activities for adults only) prepares for a seminar on Writing an Ethical Will (Monday, November 17, 2008 at , I went back to my Ethical Will to see what I wrote. I still like it:

On Aaron’s Advice: An Ethical Will for My Children
Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas, CA
Rosh Hashana 5763 / September 2002

When Becky asked me to officiate at a minyan after her father Aaron’s funeral, I stepped forward without question. Friends help friends. It was only as I stood there, for two nights, before our extended group of friends, before Becky, that I realized the daunting task of trying to find words of wisdom to comfort someone whom I considered more a family member than a friend. Doctors do not operate on their loved ones; rabbis probably should not officiate for family members either. It is just too close.

But there we were. We prayed the prayers, moving forward without comment. Becky seemed to take strength from the regularity of the ritual and comfort from the companionship of the community surrounding her. I worried about what to say to bring uplift to her heart, solace to her soul. I was saved, however, by none other than Aaron himself – yes, the deceased. Before heart surgery ten years earlier, being well aware that “you can never be sure when the end will come,” Aaron, wrote an ethical will to make sure that his ideals would survive. A short, two-page letter to his loved ones, the ethical will bequeaths to them the values he holds most dear. As the letter was read aloud, Aaron himself comforted his daughter and his grandchildren, and led us all with wisdom and humility to a meaningful moment of kedusha, of holiness.

A few weeks later, emboldened by Aaron’s example, I sat down to write. You don’t need 10 years as a rabbi officiating at funerals to know that all it takes is some freak accident, unexpected disease or, however unlikely, some terrorist action to end your life prematurely. So I accepted for myself Aaron’s implicit invitation to impart words of comfort and wisdom to those who would survive me. I will share now but a few of the words I have written down in an ethical will to my family. Should I live to watch my three children mature, make their way in the world, and create their own lives and family, I hope to have passed on these values both in name and by example. But if not, God-forbid, I want them, and you, to know what is in my heart as you all continue to live your lives. With the High Holy Days upon us, this just might be the most important sermon I write this year.

To My Beloved Children:

We live in a world in which celebrity seems more important than what good you have accomplished. Where America’s leading businesses and business watchdogs lied to thousands of investors who counted on their honesty to plan for their future. … Where anti-Semitism – unadulterated hate – has raised its head in Europe, endangering our people yet again. … Where the bravado, self-interest and violence of the Palestinian leadership destroyed our realistic heartfelt offers to end the Mideast conflict. These are frightening times for our people, for all people.

With so many spurious values abound, I find myself contemplating the awesome responsibility we have to guide you in life. As you navigate the uncharted waters of life, I wonder, have we filled your life raft with a strong enough set of ethics and ideals to keep your heads above the raging waters?

The key, it seems, is to remember that you have all you need to bring goodness to yourself and into the world. Do not allow yourself to be limited by others, whether because of your gender… or your religion, race, orientation or age. These provide you with unique tools with which to navigate our world. You can do anything you put your mind to, anything you truly wish to accomplish. By the way, that is the central lesson of the modern Bar and Bat Mitzvah. Having completed an arduous, complex task, you will have learned that nothing is too difficult or beyond your reach.

When each of you was born, we celebrated with a Jewish ceremony. Surrounded by family and friends, and delicious desserts baked by PaPa and LaLa, we shepped nachas, shared the joy. At its most basic level, these ceremonies proclaimed that you were Jews and that we intended to bring you up as Jews. More significantly, it taught, even before you could understand it, that you are inheritors of a sacred tradition. As you grow, immerse yourself in our Jewish values and become our ideal, an Or LaGoyim, a light unto the nations.

My children, you are part of Am bachor, a chosen people. Not necessarily better than others. Merely chosen for a special responsibility. You are chosen to receive Torah values and effectuate them in our world. To help you understand this, we have prioritized our lives around enabling you to gain a strong Jewish education, learning the teachings of Torah. Torah encompasses all that is good and worthy. Hafach ba v’hafach ba d’chula ba – turn it and turn it, everything is in Torah: our stories and traditions, rituals and ceremonies, ethics and values. Taken together, Torah goads us into making our special contribution to this world.

Of course, the pursuit of wisdom begins with Torah, but should not conclude with Jewish learning alone (although your ability to evaluate the world will be severely limited without it). As Am hasefer, the People of the Book, we value secular scholarship too, for its own sake and as the key to our survival. Complete your studies with vigor; pursue college and advance degrees thereafter. Jewish knowledge and secular studies, combine these and you will be able to more easily pursue your dreams. It is a marriage made in heaven.

Speaking of marriage, back in ancient days, I would have had the privilege of picking out your spouse. Today, thankfully, you choose your own. Allow me to share with you what I have learned about love and marriage. Look not to movies or Madison Avenue advertisements for guidance in your search for a soul mate. Look, rather, for a partner who loves you, who helps you realize your fullest potential, with whom you feel enabled to expand your horizons. And find someone who has a commitment to Jewish life. With them you will share a heritage, and an ethical and spiritual encoding that was programmed into you at the moment of conception, nourished within you from the time you nursed at your mother’s breast. With such a partner, your life will be easier and, I believe, fuller. Yet whomever you choose, Jew or non-Jew, a male or a female, know that we will love you and your partner, and will try to support the life you build together.

I have learned that marriage takes as much if not more work than whatever you get paid to do, but the rewards of these efforts far exceed the paycheck you bring home. Continue to date your partner throughout your life. Make your time with him or her a priority, even when you have children, and share the responsibilities equally. That sage Dear Abby wrote, infatuation is to marriage like fireworks are to fireflies. Though infatuation (even lust) will light up your skies with an overwhelming display of light and noise, a mature, strong marriage – like a firefly – will provide you with a beacon of light to guide you home after a long lonely day in the world. And that, the beacon of light shining forth from my wife’s love, is what keeps me sane in our crazy world.

Mishpacha, your family needs to be a high priority. Mom and I made decisions about where we wanted to live based on our desire to raise you in proximity to your grandparents. Yes, family has the ability to push your buttons like no other, but they also have the ability to accept you and love you unconditionally. Find a way to love your family and they will sustain you through the most challenging of times. Let yourself be separated from them when you are adults, and the tragedy of separation will be passed on as a model for your children as they develop their familial relationships. So call your adult siblings regularly and your parents even more. Throughout your life, make Shalom Bayit, peace in the home, one of your goals, and you will find unparalleled strength as you to venture out into the world.

About work, I have learned this: Find a career path that will allow you to bring goodness into our world. Making money for money’s sake, or even just to support your family, will slowly consume your soul. At the end of the day, you will not sustain yourself without seeking a greater good because the sole pursuit of money and material things is unending. And by the way, don’t try to keep up with the Jones’, because you can never keep up with the Jones’, because there will always be more Jones’ who always will have more.

Be ethical in all that you do – especially at work. Not because otherwise you will get caught – which ultimately you will. Rather, be ethical because it is the right thing to do. Always remember that Hebrew National hotdog commercial. It says it all. You are “responsible to a Higher Authority.”

As you prioritize your time, seek out a synagogue that speaks to your heart. Help it fulfill its mission to educate Jews and to respond Henaynu, that we are here to support each other. Attend services frequently. They will heal and uplift your soul in ways that you will recognize only after you have expended the energy to show up. Al tifros min hatzibur, do not separate yourself from the community, since within community, can we best feel God’s loving Presence.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Sha’alu Shalom Lirushalayim. Nowhere is the need for shalom more clear and yet often more difficult than in relationship with the State of Israel. But Kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh – all Jews are responsible for each other. As you know, I am drawn to Israel even now, when most people are staying away. I have traveled there in both good and in difficult times. And I will again. Ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel that courses through my veins, calls me to stand on her soil and to speak with her people, even at times that others deem dangerous. Just as I cannot imagine a world without you, neither can I imagine a world without Israel. As such, we all must wrap our arms around this tired little nation, comfort and support her, and tell her that Od yavo shalom, peace one day will come.

We can discern in our hearts a special love for Israel as we learn about her past and her present and as we visit her unique, precious places. As this love and connection grows – even before it fully matures – we need to support Israel with our time, energy and money; and dedicate ourselves to her wellbeing b’chol l’vavcha uv’chol nafshecha uv’chol m’odecha – with all our heart, soul and might. That too is part of the purpose for which God placed us on this earth.

You know that I have been studying Talmud with my colleagues. I recently studied the Talmud’s short list of six responsibilities of a parent to his or her children. Curiously, number six was “teach your children to swim.” Why swimming of all things? Did the rabbis witness their own set of tragedies and understand the simplicity of prevention? I wonder if they recognized the poignant symbolism inherent in swimming: that on occasion we all will be thrown into waters over our heads and we need the skills to keep ourselves afloat. In teaching you to swim, we endeavor to provide instruction in more than just the physical act of treading water and self-propulsion. We confirm that within each of us are many diverse tools – physical, emotional, spiritual – to help us navigate the currents of life. We have taught you the power of seeking out others for help and the wisdom of listening closely to their advice and counsel. I hope we have taught you that turning to others for support – friends and school counselors, rabbis and therapists – is the mark of courage and strength, not of weakness or shame. So seek out help when you need it.

Life, you may be learning, is filled with mysteries. The greatest perhaps is why God placed us upon this earth. Recently, I have discovered a hint of that ultimate purpose. Embedded in Torah, in a portion we read every Yom Kippur, are the words: Kedoshim tihiyu ki kadosh Ani Adonai Eloheichem – you are holy because I, the Eternal your God am holy. Life, I believe, is supposed to be about Kedusha, holiness, about those significant yet indescribable moments of inspirational uplift that result from right-minded actions and intentions. Holiness, like spirituality, is not just a state of being; it is a manner of acting within the world by being compassionate, pursuing justice and seeking truth. When we do this right, our actions reflect shutaf Adonai, a partnership with God.

Well, these are the values I cherish. Values which carried me through the dark days of years gone by. I hope they carry you through too. I wrote these down, on Aaron’s advice, as a way to guide and comfort you in the years ahead. Perhaps one day soon you too will follow Aaron’s example and write down your ethical will. It truly is a holy task.

For now, mine kinderlach – my children and the children of my Torah teaching – honor my memory, and your family’s memory, and the tradition passed down midor lador, from generation to generation since the time of Moses, by being holy, by being kadosh. I know you are… May you know you are…

I love you. Love, Daddy.

Rabbi Sharon Brous on Religulous: “Defying Despair: Why I Believe”

Have you seen the movie Religulous by Bill Maher? My colleague Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar (a social activist, highly spiritual, conservative-ish synagogue community) responded to Maher’s movie on Kol Nidre. She said:

I recently heard Bill Maher speak about his new film, Religulous (a made up word that combines religion and ridiculous), which offers a blistering attack on religion and the religious life. He argues that faith necessarily means a lack of critical thinking, that “to be religious at all is to be an extremist, [because] it is to be extremely irrational.” I understand his critique of religion. I understand the problems inherent in the notion of an all-powerful God in a world of brokenness and pain, of poverty and disease. I understand the damage that religious faith has wrought, the bigotry, close-mindedness and narrowness that is so closely identified with religious communities and ideology. I understand why smart, discerning people might reject religion so fiercely.

Later Rabbi Brous, acknowledging that there were plenty who misused religion for their own abusive purposes, says, nevertheless:

So here’s what I — a person of faith, an Exodus Jew — say to Bill Maher: Guess what? The God you mock is not my God. My God does not tell people to blow up buildings, oppress women, or even build gas pipelines. My God tells us to treat all people with dignity and love. My God does not advocate for the war in Iraq, or any other brutal conflict that separates people from their loved ones and treats human beings like “collateral damage.” No, the God I love demands that we pursue every possible path toward peace. My God does not make children sick, but gives them and their parents comfort and strength as they struggle with illness. Belief in my God does not free human beings to defer responsibility, it demands of us that we take responsibility. As the great Rev. William Sloane Coffin:

“It’s clear to me… that almost every square inch of the Earth’s surface is soaked with the tears and blood of the innocent, [but] it is not God’s doing. It’s our doing. That’s human malpractice. Don’t chalk it up to God. Every time people… lift their eyes to heaven and say, ‘God, how could you let this happen?’ it’s well to remember that exactly at that moment God is asking exactly the same question of us: ‘How could you let this happen?’ So [we] have to take responsibility.”

That most of the terrible heartache in the world is perpetrated by people — and often people who cloak themselves in religion — is a great travesty and a bruise on our shared humanity. But that is no reason not to believe. It is, rather, a reason to challenge, to reinvent. To search deeply within our traditions for the ikar, the sacred essence that is truly at the heart of our faith that compels us to engage one another not with condescension and brutality, but with respect and compassion.

Read Rabbi Sharon Brous’ complete Yom Kippur Kol Nidre sermon here. And thanks to Rabbi Eric Berk for bringing this wonderful sermon to my attention.

During Economic Crisis, a Sukkot Lesson of Hope

My colleague, Rabbi Aliza Berk of the Bay Area Healing Center, poignantly illuminates the lessons that the festival of Sukkot bring to bear on the fragility we all are feeling during this economic crisis and recession:

Now we are celebrating the Fall harvest and pilgrimage festival of Sukkot; and the focus of the holiday shifts from the synagogue to the home. Sukkot is also known as zeman simhataynu, the festival of our rejoicing. It is a time to count our blessings. Sukkot comes to teach us to appreciate what we have and to hold our loved ones close. A sukkah is a temporary hut with a leafy roof used for Sukkot holiday meals, similar to the huts built during harvest season in ancient times. The sukkah reminds us of the delicate spiritual balance between recognizing our fragility and vulnerability and feeling sheltered by God’s presence. This is a time to reach out to those who need us and are in pain and aching from the battles of life.

This last year, our country has experienced devastating wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and a major financial crisis. Many of us wonder how we can rejoice when our hearts are heavy, filled with fear about our future. During times of anxiety and fear, our rabbis remind us to focus on the words of prayer. One prayer that I always find very moving includes the words, “Ufros aleinu sukkat shelomeha” – “spread over us your sukkah of peace.” When I read these words, I feel a sense of calm and serenity. I imagine God’s loving embrace promising me shelter and protection from life’s challenges. I try to focus on the present moment and appreciate the gift of sitting in a fragile hut beneath a star-filled sky. Each of us can feel a sense of joy that in this moment life feels safe. Samson Raphael Hirsch taught that whether people “live in palaces or huts, it is only as pilgrims that they dwell, both huts and palaces form our transitory home. In this pilgrimage, only God is our protector and it is God’s grace which shields us.”

Why is the sukkah associated with peace and unity? There is a Hasidic teaching that observing the mitzvah of Sukkot draws down to this world a transcendent spiritual light. This divine light erases the differences between people and fills the world with an awareness of how we are all connected and we are all one.

On this festival of Sukkot, may we take stock of our lives, our homes, and the ways we organize our lives, and express our gratitude to the ultimate Source of our protection. May the Holy One of Blessing help us learn to fill our lives with acts of lovingkindness and look up in gratitude to the One upon which the sukkah of our life is based. May this be a zeman simhataynu, a time of joy, hope, faith and personal renewal.

© Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, Rabbi Aliza Berk

For more Bay Area Healing Center Torah commentaries, click here.

Six Steps of Teshuva (Turning or Repentance)

Tashlich, the ceremony at the beach in which we throw breadcrumbs to symbolically cast away our sins, is powerful symbolism. But the real work of teshuva (literally, “turning” but easily understood as cleaning up your life) is more complex and time consuming. Jewish tradition teaches that we need to engage in the process of teshuva year-round. The High Holy Days are a reminder for those procrastinators among us to get moving on this life-fixing process. This distillation of the medieval rabbi Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance can help guide all of us as we do the work we need to do. Click here to read my Six Steps to Teshuva.

Forgiveness: A Favor We Do Ourselves

A few years ago, our then Rabbinic Intern, now Rabbi Alissa Forrest, gave a sermon on Erev Rosh Hashana about forgiveness, which focused on forgiveness for particularly aggregious sins. In it, she quoted Rabbi Harold Kushner (author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People):

One year, my Yom Kippur sermon was on the theme of forgiveness. The next day, a woman came to see me, very upset about the sermon. She told me how, 10 years earlier, her husband had left her for a younger woman and she has had to raise two children by herself for the past 10 years. She asked me angrily, “And you want me to forgive him for what he did to us?”

I told her, “Yes, I want you to forgive him. Not to excuse him, not to say that what he did was acceptable, but to forgive him as a way of saying that someone who would do that has no right to live inside your head any more than he has the right to live inside your house. Why are you giving a man like that the power to turn you into a bitter, vengeful woman? He doesn’t deserve that power over you.”

Forgiveness is not a favor we do for the person who offended us. It is a favor we do for ourselves, cleansing our souls of thoughts and memories that lead us to see ourselves as victims and make our lives less enjoyable. When we understand we have little choice as to what other people do but we can always choose how we will respond to what they do, we can let go of those embittering memories and enter the New Year clean and fresh.

Seeing Green in the Shofar and its Call to Action

Gotta love being Jewish. Seems like we are on the forefront of most significant (peaceful) movements that change the world. Jews are all over the Green movement (see COEJL among others).

Now we come to realize that Jews have long promoted one of the most Green, Wireless Communications technologies ever: The Shofar.

JTA, in Seeing Green in the Shofar and its Call to Action, offers:

Is green the theme of the shofar this Rosh Hashanah season? In a year of sustainability and carbon footprints, high gas and hybrids, the shofar is the simplest, most eco-friendly method of reaching the Jewish community with a vital message.

The shofar, if you pause to think about it, is a rhapsody in green. Lightweight and easily transportable, it sports no moving parts — the shofar blower, or ba’al tekiah’s, own mouth becomes the mouthpiece. Yet it’s dependable enough to deliver the complex musical message required to begin a new Jewish year.

A totally natural product, its availability is a byproduct of an already ongoing ancient enterprise — sheep herding.

Powered by one human, and empowered by a congregation, the shofar requires no batteries, power cord or transformer. When we hear it, we are the ones who become transformed.