There's a difference in the United States between what is Constitutional and what is constitutional, that is, what is written down in the founding document versus the settled norms of our society that *constitute* who we are. The same can be said for Judaism with respect to the Torah - we need to look beyond the written word to discern the true values our tradition stands for.
We usually think of Pharaoh as the main villain of the Exodus story, but rabbinic tradition (and, I believe, the Torah itself) also holds the Egyptians themselves responsible for persecuting the Hebrews. But not only did the Egyptians enslave the Israelites, they also enslaved *themselves* to the Pharaoh, who would ultimately betray and sacrifice them on the altar of their own greed. This is an eternal lesson to us to be wary of our own base impulses and to avoid seeking a strongman to serve as our appointed savior.
There may be no more indelible ethical mandate in Judaism than to love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt. In today's world, the most vulnerable strangers who need our help are refugees, and the current administration's shameful abandonment of our moral responsibility demands a Jewish response.
The story of Noah and the image of the dove remind us of the importance of hope in the midst of tragedy. How much the more so do we rely on hope during the normal course of our lives, in the valleys of our troubled times, endeavoring to remember that there is much around us to remind us of the world's beauty and our sacred purpose within it.
If there's something in Judaism that is specifically for everyone, Sukkot would be it. All manner of people come together on Sukkot, serving as a reminder that it takes all kinds of people to build and maintain a thriving Jewish community.
There is an old European custom of lighting two memorial candles on Yom Kippur - one for the living and one for the dead. A selection of contemporary poems can help us reflect on our own memories as both honoring those who have died as well as serving as living reminders of the lessons they have to teach us and those who will come after.
Forgiveness is hard, and it begins with truth. In order to truly forgive, we must confront the truth of what happened to us; and in order to reconcile with those who have harmed us, we must face this truth together with them. It's a difficult process, but the example of a local advocate on restorative justice--who follows the same path as the prophet Jonah--can inspire us to take the first heavy steps toward forgiveness.
Some reflections as Elul dawns on this season's potential to help us drawn close to the divine power of connection and concern we call God.
Texts whose beauty and simplicity spark the imagination often offend our reason when we look at them critically. But even through the eyes of reason, we can appreciate the value of simple and powerful texts as catalysts to moral behavior. The blessings and curses in parashat Eikev fall into this category, asking us to consider: What if it were true that my behavior could impact the flourishing or demise of my community? How would I act then? And even if the rain won't fall on my account ... shouldn't I act that way anyway?
For my first sermon at Oak Park Temple, I reflect on the memory of Thomas Jefferson, whose Declaration of Independence we celebrated this week. I share a bit about myself as well as my own struggles with how to remember prominent figures of the past whose impact has been both tremendous and terribly flawed.
“To be effective, the preacher's message must be alive; it must alarm, arouse, challenge; it must be God's present voice to a particular people.”