This was my final Shabbat at The Temple, Congregation B'nai Jehudah. I used this opportunity to thank the congregation for enriching my three years in the community and to reflect on the power and importance of strengthening one another at times of transition and adventure. Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek -- Be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen one another!
What is the source of health? And what is the source of healing? Our tradition teaches us to turn to human healers when their expertise can help us. At the same time, we are urged to remember the divine Source of healing from which these experts draw. As Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches, "The doctor is God’s partner in the struggle between life and death. Religion is medicine in the form of a prayer; medicine is prayer in the form of a deed."
This year's Shavuot Yizkor occurred during the sheloshim of Rabbi Aaron Panken, former president of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who died tragically on May 5, 2018. My message at yizkor was inspired by the poetic reflection of his sister, Rabbi Melinda Panken, which is included in the text below.
From its earliest days, Judaism has existed in contrast to one prevailing culture or another. Jews are perennially "inside-outsiders" who participate in their broader communities but always at something of a remove. This isn't a bug but rather a feature of our tradition, providing the key ingredient to our ongoing ability to add our particular truth to the project of human flourishing.
Leadership is not a position; it's an activity. Our tradition calls us to exercise leadership even and especially when it's difficult or uncomfortable. Stories both personal and traditional help illustrate this them.
Parashat Tazria-Metzora deals famously with the disease known as tzaraat, translated (not entirely accurately) as leprosy. The image of the isolated leper is a familiar one, but the Torah insists that the reintegration is the ideal. No one should be separated forever, and it is upon us to go to the margins of society to reach out to those who have been cast off--even if for good reason--to welcome them back to the whole the moment they're ready to return.
In memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, I focus this year on his message of service. "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve."
Earlier this week, President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, igniting opprobrium and applause from around the world. How are we to think about this announcement? Is it a game changer or mere rhetoric? Does it derail any hope for peace or revitalize a stalled process? Reasonable people disagree on the matter, and I hope to learn from people of all sides in informing my own opinion. At the end of the day, it's crucial that regardless how we feel on this issue, we continue to speak peaceably with one another so that our disagreements don't tear us apart but rather ennoble and enrich us and our community.
Too often, struggles with fertility are relegated to the unseen corners of our communal conversation. But these challenges face so many of us, who, like our ancestors, seek guidance and support in finding ways to "be fruitful and multiply." Our tradition is a treasure trove of stories and resources that might inspire our community to enhance its sympathy and compassion for families who struggle with fertility.
Civil discourse often proves elusive in our society, especially in the current moment. Jewish tradition has much to offer America at large as a tradition committed to honorable dissent and respectful, collaborative disagreement.
“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.”