"Sermons" and other materials for Rosh haShannah and Yom Kippur I've shared with congregations and others over the years.
calling for an end to the war in Vietnam
She came today on behalf of her husband, Judah. He had recently begun to suffer extreme shortness of breath and intense pains in his chest. A very high-strung man, Judah had worked hard and become important in his quarter of the city. In his free time he organized efforts to counteract the increasingly unpleasant decrees of the Roman occupiers. Though his neighbors agreed with his efforts, Judah felt they were too slow to respond.
Bethami sat before the rabbi, near his line of vision and waited.
A person's character can be judged by the way he handles three things; his drink, his money and his anger.
Bethami understood the wisdom, she didn't know how to express it to Judah.
Many of you have heard me compare California and the Land of Israel. Just a bit of the physical geography makes a stunning comparison. The sun rises over the desert in the east and sets into the ocean on the west. The mountains with tall evergreen trees rise in the north and the south has more deserts and even gulfs of water. Mountain ranges form the north-south spines of both lands while cities hug the coasts. San Francisco and Haifa each house major natural deep-water ports; they think of themselves as cities of intellect and culture. Further south, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv sprawl across the flat ground; they live for the moment: what's new, what's in, how do you do, let's win. The Golden State and the Land of Milk and Honey even each have a great salt sea in the desert, created out of the folly of the people who lived in the area. I can draw the physical metaphor further, beyond the boundaries of the State of California to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Nevada desert.
But let's turn to another feature of the metaphor. People come to this place seeking a new way of life. Some come for the pleasures of an easier life where waters come from the skies and don't need complex social organizations to maintain them. Others cross over river and mountain range to seek new meaning for their lives. As Wallace Stegner wrote, "[the] West is hope's native home."
Our understanding, and appreciation of Israel has changed greatly over the years. Much about how we approach Israel depends on our age, and what Israel was like when we came to know it. We have changed, Israel has changed, the whole world has changed. One thing is certain, we will continue to change we can hear this change in the songs of Israel. What new songs will come out of Zion.
Few of us here have lived long enough to remember the earliest days of the return to the land. Beginning a hundred years ago, young Jews from Eastern Europe and the Middle East beared difficult travel conditions to return to Zion. They made their way to the land from which fifty generations earlier Imperial Rome had expelled their ancestors. They returned to rebuild the villages from which over seventy generations earlier, their ancestors had established a glorious kingdom and had given the world an immortal collection of wisdom and literature.
Everything was moist. Dew dripped from the leaves, as dappled light filtered through the mist. The soft soil smelled of life, but lay dormant, as though waiting. Nothing noted time, so none passed. A slow turning motion gave the effect of a soft breeze, blowing the water-jewels in dances as they flew from the leaves to the loam below.
Damp clay lay on the spinning plate with no recognizable form, a blob of mud. As the plate spun, the mud felt itself... as if hands held it, constrained it, shaped it. The energy from without transferred into its own molecules. Still no specific contours appeared for long. A cylinder arose only to be squashed into a broad bowl. Only one thing was certain. The spinning guaranteed that the external shape always remained round.
The children played by the shore, allowing the ball to bounce lightly on their finger tips before they popped it over to the other side of the line. Now and then one of them dove into the sand trying to keep the ball from bouncing on the ground. Judy took a break from the game and ran over to her father Simeon who sat with his colleagues, half watching as they talked and munched olives with their bread and wine.
"Abba, they say that they have 40 and we have love! I know that 40 is good number, after all we lived 40 years in the desert, Moses went up to Sinai to receive Torah for us and stayed there 40 days, and it rained for 40 days and 40 nights in the time of Noah. I also know that I cannot live without your love and none of us can live without the love of and loving God, and so it must be good too, but what kind of number is it?"
"Ah, my wise little beauty, you always ask such wonderfully rich questions. Indeed, love is wonderful and valuable, but I am afraid, that in your game, as in one of the many puzzles of life, it is better to have 40 than love."
The traffic flowed past, seeming never to stop: from the ocean to the mountains and the desert beyond. Everyone seemed to pass along this small four-lane main street of a sleepy town, waking it to the possibilities of a mercantile paradise. The early morning fog and low clouds had not yet burnt off and a chilly dampness filled the air.
He sat there at the roadside cafe, his bulky body almost slumped over his mug. He liked his coffee thick and sweet (the East European way), but tears dripped from his eyes; such a strong stream that they fell from the edges of his bushy mustache and salted his drink. His body shuddered as he sobbed.
She reached across the table and placed her hand on his so that his trembling wouldn't spill the hot fluid and scald him.
"I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping." [Psalm 6:6]
"Tell me, Yod Lamed. Tell me."
At a recent meeting of the EPA the regulators discussed the latest model of a new sonic wave oven. They disagreed about whether the new design was acceptable or not because of a certain technical feature.
One of the regulators, a fellow named L. A. Zar maintained that the design was fine, while the majority insisted that it was not.
The discussion went around a few times and no-one could convince Zar to change his interpretation. At the same time Zar was unable to alter the understanding of any of the others. Convinced that he was right, in desperation, Zar said: "If my interpretation is correct, let the elevators in the building all stop right now."
Everyone around the table chuckled and someone suggested that they get on with the next item on the agenda. A few minutes later, one of the secretaries came in with a report that a witness who was to give testimony on a new earphone was delayed because all the elevators in the building had shut down.
The young man stood watching the event with both anticipation and dread. The past year had not been unusual. He had done what he could and he knew he had done well in many of his tasks yet he also knew he had failed at others. The knowledge of his failures weighed on him. He carried them around with him continuously as though they were piles of garbage on his shoulders; baggage that he carried with him from day to day. His friends and neighbors also felt their own weight. The feeling came not just from the heaviness of the late summer's heat, the increasing sluggishness and slowness that it brought on. In fact, the city, too, seemed too have accumulated its share of garbage. More road kill was visible at this time of year; as though the tiny animals were crushed under the weight of their own burdens. The busy activities of the long summer days seemed not to have left time for straightening up and putting away. Too much lay around and there was no collection company to come cart the stuff away. To where would they take it? To the edge of the city, outside the walls? Dump it in the ravine of the Hinnom valley? Or cart it off far into the wilderness? Anywhere they took it, it would still exist. There it would be. It wouldn't just disappear.
Now, in the cool of the morning, braced by the crisp clear air of the mountain, the priest stood in the holy temple ready to remove the emotional garbage that burdened his people. As all the people gathered watching, the Levites brought forward a bull and two young goats. There he stood in his special clothes almost glowing like the sky that surrounded him as he drew from a box two pieces of pottery marked: one for Adonai and the other he put aside for Azazel.
Our teacher crouched under the low, stone ledge. All we could see were his wrinkled ageless hands which periodically reached out as though they caressed the dust that surrounded him.
He had arranged for us to meet before dawn on the west slope of the hill overlooking the buildings on the other side of the little ravine. As the sun slipped over the hilltop, all that lay before us to the west turned from pink to gold.
Calling out to us to come near in his creaking ancient voice, he picked up a rock and drew something in the dirt: a line in the shape of a Tet . Some of us stepped too close and he hit their feet as they stepped on the line. Finally as we all stood around the line he'd drawn he started his lesson. When he spoke he always had the ability to transport us to a different time or place.
Look, he said of his drawing, it almost has the shape of a heart.
Ben walked home from school, his backpack loaded with books, a bit of leftover lunch in his bag, and a couple of pebbles in his pockets. A jackrabbit leapt out of the chaparral and across his path. For a fleeting moment he thought of trying to throw one of the pebbles at it, but no. They were special pebbles, he'd kept them for years. Every night when he changed into his pajamas he first put the two pebbles on his night stand. And when he got dressed in the morning, he put them back into his pockets again. They were almost indistinguishable, the same shape, size, color, weight, and yet, each day, Ben put the same one into the appropriate pocket. He could tell, like the parents of identical twins, something about the texture, or the faintest streak of color that only he had noticed helped him distinguish which went where.
As he walked to his bus stop each morning, one day one pebble felt a bit heavier than the other. He could almost tell what kind of a day he'd have based on which pocket felt lighter. The day may be overcast and gloomy, yet Ben felt a glow within. He could tell by the pebble in the pocket. Now and then through the day, Ben would pause, think about his pebbles and move on with his activity, he'd block on the football lineup with Steve and Dennis the tackles, count the number of measures rest before his next entrance in the band along with the other clarinet players, read the next paragraph in the math or science textbook....
I recently had a chance to learn with Rabbi Jack Riemer (who had a pulpit in La Jolla a few years back and even now, though he lives in Florida maintains a home to retire to in Rancho Bernardo (where his mother lives)).
He asked us three questions and offered three example responses that I want to share with you now.
1.What do you do at the moment of your greatest joy?
2.What do you do at the moment of your greatest loss?
3.What do you do at the moment of your greatest testing?
A comment in this month's Hadassah magazine struck me: It is quite likely that more Jews around the world will have voted in free elections this year than in any other year in history.
What makes this especially striking are a number of other comments I noticed as the Republican and Democratic national conventions ended this summer.
*An estimated 60 million people -- 40 percent of the population -- heard Humphrey say on the radio that America must "get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly in the bright sunshine of human rights." [at the 1948 Democratic national convention] Fewer than 25 million people -- less than 10 percent of a much larger population -- bothered to tune into the biggest viewer night of [the] Republican convention. [Arthur Schlesinger Jr. NYTimes August 21, 1996]
But we don't just see this decrease in participation in our national elections. I'm afraid we find it across the board.
Last spring a colleague at work told me about an event that had occurred at his roommates business. Emily had announced she was having a party for all her friends and family. She considered the work group among her friends and asked that everyone bring some juice to add to a large concoction she had learned how to make during her college days of chemistry study.
Emily didn't explain the details of the recipe only that she would supply a large oaken barrel, a particularly potable and potent form of, and some dry ice. She said that the juices everyone would supply would give the brew a unique taste.
Long ago, in China, a couple of parents needed to leave on a long trip. They called their three children to them to let them know of their plans:
"We need to travel to Persia to check out our contacts along the silk route. We have not visited them since before you were born and we need to make sure that they have educated their children to take over the business as well as we have educated you. We will be gone for a long time and must entrust the local care of our business to your guardians since you are only now becoming adults. However, we have something precious to give you to care for while we are gone. When we return we will determine who will have primary responsibility and primary benefit from our business as we grow older."
Their mother went to a large brightly enameled chest in the corner of the room where they kept their valuables and carefully opened it, withdrew a highly carved ivory box and walked over to their teenage children. They gathered near as she slowly removed the lid. There, inside laying on a bed of red velvet were....
We live with a paradox:
all of our ends are beginnings.
Where our faces end, the sky begins.
As one year ends another begins.
Things begin with endings:
summer is over, we are harvesting our vegetable gardens,
the trees' leaves now turn from green to yellow and brown, ready to fall away
Autumn, when we feel so much come to an end, our tradition tells the world was created.
Summer is ending. The dry season is almost over. But still, the trees are filled with green leaves. The grass has grown tall. The weeds and vines are thick. There has been much growth. But it is all coming to an end. We know that the leaves are beginning to turn yellow. The grasses are making their dry flowers and fruit. The weeds and vines are choking each other for space. Very little is left to bloom. We can all feel the change. The hot days and nights of summer are almost over. My eastern family already feels a nip of autumn in the air. The year's growth is over, the time for decay is beginning. How can it be that this is the time for Rosh haShannah? How can this be the beginning of our new year? Why does our tradition tell us that God created the world at this time of year when all growth appears to be withering?
The time has come to begin pruning. The growth is too thick. The vines are so thick we can't find a path. The leaves are so dense we can hardly see the sky. In order to truely create we need to clean the slate.
These days of awe are drawing to a close. Can we feel the awe, or is it perhaps dread? Do we want to feel it? Can we taste the spice of Shabbat? Can we feel the glow that pours into our closed eyes? We now participate in a delicate moment.
These past ten days we've shared many intense hours with one another. Hours during which we've searched our souls, evaluated our selves, and sought renewed direction and meaning for our lives.
Many of us have searched other paths before coming here: innumerable therapies, Transcendental Meditation, the 60's drug culture, various political movements, our own personal career advancement. Each road explored, we hoped would show us the answers we sought. But we are still seeking. We are returning here for many reasons. Sociologists tell us that it is no more than the fact that we've reached a particular moment in our lives. I believe there is more to it than that. Nonetheless we frequently still harbor doubts about the possibility of finding what we seek.
"I mean, like, what does it mean that in the same week, along with millions of others Princess Di, Mother Theresa and Viktor Frankl should die? Like, their lives arguably had some meaning, what can I say for mine?"
Jack sat in his favorite chair and looked at his hands. He turned them from palm to back and then over again. He studied the lines and the creases. He put his hands together so that the pinkies lined up beside each other and watched as the creases from one hand crossed the separation and followed the same pattern in reverse on the other.
Another pattern. And this time a mirroring pattern. He enjoyed finding the patterns and wondered at the beauty of it all.
Father and son went off to the high wilderness place together. Ultimately they had to continue on alone to experience the heights and depths of each other in that holy ground, to test their mettle and explore and experience the essence of life as it passes from one generation to the next.
Last summer, among popular movies that dealt with The Beyond were the serious "Phenomenon", the frivolous "Mars Attacks" and the ridiculous "Independence Day". This summer, their complementary films are "Contact" and "Men in Black".
Beyond the movies, we have experienced real adventures. A few months back we saw the Martian landing, and now we get weekly reports from the Mir space station. All of this has renewed interest in the SETI project (the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence). Many people hope that these explorations beyond our earth will lead, not only to new knowledge, but an ability to solve some of the problems that plague our home planet.
This concern, this involvement with redemption coming from afar is not new, nor is it limited to American culture. It is possible, in fact, that it comes out of our own Jewish experience in the world. Some cultures view the world as suffused with holiness. In fact, animists, see no distinction between the trees and the spirits that make them live. We Jews have a different perspective on all this. We state that there is a world and it has a creator. And, while we can experience glimpses of the Creator in the world, God still reigns beyond.
I've been concerned with a number of paradoxes recently. Here's one: Our tradition looks forward to a time of perfection, yet is willing to accept the reality of a world filled with people forever struggling to achieve it. I have come to imagine that this perfectionist's acceptance of incompleteness is woven, like the nubs of raw silk, into the fabric of our existence.
What is truth? Where is responsibility?
If you were a Polish peasant sheltering Jews who had escaped the Nazis during the Sho'a and German soldiers came to your home asking if you had seen any Jews, what would you tell them?
None of us, thank God, have been in this situation. But have you ever been in a situation when you felt you could not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Well, to flip the slogan over: just don't do it.
What more do you need to know?
[based on the Unetaneh Tokef: Teshuvah, Tefillah and Tzedakah temper the decree.]
At least once in every seven passings, as an important part of her education, she approached her console and reached into the soft velvety fabric that surrounded the globe.
In much the same way as we sit down at the piano or computer, place our fingers on the keys and pause considering what we want to express, she hesitated. Deep concentration; and a dark glow formed in the orb. She tried blankness and the glow dissipated. A smile brought a trail of luminescent bubbles.
I have a lot of questions.
As most of you know I teach the Introduction to Judaism course sponsored by the UAHC and housed at Temple Adat Shalom. I've taught this course every year but one (oddly the year one of Noam's best friend's mother wanted to take the course) for over 25 years. One summer, while we were still in New Jersey, the Union tried an experiment and offered the course in the summer when it met twice a week instead of the usual once a week.
We met, as we do in Poway, in the classroom or library of a congregation in Edison, New Jersey. I share this with you now because during the class, a young man, who had been raised a Jew, made one of the most amazing statements about Judaism I can recall. It has stayed with me ever since We had been discussing the origins of Christianity (which I usually do sometime late in December, but this time it was in the humid heat of summer) and our conversation had moved on to whether Jews should have Christmas trees. The young man said: "I like Reform Judaism because I can do anything I want."
I understand that I may have lost a congregant to Etz Chaim for making a similar comment ("Sorry") here my first year. Well, such is life.
What do you think, you can just make Judaism anything you want it to be?
I don't deny that Judaism has changed greatly over the millennia, I am an active participant in that transformation. And, even though Hillel when asked two thousand years ago about how to find out what the appropriate response to a question of practice, answered: Go check what the people are doing. Nonetheless, there is a process.
Remember, there is no book "Shabbat for Dummies," or "Judaism for Idiots." None of us here are dumb or idiotic, some of us have simply not been practicing.
I'm not certain whether this occurred in the first, second or third person. So, I began at one. You can read/hear it in the number you want.
I crept up to the edge. I looked to the right where it seemed to go on forever. Then I turned to the left where it appeared as though it curved out of sight. Ahead lay an expanse that stretched to the horizon. Up, I already knew had no limits. I hesitated before looking down.
Over two thousand years ago, the Jews living all around the land of Israel lived a busy life. The main event happened in Jerusalem up in the mountains. The roads were less than two lane and most people usually had responsibilities at home so they did not go up to the Temple in Jerusalem as often as they might. In fact, they divided up the activities in the temple so that different communities would have a reserved place (on the 50 yard line so to speak) at designated times of the year. Even then not everyone in town was able to go. When it was their turn, the town's rep would go up to Jerusalem to the Temple and the locals would gather at the clubhouse. In fact they called it a meeting house "Beit Knesset". There, in the town clubhouse the locals would wear the appropriate clothes, drink the appropriate drinks, eat the appropriate foods, and call out the appropriate cheers... as though they were there in Jerusalem with their buddies, the representatives.
It was common then for ministers, priests and rabbis to speak and work on behalf of soical issues.
One of Senator Lieberman's first comments when accepting Vice President Gore's invitation to share the Democratic ticket was a variant of the Shehechayanu. We have here a Jew in high office who is extremely comfortable with his Judaism and the expectations it has of him, both in terms of his personal and public piety as well as how it should inform his political agenda. As he has said: "I can only be myself... My religion is important to me; I try my best to be faithful to, and strengthened by it. But I have never misunderstood the fact that I am a very imperfect being, so if I stumble, it's human." What does this all mean for us?
There is very little in our classic literature on how to accomplish this. After all, the term "mensch" is a fairly modern, Central European term and does not appear in the Bible, Talmud or later, medieval codes.
Dear Anne.... Thank you for the description of your "spiritual" searching since the terror attacks of September 11. I understand how you might find Buddhism attractive, especially at a time such as this. You use the word "liberation" whereas I would probably choose "separation" - i. e. from the world. Forgive me if I set up a few "straw men" for a moment. We can, perhaps describe Buddhism as separation or denial, Islam as submission, Christianity as acceptance and Judaism as engagement. Each way has its own approach to living in the world that makes (more or less perfect) sense from within it. Because the language I learned to speak as a child is the Jewish one, and because, as an adult I have continued to learn more words within this language I can best (if not only) explain what I see and what I must do using Jewish metaphors and similes. At the same time, I grew up living in at least one other civilization and learned its language: modern western scientism. So here, in written form (instead of as a "rap" which is how I usually do it) is what I shared with my congregation on Rosh haShannah morning.
A year has passed since the disturbances in Israel have become the new Intifada. Our lives as Jews have, once again, been transformed. There was a short time (not long after the Intifada began) that it seemed as though Jewish communities around the world would be targeted. That passed, thank goodness. However, the recent United Nations Conference on Racism renewed the world's attention's focus on Israel, Zionism, World Jewry, and even Judaism itself. We read the daily headlines with trepidation, wondering how world events touch us personally and, perhaps feeling uncomfortable with the attention. And, now, even in our collective American grief, we can see people pointing fingers at America's Mideast policies as the cause of the terrorist attacks just two weeks ago. Blaming the victim may have been a reasonable explanation for world events at the time the Babylonians destroyed the first Temple in Jerusalem. It may have even been acceptable when the Romans destroyed the second Temple in Jerusalem. But, since the destruction of European Jewry barely more than a generation ago, it is no longer a theologically acceptable explanation. We may not have another explanation, but the old one does not work.
I chose to be Jewish. I found that looking at the world Jewishly gave my life great meaning. I know that I am part of an ancient people who has given great gifts to the world. We reach back into ancient times. Our stories tell of the ability to transform the world. I learned that everyone has the ability to look at the world through a variety of lenses. You can see that I wear glasses (spectacles). If I did not wear them, I could neither see the page from which I read, nor could I see your faces. My glasses help me make sense and give meaning to the world around me. You have seen me with sunglasses. Each time I wear sunglasses, I see the world in a slightly different manner. I could wear yellow lenses in my glasses and the world (even in the evening) would look much brighter. I could wear rose colored glasses, and the world would look, well, "rosier". I figure my regular sunglasses help me see the world more Jewishly. So, I have a pair for many of you (I can get more). I hope, that as we begin this year we will begin to see the world more Jewishly and find that looking at the world in that manner will give our lives more meaning.
There are many ways of approaching Rosh haShannah. We'll examine two of the terms that refer to this day that will help us focus on its immediate meaning for us as individuals. These are Yom Harat Olam: The day of the creation of the world and Yom Teru'ah the day of the shofar blast; the latter complements and adds meaning to the former.
How do we know when an infant becomes a baby and then a toddler... child... adolescent... young adult, etc.? Each time we use one of these terms we associate different expectations in our minds. Some have defined adolescence as the time from first onset of puberty until the child finishes his or her advanced degree and/or gets a job, becoming completely (at least for basic normal needs) financially independent. I have begun to describe middle age as the entire period from when someone who's parents are still alive becomes a parent him or herself (after all, you're still a child and you're also a parent... right there in the middle, regardless of how many years you've been alive.)
We know that, as the evening shadows lengthen and the autumn leaves start to fall we (more or less) adult Jews gather to note the passing of an old... and welcome in the beginning of a new year.
How you behave depends on where/who you think you are in that flow of time.
May we, tiny divine mustard seeds as we may be, look forward in this coming year, to be watered, mended and rebuilt, as we open ourselves to the full enjoyment of the rich baklava of our Jewish tradition.
What is R. Tarfon getting at here? He knows that many of us procrastinate, are distracted, and due to all kinds of external reasons may never complete our life's task. He has a tremendous amount of compassion for us and understands that we may not achieve what we hope for. Yet, we should not (according to R. Tarfon) denigrate our efforts because of that... so long as (!) we don't simply give up on the matter altogether and spend our time in frivolous pursuits saying: "I know I can't complete it, so I won't even try."
We live in a world desperate for easy solutions and authoritative answers. On a simple level, our popular culture believes that murders must be committed, solved and the culprit put away within 52 minutes. But this belief in simplicity and authority poses threats to our life as Jews in America (an America that I celebrated as we reached the 350th year of our arrival on this continent only last year at this time). Many claim that our legal system must be absolute and carved in solid rock. Others (some of these are the same people), argue that potential life trumps existing life. And still others believe that our schools must teach that the origins of life are to be explained, not by any process that has room for testing and re-evaluation, but by recourse to a Designer of Supreme Intelligence. In each instance a religious group wants to enforce its religious beliefs on the rest of America.
I will be what I will be.
It's time to brush up on our “doing Jewish”.
There are 1,440 minutes in each day. My Sonicaire toothbrush “forces” me to brush my teeth for two minutes at a time. In the morning and the evening, that's 4 minutes, or 0.2777777777777778% of each day. So, it seems that we spend three times as much of our lives doing Jewish as we do brushing our teeth. Steve Shevinsky might be satisfied with that ratio (no hard feelings, actually, I've checked and Steve says I can and should press that button again… brushing for a total of eight minutes each day (or 0.5555555555555556%)). But, I'm not satisfied, and I hope that Steve isn't either.
Try to Remember
I lay awake one night, unable to sleep due to cascading memories of the day, like ping pong balls in a demonstration of the chain reaction effect, or the piano I prepared with little flashlight bulbs laying on the strings… so that, as I played the written score, and the piano's hammer hit a string with a bulb on it, the bulb flew into the air landing on a random string… extending the “melody” in unanticipated ways. And so my thoughts went, careening around.
Try to remember that time in September
When the moon was new
And you stood as a Jew
As I've mentioned in previous years, this day has a variety of names. Four years ago I spoke about two of these names: Yom Harat Olam [The day of the creation of the world] and Yom Teru'ah [The day of the shofar blast]. This year, we'll look more closely at the name: Yom haZikaron [The Day of Remembrance].
Certain memories are burnt, almost branded into our awareness, as they are cut into our flesh.
Memory itself is an uncertain state of consciousness and we Jews have long been busy remembering. Grab hold of your brain for a moment… you think you've been remembering? Wrong. Henri Bergson, a French Jewish philosopher at the beginning of the 20th century said: “The brain's function is to choose from the past, to diminish it, to simplify it, to utilize it, but not to preserve it.”
We know that at this time of year we are to do all we can to ask forgiveness of those we've harmed and search within to find ways to make our lives better, but…
What is our “general” task as Jews?
In my Haggadah I write that we face the “tasks that still await us as a people called to service, to a great purpose for which the people of Israel lives: to bring to reality a world of wholeness, and, until that time, the preservation and affirmation of hope.”
But, I'm sure that we have more than one task. So, in the siddur there appear a couple paragraphs that begin:
It is upon us to…
Snakes and Gardens and, …Mistranslations… Oh my!
We American Jews have had our appreciation of Judaism deeply informed by the English language and one of the core texts of that language is the King James Bible. The KJB (not to be confused with the KGB [or the KBH]) used a variety of words that are commonly used in English, but have different meanings in Christian and Jewish contexts. The KJB took our holy writings and re-interpreted them in English with a Christian slant. So, it’s not surprising that many of our understandings of the words that we use in English are colored by this Christian overlay. Though it bothers me, I can’t stop the Christians from misinterpreting our holy writings, but, it’s a shame for us Jews to misconstrue them the way they do… rather than understand them the way we Jews have accepted them for millennia.
So, for example, the story of the Garden of Eden is used in Christianity to explain the existence and the meaning of “original sin”. But, no word “sin” appears in the story! Adam and Eve misbehaved. So, what’s going on here? Why should we be tarnished by their actions if we “Ain’t Misbehavin’”