Monday, January 30, 2017

D'var Torah Bo - God the cause of the hard heart?

Image result for Hard heart pharoah

"Come to Pharoah,for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants,in order that I may place these signs of mine in his midst."-Shemot 10:1

"For myself, I like a universe that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable . A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull,as boring as the heaven of some weak-minded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being . The ideal universe for us is very much like the universe we inhabit . And I would guess that this is really not that much of a coincidence."- Carl Sagan,Cosmologist

Parshah: Shemot(Exodus) 10:1-13:16

Haftarah: Yiremeya (Jeremiah) 46:13-28

While reading the parshah this week I noticed something alarming within the very first verse that being that God was the cause of Pharoah's heart be hardened of course this is not the first mention of God hardening heart within the Torah but it is the first time I recognized seriously. You see before this election I prayed that Donald Trump not get elected but I like many Progressives like me have to deal with the reality that he is and like Pharoah it seems as witnessed through his recent executive orders he has a very hard heart. He is marginalizing many people last week the refugee and immigrant communities were hit hard rumor is this week those of us who are members of the LGBTQAI community could be the next targets. I have to ask is God causing Trump's heart to be hardened?For such callous to be shown to so many people I must say this may be happening.What though do I have to look forward to for the future with such such mass othering going on of anything or anyone different in the society around me?I think the answer lays within the first verse too God says"In order that I may place these signs of mine in their midst."

History has proven that tyrants like Pharoah and possibly Donald Trump fall and in their wake those whom they persecute end up having great blessings in the end. With the Shoah came the creation of the State of Israel,with the revolutionary war came the creation of the United States , with the Civil Rights movement came the end of one form of Jim Crow. All of these things I think provide a history lesson that terror only will last for a short while then shall come a time of peace. That short while at times may take time but eventually systems of oppression do fall. whether exactly or not a God or some divine is behind it I don't know but my own history of abuse within my own life has shown me that greater freedom does happen a miracle will occur.

In witnessing to the miracles though we read Moshe is told within Torah to tell us to do.Knowing that a miracle will take place or might take place is no reason to stop standing up against the evils of our today it is even more so a call to stand up against those atrocities because throughout Shemot we find that not only were the plagues miraculous ,and those many wondrous things Moshe did in front of Pharoah's priests but that this small band of slaves rose up against such a Pharoah becoming a great people. We are a miracle ourselves sometimes,our actions done in virtue shift the dynamic of history itself. So are you ready for a miracle?Let's get to work at being a great miracle against the tyranny of our day.This is our call and the action to be done now. It is the greatest mitzvah of our time.

Some questions to ponder:

Why do you think God hardened Pharoah's heart?

When have you had great moments where your world seemed like it was overrun with tyranny but experienced a great freedom after the tyranny was over?

How do you think you are a miracle?and those around you?

An Affirmation:

We all are the miracle and experiencing miracles. Let us rejoice in them !!!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Channukah Reflection- To life !!!

Image result for Chanukah menorah  lights

Image result for chet hebrew letter meaning

"God gave us the gift of life;it is up to us to use the gift of living well."-Voltaire

This Channukah season we have every reason to be depressed but Channukah actually is very much a reminder not to give in to such depression to instead choose life for ourselves and spread out that life to others. Channukah is a celebration itself of life. You see Channukah spans eight days and what else spans eight days ?When a son is circumcised into the Jewish people. Therefore becoming in covenant with the Jewish people. Channukah represents a renewal of life into the covenant . As the Maccabees restored the temple service so to must we restore our own service to humanity over these dark wintry days but how can we do such?

1.Understand it is not all about us but all life.

As snow seems to cover everything or cold fills the air.We are told during this time to give tzedekah .give from ourselves .Even though Western Society has turned Channukah into the "Jewish Christmas" it need not be about the materialistic greed that has become the holiday season. This could be a time where you as an individual go out and do a service project for others. Bringing the temple light into the life of others.

2.Reconnect and revive yourself

Take these eight days of Channukah to reconnect with what you are most passionate about. Do something relaxing. Mediate and find who you really are within. Don't let what happened during the election define you find a way during Channukah to define yourself passed the labels.

3. Find Chet

The number eight corresponds to the Hebrew letter Chet (ח) Chet is the letter of life celebrating botth that coming into covenant with God and the light of renewal of Channukah. If you are feeling depressed this holiday look to find life, Eat something you love,do something fun. Don't let the future bog you down but find the chet in the present moment.

Will you find life this Channukah?Will you celebrate life this Channukah?The Buddha once said "Thousands of lights can be lit from a single candle,and the life of that candle will not be shortened." This Channukah choose life. Donald Trump cannot take your happiness from you and nobody else can. Be the light that brings other light this Channukah .

L'chaim !!!!!

Questions to ponder:

How will you give life to others this Channukah?

How will you celebrate your own life this Channukah?

How will you find Chet this Channukah?

An affirmation:

May life surround you this season

Thursday, December 22, 2016

D'var Torah Vayeishev-Selling our country out

Image result for Joseph being sold into slavery

Image result for capitalism in America

"How will it profit us if we kill our brother and cover up his blood?Let us rather sell him out to the Ishmaelites ; then our hand will not be on him;after all he is out brother,our own flesh,"-Genesis 37:26-27

"Our only real hope for democracy is that we get the money out of politics entirely and establish a system of publicly funded elections."-Noam Chomskey

Torah Portion: Genesis 37:1-40:23
Haftarh Portion: Amos 2:6-3:8

Like this Torah portion where we read of Joseph being sold out by his brothers I cannot help but see a metaphor in this for our country. Come January we will have a new President in the United States of America . I have heard many opinions of what is administration will look like. Right now in my eyes I find it pretty scary with every news report each day but I can't help but feel that myself and other citizens are responsible for what has happened. Not through our third party votes but through what I have seen as what looks like a gradual selling out of our land of the free through certain actions on every American citizens' part . I feel it is my duty as an American Citizen and as a Jew to call out these wrongs so we all might recognize what can be changed to bring about the better good.

First, I think the two-party system is ruining our country. We have gotten to a point where we have even began to think of each other in binary forgetting totally about the nuances that are a part of the human being. One is either "Liberal" or "Conservative" no in between,no center is ever recognized. We categorize each other on the issues if a certain person is passionate about LGBTQAI rights they are automatically deemed a Liberal considered a Democrat.if a person is for open carry they are automatically seen as Conservative Republican. Once finding out where we stand on the issues it's almost like some epic battle happens over who is right and who is wrong with no conversation on what unites us as Americans. We can no longer put our hopes into the binary party system when we as Americans are a nuanced pluralistic people called to unite and not to divide.

Second,We all have seemed to have bought into the trickle-down theory. I notice more times than not those who are more wealthier in society no matter what political label we give ourselves lift up those in our communities who are rich . I have seen this myself in faiths that pride themselves on the equity of all pushing those of the more wealthier class to the front. Giving them attention most of all for the funding they could give. The Torah seems to say much differently we are not be materialistic as human beings ,we are to eschew materialism only have simply what we need. If only those who make the most money in our society are being lifted higher than everyone else poorer than them how we are all recognizing that we are in this together?and in the selfish pursuit of riches like those of more material worth  than we have where is compassion in that?Where is our care for the other?

Lastly,as a product of our feeding into the trickle-down theory we have forgotten the poor among us because they represent the very thing that we don't want to be . I was amazed out of a lot of upper-middle class people on Facebook who were exhorting "Stronger Together" before the result of the election after it were the most degrading things about those who are poor and white in rural America. I come from poor white rural America and I think if we "Liberals" can care about the urban poor who are racially profiled we could care too about the rural white poor. We could come out of our Emerald Cities and show rural Americans that everything Talk Radio and Fox News says about us is not true. If we are going to all those in our society why are purposely choosing to forget these few?Are they not our fellow human beings too afforded every right we all should all have?

I offer no answers to how we like Joseph's brothers can stop selling our country out. If there could be an answer it would be simply recognizing these things and working towards rectifying them as Americans being truly "Stronger Together" and not being constantly divided. Everything is foreseen yet free choice is given. Can we make the right choice towards each other?No tyrant can resist a truly united people and I think we can be that but we must make the choice to lift our country out of it's pit.

Questions to ponder:

How might you have aided in the selling out of our country?Are you willing to take responsibility for it?

Who matters more in our society the wealthy or those who have no need for materialism?

Does thinking in the binary that party bias brings a healthy to do?

An Affirmation

I ask you ponder this discussion with Noam Chomskey on how we might feel about those who are poor:

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Yom Kippur Shiur-The joy of my conversion and the Post-Conversion funk

"We are your people;and you are our G-d.
We are your children;and you are our father,our mother.
We are the people who serve you;and you call us to serve you.
We are your community;and you are your portion.
We are your legacy;and you are our purpose.
We are your flock;and You are our shepherd.
We are your vineyard;and You watch over us.
We are your work;and You are our maker.
We are your beloved;and You are our lover.
We are your treasure;and You are the one we cherish.
We are your people;and You reign over us.
We offer you our words;and You offer us your,"-The Ki anu High Holiday Liturgy

On September seventh I joined the Jewish people after six years among Jews and a year of study with two mentoring rabbis I joined myself in covenant with the Jewish people for all eternity. Mazel tov to me. This Yom Kippur I find myself reflecting back on this event .It was pretty recent which could be why it was so fresh upon my mind.The time before I met with my Beit Din who had already made the decision that I was a Jew I felt so unworthy. Not exactly the best feeling before you convert still it was my feeling. It wasn't that I didn't feel Jewish enough it was more that the Jews in my life were each treasures as people .They all made some radical profound difference in the world and I myself thought I made little.Yet I was worthy my Beit Din did accept me I was told to get ready for the mikveh before they arrived.What a perplexing joy as I went through the water I did feel a difference.I felt a weight of responsibility as long with an exuberance as when I came out as gay I was meeting me and in meeting myself I also in some ways were meeting the future to come as well as the present call.

That future to come  being not to look back if only to learn from the narrative of the past to see it as a foundation for the future. I was a total flake before but in my own flakiness despite whatever faith was in I still had some form of Jewish observance that stayed where everything else was gone Shabbat,Torah Study,prayer in some way was always present.Now that I am a Jew even beforehand these observances were increased and still stay as such. I find much meaning in them even now. I've spoken many times on here on how I find much hope as well as inner strength through davening. More and more do I find refuge in the Torah that narrative both past and present of Jewish life not as an answer to life's issues but a question posed to me on life's issues.Giving me a challenge to answer with the help of community the societal ills of our times. Then there is Shabbat the sweet solace of the week that allows me to stop.To just be.I'm grateful the Rabbi of my congregation always leads us in a meditation on Friday night to quiet the rush the week brings which at times this the first relief of Shabbat to my hardest of weeks.Some have said they think I will be a Rabbi because of my love for all these things but in my own life I think that is far from possible yet I cannot deny that I love these things they continue to empower me when I act upon them. I find much encouragement to the witnesses of my own Judaism that they are. I also fear the stigma of the exiles I have faced in my own life as keeping me from ever becoming some leader in Israel yet in the paradoxes of Judaism who better then my own people to understand how my experiences might bring strength to those experiencing such exiles in their own life.

Despite this very perplexing vision of the future there is the present call of Judaism.The Jewish world is in a very momentous period as I'm learning every period of Jewish history is momentous,In this our time of hearing those words from mount Sinai Progressive Judaism is experiencing the onset of Emergent Judaism which is engaging many Young Adults but is speaking to a New Judaism not confined to a building but through the minyan wherever it may be.More Rabbinical students that happen to be women are within progressive seminaries meaning an a great for women's rights in the movement.As far as the State of Israel the Likkud-United Torah Judaism-Shas-Kulas-Jewish Home Coalition Government better know as the thirty-fourth government of Israel is going against the State's Ideal of fostering the development of the country of the benefit of all its's inhabitants instead choosing to build walls,calling children terrorists,arresting women for just chanting Torah at the kotel and limiting Jews of color to jobs nobody  else would want to do. I have to wonder if this part of the part of the Israeli Constitution has been legislated out of meaning to be only taken in metaphor as our US Supreme Court ruled "Life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as the rights of every inhabitant of our country.Still despite the actions I find myself as one who has never stepped forth in the country called to that land. I find myself empowered by the Utopian ideals that went behind the founding of the state and I feel they are still possible in my own unbridled. There is also the identity politics that go on that I was even experiencing before where even after some will not claim I'm as a Jew and rather dictate their Judaism upon me as a standard for all. I am at the point where I think identity politics should become at the forefront of conversations within Judaism nobody should think they have the right to dictate or bash another's experience of Judaism.We are all Jewish enough.These are interesting times for the Jewish community with these times though come with the call of the times that being that not only am I a part of these times but every member of the tribe with me.How will we respond to these times together?With compassion or walls?

Alongside the present call and that future that could come I find myself experiencing what most converts I hear experience that being what I call the post-conversion funk. In having the freedom to do so many Jewish things that I could not do before I find myself wanting the freedom from. Such as Torah study after my conversion I have found it very hard to get back into studying Chasidisus and Talmud which were very prominent parts of my life pre-conversion now becoming less wanting seeing them as a lot of work yet I still feel my own being witnessing to me that I am obligated to them within my own Judaism.I find myself missing Sacharit much more often now(Not Minchah or Maariv though) when I did not do such before and in some way as my Rosh Yeshiva says creating a new option three out of the option three I though I already have by reading these texts somewhat devotionally now not translating them deeply on my own(still very much wanting to in some way). My life is also becoming much more demanding I am in the process of getting back into school to finish my bachelor's degree and starting an internship. All which are good things but call me away from these things from which I used to treasure a lot. I feel this is natural and my Judaism will evolve I'm pretty sure over time and this is just a metamorphosis of the moment.Sometimes though I find myself wishing I had a Chaver a study partner to enjoy these texts with alongside as a communal journey.Might be a lot to ask but maybe I should find myself a chaver.

In typing this out I feel so much more empowered seeing the beauty that Judaism is for me witnessing to my own struggles within yet finding meaning within my own questions in this daf of my life that is my own page in Torah. When I presented my essay to my congregation which was by far the hardest part of my conversion I found myself ending in these words "What else can I say,You are my people ! ,You are my people !! and I am now yours" with those words out of my own mouth I witness the joy and responsibility that is with me every day now.

May all be written in that book of life,may the gates of heaven that are the houses of hope that every synagogue aspires stay wide open and may this year empower us all to find the strength within each other. Amein.

Some questions to ponder:

In the Ki Anu prayer above what do you think it means to be G-d's treasure?What also do you think it means that G-d is our portion?

How are you responding to what others may expect out of you and what you see might be only in your capacity to do right now within your life?

How are you writing the daf within the Torah of your own life?

An Affirmation:

Something I learned in my conversion is that there is no monopoly on Judaism and there are many types of Jew that there is no one way to be Jew. My Judaism will grow in time have it's oen diversity. I celebrate that Judaism with this video.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Rosh Hashanna Shiur-The responsibility of the modern mitzvah

Image result for Women of the wall blowing shofar

"Thus said the Eternal:
A people-survivors of the sword-gained grace in the wilderness.
Long ago,when Israel was on it's journey home,the Eternal said with an everlasting love I have loved you;indeed with a love that is faithful,I draw you near.
Once more,I will build you up-Young Maiden Israel,you will be made anew.Once more you will take up your drums in hand and join in the dance of the joyous."-Jeremiah 31:2-4

"The Covenant calling and covenant work goes on in each act of teaching and learning of Torah,through which at the same time,God is still being revealed"-Rabbi Herbert Bronstein

Held within the Central Conference of American Rabbis 1999 Platform A Statement of principles for Reform Judaism are these words :

"We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of mitzvot and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community.Some of these mitzvot,sacred obligations,have long been observed by Reform Jews;Others,both ancient and modern demand renewed attention as the unique context of our times."

From these words one pervading question streams forth from my being -What is a modern mitzvah?The rabbis in their commentary on the statement issued in 2004 expanded upon this which opens some clarity:

"Mitzvot. The Hebrew root of the word is tzadey-vav-hey,usually translated "command" .Since it;s inception Reform Judaism has wrestled with the classic notion of God commanding us-It seems so frontal,so authoritarian ,so hierarchical.But if God is in dialogue with us,perhaps we hear God's commands as though God were calling out to us,in words that a beloved human being might use."It is very important to me that you do this"-awaiting our response.We may respond to many of these calls by taking these on these sacred obligations,building them into our lives;To others we may respond "We need to dialogue more."To others we may respond "I cannot do this act-in terms of my present moral and communal understanding it seems meaningless,or even wrong."And perhaps God responds as our beloved might"Let's keep the conversation going."

Even though this gives some clarity it does not so answer the question what is a modern mitzvah?It gives us something to work with though.If we as human beings are in an ongoing with that Eternal Source which we don't see as this old dude in the sky but as our paramour,our consort,our partner .If such a relationship is true the rabbis left out one vital part of all relationships that being compromise.Instead of just not doing it or keeping the conversation going compromising holds a beautiful ground within all relationships that fosters even greater unity in my experience.I think this middle ground is where the modern mitzvah is.When we take that ancient mitzvah given to us by God and through study,practice,and prayer see how it's spirit can be innovated to our present day creating a modern mitzvah.

In my own life I would say I have innovated the mitzvot at times to fit within the framework of the modern day creating a compromise between that which seems to just not work with me within the mitzvot . Take for example Shabbat awhile back I created  a statement about how I observed Shabbat the text of which can be found at this link:

This statement on observance came after a challenge by my Rabbi for all of us within our Introduction to Judaism to come up with our own principles of Shabbat observance.In never backing down from a challenge I observed Shabbat in many different ways from that which is found in the Sabbath  Manifesto created for National day of Unplugging which can be found at this link:

To even trying to observe the "Traditional" thirty-nine prohibitions.I also studied out what Shabbat was in the Torah.In my own study and practice I found that Shabbat to me was  a day to connect with others instead of technology,to resist the materialism of the society that I live in and to act as if Zion was now this became the Statement on Shabbat above. No it is not the "traditional" way of observing but it is a beautiful compromise.It though took responsibility I had to understand how it related to me and not just reject it outright.I innovated it.

In our ongoing discussion with that Ultimate Reality which Rosh Hashanna reminds us of we should probably seek instead of rejecting a mitzvah or feeling that we have to adopt everything in order to be a "Good Jew" that maybe there is a middle ground a responsible compromise in that relationship with that ultimate reality that calls us to study a mitzvah out,observe it in many ways and innovate it to strengthen our days.I believe the early reformers gave us responsibility in trying to discern what halakah means to us and with that responsibility comes these beautiful modern mitzvot.

L'Shana Tova

Questions to ponder:

What do you think the Rabbis are talking about when they use the term "Modern Mitzvot"?

How do you observe?

What defines your Judaism?

An Affirmation:

Monday, September 19, 2016

D'var Torah-Ki Tavo: Gather us in:The joys and trials of community

Image result for Community   

"Raise your eyes and see !
They are gathering all of them,
They are coming to you"-Isaiah 60:4a

"Standing on the parted shores of history,
 we still believe what we were taught
 before ever we stood at Sinai.

that whereverever we are,it is eternally Egypt
that there is a better place,a Promised Land;
that the winding way that passes through that promise passes through the wilderness

that there is no way to get from here to there
except by joining hands,marching
together."-Michael Walzer

Held within the Ahavah Rabbah prayer in the morning Sacharit service are these beautiful words:

"Gather us in peace from the four corners of the earth and lead us upright to our land,For you,O God,work wonders.You chose us.Truly you draw us near to your great name,that we might acknowledge you,declaring you one in love."

Living in an intentional community for the last four years I have to say while I say these words to not think of how they to me allude to those joys and trials expressed within community.Here are ways I feel these words witness to such:

"Gather us in peace"

One of the first things I learned in coming into community as a Southerner was one reality would always exist in community that I in my southern manners of holding what ill feelings I had in hoping the best the person would change.That I could not do that in order to have mutual peace i had to learn to be direct and not avoid conflict but tackle it head on. this required something out of me I had never done. I find it cool within this parshah Moses says that God would scatter Israel(28:64). I as a person had to make myself vulnerable to criticism but also brave enough to offer up my own as direct as possible in order to not have my boundaries as a person respected.This was not all easy at first but as time has went by it has become much more easier. I see this acceptance of the reality of conflict coupled with being direct about my own needs creating a mutual "gathering in" of not only the community but it allows the person to have more of a awareness of who they are bringing a sweet peace in a world that seems fueled by celebrating conflict rather then dealing with it.

"from the four corners of the earth"

As human beings we are scattered through our many social labels that divide us but community has a call much different. It exists to bring us together.In my early days in community I struggled with being accepted . You see within my household in my intentional community I am the first openly gay person to openly date.When I first came into my household I knew that I would I have to show I'm the complete opposite of any stereotypes of gay people they had. At first witnessing to my own difference was a little bumpy.I wouldn't have been accepted into the household if some were not affirming but even with those who are affirming you still have to open eyes a little bit more on the issue.As everything with time more acceptance happened  my household became very much like family.They accepted me in becoming a Jew some where even present at my Beit Din.Besides me just being the gay Jew with my own diversity our household is inter-generational. I'm the youngest member at twenty-nine and the oldest member of our house is eighty-nine. Our combined life experiences are amazingly diverse.Two members of my household were present near Martin Luther King,Jr at the march on Washington,One member has had every job on the planet,one a former relief worker turned hospital chaplain and one a nanny. The table conversation are always fun but despite all of our differences our "four corners" we all come together we are all united in our responsibility to each other and that ultimate reality we experience in our lives together.

"upright to our land"

I find it cool that the word used here is "our" not "your" denoting that what we have when we are in community together is shared not greedily but mutually.It is ours it is something we make together as a group,as a people. It is both a laboratory and a temple that calls us to service to each while causing us too look,to see how we might change from within ourselves.It makes us "upright" but at the same time gives us a "land " from which to be affirmed within.A good example of this would be in how my housemates evolved passed just being roommates but to being family through time.In intentionally being together we had experiences that only we could have,inside jokes only we would know while at the same time being challenged through the gift of such intention.

"you,O God work wonders......truly you draw us near your great name.....That we might acknowledge you,declaring you one in love"

Through time I find myself praising the fact I came into an intentional community.It has changed me causing me to praise life in all of it's nuances as a gift.Intentional community helped me in many ways to find myself and my Judaism. Even though I live with a bunch of Christians I find daily we are in many ways praising the same way in striving to create harmony in the world around us declaring together yet differently that all are one.

So what does community mean to you?Where do you experience it? and how does it gather us all in?

Some questions to ponder:

What does community mean to you?

Where do you experience community?

How does community gather us all in?

An Affirmation:

This is a modern rendition of the excerpt above may we all be gathered in even more so into a community of harmony working towards the common good for all.This is done by the former Cantor of my shul.

Friday, September 16, 2016

D'var Torah-Ki Teitzei: A good word

Image result for Good words

"Though the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,My love shall never depart from you,and my covenant of peace shall never be removed from you"-Isaiah 54:10

"When you get to the point of understanding what you are saying,you will understand the language of all creatures"-The Yehudi,Tales of the Hasidim

Torah Reading:Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

Haftarah Reading:Isaiah 54:1-55:5

Last week I finished my conversion it was a beautiful experience but as with times of joy some take upon themselves to ruin those moments of simchah. On my first Shabbat in messaging someone that night they said some of the rudest things a person could say and pressured me i felt to leave Judaism because in their eyes I was a horrible representative of Progressive Judaism.Even though I don't typify myself as representative of the movement I'm apart of but try to live it out as best I can this Judaism that speaks to me not because of the autonomy but because of the responsibility. Part of that responsibility I believe comes in giving the kind word after having this moment that hurt me a lot I opened my chumash(Book of Torah) just to find some words of guidance .The words I found came from the Haftarah for this week in God reminding Israel that the ultimate reality would never stop loving us.What a powerful paradigm. What if we were like the Eternal within this verse that our words were so compassionate that they could move mountains for people?What if we could lace our words of Torah that build up the society we live instead of those that tear down others?What if we could not see our words not as Facebook posts but as expression of the very human beings behind them in all their nuance?I believe this is possible and it can happen at this moment.So let us go,do,and say words of love to all.

Questions to ponder:

How far can I kind word go?

What moments have you built up others or tore down others with your speech?How did you feel afterwards?

Should we judge one's being based off what we see on Social media?

An Affirmation

May we seek to heal others with or words and not hurt others with them