Friday, January 20, 2017

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh: A commentary on the times and our Torah portion of Shemot

I Will Be That Which I Shall Become.
As Moses journeys in the wilderness, shepherding the sheep at his charge, he notices a bush that was on fire. Rather than run from it in fear, Moses draws near enough to realize that its flames continued to burn without consuming the plant. The voice of God calls out to Moses from this bush, revealing to the future leader of the Israelites a Name for the Divine Presence.
I Will Be That Which I Shall Become.
As Moses listens, he learns of his own destiny as the leader of the Israelite revolution that will overthrow the Pharaoh of Egypt and free the Hebrew slaves. During a time of fears and inequality, Moses is to become an instrument of freedom and justice. He will learn to stand up and become the voice for others, even as he fears that his own imperfections will get in his way.
Moses learns that he, too, will be that which he can become.
This name of God reveals an uncertain certainty for the future. We cannot always predict the future or know exactly the role we will play in the long story of our people. But throughout our texts, God has emerged to help inspire prophets and individuals to get up, to stand up, to speak up for those who are most vulnerable during times of great changes. God has encouraged each of us to embrace this name,
I Will Be That Which I Shall Become.
When God is not revealing God's self as that source of hope, there is an expectation that we can become the mouthpiece for God - being unafraid to show the world what it can become, not resigning ourselves to accept the way things are. Like Moses and the prophets before us, may we embrace the spirit of God's name, striving to be more than the voices of intolerance, anger and selfishness that surround us. May we spread a message of hope and a vision for justice in word and in deed. May we strive together to build a future that we can look upon with pride, as Jews, as Americans, as Children of God.
May We Be All That We Can Become.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Journeying Forward

Lech l'chah, you will go forth on a journey...

This week's Torah portion speaks of the journey that Abram and Sarai (their names before they became Abraham and Sarah) embarked upon in order to reach their destiny, becoming the progenitors of the Jewish people and of the values that have shaped our world. Journeys of change are never easy, they involve letting go of expectations and assumptions, facing unforeseen challenges, embracing unexpected outcomes. However, as our Torah teaches over the next few weeks, journeys are critical to our abilities to become, to transcend, to grow.

Our country is in the midst of a journey - one that was started before this week's election results. This long and bitter campaign has brought forth many feelings, many perspectives, many painful words from all sides of the political spectrum. Regardless of the election's outcome, our society had already left what many of us had assumed it to be. Frustrations and hopes of all kinds had come to the surface in a cacophony of voices, unsettling us whether right or left or in between. We have become a nation who no longer knows one another, losing its grounding in shared values and ideals, focusing instead on what divides us. This way is untenable, and therefore, a journey is necessary.

Some of us are disappointed or frightened by the outcomes of the vote, worried that words that have denigrated parts of society and voters who carry with them prejudices and biases against sections of our society (including our Jewish community) will lead to the actions of our future. To this view, our Torah portion reminds us that one way to overcome such concerns is to reach out in relationship to those beyond our inner circles. Abram and Sarai enter a land where they knew no one. They feared being judged unkindly and even killed (which is why Abram introduced his wife as his sister to the foreign king ... long story). They remained vigilant as to the threats that arose around them, they advocated for what they knew was right (even standing up to God for what they believed). As they interacted with others in accordance to their core values and with respect for others, they were able to help transcend their fears and build a better world around them. Eventually, when Sarah passed away, the neighboring people so wanted to help Abraham, they were willing to give away land for her burial. We are already on this journey, abandoning hope is not an option. 

Others among us are excited or hopeful or optimistic or relieved by Tuesday's results. We may or may not agree with every element of the agenda that has been espoused, but think the country needed a new direction, fiscally or politically. We have responsibilities, as well, to welcome others into our tents, to listen to the fears and ideas of our neighbors and seek truth from all sources, allowing space for all voices. Abraham and Sarah learn of the fulfillment of their dreams only by speaking with the strangers they welcomed into their home and treated with kindness and care. Assuming nothing about these wanderers from their backgrounds or what they wore or what accents they had - only assuming they were made in the image of God like the rest of us and would need food and drink in the middle of their desert wandering, Sarah and Abraham allowed these three messengers from God to shape their journeys for the better. If we wish our communities and this country to come back together, we have to be open to those we do not know or who disagree with us politically, not assuming the worst of others, but finding ways to love and appreciate their humanity. We cannot complete this journey alone.

Whatever our reactions, our journey has already begun. The question for all of us now becomes, how will we respond? We all have to accept the reality that 1 out of every 2 people in our country chose a different candidate to lead us on this journey. More individuals chose one path, more states chose another. This divide demands of us to notice and acknowledge the hurt and pain that has been caused on all sides during this campaign, and have some sensitivity to one another. And perhaps we have to find a way to end the blame game of who caused what and instead focus on what we can now do together. This moment in time requires us all to look in the mirror and question what we need to let go of and what we need to hold on to in order to be a part of what we might become. 

Ahead lies our journey - once we mourn our lost expectations or celebrate our victories or contemplate in confusion what just happened, it is time for us to go forth like Abram and Sarai with trepidations, hopes, and fears. We have already left home. We must reach out to others we do not ordinarily talk to. We must be vigilant and be aware of hate and misogyny and labeling and prejudice that surround us. When we notice, we have to advocate for others and for ourselves, these are our core values as Jews. We all have an obligation show our disgust at the fringe hate groups who are reveling in our nation's choices, and we have to hold our leaders accountable and demand that they join us in shunning those who seek to divide us even further. 

We cannot bury our heads in our disappointment that the end is nigh, nor can we live in a euphoric fantasy that all is going to be just fine, now. Change takes effort and work. As we spoke of at the High Holidays, what defines us is not the world around us, rather we are defined by the ways we respond to that worldfinding the strength to be our best selves, adding love and justice and respect to the world through the journeys we live. Let us start locally, showing kindness and respect to those around us in our Or Shalom community and in our neighborhood communities. Let us lift one another up and make one another better, giving us all strength for the journey ahead. This is what we will begin to do at our Veteran's Shabbat service this Friday night. This is what it will take if we wish to be successful in our journey to make America greater and stronger together.

Friday, October 28, 2016

An Ode to the Intersection of Bereshit and My Beloved Cubs

An ode to the intersection of this week's Torah portion, Bereshit, and my beloved Cubs:

In the beginning. . . 
There was a team that experienced an abundance of success. They went to the World Series three times in a row. But they fell from grace after two straight championships. Expelled from the Garden of Greatness, they lost their way, squandering opportunity after opportunity. They experienced a deluge of misfortune, a famine of talent and success as they turned away from the land of the World Series, winding up in the bondage of ineptitude. They wandered, searching to find the promised land for 71 years, escaping the oppression of poor management and indifferent ownership, never losing hope. 

Suddenly, a new team arose who knew not the Cubs of the past. Together with new ownership, sabermetric analysis, young talent, and innovative management, the long suffering crew has found its way to back to the World Series, standing on the precipice of the promised land. 

By next week, we will all know the outcome of this part of our story, yet to be written. But what we do know is that sure enough, a new baseball season will come next Spring with new opportunities for redemption, renewal, and understanding, just as we have opportunities to find the same in our own hearts during this next year of reading our Torah. 

Here's hoping that the team that taught me to understand the narratives of our people, always striving to return home to the promised land, will have found their Jerusalem. And whether they do or not, as we say at the end of Passover ... Next year in the World Series! 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Looking Past the Opinions

I know it has been a while since posting... Rabbinic life has been busy!  There are too many situations around us for which there have been no words.  So, I felt compelled to post once again - we'll see if this becomes a regular habit... For now, here are the words of Torah that I sent to my congregation this week.

            There are a lot of words flying around at us these days. It can be difficult to discern truth amid the itchy blanket of opinions that has been thrown over us. How are we supposed to know what and who to believe?
In this week’s Torah portion, the foreign prophet, Balaam, struggles with a similar dilemma. The Moabite King, Balak, commissions him to put a curse on the Israelites. Despite pledging that he will only say the truth that God puts in his mouth, Balaam attempts to override his prophetic methods and listen to the opinions of Balak. He first sets out and must be reminded by a talking donkey that there is such a thing as truth. Attempting to chart his own course and ignoring all that he had learned to that point, Balaam almost ran into his own demise. His trusty donkey saved his life by stopping right before an angel of God, ready to smite Balaam in the midst of his rebellion. And how did Balaam thank the donkey? By beating him. Only then, did this animal speak, reminding Balaam, “How long have I been your steed? Have I ever done anything like this before?”
This donkey made Balaam take a step back and think. He reconnected with his core values instead of allowing himself to get swept up in the rhetorical pressures of the king with a nefarious agenda. It was only then that Balaam could remember what allowed him to find truth in the first place – not by imposing it upon the world, but by paying attention and noticing, by using evidence and assessment. So it was, despite setting out to fulfill Balak’s request, even after the donkey and angel incident, that Balaam opened his mouth to speak. And as the rabbis teach, when he saw the Israelites’ tents – how they were arranged to allow for respect for one another and equality – he found the truth that existed and shined brighter than the opinions that were being thrust at him. He instead said the words, “Mah tovu ohalecha Ya’akov? Mishk’nothecha, Yisrael?”  How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob? Your dwelling places, O Israel?
These words have become a source of blessing for us, still today, as they make up a traditional morning prayer recited daily. This beautiful prayer only came because Balaam was able to put aside the pressure-laden, judgmental opinions being thrust upon him by a king with an agenda. Balaam used his own eyes, his own thoughts, and most importantly, his own core values to assess the situation and see what truly lay before him.
May we each find the strength to open our own eyes and see beyond the partisan, agenda-filled rhetoric that has filled our lives these days. May we find ways to see goodness, may we continue to respect the lives of all people in our society, and may we attempt to fill the world with a light so bright that it shines greater than the voices that have been tearing the fabric of our society apart.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Elul Cool-Down (in Tishrei)

Elul Cool-Down: Connecting

We have started the New Year, we’ve already reflected, and we’ve imagined our dreams for the year we hope to see. Now is the time for our cool-down to carry our Elul workouts into the year we have started; time to figure out which connections we hope to make.

Macintosh HD:private:var:folders:bp:_xzvfmrn3zdfxlrqs7rmgz4w0000gn:T:TemporaryItems:Workout2.png- What is one way I can more deeply connect with each of my loved ones in my family in this New Year?  Will I read more to my children? Will I carve out a few extra minutes each night for my spouse before we go to sleep?  Spend a few moments figuring out how you might proactively deepen your connections with those you love, even when your connection might already be great.

- What is one way I can more deeply connect with myself in this New Year? This time of year is about reflection and growth.  Now that we’ve identified the person we hope to become, what will get us there? How do I connect with the inner me?  Will I read a few books I hoped to get to?  Will I carve out running time to clear my head?  Will I invest in my Jewish traditions that help center and ground me?  How can you make sure to keep your “you-ness” throughout this year?

If we can find points of connection this year, I’m certain it will be an incredible New Year for us all.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Elul Workout #5: Dreaming

Elul Workout #5: Dreaming

With the New Year upon us, it’s time to envision what this New Year could be.  
Ask yourself:

  • If I am able to accomplish one big change in my life during 5776, what do I hope it will be?

  • When I reflect on my year right before the next High Holidays, how do I hope to feel differently than I feel right now?

Now, go and call a loved one, wish them a “Shanah Tovah,” a happy new year, and share your answers to these questions.  This person can be your “accountability partner” – helping you stay true to your own goals.  Feel free to ask them these questions, as well.

If you have enjoyed this mode of reflection, I encourage you also to sign up for 10q, a site where you can reflect on some meaningful questions about the year that has passed and your hopes for our new one.  They will send you an email each day during the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Then, next year, they re-send you the previous year’s answers, so you can see your progress!

I wish you and your family a wonderful, meaningful, super-amazing-incredible 5776 full of health, happiness, and pickles (because they are always so delicious)!  May your dreams come true, and if they do not, may the work you do this year bring you closer to them.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Elul Workout #4 - Listening

Are we feeling the burn yet?  I hope that our workouts are bringing meaningful reflection and active preparation for the New Year.  Enjoy the next installment:

Elul Workout #4: Listening
Step 1: Take out your calendar, find a time for 10-15 minutes where you can “work-out” and copy the following steps into a time slot that works for you.  (If now is a good time, then skip step 1)

Step 2: Take our your reflections from last week and review (If you need a reminder of what the previous weeks involved, click here, here and click here)
Step 3: A huge part of our success in breaking our patterns and finding newness in this next year comes from our ability to pause for a few minutes and listen.  Out of the still, quiet places, we often find the most inspiration.  We also have the opportunity to find new perspectives and ideas when we put our own agendas on hold and we fully listen to others around us.  Practice listening by calling a friend/family member with whom you are overdue for a chat.  Ask them what they are hoping for in this new year – personally, professionally, spiritually.  Then, just listen.  Ask clarifying questions where appropriate to understand more fully, but just listen.

Step 4: Pause for a few moments and listen to your own heart.  If you meditate, take a few moments to do so.  Then, write your own list: My dreams for this year include . . .

I hope these moments of listening bring us closer to the kind of fresh start we all need for this New Year.

L’shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Ari N. Margolis

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Elul Workout #3: Forgiving Others/Forgiving Ourselves

Step 1: Take out your calendar, find a time for 10-15 minutes where you can “work-out” and copy the following steps into a time slot that works for you.  (If now is a good time, then skip step 1)

Step 2: Take our your reflections from last week and review (If you need a reminder of the previous weeks, click here or click here)

Step 3: Reflect on the following questions (you are strongly encouraged to journal your thoughts and put them down on paper).  Be honest and avoid the temptation to become defensive, even to yourself.

-          Reflect on at least one pattern/routine you hope to change in the next year.
         o   Who must you forgive in order to move forward? 
         o   Who do you need to ask forgiveness from? 
         o   Make a list. 
         o   At the end of each list, add your name.

-          Of those you need to forgive, pause and take a moment to think about what you need in order to offer forgiveness – can you do it even if they do not reach out to you?  Remember: forgiving does not require forgetting, but it does require openness.

           -          Of those you need to ask forgiveness, list the offenses you feel that you have brought to others and have the need to move past. 

           -          Finally, take a few moments to reflect on yourself – what do you need in order to let go of looking negatively at your own sense of self in this matter?  Write down your own ask for forgiveness and your response to that ask.   

           -          OPTIONAL: Repeat for another pattern you had identified

Step 4: Take your calendar back out – schedule times to email, call, facetime, text, facebook message, tweet, or visit with the people you hope to ask forgiveness and do it!  Say the hard words and mean them. 

May these Elul workouts bring us a step closer to a healthier, happier new year!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Elul Workout #2: Pattern-Breaking

We have an opportunity at this time of year.  The structure we move into does not need to look the same as where we have been.  If there were routines that did not work for us or that led us into poor habits for our health, for our relationships, or for our sanity, we do not need to fall right back into them.  Rather, this is the time of year, the month of Elul, during which our Jewish tradition calls upon us to make intentional choices about the ways we approach the next year.  

As I mentioned last week, if we wait until Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to do the work that it takes to change our routines, the High Holidays become a starting place 
instead of the kickoff celebration of our new, improved selves.  To maximize the impact of these High Holidays, we have to first engage in a spiritual workout and do the heavy lifting now, so that we can be in tip-top shape for the start of the year.

Elul Workout #2: Pattern-Breaking

Step 1: Take out your calendar, find a time for 10-15 minutes where you can “work-out” and copy the following steps into a time slot that works for you.  (If now is a good time,
then skip step 1)

Step 2: Take our your reflections from last week and review (If you need a reminder of what last week was about, click here)

Step 3: Reflect on the following questions (you are strongly encouraged to journal your thoughts and put them down on paper).  Be honest and avoid the temptation to become
defensive, even to yourself.
  • What has been my biggest source of pride in this past year?  What has been the biggest source of my disappointment?
  • What ways have I been less than my best self in this past year?
  • List the patterns of behavior, the structured routines I have in my life (they may involve relationships, work, health, to name a few):
    • What patterns of behavior have I just fallen into without thinking?
    • Which of these routines help me?  Do they help those around me?
    • Which of these routines hurt me?  Do they hurt those around me?
Step 4: Pick one routine to workshop for the next week – to analyze and see where there
is room to improve.  Write down some of your thoughts as to how you might create a
different approach.

May these Elul workouts bring us a step closer to a healthier, happier new year!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Elul Workout #1

This weekend begins the month of Elul, the month of our High Holidays. Elul is a time to reflect on the past year and begin the process of shuffling all of our last-second emotional and spiritual paperwork off of our desks so that we can enter this new year with a clean slate. Our rabbis teach that Yom Kippur is actually supposed to be a happy day! It is supposed to be the only day of the year where we have no weight on our shoulders of regret or guilt, because we have already let go of our shortcomings. But this day can only bring such excitement if we begin our reflective work now. 
In the coming weeks, I'm going to offer some Elul exercises, reflections or actions, that can help us get a little closer to the openness for the new year.  Before we jump right to the negatives that we hope to change, it is important to consider the gifts we hope to bring with us into the new year. I find that starting with our hopes and accomplishments helps us make space in our bandwidth for the more critical reflections that are needed to help us realize our dreams. So, we will start from this positive space:
1) Take out your calendar and reserve 5 minutes to reflect this weekend. Copy the steps below into the calendar, so you have the info handy.
2) Ask yourself: 
- What were my three biggest accomplishments/happiest moments this year?
- Who do I need to thank for helping me experience these moments?
- What are my three biggest hopes for next year?
(I highly recommend actually journaling your answers, either in a notebook or on a document on your computer or phone - quick answers are a great start, if it's all the time you have)
3) Make a point to reach out and thank the people who helped you achieve your special moments. If time is an issue, calendar times to reach out to each person, so you know you'll do it.
I hope these steps start the process toward a happier and (spiritually) healthier new year.