Monthly Archives: September 2011

Thoughts for a New Year 5772

“A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven: A time for planting and a time for reaping, a time for keeping and a time for discarding; a time for loving and a time for hating; a time for embracing and a time for refraining; a time for slaying and a time for healing, a time for laughing and a time for weeping; a time for dancing and a time for wailing, a time for birthing and a time for dying; a time for speaking and a time for silence, a time for seeking and a time for losing.”

The words of Kohelet, of Ecclesiastes are recited in two distinct settings.  Its words are chanted, depending on the tradition, on either the Intermediate Sabbath of Sukkot or on Shemini Atzeret.  As a reflective piece, Ecclesiastes chapter 3 gives us an opportunity to look back at the 3 weeks of the holiday season, over the entirety of our season of repentance, and say, “What kind of time was this for me? For my family? Did I plant the seeds so that this period of time, this year, my life will be a season not only of repentance but of forgiveness, growth, laughter and love?”  In this context, we have been afforded time in our Jewish calendar to think about…time.

You will also hear the words of Kohelet chanted at a Jewish funeral, at a time when individuals search for answers, where time means something completely different…We reflect on memories of a loved one when we struggle to find the words and when our ancient texts offer some source of comfort.

When it’s time to say goodbye, whether to the year or to a loved one that has passed, the moment can be abrupt or prolonged, and yet there is never enough time to say goodbye.  In fact, there is never enough time to say “hello”- to initiate deeper relationships with people around us, never enough time to fill all the moments in between the “hello” and “goodbye” with all the moments, conversations and memories that make up life. This is not meant to force us into a sense of urgency, but rather a sense of gratitude for every moment we share with one another.

As we look to our Torah portion, Moses begins his swan song, his calculated, very much scheduled goodbye.  He must deliver a message to his successor, Joshua, and to the Jewish people.   As the leader who has taken the Israelites from bondage to freedom, what advice can he give to the next generation?

Chazak V’ematz– “Be strong and of good courage.”   Our source sheet today will provide us with a glimpse at what these words meant to God, to Moses, to Joshua, and to the Jewish people today.  I premise this list with the notion that the Torah does not arbitrarily repeat words or phrases. Each phrase is there for a reason.

At the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is instructed:

“Give Joshua his instructions, and imbue him with strength and courage, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he shall allot to them the land that you may only see.” (Deuteronomy 3:28)

Moses learns early on that to replace the leader of the Jewish people is a daunting task.  Joshua will need encouragement that the he will have the strength to succeed.

Our next verse, taken from this week’s sedrah:

Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them, for the Lord your God marches with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 30:6)

This charge is given in the plural- not to Joshua, but to the Jewish people.  Joshua has a partnership with the nation of Israel that must be strengthened on both ends. Notice the rhetoric changing as well.  It’s not enough to take advice from Moses, but God will be with us.  We need to know that someone will be there for us.

Finally, Moses empowers Joshua in the next chapter, in front of his now empowered community:

“Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: ‘Be strong and resolute, for it is you who shall go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their fathers to give them, and it is you who shall apportion it to them. And the Lord will go before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not and be not dismayed.” (Deut. 31:7-8)

If that wasn’t enough, Moses again makes a charge to Joshua a few verses later:

“And He charged Joshua son of Nun: “Be Strong and resolute: for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised on oath, and I will be with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:23)

Moses passes on and Joshua is now leader.  God speaks in the beginning of the book of Joshua:

Be strong and resolute, for you shall apportion to this people the land that I swore to their fathers to assign to them. But you must be very strong and resolute to observe faithfully all the teaching that my servant Moses enjoined upon you…I Charge you: Be strong and resolute; do not be terrified or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:6-7, 1:9)

For a text that likes not to repeat itself, we have seven examples of the same message being portrayed.

“Chazak v’amatz, chazak v’amatz, chazak v’amatz.”

These words still have meaning for us today.  We have remnants of this charge in our Torah services constructed over the centuries. The Hasam Sofer, in the early 19th century, writes that this triple use of “chazak v’amatz” in the book of Joshua is the origin for our present day tradition of saying “chazak chazak v’nitchazek” when we conclude each book of the Torah. In 12th century France, the Hazzan would shout “Hazak” in a loud voice to each who read from the Torah.  In Sephardic synagogues, the custom is to say “chazak ubaruch”- be strong and be blessed, to each oleh to the torah, who then replies, “chazak v’amatz.”   And so we see a conversation back and forth, each one blessing the other.

In reading the book of Psalms, we see a variation of this charge. Psalm 27 concludes: kavveh el Adonai, chazak v’ya’ametz libecha, v’kaveh el Adonai; literally: Wait patiently yet expectantly for Adonai; be strong and determined in your heart, and wait patiently yet expectantly for Adonai.

The psalmist expands beyond the courage and strength that Joshua and the Jewish people needed in creating a Jewish homeland.  It is a charge for us, today, as Jews.

The message of this Psalm for the Season of Repentance is three fold:

1) Be strong- spiritually, mentally, intellectually, collectively

2) Be determined in your heart.  Fill this world with love, do not second guess your heart.

3) “Kaveh el Adonai”- Hope in a higher being.  Have faith in a brighter tomorrow, hope in the goodness of this world.

It’s during this season of reflection that I often think of someone who was taken from this world too soon, someone I had the opportunity to get to know, but regrettably never took the opportunity to get to know beyond the “hello.”  At holiday celebrations and family gatherings, Jeremy Glick was the cousin’s other cousin, from the other side of family. I was an introvert; it was already tough interacting with my blood relatives let alone a muscular former collegiate judo champion.

On Thursday morning, the 23rd of Elul, I recited the Mourners Kaddish and chanted the El Malei Rachamim, a prayer in memory of Jeremy.  A loving husband and father, Glick along with a handful of other brave souls, rushed the hijackers of United 93, saving lives while losing his own.  In those last moments of his life, Glick called his wife.  As the two expressed words of love, Lyz said, “You need to be strong.”

Amidst the chaos on board, Jeremy responded, “Whatever decisions you make in your life,” he said, “I need you to be happy and I will respect any decisions that you make.”

We should never forget the words and values of those we’ve lost; never take for granted an opportunity to express our own emotions, to enforce and reinforce over and over again the lessons we want to imbue to others.

In this broken world filled with uncertainty; be strong and courageous, but at the same time be hopeful, open your heart to love everyone around you.  Give the extra-long hug, the extra embrace.  As we think of family and friends this season…go the extra mile. It’s not just “A happy and sweet new year.” It’s a happy and sweet new year because you are a part of my life and I am part of yours.  It is relaying messages of guidance and knowledge, of appreciation and recognition, of joy and gladness, of love and tikvah, hope. Hope that tomorrow, in the coming days and year, we continue to make every day count.  “Chizku v’ya’ametz l’vavchem”- may you be strong and determined in your heart. May this be a season of reflection, a season of openness, a season in which our relationships are enhanced by the strength of our own hearts.  Shabbat Shalom.

MAKOM brings Jews and Sports to life!

This semester, I’ve decided to take a few Lambeau leaps of faith by teaching electives for our MAKOM Hebrew High program that do not revolve around music.  I’ve loved teaching History of Israeli Music, JJGlee and even Modern Jewish Music a few years back.  What else could I teach about you ask? Well, as you could guess, Jews and Sports! No, this is not a class on memorizing the top Jewish baseball players by position (although I do recommend the book  The Baseball Talmud for that), but rather an exploration into how sports have shaped our cultural our identities, for better or for worse.

As I’ve tried to figure out how to frame our sessions, two books on my bookshelf have become more and more helpful: Judaism’s Encounter with American Sports by Dr. Jeffrey Gurock and Ellis Island to Ebbets Field by Peter Levine.  Both works speak to the history of sport as an avenue to acculturation and the sensibilities we must have to those who paved the way for us to live in a world where you don’t have to choose one religion, be that Judaism or Sports (one could argue that sports is in fact a religion- its sacred sanctuaries, places of worship, fanatic followers,set of rules, personalities worth emulating etc).

The class’ opening session was modeled after a Jews and Sports  class taught at Temple University by Rabbi Rebecca Alpert.  I made reference to a scene from the movie Airplane (also made reference to in the documentary Jews and Baseball).

Rabbi Alpert had been surprised that the stereotypes she thought might still exist were no longer prevalent among her students. Our MAKOMers, did feel that a strong stereotype still exists.  What ensued was a brief discussion on how stereotypes are formed and how we can find ways to get rid of them.

Living in Jacksonville, we still experience many of the issues brought up by Gurock: “The problem for Judaism with this belief system has been that, until very recently, the sports world’s clock, calendar and social group dynamics were highly inimical to the religious sensibilities of many Jews and most certainly their rabbis.  When Jews were chosen in, they were admitted at the expense of their religion.  Game or practice schedules that clashed with the Sabbath or Jewish holidays were an issue for all that hallowed that day.” Our Sunday sports leagues here in town have aided in this effort, but major sporting events and especially High school events (be they sports, theatre etc) are all on Shabbat. This will definitely be a fun topic to discuss….

Be it Samson battling the Philistines or a Jewish sportsman who wanted to feel like a Hellenized man in ancient Greece,  sports have always acted as a gateway towards acceptance in society.  Even if you can’t play every sport, our society makes it known that you must be in the know about sports.  As clergy, sports metaphors and references in sermons or even in dialogue with students, makes us “legit. ” How can we make that bond between Judaism and Sports stronger so its not “pick one or the other.” I won’t give too much more away, but I’m looking forward to a semester of spirited discussion and learning.