Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Shared with the TBY Community on January 29, 2017


This greeting, ‘shalom’, is a word with which most of us are familiar.  Its meanings include:  Hello, Goodbye and Peace.  Yet, there is a deeper meaning to this word and that is connected to its Hebrew root:  Shleimut, meaning wholeness.  Right now, at this moment in our national history as Americans and as Jews I am praying for Shleimut, wholeness.  This feeling is in direct response to the decisions of our national leadership to separate us from our American values that guide us as a beacon of hope, freedom and possibility.  All of us at some point in our history are descendants of immigrants and many of us claim refugees as ancestors.  For many among the American Jewish community, Emma Lazarus’ words on the Statue of Liberty remain a strong reminder of this past:

“…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

It is this value inscribed on our shore that has served as a constant reminder of the American Jewish Experience and one we MUST continue for all those in need.  Certainly an eye towards the security of our nation must always see clearly, yet our character as a nation is corroded when we fail to live up to this highest of ideals.  Even more, we are reminded of our own z’man cheruteinu - time of our freedom (Passover) when we consider the ways our country must continue to serve as shelter for refugees around the globe.  Part of that Passover story is what we are reading in Torah this week in parashat Bo (click here>>>) as we conclude the plagues and prepare or liberation.  Last week, at Torah study in the valley, one learner raised an intriguing question:  What would the 11th plague have been had Pharaoh not heeded long enough to allow our escape?  I fear we may be battling one possible answer to that question today.  The problem, serving as a sign, of complacency and divisiveness around our values is plaguing us now. 

As we learn in Torah:  When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34).  It is our ultimate responsibility to protect against this apathy by standing up for our American and our Jewish value of welcoming the stranger, of caring for the refugee and upholding the foundational principles that under-gird our Jewish identity and our American ideals. 

I beseech all of us to consider our President’s recent executive order titled:  Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” (click here to read the text>>>)  And, while considering its text in theory and its potential in practice, I ask us to respond based on our values.  Our Reform Movement of Judaism’s Religious Action Center has provided us a statement to consider in forming our own autonomous position - click here>>>.  And, should you choose to act, here are resources to contact your representatives - click here>>>. 

At this moment, during which I believe we will all be judged by future generations for our action and inaction, we are reminded of our words of our sage Hillel:  If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, who am I?  And, if not now, when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14)  We all share this Earth, and while countries and countless other realities may divide us at times, we must balance our human connections - our wholeness.

B’Kavod - Respectfully,

Rabbi Evon

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Be like Abraham and Speak Up!

    Our rabbis of old ask an important question.  They wonder what was the difference between Abraham and Noah.  We may wonder why this is such a crucial question.  Yet, when we look at the rise of both characters in our Torah past, we see similar accolades.  About Noah, Torah teaches, “Noah was a righteous man, he was blameless in his generation.” (Gen. 6:9).  And about Abraham, in last week’s portion, we learn, “Abraham was to walk in God’s ways and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1)  At first glance, they are similar, almost seeming to be on the same level.  Yet, Noah was blameless in his generation.  There is a stark difference for when we pay closer attention to the generation of the flood, we are reminded that it was referred to as corrupt and lawless (Gen. 6:11).  When the rabbis ask about the difference between Abraham and Noah, they understand the value of how others view our deeds and learn to compare and contrast the behaviors, attitudes and values of the two great people.  Abraham’s legacy grows even more in this week’s Torah portion when he stands up to God.  It is the moment when he argues with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this episode of Torah, we learn a great deal about Abraham and the legacy he leaves to us, what we must do in our own age.  Abraham stood up to what he saw as an injustice, a moment when he questioned God and said, “Shall the judge of all the Earth not deal justly?” (Gen. 18:25) 
    This past week has provided us (okay inundated us) with opinions, views, anxieties, events, hatred and so much more on the national landscape.  It is becoming harder (as if it wasn’t already hard enough) to sift through the information overload and make informed, educated and value based decisions.  There is no secret that every source has some form of bent that must be understood, at least a little.  As Sunday rolled into Monday, much of the Jewish world was up in arms about President-Elect Donald Trump’s engagement of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist.  This discontent is certainly also strong within our own community as I have responded to communication from our community members asking for a congregational response.  It is not within my desires, nor is it legal, to speak for our community.  Yet, I have been led to the belief that our community would like to know my response and whether it is echoing that of many Jewish organizations.  So, I DO NOT speak for the congregation, but rather to our community as a friend and community member.
    There is much that each of us must do to make our own informed decisions.  However, I was inspired by a wise colleague of mine who put the reality clearly before me.  What I read made it abundantly clear that this appointment may be an act of appreciation and loyalty.  Yet, this individual bears the responsibility of communicating ideas and ideals antithetical to our Jewish value system.  As the executive of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon bears responsibility for the hateful content of the site.  With hateful headlines appearing under his leadership, it is enough to question and, for me, to speak against his role in our government.  Some examples of such titles are, “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer,” “The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple:  Women should log off,” or “Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage.”
    When titles, and the accompanying articles, express hate, prejudice, racism and beyond, we must be vigilant to the way such information is understood, used and justified.  It is our responsibility as Jews to always stand up for the stranger, the widow, the orphan and the oppressed….anywhere.  Now, the purveyor of these “news” headlines and their hateful messages is engaged as a strategist for the highest office in our government and I must, as did Abraham, stand up and speak up.  Whatever Mr. Bannon’s personal beliefs, he is culpable for spreading problematically hateful words.  Our government, for and by the people, is no place for him.  As Abraham questioned God, as the judge of all the Earth, I urge Mr. Trump, as our President-Elect, to relieve Mr. Steve Bannon, so that our government is not fettered by hateful rhetoric, or worse hateful behaviors.

Rabbi Evon

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Yom Kippur Shacharit Welcome 5777 (Oct. 12, 2016):

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In the long run, men hit only what they aim at.  Therefore…they had better aim at something high.” 

This morning, our presence with our selves and others, our prayer individually and collectively is about the work we engage in to become our best self.  Setting goals and aiming towards our potential is part of that work.  In the Hebrew language the verb “to be” is only articulate in the past tense and the future tense.  Perhaps this is an awareness that at each moment, we are always in between those two states.  We are always becoming.  With that in mind, it is our reality that we ought to constantly be aiming for something; I would argue that ought to be ourself, our best self.  Consider the space of Yom Kippur, this day long moment as the yearly station to pause, to be in the present, just for the moment, in order to once again aim at something high. 


Yom Kippur Shacharit Intro to Unetaneh Tokef 5777 (Oct. 12, 2016):

In the Unetaneh Tokef prayer, our moment of holding our mortality before our own eyes, we read, “Our beginning is dust and our end is dust; we struggle for our bread; our days are as a shadow that passes, a fading flower; a cloud passing by, a dream soon forgotten.”  And yet the fullness of life can be realized when we embrace this reality and transcend beyond.  This move beyond this challenging reality is to embrace all that is good, right and just in our lives and in the world around us.  We will always, I fear, be surrounded by events, experiences and people that challenge us.  Hardship, sadness and unfullfilling moments, though, can serve as the motivation to reach for more, to control what we can.  At the conclusion of this piece of liturgy, we find a three part recipe for this human realm over which we can affect our lives:  Repentance, prayer and charity, for these, when intertwined with what we cannot control, represent the forces for good.  When we recognize our ability to turn, for teshuvah, to offer prayer - a time for introspection and meditation on what is right and acts of gemilut chasadim - loving kindness and grow those moments in our lives, then, perhaps then the balance of our days is filled with the good.  May the shadows that pass be a reflection of all that is good in our lives, in our world. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Kol Nidre 5777 - Oct. 11, 2016 - Temple Bat Yam, South Lake Tahoe, CA

The Exchange of Forgiveness

There is a story about the great Rabbi of Brisk.  This is the place that gave rise to the Soloeveitchik rabbinic dynasty, regarded and respected for both their scholarship and menshelekeit.  The story goes that the rabbi was traveling on a train homeward.  A salesmen boards the train and occupies a seat in the same car as the Rabbi.  Not recognizing the great community leader, the salesman treats him poorly.  He is rude and does not greet him in return, he is curt if he responds at all and disrespectful.  When they arrive in Brisk, and the salesman suddenly realizes whom he has offended, ignored and treated rudely, he begs forgiveness repeatedly, trying to make good, and yet the rabbi firmly rejects him.  He finally asks the Rabbi’s son to intervene, and the Rabbi explains to his son that he cannot accept the apology, that he is not in a position to grant forgiveness.  The Rabbi’s son, says, what could you possibly mean, the salesman thought you were but a common man.  Ah….ah…. the rabbi said, that is why I cannot forgive him, it is to that man that he should apologize and seek forgiveness.

The Rabbi in this story helps us understand the difference between apology and forgiveness…firstly that we cannot expect forgiveness, it is as Marjorie Ingall recently explained that forgiveness ought to be understood as a gift and after all, we don’t ask for gifts.  But more so, the apology the rabbi deems necessary in this moment is to the imagined person the salesman offended.  You see, while the rabbi may have been deserving of more respect, the intentionality of the transgression was to treat a commoner poorly and therefore it is to that man an apology should be offered and that all ought to be treated with dignity and respect. 

Kol Nidre, is the name given to this evening’s service; which derives its name from the hallowed words of the prayer itself - Kol Nidre…all our vows.  These words motivate us to consider the best and the worst of ourselves.  This evening is designed as the opening act of this day long retrospective…a tour through the last year if you will.  As the day unfolds, we engage in liturgy that gives us the framework to sift what we notice during that introspection and eventually to moments of confession, strategies for reparation and the setting of intentions moving forward.  We rise at the day’s conclusion renewed for a New Year, committed, we hope, to reaching towards our own potential.  Yet, it does not come without effort, without intention or without an exchange.

The rituals of this day are about the art of living.  We must understand that life is a work of art, and we are the artists.  We are charged to create a masterpiece of our life that holds in the balance our deeds, our character, our intentions all in a way that reflects the human being we aim to be.  Part of that creative work is the dance of living in relationship with others and simply because we are human, we err, we make mistakes.  Because of this reality of living as human beings we ought to pay close attention to the challenge of how we respond when errors are made, how we apologize and how we grant forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is an exchange, for it is a gift we offer when we are ready.  It is more than the acceptance of an apology.  Our Jewish tradition provides us a framework for understanding different modes for such a gift, and they are unique in what they require of us, when granting forgiveness and when seeking it. 

Most commonly in our tradition, we find the forgiveness of סליחה - slicha - a pardon.  Yet this is not a complete pardon, Rabbi J.H. Hertz says, “Pardon is not the remission of the penalty, but the forgiveness of the guilt and the removal of the sinfulness.”  Our literature invokes this for the accidental sins, or sins of omission and lower-level offenses.  We also find מחילה - michilah - a canceling.  By extension, this refers to the remission or canceling of a debt.  This one is most similar to what we know as the pardon granted a criminal.  Rabbi David Blumenthal writes that, “Mechilah is like a pardon granted to a criminal by the modern state. The crime remains; only the debt is forgiven.”  He also points out that this is not a full reconciliation between the injured and the injurer, rather it is reaching a conclusion that the injurer no longer owes. 

This day, however, gets its name from what the Bible calls - יום הכיפורים- Yom HaKippurim, Yom Kippur from a mention in Leviticus when we understand this day as the moment when all Israel will receive atonement for our sins.  This type of forgiveness - כפרה - Kapparah - is a covering…it is a purging of the wrongs committed.  The challenge with this form for us, is that it is only granted by God. 

There is a fourth kind of forgiveness that embodies this notion as an exchange best.  It is the moment when our mistakes and misdeeds are carried away.  נשיאה - Nisiah - is when the forgiveness granted, carries away entirely the experience.  What is so powerful in this type, is when we understand that our actions carry weight, they entail a burden.  Rabbi Dalia Marx, from the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College, teaches us about the work of the contemporary Israeli philosopher, Yotam Benziman who argues, “that the proper and only way to mend an injury is through "dialogic forgiveness." Both the offender and the offended carry the memory of the injustice. For forgiveness to occur, they must integrate it into their life fabric, and grow from this painful place. Rather than putting the hurtful act "behind us," or separating the deed from the doer by condemning the action but acquitting its perpetrator, or leaving the act unowned (as if what a dear one did was wrong, but she is still the same loving person), Benziman proposes a forgiveness process based upon remembering it.”

The liturgy of this day is profound.  That crescendo moment of the Unetaneh Tokef, when God is writing and sealing in the Book of Life, the prayer itself reminds us that, “God remembers deeds long forgotten.” 

Our charge is to make all our experiences part of our lives, despite how hurtful they are to us when we have wronged or been wronged.  It is not our place to cover up and simply forgive and forget, but remember and integrate into our lives, into that masterpiece we are creating of our life.

Each of us knows the challenge of discovering those moments when we ought to say those most difficult words:  I’m sorry.  We know, as human beings, all too well how hard it is to realize and even utter them, let alone say them with sincerity.  The process of teshuvah - repentance is hard, it is more than words and it entails a process of learning, of growing and of reaching towards those deserving our efforts.  When this part of our humanity is real, it means harm has been done.  Our hearts are, in a way broken.

Take this symbol of the heart, the seat of our emotions…it is a simple shape that symbolizes our ability to love, to fear, to know anxiety, to re-build relationships that require mending.  When we injure another (crease the heart), we affect our own; when we are injured too (crease the heart again), our heart is affected.  The journey of life is not always easy and we live through much.  (crumple the heart)

As we’ve learned, our tradition provides many avenues for repair, for reconciliation and the process of teshuvah - repentance can be the iron for a creased heart.  It is a rigid process that requires preparation.  Its warmth can be just enough to be welcoming, but it certainly must be handled with care.  Eventually, though, with honest, pure and wholesome efforts our hearts can take their proper shape, their rightful place as the seat of our emotions.  (Flatten the heart)

This is done when we find those difficult words offered from our own lips:  I’m sorry.  Yet, there is another side to this heart, just as with our own.  (Flip the heart over)  This other side is when we are not searching for those difficult words of I’m sorry, but rather when we have the power to forgive.  At this season, we often focus on our role of the wrongs committed AND it is also the time we ought to understand the exchange required in forgiveness.  When we are able to, when we understand and accept another’s teshuvah journey we too bear the burden of granting forgiveness.  We engage in that nisiah - that carrying away.  As we learned from Rabbi Marx’s teaching about the philosopher Benziman’s argument we, “…must integrate it into [their] our life fabric, and grow from this painful place.”  The carrying away is the gift we offer in exchange for the apology.  It is our responsibility for living in relationship with others.  It is NOT for us to hold over another’s head, or bring up in the next argument or ten years from now, simply a profound moment of growth in the relationship.

This heart, complete with its creases, its wrinkles, yet re-shaped and holding its proper place in our physical and spiritual selves is part of that masterpiece of our life made through the art of living.

Often the work of art representing our life bears even the less savory moments.  It carries with it the moments we injured another, and it carries with it the opportunities we had to grant forgiveness.  Yet, these brush strokes are integrated into the full masterpiece and when done with care, with intention and a purity of thought we can insure they display in a way that makes them part of the whole, a necessary piece of the larger picture of our lives. 

Consider the famous paintings, each their own masterpiece, that hide other works beneath.  Perhaps most famous are Picasso’s The Blue Room and even Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.  Often done as a cost saving measure, an artist’s recycling device.  Or even an attempt at a second, third or even fourth draft.  Yet, one of the undecided mysteries of the Mona Lisa remains the subject of the painting itself.  Some have put forth the thesis that the sitter of the painting, the family who commissioned the work itself did not compensate the artist, so DaVinci kept the work and moved on.  While we will never know the full complete story, perhaps this masterpiece, carrying away with it this experience of DaVinci expresses a complex biography. 

Yet, we are so much more, for the brush strokes that comprise our lives are far richer.  Our biographies are the interwoven threads of our life experience, we stitch it together using the material we are given and using the choices we make.  At this time, on this eve of Yom Kippur, at Kol Nidre, we know that we all have opportunities to offer our apologies, to reach out to those we have harmed.  And even more, there is the second side of that heart, the side that requires us to grant forgiveness, while knowing we must carry away part of the experience; it will forever be with us.  Forgiveness represents an exchange for which there are at least two responsible, it requires of us the ability to carry away - the nisiah - and as Yotam Benziman writes, “For forgiveness to occur, [written:  they] we must integrate it into [their] our life fabric, and grow from this painful place.”   

May each of us ensure this year is one during which we integrate all that fills our lives, during which we grow from even the painful and may we own the moments when forgiveness is a gift we can and are ready to give.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah - May all Discover a Good Year
Introduction to Hashkiveinu - Kol Nidre 5777 (Oct. 11, 2016):

"And if you ask me what the most important thing I learned in medical school was, I will tell you this:  that things can be fixed.  Not only bodies.  Souls, too.  They can be fixed and mended”  ~ Meir Shalev in A Pigeon and a Boy

Not only can we be fixed, but we must discover the time and space to do just that.  Yom Kippur, this day, is about mending.  It is about repairing ourselves, our relationships and our communities.  The Hashkiveinu prayer is the moment during our liturgy that urges us to invite the Divine to spread over us a Sukkat Shalom - A Shelter of Peace.  It is under this canopy that we can discover the mending our souls require.  In this space, when we feel the presence of the Divine, the shelter of community around us we can understand our best self.  Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha - Spread over us a Shelter of Peace.


After Kadesheinu before R’tzei - Kol Nidre 5777 (Oct. 11, 2016):

Reb Nachman of Bratislava taught, “You are wherever your thoughts are.  Make sure your thoughts are where you want to be.”

What is fascinating about what Reb Nachman teaches here is that he doesn’t say to make sure your thoughts are where you are; rather he says where you want to be.  It is on one hand a moment of day-dreaming and imagining what is possible.  While from another perspective, it is about ensuring we are thoughtful, that we are intentional about our lives.  This space in our liturgy between Kadeisheinu - seeking lives of holiness and R’tzei - a plea for our prayer to be acceptable we invite the divine into our lives, through our deeds, the mitzvot, and our prayer.
Kol Nidre Welcome 5777 (Oct. 11, 2016):

The word hayt for “sin” is spelled with the letter Aleph at the end of the word. This is interesting because Aleph is a silent letter, and does not even get pronounced. So, a student of the Baal Shem Tov asked his Master why the silent Aleph is even in the word. The Baal Shem Tov responded, “We all know that Alef is the first letter of the alphabet and represents the first cause, root, and essence of all existence – God. The letter Aleph is silent in the word for sin in order to teach us that when a person commits a hayt it is a sign that God’s Presence is not being ‘pronounced’ in his life. The sinner has temporarily forgotten the Aleph of the World.”

May this moment, this long moment of Yom Kippur provide for each of us the space in time to discover the Alef.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5777 - Temple Bat Yam, South Lake Tahoe, CA

See to it that You do not Destroy It, for If You Do, There Will be no one Else to Repair it!

In each generation, there are traits that remind us of the past.  Sometimes it is when the ginger hair appears that has skipped a generation or two, perhaps a new baby with hazel eyes and we wonder where they came from.  Even more powerful is when it stretches beyond the visible, and physical characteristics, behaviors or certain acumen are displayed.  Think about a child, a nephew or niece, perhaps a cousin who talks just like a grandparent.  Consider the traits we hold that at different moments remind us of another member of our families.  The strong Ashkenazic tradition of naming our children for past generations is almost a hope for those strong and positive character traits to manifest in the new life, in the babies we welcome to the world.  In each instance, such attributes serve as a legacy in the chain of generations in our families, they become part of the legacy that links us to our past.  Yet we need not leave all to the chance of genetics and nature, but we ought to consider the nurturing environments we create.  There is a rich tradition in Judaism of imparting to future generations the values we pray will endure.  From Jacob’s dying wishes to his children, the tribes of Israel, to Moses’ charge to the Israelites as he nears his death and beyond, we recognize the power of passing on more than eye color and a certain gate in our step.  Perhaps the import of this practice is embedded deep in our own people’s story.  That first moment we stood as one people ready to accept our role as Am Yisrael holds the roots of this practice.  There is a great Midrash that brings into focus the exchange of Torah to us at Sinai: 

When God was finally ready to give the Torah to the Israelites, the heavenly court expressed concern, and God agreed.  How could we trust human beings with the Torah, they wondered.  Finally God recognized that the destiny of Torah itself, its purpose was to be a guide for all humanity.  So God invites the Israelites to offer guarantors for Torah.  We responded, “Our ancestors will serve as our guarantors.”  God responds that they will not suffice, rather bring me good guarantors.  “Our prophets will be our guarantors,” we responded.  Again, God retorted that the prophets are not sufficient either, bring me good guarantors.  We came back saying, “Indeed, our children will be our guarantors.”  The Holy One said:  Your children are good guarantors.  For their sake I give the Torah to you.”

Not only is Torah the text of the ethical will we pass from one generation to the next, but even more Torah has been entrusted to us to ensure there will always be children to inherit it, children to continue our stewardship of the Earth - our common home.  The most profound gift we pass to future generations is the Earth and it follows that we must be sure that what we hand over is in good health. 

It may sound like the beginning of a joke, but on this Rosh Hashanah, let me quote the Pope.  In his groundbreaking encyclical document, Laudato Si - On Care for our Common Home, he wrote about the common good that, “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.”  There is an undeniable link from one generation to the next in the way we live on this Earth.  It is time that we take much more seriously this responsibility.  We have received the gift of this common home, our planet, and the way we embrace and utilize the resources of it will forever be part of the ethical will we bequeath to our children’s children and beyond.  Many of us are familiar with the great story from our Talmud about Honi the Circle Maker.  The tale unfolds as Honi is walking along the road and comes across a man planting a tree.  Honi inquires of him, “What kind of tree are you planting?”  The man responds, “A Carob tree.”  Honi presses further, “How many years will pass to see this tree bear fruit.”  He answers, “Seventy years.”  Honi says, “How is it that you will live seventy years to see the fruit of this tree.”  The man responds, “I found carob trees in the world.  Just as my ancestors planted for me, I plant for my children.”  We must ask, “What are we planting for the future?”  It must be more than our eye color, the shades of our skin and male pattern baldness!

It is clear that of the most pressing issues of justice in our world today is that of Climate Justice.  The preponderance of evidence teaches us that while climate behaves with an ebb and flow, there is a drastic impact our human actions have caused that has now, for multiple generations, altered our world.  The effects are far reaching and daunting…even overwhelming.  The native of this land, the Washoe have said, “The health of the land and the health of the people are tied together, and what happens to the land also happens to the people.”  This is our challenge of today, this is the call of Torah to us in 5777 and beyond, it is to ensure the land we pass on is healthy, it is to ensure that the common home - Earth - we all inhabit can produce for all, it is about ensuring all humanity inherits a world we can all share - for humanity and the Earth are inextricably linked.

On Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, we are charged with the enormous task to understand the impacts of our own actions as individuals in the past year.  We search our deeds, our behaviors and our relationships for moments when we could have reached higher.  It is a time to reset our course in the year about to unfold.  This recalibration requires a measure of sacrifice each and every year.  Sometimes it is the challenge of seeking forgiveness and granting it.  Other times we are struggling with unhealthy behaviors that affect our own bodies and souls…therefore inflicting those who love us.  The issue of Climate Justice is not different, it demands so much of us as individuals within families, within communities and as part of the human race. 

I cannot enumerate the countless ways our consumer choices can have an affect, however small or large, on the climate challenge.  It is beyond this rabbi’s reach to explain the far-reaching impact of this crisis on the world’s poor, on the physical conditions of coastal cities and agricultural communities.  The sacrifices required of us will, dare I dream…dare I pray, become, eventually, opportunities for a better world.  However, the role of our faith is to guide, as Torah for which our children are the guarantors does, to guide us in responding with openness to what is possible.  Our belief in a greater power, be it the Divine, be it collective community, must be the role of faith in this pressing challenge.

Tim DeChristopher, a Master of Divinity student at Harvard Divinity School argues, “I am convinced that our greatest vulnerabilities to climate change are not physical conditions like low-lying cities, but rather our social divisions—classism, racism, and sexism. These divisions make us vulnerable to responding to crisis with fear and hatred rather than solidarity, with competition rather than cooperation. These are the scenarios that turn hardship to horror. This means that even as we revolutionize our energy, economic, and political systems, we must do so in a way that also dismantles classism, white supremacy, patriarchy, xenophobia, and other social evils.”

Just as when we stood at Sinai and offered our children as the guarantors for Torah, we are in such a moment when we must consider this choice again.  For our common home to endure, to continue to breath as we yearn for its clean air, water and land, we must share this responsibility beyond the borders and boundaries that divide.  In the Midrash on Leviticus we understand this reality:  Some people were sitting in a ship.  One of them took a drill and began to bore a hole in the ship under where he was sitting.  His companions said, what are you sitting and doing?  He said, what has it to do with you?  I am boring a hole under my part of the ship.  They said, but the water is coming in and sinking the ship under us all.   

Knowing that this is a shared challenge for all of humanity is the first sacrifice we must all make moving forward.  At the most basic level, what we all have in common is this planet, our Earth.  And while we only live for a blink in the eye of geologic time, our children are our guarantors.  This alone, I believe, forces us to re-examine what divides and move past these barriers.  It demands of us to seek out partners to educate us about what more we can, and must do.  It is about building relationships that become strong enough to effect change and to create the necessary policy to address climate change.  The Citizen’s Climate Lobby is a non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots advice organization focused on national policies to address such change.  It’s mission includes building upon shared values rather than divides.

This day, Rosh Hashanah, is called Yom HaRat HaOlam - The Birthday of the World.  Let us celebrate this anniversary of the world’s birth with a commitment to learn more, to care for our common human home and to build the necessary relationships to effect change. 

A member of our TBY family, Patricia Sussman, is engaged in our local chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby.  She wants us all to know that at whatever level each of us can take on, there are opportunities.  She has taught me that Citizen’s Climate Lobby, or CCL, is an international organization with local chapters, one here in the South Shore community.  Their major mission is to adopt a plan which requires Congressional support to reduce carbon emissions, creates jobs and can spark the economy by helping householders offset expenses.  Strategies like this one inspire energy conservation, investment and jobs in alternative energies - benefiting our economy and ultimately, helping to preserve the delicate balance of life on Earth.  The CCL has a solution, they have tools to help us understand and a marketing plan to influence our representatives.    

You can engage in the local chapter and inspire others by helping CCL bring about these national and international policy shifts, or even locally.  Their local efforts are in relationship with our local government:  Our public utility districts, the city council and county to implement climate friendly practices.  This includes seeing current projects and plans that are overdue towards fruition to make our community a model of stewardship and inspire those with climate conscious ideals towards leadership at this local level.

And those truly passionate and looking for even more opportunities, the CCL can help you become a champion of something in the works already or own an effort that is sidelined waiting for your leadership. 

From a small commitment to becoming a leader within CCL, we all can, and have a Jewish responsibility…a human responsibility, to ensure the world, our common human home is healthy.  In the first chapters of Genesis, we learn about the creation of the world.  At some moments, God calls the works Tov - Good, even at the conclusion, on the sixth day, God beholds the works of creation and says, Hineh Tov Meod - This is Very Good!  Let us make sure our world continues to become the “tov” - the good God calls our world at its beginning. 

This summer a student of mine researched the meaning and history of Jewish art.  In an amazingly articulate expression of what he learned, he claimed that creation is God’s work of art.  Taking it further, this work of art is the Earth we inhabit, the world for which we are stewards and the home we share with all humanity.  Its beauty is seen and felt throughout our lives, yet we are called to action.  The action of raising our common voice to protect this original work of art.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we read, “Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight, which He has made crooked?”  To this the rabbis respond in the Midrash, “When God created the first human beings, God led them around the Garden of Eden and said:  Look at my works!  See how beautiful they are - how excellent!  For your sake I created them all.  See to it that you do not spoil My world:  For if you do, there will be no one else to repair it.”

In this year, 5777, on this Rosh Hashanah, let us all commit to learn more, to care for our common human home and to build the necessary relationships to effect change, for if we don’t, there will be no one else to repair it.

Shanah Tovah U’Mitukah