Thursday, August 29, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 30, 2013

This Elul stuff is pretty hard.  Finding the right way, or at least the right way for right now, to engage in this deep introspection keeps leading me down paths that are not my own.  What I mean is that I consider an action, a word shared, an action not done that should have been done and its almost always in comparison to others.  How do I, how does one, only reflect on him or herself?  The spiritual curriculum of taking an accounting of our soul must be authentic to oneself.  It must be the unique checklist for the person you want to, not better:  can be or become. 

Yet, I am not sure what the place is for reflection through the lens of the lives of others.  There must be a communal component. 

May this final Shabbat, the final day before Slichot bring us closer to that fine balance between reflecting ourselves against our best selves and the exemplary parts of others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Evon

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 28, 2013

As Caleb, my almost 13 month old son, becomes more and more mobile, faster and faster from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, Rachel and I have implemented our own language to coordinate.  We call it a ‘reset’.  It is that moment one he’s playing, we are both keeping a watchful eye, but also partially engaged in something else.  One will say to the other, can you do a ‘reset’?  And one of us will dutifully and lovingly pick Caleb up and move him to a safer location, just so he can head back in the same direction he intended.  It frees us up for a brief moment to accomplish whatever task was at hand. 

This time of year, approaching a New Year, I am constantly thinking about this notion of ‘reset’.  The idea that the slate of deeds, actions and words can begin again.  Yet, I know that we cannot fully reset the time and wash completely away all of those experiences of the past year.  We can only improve the quality of our ‘reset’ from year to year if each year is full of better, more positive and healthier deeds, actions and words.  For then, the reset is to a higher level each year.

Set your intention today to not just wait for the holy days to ‘reset’, but to make each day an improvement on yesterday.

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon

Monday, August 26, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 27, 2013

The challenge of teshuvah (true repentance and turning) for me is mostly, I think, in being able to only look inward.  So much of our lives are spent looking at the world, which can serve as a mirror.  We see how others react to us and we recognize something needs to change, or just a tweak.  Either our choice of words, our demeanor, or whatever.  But this inevitably, at least for me, leads down the path of judgment.  Assessing my own behaviors and decisions using the actions of others a yardstick is "judgmental".  This cannot be true teshuvah.  Perhaps, that is where our rich tradition of guiding our ways comes into play, yet it is my distraction.  I know that to not only find the best self moving into the new year, but also to truly raise my life to a higher level, I must also be authentic to only using myself as the yardstick.

It is hard to know what I can be, for I have not yet been.  This discovery is the power of teshuvah.  This is the power of this season in our Jewish tradition.

May your day be one during which you discover just a bit (or hopefully a lot) of your best self!

Rabbi Evon

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 25, 2013

Shavua tov!  As Shabbat departs and we extinguish the havdalah candle we enter into a kind of darkness.  It is the sadness that Shabbat has ended, it is the physical darkness of night and the awareness that our sense of a day different has departed.  I cannot help but include in these feelings the reality that all of us in the Carson Valley, Tahoe Basin and Reno are engulfed in smoke, a thick grayness that limits not just our visibility but affects our breathing and mood, for sure.  It is with these ideas in mind that I consider the connection to Fall and this season.  Elul eases into the High Holy Days over a month.  The High Holy Days lead us into the darker time of the year.  As the days get shorter, we not only say goodbye to the long days of summer light, but also to the past year.  I wonder how the spiritual work of Elul, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are aided by this weaning from long hours of light.

Shavua Tov - To a Great Week,

Rabbi Evon

Friday, August 23, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 24, 2013

Not so long ago, I joined with some good friends and community members for something we called ‘BBB’, Bikes, Baristas & Bible.  We enjoyed a leisurely pedal in North Phoenix, enjoyed coffee at a local favorite - Press, and explored the week’s Torah portion.  It was a great way for me to prep a d’var torah (even though I should have been finalizing it by then) and move into Shabbat.  One of the great take aways from that time in my life and our many conversations on the importance of Shabbat was about work ethic.  My dear friends, and fellow cyclists, Jason Kaller, Dave Taylor and I spent much time discussing how to make Shabbat meaningful in a modern way.  We were attempting to find a path towards וינפש (Vayinafash - refreshment and renewal), but in a way that reflected our understanding of our authentic Judaism.

One conclusion we came to was that the rest, the specialness of Shabbat, is only meaningful if we work our tails off the other six days.  The contrast of Shabbat from the rest of the week is to what we should aim.  To truly set it apart, we must find that difference.  Often it comes not just in distinguishing between work and no work, but in the kind of effort(s), the intention behind the output of energies and how they become value added to our lives.

On this final Shabbat before Slichot, the first time we hear the High Holy Day melodies, how can you distinguish Shabbat from the rest of the week?  How, in an authentic way to who you are, can you discover, or continue to discover, וינפש (Vayinafash - refreshment and renewal)?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Evon
Engaging w/ Elul August 23, 2013

Preparing for Shabbat is an opportunity.  It is the chance to ready oneself for a day apart, a day different.  Tonight we enter the second to last Shabbat of 5773.  We prepare for that final full week of the month of Elul.  As we do this spiritual preparation for the year ahead, how will your hopes, your dreams and your potential be echoed and realized in the coming year?  Make that your question for this Shabbat.  Ponder it.  Use the sanctity, the palace in time (phrase belonging to Abraham Joshua Heschel) to commit yourself to what matters in the year that is just ten days away.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Evon

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 22, 2013

An immoral society betrays humanity because it betrays the basis for humanity, which is memory. An immoral society deals with memory as some politicians deal with politics. A moral society is committed to memory: I believe in memory. The Greek word althea means Truth, things that cannot be forgotten. I believe in those things that cannot be forgotten and because of that, so much in my work deals with memory... What do all my books have in common? A commitment to memory.
"Building a Moral Society", Chamberlin Lecture at Lewis & Clark College (1995)
– Elie Wiesel

This season of awe and repentance urges us to understand memory.  It forces us to use this tool to look back at the past year and recall, what we are able to, to be honest with those memories.  It can be challenging, especially for hard or difficult memories.  Yet, it is necessary work, for we cannot become closer to our potential if we do not engage in memory, even the painful ones. 

I often refer to Jewish history as memory.  Yes, we have a great textual tradition that reminds us the path our people has taken.  We have an amazing tradition of telling stories and passing on traditions.  Yet, once it becomes passed from one generation to the next, told from one to another, isn’t it memory and no longer history?

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 21, 2013

In a Wilderness First Responder course, I was taught that experience is not equal to wisdom, but experience plus reflection is.  Having just celebrated 30 great years of Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe, I recognize that the wisdom of this community I am blessed to work with comes with many varied Jewish experiences and much reflection.  They have always taken the time to be proud, so proud, of the way(s) they have continued to bring Judaism to life in South Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley.  Not only do they live the Jewish year, teach their children and expose the wider community to Judaism, but they have always been proud of their Judaism too, their Jewish identity.  The vibrancy of Jewish life on the south shore of Tahoe is something real.  I am so impressed with their thirty year history of pairing experience and reflection to ensure a healthy, modern and relevant Judaism for 2013.

During the month of Elul, it is incumbent upon us to do the same.  This is our time to add reflection to our experiences of the past year.  This ensures we enter 5774 just a bit wiser, more seasoned, than this time last year.

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon
Engaging w/ Elul August 20, 2013

From time immemorial, people have talked about peace without achieving it. Do we simply lack enough experience? Though we talk peace, we wage war. Sometimes we even wage war in the name of peace… War may be too much a part of history to be eliminated—ever. The Watchtower, April 15, 1991; Is World Peace on the Horizon?
– Elie Wiesel 

Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other.
– Elie Wiesel

This is truly what it means to be a prophetic voice in our world today.  The sense of responsibility to and for one another is knowing that peace also comes from the Hebrew word for wholeness - shleimut.  It is seeking to be whole as humanity, binding ourselves together rather than pulling apart that we find peace, that we see the potential to be the better world we all want.

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon
Engaging w/ Elul August 19, 2013

The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible. "The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement" (1972); later included in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity (1996)
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The notion that ALL are responsible is key.  With out a collective sense of being “there” for each other is what it truly means to be free. 

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon
Engaging w/ Elul August 18, 2013

From the writings of Martin Buber:

Solitude is the place of purification… One cannot in the nature of things expect a little tree that has been turned into a club to put forth leaves. (From Paths in Utopia)… The law is not thrust upon man; it rests deep within him, to waken when the call comes… The ones who count are those persons who— though they may be of little renown— respond to and are responsible for the continuation of the living spirit… The perfection of any matter, the highest or the lowest, touches on the divine… The prophet is appointed to oppose the king, and even more: history.

It becomes our responsibility, in the age when prophecy has ceased, to be that voice.  We must feel a sense of being appointed to oppose when needed.  We must all feel responsible for the continuation of the living spirit.

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon
Engaging w/ Elul August 17, 2013

It seemed as impossible to conceive of Auschwitz with God as to conceive of Auschwitz without God. Therefore, everything had to be reassessed because everything had changed. With one stroke, mankind's achievements seemed to have been erased. Was Auschwitz a consequence or an aberration of "civilization"? All we know is that Auschwitz called that civilization into question as it called into question everything that had preceded Auschwitz. Scientific abstraction, social and economic contention, nationalism, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, racism, mass hysteria. All found their ultimate expression in Auschwitz….For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered.

– Elie Wiesel
Engaging w/ Elul August 16, 2013

What does it mean to repent?
  To make inward acknowledgement of my sin,
 to be truly heartbroken over my sin
, to be deeply ashamed of my sin, 
to make open confession of my sin
, to make full restitution for my sin
, to seek reconciliation with others for my sin
, to resolve firmly not to duplicate sin
, to ask Divine aid in avoiding such duplication, 
to beg God's forgiveness for my sin, 
to find the burden of my sin now removed, 
to know the comfort of God's pardon and the sweetness of atonement
, to be tempted to repeat the same sin, but overcome with God’s help such repetition, 
to find it more difficult now to sin than not to sin
– Rabbi Herschel Matt, Walking Humbly with God.

~Rabbi Evon
Engaging w/ Elul August 15, 2013

What is complete repentance? [It is achieved by] a person who has the opportunity to repeat a past offense, and is able to commit it, but nevertheless refrains from doing so because of penitence, and not out of fear or failure of vigor.… If however, a person only repented in old age, at a time when he is no longer capable of doing what he had done—although this is not an elevated mode of repentance, it nevertheless avails him, and he is accepted as a penitent. 
– Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Repentance

~Rabbi Evon

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 14, 2013

From the writings of Martin Buber:

Next to being the children of God, our greatest privilege is being the brothers of each other. … A person cannot approach the divine by reaching beyond the human. To become human, is what this individual person, has been created for. … All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

This season of Elul, of preparing for the Days of Awe, charges us to dig deep.  We must look so far into ourselves and mine the character we have developed for the best self within.  Discovery, and knowing our role(s) in life is part of that process.  Yet, how can one truly know our individual ‘purpose’ or mission in living?  While, in the words of Buber, we may not know the destination, the journey reveals sparks, moments that are illuminated with a sense of purpose.  I can say with certainty that part of that journey, part of my purpose, has become, or always was just unrealized, is being a father.  In my professional work as a rabbi I am often hesitant to consider it a ‘calling’, yet I am certainly called to my life as a father.  Reaching the first year of my son’s life has been truly a journey with secret destinations of which I am unaware.  But, the oases along the way have been amazing, continue to inspire and only leave me yearning for more as I hold tight to the present. 

As we engage in the month of Elul, our preparation, let being in relationship with one another, family, friend or community, be a privilege.  And may each of us find secret and yet amazing destinations on that journey of reaching to one another.

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon

Monday, August 12, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 13, 2013

From the writings of Martin Buber
The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its being… There are three principles in a man's being and life, the principle of thought, the principle of speech, and the principle of action. The origin of all conflict between me and my fellow-men is that I do not say what I mean and I don't do what I say… We can learn to be whole by saying what we mean and doing what we say… We cannot avoid using power, cannot escape the compulsion to afflict the world so let us, cautious in diction and mighty in contradiction, love powerfully… When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them… Success is not one of the names of God… Without distance there is no dialogue between the two.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 12, 2013

As we near the first week mark of Elul, I am beginning to consider Teshuvah - repentance more deeply.  I am struck each year pondering the work actually required to change oneself intentionally.  I mean, I know that I am always changing, but to engage in a process of introspection and reflection to change oneself for the better is different.  It is the unique work of character development.  Our Jewish tradition is explicit that it is only certain kinds of behaviors that actually bring about this kind of change.  We learn in the book of Jonah, read on Yom Kippur, just this idea.  “It is not said [in the book of Jonah] of the people of Nineveh, “And God saw their sackcloth and their fasting” but “And God saw their actions, that they turned [repented] away from their evil way.” (Ta’anit 2:1)  True change comes when we engage wholly in becoming, for the people of Nineveh had turned away from their ways.

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 11, 2013

I often wonder whether we choose to believe or it is something that comes to us.  In other words, is faith an active choice or is it our human response, of sorts, to our human experience.  In this month of Elul, as we engage in the preparation for the High Holy Days, our choices, and certainly those about faith, are at the fore of our minds.  

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, "Faith is not a thing that comes into being out of nothing. It originates in an event. In the spiritual vacancy of life something may suddenly occur that is like the lifting of a veil at the horizon of knowledge. A simple episode may open sight of the eternal. A shift of conceptions, boisterous like a tempest or soft as a breeze, may swerve a mind for an instant or forever. For God is not wholly silent and man is not always deaf. God's willingness to call men to His service and man's responsiveness to the divine indications in things and events are for faith what sun and soil are for the plant." (The Holy Dimension p. 333)

If faith is a response, a growth, how can one ensure it's health?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 10, 2013

On this first Shabbat of Elul, my mind turns to the purpose of this day not just as rest in the week, but the collection of Shabbatot throughout the year.  What is their purpose?  In stringing together the experiences of Shabbatot over a year, what do they, or can they become?  The time committed to the various parts of lives must add up to something.  I often consider what my Shabbatot add to?  What is their sum?  Is it greater than the sum of the parts?  

Abraham Joshua Heschel taught, "The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world." (The Sabbath)

Heschel writes and teaches us that on Shabbat our Jewish tradition urges us to contemplate the creation of the world rather than engage in it, or rather than engaging in our weekday creative acts.  While, just at that moment, the instant we pause from the hustle, the daily rigamarole, we begin to engage in creative acts of a wholly different kind.  It is the creation of our best selves.  When we insert activities, thoughts and studies (and countless other meaningful Shabbat endeavors) into Shabbat as, perhaps, an escape it allows us to become different as we experience a day different.  Shabbat allows us to engage in the very best kind of creation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Evon

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 9, 2013

When I think about authenticity, and particularly my authentic Judaism I have to ask myself the question, “To what end?”  Why carry on this tradition?  The beauty of Judaism is often revealed to me when the interplay of words shared in relationship, in debate and study, sings praise to the mystery of our universe - to God; it is when the “Ah - ha” moment occurs.  That is one reason to continue the beauty of our Judaism to future generations, to link ourselves in that conversation with generations past and to ensure we have more to link to in the future.  Franz Rosenzweig once wrote to Martin Buber, “For a word does not remain its speaker’s possession; he to whom it is addressed, he who hears it, or acquires it by chance—they all get a share of it; the word’s fate, while in their possession, it is more fateful than what its original speaker experienced when first uttering it.” (On Jewish Learning, Franz Rosenzweig, ed. By Nahum Glatzer.  p. 73

When we allow our dialogues, our relationships to take on lives of their own and evolve, that is when true learning takes place.  The authenticity comes into the picture in permitting this to occur.  The challenge is being open to the true, honest and authentic dialogue that gives us room to grow and become the people we can.

"Power and Love" (1926) Martin Buber
We cannot avoid

Using power,

Cannot escape the compulsion

To afflict the world,

So let us, cautious in diction

And mighty in contradiction,

Love powerfully.
The real struggle is not between East and West,
or capitalism and communism, but between education
and propaganda.
As quoted in Encounter with Martin Buber (1972) by Aubrey Hodes, p. 135

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Engaging w/ Elul August 8, 2013

An anonymous poem reads:

I sought my God, my God I could not see.
I sought my soul, my soul eluded me.
I sought my fellow man and I found all three.

The authenticity of self is often tested in relationships.  There is a spotlight on who I am when I engage in relating to others.  I know that I have the opportunity in every interaction with others to learn; I learn about the other and myself.  I find that my relationships often serve as a mirror, a reflection, of my own navigation of the world.  When others respond -  how others respond - I can examine the way my own soul is guiding me in word and deed.  This reaches even deeper, often, when I discover the best of myself working to overcome futile search for answers, rushing to judgment and other shortcomings.

Relationships, though, take a great deal of work.  I find that spending time each day reflecting on as many interactions as I can recall aids this searching.  Anne Frank taught me this when she wrote, “How noble and good everyone could be if, every evening before falling asleep, they were to recall to their minds the events of the whole day and consider exactly what had been good and bad. Then, without realizing it, you try to improve yourself at the start of each new day. Of course, you achieve quite a lot in the course of time. Anyone can do this. It costs nothing and is certainly very helpful. Whoever doesn’t know it must learn and find by experience that: 'A quiet conscience makes one strong.'’”

The interplay between the quiet conscience, the time for oneself and the reaching out to the world the searching for our fellow human beings is life.

For what are you searching this Elul?  What have you found in years past?  How does your search lead you back to your own authentic expressions of self?

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon
Chodesh Tov - A Great Month!

Today begins the Hebrew month of Elul.  It is the beginning of our High Holy Day Season as we launch into the preparation for a new year.  The Jewish tradition has evolved this tradition to use this time to consider how we will approach a new year.  How will the “reset” of 5774 be meaningful for me?  That is the essential question.  While we know there really are no total clean slates, that memories endure and we grow, sometimes in ways we do not want to, from all of our experiences, there is a sense of cleansing that the Yamim Noraim can provide.  However, it is up to us to engage with this season.  Over the next month, it is my intention to spark a journey for each of us.  I will share a thought, a text or an activity for our engagement.  I hope to bring about discussion, to engender a meaningful beginning to the new year.  Please share your own ideas, texts, thoughts and feedback of any kind and may this journey of engaging with Elul provide all of us a meaningful “reset” for 5774!

Engaging w/ Elul August 7, 2013

I am struck by the connection that our tradition provides between the beginning of Elul and the Torah portion.  We read from the book of Deuteronomy, parashat Shoftim.  Each year when I notice this, I am drawn to a teaching I once heard at a Shabbat lunch table.  I was enjoying a traditional Shabbes lunch with my mother and her neighbor, an orthodox rabbi.  As we learned the portion over our meal, our host, Rabbi Schneor Greenberg, taught me (us) that the shoftim and shotrim (judges and officials - Deut. 16:18) that we are to place at the entrance of our settlements, can be so much more.  Rather than just the physical, or geographic, settlements we inhabit needing judges and officials, we can also understand this as the filters to cover the entrances to our selves, our bodies.  To place "judges" and "officials" to be mindful of what we take into our bodies and especially the words we speak and the behaviors we carry out.  He taught this in the name of Rav DovBer Pinson, a leading Kabbalah teacher of our own age.  Pinson writes that, “Imagery and sound, smell, sensation and taste are closely connected with the way we experience and interact with life, these impressions can either assist us in getting closer to our purpose, or, alternately, create a distance from our authentic self.” (source)  So, as we launch in Elul, as we engage with this preparation, what is that authentic self we yearn for?  What is our authentic approach to our Judaism?

My authentic Judaism is one that honors both my emotions and my intellect.  It is one that invites me to find meaning, even if it is a temporary suspension of rational thinking, in great Torah stories, prayer and ritual, yet always allows space for the reality that is my authentic self.  In thinking about what is just a month away, the High Holy Days, I am confronted with the liturgy of this season.  The text that we hear chanted, recite, read and consider generates an image of the Divine to which I cannot ascribe with my authentic self.  For almost every human experience I have enjoyed teaches me that God does not act in my world.  But, God is what draws me to be with the Jewish people at this season.  God is the authentic me, it is what makes me, me.  God is the ever changing reality that is our created world - the world we inherited simply by being human.  So, when I ask myself what is my authentic Judaism, it is one that gives me a treasure trove of tradition to help me express and articulate this season with action and with prayer.  It is also a Judaism that welcomes women as its leaders and scholars, is open to the non-Jewish family member and is slow to criticize the individual’s choice about his or her authentic Judaism.   

Make Today a Great Day,

Rabbi Evon