Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Benefit of the Doubt

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Sunday, March 26, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

The family that prepared the incense for the Temple services would never let their relatives wear perfume, lest some people suspect them of using Temple incense for their own personal benefit. (Etz Hayim p. 564)

With good reason, we live in cynical times. We wonder about our leaders no matter on which side of the aisle we lean, no matter which religion or denomination we belong.  We are concerned about what they 'really' want to accomplish.  Do they have our best interest in mind or are they beholding to some others? At least, we hope their goals are the same even if their methodology for achieving those goals are different. However, I am not sure of that.

In our lifetimes, unfortunately, or leaders in both the political and religious realms have given us pause to question their motivations and their desired outcomes.  We have seen criminal behavior and we have witnessed questionable moral judgment.  Rightfully, we have become angry and disillusioned and we begin to question anyone who seeks to serve in a leadership position.

The Torah places the responsibility squarely on the leader to be beyond reproach.  If that would only be possibly.  However, the lesson is still relevant. Just because we have been disappointed doesn't mean we should lower our standard.  We must continue to demand that our leadership fulfill their responsibility to serve the common good.           


Lasting Effects

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin.”  And the Lord struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made. (Exodus 32:33-35)

One key concept in logic is “post hoc ergo prompter hoc” which means“just because something follows an event doesn’t mean that event caused it.”  We often believe that two events that occur in close proximity with each other have a causal relationship.  But that is not always the case. That is why the Torah makes it clear.  Sin according to our tradition leads to punishment.

Today, we no longer believe that is obvious.  We prefer to believe that our actions have little consequence. Yet, the Torah reminds us that what we do, is a causal act.  Maybe it is obvious or perhaps we don’t even recognize it, but our behavior does affect others.  When we pollute our environment, there are negative outcomes.  When we treat the people in our lives poorly, there are often terrible lasting scars.

The same is true of positive interactions.  This week let’s become more cognizant of the potential impact of our actions.


Now and Forever

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Sunday, March 12, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

"It shall be for Aaron and his sons as their portion forever from the sons of Israel, for it is a heave offering; and it shall be a heave offering from the sons of Israel from the sacrifices of their peace offerings, even their heave offering to the LORD." (Exodus 29:28)

I wish I could predict the future. Short of that, I know that relationships often begin with great passion and grandiose intentions.  When we start a project, we sometimes think this is going to be the most creative ever.  When we get a new job, we hope it will be the best job ever.  When we enter into a new relationship we sometimes feel "this is the one."   Sometimes is actually is.  Sometimes it is not.

When the Jewish people began the project of assembling the Tabernacle and initiated the practice of the priesthood and sacrifice, there was tremendous enthusiasm.  They believed it would last forever or at least they imagined it would.  However, we know it did not.  The Temples were destroyed and the sacrifice was transformed into another form of worship.  That is not necessarily something to lament.  Maybe it is simply a natural progression, an inevitable evolution.

What is important is a commitment to keep our relationship with God alive, not to keep it the same. This week's parasha envisions a future in which we continue to be in relationship with the Divine even if it has morphed into something new. Might that be true of the relationships in our lives as well?