Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Yes, We are All Human

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

"I was afraid because I was naked." Genesis (3:10)

Adam utters this statement as soon as he discovers that he is naked (his punishment for eating of the forbidden tree).  It is in that moment, when he recognizes he was wrong and there was no undoing what he had done, that he feels most exposed.  By making a mistake he comes to realize he is human.

The message is simple and the lesson is profound.  The message is, we are human.  When stripped of all pretense and bravado, we recognize that we make mistakes.  When we make mistakes we are exposed; we are ashamed;  but it will not kill us. Certainly, Adam will now have to work harder to benefit from this world, but it does not kill him.  In many ways he grows to appreciate the world around him even more. 

One of the earliest lessons in the Torah is that as humans we make mistakes. How we react is important. We realize that mistakes are damaging. Sometimes they can be fixed and other times they alter the trajectory of our lives.  No matter, we can move on and we can move forward. We should not feel defined by our errors.  We must wake the next day as Adam did, get dressed and go out into the world.



People are More Valuable than Things

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, October 19, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

The holiday of Sukkot teaches us how to live while not knowing what will happen next. The holiday of Sukkot prepares us for the unknown and when we practice living this way, our response changes. Sukkot teaches us to practice being vulnerable so, if and when it actually happens, we will be prepared.

One of the great customs of Sukkot is Ushpizin. In this custom, we invite people from our ancient past to join us in the Sukkah. Simply by just being there, these individuals enhance our celebration. Sometimes we make investments in people and some of those investments yield unexpected or sometimes expected disappointments, while others exceed our expectations. 

There are people to whom we give so much and yet we find ourselves unsatisfied with the result, while there are those with whom we are pleasantly surprised by the way they have enhanced our lives. There will always be people who let us down, however, people are worth the investment.

When we place these two rituals side by side it is clear what our tradition is teaching us. It is explaining we ought to hold onto each other more than any material object.


Look How Far We've Come

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, October 13, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

Remember the days of old, consider the years of ages past; ask your father, he will inform you. Your elders, they will tell you. (Deuteronomy 32:7)

With Moses as the presumed speaker, the first reference would be to the patriarchal days (Sifre Deuteronomy 310); in the later, the early days of nationhood might be evoked.  In either case, the phrase testifies to history as a predominantly oral tradition.  (The Torah: A Modern Commentary page 1556)

Often, when I spend time with people after the loss of a loved one, members of the family almost always begin the process of trying to reconstruct the past.  “Mom met dad at the movies, no, maybe it was a party.”  It is as if the minute people are gone we must make an even stronger effort to get the historical record correct.  Some are more diligent in the effort than others.  Before a patriarch or matriarch departs, families video tape them telling stories of their childhood.  The stories are fascinating. Brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, spouses spend hours telling and retelling those stories.  The tales bring comfort; they bring connection; they bring inspiration.

Moses, as he is about to die says, “look how far we have come.”   As the Midrash suggests, he may be saying to the people, “You come from great stock. Look who our ancestor were.” However, Moses may not be referencing such a distant past, but rather speaking of their beginnings together.  “Remember how we met? Remember the golden calf? Remember the parting of the sea?  Remember me hitting the rock? Remember the revelation at Sinai? Remember the tabernacle we built together?  Boy, we have made some blunders; and boy, we have achieved great things.”

The exercise of reviewing the past connects us to the past but it also grounds us in the present. Remembering the past helps us find comfort and it inspires us to move forward.  As we start a new year, may all of our memories be uplifting.