Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
The Sound of a Driven Leaf
Rabbi Jay M. SteinThursday, May 18, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
The sound of a driven leaf will send them to flight. (Leviticus 26:36)
In 1939 Milton Steinberg wrote what was has become a classic of Jewish literature, As a Driven Leaf. It is a historical fiction about Elisha Ben Abuya. Elisha was considered a great scholar and head of the Sanhedrin. As Chaim Potok wrote in his introduction to the book, "the novel was more than a mere story, that is a central drama - a conflict between religious and pagan ideas, between faith and reason, between postulates of creed and science..." Essentially, it is a novel about how fragile faith is.
In this week's reading the phrase, "a driven leaf" comes to explain how easily we are frightened. When we feel vulnerable, we latch on to anything that will promise us safety and security. To which, I can't help but hear the words of FDR when he said, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." President Roosevelt was telling the American people their fear was making things worse. Instead of fear mongering, he was trying to set the mind of his people at ease. He goes on to say, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
We live in dangerous times. With military attacks threatening, cyber attacks being executed we have reason to fear. Yet, we have survived in the past. We will survive again. The solution lies not in giving up hope but in reaffirming it.
Sometimes We Must
Rabbi Jay M. SteinThursday, May 11, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
Rabbi Akiba explained, "must defile himself" - the priest is not merely permitted but required to take part in the funeral rites for the relatives mentioned. And so the law was decided. (Sotah 3b)
When I began working there were often tasks I disliked doing. Whether I was a busboy, a paperboy, a stock boy, a waiter etc, there were always things that I preferred not to do and wished someone else would do them. When I was an assistant rabbi, there were classes, services or visits that I evaded. However, one of the presidents of a past congregation in which I served once said to me, “Cowboy Up!" Which meant sometimes you just have to do it. Since that day, I understood some things cannot be avoided and I have tried to embrace the responsibilities even if, initially, I wanted to escape them.
The rabbis, in discussing the responsibilities of the priest with regards to burial of a loved one, teach us this very lesson. Rabbi Ishmael says that a priest can be involved with burial when it relates to his relatives despite the prohibition against a priest coming into contact with the dead. Rabbi Akiba comments it is not permission that is granted, but rather, it is an obligation.
I imagine there are many things in our lives we would like to avoid. But once we have done them, we feel better for having been involved. Today, there are many excuses for not attending a life cycle event. Before we opt out of anything, we might consider how we might feel afterwards.
You are Half Way There
Rabbi Jay M. SteinSunday, May 7, 2017 at 12:00:00 am
And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you. Leviticus 16:29
The weather has turned warm and the commercials for bathing suit season are in full swing. One commercial for the summer has us ask ourselves if we are willing to show our bodies on the beach. If not, we should enroll is a gym and get ourselves ready for showing more skin. There is still time to get in shape.
Some of us will embark upon a rigorous workout regime. Others, weekend warriors, will pull muscles or, at the least, feel extremely sore. Had we decided months ago to get ready, the process would have been easier. But some of us procrastinate and are forced to make up for lost time.
We are just under six months away from Rosh Hashannah; just a little over six months away from Yom Kippur. Half the year is already gone, but don't panic. We still have a few important holidays to celebrate before the High Holidays. Now is a good time to ask ourselves how we are doing on our last New Year's resolutions. Do you even remember those things on which you decided you would focus?
This week's reading tells us not to give up on last year's resolutions but rather begin to ready ourselves for the coming high Holidays. If we want this year's High Holidays to be meaningful, we should begin now to plan by taking stock of what we want to accomplish this year. We are half way there. There is plenty of time to make good on promises made, be they promises to family and friends; promises to ourselves and/or promises to God. Let's arrive at the High Holidays confident that we have worked hard to accomplish great things, be they achievements large or small.