Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein

Decision Trees

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. (NJPS)

See, I have set before you today the life and the good, and the death and the evil. (Artscroll)

When my daughter was diagnosed with cancer we were overwhelmed by the decisions we had to make.  Then her brilliant oncologist told us something very simple. He said we are faced with a decision tree.  Each choice we made would lead us to another decision to be made.  He was saying we didn't need to make all of the decisions at once. 

This is true of life.  We don't need to know exactly how we will respond to every one of life's challenges.  If that were the case, we would become paralyzed by the options before us.  We simply need to chose our first step and it will lead us to the next.  This verse says that getting ourselves into the habit of choosing good will lead us down a path that is life affirming; while poor choices will bring us down. A close reading of this verse reminds us to handle what is in front of us right here and now; and then see what tomorrow brings.


Selichot: Our New Normal

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Monday, September 19, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

And so it begins. The High Holidays are upon us. There is no turning back and there is no running away.  We are all returning to the synagogue.  As a colleague of mine once remarked, the clergy have done their work to have the services ready.  Have you done your work to get ready for the experience as well?  On October 3rd, will you arrive in the right mindset? Will you be prepared for an uplifting experience? 

For some, the preparation begins the entire month preceding Rosh Hashannah with the blowing of the shofar each morning at services.  For most, it occurs the week before. There is good precedent for this.  The Saturday night prior to the Rosh Hashanah we begin reciting the Selichot prayers to prepare us spiritually for the High Holidays.  These prayers introduce the sounds and themes of this season of awe.

This year we will begin our Selichot services by recalling the members of our community who have passed away.  We will pause for a moment to remember those who will not be sitting by our side at the services and in our homes.  Their seat will be empty and our joy will be diminished.  We need to take a moment to recognize how that will change our experience.  By engaging with this painful realization we give it a place and a time and we understand that this is our new normal.

I hope you will be with us for this powerful service, Saturday evening September 24th at 9:00pm 


Parents Easy Targets

Rabbi Jay M. Stein

Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 12:00:00 am

If a man has a wayward or defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother or does not obey them even after they disciplined him….. His father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town  and the public place of his community. They shall say to the elders of his town, "This son of ours is disloyal and defiant; he does not heed us.  He is glutton and a drunkard."  Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)  

This case never happened and never will. (Talmud Sanhedrin 71a)  Out Torah teaches that there are people who are out of control and warns us not to resort to extreme punishment.

Family systems are complicated.  Each of us develops patterns of behavior over the course of a lifetime that are the product of countless interactions with parents and with siblings.  For some of the responses to those exchanges we are at our best and for some we are at our worst.  All of those patterns are played out in the context of a greater society.  The lessons and modeling that occur in the home are most likely going to be transferred or replicated outside the home and vice versa.

We are all impacted by those around us, but we are all responsible for our own behavior.