Message for the Week from Rabbi Stein
Look How Far We've Come
Rabbi Jay M. SteinThursday, 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.
Rabbi Jay M. SteinWednesday, 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. SteinMonday, 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