Noach 5779 : “The Essence of a Seed” by Shiri Redensky
Bereisheet 5779 – A Second Look
Whenever I am channel surfing and the Godfather, 16 Candles or The Shawshank Redemption is on the TV, I stop and watch the movie from wherever I caught it. I have seen these movies collectively over a thousand times, at least, without exaggeration. I can quote to you every single line from all three at any place or time. I know the plot, the conflict and the ending of each movie, yet I still watch them over and over again. Many times, I notice something I missed before or see something from a new perspective that offers a new ray of light on the plot, character and/or moral of the story.
This Shabbat we start the Torah reading over from The Beginning – Genesis. Like these movies, (but on a different scale) I have read this book before. I know the plot, the conflict and the ending yet, every year I am magnetically pulled towards the texts and stories and characters and each New Year shines a light on the prism of our rich Torah and its many layers that offers us evergreen lessons and teachings.
I invite you to join us this year looking at the Torah through a new lens. E-mail me questions that arise or conclusions you have made that the light of 5779 offers. I am eager to continue to unpack the richness of our history and shared future.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Be Happy – Chol HaMoed Sukkot & Simchat Torah 5779
As soon as the afternoon prayer for Yom Kippur concludes, the atmosphere in synagogue usually changes from somber and reflective to hopeful and jubilant. Many communities even dance for the concluding Neilah prayers. The closing blasts of the Shofar accompanied with ‘Next Year in Jerusalem’ chants, are representative of the theme of hope and happiness to come.
Five short days after Yom Kippur we welcome the holiday of Sukkot. It is referred to in the liturgy as a time of our happiness. We conclude the holiday with a festival celebarting water and harvest (Shmini Atzeret) and the conclusion of the cycle of the Torah where we dance and sing and rejoice. The days post Yom Kippur are all about joy and happiness and festivity.
I do not think it is a coincidence that happiness and joy are the themes of the holidays that come on the heels of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I think the Sages of old were trying to tell us that in order to fulfill our personal goals for the year to come, we must orient ourselves towards happiness. A jubilant posture will help ensure that we see mundane acts as miraculous moments. Happiness helps us to focus on the big picture and not to sweat small stuff. Joy guides us towards meeting and exceeding goals by keeping what the Rabbis called, a cheerful disposition.
By aiming to be happy, especially when we reach the starting line of the New Year, we increase our chances to exceed our goals and ensure that our achievements are recognized by those we hope to better.
So, join us this holiday to continue our pursuit of happiness.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
Stay, Just a Little Bit Longer | Rabbi Paul Kerbel
While preparing for Yom Kippur the other day, I played some music videos on my computer screen. Listening to music inspires me and helps me write. After I played a video that someone sent me, the next song that appeared on my Facebook feed that automatically followed was Jackson Browne’s famous ballad, ‘Stay”, one of the most popular songs of the late 1970’s: “Oh won’t you stay…just a little bit longer, please please please, say you will.”
How appropriate for these four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot and then again, the days following Sukkot through Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. For those who observe these holidays traditionally, there is some groaning. Why so many holy days and holidays in a row? Couldn’t God and the Rabbis negotiated a deal to spread them out? Our next Hebrew month, Heshvan, does not have any Jewish holidays! So many vacation days taken, so much time away from work, so many interruptions, it’s hard to be an observant Jew!
But like Jackson Browne’s song, God has a special interest in hugging these holy days so close together. You see, if we meant what we said on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and truly wish to change our ways and grow and develop as human beings, what better way to stay on the path of teshuvah, of return and repentance, than to celebrate the holiday of Sukkot by transforming our day of fasting into a holiday of happiness and rejoicing where we celebrate life and joy and have a few extra days of prayer and celebration to solidify our path to goodness and wholeness.
As we celebrate Shabbat this week and read the last chapters of the Torah read on Shabbat morning (the parasha ‘V’zot HaBracha’ is only read on Simchat Torah) we read a poem or song of Moses as his final tribute and ethical will to the people of Israel. Moses began his journey out of Egypt with the “Song of the Sea” and now concludes his life journey with the poem/song/words of this parasha: “Take to heart all of the words I charge you this day.”
The remainder of our Fall holy day season is all about singing and rejoicing, celebrating the beauty of Fall, the completion of the Summer harvests of beautiful and delicious fruit and vegetables and praising God for the many blessings we have in life and so often overlook. So join us on Sukkot as we pray and eat in our Sukkah, shake the lulav and Etrog, and celebrate life and joy. The Hallel prayers emphasize: “ these are the days that God has made for us, let us rejoice and be glad on them.” Or as Jackson Browne urges us: “Please stay, just a little bit longer.”
Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach!
Rabbi Paul Kerbel
Yom Kippur 5779
There is a Jewish custom at funerals for loved ones to ask for Mechila, which is the Hebrew word for forgiveness, from the deceased. There is no prescription for the words that are uttered but, most people who follow this custom say something along the lines of, “I ask for your forgiveness for the things I have done and/or said to you that caused you harm. I ask for this forgiveness for the things I know of and did not know of.”
I am not a fan of this custom and rarely practice it with family’s who have suffered a loss. The reason is because this request goes unanswered since we ask it of the dead. The idea behind this custom is that forgiveness must be granted since the deceased cannot respond.
While it is true that asking a dead person for forgiveness might orient us towards repentance and this formula certainly works for those that left us suddenly and without notice, it does not seem to cut the mustard for people we were in relationship with. In fact, it can feel like a cheap, cover-all way of apologizing instead of seeking true forgiveness and making amends while loved ones are alive.
The purpose of Yom Kippur is to not only fast but to restart our year understanding and appreciating the fragility of life, as if we are born again. We are reminded in the Unetaneh Toqef, that each day is a gift and we should live each day as if it were our last: to be free of regrets and to live each day saying, ‘I am sorry’ and ‘I love you,’ where and when applicable. If we do not, then we missed the calling of the Hazzan’s prayer that remind us of this important juncture and missed the opportunity to free ourselves of the heavy weight of regret, guilt and unforgiven sins.
Electronic mail is far from the ideal format for me to seek your forgiveness for the misdeeds I did as your rabbi this year and beyond but, it is the most efficient. Thank you for allowing me to use this vehicle of communicating for this occasion. I am sorry for those I have hurt this year knowingly and unknowingly. Perhaps I did not catch the urgency in your tone. Maybe I was flippant when you needed me to focus. I could have tried to be funny when you were looking for serious and constructive help. This list can go on. For these wrongs and more, I sincerely ask for your forgiveness and hope to be granted another chance to right those wrongs with each of you.
Further, I encourage all of us to aim to seek forgiveness and posture ourselves towards repentance by going to those we live with and are in relationship with and fulfill the challenging task of seeking forgiveness and granting atonement.
At the end of our days and the days of our loved ones, we should be able to stand over their final resting place without wishes that we said we were sorry while they were alive, free from regrets of not making amends. Rather, we should stand in contentment for having worked through challenges while alive and bringing our relationship to a higher level. Let us all orient ourselves toward that goal.
I wish you a meaningful fast and a good final inscription in the Book of Life.
G’Mar Hatima Tova
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner