Friday, October 31, 2014

Lech Lecha Text message

Parashat Lech lecha (Go for yourself)

Abraham was skeptical. He didn't know how he was going to become a big nation as G-d promised.
G-d answers:  "Look now toward heaven, and number the stars, if thou be able to number them so shall thy seed be."
Whenever I think of a picture or a drawing of Abraham, I have that image, Abraham looking up at the stars.
And, to be honest, I think there is a deeper message in that image. Whenever you are skeptical, whenever you do not have answers, look up.
Psalm 121: I will lift up mine eyes unto the mountains: From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from Hashem, Who made heaven and earth.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Friday, October 24, 2014

Parashat Noach Text message

Parashat Noach

This section starts with the words "Ele Toldot Noach".  Geneis 6:9 "These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations..."
The beginning of the verse sounds familiar to us... Later in Genesis, in parashat Toldot (descendants), we find: "Ve ele Toldot Itzchak"(25:15)  "And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac."
These are the descendants of Noach and these are the descendants of Isaac...
So, why isn't it the section we find later called Isaac instead of Toldot? If the first one was called Noach, the second one should follow the same criteria and be called Isaac, right?
The descendants of Noach that matter are Noach himself... The descendants of Isaac that matter are all of us.
When we work not just for today but for the future, when we think of the future generations and not just of us, we are giving a clear message and great example to others.

In memory of my beloved mother and teacher Miriam Rachel bat Israel Itzchak Z"L

Yizkor. In memory of my mother Z"L

In memory of my mother Z"L
I'd like to start this time of Yizkor sharing with you a very short explanation about a custom. In our traditions there are two opinions about Yizkor. The most common opinion is that we do not say Yizkor for a relative or a friend before the first year of the death. A minority will say Yizkor before the first yahrtzeit. In this case I am going to follow the majority and I will not be saying Yizkor for my mother this year.
That doesn't put off my desire to share with you some words about her in this special moment.
My mother was a great person. I do not have enough words to thank her for all she gave us, so let me share with you a type of ritual we had every Friday afternoon. She called or we called her and we wished each other Shabbat Shalom. We of course talked a lot during the week on the phone but before Shabbes it was that phone call that made the difference.
My mother had the stroke that ended her life on a Saturday night so the last time we talked was on Friday before Shabbat.
Unfortunately this were my last words to her: "Mom I am in a rush, sorry, Shabbat Shalom. I send you a kiss."
Sometimes we rush too much. We often live in a rush.
Among all the things my mother taught me, I believe there is one I appreciate the most. She taught me how to caress.
She spent long times caressing us.
She did it softly, gently, without any rush. We put our heads on her lap and she caressed our heads with love, with pure love.
Yizkor is the caress we can give to our souls on this holy day.
Yizkor is the time we can bring back to life the love we received and continue to give love.
Dear friends,
Please take the time to say Yizkor for those we love. Please do not rush.
Take your time to touch the souls of those who are no longer with us so you can continue caressing those who are by our side today.

Kol Nidre. U (you) turn

U (you) turn
I am going to start my sermon with a joke. I am telling you this because: I want you to know it is joke so please be gentle and laugh at the end.
This is the story of a person who enters in his house and all of the sudden finds a cat on his couch.
He is not very cat-friendly so he grabs the cat and very gently opens the door and places the cat outside.
When he closes the door, he goes to the restroom to wash his hands. To his surprise, when he is out the bathroom, the cat is sitting again on the couch.
He grabs the cat again, goes across the street to a park and leaves the cat there. When he returns home, the cat is sitting on the couch.
Now instead of grabbing the cat, he grabs the phone and calls a good friend for advice.
The friend tells him to put the cat in the car and dive the cat two miles away. After that the cat will get lost. He drives the cat in his car three miles away, just in case... Of course when he returns home, the cat is sitting on the couch...
It's getting dark, and he starts to get nervous, so he calls his friend and asks for more advice.
The friends tells him. Put the cat in your trunk. Drive 25 miles north, When you arrive at the bridge cross the bridge and turn right. Drive 500 yards and make a U turn. Then drive 5.2 miles and turn left. After you turn left, drive 3 more miles, cross the railroad tracks and turn right. There, there is a lake, go around the lake and go up the hill. Once you are on top of the hill, there is a group of trees. There you can leave the cat.
The man follows his friend's instruction and leaves the cat. When he is back home, the phone rings, it is his friend. The friend asks: so, how did it go? Did you get rid of the cat?
Are you kidding me? If it weren't for the cat, I would have had no idea how to get back home...
Of course the joke made sense 20 years ago. Things have changed since then.
In some ways we are worse nowadays. For example I just saw a sign in a nearby Church that read:
"20 years ago we had Johnny Cash, Bob Hope and Steve Jobs. Now we have no Cash, no Hope and no Jobs. Please don't let Kevin Bacon die"
On another hand we are doing much better. For example we have GPS. It is easier to return home with a GPS. And it is more difficult to get lost, too.
Man’s definition of a GPS is that it is a Global Positioning System, but I believe that today, the most sacred day of the year, we can change it for God Positioning Spirit.
This sacred night we get together at 920 Franklin Road to pay attention once again to the first dialogue between G-d and man in the Torah. That first dialogue between G-d and man starts with a question: Aieka. Where are you?
That is the first question the GPS will try to figure out: where are you?
And then the second question is: where do you want to go?
For a GPS to do you any good you have to be on the move, going somewhere. After all, why would I want to know what my position is if all I’m doing is sitting on my backside in a rocking chair? Something has to be programmed into the GPS or it just sits there and has little use. All of the information that it can give, and all of the directions that are stored there to help you along the journey, don’t do one bit of good until a journey is begun.
So let's begin the journey together.
This journey we will do it together so nobody is offended, we are all included and you do not have to feel it is just you who got lost and made mistakes.
Early childhood or elementary school. Some of us were not very careful of the way we treated our classmates, and we bullied. We called names, we grouped together leaving others out, we tattle taled. Well... maybe all kids make mistakes...
Let's see about the teenage years. Some of us were rebels, or responded badly to our parents and even worse we ignored their advice. We started arguing with them even about our clothing.
Then came High school. Some of us got drunk for first time, some of us tried our first cigars or started to smoke. Some of us misused our hormones, some of us abused them and then abused our own bodies. Some of us started to use inappropriate words and some of us were violent.
And then college. Some of us found it funny and cool to have a tattoo or to smoke a joint or use other drugs. Pills, Marihuana... Some of us lost so many beer ping pong games that we cannot remember who beat us. Some of us didn't take advantage of the possibility of being educated, and we partied too much.
Then we got married and with the marriage we acquired a new family. The family in law. Some of us didn't want to even talk to them or to respect them. Some of us forgot to call our parents home frequently enough. We forgot our home still was our home.
And then some of us became parents. Some struggled to get pregnant and suffered when we heard others were pregnant. Some got pregnant without wanting it. Some loved the babies they carried some hated them.
Some of us put too much pressure on our kids, some let them be completely free.
Some of us overprotected our kids.
And then some of us got divorced. Some of us cheated our soul mates. Some of us still cheat them.
As we grew older some of us dedicated more time to our jobs than to our families.
Some of us lost our parents and discovered we didn't say enough times I love you mom, I love you dad.
What was really important was a good car, or a nice trip or great cigars or the last cell phone model. Family not that much.
Then some of us retired and discovered we were empty without our jobs because that is all we did in our lives. Some others retired and discovered a new career and regretted they didn't do it before...
Some of us got sick and blamed everybody else. Some of us got sick and thought everyone else should be taking care of his or her sickness.
Some of us forgot the best prize we get in life is family, friends and love.
In every moment of our lives, in every corner, in every mile stone, we knew there was and there is a GPS. Every once in a while we missed a turn, but God’s GPS kept talking, kept re-routing our course, to get us back on track.
We always had in the back of our minds the presence of G-d. G-d was always willing to help us return.
On Yom Kippur the most important thing we need to learn is that G-d permits U Turns. And that is what Teshuvah is. Teshuvah is a U turn, in which a person who has been living the wrong way decides to turn around, and live differently in the new year.
Look back and see how many U turns we made.
Look back and see how we have been able to change.
Even this year we made several U turns.
When we decided to support Israel instead of being tempted to listen to the hostile media, we made a U turn.
When we decided that kosher in our life is important and supported a kosher truck to Roanoke, VA, we made a U turn.
When we decided to say sorry and forgive, we made a U turn.
When we decided that c'omforting the mourners is important and gave up one hour of our job to attend a miniyan we made a U turn.
When we decided to teach our kids that attending to Hebrew School is more important than swimming lessons, we made a U turn.
Even if we made a wrong turn, even if we made twenty wrong turns, the GPS will recalculate and bring us to our destination.
God permits U turns: These holy days are an opportunity for all of us to look at our lives, and to decide if this is really the way we want to live and if not, these are the days that enable us to change, and to resolve to live a different way in the new year.
Yom Kippur and its rituals give us the opportunity to make U turns.
Among all the rituals that took place when the Temple was built there is one that always fascinated me.
This ritual represented the apogee in the human effort to come close to G d—an event that brought together the holiest day of the year, the holiest human being on earth, and the holiest place in the universe: on Yom Kippur the kohen gadol (high priest) would enter the innermost chamber of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies, to offer ketoret to G d. To offer the holy incense to G-d.
The offering of the ketoret was the most prestigious and sacred of the services in the Holy Temple. The ketoret was a special blend of herbs and balms whose precise ingredients and manner of preparation were commanded by G d to Moses. The formula had to be precise. Twice a day, ketoret was burned on the golden altar that stood in the Temple. On Yom Kippur, in addition to the regular ketoret offerings, the kohen gadol would enter the Holy of Holies with a pan of smoldering coals in his right hand, and a ladle filled with ketoret in his left; there, he would scoop the ketoret into his hands, place it over the coals, wait for the chamber to fill with the fragrant smoke of the burning incense, and swiftly back out of the room. That moment marked the climax of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple.
Interestingly, one of the spices, the chelbonah, galbanum, had a foul aroma. Apparently it smelled really bad...
Our sages derived from this that when the community gathers to pray, the sinners must be included in their communal prayer. Just as the chelbonah was included together with the other spices, so, too, should those, whose spiritual aroma is lacking, be included in the greater community. Everyone -- the righteous as well as those who are not yet righteous - all have a share in serving the Almighty.
I'd like to suggest another reason of why the Chelbonah, that smelled horribly should be included. Maybe because the chelbonah represents those moments when we were lost. The moments when we lost our way. The times in life when we knew we needed a U turn. The moments in life when things didn't smell very good.
Our lives would not be complete without those moments that made us grow. Our achievements would not make sense without our failures. Our journey would not be completed without getting lost here and there.
Dear friends,
Today the GPS is recalculating.
If you know where you are, if you know where you are going the GPS, Gods positioning spirit will show you the way.
In this holy day, we need to know U turns are permitted.
May we all be sealed in the book of life.

Rosh Hashanah Selfie

I can hear the whispers beginning already: “The Rabbi has flipped!” “Why’s he taking a selfie with a cell phone?” “Hey, it’s Rosh Hashanah, get serious up there. Don’t take this lightly. Sock it to us. Turn on the guilt. Make us feel shame. Chide us for not showing up often enough during the year. Mention something about indiscretions. Tell us about how to raise children. Rock us about relationships. Rebuke us for showing up only during High holidays. Talk about prayer and ritual – turn up the heat. Plead for money. Hey, Rabbi, get into the spirit of the day; get with the program!” C'mon rabbi get with the program!!!
Well... this is part of the program.
You know me well enough and I am sure you know this is a toy and not a real phone. You know I would never take a picture on a Holiday...
But this little toy gave me the possibility to talk about something many of you have done or seen last year... no, no, no... I am not talking about cheating...
I am talking about the word of the year...
This past year the word of the year was... correct... SELFIE.
I bet many of you took one or posted one or commented one in Facebook right?
I bet many of you saw the most retweeted picture during the Oscars ceremony, with Ellen DeGeneres, Meryl Strep, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Angelina, Kevin Spacey and more.
That is a selfie... a picture you take mainly of yourself, and it may include others or not...
I strongly believe the selfie represents more than a picture. It represents our culture. It represents what we have done with our tradition and why not so with our lives.
But before I continue with the selfies let me get to the phones. Without phones there are no selfies. That is where I should have started, with the phones. Oh my Lord phones...
How different are our phones right now...
Remember when we remembered by heart phone numbers? How many do you remember by heart today? 3, 4, 10 numbers? I still remember 4 or 5 elementary school friends' phone numbers. Things have changed...
No one is certain who invented the telephone. Although the U.S. p'atent belongs to the Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell, many believe he stole it away from an American inventor named Elisha Gray. Others maintain that an Italian named Manzetti or a Frenchman named Bourseul or a German named Reis or another Italian named Meucci deserves credit.
What few dispute is that all these men, working in the mid-nineteenth century, explored the idea of transmitting vocal vibrations from one place to another. But the very first telephone conversation, between Bell and his assistant Thomas Watson, standing in separate rooms, contained these words: Come here. I want to see you.
In the uncountable human phone conversations since then, that concept has never been far from our lips. Come here. I want to see you. Impatient lovers. Long-distance friends. Grandparents talking to grandchildren. The telephone voice is but a seduction, a bread crumb to an appetite. Come here. I want to see you.
We came back today, to this place, at this specific time because we heard that voice, we heard the call: Come here. I want to see you.
That is the call that every Jewish person should be hearing not just today but every day: Come here. I want to see you.
And I guess I do not need to tell you the answer we should hear, because it is the most famous word we read in torah during these days...
The answer is Hineni, here I am!!!!
That was our Patriarchs answer, that was their answer, hineni. When Hashem talks to Moses, his first answer is Hineni, here I am.
That should be our answer as Jews. We Jews answer, Hineni
Do you know what is the meaning of the word Jew?
The biblical word for a Jew, Yehudi, means “one who is grateful.” It comes from the biblical story of the birth of Jacob’s fourth son. His mother calls him Yehudah, saying “for this, I will thank G-d.”
Here is where everything starts. When Hashem tells us Come here. I want to see you.
Our answer is here I am and I am grateful to you Hashem. I am a good Jew so I am here to thank you.
Woody Allen once said: “90% of life is just showing up.”
When was the last time we “showed up” to thank to Hashem?
When was the last time we were grateful?
I can share with you an episode from last year in our congregation.
Unfortunately there was a death of a Jewish person who had no family, no friends, nobody. He lived in Rocky Mount and left everything organized to have a Jewish burial. He only needed a miniyan, which he could not arrange in advance. So many of you showed up to honor a person you didn't know. We had a moving ceremony.
I imagine many of you came also to thank Hashem for what you do have, family, friends, love, companion, a congregation.
That day I felt we answered hineni when we heard Come here. I want to see you.
But I still want to ask: When was the last time we answered hineni when we heard Come here. I want to see you.
If it is becoming difficult to answer this question I think I know the reason...
Lately you've been taking too many selfies...
Only a couple of people fit in a selfie... but mostly you.
On the other hand our tradition needs you, but mostly all those who are with you. It is not recommended to live your Judaism in solitude, we need company. We need to be with other people who are looking for the same sense of community you have. And the place to find it is here at Beth Israel.
In a selfie, you do it by yourself. You do not need extra help.
In our tradition the first thing you need is help. It was not good for Adam to be alone, he needed help, ezer kenegdo. Moses asked G-d for help to lead the people. Abraham asked his servant to help him get a bride for Isaac. Jacob called out to Hashem for help. We all need help and we all know the place where you always find helpers is here at Beth Israel.
In a selfie you need to pose, you need to presume and you need to look good. Our tradition accepts you as you are. No special faces, no special clothing, no need to pose.
In a selfie, in order to enjoy it you share your result with others. In our tradition all the gain is yours. The more Torah you study the bigger your benefit. The more you grow spiritually, the better person you become.
So why did we decide to make our tradition into a selfie?
Why did we forget that the center of Jewish life is the Synagogue and not just one person?
Another story from last year moved me a lot. I made some phone calls and letters to invite teenagers to come and celebrate the anniversary of their bar mitzvah. One teenager not only decided to come but also called friends and invited them to come. That teenager didn't want to transform the anniversary into a selfie.
So let me continue asking questions.
Who said it is not cool anymore to meet at the Synagogue?
When was the moment we changed our priorities?
When was the moment we decided that from now on we will focus on me, me, and me and not on others?
When was that particular moment we started to take selfies and become selfish?
When we answer Hineni to the voice that says: Come here I want to see you, we need to do it not for our benefit but for the benefit of the Jewish people. I do not answer hineni for me, but for you.
When we answer hineni we are not selfish any more.
This reminds me of another story. This is about an episode in a mental health institution. The patients were very bored of the routine. Every day the same schedule, same habits, they were really bored. One of them said to the others: hey guys why don't we go out and play some soccer?
Great idea they answered, but one of them said: we do not have a ball?
Let's go out and let's imagine we have a ball. Everybody was happy. They went outside made two teams and started to play soccer with an imaginary ball. They score goals, kicked the ball hit it with their heads. Another patient heard some of his roommates were having fun so he went outside and asked them if he could join them.
They stopped the game and told him: you know the teams are already formed we are even, 11 against 11. We cannot let you play.
This guy became very upset bent over and made a movement like he was grabbing something and then told his friends: Ok, not a problem, if I cannot play so I am taking the ball with me.
The story is funny. And we may think being selfish may be funny too.
Well... let me tell you that the fun ends when you hear that in April 2014, a man who was diagnosed with a mental disorder recounted spending ten hours a day attempting to take the "right" selfie. He attempted suicide after failing to produce what he perceived to be the perfect selfie.
Dear friends,
The perfect selfie happens when we all fit in the picture.
The perfect selfie happens when we take these days for reflection, for Teshuva, for change.
The perfect selfie happens when we take advantage of every inch of our tradition and we live it in community.
The perfect selfie happens when we stop being selfish and we start thinking of others.
The perfect selfie happens when we pay more attention to the sound and vibrations of the shofar than to the sound and vibrations of our cell phones.
The perfect selfie happens when decide again to take group pictures and not selfies.
In this new year that is starting, may we will take the best pictures ever.
Pictures of good health, thankfulness and happiness.