Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Government Shutdown: An Optimist Against All Better Judgment

optimist

The government shutdown raises acute questions about the role and responsibility of leadership. We entrusted our fiscal and governing responsibility to people who cannot seem to execute it.

Is there a way out? Is there something  the world’s oldest religion teach the leaders of the world’s most powerful nation? Absolutely.

1. Listen: All too often we simply do not listen. We hear what another person is saying, but  we have already made up our mind. We seem to be listening when we are really awaiting our chance to speak.

Listening is not a passive act. It is a mode of communication. It shapes the way we look at the world.

Picture a person you know is a good listener. You probably respect them. You seriously consider what he they say.

Now picture someone you know just waits for their turn to speak. You probably dismiss what they say.

Unfortunately, our government seems to be filled with people in the second category.  True leaders are listeners, and we need more of them. 

2. Recognize the needs of the moment: The Book of Ecclesiastes has that beautiful series of verses: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven… a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up.”

Image: U.S. Capitol On Lockdown After Reports Of Gun Shots

When we look around us–when we see unpaid policemen at the US Capital putting their own lives on the line to protect civilians–we recognize it is not the time give up. It is not the time to blame. It is the time to act.

3. Do not give up hope: American politics has always been messy. The political parties of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams called one another traitors. In the nineteenth century fistfights broke out on the floor of the Congress. Yet, we found a way through.

If Judaism has any core lesson to teach, it is the centrality of hope. David Ben Gurion, the first President of Israel, called himself “an optimist against all better judgment.” I am optimistic  (though it takes a lot of faith) that our leaders will use their better judgment.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

How We Turn Anger Into Holiness

The Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) just ended. The biblical reading for the holiday contains the famous scene where Moses shatters the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  This act emanated from his anger at his people’s worshipping of the golden calf.

broken tablets

In trying to make sense of this text, the Jewish sages asked a poignant question. What happened to the shattered tablets? Did they just remain on the edge of Mount Sinai? Of course not! They contained the handwriting of God. They could not simply be left behind.

The sages offered a profound answer. When Moses returned to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the second set of tablets, he picked up the shattered remains of the first. He placed both the new and shattered also tablets in the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites carried with them in the wilderness.

Why It Matters

The shattered tablets symbolized where the Israelites had been. The new set represented where they were going. They carried both sets with them on their journey.

I also see the two tablets as a metaphor for our lives. The broken and the whole live together. They both shape who we are. No life is perfect. We have our highs and lows, our moments of shattered pieces and of divine inspiration.

Together they make us a human being, created in the image of God. Together they make us holy.

To get free weekly spiritual inspiration from Rabbi Moffic, click here. 

What Everybody Ought to Know About the Jewish High Holy Days

This Wednesday evening Jews around the world will gather in synagogue to begin the Jewish New Year. Known as Rosh Hashanah (meaning “Head of the Year), this holiday centers around prayer, study and a festive meal.

It also begins the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar, reflecting the chronology of the Old Testament, where the calendar begins with the creation of the world.

shofar

The theme of Rosh Hashanah is best captured in a ritual item known as a shofar. A shofar is a ram’s horn sounded throughout the worship service on the day of Rosh Hashanah.

It calls us to look inside ourselves to see where we can grow and change. Rabbi Harold Kushner compared it to a wake-up call whose message is a challenge. Don’t just plead with me for a year of life. I’m giving you life; what are you doing with it.

In other words, the shofar  pierces through our routines and habits. It awakens us from the slumber of everyday living. It challenges us to think, to question, to wake up!

What are we doing with the challenges and opportunities life puts before us? What meanings are we making out of the experiences we face? That is the question we grapple with during the Jewish New Year. 

Can We Forgive?forgive

Ten days after Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the Jewish holiday known as Yom Kippur. The phrase Yom Kippur means “Day of Atonement.”

Its central theme is making amends with God and with fellow human beings. An array of prayers reminds us to apologize and to forgive. Without doing so, we become trapped in the past. Yom Kippur helps us shape the future by coming to terms with our past.

A Rabbi and His Baby

A favorite story reminds me of this imperative to forgive. A fellow rabbi was giving a sermon on forgiveness. He mentioned the standard biblical passages  And then he brought his one-year-old daughter up onto the pulpit. He kept going on with the sermon, as she played with his tie and kissed his cheeks.

Everyone chuckled and wondered what was going on. Finally he stopped and said, “Now is there anything she can do that we would not forgive her for.”

Most of the congregation nodded in recognition. Smiling, the rabbi waited for silence and then asked, “And when does that stop? When does it get so hard to forgive? At three? At seven? At fourteen? At thirty five? How old does someone have to be before we refuse to forgive?” (Also Recounted in Naomi Remen’s My Grandfather’s Blessing)

On Yom Kippur we ask ourselves what we are doing to forgive? Are  we giving people the benefit of the doubt? Are we holding a grudge because it allows us to avoid doing something difficult? The prayers challenge us with these questions. We pray for God’s wisdom and our own strength to answer them.

 

The Forgotten Speech at the March on Washington

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” is understandably the most famous speech given at the 1963 March on Washington. Minutes before King spoke, however, a lesser known figure came before the crowd. He happened to be an immigrant from Nazi Germany. He also happened to be a rabbi. His name was Joachim Prinz.

prinz
Rabbi Prinz’s journey to Washington began after numerous arrests and threats of imprisonments led him to leave his native Germany in 1937. When he arrived in America, he mastered English and proceeded to become one of the most eloquent Jewish champions for civil rights.

Judaism’s Most Eloquent Champion of Civil Rights

He combined his commitment to racial reconciliation with resounding support for the state of Israel.  These two passions came together when Prinz invited Dr. King to address the American Jewish Congress convention in 1958. This was King’s first address before a Jewish audience, and Prinz was the first rabbi to form a relationship with him. Their friendship helped shape King’s pro-Zionist sentiment.

Prinz’s March on Washington speech directed preceded King’s. This German refugee began with the resounding proclamation, “I speak to you as an American Jew.” He further drew upon his personal history when he said to the crowed,

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those most tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

With these words, Prinz linked the Jewish experience with the African-American one. And he reminded his listeners that silence is deadly. As his colleague Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel later put it, “Not all are guilty. But all are responsible.”

 

President Obama Recalls Rabbi Prinz

Interest in Rabbi Prinz was renewed earlier this year when President Obama quoted him in a speech honoring Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Speaking to Israelis and Americans, President Obama said, “Rabbi Joachim Prinz was born in Germany, expelled by the Nazis and found refuge in America, where he built support for the new State of Israel.  And on that August day in 1963, he joined Dr. King at the March on Washington.” 

The President went on to highlight another of Prinz’s eloquent insights, Barack Obama, Shimon Peres

In the realm of the spirit, our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody’s neighbor.  Neighbor is not a geographic concept.  It is a moral concept.  It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.

To that we can all say Amen.  

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