Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

How One Speech Changed 1000 Hearts: A Veterans Day Inspiration

This past Friday we observed Veterans Day at my congregation. Several dozen veterans were joined by our youth choir, which sang America the Beautiful in gratitude and tribute. The past, present and future inspired one another.

Also inspiring was a famous sermon we discussed. In 1945 a Jewish chaplain named Roland Gittelsohn accompanied a Marine division onto Iwo Jima. After the fighting had ended, he was asked to deliver a eulogy at a memorial service for fallen soldiers. He agreed, but then was forced to withdraw after a group of chaplains objected to the presence of a Jew.

A Response to Bigotry

Gittelsohn spoke, instead, at a separate Jewish service. Several other chaplains, incensed at the bigotry shown Gittelsohn, attended his separate service. His remarks so impressed them that they had them reprinted and distributed across several divisions.

Then an American congressman got a hold of them and them reprinted them in the Congressional Record. Time Magazine excerpted parts of it. It was read aloud on US Amry Radio.

Today the words remain as poignant and inspiring as ever. I share an excerpt with you in gratitude to the living and in memory of all those who gave their lives in freedom’s cause.

Rabbi Gittelsohn on Iwo Jima

“Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding. And other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together.

Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy…

Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery.

To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price…

We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.”

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

 

A Serenity Prayer for America

Whatever our politics, the end of a two year campaign brings relief. Many of us probably empathize with the four-year old who became a Youtube sensation when she tearfully moaned that she was “tired of Bronco Bamma and Mitt Romney.”

As President Obama said in his victory speech, we have a long road ahead of us. The road will feel smoother if we travel closer together. Some are thinking about the next election. Let us, rather, think about each other and what we can do to address the challenges we face.

Reinhold Niebuhr composed a prayer made famous though its adoption by AA. It asks God to “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

To that let us all say “Amen.”

By Evan Moffic, Rabbi of Congregation Solel in Highland Park.

To Inspire Yourself and Discover More, check out Rabbi Moffic’s free weekly digest of spiritual wisdom

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Simple Wisdom: The meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests, “Try reminding yourself from time to time: This is it. What happens next, what you choose to do, has to come out of your understanding of this moment.”

The future doesn’t just happen. Two people can witness the same event, yet respond in vastly different ways.

Consider the power this truth gives us. When Moses left Pharaoh’s palace and saw an Egyptian slavemaster beating a Hebrew slave, he could have turned his head and walked back inside. Instead, he challenged the Egyptian and defended the slave. His response transformed his future.

How Do We Respond?

What determines our response? We do. It is not pre-programmed. Computers run on scripts that define a response to a given parameter. Human beings, on the other hand, have the freedom to choose.

That freedom invites tremendous opportunity. It also presents great danger. A great Pogo cartoon strip has Pogo proclaiming, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We block ourselves from success. We get in our own way.

When Moses Got in His Own Way

Moses taught us this truth as well. In the book of Numbers, the people complain to him that they are thirsty. Moses is frustrated at this latest example of the people’s ungratefulness and seeming lack of trust in him. He asks God what to do. God tells him to speak to a rock, and water would then pour forth from it.

As he is about to do so, Moses changes his mind. He alters his response. Instead of speaking to the rock, he hits it with his staff.

This may seem like a minor act of disobedience. Yet, it suggested to the people that Moses produced the water with his staff, not that God brought it forth with miraculous power. In other words, Moses took credit for a miracle, rather than visibly giving that credit to God. Moses let himself–his ego, his desire for adulation, his impatience–get in his own way.

The consequences are profound. Moses is no longer permitted to enter into the Promised Land. He would die on a mountain overlooking it.

The Greatness That We Are

Like Moses we have the freedom to shape the future. Judaism does not see as inherently tainted by any original sin. The challenge is to stop ourselves from obstructing ourselves. Or, as Rabbi Yitzhak Kirzner put it, “”All of life is a challenge of not being distracted from the greatness that we are.”

By Evan Moffic

To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly blog of uplifting Jewish wisdom.

Why Do Good People Suffer?


The eternal question of religion is why do bad things happen to good people. Hundreds of thousands of volumes have addressed the questions. We still yearn for a satisfying answer.

The horrific and highly-visible impact of Hurricane Sandy raises this question anew. How can we come to grips with thousands of homeless families, a couple killed while walking a dog, a woman electrocuted in front of a fallen transformer, and other horrors?

The Bible offers two main answers. I will add a third articulated most popularly by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

1. We did something to deserve it

The notion of reward and punishment is intrinsic to the Bible. God rewards us for good and punishes us for evil.

In the book of Job, Job’s friends offer this approach most clearly when they suggest that he must have done something to deserve his horrific condition.

Advantage

The one advantage of this approach is that it can spur self-examination. It can lead us to draw upon what Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik calls reservoirs of “remedial energy.” We aim to fix something, even if we are not responsible for it. Consider parents whose child dies from a tragic illness, and who then decide to dedicate their lives to helping others suffering from it.

Disadvantage

The problem with this approach is that it simply does not ring true. What did children murdered during the Holocaust do to “deserve” their fate? What did a random person hit by a car do to warrent such a punishment? What did their families do?

Religious leaders only make themselves look naive and simplistic when they try to establish moral causes for every human suffering. It offends our humanity to think in such a way.

2. God is a Mystery

God’s ways are mysterious and inscrutable. This approach is a variation on the first. It suggests that God has a reason for whatever happened, but we will never figure out what it is.

In the book of Job, God articulates this view when he tells Job to stop asking why he is suffering. He simply has no right to ask, because he was not there when God created the world. He is merely a human being, while God is the Sovereign of the Universe.

Advantage

This approach can bring comfort to some, because it acknowledges that so much of what happens in the world is outside of our control. We are mere mortals who go, as Job puts it, “from dust to dust.”

Disadvantage

While filling the heart, this approach can empty the mind. Why would God give us a conscience if we could not challenge or question what happens around us? We may never know all the answers, but we need not stop trying to find them.

3. God works through human hands

This view does not see God as all-powerful and all-knowing. God cannot supersede the laws of nature, and the laws of nature do not follow a logical or moral purpose. Hurricanes hurt good people. Illness does not discriminate between the righteous and wicked.

How then do respond? What role does God play? God becomes real when we act in Godly ways. When we comfort the sick, we express God’s caring. When we love each other, we illustrate God’s eternal love.

Harold Kushner put it well when he said that the core question of faith is not “Where is God?” Rather, it is “Where are we?”

 

By Evan Moffic
To Read More from Rabbi Moffic, subscribe to his free weekly blog of uplifting Jewish wisdom 

Previous Posts

The Secret to Healing From Pain
I sat with the two children of a mother who had just passed away. They were recounting her life for me in preparation for the funeral. As we spoke, the mother’s long-time caretaker came into the room. She began to speak about their relationship. Though her English was not perfect, the three

posted 12:35:43pm Sep. 10, 2014 | read full post »

Do You Know What Hurts Me? A Story
  A great rabbi went into a bar. He overheard a conversation between patrons.   One said to the other, “Friend, do you love me?” “Of course I do,” the second man replied. “We’ve known each other our whole lives.”   “Then tell me, friend,” said the first man, “

posted 1:01:07pm Sep. 01, 2014 | read full post »

Does Religion Cause War?
Deadly images on television tear at our heart. We wish for the violence in Israel to end. This land, sacred to three global religions, seems endlessly mired in conflict. Does religion just

posted 12:36:26pm Aug. 17, 2014 | read full post »

The Healing Power of Laughter: The Jewish Genius of Robin Williams
In Jewish tradition we have a special greeting for a genius. Upon meeting such a person, we say, Blessed are You, Eternal God, Source of Life, who has given from His wisdom to flesh and blood.  Had I ever met Robin Williams, I would surely have said it. Williams was a singular genius. He brought

posted 2:26:21pm Aug. 12, 2014 | read full post »

God Never Gives Up Hope: A Prayer for Israel
 I remember my first visit to Israel in 1994. The Oslo Accords had just been signed. Hope reigned. My group was greeted warmly in the Arab market in Jerusalem. The opposite feelings prevail today. We witness bombings, indiscriminate hatred, vitriol. Dozens of my friends who are there now share w

posted 10:19:40pm Jul. 13, 2014 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.