Truths You Can Use

Truths You Can Use

Lighting Candles for One Another: A Thanksgiving and Hanukkah Message

Friends, I delivered the following sermon at a community interfaith Thanksgiving service. Wishing each of you a wonderful holiday, Rabbi Evan

thanksgivingukkah

The greatest Rabbi of Jewish history was named Moses Maimonides. Maimonides wrote a classic work of Jewish philosophy known as the Guide to the Perplexed, as well as a book of Jewish law known as the Mishneh Torah, the Second Torah. In addition to his rabbinical duties, Maimonides was a renowned physician, caring for the Sultan Egypt.

As a doctor and rabbi, Maimonides saw the Bible through a scientific rational framework. He struggled to make sense of instances—like the parting of the Red Sea in the Book of Exodus, or the Talking Donkey in the Book of Numbers—that violated the laws of nature. His answer was that some of these supernatural events were built in—preprogrammed to use a computer term—into the world. God wrote them in the computer code of creation.

I Believe in Miracles

Yet, Maimonides did not give up on the idea of miracles. A miracle for Maimonides did not have to be supernatural. Miracles can be a part of everyday life. Miracles depend on perspective. He had early insight into an idea Albert Einstein later expressed:  “There are only two ways to look at the world. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I would add: greater happiness and satisfaction come from the latter. How do we cultivate that perspective? How do we live so that we might proclaim, as did Rabbi Sobel in the text from psalms, “This is the Day God has chosen; let us rejoice and be glad in it?” Continue Reading This Post »

A Synagogue Remembers: 50 Years After the Death of JFK

A synagogue service after the death of JFK

A synagogue service after the death of JFK

Many people remember where they were 50 years ago. In Highland Park, Illinois, many came to Congregation Solel, where I am now the rabbi.

In memory of our late President, I ventured into our synagogue archives, and found the following, which I hope will move our hearts, minds and souls.

Death is a Mystery

“The death of President Kennedy is a turning point in your life and mine. We shall never be quite the same as we were before November 22nd, and we must not. No notion of ours is quite so secure, no hope so firm, no knowing so resolute…

The mystery is not resolved in time. That is the nature of a mystery. Problems are solved at last, even great scientific puzzles. But mysteries only deepen. The meaningless death of the young prince cannot be explained or explained away. It continues to be the religious fact that it was at first, more awful and more mysterious every day.”

–Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf

Words Are Not Enough

“Dear God, we know the words are not enough—but let our coming together in common grief to pray for John Kennedy, bring us to a new dimension, a dimension beyond ourselves.

Help us to continue to reach out to one another, and in so doing, come to that state of selflessness that is the truth of love… Free us, O God, from the prison of ourselves—and show us that this inner freedom will be an ecstasy of the spirit, a miracle of the soul. Teach us, that in our souls there lives the need to love.”

–Personal Prayer Delivered by Congregant Irving Hanig

May our late President’s memory always be for a blessing.

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Does Your Faith Warm Only You? Or Does It Light Up the World?

I came across a wonderful teaching from a 18th century rabbi known as the “Kotzker Rebbe.” He taught,

“Some people wear their faith like an overcoat. It keeps them warm but does little for others. Others light a fire when they live their faith. It warms them and brings light to the world.”

fire

What This Veterans Day Means To Me

grandpa

This Veterans Day would have been a moving and important one for my grandfather. A proud veteran he served his country for six years during the Second World War and its aftermath. He made lifelong friends and gathered a treasure trove of stories that would entertain and inspire his seven grandchildren for hours on end.

For Jews, however, this Veterans Day is special. It falls the day after the 65th  anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass. On this date in 1938 police offers, civilians and Nazi officials in Germany and Austria attacked Jewish homes and stores, murdering 91 people, burning down 1000 synagogues, and damaging or destroying 7000 stores.

30,000 Jews were also arrested and placed in forced labor camps. Many historians see this date is the world-war-ii-kristallnachtbeginning of what would become the Holocaust.

A Deeper Connection

The convergence of these two days made me look deeper at their interconnection. On a personal level, one gives meaning to the other. In other words, Kristallnacht helps explain why the Second World War mattered so deeply to my grandfather.

First, serving gave him a way to express gratitude to this country of freedom. His grandfather had fled anti-Jewish hatred in Poland for the New World of America. He came here penniless and ended up becoming a fruit salesman and raising his family in comfort and freedom.

My grandfather was 26 when the war broke out. As a young doctor he could have received a deferral to attend to the home front. Yet, he eagerly volunteered and spent two years overseas. He told me he simply could not do everything he could do defeat Hitler.

America was special. The new world of freedom, and Hitler represented all of the hatred he had fled.

To Help Those Left Behind

While my grandfather’s parents and grandparents had made it to America, other members of his family did not. They had remained in Europe, and probably lost their lives during the war. Enlisting in the Army was the closest he could get to rescuing them.

It was not only his family that was threatened. The entire Jewish people felt the destructive hatred of Nazi Germany. By the end of the war about one third of the world Jewish population had been murdered. His service was an expression, in part, of his commitment to the survival of the Jewish people.

The Greatest Generation

It also expressed a commitment to building a better world. The group of Americans who served during the Second World War is known as the “Greatest Generation.” They helped defeat Nazism and came home to build the strongest and most prosperous country the world has ever known.

In speaking at my grandfather’s funeral, I noticed his sense of pride in belonging to this group. Yet, he said its true heroes were those who died in its service. Let us remember to honor them, and celebrate the living legends who continue to lead and inspire us.

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

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